Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why Brits still emigrate to Australia

Australian financial journalist Noel Whittaker says salaries may be much higher in the UK but the cost of living is way above that in Australia. Although it is wildly at variance with the exchange rate, his suggestion that purchasing power parity is reached by equating one Australian dollar to one British pound is in line with what I have observed too

I have just returned from a fact-finding trip to Britain. Let me assure you, from a financial point of view at least, that this is the lucky country. Now I know that Aussies look longingly at the salaries paid in Britain and imagine themselves living handsomely on 50,000 pounds a year, which is equivalent to $116,000 here, but you have to understand that prices there have the same nominal value as in Australia. A main course in a restaurant may be 30 pounds in Britain and $30 in Australia, so the cost of living is more than double ours. Believe me, it's a shock to the system to put 40 litres of petrol in your rental car and discover that the cost is 40 quid or $A88.

But that's not the end of it. There is a VAT (value added tax) of 17.5 per cent on most things you buy, and many restaurants add a 15 per cent compulsory service charge as well. It makes our GST of 10 per cent look cheap.

I discussed wealth-creation strategies with a director of a British firm that specialises in financial planning for high-net-worth people. He was green with envy at our superannuation system, and told me that most of his work revolved around estate planning because Britain had high death duties [Australia has none]. This is a rapidly growing market because property prices have been rising dramatically and more and more families are facing death duties as the family home is not exempt.

We discussed borrowing for investment, which is one of the best strategies to create wealth in Australia because the interest is tax deductible, and income from both property and shares carries great tax concessions. I was amazed to discover that investment borrowing is rarely used in Britain because there are no concessions whatsoever. If you borrow to invest, you pay tax at your top marginal rate on the income from that investment, yet you get no deduction for the interest. Therefore, you may be losing up to 40 per cent of the income in tax while being forced to pay the interest from after-tax dollars.

Housing affordability is a hot topic in Britain, just like in Australia, and some building societies have even gone to the extent of lending far more man the value of the house. One newspaper gave the example of a couple with no deposit who were buying their first home for 152.000 pounds, the average home price. and who were able to qualify for a loan of 190,000 pounds to enable them to consolidate their other debts and get a foothold in the housing market. This means that they will have a negative equity in their home for many years and will be reliant on capital gain to get back to square one. This is a high-risk situation and, to make matters worse, the Bank of England lifted interest rates to 5.75 per cent earlier this month, putting further pressure on home-owners' budgets and increasing the prospect of a fall in home prices.

We had a break in Spain on the way home and the conditions are no different there. In Spain, VAT is 16 per cent and our tour guide in Valencia was bemoaning the fact that home prices had risen so much that she had been forced to take out a 40-year mortgage just to buy a unit [condo].

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on July 29, 2007

More overseas doctor concerns

The inquest into the death of a 16-year-old girl who died in a Sydney hospital after being hit by a golf ball may have to be reopened following allegations about the competence and assessment of two overseas-trained doctors involved in her care. The allegations -- aired on ABC TV's Stateline program in NSW last night -- claimed neither of the overseas doctors treating Vanessa Anderson had been "subject to any appointments or selection process".

Anderson died in 2005 while being treated for a fractured skull caused by the golf ball. The inquest at Westmead Coroners Court, which held its final hearing two weeks ago, heard there were "a number of deficiencies" in her care, including one doctor's failure to give anti-convulsive drugs as ordered by a consultant. Another doctor, anaesthetics registrar Sanaa Ismail, increased the dosage of painkilling drugs to a level the consultant in charge told the inquest was "too high".

It has now emerged that the inquest may be reopened after a senior hospital anaesthetist, Stephen Barratt, wrote to Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanich about the allegations. In a statement to Stateline, NSW Health director-general Debora Picone said the "accuracy and relevance of a number of the assertions" made by Dr Barratt were "disputed". "The tragic death of Vanessa deserves proper investigation by the state Coroner and I do not think it appropriate to pre-empt the coronial process," Professor Picone said.

In his letter, Dr Barratt said Dr Ismail -- whom he was supervising -- had previously been judged by him to be "not safe" to treat patients after two previous incidents just months earlier. Dr Barratt also revealed he was "unhappy" with how the inquest had unfolded and added "you need the truth". Azizi Bakar, the doctor who had failed to provide the anti-convulsive drugs ordered by a consultant, was the other doctor whom Dr Barratt suggested had not been properly screened prior to employment.

Dr Ismail faced questions during the inquest over her decision to double the dose of a painkilling opiate drug, oxycodone, to treat Anderson's headache, despite the fact that she only spoke to the patient for a pre-operative check. Dr Ismail said she did not realise Anderson was already receiving Panadeine Forte, a painkiller with a high level of codeine, another opiate drug.

Dr Barratt's letter alleged that Dr Ismail's salary was being paid by the Saudi Government, an arrangement that he said was "not unusual in the public hospital system -- that is, there are many others like her". "In fact, a few months before the Vanessa Anderson incident a bureaucrat from the Department of Health came pleading with us to take more of these 'trainees'," Dr Barratt wrote.

Professor Picone said "learning exchange" arrangements was a "feature of any modern health system". Out of a total 11,000 doctors in NSW public hospitals, about 100 at any one time would be paid for by an overseas government or other agency, she said.

Alison Reid, medical director of the NSW Medical Board, refused to discuss the case specifically but said that generally applications to register doctors first had to come from a prospective employer, supported by letters from the relevant medical college. Qualifications were independently verified and certificates of good standing sought from previous regulatory bodies.


The market is the solution to water shortages

Water restrictions can be lifted within five years in all capital cities - and it does not require drought-breaking rain to do it. Charging more for water for non-essential purposes, using private investment to expand supplies through desalination and recycling projects, and allowing trading between country and city can deliver all the water needed. That is the conclusion of a report on the nation's infrastructure needs, released to The Australian. Prepared by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, which represents government as well as industry bodies, the report includes a list of more than 100 priority projects ranging from road and rail links to water and energy schemes and schools, hospitals and affordable housing plans. The goal is to refurbish Australia's capital stock within the next 10 years and set up the nation for continued strong economic growth over the next 20 years.

The report recommends the appointment of a federal minister for infrastructure, as well as an office of national infrastructure co-ordination. IPA head and former Kennett government minister Mark Birrell said that, surprisingly, no broadly agreed list of infrastructure requirements existed. "This decade we have the opportunity to deliver on age-old plans like a four-lane highway linking Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, an efficient freight rail link up the east coast of Australia, the completion of the ring roads around our largest capital cities, renewing the stock of government schools across the country and replacing super-specialist public hospitals in every capital city," he said. Mr Birrell said a combination of healthy state and federal budgets, the scope to increase government debt levels and superannuation funds that were looking for investments opened the way for large-scale infrastructure funding.

The report suggests a two-tier system for residential water. Current prices would be charged for consumption for essential needs -- say 150 kilolitres a year. Discretionary use above this level for purposes such as lawns and pools would attract the full market price, which could be as much as double the present Sydney rate of $1.42/KL. Average water use around Australia is now 376KL a household, although many families who do not water lawns or have a pool use much less.

The report suggests expanding the market in water to allow trading between rural and urban uses, thus allowing water to flow to its highest value uses. Tradeable entitlements also could be assigned to large commercial users and competing retail water businesses.

The energy sector will require $30 billion-$35 billion in investment by 2020. A true national energy market should be established, starting with a comprehensive restructuring in NSW where the industry remains in government hands. A meaningful debate of the nuclear option is premature without fundamental reforms to create a national market. Government decisions are needed to allow a fibre-to-the-node broadband rollout within two to three years, the report says.


Pupils moving out of government schools

Which pushes some government schools to lift their game

STUDENTS have fled NSW public schools at a rate of 125 a week - equal to two busloads - in the past decade as low-fee private schools boom. The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal how parents have snubbed local public schools, often in favour of new faith-based schools backed by Howard Government subsidies.

A Daily Telegraph analysis of the census data shows that in areas like Penrith there has been a mass walkout on public education, cutting their market share by almost a half of all enrolments. Almost 68 per cent of Penrith students attended public high schools in 1996, but this slumped to 54.79 per cent by the 2006 census. In the same period, Catholic school enrolments grew from 23.7 to 33.21 per cent and the "Other Non-Government" category grew from 8.4 to 12 per cent. Across NSW, government secondary schools had 67.1 per cent of all enrolments in 1996 - but this has shrunk to just 60.83 per cent. In raw numbers, about 46,000 students have vanished from public primary schools and 19,000 from public high schools over the decade. There have been similar changes in areas such as Camden, Hawkesbury, Wollondilly, Liverpool, Bankstown, Holroyd, Sutherland and Warringah where public school market share has dropped 10 per cent or more.

The popularity of low-fee private school enrolments indicates why Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has abandoned previous ALP policy to reallocate private school funding. Even in suburbs such as Canada Bay, Waverley, Marrickville, Manly, Lane Cove and Randwick parents have been moving away from public schools.

But it's not all bad news for public education. In Sydney's inner-west, Strathfield Public School enrolments have bucked the trend, surging from 39.35 to 49 per cent. Public school enrolments in nearby Ashfield and Burwood have also increased. In Baulkham Hills, the Blue Mountains, Pittwater and Ryde previous losses have been stemmed.

An Education Department spokeswoman said the public schools sector realised they now operate in an environment where "greater emphasis is being placed on choice". She said the most recent trends were positive for government schools. Kindergarten, Year 3, Year 8 and Year 11 market share had all slightly increased this year, reversing the declining trend over many years. Schools singled out as success stories include Ku-ring-gai High, Cherrybrook Technology High, Wattle Grove Public School, Arthur Phillip High, Rouse Hill Public and Parklea Public.

But Christian Schools Australia, which represents dozens of newer private schools, says its enrolment growth across NSW has increased by 25 per cent in five years. "There's no doubt people are making a choice," chief executive Stephen O'Doherty said. "Many families have gained prosperity under Howard and are using the extra income to move to affordable non-government schools. He said much of the enrolment growth in swinging seats would help determine the federal election later this year.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Out of the frying pan, into the fire? Medical desperation in Queensland

MORE than two in three people want the Federal Government to take control of Queensland's failing health system, the Queensland: Your Say survey has revealed. Data from the poll shows 69 per cent of Queenslanders have lost faith in the State Government's ability to run their health service. Despite promises that problems will be resolved, patients continue to suffer substandard levels of care, including waiting lists of up to eight years for surgery, a lack of beds, and closure of 38 maternity units in rural Queensland because of a lack of staff.

Queenslanders have spoken out loud and strong with 10,700 people raising their voices in the 2007 Sunday Mail-National Nine News Your Say survey. Readers seized the chance to share their feelings in one of the biggest responses to a survey in any Australian newspaper.

Queensland Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said he was not surprised the public was frustrated with the State Government. "Health is such an important portfolio, and yet Beattie and Labor are not running it properly," he said. "It's certainly not a lack of money that is causing the problems because the budget has gone from $3 billion 10 years ago to $7.15 billion now."

Hospital patient Campbell Ney, 64, from Mareeba, is among Queenslanders unhappy with the system. He was last week forced to transfer from Cairns Base Hospital to Mossman Hospital because of a lack of beds. Mr Ney, who has a severe lung infection, said: "I'm a pretty easygoing sort of a bloke but this health system is off the rails."

In the past two years Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has investigated the possibility of taking control of Queensland's health system, but yesterday told The Sunday Mail he had no plans to do so at the moment. "I'm flattered that people think the Howard Government is much better placed to fix the health system than the Beattie Government," he said. "However, the Commonwealth Government has no plans to take over the public hospital system."

State Health Minister Stephen Robertson blamed the Federal Government for failings in the health system. "Queensland's public hospitals have been short-changed by the Howard Government to the tune of $2.6 billion over the life of the current five-year Australian Health Care Agreement," he said. In a sign of falling support for public health services, the Queensland: Your Say survey revealed 64 per cent of readers had taken up private cover.


Now it's the NSW ambulance service in strife

Eerily similar to the Queensland situation

AN ambulance staffing crisis is forcing rookies with just nine weeks' training onto the streets to try to save lives without proper supervision. One in three NSW Ambulance Service officers is a trainee because experienced staff are quitting in record numbers, fed up with being overworked and underpaid, front-line sources say. Last year there were twice as many resignations as in 2002. Tensions among those left behind are said to have reached breaking point, the sources say, with suicide attempts increasing. One senior officer said patient care was being compromised by the exodus of experienced officers. "Make no mistake, patients have died because of this and they will continue to die," she said.

A copy of the service's 2007 corporate culture survey leaked to The Sun-Herald paints a grim portrait of chronically poor morale and employees who feel undervalued, restricted in how they go about their work and disengaged from decision-making processes. The vast majority believe their supervisors do not deal effectively with key issues such as stress, excessive workloads, absenteeism, harassment and bullying, and are not addressing their concerns about industrial relations.

NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher last week countered criticisms of the service's capabilities by pointing to the recruitment of 327 personnel over the past four years. However, Freedom of Information figures obtained by the Opposition and seen by The Sun-Herald show 475 resignations over the same period. Novice ambulance attendants who might normally spend more than a year teamed up with two fully qualified partners are being thrown in the deep end, sources say.

A NSW Ambulance Service spokesman insisted trainees were placed under "close supervision at all times" but Health Services Union Hunter Valley officer Peter Rumball disputed this, saying the practice of pairing trainees with a single unqualified trainer to save money was commonplace. Mr Rumball said the union had repeatedly raised concerns about how one senior officer was supposed to supervise a trainee when he or she had more than one patient to treat at a time, or if the pair had to split up, or one had to stay with a patient while the other drove to hospital or went off to retrieve equipment. "Officers who come straight out of the service's rescue school get no supervision or mentoring at all," Mr Rumball said. "They are classed as fully qualified even though they have never undertaken a rescue."

A paramedic with 10 years' experience said rookies were being pushed onto the front line without proper regard for the consequences. "You have a situation where they are performing extremely demanding tasks without the proper supervision and that is where errors can be made," she said. "The way the roster system is set up is that at training stations there should be 10 fully qualified officers. "But how it is now is that out of those 10, two or three are trainee officers and are actually not qualified but they are rostered on to fill out those positions. "The trainees are being used to fill the holes and are just thrown straight in."

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the number of calls she was receiving from ambulance officers in distress outstripped even those from within the ranks of the state's 40,000 nurses. "This issue is all about long-suffering ambulance officers who are under enormous stress, not getting any support and burning out," Ms Skinner said. "The fact that they're resigning at a faster rate than ever before speaks for itself. "What we're talking about is people at the coalface being forced to bear the brunt when, instead, it should be the Government dealing with it." Mr Rumball said his concerns about stress levels of the job were grave, and he knew of five colleagues who had attempted suicide in the past few years


Windpower, union stupidity and green lies

For those of you who think that our union officials are not all that bright, look no further than Dean Mighell, the southern states branch secretary of the Electrical Trades Union who recently forced to resign from Australian Labor Party. What makes this particular union Neanderthal interesting is the regrettable fact that he is genuinely representative of what is laughingly called the "unions' intelligentsia".

This union hotshot is so dense that he promotes policies that would impoverish his members in the dim-witted belief that raising the ratio of labour to capital creates high-paying jobs. As evidence one merely has to refer the statement he made several years ago that stopping the construction of gas-fired generators in favour of windmills would increase the demand for labour and raise real wages. This birdbrain and his fellow halfwits argued that centralised power generation doesn't create enough jobs.

That power stations are built not to maximise jobs but to generate electricity at the lowest possible cost is apparently far too complex an argument for Dean Mighell to grasp. In pursuit of jobs, rather than prosperity, these intellectual giants of the union movement - and the ALP - once met with state government officials and Pacific Hydro (a so-called Australian renewable energy company) to discuss building windmill generators with the purpose of creating more jobs. (The company had already built an 18-megawatt windmill in the state., the output of which has been greatly exaggerated).

According to the absurd logic of these economic and scientific illiterates, windmills create more jobs because they are labour intensive. So are wheel barrows and shovels. Does this mean that all earth moving machinery should be banned by law? That scores of factories should be set up to manufacture nothing but shovels and wheelbarrows? Think of the enormous number of jobs this would create. And think of the gigantic wage cuts that such a policy would impose on the masses.

I am deadly serious about this comparison. There is no fundamental economic difference in principle between sabotaging the building of gas-fired power stations and the banning of bulldozers. The only thing that makes them differ is that the latter proposal is self-evidently stupid while the union's proposal requires the kind of knowledge that most people do not possess - and that includes the dimwits who run the state Liberal Party.

First and foremost, what raises real wages for everyone is capital sometimes called the material means of production. The less capital per worker the lower real wages will be. It follows that any policy that raises the labour-capital ratio is a recipe for lowering real wages. And that is exactly what these windmills would do.

No the upper limit for a windmill is about 59.3 per cent. This is also called the Betz limit. What the Betz tells us is that it is impossible for any windmill or wind turbine to turn more than 59.3 the per cent of the wind's energy into mechanical or electrical energy. In English so plain that even a union official can understand it - wind power is dilute and that's where its diseconomies of scale come from. And diseconomies of scale mean rising costs, not falling costs. Another insurmountable technical problem is the scientific fact that the maximum power one can extract from a windmill is also proportional to the third power of the wind's velocity. This means that even small changes in wind velocity will generate huge disproportionate changes in output, even with the best designed windmills.

A 1978 British study will give readers some idea of just how inefficient these windmills are. It calculated that it would take 20 million windmills with 100 foot diameter blades to meet the country's electricity needs. For America, it would have been something like 250,000 windmills with 300 foot blades. How many windmills would it take today? Can you imagine our union activists climbing one of these monsters to fix a fuse? Not on your life. This is Australia, mate. (That the study is nearly 30 years old is irrelevant. Physical laws do not change with the passing of time).

Denmark is one country from whose energy mistakes Australia could certainly learn. It allowed itself to be conned by green fanatics in to diverting masses of scarce capital into building wind farms, much to the disgust of real scientists and engineers. The country is now in the ridiculous situation where its theoretical generating capacity is three times that of peak demand. Yet, according to a 1999 estimate, wind accounts for only about 1.7 per cent of electricity production - at a cost of about $AUS600 million in annual subsidies. On the other hand, gas-fired power stations have concentrated power and economies of scale, which means falling costs. By this means, the price of electricity is lowered. And that means lower input prices for industry which in turns expands the demand for more jobs.

Nevertheless, despite experience, scientific studies and engineering knowledge the Labor Government's energy kommissars are sabotaging the state's future electricity supplies by implementing so-called `clean power' policies. And they are doing it with the support of economic illiterates like Dean Mighell'. In the meantime, the State Liberal Party's economic illiterates are busy putting together its own green energy policy which will - if I have been properly informed - be tantamount to economic euthanasia.

*Any youngster with a calculator can work this out from the following very rough rule-of-thumb formula P =r2v3. So if the radius of the blades is 3 metres and wind power is 30 mph, output will be 243 megawatts. Should wind velocity drop to 15 mph output will plummet to 33.75 megawatts which amounts to an 88 per cent drop in output. Therefore the greens' claim that one can run a modern economy on windpower is a malicious lie.


Global warming policies for mass poverty

The newly formed Carbon Sense Coalition today described the Global Warming Policies of both Federal and State government and opposition parties as "Policies for Poverty". Chairman of the new group, Mr Viv Forbes, says that at a time when scientific and informed opinion was becoming more sceptical of the apocalyptic prophecies of the Global Warming Industry, politicians and the media were competing to propose the most extreme and expensive options to "solve" a non- problem.

"A coalition of big business, big government and state funded media and research bureaucrats is colluding to impose job losses, power shortages and increased costs for electricity, transport and food on the unsuspecting Australian community - a well designed total package of Policies for Poverty." "Ordinary workers, consumers and taxpayers will be sacrificed on this Altar in the vain hope that it will have some beneficial effect on earth's future climate". "Even casual analysis of the evidence will show that even if Australia closed every coal mine and power station, and stopped all cars, trucks, ships and aeroplanes, it would be impossible to detect any effect on world temperature". "Politicians seem prepared to impose enormous costs on the Australian people in order to achieve miniscule effects on a non problem".

"Professor Lance Enderbee has published graphs of mean temperatures from 27 rural recording stations in Australia for 100 years from 1890 to 1990. The trend is horizontal, with mean temperature in 1990 below that for 1880. This has occurred during the century of the motor car, two world wars, and massive growth of coal burning for steel production and power generation. Rising carbon dioxide levels have had no effect on temperatures". "A similar data set for six Australian capital cities shows a generally rising trend in temperature since 1950 - that is, rising temperature in Australia is an urban effect, not a result of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere." "Urban heating is caused by air conditioners pumping heat into or out of buildings, motors cars exhausting hot fumes, hot factories, millions of hot bodies, politicians emitting hot air, hot concrete and bitumen, polluted air, fewer breezes and less cool pastures, swamps and scrub." "This urban heating will be made worse by the silly proposal to replace electric appliances (whose source of heat and emissions is controlled in an isolated power station in the countryside) with millions of small open fires burning in gas stoves and hot water systems in every home all over the city."

"The federal government and five state governments have six different programs and models covering emissions trading, carbon caps, carbon taxes and renewable energy schemes. Each jurisdiction is rushing to set up new energy, greenhouse and climate change offices with hierarchies of expensive public officials to staff them. "Merchant banks are gearing up for the easy profits to be generated by carbon trading. Lawyers are preparing for the rush of new business from the disputes, legal challenges and shady deals which will follow the complicated sets of laws and regulations on carbon caps, emissions trading rules, conditions covering free permits, penalties, exemptions, offset policies, early abatement rules, reporting requirements and international trading rules". "All of this is creating a totally artificial industry living on the sweat of ordinary workers, farmers, miners, foresters, consumers, tax payers and shareholders."

"Every carbon cap or tax will increase the cost of electricity in every home, farm and factory. Every increase in power costs will drive one more business and its jobs to China or India. Every subsidy for playthings like solar collectors or wind farms will cause an increase in taxes. And every ethanol plant built will increase the costs of every bit of food on the table of every home in the country - all of these are Policies for Poverty."

"The long term effects on the community will be obvious, but different. Emission traders and regulators will get bonuses in their pay packets. The beautiful people in the leafy suburbs will cut back on cappuccinos. Grain and sugar farmers supplying ethanol plants will prosper. All other farmers and consumers will suffer losses as grain, sugar and electricity costs rise. Coal miners will lose their job. Factory workers will lose their house. Politicians will lose office."


Sunday, July 29, 2007

$10 billion of welfare housing funds down the drain

THE Federal Government is threatening to withdraw $1 billion a year in public housing funds from the states if it thinks the private sector can do more with the money. While Labor held a housing affordability summit in Canberra yesterday, the Government launched a scathing attack on state and territory governments, accusing them of squandering a decade's worth of Commonwealth public housing funds.

Community Services Minister Mal Brough said the states had received almost $10 billion for public housing in 10 years, yet the number of public housing properties in Australia had actually dwindled. "There are 13 less public houses than there were 10 years ago," Mr Brough said. "It beggars belief . . . that so much money could be spent and there to be actually fewer houses than 10 years ago."

With the current five-year Commonwealth-state housing agreement ending next June, Mr Brough is now inviting expressions of interest for the next round of federal public housing funds. Private developers, community groups and councils have been given two months to say how they could better use the Commonwealth's money to increase the stock of affordable housing available for those most in need. "Clearly more of the same won't work," Mr Brough said. "The money's been given to the states. The states have not delivered. For $10 billion, we've got nothing. So over the next 10 years . . . let's see if someone else can do it better. Let's look at what new innovative ways are available to actually get cost-effective houses to people."

Mr Brough said he had already had some informal talks on the subject, and believed there were "enormous opportunities" to increase affordable housing. But that was disputed by Queensland Housing Minister Robert Schwarten, who said he was flabbergasted at the idea of getting the private sector to tender for public housing. "They're privatising public housing, with brazen contempt for the poor people of Australia and Queensland," Mr Schwarten said. "Who is going to house the disabled? Who is going to take that tender? Who is going to house Aboriginal people? I mean, people who are poor, you can't make money out of them."

The housing advocacy group National Shelter also criticised the Federal Government's move, saying the Commonwealth itself was to blame for the reduced stock of public housing. National Shelter chairman Adrian Pisarski said the Federal Government had reduced its contribution to public housing in the past decade by about $3 billion - increasing the burden on the states. "What those cuts have meant is that the states have really been forced into maintenance- only - or even into reducing the level of stock," he said. "They can't really expect any new public housing growth when they haven't put in any new money."


Lara Croft clone sends message for the boys

("Digger" is Australian slang for "soldier")

MOVE over Angelina Jolie, the army is using Australia's version of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, to encourage women to join the forces. Posters approved by the office of Chief of Army Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, depict the modern woman Digger as a buxom, full-lipped wonder woman with a sculpted body wearing a tight-fitting uniform. But the posters, on which the female soldier always appears to look like a million dollars - have caused some offence.

Included in the series are images of a uniformed brunette stirring a pot as a cook; wielding a large spanner as an engineer; singing up a storm with the army band and striding across the helicopter tarmac in a skin-tight flying suit. The cartoon heroine fairly bursts out of her white medical gear in the Dental Corps poster. "We want you" is the message scrawled across the posters in Indiana Jones script.

Unfortunately, many women in the military do not believe the "you" as depicted even exists. They believe the posters send inappropriate signals. One senior air force officer was appalled by the portrayal. "I think they are woeful and say a lot about how army males see the world," she said. "They surely couldn't work and we wouldn't necessarily want the type of women attracted by the posters. "I hope the RAAF doesn't go the same way."

The sexy Digger's male comrade is a chiselled-jawed man in skin-tight overalls. A Defence spokeswoman said the posters were not designed for outside recruiting but rather to encourage soldiers to consider a change in trade. "Army accepted that this campaign might not appeal to all personnel," she said. "Professional marketing advice indicated the use of cartoon caricatures would engage the intended targeted audience, predominantly young males in combat-related roles. "In its first week of testing, 450 soldiers indicated a preference to sign-up to a trade transfer, compared with 35 the week before."

According to well-placed sources, the offending posters are about to be recalled. Meanwhile, the TV navy drama Sea Patrol is expected to deliver a recruiting boon to the navy. A website linked with the program will soon be launched so prospective sailors can interact with the Sea Patrol crew. A Defence source said it was too early to judge the impact of the show, but he said its predecessor Patrol Boat had been a good recruiting tool.


Biased Greenie TV show on Australian public broadcaster

Imagine the scandal if ABC TV ran a series promoting a controversial point of view that was partly funded by an advocacy organisation. We'd never hear the end of it, would we? Well, it all depends on the point of view. This is what the ABC is doing with its Tuesday night prime-time series Carbon Cops. This is a politically correct version of a home makeover program, where the presenters turn up and tell you the planet is doomed unless you change your house and your lifestyle.

Carbon Cops is produced in association with the ABC by FremantleMedia and December Films. December Films received $350,000 towards the series from Sustainability Victoria. This is a state government agency involved in advocacy and action, whose website claims: "Everything we do is dedicated to changing the way Victorians supply and use resources." There is no mention of this funding arrangement in the Carbon Cops program or on its website, apart from a very brief acknowledgement that the program is produced with "the assistance" of Sustainability Victoria.

Carbon Cops is at the cutting edge of global warming hysteria. It starts with this piece of emotional blackmail on the ABC website: "If you are at all concerned about your children's future . then Carbon Cops is a must-see." It continues: "We humans have caused more adverse atmospheric change in the past 100 years than the previous 1000, and the rate of change is exponentially accelerating." Both claims, put without qualification, demonstrate more certainty than the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Apparently, the energy use of the ordinary Australians who appear on the program "is creating an uncertain future" and unless this changes, "our way of life" is over.

Why did the ABC accept external funding to push this point of view? One possible answer might be that it's merely engaging in public education, because the issue is settled and all sensible people agree on what needs to be done. But the ABC itself cannot believe this, because two weeks ago it showed The Great Global Warming Swindle, a documentary sceptical of the premise of Carbon Cops. The online opinion poll held after the documentary showed 45 per cent of respondents share this scepticism.

So this is a controversial issue, which makes the acceptance of funding from an outside advocacy organisation unwise and raises some important questions. Would the ABC accept money from a coal company to fund a series putting the opposite point of view? Or is it only organisations with certain viewpoints that are to have access to the public broadcaster?

Interestingly, there is nothing technically wrong with what the ABC has done with Carbon Cops. Under its editorial policies, the corporation can't accept money from the private sector but can take it from another government organisation. The Carbon Cops example suggests this distinction ought to be questioned. There's an assumption in public debate that any point of view funded by the private sector should be regarded warily, because it might be shaped by self-interest, whereas anything funded by the public sector is pure and in the public interest. I have no problem with the first of these propositions, but the second is naive.

It's a fact of life that publicly funded bureaucrats and scientists have career interests that are influenced by the ideas and policies with which they associate themselves. Climate change is an obvious example. A large proportion of those now working in the field are in positions and organisations that did not exist 15 years ago. If it was confirmed that humans were not causing global warming, or that it was not a serious threat, most of those positions and organisations would disappear. This suggests publicly funded people in the global warming debate are just as likely to be influenced by self-interest as are people working, say, for energy or fossil fuel companies. They are all driven by the natural desire to protect their jobs and career prospects.

I don't mean they lack independence or integrity. Obviously this will vary hugely among individuals. But self-interest can occur on both sides of this debate, as with many other debates, and is not restricted to the private sector. It's time to abandon the assumption that public funding is always used to support the public interest.

The assumption is strangely persistent. One sees it in the frequent criticism of conservative think tanks and intellectuals who've received money from business. It's implicit in the ABC editorial policies' distinction between external funding from the public and the private sectors. Yet, as anyone who has worked in the public sector or watched Yes, Minister knows, public officials are human beings and often act to promote their personal interests or those of their organisation.

There was considerable disquiet some years ago when it was revealed ABC TV was taking money from the private sector to help fund some of its programs. This concern was warranted. We now need to be similarly concerned about what has happened with Carbon Cops. Ideally, the ABC ought to stop taking money from advocacy organisations. But if it sticks with the present guidelines, it should at least expand the range of government agencies from which it accepts funding. Maybe the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation would like a series on the joy of nuclear power?


Fresh questions over another Muslim doctor

New South Wales Health Minister Reba Meagher says she will not speculate on the state coroner's actions following new revelations about the death of a Sydney teenager. Vanessa Anderson, 16, died in Royal North Shore Hospital two days after being hit in the head with a golf ball in 2005. ABC's Stateline program has obtained a letter detailing concerns about the Saudi Arabian anaesthetist involved in the case. The letter details two critical incidents involving the same doctor.

A coronial inquest has already heard that the same doctor gave Ms Anderson an incorrect dose of painkillers. Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner says the new details raise concerns. "The question has to be asked, why wasn't the coroner told about this earlier?" she said. But Ms Meagher said: "I think we should allow the coroner to be able to make a statement without speculating." The coroner was due to deliver his findings on Monday, but will instead discuss the new evidence with all relevant parties during a hearing.


Saturday, July 28, 2007


Three current articles below

Crap English curriculum in NSW

ANALYSING camera angles in the Australian movie Ten Canoes, which is spoken mainly in the indigenous language Ganalbingu, or deconstructing a website on multiculturalism would hardly seem to have much to do with the study of English in high school. But those two "texts" are part of the new draft HSC English reading list for 2009 to 2012, as revealed by Hannah Edwards in The Sun-Herald last weekend.

The films, websites and various multimedia offerings that clog the draft syllabus list show that, even after six years of criticism and complaints from students, parents and teachers, the curriculum designers at the NSW Board of Studies are determined to patronise the ability and desire of high school students to comprehend great ideas and expand their minds with classics. "There is a failure of nerve on the part of curriculum [designers]," says Dr Barry Spurr, a senior lecturer in English literature at Sydney University. "They don't want to present the children with the difficulty of texts, or deal with difficult language . [and] historical context. It's a failure of belief in English as a discipline."

Even while primary school children all over the state are willingly burying their heads in the new 607-page Harry Potter book, the Board of Studies, which has apparently consulted "stakeholders" for years about its latest selections, doesn't trust senior students to read big books. Instead they can analyse Wikipedia, or websites about multiculturalism and the September 11 terrorist attacks. They can deconstruct the "visual images" of the German language film Run Lola Run or the US political satire Wag the Dog. Or they can read short novels, such as the 216-page domestic violence novel Swallow the Air, or Jhumpa Lahiri's 291-page The Namesake or 202 pages of Raimond Gaita's biographical Romulus, My Father or the 78-page play A Man with Five Children by Nick Enright.

Spurr does point to some gems in the new offerings - chiefly the return of Patrick White with The Aunt's Story (304 pages), though he says White should never have been dropped. Spurr says his department gets "the best and the brightest [school-leavers] but they do not know how to construct an essay". Since most of their university study involves essay-writing, and in the business world report-writing is a crucial skill, he is perplexed that the syllabus does not adequately equip students.

In a scathing critique of the 2006 HSC English exam for his school magazine, Spark, Roland Brennan, a year 12 student last year at St Ignatius College, Riverview, writes: "Have I really taken away anything valuable from my HSC advanced English course? I have not been nourished with substance, rather stuffed to the brim with a syrupy, sloppy waste. Junk. Welcome to the HSC English syllabus." He forensically dissects the exam paper and says essay writing is "fast becoming obsolete".

"King Lear . has now been deconstructed and rebuilt within the framework of modern theories such as feminism, Marxism and existentialism. "Contrary to what the Board of Studies seems to think, a 'text' is not 'anything'. The term implies something in a written format, poetry, drama or prose. Not an image or a film clip. Similarly, Shakespeare was a playwright, Coleridge a poet and Huxley an author. They were not 'composers' . We are . readers or viewers, not 'responders'. "The misuse of terms is typical of the HSC syllabus and appears to be used to cover up ignorance." Brennan also says many students do not speak out for fear of being labelled "uncool".

Conservatives have launched ferocious attacks on the HSC English syllabus in recent years, with little apparent effect. The Prime Minister, John Howard, who is married to a former English teacher, last year decried what he called the "dumbing down" of English in which "what I might call the traditional texts are treated no differently from pop cultural commentary".

The problem for the Board of Studies is it has to cater for many HSC students who are not interested in English. The subject is compulsory in years 11 and 12, making it a wearisome task to cajole students into the most basic learning. A high school teacher who sat on a committee choosing HSC texts in the 1990s says the pressure to make English compulsory for all HSC students came from the University of NSW medical faculty, which was worried about churning out doctors without adequate English skills. Perhaps medical schools could conduct English lessons rather than force reluctant students to do a subject they detest.

The other problem is that today's students are so focused on their HSC results that teachers are under intense pressure to confine themselves to the syllabus, says Daniel Brass, a 26-year-old teacher of advanced English at a coaching college for years 11 and 12. "English is not to improve your mind," he says. "It's just to get your marks to get into uni."

In this way the English syllabus places teachers in an intellectual straitjacket. Brass doesn't mind websites and films crowding the syllabus. He doesn't even mind authors being renamed "composers" and readers "responders". But he says the board has usurped teachers' autonomy, deciding not only the texts they must teach but prescribing how they must teach them.

There is hope, Spurr says, as the students he sees in first-year university are increasingly demanding to be taught the classics, hungry for real literature and fed up with incoherent jargon. But this is no consolation for "less-gifted students who should have as much right to be exposed to the best that has been known and thought in the world", he says. Instead they are encouraged to fritter away perhaps their only opportunity to improve their minds.


Student achievement must be detectable and rewarded

Little Johnny understands the convention of printing ... little Suzie understands the operation of addition ... The rest of us, well, we don't understand what's happening in our schools any more. If anybody other than a school teacher can decipher the true meaning of the "convention of printing" - a convoluted little phrase appearing on report cards across the state - then they deserve a ribbon. (Which is only fair, because everyone in school gets a ribbon these days. More on that later.)

NSW's school teachers have won a necessary victory over the Iemma Government in their refusal to implement a state-wide ranking system on student report cards - but hold off the backslapping just yet. There was a reason Premier Morris Iemma couldn't understand his daughter's report card, which prompted his ultimatum, and why the Federal Government also felt it necessary to weigh in. It is the teachers' fault.

Report cards have become such a dog's breakfast of political correctness, convoluted jargon and deliberate clouding that no parent can understand what they say or are meant to say. The convention of printing? Supposedly, it means little Johnny knows to hold the book the right way up, that he knows to read left to right and that one line follows another. The operation of addition? Little Susie can add up. Why teachers don't say it like it is any more is anyone's guess.

Indeed, so clouded are any meanings, and so subtle have become the gradings between "achieving", "working towards" and "more effort required", that they are virtually useless.

The grading system proposed by the State Government was impractical. For example, grading every kid from A to E is unfair on the average kid at a smart school, who is unfairly pushed to the bottom of rankings. It is unfair to the average kids at a below average school, getting A's when they are by any realistic measure average. Comparing grades uniformly from school to school doesn't work. It's apples and oranges.

The biggest reason for this awful system is, apparently, self-esteem issues. How would Johnny, struggling to understand the "convention of printing", feel if he showed Mum and Dad his report card with a D for literacy? It is an understandable concern but the pendulum has now swung too far the other way. "Rotational reward" is the term, and the liberal-thinkers have got it backwards. Rotational reward is a reaction against the naturally intelligent kids - for example, the ones who win all the prizes even though, unlike little Johnny trying hard to understand the convention of printing, they don't have to work nearly as hard.

Rotate the rewards until little Johnny, putting in all that effort, finally gets a ribbon. Sounds great. It works until the average kids work it out, then question why they should try harder when their reward is going to come around sooner or later anyway. Worse, it creates a wave of school children who drift through school, never needing to sharpen their competitive instincts because they get the reward as a matter of course. The problem comes after graduation, when they find themselves in a world that doesn't give rewards on a rotational basis but for achievement. Soon enough they find they're ill-equipped to survive the competitive environment of this real world.

Kids need to compete. There is nothing wrong with teaching a child to win. Or that work brings reward. Nothing wrong with showing a child that, if they work harder, they can climb from the middle of their class and win a ribbon. The hard-earned victories are the sweetest. If every child gets a prize, soon the prize won't mean much at all. So, far from the backslapping, the NSW Teachers Federation needs to come up with a better system, one that lets kids and parents know exactly where they stand in relation to other kids in class. The criteria for achievement in our schools has to be more clear-cut - give that gift to our children and one day those children will become our gift. Believe it.


Bloated teacher-training courses highlighted

And the establishment is resisting. I went into secondary teaching without one second of teacher training and my students did very well

The head of education at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia says it is important to consider all kinds of programs to get more people into teaching.

The Nationals are preparing a report to be tabled in State Parliament which will recommend a teaching course used in the United States be considered in WA. The Nationals' spokesman for education, Grant Woodhams, wants to introduce a fast track seven-week training course offered to university graduates. He says it will give people wanting a career change, the university qualifications to teach.

While Professor Gary Robson says all options need to be considered, but he doubts two months is enough time. "On the face of it I would be very nervous about seven weeks, if that's all it was. Seven weeks would not seem to be a sufficient time for people to acquire the skills that are needed to be a good practitioner in this day and age," he said.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Teachers' union beats attempt to set standards

TEACHERS have inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Iemma Government demands by blocking student report cards. The NSW Teachers' Union has won a three-year battle to stop a "one-size-fits-all" report that would have ranked children in the classroom based on their performance. Public school teachers are now gloating that not one of them has been disciplined over the refusal to prepare the reports requested by Premier Morris Iemma.

Mr Iemma championed A to E grades two years ago, saying he could not understand his daughter's report and needed a meeting with the teacher to determine her ranking in class. "The report that came home was confusing to us and required very careful reading and raised a number of questions that we could only have addressed at the parent-teacher night," he said in 2005.

But now, Mr Iemma's demand for a simple, uniform report card system has been stymied, with different approaches being taken across schools at the behest of the Teachers Union. Teachers were taken to the Industrial Commission after banning the new reports claiming they would label children as failures and could be used to judge their work in class. The union has told each of the state's 2240 schools to decide their own preferred format for student reports. The successful campaign effectively prevents any comparisons of performance between students, teachers or schools.

Threats by the Howard Government to withdraw $3.7 billion in school funding if the reports were not implemented also have come to nothing. The Daily Telegraph can reveal that many schools across the state are not grading students on an A to E scale or telling parents they can request details of their child's ranking. "The majority of NSW public schools did not conform to the department's reporting requirements," a fax sent to schools by the union during term two said. "No federal funding was lost. No teacher was disciplined."

Primary Principals' Association president Geoff Scott said yesterday that individual schools were deciding the best way to report to parents. "There is variety . . . most schools have reached a compromise with their communities on Plain English reports," he said. "There is no compiling of league tables ranking students." Public Schools Principals' Forum chairwoman Cheryl McBride also said a "whole lot of schools are doing their own thing in consultation with their communities". "Many schools are not doing A to E but are using word descriptors (such as 'outstanding' or 'limited' to indicate a student's progress)," she said. "Some have made up their own (descriptors) or are using just four instead of five. "There won't be a direct comparison between schools because of the differences (in report formats)."


Leftist Catholic Bishops' pious but ignorant blather about black suffering

By Christopher Pearson

A FEW years ago I had a conversation with a friend who was just about to be made a Catholic bishop. He was apprehensive, he said, because almost without exception the process of gaining a mitre involved a sudden loss of brains and backbone. He felt reasonably confident it had always been a problem, but that the Australian church was in a particularly parlous condition. Happily, he shows no signs of spinelessness to date, nor has he lost his sense of humour. Several of his brother bishops also display some capacity for wit and judgment. While no one pretends they are by any stretch of the imagination an illustrious body of men, as individuals they are often quite rational and well-adjusted. It's when they act as a group that most of them make fools of themselves.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is an organisation philistine enough to have dispensed with the apostrophe in its name, in much the same way that Catholic education has resolved not to teach its charges the rudiments of grammar. To visit its website is to enter a twilight world of dullards; a clerical and lay bureaucracy that exists principally to issue press releases about itself and its doings. As you'd expect, its self-importance and delusions of omnicompetence know no bounds.

I have often had occasion of late to comment on the antics of social justice operatives on the clerical Left. The St Vincent de Paul Society's absurd posture on welfare reform comes to mind, along with episcopal pronouncements on Work Choices that might as well have been scripted by Hawker Britton, federal Labor's chief spin doctors. Then again, Catholic Health Australia head Francis Sullivan gave a ringing endorsement to Medicare Gold just as the wheels were falling off Mark Latham's campaign in 2004.

In each case there was a crude attempt to enlist Catholicism into party politics. St Vinnies quasi-Marxist rhetoric never betrayed the least understanding of the dangers of passive welfare or that keeping the minimum wage relatively low led to the creation of many more entry-level positions. Anti-Work Choices diatribes from the bishops invariably take the side of lower-paid workers, but at the expense of the unemployed, and never seem to grasp how it is that people are priced out of a job. Sullivan's enthusiasm for Medicare Gold blinded him to how unaffordable it was and the ways it distorted health priorities on the basis of age rather than need, but at this distance I suppose it may charitably be classed as a sudden rush of blood to the head.

No such excuse can be made for the latest outrage, a statement issued by the bishops' conference on July 7 on the federal Government's intervention in remote Aboriginal communities. Their lordships had more than a fortnight to think about the moral and legal niceties before delivering a considered opinion. Instead they appear to have delegated the task to an ideologically driven subcommittee. The statement says, among other things: "The response must be designed and implemented so as to support, rather than undermine, the future sustainability of remote Aboriginal communities. Talk of 'mainstreaming' calls to mind the following warning about the dangers of 'ethnocentricity'. The rejection of differences can lead to that form of cultural annihilation (that) sociologists have called 'ethnocide' and (that) does not tolerate the presence ofothers except to the extent that they allowthemselves to be assimilated to the dominant culture."

The Uniting Church, Wesley Mission and the National Council of Churches had already criticised the federal Government's intervention. The statement was simply a sign of solidarity from the Catholic wing of the wet Left. The nifty quote about ethnocide from a dusty 1988 document The Church and Racism, care of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, was a way of upping the ante. One battle-scarred insider explained it to me as a case of "the theology of the meaningless gesture, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

Potential ethnocide or cultural genocide is not a charge to be levelled lightly at a government; at least not if the body doing the accusing wants to continue to be taken seriously. Can their lordships have forgotten (or perhaps not noticed) that the Howard Government's intervention enjoys the support of federal Labor, all the state governments, even the Northern Territory Labor government and Aboriginal leaders such as Labor's former party president Warren Mundine, Noel Pearson and National Indigenous Council head Sue Gordon?

Gordon, a magistrate of great experience, recently commented on the problems of an estimated 1000 remote communities with less than 100 members: "Many settlements consist of a few families who've regained access to traditional land through recognition of land rights. We don't believe the Government should be funding communities of less than 100 people. We can't put a school in every remote area. It's just too costly."

Thirty years ago most Australian Catholic bishops had a good grounding in the business of providing parochial schools in remote areas. No one at the time could have accused them of indifference to the pastoral needs ofscattered flocks, but they were hard-headed pragmatists who did their best with limited resources. The present generation seems to imagine any indigenous group, regardless of size and location, is entitled to First World standard schooling and that anything less is potentially a form of cultural annihilation.

Gordon is the head of the Government's NT taskforce and it's safe to say that she would not have lent her considerable authority to the intervention unless she had been convinced the Howard Government was serious about making it work. A lawyer by training, she has repeatedly defended ad hoc measures, including taking control of remote settlements for the next five years, promoting 99-year leases to encourage economic development and private home ownership, and compensation on just terms where land is being taken back into public ownership. She has rejected point-blank claims that the federal plan is a smokescreen for another stolen generation or a land grab or a stealthy attempt to mine Aboriginal sites for uranium.

The bishops' conference statement assumes native title is a self-evident good that should be regarded as sacrosanct rather than the weakest and least fungible form of property right. It also lends credence to the land grab hypothesis. "The Government needs to demonstrate why action to address child abuse in Aboriginal communities requires amendments to land rights and self-government legislation."

On the same day as their lordships' ill- considered response, Pearson wrote a long, trenchant column in Inquirer. He, too, is a lawyer with extensive experience in land rights negotiations, a long-time admirer of the Keating government who'd know a land grab if he saw one. "This is my two-step reasoning for supporting intervention," Pearson wrote. "The first step is that you have to know what happens in these communities, week in, week out. Urban-based critics simply do not know the realities. Neither did 90 per cent of Australia until recently. There is now no excuse because there has been a major expose and official report in almost every jurisdiction. The second step is that once you have knowledge of the realities, you must find their continuation unacceptable. Therefore you support intervention."

On the question of land he had this to say: "If political circumstances became such that we were forced to prioritise, I would place social order ahead of land rights. Of course the land problem is being overstated. I have constantly asserted that the Howard Government's one failing in indigenous policy is that it has Tourette syndrome on some ideological questions. I find the land provisions more clumsy or ill-conceived from the point of view of workability than undermining land rights. If there is a land grab, then it is principally being grabbed for the benefit of Aboriginal families obtaining private leasehold title for housing or businesses."

When it comes to assessing the takeover of remote communities in the NT, the public will take far more notice of Gordon and Pearson than the bishops' conference because they know what they're talking about. If the bishops ever wonder why their authority is steadily dwindling, they'd do well to consider this latest foolishness and take steps to dissociate themselves from any group statement they haven't read and don't wholeheartedly support.


Urgent action needed to stop black mothers drinking: doctor

And how is Dr. Lamebrain going to do that? Prohibition?

The Kimberley's senior paediatrician says an urgent study is needed to establish the number of children affected by prenatal alcohol disorders. Dr John Boulton says he works with other doctors, nurses and Aboriginal health workers who believe one in every three children in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing are affected by the disease Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It is an umbrella term used to describe the range of disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. Foetal alcohol syndrome - which can cause facial abnormalities and learning difficulties - is the most readily recognised disease.

Dr Boulton says urgent action must be taken to stop Indigenous mothers drinking during their pregnancies. "The high level of alcohol abuse in Indigenous communities is a public health tragedy," he said. He says the inter-generational effects of alcohol abuse will continue if nothing is done.


Tasmania's child protection system waits too long to remove young children from bad parents

I suppose we should be grateful that SOMEONE in authority has noticed the obvious

TASMANIA'S child protection system waits too long to remove young children from bad parents, says the state's Children's Commissioner. Paul Mason said Tasmania should look to Queensland, where parents get one chance to mend their ways before a child is permanently removed. But he rejected Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop's call for children of drug addicts to be offered for adoption. Ms Bishop wants adoption, rather than fostering, used to separate children from parents addicted to drugs. Mr Mason said this would create another "stolen generation" and foster care was a better option because children were not cut off from parents.

"But I do agree with Bronwyn Bishop that child protection may take too long to explore the permanent placement option," he said. "The Tasmanian system repeatedly puts children back in homes that are never going to work, because the Government believes the best place for a child is with its parents. This is true to a point, when it is safe." He said drug, gambling and alcohol addictions were common in the child protection system and could contribute to bad parenting. "They all involve a parent putting their needs before a child's," Mr Mason said.

He said children aged under 3 who could not live safely at home should be placed in permanent foster care. "Tasmania should give the child's need for stability and safety higher priority than the needs of incompetent parents," he said. "They take a child out and put them back and take them out too often. If a parent can't take steps with their bad parenting after one or two goes, the department should look at permanent options for young children.

Ms Bishop told ABC's Four Corners last night evidence showed children living with drug-addicted parents risked death, abuse and neglect. "There are hundreds and hundreds of parents who are desperate to adopt children and give love and give good homes but there is this 'biology first' principle," she said.

Tasmania's acting Human Services Minister Steve Kons said the law stressed that families had the primary responsibility for the care and protection of their children. He said the law also recognised the importance of maintaining a child's link with its family and community. "Tasmania's focus is on improving our child protection system, to strengthen early intervention and family support services and prevent child abuse," Mr Kons said. [Empty blather]

TasCOSS and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Council criticised Ms Bishop's proposal as dangerous, saying parents need support to kick addictions and keep children.



There is no end to official policies that are eventually seen as getting it exactly wrong -- though this recent one is rather tragic -- and when normal cyclic global cooling comes, official acceptance of the warmist scare will be seen to be yet another such folly -- much like that other famous Greenie false prophecy: Paul Ehrlich's "population bomb".

But I think there is always room for another example of official folly so let me mention one that has taken place in my home town of Brisbane.

In the old days, lots of people in Brisbane had rainwater tanks for domestic use, as the town water was rather "hard". Eventually, however, the town water improved and the tanks fell out of favour. But there were still a lot of them around. The local council eventually took notice of this and concluded that the old tanks were a health hazard. So it sent inspectors around telling people to pull down their old tanks on pain of prosecution. My neighbour over the road was one of those threatened and he did pull his tank down.

Now, however, Greenie opposition to dam building has ensured that Brisbane has a water shortage. So what is the council doing? Offering people $1,000 grants to install rainwater tanks! My bemused neigbour has signed up and reinstalled a rainwater tank roughly where his old tank used to be.

Betting that official wisdom is in fact official folly is probably the best bet in all circumstances. It is only official meddling in people's daily lives that caused the Brisbane rainwater tank fiasco. But the meddlers will always think that they know best. Don't believe them. It is almost certain that they will do more harm than good.

My FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC blog reports almost daily examples of know-alls who are getting it wrong. The whole concept of a "healthy" diet is fundamentally flawed, for instance. Who these days has not absorbed the message that a low-fat diet is healthier? The supermarkets are full of low-fat foods and the great sin of McDonalds is that their food is "high in fat". Yet a huge recent U.S. study of 50,000 people costing $400 million and lasting 8 years found absolutely no effect on health of a low-fat diet. Don't believe me? You can find the links to the actual journal articles reporting the findings in the right-hand column of my FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC blog.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The reality of Australia's "noble savages"

Note first the Rousseauian description of Aboriginal life by pathetic Australian Leftist Robert Manne:

"not an Edenic but an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being had a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning."

That wet dream was a fantasy about Aboriginal life before the white man came. Compare it with the reality today described below. Note that the description below is of the situation in Aboriginal settlements where Aborigines are again free to run their own lives in their own way -- in the "playful" way described by Manne if they so choose

Cockroaches and dead flies are being syringed out of the ears of Aboriginal children in remote Western Australia and their hearing is so poor that some are being educated by loudspeakers. At Balgo, in the northeastern reaches of the Great Sandy Desert and 100 km from the Northern Territory border, 85 per cent of school-age children cannot hear properly, leading to learning difficulties and social disadvantage.

Backing up a Productivity Commission report showing that hearing problems among indigenous children are three times as high as those of white kids, local doctor Nicolette deZoete said the problem was often detected when an infant was four to six weeks old. Like trachoma - the eye disease that plagues many Aboriginal communities - chronic hearing disorders were preventable, she said. "Because these kids don't have a strong immune system when they're born, combined with the health environment in which they find themselves from day one, the problem keeps on recurring, even after we clean it up," she said. "The ears of kids around here are chronically full of pus. It may be fixed in two weeks, but then they go back to their houses, where 12 or 16 people may live, they sleep on the same blanket that the dog does, and - what a surprise - they're having the same problems all over again."

These problems manifest themselves in the child's development from toddler to adolescent, as they try to learn English as their second or third language. "Quite often they can't even hear what's being taught," Dr deZoete said. Teachers at Balgo's Catholic school use loudspeakers to get their messages across to the 110 school-age children in the community.

Child health nurse Robyn Smythe, who has been running infant health programs at the outpost for three years, said locals' immune systems were low because underweight babies were born to smoking, drinking mothers, a significant proportion of them under 16. Some mothers had arrived at the community clinic the day they gave birth so their understanding of pre- and post-natal care was almost non-existent, she said. "By the time the child is 18 months, it's often up to them to find their own food," Ms Smythe said. "Quite often it's survival of the fittest."

Dr deZoete said the problem was environmental health. "Wouldn't it be smarter, simpler and cheaper to sort out the environmental health issues so they didn't get sick in the first place?" she said.

The above article by Tony Barrass appeared in "The Australian" on July 21, 2007

Crackdown on rogue unions pays big dividends for all

A NEW era of industrial peace on the nation's building sites has delivered a $15 billion boost to the economy and produced a remarkable 9.4 per cent jump in productivity. In a stark pre-election message to Labor, a new study reveals the demise of militant unionism in the $90 billion construction sector has helped trim inflation as the cost of building office towers has been cut by 5.2 per cent. On the eve of Kevin Rudd's housing summit in Canberra, the report reveals the benefits have also flowed on to residential housing, with construction costs falling by 3 per cent.

Commissioned by the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the economic report - to be released today - highlights the challenge for Labor as it considers winding back the Coalition's workplace reforms.

Under pressure from the ACTU and powerful building unions, the Labor leadership has promised to abolish the ABCC, which was established in the wake of the Cole royal commission into the building industry as a tough "cop on the beat", from 2010.

Amid industry warnings that some firms are already factoring in "risk of Rudd" premiums to future contracts, ABCC head John Lloyd last night warned it would be "most regrettable" if militant practices returned to building sites. Mr Lloyd will today release the economic study, by respected forecaster Econtech, the first of its kind since the Cole inquiry revealed a culture of union intimidation with its landmark March 2003 report. The Econtech study estimates that productivity in the building and construction sector has jumped 9.4 per cent since the Cole inquiry. It compares labour costs this year against the average over the period from 1994 to 2003. Econtech estimates the ABCC's clampdown on militant behaviour - it has about 100 matters under investigation - has also contributed to a 1.5 per cent rise in GDP above what it would otherwise have been. It also suggests inflation is 1.2 per cent lower than if the ABCC had not been established.

Mr Lloyd, who has been targeted by building unions, said the study justified the tough stance taken by the ABCC since 2005. "This study shows that significant gains are flowing through to the wider Australian economy. The ABCC has had real impact," Mr Lloyd told The Australian.

Labor announced in late May that it would retain the ABCC through to 2010. This followed lobbying by the building sector, which was alarmed that Labor would demolish a tough regulatory cop that has driven reform and radically cut strikes across the nation's big construction sites.

In a clear sign of the nervousness in Labor ranks over the Government's targeting of its union links, the Opposition Leader last month moved to expel senior Western Australian Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union official Joe McDonald from the ALP. This came after Mr McDonald was caught on camera delivering an expletive-laden tirade against an employer.

Industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard said Labor has not seen the report commissioned by the ABCC, but the party supported "driving productivity in all industries, including building and construction". "Productivity will be the focus of Labor's new industrial relations system," Ms Gillard, also Deputy Opposition Leader, said. "As previously announced, Labor will always have a strong cop on the beat in the building and construction industry."

Mr Lloyd last night hailed the "marked improvement" in industrial behaviour on the nation's building sites, and said "industrial unrest" margins of up to 30 per cent had been slashed to negligible levels. In a sharp message to Labor, Mr Lloyd said it would be "most regrettable if the practices and conduct of the past re-emerged".

The Australian Constructors Association - whose membership includes the nation's biggest building firms including Leighton Holdings, Thiess, John Holland, Multiplex and Bovis Lend Lease - is considering funding a campaign in favour of the Governments's workplace relations laws. Its board will meet on August 23, with Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard scheduled to attend. Last night, Master Builders Australia - whose membership also includes some of the nation's biggest construction firms - said the ABCC study vindicated its own economic analysis on the benefits of the workplace reforms. "(The ABCC study) makes it very difficult for the ALP to argue that there are very few economic benefits," MBA chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch said. "It vindicates the position that we put to the ALP, that taking away the ABCC is turning back the clock."

The economic study reveals the previous large gap between the costs of commercial building and residential housing has been slashed as thuggish union behaviour is brought under control. While commercial building costs were on average 10.7 per cent higher compared with residential housing from 1994 to 2003, this cost gap has been whittled back to just 1.7 per cent this year. The benefits also flow to other industries which are taking advantage of the improved cost structures in construction. The Econtech study estimates a 5.4 per cent boost in mining production, for instance, while that industry's costs have been cut 1.7 per cent. Manufacturing (1.7 per cent) and transport (1.6 per cent) have experienced smaller production gains.


Australian Left reverses under pressure: Now in favour of cutting down trees

KEVIN Rudd yesterday scrapped forest policies which cost Labor two key Tasmanian seats at the last federal election - and he sweetened the deal with $20 million. The Labor leader pledged support for the Regional Forest Agreement and the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement. This means no more areas of old-growth trees would be turned into reserves and locked away from felling - which brings Labor into line with the Federal Government policy. The key forestry union, the forestry industry and the State Government all welcomed the policy change. It was condemned by The Wilderness Society.

A few days before the 2004 election, Prime Minister John Howard was greeted as a hero in Tasmania by workers afraid the old-growth reserves preservation policy of then Labor leader Mark Latham would cost them their jobs. CFMEU forestry branch national secretary Michael O'Connor said then: "I would only say Mr Howard's policy is better than Mr Latham's." The industry anger was linked to Labor's election loss of Bass and Braddon in Tasmania and a seat in Victoria.

Yesterday Mr O'Connor said: "The ghost of Mark Latham is well and truly buried." And Mr O'Connor's Tasmanian counterpart Scott McLean, who cheered Mr Howard three years ago, shook Mr Rudd's hand after the policy announcement at the 100-year-old Britton Bros sawmill at Smithton on the North-West Coast. "What this policy does is finally put the ghost of Mark Latham to bed," Mr McLean said.

Mr Rudd said: "In the last election we didn't get the balance right, that's why I came back here to Tasmania very soon after becoming leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party. "In the period since then we've been consulting with the local industry, with others here in Tasmania, with (Braddon candidate) Sid Sidebottom. Our shadow minister Kerry O'Brien has also been part and parcel of the decision. "We support its implementation in full, and believe the implementation is necessary to provide long-term stability and security to Tasmania's forest industry."

The $20 million package for industry development includes $9 million to boost value-adding in Tasmania, plans for a ban on illegal imported timber and also a major study into the impact of climate change on the timber sector. Mr Rudd said the package was a fresh commitment to the industry in Tasmania to provide long-term certainty. "I'm here today to make it clear-cut where we stand in terms of the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement," he said. "Mr Howard is locked in behind that, I'm locking in behind that, I can't be any clearer than that."

The TCFA protects 170,000ha of forest, including 45,000ha on private land through the Forest Conservation Fund. Mr Rudd said Labor's $9 million Forest Industries Development Fund would help reverse the trade deficit in forest products. Another $1 million will go to a new Forest Industry Skills Council to build capacity for the forestry workforce. The $1 million program to fight illegal timber will support certification schemes for products sold in Australia.


Greens' energy tax would destroy the Australian economy

Green fanatics are talking about cutting emissions by a suicidal 60 per cent. I say suicidal because such a policy would be devastating for living standards. To cut USA Co2 emissions by 33 per cent everything powered by petrol would have to be abandoned. If the emissions cut was raised to about 70 per cent they would have to virtually abandon electricity production. In plain English: these fanatics and their media allies are demanding that Australians should destroy their country's capital structure and adopt the `life-style' of a medieval peasant.

Some greenies have tried to use the economic concept of discounting to deceive people in thinking that emission cuts would be economically painless. Discounting recognizes the fact that we value present goods more highly than future goods. That is why we have interest. If it were not so, then $100 ten years hence would have the same value as $100 in the hand. In business planned expenditures are discounted by the rate of interest to provide an estimate of their present value. At an interest rate of 10 per cent $100 in a year's time is worth $91 today. Obviously, the higher the interest rate the lower the present value of a future good.

When a firm, for example, is appraising a potential investment it can calculate its internal rate of return. If the internal return is greater than the rate at which it can borrow, the investment is profitable. (This, of course, is a great simplification of the investment process). Therefore discounting is used by firms to measure and compare future flows of benefits and costs in dollar terms. This is basically what most economic models try to do when they attempt to compare the costs of cutting CO2 with the apparent benefits. But this approach also brings into play the economic concept of cost. Every economist knows that the real cost of anything is not its money price but displaced values: those things that must be sacrificed to obtain the desired good. Economists aptly call these sacrifices opportunity costs.

Thus the real cost of buying a car is all the other goods and services that would have otherwise have been bought. To a firm, its costs would be displaced alternative revenue flows. The effect, and intention, of reducing emissions is to burden the economy with higher production costs. Thus the costs to society of these green policies will be lower productivity, more premature deaths, fewer opportunities for more productive technologies, especially energy intensive ones, fewer resources for schools and hospitals, the loss of investments yielding more and more better paid jobs, etc. And no amount of discounting can make these costs disappear. In fact, the greater the reduction in Co2 emissions the more savage the cut in living standards

If we focus on the firm for a moment we see that when it considers a potential project it will discount the anticipated stream of earnings and costs and compare them with each other. Should the costs exceed anticipated earnings then obviously the project will be rejected. A crude way of applying the same principle to an economy would be to try and calculate the alleged future costs to the economy of CO2 emissions, discount these alleged costs at a certain rate of interest, divide the result by the population to get a per capita figure and then subtract the figure from per capita GDP.

If the per capita GDP figure is $30,000 and the per capita cost is $10,000 then the loss of income is significant. (The figures are arbitrary and chosen for reasons of exposition). Of course, it will be argued that it's still worth the cost and it's only a one-off sum anyway that doesn't have to be paid at once.

The problem is that it's not a one-off sum - none of these figures are one-offs. Journalists who claim otherwise are liars. What is being deliberately ignored is that a permanent increase in energy costs will force firms to restrict output by eventually changing their factor combinations in a way that will bring operating costs into line with a lower level of output. To argue otherwise is to assert that rising production costs do not affect output. If this were so, then an immediate doubling of wage rates would not affect output or the demand for labour.

It clearly follows that the reduction in output becomes a permanent feature of the economy. Now a non-green economist could argue that there need not be a permanent fall in living standards or any fall whatever, merely a reduction in the rate of increase in consumption. What this amounts to is that part of those savings that would have gone into increased production will be directed into reducing CO2 emissions. In other words, instead of having a 4 percent growth rate we only get 3 percent.

This argument overlooks the fact that this policy would only slowdown CO2 emissions, which would cause the greens to demand more stringent reductions. This is because the greens' goal is to use greenhouse taxes to reduce absolute production and not just its rate of growth. In other words, the greens real target is industrialisation. In any case, it's ridiculous to assert that deliberately slowing down capital accumulation is not a cost to society. Any government action that forcibly reduces investment and consumption is a cost to society. (The Nazi and Soviet economies are graphic examples of this economic truth).

Moreover, the idea of blanket energy taxes and aggregate discounting for the economy are highly questionable, falling into the trap of what I call the tyranny of aggregates. By concentrating on discounting for the economy economists have neglected the key role that the market rate of interest plays in not only equating the supply of capital with the demand for capital but of allocating capital through time. Production takes time, a fact that no one would dispute. The question is: How much time? This is where interest plays its vital hand. If the rate of interest falls naturally, i.e. people are saving more, from 5 percent to 3 percent then this will signal to entrepreneurs that more capital is available.

By definition, this means that the discount rate also falls. Many capital-intensive projects that were ignored because the previous rate of interest made them unprofitable because of their highly time-consuming nature now become profitable at the lower rate of interest. Therefore the effect of market fall in the rate of interest is to lengthen the production structure by adding more time-consuming but highly productive stages to it. (This is what is meant by allocating capital through time).

Imagine the economy expressed as a right-angled triangle with a number of rectangles going through it, with each rectangle representing a stage of production. As the triangle gets longer and wider more and more time-consuming complex stages are added to it, which eventually increases the flow of consumer goods and services. Now take two identical triangles and then have one expand at 5 percent a year and the other at 2 percent. The one expanding at 5 percent will double in size in about 14 years while the other will take about 35 years. We can see that after 14 years of growth the differences in size would be enormous. Let us now superimpose the slow growing triangle A on the fast growing one B. The area outside A but still within B is what B would have had to sacrifice if its growth rate had been cut to 2 percent.

As B is now a far richer economy than A because it has a longer production structure it can allocate more resources to fighting whatever environmental problems it comes to face. This means that instead of imposing an energy tax on production economy B can pay for the environment out of general revenue. In addition, its rapid growth also means that advances in technology would be embodied in its capital structure. On the other hand, the cost to A of fighting environmental problems will be far greater. Greens can argue that there is no time to lose; impending doom in the form of global warming calls for measures now. And that the economic benefits from cutting Co2 emissions will greatly exceed the costs. No and No. In fact, the evidence against the existence of man-made global warming is mounting.

Antarctica is getting colder and accumulating more ice, and sea levels are not rising. The IPPC has conceded that the warming up to 1940 was the result of solar activity during the early part of the century. So the ice caps are not melting and polar bears are not disappearing. The Medieval Warm period - which was much warmer than today - and the Little Ice Age happened independently of human activity, indicating that even severe weather fluctuations are a natural part of global weather patterns.

In other words - don't let the greens panic you. Considering the amount of anti-warming evidence that is accumulating, I think people are being wise in questioning the motives of those who are using hysterical language in an attempt to bulldoze us into adopting policies that would destroy our living standards while simultaneously increasing government control over our lives.


Arrogant Australian lawyers show their contempt for democracy

THE political war between much of the legal profession and the Howard Government is now open and unconcealed as barristers and the bench resort to leaking, lecturing and campaigning against the executive and the parliament. This is a deadly contest, fuelled over many years but growing more bitter over the anti-terrorist security laws. It is a war the legal profession is destined to lose because of its flawed intellectual position, its engulfing hubris and the ultimate reluctance of the Australian people to accept the legal polemic about the threat to our democracy.

The bedrock view of the lawyers' rebellion is their refusal to accept the legitimacy of executive action based on statute and invoking the national interest. Insisting they know better, the lawyers offer themselves as saviours of civil liberties (but not necessarily saviours of the best interests of their clients).

The case involving Mohamed Haneef has exposed the fracture in dramatic terms. His barrister, Stephen Keim, has become a part-time political operative, defiant in going to the media, seeking to sway public opinion and casting himself in an epic encounter "that could affect the lives of our grandchildren". Yes, that's what the barrister told the ABC's Lateline before taunting the Prime Minister and the federal police to "come and grab me" if they dare, revealing he was "very passionate" about the issue and dismissing any need to consult either his client or solicitors before providing the media with the 142-page transcript of Haneef's interview with the Australian Federal Police. Verily, any defendant would beg for the services of such an advocate.

This is a guise all too tedious: the lawyer as political hero. What good it will do his client Haneef (or how much it damages the defence case) is not clear. It is, however, a reminder of the David Hicks saga. As explained by journalist Leigh Sales in her recent book, while John Howard could have brought Hicks's suffering to an end, so could his own lawyers by striking a plea bargain three years earlier. They didn't. Their aim was to wage a political campaign to break Howard's will and force his complete backdown over Hicks. It failed.

This week Melbourne barrister Robert Richter QC identified the Howard Government as being guilty of terrorist-type tactics. "This is a terrorist threat to our legal system," he told the ABC of ministerial actions. "Not by the terrorists, but by (Philip) Ruddock and his cohorts." Assume this is a considered view. Lest anybody suspect Richter was in a minority, Australian Bar Association president Stephen Estcourt branded the cancellation of Haneef's visa "a cynical exercise" that "constitutes an assault on the rule of law". That's all.

This paper quoted Estcourt as saying that "disquiet is pretty universal" among lawyers. He was reported saying that thousands of lawyers were deeply concerned about the Howard Government's actions. There is no reason to doubt such extraordinary claims. The lawyers are mobilising against executive tyranny. Observe that only a fortnight ago former chief justice Gerard Brennan critiqued the Government's anti-terror laws at a Sydney conference. Brennan complained that the definition of a terrorist act related to the motive of advancing "a political, religious or ideological cause". This seems, at face value, an accurate portrait of the threat. But Brennan argued that motive added nothing to the criminality of the act and might "easily be misunderstood as targeting the entire group who wish to advance the religious cause of Islam".

Brennan slammed the detention powers as a "remarkable infringement on a person's common-law rights". Such an expansion of executive power was undertaken without sufficient safeguards, the defect being "to transfer the protection of individual liberty from the judicial to the executive branch of government".

Brennan's remarks are illuminating. They make the pivotal issue one of power between executive and judiciary. His clear implication is that public acceptance of the laws cannot validate this defect nor make it acceptable. Such laws were passed on the votes of the Coalition and Labor. It is noteworthy that Labor has supported the Howard Government's action over Haneef. Labor's shadow immigration minister Tony Burke has been supportive but silent.

The message is that the executive-judiciary struggle is entrenched beyond party politics. It will endure under a Labor government but without the special venom that marks the profession's attitude towards Howard and Attorney-General Ruddock. Indeed, it may be some time before the legal lions liken Kevin Rudd's government to terrorists. But it will happen.

A comic footnote in this 11-year contest was provided by Melbourne barrister Julian Burnside, who told the Future Summit in May that Australia should introduce a law making it an offence for politicians to lie. Burnside's idea won rapturous applause. He said it could be modelled on the misleading and deceptive conduct provision of the Trade Practices Act. Yes, he conceded it would mean more by-elections, but the public was sick of politicians lying. "If there were the possibility of going to jail" then the politicians might change their ways, he suggested.

This is the ultimate lawyer fantasy: being able to put politicians in jail for dishonesty in the conduct of their duties. Imagine the trials, fit only for barristers as heroes. One example Burnside gave was Howard's previous global warming policy. He said the big turnaround "in the past six months is just the best demonstration that they have been lying up to now". Howard, for better or worse, might have thought his climate change stance was about advancing Australia's interest. Poor fool. Burnside knows the truth: Howard was lying all the time. Don't worry about children overboard if you can jail him for global warming.

Such hyperbole has value. It reveals the depth of delusion and mad hubris beating at the heart of this legal culture. The lawyers are weak on political science. Influenced by the feeble and defective analysis of Australian governance, they actually believe the Howard Government has suppressed dissent, corrupted the political system and destroyed accountability, and they see themselves as the last line of defence.

The Government's main problem has been incompetence feeding declining public trust. This goes to the real issue involved in Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews's decision this week to revoke Haneef's visa. This is a ministerial power created by the parliament that vests obligations on the minister. The power is used frequently in the public interest to remove from the nation visa holders who have had associations with criminal conduct. It is usually invoked for resident non-citizens who have served jail time for an offence. It is a necessary executive power made more necessary by the terrorist threat. What is different this time is the situation in which Andrews used the power.

The legal establishment says that because a court process was under way, Andrews should not have acted and that he has prejudiced a fair trial. This is by no means clear since different criteria are involved. The test Andrews had to apply was only that of reasonable suspicion. The test for conviction at a trial is guilt beyond reasonable doubt. They are, of course, quite different tests.

The lawyers, it seems, will say almost anything to tear down executive action. Witness the claim that Andrews is really trying to get a conviction in court and the claim that Andrews is motivated merely by politics and not genuine concerns. (It is by no means obvious that Andrews's action helps the Government win votes.) Andrews's decision is reviewable at both administrative and judicial levels. He can revise his decision if the evidence changes, and the courts can also review his decision.

Nobody would argue the Government has not made a mess of the situation. The problem with Andrews's decision is that he cancelled a visa but cannot immediately deport Haneef. The deeper problem will come if Andrews and the AFP are found to have relied on false information. Haneef's has become a case study in the collapse of trust between lawyers and the executive. Australia's anti-terror laws are now hostage to both executive incompetence and the political campaign against them waged by much of the legal profession.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

An ethical and legal minefield for an ambulance service

Adrenalin (epinephrine) does appear to revive people so one can only speculate that this is some sort of bureaucratic quantification exercise

Heart-attack patients will be used as guinea pigs in a controversial medical trial proposed by the Queensland Ambulance Service. Paramedics attending to cardiac arrest cases will inject either a life-saving drug - adrenalin - or a placebo into the patient. Neither paramedic nor patient will know -- only the trial operators.

Adrenalin is used to make the heart beat if it has stopped. A placebo such as a saline solution, will produce no response in a patient suffering a heart attack. Medical experts said the idea of the trial was to evaluate the value of adrenalin in a cardiac arrests and potential side-effects, and was vital to achieving advances in medicine.

But it has been slammed by frontline ambulance officers. "Let's keep these trials out of the ambulance service and get back to concentrating on the basics such as adequate staffing levels and better response times," one paramedic said.

The University of Western Australia recently started a trial to "determine the efficiency of adrenalin on the survival of patients suffering cardiac arrest". The three-year-study was being funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

A spokeswoman for Queensland Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins confirmed interest here in the trial of adrenalin. The QAS has sought medical ethics approaal from Queensland Health to participate in this trial" she said. "It is not happening here yet. We don't have a timeframe for Queensland." The spokeswoman declined to elaborate further on QAS plans for the trial.

But one senior paramedic expressed outrage yesterday. "I don't think these trials have any place in an emergency pre-hospital setting," he said. "The patient would have no say in participating in such a trial - they are, after all, in cardiac arrest - and you have to ask yourself, `Would this be acceptable for a member of my family in cardiac arrest?' "The answer of course would be No. "I wonder how the Premier, Emergency Services Minister or Commissioner would react if a loved member of their family had a cardiac arrest and a paramedic turned up and started injecting something other than adrenalin, "This is inappropriate use of the ambulance service." The paramedic said that if the trial went ahead, some patients would be injected with a placebo that would not save their lives. "And the QAS would have sanctioned this in the name of a clinical trial," he said.

Details of the trial came to light after a Sunday Mail report last week- and revealed concerns by ambulance officers about a mix-up of drugs. Adrenalin had been "potentially" incorrectly labelled as pethidine or mixed with pethidine. The drugs have the opposite effect. Pharmaceutical supply giant Astra-Zeneca issued a nationwide recall last month, admitting "there is a risk to patient safety through administering an incorrect product". A batch of 75,000 ampoules of adrenalin imported from Britain was under question. One "rogue" ampoule was found at a hospital in NSW, which prompted the recall.

Queensland paramedics said the deaths of two patients - who were supposedly given adrenalin but did not respond - should be investigated. Queensland's Health Quality and Complaints Commission said it would look into the allegations. AstraZenaca's market access director Liz Chatwin said no other wrongly labelled ampoules had been found last week. Testing on the rogue ampoule had yet to be done by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The above article by Darrell Giles appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on July 22, 2007

Global cooling kills fish

Well, it's Southern hemispheric cooling anyway. Barramundi are Australia's most sought-after fish for eating

IT'S enough to make any barramundi fanatic reach for a hanky. Thousands of dead tropical fish - some more than a metre long - floating to the surface of Lake Moondarra, Mount Isa's main water supply. Authorities are blaming Queensland's big chill on the mass fish deaths, which have local anglers fearing the worst.

George Fortune, president of the Mount Isa Fish Stocking Group, said about 2000 fish had died in July. "It's been unusually cold for unusually long, and they just can't tolerate the low temperatures for any length of time," Mr Fortune said. "The barramundi come into the shallow parts of the dam to try to get warm, but they get caught up in the shallows, dying of the cold weather."

The cold snap affecting the whole state has seen the mercury drop to as low as 3.2C in Mount Isa this month. And the fish deaths have forced authorities to grapple with another unwanted problem: disposing of the carcasses.

Big pits have been dug to bury the barramundi, along with large numbers of sleepy cod and catfish. Mr Fortune said barramundi stocks in Lake Moondarra were down by as much as 40 per cent.


Back to basics for misguided educators

Public debate is the first step towards improving the nation's failing school systems, writes Kevin Donnelly

HOW successful is Australia's education system? Based on apparent high rates of illiteracy, automatic promotion of students without the necessary knowledge and skills, our second-rate performance in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests and a dumbed-down, outcomes-based approach to curriculum, the answer is: not very.

Unsurprisingly, as noted in the federal government-funded survey Parents' Attitudes to Schooling, on being asked to give their views about the quality of school education, only 58.3per cent of parents of primary school-aged children expressed satisfaction, while at the secondary level that figure was 39.9 per cent.

Two of the top three parental concerns are the quality of the curriculum and the standard of teaching. As may be expected, those responsible for falling standards and under-achievement argue that all is well and that any talk of a crisis is a media beat-up or a conservative political ploy.

Take the Australian Education Union's submission to the Senate committee's inquiry into education standards, which held hearings across Australia early this month. The AEU argues that "standards in Australian schooling compare favourably with those in most other countries and historically", and that the Howard Government's concerns about standards are simply "a means of diverting attention from the inequity of its funding mechanisms and attacking its critics". By making public the parlous state of our education system, commentators such as myself, in articles in The Australian, are condemned by the AEU as being involved in "reactionary witch hunting" and guilty of employing "myths, misconceptions and deceit".

The AEU is not alone in wanting to shoot the messenger. Last year the educrats from the Australian Curriculum Studies Association and the Australian Secondary Principals Association put out a media release arguing the education debate had been "hijacked by partisan political views and media commentators pushing their own barrows". The Australian Association for the Teaching of English is another organisation that argues all is well; it describes Australian education as "spectacularly successful". Australia's high ranking in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment tests for 15-year-olds and the results of national literacy tests are used as evidence that our approach to education is world's best practice.

In opposition to public concerns about the way classic literature has been destroyed by politically correct theory and critical literacy, where students are taught to deconstruct texts in terms of power relationships and victim-hood, the AATE also argues that such theories represent the best way to teach English. Judging by other submissions to the Senate inquiry, it is obvious that fears about falling standards are not a media beat-up and that many respected and well-qualified teachers and educators argue that much needs to be done to strengthen and improve our education system.

As noted in the submission from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, advocates of the PISA test ignore that the test evaluates so-called real-life skills, not the school curriculum. The AMSI submission also argues that PISA "is not a valid assessment of the mathematics knowledge, as only a fragment of the curriculum is tested" and "some of the questions are effectively general aptitude tests rather than mathematical ones".

Based on the results of the TIMSS tests, Australian students are in the second XI when it comes to international mathematics and science performance, and we have a longer tail of under-performing students. According to AMSI, the reasons for Australia's under-performance include the inferior quality of our curriculum documents, lack of expertise and confidence among primary-school teachers caused by flaws in teacher training and, as a result of universities dropping prerequisite subjects, a decline in the numbers of students taking more difficult senior-school courses.

Notwithstanding the AATE's claim that Australia has "internationally acclaimed, rigorous, research-based and balanced curricula and teaching methodologies", literacy is another area where there is increasing evidence that teachers and schools are being let down.

Kerry Hempenstall, an academic specialising in literacy at RMIT University in Melbourne, argues in his submission that many of the curriculum innovations that regularly wash over Australian classrooms lack a rigorous research base. The reality is that fads such as whole language, where the assertion is made that learning to read is as natural as learning to talk, have bred generations of illiterate students. As noted by Hempenstall, "These assertions have influenced educational practice for the last 20 years, yet they have each been shown by research to be incorrect. The consequence has been an unnecessary burden on struggling students to manage the task of learning to read. Not only have they been denied helpful strategies but they have been encouraged to employ moribund strategies."

One of the most telling critiques of outcomes-based education has been developed by a group of teachers associated with the Perth-based People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes (www.platowa.com). PLATO members have worked tirelessly in opposition to extending outcomes-based education into years 11 and 12 and have been instrumental in the West Australian Government's efforts to ameliorate the worst excesses of the new certificate. In their submissions, PLATO members Igor Bray, professor of physics at Murdoch University, Stephen Kessell, a retired associate professor at Curtin University, and Marko Vojkovic, a teacher, suggest that standards have fallen, that more needs to be done to strengthen teacher education and that teachers need to be properly supported in their work with academically based, clear and succinct syllabus road maps.

While many of those responsible for the present malaise vilify the media for placing education firmly on the public and political agenda, ignored is the fact education is far too important to leave to the so-called experts, and the first stage of strengthening and improving the system is public debate.


Leftist cartoonist Leunig unhinged

The Melbourne cartoonist Michael Leunig became "unhinged" by widespread claims his cartoons were anti-Semitic, according to his former boss, editor-in-chief of The Age Michael Gawenda. Gawenda, who edited the paper for seven years, famously clashed with Leunig in 2002 over a cartoon that compared the plight of Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II to the Palestinians in modern Israel. Gawenda, who is Jewish, refused to publish the cartoon, a position he says "took me perhaps 10 seconds to decide".

"Such cartoons were de rigueur in Europe," Gawenda says in his memoir American Notebook: A personal and political journey, to be launched on August 1. But the cartoons were "intellectually lazy, consciously designed to wound and in some cases motivated by antipathy to Jews", he says.

"Leunig and I were friends. Not always close friends but friends nevertheless," he writes. "There were times when we drank together, and talked for hours."

But Gawenda says Leunig became "unhinged" by the attacks from people who found his cartoons on Israel "morally blind, suffused with hatred for the Israelis, with no sympathy or empathy for even the children and women who were victims of suicide bombers, about whom he showed not even the slightest sign of disgust".

Gawenda says the fact he was a Jew was used by Leunig to explain his decision to censor the cartoon, and was considered a matter of "great significance" by most of his critics. This was most evident when he decided the newspaper should support John Howard's decision in 2003 to commit Australian forces to the US-led war in Iraq. After an editorial to that effect, Gawenda says "a longtime colleague, a close friend of 20 years or more, stopped me and asked me how I could do it, how could I have supported Howard and this war. Why had I done this? Who had got to me? "Apart from a few words exchanged when we once ran into each other outside The Age, we have not spoken to each other again."

Gawenda, who moved after his stint as editor-in-chief to Washington to become US correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, says the default position of most journalists at The Age was on the political Left.


Muslim thieves thwarted by hi-tech

A MILLION-DOLLAR haul of PlayStation consoles was tracked to a farm outside Sydney by satellite technology. The alleged heist was thwarted because the semitrailer containing 4704 Sony PS2 consoles was fitted with a GPS tracking device, enabling detectives to locate it within hours.

Police allege a city freight forwarding depot in Bourke Road, Alexandria, was broken into on March 24, 2005. In evidence tendered to Downing Centre Local Court in April, it was said consoles worth more than $1 million - in a trailer attached to a prime mover - were allegedly stolen. Police said the prime mover had been fitted with a GPS tracking device, which revealed its direction and speed after the truck was taken from the depot. GPS logs tendered to the court showed it travelled along the Princes Highway to Stoney Creek Road and onto the M5 motorway, which it followed until the Hume Highway exit at Casula. From there it travelled along Elizabeth Drive and Park Road in Wallacia before turning into a property on Silverdale Road at Werombi, near Warragamba Dam. The PolAir helicopter tracked the route, guiding officers from the State Crime Agency to the property.

When they arrived, the court was told, game consoles had allegedly been partially loaded into a shed next to the residence. Four men have been accused of involvement in the alleged heist. Youhanna Yacoub, 48, from Werombi, has pleaded not guilty to charges of receiving stolen property and larceny. George Ghassan, 60, of Fairfield, Kassar Jawish, 26, of Bankstown, and Sameer Ibrahim, 31, of Yagoona, have each pleaded not guilty to charges of larceny, receiving stolen goods and taking and driving a conveyance without consent. The four men were granted conditional bail to appear again in Downing Centre Local Court on August 13, when the part-heard matter resumes.

A spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment Australia said the company had not been aware of the alleged theft. He declined to comment further. A representative of the Alexandria-based freight forwarding company could not be reached for comment.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sydney held hostage by anachronistic railway unions

ALL the complexities in the relationship between Labor and the unions were on display this week as a truce was declared by Premier Morris Iemma in the war between RailCorp and its workforce. As part of that truce, Iemma trumpeted the fact the unions were prepared to allow specialist contractors into rail yards to fit new electric door motors.

All this really does is bell the cat on the fact the public sector in NSW is replete with work practices that make the pre-1999 waterfront look like a model of progressive, flexible enterprise. In 2007, the unions can still apparently tell management who can and cannot enter the workplace.

If a small concession on that front ranks as an important breakthrough in rail maintenance - thrust back into the political spotlight since the malfunction of a $2 bolt in a hatch on a train's roof paralysed the entire Sydney network earlier this month - it provides an indication of the long road ahead of Iemma if he wants to get the trains working efficiently. Undoubtedly, whether he does will be one key to his chances of holding off the Coalition in 2011. There is no doubt former Liberal leader Peter Debnam would be premier of NSW now if the train on the Sydney Harbour Bridge had blown its hatch a week before the March 24 election rather than a few months later.

At the conclusion of two days of talks on Wednesday, Iemma announced that, as part of the truce, maintenance work would be double-checked and there would be ongoing talks about other work practices. "All parties have made good progress in a spirit of co-operation," Iemma declared. "Everyone agrees that reform, improved work practices and a better relationship are the only way forward. "The changes will lead to enhanced maintenance inspections, better quality controls and improved accountability."

Possibly. But Iemma has repeatedly dangled the threat of a privatisation of rail maintenance over the unions unless they lift their game. There is some real concern on the union side that Iemma and his (in their eyes) evil sidekick, Treasurer Michael Costa, could use the window between now and the federal election to push through a raft of privatisations in rail and electricity. The union thinking is that lemma could try to leverage their reluctance to cause trouble in the prelude to a once-in-a- generation opportunity to install a friendly government in Canberra. But the same logic applies the other way. Kevin Rudd will not thank Iemma if he provokes a flame war between the two wings of the Labor movement in NSW in the lead- up to the federal election.

The reality is, in NSW, Labor and the unions are like co-dependents locked in a dysfunctional relationship. As their membership shrinks, the unions need Labor in government to achieve relevance. And Labor, with far fewer active party members than the Coalition, desperately needs the unions' political and financial muscle when elections roll around. This year, at $15 million, Labor's election war chest was three times that of the Coalition, courtesy of the bruvvers.

That is why reform to the state's draconian workplace safety laws have repeatedly been shelved or put on the backburner, despite Industrial Relations Minister John Delia Bosca's best efforts to get them through. And that is why the rail system remains littered with arrangements such as drivers being limited to a maximum of 15 hours a week at the controls of a train. Iemma has previously justified that particular rort by claiming Sydney's drivers, unlike those in other cities, perform some maintenance and checking tasks. Not too well, apparently.

The above article by Imre Salusinszky appeared in "The Australian" on July 21, 2007

Immigration 'fuelling housing shortage'

Getting rid of Greenie-inspired red tape and restrictions would soon get more houses built but given the existing regulations, housing prices will be pushed up by immigration

Rising numbers of overseas workers could significantly increase the pressure on Australian housing stocks, according to a new report out today. As many as 170,000 new homes would need to be built around Australia this financial year in order to satisfy underlying demand. But industry forecaster BIS Shrapnel predicts actual housing starts will slip a further 1 per cent to just 148,000.

In its latest publication of long-term building forecasts, the firm says that would be the fourth consecutive year in which demand outstrips supply. Part of that demand is being fuelled by immigration as Australia's employment boom and skills shortage attracts temporary workers from offshore. But BIS Shrapnel says many cities will struggle to accommodate them over the next few years. It says the nationwide shortage of housing is now translating into rapid rent rises.

Last week, the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling and the Housing Industry Association (HIA) predicted the number of households suffering rent stress would jump to 750,000 by the end of the decade.


GM foods gain support in Australia

POLLUTION and climate change have raised public support for genetically modified food crops, according to Biotechnology Australia. A survey of more than 1100 people across the country found that acceptance rose dramatically from 46 to 73 per cent over the past two years. Asked whether GM crops should be grown in Queensland, 50 per cent of respondents said yes, while a further 30 per cent approved, provided there were strong regulations.

Queensland is the only state not to have a moratorium on GM crops: 97 per cent said its application could help develop environmentally friendly vehicle fuels, while 91 per cent thought it could help address the issues of climate change and water salinity. Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the findings indicated a major change in public attitude towards biotechnology.


Hospital rankings coming

HOSPITALS face closer scrutiny of their performance in areas such as patient safety and infection rates under a scheme the federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, will put to state governments. Mr Abbott told the Herald he was planning to propose hospital "league tables" on safety, and quality measures be included as part of the hospital funding agreement between the federal and state governments. The transparency measures would enable patients to compare the record of different hospitals in such areas as surgical infection rates, unplanned readmissions and waiting times for elective surgery.

Citing new research showing that Australia has fallen behind other countries in the release of individual hospital performance data, Mr Abbott said such information was readily available elsewhere. "Why should we not have it here?". The research says that, by some estimates, adverse events and infections in Australian hospitals generate $2.5 billion in expenditure every year, but improvements are impeded by the lack of comparative data on hospital performance. Besides letting patients know how hospitals rated on different indicators, it would also help hospitals to identify strengths and weaknesses and spur improvements, Mr Abbott said.

A frequent argument against publishing such information was that it was hard to compare hospital outcomes. But Mr Abbott said the public would be able to factor in differences such as some hospitals having a higher rate of problems because they took on more difficult cases. The Federal Government wanted to see such information included in the next Australian Health Care Agreements, which provide for federal funding of public hospitals and are scheduled for renegotiation with the states after the federal election.

A study undertaken for the Australian Centre for Health Research says "very little" analysis has been published in Australia to assess the hospital system and even less undertaken to determine whether hospitals are working in concert with other parts of the system, such as general practitioners. "This raises the risk of wasted funds, poor health outcomes and reduced access for patients," it says. The report recommends the Government take the lead in defining what standard care information should be collected.

The publication of hospital performance indicators had triggered the establishment of "infomediaries" - companies which analysed the performance figures and could help patients make decisions about their health and how to manage it, in addition to providing a guide to quality care. The research was headed by David Charles, who said that the health system had avoided the trend towards greater transparency that had been accepted in many other sectors of government and business in the past 20 years.


The latest gift to Australia from the Greenies: A croc invasion

THE northeast coast of Australia is facing an explosion in its population of saltwater crocodiles, which are protected by law but are becoming a menace to swimmers, surfers and the inhabitants of some towns' outer suburbs. The problem is so serious that there are calls for the country's strict gun laws to be relaxed and hunters to be given open season on crocodiles.

Bob Katter, an independent MP, said that crocodile numbers had reached "plague proportions" and the huge reptiles were moving into places where they had never been seen before. "This is unprecedented in human history," he said. "People should be armed. What do they want us to do - knock the crocs on the head with a hammer?"

Locals have reported man-eating crocodiles basking near popular swimming spots and boat ramps. In Cairns and Townsville they have even been seen sunning themselves on surf beaches. "There are some 50,000 people living on river banks and shoreline between Townsville and Cairns. If you're going into these areas you really need to take some sort of firearm to protect yourselves," Katter said.

According to Peter Guivarra, an Aboriginal leader, officials conducting a night survey along a five-mile stretch of Tentpole Creek counted "more than 500 sets of eyes. That's a lot and absolute evidence that culling is now needed".

The Australian saltwater crocodile often grows to 15ft in length and can weigh a third of a ton. An endangered species in the 1960s, its numbers have reached levels not seen since the first British settlers arrived in 1788.

An 8ft crocodile was recently spotted at Forrest Beach, near Ingham, moments before a carnival was due to start. It was the sixth such sighting on the beach since December. Crocodiles have killed about a dozen people in Queensland in the past 10 years, half of them tourists from other countries. Rebecca Williams, director of the Environmental Protection Agency branch, said there had been 17 attacks since 1985 and of those five had proved fatal. In one famous case in October 2004, a 15ft crocodile attacked two families camped by a river 190 miles north of Cairns.

The rapid rise in crocodile numbers is attributed not only to a ban on hunting but also to the decline of predators such as dingoes which eat crocodile eggs.


Monday, July 23, 2007

"Greenhouse" attack on China bad for Australia

There's a puzzle, a paradox and some amusing, and decidedly instructive, historical intersections in the rise and rise of the Aussie dollar, formerly known as the Little Aussie Bleeder or Pacific Peso. As it now grinds seemingly inexorably towards and past US90c -- and then on even to parity. Parity. Who could ever have imagined we'd see that again in our lifetime. Now, you'd be a brave punter to bet against it.

True, parity with the less-than-mighty greenback. That is of course a key part of the story. The rise of the Aussie is a combination of the falling greenback, against everyone. But also the Aussie's own, albeit more gentle, appreciation aga:nst the "thirds" - the euro, the pound and the yen. And why is the greenback sliding? Any number of factors can be cited, but in essence it comes down to one. The US's huge and entrenched current account deficits. There are only so many US treasury bills you can stuff away in the Great Wall.

But then - the puzzle - our current account deficit is just as large as the US's in relation to GDP. We've had more $50 billion deficits than Peter Costello's had hot - or indeed, cold - dinners at Kirribilli House. And we are going to have more (they stretch as far into the future as Treasury's statistical eye can see) than he now looks likely to have breakfasts at The Lodge.

So why isn't our dollar heading south? Simple answer: there has been more money wanting to come into the country each year than those $50 billion deficits. And in the currency free market the price of the Aussie rises until demand and supply are brought into balance and the market clears. Usually, with a little bit of help from the Reserve Bank, which is happy to sell some Aussies out of its - these days, virtual reality - stockpile.

The somewhat more complex question is why demand for the Aussie has been so strong. Every other time we've had big deficits we've had a weak currency. They were beginning to look endemic - hence those less than flattering terms in the opening paragraph. The answer is, of course, China, with again a little bit of help from the RBA. Not in the currency market but in setting official interest rates in Australia, and hence the bank borrowing rates which have been the principal means of bringing that foreign money into Australia. The combination of higher interest rates, the commodities boom, the strong dollar, rising asset values - property and shares - - has made buying the Aussie a no- brainer. To say nothing of buying, or attempting to buy, Aussie companies.

A $50 billion deficit might be big in our terms, but less than a day's trading in global currency markets. So the puzzle isn't really a puzzle. More of a question: how long does it last? How long can we sustain the unconventional combination of a huge deficit - stuck at 6 per cent of GDP - and a dollar that is rising in real terms against all major currencies?

The answer lies in a combination of what happens to the US economy and to US interest rates. Does it stay strong and rates stay where they are, or go higher? In the process staying the slide in the greenback, but leaving the US deficit destabilisingly high? Or does the US economy weaken, the Fed cuts rates, and the greenback's slide continues? With that wave taking our dollar higher. At least in company with everyone else; and indeed likely more of the recent past where the Aussie strengthens in its own right, on the back of our even more attractive interest rates?

Whatever the outcome by, say, mid- 2008, there is enough all-round momentum to carry our dollar well into the 90s at least. And that points to the single greatest lesson of exchange rate history, ours and everyone else's: you always overshoot.

Enter the paradox. The core driver of our rising dollar - and pretty much everything else in and around our economy - is the explosive growth in China's demand for, and consumption of, commodities. Principally, so far as we are concerned, iron ore to make steel and coal to generate power. Along with pretty much everything else - globally importantly, oil and copper.

In short, not to put too fine a point on it: our dollar is pivoting on a truly momentous eruption of greenhouse gases. Yet we and the world are - at least hypothetically - committed to not just capping that eruption, but reversing it. Let me spell that out a little more specifically. We have a dollar challenging conventional currency gravity; on the promise of pumping more and more commodities into the Chinese "greenhouse gas factory". Yet we want to in effect burn that factory down.

Add on the certainty that even on the assumption that the factory keeps on belching, our dollar will overshoot; what happens if we actually "succeed" in persuading China to please let us leave all the stuff in the ground? We have a rising dollar despite a $50 billion deficit because of the promise of China's exploding future demand.

What happens to the dollar if the deficit increases dramatically because export prices and/or volumes fall and the China promise evaporates? For some guidance, go to the history. If we do reach parity with the greenback, it will be the first time in the PK era. PK era? Post-Keating. The last time a dollar bought a dollar was when hardly anyone out there even knew Keating existed. In the wake of the week's events - rather amusingly when John Howard was treasurer - back in the early 1980s.

It did approach parity in the PK era, just after "his Howard", Bob Hawke, ended the drought, when in early 1984 it approached US97c. The last time it was flirting with today's levels was in early 1989 when it peaked just shy of that figure. Between those two peaks came "banana republic", when after Keating's famous exhortation in mid-1986 it dropped to US60c and below 50 on the TWI (trade weighed index). It's now, incidentally, at just over 70 on the TWI - the measure of its overall value against the currencies of our major trading partners.

Those dates and peaks and troughs are instructive on two counts. They indicate just exactly how the currency does overshoot - going too high and too low. And how quickly that can happen. In little more than two years the Aussie dropped 38 per cent against the greenback and 41 per cent in TWI terms. And then in less than three years jumped 49 per cent against the greenback and 34 per cent in TWI terms. This time it's supposed to be different.

What China is doing to commodities and the global economy is unprecedented. What really would be different is if we quite deliberately set out to destroy the foundation on which our contemporary prosperity is built. To say nothing of what it would do to a dollar that had, as always, overshot on the high side.

The above article by financial journalist Terry McCrann appeared in "The Australian" on July 21, 2007

Shallow breaths, save planet

By Tim Blair

IN A wonderful act of subversion, the Sydney Morning Herald's splendidly-named Stephanie Peatling this week managed to sneak a comic gem past her vigilant editors: "The greenhouse gas cuts Australia must achieve to prevent dangerous climate change may be substantially higher than thought, with modelling to be released today suggesting it should be as much as 95 per cent by 2020." That modelling was the work of a leftist panic hive called the Australia Institute, presided over by director Clive Hamilton.

I called Clive on Thursday to discuss how we might achieve this reduction, which essentially would require that Australians stop doing everything, including breathing. I also wanted to know how even a 100 per cent cut in Australia's carbon output could influence the global climate, given that we only generate about 1.5 per cent of all global emissions. And there's the matter of Chinese economic expansion, which easily counters any local reductions.

Let's say Labor's mighty Kevin Ruddernaut storms to power at the next election and adopts the Australia Institute's plans (not likely, but we're imagining a worst-case scenario here - after all, it's a tactic approved by the environmental Left). While Australia diligently spends the next 13 years closing down mines, factories, offices, hospitals, roads and anything else capable of killing the planet with carbon, the Chinese will have - if they continue at current rates - built about 670 new coal-fired power plants over the same time. (And lost about 78,000 workers in coal-mining accidents. The one-child policy isn't China's only means of population control.)

Alas, Hamilton wasn't at the institute's Canberra hut. He was on a break to do some writing, a helper told me, so had headed north to get away from Canberra's freezing weather. I hope he took his coat; it's barely any warmer in Sydney and Brisbane airport this week recorded its first sub-zero temperature. These sure are trying times for the warmenist crowd. (By the way, we know Hamilton owns a coat because last year he mentioned on the ABC that he felt tremendous guilt over buying one. It was too lavish, apparently, and Clive worried that his materialism set a poor example.)

Anyway, Australia's whole nationwide cold snap has been a beautifully-timed climatic accompaniment to the ABC's recent broadcast of The Great Global Warming Swindle. (Incidentally, Nine had first rights to the documentary, but instead handed it over to the ABC - where it became the broadcaster's second most-watched show of that week).

Radio National broadcaster Michael Duffy made one of the saner points in an otherwise weird post-show counselling session for traumatised viewers. Why, he asked, didn't the ABC put as much effort into challenging the claims made by the likes of Al Gore and Sir Nicholas Stern? Host Tony Snow's reaction was to dismiss the likelihood of having Gore appear but it really doesn't take much; the ABC could probably book him for $US100,000, Gore's asking price for his never-changing climate change speech.

Or they could just show his stupid movie. The good news is, for Tone and anyone else looking for flaws in Gore's Inconvenient Truth (and in arguments put forward by Stern, sometimes described as "the world's leading economist on climate change"), that you don't need any scientific training at all to realise these two aren't exactly expert researchers. For example, back in March Sir Nicholas told the SMH: "You can't export an American car to China: it does not satisfy the emissions standards." What a very odd claim. You'd think if China was so concerned about the health of its people, it would do something first about those 6000 coal miners it's offing every year rather than fuss over imported vehicle emissions. In fact, Stern was completely wrong. Cadillac, DaimlerChrysler, and Ford all sell US models in China. This has been going on for years.

However, a number of Chinese manufacturers are unable to sell their cars in the US. Reason? They do not satisfy US emissions standards. Stern believes the opposite is the case and actually repeated that line when addressing Australia's National Press Club earlier this year. Not a single journalist challenged him. Well, one tried but was unable to get a word in due to - and I quote the text message exactly - "left-wing wankers pandering to Stern". Which might explain why this Stern-like line from Gore's film has dodged any criticism: "We can't sell our cars in China today because we don't meet the Chinese emissions standards." Begs a question: If these guys can't get simple trade stories right, how can we trust them on complex scientific issues?

Speaking of getting things wrong, Tim Flannery wasn't amused by NSW Treasurer Michael Costa's recent labelling of him as an idiot. "My reaction is just lofty disdain," Flannery said at the time, although it wasn't really for him to rate the quality of his own reaction. This week Flannery revealed he may have been angered more than he let on by Costa's criticism (one of the few barbs ever publicly directed towards St Timothy the Bearded, who normally receives only loving praise - see above line re "pandering"). Speaking to AAP, Flannery upgraded those who question global warming theories from "sceptics" and "deniers" to . . . hey, let Flannery tell you himself:

"In 2005 the liars about climate change were winning. Today they've been vanquished . . . once and for all." So, liars are we? Flannery needs to take a holiday. Maybe Clive Hamilton has a spare bunk in his writing cave.


Leftist policies pave kids' road to hell

By black activist Noel Pearson -- who sees "progressives" as the enemies of changes that Aborigines badly need

THE Calvinist conception of predestination (whether you end up in heaven is predestined and nothing you can do can alter whether you are chosen or not) is analogous to life outcomes for the indigenous children of Cape York. You can bet that a child from our community will end up poorly educated, semi-literate and ill-equipped for equitable participation in Australian society and the economy. The few who succeed are the exception. They defy predestination, but they are few and far between.

This predestination is not just about what kind of education our children receive. It is about the place they will occupy in society and the economy. They are predestined to not improve on the position of their parents or to deteriorate in their position. If we accept anthropologist Jared Diamond's thesis that Aborigines have the capacity to be rocket scientists and neurosurgeons, then strong forces must be at work to prevent social progress on the part of our children.

I do not think social progress comes naturally. Otherwise providing education for Aborigines should result in progress. Education is the principal ladder that allows unprivileged individuals to advance in capitalist societies. But obtaining a quality education does not come easily or naturally. While we hope that education would transcend our material imperatives and realise abstract ideals about human fulfilment, it still principally serves the economy of the day. In the old industrial economy, the education system responded to the need for an army of workers with basic education and skills. The economy and the influential classes had an interest in workers being trained so the labour force could be productive.

The system also allowed for the advancement of some talented working-class children. The heyday of working-class advancement produced a meritocracy that advanced into the middle class in large numbers; witness Leon Davis, working-class boy from Whyalla, South Australia, former chief executive of Rio Tinto and chairman of Westpac.

The rise of the old working-class meritocracy was almost a mass movement. Today, for the lowest classes, such advancement is not a mass movement; it is increasingly sporadic and isolated. Several decades ago, almost all Australian families were integrated in working life. The modern economy does not seem to guarantee comprehensive inclusion.

We have record low unemployment, but the number of people who depend on welfare has increased. We have an underclass of people who pass on their outcast status to their children. There have always been class divisions and underprivileged people. One of the original leftist ideas is that much of our culture serves class interests.

The educated middle class includes two groups with different societal roles. Education provides the skills and knowledge to contribute to wealth creation or to produce and disseminate ideologies and cultures. The middle-class producers of culture and ideology often see themselves as the Left. My texts have often been perceived as attacks on the Left. But I support key policies of the Left. In many areas, Aborigines can agree with the Left, including the people who have felt most hit by my criticism. I agree with them on land rights and conservation, trade unions, redistribution and the role of government in guaranteeing equitable health care and education.

The contention of mine that has caused most consternation when I have challenged the Left during the past eight years is that the result of progressive policies can be at odds with the good intentions that inspired them. My aim has been, as Dennis Glover wrote in The Australian yesterday, to "set higher standards for the Left" by critically examining the outcomes of ostensibly leftist policies. It is appropriate to set high standards because the Left's claim to the right to govern rests on its promise to lift the living standard and prospects of the lowest classes. The challenge of education facing our children should be understood as a class challenge. There are strong class forces at work that are barriers to social advancement.

The main means by which class stratification is maintained and social progress impeded is not by direct and conscious oppressive behaviour by privileged classes. Rather, the forces of class operate culturally. They are embedded in the prevailing ideologies and intellectual currents, popular and niche cultures. Their effect is to cause confusion in the minds of lower-class people about social progress and how it may be achieved, and cause them to behave in ways that are contrary to their interests.

I developed a (provocative) rule of thumb when it comes to examining the nostrums and prescriptions of the middle-class culture producers, who often come from the progressive cultural Left: whatever they say our people should do, we should look at the opposite of what they say because that will usually be the right thing to do. Therefore:

* They say substance abuse is a health issue and should be approached with tolerance. We say it is a behavioural and social order issue and we need to rebuild intolerance.

* They say education should be culturally appropriate. We say this should not be an alibi for anti-intellectualism, romantic indigenism and a justification for substandard achievement.

* They say we should respect Aboriginal English as a real language. We say we should speak our traditional languages and the Queen's English fluently.

* They say our people need to be defended in a hostile criminal justice system. We say we need more policing to restore law and order.

* They say our people are victims and must not be blamed. We say our people are victimised but we are not victims.

* They say we have a right to passive welfare. We say we do not have a right to dependency and, indeed, we have a greater right to take up a fair place in the real economy.

* They say economic integration is antithetical to our identity. We say our culture cannot and will not survive as long as we live in the social dysfunction caused by economic dependency.

* They say poverty is our main problem. We say passivity is our main problem because it prevents us from taking advantage of opportunities to get out of poverty and the resources we get are squandered.

The striking thing about this stark disagreement about what is really progressive is that we are at odds with so-called progressive thinking across vast tracts of policy. For me it is not personal antagonism that explains the gulf between me and most national indigenous leaders and intelligentsia; it is this fundamental analytical and policy gulf about what is progress and what is not. Glover is right when he says that I am a man of the Left because my fidelity is to the lot of the underclass, of whom my people are its most miserable members. It is that I believe liberal and conservative policies have more to contribute to indigenous uplift than outdated progressive thinking.

It became clear to me that some elements of leftist ideology contribute to the barriers that keep our people down. The key to understanding this is to recognise the profound change in the role of leftist theory. When the theories of the Left were originally formulated, the Left was a revolutionary force. However, the Left has merged with power and government. Leftist ideology is integral to the political and intellectual structure of our society.

The challenge for the Left today is to stop assuming that leftist policy by definition is policy that will help the most oppressed. The most obvious example that this is not the case is the rise of a political and intellectual industry that explains, defends and facilitates behaviours that keep people in the underclass. A young Aborigine today who follows the conventional leftist recipes of the past four decades is destined to stay at the bottom of society.

Of course the Left has consistently been a strong supporter of indigenous rights and indigenous people also have reason to support social democratic policy. There are encouraging signs that the Left is reconsidering its reflexive support for progressive policies. If leftist thinkers such as Glover don't effect fundamental shifts of the kind that Christopher Hitchens and the authors of the Euston Manifesto are seeking in Britain, then the Left in Australia will continue to be divided between its political wing and its cultural wing, which will seek to maintain a baleful influence on social policy.

The political wing led by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard (who told the Sydney Institute last week that "the old days of passive welfare for those able to contribute are gone") are not at all wedded to the outdated aspects of progressive thinking, attuned as they are to the expectations of the Australian community, but the cultural wing is still a strong force for stasis and, dare I say it, conservatism.


Crooked NSW cops again

SEVERAL police officers are under investigation for allegedly using the so-called "Einfeld defence" to avoid paying traffic fines. The Police Integrity Commission will today launch its investigation into claims some officers had signed false statutory declarations to challenge the fines. It claims to have already identified "a number of serving and former NSW Police officers and other persons it believes have supplied false particulars in relation to traffic fines". "The commission is investigating whether any serving or former NSW Police officers have been involved in police misconduct or criminal activity by making false statutory declarations or providing false information to avoid traffic fines," the PIC said.

It is understood there are several current and former officers under investigation. The investigation is believed to revolve around allegations that officers provided false statutory declarations after being issued with infringement notices by the State Government's Office of State Revenue (OSR). These statements allegedly falsely implicated people such as the person's partner for being responsible for offences captured on fixed RTA cameras.

Former Federal Court Marcus Einfeld is currently facing 14 charges - including perjury, perverting the course of justice and making and using a false instrument - after allegedly falsely nominating another driver on a statutory declaration. He alleged in court last year that US Professor Teresa Brennan was driving his Lexus when it was clocked speeding at Mosman. The Daily Telegraph exclusively revealed the woman had died three years earlier. Mr Einfeld is vigorously fighting the charges.

If the allegations against the police officers stack up, they could face charges of perverting the course of justice, obtaining benefit by deception, or making a false statutory declaration. Anyone whose car is snapped on a speed or red light camera - and who believed they were not the driver at the time of the offence - can challenge the fine by providing a statutory declaration to the State Debt Recovery Office. The OSR then redirects the infringement notice to the driver nominated in the statutory declarations. An OSR spokesman said if the statutory declaration was later found to be false, criminal charges could be pursued against the person who lodged it.

A public notice from the PIC published in today's Saturday Daily Telegraph calls on police officers and members of the public with any information on the matter to contact them. PIC spokesman John Renshaw said the investigation did not stem from the Einfeld enquiry.


Totally irresponsible Leftist policy-making

PLANS to pipe water from northern NSW to ease water shortages in southeast Queensland will be scrapped under a Rudd Labor government. On a pre-election visit to the northern NSW town of Grafton in the marginal electorate of Page, Kevin Rudd yesterday ruled out any new dam for the Clarence River that would be required to allow water to be piped from NSW into drought-ravaged southeast Queensland. Mr Rudd claimed the proposed dam would harm local fisheries and cause unquantified environmental harm to the area.

A report by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation released just after the NSW state election in March supported the proposal to integrate the two regions. Most options recommended a dam on the Clarence River to deliver up to 100,000 megalitres across the border each year.

Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull rounded on Mr Rudd, accusing him of putting political expediency ahead of the nation's strategic water interests. "In one flying visit to Grafton and a beer in the pub, Kevin Rudd has decreed that there will never be any sharing of water between the Clarence River and Queensland," Mr Turnbull said. "Mr Rudd has done no environmental study, no hydrological study, no engineering study - but he has now categorically ruled out the option of establishing an integrated water supply serving northern NSW and southeast Queensland."

Mr Turnbull said the Howard Government had not backed any specific infrastructure proposal and has no authority to approve dams or other infrastructure without state Government backing. He said he had sought to do no more than encourage the consideration and debate of all water options.

Mr Rudd said the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation report was full of "sweeping assumptions" that failed to consider the broader impacts of such a proposal. "When Mr Turnbull made this statement about damming the Clarence back in April, we, as the alternative government of Australia, couldn't believe that a responsible minister could make this sort of decision-making on the run," Mr Rudd said. "From the point of view of this local economy and the future of commercial fishing, it doesn't make economic sense."


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dangerous public hospital negligence in Australia

Safety experts say too little is being done to stop patients being harmed or even killed by avoidable errors in Australian public hospitals

PATRICIA Skinner has experienced the sharp end of medical mistakes. She spent 18 months with a pair of 15cm scissors in her abdomen. Why? Because doctors forgot to take them out at the end of an operation. [What happened to the before-and-after count that should have been routine procedure?] "It was agony ... my husband would drive over a bump in the road, and I would scream,'' recalls Skinner. "My husband would say, `What's the matter with you?', and I thought I had cancer. I said to my doctor, `I feel like I've been knocked to the ground and someone's been kicking me with steel-capped boots'.'' In a way, of course, something had. But unfortunately for Skinner, now 79, for some time medical staff refused to believe anything was wrong. She had had major surgery, they told her; what did she expect?

The truth was only discovered after Skinner herself eventually insisted on an X-ray, which was performed at Sydney's St George Hospital [A notorious hospital] in October 2002, 18 months after surgery at the same hospital to remove bowel polyps. "They did the X-ray twice, because I don't think they could believe what they were seeing,'' Skinner says. She went straight back to the hospital, and had surgery to remove the scissors the very next day. But after so long inside her, the scissors - which in the meantime had moved from her abdomen to near her coccyx, the tailbone at the base of the spine - had become partially overgrown by her own tissues. To get them out, doctors had to cut out a chunk of Skinner's bowel as well.

What she wanted then was an explanation of how it could have happened, but Skinner and husband Don had little joy here either. "They said at the time that scissors were `too big to lose', which was absolute nonsense,'' Skinner tells Weekend Health. "Was somebody off sick, or was somebody working for hours and got tired? I said there must have been a reason, but I wasn't allowed to talk to anybody. If you can understand what happened, you think, `OK, I can accept that'. But when you don't know, there's nothing to accept.''

The X-ray images and her story were reported around the world, and eventually Skinner, now 72, accepted compensation from the hospital, the size of which is confidential. The hospital also changed its counting procedures to make sure equipment is properly accounted for after operations.

Sadly, as Australia's first national report on serious mistakes shows, Skinner's experience is far from unique, either in terms of the mistake or the culture of secrecy and denial that surrounded it. The report, published this week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, recorded 130 instances of "sentinel events'' reported by 759 public hospitals in 2004-05. These events fell into one of eight categories of serious events that were agreed by Australian Governments in 2004.

As The Australian reported this week, nearly half (41 per cent) of the 130 events were in the category of wrong site or wrong patient - where an operation or test was performed on the wrong part of the patient's body, or on the wrong patient altogether. Retained instruments - the category that Skinner would have fallen into - took second place, accounting for 27 cases.

The factors that contributed to these and other incidents were varied: staff ending their shift giving inadequate briefings to other staff starting a shift, or staff acting when they didn't know the full facts. For example, in one incident a patient was transfused wiTh blood intended for another patient with an incompatible blood type - a potentially fatal mistake - because the co-ordinating nurse only knew of one transfusion request, and when a courier delivered some blood she assumed - wrongly - that it was meant for that patient. Other reasons included staff not following rules or guidelines, or not recording information on charts or other documents properly.

The report's authors say the reasons for doctors and nurses not reporting mistakes in the past include "fear of litigation and adverse publicity'', and admit that while low, the numbers of sentinel events in this week's report are likely to rise in future editions as doctors and nurses start to feel more comfortable about owning up after something has gone wrong. Even so, outgoing commission chief executive Diana Horvath rejected suggestions the numbers were merely the tip of the iceberg, claiming they were instead "a substantial part of it''.

But independent safety experts disagree, and it's not as if you have to look far to find other examples of medical mistakes every bit as horrifying as that which happened to Pat Skinner. In a bulletin sent to its members earlier this year, doctors' insurance company MDA National revealed an unnamed 24-year-old patient suffered nightmares after a "throat pack'' - a wad of absorbent gauze or dressing to soak up blood and other fluids during surgery - was left in place after prolonged oral surgery. "The patient coughed up the throat pack some hours later on the (recovery) ward,'' the bulletin said. "He was very distressed ... although the pharynx was sucked out under direct vision at the end of the procedure, the bloodstained pack was not seen until the patient coughed it up several hours post-operatively. "Sporadic reports of this complication continue to occur, sometimes with disastrous consequences for the patient.''

MDA National said measures that might help avoid repeat occurrences included labelling patients' foreheads if throat packs were used, and recording the pack on the list of items that have to be accounted for at the end of the procedure.

In another case in the same bulletin, a 35-year-old patient went to an emergency department complaining of severe renal colic. He asked for a painkiller called hydromorphone, also known as Dilaudid, which he had previously found to be the most effective medication. Instead the doctor ordered hydromorphine - a drug eight times more powerful - because she did not realise the difference. The bulletin said this patient did not suffer any negative long-term effects from the overdose, although it added that some other previous mix-ups involving hydromorphone "have resulted in patient deaths''.

This week's report said the reporting culture was improving, and numbers of reported events will be higher in future reports. But other safety experts think Horvath's suggestion that this week's figures already represent a significant proportion of the problem is little short of ridiculous. Steve Bolsin, associate professor of patient safety at Victoria's Geelong Hospital, says the "notion that 130 adverse events is the majority of the iceberg is completely erroneous. Previous work has shown that between 5 and 10 per cent of admissions have adverse events associated with them, and things may be worse in general practice. So there's a huge need to begin to improve in these areas.''

Bolsin points to the findings of the groundbreaking Quality in Australian Health Care Study (QAHCS), published in the Medical Journal of Australia 12 years ago (1995;163:458-71), which claimed that up to 16 per cent of hospitalised patients would suffer an adverse event, and that 50 per cent of these would be preventable. Of these preventable events, 10 per cent would lead to permanent disability or death.

Some doctors have been bitterly critical of the QAHCS findings, saying it was biased and found a much higher rate of adverse events than a similar US study. Had the same analysis applied in Australia as in the US, they say, the rate of adverse events reported in QAHCS would have been up to 25 per cent less. With 4.3 million hospitalisations in public hospitals in 2004-05, the QAHCS suggests Australia's toll of serious adverse events should be closer to 35,000 than 130. But even a 25 per cent pullback from that figure still paints a worrying picture.

A follow-up editorial in the MJA two years ago (2005;182:260-1) asked if there was any evidence that health care had become any safer in the decade since the 1995 report, and promptly answered the question itself: "Unfortunately, the answer is no''.

Adverse events are also associated with significant costs. Another study in the MJA last year (2006;184:551-5), conducted in 45 major Victorian hospitals, found each adverse event contributed an extra $6826 in costs, and the total cost for all the events in the participating hospitals in 2003-04 was $460 million - over 15 per cent of direct hospital costs.

Bolsin says there are "an incredible number of adverse events going on that are not being reported'' through the existing channels. However, a pioneering scheme already piloted at his own hospital in Geelong could hold the answer. For the pilot, 14 anaesthetic registrars used personal digital assistants (PDAs) fitted with special software to report adverse events to a central database, identifying them in one of four categories - events causing death, serious outcomes such as extended hospital stay or permanent harm, transient or minor harm, and "near miss'' adverse events that had no bad effect on the patient. Researchers combed through the notes of cases where no incidents had been reported, to check how many incidents had been missed.

The findings, reported last year in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care (2006;18(6):452-7), found an adverse incident was reported for 156, or 3.5 per cent of the 4441 anaesthetic procedures reported, nearly half (46.2 per cent) of which were near misses. Only one incident was identified in the case notes as having been missed, giving a reporting rate via PDAs of 99.5 per cent - far higher than has been achieved anywhere else in the world. Bolsin says PDAs can also be used to download appropriate clinical practice guidelines and other relevant information to help guide doctors, use of which he says has been proven to improve treatment outcomes.

So far, however, there has been limited enthusiasm from health bureaucrats for implementing a PDA-based system for adverse event reporting. "If we are really serious about safety in health care, we have to start using these technologies, and we have to start using them effectively and constructively,'' Bolsin says.


Up against the warming zealots

Martin Durkin says his British documentary rejecting the idea of human-caused global warming has survived last week's roasting by Australia's public broadcaster

WHEN I agreed to make The Great Global Warming Swindle, I was warned a middle-class fatwa would be placed on my head. So I wasn't shocked that the film was attacked on the same night it was broadcast on ABC television last week, although I was impressed at the vehemence of the attack. I was more surprised, and delighted, by the response of the Australian public.

The ABC studio assault, led by Tony Jones, was so vitriolic it appears to have backfired. We have been inundated with messages of support, and the ABC, I am told, has been flooded with complaints. I have been trying to understand why.

First, the ferocity of the attack, I think, revealed the intolerance and defensiveness of the global warming camp. Why were Jones and co expending such energy and resources attacking one documentary? We are told the global warming theory is robust. They say you'd have to be off your chump to disagree. We have been assured for years, in countless news broadcasts and column inches, that it's definitely true. So why bother to stamp so aggressively on the one foolish documentary-maker - who clearly must be as mad as a snake - who steps out of line? I think viewers may also have wondered (reasonably) why the theory of global warming has not been subjected to this barrage of critical scrutiny by the media. After all, it's the theory of global warming, not my foolish little film, that is turning public and corporate policy on its head.

The apparent unwillingness of Jones and others at the ABC to give airtime to a counterargument, the tactics used to minimise the ostensible damage done by the film, the evident animosity towards those who questioned global warming: all of this served to give viewers a glimpse of what it was like for scientists who dared to disagree with the hallowed doctrine.

Why are the global warmers so zealous? After a year of arguing with people about this, I am convinced that it's because global warming is first and foremost a political theory. It is an expression of a whole middle-class political world view. This view is summed up in the oft-repeated phrase "we consume too much". I have also come to the conclusion that this is code for "they consume too much". People who believe it tend also to think that exotic foreign places are being ruined because vulgar oiks can afford to go there in significant numbers, they hate plastic toys from factories and prefer wooden ones from craftsmen, and so on.

All this backward-looking bigotry has found perfect expression in the idea of man-made climate disaster. It has cohered a bunch of disparate reactionary prejudices (anti-car, anti-supermarkets, anti-globalisation) into a single unquestionable truth and cause. So when you have a dig at global warming, you commit a grievous breach of social etiquette. Among the chattering classes you're a leper.

But why are the supporters of global warming so defensive? After all, the middle classes are usually confident, bordering on smug. As I found when I examined the basic data, they have plenty to be defensive about. Billions of dollars of public money have been thrown at global warming, yet the hypothesis is crumbling around their ears.

To the utter dismay of the global warming lobby, the world does not appear to be getting warmer. According to their own figures (from the UN-linked Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the temperature has been static or slightly declining since 1998. The satellite data confirms this. This is clearly awkward. The least one should expect of global warming is that the Earth should be getting warmer.

Then there's the ice-core data, the jewel in the crown of global warming theory. It shows there's a connection between carbon dioxide and temperature: see Al Gore's movie. But what Gore forgets to mention is that the connection is the wrong way around; temperature leads, CO2 follows.

Then there's the precious "hockey stick". This was the famous graph that purported to show global temperature flat-lining for 1000 years, then rising during the 19th and 20th centuries. It magicked away the Medieval warm period and made the recent warming look alarming, instead of just part of the general toing and froing of the Earth's climate. But then researchers took the computer program that produced the hockey stick graph and fed it random data. Bingo, out popped hockey stick shapes every time. (See the report by Edward Wegman of George Mason University in Virginia and others.) In a humiliating climb down, the IPCC has had to drop the hockey stick from its reports, though it can still be seen in Gore's movie.

And finally, there are those pesky satellites. If greenhouse gases were the cause of warming, then the rate of warming should have been greater, higher up in the Earth's atmosphere (the bit known as the troposphere). But all the satellite and balloon data says the exact opposite. In other words, the best observational data we have flatly contradicts the whole bally idea of man-made climate change.

They concede that CO2 cannot have caused the warming at the beginning of the 20th century, which was greater and steeper than the recent warming. They can't explain the cooling from 1940 to the mid-'70s. What are they left with? Some mild warming in the '80s and '90s that does not appear to have been caused by greenhouse gases. The whole damned theory is in tatters. No wonder they're defensive.

The man-made global warming parade, on one level, has been a phenomenal success. There isn't a political party or important public body or large corporation that doesn't feel compelled to pay lip service. There are scientists and journalists (a surprising number) who have built careers championing the cause. There's more money going into global warming research than there is chasing a cure for cancer. Many important people and institutions have staked their reputations on it. There's a lot riding on this theory. And it has bugger-all to do with sea levels. That is why the warmers greeted my film with red glowing eyes.

Last week on the ABC they closed ranks. They were not interested in a genuine debate. They wanted to shut it down. And thousands of wonderful, sane, bolshie Australian viewers saw right through it. God bless Australia. The DVD will be out soon.


Serious loss of mathematics skills in Australia

AUSTRALIA is losing its mathematical skills as school courses are hijacked by fads and divorced from modern mathematics as practised in industry and business. At a time when economic growth is underpinned by jobs in maths-related fields, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute says the teaching and learning of maths in schools and universities is in serious trouble and suffering from a lack of input from mathematicians. Not only is the number of students taking maths continually falling, especially at an advanced level, but even students studying related fields such as engineering and science are taking fewer maths courses.

In a submission to a numeracy review being undertaken by federal, state and territory governments under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments, AMSI is critical of the review for its ignorance of modern maths and its application in industry and business, and for failing to include mathematicians in the process. "Mathematicians and statisticians have had few opportunities to be involved in school mathematics for a number of years," says AMSI, representing 30 universities and mathematical organisations. "As a result, serious misconceptions concerning modern mathematics are arising ... particularly concerning the role of foundation or 'pure' mathematics."

AMSI says that in the absence of input from experts and users of mathematical sciences across the trades and professions, school curriculums tend not to reflect pertinent mathematical content and have become the victim of fads. Mathematics has also "lost coherence and many of its successful teachers". "We are deeply concerned by the failure of the background (review) paper to address specific content, the apparent lack of knowledge of modern mathematical sciences, the inability to give examples of good practice (at) high-achieving schools and failure to address Australian curriculum expectations compared to those of other nations," the submission notes.

It says school curriculums tended to reflect the belief that pure maths courses were only required for highly specialised areas, when pure maths was a vital element of many new applications in various fields, such as climate change, as well as providing the fundamental understanding required to apply mathematical concepts.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Global cooling spreading in Queensland

QUEENSLAND'S tourist strips have woken to record subzero temperatures on another cold morning in the state's south-east. The Bureau of Meteorology said temperatures fell below zero for the first time since records began at Coolangatta, on the Gold Coast, and at Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast. While Coolangatta dipped just below zero, Maroochydore plunged to -1 degree celsius, a bureau spokesman said. ``It's so unusual getting temperatures near zero with the ocean being so close,'' he said.

Many Brisbane residents woke to ice on the windscreen this morning after another near freezing night in the south east. Although the overnight minimum was a touch higher than the previous night, at 4.7 degrees compared with 3.8, the apparent temperature was a teeth chattering 1C. Senior Forecaster Gordon Banks said Amberley shivered on -3.8C within a degree of its all time record low of -4.5C. The cold temperatures did not just grip the south-east corner though, with below zero temps recorded as far north as Samuel Hill, in Central Queensland where the mercury dipped to -1C. And Gympie posted a new record, plunging to -3.4C, almost half a degree colder than ever before.


Put meddling judges in their place

Expect more turf battles as activists in the judiciary pilfer power from our elected representatives, writes Janet Albrechtsen

JUDICIAL activism has had its day. The experiment is over, says our federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. With respect, wishful thinking will not end the power struggle between politicians and the judiciary under way for the past quarter century. If politicians are serious about protecting their turf from power-hungry judges, they may need to consider passing a new law. They could call it the Why We are Not Legislating Law. Shorthand for "Back off, judges", this law will tell judges their role is not to step in to fix a problem just because parliament has yet to solve it.

Why do we need such an unusual-sounding law? As revealed in The Weekend Australian's Inquirer, plenty of Australian judges stand ready to assume the role of law-maker, usurping the role of elected politicians. In a series of anonymous interviews with American academic Jason Pierce, our most senior judges admit they believe it is up to them to legislate from the bench whenever they feel politicians are too stupid, too slow or too cowardly to act.

Given that politicians are our elected representatives, judges are really telling us we, the people, are too stupid to get it right. While many of us suspected as much, judges have never before admitted to such a brazen belief in a judicial take over of the legislative role. They appear to be under the quaint impression their comments would remain buried away in an unpublished dissertation. Instead, their breathtaking candour is available for all to read. Indeed Pierce's book, Inside the Mason Court Revolution: The High Court of Australia Transformed should be mandatory reading for those politicians in charge of judicial appointments. The interviews reveal that the leading motivation behind the activist judges is filling what they perceive to be a political vacuum.

Some of our most senior judges believe the High Court's decision in Mabo, which overturned 200 years of settled law, was justified because, to quote a Federal Court judge, parliament "wimped out". When the "whole issue is too divisive ... it falls to the court to fill in," he said.

This chap is no renegade. Many are champing at the bit to resume the rampant activism unleashed by the High Court under Anthony Mason. Another Federal Court judge said: "With the two houses of parliament and the difficulty of the government actually commanding a majority ... it really does give courts the power to move where the legislature can't."

Make no mistake. We have an open declaration of war against our elected politicians. One senior Australian judge described an elected government as a "majoritarian autocracy". It was "a form of dictatorship as far as minorities and individuals are concerned".

The interviews make clear that many Australian judges watched with envy as the US Supreme Court under Earl Warren and successors implemented substantial social and political change without having to bother about the backroom deals or the pesky political processes needed to muster support from Congress. It's no coincidence judicial activism is often called "doing an end run around democracy". The Yanks may not have invented judicial hyper-thyroid activity but they turned it into a modern sport. From Brown v Board of Education to Roe v Wade and countless other decisions, US judges made changes that your ordinary activist could not have got through Congress quickly or at all. And judges here got a taste for it.

But those judges pumped up with impatience over social change fail to consider the enormous cost that comes from meddling in controversial issues. Indeed, the progressives who hail Roe v Wade, which usurped the role of state legislatures by cementing a federal right to abortion, never stop to think how that decision swept their conservative nemesis, George W. Bush, to power. The conservative backlash over Roe v Wade unified the religious Right into an enormously powerful political constituency that would back Bush all the way to the White House.

While history's verdict on US judicial activism is likely to be mixed - some good decisions, some bad - at least US judges had some legitimacy for their law-making. The US bill of rights, with its broad language and utopian ideals, was tailor-made for unelected judges to make law. In Australia, there is no constitutional bill of rights (yet). Traditionally, the pact between judges and politicians was that judges stayed out of politics. They interpreted the law, making small incremental changes where necessary. They did not make law. In return, politicians would leave judges alone to do their judge thing. However, idealism and the desire to be beloved in the right circles, coupled with the powerful US model, drove some judges - and their erstwhile supporters among legal ranks - to break that pact.

Fuelled by extraordinary judicial hubris, some Australian judges even regard the absence of a federal bill of rights in Australia as reason for them to step in. When the High Court dreamed up an implied right to freedom of political speech in our Constitution, one senior judge justified it as a "void-filling exercise ... In the absence of a bill of rights, there is a void there that from time to time has to be filled."

That grand-sounding path, where judges follow their meandering individual conscience, not what parliament lays down, is nothing short of judicial anarchy. Just as drug-taking, thieving parents make dreadful role models for their offspring, senior judges who openly showcase their addiction to pilfering power from politicians will inevitably lure junior judges down the wrong path. It's rule by lawyers, not rule of law. And their extraordinary egos prevent them from realising they are simply not up to the task. They lack the skills and the resources to fully explore the social, political and economic consequences of their activism.

History may well find that the Aboriginal rights era fuelled so heavily by Mabo in fact hurt the average Aborigine. The focus on land rights and the perfidy of white colonists enabled the growth of cancerous welfare dependence, exacerbating deep-seated problems of domestic violence and substance abuse within indigenous communities.

Given that judicial appointments season is on us - High Court Justice Ian Callinan steps down on September 1 - politicians had better choose the next High Court justice very carefully. Former US president Dwight Eisenhower would later describe his appointment of the activist Warren as "the biggest damn fool mistake I ever made". There is little point crying after the event. That's why, with war declared, politicians need to respond with their own heavy arsenal: a law instructing judges that, in a democracy, parliamentary inaction is no reason for judicial action.


Perverse Leftist myth of the noble savage in Australia

HARDLY a day has gone by in recent weeks without new reports of the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in remote settlements. Last Monday we learned that more than 30 men had been implicated in sexual assaults on children as young as 11 at Halls Creek in Western Australia. Another 26 men from the Kimberley region were also expected to be charged with similar offences. At Yalata, in outback South Australia, an Aboriginal man was convicted on Wednesday of trading petrol for sex with three under-age girls, whom he'd later attempted to silence with death threats.

There's ample reason to believe the federal Government's intervention in the 60 or so isolated communities in the Northern Territory will uncover comparable levels of child abuse. Aboriginal women and children are increasingly finding the courage to speak to police prosecutors and to give evidence in the courts. What's more, black leaders such as Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine have been admirably forthright in saying that this is fundamentally a moral and legal issue rather than something that can be deplored and excused as a consequence of disadvantage or the dispossession of tribal land.

In the midst of all these painful but necessary attempts to come to grips with an intractable problem, which is far more prevalent in Aboriginal families than the rest of society, the last thing needed in the debate is a return to romanticising Aborigines and the myth of the noble savage. Yet it's the best that Robert Manne, identified in a recent Fairfax press straw poll as our foremost public intellectual, could bring to the national conversation in his column "The Lost, Enchanted World" in the June edition of The Monthly.

He speaks of Australian anthropologists of the past century observing "not an Edenic but an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being had a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning." [Yuk! What a wet dream!]

As habitual readers of this column will appreciate, I'm far from dismissive of world views that are suffused with the numinous and where, in American sociologist Peter Berger's famous phrase, the sky forms a sacred canopy. But Manne's emphasis on playfulness, joy and humour suggest to me that he's conjuring with the Arcadian fantasies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau rather than traditional Aboriginal life.

Enchantment, in the technical sense, ought not to blind us to the often murderous realities of hunter-gatherer existence. It's possible to understand the ritual or religious dimensions of practices such as infanticide and cannibalism, for example, without losing sight of what else was involved. A world filled with magic looks a whole lot less entrancing when you understand that most deaths other than in infancy or old age were explained in terms of malevolent sorcery and punished with endless irrational cycles of payback. Having a precise and acknowledged place in the scheme of things may not have been all that much of a comfort if it was a role of wretched subjugation as a young woman in a male gerontocracy.

Mircea Eliade, the great historian of religion, proposed some useful categories. In the case of the Aztecs, for example, he didn't hesitate to conclude that a society based on large-scale human sacrifice was a perversion of the religious impulse. Likewise, belief systems that legitimated constant inter-tribal warfare and an extremely high incidence of violent death were common to most hunter-gatherer societies. There is no sense in romanticising them.

Manne's account of the lost, enchanted world before the arrival of the First Fleet makes some concessions to reality. He says: "There is no doubt that in pre-contact Aboriginal society adult interpersonal violence of many kinds was very common: male on male; female on female; male on female; even, as we have seen, female on male. It is also clear that, although in Aboriginal society sex was decoupled from shame, sexual violence against women was common. "But it is acknowledged by almost everyone that no violence of any kind was directed against children."

The last point, that traditionally Aboriginal children were never subjected to any kind of violence, is the rhetorical climax of his argument and another lapse into Arcadian fantasy. He offers it as a complete refutation of Louis Nowra's book Bad Dreaming and in particular his argument that contemporary Aboriginal sexual abuse of children is an aggravated version of patterns of behaviour that were part of traditional culture. Manne says: "Any argument about contemporary abuse as a pathological tradition must begin by explaining the awkward fact that one of the two main forms of contemporary Aboriginal male violence - the sexual abuse of children - didn't exist in the pre-contact world."

But in this argument it is Manne who has a lot of awkward facts to explain. Nowra notes evidence of "boy-wife arrangements that are known to have existed late into the end of the 19th century", citing the work of Carl Strehlow. "Pederasty is a recognised custom among the Arunta and has a name, kwalanga. It prevails especially among the Western Loritja and tribes north of the MacDonnell Range, the Katitja, Ilpara, Warramunga, etc. Commonly a man, who is fully initiated but not yet married, takes a boy 10 or 12 years old, who lives with him for several years." Referring to the southern part of the Kimberley, he cites Alfred Radcliffe-Brown on "the custom for a man before marriage to take as a boy-lover a member of the prescribed kinship section from which he must later obtain his wife, and who is therefore sociologically equivalent to the wife's brother and sister's husband."

Nowra comments: "Boys in a boy-wife arrangement were called chookadoo (about age five) or mullawongah (ages five to seven). Some boys could remain in such a marriage up until the age of 11 ... Even into the 1930s, there was evidence of homosexuality (among) the Kimberley Aborigines. The youths of 17 or 18 who were still unmarried would take boys of 10 or 11 as lovers. "The women did not regard it as shameful and considered the practice a temporary substitute for marriage."

We can be reasonably confident that Manne has read the relevant chapter of Bad Dreaming because in his review article he complains about it specifically. If he has read it, the question then becomes: what part of the phrase boy-wives doesn't he understand? Does he imagine that these were partnerships willingly entered into and consensual, an indigenous variation on a Socratic theme? Does he deem the arrangements non-abusive, despite the involvement of children as young as five, because they were traditionally sanctioned?

Nowra's evidence of heterosexual abuse is just as compelling. For example, he says that "when a nine or 10-year-old girl was handed over to her husband, there was generally no sexual intercourse (until) after puberty" but notes anthropologist Phyllis Kaberry's caveat that "sexual intercourse without penetration did take place but infrequently". Can Manne, when he read it, have imagined that these relationships were free of psychological violence?

On the subject of incestuous abuse, Nowra summarises an account from A.W. Howitt's The Native Tribes of South-East Australia. "Girls from the Dieri tribe would be kidnapped by their intended husbands and friends, who would then drag her away, she screaming and biting as much as she was able. If she put up too much resistance, other men were called in to help constrain the struggling girl. Then all of the men took turns to have sex with her over a one or two-day period, which was regarded as consummation of the marriage. After this the group, with the resigned girl in tow, would return to camp, where there were 'several days of ceremonial dancing, during which time there was between her and the men of the camp a period of unrestricted licence, not even excluding her father'."

How could Manne have concluded "the sexual abuse of children did not exist in the pre-contact world", despite the anthropological evidence to the contrary? Perhaps once he began to imagine "the lost, enchanted world", he peopled it with noble savages who could do no wrong. Then again, perhaps he's simply adopting a Gramscian view of the past in which it doesn't matter what really happened and the only question worth worrying about is what sort of history best serves the interests of progressive politics.


Terrorism is real. Just ask those who have lost loved ones

The left is losing its sense of right and wrong in a frenzy to demonise conservatives, writes John Roskam

ONE OF the great myths of history is that communism never threatened Australia. It is a myth successfully propagated by generations of left-leaning academics. As the story goes, the danger of international communism during the Cold War was a figment of then prime minister Robert Menzies' imagination conjured up to embarrass the Labor Party. We're now witnessing vigorous efforts to create another historical fiction. It is a fiction based on the argument that terrorism has been merely "imagined" by Prime Minister John Howard.

The claim is that to improve his election chances the Prime Minister is instilling in the electorate baseless fears. This is the contention of La Trobe university professor of politics Judith Brett in a new edition of her book on the Liberal Party. According to her, Howard is "paranoid" about terrorism. Brett draws a parallel between Menzies and Howard. One invented the threat of communism and the other the threat of terrorism. In the same way that the Australian people were duped into believing that communism was real, so they have been duped into thinking the same of terrorism.

It's one thing to debate things such as the causes of terrorism and the best way to combat it, but it is something else entirely to question the reality of terrorism. There was nothing "imagined" about the murders in New York, Madrid, London, and Bali, or the recent attempted murders in London and Glasgow.

Brett's analysis is the latest manifestation of a pathology that seems to have engulfed the left. It is a pathology that denies the existence of any evidence at odds with a particular world view. This is a world view that sees George Bush, Tony Blair, and Howard as unremittingly malign and manipulative. They are considered to have no redeeming features and they are to be given no credit, for anything, ever. Whatever concern they display for the safety of their citizens is dismissed as mere posturing.

The cynicism of the left has almost turned into a form of inhumanity. This can be seen in the way the British playwright Alan Bennett responded in the wake of the London bombings in July 2005 in which 50 commuters were killed. Bennett's play The History Boys was recently performed in Melbourne. Instead of experiencing horror or shock or sympathy for the victims, Bennett's reaction was that the bombings were particularly "convenient" and "useful" to the political purposes of Tony Blair.

It is almost understandable why so many Australian historians have devoted their careers to playing down the menace of communism. Many of those same historians were members of the Communist Party or at least sympathetic to it. Even if the results of the communism in Eastern Europe or Asia could not be entirely ignored, at least it could be pretended that Marxism/Leninism in this country was of a more friendly variety. The proof of the harmlessness of communism is found in the fact that war didn't break out between the Americans and the Russians. And while Menzies' effort to ban the Communist Party gets all the attention, other things are overlooked. For example, it was not until Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 that communist-led trade unions in Australia committed themselves to the cause of the allies. For communists in this country, honouring the pact between Hitler and Stalin was more important than helping defend Britain against Nazism.

It's more difficult to appreciate why the impact of terrorism is minimised. It's not as though anyone who enjoys the freedoms provided by a liberal democracy can have any sympathy with the aims of jihadist terrorists. As has been said many times, those aims are antithetical to the values of freedom and tolerance, which are values that the left once believed in. It is not always the case that an enemy of an enemy is a friend.

Most likely what has happened is that a hatred of conservative political leaders has combined with a cultural relativism. Thus there is a refusal to acknowledge the existence of any universal application of the concepts of right and wrong.

Brett criticises Howard for regarding terrorism as "pure evil". This echoes one of the favourite accusations of George Bush's opponents, namely that he views the war on terror in black and white terms. But sometimes matters are black and white. Classifying something as "pure evil" doesn't satisfy the predilection of relativists for seeing shades of grey in everything. But surely there can be no other description for the sort of terrorism we've experienced. If the premeditated murder of thousands of people is not evil then what is it? What's at stake in the debate about terrorism is more than a question of historical interpretation. Unfortunately there's nothing imagined about terrorism.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Global cooling now hits Queensland too

Queensland breaks all-time cold weather record

SOUTH-EAST Queenslanders have woken to a record-breaking cold morning. The Bureau of Meteorology said temperatures fell to a record low at Brisbane Airport shortly after sunrise today, with a temperature of -0.1 degrees celsius recorded at 6.39am (AEST). The previous record for the airport was 0.6 degrees, recorded in 1971 and 1994. Elsewhere in the region, Ipswich, south-west of Brisbane, recorded a low of -4.8 degrees overnight, just 0.1 degree short of the lowest temperature recorded there, in 1995.

There have also been reports of -7 degrees in Stanthorpe, in Queensland's south, while nearby Warwick recorded a temperature of -6.4 degrees. Kingaroy, north-west of Brisbane, plunged to -3.2 degrees, while Amberley, in Brisbane's south-west, fell to -1.9 degrees. Brisbane itself was slightly warmer at 3.9 degrees, while the Gold Coast got to a low of 3.1 degrees about 7am (AEST) and the Sunshine Coast recorded 1.4 degrees.

The cold weather is a result of a combination of dry air and clear night skies as well cold air being pushed up from the south by a strong low pressure system in the Tasman Sea, a bureau spokesman said. Cold temperatures are expected to continue tomorrow but should return to average by the weekend, the spokesman said.


Hate-filled Leftist broadcaster in trouble at last

Note the following comment from Carlton on George Bush: "Not so this strutting Texan mountebank, with his chimpanzee smirk and his born-again banalities delivered in that constipated syntax that sounds the way cold cheeseburgers look, and his grinning plastic wife, and his scheming junta of neo-con spivs, shamans, flatterers and armchair warmongers, and his sinuous evasions and his brazen lies, and his sleight of hand"

BESIEGED 2UE radio jock Mike Carlton is "on borrowed time" as management yesterday publicly outed him as "despicable", "disgraceful", "pathetic", "appalling", "unreasonable" and "unbelievable". Setting up a clear mandate to dump the breakfast host, Carlton was hung out to dry by a furious Southern Cross Broadcasting management yesterday after telling listeners he "loathed" and "hated" his former colleague Stan Zemanek. Carlton said he would only go to his funeral "to check he was actually dead."

The comments, said to have made Zemanek's wife Marcella "sick to the stomach" and devastated his two daughters as they prepared for the funeral, were born of "a despicable hatred of the kind seen only in the Middle East", Carlton's boss Southern Cross Broadcasting's group general manager Graham Mott said yesterday. "It's just despicable. As I said to Mike it's hatred like you see in the Middle East, it's absolute rubbish. "There's no going back, no recovery from those words," he said.

Carlton's contract is up for renewal at the end of the year but the stinging attack from management - which was reiterated in an unprecedented memo to all Southern Cross Broadacsting staff yesterday - gives ample cause to sack Carlton for bringing the station into disrepute, a station source said. "This is totally unheard of. He's got to be out the door," a 2UE source said last night. Leaving open the option to dismiss Carlton, Mott said it was a matter for behind closed doors. "That's not for public consumption," he said.

But he was so incensed by Carlton's behaviour - and by that of drive presenter Steve Price who replayed the comments on his show and condemned Carlton's "bad taste and bad behaviour" - that he described the incident in his memo as one of 2UE's "darkest moments". "This whole episode is one of our darkest moments and I hope we can move forward with the knowledge that while we may not always agree with each other and we may not like each other; we should at least respect the dead along with their family and friends and we MUST NEVER subject our listeners to such disgraceful behaviour ever again," the memo to more than 100 staff read. "Mike has gone too far and his comments are despicable," it said. Mott said it was a cowardly act to publicly attack a dead man just hours before he was due to be cremated. "I knew they didn't like each other but you don't use airtime to play it out - and it's not exactly very brave to do that when the guy is dead is it?"


A return to paternalism that might do some good

This has a lot of similarities to how Aborigines were managed in the '50s and earlier

ABORIGINAL leader Noel Pearson yesterday hailed a $48 million program aimed at wresting four Cape York communities from the grip of passive welfare as "the most significant reform in welfare since the Second World War". Under the plan announced yesterday by Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and Mr Pearson, the 3000 residents of four key Aboriginal communities on Cape York will have to accept responsibility for the healthy upbringing of their children, properly maintain and pay rent on their homes, and work to get off "sit-down money" welfare payments. Failure to accept responsibility could result in having a significant portion of welfare payments made to individuals taken from them and managed by a responsible family or community member.

Mr Brough said $48million had been allocated for the four-year trial at the Aurukun, Hopevale, Mossman Gorge and Coen communities, commencing early next year. Under the plan, the Queensland Government will introduce legislation establishing a Family Responsibilities Commission to enforce the welfare obligations. The commission would be chaired by a retired magistrate and include respected Aboriginal members of each of the four communities participating in the trial.

Mr Pearson explained that the commission would work with families and communities to deal with issues of drug and alcohol dependency, violence, child neglect and truancy, gambling and poor financial management.

The federal funding commitment was made after Mr Brough's cabinet colleagues accepted recommendations in a report titled From Hand Out to Hand Up, compiled by the Cape York Institute, which is headed by Mr Pearson. Mr Pearson, who has fought for nine years for reform of what he calls "welfare passivity", said the Government's support for the institute's plan would allow comprehensive reforms to rebuild social norms and create incentives for economic development and growth in Cape York.

Mr Brough said the Government's support was "an expression of the overwhelming desire of people in Cape York to ensure their children grow up in a safe home, attend school and enjoy the same opportunities as any other Australian child". "The trials in these four communities aim to promote engagement in the real economy, reduce passive welfare and rebuild social norms, particularly as they affect the wellbeing of children. "A major feature of the reforms is the introduction of a set of obligations attaching to welfare payments, which will require parents to send their children to school and protect them from harm and neglect. "The housing reforms require tenants to comply with lease conditions. "If people do not uphold the law, welfare sanctions may be introduced to those convicted of domestic violence, drugs or alcohol offences."

Mr Pearson was careful to emphasise that people would not have welfare money docked before a "help" process, including interviews with relationships and violence counsellors and-or financial managers, was exhausted. If recalcitrant or criminal conduct persisted, the Family Responsibilities Commission would determine whether there had been a breach of any of the "obligations". The federal Government will amend legislation to enable Centrelink to redirect a person's welfare payments as directed by the commission.

The federal funding also provides for the establishment of a trust to assist parents to contribute to their children's education and, in some cases, to help send them away to secondary boarding colleges and university. Mr Pearson said Hopevale was "the best home in the world" when he was a child, despite being brought up in poverty. "It's going to be a very rocky road," he said, "but if we get these changes made, I believe that one day soon my community will have children who will look back on their childhood and say, 'This is the best place in the world'."


Rudd wimping out on union thug

KEVIN Rudd will come under pressure to dump a former Tasmanian union leader and endorsed Labor candidate who faces charges in the Federal Magistrates Court for leading unlawful strikes. Kevin Harkins, the ALP candidate for the federal seat of Franklin, will be charged over allegedly illegal strikes involving 80 workers who marched on the Tasmanian parliament in December 2005.

Mr Harkins, who was chosen to replace retiring Labor MP Harry Quick for this year's election, was leader of the left-wing Electrical Trades Union in Tasmania at the time of the alleged offence. The charge, which carries a maximum penalty of $22,000, follows a lengthy investigation by the Howard Government's Australian Building and Construction Commission, in which Mr Harkins and the union refused to co-operate.

As Labor Leader, Mr Rudd has declared he has a "zero tolerance" policy for unlawful union behaviour. He has already forced the resignation from the ALP of Victorian ETU leader Dean Mighell for bad language used at a union meeting, and moved to expel Joe McDonald, West Australian deputy of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, for aggressive behaviour on a Perth building site.

Mr Harkins was named in the royal commission into the building industry in 2003, with the adverse finding that he had engaged in "unlawful conduct". At the time, however, he was not charged with any offence.

Last month Mr Rudd resisted pressure to drop Mr Harkins as a candidate after Treasurer Peter Costello branded him a union thug. In Parliament Mr Costello claimed that Mr Harkins had threatened a builder and said, "if necessary, the union, they would block off the entrance to our site with the truck in the middle of a concrete pour". Mr Costello called on Mr Rudd to disassociate from Mr Harkins and make it clear he would stand up against "thuggery".

A spokesman for Mr Rudd last night said the Labor leader could not comment on matters before the court. He also declined to comment on whether charges against Mr Harkins in the Federal Magistrates Court might affect his continued position as a Labor candidate at this year's election.

The union Mr Harkins led also faces charges over the strikes in December 2005 at several building sites in Tasmania, with a maximum potential fine of $110,000 for the union if a prosecution is successful. The ABCC lodged papers in the Federal Magistrates Court yesterday related to charges against Mr Harkins and the Tasmanian ETU. They will be served with papers today. ETU national secretary Peter Tighe and lawyers for the union have been notified of the ABCC's actions. In a statement last November, Mr Harkins said he expected charges and claimed they related to "paperwork". He said he was prepared to be guilty of defending workers.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Visa laws 'unfair' to Muslims

The poor little precious petals are being asked to name their families. What an outrage!

NEW laws that demand Arabs seeking visa entry into Australia provide the names of their parents and grandfather hint at racial and religious profiling, according to a leading Islamic group. "It would be pretty naive to think there is no religious profiling going on (with visa applicants), even if it's not officially recognised," said the Islamic Council of Victoria's spokesman, Waleed Aly.

Australian security agencies had asked for the new regulations that require extra personal information from Arabic visa applicants to include the names of their parents and grandfather. Other visa applicants, including those from China and Russia, are also being required to provide additional information about the spelling of names and ancestral names before being granted entry to Australia.

The Federal Government has insisted there is no racial or religious profiling in Australia's immigration programs. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews' spokeswoman said the changes would help in the proper identification of applicants and their character. "The question that has been included in the new form (about Arabic grandfathers) is designed to enable more accurate and higher-quality identification of visa applicants," she said.

But Mr Aly said his own experiences had shown him racial and religious characteristics were focused on by border officials. Mr Aly said despite random searches being conducted at Australian airports, he had become used to always being stopped and questioned, and that many Australian Muslims knew that they would come under special attention, especially at airports. "They disproportionately focus on people who are Muslim or who appear to be Muslim," he said.

All visa applicants aged 16 and older wanting to visit Australia must fill out a character assessment form, which identifies their siblings and parents. But regulations brought in this year require Arabic, Chinese and Russian visa applicants to provide extra detail. For Russian citizens they must include their patronymic or ancestral name, and Chinese applicants must provide their name in commercial code numbers, which relates to Chinese characters, and in English


A rare good-news report about mobile phones

Refreshing after the endless speculative claims that mobiles will give you cancer

A new study has found mobile phones have enhanced the lives of most Australians. Researchers from the Australian National University, working with colleagues from New South Wales and New England, found only 3 per cent of people believed mobiles had a negative impact on their lives. More than half of those questioned said their mobile phones helped them achieve a better work-life balance. Three-quarters of people said carrying a mobile made them feel more secure.

Research Professor Judy Wajcman says overwhelmingly people use their mobile to phone family and friends. "What it seems to us, when we look at our findings overall is that the mobile phone is not primarily a work tool," he said. "Indeed, one of the principal uses of the mobile phone is to strengthen ties with kin and close relationships, close friends."

The project was based on collaboration between university-based researchers and the peak organisation of mobile phone service providers, the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association (AMTA), under the umbrella of the Australian Research Council Linkage grant scheme. The report says AMTA's mission is 'to promote an environmentally, socially and economically responsible and successful mobile telecommunications industry in Australia'. The collaboration follows a workshop held in May 2004, jointly sponsored by AMTA and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.


Cautious climate policy

AUSTRALIAN researchers will be encouraged to participate in a global project to build a new-generation nuclear reactor under Howard Government climate-change plans, which include grants to help homeowners and schools buy rainwater tanks and solar hot water systems. John Howard yesterday savaged Labor plans to cut emissions as confusing "panic with virtue" as he allocated $637million for a strategy that he said involved "a blend of prudent conservatism and economic liberalism" to address climate change. The Prime Minister said he would offer $50,000 rebates for schools installing solar hot water systems or rainwater tanks. And he said families earning less than $100,000 a year would get a $1000 rebate to replace an electric hot water system with a solar one.

After announcing the grants on the internet site YouTube early yesterday, Mr Howard moved quickly in a lunchtime speech to commit $12.5million to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and local universities to contribute to the US-led project to develop a nuclear reactor that recycles its own waste material. Mr Howard said with 40per cent of the world's uranium deposits, Australia could not stand apart from developments in nuclear technology. "Nuclear power has no direct carbon dioxide emissions and is already a significant part of the world's energy system," he told the Melbourne Press Club. The US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership has established a multi-nation research project into what are known as Generation IV nuclear reactors. Using gas rather than water to cool the reactor, designers hope the plant will re-enrich spent uranium to be reused, cutting down on waste.

Labor has rejected nuclear energy as part of its climate change response and labelled the Government's pursuit of nuclear technology as an "obsession". Opposition industry spokesman Kim Carr said the Government's announcement was a "nuclear waste" and argued that Australia should be putting its efforts into developing nuclear medicine. "Australia is blessed with an abundance of clean energy resources and we should be using them to power our future," he said. "Instead, Australian taxpayers will once again be footing the bill for Howard's nuclear power obsession."

Mr Howard launched a 46-page glossy publication outlining the Government's climate change agenda, saying the policy was designed to link in with emerging global schemes.

But Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett warned that Australia must not create a "competing" system that might undermine the UN-sponsored climate change negotiations. Mr Garrett said the Howard Government's desire to go it alone could ultimately leave Australia isolated, particularly after last month's meeting of the Group of Eight economies, where nations including the US signalled there must be a global target for emissions. "Labor believes there is no place for establishing competing regimes. Instead, Mr Howard's task is to ensure Australia and APEC create a unifying force that brings together the various initiatives that are being advanced," he told the Lowy Institute.


Global cooling hits Melbourne too

IT WAS cold, so very cold. Then came the rain, the wind and in some parts of the state, the snow. Melbourne yesterday recorded its coldest day in nine years. The temperature hovered around six degrees for most of the afternoon, dipping to 5.4 degrees at 6pm. The top was 9.2 degrees at 9.48am, well below the July average top of 13.7 degrees. Weather bureau forecaster Dean Stewart said a cold front hit Melbourne around the morning peak hour, bringing hours of rain and blasts of cold Antarctic air in its wake. The previous coldest maximum Melbourne temperature came on July 9, 1998, with a top of 8.9 degrees.

The State Emergency Service took 150 storm damage calls across the state, mostly in metropolitan Melbourne. SES spokesman Tim Wiebusch said Emerald, Hastings and Sorrento were the busiest units, with 15 to 20 calls for help in each area, mostly for fallen trees. In other areas, the weather brought joy. Sean Robertson, manager of the SkyHigh restaurant and lookout at Mount Dandenong, welcomed a light snow that blanketed the centre, car park and terraces from 4pm. "If it's going to be cold, it may as well snow."

Ballarat City Council media officer Nicole Gillard said Ballarat's main street, Sturt Street, resembled a movie set when it was frosted with snow yesterday morning. "Lots of people were taking photos of snow in their backyards, on cars and the white streets," she said. "It actually put a smile on everybody's face." Snow and ice forced VicRoads to close roads in Ballan, Daylesford, Trentham, Woodend and Mt Macedon for hours due to snow and ice. There were no complaints on the Victorian ski fields, which continue to enjoy the best start to the ski season in seven years.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Australia is about to put a probable carcinogen into all its bread

See today's posts on FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC

"Ethnic" knife-crime being covered up

Muslims wouldn't be behind it, of course

It is usually alcohol that has parents worried when they allow their teenage children to go to parties on a weekend. Now knives have become a common threat. In Melbourne on Friday night, a 15-year-old boy ended up in hospital with stab wounds when a party descended into a violent brawl. And last weekend, seven people were hurt when gatecrashers armed with knives and machetes barged into a birthday party at a soccer club. Officially, police say there is no evidence the problem is getting worse, but that is a line contradicted by youth workers and officers on the beat.

Melbourne mother Rosanna Loretta was half asleep on the couch last weekend when one of her son's friends called to tell her to get to the hospital. Her 17-year-old son had been dancing at a party in Melbourne's west when gatecrashers broke in. "He heard a scream as he turned, he copped the first machete blow to his head," she said. "He came down, he tried to get up and then kept knocking him down. He was surrounded at one stage by 10 young boys, all slamming into him with baseball bats, iron bars and machetes." Ms Loretta told Southern Cross Radio that one of those machete blows cracked her son's skull. "He got a full-on whack with a baseball bat in his left eye, and at this point it will be months before we know whether he will keep that eye," she said.

Also on the weekend, this time in Melbourne's outer east, a 15-year-old boy was stabbed in his stomach and arm during a brawl that broke out after gatecrashers invaded a party at a suburban house.

Youth worker Les Twentyman says in places, 80 per cent of young people now carry knives. "I've been working on the streets for almost 30 years, and this is as bad as I've ever seen it," he said. "If you couple the fact that more and more young people don't feel confident... about the day's existence without being armed, and also the type of drugs that are out on the street at the moment, particularly amphetamines and ice, which just makes them paranoid, it's extremely dangerous on the street."

But Victoria Police is keen to stamp out that suggestion. Detective Superintendent Jack Blayney says the recent cases are spikes that do not reflect overall trends. "Actually, over the last five years there's been a reduction of approximately 20 per cent in the incidence of assaults using knives within Victoria," he said.

But former deputy police commissioner Bob Falconer says he is no longer obliged to stick to the official line. "It is worse, without a doubt," he said. He says carrying knives is ostensibly for self-defence. "Now, I think that's right in some instances and that's a very bad trend, hence the need to educate young people," he said. "It is not the thing to do to carry knives."

Doctors and social workers are saying that the evidence is there and the problem is getting worse, but Mr Falconer says he is unsure why the police seem to disagree with that. "I think it's the way you count numbers, the way you embrace statistical data over and above anecdotal evidence, and it's interesting that some bureaucrats, and indeed senior police, when they mention anecdotal evidence, they say it as a pejorative term," he said. "What I'm suggesting is the amounts of incidence, the numbers of incidence that come to the attention of the police, they may be accurately portraying those. "But there are many, many incidents occurring with knives and the carriage of them and the use of them that don't necessarily come to the attention of the police. "There's no requirement for a medical practitioner at a major hospital to report the fact somebody has been slashed or hit over the head with a machete."

Mr Falconer says all around the country, more teenagers are carrying knives. "I spoke recently, earlier this year to a group of people who are from education departments, security units, in every state and territory," he said. "I then posed the question to the group - remembering, they're from every state in Australia - 'How big a problem is gangs and knives in schools?' That was the most animated I saw them all morning. Huge problem."

Mr Falconer says police and governments are afraid to publicly identify the problem because of a misguided sense of political correctness. "Because there's often an ethnicity factor getting involved, particularly where there's gangs and weapons combined, I think there's a lot of political correctness and super-sensitivity about whether or not by nominating gangs and weapons in the same breath, and then being asked were they any particular groups involved, and then you start talking about specific ethnic groups," he said. "I think they're frightened of it. The first way to deal with the problem is to acknowledge there is a problem, and they're not doing it."


Australian immigration law used to detain suspect Muslim doctor

The Australian government said Monday it would detain a doctor accused of supporting the foiled car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow on immigration violations, overriding a magistrate's order granting him bail. Mohamed Haneef's work visa was canceled because the Indian doctor had "failed the character test," and he would be taken into immigration custody if he meets his bail conditions, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said. "I reasonably suspect that he has, or has had, an association with persons engaged in criminal activity, namely terrorism, in the U.K.," Andrews told reporters in Canberra, the national capital. "That's the basis on which I have made this decision."

Hours earlier, Queensland state Magistrate Jacqui Payne granted Haneef bail, saying there was no clear evidence he was involved in the car bomb plot. Police, acting on information from British investigators in the attack plot, arrested Haneef on July 2 as he tried to board a flight from the eastern city of Brisbane to India. Haneef, 27, was charged Saturday with providing support to a terrorist organization by giving his mobile phone SIM card to British suspects Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed when he moved to Australia in July 2006. Haneef is a distant cousin of the Ahmed brothers and he shared a house with them in Liverpool before moving to Australia for a job at a hospital on Queensland state's Gold Coast.

Haneef's lawyer Stephen Keim has slammed the government's case as "extremely weak," saying his client only left the SIM card so his cousin could take advantage of a special deal on his mobile phone plan. Under Australian law, the government can withdraw a person's visa for a variety of reasons, including if the minister judges a person is not of good character. Magistrate Jacqui Payne set the bail for Haneef with several conditions, including staying away from international ports, checking in with police three times a week and putting up an $8,700 bond. Andrews said that if Haneef meets the bail conditions, immigration officials would step in before he can be freed and bring him to a detention facility in Sydney.

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo said he would appeal the government's decision. "We will start the next battle. If that's the way they want to do it - bring it on," he told reporters outside the Brisbane jailhouse where Haneef has been held for two weeks. The move was criticized by Cameron Murphy, the secretary of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties. "The reason we have an independent court system is so these incredibly important decisions are made for the right reasons, and aren't subject to political interference," Murphy said. "It is not appropriate for the government to just keep him incarcerated because they don't like the decision of the magistrates court." Haneef's wife has maintained her husband is innocent and pleaded with authorities to help free him, Indian media reported Sunday.


Another public hospital with diagnostic failure

ANOTHER Queensland hospital has cut patient access to vital diagnostic equipment because of critical staff shortages. The Gold Coast Hospital is the latest Queensland Health facility forced to sideline multimillion-dollar diagnostic tools. The move affects equipment such as CT scanners and MRI machines, and could delay the diagnoses of hundreds of patients who could be suffering anything from cancer to brain aneurisms. It follows similar equipment shutdowns at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, while the Princess Alexandra Hospital has had to scale back its operating theatre services. An acute shortage of radiographers, who are trained to operate the diagnostic equipment, has forced each of the hospitals to act.

In a leaked email obtained by The Courier-Mail, Gold Coast Hospital medical imaging services director John Andersen said planned service cutbacks were necessary to "preserve staff sanity". Mr Andersen outlined plans to stop outpatient access to CT and MRI scanners between 5pm and 9pm. Only patients with imminently life-threatening conditions will get after-hours CT scans on the Gold Coast, while the region's existing 11-week waiting time for an MRI is likely to blow out further. Mr Andersen also detailed plans to cut diagnostic mammography services from five days to one day a week, potentially delaying diagnoses for women with suspected breast cancer. There will also be ultrasound and interventional radiology service cutbacks.

In the email to acting district manager Brian Bell, Mr Andersen warned the hospital would also have to staff a new emergency department at Robina. A Queensland Health spokeswoman refused to comment on the likely impact of the cutbacks.


Australian professor challenges global warming theory

An Australian academic has spoken out against the popular view that global warming is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. He believes that global warming and climate change are caused by cycles in the sun's electro-magnetic radiation. He says scientists are taking a narrow view and politicians are making policy with the wrong information.

Emeritus Professor Lance Endersbee AO is a former Dean of Engineering and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Monash University. He told Tom Harwood, ABC Western Queensland's Morning Program producer that the world has been warming naturally due to increased magnetic radiation from the sun.

"One thousand years ago the Vikings were in Greenland, and they settled there and it was a warm period, known as the medieval warm period and Europe was prosperous," he said. "And then from about 1300 on it got progressively colder and in the time of the 1600s it was terribly cold in Europe. Finland lost about one-third of their population and the Thames froze over regularly every year and people were able to travel from London up the river on sleighs - so it was a different climate," explained Professor Endersbee.

He said since about 1700 the earth has been getting progressively warmer. "It's shown in what we call the sunspot records. The sun is also emitting a great deal of electro-magnetic radiation and nowadays with NASA we can see that more plainly on the surface of the sun."

The professor says that the incredible thing is that the electro-magnetic radiation from the sun varies up and down over an eleven year cycle. "And every eleven years there's a change in the electrical polarity of the sun."

He explained that the El Nino cycles we observe on earth are also related to these eleven year cycles with the sun. "NASA can now measure and observe the flow of plasma in the ionosphere (about thirteen kilometres above the Earth's surface). "This flow of plasma is equivalent to huge electric currents," said Professor Endersbee. He believes that this is influencing the climate on earth through electrical activity in the ionosphere. "NASA is now telling us the way the electric flows in the ionosphere seem to be connected with thunderstorms on Earth around the equator."

He explained the the earth is an electrical conductor moving through the magnetic flux of the sun. "So we have these electric currents being created within the earth in response to the electro-magnetic radiation of the sun and that is the main driver of climate change on earth - it's not man."

In summary, Professor Endersbee said that the world's been warming naturally due to this increased magnetic flow from the sun that started around the year 1700. "And now we're starting to depict that it seems to be reaching an end of that cycle and it does seem as though the earth may be cooling down."

Tom Harwood asked the professor what air pollution and carbon dioxide have to do with global warming? "We've been talking about global warming - now air pollution is an entirely different thing and what's happening is that mankind is putting a lot of pollutants into the atmosphere - they certainly cause problems and mankind is also putting dust and water vapour into the atmosphere and that has an influence... but there's a lot of nonsense being talked about carbon dioxide." He explained that we breathe carbon dioxide in and out - all the plants grow from carbon dioxide and so it's ridiculous to say that it's causing global warming..

"The oceans breathe carbon dioxide and methane in and out with the seasons and that's simply due to the fact that the oceans are a bit like a bottle of lemonade... if you warm it up the bubbles rise to the surface." "They're contemplating the possibility of cooling - that means that carbon dioxide levels will be decreased because the ocean is cooler and can absorb more," he said. "It's just a matter of Henry's law and so on - it's happening continuously and the same thing happens with methane."

The professor is adamant that the concept of carbon trading is absolute madness. "What terrifies me is the way the state governments in Australia with their emissions trading they are contemplating using the superannuation funds to invest in carbon trading - they're going to lose their money!" He says governments are getting tied-up with carbon trading for commercial and political reasons - not scientific reasons.

The other problem that concerns the professor is his view that scholarship has taken a nose-dive. "Scholarship is being driven by media and media attention and this is a terrifying state of affairs." All the research is determined by government, he said. "You can get all the money in the world if the research you're doing is related to climate change... if you say climate change isn't caused by man it's caused by the sun, it doesn't get any money at all."

He said a lot of the business of carbon trading and global warming is just a popular delusion. He refers to a book written by Mackay in the 1840s called "Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds". "We've got it now... he could see it 150 years ago - the crowd is mad!"


Global cooling in Sydney again

Sydneysiders woke up to their coldest July morning in 21 years today, when the thermometer dipped to 3.7 degrees. The minimum temperature was reached at 6.54am today and beat by one degree a July record set just yesterday. "We had high pressure sitting over the state so, with a clear sky and very little wind, here it comes, the lowest temperature," senior meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, Peter Zmijewski, said. The temperature is the lowest recorded at Sydney's Observatory Hill since July 27, 1986, when the mercury plunged to 3.1 degrees.....

Early risers wrote into smh.com.au about frost-covered gardens in Hornsby Heights, rowing in Balmain on water like a millpond and running on ovals of crunchy grass....

As winds pick up, tonight is expected to be milder than last night, with a warmer morning tomorrow but a colder day later. The bureau has forecast snow and sleet today for the Southern and Central Tablelands (including the Blue Mountains) above 500 metres. Blizzards are also expected over much of the NSW snowfields this afternoon.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Internet defeating paternalistic Australian baby laws

If it's OK with the father concerned, why shouldn't couples know more about the biological fathers of their children?

Desperate Australian couples are buying sperm from anonymous "designer donors" through overseas websites. The donor dad's religious beliefs, university major, temperament, ethnic ancestry and even voice recording are available at the click of a mouse. The trend has astonished IVF experts because the commercial trade in sperm is illegal in Australia and donors in Victoria must be registered.

Ethicists say the situation makes a mockery of Australian laws. They worry that detailed online menus let parents try to craft their child's characteristics before conception. Donors are scarce in Victoria and experts warn the state's sperm banks could be depleted in two years.

Major US clinic California Cryobank confirmed it had shipped 20 vials to Australia in the past five years. The sperm bank advertises physical traits - even offering photographs of the donor as an infant. The results of a temperament test, which assess the donor as having one of four temperament types, are also available for a fee. Voice recordings of donors, sketches of his facial features, in-depth medical histories and even high school test results can be bought.

In Australia, donor details are generally limited to ethnicity and medical history, to ensure the donor's features match those of the social father. Specimens from the US site cost between $US250 and $US500 and a donor dossier can be bought for an additional fee. It offers anonymous and known donors, all medically screened, and ships vials in liquid nitrogen to any specified address.

Commonwealth and some state laws make it illegal to sell or receive human sperm or eggs in a commercial transaction in Australia. Offenders face up to 15 years' jail under Commonwealth human cloning laws, but donations with cash subsidies for out-of-pocket expenses are allowed. In Victoria, donor details are recorded so a child can track down his or her biological parent later in life.

British clinic First 4 Fertility, which destroys donor details after a year and is not regulated by health authorities there, says it has also shipped to Australia and wants to expand its business. "We're looking at how we can find a partner in Australia to run a parallel service to ours there," spokesman John Gonzalez said.

Monash IVF's Adrianne Pope said buying sperm abroad was dangerous because it could complicate a child's efforts to trace his or her paternity. Dr Pope said a chronic shortage of donors could be forcing couples to look overseas. "I'd imagine lack of supply is an issue," she said. "We will reach a point where we will run out, probably in the next two years, if we don't start to see a change."

To import sperm to Victoria, a person must have permission from a regulator, the Infertility Treatment Authority. Failure to comply carries a two-year jail term or fines of $25,000. Clinics and donors wanting to use imported sperm must sign a form promising it has not been bought commercially.

Bioethicist Nick Tonti-Filippini questioned the level of details available on the online sites. "I'd be very surprised if Australian clinics were offering that much information - it's more likely to be medical information," Dr Tonti-Filippini said. "When you get into that sort of detail it's a trade, and in Australia there's a very strong reluctance to trade around these things. "There are some basic respect issues involved when you start selling people's sperm, or eggs for that matter. "The idea that you can be conceived by some sort of trade is not one that most Australians would support."

About one in six Australian couples is infertile. Donor Conception Support Group spokeswoman Leonie Hewitt believed the online commercial sperm trade was thriving. "I've heard of it being done, and my concern would be what happens when that child grows up and wants to know its identity and medical history," Ms Hewitt said. "It's not just semen, it's eggs as well." Ms Hewitt said she knew of a Sydney couple who had imported sperm from Sweden and said hopeful couples had been bringing it in from Britain for years. She called for a national donor register similar to Victoria's.


Exposure could help kill judicial arrogance

PUBLICITY, rather than a new system of appointing judges, is the best way of eliminating judicial activists, according to a leading conservative lobby group. Once the extent of judicial activism on the nation's courts is revealed, governments will realise they need to exercise far more care in appointing judges, said Samuel Griffith Society secretary John Stone. "Labor governments have appointed most judicial activists, but Liberals have also appointed activists because they were asleep at the wheel," Mr Stone said. He said Saturday's disclosure in The Weekend Australian about the extent of support on the bench for judicial activism would do more to address the problem than a new appointment system.

He was responding to recent research showing that a significant number of the nation's top judges believe they are entitled to step in and make new laws when parliament fails to deal with difficult issues. The judges have revealed their support for judicial activism in more than 80 confidential interviews with visiting American academic Jason J. Pierce that were never expected to be published in Australia. Mr Pierce's research, which has been published in the US, has revealed a deep divide in the Australian judiciary between those who back activism and those who see it as illegitimate.

Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said he was not surprised by Mr Pierce's findings, particularly in relation to the High Court under former chief justice Anthony Mason. "A number of commentators have drawn attention to the view of some judges of the need for a more activist approach because of alleged parliamentary inertia," Mr Ruddock said. "What is new is the extent to which a number of judges - albeit anonymously - have affirmed that this approach has been taken."

However Mr Ruddock, like Mr Stone, did not favour changing the system of selecting judges in order to make it easier to identify activists. "I do not think any system attempted abroad such as contested election, parliamentary confirmation or government-of-the-day-appointed judicial commission would alter an individual judge electing to take a so-called activist approach in the future," Mr Ruddock said.

Mr Stone said the publication of Mr Pierce's interviews had revealed a degree of arrogance by activist judges that was beyond belief. One High Court judge told Mr Pierce: "Perhaps it's illegitimate to pull the rabbit out of the hat, but it is nice to see it emerging."

Mr Stone said this approach indicated that law schools were failing society by producing a significant number of lawyers who believed it was their responsibility to step in and displace parliament when difficult issues were left unaddressed. "The sheer presumption of these people is breath-taking," said Mr Stone, whose organisation defends federalism and the original intent of the Constitution. He said the only effective way of addressing the problem was by ensuring it received a extensive public attention. "That will alert governments to what these people are about."

Mr Stone said activism was still on the rise within the judiciary, even though it had been addressed on the High Court by recent appointments. "The real danger is at lower levels. The Victorian Supreme Court and Court of Appeal are a standing indictment" of the activist approach favoured by state Attorney-General Rob Hulls," said. "Hulls is a nightmare."


Oil rigs are good for wildlife!

Oil rigs are tiny outposts of the manmade world in the massive wilderness of the open ocean. So at the end of their working lives should they simply be dismantled and removed? A Sydney academic has weighed into the debate over the future of dozens of rigs around the Australian coast, arguing that in certain cases it may be better for the environment to keep decommissioned oil facilities in place as breeding grounds for fish and other marine life.

David Booth, a researcher with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and a professor with the University of Technology, Sydney, says scientists have found what appear to be new species living around the rigs. ``There's 50 or 60 rigs that will be decomissioned in the next decade or so,'' Booth said. ``Some of them are in areas that are biological deserts and they act as little oases. ``In other cases, removing the rig could be damaging to the environment. ``In other cases total removal may be the way to go.''

His opinion comes as the federal government prepares to hand down an issues paper on the future of the rigs which is likely to spark further debate. There are scores of rigs around the Australian coast, with most located off Western Australia's coast and in Bass Strait. Some companies are looking at establishing new rigs off South Australia. Typically rigs in Australian waters rest in between 50 and 1000 metres of water. Below 30 metres is considered by scientists to be the deep sea.

Booth is involved in a project called SERPENT under which international researchers are able to use the facilities aboard oil rigs to study life on the ocean floor. Funding comes jointly from the federal government and oil companies.

Researchers use rig cameras to study the sea floor and remotely-operated vehicles to deploy instruments and traps. Booth said scientists in locations in the Americas, Europe, Australia and Asia had located a host of new creatures, some of which appeared to belong not only to new species but whole new families of life.

With many Australian rigs now reaching the end of their life span, Booth said there were tough decisions to me made about the future of the facilities. While requiring oil companies to completely remove their rigs and return the ocean floor to its previous state might seem to be the most environmentally-friendly option, he said a case by case approach was more appropriate. One option might be to leave the rigs in place in their entirety so as not disturb fish life. They could also be used for commercial purposes such as fish farms.

Another option might be to remove all fittings and push the rigs over, allowing them to be used as artificial reefs. However, this would impact on fish living on the upper reaches of the rigs. If total removal was the preferred option, rigs could be towed away and scrapped.


"Soft" educational options booming

The next generation of the state's skilled workers is abandoning the critical subjects needed to equip them for lucrative jobs in mining and defence. The number of students completing key Year 12 courses - including physics and maths - is dramatically declining, according to latest figures from the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia. In physics alone, completions last year sank below 2000 - 600 fewer than a decade ago - during a period when the number of students completing their high school certificate increased from 9000 to 12,000.

Fewer students undertook mathematical studies - completions were down by 500 in just three years - while student numbers in chemistry, information technology, specialist mathematics and geology have also dropped. The decline has extended to Flinders University, which has axed five maths staff because of a lack of interest in the subject.

The alarming downturn has prompted federal Finance Minister Nick Minchin to consider encouraging the study of science and maths by lowering university fees for these subjects.

SA Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive Jason Kuchel said the state's mining industry alone would need an extra 14,000 people in the next seven years. "What really disappoints us is that schools do not reinforce to students that, if they want to keep their options open, they need to do maths and science in school - particularly in years 11 and 12," Mr Kuchel said.

The State Government wants to boost defence jobs from 16,000 to 28,000 within a decade.

Outer Harbor-based shipbuilder ASC, which will build three air warfare destroyers for the navy, last year launched a long-term recruiting campaign in schools for 1000 shipbuilding jobs. The SA Chamber of Mines and Energy also is campaigning in schools.

The state strategic plan targets a $2 billion defence industry by 2013, and $4 billion worth of mining and processing by 2014. But declines in subject enrolments almost exactly mirror the courses required to equip students for these sectors. Geology completions fell to just 60 last year, compared with 243 in 1996, and Information Technology numbers went from 815 to 155. Specialist Maths completions dropped from 1552 in 1999 to 1121, while Chemistry numbers were at 2217, compared with 2704 in 1998.

Flinders University vice-chancellor Anne Edwards said the university had previously announced it might not be able to continue an engineering faculty, saying "you can't make students study what they don't want to study". "It's a national emergency - we all recognise that - it's a national problem," she said.

University of Adelaide senior physics lecturer Dr Rodney Crewther blamed the decline on low numbers of qualified science teachers. The State Government in January announced targets committing the Education Department to increasing the number of students achieving a Tertiary Entrance Rank in maths, physics or chemistry by 15 per cent within three years.

Senator Minchin, a former science minister, said government intervention was needed. "Some have suggested changing HECS fee levels but there's no evidence that it is the cost of the courses that is the determinant of whether someone does or doesn't do a course," he said. In February, Labor leader Kevin Rudd announced a plan to halve fees in maths and science courses


Monday, July 16, 2007

Barrier Reef 'can adapt' to warmer times

Amazing what it takes to get some people to see the obvious. The fact that Australia's great coral reef has survived many temperature fluctuations in the past and the fact that it is at its most flourishing in TROPICAL waters should have made it the least likely candidate for Warmist hysteria but the fact that the reef is highly regarded by many meant that it HAD to be seen as endangered. The latest report below:

THE Great Barrier Reef may be much better suited to surviving climate change and warmer conditions than previously thought. Researchers in north Queensland have found many corals contain microscopic algae that protect them from temperature fluctuations.

The study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, which clashes with the work of many coral experts who have long claimed the reef is doomed by climate change, used DNA analysis to show many corals stored several types of algae that kicked in to provide nutrients when temperatures increased.

The future of the reef has become a touchstone for environmentalists, some of whom say the reef could be gone within 20 years. Last year, Nicholas Stern, the author of Britain's Stern Review into climate change, said the reef would die because of global warming. Greenpeace and the World Wild Fund for Nature claim the reef is threatened by global warming. The latter has called for a reduction of CO2 emissions specifically to save the reef, which it estimates contributes $5.8 billion to the economy. "Overfishing, land-based pollution and coral bleaching exacerbated by increased sea temperatures due to global warming are all impacting upon (the reef's) natural wealth," the WWF website says.

The new research suggests coral is suited to climate change and species have survived temperature changes in the past. Researcher Jos Mieog said that, when conditions warmed, the more heat-tolerant algae provided back-up, becoming more abundant. Some algal types imparted greater resistance to environmental extremes.

Before the research was released this week, many scientists believed only a few coral species harboured the algae, but it has now been shown to be much more widespread. The research shows coral has the ability to "shuffle" the algae, maximising life-sustaining nutrients depending on water temperature. The AIMS team discovered the heat-resistant algae by examining the DNA of different types of coral. "The potential for this hidden back-up algae to provide nutrition to coral during heat stress is far greater than previously thought," said the study's lead researcher, Madeleine van Oppen.

She acknowledged the work was viewed as controversial in coral reef sciences. The research team believes bleaching, widely associated with the death of coral, is part of coral's natural cycle of life. The presence of the heat-resistant algae had been missed by other researchers, Dr van Oppen said, because their techniques could not detect it at low abundance. Dr van Oppen said the research helped to explain how coral had survived over thousands of years. "This flexibility discovered in our research is important in understanding the past evolutionary success of these coral species and their future survival capacity in the face of changing climate," Dr van Oppen said


Fear of a global 'coldening'

By Tim Blair

LAST month Australians endured our coldest June since 1950. Imagine that; all those trillions of tonnes of evil carbon we've horked up into the atmosphere over six decades of rampant industrialisation, and we're still getting the same icy weather we got during the Cold War.

Not that June should be presented as evidence that global warming isn't happening, or that we're causing it. Relying on such a tiny sample would be unscientific and wrong, even if it involves an entire freakin' continent's weather patterns throughout the course of a whole month, for Christ's sake. No such foolishness will be indulged in here.

Sadly, those who believe in global warming - and who would compel us also to believe - aren't similarly constrained. A few hot days are all they ever need to get the global warming bandwagon rolling; evidently it's solar powered. Here, for example, is an Australian Associated Press report on May's weather, which in places was a little warmer than usual:

"Climate change gave much of Australia's drought-stricken east coast its warmest May on record, weather experts say. "Global warming and an absence of significant cold changes had driven temperatures well above the monthly average, said meteorologist Matt Pearce. According to Mr Pearce, May's temperatures were "yet another sign of the widespread climate change that we are seeing unfold across the globe."

If that's the case, shouldn't June's cold weather - coldest since 1950, remember - be a sign that widespread climate change isn't unfolding across the globe? We're using the same data here; one month's weather. And, in fact, the June sample is Australia-wide while May only highlights the east coast. Fear the dawn of a great "coldening"!

While Australia freezes, it's kinda hot in California. Again, local toastiness is evidence of global warming; one San Francisco Chronicle writer this week referred glibly to their "global-warming-heated summer". What phenomenon was responsible for previous summers? Maybe they got by on the superheated fumes radiating off Lateline host Tony Jones.

Snow cone Tone hosted an in-studio discussion Thursday night after the ABC presented The Great Global Warming Swindle, and he was hotter than a Christina Aguilera video. "Welcome to our debate on this deeply flawed and utterly mistaken documentary, which is wrong in every regard and was made by a zombie," Jones said in introduction (I'm only lightly paraphrasing). During an interview with filmmaker Martin Durkin Tone was visibly sweating; no easy achievement during a typical summer in the UK, to where he'd flown for his heated little chat.

Perhaps Tone was anticipating the phantom British summer forecast by The Independent's environment editor, Michael McCarthy, in April: "The possibility is growing that Britain in 2007 may experience a summer of unheard-of high temperatures, with the thermometer even reaching 40C, or 104F, a level never recorded in history. "This would be quite outside all historical experience, but entirely consistent with predictions of climate change."

As Wimbledon watchers would be aware, what with the rainiest tournament since Jimmy Connors defeated John McEnroe in 1982, those unheard-of high temperatures remain unheard-of. Someone might conclude, therefore, that the not-hot summer is not entirely consistent with predictions of climate change.

But climate change is like Michael Moore's tracksuit - it can fit anyone. In 2005, Greenpeace rep Steven Guilbeault helpfully explained: "Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, that's what we're dealing with." What we're dealing with, apparently, is weather. What will the weather be like 100 years from now? Don't ask Britain's Guardian, which, like the Independent, is full of Warmin' Normans whose warm warnings never come true. "It could be time to say goodbye to defining features of British life," the paper claimed a few months ago, "like rainy picnics and cloudy sunbathing . . ." Other defining features of British life - screaming, inaccurate nonsense from the Guardian, for example - will never be farewelled. Cue wet Wimbledon, the coldest day for Test match cricket (7.4C) in English history, and this BBC online headline: "Where has the UK's summer gone?"

Maybe it migrated to Australia, like Augustus Owsley Stanley III, the American LSD enthusiast and manufacturer. Possibly influenced by his product, Owsley moved to outback Queensland about twenty years ago, reportedly convinced that imminent global warming would cause - in the tradition of warm meaning cold - the whole Northern Hemisphere to be covered with ice. Owsley, now 72, is still in Queensland, and likely not a little confused. Things didn't exactly turn out as predicted. While his former Californian haunts melt due to "global warming", this year Queensland has gone frosty. Townsville's June was its coldest since 1940; June 24 saw the coldest Brisbane morning on record.

Think of these little factoids the next time your read a report linking a hot day or month or year to global warming. And, if you run into this Owsley bloke, please ask him to quit adding things to environmentalists' water supplies.


Black housing group refuses to collect rent or spend money on housing maintenance

I am afraid this is no surprise to those who know Aborigines

FOR 12 months, seven children and three adults were forced to live in a home with exposed and faulty electrical wiring, exposed asbestos and rotting walls and floorboards. The ceiling on their Mount Morgan home in central Queensland was falling down and rain fell through the roof.

Mount Morgan Shire Council environmental health officer Steve Best said the condition of the Coronation Drive home was horrific, but it was not the only one. About 2000 homes across Queensland face a similar fate after the Federal Government last year cut off maintenance funding to regional indigenous housing corporations. There are no funds allocated for maintenance this year and in 2008, the Government plans to wash its hands of the stock. Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said he refused to hand over any more money to the corporations, which were not using funds correctly and had not been collecting rent.

In Mount Morgan, the local council has taken it upon itself to help residents. "The council is not equipped to deal with these social issues . . . but I can't allow these people to stay in these places," Mr Best said. "I don't expect my children to live in a place like that and I don't expect anyone else's children to have to live in it."

Mount Morgan Aboriginal Corporation funding was cut in 2004 - two years before the cut-off to all regional indigenous housing corporations - and it has not spent money on maintenance since.

Mayor Gavin Finch said the Government refused to acknowledge "the plight of the indigenous members of our community". "Houses that were in drastic need of repairs two to three years ago are now nearing the irreparable stage," Cr Finch said.

North Queensland Regional Indigenous Housing chief executive John Chacko said about 5 per cent of his group's housing stock was unlivable, but, with no funding for maintenance, homes would deteriorate. Indigenous housing corporations are now waiting to see if the State Government will accept the Federal Government's offer to take responsibility for the homes and want to meet Queensland Housing Minister Robert Schwarten. Mr Schwarten said it would cost $300 million to bring the 2000 indigenous housing homes up to standard and about half would have to be demolished


Hilarious! Rudd's brother is a secret supporter of the conservatives!

THE high-profile brother of Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has quit the ALP after leaked documents revealed he was giving rival parties thousands of dollars. Greg Rudd, an influential Brisbane lobbyist and former Keating government staffer quit the Labor Party on Friday after he was confronted with documents showing he had donated thousands of dollars to both the Liberal and National Parties. Bankrolling other parties is strictly prohibited under Labor Party rules and a breach results in automatic expulsion.

The leak of the damaging information came from within the ALP and was designed to embarrass the Opposition Leader into having to confront his own brother. It is seen as retribution for Mr Rudd expelling rogue unionists - such as the Electrical Trades Union's Dean Mighell and Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union boss Joe McDonald - from the Labor Party. The fact the leak was targeted personally at Mr Rudd through his brother suggests that Labor is not as unified as it appears over the Opposition Leader's tough stance against union leaders who step out of line. The leak is seen as a message from the union movement to Mr Rudd to back off.

It's likely to be seized on by the Government as evidence that union powerbrokers have the capacity to yank Mr Rudd's chain - even if it involves sacrificing his own brother. The documents shown to Greg Rudd detail donations of more than $10,000 made to the Liberal and National Parties in Queensland since 2001. Greg Rudd is the principal and founder of the Brisbane- based firm, Open Door Consulting.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Double standard for global warming skeptics and believers

Thanks mainly to sensation-mongering media, global warming is the modern version of a State religion. The editorial below from "The Australian" pushes for more balance

AMONG all the arguments unleashed in the Thursday night ABC TV debate about Martin Durkin's documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, it was left to journalist Michael Duffy to query the way Durkin was being dealt with. Why, Duffy asked the debate's moderator, Lateline host Tony Jones, was Durkin's argument being held to a higher scholarly standard than Al Gore's global warming documentary? And why was Durkin's argument being eviscerated when one of the academic architects of the global warming orthodoxy, Nicholas Stern, got a much less critical reception on Lateline last March?

Fair questions both. They illustrate one of the greatest dangers in the debate - that accepting humanity plays a part in the way the planet is warming is no longer enough. It is now an article of popular faith that the worse-case scenarios are always right.

Thus professor Tim Flannery gets an uncritical go in much of the media when he warns the weather is going to get worse unless we heed his advice and cut back on coal. In September 2005, he told Lateline there was a clear link between Caribbean hurricanes - including Katrina, which had just flattened New Orleans - and global warming. Except there isn't, according to Swedish scientists who reported last month that Katrina was unexceptional. Professor Flannery had another go in February, disputing the International Panel on Climate Change's estimate that global warming would increase the sea level by 0.6m by the end of the century. Instead, he told Lateline two years of data demonstrated all the Artic's ice could melt in five years. And he has spoken of sea level rises of 80m - 160 times the IPCC's consensus on a maximum figure - by 2100.

None of this is good enough. As American oceanographer Carl Wunsch put it on Thursday night, "it is very important for the science community to try to retain its credibility by not exaggerating what the science says''. Or as another American, the second president of the US, John Adams, put it: "Whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.''


That good ol' public transport the Greenies love (for others; not for themselves)

Quadriplegic left on an Australian government-run train after a breakdown. Nobody gave a stuff. Only his cellphone saved him -- with the assistance of voluntary workers. Despite much notification, at no time did any government worker lift a finger to assist him

A QUADRIPLEGIC left stranded on a train for four hours without essential medication was told by CityRail staff he would be assisted in "two or three days". Wheelchair-bound Mark McCauley suffered the humiliation of eventually being removed by construction workers using a forklift during the first Harbour Bridge train fiasco. Quadriplegic and paraplegic advocates yesterday blasted CityRail for the shameful - and potentially life-threatening - treatment of Mr McCauley, a senior lecturer at the College of Law in St Leonards.

An internal investigation report, revealed by The Daily Telegraph yesterday, found CityRail has absolutely no procedures for the care of disabled passengers in emergencies. All other passengers in the March 14 incident were evacuated three hours earlier, leaving Mr McCauley alone without any advice about when he would be rescued.

"I started to get agitated because no one seemed to know I was stuck on the train and it was getting towards the time when I need my medication," Mr McCauley told The Saturday Daily Telegraph. "I rang CityRail and told the lady I was stuck . . . and at the end of the conversation she said 'That's fine sir, somebody will get back to you in two or three days'. "I said 'Don't bother I'll be dead by then.' It was like she was a robot."

Mr McCauley then called triple-0 and asked police to intervene. They arranged to have another CityRail manager call him back just before 8pm. "She said we can't get you off the train until we restore power - it could be in the early hours of the morning. I said to her 'I'm a quadriplegic do you know what that means?' She said yes but she clearly didn't."

It took construction workers at North Sydney station to volunteer to use a forklift to take Mr McCauley off the train just before 10pm - more than four hours after he boarded for the 15 minute journey to the city.

Mr McCauley said four letters to Premier Morris Iemma and Transport Minister John Watkins went unanswered. CityRail posted him two one-day free rail passes, which he described as a slap in the face.

Reeling from a week of rail shame, a contrite Mr Watkins last night said CityRail's treatment of Mr McCauley was "completely unacceptable". "I'm disappointed we have not responded more formally to him and I will certainly write to him detailing the outcomes in the final report and the steps the Government is taking to prevent it happening again," he said.

The Quadriplegic and Paraplegic Association of NSW last night demanded CityRail develop protocols to rescue people with mobility aids and other disabilities. "What would they do in the event of a terrorist attack?," ParaQuad chief executive Max Bosotti said last night.


Queensland government ambulance system still not fixed -- despite much outcry and many promises

INCOMING Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts is facing a revolt from disgruntled ambulance officers, with a new report revealing high stress and fatigue levels and plummeting morale. Paramedics fed up with a controversial roster system they say is ruining their lives want Mr Roberts to go on the road with them to see first-hand the pressure they are under. They say the system is leaving them exhausted, compromising patient care and leading to marriage break-ups and health problems.

A survey by the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, which represents ambulance officers, found 94 per cent of paramedics had low morale. More than 90 per cent said their fatigue and stress levels had risen, 70 per cent felt their job satisfaction had decreased and 70 per cent were taking more sick leave. "To say I am unhappy is an understatement," one said. "I have no time to see my family, and I find I may not actually see my partner for days." Another wrote: "In the 10 years I have been in the job, I have not seen morale so low or job dissatisfaction so low. Stress is increasing, not only mental, but physical stress-related illness as well."

Paramedics previously worked two 10-hour days and two 14-hour days before having four days off. But in 2005, the Queensland Ambulance Service introduced 10-hour maximum shifts, which it said were designed to improve home and work life for paramedics. But EMSPA president Prebs Sathiaseelan said it had done the opposite, with paramedics still working long hours but not getting adequate down-time. "We are so tired, we are so fatigued - and if something isn't done soon, we're going to burn out," he said. "We are not shop workers. We confront trauma and have the lives of the public in our hands daily, and we need time off to recuperate."

Mr Sathiaseelan said former emergency services minister Pat Purcell, who was forced to resign last week after allegedly assaulting two senior bureaucrats, had failed to listen to paramedics' concerns. "We're hoping the new minister will discuss this issue in a civil manner - I'd love him to come out on the road with us to see exactly what we're talking about," he said. "We learn how to use new equipment and new drugs without complaint - but these rosters are causing untold distress."

The QAS has been beset by problems including emergency response time blowouts and high sick and stress leave rates.


Lazy police in South Australia too

They are public servants after all

FEDERAL police should investigate deaths in custody because South Australian police are plagued by "shortcomings", the Coroner says. Coroner Mark Johns yesterday pinpointed 15 mistakes in the handling of suicidal prisoner Colin Sansbury, who hanged himself with jail-issue overalls in the Elizabeth police station cells in November, 2004. Mr Johns said Mr Sansbury's death was compounded by a police "attitude of complacency" and the "troubling" use of Aboriginal liaison officers to get information from suspects.

He said the "gulf" between the expectations of commissioned officers and the day-to-day realities of policing was so wide, they could "belong to different organisations". Mr Johns singled out Police Commissioner Mal Hyde and Deputy Commissioner Gary Burns, who gave evidence that management programs addressing prisoner monitoring were now in place. "It is almost as if Deputy Commissioner Burns belongs to a different organisation from those more junior officers," he said.

Mr Johns criticised Mr Hyde for seeking to suppress evidence "without proper thought", because it had already been made public. The Coroner said a Commissioner's inquiry into Mr Sansbury's death was "flawed", as vital evidence could not be located before it was shredded. The 15 mistakes highlighted in the Coroner's findings include:

LEAVING Mr Sansbury in the jail-issue overalls after a change of clothes had been provided.

TURNING off the lights in his cell, meaning he could not be seen on closed-circuit TV, and shutting its door.

NOT checking on him for 40 minutes but instead escorting an airconditioner mechanic around the station.

ALLOWING an Aboriginal constable to "induce" the belief he would receive bail.

The Coroner said federal or interstate officers should step in to supervise or replace local investigations that were regarded as "defensive, or lacking in enthusiasm, where an officer is investigating his colleagues". Mr Johns said Mr Sansbury had told police he was "dead inside", "wouldn't be here tomorrow" and asked for "six foot of rope". He also signed papers, denying him bail, with a stick-figure drawing of a hanged man.

Mr Johns said Mr Sansbury was visited several times by an Aboriginal Community Constable - a liaison role created by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. However, that constable questioned Mr Sansbury about his knowledge of the Aboriginal "Gang of 49" and stolen guns. Mr Johns said there was "no doubt" this was an "inappropriate" use of the Royal Commission's concept.

He was further concerned by "lack of consistency" in the evidence of five officers who guarded Mr Sansbury. Each gave a different answer as to how often a suicidal prisoner should be checked, from 15 to 40 minutes.

Mr Hyde yesterday afternoon issued a statement conceding "shortcomings in our investigation into this death in custody" but expressing surprise at the Coroner's recommendations. "The nature of those shortcomings would not seem to warrant the recommendations," Mr Hyde said. "It is the police practice to conduct a thorough investigation with a view to putting all material, warts and all, before the Coroner."

Mr Hyde said the counsel assisting the Coroner had commended police in an email, which said: "I think you did a really great job with this case." Mr Hyde said, in light of this commendation, he was "particularly surprised at the Coroner's comments". "Deaths in custody are distressing and police have rigorous processes in place to manage prisoners in the safest possible way," he said. "Since Mr Sansbury's death, we have reviewed and implemented custodial management practices that assist in the safe detention of prisoners in police facilities. "We will look at the Coroner's specific findings and will respond in due course."


Australian Leftist leader condemns politically correct indoctrination

LABOR leader Kevin Rudd has warned against excessive political correctness following reports young children are being taught to sing sorry to the Stolen Generation of Aborigines in NSW schools. Sorry Song by Kerry Fletcher was written in 1998 for Sorry Day and has been included in the ABC Song Book, distributed to NSW primary schools.

The words of the controversial song include: "If we can say sorry to the people from this land, sing, sing loud, break through the silence, sing across this land. "They Cry, they cry, their children were stolen, they still wonder why.''

Hamish East, the father of an eight-year-old boy who sang the song at a school in Kiama on the NSW south coast, has protested over what he called a political stunt which had confused his son, The Daily Telegraph reported today. Mr East, a Kiama councillor, said controversial political issues should not "be forced down the throats of our children''.

Mr Rudd said today people must be wary about the issue. "I think we're starting to look at too much political correctness on those sorts of questions,'' Mr Rudd said. "We've got to watch out for political correctness going mad.'' Mr Rudd said children should be educated about the facts of Australia's history, including respecting indigenous culture, but left to make up their own minds about what's right and wrong. "Our young kids just need to be introduced to facts in our history and facts in our society and then later on as they move through high school they can start making up their own minds about what's right and what's wrong.''


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Keating, Howard and Hitler

Leftists tend to abuse conservatives rather than argue with them and that is so in Australia as elsewhere. Former Leftist Prime Minister Paul Keating is greatly noted for his talent at abuse and his recent comparison of conservative Prime Minister John Howard with Hitler is entirely in keeping with that.

His comparison was, however, a cautious one -- much more qualified and well-informed than the Bush=Hitler mantra that is so common on the American Left. Keating drew a distinction between patriotism (good) and nationalism (snarl) and said that the one thing which Howard and Hitler had in common was nationalism.

The distinction between nationalism and patriotism is an old one -- and the distinction Keating made (nationalism is bad, patriotism is good) dates back at least to the work of Marxist theoretician Theodor Adorno and his co-authors in 1950. Prior to WWII nationalism was good too. There were few more fervent German nationalists than Friedrich Engels (co-author with Karl Marx of Das Kapital).

The debate over what constitutes patriotism and what constitutes nationalism is however an arid one. Keating has his version of it but there are many others. There is an article here that explores some of the other possibilities. The only consistency these days is that if you don't like it you call it nationalism and if you do you call it patriotism.

I myself have had a great deal published in the academic literature on the subject (e.g. here and here and here) but think it is a waste of time to debate what the objective distinction between the two words should be. One has to look at detailed policies rather than use such broad and tendentious generalizations. And I know of none of Hitler's policies that are also policies of John Howard.

Swindling free speech: True believers seem intent on silencing climate dissenters

THERE have been at least four major ice ages in the history of planet Earth, none of them caused by cars, factories, budget airlines or even burping cows, as far as can be ascertained. So it is somewhat surprising that discussing natural climate variability is viewed by some as not just deeply controversial but downright dangerous.

The ABC has come under intense criticism, mainly from within its own ranks, simply for daring to air the documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle on television last night. To reduce the risk that viewers might be infected with the program's scepticism, it was bookended with a disparaging precis about director Martin Durkin and a panel discussion that Lateline presenter Tony Jones took a week out from regular duties to prepare for.

Scientists of the stature of Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at MIT, have accused Al Gore of scientific flaws and exaggerations in An Inconvenient Truth, including suggesting that sea levels would rise by six metres this century, not up to 50cm, as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yet this passes without mention on the ABC.

Curiously, one of the most outraged critics of the ABC's decision to screen Durkin's documentary is Clive Hamiliton, author of the seemingly aptly named Silencing Dissent. On this occasion we find ourselves in the unusual position of agreeing with Robert Manne, who wrote in Hamilton's book that the health of a democracy relies on the encouragement of dissident opinion and wide-ranging debate. And on this occasion we also give full marks to the ABC.


Senior Federal minister wants broader climate debate

AUSTRALIANS should not presume that there was one definitive view on climate change, but the Howard Government will press ahead with emissions trading after the next election, Finance Minister Nick Minchin said yesterday. Senator Minchin, who has expressed scepticism about the human's contribution to climate change in the past, said yesterday he looked forward to watching the documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle on television tonight (thursday).

He insisted there were many scientists who were doubtful about man's contribution to global warming. ''I think it is vital that we all expose ourselves to all sides of this debate,'' he said yesterday. ''And to those who say the debate is over I say no. ''I think that is quite wrong to act on that presumption. I think it is important to hear the voices of those many many scientists who don't accept that, to the extent there is a rising global temperature, it is all the fault of human activity. ''So I think both government and individuals need to understand the contrary points of view and the evidence put.''

Senator Minchin said the Government was committed to an inquiry into what an appropriate carbon emissions reduction target should be as the precussor to a trading system. He said it was irresponsible for Labor to set a target - a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 - without first working out the economic consequences. ''There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that the emissions trading system that we do introduce into this country is done in such a way that in a sense maximises `the bang for the buck' - that we get the maximum containment of the CO2 emissions for the least impact on the Australian economy,'' he said.


Safety 'sanitises' science

STUDENTS have been robbed of the fun of Bunsen burners and the whiff of sulphuric acid as fears of litigation rule out classroom experiments. A federal inquiry into Academic Standards heard yesterday Australia will regret the day it sanitised science. Megan Motto, from the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia, said science and maths were being left behind in the prevailing shift to humanities studies. Engineering students often spent the first year of their degree doing remedial work in maths and science, she said. Ms Motto suggested parents be invited into classrooms to help oversee science experiments. "This could make a great difference to the way science teachers teach."

The inquiry also heard from the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, which said literacy levels in Australians schools were not as bad as portrayed in some sections of the media. Vice-president Mark Howie said Australian standards were considered quite high from an international perspective. But he said Australia could learn from Finland where literacy standards were more consistently high across demographic areas. Mr Howie said one area of concern for all teachers was computer skills, with school kids often better skilled and better equipped in the technical area. Teachers seldom had the luxury of picking up the phone and calling the Information Technology department when computers crashed, he said. "We ring some poor colleague who might not be able to get to your problem for the next few days."


Media Watch's jihadi sources

One of the more Leftist programmes of a Leftist broadcaster uses jihadi sources, not very surprisingly

The ABC has launched an inquiry into accusations that Media Watch relied on research supplied to it by an Islamic website that peddled anti-Semitic and jihadi messages. Media Watch has been accused of colluding with IslamicSydney, which has published bloggers calling on children to "arm themselves" with machineguns, and supporting the use of violence and weapons to "fight injustice".

The allegations against the self-proclaimed media watchdog were made by David Penberthy, editor of Sydney's The Daily Telegraph, in a letter to the ABC's managing director Mark Scott after Media Watch last month broadcast racist and inflammatory comments made by bloggers on the newspaper's website. Penberthy wrote to Mr Scott after IslamicSydney's forum published comments by some of its members boasting about the information they gave to Media Watch. On June 12, Ahmedk -- believed to be Ahmed Kilani, the co-founder of the website -- writes: "For those who thought (of) collecting these racist comments (from the Telegraph's website), watch Media Watch next Monday."

The message was followed up on June 18 by the same blogger after the program ran on Media Watch that evening: "Alhamdoulillah (praise to God) we were able to help Media Watch researchers with the story. So there was the great benefit to collecting these quotes. Please keep them coming."

Racist and jihadist comments on Islamic Sydney's Muslim Village Forum website include one posted on May 15 by username Malik-Shakur: "I will bring my children up to believe that there is no better thing in life than to struggle in the path of God, whether its (sic) with their speech, their wallets or their hands in fighting ... and that there is no better honour than to die as a martyr."

On May 21, username Tas wrote: "Don't know about Palestinians as a nation, but our prophet has prophesised that eventually every single Jew will be eliminated from the face of this earth by the Muslims, after a major war between us and them (kafirs) ... and the Messenger of Allah says nothing but the truth. Just a matter of time I guess."

The ABC's director of television Kim Dalton yesterday admitted that some of Media Watch's tips came from "quite unsavoury" characters but refused to be drawn on some of the hate-filled and poisonous messages published by IslamicSydney. "Judge the information that was provided. Don't try and discount the information on the basis of the source of the information," he said.

While Penberthy stood by his website's publication of offensive blogger messages, he said they did not represent the newspaper's editorial policy. Penberthy said such comments were balanced by other messages from Muslims that were anti-Australian and combative towards the paper and its staff. "We've run comments that are critical of Muslims, critical of Lebanese Australians, but equally we've run comments from Lebanese Australians that are attacking our columnists, attacking our news reporters, attacking Australia: calling Australians rednecks, bigots, dills," he said. Penberthy accused Media Watch of deliberately selecting a small sample of some of the most extreme comments on his website and holding them up as being representative of the entire site. "The reality is they're not indicative of the massive and overwhelming majority of the comments that we do publish on the site. The voices in the middle are constructive, conciliatory voices," he said.

Some of the comments published on the Telegraph's website, which were broadcast by Media Watch on June 18, included anti-Muslim remarks such as "Dogs make Muslim men horny", "I wouldn't be letting Arabs in the country" and another accusing Lebanese Muslims of being uneducated and ending up "barefoot and pregnant at by the age of 20 and then collect welfare for the rest of their lives".

Penberthy said Media Watch should apply the same standards it used to attacking his paper to the website on which it relied for information gathering. "It strikes me as a double standard because they will talk about the research methods of the mainstream media, they will talk about a lack of candour and honesty on the part of the media ... they will expose organisations that are acting as undisclosed sources to the media, people with agendas, all that sort of stuff," he said. "The really hypocritical thing is that Media Watch would outsource its research to a third party (IslamicSydney), which is every bit as racist, and I would argue more racist and more dangerous than anything that we are running."

Media Watch's presenter Monica Attard yesterday said she was prohibited from commenting on Penberthy's complaints because the matter was under investigation. Following his appointment as ABC's managing director last year, Mr Scott said the national broadcaster would search for a "further diversity" of voices and singled out Media Watch as a program that needed to be reviewed. Mr Dalton said Penberthy would get a response to the complaint soon.


Global warming and the "debunkers" of Durkin

They fail to acknowledge that you cannot detect long term trends with short-term data

Durkin's "Swindle" film has just been shown nationwide on Australian TV and furious Warmists have concentrated their attack on the fact that his graphs of solar effects ended in 1980.

It has been known for some time that solar output has been in decline for the last 20 years or so and this is held to undermine the claim that recent global warming can be explained by variations in output from the sun. Apparently provoked by the Durkin film, Lockwood & Froehlich recently produced a paper ("Recent oppositely-directed trends in solar climate forcings and the global mean surface air temperature") that drew further attention to recent solar trends as being inconsistent with the Durkin contentions. They examined a whole range of solar measurements and showed that, by most measures, solar output was falling rather than rising in recent years. And that paper has been widely promoted as "debunking" Durkin's contention that variations in solar output are the only good long-term explanation of climate change.

I have now had a preliminary look at the Lockwood paper and note that there is a very large dog in it that did not bark. If solar output does not explain recent temperature variations, what does? With the monomania about CO2 among Warmists, one would have expected a graph of CO2 levels plotted against temperature. There is no such graph. In other words, CO2 levels do not explain recent temperature variations very well either. The fact that CO2 levels have continued to rise in recent years while surface temperatures peaked in 1998 would appear to be the elephant in the bedroom. If solar output levels and terrestrial temperature have diverged in recent years, so too have CO2 levels and terrestrial temperature.

The important point in the matter, however, is one that climate skeptics have been making for years: There are MANY variables that affect terrestrial temperature from time to time -- not just CO2 and not just the sun. And to tease out the effect of any one variable, you have to look at a fairly long data series -- so that fluctuations due to other sources will be smoothed out. It is partly for this reason that most of the plots of climate against temperature extend over many centuries. A period of just 20 years is too short to detect long-term trends. One needs long-term data to detect long-term tends and there are any number of graphs showing a long term relationship between solar output and terrestrial temperature.

Additionally, many effects may be lagged: the influence concerned may take some time to show up. One reason for this is the vast reservoir of heat, CO2 and much else that girdles the earth: The ocean. It takes some time for a surface temperature variation to show up in the amount of heat stored in the ocean. When the recent drop in solar output works its way through all the systems -- such as the ocean -- that it affects we might therefore expect global COOLING. It is COOLING that the solar data suggests as imminent, not warming.

In the circumstances, one is mildly surprised that Warmists mention solar output at all. Surely even a Warmist realizes that the sun affects terrestrial temperature!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Global warming zealots are stifling scientific debate

By Ian Plimer, emeritus professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne

TONIGHT'S airing of The Great Global Warming Swindle and the associated discussion on ABC TV should be a hoot. The ABC has structured the panel to try to get their preferred political position aired. The panel composition will minimise scientific discussion. It contains journalists, political pressure groups and those who will make a quid out of frightening us witless.

Three scientists with a more rational view to the doomsday hype were invited to appear on the panel and have now been uninvited as they do not dance to the drumbeat of disaster. There is a VIP section of the audience with loopy-left greens and social commentators. We have the Bulletin of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (BAMOS), which was in such a hurry to publish a critique of The Great Global Warming Swindle that it contains schoolboy howlers and a lack of logic intertwined with politics.

What makes it even more amusing is that BAMOS did not criticise Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. If this Hollywood fiction film claims to be supported by science, then why did it perpetuate a well-documented scientific fraud? There is no panel discussion when the ABC TV religiously promotes the popular political view on global warming. Why is there a panel for an alternative view?

Science is married to evidence, scepticism and dissent. This evidence is from experiment, measurement, observation and calculation. Scientists hotly debate the methods of acquisition of evidence. Once the evidence is validated, a scientific theory is offered as an explanation. This theory must be in accord with all previous validated data and can be changed with new data. Science has no consensus, science is anarchistic as it submits to no authority, and the latest scientific view is only transitory. Science is apolitical, and when it has submitted to political pressure in the past, it has been at great human cost. Noise, political pressure or numbers of converts does not validate a scientific concept. When the president of the Royal Society says the science on human-induced global warming is settled, one is reminded of a previous president who said it was impossible for heavier-than-air machines to fly!

Since the beginning of time, climate has always changed. It has warmed and cooled faster than any contemporary change. Nothing happening at present is unusual. The atmospheric carbon dioxide content in the past has been hundreds to thousands of times the current figure and the world did not end. Quite the contrary - life thrived. Computer models are models, albeit primitive. They are not predictions, they are not scenarios. They don't do clouds. They don't do turbulence. They don't do unseen submarine emissions of greenhouse gases. They deal only with greenhouse gas emissions from volcanos in times of little volcanic activity. They don't do starbursts, which have probably given us the greatest climate changes on Earth. They don't do variations in cosmic ray fluxes, which produce clouds in the lower atmosphere. They don't do mountain building, plate tectonics and closing or opening of seaways, which have profound effects on climate.

If the conclusion that humans are changing climate by carbon dioxide emissions requires the omission of validated astronomical, palaeontologic and geological evidence, then the popular view of humans causing climate change is not science
. We are seeing a revival of a form of zealous Western politics intertwined with poor theology, poor economics and poor logic.

If humans have contributed to the slight warming in the 20th century, then all theories of past climate changes need to be evaluated and discarded. This has not happened. Why is it that previous global warmings have been faster and greater than the warming that started after the Little Ice Age? Is it no surprise that the planet has become warmer after the Little Ice Age? Is it no surprise that the driver of climate has been, is and will be that great ball of heat in the centre of our solar system? If evidence from the past is used, then one can only conclude that the slight warmings and cooling in the 20th century cannot be due to carbon dioxide.

Groups like BAMOS and the IPCC deny, minimise or ignore significant recent climate changes that gave us the Roman Warming, the Dark Ages, the Medieval Warming and the Little Ice Age. Both history and archaeology show that in previous warmings, temperatures were far higher than at present. Populations and the economy thrived. Previous coolings led to famine, depopulation and social disruption. History shows that it is dangerous to ignore history.

The Renaissance gave us a system where criticism, logic, scepticism and an alternative view based on evidence were valued. It was in this environment that democracy thrived. We are now reaping the rewards of dumbing down the education system and live at a time when it is a politically correct duty to suppress alternative views. The best way to understand climate is to critically and sceptically evaluate the evidence presented to us over a very long period of time by the heavens and the Earth beneath our feet.


Little evidence to back Rudd's claims on grocery prices

AUSTRALIANS are spending less of their take-home pay on food than they were a decade ago thanks to wage increases that have outstripped food price rises. As Labor yesterday attempted to add grocery costs to a pre-election hip-pocket armory - which already includes housing affordability - economists said there was little evidence to support the party's claim that grocery prices were spiralling because of a lack of competition among supermarket chains.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that in the 10 years to March 2007, average full-time wages rose 47 per cent. Over the same period, food prices rose 41.3 per cent and inflation was 29.1 per cent. Farmers, however, complain that the rise in prices they are paid for produce has been outpaced by prices on supermarket shelves. Official figures show that over the past 20 years, the share of household spending going to food has come down from 20 per cent to 17 per cent as people spend more on housing and recreation.

UBS retail analyst Michael Peet said there was no evidence that supermarket chains were making abnormally high profits. Woolworths supermarkets have an average profit margin of 6 per cent, while the Coles supermarkets make a 4 per cent return. This is in line with other world markets, such as Britain, where supermarkets average a 6 per cent profit margin, despite the presence of more big chains.

Calculations by Commsec chief economist Craig James show that over the past five years, average wages have risen by 25 per cent, while average consumer prices have risen by 14 per cent and food prices have gone up by 18 per cent. An average wage buys 50 per cent more bread, 56 per cent more rump steak, 60 per cent more eggs and, surprisingly, 78 per cent more petrol now than it did five years ago, according to his figures.

Westpac senior economist Anthony Thompson said retail food prices had been rising less rapidly than wholesale prices. "It could be argued that the big supermarkets are using their market power to undercut competitors and to absorb some of the price pressures themselves, rather than passing them on fully to consumers."

The Australian Consumers Association welcomed Labor's plan to ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to monitor supermarket prices. Spokeswoman Ria Voorhaar said the association had no evidence of collusion or price gouging by the two supermarket chains, but there were big variations in pricing that were difficult to explain.

Queensland Farmers Federation chief executive officer John Cherry, said shelf prices were rising much faster than those paid at the farm gate. Over the past four years, retail food prices have risen by 17.8 per cent, but farm-gate prices have risen by just 2.3 per cent. Mike Badcock, president of the vegetable growers association Ausveg, said he would back anything that brought more openness to food pricing. "We have a duopoly because the two major supermarket chains supply about 70 per cent of the market," he said. "That gives them the power to be able to dictate what price and quality they require and also they are able to dictate what price they sell to the consumer."

Farmer Tony Morrison sells about 3000 prime lambs each year. The Goulburn farmer sells direct to a supermarket, as well as into the export market. He said he was a bit sceptical about Rudd's inquiry. "It is just not that simple," he said. "We have had our spats with supermarkets before, but I don't think making public statements about whether we are getting screwed by the supermarkets is in our interest." Mr Morrison said the good prices paid for export lamb had effectively put a floor under the Australian price.


Leftist bias masquerading as journalism

An editorial from "The Australian" below pulls no punches. Like many Murdoch properties, "The Australian" gives good coverage to both conservative and Leftist viewpoints -- something the Left find unforgiveable

The measure of good journalism is objectivity and a fearless regard for truth. Bias, nonetheless, is in the eye of the beholder and some people will always see conspiracy when the facts don't suit their view of the world. This is the affliction that has gripped, to a large measure, Australia's online news commentariat that has found passing endless comment on other people's work preferable to breaking real stories and adding to society's pool of knowledge.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the fortnightly fury that accompanies The Australian's presentation of Newspoll, the nation's most authoritative snapshot of the political landscape. Newspoll cannot predict the future but it can provide clues. Often they are hidden beyond the headline figure in an emerging trend. The Australian has proved itself adept at spotting these trends but our woolly-headed critics dismiss this as manipulation. But if history repeats itself and the turnaround reported in John Howard's Newspoll rating as preferred Prime Minister indicates a bigger swing in support back to the coalition will the on-line commentariat finally admit it is they, not us, who are blinded by bias? As the nation's leading newspaper we expect our reporting and expert analysis will get attention. But the one-eyed anti-Howard cheer squad now masquerading as serious online political commentary, apart from a few notable exceptions, has all but exhausted its claim to be taken seriously.

Smug, self assured, delusional swagger is no substitute for getting it right. When it comes to spotting and properly understanding emerging trends, the evidence is on our side. Our analysis was proved correct in 1998, 2001 and 2004 and we expect it will again this year. We do not know who will win the next election but despite Labor's big lead in the opinion polls since Kevin Rudd was elected leader last December, history suggests it will be a tough fight. According to The Australian's political editor, Dennis Shanahan, no Opposition since World War II has won government without two key indicators 12 months out from the election. These are that the Opposition Leader has a lead over the incumbent of at least five points on the question of who would make a better Prime Minister and the party has a nine point lead on a two party preferred basis. Applying this historical test Mr Rudd may not have had enough time to cement his claim to the top job, though he leads by a huge margin now.

The fact that Mr Howard has pulled back Mr Rudd's advantage on the question of better Prime Minister in the latest Newspoll survey is significant. As Newspoll chief executive Martin O'Shannessy wrote in The Australian yesterday, evidence from the past three elections is that a turnaround in Mr Howard's better PM rating can be interpreted as a leading indicator for an improvement in the Coalition's overall electoral stocks. Though it may not happen this time, the pattern over the last three electoral cycles has been a fall in Mr Howard's ratings 12 months out from an election, accompanied by a fall in the Coalition primary vote in two of the past three elections. This has been followed by a bottoming out of Mr Howard's rating three to six months out from the election which is in turn followed immediately by an improvement in his better PM rating and a rise in the Coalition primary vote.

In mid-1998 Labor appeared to be in a position to win government after support for the Coalition slumped to the lowest on record but within five months Howard was re-elected as Prime Minister after defeating Kim Beazley as Labor leader for the first time. In late 2003 Shanahan was criticised for highlighting Simon Crean's poor Newspoll showing but within months Crean had stepped aside in favour of Mark Latham. In the lead-up to the 2004 election, the ALP under Latham looked competitive, and was reported as such in this newspaper, but Labor was thrashed at the October 2004 poll. Where The Australian recognised that Mr Latham could not win in mid 2004 many online commentators continued to support him until a year after his defeat.

The Australian was criticised for its analysis of Newspoll last November indicating Mr Beazley was a fatal liability for Labor's electoral chances. At that time Shanahan accurately picked the significance of Labor's fall in primary support to below 40 per cent, the level at which Paul Keating had said the ALP had no chance of winning an election. Labor's performance after replacing Mr Beazley with Mr Rudd suggests Shanahan's analysis was correct.

If there is a common theme to the criticisms levelled against The Australian's political coverage by the self appointed online commentariat it is that our critics only howl when the heat is being applied to Labor. There was a flurry of concern when we criticised Mr Beazley but silence when Mr Howard's performance has been put under the gun. The Australian's coverage of the first Newspoll with Mr Rudd as Labor leader said it had been a dream start. The Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard 'dream team' ticket was cemented following a special Newspoll which showed it would be the most popular combination for Labor against Mr Howard. In February, Mr Shanahan made the first call that Mr Howard could lose to Mr Rudd claiming, 'This time, Howard is vulnerable'. When we led with the story that Mr Rudd's Newspoll rating as better Prime Minister had soared past that of Mr Howard there was no negative commentary about our reporting or the emphasis on the measure of better PM. But when we reported Mr Howard pulling level with Mr Rudd this week on preferred prime minister we were accused of selective analysis and doing the Government's bidding. As a general rule, if the polls show Mr Howard is performing badly, our critics are happy.

As a newspaper we don't know who we will support at the federal election. On several occasions this year we have called for the Government to address the substance of Labor's policies rather than attack Mr Rudd personally because, as our own editorials have said, we are sure Mr Rudd would make a good prime minister. Rather than being a mouthpiece for the Government, as some online news sites would suggest, we have been harsh critics of Mr Howard. But most of our criticism has been from the Right, chiding the Government for being overly generous with middle class welfare and reform shy. The self appointed experts online come instead from the extreme Left, populated as many sites are by sheltered academics and failed journalists who would not get a job on a real newspaper. We fully expect that if anything goes wrong for Mr Rudd in the campaign this year we will be blamed for Labor's misfortune.

It reflects how out of touch with ordinary views so many on-line commentators are. They claim to understand the mainstream but in reality represent a clique that believes what it considers to be the evils of the Howard Government position on Iraq, climate change, and Work Choices to be self-evident truths. They despair that Mr Howard has not suffered the same collapse in public support as US President George W Bush and Newspoll makes it clear Mr Howard still enjoys very strong support in the electorate. Such commentators clearly have a market because there are a lot of people who want to have their own prejudices endlessly confirmed. But they should not kid themselves they are engaged in proper journalism and real reporting.

On almost every issue it is difficult not to conclude that most of the electronic offerings that feed off the work of The Australian to create their own content are a waste of time. They contribute only defamatory comments and politically coloured analysis. Unlike Crikey, we understand Newspoll because we own it. Martin O'Shannessy understands Newspoll because he runs it and Sol Lebovic understands Newspoll because he started it. The results of our analysis speak for themselves over 20 years.

A guide book recently published by one site demonstrates the extent of confused thinking on how the polls operate. A chapter by Mumble's Peter Brent says two party preferred ratings are at the same time worthy but unreliable and that an Opposition Leader with a high satisfaction rating has no better chance of being elected than one with a low rating. He dismisses approval ratings and the preferred Prime Minister measure as "embroidery". Yet the fact is when Mr Howard and Mr Rudd's offices telephone The Australian to get advance warning on what the following day's Newspoll will show they invariably want to know two things: The primary vote and preferred PM.

Not properly understanding how polls work gives our critics licence to project their own bias onto analysis of our reporting. The Australian is not beholden to any one side of politics and recent election outcomes vindicate our treatment of our polls. So let's not mince words. We just don't think many of our critics have any real clue about polling and very little practical experience of politics.


No PET scans for Tasmanians

HUNDREDS of Tasmanians are missing out on life-saving cancer scans, now the focus of a Senate inquiry, say specialists. Positron Emission Tomography scanners have limited availability to Australians, and there are none in Tasmania. Tasmanian nuclear medicine physician Rob Ware has campaigned to investigate the vexed issue. "Every year 300 to 400 Tasmanians, probably more now, have to travel interstate to get to a PET scanner," said Dr Ware, who spends half his time at the Peter McCallum Cancer Institute in Melbourne. "There are at least that many again who should go but don't."

Scans can cost $800 each but are considered valuable at determining the spread of cancer, often leading to a change of treatment. The whole issue of availability arose after recommendations from a 2000 national Medical Services Advisory Committee report. The report into the effectiveness of the scanners, which is now being scrutinised by a Senate committee, was changed to add the word "potentially" to the words "clinically effective" when referring to the machines.

Greens senator Christine Milne, who is part of the Senate inquiry, and several doctors believe the report was changed after its original recommendation. The change has caused a restricted roll-out of the machines and made claiming the treatment under Medicare doubtful. The Medical Services Advisory Committee advises on what Medicare should cover.

Dr Ware said Medicare only covered the scans for about 22 situations, when they were valuable in more than 60 conditions, including breast, lung, colon, head and neck cancer.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday there were 16 PET machines in Australia, thanks to the committee, but indicated their availability would increase. "These machines are particularly useful in terms of trying to assess the spread of cancers," Mr Abbott said. "Six of those machines are Medicare-funded for three indications. Ten of them are more or less fully funded by Medicare, three on a grants basis and seven on the basis of 15 indications, which are covered by Medicare." Mr Abbott said the roll-out had been slower than desired and he would make recommendations to the Government about further funding of PET scanning through Medicare and further potential capital funding of PET scanning.

The issue was raised on ABC-TV on Monday night. Senate inquiry chairman ACT Liberal Gary Humphries rejected the accusation of fraud but did describe the Health Department behaviour as "sloppy".


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Students taught to sing an apology for a politically correct myth

Judicial enquiries have found that the "stolen generation" never happened but Leftists prefer a good myth to the truth any day. It's just another part of the anti-white Leftist lies about Australian history

CHILDREN as young as eight are being taught to sing sorry to Aborigines, sparking concerns that NSW students are being "politically indoctrinated". A widely distributed song book, which has been used in NSW for 40 years, has included Sorry Song about the Stolen Generation in its recent editions. Kiama Public School students were taught the song for Naidoc Week. When one eight-year-old boy arrived home confused about the issue, his father labelled the song's inclusion a "political stunt".

Hamish East, of Kiama, said he had to explain the meaning of the song to his son Brian when he believed he had done something wrong. "(He) arrived home from school and asked 'How come I have to say sorry for stealing the Aborigines' children?'," he said. "I have raised each of my children to apologise for their actions ... central to this is an understanding of the nexus between poor behaviour and an apology."

The song by West Australian composer Kerry Fletcher was written in 1998 for Sorry Day festivities and included in the ABC Song Book, distributed to NSW primary schools by Scholastic. It is used by teachers in addition to the official curriculum. The song features the words: "If we can say sorry to the people from this land, sing, sing loud, break through the silence, sing sorry across this land. We cry, we cry, their children were stolen, now no one knows why."

Mr East, a Kiama councillor, said he was not against reconciliation but "these are all emotive, controversial political issues and matters in which personal views should not be forced down the throats of our children". School principal Jenny Maude told Mr East children didn't listen to the words and since Mr East made a complaint they have stopped singing the song.

Australian Council of State School Organisations said teachers needed to be sensitive when it came to teaching values. "When schools get into values they need to talk through with the community what they are proposing to do," projects manager Rupert Macgregor said.

Song author Ms Fletcher, 38, who is not Aboriginal, said she was disappointed people had misread the song. "I believe children under eight could understand how other children their age would feel to be separated from their parents," she said. "I think if more people had first-hand experience of personal friends who were taken away as children we might see this for the personal tragedy that it is."

Teachers Federation deputy president Angelo Gavrielatos defended the song, saying exploitation of Aboriginal culture needed to be recognised. "We have to take some responsibility for our past," he said. [OUR past?? I am responsible for what I do, not what others do]

Opposition education spokesman Andrew Stoner said: "Any discussion of Australia's history must include the indigenous perspective but controversial political issues should be left to parents." Education Minister John Della Bosca defended the school's actions and said although he did not subscribe to the "black armband version" of history he thought it was important to be frank about Australia's history.


The Warmists need to listen to Edmund Burke -- but they won't

Comment from Janet Albrechtsen

PHEW, Live Earth is over. The seven concerts on seven continents featuring a bunch of jet fuel-addicted rock stars summed up the problem with much of the talk about climate change. Hypocrisy aside, the climate change rockers and other zealots would have us believe there is no problem more uniquely modern than climate change. When it comes to mapping out solutions to this most 21st century of problems, history can teach us nothing. We are on our own. Right? Well, actually, no. Wrong. Dead wrong.

Climate change is just a modern twist on a very old debate. The presenting symptom is a new one. But the underlying questions for us are ancient: what tools, what modes of thinking, will deliver the best results? Is climate change a moral issue? Or a question of risk management? Should we start with abstract fundamental principles and proceed to build an edifice based on speculative extrapolation from those first principles? Or do we start with empirical evidence and pragmatic deductions from observable realities? Will the most effective solutions be imposed by governments or from harnessing individual choices?

These are, of course, old questions. And history keeps telling us the answers. They are invariably the same answers. But, unbelievably, we often ignore them. It’s no great surprise that a bunch of climate change rock stars would fall for solutions based on symbolism, moral absolutes, central planning and universal diagnoses and prescriptions. No one would expect them to have digested the lessons of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. But political leaders ought to have learned from those lessons.

When Burke wrote that book in 1790, the French Revolution was in the first flush of idealistic success. A new utopia based on abstract principles - in that case, liberty, equality, fraternity - was being built, with those principles imposed from above. Burke thought this was likely to end in tears. He thought history was a better teacher than philosophy, that incremental improvements based on empirical observation worked better than revolutions built on grand utopias.

Burke was decried as a revolution sceptic. Or, even worse, a revolution denier. Sound familiar? Burke was proved right. The French Revolution did end in tears. Unfortunately, the early stages of the climate change debate had all the hallmarks of revolution. It started - badly - with Kyoto. Climate change was a moral issue. Only the sinners did not sign up. The principles were far reaching, imposed from above with little understanding of the realities below. Driven as always, by the best of intentions, Kyoto was an inherently flawed protocol. Sure, 35 developed nations signed up. But none of the developing countries that account for 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions did so.

The Kyoto period was framed around a classic progressive agenda, defined by symbolism and moral absolutes, universal diagnoses and universal solutions. That’s why Kyoto was a joke. And it’s why Al Gore and his Live Earthers, with their impossible goals, will be sidelined in the same way history has sidelined other dreamers.

Now to some reality. John Howard pointed out in a speech last month that during the Kyoto period China and India will build 800 new coal-fired power plants. The combined CO2 emissions from those plants alone will be five times the total reductions in CO2 mandated by the Kyoto accord. These jarring realities explained why countries such as Australia did not sign up. In fact, getting Howard to sign up to Kyoto would be akin to Burke, had he lived another 100 years, joining the Fabian Society. It was never going to happen.

Fortunately, the post-Kyoto period is increasingly heading down a different ideological path. You won’t hear about it from rock stars. That’s because framing a response around risk management rather than symbolic gestures and utopian promises is so damned boring. Suggesting incremental steps based on empirical evidence and observed phenomenon is not sexy compared with Gore’s public pledges for a moratorium of new coal stations. Basing a policy response on pragmatic conservatism - learning from the mistakes of the past, advocating caution and encouraging realistic outcomes - is hardly enthralling enough for rock stars.

Unfortunately, for too long the debate has been hijacked by alluring but meaningless symbolism. Just as, in the early days, those who advocated practical reconciliation for indigenous communities were treated as mean-spirited heretics, those who rejected Kyoto as empty-gesture politics were scoffed at as climate change deniers who did not care about the environment. When global warming debate was hotting up, so to speak, there was an imperative to educate the community about the need to achieve real long-term reductions on greenhouse gas emissions outside the flawed Kyoto Protocol. Instead, it appeared that those who rejected Kyoto had simply chosen irresponsible inaction over action, effectively handing more credibility than they deserve to the advocates of Kyoto.

For too long, the Howard Government failed to craft an alternative message about the virtues of cautious, practical responses to climate change. In short, the case for pragmatic conservatism needed to be carefully mapped out. But it wasn’t. Into that vacuum stepped the zealots. Everyone has heard about Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. But who has heard about the Government’s involvement in the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate?

Most people will have no idea that Australia has been working towards closer engagement with non-Kyoto countries - China, India, Japan, South Korea and the US - which account for half the world’s emissions, energy use, gross domestic product and population.

It’s easier to listen to Missy Higgins, Wolfmother and Sneaky Sound System than read a copy of the Government’s report from the Task Group on Emissions Trading.

It’s boring to learn that Australia’s economy and abatement challenges are different from those of many other industrialised nations, particularly those in Europe. And that our natural resources and access to low-cost energy are integral to our international competitiveness. And that any model for long-term emissions reductions must take account of the need to protect that prosperity.

Live Earth was promoted as yet another episode in raising awareness on climate change. We needed that like a hole in the head. Instead of repeating dire predictions about the future, a better goal would have been to educate people about the real world. About the social and economic realities confronting the real world. Realities such as poverty. But poverty is so old hat these days. Live Aid has been replaced by Live Earth. Cool cats talk about climate change. The reality is that if we are to include the world’s main emitters in long-term climate change initiatives, they need to feed their people first. Just don’t expect to hear about it from Snoop Dogg or Madonna.


Your bureaucrats will protect you

The police had to raid a government health department to get it to act!

A MAN accused of spreading HIV allegedly infected two women with the deadly virus after officials twice closed his case file, believing he was not a public health risk. And the Department of Human Services issued an order compelling Solomon Mwale to have safe sex only after police executed a search warrant on its offices.

A woman allegedly infected with HIV by Mr Mwale told Geelong Magistrates Court yesterday that she fell in love with the 38-year-old after a meeting in a video store developed into a passionate, three-year affair. "I trusted him and I believed inhim," the alleged victim - who said she had no idea of the man's HIV status - told the court. "I will take my love for him to the grave." Mr Mwale was committed to stand trial on three counts of engaging in reckless conduct that placed a woman in danger of serious injury between February and November 2004. He pleaded not guilty.

The case follows that of Michael Neal, committed to stand trial earlier this year on charges of intentionally spreading HIV. Evidence of departmental inaction in that case triggered the sacking of the state's chief health officer, Robert Hall.

Evidence heard at the Geelong court yesterday showed public health officials failed to act to curb Mr Mwale's alleged unsafe sex practices, despite repeatedly receiving evidence the accused man was ignoring DHS warnings. DHS nurse Elizabeth Hatch told the court that Mr Mwale first came to the attention of the department's Partner Notification Office - which monitors individuals suspected of recklessly spreading HIV - in December 2003. Mr Mwale was counselled on his obligations not to infect others and his file was closed because he was not considered a health risk. "No further action needed - case closed," said the file notes.

But in January 2005, a doctor notified the department after a newly diagnosed patient told the GP she had been infected with HIV by Mr Mwale. Ms Hatch told the court she interviewed Mr Mwale after the notification, when he admitted to having sex once with a woman outside of his marriage, but insisted he wore a condom. "We thought we really didn't have much evidence to say it was a public health risk if he had used a condom," she said. Ms Hatch said she contacted the doctor who had notified the department to check Mr Mwale's version of events against the time in which the patient had been diagnosed with HIV.

The doctor did not call back, she said, so the file was closed on March 10, 2005, with a note: "We have had no further contact from physician re time frames. No extra information so we will now close this case again." Under cross-examination by Mr Mwale's barrister, David Sexton, Ms Hatch agreed that she would have kept the case file open if she had any concerns that Mr Mwale was continuing to practice unsafe sex. When Mr Sexton asked why she did not continue to investigate the 2005 allegation against Mr Mwale after the GP did not call back, Ms Hatch said she believed the doctor concerned would monitor the accused man. "It was because I knew the doctor and I knew the clinic, and if they had been concerned or worried, they were very good at making sure things were followed up correctly," she said.

The court heard that nine months after closing Mr Mwale's file for the second time, the DHS became aware he had infected a woman other than the alleged victim in yesterday's case. At that point, a letter of warning to Mr Mwale was signed by then chief health officer Robert Hall, but orders restricting his behaviour were not issued until after police seized material during their investigations into the case. Mr Mwale was ordered to appear at the Victorian County Court on August 7.


Police harassment of gun shop

New details have emerged about the seizure of hundreds of guns from a Wagga Wagga address in southern New South Wales last week. A well-placed local source says there were over 500 guns taken from the address, which is a shop called the Wagga Wagga Boat and Sports Centre. The 310 guns were taken as exhibits while 200 other guns were seized for 'safekeeping'. Around 25,000 rounds of ammunition were also taken during the 14-hour operation involving 10 officers.

The source says the man being interviewed by police is actually a licensed gun dealer and had a permit for the guns, and that the shop was raided because authorities were concerned about the storage of the items.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Leftists fail to prioritise people

LEFT-WING policymakers have failed indigenous communities and social order is more important for Aborigines than land rights, says Noel Pearson. The director of the Cape York Institute says urban critics of John Howard's intervention plan are misinformed, and he dismisses claims the plan is an attempt to take control of uranium-rich land.

"If political circumstances became such that one was forced to prioritise. I place social order ahead of land rights," Mr Pearson writes today in The Weekend Australian. "Of course the land problem is being overstated. If there is a 'land grab'. then it is principally being grabbed for the benefit of Aboriginal families obtaining private leasehold title for housing and businesses."

Mr Pearson. whose institute last month hosted the Strong Foundations conference in Cairns, sponsored by The Australian, says the failure of indigenous communities to maintain social order was the reason the federal Government had been forced to intervene. "(Conference speaker Marcia) Langton cut to the chase: non-conservative indigenous and non-indigenous people's failure to take sufficient political and practical responsibility for social functionality in indigenous communities made the recent intervention by conservative leaders inevitable," he says. "Of course the conservative leaders would ultimately intervene, Langton explained, and it is hardly surprising that their plan is shaped by their conservative ideology."

Mr Pearson says Aborigines need to force their way into the mainstream political agenda and look to the future: "The principal psychological problem of indigenous leaders is they have got bile in their livers about the fact of the Howard Government and its history over the past decade. "Our progressive non-indigenous supporters can afford to devote all of their energies to willing the New Jerusalem - after all, even a conservative government looks after them notwithstanding their contempt - but our people cannot afford this indulgence. "We have to deal with the government and the politics of the day and devote our maximum energies and talents towards making good of things that otherwise seem bad."

Mr Pearson says the Howard intervention is needed because abuse in Aboriginal communities is so widespread. "Urban-based critics just simply do not know the realities. Neither did 90 per cent of Australia until recently," he says. Mr Pearson says Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin abandoned Aboriginal people because her Government had become obsessed with its media image. "Martin put more energy and political angst into combating Lateline and federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough in relation to the Alice Springs town camps than in relation to the problems that were exposed," he says.

The above article by Padraic Murphy appeared in "The Australian" on July 7, 2007

Staff crisis cripples public hospital

HUNDREDS of patients have had their diagnoses for deadly afflictions such as cancer and strokes delayed because of acute staff shortages at one of Queensland's biggest hospitals. The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital is being forced to conduct rolling shutdowns of multimillion-dollar diagnostic equipment because of a lack of radiographers to operate the machines. The revelation is another blow to the State Government's claim that the struggling Queensland health system is "turning the corner" after a $10 billion funding injection over five years.

In a damning email obtained by The Courier-Mail, RBWH medical imaging technology director Paul Esdaile warned that equipment closures were expected to continue for months. "Due to the poor response to the recent advertising campaign attempting to attract radiographers, the department has no choice but to close some clinical rooms," he wrote in the email late last month. "There will be more to follow in the months ahead, as the chances of employing additional staff are very slim." The email outlined ongoing closure of equipment, including one outpatient MRI machine over the first two weekends of this month.

The adjoining Royal Children's Hospital is already in danger of having to mothball Queensland's only pediatric MRI scanner after the resignation of key staff members. The RBWH hierarchy is also being forced to conduct Monday- to-Friday shutdowns of one of its two outpatient CT scanners, which help doctors to diagnose ailments from cancers to internal injuries of accident victims. Other closures are also occurring on ultrasound and digital fluoroscopy machines, which diagnose throat cancer and strokes. Unofficial waiting times recently posted on hospital bulletin boards state there is a 60-day wait for a CT scan and a 148-day wait for an MRI scan.

One radiographer at the RBWH said medical imaging at the hospital was now in "meltdown". It is understood other hospitals, including the Mater and Princess Alexandra, are suffering similar difficulties keeping their machines operating at normal levels. A Queensland Health spokesman said there was a national shortage of radiographers and Queensland hospitals were not immune. RBWH acting chief executive officer Judy Grabes agreed the hospital did have a radiographer shortage and plans had been developed to ensure it did not "greatly" affect patients. "This means that some medical imaging rooms for non-urgent cases will be periodically closed," she said.


The bad news is it's jobs galore

The Left-leaning Sydney Morning Herald looks desperately for the dark lining in a silver cloud below

THE jobless rate is tipped to tumble below 4 per cent - its lowest for 33 years - but economists warn it is a two-edged sword: it threatens to bring higher wages, inflation and an interest rate rise before the election. Amid a furious national debate over housing affordability, another rate rise could anger voters with mortgages, despite the accolades that will flow to the Government for the historically low jobless rate.

The hunt for staff has led to a 36 per cent increase in the number of job ads appearing in newspapers and online over the past year, according to the respected ANZ survey of job ads, prompting this prediction from the bank's head of economics, Tony Pearson: "We believe we may well see an unemployment rate with a '3' in front of it before the end of the year." But he added: "Policymakers will need to remain vigilant for any signs that the tightening labour market is placing upward pressure on wages growth."

A Macquarie Bank economist, Brian Redican, said a jobless rate below 4 per cent could be the point at which inflation began to accelerate. "If it did fall below 4 per cent ... that could prompt the Reserve Bank to bring forward an interest rate rise to before the election," he said.

Industry groups say demand for workers is even higher than shown by the figures, because employers are abandoning advertising for staff because they know it will not work. A survey of 1200 business executives released today by Dun and Bradstreet shows a third think wages growth will be the most important influence on their business in the new financial year, compared to just 15 per cent who say interest rates. Businesses fear they will be forced to offer higher pay to tempt a dwindling pool of workers.

The Reserve Bank is worried workers will spend their higher wages, stimulating the economy and pushing up prices. Financial market observers believe there is a good chance the bank will make a pre-emptive strike against inflation next month by raising the cost of borrowing to a decade high of 8.3 per cent.

The Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, promised yesterday to look at tax credits for developers offering low rent accommodation to ease the housing shortage.

The head of Restaurant & Catering Australia, John Hart, said Sydney restaurants in particular were feeling the staff squeeze. "Every restaurant, on average, could employ another person if they fronted up to the door," he said. A survey of building and construction jobs by recruitment firm Olivier Group found demand for these workers had doubled over the year.

The jobless rate fell to 4.2 per cent in May. Federal Treasury predicted at the time of the budget in May that the jobless rate would rise to 5.25 per cent as welfare-to-work changes, which come into effect this month, force more women to seek work.



Sheer Puritanism. Not mentioned below is that lifespans have grown considerably since the 1940s

SIXTY years after the end of war-time food rationing, a leading nutritionist is calling for the return of the ration books. A 1940s diet could control the epidemic of obesity afflicting Australia and much of the developed world, says nutritionist Rosemary Stanton.

Apart from reducing the amount and variety of fatty foods available, rationing would reintroduce older values such as sharing and cutting down on waste. "During war time if you noticed the apples in the bowl were getting a bit wrinkly, you stewed them," Dr Stanton said. "Today you just chuck them out."

Rationing in war-time Australia was less severe than much of the rest of the world, and the only foods to which it applied were tea, sugar, butter and meat. Meat was rationed to the equivalent of 900g a week, butter to 450g a fortnight; sugar to 900g a fortnight and tea to 450g every five weeks. "Austerity meals" were served in Australian restaurants and hotels, limiting expenditure to five shillings (about $15 at today's values) for dinner, four shillings for lunch and three shillings for breakfast.

"There was very little incidence of heart disease or diabetes during the war years, and obesity was almost unknown," Dr Stanton said. People grew their own fruit and vegetables, and swapped foods with their neighbours, both of which should be encouraged today, she said. "We were restrained in the amount of fatty foods we could buy, whereas today there are no limits. This leads to waste and the massive amount of food we throw away.

Her latest book, Healthy Eating for Australian Families, includes a recipe for chocolate cake Dr Stanton discovered in an old World War II recipe book.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Biker blasts 'pathetic' police

I can from personal experience vouch for the fact that the Queensland police have little interest in investigating crime -- even when evidence is handed to them on platter. Full transcript of the interview below here

A mole from one of Australia's most notorious bikie gangs has blown the whistle on a culture of drug trafficking, gun running and murder, including one man being forced to hang himself and another being tortured to death with a hammer. Police bungling and a lack of communication between state law agencies and the Australian Crime Commission has undermined investigations into these crimes, according to informer Stevan Utah. Utah - not his real name - was a member of the Bandidos bikie gang for a decade and turned Australian Crime Commission informer in mid 2004.

Today, he told the Nine Network's Sunday program of at least two murders, the bashing of a woman and a "flogging" which left him fearing for his life. According to Utah, members of the Bandidos were responsible for:

- The shooting murder of 54-year-old Geelong security guard Earl Neil Mooring, who he said was tortured to death with a hammer in October 2000. Utah said he helped dump Mr Mooring's body in Goulburn, south of Sydney, and he later led ACC investigators to the body's location. "If you put two sugars in your coffee and just giving it a stir, you don't give it a second thought," Utah said. "That's what it was like with Earl Mooring - putting sugar in his coffee."

- The murder of a former Bandidos member four years ago, who Utah said was forced to hang himself rather than be beaten to death after a corrupt Queensland Police informant told gang members the Bandido was helping them.

- The beating of a woman, who Utah said was dragged by her hair and kicked while unconscious outside a Bandidos clubhouse on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. She had up to eight broken bones and 184 stitches.

Utah said corrupt police officers would tip off the gang about imminent drug raids.

He said bikie gangs around Australia exploited the fact there was a lack of communication between state police forces, which was why dead bodies were transported across state borders.

Utah blasted the Queensland Police Service (QPS) for refusing to cooperate with the ACC on four occasions due to "pathetic, petty jealousy". He said the QPS refused an ACC request for permission to send Utah undercover to buy methylamphetamine, after he had been offered the drug by a Bandido member. Utah said he drew a map outlining the locations of two Bandido drug labs in Queensland but QPS did not raid the premises until six months later.

He said he was forced to flee overseas after a newspaper article tipped off the Bandidos to his role as an informant and was "flogged" by Bandidos members who were trying to kill him. Utah, who remains overseas, said his requests for help from the ACC had fallen on deaf ears. "I feel total betrayal," he said. "Last time I looked, regardless of what anyone thinks of me, I did the right thing and I'm still a citizen of Australia. "Why wasn't I looked after?"


Crooked doctors: Only a minor win for the regulators but I guess it shows that some regulator is doing something

The competition watchdog has warned doctors they are subject to competition law and called upon the Australian Medical Association to change the "culture that the medical profession should be exempt from the Trade Practices Act".

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel denounced claims by some doctors that "patient care" trumped the need to abide by competition law. "I remain concerned that the responses from bodies like the AMA seem to be part of a culture that the medical profession should be exempt from the Trade Practices Act," he said. "Sorry, there is no one else who is exempt and there is no reason you should be."

Mr Samuel was speaking after the ACCC successfully sued two eminent Adelaide heart surgeons for anti-competitive conduct. Federal Court judge John Mansfield found on Thursday that John Knight and Iain Ross had breached competition law between 2001 and 2004 for preventing qualified cardiothoracic surgeon Craig Jurisevic from practising heart surgery in Adelaide. The pair also admitted they attempted to enter into a "no-compete" arrangement with another heart surgeon, James Edwards, which meant they would not take private cases at his hospital if he agreed not to work at theirs.

Justice Mansfield found that while the respondents acted in good faith and did not know they were in breach of competition law, they effectively operated a closed shop that inhibited the entry of other surgeons to the Adelaide heart-surgery market. He imposed a civil penalty of $55,000, plus $5000 towards the ACCC's legal expenses, on both Dr Knight and Dr Ross.

Yesterday, Dr Jurisevic was considering a civil action for loss of income, estimated at more than $2 million. The full-time thoracic surgeon is also an Australian Army reservist and served with Australian forces in East Timor last year, receiving the Australian Service Medal in recognition of his efforts. He also spent a month in the frontlines of the war-torn Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999, as well as a year in the Palestinian territory of Gaza in the early 1990s.

Yesterday, the South Australian president of the AMA, Peter Ford, called on the ACCC to recognise that doctors must sometimes work "in association" and that this did not mean "collusion". "The ACCC needs to look at the context of doctors working as a group ... where its rulings can conflict with clinical scenarios," Dr Ford said. For example, he said obstetricians working in a maternity unit could provide a better service if the staff and doctors "know each other well". "If you have the door open for all-comers it may cause problems for that unit," he said.

And competition law also created confusion among other specialist doctors who work in teams, in setting their fees and in deciding which doctors would be in the team and who would be left out. "In a team setting there is not only the issue of fees but also clinical considerations that don't apply in private business situations," Dr Ford said.

In 2002, the ACCC won an action against three obstetricians in Rockhampton, Queensland, who had agreed on higher fees if they treated the others' patients. The action resulted in one of the doctors leaving Rockhampton, reducing obstetrics services in the region. The AMA called it a "witch hunt". Last month, in a rare win for doctors, the ACCC granted an authorisation to GPs working in the same practice, to allow them to set the same prices for consultations and hospital services.


Australia upgrades immigration information system

The government has accelerated plans to let spies share information with immigration officials, a week after a foreign doctor was arrested in connection with the failed British terror attacks, the prime minister said Sunday. Prime Minister John Howard said that new software linking the computer systems of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization and the Immigration Department will allow deeper background checks on anyone applying to enter Australia. Howard called it a "major upgrade of Australia's control system." "These new resources ... give us extraordinary additional capacity to drill down into the backgrounds of people who seek to come to Australia," he told reporters.

ASIO is Australia's overseas spying agency and the new system could sharpen links between international security agencies, including those in the United States and Europe, with the country's immigration watchdog. The plans, which have been on the table since last year, are being brought forward after a possible Australian link was revealed in the British plot _ in which two unexploded car bombs were found in central London on June 29 and two men drove a burning, gas cylinder-laden vehicle into an airport in Glasgow, Scotland a day later.

Muhammad Haneef, a 27-year-old Indian doctor who migrated to Australia from Britain last year, was arrested in the eastern city of Brisbane last Monday as he tried to board a flight with a one-way ticket. Australian authorities acted on intelligence from British investigators into the failed attacks, and Haneef is believed to have known some of the suspects being held in Britain. He has not been charged.

Howard declined to give examples of how the new system would work, saying doing so could give clues to suspects about ways to could get around it. But he said the system would "track patterns of travel and other behavior which suggest a predisposition on the part of somebody towards malign behavior," he said. In addition to a person's travel history, the system would cross-check financial data with particular organizations, Howard said _ suggesting bank payments to banned groups would appear in searches. Australia already has watch lists that ban people with links to terrorist organizations or proscribed terrorist suspects, but the new system goes further, Howard said.


Fewer students learn high-demand skills

The number of students studying chemistry, maths and physics is lower than it was 18 years ago, sparking further warnings about the skills crisis. Overall science enrolments in universities appear to have bottomed out, but in disciplines that feed key areas of workforce demand they are in freefall.

A report commissioned by the Australian Council of Deans of Science finds that the proportion of students taking physics subjects is now only two-thirds of what it was in 1989. The picture for chemistry is also gloomy and for maths it is worse: enrolments in maths fell from 7520 in 1989 to 4988 in 2005. The decline has occurred against massive growth in higher education with student numbers doubling over the same period. Trendier disciplines such as forensic science are attracting the biggest share of students, leaving the hard, or enabling, sciences -- the building blocks of many professions -- to struggle.

President of the deans council, John Rice, said university enrolment patterns were a barometer of the skills stock. "If you look at it that way you ought to be pretty worried," he said. "If you look at the spread of jobs in an economy that needs to be technologically oriented, it needs that kind of background training." Professor Rice said universities were still in the grip of the "scientist as geek" stereotype: they needed to encourage a broader understanding of how science impinged on every facet of the modern economy. "The problem for the universities is that they keep training science graduates as though they're all going to end up in labs, wearing white coats and unable to park their bikes straight."

He pointed to Melbourne University's new model of a general undergraduate science degree followed by a specialist degree as one way of addressing the problem. This enabled science to be integrated into a wide spectrum of professions. The Melbourne model also received strong endorsement from the peak science lobby, the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies. Executive director Bradley Smith said while the national figures in some science disciplines were grim, it was not all doom and gloom. For example, Sydney University was "going great guns" with its physics enrolments because it had focused on school students.

The report, by Monash University's Ian Dobson, shows a continuing slide in information technology students, forcing universities to look overseas to recruit students. Almost half the enrolments in IT subjects and 29 per cent in engineering were international fee-paying students.

The study is the third in a series commissioned by the science deans over the past eight years to chart enrolment trends. Professor Rice said there was some comfort from the fact that between 2002 and 2005, enrolments in science seemed to have bottomed out and even increased slightly. "However, that's cold comfort to those people dealing with the current and growing skills crisis, who look at the current education system and see little that is different from the one that delivered such a dramatic decline."


Monday, July 09, 2007

Violence by blacks was 'sanitised'

In the theory-addled heads of Leftists, Australian Aborigines were prime candidates for being the "noble savages" of Rousseauian myth. Only the Tasaday ever lived up to that myth -- and they were a hoax. Primitive people are in fact characteristically very violent -- and Australian Aborigines are great perpetrators of violence on one-another to this day

PUBLISHERS in the 1980s and 1990s sanitised Aboriginal history by censoring accounts of violence, including sexual abuse and infanticide. Award-winning historical author Susanna de Vries has revealed that her books on early colonial life, based on the memoirs of pioneer women, were allegedly toned down so as not to upset Aboriginal sensibilities. De Vries said the memoirs of one woman, Louisa Meredith, were allegedly censored by Queensland publishing house Michael White Publishers to remove references to infanticide, tribal warfare, and the rape and removal of women.

The memoirs of the first Aboriginal justice of the peace, Ella Simon, were similarly sanitised by Sydney publishers Millennium Books in the late 1990s so that a baby "stuffed head-first down a rabbit hole and left to die after it fell ill on walkabout" was allegedly edited to read "left under a tree to die". Both publishers have since gone out of business but de Vries's revelations have raised questions about how widespread the practice was at the time.

"We don't sanitise anti-Semitism and the Holocaust," said Louis Nowra, author of Bad Dreaming, which documents the use of Aboriginal customary law to legitimise sexual abuse and domestic violence against women and children.

De Vries has written about a dozen books on women in colonial times and was made a member of the Order of Australia for her services to literature. "This kind of benign censorship stemming from guilt over the stolen children question has hidden references to the abuse of part-Aboriginal and Aboriginal children in the past," she said. "Anything to do with the abuse of Aboriginal women and children by their fellow Aborigines has been censored out by editors keen not to offend and raise ghosts of the stolen children stories. Ignoring the other stories of the rape of Aboriginal girls by Aboriginal men; the killing of Aboriginal babies often by leaving them to die in the bush; and the neglect and abuse of Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal children have all been part of a taboo which is based on guilt."

Controversial historian Keith Windschuttle, who came to national prominence for questioning claims by other historians that Tasmanian Aborigines were massacred by white settlers, said the tendency to whitewash Aboriginal culture started in the 1970s. "People thought by flattering pre-modern Aboriginal culture you would assert esteem in Aboriginal culture and make Aboriginal people feel good about themselves," Mr Windschuttle said. "It also continued the belief that the problem with modern Aboriginal culture doesn't lie with Aborigines, it lies with white people instead of seeing that the problem in many ways lies with both."

Nowra said there was a tendency to view Aborigines as "noble savages", which denied part of Aboriginal culture, and overlooked the harsh environment in which they survived. "It was difficult to keep an abundant number of Aboriginal children alive; they were life-and-death decisions we don't have to face," Nowra said. He added that the "small-l" liberals who dominated the conversation always supported the male view of the world. "Aboriginal culture tends to be defined by the male culture ... the thing about customary law is that it always works in favour of men, never women," he said.

Historian Inga Clendinnen said censorship arose from a "very understandable tenderness and concern" towards the Aboriginal community. Australian Publishers Association chief executive officer Maree McCaskill said publishers now fought fiercely to protect their right to free speech and to publish without fear. Sandy Grant of Hardie Grant Books, who published Spycatcher, the memoirs of MI5 agent Peter Wright, said any publisher worth their salt would not censor their authors and that the fact these publishers were no longer in business was telling.


More deliberately distorted Australian history -- "Evil white men" created

Comment by Christopher Pearson

I BEGAN this column by talking about the way people expect the past to suck up to the present. In the June issue of The Monthly Robert Manne provides a particularly egregious example. He was reviewing Sven Lindqvist's book Terra Nullius: A Journey Through No One's Land. Although Manne displays some awareness of "characteristic flaws" in Lindqvist's approach, namely "hyperbolic exaggeration, historical oversimplification and inaccuracy, cavalier carelessness in the mounting of argument, fanciful self-indulgence", he nonetheless insists: "There is no Western society which more needs to hear a local version of the Lindqvist sermon than post-Windschuttle Australia."

Manne himself provides a neat illustration of the pitfalls of this don't-fuss-with-the-facts, get-with-the-moralising style of commentary with the following: "Although he has read extensively on Australia, it is fair criticism of Lindqvist that he has still not read enough to become truly familiar with the country. Because he has discovered in John Mulvaney's Encounters in Place that a massacre occurred at Moorundie, outside Adelaide, Lindqvist is astonished and indignant that no one he meets there seems to have heard anything about it. Lindqvist is unaware that virtually all the massacres that took place in Australia are unknown to the public."

The clear implication is that, along with South Australia's early settlers, people living in Adelaide and the public in general are so complacently ignorant and morally obtuse that they neither know nor care that a massacre of Aborigines took place on or near the stolen lands they occupy; hence the needfor a sermon from Lindqvist and indeed from Manne.

Anyone sufficiently concerned to consult Mulvaney's book for further detail will find no account of a massacre at Moorundie. Moorundie is about 120km northeast of Adelaide, just south of where the Sturt Highway crosses the Murray at Blanchetown. According to Mulvaney, a government outpost was established there in 1841 and operated until 1856. From October 1841 it was administered by Edward John Eyre, who was appointed "resident magistrate and protector of Aborigines" by governor George Grey. Eyre was concerned about violent clashes between settlers and Aborigines near Rufus River about 190km farther upstream near Wentworth in southwest NSW. Mulvaney tells us that "within a few weeks of his appointment, Eyre visited the disaffected Rufus country to conciliate and to urge that the white man wished to live with them on terms of amity".

He also says that "Grey and Eyre both wished to save lives on humanitarian grounds and were well intentioned ... Eyre was trusted because he treated Aborigines simply as human beings." Mulvaney's account leaves us in no doubt that Eyre, similar to Charles Sturt and John McLaren, who also recorded early encounters with Aborigines in regions around Adelaide, took great pains to avoid violence. There is ample evidence in their journals that Eyre and Sturt were gravely concerned about the rapid disintegration of Aboriginal society, in particular as a result of the virulence of introduced diseases, in the first decade after the settlement of South Australia.



Junk food, transfats could cause blindness. That's why you see millions of blind people walking around. What rubbish! Just another of the many assertions based on the myth that dietary antioxidants are beneficial. Taking antioxidants can in fact cause premature death

AUSTRALIA faces an epidemic of blindness because young people are eating too much junk food, health experts have warned. Alarming new research has revealed a poor diet can lead to the eye disease macular degeneration, which causes blindness in later life. In recent years, MD numbers have skyrocketed and now the disease affects a staggering one in seven Australians over 50 - about 850,000 people. The disease causes progressive damage to the central part of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye which enables people to see detail clearly.

Poor nutrition reduces the levels of antioxidants in and around the eye's retina and enables waste products caused by fatty foods to damage the eye. Specialists say MD used to only affect people in their 70s, but now they are seeing people as young as 40 suffering from it. Leading optometrist Allan Ared, a Sydney specialist with clients in Queensland, said transfats in processed foods were a significant risk. "Macular degeneration is a modern-day epidemic, but if you look back 100 years, we never had a problem with this disease," he said. "It's only in the last 10 to 15 years that experts even became aware of what MD was.

"What's happened is processed foods have altered our nutritional intake and we are now eating foods every day that our ancestors only ate on special occasions. "That bag of chips you eat today may certainly impair your vision tomorrow." [The guy should be prosecuted for talking such lies]

Experts advise people to eat vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc, as well as foods rich in antioxidants, such as dark leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, nuts, wholegrains, meat, fish and seafood. Clinical studies [I'd like to see them] show high-dose vitamin and zinc supplements can reduce the progression of MD by 25 per cent. Alison Muir, national education co-ordinator for the Macular Degeneration Foundation, recommends people cut down on junk food. "This disease is increasing and it is partly because we have a lot of processed foods in our diets now," she said.


Sickbeds in public hospital corridors

Mexico, here we come!

HEALTH bosses have been forced to appoint a crisis manager to deal with a severe bed shortage at one of Brisbane's largest hospitals. In recent weeks, growing numbers of patients at the Princess Alexandra Hospital have been put on trolleys and treated in corridors because there are not enough beds available.

Now Queensland Health is copying a policy used by the National Health Service in Britain, in the hope it will speed up the process of finding beds for emergency department patients. The system, which will be in place from July 23, involves a nurse acting as a bed monitor to find beds within the hospital. An emergency department source, who refused to be named because of a Queensland Health ban preventing staff from speaking out, fears the policy will backfire. "Nurses with a full patient load should not be made to leave assigned patients to run up and down the corridors. This is a substandard way of treating patients."

Queensland Health spokeswoman Kirrily Boulton declined to discuss staff concerns. A member of the PA Hospital district executive said patients would be transferred to a bed as "quickly as possible upon arrival in the wards". "This system will help ensure that emergency staff can focus their attention and resources on critically ill patients as they arrive," he said.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Ross Cartmill, who works at the PA, said the hospital needed an extra 100 beds. He said surgery had been cancelled in past weeks because patients on trolleys were cluttering areas around operating theatres. "There aren't enough staff to look after patients on trolleys as well as beds and it can become dangerous," he said. "As well as the safety issue, it is also an inadequate way to treat patients in terms of privacy."


Sunday, July 08, 2007


Letter about Tim Palmer -- to Mark Scott, Managing Director, Australian Broadcasting Corporation -- from Michael Danby MHR:

We met recently to discuss the ABC leadership moves to make the national broadcaster more open and transparent, especially in dealing with complaints. I feel compelled to write this letter to you because I believe that MediaWatch, the centrepiece of what should be the ABC's weathervane of engagement with the media, including critics of the ABC is now spearheaded by an individual who has a record of aggressive belligerence to criticism.

In my view Tim Palmer, the newly appointed Executive Producer of Media Watch, has previously shown by his work that he is not open to criticism or discussion. Tim Palmer may be an award winning investigative journalist but an easy going, open minded welcomer of criticism he is not.

Most recently Media Watch, which is heavily moderated at its website, published a most inappropriate comment and only edited the offensive comment, quote "ABC is starting to show a disproportionate number of Jews in the places of power in the ABC" when they discovered that readers were onto them. The fact that the moderator didn't immediately realise how appalling the comment was does not indicate a high degree of sensitivity. Mr. Palmer, as Executive Producer of Media Watch is responsible for the content of the Media Watch web site.

Another ugly contribution by Palmer appeared on bunyip.blogspot.com. He criticized that blog: "It's more like watching someone die of prostate cancer. It's tedious, the viewer may die of something else in the meantime and in the long run you just don't want to know about it anyway"

Similarly, in a recent public letter to the Sydney Morning Herald columnist Miranda Devine, he gloated that he had forced Daily telegraph Deputy editor Tim Blair to publish a craven apology.

This sort of excessive belligerence could be expected from an inexperienced person, with little background in the national media landscape. In my view such ferocious argumentativeness is inappropriate and unacceptable from a person with Mr. Palmer's seniority in your organisation.

Unfortunately this incident appears to characterise Palmer's attitude to critics. Tim Palmer crossed my radar following the murder of Malki Roth, the daughter of a constituent of mine. Mr Palmer ultimately refused to interview the father of a murdered girl because Mr Roth, the girl's father, refused to be bracketed on a ABC program with the father of Malki's killer, who gloried in his murderous son's deed.

I think the ABC is making sincere efforts to engage it's critics and in my opinion programs like Lateline, Insiders and the 7:30 Report do make an effort to be fair over time. My fear is that Mr Palmer's appointment, his persona and the effect he will have on Media watch will go against this trend.


Keating savages 'gutless' Labor, again

THE Labor leadership is "gutless", obsessed with consensus politics and too timid to take on the unions, according to Paul Keating in his second assault on the party in just four weeks. The former prime minister also calls firebrand timber union leader Michael O'Connor a "Labor rat" who should be "excommunicated" from the party.

The latest intervention from the man who led Labor to defeat in 1996 follows last month's outburst in which he took issue with many who now lead the party. Among those to feel the wrath of Keating during an ABC Lateline interview were deputy leader Julia Gillard, national secretary Tim Gartrell and the man who has won preselection for Kim Beazley's seat of Brand, Gary Gray.

His attack on Mr O'Connor -- who was elected to the Labor national executive in April -- is in The Forest Wars, written by ANU academic Judith Ajani and published by Melbourne University Press. Describing him as a "Labor rat", Mr Keating argues that while he claimed to be a trade unionist representing workers, he never tried to help the Labor Party in office. Mr Keating, as prime minister, was in 1995 forced to deal with a damaging split in the Labor caucus over the forestry debate. This culminated in a blockade of parliament by loggers.

Mr O'Connor, head of the forestry division of the Left-controlled Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, also played a key role in attacking Mark Latham's 2004 election policy to lock-up Tasmania's old growth forests. He was in turn attacked by senior party figures after the election defeat. He refused to comment last night when confronted with Mr Keating's remarks.

Mr Keating, asked why the ALP had not drummed Mr O'Connor out of the party, responded: "Because people are too gutless, that's why. And nobody these days likes the fights." Instead, Mr Keating said, the Labor leadership "all want consensus results. Well you don't get big issues resolved like this, just by consensus."

Forestry remains a sensitive issue for the ALP, with the Coalition seeking to portray Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett as an old-time activist who would cost people their jobs by declaring old-growth forests out of bounds to loggers.

A spokesman for Kevin Rudd said he was unavailable for comment last night but Opposition transport spokesman Martin Ferguson, ACTU president at the time of the 1995 blockade, backed Mr O'Connor. "While I respect Paul Keating, I am pleased to say that Michael O'Connor is a mate of mine," he said. "Michael has never forgotten that he represents low-paid workers."


More raids on Muslim medicos

Australian police have launched fresh raids on two hospitals in Western Australia in connection with the failed terrorist plot in Britain, seizing computer files and questioning a number of doctors believed to be of Indian background.

The Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, said links to the UK were "becoming more concrete" as they begin to examine some 31,000 computer files seized in the raids on hospitals in the Western Australia state capital of Perth and the Outback mining town of Kalgoorlie. The files are believed to had come into contact with Muhammad Haneef, the Indian-born doctor arrested in Australia on Monday. Police will look through the files and compare information contained on them with material held in the UK, the commisssioner said. Those being interviewed included foreign doctors of a similar nationality and background to those being held in the UK, Mr Keelty said. There have been no arrests in addition to Dr Haneef.

The investigation in Australia has also widened to a third state, New South Wales, the commissioner said. "There are a number of people now being interviewed as part of this investigation, it doesn't mean that they're all suspects but it is quite a complex investigation and the links to the U.K. are becoming more concrete," the commissioner told reporters in Canberra, the national capital.

The questioning of a number of doctors today was "to gather evidence or gather information about the network, about who is linked to who, and who, if in fact if anybody, has committed any criminal offence," Mr Keelty said.


Compulsory history teaching could backfire

Since Australian history academics are heavily far-Leftist, it might just lead to another injection of propaganda

There is nothing new under the sun. In a lecture delivered in 1890, Charles Henry Pearson, the Victorian liberal politician and writer, wrote: "The indiscriminate popular cry for the introduction of a large measure of historical teaching into our public schools is, to my apprehension, [both] foolish and mischievous." Pearson, who had written quite an amount of history, was sceptical of the capacity of young minds to appreciate history, an art that generally requires the attainment of middle age to master. Moreover, he was convinced that while young people were not capable of understanding legal or political institutions, they seized "instinctively upon whatever is personal or anecdotal in a narrative".

You may disagree with Pearson's analysis, but it indicates a level of intelligence and sophistication that the present discussion about the teaching of history in Australian schools has not attained. We have not really had a debate about the desirability of teaching history, in particular Australian history, as a compulsory subject. It has just been assumed by both sides of politics that compulsory Australian history is a good thing.

But is it? Are the arguments in favour of the teaching of Australian history in schools strong enough to justify compulsion? Or would young minds be better served if, for example, they undertook the compulsory study of a foreign language? The basic argument used in favour of the study of history is that we need to understand our past. It is an argument based on sentiment that emphasises the bonds that tie the generations together. But what exactly is our past and why, in a country inhabited by the descendants of migrants from so many parts of the world, should it be limited to the Australian past?

There are many good arguments in favour of the study of history. Consider what Pearson says about the personal and the anecdotal. History provides an excellent opportunity for young minds to explore the way humans behave, why they choose certain courses of actions and how they end up in various circumstances. To study history is to be provided with a laboratory in which to explore character. Unfortunately, history at present is not much interested in character or the actions of individuals. Historians are far more interested in the action of impersonal forces, of institutions, ideologies and social forces. This raises significant problems for any attempt to teach history and historical analysis to young people.

We are often told history encourages what are termed critical skills. But there must be a question over the capacity of young minds to exercise these critical skills. After all, the greatest historians can exercise such capacities because they have had decades to reflect on human nature and its relationship to the course of events, to acquire a measure of wisdom.

Unfortunately, and this should not surprise anyone, when young people exercise their critical skills, too often they are merely parroting a fashionable ideology. It's like reciting tables. When you look at the history curriculum held up to us as the exemplar for the whole country, the NSW Year 10 course in Australian history, you can see ideology masquerading as critical thinking.

Here lies the central problem for the teaching of history in schools. In recent times there has been a move to consider history in political rather than professional terms. Many professional historians are more interested in serving political causes than historical ones. They are more interested in conducting history wars that have political objectives than in engaging in professional debates that have as their objective the establishment of historical truth. This is particularly true of those historians working in the area of Australian history.

Given the state of the history profession in Australia, it was always odd the Howard Government sought to make the teaching of Australian history compulsory in schools. From where did it hope to get the expertise that would enable it to put in place a curriculum that was not ideologically tainted? Surely the experience of the history summit, with its outcome of a series of questions full of ideology and bias, would have taught it the futility of the exercise. Why, indeed, was it so unwilling to release the final form of these questions for public scrutiny? But no, despite all the warning signs, the Government pushes on. Now it has established a working party to take its curriculum to the next level.

What I fear is the sort of compulsory history our children will be forced to study. I worry that, like the NSW curriculum, it will be full of ideology parading as criticism. Compulsory Australian history would crowd out the history of the rest of the human race, leaving the next generation culturally impoverished. Above all, I fear that, as in NSW, forcing ideology down students' throats will turn them away from a love of history. What we need is a real debate about the teaching of history in schools. Perhaps federal Education Minister Julie Bishop could begin by reading what Pearson, a one-time minister of education and an important liberal intellectual, had to say on the matter.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Shooting the messenger: Federal government piles stupidity on top of stupidity

Aside from anything else, isn't this a great way to get journalists onside just before an election? This will mainly be the doing of petulant bureaucrats who don't like their negligence being shown up but if the government has any sense it will rein them in

The Howard Government is at the centre of a new scandal over the public's right to know, after Federal Police confirmed they would lay criminal charges against journalists for exposing security breaches at Sydney airport. But Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Mark Vaile last night denied any involvement in the decision by AFP to charge two Daily Telegraph staff with trespass over a report on airport security lapses. The two men now risk a criminal record for revealing lax security at Sydney airport.

It is the third case this year in which federal departments or corporations overseen by the Howard Government have used the law to target journalists and their sources. The Daily Telegraph was told yesterday that reporter Justin Vallejo and photographer Toby Zerna would be charged with trespass after their report exposed how vulnerable Sydney airport is to a terrorist attack in the lead-up to APEC.

To the embarrassment of security services and the Federal Government, it is alleged the two men were able to walk into the airport's most sensitive areas last month with little more than a driver's licence and an airport contact.

Opposition homeland security spokesman Arch Bevis said it was the latest example of the Federal Government shooting the messenger instead of solving the problem. Mr Bevis said that almost six years after 9/11 and two years after the release of the damning Wheeler Report into national aviation security, there was still no screening of cargo on passenger flights and no screening of passengers on regional flights. "The Government can act quickly when they shoot the messenger. It's a pity they can't act as quickly to fix airport security problems identified in the Wheeler report," Mr Bevis said.

The Daily Telegraph revealed last month that all it took to obtain a 24-hour pass to enter the airport was to have an Aviation Security Identification Card passholder request a visitor's pass. There were no background or criminal history checks, no metal detectors, no searches and no explosives or drug dogs. With such a pass, you can walk through one of dozens of "back door" security gates.

After The Daily Telegraph report was published, Mr Vaile used Federal Parliament to name the man involved in the alleged breach as Sam Crosby, who aside from his TWU position is also president of Australian Young Labor. Mr Crosby holds an Aviation Security Identification Card and went public with legitimate safety concerns. In his attack, Mr Vaile boasted that the Sydney Airport Corporation had contacted the AFP to have Mr Crosby charged but did not say anything about whether the journalists would also face charges.

A spokeswoman for Mr Vaile yesterday said the so-called breach was referred by Sydney airport to the AFP and any subsequent action was a matter for them and the courts. The spokeswoman denied that the minister played any part in seeking the AFP to act. Vallejo and Zerna have been charged with trespassing on Commonwealth land and entering a secure area without lawful purpose. They carry total maximum fines of $1650. The AFP confirmed another two people had also been issued with court attendance notices.


Two Muslim bombers were rejected for hospital jobs in Australia -- but fine for Britain's good old NHS!

Two of the men arrested over the weekend terror attacks in Britain applied to work as doctors in Western Australian but were rejected - and at least one is related to the young Gold Coast doctor set to spend a week in secure custody.

As new links emerged in the car bomb investigation last night, a Brisbane magistrate gave police approval to detain Mohamed Haneef - arrested at Brisbane airport on Monday night on suspicion of being connected to a terrorist group - for another four days. Dr Haneef is the cousin of Sabeel Ahmed, 26, one of seven suspects detained in Britain, and may have been related to another suspect arrested when a Jeep Cherokee exploded at Glasgow airport.

The West Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association, which runs a recruitment agency in the state, last night revealed that Dr Ahmed and his brother Kafeel had applied for work but had been rejected. Dr Haneef and Sabeel Ahmed worked together in Britain. According to reports, Kafeel is also known as Khalid Ahmed, who suffered life-threatening burns when he drove the Jeep packed with petrol and gas canisters into the Glasgow terminal building.

London's The Daily Telegraph said Dr Haneef and the two Ahmed brothers were born and raised in Bangalore, India, and graduated with medical degrees from the Rajiv Gandhi University.

AMA state president Geoff Dobbs said the association had also rejected an application from Gold Coast doctor Mohammed Asif Ali, who worked with Dr Haneef and drove him to the airport before the suspect's laptop was found in his car. "We believed their qualifications and references did not meet the standards required in Western Australia," Professor Dobbs said, adding that one of the three had made repeated applications for work. The Medical Board of Western Australia last night refused to comment on the case, while its Queensland equivalent offered no fresh information.

Before leaving Britain last year, Dr Haneef left his mobile phone SIM card with Sabeel Ahmed. Reports suggest the prime suspect in the bombings, Jordanian-trained doctor Mohammed Asha, contacted Dr Haneef via email and text messages. Dr Haneef's family insist he is innocent.

The eight detained suspects are doctors or have medical links, and a British cleric claims to have been warned by an al-Qa'ida figure in Iraq in April that "those who cure you will kill you". Police found suicide notes left by the occupants of the Jeep, which allegedly indicated they intended to detonate the vehicle while still inside. Allegations emerged that Bilal Abdulla, a suspected passenger in the Jeep, was associated with a hardline Muslim group in 2004.

Police have been interviewing Dr Haneef's colleagues, some of whom trained in India and worked in Britain, amid fears of a "sleeper cell" in Australia. The case has renewed debate over overseas-trained doctors and prompted Queensland Senate candidate and One Nation founder Pauline Hanson to call for free medical degrees for Australians to bolster the system.


Australia's home-grown jihad threat

UP to 3000 young Muslims in Sydney alone are at risk of becoming radicalised by fundamentalist Islam as community leaders warn that Australia has become a "prime country" for hardliners pushing extremist ideologies. Howard government-funded research has also found there are more young Muslims per capita who are vulnerable to the influence of radical Islam in Australia than in any other western country.

The revelations came as John Howard warned that Australians needed to remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism. While Australia's security threat level would not be heightened following foiled terrorist attacks in Britain since Friday, the Prime Minister criticised those who sought to play down or dismiss the danger of an attack on home soil. "What is happening in Great Britain is a reminder to all of us that, despite all the talk on occasions from some that the threat of terrorism is exaggerated in our society, it is not, and we must remain vigilant," he said. "It is just a reminder again that we can't rest, we have to remain vigilant."

The federal Government's project looking into the radicalisation of young Muslims is headed by a former member of Mr Howard's Islamic advisory board, Mustapha Kara-Ali, who yesterday warned that Australia's mainstream community should not take comfort in the fact that a terrorist attack has not yet been carried out on our shores. He praised the efforts of national security agencies in arresting 22 alleged Melbourne- and Sydney-based terrorism suspects in November 2005. "We're finding out that per capita we've got a huge number of young Muslims (vulnerable to radicalisation) compared to other countries where there's a bigger community but yet relatively the same number of extremist youth," he said.

Mr Kara-Ali - who was given a $200,000 grant by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in June last year to investigate the radicalisation of young Muslims in Sydney's southwest - told The Australian there were up to 3000 young Sunni Muslim in that region of the state who were part of "ideological sleeper cells" on the brink of becoming radicalised. "I believe in Sydney alone there's about 2000 and 3000 young Muslims vulnerable to being radicalised," he said. "There are ideological sleeper cells waiting to be completely radicalised. Because radicalisation ... is to act upon your extremist teachings."

Mr Howard said September's APEC summit in Sydney and the World Youth Day next July would have the "inconvenience" of appropriate security, but altering or cancelling the events would be a victory for terrorists.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd yesterday called on Mr Howard to implement a recommendation in the 2005 Wheeler report regarding the screening of cargo on passenger flights after two men tried to drive a blazing Jeep through the doors of the Glasgow airport terminal on the weekend. "Terrorism represents a threat to all civilised countries including Britain, including Australia, and therefore it is incumbent upon Australia to make sure that all practical measures are in place when it comes to dealing with any terrorist threat on our shores," he said. "I would again ... implore the federal Government to examine very carefully their commitments to implement fully the Wheeler report when it comes to airport and airline security, particularly that which goes to the whole question of the proper screening of air cargo travelling on passenger jets."

Mr Kara-Ali said his project would publish a 100-page guide book - The Way Forward for Australian Muslims: A Good Practice Guide for Building Identity and Resisting Radicalisation - which is currently under review and is expected to be distributed in Sydney's southwest this month....

Mr Kara-Ali said hardline clerics in Australia were continuing to exploit community divisions and global political hotspots such as the Palestinian territories and Iraq to recruit young Muslims between the ages of 15 and 25. "Australia is a prime country for radicalisation," Mr Kara-Ali said. "Because the Muslim community in Australia is still new, there isn't a strong established Islamic order and that means the (fundamentalist) Wahabi movement can penetrate the community further and recruit more at ease than they would be able to do in the Middle East, where there is an establishment - a traditional Islamic order in place - which would resist them."

Prominent Sydney Muslim cleric Khalil Shami said yesterday an attack by Islamists on home soil would further damage Australia's Islamic community, which has grown by 69.4 per cent to 340,400 in the decade to 2006. "An attack in Australia would harm the Muslims more than anyone, because the Australian Government has opened its eyes on all the Muslims - they have their names, their addresses and know every movement of Muslims," said the imam, who is also a federal police chaplain.


The United States and Australia push freer trade

Top trade officials from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum gathered in the [Australian] northeastern city of Cairns on Thursday for two days of talks, with the near-collapse of world trade talks looming in the background. The United States and Australia want the Pacific Rim countries, which represent half of world economic output, to sign off on a statement they hope will breathe life back into the stalled global trade talks.

The U.S. trade representative, Susan Schwab, said the APEC bloc could be a powerful voice in upcoming negotiations at the World Trade Organization in Geneva. "If APEC is able to make a statement as a group, then that is likely to influence the outcome in Geneva," Schwab told reporters. Schwab said Wednesday that Washington would also push APEC toward establishing a free-trade zone around the Pacific Rim, though she said this was a long-term goal. "Our first priority here will be to advance the Doha round's prospects," Schwab said.

The latest attempt to revive talks in the so-called Doha round failed in Germany last month when the WTO's four biggest powers - the United States, European Union, Brazil and India - could not break a six-year logjam between rich and poor countries over eliminating barriers on farm produce and manufactured goods. The impasse has left in limbo a new world trade pact aimed at adding billions of dollars to the global economy and lifting millions of people out of poverty.

Schwab said she planned to use the APEC meeting to seek consensus among the forum's fast-emerging economies on how best to continue the Doha negotiations. "Will Thailand or Singapore or Chile or Peru or Mexico or Korea want to say that the very rigid, inflexible, low ambition position taken by India and Brazil represent their interests? I think the answer that is no," she said.

Brazil and India criticize Washington for failing to offer deep enough cuts in the billions of dollars of subsidies it pays annually to U.S. farmers, while the EU and Washington say the two emerging economic powers refuse to offer new market opportunities for manufacturing exports......

Trade ministers, Schwab, said, spent several hours Thursday discussing how APEC can have the best impact on the Doha round, and to ensure that new negotiating texts being drawn up at the WTO in Geneva will be ambitious.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Tree revolt

Australian farmers are chopping down thousands of trees every day in a dramatic protest against laws intended to curb the country's fast-rising greenhouse gas emissions. Fed up with government restrictions on the use of their land, farmers began a civil disobedience campaign by cutting down one tree on each property, with a threat to increase the rate of felling each day until the dispute is resolved. By the end of this week more than 128,000 trees could be lost in a single day.

The farmers claim that the nation's vegetation management laws, under which the clearing of trees has been made an offence, are leaving farmers bankrupt or rendering their farms marginal because trees are taking over open grasslands. But the Government says that the strict land-clearing laws are necessary to preserve forests to soak up carbon dioxide. Without legislation, the Government claims, vast areas would be cleared to increase acreage of arable land.

Australia has the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions and has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, claiming that the climate change pact favours Europe and puts other countries at a disadvantage.

Alistair McRoberts, a farmer in Cobar, New South Wales, who has joined the protest, said: "How would you feel if the Government regulated to turn the third and fourth bedrooms . . . into accommodation for homeless people, and they didn't pay you any compensation for doing so? "You still pay the mortgage, you still pay the rent, but that's just bad luck. We are being hoodwinked to the highest order by the Government and we need to talk about it."

Brad Bellinger, the chairman of the Australian Beef Association, said that he supported the campaign. On Monday he cut down two trees at his property in New South Wales. He said that, as the fell rate increased, farmers would turn to mechanisation to keep the protest up. "It's a matter of complete desperation," Mr Bellinger said. "By Day 10 we will need bulldozers." Steve Trueman, a Queensland agricultural marketer, who has helped to form a loose coalition of farming groups to take part in the protest, said that desperate farmers who had campaigned for five years to have the land-clearing laws changed were behind the tree-felling campaign. "We are losing tens of thousands of hectares of formerly productive land [because of] these laws," he said.

He added that one large western Queensland property of 56,000 hectares (138,000 acres) was now overrun by hop bush, a tree-like weed that is protected by law. The property once supported up to 15,000 merino sheep but now has only six head of cattle.

Illegal land clearing has been an acute problem in the large states of New South Wales and Queensland. A WWF study in New South Wales estimated that in the seven years to 2005, 80 million reptiles and 13 million birds had been wiped out because of loss of habitat. About 340,000 hectares of land were cleared in Australia in 2005.

Mr Trueman said that farmers would end their tree-felling only when the environment ministers of each state agreed to meet them and discuss the issues behind the protests. "Farmers don't want to be taking this action," he said. "Farmers need trees on their properties as wind breaks and for soil conservation." He said that if land-clearing laws were not relaxed, there would be consequences for urban dwellers in Australia. "If we don't get better outcomes for farmers Australia will face food shortages in future. It won't be because of climate change. It will be because of land-clearing laws."

John Howard, the Prime Minister, has called for a "New Kyoto" that will not harm the country's oil, coal and gas exports and bring in developing nations, such as India and China. Australia was part of the original negotiations that set targets for developed nations, but the Government later decided not to ratify the pact. New figures yesterday showed that the country was almost certain to exceed its greenhouse emissions target of 108 per cent of 1990 levels by 2012 set under Kyoto. The latest figures show that transport emissions have risen by 4 per cent in the year to May, already pushing national greenhouse gas emissions to 107.9 per cent of 1990 levels.


Herbal toxicity a threat

HERBAL remedies could cause liver failure in some people so severe they needed a transplant to survive, a leading gastro-enterologist warned yesterday. University of Queensland liver disease professor Darrell Crawford warned about the potential dangers of the over-the-counter remedies at the launch of the Australian Liver Foundation in Brisbane yesterday. He said the most common cause of herbal hepatitis was black cohosh, a herbal preparation used to treat menopausal symptoms. But he also warned about the dangers of valerian, sometimes taken to treat insomnia, and skullcap.

"I don't think there's a lot of awareness that herbal and complementary therapies can cause liver failure," Professor Crawford said. "They can be bought over the counter, non-scripted in most chemist shops or outlets."

One of the aims of the new foundation will be to increase community awareness about liver disease, which affects about two million Australians. Professor Crawford's warning comes only weeks after the death of a 62-year-old woman of Rosewood, west of Brisbane, from liver toxicity after drinking goji juice. The woman, who was taking medication for type 2 diabetes and arthritis, died after drinking about a litre of the juice in just over a month. Tests of the goji juice and from a liver biopsy are continuing to determine whether the juice may have been responsible.

Professor Crawford, the incoming president of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia, urged people who recommended natural products as alternative treatments to be aware of the potential adverse side-effects. He said herbal hepatitis could occur in people without evidence of pre-existing liver disease.

Queensland Health last week cracked down on two companies which distribute goji juice for illegally describing the product as a treatment for cancer and other diseases. The companies were directed to remove the claims from their promotional material because of breaches of the Food Standards Code. Professor Crawford said he was also concerned about the increase in the number of Australians, including children, with liver diseases directly linked to obesity.


Nature's coral cull

So it's not global warming after all?

SCIENTISTS have discovered that corals can be wiped out by nothing more sinister than an extremely low tide coinciding with a clear, sunny day. It means Mother Nature herself can prompt coral bleaching and dieback - a natural disaster. In a paper published in the Marine Biology journal, Ken Anthony and Ailsa Kerswell, of James Cook University and the University of Queensland, said severe "sun-dry tides" rarely occurred because they depended on the alignment of many natural extremes. These included a combination of sun, moon and chance weather and could leave coral colonies bleached and devastated.

"Really low tides, where the local sea level gets to its extreme low for the year, can occur at different times of the day," Dr Anthony said. "In years where this occurs during the middle of the day when the sunlight is at its most intense and the reefs are almost fully exposed, there is a real risk of severe coral stress and death in the shallow reef zone." Such an event occurred in September 2005 when Dr Anthony and Dr Kerswell were taking JCU students on a field trip to Orpheus Island, east of Ingham in north Queensland. Their observations led them to investigate mysterious coral deaths on the island - the extent of which had not been recorded on the Great Barrier Reef.

"At first we thought it was a major outbreak of disease," Dr Kerswell said. Having established that it was not disease, the pair looked through records of tidal patterns over the previous eight years and analysed the risk of corals being out of the water and exposed to the sun. They found that in September 2005 the Reef suffered from an extremely low tide during the daytime. Dr Anthony said such an event might have been nature's way of culling corals that were taking over.


State government slack on doctor standards

The New South Wales Government has been accused of being slow to act on a plan to tighten national scrutiny of foreign doctors. The Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association says it has developed a national agreement, including a set of standards, to assess the clinical abilities of all foreign doctors. But the association says that the other states are unwilling to sign off on the new agreement, because NSW Health is dragging its feet.

The association's president, Andrew Schwartz, says he believes that NSW does not want to join the agreement because it will interfere with its ability to recruit doctors. "The NSW public health system recruits most of its doctors from overseas and rates them as occupational trainees and they are actually not not doing any trainee work," he said. "They are just doing ordinary service work." "Because of the wording of what they are called, they avoid that assessment process that everybody else has to go through by the NSW Medical Board."


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Queensland doctor made calls to UK terror suspects

A GOLD Coast doctor arrested at Brisbane Airport over alleged links to UK terror attacks told colleagues he was leaving the country to be with his wife and baby. Gold Coast Hospital colleagues of Mohamed Haneef, 27, said the junior doctor was "in a hurry to get home" and used the birth of his child as a reason to be excused from duties.

Australian Federal Police investigators last night were also questioning Haneef's former Liverpool flatmate and Gold Coast Hospital colleague Dr Mohammed Asif Ali. Dr Ali was freed this morning, and no further action was expected, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said.

When Haneef was arrested by a joint AFP and Queensland Police Service operation on Monday night - becoming the eighth person arrested in relation to last week's British terror attacks - he had a one-way ticket to India. Six of the eight suspects are doctors of a similar age to Haneef - the perfect cover, experts said yesterday, for terrorists operating in Western nations. AFP investigators are believed to have found correspondence and evidence of telephone communication between Haneef and some of the British suspects.

Raids were yesterday carried out at Gold Coast Hospital and several southeast Queensland addresses, including Haneef's Southport unit. Police seized items but would not confirm their nature. A Brisbane magistrate last night allowed AFP investigators to detain Haneef for a further 24 hours. Police allege Haneef was ``connected to a terrorist group'', AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty said, while Ali was helping them with inquiries.

Prime Minister John Howard insisted there was no increased terrorism threat to Australia. He urged the public to keep an open mind about the pair being questioned, saying neither had been charged with any offence.

Colleagues and neighbours yesterday painted a picture of a mild-mannered junior doctor who did nothing to raise alarm. Haneef received his medical degree in India, but was working in Liverpool when he applied for a job in Queensland last year via an ad placed by the Beattie Government in the British Medical Journal. His move to Australia on a 457 Visa was sponsored by Queensland Health.

Haneef told colleagues on Monday he was going home for seven to 10 days, despite not having any scheduled holidays on his roster between June 4 and August 10. "He was in a hurry to get home," said the doctor. "He didn't mention anything to me about the leave so maybe it was a quick decision to go to India." Mohammed Asif Ali, the second Indian doctor detained, had just returned from a long holiday in India. ``When he was going to India there was no mention of getting married but when he came back he brought Indian sweets for everybody and possibly half of the hospital knew about his marriage,'' the doctor said. Ali apparently returned to Australia without his wife, but immediately applied for a visa for her.

Haneef worked in Gold Coast Hospital's oncology unit and Ali was in the emergency department. "I'm shocked, they are quite nice guys actually, very softly spoken," the doctor said. "I'm not sure if they would think about such things as terrorism. They are very friendly."

Haneef lived near the hospital in a nondescript unit. According to his unit manager Steve Bosher, he spoke "perfect English" with a British accent and was always polite. "There was no hint of anything like this terrorism stuff," he said. "The only time we saw him was when we passed him in the foyer or the stairwell, or when he wanted something fixed in his unit....

Authorities said last night the two doctors had quality medical qualifications, were specialist trainees with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and had worked at the Gold Coast hospital since late last year. In Liverpool, Halton Hospital confirmed Haneef had occasionally worked as a locum there ``as and when needed". His last shift was in 2005. The hospital was checking its records for links to other suspects.

RACP chief executive Craig Patterson said the men's qualifications has been vetted. "I have faith in their medical and educational qualifications," Mr Craig Patterson. Haneef is understood to have graduated in medicine from Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in 2002 and Ali from Mysore University in 2001. "What's scary ... about this, if these people are found to be guilty, is they are good quality doctors," Mr Patterson said.

Any potential immigrant to Australia must undergo stringent character checks by the Department of Immigration. They will fail that test if ``they have a substantial criminal record'' or ``they have, or have had, an association with an individual, group or organisation suspected of having been, or being, involved in criminal conduct''.


Suspect watched for a day

FEDERAL police were watching terror suspect Mohamed Haneef for 24 hours before his dramatic arrest at Brisbane International Airport late on Monday. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said yesterday that the British tip-off came through over the weekend, believed to be late on Sunday. It is understood Haneef worked at Liverpool's Halton Hospital with one of the terror suspects, who had been using Haneef's British mobile telephone chip and internet access since he left for Australia last September.

That suspect was also an Indian-born doctor, who had to be subdued by police with a stun gun when he was arrested over the weekend. Federal Government sources last night said they believed Haneef had recently spoken by phone to several men charged over last week's botched terrorist plots in London and Glasgow - a call cited as a key reason for British police to want Haneef's arrest.

Gold Coast Hospital sources said staff had remarked yesterday about people "hanging around" throughout Monday - in hindsight, probably undercover police watching Haneef. He was arrested when he made his way to the airport for his attempted dash from the country with a one-way ticket to India via Malaysia.

Haneef was then questioned for several hours, after which Federal Police swooped on two Gold Coast addresses. At 7.30am yesterday they arrived at the nondescript block of 56 units in Southport where Haneef lived, seizing computer discs and documents from the sparsely furnished No.15 - a top-floor, two-bedroom unit. Police left behind a copy of the Koran and other religious books, according to the building's manager.

Haneef had not been on any Australian terrorist watch list before the weekend tip-off from British authorities. Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said no explosive material had been found during the searches. The resident managers of Haneef's building, Steve and Meryl Bosher, expressed shock that the "quiet gentleman" and "perfect tenant" could be tied up with the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow....


First detention under new law

MOHAMED Haneef is the first person to be detained without charge under Australia's tough terrorism laws. Yesterday Australian Federal Police seized computer equipment and a mobile phone used by Dr Haneef. They executed search warrants on his Gold Coast home, his car, and at the Gold Coast Hospital where he worked as a registrar.

The AFP also won a court application to extend its normal four hours of questioning so it could detain Dr Haneef without charge for another 20 hours of direct contact. It was the first use of the law, which can only be used when investigating terrorism offences, since it was introduced in 2004. The AFP is able to use the legislation to detain suspects without charge to prevent an imminent terrorist act or to preserve evidence relating to a recent terrorist act. It has to convince a judicial officer there are reasonable grounds to believe the suspect will commit a terrorist act or has been involved in planning a terrorist act.

The legislation allows the AFP to also apply for "dead time", not included in the 24-hour questioning period. That dead time can include sleep for the suspect or suspension of questioning while further investigations are carried out or search warrants executed. The AFP can stretch detention of terrorist suspects without charge for several days by repeatedly applying for dead time.

It is believed the AFP resorted to using its extended detention powers for the first time because it didn't have enough evidence to charge Dr Haneef.


Scanner risks "exposed"

The article below is complete rubbish based on unexamined myths. It has been known for around a century that low doses of ionizing radiation are hormetic (beneficial). A lot of people on the outskirts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the A-bombs fell lived and are living to ripe old ages. And both cities are still major industrial centres

GENERAL practitioners are exposing their patients to high doses of radiation, and potentially cancer, by ordering unnecessary CT scans, a study has found. Researchers reviewed 50 requests for computed tomography scans of the chest at two private radiology practices in Cairns between August 2004 and March 2005. About two-thirds were considered inappropriate and could have been avoided or replaced by tests with lower radiation exposure, they said.

Cairns Base Hospital respiratory physician Graham Simpson, one of the study authors, said CT scans exposed patients to 400 times the radiation of an X-ray. "GPs are requesting these because they're scared of getting sued. In the current climate, everyone wants to do every hi-tech test they can so that nobody can say that they didn't do everything," Dr Simpson said. "All the GPs I've spoken to have been absolutely horrified when they've learnt what the dose of radiation involved is. "Nobody ever really thinks that that can have a consequence of causing cancer down the track but they should."

Medicare Australia statistics show that more than 235,000 CT scans of the chest were performed by private radiology practices in 2004-05. That excludes those performed in public hospitals and those billed to the Veterans Affairs Department. "Assuming that 70 per cent of requests (the average of the estimates from the two radiology practices) come from GPs and that two-thirds are inappropriate, this means that there may be an annual cost to Australian taxpayers of over $35 million for unnecessary CT examinations of the chest," the authors wrote in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.

They said the International Commission on Radiological Protection had estimated an overall risk of one fatal cancer for every 2000 to 3000 CT scans of the chest performed. That translates to about 40 fatal cancers a year in Australia. Dr Simpson said the figure did not include avoidable CT scans being ordered for other parts of the body.

In a corresponding editorial in the MJA, radiologists Richard Mendelson and Conor Murray said specialists were aware that diagnostic imaging was often inappropriately used. "Perhaps up to a third of radiological examinations are totally or partially unnecessary," they wrote. However, they said prohibiting referrals for CT scans by GPs would result in unacceptable stress on specialist services, long waiting times and, probably, increased costs. The radiologists called for more education for GPs and for specialists to take on a wider consultative role.


Another Greenie myth bites the dust

A TRUCE has been called in the nappy [diaper] war, and neither side won. For years, the environmental credentials of cloth nappies have been trumpeted, much to the despair of guilty parents using disposables. However, new research from Britain shows cloth and disposables have exactly the same impact on the environment. A four-year Environment Agency research project found the impact of burying disposable nappies in landfill sites was matched by the energy consumed and greenhouse gases generated by washing cloth nappies or transporting them to laundries.

The Australian Consumers Association agrees, saying it's a drain on water to wash cloth nappies, but disposables use more energy and create landfill. About 95 per cent of Australian parents use disposable nappies, which make up about 1 per cent of the 22 million tonnes of landfill waste each year. Non-biodegradable nappies can take up to 400 years to breakdown.

The findings of the UK study were welcomed yesterday by leading mainstream disposable manufacturer Huggies. "Parents can now make a guilt-free choice based on other important factors, such as performance, cost and convenience," a spokesman said.

But Victorian parents choosing cloth insist they're better for babies and the environment. Tania Avtarovski, owner of an online cloth nappy store, has seen business triple since last October. She now sells hundreds of nappies a week from her Taylors Lakes home. "I say I use cloth nappies and people cringe. They think it's all about terry towelling and stains, but it's really very easy. There's no soaking," she said. "Everything is breathable and so comfortable."


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Argy-bargy sets scene for Rudd IR backflip?

The editorial from "The Australian" below argues that the Labor Party's scrap with unions is really a smokescreen -- to precede an announcement of more responsible workplace policies. One hopes the prophecy is correct

The faux antagonism that now characterises relations between the economically conservative federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd and the ideologically opposite trade union leadership continues apace. It has reached the point where the tone of the insults now stands in inverse proportion to the size of the dispute. Most of all, it is doing Mr Rudd no harm at all to be seen calling union leaders names to demonstrate that he is tough enough to keep them in line. NSW Labor Council secretary John Robertson let the cat out of the bag when he told union supporters Mr Rudd should be given his head because he would do what he was told after the election. Mr Robertson reportedly told the faithful that while Labor might do a few more backflips union members should focus their anger and frustration on the Government, not Mr Rudd.

Mr Rudd's response that Mr Robertson had spoken with the swaggering tone of someone who was full of himself and that he should take a cold shower makes good political theatrics. Faced with a sustained Government assault that he is in the pocket of union heavies, what Mr Rudd needs most is to be seen to be muscling up to organised labour. Getting tough with Dean Mighell -- the Electrical Trades Union secretary who was caught on tape justifying standover tactics to force employers to agree to pattern-bargaining pay rises, bragging about assaulting employers during strikes and suggesting workplace inspectors were pedophiles -- was a fair cop. So too was the expulsion of West Australian building union head Joe McDonald, who was filmed swearing at a building site manager.

The way for Mr Rudd to deal with Mr Robertson is not to talk about cold showers but to come clean about how the ALP's industrial relations policy will work if the party wins office. Mr Rudd's real weakness is in not being clear about what he intends to do. With the Government about to force employers to give the nation's 10 million workers a leaflet outlining their rights under the newly enacted safety net for lower paid workers, Labor must demonstrate it has a better alternative that will not risk the economy.

Mr Rudd says Labor will continue talks with the mining industry but appears to have recommitted Labor to abolishing all Australian Workplace Agreements. This is on the basis that 50 per cent of employees within the mining industry are on common law agreements, 30 per cent on collective agreements and 16 per cent on AWAs. Mr Rudd says Labor will deliver an IR system that provides flexibility for the mining industry in both common law and collective agreements.

The Australian accepts that collective agreements may be a beneficial safety net for low-paid workers. But while we accept that collective bargaining should be a right for those who seek it, we fail to see the need for intrusion into the lives of those who do not, or of highly paid workers who would prefer an individual non-union agreement, whatever it may be called. This applies to all industries, not just mining. To us, the Government's no-disadvantage test for workers earning less than $75,000 a year appears to be a reasonable compromise. Perhaps Labor could set a level, at say twice average weekly earnings, above which workers could opt to be on AWAs.

The bottom line is that behind the argy-bargy, Mr Robertson is clearly setting his union colleagues up to accept that Labor will soon be moving to a more sensible position on industrial relations. Mr Rudd still has a job to do to convince voters that he can be trusted to keep union demands for another backflip at bay should he win the keys to the Lodge.


New test detects DNA damage

This test appears to be well-validated but would appear to detect gross problems only. The claims about the healing powers of vitamins should be taken with a large grain of salt

A TEST for DNA damage that claims to counter diseases such as cancer, by helping people identify when they are not getting enough essential nutrients in their diet, was made available to the public yesterday. The test, which has been developed by the CSIRO, costs $650. However, independent experts caution it should not be seen as a complete summary of health risks, nor a reliable way of telling whether someone will develop cancer in later life. Federal Ageing Minister Christopher Pyne launched the test, which is available through a private Adelaide-based clinic called Reach 100.

The test, which is endorsed by organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency to check for DNA damage caused by radiation, looks for damage in white blood cells. DNA damage occurs naturally with ageing as cells make mistakes in copying the genetic code as they divide. This tendency to make mistakes was likened by test inventor and CSIRO principal scientist Michael Fenech to "a photocopier running out of toner". Dr Fenech said the damage could be limited - and to some extent, reversed - if individuals ensured they had an adequate intake of nine nutrients known to affect DNA damage.

The nutrients are: the B-group vitamins riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenate (B5), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12); two forms of vitamin A, retinol and beta-carotene; and vitamin E.

John Barlow, deputy director of the National Ageing Research Institute, cautioned that although the test had been widely validated, the DNA damage detected by the test was large-scale. "This test won't find a mutation in the BRCA gene, which has been known to cause some breast cancers, and it won't find a mutation in the p53 gene ... involved in cell death, and causes cell growth and cancer."


Yeasty discovery

AN essential ingredient in two Aussie favourites - Vegemite and beer - could hold the key to unlocking a cure for cancer. Scientists have found the yeast cell is similar to the human cell, pioneering the way for cancer treatments, according to Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Sir Paul Nurse. "The way in which you control cell division in yeast is exactly the same way in which you control it in humans," Sir Paul said. "This means that we can now use yeast to study the processes that go wrong in cancer."

In Melbourne for the 23rd International Conference on Yeast Genetics and Molecular Biology, Sir Paul said yeast could also help in finding remedies for other human diseases such as diabetes. "Because we can work much more efficiently with yeast we can make tremendous progress," he said.

Sir Paul shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with two other scientists for his work in identifying and isolating the cyclin dependent kinase gene, known as CDC2, crucial in cell division in yeast and humans. The discovery has helped lessen the need for experiments on humans and animals, and has enabled investigations to be conducted much faster, Sir Paul said. Sir Paul will speak at a free lecture on Friday at the Lower Melbourne Town Hall, from 12.30-2pm.


Is there anything that is NOT caused by global warming?

Just a few months ago, the "drought" in Southern Australia (and in England) was being blamed on global warming. Now that there is extensive flooding (again both in England and Southern Australia) it's floods that are being caused by global warming. Consistency and logic are clearly not Greenie virtues. The Australian nonsense below comes from the Leftist Premier of the State of Victoria

VICTORIA faces more bushfires and increasingly severe floods in the future because of climate change, Premier Steve Bracks says. As residents in Gippsland, in the state's south-east, mop up after devastating floods this week, Mr Bracks said today that evidence from climate change experts showed that extreme weather would become the norm.

"The evidence, which has been given to our government by the CSIRO, shows that we will have more bushfire events per year as every year goes on,'' Mr Bracks told Southern Cross Broadcasting. "That's more days over 35 degrees celsius with strong northerly winds, and that's because of the climate heating up and climate change effects,'' he said.

"The same with floods. We probably won't have more floods, but the severity of those when they occur will be greater. "And that is the product of climate change. "We have to prepare for that.''

Insurance assessors are still determining the financial extent of damage wrought by the floods while the cost to the Victorian government to repair civic infrastructure alone could top $40 million. The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) expects to come up with a total damage bill in the next few days.

"The reality is that this is as big a flood that we have ever had in that region, certainly as big as 1998,'' [Only as big as 1998! Surely we can do better than that!] Mr Bracks said. "We've already had some 200 householders who've submitted to the government for relief, we expect that to go even further.''


Speech in Jerusalem to Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce

By Alexander Downer, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs

Minister Ezra, Professor Stanley Fischer, Gurion Meltzer, Moshe Kaveh, the President of Bar Ilan University and other distinguished guests here tonight. I can only say that tonight is a very important evening for me and I feel very touched by the great honour that's been bestowed on me by Bar Ilan University. I feel that it's exciting on the one hand but I feel very humbled by it as well - perhaps a little undeserving. I did get an honours degree at university but my wife says to me that "Darling, you're now a doctor but you've not done a stroke of work towards a thesis". When I graduated as an undergraduate I thought that was enough university and it was time to go out and make money and I failed at that and went into politics [laughter]. Anyway, I've come full circle and now I'm a doctor and so I appreciate the great honour.

A lot of people ask me why I seem to be so committed to Israel - I mean, I'm a Christian, not Jewish and although I remember staying here in this hotel about three years ago ... and I think I could almost be described as an honorary Jew with a lot of the views that I hold about the issues that Jewish people confront. But a lot of people do ask me why I am so committed to Israel. And I think there are a variety of explanations for that. One of them is a bit historic and I think some of you have heard me say this before. When I was a child at school and subsequently when I went to university in England, for no particular reason, Jewish people seemed to befriend me as some other people did as well [laughter], but I seemed to have quite a lot of Jewish friends.

When I was at university I shared a house with four people. One of them was a New Zealander, one of them was Jewish - her name is Judy - and a Scotsman. This was in 1972-73, that sort of time, the significance being 1973. And Judy had a cousin come and stay with her from Israel. And it was at the time, just as the cousin came, the Yom Kippur War broke out. And I remember this just as though it were yesterday, going down into our little kitchenette - imagine a student's kitchen how completely disgusting it was, with washing up not done for about four days, just a complete mess really, and we ate such disgusting food as well. Judy's sitting there in her dressing gown with her cousin from Israel and the cousin from Israel had tears in her eyes. They were both listening to BBC radio, to the details of the Yom Kippur War and you'll remember better than I do how in the early days it wasn't going so well. This cousin of Judy's brother was in the Israeli army and - you know all of this so much better than I do.

But I was tremendously struck by the power of the moment. I was tremendously struck by the Jewish people, as in the Israelis in this case, under siege and so unreasonably in my view - now some people will criticise me for that - but I think completely unreasonably under siege in the way that they were and suffering so much yet again after all the wars that they'd been through. And, I don't know, it seemed to me that somebody had sometimes to stick up for the Israeli people and as the years have gone by the cause of Israel has, in many countries around the world, become decreasingly fashionable. I don't think there's any doubt about that. It hasn't changed my mind that it's become decreasingly fashionable, in fact I've never claimed to be fashionable, I've just tried to do what I thought was the right thing.

So for those sort of historic reasons, I've had a strong feeling for Israel. One of the other reasons I have a strong feeling for Israel - when I come here and it's forty degrees it reminds me of Adelaide, it's like going home. When I come here and look at Israeli politics it also reminds me of home. The interesting way that Israelis conduct their politcs, the same robust - dare I say it - slightly rude way in which your politicians deal with each other, the volatility of your politics - a bit more volatile than ours. Yes, you've had more Foreign Ministers, as Stanley was pointing out, than we have over the last eleven years, but nevertheless the volatility, the confrontation, the partisanship of your politics is very familiar to us.

Of course in a broader sense Israel shares so many of the core values that Australia has as well. Australia is the world's sixth oldest continuingly operating democracy; its democratic roots are very deep. Israel is such a vibrant democracy as well, it's one of the great heartlands of modern democracy as well - the passionate belief in the freedom of the individual that we have in our own society. There's something else about Israel that Australia shares as well and that is that your country seems to me to be a kind of brutally egalitarian society and we kind of like that in Australia. Airs and graces don't go down very well in our country - that's why Europeans think that we're very noisy and perhaps a touch common [laughter]. But it's just that we're very egalitarian. And I think that Israelis suffer from - if you could call it that - the same thing. So there are those great sort of bonds of kinship, I guess, that we have.

We have in Australia a wonderful Jewish community about 100,000 strong. They are just enormous contributors to our country. Our country would not be the great country it is if not for our small but incredibly successful Jewish community in the professions, in business, not so much in politics in our country but there have been from time to time in politics - the first Australian-born Governor General of Australia was Jewish and we've had two Governors General - I think, two - who have been Jewish. Jewish people have been an enormously important part of our society - continue to be - and we're very proud of that as well.

But I suppose on top of all of those things, in very recent years we have kind of been bound together yet again because of the way the world has evolved. I suppose for Jewish people one of the most defining experiences is what happened to them in the 1930s and 1940s. So for Jewish people they understand more than anyone else on earth the pain of the confrontation between liberal democrats, social democrats on the one side and fascism and Nazism on the other side and totalitarianism. After that we had the confrontation between liberal and social democrats and Communism. And I think when we got to 1990-91, the Berlin wall was torn down, Communism collapsed, it became a barren and bankrupt ideology. The Soviet Union itself broke up, we thought it was, to use Francis Fukuyama's phrase, the end of world history, meaning that the great ideological confrontations had finished. We thought that we could pocket a 'peace dividend' as they used to say in the early 1990s, we could put away our arms and spend that money on the things we'd truly love to spend it on - health and education, services and so on.

But then we were very brutally reminded, as time went on, that in fact the great conflicts were not over. That the world still faces a great conflict, which I often define as a conflict between moderate people, between tolerant people, between caring people on the one hand and between extremists, and the intolerant and the uncaring on the other hand. And the intolerance of a minority is an intolerance that causes great death and great suffering.

Now I ask myself what should we do about those who are intolerant, those who have ideologies which they wish to impose on others, and those who are prepared to cause suffering to others for the cause of an ideology because the ideology is more important than human life or it's more important than any individual, that in fact individuals don't count, the corporate ideology is what counts? And this is what we see from the Islamic extremists from, in our part of the world, in south east Asia, from Jemaah Islamiyah, the Abu Sayyaf group, you see from Al Qaeda, and you see to some extent from both Hamas and Hizbollah right around you here in Israel.

Some people said that the best way to deal with Nazism was through a policy that was very fashionable and very popular in the 1940s called appeasement. And we all know in this room that that policy was the wrong policy. And yet it's so often repeated, despite the fact that we know it's the wrong way to deal with extremists we're still inclined to want to repeat it. So when it came to the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism and the challenges that laid down some people thought, "Well that's the way the world is, we just have to find ways of accommodating it".

A lot of you won't agree with me here, because you can see I don't mind always whether people agree or not, but I reckon one of the great speeches of the 20th century, or at least the second half of the 20th century, was Ronald Reagan's speech in 1987 in Berlin where he said, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall". The importance of that speech was that it was a speech where Reagan was saying, "I want to confront this type of regime, I want to confront this totalitarianism, and I want to defeat it". And he and his successors and a number of other people - there were a lot of people involved in that victory, but they did.

When it's come to Islamic extremism and terrorism, there are still people who think we shouldn't confront it, and we shouldn't try to defeat it, and we should try to negotiate our way out of it. I'm often reminded of the phrase that Osama bin Laden uses - you want to watch these people's videos - just as it was important to read Mein Kampf, so it is important to look at and take seriously what people like Osama bin Laden say. And he says the West is a weak horse. That if you keep confronting the weak horse for long enough eventually it will walk away, that it won't be able to sustain for a long time a campaign against extremism and terrorism. And when I think about the debates that there are - the debates there are about what to do with Hamas or with Hizbollah and Al Qaeda - what should we be doing in Iraq and Afghanistan - should we let the Taliban take over and just go back home, go back to bed and have a cry at night.

Or, in our case, should we and the Americans and the British and others just walk out of Iraq and leave people like Al Qaeda and other extremists to play merry havoc in that country. Imagine what that would mean for you nearby, here in Israel. And people say that's the easy way, that's the way we should do it. I keep thinking to myself, "It would be quite easy", and sometimes I think it might give us a bit of a boost in the polls if we were to do that sort of thing at home. And then I think, "What will it mean for my children? What will it mean for future generations? What will it mean for you here in this country?" if in the end we show weakness, if we are weak horses, if we run away. Will that mean these people themselves will disappear, will their ideology vanish? Will they become our friends as a result of us being weak horses? I think the answer to that is perfectly obvious. And therefore when we think about confronting this great challenge that we have today, that you have of course right here in the forefront of it, and that we have to some lesser extent in south east Asia.

When we think about it we need to work with people who are like-minded, and we need to show a sturdy courage in continuing to confront it. And I don't just mean a physical courage, and it certainly requires on the part of many people that above all and, I'm sorry to say, very often very sad sacrifice. But also for politicians, a lot of political courage as well to continue to make their arguments in their own countries. And some have done that and you know I've admired those people who have been prepared to do that in their countries, sometimes in the teeth of public opposition.

So I say all those things here in Israel on this wonderful evening here tonight, I think our countries have joined together in that great struggle that we have. And what I want to see is an Israel that can live in peace, of course, in peace with its neighbours with two states there, with the State of Israel entirely secure. You don't want to have to spend ten per cent of your GDP, as we were discussing, on defence, but much less, and with a Palestinian state too which is a secure and a prosperous place and a prosperous neighbour and a good neighbour for Israel. And we want to see a world where people are able to live in freedom and democracy and I think Australia and Israel and a number of other countries know that can't be achieved for free - we do have to show strength if we are going to achieve those things. And you know those of us who believe in those things - let's try to stick together, let's not argue too much and fall out with each other.

So, it's always an enormous pleasure for me for all of those reasons and I've talked about them at great length to be in Israel and to be here in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a spectacular city. I always say to people there are about 10 cities you have to see before you die and one of those cities is Jerusalem. It's a wonderful city, a controversial city, a very divided city, but a magnificent city. I think Sydney actually - although a lot of people here come from Melbourne - [laughter] don't worry, I'm from Adelaide, the city with the greatest football team [laughter] - but I think, just to look at, Sydney is one of the 10 cities you have to see. So those of you who are Israelis who have never been to Sydney you must make sure you at least go there and perhaps go to Adelaide as well [laughter]. It has quite a small Jewish community, Adelaide, but a very good one.

So I'd like to, if you'll just let me, say once more what an enormous honour it is to be here this evening. It's a wonderful feeling to receive from Bar Ilan University the honorary doctorate, I appreciate that enormously, and I look forward to coming back before too long, after our election - confidently, in the same position I've got here today [applause]. The one thing that I definitely want on the record, Professor Kaveh, is that I would like to make a commitment to going to Bar Ilan University and giving a lecture there about some of the things that I believe in. So, thank you very much.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A big wait in the public hospital system of Victoria

Crippled woman faces 3-year surgery wait

A PENSIONER who cares for her invalid husband while hobbling around on crutches faces a three-year wait for ankle surgery. Jennifer Haffenden, 65, says she is barely able to care for herself because of an excruciating arthritic ankle. She thought help was in sight, until she looked more closely at her appointment card for the orthopaedic specialist at Maroondah Hospital. "I thought it was for this year and I nearly turned up before I realised it was June 2008," she said. By that time, the Croydon pensioner will have been waiting 14 months. She is then likely to be put on another waiting list for surgery, for up to 18 months.

"It's very short sighted because the longer people have to wait for an operation, the worse the problem gets and the more it's going to cost," she said. Mrs Haffenden said her ankle had degenerated over the past three years and she resorted to crutches six months ago because she "hit the roof" in pain every time she put weight on it. Out of desperation, she went to an orthopaedic specialist as a private patient a few months ago.

The specialist told her she could operate within two weeks. But with the bill expected to hit $4000, Mrs Haffenden was forced to go on the 14-month waiting list to see the same specialist as a public patient. Mrs Haffenden also has Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes vertigo and vomiting, and has heart problems. Husband Roy, 79, is recovering from recent back surgery, is in a back brace and has serious heart problems.

Mrs Haffenden said that as well as caring for her husband, she also helped her 91-year-old mother, who lives in a retirement home. "It is really very difficult," she said. "The Government can find money for non-essential things, like millions of dollars for sport or giving themselves a pat-on-the-back pay rise, and I don't see why they can't give more money to hospitals," she said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said Mrs Haffenden's case was a typical example of the falling standards of health care. However a Government spokesman said significant commitments had been made to reduce waiting lists and speed up service delivery. This included funding an extra 72,000 outpatient appointments in this year's budget as part of a $324 million promise to provide 200,000 new appointments. A spokesman for Eastern Health, which runs Maroondah Hospital, said he was not aware of Mrs Haffenden's case but urged her to return to her GP if she was unhappy or believed her condition had changed. Her GP could then reassess her case and liaise with the hospital about finding a more suitable appointment. [Translation: You CAN get prompt treatment but it takes publicity]


XDRs: Deadly bugs hit Australian public hospitals

A NEW breed of killer bacteria is invading Australian hospitals, endangering patients and forcing staff to revert to old-fashioned infection control measures. [About time! Proper aseptic procedures should never have been abandoned. Neglect of them has created the present problem] The mutant infections - dubbed XDR for "extreme drug resistance" - cannot be treated with available medicines. Experts say it will take at least 10 years to develop new drugs to kill the virulent bugs, which can result in blood poisoning and death. In the meantime, Australian hospitals have no option but to "return to the pre-antibiotic era" in an attempt to stem the infections' spread.

Professor David Paterson, consultant infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, revealed the extent of the XDR crisis in the latest edition of the journal Critical Care Medicine. "The XDR problem is here," he said. "We are returning to the pre-antibiotic era where some infections are untreatable. "Strict infection control practices must now be routinely enforced and antibiotics that are still helpful should be prudently and optimally used."

He told The Sunday Mail that drug companies had failed to develop new antibiotics [With so much of their time, attention and money devoted to fending off attacks from predatory lawyers, is it any wonder?] to combat XDR infections because it was not profitable enough. It will become a much bigger issue in the future, he warned.

XDR bacteria, which can be passed through human contact, are forecast to be a massive threat to intensive care units. Critically ill patients with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable. Staff will be forced to adopt stricter handwashing, disinfection and protective measures. "Prevention is of paramount importance," Prof Paterson said.

E-coli and other common bacteria that cause pneumonia and urinary or respiratory infections are among those that have developed resistance to various modern antibiotics. They would have been treatable in the past, before mutating into their more resilient forms. Prof Jeffrey Lipman, co-author of the study and the hospital's director of intensive care, said the unrestricted use of antibiotics had fuelled the growth of highly resistant bacteria. There had not yet been any confirmed deaths from XDRs "but we are worried about it," he said. Hospitals needed to be more aware of the XDR risk and take preventive action, he said.

Disease specialists are now experimenting with combinations of older types of antibiotics, which were considered too strong to be used in the past. Golden staph, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, has become a leading cause of post-surgery infections in hospitals around the world in recent years.


Western Australia clinging grimly to its "postmodern" school assessment system

Thus giving teachers a useless extra workload

The State School Teachers Union says teachers are struggling to meet the conflicting demands of a federally-imposed marking system which requires students to be graded from A to E. The union's President Mike Keely says teachers are being forced to combine conflicting directives from the Federal and State Governments which are simply incompatible. Under the Federal system teachers are forced to award students traditional A to E grades, while the State Government requires levels-based assessment through grading charts.

Mr Keely says in many cases politicians are enforcing systems without any idea of their implications. "We are now coping with the Federal Minister's A-B-C and D system and E system, even for students in year one which is absurd, and we are also coping with a levels system which for many teachers in the state is still problematic," he said.

He says the two systems are simply incompatible and the union is doing all it can to change them, but teachers are working hard to overcome the challenges within the marking system. "I have a great deal of trust in teachers. Teachers have always been able to say to students look you will do well if you pick up this course, this course and this course, in year 11 and on to year 12, we are very good at that, we have been doing it for a long time, we will tell students and parents if necessary that grade doesn't give a good indication."


Carbon trading proposals in Australia: A critique

The Government should consider other options before it burdens our economy with emissions taxes

The Howard Government is keen to show it is serious about the problem of human-induced climate change, although the debate is still raging. To this end, the Prime Minister has announced that he is moving to establish a national carbon-emissions trading system by the end of 2012, as recommended by a taskforce he appointed last December.

Separately, the state and territory Labor governments have set up a national emissions-trading taskforce, which is investigating a scheme for emissions-trading by the end of 2010. The aim of these proposals is to put a price on the emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, with a view to progressive reductions in the years ahead.

The Federal Government proposal, as set down by the taskforce, envisages the establishment of a "cap and trade" system, in which the government determines limits on greenhouse gas emissions (that is, sets a target or cap) and issues tradable emissions permits up to this limit. Beyond that, they must be bought from the government, i.e., they are a tax. Businesses must hold enough permits to cover the greenhouse gas emissions they produce each year. Under the taskforce recommendations, permits can be bought and sold, with the price determined by the supply of and demand for permits. Similar schemes are in operation in Europe and in parts of the United States. They are also proposed for Canada and New Zealand.

The European Union (EU) describes its Emission Trading Scheme, established in 2005, as the largest multinational greenhouse gas emission scheme in the world. It is the centre of the EU's campaign to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It is also a costly failure. The Climate Action Network, an umbrella group of some 350 environmental organisations, of which 100 are in Europe, issued a report which stated that only two of the 25 EU states (UK and Germany) asked participating industries to reduce emissions below historic levels, and found that in the 15 old EU member states as a whole, allocations were 4.3 per cent higher than the base year. The British reached their target by closing down the domestic coal industry and importing from abroad, while Germany cut greenhouse emissions by closing down dirty old Soviet-era power stations in Eastern Germany.

In May 2006, when several countries revealed that their industries had been allocated more allowances than they could use, trading prices crashed from about 30 euros ($50)/tonne to 10 ($17)/tonne, and have since declined further to 4 ($7) in January 2007, and below 1 ($1.60) in February 2007. Countries like Sweden have committed themselves to cutting CO2 emissions by closing older coal-fired power stations and building nuclear power plants. Most countries in the European Union have failed to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitment to cut CO2 emissions. Those which have "reached" the target have usually done so through what are known as "international credits", that is, by purchasing emission permits from overseas to bring themselves within the Kyoto targets. Another method of purchasing carbon credits is in bankrolling reforestation programs, which are supposed to "lock up" CO2 in trees. In fact, trees' absorption of CO2 is minimal in their early years, and eventually, when the tree dies, the CO2 is returned to the atmosphere.

All of this basically is a manipulation to make it appear that countries are achieving measurable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions when in fact they are not. Reading the report of the Prime Minister's Task Group on emissions-trading, the EU scheme is described in glowing terms. It said, "The European Union has committed to meeting its Kyoto reduction target and has introduced a domestic emissions trading scheme to that end. In March 2007, the European Union adopted a package of new climate change and energy security measures." Its failings were not even mentioned.

There can be little doubt that the taskforce's objective was to solve a political problem rather than an environmental one, and to minimise the potential damage to Australian industry, particularly the export industries. If Australia and other countries wished to preserve fossil fuel resources as well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions, they would be looking at encouraging nuclear power and the use of biofuels, which recycle atmospheric CO2 through plants, into ethanol and biodiesel. This recycling process substantially cuts net CO2 emissions.

A few other countries have already established very large biofuel industries. Brazil, which produced 18 billion litres of ethanol in 2004, was the world leader in ethanol production until it was recently overtaken by the US. Brazil's output is currently being expanded to produce biodiesel. If Australia was serious, it would forget about emissions trading, and invest in biofuel technology instead.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Costa of NSW: An influential Australian neocon Leftist

All he needs is hair. Of Greek origin (in a notably Italian government!) he is a former Trotskyist and a former union representative. The NSW branch of the Australian Labor Party has always been known as dominated by the "Right". Former NSW Premier Neville Wran (in power 1976-1987) is usually credited with introducing the Labor party to conservatism

LATE on Budget night, a journalist expressed disappointment to [NSW] Treasurer Michael Costa that arts funding had been cut by only $6 million. Costa could not hide his shame. "I'm sorry," he said. "But you should have seen it before Morris [Iemma -- the Premier] put all the money back."

Costa also blustered and baulked at his Cabinet colleagues when forced to provide funding for climate change in his budget - his compromise was that he would announce a "climate fund", thereby sparing him the pain of uttering the phrase "climate change". Kosta, you see, isn't a believer.

Those on the political Right often find themselves surprised by how far to the Left they seem by comparison to the Labor Treasurer. It's been a long journey for Costa, arguably the only genuine neocon (neoconservative) in the country. If there was any doubt, he has a portrait of Ronald Reagan on his office wall. While the left bandy the term around like an insult these days, it is from their own ranks that the neocons emerged. And Costa fits the bill to a tee. The relevance is that Costa is also the leading intellectual leader of the Iemma Government and is instrumental in shaping policy. His influence should not be underestimated.

Neoconservatism in its classical definition represents the political movement that emerged during the Cold War from the ranks of the liberal left. The neocons were a rejection of their lentil eating brothers of the counter-culturalists. Their mantra was the left no longer "knew what they were talking about". Costa as a neocon is complete. And he is the Government's financial puppeteer.

But the left are fighting back. The political dialectic is in full swing within the Iemma Government with the counter-revolution coming from the ranks of the new - young and ambitious - lefties in caucus. In numbers they may not match the might of the NSW right but in firepower they will be formidable. And two of them have already been made Ministers.


Diagnostic testing of children in trouble because Qld. government too mean to pay public hospital staff

A LEADING radiographer has revealed how severe staff shortages are putting public hospital patients at risk. Ben Kennedy resigned from the Royal Brisbane Children's Hospital last month because working for Queensland Health left him "burnt out" and unable to work safely. Speaking for the first time since resigning, the 35-year-old said patients were waiting too long for scans, and radiographers were suffering from working long hours with constant on-call commitments.

He said he was forced to work on-call for up to eight weeks at a time, sometimes finishing at 2am and starting again at 7am. "It's the equivalent of being drunk at work," said Mr Kennedy, who starts a new job tomorrow at a private radiology clinic. "You're dealing with critically ill patients, like babies with tumours, and if I had made a mistake because of tiredness, I would be the one who would be burned for it. "I had no choice but to work because there was no one else, but in the end I had to let my feet do the talking."

Mr Kennedy was one of two radiographers qualified to use the state's only pediatric MRI scanner. He set up the service two years ago, enabling thousands of children to receive diagnoses. His departure has left hospital bosses desperately trying to find a replacement. Mr Kennedy said Queensland Health had failed to provide other staff to undertake the three-month training program because of shortages. Queensland Health is suffering from a severe shortage of radiographers. At the Royal Brisbane Hospital there is a shortfall of about 17 staff. Radiographers warned more than a year ago they would walk out unless wages were increased by 40 per cent, in line with other states.

Mr Kennedy said more staff would follow him by the end of the year unless an agreement was met. "The work we do is taken for granted," he said. "Nothing in the hospital can happen without imaging, but the Government doesn't realise this. "A high percentage of children end up going for lifesaving surgery because of what our scans detect. Instead of recognising this, the Government goes around telling everyone we are just on a big money-grab, and if we blow the whistle and speak to the press then they can sack us."

Mr Kennedy started his career at Queensland Health in 1993, and has also worked at a public hospital in London. "In the UK, they went out on a limb to keep radiographers," he said. "They sent me on courses to further my education and did a great job trying to retain their staff. "Queensland Health does not adequately acknowledge the specialised skills that many radiographers have, or the years of postgraduate study required to do this work. "It is just all about crisis management and throwing a heap of money at something when it goes really wrong."

Queensland Health is in wage negotiations with unions representing radiographers. A Government spokesman denied radiographers were overworked or that there was a staff shortage. "Radiography staffing levels are determined on the basis of patient demand and the need to deliver safe, timely services," he said.


Global warming as a hook you can hang anything on

The global warming craze is a bonanza for scientists. If you can find some connection to global warming for what you want to research, your chances of getting funding are much increased. The story below is an example of that in action. The justification for the research in terms of global warming is however deeply flawed -- but flawed in a way that few non-scientists would recognize. Even assuming that global warming will continue, see if you can see at least two flaws in the proposal below. Answers at the foot of the article.

Australians could soon be eating the seeds of native grass as scientists search for crops with greater resistance to the effects of global warming. Researchers from Southern Cross University in NSW say dozens of native grasses could provide a good alternative to traditional plants such as wheat, rice and sorghum.

And Queensland's farmers could be the big winners as predicted increases in drought conditions across the southern states push crop cultivation further north. "There have been pest and climate issues in the past with growing cereal crops in northern Australia and that's where native crops may fare better," said Professor Robert Henry. "They should be better suited to our climate and soils. "If we can produce successful domestic crops, we can also look at exporting crops in the same way we have been importing them."

Prof Henry, director of the university's centre for plant conservation genetics, is heading the $1 million initiative run in partnership with Victorian-based Native Seeds Pty Ltd. "It's a great project. We are quite optimistic we are going to make some real progress." The aim is to have the first varieties available for small to moderate-scale planting in about two years, near the end of a three-year program which is also being supported with a $403,000 grant from the Australian Research Council.

About 10 per cent of the world's 10,000 grass species are native to Australia. The team is focusing on a few dozen which are closely related to species such as rice and sorghum. One of the main criteria is that they have large seeds which do not fall off easily in wind so they can be harvested and used for flour, cereals and other foods.

"We would expect that all of these species will allow production with less water than conventional crops and that will be an enormous advantage for the environment," said Prof Henry. "There is also a potential that these crops could be grown in areas in Australia where you can't grow traditional crops." He said while other countries had domesticated crops such as barley thousands of years ago, the cultivation of native grasses was "quite radical" for Australia. "We only need to get one species over the line to have a great outcome," Prof Henry said.

The above story by DARYL PASSMORE appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on July 1, 2007. Two major flaws in it:

1). The major grain crop in the Western world is wheat and wheat is already a dry-climate crop. It can be grown in many places but it grows best in areas of low rainfall. In some parts of Australia it is grown commercially with less than 10 inches of rain per year -- semi-desert, in other words. So reduced rainfall should EXPAND the area suitable for growing it. There is no need to invent new dry-climate grain crops.

2). Global warming would warm the oceans, thus causing them to give off more water vapour -- which then comes down as precipitation (rain or snow). So, OVERALL, global warming should increase rainfall, not reduce it. But more rainfall will EXPAND production of most crops -- including many grain crops -- such as rice. So there is no need for new types of grain crop under those circumstances either

Australia: Doing immigration the right way (mostly)

Australia chooses its immigrants. Still too many troublesome refugees accepted though

As Australia celebrates the population meter ticking over to 21 million, a record immigration figure for a financial year is expected to escalate the population boom. A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the projected target of up to 148,000 new immigrants for 2006-07 would be met once the figures were tallied.

It represents one of the greatest immigration influxes in decades. Aided by a rising number of births, Australia is experiencing a rise in population numbers not seen since the two most significant boom periods, after World War II and in the 1980s. The secretary of the Department of Immigration, Andrew Metcalfe, had already hailed the previous year's growth as a record. In the department's annual report, he commended the outcome for 2005-06 of 143,000 new migrants as "the largest migration program for several decades".

This year's intake and projections for coming years suggest the increase will continue. The Government is aiming to accept 152,800 new migrants in 2007-08, a far cry from the low immigration stance it adopted on coming to power in 1996. After huge immigration numbers during Bob Hawke's years as prime minister in the 1980s, his successor Paul Keating slashed immigration in his first year as prime minister.

The rapid increase in immigration has been fuelled by a growing skills shortage. The Government has altered the mix of the immigration program to focus on attracting more skilled migrants. Two-thirds of those expected to settle permanently this year and next will fall under the skilled migration category.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

A "forgotten" rape of a child

Is there ANYTHING bureaucrats care about other than themselves? Don't answer. I know there's not. They need sanctions to hit them when they are neglectful but I cannot see it happening

Sexual abuse charges are expected to be laid and reforms introduced in Queensland's Child Safety Department over the mishandling of rape allegations involving a 12-year-old indigenous girl. Queensland Child Safety Minister Desley Boyle this month ordered an internal review after The Australian revealed that the rape allegations, made last August, had not been investigated by police and that the girl had not received abuse counselling. It has since emerged that the girl has been put on antidepressants after several suicide attempts.

The Beattie Government is refusing to release a report from the internal review into the failure of Queensland police and child safety officers to investigate the alleged rape. A spokesman for Ms Doyle said the report could not be made public because of "privacy provisions" under the Child Protection Act. Sources said the report confirmed that no investigation had been launched into the rape allegations and that police and department caseworkers were blaming each other for the inaction.

The report says a departmental caseworker had telephoned police with the abuse allegation in August, when the child was removed from her community and put into protective custody. But the department-appointed case-workers, who act as the girl's legal guardians, failed to follow up the complaint to police until this month, when The Australian began investigating, and despite repeated complaints by her day-to-day carers.

Police last night issued a statement saying the department did not notify them of any allegation. Police launched an investigation into the alleged rape after the case was made public. It has since been finalised and it is understood charges will be laid. "Given the sexual nature of the alleged offences and the fact a child is at the centre of this matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further," the statement said.

The department report dismissed claims by the girl, and contained in complaints to the department by her carers, that her general therapist was related to one of the alleged rapists. It is believed Ms Boyle is now proposing reforms over the handling of sexual abuse complaints made by children. Included in the proposals, yet to receive the backing of Police Minister Judy Spence, are that all child safety complaints to police will have to be in writing and logged. The girl has alleged she was raped by several men during "chroming" (chemical sniffing) sessions.

The above story by Michael McKenna appeared in "The Australian" on June 30, 2007

Wilful neglect by government "child welfare" agency kills another little kid

In August 1993, a little boy - John Ashfield, aged 6 - was beaten to death with a hammer to his head. His mother, Gunn-Britt Ashfield, then 25, led the assault; her boyfriend, Austin Allan Hughes, then 20, was a keen participant. According to evidence presented to court in December 1993, Ashfield became enraged when she heard that John, who was in Year 1 at East Nowra primary school on the NSW south coast, touched his three-year-old sister in an inappropriate way. Her boyfriend agreed the boy could not be allowed to "get away with it". He didn't. Less than 24 hours later he died in Shoalhaven Hospital, his tiny body covered in more than 100 bruises from his parents's savage beating -- a beating that ended with Hughes putting the Nowra telephone book against John's head, and hitting him with a hammer.

They were each sentenced to 21 years in jail, reduced to 19 years on appeal, with a minimum of 14 years. Next Thursday, 14 years since she beat John to death, his mother, who has changed her name in prison and now calls herself Anjelic Karstrom, will apply for parole. Hughes has also applied for parole. His case will also be heard next Thursday.

In 2004, the NSW Parliament passed laws that made it an offence for media outlets to publish the name of a dead child who had been the victim of a crime, no matter what the circumstances. This law prevented The Weekend Australian from printing this story, ostensibly to protect the victim, John. The newspaper's parent company, News Limited, backed by groups including the NSW Homicide Victims Support Group, and the Victims of Crime Assistance League, has lobbied against this law since it was enacted, believing that it protects only the killers from being identified.

On Thursday night, the NSW Parliament passed a bill amending the law, making publication permissible in some circumstances, such as if the next of kin agrees. The changes come into effect next Wednesday.

John's sister Melissa, 17, does not want her mother released. "I have not seen my mother since I was 11," she said. "The last time I saw her (in prison) I pulled her hair and slapped her. I have flashbacks to what happened. She tried to blame me. She tried to get us to help her bash John. She tried to say that John touched me. He never touched me."

Melissa says she remembers the day John was beaten, "clear as anything". When he swang in from school that day, August 5, Hughes confronted him in the kitchen. He told police he kicked John on the bottom with the side of his foot "the way you kick a soccer ball", slapped him around the head and sent him to his room. But that was not the end of it: Ashfield and Hughes decided John needed to be taught a lesson. They went into his bedroom and started beating him. A frenzy soon developed: they punched him with their fists, and beat him with the white aluminium rod that held up a curtain. John was sobbing: "I'm really sorry, don't do this to me, I'm sore, I'm sorry." Hughes mocked him, saying: "You scream like a little girl." When John continued to sob, Hughes took a girl's dress out of the cupboard and shoved it over the crying boy's head, forcing his arms through the sleeves. "He started crying and carrying on," Hughes would later say, in a statement to police. "He was crying: 'Get it off, get it off, I'm not a girl'."

Death came slowly: Ashfield would later tell police that Hughes had put the phone book against John's head, and repeatedly beat him with a hammer, until John was limp and dazed, unable to sit up on the bed. When it became apparent that John had lost consciousness, his mother dunked him under a cold shower, then a hot shower. Several hours passed before Ashfield took her son to Shoalhaven Hospital. In the meantime, she told her other children to tell police John had been beaten by a gang of teenagers while walking through a park. Her oldest boy, then aged eight, went on national television to back up the story. In a shaky voice, he said: "We were going to buy milk and bread when four boys said, 'Come here. We want to bash you up'."

The story was never going to stack up: John was cold and bleeding from the nostrils when he was airlifted to Westmead hospital in Sydney. Doctor Barry Wilkins would later tell the court he had more than 100 different coloured bruises, suggesting "repeated, non-accidental beating". His small hands were swollen and bruised, which suggested he had "attempted to fend off an assault". He had suffered a very serious brain injury. John died the next day, Friday, August 6, 1993. His mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder shortly afterwards.

On the day of John's funeral, his natural father, Brian Ashfield, wailed over the white coffin. Brian is now dead but he told reporters at the time of his son's murder that he had warned the NSW Department of Community Services that his wife was violent, and that she intended to hurt the children. In fact, DoCS had about 35 notifications that all was not well at Ashfield's home. Ashfield asked DoCS to take the kids away from her, saying she "felt violent" towards them.

Melissa's life since her brother was killed has been chaotic: she was fostered into the care of DoCS after her mother went to prison but ran away at 11. She bounced around foster homes, and was briefly placed in a nunnery in Grafton, until she fell pregnant at 16, and lost the baby. She admits to "drinking alcohol, doing crazy stuff" to deal with anger and grief but is trying to steady her path. She now lives with her boyfriend, Jason, 33, and is in counselling.

John's uncle, Andrew Ashfield, said the law banning publication of John's story had "protected the people who killed him, and the social workers who let it happen". "DoCS knew that she was violent, and knew that she was troubled," he said. "But they didn't take the kids until after she killed one of them." Wendy Campbell, who was Brian's fiance at the time of John's death, wants the case to get media attention because she "promised Brian, if they ever apply for parole, I will be there, and I will stop it".


Failure is an essential part of learning

The denial of failure in classrooms leads to lower expectations among teachers and reduces the intellectual challenge to students

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into academic standards of school education, the Council of Professional Teachers of Victoria argues that failure is part of the learning process, and claims it is missing in the 21st-century classroom. The council defends teachers against charges that the profession is the cause of any perceived decline in standards, saying the constant change in curriculum and pedagogies compromises the quality of teaching.

"Teach, from an early age, that some failure can be formative," the submission says. "Failure can help to develop resilience. Do not endorse inadequate effort. Encourage self-knowledge for the most effective teaching and learning strategies. This must be the very essence of community teaching."

The council is the peak body representing more than 40 professional teaching associations with more than 30,000 members in Victoria. After appearing before the Senate inquiry this week, the council's executive officer Olwyn Gray said students were being let down by the lack of intellectual challenge in their classrooms, and that the notion of intellectual risk was increasingly foreign to parents and students.

Ms Gray said students had an expectation they would always succeed, which was not how the real world worked. "Life isn't a level playing field. I don't want to condemn children to an underclass of underachievers but they need to strive, to say I did well this time and this is the next hurdle," she said. "If teachers work successfully with students who fail a particular task, you're helping these children develop resilience. "When a child fails, they go back and say, 'OK, I'll try another tack', and find they learn better a certain way. With a stronger degree of self-knowledge brought about by failure, you're not so depressed when you can't do something; you go back with resilience and it helps you take further intellectual risks."

Ms Gray said Australian students performed well on international assessments of competence in different subjects, but did less well in tests placing greater emphasis on rote learning, particularly compared with their counterparts in Asia.

So many reforms were imposed on teachers, she said, and these were often viewed as being change for change's sake and left no time for teachers to contemplate and refine what they did: "Teachers are just reeling from it -- you get used to the vocabulary and methodology of one thing and then you're on to the next. People get cynical."

Ms Gray said her belief was that the problem started in teacher training courses, which were too theoretical, emphasising different theories of learning rather than providing a range of strategies for different students. "Teachers need to learn a variety of methods for a variety of students because students learn in different ways," she said. "Rote learning is one way -- you need to learn phonic combinations of letters and sounds that way, and the times tables. "But they're the basics, just building blocks."


Public dentistry meltdown in NSW

THE true extent of the state's dental crisis can be revealed for the first time today, with figures showing a backlog of almost 200,000 people awaiting treatment. Of those, more than 45,000 are children living with tooth decay and oral disease so severe it could turn life-threatening. Exclusive waiting figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph show for the first time our decaying dental health industry. This is the first time in three years the data has been revealed and it shows on May 31 there were 178,876 waiting in NSW for dentistry, including 45,339 children. At one Sydney hospital, almost 60 patients were treated for dental infections so severe their airways were closed off.

The growing list reveals a country in crisis, with new Medicare data showing the federal dental scheme for people with chronic diseases has had poor uptake. Despite 650,000 Australians awaiting dental treatment, only 4027 in NSW have accessed the scheme in three years.

Federal Opposition health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon said: "This is more evidence that the Government is investing in the wrong area with dental health." A spokeswoman for federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said the project would pick up later in the year when new money from a Budget announcement of $378 million takes effect.

But Association for the Promotion of Oral Health chairman Hans Zoellner said the scheme was "a waste of money" and was flawed because it relied on a complicated referral system. "Government has increased funding but we think the medical barriers to getting to the funding are too high and that is a big mistake." Dr Zoellner said the high number in NSW awaiting treatment is creating a generation whose preventable dental decay is turning into chronic, life-threatening illness.

The Daily Telegraph understands up to 60 patients have been treated at Westmead Hospital this year with dental infections so severe their airways became closed. New research from The Australian Consumers Association released yesterday revealed 30 per cent of adults avoided dental care because of the cost, one quarter had untreated tooth decay and more than 20 per cent had moderate to severe gum disease.

And with recent medical studies showing poor oral health is a contributor to conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, families across the country are now turning to charities for help. Armidale toddler Mark Schumacher was unable to eat and was living in pain and discomfort because the three-year-old's tooth enamel had worn away. Faced with a wait of up to 15 months for surgery, his mother Tracy pleaded for help and a local dentist did the procedure for free. "His four top teeth had no enamel and he wasn't eating - now we can't stop him eating," his relieved father told The Daily Telegraph. "He's eating fruit and everything now -- he was barely eating at all before."


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