Friday, July 31, 2009


Environment before people, says Wilderness Society -- by Sara Hudson

The misanthropic attitude of conservationists was revealed on Tuesday night when a group of Aboriginal protestors from Cape York gate-crashed a Wilderness Society and green fundraiser.

Dressed in chains and in two giant koala suits, the Cape York Aborigines crashed the party to protest against Queensland’s Wild Rivers legislation, which bans development within two kilometres of the Lockhart, Stewart and Archer rivers.

The protestors blame the Wilderness Society for instigating the legislation, which they argue denies them the ability to build businesses and enterprises on their traditional land – so that more of their people can move out of welfare into the real economy. Tania Major, the spokesperson for the Cape York Aborigines, said they weren’t against conservation but they were protesting because the Wilderness Society had not consulted with them or given them a choice on how to manage their land.

These arguments left the Wilderness Society members unmoved, with spokesperson Anna Christie saying on ABC Radio that environmental sustainability should come before people.

Only those comfortably off are able to so quickly disregard the importance of economic development. They forget that the only reason they can afford to shop at Macro and buy organic food is because they live in an industrialised society. Try living in the outback and getting an organic soy latte.

The fact that the greenies and the Aborigines have fallen out over this issue is a first. Historically, the green movement has tended to support Aboriginal causes. Protesting against the Intervention and the Howard government was a trendy pastime for many greenies.

However, the green movement has failed to address the causes of Aboriginal disadvantage, tending to rely on detached commentary rather than tackling real issues.

The green way of looking at sustainable development is typical of the affluent world that sees sustainability as being environmentally friendly—recycling, living in eco houses, and driving fuel-efficient cars. But for the poor and disadvantaged, sustainability is about having essential services such as housing, water, sewerage, and transport.

It is deeply hypocritical for the green movement to deny Aboriginal development on the premise that this will preserve the environment when they owe their own comfortable existence to Australia’s developed economy.

When dollars defend democracy -- by Andrew Norton

Earlier this week, I attended a forum on ‘dollars and democracy’. Its title reflects concern that political donations distort policy priorities and government decisions. To reduce the influence of private money on politics, the federal government plans to significantly expand regulation of political donors. Foreign-sourced donations and anonymous donations exceeding $50 would be banned outright. Gifts of $1,000 would have to be disclosed, down from nearly $11,000 now.

These rules apply to non-government organisations that express political views as well as to political parties. In fact NGOs face greater disclosure burdens than political parties. They must itemise their expenditure between five overlapping categories, while political parties need provide only one total sum. NGOs must report annually on their spending on ‘election issues’, even for future elections with issues that cannot be known for certain. NGO donors are potentially treated very unfairly. Donors’ names and addresses are put on the Australian Electoral Commission website if their gift finances political expenditure, even if the donor is unaware of how their money is used.

NGOs face significant dangers from these rules. Their staff and volunteers risk fines and jail for breaching the rules. NGOS run by political amateurs may not be aware they have any obligations. But the requirements are so unclear that even political professionals could easily make a mistake. The other danger is that NGO donors will be deterred. The disclosure rules give governments the names of their political opponents. This creates opportunities for improperly disfavouring people tendering for government business or applying for government grants. Cautious donors may decide that revealing their NGO allegiances is too costly.

It’s a mistake to think that ‘dollars and democracy’ are necessarily opposed. Private donations to NGOs are a vital part of Australia’s democratic political system. Without these gifts, many views would go unexpressed, many voices would never be heard, and many criticisms of government would never be made. Plans to ban or deter NGO donations have no place in a democratic society.

More spending on prevention is no solution for hospital crisis -- by Dr Jeremy Sammut

Public health experts have long claimed the problems in Australia’s public hospital system are due to government policy focusing too much on hospitals rather than on preventive and health promotion strategies. The report on health reform released this week by the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission endorses this idea.

The reality is that average life spans have increased dramatically in the last 40 years. Healthier lifestyles and more effective medications have resulted in significant falls in rates of heart attacks and strokes.

People who once would have entered hospitals and died while in their 50s and 60s now live longer. Improved medical treatments are also enabling people to live to older and older ages. These people inevitably get acutely ill and eventually become users of emergency departments and require admission to hospitals when they are older and sicker.

Overcrowded public hospitals are already bearing the brunt of the inexorable ageing of the population.

Between 2004 and 2007, the number of patients presenting at emergency departments with medical problems requiring unplanned admission increased faster than population growth by 15%.

This was driven mainly by rising admissions by frail and ‘very old’ patients aged 75 years and over. Patients in this age groups accounted for 14% of public hospital admissions in 1996–97. They accounted for 20% of public hospital patients in 2007–08.

The problem is that total public acute beds in Australia now number roughly the same as in 1996 – about 2.5 beds per 1000 population. Public hospitals simply do not have enough beds to care for Australia’s ageing population.

More spending on prevention will not address the tsunami of ageing-related demand that will hit public hospitals across the country in coming decades. For the last twenty-five years, State governments have cut bed numbers while opening offices filled with ‘area health’ bureaucrats. The challenge for policy makers is to reverse this process.

A national hospital voucher system, in combination with the reestablishment of local hospital boards, will close down offices, open beds, and rebuild and equip the hospital system to cope with the unprecedented impact of demographic change.

The above are three press releases from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated July 31st. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Telephone ph: +61 2 9438 4377 or fax: +61 2 9439 7310

Islamic racist loses defamation case

KEYSAR Trad, the longtime spokesman for Muslim cleric Sheik Taj bin al-Hilaly, has been described as "racist" and "offensive" by a judge who today rejected his defamation claim against radio station 2GB. Mr Trad sued the top-rating Sydney station in the NSW Supreme Court after presenter Jason Morrison described him "gutless" and " just trouble" for his conduct at a rally after the Cronulla riots in December 2005, The Australian reported. Mr Trad's comment about the "shame of tabloid journalism' caused the crowd to boo and harass a 2GB journalist near the stage.

The reporter told Mr Morrison he feared for his safety, prompting the presenter to deliver his tirade the following morning, in which he also described Mr Trad as "disgraceful and dangerous individual who incited violence, hatred and racism."

In August 2007, a jury found Mr Morrison had defamed Mr Trad but Justice Peter McClellan found for 2GB in the second - or defence - phase of the trial that was heard in May, saying the statement were true and also protected as comment based on fact. "There is little doubt that many of the plaintiff's remarks are offensive to Jewish persons and homosexuals," Justice McClellan said in his judgment. "Many of his remarks are distasteful and appear to condone violence.

"I'm satisfied that the plaintiff does hold views which can properly be described as racist. "I'm also satisfied that he encourages others to hold those views. In particular he holds views derogatory of Jewish people. "The views which he holds would not be acceptable to most right-thinking Australians."

Mr Trad, who founded the Islamic Friendship Association, faces up to $400,000 in court costs and there are question marks over his credibility after Justice McClellan's scathing judgment.

During the trial he was subjected to close scrutiny about his public profile as Sheik Hilaly's right-hand man and he frequent statements he made to "clarify" the controversial views of the cleric. These included comments that women who dressed provocatively were "uncovered meat" inviting the attention of rapists. Mr Trad suggested Hilaly was "talking about people who engage in extramarital sex."

Neither Mr Trad or Mr Morrison were at Sydney's Supreme Court to hear the judgment. Outside court, a representative for Mr Trad said he planned to appeal. Parties are due to meet again next Thursday to discuss costs.


Fad-laden food religion well-entrenched at a Melbourne hospital

FAST food giant McDonald's has been given the green light to sell Big Macs in Melbourne's new Royal Children's Hospital. But it will have to meet strict Australian-first menu guidelines.

The hospital's retail food policy revealed to the Herald Sun paves the way for several fast food chains to operate in the $1 billion hospital. They will be subject to a "traffic light" system where half their menu is made up of "green" healthy food such as fruit, vegetables and water. "Red" food, including chips, cannot form more than a fifth of the food on offer.

The decision follows a report revealing RCH staff were split over McDonald's, which opened in the existing hospital amid controversy in 1991. Many doctors believed the presence of McDonald's sent a bad health message, while others felt it was a boost for sick children.

But RCH chairman Tony Beddison said the policy - a first at an Australian hospital - encouraged healthy eating and allowed families to make their own choices. "It provides choice, it provides great variety for children and their families, but it also gives a very clear message about healthy eating," he said. [A totally misleading message, more like it. Does he know the huge amounts of fat and red meat that Eskimos eat and how they almost never get cardiovascular disease?]

"There is going to be no retailer excluded from the tender. "It will be up to the individual retailer to come forward with their plan. But those plans must comply with the traffic-light green, amber, red policy and they need to comply regardless of who they are. "Sick kids need to be nurtured and looked after, guided and helped. But above all, we need to think about their wellbeing. "As a hospital we need to provide leadership to the community. We will not be endorsing any of the tenants, but they will need to meet this policy." To earn a place in the hospital, restaurant menus must feature:

* At least 50 per cent "green" food, such as lean meat, fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables and plain water.

* No more than 30 per cent "amber" food, including ice cream, muesli and snack bars, canned fruit, diet drinks and fruit juice.

* "Red" foods - such as chips, deep fried foods, chocolate bars, lollies, chips and soft drinks - to make up no more than 20 per cent.

At least three food stores will operate in the new hospital, but there could be room for up to nine depending on the mix of plans received when the tender process opens next month. The hospital will conduct twice-yearly audits to enforce the rules.

The hospital did not want to tell families what to eat [except that they do], but Mr Beddison said the hospital policy could be adopted far more widely. "There is no doubt this policy has extensions into other parts of the community, particularly where children eat, such as tuck shops," he said.

He would not speculate on who the likely tenderers would be, but said no restaurants were involved in developing the policy.


A joke for those who follow Australian politics

On a bitterly cold morning in Canberra Kevvy is being chauffeured to Parliament House. It is so cold that Lake Burley Griffin is frozen over.

As he jumps out of the limo Kev looks over the lake and notices that someone has "peed" on the ice and left the message........."KEVVY SUCKS".

Kevvy is enraged and orders ASIO to investigate with "no expense spared" and to report within two weeks.

Two weeks later the head of ASIO reports to the PM and says ...."our investigation is over and I have three pieces of news for you... good news, bad news and terribly bad shocking news".

Well says Kevvy give me the good news. The head of ASIO says......"We spent $5 million dollars on the investigation and have come to a successful result."

Well says Kev what's the bad news ?

The head of ASIO says "The DNA testing shows that the urine is Wayne Swann's". Kevvy is shocked beyond belief.

Looking pale, Kevvy says "and what is the terribly bad shocking news?"

The ASIO chief replies..." it’s Julia Gillard’s handwriting".

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Never write anything down"

That's advice that's been given to many people over the years and it may be wiser than ever these days, particularly for employers. Many people are unable to acknowledge their own limitations and a lawsuit could follow if those limitations are mentioned in a recoverable way

Have you ever had that creeping feeling that the reason you didn’t get a job was because someone, somewhere stuck a big knife in your back? Managers who seemed fine up until the day you left suddenly turned toxic when the reference checker called. Or perhaps an enthusiastic recruiter cooled on you after seeing your racy photos from Indy on Facebook?

The amazing thing is that you can act on your suspicions and apply to see the notes made about you during the recruitment process. That’s right. Under the existing Privacy Act you can apply to an employer or a recruiter to find out what has been said about you. And now under the Fair Work Act there could be more to check for but more on that later.

Harmers Workplace Lawyers senior associate, Bronwyn Maynard, says candidates can just apply directly to the employer or recruiter. There is no third-party process. Ms Maynard says there are some exemptions such as where the records include personal information about others or it is commercially sensitive. There is no set timeframe for employers to follow but Ms Maynard says expecting an answer back within 30 days is reasonable.

You can check to see any notes made about you during the recruitment process are accurate and relevant. If not, you can request any inaccuracies be corrected. If you deem the information “irrelevant”, you can make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner. I did call the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and as far as they know, no one has ever made a complaint.

I will pass on what a hiring manager confided to me as a good example of info that could be deemed irrelevant. Sitting at a lunch this guy told me he didn’t hire a woman for a receptionist role because she had too many “friends” on Facebook and he was worried she would be spending all her time updating her posts. If he included this in notes made about the candidate and the candidate applied to see those notes, a claim could follow.

Social networking websites are hot with those sourcing candidates so using them to screen candidates is not a stretch. Indeed, Ms Maynard actually knows of a company that was none too happy when it discovered its line managers were collecting candidate info from social networking websites. She said the company “implemented formal policies [to] forbid the use of social media as a research tool for candidate information gathering – as they deemed this type of personal information to be illegitimate and irrelevant to their business.” “Importantly, employers must remember that these privacy obligations apply even if the information gathered was obtained from a public source as would be the case for many personal details included on an individual’s blog, twitter, Facebook or MySpace page,” she said.

The Privacy Act also requires employers and recruiters to tell you they have collected personal information about you; explain the purpose of gathering the information and let you know who else will see the information.

Ms Maynard says the Fair Work Act, which came into effect on July 1, 2009, offers candidates added protections. Under the “General Protections” section of the Fair Work Act, employers and recruiters cannot treat someone adversely for exercising a workplace right. Put in the recruitment context, this could mean that if you had made an unfair dismissal claim or worker’s compensation claim in the past, this information could not be used to discriminate against you on the job hunt.

Okay, so there is nothing to stop a savvy line manager or recruiter from not including incriminating items in their notes on a particular candidate. However, one HR manager told me she and colleagues struggle to comply with the Privacy Act so those notes are out there waiting for you.


The hate that dare not speak its name

Islamic terrorists identify their motivations and deeds as Islamic -- including Koranic references -- but we are not supposed to mention that, apparently

By Janet Albrechtsen

LANGUAGE police should stop tiptoeing and call these terrorists what they are: Islamo-fascists. The bodies of slain Australians in Jakarta were not yet back in the country when a new report warned us last week against referring to Islamo-fascists as -- dare one say it -- Islamo-fascists. If we want to reduce alienation and radicalism among young Muslims we must watch our language, says A Lexicon on Terror, a book compiled by the Victoria Police and the Australian Multicultural Foundation.

Multicultural Foundation head Hass Dellal told The Age that the wholesale branding of Islam with violence and extremism was of great concern. Speaking at a conference last week Stephen Fontana, the assistant commissioner for counter-terrorism co-ordination, said that "a comment we think is harmless, some communities read as an attack".

Would someone kindly lock up these language police for crimes against the English language? An attack is what happened in Jakarta when innocent hotel guests were murdered at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. And it is, quite literally, the bleeding obvious to point out that the perpetrators of the carnage are a group of Islamist militants who twist the tenets of Islam to suit their ideological purposes. They seek to bring down democracy in Indonesia and punish Western nations for fighting the Taliban and al-Qa'ida, with the ultimate aim of creating an Islamic caliphate. Yet while these terrorists go to great lengths to promote their Muslim identity and their militant Islamist ideology, it seems we are not allowed to mention that now.

There is nothing wrong with crafting careful language when dealing with terrorism. For years political leaders have used terms such as Islamist terrorist or Islamo-fascist to carefully distinguish militants from the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims. But there is a difference between being careful and being cowardly. The kind of zealous language policing endorsed by the Victoria Police and the Multicultural Foundation encourages us to hide from the truth.

Their new whitewash language is not just daft, it's dangerous. Clarity of language is a critical tool if we are serious about uncovering and understanding militant Islam. After so many attacks and the murder of so many innocent people, why would we cower from identifying the drivers of their Islamist extremism?

Yet there was too much cowering and not enough clarity from Attorney-General Robert McClelland when he addressed the Australian Strategic Policy Institute last week. Endorsing the language police's Lexicon of Terrorism project, the A-G's speech was littered with references to "violent extremism", "violent extremists", "violent extremist messages", "extremist beliefs" and "extremist ideology". McClelland was too frightened to construct a sentence that included the word Islamism. Instead he quoted from Ed Husain, in his book The Islamist, who has no problem referring to "Islamist extremists". Apparently the A-G believes it is acceptable for a Muslim to speak with factual accuracy but the rest of us must resort to meaningless generalities for fear of radicalising Muslim youth.

The suggestion from McClelland and senior police that using terms such as Islamo-fascists may drive young Muslims into the arms of jihadists is dubious. I'm willing to wager that those drawn to violence have other matters on their minds and other forces pulling them towards violence than the language employed by Westerners.

If we submit a questionnaire to young would-be jihadists asking them to list, on a scale of one to 100, the reasons they might choose jihad over, say, becoming a pastry chef or a train driver, I'm guessing none are going to suggest they are fed-up with the way Westerners used the term Islamo-fascist. Instead, they may list matters such as hating democracy, achieving glory for Islam and Muslims, destroying the infidel enemies around them, wanting to bring to account those countries that sent infidel troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and so on. That's what the present generation of Islamist terrorists tells us and it may be useful to take them at their word.

In the A-G's woolly world, how exactly does a newspaper report on Islamic militancy if the only acceptable phrase is "violent extremism"? The Australian's Sally Neighbour has done a stellar job reporting on the role played by Islamic boarding schools such as al-Mukmin at Ngruki in Solo, Central Java, in the violent campaign to set up an Indonesian Islamic state. Described by its co-founder and Jemaah Islamiah leader Abu Bakar Bashir as "a crucible for the formation of cadres of mujaheddin" with a mission "to nurture zeal for jihad so that love for jihad and martyrdom grow in the soul of the mujaheddin", it becomes clear that Islam is used to fuel violence among young Muslim men.

As Neighbour reported last week, "The Ngruki school and others linked to JI -- chiefly the Darul Syahadah ('house of martyrs') and Al Muttaqin schools, both in Central Java -- have produced no less than dozens of young recruits linked to a string of terrorist attacks, starting with the first Bali bombings in 2002." Would the A-G have us refrain from reporting the truth, that a handful of radical Islamic schools is a breeding ground for Islamist terrorists?

There are no such sensibilities about calling a spade a bloody shovel when Christian extremists firebomb abortion clinics. No concerns about wholesale branding of Christianity by using the Christian word. Nor is there a fear that using the word will radicalise young Christians. In other areas, too, we don't shy away from using descriptors to explain extremism.

The US Department of Homeland Security had no misgivings about producing an intelligence assessment in April headed Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalisation and Recruitment. The nine-page report, which predicts a surge in violence given the present economic and political climate of the US, is littered with references to "right-wing terrorist and extremist groups".

Yet when it comes to militant Islam, we are asked to whitewash our language, tiptoeing around the truth for fear of offending and radicalising Muslims. One might have been forgiven for thinking we had long ago rejected this nonsense of letting the Islamist tail wag the Western dog. Since September 11, politicians of all hues have been falling over themselves to make it clear that the perpetrators of violence are fringe-group Islamist extremists who exploit Islam for their own ideological, anti-Western purposes. Politicians have made it clear specifically to praise, and seek the support of, moderate Muslims.

Wait on. Dellal told The Age that we should also avoid using the term "moderate Muslim" because it suggested to Muslims that they were not true to their faith. When the word moderate is labelled as a menacing, you know the thin blue line of the language police has become a perilously thick one.


Nasty bureaucrats in Australia too

This is the sort of pettiness you expect in Britain. The Brits usually back down when their actions are publicized and this lot will too. They will almost certainly have a strike on their hands if they do not do so promptly

ANGRY workers and unionists have demanded a council reinstate two workers it sacked for fixing potholes at a local club in return for a steak sandwich lunch. Mick Van Beek and Peter Anderson, who worked on a patching truck out of Geelong City council's Drysdale depot, were dismissed last week for filling in two potholes at the Leopold Sportsmans Club with spoiled asphalt destined for the tip. They did the five-minute repair job during their lunch break last November. The pair refused payment from the club's management, but they accepted the offer of a steak sandwich at the venue one week later.

A whistleblower alerted the council eight months after the incident. At a meeting on Tuesday night, about 200 workers demanded the City of Geelong reinstate both men, who have worked at the depot for a combined 27 years. Council dismissed the men on the grounds they breached its fraud policy, had stolen council property and improperly used their work time.

Australian Services Union (ASU) state assistant secretary Igor Grattan said the dismissals were disproportionate to the alleged offences. "We believe council is totally out of step with reality," he told AAP on Wednesday. "The Whistleblowers Act has got to be used in the public interest. "This isn't in the public interest."

Mr Grattan said the union would take "whatever avenues available to us" to convince the council to reinstate both workers. "The ratepayers are well behind us too."

A council spokesman said the City of Geelong did not comment on matters concerning individual staff.


Garbage collectors work too hard according to stupid council

Garbos start early and value their early finishes so work at top speed to get finished as early as possible. But it can be heavy work and some injuries can be expected however you do it

THE bins are overflowing, the stench is overpowering and the rubbish is still piling up. But it won't be collected in a hurry - because of new rules branded "dead set crazy" by annoyed garbos, The Daily Telegraph reports. Collection teams went on strike in Sydney's inner west on Monday, protesting against new safe work practices imposed by Marrickville Council. Workers said the rules - aimed at cutting injuries which spark compensation claims - doubled the time it took to do a rubbish run.

They must now push - not pull - bins and are forbidden to run, work both sides of a street at once or deal with more than one bin at a time. Collection was running more than 48 hours late yesterday, with up to 70,000 residents affected.

"Twenty blokes are working back every day," one garbage collection worker said. "The only ones that are suffering are the ratepayers, I would hate to see the overtime bill." He said shifts that would usually be finished by 11am were now stretching until 5pm or 6pm, with workers paid double and triple time. "We cannot finish the runs by pulling one bin and walking. Can you imagine doing this in another four weeks time? It is 30C when you wake up," the garbo said.

Marrickville Council spokesman Samuel Bartlett said the new rules were introduced to combat the number of workers' compensation claims. Almost 60 per cent of council staff injuries in the past financial year came from garbos, despite them being only 10 per cent of its work force. [It would be pretty hard to strain a zombie-like council clerk!] "Council has a duty of care to ensure work is being done safely and we want our staff to go home healthy at the end of their day," he said. Mr Bartlett said council staff had collected "the bulk of the material backlog" from Monday's strike.

United Services Union official Steve Donley said staff returned to work at 5am on Tuesday, having agreed to a six-week trial of the new system, but the job was taking longer. "There will be delays," he said.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is supporting the NSW police in their campaign for a pay rise

The corrupt state back again

Inquiry chief Tony Fitzgerald QC says lessons of the '70s and 80s forgotten -- blames the Left particularly

QUEENSLAND'S pre-eminent corruption reformer Tony Fitzgerald QC broke two decades of silence to warn last night that the state was sliding back to its "dark past", in a speech that savaged deals between so-called Labor mates, business and government.

Mr Fitzgerald reserved his harshest criticism for former Queensland premier Peter Beattie, now ensconced in a $490,000-a-year position as the state's Los Angeles-based trade commissioner, suggesting that Mr Beattie's election in 1998 had been the trigger for him to move to NSW.

Speaking for the first time on the reform process since he delivered his ground-breaking report on police and political corruption in July 1989, Mr Fitzgerald blasted the "ethics" of the current and former Labor governments. Secrecy was re-established by "sham claims" under which documents sought through Freedom of Information provisions were placed off limits by being run through cabinet.

"Access can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed and retired politicians exploit their connections to obtain 'success fees' for deals between business and government," Mr Fitzgerald said in an address at Brisbane's Griffith University before the inaugural Tony Fitzgerald lecture. "Neither side of politics is interested in these issues except for short-term political advantage as each enjoys or plots impatiently for its turn at the privileges and opportunities which accompany power."

Mr Fitzgerald spoke out after Premier Anna Bligh said she would mark the 20th anniversary of the release of his landmark report by reviewing the increasingly controversial interaction between politicians and big business in Queensland.

This could lead to reform of political fundraising, including the practice by both Labor and the conservatives of selling access to ministers and frontbenchers to business representatives at state conferences and to holding dinners and other functions at a charge of thousands of dollars a plate. "The time has come now for a frank and open public discussion on a number of topical integrity and accountability issues," Ms Bligh said yesterday.

Separately, Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission is to investigate the relationship between political parties and donors. CMC chairman Robert Needham said there was "no doubt" companies and unions expected something in return for donations, especially to governing parties.

The flurry of official action caps a dramatic fortnight in Queensland in which a former Beattie government minister, Gordon Nuttall, was jailed for accepting $360,000 in corrupt payments from wealthy businessmen Ken Talbot and Harold Shand, and the CMC exposed a cash-for-confessions racket involving implicating 25 police and hard-core criminals in prisons.

Mr Fitzgerald said the current concerns about political and police misconduct were a predictable result of attitudes adopted in Queensland since the mid-1990s.

Mr Fitzgerald's inquiry and report resulted in the jailing of five Bjelke-Petersen-era National Party ministers as well as then police commissioner Terry Lewis.



Australia decouples education and citizenship

AUSTRALIA'S skilled migration policy is driven by national economic needs, not the educational choices of overseas students, Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans warned last week. In a speech in New Delhi that signalled immigration would be decoupled from education, and immigration, Senator Evans stressed that there was "no automatic link" between study in Australia and access to permanent residency.

"The Australian government will adjust the program to meet our national needs and not be driven by the education choices of overseas students," he said. In a possible response to mounting anger among overseas students whose hopes for permanent residency may be denied, Senator Evans said: "The skills and qualifications we seek in migrants will vary over time."

Although most of Senator Evans's speech emphasised the depth of the strategic partnership between Australia and India, he had a sharp warning for unscrupulous education agents. "Those who seek to market access to a permanent visa in Australia rather than a quality education do a grave disservice to potential students," he said.

Senator Evans's comments followed a report in The Australian last week that quoted researcher Bob Birrell as saying the attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney may have been only the beginning of the social conflict to be played out as thousands of foreign students stay on with full work rights and compete for jobs and housing. Dr Birrell told the HES that Senator Evans's speech in India was significant as it revealed a longstanding departmental concern to detach the migration selection system from the output of the overseas student industry in Australia.

Migration Institute of Australia chief executive Maurene Horder said that since the new critical skills list had come in, many applications based on the previous occupational demand list would languish in the immigration processing pipeline for many years.

The developments coincide with a recommendation from a conservative US think tank that skilled migration into the US should be restored to pre-September 11 levels to reverse the country's technological skills crisis. The US depends on science, technology, engineering and maths to maintain its position as the world superpower, according to a Heritage Foundation report, Improving US Competitiveness. But the US suffers a shortfall of 75,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers every year, even after importing 65,000 foreign workers and graduating 60,000 US engineers annually, it says.

In a development with possible ramifications for Australian efforts to lift the quality of overseas postgraduate recruits, the report calls for the cap on H-1B visas to be lifted from the present 65,000 to its pre-September 11 level of 195,000 visas a year.

As Australia cracks down on the permanent residency-driven training market, the influential think tank says the technology skills crisis is undermining US competitiveness. As a result of shortages, many American companies are being forced either to expand outside the US or not expand at all, the report says.


Australia/India immigration rackets in education

Indian students ripped off by Indian crooks, assisted by Australian bureaucratic indifference and incompetence

A young Indian reporter has been attacked after going undercover to reveal migration and education scams for tonight's Four Corners program. The woman was subjected to threats during the making of the program and was attacked over the weekend. Police have been notified.

The reporter went to two different migration agents posing as someone wanting to pass an English Language Test without having the skills, and said she was willing to buy a fake work certificate. She was able to do both if she paid between $3,000 and $5,000.

It is not suggested the migration agents nor the colleges identified in the Four Corners program are behind either the threats or the attack.

Some Indian students, principally in Melbourne and Sydney, have been subjected to violent attacks which have tainted Australia's reputation as an education provider.

But tonight's Four Corners program will reveal more details on how Indian students are being exploited by dodgy colleges and unscrupulous migration and education agents. The allegations on tonight's program expose a number of cases where students have lost tens of thousands of dollars.

Prabmeet Singh is one of about 70,000 Indian students who come to Australia to study each year. His family spent more than $40,000 on a course at the Sydney flying school, Aerospace Aviation. His mother, Pushpinder Kaur, says the family is now broke and her son still has no pilot's licence. "It is a fraud. We were shown so many rosy pictures about the school and it is not what it is really, it was just a scam," she said. "I think the Government should be more alert in these type of matters because it is the career of the children which is at stake."

Other Indian students have told Four Corners the aviation college failed to deliver its promised 200 hours of flying time over 52 weeks. Aerospace Aviation's spokeswoman Sue Davis has defended the training and has questioned the level of commitment and dedication among the particular students.

Aspiring chef Kumar Khatri came from Nepal to enrol at the Sydney cooking school Austech, but after six months he had not seen the inside of a kitchen. "I don't believe that there is a kitchen because I haven't seen the college kitchen," he told Four Corners. Mr Khatri decided to quit and received a letter from professional debt collectors telling him to pay $5,000. "I just went directly to the college and he told me that if you do not pay, we will just process that, we'll take it to the immigration. Your visa will be cancelled," he said.

Mr Khatri sought advice from Biwek Thapa, an education and migration agent who was dealing with six similar complaints. "I think it was a complete exploitation of international students because of the ignorance: they're new in the country; they're scared their visa could be cancelled; enrolment could be cancelled. They would get into all sorts of problems," he said.

Tonight's Four Corners program also reveals unscrupulous practices by migration and education agents. Karl Konrad, an education and migration agent based in Sydney, says he has been aware of a black market in dodgy documents for years. "I had many students come to my offices and say, 'oh I can buy letters for $3,000 at particular restaurants'," he said. "They didn't name the restaurants, but I was getting many of these type of stories. [So] we sent that information to the Immigration Department and they in turn thanked us for the information and said they would pass it on to Trades Recognition Australia. "Nothing ever became of that."

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard was unavailable for interview and so too was Immigration Minister Chris Evans.


Note: The Indian reporter mentioned above has subsequently claimed that her attacker was Indian, presumably one of the Indian crooks who had become suspicious of her activities


The legal threat to Christian schools

I wonder whether Muslim schools will be required to hire teachers hostile to Islam? That should be fun!

What happens when equal rights between men and women are so widely accepted mainstream Australia hardly thinks about it? Surely it is time to acknowledge that anti-discrimination statutes have done their job?

Not according to the Victorian Government. It harbours the view that discrimination has got sophisticated – so hard to find under current law – that we must widen the law to catch more of it.

Its Attorney-General has his sights set on men-only clubs (apparently it is OK to have female-only clubs and it is OK for men-only rules at gay venues). The Government has also put religion on notice it will come under closer scrutiny.

I am actually more worried about indiscriminate behaviour: things like the indiscriminate bashing of innocent people on city streets. Putting an end to that would be a real advance for their human rights. But it’s also hard, so let’s get back to some easier targets.

At present, discrimination statutes don’t apply to religious bodies and their schools on the grounds of freedom of religion. So a parliamentary committee has recommended options to extend the power of the state over the province of religion. One proposed change is to restrict the freedom of religious schools to choose their employees on the basis of their religious faith.

The churches want to continue current practice. But a host of community organisations want to change it. The Federation of Community Legal Services told the parliamentary review the current law should change, saying: "To allow religious organisations a broad exemption for conscience encourages prejudice."

Think about the moral vanity of that statement. According to these lawyers, a religious conscience leads to prejudice. How did the church arouse public conscience over slavery? How did Florence become a haven for the arts and letters to flourish? How did civilisation develop over the past couple of millennia without the Community Legal Services to guide it?

A leading discrimination law expert, Professor Margaret Thornton, wants to narrow the exemption for religious freedom of schools on the grounds that: "If private schools receive money from the state they should be subject to the law of the land." Of course they should be.

The question is whether the law should require them to employ people who are indifferent or hostile to their religion in their schools. At present it doesn’t. Changing that law will affect not only the schools who employ the staff.

Parents who send their children to a Christian school have a reasonable expectation this means the child will get a Christian education. How could the school fulfil its obligation to the parents if it is required by law to employ non-Christian or anti-Christian teachers to provide it? If the law demands this, you might as well close down the concept of a Christian school – which may be what some of the critics intend.

The provisions applying to religion have been operating for more 30 years with no great community outrage. So why is a parliamentary committee reviewing them now? Because, we are told, they have to be assessed for compliance against the 2006 Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. This charter was introduced with the promise it would amplify rights and freedoms.

There is something so predictable about this. The human rights industry begins with grand promises and ends up intervening in non-problems. We are led to believe that the purpose of such charters is to stop arbitrary arrests, guarantee a free press and guard against dictatorship. In practice, what does it do? It complicates the life of religious schools and open lawsuits against the churches.

Another inquiry has been set up by the Federal Government to look at promoting human rights. It is looking at a statutory charter of rights. No one will tell you the purpose of such a Commonwealth charter will be to curtail religious conscience or practice. But it will work out the same way.

The crusading lawyers will use any new federal charter against those institutions to which they are hostile. They will have sympathetic ears in the equal opportunity commissions. After all, experience in the human rights industry will be a qualification for appointment to those bodies.

The churches and Christian schools will be in the firing line. As the community legal services make clear – their view is that religious conscience encourages prejudice. Once the churches and religious conscience are out of the way, lawyers will have a clear run. Lawsuits will be used to decide the great moral questions of the age.

You can see what’s in it for the lawyers. But don’t think it is a step forward for liberty.


Brilliant Education Dept. internet filter blocks education sites, but not porn

The whole idea of web filtering is a crock

An internet filter installed by the NSW education department gave students access to pornographic material - but blocked educational sites. One site a Year 10 student opened while searching for a type of bird contained graphic sexual material and was only barred on Monday after inquiries from The Daily Telegraph.

George Cochrane said his school-aged son and daughter, who study by distance education from their farm in Grenfell, were horrified by the sites they could access. Other educational sites and harmless web pages for the local member of parliament - and even Education Minister Verity Firth's own site - have been blocked by the filter.

The Department of Education and Training confirmed that the filter would be used on thousands of laptops for high school students. It is also currently used on all computers in schools.

"My daughter typed in 'swallow', as in the bird, and it blocked access to a documentary on swallowing toothpaste but gave you access to a male site talking about inappropriate material," Mr Cochrane said. "The system isn't actually protecting anybody, especially isolated kids."

An education department spokesman confirmed that the site had been blocked on Monday. He said some questionable websites escaped the filter but staff responded to each concern and updated it daily. "On rare occasions inappropriate websites are not captured," he said.

Acting Opposition education spokesman Andrew Stoner yesterday labelled the filter flaws a "debacle". "Internet access should be a key component of Kevin Rudd's so-called Education Revolution," he said. "Nathan Rees and Education Minister Verity Firth are quick to claim credit for the good news so they should accept responsibility for this debacle and fix it as soon as possible."


Bullying victim gets $484,766

This OUGHT to make the NSW government sit up and become more active in preventing school bullying but it won't. Why? Because they don't know how. The only thing that would do some good would be a good thrashing for each bully and, since there is no such thing as right and wrong anymore, that cannot be considered. Offenders can only be "helped"

A victim of school bullying in northern NSW has had his damages award increased by more than $16,000 to $484,766. Last month in the NSW Supreme Court, Justice Elizabeth Fullerton awarded $468,736 to David Gregory, who had sued the State of NSW.

The now 30-year-old had complained of years of bullying while attending Farrer Agricultural High School at Tamworth in the 1990s. He said the bullying led to behavioural problems such as obsessive compulsive disorder and symptoms of depression.

Today, the judge ruled he should also have received $6030 for past medical treatment and expenses and $10,000 for future treatment. She also ordered the State of NSW to pay the legal costs of Mr Gregory, who now lives in Mollymook on NSW's South Coast.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rudd fails economic history lesson

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has got his economic history in his latest exercise in essaying "exactly wrong". That's the view of RMIT University academic Sinclair Davidson, who says it doesn't augur well for our future. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age morphed into something similar to the Pyongyang Post when they ran 6000 words of the PM's most recent deep thoughts over two full pages on Saturday, replete with sub-headings rarely seen outside an election manifesto. The headline across the front page of the SMH read "Rudd's recipe for recovery".

Davidson wants to know how we can trust a bloke who has got the past wrong to lead us into the future.

There's yet more huffing and puffing about those dastardly neo-liberals in the PM's piece. He also takes the novel step of having a go at the 1931 premiers' plan where governments cut expenditure, a bugbear of the ALP since the Scullin Labor government lost power at the end of that year. "It was seen as a very anti-Labor policy," Davidson says. "It was crammed down their throats by Sir Otto Niemeyer and the Bank of England and the Scullin government introduced it and lost the election.

But he adds, "whatever the flaws of the premiers' plan, it certainly did not give rise to catastrophic unemployment". Davidson points to research by RMIT colleague Steven Kates which shows how unemployment in Australia after 1932 fell more swiftly than in the US and Britain. And he pulls out a glittering nugget of trivia -- Niemeyer beat the PM's new hero JM Keynes in their civil service economics exam.

Davidson isn't worried that the PM is channelling Paul Keating channelling Jack Lang. He's worried that Rudd is talking about an entirely different country. "Australia had a v-shaped depression while the US had a big u-shaped depression. The essay shows how ignorant Kevin Rudd is of Australian economic history. He's taking the populist lessons of the Great Depression from the United States. "Americans seem to often think America is the world but the Prime Minister of Australia shouldn't think that American history is Australian history. His advisers either don't know this or don't care enough to tell him."

All up, Davidson describes the background to Rudd's latest essay as extraordinary. "He's put us into debt to the tune of $300 billion having claimed to have learned lessons that he doesn't know."

SOURCE. More on Rudd's warped manifesto here

More beds, not more bureaucrats, are what Australia's hospitals need

RUDD should invest in a voucher scheme instead of taking over hospitals. It's a quarter of a century since Medicare was established, but no one is celebrating. No wonder, considering the critical condition of the public hospital system throughout Australia. Instead we have a 300-page reform blueprint from the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission.

At least the report has identified the main problem. The reality is that Australia's dangerously overcrowded public hospitals don't have enough beds to provide a safe and timely standard of care even for emergency patients. Unfortunately, the commission has strongly supported a range of non-solutions. The primary care reforms it proposes will not help our dysfunctional state-run public hospitals cope with an inexorable rise in demand from an ageing population.

Since 1983 the state health bureaucracies that are responsible for allocating funding, planning services and rationing public hospital care have cut the number of public hospital beds by one-third: from 74,000 beds to just over 54,000. This is a 60 per cent cut, taking population growth into account, from 4.8 public acute beds for every 1000 Australians to 2.5 beds.

Overcrowding occurs when bed occupancy exceeds 85 per cent in hospitals, operating near or beyond full capacity. Average bed occupancy in most leading metropolitan public hospitals is above 90per cent and hospitals routinely operate above 100 per cent occupancy because of political pressure to reduce electorally sensitive waiting times for elective surgery.

The nationwide bed shortage means one-third of emergency patients wait longer than eight hours for a bed to become available. Emergency staff spend more than one-third of their time caring for these patients, which leads to more than 30 per cent of patients not being seen in emergency departments within the recommended time.

The queue for free public hospital care now starts in crowded hospital corridors lined with ailing, mostly frail, elderly patients who are parked on trolleys for hours and sometimes days.

The pressure on hospitals is intensifying because rising numbers of older patients with complex conditions are requiring unplanned admission for bed-based medical and nursing care. In the past five years, admissions by patients aged between 75 and 84, and 85 and older, increased by 25 per cent. A decade ago, the 85-plus demographic wasn't even distinguished in the statistics.

The problem is not that hospitals are underfunded. Over the past decade, real expenditure on public hospitals increased by 64 per cent to top $27 billion in 2006-07. The real problem is that not enough of the money gets through to the frontlines. Between 1996 and 2006 the number of acute public hospital beds fell by 18 per cent per 1000. But between 2001 and 2006, the number of administrators increased by 69 per cent.

The large and costly area health services that administer public hospitals in most states are better at paying for bureaucrats than for beds, and have a deservedly notorious reputation among overworked hands-on hospital staff for warehousing armies of clerks and managers who have no involvement in patient care.

As more and more people live to older ages, a tsunami of demand will break in public hospitals. Increasing numbers of very old patients will inevitably require emergency and bed-based hospital care due to the age-related onset of chronic conditions. Going by the state of the health reform debate, the hospital crisis will become a catastrophe. The wrong-headed premise of the Rudd government's reform agenda is that the commonwealth must spend billions on a national network of comprehensive general practice "super clinics" to take pressure off hospitals.

The NHHRC has fully endorsed this approach. It claims that 10 per cent of public hospital admissions can potentially be prevented by providing better co-ordinated primary and allied health care for chronically ill and elderly patients.

Yet even the discussion paper on the subject commissioned by the commission shows that trial co-ordinated care programs have failed to keep people out ofhospital.

The 15 per cent boost in bed numbers recommended by the commission is welcome. But even if the government accepts this, a one-off and costly boost in bed numbers is not a long-term solution.

Instead of wasting money building stand-alone elective hospitals and wasting political capital trying to take full responsibility for the primary care system, the Rudd government should focus on structural reform of the hospital system.

Flexible and responsive funding and administrative arrangement must be created to allow hospitals to increase the supply of beds and meet the demand that rising numbers of older and sicker patients will generate in coming decades.

The first step towards rebuilding the hospital system is for the commonwealth to take full control of public hospital funding and introduce Medicare-issued, case-mix-calculated hospital vouchers to pay for treatment in either public or private hospitals. The second step is for state governments to agree to re-introduce local public hospital boards with full financial and administrative responsibility for their facilities. The third step is to close down the area health services and use the money saved to fund vouchers and open and staff more hospital beds.

This isn't a plan for Canberra to take over and run hospitals. Funding will be centralised by converting the present federal grants and state hospital budgets into vouchers, while the management of hospitals will be decentralised to local boards. Nor is this a plan to privatise the health system. Tying taxpayer funding to the treatment of patients, increasing choice and competition, and freeing hospitals to respond appropriately to the health needs of the community is not that radical.

This parallels the voucher-based policies the Rudd government is considering implementing to increase efficiency and improve access to publicly funded education in schools, TAFE and universities.

A 50 per cent increase in patients presenting at emergency aged over 85 is predicted over the next five years alone. Bed numbers must increase significantly to equip the hospital system to cope with the unprecedented impact of demographic change. The challenge for policy-makers is to dispense with the failed methods of running public hospitals that have created a continuing crisis 25 years in the making.


Whiners slapped down: Cheap fuel OK

FUEL commissioner Joe Dimasi has declared the 40c-a-litre discounts offered by Coles and Woolworths last week were not anti-competitive. Independent fuel and grocery retailers protested that the discounts were an abuse of market power by the two supermarket majors, who each control about 22 per cent of the fuel retailing sector.

But after a week of deliberation, Mr Dimasi said yesterday the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission had concluded that the promotions did not breach the Trade Practices Act.

Coles supermarkets last week ran a three-day promotion under which shoppers spending $300 in a single visit received vouchers for a 40c-a-litre discount on fuel at Coles Express petrol stations. The offer, which also included 25c- and 10c-a-litre rebates for shoppers spending $200 and $100 respectively, was matched by Woolworths.

The Australasian Convenience and Petrol Marketers Association slammed the promotion as threatening the survival of independent service stations struggling to maintain their 6 per cent market share.

But Mr Dimasi yesterday said that the offer was only a short-term discount for consumers. "For most consumers the discounts will only apply to one weekly or fortnightly shop, and to one tank of fuel," he said.

A Coles spokesman said the supermarket giant welcomed the ACCC's decision. "Our initiative was always aimed at giving customers extra value and we'll continue to look at other ways in which we can be the customer champion," he said.

Mr Dimasi also noted that Metcash, the grocery wholesaler behind the IGA chain of independently owned supermarkets, had this week made its own 40c-a-litre offer.


QANTAS again

The faults and failings never stop. Anybody who flies QANTAS these days is asking for trouble. Their maintenance is obviously close to non-existent. There has got to be a major disaster waiting in the wings

A LOSS of cabin pressure at 25,000 feet forced a Brisbane-bound Qantas aircraft to turn back to Auckland shortly after take-off from New Zealand, a spokesman for the airline says. The Boeing 737 was carrying 91 passengers and crew for the Saturday morning flight out of Auckland, but Qantas spokesman Joe Aston said it was not necessary to treat the malfunction as an emergency.

”The aircraft ... this morning experienced a subtle pressurisation problem at 25,000 feet (7,600m) on ascent out of Auckland,” Mr Aston said. ”The cabin was depressurising at a controlled rate but certainly not rapidly or noticeably to passengers. There was never any imminent threat to passengers, the crew or the aircraft.” The incident would not have been noticeable to passengers inside the main cabin of the aircraft and it was not necessary to supply oxygen masks, he said.

The aircraft landed back at Auckland without incident and passengers were transferred to a different plane which arrived in Brisbane just under three hours late. ”The original aircraft is now being inspected by our engineers in Auckland,” Mr Aston said.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Blacks reject medical care

To get ANY medical staff to serve in the behavioural sink of a black settlement is a big challenge and only a Bangladeshi doctor could be found who was willing to work at the notorious Doomadgee. Now the Doomadgee blacks are blaming that doctor for something he didn't do and say that therefore they don't want him back. So they will now most probably have NO doctor at all. Clever! But no-one ever said they were clever.

The event complained about is the death of a young girl from unknown causes. But the doctor never saw the girl until very late in the piece. It was nurses who refused to admit her to the hospital. But they are not being blamed -- presumably because they too are black.

Post-mortems have however shown that the nurses were correct in at least one aspect of their judgments. They thought she did not have swine flu and it has now been shown that she did not.

What nobody is saying is what she DID die of. So I will mention the unmentionable. She may have died as a result of sexual assault or the complications of a sexually transmitted disease. What grounds do I have for such a scabrous suggestion? Several OFFICIAL reports have now said that sexual abuse of young black children is rife in black communities.

Andrew Bolt has more

THE grandfather of a girl, 4, who died after she was turned away from Doomadgee Hospital in northwest Queensland says her doctor should not come back. Naylor Walden died in her grandmother's arms on Thursday night before her family could get her transferred to the larger Mount Isa Hospital. She had been ill for days before being admitted to the Doomadgee Hospital on Wednesday.

Her grandparents have claimed she was turned away from Doomadgee Hospital several times in the previous week because she was Aboriginal and because of swine flu concerns. Test results on Saturday showed Naylor tested negative to swine flu and the normal flu.

Doomadgee's attending doctor has been flown out of town on police advice. Naylor's grandfather, Athol Walden, told ABC Radio the doctor was no longer welcome. "I don't think he will be welcome back here any more because of the little life that was left in the palm of his hand never came back," he said on Sunday. "With us Aboriginal people, in our traditional law, it takes a long, long time to let go of what has been taken away from us. "I wouldn't welcome him back."

The racism allegations have been rejected by state Health Minister Paul Lucas. "No one more than our doctors and nurses are committed to treating people without regard to their colour," he said. "I have not seen one skerrick of evidence in my time as health minister ... to indicate anything other than our doctors and nurses are absolutely committed to the health of people regardless whether they're indigenous, non-indigenous, refugees or where they come from in the world." A joint investigation into the girl's death by Queensland Health and the state coroner Michael Barnes is underway.


Federal takeover of hospitals?

It's hard to imagine that this could make them any worse than they already are but "surprise me" is all I can say. Note that in the '70s another Labour Party leader (Gough Whitlam) set up some Federal public hospitals but those were eventually quietly and gratefully handed over to the States. Rudd will be mounting a real gorilla on his back if he goes ahead with this but I suppose he expects to be out of office before the full horrors emerge. Prediction: The State governments won't give him much opposition. They will give him control over their hospitals with a big sigh of relief

KEVIN Rudd has flagged a referendum to take control of the nation's healthcare system. Commonwealth, state and territory leaders will meet later this year to examine the health system in the wake of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report, unveiled by Mr Rudd today. Australians face paying a higher Medicare levy to fund a universal dental health scheme.

A preferred reform plan will be discussed at COAG in early 2010, but the Prime Minister has warned he will hold a referendum if agreement is not reached. “If there's no agreement to a comprehensive reform plan the commonwealth will proceed to seek a mandate from the Australian people for the proper reform of our health system,” he said.

Mr Rudd said today the report had “massive implications” and the Government had an obligation to get it right. “Fundamental decisions about the entire system must not be taken lightly and we don't intend to do so,” Mr Rudd said in Canberra.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull claimed the Prime Minister had broken an election promise. “Let's be quite clear about this,” he said. “In 2007, Mr Rudd said to the Australian people he would fix the public hospital system by 30 June this year or he would take it over. “And he has done neither. He hasn't fixed it. Things have gone backwards and he hasn't taken it over. “One broken promise after another. At some point he's going to have to deliver.”

Mr Turnbull said the Opposition would not support the report's recommendation to raise the Medicare levy to 0.75 per cent to fund a universal dental scheme.

The commission has recommended the commonwealth should run and fund all primary health care, basic dental care and aged care as well as indigenous health. It also suggested the commonwealth fund all outpatient services and 40 per cent of emergency admissions. The report also leaves open the option of eventually funding 100 per cent of hospital admissions, but explicitly said that should not occur straight away.

The consultation process starts in Sydney tomorrow when Mr Rudd and Health Minister Nicola Roxon visit some of the city's public hospitals.

One recommendation, likely to be welcomed, is the suggestion that commonwealth fund a new Denticare Australia. The commission says the more than 650,000 people are presently on public dental waiting lists and the dental health of children is worsening. “To address these problems we are recommending a new universal scheme for access to basic dental services - Denticare Australia,” the report says. It will cost an estimated $3.6 billion a year. Under the scheme every Australian will have access to basic dental services “regardless of people's ability to pay”. It will be funded through an increase in the Medicare levy of 0.75 per cent of an individual's taxable income.

The reports also suggests every Australian have an electronic health record to improve continuity of care. New laws would protect the privacy of each individual's e-health record, which they would control. The changes to who runs what would be coordinated through a Healthy Australia Accord with the states and territories. [Another disaster waiting to happen. Has no-one noticed how often the British bureaucracy regularly "loses" huge amounts of confidential information?]


Another take on the Rudd proposals:

FOUR out of five people would be tied to a single doctor [This sounds like a re-creation of the British horror story, where doctors treat each patient very cursorily. They have no incentive to do otherwise] and all patients guaranteed a GP appointment within two days under $16 billion in health reforms. The reforms are set to be unveiled today by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Elderly people could be forced to sell their homes to secure a nursing home bed and a subsidised dental care scheme introduced, as part of the biggest shake-up to health in decades.

The Rudd Government is also being urged to build stand-alone elective surgery hospitals, as part of an ambitious push to cut waiting lists.

In a major attack on obesity, every primary school would have access to an on-site nurse to encourage kids to exercise and stop them from eating McDonald's and other fast foods.

The Courier-Mail has obtained the final 300-page report from the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission. The report, containing 123 recommendations, is expected to form the basis of the Rudd Government's second-term agenda. It outlines the sheer scale of health reforms confronting the Government.

With health costs rising sharply, the report warns that governments will not be able to afford our current health system within 25 years – unless radical change is introduced. Dr Christine Bennett, who was hand-picked by the Prime Minister to hold a 16-month inquiry, has bluntly warned there is a "pressing need for action" to tackle the fragmented health system.

In its 300-page report, the expert panel outlines a massive shift in the treatment of mental health patients. In the wake of high-profile suicides as a result of cyber bullying, it calls for early intervention by trained nurses in mental health cases. New 24-hour "rapid response outreach" teams would also be rolled out to respond to attempted suicides and other mental health emergencies.

The report outlines a $500 million plan to address disadvantages faced by rural communities. This includes $143 million in top-up payments for GPs and other practitioners. Sick people in the bush would also receive $250 million a year in travel and accommodation subsidies as part of efforts to ensure they received health access equal to that of city people.

The commission also recommends the formation of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Authority which must "hold all health services to account" in its work.

The commission has backed off recommending an immediate Commonwealth takeover of state public hospitals but it does suggest that Canberra may eventually need to fully fund public health services. The report calls on the Federal Government to take over 100 per cent funding of public hospitals in the long term. It says this funding change would shift responsibility for health care away from the states to the Federal Government.

Mr Rudd said yesterday that he could still seek a mandate through a referendum at the next election.

The report calls for an urgent injection of funding of up to $5.7 billion a year. The costs of the new Denticare scheme is estimated at more than $3 billion – although this could be offset by a rise of 0.75 per cent in the Medicare levy.

With increasing levels of obesity and diabetes, the Government has been told to set up a national preventative health agency.

The report also backs greater education for young people including "teenage girls at risk of pregnancy".

The Government has also been told to introduce a national system of electronic patient records by 2012 – giving individuals the power to keep personalised health records.

With millions of Australians suffering chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, the report says these people should be encouraged to enrol with a single doctor who will co-ordinate all their health care needs.


Mother sues public Hospital after nearly bleeding to death

A DIABETIC mother has begun legal action against Ipswich Hospital, alleging staff's negligence nearly caused her to bleed to death during childbirth. The 32-year-old has served Ipswich Hospital, west of Brisbane, with a notice of claim for negligence.

The Ipswich mother of four, who only wanted to be known by her first name Kylie, said she was traumatised after haemorrhaging 1.5 litres of blood two hours after giving birth in May. "Instead of sending me to the operating theatre, they were giving me morphine and trying to fix the clotting by reaching into my cervix not just once but four agonising times," she said. "I was screaming in agony and they had my legs pinned down telling me to be quiet.

"My daughter, who was there holding the newborn, was crying and my sister was crying because the midwives and the doctor wouldn't listen."

Her lawyer Olamide Kowalik said Kylie had begun action against the hospital over her treatment and also for the trauma her 12-year-old daughter suffered from witnessing her mother's ordeal.

Ipswich Hospital was served the notice of claim in early July and has 30 days to respond and supply medical records. The hospital's executive director, Dr Gerry Costello, declined to comment, saying it was inappropriate due to ongoing legal action.

Ms Kowalik said the hospital should have been aware there would be complications because medical records showed Kylie bled through her three previous pregnancies.


QANTAS: An airline that doesn't give a sh*t about its passengers -- or anything else much

Qantas seems not to do any real maintenance on its planes and when the inevitable malfunctions occur too bad about the passengers. The story below is about Jetstar, the low-cost tentacle of QANTAS. Qantas is the same airline that recently had a near-riot on its hands in Perth after a very long and unexplained delay. They should enable passengers to phone someone in the airline who can actually be helpful -- including offers of a no-cost transfer to another airline. The EU has strict rules about compensation that airlines must pay to delayed passengers. For once, I think Australia could learn from the EU

A FRUSTRATED Jetstar passenger is urging travellers to prepare for the worst when flying with the low-cost airline. Glenn Cullen took a swipe at Jetstar after revealing his bad experience when flying with the airline for the first time:

THERE had just never been the need to use Qantas' cheaper, younger brother Jetstar. Until recently. The occasion was a 50th birthday weekend on the Gold Coast, and I was initially travelling from Sydney to Brisbane. Despite literally dozens of flights between the two state capitals each day across a number of airlines, this proved something of a task.

When I arrived for flight JQ818 to depart at 2.35pm I was told it would now be leaving at 6.45pm. No explanation or apology, just that it was delayed until that time. I discovered I could get a refund but this did not extend to the price of a ticket with another carrier; it would cost me three times as much to fly with someone else at short notice.

I could however attempt to claim a refund on the difference for a new ticket through Jetstar head office. And that's where the fun began.

Me: "Before I purchase my ticket can I speak to someone about the likelihood of actually getting a refund for this?"

Customer Service: "No sir, you have to post it in and try your luck."

Me: "But how do I know if I will get a refund in the circumstances?"

Customer Service: "I'm sorry sir, all I can do is give you an address."

As I have a function to attend that night I ponder my options. Pay up and hope for the best, wait for the flight or ring Jetstar. I ring Jetstar Australia.

After a 20 minute wait I get put through to someone in South East Asia who eventually also tells me to send in a letter.

Me: "Do you not have someone who I can speak to now?"

Customer Service: "No".

Me: "Can I speak to a supervisor?"

Customer Service: "No, I'm the most senior person."

Me: "Well, as the most senior person, can you tell me whether I would be likely to get a refund?"

Customer service: "No I can't."

Me: "Can I speak to someone else?"

Customer Service: "No you can't, I'm the most senior person."

Me: "Can you transfer me to someone at your head office in Australia?

Customer Service: "No I can't."

And so it went.

Eventually I'm told I can hang up and dial the Jetstar number again and if I press the first option I will get onto someone in Australia. I ring, wait another 20 minutes to get through and seem to be connected to someone in Asia. Again.

Me: "Can you transfer me to someone locally?"

Customer Service: "No."

Much the same conversation transpires before I eventually hang up. Sigh.

I sit it out for three more hours in the domestic terminal before re-checking in. Then I am handed a $10 voucher by a stonefaced Jetstar check-in clerk. I think to myself this may be some compensation – back as a nine-year-old when I charged out my time at $2.50 an hour. Be that as it may I take the voucher with me onto the flight.

Once I have boarded the flight is delayed a further 45 minutes due to two missing passengers. The pilot points out our collective frustrations should not be taken out on his crew as the flight staff were on standby and it's not their fault. He does not however offer a suggestion as to where said frustrations can be taken out.

To this point I have not raised a temper. Upon ordering some cheese and crackers from the food cart this changes. The exchange goes like this.

Steward: "That will be three dollars."

Me: "I'll pay for this with the voucher, thank you."

Steward: "You can't use the voucher for this."

Me: "I'm sorry?"

Steward: "This is valid in the terminal only."

Me: "Are you kidding?

Steward: "No – and it says that on the voucher. You would have had plenty of time to use it at the terminal."

I shake my head and double check classy, photocopied stub only available for use on day and not for the purchase of alcohol.

Me: "Can you tell me exactly where on the ticket it says it's only for use in the terminal?"

Steward: Looks at ticket, pauses and responds: "Well, you would have been told that when you were given it."

Me: "No, I wasn't. Are you making this up as you go along?"

Heather "Well sir, I wasn't there so I don't know whether you were told or not."

Me: "This is (expletive). I have to wait five hours for a one hour flight and you are squabbling with me over three dollars for some cheese and crackers?"

She looks at me disdainfully and offers a punchline that could have come straight from the movie Clerks.

Steward: "Well what do you want me to do, it's my day off!"

Me: "I think I'll take it up with head office."

Steward: "You do that".

Touche – if only there was a number I could call.

Later, a spokeswoman for Jetstar said the flight was "unfortunately delayed due to a technical issue" and refreshment vouchers were only for use at the airport. "We arranged for an alternative aircraft to operate this service, however, unfortunately there was a five-hour delay," she said. "As per our normal policy, we provided all passengers with vouchers for refreshments for use at the airport."

She said Jetstar sincerely apologises to Mr Cullen (the writer) for any inconvenience this delay may have caused him. "Passengers were also able to request a free move to another Jetstar service, or a full refund of their Jetstar fare, which we would have processed immediately upon his request," she said.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Four years to ban a horror surgeon

The usual level of protection that you can expect from Australia's medical "regulators". There has got to be some means of fast-tracking this sort of thing

A SURGEON being sued for allegedly performing botched gynaecological operations - some without consent - on women in WA public hospitals has been banned from practising medicine. The obstetrician and gynaecologist, who has now left the country, has been permanently stripped of his right ever to work as a doctor in WA.

The ban comes as the Medical Board of WA pursues further shocking allegations of misconduct by the surgeon involving more than 100 female patients. The Sunday Times can now reveal the first details of what is potentially the most serious medical scandal in the state's history after a blanket suppression order was partially lifted on Monday following legal action by this newspaper and the Medical Board.

It can now be reported: The doctor is facing civil court claims that could result in large compensation payouts for the State Government. One woman interviewed by The Sunday Times said she was ``angered and disgusted at the outcome'' and the doctor had left her ``feeling and thinking I'm not normal''.

While knowing of the investigation against him, the doctor attempted to cover up the allegations while trying to obtain work overseas. He lied in an interview and produced fake documents of his good standing in WA.

The judge who banned the doctor ruled his behaviour as ``disgraceful or dishonourable'' conduct for a member of the medical profession. The scandal was so serious former attorney-general and health minister Jim McGinty thought public exposure so important he personally intervened and challenged the suppression in late 2007. He lost the application.

The Medical Board lawyers have been fighting to suspend the doctor since November 2005 and have filed 14 complaints against him in the State Administrative Tribunal. The Sunday Times, which understands all potentially affected WA patients have been contacted by health officials, has been investigating the scandal for more than a year, fighting to bring the case to the public's attention.

The doctor is also being sued by five former patients in the District Court, seeking personal-injury damages for medical negligence. More civil actions will follow in coming months. One woman claims in a writ that surgery performed by the doctor ``constituted trespass as it was performed in the absence of the plaintiff's consent to do so''.

Another alleged victim and her husband filed a writ over a botched sterilisation in which the doctor failed to apply a fishie clip to her right fallopian tube and resulted in her becoming pregnant and having a child.

The doctor at the centre of the scandal is now believed to be in South Africa, having fled halfway through the tribunal and court proceedings. He hasn't worked in WA since June 2006.

Tribunal president John Chaney ordered the doctor's permanent work ban in March this year and in a judgment found he deceived South African health officials while trying to work at a hospital near Durban....

Judge Chaney allowed his judgment to be made public but he ordered the continued suppression of the doctor's identity and all details of the 13 unresolved tribunal cases, including patient names

Mediation is listed for later this year but one alleged victim said she was ``angered'' that she has been gagged from talking about her case and the length of time taken in hearing her complaints. Health Minister Kim Hames declined to comment. The Sunday Times has lodged an appeal in the WA Supreme Court seeking to overturn the remaining suppression orders and allow us to inform the WA public about what is going on.


A young woman who likes correct grammar

Poor grammar is still unprestigious but finding people with good grammar is becoming harder as it is no longer taught in the schools

It was a Monday morning; he was frothing milk as we chatted idly about the drunken antics of our respective weekends. All the usual stuff - the people we knew in common, the places we had almost run into each other, the quality of the cocktail jugs at various Sydney locations. He might have been carefully watching the temperature gauge rise on that little jug of milk, but we both knew where the real heat was. Just as I was about to casually invite him to a rock gig he dropped a clanger.

‘Yeah I like World Bar. Dave and me were there last Thursday.’ Instinctively, impulsively, STUPIDLY I fired back. “You mean Dave and I were there.” Because nothing says “we should go out” like a grammar check.

He looked at me like I was a three week old sausage roll he’d found wedged into the tread of his shoe, mumbled a ‘“yeah, whatever” and went back to making the coffee. Silently.

It’s a look I get often. As a grammar Nazi I am the irritating friend who corrects Facebook posts from “there” to “their.” The one who has to hold back facial spasms whenever someone says “youse.” I am something of a rarity amongst my peers – a 22 year old who adores a well constructed sentence.

As a card carrying member of Gen Y, I am a product of an education system that is more focussed on alliteration and assonance than the basics of adverbs and adjectives. Somewhere during my schooling (all done at state public schools) we jumped from learning the alphabet, to examining the themes of novels and plays. The participles and pronouns – in truth the finer points of basic grammar - were lost by the wayside.

Now this isn’t to say I had a poor English education. Far from it. I had some wonderful and enthusiastic teachers during my years at school. I learned to love and appreciate good literature, I learned to debate and discuss in my essays and by the end I achieved some very good results in my HSC. To put it bluntly I fulfilled everything that the NSW English curriculum required of me. But where was the grammar? That basic stepping stone schooling that older generations had to go through.

I asked my mother about what her English education was like and she told me all about “parsing,” - basically pulling apart sentences. Examining their structure. Learning exactly what adverbs, verbs, nouns and pronouns were. Getting drilled and tested on it day in, day out. Sure it’s boring, but so is algebra – and at least it’s a sure bet you’ll need to use grammar later in life. I’m struggling to remember the last time I had to work out the value of ‘x,’ but I’m always unsure whether it’s meant to be ‘learned’ or ‘learnt.’ Why are we not still taught grammar like this at school?

What’s scary is that in my first year of a journalism degree at University, my lecturer handed out a basic grammar and punctuation test. Unsurprisingly, the entire class performed dismally. We couldn’t conjugate if our lives depended on it.

And what’s scarier is that to a certain degree they do. Name me an employer who is going to hire a young graduate doesn’t know the difference between ‘it’s’ and ‘its.’ In these times of growing unemployment and job un-security it could be the difference between getting an interview, or having a resume tossed into the reject pile.

I believe it’s time that grammar was brought back into schools, and I believe it should be done quickly – before we start having generations of English teachers who themselves don’t know the difference between a verb and an adverb.

And as for me? I changed coffee spots. The barista might have been hot but I’m hoping there’s someone out there for me that can use prepositions properly as they proposition me.


Another big government medical bungle

Something very similar happened in Britain a couple of years ago but do governments ever learn? Rhetorical question

HUNDREDS of international medical students were told this week they would not be guaranteed internships in NSW public hospitals because there are not enough staff to supervise them. The warning comes despite the Federal Government ramping up university places in the past three years to solve the state's crippling shortage of doctors.

The students, who each paid about $200,000 in course fees, are furious, saying it is now too late for them to get internships in their home countries and any forced break between the end of their studies this month and starting work in a hospital was "career suicide".

For the first time, the State Government invoked a priority system this year when 879 students applied for 670 positions, saying it did not have enough money to offer internships to all graduates wanting to work in NSW.

The Institute of Medical Education and Training, which allocates internships, has blamed a surge in the number of interstate students applying for jobs in NSW because they have been unable to find enough supervised roles in their home states. It said the problem was compounded by some students accepting multiple internships in several states, then not showing up for work when the rotations began in January.

Under the priority system, NSW students are offered places first, then Australian and New Zealand residents from interstate, then other international students studying in Sydney.

But overseas students have been told final offers will not be made until January, well after interns overseas have started their hospital rotations. "We're shell-shocked," one student said. "All along we've been assured we would get placements, then on Monday afternoon we got a two-line email rejecting us. "We wanted to live our lives in Australia and work in the NSW hospital system. Now we don't know what to do. You just can't take a break between university and vocational training. It is virtually impossible to get back in."

Medical student numbers in NSW soared from 493 in 2007 to 1104 last year, prompting universities to issue warnings the health system would not be able to support the rise. "These are people who want to work in the system," the president of the Australian Medical Association, Andrew Pesce, said yesterday. "They've paid for something and they have every right to be angry that they are not getting it. "What is the point in training yourself if you are not able to work as a doctor at the end? The Government needs to make a serious commitment to investing properly in training these people. It's an investment, not a cost."

The president of the Australian Medical Students Association, Tiffany Fulde, said hospitals were facing a "student tsunami" which would only worsen with three more medical schools turning out graduates in the next three years. "The system isn't coping now, so where will we be when we have double the number of students?" she said.

In April, the dean of medicine at the University of Sydney, Bruce Robinson, said the restrictions made NSW a "less attractive destination" for international medical students. "[It] places an extraordinary additional stress on them," he said. "International students in every year of their medical studies are rightly expressing deep concerns about their future prospects, and [this] is detracting from their experience of studying here," he said.

International students deserved a "fair go", he said. "We simply would like to be able to offer our international students the same education and training opportunities as we provide for our local students."


Conservative wobbles over climate laws

There is a widespread awareness among Australia's Federal conservative politicians that global warming is a hoax but they also see various political hazards in completely rejecting Warmist laws. The conservative coalition as a whole is fairly demoralized and disorganized so they are not game so far to declare that the emperor has no clothes. With strong leadership they could probably win an election by proclaiming the hoax but they don't have such leadership so would almost certainly lose an election fought on that basis

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has described the Opposition's demands on climate change as a "shopping list" aimed at patching up divisions within the Coalition. The Opposition says it is willing to vote for the emissions trading scheme (ETS) if the Government agrees to a number of changes.

Mr Rudd says he is surprised Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has put forward a raft of amendments, just 19 days before the ETS will be voted on. "[It is] a shopping list, which I think has more to do with patching up some of the internal divisions in the Liberal Party than it has to do with much else," he said.

Mr Turnbull has today responded to criticism of his emissions policy backflip, particularly from backbencher Wilson Tuckey. "The shadow cabinet is as arrogant as Wilson Tuckey is humble," he said. He has also refused comment on whether the policy change is simply about stopping the Government calling an early election.

Mr Turnbull says he is confident he will get the support of a majority of the party room on an ETS. "What we've said is that if the scheme is presented in its current form on August 13 then we will vote against it and that's what we agreed to do in the party room," he said. "If the changes are satisfactory, if they address the issues that we've set out in the statement and it's a different scheme, then we'll take it back to the party room."

Some National senators have expressed concerns about the change of position, but Mr Turnbull told Saturday AM it is rare for any decision to have the entire support of the party room. "We're not seeking unanimity we're seeking consensus, we're seeking the support of a majority," he said.

He has conceded that there is little chance the Government will hold off on voting on an ETS until after the United Nations climate change meeting in December. "As far as the delaying a vote until after Copenhagen, I still believe that would be more prudent and we make that point in the statement," he said. "But the reality is, Mr Rudd is the Prime Minister, he's running the legislative agenda, he's going to force a vote before Copenhagen - that's his decision.

"And so the question is, presented with that less than ideal timing, how do we react to it? And so we are reacting to it in a constructive and effective way that the Australian people will understand, is an Opposition that is seeking to engage and ensure as best we can that the emissions trading scheme is right for jobs and right for the environment."


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gross corruption in the Queensland police gets a big yawn

IT'S almost too fanciful to be true: a prisoner is picked up from jail and taken for a drive by police officers through the suburbs on Brisbane's southside. He's handed a list of unsolved break-and-enters, perhaps as many as 300. He reads the details: how entry was gained, what was taken, the time the crime was committed. And he's told that he needs to admit to at least 20 to make his reward worthwhile.

What was that? According to evidence given by the prisoner to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, police collected his girlfriend and delivered her to Morningside police station. And it was there where they engaged in sex and the prisoner injected himself with drugs his girlfriend brought.

The prisoner, called RI in the scathing report into police released this week, was not the only person allowed to come and go from their jail cell. Murderers and armed robbers were allowed out of custody: one to meet his partner and young children in Roma Street Parkland for a play; another to lunch at a swish riverside restaurant.

The CMC's Dangerous Liaisons report, based on its Operation Capri, is not a repeat of the Fitzgerald inquiry - but it's certainly a reminder of how a bad lot of eggs can stink out a whole refrigerator. And with more than 25 officers implicated in wrongdoing - ranging from stupidity to outright criminal activity - it should not be dismissed as easily as it was this week.

The sheer brazenness of some officers seems to know no bounds. Take this example, also outlined in the report. An informant fund existed, courtesy of the Australian Bankers Association and the Credit Union Security Forum. And over the period of its operation, 77 payments were made, a total of $17,990. But no records were kept, an "end justifies the means" mentality meant that few rules existed, and money was misappropriated. Police also falsely claimed payments had been made to informants, signatures were forged and evidence of transactions faked.

There's no better example of the latter than one outlined by Robert Needham and his team in their comprehensive and temperate investigation report. In that example, officers faked an audiotape and produced it as proof of a payment to an informant. The audio was supposed to support a meeting between two officers and an informant at a coffee shop at West End. But investigations showed it was made in carpark bay 148 on level B2 of police headquarters, and that a police officer assumed the role of an informant for the recording.

The litany of misdemeanours, maladministration and outright corruption weaves its way throughout the report, but it is Lee Owen Henderson, who is shown to have more influence on one group of officers than their own commissioner, Bob Atkinson. Henderson had 1241 calls diverted through one police station, at a cost of $2056, and his monthly telephone call bill was $535 - a big sum for a prisoner without any obvious source of income. But he was no ordinary prisoner. Called "The General", he had his own police locker, was able to arrange a police drug raid and despite earning only $7500 as a prisoner in a six-year period, spent at least $100,272.17.

He helped one officer buy a car, organised a theft from prison, and even sent two fluffy toys and two bibs - worth $85 - to a couple of police officers who were celebrating the birth of their baby daughter. He signed it "loyalty and love always".

Henderson was allowed to pose as an underworld crime figure with connections to corrupt police, had his own locker at the Rockhampton police station, and had access to police computers to help someone who wanted to give a "flogging" to a person they couldn't find.

The revelations this week are terrible but so is the response to them at every level. The Police Union decided to go in to bat for those police officers who were subject to the report, not the 99.9 per cent of others who are honest and law-abiding and who will be tainted by the accusations levelled at their colleagues. Commissioner Atkinson, who accepts responsibility for the misconduct, has allowed many of those under a cloud to resign on full benefits. That means they've got off scot free. And the Government? Originally elected on a post-Fitzgerald reform agenda, it seems to have decided silence is the best policy.

Queenslanders deserve better, especially those law-abiding, honest and hard-working police officers who will now be unfairly tainted by the wrongdoing of their unscrupulous colleagues.


More public hospital negligence

Would YOU like to be the one being operated on in such circumstances? Where warnings were ignored, equipment wasn't working and personnel had no previous experience in the procedure?

A DOCTOR whose patient died after a common throat operation says he "neglected to go through the paperwork" and failed to heed warnings from a nurse to delay the procedure. The comments came yesterday during an inquest into the 2007 death of popular Emerald grandmother Yvonne Davidson, who died at Rockhampton Base Hospital.

A critically ill Mrs Davidson died shortly after intensive care specialist Dr Robin Leigh Holland performed a percutaneous tracheostomy to help her breathe easier. Although her official cause of death was septicemia (blood poisoning) triggered by pneumonia, an examining pathologist said the operation hurried her death by two days to two months.

New hospital guidelines for the procedure stated two specialists had to perform the operation after the relevant equipment was checked. Registered nurse Lois Gillespie said she gave Dr Holland a printout of the guidelines and told him about the need for another specialist to be present, and that the monitor to be used was problematic.

Although Dr Holland denied the nurse told him the monitor was not working, he admitted appointing Dr David Guitierrez, who had never performed the procedure, to assist him. "Robin said David was as good as any consultant and (David) was his consultant," Ms Gillespie told the court. "Robin was saying that he would do it right and that he didn't need (the monitor)."

The nurse then said Dr Holland couldn't get the bronchoscope light to flash, but assured her "I'd be right. I'll go blind". She claimed she advised Dr Holland to delay the operation in light of equipment failures and a shortage of back-up staff.

Dr Holland said he did not recognise the hospital guidelines given to him because they looked like a list of medical equipment on a trolley. He said he had all confidence in the pair's ability to complete the operation, even when Dr Guitierrez's first attempt to insert a tube did not work.


An older Australian way to deal with Arab attacks

To Reginald Messenger, it was "just something that had to be done". He was a trooper in the 6th Light Horse Regiment at Beersheba in 1918 when he took part in what is emerging as one of the darkest, and and most overlooked, chapters of Australian military history. Known as the Surafend massacre, it involved 200 Anzac troops, some from the famed Australian Light Horse, who retaliated for the murder of a New Zealand soldier by razing a Bedouin village in Palestine and murdering between 40 and 120 of its inhabitants.

"Dad told me about it numerous times," Reginald's son, Oliver, said. "He said that they were camped next to this Gyppo village and one day they woke up to find that some of their blokes had their throat cut and their things stolen. It had been going on for some time - the Gyppos would steal from them all the time - and so they decided to do something about it, because no one else would."

One night in December 1918 the soldiers surrounded the Bedouin village of Surafend, emptied it of woman and children, then fell upon the men with bayonets and heavy sticks. "Dad never expressed any remorse about it," Mr Messenger said. "I gather that they had put up with it for too long. They were good soldiers, those blokes, but they didn't put up with any shit."

The incident occurred shortly after the end of World War I, and has been all but obliterated from the official record. Just three pages of H.S. Gullet's 844-page official war history mention it, and neither the NSW Returned and Services League nor the Light Horse Association had heard of it.

A new book, called Beersheba, by the journalist Paul Daley, re-examines the Surafend massacre, and the long shadow it cast over the legend of the Light Horse, famed for their 1917 cavalry charge at Beersheba. Daley says that, after the massacre the British commander-in-chief, General Sir Edmund Allenby, "wiped his hands" of the Light Horse, even maliciously withdrawing citations and decorations. "Dad said that after the incident, a general - perhaps it was Allenby - addressed the men and called them cowards," Mr Messenger said. "But the men just counted him out [counted loudly, in unison]. They just drowned him out, you know?"

A spokesman for the Australian War Memorial, said: "The Anzac legend is an uplifting one but, like all legends, there are some unfortunate aspects. But this doesn't detract from acts of heroism and bravery."


Estimating the effects of teacher quality

The Rudd Government's education revolution will amount to little if it fails to lift teacher quality. Computers, libraries, arts centres and well-functioning buildings are vital in improving the learning environment, and the appeal of schools. Only a curmudgeon would quibble over the extra expenditure. But unless teacher quality also improves, the revolution will be half-baked.

With so many baby-boomer teachers retiring over the next seven years - in NSW virtually half the teaching population - there is both opportunity and imperative to raise the standard.

Any parent knows the quality of the child's teacher is critical. That is why the pushier parents lobby to secure the best teacher for their child, and more reticent parents accept with sinking hearts the lost year or lost marks a bad teacher represents.

Now economists have quantified the effect of a good teacher compared to a bad teacher - not only on a child's academic attainment and future earnings but on the health of a national economy. The difference a good teacher makes is large.

Professor Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University, has just visited Australia, bringing a body of research that should focus the minds of politicians on teacher quality. It's not easy. Rolling out laptops is child's play in comparison.

Based on extensive work, conducted partly in the Texas school system, he estimates the students of a bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in a year. The students of a good teacher will learn 1 ½ year's worth of material. That's a whole year's more learning with a quality teacher.

To people who say family background is the most decisive influence on children's academic attainment and that teachers can't compensate, Hanushek says: "Dead wrong." If a disadvantaged student had a good teacher instead of an average one for three or four years in a row, the achievement gains would be dramatic, he says. Put another way, a student who starts at the 50th percentile of the state's distribution on test scores after a year with a good teacher will move up to the 59th percentile.

Teacher effects dwarf school effects, his work shows, so that it is better to be in a bad school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher; and better to be in a big class with a great teacher than in a small class with a hopeless one.

In Australia he was talking about the effect of better schooling on economic growth. In a dazzling comparison of 50 countries over four decades, he was able to demonstrate the huge importance of a nation's cognitive skills in explaining economic growth. Countries that have improved their schools - as measured by student scores in international tests of maths, science and literacy ) have also improved their economic growth rates. This applies to developing and developed countries.

Just by getting rid of the bottom 5 per cent to 10 per cent of bad teachers and replacing them with average ones could improve Australia's brainpower, and its economic performance, he says.

Not everyone agrees that teacher quality is so critical. For a start, if this is the main problem it gives governments a handy excuse to minimise expenditure on facilities, or on lower class sizes. A study led by the University of New England that monitored 500 pairs of identical twins through the first three years of school says the "teacher effect" is about 8 per cent, not the 40 per cent other researchers have found. But even if the effect has been overstated in the past, it is still important. Imagine having three talented teachers in a row; even a single gifted teacher can change lives.

Yet improving teacher quality is harder than economists' PowerPoint presentations make out. Good teachers are hard to identify in advance of doing the job - teacher credentials and even years of service are no guide.

It is only when they teach they demonstrate their abilities and, in our system, teachers have virtual tenure for life once they are admitted to a classroom. Little can be done about poor teachers. Even in-service training, Hanushek, claims, has disappointing results.

His own suggestion for attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is the much-lambasted idea of performance pay. Under the single-salary structure that operates here, a bad teacher costs the state as much as a good teacher; across-the-board pay increases give the bad teacher no incentive to leave, and the talented no incentive to stay. The idea is so resisted by teacher unions around the world there is little empirical evidence that performance pay delivers for students.

Thanks partly to the number of bright girls who entered teaching in the 1970s, the baby-boomer teacher generation can boast a high proportion of talented teachers. Australia's respectable international tests scores reflect a reasonable standard of teaching overall. With this generation retiring, it is imperative the replacements are even better teachers. A well-constructed incentive pay scheme deserves consideration, as does better ways to weed out bad teachers. Above all, we have to make schools places where talented people will want to work.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Bill Carter QC calls for ban on cops investigating cops

The old CJC did all its own investigations so why cannot its successor body, the CMC? Dare I suggest bureaucratic laziness? Note that even in this latest case where there was extensive wrongdoing, the CMC initially dismissed the complaints. They were only prodded into action by another body. I suggest that the CMC is not worth feeding. It is just a reincarnation of Sir Joh's old Police Whitewash Tribunal of the 1970s and 80s

FORMER Queensland corruption commissioner Bill Carter QC yesterday demanded an end to the practice of "cops investigating cops" for misconduct, saying this must be done by investigators independent of the police. The retired Supreme Court judge, who headed two investigations into police corruption in the 1990s, spoke out as Queensland's embattled Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson rejected calls for the service to be stripped of powers to investigate allegations of misconduct and corruption against its own.

Wednesday's scathing report by the state's Crime and Misconduct Commission into the so-called Dangerous Liaisons affair, in which police are alleged to have offered cash, confidential information, outings from prison and sexual encounters to prison informants to boost crime clearance rates, has unleashed criticism that the Queensland Police Service has turned its back on the hard-earned lessons of the Fitzgerald corruption inquiry of 20 years ago.

Mr Carter said that police corruption would not be arrested until all such misconduct allegations were handled by an external agency such as the CMC, not the police service's own Ethical Standards Command. This was the case in Queensland under the CMC's forerunner, the Criminal Justice Commission, which was established in the wake of the Fitzgerald inquiry to combat corruption in the police and government sector.

In an interview with The Australian, Mr Carter said he made recommendations about the need for a strong police watchdog in reports from two commissions of inquiry he headed into police corruption -- one dealing with police involvement in drugs, and the other where police were stealing and selling cars.

In both cases police depended on information from criminal contacts -- a practice Mr Carter condemned. "The current CMC operates on the basis that it responds to complaints," Mr Carter said. "It doesn't have any proactive strategy where there is an ongoing investigation and analysis of intelligence, and so forth. "It is designed to avoid having another Fitzgerald inquiry, which assumes the watchdog will be continually vigilant and working on it. They have to build up an intelligence base and ongoing strategies to identify where there might be a problem before it gets out of hand."

But CMC chair Robert Needham, who will retire from the body at the end of the year, yesterday told The Australian that it was "not physically possible or desirable" for the watchdog to handle all complaints of police misconduct. "I am of the firm belief that the less serious police misconduct should be handled relatively close to the officer against whom the allegation has been made," he said. "It's only through the supervisor taking responsibility for dealing with allegations of misconduct among his officers that high ethical standards and appropriate supervision will be embedded. "If a supervisor is able to send a complaint against an officer to an external body, like the CMC, then they will have the attitude that it's not a matter they have to worry about."

The CMC's Dangerous Liaison's report detailed how the initial two complaints about improper police dealings with prisoners were initially dismissed by the Ethical Standards Command. It was only when the Australian Federal Police later intercepted prison telephone calls of double murderer Lee Owen Henderson -- who is at the centre of the scandal -- that a full investigation was launched. Of the 25 officers -- some ranked as high as inspector -- implicated in the CMC report, three have been charged with perjury, one has been sacked, seven have resigned and there are 11 still serving, mostly as detectives.

Mr Atkinson yesterday defended the retention of the 11 police, saying it was "appropriate" because the offences were at the lower end of the misconduct spectrum. Mr Atkinson also confirmed that all 25 officers, including those facing criminal charges, would retain lucrative superannuation benefits. Only officers charged with "official misconduct" or criminally charged with "official corruption" can lose the government's contribution to their benefits.

Mr Atkinson echoed Mr Needham's comments, saying all of "the serious matters" handled by police were referred back to the CMC for review. "I think most people accept that we can't go back 20 years and rely on the CMC to investigate every complaint against a member of the police service," he said. "I do support the concept that we should be doing most of it."

Mr Atkinson yesterday also backed two retired assistant commissioners, who initially oversaw the dispensing of funds to informants, mostly prisoners, by the now-disgraced and disbanded Armed Robbery Unit. "You are not talking about people who, in my view, have any cloud or suspicion about them," he said.

Mr Atkinson also attacked Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers, who described the CMC's report as being full of "wild" allegations that relied on the word of convicted criminals. He said the union was "out of step" with the rest of the community and should cut loose some of the officers implicated in the CMC report. "Where a police officer has clearly done something criminal or it's misconduct and serious inappropriate behaviour, they have to disown that person," he said. "I'm not talking about situations which are arguable. I'm talking about situations where it is quite clear that the officer has acted wrongly, inappropriately and unlawfully."

However, Mr Leavers stood by his comments, saying everyone had the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. "I believe the only reason the CMC was in such a hurry to publish the allegations is so they could grandstand at an anti-corruption conference next week," he said. "The right to a fair trial is vital for any accused person. It is for the courts to decide someone's guilt or innocence, not the CMC, not the media and not the police commissioner."

Banks have asked the Queensland Police Service to return $10,000 given a decade ago to reward informants in robbery investigations. The Australian Bankers Association in 2000 provided $10,000 to Queensland police to set up a fund to assist in investigations into bank robberies.

Tabled in state parliament on Wednesday, the Dangerous Liaisons report invokes a return to the pre-Fitzgerald days, with police taking illegal payments, confecting charges and passing on confidential information to informants. It also details police organising court-approved excursions out of jail for prisoners, who later dined at restaurants or had sex with their partners in exchange for confessions.

Henderson, a double murderer and former NSW underworld figure, was allowed out on unsupervised trips and organised a drug heist using his unmonitored telephone from inside a maximum-security jail. The report said some mid-ranking officers had turned a blind eye or encouraged such behaviour.


Mother gives high-risk birth at home after being refused admittance by public hospital

A MOTHER has claimed she was forced to give birth on her bedroom floor after being turned away from a Sydney hospital because there were not enough beds. Natasha Ramirez, 27, was bleeding and in labour when she first arrived at Liverpool Hospital last Thursday but said she was told by a nurse, "We don't have enough room tonight". "She told me to go back home because I wouldn't be in labour for another 24 to 48 hours," Ms Ramirez said yesterday.

Five hours later baby Anjelita was born on the bedroom floor at the Ramirez home, The Daily Telegraph reports. The hospital last night refused to comment on the specific allegations.

Ms Ramirez was at her Liverpool unit with her partner Ricardo Hermosilla when she went into labour about 3am. With her mother Diane Burns in Dubbo, Ms Ramirez decided to call a taxi to take her to the hospital. When she arrived she was taken to the birthing unit but claimed she was not seen by a doctor, only a nurse.

At four days overdue, Ms Ramirez was concerned that there might be complications similar to those she suffered in her previous birth when she needed anti-D injections because of her O-negative blood type. "A nurse assessed me and told me to go back home because they were full that night," she said. "I was told all along during my pregnancy that as soon as I went into labour I needed to be assessed and given the injections straight away. "When I got back home I had to lie on the floor I was in so much pain."

She called the hospital again and was told by staff to return. Mr Hermosilla called an ambulance but Anjelita was born before it arrived. "I am angry because something could have happened," she said. Her mother said she was furious her daughter had been put through such an ordeal. "When she got home she rang the hospital and told them she was having contractions and then they said they would make arrangements for a bed," Ms Burns said. "It just makes you wonder why they couldn't do that in the first place."

In a statement last night, a hospital spokeswoman said patients' complaints were taken "very seriously". "Patients who have not yet begun labour, and who are assessed by a doctor and found to have no other clinical needs, are usually sent home to await the full onset of labour," the spokeswoman said.


Humanity can't power progress with green faith

By Martin Ferguson (Martin Ferguson is the federal Resources and Energy Minister in Australia's centre-Left Federal government)

ENVIRONMENTALISTS who oppose everything except renewable energy are condemning billions to poverty. THE federal government's support for a liquefied natural gas development in the Kimberley and the Four Mile uranium mine in South Australia has generated heated opposition from people who say they are true environmentalists.

The same people oppose the government's $2.4 billion commitment to accelerate low-emission coal technologies. And, despite a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020 and more than $2bn also being spent to accelerate and commercialise renewable technologies, they don't like biomass even though it is proven and often the most affordable, efficient and practical of the renewable technologies on offer today. Some also oppose geothermal energy.

Such opposition demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of where our electricity comes from, how much it costs, who pays for it and what the future global energy landscape looks like. There are 1.6 billion people in the world with no access to electricity. They are the poorest people on the planet. As the developing world continues to modernise and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development economies continue to grow, global energy consumption is set to nearly double in the next 20 years.

China is the obvious case study. It already has 11 nuclear power stations in operation and a further 29 under construction or announced. China's LNG imports are set to double this year and increase a further 50 per cent next year. It already has more renewable energy capacity than any other nation and renewable energy's share of domestic capacity in China will grow to 15 per cent in 2020.

And every four months, from now until 2020, China will build new coal-fired power stations possessing the same capacity as Australia's entire coal-fired power sector. Clearly, no serious response to climate change can ignore the need to clean up coal. Those who oppose the development of Australia's uranium and LNG resources, and low-emission coal technologies, need to answer the following two questions.

Do they want the world's poor to have access to electricity? If so, how do they propose to generate it? The answers would be yes and renewables. Admirable, but impossible today. I have yet to meet anyone who opposes the use of cheap, reliable renewable energy. However, the factors limiting the uptake of renewables remain technical, not political. We must have a rational, science-based pathway to overcome those hurdles. Faith alone will not get us there.

That is precisely why the federal government is making unprecedented investments in clean-energy technology development and our budget this year contained $4.5bn to achieve this goal. Governments across the world are taking similar steps because technology created this problem and only an energy technology transformation will solve it. Many different technology pathways are being pursued because it is too early to pick winners.

Technologies capable of producing clean, affordable, reliable base-load power from the sun, the wind or the ocean, or from low-emission coal, may still be several years away. Any objective assessment of available global energy options would conclude that gas and uranium are essential transition fuels as the world moves to a cleaner energy future.

During the next few decades, uranium and LNG are set to play a significant role in the global response to climate change and, put simply, blanket opposition to these industries is a political stance, not a practical one. As an energy-rich nation with a wide range of options, Australia does not need to pursue a domestic nuclear power industry, yet many nations are not so lucky. For them, a nuclear energy capacity is vital to respond to the challenges of climate change and energy security.

With about 40 per cent of the world's uranium, Australia has an obligation to be a responsible supplier of uranium for peaceful purposes and an opportunity to make a significant contribution to global carbon dioxide abatement efforts.

This comes with significant economic benefits. Australia's uranium exports are forecast to nearly double by 2014, to $1.6bn. Our LNG sector is set to have an even greater impact.

Australia is already the fifth largest LNG exporter, with exports worth nearly $10bn in 2008-09. With the range of projects under consideration in northwestern Australia and at Gladstone, LNG exports could triple in the next decade. These are big employers and big investors. Take Woodside's Pluto LNG project in the Pilbara, Australia's largest single investment project at about $12bn. Today, at the peak of construction, it is employing about 4000 people, one in four of whom come from the east coast.

Later this year, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil expect to make a final investment decision on the Gorgon LNG project, also in the Pilbara. And the race is on to develop Inpex's Ichthys project in Darwin, the Sunrise project in the Timor Sea and various coal seam methane-based LNG projects in Gladstone, Queensland. The Gorgon project alone could involve total investment in the order of $50bn. That's a one-project, private sector economic stimulus package.

The federal government is also working with industry, the West Australian government and the Kimberley Land Council to establish a new regional LNG hub in the Kimberley to develop Browse Basin gas reserves. We have committed more than $340 million in the West Kimberley during the next four years to close the gap on indigenous disadvantage. An LNG hub could secure the future economic and social empowerment of indigenous communities in the Kimberley as well as add to national wealth and provide a new clean energy source for our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region.

As an electricity source that emits about half the CO2 of coal today, a rapidly expanding Australian LNG industry will have a very positive environmental effect for the planet. When LNG is used instead of coal to generate electricity in China, nine tonnes of CO2 emissions are saved for every tonne of LNG produced.

The global energy landscape of the 21st century is complex and dynamic. As the world moves -- appropriately -- to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, the true environmentalists are those willing to embrace science and technology in the search for safe, environmentally sustainable and affordable ways to deliver uranium, LNG, low-emission coal and renewable energy technologies. The world needs all of them for a cleaner energy future.


Queensland's child protection system fails as 79 children die

QUEENSLAND Government says 79 children known to child safety authorities have died over the past year - a rise of more than 50 per cent in four years. A parliamentary estimates hearing in Brisbane yesterday was told 79 children were known to the child protection system at the time of, or within three years prior to, their deaths. The figure was well above the 63 deaths in 2007/08, 57 in 2006/07 and 51 in 2005/06.

New figures also showed the number of children coming into contact with child protection authorities rose from 53,500 in 2004/05 to 71,900 in 2007/08. Minister for Child Safety Phil Reeves said about one in seven children in Queensland are known to Child Safety at some time in their childhood. This could include reports of children being yelled at or smacked in public through to the most severe forms of child abuse and neglect.

Mr Reeves conceded 79 deaths involved children known to the department. "The most common cause of death for children known to the system was disease and morbid conditions, followed by accidental death including road fatalities, drowning and house fires,'' Mr Reeves said. "Some children come to the attention of the department when they are rushed to hospital and notified by health staff to Child Safety only to die hours later from their injuries. "Child Safety officers cannot be in every room, of every house in Queensland every hour of the day,'' he said.

Opposition child safety spokesman Jack Dempsey said the child safety system, which was transferred from a stand-alone department to the Department of Communities in March this year, was failing. "One child death is one too many. We should be doing everything possible to reduce child deaths - the minister should have this as his top priority,'' Mr Dempsey said.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why am I not surprised? 25 Queensland Police officers implicated in criminal scheme

The whitewashers of the CMC finally do something useful. Note that they had to be prodded by another agency, though

Twenty-five Queensland police officers have been implicated in a corrupt scheme to rort money paid to criminals for information, a new report has found. The Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) today released a 142-page report, Dangerous Liaisons, which examines the results of an anti-corruption operation codenamed Capri. The report found 25 police officers - some ranked as high as inspector - were implicated in the rorts. Three officers are currently before the courts and 22 have been disciplined, with 11 resigning from the police service before their hearings were completed. Some of the officers are still working.

The investigation covered three areas - Rockhampton in central Queensland, Cleveland on Brisbane's bayside and the since disbanded armed hold-up squad. The bulk of the allegations related to payments made to prisoner informant Lee Owen Henderson, who is serving two life terms in jail for murder.

In 2005 the CMC received information from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) suggesting that some police officers had an "improper association" with Henderson, who was then in the Rockhampton jail and was seen by officers as a valuable informant. But the report found "evidence suggests that (Henderson) rarely, if ever, provided information of value". "Instead, Henderson manipulated police officers for his own ends," the report said.

"In return for his supposed assistance, Henderson was obtaining benefits from police, including access to confidential law enforcement information, access to Queensland Police Service (QPS) and Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) resources for his own personal use, removals from custody, and some financial assistance. "Some officers assisted him in an (unsuccessful) attempt to secure a lower security classification."

The CMC investigation found that the relationship between Henderson and the officers stemmed from practices which came out of the now disbanded armed robbery unit. "The practice (from armed robbery unit) involved police officers providing prisoners with rewards and other benefits to encourage the making of confessions and the giving up of information," the report said.

The investigation uncovered other activities including the removal of prisoners from custody for "improper purposes", misappropriation of money intended to be used as rewards and the improper receipt of money and gifts from Henderson. The CMC found that the misconduct "not only compromised individual police officers, but had the potential to undermine the integrity of the QPS as an organisation, and with it, the criminal justice system".

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said in the foreword to the report many of the officers involved had started out "with the intention of solving or preventing serious crimes". "After the policies and procedures were not properly followed and strategies used were not sound," he wrote. Mr Atkinson said the QPS had since set new guidelines for the use of funds to pay informants. "Revised procedures were also implemented ... to enhance accountability and to raise approval levels for prisoner removal from correctional facilities," he said.

CMC chairman Robert Needham said the publication of the report, close to the 20th anniversary of the Fitzgerald Inquiry being tabled in State Parliament, "should serve as a reminder that lessons learned gradually diminish with the passage of time and generational change". "It is inevitable that as time passes, slippage in the ethical standards of our police will occur," Mr Needham said. [That's a fact!]


West Australian hospital patient waited 'more than 45 hours' for a bed

A WA emergency patient recently waited more than 45 hours for a hospital bed, according to a national report. The report, a snapshot compiled for the Australian College of Emergency Medicine, found WA still had the worst emergency department overcrowding in Australia. The snapshot of 79 emergency departments Australia-wide was undertaken at 10am on Monday, June 1. Eight WA hospitals took part in the snapshot.

WA emergency departments recorded the worst overcrowding in the country. About 35 per cent of patients in WA emergency departments waited longer than eight hours for treatment, with one patient waiting longer than 45 hours. There were nine WA patients who had been waiting longer than 24 hours for a hospital bed.

Queensland had the best record with only 15 per cent of emergency patients waiting longer than eight hours for a hospital bed. Forty-four patients in 22 hospitals included the report had a patient that had waited more than 24 hours for a hospital.

“Half of Australia’s training hospitals have patients waiting for an inpatient bed more than 12 hours after that bed was formally requested,” ACEM president Sally McCarthy said. “Even though politicians and health departments have been shown the facts and even though patients are still dying while waiting for beds, there has been no significant improvement in access block since this time last year.”

All 94 emergency departments accredited for training were contacted, and 79 responded with details of their activity. Associate Professor Drew Richardson, author of the study, said there was no statistically significant improvement in access block compared to last year. “Of the 66 EDs which answered both the 2008 and 2009 surveys, 33 reported an improvement and 33 a worsening of access block: whilst there may be pockets of better practice, the net effect nationwide has been nil.”

WA Health Minister Kim Hames said the emergency department figures were concerning. Dr Hames said the Health Department had started overhauling emergency departments in preparation for the introduction of the four hour rule. Under the rule, 98 per cent of emergency patients must be admitted or discharged within four hours. The state's major tertiary hospitals, like Royal Perth Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, have 18 months to meet the demand. WA is the only state in Australia introducing the scheme.


Fix school performance or poor won't get into university

We need to improve schooling in disadvantaged areas if less well-off children are going to get tertiary education

EARLIER this year federal Education Minister Julia Gillard challenged Australian universities to enrol more students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, setting an ambitious student enrolment target of 20 per cent from low SES groups by 2020.

Though more than willing, many universities will struggle to reach that target. An all-too-limited pool of prospective students from low SES backgrounds obtain the school results likely to make higher education a good option. The undergraduates who will enter universities in 2020 are at school now and many in the target groups already underperform. So while universities must engage, it also will require a substantial improvement in school results to meet the Education Minister's targets.

Two years ago, the Education Foundation report Crossing the Bridge described the challenges faced by government schools in low socioeconomic communities and the barriers confronting the young people who attend them.

The story is much the same today. New University of Melbourne research conducted for the Education Foundation confirms there are still too many young Australians missing out on the opportunities provided by a quality education.

Social justice requires an education system that encourages bright, creative and talented individuals, irrespective of the school they attend or their background. These goals -- quality, equity, consistency -- are at the core of a new proposal, A New Federalism in Australian Education, by Jack Keating for the Education Foundation. This proposal argues that the Australian school system faces a raft of challenges as a result of the narrow institutional structures of schooling.

To date, much educational reform policy has focused on teaching quality. This is critically important, yet young people's education outcomes are also shaped by factors beyond their teachers, including early childhood education, family income and occupation, geographical location and the wider community environment. These factors help explain why socioeconomic disadvantage persists in higher education and why students from low SES backgrounds remain substantially under-represented in universities.

Years ago, researchers Buly Cardak of La Trobe University and Chris Ryan of the Australian National University identified school performance as the missing piece of this puzzle. The currency of university admissions is school results, and Cardak and Ryan found that students from low SES families were lost to higher education in the final years of school. They do not convert academic potential evident at year 9 to year 12 results as effectively as students from high SES groups.

We surrender so much potential among students who do not make it to year 12, and are lost to the tertiary sector. Some will find other pathways, such as through vocational training. There are good arguments to consider additional new forms of education, including community colleges. But the key issue remains our schools.

In A New Federalism in Australian Education, Keating calls for widespread educational reform beginning with a multi-level, federalist approach to funding that prioritises schools with low completion rates and offers fee relief for low-income families.

He also calls for church-based schools to be incorporated into the public system and a national regulatory agency for all publicly funded schools, and recommends significant investment in early childhood education; an acceleration of programs in the middle years of secondary school to curb early school leaving; and a strengthening of upper secondary pathways to further education and training that do not rely solely on academic results.

Most important of all is the focus on countering socioeconomic disadvantage. For some time Australian education has been characterised as "high quality, low equity".

Too many students are performing below expectations, most coming from poorer families and communities. Poor results often have lifelong consequences, in fewer opportunities for further education and reduced job prospects. How to make Australia's schools "high quality, high equity" is one of the big policy questions of the coming decade.

The federal government's education reform agenda is already focused on disadvantage, targeting early childhood and inequalities in the quality of instruction across the states and territories, and identifying opportunities to cater better for students' different needs.

Not everyone will agree with Keating's proposals. Controversy over federalism is a constant of Australian politics. The inconsistencies and apparent anomalies of joint federal-state responsibility for education, and the differences between the states, also can be benefits in providing greater scope for experimentation, division of power and democratic options. Citizens dissatisfied with one level of government can appeal to the other for help.

But we also need to take seriously the costs of the present divided structures of regulating and funding education, costs well explained in thisproposal.

Our schooling system structures were not designed to produce the best education outcomes but represent the accumulation of incremental changes through decades. As students of public policy know, incrementalism encourages remarkable innovation but also can produce programmatic incoherence.

These are healthy debates on the means to achieve a high quality, high-equity education system, running from early childhood through to postgraduate university education. If we are going to meet those 2020 equity targets, it's a conversation we must have now.


Aussie underdog is now endangered

An interesting theory below -- but much in need of statistical backup. It seems to be true, for instance, that MOST of the smaller populations of the developed world deliver unusually large (per head) contributions to science, culture etc. Scotland, New Zealand and Austria are, for instance, often cited in that regard. And many of the innovations and discoveries coming out of the USA emanate from people not born there

For a nation with 0.3 per cent of the world's population, Australia is grossly over-represented at the top of a huge range of fields: across science, business, sport and the arts. Which is odd, given that we also - inexplicably, to other cultures - are fond of failure.

Visit the United States and you enter a far more competitive nation, one quick to rank and grade, with too many winners to waste much time with the losers. Its culture encourages striving, certainly, but never failure. In Japan, and many other Asian cultures, failure is usually considered shameful, implying you did not work hard enough. One finds respect for failure in Britain - particularly resigned failure, the sticking to one's post - but also the lingering shadows of a class heritage uncomfortable with displays of naked effort.

Australia, by contrast, adores a valiant attempt to beat impossible odds. We view Gallipoli, our greatest military failure, not just with reverence but with pride. We say, "Have a go, mate," because we believe that it doesn't matter if you fail, so long as you try.

This has obvious historical roots. Australia was founded as a penal colony after the American model, but where Massachusetts offered fertile soil and temperate rainfall, this land was so unforgiving that supplies had to be sourced from Batavia, now Jakarta, to allow those who made it across on the First Fleet to survive until the arrival of the Second. The European population here grew far more slowly, despite the British forcibly relocating far more Europeans. In the Americas rebellion led to freedom and the birth of a new nation; here, at Castle Hill and then Eureka, uprisings were brutally crushed.

In 2009 we still bear the belief that the greatest honour belongs to the underdogs, and that their failure is not a mark of their flaws, but an account of the greatness of their challenge.

And perhaps this is why sport is the exception to the rule: why we distance ourselves from Rupert Murdoch and Russell Crowe, but revere Don Bradman and Steve Waugh.

An athlete's success is largely dependent upon how hard she is prepared to work to make the most of her natural talents: the playing field is generally level, the environment neutral. Of course, throw in an unfair environment - Don Bradman fending off head-high deliveries in Bodyline, or Australia II tacking her way toward the America's Cup after 132 years of American domination - and we are in raptures. Show us Eric "the Eel" Moussambani, who arrived at the 2000 Sydney Olympics having never seen a 50m pool, whose only two competitors in his heat were disqualified before the start of the race, who was then asked to swim it regardless, the only man in the pool, and who attacked it with such vigour that he almost drowned in the last 15 metres - well, we have ourselves a hero.

The wonderful irony of Australia's veneration of the trier above the champion is that it has given us great numbers of both. For there can be no success without the risk of failure, and in a culture that metes out little social punishment for failure, that risk is worth taking. There is, therefore, perhaps no more valuable aspect of our national character than the historical belief that it's not your fault if you fail; that it's OK to fall short so long as you gave it an honest crack.

But it is 2009. For most of us the Australian landscape has been tamed. Droughts do not ruin us; they merely make our lettuces more expensive, and restrict our garden watering to Sundays and Wednesdays. Our children, our workplaces, our pursuits - all have never been safer. We are part of a networked planet and have suffered the inevitable cultural dilution that implies. We watch American movies, featuring champions, not battlers.

The danger we face today is that we no longer face any great dangers. In a padded, pre-warmed world, where all the corners are encased in rubber and there are handrails beside all the steps, can one still plausibly blame the environment for failure?

When our challenges are so relatively benign - not survival, but positive superannuation returns - can we continue to view those who fail as honourable for having tried? If we cannot, if we drift so far that the idea of the Aussie battler begins to seem quaint, even risible, then we may risk losing the underpinning of our great national success: the unspoken permission to fail, if only you try.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Zealand gets its Maori criminals back -- and doesn't want them, unsurprisingly

There is already a big crime problem with Maoris in N.Z. itself. From much experience with Maoris I have observed that they have very little concept of private property -- other people's private property, anyway. The article below just refers to "New Zealanders" out of political correctness but if you didn't already know the real story, the names of the persons mentioned below give the game away. They are Polynesian names. So don't get a bad impression of our "Pakeha" brethren from the story below

Adversity is said to build it, and old houses to have it in bucketloads. But when it comes to character, Kiwis fail the test more than any other group, in the eyes of Australia's immigration authorities. The overwhelming majority of people sent packing from Australia for failing the character test are [Maori] New Zealanders, regardless of whether they have lived in Australia since childhood.

The New Zealand Government is not happy about it and has urged expats to seek Australian citizenship to protect themselves. This decade, about 30 New Zealanders have been sent home each year for failing the Migration Act's character test, according to the federal Immigration Department. The highest number was 41 in 2007-08, the last year for which statistics were compiled.

Kiwis dominate the statistics because as an immigrant group of half a million they are overrepresented, second only to the British. But they are also over-represented in prisons, making up 11 per cent of NSW inmates born elsewhere.

New Zealanders are the only nationality able to travel freely to Australia on special category visas. But these visas can be - and frequently are - cancelled when they break the law. This week a "one-woman crime wave" faces deportation after losing appeals to a 2004 ruling. Patricia Toia, who has been in Australia since she was one year old, was jailed 30 times for crimes including robbery, assault and trafficking heroin.

Australia is also about to deport Stanley Taurua, 47, who has been in Australia since age 14 and has served almost 10 years in jails for a series of violent offences. He told a tribunal: "Yous say my character is repugnant yet it is the very one Australian culture gave me."

A New Zealand Foreign Affairs official, who said the wave of deportations was "unfortunate", said: "Patricia Toia and Stan Taurua are essentially Australian in all but name [but not in ethnicity]." But because they had not taken up Australian citizenship, he said, they had left themselves vulnerable. [What's "vulnerable" about going back to N.Z.? They can have their own marae there, which they can't do in Australia]


Race and religion to be in Australian law review

These are basically anti-Jihadi laws but the focus on "inciting violence against an individual" is narrow enough not to offend against most concepts of free speech. Although I am not myself entirely convinced, it is widely accepted that incitement to violence is not entitled to free speech protection. What constitutes "incitement to violence" is the grey area

THE Rudd government will consider creating a new law making it an offence to incite violence against an individual on the basis of race, religion or nationality, as part of its broad review of Australia's existing counter-terrorism legislation.

In the next few weeks, Attorney-General Robert McClelland will release a wide-ranging discussion paper canvassing options for an overhaul of Australia's counter-terrorism laws introduced in the wake of September 11. Mr McClelland said last night the new offence would expand the opportunity for prosecuting those who attempted to induce others, including vulnerable youths, to commit acts of politically motivated violence. It would supplement the existing commonwealth offence of inciting violence against a group. "We also need to focus on targeted initiatives to identify those exposed to, or at risk of being influenced by, violent extremists," Mr McClelland told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

He said countering extremism required a national response, with the Attorney-General's department now being charged to co-ordinate the work of federal, state and territory agencies in this regard. "The department is also leading work to streamline mechanisms for communities and governments to work more closely and share important information and intelligence. This will prove integral to better identifying issues in our communities and better informing counter-extremism initiatives," Mr McClelland said.

The Rudd government had identified four key areas to focus on as part of a national effort to counter extremism, while recognising that any solutions had to be implemented with the support of local communities. These included the identification and disruption of violent extremists as well as supporting at-risk groups and individuals in their communities.

ASIO was conducting a variety of activities to help identify individuals and groups intent on acting on extremist beliefs, ranging from constructive long-term engagement with influential community and religious figures and associations, through to investigations relating to specific extremists or extremist threats. "In co-operation with the states and territories, we are also looking into programs to help convicted violent extremists disengage from violence," Mr McClelland said. He said engaging families, communities and moderate religious leaders was a crucial element in any counter-extremism strategy.

In many instances community members were often more readily able to recognise extremist behaviour and could be more effective in combating those views before they took hold. "I see centres for Islamic studies at tertiary institutions as having a particular responsibility in this area," he said. He said effective communications were also critical with experience having shown that the language used to describe terrorism could cause anxieties among among Australians and create divisions within communities. "It is vital that the messages we send do not in any way glorify terrorism or suggest a war or clash between cultures or religions."


Leftist hypocrisy exposed once again

You can't call their principles rubbery -- because they don't have any

ALMOST the moment David Hicks was being measured up for his orange Gitmo jump suit, Get Up was up and running a very vocal campaign, castigating the evil Yanks for incarcerating one of our own and demanding that his rights be protected.

A petition was sent to then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announcing that “All Australians have a right to receive a fair trial.” Then there were television advertisements, full-page newspaper ads and carbon-offset mobile billboards. Candlelight vigils were held, public addresses given and a “Postcards to the PM” campaign demanding action.

The Get Up guys say on their website that “we will continue to fight any infringements on the basic rights and liberties of all Australians.”

Ok, so where is Get Up on Stern Hu, the Australian-born Chinese Rio Tinto businessman who has been detained by Chinese authorities and apparently stands accused of espionage and stealing state secrets?

As The Herald Sun noted last week, “China's vague spying and national security laws give authorities wide latitude in deciding what to prosecute. The government treats a sweeping array of economic and other data as state secrets. The maximum penalty for a conviction on espionage charges under Chinese law is life in prison. A formal arrest in China means an almost automatic conviction.”

According to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith after consular officials visited the detained Australian, “Mr Hu appeared well and raised no health or welfare issues during the meeting." Heck. What a surprise. A man held by Chinese authorities is reticent to complain about his treatment.

So far we don’t know what Mr Hu has been charged with. He appears not to have access to a lawyer and has no contact with his family. This is sounding like a fairly clear infringement of the basic rights of an Australian. So Hu can surely look forward to a vocal and passionate campaign from our ever-vigilant human rights activists to free him from the clutches of a Chinese justice system that is hardly known for delivering justice. Or perhaps not.

I checked Get Up’s website. Nothing there. It was a case of Mr Who? Same absence of interest over at Liberty Victoria. But let’s be fair and give them time. Maybe we will soon hear from Amnesty International, the various trade unions and civil libertarians who so eagerly became involved in the Fair Go For David campaign and the International Day of Action for David Hicks? Will we see a Fair Go For Stern operation? Or could it be that the brigade of do-gooders who paraded their commitment to human rights for David Hicks were largely driven by the fact that Hicks was imprisoned by Americans under the watch of President George W Bush?

Poor Mr Hu had the misfortune to be arrested by the Chinese hence there appears to be lacking the same level of angst for human rights among our activists. No doubt Mr Hu’s status as a businessman, rather than a restless young man from Adelaide who went off to Afghanistan to fight for the Islamists also accounts for a certain lack of fervour for Mr Hu’s human rights.



By Ezra Levant

How would censorship work in the Internet age? Australia gives us a sneak preview of the gong show that ensues when medieval thinking is applied to a wired world.

Australia’s government nannies have officially banned 1,370 web sites. They’ve drawn up a blacklist, just like the medieval index of banned books. Right now it’s a voluntary pilot project to which Internet service providers can submit. But if the trial run is deemed a success and made law, anyone who links to a blacklisted site can be fined $11,000 a day. That means it will be a crime not just to provide the contents of a web site, but to merely reproduce its address.

That’s not just like banning books. It’s like banning books, and banning saying the banned book’s title. It’s a lot of banning.

But here’s the tricky part: the government won’t even say what those 1,370 banned web sites are. It’s secret. So there are 1,370 web sites out there that could result in your criminal prosecution in Australia. But you won’t find out what they are — until you link to one of them. That’s right out of Alice in Wonderland. The pretzelian logic goes like this: if the Australian government were to list those 1,370 banned web sites, then not only would they be breaking the rules themselves, but that list would serve as an advertisement. Out of the billions of web pages on the Internet, 1,370 would be given special attention, inviting anyone curious to check them out.

Of course, people who compile the secret blacklist know what’s on it. But apparently they can be trusted not to succumb to the temptation to look at the sites. And the list was sent to selected Australian Internet companies for a trial run. That didn’t work out quite as well. The list was leaked to Wikileaks, the web site that specializes in publishing confidential documents, especially embarrassing internal government memoranda.

And that’s when things got even weirder. Wikileaks published the entire blacklist on one of its pages. So now that Wikileaks page, too, has been added to the blacklist. It’s number 1,371.

Needless to say, I was tempted to skim the names of the banned sites. Most of them are porn sites, and some have names that suggest child pornography, which is a crime. But that’s what we have courts for. The Australian blacklist wasn’t written by a court; there was no hearing where evidence was brought that these sites were criminal sites. A group of busybody human rights activists simply wrote the blacklist. Sounds Canadian, actually.

Many banned sites are merely offensive, but not illegal. And some sites are perfectly innocuous. For some secret reason, the web site is on the blacklist. If you’re not in Australia, feel free to give that one a click. It’s not a pornographic site. My Dutch is rusty, but it appears to be a web site for a forklift rental company in Holland.

How did Van Bokhorst get on the blacklist in Australia? Nobody knows because the process was kept secret, even from Van Bokhorst. It’s unlikely that Van Bokhorst had any Australian customers. But that’s not the point. Someone is making these clandestine decisions about what Australians can or can’t see.

We’ve seen this sort of censorship in other countries — and not just from the likes of communist China. Thailand brought in a similar blacklist in the name of protecting its citizens from child pornography. But — surprise! — within months, the blacklist had other web sites on it, including 1,200 banned for criticizing the Thai royal family. A secret list, in the hands of a government, practically guarantees that sort of political abuse.

Australia’s trial-run blacklist has plenty of questionable items on it, and not just Dutch forklift companies. Hundreds of Internet poker sites are banned. Poker, unlike child pornography, is not a crime. It may be a vice, but how to handle that is a political debate. Australia’s blacklist ends that discussion with force.

And now a web site about abortion politics is on the blacklist. You can probably guess which side of the debate is being censored, but either way, it’s abominable censorship.

That blacklist was sold as a way to stop child porn. But that’s the thing about slippery slopes, isn’t it; you don’t really see the dangers until you’ve started sliding into them.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission wants an Internet blacklist, too. It wants to expand Canada’s to cover political sites, not just child porn sites it targets now.

We associate book burnings with witch trials and the Nazis, not with mild-mannered bureaucrats. But book burnings in the 21st century require no matches — just self-righteous censors and a somnolent public.


These proposals were put up by the previous conservative government as an anti-pornography measure but the recently-elected Leftist government has embraced them as a way of barring ANY site that they regard as "undesirable". Because of widespread opposition and ridicule from both sides of politics, however, they are unlikely to become law

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mere slaps on the wrist for serious criminals in NSW

Carrying and using handguns is OK if you are a Lebanese Muslim

In the middle of the afternoon of November 29, 2006, four hard men from the Lebanese community had a business meeting at the corner of Burwood Road and Livingstone Street, not far from the centre of the Burwood shopping centre. The meeting did not go well.

Bashar Ibrahim, a relative of the Ibrahim brothers, some of whom have been involved in multiple violent crimes, allegedly including a fatal brawl in an arrival hall at Sydney Airport this year, was accompanied to the meeting by George Youssef. They were meeting a leader of another notorious Lebanese family, Hussein Fahda, who was accompanied by a Mr Moustapha. After a brief and unpleasant exchange, Fahda punched Ibrahim in the face. The blow was so hard it broke Ibrahim's cheek and jaw.

Fahda spoke to Moustapha in Arabic, telling him, "Get it from the car". He then turned to Ibrahim and said, "I want to shoot you". Moustapha went to the car, pulled out an object, believed to be a gun, and tucked it into his trousers. Fahda then taunted Ibrahim, saying "Shoot me". So Ibrahim shot him. He pulled out a gun and fired five quick shots, one of which struck Fahda in the foot.

Ibrahim and Youssef ran to their car and departed. Fahda was driven to a hospital, where bullet fragments were removed from his foot. He declined to provide details of the incident to the hospital or police.

This did not surprise the police. Fahda was well known to them. In 2004, he had been arrested and jailed for carrying a loaded gun during an undercover investigation into drug dealing and a series of shootings. The violence swirled around three Lebanese Muslim clans, the Darwiches, the Razzaks and the Fahdas, elements of whom have been engaged in a murderous feud since 2001. The feud continues.

Back at the Burwood incident, after Ibrahim shot Fahda he fled the scene in his Range Rover. He left the vehicle with his wife, Laura Cathery. She had it cleaned and when the police called she claimed the car could not have been at the scene of shooting because she had been using it all day. She was found to be lying after police checked phone records and CCTV footage.

After leaving the Range Rover, Ibrahim and Youssef drove to Sylvania Heights to the home of a friend, Parrai Bitsikas, where Ibrahim intended to avoid the police and Hussein Fahda. But Bitsikas was under observation by another police unit, the drug squad. Police quickly became aware that Bitsikas was covertly arranging for treatment of Ibrahim's broken jaw.

The case assembled by the police was overwhelming. But the back-up they received from the legal system was far from impressive. Earlier this month, the following sentences were handed down by magistrate Caroline Barkell:

Bashar Ibrahim pleaded guilty to one charge of possession of an unauthorised firearm and was sentenced to four months in prison. He also pleaded guilty to one charge of firing a firearm in a public place in a manner likely to injure. For that he was sentenced to 12 months in prison, with a non-parole period of nine months. He remains free on bail and magistrate Barkell indicated it was likely Ibrahim could serve his sentences as home detention.

Laura Cathery pleaded guilty to one count of hindering a police investigation. She was placed on a good behaviour bond for two years. Parrai Bitsikas pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the crime. He received a 12-month suspended jail sentence upon entering into a good behaviour bond. George Youssef also pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the crime and received a 12-month suspended jail sentence.

After the sentencing, the police noted that this brazen collective chorus of deceit had resulted in not one day of jail time being handed down at sentence. They are also mindful that in March an innocent man was killed during another violent daytime argument between another set of armed and violent Lebanese men.

And last month Bob Knight, a 66-year-old truck driver, died when a volley of shots was fired in the car park of a KFC restaurant in Milperra. A stray bullet hit Knight in the head and killed him.

The police see a clear parallel with the Burwood shooting involving Ibrahim and Fahda. They believe, as a principle, there should be serious consequences when people carry illegal guns and start using them. The obvious and exceptional mitigating factor in this incident was Fahda's own violent behaviour. Ibrahim was acting in self-defence. But why did he bring a gun to the meeting? And why did he lie to police?

As for the "victim", Hussein Fahda, he has been of acute interest to police since March when his younger brother, Mohammed, was confirmed by police as the prime suspect in the shooting murder of Abdul Darwiche at Punchbowl. Members of the Darwiche and Fahda families have been under police scrutiny ever since.

Tomorrow, in court, magistrate Barkell will get the chance to reconsider whether she should send Bashar Ibrahim to prison over this incident. I'm presuming this matter is back in court because the Crown might share the dismay of the police at the feathery sentences handed down.

One message that could be taken from the case is this: why would any idealistic young person want to join the police force when the legal system constantly treats contempt for police with dismissive indifference? This entire case was a brazen challenge to the criminal justice system. As of today, it remains a victory for the cynicism of street law.


Endemic misbehaviour and corruption in a NSW government-owned company

And lots of hush money to cover it up. Irresponsible bureaucracy at work. Why should they worry? It's other people's money they are spending

A STATE Government-owned electricity company has paid hush money to stop employees speaking out about breaches of safety, bullying and harassment. Whistle-blowers have told The Sunday Telegraph that Country Energy approved at least two payments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to quash scandals.

A woman employee was allegedly paid $200,000 after claiming discrimination when her male colleagues visited a "gentlemen's club" on a night out in Melbourne. Another employee was paid $140,000 after making serious allegations against a union delegate. In another incident, a senior employee was promoted despite allegedly climbing into a female colleague's bed on a work trip, clad only in his underpants. Former and current employees of Country Energy approached The Sunday Telegraph in a bid to have an inquiry launched.

The claims have surfaced as Finance Minister Joe Tripodi tries to sell the group to plug a Budget hole. Country Energy, Australia's biggest power retailer, supplies electricity to 95 per cent of NSW and operates in six states and territories. It is due to be sold, along with EnergyAustralia and Integral Energy, at the end of this year.

A senior company official said there was a culture of cover-ups, payouts and lack of accountability in the organisation. In one case, a call-centre employee claimed her boss, wearing only his underpants, climbed into her bed after a company awards night in August last year. A confidential report into the incident, obtained by this newspaper, states the woman was one of five employees who booked an overnight apartment in Sydney for the Australian Teleservice Association Awards. The woman, a mother of two, alleges she was awoken about 8am by the manager, who crawled into her bed in his underpants. "(The manager) asked me to move over so he could get in 'because I'm freezing'," the report says. "I told him 'No' and sat up on the edge of the bed. He then said: 'I'm freezing, cuddle me."'

The report, dated August 17, recommended the manager be disciplined and given a final written warning. Three months later, he was given a $22,000 pay rise, taking his salary to $138,000. He was also placed on a prestigious employee leadership development program run by the company. Defending the promotion, the company described the behaviour of the manager since the incident as having been exemplary.

In another case, a female staffer was bitten on the arm by a male employee during a function at the company's Queanbeyan offices. The accused male resigned after an investigation and received his award entitlements.

Sources said another woman received an estimated $200,000 after allegedly making a complaint of discrimination after a work function held in Melbourne. It is alleged the woman and three male staff visited a gentlemen's club, which did not allow her in. Country Energy claimed it was unaware of the incident, although it confirmed a female staffer had described a visit to the Melbourne Savage Club about four years ago as having been sexist.

A retail marketing manager is alleged to have been paid out last August after making a complaint when she was the only person not invited to a staff dinner. The company claimed the manager accepted a voluntary redundancy after a review that found her position was no longer required. A senior employee said: "They all just get paid out or are forced to leave. It's getting out of hand. There is no accountability."

Among the more serious allegations are those levelled against a delegate of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), of which NSW ALP president Bernie Riordan is a secretary. Most Country Energy employees are ETU members.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) received a complaint against the employee. Country Energy conducted an investigation and referred the findings to ICAC, which decided not to investigate. Further complaints against the man, however, led to a second investigation by the Internal Audit Bureau, a State Government watchdog. An email outlining the terms of reference for this investigation, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, included allegations the ETU delegate worked under the influence of alcohol, engaged in bullying behaviour, altered time sheets, dealt fraudulently with scrap metal and committed safety breaches. The email was sent to the bureau by Country Energy chief risk officer Lawrence Clark in February this year.

In April, the man was moved from his position as a team leader in the company's Tamworth office to a non-supervisory role. Country Energy sources allege the whistle-blower, who has since left the organisation, hired a private lawyer and was paid out about $140,000.

The company claims a Tamworth office employee resigned after himself being the subject of misconduct allegations and received his award entitlements. The allegations come as Country Energy faces paying almost $1 million in entitlements after NSW Treasury found it was employing full-time staff as contractors. It has denied employees are being paid hush money.


The ugly face of Telstra just got uglier

The new boss of Telstra is clearly no better than the greasy Mexican

TELSTRA customers who pay their phone bills in person will soon be charged for their efforts. The telco giant yesterday introduced a range of steep fees in an attempt to herd its customers into making online BPAY payments and to eliminate costly face-to-face customer service, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The penny-pinching tactic will cost as much as 2 per cent of every bill and is set to save it "several hundred million dollars" a year. From September 14, Telstra will charge a $2.20 administration fee for bills paid by mail or in person at a Telstra Shop or Australia Post. The telco's existing credit card payment processing fee will also rise to 1 per cent of the payment amount for MasterCard, VISA, and American Express cards, and 2 per cent for Diners Club.

However, so as not to penalise elderly customers, Telstra will exempt those with a pensioner or disability card from paying the new fees or credit card charges. Telstra Pensioner Discount customers or customers who have already registered their eligible pensioner card details with Telstra for the credit card payment processing fee discount are automatically exempt as are Telstra Disability Equipment Program product customers or those registered for another Telstra Disability Service.

All customers who pay their bills through an online savings or cheque account will also be exempt from the fees.

The telco said the fees were consistent with industry practice. "Every year we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on billing, which includes processing bill payments, paying third-party billing service providers, answering customers' questions about their bills and operating systems to support billing," Telstra Consumer Executive Director Jenny Young said. "We're introducing or changing our fees for some payment options which incur higher administration costs. "However, Telstra will always be conscious of customers who are experiencing hardship."

Ms Young said for customers with more than one Telstra service, the changes represented a chance to move these services on to a single bill to avoid fees if customers choose bill payment options that incur fees.

Since taking over Australia's largest telecommunications company in May, chief executive David Thodey talked openly about Telstra's tattered public image which has been crystallised by its increasingly poor customer service. A Telstra spokesman said yesterday the introduction of new payment fees would not contribute to a further erosion of public confidence in the telco. [Who does he think he is kidding?]


What Australian wine drinkers like best


Try saying the phrase "shiraz socialist" five times fast after a couple of glasses of pinot noir. The inherent pronunciation difficulties may explain why certain politicians persist with the phrase "chardonnay socialist" as their preferred term of abuse, even though it reveals their utter ignorance of what most Australians actually drink.

The implication within "chardonnay socialist" is that the accused pretends to have working class sympathies but actually has elitist tastes. It was coined in the 1980s, when chardonnay was an expensive novelty favoured by businessmen desperate to display their wealth. The theory was that true Aussies drink beer or, at worst, cask plonk containing no identifiable grape. Anyone who drinks differently must be unAustralian.

Unbeknownst to conservative politicians, the insult had lost its sting by the early noughties, when Queen Adelaide chardonnay was revealed as the beverage of choice for millions of people who met all other definitions of real, normal, average, decent, patriotic Aussies.

Is chardonnay still part of our national identity? Disturbing rumours about changes in our drinking habits provoked this column to check the latest data from the Bureau of Statistics and the research organisation AC Nielsen. Here's what emerged ...

Wine consumption: The average Australian over the age of 15 drinks 28.3 litres of wine a year (up from 28.1 in 2006). That's the equivalent of five glasses a week, of which three would be white and two would be red.

Favourite styles: The most-planted white grape in this country is still chardonnay, while the most planted red grape is shiraz. But most-planted is not the same as most-purchased, which turns out like this ...

The national reds: Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz, Pepperjack Shiraz.

The national bubblies: Yellowglen Yellow Sparkling, Jacob's Creek Chardonnay Pinot.

The national whites: Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Giesen Sauvignon Blanc.

Hang on a minute. Oyster Bay and Giesen are both from New Zealand. So in this year's wine purchases, Australians are propping up an enemy economy by replacing elitist chardys with foreign savvys (as the New Zealanders insist on calling them).

It's a national disaster. Apparently we're so jaded by the Barossa, the Hunter and the Margaret River that we seek novelties an ocean away. Don't panic. Help is on its way. Oddly enough, the good news, like the bad news, comes from across the Tasman - but not over that way, down that way.

Tasmania is about to launch an attack on the mainland with a view to reclaiming control of our wine tastes. Next month a travelling roadshow called Tasmania Unbottled 2009, representing 30 of our south island's bravest winemakers, will invade Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The Tasmanians know it will take a while to wean us off weedy kiwi sauvignon blancs, so their first weapon of choice will be bubbles, followed by a blitzkrieg of pinot noirs (for more information, go here) .

To support them (and the economy), our politicians will need to create a new term of abuse for those who are drinking against the national interest. How about "savvy-wankers"?


Monday, July 20, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks there is need for another trip to the moon -- with one-way tickets for the Wall St barons

Stupid steel manufacturer puts its faith in fad psychology

It sounds as if the company put its employees through a severe variation of the old "encounter groups" therapy. At the time it did that, such therapy had already been largely abandoned because it often did more harm than good. But 13 years later the company is still denying that the procedure damaged one of their empoyees. They have amazing faith in quacks -- to the point where it has cost them lots more in legal bills that it would have cost them to settle the damages claim in the first place! There was even an advance warning that the "course" could harm the employee concerned!

THE FAMILY of a man who has endured a 13-year legal battle with Bluescope Steel over a debilitating pyschiatric injury has begged the company to do what is right and end their "living hell". The case relates to an eight-day leadership retreat that former BlueScope employee Angus Mackinnon attended in August, 1996. The "Steel Leadership Course" featured drum-beating, interrogations and "psychodrama'', The Australian reports.

Dr Mackinnon, a doctor at BlueScope's occupational health and safety department in Wollongong at the time, suffered hallucinations, was found lying unresponsive on the floor at and ended up in a mental hospital within days of the course concluding. He later had to have electro-convulsive therapy and has been hospitalised a number of times. Ever since, Dr Mackinnon has been locked in litigation with the company in a negligence case that has cost $15 million and is likely to cost millions more.

It is probably the longest and most expensive personal injury litigation case that has take place in New South Wales, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. The paper also reports that the costs of the case have run to $15 million. The case could have been settled for $1.3m but Bluescope has held out, spending far more than that on legal fees and recently lodging a bid with the High Court to overturn a judgment where three judges unanimously found in Dr Mackinnon's favour.

"It's just the brutality of it ... the way they went for me in court without any compassion,'' Dr Mackinnon told The Australian of the effect the ongoing litigation was having on him and his family. "They knew the severity of my illness and the impact it was having on me but they didn't stop.''

The Mackinnons have sold their home unit to fund the court case against BlueScope, as well as pay for ongoing medical treatment, and have been forced to live with his wife's parents, sleeping in the same room as their two young children.

The original case took 94 days and Dr Mackinnon lost the trial. But a subsequent appeal saw three NSW Court of Appeal judges unanimously decide in Dr Mackinnon's favour. The judgment was scathing of the trial judge. The treatment of a crucial issue in the case was "so inadequate" that "the matter would have to go back to retrial in any event", the judges said.

Dr Mackinnon's wife, Nandy, has writen to each Bluescope board member individually, telling them of the "living hell'' she and her husband have endured for 13 years after reading the company's claim that its values reflected its motto that "our strength is in choosing what to do is right''. She says she is "perplexed" as to how the company, and its shareholders, could justify the ongoing litigation. The company has never responded.

BlueScope declined to comment but has denied in the courts that it has been negligent or that there was any breach of duty owed to Dr Mackinnon.

The Sydney couple say they are "not asking for the world" - they just want to be able to pay the medical bills and live in their own home.


Tax office stupidity

Is brain removal required before you get a job as a bureaucrat?

THE tax office is ruining thousands of self-employed workers and small businesses instead of helping them restructure their tax bills. Financial advisers say the self-employed and small firms are being unfairly wound up or made bankrupt because they have fallen behind in payments. The Australian Taxation Office admitted it was responsible for 2 per cent of bankruptcies and 7 per cent of all company wind-ups in the last financial year - and financial counsellors say many of these could have been avoided.

"The ATO is very difficult to negotiate with," said Christian Oey, of, a financial counselling firm. "It is only by sheer persistence that we succeed in restructuring some people's debts. But it shouldn't be so difficult."

One self-employed chauffeur, who did not want to be named, built up tax debts of $80,000 over five years, about half of which was interest on the overdue tax. But when he tried to negotiate repayments, the ATO insisted on a minimum of $6000 a month. "I know I am in the wrong but there is no way I could afford that," he said. "I don't earn anywhere near enough and they know it."

Oey said making people bankrupt made little sense for the ATO because they would get nothing back at all. But, he said, such cases were commonplace.

"About 75 per cent of the time the ATO will come to some kind of arrangement and even knock money off the bill," he said. "But in many other instances they just make people bankrupt."

The ATO admitted it was taking a hard line on some firms. "The tax office doesn't want to wind up viable companies, but must take action where there is evidence of a business trading while insolvent," a spokesman said.


Push by Institute of Public Affairs to offer school vouchers

THE federal government should introduce a system of school vouchers to bring about a genuine education revolution, according to a report to be published today. The paper, prepared by the Institute of Public Affairs, says vouchers -- under which government funds go to pupils rather than the schools they attend -- encourage more choice in education, improve academic outcomes and are popular with parents.

"The federal government's education revolution perpetuates the waste, inefficiency and perverse incentives that come with funding micromanagement," the IPA says. "The current schools stimulus package is a prime example of this, with a range of ill-suited, cost-padded infrastructure works being laid out across the country. "If Australia wants a real education revolution, it should ensure government funding follows the student and not the preferences of education ministers or bureaucrats."

The Australian understands Malcolm Turnbull has ordered the opposition's education spokesman, Chris Pyne, to examine vouchers as part of Coalition policy. Mr Pyne was unavailable for comment yesterday, but the Opposition Leader has backed a voucher system in the past.

Mr Turnbull clashed with then education minister Brendan Nelson in 2002 as chairman of the Liberal Party's think tank, the Menzies Research Centre, when he supported a paper produced by the centre suggesting a similar voucher system. "This is core Liberal stuff," Mr Turnbull said at the time. "A lot of the themes in this report are absolutely core Liberal Party educational philosophy -- issues of greater accountability, more autonomy, divulging more control to schools and communities." The co-author of that paper, John Roskam, is now executive director of the IPA and a Turnbull confidant.

A voucher system provides parents with government funds to spend at the school of their choice. "By separating government financing of education from the operation of schools, vouchers can help break down monopoly control over school services delivery and promote competition between government and non-government schools," the IPA report says.

"As has been increasingly understood by both sides of the political fence, vouchers represent a powerful tool to tackle educational disadvantage. This is because parents of children with special education needs, or from low-income families, are financially empowered to take their children out of failing schools and into high-quality educational institutions."

The report lists options ranging from a universal system to vouchers for students with special needs. "The cost of a universal voucher can be prohibitively expensive," the report's author, IPA research fellow Julie Novak, told The Australian. "If you want to tackle education disadvantage, which is what Education Minister Julia Gillard is keen to do, you may want to bundle up a disability-targeted voucher with an indigenous-targeted voucher. "That would be less expensive than a universal voucher, but has the added benefit that it tackles education disadvantage so students in those groups have the potential to attend high-quality, high-achievement schools."

Ms Novak said bundles of targeted vouchers would "have the most realistic policy potential in Australia." She said this approach would be an effective trial for a broader voucher scheme. Ms Novak acknowledged the proposal would be controversial. "A voucher system threatens the entrenched positions of education unions as government schools in particular have to become more innovative and compete," she said. "It's good for parents, great for students but you can understand why there might be some reluctance among some of the entrenched interests," she claimed.

The report says voucher systems are being pursued in 30 countries around the world, from the US through to developing nations such as Colombia.


Queensland police set their usual "good" example

Too many of them are just goons

A QUEENSLAND police officer has become the eighth officer charged with drink-driving this year and the first to face new disciplinary measures. He is the eighth police officer caught drink-driving this year, but the first to be charged since police commissioner Bob Atkinson introduced a new regime of discipline for officers caught driving under the influence, including possible dismissal.

The off-duty policeman with about three years service was charged with drink driving in his private vehicle on Sunday morning. The constable from Maroochydore Police Station was arrested on the Sunshine Coast Motorway at Marcoola about 1.15am. He will appear in the Maroochydore Magistrate's Court on August 3. The officer is to be served with paperwork on Sunday standing him down from operational duties, the Queensland Police service said in a statement.

On June 24 Mr Atkinson announced a crackdown on officers caught driving under the influence would begin from July 1. He said officers who drink and drive will face a pay cut and possibly dismissal if the circumstances of the offence are considered serious enough.

At the time the police union threatened legal action if the tough new penalties are considered too severe.


Giving schoolkids government laptops may send standards backwards

Getting a kid a laptop may lead to them goofing off more with games etc. rather than doing their homework

THE centrepiece of the Federal Government's so-called education revolution may be worse than useless, a visiting American researcher says. Before the 2007 election Kevin Rudd vowed to spend $2.3 billion rewarding parents who installed or bought home computers. He later said his decisions would be evidence based.

Jacob Vigdor, of Duke University, North Carolina, has conducted what is probably the world's biggest study on the effect on maths and reading scores of gaining a home computer. He finds "statistically significant" evidence that it sends them backwards. "Children in homes with computers tend to do better than those in homes without - there's no doubt about that," Professor Vigdor told the Herald. "But there could be other reasons. Those homes also have a lot of other things other homes don't have, and often have more educated parents."

He examined the performance of students before and after their home gained a computer. This meant examining students from less well-off homes. The better-off ones already had computers. But Professor Vigdor told a seminar at Australian National University he did not think this was an important limitation.

Professor Vigdor found that acquiring a computer at home made end-of-year results for year 3 to year 8 students in North Carolina "significantly worse" in reading and maths. These results were spread over five years. "The bad effects fade somewhat over time, but even after five years they are still negative. I am not saying go out and burn all the computers.

"If you want to buy junior a computer with your own dollars, that's fine … but it's another thing when we talk about spending public dollars."


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Drought-stricken Perth: One last laugh at distinguished Australian zoologist Tim Flannery

People have been laughing at his alarmist climate prophecies for years now but I can't resist one more dig. See the graphic below. Fuller version here. The article has gone offline at its original source, "The West Australian" newspaper (originally June 25, 2004) but some pesky people keep copies of things.

Now read the latest news:

Winter rains pound Perth, and there's more to come

Perth has woken up to a cold and wet winter day, as a series of strong cold fronts brought drenching rain overnight and into this morning. The official rain gauge in Perth recorded 30.4 millimeters of rain since 9am yesterday, but Bickley in the Perth Hills recorded 52.6 millimeters, giving a welcome boost to the city's water catchments. Further south, Manjimup recorded 58 millimeters, while Whitchcliffe recorded 55 millimeters.

The rain is set to ease up this afternoon, but showers will again increase tonight with the chance of a thunderstorm and strong, squally winds. The weather will gradually deteriorate across south-west Western Australia during the next few days in the lead up to a period of cold gales, thunderstorms and heavy rain on Monday. By Tuesday around 30 to 50 millimeters of rain is likely across the southern Central West, Lower West and South-West, lifting July totals to within striking district of the long term average. The area from Perth to Margaret River should be the wettest, with more than 50mm for some.

The heaviest rain should occur early Monday as the strongest in a series of fronts crosses the region. Monday will also bring thunderstorms and gale-force winds, with gusts potentially exceeding 100kmh in coastal regions south of about Perth.

The showers will clear on Tuesday but yet another front is set to bring further widespread showers to South-West WA by around Thursday next week.


Tim should stick to what he knows about: Animal fossils

Public hospital clown caused fatal catastrophic bleeding, court told

There was blood everywhere in theatre and what did the clown prescribe? Blood THINNERS -- thus worsening the bleeding. He was already under scrutiny for incompetence but they didn't act soon enough to stop him. I blogged on this back in 2006. I am glad he is finally facing the music. There is a picture of him below, sitting up like Jackie, quite proud of himself

A Brisbane doctor has faced court accused of killing one of his patients when he allegedly improperly inserted a surgical drain which later caused extensive blood loss and multiple organ failure. Mother of two Nadia Annette Cvitic was 30-years-old when she died in 2002 following a radical hysterectomy performed by Dr Bruce Gordon Ward, a specialist in gynaecology oncology.

Mrs Cvitic underwent the surgery due to cervical cancer on February 11 but died in Brisbane's Mater Hospital on February 21. The cause of her death was determined as multiple organ failure caused by inadequate blood flow to vital organs as a consequence of blood loss.

On the first day of a trial in the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, Dr Ward pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Crown prosecutor David Meredith, in his opening to the jury, said Dr Ward was accused of criminal negligence when he operated on Mrs Cvitic and when he failed to take competent post-operative care of her.

Mr Meredith said post-surgery, on 14 February, a surgical drain which had been inserted into Mrs Cvitic's pelvic area was removed and this caused "catastrophic bleeding." This happened because it had been inserted in such a way that the drain's exit point damaged a vein and blood vessels at the top of her leg, he said. "The prosecution says it was dangerous for the life and health of the patient to finish an operation with a drain in that manner," he said.

Using a medical mannequin and several tubes, Mr Meredith demonstrated how and where the drain was inserted into Mrs Cvitic. Mr Meredith said another element of Dr Ward's negligence was that he did not order blood tests which would have revealed a drop in haemoglobin levels which may have alerted medical staff there was internal bleeding. "No such tests were done," he said.

The trial is set to continue for eight weeks with dozens of medical staff to be called to give evidence. Three reserve jurors have been empanelled in the case, which is being heard by Justice Henry Fryberg.


Australian immigration levels pushing out young jobseekers

THE Rudd government's alarm about retiring Baby Boomers causing economic growth to fall is unfounded and its policy response -- to bring in tens of thousands of overseas workers a year -- is wrong because of the rapid rise in over-55s staying at work. According to a new report, a sustained increase in the labour force participation rate among men and women aged over 55 since the mid-1990s, continuing even as jobs are shed during the global economic downturn, should put a large question mark over the immigration program.

If immigration continues at current levels, the group most likely to suffer is young Australian jobseekers trying to enter the workforce, it concludes.

The report -- to be published next week by Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research in its People and Place quarterly -- concludes that, even if the net overseas immigration intake were halved from its current 180,000 a year between now and 2018, the labour force would grow by nearly a million workers, about two-thirds of whom would be over 55. "The Immigration Minister's fear that, without continued, unprecedented high levels of overseas migration, the Australian labour force will soon contract is unfounded," the report concludes. "In the present economic environment of employment decline, sustained high levels of overseas migration are not necessary to ensure adequate labour force growth and such levels are compromising the employment prospects of younger job-seekers."

The report's author, CPUR social researcher Ernest Healy, told The Australian the Rudd government "appears to have been more alarmist than it needed to be in terms of population ageing and labour supply. "The assumption by the government has been that all these Baby Boomers are going to retire and there will be this crisis of labour growth, but they simply don't seem to be retiring in the numbers the government has been expecting."

Dr Healy said that, although the study did not examine the reasons why older workers were staying at work, he suspected easy access to finance over the past two decades might have increased household debt. And since the falls in superannuation balances because of the global financial crisis, the over 55s needed to work longer to have enough funds for retirement.

Employers, it seems, are generally happy to have them. "The participation rate among older workers has stayed up even after the crunch," Dr Healy said. "They are hanging on to jobs across the occupational spectrum, including the skilled areas emphasised in migration programs."

The report -- Population Ageing and the Employment Surge among Older Australian Workers -- shows that, even after the economic contraction started last year, employment growth had continued for older workers, while for those aged 15-24 unemployment deteriorated markedly. Almost all the growth for older men had been in full-time jobs, while for women, more of it was part-time.

"Nevertheless, the growth in the proportion of older employed women in full-time work is significant, having increased by eight and six points for women aged 55-59 and 60-64 respectively," the report says. "This surge in the employment rate for persons age 55 and over is bad news from the point of view of the immediate prospects of young Australian jobseekers. At a time when the total number of jobs is shrinking, they face competition from both older persons and from the current record high migration intake."


Australians Open U.S. Med School

When Australia itself has to import large numbers of Indian doctors, this seems very odd

To produce more physicians for Louisiana, a major academic medical center has joined up with a medical school down under. The University of Queensland School of Medicine, in Australia, has opened a clinical school in New Orleans in cooperation with Louisiana's Ochsner Health System. Under the arrangement, students will travel to Brisbane for the first two years of medical school, then return to the United States to complete their third- and fourth-year clinical training at Queensland's new outpost at Ochsner. Those enrolled in the collaborative program will graduate with an Australian medical degree, a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), which is equivalent to an M.D., from Queensland.

This particular program is only open to American students and, while its graduates will be eligible to apply for an internship in Australia, the stated intent is to help address projected physician shortages in the United States, Louisiana especially. “The goal for them is to secure residencies and practice in the United States. Our Ochsner goals are to have our top students stay in Louisiana, and hopefully at Ochsner,” said William W. Pinsky, executive vice president and chief academic officer for the Ochsner Health System. The first 16 students in the program began their training in Australia in January; the goal is to admit 80 students this coming January and the following year, 120 more, “which would be our steady state.”

“This is quite a novel, transnational model of education. We’ve all talked about these sorts of things in the higher education sector for some time but as far as we know, this is the first, certainly the first in Australia, and we’re not aware of any other partnership like this in the United States," said David Wilkinson, dean of medicine and head of the medical school at Queensland

Queensland's medical school, which is positioning itself as "Australia's global medical school," also has a clinical school in Brunei, in Southeast Asia, and is in the early stages of establishing a shared teaching site in Malaysia, Wilkinson said. About half the medical school's students spend a portion of their studies overseas, and they can now come to Ochsner for a clinical rotation. "That's a very important part of this program, that we have mixed student cohorts," said Wilkinson.

Apart from the education component of the collaboration, Pinsky added, "To really make this a home run, we need to extend this further in terms of getting into a collaborative relationship with research."

Australian universities have been active in establishing branch campuses abroad, although, with the exception of Charles Stuart University's campus in Ontario (offering degrees in education and business), not typically in North America. In fact, rather than have their ranks reinforced from abroad, some U.S. medical schools have set up shop elsewhere -- take Cornell University's medical campus in Qatar, for instance, and Duke University's partnership with the National University of Singapore.

And while many university entities have developed joint, dual or otherwise transnational degrees in recent years, it's more complicated terrain in schools of medicine given licensure and accreditation requirements, and extra hurdles that foreign medical school graduates must jump in order to practice medicine in the U.S. -- including Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates certification.

In this case, a graduate of the Queensland/Ochsner program applying for licensure in Louisiana “will be considered an international medical school graduate, and will be required to go through ECFMG and meet the various requirements associated with that. But I imagine that would not be a problem, and that they’ll end up doing post-graduate training here in Louisiana, some of them at Ochsner, some in the growing network of Ochsner facilities,” said Robert Marier, executive director of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

Marier, a former medical school dean, said the Ochsner/Queensland partnership strikes him as pretty unique, “in one respect. There are offshore medical schools, international schools, in the Caribbean, for instance, which have established relationships with hospitals in the United States and they send significant numbers of their students, most of whom are also U.S. citizens, up to these hospitals for clinical training. That’s not new.... I think what’s different about this arrangement is Queensland is a great university, it’s not a for-profit off-shore medical school. It’s a great university and aspires to be a world player, and with good reason…. And Ochsner is a major, major teaching hospital, so I think it’ll be excellent clinical training for these students.”

“It’s very important to understand that this is a very serious and genuine attempt at an exciting transnational collaboration. This is not a, if you will, a Caribbean medical school, run by a bunch of businessmen. This is a very serious transnational collaboration between one of the world's leading universities and one of America’s leading integrated health systems,” said Wilkinson, the head of Queensland’s medical school.

Queensland’s School of Medicine is accredited by the Australian Medical Council, and the school has submitted an application regarding the new arrangement with Ochsner for the council's approval; the accreditor's decision is pending. “We are hopeful but we are also conscious that this is a novel partnership,” said Wilkinson.

As for those students who have already started the joint Queensland/Ochsner program, in the event that the accreditor does not approve it, or does not do so in a timely fashion, "students who enroll will be expected to complete their four year medical education at University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia," as Queensland's Web site for international applicants notes.

John Prescott, chief academic officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, said that he was struck by the partnership given that Ochsner has had a long history of working with students from the medical schools at Louisiana State and Tulane Universities (Pinsky said the long-standing affiliations with Louisiana-based medical schools are continuing amid the development of its new partnership with Queensland).

“The prime difference is that the LSU students and the Tulane students are from schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education," Prescott said. The LCME is sponsored by the AAMC and the American Medical Association, and only accredits medical schools in the U.S. and Canada.

“I re-watched the press announcement where the governor [of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal] and others were talking about helping to meet the needs of Louisiana. If it helps to do that, wonderful, that would be a truly wonderful thing,” Prescott said (the AAMC has been among those calling attention to the projected physician shortage and need to increase medical school capacity). Other than that, Prescott continued, “I know the American system very well. I don’t know the system well for Australia, and would have to wait before I make further comment... I’d have to just see how this would roll out.”


African barbarism comes to Australia

AFRICAN immigrant girls are increasingly being forced by their families to have barbaric female genital mutilation, Immigration Minister Chris Evans has been warned. The minister has been told the painful ritual is almost certainly being practised here, and some girls may have been flown to Africa for the disfiguring procedure. Senator Evans received briefings "to respond to concerns that (mutilation) is increasingly being practised on permanent residents/Australian citizens". But community liaison officers said it was difficult to know how widespread it was.

Concerns have also been raised with the minister over growing levels of domestic violence in African communities, particularly against Sudanese women. "One possible explanation for this is that women no longer have the protection of their extended families as they would have in their home countries," he was told.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hatred of Australia's big-two supermarkets

This is very reminiscent of the hatred that Leftists direct at Wal-Mart in America. Success is hated. And there is absolutely no substance in what they say below. There are smaller supermarket chains with different business models such as IGA (stressing convenience) and Aldi (stressing ultra-low prices) and there is nothing stopping anyone who wants to shop at one of those. They all have plenty of outlets. People go to Woolworths because they like the Woolworths model (lots of choice) and they obviously are prepared to pay for that. "Choice" just ASSUMES that price is all that matters. If that were so, everyone would be going to Aldi.

Note: "Choice" is similar to Britain's "Which". It is a consumer reports organization but has recently come under heavy Leftist influence: Another example of the Gramscian "long march"

AUSTRALIA has the highest grocery inflation in the Western world and our powerful supermarket duopoly has a big role to play, experts warn. Commanding up to 80 per cent of the nation's $90 billion grocery market and a large percentage of the fuel market, Coles and Woolworths have little incentive to discount, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says.

The stranglehold on the market came under fire this week when Coles announced a food-for-fuel promotion requiring customers to spend $300 on food to get a 40c per litre discount of fuel. Woolworths matched the offer within hours, The Courier-Mail reports. Independent petrol station owners claimed the move was designed to squeeze out the competition. The number of independent fuel stations has plummeted from 7000 to 5500 in five years. [It has been shrinking for decades]

Christopher Zinn, the spokesman for consumer group Choice, said petrol discounts shouldn't be taken at face value. "You always have to consider how the supermarkets subsidise this - they aren't giving things away out of the kindness of their hearts, you usually pay to make up for your savings elsewhere," Mr Zinn said.

At the end of last year the ACCC released its Grocery Inquiry, which concluded there were insufficient incentives for Coles and Woolworths to truly discount. The report also noted that Australia had the highest rate of grocery inflation of all OECD countries. The report said if one of the big players discounted, the other matched it quickly, meaning there was no good chance for either to win new customers from the discounting effort.

The Retailers Association national executive director Scott Driscoll said the retail war was not between Coles and Woolworths - it was "the big two versus everyone else". "There are no other developed countries in the world where two big players control the market to the extent these two do," Mr Driscoll said.

But Monash University's Australian Centre for Retail Studies program director Steve Ogden-Barnes said Coles and Woolworths were competing like never before, to the advantage of consumers. The expansion of ALDI had offered a sizeable alternative to the big names and enhanced competition. "We have seen the quality of robust competition in the marketplace improve to a quality we haven't seen in a long time," Mr Ogden-Barnes said. "Coles and Woolworths are responding to that and I think they are in a very public battle for their market share."

But he said the duopoly was here to stay and he urged consumers to make it "work for them" by studying catalogues and shopping around. "Put aside your loyalty and capitalise on the competitive environment," he said.


Queensland police are debating whether the length of a cab-driver's socks is really an issue that they should be concentrating on

Given their almost complete lack of interest in car-theft and such things, re-examination of their priorities is long overdue

A shocked Brisbane taxi driver who was fined $100 by police for not pulling up his socks may have the extraordinary penalty withdrawn. The Queensland Police Service told The Courier-Mail "a decision will be made as to whether to withdraw (the fine)" once all facts surrounding the incident were known.

To date, the QPS has refused to answer queries about its power to enforce a fine for wearing short socks, nor its opinion of the male traffic officer involved, saying: "It would appear that the officer . . . issued (the fine) under the provisions of Section 131 of the Transport Operations (Passenger Transport) Regulations 2005 relating to the appropriate dress code for taxi drivers." But the legislation does not stipulate that short socks are banned. Instead, it merely states: "The driver of a public passenger vehicle must, while driving the vehicle, be neatly dressed."

In June, part-time Yellow Cabs driver Kidd Moors was arguing with an officer about a seatbelt compliance issue on the side of the road at Hendra before the policeman wrote him a ticket that stated: "Failed to dress neatly . . . WHT/runners, short running socks".

The incident sparked claims of "payback" and "an abuse of power" from the Cab Drivers Association of Queensland.


Retrograde pay laws bad for employment and prices

PROPOSED changes to retail employees' penalty rates are "barbaric" and will lead to higher unemployment and inflation, Myer chief executive Bernie Brookes has warned. Mr Brookes said changes to the sector's award system, to be introduced in January next year, were an "enormous obstacle" for retailers, the Herald Sun reports.

He said most major retailers, including Myer, had enterprise bargaining agreements with staff which were formed in a "fair and equitable negotiation process in a laissez faire economy". "They are agreements that have been made within the law and are fair for both the employer and the employee," he said. "The dilemma going forward is if the Government resets the penalty rates regime for Saturday and Sunday then the impact of that is going to be a fracturing of EBAs for retailers and the fracturing of what will obviously be the dynamics of the cost model of the retailer."

Mr Brookes said full-time jobs would be lost as a result of the IR legislation and increased costs would be passed on to consumers. "The government is going to cause inflation by raising the rates at which we have to pay casual and part-time staff on Saturdays and Sundays," he said. "It is a move to some of the barbaric and adversarial union-employer relationships that we used to have, that I don't think we have a need to return to or we can afford to return to."

The "modern award" program advocated by the Rudd government was a key plank of its pre-election platform, promising to roll back John Howard's Workchoices. As part of the new system, the Industrial Relations Commission has outlined 11 streamlined award categories which will oblige the retail sector to pay double time on Sundays.

Mr Brookes said the IR changes were the biggest challenge for the company and that the worst of the economic downturn had passed.


Only a government could be this stupid, wasteful and inefficient

Important and expensive high tech equipment that a public hospital bought 8 YEARS ago still not in use

TAXPAYERS are forking out $1 million a year to treat patients privately while medical equipment worth $3 million sits idle in a public hospital. Health Minister Paul Lucas yesterday admitted cancer sufferers were waiting for treatment after delays in commissioning a hyperbaric chamber at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. The facility, dubbed ''one of the world's biggest and best'', was built for $2.8 million in 2001 and there were promises it would be operating 18 months ago. But the pressure chamber continues to sit idle while patients use a similar unit at the nearby Wesley Private Hospital.

Hyperbaric chambers - like decompression chambers used to treat divers with the bends - are used to treat people with chronic illness, particularly when they have wounds that are difficult to heal.

The revelations came as Mr Lucas promised to release radiation therapy waiting lists for the first time after years of secrecy from Queensland Health. Mr Lucas yesterday insisted using the Wesley chamber was more economical than running the RBWH facility at half capacity, but he would not release all the figures to back it up. Queensland Health figures show the RBWH chamber would cost $1.5 million a year to perform 6600 treatments. Taxpayers spent $877,513 on treatments at the Wesley during 2007-08 and $1.2 million the previous year.

Mr Lucas defended the chamber's lack of use, saying it was built as part of good future planning and would be commissioned within a year. But he refused to reveal how many patients were waiting to be treated.

However, Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle, who questioned Mr Lucas during the Budget Estimates hearings, said the lack of use was ridiculous. ''Why isn't operating?'' Mr McArdle demanded. ''It is simply negligent not to have this operating right now. It should have been commissioned when the thing was put in. ``Why aren't we using it so that people can have a better life and a better quality life?''


Fear of social worker terrorists

Cases where children are in REAL danger are "too hard" for most social workers so they concentrate on harassing middle class parents over minor infractions. So the woman below had grounds for her fears

THE family car has never been more sinister. Until the first baby expired from organ shutdown after being left to bake in a hot car, who knew such a thing could happen? Until gamblers without babysitters started leaving their children in carparks so they could play poker machines, who knew such neglect was taking place?

Back in the innocent Australia of the 1970s, the family car was considered an extension of the living room. As kids we played in them, made cubbies in them, slept in them and, yes, waited patiently for our parents in them. The car was a happy place, roads were quieter and the term "road rage" had not been coined. Not only were you not constrained by law to wear seatbelts during travel, kids frequently drove for long hauls while lying flat along the back parcel tray of the Holden HR, admiring the skyview through miniature venetian blinds.

If Dad hit the brakes, the fun increased as you tumbled from your makeshift perch and on to the backseat. And if your parents hopped out of the car to get supplies, we waited in the car, sometimes for hours, for them. In fact this writer has been known to joke that, for a time, she was a carpark orphan.

After playing 18 holes of golf with me along as their disinterested caddy, my parents would head into the golf club with their friends for refreshments and maybe to put a few dollars into the poker machines. After about 10 minutes, out my father would come with a KitKat and a packet of Smith's chips to pacify me as I waited alone, in the car, while they socialised with their mates. It wasn't against the law for me to be there. It was against the law for me to be inside the clubhouse.

Now a mother myself, I too feel the urge to just leave the kids in the car for a sec when I run in to post a letter, pay a bill, grab some milk or pay for petrol. This apparently makes me a bad mother - something I felt all too keenly when I left my unwell, sleeping child in the car while I dashed through rain into a bakery to order a christening cake.

When I returned there was a man taking down my number plate number and abusing me. Frightened I might never see my daughter again, I thanked him "for caring", dashed home and burst into tears as I waited for DOCs [the notorious NSW child welfare agency] to call.


Friday, July 17, 2009

More hostile and stupid behaviour from the Queensland police

Co-operation between police and cabbies has in the past been very helpful in catching criminals but the Queensland goons seem to be doing their best to terminate any such co-operation

"PAYBACK" and "an abuse of power" are how taxi drivers are describing the extraordinary actions of a police officer who fined a cabbie $100 for not pulling up his socks. "That's just ridiculous, just crazy," Cab Drivers' Association of Queensland member Paul Henderson said. "In 18 years that's the first time I've heard of it ... it creates animosity between drivers and police even further." CDAC secretary Lee Sims slammed the fine as "an intimidation just to get even" and "an abuse of power", The Courier-Mail reports.

Mr Sims, who has been critical of Queensland Transport's management of the taxi industry, questioned whether police had the authority to issue the fine and its permissibility in court. He said it was the first time he had heard of such a "petty" notice but conceded drivers by law had to be "neatly dressed" – an area open to interpretation.

The driver advocate said a recent government blitz on Brisbane drivers resulted in cabbies copping $400 fines for not having a 2009 version of a street directory, or for allowing a car's window tinting to peel.

The Courier-Mail yesterday obtained the ticket issued last month to taxi driver Kidd Moors in which the officer claimed the offence was: "Failed to dress neatly". He identified the evidence as "WHT/runners, short running socks".

Queensland Police Service yesterday was unable to respond in time to the newspaper's questions about the harshness of the fine or the frequency such fines were handed out.

Mr Moors, 41, from Narangba, said he intended to fight the "sock fine" in court, along with a fine for not wearing a seat belt.

Mr Henderson said dress rules for drivers included the need to wear a uniformed shirt that was tucked in, business trousers or tailored shorts with long socks pulled up and dress shoes.


More on incompetent QANTAS management

And they are still in denial mode

QANTAS has come under attack for failing to support staff left to deal with angry passengers delayed by a lightning strike in Perth. The Australian Services Union says staff are still furious they were left without enough up-to-date information to pass on to passengers stranded when an Airbus A330 struck by lightning on approach to Perth airport last Friday, reports The Australian.

The aircraft, which was due to operate the red-eye service to Melbourne, was initially grounded for an inspection but was further delayed when the strike proved more serious than first thought. Passengers became increasingly angry because they were not being told what was happening and staff were forced to radio for police help when the situation turned ugly.

The union says staff were left exposed, powerless and intimidated by angry people and it was just a matter of good luck that there was no physical violence.

This view was disputed by Qantas, which said it believed staff were supported on the night by duty managers and operations staff. The airline said it had established an informal working group to investigate the incident and it was confident it could address some of the issues arising from the event.

ASU assistant branch secretary Pat Branson said her members were angry that they were continually forced to bear the brunt of customer anger about problems at Perth only to watch the airline do nothing about it. She said the latest incident was the straw that broke the camel's back. The union took the unusual move of publishing the Perth manager's phone number and urging customers to ring him personally to complain.

Perth airport has been a thorn in Qantas's side and a source of consumer complaints for years. Two years ago, the airline announced it would spend $50 million on its terminal to ease unpleasant congestion during peak periods, including the installation of QuickCheck kiosks, new security screening, an expansion to the departure lounge and a boost to its baggage systems.

But Ms Branson said passengers were still miffed that not enough had been done to solve problems at Perth and the facility was still subject to constant queues. "It's a mess," she said. "The facilities at the Perth domestic airport are the worst I've seen in Australia and they are more crowded."


Feds finally taking some (weak) action against the fraudulent "OzDirect" online traders

I warned about this mob on May 29

THE competition watchdog has taken action against Ozdirect Online Brands for alleged misleading and deceptive conduct. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleges the company and its director Paul Albright accepted payment for goods it knew could not be supplied in a reasonable time and misled clients on product availability, likely delivery times of items and refund rights.

In a statement the ACCC accuses Ozdirect of "misleading or deceptive" conduct and that "Mr Albright was knowingly concerned in that conduct". The watchdog alleges that three sections of the Trade Practices Act have been breached

A number of irate consumers have used online forums to vent their frustrations as far back as August 2008, claiming the site took their money. "It's been five weeks, I've still not received anything,'' one user who bought software worth $1000, wrote. "All emails, faxes, customer service centre ... ignored. What a joke!'' said another. "Worst online shopping experience ever,'' rated a third, who added they'd made an official complaint.

On another site in March, 111 people signed a petition asking for the media's help in publicising the issue. The company sells electronic goods on websites including,, and The ACCC wants Ozdirect to stop their alleged conduct, implement a trade practice compliance program and to pay legal costs. This matter has been listed for a hearing on July 24.


Australians are exceptionally successful as immigrants

Probably because life is so good in Australia that only the exceptionally talented have the motive to live elsewhere -- usually in more populous countries such as the UK and the USA -- thus giving their talents greater exposure and use

AUSTRALIAN expatriates are among the richest in the world, with one in five earning more than $US250,000 a year. But almost a third are planning to return home, blaming global economic turmoil for limiting their career prospects.

Research by HSBC Bank Australia, based on a survey of 3100 expats working in 50 countries, found Australians working overseas are living the good life, whereas foreign expats working in Australia have the lowest salaries of all the countries surveyed. Almost half, or 46 per cent, of Australian expats have an extra $US4000 or so in disposable income each month and have hired help such as nannies or cleaners.

However, foreign expats in Australia are the poorest of those surveyed, with 63 per cent earning less than $US100,000 a year.

Graham Heunis, the head of personal finance services at HSBC Australia, said expats in Russia, Asia and the Middle East were the highest paid, with those in Belgium and Australia the poorest.

Despite their lucrative salaries many Australians working overseas are considering moving home because of the global financial crisis. "Expats living in Australia are reporting the lowest salaries, but are nevertheless keen to stay put, while a third of the Australians living overseas are considering a return home," said Mr Heunis.


The real reason I’ll fight in the Senate on climate change

by Senator Steve Fielding

Climate change is real. Yes that’s right, contrary to the misreporting in the media, I do believe in climate change. That might come as a shock to some of those on the left side of politics, but it’s the truth. The question that concerns me, however, is what is driving it? Is it increasing levels of human made carbon dioxide emissions, variations in solar radiation or something else?

Around three months ago one of my advisors pulled me aside and asked me what I thought was driving climate change. I smiled and said automatically that it was obviously a result of increasing carbon dioxide emissions. I had never really looked at the science and just assumed what was reported in the media to be true. Well wasn’t I in for an enormous shock.

My advisor presented me with data and some comments from a number of scientists which suddenly had me asking many questions. This led me to do some further reading and I ultimately decided to head over to Washington on a self funded trip so I could find out more about the science behind climate change.

In the US I met with numerous scientists on both sides of the debate. Some media outlets would have you believe that I met only with climate skeptics who they accuse of being paid off by the fossil fuel industry. These claims are wholly inaccurate.

Moreover, I strongly believe in giving everyone a fair hearing even if it isn’t the most popular view. I believe it’s my role as a a politician, to wade through all of the spin and come up with my own conclusions after hearing all of the facts.

Some of the data led me to question whether the Rudd government had got the science right. I then took some of the information and questions I had to the White House where I met with one of President Obama’s senior climate change advisors. While these discussions were fruitful, I was left at the end with even more questions than when I had started.

In an effort to try to get to the bottom of the issue I started to talk to a number of scientists based in Australia to get a feel for what their views were on the subject. Amongst the many presentations, one item really stood out. I was presented with a graph based on data that IPCC use which showed carbon dioxide emissions sky rocketing over the last 15 years while global temperatures had remained steady.

Above: The chart Senator Fielding says sparked his doubts about climate change

This graph left me nothing short of flabbergasted. Up until this point I had truly believed that human made carbon dioxide emissions were responsible for climate change.

However, this graph basically said otherwise. I was left asking myself how I could vote for a carbon pollution reduction scheme if it appeared as though carbon dioxide emissions were not driving climate change. It is important to point out that the IPCC had predicted in their models that there would be a direct correlation between increasing carbon dioxide emissions and increasing global temperatures. However, if you look at the graph it is obvious to everyone that this correlation simply does not exist.

Armed with this information I sat down with Minister Wong, the Chief Scientist and Professor Will Steffen of the ANU to hear their explanation. After an hour and a half I left none the wiser.

I received a written response to my questions from the Minister a few days later which had me even more uncertain. According to the Minister, air temperature, a measurement relied upon by the IPCC and the Rudd Government to justify its emissions trading scheme was irrelevant.

Instead, I was told that I should really be concerned with the variability in ocean temperatures. Not only did this contradict all of the information which the Minister had provided me with only a few days earlier but I was also aware of an IPCC report which stated that the measuring of ocean temperatures was not reliable.

I went back to the government with this question but was met with a wall of silence. They had clearly decided it was safer not to engage with me because I had legitimate questions which they probably were unable to answer.

I was left feeling that the only responsible thing to do was to vote against this legislation. At the end of the day, it would be a betrayal of my duty to the Australian people to put at risk the national economy and many thousands of jobs on what is clearly inconclusive science.

But then enter Al Gore. Here was a man who had a lot of power and went around the world preaching about climate change. I thought he might have the answer for me, the ones I couldn’t extract from the Rudd government. I briefly met Mr Gore at a breakfast in Melbourne attended by more than a thousand people. He was aware of the important role Family First plays in the senate and was keen to catch up.

After a series of phone calls I was met with a stonewall of resistance. I offered to meet Mr Gore at any place at any time but had no luck. Here we had the former Vice President of the United States, a self proclaimed climate change preacher running away from me over a few simple questions. I could hardly believe it.

I would have thought if Al Gore was really committed to the cause he would want to meet with all senators who had concerns about the science if it would help ensure that the CPRS legislation would pass. Obviously I was wrong.

I have written to every senator urging them to look at the graph and ask themselves the key question - what is driving climate change? If they can’t answer that simple question they shouldn’t be voting for a CPRS. This decision is the biggest economic decision in this country’s history, one which is too important to vote along party lines.

I call on the government to answer my question with a straight answer. If they’re not prepared to do so, I’m happy to fight the lone battle in the senate until those senators who are honest with themselves break party lines.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

QANTAS does it again

You get the impression that they just don't do inspections and maintenance any more. A crash can't be far away. Sad to see a once-exemplary airline (voted second best in the world at one stage) sink so low. The deterioration in maintenance standards seems to have started in the latter half of the reign (2000 to 2007) of Margaret Jackson as chairwoman -- with a decision made in 2005 to send most maintenance work overseas -- ending up in amazingly bad Malaysian operators being given the work, for instance. We now seem to be seeing the fruit of that. A few skipped inspections might not matter, but if you keep skipping them it does eventually matter. Is Ms Jackson another example of a disastrous affirmative action appointment? Sadly, the new chairman seems to be very part-time, with lots of other fish to fry -- so would seem to be little more than a figurehead -- leaving everything to the cipher that is the new CEO. No strong leadership anywhere in the company any more so it is just drifting towards a cliff

PASSENGERS on a Qantas flight received a nasty surprise when water stored for the toilets poured from around the overhead bins. Flight QF25 was travelling from Melbourne to Los Angeles via Auckland, the Aviation Herald reported. The plane was flying over the Pacific when the water pipe supplying the toilets began to leak, causing water to pour into the passenger cabin.

The Boeing 747-400 was diverted to Honolulu Airport where it was serviced while passengers waited for two hours. The flight resumed with the same equipment after the plane was given the all-clear. The flight was delayed by five hours in total.



Two current articles below

OK for a senior cop to be offensive scum?

It seems to be in NSW -- thanks to some very lenient court decisions. It is quite clear that, far from exemplary behaviour being expected of NSW police, substandard behaviour is regarded as normal. That's NSW, I guess

A FEMALE parole officer whose breasts were commented upon by a senior policeman - after she allegedly exposed them in a bikie magazine - said she was upset that she would have to work with him again.

Although the police force tried to stand down Raymond Sewell, the NSW Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a decision that despite his sexual harassment of two women his dismissal was unjust.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione had taken the case to court in his campaign to purge NSW Police of dodgy officers and clean up its reputation for big drinking and sexism. The case was one of a string exposed last week by The Daily Telegraph of officers behaving badly after consuming alcohol. The Coonamble-based officer was sacked by then-commissioner Ken Moroney over a string of sexual incidents, many fuelled by alcohol. Sgt Sewell had harassed parole officer Isabel McDermott twice - at a pub and at her workplace - in late 2005 and early 2006.

In December 2005, at the Commercial Hotel, he grabbed her and pulled her to him and said words to the effect of, "Perfume smells better on breasts", according to the termination notice. In January he "made improper comments to her regarding her name badge, which was positioned on the right side of her chest . . . words similar to, 'If that one is named Isabel, what is the other?'."

Sgt Sewell said Ms McDermott had appeared in a magazine displaying her breasts with other women at a Rebels outlaw motorcycle group function. He said that since the incidents he had stopped drinking alcohol, had undertaken counselling and his medication had been adjusted.

In another three incidents, Sgt Sewell squeezed the bottom of his senior constable partner when she visited him and Senior Constable Matthew Dickson, at Coonamble Police Station in December 2005. At a New Year's Eve party at the Commercial Hotel he undid the strings of her top, causing her to become upset. And on a third occasion in February the next year, at a social gathering at the same pub, he grabbed her buttocks.

Despite these incidents, the Industrial Relations Commission found that Sgt Sewell had been unfairly dismissed. Mr Scipione appealed to the full bench of the IRC but the decision was upheld, prompting the unsuccessful Court of Appeal action.

"I'm not happy at all," Ms McDermott said. "I'm very uncomfortable having him back there, I can tell you that. "My colleagues are not happy either because we have to work with him."


'No Tasers' for Victoria's corrupt and deadly police

Victoria Police has failed to tackle the shoot-to-kill culture that made it the nation's most deadly force, and its officers should not be trusted with Taser stun guns, the state's police watchdog has declared. A damning report from the Office of Police Integrity, due to be released this month, is believed to recommend sweeping changes across Victoria Police to safeguard the public from poorly trained officers unable to defuse life-threatening situations.

Victorian police have been notorious for their deadly use of force since the mid-1980s. The OPI says successive police commanders, including recently departed chief commissioner Christine Nixon, did not do enough to combat it. The fatal shooting of 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy by three officers last December sparked debate on whether the police should be armed with Tasers.

Chief Commissioner Simon Overland, who took over from Ms Nixon in March, has read the draft OPI report and has already taken steps to tackle the problem, announcing last month that police would be retrained in how to deal with critical incidents.

OPI director Michael Strong told The Australian: "We have significant concerns about the use of force in Victoria Police. Education and training is not focused properly, there is not sufficient emphasis on alternatives to use of force, there is insufficient monitoring of use of force and insufficient analysis. "Lessons that should have been learnt have not been learnt, and recommendations for improvement have not been acted upon." Mr Strong was "gravely concerned" previous reports on the problem, including a 2005 OPI report, had been all but ignored by the force. He said it was "disappointing" Ms Nixon had not given priority to the issue.

"Mr Overland has publicly expressed his determination to improve outcomes in areas of use of force, and I am confident he will make further statements following the release of our report," Mr Strong said.

Between 1990 and 2004, Victorian police shot dead 29 people, compared with police in NSW and Queensland killing 18 and 11 respectively. Tyler's death sparked calls for Tasers to be issued to police on the beat. At present only specialist squads in Victoria Police are issued with the stun guns. Mr Strong said it was appropriate for specialist police to have Tasers, but he was opposed to the weapons being issued to regular police in Victoria because of their inadequate training. Victoria Police "is not in a space where it would be prudent to issue Tasers", he said.

Queensland has halted the rollout of Tasers to general-duty police after the death of a man last month who had been stunned 28 times.

NSW will introduce Tasers to general-duty police this month, while Western Australia already issues them to general-duty police. Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT have restricted the weapons to specialist tactical response squads. Mr Strong rejected claims that the OPI's reputation had been damaged by the collapse of its legal case against former police union strongman Paul Mullett. Mr Mullett had faced criminal charges stemming from a 2007 OPI investigation into a series of high-level leaks alleged to have compromised a murder investigation. The charges were dropped last month, prompting Mr Mullett to demand a public apology.

Mr Strong said he did not regret the OPI's decision to pursue Mr Mullett. "I express no regret for OPI doing its job," he said of the investigation, which resulted in a guilty plea from former police media chief Steve Linnell and as a result of which former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby is awaiting trial on perjury charges. "An investigation that results in one person being dealt with, another being sent to trial, and charges against a third being dropped is not at all unusual. It would not be attracting the attention it has if not for Mr Mullett's colourful protests."

Mr Strong said he backed the OPI tactic of using public hearings to expose corrupt police, saying it was a powerful deterrent. "It sends out the message that if you act in that fashion we will expose your conduct and we will do it publicly." He said the OPI was increasingly involved in prevention and education strategies to reduce the probability of police officers flirting with the dark side.


People smugglers luring passengers to Australia with cheap trips

PEOPLE smugglers are luring more passengers by offering cut-price deals because of the economic crisis, an academic says.
Dr Khalid Koser, from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, has been looking at the financial crisis's impact on asylum seekers and migration, and says it has contributed to the recent spike in unauthorised boat arrivals to Australia.

Smugglers in countries such as Indonesia were offering "discounts and cut prices to move larger numbers of people and generate a profit", Dr Koser said. "They are reducing the prices of trips to generate more of a market and get money back because they, like everybody else, are feeling the squeeze of the financial crisis."

Rising unemployment in South-East Asia had increased the number of desperate people willing to risk fleeing to Australia. Authorities have intercepted 16 boats carrying asylum seekers in Australian waters this year, one of which exploded, killing five people.

The Opposition blames the Government's "soft" border protection policies. It says the Christmas Island detention centre is almost at capacity, with more than 1000 asylum seekers.

"Policies play a role but it's important to note that the spike in boat arrivals has coincided with the financial crisis," Dr Koser said. He also warned Australia risked stepping out of a "global market for skills" if it cut skilled migration levels. The Federal Government shed 25,000 places this year to help protect local jobs.


Parents charged after kid skips school in Queensland

Most probably a black kid. I come from up that way and there were black kids in my school classes -- and they were often absent

POLICE have charged parents of a 15-year-old Queensland teenager who has skipped high school more than 300 times with failing to send their son to school.

The parents, who cannot legally be named, face a $450 fine in a landmark case under the state's new truancy laws. Police and Education Queensland allege the year 10 student has had more than 300 "unexplained absences" since starting at Tully High School two years ago.

Police yesterday described the charges as a "last resort" after the school allegedly made numerous attempts to reach out to the parents. "This is about putting the onus back on the parents and making them responsible for their kids attending school," Tully Detective-Sergeant Scott Moon said.

Yesterday the parents, aged 54 and 53, were issued with a notice to appear in Tully Magistrates Court on August 13. [Getting them to appear should be fun]


America steps in over Chinese abuses

Several Western companies are now evacuating staff from China to prevent further arbitrary imprisonments by the Chinese

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said multinational companies in China "need to have assurances and confidence" that their workers will be treated fairly, and indicated he would raise the case of a detained Australian executive with Premier Wen Jiabao in a meeting Thursday. "We just need to continue to press" China for transparency, fair enforcement of laws and openness to foreign investment and cooperation, said Mr. Locke, in an interview in China with CNN on Wednesday.

The comments come in the wake of the detention since July 5 of the executive, Stern Hu, and three Chinese colleagues at Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto. The workers were accused of bribery to obtain state secrets relating to iron-ore price talks, though Australia has yet to be officially advised of the allegations. A Chinese steel executive has also been detained.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also stepped up pressure on China Wednesday. In his strongest statements yet on the detention of Mr. Hu, Mr. Rudd told reporters in Sydney that China's foreign trading partners and businesses operating in China would be closely watching the outcome of the incident. "And they will draw their own conclusions as to how it is conducted," he said. Previously, Mr. Rudd, who speaks Chinese and served at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, had said quiet diplomacy regarding the case would elicit a better result than public grandstanding.

The detention of the Rio Tinto employees for alleged espionage over what appears to be a commercial matter could undermine China's assertions that its state enterprises are increasingly independent of government and adhere to commercial principles. China's foreign ministry has said the case doesn't indicate Beijing is restricting the activities of foreign companies.

The China Iron and Steel Association, the lead negotiator for the Chinese side in the annual iron-ore price negotiations, and leading mining companies said talks are continuing. The negotiators failed to strike a deal by the June 30 deadline. Steelmakers and ore suppliers have moved to reach interim deals until a final price is set. Some Chinese steel mills have agreed to provisional prices for iron ore, executives from three steel companies said Wednesday.

An official at Hebei Iron & Steel Group said his mill has reached a tentative price of a 33% discount from last year's benchmark rate with both Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, as well as a 28% discount with Vale SA. The Hebei official said his company is still waiting to hear from the China Iron and Steel Association and Baosteel Group Corp., the country's largest steelmaker, on the final price agreement. "And after that, we'll pay the price difference to ore miners," he said. Hunan Valin Iron & Steel Group Co.'s general manager, Cao Huiquan, said his company currently pays for iron ore shipments based on a 33% provisional discount. "This is not the final price," he said. "We will follow CISA's decision on a final price agreement."

All shipments contracted under long-term pricing arrangements in the new contract year from April 1 have been under provisional prices. The urgency to agree on provisional prices was caused, in part, by an increase in spot prices in recent months. Discounts have ranged between 20% and 40% from last year's prices. The provisional 33% discount reached by several key buyers suggests steel mills expect that to be the final price to emerge in talks.

China's steel association has insisted on a cut of at least 40% from last year's contract price. Major Japanese and South Korean steelmakers have reached supply contracts based on price cuts of 28% to 33%.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Four current articles below

Predictions, Forecasts or Just Pure Guesses?

By veteran Queensland computer scientist Richard Kelly

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fourth Assessment Report, forecasts a "likely" increase in average global temperatures of between 1.5 and 4.5oC by the year 2100, with a "best estimate" of 3oC, and attributes this increase to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, most notably CO2.

Now, politicians of almost every persuasion, bureaucrats, economists and "global warming soothsayers (such as Al Gore)" tell us that there is now a "scientific consensus that global warming and climate change is a fact, not a theory" and that, unless we spend trillions of dollars to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next century, "the whole world will be devastated by catastrophic climatic events"!

Meanwhile, thousands of eminent scientists continue to demonstrate that the IPCC's statistics and computer models are fundamentally flawed (even fudged), yet their opinions are censored and suppressed by those on the populist bandwagon!

Interestingly, there appears to be no rigorous definition of what the term "average global temperature" means. Is it the average between daily maxima and minima; or between day and night temperatures; summer and winter; northern and southern hemispheres; the poles and the tropics; sea-level and mountain tops; or the oceans and the outback? Importantly, what does the term "average" mean across such diverse locations?

Unlike Melbourne (which often experiences "Four seasons in the one day"), Brisbane has one of the most stable and predictable climates in the world (as we like to claim: "Beautiful one day, perfect the next"). For this reason, one might expect that the Bureau of Meteorology, with all of its highly-skilled scientists, monitoring stations, weather balloons, radar stations, satellite observations, over 100 years of accurate historical data and state-of-the-art weather-modelling computers, to fairly accurately predict Brisbane's minimum and maximum temperatures for the following 24 hours!

Interestingly, despite this plethora of knowledge and technology, they rarely attempt to forecast temperatures more than 7 days ahead. With this in mind, I've been monitoring the Brisbane Bureau's 24-hour temperature forecasts and actual temperatures for a total of 2834 days (over 7-3/4 years). So how have they managed to perform?

In 2834 days, they've managed to predict both the minimum and maximum temperatures correctly on only 239 occasions - approximately one day in 12 (or 8.4% of the time). The average total error in their predictions was 2.4 degrees, whilst their maximum error was 9 degrees! If, on the other hand, one made the assumption that "Brisbane's weather is so predictable, that tomorrow's temperatures will be the same as today's", one would have been correct on 187 occasions - one day in 15 (or 6.7% of the time). More recently, I've been monitoring their 7-day forecasts as well, and have found that their forecast is correct only 4.1% of the time or once every 25 days, with an average error of 3.43 degrees.

According to the IPCC's "Guidance on Addressing Uncertainties", any prediction with less than 10% probability is "very unlikely" to be correct! So, where does this leave their own projection of a rise in Average Global Temperature of between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees over the next 100 years and with what accuracy?

Earlier this year, I happened to hear a Senior Meteorologist from the Melbourne Bureau interviewed on the ABC's 7.30 Report, who was asked: "How accurate are forecasters today?" Given the statistics I've quoted above, his response literally staggered me: "Well, on average, around about 85-90 per cent - that's the accuracy of the temperature forecast; that's looking at one day ahead. And that falls away to about 60 to 65 per cent out to 7 days." -

Ignorance? Wishful thinking? Or just plain hype? Actually, in quoting the above statistics, I am not attempting to denigrate the Bureau of Meteorology or its staff - merely to highlight the difficulty of reliably predicting temperature changes in the immediate, let alone the distant, future.

In summary, the global warming protagonists have failed to define what they mean by "average surface temperatures", have fewer than 30 years of accurate world-wide temperature measurements, upon which to base their projections, and completely ignore natural phenomena, which have produced global warming and cooling cycles over millions of years.

And what will be the outcome of government-imposed reductions in CO2 emissions, emissions trading schemes, renewable energy targets, etc? - Huge increases in energy bills and the price of food, the distortion of agricultural and farming practices, increased taxes and galloping inflation - not forgetting the adverse impacts on the poorer countries and their economies! These outcomes are already evident in countries such as the USA and the EU, which have mandated and subsidised the addition of ethanol to motor fuels, causing sky-rocketing prices for grains and meat and shortages of other commodities.

Call me a sceptic if you must, but I'm prepared to accept that "the Earth is flat" and that "the Sun revolves around the Earth", before I am willing to accept "the fact that global warming is solely due to human emissions of CO2 and that it will have catastrophic climate change consequences"!

Article received direct from the author

In Melbourne: Big Al, Small Protest

ANYONE who denies global warming is in the pay of big oil. Remember that is what the big man, Al Gore, said in his movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. But like so much that Mr Gore says, it just isn’t true.

Consider the 30-odd protesters who held placards outside the breakfast he spoke at this morning in Melbourne. The scruffy-lot, lead by a farmer Leon Ashby, were not there because someone paid them, but because they are outraged by Al Gore and what he has thrust on the world. In particular, his belief that we already have a climate crisis and that the only solution is carbon trading.

It might all sound well meaning. But it is going to be expensive. Indeed, quoting Ronald Bailey from Reason magazine, cap and trade in the US will be the largest corporate welfare program ever enacted in the history of the United States. And the corporations hope government is just as generous to them here in Australia.

Indeed if there were any in the pay of big oil at Dockland Peninsula this morning, they would have been inside applauding the big man. Has the big end of town ever taken to holding placards? I don’t think so.

A protest like the one in Melbourne this morning was about the seemingly disempowered and disenfranchised attempting to be heard. Of course history is replete with stories of such groups finding their voice and a crowd – eventually.


Greenie goes yellow (as in yellowcake)

Economic realities defeat ideology -- jobs and revenue needed -- even from the evil uranium

PETER GARRETT, whose first tilt at politics was a run for the Senate with the Nuclear Disarmament Party, gave the go-ahead for a new uranium mine yesterday. The Environment Minister approved the Four Mile mine in far northern South Australia, the first fully fledged uranium project to be approved by the former Midnight Oil frontman and one-time anti-uranium campaigner. Last year Mr Garrett approved an expansion of the Beverley mine, about 600 kilometres north of Adelaide. The Four Mile mine is about 10 kilometres from the Beverley project.

As Mr Garrett's opponents rushed to ridicule yesterday, he said the decision was difficult and "came after a rigorous and comprehensive assessment". "I have not taken the decision lightly," he said in a statement. "As with all proposals examined under national environment law, this mine was subject to a comprehensive, scientifically robust and transparent assessment process."

The Opposition environment spokesman, Greg Hunt, accused Mr Garrett of hypocrisy by reminding him of his speech to the ALP national conference in 2007 in which he spoke against abolishing Labor's three-mine policy on uranium. "I have long been opposed to uranium mining and I remain opposed to it. I am unapologetic about this. In fact, I am proud of it," Mr Garrett said two years ago.

He said there was no absolute guarantee Australian uranium would not end up in nuclear weapons "but we can guarantee all Australian uranium will become nuclear waste". The conference voted to abolish the three-mines policy and this made possible the approval of the Four Mile project, which will become Australia's fourth operational uranium mine.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said the decision was consistent with party policy. Despite expanding the uranium industry, he remained opposed to nuclear energy in Australia, saying our low emissions energy future lay in "clean, green renewables".

The South Australian Liberal senator, Simon Birmingham, said the Government was sending mixed messages and should now ratify a deal to export uranium to Russia for peaceful purposes.

After entering politics in 2004, Mr Garrett accepted he was bound by party policy. "I'll be expected to accept the policies of the party. It doesn't mean that my strong views about different issues can't be expressed but they'll be expressed within the party," he said.


State Premier goes in to bat for coal industry

THE Queensland government is demanding special treatment to shield its coalmines from the cost of Canberra's action on climate change. Jolted by a $15 billion crash in treasury revenue, Premier Anna Bligh has written to the federal government's junior climate change minister, Greg Combet, raising "a number of significant outstanding issues" with its greenhouse emission trading scheme, known officially as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

"The CPRS will significantly reduce the competitiveness of coal production in Queensland," Ms Bligh wrote in a letter tabled during a state parliamentary estimates committee hearing in Brisbane yesterday. "Options to assist the coal industry ... need to be developed that go beyond that currently proposed."

Ms Bligh said modelling by the federal Treasury confirmed that Queensland faced the greatest impact from emissions pricing, with the biggest cut in economic growth of any state or territory by 2050. Her decision to go in to bat for the coal industry betrayed the Premier's fears of further job-shedding in the state's struggling mining sector. The state budget in June predicted the mining downturn would rob Treasury of $1.6bn in royalty revenues this financial year. It also forecast a $15bn cut to revenue through taxes, royalties and the GST over the next three years.

Forced to defend her economic management yesterday, Ms Bligh conceded that the 110,000 jobs she has promised to create through an $18bn infrastructure program over the next three years might merely replace jobs shed elsewhere in the private sector. She blamed wet weather on underspending by $900 million in last year's capital works program.

Ms Bligh also defended her decision to sacrifice the state's AAA credit rating by plunging Queensland deep into debt to pay for record infrastructure spending. "Every single project is absolutely necessary. It might be all very well for rating agencies to sit down and look at our set of numbers, but they don't live here."

In her letter to Mr Combet, Ms Bligh warned that hundreds of jobs could be lost when NSW abolished its Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, to be replaced by the CPRS in 2011. The NSW scheme gave an incentive to generate electricity using waste gas from coalmines. "As a consequence (of the scheme's abolition) existing ... projects that are delivering lower emission electricity are at risk of closure with the potential for hundreds of jobs to be lost," she wrote. "Clearly this would be a most perverse outcome."

Ms Bligh called on the federal government to give "specialised assistance" to Queensland underground coalmines which she described as being "very gassy", with limited capacity to cut emissions. "Some coal companies have also advised that they cannot pass on carbon-related costs to their energy generator customers because of restrictive long-term contracts. Firms would need to absorb these costs, with a direct reduction in the profitablility of these investments," she said.

A spokesman for Mr Combet said yesterday the minister had not yet seen Ms Bligh's letter, written last Thursday.


Should kids be criticized?

Children tend to be cosseted much more than they once were and that does extend to sport. So some old-fashioned sports motivation directed towards a team of young Australian footballers has been much criticized -- but it worked! The team are now top dogs in their division

A FOOTY team of nine-year-olds has been branded greedy and hopeless in a scathing match report by its club. The blast was posted on the club's website after the Preston Bullants under-10s lost by just two points. The report upset many parents, while footy greats including former AFL premiership coach Ron Barassi said the comments were shocking at junior level, the Herald Sun reports. "I've followed my own son and grandson in football at those levels and I've never seen or heard anything like that," Barassi said. "That's very, very wrong. I wouldn't be doing that to under-10s." The four-time AFL premiership coach said football coaches and managers at junior levels should encourage young players and use constructive criticism.

In the Bullants blast written by coach Tim Rentos and team manager Edward Hore, the boys were roasted for what is meant to be a fun game. "Our skill level was hopeless ... we were greedy in the forward line," parents and club members were told. Bullants president Dennis McNiece last night distanced the club from the comments, saying the report was "not what Preston Bullants Junior Football Club is about". But the tactics appear to have worked, with the team undefeated since the spray, which came after a round 6 loss to Doncaster.

In their report, Mr Rentos and Mr Hore wrote: "A day of unfortunate mishaps. It all began at 9am with miscommunication and disorganisation ... a coach that wasn't organised to win the game, a manager stressed to the eyeballs and a team that depends on a certain few players to win the game week in, week out. "Our skill level was hopeless. There wasn't any kicking or handballing going to our players, our tackling, bumping and shepherding wasn't in the game."

Former VFA coach Phil Cleary, who now coaches West Coburg under-16s, said the "carping" attack was "awful" and unnecessary. "It's too negative," he said. "At under-10 I can't understand why you would want to send out a carping, negative document. It doesn't blend criticism with praise."

Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said as long as individuals weren't singled out the tactic appeared warranted and would help the boys deal with the real world, something too many parents were not doing. "Basically it was tantamount to a psychological grenade and it lifted everybody," he said. "I do think we shelter our kids a lot. I think that this is a good, gentle introduction into the reality of this world."

Family psychologist Renee Mill said such methods were a great way for boys as young as four to bond and be motivated. She said too many parents were afraid to demand improvement from their children, and expected boys to suppress their urge "to be boys". "There needs to be a place where men can just be raw men," she said. "We have to step back as mothers and say fathers are actually the role models for our boys to be male."

Mr Hore admitted yesterday some parents were initially upset but the boys took it on the chin and lifted their game. Mr Hore, whose son Terance plays in the team, said no child was singled out and the players were deemed mature enough to take the criticism. Since the spray his team had knuckled right down. "They play as a team, they listen to each other, they pat each other on the back, they talk to each other," he said.

Mr McNiece said the report should not have been published and refused to allow about 12 boys to be photographed by the Herald Sun. "The person who wrote this was not the coach or team manager at the time," he said. "He has been sanctioned by the committee and will not be allowed to write any more articles on our newsletter."

The Bullants now top the Yarra Junior Football League under-10 blue division ladder with a percentage of 272.73.


Sir Lunchalot -- from the party that claims to represent the little guy

THE NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, previously dubbed Sir Lunchalot by the Opposition, has spent nearly $150,000 on lunches, dinners and accommodation for a wine advisory group he created, and $15,000 on a charter flight. Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show Mr Macdonald spent $24,156.21 on a trip to Dareton in which he and a group from the NSW Wine Industry Research and Development Advisory Council lunched at Stefano's Restaurant at Mildura.

Last night the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, called for Mr Macdonald to be sacked over the revelations, saying they were "the worst display of arrogance from a Labor minister to date".

The costs of the trip follow a series of controversies the minister has been involved in, including revelations he used departmental funds to buy office furniture for his home and a television set and the fact he has spent more than $12,000 over two years on lunches for him and his office. He was also one of the highest spending ministers on overseas travel last year, spending $67,336 on visits to the US, China, Hong Kong, Japan and India.

The documents, obtained by Channel Seven, show that the group also dined at Catalina Restaurant at Rose Bay, at a cost of $7747 for 18 people. On another trip to Mudgee $9788.86 was spent, a trip to Wagga cost $10,887.13, and a journey to the Southern Highlands in February last year cost $7258.98. A trip to Tyrrell's Vineyards in the Hunter Valley cost $11,567.17.

"Mr Macdonald is a disgrace, and if Nathan Rees had any authority or standards he would sack him," Mr O'Farrell said.

Mr Macdonald denied last night that the Wine Industry Research and Development Advisory Council was a "luncheon club". "If you're going to consult with the regions of NSW you have to pay for people to do that consultation, to get out there and mix. We don't want people making decisions based on sitting around in …Parliament House," he told Channel Seven. "I've chosen none of the restaurants, nor do I determine the itinerary."

In a statement to the Herald, Mr Macdonald said the trip to Dareton - including a dinner for 25 costing $3390 - had been "a business meeting, where a range of important issues were discussed including development and export opportunities, research and water shortages because of the drought". "The council needs to meet with industry and regional communities in the heart of wine regions - it's pretty difficult to do this from the centre of Sydney."

The council had been going for six years, he said, and the "average expenditure is around $20,000, which is reasonable, given it conducts meetings in regional areas across the state".


Weasel language from a government health bureaucracy

A missive from Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid reminding staff about how important it is to be honest with the public now that the Right to Information laws have begun:
Special Broadcast 1/07/2009 6:43 pm

All staff of Queensland Health need to be aware that the Right to Information Act 2009 and the Information Privacy Act 2009 commenced today.

Both of these Acts are key components of the Queensland Government’s Right to Information policy that is aimed at promoting a culture of openness, accountability and transparency, balanced with appropriate protections for certain information, including personal information. In practice, this means that information will be released unless, on balance, its release is contrary to the public interest.

All of the Queensland Public Service need to be aware that the objectives of the Right to Information reform process mean we operate on a presumption of disclosure of government information.

To this end could all staff please note the contents of the attached Statement of Right to Information Principles For the Queensland Public Service issued by the Premier of Queensland.


I think comment would be superfluous

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Offensive food fanatic and the evils of cake

I have always had a fair deal of respect for nutritionist Rosemary Stanton but realised yesterday that this is only because I haven’t been paying attention.

The Irwin children above with their mother and the cake mix, Bindy on the right

Not sure if the rest of you caught it, but Mrs Stanton has launched a pretty out-there tirade against Bindy Irwin’s new commercial deal as the public face of a particularly sinister company. Not Union Carbide or Exxon or British Aerospace but the baking products conglomerate Greens General Foods, one of the shadiest players in the evil cake trade.

We’re not speaking here of the mythical drug also known as “cake”, made famous in the British news parody Brass Eye, but package cake mix, made from flour, sugar, baking powder, and flavourings such as cocoa, vanilla and orange. Greens has been peddling the stuff for years. Pushing it onto time-poor mums, getting kids hooked on it from an early age, using its addictive sweetness and energy-giving qualities to lure them into eating it by the slice after school - even hiding it in their lunch boxes so they can take it onto school grounds and get a fix at little lunch.

Well, Mrs Stanton has now blown the whistle on this practice - and taken aim at those irresponsible Irwins as part of the deal.

The first troubling thing about Mrs Stanton’s spray is the small matter of Steve Irwin’s death. That tragedy should make the Irwin family pretty much immune on the grounds of decency from any kind of frivolous sledging. It should also be factored into the thinking of any would-be critic as perhaps being the very reason why Terri Irwin needs to form a business partnership with a reputable family company such as Greens.

Mrs Stanton managed to negotiate her way past the taste question as she had a bigger target in mind. Cake. Mrs Stanton took issue with the images of Bindi and little Bob helping their Mum bake a cake in the kitchen, and even licking the spoon. “The message that comes across to kids is “it’s OK to eat cake because Bindi Irwin does” - I think it’s very sad,” Stanton said.

“Children are very trusting, so they actually think Bindi wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t right.” “I think it’s a bit of exploitation of her as well because she wouldn’t possibly be old enough to understand the impact that this could have.” “It’s wrong to target kids in trying to sell stuff to other kids. It makes it very difficult for parents to then resist the pleas of their children.”

It’s a good thing Mrs Stanton doesn’t know our address, or the addresses of our many mates with young kids, as we’ve all adopted a totally reckless attitude to child-rearing where we regard baking the odd cake with the kids as enjoyable family time, a great way to introduce them to cooking, especially with a good packet mix because they can do it all by themselves, with the added bonus that you can eat something tasty afterwards or take it down to the park for a picnic. We’re lucky DOCS [a famously bungling government child-welfasre agency] haven’t come around.

It’s cloud cuckoo land stuff which wouldn’t matter if not for the fact that Rosemary Stanton, author of 25 books on diet and nutrition, is on the Federal Government speed-dial for advice on health and wellbeing issues, one of those superficially innocuous right-thinking people who only has all our interests at heart.

(Googling her last night I found an interesting link to a lecture of hers on “Ethical Eating” on the ABC’s Fora website, where she suggested food prices could be artificially inflated so that our farmers no longer had to export produce, which would not only make food production more sustainable, but solve the “starving pensioner” problem once and for all.)

The other thing about the cake issue - Terri Irwin has only agreed to the deal because Greens has made a sizeable contribution to Steve’s ongoing wildlife and conservation protection programs, and are using their products to increase childrens’ awareness of endangered species through school bag tags. Which if you’re Rosemary Stanton probably just proves that, like any other pusher, cake dealers will do anything to get people hooked.

Anyway here’s a link to Greens Traditional Chocolate Cake. Buy some and feed it to your kids.


NSW teachers dead-scared of their failings being exposed

Parents must not be told if their kid is going to a sink school or has dud teacher

TEACHERS in New South Wales have voted to support industrial action if school league tables are published using national assessment data. NSW Teachers Federation president Bob Lipscombe said he hoped that state ministers would scrap plans to publish league tables before teachers walked out. However, up to 70,000 federation members were prepared to strike next year if necessary.

Speaking in Sydney at the federation's annual conference, Mr Lipscombe launched a scathing attack on NSW Education Minister Verity Firth for her support of tables comparing schools' performances. He also criticised sections of the media, saying some newspapers stood to gain financially from their publication. "Verity Firth needs to have a bit of backbone. "The minister needs to stand up for the people of NSW. "She has been prepared to take a stand on other issues and she needs to take a stand on this. "Certain newspapers support league tables because they know parents will be curious about how schools are performing. "Politicians and some newspapers who stand to gain financially are the only ones who support this."

Federation executive member Michael de Wall added: "This is political karaoke - out of tune and disturbing for those of us who have to listen to it."

The conference passed a motion supporting "all appropriate measures, both political and industrial" if 2009 national assessment data was used to publish league tables. It heard from teachers from across NSW who said such tables would damage schools, children and communities and offer inaccurate assessments of educational performance.

Mr Lipscombe told reporters outside the conference he believed the NSW Government, which has not authorised school league tables for 12 years, was being "blackmailed" by the Federal Government over the issue. "The one thing that's changed is that the Federal Government is now saying that if the State Government withholds its data, it will withhold funding. It is essentially a type of blackmail." He said Premier Nathan Rees' support of league tables was "driven by money".

However, the conference voted against a motion calling for Ms Firth's resignation, after Mr Lipscombe said it would divert attention from the core issue.

NSW is pushing ahead with legislation to allow media outlets to publish comparisons of schools' performance, overturning last month's opposition amendment to the Education Act which prohibits their publication. The Education Act allows the State Government to provide detailed information about schools to the Federal Government, in return for increased federal funding.

Under the Opposition amendment, NSW media are not allowed to publish information comparing different schools.


Leftist Federal government unconcerned about flood of illegals

As the latest boatload of unlawful entrants was being dealt with by authorities last night, it emerged the Government was warned as early as last October to prepare for a flood of boat people.

On Saturday night Australia's Border Protection Command intercepted a boatload of 73 asylum seekers believed to be from Sri Lanka, many "family groups" including women and children. The boat arrived about 11am yesterday at Christmas Island where the group will undergo security, ID and health checks to establish their identity and reasons for travel.

At the same time it emerged Immigration Minister Chris Evans was briefed by his department on an expected "surge in unauthorised boat arrivals" on October 27. But it took seven months to fund new measures - and the boats still keep coming. The advice followed the Rudd Government's move to soften border protection policies. At that stage, Asian people smugglers had only just started to resume operations, sending two boats south with 31 passengers. Since then, another 23 vessels have been intercepted carrying more than 1000 asylum seekers.

Senator Evans continued to receive advice on the anticipated surge in subsequent briefings, The Daily Telegraph has learned through Freedom of Information laws. Yet Prime Minister Kevin Rudd scoffed at suggestions of a surge in unauthorised arrivals in an answer to Parliament in December. "In 2008 there have been four boats with 48 passengers. In 2007 there were five boats with 148 passengers. If this year we have had a surge, that was a deluge," he said.

The new $654 million plan includes more money for surveillance and engaging with our neighbours. [but no change in the laws that encourage them to come]



Four current articles below

Family First senator Steve Fielding queries Warmist science

FAMILY First senator Steve Fielding has urged senators to look closely at the science on climate change before committing the nation to an emissions trading scheme. In a letter to senators yesterday, Senator Fielding -- who has recently emerged as parliament's most vocal climate change sceptic -- said carbon emissions had "skyrocketed" over the past 15 years, but temperatures had remained steady.

Senator Fielding said Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Australia's chief scientist had failed to explain why this was the case. He said it ran counter to assumptions underpinning the carbon pollution reduction scheme that carbon emissions were the leading cause of global warming. "Therefore, I ask you to think carefully before voting on the CPRS legislation, a multi-billion-dollar tax that could cripple our economy with little benefit to environment," he wrote.

The letter comes after Kevin Rudd was overhead voicing doubts to Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen about the ability of world leaders to reach an agreement at global climate change talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

Senator Fielding said he could not understand how any member of parliament could vote for the scheme, especially ahead of other countries. "Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong are hanging the Australian economy out to dry if the rest of the world doesn't follow suit," he said. "It's economically irresponsible for the parliament to pass the CPRS legislation before Copenhagen, when we'll have more of an idea what the US, China, India and Brazil are going to do on this front."

Senator Fielding has requested a meeting with climate campaigner Al Gore, who challenged the Rudd government at the weekend to show leadership by rolling out the CPRS before the Copenhagen summit. Senator Fielding wants to present a graph to Mr Gore, which was included in his letter to senators, which compares average temperatures over the past 15 years to carbon emissions.

A spokesman for Senator Fielding last night said he was still waiting to hear whether Mr Gore had agreed to the meeting.


Long-range weather forecasts too unreliable to be of use to farmers

But forecasts for 40 years ahead are reliable???

FARMERS have lost faith in long-term weather forecasts because they're unreliable, the South Australian Farmers Federation said. "The lack of accuracy of the current modelling methods and long-term predictions makes them a less than useful tool in agricultural farming systems in South Australia,'' the federation said in a submission to a federal inquiry into long-term meteorological forecasting.

"Agriculture has long called for the accurate long-range climate forecasting to improve decision making and risk management on-farm, but now question if we are pursuing the 'holy grail'.

"The scale of current models make them unreliable measures.

The federation said farmers preferred to use their own historical data as well as predictive modelling to determine the future weather, as they did not rely fully on one method.

"This is primarily due to farmers losing faith in previous long-range forecasting, which is crucial in this current drought,'' it said.

The House of Representatives' Industry, Science and Innovation Committee today held a public hearing in Adelaide for its inquiry into long-term meteorological forecasting in Australia.


Power cuts already looming because of proposed climate laws

ELECTRICITY generators are cutting back major maintenance work, raising the risk of California-style power brown-outs, because of uncertainty caused by the federal government's carbon pollution reduction scheme. Victorian generator Truenergy's managing director Richard McIndoe said yesterday that with $950 million of debt to be refinanced this year and banks wary of the impact of the CPRS on the industry, the company had decided it could not justify the cost of major maintenance.

Mr McIndoe said the company had cancelled work at its Yallourn coal-fired power station in Victoria's Latrobe Valley this year, saving $100m, and other generators were also cutting back. "We won't be doing any major overhaul this year," he told The Australian.

Truenergy supplies gas and electricity to 1.1million homes in Victoria, South Australia and NSW.

Mr McIndoe warned the cutting back of maintenance budgets meant there was an increased risk of under-investment in electricity generation, which led to the California power crisis of 2000-01. "You had unsound policy there that led to underinvestment. These are long lead-time events and the longer you continue in this situation, the higher the likelihood of serious supply interruption."

He said uncertainty over the final form of the CPRS -- the bill is delayed in the Senate and the start date has been postponed until 2011 -- was also increasing market volatility, which made it harder to sell long-term electricity supply contracts. One of the big four domestic banks was already refusing to lend to coal-fired generators, and international players looked on Australia as a sovereign risk.

Energy Supply Association of Australia chief executive Brad Page said there was always an increased risk of "less reliable supply" when generators cut back on routine maintenance. "It doesn't take a lot for one of these plants to have an unanticipated failure," he said. He added that because of the national electricity grid, supply interruptions in Victoria could cascade and cause outages in other states. He noted that a power failure at a NSW Hunter Valley substation last week cut power across five states.

The ESAA warns that the government is not giving the industry enough help to adapt to the CPRS and remain viable. It wants a similar deal to the 15 to 20-year commitment to support that electricity suppliers in the US and Europe have been given. The government had offered what amounted to $3.5 billion in support when the industry needed $20bn to survive the CPRS in its current form. "The whole thing is a recipe for financial stress in the coal-fired generation sector," Mr Page said. Victoria is most affected by the CPRS because 90 per cent of its supply is generated from highly polluting brown coal.

A spokesman for the Business Council of Australia said the treatment of the coal and electricity industries under the CPRS remained one of the areas where it had outstanding issues with the government. "Getting the detail right means ensuring the scheme doesn't reduce the competitiveness of Australian industry." The council wants the CPRS bills passed by the end of the year so businesses can begin planning for the scheme's introduction.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said yesterday the government should continue to move forward with action on reducing carbon emissions, despite Kevin Rudd's admission last Friday he held little hope that the UN's climate change conference in Copenhagen in December would lead to a global agreement on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Wild camels overrun resources in Outback

It's being described as a plague. More than 1 million wild camels are wreaking havoc in huge parts of Australia, eating the vegetation, destroying property, fouling and consuming water sources, desecrating indigenous sites and causing road accidents.

About 170 years after being introduced to the continent as a pack animal to open its arid interior, Australia's feral camel population is the biggest in the world. The camels double their numbers every nine years and continually expand their domain. Their hearty population gives no joy to Australians, and some have been exported to Asia and the Middle East.

A report by the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Center in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, estimates that feral camels roam an area of about 2 million square miles - more than a third of the continent. "We have to reduce numbers in a big way," said wildlife scientist Glenn Edwards, the report's chief author. "A lot of camels are in remote areas, and for those there is probably no option but to cull them."

The scope of the proposed cull is huge: 400,000 camels would be destroyed in the next two years and 700,000 in the next four years, offering the nightmarish vision of sharpshooters in helicopters targeting animals that have achieved almost iconic status in Australia's history.

Between 1840 and 1920, an estimated 20,000 camels were brought to Australia to explore and develop the inhospitable Outback. They transported goods and helped build the railroad and the telegraph. Along with them came thousands of drivers, many, but not all, from Afghanistan. The Ghan, Australia's legendary north-south transcontinental railroad, is named in honor of the cameleers.

With the advent of motorized vehicles and the railroad, the camel trains became less useful. Many of the cameleers did not want to destroy their animals, so they let them loose into the wild and expected them to die off.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Hu tests Rudd's China influence

Imprisoning people with whom they have dealings is a classic Chinese negotiating tactic -- particularly when they have no other cards to play. It is a s sign of weakness and an attempt to cover that up. That is what is happening in the case below and there is a fair chance that it will force some concessions from Rudd. Presumably Rudd knows all that, which is why he has so far turned a blind eye. If he had any balls he would tell the Chinese to ease up or all further negotiations with them will have to take place in Australia -- which is now likely to happen anyway. More details here and here

WHEN Kevin Rudd was told last week an Australian man was being held captive in a foreign country, you could picture him crossing his fingers and toes that country wasn't China. The Prime Minister prides himself on his diplomatic relations - especially with the burgeoning superpower. And yet as of last night Rio Tinto mining executive Stern Hu was still languishing in a Chinese prison, on suspicion of spying and stealing state secrets, with Australian officials warning the situation is not likely to resolve itself any time soon.

That's bad news for Rudd. Subtlety not his strong point, Rudd has for years given off the impression he's on top of China's party invite list. Australians were led to believe his speaking fluent Mandarin was not just a party trick, but a gateway to the upper echelons of the communist country's regime. That's probably what Hu was hoping too when he was arrested by Chinese secret police Sunday a week ago.

Because of his so-implied special relationship with China, Rudd has faced repeated calls to use his influence to help Hu. Yet it took five full days for Hu to receive Australian consular assistance. Rudd will be pleased that when the story broke he was on another overseas trip - building more diplomatic relations - providing him a welcome distraction. It has been left to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith - who can't speak Mandarin - to handle the case.

And let's be frank - it's not like the Chinese are playing ball. At one point Smith was forced to rely on Chinese websites to learn more about the case against Hu. Yesterday Smith reported it would be another month before Australian officials will be allowed to visit Hu again. He said Hu was now subject to Chinese law and the Chinese legal and judicial process. "As a result . . . Australia has to conduct itself in that environment," he said.

Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop repeated Opposition calls that Hu's case deserved a more serious response. "He's being taken by the Chinese secret police and there are accusations of espionage and state secrets," she said yesterday. "That elevates this matter to a Beijing-to-Canberra issue."

Today Smith said Australian officials in Canberra and Beijing seek more detailed information from Chinese authorities. Let's hope they're successful, for the sake of Hu's wife and two sons, who are largely being kept in the dark. Hu's wife Julie says she's OK - but she's being brave. Having a husband locked up by a totalitarian regime hell-bent on saving face after Chinalco failed in its bid for Rio has many wondering: how much will one man suffer to make a political point?

Rudd returns from his week-long trip to Malaysia, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, this morning. The Prime Minister is officially on leave this week, taking time to recuperate during the long parliamentary winter recess. While having some down time with his family in Kirribilli, perhaps he could pick up the phone to his good mates in China, and help out a fellow Aussie.


Australia surviving the financial crisis better than most

Another week, another round of not-so-terrible indicators about the state of the economy. It's getting easier to believe and harder to doubt this recession will be a lot milder than we're used to. If the recession does prove to be less severe than advertised, both sides of politics will need to review their plans.

Last week brought the remarkable news that the Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment rose by 23 per cent over the past two months to its highest level since December 2007, with optimists now well outnumbering pessimists. The number of new housing loans in May was at a 16-month high. And the labour force figures for June showed unemployment continuing to rise quite slowly.

Put that together with recent increases in retail sales, car sales and home prices and you've got a picture of an economy travelling quite a bit more strongly than envisaged as recently as the budget in May. The global recession is every bit as severe as we were led to expect, but it seems it hasn't dragged our economy down nearly as much we feared.

Whereas in early May the Reserve Bank was forecasting that real gross domestic product would contract by 1 per cent over calendar 2009, when we see its revised forecast next month it's likely to be for growth of about 0.5 per cent, maybe more.

If our prospects really are that much brighter, two main factors account for it. First, continued demand from China has limited the expected decline in our export income. The volume of exports actually rose over the six months to March and seems to have held up since then. Much rides on the success with which the Chinese authorities can switch from export-led to domestic-led growth, whether from consumption or infrastructure investment. The beauty from our perspective is that wherever they get their growth from, they'll need lots of steel and energy - the very commodities we supply.

The second factor is the continued strength of consumption spending, explained not just by the cash splash and the huge cut in mortgage interest rates, but by the way this has affected people's sentiment about the state of their own finances and the outlook for the economy.

It's always possible, of course, that all we're experiencing is an Indian summer. The global financial crisis may have more shocks to deliver, or it could be that consumer and business confidence will wilt under the inexorable rise in unemployment yet to come. But that fear is starting to wear thin. Whereas the budget forecast was for the unemployment rate to reach a peak of 8.5 per cent sometime in 2010-11, the new expectation is that it may not quite reach 7.5 per cent, and will reach its peak a fair bit earlier.

If that expectation comes to pass then, with the rate now at 5.8 per cent, we've already come a little more than half the distance from the trough of 3.9 per cent in February last year.


The usual bureaucratic yawn from those entrusted with child protection

Laws and duties simply ignored -- with dire consequences

A toddler is on life support after being bashed, days after welfare officers were told of an earlier attack. A top-level inquiry has been ordered into what steps were taken to protect the child, who has been in a coma since last week. Concerns were raised about the two-year-old girl when she arrived at child care with what appeared to be black eyes. The Herald Sun believes childcare staff notified the Department of Human Services, but police were not called in at the time.

About a week later, last Tuesday, the girl suffered severe head injuries. She was taken by emergency air ambulance to the Royal Children's Hospital, where she remains in an induced coma.

The Kennett government introduced laws in 1993 making it mandatory to report child abuse after two-year-old Daniel Valerio was bashed to death. The latest tragic victim of child abuse was in such a grave condition in hospital the homicide squad was notified. The girl's 26-year-old father was arrested by detectives from Stawell at the Royal Children's on Friday. They charged him with intentionally causing serious injury and recklessly causing serious injury to his daughter. A police spokeswoman said the man was granted police bail and will appear in the Stawell Magistrates' Court tomorrow.

Detectives and forensic experts have visited the home where it is believed the girl was attacked. Community Services Minister Lisa Neville has been briefed on the case. "The minister has ordered a full review . . . to ensure that all appropriate steps were taken," Department of Human Services spokesman Paul Heinrichs said. "This is a very serious case and our thoughts are with the child who is in hospital." Mr Heinrichs said specific questions from the Herald Sun about the circumstances of the case could not be answered because of the police investigation.

Professor Chris Goddard, the director of child abuse prevention research at Monash University, said Victoria needed an independent review of all child assault deaths and serious injuries cases. "We need to review cases where children have been injured to see if we could have intervened earlier," he said.

The child protection system came in for a major shake-up after the tragic death of Daniel Valerio in September 1990. It was estimated that in the months before he died, 21 professional people had contact with the sad and broken little boy. Three years later his stepfather, Paul Aiton, then 32, was sentenced to a minimum 18 years' jail.

The judge said there had been a lamentable failure of people in the system to take action when they saw the injuries the boy had suffered in the lead-up to his death. "Daniel would be alive today if there had been mandatory reporting," his father said outside the court.


A good looking woman with her feet on the ground

Top model Cassi Van Den Dungen turns down fashion career -- a career of artificiality and bitchiness

As two Australia's Next Top Model contestants strutted down the career runway yesterday, series runner-up Cassi Van Den Dungen walked away from a future in fashion. While Clare Venema and Adele Thiel attended a casting for Rosemount Sydney Fashion Festival, the feisty but photogenic "bogan" officially turned down prestigious contracts with not just local agent Priscilla Leighton-Clarke but cut-throat New York model management company Elite.

Van Den Dungen - whose looks have been compared to Kate Moss - plans to stay in Sunbury with her bricklaying boyfriend Brad Saul, 25.

Judge Charlotte Dawson, who supported the 17-year-old throughout the series, was not surprised when contacted by Confidential. "After seeing him (Saul) in the audience of the finale, I thought 'That guy is going to ruin her life'," she said. "We gave her so much love and support, maybe even more than the other girls, but at the back of my mind I knew she would do this and that's why I couldn't vote for her."


Demonstration against big Al

THE massive challenges of climate change should be viewed as opportunities, US climate campaigner Al Gore says. The former US vice president and Nobel Prize and Oscar winner was in Melbourne launching non-government organisation Safe Climate Australia at a breakfast of 1000 Australian leaders.

Mr Gore said the world, while facing the dual challenges of environmental and economic crisis, should not be afraid of the difficulties ahead. "We should respond not only to the danger but also to the opportunity," he said. "Because we face this crisis at a moment when the world is in an economic crisis as well."

Outside the function, about 30 protesters from the Climate Sceptics Party staged a peaceful demonstration bearing placards, including one that read "Stop Junk Science". Several party members also wore T-shirts splashed with the slogan "Carbon Really Ain't Pollution - CRAP".

But Mr Gore warned the crisis was gaining momentum. "The planet now has a fever," he said. "We have to act."

On Sunday, Mr Gore said the Rudd Government's carbon emission targets were not what he would have devised but stressed he was "realistic about what can be accomplished within the political system as it is".


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Typical Leftist government: Cut frontline services but NEVER cut the ever-growing bureaucracy

WA Police stripped of mobile phones while on the beat. The government could have got equivalent savings by firing just TWO "administrators"

FRONT-LINE police have been stripped of their mobile phones because of State Government cost-cutting. In a move the force says will save a meagre $200,000, it has axed 115 mobile phones from operational officers - 113 in the city and two in regional districts. And The Sunday Times understands that it will cut more phones, which are shared between patrol teams, from regional police districts.

Some officers must now solely rely on the radio network, but country police have expressed concerns with the botched regional system, which has broken down an average of 100 times a year in the past few years. The WA Police Union yesterday slammed the move, describing it as ``outrageous'' and akin to sending officers on the beat with no firearms, handcuffs or Taser stun guns.

It comes despite Police Minister Rob Johnson repeatedly insisting that the Government's 3 per cent ``efficiency cuts'' would not affect front-line police services.

``This is an absolutely pathetic indictment on this Government with the 3 per cent cut, which is going to affect operational police officers throughout the state,'' WA Police Union president Russell Armstrong said. ``A 3 per cent cut for police or any other emergency service is absolutely disgraceful. ``It's absolutely outrageous that police officers haven't got the modern communications in their vehicles of a mobile phone. It's 2009, not 1979.'' Mr Armstrong said while metropolitan and some regional officers had the secure digital radio network, TADIS, they still needed access to mobile phones. And many country areas were still forced to rely on the unreliable and non-secure old analogue system. The digital system covers stations from Dunsborough to Lancelin, leaving key towns such as Geraldton, Albany and Broome out of the loop.

Officers use the phones to contact victims of crime, complainants and liaise with hospitals and other agencies while on the road. Mr Armstrong said he was aware of cases where officers had been forced to ask complainants to use their phones for police business. He demanded the State Government order the phones be reinstated as a matter of urgency.

Deputy Commissioner Chris Dawson said the decision was part of the State Government's budget cuts. ``A decision was made to reduce the WA Police mobile phone bill by 20 per cent as part of the 3 per cent efficiency dividend,'' Mr Dawson said. ``(WA Police's) mobile phone bill is about $1 million a year.'' Mr Dawson said he had no concerns about the safety of front-line police. ``We don't believe it will impact on officers' safety or efficiency,'' he said.

Mr Johnson said with the introduction of TADIS there was less need for police to have mobile phones.


Barnaby takes Rudd down a peg or two over climate folly

KEVIN Rudd should take an ``ego pill'' when it comes to global climate change negotiations, Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce says. The major world powers do not care what Mr Rudd thinks about tackling climate change, he says. ``Mr Rudd has got to stop fooling himself that he is a mover and shaker on ... world environmental politics,'' Senator Joyce told Sky News today. ``He has got to support the main players, take an ego pill, and realise the main players are the United States and China and Europe and support their mechanisms for an outcome rather than believing he's actually going to be constructive. ``Away from the niceties, I don't think they really care what Mr Rudd says.''

Mr Rudd watched from the sidelines in L'Aquila, Italy, as the Group of Eight nations agreed on Wednesday that developed nations should cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. But a day later the 16-nation Major Economies Forum, made up of major and developing nations, failed to agree on an emissions target.

Mr Rudd was overheard telling his Danish counterpart Lars Lokke Rasmussen yesterday that world leaders would be unlikely to reach an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at UN climate change talks to be held at Copenhagen in December.

Senator Joyce said Mr Rudd's admission that Copenhagen was unlikely to produce results suggests the climate change forums in Italy were a flop.


Sex furore best left at sea

WHERE was Benny Hill when you needed him during the week? News that several seamen from the HMAS Success were called home for conspiring to have sex with female colleagues at sea was almost too good to be true for those who love a bit of schoolboy humour. With headlines such as "Probe into navy sex bet scandal", it was all too funny, except not many seemed to see the humour.

Heaven forbid, but some 20-something male sailors had put together a list of women to whom they assigned a value if they were able to have a sexual relationship with them. As a result of thinking about having sex, these sailors have now been questioned by many as to their suitability of possibly shooting people in defence of our country.

Melinda Tankard Reist [who seems to have become Australia's official wowser], of Woman's Forum Australia said: "I don't think these men should have a role in the navy. These are not the kind of men we want defending us."

What? I think too many people have been watching An Officer and a Gentleman too many times. Hello! Richard Gere is a movie character. So now you are not allowed to think about stupid and inappropriate things?

In the meantime, almost every publication (men's and women's) lists the desirability of people on a daily basis. During the week, the Herald Sun had a story referring to Federal Sports Minister Kate Ellis as "our sexiest MP".

Maybe it's time to bring back the eunuch. They were trusted men of old who were gelded to keep their minds on the job without fear of getting the urge, so to speak. Not only that, but we could get a great navy choir out of all this.

Yes, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have called for action - or rather, for no action - from our navy boys. The sailors have been sent home to face the possibility of the sack rather than ending up in one. I'll make a wild guess and say that in offices all over the world, members of both sexes and all sexual persuasions have sized up the sexual form guide of those around them.

Surely all that was required was for the Rear Admiral or someone of a suitable rank to take the boys aside and tell them to pull their heads in? Did we really need the PM and the Deputy PM commenting on such things? Should we really be worrying about sex drive and an inappropriate sense of humour when judging suitability to be a sailor? If the navy finds that the now famous ledger had serious undertones or proof of any form of physical or mental abuse , then sack them. Otherwise, can we just leave these things to the ship's officer?

Being stupid is not a hanging offence - acting on such stupidity is. Knuckleheads have to constantly be reminded where a joke starts and ends - particularly in the armed forces, as a history of bullying would attest.


Compulsion to compromise in divorce preceedings leads to injustice and failure

Mediation or negotiation in family disputes, while attractive in principle, can often be ineffectual, and at worst, counterproductive. In the 1989 film, The War of the Roses, Barbara and Oliver Rose were in such extreme conflict over their dream house, they eventually killed each other. Only judicial intervention could have stopped the carnage.

The importance of dealing with divorce in the best possible way when one-third of Australian marriages fail is clearly crucial to the well-being of the community. Over the past 25 years, family disputes in Australia have been increasingly resolved through mediation and negotiation, rather than litigation. Since the mid-1990s, "Alternative Dispute Resolution" (ADR) has become the most common way to resolve family feuds.

In July 2007, the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act, took that one step further, heralding a major change in the way family mediation operates in this country. Today, nearly all divorcing couples with children are not just encouraged - but required - to take part in at least one session with a family mediator before an application for a parenting order can proceed in court.

This transition to compulsory ADR has been very fast when compared to the gradual changes normally characterising common law. Certainly a major factor for its rapid introduction has been the huge increase in the breakdown of family relationships, resulting in excessive workloads for courts.

But the major focus on the perceived benefits of ADR - its lower cost, speedier decisions and added control it offers disputants over disagreements and solutions - has come at the expense of recognising its problems. The rationale that parties who are initially unwilling to mediate will eventually settle is not only unsound, but does not deal with other goals in the civil justice system, such as truth, correctness, openness, transparency and accountability. The benefits of ADR are only valid so long as the procedure is truly voluntary.

In reality, parents often feel coerced into accepting shared parenting plans out of need, fear, ignorance, guilt or low expectations. Compelling parties to mediate fundamentally undermines both the fairness and effectiveness of the process to the point where it can be no longer legitimate. A good faith requirement exists in the 2007 amendment which includes the need for participants to make a ‘genuine effort' at resolving the dispute. Unless disputants are certified as making this ‘genuine effort,' they cannot proceed to a judicial decision.

But how do we measure the notion of ‘good faith' and ‘genuine effort'? And who has the responsibility for making such judgements? This is the most contentious aspect of the changes to Australian divorce laws. Some couples make very little effort to reach agreement, but are still issued with a certificate that allows them to proceed to court. They still want their ‘day in court' and only pay lip service to the need for ‘good faith' negotiations.

Family dispute mediators, for their part, aim to resolve a dispute, rather than assign blame. Some do not have the rigorous training and experience formerly held by court mediators. If they are to become family dispute resolution practitioners, weighing evidence and assigning blame, then they run the risk of duplicating the court system. Paradoxically, this leads to not only increased costs, but also to anger and resentment from the disputants, who have everything at stake.

True, there is provision to exempt certain cases from the compulsory nature of ADR, such as when domestic violence is alleged. But an informal exemption is not always sufficient to ensure that this never happens, especially as family violence is often kept secret. A survey conducted last year by the Australian Family of Studies found that a year after the amendment was introduced, many women with apprehended violence orders were forced into mediation with their partners, where further threats of abuse occurred.

What's more, anecdotal and preliminary statistics with family mediators suggests that the introduction of mandatory family mediation in Australia is counteracting one of its main objectives because we now have lower settlement rates than previously occurred. Once couples were compelled, rather than given a choice to mediate, only about 50% to 60% of them reached full settlement. That compares to around 80% when mediation was voluntary.

Recognising that the use of compulsory ADR in family mediation may need further consideration, a National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council will present a report to Attorney General Robert McClelland in September 2009 about the barriers and incentives of compulsory ADR as an alternative to civil proceedings.

The Government needs to be careful. Compulsory mediation is a contradiction in terms. As was the case with the fictitious Rose couple of Hollywood, certain cases can only be adequately resolved by judicial decision-making.

SOURCE. Further commentary here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More Britons are emigrating to Australia

More Britons are emigrating, and they don't have to be young and carefree to join the exodus. Consider the choices of Britons joining the 2.26 million jobless queue, with rain outside and peeling paint within. If they are of a generation that enjoyed the sun-kissed, carefree bliss of the backpacker trail, this increasingly is the moment to swap recession-hit Britain for balmy and relatively buoyant Australia. British unemployment has reached 7.2 per cent, a 12-year high, and thousands of people are preparing to follow the masses of Australians going home to an economy which has largely avoided recession.

There is nothing new about British immigration, of course. Tens of thousands arrived under the postwar £10 Poms scheme, encouraged by a labour-hungry Australia willing to subsidise their passage and determined to preserve Australian whiteness. But money frequently is no longer the guiding principle for today's crop of often comfortable departees from the old dart. Quality of life is the new holy grail; many can fall back on sizeable cash reserves accumulated during boom times.

Not everyone is invited to the party though. In a world where sophisticated immigration policies have been tailored to the needs of individual labour markets, the door is open only to a "migrant elite" with specified skills. Unlike earlier generations, large numbers have no intention of returning to Britain.

Typical are members of the Mercer family from the Wirral, north-western England, who are set to move to Australia this year. "My expectation is that Australia is a land of opportunities where hard work will be recognised in a way that I think is taken for granted here," says Tony Mercer, 31, whose property business went bust in the economic storm last year.

An aircraft engineer by trade, his skills did not meet the qualifying criteria because he had not used them for years. Instead, the Mercers secured the points needed to move to Australia because his hairdresser wife Jane's skills are in demand. With Samuel, 7, and Jessica, 4, the Mercers have chosen Adelaide. Aside from air fares, a family of four is likely to pay about $10,000 in the visa application process, a system the Mercers describe as "a minefield".

Unsurprisingly, inquiries have shot up at the Emigration Group, a British company employing former Australian immigration staff who help with visa applications. "More people are having serious concerns about the future of this country," says an Emigration Group director, Paul Arthur. Increasingly his customers are young, middle-class professionals citing high taxes, poor weather and poor services as reasons for emigrating. The vast majority are homeowners, although the stagnant property market has meant some are biding their time before they raise the capital needed.

Another option for those wanting to emigrate is to study overseas. One British company, Study Options, has taken on extra staff to place Britons in Australian and New Zealand universities. Co-founder Stefan Watts reports a surge in business from professionals wanting to ride out the recession by taking time to study. Mr Watts sees more clients who are older, in their late 20s or 30s, and time poor. Many look forward to returning to a country they once backpacked around and are unfazed at getting little or no support to pay fees such as the typical $17,000 for undergraduate degree courses.

Will Morrin, a 38-year-old from Glasgow who was made redundant last year from his job as a broker, is about to embark on a three-year radiography degree at Newcastle in NSW, even though he was accepted for a similar degree in Britain with no fees to pay. "I have savings and had been doing a bit of thinking so I sold the car and the house. Weighing it up, what's important is the quality of life," he says. "Weather is the No.1 draw and getting away from the rat race. Things in the UK will only get worse once interest rates kick in." Once qualified in a sought-after profession, he may stay for four years to qualify for Australian citizenship or move to Canada, another economic lifeboat of choice for many...

Traditionally Britons emigrated in good years and stayed put in uncertain economic times. The sign from this recession, however, is a bucking of those traditions. Immigration peaked in 2007 and began to decline early last year, but picked up again in the second half of 2008, according to the Office for National Statistics. More than 165,000 British nationals had emigrated in the first seven months of last year.

This year's yet-to-be published Brits Abroad report by the Institute for Public Policy Research will show most British migrants are highly skilled, although the net loss of such workers seems to be decreasing. Work, lifestyle and adventure are listed as the three main reasons for leaving. The big surprise, however, is in the flexibility afforded by technologies that promote and facilitate remote working. More people are having their cake and eating it, emigrating while retaining jobs back in Britain.


Australian conservatives wavering on climate bill

MALCOLM Turnbull will come under renewed pressure to try to block the Rudd government's climate change legislation in the Senate after warnings from a key Liberal frontbencher. Coalition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb said yesterday he was "even more convinced" of the need to delay Labor's climate change plans after learning first-hand about US legislation that could disadvantage Australia.

Mr Robb said the Rudd government wanted to impose punitive laws on high-emissions industries such as power generation while legislation that had passed in the US congress made almost all the gains from industry offsets. "Our bill is largely all stick, the US bill is carrot," Mr Robb said. He said he had identified eight key differences between the Australian and US legislation that meant it was foolish to pass new laws in isolation.

Speaking to The Weekend Australian after meetings with US industry and congressional figures in Washington, Mr Robb said the US proposals allowed much longer periods for adjustment, more assistance for business and big offsets under carbon trading.

The senior Liberal's position is in stark contrast to the warm reception President Barack Obama gave Kevin Rudd at the climate change forum of major economies in L'Aquila, Italy, as a climate change hero for advocating innovative carbon capture techniques. The Prime Minister has already used the US congress vote on the proposed Climate Change and Clean Energy Act to press the Opposition Leader into backing Labor's version of an emissions trading scheme in the Australian Senate after it passed in the House of Representatives.

Mr Turnbull, who says he wants to support an amended ETS scheme, is having difficulty with sceptics in the Coalition partyroom and has been accused by Mr Rudd of being a "permanent block" on climate change. Mr Rudd has revised the government's proposed scheme by delaying it until 2011, making more generous compensation for the heaviest polluters and reducing energy bills by pricing carbon at $10 a tonne for the first year.

But Mr Robb is not satisfied after comparing Labor's bill with the mammoth 1300-page US legislation, which is expected to be amended further when it goes before the US Senate. Mr Robb said the Rudd government needed to wait until at least October or November, when the final form of the US legislation may be passed. He said he was most concerned about US offsets for agriculture, built-environment and other areas of the economy. "In the US bill, there is major provision for industry to create carbon offsets, and there is only minor provision for that in the Australian bill," Mr Robb said. "It's a major difference -- it's that carrot and stick issue. Our bill is largely all stick, the US bill is carrot, and mostly the targets are going to be provided by the carrots, the offsets."

Mr Robb's Washington study follows a similar visit by Family First senator Stephen Fielding, now a climate change sceptic, who could vote against Labor's bill. Mr Robb said the US treatment of power generators was fundamentally different from Australian proposals: "Eighteen years adjustment period in the US, five years here. Three times more assistance in the US than here. "With energy-intensive trade-exposed industries, there is 100per cent free allocation of permits until the rest of the world has its schemes in place."

Mr Robb said US electricity price increases would be lower than for Australia. In the US, only 15 per cent of all the permits would need to be bought over the next 10 years, while in Australia, from year one, 70 per cent would be bought. "That means our scheme is far more punitive and will put us at a disadvantage," he said.


Teacher unions hold future to ransom

Michael Costa

EDUCATION Minister Julia Gillard has within her portfolio responsibilities the challenge of managing arguably the most ideological and militant section of Australia's union movement, the teachers unions. The negative impact of these unions on the national economy and the financial and psychological wellbeing of Australian citizens far outweighs the damage caused by the periodic outbreaks of criminality witnessed in the building and construction sector.

The disproportionate and hysterical campaign being run by teachers unions against the federal government's modest attempts to reform Australian education shows how unreasonable and reactionary teachers unions have become.

In any discussion of education policy and teachers unions it is important to draw up-front distinction between the ideological fashions of educational policy professionals, the restrictive work practices imposed by teachers unions and the day-to-day work of teachers. Teaching and teachers have been undervalued for many decades; however, recent adjustments in teachers' salaries have led to a significant real increase in their value.

Teaching, practised well, is one of the noble professions that provides direct and unquantifiable intangible benefits to teacher and student. I have encouraged my own children to view teaching as a worthwhile and enriching career. It is important to acknowledge these in many ways self-evident issues up-front because one of the tactics used by teachers unions is the claim that criticism of educational practice is synonymous with criticism of the commitment and professionalism of individual teachers. This is, of course, nonsense.

Much of the difficulty in getting a sensible debate on education reform rests on the presumption of educationalists and teachers unions that only they understand what is in the best interest of students. Much of this is a smokescreen for protecting outmoded work practices, but it would be wrong to assume that it's all a smokescreen. Some of it represents genuinely held, albeit erroneous, beliefs by educationalists that they do indeed know better than the customers of the system - students, parents and employers - what is in their best interest. The skirmishes in education policy revolve around three key issues: the structure of the national curriculum, transparency and management accountability at school level.

The desirability of a consistent national curriculum that focuses on quality outcomes in basic literacy and numeracy should not be controversial. From the point of view of students and their parents the minimum outcome one would expect from a properly functioning education system should be a proficiency in these basic skills. Employers and the taxpayers who generously fund the education system expect students to be able to enter the labour market and participate in the general community with the basic skills required to make a meaningful contribution.

As uncontentious as this may seem, it still raises concerns and criticism from the education unions. The concerns expose the ideological conflict at the heart of this debate. The Australian Education Union submission to the National Curriculum Board on the shape of the national curriculum argues, in general, support for the concept of a national curriculum but wants the ability to influence, if not control, its composition. The AEU rejects the notion that the national curriculum is simply a program of teaching modules; rather, it claims that it is "one of the most powerful forces in democracy". The curriculum for the AEU ideologues "is a tool of social justice because it both describes and unlocks social and economic power".

The national curriculum document, according to the union, "should contain a statement or preamble recognising the vital role of education as a vehicle to social equity and fairness". Government should reject the so-called "back to basics" movement, which relies on "a distorted sense of educational crisis" based on false claims that "modern teaching methods have led to a decline in literacy and numeracy levels in schools".

This view is more an insight into the thinking of education unionists than a sensible critique of the challenge of a national curriculum. Clearly, by their own admission, education unionists regard the curriculum as a political document to enhance a particular group's views on what constitutes social justice. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out many years ago, social justice framed this way is largely meaningless, contradictory and ultimately in the eye of the beholder.

A national curriculum that focuses on basic literacy and numeracy can comfortably coexist with curriculum flexibility to allow students to concentrate on a range of other subjects as part of a broader education. Equipped with good basic skills, students are provided with the opportunity to achieve success (social justice) in the marketplace and community. The real injustice is that the system at present doesn't deliver this for all.

Equally, much union criticism of so-called league tables misses the central issue: parents and taxpayers have a right to know how their children and their schools are performing. The unions claim the league tables "are unfair and simplistic" and they could "stigmatise schools and lead to unfair comparisons". Any statistical data can be misused. That is not an argument against collection of the data or publication of the data.

The hypocrisy of the Greens and the NSW Liberals on this issue is breathtaking. They regularly distort information received under Freedom of Information requests for political advantage. It would be interesting to see their reaction to a proposal to fine them $55,000 for publishing distorted or misleading statistical information.

Transparency and accountability are critical to improving education outcomes. Transparency and accountability are required in a sector that draws nearly 6 per cent of national wealth. Labor, before the 2007 federal election, made clear its intentions in these areas and has a mandate toprovide this fundamental educational data.

Concerns about the usage of the data could easily be dealt with by including in the rankings a clear measure of school performance through time. Clearly a school that has been performing well will have less scope for improvement than one that has performed poorly in the past. It can be argued that this is more unfair to the school that is consistently performing well than the school that has dramatic positive changes off a lower base.

A national curriculum and quality data about students at school performance are essential preconditions to improving education outcomes. However, without a significant realignment of responsibilities and accountability at the school level, this effort could be wasted. The local administrators, particularly principals, have to be allowed to manage their schools without undue interference from central bureaucracies and union-sanctioned work practices that undermine quality innovation in schools.

Principals need to have flexibility in how they allocate their budgets and how they manage their staff. Principals should not have to put up with poor performing teachers and they should have the ability to directly hire teachers who they believe will benefit the school. Parents need genuine input in their children's educational outcomes. Whether school vouchers or some other mechanism can provide this needs to be tested.

Gillard's quest for transparency and accountability needs to be vigorously supported as a preliminary stage in a process of education revitalisation. The real test of the government's commitment will require more than this preliminary first step.


Australian antisemitic publications

At its core the internet is an ideal. I can arrange an online chat with a political scientist in South Korea, create an email focus group amongst my constituents, even discuss Islamic revolutionary theory with a student in Iran. But as with any movement or agent of change, an ideal can be undermined by the ideology of its users. For me, a clear example is the partisan coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict by some online magazines. This years output of two of these online publications, and New, is profoundly disturbing.

Both have pretensions to non-partisan coverage. Crikey is run by a staff who claim journalistic credentials in its mission statement to be fair and open. New Matilda similarly claims to provide non-partisan information and takes contributions, as it describes, from "journalists, current and former politicians, lawyers, critical and creative thinkers, bloggers, policy-wonks and satirists". Which is just about everyone in this room - and a good percentage of those outside of it.

Whatever their stated aims, a careful analysis of their output over the first three months of this year shows that when it comes to the coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Crikey and New Matilda are in fact manifestly partisan. Both consistently adopt the Palestinian narrative, characterise Israel as an oppressor, and ignore Israeli's legitimate security concerns. It is their right to criticize the only free society in the Middle East but it is nonsense to claim they are not strongly biased.

Following the last Israeli elections, Crikey contributor Jeff Sparrow stated as fact that Israeli society had moved sharply to the right, at the same time that that the centre-left Kadima party secured the largest block vote and Likud's Netanyahu sought to broaden his coalition into a ruling government whose final makeup included longtime advocates of peace with the Palestinians. In another article the same contributor looked at the decision of the Israel's Central Elections Committee to ban the participation of two nationalist Arab political parties in the elections, drawing odious parallels with South Africa's apartheid regime - whilst ignoring the democratic Israeli institutions, not found elsewhere in the Middle East, that a few days later saw the Supreme Court reverse that bureaucratic decision. Similarly, New Matilda correspondent Ben White accuses Israel of apartheid control over the Palestinians. He condemns outright the erection of a security fence without reference whatsoever to it or the fact that it has lead to a 95% drop in homicide attacks on civilians in Israel or the fact that it acts as a defensive measure against repeated terrorist attacks, or that the fence's route has always been subject to negotiation and moderation by the Israeli Supreme Court as part of the peace process.

Another Crikey contributor, Guy Rundle, downplays the genocidal policies of Iran's President Ahmedinajab to little more than populism, dismissing outright Israel's authentic fears of a nuclear-armed Iran, not to mention the apprehension of moderate Arab regimes at the prospect of an Iranian regional hegemony.

New Matilda is even more strident in its partisanship. Of the 18 articles run by in the fist three months of this year concerning the Israeli Palestinian conflict, 17 presented a hardline Palestinian narrative.

Some themes emerge. Polemicist Antony Lowewentein is but one of the correspondents to claim as fact that Israel refuses to consider a two-State solution, despite the evidence of numerous peace overtures, the consistent views of mainstream Israelis in favour of a consensus solution, and the unprecedented territorial concessions offered by Israel at the 2000 Camp David Summit and later at Taba, and indeed reoffered by Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert. Unmentioned is Hamas's refusal to recognise Israeli existence, as is the barrier presented to any unified proposal by the ongoing blood feud between the Fatah rulers of the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

Time and again these articles refer to Jews, or the Jewish State, but rarely Israel as a sovereign entity . Paradoxically New Matilda contributor Michael Brull then complains that most Australian Jewish groups do not identify themselves as pro -Israel but as simply Jewish. Clearly he has not read the pro-Israel platforms of the Executive Council for Australian Jewry or the Australian Union of Jewish students, two of the organisations he mentions, he appears unfamiliar with the view of Australian Jewry, which is similarly pro-Israel.

In May this year in Crikey, Lowenestein attacked the Executive Council for Australian Jewry , this time because it fails to condemn other forms of racism as readily as antisemitism. But it is this gem that highlights the author's real intent: "Anti-Muslim sentiment has often been proudly displayed since September 11 by the Zionist establishment. In their world view, only what they find offensive should be censored". Here we have it, a shadowy unnamed Zionist elite that has the impudence to speak out against antisemitism, as though a Jewish group is not entitled to focus on racial attacks against its own ethnicity! This is a rigged rhetorical game. It doesn't matter whether Jews defend themselves or not, or whether the focus of critics is on Israel as a Jewish State or Jewish groups in Australia, the charge is relentlessly the same.

Journalism can be a democratic bulwark, but in doing so we assume certain principles of journalistic professionalism, including the training and commitment to place opinion in a factual context. Yet the rise of the bologosphere is often characterised by its proponents as a triumph against the elitism or corporatisation of the established media. It is all well and good to allege that the Australian newspaper's foreign affairs commentator Greg Sheridan is an Israeli propagandist, as one New Matilda correspondent suggests, but Sheridan has thirty years experience as a senior journalist and is the author of five widely-published books on foreign issues. The New Matilda correspondent may not like his views, but Sheridan works in an environment where facts are checked and factual errors are corrected. As former New York Times standards editor,Al Siegal has said, the most overt concern with accuracy at a newspaper can be seen in the volume of corrections. This hardly seems to concern the editors of Crikey and New Matilda in their coverage of Israel.

An exchange of letters between the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission Chair Tony Levy and New Matilda editor Marni Cordell highlights this problem. In April Levy sent to Cordell a sober, detailed and careful analysis of the magazine's content in the first three months of this year, explaining the ADC's concerns over partisan opinion and the broad slabs of hate-speak that appear regularly in the comments sections attached to each article. In her brief reply, Cordell failed to address the evidence of partisanship, instead championing her publication's contribution to ‘diversity of opinion' i.e Brull, Lowenstein et al all whom have broadly similar views. This thinking is explained by her charge that the one sided ‘diversity of opinion' is to balance what she asserts is a biased media environment - of course, without corroborating this charge. She does not address at all the allegation of antisemitic comment, nor does she respond to the ADC's concern that the magazine chooses not to censor these comments, even though it expressly reserves the right to do so if the commentary is abusive or promotes hate.

Nevertheless, is this antisemitism, or just sloppy journalism? Former Soviet dissident and human rights activist Natan Schrasansky distinguished the two by his "3D Principles" - he warns to look for demonisation, delegitimation, and double standards.

Looking at the coverage in Crikey and New Matilda, we see Israel as a manipulator of world events, an apartheid State engaged in ethnic cleansing, and an initiator of wars that have no strategic or defensive foundation. That is demonisation.

Israel as deserving of the rocket attacks on its citizens, or not entitled to defend its sovereignty? That is deligitimisation. Israelis portrayed as arch war criminals, while scant attention is given in the same publications to human rights abuses in Burma, or Darfur, or Zimbabwe, or Tibet, or North Korea, or Chechnya, or the Congo? That is a double standard. Cordell's pathetic excuse for the obsession with denigrating the Israeli's and ignoring other conflicts where far more people's lives are at stake is ‘As I'm sure I don't need to remind you, the Israel/Palestine question is not a conflict on the same level as other regional problems that you mentioned. Problems in the Middle East, within which Israel/Palestine is a major issue, are something that play out in innumerable ways across the globe'


Friday, July 10, 2009

QANTAS has really lost it

Two current reports below. First episode: Fed-up passengers revolt over 18 hour flight delay in Perth. What with incessant mechanical problems and contemptuous treatment of their passengers they have become Australia's Aeroflot (the old Soviet airline). They were a first class airline once but no more. I would fly Singapore airlines now. THEY understand courtesy and efficiency. Nobody seems to give a stuff at QANTAS any more. I think they need former boss Geoff Dixon back. Not all his decisions were good ones but at least he seemed to be in charge. Has anybody ever heard of Alan Joyce, the present boss? That he is a former planning executive at the failed Ansett airlines hardly recommends him. General Cosgrove is on the board. Maybe he should get more involved somehow. He definitely is the "take charge" type

POLICE have been called to Perth's domestic airport to calm outraged passengers stranded overnight after their Qantas flight failed to leave. One radio listener, John, told radio station 6PR the A330 that passengers were screaming and yelling and Qantas staff called police after ongoing delays.

He said the aircraft had been hit by lightning on its way to Perth from Sydney and had been grounded until engineering advice could be obtained from France. Qantas confirmed the aircraft had been subject to a lightning strike and was ruled unfit to fly.

Passengers claimed they were kept in the dark with no communication from Qantas, leading to frustration and anger. Channel 7 reporter John Taylor said all media had been cleared from the terminal by Australian Federal Police amid rowdy scenes. Just before 8am, after waiting all night, passengers were told the flight had been cancelled and advised to go home and book new flights after 10am.

"A mate of mine has been stuck overnight, being told every hour that it will be another hour until they leave,” one Perth Now reader said. "She has slept on the floor of the terminal, when she could have gone home and come back. 18 hour flight to Melbourne? No thanks.'' The passengers were angry that there was no provision for them to re-book their flights at the airport.

A Qantas aircraft has now been arranged to take the passengers to Melbourne via Sydney at 2.30pm, which will means the flight will have taken 18 hours. Qantas claims school holidays had meant there was a high demand on flights and it had been difficult to arrange alternatives.


Qantas Airbus A380 aborts landing at Heathrow Airport

A QANTAS Airbus A380 had to reportedly abort a landing at London's Heathrow Airport because of a problem with its front landing gear. According to The Aviation Herald website, Qantas flight QF-31 from Singapore aborted the approach last Saturday (July 4) due to a problem with the nose gear steering. A video posted on YouTube by a plane spotter appears to show the superjumbo performing a go-round at Heathrow before performing a safe landing on runway 27L.

But due to the jet’s to loss of steering, the A380 was unable to vacate the runway and had to be towed to Terminal 4, forcing airport operators to close the runway for about 30 minutes. The Aviation Herald said the A380 was repaired and headed back to Singapore after a delay of two hours.

The Airbus A380 is the largest passenger airliner in the world and made its maiden commercial flight from Singapore to Sydney on October 25 2007. The Airbus fleet has made headlines recently over a spate of incidents involving the Airbus A330 and A310 models...

Qantas said the incident was not linked to recent problems the Airbus fleet. [So was it a QANTAS maintenance problem?]


Consumer advocate goes all Bolshie

This smacks of Leftist hatred of success more than anything else. Coles and Woolworths are already cheaper than smaller stores and are popular because of that. If people want REALLY cheap goods (with reduced choice of brands) they can always go to Aldi. No surprise that this is the work of a former apparatchik for the British Labour Party. He will simply destroy his organization. People subscribe to their magazine because of the wide range of reviews that it has carried up until now. And sales of their magazine are a major source of their revenue

CONSUMER advocate Choice will take on the might of the big two supermarkets in a grassroots campaign aimed at bringing down Australia's grocery prices, which are among the highest in the developed world.

In an extraordinary move, the chief executive of Choice, Nick Stace, has ordered his policy and campaign teams to drop all other issues and shift their attention to the grocery sector, The Australian reports.

Mr Stace, a former spin doctor for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said he hoped the new grassroots campaign would force Coles and Woolworths to lower prices. He has also called for Choice to be given "super-complainer powers", a device used in Britain to force the consumer watchdog to investigate certain issues.

The aggressive move comes after the Consumer Affairs Minister Craig Emerson made the shock decision to scrap the Grocery Choice website five days before its relaunch by Choice. The $13 million website was part of Kevin Rudd's election promise to ease cost-of-living pressures on working families and improve competition in the grocery sector.


Tough school principal gets results in Queensland school

Where there's a will, there's a way, it seems. But good order in schools should not have to rely on one exceptional person

A QUEENSLAND high school principal says she makes "no apology" for handing out more than 600 suspensions in a zero tolerance approach to violent and unruly students. Leonie Kearney, of Tullawong State High School, said the tough stance had led to a dramatic improvement in student behaviour and safety since she started at the school in 2007, with suspensions acting as "a wake-up call".

"In 2007 behaviour management was one of the major stressors to our staff," Ms Kearney said. Students were swearing at teachers, bullying and assaulting others. So in 2008, 653 short-term suspensions were handed out, up from 78 in 2006. And seven of the 1321 students at the school were excluded.

Ms Kearney said behavioural expectations had been set high and students were now meeting them. "As a high school principal, I make no apology for taking strong disciplinary action for students who behave badly," she said. "Poor behaviour has no place in our school. "Our school is a place for learning. It is not a drop-in centre for those . . . hell-bent on the destruction of others. "We have the belief that every one of our students has the right to learn, our teachers the right to teach and all are able to participate in the teaching-learning process free from distraction and in safety."

Parents & Citizens Association president Andy Carl said behavioural problems had reversed, while respect had risen among students and their parents, who were now proud to be a part of the school. "I think you have just got to be tough with kids and I think a lot of schools aren't tough enough," Mr Carl said.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said discipline crackdowns using suspensions and exclusions had been highly successful in improving student behaviour.

Ms Kearney said suspensions this year were down by a third. "I expect it to go down even more this semester," she said. The State Government is considering whether to grant school principals even stronger powers ito quell bad student behaviour.


Community anger over police station sell-off in NSW

It's hard enough as it is to get a police response to problems

THE New South Wales Government is offloading police stations in a fire sale of public land to fill dwindling coffers. Nine police stations and another 200 buildings and parcels of land, including the Sydney Fish Markets, are now under the control of the Government's real estate agent. Residents of Rockdale, Malabar, Mosman, Berowra and Brooklyn are angry they are being robbed of their police stations despite 20 murders in five years across those areas.

The Police Association said yesterday Earlwood, Canterbury, Mt Victoria and Blackheath were also in the sights of a Government desperate to sell $12 million worth of police stations.

Opposition finance spokesman Greg Pearce said it was the start of a massive $350 million sell-off of everything from schools and nursing homes to sports venues. "People are always concerned about police stations going," he said. "What they have here is cuts across the whole spectrum. When people realise what is being put on sale I think that will strike a chord as well."

He raised concerns over the State Property Authority - effectively the Government's real estate agent - acquiring 200 more properties from other departments, saying the move would make them easier to sell if the Government decides to do so.

Historic Strickland House, which has two beaches and overlooks the Harbour at Vaucluse, is one property with the authority. The body - which last year sold 63 government buildings, built three and returned a dividend to the Government of $32.5 million - last night denied the buildings and carparks would be sold. However there was no denying the sale of the police stations.

A group in Malabar called Save Our Station staged a rally on Sunday and collected 4400 signatures on a petition in a last-ditch bid to save their station. Domestic attacks are up 7.4 per cent in the area, there have been 10 murders in five years and ecstasy possession has soared from 14 offences five years ago to 83 last year. "We are currently dealing with vandalism, graffiti and anti-social behaviour. How can they sell this station?" group organiser Carlos Da Rocha said.

Paul Hannen, of the Police Association, said he expected the list of police stations being considered for sale to grow. He said officers at Brooklyn, where the station will be auctioned this month, and Berowra were as upset as the community. "The officers are not happy with the closure of Brooklyn," Mr Hannen said.



In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has some pointed comments about the sell-off of NSW police stations

Thursday, July 09, 2009

New Green/Left policy: Keep those ordinary scum Australians off Ayers rock

Andrew Bolt

Whose rock is it anyway? And is this really about religion ... or power?
The Northern Territory Labor government and the federal opposition are furious with a federal plan to close the climb to the top of Uluru, saying Peter Garrett is slamming the gate on a world famous tourism experience.

A 10-year draft management plan for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, released yesterday, indicates the days of climbing the rock are coming to an end: “For visitor safety, cultural, and environmental reasons, the director and the board will work towards closure of the climb,” it says.

One reason to instinctively distrust this try-on is the claim that a ban is also for “visitor safety” and “environmental reasons”. Every visitor who climbs it knows full well from all the signs that it’s a challenge, and it’s clearly their own judgment that the climb is worth the risk, just as countless people judge that flying is worth the risk of deep vein thrombosis. By what right does Garrett insist it’s not? As for the “environmental reasons”, I rather suspect that a million more people may walk on this giant rock without grinding the thing into a pile of sand.


Violence rife in Qld. government schools

And nobody knows what to do about it because any real discipline would be labelled as "child abuse"

SHOCKING levels of student suspensions from Queensland's state schools have been revealed, with the Government admitting not enough has been done to combat violent behaviour. The Opposition has labelled the escalating violence "another crisis" the Government had been ignoring.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson yesterday took the unprecedented step of releasing school-by-school discipline data, acknowledging more needs to be done to quell increasing behavioural problems. The Government is now considering longer suspensions and the ability for principals to exclude their own students without departmental input, while asking schools to revise their behavioural plans.

It follows revelations in The Courier-Mail earlier this year of a 20 per cent hike in suspensions from state schools between 2006 and 2008, with more than 55,000 handed out last year.

State government figures released yesterday show total disciplinary actions rose from 47,847 in 2006 to 58,167 in 2008 in Queensland state schools. Nearly one-third of all suspensions in 2008 were for "physical misconduct". Others were for verbal and property misconduct, disruptive behaviour, absences and substance abuse. Dozens of schools had more than one suspension handed out for every three students while one – Normanton State School – issued more suspensions than they had pupils. Meanwhile, 10 state high schools excluded or cancelled the enrolments of 20 or more of their students last year alone.

But Mr Wilson said higher disciplinary action numbers were just as likely to indicate a strict school acting for the benefit of all students. He described the rising levels of violence as "totally unacceptable" and said cyber bullying was the "new frontier of violent behaviour". Mr Wilson will now consult the Statewide Behaviour Committee to consider greater disciplinary powers for principals.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said he would welcome stronger powers, especially the right to exclude students. Under the current system, principals can suspend students for up to five days, but the department must review any harsher penalties.

Opposition education spokesman Dr Bruce Flegg said the government response had came years too late and only after recent Opposition pressure. "It is emerging as another crisis for the Government that they have ignored over the years," he said.

Both Mr Wilson and Mr Hart urged the public to treat the suspension data cautiously, as one student could be suspended a number of times.


Australian banking system as good as it gets

The reactionary Left talking about going back to failed ideas: Many government banks failed late last century and the one that did not (CBA) only surged ahead after it was privatized

THE notion of a "people's bank" that would be set up to rival Australia's big four banks has not been contemplated, the Federal Government says. Six influential economists have written to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan calling on them to set up an inquiry into the nation's financial system, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. In the open letter, the economists have suggested the Government set up a "basic bank'' - managed by the Future Fund - that would allow Australians to deposit money through Australia Post, the report says.

Since the start of the economic downturn, the big four banks have increased their share of the mortgage market from 80 to 92 per cent, and have taken over St George and Bankwest.

The letter, from economists who have advised both sides of politics, expresses concern about the way the banks are using their privileged access to Government guarantees. The banks are reportedly rushing offshore to expand, even though the public is told they are "lucky not to have had substantial overseas exposures,'' the report says.

"We believe the banks in our economy have worked very well,'' Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor told Sky News. "That's not something that's been contemplated by the Government,'' he said, referring to the "basic bank'' idea. Australia's big four banks were in the top eight banks in the world, which provided confidence in the nation's financial system and ability to recover from the global recession, Mr O'Connor said. "So I don't think there's any particular need to look at the systemic review of our financial system, it's very sound.''

Opposition finance spokeswoman Helen Coonan said it was an "interesting idea''. "I think innovative ways with how consumers can be assisted with how they choose their financial products and how they actually run their finances should not be dismissed out of hand,'' she told Sky News. Senator Coonan said she wasn't "bashing the banks'' but if consumers could be given a better deal, it should be considered.

Small Business Minister Craig Emerson said he believed there was a reason Australia now had no state-owned banks, after having 11 in 1990. "They all sound like a good idea at the time but they all ended up going either belly up or into severe financial situations,'' Mr Emerson said. "I can understand why people are feeling this way, it's a concentration I suppose, with the global recession, we do have four major banks in this country.''

Mutual banking institutions, such as credit unions and building societies, already fill economists' calls for a new "people's bank'', a credit union industry body says. "Credit unions and mutual building societies exist for their members: being mutual organisations, their members own them,'' CEO of Abacus, Louise Petschler, said. "Instead of maximising external shareholder returns, credit unions and mutual building societies put their profits back into better rates, fairer fees, responsible lending,'' she said.

Instead of arguing for a "people's bank'', the economists should recognise the strong competitive alternative to the banks - credit unions and building societies - she said.


Libellous sensationalism costs TV station a bundle

One hopes that they might do some of that famous journalistic fact-checking in the future. They got the wrong person altogether. With legal costs, a few minutes of careless sensationalism will have cost them over a million

The Seven Network has been ordered to pay $240,000 in defamation damages to a mortgage broker falsely portrayed as having fleeced $1 million from a dementia patient. In awarding the damages to Peter Mahommed, Justice David Kirby said the elderly woman had not suffered from dementia and was a "practised fraudster".

Mr Mahommed, 53, sued Channel Seven in the NSW Supreme Court over a June 2004 Today Tonight program and two earlier promotional broadcasts screened throughout most of Australia. He had worked in the Newcastle area but since the show could not continue in the job. He moved house, grew a beard and wore a baseball cap so people would not recognise him. "In the five years that have elapsed since the program, Mr Mahommed has certainly aged and presented as a person much less confident than he appeared on the screen," the judge said.

In the first promotion, a voice-over said: "Stolen, stolen, stolen. The million dollar dementia patient rip-off. "She kept forgetting, so this mortgage broker took everything she had." Reporter David Richardson then asked: "Where's her money?"

The program featured Doreen Sylvia Smith, then 76, of Caves Beach south of Newcastle and her son Trevor Steele being interviewed by Mr Richardson.

In 2007, a jury found the material conveyed 12 defamatory meanings about Mr Mahommed including that he had ripped off $1 million from a dementia patient. At the second-stage hearing before Justice Kirby last month, Channel Seven did not put in a "truth" defence to 10 of the meanings - all of which the judge found were untrue and "devastating" to Mr Mahommed's previous excellent reputation.

The broadcaster argued two were true, that Mr Mahommed charged Ms Smith "outrageous fees" and that he was a dishonest financial adviser and mortgage broker. But Justice Kirby rejected those submissions. He noted that the Office of Fair Trading ultimately took no action on a 2004 complaint against Mr Mahommed made by Mr Steele in relation to the various loan dealings.

The judge said Ms Smith, who when married was known as Mrs Steele, had a "colourful past" and over the years had been convicted of dishonesty offences and had served time in jail. "I have the strong impression, at least during 2002, that Mr Mahommed was, to some extent, under the spell of Doreen Smith, a practised fraudster who, I infer, was very plausible," he said.

He said Mr Mahommed was "confronted by a powerful and successful woman" who had been bankrupt and yet survived with substantial assets. The judge noted that "well after these events", Ms Smith was charged with unrelated fraud offences. "In June 2008 she was given a six month suspended sentence after entering into a bond," he said. "She was ordered to pay compensation of $53,500."

He ordered Seven to pay Mr Mahommed's legal costs.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Urban planners are the biggest culprits in keeping grocery prices higher than they need to be

By Michael Costa

THE decision by Kevin Rudd and Consumer Affairs Minister Craig Emerson to scrap the federal government's ill-conceived Grocery Choice website has to be applauded. Grocery Choice was a political stunt that was inevitably bound to backfire on the government. The real problem with retail price increases is to be found in the archaic anti-market planning laws that deliver significant economic rents to those with the resources to establish monopolies over the limited key retail sites.

While it is appropriate to criticise the government for making its announcement on the day Michael Jackson died, so that it could minimise the political fallout from this significant political backflip, it should not be the main concern with the decision.

Emerson, having worked as an adviser to Bob Hawke, saw first-hand the importance of sensible market reform. Having inherited the portfolio from Chris Bowen, who with no doubt an eye to promotion, appears to have become enamoured with Rudd's anti-market rhetoric, Emerson would have realised the potential political disaster Grocery Choice was. The failure of Grocery Choice will, for political purposes, no doubt be blamed on the major supermarket chains. The reality is that with or without the co-operation of these supermarket chains, this was a ham-fisted way to address retail competition.

Despite the claims of Choice, the self-appointed friend of consumers, there was no chance of the website working properly or gaining broad community participation. The problem for consumers has never been information; it has been a real lack of competitive alternatives at the point of the actual retail spends. If Choice wants to bat on with Grocery Choice it should do it at its own expense, not with taxpayers' funds. A subscription-based service will prove whether there is a real public demand for this sort of information.

The July 2008 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report into the competitiveness of retail prices for standard groceries concluded that while there was "little doubt that food prices have increased significantly in recent times in Australia", this was due to a number of domestic and international factors. Domestic factors such as the drought and international factors such as an increased global demand for food production resources have led to rising farm input costs such as fuel and fertiliser. On the basis of an examination of these factors and the gross margins of the major retail chains, the ACCC concluded that only "one-twentieth of the increase in food prices over the past five years could be directly attributable to the increase in gross margins" by the dominant duopoly.

This conclusion sits uncomfortably with other observations within the report that seemed to highlight the clear dominance of the majors in key retail sub-categories, such as dry groceries. The ACCC observed "that gross margins have experienced larger increases in categories where Coles and Woolworths have a relatively larger share of national sales". The report further observed that the more efficient of the two majors, Woolworths, has earning margins among the highest of all international grocery retailers. Whatever the degree of economic rent flowing to the majors because of the structure of the industry, it is clearly difficult to determine. Nevertheless there is a problem and a public perception that this is leading to higher grocery prices.

The real danger in the government's decision to walk away from its election commitment is not lack of consumer information but rather that the major underlying problem in retail competition, planning barriers to entry, will not be addressed effectively. Problems here are in jurisdictions normally outside the control of the federal government: state government planning departments and local councils. The ACCC correctly identified that state planning laws which contributed to a lack of suitable sites for new grocery retailers were a significant barrier to entry for competitors to the majors. Its recommendation that competition issues be taken into account when approvals are assessed for new supermarkets is laudatory but politically naive. State planning departments and local councils are structurally incapable of implementing this recommendation.

The issue is both ideological and political. Most state and local government planning agencies have been captured by planning zealots who are hostile to market-driven economic development. These planners believe the market is the fundamental problem in urban land use allocation. Rather than harnessing the power of the market to produce economically sensible land allocation outcomes they try to fit these decisions within the current cookie-cutter ideological fashion. The present fashion in urban planning focuses on what are called centres policies and urban villages. This fashion is dressed up in different language in different areas for local consumption but is essentially the same approach to urban planning and is not unique to Australia.

The policy results in the concentration of major retail activity in central locations and satellite local centres with much more limited retail opportunities. Urban planners don't seem to understand that by mandating that major retailers be concentrated in a limited urban footprint they are creating artificial scarcity, higher prices and monopoly opportunities. Retailers in the urban villages can't compete against the price advantages the large volume retailers have and they are limited in their consumer offerings. Eventually the areas become economically unviable and potentially urban crime zones.

This urban planning ideology creates an uncompetitive environment as new entrants cannot locate in the centres because these prime monopoly positions have already been secured by the major retail operators. The consequence of this type of planning approach as the ACCC noted is that it "significantly impedes the ability of competing supermarkets to access prime locations". This of course leads to higher retail prices for consumers.

There are many examples, as the ACCC acknowledges, where major retail operators, shopping centre providers and major supermarkets have used the planning laws to try to frustrate direct competition. In states such as NSW where local government areas haven't been properly reformed the problem is even greater for retail consumers, due to the greater influence of small community interest groups, who don't even support the restrictive centres policy and seek to eliminate all retail expansion, even within the designated centres.

Until there is a properly functioning competitive market for retail space it is impossible to gauge whether existing retail competition and retail margins are reflective of sound economic factors, or monopolistic rent seeking behaviour. The federal government needs to deal with urban planning and land use as part of its national competition reform agenda. The argument that this is a state and local government issue does not have credibility given the federal government intrusion through its environmental legislation into what were traditionally state and local government issues.

Surely the economy is still as important as the environment.


The Liberal Party must defend the Howard economic legacy

WHEN a long-lasting government is cast into electoral darkness, it can sometimes spend years reshaping itself back to relevance.

Kim Beazley, Simon Crean and Mark Latham seemingly never recovered from defeat, never quite working out what to keep and what to jettison of the Keating legacy. Not until Kevin Rudd repositioned Labor as economic realists did the ALP regain power.

On the “what to keep, what to scrap” issue, John Howard is increasingly concerned that the Liberal Party is not sufficiently defending an economic legacy that is one of the party’s biggest political strengths.

Howard chooses his words carefully, understanding that his era ended when the government lost office. Not for him the rambling, rumbling ruminations of a disgruntled former PM such as Paul Keating. Late last week, Howard told The Australian that “when I walk down the street now I am confronted by more spontaneous expressions of support from people for the economic record of the Howard government than I got six months ago”.

Howard’s point is that right now, in the midst of the global financial crisis, there is no more important time to defend the economic legacy of the Howard government. Not as some teary remembrance for lost times or things past. But as a straight directive to voters at the next election that the Liberal Party has a proud track record as economic managers.

Others said the same thing privately last week when opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey made an off-the-cuff remark that it was “reasonable criticism” to say that the Howard government spent too much on tax cuts and family benefits. As one senior Liberal MP said, in exasperation, to The Australian: “Which party is Hockey a member of?” To criticise the Howard government for cutting taxes too much is like the Greens now deciding it is bad policy to save too many trees.

The kindest, and perhaps likeliest, reading of Hockey’s comments about tax cuts is that it was a stuff-up. But it is the sort of lazy blunder that the Liberal Party can ill afford to make. On the contrary, it ought, as Howard is now suggesting, to be hammering the point that the Liberal Party has a proud record of paying off debt, building surpluses and growing the economy. If it fails to defend the legacy, the opposition plays into the hands of those who peddle the myth that Australia’s economic prosperity was due only to the mining boom.

The former foreign minister, Alexander Downer, also has plenty to say about the need to defend the legacy.

He told The Australian: “It’s not only intellectually important, it’s politically very important to defend the economic legacy of the Howard years because it demonstrates to Australians the virtues of voting for a Liberal government in terms of their living standards and the overall living standards of the country. If people start criticising the Howard government’s economic legacy that’s what Labor wants.”

Asked if he is comfortable that the opposition is sufficiently reminding people of the economic record of his government, he, too, is careful in his choice of words: “Look, they should never stop reminding people of the Howard government’s economic record. They have made very strong arguments about the size of the deficit and the growth of debt - and they have done that well - but they need to link that to saying: ‘Well, when we were in government we did all of those things (paying off debt, cutting taxes, etc).’ They should never criticise the legacy of the former government. The Labor Party never criticises its former governments. They don’t even criticise the Whitlam government, which was the worst government Australia has had since Federation, at least economically.”


And this guy is an economist??

Population increase is going to lead to an increase in demand for housing -- and what does increased demand do in the face of a restricted amount of available housing land? It pushed UP the prices. Real estate values in desirable places ALWAYS increase over the long term. UWS should persuade him to shut up for the sake of their reputation

CONTROVERSIAL economist Steve Keen has refused to back down from his doomsday prediction that house prices in Australia will almost halve over a decade despite growing evidence to the contrary.

Nine months after his dire prediction that property prices will fall by 40 per cent over 10 years, fellow economists have pronounced Professor Keen - who was held up as one of the few commentators to see the global economic downturn coming - "spectacularly wrong" on his outlook for the housing market.

Professor Keen, an associate professor of economics and finance at the University of Western Sydney, was so convinced the bottom would fall out of the housing market that he sold his two-bedroom apartment in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Surry Hills in October last year to avoid financial pain from the predicted downturn.

But an analysis of price trends in Surry Hills suggests that had Professor Keen held on to the apartment, he would have realised a capital growth of about 7 per cent, The Australian reports. According to property data agency Residex, the apartment market in Surry Hills experienced an average capital growth rate of 7.08 per cent in the year to May.

But Professor Keen insisted yesterday that Australia was on the cusp of a prolonged depression "in which house prices will fall as collateral damage".



Three articles below:

Great Barrier Reef will be gone in 20 years, says prophet

This B.S. about disappearing coral has been going on for decades but the reef is still there. The galah below "forgets" that "coral reefs were exposed throughout their geological history to higher temperatures and CO2 levels than at present and yet have persisted". See here

The Great Barrier Reef will be so degraded by warming waters that it will be unrecognisable within 20 years, an eminent marine scientist has said. Charlie Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told The Times: “There is no way out, no loopholes. The Great Barrier Reef will be over within 20 years or so.”

Once carbon dioxide had hit the levels predicted for between 2030 and 2060, all coral reefs were doomed to extinction, he said. “They would be the world’s first global ecosystem to collapse. I have the backing of every coral reef scientist, every research organisation. I’ve spoken to them all. This is critical. This is reality.”

Dr Veron’s comments came as the Institute of Zoology, the Royal Society and the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) held a crucial meeting on the future of coral reefs in London yesterday. In a joint statement they warned that by mid-century extinctions of coral reefs around the world would be inevitable.

Warming water causes coral polyps to eject the symbiotic algae that provide them with nutrients. These “bleaching events” were widespread during the El Niño of 1997-98, and localised occurrences are becoming more frequent. (During an El Niño, much of the tropical Pacific becomes unusually warm.) Reefs take decades to recover but by 2030 to 2050, depending on emissions and feedback effects, bleaching will be occurring annually or biannually.

Although surface sea temperatures are rising fastest in tropical regions the other big threat to coral reefs comes from the higher latitudes. The cold water there absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide more readily than warm water and acidifies more easily. When carbon dioxide concentrations reach between 480 and 500 parts per million warm water is no barrier to acidification, and the pH in equatorial regions will have dropped so far, meaning higher acidity, that coral reef growth becomes impossible anywhere in the ocean. [In fact, ocean acidification is a scientific impossibility. Henry's Law mandates that warming oceans will outgas CO2 to the atmosphere (as the UN's own documents predict it will), making the oceans less acid. Also, more CO2 would increase calcification rates]

“Coral reefs are the most sensitive of marine ecosystems,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO. “Increased temperature and decreased pH will have a double-whammy effect. Reefs were safe at CO2 levels of 350 parts per million. We are at 387ppm today. Beyond 450 the fate of corals is sealed.”

In the five mass extinction events in geological history, key was the carbon cycle, in which carbon dioxide is the primary currency. Its concentration in the atmosphere is higher than it has been for 20 million years. In the Permian extinction, as in all the big extinctions, tropical marine life was the hardest hit. Reef-building corals took more than ten million years to return.

The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest and most diverse marine ecosystem, is worth $4.5 billion (£2.8 billion) a year to Australia. Worldwide, reefs are worth $300 billion. “But that is trivial compared with the costs if coral reefs fail,” Dr Veron said. “Then it won’t be a matter of no income, it will be a matter of damage to livelihoods, economies and ecosystems.”

Yesterday’s meeting renewed calls for networks of marine conservation zones to boost the resilience of reefs.


It's getting chilly but still not cool to be a sceptic

Andrew Bolt

NOW that it's so chilly, I can understand why Climate Change Minister Penny Wong wants us to stare at the sea, instead. Better that than have us stare at the latest satellite data showing the world has now cooled down to the average temperature of the past 30 years.

Last month Family First senator Steve Fielding asked Wong a question she could no longer ignore: what proof did she really have that man's gases were heating the world to hell? And what got her attention was Fielding's threat: if she didn't give a good answer, the Rudd Government would not get his crucial vote in the Senate for its plan to slash our emissions with huge new taxes.

Specifically, asked Fielding: "Is it the case that carbon dioxide increased by 5 per cent since 1998 while global temperature cooled over the same period? If so, why did the temperature not increase; and how can human emissions be to blame for dangerous levels of warming?" An excellent question, even if it's more accurate to say the world has cooled since 2001, despite a big increase in the gases we're told will make us fry.

So I thought the media might be interested in Wong's remarkable response a week later, given that she now said we'd all been wrong to fret about the air temperature. You see, "at time-scales of around a decade, natural variability can mask the atmospheric warming trend caused by the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases". Translated, that means, sure, it might be cooling now, which we still refuse to actually confirm, but one day it will warm again, just like we said. Just wait.

And then there was this appeal to start checking the seas instead: "(I)n terms of a single indicator of global warming, change in ocean heat content is most appropriate." So all that ominous talk about hotter temperatures at this city or that town? Just kidding. Meaningless.

Last weekend we could understand better why Wong is no longer keen on data on surface and atmospheric warming. NASA's Aqua satellite - one of the four main measurements of world temperature - found June had dropped back to just .001 degrees above the average for the past 30 years. That means we're back to "normal", even if "normal" now is slightly warmer than the average for last century, during which the planet came out of the Little Ice Age that ended 150 years ago.

Other land and satellite records agree the planet has cooled for most of the past decade, and while it's still too early to say global warming has stopped, rather than just paused, it's not too early to ask why there's less warming than most climate models predicted.

But what of Wong's claim that the true measure of global warming is the sea? Well, even Fielding's scientific advisers agree that's true, even if Wong never mentioned that before. But as world-ranked climate scientist Professor Roger Pielke Sr noted this week, three recent papers confirm that even the oceans seem to have stopped rising and warming since about 2004, or at least have slowed in doing so. "All of these analyses are consistent with no significant heating in the upper ocean and a flattening of sea level rise, and even more clearly, that these climate metrics are not 'progressing faster than was expected a few years ago'," he said.

I know the panic is on. I know almost no politician, other than Fielding, dares publicly confess that the science of global warming is not at all settled. But know this: the data shows less warming than the alarmists claimed, and no warming for several years. It may start warming again soon, but until then a sane person will keep his head -- and his doubts.


Climate change laws to "de-energize" poor Australians

POLITICALLY correct zealots penning new national energy laws have pulled the plug on the word "disconnection". The word is being replaced with the bizarre term "de-energisation". Angry consumer groups have accused the boffins behind the draft of making it easier for power companies to hide harsh treatment of customers struggling to pay their bills.

Consumer Action Law Centre policy director Nicole Rich said the bureaucrats were out of touch and should go back to the drawing board. "This is more than political correctness gone mad," she said. "It's worse, because it could have the effect of keeping the community in the dark about hardship problems by lumping in records of these disconnections with power being cut for maintenance and safety reasons."

The warning comes as households and businesses brace for higher electricity bills because of policies to combat climate change.

A team of state and territory bureaucrats wrote the draft of the National Energy Customer Framework, which notes: "De-energisation of premises means the deactivating or closing of a connection in order to prevent the flow of energy from a distribution system at the supply point".

Ms Rich said there was a distinct difference between power shutdowns for maintenance, or when customers moved house, and supply cuts to those battling with bills. Critics fear the national laws will also strip Victorians of protections such as bans on late payment fees, security deposit restrictions and compensation of $250 a day for wrongful disconnections. But the Herald Sun believes Victoria will not sign the laws unless key consumer protections are retained.

Ms Rich said the number of Victorians disconnected for not paying had dropped to the nation's lowest rate, about 6500 a year, since a renewed focus on repayment plans and hardship policies from 2004. Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson's office said the document was an early draft, and more consultations would be held.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Two more charming episodes reported below

Another rogue cop -- mentally still in the Middle Ages

A POLICEMAN has been stood down after being charged with trying to perform an exorcism on a teenager at a church youth camp in South Australia. Senior Constable Roger Sketchley, 28, has been charged with two other adults over an alleged incident at a camp run by the Lutheran Church in the Barossa Valley in April.

Sen-Const Sketchley and other adults allegedly restrained a boy, 15, after he complained of stomach pains in an incident that allegedly went for about 12 hours. Sen-Const Sketchley was charged with false imprisonment and aggravated assault.

An SA police spokesman yesterday confirmed Sen-Const Sketchley, who was off duty at the time, had been suspended pending the outcome of the charges. All three accused have been released on bail to appear in Adelaide Magistrates' Court on a date to be set.

The president of the Lutheran Church in SA and the Northern Territory, the Reverend Robert Voigt, yesterday distanced the church from such practices. "The Lutheran Church does not endorse or encourage any actions which are abusive or which results in the limitations or freedoms of any individual," he said.

Cases involving exorcism have rarely been brought before Australian courts, with one notable exception. In the early 1990s, three people were convicted of manslaughter in the Victorian Supreme Court for killing the wife of a pig farmer in a botched exorcism. Joan Vollmer, 49, died of a heart attack in January 1993 after her husband Ralph Vollmer and three other members of a breakaway Lutheran sect performed an exorcism at the couple's home at Antwerp, near Horsham.


Qld. cops arrest and charge woman for being in her own car

They had the facility to go online and check that the car was in her name but they didn't bother. They were good at telling lies afterwards, though. If they had any scrap of decency, they would have acknowledged their mistake, apologized, and not taken the matter to court. She was doing no wrong so her angry response was justified, if not wise. Even the court thought the goons handled the matter badly and gave the woman no punishment

A Brisbane woman seriously assaulted a police officer after he tried to arrest her for breaking into her own car, a court has heard. Jennifer Elizabeth Somers, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of serious assault, two counts of obstructing police and one count of public nuisance in the Brisbane District Court yesterday.

The court heard that in the early hours of a Sunday morning in November 2007, a heavily intoxicated Ms Somers was looking through her unlocked car for cigarettes. The court heard two police constables, Peter Lashford and Wendy Poon, responded to a call that a woman had broken into a car in the area. After some initial uncooperative behaviour and swearing, the court heard, Ms Somers gave the officers her full name, claiming she was the owner of the car, but could not produce identification.

The court heard a verbal disagreement between Constable Poon and Ms Somers broke out, before Const Poon tried to arrest Ms Somers as she did not believe she was the car's owner. Ms Somers resisted arrest and when placed in a headlock by Constable Lashford, she bit him on the biceps, the court heard.

Defence lawyer Harry Fong said Const Lashford then shouted out "I've been bitten, the b---- has bitten me". Const Lashford wrote in his victim impact statement to the court that the bite had drawn blood, although a Mater Hospital medical report said the skin had not been broken.

Mr Fong said his client was a charity worker and a single mother of two children, one of which was in need of constant attention. In his sentencing, Judge Terry Martin said that while the police officers involved could have handled the situation better, they had a tough job and deserved the support of the courts. Judge Martin also highlighted Ms Somers' criminal history, which contained several police obstruction and assault offences in 2002 and 2004. He sentenced Ms Somers to four months' imprisonment, but released her on parole immediately.


Keep baby hope alive with IVF

As the father of an IVF son, I wholeheartedy endorse the views below. I took no notice of the money cost of my heroic wife going through 10 IVF treatment cycles in a private clinic and have no clue what that cost was, but not everyone can afford to take that attitude

WHY are we paying the $5000 baby bonus to anyone who can get themselves knocked up, but taking money away from those who really want a baby, but can't conceive naturally? That's right. The Federal Government is planning to restrict Medicare funding for IVF, which could put the fertility treatment out of the reach of ordinary Aussies.

Most IVF users are devoted couples who deserve what the rest of us take for granted - a baby. I have watched many of my friends struggle - sometimes for years - to become parents. I have shared with them the highs, the lows, the pain, and the joy of IVF and other fertility treatments. Most have got there eventually - sometimes naturally after years of invasive medical treatments.

Others have had cycle after cycle of IVF and conceived only when they were on the verge of giving up - a miracle of medicine that has turned a couple into a family, and made them feel whole. Just one kid is enough to allow them to enter the magical world of parenthood - the trips to the park, the school days, the Friday night family dinners, cheering at sports matches, the school soccials, the children and the grandchildren.

It's a reminder that although my kids get me down at times, I know I am very lucky to have them. With three kids in 5 1/2 years, our fertility is a family joke. But our kids are a blessing for which I am grateful every day, and I want others to have the same chance. Surely having a baby is a basic right worth fighting for?

Why, then, would we ever think of restricting access to IVF just to those who can afford it? I hope this message gets across loud and clear in this week's Senate hearings on the issue. Let's not forget what the Federal Government change is estimated to do - triple the price of IVF, and thus put it out of reach of most middle-income Aussies. According to IVF rights campaigner Sandra Dill, from Access Australia, out-of-pocket expenses per cycle could be $3000 - up from $1000 at the moment. When you consider most people need two or three cycles to become pregnant, it's just not affordable.

I don't think fertility treatment is something that should just be the preserve of the rich, and not the rest. We'd end up like the US where the rich pay hundreds of thousands to buy a baby, rent a womb or choose the sex of their offspring, and the rest can barely afford to see a GP, let alone a fertility expert.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon - herself a mother - says the Government is trying to crack down on doctors overcharging patients. But why not focus on the doctors rather than penalise the patients? We mustn't forget that IVF isn't just another medical procedure curing ingrown toenails or broken arms. And so we must fight for the right of 11,000 babies to be born every year to parents who desperately want to have kids, but can't for medical reasons.

After all, IVF is now mainstream - 3 per cent of all births are by assisted reproduction these days. Forget the Wacko Jackos and rent-a-womb Hollywood superstars. The "right to IVF" debate should instead be about the couple next door, and their right to have the baby they've always wanted.


Employers face new industrial relations laws on workplace bias in a travesty of justice

Guilty until proven innocent! It's designed to eliminate non-union workplaces but much more could come of it

THE Fair Work Ombudsman will use new powers to investigate companies for discriminating against workers, prompting employers to claim they risk being treated as "guilty until proven innocent". Employers said the inclusion of anti-discrimination provisions in the Fair Work Act was the "great unknown" in the legislation. The new laws carry a reverse onus of proof so an employer must show the alleged discrimination did not occur.

In his first interview since being appointed Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson confirmed he would be able to investigate allegations of discrimination in the workplace, and initiate legal proceedings on behalf of an employee. "It is a new part of the legislation, it's an Australian first," Mr Wilson told The Australian yesterday. "We see it as something which is an area we need to be cautious about," he said. "It's an adjunct to powers we have at the moment, but we're obviously very much aware of the kind of sensitivities that might be around the provisions. "For that reason, we'll tread carefully, but I think the point that should be made is we'll tread nonetheless in accordance with the obligations in the act."

The trade unions, which can initiate prosecutions, have indicated they see the new provisions as an opportunity to recruit new members. The ACTU is conducting courses for union organisers that offer to show them how to use the provisions of the law and "act on matters that have not been included in industrial legislation before". "Learn how to use discrimination and harassment in the workplace as an organising opportunity," the ACTU website advertisement says.

Unions said employers faced greater risk of action if they did discriminate against workers because the compliance regime was quicker than under the states' anti-discrimination laws, the ombudsman or the unions could initiate actions, and breaches would expose the employer to fines as well as compensation claims.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the anti-discrimination provisions were "probably the great unknown in the legislation". The chamber's workplace policy director, David Gregory, said it was "the first time that we have seen these type of anti-discrimination provisions included within industrial relations legislation, it's generally been confined to equal opportunity legislation". Mr Gregory said the reverse onus of proof provisions meant "an employer is guilty until proven innocent". "No one has really got any idea about the extent to which it's going to be utilised by union and employees," he said. "It certainly is a significant new area and one that is creating a fair degree of uncertainty."

Mr Wilson said he had established a small taskforce which had trained 18 staff on the discrimination provisions. He said he could understand employers being concerned and investigators would be quite cautious about proceeding with any investigation. Over recent years, there had been cases where women returned from maternity leave to find their job eliminated, or reduced in size or responsibility. Workplace inspectors had only been able to recommend the employee take action in a state anti-discrimination tribunal, or pursue an unlawful termination claim.

"That doesn't mean though that we are going to be heavy handed or adventurous about the matter, but it does mean when the complaint is brought to us we will inquire into it as best we can and where we're satisfied a wrongdoing has been done, there will be consequences for the parties involved," Mr Wilson said.

The ACTU said the provisions reinforced existing obligations under state and federal equal opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination against employees and prospective employees.


Tropics are on the move (?)

Below is an article summarizing a non-peer-reviewed and unpublished paper which was primarily written by a woman employed by an Australian university Department devoted to climate change (full details of that below). Despite its undistinguished origins, however, it has made the news so I think a few comments are in order.

For a start, she could well be right that the tropical climate zone expanded in recent years. That it might shrink again is her unexamined assumption, however. There WAS global warming in the '80s and '90s and that has more or less plateaued since then, though in the last two years we have seen what seem to be the first signs of a corrective downswing in temperature.

That really is all one needs to say but a couple of minor points just for fun: She characterizes the sub-tropical zone as dry. I live in that zone in Australia, so I wonder if she would like to explain the rain falling outside my window at the moment in what is normally the driest time of the year here (winter)? She seems not to consider that global warming might increase precipitation in ALL areas of the globe -- as it should in theory do (more warmth means more evaporation off the sea and hence more rainfall).

She also concedes that a tropical climate is best for biodiversity -- but seems to imply that that is a bad thing -- an unusual stance for a Greenie!

She also says that disease patterns of the tropics will spead more widely -- completely ignoring that cold weather is a lot more fatal than warm weather and that an expansion of the warm zone should therefore SAVE lives.

She also says that warming will cause more extreme rainfall events in the tropics, with the implication that that is a bad thing. I have news for her. I was born and bred in the middle of an area that CONSTANTLY had extreme rainfall events (Tully to Babinda) and we did quite well there. With around 7 yards of rain a year the crops certainly grew like mad.

I could go on but what is the point in arguing with a religion?

A review of scientific literature released today by James Cook University shows that the Earth’s tropical zone is expanding and with it the subtropical dry zone is extending into what have been humid temperate climate zones. The authors of the review concluded that the effects of a poleward expansion of the tropical and subtropical zones were immense, resulting in a variety of social, political, economic and environmental implications.

Conducted by Dr Joanne Isaac, Post-Doctoral Fellow at JCU’s Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, with Professor Steve Turton, from JCU’s School of Earth and Environment Sciences, the review looked at scientific findings from long-term satellite measurements, weather balloon data, climate models and sea surface temperature studies.

Professor Turton said that the review - Expansion of the Tropics: Evidence and Implications - encompassed about 70 peer-reviewed scientific papers and reports from scientists and institutions right around the world. The review found that of particular concern were regions which border the subtropics and currently experience a temperate Mediterranean climate. “Such areas include heavily populated regions of southern Australia, southern Africa, the southern Europe-Mediterranean-Middle East region, the south-western United States, northern Mexico, and southern South America – all of which are predicted to experience severe drying.

“If the dry subtropics expand into these regions, the consequences could be devastating for water resources, natural ecosystems and agriculture, with potentially cascading environmental, social and health implications.”

The survey reveals that scientific data suggests while these areas could experience an increased frequency of droughts, the expansion of the tropical zone could result in extreme rainfall events and floods to regions which have not previously been exposed to such conditions, and a poleward shift in the paths of extra-tropical and possibly tropical cyclones in the next 100 years.

“A further implication of the expansion of the tropical zone is the possible expansion of tropical associated diseases and pests.” The review looked at scientific findings in relation to dengue among other tropical diseases and reports that some models predict the greatest increase in the annual epidemic potential of dengue will be into the subtropical regions, including the southern United States, China and northern Africa in the northern hemisphere, and south America, southern Africa, and most of Australia in the southern hemisphere.

The tropical zone is commonly defined geometrically as the portion of the Earth’s surface that lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn at 23.5 degrees latitude north and south respectively.

Evidence accumulating: “In general, atmospheric scientists estimate the climatic boundaries of the tropics extend further from the equator to around 30 degrees latitude north and south,” the review reports. “In recent years a variety of independent studies, employing different methodologies have found evidence for the widening of the topical region, as defined by climate scientists.

“However, while evidence is accumulating for the widening of the tropical belt and shifts in other climatic events, there is still much uncertainty regarding the degree of the expansion and the mechanisms which are driving it. “For example, across the studies reviewed the estimates of the increase in the tropics vary from 2.0 to more than 5 degrees of latitude approximately every 25 years. That makes the minimum agreed expansion of the Topics zone equivalent to around 300 kilometres. “This variation of estimates makes predicting future shifts difficult. Estimates for the expansion of the tropical zone in next 25 years (assuming the rate of movement is the same as the past 25 years) range from approximately 222 kilometres to more than 533 kilometres depending on which estimate is used.”

The tropics currently occupy approximately 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface and are home to almost half of the world’s human population and account for more than 80 per cent of the Earth’s biodiversity. The majority of the world’s endemic animals and plants, which are found nowhere else on earth, are found in the tropics and are adapted to the specific climatic conditions found there.

“Thus, the implications of a poleward expansion of the tropical and subtropical zones are immense and the effects could result in a variety of social, political, economic and environmental implications,” the review said.


Monday, July 06, 2009


Three articles below. All deplorable in different ways, as usual

Alleged bashing victims to sue Queensland Police Service

The Queensland Police Service is facing a million-dollar civil lawsuit over alleged brutality in the bashing of three tourists by a former officer. Families of the alleged victims plan to file a joint civil damages claim against the Queensland Police Service alleging excessive force and a breach in duty of care. Former Senior-Constable Benjamin Price, 32, has pleaded not guilty to the alleged assaults at Airlie Beach and is backed by the Queensland Police Union, which is footing his legal bill.

Video footage of two of the alleged assaults was shown in court ahead of the former officer being ordered on Friday to stand trial on six counts of assault on three holidaymakers. Magistrate Athol Kennedy ordered Price to stand trial after a four-day committal hearing heard evidence from the victims, witnesses, fellow officers, and a whistleblower who filed a misconduct complaint against her former partner. Price quit the police service last year.

An internal affairs investigation obtained the dramatic CCTV footage from Airlie Beach police station. Graphic footage shows the uniformed officer allegedly punching, kicking and "nearly drowning" one of his victims, Timothy Steele, 24. Price is shown jamming a fire hose into the mouth of the handcuffed Steele as fellow police looked on.

In another incident, Sydney bartender Renee Toms, 22, was allegedly swung around by her hair by Price inside the police station. Ms Toms, who weighs 47kg, subsequently needed medical attention for a cut to the chin.

Sydney investment banker Nicholas Le Fevre, 32, alleged he was king-hit and beaten unconscious by Price and mocked by other police as he begged for help.

Four other officers have quit the QPS under the probe by internal affairs into alleged police brutality. Steele, 24, a plasterer from NSW, allegedly suffered a broken nose, black eyes, a head wound, hearing problems, and memory loss in his May 24 arrest last year.

Steele's parents have criticised the police union for their financial support of Price. "We are at a loss to understand why the Queensland Police Union is continuing to meet the considerable costs of Price's defence," they said.

Price allegedly handcuffed Steele after a scuffle outside a nightclub, before smashing his face into the side of the police car, knocking him out. He then allegedly dragged Steele from the car outside Airlie Beach watchhouse, repeatedly punched him and "kicked him with his boots" in the face, breaking his nose.

CCTV video footage from the police station shows a dazed, heavily bleeding Steele being dragged into an alley beside the watchhouse. It shows the handcuffed man being punched in the head before having a fire hose jammed into his mouth.


Tiny bureaucratic minds running the South Australian police

The offending blue cap can be seen above

A police officer, who rushed to the aid of colleagues during a violent rampage has been asked to explain why he wore a baseball-style cap instead of official uniform. And a senior officer, who sent an email to his superiors defending the officer involved, was counselled after his email was deemed "inappropriate". That email was forwarded to The Advertiser by a third party.

The junior officer was photographed by the newspaper after rushing to help colleagues in Snowtown, where a man allegedly went on a rampage, slashing the throat of an elderly woman, stabbing her daughter, running down one man and attempting to run down others.

But in the email to his superiors, the traffic policeman's senior officer said there was "no thanks, job well done ". "Can you imagine the disbelief when (the officer) is advised he has to submit a police report for why he was wearing the baseball cap. . .(the officer) is very upset and demotivated by this," he wrote. "And so he should be. (the officer) was dumbfounded and quite rightly so."

The Advertiser reports the junior officer was attached to the Northern Traffic Enforcement Section, predominantly motorcycle officers who are permitted to wear the baseball-style cap as part of their uniform. It understands his senior officer, who wrote the email and forwarded it to Assistant Commissioner Graeme Barton and the Northern Traffic Enforcement Section, was counselled after the action was deemed "inappropriate".

Other officers who contacted The Advertiser said bad management was adding to stress. "The road toll is through the roof and all management can do is have this officer type a report why he was wearing a baseball cap," one said.

SA Police spokeswoman Roberta Heather said: "As part of a review of that incident, where the officers were commended for their good work, an officer was reminded he was not authorised to wear a baseball cap."


Police wobble when asked to intervene against school bullies

The resultant police "action" was just talk: to "formally counsel them and issue cautions". No prosecution for assault despite undisputable evidence of it? It should surely have been up to a court to decide what punishment was appropriate

WA Police have for the first time taken action against a school student who encouraged bullying by recording it on a mobile phone. The Education Department has described the decision by police to refer the 14-year-old girl to the Juvenile Justice Team as a landmark development. Determined to get a grip on the troubling trend of students filming fights and bullying, education chiefs have backed principals who call in police.

In the past, the camera-wielding bullies -- who replay videos of their victims' torment to classmates or even upload them to the internet -- have been disciplined by schools. But calling in police means students face criminal charges.

Kiara police were called to investigate an assault on a schoolgirl at Lockridge Senior High School on June 25. The girl was assaulted by a 15-year-old classmate in the school toilets. A 14-year-old girl was a given a phone and took pictures of the incident. Police inquiries led to the two girls being referred to the Juvenile Justice Team, which formally counselled them and issued cautions. They escaped stronger action because of their age and clean records. One was referred for common assault, the other for inappropriate use of a mobile phone. They were also suspended from school.

Despite Government efforts to reduce school violence, latest figures obtained by The Sunday Times reveal that in the first semester of this school year there were 413 assaults in public schools _ little change from the previous semester. Of these, 132 were student-against-student assaults and 281 were student-against-staff assaults.

Education Minister Liz Constable said the case was a timely reminder to students and parents that police involvement was a possibility in bullying cases. "Kids have to understand that it is, in fact, a crime to assault someone,'' Dr Constable said. ``I don't think there is any one rule, but they do need to know that if they behave in this totally unacceptable, anti-social way, that one of the sanctions considered is police involvement.''

Education Department head Sharyn O'Neill also backed the police action against the LSHS student who held the mobile phone. ``I endorse the police taking action against both students, including the one who recorded the incident, as it sends a very strong message that this will not be tolerated both in and outside of school,'' she said. ``The fact that the police have taken action against the students shows just how serious the inappropriate use of mobile phones is and sends a very strong warning to anyone against being involved in this kind of behaviour.''

Ms O'Neill had written to every public school principal to ensure they had a mobile phone policy that was understood by staff, students and parents. This had to include a statement of the consequences students could expect for using mobiles inappropriately. ``Currently, every school must ban mobile phone use in the classroom, but some schools may take this further and ban their use anywhere on the school site if they feel this is necessary,'' Ms O'Neill said.

A Youth Poll survey released last year found that cyber bullying affected more than one in five young Australians. Latest Roy Morgan research shows 23 per cent of children aged six to 13 in Australia own a mobile phone. For 12 to 13 year olds, the figures are 55 per cent for boys and 65 per cent for girls. Text messaging is the most common form of cyber bullying and is used to deliver and spread death threats, insults and rumours.


Senator Barnaby Joyce dismisses climate nonsense

"The ETS is the Employment Termination Scheme"

Senator Barnaby Joyce has a good grasp of political issues and the ability to speak in a language the people understand. When Oppositions fail to do their job properly, an individual, a group or party faction inevitably steps forward to fill the power vacuum. In the case of the Rudd Government's proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS), Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has moved to fill the space of a credible policy alternative by speaking out against a scheme which has the potential to devastate Australia's economy.

Rather than take a leadership stand on behalf of the Opposition, Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has taken the soft option of calling for a delay in any government decision until after the United Nations climate talkfest in Copenhagen in December. Moreover, Mr Turnbull has also called for yet another inquiry - this time by the Productivity Commission. Presumably, Mr Turnbull is incapable of striking a balance between the Liberal Party's climate-change believers, such as Greg Hunt, and its sceptics, such as WA MP Dennis Jensen, and does not want to be "wedged" on the issue.

His position is one of agreement with the Rudd Government's steps to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 20 per cent below 2000 levels. However, he wants to delay action for another few months. The Labor Party rightly criticises Mr Turnbull for continually moving the goalposts without offering a feasible alternative policy.

If Mr Turnbull's suggestion of a referral to the Productivity Commission is taken up, at least officials in that organisation will be familiar with the subject matter. The commission has already completed as many as a dozen separate reports on the economic effects of attempting to contain greenhouse gases, stretching back to 1991 before the issue was even fashionable. Most recently, the Productivity Commission produced yet another - a substantial 93-page submission to the Garnaut Climate Change Review, itself the landmark advice to the Rudd Government on moving the policy forward.

However, Senator Joyce is arguing that any Senate deferral of the ETS until after Copenhagen would be the equivalent to voting it down. "The ETS is the Employment Termination Scheme for working families in the coal-mining and farming belts of Australia," Senator Joyce wrote in a statement late in May. "It is undeniable that this scheme will put our major export at risk and also put us on the path to further exacerbate the loss of our food sovereignty. "You cannot take the major income-earner out of the house, then put more impediments on the food in the cupboard and expect the life in the house will go on as before. "The mining industry has clearly spelled out this will be a disaster. The farming sector has shown us that this could lead to a 20 per cent reduction in the economy of some regions. The ramifications will flow up every street, no matter where you live."

Senator Joyce argues that ETS basically is tokenism, an ineffective gesture when put against the vast quantity of emissions from overseas. In a typical turn-of-phrase he describes it as a sop to Labor's constituency at "the Mystical Monkey Coffee Shop in inner suburban Nirvanaville".

From his arrival in Canberra from Queensland in 2005 as an unpredictable maverick who was prepared to defy his party and Liberal colleagues to repeatedly cross the Senate floor on key issues, Senator Joyce has slowly graduated into the mainstream of political debate. He has a good grasp of issues and - that rare commodity in politics - the ability to speak in a language that people understand. He also understands that riding shotgun alongside the Liberal Party but without a gun, is as good as useless. In other words, the party has to stand for something or die.

In September last year, Joyce was elected without fanfare as Nationals leader in the Senate, but, critically, he refused to take an Opposition portfolio responsibility. This meant that, even though he was in the Coalition leadership group, he was not locked into a Coalition policy straightjacket and had the ability to continue to speak his mind.

Reluctantly, Nationals MPs are coming around to realising that Senator Joyce's aggressive, independent strategy is more effective in raising the Nationals brand name - particularly while in Opposition. Some Nationals MPs resent the publicity that Senator Joyce manages to attract, and they consider him an unpredictable upstart. But older and wiser hands, such as long-time Queensland Senator Ron Boswell, whose loyalty to the Coalition was never given the recognition it deserved, realise that a separate identity for the party is vital. Events are moving in a way whereby Nationals will soon be asking: is Senator Joyce a leader in the making?


Young men more likely to stay living at home

A lot of my generation left home at age 16! -- JR

AUSTRALIA is breeding a generation of mummies' boys - and young men in Sydney are among the hardest in the country to get out of the family home. The latest snapshot of our nation shows 27 per cent of men 20 to 34 in Sydney are still enjoying home-cooked meals and having their washing and cleaning done for them, often long after their sisters have flown the coop.

Echoing TV series Packed To The Rafters, the Australian Bureau of Statistics report shows the proportion of young men living at home rose from 24 per cent two decades ago, The Daily Telegraph reports. While they still have a way to go before they catch up, the number of young women staying at home is also increasing rapidly - from 13 per cent to 18 per cent over the same period.

Even when KIPPERS (Kids In Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings) do move out, many come back - with the probability that someone would return home at least once before turning 35 being almost one in two.

KPMG demographer Bernard Salt, an adviser on the SBS series The Nest, said men formed relationships later, so stayed home longer. "We're breeding a generation of mummies' boys," he said. "I think that's one of the greatest complaints many young women have." However, Mr Salt said other parts of the world were experiencing the same trend, which is known as "Hotel Mamma" in Italy.

Sydney and Melbourne parents were the least likely to get their children to leave, with 27 per cent still at home compared with 20 per cent in Brisbane, Hobart and Canberra.


"Denialists hiding behind ideology" (?)

Green/Left "projection" at work again. The post below is from the Warmist in Chief of a major Australian newspaper. He accuses "denialists" of being governed by ideology but look at what he says. There is NOT ONE scientific fact mentioned in what he writes. It is ALL ideology!

In ExxonMobil’s 2008 corporate citizenship report, the fossil fuel giant said this: "In recent years, we have discontinued contributions to several public policy research groups whose position on climate change diverted attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."

If only it were true. This from the Sydney Morning Herald, via The Guardian: "Company records show ExxonMobil gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to such lobby groups last year. These include the National Centre for Policy Analysis in Dallas, which received $75,000, and the Heritage Foundation in Washington, which received $50,000."

Heritage was one of the groups which helped to fund the conference - mutual denialist back-slapping - which Senator Steve Fielding attended a few weeks ago before returning to Australia having swallowed their nonsense. From it’s title, you might think the NCPA was a genuine centre of repute. Not so. This from their website: "NCPA scholars believe that while the causes and consequences of the earth’s current warming trend is still unknown.."

Wow. These guys are scholars. Aren’t they supposed to read stuff? At least have a stab at a theory. Back in May, Professor Geoffrey Heal, professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School, told an audience at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the following"

"It is mainly politicians on the right, who champion the efficiency of free markets, that have tended to dispute both the science and economics of climate change. They have a problem because they believe that governments should not intervene in markets. But environmental problems, such as climate change, cannot be tackled without governments acting. In addition, there are many on the right in the United States who are hostile to science because of their beliefs, whether it is evolution or climate change."

And who’d have thunk it? So it’s not down to science after all - just a bunch of free-market ideologists and Christians desperately trying to justify their beliefs.


He also greatly misrepresents both what Exxon Mobil did and what it reported. They did in fact cease funding some "denialist" organizations and their contributions to "denialist" groups in total came to only 4% of what they gave to groups interested in the environment. See my third post down here. Warmists just wallow in deception. It's all they've got

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Are Australian pensioners really impoverished?

By Jessica Brown

(For American readers: "Pensioners" are government-supported retired people)

The OECD this week released a report that claimed that one in four Australian pensioners live in poverty. According to the report, pensioners in Australia face the fourth highest rate of poverty in the developed world. According to the report’s author, Edward Whitehouse, ‘Public pension spending is only 3.5% of national income in Australia, compared with an average of over 7% of GDP in OECD countries.’

While these claims seem shocking, closer scrutiny shows them to be almost meaningless. The ‘poverty line’ used by the OECD is half of median income. What this tells us is that a large group of pensioners have incomes lower than the average. What it doesn’t tell us is how this actually affects their standard of living.

Another, more in-depth report called ‘Growing Unequal’ released by the OECD last year looked beyond relative income poverty. It also examined material deprivation: whether people had adequate access to necessities such as housing, food, health care, heating, etc.

It found that while the overlap between relative income poverty and material deprivation was ‘far from perfect’ for the population as a whole, this was especially so for elderly people.

Despite having relatively low incomes, many elderly people own their homes or other assets. In Australia, they have access to extensive free health care and subsidised private health insurance, transport, and utilities. The report therefore concluded that ‘income poor older people are not necessarily experiencing material hardship.’

Claims that Australia’s level of spending on pensioners is miserly also fail to stand up to scrutiny. Australia spends a relatively small amount on pensions compared to the OECD average, not because we are tight-fisted but because we have a targeted and means-tested system. In contrast, many European countries have social insurance systems that provide universal pensions often more generous to high-income earners. This means that it’s possible for a country to spend large amounts on pensions but also have a high level of material deprivation amongst pensioners.

Measuring government spending on pensions alone also doesn’t take into account the effects of private retirement savings such as superannuation.

Measuring the standard of living of elderly Australians is a worthwhile endeavour. However, meaningless statistics and invalid comparisons do little to achieve this.

Above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated July 3rd.

"Green" investment options a flop

Real Greenies probably have no money left to invest after they have spent all their money on solar panels, water tanks and "organic" food etc.

A decade ago, a fresh wave of interest in sustainable investing broke out in Australia — and elsewhere — but things have not turned out quite as the sector's advocates expected. Howard government changes to allow a choice of super funds would let people dictate how their money was invested. This democratisation would translate into greener, more human financial markets.

Mainstream institutions such as Westpac, AMP and Perpetual launched funds into a niche market — call it ethical, socially responsible or sustainable investing — that had been held by principled specialists such as Australian Ethical Investment and Hunter Hall, who did nothing else. Real money was expected to flow into this niche, then worth about $1.4 billion. Big companies such as BHP may not have cared what a few tiny green fund managers did with their money, but failure to pass a sniff test backed by powerful financial institutions with billions to invest posed a different reputational risk.

After the Dow Jones Sustainability Index was launched in 1999, for example, everybody wanted to make the cut. But the fund managers had a dilemma: how to offer investment-grade sustainable funds that conformed with industry rules about diversification? Get too green and you limit your investment options and your chance of beating the market. No trustee or their consultant would endorse a fund likely to underperform. Not green enough and you get shot down for hypocrisy and lose your marketing edge — the offer of a true alternative — as well as any upside from green investing that might exist.

A crop of funds were launched that balanced performance against integrity to varying degrees. Slowly money trickled in, except most super fund members almost never chose the sustainability option offered by their fund. Most mandates were wholesale. By the end of last year, according to Super Ratings managing director Jeff Bresnahan, take-up of the sustainable options offered by super funds was "pitiful".

A recent Super Ratings survey, answered by 76 funds with 15 million members and $370 billion in assets, found that for 90 per cent of respondents, sustainable investments — now offered by almost two-thirds of funds — represented well under 5 per cent of net assets.

For example Vision Super, a $4 billion fund, had just $8.5 million invested in its sustainable options. The $28 billion Australian Super had just $29 million invested in its comparable green plan — that's only 0.1 per cent. "People just aren't voting with their feet with (these) options," Bresnahan says. "A lot of funds have done the research among their members, and it comes back with a resounding 'yes', but there's very little take-up."

It's not the performance that's a turn off. In fact there's nothing in it — sometimes they're ahead, sometimes behind, depending on the time period, asset allocation, research used, and so on. Super Ratings found that sustainable super options underperformed by a measly 33-38 basis points a year over the five years to the end of May, with the median option delivering annual returns of 4.37 per cent (balanced) or 6.72 per cent (shares) after tax and fees.

Morningstar data for retail (non-super) funds shows a similar underperformance of 45 basis points a year over the five years to May. That's also after fees, which is part of the explanation — the added research required to analyse sustainable investments costs fund members 1.81 per cent, or an extra 21 basis points, a year more than mainstream funds.


Rudd’s confusion re abuse of indigenous children

And now for some political incorrectness on a sensitive subject ...

In the wake of a damning report that Aboriginal children are 6 times more likely to suffer sexual abuse than other Australian children (the figure is likely to be much higher because many cases from remote communities are not reported), state and territory leaders of the Commonwealth (COAG) are meeting in Darwin today to discuss, in Kevin Rudd's terms, "how to overcome indigenous disadvantage". Rudd's "root cause" rolls off the tongue and is accepted as a given but it neither withstands closer scrutiny nor allows us to address this terrible problem in any meaningful way.

There are many disadvantaged groups in society who do not routinely sexually abuse their children. To give just one example close to home, a significant proportion of our own local Jewish community arrived on these shores after WWII having suffered unspeakable emotional, material and ideological loss. Yet their relative "disadvantage" did not lead to their abusing their children. This is because sexual abuse has more to do with a lack of values than it does with a lack of opportunity or advantage. Those Jewish migrants, disadvantaged as they were, nevertheless carried timeless values which enabled them to take their place in and contribute to our society.

This confusion, shared by our Supreme Leader, stems, I think, from the common misconception about what multiculturalism is supposed to be. A multicultural society is one where there is no single distinct ethnicity or religion to which everyone must adhere to and where social cohesion is promoted by permitting distinct ethnic or religious groups to celebrate and maintain their different cultural identities. It is a modern experiment which has been spectacularly successful in many liberal democracies including, for example, the USA and Australia. But it only works where all groups submit to similar the USA and Australia, that means Judeo-Christian values (which are largely reflected in our statutory and conventional laws).

Unfortunately, many think that multiculturalism means that all cultures are morally equal and that none is superior to another. To think otherwise is to be labeled bigoted and chauvinistic. That is a tragedy because different cultures are not necessarily morally equal. For example, a culture which promotes female circumcision is not moral, it is primitive and barbaric. A culture which promotes sati (the age-old practice on the sub-continent of perfectly healthy widows self-immolating on their husbands’ funeral pyres) is barbaric. So too is a society which celebrates honour killings (justifying the murder of rape victims by their own fathers and brothers) and teaches children Jihad (the list of examples is endless). Because the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is unarguably rife, our leaders should perhaps view this unhappy fact from a different perspective.

Political correctness in this context - which I would describe as the institutionalised failure to recognise that diverse cultures are not necessarily morally equal in every respect – misdirects all our attempts to cure the problem. It explains why governments wanting to do good will typically address material matters only, while ignoring the fact that the real remedy lies in teaching/educating that certain practices are simply wrong and will not be tolerated. The closest attempts we have seen were the Howard government’s belated initiative in policing remote communities and, of course, the well-intentioned efforts of missionaries in the mid 20th century (the children involved, many of whom benefited greatly, being now referred to as the stolen generations).

Unfortunately, as Rudd has set incorrect parameters for the talkfest, don’t expect any significant improvement in the plight of indigenous children.


Top doctor in Western Australia claims that colleagues operated 'without proper qualifications'

And another bullying Health Dept. that tries to get back at whistleblowers

A top surgeon at WA's biggest hospital claims two doctors were conducting critical surgery without proper qualifications, The Sunday Times has discovered. Cardiothoracic surgeon John Manuel Alvarez has lodged an internal complaint in which he claims last year he warned bosses at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital that he feared two of his peers were underqualified for the major surgery they were performing. The Sunday Times understands that some of the concerns related to whether or not the two doctors had passed specialist examinations. Both doctors are no longer at the hospital. One has left WA.

Dr Alvarez himself is being investigated by the Health Department over misconduct allegations. The Health Department started investigating him in July last year after he raised doubts about the ability of the two doctors. The Sunday Times understands that Dr Alvarez believes the inquiry is a witch hunt and was not properly conducted.

Dr Alvarez filed a writ last week seeking to restrain the Health Department from continuing with an investigation and publishing or acting on its findings of misconduct against him. He also wants to stop any future investigation of him by the department. Dr Alvarez named WA Health Minister Kim Hames as the first defendant and Kenneth John Trainer as the second defendant in the action which was filed last Friday. Mr Trainer was the independent investigator hired by the Health Department. Dr Alvarez wants damages for breach of contract with the writ alleging the investigation breached his employment contract dated July 28, 2005.

A SCGH spokeswoman confirmed that Dr Alvarez had made complaints about the quality of some of his peers who were conducting critical surgery last year. She said the hospital was unable to comment specifically on the investigation into Dr Alvarez as the matter was before the courts.


More "stimulus" waste

Having bureaucrats spend money is a disaster. They don't give a stuff

A school with just one pupil for 2010 has been given a $140,000 government grant to build a covered playground - even though it already has a new one. Another $110,000 grant from the Rudd Government's $14.7 billion education stimulus package will be used for classroom refurbishment at tiny The Lagoon Public School, 20km from Bathurst in New South Wales central west.

But even locals say it is a shocking waste of money. The tiny rural school has one teacher and five pupils, two of whom go to high school next year. The mother of two girls there said she was considering transferring them to a larger school. That would leave just one pupil - the teacher's daughter - as the beneficiary of the federal funds.

The school is one of 1500 to receive Primary Schools for the 21st Century program funds. Government documents show it has been given $140,000 for a covered open learning area (COLA) and $110,000 for "upgraded classrooms".

But a neighbour told The Sunday Telegraph that the school had a new shaded learning area built just two years ago. "This school has been granted $250,000 for a COLA and classroom refurbishment - it already has a COLA, which was built over summer approximately two years ago," he said.

Monica Betts, whose daughters attend the school, said the funds could have been spent attracting more pupils. "It is a lot of money," she said. "They could have spent $50,000 trying to get more people here."

NSW Opposition education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said the program had been flawed. "Small schools need to be maintained, just like larger schools do, but it's the height of incompetence to spend borrowed money on unnecessary projects," he said.

The Opposition cited five new schools that received funding under the 21st Century scheme. One was John Palmer Public School, which got $546,000, despite opening only last year.

Australian Council of State School Organisations president Steve Carter said he was extremely frustrated by the scheme's inequitable allocation. "We would very much prefer a tighter, better thought out, needs-based allocation of funding, managed properly to give local school communities the resources they need," he said.

Arthur Phillip High School, in Parramatta, had sought money to repair its walls, floors, roofs and sewerage, but was rejected. Keira High School missed out on funds from the Science and Language Centres program, despite labs, built in the late 1960s, being below safety standards. Rooty Hill High also missed out, despite mould in its labs and cupboards falling off the wall.

Federal Education Minister Julie Gillard blamed the NSW Government for the funding decision and sought an urgent review of the school's eligibility. "The NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) must have assessed that it was in need of new or refurbished facilities," a spokesman said. "The Deputy Prime Minister has requested her department to hold immediate discussions with the NSW DET to investigate claims that this school may be non-viable in 2010".


Saturday, July 04, 2009


An email from Dr. Albrecht Glatzle [] of Filadelfia, Paraguay -- noting the myths about cow farts, sheep burps, etc. It was originally sent to TGS Newsletter editor, Ian Partridge, in Queensland

Yesterday I received the latest TGS Newsletter (Volume 25 No. 1 & 2). It was a pleasure to look at the beautiful photographs of various well known personalities from the Australian pasture science scene. But when I got to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) chapters I was a bit embarrassed about how much you Australians seem to be concerned on the GHG emissions by ruminant livestock and their potential effects on climate change. I'd like to make some comments on this topic:

1) Except the fossil fuel borne CO2-emissions by the livestock industry (production, processing and commercialization of meat and milk) and except some unique biosphere borne CO2-emissions, associated with land use change (e.g. deforestation), domestic animal husbandry is totally "climate neutral" (using a controversial terminology, only justified under the assumption of any measurable effect of anthropogenic GHG-emissions on global temperature). Why? Because all the CO2 emitted by forage digestion and respiration had previously been captured from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Therefore, not a single CO2 molecule is added additionally to the atmosphere that had not been there before, recently.

2) This is also true for the methane produced by internal fermentation. Methane derives from organic substances originating from recent photosynthetic processes. And - as Richard Douthwaite from Ireland correctly points out in his letter (page 11) - methane molecules in the air are oxidized to CO2 and water at the end of their residence time in the atmosphere, closing the cycle. As a matter of fact the methane concentration has stabilized or even passed its peak just at the beginning of the new millennium. So obviously, just as much methane is oxidized in the atmosphere as is added to the air per unit of time. The resulting CO2 is available to be re-captured by photosynthesis. Therefore animal borne methane (how much its proportion ever may be among the total global methane emissions), just like CO2, forms part of a natural cycle, and not a single methane molecule is added additionally to the atmosphere by rumen fermentation that had not been there before, recently, unless livestock numbers increase.

3) The European satellite ENVISAT measured over a three years period the world wide close-to-the-surface-methane-concentrations. The average values are shown in figure 2 (source: University of Bremen here). Not even international organizations like the IPCC or FAO seem to have taken notice of the fact, that even the humid tropical forests do obviously emit far more methane than grazing cattle. How can the big grazing areas of the world (Australia, Southern Latin America, South and East Africa, and Western United States with hundreds of millions of cattle) and even India with the highest cattle density worldwide show such low methane concentrations? Something wrong with the theory?

4) While it is banally true that all improvements in the efficiency of livestock production reduce herbage intake and along with it GHG emission per unit of product (meat or milk), the often cited figure of 18% of anthropogenic GHG emissions originating from domestic animal husbandry, as claimed by the highly controversial FAO-Report "Livestock's Long Shadow" is clearly exaggerated. This document, that has done so much damage to the reputation of the livestock industry, was still proudly exposed at an international FAO symposium on the "Mitigation of GHG Emissions from Livestock", held last month in Asunción, Paraguay:

a) How can the FAO claim that 25% of the domestic-livestock-borne CO2-equivalents originate from internal fermentation (methane), considering what has been outlined in the paragraphs 2 and 3? Just like CO2-emissions from the biosphere, animal borne methane emissions are part of a natural steady state equilibrium. So the 25% should be corrected to 0% as long as livestock numbers are constant.

b) How can the FAO claim that one third of the domestic animal borne CO2-equivalents come from deforestation (land use change), considering FAO yearbook numbers telling us that net deforestation on a world wide scale is almost zero? Close to 30% of the terrestrial surface are covered by forests and woodlands with very little change over the past 6 decades. So, once again just one scale pan of the balance has been taken into account.

5) When looking a little bit beyond GHG emissions and balances, e.g. how good the alarming IPCC projections fit the empirically observed mean global temperatures, one starts to doubt whether the so called Green House Gases (particularly the very small proportion of total emissions originating from human activity) really do have any notable effect on the planet's climate. Since about the change of the millenniums global temperature (satellite measured lower troposphere mean temperature anomalies, University of Alabama, Huntsville) decreased, just inversely proportional to the smoothed atmospheric CO2 concentration. Not one single IPCC model projected this "inconvenient truth" (just for some). Surprise? No! Even the theory tells us that the infrared absorption is almost saturated at present CO2 levels. In order to reach such prominent temperature increases as projected by the IPCC, one has to make very risky assumptions of strongly reinforcing feedbacks of the very slight warming effect intrinsic to CO2, even when doubling or tripling its concentration in the air.

6) Recent studies discovered the stalagmites in this globe's caves as very reliable climate archives conserving a range of precious indicators of past climates and solar activity. Looking to what these archives reveal, we cannot find any unusual or scaring temperature development during the past decades. No need, whatsoever, for anthropogenic Greenhouse Gases to explain the slight temperature increase observed during the past century.

So definitely there is no need at all to be concerned about our livestock's emissions of so called Greenhouse Gases! We won't save the planet distorting ourselves in an effort to teach our cattle how to emit less methane. And we will not harm the planet when we go on with our cattle industry business as usual. Let's just rebut unqualified attacks (unfortunately also originating from such prominent organizations as the FAO) on our livelihood! The sound arguments are ours.

Australian police "fudge" crime statistics too

Catching up with Britain. Left-run Britain has the most unreliable official statistics since Stalin

SENIOR police say they are being forced to "fudge" reports, and test drivers for drink-driving at times and places they know few offenders will be caught, to manipulate crime statistics. Officers from at least three Local Service Areas have told AdelaideNow it is common for reports to be manipulated and for traffic blitzes to be held to improve statistics and meet specific targets. The officers, who do not wish to be named, say police often blitz areas for the drug and alcohol testing of drivers at times and in places where results are not expected to be significant, a practice commonly referred to as "dumb testing".

In a statement Assistant Commissioner Neil Smith, of the Performance Management and Reporting Service, said police complied with the National Crime Reporting Standard governing crime statistics. "SAPOL refutes any suggestion that our crime statistics misrepresent the incidence of crime," he said.

Crime statistics are analysed daily from police incident reports (PIRs) and one senior officer has described how reports are commonly manipulated to keep crime statistics lower and apprehension rates higher. "Say a car gets broken into and something gets stolen," the officer said. "Rather than two charges, illegal interference and theft, it just gets entered as a theft – one charge. "If we happen to stumble across someone who'd broken into a car, then they would get charged with both, so your statistics show your crime rate lower, but your apprehension rate being high." In offences with multiple victims, the victims are often grouped or become witnesses and the matter is entered as one incident report.

Assistant commissioner Smith said: "The rule is one victim per one PIR. "SAPOL has clear strategies to ensure data integrity and consistency across the state," he said.

One person told AdelaideNow one management directive was to redirect schoolyard assaults back to the school so they were not recorded as crimes. "That way the LSA can claim a downturn in assaults," the person wrote. Patrol police say traffic benchmarks are a "stats game", with directives from upper management to chase the numbers. "We get memos from the Assistant Commissioner asking why haven't you got your numbers . . . even traffic statistics are fudged to a degree," an officer said.

To collect numbers, police will "dumb test". "Once we get close to what we need for the month, then we'll do smart testing and specific targeting, where we know we will get results," the officer said.


Government passenger trains versus private airlines

Brisbane and Charleville are two locations within one Australian State

It is cheaper to fly Queensland's rail commuters to Paris than to cart them from Brisbane to Charleville on the state's Traveltrain network. The Courier-Mail can reveal that taxpayers are forking out $1135 to subsidise every passenger on the Traveltrain Westlander route, $250 more than the cost of a plane ticket to France. Currently, the State Government pays more than $2.5 million each week to subsidise the eight Traveltrain routes throughout Queensland, casting more doubt on their future.

The subsidy for each passenger on the 777km route has increased 18 per cent on the previous year, now double the cost of a flight to Los Angeles and the same price as a ticket to London. However, the most heavily subsidised Traveltrain service was the Inlander route, between Mount Isa and Townsville, where government assistance reached $1433 for each of the 7200 passengers last year.

The figures, released by Queensland Transport, show while the size of some subsidies, including the Sunlander and the Bundaberg Tilt Train, have fallen over the past two years thanks to increased patronage, both the Inlander and Westlander routes have blown out by another $150 a person. The skyrocketing subsidy comes two years after promises by the State Government to review the level of subsidy or scrap it altogether if patronage did not increase.

Transport Minister Rachel Nolan said that while the level of subsidy provided to Traveltrain was constantly being reviewed, the Government was committed to maintaining services. "In tough economic times of course the Government needs to closely examine these services including the amount of subsidy provided," she said. Ms Nolan acknowledged the "use it or lose it" ultimatum made by the Beattie government in 2006, but refused to comment on plans for the services. "The Government made it clear in the past that the community needs to come on board rail service in order for them to be financially sustainable," she said. "This is a matter that the Government has constantly had under review."

Overall, the State Government subsidy on the eight Traveltrain routes reached an estimated $132 million last financial year, up $7 million on the previous year despite 7000 additional passengers using the network.

Opposition spokeswoman Fiona Simpson said questions should be asked about the cost of train services across the state. "It is legitimate to ask questions about the cost inputs of Queensland Rail's services throughout the state and how to get better value," she said. "However, in assessing the value of community service obligations, which are a public subsidy, it must be remembered that all public transport is subsidised throughout Queensland."

Commuter advocacy group Rail Back on Track spokesman Robert Dow said that while the services were vital to rural communities, they needed to be more cost-effective. "The long distance rail network is an important communication link for rural communities," he said. "But in the case of the Westlander and the Inlander I think it is time to review whether to continue with the same type of services or whether it be more cost effective to put on other units, such as diesel-mechanical units [rail motors]." Mr Dow said diesel-mechanical units were a cheaper option to the current trains.



Two articles below

Academic fired after unethical manipulation of marks alleged at a major university

This is an old, old problem. Australian universities are merciless to honest academics who expose dumbed-down marking practices. It is designed to suppress whistleblowing by the many others who could do so. I must say I was often tempted to go public over marking practices in my time as an academic at Uni NSW but concluded that I had no hope of cleaning out the Augean stables

A University of Queensland history lecturer has been sacked after telling a class of honours students assessment of their work had been marred by "serious marking violations". Andrew Gentes, who has taught at UQ for the past five years, has also written to the Queensland Ombudsman alleging "unethical manipulation of students' marks" within UQ's School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics.

Dr Gentes told The Courier-Mail yesterday he had intended to finish up at UQ on August 31 but when news of his email to students broke on Wednesday, he was told to leave immediately.

He said the problem arose during the marking moderation process for one of the assignments in his Theory and Method subject. The dual marker, Associate Professor Marion Diamond, increased gradings on eight out of 14 essays Dr Gentes had marked by more than 8 per cent, triggering the need for a third assessment. Dr Gentes said school policy, which required the original and dual markers to confer when there were significant differences before the assignments were referred to a third party, had been ignored.

"The way it's worked out is if you originally got a mark of below 80 per cent by me and you ended up having your paper graded by a third marker, you had a 100 per cent chance of having your mark considerably increased," Dr Gentes said. One student originally given a 55 per cent mark had their grade increased to 67.5, while another was marked up from 71 per cent to 85.

Dr Gentes said in his view it was a "clear attempt to raise the marks of favoured students, at the expense of talented students" and a means of encouraging undeserving students to undertake post-graduate studies lucrative for the university.

Arts Faculty executive dean Richard Fotheringham confirmed Dr Gentes' dismissal. He also confirmed normal procedure was for the dual markers to meet to resolve big disparities and that if a third marker became involved the previous lowest mark was disregarded. "I understood there was an attempted moderation and Dr Gentes refused to meet with the other members of the school involved," Professor Fotheringham said. "We got in Bob Elson as the third marker, who's probably the most distinguished historian we've got . . . he marked all the essays independently, without knowing what the two marks were." [So someone who didn't teach the course knew better than the person who did teach the course what a reasonable mastery of the course material was??]

Dr Gentes said he had elected to "throw caution to the wind" and speak out as he was taking up a post at a university in Japan.


Dithering over research fraud

Universities hate to admit that wrongdoing has happened when one of their academics is accused of fraud or malpractice -- because it reflects on them. All such allegations should be investigated independently under the supervision of a judge

THE Rudd government is considering a specialist independent body to deal with the hardest cases of scientific fraud, according to Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister Kim Carr. "We are considering a research integrity advisory board," said Senator Carr, who said he hoped the details could be settled before the next academic year. "We need to establish the legal framework ... and the appropriate legal indemnity for the chair and panel members ... and the specific revisions to the (Australian Code forthe Responsible Conduct of Research) to take into account any new review mechanism. "This is a sensitive issue, but we've attracted broad support for the program. There is general agreement as to the need for further reform."

Although the code was revised as recently as 2007, Senator Carr argues the present ad-hoc system, whereby institutions handle their own complaints, has failed in a small number of intractable cases. David Vaux, a medical researcher who has lobbied Senator Carr and others for reform, said the code made it too easy for an institution to bury an inconvenient complaint. "There's no oversight to ensure theinvestigations are carried out properly," said Professor Vaux, a National Health and Medical Research Council Australia fellow at LaTrobe University. "Australia should catch up with the rest of the world. In most countries in Europe or the US there's an ombudsman who handles issues of research misconduct or there's an office of research integrity."

Glenn Withers, chief executive of Universities Australia, agreed there was a need to deal with "exceptions and anomalies" in complaint handling, and believed Senator Carr intended the new board to have a "very light touch". However, he said the new system could affect the research autonomy of universities. "This government says it is taking the foot of government off universities. To an extent, this is an exception to that principle," Dr Withers said. "We take our autonomy very seriously."

Talks involving UA, the academic union, the Australian Research Council and the NHMRC have backed reform. But it is not yet clear precisely what would trigger an intervention by the board. The ARC's chief executive Margaret Sheil said: "I think you have to let the institutional processes run their course unless there was a scenario where the institution just wasn't acting."

The term serious misconduct normally called to mind the serious outcome for a wrongdoer - dismissal - but it also could point to the serious consequences flowing from dishonest medical research, Professor Sheil said.

Susan Dodds, philosophy professor at the University of Tasmania and an authority on ethics, said there was a lot at stake. "The public credibility of our own work depends on the public believing that researchers do the right thing," she said. She said the twin benefits of a national board would be more consistency in complaint-handling and less risk of conflicts of interest.

Professor Vaux said the new system should extend beyond universities and projects funded by the ARC and the NHMRC to cover published research bankrolled by the private sector or charities. He said he believed Australia had a serious problem with research misconduct. "I've seen things in published journal articles (for example, suspect images of cell lines in life science reports) where I can conceive of no other explanation," he said. Professor Vaux said tasks for a new research integrity body could include data collection, thereby settling the dispute about the extent of research misconduct, as well as keeping internal complaint handling honest by taking appeals.

Robert Graham, president of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes, said the proposed board seemed "a step in the right direction". The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney, which he directs, had just reviewed its own internal system. "We all worry about (research misconduct). A critical issue is when to refer (a case) outside. From my perspective as director, the sooner you get it outside the better." This was because an institution handling complaints against its own too readily appeared to be like "a fox in the chicken coop," Professor Graham said.


Friday, July 03, 2009


Two reports below

Nothing works with blacks -- and now Rudd knows it

Australian government policies towards Aborigines have oscillated between extreme paternalism and extreme permissiveness but nothing brings black behaviour up to a standard that whites regard as acceptable. Policy is now reduced to "data collection"! Blacks were actually at their healthiest and least self-damaging when they were living on missions run by the churches but there is never any official admission of that, of course. Some of us are old enough to remember those times, however, so we know. More detail on the report below here

The Prime Minister has admitted Australia hasn't got a clue about what's happening in its indigenous communities. Following the release of the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report yesterday, Kevin Rudd says there's simply not enough statistical information to give governments a clear indication of what's happening.

More than two years since the Howard government announced its intervention into remote Northern Territory communities, the Productivity Commission report has found a worsening in child abuse among indigenous children. It's also found there's been no improvements in 80 per cent of the economic and social indicators, including literacy and numeracy.

So for the first time in Australian history, the states and territories have signed up to accountable targets.

The report was released at yesterday's COAG meeting in Darwin, during which Mr Rudd pledged more than $46 million over four years to improve data collection. The intervention in indigenous communities should be extended to Western Australia, the Opposition says. Closing the gap would take decades but extending the Northern Territory intervention - initiated by the previous Howard government - would help, said deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop. "I would like to see the intervention moved into Western Australia," she told ABC Television. [If it hasn't worked in one place, why transfer it elsewhere???]

The Labor Government has continued the [paternalist] intervention, which includes grog and pornography bans, extra policing, health checks and quarantining welfare payments.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is in Kununurra in northern WA today, where he is expected to sign off on a $200 million local development package the Government says will help improve the lives of indigenous people.


Deaf black kids

The problems are normally treatable but the parents just don't take them to hospital -- so the hospital has to come to them

TEACHERS at a primary school a few hundred kilometres northwest of Brisbane wear microphones in the classroom because so many of the children have hearing problems. Up to 90 per cent of Cherbourg State School students have some form of treatable hearing loss because of chronic ear infections.

The issue is a challenge in indigenous communities across the country where overcrowded living conditions can foster the spread of disease, a situation Brisbane surgeon Chris Perry says is a "national disgrace". "It's a shame on the country that this is allowed to continue," he said. "If people don't hear, then they don't get an education. They leave school at 14 with the reading age of somebody in grade one or grade two and they're unemployable."

As The Courier-Mail reported on Monday, a surgical team visited Cherbourg last week, setting up a makeshift theatre to deal with some of the ear complaints.

Cherbourg State School's head of special needs, Vanessa Boal, said ear disease was a factor in truancy rates and misbehaviour. "Kids with significant hearing problems experience fatigue a lot quicker than other kids, struggling to get through the day, struggling to understand, struggling to communicate," she said. "Kids who aren't caught early enough in the long term have language developmental delays. If they don't succeed in the early years at school, we can't bring bring them back from the brink. "There's just not enough magic wands in the world to fix kids if we lose them at that early stage."

Queensland Health's Deadly Ears Program aims to cut the rate of ear disease among indigenous children, taking treatment normally performed in Brisbane or provincial centres to rural and remote communities. It was under this program that Dr Perry and his team went to Cherbourg. Nurse unit manager Anette Smith doubled as truck driver, transporting 340kg of surgical equipment from Brisbane to Cherbourg. She said the program relied on indigenous health workers screening local children for hearing problems and on parents taking responsibility for their children's health.

Although the program is still in its infancy, Ms Boal said the early signs were positive. "The fact that we now can do the minor surgeries here is just phenomenal," she said. "We've got better attendances from kids that we know have had ear issues. "Previously we would have lost those kids."

Ms Boel said tests on more than 100 children at Cherbourg had found 89 per cent had hearing issues.

Without the Deadly Ears Program, Dr Perry said many indigenous children would miss out on surgery, with the trip to Brisbane too onerous and expensive for carers. He wants the Federal Government to expand the program nationally. "Queensland Health deserves a pat on the back for this" he said. "They're doing something groundbreaking. But we need more money."



Three posts below

Greenie people-hate on display again

MILLIONS of dollars worth of luxury waterfront homes at Byron Bay will be demolished in the name of climate change following a council decision to enshrine "planned retreat" in law. The radical step to block homeowners protecting their property from rising sea levels was contained in a coastal planning policy released by the Greens-run Byron Bay Council yesterday. It would be the first time in NSW that the idea of planned retreat - where nature is allowed to take its course - will be imposed on existing dwellings under state law. And it means that, once gazetted by the State Government, any house under threat of erosion can be legally demolished.

NSW Environment Minister Carmel Tebbutt, under threat in her own seat of Marrickville from the NSW Greens, has refused to intervene. She said it was up to residents to lobby the council.

Some of the country's rich and famous face losing their homes to rising sea levels, including former actor, now recluse, John Cornell. The council has prevented them building rock walls to help protect their beachfront homes from storm surges. They will now proceed with legal action against the council, claiming they have been denied the basic right of being able to protect their homes. The local business chamber has written to Premier Nathan Rees calling for State Government intervention to stop what they described as "lunacy".

Local business group Byron United president Ed Ahern said the actions of the local council were "alarming". "The State Government needs to intervene in these matters and take over responsibility," he said. "We urgently request that the Government intervenes in this important matter." He said landowners had been prevented from protecting their properties and the issue was now the subject of a formal complaint to the NSW Ombudsman.

Byron Bay Mayor Jan Barham, of the Greens, has defended the move, previously claiming planned retreat had been a policy in Byron Bay since the 1980s. Ms Barham, who is reported to be considering a move to the NSW Upper House, did not return a request to be interviewed. However, she has said that wealthy residents who built their homes along the beach were always aware of the erosion issue.

Ms Tebbutt said the NSW Government would continue to encourage Byron Shire Council to take a practical and reasonable approach when dealing with the affected landowners. "Our draft policy allows landowners affected by coastal hazards, including sea level rise, to seek approval from their local council to protect their property," she said. [In other words: "Get lost"]


Greenie delusions

A solar power station that will generate power 24 hours a day? Really?? I must be missing something. The moon must be VERY bright in South Australia

WHYALLA's 301 days of annual sunshine will be driving the world's first solar power station, producing electricity 24 hours a day by this time next year.

The $15 million plant will again put South Australia's regional areas at the forefront of sustainable and emission-free energy production. It will also address the problem of finding an emission-free electricity source capable of providing a base-load, or 24-hour, power supply, which is a necessity for the world to combat climate change.

Construction of the solar-thermal power plant, Whyalla Solar Oasis, began last week. It will initially comprise four "Big Dishes" while the technology is demonstrated, generating power for up to 1000 homes. The long-term plan is for 600 dishes to be built, each 500sq m in area, in a 2km by 1km area at the city's northern entrance. The expanded plant is expected to generate about 130 gigawatts of power a year, enough for 19,000 average homes and preventing 129,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions being produced – equal to that generated by 36,000 cars each year.

Whyalla Council deputy mayor Eddie Hughes said it was "incredibly exciting" for work to start after 12 years of planning and 30 years of research by the Australian National University.


Business baulks at extra green tape

A PUSH to force state governments and local councils to refer development proposals with a large carbon footprint to the federal government for approval has alarmed business groups, who claim it could stall economic recovery. The proposal is contained in the interim report of a review of the federal Environment Protection Act, released this week. Green groups have proposed adding greenhouse gas emissions to the seven triggers that require any proposed development to be referred to the federal environment minister.

The panel reviewing the act, chaired by former ANU chancellor Alan Hawke, rejects the idea of a permanent trigger, but says such a mechanism could be introduced as an interim measure until the onset of a national emissions trading scheme, now not anticipated until 2011 at the earliest. "If there is to be a delay in effective establishment of the carbon pollution reduction scheme, then there is a much stronger case for introduction of a greenhouse gas trigger to drive down emissions in the interim period," the report says.

The potential for significant projects to be tied up in an extra layer of bureaucracy would appear to flow counter to yesterday's push at the Council of Australian Governments to develop national performance measures on development approvals designed to speed economic recovery.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia's Brendan Lyon said the interim report was a cause for concern on several fronts because it could risk further unnecessary delay to critical infrastructure projects. "Climate change is an important consideration and infrastructure will play a major role in equipping Australia to cut reductions, while sustaining living standards and economic productivity," Mr Lyon said. "But the mechanism for carbon abatement should be through an emissions trading scheme backed by a price on carbon. "Australia's economy will adapt best through the phasing in of a robust price for greenhouse gas emissions, rather than through adding an additional layer of complexity and potential delays in approval processes."

The present seven triggers in the act, covering actions by government or private enterprise with "a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance", have not significantly affected major developments. But the trigger for endangered species caused a stoush recently between the NSW and federal governments after federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett temporarily halted logging in a NSW state forest out of concern for declining numbers of superb parrots.

John Sheahan from the Australian Property Institute said the key point about a greenhouse trigger would be its design, given such a move would represent "the most significant intrusion ever" by the commonwealth into land use. "Some projects might end up spending many months in that office in Canberra waiting to be assessed," he said. Mr Sheahan said the innate conservatism of local councils would mean Mr Garrett's office could be flooded with referred applications it did not have the resources to deal with.

Aaron Gadiel from developers' lobby Urban Taskforce said an extension of the Environment Protection Act was "the last thing the Australian economy needs right now".


New Vegemite put to the taste test

Now THIS is important news. Like most Australians, I am never without Vegemite in the house. I had to laugh at the comment in red, though. That is a LOT of Vegemite to eat

For more than 85 years Australia has been a nation of happy little Vegemites but now there's a new version of the iconic breakfast spread. Mixing the salty taste of traditional Vegemite with milk, butter and cream cheese, it is being marketed as a snacking spread or dip.

Great grandson of the inventor of Vegemite Cyril P Callister, Jamie Callister said during today's sample release at Toowong the new Vegemite should be judged on its merits and not compared to the breakfast table favourite. "I think with this one it's probably going to have a wider appeal - it's not as sharp a taste and it might appeal to more people," Mr Callister said. "Traditionally with Vegemite you either love it or you hate it... I think this might cover a bit more of the in-between ground."

Most shoppers who tried the new spread said they were keen on the new taste but there weren't many who said they would consider switching from the original. "I do like it, it's got a slight after taste but it is smoother and creamier than the original," Sandy Mckevitt from Springwood said. "I'm a Vegemite freak so I don't think I would (switch)."

Fellow shopper Gary Rendshaw said: "It's quite nice, it's like old Vegemite but with a quieter taste." "I think I'll switch to the new one but I'll still keep the old one... I buy the two kilogram buckets of it and they last me about two months."

But outside the centre Lisa Cunningham and her daughter Lilly from Bardon were thoroughly unimpressed with the new product, saying it would not feature in their household. "It's terrible. It is too sweet and I like the saltiness of the original Vegemite. It tastes like they've put some sort of sweetness in it to lessen the taste of the original Vegemite taste," Mrs Cunningham said. Lilly said she would not be recommending the new spread to her friends at school. "Normally I like my Vegemite not too thick on toast... I don't really like the new stuff," she said.

Kraft Foods Australia/New Zealand has said in a statement there are no plans to remove traditional Vegemite from the stands and it will continue to be manufactured in Australia. The new flavour of Vegemite will be available in supermarkets across Australia from July 6.


OK. I've got no taste and know nothing about fashion but this is just a busy mess

It grieves me to see Australia so absurdly represented. I would have hoped for something a lot simpler. How about a flowing silk or satin gown in sky blue to reflect the wonderful blue skies we usually have?

PERTH fashion designer-to-the-stars Ruth Tarvydas has unveiled the dress that Australia's Miss Universe Rachael Finch will wear at the contest. There wasn't a corkscrew hat in sight as Rachael Finch unveiled the national costume she will wear when she takes on beauties from around the world at the international pageant in the Bahamas next month.

Instead there was glamour, sequins and the pre-requisite knicker-flashing that seems to come with wearing an evening gown by top WA designer Ruth Tarvydas, the woman behind Rebecca Twigley's headline-grabbing red carpet moment at the Brownlows in 2004, and Jessica Bratich's spotlight stealing arrival at the Allan Border Medal Count in February.

But the dress has attracted criticism, with average Aussies are worried it looks more like something from Las Vegas. The outfit, to be seen by a global TV audience of two billion, was derided in online forums for looking like it came from the Priscilla: Queen of the Desert musical, some calling it "hideous" and "tacky" and saying she looks like "a walking icy pole"....

Top Perth model Nicole McKendry provided window dressing, spending the night posing beautifully in the window in a peacock-blue Tarvydas gown. More glamour came in the form of the seven Miss Universe Australia WA finalists who put on a catwalk show of Tarvydas' new summer collection.

The range contained the designer's trademark sexy dresses, long and short, in colours from purple to black, cream and red. The show was slinky dresses, sequins, feathers and frizzy hair.

Finch, the star of the night, arrived in a luxury red sports car and handled the red carpet and press like a pro.

The unveiling of the national costume in Perth was probably the worst-kept secret in the city yesterday. It was also a change on previous plans, which had the dress being unveiled in Melbourne next month.


Pommy twit

Why did they give the job to a Pom? I can't imagine that any Australian would have been unaware that it was Hayman Island. It is a very well-known resort in Australia -- long popular as a honeymoon destination

BARRIER Reef caretaker Ben Southall was made to look a right twit on Twitter after he misspelt the island he is promoting. On his second day at work on Hayman Island Englishman Ben Southall renamed the tropical island 'Hayward' in his Twitter post, reports the Courier Mail. In his Twitter message he referred to "leaving the chefs table and chocolate room on Hayward Island after a stunning gastronomic presentation".

The mistake was later corrected but not before being picked up by a few keen-eyed Twitter followers. Anthony Dever, on social networking site twocents, posted: "Looks like it was a wayward first day at the office for Best Job in the World winner Ben Southall. "Luckily for Ben and Tourism Queensland, an hour and a half later Hayman Island staff or maybe the advertising agency involved with the 'Best Job' campaign alerted him to his mistake and the original Hayward Island reference was replaced with Hayman Island…

"After an exhaustive search that involved 36,648 applicants wanting to report their adventures on the Great Barrier Reef to a global audience, you'd hope the key selection criteria included knowing the names of where he is enjoying our state's hospitality.

Mr Southall, 34, an events organiser from Hampshire, in southern England, took over a luxury Hamilton Island villa on July 1 for a six-month $150,000 job that will see him roam the Great Barrier Reef as an in-house online ambassador for Tourism.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

What is characteristic of Australians?

When you have visited a variety of countries other than your own, you will always note differences in characteristic customs and attitudes from your own country. So there is no doubt that there are modal differences in attitudes between countries. Australians are great travellers and also have people from many ethnic groups in their own country so an awareness of Australians as different is widespread. The article below is one attempt at defining the traits that are most characteristic of Australians and I personally think that they have got it pretty right. I have made a rubric of something that I think is particularly spot-on -- JR

THE question was asked and Australia has answered. What makes Australia great? What are the things that separate us from other nations?, a social networking site has this month searched for the opinions of ordinary Australians and those visiting our shores. In the past few weeks themes of freedom, community and teamwork have emerged.

This week the final pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place on the site created by Qantas and supported by News Limited, publishers of The Courier-Mail. Social researcher Mark McRindle, who has been monitoring the site, said pride and fun completed the Australian character.

"Australians have a deep pride in our country and culture which is more often felt than spoken," Mr McRindle said. "Our understated Aussie spirit stands in contrast to the overt nationalism of other countries."

Contributors agreed. "Forrest" from Sydney said: "We don't seem inhibited by the fact we're at the end of the world. "In the hearts of most Australians the love of this land, her people and achievements just is."

Susan from Clifton Beach, NSW writes of our eternal optimism and she'll-be-right attitude in a world of negativity.

On fun, Mr McRindle said the typical Australian had a joke at heart. "From our colourful language to our unique humour, the Aussie spirit is one of fun," he said. "Only in Australia is a redhead called Bluey and a stranger called mate."

Phil from Glebe summed this up, saying "this is what I like about Australia. We can laugh at ourselves in the face of adversity.

Perhaps in a reaction to British formality or born of survival in this harsh land, Australians developed a no-worries attitude and a strong sense of fun.


Our man in the USA: A fair dinkum sort of bloke

You might think a top Washington diplomat only picks the swankiest of destinations and transportation when on holiday. Not so with Dennis Richardson, Australia's ambassador to the United States for the past four years, and his wife, Betty. In fact, their favorite destinations include U.S. national parks and small-town diners, and when the couple travel, they do so by car and stay at hotels for as little as $37 per night (the Red Rock Motel, Mile City, Mont.). "We've been to all 50 states and have driven through 48 of them," Mr. Richardson says over the phone at the end of June, just two days before he and his wife are planning to add a 49th state to their traveled-by-car list: Alaska.

The car? A Chevy Impala rental, which will take them about 8,000 miles from Anchorage to the District via El Paso, Texas, he says and chuckles.

What's the primary appeal of Alaska and Texas? Natural beauty, Mr. Richardson says. "If you did nothing but spend time in the national parks, you'd do great," he says. "I think the National Park Service deserves a gold medal," he says, adding that one of his favorites is Yellowstone National Park.

In Alaska, he plans to go fishing, and in Texas he and his wife plan to visit Big Bend, the 800,000-acre national park in western Texas that borders Mexico and is one of the least visited national parks in the country.

Will the hot and dry Big Bend remind the emissary of the Australian "desert that touches the horizon" (as tourism site www.australia. com refers to it)? Yes, perhaps a bit, but Mr. Richardson's preference for the road trip over the plane trip has more to do with his wish to get an up-close and personal look and feel for the flora, fauna and people of the United States than any love of the big sky or other reminders of his homeland.

Furthermore, how would you possibly run across hole-in-the-wall, one-of-a-kind diners if all you do is fly to a resort destination and never have a look around?


Australian politicians becoming more religious?

AUSTRALIAN politicians, unlike their US counterparts, have traditionally been reluctant to bring God into politics. But a new study shows federal MPs are invoking Christian beliefs with increasing frequency to justify their policies and articulate their personal values and visions for the nation.

The research shows that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has been the politician most likely to cite his Christianity in public speeches, followed by the former treasurer Peter Costello and the current Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

A Melbourne University politics researcher, Anna Crabb, analysed a sample of 2422 speeches by 60 prominent federal politicians - the leaders and senior frontbenchers of the three main parties - between 2000 and 2006 and found the use of religious language had increased over the period. In 2000, 9 per cent of the speeches used religious terms. The proportion increased in each of the following years, reaching 24 per cent in 2005, before easing to 22 per cent in 2006.

Ms Crabb's "quantitative semantic" analysis, published in the latest edition of the Australian Journal Of Political Science, also found that politicians have used Christian references when discussing an increasingly diverse range of issues. Liberal and National MPs were initially more likely to use religious language than their Labor counterparts. From 2004, however, ALP politicians referred to Christianity almost as frequently as Coalition MPs.

Party leaders were more likely to highlight Christian ideas than other frontbenchers.

Ms Crabb said the findings demonstrated a break with the past in Australia where politicians had rarely put their faith on display and had been careful to maintain a separation between affairs of church and state. She said there were several reasons for the breakdown of this traditional separation. They include the demise of sectarianism, especially inside the ALP [i.e. the Labor party is no longer as Roman Catholic as it once was], which had contributed to a greater willingness to use Christian ideas in political debate. Conscience votes on stem cell research and abortion legislation had also prompted more MPs to discuss their attitudes towards Christian moral teachings.

But Ms Crabb sees the main explanation as lying with the September 11 terrorist attacks. The attacks had not only led to significantly more references to Christianity in speeches on foreign relations but had also prompted a wider erosion of the traditional view that political decision-making should be based on rational arguments rather than on religious faith or doctrine.


Homosexuals want it both ways

IF IT'S OK for a couple of hundred men to prance along Oxford St with feather dusters strapped to their backsides during the Mardi Gras, who could be offended by comic Sacha Baron Cohen dressing up like a homosexual fashion designer and camping it up?

Sydney's self-anointed guardians of the homosexual flame, that's who. Who are they? Hairdresser Troy Thompson (no jokes about stereotypical gay occupations, please) and homosexual activist and hospitality worker Gary Burns, that's who. What is their complaint? They claim that the Bruno character in Cohen's latest movie will reinforce the straight community's stereotypical view of homosexuals as a group of mincing, lisping, limp-wristed queers and increase prejudice which could cause sniggering and ridicule.

Hold on, doesn't the annual Mardi Gras do more than enough to reinforce that view already? Most Australians would know some homosexuals - male or female - who don't fit the stereotype perpetuated by the Mardi Gras and the more extreme members of the homosexual community generally. There are lesbians who don't have basin hair cuts, who don't roll their own cigarettes and who don't wear workman's overalls.

And there are homosexual men who don't work in hair salons, wave their hands about as they speak or dance to Kylie Minogue's music, but the homosexual organisations don't seem to see them.

The Mardi Gras crowd likes to attract attention. For years, Mardi Gras organisers have claimed that their parade draws such a huge audience that, realistically, if everyone they boasted shows up actually did show up they could not fit on Oxford St even if they were jammed cheek-to-cheek, as it were. The organisers like to proclaim they are proudly out there, sometimes they are offensively out there. There is no other display of high-camp behaviour in the homosexual world that matches the Mardi Gras, even if it is getting a little tedious with its tired old attacks on Christianity (but not Islam) and its stereotypical marching boys and dancing queens.

The Mardi Gras mob get grants from the NSW Government and the Sydney City Council to fund this display of stereotypes. Shouldn't Thompson and Burns be objecting to the expenditure of public money on an event that only reinforces the high-camp image of the gay community?

Burns is a serial litigant. He sued John Laws for using the expression "pillow-biter" during a program and The Footy Show for lampooning Elton John. The origin of the term "pillow-biter" is interesting. It came to public notoriety when British MP Jeremy Thorpe, a former leader of the UK Liberal Party (not to be in any way confused with the Australian Liberals) was accused of having a homosexual affair with a model, Norman Scott. During an extraordinary trial, Scott claimed that Thorpe had subjected him to various sex acts during which he had no recourse but to "bite a pillow". Thorpe was acquitted but the English language embraced a new expression.

I don't know whether or not Baron Cohen's new film Bruno promotes a stereotypical view of homosexuals. I haven't seen it. But I do know that it would have to work hard to beat the Mardi Gras' record for promoting the stereotypical perspective.

What Thompson and Burns are trying to do is reshape the homosexual stereotype to fit their ideal. This is a big task that they are clearly unsuited for. "We have people coming over to our country stereotyping us in this imagery," Burns said of Bruno. "The majority of gay men are not like him. People will continue to hold prejudice against gay men as that's the stereotype imagery that causes ridicule and sniggering."

Homosexuals come in most shapes and sizes. They are not universally limp-wristed, nor do they all lisp, but nor are they uniformly creative or musical or good dancers. They are just people. Some of them, clearly, like to prance up Oxford St. Many of them don't.

If Thompson and Burns don't like the idea of Bruno, they should be even angrier about the Mardi Gras but I can't find any evidence that either of them have ever complained about the Mardi Gras' depiction of their friends.

Baron Cohen has done it again. He has outraged a minority, has exposed a deep vein of hypocrisy and probably attracted more viewers than he thought would ever pay to see Bruno.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"League tables" and NSW school-reporting policy

Below is an article from Jennifer Buckingham of the Centre for Independent Studies. Her line is very much that of the teachers' unions. She supports the covering up of some kinds of information about schools: Very disappointing from a free-market think-tank. At the foot of the article I reproduce a letter from a teacher who is also surprised by her views

The Federal Government confirmed last year that it would be making good on its election promise to introduce transparency measures for all schools, including publicly reporting school-level performance in national tests, year 12 results, and a range of other information.

The main concern the critics of this policy have is the potential for media outlets to mine this information to create and publish "league tables" - lists of schools ranked from "best" to "worst" by a single performance indicator. This has been the experience in other countries, and fears that it may happen here were realised when a Tasmanian newspaper recently published school rankings of the newspaper's own creation.

It is important to make one thing clear: school-performance reporting and league tables are not the same thing. School-performance reporting, done properly, is a way to empower parents and make them informed participants in their child's education.

Under the new federal reporting protocols, people will be able to look up any school and see how it has performed in national tests and get information about teacher and student characteristics, among other things. They can see how that school's performance compares with the state average and "like schools". By looking up several schools they will be able to compare the schools in their area, but this comparison will not be provided to them as a list or ranking. It is up to people to compare individual schools and draw their own conclusions.

League tables, on the other hand, are lists or rankings of schools based on a single indicator, without reference to context or location. They are a potential by-product of providing parents and the public with information. They are often misleading, are not useful and can be harmful to the schools at the bottom of the rankings. Some schools may deserve to be there, but others will not.

Opponents of school-performance reporting have used the spectre of league tables to argue against it, but this did not stop the state and territory education ministers agreeing on the policy. To comply with this federal agreement, NSW had to amend legislation put in place in 1997 that prohibited the publication of information that allowed schools to be compared on academic performance. Last week a bill was passed in the NSW parliament to do just that. The amendment will allow a new national federal agency, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, to publish the academic outcomes of individual schools.

The Greens argued fervently against the amendment, but obviously had already seen the writing on the wall. Knowing that the amendment would pass, the Greens introduced a clause to the amendment in the last half hour of the debate, which they had previously drafted with the help of the Coalition. The clause attempts to prevent the publication of league tables in "a newspaper or other document that is publicly available in this state". The clause also prohibits the identification of schools "in a percentile of less than 90 per cent in relation to school results, except with the permission of the principal of the school".

The Labor MP Penny Sharpe put up little defence, saying the clause was "well-intentioned but utterly futile". Sharpe argued that it was questionable whether print media would comply, and there was no jurisdiction over the internet. She also raised the possibility that it might also have negative consequences for school systems and associations publishing their own comparisons or school profiles.

There was little debate about the clause and it passed with a majority of five votes. This anti-league table clause seems, on the surface, to have discarded the bath water while retaining the baby. It would be nice to think legislation could solve misuse of information, but it is doubtful. In this case the compromise position may be unacceptable. If the clause is ineffective, school league tables will be published anyway.

This will mean a missed opportunity to draft legislation that might have been more effective in protecting schools from spurious claims about their performance by over-zealous media outlets.

Alternatively, the clause may be too effective, preventing any comparative information being produced even for a small audience, undermining the positive effect of the school-reporting policy. If misleading league tables can be avoided they should be, but not at the expense of parents' right to know. Time will tell if, in its haste to pass the amendment, the NSW parliament has betrayed this principle.


A polite letter to Ms Buckingham from a reader

I read your article in the SMH Online website and I had to look twice to be sure it said you were from the CIS that I subscribe to.

Your point appears to be that while you don't oppose the release of information for parents, you do object to it's publication in newspapers on the basis the information might be presented in a simplistic way. Indeed you quote an example from Tasmania. In my experience of league tables - i.e. Times Education Supplement - such league tables attempt to apply all factors in a weighted manner. I haven't seen an example of a one factor league table although I don't deny that it can happen.

You appeared to be arguing for laws which attempt to legislate against the misuse of information. That would appear to be dangerous ground for a fellow at the CIS whose philosophy I would have thought was that freedom of information is more important than protecting the public from its misuse. Where information is misused it is easily refuted and the source so discredited, I might have thought.

When it comes to education, in my limited experience, parents often do not make rational decisions anyway, but the provision of information on the multilevel performance of schools I would have thought to be a useful anitdote the present atmosphere of enforced egalitarianism that forced me, in 1959, to attend a run-down, indequately set-up junior technical high school with its cadre of motivated and unmotived, professional and incompentant, but generally poorer teachers than the intermediate technical school or even higher level high school that my efforts might have deserved before before Harold Wyndham had his way.

Fortunately, many of my classmates, who will be marking the 50th anniversary of our entrance to Jannali Boys' High School this year, went on to make a mark on our society, despite the handicap.

Encouraging schools to lift their game by publishing outcomes, I believe, can only serve to ensure that there should be no gap between state and private schools, and that they, and their teachers thus deserve the increased funding coming their way in Rudd's Education Revolution. As a profession I believe teachers, of whom I am now one, should have an obligation to use one month of their generous annual leave for upgrading their professional skills in the same way other professional are. But that's another story!

Again thank you for your thoughts on this matter. But I do hope they don't represent the position of the CIS!

Destructive union boneheads are back in force

Australian cartoonist ZEG has an apt comment on this too

AUSTRALIANS may have voted out John Howard because they feared for their jobs under Work Choices, but they didn’t vote for Kevin Rudd out of a hankering for old-fashioned trade union wage campaigns.

Could there be anything more bone-headed than the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union vowing to set the pace for a national wage round of more than 4 per cent just as business is trying to avoid a wave of job layoffs that would push the unemployment rate above 8 per cent? Yes, this is the same metal workers union that destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs in the early 1980s, the last recession that followed a mining boom.

And 25 years of neoliberal reform has exposed the Australian economy, including the unions, to much more competitive discipline since then. But the Fair Work regime championed by the Minister for Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, returns the old industrial relations institutions - unions, industrial tribunals and the award system - to centre stage.

They won’t be able to cause as much havoc as they did decades ago, but they will still cause damage because that’s what they know. The question you should be reading about now should not be how the metal workers union can make wage beachheads in its strongest shops, then call in the soon-to-be-established Fair Work Australia tribunal and a “modernised” award system to help spread this to the rest of the workforce.

The question should be how business and its workforces can find the best ways to share out their smaller order books to avoid retrenchments while searching for productivity gains that could help find new markets.

Remember that Gillard has claimed, heroically, that her reregulation of the job market will boost productivity through increased collective bargaining. More likely it will cost jobs by letting Australia’s industrial relations club back on the streets.

Malcolm Turnbull and business need to harp on this contradiction in Labor’s new Fair Work regime, and insist that it be pro-jobs and pro-productivity in practice.


More on boy's peanut death

It seems that the army has unfairly taken the rap for this. It was entirely a school responsibility. Apparently the boy's parents did the right thing but the school failed to pass on the info to the relevant staff. I would still call it "death by misadventure", though, and it may still motivate the army and others to ban peanut products across the board. South-East Asian cuisine (Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian) could be badly hit as they use peanuts in almost everything

The role of an elite private school in the death of a 13-year-old student on an army cadet camp should be examined by an inquest, a Federal Court judge has recommended.

Nathan Francis, a student at Melbourne's Scotch College, died on March 30, 2007, after suffering a severe allergic reaction to peanut butter, which was in a beef satay army meal supplied on the Australian Defence Force camp. The camp, in the Wombat State Forest in central Victoria, was run by staff and teachers at the school.

The school had told parents not to provide food as they were using ADF meals, but asked to be alerted to any food allergies. Nathan's mother, Jessica Francis, wrote that her son had a severe allergy, stating: "PEANUTS -- but all nuts must be avoided."

However, a list of students with food allergies did not reach the staff member who issued the meals and Nathan was given beef satay. After a mouthful, the boy was helped by a fellow student to the camp's headquarters and he died on the way to hospital.

"There has so far been no opportunity for the role of Scotch College in the death of Nathan to be examined in public," judge Tony North said. "The circumstances presented to this court raise a question whether Scotch College, through its teachers and staff, bear some responsibility."

His recommendation came as he passed judgment on civil action against the ADF and the chief of the army over the boy's death. Comcare, on behalf of Nathan, who was considered an employee of the ADF, had sued the commonwealth for breaching its duty of care. The commonwealth admitted liability and the ADF was fined $210,000.


Two Tamil Tigers caught in Sydney

Police have charged a 25-year-old man with attempted murder in relation to a violent attack on two Sri Lankan students in which they were splashed with acid and stabbed. A group of men allegedly forced their way into the students' Westmead home around midnight on May 17. Jayasri Watawala, 22, was seriously burned after the men allegedly threw acid at him. Chathurika Weerasinghe, 27, who was also burned with acid, was also stabbed in the stomach and broke his ankle. Two men were arrested after the attack.

The 25-year-old accused of attempted murder, from Girraween, was also charged with failure as an owner to disclose the identity of the driver or passenger of a vehicle. A Hebersham man, 26, was charged with concealing a serious offence.

Today's charge came after the 25-year-old presented himself to Merrylands police station - at the request of police - this morning. He was also charged with break and enter with intent to commit murder and maliciously casting or throwing corrosive fluid with intent to maim. Police will allege the man charged today is "one of the principal offenders'' in the home invasion, Detective Inspector Albert Joseph, from Strike Force Dorward, said. "There are a number of other offenders we are still looking for,'' he said.

He would not speculate on the alleged motive for the attack but said clashes between groups of Tamils and Singhalese in the lead up to the home invasion were looked at by investigators. "We are investigating a riot and affray that occurred some time before [the home invasion] and certainly there was some reporting at that particular time of [attacks] being racially motivated,'' he said.

Police have told both the victims of the home invasion about today's attempted murder charge, he said. "The rehab has been a slow and lengthy process for them ... it has been difficult but their health is improving,'' he said. A relative of Weerasinghe welcomed the news and said both students were still recovering.

The man left Merrylands police station about 12.30pm in an unmarked police car with his face covered by a white jacket. Detective Inspector Joseph said tensions in the community had subsided and he did not expect any further incidents.


Kevin Rudd doesn't understand Bastiat's "broken windows" fallacy

Not all work is equally worthwhile and bureaucratically-run work is routinely wasteful

It turns out that Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is going around town breaking windows by, well, demanding they be built. There are over 35,000 construction and maintenance projects planned across Australia over the next 12 months. This includes AU$49 (US$39.4) billion dedicated to "nation building infrastructure," or crudely AU$2,200 in taxes for every man, woman, and child residing in Australia.

Are such decisions financially wise during economic recessions? Let's put Keynesianism aside and instead rely on common sense. While on an individual level you might think saving would be a good idea, apparently governments just want to build stuff. "We can always figure out later what to do with it or even just employ people to knock it down and build it again" is the unspoken idea. When "full employment" is the goal almost any type of labor will do. PM Rudd's Labor party is thus aptly named; as they state, "jobs are in our DNA."

Bastiat's timeless lesson of the fallacy of the broken window, later popularized and widely applied by Henry Hazlitt, is a perfect analogy of economic ignorance and the power of the seen vis-à-vis the unseen. And PM Rudd is illustrating this analogy, going to great strides to point out the "seen" — pictures of hard hats and fluorescent yellow vests have abounded in parliamentary proceedings. Labor Minister for Employment Participation Mark Arbib also confirms that construction projects are visible: "People are going to see the construction sites all over the countryside. They are going to know people who are working on stimulus projects or who are supplying the projects."

How can the broken-window fallacy be so widespread? Henry Hazlitt explained: "[T]he broken-window fallacy, under a hundred disguises, is the most persistent in the history of economics. It is more rampant now than at any time in the past. It is solemnly reaffirmed every day by great captains of industry, by chambers of commerce, by labor union leaders, by editorial writers and newspaper columnists and radio commentators, by learned statisticians using the most refined techniques, by professors of economics in our best universities." (Economics in One Lesson, p. 13)

Hazlitt points out many fallacies in the belief that government-mandated construction projects can create jobs. One problem is the confusion between need and demand. Because a politician may deem a project necessary for whatever reason, this in no way, despite political rhetoric, creates demand ex nihilo — government fiat rarely works. In fact, if a project is truly necessary, there will be an opportunity for entrepreneurs to meet that demand. Many entrepreneurial opportunities are thus demolished by government rewarding some industries — in this case construction — at the expense of others.

Another fallacy comes from seeing government statistics. It is easy to see the "hard data" — that there are 35,000 construction projects, X number of workers, etc., and much more difficult to understand that those resources — land, labor, and capital — are being artificially shifted from more productive uses to more destructive ones. The capital being spent on government projects is taken from individual taxpayers; jobs are at best diverted, at worst taken from others.

Regarding such projects, we may ask the fundamentally important question, "Cui bono?"

In this case we find, not surprisingly, that it's the construction industry that benefits, and in numerous ways. For example, the Australian government introduced an AU$2 billion "First Home Owners Boost" that was, in PM Rudd's own words, "to support the housing and construction industry." In addition, there are over 20,000 new "social and defense homes," and installing ceiling insulation is "free" for around 2.9 million homes. Finally, construction companies are also building at every school in the country, the "largest school modernization in Australia's history." Libraries, school halls, classrooms, community centers, parks, etc. will be involved in one way or another with construction. Unfortunately, just as in Bastiat's analogy, everyone else loses; government devises at best a zero-sum game.

Government decisions, which perhaps seem to make sense on a macro level, are disastrous on a micro level, due to the nature of knowledge. Hayek explained this knowledge problem best: "The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus … a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know. Or, to put it briefly, it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality."

Hayek narrowed this down to one fundamental question: not if there will be planning but of who will do the planning — the central planner or the individual.

An excellent illustration of the inevitable unintended consequences that come from central government meddling is a local primary school in the area. In a recent "news bulletin" to parents they write the following: "We have now been advised that the Australian Government will be funding a new building for our school…. The old [building] … will be demolished as part of this project…. Because this is part of the government's Stimulus Package, construction must be completed by October 2010."

This is roughly the equivalent of digging holes and filling them. In fact, digging holes may be better since, in that case, only labor is wasted, for the most part, and not other natural resources. (Where are the environmentalist outcries over this destruction of resources in make-work construction projects?) Regardless, this is merely the broken-window fallacy in new clothes. The real gem, however, comes from later in the bulletin: "Council committees have met this week to consider a wide range of matters about our school. Major matters for discussion included possible uses of our new building."

In other words, the school will have a building demolished, a new one constructed, and still has little idea as to what the new building will be used for. Contrast this situation with that of the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur takes calculated risks, and typically "builds" using the carpenter's rule: measure twice, cut once. If it does not make financial sense to build, the entrepreneur will not do so. In addition, the entrepreneur would later know — through the profit-and-loss mechanism — whether such a decision was prudent or foolish.

PM Kevin Rudd and Minister Arbib believe government's construction efforts are working because they are seen. He has likened the government's massive spending program to "a war effort involving all levels of government." I think he about sums it up with that statement. War breaks windows, and sometimes, as Bastiat and Hazlitt taught, so does building them.


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