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

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


31 July, 2014

Another Europcar incident

Europcar operates worldwide and has a large operation in Australia. There have been many complaints about false damage claims by them. The one below is fairly typical. I would NEVER rent from them. See here and here for previous episodes

Holidaymakers booking a hire car this summer should scrutinise the vehicle before and after rental – taking time-stamped photos – to avoid wrangles over charges for damage.

Nicholas Gentilli, a photographer-artist from Battersea, South-West London, is battling Europcar over a shock €550 (£435) bill for alleged damage sent a few days after he returned a car to its Nice Airport office in May. The bill was emailed without any detailed information, photos or a damage report.

Nicholas, 52, says: ‘When I called Europcar it said I had damaged some wheels. But when I handed back the car at check-in it was looked over by staff and I was assured everything was OK.

‘I don’t believe the damage was done by me. And even if it were I haven’t received any evidence or a damage report ten weeks on. If I had, I could at least claim on my insurance policy, which covers the hire company’s excess.’

Europcar says its French office is investigating.

Bob Atkinson, from comparison website TravelSupermarket, says: ‘Taking photos and also marking scratches and dents on the sheet from the hire firm before you set off in the hire car makes sense – as does ensuring the lights, windscreen wipers and radio work.

‘It may seem tiresome after a flight, but it will take just a couple of minutes and protect you from facing extra charges that you will end up disputing.’


Lawyer blasts Australian law that would jail journalists reporting on spy leaks

This law does sound disturbing

Edward Snowden's lawyer has labelled as "draconian" and "chilling" Abbott government legislation before parliament that would threaten ASIO leakers with 10 years' imprisonment and make it an offence for journalists to report on information they receive from whistleblowers.

Lawyer Jesselyn Radack, who is travelling in Australia, told the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne on Tuesday night that the laws being proposed by Attorney-General George Brandis went too far.

"That law is so draconian and would be so chilling in terms of freedom of the press," Ms Radack said. "It would criminalise a reporter talking to a source.

"It's the most draconian thing I've seen and it is completely antithetical to a free and open democratic society … I find it very disturbing that Australia's entertaining this kind of legislation and that there hasn't been a greater outcry, especially from the press."

The legislation makes it an offence if a person "discloses information ... [that] relates to a special intelligence operation" and does not state any exemptions, meaning it could apply to anyone including journalists, bloggers, lawyers and other members of the public. Those who disclosed such information would face tough new penalties of up to 10 years' jail.

Ms Radack said the new laws would essentially give ASIO immunity. "This particular proposed legislation is drafted so broadly that almost anything could be labelled a special intelligence operation … the definitions are so broad and vague as to make anyone subject to this."

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who also spoke at the Wheeler Centre, said the laws reminded him of his own trial and said that they would result in self-censorship.

"If this passes in its current form without huge changes, it is going to send a very chilling message," Mr Drake said. "It will create a climate in which people will self-censor. They will opt not to reveal anything. They will opt not to associate with certain individuals. They will opt not to share certain information just on the risk that it might be designated secret or it might be designated something that might reveal an intelligence operation. Well in that kind of an environment guess what? It has its intended effect."

Senator Brandis has previously said that the new offences were not aimed at journalists. "It's not the purpose of this bill to place any constraints at all on freedom of discussion," he said.

"We are a government that believes very strongly in freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said if criminalising journalism was the effect of the new legislation, "the government will need to make changes to remove that consequence".

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has previously urged journalists not to report on national security matters that could endanger the country. Mr Abbott said news that "endangers the security of our country frankly shouldn't be fit to print".

"I'd ask for a sense of responsibility, a sense of national interest, as well as simply commercial interest," he said.


Stopping farmers from farming leads to bloodshed

This is ultimately traceable to Greenie-inspired land use restrictions

An elderly man accused of murdering an Environment and Heritage officer near Moree in north-western NSW has been refused bail.

Ian Robert Turnbull, 79, appeared in Moree Local Court on Wednesday charged with murdering father-of-two Glendon Turner, 51, of Tamworth, on Tuesday.

The court was told Mr Turnbull fired a number of shots at Mr Turner before a bullet struck the victim in the back, fatally injuring him.

Mr Turner had been serving a notice about 5.40pm on Tuesday near Talga Lane at Croppa Creek, relating to an inspection of a property after reports of illegal land clearing in the area.

His family said on Wednesday they would miss him greatly. Mr Turner, who was born near Port Macquarie, was married and had two children - Alexandra, 10, and Jack, 9.

"His passing comes at a time when his dreams of the farm and family, which he had planned and lovingly built together with Alison, were coming to fruition," a statement from the family said.

"Glen was an accomplished pianist, a gourmet enthusiast and cook, and appreciated a fine wine ... He always gravitated to the outdoor life and particularly loved taking his kids to the beach, whenever he returned to Port Macquarie - as well as enjoying his quiet time at home with the family and working together with Alison on their property."

Moree Plains Shire mayor Katrina Humphries said frustration over environmental issues around the Moree area had been so great in recent years that she had feared that it would erupt in violence, but that it "shouldn't get to this".

During the bail hearing, the court heard Mr Turnbull had been in a long running dispute with the Office of Environment and Heritage over illegal land clearing in the Croppa Creek area.

He was charged with illegally clearing native vegetation between November 2011 and January 2012 and pleaded guilty in the Land and Environment Court.

The prosecutor, the Director-General of the Office of Environment and Heritage, said Mr Turnbull used a bulldozer to clear 421 hectares of the property called "Colorado", owned by his son Grant Wesley Turnbull, and 73 hectares of the adjacent property, called "Strathdoon", owned by his grandson Corey Ian Turnbull.

After contracts were exchanged but before the sales settled, Mr Turnbull and another unnamed man felled 2708 trees on Colorado and 694 trees on Strathdoon. Trees were pushed over and formed into piles and set alight. The family then raked out the ash heaps, ploughed the cleared land, applied herbicides to kill any emerging vegetation and sowed commercial crops of wheat and barley.

Mr Turnbull, who was arrested late on Tuesday night, appeared distraught and emotional when he was led into the dock on Wednesday.

Magistrate Darryl Pearce said there was an unacceptable risk that could not be mitigated by proposed bail conditions and the serious nature of the allegations meant imprisonment would be likely if Mr Turnbull was convicted.

Mr Turnbull will remain in custody until the case returns to court on August 5.


Strippers, brothels and 'skimpies' still part of doing business in Australia… and costing firms 'millions' in compensation payouts

A lawyer battling sexual harassment in the workplace has revealed how strippers and brothels have cost Australian companies millions.

Executives are being forced to cough up cash to female employees after using seedy corporate entertainment in scenes like something out of The Wolf Of Wall Street, lawyer Michael Harmer revealed.

Female employees are suing bosses for having to endure a culture where harassment and discrimination is commonplace.

Mr Harmer, known in court as The Undertaker, has blasted the employers he has so far bought cases against.

He claimed companies have paid from $1million to $3.5million in out of court settlements in sexual harassment cases to keep their reputations intact.

Harmer, who is responsible for bringing the largest sex discrimination claim in Australian history - Christina Rich v Pricewaterhouse-Coopers - said he 'objects' to the crude practices used in the legal, accounting, finance and property industries.

‘Where alcohol and the degradation of women is used as entertainment, you can get an overstepping of the mark by either other employees or clients,’ he told the Financial Review.

In the interview he described how he’d heard of a global chairman charging brothels to his corporate credit card.

In the landmark Christina Rich v Pricewaterhouse-Coopers case, Ms Rich received an out of court settlement in 2008 believed to be worth about $5million to $6million, plus legal costs, from the firm that she said was blighted with a 'boys' club' culture of harassment.

PwC has always denied the claims.

Mr Harmer's colleague Joydeep Hor, former managing partner of Harmers Workplace Lawyers, said at the time that many such cases were never revealed in public.

'It's a shame the public, the employers don't see the case,' he said. 'Most of my clients are employers - they don't appreciate the significance of these issues until they have been burnt.'

Harmers Workplace Lawyers, which supplies psychological help for its clients, also previously acted for Kristy Fraser-Kirk.

The 25-year-old woman’s sexual harassment complaint against David Jones chief executive Mark McInnes triggered his shock resignation and a confession of ‘unbecoming’ conduct.

Her $37 million lawsuit against David Jones, its McInnes and nine directors of the retailer was settled for $850,000, including a 'smaller' contribution from Mr McInnes.

Meanwhile, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick told the Financial Review how she had been contacted by concerned women who worked in the mining industry.

They were scheduled to attend the annual ‘Diggers and Dealers’ conference where a delegation of mining and exploration companies, brokers, bankers, gather in the unofficial gold capital of Australia, Kalgoorlie, WA.

In 2013 a West Australian mayor said mining towns across the state are trying to distance themselves from their association with topless barmaids.

However, he spoke to the ABC in the same week that a WA pub was fined after a 'skimpy' barmaid appeared completely naked.

In the Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, penny stockbrokers in the 1980s and 1990s are seen binging on women.

There is an orgy scene on the trading floor, amongst other outrageous incidents.


30 July, 2014

Flood insurance premiums slashed by up to 90% as levees relieve high cost of cover

QUEENSLAND householders are receiving hefty price cuts on insurance premiums as the rebuilding program following the Summer of Disaster helps protect towns from floods.

Suncorp is the latest insurer to declare premium reductions of up to 90 per cent in Roma as a 5km earthen wall ringing the town nears completion.

Suncorp Personal Insurance chief executive Mark Milliner believes Australia could learn a lesson from Queensland’s approach to risk management.

“Communities throughout Australia could be paying less for insurance if they were better protected from natural disasters,’’ he said.

Community Recovery and Resilience Minister David Crisafulli says more than 10 communities, including Maryborough and Mundubbera will soon also have flood levees.

Mr Crisafulli, who has been monitoring insurance premiums to ensure cost is reduced along with risk, said the levee program was just one example of the LNP Government’s practical approach to the multi-billion dollar rebuilding program following the 2010/11 floods and cyclone.

“This vindicates the position the Government took in ensuring Queensland communities are better protected when the next floods arrive,’’ Mr Crisafulli said.

Mr Milliner said Roma residents protected by the levee could now be paying around $1000 a year for flood insurance – a reduction on average of about 45 per cent.

But in extreme cases, a typical $400,000 homeowner in Roma could see insurance premiums reduced by up to 90 per cent – a decrease of up to $7000 a year.

Mr Milliner said the Maranoa Regional Council and Mayor Rob Loughnan had made a sensible decision to invest in flood mitigation.

“Suncorp promised that if disaster risk levels came down, so would the price of insurance, and we honour that commitment,’’ Mr Milliner said.

The completion of the levee means up to 90 per cent of Roma properties are considered to have no flood risk.

Further west, St George’s levee program completed this year has resulted in an average 15 per cent drop in premiums.

Mr Crisafulli said the Roma project was a great example of work he hoped to see replicated around the state in the next 12 months.

The Roma levee, expected to finish next month, runs from north of the Roma airport, crosses the Carnarvon Highway to traverse the eastern side of the town ending above Lovell St.

The levee will cost about $16 million with the bulk of funding coming from state programs such as Royalties for the Regions and Local Government Grants and Subsidies.


Giant Galilee coal mine gets Canberra nod

The federal government has approved a giant Queensland coalmine that it says will generate as much as $300 billion for the economy, but which environmental groups say will contribute to a “carbon bomb” and risk causing significant damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Monday said that he had approved the Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin and its associated rail link to the coast with “the absolute strictest” environmental conditions.

The 36 conditions, which include offsets of about 30,000 hectares for habitat destroyed, water returns for the Great Artesian Basin and $1 million for further research in protecting threatened species, will ensure the mine owner, India’s Adani, “meets the highest environmental standards”, Mr Hunt said in a media statement.

At full capacity, the Carmichael mine would produce as much as 60 million tonnes of coal a year, with a “resource value of $5 billion per annum over 60 years”, the statement said.

Apart from the boost to the local economy to the tune of 3920 jobs for operations and 2475 during construction, the mine will also “provide electricity for up to 100 million people in India”, Mr Hunt said.

Environmental groups including Greenpeace, though, warn the mine’s output would generate almost 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide when burnt each year, or equal to about a quarter of Australia’s current annual emissions.

Billionaire MP Clive Palmer also owns two Galilee coal reserves that may produce as much as 80 million tonnes of coal a year if those mines get developed. Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart also holds a minority stake with India’s GVK in mines with a similar annual capacity.

“History will look back on the Abbott Government’s decision today as an act of climate criminality,” said Greens Senator Larissa Waters, the party’s environment spokeswoman.

“The proponent, Indian-owned Adani, is in financial dire straits and has already faced complaints about breaches of environmental laws in its home country

“There’s no guarantee Adani will be able to pay for the environmental conditions attached to the approval and with the Abbott and Newman governments slashing environment department staff, there’s no capacity to enforce them."

'Coffin' for the Reef

The mine, if it proceeds, would also increase the number of ships entering the Great Barrier Reef by about 450 a year, according to Felicity Wishart, a spokeswoman for the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

“This is yet another nail in the coffin for the Great Barrier Reef,” said Ms Wishart, adding that Carmichael and other proposed coal mines and gas plants in the region would likely increase the number of ships entering the reef area from about 4000 a year to 7000 by 2020.

Paul Oosting, campaigns director at social organising group GetUp!, said the approval was an “outrageous decision”.

“GetUp! will fight tooth and nail to make sure it will never occur,” Mr Oosting said. He said campaigns had succeeded in discouraging the involvement of banks such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays and RBS in the Abbot Point coal export terminal that will link to Carmichael.

The government should also have taken greater account of Adani’s “proven and documented track record of bribery, corruption and environmental degradation” in India, Mr Oosting said.

Water watch

One of the government’s conditions is that the mine will return a minimum of 730 megalitres of water to the Great Artesian Basin every year for five years.

However, Lock the Gate’s Central Queensland spokeswoman, Ellie Smith, said the mine would do “great damage to ground and surface water systems and the communities that depend on them”.

“Environment Minister Greg Hunt has ignored his own panel of top water scientists and is putting the Great Artesian Basin at further risk by allowing mine dewatering to drain the Basin,” Ms Smith said.

Adani has said the Carmichael mine would extract as much as 12.5 gigalitres of water every year, Lock the Gate noted.

Market hurdle

Getting government approval may be easier than winning over markets that have soured on coal, with prices of the commodity dropping about 50 per cent over the past five years.

Concerns about over-supply as nations such as Russia, Indonesia and Mongolia join Australia in preparing to ramp-up production have lately been complemented by signs that global action on climate change will see carbon costs imposed on coal to curb its usage.

South Korea, for instance, this month slapped a coal tax of about $18 per tonne of coal and will introduce a broad carbon price from 2015. Neighbouring China, easily the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, has also unveiled plans for a national carbon emissions market and may aim to curb coal consumption within coming years.

Tim Buckley, a former Citibank analyst and now a director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said the environmental approval itself was no surprise.

“I never expected [Mr] Hunt to go against Premier [Campbell] Newman nor Prime Minister [Tony] Abbott's desire to promote foreign firms trying to sustain Australia's coal industry,” Mr Buckley said.

“Ironically, should the Galilee proceed, it will actually accelerate the longer-term destruction of our coal export industry by dramatically expanding the capital invested, whilst at the same time taking coal prices globally down another 10-20 per cent.”

Adani, though, said it was standing by its longstanding guidance that the first coal from the mine will be produced in 2017

"The Carmichael mine, together with North Galilee Basin Rail and Abbot Point, will be an enduring provider of more than 10.000 jobs, ongoing partnerships with our small and medium business suppliers, and long-term export opportunities for Queensland," an Adani spokesman said.

"All commodity prices are by their nature subject to volatility," the spokesman said. "Having said that, Adani is an integrated mining, infrastructure and power company that is both the miner, infrastructure owner and operator, and eventual customer for the cost efficient and high quality coal exported from our Carmichael mine."


Hard sugar: Australian job seekers must search for 40 jobs each month and do 25 hours' community work to keep the dole

Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker [Rather fittingly, that surname means "hard sugar" in Dutch] says there is no reason why all eligible Australians shouldn't be looking for work

Jobless Australians will be forced into working more for their welfare payments under tough new Government measures designed to get the nation's unemployed back to work.

As part of a crackdown on Australia's jobless, The Federal Government will introduce the $5.1 billion job placement scheme from July 1 next year which will make it mandatory for all Australians under 50, unless they are working part time or undertaking approved training, to look for work.

Australians under 30 will be required to do the heaviest lifting in order to keep their dole payments.

Those in the youngest working age bracket will be asked to work a minimum of 25 hours community service a week and apply for at least 40 jobs a month.

Australians aged between 30 and 49 will be required to contribute 15 hours of weekly community service and those 50-60 will need to do 15 hours a week of an approved activity.

Those older than 60 will not have to do an approved activity but are encouraged to volunteer if they opt to work for the dole.

Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker said it was 'most important that jobseekers look for work.' 'A job seeker's primary responsibility is searching for that all important job,' he said.

Most of the new arrangements will be put in place without introducing new legislation, however some elements of the $5.1 billion package will require new laws.

Mr Hartsuyker said he will negotiate with Government cross benchers to ensure that the package is implemented 'for the benefit of job seekers and employers and to improve employment outcomes for people looking for work.'

'Work for the dole has the ability to impart on job seekers the important skills to assist them in the workforce.'

Many employers, he said, are telling him job applicants are 'presenting at the gates to their business' without adequate skills. 'Simple skills such as turning up on time, being appropriately presented, being able to get on with work mates ... work for the dole has the ability to impart those very skills.'

He said the new measures are the least the taxpayer expected of those on welfare.

As part of the reforms, all job seekers will be encouraged to look outside of their immediate area for work and take advantage of funding that supports moving to take up a new job.

Job service providers, such as Mission Australia, Sarina Russo and Ingenues, will be rewarded for getting people into short-term work for periods of four, 12 and 26 weeks.

In essence, the scheme aims to cut red tape and reward job providers for finding unemployed people work.

Changes to wage subsidies will also be included in the overhaul of the welfare system and will be expanded for mature age workers, and extended to young job seekers under 30 and the long-term unemployed.

Wage subsidies are payments made to employers to help cover the costs of wages and training in the first few months of employment of a person experiencing barriers to employment.

Labor accused the Government of tearing apart the principles of the mutual obligation system.

The new arrangements it claims will mean jobseekers under 30 will receive no welfare for six months but still be required to door knock for jobs.

'They will not receive a cent, even if they look for work each day, each week, for six months,' Opposition Employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor told ABC radio.

'Yet now they're having to keep their side of the bargain.'

Mr O'Connor supported the idea of removing red tape for job service providers, but only if it was done properly in consultation with industry.


Is it a space noodle? Is it dental floss? No, it's the $3.5 million planned public artwork being ridiculed on social media

Locals are mocking a $3.5 million sculpture set to be erected in the Sydney CBD, comparing the 50-metre artwork to dental floss, a rubber band and Mr Burns from The Simpsons.

City of Sydney Council today unveiled plans to install an 'elegant cloud-shaped arch' above George Street in front of Sydney's Town Hall.

The council will spend $9.3 million on the Cloud Arch, designed by Tokyo-based artist Junya Ishigami, and other works including a giant fibreglass milk crate to be installed near Central Station a set of 60 bronze bird sculptures which will be perched around the Kent Street underpass.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the artworks would help transform George Street, which is also set to get a light rail and a pedestrianised boulevard.

'We're delighted to announce such an exciting group of artworks by some of the world's leading artists,' she said. 'I have no doubt they will become iconic landmarks of our city for today and future generations.'

But Twitter users were more sceptical, especially of the Cloud Arch, dubbing it the #spacenoodle and comparing the curvy steel sculpture to Jessica Rabbit, dental floss and a rubber band.

Others noticed out a likeness to Mr Burns as an alien in the Simpsons, and a giant car yard balloon.

But some people on social media were quick to point out that other Australian capital cities have been given much stranger public artworks in the past, such as Canberra's Skywhale or Adelaide's pig and giant ball sculptures.

The Cloud Arch sculpture will be built with steel plates to rise diagonally across from the Queen Victoria Building to the Woolworths building.

In his artist's statement, Mr Ishigami said the Cloud Arch embodied Sydney's new 'Green, Global and Connected' characteristics and would evoke 'comfort, openness and freedom'.


29 July, 2014

Slippery Peter caught

Former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper has been found guilty of acting dishonestly in using taxpayer-funded Cabcharge vouchers to pay for trips to Canberra region wineries.

Commonwealth prosecutors spent a four-day court hearing last week attempting to prove Slipper dishonestly used almost $1000 worth of government-issued vouchers for trips to regional wineries on three dates in 2010.

Slipper pleaded not guilty to all three charges and the hearing followed three failed attempts in the past eight months to have the charges dismissed.

He was found guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday, and is due to be sentenced on September 22.

Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker found Slipper had acted dishonestly when he used the vouchers to pay for the three trips, and that he had knowingly caused a risk of loss to the Commonwealth.

Ms Walker said Slipper was travelling outside his travel entitlements, and knew he was doing so, during the three trips.

She said Slipper had intentionally filled in the dockets with false information, including using general terms such as "suburbs" to describe his pick up and drop off locations, to conceal the fact he was not on parliamentary business.

Ms Walker said the vouchers Slipper filled out did not did not "realistically reflect" the journeys he took on any of the trips.

She said to use the term "suburbs" to describe trips to the regional wineries was "implausible" and there was no reason not to use a more specific term.

Slipper had his head bowed during the appearance and did not react when the decision was handed down. He did not speak to waiting media as he left the court.

During the trial, the court heard the former Queensland MP used the vouchers to pay for three hire car trips to the wineries between January and June in 2010.

Slipper's defence lawyer, Kylie Weston-Scheuber, told the court it needed to determine whether there was any evidence Slipper had knowingly caused a risk of loss to the Commonwealth, or had acted dishonestly on any of the occasions.

Slipper travelled to six prestigious wineries on the trips, including Clonakilla, Poachers Pantry, Doonkuna Winery, Yass Valley Wines, Shaw Estate Vineyard and Gallagher Wines, the court heard.

On two of the occasions he was accompanied by former political staffer Tim Knapp, and on the third trip he was accompanied by his wife and former staffer, Inge Jane-Hall.

In his closing submission, counsel for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Lionel Robberds, QC, argued Slipper had entered false information and used multiple vouchers to make it appear the trips were for parliamentary business.

Mr Robberds said Slipper had filled in the dockets for the trips with false details of the destination and amounts paid, and had broken up the trips in "quite unrealistic" ways.

"He was acting in a personal capacity, he was having a good time on these trips, which had nothing to do with parliamentary business."

Slipper had filled the dockets in using general terms such as "suburbs", even though the wineries were outside of Canberra, Mr Robberds said.

In her closing submission last week, Dr Weston-Scheuber said prosecutors had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Slipper was not on parliamentary business when he visited the wineries.

Dr Weston-Scheuber said the court had no clear definition of what constituted parliamentary business to guide it.

She said the court needed to look at Slipper's Cabcharge voucher use in a broader context.

He was "simply following his usual practice" when he used multiple dockets to pay for trips and filled them out with general descriptions of his pick-up and drop-off destinations, she argued.

The hearing followed three failed bids to have the charges permanently stayed and dropped, including one attempt last month on mental health grounds.


Scott Morrison claims asylum seekers brought to mainland Australia are economic migrants

The 157 asylum seekers brought to Western Australia are economic migrants, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has claimed.

After spending weeks detained on the Customs ship Ocean Protector, the 157 people were transferred by plane to the Curtin detention centre on Sunday night. They will now have their identities checked by Indian officials.

Minister Morrison defended the government's intention to return the asylum seekers to India, telling ABC radio that if people could not be taken to India "what is next? New Zealand?"

"These people have come from the safe country of India ... a passage here is nothing more than an economic migration seeking to illegally enter Australia," Minister Morrison told ABC radio.

"The suggestion that people who have left a safe country are somehow fleeing persecution, I think, is absurd."

Mr Morrison called India a "vibrant democracy" that has received praise from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for its support of Sri Lankan refugees. Most of the 157 are understood to be Tamils who fled Sri Lanka during, and after, the country's decades-long civil war.

The decision to transfer the asylum seekers to Australian soil pre-empts the outcome of a High Court challenge to their detention at sea.

A court hearing is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

For the four weeks they were held at sea, the asylum seekers were kept in windowless rooms for 21 hours a day with only three hours outside. Families were separated and they didn't have access to translators.

Mr Morrison did not say what would happen to the asylum seekers if they were not accepted by India. After talks with Australia, the Indian government has only committed to accepting the asylum seekers that are Indian citizens. They have agreed to consider the non-citizen Indian residents.

"It's a fundamental principle of refugee law that no one, no person, should be made to deal with the authority of the country from which they have fled," said the Refugee and Immigration Law Centre's David Manne.

Minister Morrison says that India's processing of these people is "something for any government to do, who is the host government who is determining their citizenship or residency and it's not for Australia to do that".


Greenhouse follies must end

THE carbon tax may have gone, but the players have not moved on. For the Greens, its resurrection is only a matter of time. Labor, ever reluctant to face realities, pretends to maintain the rage, much as it did with the GST. Meanwhile, the lessons of the fiasco, and its implications for the Abbott government, are ignored.

At the heart of those lessons is a simple fact: the electorate is unwilling to bear crippling costs for the purely hypothetical benefits of decarbonisation. Despite all their apocalyptic rhetoric, the climate change advocates cannot secure and sustain popular support for the taxes needed if large-scale reductions in emissions are to occur.

Yet Labor’s scheme was based on a carbon tax that rose ever higher, with the government’s modelling envisaging an increase from an initial $23 to $60 (at today’s prices) by 2030. Moreover, that increase was vital if the scheme was to achieve its goal of reducing emissions to 80 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050.

Steeply climbing carbon taxes might have been acceptable had they been part of a credible international agreement. But with support for costly climate change policies as brittle overseas as it has proven to be here, there was never much prospect of such an agreement being reached. And there was even less prospect of a concerted global effort to impose carbon taxes rising to the levels Labor’s scheme expected.

Labor was therefore trapped between its promises to the Greens and political realities. Already at the time of the tax’s introduction, a Morgan Poll found that over 60 per cent of Australians agreed that “the carbon tax will have no significant impact on reducing the total worldwide volume of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere”, while an even greater majority thought the tax should not rise any further.

Little wonder the Gillard government quickly descended into a tangle of half-truths, untruths and contradictions. Promising salvation without sacrifice, its rhetoric of “you won’t feel a thing” implied the “greatest moral challenge of our time” could be tackled without discernible pain. But even the government’s own analysis showed each tonne of abatement the scheme achieved reduced Australia’s GDP by $48, several times the headline tax rate, for a cumulative cost to 2020 of nearly $35 billion.

With claim after claim coming apart, Labor’s backsliding began almost as soon as the scheme had taken effect. Less than two months into its operation, the government announced that there would not be a price floor after 2015-16; instead, there would be direct linking with the EU cap and trade scheme. Seemingly untroubled by the inconsistency, Greg Combet, who only weeks earlier had justified a floor price on the basis that it was needed to “reduce the risk (to investors) of sharp downward price movements”, now claimed abolishing it, and linking to the extremely volatile EU scheme, would provide “investors with long-term certainty”.

But with public hostility to the scheme mounting, those were merely harbingers of a torrent of absurdities. The direct linking, for example, should have slashed projected carbon prices to the very low levels prevailing in futures markets in the EU. But so as to reduce Labor’s deficit, Wayne Swan’s last budget envisaged carbon prices rising rapidly after 2015-16, and going even higher in 2019-20 than originally fore­shadowed.

The farce reached its peak with Kevin Rudd’s decision to scuttle the tax and move immediately to an emissions trading scheme. Like the character in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, whose proposal is “only a notion” but who hopes for the chance “to make it into a concept and later into an idea”, Rudd’s new scheme was scant on details; and even murkier was the magic by which the low carbon prices Rudd touted would achieve his ambitious emissions reductions pledges.

All that may seem behind us; but the harm done to Australia’s international competitiveness is not. And with the Renewable Energy Target still in place, our electricity prices, which have soared far above those in other countries with abundant resources of coal and gas, will remain much higher than they can and should be.

Nor are the costs of the RET likely to decline. On the contrary, modelling by ACIL-Allen finds that over the period to 2040, it will increase the costs of electricity generation by nearly $13bn; and accompanying those costs are massive transfers to the renewables sector, with estimates by Deloitte Access suggesting each $1 in additional renewables investment the RET stimulates is bought at the price of nearly $2 in payments to producers.

Perpetuating those policies is not only economically irrational; it also lends credibility to the carbon tax. After all, if the RET is legitimate, despite the distortions it imposes, why not consider an emissions trading scheme as a less distorting alternative? How can the Coalition, having conceded the goal, simply rule out a particular instrument?

But it is not the instrument that is flawed; it is the goal that makes no sense. What conceivable purpose is served by policies which have no effect whatsoever on global emissions but damage our prosperity? And were dangerous climate change indeed in prospect, how could making us poorer facilitate the adjustments Australia will have to undertake?

Tony Abbott understands all that. But he needs to say it: for as Enoch Powell put it in admonishing the British Tories’ endless lip-service to ill-conceived economic policies, “it is impossible to go on behaving sensibly while constantly talking nonsense”. And having said it, Abbott must start cleaning out the Augean stable of climate change follies, beginning with the RET. If the carbon tax has been repealed it is because voters know those policies are less than useless. The longer it takes the Coalition to catch up with that repeal’s lessons, the greater the risk of squandering the opportunity it creates.


Long Bay guards dished out jailhouse justice to ‘smart-arse’ rapist Bilal Skaf and ‘scumbag’ paedophile Dennis Ferguson

THE notorious paedophile walked in. He was a man who needed no introduction; his heinous crimes had been splashed in print and had headlined the 6pm news. He winked at the guard who awaited his arrival.

Knowing full well of the crimes this new inmate, Dennis Ferguson, had committed, the guard fumed. ‘You are a f***ing scumbag,’ he shouted straight into the criminal’s face. ‘And you will be treated as one.’


‘I smashed him,’ said the guard, now retired. ‘The heap of shit fell to the floor telling me that I didn’t understand “this beautiful love”. Ferguson was a f***ing monster and I do not regret doing what I did. Not one bit. But I was lucky to get away with it because it happened a long time ago. There’s no way a guard today could do it.’

Or could they?

The guard stormed down the landing and snarled at the gang rapist through the locked cell.

‘Clean that f***ing shit off now,’ he screamed. Bilal Skaf puffed out his chest, grinning. ‘F**k off,’ he said. ‘Or I’ll rape your wife too.’

The guard pulled the key from his belt, opened the door and calmly walked towards the inmate. He looked at the wall he had been called to inspect before locking eyes with the skinny smart-arse.

‘I rape prison’s officer’s wives,’ read Skaf’s graffiti, which was scrawled in black texta across the wall.

‘Piece of s**t,’ the guard said, standing over the smiling criminal’s face.

‘What are you going to do?’ Skaf shouted back. ‘Nothing. That’s what!’

The guard smiled. Then — Whack!

First came the heavy right. Crack!

And then the left. Splat!

The guard picked up the 22-year-old and threw him into the concrete wall.

‘Then I grabbed his head,’ recounted the guard. ‘And I used his face to clean off the texta.’

Bilal Skaf did not enjoy his Long Bay stay. First he was bashed. ‘I gave him a real good touch up when he came in,’ said the guard.

‘Skaf was nothing and he had only just arrived. Someone asked me to give him a hand with this rapist bloke who was playing up. I went in there and saw this really little bloke with a big mouth.

It was Skaf, and he was standing there, all pumped up, looking at me, with the graffiti on the wall behind him. I towelled him up and wiped the wall down with his face. He had no remorse whatsoever for the crime he’d committed. He never said sorry for anything he did in jail either. He was quite happy to cop a hiding, and that’s exactly what he got.’

Next, Skaf learned his Lebanese brothers would not protect him. He was now alone.

‘He thought he was going to be some sort of Lebanese hero,’ said another guard. ‘That he’d become part of their gang and be sweet. But Michael Kanaan [a Lebanese Australian triple murderer. Kanaan is serving three life sentences, plus 50 years with no possibility of parole] had put the word out for him to be bashed. The Lebanese hated Skaf as much as anyone because he’d tarnished their whole race and made innocent Lebanese people targets because of his disgusting crimes.’

Skaf was jailed for 55 years after being convicted on 21 counts of aggravated rape, assault and kidnapping. In 2000, he’d led 14 Lebanese Australian Muslims on a series of gang rape attacks on Australian women. One of their victims was raped 25 times at Bankstown, in an attack that lasted six hours. It’s alleged she was called an ‘Aussie pig’ and told she’d be raped ‘Lebanese style’.

‘What this trial showed was that he was the leader of the pack, a liar, a bully, a coward, callous and mean,’ said Judge Michael Finnane in his sentencing remarks of Bilal Skaf. ‘The worst of all offenders who conducted himself as if the proceeding were a joke.’

Skaf began his sentence, which was later reduced to a maximum of 28 years on appeal, in Long Bay. He was placed in protection in 2 Wing after receiving death threats from fellow inmates.

‘He would be in his cell, crying every night,’ said an inmate. ‘My mate did the plumbing in that wing, because the shitters were blocked up all the time. He’d go in there and unblock them, and I would carry his tools for him. I would walk past Skaf’s cell and he’d be crying.

He thought he was a tough c**t when he went in — he believed all the Lebos were under the impression he was a legend because of what he’d done to the Aussie girls, but they hated the c**t. They wanted to kill him as much as anyone else, maybe more. He drove me mad with his crying, and I’d scream at him, calling him a little girl. He was just a little punk. A nothing.’

His mother was barred from visiting him for two years in 2002 after she was caught on video attempting to smuggle out a letter to his then fiancee.

Skaf’s only ally in Long Bay was his brother Mahmoud, a member of his rapist gang.

‘I probably had more dealings with Mahmoud,’ said a guard who currently works at Long Bay. ‘He was a vicious little shit. I worked in the hospital before it became the Medical Training Centre. Any maximum-security prisoner who needed medical treatment was moved in there. That’s where I had plenty of dealings with Mahmoud. He had a mouth like his brother, but he was nothing too. They both ended up in protection because everyone wanted them dead.’

Skaf did not back down despite the bashings and the death threats. He claimed that he started a gang while in jail called W2K — Willing To Kill — and threatened to shoot court officers and prison guards. He drew pictures depicting rape and sent white powder that looked like anthrax to prison boss Ron Woodham.

But Skaf also sobbed in his cell and attempted to commit suicide.

His Long Bay horror ended when he was transferred to Goulburn Supermax after prison authorities said three prisoners were plotting to inject him with a needle containing HIV/AIDS drawn from an infected prisoner.

‘That might have been bulls**t,’ said a guard, disputing the claim. ‘I think the politicians just made it up because they wanted an excuse to send him to Supermax. I worked in his wing and didn’t hear of any such plot, neither did the other guards. Regardless, he was a piece of shit and we were happy to see him leave.’

Another guard revealed a few protections have had near misses while being locked away in Long Bay Jail.

‘There have been some very close calls,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen several that have been stopped at the last moment. I jumped on a bloke just after he slashed a dog’s [informer's] eye. He would’ve been killed if we hadn’t got to him in time.’

The same guard witnessed three men murder an alleged dog while working at Silverwater Jail.

‘I was in the MRRC (Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre) when they killed Johnny Tram. He was a DOG and they killed him over the John Newman assassination. They stabbed him 27 times, with industrial scissors, in front of everybody.

He was in there, doing his work, and these three Asian guys just walked up to him and started stabbing. The officer grabbed him, but the attackers didn’t stop. It was brutal. He died on the spot. As soon as I heard about it, I rushed in to help. I saw the last one go through and watched Tram die.

I believe we had some information on the Newman murder and that’s what got him killed. They’d put a hit out on him and got him. He was sewing linen sheets at the time. It was the worst thing I have ever seen in all my years working in jails.’

Former prisoner Abo Henry said a paedophile was brutally bashed while in Long Bay.

‘There was a bloke who did 16 years for raping and killing a kid,’ Henry said. ‘He had a couple of weeks to go. He said he wanted to get out from the main jail and finish his time in protection. He was warned against it, but he thought he’d be sweet after 16 years. He thought that no one would know him. Anyway, they found him in the weights room with his head caved in. A mate of Neddy Smith’s was the main suspect, but he beat the charge.’

Four sex offenders and one dog were murdered in Australian prisons between 1980—1998.

‘The general prison population f***ing hated the protections,’ said an inmate. ‘If they got hold of them, they’d kill them. Now and then there would be a little bit of a slip-up and they would grab one. Say, one of them had been on protection for a while and they thought the circumstances had sorted themselves out.’

In that period, Long Bay recorded the second highest number of prison homicides in Australia with five men killed while in custody.


28 July, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is having another shot at PUP

What the RBA really said about renting versus buying

A Reserve Bank Research Discussion Paper on whether Australian housing is over-valued attracted considerable media attention. The bottom-line was that Australian housing is currently fairly valued, but that the average household might be better off renting now if, 'as many observers have suggested,' future real house price growth is less than the historical annual average rate of around 2.5% since 1955.

As it turns out, the 'many observers' actually referenced in the paper are the Reserve Bank itself, which makes one wonder whether the paper's conclusion is part of its broader jaw-boning effort directed at talking down expectations for future house price appreciation.

In fact, the Reserve Bank's paper makes an excellent case for being indifferent between renting or buying before the fact. The Bank makes use of the 'user-cost' approach, which focuses on the cost of occupying or renting a dwelling. This is in contrast to other widely cited but flawed measures of housing affordability that focus on the cost of acquiring rather than occupying a dwelling.

The user-cost of owner-occupation and renting should be equal in the long-run, because people can always substitute between the two if one becomes relatively more expensive.

The Reserve Bank shows that this has been true for Australia historically based on matched data for house prices and rents. In the short-run, there can be significant deviations from this long-run relationship. In principle, one could profitably substitute between owner-occupation and renting based on these deviations. But this is made difficult by the very high transaction costs associated with buying/selling and moving. It is these transaction costs that explain the short-run deviations in the first place, because they prevent a rapid adjustment to changes in the relative cost of owner-occupation and renting.

There will always be periods of time for which it is possible to show that, after the fact, a household might have been better off renting or buying. But before the fact, there is no reason to favour one over the other. We should be indifferent between renting and buying, especially at long time horizons.

A reduction in the transaction costs associated with buying and selling, for example, the abolition of stamp duty, would shorten this time horizon and bring the costs of renting and buying into an even closer relationship.

The bottom-line is, don't sweat on the rent-buy decision


Australian teachers face significant classroom challenges

In 2008, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development conducted a survey of teachers, asking them about their working conditions and the learning environment in their schools.

The survey, called the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), is to be repeated every five years. The results of the 2013 survey, with 34 participating countries including Australia, were released recently.

Among other things, it reveals that Australian teachers have some of the most challenging working conditions among participating countries, and far more challenging circumstances than countries with which Australia competes in international tests such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The following statistics apply to lower secondary teachers (usually years 7 to 10):

33% of Australian teachers work in schools where for more than one in ten students the language of instruction is not their first language. The average for participating countries is 21%, and the averages for high-performing PISA countries Korea, Japan and Finland are between 0% and 9%.

26% of Australian teachers work in schools where more than one in three students is from a socioeconomically disadvantaged home. The average for participating countries is 19%, and the averages for high-performing PISA countries Korea, Singapore, Japan and Finland are between 3% and 8%.

66% of Australian teachers work in schools where students frequently arrive late. The average for participating countries is 52%.

59% of Australian teachers work in schools where students are frequently absent. The average for participating countries is 39%.

25% of teachers work in schools where students frequently intimidate and verbally abuse school staff. The average for participating countries is 3.4%.

These statistics reveal the different context within which teachers in different countries must work, requiring caution when making cross-country comparisons. They confirm the need for teachers to be well-prepared for these challenges with rigorous and comprehensive teacher education. According to the TALIS report, Australian teachers are among the most highly-educated in terms of completion of tertiary educational qualifications, but the content of the courses is not as strong as it might be.

In addition, the TALIS statistics on the working conditions of teachers are a reminder of the need for school management at all levels to support teachers to deal effectively and early with disciplinary issues, both for the sake of teachers themselves and other students.


Greens blast work for dole for jobseekers

The Greens has condemned plans by the federal government to force all jobseekers to work for the dole, saying there's nothing to prove it's effective.

Greens family and community spokeswoman Rachel Siewert says in a statement today the tough new rules fail to address barriers to employment such as lack of available jobs and training or discrimination.

Ms Siewert says the announcement is all about punishing people and that it's nonsense to say people have to apply for at least a job a day if jobs aren't available.

Almost all jobseekers will be required to work for the dole under tough new federal government rules expanding the scheme.

The government is making it mandatory for jobseekers aged 18 to 49 to work for their welfare payments from July 1, 2015.

Those aged 18 to 30 will be required to work 25 hours per week while people aged 31 to 49 will have to work 15 hours.

Those over 50 will have the option of participating in the program.

The new rules will ensure jobseekers are actively looking for work, Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker says.

"It also allows jobseekers to give something back to the taxpayers and community that supports them," he told AAP in a statement on Sunday.

Work for the dole currently applies to jobseekers aged up to 30, who have been out of work for a year, in 18 locations of high unemployment around the country.

They have to work 15 hours per week for six months to receive welfare payments.

The expanded scheme is part of a new employment services model to be announced by Mr Hartsuyker and Employment Minister Eric Abetz on Monday.

While some aspects will come under legislation, it's understood the new work for the dole rules could still be implemented if the Senate rejects them.


NSW ALP disowns its corruptocrats

SEVEN of Labor’s most notorious former members — including Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Ian Macdonald — have received life bans in a symbolic move aimed at regaining the public’s trust in the beleaguered party.

Ordinary members will also have a say in choosing the party’s NSW leader to remove power from the factional bosses as part of the reforms adopted at today’s NSW ALP State Conference.

However, a proposal by party elder Senator John Faulkner to amend the rules to allow party members to also directly elect upper house candidates in NSW and federally was voted down with even some members of his own Left faction opposing the move.

In a passionate debate held at Sydney Town Hall largely focused on pointing fingers at who led the party into decline, Left faction leaders attacked the Right for allowing the party to be infiltrated by “greed and self-interest”.

NSW ALP assistant general secretary John Graham, who had had backed the Faulkner amendment, launched a scathing attack on his Right factional opponents for being more focused on themselves than a vision for the party.

“Right now, party members simply feel that power in the Labor Party is in the hands of too few people,” he said.

“At times, I’ve felt like a member of that other totalitarian party — the Chinese Communist Party.

“It’s generals launching crackdown after crackdown on corruption, while failing to acknowledge that central insight of democracy — that power corrupts.”

Senator Faulkner blamed the existing system which allowed the factional bosses to choose the upper house candidates for elevating “corrupt individuals” such as Mr Obeid, Mr Macdonald and former Labor minister Tony Kelly.

While acknowledging his bid to clean up the party would be “slaughtered”, he implored the party faithful to adopt his change to ensure the “mistakes of the past” would not be repeated.

“Obeid, Macdonald and Kelly were preselected by the current system over and over again,” Mr Faulkner said.

“It is our responsibility to change that system that not only indicted them on our party, but the people of NSW.

“We bear responsibility not only for the actions of those corrupt individuals, but for elevating them to such high office. It’s time we take steps that it never never happens again.

“The truth is, those with power will never give it up.”

NSW ALP general secretary Jamie Clements, who opposed the Faulkner reforms, admitted the past few years had been difficult but said the move to allow members to have a say in the parliamentary leader from March next year was a significant step towards democratising the party.

“NSW Labor had to change and we did,” he said. “We have undertaken root and branch reform.”

Both factions supported the largely symbolic move to impose life bans on seven former members, which also included former Health Service Union chiefs Craig Thomson and Michael Williamson and Mr Tripodi’s former aid Ann Wills.


27 July, 2014

NSW Labor Party adopts pro-Palestinian stance

A FUTURE Labor government may consult like-minded nations about recognising a Palestinian state, after the NSW branch of the party voted to adopt a motion critical of Israeli settlements.

THE draft resolution, moved by former foreign minister Bob Carr, was passed without debate at the NSW Labor conference in Sydney's Town Hall on Saturday.

"NSW Labor welcomes the decision of the Palestinian Authority to commit to a demilitarised Palestine with the presence of international peacekeepers, including US forces," the amendment said.

"If, however there is no progress to a two-state solution, and Israel continues to build and expand settlements, a future Labor government will consult like-minded nations towards recognition of the Palestinian state."

The amendment also applauded the previous Labor government for opposing Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and for branding the settlements illegal under international law.

"NSW Labor recognises a Middle East peace will only be won with the establishment of a Palestinian state," the amendment said.

"The state of Palestine should be based on 1976 borders with agreed land swaps and with security guarantees for itself and Israel."

As foreign minister, Mr Carr rolled then prime minister Julia Gillard and pushed for Australia to abstain, instead of oppose, a vote that augmented Palestinian status at the United Nations.

Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten is expected to address the conference on Sunday.


New university rankings out

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) publishes the only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions.

CWUR uses eight objective and robust indicators to rank the world's top 1000 universities:

1) Quality of Education, measured by the number of a university's alumni who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals relative to the university's size [25%]
2) Alumni Employment, measured by the number of a university's alumni who currently hold CEO positions at the world's top companies relative to the university's size [25%]
3) Quality of Faculty, measured by the number of academics who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals [25%]
4) Publications, measured by the number of research papers appearing in reputable journals [5%]
5) Influence, measured by the number of research papers appearing in highly-influential journals [5%]
6) Citations, measured by the number of highly-cited research papers [5%]
7) Broad Impact, measured by the university's h-Index [5%]
8) Patents, measured by the number of international patent filings [5%]

The top 5 this time are unsurprising:

1 Harvard University
2 Stanford University
3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4 University of Cambridge
5 University of Oxford

The rankings in the top 100 were overwhelmingly dominated by U.S. universities. There were 4 other UK universities in the top 100 and only two Australian universities: The two oldest, University of Sydney and University of Melbourne. I hold a large document issued to me by the first of those


Tony Abbott cuts asylum deal with India

AUSTRALIA has offered more help to India to disrupt people-smuggling from its shores and to fight transnational crime, after the “generous offer” to consider taking back most of the 157 ­asylum-seekers who have been detained at sea for a month.

Fending off claims of policy failure on “stopping the boats”, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott have declared none of the 157 who left India by boat to seek asylum in Australia would be allowed to ­settle here. “Don’t get on a boat to come ­illegally to Australia,” the Prime Minister said yesterday. “Because even if you get here, you won’t stay here. You will not become a permanent resident of Australia.’’

Mr Morrison said: “The message from this voyage to people-smugglers is Australia and India are engaged together to stop you and the full suite of measures that are available to the Abbott government remain and will be deployed.

“In the last seven months there has not been a single successful people-smuggling venture to ­Australia and this remains the case even for the venture that remains at sea.”

About 17,000 asylum-seekers arrived on about 200 boats in the corresponding period last year, under the previous Labor government.

Labor and the Greens said the Coalition’s border-protection policies were not working.

Labor’s acting immigration spokeswoman, Michelle Rowland, said: “What we saw today was an admission from Scott Morrison that he has lost control of his ­portfolio.”

“A few weeks ago, Scott Morrison refused to even confirm these 157 people existed. His border-­protection policy is in a complete shambles — his job is now being done by the High Court.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Morrison was a “spectacular failure” and that the issue was making Australia an international disgrace.

The decision to move the people from the Customs vessel at sea to the mothballed Curtin detention centre on the mainland was taken to allow Indian consular officials in Canberra to conduct face-to-face interviews.

The Australian government considered providing access by phone and video link to avoid bringing the asylum-seekers to the mainland, and even considered taking the Indian officials to sea.

Mr Morrison said the Indian offer was generous and followed discussions between ministers, ­including a 72-hour flying visit to New Delhi by Mr Morrison to meet India’s powerful Home ­Affairs Minister, Rajnath Singh.

The 157 mostly Tamils left India’s southern coastal city of Pondicherry last month.

They were intercepted in international waters and taken aboard an Australian Customs vessel.

Human rights groups have challenged the government’s ­actions in the High Court as the people were detained at sea while the government negotiated with India about taking them back.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul welcomed Mr Morrison’s announcement, but said it would act as a “serious blow” to Operation Sovereign Borders and challenged government claims the asylum-seekers would not be able to make legal claims once on the mainland.

Mr Rintoul said it was highly likely the asylum-seekers would be entitled to settle in Australia, though he remained concerned about the visas that would be ­issued.

Although the Indian government has agreed to consider taking back all Indian residents and some who aren’t, it is possible a handful — who are not Tamils — will face being returned to Sri Lanka.

Indian High Commissioner Biren Nanda last night told The Weekend Australian he was preparing a team of consular officials to interview the asylum-seekers and it was Indian practice not to use video links.

“The first step is we have to go and interview them and collect information about them and then we have to send the information to Delhi, which will make a determination about their exact status,” Mr Nanda said.

The Australian government decided it was too dangerous and would take too long to send Indian officials to the ship. It was decided it was easier to reopen the Curtin detention centre instead of sending the 157 to the still-crowded Christmas Island or to the more distant Nauru or Manus.

As part of the co-operation talks, Mr Morrison has written to Mr Singh offering to increase Australia’s help, such as intelligence sharing, to India in disrupting ­people-smuggling ventures as well as establishing a permanent group to work more closely on transnational crime including narcotics and people-smuggling.

Mr Abbott is considering a visit to India in September for talks with new Prime Minister Narendra Modi that will include people-smuggling, but also India’s push to expand its nuclear energy generation and uranium imports from Australia.

In announcing the decision to transfer the people to the mainland, Mr Morrison said the government had never claimed to have “stopped the boats” and that it required permanent vigilance to deter people smugglers.

“It is the policy of the government … to prevent the illegal entry of vessels to Australia and their passengers,” he said. “This is the best way to ensure that no one is ever resettled in Australia who seeks to come to Australia by that method. Our policy of denying the illegal entry of vessels and their passengers to Australia is first achieved through co-operation with our regional partners — which includes the government of India — to disrupt ventures before they depart.

“In cases where a venture may depart, the government has a series of highly effective measures available to it to deny the vessel and persons onboard entry to Australia. During the same period of time last year … more than 17,000 people arrived on more than 200 such ventures.”

News of the group’s imminent transfer to the mainland will come as a relief to families awaiting word of those who left India’s Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camps last month.

A Chennai-based advocacy group for the 60,000-strong community of camp dwellers in southern India, the Organisation for Eeelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), said it feared the move would only presage a new and more protracted phase of limbo.


Gifted students vie for a seat in popular OC classes

If your watch gained two minutes every hour and you set it to the correct time at 7am, what time would it show at 1.30pm?

It was questions like this that nine-year-old Gabriella Moussa found “pretty easy” in her opportunity class (OC) placement test on Wednesday morning.

The McCallums Hill Public School student was one of more than 10,000 year 4 students across the state vying for a spot in the specialty classes for academically gifted children in years 5 and 6.

The students attempted 70 multiple choice questions over 60 minutes – less than one minute per question – meaning a successful candidate would probably know by now that the time on the watch would be 1.43pm.

“I got to the end but I had to quickly rush the last few questions,” Gabriella, who sat the test at Kingsgrove North High School, said. “I feel like I did well.”

With fewer than 1800 positions available across 75 schools, only one in five applicants will be chosen.

The classes, designed to nurture the state’s brightest students, are highly sought after, with many parents viewing them as a stepping stone to selective high schools. While they do not act as formal feeder schools, a high proportion of students do transition to selective high schools.

The Education Department stresses it does not endorse intensive tutoring for the test but many coaching colleges in Sydney offer group classes and private tuition specifically tailored to the OC exam.

Gabriella had a quick look at some sample questions on Tuesday night but her mother Claudia Moussa wanted the experience to be as stress-free as possible.

“She hasn’t done multiple choice before, so I explained that to her and told her to read things twice and not worry too much,” she said. “But she had no real practice. I only want her to get in if she’s naturally going to get in. I wouldn’t push her.”

Mrs Moussa's two preferences were Greenacre and Hurstville public schools, both about five kilometres from her daughter’s school. “If she got in, it would be a big decision but it would definitely be up to her,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, many of the primary schools that record the highest NAPLAN results are those with OC classes.

As a result, they are also among the largest and fastest-growing schools in the state. Artarmon Public School has swelled from 753 students in 2010 to almost 1000 this year and Chatswood jumped from 710 to 928 over the same period.

Matthew Pearce Public School at Baulkham Hills, consistently one of the top academic performers, is the largest primary school in NSW with 1184 students this year, up from 875 in 2010.


25 July, 2014

New Australian private university in Adelaide

As a peak body committed to expanding choice, equitable treatment of students and recognition of the contribution private providers make in the higher education sector, the Council of Private Higher Education (COPHE) congratulates Torrens University Australia, on its official opening today.

“Torrens is an excellent example of how opening the door to a wider range of provider types increases diversity and opportunity for Australian students,” COPHE CEO Adrian McComb said after attending the opening. “An international corporation such as Laureate International Universities establishing a new university in Australia is a solid vote of confidence in our higher education sector.”

Laureate International Universities, operates the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS) in Sydney and Leura, and THINK Education - a group of eight colleges across the Eastern seaboard. What distinguish these and other niche institutions are impressive jobs-ready graduates, strong industry support and outstanding employment outcomes.

At BMIHMS campuses, which are focused on hospitality education, there is already evidence of the type of high quality global educational experience that Torrens is offering to its on-campus students in Adelaide and on-line cohort across Australia, the Asia-Pacific and further afield. In 2011, Guy Bentley, Chief Executive Officer of the BMIHMS was presented with a Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award at the Accommodation Association of Australia’s National Accommodation Industry Awards for Excellence. This indicates the top quality that such providers can attain.

Torrens’ broad range of programs in the university environment can extend this experience to more students and build even more links with employers.

Most of the growth worldwide in higher education over the last decade was in private for-profit institutions. In the US, Laureate has been held up as a positive example of making educational opportunities available to all students. Australian students can now benefit as Torrens draws input from a wide international network on how to best meet an individual's needs.

Although many of the partnerships established by our public universities in achieving their objectives are with for-profit entities, in areas such as pathways for overseas students, this is a significant step. Just as Australians depend on the contribution of for-profit hospitals in our health system, over time, higher education could reach its potential in the same way. Such private investment in higher education, especially as our government is encouraging the Australian higher education sector to aim to be one of the best in the world, is to be welcomed.

As we look to a more diverse range of higher education provider types which take us beyond the dominance of the research-intensive university model in Australia, it is appreciated that there are going to be challenging times for the existing institutions. Institutions, such as Torrens University Australia, help enhance equity, expand choice for students and deliver more diversity in types of institutions. Students will ultimately be the beneficiaries.

Via email

Grappling with the truth behind the great Labor lie

Mark Latham

It’s the great Labor lie. A dazzling piece of sophistry designed to deflect from the true purpose of party reform.

It was reproduced in these pages on Monday when NSW Labor Secretary Jamie Clements argued against Senator John Faulkner’s proposals for democratising the selection of upper house candidates.

Clements insisted that ''more than 350,000 affiliated union members in NSW need to have some say in the selection of our candidates – we don’t want a white-collar-only upper house''.

He was supporting the present system of Labor preselection, the model that gave us Eddie Obeid, Tony Kelly and Ian Macdonald. It operates as a factional oligarchy, whereby right- and left-wing union secretaries control voting blocs at the State Party Conference, giving them the numbers to select upper house candidates (for the NSW Legislative Council and Federal Senate).

In practice, the ''350,000 affiliated union members in NSW'' have no say in this process. A few of them go to State Conference as union delegates, but once there, they vote as a bloc under the instruction of union secretaries. Anyone displaying signs of independence is automatically black-balled from future conferences.

These highly-disciplined union numbers are the backbone of the party’s factional system. They put Mr Clements in his position and keep him there, as long as he doesn’t challenge the authority of the union secretaries. Clements has argued for the status quo not because it’s the best system for Labor, but because it’s the best system for union-sponsored powerbrokers like him.

The case for change is self-evident: during the term of the last state Labor government, the party’s union/factional hierarchy preselected and protected a group of corrupt Legislative Council members. It didn’t generate a blue- or white-collar upper house, it created striped-collar Labor representation – as in the collars worn by criminals.

How did this happen? By its nature, tight factional control gives powerbrokers the feeling they can get away with anything inside the party. Once in government, it’s only a small extra step to carry this ethos of invincibility into ministerial decision-making.

Having run the NSW Right, Obeid thought he could run the NSW government for private financial gain. In this project, he co-opted the assistance of the long-time secretary of the NSW Left, Macdonald – an example of cross-factional corruption.

Instead of arguing for the status quo, Clements and the union secretaries should be apologising for it. They should be repentant about the self-serving excesses of the factional model and acknowledge the need for democratisation.

The underlying weakness in their position is this: the only people in NSW who would think the existing system works well are Clements and the union secretaries. While they have the numbers to prevail in the short term, they lack the legitimacy and strength of argument to prop up their position indefinitely.

Yes, they have the power to hand-pick more Obeids and Macdonalds for the upper house, more union officials, more dopey apparatchiks, more yes-men and women, but that doesn’t make it right. Change will come eventually and when it does, history will pass harsh judgement on Clements and his fellow factional warlords.

Faulkner’s reform plan, to be put to State Conference this weekend, is to allow ALP branch members to select the party’s upper house tickets. Having given rank-and-file members a say in the selection of Labor’s federal and state leaders, why shouldn’t they be empowered to preselect upper house candidates? Why doesn’t Clements trust the True Believers who staff the polling booths, who keep their local branches alive, who fight so passionately for the cause of Labor?

Far from restricting rank-and-file union involvement, democratisation encourages it. It says to union members: don’t allow union secretaries doubling up as factional bosses to make all the big decisions. Join your local ALP branch and have a direct say in how the party is run: in picking federal and state leaders, in selecting Labor’s lower and upper house candidates.

This is what Faulkner is trying to achieve: Labor as a membership-based party, rather than a narrow factional-based clique.


Kissing cousins and a Beirut bonus: arranged marriage will be investigated over alleged fly-in welfare fraud

Muslims, if I mistake not

TWO first cousins in an arranged­ marriage are being investigated for immigration and Centrelink fraud and rorting the baby bonus by returning to Australia from Lebanon for the births of some of their seven children.

The woman, 33, told the Federal Circuit Court sitting in Parramatta her husband also had her return several times to Australia solely to update Centrelink­ details so she could continue to get social security.

The family was receiving Family Tax benefits that in the last financial year totalled $25,265.74, despite three of their children having lived in Lebanon since 2009, Judge Joe Harman said.

“On at least two occasions (the mother) returned to Australia for a brief period purely to allow the child then carried by (her) to be born in Australia and to then receive the baby bonus then operating,” the judge said.

The case was before the court because the Australian-born mother is applying for the return of her three eldest children, aged 12, 10 and nine, from Lebanon and custody of all seven children.

The others are aged seven, five, three and two. The eldest live with their father’s brother and paternal grandmother in a mountain village.

The now-estranged couple wed in Lebanon in 2001 two weeks after meeting in an ­arranged marriage. They ­returned to Australia and lived for a time with their relatives — the woman’s sister is married to the man’s brother.

There would appear to be, at least potentially, some anomaly as regards the eligibility requirements for citizenship at the time the application was made

The husband, 39, was ­granted citizenship in 2006 in circumstances which Judge Harman said troubled him since the couple had ­decided to live in Lebanon.

“It is concerning (the man’s) evidence is his citizenship was granted in 2006 at the very time when, consistent with his evidence, he had formed the desire and intention to live permanently in Lebanon and to return to Australia … solely for the purpose of earning a greater income than was available to him in Lebanon, and returning the funds to Lebanon,” the judge said.

“There would appear to be, at least potentially, some anomaly as regards the eligibility requirements for citizenship at the time the application was made ... (and) whether it was obtained on the basis of full, frank and candid disclosure or otherwise.”

He said he would refer the case to the Immigration and Human Services departments for investigation.

The woman, who alleged her husband was violent ­toward her, was met at the airport by the Australian Federal Police when the pair returned to Australia in March.

The judge refused the father permission to leave Australia and put him on the Airport Watch List until he has facilitated the return to Australia of the eldest children.


Must not criticize judges

Supreme Court of NSW Acting Justice Nicholas has made a finding that I am in contempt of court for the crime of journalism and also for making a complaint of criminal conduct about Justice Ian Harrison. I made the complaint via email to Chief Justice Bathurst, the then Attorney-General Greg Smith and Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus and others. According to Justice Nicholas’s judgement if you make a complaint about a crime you yourself could be committing a crime and in this matter I am guilty says Nicholas.

I have seen many dodgy judgements and plenty of judicial corruption but this one takes the cake for its absolute stupidity. I have written to Premier Mike Baird and the Attorney-General Hazzard and said:

“As all judges know given the 2004 High Court precedent of Coleman v Power no laws can stop people exercising their constitutionally protected rights to political communication. This is not just an attack on political communication but an attack of free speech as a whole.”

The key part of the judgement is at section (1) (3) where it in effect says that I am in contempt of court because of: “an email to the Chief Justice of New South Wales and other persons.


Kerry Stokes sued me for defamation in April which is still afoot and went to court Ex parte (without my knowledge) and had Justice Harrison put a suppression order on it so I could not tell anyone that I was being sued. I wrote an email of complaint to the Chief Justice, A-G and police etc as it was very dodgy which I was right because the suppression order lasted only two days.

Justice Harrison said he put the suppression order on to protect my reputation. Stokes lawyers argued that a suppression order was needed because I had previously disobeyed an instruction by Stokes in 2011 not to publish a threatening letter from his lawyers. Either way a suppression order was not justified.

I also did a post on this site letting people know I was being sued and sent a tweet on Twitter on the same day but they are covered by Qualified Privilege (your right to political communication) as well. That is the crime of journalism so Stokes says. The email is clearly political communication as it is complaining about judicial corruption and was sent to the Chief Justice, Attorney-General, federal police and the Office of the legal Services Commissioner who investigate complaints against lawyers.

I took the action I did because it was clearly dodgy what was happening. Ex parte hearings (only one party is in court with the knowledge of the other party) are only meant to happen in extreme situations and suppression orders are pretty much the same. Stokes or his lawyers or the court has ever been able to justify what happened. So given I write about judicial corruption I thought it might be a set-up of some sort and I wanted people to know what was happening in case something went wrong and I never got another chance. In hindsight I did the right thing as I have no doubt that Justice Harrison would have corruptly extended the suppression order otherwise. Stokes’s barrister Sandy Dawson were arguing for the suppression order to be extended permanently.

Judgement of Acting Justice Nicholas

Justice Nicholas lied all over the place in the judgement and ignored the submissions I put forward in regards to Coleman v Power. For example he said at paragraph 15: “The defendant did not file and serve any evidence as directed, and adduced no admissible evidence at the hearing.” That’s a lie as I filed 2 affidavits but is doesn’t matter what evidence I filed as there was a clear precedent that supported my case and that was Colemen v Power. For a list of some of the dodgy things that Nicholas did during the hearing read my post from last week. (Click here to read)

Justice Nicholas knew what he was doing because he was one the barristers in the 2004 High Court precedent Lange v ABC which set what is known as the Lange test which in effect makes laws invalid if they are an unconstitutional restriction on political communication. It is one of the precedents that Coleman v Power relies on. A suppression order stopping me from sending an email complaining about the suppression order to the relevant authorities clearly is political communication and makes the suppression order invalid in that situation. The courts do not like this fact because they love their suppression orders to cover-up what they do.


24 July, 2014

Anti-Islam party to contest next Federal election

AN anti-Islam party based on the hardline views of Dutch politician Geert Wilders plans to field candidates at the next federal election, raising fears among moderate Muslims of a rise in extremism.

Mr Wilders, an influential far-right figure expected to shape the results of this year's European elections, told followers in a video message that the Australian Liberty Alliance was being formed to "offer civil minded Australians fresh political vision and better policies".

Policies advocated by Wilders' Party for Freedom include deporting immigrants convicted of a crime and stopping all immigration from Islamic countries.

"Many of you are disappointed by current political parties and have had enough of politicians who sell our Western civilisation," Mr Wilders said in his video. "Like you, good people in Europe, America, Canada have had enough of politicians who don't share our values and foolishly declare all cultures are equal, and who lack the courage to speak the truth and say that Islam is the biggest threat to freedom today."

Australian Liberty Alliance was registered as a not-for-profit business last month by Debbie Robinson, the president of the Q Society, an anti-Islam think tank that was responsible for bringing Mr Wilders to Australia last year. The party will be headquartered in Western Australia and is expected to be launched by Mr Wilders early next year. It is yet to be registered as a political party with the Australian Electoral Commission.

Ms Robinson said she intended to stand as a candidate.

Islamic Friendship Association of Australia spokesman Keysar Trad urged Muslims to ignore the fledgling party, warning it would "galvanise hardliners" on both sides of the debate.

"The extremists within our community love to see something like this," Mr Trad said. "All this does is create further division."

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said despite Australia's implied constitutional protection of political speech, any party had a responsibility not to "inflame prejudice".

"Australia had Hansonism and saw it for its shallowness and flaws, and I think people will see exactly the same thing with Wilders," Mr Wilson said.

Q Society spokesman Andrew Horwood said the party would have no formal relationship with either the Q Society or Mr Wilders.

He said the party would be secular, conservative and campaign openly against Islam. "Australia is a different country to The Netherlands but we will be absolutely fearless in saying we don't believe Islam is good for this country," Mr Horwood said.



Shoppers were thrown into chaos when Kazem Payam, an Iranian asylum seeker sought revenge against a fellow Iranian national at Westfield Parramatta last Tuesday plunging a knife into Nabil Naser’s chest. Apparently there was a long running dispute between both Muslim men who agreed to meet at the shopping centre to resolve their differences however Kazem bought a knife at the centre which was used in the murder of Nabil.

Graphic scenes were met with screams from dismayed onlookers to intervene as Kazem kept plunging the knife into his victim’s chest. After the victim fell to the ground, the accused calmly removed his shirt, lit a cigarette and made a phone call as he waited for the Police to arrive. When the Police arrived, Kazem taunted them saying, “What are you scared of?”

It has been reported in the media that Neda Esmaeili, girlfriend of Kazem Payam and former partner of Nabil Naser were all involved in a bitter love triangle that has ended in murder.

Kazem was an illegal that arrived in Australia by boat in 2009. He was granted a protection visa by the then Labor government in 2010. From 2007 to 2013 over 50,000 illegal boat people breached our shores seeking the keys to Centrelink. These asylum seekers who arrived by boat are a crime and welfare ridden demographic with over 85% of asylum seekers still on welfare after 5 years of residence in Australia.

Kazem joins a long list of Afghan, Iranian, Sudanese and Tamil asylum seekers or refugees charged with a range of offences, including people smuggling, paedophilia, rape and murder in Australia. There are currently 21 Muslim men who are incarcerated for terrorism or related charges posing a huge and growing threat to our national security.

Last year, a failed Sudanese asylum seeker went on a murderous rampage on a bus in Norway killing two Norwegians and one Swede. This random act of hate and murder was seen as retribution for Norway Immigration Department’s decision not to grant the Sudanese asylum seeker refuge.

Western governments including Australia have a moral duty to protect our citizens from third worlders but this is not happening with current humanitarian programs. Again, the Australian public are the ones who have to pick up the pieces of a policy that has only brought misery, division and chaos to our shores. This is just another example stating some of the obvious problems third world asylum seekers bring to Australia.

It is long overdue for our government to round up the existing asylum seekers in ‘Labor-Green’s community detention’ and deport them immediately to safeguard citizens from possible acts of violence, rape, murder and terrorism.


Survey of city teens highlights 'concerning' Australian urban-rural divide?

Key findings:

* 77 per cent of city teenagers know little or nothing about farming and food production.
* 17 per cent never been on a farm; overall two-thirds visited a farm less than three times in their life.
* 68 per cent don’t know, or know only a little, about how food gets from farm to plate.
* More than 90 per cent, however, perceive farming and food production as very important to Australia.
* Careers in agriculture rate lower than many other occupations.

A new survey of city teenagers has further highlighted Australia’s ‘urban-rural divide’, finding 77 per cent of those surveyed know only ‘a little’ or ‘nothing at all’ about farming and food production.

The research – commissioned by agricultural banking specialist Rabobank – has also revealed 17 per cent of urban teenagers surveyed have never been on a farm, while a further 50 per cent have only been to a farm three or less times in their life.

However, most still perceived farming and food production as extremely or very important to the nation.

Conducted by House of Brand, the Rabobank Farm Experience Urban Youth Research surveyed 600 students aged 15 to 18, from major Australian capital cities –including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth – and currently attending government and non-government schools.

Rabobank Australia and New Zealand head of Sustainable Business Development Marc Oostdijk says the research showed a “concerning knowledge gap” among Australian youth when it comes to agriculture and food production.

Mr Oostdijk says Rabobank had conducted the research as the bank, and its farming clients, had a genuine concern that the next generation of Australians may not understand or appreciate the role of agriculture in the nation’s economy and future.

“It is also important to help bridge this disconnect between city and rural communities in order to attract young people to work in agriculture and become part of securing the sector’s future,” Mr Oostdijk says.

“The very limited exposure many young people in Australian cities have to farming and where their food and agricultural produce comes from was clearly identified in this research, with the survey showing two thirds of city teenagers have had very limited direct farm access, and some none at all.”

Paddock to plate

Almost 20 per cent of teenagers in the survey says they “don’t really know anything” about “how food gets from the farm to my plate”, while 49 per cent knew only “a little”.

Mr Oostdijk says while there was generally low awareness of the food production process among the teenagers, it was more acute once produce and ingredients had left the farm.

“When it comes to what happens to the ingredients and produce once they leave the farm, 28 per cent of respondents says they know nothing about this and 47 per cent says they only know ‘a little bit’,” he says.

A third of the teenagers did not know how food ingredients and produce were packaged and got to the supermarket, while 45 per cent knew only a little about this.

In terms of farm activity, 20 per cent did not know what farmers needed to do to grow ingredients and produce, while 49 per cent says they only had a little understanding. However, 27 per cent knew “quite a bit” about this and three per cent a “great deal”.

Mr Oostdijk says there was little difference in the overall knowledge levels among government and non-government students.

However, knowledge and understanding of farming and food production was considerably higher among the students who had spent more time on farms, he says.

“Those who had visited farms five or more times in their lives reported being considerably more knowledgeable about food production,” he says.

Perception of agriculture

Mr Oostdijk says that while the survey showed there were considerable knowledge gaps in relation to agriculture, it was encouraging that most urban teenagers surveyed perceived farming and food production as extremely or very important to Australia.

Sixty per cent believed farming was “extremely important” to Australia and 39 per cent says the impact would be “significant” if there was no farming in Australia.

“Pleasingly 93 per cent had positive associations with farming, primarily around the themes of fresh food and agriculture being good for the local economy,” Mr Oostdijk says.

“Negative associations were around issues like drought, low pay and animal management issues.”

The survey found one in five of the city teenagers was “extremely” or “very” interested in finding out more about agriculture, while a further two in five was “somewhat interested”.

“Encouragingly, those more knowledgeable about farming were still more interested in finding out more about the industry; however those who hadn’t visited a farm were less interested,” Mr Oostdijk says.

Career prospects

Careers in agriculture rated lower than many other professions among the students surveyed.

Medicine and business were rated highest (by 24 per cent and 19 per cent respectively) in terms of career choice. Seven per cent of respondents expressed interest in a career in agriculture.

Mr Oostdijk says the Rabobank Farm Experience Urban Youth Research was the first in a number of initiatives Rabobank was undertaking to help address bridging the ‘urban-rural divide. A Farm Experience (FX) program, giving urban teenagers the chance to spend a week on a farm, living with a farming family and learning about life on the land and food production, will be piloted in Australia next month.

“Working with the next generation of Australians, educating and involving them in the agricultural industry is a great place to start,” he says.

The Rabobank Farm Experience is to be piloted in two states, with students from Western Sydney aged between 15 and 18, being hosted in the Western Riverina district in New South Wales, and students from Perth being hosted by farmers in the Geraldton and Narrogin areas in the Western Australian wheatbelt.


Aussie kids on top of the world at International Olympiad in Informatics

Mostly Han Chinese, I'm guessing, though Ishraq Huda sounds Indian

Our team brings home two Gold and two Silver medals with Australia's 1st perfect score and 1st and 5th place in the world for computer programming.?

Australia’s four-member secondary school student team achieved our best ever result at the 2014 International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) held in Taipei, Chinese Taipei, from 13 to 20 July. The top performer in the Australian team was 16-year-old Ishraq Huda, who was one of only three in the world to attain a perfect score, Australia’s first IOI perfect score and best individual ranking result.

Ishraq shared first place with students from China and the United States. Ishraq won a bronze medal in 2013 on his first attempt.

First-time team member, Oliver Fisher, solved 5 out of 6 questions perfectly and also won Gold. Oliver ranked 5th which made Australia the only country in the world to have two students in the top five.

Competing against more than 311 contestants from over 82 countries, the 2014 Australian team brings home 2 gold and 2 silver medals, compared to 3 Silver and 1 Bronze last year.

Countries represented in the top ten include Australia, China, United States, Russian Federation and Bulgaria. This is Australia’s highest ranking since Australia commenced participating in 1999.

Informatics is the science of computer programming and information processing, requiring mathematics skills and creative solving. Hosted by a different country each year, the IOI is part of the UNESCO-sanctioned International Science and Mathematics Olympiads, which are annual worldwide competitions for exceptionally talented secondary school students and represent the pinnacle of achievement in each discipline. It is the most recently established and now the second largest of the Olympiads.

The cut-off scores for a Gold medal was 449 and Silver was 323 marks.

The not-for-profit Australian Mathematics Trust, under the Trusteeship of the University of Canberra, runs the training and selection for Australia’s International Mathematical and Informatics Olympiad teams.

The first stage in selection for the Australian IOI team is the Australian Informatics Olympiad (AIO), a 3-hour annual computer programming competition held in high schools. The next AIO will be on Thursday, 4 September and is open to all high school students who can program. For more information contact the Australian Mathemetics Trust on 6201 5137.

Adjunct Professor Mike Clapper, Executive Director of the Trust, said, ‘We are extremely excited about these excellent results and where they might lead us for future participation. This is the best outcome for Australia to date’.

The Trust’s best-known activity is the annual Australian Mathematics Competition sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank which, together with other competitions, helps to identify students for participation and development in the Olympiad programs. The Mathematics and Science Olympiads are supported by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Mathematics and Science Participation Program.

The Trust also offers students the opportunity to explore whether they have an aptitude for programming through the Australian Informatics Competition (AIC), which is a non-programming competition designed to promote logical and algorithmic thinking. In 2015, the AIC will be available on-line and there will be a new division for Upper Primary students.


23 July, 2014

Double-standards let Jacqui Lambie off the hook for inappropriate 'well-hung' comments

Are you seriously serious?

Earlier today, the Palmer United senator did an interview on the Kim and Dave Show for Hobart's Heart FM.

And here, when asked about her ideal man, the single senator replied, "they must have heaps of cash and they've got to have a package between their legs".

"They don't even need to speak".

Later, when a prospective suitor called up the show, Lambie enquired if 22 year-old Jamie was "well-hung".

This induced great mirth from Kim and Dave (ratings gold!), but just imagine if a male politician had offered a similar opinion, about say, a woman needing to be "really rich and have massive boobs".

It would be a career-ending, resigning offence. Facebook groups would spring up in protest. People would make t-shirts and take to the streets in outrage.

In recent months, Tony Abbott has weathered howling storms for suggesting a Liberal candidate had sex appeal. And for winking when a talk back caller revealed she worked on a sex line.

Clive Palmer has also raised the eyebrow of disapproval for calling female journalists "madam" and "my dear".

And yet, Lambie is sure to stroll away from her Heart appearance and into her next set of public comments with nary a scratch.

Yes, they are lighting up the internet - but only for their "omigawd" value. Not because they might be construed as demeaning and well, sexist.

Of course Lambie is entitled to have financial and physical specifications for her ideal partner (lets face it, she is not alone there). And in her favour, she was not describing her ideal employee.

But here's the worry: if we are to hold male MPs - and men more broadly - to a societal standard about respect and stuff, what happens when when we let women off the hook?

Is it good enough to shrug it off with the excuse that women don't "mean it in the same way"? That men wouldn't be offended?

In the end, the whole set up is undermined.

The other doozy with Lambie is that you can't imagine another female MP making the comments she made either.

They are the kind of thing you might hear between girlfriends having a giggle on a hens night. Not in a radio interview with an elected member of Parliament.

In Australia we don't want our politicians to be stuffy, but there is an expectation that they will maintain a little decorum.

Lambie's comments were textbook crude: along with the well-hung remarks, she also joked about how a whipper snipper would be needed to tackle her bikini line.

The idea of any other female MP talking about hair removal in an interview - albeit on a commercial radio station where things tend to be more informal - is ridiculous.

Once again, the PUP senators are demonstrating that they are not beholden to the normal rules that politicians play by.

PUP leader Palmer turns up to Parliament in his luxury cars, only to skip the next day's sitting because he doesn't think it is worth being in Canberra.

He storms out of interviews and is nonplussed if questioned for changing his mind.

Similarly, Dio Wang has admitted he had "zero" interest in politics before he joined PUP and Lambie is already well known for her ah, colourful turn of phrase.

This is the same person who described Abbott as a "political psychopath".

All of this rule breaking is part of PUP's appeal. They are not like other politicians. And they're not trying to be.

Lambie joked during her radio appearance that she "should have done a runner".

My bet? Lambie will gain support, not lose it for talking of her desire for a well-hung man.

And all because it's not the standard parliamentary package


Billions spent on roads in "hideously inefficient" way

More than $20 billion a year of national road funding is being spent in a “hideously inefficient” manner, according to a leaked assessment by Australia’s independent infrastructure umpire.

The Infrastructure Australia report, obtained by Fairfax Media, has also delivered a scathing critique of “monopoly” state-run road entities such as VicRoads, claiming a culture of resisting reform has led to a situation in which political leaders are held “captive” to demands for more funding.

“The unhealthy focus of road agencies appears set on ‘getting, controlling and spending’ more taxpayer money, rather than questioning efficiency or value to the motorist and governments,” the report says.

The report, "Spend more, waste more, Australia's roads in 2014: moving beyond gambling," was sent to industry experts on Tuesday for comment. But, just hours after it was circulated, Infrastructure Australia’s acting coordinator John Fitzgerald ordered its withdrawal.

Mr Fitzgerald said the report had been emailed “in error” by a consultant. He said it had been withdrawn because he had not read it, nor had it been properly considered by the Infrastructure Australia council or the federal government.

“While I’m still here, I value good processes to ensure that publications from Infrastructure Australia are of the highest quality,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

The report, which claimed Australia has a “gambler’s addiction to roads”, said national road spending is now outstripping revenue raised through road-related taxes and charges, warning “Australia’s thirst for roads” would come at the expense of other services as the gap continues to widen. In the four years to June 30, 2012, road spending outstripped road revenue by $4.5 billion.

“Given that current governments at all levels display an appetite for much greater road spending in future, this trend should give rise to urgent questions of efficiency about how road funds are raised and allocated,” the report said.

It suggested there was little consideration of whether Australia’s demands for new roads should be satisfied, and argued that rail funding had missed out as a result.

“The current Australian system assumes that roads are an answer to most transport problems and seeks more and more funding to that end, with little consideration of alternatives that most other developed parts of the world enjoy, such as significant heavy intercontinental rail networks and dominant heavy mass transit systems."

It suggested a better approach would be to increase private-sector investment in roads.

“These efforts should bypass road agencies, which in most observed cases, will only suffocate or over-complicate such opportunities if given carriage of them.”

The report said since Infrastructure Australia was set up in 2008 to provide independent advice on infrastructure projects, it has received more than 1000 proposals, mostly for road projects.

“They were almost universally poor, in that they lacked any cost-benefit rigour whatsoever,” it said. “The real problem is that road agencies and other road project proponents in industry and the community spend next to no effort examining what problems their projects and plans are trying to solve, other than the perceived problem that they do not have enough road funding.”

The report raises interesting questions for the federal government, which has a road-focused approach to infrastructure funding. During the 2013 election campaign, Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared that the Commonwealth should “stick to its knitting” and focus on funding roads rather than urban rail.

The Napthine government too has been criticised for failing to submit a robust benefit-cost analysis for its East-West Link to Infrastructure Australia. But, with about $27 billion of transport projects announced in the May budget, it has also been keen to involve the private sector.

The report was also critical of the federal government’s efforts to predict increases in road traffic, claiming urban congestion had consistently been overstated as a result.

In Melbourne, the government had predicted a 27 per cent jump in road vehicle kilometres travelled in the decade to 2011-12. In reality, vehicle use had increased by just 15 per cent, it said.


Call for paid childcare for 'qualified' grandparents: productivity commission

Nannies and grandparents could be paid by the government to look after children if they get TAFE qualifications under a proposal to overhaul the nation’s convoluted childcare system.

The bewildering array of childcare subsidies should be replaced with a single, means-tested payment that would go directly to the parents' choice of provider, according to a draft report by the Productivity Commission.

Those on a family income of $60,000 or less would get 90 per cent of the cost of childcare covered and the payment would taper so that families on $300,000 or more would get 30 per cent.

Nannies, grandparents and anyone else willing could join workers at childcare centres and family day care in being eligible for government payments if they had at least a Certificate III in early childhood education, the report says.

The quality of care being offered would be scrutinised by the national auditor, with providers subject to targeted and random checks.

The report found that the current auditing regime was cumbersome and costly and should be rationalised.

But commissioner Wendy Craik said "there would need to to be a credible chance that someone would come round unannounced to the house to check the care being provided" for the system to be successful.

She said the proposal would see the childcare workforce increase by about 15 per cent.

The commission found many families were struggling to find flexible childcare that met their needs and that there were long waiting lists in some areas.

Parents currently have access to two main forms of government support - the childcare benefit, a means-tested payment for low-to-middle income families, and the childcare rebate, a non-means tested payment that covers up to 50 per cent of out-of-pocket costs.

The new payment would be available for children whose parents spend at least 24 hours a fortnight working, looking for work or studying. It would cover all approved services for up to 100 hours per fortnight.

Children deemed at risk of abuse or neglect and those with disabilities would have access to “top-up” payments.

The report also takes a swipe at the Abbott government's paid parental leave scheme, which seeks to pay the primary carer their wage for 26 weeks, plus superannuation, capped at an annual salary of $100,000.

This is up from the current scheme, introduced under Labor, that pays women the minimum wage for 18 weeks.

"The Commission considers that it is unclear that the proposed changes to the paid parental leave scheme . . . would bring significant additional benefits to the broader community beyond those occurring under the existing scheme," the report says.

"There may be a case, therefore, for diverting some funding from the proposed new scheme to another area of government funding, such as [early child care education and care], where more significant family benefits are likely."

Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page backed the idea of redirecting some of extra PPL money.

"Extending paid parental leave is welcome, but this has to be integrated with a quality, affordable early childhood education and care system," she said.

But Assistant Education Minister Sussan Ley said redirecting funds from PPL was "not an option".

She said that the Coalition's scheme was a different policy.

"Governments can do lots of things with reports," she told ABC Radio.

Ms Ley, however, also welcomed the release of the report, saying the current child care system was "at breaking point after child care fees skyrocketed 53 per cent during Labor's six years in office".

"We cannot continue with the Labor approach of blindly topping up child care payments on the nation's credit card combined with ineffective band-aid solutions."

But she cautioned that Tuesday's report was only a draft

"There is still much work to be done between now and the final report being handed to government in October," she said.

Ms Ley said the government would not pre-empt the final report and would consider it later in the year.

Labor's education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said that "the only thing that is certain about this review is that Tony Abbott has promised there will be no more money for child care".

"Any new support for families – like nannies and au pairs – will mean cuts to the existing child care services families rely on every day," Ms Ellis said.

"The government has already announced more than $1 billion of child care cuts. If Tony Abbott was serious about improving child care he would stop these continued attacks."

The commission found the federal government should also maintain the current funding arrangement for pre-school for four-year-olds that provides 15 hours a week. The federal government is waiting on a review before deciding the future of the current state-federal funding model to give each child 15 hours.

The number of women who work has increased in the past two decades - from 57 to 66 per cent - and the bill for childcare costs has also grown. The average out-of-pocket cost of childcare is 27 per cent of the average wage - less than in Britain, the US, New Zealand or Canada, but more than the OECD average of 17 per cent.

Other commission recommendations include that school principals be responsible for ensuring schools provide before and after school care, and removing restrictions on the number of child care places for occasional care.


ATO's 'rotten' culture revealed

The Australian Taxation Office's internal culture is so poor that its ability to do its job is in danger, according to a scathing internal report.

The frank assessment, obtained though freedom of information laws, shows an organisation hamstrung by bureaucracy, risk aversion and internal empire building and in urgent need of sweeping “reinvention”.

The report found that a third of ATO workers disagreed that a climate of trust and respect existed in their workplaces and 38 per cent of workers thought taxpayers were not dealt with in an acceptable timeframe.

ATO management said in a statement on Monday that the report was an “honest look at our culture” and a necessary step in the program of change under way at the agency.

Despite calling for sweeping changes across the organisation, the report’s authors found nearly 60 per cent of the workforce did not know what was expected of them from the ATO’s much-vaunted Vision 2020 reform package.

The ATO is undergoing major upheaval, slashing thousands of jobs in an effort to cut costs and facing public and Parliamentary scrutiny for its enforcement of tax laws and its conduct in disputes with taxpayers.

The report lays responsibility for change squarely with the agency's bosses who, it says, must take urgent action to "reinvent" an organisation with a culture so negative its very core functions are threatened.

In the report Reinventing the ATO, the internal “2020 Program Office” advises that productivity and efficiency in Tax was being hampered by excessive bureaucracy, a silo mentality, risk aversion and poor people skills.

“The ATO is not sufficiently service oriented, major improvements are needed in people skills ... there is not enough focus on measuring or reporting performance or accountability for progressing strategic change, the ATO lacks an outcomes-focused approach and there are inefficiencies and over-engineering of process, staff are disempowered,” the report authors wrote.

They also found many staff “strongly disagreed that individuals at ATO were held accountable for their performance,”

“Bureaucracy, risk aversion, cost reduction focus and [a] silo mentality all inhibit flexibility and adoptability to changes in the client experience, it also means that decisions on client cases take longer,” the report warns.

“With staff not empowered to make decisions, it is more difficult and time-consuming for clients to deal with the ATO and its processes.”

The authors concluded that much was expected from a greatly reduced workforce if lasting change was to be achieved.

“Significant cultural change is needed with organisation-wide initiatives that bring about permanent change to the way the ATO works,” the report states.

“It will take concerted effort from everyone across the ATO to break this cycle.”

An ATO spokeswoman said in a statement on Monday that the report also found 82 per cent of the agency’s public servants supported the Vision 2020 plan, even if they were unsure what they were supposed to do to achieve it.

“As part of our commitment to reinventing the ATO, earlier this year we took an honest look at our culture,” the spokeswoman said.

“It was clear from the findings that our staff overwhelmingly agreed with the 2020 mission and vision the Commissioners have set for the ATO.

“We are proud that at a time of significant workplace change, our staff continue to deliver good services to the community and government.”


22 July, 2014

Byelection disaster in Qld: Historian says Campbell Newman's hubris could see him lose his seat

Campbell Newman’s iron grip on Queensland government is now looking decidedly limp-wristed following the disastrous Stafford byelection result.

The Premier’s Liberal National Party suffered an 18.6 per cent swing in the Brisbane bayside electorate, Labor’s victory giving it a ninth MP in the Queensland Parliament.

Historian Ross Fitzgerald predicted Mr Newman would definitely lose his own seat of Ashgrove at the Queensland election, expected within 11 months.

"‘When they say the swing is on in Queensland, it goes bananas. And historically, it is most certainly is on," Professor Fitzgerald said.

"The Premier won the biggest election victory in Australian history in 2012 but he is in danger of losing government.

"And unless they find Mr Newman another seat, he will also lose his in the election. There are too many public servants in Ashgrove who haven’t taken kindly to the big staff cuts."

Professor Fitzgerald said the Queensland Liberal National Party had nobody to blame but Mr Newman for the slump in its electoral fortunes.

"The government’s been brought low by Mr Newman’s hubris. Pure and simple," he said.

"He thought because he had such a huge majority he could hurt, cut and do whatever he liked. Well, it is not panning out like that."

Mr Newman alienated large sections of the community by bullheaded legislation to bring bikie gangs under control and his high-handed appointment of Tim Carmody as Chief Justice, despite him having no Supreme Court experience.

There have been ongoing and embarrassing resignations of LNP MPs and ministers, but Mr Newman’s biggest black mark has been the reduction of 14,000 Queensland public service positions.

He promised to do so in the 2012 campaign. But in a large state where a government presence is a huge and valued component of regional life, the cuts are now starting to bite, and programs and locals are being jettisoned. Consequently, the Queensland government’s popularity has been falling for months.

The fall in the Newman government’s vote in Saturday’sbyelection followed a 17 per cent swing to Labor in the Redcliffebyelection last February.

Mr Newman scored the biggest victory in Australian electoral history in April 2012, attracting 62.8 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.

Last April, however, Newspoll found his lead over Labor had fallen to 52 per cent to 48 per cent. Earlier this month the pollster had the LNP trailing Labor 49 per cent to 51 per cent.

On Saturday night Mr Newman acknowledged some Queenslanders were not happy with his government.

"This evening I say to those people, we’ve heard you, we understand how you feel, and I pledge this evening to continue to work hard," he said.

"We will work very, very hard to take our message out to Queenslanders about the positive things we do want to happen in this state."

Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said the byelection outcome was a result of Mr Newman not listening to voters.

"This is a Premier who is taking Queensland backwards and tonight Stafford has sent him a clear message," she told supporters on Saturday night.


Rinehart mulls fresh Fairfax bid

This might break the solid Leftist line of the SMH and Age

AUSTRALIA'S richest woman Gina Rinehart appears to be mulling whether to launch a bid to seize control of Fairfax Media.

THE mining billionaire, who is Fairfax's biggest shareholder with a 15 per cent stake in the newspaper and radio group, is reportedly considering launching a full takeover bid.

A report in The Australian said Ms Rinehart had approached business associates for suggestions on who could better manage or sit on the Fairfax board in the event of a takeover.
Ms Rinehart's spokesman Jason Morrison was unable to comment on the report.

The report said the billionaire was disappointed with the performance of Fairfax, which owns the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Australian Financial Review mastheads, and was likely to call for an extraordinary general meeting to sack the board if she decided to lift her stake to 20 per cent.

But Fusion Strategy founder Steve Allen, a veteran media analyst, said it was unclear what Ms Rinehart, who also has an investment in Ten Network and is best known for her high profile in the resources industry, offered Fairfax.

"I don't know what she brings to the Fairfax board room and the Fairfax organisation that will improve things," he told AAP.
"Her entry on to the registers (of Fairfax and Ten) hasn't assisted shareholders whatsoever."

But if Ms Rinehart wanted control of the company she should follow through on a full takeover, otherwise remaining shareholders would be disadvantaged and would likely see the value of their holding fall further, Mr Allen said.

Ms Rinehart bought into Fairfax in early 2012, sparking a fight with chairman, Roger Corbett, as she criticised Fairfax's performance and demanded a place on the board. Mr Corbett refused, but did allow the appointment of Ms Rinehart's friend, Hungry Jacks founder Jack Cowin, to the board.

In the year after Ms Rinehart bought in, Fairfax's share price slumped to as low as 35 cents and it announced a $2.7 billion loss. As a result, Fairfax announced a major restructure that saw about 1,900 jobs cut, the closure of two printing facilities, changes to the format of the Herald and Age and the introduction of digital subscriptions.

The share price has since climbed back above 90 cents and Mr Allen believes Fairfax has turned a corner in its transition from a newspaper publisher to a chiefly online business.

Fairfax lifted its underlying net profit 48 per cent to $86.4 million for the first half of the 2013/14 financial year. It was one of the most traded stocks on the ASX on Monday, closing 1.5 cents higher at 92.5 cents after hitting an intra-day high of 95.5 cents.


Why is it The Greens are treated by the media as having the moral high ground?

The snobs in the Canberra press pack tend to ignore Senator John Madigan of the DLP so chances are you won't see much of this speech he gave in Parliament reported.

However, here, he raises some quite significant questions about the integrity of the Greens when it comes to what really motivates their "clean energy" commitment ..... $$$

He also joins the dots between interesting figures lingering behind the scenes of The Greens and the Palmer Party.

Senator Madigan asks a question that deserves some pondering .... why is it that The Greens are treated by the media as having the moral high ground on just about every subject?


Racial discrimination in Sydney's Chinatown?

IT’S the Shanghai shuffle, the fried price — a Mandarin restaurant in Sydney’s CBD is charging English-speaking patrons more than 10 per cent extra per dish than their Chinese-speaking counterparts.

A serving of fried rice costs $2 more on the English menu than for people who order from the Chinese menu — ­effectively a 12.7 per cent fee on English-speakers.

Yin Li Sichuan restaurant owner Diana suggested it was meant to be a secret among Asian customers. “The Chinese menu is usually just for Chinese people, they like the Sichuan flavour,” she said.

Despite both menus using the same photos and descriptions, she denied there were any discounts for Chinese-speaking guests. “Sometimes people who come a lot get discount,” she added.

The two menus are colour-coded to help waiters quickly discern between the two. The red Chinese menu sits on the top shelf, above the black English menus.

The Daily Telegraph pointed out the discrepancy in prices to a staff member at the Dixon St restaurant on Thursday night.

“The English menu is new, that’s why it’s more expensive,” she said. Both menus, however, appeared equally worn and dated.

A serving of fried rice with lettuce and beef is $17.80 on the English menu but only $15.80 for Chinese speaking customers. Mapo tofu ($16.80) and dried spicy bean ($17.80) are both $1 more if you can’t read Chinese.

The Daily Telegraph could not find any examples of cheaper dishes for English-speaking customers. The double standards have drawn the ire of the online community, with one customer labelling the restaurant “racist” in a review last year.

“Two menus — one for Chinese (cheaper) one for others (dearer),” wrote tripadvisor reviewer Stephanie. “Will never eat there again or encourage others. Racism (in) its worst form.”

Another wrote: “If you are not Chinese, do not eat here.”

It is against the law to offer goods or services at “less favourable terms or conditions” based on somebody’s race or nationality under Section 13 of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

But Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive John Hart said it was difficult to prove discrimination under the current law.

“It obviously doesn’t sit very comfortably,” he said.


21 July, 2014

The maiden speech of Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales)

A libertarian!

Thank you, Mr President. Fellow senators and Australians, last September the people of Australia chose 40 men and women to represent them here, together with the 36 elected three years earlier—just 571 Australians have been granted this high honour. We come from diverse backgrounds and occupations. Beyond this place, each of us has been tempered by the challenges of life. We have all tasted the bitterness of failure and exhilaration of success. Whatever our political alignments, that experience will have imparted in us a collective accumulation of knowledge, judgement, wisdom and instinct that should serve our country well. Indeed, we are the most representative swill ever assembled.

I also believe we are about to begin one of the most exciting periods in the life of the Senate. In the service of this mission, at the outset I declare that I am proudly what some call a 'libertarian', although I prefer the term 'classical liberal'. My undeviating political philosophy is grounded in the belief that, as expressed so clearly by John Stuart Mill:

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully ever exercised over any member of a civilised society against his will is to prevent harm to others.
I pledge to work tirelessly to convince my fellow Australians and their political representatives that our governments should forego their overgoverning, overtaxing and overriding ways. Governments should instead seek to constrain themselves to what John Locke advised so wisely more than 300 years ago—the protection of life, liberty and private property.

When I was elected nine months ago, and my party's policies became better known, there was a wave of rejoicing in certain circles. When I said I would never vote for an increase in taxes or a reduction in liberty, there were people who said there was finally going to be someone in parliament worth voting for. That was quite a compliment. What they, and I, believe in is limited government. We differ from left-wing people who want the government to control the economy but not our social lives, and from right-wing people who want the government to control our social lives but not the economy. Classical liberals support liberty across the board.

I have long thought that leaving people alone is the most reasonable position to take. I always suspected that I did not know enough to allow me to tell other people how to live their lives. But that did not arise in the background, so a bit of explanation is necessary. I never liked being told what to do, and I tend to assume others feel the same. The simple rule do not do unto others what you would rather them not do to you has always driven my thinking. At least since I reached adulthood I have also accepted responsibility for myself and expected others to do the same. Even when my choices have been poor, as they inevitably were at times, I do not recall being tempted to blame others or to consider myself a victim.

During my early years, the issues that raised my blood pressure were those of individual freedom. But for the election of the Whitlam government, I would have either served two years in jail or in the Army. I refused to register for national service. Being forced to serve in the Army, with the potential to be sent to Vietnam, was a powerful education in excessive government power.

The abortion issue was also controversial at the time. There were doctors and women being prosecuted over what were obviously difficult private choices. Backyard abortions were common. I knew some women affected and could never see how the jackboot of government improved things. I also noticed that those opposed to abortion or in favour of conscription were not interested in trying to debate their opponents; instead they sought to seize the levers of government and impose their views on everyone else.

As my family never had much money, I used to think spreading other people's money around was a good way to make life fairer. As the saying goes, 'If you're not a socialist at 20 you have no heart, but if you're still a socialist at 40 you have no brains.' By that standard I hope I have preserved a bit of both. Not long after I started full-time work as a veterinarian, I recall looking at my annual tax return and being horrified at the amount of money I had handed over to the government. When I looked for signs of value for that money, I found little to reassure me. To this day I am still looking.

Our liberty is eroded when our money is taken as taxes and used on something we could have done for ourselves at lower cost. It is eroded when our taxes are used to pay for things that others will provide, whether on a charitable basis or for profit. That includes TV and radio stations, electricity services, railways, bus services, and of course, schools and hospitals. It is eroded when our money is taken and then returned to us as welfare, with the only real beneficiaries being the public servants who administer its collection and distribution. It is eroded when our money is used on things that are a complete waste like pink batts, unwanted school halls and accommodation subsidies for wealthy foreign students. It is eroded when the money we have earned is taken and given to those of working age who simply choose never to work. Reducing taxes, any kind of taxes, will always have my support. And I will always oppose measures that restrict free markets and hobble entrepreneurship.

But the cause of liberty is challenged in other ways as well. Liberty is eroded when our cherished right to vote is turned into an obligation and becomes a crime when we do not do it. It is eroded when we are unable to marry the person of our choice, whatever their gender. It is eroded when, if we choose to end our life, we must do it before we become feeble and need help, because otherwise anyone who helps us commits a crime. It is eroded when we cannot speak or write freely out of fear someone will choose to take offence. Free speech is fundamental to liberty, and it is not the government's role to save people from their feelings. Liberty is eroded when we are prohibited from doing something that causes harm to nobody else, irrespective of whether we personally approve or would do it ourselves. I do not use marijuana and do not recommend it except for medical reasons, but it is a matter of choice. I do not smoke and I drink very little, but it is unreasonable for smokers and drinkers to be punished for their alleged excesses via so-called sin taxes. Liberty includes the right to make bad choices.

Quite a few people say they support liberal values but claim there are valid exemptions. The most common one is security or safety, something that has become pervasive during the so-called war on terror. As William Pitt the Younger observed:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
Perhaps some are scratching their heads right now. How can someone support marriage equality, assisted suicide and want to legalise pot but also want to cut taxes a lot? If you are scratching your heads, it is because you have forgotten that classical liberal principles were at the core of the Enlightenment, the period that gifted us humanity's greatest achievements in science, medicine and commerce and also brought about the abolition of slavery.

Classical liberals do not accept that there are any exemptions from the light of liberty, but we are not anarchists. We accept there is a proper role for government—just that it is considerably less than the role currently performed.


Tax Office sued for $6m after allegedly ruining a man's life

When Gary Kurzer’s day in court against the Australian Tax Office finally arrives in September, he believes he will be fighting for thousands of ordinary Australian taxpayers.

The Sydney man says he lost his business, his home, his marriage and his health trying to fight the legal might of the Tax Office after a botched tax bill based on "incorrect methodologies" sparked a eight-year legal dispute.

The struggle that began in 2006 with a bill for $200,000 in tax and penalties – later corrected to just $8000 – will culminate in a Federal Court showdown in Sydney in September, when the former architect will try to win $5.8 million in damages for the Tax Office’s alleged negligence.

The Tax Office, in its legal defence, says Mr Kurzer’s case is weak and that he will be unable to prove the Tax Office owed him a duty of care, but declined on Wednesday to publicly to discuss the case.

The Tax Office is coming under increased scrutiny for its conduct of disputes and imposition of penalties.

A report published last week by the Inspector-General of Taxation found that up to 35 per cent of the $4.25 billion of tax penalties in the past three years were unfairly imposed and were later reduced.

Top Tax Office officials fronted a Parliamentary committee in Canberra on Wednesday afternoon to defend their agency’s record on disputes with taxpayers.

Mr Kurzer, who has rejected a Tax Office offer to settle the case, said that his experience was just one of thousands of bad Tax Office decisions that had destroyed lives.

The former architect’s troubles began in 2006 when he and his ex-partner sold two seaside units in Terrigal on the NSW central coast and the Tax Office decided that he was liable for a $200,000 GST bill on the proceeds of the sale.

It took five years and action in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and other forums for the Tax Office to concede its mistake, that Mr Kurzer’s liability should have been just $8554 and his tax liability had been assessed using "incorrect methodologies".

But according to his Federal Court case, years of conflict, appeals, claims and counter-claims had taken an emotional, physical and financial toll on Mr Kurzer, who says his emotional problem are so bad that he can no longer work.

He is fighting his case without a lawyer against the might of law firm Minter Ellison hired by the Tax Office, and claiming damages of $5.8 million for economic harm as well as emotional distress, pain and suffering.

Mr Kurzer says a court victory would inspire thousands of Australians battling what they say are unfair Tax Office decisions.

"The Tax Office is allowed to collect what it is entitled to collect," he said. "It is not entitled to harass, to bully, to lie, to cheat, to force people into these situations when they don’t owe the money.

"There is collateral damage to families, to people, to businesses. People are going on welfare, their kids are suffering."

Mark Chapman of lobby group Taxpayers Australia says that most taxpayers who fall victim to mistakes by the Tax Office do not have the money to fight the taxation officials.

"Kurzer is by no means unique," Mr Chapman said. "At Taxpayers Australia, we receive a steady stream of comments from aggrieved taxpayers who have had to fight tooth and nail for their rights in the face of an intransigent Tax Office.

"Like Kurzer, many of these taxpayers find themselves out of pocket and emotionally scarred. Many simply give up, having no stomach for the continued fight, even though they know they are innocent."

A Tax Office spokeswoman said the office could not comment on a matter before the court.

Inspector-General of Taxation Ali Noroozi is reviewing the Taxpayer’s Charter and the legal protections afforded to taxpayers.


Another Aborigine scam

The author below writes very well. I suspect that someone once taught him Latin. He is an Aborigine

A few years ago, I casually complained to my local YMCA about their 'Indigenous' display. I wanted to let them know that what they had done had the potential to offend people, despite how well-meaning they were obviously trying to be. I expected an answer in the realm of 'we read a history book and that was our inspiration', but was taken aback when instead I was informed that this was the work of a local traditional owner, who oversaw the entire project.

This was the first whiff I had of Scammers posing as Aborigines right under my own nose. So I started to hunt around, and in my searches, became all too familiar with the name Sonia Murray, aka Scams a'Plenty.

If you are to believe any of what she says as the truth, she was born to an Aboriginal mother and Scottish father. Not just any Aboriginal mother either, but, one descended from the original owners of some of the best land in Melbourne - Port Phillip to the Dandenongs and then some, according to her sources. Unfortunately, in the 1830's, her ancestors were captured and taken to the Bass Strait, unable to return to their country until a plucky descendant named Sonia, who would make the perilous journey some 170+ years later to stake a claim to what was once rightfully theirs.

In addition to her exceptional navigational skills, Sonia it appears, has 'the gift' - or is clairaudient, in her words. A healer with the ability to see, hear and speak to spirits, available at an hourly charge ($100 for a phone consult, or if you're a bit cash strapped, $50 for an email) to cleanse you spiritually, like only a native can. If you're feeling lost on your life path, she can contact your spirit guide and ask them for directions as to how you get back on track.

For a brief period, Sonia also set up shop as a snake oil salesman, sorry, Mutton Bird Oil salesman, via her wildly unsuccessful venture 'Nangana Healing Centre', where she offered goods that she declared to be Traditional Bush Medicine as well as the obligatory selection of overpriced 'arts and crafts' for suckers to purchase. Almost all trace of Nanganas existence is gone from the internet now, but rather than assume that is because she scammed someone and had to shut up shop before people sued, as I'm sure some of you more cynical people will already be thinking, take comfort in the fact that it was probably because of all the other side ventures she had going on that were now demanding more of her time.

One such venture was Hawkseye Heritage. Far from being a greedy Aborigine, Sonia wanted to ensure that the environment was taken care of properly, and being who she was, self-appointed spokesperson for the Bunurong, decided to start a business that could fill a growing, and luckily for her - lucrative, demand for managing 'Cultural Heritage'. The current boom industry. With her partner Steve by her side, a didgeridoo playing traditional owner himself who could luckily double as a 'Cultural Heritage Officer' for her fledgling business as well, they set about having their demands met, and demand they did over the years.

Far away from prying eyes, and subject only to the regulations of a body that is loathe to jump in quickly when an Aboriginal Corporation continually fails to meet compliance, they had a pretty sweet set up. What might appear to most everyone else to be a 'conflict of interest', is almost par for the course in Aboriginal Organisations. The transparency that should exist simply does not, and years can go by with annual reports and financial statements failing to be lodged repeatedly before they call in someone to take a look. By then, it's usually a mess, as it was when the Special Administrator was appointed to Bunurong earlier this year.

How the 'Cultural Heritage' scam works is quite simple. A local developer wants to get a project off the ground, our laws dictate that he must seek out the local Aboriginal group and get advice on the appropriate people to conduct a 'Cultural Heritage' survey/assessment/report/you-name-it. How it works in this case goes a little like this - Bunurong, the local Aboriginal group, is approached by the prospective developer. Sonia, as Director of Bunurong advises the prospective developer of what work will need to be done, and, hands off the work contract to Hawkseye, the company she owns. Nice little earner if you can get it. In fact, Hawkseye invoiced Bunurong Land Council for a total of $4,955.00 in 'Administration Costs' in a less than 6 week period earlier this year. That is not including the actual payments to the cultural heritage officers who undertake the work, of course.

With all the cash cows requiring constant milking, and a seat up front on the Gravy Train guaranteed to her, you might be surprised to learn that Scams a'Plenty still felt it necessary to pull off the sickest trick in the Fraudsters book - begging for donations for her sick child. It seems that in addition to her many business ventures, she has also managed to register a charity. A charity that proclaims itself to not only assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, but conduct research into childhood cancers. There is a donations page on the charity website, and searches at (the Government charity register) confirms it does indeed have registered charity status. Should you decide to donate, it's all tax deductible. Which is probably a good thing- they seem to need lots of donation. Currently, they need help (in the form of money, of course) to take her desperately ill child to a foreign country for treatment. Treatment she herself is unable to afford, due to her loss of employment, which was of course, another cruel blow for the suffering family. Unfortunately her timing was off to anyone who noticed (so far, I'm alone in that camp), for you see at the same time she was crying poor and unemployed, her company, Hawkseye, was receiving the above mentioned almost $5k in 'administration charges'. She also neglected to mention during her shameless begging that she was planning a new business venture - in the form of a cafe/restaurant, and would later negotiate for leased premises in which to operate that venture from.

I thought long and hard about providing the links to what I firmly believe is a scam charity, but one thing stops me. The freely available information contained at length on the sites about the child in question. The child may or may not have the disease this mother claims cash donations are needed to help fight. Ultimately, that is irrelevant as I refuse to publish information that may identify a child. The mother is scamming people, not the child, and I will ask that anyone who chooses to look into this further and finds out for themselves, that they not publish the information freely.

But take heart. She won't be getting away with her crimes. As luck would have it, I'm not the only one who has noticed something dodgy about Sonia Murray. Whether it was her aversion to paying taxes, or just that her number finally came up, a story in The Age yesterday is the turning of the tide for this particular fraudster. A possible missing million dollars does not go away quickly or quietly, and now that it is out there in public, questions - uncomfortable questions - need to be asked.


Tom wins another one

From racing royalty to upstart bookie and now company man, Tom Waterhouse says being the chief executive of William Hill Australia is a “dream come true”, despite missing out on $65 million linked to the acquisition of his online betting venture.

The British wagering giant William Hill bought Mr Waterhouse’s three-year old betting venture for $40 million in cash and debt last August, offering a further $70 million if the entrepreneur hit profit targets in 2015. But he will take an early $5 million settlement of the earn-out.

Following his naming as CEO, which was first revelead by Fairfax Media on Wednesday night, Mr Waterhouse said the settlement was based on “fair value at the time” and was a “terrific result”.

“You couldn’t ask for a better company to be bought by,” he said. “I’ve been part of William Hill Australia [since August] and seen them function within the same offices but now I get to really stick my teeth in.”

But the 32-year-old has a lot of work to do, with the three brands that make up William Hill Australia - Sportingbet, Centrebet and - lagging behind the fastest growing local betting shop Sportsbet.

A recent market update from William Hill rival, the Dublin-based company Paddy Power, showed that in the first 18 weeks of the year to May 11, total bets placed with Sportsbet rose 22 per cent. In the 13 weeks to April 1, bets placed with William Hill Australia grew at a slower rate of 11 per cent.

Former William Hill Australia boss Michael Sullivan left in April.

However William Hill’s group CEO designate James Henderson, who was named for the top job only a fortnight ago, said solid back office systems and a new advertising campaign featuring Aussie cricket legend Shane Warne meant the business was primed for growth. “[We want to] not only catch up with Sportsbet but hopefully overtake them in the near future,” he said.

Mr Waterhouse was the top pick from a shortlist of internal and external applicants, Mr Henderson said. “He’s the ideal person with a proven track record,” he said. “Tom’s is the fastest-growing element of the business.”

Mr Waterhouse - a new father, he and wife Hoda had a daughter last year - is not worried about the stresses and sacrifices needed to take on the much larger business. He will lead 270 staff and a company that had revenue of £86.7 million ($158.7 million).

“I guess my life has always been living and breathing betting and being part of the industry. I’m going to continue doing it because I love it.”

The at-times controversial bookmaker’s aggressive marketing techniques came under fire in 2013 and sparked a community backlash that lead to restrictions on wagering advertising. Mr Waterhouse said he learned “a lot of lessons” from the period. “But one thing about the digital space is you have to try things and experiment and see what works,” he said.

Mr Henderson said Australia was Wiliam Hill’s “second home” and the three betting brands together were growing faster than the online business in the United Kingdom.

“The expectations are high,” he said.


20 July, 2014

Liberal senator James McGrath makes radical call for GST rise, privatisation of 'left-biased' ABC

An incoming Liberal senator has set out a radical libertarian program in his maiden speech, calling for the GST rate to rise to 15 per cent, federal health and education departments to be abolished and for the immediate sell-off of youth radio station Triple J, with the rest of the ABC to also be privatised if it fails to address perceived left-wing bias.

Former Liberal Party deputy director James McGrath also defended people's right to make homophobic comments, as well as "hurtful and bigoted and stupid and dumb things".

Senator McGrath also flagged plans to introduce a private member's bill that would "bring back true voluntary student unionism" as he argued the GST should rise to 15 per cent and include items that are currently excluded, such as fresh food.

He vowed to argue for lower regulation and smaller government as he took aim at the federal health and education departments, which had thousands of staff but had no patients, ran no schools and did not teach students.

"Bureaucracies have become more bloated, more process-driven and more out of touch," he said.

"The states run hospitals and schools - why do we need to be involved? I'm calling for the abolition of the federal departments of health and education, and for universities to be run at a state level."

Turning to the ABC, Senator McGrath said he had grown up listening to the ABC in country Queensland but that the broadcaster had "left people like me and my constituents behind".

"I want to support the ABC. I like the ABC. "Yet while it continues to represent only inner-city leftist views, and funded by our taxes, it is in danger of losing its social licence to operate.

"I'm calling for a review of the charter of the ABC and if they fail to make inroads to restore balance then the ABC should be sold and replaced by a regional and rural broadcasting service."

Youth broadcaster Triple J should be sold immediately, he added.

Senator McGrath also set out his support for unrestricted freedom of speech, a proposal the government has been grappling with in its now-stalled attempt to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

"Freedom of speech should never be restricted by government because when freedom of speech is regulated in any manner, speech is no longer free," he said.

"People will say hurtful and bigoted and stupid and dumb things, people will make racist and sexist and homophobic comments. The views are wrong but the right to express them is not.

"If you believe in democracy, you cannot cleanse it of the view you disagree with. The best way to deal with those with whom you disagree is not force them into the dark shadows but let the sun shine, let the disinfectant of light and public scrutiny judge those offensive views."


Conservative army officer contests his dismissal

One of Australia's highest-profile anti-gay activists has recruited one of the nation's busiest anti-Islam campaigners to help him get his job back as an Army Reserve officer.

Bernard Gaynor, sacked by the army over his online comments about gays, Muslims and women, has hired Sydney lawyer Robert Balzola to represent him in a Federal Court challenge to his sacking, which came into effect on Friday.

Mr Balzola has been involved in the groups "Concerned Citizens of Canberra" and "Concerned Citizens of Bendigo", which have campaigned against mosques being opened in the ACT and the Victorian regional city.

The Sydney lawyer and Liberal Party member has also taken part in similar campaigns in Sydney, including the opposition to an Islamic school in Camden, while Mr Gaynor has lent his support to the latest "Concerned Citizens" campaign in Bendigo.

But the team has lost its first legal gambit against Mr Gaynor's sacking by failing to secure a last-minute injunction on the dismissal.

Federal Court Judge Robert Buchanan has found no need for an emergency injunction and told Mr Gaynor and Mr Balzola to lodge their application to challenge the army's decision in the usual way.

The former intelligence officer, father of five and Iraq veteran said he was keen to pursue the case but would make a final decision after more talks with his legal team.

"The Chief of the Defence Force acted to terminate my commission in a biased manner," Mr Gaynor said.

"There's a whole bunch of reasons why this decision is wrong; what you've got is a black-and white case of political discrimination in the Australian Defence Force.

"This termination has been entirely about my religious beliefs, nothing to do with my performance."

Mr Gaynor declined to discuss how he teamed up with Mr Balzola.

"I'm not discussing anything about my legal team," he said.

"My legal team is advising me on issues I face in relation to my termination."

Mr Balzola declined to be interviewed on Wednesday.

Mr Gaynor's dismissal from his Army Reserve position came after Defence Force Chief General David Hurley questioned his ability to uphold the values of the Australian Army.

"Your public comments demonstrate attitudes that are demeaning and demonstrate intolerance of homosexual persons, transgender persons and women and are contrary to the ... cultural change currently being undertaken within the Army," General Hurley wrote in a minute.

Mr Gaynor's sacking was set in train in December last year, despite the former officer claiming he had been cleared of wrongdoing by two military investigations, and became final at midnight, July 11.


Carbon tax merely a blip in power price scandal

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is right about one thing: the price of electricity has shot up and is now a lot higher than it should be. It's a scandal, in fact. Trouble is, the carbon tax has played only a small part in that, so getting rid of it won't fix the problem.

Until a rotten system is reformed, the price of electricity will keep rising excessively, so I doubt if many people will notice the blip caused by the removal of the carbon tax. (As for the price of gas, it will at least double within a year or two, as the domestic price rises to meet the international price, making the carbon tax removal almost invisible.)

So Abbott will be in bother if too many voters remember all the things he has said about how much the tax was responsible for the rising cost of living, how much damage the tax was doing to the economy and how much better everything would be once the tax was gone.

He would be wise to change the subject and join the push to reform the electricity pricing arrangements.

A new report by Tony Wood and Lucy Carter, of the Grattan Institute, Fair Pricing for Power, says that over the past five years the average Australian household's electricity bill has risen by 70 per cent to $1660 a year.

And this has been happening while the amount of electricity we use has been falling, not rising. Just why electricity demand has been falling is a story for another day.

The cost of actually generating the power accounts for 30 per cent of that total. The cost of delivering the power from the generator to your home via poles and wires – that is, the electricity transmission and distribution network – accounts for 43 per cent of the total.

That leaves the costs of the electricity retailer – the business you deal with – accounting for 13 per cent of the total bill, with the carbon tax making up 7 per cent and the various measures to encourage energy saving or use of renewables making up the last 7 per cent.

Of these various components, the one that does most to account for the rapid rise in overall bills is the cost of the physical distribution network. Whereas there's fierce competition between the now mainly privately owned power stations, the network businesses – still government-owned in NSW and Queensland, but privatised in Victoria and South Australia – are natural monopolies.

This means the prices the networks are allowed to charge – whether government or privately owned – are regulated by government authorities. And this is the source of the problem. Loopholes in the price regulation regime have made it easy for the network businesses to feather their nest at the expense of you and me.

Why would a government-owned network business want to overcharge? Because their profits are paid to the state Treasury, which needs all the cash it can get. So the NSW and Queensland governments gain by looking the other way while their voters are ripped off. The gouging hasn't been nearly as bad in privatised Victoria, where electricity prices are well below the national average.

An earlier report from the Grattan Institute identified four main faults in the system used to regulate the prices of network businesses: the pricing formula allows excessive rates of return, considering essential monopolies are low risk; government ownership leads to excessive investment in infrastructure and reduced efficiency; reliability standards to prevent blackouts are wastefully high; the pricing formula rewards investment in facilities you don't really need.

The various combined state and federal regulatory bodies have belatedly begun attempting to fix these problems, but they could do a lot more if the politicians prodded them harder.

Meanwhile, the latest Grattan report proposes a solution to one aspect of the over-investment problem: coping with peak demand. The trouble with electricity networks is that, if you want to avoid blackouts, the network has to be powerful enough to cope with the periods when a lot of people are using a lot of electrical appliances at the same time, which these days is a hot afternoon.

Over the course of a year, these occasions are surprisingly few, so you end up having to build a lot of capacity, which is expensive, but then is rarely used. It would make far more sense to encourage people to avoid such extreme peaks in their demand.

The way the pricing system works at present, however, is that far from discouraging people from buying airconditioners and turning them on full blast on very hot afternoons, they're subsidised by those householders who don't.

The simple answer would be for the part of people's bills that relates to their share of network costs to be changed from charging for how much power they use to a capacity-based charge. That is, they pay according to the maximum load they put on the network in peak periods.

The result would be to remove the subsidy between high and low-capacity users, increasing or reducing their bills by up to $150 a year.

The greater benefit would be the price signal sent to high-capacity users to reduce their use of appliances during peak periods and save. As people responded to this incentive, the need to keep adding to the network's capacity would fall, thus reducing the need for higher electricity prices.


Mentioning the war doesn't discredit government's deft diplomacy

For the last two weeks, Canberra has been buffeted by Asia's great power politics.

During Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Australia last week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stumbled into North Asia's heated history wars.

Reflecting on Australia's evolving perceptions of Japan, Abbott said that Australians 'admired the skill and the sense of honour' that the Japanese submariners killed in the attack on Sydney in 1942 'brought to their task although we disagreed with what they did.'

Owning to acute Chinese sensitivity to anything resembling amnesia about the horrors of Japan's wartime history, Abbott's comments prompted a biting backlash. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson even suggested that 'no one, as long as he or she is of conscience, would agree with what the Australian leader has said.'

Meanwhile, in response to a Fairfax report last week which seemed to imply that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had said that 'Australia will stand up to China,' an editorial in China's nationalistic Global Times labelled Bishop a 'complete fool.'

Notwithstanding the appearance of a succession of diplomatic debacles, Australia's regional relations are still in excellent health.

China might have been outraged by Abbott's praise for Japanese World War II soldiers, but the substance of Abe's visit prompted a relatively muted reaction from Beijing.

In response to news of Australia's deepening defence ties with Japan, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson noted: 'We hope that cooperation among relevant countries can contribute positively to regional peace and stability, instead of the opposite.'

Canberra's expanding military relationship with Tokyo neither surprises nor disappoints China: It is precisely what Beijing expects given that Japan and Australia are both liberal democratic allies of the United States with a warm and mutually beneficial partnership that spans more than six decades.

Moreover, Australia's embrace of Japan is in step with the region-wide response to Asia's changing balance of power.

China's economic resurgence, rapidly rising defence budget, and aggressive assertions of sovereignty over disputed territory have prompted India, Vietnam, the Philippines and many of Australia's other friends and partners in Asia to develop tighter ties with Japan as a means of hedging against Chinese power.

Of course, Canberra's affection for Tokyo is at odds with feelings in Beijing, where officials warn against the risk posed by Japan's supposed remilitarisation.

However, given that Australia's interests in Asia cannot be reduced to its interests in China, divergence between Beijing and Canberra is to be expected sometimes.

Indeed, with Beijing regularly rankling and intimidating its Asian neighbours, the only way for Australia to support its friends and partners in the region will be to periodically disappoint China.


18 July, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is asking what lies behind the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner full of AIDS experts

I am inclined to blame the international community for refusing to recognize the reasonable demands of the Russians of Eastern Ukraine. They should not have had to resort to war to gain independence. One might remember that a war was fought to gain American independence way back. Has nothing been learned?


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is pleased with the repeal of the carbon tax

Carbon price helped curb emissions, ANU study finds

As something of a coincidence with Australia's repeal of the carbon tax, a study has come out claiming that the tax did have the effect intended. A report of the study plus the journal abstract is given below. There is no intrinsic problem with that conclusion. Taxing something does generally reduce demand for it. I nonetheless think that the report is pure guesswork. I cannot see how they can separate out the effect of the tax from other factors bearing down on electricity generation.

For most of the period surveyed the Labor government was in power, energetically pressing a variety of policies designed to have the same effect as the tax. The winding back of brown coal powered generation in Victoria is the most obvious example of that. Shutting down the cheapest power generators in the country took some time but it did eventually happen to some extent in the latter phase of ALP rule.

And if you read the abstract, it is clear that estimates (guesses) were involved. Their admission: "There are fundamental difficulties in attributing observed changes in demand and supply to specific causes" is very much to the point

Australia cut carbon dioxide emissions from its electricity sector by as much as 17 million tonnes because of the carbon price and would have curbed more had industry expected the price to be permanent, according to an Australian National University study.

The report, due to be submitted for peer-reviewed publication, found the two years of the carbon price had a discernible impact on emissions even assuming conservative responses by consumers and businesses.

“We see the carbon price doing what it was meant to do, and what it was expected to do, namely dampen demand and shift the supply from dirtier to cleaner sources of electricity,” said Associate Professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, and a co-author of the report with the centre’s Marianna O’Gorman.

The paper comes as the Senate voted on Thursday to bring almost five years of Coalition campaigning against a price on carbon to an end by repealing the tax. Labor and the Greens say they will continue to push for a price on emissions.

The ANU report, which used official market data to the end of June, found the drop in power demand attributed to the carbon price was between 2.5 and 4.2 terawatt-hours per year, or about 1.3 to 2.3 per cent of the National Electricity Market serving about 80 per cent of Australia’s population.

Emissions-intensive brown and black coal-fired power generators cut output, with about 4 gigawatts of capacity taken offline. The emissions intensity of NEM supply dropped between 16 and 28 kilograms of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of supply, underscoring the role of carbon pricing rather than slumping demand in curbing pollution, the paper said.

However, investors’ doubts that the carbon tax would last – fostered in part by then opposition leader Tony Abbott’s “blood oath” to repeal it if the Coalition took office - meant high-emissions generators were mothballed rather than permanently closed.

“We’d expect the impact of the carbon price would have been larger, perhaps far larger, if there had been an expectation that the carbon price would have continued,” Professor Jotzo said.

Falling demand

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has said repeatedly that the carbon tax was ineffective, stating Australia’s total emissions fell 0.1 per cent in the first year.

More recent figures, though, show the emissions drop accelerated, with 2013’s 0.8 per cent economy-wide fall the largest annual reduction in the 24 years of monitoring. In the power sector, the industry most directly covered by the carbon price, emissions fell 5 per cent.

“As confirmed by Origin Energy managing director Grant King, there are other factors resulting in lower emissions in the electricity sector – including lower demand, the impact of the [Renewable Energy Target], flooding at the Yallourn power station and increased hydro output,” a spokesman for Mr Hunt said.

However, the ANU paper takes those factors into account in estimating the carbon price impact, Professor Jotzo said.

Rather, the impact of the carbon price is probably understated. The highly politicised debate preceded its implementation by about a year, prompting energy consumers to focus more on electricity costs – and presumably to begin making savings – well before the tax began.

“We would expect politically motivated talk ... may well have had a large impact on people’s power usage patterns,” Professor Jotzo said....

“The only thing that went wrong in Australia was the politics of climate change policy,” Professor Jotzo said. “There was nothing inherently wrong with scheme.”


Impact of the carbon price on Australia’s electricity demand, supply and emissions

Marianna O'Gorman, Frank Jotzo


Australia’s carbon price has been in operation for two years. The electricity sector accounts for the majority of emissions covered under the scheme. This paper examines the impact of the carbon price on the electricity sector between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2014, focusing on the National Electricity Market (NEM). Over this period, electricity demand in the NEM declined by 3.8 per cent, the emissions intensity of electricity supply by 4.6 per cent, and overall emissions by 8.2 per cent, compared to the two-year period before the carbon price. We detail observable changes in power demand and supply mix, and estimate the quantitative effect of the effect of the carbon price. We estimate that the carbon price led to an average 10 per cent increase in nominal retail household electricity prices, an average 15 per cent increase in industrial electricity prices and a 59 per cent increase in wholesale (spot) electricity prices. It is likely that in response, households, businesses and the industrial sector reduced their electricity use. We estimate the demand reduction attributable to the carbon price at 2.5 to 4.2 TWh per year, about 1.3 to 2.3 per cent of total electricity demand in the NEM. The carbon price markedly changed relative costs between different types of power plants. Emissions-intensive brown coal and black coal generators reduced output and 4GW of emissions-intensive generation capacity was taken offline. We estimate that these shifts in the supply mix resulted in a 16 to 28kg CO2/MWh reduction in the emissions intensity of power supply in the NEM, a reduction between 1.8 and 3.3 per cent. The combined impact attributable to the carbon price is estimated as a reduction of between 5 and 8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions (3.2 to 5 per cent) in 2012/13 and between 6 and 9 million tonnes (3.5 to 5.6 per cent) in 2013/14, and between 11 and 17 million tonnes cumulatively. There are fundamental difficulties in attributing observed changes in demand and supply to specific causes, especially over the short term, and in this light we use conservative parameters in the estimation of the effect of the carbon price. We conclude that the carbon price has worked as expected in terms of its short-term impacts. However, its effect on investment in power generation assets has probably been limited, because of policy uncertainty about the continuation of the carbon pricing mechanism. For emissions pricing to have its full effect, a stable, long-term policy framework is needed.


Greenie meat pies rejected

Meat pies are often said to be Australia's national food and I certainly am a fancier of them. The ones I buy have chunks of steak in them and cost around $3.50

Sustainable. Organic. Locally sourced. These four words bulldoze us at every supermarket corner, on every menu and during many a MasterChef ad break. But how happy are we to pay a higher price for such produce?

A Victorian bakery has removed a meat pie from its menu because of complaints the price was too high.

At RedBeard Bakery in Trentham, about an hour north-west of Melbourne, a conversation similar to the following took place at least 10 times a week:

“One pie, thanks mate.”

“No worries. That'll be $8.”

“You're bloody kidding me! That's highway robbery!”

“Our ingredients are sourced locally and we know the farmers. The meat is grass-fed and sustainable. The pastry is made with organic butter and hand-rolled. The pie is put together by hand and cooked in our 19th century Scotch oven. It actually costs us $8 to make, so we're really providing a community service.”

“Whatever, mate. I didn't ask for a sermon.”

Fed up with explaining the price to tourists and tradies alike, RedBeard co-owner and baker Al Reid ceased making the pie in June.

“Every day there were embarrassing, stilted conversations with customers trying to justify why you're charging what is actually quite a reasonable price given the quality of the product and the labour input,” Reid says. “Customers' perceptions of what a pie should cost seem to be based on what you pay at a footy match. Pies ain't pies, just like oils ain't oils.”

Reid says cheap, mass-produced factory pies are often just gravy, corn starch and pastry made with margarine and transfats. They're cheap for a reason.

The removal of RedBeard's pie ignited a flutter of comments on its Facebook page. Most of these lamented the loss and suggested the complainers buy their frozen pies elsewhere.

But where does popular opinion lie?

An article this writer penned about Sydney's best dumplings attracted a wealth of comments on the theme that prices at high-end dumpling houses are absurd when you can purchase 12 dumplings for $4 “down the road”.

This is true. The Chinatowns of Melbourne and Sydney are rife with dumpling houses that trade potstickers by the pound. However, for the most part these little parcels of (admittedly delicious) mystery meat are in no way organic or sustainable. This is why you'll pay more “up the road”.

At Mr Wong, dim sum master Eric Koh uses Alaskan king crab in his noodle wraps (one for $12) and dumplings. It's not cheap, but then, Alaskan king crab fishing isn't easy: it takes place only in autumn; specific size requirements must be met, and only males can be kept.

“I think that in the past many dim sum chefs did not necessarily appreciate the importance of quality ingredients,” Koh says. “It required a vast amount of research to develop my knowledge about the individual ingredients and the skills needed to make the best quality dumplings possible. In the last five to 10 years more people are appreciating the value of dumplings and understanding that you pay for what you get.”

If RedBeard Bakery was selling $8 organic pies in Surry Hills or Collingwood, would it have attracted the same daily criticism? Probably not. Mary's burger bar in Newtown sells cheeseburgers for $14 – and not the type of baby-elephant-sized cheeseburgers that even a Texan would struggle to finish. They're not much bigger than one from Macca's but Mary's is packed to its exposed rafters every night with punters scoffing them down.

The price is justified: Mary's burger patties are made from a mix of high quality, house-smoked brisket, chuck and rump. But a takeaway store charging $14 for a burger this size in country NSW would be unthinkable.

Then there are the hand-cut chips at Hooked Healthy Seafood in Melbourne. Made from locally grown potatoes that are delivered fresh and unfrozen, the chips are big, fat and incredibly tasty. They will also set you back $7.95 for a large serving. That price would be laughed at in a palm-oil-using fish-and-chippery, but at Hooked (which has shops in Fitzroy, Windsor and Hawthorn) the chips have a status approaching legendary.

Despite justified prices and no shortage of customers, user review sites for Hooked host a good deal of “overpriced” and “rip-off” rants – especially comparing it to chippies (again) “down the road”.

Will Australia reach a point where we can all agree that $8 for a pie made from local, organic ingredients is justifiable? Signs are promising. But while buzzwords like "organic" and "sustainable" are bandied around without wider education on the processes and costs associated with producing organic and sustainable food, that day seems some time away.

And Coles selling four frozen pies for $4 doesn't help.


Head of curriculum review Kevin Donnelly says corporal punishment in schools 'was very effective'

The head of the Abbott government's national curriculum review has backed the use of corporal punishment for ill-disciplined children in schools if it is supported by the local school community.

Kevin Donnelly, co-chair of the national curriculum review and a widely published commentator on educational issues, said on Tuesday that corporal punishment was effective during his childhood and still has some merit.

Mr Donnelly was appearing on 2UE radio to comment on Fairfax Media reports that NSW students are being suspended and expelled from public schools at record rates.

Over 18000 NSW students were suspended in 2012 - 1300 more than in 2011.

"What would you, as you've been involved with this for so long, describe as the best punishment you can come across even if it is one that has gone away?" asked 2UE host Justin Smith. "I'm not alluding to the strap here. I don't think you would ever resort to that. You would never advocate bringing that back surely?"

Dr Donnelly responded by saying, "Well" followed by a pause – an answer that surprised Mr Smith.

Dr Donnelly continued: "I grew up in Broadmeadows, a housing commission estate in Melbourne, and we had a Scottish phys-ed teacher.

"Whenever there were any discipline problems he would actually take the boy behind the shed and say, 'We can either talk about this or you can throw the first punch'.

"That teacher would probably lose his job now but it was very effective. He only had to do it once and the kids were pretty well behaved for the rest of the year."

Dr Donnelly went on to say "those days are gone". But questioned further on the merits of corporal punishment, he said: "If the school community is in favour of it then I have got no problem if it's done properly.

"There are one or two schools around Australia that I know where it actually is approved of and they do do it. I'm sure they only do it very rarely."

Dr Donnelly contrasted corporal punishment with "time out" zones which he said do not work because children can relax and avoid class work.

Dr Donnelly has previously attracted controversy for designing an anti-smoking program funded by tobacco company Phillip Morris for Australian and New Zealand schools. He also questioned, in a book published in 2004, whether gay, lesbian and transgender teachers should teach sex education in schools.

Dr Donnelly and Kenneth Wiltshire, co-chair of the curriculum review, will hand their report to the government at the end of July.


Sexist, misogynistic and racist slogans are set to be painted over by controversial hire company Wicked Campers following public outcry

Wicked Campers has come under increasing pressure this week after an online petition kicked off by Sydney mother Paula Orbea gained national attention, triggering widespread calls for the company to remove explicit slogans form its vans.

The petition - launched after Ms Orbea's daughter spotted a Wicked van in the Blue Mountains with "In every princess, there's a little slut who wants to try it just once" written on the back - now has more than 100,000 signatures.

Ms Orbea has since received an email from the company, offering a personal apology and informing her that the slogan had been removed.

"Wicked Campers Owner, John Webb wishes to acknowledge the prevailing community opinion by REMOVING the slogan in question and making a commitment over the coming six months to changing slogans of an insensitive nature," it read.

Ms Orbea described the company's change of heart as a "people power win".

"The kind of sexism and misogyny on those Wicked Campers vans may seem trivial, but it's not – it's degrading to women, harmful for our children to consume, and condones a rape culture that sees one-in-three Australian women sexually assaulted in their lifetimes," she said.

A motion to stop the company "promoting violence against women" with slogans painted on its vehicles was also passed unanimously in the Senate this afternoon.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters had moved the motion earlier in the day following the petition. Senator Waters told SBS that it was a clear cut case that the slogans in question were “entirely sexist and misogynist”, as well as “basically inciting sexual violence”.

“I think, in order to send a really strong message to company and to challenge the prevailing culture that normalises violence against women, I sought the Senate’s consent to pass a motion condemning those slogans,” she said.


This firm has been controversial for a few years but the police ruled that they were not breaking the law. So it is interesting that a public outcry succeeded where the law did not

17 July, 2014

Tony Abbott's long hard road has ended in victory

And Julia Gillard's great achievement is now ashes. She laboured and betrayed in vain

The budget crisis is real, it’s serious, and we ignore it at our children’s peril

Henry Ergas

WITH Clive Palmer, Labor and the Greens combining to destroy the government’s budget, it is important to understand just how serious our fiscal crisis is.

In the recession that began in 1974, which lifted the unemployment rate to 6.5 per cent, there were 6 years of consecutive budget deficits with a cumulative deficit amounting to 7.9 per cent of GDP.

The even more severe ‘recession we had to have’ of 1990-1992, in which the unemployment rate rose to 11 per cent, caused 7 years of consecutive budget deficits and a cumulative deficit of 17.2 per cent of GDP.

Now, despite an unprecedented period of low unemployment and continuous expansion, by 2017-18 we will have run deficits for 10 years in a row.

And if the government’s proposed savings measures are not implemented, the cumulative deficit to 2017-18 will climb to 20.5 per cent of GDP, exceeding that incurred in every previous downturn, including the great depression.

The legacy of cumulative deficits will be rising gross debt, which, even with the savings measures, is expected to increase from $360 billion in 2014-15 to $450 billion in 2017-18.

As well as shifting on to tomorrow’s taxpayers the burden of paying for today’s benefits, greater debt will limit the borrowing capacity of future governments, reducing their scope to use fiscal policy to cushion the impact of adverse shocks.

Moreover, with the Reserve Bank’s cash rate already close to zero, the ability of monetary policy to pick up the slack will itself be constrained.

As a result, when an adverse shock comes, the cuts will have to be deeper and the hardship more widespread and prolonged. And such shocks are not merely possible; they are probable.

The historical record is clear: deep falls in output may be unpredictable, but they are hardly uncommon.

A recent study by John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, examines the 17 advanced economies (including Australia) for which good-quality data is available from the 1890s on. Williams concludes that on average, a contraction as drastic as that the US experienced at the peak of the global financial crisis occurs about once every 19 years. Yes, Williams notes, the sustained expansion that preceded the GFC suggested recessions had virtually been abolished; but like dreams of eternal peace, that illusion was soon shattered, and with a vengeance.

To Australians, basking in the sunshine of seemingly unending growth, the warnings of economic history will appear remote.

But recent decades are an unreliable guide to the challenges that lie in wait.

Rather, the stellar performance of the last 23 years at least partly reflects a series of one-off factors. To begin with, the depth of the recession "we had to have" meant there was a lengthy period in which the economy was simply climbing back towards its trend level. In 1992, national output was nearly 3 per cent below trend; it took until 1998 before the "output gap" (the difference between actual and trend output) was largely closed.

At the same time, structural reform, including labour market deregulation, lifted the economy’s productive potential, extending the growth spurt into the early years of this century. As that momentum faded, the aftermath of the "tech wreck" saw activity dip slightly below trend from 2001 to 2003; but the investment phase of the mining boom then came to the rescue, pushing output and incomes above trend in every year except 2010 and 2011.

However, at least as far as Australia is concerned, heaven may be running low on manna. For sure, the spectacular growth the boom has allowed in our capital stock, which increased by 60 percent in a decade, will permit durably higher levels of production; but the growth rate of that production could well taper off within five to six years.

Additionally, at the turn of this century, barely half of our exports went to Asia; now, four-fifths do. The scope to expand exports by redirecting trade from slowly growing to very rapidly growing markets is correspondingly smaller, with China’s eventual transition towards less dependence on resources
accentuating that effect.

And last but not least, the Rudd and Gillard governments saddled our economy with labour market regulations that punish the young and unskilled, raise unemployment, reduce labour force participation and limit the level and growth of incomes.

None of that condemns us to sackcloth and ashes.

But it does make the current policy paralysis, which entrenches roadblocks to growth and increases our vulnerability to downturns, particularly costly; and it means that counting on ever greater prosperity to redress the nation’s fiscal predicament is not mere complacency but outright recklessness.

The parallels to the experience in Britain should make the situation all the more disturbing. After a recession in 1990-91, a sustained recovery, combined with tighter controls over public expenditure, allowed a sequence of budget surpluses.

Unfortunately, by 2002 the Labour government had lost its fiscal discipline, and surpluses gave way to red ink; but with the deficits only 2 to 3 per cent of GDP, Labour steadfastly dismissed them as inconsequential, especially since the financial boom gave Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia" an aura of invulnerability.

So when the crisis emerged with the collapse of the Northern Rock bank in September 2007, mounting public debt made drastic spending cutbacks inevitable, pushing the unemployment rate to 8 per cent and resulting in a prolonged ­period of slow growth.

Putting Australia’s house in order now, when the economy’s continuing strength can help absorb the costs of orderly fiscal consolidation, is therefore nothing more than prudent risk management.

And there is no mystery about what needs to be done.

Projections for public spending tell the story.

On average, commonwealth government payments have been about 24.9 per cent of GDP.

But unless reductions are made in the growth of public expenditure, cumulative payments to 2024-25 will exceed that benchmark by over $250 billion, corresponding to nearly $10,000 per man, woman and child.

To fund those payments, the tax burden would need to rise to well above its long-term level, with the typical full-time worker on average weekly earnings facing an income tax rate more than five percentage points higher than that in 2014-15.

And as they will be paying payroll taxes, compulsory superannuation contributions and the GST on top of that, average wage earners would therefore be losing well over half of any additional income earned in tax, reducing the incentives to work and save.

But in addition to being economically distorting, intense political competition means high levels of taxation will be hard to implement and sustain.

Rather, if spending is not brought under control, the likelihood is that the run of deficits will continue — until, that is, a severe downturn forces us into far-reaching retrenchment, just as has occurred in every previous bout of debt ­accumulation.

It is absurd to claim, as the visiting American economist Joe Stiglitz has, that a proposed gradual return to fiscal sustainability will worsen inequality.

On the contrary, the greatest threat to the living standards of the poor and vulnerable would come from forcing Australia into a European scenario, where drastic austerity has greatly increased poverty in every country that has felt its effects.

Far from being a recipe for fairness, allowing our fiscal woes to fester can only ensure the ultimate pain is both greater and more inequitable.

Indeed, this is why Norway, whose egalitarianism Stiglitz holds up as an example for Australia, has pursued the most fiscally conservative policies in Europe.

Even more exposed than we are to the commodity price cycle, it has guarded against recurrent deficits and strenuously avoided public debt.

The difficulty, therefore, does not lie in knowing what should be done; rather, it is in finding a way to do it, and for the government, to do so at a manageable political cost.

Labor lacked the willingness and ability that requires; the Coalition, which does want to tackle the problems, risks finding it impossible.

After all, chaos is Palmer’s best friend, while Labor’s sole concern is to prevent Abbott succeeding at what it so spectacularly failed to do.

Averting an eventual fiscal crisis hardly figures in the goals of those who do not make policy, but nonetheless have the power to break it.

Confronted with those dangers, the words of Joseph Schumpeter, the great economist who served as Austria’s finance minister in the trauma that followed the end of World War I, come to mind.

The "fiscal constitution" of a country, Schumpeter wrote, encapsulates in its highest form "the spirit of a people, its cultural level, its social structure, the deeds its policy may prepare".

"He who knows how to listen" will discern in its ability to deal with fiscal difficulties "the thunder of its history more clearly than anywhere else".

With that thunder rolling, Australians have every reason to fear the storms that lie ahead.


The high risk of terror is hitting home: Bali-style terrorist attack ‘inevitable’ on Australian soil, says Labor MP Anthony Byrne

A SENIOR member of parliament’s high-powered intelligence and security committee has warned a Bali-style terrorist attack is inevitable on ­Australian soil and the risk of an incident is “accelerating”.

Unless ASIO and other spy agencies were given the sweeping new powers they were asking for, but were being denied, security forces would be limited in trying to prevent it.

Labor MP Anthony Byrne raised the alarm in parliament yesterday, revealing the view of the intelligence community was that an attack on home soil of the magnitude of the 2002 Bali bombing — which claimed the lives of 202 people including 88 Australians — was not only possible but now probable.

In an extraordinary caution to the parliament, the senior MP and former chair of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security said he had a “deep concern that eventually and inevitably in this country, an event will occur on this soil … on the magnitude of a Bali event or just a terrorist event.

“That event will be there to cause immense damage to the psyche of the Australian community. That will be its purpose, its intent.

“I don’t want to be part of a parliament that reacts to an event. I want to be part of a parliament that puts laws in place to prevent that event.”

Mr Byrne’s warning came ahead of a private briefing tomorrow with the heads of all the spy agencies and the Attorney-General George Brandis ahead of the introduction to parliament of legislation to grant new powers to ASIO.

The Daily Telegraph revealed last month Mr Brandis was planning to adopt up to 41 of 43 recommendations from a bipartisan report last year of the JPCIS that called for greater surveillance powers for ASIO.

But the government has stopped short of the more contentious data retention laws, which would force telecommunications and internet companies to keep metadata for two years.

Spy chiefs are concerned the government is moving too slowly at a time when there were heightened warnings about domestic terrorist events and links to Australians fighting with ­jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Byrne claimed that, without the data retention abilities — similar to laws granted to spy agencies in the UK last week — our spy agencies would be hamstrung at a time when ­Australia was at greater risk than ever before.


Bridges program proving a powerful key to higher education access

The percentages below are suspiciously high

A program aimed at increasing higher education participation for students from under-represented communities is having a profound impact, according to a new report.

Compiled by KPMG, the interim assessment of the $21.2 million Commonwealth Government program Bridges to Higher Education shows the initiative is delivering highly positive results for families from Greater Western Sydney and rural NSW, as well as those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

The report showed that in two years Bridges programs have engaged with schools and TAFEs in Greater Western Sydney and rural areas, achieving interactions with over 143,000 students, over 12,000 parents and carers, and over 8,500 teachers.

“Increasing access to higher education for sections of the community who traditionally miss out on this invaluable opportunity is one of the most pressing issues facing contemporary Australia,” says Bridges Chair, Annette Cairnduff.

“That means we first have to change some prevailing attitudes around higher education, build an awareness of the opportunities available, and improve academic outcomes in the years leading up to university.”

“The Bridges program is achieving all these goals, having had a major impact not only on students, but also on teachers, parents, carers, and community members who provide such an important support network.”

Commencing two-years-ago, Bridges to Higher Education is a collaborative project involving five universities (University of Technology, Sydney, Macquarie University, University of Western Sydney, The University of Sydney and the Australian Catholic University). It encompasses 88 projects including student-mentoring initiatives, summer schools, tutoring and preparatory programs, and community engagement programs.

Key interim report findings show that:

· 98% of participating students demonstrated improved academic performance

· 88% of students showed improved learning progress

· 84% of students reported improved motivation to continue to year 12 and greater confidence in their academic abilities

· 87% of students reported an increased awareness of alternative pathways to university

· 98% of participating teachers reported being better supported to engage students in learning

· 91% of parents and carers reported an increased capacity to support their child’s higher education goals

“Bridges work encompasses all aspects of increasing higher education awareness and access,” said Cairnduff.

“Our programs not only help prepare students for the challenges they’re likely to encounter throughout high school and university, they also help schools to enrich classroom practices and motivate their students to learn. Bridges programs have also broadened families’ views around the availability and value of higher education opportunities, and even increased many students’ confidence to challenge cultural or gender-specific expectations around their future.”

Press release from Medianet.

Joe Hockey warns he will bypass Senate to push tough budget measures through

Treasurer Joe Hockey has warned the Labor Party and the Greens to pass tough budget measures through the Senate or the government will find other ways to push through savings.

But the opposition says if the government wants to "sneakily" avoid the parliament it will have a case to answer with voters.

As the government prepares to front an extended Senate sitting to pass the mining and carbon tax repeals, Mr Hockey said he was prepared for "a marathon" negotiation to win the new Senate's approval for unpopular budget measures, such as a new GP fee.

He said Labor and the Greens risked dealing themselves out of any political influence if they did not approach talks with an open mind.

"I say to Labor and the Greens if your instinct is to say no immediately and to stick with that, you are dealing yourself out of having an influence on public policy," Mr Hockey told ABC radio on Wednesday.

"Because if the immediate reaction is no with no opportunity to open discussion . . . then there are other alternatives that we can take."

Mr Hockey said there were already budget measures that the government did not need legislation for.

He said if the government could not clinch the votes it needed on the Senate floor for proposals that would be presented as separate legislation, it would have no choice but to find alternatives.

Mr Hockey added that the warning was not "retribution" against an increasingly unpredictable Senate, and the government remained open to discussions.

"If the Senate chooses to block savings initiatives then we need to look at other savings initiatives that may not require legislation," Mr Hockey said.

"I would ask the Greens and the Labor Party, who between them hold 35 votes on the floor of the Senate, to understand that there are alternatives through government."

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the opposition was happy to negotiate with the government, but the Treasurer's approach was all "bluff and bluster".

"If the Treasurer thinks he can sneakily get his changes through by somehow avoiding the parliament well he should explain to the Australian people what he's planning instead of the normal bluff and bluster we're get from this guy," he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

"What we're seeing is pretty much a Prime Minister and a Treasurer who just think, well, we'll arrogantly say what's going to happen and we'll just say that it will pass the Senate and saying it will pass the Senate means it will pass the Senate.

"Well that's not how parliaments work."


16 July, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is again critical of Clive Palmer

Reality bites the compassion-mongers

ONE of the joys of the hand-wringing game is never having to say you’re sorry.

Six years ago the editorial writers at The Age declared that a stain had been removed from the nation’s soul.

“That stain,” the newspaper continued, “was the inhumane, barbarous stance towards asylum-seekers that had presumed them guilty merely because of their existence and then condemned to indefinite detention.”

It would be too much to expect the former broadsheet to ­acknowledge its blunder or that the result of the policies it supported had been an unmitigated disaster. Nonetheless, there are hopeful signs that the compassion contest in which the bien pensant have been engaging since 2001 is losing its heat. A sense of reality is finally starting to permeate the debate, albeit slowly.

Nobody these days talks about “push factors”, since the relationship between the number of arrivals and the ease of gaining asylum is clear.

Let’s take a look at the scoreboard. Between 2002 and 2007, when the Pacific Solution was in place, there were 288 arrivals. From 2008 to last year, when the rules were eased, there were 51,796 arrivals.

That obvious fact, that an open-borders policy will attract many who are simply trying to game the system, is also sinking in. “Many people will dismiss this boatload of Sri Lankans as naive economic opportunists,” The Age editorialised last week, “and well they might be.”

By world standards Sri Lanka is not a particularly oppressive place. There is no reason to doubt former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr’s assessment that the theory of Tamil persecution is “an urban myth”.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ latest country report on Sri Lanka notes unresolved land rights and property disputes but raises no major objections to the resettlement of people who had fled the conflict.

Nevertheless, the myth refuses to die. The return of the refugees was like sending Jews back to Nazi Germany, Malcolm Fraser unhelpfully suggested.

Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs told the ABC’s 7.30 you had to go back to 1947 to find a precedent when the British turned the SS Exodus away from Palestine.

Operation Sovereign Borders? More like “Operation Slaughter”, says ABC presenter Waleed Aly who writes: “By sending asylum-seekers into the arms of the Sri Lankan navy we’re returning them to their torturers.”

Yet even Aly admits — in the last paragraph when he thinks we’ve stopped reading — that “it’s entirely possible these people are economic migrant (sic) and not refugees”.

But having invested so much in the narrative of compassion, and having argued for so long that mandatory detention and offshore processing are evil, rather than a means to deter a greater evil, it is very difficult for those who opposed the Pacific Solution to change tack.

Compassion is not an ideology; it’s a form of piety, an expression of an uncommon moral sensitivity that separates the righteous from the herd.

It is inherently judgmental since it must constantly define itself in relation to those it deems as uncompassionate. It refuses to allow that a strong border policy could be driven by an equally compassionate principle, the principle of stopping people from drowning.

Compassion requires victims, vulnerable people worthy of our benevolence, or at least our benevolent thoughts.

Plucky Tamils and desperate (always desperate) asylum-seekers more generally have played the part well through the years, and it is hard to let them go.

Hence the eagerness of the intelligentsia to believe that a “suicide wave” was sweeping Christmas Island, despite authoritative accounts to the contrary. The need for victims tempts otherwise rational people to suspend disbelief entirely.

It began on Tuesday with a press release from Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition claiming: “Up to 10 mothers in the family camp have attempted suicide in the last two days on Christmas Island.”

That evening, Triggs put the authority of the Human Rights Commission behind the story, telling ABC viewers: “We’ve had reports that have been confirmed during the day that 10 women have attempted suicide.”

On Wednesday, The Age couldn’t resist beating up the story further: “A wave of attempted suicides has swept Christmas Island as 12 mothers tried to kill themselves in the belief their then-orphaned children would have to be settled in Australia.”

From then the story started to collapse. By the end of the day Triggs, speaking to The Guardian Australia, had reduced her claim to seven women who had “attempted suicide, threatened suicide or self-harmed”.

Even that proved to be over-egging it once the Immigration Department came out with the facts. There had been only one suicide attempt from a woman who had survived, and she wasn’t a mother.

Rintoul, the source of the original story, admitted to The Australian’s Paige Taylor: “I probably shouldn’t have said attempted suicide ... People drinking concoctions of shampoo or detergent generally don’t die.”

The Age’s Fairfax stablemate, The Canberra Times, condemned the whole thing as “a furphy”, as indeed it was.

So what was achieved by abandoning the Pacific Solution, “a spineless creed cloaked in cheap, insensitive political posturing” as The Age called it?

Australia is one of fewer than two dozen countries in the world that sets aside a portion of its annual migrant intake for humanitarian aims, and the size of the program makes it one of the most generous.

Yet the program, operated in close consultation with the UNHCR, has been effectively frozen for the past few years as officials process many thousands of applications from people arriving by boat. Meanwhile, millions who have been displaced in the Middle East, notably in Syria, and in Africa, have no hope of finding shelter in Australia unless they are able and willing to pay a large entry fee to criminal gangs indifferent to the loss of human life.

The fraudulent claim that an open borders policy is “compassionate” has been exposed. It is time we asked for our word back.


School suspensions hits record high in NSW, system broken and in need of complete review

New NSW Department of Education figures showing a 35 per cent rise in the number of students being sent home from school for bad behaviour (SMH, p3), is a major concern because studies show the suspension system rarely creates positive outcomes for the pupil or the community, NSW's peak body for youth affairs warned today.

“We know suspensions are largely ineffective in improving student behaviour and in the majority of cases simply exacerbate root problems,” Youth Action Director Eamon Waterford said.

“What’s truly disturbing about this rapid recent increase is that suspensions used to be an option only in the case of violent or highly antisocial behaviour. But youth workers across the state are reporting a sharp rise in suspensions for 'persistent misbehaviour' in children as young as five.

"Youth workers are telling us they are encountering more and more students suspended for repeated truancy. You don’t have to be top of the class to recognise the logical blunder there.”

Mr Waterford said the suspension system was not just a problem for the students suspended.

“Suspension is a blunt tool and its impact ripples out widely,” Mr Waterford said.

“Struggling students sent home for 4 weeks are only ending up further behind in their classwork. This means that suspension is only further entrenching a young person’s lack of interest in school. This has impacts on long-term employment and increases the burden on our welfare system."

Mr Waterford said the NSW Government should use the startling statistics to immediately prepare for a complete review of the suspension system.

“The NSW Government should not waste this crisis – they should conduct a full review of the school suspension system,” Mr Waterford said.

“It doesn’t need to be too tricky. Thankfully, we already have a good idea of what works: and that’s good school counsellors and in-school youth workers. As things stand, NSW schools are chronically understaffed to support students in the school, which is why they’re being forced to suspend students.

“If we want better students, better citizens, and a better society we need to be actively addressing behaviour in schools – not just putting the problem out of sight and out of mind.”


Murdoch on global warming

News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch has dubbed Prime Minister Tony Abbott an admirable, honest and principled man, and said Australians should not be building windmills and "all that rubbish".

In an interview on Sky News on Sunday, Mr Murdoch spoke candidly about climate change, Australia's political environment and its relationship with China.

If the temperature rises 3 degrees in 100 years, "at the very most one of those [degrees] would be man-made," he said.

"If the sea level rises six inches, that's a big deal in the world, the Maldives might disappear or something, but OK, we can't mitigate that, we can't stop it, we have to stop building vast houses on seashores.

"We can be the low-cost energy country in the world. We shouldn't be building windmills and all that rubbish," he said.

"The world has been changing for thousands and thousands of years. It's just a lot more complicated because we are so much more advanced."

On Mr Abbott, Mr Murdoch said he had met him "three, four times, and the impression is that he is an admirable, honest, principled man and somebody that we really need as Prime Minister who we can all look up to and admire.

"However, how much does he understand free markets and what should be happening? I don’t know. Only time will tell. It's too early to make a judgment on this government."


How Tony Abbott can play his double dissolution election card

There is no political upside to Tony Abbott calling an early election unless he has strong prospects of winning. Nevertheless, the prospect of a double dissolution election should cannot be written off.
There is no political upside to Tony Abbott calling an early election unless he has strong prospects of winning. Nevertheless, the prospect of a double dissolution election cannot be written off. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
As sure as night follows day, government defeats in the Senate lead to suggestions of a double dissolution. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has fuelled this by saying such an election may be held in six to 12 months if the Senate does not fall into line.

A double dissolution means an early election at which all members of the House of Representatives and Senate are elected, as opposed to a normal election at which only half the Senate is chosen. It offers the only means of cutting short the six-year terms of the micro-party Senators chosen at the last election.

A prime minister can call a double dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution when there is a deadlock between the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Senate must fail to pass a bill that has gone through the House of Representatives, and this must occur again after three months have elapsed.

When this happens, the government gains a trigger to call an early election. Such polls are often threatened, but rarely held. Australia has had double dissolution elections only six times, the most recent being more than a quarter of a century ago. They were in 1914, 1951, 1974, 1975, 1983 and 1987.

Given this record, the smart money would be on Parliament running its full term. If nothing else, there is no political upside to Abbott calling an early election unless he has strong prospects of winning, and the polls do not suggest this.

A double dissolution may also amplify his problems with the Senate. Electing the whole of the Senate in one go means the quota to win a seat is almost halved, from 14.3 per cent to 7.7 per cent. A lower quota, with the prospect of more micro party senators, is hardly desirable for a Prime Minister wanting a more pliable upper house.

Nevertheless, the prospect of a double dissolution election cannot be written off. It can still offer significant upsides to Abbott if approached in the right way.

First, such an election should not be called until Parliament has reformed the Senate voting process. It is widely recognised that this is broken, as micro parties can game the system to produce a lottery-like effect by which a candidate with an infinitesimal number of first preference votes can win a seat.

Parliament’s joint standing committee on electoral matters recently reached a consensus on how this should be fixed. It recommends the system be changed so people can indicate their preferences both above and below the line on the Senate voting ticket.

This means voters, and not parties, control the flow of preferences. A double dissolution election held under these rules can advantage those parties and candidates that attract a significant number of votes. Micro parties with little support will not be elected.

Second, a double dissolution can be held close to the time of the next federal election. This allows the government to run almost to full term and lessen the political downsides.

The constitution says a double dissolution cannot take place within six months of the expiry of the House of Representatives. With it due to expire on November 11, 2016, a double dissolution election needs to be called by May 11, 2016. The result may be a mid-2016 double dissolution election, rather than a normal general election a few months later.

Third, a double dissolution may offer the only means for the government to pass some of its more contentious policies. This is because the procedure also provides a special way to enact disputed legislation.

If the deadlocked bills are still not passed after a double dissolution election, a re-elected Prime Minister can call a joint sitting of Parliament at which both houses vote collectively on the bills. As the constitution requires the House of Representatives to be twice the size of the Senate, a government can win such a vote when its lower house majority offsets its deficit in the Senate.

Only one double dissolution has been followed by a joint sitting. That was in 1974 when the Whitlam government used the procedure to enact reforms including Medibank (now Medicare) and one-vote, one-value in the allocation of voters to electoral districts. A double dissolution may be the only viable means for Abbott to bring about changes such as those to higher education and a GP co-payment.

People should be sceptical about Australia heading to an early double dissolution election. However, it is a more likely prospect if it is held near the end of this term of Parliament and in a way that prevents more micro party senators from being elected. It can also offer Abbott an historic opportunity to enact major reforms that may otherwise never be passed by the Senate.


15 July, 2014

Aboriginal irresponsibility again

Par for the course when they are given money

Directors of a defunct Western Australian indigenous corporation have not been charged with any offences despite an investigation uncovering 40 suspect transactions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars and 64 missing cars.

A Fairfax Media investigation has found the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations amassed evidence suggesting criminal and civil offences during a two-year probe into former directors and executives of the organisation.

But it chose not to refer material to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for review after it deemed the evidence might not be sufficient to secure convictions.

Several of those directors who were under investigation now lead the board of the Western Australia's Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation and control the proceeds of its multimillion-dollar mining deals, which include a contentious agreement brokered by a company part-owned by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's top indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine.

Fairfax Media revealed on Saturday how a company part-owned by Mr Mundine was used by listed miner Reward Minerals to change the Western Desert corporation's stance on not allowing mining on a Pilbara sacred site called Lake Disappointment.

A senior Western Desert corporation executive held a secret stake in the negotiating company part-owned by Mr Mundine and lawyers for the corporation described the Reward deal as having "no validy" and mired by potential conflicts of interest.

Federal opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Shane Neumann said Mr Mundine had questions to answer about his business relationships and corporate activities. "There are issues of good governance here to be explored. Mr Mundine is a very public figure and has enormous access to government," Mr Neumann said.

Greens indigenous affairs spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said the revelations were "extremely concerning". "If this is as bad as it looks, it's an example of how Aboriginal organisations are being manipulated and profits ripped off when it's fundamental for their economic development."

Fairfax Media as obtained an email written in 2011 by a senior ORIC investigator showing 40 suspect transactions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars withdrawn by former directors and executives of the defunct Western Desert Puntukurnuparna Aboriginal Corporation had been identified.

The investigator wrote that the transactions would "likely be included in a brief of evidence … so that criminal/civil prosecutions can be considered and commenced accordingly". A separate investigation could only find five of the 69 cars registered to the organisation.

But ORIC eventually decided not to press for charges and instead the organisation was liquidated last year by the tax office. The decision staggered the organisation's former chief executive, Bruce Hill, who asked ORIC to investigate in 2010.

"Bottom line is innocent members have been asset stripped and the guilty not held to account," Mr Hill said.

Those probed by ORIC include the chairman of the Western Desert land corporation’s board, Brian Samson, deputy chair Teddy Biljabu and director Bruce Booth.

Evidence obtained by ORIC during its probe included cheque butts and bank statements showing directors and executives at the defunct body withdrew huge sums without approval and purchased cars without approval.

In his February report, Pitcher Partners liquidator Bryan Hughes stated that the defunct organisation's records were either missing or incomplete. Its former directors have refused to send Mr Hughes their records.

"I consider that poor financial control and poor strategic management were also likely factors, which contributed to the corporation's failure," he wrote.

Mr Hughes also identified a $409,640 transaction "which I consider may constitute a transaction voidable by a liquidator". It is possible the transaction involved "unreasonable director related transactions".

Directors of the defunct organisation used their influence at the Western Desert corporation to convince the Martu people to transfer $730,000 to help fund a bail out.

In a statement, ORIC said its investigation into the defunct organisation was the most extensive it had conducted. But a review of the evidence deemed it insufficient to refer to Commonwealth prosecutors.

"The decision was not a judgment that certain events had not occurred," ORIC's statement said.

Mr Mundine, who has declined to answer questions from Fairfax Media, recently criticised ORIC for its "kid glove" approach to regulating indigenous corporations, saying people had gotten away with "blue murder".


RAAF leads way as first breastfeeding-friendly military workplace

A growing number of employers are becoming breastfeeding-friendly workplaces with the Royal Australian Air Force becoming the latest organisation to become accredited.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association accreditation makes the RAAF the first military organisation in the world to become a breastfeeding-friendly workplace.

Wing Commander Kelley Stewart, who worked with the association to design and implement the breastfeeding policy, said she was immensely proud to get the final stamp of approval after a three-year process.

She said there was widespread support for the policy in the RAAF, which has about 4000 female staff, comprising almost one-fifth of the workforce.

“People have been very supportive because beforehand there was a policy vacuum," she said. “It was left to supervisors to make a judgment call.”

A mother of three children aged between nine and 13, Wing Commander Stewart started looking at breastfeeding rates in the military as part of a research project in 2008.

She was shocked to hear that some military women had been told they weren’t entitled to breastfeed and had to wean before they returned to work.

Her own experience with the RAAF was positive and she continued to breastfeed when back at work, nursing her then baby daughter the morning she was deployed to the Middle East.

Wing Commander Stewart, who is now a reservist, having swapped the RAAF for a new career as a midwife, was approached to write the organisation’s breastfeeding policy in 2011.

She said there was mutual benefit in the approach which received formal ABA accreditation in May.

“Breastfeeding is such a short time in the scheme of things and it really does make a big difference in retaining and attracting women we need to meet our future capabilities," she said.

“Women who can breastfeed or express at work take less carer’s leave because their babies are less likely to get sick and they are more likely to stay with their employer.”

Under equal opportunity laws introduced in 2011, it is illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding women.

Vice President of the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Susan Day, agreed there was a good business case for promoting breastfeeding in the workplace.

“It makes business sense at the bottom line,” she said.

“It’s much better for an employer to invest in family friendly practices and retain valuable employees."

About 125 organisations have been accredited, including banks, universities and hospitals, and another 40 are currently being processed.

To become accredited, companies need to have a policy in place which includes flexibility for lactation breaks and a dedicated private space to breastfeed or express.


Improving housing affordability begins at home

Australia's capital house prices rose 10% last financial year, with an even stronger rise of 15% in Sydney. While seemingly a dramatic increase, it is important to look through the short-run variability in house prices to longer-run trends.

On an inflation and quality-adjusted basis, house prices in Australia have increased by around 2-3% per annum since 1970. This is enough to yield a doubling in real house prices every 30 years or so, underpinning a long-term decline in housing affordability and the homeownership rate.

Far from being an asset price 'bubble,' this increase in real house prices is well explained by economic fundamentals. A major influence has been the decline in global real interest rates since the early 1980s. Australia's real mortgage interest rates have also declined, from around 10% in 1990 to around 3% today. This long-term decline has boosted asset values and, together with increased competition in housing finance, the borrowing capacity of households.

Unless global real interest rates rise significantly in the future, the gains in house prices associated with this long-term decline in real interest rates are unlikely to be unwound. Income and population growth are the other main drivers of housing demand. While these growth rates are subject to considerably short-run variability, they represent permanent changes to the overall level of demand.

Demand suppression policies are thus unlikely to improve long-run housing affordability. The central bank has little influence over real interest rates in the long-run. Tightening accessibility to housing finance might be justified on financial stability grounds, but won't change the overall demand and supply balance in housing markets when only 37% of Australian households are owner-occupiers with a mortgage. Suppressing income and population growth or immigration in the name of housing affordability would be a perverse public policy response.

An unfortunate and increasingly common response to rising house prices has been to scapegoat some buyers, such as domestic and foreign investors. But they are no more responsible for rising house prices than the typical first homebuyer.

The problem is not too much demand, but too little supply to prevent upward pressure on house prices.

In most markets, rising prices would induce new supply, containing or even lowering prices in the long-run. Unfortunately, the supply of new land and new homes in Australia is largely determined by regulation, preventing housing supply from responding quickly enough to rising prices.


Youth woes are structural

Alexander Philipatos

Much has been made of lacklustre employment levels for our youth. Last month, for example, then Telstra chairwoman Catherine Livingstone labelled youth unemployment levels (currently 13%) 'a tragedy.'

A particularly alarming graph comparing employment growth among 15 to 24 year-olds to the broader labour force shows that employment growth was similar for both young and old during the mid-2000s, but changed after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Since 2008, youth employment has contracted 7% while growing almost 10% over the rest of the labour force.

While these trends are concerning, the graph is misleading.

Employment among youths departed from that of the rest of the labour force as early as the 1980s, and the gap has grown wider over the following decades. The mining boom of the 2000s is the exception, where youth employment grew lock-step with the rest of the labour force.

In a way, the mining boom has helped to mask some of the underlying problems affecting young workers, problems that predate the GFC.

There are cyclical as well as structural problems.

Some cyclical unemployment is expected, particularly among young workers. Employment growth among youths should rise and fall along with the adult workforce, however young workers are often harder hit during recessions and slower to recover when the economy bounces back. Economic growth has been soft since the GFC, and this has not helped our youth.

But there are also structural factors at play, and now that economic growth has slowed, these issues are becoming more pronounced.

Among these structural changes are the effects of mechanisation and information technology. These advances have made substantial improvements to living standards while eliminating many low-skilled, labour intensive jobs on which many young workers relied.

The contraction of the manufacturing sector (relative to other areas of the economy) since the 1980s has also meant that aside from the services sector (in particular retail trade and hospitality), there are simply fewer entry level jobs to go around.

The structural problems affecting our youth have become more important, and will only continue as technological advances make more jobs obsolete. However, as the 2000s demonstrated, young people are best placed to find good jobs when the economy is growing strongly.


14 July, 2014

Repeating school has no social or academic benefit

This is rubbish. IQ increases with age among children so a kid repeating a year will have a higher IQ to do the work the second time around and will therefore be more likely to absorb it

Thousands of NSW parents are insisting their children repeat a year of school, despite warnings from education experts it could do more harm than good.

More than 15,000 primary school students have repeated over the past four years, with almost 7000 redoing kindergarten.

The second highest year level for students being held back is year 10, with more than 1130 students repeating last year.

In nine of the 11 school years from kindergarten to year 10, more boys repeated than girls in 2013.

Principals say they strongly advise parents against repeating because research overwhelmingly suggests students who are struggling academically are better off advancing.

Holding students back has also been shown to contribute to poor mental health, low self-esteem and feelings of shame.

Dr Helen McGrath, a leading Australian education and psychology researcher, said of repeating school years, there are few educational issues where the evidence is so damning, comparing it to “playing Russian roulette”.

“You need to be fairly sure that you’re prepared for the possibility that it may in fact set the child back,” she said.

There are also huge costs involved, with the OECD putting the annual cost of grade repetition in Australia at about $50,000 per repeater, taking into account the expense of an additional year of schooling as well as the delayed entry into the workforce.

In a report released last year, the OECD found about 7.5 per cent of 15-year-old Australian students had repeated at least once, which was less than the OECD average of 12 per cent.

Dr McGrath said she was glad Australian educators were starting to pay attention to the damaging effects.

New figures show the number of public school students repeating has been declining steadily, with the number of kindergarten repeaters dropping from 1,908 in 2010 to 1,485 last year, according to data from the NSW Education Department.

The president of the NSW Primary Principals’ Association, Geoff Scott, says students commonly repeat because of poor social skills or maturity levels rather than academic outcomes.

Australian kids start school younger than almost any other developed country in the world, up to two years ahead of students in top-performing countries such as Finland and Korea.

Mr Scott says it is always the priority of principals to progress students, unless there were extenuating circumstances such as missing considerable amounts of class time due to a lengthy holiday or illness.

“Going back some years, repeating was often the first port of call,” he said. “But now that we have more information about how children learn, the realisation from both parents and schools is that repeating isn’t going to make any difference, it’s only going to make them a year older.”

He said, while students might experience an academic bounce after repeating, the gains were minimal and short-lived.

“The reality is that the problem that’s caused that issue in the first place is still there and hasn’t been addressed by just repeating,” he said. We really need to intervene and tackle the issue, whether that be a learning difficulty, a socialisation problem or emotional issues.”

In high school, far more students repeat year 10 than year 7, 8 and 9 combined, with almost 5000 NSW students repeating year 10 between 2010 and 2013.

And the number of year 10 students repeating has increased over the past four years.

In 2013, 1139 year 10 students repeated, up from 1025 four years earlier.

The president of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council, Lila Mularczyk, said the spike was “not a phenomena that I have experienced or heard of”.

The NSW government raised the school leaving age in 2010 so that any student under 17 who wishes to leave school has to either enrol in TAFE, undertake an apprenticeship or be employed full-time.

“I really can’t see why there would be an increase in repeating at that point,” Ms Mularczyk said. “Year 11 is more flexible than year 10, so students can choose subjects that best suit their needs and interests.”


Warmist ideas that don't work

Comment from Australia by a writer who likes Star Wars allusions

If Labor’s Jedi Council had had their way, Australia would next year be part of the European Emissions Trading Scheme. EU businesses received a massive over-allocation of free permits to protect them from financial harm. As a result of this generous subsidy program, there was no incentive to change behaviour, and emissions rose initially then fell on account of the financial crisis. Slower economic activity, including a fall in demand for energy intensive manufactured products and travel, kept emissions down around the world. Lower emissions added even more excess permits to those already sloshing around the system and now a surplus of around one billion of them means polluters have no obligation to take action.

In the EU ETS, the price of carbon has been less than €10 and as low as €2.75 for almost 10 years. At those prices, it’s cheaper to buy CO2 certificates than make investments in new technology and clean energy sources. Experts agree that the price needs to be $30 or more to spur such investment. Still, the Labor Green alliance would have linked Australia to the EU’s scheme, which was recently described by The Economist magazine as "worse than useless" and by the International Emissions Trading Association as an example of "what not to do".

The real Jedi Masters, outside politics, are investing in wind, hydro, geothermal power and solar as the most reliable instruments to help fight global warming and meet our international emission reduction obligations. Germany is the world’s leader in this area and is already generating a third of its energy needs with renewables (although carbon emissions in Germany are on the rise as they replace nuclear power with dirty coal)

The Renewable Energy Target is being reviewed and likely to be kept at a true 20 per cent by 2020. If Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s Direct Action plan goes ahead, $2.55 billion will be available through the carbon farming initiative that awards those on the land for efforts in revegetation and reforestation. Under the scheme, Australia’s 120 or so biggest polluters will also have their emissions capped and be required to buy carbon credits in order to remain under the limit. The Climate Change Authority has recommended the cheapest way to do that is to look at eligible projects overseas.

The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group prefer projects that increase energy efficiency at local mines or in the domestic transport sector. Some still believe that technology that captures and stores emissions deep underground is a worthwhile investment. Carbon capture and storage was supposed to help keep the climate clean while also preserving profits for the world’s big miners.

Kevin Rudd put $300 million in to setting up the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, which has ploughed much of that seed money into overseas projects that have so far failed to prove that you can vanish emissions at existing facilities or at new ones.

Vattenfall is one of Europe’s biggest mining and power station conglomerates. In 2006 at the Schwarze Pumpe power station in Spremberg, east Germany, the world’s first full-scale CCS demonstration site was built. Eight weeks ago, it was quietly decommissioned after failing to achieve regulatory support to store emissions. Officials in Berlin saw buried CO2 almost as dangerous as nuclear waste. No state government in Germany will now even consider the idea of pipelines carrying CO2 across their land.

After ten years of investment, the Swiss giant Vattenfall announced that it was abandoning all research in to carbon capture and storage. It had proven too costly, and the high amounts of energy required to capture the emissions made the endeavour pointless.

With that in mind, perhaps the European Union’s climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard was possessed by some alien force this week when she awarded €300m ($435m) for a carbon capture and storage project in the UK. Drax is the UK’s largest power station and currently produces 7 per cent of the nation’s electricity. The company will use the funds to build a coal-fired plant next to its existing power station in Selby, North Yorkshire, which is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in Britain. The new plant would be capable of powering 630,000 British homes, with some 1.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from the facility being captured and pumped annually into a depleted gas field in the North Sea.

The European Commission is confident that the new plant’s emissions will reduce greenhouse gases by an amount equivalent to taking more than one million cars off the road. Let’s hope the force is with them. History is not.

As well as the investment in Yorkshire, Commissioner Hedegaard has earmarked €1 billion for 19 other clean energy projects across Europe, including a facility that will generate electricity from wave and tidal movements off the west coast of Ireland, a solar project in Cyprus and a geothermal power plant in Malta.

Greg Hunt supports a renewable energy target but doesn’t think governments should be investing in "speculative" renewable energy projects. He’s much more comfortable with safer bets, like trees.


Brisbane hits coldest temperature in 103 years

Global cooling arrives in my backyard

Brisbane has hit its coldest temperatures in 103 years. Not since July 28 1911 has Brisbane felt this cold, getting down to a brisk 2.6C at 6.41am. At 7am, it inched up to 3.3C.

Matt Bass, meteorologist from BOM, said the region was well below our average temperatures. “If it felt cold, that’s because it was, breaking that record is pretty phenomenal for Brisbane,” Bass said.

“The average for this time of year is 12C, so Brisbane was about 9C below average, it is pretty impressive really, to have the coldest morning in 103 years is a big record.”

Brisbane wasn’t the only town hitting landmark temperatures with Clermont breaking its coldest record two days in a row. "Clermont in the coal fields got down to -4.5 which is a new record for them, their previous record was -3.7, which was set yesterday, so they’ve re-broken their record two days in a row.”

All these cold temperatures are being brought on as cold air moves up from the south, combined with clear nights.

“We are seeing a series of cold fronts push really cold air across South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, which has brought low level snow.

“Which is good for the ski fields down there, but once all that air moves up towards Queensland it is still very cold and it loses all that moisture that drops all over Victoria and those other areas.


Teaching of Latin to be revived in classrooms under Federal Government push

LATIN is being dragged out of ancient history and into classrooms as part of a federal push for the return of the classical language.

At least one private school, Brisbane Girls Grammar, will make the study of Latin compulsory for Year 7 students next year as the Federal Government pumps up to $1.8 million into five new languages.

The extinct language - rarely used outside of the Vatican and in legal documents - will be elevated to the national curriculum on par with languages such as Mandarin and Indonesian.

The decision bemused education groups who yesterday said it was ‘patently absurd” to promote Latin ahead of modern languages.

Under the Australian curriculum, schools can offer 11 languages, such as Spanish, Arabic and Italian, which are spoken by billions of people around the world.

Approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population - or about 950 million people - speak Mandarin, while Spanish is spoken by about 400 million.

The number of fluent Latin speakers is thought to number only in the thousands worldwide.

From July 1, the Abbott Government will fund the expansion of the curriculum to include classical Latin and classical Greek. Hindi, Turkish and Auslan (Australian Sign Language) will also be added to the curriculum.

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the Minister supported the teaching of ‘historically significant” languages.

‘The Government is working towards 40 per cent of Year 12 students studying a second language in a decade, the more language options available for schools, the more likely students will be attracted to language study,” the spokesman said.

He said it was up to schools and state governments to determine which languages were taught. Classical Latin was spoken by the ancient Romans and extracts of the Latin language are used in legal circles and the Roman Catholic Church.

Modern Language Teachers’ Association of Queensland president Cynthia Dodd said she preferred it if her children first learn a living language.

P&Cs Qld chief executive Kevan Goodworth said it would be ‘patently absurd” to teach Latin rather than a language like Mandarin.

But Latin advocates say it is linked to higher academic performance in English, maths and science and has a ‘wonder” element for students . The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority recommended the inclusion of Classical Latin and Greek to the curriculum in 2011, and it has been discussed at a federal and state level.

This move was funded by the Abbott Government in the Budget, with $1.2 million to be provided in 2014-15 and $600,000 in 2015-16 .

BGGS Dean of Curriculum and Scholarship Bruce Addison said Latin provided a deeper understanding of English grammar and was a great foundation for other subjects.

‘Part of the strategy is so we can reinvigorate links with the past and links to the social sciences as well, because we have lived through an era whereby a lot of kids are moving away from that,” Dr Addison said.

Year 11 student Josephine Auer said the language had been incredibly useful, including in her biology and German subjects.


13 July, 2014

Judge compares incest and paedophilia to past attitudes towards homosexuality, claiming they might not be taboo anymore

A Sydney judge has compared incest and paedophilia to homosexuality, saying the community may no longer see sexual contact between siblings and between adults and children as “unnatural” or “taboo”.

District Court Judge Garry Neilson said just as gay sex was socially unacceptable and criminal in the 1950s and 1960s but is now widely accepted, “a jury might find nothing untoward in the advance of a brother towards his sister once she had sexually matured, had sexual relationships with other men and was now ‘available’, not having [a] sexual partner”.

He also said the “only reason” that incest is still a crime is because of the high risk of genetic abnormalities in children born from consanguineous relationships “but even that falls away to an extent [because] there is such ease of contraception and readily access to abortion”.

Judge Neilson made the extraordinary and bizarre comments in the case of a 58-year-old man, known for legal reasons as MRM, who is charged with repeatedly raping his younger sister in the family’s western Sydney home in 1981.

The man had earlier pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his sister when she was 10 or 11 years old in 1973 or 1974 after police recorded a telephone conversation between the siblings in July 2011 in which he admitted to having sexual contact with her when she was “a kid”.

But he has pleaded not guilty to the charge of sexual intercourse without consent, with an alternative charge of incest, regarding the 1981 events.

On April 7 a jury was empanelled and the Crown Prosecutor requested the jurors be told of the earlier misconduct to show MRM had a tendency to have a sexual interest in and have sexual intercourse with his sister.

The Crown argued that without the background information, the jury might find it hard to understand why MRM began raping his sister “out of the blue” and why she did not report it to her parents or police.

In the mid-1970s MRM had warned her not to tell their parents because they had just lost another son in a car crash and she remained fearful of upsetting her parents when the abuse recommenced in 1981.

But Judge Neilson refused to admit the evidence, saying the sexual abuse which had occurred when the girl was 10 or 11 and the youth was 17 occurred in a different context to the sex which happened when she was 18 and he was 26. By 1981, she had had sexual relationships with two men and had a young child.

“By that stage they are both mature adults. The complainant has been sexually awoken, shall we say, by having two relationships with men and she had become ‘free’ when the second relationship broke down,” Judge Neilson said.

“The only thing that might change that is the fact that they were a brother and sister but we’ve come a long way from the 1950s … when the position of the English Common Law was that sex outside marriage was not lawful.”

He went on to say incest only remains a crime “to prevent chromosomal abnormalities” but the availability of contraception and abortion now diminishes that reason.

“If this was the 50s and you had a jury of 12 men there, which is what you’d invariably have, they would say it’s unnatural for a man to be interested in another man or a man being interested in a boy. Those things have gone.”

On Tuesday Crown Prosecutor Sally Dowling SC asked the Court of Criminal Appeal to remit the case to a judge other than Judge Neilson because of the "misogynistic" attitude he displayed towards the complainant. “These remarks in my submission are completely disgraceful,” Ms Dowling said. "The reference to abortion is particularly repellent.”

Justices Arthur Emmett, Derek Price and Elizabeth Fullerton reserved their decision.

Adults Surviving Child Abuse president Dr Cathy Kezelman said: "To equate homosexuality, incest and the crime of child sexual assault is as ill-informed as it is outrageous. For it to be paraded by a Judge in Australia in 2014 during the time of the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse, or at any time, is beyond belief. Literally thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse have given testimony before the commission of the decades of damage their abuse has caused," Dr Kezelman said.

"The relational betrayal of the horrors of incest between a brother and sister of any age is abhorrently criminal. Failure to understand that prior abuse disempowers the victim establishing the ground for future assaults is ignorant. This together with referring to a sibling as being sexually ‘free’ or ‘available’ demands strict censure."

Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston called for Judge Neilson to step down from the bench for "ludicrous and obscene remarks". "These comments are offensive to every child, every victim, every homosexual person in this country."

Ms Johnston also called on the case to be referred to the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.


How Tony Abbott can win over the new Senate

Peter Reith

Prime Minister Tony Abbott can’t afford to let the Senate get away with shredding the budget. He will need all his political skills to get through the new Senate session. And if he botches it, he will dismay his supporters.

The public expect politicians to be good at politics. Politicians need to be every bit as good at politics as they are at running the country and the economy.

Abbott can’t afford to say, as he did last week: “Eventually - if not at the ?rst attempt or even the second - this budget will pass, because no one has put up a credible alternative."

The fact that opposition MPs have no credible alternative does not mean that the Senate will miraculously bow low and give Abbott the budget. Oppositions often avoid alternatives - the current government avoided policy options in the lead-up to the 2010 and 2013 elections. It’s not realistic to think that Abbott will have a better chance of securing the budget on a second attempt or third. In some cases, for example the proposed pension indexation, it will get harder, not easier, to legislate as the next election looms.

As at today, it looks like there will be a big hole in the budget. The opposition disingenuously says there is no problem with more spending and more debt, but nothing will dissuade them from their attacks on Abbott. The big problem for Abbott is that without some wins from the budget his supporters will start to lose hope that he can turn around and then redress Labor’s dysfunctional economic management. The buck stops with the PM. Despite a number of wins on other policies including stopping the boats, the big question is the ability to make progress on fiscal policy in the next few months.

So this week’s Senate session start is Abbott’s first big test.

I faced a not dissimilar test in the early days of the Howard government. Industrial relations was a key plank of our 1996 policy. We hammered Paul Keating on issues such as unfair dismissal all the way to election day.

Like today's government, we did not have control of the Senate. I spent 50 hours negotiating with the Democrats to secure our IR reforms. My colleague Robert Hill told me the Democrats would be impossible to deal with. But in the end, we forged an agreement in writing and the legislation passed in record time.

For the Howard government, it proved for the first time that we could successfully implement a major policy and that we could also manage the Senate. We didn't get everything we wanted but we got most of it. Critically we established a working relationship with the Senate, which later paved the way for other big issues including the goods and services tax (GST). Abbott needs to show that he can make progress. The repeal of the carbon tax and the mining tax will be signature reforms but he needs to make headway on fiscal policy.

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit this week, Abbott will be busy - but he needs to start now. He knows how to negotiate: in his first policy job as a junior employment minister he successfully put together a tricky set of reforms through discussion and negotiation. He could do the same with the three crossbench senators - NSW Liberal Democratic Party’s David Leyonhjelm, Australian Motoring Enthusiasts' Ricky Muir and Bob Day of Family First - who are publicly saying they want to talk. Leyonhjelm wants some deregulation of childcare. It sounds like Abbott’s policy anyway so why not? Muir wants to be sensible, so be imaginative and find something for him. And Day would like something on industrial relations so why not throw aside the government’s IR reluctance and offer to work to cut youth unemployment, which is one of Bob’s key objectives.

Abbott has advantages in dealing with the Senate. He has so many things in the budget that he could easily shift a few around. Some proposals will need to be dropped. If he doesn’t have the numbers for the pension change he could offer to drop it and thereby give Palmer a win as part of a package. In my opinion the Coalition will not go to the next election promising a reduction in pensions so why not be realistic and drop it now but get something in return? Instead of being pushed, why not do a triple pike and demonstrate political flexibility?

The hardest part is dealing with the Greens. At least we know that they will do anything for a deal, as demonstrated when they participated with Al Gore when he went along with no carbon tax repeal and no effective ETS. The Greens want something on the environment and the public is interested in environmental protection so the government might start with what the voters want and work from there.

It’s not easy to reconcile the irreconcilable but it’s time to make a start.


NSW government reveals first Millers Point public housing properties to be sold off

Public housing residents have been evicted as the first of the 293 government-owned properties at Millers Point and The Rocks go under the hammer within the next few months.

The sale of the first six heritage properties will test the waters in what real estate agents say could become some of Sydney's priciest and most exclusive harbourside suburbs of the future. Similar freehold properties have sold for as much as $3 million each.

The six properties will be auctioned, and the public housing residents in these properties will be relocated, the NSW government announced Saturday. The marketing of the properties will begin next week.

Justifying the eviction of many tenants who have lived in the properties for their lifetimes, ministers said today the sale would reinvest millions of dollars back into the state's social housing system.

For every house sold in Millers Point, the government would "build three houses in many other suburbs of Sydney," the Minister for Family and Community Services, Gabrielle Upton, and Minister for Finance and Services, Dominic Perrottet, said in a statement.

"While we are very conscious that this involves relocating tenants who live in these properties, a tough decision had to be taken that will benefit far more people in need of housing assistance," said Ms Upton.

"It simply is not fair to the 58,000 applicants on the social housing waiting list for the government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars maintaining properties which are not suitable for public housing."

Of the 293 government owned properties, 214 are heritage listed. The government claims it would cost as much as $100 million to restore and maintain the properties. The average maintenance bill of each property averages around $14,500 a year, compared with $3,000 to $3,500 across the rest of the state.

The sale of the properties is expected to rapidly gentrify one of Sydney's oldest and grittiest neighbourhoods. An agent who has sold former public housing previously told Fairfax Media that once it was gentrified "it will be such an exclusive suburb,"

Di Jones agent Andrew Stewart said. "I don't know of an area in Sydney at all that would have the attributes of the housing of this area. You are right on the waterfront but also a short walk to the CBD, ferries just down the street. Maybe Kirribilli is similar, but most of Kirribilli is apartments."

Mr Perrottet said the sales would test the market, but wouldn't be rushed.

"The properties in Millers Point are of important historical significance for the people of NSW and we don't want to rush the planning or the sales processes," he said.

He said the process of relocating tenants was being done with "sensitivity and compassion." A Tenant Relocation Team was "going to great lengths to satisfy their specific requests."

Three of the six properties are located in Dawes Point, and the rest are in Millers Point. Tennants of the six properties have already been relocated.


So-called protectors the real marine polluters

LISTEN to the Greens, Labor or their broadcast arm, the ABC, and you might think the biggest threats to the pristine waters of north Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef came from the mining industry and the ships that serve our export industry.

Dig a little deeper though and you will find it is the ecoterrorist group Sea Shepherd, a darling of the Leftist media, that has been fouling our northern waters.

Not that you would know about it if you were wedded to the taxpayer-funded broadcaster, Fairfax or the other news services which pander to the group. Yet it was Sea Shepherd Ltd, whose Australian arm is chaired by former Greens leader Bob Brown, which was found guilty of pouring up to 500 litres of diesel into the Trinity Inlet, the mangrove-lined estuary which serves as the port to the city of Cairns, and fined $15,000 last month for marine pollution.

Another case of do what I say, not what I do, for the global green movement. According to court records, Sea Shepherd’s ship New Atlantis pumped diesel fuel into the harbour as the ship was moored alongside the Cairns wharf on October 13, 2012.

It was claimed that a crew member failed to manually flick the “low level” switch during a fuel transfer, despite being aware the switch was faulty.

The court was told Sea Shepherd Australia, which had only recently taken possession of the ship and brought it from Japan a week earlier, had yet to translate signage and manuals or repair the switch.

Crew members had been given basic handover information but the chief engineer had to work out the ship’s systems “by his own devices” due to instruction manuals and other materials all being in Japanese.

All crew members were volunteers and were either German, Dutch or American. Fortunately, a member of the public noticed diesel flowing into the sea and after unsuccessfully attempting to alert crew members notified the master of a ship moored alongside who boarded the New Atlantis and notified its crew.

“She noticed a strong smell of diesel fuel and saw liquid running from the New Atlantis into the water,” the court document read.

“The smell was so strong the passer-by had to put a jumper over her nose ...”

Magistrate Kevin Priestly called the amount “not insignificant” and questioned why a crewmen carried out the fuel transfer and not the chief engineer. No conviction was recorded against Sea Shepherd and the group was given six months to pay.

While Sea Shepherd’s polluting activities were not reported by some, every accusatory claim made by the Greens about the development of the deep water Abbot Point harbour has been unquestioningly repeated, even though they have been baseless


12 July, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is acerbic about Clive Palmer

11 July, 2014

Fraudulent and extreme Green/Left claims about Sri Lankan illegals

Andrew Bolt summarizes below. What Andrew might have mentioned is that this is a really dumb issue for the Left to hang their hat on -- as the great majority of Australians are strongly opposed to illegal immigration. The Leftist shrieks are in fact most likely to make Tony Abbott look good

Refugee lawyer George Newhouse and former prime minister Malcolm Fraser have likened returning boat people to Sri Lanka to returning Jews to Nazi Germany

THE outrage over the forced return of 41 Sri Lankan boat people has been exposed as a fraud by the “asylum seekers” themselves.

Here’s conclusive proof that our “refugee lobby” is motivated by deceit, self-preening and insane hatred of the Abbott Government.

These 41 were on one of two boats of Sri Lankans intercepted by our Navy over the past fortnight, and were sent back this week.

Greens leader Christine Milne was apoplectic, describing the passengers as victims of a Sri Lankan tyranny and the evil Tony Abbott: “Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been returned to Sri Lanka: the persecuted to the persecutor.”

Refugee lawyer George Newhouse and former prime minister Malcolm Fraser even likened returning boat people to Sri Lanka to returning Jews to Nazi Germany.

And journalists of the Left competed to be the most horrified. ABC host Fran Kelly, won, gasping: “Since when does our Government disappear people?”

Bad luck for Kelly. The 41 have now appeared again, back in Sri Lanka where they spoke to reporters.

So were they “refugees”? Were they truly the “persecuted”, fleeing a Third Reich in the Indian Ocean?

Let me quote every single one who talked to reporters. You judge.

Punchi Banda Podinilame, speaking for 10 relatives on board, told Fairfax “they had all gone to Australia to find employment”.

Manushika Sandamali, wife of another passenger, admitted: “My husband went to Australia to get a job.”

M.G. Sumanadasa said he was a stone mason who “got on board to earn more money and to have a family house in New Zealand”.

Anthony Fernando said: “I have gone to Australia by boat to find employment.”

The only human rights abuse Fernando reported was our Navy feeding him old muesli bars: “Australian authorities have ill-treated us; they have given expired food, which had a date of May 22.”

Passenger Bhamith Caldera refused to say if he really “had a case for asylum”.

Kasun Hemantha Jayasekara said he was actually “very happy to be back in Sri Lanka”, given “the alternative was an island prison” like Manus.

Sujeewa Saparamadu came closest to claiming some passengers feared persecution. She said a Special Task Force commando accused of helping to organise the boat “has a political problem”, which she did not identify.

She also claimed she’d been harassed by Sri Lankan authorities after giving an interview to the ABC two years ago, leading her family to decide “to go to another country like New Zealand that offered better economic circumstances”.

In fact, that ABC interview had merely recorded her husband admitting his four brothers had themselves just been returned by the Gillard government after trying to find work in Australia.

(And, yes, Labor returned more than 1000 Sri Lankans against their will, yet the Left waits until Tony Abbott does it before protesting.)

The only human rights abuse Saparamadu complained of this week was Australian officials confiscating her iPhone 5, her daughter’s digital camera and her husband’s gold credit cards.

So how could the Greens claim it a crime to have sent back economic migrants? How can so many journalists — and the Human Rights Commission — scream we’ve breached our human rights obligations?

But don’t expect a sorry. No, the Left is now screaming about the second intercepted boat, this carrying 153 passengers now believed to be in Australian custody at sea.

Newhouse and barrister Ron Merkel, QC, have persuaded the High Court to issue a temporary injunction against returning these 153 to Sri Lanka, and the same superheated rhetoric is heard about torture, the “disappeared” and Nazis.

But are these boat people any more likely to be true refugees?

Answer: no, even though these, unlike the first 41, are mainly of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority.

In fact, Merkel has already conceded most — if not all — sailed from India, where they presumably lived in the safety of the established refugee camps.

So why did they try to come here?

As yet, they are still held incommunicado, but Ragajini, the 32-year-old wife of one passenger, told The Sydney Morning Herald from India’s Aliyar refugee camp that “her husband had crippling debts and had needed to escape to a country where he could earn money”.

So not needing our asylum. Just our jobs.

Sure, the 153 might not want to be returned to Sri Lanka but I’m guessing the plan is to send them back to India, where they were always safe.

So if a crime against morality has been committed it is surely this: that so many atrocity-mongers and moral poseurs have inflicted upon us a gigantic fraud.


Senators should find savings: Abbott

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has challenged cross bench senators to come up with savings to match the holes they are punching in the federal budget.

THE Senate will resume debate on the carbon tax repeal on Tuesday, after the government successfully brought on the package of bills on Monday.

Palmer United Party senators threw the government temporarily off balance when they initially voted with Labor and the Greens not to bring on the bills until next Monday.

The coalition, which holds 33 seats in the new upper house, is confident of securing the six extra votes it needs to pass the bills as early as this week.

But Clive Palmer, whose party holds three crucial votes, insists the government should keep a number of costly Labor climate programs.

Mr Palmer also says the government should not go ahead with at least $9 billion in cuts to spending out of Labor's mining tax scheme.

Mr Abbott said the coalition promised at the September election to scrap the SchoolKids Bonus, the low income support payment and the low income superannuation payment because they were funded by the mining tax which is to be abolished.

"Obviously, we will keep talking to the cross bench senators but, in the end, if they want to keep spending this money presumably they are going to have to find savings to pay for it," Mr Abbott told the Nine Network on Tuesday.

"We will push on with implementing our program. That's what we were elected to do." He described the debate in the Senate as a "bit of argy-bargy".

The repeal of the mining tax will be the immediate next order of business for the Senate after the carbon tax repeal bills are passed.


Carbon tax repeal would save average Canberra home $228 a year

Canberra Raiders legend Glenn Lazarus quoted JFK as he pushed for all savings from the carbon tax abolition to be fully and immediately passed onto customers and told the Senate some Canberrans had been house-sitting in Queensland to escape harsh power bills.

It comes as figures show the average Canberra home will save $228 a year in electricity costs when the carbon tax is scrapped.

On his second day as a senator, the ex-prop – the Palmer United Party's Senate leader – put forward an amendment to the Coalition's carbon tax repeal package.

The proposed changes were crafted to force energy companies to explain in power bills how savings had been fully passed on.

The Queanbeyan-born Mr Lazarus elaborated his argument by telling the Senate about the effect of the carbon tax on energy bills in the national capital.

"In 2013 when I was campaigning for election to the Senate in Queensland I took a short break and visited family in Canberra," he said.

"While in Canberra I became aware of an elderly couple that are forced to house-sit in Queensland each winter because they simply cannot afford the cost of heating their own home in Canberra.

"Every winter they have to leave the comfort, familiarity and safety of their own home just to survive the cold winter months.

"What sort of country have we become?"

The senator then added a quote from US president John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech from 1961: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

A public gallery heckler interrupted Mr Lazarus and the interjector was warned by Senate President Stephen Parry.

On Tuesday morning the ACT's main energy supplier, ActewAGL, said it was unsure when the savings would flow through to its customers because it depended on when the tax was removed.

The federal government was confident of repealing the carbon tax, perhaps as early as this week.

But the government was reliant on the support of the Senate, specifically the help of Palmer United Party senators as well as independent Nick Xenophon, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, Family First's Bob Day and Motoring Enthusiast Ricky Muir.

In the ACT the savings from repealing the carbon tax were already going to be passed on following a decision by the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission, and some other regulators across Australia have made similar decisions.

ActewAGL's general manager of retail Tony Muckle said the ICRC had estimated an average territory household with an annual electricity consumption of 8000 kWh paid about $1959 during 2013-14 for electricity.

It was estimated an average ACT household would pay $2044 a year based on carbon-inclusive prices during 2014-15.

If the carbon tax was repealed, the same average ACT household would pay $228 less during 2014-15, or a total of $1816.

"Given the current uncertainty surrounding the timing and details of the proposed repeal legislation, we are not in a position to provide a detailed plan or timeline for the removal of the carbon price component from our energy prices," Mr Muckle said.

"We can, however, confirm that any adjustments to energy pricing as a result of the repeal of carbon legislation will be passed on to our customers in accordance with our legal and regulatory requirements."

Price adjustments would also be passed on in full for gas bills.

"Before ActewAGL can determine the exact impact on 2014-15 gas prices, an approval of the gas network charges, without the price of the carbon component, must be provided by the Australian Energy Regulator," Mr Muckle said.


Christian army officer Bernie Gaynor pays the price for marching out of step with top generals

The Australian Army will terminate Major Bernie Gaynor's commission tomorrow.

Gaynor served three tours of duty in Iraq while serving in Army intelligence. In a column published on March 17, I quoted a speech he had given to a conference in Melbourne: "It is my unpleasant duty to inform you that the Australian Defence Force has a fundamentally broken approach to religion, an approach shaped partly by the triumph of bureaucratic administration over battlefield considerations but mostly by political correctness …

"The ADF has a fundamentally flawed understanding of Islam. Just look at Iraq. I was one of the last Australians to serve there. All the politicians and military hierarchy were saying the withdrawal of Western military force was based on success. And yet al-Qaeda today controls more of Iraq than it ever did while Western forces were in the country …"

None of this is why Gaynor is being drummed out of the army. Rather, Gaynor sees this military failure as a symptom of a cultural issue over which he was willing to sacrifice his army career: his Christian faith. On this issue, by his own admission, he has been a provocateur and a serial litigator.

He formally protested the decision by the army to allow service personnel to march, in uniform, in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. He argued that army personnel are barred from participating in political activities while in uniform and that the Mardi Gras is a political event as defined by its own articles of association.

He also pointed out that Mardi Gras had a long history of openly vilifying the Catholic church, and Catholic clergy, over its opposition to same-sex marriage. Gaynor, who is Catholic, argued this was offensive to many Catholics, who make up about 40 per cent of military personnel.

The army’s "quick assessment" response to his complaint even conceded his core points while dismissing his complaint:

"The ADF traditionally avoids overt support of specific political viewpoints. By allowing official participation in the 2013 Mardi Gras by uniformed personnel the ADF could be seen as now being comfortable in supporting politically polarising issues.

"If a uniformed member were to support a gathering that insulted strongly held beliefs of a religion other than Christianity (to use Gaynor's example), vilifying Islam with 'Mohammad is Gay' signs… that member would be severely dealt with. In the case of the Mardi Gras, the opposite occurred."

Gaynor half-won that argument but he over-stepped the army’s mark by using his private blog to wage a cultural war against what he calls politically correct policies. Eventually, Major-General A.J. Campbell requested his resignation, stating: "In short, army does not share your views, which are both offensive and divisive and not in the interests of army or our people."

This view was ultimately confirmed by the Chief of the Defence Force. Gaynor will thus be gone tomorrow.


10 July, 2014

Royal commission into union corruption: Construction union 'blackmailed building firm'

Victoria's powerful construction union allegedly blackmailed a building company by waging an unlawful boycott in Melbourne, an inquiry into union corruption has heard.

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is investigating claims against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

The commision heard Boral was effectively blacklisted by the CFMEU and drawn into a war for failing to abide by a union ban on supplying concrete to Melbourne developer Grocon.

Boral's chief executive Mike Kane told the inquiry that its concrete and building products were banned on more than 70 union-controlled sites in Melbourne, costing the firm $8 million in lost earnings and court cases.

"This is a criminal conspiracy to interfere in the marketplace and to stop our ability to supply our customers," he said.

"It's blackmail, it's blackmail by any other definition that I've ever heard of and it's been effective."
Union heavyweight 'likened builder boycott to war'

Earlier, counsel assisting the royal commission Jeremy Stoljar SC outlined evidence that was to be given by executives from Boral.
The CFMEU's Victoria secretary, John Setka, addresses construction workers in 2013. Photo: Union heavyweight John Setka is alleged to have said the CFMEU was at war with developer Grocon. (AAP: Julian Smith)

Mr Stoljar said Boral representatives attended a meeting with CFMEU Victorian secretary John Setka in April last year.

They alleged Mr Setka said words to the effect, "we are at a war with Grocon and in a war you cut the supply lines and once peace is established, the CFMEU will be at the table to divide up the spoils".

Mr Kane said Boral was being told that there were further consequences that Boral would have to pay "if we didn't accede to the demand to stop supplying Grocon."

He said the purpose was not "to get Boral". "Boral ... was roadkill. [It] was an accident. We were simply supplying one of our many customers in the Melbourne market and we got this sort of perfunctory advice: 'You no longer supply them (Grocon)'," Mr Kane said.

"It's about power and then other mischief happens.

"We were simply a bystander who happened to be in the way. And then when we didn't agree, we had to be punished as a lesson to other suppliers: 'See what will happen to you if you follow Boral's footsteps'.

"The only solution I know is that the law has to provide a remedy. And currently it can't and it doesn't."

CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan dismissed the inquiry as a show trial and said Mr Kane would have gone to the police if he had any real evidence against Mr Setka.

"What you’ve heard today is not evidence, it is a political speech in the political and economic interests of a large multinational corporation," he said.

If he was fair dinkum about that, and I don't think he's fair dinkum about that, he would have rung Victoria Police, who enforce the Crimes Act."

Australia's competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, confirmed last month it was conducting an investigation into the issue.


Kyrgios gives racism grand slam

CANBERRA teenager Nick Kyrgios gave the lie to claims of Australian racism when he was cheered by fans across the nation and around the world after his historic victory over Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.

Kyrgios, whose father is of Greek origin and mother is from Malaysia, does not look like a whitebread Anglo sort of bloke. Yet not a commentator mentioned his features when applauding his win at the Grand Slam tournament.

Nor did anyone note that Melbourne-born Musa Cerantonio, widely regarded by security forces internationally as one of the most influential ­recruiters for the ultra-violent Islamic State, formerly known as ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, looks more like an average young Anglo-Irish bush dance caller than the spruiker for Middle Eastern terrorism that he is.

But there he was, with his beaming grin shining from a youthful bushy reddish beard on the ubiquitous YouTube announcing his support for the Sunni caliphate, or Muslim state, in the territory seized by the extremist hordes following the black flag of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a militant with a $10 million bounty on his head.

Baghdadi, a delusionary who claims to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, has been slaughtering all those who are not prepared to convert to Sunni Islam, as he enthusiastically spreads the message of the so-called religion of peace.

Those who cling to the ­failed notion of multiculturalism in Australia and fight to block freedom of speech by supporting the retention of the offensive section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, do so ­because they don’t want their prejudices held up to public scrutiny by the majority. It is their minority view they want to prevail and, under that view, the causes of community dissent can’t be explored, let alone challenged, without ­inviting claims of bigotry.

Part of the dogma of the multicultural industry relies on the false claim that there is at the heart of Anglo-Australian culture an irrational fear of something called the Other — that is, anyone who doesn’t look like a Chesty Bond, blonde beach-loving Aussie caricature. But it was impossible to discern any fear of Nick Kyrgios last week.

On the contrary, much of the nation was delighted to find a new young hero to ­worship. Green-and-gold bedraped Australians at Wimbledon who had never heard of the newcomer a week earlier were seen screaming themselves hoarse with encouragement, and those at home laughed and cried as they learnt that his proud mother, Norlaila, didn’t think her youngster was good enough to beat a champion of Nadal’s stature at the world’s greatest tennis tournament.

While this was delighting the nation, Cerantonio was hitting the anti-social media to step up his recruiting drive for death squads. Early on Wednesday, he announced he was planning to leave his hiding place (believed to be in the Philippines), to join the murderers in the Middle East.

Clearly it is not a case of one race being acceptable and ­another unacceptable, one ­appearance being frightening, another welcoming. It is a case of one culture being benign and one being lethal.

The deadly Islamist culture Cerantonio has chosen is ­undoubtedly Koranic in origin.

In his all-too popular videos, Cerantonio brandishes the Islamic holy book like a banner, exhorting his followers to observe its message.

That message, unchanged since medieval times and ­unquestioned by Islam’s most fanatical supporters and brutally applied by al-Baghdadi and his minions is one of death for those who will not bend to his brand of Islam as the bodies of Christians, Kurds and non-Sunni demonstrate.

It has appealed to a hundred or more young Australians who have travelled to join the extremist militants in Syria and Iraq.

Last week, Attorney-General George Brandis met a group of Islamic leaders in Canberra to discuss changes which will permit the domestic and international agencies ASIO and ASIS to better deal with the threat posed to ­national security by those who have gone or plan to go and join the Islamists in the Middle East.

The good intentions of the imams and community leaders are to be applauded but what is really needed is a thorough examination of the culture within the Muslim community — not a homogenous group by any means — which nurtures and supports individuals such as Cerantonio and Sydney sheik Abu Sulayman, a senior official in the Syrian militant group, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Until then, the anti-social activities of significant members of the Muslim community are deserving of suspicion and will remain so until the majority of Muslims demonstrate that Australian culture, our way of life, is not threatened by these radical extremists


Australian students score well in PISA financial literacy test

The PISA 2012 Financial Literacy assessment is the first large scale international study to assess the financial literacy, learned in and outside of school, of 15-year-olds nearing the end of compulsory education. In this study, financial literacy is defined as “…knowledge and understanding of financial concepts and risks, and the skills, motivation and confidence to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make effective decisions across a range of financial contexts, to improve the financial well-being of individuals and society, and to enable participation in economic life”. For a full explanation, see the PISA 2012 Assessment and Analytical Framework.

This is the first time that financial literacy has been a part of the OECD’s PISA, a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds.

Eighteen countries and economies participated in the assessment of financial literacy, including 13 OECD countries and economies: Australia, the Flemish Community of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and the United States; and five partner countries and economies: Colombia, Croatia, Latvia, the Russian Federation and Shanghai-China. A total of 29,000 students participated in the assessment, including approximately 3,300 Australian students from 768 schools.

Some of the study findings relating to Australian students' performance include:

· 16% of Australian students performed at the top level of proficiency (level 5), compared with 10% of students across the OECD;

· 10% of Australian students were low performers in financial literacy (level 1);

· Male and female students scored at the same level in financial literacy on average;

· Some 11% of the variation in student performance in financial literacy is associated with socioeconomic status, about the same as the OECD average;

· Students in metropolitan schools performed significantly better than students with similar socioeconomic status who attend schools in rural areas;

· 82% of students have a bank account and 73% earn money from work, including working outside school hours, working in a family business or performing occasional informal jobs.

As the Australian Government agency responsible for financial literacy, ASIC facilitated Australia’s participation in the PISA 2012 Financial Literacy assessment in partnership with states and territories. The research was conducted by ACER. The next PISA financial literacy assessment will take place in 2015.


Bogan controversy mayor 'will not stand down'

"Bogan" is difficult to define. An uncultured and ignorant working class person is about it

Glamorgan Spring Bay Council Mayor Bertrand Cadart has said he will not stand down, even if his fellow councillors declare they have lost confidence in him.

Councillor Cadart is facing a vote of no confidence next week, after making national headlines for calling members of his council area "the most bogan of bogans".

The mayor said his comments had been taken out of context.

"Because English is my second, obviously not my mother tongue," said the French-born mayor.

Some councillors and local residents were upset after the mayor told a magazine that Triabunna [the town at the centre of the Glamorgan Spring Bay area] was ugly and he did not care about the people living there.


9 July, 2014

High Court challenge: Government admits holding asylum seekers, pledges 72 hours' notice on any deportation

A group of 153 asylum seekers intercepted off the coast of Australia could be detained at sea for weeks, if the High Court decides to hear a legal challenge over their fate.

A High Court hearing today heard the first official confirmation that the group, which includes children as young as two, are being held on an Australian Customs vessel.

The Government has agreed not to return the asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without three days' notice.

Meanwhile members of another group of asylum seekers, who were handed to the Sri Lankan navy on Sunday, appeared in court in the southern city of Galle.

In the High Court, lawyers acting for about one third of the 153-strong group of Tamils, whose whereabouts the Government refuses to disclose, are seeking to challenge the legality of the Commonwealth's actions.

Today's hearing in Melbourne was told that at least 21 of the asylum seekers are minors, aged between two and 16 years of age. The majority of the group as a whole are males.

Ron Merkel QC, who is acting for the asylum seekers, told the court the boat was intercepted in Australian waters and that there was evidence it was in "trouble" at the time.

However Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson said the boat was found in Australia's contiguous zone - not the migration zone - and argued that the passengers had no right to claim asylum in Australia.

"People who reach the contiguous zone have no rights under the act," he told the court.

Mr Gleeson said the 72 hours' notice would be given to the asylum seekers' lawyers if a decision was made to hand them over.

He said the commitment to provide notice was "given without any admissions on any matter of fact or law".

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has told Sky News the Government will uphold the commitment.

"We will of course abide by our undertakings to the court and we await the outcome, but the Australian Government has made it clear from the outset that we intend to disrupt the people smuggling trades," she said.

Mr Merkel said the issue was not whether the Government had power to take the 153 people on board an Australian vessel, but whether they could be forcibly returned to Sri Lanka.

The court has yet to decide if the lawyers have a case to be heard, but if the application is accepted it could prevent the asylum seekers being handed over to Sri Lankan authorities.

Uncertainty for asylum seekers still being held at sea

Justice Susan Crennan indicated the full bench would likely hear the case, with the matter to go back before the High Court for a directions hearing within 21 days.

It is unclear whether the asylum seekers will stay aboard the Customs vessel for that time.

Justice Crennan has given lawyers for the asylum seekers seven days to file a statement of claim, after which the Government has seven days to respond.

Mr Merkel has asked the Government's lawyers to give him notice if the asylum seekers will be transferred to Manus Island or Nauru.

The hearing has now been adjourned until Friday morning, when the Government's lawyers are expected to provide documents including details of the asylum seekers' names.

Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, says his country has no plans to accept the group, who are believed to have set sail from a port in India.

"I can categorically deny and reject any plans of Sri Lanka to take over the suspected, speculated, presumed asylum seekers coming from India," he told ABC News 24.

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, says the asylum seekers could be sent to an offshore processing centre.

"I believe that the intention is that the children ... and the families and others will be taken to a land based detention centre," she told 7.30.


Tony Abbott says Japan's attempts to resume Southern Ocean whaling will not harm relations

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says any attempt by Japan to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean would not damage a "special friendship" underlined today by the signing of a free trade deal.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe says his country will abide by the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) ruling earlier this year that its whaling program in the Southern Ocean must cease.

The ICJ ruled the program was not carried out for scientific purposes.

But Mr Abe, who is in Australia for a three-day visit, indicated that might not be where the matter ends.

"The decision by ICJ confirms that one of the objectives of the international convention for regulating whaling is indeed a sustainable use of resources," he said through a translator.

On Monday, Mr Abe indicated his intention to restart Japan's Southern Ocean whaling program.

He said Japan is committed to carrying out scientific research on whales. "Japan, looking at international law and scientific ground, will engage in research of whaling in order to collect the indispensible scientific information in order to manage the whale resources," he said.

Mr Abbott says the two countries will have to differ on the issue.

"Friends can disagree. That's in no way inconsistent," he said.

On Tuesday night a gala dinner was held at Parliament House in Canberra to honour Mr Abe.

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek planned to raise the issue when she met Mr Abe at the dinner.

"Being such close friends does allow us to raise issues like whaling, where there has been some differences of opinion between Japan and Australia, and we will do that in the meeting," she said.

"I think the fact that Japan has accepted the international verdict on the current whaling program in the Southern Ocean is a very important step and a very good indication."

Earlier, Mr Abe and Mr Abbott signed three treaties designed to further liberalise trade and enhance cooperation in the areas of defence, science and technology.

Mr Abe also addressed a special joint sitting of federal parliament on the first full day of his visit to Australia.

Speaking in English, he reiterated his nation's vow of peace made after World War II, sending his condolences to Australians killed and traumatised in that conflict.

He said deepened economic and defence ties had led to a new era in the relationship between the two nations.

"We will now join up in a scrum just like in rugby," he said, drawing laughter from MPs.

On Wednesday, Mr Abe will tour parts of Western Australia's Pilbara region.

Premier Colin Barnett will show Mr Abe and Mr Abbott the West Angelas iron ore mine, which is a joint venture project between Rio Tinto and two Japanese companies.

WA's exports to Japan totalled almost $23 billion in 2013, making the country WA's second largest export market.


Qantas sacks 167 staff, engineers' union warns of flight delays

Qantas has sacked 167 staff today as part of a broader plan to lay off thousands of workers to cut costs. The move would see 131 engineers lose their jobs, while 36 administration staff have also been axed.

The cuts were part of the 5,000 job losses the airline announced at its results in February in a push to cut costs and return the company to profit after a $235 million half-year loss.

Qantas was targeting $2 billion in cost savings by financial year 2016/17.

Steve Purvinas of the Licensed Aircraft Engineers' Association said the loss of maintenance engineers would create safety problems.

"Qantas are going to find themselves drastically undermanned because during the consultation phase of these discussions we have noted that they already don't have enough staff to equip all of their future work," he told a press conference.

Mr Purvinas also warned the latest round of Qantas job cuts would lead to flight delays because some aircraft would be left un-airworthy.

"Qantas will find because they don't have enough staff, and our members are already working copious amount of overtime in order to get through their daily duties, they will have to defer defects on aircraft that require fixing and eventually that workload will build up to a point where aircraft aren't allowed to fly," he said.

But Qantas Domestic CEO Lyell Strambi said fewer engineers were needed as the airline moved to newer model planes.

"The simple fact is as we are retiring our older aircraft, aligning our maintenance systems with Boeing recommendations and implementing process improvements we need fewer engineering employees," Mr Strambi said in a statement.

"While any job loss is regrettable, we have worked with our employees and unions over the past five months to reduce the number of compulsory retrenchments through voluntary redundancies, job swaps and redeployment and we will continue to do so where practical."

Mr Strambi said the changes were needed to to protect the long-term viability of the company.

"The changes we are making across the whole organisation as part of our transformation are necessary to protect as many jobs as possible and the long-term future of the Qantas Group."


Royal commission hears corrupt union warned Pentridge developer not to cooperate with authorities

A recorded phone call from a union representative telling a Melbourne developer to "forget about the law" and that his site would be shut down if the company cooperated with the industry watchdog has been heard at a royal commission.

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is sitting in Melbourne until tomorrow, investigating claims against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

Today it heard evidence from the two principals of West Homes, the building company behind the $800 million development of the old Pentridge Prison site at Coburg, in Melbourne's north.

Leigh Chiavaroli gave evidence that the CFMEU forced him to hire both a close friend and the brother-in-law of the now Victorian state secretary, John Setka, following the death of a builder on the worksite in 2009.

Mr Chiavaroli said neither of the shop stewards worked very hard, sometimes not showing up to the site at all.

He told the commission he had to pay them for a full working week despite their refusal to sign timesheets, recording when they clocked on and off.

The hearing was told that subcontractors were shut out of the site because they were not union members and did not have enterprise bargaining agreements.

After a painter complained about the union's conduct to the industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), Mr Chiavaroli said he received an angry phone call from union organiser Gerard Benstead.

In a recording played to the commission, Mr Benstead could be heard warning Mr Chiavaroli not to cooperate with the ABCC.

"If people go down the road of getting the ABCC involved, all it does is halt your job and creates dramas," he said on the recording.

"They think they frigging got all the, well they have got a lot of power, that's why you want to keep them out of there, right?

"If you go talking about the ABCC, you wait, if Johnny Setka hears about that, that'll be frigging, that'll be the end of it.

"Do the right thing now, forget about the law. I can do it another way."

In a second phone recording played to the commission, Mr Setka referred to the painter who made the complaint as a "***ing dog, Turkish ***ing painting piece of shit".


8 July, 2014

Govt to cut jihadists' social security

AUSTRALIAN jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria are to have their dole payments cut.

THE federal government estimates about 60 of them, mostly young radicalised Muslim men, are fighting in the two conflicts. Legislation implementing a range of measures against returning jihadists will be introduced to parliament the week after next.

Australia didn't want them back, Attorney-General George Brandis said on Friday.

And the government certainly wouldn't be paying welfare benefits to people who had left Australia to fight in the conflicts.

The Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 carries a maximum 25-year jail term and the government wants to make it easier to prove someone has participated in a foreign conflict.

Under proposed changes, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be able to certify a particular region or conflict under the foreign incursions legislation.

"There can be a presumption that they were there for no-good purpose," Senator Brandis told Macquarie Radio.

Security laws will be changed to give Australia's domestic spy agency better access to computer systems. Laws now require ASIO to seek a warrant for a particular computer, which doesn't allow access to others on the same network.

Access to networked systems will be the subject of a single warrant. That will "immensely" enhance ASIO's capacity to engage in electronic surveillance, Senator Brandis said.


Misplaced compassion threatens us all

CALLS are being made for Canberra to nominate Tasmania as a haven for those awaiting an outcome on a refugee claim.

At first glance, this would save money, provide local jobs and make asylum applicants happier. So what’s not to love? ­Plenty, as it turns out. And for several reasons, the idea is a non-starter.

First, think how mainland authorities would feel about locking in federally funded refugee hosting as a cottage industry here.

They know Tasmania’s economic woes have arisen mainly from shooting down major job-creating projects to placate an inner-urban anti-development minority.

The recent election landslide may have ended that syndrome, and neither major party would risk reviving it by dulling the pain of our self-inflicted financial damage.

As with Greece and the EU, nobody respects the proud beggar who demands charity on his own terms.

Second, as for onshore processing anywhere, Australia’s back gate was only recently shut against those intending to self-select as permanent residents with full welfare rights via people smugglers.

Not even Labor would re-establish the asinine “reforms” that Kevin Rudd himself abandoned as a hopeless disaster.

Local open-border enthusiasts may never admit how their misplaced “compassion” helped cause more than 1100 deaths at sea, wasted billions of dollars and severely damaged our previously fair-minded migration program.

But four-fifths of Australia, according to recent polling, recalls that under Rudd and Julia Gillard an annual 5000 unauthorised arrivals rapidly grew to 50,000 with no end in sight, and those voters won’t be fooled again.

Most tellingly, even ­officially sanctioned arrivals are now creating big trouble here and elsewhere.

Violent turmoil across Arabic-speaking lands ensures that to accept large numbers of such refugees could infect any peaceful host nation with this unwanted malady.

The UN’s 50 million “official” refugees are now mostly Muslims fleeing Muslim lands.

They understandably prefer the nicest, not the nearest, haven available.

The gold standard is ­English-speaking countries where, ironically, many so-called intellectuals now express outright contempt for their inherited culture and yearn for something, perhaps anything, dramatically different.

Examples are legion, but a classic instance occurred at the current, uber-fashionable Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

Only outraged protests stopped the festival manager, university “ethicist” Simon Longstaff, from enabling an ­Islamist firebrand to argue from the rostrum that “Honour Killings Are Morally Justified”.

A glum Longstaff later claimed the session’s pre-announced title had done insufficient justice to that Islamist’s “nuanced argument”.

Whatever quasi-intellectual undermining of mainstream values is in vogue among our chattering classes, an immediate danger is posed by similar thinking among battle-ready Muslim youths who carry Western passports.

Everywhere it is mostly ­second-generation migrants being radicalised, not their parents.

Already, 20 war-tested ­jihadists have returned here from the Syrian conflict, with 150 probably fighting there.

France’s jihadist headcount is 800 and from Britain an estimated 1500 with 300 returned, adept at creating whatever mayhem their “British” imam decrees.

Nor will any allegedly moderate majority influence this homicidal subculture.

A recent study of Britain’s 1700 mosques shows only two follow modernist theology, while a quarter won’t even allow women on the premises.

It’s absurd, says author Leo McKistry, to call followers of this toxic world view British at all.

Young Muslims are often now radicalised in UK prisons and, after release, overwhelm police with monitoring tasks.

Any peaceful society whose media reports all this, but would still indiscriminately welcome numerous Muslim exiles from the Middle East out of “compassion”, is simply begging for trouble.

So where does that leave those of us moved by the current suffering but who also know we cannot curb Muslim misery by transplanting its ­essentially anti-Western ethos here? With our small population and stubbornly immovable unemployment figures, Australia should assess even legal migration as an engineer assesses moving volatile fuel such as petrol into a depot.

Yes, we may sometimes ­require more. But how much more is really needed just now and could be melded into existing circumstances without fresh dangers that arise from mishandling an inherently risky resource?

Real compassion doesn’t ­require plucking out a sample of overseas victims to house them here. Nor should our ­politicians reflexively whip out the taxpayers’ chequebook and pledge yet more millions to add to our already alarming federal debt.

As individuals we could ­instead walk our own talk and spend our own money or personal energies to aid those we pity.

Various charities can do plenty for refugees stuck near war zones, expecting to return home some day. So let’s help these unfortunate people where they are, instead of ­naively pining for some happy medium between Yes and No to people-smugglers, or recklessly ignoring the old caveat: “better safe than sorry”.


Preventive health is a snark

Speak no ill of the dead, the saying goes. Inasmuch as this past Wednesday's Senate committee hearing into a bill that would abolish the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) was equivalent to a funeral for the soon-to-be departed agency, it was reasonable to expect the speakers to highlight its best qualities.

But some of the remarks at Wednesday's hearing went well beyond eulogistic kindness. They instead indicated that ANPHA's defenders still fundamentally misunderstand the role that preventive medicine should play in our healthcare system.

If we do not understand the shortcomings that made Australia's three-year experiment with a national preventive health agency a failure, we may end up repeating the same mistakes.

'Health promotion and disease prevention are essential to sustainable change, and investment is highly cost-effective,' declared Jerril Rechter, CEO of VicHealth. This claim - that 'investment' in preventive care will save money in the long term - was repeated several times during the day's testimony, by representatives of multiple organisations.

But it depends what sort of preventive care you're talking about. Simple interventions like vaccination and some cancer screenings can indeed be cost effective. These forms of care are handled by the Department of Health and associated agencies.

ANPHA, on the other hand, was in charge of less tried-and-true fields of prevention: obesity, alcohol, and tobacco. In these areas, there is far less evidence that government interventions can lead to long-term changes in individual behaviour, or that such interventions can reduce long-term health costs.

ANPHA's healthy food cookbook, on which it spend $200,000 of taxpayer money, is a perfect example of a preventive health policy that aims toward a worthy goal (in this case, a less obese Australia) without any evidence to substantiate a link between the policy and the desired outcome.

In the past year, ANPHA's greatest accomplishment has been a report on the possibility of a per-volume floor price for alcoholic beverages. The report concluded that raising the price of alcohol is a great idea but a floor price would be the wrong method, since it 'would lead to profit increases flowing to the private sector.' It recommended a tax increase instead.

This is a good example of the other main problem with ANPHA: its political slant. In its enthusiasm for tax increases and its reluctance to work collaboratively with private industry, ANPHA risked becoming a politicised lobby group rather than an objective health agency.

The abolition of ANPHA will have no effect on proven forms of preventive care like vaccines and screenings. It simply puts the brakes on the kinds of nanny-state programs that -contrary to what some of Wednesday's speakers suggested - just don't provide value for money.


Freedom to believe must mean freedom to practice

UK civil liberties group Liberty has criticised the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to uphold a French law banning the wearing of the niqab.

The Court's decision appears to threaten the nexus between religious belief and religious practice.

Liberty's director Shami Chakrabarti declared that the ruling oppresses women and restricts their right to freedom of religion. She linked the decision to 'the rising racism in Western Europe.'

The case was brought by a woman who argued that the state's ban on wearing the niqab infringed her right to freedom of religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 9 upholds the right of freedom of religion and also the freedom to manifest one's beliefs. But the Article also allows for legal limits to those freedoms if they are in the interests of social cohesion.

In other words, the Convention states that the right to religious liberty is not an absolute right. It must always be balanced against other rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of the liberal state.

The Court heard submissions from the French government that the face 'played a significant role in social interaction' and the law was intended to promote the cohesion of a very diverse society.

Accordingly, the Court found there had been no breach of Article 9 and allowed the law banning the niqab to stand in the interests of promoting ease of living for all French citizens.

Given the need to balance the rights of the complainant against the particular demands and circumstances presented by French society, the Court has made a reasonable decision.

The limits of religious freedom and the extent to which the state may restrict the free and public expression of religious ideas are also being debated in Australia.

Australia is committed to upholding freedom of religion. Anti-discrimination legislation contains exemptions protecting the right to religious liberty ensuring it is balanced against other rights.

But religious liberty is under threat here from an aggressive secularism that wants to drive religion out of the public square where it is practised, and into the private and confined realm of the mind.

We see it, for example, in the push by certain groups led by the Australian Greens to introduce same sex marriage in the name of tolerance, dignity and 'marriage equality'.

But the push for equality imposes a tyranny of tolerance upon the individual, law-abiding religious believer which, in turn, threatens the freedom of religious belief and expression.

Rather than imposing models of equality upon the individual, the state needs to allow believers and non-believers alike, with differing and conflicting beliefs and practices, to live together in peace.


7 July, 2014

Payouts only after asylum seekers return home

Asylum seekers who are offered substantial amounts of money by the government to leave the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru must spend their own cash before receiving the payment.

The Sunday Age believes that once asylum seekers take up the offer to return to their home country, they are asked by the International Organisation of Migration to provide receipts for purchases in their country before they can receive the promised amount.

The Coalition has dramatically increased monetary incentives in the "return packages" for asylum seekers, as revealed by Fairfax Media last month. The packages range from $3300 to $10,000 based on "individual circumstances", compared with Labor's offering of $1500 to $4000. Lebanese asylum seekers are being paid $10,000 if they voluntarily return home, while Iranians and Sudanese are offered $7000, Afghans $4000 and Pakistani, Nepalese and Burmese $3300.

Asylum seekers who take up the offer are transported to the Hideaway Hotel in Port Moresby that is paid for by the International Organisation of Migration before being flown home.

Growing pressure is now being put on asylum seekers to return home, refugee advocates say.

It is believed Australian officials made a visit to the Manus Island centre two weeks ago saying: "You will be here a very long time. You will never get to Australia. You should strongly consider going back to where you came from."

This is similar to the message Immigration Minister Scott Morrison gave to asylum seekers in an "orientation video" late last year.

An IOM spokeswoman confirmed asylum seekers on Nauru and Christmas Island were offered payments.

"Part of the amount is given in cash to cover basic needs during first few months of return and the rest as in kind," she said. "Sometimes, their return is organised by IOM and in some cases migration authorities take the lead and IOM only provides the reintegration assistance."

Mr Morrison confirmed packages were being given, but did not comment on reimbursement.

On Friday, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, slammed the use of detention centres, saying seeking asylum was not "illegal" under international law. "Seeking asylum is lawful and the exercise of a fundamental human right," said UNHCR's director of international protection, Volker Turk.


Turnbull marginalized in ABC board decision

‘The Australian’ reported this morning that former Liberal Party deputy leader, Neil Brown QC, and The Australian’s columnist, Janet Albrechtsen, have been appointed to the, "Independent Nominations Panel" overseeing Board positions at the ABC and SBS.

It was also reported that, “The Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had no say in either appointment and was only recently informed. Brown and Albrechtsen were picked for their roles at the highest levels of the Abbott Government.”

This has been brewing for a while now and Libs “at the highest level” have been quietly ropable at ABC bias.

The ABC Board should be chucked out on its ear, holus bolus, but excessively overpaid underlings will cling to their valuable contracts, so don’t expect the sweet smell of impartiality any time soon.

More interesting is that Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has been bypassed in the Government’s decision-making regarding the ABC. Wow!!... Now that’s a real kick in the teeth for Malcolm and a real kick up the bum for the way he has supported the ABC in its Abbott onslaught.

The ABC has been an unabashed sheltered workshop for the ALP, and all things Left for too long, but now it's in the Government’s crosshairs, Malcolm would be well advised to duck.


Carbon pricing: how Labor failed the nation

“My name is Kevin, I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help.” Kevin Rudd loved saying it, and although you could almost hear voters groan, they seemed to love it too. Most Australians heard it for the first time in April 2007, at Labor’s national conference. The leader was conveyed to the spotlight on the wings of a climate change song, “A Change in the Weather”.

Rudd was beaming. The election campaign was building and it was all about him. He would flood the country with exciting ideas and projects. Above all he would fix climate change and in the process craft a modern rallying point for Labor that reminded observers of Ben Chifley’s “Light on the Hill”.

Despite the pain of remembering, Australians should reflect on the excitement of that time as we grapple with the astonishing reality that the Senate in the next few days will almost certainly leave this nation without a cornerstone climate change policy.

There were some brief moments of soaring success in the years afterwards, but ultimately Australia’s political leadership failed the nation miserably. Will we ever believe a politician’s promises as wholeheartedly again? Did innocence die along the way? The experience of attempts to price carbon raises some fundamental questions about the way Australians are governed that must be confronted. It is important to establish what went wrong and to learn the lessons, to try to ensure that as a nation we do better.

Part of the answer lies in the impact of historical forces. As political parties have warped into hollowed-out shells dominated by factional hacks, voters have become less attached to them. This development has made leaders the embodiment of the party and government, and more central to elections. Remember “Kevin 07”? There has been an increase in resources to the executive, allowing leaders and their personal staff to diminish checks and balances and dominate cabinet and the public service.

Reflecting these changes, the media has come to view leaders as celebrities and emphasise stories about personality conflict over policy debates. Readers will be familiar with the approach, which involves an interpretative style of news reporting, sensationalism, cynicism and a preoccupation with the “horse race”.

In April 2010 Rudd, whose command and control leadership was precisely the opposite of what was required to solve a complex problem like climate policy, publicly acknowledged defeat. The shock was profound. We had watched the train crash as it came ever-closer, although without recognising the inevitability of tragedy. We had waited in vain for Rudd to explain the meaning of carbon pricing. We had seen him sideline other ministers who might have helped us understand.

We had been transfixed as he squandered the gift of consensus, employing it as a weapon to destroy Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull rather than as an opportunity to be grasped fully and urgently. Tony Abbott, with his infantile anti-science slogans, was thus Rudd’s creation. We had invested more faith as he flew to Copenhagen, puffed up to save the earth, only to suffer an emotional breakdown that left him empty of the courage needed for a double dissolution election. We had sat bemused as he then strove to blame Julia Gillard for his sad rush to hoist the white flag.

The fact that we got to mid-2010 with a deep black hole where climate policy had been was a result of the erosion of the checks and balances that Australians wrongly believe are embedded in their system of government. We were prey to Rudd’s personality. And what a personality it turned out to be. Australians were victims of his hubris and cowardice. This has become very clear after more than 100 interviews and two years researching the disasters of Australia’s attempt to establish carbon pricing for my book Power Failure.

Julia Gillard had little choice but to oust Rudd in June 2010. After all, someone had to be leader. She came to office cramped by Rudd’s failure to maintain voters’ passion for climate action. Even so, her more collaborative and consultative type of leadership led to legislative success in October 2011, as her policy to price carbon passed the House, to relieved hugs and kisses among the Labor MPs. It soon became clear, though, that Gillard’s own inability to talk to Australians about what she was doing would undermine her achievement.

Between February and July 2011 a scare campaign that many veterans say was the ugliest they can remember, worse even than 1975, claimed her. But just as Rudd had been, she was the architect of her own demise. Despite strong advice she refused to engage, believing she would have time to change perceptions once she had the right policy. But the political capital lost was so great that it created the conditions for the destruction of her legacy.

The question that remains is why the modern crop of Labor politicians has been so inept at communicating with voters. Senior figures in today’s ALP got there through factional deals and branch stacking. Too often this deprived them of the experience of banging on doors, asking for support, arguing about policies and learning how to talk through complex ideas with everyday people. It is an existential challenge for the Labor Party to see whether it can produce leaders with the ability to sustain a rapport with ordinary people over an extended period of time.

The lesson for the future of carbon pricing is this: while Gillard was more effective than Rudd, success requires a restoration of our system of checks and balances and a different type of leader. But for this change to occur Australians must firmly demand it. The immediate prospect of this is not good. We will suffer many more bushfires and floods before we see another serious attempt to price carbon.


Did a call from Gillard’s office turn Latham around?


MARK Latham has been writing inaccurate drivel on the Australian Workers Union matter for some time now. Fair enough, it is his right. But in recent times Latham has begun to slag off the standing of the royal commission into unions. My policy usually is to not criticise fellow commentators, but I won’t stand for this. The royal commission presents our only hope to rid this country of endemic corporatised union corruption, and I won’t stand by and watch anyone diminish it.

For many years I have been speaking out against union corruption and business collusion. Threats, loss of business, a written warning from a previous employer and more have come my way. All this has done is force me to position myself into a spot where I feel independent, untouchable and bulletproof. Each column is a privilege, treated as though it is my last. It is only because I sit in a space beyond financial influence (proudly without the courtesy of a parliamentary pension), with no one to please and no one to disappoint, that I am able to speak so frankly.

Once, Latham spoke like this and I admired him for it. Once, Latham was dead keen to deal with union corruption. Then something happened. I will tell you what that was and you can come to your own conclusions.

Back in June 7, 2012, my debut column appeared in The Australian Financial Review. Latham’s next column referred to mine as a “stunning insight” into how unions had lost members but gained power and resources through “super-financing, training funds and contractor extortion”. He said “the greatest threat to economic growth and productivity is trade union muscle … the strength of their financial leverage and Labor factional control has given them a majority complex. This power imbalance must be addressed by an incoming Liberal government.” He said we should investigate the unions and “follow the money” because public exposure of scandal would “give the Coalition a powerful mandate for IR reform — bringing union governance into line with the corporate sector and bringing our workplace laws into line with our international competitors”. He said “Liberal Party ignorance has saved the union bosses from reform. Few people outside the ALP understand how the Labor movement works … liberalisers need to read and re-read Collier’s column.”

Then someone from Julia Gillard’s office called the office to ask for Latham’s contact details. Now, Latham says the royal commission into unions — which is the only way we can do as he once urged (investigate, follow the money) — is a “comedy routine”, a “show about nothing”, with “ceremonial pretensions”, where you have to “stand and look deferential” when “the beak” (Dyson Heydon) appears to hear from witnesses who are “a parade of ageing Oompa Loompas”. Heydon sits “perched high on his bench” and plays “the role of Judge Vandelay — grey, Dickensian and utterly humourless, even when viewing the rustic clowns assembled before him”.

The “rustic clowns” are people in the public gallery, “political fanatics”, a “worrying collection of social misfits and malcontents” who have “nothing better to do on a Monday morning than listen to claims about a union controversy from last century”. Latham, too, has nothing better to do with himself than sit around with fanatics and misfits scribbling about how they are fanatics and misfits.

The effect of Latham discrediting the royal commission now is to insulate Gillard from any adverse finding it may make about her down the track. Who knows what the motivation for this behaviour is? Latham has bitten the hand of almost every media outlet that fed him and perhaps he is trying to build bridges back to the Labor Party by defending union corruption. Or perhaps he has been asked to run an agenda to protect Gillard. I really don’t know and I really don’t care.

I just think it is a shame that the editorial team at The Australian Financial Review, people I have a lot of respect for, who knew of the phone call and must have noticed Latham’s change of heart since, allow him to use their publication to ridicule and denigrate the royal commission. This body, after all, is our only hope of cleaning up corrupt sections of the union movement and overcoming the obstacles to the Australian industrial relations reform agenda.


6 July, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is moved by the Rolf Harris story to ask if the entertainment industry is just as bent as the church

Eric Abetz puts pressure on new senators to restore full powers to building industry watchdog

Employment Minister Eric Abetz says the new Senate must urgently pass laws to restore the full powers of the building industry watchdog, seizing on new revelations of construction union stand over tactics and links to the underworld.

Senator Abetz has also questioned the close links between Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews and the CFMEU, as well as the decision by former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Bill Shorten to strip the watchdog of evidence-gathering powers.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday said while he did not want to comment on matters that may be coming before the royal commission and had not seen the Fairfax Media report, he said the government had "deep concerns about the illegality, about rorts, rackets and rip-offs inside a number of unions".

"The point I keep making is if you're a decent, honest worker, if you're a decent, honest union member, you want your union to be run honestly and efficiently," he told Fairfax Radio 3AW.

"That's why I think Bill Shorten is really letting his party down by being as critical of the royal commission as he's being."

Signaling industrial relations reform will be front and centre of the government's political agenda in the new Senate, Senator Abetz told Fairfax Media the restoration of the ABCC [Australian Building and Construction Commission] was a "very high priority for the government" and that he had already discussed the ABCC laws, which were passed by the House late last year, with cross-bench senators who will take their seats next week.

Mr Abbott raised the ABCC bill with Motoring Enthusiast senator Ricky Muir when the pair met on Wednesday.

"The Government has a clear mandate to re-introduce the ABCC, having taken the policy to the last two elections," he said.

Fairfax Media revealed on Thursday a string of accusations from Melbourne developer, Peter Chiavaroli, who says the CFMEU demanded he employ union boss John Setka's brother-in-law and best friend in exchange for industrial peace.

The laws to restore the full powers of the ABCC, which will bolster the watchdog's powers, could be put to a vote as soon as next week.

Those powers, stripped away by Labor, will give the building watchdog additional scope to gather evidence.

The move to pass the legislation comes as the Royal Commission into trade unions shines the spotlight on the CMFEU in hearings scheduled to be held in Melbourne next week.

Questioned on Thursday as to whether the government would launch an investigation into this apparent leak from the royal commission, Mr Abbott said that he would "have a look at the report in question and if any further action is required, well, we'll have a look at it".

Senator Abetz said Mr Chiavaroli's allegations about the CFMEU's were gravely concerning and that they had "no place in any Australia workplace".

"They once again confirm the urgent need for the return of the ABCC and the absolute irresponsibility of Labor and the Greens in opposing it," he said.

"Incidents like this dramatically illustrate the need for the ABCC to have additional evidence-gathering powers, which are common amongst other law enforcement bodies, but were removed by Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten.

"If the ABCC has the power to compel witnesses to provide evidence then it will avoid situations like this in which individuals are threatened with retribution if they voluntarily go to the ABCC."

Senator Abetz said it had been clear for some time that Mr Setka was not an appropriate person to lead the CMFEU in Victoria.

"This was made perfectly clear in the Myer Emporium dispute in 2012 and even more clear when his union received a record fine for criminal contempt of court earlier this year," he said.

"It is extremely concerning that the Victorian Labor Leader Daniel Andrews continues to so closely associate with such rogue union bosses."

Mr Setka's links to Victorian Labor's Left faction have long been a political sore point for Mr Andrews, who has been under pressure to distance himself from the militant CFMEU, which is a large donor to the ALP in Victoria.

In a statement, CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan said the rehashed allegations had been examined by the building watchdog several years ago, which had taken no further action.

"The allegations were made by a Liberal Party donor, Peter Chiavaroli, director of West Homes," he said.

"The union will be writing to the Royal Commission regarding leaks to the media of proposed witnesses and issues that will be heard at the Royal Commission."


Greens in turmoil over fuel tax

You would think that Greens would welcome a fuel tax increase but this lot show their complete lack of principle by opposing it. To them hatred of the conservative government comes first

Continuing anger within the Greens over the party's "perverse" decision to block inflation-based adjustments to the federal petrol tax rate could spell fresh trouble for its leader, Christine Milne.

The Abbott government wants to restore indexation to the excise, which has been frozen at 38¢ a litre for 12 years.

The move would add between 40¢ and 60¢ a week to the average household fuel bill.

Senator Milne, who first flagged supporting the change and then announced her party's opposition after losing the debate in her party room, could now face pressure for a second U-turn, this time led by a grassroots members' revolt.

NSW senator Lee Rhiannon is pushing to overturn the stance amid what one Greens member called "despair" across the green base.

A meeting has been called for Saturday at the Sydney Mechanics Institute, where NSW branch members are expected to advocate a return to the party's original position in the interests of policy integrity.

In a sign of the intense divisions over the issue, Senator Rhiannon has invited members to have their say, even though the policy has been finalised, setting up a situation in which the party room has one policy and the membership another.

The Greens' constitution in NSW means Senator Rhiannon could be compelled by the membership to vote contrary to her leader, although that would have to come from a formal council meeting.

Despite that risk, Senator Rhiannon used a party-wide email to declare she was "interested to hear from members" about the issue.

Last week Senator Milne said the party would block the increase because the government would not use the money raised to invest in public transport, or to cut fuel subsidies for large mining companies.

But Greens inside the party room and in the broader movement conceded that the main reason for opposing the increase was "political".

The main advocates of the change were Deputy Leader Adam Bandt, Ms Milne's fellow Tasmanian senator Peter Whish-Wilson, and West Australian senator Scott Ludlam.

A senior Greens source called it politics over policy. "They just can't come at giving Tony Abbott a win, even where it is consistent with our own policy," the exasperated member complained.

The decision appears to have doomed the $4 billion budget measure because the Coalition had been relying on support from the Greens to get it through the Senate.

It was not an unreasonable expectation. Historically, the Greens have favoured higher relative prices for polluting fossil fuels.

Greens senators have received "stacks" of emails from disappointed constituents over the reversal, as well as official correspondence from at least one state branch protesting against the decision.

The fight over petrol comes as some in the renewable energy sector expressed concerns over the Greens' handling of the Clive Palmer compromise to ditch the carbon tax but keep the renewable energy target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the Climate Change Authority


Latest poll figures fail to tell the real story behind Newman Government’s achievements

IT IS nine months until the next Queensland election is due, and we are beginning to see the shape and conditions of the battleground upon which the LNP’s Campbell Newman will defend his 2012 landslide victory.

The Premier’s massive majority and unwieldy backbench was always going to be hard to handle, and it has been.

Two LNP members have resigned – one, Scott Driscoll, in disgrace, and the other, Chris Davis, in disillusion – and four others have defected to the cross benches, sitting with the Palmer United and Katter parties.

Labor has boosted its miserable numbers from seven MPs to eight and is confident of winning the electorate of Stafford at a by-election this month.

After Mr Newman scored his stunning victory – as the first Brisbane-based conservative premier since 1915 – everyone assumed the LNP would win one more election easily and possibly make it three. Now, while Mr Newman and his party remain firm favourites to prevail, people are hedging bets. Recent opinion polls have given some weight to this caution, although some are more believable than others. What we do know from looking at the reliable Courier-Mail/Galaxy poll and other surveys is that there is a large, and possibly growing, group of voters who are parking a protest vote with minor parties and possible independents.

Some of these surveys suggest an electorate that is divided in thirds, with the LNP and Labor holding about two-thirds of the ground – or a bit more – and the “others” holding anywhere between a quarter and a third of the vote. This total includes a static Greens vote of 8 per cent, the same as in 2012. The bulk of the non-Labor and LNP vote has been picked up by the insurgent Palmer United Party, rallying behind the mercurial Sunshine Coast federal MP Clive Palmer. Through his unconventional, nonsense-style politics, Mr Palmer is appealing to voters confused by the major government parties, who, despite governing strongly in most regards, have at times shown a susceptibility to distraction.

A mix of platitudes and pie-in-the-sky promises – such as an unrealistic pledge to boost pensions by 20 per cent – has given Mr Palmer an easy entry into the lounge rooms, work rooms and conversations of families, especially those in outer suburban, provincial and regional communities.

Queensland is bouncing back economically, with growth returning to sectors hit hard by the fall in property prices, the global financial crisis and the high dollar.

There are good stories to tell among small businesses in Brisbane and the southeast as well as in tourism throughout the state and on farms from the Cape to the Tweed.

Queensland is in great shape.

Mr Newman is a tough, no-nonsense leader. He does not shy away from a fight. A more passionate and committed state leader in Australia today would be hard to find. Sometimes that raw passion and honesty can get the Premier into scrapes and fights he might be best avoiding.

He has a good story to tell about Queensland.

Any benefit Labor has received lately has been accidental and by default. The party has done nothing to make up for the years of mismanagement and neglect, and the small band of MPs has failed to present any alternative vision or policies for the state.

This is why, despite the apparent closeness of the polls, Labor is not within a bull’s roar of winning the next election. There is next to no chance the people of Queensland will trust Labor again with the keys to the Treasury so soon after the 2012 defeat and without an apology and new vision.

That we face a much more open contest than anyone imagined is good and bad news for the major parties.

It is bad news because both the LNP and Labor are languishing in the mid-to-low 30s in terms of support, making the task of getting into a winning position that much harder.

It is also good news, however, as these voters are there to be won back.

It will take courage, honesty and openness, which is surely not too much to ask.


Australian hate-speech laws: no dissent allowed

The Australian government is currently trying to amend Section 18C of the Australian Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA). This is the section which asserts that speech content, judged objectively after the event, must not ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people’. Sadly, what is noticeable about the debate so far is the tendency of those in favour of S18C to ignore or treat with contempt the idea of free speech. Below are 10 ways in which those advocating S18C and hate-speech laws in general are dodging, stifling and running away from the debate.

1) Reliance on abstractions

All censors abhor definite standards. Vagueness is always to be preferred. In times past, it was the elastic tendency-based criminal law of sedition, blasphemy, defamation and obscenity. Nowadays, the obscurantism is expressed in two words, ‘hate speech’, to which an ‘identity-specific’ adjective such as ‘racist’ is applied. Yet apart from Holocaust denial and exhibitionist displays of racial prejudice, particularly at sporting events, on public transport and, more widely, by electronic means – both of which are instantly recognisable – no exact definition of racist hate speech is proffered. As with hardcore pornography, we are all expected to recognise it when we see or read it.

As Eatock v Bolt (2011) and Clark v Nationwide News Ltd (2012) demonstrate, the vagueness of S18C operates to restrict public discussion in controversies about ‘race, colour or national or ethnic origin of [persons or groups]’. The supporters of S18C happily proclaim the discretionary flexibility of the formulation ‘offensive, insulting, humiliating or intimidating’ speech as S18C’s great virtue. The context in which the section is defended is characterised by the use of fashionable but unenlightening abstractions, most notably: ‘diversity’, ‘harmony’, ‘inclusion’, ‘respect’, ‘dignity’, ‘marginalisation’ and ‘cultural sensitivity’. The censor’s obscurantism is buttressed by demands that ‘systemic’, ‘unconscious’ or ‘normative’ racism must be stamped out. When Paul Keating’s Labor government introduced the bill for S18C in 1995, the rationale was that racist speech was a form of violence which could be more harmful than physical violence.

The propositions that you can be a racist without knowing it, and that words can, as it were, break your bones (and spirit), are surely in need of debate. But instead of being up for debate, these ideas are treated as doctrinal. Moreover, the all-pervasive vagueness attaching to the words ‘racism’ and ‘racist’, and the relative ease with which accusations of racism are made, have debased both words. The proponents of S18C censorship bear the burden of identifying exactly what it is they say should be censored. Their rationale for doing so, however, remains an enduring mystery.

2) Ignore one awkward concrete problem

There is another category of ‘racist hate speech’ which extends the reach of S18C. It is interpreted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) as applicable, selectively, to ethno-religious speech conduct. It is only recently that the archaic Christianity-specific common-law prohibitions on blasphemy have become obsolete. This reflects the reality of the secular state: there should no legally privileged categories of ideas and especially no entanglement of the state in religion. The suggestion that, in order to avoid hurting another person’s religious sensibilities, an individual should be compelled to display ‘respect’ for a religious belief or practice – or the concept of religion itself – which that individual may regard as rank superstition, or that an attack on a religious idea or practice in itself amounts to racism, is profoundly anti-democratic, no matter how much it is dressed up in secular pieties about ‘inclusion’.

However, S18C and some Australian state legislation have, in effect, resurrected a statutory form of blasphemy. In an address to the United Nations in December 2012, then Australian prime minister Julia Gillard asserted that ‘denigration of religious beliefs is never acceptable’. That ‘never’ is by far the most telling recent illustration of the nature and extent of the contest between a defence of the general right to dissent and those who seek state-backed conformity in public discussion.

3) Portray S18C as a protective law

Most S18C advocates emphasise that it is designed to protect minorities, although S18C makes no such distinction. However, even at that disingenuous level, the claim is no more than wishful thinking. Nobody seems to be suggesting that the civil liability imposed by S18C (and its capricious enforcement) has deterred a single person from resorting to Holocaust denial or racist mouthing-off in public. Yet, simultaneously, its supporters trot out the arguments that S18C is little used and that its real utility is symbolic. So much for protecting minorities.

4) Fearmongering about free speech

There has been plenty of hyperbole. If enacted, attorney general George Brandis’s proposed reforms to S18C would usher in a ‘licensing of hate’, ‘give succour to racists’, and be the end of multiculturalism, nay, the end of Australia as we know it. Australia’s race discrimination commissioner went far beyond hyperbole, even, when he said that S18C guards against a repetition of the Holocaust because ‘genocide begins with words’.

5) Misrepresenting the general law

If S18C supporters exaggerate the so-called free-speech protections in S18D of the Racial Discrimination Act (which stipulates that comments made in good faith are permissible as expressions of genuine belief), they fundamentally mis-state the law of defamation and they ignore altogether the torts of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. They thereby disregard regimes of legal protection for actual psychological harm which apply without regard to ‘race, colour or national or ethnic origin’.

6) Make no concessions

Although the pro-S18C camp is full of acknowledgments that freedom of expression is important, there is a striking absence of any acknowledgment that dissent is central to securing that freedom. One way of testing this is to do a word search of ‘dissent’ on the online archive of AHRC publications, in surveys of social cohesion, or in the vast literature on Australian multiculturalism. As soon as the AHRC acknowledges that dissent – real dissent – is necessary to maintain the health of a free and open society, it undermines its commitment to special legal protection for privileged categories of controversial public debate. It is locked into this position largely because the concept of cultural diversity and sensitivity calls for treating all ‘cultures’ (or at least the privileged minority cultures) as worthy of equal ‘respect’. The end result is that discussion – for example, of barbaric cultural beliefs and practices (including selected religious ones) – is frowned upon for fear of ‘offending’ adherents and being ‘divisive’. This is not all that surprising. S18C is designed to suppress dissent which, by definition, is often offensive, insulting, humiliating and intimidating. Dissent brings about division, disrespect, disharmony, incivility, indignity and so on – all of which are, in theory at least, anathema to inclusiveness theory.

7) Except the ‘Irish jokes’ concession

Then there is the ‘curiouser and curiouser’ dimension of the S18C debate; that is, the unexplained acknowledgment that there are tolerable forms of public racist speech. What are we to make of the endorsement by the AHRC in its submission to the attorney general’s S18C consultation of the following statement in the Report of the National Inquiry into Racist Violence (1991)? ‘No prohibition or penalty is recommended for the simple holding of racist opinions without public expression or promotion of them or in the absence of conduct motivated by them. Nor would any of the proposed measures outlaw “casual racism”, for example the exchange of “Irish jokes”.’ (My italics)

Putting to one side the unexplained concept of ‘casual racism’, what moved the AHRC to use ‘Irish jokes’ to exemplify permissible casual racism? The Irish ambassador to Australia recently complained about the casual stereotyping of national groups in the Australian media and managed to extract a prompt apology from the Fairfax Media group (the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age), which, in an odd role-reversal for the Fourth Estate, is at the forefront of the pro-S18C censorship campaign.

8) Remind the majorities that ‘they just don’t understand’

And then there are the angry ad hominem contributions to the ‘non-debate’. The attorney general’s draft proposal for the amendment of S18C contains a provision which would impose limited civil liability according to an objective test applied by reference to ‘the standards of an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community, not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community’. This type of standard is entirely coherent and well-known – for example, in the law of negligence and defamation. Many in the pro-S18C camp have denounced this because, so it is said, only the victimised minorities are capable of understanding what it is to endure racist hate speech and suffer its unique psychic harm. This is a claim that is calculated to stifle debate.

9) Invoke White Australia policy

A harsher variation of the ignorance trope is advocates of S18C invoking the unedifying history of the White Australia policy (discontinued a half-century ago). The objective is clear: to signify that present-day, ordinary, reasonable (white) Australians are still not to be trusted.

10) Argue that the White majorities are ignorant

A more confrontational version of the ‘majorities are ignorant’ thesis is the claim made by one prominent commentator in the Age that there are two types of Australians. The first group consists of the privileged Anglo-Saxon folk who regard being ‘Australian’ as something in respect of which they have a superior claim. The rest are the supplicant subordinated non-white folk. It is the ‘whiteness’ of the ignorance of the former group, sitting at the top of an alleged Australian racial power hierarchy, which precludes them from telling people what they should and should not find racist. The link to this contribution has been conspicuously displayed on the Age since it first appeared in print on 27 March 2014. It might be thought that, to date, it is the standout candidate for the award of unintended irony in the S18C controversy. Yet there has to be space for statements such as these (and for that matter, the denigration of the Irish by the AHRC) if free speech is to have any real meaning. These statements do at least stand in striking contrast to the speech-stultifying mush being preached in the name of ‘harmony’, ‘inclusion’, ‘identity’, ‘respect’, ‘dignity’, ‘civility’ and all their soothing synonyms.

Those supporting the repeal of S18C are having to withstand sustained heckling, including from what passes for the Australian left. The attorney general, they say, will abandon his proposed amendment or be rolled in his party room. In contrast, the most powerful case against the neo-puritan whingeing that propels hate-speech censorship has come from a small minority of outspoken indigenous Australians. ‘People have a right to decide for themselves how they feel about the idea of “race” and racism’, writes Kerryn Pholi, an Aborigine and former social worker. ‘In order to do that, they need to be free to exchange ideas about these matters, and this includes the freedom to say whatever they like — however ugly — about people like me.’ Now, that’s diversity.

4 July, 2014

Two recent speeches

Tony Abbott's Statement to Cabinet Meeting 1st July 2014

The Hon Campbell Newman - Premier of Queensland -- on the Qld. economy -- at Liberal Party federal council, June 28th

Tougher line planned for jihadists fighters

The Abbott government is examining ways to make it easier to prosecute Australian jihadist fighters returning from the Middle East, amid growing fears of the creation of a mini-state in the region that could export terrorism.

Fairfax Media understands that under the changes, authorities would have enhanced powers to investigate citizens fighting abroad and present the evidence gathered in Australian courts.

At present prosecutions would be hampered because such evidence is often inadmissible, experts say. The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor says that "not merely prosecutions but also investigations are at present stillborn on account of problems of foreign evidence, that might otherwise have succeeded".

The revelations came as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate based on the territory it has seized across Syria and Iraq - prompting Attorney-General George Brandis to warn of the emergence of an effective terrorist state.

Senator Brandis said ISIL's increasingly clear aims were neither merely random acts of terrorism nor territorial conquest, but rather "millennial" ambitions of a new religious era enforced by violence.

"It is, as the Prime Minister said last week, an ambition to create a new state, a new political structure, which among other things will seek to export terrorism," he said.

"The actors in these events have ambitions so vast that they regard their enemy as the world that we know as the product of the enlightenment. The values of the liberal democratic states are their target and they are a motivated and lethal enemy."

The development had "very serious" national security implications for Australia, he said.

"Australians who travel to Syria and now to northern Iraq to the ISIL insurgency-controlled areas in the Middle East are likely to be reinforced in their radical interpretation of Islam and are likely to pursue jihad in the Western world including in particular where they've come from … within Australia."

The government believes about 150 Australians are involved with extremist groups including ISIL - a figure that is causing great concern because of the high likelihood those people will try to carry out acts of violence here.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was disappointing that "large numbers of Australians" have gone to fight with with militants in Syria and Iraq.

"The determination of this government is to ensure that just as we have stopped the illegal boats coming to Australia that as far as we humanly can we stop jihadists from coming to Australia," he told ABC radio.

"Because these people do seem to be radicalised and militarised and we don't want people who are a menace to our community walking around on our streets."

About 30 Australians went to fight in Afghanistan, of whom 19 were suspected of involvement in terrorism when they returned home and eight were convicted.

The government is understood to be closely examining proposals contained in a report released this month by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor that would make it easier to prosecute such people when they return.

For instance, the Australian Federal Police cannot investigate in a foreign country without the consent of that jurisdiction. Evidence gathered on Australians overseas cannot, moreover, be used in court without the agreement of an "appropriate consenting official" of the foreign country.

The independent monitor, senior lawyer Bret Walker, recommended that the Attorney-General be able to waive these requirements where such co-operation was impractical, such as civil war-torn Syria.


'The unaffordable energy capital of the world': Tony Abbott blames green companies for increasing power prices in Australia

Tony Abbott has hit out at the green energy sector claiming the renewable energy target (RET) is the cause of rising energy prices in Australia.

The Prime Minister said the country is well on its way to being 'the unaffordable energy capital of the world' and that's the reason for the government's review of the RET, report The Financial Review.

'We should be the affordable energy capital of the world, not the unaffordable energy capital of the world and that’s why the carbon tax must go and that’s why we’re reviewing the RET,' he told the publication.

Clean energy companies have responded to these claims saying Mr Abbott completely exaggerated the impact that the target would have, and in the long run the nation would be better off financially and environmentally from the scheme.

The RET currently states that by 2020, 20 percent of energy should come from renewable sources, however this could be subject to change under the government's upcoming review.

In the Senate next week the government will try to abolish the carbon tax, but opposition leader Bill Shorten has vowed to continue the crusade for action against climate change.

Clive Palmer is set to block the government from lowering or abandoning the RET until after the election in 2016.

Infigen, Pacific Hydro, Senvion and the Clean Energy Council are all among the companies who have disagreed with the Prime Minister's comments, and a spokesperson for Senvion said if the RET is kept in place the price of power bills will drop off by 2020.

Clean Energy Council director Russell March agreed, claiming the only other alternative to the target is a switch to gas-fired power, but the price of that resource is on the up.

The consensus in the renewable energy industry is that power prices will drop as more forms of renewable energy are being utilised, with some companies citing the decrease in power bills around the $50 mark.

This week saw the Crawford Australian Leadership Forum take place in Canberra, and economists from around the world including Nobel Prize recipient Joseph Stiglitz and former Reserve Bank of Australia board member Warwick McKibbin were among the experts calling for Australia to have a price on carbon, according to AFR.

Professor Stiglitz described putting a price on carbon as a 'no-brainer' and said it is more practical than taxing labour or capital, plus it would set Australia up for the future.

By pricing carbon now Australia would be taking a step forward to combating climate change he said, and the world would soon follow.

Aluminium refineries are also a big player in the RET debate, which are currently said to be 90 percent exempt from paying for renewable energy.

The government is expected to make a move from the backbench to completely clear the refineries from paying for any form of green energy.


Tony Abbott praises Sri Lanka's human rights progress amid speculation Tamil asylum seekers were handed over to country's navy

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described Sri Lanka as a "society at peace", amid mounting speculation that two boats carrying Tamil asylum seekers have been handed over to the Sri Lankan navy in the middle of the ocean.

Speaking to 3AW on Thursday morning, Mr Abbott said it was no secret that Australia was turning back boats on the high seas.

"We said before the election that one of the policy options that we reserve the right to use, were it safe to do so, is turning boats around," he said.

On Wednesday, Fairfax Media revealed that 50 Sri Lankan asylum on board one boat were asked four basic questions by immigration officials via a teleconference, as part of a screening process. It is understood the asylum seekers are likely to be handed over to the Sri Lankan navy.

The questions asked included the passengers' name, country of origin, where they had come from and why they had left.

Another asylum seeker boat, which held 153 passengers who were also Sri Lankan Tamils, has since been transferred to a navy boat, after civilians lost contact with the boat on Saturday morning.

When asked whether the government was sending asylum seekers back to the country they fled from, Mr Abbott replied: "There does need to be a process because we do have international obligations so there does need to be a process.

"But I want to make this observation, Sri Lanka is not everyone's idea of the ideal society but it is at peace . . . a horrific civil war has ended. I believe that there has been a lot of progress when it comes to human rights and the rule of law in Sri Lanka."

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to comment on the two boats – one carrying 153 asylum seekers and the other carrying 50 asylum seekers – maintaining that the government does not comment on "speculation or reporting" regarding on water operations.

Labor's immigration spokesman Richard Marles, who has so far kept a low profile on the issue, said it would be a disgrace if asylum seekers were handed over to Sri Lanka, and demanded the government come clean with the Australian people.

"They have a right to know and this minister is treating everyone with contempt in denying us the right to know," he told Sky News on Thursday.

Asked later on Thursday if Australians had a right to know what was happening with asylum seekers on the two boats, Mr Abbott said: "The public deserve safe and secure borders."

"They deserve a country that has not become open for the wrong kind of business, the people smuggling business," he told reporters in Melbourne.

"Everything we do is consistent with safety at sea and everything we do is consistent with our international obligations.

"It is a peaceful country. It is a peaceful country. I don't say it's a perfect country, not even Australia is that. But it is a peaceful country and all of us should be grateful that the horrific civil war is well and truly over and that is to the benefit of every single Sri Lankan, Tamil, Sinhalese. Everyone in Sri Lanka is infinitely better off as a result of the cessation of the war."

Despite Mr Abbott maintaining that Sri Lanka is now a society of peace, advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says Australians should exercise a "high degree of caution" due to the "unpredictable security environment" in the country.

"You should avoid all demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent or be a target for politically-motivated attacks. Police have used tear gas in response to protests," the advice on the department's website says.

"In the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, which includes Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochichi and Jaffna Districts, post-conflict security force activity is ongoing."

Greens leader Christine Milne said if the transfers with the Sri Lankan navy go ahead, it would the first example of the Abbott government sending people directly back to where they have been persecuted.

"The Prime Minister must explain to Australians how he can claim that what he is doing is not a human rights abuse," she said. "How can he claim what he is doing is not a contravention of the convention when he is engaged in total secrecy?

"It is absolutely wrong for Australia to return people seeking asylum to the countries in which they were being persecuted. It is wrong. It is shameful."

According to a member of the co-ordinating committee of the Gummudipoondi camp for Tamil refugees, who were on board the boat carrying 153 asylum seekers, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, members of the Tamil Nadu police force's "Q" branch, which monitors the activities over refugee camps, had swept his camp and several others seeking information.

"They have been here asking, investigating, looking for the information," said the coordinating committee member who gave his name as William.

William said there were 17 people missing from his camp who are assumed to be aboard the vessel and that he had been in contact with the families over the past few days.

"They are extremely worried, crying, desperate for information about what has happened, pleading for some country to accept them so they do not be made to return to Sri Lanka," he said.

"They believe that if the refugees are made to return to Sri Lanka they will face severe harassment, possibly even torture, from the local authorities in Sri Lanka. Of course there is a lot of concern."


If their Tamil homeland will not accept them for resettlement, why should Australia? It is their own relentless violence that is the source of their problems -- JR

3 July, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is critical of supermarket healthcare

Muslim influence over the media -- a letter

Mr David Kidd, CEO Radio 2GB.

Dear Mr Kidd,

I am writing in regard to the recent on air bullying of Michael Smith who was asked a valid question and answered it honestly. He was then dismissed from his part time job as Host in lieu of Ben Fordham for three weeks simply for telling the truth.

I have read many uncomplimentary letters in regard to this action from very upset 2GB listeners who regard Michael Smith as being a very hard working and honest Journalist who has his background as a policeman to help him with his meticulous research.

He has been the major player in the establishment of a Royal Commission into the AWU fraud perpetuated by Bruce Wilson and other Unionists in the Union at that time.

I have listened to Ray Hadley and Alan Jones for many years and I thought your establishment was one of the few who had regard for the conservative views of its listeners. It seems as if I and thousands of others are sadly mistaken. I feel sadly disillusioned now and have not listened since this incident.

I would urge you to apologise to your listeners, reinstate Michael Smith and apologise to him. Thousands of Australians are very fearful of the Moslem invasion and we know what barbarians they are in many other countries in the world where they are allowed to fester. They are now butchering each other. Is that what we want for Australia?.

Is no one allowed to criticise Moslems? There are no guarantees that this barbarism will not happen here. I can understand that you are fearful that your station may be blown up. What other reason would you have for not allowing the truth to be told? Well, I think that if you are fearless in exposing Islam for what it is that it will be less likely that any of us need to fear being blown up just for going about our shopping or daily business.

We need leaders and men who are not cowards to expose the truth about Moslems, left wing socialism and fraud wherever it exists – which is just what Michael Smith does. He is a hero to many, many people and you have done your station an injustice for not defending these principles. Yours faithfully,

Glenis Batten.
1-97-127 Hogg St, Cranley. Qld. 4350.

NSW fails to toughen hate speech law

The state government has shied away from a long-planned crackdown on racist speech, prompting claims the dispute over changes to national anti-discrimination laws has stymied reform in NSW.

The government was this week due to respond to recommendations by a NSW parliamentary inquiry that would have removed obstacles to convicting people for racial vilification, but has delayed its response indefinitely.

Radio presenter Alan Jones had decried the inquiry as "beyond ludicrous", while conservative commentator Andrew Bolt said the idea was "straight out of the Leninist playbook".

The inquiry was referred by former premier Barry O'Farrell, who was concerned there had been no successful criminal prosecutions in the history of the laws.

The inquiry recommended that serious cases of racial vilification be referred to police for full investigation and possible criminal prosecution, rather than consent being sought from the Attorney-General.

It called for an increase in the period within which criminal complaints can be lodged to a year, a review of penalties for serious racial vilification, and police training about the offence.

The government was due to respond to the recommendations on Tuesday this week, more than six months after they were handed down. In a three-line response, it said it "continues to consider" the report and the issues raised.

The response suggests the government is reluctant to tackle even modest reforms in the wake of a tide of public opposition to the federal government's proposed rewrite of race hate laws.

The move to tighten laws in NSW ran counter to changes being pushed by Federal Attorney-General George Brandis. He has proposed scrapping sections of the Racial Discrimination Act that limit racist insults and hate speech.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said the state government had been "cowed into inaction" by its federal counterpart.

"This shows how the aggressive defence of bigots by the federal Liberal Party is undermining efforts to improve racial vilification laws at a state level," he said.

NSW Community Relations Commission chair Vic Alhadeff said the government's caution was understandable "given the overwhelming public rejection" of the federal reforms.

"It is clear that the public will accept reform in this sensitive area only if a compelling case has been made," he said, saying the state government was right to consider the issue carefully.

In April, Premier Mike Baird urged his federal colleagues to back away from the proposed changes to racial discrimination law, echoing fears expressed by Mr O'Farrell. Mr Baird said there was broad community concern over the national reforms, adding "if it's not broken, don't fix it".

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Brad Hazzard said the government was working on its response to ensure it properly reflects the government's views.

Bolt, who was found by the federal court to have contravened the Federal Racial Discrimination Act in a newspaper column, had described Mr O'Farrell as an "idiot" for proposing the inquiry.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said the government's response was "terribly unsatisfactory and sends a signal that it is not prepared to take appropriate action against racism".


Health report card reveals excellent grades

One of the main jobs of the federal government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is to produce a report card on the state of Australia’s Health every two years. The latest edition is just out and it’s crammed with good news.

Perhaps our most basic desire is to delay our death, and on this score we’re doing particularly well. "Australians have one of the highest life expectancies in the world and can expect to live about 25 years longer, on average, than a century ago," the institute says.

In 1910, a baby boy could expect to live for 55 years and a baby girl 59 years. Today it’s 80 and 84. That puts us sixth highest on the world league table for boys and seventh for girls, but the countries coming top – Iceland and Japan – beat us by less than two years. And we leave the Yanks for dust.

Of course, that’s just for babies. Those of us who survive beyond our youth can expect to live longer again. A man turning 65, for instance, can expect to live another 19 years to 84. Women can expect another 22 years to reach 87.

All that’s on average, of course. It happens because, by the time you reach 65, you’ve successfully avoided having your life cut short by accidents or other causes of premature death. You’ve become one of those who’ll exceed the at-birth average.

But even if we are living longer, is that so wonderful if it means we’re spending more years living with some kind of disability? Well, some disabilities are worse than others. And my guess is most people would tell you that, though their particular disability isn’t fun, it beats the alternative.

The news is better than that, however. The institute’s figuring shows that as our years of life are lengthening, our years of living with disability aren’t increasing commensurately. And though they’re increasing slowly for women – to almost 20 years for a newly born girl – they’re falling slowly for men, to less than 18 years for baby boys.

The rate of daily smoking has been falling for 50 years, from 43 per cent of adults in 1964 to 16 per cent today. Quitting smoking can increase your life expectancy by up to 10 years if you do it early enough.

The institute says vaccination is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions. And the proportion of 5-year-olds who've been vaccinated rose from 79 per cent to 92 per cent over the four years to 2012. Thank God for the nanny state.

The proportion of new cases of cancer each year is steady – kept up by the ageing of our population – but rates of death from cancer are continuing to fall. Over the 20 years to 2011, the mortality rate for all cancers fell by 17 per cent to 172 deaths per 100,000 people.

This is because of reduced exposure to the risk of cancer (such as fewer smokers), improved prevention (such as better sun protection), advances in cancer treatment and, for some cancers, earlier detection through screening programs (bowel, breast and cervical).

The reduction was mostly the result of falls in lung, prostate and bowel cancer deaths among men, and falls in breast and bowel cancer deaths among women.

The five-year survival rate from all cancers has increased from 47 per cent to 66 per cent over the past 20-odd years. And among people who’ve already survived five years, the chance of surviving for at least another five is 91 per cent.

There’s been a 20 per cent fall in the rate of heart attacks in recent years and death rates from heart disease have fallen by almost three-quarters over the past three decades. The rate of strokes has fallen by 25 per cent in recent years and the death rate from strokes has fallen by more than two-thirds.

In just over 20 years, the death rate from asthma has fallen from a peak of 6.6 per 100,000 people to 1.5 deaths. The rate of people being hospitalised for asthma has fallen by 38 per cent.

And the rates of death through most causes of injury – accidents, drowning, suicide and homicide – are down by 3 per cent to 5 per cent in less than a decade.

We’re even feeling better. More than half of those 15 and over consider themselves to be in excellent or very good health, with another 30 per cent saying their health is good. This is up a bit on a similar survey in 1995.

What’s more, even the oldies are feeling pretty good. Among people aged 65 to 74 living in households, more than three-quarters rated their health as excellent, very good or good. Among those 75 and older, it was two-thirds.

It would be wrong to think everything about our health and healthcare is fine but, just this once, we’ll celebrate what’s going right.


Labor dumps frumpy old lady from upper house slot

Former upper house president Amanda Fazio has accused NSW Labor general secretary Jamie Clements of "appalling behaviour" over the decision to dump her from the right faction ticket for next year's state election.

During a speech in Parliament on Wednesday, Ms Fazio also said the upper house preselection process was "corrupted and undemocratic" and criticised the number of women the faction was backing into Parliament.

Fairfax Media reported on Monday that Ms Fazio has been excluded from the right faction upper house ticket for the 2015 election, signalling an end to her parliamentary career after more than 14 years.

Ms Fazio is one of five upper house Labor MPs from the right faction - also known as Centre Unity - up for re-election in March 2015. She is also Labor's whip in the upper house.

But her name was absent from the ticket presented to faction members by Mr Clements at a meeting two weeks ago.

Ms Fazio initially said she would challenge Labor's deputy leader in the upper house, Adam Searle, but announced her withdrawal at a meeting last week.

In her speech on Wednesday, Ms Fazio said Mr Clements had informed her four weeks ago that there was no place for her on the ticket and that he was backing Mr Searle "because he had been pressured to do so by some right wing union secretaries".

"He had no criticism of my work as an MLC and could only offer the lame excuse that I was entitled to a [parliamentary] pension," she said.

"He had not broached the issue with me at any of our frequent meetings earlier in the year and had given no indication that I was going to be dumped. This is appalling behaviour on his part."

Ms Fazio noted if NSW Labor country organiser Courtney Houssos - who is set to be eighth on the combined Labor ticket - is not elected, then Centre Unity would be left with just one woman - Sophie Cotsis - in the upper house. For this to happen in the year 2015 would be "a disgrace", she said.

Ms Fazio said she had challenged Mr Searle due to concerns about his work as a barrister while an MP.

Last year the government attacked Mr Searle for earning more than $10,000 in legal fees from the Crown Solicitor in a possible breach of laws banning MPs from earning an income from government agencies.

At the time, Mr Searle denied he had broken the law, which is punishable by the loss of his seat.

Mr Searle and Mr Clements declined to comment. But on the issue of women in Parliament, a Centre Unity source said that in his one year as general secretary, Mr Clements had supported Deborah O'Neill and Vivien Thomson for the Senate and Ms Houssos for the Legislative Council.


2 July, 2014

Power price hikes bite in Queensland

QUEENSLANDERS face a dramatic hike in power bills with the start of the new financial year, and households with solar panels are also likely to take a hit to the hip pocket.

The average power bill is expected to rise by $191, or 13.6 per cent, pushed up by green policies and the increasing cost of poles, wires, and electricity generation.

However, prices will only go up by about 5.1 per cent if the federal government's carbon tax is repealed.

Queensland's Energy Minister Mark McArdle has blamed much of the hike on the former Labor government's over-investment in the power distribution network.

"Every power bill that is issued, 54 per cent of that bill relates to the cost of poles and wires - the gold-plated legacy of Labor that we're now having to unravel," Mr McArdle told ABC radio.

Pensioners and seniors will be able to apply for an electricity rebate of $320 after the government upped concessions to $165 million for this financial year.

"The Queensland government promised to lower the cost of living wherever we could and we're making sure that pensioners and other vulnerable Queenslanders get some relief on household costs," Mr McArdle said.

Consumers are forking out 50 per cent more for electricity than they did three years ago, and shadow treasurer Curtis Pitt says price hikes under the Newman government total $560.

"Campbell Newman arrogantly promised to lower Queenslanders' electricity bills, yet ever since he's become premier they've just gone up and up and up," he said.

This financial year, about 50,000 homeowners who have solar panels will no longer be guaranteed a feed-in tariff of eight cents.

Government-owned distributors will no longer be responsible for paying the tariff and households will have to negotiate directly with electricity retailers for the price they are paid for the solar power they generate.

The 44 cent tariff, paid to some 284,000 people who were first to sign up to the scheme, will remain unchanged.

Australian Solar Council chief executive John Grimes says consumers need to shop around, or join forces to negotiate as a block with electricity retailers.

"As an independent customer, with an average-size system on your roof, you really have little leverage when talking to a utility," Mr Grimes told ABC radio.


Liberal MP Sarah Henderson blasted for response on welfare, jobs and asylum seeker policy on ABC

What would you expect on the ABC?

HER appearance on ABC talk show Q&A sparked both cheers and jeers.
But it was Sarah Henderson’s comments on welfare which really made people sit up and notice. The Federal member for Corangamite appeared on the show last night, filmed live from Geelong, to discuss the decline in the manufacturing industry and job opportunities in the Victorian regional city.

Ms Henderson was joined by Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles, Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, Geelong Mayor Darryn Lyons, and Geelong Region Alliance CEO Elaine Carbines on the ABC show.

And while the panel members were all vocal in their opinions on the future of Geelong, it was Ms Henderson’s comments which caused the most reaction and saw her still trending on Twitter this morning.

The show began with Ford workers asking Ms Henderson what the Government was doing about job creation, before moving on to youth unemployment, asylum seeker policy and the welfare system.

While maintaining her composure Ms Henderson appeared slightly ruffled when quizzed about the death of Tamil asylum seeker Leo Seemanpillai, who committed suicide last month, and when questioned by university student Nicholas Slugget on welfare policy.

Her responses caused both laughter and some shock within the audience while others on Twitter reacted with anger with some viewers questioning her sense of compassion.

Mr Slugget who is due to finish his degree in two years said his parents aren’t financially capable of supporting him, yet he would have to wait six months to secure Newstart if he didn’t find work when he graduated.

He said he feared he would be facing a "six-month black hole.”

"I feel you’re punishing me for furthering my education,” he told Ms Henderson before asking how he was expected to compete with older workers when he graduated (such as ex-Ford employees) who had more experience.

She said the Government offered a range of support for job seekers, before adding that the best form of welfare was work.
"You will have to wait six months but there are a whole range of exemptions such as if you’re a parent or disabled,” she told him.

The answer sparked audience laughter with the young student seeming lost for words before saying he didn’t fit into either category and kids weren’t on his agenda.

Even host Tony Jones seemed amused when he said "I don’t think he’s intended to have children.”

However, it was comments from a former Liberal candidate which really hit home.

Mark Horstead told the audience he deeply ashamed on the government's attack on those receiving welfare payments. "I would remind you and your colleagues it’s a cornerstone of liberalism that the strong have a duty to protect the weak and vulnerable,” he told Ms Henderson. "These are people who are our fellow Australians who need our respect.” "When did your party receive the mandate to attack people in this way?”

Ms Henderson’s comments drew a raft of responses on Twitter with most shocked by her response to the welfare question.


Socialist Alternative withdraws violent Tony Abbott cover

The Leftist hate never stops

The Socialist Alternative has withdrawn its newspapers featuring a violent image depicting Tony Abbott getting his throat cut following a public backlash.

The image was accompanied by the headline "One cut we'd like to see” and was on the front page of its paper Red Flag.

The organisation posted the image last night on its Facebook page, prompting more than 200 comments, most of them negative.

One user said: "Oh ... not cool. I’m no fan of the LNP — policies, parties, associates or leader — but this seems unnecessarily violent.”

Another said: "dreadful picture. DO NOT CONDONE violence to anyone. Even Abbott. You LOST me off this page and as a supporter.”

The Socialist Alternative released a statement this morning saying it would withdraw the cover, citing "legal concerns”.

"The razor was and is clearly metaphorical. Just as cartoons that depict Bill Shorten knifing Julia Gillard in the back are not suggestive of an actual physical attack but merely are visual representations of perceived betrayal, so the razor in both our cover and the original poster suggest that the prime minister should be cast aside,” the statement said.

"However, due to legal concerns, we are withdrawing it.

"But while we are withdrawing the cover, we make no apology for our hostility to this government and their supporters in the right wing press.”

The organisation said the artwork drew inspiration from Michael Callaghan’s classic 1977 poster "Give Frazer the Razor”, which today hangs in the National Gallery.

The poster was prompted by Malcolm Fraser’s decision to block supply, leading to the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government in 1975, which inspired the rallying cry "Give Fraser the razor!”.

The phrase was "chanted by demonstrators in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane at mass rallies and strikes for years to follow. "The slogan appeared on placards, posters, and graffiti. It was even set to music,” the Social Alternative said.

"Tony Abbott’s budget, and the Liberal plans for slashing welfare and cutting wages, is far worse than anything that Frazer carried out when prime minister.”

"It is the height of hypocrisy to make a song and dance about an allegorical newspaper cover, while defending a government which just last week announced that it wishes to deport asylum seekers who have anything less than a 50/50 chance of being tortured or persecuted if they are returned to their "home country”.

"The difference between this threat of actual violence and an allegorical cover could not be plainer.”


Clive Palmer faces arrest unless he can explain in court how he spent $12 million

CLIVE Palmer could face arrest unless he fronts a secret arbitration hearing with chequebook stubs that show how he spent $12m that a Chinese company has accused him of taking during last year’s election campaign.

Sino Iron yesterday swamped the Queensland Supreme Court with 15 applications, including a personal subpoena for the federal politician, demanding he produce butts for two cheques numbered 2046 and 2073.

The National Australia Bank has also been subpoenaed in relation to the same cheques, which relate to the withdrawal of $10m on August 8 and $2.167,050 on September 2.

The chequebook belongs to Mr Palmer’s parent company, Mineralogy Pty Ltd.

CITIC Pacific, which operates the Sino Iron Project in the Pilbara on Mr Palmer’s leases, has accused Mineralogy of wrongfully removing the money from one of its mine operating accounts.

The subpoenas claim the $10m was paid to one of Mr Palmer’s company’s, Cosmo Developments, which with Mineralogy and another of his companies, Queensland Nickel, had "purported” contracts to provide port management services at the Cape Preston mine.

Mr Palmer’s right-hand man, senior Mineralogy executive and unsuccessful Palmer United Party candidate, Clive Mensink, has also been ordered to produce documents relating to the $10m and all contracts relating to the port deal.

Sino has also subpoenaed Media Circus Pty Ltd, from Brisbane, which ran advertising and produced campaign material for the Palmer United Party in 2013.

The subpoena demands full disclosure of all details relating to the second cheque for $2,167,050, which CITIC says was drawn on the Mineralogy account on September 2 and "presented for banking by Media Circus on or about 2 September 2013.”

Mr Palmer said he was unaware of Sino’s legal move, which has brought some of the secret arbitration hearing into the open.

"I have no knowledge of any of this,” he said. "I’m in my electorate working for people here. All the best, seeya.” He has previously denied taking CITIC’s money.

The dispute between CITIC’s Sino, and Mr Palmer and his companies, is being held in camera before retired Supreme Court judge Richard Chesterman, QC, though it appears the tribunal has been frustrated in getting to the bottom of where the $12m went.

On Friday, the tribunal gave Sino permission to issue the numerous subpoenas to produce information.

Mr Palmer’s subpoena, and others, stated: "Failure to comply with this subpoena without lawful excuse is contempt of Court and may result in your arrest.”

It was not clear from Mr Palmer’s redacted subpoena when he was required to appear but the NAB and others were told to front the tribunal on or before July 11.

The Australian newspaper, also published by News Corp Australia, has previously published that Mr Palmer’s companies neither operated nor managed the Pilbara port for Sino.


1 July, 2014

Lenient NSW bail laws

AS fears grow at the release of men accused of violent crimes under new bail laws, Attorney-General Brad Hazzard has been accused of avoiding a review of the bail act to halt an explosion in the prison population.

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has warned the jail population — at a record high of 10,917 inmates — will increase by a further 17 per cent by next March. Opposition Leader John Robertson said Mr Hazzard was using the new bail act to reduce prisoner numbers.

"The government is struggling to cope with a dramatic increase in prison numbers because they have shut three jails and sacked 600 prison workers, but bail laws should not be used to solve this problem,” Mr Robertson said.

In 2011, the government closed three prisons that housed a total of 900 inmates because the prison population was declining. It is now reviewing the possibility of turning Kariong Juvenile Correctional Centre into an adult jail.

Mr Hazzard has denied the bail laws have been used to cut the prison population, with $24 million set aside in the Budget to fund extra beds and staff to manage capacity.

"The new bail laws are a completely separate issue to fluctuations in prison population. The new bail act has been in development since 2011,’’ a spokeswoman for Mr Hazzard said.

"Corrective Services NSW is constantly reviewing prison stock and the government is continuing to work with a range of agencies to develop short-, medium- and long-term options to respond to this issue.”

Among those granted bail under the new act are Comanchero bikie Mick Hawi, who faces a retrial on murder charges, accused wife killer Steven Fesus, former bikie boss Sam Ibrahim, and Moustafa Mariam, charged over the gunfight that killed truck driver Bob Knight.

Premier Mike Baird yesterday said the new act was designed to protect the community, and the government was open to making amendments to it if need be.

"We were interested in community safety and community safety alone. That was the basis it was put together — anyone that came before them would be assessed based on their risk to the community,” Mr Baird said. "That remains our objective but I have said before and I will say it again — if we need to amend it as the new system is implemented we will.”

Powerful upper house crossbencher the Reverend Fred Nile said it was clear the act needed an urgent review. He has asked Mr Hazzard to make it harder for "courts to release these dangerous criminals on bail”.

Prosecutors yesterday applied to revoke the bail of Sam Ibrahim, saying he is "an unacceptable risk of committing a further serious offence”. Ibrahim, who is appealing against a two-year jail sentence for threatening a former business partner and intimidating a police officer, was granted bail last week.

But the DPP has asked the Supreme Court to revoke bail while he awaits trial on firearms charges.

Ibrahim’s lawyer Brett Galloway said it was not a strong prosecution case, and that the 45-year-old could meet any bail condition. Justice Peter Hidden will give his decision today.


Folly to ignore extremist threat

AUSTRALIA received some notice from US President Barack Obama at the weekend, but it wasn’t the sort of notice we really wanted. The President’s message was a serious one Australia cannot afford to avoid.

"You see jihadists coming in from Europe and as far as Australia to get trained and then going back into their home countries,” Obama said in an interview on CNN. "This is something we have been deeply concerned about.”

Those concerns should be ­particularly elevated in Western Sydney, which is the unfortunate source of many Australian citizens who have joined the conflicts across Syria and Iraq.

Some of these Islamic extremists have form even before departing Australia to join in the bloodshed overseas. In 2011, extremist and Sharia law supporter Zakaryah Raad was given a suspended sentence for whipping a young man he judged guilty of crimes against Islam. Now he is understood to have been killed fighting with ­murderous ISIL forces, as have ­several other Australian citizens.

Australia’s and Western Sydney’s involvement with the ­conflicts in Syria and Iraq doesn’t end with the direct participation of reckless and ideologically corrupt young men.

As The Daily Telegraph reports today, Sydney’s west is a fertile ground for fundraising to generate cash for extremist groups overseas.

This situation is clearly not a one-way street. As fighters and money go from here to the extremists, the extremists’ philosophy of death and mayhem becomes ever stronger in Australia. It’s a cycle that simply must be broken, which is why the federal government’s latest plan to combat terrorism must be supported by all political parties.

Australia, especially Sydney, is incredibly vulnerable at the moment to the evil of extremism. We cannot afford to ignore this threat.


Motorized climate change??

ADVOCATES for action against climate change do themselves few favours when they turn legitimate concerns into outright political propaganda.

Current editions of the official NSW government handbook for learner drivers carry a bizarre warning about the future risks of climate change, claiming that a changed climate could cause "unpredictable weather events” due to "greenhouse gas emissions”.

The excuse for including this information is that drivers should beware of taking to the roads in extreme conditions brought about by climate change.

This is more than a little absurd. If this approach was taken to logical extremes, we could see government climate change warnings attached to almost every conceivable human activity.

Impressively, state Coalition government roads minister Duncan Gay recognises the warning for the political sloganeering that it is and has vowed to cut the lines in future editions of the handbook.

The public might be more inclined to listen to climate activists if the activists’ messages were more realistic and less evangelical.

Which brings us to Scott Ferguson of Haberfield, who brought this to The Daily Telegraph’s attention after a copy of the handbook was given to his young daughter Riley.

"I haven’t been this annoyed since Riley’s old primary school made her sit in scripture class,” Mr Ferguson said. That’s a very good comparison. When climate change activists take their views to extremes, they sound more like religious zealots than like advocates for a better planet.


Apply Adam Smith to dentistry to keep cavities away

Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, 'people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.'

If alive today, Smith would not be surprised at attempts by the Australian Dentists Association (ADA) to protect the incomes of Australian dentists.

Following the advice of the Australian Workplace Productivity Agency, the Abbott government recently opted not to tighten skilled migration rules on dentists. Dentists remain on the Skilled Occupation List, meaning foreign workers can come to Australia and apply for a permanent visa without requiring a sponsor.

The decision means more trained dentists can work in Australia, which means more competition between dental practices for patients. This can only be a positive outcome for consumers, as increasing the supply of immigrant dentists will put downwards pressure on prices.

Dentist fees can be a determining factor for whether families on middle and lower incomes receive basic dental treatment. Increasing the supply and lowering the cost of dental care can therefore increase access to necessary dental services.

This is not the view of ADA, which described the government's decision on the skilled migration 'criminal,' claiming local dentist graduates would 'cop it.'

There is nothing new about the ADA putting its member's interests ahead of the public interest. Last year, it called on the government to cap the number of university places for dentistry at 460 to address a purported 'oversupply' of dental graduates.

Restrictions on the movement of dentists into the Australian market, either through constraining skilled migration or restricting student entry, are designed with the same intention - to keep prices high and prop up dentist incomes.

According to Graduate Careers, dentistry remains the highest-paid field of education, with 2012 graduates starting on a median salary of $80,000, compared to the average on $52,000. In addition, 83.6% of dentistry students found full-time employment within four months of graduation.

Dentists are hardly doing it tough. This group of well-off professionals do not need their incomes protected by the government at the expenses of the best interests of middle and low income families.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative

Bureaucracy: "One of the constant laments of doctors and nurses working with NSW Health is the incredible and increasing bureaucracy," she said. "It is completely obstructive to providing a service."

Revered Labour Party leader Gough Whitlam was/is a very erudite man so he cannot have been unaware of the similarities of his famous phrase “the Party, the platform, the people” with an earlier slogan: "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer". It's basically the same slogan in reverse order.

Julia Gillard, a failed feminist flop. She was given the job of Prime Minister of Australia but her feminist preaching was so unpopular that she was booted out of the job by her own Leftist party.

A great little kid

In November 2007, a four-year-old boy was found playing in a croc-infested Territory creek after sneaking off pig hunting alone with four dogs and a puppy. The toddler was found five-and-a-half hours after he set off from his parents' house playing in a creek with the puppy. Amazingly, Daniel Woditj also swam two creeks known to be inhabited by crocs during his adventurous romp. Mr Knight said that after walking for several kilometres, Daniel came to a creek and swam across it. Four of his dogs "bailed up" at the creek but the youngster continued on undaunted with his puppy to a second creek. Mr Knight said Daniel swam the second croc-infested creek and walked on for several more kilometres. "Captain is a hard bushman and Daniel is following in his footsteps. They breed them tough out bush."

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To be continued ....
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