Looking at Australian politics from a libertarian/conservative perspective...  

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30 June 2006

No place for New Age school syllabus

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt has slammed other states for designing their curriculums using an "outcomes-based" approach, saying school students should be protected from syllabuses adopting the latest educational fads. Ms Tebbutt warned that if those curriculums infused the new national syllabus and Australian Certificate of Education being promoted by the Howard Government, there was a risk NSW students could be penalised. "What's happened in some other states is that they've elevated one (outcomes) at the expense of another (content) and my view is you need both," she told The Australian.

The NSW school curriculum differs from other states in prescribing the content of what students should be taught as well as describing the outcomes of what students should be able to do, which Ms Tebbutt said shielded NSW students from the educational trends adopted in some other states, such as postmodern interpretation of literature. "I certainly don't subscribe to the view that there are no pieces of work that aren't more superior than other pieces of work," she said. "There are great pieces of literature, and they should be studied as such." In some states, literary works such as those by Shakespeare are treated as having equal merit with websites, film posters and CD covers.

Ms Tebbutt, who belongs to the Left faction of the ALP, expressed concern that NSW students would be forced into studying a narrower curriculum if the new national syllabus were restricted to the common elements from among the other states. "Any attempt to examine students right across Australia would end up ... pooling the common elements from each state and territory, and we'd only get a part of what we teach being tested," she said yesterday. "The danger is that your teaching program gets skewed to what's being tested, and that ... would narrow our curriculum."

The NSW school curriculum is widely regarded by educational experts as the benchmark, with the West Australian Government saying it would look to the NSW system in redesigning its controversial courses for Years 11 and 12. The Australian Certificate of Education and a national curriculum are expected to be discussed at the national education ministers' council next month.

Ms Tebbutt gave short shrift to many of the current educational trends that carry weight in other states. For instance, she questioned the ability of senior students to grasp complex philosophies, such as Marxism, and apply them to English texts. "I don't subscribe to the view that there are no universal truths ... we might as well all give up now if that's the case," she said. "I don't support that view because it then becomes completely unclear what students are supposed to be learning."

Ms Tebbutt said ensuring a content-rich syllabus was taught consistently throughout the state had enabled NSW to avoid its curriculum becoming dominated by one approach. "We've had a strong approach and we don't want fads in our system," she said. "We stick to an approach that's worked." While some teachers asked senior English students to analyse Shakespeare plays from a Marxist and feminist point of view, Ms Tebbutt questioned the capacity of students to interpret a work at that level. "You've got to remember it's Year 12 students," she said. "And sometimes we're expecting them to have a level of understanding about other philosophies that at that age they're not able to make."


Wind farm claims 'hot air'

Wind farms don't live up to the hype that they're an environmental saviour, federal agriculture minister Peter McGauran says. Mr McGauran's first voiced his concerns in a speech to dairy farmers earlier this week, contrasting with federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell's position in support of wind energy. "Wind farms don't live up to the hype that they're the environmental saviour and a serious alternate energy source," Mr McGauran told ABC radio today.

However, Renewable Energy Generators of Australia chief Susan Jeans said Mr McGauran's comments were out of line. "I suspect it's best that we let the environment minister comment on matters relating to renewable energy," Ms Jeans told ABC radio.

Mr McGauran said the giant propellers devalued land. "The deleterious affect they can have on their neighbours is so serious it means that they should not be allowed to get away with the exaggerated claim," he said. "Their claims are fraudulent in regard to the environmental and energy terms." " ... these wind farms are not producing any electricity of any measurable amount and because they are having such an affect on rural communities they should only be permitted where the community is ... accepting of them."


One Muslim thug finally caught

A vicious stabbing in the hours after the Cronulla riot was the most violent of the revenge attacks that swept through Sydney, police say. A 21-year-old Chester Hill man yesterday became the first person charged over a brutal attack outside the Woolooware Golf Club, in Sydney's south, on December 11, last year. He was one of four men who allegedly set upon a man, known only as "Dan", knocking him to the ground and kicking him about the face and body. The self-employed mechanic also was stabbed twice in the left thigh and three times in the back, the blade narrowly missing his spine. Police allege the men only stopped the attack when the knife handle snapped leaving the blade embedded in the 26-year-old's back.

Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis, from Strike Force Enoggera, established in December 2005 following the Cronulla riot and retaliatory attacks, today said police had closed in on the perpetrators. "This is the most serious of all the reprisal attacks," he told reporters outside Bankstown Police Station. "(The arrest) was pleasing not only for us and investigators, but also the victim to see some type of end result."

Supt Katsogiannis said a beige car, tracked to a house in Chester Hill, was a key factor in the arrest. "That particular car was used in connection with the offence by the attacker and sometime after the offence was committed the number plate on the car was changed," he said. Supt Katsogiannis refused to say if the Chester Hill man was responsible for the stabbing. "There were at least four attackers," he said. The Chester Hill man, charged with maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent and affray, was refused bail to appear in Bankstown Local Court later today.


This is crazy: Expensive paint thrown away

Lots of householders would be glad to have it. This firm NEEDS to be taken over

Wattyl has taken the concept of the end of year clearance to a new level. With only two days left in the financial year, the paint maker has left some staff at its main Blacktown warehouse stunned after it earmarked an estimated 100,000 tins of paint for the incinerator. "We're told it has to be dumped," one long-serving Wattyl worker told the Herald. He said the paint was valued at $3.2 million. "We can't work out the logic. Some of this paint, the value of it is just unbelievable," he said. The worker, who has been at Wattyl for more than 10 years, said it was by far the biggest consignment of paint dumped in his time there.

Wattyl, which is subject to a $321 million takeover bid from South African paint group Barloworld, said there was nothing untoward in the massive stock clearance. "There's nothing dramatic in it," said Wattyl managing director John Nolan. It was merely part of the company's ongoing program to scale back stock and its paint range. "That's just part of our SKU [stock keeping unit] reduction." Dr Nolan declined to say how much paint was destined for the incinerator or the value of it, despite playing down the $3.2 million figure provided by Wattyl staff. Dr Nolan would only say the massive write-off was included in a $3.7 million inventory write-down the company reported in February. "It's just a normal process," Dr Nolan said. However, the latest clearance adds weight to concerns that trading conditions across the paint industry have worsened in recent months due to the weak housing industry.

It is five months since the company said its "stock units and stock reduction" program aimed at cutting $1.4 million a year in costs was "substantially progressed". Dr Nolan admitted trading conditions had worsened since the start of 2006. "There's no question that the market has come off a bit," he said. Wattyl's end of financial year clearance raises questions about the forecasts provided by the company when it fended off the now defunct $275 million takeover bid from Allco Equity Partners. Wattyl had predicted it would attain $22 million in annual cost savings by the end of this fiscal year and double its pre-tax profits by the end of 2006-07. It predicted a turnaround in trading conditions from next month.


29 June 2006

Power-mad union leader

Australia's top union official is under fire for saying it would be good if unions ran the country as they had done in the past. On the eve of a union rally that will shut down Melbourne today, ACTU secretary Greg Combet admitted making the remark to a group of South Australian unionists. "I recall we used to run the country and it would not be a bad thing if we did again," he said.

Prime Minister John Howard said the union chief had revealed the union movement's true motives. "It's not about the welfare of unionists, it's not about getting the unemployed back into work, it's not about boosting their real wages. It's about union power," he said. Mr Howard said the unions had bullied Labor into promising to axe Australian Workplace Agreements.

Mr Combet defended the comment, saying it was taken out of context. "The comments I made were a joke and a light-hearted aside to a large group of people," he said. He accused the Government of dredging up old claims about union power to justify its IR changes. But the lapse could not have come at a worse time for the unions, with disruptive rallies across the nation today over industrial relations changes. Trades Hall has vowed to gridlock Melbourne, with 100,000 unionists in the streets....

More here

PM predicts power deals

China's rapacious appetite for energy has prompted Prime Minister John Howard to hold out the prospect of record breaking new resource deals with the world's emerging super power. The Prime Minister arrived in the Chinese industrial port city Shenzhen last night for a lightning business visit to capitalise on what he called our "super-duper" export relationship with the Asian giant. Mr Howard will today oversee the arrival of a shipment of liquefied natural gas from Australia's northwest shelf. The shipment is part of a historic $25 billion deal for Australia to supply LNG to China -- our biggest export contract.

Mr Howard will also meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The two leaders will focus on economic relations and regional security, especially concerns over North Korea.

Mr Howard, who will discuss progress on Australia's free trade agreement with China, hailed the 25-year LNG deal as proof that Australian export efforts were succeeding. But Mr Howard said "what we should remember is that whether we sign a free trade agreement with China or not, we have one super-duper economic relationship with this country". "Quadrupling of exports over a period of 10 years is a pretty remarkable achievement and that's been done without a free trade agreement," he said.

Today's LNG delivery is the first to Shenzhen and has only been made possible by construction of a special terminal big enough to handle such a large scale shipment. "This particular shipment is the largest single trade agreement that Australia has ever signed," the Prime Minister said. "It can, in my view, be the beginning of a further stage of expansion."

But potential stumbling blocks to future deals include China's reluctance to pay prevailing prices for LNG. Indeed, the contract between China and the northwest shelf venture was struck at fixed prices four years ago that have since been dramatically overtaken. But Mr Howard said the Federal Government played no role in negotiating the prices.


Walk-up start for Batam meeting

Prime Minister John Howard and the Indonesian President have met on the Indonesian island of Batam, but the dress code for the first leaders' meeting was a little unorthodox. Mr Howard sported shorts and a polo shirt and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looked like he was heading to a golf course - the two leaders were on their morning walks.

Mr Howard headed out on his walk in the vicinity of the Nongsa Point marina, where the President is staying and where this afternoon's meeting will take place. Mr Howard heard that Dr Yudhoyono was out and about while he was walking and doubled back to see him. The two men greeted each other and briefly talked about the Island of Batam's tourism prospects and Australian investment.

Both Indonesia and Australia have ruled out any new security pact being signed at the meeting, saying it was never intended to be completed by today. Mr Howard is also hoping for changes to Australia's asylum laws to be discussed. The Prime Minister has also called for the strict monitoring of radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.


Now it's NSW Hospitals under fire

Too many patients are waiting too long to receive treatment in New South Wales public hospital emergency departments, the State Opposition said today. Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner today said Health Department statistics for April showed 1943, or 18 per cent, of patients with an imminent life-threatening medical condition were not seen within the recommended 10 minutes. An imminent life-threatening condition - such as a heart attack - requires treatment to commence within 10 minutes of the incident occurring.

Ms Skinner said 35 per cent, or 15,701, of patients with a potentially life-threatening condition were not seen within half an hour. These conditions include heavy bleeding, a major fracture, dehydration, and severe illness. Patients must receive treatment within 30 minutes of their accident or illness being diagnosed. Ms Skinner said 31 per cent, or 17,986 patients were not seen within the recommended hour.

Ms Skinner said the Government needed to recruit more nurses so extra hospital beds could be opened. "No matter how creative the spin doctors, the plight of very sick and badly injured patients is at stake, and Premier (Morris) Iemma and his health minister (John Hatzistergos) stand condemned for denying the problem," she said in a statement.


28 June 2006

Bizarre medical appointment

The new chief of the Health Quality and Complaints Commission was a senior Queensland Health boss whose failure to resolve formal complaints over unsafe hours at Bundaberg Hospital led to surgeons quitting and Jayant Patel being hired. Dr John Youngman, a deputy director-general of Queensland Health during the discredited leadership of former Health Minister Wendy Edmond, will lead the new commission and oversee complaints from consumers, hospital staff and whistleblowers. He will work two days a week for $100,000 a year to head a board of five assistant commissioners including a former Beattie Government director-general Marg O'Donnell, whose husband Justice Martin Moynihan shut down the health inquiry for "ostensible bias".

Senior clinicians told The Courier-Mail yesterday the elevation of Dr Youngman was extraordinary given his previous No. 2 role in Queensland Health, which was found to have had a "culture of concealment" in inquiries by Tony Morris, QC, and Geoff Davies, QC. The head of the Patients' Support Group, Beryl Crosby, also slammed the appointment and said the Bundaberg Hospital disaster would not have happened if Dr Youngman had been more responsive to the pleas from surgeons for help. "It is bizarre that they would put someone in as head of the complaints unit who did not listen to complaints in the first place. This will not inspire confidence," Ms Crosby said.

In unchallenged evidence at the inquiry it was revealed that pleas by Bundaberg Hospital's then director of surgery, Dr Charles Nankivell, for urgent help were not dealt with by Dr Youngman in his role at the time as general manager (health services). Dr Nankivell had been pleading in writing for top-level intervention because he had been working dangerously long hours and feared his chronic fatigue would harm patients and himself. He had written to the heads of the hospital and the heads of Queensland Health to raise the concerns before patients were unnecessarily maimed or killed.

Dr Youngman's written response, described in the Commission of Inquiry report as "trite", did not address the safety concerns. Dr Nankivell, who quit in disgust, told the inquiry that Dr Youngman's response was the straw "that broke the camel's back". Dr Nankivell was replaced by Dr Sam Baker, who also quit in disgust, resulting in the hiring of the incompetent Jayant Patel who had been banned from performing surgery in the US. .

Dr Youngman told The Courier-Mail yesterday he had no recollection of the complaints by Dr Nankivell and Dr Baker, nor was he aware of their unfavourable evidence. He said the Davies inquiry had made no findings adverse to him and that his track record in safety and quality underlined his commitment to better health care. Dr Youngman said he had worked hard with limited resources and that as a top administrator he had not personally been part of a "culture of concealment". "From my point of view I undertook a very transparent role. I'm sure there are many people who support me and some who would not support me," he said. Dr Youngman has been working since last year as a consultant to Health Minister Stephen Robertson.


Drinking sewage unpopular

So it's an unlikely alternative to the dams that Greenies hate

The first Australian mayor to be dumped from office for backing recycled drinking water has warned Toowoomba Mayor Di Thorley she risks the same fate. Ten years ago Caboolture Shire residents ditched their mayor, John White, after he had served for 16 years on the council. He blamed his demise on a plan to recycle purified sewage from the local wastewater treatment plant. "I didn't see it as an election issue but very emotive terms were used and the topic was used to divide the public," he said. "One day I was the rooster, the next I was a feather duster."

Cr Thorley, who plans to contest the 2008 council election, is backing a similar plan for drought-stricken Toowoomba, where residents are facing a July 29 referendum on water recycling. Mr White warned she risked a similar fate and he called for a co-ordinated approach from the State Government instead of allowing individual councils to cop the flak. "If (her) opposition chooses to use this as an issue then she will become a feather duster as well," he said.

He admitted that if he had been able to foresee the deep divisions the debate caused he would have advocated recycling for uses other than drinking. Cr Thorley said that although she did not underestimate how concerned some residents were about the issue she would not back down. "I've acknowledged that people take this seriously but I have not seen that as a reason to make me lose courage," she said. "I think 1997 in Caboolture was a very different time. "They weren't faced with running out of water, no one thought Wivenhoe Dam could run dry and you didn't have climate change in the media day after day."

Mr White said he was pleased the debate had led Caboolture to spend millions of dollars to improve its water treatment facilities and to embrace recycling of water for parks, gardens and sporting fields. "It defies logic to treat millions of litres of water and then dump it into the ocean," he said. In 1999 Caboolture upgraded its sewage treatment works, treating the effluent to A-class standard rather than building an outfall pipeline to Moreton Bay. The recycled effluent is now used for new housing and industrial developments and major water users including school grounds, the town's showgrounds and sporting fields, parks and gardens, roadworks and building sites.


Another RAAF plane faces delays

Have we EVER had a defence buy that was delivered on time and at the budgeted cost?

Project Wedgetail, the RAAF's $3.5 billion long-range surveillance aircraft, faces delays of at least 18 months after suffering testing problems with radar and sensor computer systems. The latest setback in one of the RAAF's most high-profile purchases came as a surprise to the Defence Department, which has touted Wedgetail as one of its best-managed projects. The new airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) planes, the first of which is due to enter service late next year, are claimed to provide state-of-the art air and maritime surveillance for the defence force over Australia's northern approaches.

The 2004 delivery schedule called for the first two aircraft to be fitted out in the US city of Seattle and the remaining four to be modified at RAAF Amberley, outside Ipswich in Queenlsand. The final plane was due to be handed over in early 2008.

Boeing, the prime contractor for the project, first hinted at problems with the highly complex software integration work earlier this year. The first of the six modified Boeing 737-700 aircraft has been undergoing tests in Seattle, and had been scheduled to be delivered to the RAAF by the end of the year. Each of the 737s contains 863 electronic boxes, 300km of extra wiring and four million lines of software code.

After initially deciding to buy four aircraft in 1999, the Howard Government increased the order to six in 2004, with the fleet to be based at Williamstown in NSW. The extra planes enhance the Government's options for participation in future military operations with the US and other allies, which was not possible with a four-aircraft fleet. The Wedgetail project has resulted in an estimated $400million worth of Australian industry involvement, including the investment by Boeing at Amberley.


Australia helping the Chinese with cricket

Thanks largely to India, cricket is already by far the world's most widely-followed bat-and-ball game. If the Chinese take it up, its following will be immense

The first recorded game of cricket in China was played in 1858 in Shanghai. Nearly 150 years since those seeds were planted, a tiny sapling is only now beginning to sprout. If, however, the Chinese Cricket Association's (CCA) development plans are even half successful, it is only a matter of decades before the cricket world could be looking at the new giants of the game. The CCA, which formed in 2004, has spent the past year developing a core base of players, umpires and coaches, with help from the best cricket establishment in the world, Cricket Australia.

Ross Turner, Cricket Australia's general manager for global development, has had a close-up view of how the game is starting to take root in the world's most populous nation. "The greatest pleasure of my life in a professional context was visiting China for the first time and working with a group of dedicated officials in breaking incredibly new ground," said Turner at a recent Asian Cricket Council seminar on the future of Asian cricket. "The baby in some ways has not been born yet. But there is an opportunity in a global sense that we need to grasp. The CCA have drafted a long-term strategy and I recommend (the world) to look at this project, which will help bring a new face to cricket that we cannot fully comprehend at the moment."

The most famous cricketing event in China over the past few years has been the Beijing Cricket Sixes, involving mostly expatriate teams. CCA director Calvin Leong said that since September, China had produced 68 qualified coaches and umpires while the association had introduced the game to 19 primary schools, 20 secondary schools and 25 universities. "When the CCA was established in 2004, cricket was an expatriate game. Only a handful of Chinese had ever put their hands on a cricket ball," said Leong. "In the past, cricket was zero, nil and nothing in China. At the moment it is a young baby, or a tiny seed."

Leong said the CCA is choosing only the top schools and universities in which to introduce the game and are currently focusing their efforts on Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Liaoning. "Beijing and Shanghai are the two biggest cities in China and are more readily acceptable of new ideas and cultures. If we are successful here, it can influence other cities. "Guangzhou also has a strong economy while we chose Liaoning because many of China's top athletes come from this area."

The CCA said it is trying to have cricket included as a medal sport at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. "We are trying to convince the organisers to include cricket," said CCA vice chairman Cui Zhiqiang. "That's why development in Guangzhou area is important. If we can get youngsters there to play, it will help in obtaining Asian Games status." Leong added that the CCA is even trying to convince a baseball academy in Shandong to convert to a cricketing institution. "It doesn't sound that surprising when you consider that baseball does not have a good future in the Olympics and it has been dropped from the 2012 London Games," said Leong. "A Shandong cricket school stands a good chance and that is one of our targets in 2007." Leong said the CCA is hoping that by the end of 2007 China would have 30,000 players, 600 coaches and 600 umpires. Their target is for 150,000 players by 2020.


27 June 2006

Australia's "Noble savages"

In their hatred of their own society, a persistent Leftist theme has been the myth of the "Noble savage" (Rousseau's term). Reality would have made "warlike" or "murderous" a better adjective than "noble" for most primitive people but Leftists are driven by their fantasies, not by reality.

Australia has a bunch of just the sort of folk Leftists idealize -- stone-age black people rudely wrenched into the wider world by the arrival of the British in 1788. And modern Australia has plenty of fantasy-driven Leftists too. So the fantasists concerned (notable among them being the late "Nugget" Coombes) managed some decades ago to reverse Australia's long-standing policy of assimilating the aborigines concerned into white society. The do-gooders managed to send about half of the blacks off to isolated and undeveloped places near their ancestral homelands where they could live in communal splendour according to their own ways and value systems. They were also of course given unconditional welfare so were not obliged to work. Big god Gubmint would look after them and supply all their needs. Nugget and all the other do-gooders went to bed every night after that basking in the warm glow of what a wonderfully kind and enlightened thing they had done.

But what did they expect the blacks to do? There was virtually nothing they could do in their isolated camps. They could certainly not get jobs there and with no need to hunt or plant they could not even gain the self-respect of supporting themselves and their families by their own efforts.

So they drank -- and any substance that could be abused they abused. They sank into a life not too different from some conceptions of hell. When they were not too stoned out of their brains for it, fistfights became a daily occurrence among them, black women were savagely beaten as a matter of routine and sexual abuse of children became so rife that you now have black toddlers with sexually transmitted diseases.

All that has now at long last gained the attention of the Australian media and there have been numerous articles about it in all the papers. And none of it was news to me or to the lady in my life. I grew up with a black's camp just down the other end of the street and the lady in my life has spent years working in isolated Aboriginal communities as a child-health nurse and general medical carer. On Sunday, however, I did put up three articles from the papers about the situation in the aboriginal communities and in response to that I received an interesting email which I reproduce below.

"I'm following your posts concerning Aboriginal sexual abuse with interest. We lived and worked in a number of Aboriginal communities for years. As an RN working in remote clinics I found it endlessly frustrating to be surrounded by evidence of abuse yet unable to do any more than treat the effects. There was enormous pressure to not "make waves" or become involved in any way and it was made very plain that any RN who did so would be promptly removed from the community.

Evidence of STDs (or any other evidence of abuse) in young children was passed on to the Sexual Health Team (in the NT) and they were supposed to deal with it. To the best of my knowledge this information was never passed on the the police for follow-up action. I was never asked for further information but instead given repeated warnings not to become involved.

There's no discernible effort to bring the perpetrators of sexual abuse to justice, not at any level. The communities --through fear or complicity--maintain a wall of silence, the police have little or no information to enable them to act (even if they were prepared to, which I strongly doubt) and the Health Department had no effective program in place to identify at-risk kids and remove them from the community.

Interestingly, the lower the standard of accommodation for visiting health teams, the less likely we were to see them. The problem isn't fixable.

Sadly, I have to agree with the lady. I don't think the problem is fixable either. And I think most people who know the situation well would be inclined to agree. Paternalism would help alleviate the situation but the outraged screams of the Left at any such idea will probably make the political cost too high for the Australian government to do much in that direction. The "equality" mythology of the Left has effectively consigned the Aborigines to hell and that is where they will stay.

The latest news report on the situation is below

Abuse a 'national disgrace'

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough says he wants just one outcome from today's summit on violence in indigenous communities - to put a stop to the abuse of women and children. Three years after a similar summit, Mr Brough will today chair a meeting with the states, which has been called in the wake of claims of child abuse and violence in isolated indigenous communities.

Mr Brough said the Federal Government was prepared to put up substantial resources provided the states and territories came on board. "I am just asking everyone to come with one approach in mind and that is how we are going to stop the abuse of children. it is not too much to ask," he said ABC radio. "It's got to be our number one priority as human beings to try and stop abuse of children and women. And if we can't do that, then we have got to really have a close look at why the heck we are governing. "We feel this is a national disgrace. It requires national attention. We will put substantial resources on the table as long as the states and territories acknowledge there is a problem and that they work with us to solve it."

The Federal Government is reportedly planning to contribute up to $100 million to pay for additional police stations in remote communities and additional drug and alcohol services. States and territories will have to find the extra police and pay their salaries. At today's summit, the Federal Government will discuss how to deal with escalating violence in indigenous communities, three years after being told of child abuse and domestic violence by indigenous women.

The states and territories have their own priorities. The Northern Territory wants the special Opal fuel made available across central Australia in a move to end petrol sniffing. Queensland police minister Judy Spence said housing was a priority, with some cases of up to 30 people sharing a three bedroom home. "While they are living in those sorts of situations you are going to get the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault and alcohol abuse," she told ABC radio. "It is very difficult for people to live in such close confines and not get that kind of behaviour."

Aboriginal leader Pat Dodson suggested what was needed was a commission including indigenous and business leaders to oversee community development. "Unless you have got an integrated system that deals with the leadership of the Aboriginal people, that are part of the solution making, I am afraid we are going to repeat mistakes that are already too clearly known and identified by various commissions and reports," he told ABC radio. "The goodwill and good intentions of another minister will disappear when he disappears from the scene."

South Australian Aboriginal affairs minister Jay Weatherill said Aboriginal people had asked him to defend Aboriginal culture. "We would be interested to see what minister Brough puts up but we won't be participating in anything that has a racist effect," he said. "We haven't got a proposition in front of us. Certainly though we believe that people accused of criminal offences and who essentially make up interpretations of Aboriginal law as some way to escape culpability, we are not interested in that. "We do know it exists. That is disturbing to Aboriginal people as it is to the broader community."


Another comment on what appears to be a hopeless situation

My intention was to berate Lord Mayor Campbell Newman for folding on his promise to alleviate the daily traffic chaos that strangles the Toowong shopping precinct.... Then I heard the story of the severed head and my self-interest suddenly rang hollow. The severed head was that of a female petrol sniffer living on an Aboriginal community in South Australia. As revealed on the ABC's Lateline program, the 30-year-old had been living alone on the town's outskirts. She had been savaged by wild dogs, one of which is said to have dragged her head through the township.

In Adelaide, the restaurants would have hummed with activity, in the Barossa Valley the tourists would have been crowding into the vineyards' cellars, sniffing and tasting and passing over their credit cards. In the remote community of Fregon a dog was dragging a human head down the street. If a single image was needed to establish for all time that state and federal governments have absolutely failed to deal with Aboriginal health and welfare, then surely this was it. Mountains of money have been spent, and frequently misspent, in addressing the issues and tonnes of paper consumed by neatly worded press releases announcing the latest government initiative.

Nothing works. Alcohol, illiteracy, violence, unemployment and its attendant hand-out dependence ravage the communities and now an even more sinister element is emerging with claims by federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough that Aboriginal children are being systematically preyed upon by pedophiles because their vulnerability makes them easy targets. Newly released West Australian government figures show that since 2001, 708 children under the age of 14 were reported as infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Eighty per cent of these were Aboriginal. Of these, 19 were under the age of four.

A report on Aboriginal child abuse in NSW was handed to that state government three months ago but has yet to be made public. Media reports claim that it found that the rate of sexual assault among Aboriginal children was four times that of the general community. In Queensland last week, three men and two boys were charged with sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl in a Cape York community. The evidence of the statistics is irrefutable. There's no point in bothering to contest the fact that Aboriginal children are at a high risk of being sexually abused. The question is whether anybody really cares or do we just continue to do what we usually do and look the other way.

If you want to trigger an argument, then lob the hand grenade of Aboriginal care into the middle of the dinner table and duck. Everyone has a view and no one has a solution. I grew up in this city. When I was a teenager, South Brisbane was where Aborigines went to drink. It was a no-go zone for whites. I'd see them lying in the parks where South Bank now stands, accepted as part of the scenery, as I rode the tram home to Holland Park. They'd be arrested, spend the night in the watchhouse, and be out the next day. As kids we heard stories of Aborigines being given new homes which they quickly destroyed. They were seen by my white middle-class peers as being incapable of helping themselves.

The hundreds of millions of dollars which have been spent over the years on them, and the continuing inability of their own leaders to provide any accountability for large amounts of this money, has hardened public opinion against them. When a media outlet such as Lateline shines a light on this underside of Australian life, we shake our heads and say how awful it is. Politicians announce they will hold an inquiry and then gradually our concern and distress ebbs and the issue again submerges.

I remember an ABC Four Corners program which went to air a long, long time ago in the days of black and white television. It dealt vividly with the appalling conditions on Aboriginal communities. Australians were not accustomed to being confronted with such disturbing images and the program provoked widespread concern. Little has changed in the 40 or more years that have passed since the program went to air...


Black leader loses sexual assault appeal

Prominent Perth Aboriginal elder Robert Bropho has lost a bid to appeal against his conviction for indecently assaulting a 13-year-old girl at the notorious Swan Valley Nyoongah camp. Bropho, 75, was convicted last December of two counts of indecent assault, following the May 2003 incident. The teenager, who cannot be named, had entered an office area at the Nyoongah community camp, in northeast suburban Lockridge, with a female friend, who was delivering a sum of money to Bropho. When the girl went to get a drink at a water fountain, Bropho came up behind her, reached around and touched her left breast with one hand and with the other, rubbed her genital area through her clothes. Bropho was running the camp at the time.

Bropho applied to appeal the verdicts, claiming trial judge Henry Wisbey had erred in law by failing to adequately identify and consider all relevant legal principles applicable to the case, and failing to give adequate reasons for his decision. He claimed Justice Wisbey's guilty verdicts were "unsafe and unsatisfactory" and had occasioned a miscarriage of justice. But three Supreme Court of Appeal judges today handed down their unanimous rejection of Mr Bropho's application to appeal. "In my opinion, none of the proposed grounds of appeal have any merit," Justice Christopher Pullin said in the court's written judgement. "I would therefore dismiss the application for an extension of time in which to appeal against sentence, the application for leave to appeal against sentence, and the application for leave to appeal against conviction." Mr Bropho was eligible for parole next month.

The Nyoongah camp came under attack during the 2000 Gordon inquiry into abuse in Western Australia Aboriginal communities, which found child sex abuse was rife. The camp was closed in June 2003, with then Premier Geoff Gallop saying he was not prepared to let another young person die there.


Business helps preserve the natural environment

Recruitment king Geoff Morgan is one of growing number of millionaires who are helping to bankroll a fund that's at the forefront of an environmental putsch. But unlike past environmental battles where activists take on bulldozers and police, the Australian Bush Heritage Fund relies on suits and big business to quietly buy up large tracts of land and establish environmental reserves.

Donors such as Morgan, the managing director of Talent2 and co-founder of the recruitment company Morgan & Banks, have helped Bush Heritage become the most active and largest land conservancy group in Australia. It now owns 24 reserves tallying almost 700,000ha and worth $14million across Australia. Collectively, these acquisitions protect more than 158 species of threatened plants and animals and more than 63 threatened vegetation communities. Its latest acquisition is a 63,000ha reserve called Boolcoomatta, five hours from Adelaide and adjacent to the newly formed Bimbowrie National Park.

Bush Heritage chief executive Doug Humann won't divulge the names of his donors but the list includes some leading names in Australian business. Among the influential cohort are Carol Schwartz, a director of Highpoint Property Group and president of the Melbourne International Arts Festival board; Simon Mordant, joint chief executive of Caliburn Partnership; Graham Turner, founder and managing director of Flight Centre; Louise Sylvan, chief executive of the Australian Consumers' Association and deputy chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission; and Helen Lynch, deputy chairwoman of Pacific Brands, former chairwoman of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and a non-executive director of Southcorp and Westpac Bank.

Corporations that support Bush Heritage through payroll donations are Allens Arthur Robinson, BlueScope Steel, Goldman Sachs JBWere, Integral Energy, Perpetual Trustees, UBS and Westpac. Donations of $2 or more are tax-deductible, property gifts valued at more than $5000 are deductible. Humann says the fund relies on "a lot of people who give us smallish sums of money or regular sums". "We've got a few people, foundations and trusts who give us quite substantial one-off sums and there are others who have pledged over a number of years," he says. "Their pledge might be for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year."

Bush Heritage is also finalising a gift of $1million a year over the next three years. "That's the largest donation I've been associated with." Humann says. "It is the result of an individual who has established a private fund."

Morgan says his financial contribution to Bush Heritage has been substantial but adds "giving is not just a financial thing. I'd like to think that with Bush Heritage I've come up with ideas, as I know other people have, to help them be more successful." Morgan, together with business partner Andrew Banks, formed recruitment powerhouse Morgan & Banks in 1985 and pushed sales growth to more than $700 million a year. It became Australia's most successful recruitment firm before being sold, bought back, floated and then sold again, with the pair pocketing an estimated $1 billion.

Morgan says his five-year involvement with Bush Heritage is not about fertilising his own business opportunities but "helping this organisation become as good as they can be". "People give money and they think that's great," he says. "They wash their hands of it and then move on and, you know, start standing under the shower for 15 minutes. It is about who you want to be as a person. It is not how other people measure you. It is how you measure yourself when you look in the mirror every day. I'm not worried about what other people think of me, I'm worried about what I think of me."

Morgan says he is not like his former neighbour, HIH boss Ray Williams, who "used all of the public company money to make himself look good. For Andrew (Banks) and I, every dollar we give is our own money, not anybody else's. "I think the Australian approach is about getting on and doing it. It is not a personal marketing campaign. That's making you out to be bigger than the cause. I don't like that sort of philosophy. "I think you need to have a mentality where you have a gift bank in your mind. And I like to make sure that I'm in credit all the time on the giving side."

Morgan says he agrees with Bush Heritage's pragmatic approach. "The more private enterprise leads the way rather than just relying on government departments, the better off we'd be, particularly in environmental terms. "It's a negative and small view that we have to worry about the economy. If the environment is stuffed we won't worry about the economy. I'm scared about the lack of action in this country. We lead the world in many areas, why don't we lead the world in the environment? More people need to get angry about it."

Morgan's entree into Bush Heritage came via Schwartz who donates both time and money. "Our support is financial and I guess my support is in the context of introducing Doug Humann to people like myself who have an awareness of what the issues are," Morgan says. "I wouldn't say that it (her financial commitment) is major in the context of the sorts of donations that Bush Heritage receives but from my point of view it was substantial. I always give according to what my means are and what my priorities are and there are lots of competing priorities. "For me it is a lot harder to give hours as opposed to writing a cheque. I can write a cheque for $500 easier than giving an afternoon of my time. What I have done is facilitated many meetings and introductions. That, I think, is more valuable than my financial contribution."

Schwartz riles at the suggestion she is helping to establish an influential business network that will enhance personal business opportunities via the environment. "I hate the word networking," Schwartz says. "I prefer the word facilitation because networking has connotations that people want something out of the relationship. All I'm doing is facilitating an introduction for them to be able to develop that interest that I think is waiting there just to be ignited."

Schwartz, like Morgan, says the people she introduces to Bush Heritage are not "looking for an opportunity other than having a real interest in the Australian environment and in creating a sustainable Australian environment. They really want to know how they can do that. "I actually don't think that with an organisation like Bush Heritage and the sort of people one introduces to that organisation, that those alternative motives are there. It is just too easy to go along to a pure business lunch and have that sort of opportunity."

Schwartz describes her first visit to a reserve in western Queensland called Carnarvon Station as "remarkable". "I have never been in that part of Queensland before. As you drive to Carnarvon Station you actually go through this area where forests have been felled for grazing. I've never seen that before. I thought I was driving through a nuclear wasteland. It was just horrible. It is really scary stuff. Then we get to Carnarvon Station which is actually like an oasis in the middle of this nuclear desert." Schwartz says she will remain committed to Bush Heritage because "they are involved in an issue that is really important for my children and grandchildren, and that they are effective and will be able to deliver outcomes".

In the past 15 years landcare groups have grown from an estimated 200 community-based groups to more than 4000, involving about 120,000 volunteers across Australia. There are now more than 20 million hectares in conservation reserves. Increasingly, these reserves are private holdings. Green senator Bob Brown started the trend by establishing Bush Heritage in 1990 with the purchase of two small parcels of land, Liffey River and Drys Bluff, adjacent to the Tasmanian World Heritage area. Brown modelled Bush Heritage on the US's The Nature Conservancy, one of the world's biggest environmental organisations. The Nature Conservancy is the richest conservation group in the world, with total revenue in 2000 of more than $US784 million ($1.070million) and assets of about $US2.8billion. Then as now, Bush Heritage relied on a network of influential people to raise funds for its first two purchases. Brown called on friends including Judy Henderson, John Williamson, Phillip Adams, Jenny Kee, Jo Vallentine and Roger Woodward. More often than not, Bush Heritage donors never see the reserves. Morgan says he trusts the fund to manage and preserve its reserves and hopes to visit in the future.


26 June 2006

Good idea: Neighbours' court

A neighbours' court could be introduced in Queensland to crack down on residents who make other people's lives a misery. Attorney-General Linda Lavarch has revealed she is considering the extreme measure as disputes between neighbours spiral out of control. The concept would be based on the so-called liveability court in the United States which can punish offending neighbours with fines and even jail for anti-social behaviour including excessive noise, animal control and harassment. A neighbours court will be considered as part of a wide-ranging State Government review of how authorities deal with suburban disputes.

This follows an exclusive Sunday Mail survey last week that revealed one in five Queenslanders had been forced to move house to escape "neighbours from hell". The survey prompted a massive mailbag from readers, many of whom felt they had nowhere to turn when plagued by bad neighbours. The Attorney-General said she was shocked by the survey findings. "I can imagine it must be heartbreaking for people whose only option is to move to get away from bad neighbours, and we need to look at how we can do things better," she said. "The liveabilty court is worth looking at to see if it could work in Queensland."

Ms Lavarch said she would speak to authorities in the US, where the liveability court was already sitting. "I am interested in the concept of having something in place to specifically deal with this sort of problem. It would be a central point for people to go to," she said. Ms Lavarch will also look at the possibility of introducing neighbourhood justice centres - a concept already planned for Victoria, which focuses on local crime and safety and incorporates a magistrates court. If a dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, a magistrate attached to the justice centre will rule on the case. The magistrate will also spend time with the local community to help keep the peace.

In the US, cases dealt with by the liveability court include unkept yards, unpleasant smells, noisemakers and parking violators. One bus driver was fined $200 and sentenced to 30 days in jail for annoying residents by illegally stopping his bus in their street.

The British Government has adopted Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, which are slapped on individuals who cause harassment, alarm or distress to others. If a person fails to comply, they could be charged with breaching the order and face jail.

Tens of thousands of complaints involving neighbours are made each year to councils, police and the Environmental Protection Agency. At Brisbane City Council alone, complaints involving neighbours increased from 16,000 in 2004/05 to 19,729 in 2005/06. At the State Government's Dispute Resolution Centre, which helps resolve issues out of court, 21 per cent of cases relate to neighbourhood quarrels. "A lot of issues fall between the council and the police, so people find themselves really frustrated about where they can go for help," Ms Lavarch said. "By putting the work in now, we can ensure that Queensland's great lifestyle is protected and enhanced."

Police confirm they are unable to take action involving disputes between neighbours unless a criminal offence has been committed. "If it is a noise complaint, we can investigate and request that music is turned down, but generally neighbours have to work disputes out between themselves unless there is a criminal matter," a spokeswoman said. Ms Lavarch urges people with bad neighbours to write to her at: Floor 18, State Law Building, 50 Ann St, Brisbane, Qld. 4000.


Rage at dental wait

More than 50,000 Queenslanders have given up trying to see a public dentist because of waiting times of up to five years, new figures reveal. Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the dental service was on the verge of collapse despite State Government claims of record funding. Dr Flegg said the waiting periods had resulted in general dental clinic treatments falling almost 20 per cent from 296,000 patients in 2004-05 to 240,000 in 2005-06. School dental clinic treatments had also fallen, from 670,000 to 630,000, over the same period. "Queenslanders are not getting value for the huge injection of taxpayer funds," Dr Flegg said.

The Australian Dental Association said in December that waiting times for Queensland public dental services were up to five years for a basic check-up. The Government's inability to attract staff meant the situation was unlikely to get better, it said.

The Opposition said it was not surprising that with fewer patients accessing treatment, dental emergencies at public hospitals had jumped 10 per cent. "These figures just blew me away . . . it reveals the extent of government mismanagement," Dr Flegg said.

Gold Coast pensioner Wayne Webb said he gave up waiting after three years - using his life savings of $5000 to get new teeth. Mr Webb, 52, told The Sunday Mail he first went for treatment at a clinic attached to the Gold Coast Hospital in 2003 and was told he was on an emergency waiting list. "They said to just wait. But I was in so much pain, I could not eat, I had to do something," Mr Webb said. "Stuff Mr Beattie. He promises all this money in the Budget to fix health, but what has he done for me? Nothing."

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the Government would spend $137 million in 2006-07 to provide free public dental services - up $5.3 million on 2005-06. His office provided figures for the number of dental treatments in 2005-06 but no comparisons with the previous year. He said Queenslanders enjoyed Australia's "most comprehensive" public dental service and the Government would continue to push for the federal scheme to be reinstated.


Black welfare 'link to school'

The Federal Government is considering tying welfare payments to school attendance and nourishment at home as part of its response to the social crisis in Aboriginal communities. The idea has been endorsed by Treasurer Peter Costello ahead of tomorrow's summit of state and federal indigenous affairs ministers, called to find ways of combating violence and child sexual assault blighting many remote settlements. The summit is also expected to consider garnishing welfare payments for parents who are substance abusers. Under the proposal, part of their payments would be held by the Government and directed towards their children's welfare.

Mr Costello said there had been "no shortage of money spent on Aboriginal affairs". "Like any other people, they get family tax benefits and CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects). In addition to that, they get much higher per-capita spending on health and education, yet they're still suffering from great hardships. "What we've proven is that simply shovelling money at these problems is not necessarily the answer. "One option is to tie that money to health and education outcomes much more carefully. For example, making family benefits payments payable only if the parents' kids are going to school. "You could also make family benefits payments conditional on the kids being properly nourished. It's no good if the money is being spent on grog and gambling."

Mr Costello said he'd been convinced to try the scheme by Cape York Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson. He said the Government had set aside money for pilot schemes tying welfare to health and education in the Cape. But in the wake of a controversial call by Health Minister Tony Abbott for a "new paternalism" in Aboriginal affairs, Mr Costello said his plan would apply to all welfare recipients. He said it would probably work better in Aboriginal communities, where leaders were able to identify families in need.


Mary shows off her 'little kingaroo'

A probable future King of Denmark -- with his Australian mother

He's Crown Princess Mary's bouncing baby boy. With rosy chubby cheeks and cute potbelly, the robust eight-month-old proved a crowd-pleaser when shown off by his proud parents from the decks of the royal yacht. Rugged up in a sky-blue knitted jumper, Prince Christian seemed to almost swamp svelte Princess Mary when she held him up for the crowd.

It was one of the young heir's rare public appearances, made after the royal family arrived in the Danish port city of Ronne last week. The family travelled by boat to the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm for a short visit, where they toured attractions and greeted residents. Wearing a wide-brimmed ochre felt hat and a smart tailored suit, Tasmanian-born Princess Mary was accompanied by husband Crown Prince Frederik, who was dressed in full naval regalia. No date for an Australian visit by the royal family has yet been confirmed but some suggest it may take place later this year.


25 June 2006

Tax, welfare changes kick in

Average workers will get a $10 tax cut from next week and new mums will be better off thanks to a rise in the baby bonus. But fine defaulters will face tough new sanctions, and those on parenting payments will have new obligations to look for work.

The baby bonus for new mums rises from $3000 to $4000 from July 1, and families will start to receive the latest round of federal income tax cuts. Workers earning $60,000 will be $9.80 better off a week, but those on $20,000 a year will get almost $20 a week more. At the higher end of the scale, those on $150,000 will get almost $120 off their tax each week.

Single mums signing up for parenting payments will have to start looking for work when their child turns 6 under new Welfare to Work changes coming into effect in the new financial year. New recipients of disability pensions will also have work obligations.

In Victoria, new rules will allow fine defaulters' car wheels to be clamped, and their driver licences revoked. Vehicle registrations could also be cancelled and wages deducted to recoup unpaid money. Other changes from July 1 will require those who work with children to undergo police checks.


Why I Love Australia

By Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- In the Australian House of Representatives last month, opposition member Julia Gillard interrupted a speech by the minister of health thusly: "I move that that sniveling grub over there be not further heard.'' For that, the good woman was ordered removed from the House, if only for a day. She might have escaped that little time-out if she had responded to the speaker's demand for an apology with something other than "If I have offended grubs, I withdraw unconditionally.''

God, I love Australia. Where else do you have a shadow health minister with such, er, starch? Of course I'm prejudiced, having married an Australian, but how not to like a country, in this age of sniveling grubs worldwide, whose treasurer suggests to any person who "wants to live under sharia law'' to try Saudi Arabia and Iran, "but not Australia.'' He was elaborating on an earlier suggestion that "people who ... don't want to live by Australian values and understand them, well then they can basically clear off.'' Contrast this with Canada, historically and culturally Australia's commonwealth twin, where last year Ontario actually gave serious consideration to allowing its Muslims to live under sharia law.

Such things don't happen in Australia. This is a place where, when the remains of a fallen soldier are accidentally switched with those of a Bosnian, the enraged widow picks up the phone late at night, calls the prime minister at home in bed and delivers a furious unedited rant -- which he publicly and graciously accepts as fully deserved. Where Americans today sue, Australians slash and skewer.

For Americans, Australia engenders nostalgia for our own past, which we gauzily remember as infused with John Wayne plain-spokenness and vigor. Australia evokes an echo of our own frontier, which is why Australia is the only place you can unironically still shoot a Western.

It is surely the only place where you hear officials speaking plainly in defense of action. What other foreign minister but Australia's would see through "multilateralism,'' the fetish of every sniveling foreign policy grub from the Quai d'Orsay to Foggy Bottom, calling it correctly "a synonym for an ineffective and unfocused policy involving internationalism of the lowest common denominator''?

And with action comes bravery, from the transcendent courage of the doomed at Gallipoli to the playful insanity of Australian-rules football. How can you not like a country whose trademark sport has Attila-the-Hun rules, short pants and no padding -- a national passion that makes American football look positively pastoral?

That bravery breeds affection in America for another reason as well. Australia is the only country that has fought with the United States in every one of its major conflicts since 1914, the good and the bad, the winning and the losing.

Why? Because Australia's geographic and historical isolation has bred a wisdom about the structure of peace -- a wisdom that eludes most other countries. Australia has no illusions about the "international community'' and its feckless institutions. An island of tranquility in a roiling region, Australia understands that peace and prosperity do not come with the air we breathe, but are maintained by power -- once the power of the British Empire, now the power of the United States.

Australia joined the faraway wars of early-20th-century Europe not out of imperial nostalgia, but out of a deep understanding that its fate and the fate of liberty were intimately bound with that of the British Empire as principal underwriter of the international system. Today the underwriter is America, and Australia understands that an American retreat or defeat -- a chastening consummation devoutly, if secretly, wished by many a Western ally -- would be catastrophic for Australia and for the world.

When Australian ambassadors in Washington express support for the U.S., it is heartfelt and unalloyed, never the "yes, but'' of the other allies, perfunctory support followed by a list of complaints, slights and sage finger-wagging. Australia understands America's role and is sympathetic to its predicament as reluctant hegemon. That understanding has led it to share foxholes with Americans from Korea to Kabul. They fought with us at Tet and now in Baghdad. Not every engagement has ended well. But every one was strenuous, and many quite friendless. Which is why America has such affection for a country whose prime minister said after 9/11, "This is no time to be an 80 percent ally,'' and actually meant it.


Three reports below:

Rape of ten year old kept quiet for three weeks by child safety authorities

Just blacks being blacks, you know (!)

The Queensland Government is investigating allegations that child safety authorities failed to alert police that a 10-year-old girl was repeatedly raped in a Cape York community. Child Safety Minister Mike Reynolds has ordered his department's ethical standards unit to investigate the allegations that the matter was known about for three weeks before police were notified.

Acting Premier Anna Bligh said today the Government was "very concerned" by the allegations and would take every step to get to the bottom of the incident. "Any allegations (about) possible harm to children should be reported to the appropriate authorities, including where appropriate police, as soon as that comes to their attention," Ms Bligh said. "Clearly children need government departments to be acting co-operatively, whether it is Child Safety, Queensland Health, Queensland Police or any other agencies that this matter might come to their attention." Ms Bligh said the matter would be referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission if the investigation recommended as such.

But Opposition leader Lawrence Springborg said an internal investigation would not suffice. "There needs to be a proper independent investigation of this and the information in the report should be made publicly available," Mr Springborg said. He said only two and a half years ago Premier Peter Beattie had called a state election in order to protect the kids. "If children under the supervision, or with the knowledge of the Department of Child Safety, had been repeatedly raped for three weeks ... I can just say that in Queensland things have got decidedly worse."


Inquiry into black sex abuse

The Northern Territory Government has launched an inquiry into child sex abuse in indigenous communities after allegations of pedophilia and sex slavery. The ABC's Lateline program last night broadcast allegations that indigenous men in central Australia were keeping girls as young as five as sex slaves. An unnamed former youth worker at Mutitjulu, near Uluru, said some men were were offering young girls petrol to sniff in exchange for sex. The worker said he had been intimidated by the alleged abusers into withdrawing his complaints to police. "It's true that there are predatory men in the central deserts who are systematically abusing young children," he said. The NT Government yesterday announced an inquiry into child sex abuse across the territory's Aboriginal communities, while police vowed to investigate the allegations involving Mutitjulu, where petrol sniffing is rife. "It's time to break through the fear, silence and shame about what's happening in the bush," NT Chief Minister Clare Martin said. "Too many families are being destroyed by child abuse. We must draw a line in the sand and get all the facts and act on them."


STDs rife in indigenous children

Sexually transmitted diseases are spreading rapidly through Australia's indigenous toddlers and children as the hidden tragedy of child abuse becomes a broader health crisis for the nation. With federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough standing by his claim that pedophile rings are operating in central Australia, Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin yesterday ordered an inquiry into the abuse of children in Australia's most disadvantaged communities. But new figures reveal child abuse and poor indigenous health is not confined to the Territory, with the number of Aboriginal children in Western Australia infected with STDs doubling in the past five years.

According to West Australian Health Department statistics, 708 children under 14 had been infected with the diseases since 2001. And almost 80 per cent of the victims were Aboriginal. Of those, 19 were toddlers and preschoolers under the age of four. In the Kimberley region in the state's far northwest, four children aged under four had been infected with chlamydia or gonorrhoea last year. STD rates are also high in other states, as the culture of silence over sexual abuse, coupled with a lack of support services and indigenous disadvantage, continues to blight the next generation of Aboriginal men and women.

While The Australian and other media outlets have been casting light on the issue for years, doubts remain over the official response to the crisis, with the NSW Government under fire yesterday for sitting on a damning report on Aboriginal child abuse and the Queensland Government investigating claims its child safety department was too slow to respond to complaints a 10-year-old girl had been raped on Cape York.

Ms Martin is today expected to name the head of the NT inquiry she hopes will "break through the fear and the shame and the silence we see about child sex abuse in our communities". "We have failed to prosecute child sex abuse," Ms Martin said yesterday. "We have failed because we couldn't get people to come forward as witnesses. Police have done work in those communities and we can't get the evidence, we can't get people to step forward - and that's what this inquiry is about."

Mr Brough, who has called a summit on indigenous disadvantage for Monday, last night declared the victims could not wait for another inquiry to report. "You would hope that anything that is going to shine the light on what is a desperate situation is positive but what we need right now is action and that's what I hope to achieve in co-operation with the states and territories on Monday," Mr Brough said.

Melva Kennedy, a member of the Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Task Force in NSW, said it was a misconception that systematic sexual abuse within indigenous communities was confined to remote areas. "It happens all over the place, all over Australia, not just the outback" said Ms Kennedy, who has worked in the field of child protection for the past 20 years. "I know of incidents of sexual abuse in communities in the cities, in country towns, and in the outback."

The NT inquiry was called amid a heated row between Mr Brough and territory authorities over allegations of child abuse at Mutitjulu, an Aboriginal community in the shadow of Uluru that the Chief Minister describes as one of the most dysfunctional in the Northern Territory. Mr Brough claimed his department had sent a "full report" to NT police about the Mutitjulu allegations raised on Wednesday night on the ABC's Lateline.

But Deputy Police Commissioner Bruce Wernham said yesterday that Alice Springs police had only received an anonymous fax in February that contained "general intelligence", was unsigned and written on a plain piece of paper. Mr Wernham said police had been aware of some of the allegations but could not gather enough evidence to act. He said just four cases of sexual abuse had been reported at Mutitjulu since 2002, including one involving children. "An allegation is one thing, but following that up and getting hard evidence is totally another," he said. "That's where we really rely on the goodwill of individuals." Mr Brough last night defended his actions and maintained that police were able to use information he passed on as intelligence. Police have formed a taskforce to investigate the claims at Mutitjulu.

In NSW, Attorney-General Bob Debus is still sitting on a report, delivered to the Government three months ago, on Aboriginal child sexual abuse in NSW. The report is understood to find that child sexual assault has reached "epidemic proportions" in Aboriginal communities in NSW, and is four times more prevalent than in the general community. It says the assaults have led to high levels of mental illness in communities, but that victims rarely come forward due to fear of retribution. Ms Kennedy, a member of the taskforce that produced the report, said she was frustrated at the lack of action.

Despite publicity over the Cape York case in Queensland, and claims violence has gone unchecked in the state's indigenous communities, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie yesterday said his Government had already held an inquiry into the abuse of Aboriginal children and would not convene a second one. Mr Beattie said the inquiry by Tony Fitzgerald led to alcohol management plans and that a forum and a follow-up inquiry had also fostered a new child protection system.


24 June 2006

Police must hire someone with a criminal record?

Those good old "human rights" again. Criminals have a "right" to a police job?

A Federal civil rights watchdog has found the Victoria Police and the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority discriminated against a woman by refusing to employ her because she had a criminal record. In a report tabled in Parliament, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found it was discriminatory to refuse to hire someone to answer phones because she had been convicted of drink-driving.

Tracy Gordon applied for the job of communications officer with the ESTA in August 2003. After a typing assessment she filled in an application form, which asked if she had a criminal record. She alleges a staff member then told her she was ineligible to go any further with the assessment because she had been convicted of drink-driving. Ms Gordon claims when she contacted Victoria Police about the issue she was told the authority had a rule that anyone with a criminal conviction could not be hired.

But commission president John von Doussa found Ms Gordon was discriminated against because she did not need to reach the same standard of character and integrity as a police officer in order to answer phones. "I am of the view that if a person is convicted of an offence for driving whilst under the influence of alcohol, it does not mean that they fail to meet this lower level requirement," he said. ESTA and the police said they were considering the recommendations.


Namby pamby prison officer

The sight of blood made him sick so the taxpayer pays

A prison officer who has depression after having to take photographs of a dead inmate has won a civil action against the State Government. Alan Edward Pearson, 60, was awarded weekly compensation payments, backdated to August 2005, as well as payment of his medical expenses. A medical panel found Mr Pearson had a major depressive disorder.

In a judgment handed down in the County Court on Wednesday, Judge Michael Higgins said Mr Pearson was placed in stressful situations while working at the old Beechworth Prison, now closed, and had become totally incapacitated by his depression. Mr Pearson was not involved with security at the prison, but in a mostly administrative role.

Judge Higgins found a direct link between the work stress and his illness. Mr Pearson claimed there were three incidents that led to illness. One related to the stabbing of a prisoner in 1995. Mr Pearson did not see the stabbing but saw the aftermath, including the blood, blood-stained clothes and bedding. Another time he had to stay with a prisoner who had been stabbed until an officer was found to open the prison gate. Another incident occurred in 2001 when Mr Pearson had to take photos of a dead prisoner.

Mr Pearson was responsible for teaching other workers how to use a digital camera. He claimed that when custodial officers had trouble with the camera, he was called in from home to take the photos. "He said there was a lot of violence in the prison and a lot of violent people and that he could not come to terms with it, nor could he understand it," Judge Higgins said.


"Bloody hell" campaign winner of web hits

If Tourism Australia's controversial "So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?" campaign is measured in website hits, it's already a runaway success. The campaign has had its detractors, with British advertising regulators initially banning the catchphrase on television, while there also was some concern in Australia that it might present the wrong image. But Tourism Australia's managing director, Scott Morrison, says average weekly visitations to its website,, and to the ad campaign's own site, have jumped by 71 per cent since the campaign was launched in late February. "They are seeing it and they are responding to it and are doing so in every single country where we are running it," Mr Morrison told journalists at the Australian Tourism Exchange on Sunday.

Website visitations in Britain are up 40 per cent, in New Zealand they have risen by 50 per cent and in the United States they have jumped 41 per cent. And in the 10 days since the campaign was launched in South Korea and China, visits to have jumped 16-fold and almost five-fold respectively. Mr Morrison said while website hits were a good initial indication, the real evidence for the campaign's success would come in 12 to 18 months. "The first thing you look for when you launch a campaign like this is a form of response that you can see, and we are clearly seeing that," he said. "But this campaign builds over time. "This is at least a two-year commitment of rolling this out and reinforcing the message around the world."

Mr Morrison said while it was well known that "the world loves Australia" not everybody was intending to visit. The challenge is to go from a 'must visit someday' destination to a 'must visit today' destination," he said. "If we can lift the intention to travel to Australia then we know the trade can covert that intention into some serious business in Australia."


Dishonest Leftist radiation hysteria

Deputy Opposition Leader Jenny Macklin's workout with the dog whistle on nuclear issues would put a bull elephant to shame. Macklin has found a pliant media open to her bellowing and willing to run the sort of nuclear scare campaign which could have brought the Cold War to boiling point. Mischievously, she has made a series of accusations about incidents at the Lucas Heights nuclear facility which bear little relation to the scope or magnitude and, too frequently, the press has not checked the facts before publishing her overblown claims.

In the past week, headlines have ranged from "Safety scare for nuclear workforce" to "Radioactive gas leak -- Lucas Heights worker contaminated in pipe rupture" but, before donning safety suits, it is worth looking at the facts and determining who actually poses the greater threat to public safety, Lucas Heights or Macklin. With her insinuations and accusations, she is not dissimilar to the menace who dangerously encourages panic by calling "fire" in a crowded cinema. Her exaggerated concern about the few incidents at Lucas Heights is ludicrous as not one has been of the level necessary to be reported to the regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Authority (ARPANSA). Not one.

The terms of the Act and the licences issued by ARPANSA require details of any significance -- the exposure of a worker beyond regulatory limits -- to be provided in 24 hours. Other less significant events are reported to ARPANSA during routine quarterly reporting. There were three incidents in the past week in addition to a pipe rupture the previous week, which released very low levels of radioactive gas (common in radiopharmaceutical production), which again were not reportable to ARPANSA. Each was of a minor nature and there are no continuing concerns for the health of the workers. Not one of the incidents occurred in the reactor but in places well removed from its vicinity.

According to ANSTO, in the first of the three incidents on June 14, a worker received a low radiation dose of iodine-123, used in the diagnosis of thyroid cancer, while packaging the product for patient use. He received 4 per cent of the annual limit for radiation workers and significantly less than a patient would in a nuclear medicine scan. He did not need any treatment and continued to work.

In the next incident, a worker's trousers and shoes were contaminated on June 15 when he dropped a vial with a small amount of technetium-99m. His skin was not contaminated and his clothing was cleaned. He did not receive radiation above that associated with normal work.

The day after, a worker at the National Medical Cyclotron in Camperdown was cleaning up waste in a thallium-201 production area when a pack of radioactive material burst. A small splash found its way beneath his safety glasses and into his eye. He had his eye washed at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital next door. He received less than 1 per cent of the annual radiation dose for an eye, but as chemicals were involved, he was also seen by an eye specialist.

For all Macklin's blustering, such incidents would not normally be reported outside ANSTO because the dose levels were significantly less than the reportable amount and there were no releases of radioactivity outside the laboratories. But she is blowing the dog whistle for all she is worth because of the need for Labor to corral the green, anti-nuclear, anti-development vote.

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23 June 2006

Escaping unwanted calls

Australians will soon be able to escape one billion unwanted telemarketing calls after laws passed the Senate today. People will be able to put their phone numbers on a Do Not Call Register that telemarketers must respect or face fines. It is estimated there are an estimated one billion telemarketing calls a year - or 53 per person - in Australia. Both sides of politics queued to support the measure, with Labor claiming the government had backflipped and adopted its initiative.

Communications Minister Helen Coonan told the Senate that Australians would embrace the register as they generally found telemarketing intrusive. "We will give peace and mind to those who don't like, and indeed resent, the intrusion and disruption caused by unsolicited telemarketing calls," she told the Senate. "The government has consulted widely ... to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between the rights of an individual to privacy, and the need for business to promote their products and services."

Registration would be available for fixed line and mobile phone numbers and would be free. The call ban would apply to Australian telemarketers and overseas callers working for Australian companies. But households won't be protected from all those unwanted calls that always seem to come as the kids are running riot and dinner's boiling over.

Charities, government, religious and education organisations - and politicians - will still be able to call. Amendments proposed by the Democrats seeking to remove this exemption from the new laws were voted down by government and Labor senators. The new laws are roundly supported by the telemarketing industry, which is keen to operate under a centralised regulatory framework.


Donuts winning so far

Up to 50 Victorian schools have signed up with Krispy Kreme doughnuts to raise funds, leaving health experts and parents' groups furious. The American doughnut chain -- which opens its first Victorian store in Narre Warren today -- will provide kids with cut-price doughnuts to sell to raise cash for their schools. Nutritionists are horrified the international chain is encouraging children to eat fat-laden doughnuts while the nation is in the grip of an obesity crisis.

Almost 400 NSW schools ran Krispy Kreme fundraisers within months of the first Australian store opening in 2003. A glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut has about 836 kilojoules (200 calories), with half coming from fat. A fundraising box of a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts costs $8. Schools on-sell them for $13, netting a $5 profit per box. There is a minimum purchase of 50 boxes.

A company spokesman yesterday said about 50 not-for-profit Victorian organisations had registered to raise funds through Krispy Kreme, but would not disclose how many were schools. The company will launch the details of its Victorian fundraising policy in the next two weeks.

Statistics show about 10,000 Victorian children become obese or overweight every year. Kelly Neville, from Nutrition Australia's Healthy Eating Schools program, said the Krispy Kreme fundraising was appalling. "It is horrifying. Krispy Kremes are very high in saturated fat and are larger than other doughnuts," the dietitian said. She said the fundraising program would encourage children to eat more doughnuts and contribute to the obesity problem.

Nutrition Australia recently released a Fundraising Ideas for Healthy Kids manual which lists a number of alternatives. "We have seen some schools take the risk and drop hugely successful junk-food drives in favour of staging a fun run," Ms Neville said. Obesity expert Professor Boyd Swinburn said Krispy Kreme was undoing the programs to reduce childhood obesity. "They are undermining all the hard work that the State Government, schools and parents are doing," he said. "All junk food should absolutely be banned from school fundraising."

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Is this a new record for government idiocy?

The Queensland government will pay you $1,000 if you install a rainwater tank. But it then forbids you to use the water for the one thing that you would want a tank for!

Water-saving rebate schemes offered by the State Government and local councils are set to be reviewed following complaints they are too complex and tied up in bureaucratic red tape. Premier Peter Beattie yesterday revealed he would ask the newly created Water Commission to clarify all the rules covering the use of water tanks and other water-saving devices before generous new rebates take effect from July 1. The move came after the Opposition said residents wanting to apply for State Government rebates had to comply with more than 50 terms and conditions.

Mr Beattie rejected suggestions the Government had not properly thought out the plan before it was announced 10 days ago. He blamed existing council rules which forced some residents, including those living in Brisbane, to abide by the water restrictions, including a ban on hosing, even if they had water tanks. "I'll be talking to the Water Commission about this, if you put in a tank then you should be able to use the water as you see fit," he said. "A lot of these were old rules put in by the councils."

Residents have also complained that to receive a rebate of up to $1000 from the Government for installing a water tank, they have to connect it to their toilet, laundry and pool. But because of hygiene issues with toilets, the tanks also need to be connected to the mains water supply which means water in the tanks cannot be used for other purposes such as watering the garden. Mr Beattie said this issue would also be investigated.

Opposition Natural Resources spokesman Jeff Seeney said the water tank rebates were a bureaucratic farce and should be rewritten. "This bureaucratic approach will serve as a powerful disincentive for people to buy water tanks. It's just not worth it," he said. "The rebates won't result in significant savings of water simply because the Government hasn't put the effort into administering them properly." Controversy over the rebate scheme coincided with patchy rain in Brisbane yesterday but SEQWater operations manager Rob Drury said the rainfall had no impact on dwindling dam levels.


Imams' secret talks for future

The nation's seven most powerful Islamic clerics have held unprecedented secret talks to set up guidelines to condemn extremist literature, protect national security and push for new laws to criminalise the mockery of religious prophets. The spiritual leader of Australia's 300,000 Muslims, Sheik Taj Din el-Hilali, headed Tuesday's meeting at Lakemba Mosque in Sydney's west, where the clerics also thrashed out the issue of calling for a Palestinian state to be set up. Sheik Hilali said yesterday the special meeting was attended by moderate Muslim leaders from NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Perth - the states with the largest Islamic communities - and was backed by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

The Islamic leaders, considered the most influential among the nation's 150 Muslim clerics, proposed to develop a national board of imams with representation in each state within the next three months, to set standards for spiritual leaders and their preaching. "Questions were also raised about how to resolve the issues of young Muslims, how to address the issues of women, how to deal with the government in the future and what role imams need to play in achieving this," Sheik Hilali said in an interview in Arabic.

Prominent Melbourne cleric Fehmi Naji el-Imam, a member of John Howard's Muslim Community Reference Group, who helped organise the meeting, said the set-up guidelines would be reviewed by the clerics over the next month. He said the leaders, including Sheik Shadi Suleiman and Yahya Safi from Lakemba Mosque, would then determine the final guidelines to be unveiled during a national conference for imams, which will be funded by the Government and is expected to take place soon. Clerics at the conference must then agree to them or risk being condemned and deplored for deviating.

The Weekend Australian understands that proposed guidelines, which were written in Arabic, include a call to support Palestinians "to regain their full rights" and call for a push to introduce new legislation to "criminalise" the defamation and mockery of "the messengers of god". It is also believed that guidelines will call on imams to pledge their allegiance to Australia and do what is in their power to protect the "safety and security and stability" of Australia.

Andrew Robb, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Multicultural Affairs, said yesterday it was important for imams to take responsibility for Islamic community issues. "It's very important for the Muslim communities, and especially imams, to take responsibility and leadership of the issues that face the Muslim communities in Australia," he said.


22 June 2006

Cockatoo may pulp proposal for mill

A $650 million pulp mill in South Australia is under threat from the red-tail black cockatoo, despite the bird never being seen on the planned site. The Environment Department in Canberra insists the project needs federal approval because of the potential dangers it poses to the rare cockatoo, for which the closest feeding spot is 4km away. The developer of the Penola Pulp Mill, due to begin production by 2009, warned yesterday that the intervention could threaten the project, which is expected to generate more than 600 jobs during construction and permanently employ 120 people. It would produce 350,000 tonnes of pulp a year.

The mill's project manager, John Roche, told The Australian he was alarmed by the Environment Department's move, given that federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell had blocked a Victorian wind farm because of a perceived threat to the orange-bellied parrot. Senator Campbell's decision to bar the Bald Hill wind farm sparked a state rights brawl between Canberra and Victoria, with the Bracks Government launching a Federal Court challenge in an attempt to overturn the decision. The wind farm battle also exposed a number of other projects around the country that were investigated after being identified by Senator Campbell's department as potential threats to native wildlife.

Under the pulp mill plan, Penola intended to remove seven 200-year-old river red gums that contained hollows potentially suitable for nesting by the cockatoos, which number about 1000 and are listed as nationally threatened species.

Mr Roche said he was concerned by the decision, given the Bald Hills wind farm block. "It plays on our mind because that was a project that was fully approved and then turned over," he said. A spokesman for Senator Campbell said last night the minister could not comment while the department was conducting the approval process. The department will investigate whether removing the trees would harm the cockatoo. If the tree removal were found to threaten the future of the cockatoo, Senator Campbell could veto the project.

In a submission to the department, Penola acknowledged the seven river red gums contained large hollows suitable for nesting by the cockatoo. It said that while 95 per cent of cockatoo nesting activities were within 2km of known foraging sites, the planned pulp mill was 4km to 5km from the nearest foraging site. Anecdotal evidence from landowners indicated no cockatoos had been seen nesting in the trees.

As a compromise, Penola plans to set aside a 200ha conservation area with hundreds of mature trees, including river red gums. Birds South-East president Bryan Haywood welcomed the compromise last night and said birdwatchers did not want the project stopped. However, he said they were opposed to unnecessary clearing of potential nesting habitat as it took more than 100 years for a hollow to develop in a tree.

Mr Roche said the mill was now subject to environmental and planning assessments at a local, state and federal level. The project would be considered for approval by the local council over the next three months. "There has probably been tens of thousands of these trees cut down in the past 10 years for plantations," he said. The project could be at risk if the approval process was not completed quickly, he said. "The cockatoos are the most significant environmental hurdle we face. All of the other work is done. Air, noise, water. There is no impact."


Who's afraid of happy clappers?

Andrew Denton's new documentary is being promoted as portraying evangelical Christians as 'downright scary', writes Caroline Overington

There are a lot of religious nutters in the world right now and some of them are extremely dangerous. They pose a threat to the security of Australia. At least 100 Australians - 88 tourists in Bali and 12 Australians who were in New York on September 11, 2001 - have been slaughtered either by them, or at their behest. None of these nutters, however, is featured in Andrew Denton's new documentary, God on My Side. Denton's short film, now showing as part of the Sydney Film Festival, is described in its own advertising as a "downright scary" look at religious fundamentalism; however, it concentrates not on Islamic fundamentalism but on evangelical Christians in the US, the so-called "happy clappers" who devote their lives to Jesus.

Denton filmed a group of them who gathered in Texas earlier this year not to plot a murderous rampage, but for the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, a four-day meeting to workshop new ways of broadcasting the Christian message (via podcasts, for example, or by selling lollipops with a Jesus theme). Denton zeroes in on some wacky characters, including a man who says Denton's skin is sparkling because God is spreading a kind of silver dust around the place. Another of them claims God once sent a helicopter to a cave where he had gone to drink himself silly, so he could come out and spread the word of Jesus. A third man says he turned to Christ after some corpses started calling out to him. "Did you think you were hallucinating?" asks Denton, incredulous. "Oh, no," the man replies.

Watching the film, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that Denton went to Texas to find and interview a bunch of nutters - in particular, nutters who support President George W. Bush - and ridicule them or, worse, compare them with the seriously religious nutters in the Middle East, who aren't so amusing. Denton insists it isn't so. "I didn't set out to mock them," he says. "Most of the people you see in the film, we didn't find them and set them up. They are simply the people we found when we got there, or else they came and found us." Denton says he chose to use his platform as an ABC star with a national audience and an enviable budget to examine evangelical Christians and their influence on Bush "not because I wanted to attack anybody, or because I thought anybody was worse than anybody else, but because there is so much focus on Islamic fundamentalism and so I thought, why don't we look at our side?"

Denton says he approached the task not as a journalist and "definitely not" as a comedian, but as a documentary maker, with the aim of even-handedness and serious analysis of the issues. "I tried to approach it as neutrally as possible and I didn't want to do a Michael Moore. Definitely not. I wanted it to be neutral, and I've avoided taking cheap shots," he says. He can't explain why the publicity for his movie describes the Christian broadcasting workshop as "downright scary" but he says "there's no doubt some people will find it a bit scary, and I believe that any kind of fundamentalism, any kind of absolutism, is dangerous".

Denton also says people shouldn't criticise the film for "not being about something". "It's completely unfair to say it should be about Islamic fundamentalism and not about Christian fundamentalism," he says. "I didn't set out to make a film saying this religion is bad or that one is worse. It isn't about whether it's worse than Islam or better than Islam, or who is bigger or badder or bolder. It's about looking at our culture (and) shining a light on it. "The point I'm making is that any form of absolutism is extremely dangerous, be it Christian or Muslim. Anyone who is a zealot, anyone who says there is only one word, only one law, scares me. "Why? Because terrible acts, historically and to this day, have been done by people who believe these things, all kinds of wars have been fought in the name of religion."

The Christians in Denton's movie certainly don't hide the fact that they've committed their lives to Jesus and they definitely do want to convert other people to Christianity. None, however, preaches the total destruction of other cultures by murderous means or says they want all Jews pushed into the sea. The film makes much of the fact that Bush is a born-again Christian but does not mention that Bill Clinton was also a committed Christian, or, indeed, that there has never been a US president (including John F. Kennedy, who was Catholic) who didn't have Christian faith.

Denton says evangelical Christians have a "particular relationship with President Bush. He addressed the conference three times, but Clinton was denied an invitation to address them. They have given an endorsement to Bush. They are political." He insists the link between religion and Bush "doesn't trouble me, but it's instructive to know it".

Having now made a documentary about evangelical Christians, does he plan to travel to, say, Iran, to tackle religious fundamentalism of the Islamic stripe? "It would be a lot harder to do that because it's not my language and it's not my culture, and it's harder to do in a foreign language," he says. "And this is a documentary about my culture, and so perhaps it's up to somebody from those cultures to do that kind of documentary."

A Dutch film-maker, Theo van Gogh, tried to do that in 2004, but when he released a film about violence in Islamic culture, he was stabbed and shot to death by a Muslim fanatic. Newspaper editors in Europe were this year warned not to print cartoons mocking Islam, for fear of violent reprisal. In 2002, riots by Muslims that led to dozens of deaths compelled Miss World organisers to scrap plans to stage the pageant in Nigeria.

Denton agrees that his life probably isn't at risk from Jesus-lovin' happy clappers angered by his film. "But I didn't go in there to construct a case against Christianity," he says, "and I'd be very angry and astonished, really, if people thought I was trying to justify Islamic fundamentalism or compare Christian fundamentalism to it. I absolutely reject that." However, he adds: "They (evangelical Christians) support a state (and a President) which is acting militarily all around the globe, and the greatest threat to mankind is religious war."

More contentiously, Denton also believes it "takes two to start a war" and that it's "very rare" to find a case where one side is "entirely in the right". "It's often very complex," he adds. "And history is written by winners, of course." "You say, 'What about Islamic fundamentalism?' and on the surface maybe it looks madder and more aggressive, but I think in the end any form of absolute belief, or any religious believers willing to advocate the use of force, are dangerous. "You look at Iran's President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad. He's a scary guy and you think: What is the matter with these people, why are they so aggressive? "But then, look back 50 years (when Britain and its allies invaded Iran during World War II, and later interfered in Iranian politics) and you think: Well, hang on, if that was my country, wouldn't I be angry? Reducing things to who is right and who is wrong, it's too simplistic."

Denton has no religious faith and does not believe in God, but he respects people who do. "It's a difficult journey for anyone and it would be wrong of me (to) - and I would never - mock anybody who has found faith," he says. "It's where the faith takes you that is scary, if you allow faith to get mixed up with politics."

In the documentary, Denton describes many of the people he meets in Texas as "positive, committed and eloquent". Some admit it is "kind of goofy" to make lollipops with images from the Bible but say the people who sell such things "are trying to reach out to the world, and you can't knock them for that". One person explains that Christianity is a "big tent" and although some people are clearly focused on the supernatural or on prophecies of doom - or else use puppets to preach to children - others simply want their lives to be filled with a meaning and purpose beyond their own satisfaction. Denton also goes around asking people about Bush, saying: "Do you believe he's doing a good job?" and even the puppet in Denton's film nods yes. It's a bit silly. But scary? No. There is a threat out there, but this isn't it.


Catholic school parents want grades

The overwhelming majority of Catholic school parents support the introduction of the new A-to-E report cards, particularly the move to rank students against their peers. The support opens up a potential split with parents groups in government schools after their national body, the Australian Council of State School Organisations, foreshadowed at the weekend a campaign to inform parents of their right to refuse the new plain-English reports.

ACSSO president Jenny Branch wants state parents and citizens branches to ensure parents are aware they can choose to exclude their child from the new system, designed in response to complaints existing assessment models are vague and confusing. Challenging the push towards simpler A-to-E gradings on report cards, she told The Weekend Australian on Saturday the "traditional end-of-the-year report card is a celebration of achievement of a child throughout the year".

But a survey by the Federation of Parents and Friends Associations and the Catholic Education Office in Sydney shows almost three in four Catholic school parents support the introduction of the plain-English reports and just 8per cent are opposed. Reporting the results in the parents newsletter, About Catholic Schools, federation executive officer Franceyn O'Connor said parents were "largely enthusiastic" about the five-level grading system. "Many parents have indicated in several discussions and meetings held throughout the year that they welcome the opportunity to compare their child's progress against statewide standards using a common grading scale," Ms O'Connor said. "They appreciate how difficult it may be for teachers to convey bad news but they still want a fair and honest assessment of their child's abilities to determine their rate of progress."

The federal Government introduced a requirement for all schools in the government, Catholic and independent sectors to provide plain-English report cards as a condition of funding. All the states and territories are introducing the reports, which must grade students in five levels, such as A to E, and also provide information on the students rankings according to their peers.

Ms O'Connor said the decision by governments to only grade and rank students from Year 1 was crucial for parents' support, with the survey showing more than one in five were concerned that grading children when they started school could harm their self-esteem. ACSSO, representing parents in government schools, maintains opposition to the grading and ranking of students, raising questions of how representative their views are.

The federal Education Department has received many letters of support for the reforms to school reports and federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the parents she had spoken to welcomed the changes. "The vast majority of parents I talk to want to know in plain English how their children are performing, and how they're performing in relation to other students," she said.

One parent quoted in the Catholic newsletter, Veronica Molloy, who has two children in high school and one at primary, welcomed the chance to gauge how her children were performing against statewide standards. Ms Molloy's only concern was about preconceived ideas that attached a stigma to any grade lower than an A. "There are a lot of negative perceptions in society about a C grade, for example," she said. "Children themselves might perceive any grade other than an A as a failure ... it's up to the Government to address these misconceptions."


21 June 2006

Bravery no longer a secret

Martin "Jock" Wallace grew up in Winton, west of Tamworth in NSW, and his childhood was entirely normal. He rode a pushbike, then a trail bike; when he broke an arm on the trampoline, all his classmates signed the cast. His family had a working farm and he had an old beagle called Queenie. The young Martin liked to read, especially Treasure Island, but he also liked to play the fool, capering about in the back of the class when he was supposed to be studying.

When Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, he barely noticed. He was only 10 and, according to his mother, still as "wild as a March hare". Then, at 17, Wallace decided to enlist. Wallace did basic training at Kapooka in southern NSW and ultimately became a signaller, attached to the elite Australian Special Air Service. Ten weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he was sent to Afghanistan to take part in Operation Anaconda.

The US military believed that 150 al-Qa'ida fighters were hiding in the pretty villages that dotted Afghanistan's Shahi Kot Valley, and it wanted to flush them out. But the military was wrong. There were at least 1000 enemy fighters dug into the high ground around the valley. Wallace was among the first into the valley and he was quickly pinned down by enemy fire. Forces inspired by Osama bin Laden were all around, armed with machineguns and mortars. For a while, it looked as if Wallace might not make it out. But, surrounded as he was by frightened young Americans, some of whom were barely old enough to shave, he helped launch a tremendous counterattack, and came home alive.

Wallace would later receive the Medal for Gallantry, the first member of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals to be so honoured since Vietnam. The Australian Defence Force said it was for courage under fire and because he "maintained composure under sustained heavy attack from enemy forces", as well as for "providing leadership to those around him".

Now, had this been a normal situation, Wallace's story would have slipped from history, the details forever hidden in a file in Canberra marked top secret. As US commander Tommy Franks told reporters after the fight: "I'm not sure it will ever be fully declassified, but it literally brings tears to my eyes. The Aussies brought bravery to a whole new level." In the great tradition of those who serve, Wallace would never have told anyone, not even his loving mum.

Now enter Sandra Lee, an Australian journalist whose father, Kevin "Dixie" Lee, is retired from the Royal Australian Navy and whose brother, Gavin "General" Lee, served for 16 years with the army. Wallace told her about the battle and Lee became determined to get his story into print. "The military always gets the short end of the stick," she says. "Every time a Black Hawk comes down, we hear about it. We never hear about the victories. There are a lot of Australians who have no idea what our soldiers are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The problem for journalists such as Lee is that soldiers generally aren't allowed to tell their stories. Australia does not have an official secrets act as such, but personnel are forbidden to talk publicly about warfare and the ADF rarely opens its military secrets file. So, when Lee went to the army to seek permission to tell Wallace's story, the answer was a flat no. "And look, I can understand that," she says. "For security reasons and for tactical reasons, some things have to be kept secret. But there was this great story of bravery and the public didn't know about it."

So Lee went to former defence minister (now UN ambassador) Robert Hill, who agreed to support the project. In the end, however, it was the head of Special Operations Command, Mike Hindmarsh, who had to give SAS troops clearance to discuss the operation. "It took time and there was a great deal of gentle diplomacy involved," Lee says. "But we got there." Her 18 Hours: The True Story of an SAS War Hero is the first book from an Australian perspective about Australia's role in a key battle against the enemy of our times, al-Qa'ida.

The book was launched last week by Peter Cosgrove at the Park Hyatt in Sydney. It was an amusing affair: on one side of the room, there were the fragrant women from the world of publishing, dressed in kitten heels and sipping champagne. On the other, there were the hard men of the SAS, some of them tattooed to the elbow, straining out of their suits. Cosgrove told the audience that he kept thinking, as he worked his way through the text, "there's going to be a clanger somewhere. She's a woman and she's never been in combat, so she'll get something wrong." She didn't. Cosgrove said Lee had perfectly captured the fear and confusion of men in battle, and the bravery of soldiers involved in Operation Anaconda. She got the language right, too. Read aloud, the book would turn the air blue.

Cosgrove agrees that the publication of the book - the process of reluctantly letting go of some military secrets, letting caution slip so that Australians can learn a little more about what their troops are doing in the faraway war on terror - was an important exercise for the Australian military. "It's important that Australians understand that we have soldiers fighting in foreign lands," he said. "It's dangerous and it's frightening, and they perform with honour."

Lee starts the book with a famous quote, often attributed to George Orwell: "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence upon those who would harm us." It's a sentiment we would soon forget if stories such as this one weren't told.


Communication breakdown

By Keith Windschuttle, the ABC board's latest appointment, who says media studies reject everything that journalism stands for

University degrees in communications and media studies in recent times have had the highest entry level requirements of any courses in the humanities and social sciences in Australia. In some institutions, it is as difficult to get into a media course as it is to get into medicine or law. This popularity has been important in ensuring that many of the new universities created since 1988 have been able to attract a high-calibre enrolment and have not been seen to house a second-rate student body.

Not surprisingly, this development has been a source of pride to many of the new university administrators. Indeed, these courses are changing the idea of what it means to study for an arts degree. Every year, more of the older universities, faced with declining entry aggregates in the humanities, are reappraising their traditional liberal arts degrees to accommodate media and communications studies, thus shoring up their student demand.

Within media studies, journalism is one of the options between which students choose. Journalism is offered as a major or a subject stream by more than 20 universities in Australia. In a typical bachelor of arts degree, the journalism stream occupies one-third to one-half of the total hours a student spends as an undergraduate. The rest of the program normally contains a small number of liberal arts subjects, with the remaining one-third to one half of the total degree devoted to media theory. There are a number of variations on this model, including some programs devoted almost entirely to media and communications theory, but it remains fairly typical.

There are three characteristics of journalism that most teaching in the field upholds. First, journalism is committed to reporting the truth about what occurs in the world. Second, the principal ethical obligations of journalists are to their readers, their listeners and their viewers. Third, journalists should be committed to good writing. This means their meaning should be clear and their grammar precise. However, in most of the media theory that is taught within Australian communications and media degrees, none of these principles is upheld. Indeed, they are specifically denied, either by argument or by example, by the dominant intellectual field that has reigned in media theory for at least 15 years. The methodologies and values of journalism are undermined, contradicted and frequently regarded as naive by the proponents of media theory.

In those institutions that teach journalism and media theory within the one degree, the result is a form of intellectual schizophrenia among students and staff alike. But even in those journalism schools fortunate enough to avoid this material, it remains completely unsatisfactory that the practice of professional education is overshadowed and denigrated by the dominant theory.

When journalism was taken up as a subject by a number of colleges of advanced education in Australia in the mid-1970s, prevailing academic opinion held that vocational education on its own was insufficient to constitute a bachelor's degree. So to get their courses through the higher education boards that most state governments had set up to accredit the new college degrees, journalism educators had to add something else to their subject matter. In most cases, the additional material comprised some liberal arts subjects plus communications studies or media studies.

At the time, however, the field of communications was dominated by American management theory and hence was largely inappropriate, while academic discussion about the media was then focused on the relatively narrow issues of the organisation of work, the ownership of the press and the selection of news. So there was a big gap in the market for a more all-encompassing field of study. This gap was quickly filled by British cultural studies, a movement that came to define the nature and methodology of media theory and which, despite several twists and turns, has held sway ever since. In Australia, cultural studies came to be taught in media degrees that contained vocational majors such as journalism, film production and the like, which were confined to the then colleges of advanced education, as well as in a number of new courses in communications theory offered by English and sociology departments in the established universities.

While journalism educators are trying to teach students to use active voice, short sentences, concrete nouns and verbs, precise grammar and clear meaning, they are faced with cultural studies courses that reward students who ape the passive voice, arcane abstractions, long and turgid expressions and grammatical howlers that characterise the latter.

Perversely, one of the reasons the cultural studies movement has been so successful is because it has adopted verbiage. Few people outside the field can understand what is being said, so wider opposition is thereby minimised. Obscure expression is a clever tactic to adopt in academic circles, where there is always an expectation that things are never simple and that anyone who writes clearly is thereby being shallow. Instead of signalling a communication theorist's inability to communicate properly, obscurantism such as the above is assumed to equal profundity.

But if media theory is as degenerate, how could media courses be so attractive to students? It is important to understand that the popularity of media courses owes nothing to cultural studies. Indeed, if my experience is any guide, large numbers of students will freely admit to sympathetic lecturers that they loathe everything cultural studies stands for. Once they have experienced it, most students come to regard media theory as a largely incomprehensible and odious gauntlet they must run in order to be allowed to do what they really came to the institution for: to study media practice. Students who take media courses want to learn skills that will gain them employment in what they perceive to be attractive and interesting careers. Before they enrol, very few of them realise how much of the course is consumed by media theory, nor do they appreciate what media theory actually is. They assume it is something that complements media practice, not its antithesis.

The great irony in the conduct of media courses lies in the relative status of those who teach theory and those who teach practice. Most media practitioners who join academic departments do so after at least 10 years', and more commonly 20 years', employment in the industry. However, most only have BA pass degrees and find that although their industry experience will get them a job, it will not get them a promotion. To be promoted from lecturer to senior lecturer, they are required to complete a PhD or a masters research degree. The result is that most lecturers in journalism, television production and similar practical subjects languish at the lecturer and senior lecturer level in the academic hierarchy.

On the other hand, the theorists in cultural studies are invariably people who have done honours degrees at university and then gone on to postgraduate studies. They go straight from university study to university teaching. Hardly any of them gains direct experience within the media. Most cultural studies theorists in Australia have never been employed by any media organisation in any capacity. Most have never set foot inside a newspaper office or TV studio, let alone made a living from writing or broadcasting. They know the media only from the consumer's perspective, that is, from what they see on the screen or read on the page. The reality of the industry, its production methods, values and constraints are understood by them, at best, at third hand, and in most cases not at all.

Yet because they have gone through the university system and gained postgraduate qualifications, they are considered better fitted to running media studies departments than the real practitioners. The result is that within Australian universities the theorists have gained the lion's share of positions as professors in the field. They head most of the departments, chair curriculum committees, set texts and pull strings in making appointments.

What, then, is to be done? Most of the people I am criticising here are members not of a suppressed younger generation but of an entrenched older one. Most have tenured posts and are aged in their 40s or early 50s, which means they have another 20 years of working life left in them, 20 years in which they are most unlikely to change their ways. The best way for media practitioners to respond would be to compete with them head on. Rather than confining themselves to their specialist areas, they should be writing their own general textbooks and developing their own theory. Those who know the cultural industries from the inside are much better placed than any of their opponents to throw proper light on the field.

The threat posed by the introduction of courses in communications and media studies into the older universities, as well as the contamination of traditional humanities subjects by the assumptions and politics of cultural studies, rises all the time. How best to resist this, or, rather, whether it is still possible to resist at all, I am not sure, but since the post-Dawkins university system is now driven by student demand, and since secondary school students are so demonstrably ill-informed about the study of media and communications at the tertiary level, one strategy would be to try to influence demand by enlightening the potential customers.


Ambulance problems still not fixed

Despite Queensland government assurances

A boy who fell through an aquarium almost bled to death because an ambulance was diverted to treat a man whose throat became sore after eating a hamburger, paramedics claim. The boy, 12, from Mooloolaba, had to wait 30 minutes before another ambulance arrived to take him to Nambour Hospital.

The mix-up has been blamed on a faulty computer system and lack of experienced staff at a Queensland Ambulance Service communications centre on the Sunshine Coast. "The QAS management have assured the public that all the problems have been rectified, yet situations like this continue on a daily basis," a senior ambulance source said. "The computer system does not work and the operators don't have any clinical knowledge, so there is a huge risk that people could die unnecessarily."

But a QAS spokesman yesterday said the boy did not have life-threatening injuries and his case was given a Code Two (non-urgent) priority. The ambulance arrived after 27 minutes. "This matter was correctly coded and dispatched accordingly, the spokesman said. "From all the facts available, it was a straightforward case."

The source said an ambulance was dispatched to the boy after he crashed through the aquarium at his home a fortnight ago. But the paramedic was diverted to another "higher priority" case. "The second patient had been sick with a sore throat for a week and had aggravated it by eating a Big Mac," the source said. "Once the paramedic told the guy to gargle his medication, as prescribed by his doctor, she was again dispatched to the boy. "In her words they were `the most horrific injuries that I had seen that hadn't come out of a car accident - there was over half a litre of blood on the floor, the thigh bone was visible, as were tendons and a lot of tissue'."

The source said call centre workers were inadequately trained and crews frequently responded to "Code One" emergency calls that were little more than patient transfers to hospital. "Ring up with a runny nose or be involved in a minor nose-to-tail and you will get an ambulance Code One. But ring up after falling through an aquarium, or collapse with a stroke on the footpath, and your ambulance will probably take half an hour or more to get there," the source said.

The Sunday Mail reported in January how a Kilkivan man almost died when the ambulance service ignored his wife's initial call for help after a machine accident. Paramedics were dispatched only after she called a second time, an hour later. Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins blamed that delay on a fault with the dispatch system. A communications officer was counselled over the incident, but frontline staff complained that many Triple-0 calls went unanswered.

The article above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 18, 2006

Cultures are not all equal

I remember the mid-1970s, when multiculturalism was first beginning to entrench itself as the official religion in state schools. Celebrating diversity suddenly became the only possible response to that often-confronting phenomenon. In the same way, overnight it seemed that all cultures became equal and demanded uncritical acceptance, except for the Anglo-Saxon kind, about which we were encouraged to feel ashamed and apologetic.

It became less and less possible to make critical, cross-cultural comparisons. If, for example, you wanted to talk about the Aztec practice of human sacrifice, there were all sorts of shibboleths getting in the way of plain speaking. Even the most remotely negative reflection on priests cutting out the still-beating hearts of their victims with obsidian knives had to be prefaced with mea culpas about the victims of Anglo imperialism. The verdict of Mircea Eliade, the previous century's most distinguished historian of comparative religion, that the Aztec rites were "a perversion of the religious impulse" had become almost literally unspeakable.

It was the same with other, less spectacular examples of barbarism. The clitoridectomies of African tribes and the genital mutilation of Aboriginal boys in initiation were subjects hedged around with taboos. The same was true of cannibalism, on the rare occasions when anthropologists and historians could bring themselves to acknowledge the existence of the problem among some Australian and New Guinean hunter-gathers. Who, after all, were we white Westerners to criticise the customs of other cultures, especially those so much closer to nature?

Where all other cultures are notionally equal, all sorts of crucial differences are annihilated and categorical distinctions swamped. For example, basic issues such as comparative levels of cultural development are set at naught. Primitive nomads, villagers and the inhabitants of cities become all much of a muchness because they all have a culture of some sort, and comparisons are odious or at least ill-mannered.

Even if they paid lip-service to those pieties, you may well be thinking, surely the school-teaching classes never really believed all that claptrap? The fact of the matter is that the calibre of people attracted into teaching has been falling steadily since at least the '50s and it's a long time since the profession encouraged independent-mindedness in its members. The chances are that most of the people entrusted with values education swallowed their multicultural pieties whole and cling to them in much the same way as they would to articles of religious faith.

It is as Allan Bloom warned in The Closing of the American Mind. Barbarism has largely triumphed in the classroom. Judeo-Christian civilisation has been trivialised and marginalised by those entrusted with the task of transmitting it. As he put it: "Cultural relativism succeeds in destroying the West's universal or intellectually imperialistic claims, leaving it as just another culture."

Mandating tolerance as a civic virtue leads not only to cultural relativism but to a more general moral relativism. Knight alluded to the problem in her speech and returned to the theme in an opinion piece she wrote with a colleague, Carol Collins, which appeared in The Australian on Friday. "We must be wary, though, of moral relativism," they argued. "A society of individuals who believe that all beliefs, all values, have equal legitimacy, for whom anything goes, is neither tolerant nor just."

If anything, this understates the problem. If such a society were conceivable, it would be profoundly anomic and anarchic. Its citizens would lack any moral compass in their dealings with one another. There would be no internalising on the part of individuals of the constraints imposed for the common good by the criminal code. If people were law-abiding, it would be a matter of personal preference or convenience rather than considered obligation.

As Knight and Collins maintain, it is a matter of vital importance to any society that it not only inculcates ethical values in the classroom but that it teaches the young how to make complex moral assessments. It's a process that, in the days before the word acquired a negative connotation, used to be called discrimination. To be reckoned a person of discriminating judgment was once high praise.

Knight and Collins say: "Surely a focus on social mores sanctioning racism, bullying or the abuse of women and children show us what is wrong with relativism. Think of Australia's treatment of asylum-seekers, and the complex issues of tribal law and the treatment of women and children in indigenous communities. These are examples of situations in which tolerance is dangerous."

Just as I had begun to revise my longstanding low opinion of the University of South Australia and all its works, Knight and Collins gave the game away with their choice of our treatment of asylum-seekers as an example of self-evident evil. They are trying to suggest that a policy of mandatory detention is an open-and-shut case of abuse of women and children. That suggests, to my mind at least, that they're less interested in public policy to develop young people's ethical judgment than in using ethical education instrumentally to push ideological barrows of their own.

The ethical questions surrounding the entitlements of unauthorised immigrants are by no means simple. Amitai Etzioni, the distinguished American sociologist, contributed the leading essay in the June edition of Quadrant magazine on the rights and responsibilities of immigrants. Those who doubt the moral right of sovereign states to provide a place of asylum in a third country will find it challenging. Liberal senators with delicate consciences may find it instructive and Knight and Collins may learn a thing or two.

The charge of instrumentalism shouldn't be levelled lightly. In this case the issue is quite clear-cut. Moral education ought to be designed to enable people to make considered judgments for themselves, not to dispose them to a particular political ideology. To confuse those two objectives is, at the very least, a sign of moral obtuseness. Yet all unawares, it seems, Knight and Collins convict themselves out of their own mouths. "A just democratic society depends on its citizens judging such practices to be morally wrong and, indeed, on equipping children to understand not only that such practices are wrong but able to see why they are wrong," they write. "In other words, social justice depends on a form of moral education, which introduces children to the grounds for moral judgment."

Social justice is a Vatican cant term for an ill-considered, church-sanctioned halfway house to socialism. Readers who are interested in how the clerical Left got a toe-hold in as profoundly conservative an institution as the Catholic Church should have a look at the encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891). Happily, as can be seen from another encyclical, Centesimus Annus (1991), the church has evolved a more sophisticated understanding of economics and the role of markets in free societies. If only the same could be confidently said of the Australian Labor Party.

The rhetoric of social justice is a legitimating device for the sort of old-fashioned class-war politics the ALP once thrived on and that, to his credit, Bob Hawke largely abandoned. It is a self-serving, partisan rhetoric and a moral education worthy of the name would enable the rising generation to work that out for themselves.


20 June 2006

Politicians hit back at Wikipedia 'dirt' file

An adviser to Federal Labor MP Michael Danby has been accused of blackening the names of MPs and compiling dirt files on them. Historian Dr Adam Carr works for Mr Danby, the member for Melbourne Ports. Dr Carr has been accused of altering the online biographical entries of dozens of Labor MPs and Liberals, including Treasurer Peter Costello and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. The widely used Wikipedia internet encyclopedia allows registered users to contribute and edit articles.

Two Labor MPs, Julia Irwin and Jennie George, complained to Opposition Whip Roger Price that Dr Carr had placed unpleasant biographical material about them on Wikipedia. Dr Carr said he had written and edited many articles for the website, including "a large number" on MPs and senators, but denied any wrongdoing. He said an anonymous user had subsequently added material to Mrs Irwin's entry about a speech she had given that was critical of Israel.

Mrs Irwin, the member for Fowler, said she believed Dr Carr was "getting dirt on people". "People who are ALP staffers should not be doing that type of thing," she said. Ms George, the member for Throsby and a former ACTU president, is believed to have complained that Dr Carr wrote she was a member of the Communist Party in the 1970s. The entry was later changed to describe her as an "alleged" former member. The Whip would not comment, but it is believed he warned Mr Danby to rein in his staffer.


Baby bonus working

When Courtney Fox entered the world just after midnight on July 1, 2004, the last thing on her mother's mind was that she had just qualified for $3000. Born at 12.01am, after a natural labour lasting about 24 hours, Courtney probably made her parents, Amanda Fox and James Laker, the first to qualify for the Government's baby bonus.

But many other parents appeared to have an eye on the money. It has now emerged that there were more births on July 1, 2004, than on any other day in the past 30 years. And with the baby bonus slated to rise a further $1000, to $4000, from this July 1, experts are tipping another birth bonanza. Professors Joshua Gans and Andrew Leigh, who have been analysing birth figures, believe the introduction of the last baby bonus changed behaviour and the same thing is likely this time. "An additional $1000 is not the same as the first $3000, but it is still not trivial," Professor Gans said yesterday. "The hospitals weren't prepared for it last time. In three weeks' time it will be occurring again."

Women ensured they received the money by having their babies induced, or delivered by caesarean section, later than would otherwise have been the case. There was no change in the number of non-induced vaginal births....

The average number of babies born on a weekday is 729. On June 30, 2004, there was an extraordinarily low number of 490 babies born, but this rocketed to 978 babies on July 1, the highest number in the more than 10,000 days for which there are records. There were 907 babies born on July 2, with above average numbers of babies over the following weeks. There were 1089 more births in July than can be explained by normal statistical variation. Two thirds of the increase was the result of people delaying having their babies by less than a week....


Paddy McGuinness on non-changes at the ABC

The weeping and gnashing of teeth at the ABC, in the Fairfax media and among the ABC's cheer squad about the appointment of Keith Windschuttle to the ABC board is the usual knee-jerk reaction to any shift in the balance of power in that organisation that might seem to threaten the hegemony of its view of the world. This is, of course, far from reflecting community opinion, except occasionally. Nor does it allow proper expression of interpretations of fact and analysis that conflict with whatever is the fashionable consensus on what is considered generally "progressive".

If there is to be a genuine debate about some aspects of Aboriginal history, any balanced discussion of such matters cannot ignore Windschuttle's powerful critique of trends in accepted academic thinking on this subject. What he has shown incontrovertibly is that this aspect of our past is more complex and many-sided than the versions, more or less informed or ignorant, espoused by majority opinion at the ABC. He does not claim to have written the last word in this whole debate - in history, the last word is never written. Nor is he necessarily correct in every particular. But he has established that much rethinking is required. This point of view is never given fair coverage in ABC treatments of the subject. It is shouted down or airily dismissed. There is a similar refusal to accept rational debate of most other political and social matters in Australia that do not accord with the prevalent progressivist view. So clearly Windschuttle, who has written on many other subjects, could make a valuable contribution to introducing more balance into many areas of ABC radio and television.

Similarly, Imre Salusinszky's appointment as chairman of the Literature Board of the Australia Council has received a more muted but equally hostile reception. Salusinszky has extensive academic experience and knowledge of Australian and world literature. Until he decided to engage in the hurly-burly of daily journalism, he was associate professor of English at the University of Newcastle. His writings have shown a consistent critical intelligence and considerable astringent wit - but he is also out of step with the progressivist political elite. He has expressed scepticism about many of the demands made by practitioners of the arts and literature for more and more public funding as well as protection against cultural imports from overseas, a position that is absolutely the reverse of dislike of these fields of endeavour. This is a view that could clearly enhance the standing of the Literature Board, which is not a welfare agency nor an arm of contemporary propaganda but a means of promoting excellence and diversity in Australian literary activities.

It is the opposition to these appointments that ought to be puzzling - both men are cultivated, knowledgeable and intelligent. But their disqualification is supposed to be precisely that they have engaged in public debate espousing positions that are not those of the politically correct sections of the political class. They should therefore neither be heard nor allowed any input into policy-making; they are "tools" of a government unpopular with those who believe they have a natural right to control the output of the ABC or the outlays of the Literature Board.

But this anti-democratic view should be rejected, just as should the presumption by any government without new legislation to determine the day-to-day activities of either body. Nevertheless, the appointments may be unwise. Not for the Minister for Communications Information Technology and the Arts, Helen Coonan, who has certainly not selected party hacks or close advisers, but well-qualified people. But for the appointees themselves. And, more, for those who would like to see some genuine reform of both the institutions involved.

For the reality is, members of the ABC board have few actual powers other than the appointment of the managing director. That has already been done and will not arise again in the near future. And despite the presence on the board of a number of government appointees, two of whom in particular - Ron Brunton and Janet Albrechtsen (respectively an independent-minded anthropologist, a strong critic of the notion of a stolen generation; and a lawyer turned provocative columnist) - have received similar treatment to Windschuttle, the new managing director can be trusted to do nothing daring or original. The old gang is safe.

The board has only a limited role in determining policy and cannot stray from legislative guidelines. It may not interfere in the day-to-day management of the ABC; that is for the managing director. Like any such board, it has mainly a fiduciary and supervisory role during the tenure of that person and it finds itself for the most part handling the minutiae of that role, with a large bureaucracy. In short, it is a thankless and boring task that will only be filled by public-spirited citizens who must of course be sticklers for propriety. Above all they are muzzled while they are in office and thereby relieve the organisation of any external pressure that they might otherwise bring. Only if they were serving an outside pressure group such as The Friends of the ABC, would any group of board members be said to be behaving with impropriety.

In the case of the Literature Board, there have been several good occupants of the chair and some not so good. But in general, whatever the personal beliefs of the chairman, they can have little influence. He or she will be bound by existing policies and administering many tiny details of the grant-making process, again with most practical decisions in the hands of a longstanding bureaucracy. In a word, the appointees are really wasting their time. The real question is why the Government continues to fail to face up to reforming the ABC and the Australia Council. Both are necessary and long overdue.


Schools may be 'liable' for bullies

Schools which fail to protect students from bullying could be forced to pay thousands of dollars in legal damages, an academic has warned. Brisbane-based Professor Des Butler, from Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) Faculty of Law, said there were many Australian examples of bullied students taking civil court action against their schools and winning "sizeable" financial compensation. "Under the law, a school may have breached its duty of care if it has failed to prevent its students from being bullied at school," Prof Butler said.

He said bullying had become a serious problem, which could result in criminal and civil action against the perpetrator as well. "The problem with taking civil action against the perpetrator, they may not be worth suing," Prof Butler said. "This is why we see cases of schools being sued, because they are seen as having deep pockets. "Public schools have government backing and private schools have insurance."

He said that in 2001 a jury ruled in favour of a teenage boy who was awarded $60,000 after suffering bullying over three years at a school in Ballarat, Victoria. "It was a daily campaign he had to put up with - one student tried to strangle him with a cord ... it was a combination of both physical and psychological (bullying)," Prof Butler said. "The school was held to not have taken adequate steps to deal with it."

Prof Butler said another Melbourne student was awarded $73,000 in 2003 for her school's failure to prevent her being bullied over two years. "She again was subjected to a range of behaviours, verbal and physical assaults, intimidation and harassment ... she had girls calling her 'fat bitch', 'fat slut', 'two-dollar hooker' ... she was in years seven and eight," he said. "They were engraving these things into classroom tables and threatened to kill her and harm her on a daily basis."

However, Prof Butler also said schools were not insurers of students' safety. "The school is only held responsible if it has failed to take reasonable care and take the precautions that a school would take," Prof Butler said. "Just because a student has been bullied doesn't mean a school is automatically responsible for it. "You can't exactly wrap them with cotton wool - you can't have a prison camp type of environment but by the same token there are certain behaviours that shouldn't be allowed. "Part of the problem with these things is where do you draw the line?" He said it was essential schools adopted a "zero tolerance" policy to tackle bullying with tough consequences.


19 June 2006

Outrageous prisoner requests spark overdue backlash

A transgender prisoner has lodged a discrimination complaint because he was refused female toiletries in jail. The armed robber, 29, demanded hair removal cream and an exfoliating brush. He also wanted skin cream, and a treatment soap and shampoo.

The complaint has outraged Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence, who described it as one of a string of "frivolous complaints" lodged by inmates. "We are not running motels, we are running prisons," Ms Spence said.

Male prisoners are issued with a comb, soap, disposable razors, toothpaste, toothbrush and shampoo. They can buy shaving cream, shampoo and conditioner, soap, moisturiser and deodorant - but not hair removal cream or an exfoliating brush. While female prisoners can buy hair removal cream, the brands wanted by the armed robber are not available.

The complaint has prompted Ms Spence to order a review of all entitlements. It comes after The Sunday Mail last week revealed she had launched an appeal against a $2000 payout awarded by the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal to a child sex offender because he was not given meat prepared in the Muslim way. "When you go to prison you lose certain rights and entitlements that law-abiding Queenslanders take for granted," Ms Spence said. She said the review of entitlements would look at sourcing practices, value for money, how to address prisoner nutrition requirements, religious and cultural preferences.


Killer Doctor

A doctor will stand trial next month for manslaughter after she allegedly induced an abortion on a woman who was 22 weeks pregnant. In a landmark case, Sydney doctor Suman Sood, 56, is charged with the manslaughter of a male fetus who died about four hours after he was born. She is also charged with performing an illegal late-term abortion. Dr Sood is the first medical practitioner in NSW to go to trial for the alleged manslaughter of a fetus. She is also the first doctor in the state to be charged since 1971 over a termination.

Her 20-year-old patient was about 22 weeks pregnant at the time of the incident in May 2002. Dr Sood, a former owner of the private abortion clinic Australian Women's Health at Fairfield in Sydney's west, allegedly gave the woman a pre-abortion pill and sent her home. The mother gave birth to the baby boy on a toilet the following day. Ambulance officers retrieved the baby and later realised it was alive and struggling to breathe. It died a few hours later.

Dr Sood is facing trial in the NSW Supreme Court on three charges, including manslaughter. It is also alleged that on May 20, 2002, she unlawfully administered a drug with intent to procure a miscarriage and she unlawfully caused a drug to be taken with intent to cause a miscarriage. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Abortion is legal in NSW if a doctor considers the dangers to the woman's physical and mental health and her economic and social circumstances before agreeing to her request to perform the procedure.


Attack on university media courses

The article below quotes the current head of journalism studies at the University of Queensland as rejecting Windschuttle's critique of such courses. The former head of Journalism at the University of Queensland, Prof. John Henningham, however, would likely support the thrust of Windschuttle's criticisms. An experienced journalist himself, he was so dissatisfied with the university offering that he took early retirement and started his own private J-school. See here

Keith Windschuttle, the controversial author and historian this week appointed to the ABC board, believes graduates from university media courses over the past 20 years have been taught anything but good journalism. In a paper first delivered in 1995 and reprinted in The Weekend Australian today, Windschuttle says journalism is committed to reporting the truth, without favour, to inform the audience - but the media theory taught in universities denies these principles. "The methodologies and values of journalism are undermined, contradicted and frequently regarded as naive by the proponents of media theory," he wrote in 1995. "I haven't changed my views at all," Windschuttle said yesterday, "There are some real ex-journalists teaching but they are swamped by those teaching cultural studies nonsense."

Michael Bromley, professor of journalism at the University of Queensland, said yesterday that Windschuttle's argument was very old and outdated. "In some places around the world they didn't even have the argument because it seemed so pointless," Professor Bromley said. "Journalism is about the social world. It is about people's social experience and social reality and the things they talk about. "Good journalists can pick up on those things and report them fairly and accurately. If life changes and things move on, and people are less interested in politics and more interested in Kylie Minogue, then who are we not to report that - or pull a face and say that should not be featured."

ABC TV reporter Quentin Dempster, who was favourite to take up the role of staff-elected board member before the position was abolished by the Government, said Windschuttle's views on media courses could prompt "a debate worth having". "If Keith could give more specific examples of the journalism which has been debauched in such a way, that would be useful to engage the journalism academics around Australia," Dempster said yesterday. "One of the things that has always concerned me about journalism is the influence of commerciality on journalism and editorial judgment and story selection and things like that. If Keith could be more specific and give us some examples it would be a debate worth having."

Dempster said he was opposed to Windschuttle's appointment. "I've got no problem with Keith Windschuttle or anyone else, at a personal level, being on the ABC board," Dempster said. "What his appointment continues, however, is a pattern of jobs for political and ideological mates that has been followed by both the Labor Party in government and the Liberals in government - and I'm sick and tired of it. "We want to make the ABC better."


A Royal carriage from Australia

A Sydney man has created the Queen's newest priceless treasure: a gilded carriage for the monarch's 80th birthday. Labouring in an workshop near Manly, local coachmaker Jim Frecklington has spent two years quietly building the vehicle with the help of experts from around the world. The carriage, to be officially named State Coach Britannia, is trimmed with pure gold, is more than three metres high, weighs 2.5 tonnes and includes timbers taken from the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Edinburgh Castle, Lord Nelson's ship Victory and England's 16th-century warship The Mary Rose.

Mr Frecklington, who built a carriage for the Queen to celebrate Australia's bicentenary in 1988, is reluctant to put a price tag on his newest creation. The use of the historic timbers made the carriage "priceless", he said. "There is nothing like this anywhere." Mr Frecklington is confident the carriage contains more gold than any other royal carriage since the Queen's Gold Coronation State Carriage, built in 1762. Each door handle is made of New Zealand gold and encrusted with sapphires and diamonds. The new coach contains modern touches including high-tech hydraulic suspension, the latest heating systems and electric windows.

Mr Frecklington, 56, said he could not take all the credit for the black-and-gold creation. "I've had an international team of craftsmen involved," he said. "To make something of this standard takes a whole international effort. It's a major, major project." Most of the gold on the carriage was applied by expert artist Paula Church, who also painted royal coats-of-arms onto the vehicle. "She is recognised as the world's leading heraldic artist," Mr Frecklington said.

Working from the security of the workshop at the School of Artillery on North Head, Mr Frecklington has another two months of labour ahead of him, including the installation of special crystal lanterns. When completed, the vehicle will be loaded onto a special jumbo jet and flown to Britain.

Mr Frecklington hopes the monarch will use her birthday present for the official openings of the British Parliament. "What I am trying to do is make something very unique. We have incorporated extremely special timber. "We hope this carriage will have more history in it than any other vehicle that has ever been made." Mr Frecklington said he was commissioned to build the carriage after putting the idea to Buckingham Palace and receiving official endorsement from the Queen, the Australian Government, the British Lord Chamberlain's Office and English Heritage. "No one else in the world has made the royal carriages for 105 years. I am the only one in all that time who has had approval from Her Majesty to do this," he said.


18 June 2006

Soviet Queensland again

Queenslanders are just one allegation away from incarceration in a mental ward, according to a retired Queensland school teacher. Ray Collofello, a respected special needs teacher with no history of mental illness, was forced by police into a psychiatric examination in his home. Mr Collofello's nightmare wasn't sparked by aberrant behaviour - it was orchestrated by someone who objected to the height of trees in his yard.

The State Government says up to 70 similar examinations are carried out every month in Queensland. Queensland's director of Mental Health, Dr Aaron Grove, said there were safeguards to prevent vexatious complaints leading to Justice Examination Orders. But Mr Collofello has found JEOs are relatively easily obtained, and privacy laws protect those who make them. "To be put through something like this is just so incredibly demoralising," he said. "To be forced to answer questions about whether I was suicidal or whether I beat my wife was just extraordinary."

Under the Mental Health Act, JEOs can be obtained by anyone provided they are able to convince a JP or magistrate to authorise the document and claim to believe the subject has a mental illness requiring examination. Doctors or authorised mental health practitioners are then empowered to enter any place to conduct the examination, accompanied by police if they deem it necessary.

Mr Collofello was prompted to go public after revelations in The Courier-Mail that a police officer had been forced into a mental health examination after conflicts with superiors [Reported here on 14th.]. He said he and his wife were preparing lunch for family on Easter Sunday last year when two Boondall police officers, accompanied by two mental health workers, knocked on the door of their Geebung home and requested Mr Collofello undergo a mental health examination. The mental health workers refused to reveal who was behind the allegations saying the information was confidential.

Mr Collofello said the police and mental health workers were polite, professional and apologetic when they realised they were dealing with a vexatious complaint. But Mr Collofello is concerned a person's fate in a similar scenario could be predicated on a negative reaction. "I can think of many students with lower intelligence in learning support who could become agitated or even violent," he said. "They could be forcibly placed in a mental health ward."

A complaint had been made about noise in Mr Collofello's house. The complainant also confronted him about the height of trees in his front yard. After months of inquiries, he believes that person was responsible for the JEO. Both the person making the JEO and the JP or magistrate signing it must by law genuinely believe their claims. "It is an offence under the Act for a person to knowingly give false or misleading information," Dr Grove said.


Showdown at the workplace

The Australian Left tries to rescue union power

There is always a pivotal point in a political cycle when things start to get serious. It's the point when the shadow boxing ends and clear battle lines start to appear. It's the point when leaders make decisions that set the tone for the remainder of the electoral term. On the federal political scene, that point was reached on Sunday. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, derided by his opponents as a stand-for-nothing windbag, strode on to the stage at the Sydney Town Hall and told the Labor Party's state conference that a Beazley government would abolish individual workplace contracts. Beazley is convinced public opposition to the Howard Government's Work Choices Act, which encourages employers to hire workers on contracts, is so strong it will propel him into office.

The reason his policy is so interesting is Prime Minister John Howard is similarly convinced that Beazley's position represents an affront to aspirational Australians and will deliver a Coalition victory. They can't both be right. One of them is headed for a spectacular fall.

The political world always gets interesting when leaders give voters strong policy contrasts, particularly when, as in this case, the policy positions are risky. Beazley has gone out on a limb over industrial relations. About a year ago he appeared open to retaining contracts, or Australian Workplace Agreements, which were first introduced in 1996. However, Work Choices, which took effect in March, delivered greater flexibility by reducing conditions that must be included in AWAs and empowering workers to trade away conditions such as penalty rates for higher pay rates.

Beazley says employers are using the laws to slash their payrolls by eliminating key conditions such as penalty and overtime rates and leave loading in return for meagre pay rises. He cites the case of haberdashery firm Spotlight, which is offering employees contracts with pay 2 an hour above the award rate but without penalty rates, leave loading and a range of other benefits. He says Spotlight workers accepting the deal and all new Spotlight workers will lose $90 a week compared with previous arrangements. In the light of such cases, Beazley says, Labor can't support AWAs and, if elected would reinstate collective bargaining.

His absolutist decision is risky in several ways. First, Howard might be right. Since taking office a decade ago, the Prime Minister has won over many former Labor voters by appealing to their aspirations. He encourages small business, strongly supports the right of people to choose private schools for their children and praises share ownership and enterprise. He wants to encourage ambition and wants to create a situation where it is rewarded. He derides collectivism as an impediment to advancement. Just as Beazley believes the majority of workers want to operate on a collective basis, Howard is convinced that things have changed in the past decade and workers feel secure in a strong economy and want the flexibility for self-improvement.

Another problem for Beazley is the business community. Employers like the flexibility of AWAs and, according to business sector lobby groups, believe scrapping them would be a backward step. After Beazley's announcement on Sunday, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group and the Business Council of Australia erupted into protest, declaring Beazley anti-business. Labor's response: Well, they would say that. As much as that might be true, direct antagonism from business will make for a tough election campaign.

Then there's the nation's newspapers, which panned Beazley's policy in editorials so badly that Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews spent much of the week giving speeches quoting leader writers. Labor's response: Newspapers are employers and employers like AWAs.

Whether this is fair or not, it's clear Labor will have to overcome a scary array of powerful critics to sell its workplace policy. That makes it even more interesting that Beazley has taken such a definitive stand. The Labor leader, who is likely to be in his last term as Opposition Leader, is betting everything on his judgment that Australians are so angry about the new industrial relations system that neither the business community nor the media will ease their concerns. That's a gutsy call, particularly in a time of economic prosperity, which Howard says is partly founded on milder changes to workplace laws he delivered in 1996.

Howard keeps telling Parliament: "My guarantee is my record." That's a potent comment at a time of national prosperity. And it might also be interpreted as another reason for Howard not to retire and to lead his party's quest for a fifth term. So it's game on. Beazley now can legitimately reject Howard's claim that he lacks courage or has "no ticker". The question to be determined in coming months is whether his courage on industrial relations represents a major miscalculation.


State vows to bring back A-E grades in its schools

New South Wales would introduce A to E graded school report cards despite mounting opposition from teachers and parents, state Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said. Under nationwide changes to be introduced from next year, the states will start implementing report cards, from year one onwards that grade students on a scale of A to E. More than 12,000 NSW Teachers Federation members have rejected the report cards, saying they brand students as failures. The teachers also have revealed a lack of training in implementing the new system.

Adding voice to the teachers' opposition, national bodies representing government school teachers and students' parents also are encouraging parents to refuse to accept the new cards. Ms Tebbutt today acknowledged the teachers' opposition and admitted her Government must "lift its game" supporting schools to implement the new system. But she said the Government was responding to parents, who want better information about their children, and she was committed to introducing the reports. "The parents that I've talked to are overwhelmingly positive about the changes we are introducing," Ms Tebbutt said. "They have been frustrated beyond belief with the report cards that they have been getting."

The "plain-English" A to E report cards, to be introduced nationally, are aimed at helping identify student problems in particular areas with a standardised national scheme. All states are required to introduce the cards by next year to maintain their federal funding under national reforms to the reporting of student grades.

NSW Teachers Association president Maree O'Halloran said the Australian Council of State School Organisations is encouraging parents to rejecting the A-to-E model. P&C Associations were also telling her they want a choice about assessment. "The state government is saying A to E, no choices," Ms O'Halloran said.

Contrary to his party's federal counterpart, NSW opposition education spokesman Brad Hazzard said parents do not want the A-to-E model. "They don't want their children labelled - particularly six-, seven-, eight-year-olds - labelled as failures," he said. "Really it's utterly unnecessary, and the state opposition opposes it. The A-to-E system will not work in the best interests of children." Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said the reports were insulting to children and would damage schools' sense of community. "It's something that the Government should just say is a bad idea, and move on," Ms Rhiannon said.

Moves towards a national system followed complaints from parents and educators that the existing reports were vague and confusing. Currently schools are free to use their own system of presenting students' progress to parents, resulting in a number of different assessment models. Some involve an A to E grading, others use numbers one to six or descriptive terms only. The Government said the A to E reports would bring the consistency missing from assessment that will better inform parents. But the A to E system has split parents and teachers, with some parent bodies arguing that the proposed report cards were not intended to identify problems with students but to provide a written record of their achievements.


Global cooling hits Australia

The Perth metropolitan area has shivered through its coldest night on record. The bureau of Meteorology says records tumbled overnight. Duty forecaster Brad Santos says Perth recorded its first official freeze. "With the mercury dipping to minus 0.6 degrees and that beats the previous record of zero back in July 1997 and july 1998," he said. A record low was also recorded at Jandakot of minus three degrees. The cold snap also saw several records broken in towns in the south-west. "At 6:00am (AWST) Collie reported a temperature of minus 5.8 degrees, which is its all time lowest minimum," Mr Santos said. "Also Bridgetown as well the temperature was around minus five degrees which is also a record minimum temperature. The bureau is predicting another cold night tonight, ahead of rain on Monday.


Labor's Spotlight stunt exposed

Labor's vocal claim that a worker at the centre of the celebrated 2c-an-hour Spotlight dispute would have been $90 a week worse off under an individual contract has been debunked by a prominent union official. As Spotlight caved in and agreed to allow the worker to take unpaid leave and return on award conditions, union leader Joe de Bruyn said "people had taken a lot of liberties with the facts" during the dispute and there was "no way (the worker) would be losing $90 a week"...... But Mr de Bruyn, the national secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, said that while Ms Harris would have been worse off under the contract, the union had never claimed she would have lost $90 a week. "People have taken a lot of liberties with the facts that have been thrown around, but we have certainly never said that," he told The Weekend Australian. He said the union provided an analysis of the Spotlight agreement to Mr Smith, that showed the $90 loss only applied to full-time workers employed across five days, including penalty shifts on Saturday and Sunday. "The Wednesday-to-Sunday worker comes out the worst because the person is full-time and getting penalty rates on Saturday and Sunday," he said. "(Ms Harris) was only a part-timer. There is no way she would be losing $90 a week. It would have to be a very extreme position for her to be in.


Rolf Harris wins Queen's birthday honours in Britain

Queen Elizabeth II has honoured Australian entertainer Rolf Harris in her honours list marking her official 80th birthday. Harris, a painter and entertainer who has been a mainstay of British television for decades, gained a prestigious Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He was born in Perth in Western Australia, and already gained the royal seal of approval after he was granted an audience with the Queen to paint her portrait last year. The portrait now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.


Police blamed for ticketing blunder

The Victorian opposition has blamed the state's police force for more than 1000 wrong speed tickets issued to motorists. The Victorian Government fined speed camera operator Tenix Solutions a six figure sum and threatened to review their contract after police withdrew 1130 speed camera tickets because of mistakes in the setting up of the speed cameras. On 13 occasions in 2004 and 2005, operators either set up the cameras in the wrong speed zone or failed to ensure there were no objects such as metal fences which could distort readings. Victims of faulty speed camera readings have been sent letters from Victoria Police telling them not to pay their fine or refunding them if the fines had been paid. Police Minister Tim Holding said he was "very unsatisfied" with Tenix's conduct. But opposition traffic spokesman Terry Mulder today said Victoria Police who oversee the operation of the cameras should take the blame. Mr Mulder said while Tenix was responsible for setting up the cameras and verifying the images, Victoria Police were responsible for overseeing the verification process. "No matter who's doing the work it is a matter for the police and for the Minister for Police, Tim Holding," Mr Mulder said.


17 June 2006

ABC critic Windschuttle goes on board

Keith started out as a Marxist. The thing that distinguishes him these days however is his insistence that historians tell the truth. So it is something of a compliment to conservatives to see him labelled below as "right-wing:

An outspoken critic of "political bias" at the ABC, historian Keith Windschuttle, has been appointed to the board of the public broadcaster. Windschuttle, a right-wing author who ignited the culture wars with his revisionist views on Aboriginal history, recently called for the ABC to screen commercial advertising. In an essay in the periodical Quadrant last year, Windschuttle claimed "Marxists and radicals" had captured the ABC over the past 30 years. "They have built a house culture that even the appointment of a board now dominated by conservatives has been unable to displace," he wrote.

Windschuttle's appointment yesterday cements the conservative focus of the board, which includes barrister John Gallagher, The Australian columnist Janet Albrechtsen, right-wing academic and anthropologist Ron Brunton and businessman Stephen Skala. Also appointed to the ABC board yesterday was Peter Hurley, national senior vice-president and South Australian state president of the Australian Hotels Association. Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan also confirmed the reappointment of Donald McDonald as ABC chairman for six months.

In a public lecture last year, Windschuttle argued for the commercialisation of the ABC, saying ethnic broadcaster SBS was screening commercials "without any apparent detriment to its operation". "If it were commercialised, the ABC would not only survive, it would probably thrive," he said. The author of the 2002 book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Windschuttle is known for arguing that historians such as Henry Reynolds have exaggerated the extent of white violence against Aborigines, and claiming some massacres never occurred.

Making the announcement, Senator Coonan said: "With the new managing director, Mark Scott, starting on July 5 and the appointment of two new non-executive directors, Mr McDonald will provide valuable consistency of leadership during this important transitional period."

The secretary of the ABC section of the Community and Public Sector Union, Graeme Thomson, said John Howard had now stacked the ABC board with his cultural warriors. "There is nothing wrong with the occasional oddball on the board, but the Government has acted maliciously by further stacking the board with directors who have a hardline agenda," Mr Thomson said. "Two of the directors, Brunton and Windschuttle, have a stated agenda against Aborigines."

Friends of the ABC spokeswoman Glenys Stradjot said the group was "alarmed but not surprised" by Windschuttle's appointment. "The Government's appointments are nothing if not predictable, as they continue to put people in without any public broadcasting experience. The community will cease to have any trust in the Government or its appointments if it continues along this path." Earlier this year, the Government abolished the staff-elected director's position on the ABC board, and the last person to hold the post, Ramona Koval, is to retire this month.


About the ABC's expert on Israeli munitions

Yesterday the ABC's "The world today" ran an interview [Audio here] contrasting the findings of the IDF concerning the 'Gaza Beach shell incident' with the findings of an "independent" analyst - Marc Garlasco - who was on the spot at the site of the incident. Presumably his so called independence gave more credibility to his opinions than the Israeli findings. Here is an extract about the expert.

The ABC introduces him as follows : Marc Garlasco is a former Pentagon official who did bomb damage assessment for the American military in Kosovo and worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Sounds like he is a US official. No mention of his membership of Human Rights Watch!

the British newspaper The Independent on Wednesday quoted a former Pentagon "battle damage expert," who visited the site of the incident,as saying that "all the evidence points" to a "155mm Israeli land-based artillery shell" as the cause of the blast.

"According to the report, Marc Garlasco also called for an independent inquiry into the deaths, saying that physical evidence, including shell fragments, shrapnel and the type of injuries `made Israeli shelling easily the likeliest cause..'

His background? From Mother Jones: Marc Garlasco is the senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch (HRW), and is HRW's resident expert on battle damage assessment, military operations, and interrogations. Marc also leads HRW's work on Abu Ghurayb, civilian military contractors, and non-lethal weapons.

Marc is the co-author of two HRW reports: "Razing Rafah: Mass Home demolitions in the Gaza Strip," and "Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq." He led a team of researchers in July 2004 on a one-month mission to Gaza, Israel, and Egypt to investigate home demolitions in Rafah. Before that he led a five-week mission in 2003 throughout Iraq to assess the conduct of the war in Iraq. He also appeared to be a key person responsible for disclosing the previously classified and secret practice of renditions of terrorists suspects.

Lately he has been peddling the Haditha massacre myth... which has been seriously questioned. He has said, " "What happened at Haditha appears to be outright murder. The Haditha massacre will go down as "Iraq's My Lai" in his view.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH is a notoriously anti-Israel advocacy group funded by George Soros-who, he proudly admits, is anti-Israel. According to NGO Monitor and well-respected Professor Anna Bayefsky, Human Rights Watch "has a lot of explaining to do when it comes to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias." He has participated in panels with anti-Semitic conspiracy-monger Karen Kwiatkowski. In other words, how independent is this expert and how wrong was it for the Independent to rely on him?


Smartcard tough to duck

Almost every Australian will need the federal Government's proposed services smartcard at some stage and their information will be registered on a national database, the chair of a new privacy taskforce says. Chairman of the Access Card Consumer and Privacy Taskforce, former competition regulator professor Allan Fels said the group would look at ways of preventing the planned services card evolving into "Australia Card Mark II".

In its first discussion paper, released today, the taskforce acknowledged that the $1 billion smartcard, promoted as a "voluntary" measure, would in fact become a key part of the public's dealings with government over time. "Obtaining the card will be voluntary, and some people will not need to have a card," the paper says. "However, most Australians are eligible for Medicare, so even those who do not make regular use of Medicare services are likely to find that at some time in their lives - when they start a family, reach a certain age or degree of infirmity - they will need to access Medicare. "To this extent, at least, the Taskforce recognises almost every Australian will need a card and as such will need to be registered."

The addition of photos and digital signatures of cardholders to the database "may represent a risk to privacy" and a robust case for their collection must be established. "We appreciate that the collection of photographs of what will become, in time, the vast majority of the population, may be a contentious issue," the paper says. "Particular concerns have been raised about the match of photos on the database with records generated by closed circuit television (CCTV). "As a result, the physical security of the system must be given the highest priority and unlawful use (must be) prevented or detected swiftly and punished severely."

The paper says great care will need to be taken to specify the exact purposes for which the card was to be used, "but equally to specify the purposes for which it cannot be used". Another requirement would be to achieve early confirmation of the proposed architecture so that it could not be developed beyond the intended scope," he said. "This may need to be balanced against the need for future capacity for uses which are consistent with its original purpose." The taskforce is seeking responses to the first discussion paper by July 27; further discussion papers are expected to be released during a public consultation process that will extend into 2007.


Save money, bathe in wine

If Jesus was to repeat the miracle today, he would be unlikely to turn water into wine. It would be close to sacrilege to do so in Australia after a decade-long drought. But it would also be economically unviable given wine can be bought for less than water.

A world-wide grape glut means Australians can pick up a good bottle of vin for less than the price of two pots of beer. On a cold night on the couch watching the World Cup in the wee hours, that may yet prove to be a modern-day miracle. Drinkers are getting twice the volume of alcohol at double the strength, at not quite close to the same cost. But what appears to be merely bad news for beer buffs, is likely to totally spin out the state's rev heads. In bulk containers, a litre of red wine can be bought for 50 cents -- compared with the $1.40 motorists are paying for a litre of unleaded petrol. It is a disturbing fact that it's cheaper to drink than to drive.

Victorians who quaff were paying a low of $2.90 for a bottle of cleanskin red in Melbourne last week. A price creep this week has seen the cost rise to a still respectable low of $3.69 a bottle when bought in a mixed dozen. Dan Murphy general manager Tony Leon said drinking wine was one of the most affordable luxuries Melburnians could indulge in. "I've bought more cleanskins for home use in the last two years than any other drop and I am not short of money," Mr Leon said. "The quality is good, the quantity is there and who can say no to a deal that is just simple, good value."

Weather conditions perfect for grape growing have seen the fruit stockpiled for several successive years. A push by Argentina and Chile to muscle in on the export markets Australia believed it had sewn up, has seen the river of wine exported from Down Under become as dry as a crisp white. While boutique wine producers continue to aim and reach for the higher end of the market and remain financially buoyant, contract grape growers have been trying to salvage their losses. Grapes pulped to wine have been stored in vats for years as growers try to free up their vines for the next year's crop. Unlabelled wine is then poured on to a thirsty market, the prices dropping steadily as more and more bottles flood cellar shelves.

Mr Leon said prices meant consumers could buy a dozen bottles of wine while paying for the cost of eight. "Last week for example we sold double the amount of cleanskin wine we sold the week before that." Hawthorn wine lover Michael Hiscock said he preferred cleanskin wines to labelled bottles. "You know you are supporting Australian growers and manufacturers and you can rely on the quality of the product every time," Mr Hiscock said.


16 June 2006

Senate debates same-sex union Bill

Opposition and minor party members have moved in the Senate to overturn the government's regulation disallowing the ACT's same sex union law. But with the government holding a majority in the Senate, the attempt to overturn the ban is expected to fail.

Opening the debate, Australian Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said the government was out of step with community attitudes on gay civil unions. The Greens Senator said that a recent poll showed that support for same-sex civil unions stood at 50 per cent, with two-thirds accepting gay relationships. Senator Nettle said young people are overwhelmingly supportive of both. She said parliamentarians aren't representatives of the community as a whole, being older, more conservative and more religious.

ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries strongly objected to the government move but hasn't officially declared his position. However, the government can rely on support from Family First Senator Steve Fielding. Government Senate leader Nick Minchin said the legislation was "repugnant", and argued the bill would have a deleterious effect on the sanctity of marriage. "Whatever might be said, it is clear that the intent and purpose of that act is to equate a civil union to a marriage, and in that sense we regard it as repugnant," he told the Senate.

The coalition had made a number of attempts to find a compromise with the ACT government, Senator Minchin claimed. "We have made (our decision) against the background of very, very deliberate and considered efforts to try to find a middle ground with the ACT," he said. "Of course were not opposed to same sex unions as such - but to seek to equate a same sex union to marriage is objectionable, and we will not accept that."

But Labor senator Joe Ludwig argued that the ACT legislation would have no impact on the traditional concept of marriage. "The ACT Civil Unions Act does not deal with marriage - it doesn't compromise, contradict or impinge on that principle," Senator Ludwig said. "Given our view that this law does not deal with marriage, Labor supports the states and territories recognising same-sex relationships in the way they see fit."


More Muslim aggression

Ugly clashes with security staff marked a court appearance by members of a suspected terrorist cell yesterday. Anger spilled over when a supporter of the accused men was restrained while trying to reach over a partition to greet them. The unnamed group's alleged spiritual leader, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, shouted loudly from the prisoner's dock at Melbourne Magistrates' Court and other accused chanted in unison with supporters in the court as they were led out. The men, accused of knowingly being members of a terrorist organisation, are being kept under strict security while on remand and have not been in the same room together for months.

The hearing will go ahead next month after wrangling over funding for their defence was resolved. Magistrate Paul Smith yesterday adjourned the preliminary hearing until July 24 after hearing Legal Aid would fund the men's case.

Solicitor Rob Stary, who is acting for many of the accused, said his clients were enduring psychological torture akin to conditions in Guantanamo Bay -- kept in solitary confinement, denied physical contact with their families and subjected to sensory deprivation.

The accused are: Mr Benbrika, 46, of Dallas; Aimen Joud, 21, of Hoppers Crossing; Fadal Sayadi, 26, and Majed Raad, 22, both of Coburg; Amer Haddara, 26, of Yarraville; Ahmed Raad, 23, and Abdullah Merhi, 21, both of Fawkner; Hany Taha, 31, and Shoue Hammoud, 26, both of Hadfield; Izzydeen Atik, 26, of Williamstown; Bassam Raad, 24, of Brunswick; Ezzit Raad, of Preston; and Shane Kent, 29, of Meadow Heights.


New immigration law

The Howard Government is to make concessions to its tough new immigration laws, but will not relent on processing offshore all asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the controversial Bill would go ahead today despite a Government-dominated Senate report declaring the proposed laws flawed, unworkable and potentially harmful to genuine refugees. Among the changes expected to be agreed to include a more transparent system to process asylum-seeker claims, and an independent review of determinations made by the Department of Immigration and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Children would be placed in detention only as a matter of last resort, according to Government sources.

A delegation of MPs, including Victorians Petro Georgiou, Russell Broadbent and Senator Judith Troeth, spoke to Senator Vanstone yesterday. Labor spokesman Tony Burke accused the Government of refusing to listen to the concerns of MPs from its own Parliament while kowtowing to the Indonesian Government. But Senator Vanstone said there was nothing wrong with listening to the Indonesian Government's concerns about Australia's immigration policy. "We have a lot of co-operation with Indonesia in relation to border protection and, yes, this Government does not want to put that at risk," she said.

Mr Burke said the change, decided after Indonesian protests over 42 Papuans receiving temporary protection visas in March, meant Indonesia was deciding who came to Australia.


Risk: it's a boy thing

Boys should be boys, say Australians who have come out in support a book that encourages old-fashioned rough-and-tumble play. The Dangerous Book for Boys -- which promotes risky pursuits such as climbing trees, skimming stones, building treehouses and making slingshots -- is a top-seller in Britain and heading our way. It urges boys to switch off the TV, computer and games console to enjoy childhood pursuits from the past.

Kidsafe Victoria vice-president Robert Caulfield said the book had his group's full support. "You can't cover kids in cotton wool and protect them from everything," he said. "They have to learn safety and learn to be aware of dangers in the environment. "If you eliminate all of the dangers . . . so the child doesn't have to take any precaution, one day they will go into an environment that isn't safe and they'll get really hurt. So we would encourage kids to climb trees and do all those sorts of things."

The book was also given the thumbs-up by Camberwell friends Max, 12, and Angus, 11. "Making slingshots and stuff would be awesome," Max said. Computer whiz Angus said such activities would be "good for a laugh" but he'd still play computer games. The book, by British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden, has also won over many dads nostalgic for their youth.


15 June 2006

Law change to ban hate books

Censorship laws may be re-drafted to ban material that glorifies acts of terrorism -- including jihad or suicide bombings -- from sale in the latest response to the books of hate scandal. Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock will discuss new censorship measures with the states following the public outcry over books found on sale in Islamic bookstores in Lakemba and Auburn. Despite their ugly content, police found there was insufficient evidence to pursue prosecution. The books were found during a Daily Telegraph investigation last year. AFP officers have seized the books twice from the offices of News Limited. Mr Ruddock said the Government did not believe such material inciting terror should be on sale, regardless of the AFP's decision that no crime had been committed.


Australian-born girls 'not citizens'

Australian law is different from U.S. law

Two young girls born in Australia to Fijian parents, and who have lived here all their lives, were still aliens under Australian law, the High Court ruled today. The judges said it was open to parliament to decide that an Australian-born child of parents who were foreign nationals was not automatically entitled to citizenship.

The court heard Lomani Joey Koroitamana, now five, and Mereani Divolivoli, now seven, both had the right to take out Fijian citizenship but had not done so. Neither parent was an Australian citizen or a permanent resident and neither girl was an Australian citizen. Under the Constitution of Fiji, the girls may become citizens of Fiji by registration, although no application for registration has been made by them or on their behalf.

Both girls, who had been placed in immigration detention, launched legal action through their mother, challenging a section of the Migration Act which provides for the detention of unlawful non-citizens and another section which provides for removal from Australia of unlawful non-citizens. They claimed that under the Australian constitution, powers to make laws for naturalisation and aliens did not extend to a power to treat them as aliens.

The Federal Court ruled the girls were aliens under the constitution. They then sought special leave to appeal to the High Court, with their application heard by the full bench of seven judges. The court unanimously granted leave to appeal but dismissed the appeal. In the earlier case of Tania Singh in 2004, the High Court ruled by a 5-2 majority that birth in Australia did not of itself mean a person was beyond the reach of powers conferred on parliament by the constitution and did not mean that person could not be treated as an alien. Tania Singh was born in Australia to Indian parents. Lomani and Mereani said their case was different as Tania was a citizen of India by descent from her parents whereas they were not citizens of Fiji. They argued that a person born in Australia could not be classed as an alien unless they could be shown to have foreign allegiance.


Uneducated, poor and on the shelf

Aussie blokes who have shunned further education, are on pensions or stuck in low-paid jobs are being left on the shelf by women who insist Mr Right must be rolling in it. And the result is a fertility crisis in the making. "Men who are on the disability support pension or unemployment benefit are not very attractive partners, especially to women thinking of having a family," said Bob Birrell, director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University. "Because women when they are looking to establish a family prefer to have a partner who can bring substantial resources into a relationship, they are not going to be attracted to a man with no prospects."

And no matter how big Peter Costello's baby bonus is, women will not be tempted to start a family unless they find the ideal partner, Dr Birrell said. "Even if we do provide additional baby bonuses we think that the partnering issue is more fundamental than providing (an) X-thousand dollar inducement at the time of the birth," he said.

In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into balancing work and family, he will argue that unless the Government invests heavily in training men - and lifting them out of the poverty trap - many will remain single. And the result will be a dramatic decline in fertility rates. Dr Birrell will argue that men who opt out of education early are less likely to cope with economic changes and could, as a result, get stuck in low-paid jobs. This, in turn, would reduce their chances of finding a partner and having children. "It's our view that the decline in partnering and marriage for young men and women in Australia over the last couple of decades is the key to understanding why the fertility rate in Australia has fallen and in our view is not likely to go up," he said yesterday. "Anything that leads to increased training so that our own men can share in the economy will be a good thing for fertility in the long run. "Men who are on the disability pension or any other kind of pension in their 30s ... are far less likely to be partnered, with children, than men earning $70,000-plus."

According to Dr Birrell, singles aged between 25 and 44 earning $30,000 a year - particularly males - are unlikely to marry. Skills and a well-paid job greatly increase a man's chance of finding a wife, according to his research which shows men with no tertiary qualifications are more likely to be single. He argues there has been a massive decline in the number of unqualified men setting up households with a partner. Analysis of census data reveals the proportion of 30- to 34-year-old unqualified men with wives or live-in partners dropped from 68per cent in 1986 to 52 per cent in 2001.

Data has also revealed that 41 per cent of 30- to 34-year-old men earning less than $16,000 had partners, compared with 71per cent of their peers who earned more than $52,000. He argues people who have undertaken higher education study are enjoying more secure relationships, which supports fertility. Committee chairwoman Bronwyn Bishop also argued yesterday that education made for stronger family ties. She said that while the work/family debate was often portrayed as being "women against men" or "employers against employees", it was important to remember the role that education had in helping families meet life's challenges.


New "Health" ID card same as Australia Card

The "Australia Card" was a 1980s proposal for a national ID card

The proposed services access card is essentially identical to the Australia Card proposal for a national identity card overwhelmingly rejected 20 years ago, according to a privacy study to be released today. "The Howard Government is adamant that the access card is not a national ID card," says Professor Graham Greenleaf, who has compared the two proposals in his report, Quacking Like a Duck.

"Well, we all believed the Australia Card was a national identity scheme, and this one is the same in every significant aspect. In terms of privacy dangers many aspects are considerably worse. "It's crucial that this debate is properly framed. It's not about an access card, it's about whether we want a national ID card, and do we want it to have all these features?"

Australian Privacy Foundation chairwoman Anna Johnston said the similarities exposed the dishonesty of the government's campaign to introduce a smartcard. "Human Services Minister Joe Hockey and Prime Minister John Howard cannot wish away the fact that this proposal has the same core features," Ms Johnston said. "The Australia Card was seen quite clearly by the public as a national ID card and was rejected as such." If the Government wanted to introduce an ID card, it should say so and argue the case for its introduction on its merits. "Calling it a national ID card would be a good start," she said. "Then we could have a public debate based on an understanding of the implications, instead of Government spin about the benefits while hiding the downsides."

The foundation is incensed at Joe Hockey's refusal to release a privacy impact assessment of the Access Card project conducted by law firm Clayton Utz and former deputy federal privacy commissioner Nigel Waters. Because the assessment was written in tandem with the KPMG business case for the smart card, on which the project was given the green light, its findings were intensely relevant, Ms Johnston said.

Meanwhile, Professor Greenleaf, of the University of NSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, said the heavily edited KPMG report released by Mr Hockey last week exposed serious privacy and data security concerns. "Information stored in the public zone will be available to anybody who has a card reader, while sensitive information can be protected by a PIN," he said. "But where do you put your emergency health information? "If it's in the public zone, anyone from a Centrelink clerk to a dentist's receptionist will be able to see it, but if you put in the closed zone, it won't be available to ambulance drivers and emergency departments unless you're conscious and able to give them your PIN."

Professor Greenleaf was concerned about the scanning and retention of identity documents such as passport, birth certificate and driver's licence on the central database, or Secure Common Registration System. "These documents contain sensitive personal information, so they substantially increase the privacy risks," he said. "A mother's maiden name, found on a birth certificate, for example, is commonly used for password reminder purposes."

The KPMG report states the secure common system "will not contain any sensitive personal information". Then there's access to individual entitlements to Centrelink or Veterans' payments, and disability and other concessions. "Have those things suddenly become not sensitive information in this country?" Professor Greenleaf said. "Damned if I know that they have. I thought health information was especially protected under the Privacy Act as sensitive information. "KPMG appears to be so unaware of privacy considerations that it hasn't recognised this is sensitive information."

The matter of identity numbers has apparently been resolved. KPMG says the present Medicare number will be reformatted with extra digits to ensure each is unique. Everyone's Medicare number will be cancelled, and people will have to attend an official interview and prove their identity in a 100-point document check, before an access card is issued. This means enrolling more than 16 million people to the system. E-health and privacy consultant David More says a modestly paid public servant (earning $40,000), could process some 25 to 30 "uncomplicated 15-minute interviews" daily. "Assuming normal working hours, the best you can hope for is one employee processing 6000 people in a year," Dr More said. "You'll need some 1350 employees working full-time for two years to register 16 million people -- at a cost of about $100 million minimum. "Then there's the cost of the card itself. At about $5 each, that's another $100 million for 16 million people."

While the card's life is expected to be seven years, a similar French scheme reports an annual card loss/out of order rate of 15 per cent, meaning that cards have to be replaced more frequently. Bruce Lyman, president and founder of biometrics developer Argus Solutions, says the smartcard proposal "is really a political choice, rather than a technology solution". "There are many identity management systems out there that counter fraud far better than cards," Mr Lyman said. "Ten years ago, the NSW driver's licence with the hologram was being held up as the new security standard. Yet we already knew the technology could be replicated pretty easily. You can buy a NSW driver's licence in the markets in Cairo or the backstreets of Sydney. "Problems of Centrelink or Medicare fraud are not going to be addressed by cards."

Argus supplies biometric identity systems to private and government organisations, both here and internationally. "One of the frustrating things is that other parts of government are introducing strong solutions to these problems on a reasonably small scale, which could be rolled out on a much larger scale," Mr Lyman said.


14 June 2006

Australian Leftists embrace elite universities

Labor is abandoning the centrepiece of its university funding policy under a radical rethink that will return the party to a system of rewarding high-achieving institutions. In a shift to the Centre that Opposition Deputy Leader Jenny Macklin said should have occurred years ago, Labor will dismantle the 1980s' "one-size-fits-all" funding model that treated all universities, including converted colleges of advanced education, as equal. Labor will abandon the system it introduced through the Dawkins reforms of funding all universities on the same basis per student and instead allow institutions to focus on specialised areas and let other areas lapse.

While Ms Macklin declined to provide details of the new policy, it raises the possibility that law and neurosurgery might become the specialist domain of sandstone universities, while regional universities might be encouraged to focus on agriculture or teaching. Ms Macklin, who holds the Opposition education portfolio, said Labor would fund student places differentially between universities to "allow them to do what they do best". "We want to fund (each university) according to mission, and have differentiated missions," Ms Macklin said. "It is time to end the one-size-fits-all approach. We must embrace diversity."

The move, alongside Labor's recent dumping of its rich-schools hit list, represents a shift to the Centre for education policy under Kim Beazley. Labor is ditching the shibboleth of the Dawkins reforms of 1987, named for Hawke government education minister John Dawkins. His "unified national system" turned CAEs into universities overnight. All public universities - there are now 37 in the country - have been funded at the same level per student place ever since. Governments have stuck with the model for fear that weaker universities might collapse if they are forced to compete for public funding. Ms Macklin yesterday would not guarantee there would be no failures under Labor's proposal.

Her colleague, federal Labor MP Craig Emerson, went further, saying universities should be allowed to fail and be taken over by more successful competitors. But Ms Macklin said no university would be worse off because Labor would put "serious additional public investment" into the system. She said change was needed to ensure Australian universities, where funding per student has been in long-term decline, keep pace with international competitors.

The move was welcomed by individual universities. Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Chubb said the proposal was "necessary". He said the idea that "we should all do the same thing, achieve the same standards and therefore get funded at the same rate per student by discipline" was "a relic of the distant past". "If we are going to get better at what we do, and build on the stage that is suitable for the different institutions, then you have to get differential funding per student."

University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis called Labor's shift an "important development" alongside this week's approval by Education Minister Julie Bishop for his university to reshape itself as an US-style graduate school. It showed that both sides of politics now believe "it is time to move on", he said. He said the rapid growth of private higher education providers in recent years could only mean that public universities "are not offering the sort of courses many students are looking for", and the funding system prevented them from doing so.


Meter maids saved in Queensland's premier resort

Gold Coast meter maids who feared their time on the tourist strip had expired are back in business. Higher parking fees that increased their daily outlay from $50 to more than $200, the removal of old simple expired-time-display meters and tougher time limits were threatening the tourist institution. But 40 years after the first meter maids appeared on the Gold Coast, the bikini babes are enjoying a new role as "educators" and loving it.

"I was thinking I was going to lose my job. Then Roberta Aitchison, our manager, found a way around it," Candice Moore, 18, from the Surfers Paradise Meter Maids told The Sunday Mail. Ms Aitchison - who created waves decades ago by appearing in the first nude meter maid magazine spread - decided to work in collaboration with council parking officers to ensure motorists did not earn a fine but also did not overstay the two-hour limits imposed on the Gold Coast. The meter maids are also helping motorists come to grips with modern parking machines that issue tickets for dashboard display - as opposed to the old machines registering unexpired time.

Stacie Davids, 18, who has been working only a few months for the meter maids, said she had experienced first hand the frustration of motorists. "People have had their money chewed up by the new machines. A lot of them don't know how to use them. I've seen 20 tickets on their dashboards," she said. "It's been a bit of a shock to have the change. The yellow meters were fun."

In another lifeline for the meter maids, restaurants and bars who feared higher parking fees were keeping customers away have sponsored the girls to operate in their area. The increased demand has led Ms Aitchison to appoint a manager, Shane Tyler, double staffing levels and introduce shifts.

Meter maids first began walking the streets of Surfers Paradise in April, 1965, the local progress association having launched the idea to minimise the impact of parking meters introduced the year before. When the current council decided to introduce a meterless parking system last year, some of the meter maids chained themselves to parking meters as a protest against the move.

Ms Aitchison said the changes had led to uncertainty about the future of the meter maids. "It was a worrying time. We weren't sure what was going to happen. Now we've been told we can continue the way we were in Surfers," she said. "It's a traditional icon for the Gold Coast. It would be a shame to lose them. And it's not going to happen while I'm alive and kicking. The glamour and glitz - it's not only in Surfers. We have it in Broadbeach now as well."

Area city councillor Susie Douglas said she was pleased to learn the future of the meter maids was secure. "It's been difficult. They can't put the coins in the meters any more. What the meter maids are good at is teaching people how to use the new machines, providing some education," she said. "There is a big difference between the old ones and the new ones. They have also been good at reporting to council officers where there are problems with the machines."

The article above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 11, 2006

China's middle class soaks up wine glut

Australia's lake of surplus wine could find a new home in China, with the emerging middle class developing a taste for our reds. Australia's wine exports to China grew by 482 per cent to 11.75 million litres over the past year, according to statistics from the Australian Wine & Brandy Corp (AWBC). The growth was concentrated at the discount or bulk end of the market, with the average price per litre of wine sold declining by 63.9 per cent to $1.75.

The Chinese market is small by comparison to Australia's largest export market, the UK, which imported almost 271 million litres of Australian wine worth about $968.5 million, to account for 37 per cent of total wine exports. AWBC corporate affairs manager Eric Wisgard said Australian winemakers had received a boost in the Chinese market from a recent reduction on tariffs on wine from 65 per cent to 14 per cent, and by rising Chinese affluence. "There's a growing middle class, and there is quite a move to adopt Western symbols of success," he said. "They're looking for international brand names and other signs of Western-style affluence, and wine fits into that quite comfortably."

Although China lacks the wine drinking culture of France or Australia, consumption per head in China has doubled in the last five years. But annual consumption per head is still extremely low at 0.3 litres per person compared with 25 to 26 litres per person in Australia. "But the sheer size of the population over there (in China) still means it's an opportunity," Mr Wisgard said.

More here

Soviet-style treatment for keen cop

It looks like the corrupt Queensland cops have not changed much since the bad old days

A Queensland police officer went on the run for a week from a psychiatrist who had Queensland Police backing to remove him from his home. Sergeant Brett Hammond believes he was dangerously close to incarceration in a psychiatric ward because of work place differences with superiors. "I had no doubt in my mind that Sgt Hammond was headed for the gulag and if went in, he wasn't coming out," said one of his legal representatives.

Sgt Hammond's dispute with his employer, sparked partly by his enthusiasm for breath testing motorists, has left him suffering serious depression. Last month in Townsville Industrial Court, a magistrate vindicated his three-year fight against the QPS in a damning finding which accepted evidence of QPS intimidation. The former officer-in-charge of the Rollingstone police station, north of Townsville, has more than 20 years' experience. His problems began when he clashed with a new officer, Sen-Constable Brad Gough. Disputes broke out about rosters and Hammond's general policing style. He also clashed with his superiors over pulling over drivers for breath tests.

Sgt Hammond says he is still under an internal investigation for arresting a driver who was slightly over the limit . Court documents confirm that on November 8, 2003, Hammond pulled over a drink driver who gave a positive reading. "Gough wants to drive him home and overlook positive roadside test," the document states. "Hammond regards this incident as 'really the punch' between him and Gough."

In December 2003, while in a conversation with his commanding officer District Insp Wayne Knapp, the court found that Sgt Hammond was verbally threatened. "If you don't start f---ing listening to what I tell you ... you'll be in the s--t that far you won't know what's happening to you," Insp Knapp is said to have told Sgt Hammond. Sgt Hammond claims the intimidation culminated on a Saturday in March 2004, in a scene which Sgt Hammond's legal team says was reminiscent of Soviet Russia. A psychiatrist accompanied by a nurse arrived at the family home and demanded Sgt Hammond make himself available for assessment.

His wife, Michelle, was told that, if Sgt Hammond refused, police could remove him for the assessment. "My kids were there, it was just beyond belief, terrifying," Sgt Hammond said. "I knew they wanted to lock me away to justify the way they were treating me." He eventually agreed to an examination in his own lounge room and the psychiatrist concluded he didn't need hospitalisation. But Sgt Hammond, on the advice of his legal team, including industrial advocate James O'Donnell, fled to the Atherton Tablelands with his family. He remained in hiding for a week before returning to Rollingstone.

Mr O'Donnell said he and barrister Harvey Walters feared another psychiatrist may be sent to assess their client, and believed they had no choice. "It was a complete abuse of power," Mr O'Donnell said. "Truly, scary stuff. "I genuinely believe they wanted to put him away and keep him there."

Sgt Hammond applied for compensation and recognition of his work-related medical condition with WorkCover. His application was rejected on September 17, 2004. He appealed to Q-Comp and was also rejected. He took the matter to the Industrial Magistrate's Court in Townsville in February and, after a seven-day hearing, Magistrate Wendy Cull ruled he was entitled to compensation. She accepted the medical condition was caused by the workplace and management action had not been reasonable.

Ms Cull found Inspector Knapp, who had sworn at Sgt Hammond, had behaved in a threatening manner. "Inspector's Knapp's loss of control of his emotions was not reasonable in the circumstances," she found. "His tone of voice and the words themselves were threatening ... This incident cannot be disregarded as a mere flaw in reasonable ongoing management."

The QPS said Sgt Hammond had been disciplined in relation to his work duties. "In relation to the sergeant's claims, this is a matter that is being handled by Workcover on behalf of the organisation."


13 June 2006

Muslim scum gets compensation for jail diet

More "anti-discrimination" nonsense

A child-sex offender has been awarded $2000 compensation because he was not given fresh meat prepared in the Muslim way for most of his prison sentence. Sharif Mahommed, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, eats only halal meat - that which has been slaughtered and blessed by Muslim slaughtermen. Halal meat has not touched non-halal meat and cannot be prepared with utensils used on other meat.

Mahommed was the first Muslim Prisoner in Queensland to request halal meat in jail and as a result of his case, 12 prisoners now receive fresh halal meat.

Minister for Corrective Services Judy Spence has now directed her department to launch a Supreme Court appeal against the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal's decision to grant Mahomrned compensation. "I am concerned that this decision could open the floodgates to other prisoners requesting all manner of special diets." she said. "Prisoners' medical and religious dietary needs are met in correctional centres across the state within reason.

The list of special diets provided to Queensland prisoners includes vegetarian; no pork, ham or bacon; no seafood; Asian; diabetic; soft food; no mushroom; low fat; low salt; no salt; gluten-free; no curry; no pineapple; no lactose; high fibre; and vitamised.

Mahommed, a child-sex offender who was jailed for eight years in 2000 and released last year after serving five years, asked for fresh halal meat when he was first imprisoned. After being retused fresh halal meat he lodged a complaint with Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commission on the grounds that he was discriminated against on the basis of his religious beliefs.

At an Anti-Discrimination Tribunal hearing last year Mahommed said for his first 10 months in Wolston Correctional Centre he was given the general prison diet, and did not eat meat. He lost a substantial amount of weight while at the prison, the tribunal heard. In 2001 he was offered tinned halal meat if he paid 67c a meal. This cost later was waived but Mahommed stopped eating tinned beef and mutton as it was too fatty and salty. Four months after he was moved to Palen Creek Correctional Centre in 2002 he was given a vegetarian diet with supplements of nuts, cheese and eggs and tinned halal meat. He did not get fresh halal meat until November 2003.

Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found Mahommed was discriminated against. Tribunal President Jean Dalton said Mahommed found the vegetarian diet unpalatable. "He received substantially more than his fair share of unacceptable meals because he was put on a vegetarian diet when he was not vegetarian and was not, until November 2003, ever served fresh meat. "At the time fresh halal meat was difficult to source and extremely expensive, so he was provided with canned meat instead."

The above report appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 11, 2006.

Australian Treasurer lauded by G8's ministers

Peter Costello's management of the nation's finances has been held up as a model by his G8 counterparts, who have called on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to follow his lead. The Treasurer was invited to the meeting of G8 finance ministers in the Russian city of St Petersburg on the weekend to lead a discussion on public finance management. The G8 has been impressed by Australia's consistent run of budget surpluses and its charter of budget honesty. Among the G8 nations - the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia - only Canada runs a budget surplus.

Mr Costello said Australia was at the forefront of the world's best budget managers because of its medium-term strategy, its timely budget reporting, the explanation of budgeting assumptions and a focus on how budget decisions taken now will affect future generations. He also said that strong political institutions and good government were needed to make the budget rules effective.

The G8 communique said good management of public finance was important to achieve a stable economy and sustainable growth. It called on institutions such as the IMF and World Bank to do more to ensure best practice was followed. It is the first time an Australian treasurer has been invited to address a G8 meeting, and Mr Costello said he was honoured by the opportunity. The G8 has become sensitive to criticism that it is a rich-nations' club seeking to manage the world's economy for its own benefit. Over the past two years, it has invited select non-member nations to participate in its opening session in an effort to improve its legitimacy. In addition to Australia, finance ministers from Brazil, China, India, South Korea and Nigeria were invited to attend the meeting.

Mr Costello has championed the rival G20 group, which includes a much broader range of nations, which will hold its annual meeting in Melbourne in November. Mr Costello was not included in the G8 discussion on the security of energy supplies, which he has placed on the agenda for the G20. The G8 said that high oil prices posed a risk to the global economy. The body called for energy producing and consuming countries to do what they could to raise the level of investment in energy and improve the efficiency of energy use. However, the G8 says the world economy remains strong, and its communique contained no reference to either interest rate rises or the recent turbulence in financial markets.

More here

Queensland government convinced condemned man is innocent

Convicted killer Graham Stafford could receive a multimillion-dollar compensation payoutfrom the State Government if he is pardoned for the 1991 murder of schoolgirl Leanne Holland. Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Linda Lavarch confirmed this week the Government could make an ex-gratia payment to Stafford, 42, if he is cleared after 15 years in jail. She cited legal precedent with the Kelvin Condren case, when the Goss Government paid out $400,000 in 1995 after he was freed after serving seven years for murder. Former chief magistrate Di Fingleton received $475,000 compensation last year for her wrongful imprisonment.

Stafford, who was convicted in 1992 for the brutal sex slaying of his then-fiancee's 12-year-old sister, was paroled last week, four months before his minimum release date, prompting speculation authorities had accepted an innocent man might have been jailed. Stafford's legal team is preparing a petition to the Queensland Governor seeking a pardon.

Ms Lavarch said the Governor was likely to refer the matter back to her and she would then seek advice about sending the case back to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal could uphold the conviction - as it did in 1997 - or it could quash the conviction and set him free or order a retrial. Ms Lavarch said the Director of Public Prosecutions could then offer no evidence at a retrial and Stafford would be discharged. Ms Lavarch said it was too early to estimate a monetary payout but legal sources said it could be upwards of $2 million. "There is precedent of an ex-gratia payment being made," she said.

The Attorney-General strongly denied that the prospect of a big payout would influence a decision on Stafford. "Absolutely not ... one of the most fundamental rules of law is that no innocent person should go to jail, no innocent person should be convicted," she said. "Rule 101 in jurisprudence is that you would much rather see 10 guilty people go free than one innocent person imprisoned. "This is about the principles of justice. It would never be reduced to dollars."

The above report appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 11, 2006. There was a previous mention of this case on this blog on May 23rd.

A victory over the Leftist destroyers of education

The West Australian Government abandoned its new gradeless schools curriculum yesterday, bowing to pressure from teachers and parents and promising to maintain real course content in place of ideological bent. In an embarrassing about-face, Premier Alan Carpenter announced the changes to the state's new-age "outcomes-based" education system after a morning crisis meeting with education leaders in his office. Mr Carpenter, flanked by his controversial Education Minister, Ljiljanna Ravlich, announced after the meeting that the new system would now maintain percentage marking of students.

His Government will give up its plan for an evaluation system based exclusively on eight "levels", in favour of the NSW system, which combines similar streaming of students but with traditional marking based on a percentage. It will introduce compulsory content in each of the 17 new courses to be introduced next year for Years 11 and 12, reviewing each one over the next few weeks. Teachers will be able to prepare examinations in the traditional fashion, rather than being forced to use those prepared by curriculum developers that require students to provide "values oriented" answers on ideological interpretations of their subjects.

Ms Ravlich told journalists that "about 85 to 90 per cent of content will be exactly the same" as current courses, and conceded that the outcomes-based plan was too ideologically driven. "Perhaps the direction we were moving in was a bit purist," Ms Ravlich said. She and Mr Carpenter insisted outcomes-based education would still be introduced next year, but conceded there would be adjustments. "We have listened to the teachers. We are responding to their concerns. We are simplifying the process of change and making it clearer to all concerned," the Premier said.

The Australian has exposed many of the deficiencies in the outcomes-based courses and the West Australian curriculum, including a move to allow Year 12 English students to analyse the squiggly lines used to draw Mr Messy in the Mr Men children's book series. The secretary of the Western Australian Independent Education Union, Theresa Howe, said the newspaper played an important role in forcing the Government to correct the problems. "It has had an impact," she said. "It has informed a wider audience. The Australian has a high degree of credibility."

The changes announced yesterday amount to a significant reversal. The current courses will be used as a template and only changed according to what teachers, educationalists and unions will accept. Education Department director-general Paul Albert told The Australian that the new curriculum would be introduced in a "transitional" fashion.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia, Audrey Jackson, said she felt more confident after yesterday's meeting with the Premier and Ms Ravlich that courses would maintain a solid base. Ms Jackson, a chemistry teacher, said: "The emphasis will swing back towards the traditional form of chemistry, a mix of calculations, a display of knowledge of chemical processes."

Yesterday's backflip followed the intervention of Mr Carpenter to deal with a crisis that threatened to unhinge his Government, after Ms Ravlich failed to address the problem for months and refused to engage with teachers, unions, the media or the public. A weekend poll found 79 per cent of West Australians wanted the new curriculum delayed, and most respondents, by more than two to one, felt it risked "dumbing down" standards.

Opposition education spokesman Peter Collier said Mr Carpenter should have acted months ago to take the matter out of the hands of Ms Ravlich, who he said was "not up to the job". Ms Ravlich is the parliamentary leader of the increasingly influential Centre Left faction backed by construction union warlord Kevin Reynolds. Her boyfriend is the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Eric Ripper. The president of the State School Teachers Union, Mike Keely, said the Government was finally listening. But he said the union directive not to teach the new courses unless teachers were comfortable with them would remain at least until the union's state council meets this weekend.


Comment by Kevin Donnelly:

Premier Alan Carpenter, whose other job is standing up for his Education Minister, should be thanked for backing down on the new West Australian senior school certificate. Providing teachers with a clear map on what is taught, as opposed to vague outcomes, ridding courses of political correctness in favour of essential academic content, and allowing teachers to mark out of 100 instead of grading on eight levels, represents positive change. But any praise should be muted. The Government has only acted out of self-interest -- after being in denial about the groundswell of public opposition to the certificate.

Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich as recently as two weeks ago said there was no place for compromise. Ravlich argued that the certificate was world's best practice. She said the Government would not back down on the basis that, to quote Hansard, "the responsibility of government is to put its policy position on the line and, basically, make sure that the policy is implemented".

Concerns about the Government's about-face are compounded by the fact schools that have been forced to implement the new courses this year - for example, English at Year 11 and Aviation at Year 12 - are now being told the curriculum approach is flawed. The Government has refused to budge from its position that the certificate be implemented next year, triggering doubts over whether there is enough time to review all courses and ensure that teachers are ready to teach the certificate at the start of next year.

Critics of outcomes-based education may have won the battle, but not the war. Teachers in primary and lower secondary schools are still being forced to implement an outcomes-based approach. If outcomes-based education has failed at Years 11 and 12, why is it being forced on younger students?

12 June 2006

Fox news gets an Australian imitator

Channel 9's expensive stars have been quarantined from cost-cutting while their news and current affairs shows undergo a makeover modelled on the successful Fox News network in the US. Behind Nine's announcement of the sacking of 20 per cent of its news and current affairs staff is a two-pronged strategy to improve profitability and ratings momentum, The Sunday Mail has learned.

Although new Nine CEO Eddie McGuire is the one who broke the news to staff, the strategy has been hatched by his bosses, PBL chief executive John Alexander and deputy chairman Chris Anderson. Mr Alexander is a fan of Fox and its formula of strong personality-driven shows, live debates and news crosses.

It is expected Jana Wendt's Sunday program, set to lose most of its reporting staff, will be the first to adopt the new look. Ms Wendt, who is paid $700,000 a year, is said to be unhappy with the plan. Today, which like Sunday is losing the ratings war with Seven, is also in line for a revamp, but host Jessica Rowe, on $400,000 a year, is safe for now. Producers have been told they will have to share more resources, and crews will have to work across news and current affairs shows. There will be more live broadcasts and less packaged television. In the longer term, the PBL board is also believed to be planning the sale of Nine's HQ at Willoughby in Sydney, freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars. New digital broadcasting facilities would be built in a cheaper location.

More here

Leftist charm at work again

Having convinced 45,000 people to buy The Latham Diaries, which has generated sales of more than $1.5 million, Mark Latham is set to return to the bookstands. His next effort, A Conga Line Of Suckholes - so named after one of his infamous one-liners - is due out in October and is said to be a collection of quotations and political anecdotes in the vein of Barry Cohen's Life With Gough.

Mr Latham's publisher, Melbourne University Press, is plugging it with promises of "witticisms, insults and reflections from Ben Chifley to Barry Humphries, Julius Caesar to John Faulkner". And, of course, some Latham one-liners. After all, this is the man who told former immigration minister Philip Ruddock to "Hand in your badge, Adolf", and called Bob Carr, Peter Beattie and Geoff Gallop "A-grade arseholes". He said Prime Minister John Howard was "an arselicker" to the US and pilloried Peter Costello as "a mangy dog".


Tax reforms could slash booze prices

The price of pre-mixed alcoholic drinks is set to fall under tax changes being considered by the federal government, sparking fears this will encourage underage drinking. A new range of light and mid-strength pre-mixed drinks is being considered as part of the Customs Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill, News Ltd newspapers report.

The Bill reportedly seeks to extend pre-existing excise legislation, designed to promote light beer, to Australia's $2 billion pre-mixed market, cutting prices by up to 20 per cent. The drinks include cola and bourbon or rum combinations, the Smirnoff Ice vodka mixer and Bacardi Breezer, which mixes sweet soda and rum. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre said the legislation would promote greater alcohol consumption among teenagers, especially females.


Rising tide of bad science in Australia

During the past fortnight the reportage of the debate on greenhouse gases has come close to what the climate-change industry is apt to call a tipping point, the point of no return. Almost every day, it seems, true believers in catastrophist science have been coming out with fresh claims that the debate is over and all the world now acknowledges the gravity of the matter.

Julia Baird, a columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald, was among the more artless cheerleaders. "The nuclear energy debate this week has been fascinating and - no matter what your thoughts on its use here - a relief of sorts. At least we're all agreeing on one thing - global warming and climate change are serious, and potentially catastrophic, problems. "Serious scientific research is no longer being misrepresented as a left-wing beat-up propelled by mad greenies and anxious scientists. At last, the vocal deniers are shrinking like the Wicked Witch of the West, drenched by a bucket of melting icecaps."

So there you have it. Greenhouse gas sceptics have, at the stroke of a pen, been turned into deniers , the moral equivalent of anti-Semites, along with David Irving and the pseudo-historians who say the Holocaust never happened. What's more, those wicked few of us left who still refuse to face facts are confounded by the evidence of polar meltdowns that threaten to engulf us. As if to reinforce the point, ABC television's mid-evening news last Saturday reported, as though it were a fact, the following: "For thousands of years, Alaskan islanders have lived on this remote island. As their part of the earth slips away, the Bush administration stands accused of trying to silence nature's compelling warnings."

Whether in the form of Alaskan inundations, drowning atolls in the Pacific or the flooding of New Orleans, there seems to be no shortage of cataclysmic events and no shortage of scientists, journalists and even multinational corporations prepared to attribute them to greenhouse gas-induced global warming.

Last year Munich Re, an insurance conglomerate, solemnly warned us that rising sea levels and coastal erosion caused by global warming were going to be two of the biggest problems for insurers in the new millennium and - wonderful to relate - that premiums would have to rise accordingly.

Closer to home, at the end of May The West Australian reported new predictions of sea levels rising by up to a metre by the end of the century. John Church, a CSIRO researcher, and Will Steffen, director of the Australian National University's Centre for Resource and Environment Studies, announced that they "wouldn't be buying low-lying homes because rising oceans would affect their value".

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell is a born-again believer in the greenhouse crisis, or "cooking the planet", as an editorial in The Australian Financial Review rather breathlessly encapsulated it last Tuesday. But, sensing how these extravagant claims might erode the plausibility of the theory, Campbell dismissed them out of hand and said that significant sea rises were still between 1000 and 2000 years away: "Climate change is a very serious issue. However, we have trouble enough ensuring people take it seriously without ludicrous claims like this."

The federal Opposition's spokesman on the environment Anthony Albanese responded by saying that Campbell should respect scientists and not shoot the messengers when he didn't like the message. "Low-lying Pacific nations are flooding because of climate change and it is a window to the future for Australia unless action is taken."

There are more generally accepted and empirically testable processes that account for the selective inundation of the Pacific atolls. I refer, of course, to the constant rising and subsidence of the earth's surface. Ian Plimer, head of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Adelaide, is an eminent greenhouse sceptic with a nice turn of phrase who's had plenty to say on this subject in The Independent Weekly and deserves a wider audience. "Subsidence can play some cruel tricks ... This is what is happening in many Pacific Ocean atoll nations and this subsidence produces an apparent sea-level rise. We naughty fossil-fuel burners are not causing sea levels to rise. Some, but not all, of the Pacific Ocean atoll nations are sinking as part of a normal geological process," he says.

Albanese and those who share his convictions should think long and hard about that phrase "some, but not all". Why should some low-lying coral formations be engulfed and others arbitrarily spared by the self-same rising seas ? Plimer points to Charles Darwin's book The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, published in 1842. In it Darwin showed that volcanoes emerge at various heights above the sea floor and provide platforms for the growth of coral. If sea levels fall or a volcano rises further from the sea floor, coral attaches itself, only to be killed on exposure to air. Places such as Vanuatu feature coral reefs well above sea level on the sides of volcanoes, due to their having risen. If the sea level rises, volcanoes become inundated and coral attaches itself to them, so that they grow vertically as well as horizontally as the sea level continues to rise, producing atolls. The same thing happens if a volcanic island begins to sink.

The moral of the story, as Plimer says, is that "a rise in sea level produces coral atolls. It does not destroy them. Darwin showed this in 1842. Atolls were drilled to test Darwin's theory by [Douglas] Mawson's Antarctic compatriot T.W. Edgeworth David and Darwin's coral theory has been validated by more than 150 years of independent, interdisciplinary science. Why has this been ignored by the catastrophists?" There is another element in the cycle that contributes to the illusion of engulfing sea levels. "Coral atolls can sink due to compaction of coraline sand, pumping of groundwater or sinking of the volcanic substrate. This is a normal process that induces the rapid growth of coral to re-form the atoll."

The sooner Albanese and Bob Sercombe, the ALP's spokesman on Pacific Island affairs, come to terms with all this, the better. In January this year in The West Australian (a journal much concerned with inundation) they co-wrote an article entitled "Time for us to help drowning neighbours". Their disaster plan encompassed rescuing whole populations, accepting them as "climate change refugees" and assisting them "with intra-country evacuations when people are moved to higher ground". They say we should help evacuees "to adapt to new countries" and "provide assistance to preserve their cultural heritage".

This is daylight madness. Our island neighbours may well have claims on our foreign aid, but as a matter of charity rather than any sort of entitlement. In the absence of compelling evidence, and in defiance of Darwin's model, Labor shouldn't be encouraging them to believe that they are the victims of profligate coal, gas and oil-fired economies. Nor should it be creating unrealistic expectations that, as the largest regional consumer of fossil fuels, Australia has endless obligations to a new class of mendicants from Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Carteret or the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Never mind, you may be thinking, about Pacific islands and their vagaries. Even if we accept Plimer's account, it doesn't explain away the melting polar ice. The sinking island in Alaska may be subsiding rather than being engulfed by a rising tide, but it's still being submerged and what about all that extra water, that rising tide? Plimer notes that "the tidal measuring station at Port Adelaide is sinking, thereby recording a sea level rise". The same is true of many other areas of subsidence, a fact apparently lost on most contemporary oceanographers. "If there is a sea-level rise we would expect every atoll in every ocean to be inundated. But we don't see this. We would expect harbours around the world to record a sea level rise. This is not recorded. So something is seriously wrong with the catastrophist dogma."


Big Brother ads and squiggles on the syllabus

Counting and analysing advertisements during Big Brother is one of the suggested assignments for Year 11 and 12 English students in Western Australia. Resource materials provided by the state Curriculum Council, which suggest projects for teachers to use in the classroom, also include tasks on the squiggly lines used to draw Mr Messy in the MrMen children's books. Other activities have students analysing junk mail and swimming pool rules and pretending they are celebrities for interviews by classmates.

The teaching guide suggests students count the number of ads screened during a one-hour prime-time television show, such as CSI or Big Brother, and note the products and their intended market. Students report on "the values, attitudes and beliefs underlying the television show" and the target audiences identified for the ads. "Consider what common messages are being sent to the social groups by the show itself and the advertisements screened with it," students are told.

The state's English course, which is being taught this year, has been widely criticised for replacing long literary texts with short texts such as movie posters. The sample exam was attacked for failing to require students to answer a single question about a literary text and instructing markers not to penalise students for poor spelling, grammar or punctuation.

West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter finally stepped in this week to try to restore public confidence in the state's new Certificate of Education. He is meeting teachers associations to address their concerns. But yesterday the English resource materials were still on the Curriculum Council's website. The teaching resources suggests student examine different movie posters, and then design a poster for a movie of their own life. Or they could design, promote and launch a product based on a mythological character.

Another suggested task recommends that students read a selection of children's books, such as the Mr Men books, recommended for children aged three to six, and identify the features used to appeal to their audience -- such as "characters that are distinct and recognisable, bright colours, shapes and lines, eg squiggles for Mr Messy, clothes and props such as hats, simplified facial expressions". Students should study the use of sentences, punctuation and spelling, and then write and illustrate their own children's book. And another task has students exploring "the phenomenon of unsolicited junk mail that uses visuals and writing, eg letterbox advertising, brochures and electronic spamming".

While most people clearing their letterbox don't bother reading junk mail, the curriculum council suggests students view a selection of junk mail, select one type to examine more closely and list the dangers and possible benefits of junk mail.

Another task covers celebrity interviews, requiring students to analyse the main features of several interviews found on the internet. Students then imagine themselves famous in 10 years' time, write a paragraph summarising their rise to fame, and then interview each other as pretend celebrities. The council even suggests students undertake market research, in this case discovering how familiar the general public is with a chosen mythological character. An assignment on mass media has students investigate "how the media manipulate news stories in order to make them more interesting, increase their ratings, or serve their own interests". Another aspect asks: "To what lengths are print media editors willing to go in order to sell news and, consequently, make money?" West Australian students can choose to sit a separate media production and analysis course.


11 June 2006

Rare sense from an Australian judge

Attempt to blame other people rejected

Parents are on notice to properly supervise children after the Court of Appeal ruled on a personal injury case involving a young girl injured at a sports ground. The case examined where parental control should take over from the duty of care that sports associations owed to those using their grounds. In its ruling on Friday, the court did not suggest the child's mother, who was watching her, had been negligent. Rather it was determined that the mother had been in the best position to judge if her daughter was in danger.

In the District Court last year the child's parents, on her behalf, sued Central Queensland's Belyando Shire Council and the Moranbah Hockey Association for personal injuries. The court was told that on August 22, 1998, the girl, then three, was playing with other children near a gate on a ground owned by the council and used by hockey players. The girl's left thumb was caught in the gate as other children swung it open and shut. Her thumb was crushed and required surgery. The child's mother was watching her while her husband, the child's father, played hockey.

The hockey association did not deny the gate was usually locked but had been left unlatched after deliveries to the canteen earlier in the day. It also did not deny it had a duty of care to those using its facilities. However, it argued the child's mother was supervising her and was in a better position to judge any hazard. The trial judge dismissed the claim and found, while it was negligent not to lock the gate, the association was entitled to rely on parental supervision to protect the child from harm.

Lawyers for the child appealed, arguing the judge's initial finding - that the gate should have been locked - was correct and the association had breached a duty of care. But in a unanimous judgment, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. Justice John Jerrard said the association's responsibility was to conduct sporting events rather than caring for children.


Leftist State government not Leftist enough

About 100 protesters from gay rights and environmental groups and trade unions have gathered outside the New South Wales Labor conference in central Sydney. Farida Iqbal, spokeswoman for Community Action Against Homophobia, called on Premier Morris Iemma to recognise gay marriage and same-sex civil unions. The Federal Government is currently making moves to overturn the ACT's laws allowing same-sex unions. "In the light of the Federal Government seeking to overturn ACT's same-sex civil unions, we call on state governments to introduce them," Ms Iqbal said today. "We are also calling on the ALP to overturn their support for the ban on same-sex marriage and join us in the fight for justice and equality."

Young Labor has sent a resolution to the NSW conference seeking the legalisation of gay marriage, although the matter may not be debated during the two-day meeting.

Environmentalists also protested outside today's conference at Sydney's Town Hall. Cate Faehrmann, director of the Nature Conservation Council, called on the Government to introduce renewable energy targets. "The Iemma Government has not shown a serious commitment to tackling climate change," she said.


Aussies agreeing to nuclear power: poll

Almost half of Australians have given nuclear power plants the thumbs up as a replacement for coal, oil and gas power plants, a poll shows. A Morgan Poll has revealed that 49 per cent of Australians approve of nuclear power plants, while 37 per cent disapprove of their use to help cut greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining 14 per cent are undecided

But the poll shows 87 per cent of Australians are concerned about the disposal of nuclear waste if plants are introduced here. Twelve per cent of people say they are not concerned about the waste while one per cent are undecided.

Morgan research surveyed 594 Australian men and women aged 14 and over on June 7 and 8. The poll reported 54 per cent of respondents agreed Australia should continue developing and exporting uranium for peaceful purposes. But 36 per cent said we should not produce uranium.

Pollster Gary Morgan said after much debate on the nuclear industry, more Australians approved than disapproved of the introduction of nuclear power plants to replace coal, oil, and gas plants to stop greenhouse gas emissions. "However, with 87 per cent of Australians concerned about the disposal of nuclear waste the government needs to assure Australians that there will be no adverse effects if nuclear energy is introduced," Mr Morgan said.

The release of the poll comes after Prime Minister John Howard announced an inquiry, to be headed by nuclear physicist and former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski, would investigate Australia's nuclear options.


One price of Greenie dam-hatred is loss of plants and gardens

The gardening and irrigation industries say up to 6,000 jobs have been lost, because of water restrictions in several states. Some nursery operators have lost more than 30 per cent of their turnover and they say it is the worst downturn in memory. With many dams across Australia down to 30 to 40 per cent of capacity, state and local governments say they do not have any choice but to implement water restrictions. Sydney is already on level three water restrictions and Brisbane is about to do the same.

Brisbane gardeners will only be able to water with buckets or watering cans from next week. But Jolyon Burnett, from the Irrigation Association of Australia, says the banning of sprinkler systems is hurting the industry. "We estimate that turnover across the board is probably down somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent," he said. "We're seeing some 6,000 job losses across the entire green industry, both full and part-time."

Tom Swift has been installing irrigation systems for 30 years and says the introduction of water restrictions has cut his turnover by more than a third. "I'm just hanging in there to be honest, and trying to make the most of a much smaller business than what I had before," he said.

The Federal Government's water spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says there is no need for long-term restrictions and he is calling on the states to stop using water utilities as cash cows. "We can have as much water as we need," he said. "There is ample scope for augmenting or increasing the water supply in our big cities. We don't have to build pipelines across Australia, we don't even have to build new dams. "There is more than enough water that can be won from recycling and better use of waste water and storm water." The states say the Federal Government should increase its own spending on water management.


10 June 2006

More Muslim Scum

A man who bashed this pit bull cross puppy is cooling his heels in jail after being convicted of cruelty to animal offences and other crimes. Ibrahim Moussa, 25, of Glenroy, admitted beating and causing unnecessary pain to four-month-old Zarah, his then partner's dog. Moussa was also sentenced for offences including burglary, theft and breaching an intervention order. Moussa faced Broadmeadows Magistrates' Court last week and was sentenced to a total of three years' jail, with a minimum of 18 months behind bars. He pleaded guilty to two charges of cruelty to Zarah and was sentenced to three-month jail terms on each charge, to be served concurrently.

RSPCA inspectors removed Zarah from his home after discovering she was suffering a fractured front leg. "Mr Moussa admitted to hitting the pup and soaking her under the tap when she did wrong," RSPCA Inspector Sarah Eskins said. "However, one neighbour reported seeing Mr Moussa beat the dog with a metal pole."

RSPCA inspectorate services manager Greg Boland said Zarah was clearly frightened of Moussa. "Our inspectors observed the dog cowering in front of the defendant and urinating in fear every time he was around her," Mr Boland said. "She was fearful. Her behaviour was indicative of the way she had previously been treated." He described Zarah's treatment as appalling. "It's one of the extreme cases of animal cruelty we unfortunately deal with from time to time," he said. He said the two jail sentences were fitting punishment for Moussa's actions. "The penalty reflected the nature of the crime," he said.

Moussa had faced a maximum year's jail and a possible $12,000 fine. He said Zarah was now in the care of Moussa's partner, who had moved house. "The dog is fine. We treated her and got her back to full health," Mr Boland said. Moussa is expected to appeal against the length of his sentence. RSPCA Victoria takes in more than 40,000 animals each year, investigates more than 9000 cruelty complaints and rescues more than 1500 animals.


Australia's most Leftist government rejects homosexual marriage

The Bracks Government has rebuffed a push to introduce gay civil union laws through the Victorian Parliament. Independent MP and ex-Liberal Andrew Olexander has drawn up a private members bill permitting officially recognised gay unions in Victoria and this has drawn tentative support from state Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu. However Mr Bracks said his government would not be encouraging the issue in Victoria, and without Labor's support the Bill would probably be doomed. "That is not a matter on our agenda," Premier Steve Bracks said.

Mr Baillieu said he wanted to see how the Olexander Bill was drafted. "I don't have a problem with the notion of civil unions," Mr Baillieu said. "The definition of that is still to be determined, but if it goes to the registration of relationships . . . and helps people manage their relationships when they're together and separating, I'm comfortable."

In an unusual move the ACT Government is planning to use the authority of the Governor-General to recognise the Territory's powers to enact its own laws. Yesterday, the ACT Assembly drafted an address to Governor-General Michael Jeffrey, which will be carried by the Speaker to the vice-regal residence. At least some pro-gay MPs are planning to accompany the Speaker carrying the Assembly's Mace to Yarralumla. The Howard Government's move to overturn the ACT civil union laws has created a storm from gay activists and supporters of states' rights. Mr Olexander's Bill is expected to come before the State Parliament prior to November's state poll.


Driving while black

A driver education program tailored to African refugees will be introduced amid widespread abuse of the road rules within the emerging communities. Police have identified drink-driving and unlicensed driving as a major problem among the new arrivals. The issue was highlighted by Sudanese refugee Taban Gany, a repeat drink-driver who crashed into a Dandenong schoolyard in May last year. Five children were injured, including a boy who had to have part of his leg amputated. Gany, 32, was given a suspended three-year jail term, but the Director of Public Prosecutions has appealed against the sentence for being too lenient.

The driver education program for the African refugees is the first of its kind in Australia. It will be run by the Dandenong-based South East Region Migrant Resource Centre in partnership with police. The one-year pilot project has been funded by a $69,000 grant from the federal Immigration Department and will be launched today by parliamentary secretary for immigration Andrew Robb. Migrant resource centre director Jenny Semple said that the program would be co-ordinated by a welfare worker from an African community. "It will educate community members about the road rules, the licensing process and their obligations as road users," she said. The communities being singled out come from Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Burundi and Liberia.

Supt Chris Ferguson, of Dandenong police, said while the majority of the African refugees were law-abiding, a number of traffic incidents had caused resentment. "Publicity about people flouting the road rules, especially drink-driving, has impacted on the refugee groups and on the broader community," he said. Supt Ferguson said the program would also foster better relations and understanding between police and the culturally distinct communities. Thousands of African refugees have come to Victoria in recent years. The Sudanese comprise one of the biggest groups, settling mainly in suburbs such as Dandenong and Footscray.


Pioneering surgeon

Wayne Morrison changes people's lives. And surgeons from around the world come to see how he does it. Prof Morrison has been performing plastic and reconstructive surgery and research for almost 30 years, including several high-profile cases involving patients with severe injuries. One of those patients was a young woman whose scalp, forehead, hair and right cheek were ripped off in an accident in rural Victoria. Microsurgeons operated for more than 20 hours to reattach the scalp, an operation performed only once before.

Another case developed a pioneering technique whereby a new flap of skin was fabricated to cover a deep hole created on two-thirds of a man's forehead by the removal of skin cancers. Microsurgeons rerouted an artery from the armpit to the chest, the blood supply started to grow new vessels and tissue and the skin flap grew under the man's normal neck skin.

Prof Morrison also saved the arm of a Port Arthur massacre survivor, Linda Wanders. A bullet blew a 12cm hole through the woman's right forearm, taking with it bone, a radial artery, tendons, nerves and muscle -- everything from the elbow to the wrist. Prof Morrison and his team painstakingly rebuilt the woman's arm in 16 operations over three years, using bone from her leg, transplanted blood vessels, muscles and skin.

But it's the tissue engineering research by Prof Morrison, 62, and his colleagues at the Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery at St Vincent's Hospital that could change millions of lives. The research has brought together molecular scaffold engineers, chemical engineers and stem-cell biologists. Vital heart tissue can be grown using the technique, but scientists at the institute have also grown muscle, tissue and fat the size of a human fist, with its own blood supply, inside a pig. The technology could one day be used for women who have lost breasts to cancer, or people who have lost chunks of tissue in accidents.

Besides bone, muscle and cartilage, tissue engineers have grown insulin-secreting pancreas, liver and kidney tissue. Doctors from around the world come to Melbourne to work with Prof Morrison. He heads Melbourne University's department of surgery as well as the department of plastic and reconstructive and hand surgery at St Vincent's. In 1992 he became director of the Bernard O'Brien Institute, a research and training institution with a global reputation for excellence. He is the president of the World Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery and immediate past president of the Asian Pacific Federation of Societies for Surgery of the Hand. He was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2001.


9 June 2006

Parents banned from photographing their own kids!

Banning parents from taking photographs and videos at a NSW schools eisteddfod lacked common sense, NSW Premier Morris Iemma said.

The Coffs Harbour Eisteddfod has prohibited parents from taking photographs and videos of their children. The ban was sparked when a father at last year's event inadvertently videotaped children who were subject to child custody orders preventing them from being photographed. Organisers also were concerned images of the children could be used by pedophiles. This year, a professional photographer took images of the performers and they were distributed to parents.

But Mr Iemma said parents should be allowed to take photographs or videos of the children at school performances, to mark what he called "some of the most important days in a child's life". "Our child protection laws don't prohibit parents from taking photographs at school performances, or even videos," Mr Iemma said. "The prohibition is on those that would want to use them for pornography or engaging in child sexual abuse. "There's got to be some balance and common sense."


Black child molesters' sentences increased -- slightly

Two Aborigines who sexually abused a seven-month-old baby and a two-year-old girl have had their sentences almost doubled. Northern Territory Chief Justice Brian Martin described the original jail terms imposed on the men as "so manifestly inadequate as to shock the public conscience". He had wanted to impose even harsher sentences on the two, whose crimes prompted a national debate on violence in Aboriginal communities, but had been prevented from doing so by the principle of double jeopardy. Both cases were raised last month by Alice Springs prosecutor Nanette Rogers as she detailed the high rate of violence and sexual assault in remote indigenous communities. She declined to comment yesterday.

Gerhardt Max Inkamala, 21, pleaded guilty to digitally penetrating a seven-month-old girl's vagina, causing injuries that required surgery, at Hermannsburg, north of Alice Springs, in late 2003. He was sentenced to five years in prison, with a non-parole period of four years. But following a prosecution appeal, three judges in the Court of Criminal Appeal yesterday increased that sentence to nine years in jail, with a non-parole period of seven years.

In the second case, Morgan Jabanardi Riley, 27, was originally sentenced to six years in jail and a non-parole period of four years and six months for sexually assaulting a two-year-old girl at Tennant Creek. Riley took the child into the bush and digitally penetrated her vagina and anus as she screamed in pain. The court increased that sentence yesterday to eight years' imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 6 1/2 years.

More here

Jobless rate hits record low

Australia's national jobless rate has fallen to the lowest monthly figure on record after an unexpected surge in employment growth. During the month of May the official figures show 56,000 additionally jobs were created, 47,000 of them in New South Wales. Despite there being more people looking for work, the jobless rate has dropped from 5.1 to 4.9 per cent, seasonally adjusted. All but 200 of the net new positions around Australia have been full-time. There has never been a lower monthly figure and it matches the quarterly rate registered in November 1976.

Prime Minister John Howard says there is no reason the figures cannot go even lower. "I start this news conference by declaring this day a wonderful day for the workers of Australia," he said. "For the first time since 1976 the unemployment rate in Australia has fallen below 5 per cent and this is a wonderful symbol of the success of the Government's economic policies."

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Pawns in the game of love

One of Australia's best female chess players is at the centre of a scandal in the normally sedate sport, apparently provoking a jealous clash between two grand masters on an Italian dance floor. Arianne Caoili, 19, was jiving with Armenian chess star Levon Aronian in a Turin nightclub when an English rival, Danny Gormally, performed an unorthodox and aggressive opening gambit.

Teammates at the World Chess Olympiad say Gormally moved in and sent the 23-year-old Armenian, a World Cup winner, sprawling across the floor of the nightclub. It's not known what happened to Caoili, Australia's No. 3, who is also ranked No. 7 on the World Chess Beauty Contest website, to which players apply to join.

But now Gormally, 30, who is said to have been in email contact with Caoili before the Olympiad, may face action from the game's ruling body. "The bottom line is this is just a little incident in a nightclub where unfortunately Danny probably had a drink too many and obviously saw someone dancing with a girl he liked and either hit or tried to hit them," said England team captain Allan Beardsworth. "The guy he tried to hit was the world number three."

Gormally, ranked six in Britain, was "gutted" when he awoke the following morning to realise what he had done, and left the event early. "I found the head of the delegation and the translator and had a good chat. He was fine with it, he rang Aronian and he was glad I had been in touch," Beardsworth said "We apologised then and the next day when I saw Levon we shook hands and he was great. He realised it was just a drinking incident."

However, while the apologies were being accepted, Aronian's teammates spotted Danny and "unfortunately gave him a punch or two", said Beardsworth. But, he added: "Once they knew I had already apologised they came to find me to apologise back to me. It was all very friendly." "Danny is a nice, normal guy. When he woke up and realised he'd done something really stupid, he knew he had to leave."

Armenia won the Olympiad, while the English came 19th. Caoili has not commented since the events at the Olympiad's "Bermuda" party. But the young Australian of Filipino descent appears intent on enjoying life. An aspiring professional singer, Caoili lists among "likes" on her website "getting up to no good", fine food (and fine boys), Johnny Depp, vodka, red wine, Kahlua, dwarfs and the odd Cuban cigar. While nominating Latin dancing and ice-skating, Caoili also lists literature, languages, psychology, politics, history, philosophy and revolutionary thought among her interests. Her ambitions include studying law and political science, and completing a jazz and blues album.


Another triumph of socialized medicine

A Queensland farmhand was forced to deliver his dead baby in a car beside the road after his wife - having her first child - was turned away from their local hospital and told to drive to another facility three hours away. An investigation has been ordered into why 34-week pregnant Sharon Walker, 35, was not provided with an ambulance for the 270km journey from Emerald to Rockhampton, in central Queensland, and why she was turned away when the hospital knew she was in labour. The examining doctor had warned her that it would probably be a breech birth because the baby had turned in the womb.

Two hours into the trip, the mother's waters broke and the baby's father, Steven Walker, had no option but to deliver the baby son he knew was dead. "Sharon was in pain and was pushing, and I was just there gripping this little baby tight and the thought came over me that this was my son I was pulling out," Mr Walker said yesterday. My panic was starting to rise. When I looked down and I was holding his foot, and he just looked like a really good little baby - it just gutted me. "But most of all I knew that I should not be there, that Sharon should not be going through this."

Mrs Walker said she was feeling pains on the morning of May 16 and rang the nearby Emerald hospital. The midwife told her to come in straight away. She was examined and told there was no heartbeat. The hospital rang her husband and informed him, and said Mrs Walker had to be driven the three hours to Rockhampton because she was "high risk". The doctor gave her a letter for the Rockhampton medical staff in which he said Mrs Walker had dilated 2cm and that it would probably be a breech birth.

State Opposition frontbencher Vaughan Johnson raised the issue yesterday in Parliament, asking Health Minister Stephen Robinson if this was the sort of treatment women could expect under his Government. Mr Robinson said an investigation had been ordered, but later issued a press release in which he said a decision was made by clinical staff at Emerald for the patient to travel to Rockhampton, and that labour commenced in transit. Mrs Walker denied that yesterday, saying she was having pains seven minutes apart at Emerald, and the doctor had said in his referral letter that she was already dilating. "What I don't understand is why an ambulance was not ordered when they knew I was giving birth," she said. "I knew we couldn't make it and I yelled at Steven to pull over because I could feel the baby coming. "He stopped at a little store, raced in and screamed to call an ambulance, came out, tore my clothes off and he could see the feet already."

Mr Walker said he was "operating on adrenalin but was unable to pull the baby's head out. "I was afraid I would lose Sharon. We knew the baby was dead, but I didn't want to lose them both," he said. The ambulance arrived and officers helped deliver the baby. "We were put in the ambulance and the baby was wrapped in a blanket and put in with us," Mrs Walker said. "He was a beautiful, fully formed little boy. We named him Marshall Henry Walker, and held a funeral service for him in Rockhampton two days later. "I never want this to happen to anybody else."


Leave politics out of poetry: dean

He says "Theory" is old hat now anyway

High school English is being turned into a political science course with its emphasis on neo-Marxist and deconstructivist analysis of literature. Addressing the Lowy Institute for International Policy on links between Milton and the terrorist mind, the dean of humanities at Australian National University, Simon Haines, said English teachers felt the need to give poetry and literature "political roughage" to make it relevant to students. "Make it a literature course, not a disguised political science course," he urged.

Dr Haines holds a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University and is a former diplomat, analyst with the Office of National Assessments and was chairman for three years of the OECD budget committee before pursuing a career in academia. He rejected the need to wrap literature in political relevancy, saying any high school student could relate to the emotional themes portrayed by writers such as Milton and Shakespeare.

Referring to reports in The Australian about a Year 11 English assignment asking students to examine Shakespeare's Othello from a feminist, Marxist or racial perspective, Dr Haines said teachers seemed to feel that poetry had to be wrapped in a political or theoretical package. "I'm never quite sure whether they think poetry is much too hard, obscure and unpalatable for the kiddies if it's not made relevant and tasty, or they're scared poetry is too soft and mushy and needs some hard political roughage to make it good for them -- to produce better outcomes, as they say in WA," he said. "There's nothing either soft or obscure about jealousy, or suspicion, or malignant scheming, which are the themes of Othello. "As we all know, these things are around us all the time; they're some of the most basic contours of life."

After his address, Dr Haines said the deconstructive theory taught in school English courses had been replaced in universities about 15 years ago. "In literature, there has been a very powerful historical reaction against those theories ... there's been a return to the historical contextualising of literature," Dr Haines said. He believed part of the problem was the lack of contact teachers had with universities after they had graduated.

The other problem lay in seeing education as distinct from the subjects taught at school. "The more you split education as a qualification on its own away from the actual disciplines that you are teaching in the classroom, the greater the risk you lose control," Dr Haines said. "This is what happened in Western Australia (where a gradeless curriculum built on the principles of outcomes-based education is being introduced). You lose a hold on the core of the discipline, whether it's literature, languages or music. "Instead you replace it with the ideology of education or an ideology of society, which is putting the cart before the horse."

While there was nothing wrong in looking at literature such as Othello from feminist and racist points of view, focusing on those political preconceptions in Years 11 and 12 was also "putting the cart before the horse". "It's premature," Dr Haines said. "It's better starting with what a Year 12 student would share with the play, those emotional aspects that are direct personal links between them and the play."


8 June 2006

Australian PM firmly against homosexual marriage

Prime Minister John Howard said today he had scuttled the ACT's homosexual unions law because it challenged a major characteristic of Australian society. "The Bill is plainly an attempt to mimic marriage under the misleading title of civil unions," Mr Howard told ABC radio. "We are not anti-homosexual people or gay and lesbian people, it is not a question of discriminating against them, it is a question of preserving as an institution in our society marriage as having a special character."

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said he would try to stop the Government using their constitutional powers to quash the territory's law. "Kerry Nettle on behalf of the Greens will move (a) disallowance (motion) in the Senate and that means there will be a vote, following a debate," Senator Brown told ABC radio. But Labor, which the Greens need for their motion to succeed, has not immediately offered their support to the plan. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said he would look at the ACT legislation before making a decision. "We will take a careful look at what the ACT has come out with and we will determine our position on the basis of that analysis," Mr Beazley told ABC radio.

Earlier, the ACT Government condemned the decision to overturn the territory laws, vowing to take its fight to the Governor-General. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock emerged from a cabinet meeting yesterday with a directive to the Governor-General to use Commonwealth powers to scrap the territory laws before they could be used. The ACT Parliament voted just three weeks ago to allow gay couples to enter into a civil union, with almost the same status as marriage. But Prime Minister John Howard said it was unacceptable that the laws would have equated civil unions with marriage.

ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said he would lobby his federal Labor colleagues and Governor-General Michael Jeffery not accept the Howard Government's decision. "I can make representations to the governor-general imploring him not to be party to an act that would discriminate against Australian citizens who have a different sexual orientation," Mr Stanhope told ABC radio. "I would be gravely disappointed if my federal colleagues, in the Labor Party did not seek at least - acknowledging the numbers in the Federal Parliament - to have the disallowable instrument disallowed. "It is simply not appropriate that federal parliament, through its processes, send that signal that the Federal Parliament of Australia believes it's appropriate to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples." Mr Stanhope said he was angry and disappointed by Cabinet's decision and accused the Government of conjuring a "wedge issue". "The Prime Minister, I believe, is simply using another marginalised, disempowered group for his, I think, quite odious political purposes," he said.

Federal Parliament, with Labor's support, voted in 2004 to explicitly define marriage in the Marriage Act as a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. Mr Ruddock said that even with amendments to the civil union laws designed to address federal concerns, the ACT was still being deliberately confrontational.

The Federal Opposition's attorney-general spokeswoman Nicola Roxon urged Coalition MPs to reject the move and said she would urge caucus to disallow it. "This is another stunning example of the Howard Government's arrogance, riding roughshod over the democratically elected ACT legislature," she said. The Australian Greens said they would also oppose the Government's "discriminatory" decision. "John Howard is yet again exposing his homophobic attitude towards some members of our community," Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said. The Federal Government's decision follows a push by United States President George W. Bush for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.


Turtle blocks $11 billion gas project

A little-known turtle has blocked - at least for now - Western Australia's much vaunted $11 billion Gorgon LNG project. WA's Environmental Protection Authority said today the huge gas export project on Barrow Island off WA's far north coast was environmentally unacceptable mainly because of the risk to the rare and threatened flatback turtle. It is the second time the EPA has rejected the Gorgon proposal, which was first rejected in July 2003. But WA Cabinet overrode the EPA decision in September 2003, allowing restricted access to Barrow Island to the project which is forecast to provide 6000 jobs and boost Australia's gross domestic product (GDP) by $2 billion.

Today EPA chairman Wally Cox said subsequent work done by the Gorgon joint venture partners - ExxonMobil, Shell and project operator Chevron - had highlighted the land and marine conservation values of the island and surrounding waters. "Flatback turtles in particular would be put at risk from the proposal with two of the most important nesting beaches located adjacent to the proposed LNG processing plant site and the materials off-loading facility," Dr Cox said. "There is very little science available on the life-cycle, behaviour and feeding habits of flatback turtles and as a consequence it is not possible at this time to identify management measures that would ensure ongoing survival of this Pilbara flatback turtle population. "As a result, the proposal in its present form cannot meet the EPA's environmental objectives and is considered environmentally unacceptable."

Flatback adult turtles shells grow up to 99cm and weigh about 90kg. They live in bays, coastal shallow reefs and grassy shallows and eat sea cucumbers, jellyfish, molluscs, prawns, other invertebrates and seaweed. Dr Cox also said the partners had not been able to demonstrate risk could be reduced to satisfactory levels in areas such as dredging and the introduction of non-indigenous species.

The Gorgon field has enough gas to power a city of one million people for more than 800 years and there has been enough reserves set aside to power WA for 40 years. Gorgon LNG is one of seven big gas projects - worth an estimated total of $50 billion - being considered for development in WA. The joint venture partners are due to make a final investment decision on the project towards the end of the year or early in 2007. The EPA recommendation will now be sent to the state and federal environment ministers with a ministerial decision due towards the end of the year.


Note the following comment from a nature site:

"Though we don't know for certain, the flatback turtle is probably the least threatened sea turtle with an annual nesting population of up to 10,000. It can be found near Indonesia and Papua New Guinea but only breeds on the north and northeastern coasts of Australia."

Public hospital negligence in Victoria

A top Victorian surgeon has blamed communication and system failures at the Royal Children's Hospital for a medical disaster that left a baby brain-damaged. Prof Paddy Dewan told a medical inquiry yesterday he was astounded not only that a toxic glucose dose was put in the boy's drip, but also that the treatment continued unchecked. The pediatric surgeon labelled the child's case an "unbelievable scenario" compounded by an overlap of medical and surgical unit care.

The Medical Practitioners' Board of Victoria is investigating unprofessional conduct claims against three doctors in the wake of the tragedy. Dr Lea Lee Foo, Dr Shobha Iyer and Dr David Tickell face potential penalties ranging from counselling to deregistration if found guilty. Dr Foo is accused of ordering the wrong intravenous drip fluid solution. The two others are accused of failing to properly examine the child and check his fluid treatment. The doctors deny being unprofessional.

The disciplinary hearing has been told the baby, who cannot be identified, suffered permanent brain damage after he was given a glucose solution 10 times stronger than advised. The boy was admitted suffering vomiting and was diagnosed with an abdominal problem that needed routine surgery. The drip was inserted in the early hours of September 19, 2001.

Prof Dewan said he had discussed the baby's condition and treatment with the boy's father, Dr Foo, registrar Dr Gehan Roberts and at least one nurse for up to an hour. It was agreed 50 per cent glucose would be added to an intravenous drip mix to make up a 5 per cent solution. Instead, the baby was given a 50 per cent glucose concentration. "To give an infusion of 50 per cent dextrose is a toxic solution and that was not the order that I gave," Prof Dewan said. He believed the registrar clearly understood the instruction, but conceded the junior doctor may have been confused.

Asked about a program the hospital had brought in to encourage staff to speak up about concerns, Prof Dewan replied: "Junior staff and nurses are not going to speak up if they see a professor getting fired for doing so." The hospital sacked Prof Dewan three years ago after the board decided his relationship with surgeons had deteriorated beyond repair. Before his sacking, he aired allegations about patient safety risks.

Nurse Jayne Morrison told yesterday's inquiry she held up a piece of paper to Dr Foo to confirm it was the right order, but did not discuss it.


Arrogant Victoria police refuse to accept high-quality ID

What hope does that give the rest of us? Do we now need to be tattooed to identify ourselves? At least they didn't shoot anybody this time, I suppose

Police say they would arrest the wrong person again after a set of "incredible coincidences" in their hunt for a con woman. Jodie Symes, 35, of Melbourne, was hauled off a flight to Sydney on Sunday after airline staff mistakenly identified her as wanted con artist Jodie Harris, who has taunted police and posed as a doctor and airline flight attendant to trick female victims. Mrs Symes was arrested by police and held for three hours before detectives verified she was not Harris, who is wanted for fraud in three states.

The officer in charge of the hunt for Harris, Senior Sergeant Glenn Davies of Victorian police, has defended his team, blaming "incredible coincidences" for the mistake. Mrs Symes had been carrying identification in different surnames and shared a first name, looks and even the position of her tattoos with Harris, Sergeant Davies said. "She was recognised by security staff at Jetstar through information supplied," he said. "She had many similarities with the person we are looking for, and the fact she had different identifications in the name of Jodie further heightened our suspicions. "She looks similar, her hair was dyed and she had tattoos which were in the same positions as the person we are looking for. "Also, [there is the] modus operandi of the person. "[Harris is] an identity thief who disguises herself, and is a cunning manipulative person with a history of conning authorities, including police."

But Mrs Symes is seething over the incident. She said she was dozing on the plane while waiting for it to take off when three uniformed officers woke her. "[They said] 'Excuse me, ma'am,' [and] basically asked me to grab my luggage and exit the plane. I was thinking], 'My god. What has happened?' '' The police took her back into the terminal and told her they suspected she was Harris. Mrs Symes showed them her driving licence as well as photocopies of her birth certificate, marriage certificate and divorce papers, which she was carrying with her. "They then told me that wasn't good enough. They believed me to be this Jodie Harris and placed me under arrest as being her and I was read my rights. "One of the police officers said, 'Do I need to handcuff you? Are you going to do a runner?' "I looked at him and just said, 'You've got to be joking. No.' ''

"I burst into tears when they started reading my rights because I thought I don't know how else to prove who I am.'' She was then placed in the back of a police van and taken to a Melbourne police station where she was held for several hours. Police then looked at a tattoo on her ankle and thought they definitely had the con woman. "They claimed she had exactly the same ankle tattoo as myself.'' She then showed them a tattoo on her hip, which did not match those on Harris's body. "After showing a female detective a [tattoo] on my hip, about 10 minutes later or so she came in and was very apologetic about the mix-up that happened.''

More here

7 June 2006

Bingle in photo bungle

Tourism model Lara Bingle will take her defamation case against a men's magazine to the Federal Court later this month. Bingle appeared on the front cover of Zoo Weekly and featured in a beach shoot wearing five different bikinis in March. But the model claims she never approved the spread, which used revealing photographs taken 11 months earlier, when she was largely unknown. In addition to a breach of copyright, the model claims the magazine defamed her by implying she consented to pose in a G-string bikini for the magazine. Her lawyer, Daudi Sibtain, today said the defamation case also applied to the use of the photographs in promotional material. "It arises out of the production of certain material in magazines and in certain related promotional material," he told the Federal Court.


Thuggish Leftist leader gets kid-glove treatment

Former federal opposition leader Mark Latham has been placed on a two-year good behaviour bond, with no conviction recorded, for maliciously damaging a digital camera. Mr Latham, 44, pleaded guilty to the malicious damage charge in Campbelltown Local Court today after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dropped other charges of assault and stealing.

The charges arose from an incident involving photographer Ross Schultz, employed by News Limited, the parent company of the publisher of, at a fast food outlet in Campbelltown, in Sydney's south-west, on January 19 this year.

Magistrate Michael Stoddart today took into account Mr Latham had no prior criminal record and that he had entered a plea of guilty to the malicious damage charge at the earliest possible opportunity. "The photographer concerned was out of line," Mr Stoddart said. "One can understand Mark Latham's (concern) in relation to his children being photographed, as any responsible parent would." "But Mark Latham's conduct was way out of line. He certainly overstepped the mark in relation to the photographer."

The one-time prime ministerial aspirant had been facing one count of assault on Shultz and stealing his digital camera, as well as the charge of maliciously damaging or destroying the camera. Prosecutor David Stewart amended the remaining charge against Mr Latham to reflect a reduction in the value of the digital camera from $9000 to $6763.70. Mr Latham's barrister Clive Steirn then handed the court a cheque for $6763.70 in compensation for the camera.

Mr Steirn argued that Schultz's conduct was tantamount to stalking, and that Mr Latham had no criminal record. Mr Latham, dressed in a blue pin-striped suit, white shirt and blue tie, remained silent throughout the hearing. He sat next to several schoolchildren in the court's public gallery before his matter was called.


Queensland eco-dream ends with whimper

The Rocky Point power plant has been sold for one-twelfth of what it has cost the publicly-owned Stanwell Corporation to keep it running. Investment bank Babcock & Brown found $5 million in small change for the co-generation plant in the same week it forked out $317 million for the South Australian assets of US company NRG.

Once one of the poster projects for the Labor Government, Rocky Point was quietly sold off last week with only a statement on the Stanwell website. The plant initially was to supply green electricity to 10,000 households as well as steam and electricity to industrial users, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 tonnes per year. But it has been plagued by operational problems and faced environmental fines for allowing contaminated water to be dumped in the Logan River, killing fish.

The problems with water supply and fuel forced the directors to start writing down the value of the plant since it was commissioned in February 2002. In June, 2002, $18.9 million was dropped off the value, another $18.2 million in 2003 and another $10.7 million last June, making the plant worth $7.5 million. In an announcement on its website, which now does not feature any information about Rocky Point, Stanwell said the sale would let it concentrate on bigger projects.

Babcock is looking to raise $2.9 billion to invest in energy projects. It already has a sizeable amount of cash, buying the South Australian assets of US-based NRG on Friday for $317 million to add to its 3000 megawatt worth of energy assets. A spokeswoman for Babcock said the bank would put more money into Rocky Point, which it bought in a joint venture with US company National Power. "We don't tend to take passive investments. We will try to pull the business into profitability," she said.

Stanwell said in a statement it would concentrate on developing large scale energy projects. Its major project is the coal-fired 1400 megawatt Stanwell power station near Rockhampton and it runs hydro power stations and wind farms. Energy Minister John Mickel, one of the shareholding ministers, said in a statement yesterday the price paid was the market value after a tender process. Stanwell confirmed 11 potential buyers were sent an information memorandum in May 2003 with four bids received in June of which two developed into conditional binding offers.

Mr Mickel described the plant as a learning experience and Stanwell overall was operating at a profit. "At the time of its commissioning, Rocky Point was a pioneering plant," he said. "It has provided Stanwell, the Queensland Government and the wider biomass co-generation industry with valuable knowledge and experience." Stanwell also said its probity audit report confirmed chairman Elizabeth Nosworthy - who also is the deputy chairman of Babcock & Brown - did not have a conflict of interest as she did not take part in negotiations for the sale.


His Eminence steps up the war of words on Islam

The country's most influential Catholic has offended Islamic leaders for the second time in a month by declaring Islam more warlike than Christianity.

Australia had not been much changed by the rising Islamic threat after September 11, 2001, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, said. But this could change depending "on how many terrorist attacks" Islamic extremists could "bring off successfully". The million-dollar question" was whether intolerance was a modern distortion of Islam or arose out of internal logic. "It's difficult to find periods of tolerance in Islam. I'm not saying they're not there, but a good deal of what is asserted is mythical."

Dr Pell's comments came in an interview in Rome with John L. Allen, a well-regarded correspondent of National Catholic Reporter. Allen suggested that under the new Pope, Benedict XVI, a more hawkish climate has developed and Islam is being directly challenged on issues of terrorism and religious freedom. Only last month Dr Pell stirred controversy when he asserted that the Koran was riddled with "invocations to violence", and Islam was not a tolerant religion.

Keysar Trad of the Islamic Friendship Association said Dr Pell's statement showed he had no understanding of Islam.


6 June 2006

Premiers squander windfall from taxes

The states have squandered a $50 billion windfall on higher wages for public servants instead of cutting taxes or investing in infrastructure. A new analysis, prepared by the Institute of Public Affairs, has found that since the GST was introduced in 2000, revenue distributed to the states has increased by more than 9 per cent a year, delivering an extra $22 billion to state governments. State tax revenue over the same period was $28 billion more than expected, with big increases in stamp duty from property sales contributing an extra $4.1 billion.

However, this unexpected revenue growth has been pumped into higher wages for bureaucrats and public servants rather than being invested in infrastructure and delivering a new reform agenda. The states' wage bill has been rising much faster than inflation for the past three years, with a big increase in the number of administrators, leading the report to question the states' commitment to improving frontline services. "The main focus of the states' spending spree has been public servant salaries," the report finds.

The report, published on the eve of the NSW and Queensland budgets, is highly critical of the states' waste of what it terms the "reform bonus". At the same time, spending on health and education has increased, waiting lists for elective surgery have grown and public school enrolments have fallen. [Because the money has gone on bureaucracy]

The report, "Opportunity squandered: how the states have wasted the reform bonus", by the IPA's Mike Nahan, found the states also secured the unexpected windfall without honouring an agreement to cut state taxes when the GST was introduced. "The funds received in the form of higher-than-expected GST payments alone have been sufficient to have allowed all states to meet their tax-cutting commitments under the inter-governmental agreement," the report states. "But so far, none has done so."

As NSW Premier Morris Iemma prepares his first budget, the IPA report has found his Government has failed to invest the proceeds of state taxes and GST windfalls on infrastructure upgrades. The public service wage bill in NSW has increased by 8.9 per cent a year since July 2003, the report finds. "NSW, which has been the most aggressive on the tax front in terms of raising taxes and reluctance to meet its GST obligations to cut taxes, received a grant-tax windfall of $14.3billion - equivalent to 10.5 per cent more revenue than forecast at the time the GST deal was agreed," the report finds.

"The current crisis affecting NSW - declining revenue, budget deficit, public sector lay-offs, could spread to other states, with Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT being the most likely to follow suit, given their heavy dependence on conveyancing fees to fund large increases in wages."

State public servants' remuneration has been rising much faster than inflation in all states and territories since 2003. The ACT leads the way with an annual increase to the wage bill of 12.6 per cent, with Tasmania close behind at 11.3 per cent. The report also notes the growth in the size of the state public sector workforce. Overall, the ranks of state bureaucrats swelled by 11.7 per cent between November 1999 and November last year. "The states would argue that this spending was justified as it was used to attract and retain the best frontline professionals," the report says. "During this same period, however, the states increased their administrator or bureaucrat workforce by 44,000, or 30.5 per cent. Clearly, therefore, frontline staff have not been the states' sole focus."

Peter Costello said yesterday the IPA report underlined the risk that the states' lack of action was holding back economic progress. "The GST has brought a massive revenue windfall to the states," the Treasurer told The Australian. "This windfall could have gone to accelerating the abolition of agreed taxes, particularly stamp duties. "Far from accelerating, the states have lagged on the abolition of agreed taxes, keeping the windfall and delaying the abolition of offsetting taxes."

The states have traditionally justified the failure to eliminate or reduce state taxes on the grounds they need to invest in infrastructure or reform services. However, the report finds only Queensland and Victoria allocated a sizeable share of record GST and tax revenues to capital investment or debt reduction. Tasmania spent the entire windfall and NSW increased recurrent spending by more than its windfall from the GST and booming state tax receipts. "Since the introduction of the GST, the states and territories have experienced phenomenal, indeed record, growth in revenue - far in excess of the rate expected at the time the GST was introduced," the report finds. "The net result was that the states received $70 billion or about 14 per cent more revenue than expected over the first five years of the decade."

According to the report, payroll and land tax - the states' broadest-based taxes - grew on average by 6.9 per cent and 17.4 per cent over five years. However most of their revenue growth came from elsewhere. "Revenue from stamp duties on conveyances grew over the period by a massive 73.3 per cent or by $4.1 billion," the report states. "Revenue from stamp duties on insurance grew by 63.7 per cent over the period, thanks primarily to the inflation in insurance prices following the collapse of HIH, the imposition of the GST." While the states had forecast a 3.2 per cent increase in revenue, the GST grant income had risen by 10.7 per cent. The GST is expected to generate an extra $14 billion for the states over the next five years. The GST has entrenched the commonwealth as the states' "paymaster", assuming direct responsibility for collecting 45 per cent of state revenue, according to the report.


Another case of unionists destroying their own jobs

The Melbourne company at the centre of the "smirk worker" sackings has gone into voluntary administration and faces liquidation. Finlay Engineering caused headlines in April after three staff were sacked, one allegedly for smirking at owner Jim Sutton during a meeting. Another staff member claims to have been sacked for defending his colleague, and a third said they were sacked for being ill on the day of the meeting. The three workers were later rehired after hundreds of community activists picketed the building to protest about the move.

At the time, Mr Sutton said the action ruined his West Heidelberg company and it would only be a matter of time before Finlay Engineering went broke. "We have gone into administration because we decided it just wasn't worth carrying on," Mr Sutton said today. He said the company, which made automotive components, had been around for more than 50 years. Mr Sutton said the company was facing liquidation because, with high amounts of worker absenteeism, it was unprofitable. He said Finlay Engineering was in administration 21 months ago and traded its way out of difficulties, but that was unlikely this time. A meeting with creditors today would decide whether the company should go into liquidation and sell its assets, he said.

Last month, the company again drew protests from the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) after claims of bullying. The union said management enlisted Channel Nine's A Current Affair to harass staff by filming them at work unwillingly. AMWU secretary Dave Oliver said staff had tried to keep the company going and had agreed to a five-year wage freeze. Mr Oliver said workers were owed $1.2 million from the company and that the AMWU would fight for their entitlements.

Mr Sutton said Finlay would sell its assets in a bid to pay all those owed money, but that he did not know whether it would be possible. "The main thing was my doctor told me to get out. I have two sons. They were going to take over, but now they don't really want to," he said.


Crazy Greenie-inspired use of dammed water

Dam water is used to keep rivers flowing while severe restrictions are placed on water use by people

Severe water restrictions were introduced in Canberra because more than half its supplies were pumped into rivers downstream. A report from the Canberra branch of Engineers Australia said environmental flows last year from two key reservoirs to maintain the Cotter and Queanbeyan rivers had "seriously reduced the total quantity of water held in reservoirs". "As a result, it has been necessary to impose severe restrictions on water used by ACT and region consumers," the report said.

Since the report was written, the ACT has come out of the drought, the Government has reduced its environmental flows, making more water available to the community, and water has been sent from the Cotter River to the Googong River. A spokeswoman for Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said yesterday: "A lot has changed since then." A 2004 ACT Government report found that the ACT was allocating more than half of its total water resources to environmental flows, providing an average of 272 gigalitres to the environment out of the average 494 gigalitres available.

Engineers Australia, which represents 27,000 engineers, said that the release of such large quantities for environmental purposes had a serious impact on the ACT's water resources and called for additional storage facilities to address the issue. "The current need for water restrictions arises from the fact that since January 2000, flows in the Cotter and Queanbeyan Rivers have been very much less than average, with the result that storage in the reservoirs has been substantially depleted," the report said.

Since 2000, the ACT has faced the threat of water restrictions more often than any other Australian town or city, the report said. "We are concerned regarding the impact these releases have had on the supply of water to residents of the ACT and region which has resulted in the need over a period of two years to restrict water supply to households," it said. The group recommended to a meeting of the Environmental Engineering Society that additional water storage facilities be built as a matter of urgency.


More stupid government penny-pinching

Queensland taxpayers are paying millions extra for costly open-heart surgery because of restrictions on more cost-effective preventative heart operations. In its latest Australian hospital statistics 2004-05 report released last week, the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare said Queensland hospitals were performing 20 per cent fewer operations to prevent heart attacks and 17 per cent more operations to treat heart attacks compared with other states.

Historical under-funding and quotas placed on hospitals and doctors from performing less-expensive coronary angioplasty operations have been blamed by medical groups for what they say is a "backward" situation. They say patients prevented from having an angioplasty often end up needing more expensive coronary bypass operations which also have greater risks. Cardiac Society of Australia Queensland president Con Aroney said his group had been warning about the imbalance for years. He said there were significant differences between the two operations.

Dr Aroney said coronary angioplasty was a less expensive and less invasive form of surgery done through keyhole-type incisions in the groin rather than opening the chest. "It involves unblocking arteries using a catheter procedure rather than using open-heart surgery to do a bypass," he said. "The costs are very different - from several thousand dollars for an angioplasty compared with tens of thousands for open heart."

"Angioplasties are recognised around the world as the most contemporary and effective form of treatment for heart disease," Queensland Health chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said. Australian Medical Association Queensland president Zelle Hodge said it was fair to say that patients that "need an angioplasty and don't have it, will be more likely to need a bypass". "It is very important that people who could be treated by angioplasty are done so," Dr Hodge said.


5 June 2006

Labor man admits support for tyrant

A millionaire Victorian businessman who has vowed unswerving loyalty to a Middle Eastern dictator is almost certain to take a Labor seat in Victoria's Parliament. Syrian-Australian trucking boss Khalil Eideh has been chosen by Labor to run for one of its safest Upper House seats in November. But the Sunday Herald Sun has seen two letters from Mr Eideh to the Syrian Government warning of Zionist threats, reporting to the terror-sponsor regime on Australians and pledging "absolute loyalty" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria has been condemned by the US and the UN for "supporting terrorist groups" and was accused of involvement in the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In an Arab newspaper in 2002, Mr Eideh wrote "Satan brigades are getting ready to enslave the Arab world", praising "Arab martyrs". The would-be MP has a wife in Melbourne, but in Lebanon he has a second female partner -- of whom his wife approves.

While admitting to authorising the letters to Syria, Mr Eideh yesterday denied any extremist views and said he abhorred terrorism. "My first loyalty is to Australia, but, of course, with a Syrian background I like Syria," Mr Eideh said. The revelations will reverberate through the Government and Labor. The ALP said yesterday it would investigate the matter.

In an October, 2002 letter to President Assad -- a few months before the start of the war in Iraq -- the magnate highlighted threats of "Zionist and colonial attacks on the Arab nation". It concluded: "Loyalty, total loyalty to your wise and brave leadership, and we promise to remain faithful soldiers behind your victorious leadership." In another letter, to the Syrian Government in June, 2001, Mr Eideh states: "The Syrian influence in Melbourne, Australia, is completely absent and doesn't play any role in the Australian political arena." He also reported on members of the Syrian-Australian community, saying they attended a lunch hosted by friends of former senator Edward Obeid, who he said "harbour ill will towards the Syrian Arab republic".

ALP sources say Mr Eideh has Premier Steve Bracks's backing. [Bracks is Lebanese] Mr Eideh is managing director of trucking giant Blue Star Logistics, which sponsors Collingwood and Essendon football clubs. Close friends include federal frontbencher Lindsay Tanner, senator Kim Carr and state MP Liz Beattie. He lives in Roxburgh Park with wife Souad, but has a relationship with Maha, in her early 30s, in Lebanon. Mr Eideh yesterday said he had nothing for which to apologise. Of his declaration of "absolute loyalty" to Syria's dictator, he said: "What we mean by that is we support the president with the reform to get rid of corruption in Syria."


Homosexuality promoted in Victorian schools

Victorian schools are being advised to dump the words "mother" and "father" by a controversial new teachers manual that promotes the cause of same-sex parents. Out of sensitivity to same-sex parent families, teachers should use "parent" or "carer" instead, the manual states. Schools should also put up posters of gay celebrities in schools and not use gender-specific toys, the free Learn to Include teacher's manual urges. It also suggests pupils as young as five should act out scenarios in which they have two mums and have discussions about discrimination. The contentious manual, used in dozens of Victorian schools, is aimed at teachers of prep to year 3 pupils.

Victoria's Department of Education and Training has invited the editor of the manual, Vicki Harding, to promote it to principals and teachers at a taxpayer-funded conference in Melbourne next month. Ms Harding will advise teachers about using the manual and children's books she has written about children with two mums or two dads. Education Services Minister Jacinta Allan will address the conference.

The manual's classroom worksheets include a fill-in-the-word exercise about a child who climbs a tree while the youngster's "two mums" work in the garden. The manual suggests - to help children respect diversity - teachers "include pictures of notable lesbians and gay men among images around the school" and use "gender neutral play materials". Children should also be offered stories, games and television programs that show "people in various forms of relationships", it states.

The State Opposition claimed Ms Harding's invitation to the conference proved the State Government endorsed the guide. "Parents don't send their children to school expecting them to receive those sorts of lessons," Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said. "It is political correctness gone mad ... (and) the Government is endorsing it." Family Council of Victoria spokesman Bill Muehlenberg said parents would find the manual "reprehensible".

Department spokeswoman Melissa Arch said schools were free to decide whether to use the manual. "It is not something the department imposes over them," she said. Ms Allan's spokesman, Tim Mitchell, said the Government did not endorse the use of the guide.


Leftist NSW teachers at work

They want failing students to stay that way

School reports that will grade students on a scale of A to E for the first time this year are in doubt, with teachers threatening a widespread revolt. Nearly 11,000 teachers from 800 public schools have written to the Minister for Education, Carmel Tebbutt, saying they need more time to prepare the reports. They are strongly opposed to using the A-to-E grading scale, saying it will brand very young children a failure and alienate them from the education system.

The NSW Teachers Federation will present a report on teacher submissions to its 300 delegates in Sydney today, along with a survey that found fewer than half of schools had received sample copies of the proposed reports. The federation's president, Maree O'Halloran, said teachers had overwhelmingly rejected the reports mandated by state and federal governments. "Teachers across the state have told the minister the reporting requirements are not good enough, that they are educationally unsound," she said. "What this means is that the minister is facing a massive revolt and that those schools will not be implementing the reports." Ms O'Halloran said just under 200 teachers had indicated their support for the reports, but the remaining 10,800 teachers wanted the format to change before they would implement it.

A federation survey of 322 schools so far has found that only 47 per cent had copies of the proposed reports and 13 per cent said that no teacher had copies. Most of the schools said they were concerned about the use of the scale and its mandatory use this year. Teachers argue that they will need until next year to properly implement the new reports.

The NSW-ACT Independent Education Union general secretary, Dick Shearman, said teachers in private schools shared the concerns. Completion of the reports this year using the grading scale was a condition of schools receiving federal funding, he said. "Most of our schools have completed the reports, but it caused teachers a great deal of anguish," Mr Shearman said. "The validity and integrity of the reports is compromised when you force them in quickly, impose unreasonable guidelines and tie funding to it."

Ms Tebbutt said she had received positive feedback on the new system from schools. "I don't get the sense that there is a strong negativity behind the need for greater consistency in reporting," she said. "We announced the reports in August last year to allow sufficient time for their implementation to meet federal requirements. We are not going to jeopardise the federal funding we receive by delaying implementation." Ms Tebbutt said the Department of Education would continue to offer support to teachers in the form of information sessions, new software and advice from the NSW Board of Studies on how to achieve greater consistency in reporting. She said sample reports were available on the internet.

Kindergarten pupils, those with significant learning disabilities and children with English as a second language would have written reports instead of a grade. "We will continue to talk to the federation about the concerns they have," Ms Tebbutt said. "We are committed to our implementation plan. These reports are going to provide clear and concise information on a student's achievement. Parents need that information to know how their child is performing."


Australian water restrictions now severe

Failure to build dams now biting

The water shortage in southeast Queensland reached crisis point yesterday with the announcement that tough new restrictions would be introduced on June 13. Under the new Level 3 restrictions, residents of Brisbane and most of the southeast region will only be able to use buckets and watering cans to water their gardens and wash their cars. Under the Level 2 restrictions now in place, sprinklers are banned but residents can use hand-held water hoses on alternate days.

SEQWater chief executive Peter Burrows said that based on the expected consumption rates, the region's three main water storages - the Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine dams - would drop to 30 per cent of capacity just before the June 10-12 Queen's Birthday long weekend. Mr Burrows said the combined level of the three dams was down to 30.24 per cent yesterday. The dam levels had been dropping between 1 per cent and 2 per cent over the past month. Storage capacity was expected to hit 30 per cent next Friday or Saturday.

Sprinklers are also banned in Sydney, but hand-held hosing of lawns and gardens and drip irrigation is allowed on Wednesdays and Sundays before 10am and after 4pm. Under permanent water restrictions introduced in Melbourne in March last year, hand-held hosing is allowed at any time and sprinklers can be used between 10pm and 10am.

The Level 3 announcement in southeast Queensland sparked a row between the state Government and Opposition over plans to use recycled water. Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said southeast Queensland residents could be drinking recycled sewage water in two years under a secret state government plan. He said the Beattie Government planned to use a proposed western corridor pipeline for recycled water to pump treated effluent into the Somerset and Wivenhoe dams.

But Peter Beattie said it was not government policy to send recycled water into dams. The Premier said the Government and local councils believed the western corridor recycled water scheme could initially supply the Swanbank and Tarong Power stations, and could later be used for industry and agriculture. But in a joint statement, Mr Beattie and Water Minister Henry Palaszczuk did not rule out the possibility of using recycled water in dams. "Any council plan to put water into dams will need to be (put) first to the community as part of a full and transparent debate," Mr Palaszczuk said.


4 June 2006

Postcode of pride or a symbol of provocation?

They've emblazoned their cars and homes with Australian flags, the Eureka Stockade Flag and the Southern Cross. Now the youths of Cronulla and surrounding suburbs have started tattooing their postcodes across their neck, chest, back and limbs in defiant reaction to the Cronulla riots. Local tattooists yesterday said they had inked the postcodes of Cronulla (2230), Caringbah (2229), Engadine (2233) and Miranda (2228) on more than 100 men and teenagers since last December's violence.

And it seems many going under the needle have been motivated by a mixture of pride and provocation. The postcodes are being accompanied by Australian and Eureka stockade flags and the Southern Cross. Customers are paying about $100 a tattoo, depending on size.

Cronulla tattooist Chuck Sekulla said he had inked five postcodes a week on average since the riots - with many customers adamant the marks were a response to retaliatory attacks. Mr Sekulla had little doubt there was an element of provocation. "With a lot of them it's a case of up yours [to outsiders]," he said. Another tattooist, Rev, told The Daily Telegraph the trend was no surprise. "They're always getting Southern Crosses tattooed but since the riot it's been crazy," he added."People haven't forgotten."

Local Nathan Bames, 23, is one of dozens to emblazon the 2230 postcode on his right leg in the wake of racial tension at the beach. But the shopfitter was adamant his "tatt" was simply a show of local pride. "I've lived here my whole life and we don't want to stand for this anymore," he said. "It's just mateship, trying to keep our area positive."

Psychologist Dr Darryl Cross was alarmed at the underlying message of the tattoos, which he compared to being "like a line in the sand"."What they are trying to do is create solidarity among themselves," he said. "This is a huge bonding experience because they now have a cause which is etched into their skin." Inspector Rod Rae said police were unaware of the postcode tattoo explosion. "If I saw a lot kids starting to get the tattoos I would have concerns but I don't know of any," he said.

The above article is from Pg 13 of the Sydney "Daily Telegraph" of May 31 2006

Gradeless curriculum 'the way of the future'

Or so says the crazy Yugoslav in charge of Western Australian education. All students must be made equal! Tito would approve. Press report below:

The Education Minister in charge of implementing a gradeless curriculum in West Australian schools has come out fighting in defence of the new courses. Ljiljanna Ravlich conceded that the courses, described by John Howard as gobbledegook, "could have been more clear". She admitted it was wrong to name the new literature course Texts, Traditions and Cultures. And she said she did not agree with the Curriculum Council that a turntable was a musical instrument of equal merit to a violin. Yet she argued that the curriculum, developed on the principles of outcomes-based education, was the way of the future. "I know it's the right thing to do and I know it's for the right reason, and I can tell you it's a view that is shared by 30 other OECD nations, all of whom are moving towards an outcomes-based education," she said.

Under the new curriculum, all subjects are equal, meaning a top performance in cooking and dance could help a student into a university law degree, ahead of those who studied physics and chemistry.

Ms Ravlich admitted to problems in how the curriculum had been presented. "I do agree that (the language) could have been more simple and to the point," she said. "It is probably partly responsible for, I guess, feeding some of the misconceptions." But she insisted the courses would be implemented. "This has been a debate where there's been more of a focus from a small number of teachers, a minority of teachers who, for a variety of reasons, may be resistant to change," she said. Teachers have raised concerns a draft exam for the new English course did not require students to have read a novel, though one question required them to have read a book of some kind.

Ms Ravlich said she was satisfied that students had to read a book to pass the English course and said that, because the first Year 12 exams were 18 months away, there was time for changes to exams where needed. While a marking key for the draft English sample exam stated "student responses should not be penalised for poor spelling, punctuation, grammar or handwriting, unless these are elements ... specifically being assessed", Ms Ravlich said students must learn grammar, punctuation and sentence construction in the new course.

Ms Ravlich was yesterday enjoying a victory over the State School Teachers Union over the plan to roll out 17 of the new courses into Year 11 next year. While the union last week ordered teachers to treat the courses as voluntary, it has since learned that those who do so will deprive students of the opportunity to attend university, as the old courses will not be recognised.

Rather than dictating what students should know and grading them, outcomes-based education focuses on what students are able to do. It aims to shift the emphasis from teaching to learning and provide tools to pinpoint students' strengths and weaknesses. Teacher lobby group People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes claims the courses, in which students will be assessed on eight outcomes, lack detail, are too open to interpretation and make assessment subjective. But Ms Ravlich, 48, a Croatian-born former social studies teacher who has been the partner of state Treasurer Eric Ripper, 54, for more than a decade, though they maintain separate homes, said she believed firmly in the principles.


Baby boom

Two years after Treasurer Peter Costello beseeched Australian women to have one for the country, new figures show the number of children born last year reached a 13-year high. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show 261,400 births were registered in the year ended December 31, 2005, an increase of 2.4 per cent, or 6200 babies, on 2004. The natural increase in population - births plus immigration minus deaths - was the highest for 11 years.

The figures delighted Mr Costello, who puffed with fatherly pride as he welcomed the new brood of Australian babies. "One for mum, one for dad, and one for the country - it was a light-hearted way of making a serious point," he said of his comments at the 2004 budget. "I am delighted that at least some families have been taking up the challenge."

The Howard Government has long identified falling fertility and the ageing population as long-term problems for Australia's growth and prosperity. In an effort to encourage breeding, it has increased family benefits, created more childcare and pays a cash bonus to new mothers.

Doing her bit to keep the nation young and prosperous is Gayle Hedges, a 29-year-old mother of five - Lysanne, 8, Tiahly, 6, Kaliya, 4, Jonah, 1, and Micah, 12 weeks - from Langwarrin, Victoria. Mrs Hedges has benefited from a number of different Howard government schemes. "With the four-year-old, we got the 'baby bonus' (a payment by the tax office of $500 a year until the child turns five)," she said.

The bonus was replaced in 2004 by a less complicated $3000 maternity payment, paid in a lump sum at birth. The payment increases to $4000 in July. "The $3000, you spend it, and it's gone," Mrs Hedge said. "But the $500 you kept getting every year, so you could pace yourself." From this year, families will be able to claim a 30 per cent rebate on the cost of childcare, up to $4000 a year.

Mrs Hedges clearly remembers Mr Costello's plea to new mothers, but denies his influence. "I'd already done my bit for the country in 2004 when he made that statement," she said. Of course, everybody wants to know why she's had five. She simply adores motherhood. "Most people think we're mad," Mrs Hedges said, "but kids are fun."

Asked yesterday whether he took "personal credit" for the population boom, Mr Costello said: "Well, I did encourage parents to have one for mum, one for dad and one for the country. Here we are two years later and some have taken up the challenge, the highest birth rate in 13 years." The ABS report also showed a reduction in the number of deaths to 130,600, a 1.8 per cent reduction on the numbers of deaths registered in 2004. More births and fewer deaths pushed Australia's population to just under 20.5 million. Half the natural increase in population, 242,300 people, was due to overseas migration.


Nuclear power push for desalination plant

Australia should tackle a shortage of power and water by embracing nuclear power plants that also desalinate water. As John Howard prepares to announce an inquiry into nuclear energy, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer argued yesterday for building desalination facilities alongside nuclear power plants. The call came as academic and former Labor prime ministerial adviser Ross Garnaut suggested China's demand for energy meant all greenhouse gas emission-friendly technologies, including nuclear, would have to be supported. "Developments using coal are going to be very important in the Chinese future. The main constraint on that will be what I would see as the inevitable, eventual place of China in effective global greenhouse regimes. The alternative to that - greenhouse anarchy on a global scale - doesn't bear thinking about," Professor Garnaut said.

Mr Downer, warning that the threat of climate change would force Australia to consider new technologies, has predicted that one desalination plant powered by nuclear energy could deliver half of South Australia's water requirements and replace three-quarters of the water currently delivered by the Murray River. "Such a project would have two enormous environmental advantages, large-scale electricity supply with no CO2 emissions, and keeping much-needed water in the Murray," he said yesterday. "I believe this is an idea we cannot afford to dismiss, and certainly not on ideological grounds. It deserves serious study."

The NSW Government still keeps plans for a desalination plant on the books for Sydney although it was scrapped after a range of protests. Then NSW premier Bob Carr also raised the need to consider nuclear energy as a means to supply clear electricity until renewable energy sources improved. Western Australia has announced plans for a desalination plant but is implacably opposed to nuclear power as well as uranium mining.

In his speech to the Energy Supply Association of Australia, Mr Downer predicted the post-Kyoto reality was that the world needed to look to new technology to tackle climate change and allow China and India to pursue continued economic growth. Dismissing "the conventional view" that nuclear power was too expensive, Mr Downer said Australia should examine the potential for complementary processes such as desalination. "This could make nuclear very attractive in areas facing both power and water shortages," he said. "For example, it may be possible to build a nuclear plant in South Australia, supplying 1000 megawatts an hour of electricity and 75 gigalitres a year of water, at a cost in the order of 2.5 to three billion dollars.


3 June 2006

A dangerous bureaucracy

It can't ensure privacy even when it tries

Bureaucrats have given estranged spouses the private contact details of their former partners in a series of security blunders an internal report warned could have led to people being murdered. In at least two cases, terrified mothers and their children were relocated at taxpayers' expense for their own safety as a result of the unauthorised release of information by Child Support Agency staff. An internal audit commissioned by the CSA found 405 privacy breaches within the last nine months - 69 of those involving sensitive information being given to ex-spouses, according to the report obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws. CSA general manager Matt Miller yesterday described the privacy breaches as "unacceptable" for a government body with the most "sensitive private information".

The report commissioned by Mr Miller warned "an analysis of breach and incident statistics shows that the system is not locked down in privacy terms". Consultants Aulich and Co found such failures left the CSA open to "potential identity theft, people gaining contact details (to) find and harm former partners and inappropriate accessing of details of prominent identities". "CSA staff deliberately or accidentally releasing information to inappropriate persons such as former partners (is) an action which leads to clients suffering mental, social or even physical harm, including murder." "An analysis of the privacy breaches show that there are still discernible examples of privacy breaches and this may indicate that there are other breaches not yet brought to light."

A spokeswoman for a major national domestic violence body, Women's Services Network, said the CSA's privacy breaches were a "distressing failure". WSN chair Pauline Woodbridge said the safety of women and children could have been compromised by the breaches. "Too many women die as a result of domestic violence and agencies like the CSA have to protect their lives," Ms Woodbridge said.

Mr Miller said the CSA had already implemented the key recommendations in the December 2005 report to implement a national privacy training plan, implement privacy impact statements and conduct more audits. A spokeswoman for Human Services Minister Joe Hockey said he was satisfied the CSA was taking action. "The CSA was provided with additional funding in the recent budget which will assist with addressing these issues," she said.

The report said the "major risks and threats" to privacy were mistakes made by officers handling labour-intensive and repetitious paper work and the incorrect matching of addresses and names. "The second major risk appears to be mistakes made under pressure by staff on phones services and the third (risk) is some staff inappropriately accessing personal information," it said.

Mr Miller said the CSA had conducted a number of audits but found no evidence at all of criminal behaviour in relation to breaches. He said any staff member deliberately releasing information was immediately sacked. "The agency is committed to doing the right thing and that is why I commissioned this report, but human error is still a factor," he said. "There is very little evidence of deliberate breaches and no evidence of staff selling information." The consultants found "CSA personnel seem very aware that privacy protection is a key measure of their success". The consultants also noted a "strong sense" of privacy awareness but warned about the "ad hoc nature of the follow-up or refresher training". The report said CSA's privacy environment could be categorised at the highest level of sensitivity.


Medical School biases to be investigated

There are four generations of doctors in Lucy Verco's family and yet, despite recieving 99.9 in her academic results, she was rejected by the University of Adelaide's school of medicine. Ms Verco said she felt "insulted" after being told she had not made the grade following an interview. The 20-year-old is now studying medicine at the University of Melbourne.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has ordered medical experts to investigate methods for selecting medical undergraduates, after The Australian reported concerns that students applying for medical school places were being subjected to "personality assessments".

Ms Verco received the near-perfect results in her Tertiary Admissions when she finished Year 12 in 2003. "I thought the point of the interview was to show that students didn't have any psychological issues or anything like that," Ms Verco told The Australian. "If I'd been tripped up on my marks I could have thought I could have worked harder but it wasn't my fault. "It was quite personally insulting to find that a 30-minute interview could determine that I was a bad person or that I wouldn't go through."

The concerns about "personality assessments" include claims that medical schools were asking students their views on the Iraq war and gay marriage. Adelaide University's former deputy chancellor Harry Medlin has also criticised the institution's medical school for an unwritten discrimination policy against private-school students and the children of doctors. The Australian understands at least six children from prominent medical families have been rejected during the Adelaide University interview process in the past three years.

But the interview process has been defended by eminent educators including professors Peter Smith and Richard Henry of NSW University's faculty of medicine. It is argued the structured interview leads to a selection of a "better cohort of medical students who make better doctors". They argue knowledge and skills form only part of what makes a good doctor.

Ms Verco was educated at Adelaide's exclusive girls' school Wilderness and is the daughter of highly regarded Adelaide obstetrician Christopher Verco. Her grandfathers and great-grandfather were specialist doctors. Her great-great-uncle was dean of the university's faculty of medicine. Ms Verco's mother is Judith Sloan, an economist whose credentials include being a commissioner with the Fair Pay and Productivity commissions and a director of Santos.

Ms Verco said the interview process was fraught with problems as students were asked different questions in each interview. Apart from the usual questions about teamwork, difficult situations she had faced and her strengths and weaknesses, Ms Verco was asked how she would deal with the family of a deceased cancer patient who had found a cure overseas via the internet. "I think it's a difficult question to ask a 17-year-old. Even if you're a 45-year-old oncologist it would still be very hard," she said. She was not specifically asked about her family history.

Professor Sloan has pursued the university since her daughter's rejection in early 2004 in the hope of effecting change for future students. "(The interview process) is supposed to be the great leveller but people spend a lot of money on preparations for the (exams) and people lie (in the interview)," Professor Sloan said. The university's Health Sciences faculty executive dean, Justin Beilby, said the process had been validated and that there were set questions.


Tragic threat from a Greek

By Andrew Bolt

Yesterday I got another angry email from a Greek Australian, this one working for a Sydney computer firm I won't name. "My Friend . . . this is a death threat."

You see, my crime is that last week I asked -- in four paragraphs -- how healthy it was that so many people born here barracked for the Greek team in its soccer match against us. As I said, ethnic loyalties seem to trump national ones too easily. Have we failed to promote an image of Australia to which children of migrants would give their first love? After all, not every clash of loyalties involves just a game.

I thought that in this age of terror, with our troops in foreign lands, this needed discussion. But professional multiculturalists such as Fotis Kapetopoulos seem to disagree. Kapetopoulos, who did not send the death threat, has been director of Multicultural Arts Victoria, now heads Multicultural Arts Professional Development, and sits on the Multicultural Advisory Committee of the artist-feeding Australia Council. He's helped spend our taxes on building a culture. But which one? He has now, in his private time, asked Greeks to tell me how cross they are that I've suggested "the Hellenic Spirit, the fountainhead of freedom and the cornerstone of the West, the source of democracy, science, philosophy, education and government, and our universal values, are antithetical to Australian ones".

In a letter on the Greekcity website, he added: "This barbarian wants to teach us a lesson on civilisation and patriotism!" But the sentence that struck me most was this: "Greeks who came here, who were born here and educated here, are Australian, we pay taxes and vote, and that is enough." That's the very thing I dispute. A strong community also needs a little of the love Kapetopoulos lavishes so wildly on things Greek. Can't we discuss this?


Sydney: Muslim shooting again

Police have charged two men over a shooting outside a western Sydney home last night. The two men were arrested after a man was shot outside a house in Prairiewood, sparking a large scale police hunt in nearby Edensor Park. Police said a 26-year-old Prairiewood man was shot in the back of the knee outside the house in Eccles Place around 9pm. Police quickly established road blocks around Dransfield Road and stopped local residents from entering the vicinity. A car, believed to be a Toyota Camry, backed out of a driveway around 9.30 and police, with guns drawn, arrested the two men inside. A handgun was also seized from a car parked nearby, police said.

The men - a 19-year-old Bonnyrigg Heights man and a 28-year-old West Hoxton man - were charged with shoot with intent to murder and shoot with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm and are due to appear in Fairfield local court today. Police are not commenting on the motive behind the shooting, except to say it is in the hands of the Middle Eastern gang squad. The Prairiewood man is currently in a stable condition at Liverpool hospital


Hooters to try again in Australia

The American Hooters chain will make a second attempt to crack the Australian market when it opens two of its restaurants in Sydney later this year. The restaurant and bar, better known for its skimpily dressed waitresses than its burgers, will open in Parramatta in July and Cronulla in December. There are also plans to expand to the Gold Coast and two other Sydney locations in 2007.

While there are more than 400 locations world-wide, a previous attempt to open in Australia in 1997 was far from successful. The short-lived entity was located in the inner-west Sydney suburb of Five Dock, with now-disgraced HIH businessman Rodney Adler among its investors.

A Hooters spokeswoman today said no-one involved in the previous attempt was involved in the latest Australian launch. She said the new management team had chosen locations where it was hoped the restaurant would be more successful. The sports-themed bars and restaurants feature waitresses wearing singlets and running shorts - a uniform Hooters says has not changed in more than 20 years.


South Australian wind farms shelved

Millions of dollars worth of Mid North wind farm projects are being shelved because the Australian Government is holding off boosting renewable energy targets. Only one proposal is likely to break ground by the end of the year and that's because it has its own "built-in" consumer, having been optioned by Australian Gas and Light. Other wind farms have not been so lucky and have suspended construction until Canberra's politicians extend the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme.

The targets, set by the Federal Government, call for energy suppliers to source two percent of their power from renewable sources. This target has, however, just about been met leaving wind farm companies with no inducement to continue with their projects as they cannot guarantee the sale of their energy. An $180 million wind farm at Waterloo which would have produced enough power to supply, for example, the Clare and Gilbert Valleys regional demand about 90 per cent of the time and which would have employed anywhere between 50-100 people during the construction of the 39 wind turbines, has been suspended. "We would like to revisit the project in the future and have asked the Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council for a 12 month planning approval extension," Tasmanian company Roaring 40s public relations and communications manager Josh Bradshaw said.

He said the industry was lobbying the Federal Government for an extension to the MRET scheme to a minimum of five percent. "We will continue to lobby and a delegation of major wind energy companies travelled to Canberra this month and spoke with the Prime Minister's office to highlight some of the concerns we have. "And while there were no firm commitments they did acknowledge the investment problems we are facing," Mr Bradshaw said. A proposal by Wind Prospect for a 170MW wind farm of 85 turbines in the Barunga and Hummocks Ranges, west of Snowtown, which would have supplied the energy needs for more than 132,000 average homes, has also stalled....

More here

2 June 2006

Movie madness

By Andrew Bolt

At last, Hollywood makes a movie about a barbaric religion that oppresses women and sends fanatics to kill unbelievers

Yes, they've had it coming, those, er, Catholics. They've terrorised us too long. So clap the makers of The Da Vinci Code. Imagine what guts it took for them just to go to last week's premiere in Cannes when -- as The Independent reported -- outside the theatre there was "a contingent of persistent nuns hovering forbiddingly". Those damn hovering nuns. No wonder we're so scared of flying.

But a word of advice to the Catholic Church, and particularly its Opus Dei order, accused in this film of being a bunch of self-flagellating perverts and assassins. Friends, why waste breath insisting the film tells lies when it says Christ had a child with his "wife" Mary Magdalene, and the church has murdered their descendents to protect its power? Stop claiming that you're actually nice guys who'd have to be insane to kill the children of your own God.

You're accused of being killers? Then live up to the hype. It's your only hope. Just ask our Muslim friends. Ask them why no Hollywood director dares make a movie that trashes Islam the way The Da Vinci Code trashes Christianity. Here are a few clues. In 1988, novelist Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, which -- as The Da Vinci Code does with the Bible -- questions how the Koran came to be written, and suggests it, too, crushed the worship of female divinities.

But some Muslim hate-preachers, unlike the average bishop, don't wring hands, but necks. And so Iran's ayatollahs issued a fatwa on Rushdie, who within five years saw his Japanese translator murdered, his Italian translator stabbed, and his Norwegian publisher shot three times. I don't know if Dutch director Theo van Gogh forgot that lesson, or learned it too well, but he later made a 10-minute film which showed half-naked actresses on whose skin was written the Koranic verses, which most insulted women. Two years ago, a Muslim viewer gave him the ultimate bad review, cutting his throat and pinning a note of complaint to his chest with a hunting knife.

Other "bad" art has had similarly robust critiques from militant Islamists. The huge Bamiyan statues of Buddha were blown up by Afghanistan's Taliban. A fresco in a Bologna church, showing Mohammed in hell, was the target of a planned bombing by al-Qaida. And in case our artists still hadn't got the fatwa, Muslim crowds this year rioted so violently against Danish cartoons of their prophet that 140 people died and two Danish embassies were burned down.

Now that's the kind of protest Hollywood heeds and had newspapers around the world censoring themselves out of sheer fear. Of course, Hollywood hardly needs an excuse to savage us rather than the latest tyranny. But never has it seemed so determined to do this as it has since September 11. It was around that very day that the makers of The Sum of All Fears became the first in Hollywood to declare that showing Muslim extremists as the kind of people who might kill you was haram, a sin against safe business. Their film was based on the Tom Clancy novel, in which Muslim extremists, helped by East German communists, smuggle a nuclear bomb into the United States and blow up a crowded stadium, illustrating a threat only too real.

But when the Council on American-Islamic Relations demanded he be nice to Muslims, the director turned his baddies into German Nazis and a white South African, pleading: "I have no intention of promoting negative images of Muslims". Since then Hollywood has looked in every direction except the East for its villains -- every direction except the one most terrorists actually come from.

Run through the latest movies. The Constant Gardener paints our drug companies as racist killers. Kingdom of Heaven makes the Crusaders the real baddies. Munich criticises Israel for hitting back. Syriana blames wicked American oil men for corrupting a harmless Arab tyrant. Fahrenheit 9/11 makes Saddam's Iraq seem like paradise and George Bush an agent of hell. Even past enemies of us wicked capitalists are redeemed. Good Night and Good Luck savages those who once hunted Communist spies in the US. The 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate replaces the old villain -- an agent of communist China -- with one from a US company just like Halliburton.

So many villains, and all Americans, Christians and Jews. Not a Muslim among them. Still, it keeps the actors safe, I guess. When did some Jew or Christian last hammer out a film review with a machine gun?

But there is more than cowardice behind this. This year's V for Vendetta chokes with real loathing of the very institutions that make us free, as if only the totalitarian is pure. It invents a police-state Britain in 2020 that -- backed by a pedophile Anglican archbishop -- has declared war on all gays and Muslims, and is so evil that its leaders could poison 80,000 of their own people and pin the blame on Muslims, just to pass harsh new laws. Get the hint? Some on the Left now claim the CIA staged the September 11 attacks as well, to justify a war against Iraq. The film's climax is the bombing of Parliament by a noble freedom fighter -- a scene filmed with the help of the British Government, which agreed to have streets around Westminster closed.

Have we no sense of self-preservation? Perhaps not. See only how many now cheer The Da Vinci Code's attack on Christianity. Is Christianity really a plot to oppress women, as the film claims? Did pagans really celebrate women only to be destroyed by the sex-hating church fathers? Again Hollywood attacks what has helped make us free. As sociologist Rodney Stark wrote in his celebrated The Rise of Christianity, "Christianity was unusually appealing to pagan women" because "within the Christian subculture women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large". CHRISTIANS rejected polygamy, divorce, infidelity, incest, infanticide, giving women more power and dignity than pagan Rome ever did.

It's true we now have one movie about September 11, United 93, that tells of the hijacked plane brought down by its heroic passengers. But as Khalid Abdalla, who played one of the hijackers said, the director tried not to make the hijackers seem too bad because "it wasn't to be a film about stereotypes". Of course not. Islamist terrorists killing innocent people for a mad ideology? That's a stereotype we've seen so often in real life that why see it in the movies too? Let's instead see a film with a fresh take on how, say, the Catholic Church hates women and protects perverts. Or how our politicians are crooks, Germans are Nazis and businessmen scum. And at the end of it you can declare: I have seen the movie and the enemy is us.


English course to be replaced by political indoctrination in West Australian schools

Some far-Left meatheads have really got into the driver's seat in Western Australia

The subject that would replace English literature in West Australian high schools encourages political and moral sermonising, according to a noted English professor who shares the concerns of teachers lobbying against the changes to the course. Poet Dennis Haskell, the University of Western Australia's acting head of English, Communication and Cultural Studies, said it was sad that the draft consultation exam for the course, called Texts, Traditions and Culture, was inherently political.

The draft exam, obtained by The Australian, asks students to consider economic rationalism, redundancy and redeployment in a passage from an Australian play. Supporting documents from the course instruct Year 11 and Year 12 students to record their responses to "mainstream texts" such as video music clips and games, song lyrics and commercial television.

Professor Haskell said the course appeared to train students in social and political commentary without allowing them to simply appreciate the "music of language". The students will be assessed against four "outcomes" called textual production, applying skills and understandings of self and society, readings of texts, and processes and strategies for exploring, developing and shaping ideas through texts. "Ironically, that kind of thing is on the wane in universities," Professor Haskell said. "You need to allow students a certain amount of innocence, above everything a certain amount of pleasure in reading and it does not appear to be offered here. "The ancient, longstanding dictum of Aristotle was that the purpose of the arts was to entertain and instruct -- this seems to go heavily towards the instruct and the entertain goes out the window, and that's pretty sad."

Some English teachers told The Australian this week that the draft exam could be passed by a student who had not even completed a literature course. "It needs a great deal of rewriting so that it is clearly a literature-based course designed to extend those students who are interested in studying literary texts and being challenged intellectually," one teacher said.

The English Teachers Association of Western Australia supports the course, despite concerns about assessment. Curriculum Council acting chief executive David Axworthy agreed a student who had not done a literature course could pass the draft exam, but was annoyed the document was facing media scrutiny. "It is getting past ridiculous that every piece of paper released by the Curriculum Council, in its consultations with teachers, has to go under the media microscope," he said. "This is a draft consultation exam, which has recently been sent to principals and heads of department so we can find out what they think about it - because we respect the views of the teachers." The Carpenter Government has announced it will work with teachers to help them better prepare for the rollout.


Greenie-inspired mismanagement of Australia's coastal waters

Particularly around Australia's vast coral reefs

Annual harvest trends, catch per unit of effort and catch per unit of area, are fundamental metrics of fishery management. Figures for the Great Barrier Reef show no evidence of decline and the catch per unit of area is less than 1 per cent of what is widely considered sustainable for reef fisheries. Why are these standard metrics being ignored by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA)? What is the evidence in support of GBRMPA claims of over-fishing?

The Great Barrier Reef commercial fishing harvest is now limited to an annual quota of 3,061 tonnes. Averaged over the 347,000 km2 of reef and lagoon area in the Great Barrier Reef, this comes to just under 9 kg/km2/year. The average harvest, over a broad range of reef areas elsewhere in the Pacific, is 7,700 kg/km2/year, and even the conservation NGO, World Resource Institute, cites 4,000 kg/km2/year as being a sustainable level for coral-reef fisheries. The entire West Indian/Caribbean reef area is less than half that of the Great Barrier Reef and the reef fish harvest is over 100,000 MT. The Florida Keys, with less than 1 per cent the reef area of the Great Barrier Reef, has for many years sustainably supported a larger catch than the entire Great Barrier Reef.

With a harvest quota of less than one per cent of the widely accepted sustainable yield for reef fisheries, why do we then also have extensive closed areas, limited licences, quotas, closed seasons, size limits, bag limits, prohibited species, gear restrictions and even restrictions on the sale of catch?

Figured over the entire reef and lagoon area, the boats participating in the Great Barrier Reef commercial line fishery enjoy an average density of over 500 km2 per boat. The average number of days fished per boat, however, is only about 50 per year. Thus, the mean fishing boat density comes to over 4,000 km2 per boat on any particular day. For all practical purposes, commercial fishing pressure on the Great Barrier Reef as a whole is virtually non-existent.

There are of course some more favoured and accessible areas that do receive greater fishing pressure than other areas, but this only means that most of the region receives even less than the extremely low average figures indicate. However, as the extensive coral trout surveys (conducted by GBRMPA but unpublished) clearly show, even these popular areas show no clear evidence of over fishing.

With a fishing intensity of one small vessel in over 4,000 square kilometres of reef waters and a total harvest restricted to an annual catch that averages 90 grams per hectare, claimed threats of over-fishing are simply absurd and the increasingly elaborate restrictions entirely unwarranted.

Economic value

GBRMPA has widely claimed the value of Great Barrier Reef-based tourism to be worth $3.5 billion, and the reef component alone as being $1.4 billion. They also have often cited the value of commercial fishing as being only about $119 million. The actual reef component of most visitors' stays is a single day-trip during which they spend a few hours on the reef, and only about half of all visitors to the region even visit the reef. The value of reef tours (about $150 million) is in fact very close to the value of reef-based commercial fishing (about $130 million).

Attributing the total value of all regional tourism to a one-day visit to the reef by about half of all visitors is no more justifiable than would be attributing it all to commercial fishing, based on the fact that most visitors eat seafood during their stay. When the value of recreational fishing (about $240 million) is added, the value of fishing activity can be seen to be over twice that of reef tourism.

Is the value of Great Barrier Reef tourism claimed by GBRMPA deliberately intended to mislead Parliament and the electorate, or just grossly incompetent economic analysis?

In the lead-up to the recent large expansion of no-fishing "green zones", GBRMPA estimated the impact on commercial fishing to be between $0.5 million and $2.5 million. The Great Barrier Reef fishing industry restructuring cost estimate is now $50 million and could easily double before completion. On top of this is the ongoing economic loss, which a University of Queensland study has estimated to be $23 million annually in foregone production.

Was this GBRMPA mis-estimate also a deliberate attempt to mislead Parliament and the electorate, or just incompetence again?

It is also interesting to note that, in the most recent Access Economics report commissioned by GBRMPA (and also widely cited by them), the estimate of the Great Barrier Reef catchment area's tourism value is $4.3 billion. By implication and misrepresentation, GBRMPA is laying claim to the entirety of regional tourism, when the true Great Barrier Reef component is about 3.5 per cent of this amount. In other words, they are exaggerating by about 3,000 per cent.

Reef management

Reef managers are now claiming that the Great Barrier Reef has the best-managed reef fishery in the world. What we have in fact is the most over-managed, costly, highly restricted, smallest, and least productive reef fishery in the world. By this criterion we could also have the best-managed grazing industry and agriculture as well. All we have to do is reduce them by 99 per cent and any associated problems will become negligible.

How much of the widespread public support for GBRMPA is based upon misinformation they themselves have promoted?

Water quality reviews

Threats to water quality are currently a major GBRMPA concern receiving wide publicity. In particular, siltation, nutrient run-off and herbicide contamination from agriculture have been cited as major concerns.

David Williams has conducted the most comprehensive review to date of effects of run-off on the Great Barrier Reef. His work was conducted for GBRMPA and funded by them. He found there was little evidence of such impacts. In the summary, he stated, "clear impacts of enhanced run-off of sediments, nutrients and contaminants (as a result of land use) on coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem have proven difficult to detect. Impacts are unlikely for the majority of reefs that are located well offshore."

An earlier detailed review, focused particularly on nutrients, likewise said: "It is tempting to conclude that the water quality status of the central Great Barrier Reef is not at immediate risk and that at current nutrient input rates, external sources will have little future impact on water quality ...".

How does GBRMPA reconcile these findings with its claim of declining water quality? Where is the evidence for declining water quality that these researchers were unable to find? Agricultural use of fertiliser and herbicides has been decreasing for some years. What is the evidence for an increasing impact? How does agri-chemical run-off in the rivers - that is within Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safe guidelines - become a threat to the reef when diluted a further million-fold in the ocean?


Australia has the world's third largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), just below those of the United States and France, but ahead of Russia, with the total area actually exceeding that of its land territory. In terms of EEZ area, Australian fisheries harvest rate is about one-twentieth that of the US. The wild caught harvest here comes to just under 40 kg/km2 per year. In the US, the relatively small sub-tropical Gulf coast region alone produces over three times the total commercial catch of all of Australia.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Burma have only a fraction of the EEZ area of Australia and are each producing over five times or more wild caught harvest than Australia, in addition to as much as 25 times greater aquaculture production.

Despite our small population, vast EEZ and ideal circumstances for extensive aquaculture, we still do not even produce enough seafood to meet domestic demand. Imports now amount to 70 per cent of consumption by edible weight and cost $1.8 billion. A CSIRO study estimates that, by the year 2020, an additional 610,000 MT will be needed to meet growing demand. This amount represents an almost 400 per cent increase in imports over the next one-and-a-half decades.

This raises two very important questions:

First, is the relatively low level of the Australian wild catch fishery really at the limit of capacity for the resource? Is an annual harvest of only 0.4 kg/ha actually the maximum that our waters can sustain? If our fish stocks are so depleted, why do so many Indonesian fishermen keep coming so far, and facing such risks, if the resource is truly so meagre? Are they coming here to sunbathe?

Second, why should Australian aquaculture be at a cost disadvantage to Europe, North America or Japan - all of which have booming aquaculture industries much larger than Australia's, despite more difficult natural conditions, plus equal or greater cost for land, labour and equipment? The overwhelming disadvantage of Australian aquaculture and fisheries is clearly neither natural nor economic, but government-imposed restrictions, demands, changes and uncertainties.

A much more empirical, rational, evidence-based and experimental approach to management is sorely needed. A far more inclusive, cohesive, organised, determined and effectively aggressive approach must be taken by the industry itself.

Commercial fishermen, aqua-culturists and recreational anglers all face similar threats from an overzealous and incompetent bureaucracy. All must put aside blaming one another and join forces to confront the real enemy. Divide and conquer is the bureaucrats' most effective tactic, and a united front of opposition is the one thing they and their political overseers cannot ignore. Everyone involved will have to accept some compromises in formulating objectives. Clear, well-reasoned demands are badly needed. Legal, political, public relations and scientific expertise is essential, and money will have to be spent.

In the end, a key objective must be for the industry itself to assume a strong role in its own management and regulation. This is entirely in keeping with fundamental democratic principles and the only means of avoiding the kinds of disastrous decisions now being made by academic experts and managers with little knowledge of the realities of either the industry or the actual resource.


Life in the tropics

They have borne Cyclone Larry and weeks of torrential rain, but now the luckless residents of Innisfail face a new dilemma, a posse of hungry marauding cassowaries. The critically endangered and famously testy flightless bird, known for its ability to disembowel humans with its razor-sharp claws, is running amok through the backyards and suburban streets of north Queensland in search of food.

The birds are believed to have left rainforest areas after much of the fruit-bearing plants they depend on were knocked down by Larry's 260km/h winds. It is expected to be months before the birds' food sources begin to replenish. Meanwhile, roaming cassowaries are reported to have chased several residents through town. One recently fell into a backyard swimming pool and had to be rescued.

The people of Innisfail and surrounds have now been warned not to feed the birds. Queensland Parks and Wildlife rangers have set up food stations throughout the cyclone-affected region to entice cassowaries back into the forests and save them from being hit by cars or chased by dogs. At least six cassowaries have died in the Mission Beach region, south of Innisfail, since the cyclone, all struck by cars. The birds are vital to the survival of the World Heritage-listed wet tropics rainforest because they are the only animals capable of distributing the seeds of more than 70 species of trees whose fruit is too large for any other forest-dwelling animal to eat and thus relocate. There are less than 1200 cassowaries left in Australia.

Rangers had to remove roadside feeding stations in the weeks after Larry because too many of the endangered birds were being drawn to traffic. Smaller birds found in suburban streets are being relocated into rainforest areas. While the hungry birds are causing problems in Innisfail, Jan Shang is used to having them march through her backyard. Ms Shang and husband Percy have for years been visited by Faith, a female cassowary. "They don't bother me at all," she said. "They just walk through and I leave water for them, they take a sip of the water and continue on. "I was a bit put out they were being taken away but when you saw their droppings they had no food in it, so they must have been starving."

While the rainforest around her home was denuded in the recent storm, Ms Shang said forest fruits were slowly beginning to grow back. During the evening, hundreds of flying foxes can also be seen hovering over Gordonvale, south of Cairns. The loss of their regular food sources has led them to raid backyard trees in search of fruit.


1 June 2006


A great character

A patriotic song written by Brisbane's singing cabbie is about to make him a small-screen star. SBS has filmed a documentary about the cabbie, Manjit Boparai, who describes himself as a patriotic, fair dinkum, curry-munching Aussie.

Boparai has become something of a quirky Brisbane icon with his penchant for playing his patriotic self-penned ditty which has become his trademark. He estimates 60,000 have listened to his I'm a Fair Dinkum Aussie song, which is set to a distinctly Punjabi melody, and knew from the first time he played Song Australia to a passenger it was going to be a hit. "They (my passengers) straight away asked me for my number and asked can we buy these words," the 49-year-old cabbie said.

Thousands have since parted with up to $20 apiece for a copy of the Song Australia CD, which Boparai offers to every passenger after playing them the tune. "Some people show me lots of emotion, but don't have a lot of money, so I give it (a copy) to them, sometimes I sell them for $20, and sometimes for $10 - depending on how I feel," Boparai said.


A good idea: Help for parents

Even if it is a bit cynical

Victorian parents will get a direct cash "bonus" from the Bracks Government when their children start primary and secondary school, and business taxes will be cut, under Treasurer John Brumby's big-spending pre-election budget. To Opposition cries of "it's a bribe", Mr Brumby yesterday told Parliament that the Government would pay parents $300 for every child when they started prep and again in year 7 - and the first payments would be made just months before the November state election. He said the money would help parents pay for uniforms, books and equipment and was designed to "support families and highlight the importance of education".

The bonus will go to all parents regardless of their wealth or income and regardless of whether the children go to state or private schools. It is expected to cost the Government $182 million over the next five years - money an education union said would be better spent on needy schools. A half-payment of $150 will be distributed at the start of third term to parents who have children in prep or year 7 this year, with the full $300 bonus starting next year.

A $500 "bonus" will also be paid to all new apprentices as part of a drive to beat the skills crisis by encouraging more people into trades. Mr Brumby has also been surprisingly generous to business, cutting land tax and WorkCover premiums for the third successive budget and pledging to reduce payroll tax from 5.25 per cent to 5 per cent over the next three years....

More here

A champion display of bitchiness

Sometimes the utter bitchiness in one woman's comments about another woman is so extreme as to be amusing. The following excerpt from a diatribe by a Sydney Morning Herald fashion writer will show what I mean:

"This week, in New Weekly and New Idea, Hurley's heir apparent has taken her place in the spotlight. Nicole Austin, aka Coco, aka Mrs Ice T, appeared at the seventh annual Maxim Hot 100 Party at Buddha Bar in New York in a tight black pantsuit that gives new urgency to the term mercy killing.

Barely able to restrain Ms Austin's heaving and quite possibly enhanced breasts, the pantsuit also leaves little else to the observer's imagination. An exposed front section, running from her cleavage across her stomach and down her left leg to her ankle, is held together by more than 45 straining horizontal gold straps.

The saddest thing about this outfit is not its efficacy at making Ms Austin look like an uncooked leg of lamb in a tight string bag. Nor is it the bold and unsullied camel's toe effect it has applied to Mrs T's nether regions. No, the saddest, the most heartbreaking point of this ensemble is that, despite its illustration of extreme bad taste, it is probably the savviest move Ms Austin has ever made in her quest to be a famous person in her own right".

March of the food fascists in Australia

By Bettina Arndt

At my son's school the food fascists issued a new decree - only health foods for tuckshop recess specials. With the other volunteer mums, I stood for hours making summer rolls, wrapping fiddly rice paper around chicken breast and healthy vegies, and then watched in horror as the lines of boys took one look and walked on past. They had plenty of other healthy food to choose -- from sandwiches, sushi, salads and pasta -- and weren't thrilled to have their occasional chicken nuggets declared out of bounds.

When we examined the healthy crowd of boys romping around the playground, very few were overweight, many positively weedy. It's hardly surprising that most parents have been content with the mix of foods on sale in the tuckshop, understanding there's nothing wrong with the odd sausage roll to brighten long days in this academically demanding school.

But food fanatics are now infiltrating the parent committees, determined to impose their absurd prejudices on the rest of us. Junk food has become the new tobacco. Rising levels of obesity are giving licence to health food junkies to attempt to ban everything they don't like. And despite the contradictory evidence supporting these drastic measures, they already have scores on the board. New South Wales and Queensland restrict foods that can be sold in school tuck shops, with South Australia and Victoria to follow suit, and Western Australia likely to head in the same direction.

Yes, many kids are putting on more weight. And they are eating more hamburgers and drinking more fizzy drinks and watching more TV, which advertises these products. But it's not clear whether the weight gain is simply due to greater consumption of energy-dense foods or also to inactivity. Some recent Australian research supports the former, but many overseas studies point to inactivity as the major problem. And there is no good evidence that restricting junk food ads on television has any impact on obesity.

As state after state in the United States bans soft drink in schools, scientists have been churning out research trying to determine whether this makes sense. Last year, a study by the Georgetown Centre for Food and Nutrition Policy found no link between fizzy drink consumption and obesity in kids aged 12 to 18. A 2004 Harvard Medical school study of 14,000 children found calories from junk food had no more effect on weight than calories from health food.

Junk food in schools only affects kids with overweight parents, who may have a genetic susceptibility to weight gain, according to a 2004 National Bureau of Economic research study. It has no effect on students whose parents have normal weight, say the researchers. Yet bans on tuckshop food are only the beginning.

In America, the Public Health Advocacy Institute is proposing "putting nutritionally deficient foods behind the counter like you do with spray paint". A recent New Zealand Ministry of Health discussion paper suggests a new law extending the minimum age requirements on purchases of liquor and cigarettes to popular foods such as soft drinks, hamburgers, sweets and chocolate. One major problem for the food cops is that they have a moving target.

What exactly is junk food? Britain's new school rules have bogged down over determining whether fruit drinks containing lots of natural sugar are better, or worse, than low-calorie soft drinks containing artificial sweeteners. Across Australia, there is little agreement whether low-cal soft drinks, such as Coke Zero, and fruit juices should go on to the banned list. Are we likely to follow New York, where schools have banned whole milk, permitting only low-fat versions?

This is cloud cuckoo land. It is hardly surprising that Queensland students are already sneaking off campus to buy foods now banned in tuck shops and that there is a thriving black market in illicit items. Of course, kids are going to see these foods as even more desirable if we ban them. These extreme measures teach children little about commonsense and moderation, which are the essence of good eating.


"Postmodern" garbage losing clout

Prominent Leftist historian retreats after the Windschuttle onslaught on him and his Leftist colleagues

A postmodern interpretation of history that analyses the use of language and challenges the truth of historical facts has had its day, influential historian Henry Reynolds said yesterday. Declaring himself to be "an old-fashioned historian", Professor Reynolds said postmodernism had provided an interesting take on the language of history but "it just goes round and round, with lots of lights and colours and doesn't get you anywhere". "I think the postmodernist movement has gone," he told a session of the Sydney Writers Festival. "We live in profoundly different times to 1980. We live in some ways in a terrifying world where old-fashioned history and truth continue to have their great value and virtue."

During a discussion with fellow historian Ross Fitzgerald, Professor Reynolds said he believed history had a purpose, which was to search for the truth. "Truth is important. It always has to be partial, it always has to be as I see it, but that is what we have to search for," he said. After the session, Professor Reynolds said that school history courses were tending to preach rather than teach, which was inappropriate. "History can teach us to understand and empathise and sympathise with people who are different from us, either because they're (from) different cultures or of a different era," he said. "If that also makes us more understanding and tolerant, I think that's a splendid thing."

But courses such as the NSW modern history syllabus were "too prescriptive" for attempting to go beyond fostering an appreciation of different cultures and traditions. The syllabus said students will "display a readiness to counter disadvantage and change racist, sexist and other discriminatory practices". "That's probably too prescriptive," Professor Reynolds said. "It's not the central point of history, which is explaining things so people understand why others behaved the way they did. "You have to have confidence in your students. They have to make up their own minds ... otherwise it's just propaganda. It's wrong to preach at them. "I always tell my students, 'I will tell you what I think happened but you've got to make up your own mind'."

In Western Australia, the draft history exam for the new course to be introduced next year contains little examination of historical events. Rather, it requires students to analyse primary historical sources, comparing messages in the sources, identifying opinion and fact, and the nature of bias or prejudice. Professor Reynolds said he had no problem with such questions as long as the students knew enough facts to make sense of the interpretations. "As a general principle, I think for students to make sense of history, they have to have a good factual foundation," he said. "Only then can they make sense of all assessments and interpretations."

Indicative of the direction of history teaching in schools is a question asking ancient history students whether the raiding of the pyramids was analogous to sending Aboriginal artefacts, including human remains, overseas. Australia's leading Egyptologist, Naguib Kanawati of Macquarie University, said there were no similarities, saying Aboriginal culture was an existing culture with links to the artefacts. "But an Egyptian mummy is just a mummy. It should be treated as a human being, with respect, but no modern Egyptian has a spirtual link to it," he said. The other important difference was that Egyptian artefacts had left the country with the permission of the government. Professor Kanawati said the issue of respecting cultural artefacts was an important ethical consideration that should be part of a course preamble. But the study of the pyramids was not about their looting but about the magnificence of the structure and the achievement of ancient man.


The Muslim inbreeding problem comes to Australia

(With its appurtenant burden on the welfare system. More vindication for the incautious Brian Wilshire)

Within Sydney's Middle Eastern community inter family marriage seems to be on the rise and it is leading to a high incidence of children born with defects: Erin O' Dwyer explores the devasting cost of a tradition that many in the West regard as taboo.

A smile twists across Kaled Assoum's face. Lying in his cot, he gurgles happily as his mother, Randa, tickles his belly and kisses him on the face. The eight-year-old, pictured above with his grandmother, was bom with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. He cannot walk or talk, and feeds through a tube in his stomach. He has the mental capacity of a one-year-old. "I still love him day after day" his father Mohammed says. "From the beginning I was a bit sad and she was abit sad. She started crying but I said in the end we can't do anything. Thats how God created him. Even if we cry from now on until 100 years, you can't do anything."

It is almost two decades since doctors at Sydney's Auburn Hospital began to research a devastating pattern of birth defects among babies bom to Lebanese families. Led by pioneering obstetrician Dr Caroline de Costa, the study showed significant increases in birth defects, stillbirths and miscarriages among women who were married to blood relatives, particulariy first and second cousins from families who came largely but not exclusively, from the Middle East. The study found that one in three Lebanese women were married to a cousin and, across the hospital's maternity ward, one in 10 women had married a cousin. Even more alarming was the finding that babies bom to these women were four times more likely to be stillborn and eight times more likely to suffer serious birth defects.

Ten years later, maternity ward staff reported these marriages were on the rise. De Costa followed up her landmark study, interviewing every pregnant women who booked into the hospital's maternity ward in one year. In 2001 she published her results,revealing that almost 20 per cent of women were consanguineously married. Of those,more than half were married to first cousins and almost 60 per cent were bom in Australia.

Fifteen babies bom to consanguineous couples - related by birth - at Auburn Hospital had severe defects, including heart, kidney and liver function problems. Among non-cousin couples there were five disabled babies - one with a cleft lip and two with club feet. Of those babies that died - six in total - all were bom to consanguineous couples. "What was interesting," de Costa wrote at the time, "was that the proportion of pregnant women who were consanguineously married had risen from 11 per cent in the 1980s to 19.6 per cent in 1999. "In other words.. .consanguineous marriage is continuing to be commonly practised by the next generation. Accurate information about risks and non-judgemental genetic counselling need to be available."

When loving your family breeds tragic consequences.

For most in the West, consanguinity is abhorrent but across the worid it is a respected cultural practice. Globally at least, 20 per cent of people live in places where cousin-to-cousin marriage is preferred, and nearly 10 per cent of people have consanguineous parents. It is accepted in South-East Asia, Japan, Brazil and Africa, and is particularly common in the Middle East among Muslims and Christians. In Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, about half of all marriages are consanguineous while in Lebanon it is about 25 per cent. At Westmead's Children's hospital, people from 14 Middle Eastern and African nationalities attended genetic counselling. There are no figures on how widespread inter-family marriage is in Australia, but among immigrant communities in Britain and Canada the practice is even more common than in their country of origin.

Researchers say the trend is the same here. Families want to continue cultural traditions, and the small pool of potential spouses makes intermarriage more likely. Traditionally,the practice has been driven by economics. Dowries were reduced, and landholdings were preserved. Spouses had similar social status, and were thus considered more compatible. In modem times, family support has remained a key factor, as well as a practical way of bringing new family members into the country

So it was for second cousins Randa and Mohammed Assoum. But when Kaled, their fourth son, was born, his severe disabilities shocked them. His birth should have brought joy Instead there was sadness. And questions. "The doctors didn't say it was because we were related, but they did say stop... no more kids," Mohammed says. "We didn't feel angry we just accepted it. It's our faith that makes us accept it."

Their intense love has also seen them through the dark days. The couple remember being sweet on each other as children and when Mohammed emigrated from Lebanon to Australia as a teenager, he knew Randa would one day join him. In Sydney, he worked long hours on construction sites to win her hand in marriage. "Since we were little, our families said, 'She belongs to him and he belongs to her'," Mohammed says.

It was the same story for the couple's siblings. Randa's three brothers married Mohammed's three sisters, and their homes are clustered around the Auburn area. They are successful, self-sufficient and extremely supportive. But Kaled's disabilities have forced them to reconsider their cultural practices. "What we're hearing from doctors and what happened to us, it's very hard now to let our daughters and sons marry from their family". Mohammed says. "I wish my sons and daughters would not marry from their family" It is a viewpoint rippling across the Lebanese community Nonetheless the subject is extremely sensitive, and families fear recrimination for a practice that has long been completely the nor in the East, yet taboo in the West.

The Assoum family was alone in agreeing to tell their story openly to The Sun-Herald but those who spoke on the condition of anonymity admitted they too did not want their children to marry within the family. Lebanese-bom mother-of-nine Patima says it is a view supported by the Koran, which states that marriage outside the family helps create new friendships and bonds.

But cousin marriage was common in Fatima's family, and she felt that she and her cousin were well-suited. "But back then I wouldn't have thought about children," Fatima says. "I didn't think of him as a cousin. I was just thinking, is this a partner I can live with?" Fatima says that although her children are all healthy they are ashamed of their parents' marriage. Their grandparents would like the tradition to continue, but Fatima remains opposed. "My children are rejecting it," she says. "They feel ashamed about it so they hide it and they don't talk about it."

Australian-bom mother-of-two Salima says she does not explain her family situation to anyone. "For us, it's a very normal situation," she says. "But it's a very difficult topic, because in this society it is unacceptable." Salima was still at university when she first met her older cousin - an engineer from Lebanon who moved to Australia to find work. The pair fell in love and later married. Their youngest son, now 14, is autistic."No one has ever said it is because you are married to your cousin," says Salima, who works in the finance industry "but I've thought about it myself over the years and I've started to question it. I've learnt to live with the situation, but it's not something I would want my children to do."

It is the wind of change that the medical fraternity has been praying for. The risk of defect or death in babies born to cousin couples is double that of the general population - about 6 per cent compared to 3 percent. Butde Costa's year-long project showed significantly higher risks, perhaps due to the the smaller gene pool in Australian immigrant communities.

Auburn Hospital obstetrician Greg Jenkins who worked with de Costa on the study before she relocated to Queensland - says it is vital that families are educated about the risks, particularly those who face higher risks due to known genetic conditions or a history of intermarriage. In cases where women access high quality ultrasounds early in their pregnancy abnormalities can be identified and couples referred to genetic counselling. They can then decide to terminate - an option allowed in the Muslim faith in the first trimester - or proceed with the pregnancy under expert medical care. But Jenkins says poor levels of awareness mean that many women book into antenatal clinics too late, and never see trained genetic counsellors or pediatric specialists.

Yet even women with the best medical care have stories that are heartbreaking. Jenkins tells of one woman who learnt at 19 weeks that her baby had a lethal brain abnormality She decided to carry the child. "From her perspective, it was the will of God," Jenkins says. "It broke her heart, but the way she approached it was that she would do the best she could because it was something over which she had no control. "It was a very painful experience.. .a very challenging and confronting situation. My staff kept wanting to send her away for more tests and I said, 'No, that's not -what she wants'." In the end, the woman's baby died an hour after birth. "[But] she got to meet her baby and she got to comfort it," Jenkins says. "She didn't have to make the decision to terminate the life of her child. Her next baby was fine and it brought great joy to everyone involved."

At the childrens hospital at Westmead geneticist Professor David Sillence believes consanguinity may have outlived its usefulness. "When you make the transition from Lebanon to Australia, the bank is on George Street in Parramatta - it's no longer money which the family holds in it own pocket," Sillence says. "Consanguinity doesn't necessarily preserve marriages anymore and it doesn't necessarily protect women from abuse within the family It puts women in a relationship within their household where they not only have a husband but a father-in-law who is related to them because he is the uncle and there is increased pressure on them.

"There is a dysgenic [relating to or causing degeneration in the type of offspring produced] effect that's been shown in repeated studies." One of those is reproductive loss, Sillence says. He has devoted his career to untangling the complicated family tree of Sydney's Middle Eastern community He tells the story of a Pakistani woman who had five pregnancies, all ending in miscarriage at 16 to 18 weeks. But he was surprised by the depth of grief in the community, particularly among men."I was not prepared for Mediterranean males who sit and cry for one hour about their sadness," he says. Dozens of men spoke to Sillence during a study at Westmead in the late 1990s. He hoped his research would lead to a funding grant to help establish a data bank of rare disorders, and improve screening and testing options.

But September 11 put paid to that. The research funding dried up and the community closed up. Politicians became uninterested in health. Sillence hopes his research will gain momentum again. In the meantime, he mops up the tears and discourages interfamily marriage, except in cases where love is Involved. This is because only love can overcome the vast grief. "You cannot know how much grief there is until you do a study like this," he says. "Your only research cost is Kleenex tissues. Grief can be like a well and that well is very deep for these families."It's grief heaped upon grief.. .the personal grief of a miscarriage, heaped upon the grief of a community, heaped upon grief in an international context."

For Randa and Mohammed Assoum, love has kept them together. And as they sit side by side in the lounge room of their Lidcombe home, their connection is obvious. They giggle, and smile at each other, recounting their courtship. "I loved him," Randa says shyly. "We're still in love and we'll never stop loving each other," Mohammed says. "Not everyone has that we're just lucky,thank God. And we love our children very much."

The risks are far greater when blood relatives marry

* Consanguinity describes the relationship between blood relatives.Most common is marriage between first cousins.

* Birth defects occur because blood relatives share a greater number of genes, so there is a greater chance of both parents sharing the same faulty gene.

* Children risk inheriting two copies of the same faulty gene, and so being born with a genetic disability.

* Parents who are not related face a 3 per cent risk of having a disabled child. For first cousins, the risk is twice as high.

But, says Dr Kristine Barlow-Stewart, from the centre for Genetics Education, this means the vast majority of children are born healthy. "People think they will automatically have a child with genetic problems and of course that's not so,"she says. "The risk of having a [disabled] child when the parents are first cousins is around 5-6 per cent. "The problem is that where there is a tradition for relatives to marry, you'll get the grandparents who are first cousins,the parents who are first cousins and the children who are first cousins. Then the chance of them sharing the same faulty gene is compounded and there risk is much greater than the 5to 6 per cent risk."

The above article appeared in the Sydney "Sun Herald" on 28 May, 2006, Pgs 77 & 80 under the heading: "The family ties that bind".