Saturday, June 30, 2007

Public hospitals "too busy" -- turn away 48-year-old heart attack victim -- who dies for want of attention

As a relatively young man he might well have survived if promptly given anti-clotting agents etc.

A MAN died after besieged Gold Coast and northern NSW hospitals turned away ambulances yesterday. The man, 48, from NSW, is believed to have suffered a heart attack at Currumbin yesterday morning. Tweed Heads Hospital would not accept the man and he was taken by ambulance to Gold Coast Hospital where he died, according to a Queensland Health spokesman. "He went into cardiac arrest soon after he arrived at Gold Coast and died in the emergency department," the spokesman said.

A NSW Health spokesman confirmed the Tweed Heads Hospital was on "bypass" but said the manager was unaware of an ambulance being turned away with an emergency patient on board. A Queensland Ambulance Service spokeswoman said ambulance officers contacted the Tweed Heads hospital twice but were turned away. "We were advised that the hospital was on redirect and unable to accept the patient," she said.

Several regional hospitals were turning away ambulances yesterday, including Gold Coast, Logan, Pindara, John Flynn, Allamanda, Tweed Heads and Murwillumbah. "The (Queensland) Government has been putting its head in the sand for far too long over the bypass situation," one ambulance officer said.

A Gold Coast Hospital spokeswoman said the hospital had been on bypass or "redirect" between 1pm and 3.30pm yesterday. She said the winter flu season was adding to pressure on hospitals.


A deadbeat State health system in Tasmania

THE giant $1.3-billion Health Department has delayed paying its bills, including $69 owed to a Burnie couple struggling to survive on disability pensions. Tom Browne said he had $40 to last him the next two weeks and could not believe the department had not paid him the refund for driving his son to Hobart to see a neurosurgeon. "It just peeves me off, they don't look out for the little people anymore," he said. "To me it's a lot of money and I need the money more than they do."

Health Minister Lara Giddings revealed yesterday that her department had delayed the payment of bills because of the "tight financial problems we are in". "We do need every dollar we can get," she said. "Firm control is indeed needed to ensure that we remain within our budget. "We must all live within our budgets."

Mr Browne said he had been out of pocket for a month, having spent $80 on petrol to drive his adult son to Hobart and back. The $69 refund appeared in his bank account yesterday afternoon, hours after a question about its whereabouts from Tasmanian Greens leader Peg Putt to State Parliament. Ms Putt welcomed the payment, which she said had come after she embarrassed the Government about its "extraordinary penny-pinching".

She said three weeks after the Brownes had applied for their public transport refund, a public servant had told them about a memo circulating. She said it read: "Due to budget restraints and the end of the financial year, we are currently holding payments past the due dates."

Department deputy secretary at shared services Simon Barnsley said at June 21, Tasmania's three public hospitals owed $10.7 million to creditors. He said since then $4.7 million worth of accounts had been paid to meet all accounts outstanding more than 30 days. He said payments would continue through until June 30, in line with "standard cash management practice". "At the Royal Hobart Hospital the outstanding amount was $4.7 million -- or 1.8 per cent of budget," he said. "$3.1 million was owed at the Launceston General Hospital, or 2.2 per cent of budget -- and at the North West Regional the total outstanding was $2 million or two per cent of budget."

Ms Giddings said the department did not have a "bottomless pit" of money to tap into and there were no extra funds available. "We have to live within our budgets, and it is a problem," she said.


The latest racket: An attack on free speech in the name of "privacy"

CONFIRMING the theory that nature abhors a vacuum, the NSW Law Reform Commission has declared its support for a new avenue of litigation over breach of privacy. If accepted, the commission's recommendations could deny the right to publish a whole range of information now considered part of ordinary community dialogue.

The commission was set the task of evaluating whether a tort of privacy should exist in response to an adventurous ruling by a County Court judge in Victoria. The result follows the commission's similarly flawed attempt to impose limits on taking photographs in public places that, if adopted, would have rendered photojournalism all but impossible and was rejected out of hand. The latest proposal has been put forward for community discussion.

In doing so, the commission correctly observes that formulation of a comprehensive and meaningful definition of privacy has eluded legislatures and commentators for centuries. Statutory attempts had been either so vague as to be meaningless or so circumscribed as to be arbitrary. The commission also noted that like all rights and freedoms, privacy is not absolute, but must be balanced against other interests, values and human rights in the context of the merits of each case. But it nonetheless advanced for discussion a system based on the Canadian model, which includes a breach of privacy for disclosing embarrassing facts or using a person's name, identity, likeness or voice without authority or consent.

The commission went so far as to suggest that privacy be given over material that was already on the public record and that aggrieved parties should be allowed to share in the profits of offending publications.

The Australian believes there are good reasons why attempts to legally define privacy have proved historically troublesome. We believe consideration of issues such as the introduction of a tort of privacy to be beyond the scope of the Law Reform Commission. At worst it represents an attempt by lawyers to profit at the expense of free speech, putting a nebulous right to privacy ahead of the right to know.


Hezbollah is a voice ofextremism, murder and hate

By Geoffrey Zygier, Executive director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry Inc

The Australian Jewish community can accept political debate about the rights and wrongs of the Middle East conflict. We understand the emotions it arouses and we look forward to a just and peaceful resolution that takes the interests of all affected parties into account. However, we cannot accept the recent statements by Keysar Trad and Sheik Mousselmani in support of Hezbollah.

It is well known that Hezbollah is committed to Israel's destruction. As its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has stated: ``I am against any reconciliation with Israel. I do not even recognise the presence of a state that is called Israel.''

But of even greater concern is Hezbollah's blatant hatred of Jews. In 2002, the Lebanese press quoted Nasrallah as saying, ``if (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide''. Some years later, Lebanese author and expert on Hezbollah Amal Saad-Ghorayeb quoted Nasrallah as saying, ``If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.''

Hezbollah is a voice of extremism, murder and hate. It does not ask for a two-state solution or for justice but stridently calls for genocide. By endorsing Hezbollah this is what Trad and Mousselmani are effectively supporting. While this has global implications, it also endangers local community harmony. We ask all Australians of goodwill, including the leaders of the Australian Muslim community, to reject this stance in the strongest possible terms.


Friday, June 29, 2007


Say deranged Australian "human rights" bureaucrats

The NSW Law Reform Commission and the NSW Government have shirked their responsibility to recommend the inclusion of people who are blind or deaf on NSW juries, Human Rights Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Disability Discrimination, Graeme Innes AM, said today.

Presenting the annual Sir Ninian Stephen Lecture at the University of Newcastle, Mr Innes told law students that despite the fact the Law Reform Commission was asked in 2002 to address the exclusion of people who are blind or deaf from serving on NSW juries, they have left this to gather dust. "I call on both the NSW Government and the NSW Law Reform Commission, as I have on a number of previous occasions, to act on this issue and to recommend and make the changes needed to allow people who are blind or deaf to be on juries," Mr Innes said. "I know many people who are blind or deaf who feel that they can never be totally accepted into our society as equals until they can fully carry out their responsibilities as citizens."

Mr Innes told the students the lack of progress regarding jury participation for people who are blind or deaf marred progress the NSW legal system had made in other areas such as accessibility for people with physical disabilities and hearing loops for people with hearing impairments.

In a far-ranging speech mixed with factual stories of ordinary people from his life as a lawyer in the former Department of Consumer Affairs, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and the Equal Opportunity Commission in WA, Mr Innes told students they could make a difference in virtually every area of law. "All you have to do is remember that laws and their application are really just about people in the end," Commissioner Innes said.

The Sir Ninian Stephen Lecture was established in 1993 to mark the arrival of the first group of Bachelor of Laws students at the University of Newcastle. It is an annual event which is delivered by an eminent lawyer at the start of each academic year.


Destructive neglect in the Victorian public health system

A WOMAN may lose her hands after languishing on a rehabilitation waiting list for more than three years. The nails of Fran Murphy's crippled fingers are now growing into her palms, risking infection that could see her lose her hands. The 55-year-old has been on a rehabilitation waiting list since March 2004 for an aneurism and stroke suffered in September 2003. Her fingers are now clenched immovably into fists. The nursing home resident can't talk, but daughter Renae Caulkett said she constantly cried in distress.

"It's disgraceful. If she had therapy and physio from the beginning, her hands wouldn't be like this. "Now it is just going to be more resources to have her hands fixed and traumatic surgery and recovery for her. She is crying and in pain, and it is very distressing when you can't do anything to help."

Victoria's $5.6 million Slow to Recover scheme, providing intensive rehabilitation for those with brain injuries ineligible for treatment under the TAC or WorkCover, is the only one of its kind in Australia. Ms Murphy has routine physio and speech therapy. But occupational therapist Michelle French said she desperately needed specialist treatment, though she fears it is now too late. "Her hands are so tightly fisted you can't even open them to clean them or cut the nails. Had she managed to get services earlier -- hand therapy, stretching programs, and hand splints -- her hands would not be in the condition they are now," she said. Ms Murphy is on a public hospital waiting list to have her finger tendons cut. If this doesn't provide movement, or infection occurs, she faces the prospect of amputation.

Young People in Nursing Homes National Alliance director Dr Bronwyn Morkham said 67 people were waiting for help under the scheme. The State Budget allocated an extra $12.3 million over three years, but Dr Morkham said this would not be available until 2008 and then only to those already on the list.

Community Services Minister Gavin Jennings's spokeswoman said the scheme was at full capacity (140 patients) and the Government spent more than $1 billion a year on rehabilitation. There had been extra funding for Ms Murphy's rehabilitation while she waited to enter the program. "DHS are in regular contact with her family to ensure this support is flexible enough to help address her needs," she said.


Teachers don't want to be assessed

People in business prosper or go under according to their performance but any shadow of such constraint is too much for our lordly teachers. "Just give us more money" is their message

HUNDREDS of teachers rallied in Brisbane today in protest against federal workplace laws and plans for performance-based salaries. Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) spokesman Steve Ryan said delegates to the union's annual conference were met by teachers on school holidays from across the state. About 500 teachers marched from the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre to nearby South Bank for the rally.

Mr Ryan said members were angry at the Government's industrial relations laws, standardised testing of students and performance-based pay for teachers, which was outlined by Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop in April. They were also angry about what he said was underfunding of state schools and TAFE institutions, saying the issues could have a backlash in the lead-up to the federal election.

"We oppose the mixing of industrial relations policies with education," Mr Ryan said. "We will continue to campaign in the context of the federal election, through an industrial-based viewpoint and in an educational sense opposing the policies of the Federal Government." Mr Ryan said performance-based pay did not take into account the workload issues or professional responsibilities which teachers faced and were not a true reflection of what they were worth.

Ms Bishop has threatened to withhold $3 billion in commonwealth education funding if the states refuse to allow performance-pay for state school teachers from 2009. The Federal Government also wants principals to be able to hire and fire teachers, which the union says will destroy the state-based transfer teacher system.


History students may skip the most hallowed events in Australian history

HIGH school students would be able to avoid studying Gallipoli and the Anzacs under the draft Australian history curriculum prepared as a result of last year's history summit. The draft for high school history, obtained by The Australian, also overlooks the achievements of the Hawke-Keating governments and theeconomic reforms of the past 25 years.

A four-member committee that includes controversial historian Geoffrey Blainey and social commentator Gerard Henderson will now review the curriculum for the federal Government, and develop a national Australian history curriculum for Years9 and 10. The Government's refusal to release the draft curriculum has prompted speculation among historians that John Howard intervened in the process and appointed Dr Henderson to ensure his more traditional view of history teaching prevailed.

Historians questioned Dr Henderson's qualifications for the role, and said his appointment suggested the Prime Minister found the draft curriculum - written by Tony Taylor, Monash University professor and head of the National Centre for History Education - too progressive. "This group might see Professor Taylor's draft as not traditional enough and not prescriptive enough and therefore they have been put into position to force the draft into a shape that is more acceptable to the Prime Minister's office," one historian said. The vice-president of the Australian Historical Association, Martin Lyons, said Dr Henderson's inclusion on the committee was puzzling because "he has no experience for this task and his inclusion looks too much like an ideological statement". "He is there to push a certain political line," he said.

The draft curriculum was intended to provide a model for teaching Australian history in a sequential way through primary and high schools, from Years 3 to 10. For high school students, it is structured around 14 guiding questions based on 29 key dates and milestones covering 10 time periods, from the arrival of the first people in 40,000BC to 60,000BC to the late 20th century. Students would be required to study three of four pre-Federation questions, three of four post-Federation questions and two of six questions covering the entire period.

Of the four post-Federation questions, only one deals with Australia going to war and the nation's experience, leaving it open for teachers and students to choose the other three questions dealing with how Australia became a nation, who could be an Australian and the role governments play in improving the welfare of the people.

In the milestone events identified in the curriculum, the period entitled "Shaping Modern Australia" from 1967 to present names the constitutional referendum on Aborigines and the end of the White Australia policy; the protests against the Vietnam War in 1970-71; the dismissal of the Labor government in 1975; the 1992 Mabo judgment; and the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Wollongong University professor of history and politics Gregory Melleuish - author of one of the background papers for the Australian History Summit - criticised the curriculum as providing a patchy view of the nation's history, particularly after World War II. Professor Melleuish said late 20th-century Australian history was presented as a series of social movements including republicanism, feminism and other rights, but was glaring in some of its omissions. "Why is the fall of the Whitlam government seen as one major event and the achievements of the Hawke-Keating governments not seen as counting for anything?" he said.

Also appointed to the review committee were ANU history fellow Nicholas Brown and the NSW school history inspector Jennifer Lawless. But NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca on Monday refused to allow Ms Lawless to participate further in the process. Mr Della Bosca questioned the suitability of Dr Henderson's appointment to the reference group, saying he was not a professional historian.

But Dr Henderson yesterday defended his inclusion, saying he had a PhD in political history and his "extensive list of publications" included two well-reviewed history books. "Della Bosca seems to hold the view that only tenured academics on taxpayer-subsidised campuses are entitled to be regarded as historians," he writes in The Australian today.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Having opinions about race is not the same as racism

The article below is a typical rant about racism from a Left-leaning Australian newspaper. Typically, it makes no distinction between opinions about race and racism. To do so would deprive the author of much of the warm inner glow of righteousness she got from writing it. But, as any psychologist can tell you, attitudes are not the same as behaviour and it has been known since the 1930s that, in this field particularly, attitudes and behaviour are often very different. My favourite example of the disjunction is a neo-Nazi I once knew who was great friends with a very dark-skinned Bengali. I also once knew a very kind man who spoke very ill of Asians but who was in fact happily married to one.

We all have opinions about groups of people. What do most men think about busty women, for instance? And what do women think about tall men? There is rarely indifference in either case. So there is nothing wrong about opinions of racial or ethnic groups either. It is only when people are ill-treated solely because of their race that there is cause for concern and the label "racism" is justified.

The article below mentions the multifarious prejudices that the English typically have -- class prejudices and regional prejudices particularly. They even mock redheads! As an Australian who has spent some time in England, I have myself experienced the mocking comments that the English sometimes direct at Australians. I just directed a few mocking comments back which were received with perfect good humour and which moved the conversation onto a perfectly amicable level.

People will always be mocked by someone for something and it is about time everyone grew up enough to handle it. So let us hear from the self-righteous one:

I was at a smart party with a bunch of people I hadn't seen for years. Suddenly there was a yelp at my elbow. Fabulous Miss C, tanned to the gills, absolutely cured. She'd also done something to her face. "I hear you're living out at Springvale now. P told me. She said there aren't any dogs out there, because the chinks have eaten them all." And off she went into a squealing peal of laughter. It's a long time since I heard someone say "chinks" and make a joke like that. I told her that what she said was ridiculous, that of course there are dogs in Springvale, hundreds of them. I should have also told her she was revoltingly racist, that talk like that is not acceptable. But I did not.

A friend was dining at the home of "aristocrats" when the hostess rattled her jewels and complained about all the new immigrants from Africa, crowing that they should "send them back up the trees". The company laughed indulgently - such a rabid old eccentric. One simply could not take her seriously. No one told her off.

Racism is a disease found among people of all incomes, education levels and ethnic types. Even within the same ethnic type: in London Australians are patronised, treated as "dumb colonials" with the wrong accent. A German friend lived there for many years and waited for the inevitable swipe at every dinner party. "It was relentless," she told me. "Germans are seen as humourless, efficient manufacturers of precision instruments. We are disliked but we are taken seriously. Australians are not taken seriously. My only defence was to get ahead of them, tell a joke against Germans before they got theirs in."

I was warned a guest I had from the Balkans was sure to be a "broken and scarred person". When I suggested that such stereotyping was racist the response was angry. How dare I accuse them. My years working in the Jewish community have elicited "concern" from some. "Do they - uh - pay you properly?" When I return a quiet, withering gaze they too get angry: "Oh for God's sake! I just wanted to make sure you were alright!"

More here

Perhaps two small examples of mocking the English back might help someone. The first is of my own devising and the second I owe to the inimitable Barry Humphries. The two examples spring from derogatory comments about Australian wine and comments about Australian male friendships being suppressed homosexuality. The two comments I make on such occasions are:

"Australians are much like the French. They make a small amount of good wine and a lot of rough wine. And the stuff that is too rough even for them they sell to the English"

"That's just a rumour put out by Australia House to attract all the English immigrants"

I have always found that both comments get a "Touche!" response.

Compassion keeping Australian blacks dirt poor

TREASURY Secretary Ken Henry says decades of misguided government policy encouraging passive welfare has consigned many Australians - particularly Aborigines - "to a life of economic and social exclusion". Dr Henry, one of the nation's top bureaucrats, said governments had been motivated by compassion but the welfare system had discouraged recipients from seeking work that could lift them out of poverty. One solution would be to create a system that encouraged people to leave home to find work if there were no opportunities in their community.

Speaking in Cairns at indigenous leader Noel Pearson's Cape York Institute, Dr Henry said decades of "passive welfare provision" had delivered dependency on the system, eroding people's capability to work and undermining indigenous development. Dr Henry said a couple with three young children could access about $36,500 a year in income support payments and family tax benefit without working. "That fact affects workforce participation decisions all around Australia, in all sorts of communities," he told the conference, co-sponsored by The Australian. "The level of income support can discourage people from entering the workforce. The higher the base income support payment, the less likely it is thata person will enter or re-enter work after they become unemployed.

"Governments have also allowed many income recipients to receive support without being required to seek work. "For instance, in the past, many indigenous Australians were granted remote area exemptions, people with disabilities could avoid work obligations unless they were assessed as being able to work for 30 hours a week at award wages for two years, and parents didn't have to seek work until their youngest child was aged 16. "Governments that designed these policies were no doubt motivated by compassion. In practice, they were consigning many Australians to a life of economic and social exclusion."

Dr Henry added that passive welfare had done little to encourage people, particularly young people, to embrace education. Achieving better results, he said, meant ensuring Australia had a welfare system that rewarded work and study above a life of "passivity and dependence". He promoted the notion that, if work was not available in a remote community, people should have the capacity to get out and look for employment.

"Where remote locations simply cannot produce sufficient job opportunities for local people, there is no point in relying on miracles," Dr Henry told the conference, called to debate social norms in indigenous communities. "A better strategy is to ensure that people have the opportunity to move to take up work if that is what they want to do. Noel (Pearson) talks about orbits - where people spend part of the year earning income in other places, returning to live part of the year on country. This seems a sensible model to me."

Kevin Rudd also endorsed the need for welfare reform. He told Mr Pearson, director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, that if Labor were elected to government he would provide funding of at least $15million to ensure the reform process was implemented in Cape York communities. He said the model would be evaluated and, if successful, implemented in other communities in Australia.

Mr Rudd said an important part of the Pearson reform plan was ensuring indigenous children attended school. This involved establishing a Family Responsibilities Commission, whose membership included local community elders and had the power to warn parents who were not sending their children to school. If that warning was ignored, it could "redirect" welfare payments to the person who was actually caring for the children.


Why governments are flailing at the air in thinking they can cure the problems of Aborigines

Not so long ago, Australian governments did ban anyone anywhere from selling alcohol to Aborigines but that would be "racism" today

DANNY Banjo is the face of the modern fringe-dweller on Cape York. He has been drinking since he was 10, moved to Mareeba where it is easier to get hard liquor, and is part of a migration from indigenous communities to the outskirts of towns and cities across the north. "Whatever town I go to, the grog is killing them. It is taking away lives, and it will take my life away too," said the 69-year-old of the Ang-gnarra people on Cape York.

The elder is well spoken, blunt and to the point. He thinks the Prime Minister's plan to enforce a grog ban in the Northern Territory will only do what alcohol management plans have done on Cape York - shift the problem elsewhere. "Here it is easier to get a drink. I drink anything they make in a bottle, rum, beer, wine - you name it, I drink it. "They are trying the grog ban up the Cape. But wherever you go along the highway you can find a pub. Many of the hard drinkers come down here and live on the river or in squats."

Danny is among the exodus of dedicated drinkers flowing out of strictly-controlled Aboriginal communities and into towns such as Mareeba, Cooktown and Cairns. They follow the "river of grog". And local authorities are fed up. "Police came down to the camps on the river and kicked everybody out," Danny told The Courier-Mail in the main street of Mareeba yesterday. "I went to a rehab centre, I have been to plenty of rehab centres, but they have never done any good," he said. "All these bans and heavy-handed tactics do is just shift the problem elsewhere."


Vilification battle ends

The Muslim group must have dropped its legal claims. A previous verdict against the pastors was overturned in a higher court

MEDIATION and handshakes have ended a five-year racial-vilification battle between an evangelical Christian group and a Victorian Muslim body. Catch the Fire Ministries sparked a row with the Islamic Council of Victoria in 2002 when it claimed that Muslims were demons training to make Australia an Islamic state, that the Koran promoted violence, and that Muslims derived money from drugs. [A very biased account of what the pastors did and said. For a more extensive report, see here]

Catch the Fire pastor Daniel Nalliah said he was relieved the case, which was settled in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal after a hearing in the Victorian Court of Appeal, was over. He said the two parties resolved the matter after seven hours of mediation on Friday. "The mediation brought two communities to a closer relationship. There was a lot of goodwill and a lot of shaking of hands," he said.

Former ICV president Yasser Soliman welcomed Pastor Nalliah's comments.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Limits on free speech in Australia

I largely sympathize with the thinking below. In the usual conservative way, however, I think a balance has to be struck. I don't think there should be ABSOLUTE freedom for journalists and whistleblowers to do as they like but I think a "public benefit" defence should always be allowed to them

The past few days have seen the legal system serve up yet another vivid illustration of the depressing state of free speech in Australia. On Friday the former public servant Allan Kessing copped a nine-month suspended jail sentence for his crime of leaking reports to a newspaper about the chaotic state of security at Sydney Airport.

Yesterday two journalists joined him in the ranks of the criminal class when Chief Judge Michael Rozenes, in Victoria's County Court, ordered convictions be recorded against Melbourne Herald Sun staffers Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus, and fined them $7000 each. They were convicted of contempt of court, but their crime was doing their jobs by telling the public what was really going on, rather than feeding them the spin-doctored version of events the Government had cooked up.

Their story, published in the newspaper in 2004, embarrassed the Government, humiliated the then minister for veterans' affairs, Dana Vale, and provided another reason why the Australian media have formed a Right to Know coalition to lobby for changes to the law. The story was good journalism. It should never have ended up in court. It revealed the Government had opted to accept just five of 65 recommendations on ways to improve benefits for war veterans, thereby saving about $500 million.

What stung was that the journalists got hold of the minister's "speaking notes" which, they wrote, revealed how she would "publicly sugarcoat the Government's offer to veterans and their families". By the time the story was published, a revolt by Government members had killed off the plan. But that didn't stop the Government's pursuit of the leaker.

A public servant, Desmond Patrick Kelly, was accused. During committal proceedings the two journalists were directed to identify their sources for their story. They refused, saying they were acting in accordance with the journalists' code of ethics, which requires journalists to protect the identity of their sources in such circumstances.

More here

Verbal backdown on union power by Australia's political Left

It would be much more impressive if the backdown were enshrined in the party platform. To understand the cartoon above, you may need to know that Ms Gillard is a redhead. It is also an allusion to several recent stories about abandoned babies

JULIA Gillard has flagged keeping John Howard's tough restrictions on the right of unions to enter workplaces if Labor wins this year's election, a move likely to inflame relations with the union movement.

Federal Labor's deputy leader yesterday gave credit to the Government for limits it had placed on union access to worksites under current laws. Recognising the laws had "in some ways" balanced the rights of employers and unions, Ms Gillard said Labor did not want to jeopardise work performance or cause disruption.

The comments by Ms Gillard, the Opposition's industrial relations spokeswoman, appear aimed at quelling employer fears that Labor will give a greenlight to militants such as West Australian construction union leader Joe McDonald to enter building sites to interfere with operations. Mr McDonald, who has been threatened with expulsion from the ALP over his behaviour, faces multiple trespass charges after repeatedly entering building sites despite having had his permit revoked. The ACTU has raised strong protests about how the Government's Work Choices laws, introduced last year, have made union operations intolerable by effectively wiping out their ability to enter worksites to recruit or negotiate with employers. The Howard Government's laws require union officials to gain entry permits from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission with 24 hours' notice.

Before permits are granted, union officials must prove reasonable grounds to investigate alleged breaches of the law and must have a member on site. Unions are especially irritated that employers can determine the time and place to meet employees during work breaks. Labor's industrial policy, released by Ms Gillard in April, was silent on union right of entry, apart from declaring an important role for unions in keeping workplaces fair and that employees should be free to seek their advice.

Ever since, the Australian Industry Group and other employer bodies have feared a return to relaxed worksite entry rules under Labor, swinging the balance of power back to union bargaining.

After an address to the Melbourne Press Club yesterday, Ms Gillard said the Government's existing right of entry provisions recognised "in some ways" the balance needed between the rights of employers and the rights of unions. "When we look at the current system, obviously it's got permits, it's got limitations on entry, it's got limits that you would expect about disruption to work - obviously not having entry in a way which causes disruption to work," she said. "We would not want to see changes to the right of entry systems that jeopardise work performance. "There's obviously a balance here and current legislation recognises that balance in some ways too, but in a proper and orderly system unions need to have access to union members whilst at the same time the employers have got to be able to go about their business without undue disruptions."

AI Group industrial director Steve Smith told The Australian last night: "If Ms Gillard's comments mean that Labor would retain the existing right-of-entry provisions, we welcome that because they are fair and balanced." Mr Smith said provisions under Work Choices were similar to previous ones - but they tightened up the rules by requiring union officials to specify alleged breaches of workplace laws they wanted to investigate. Mr Smith said employers remained concerned over possible misuse of worksite access under health and safety provisions.

ACTU spokesman George Wright said last night: "People who are members of unions or want to speak to members in a workplace should be able to do so without interference or impediment, and the Government's laws in many cases don't allow that."

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said Ms Gillard should put a pledge on union right of entry in writing if she were serious. He also claimed Ms Gillard had committed an "embarrassing gaffe" on a par with Kevin Rudd's comments on productivity last week by wrongly alleging a government spending blow-out on industrial relations. As reported by The Australian yesterday, Ms Gillard attacked the Government for imposing a huge industrial relations bureaucracy under Work Choices, quadrupling spending and boosting staffing by 80 per cent. But Mr Hockey said the increased spending came mainly from the employment "supply" side of his portfolio: welfare-to-work and income support.

In a further reassurance to business, Ms Gillard yesterday insisted that Labor would retain all the existing coercive powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission until 2010 at least. She said she would hold talks with employers about whether Labor's proposed replacement for the building industry watchdog after 2010 would retain the full suite of coercive powers.

Mr Rudd is leading a push to rid Labor of militant unionists, such as Mr McDonald and Electrical Trades Union secretary Dean Mighell, amid concerns that voters will not vote for a party seen tacitly to endorse union thuggery. Despite being pressured to resign from the ALP for using bad language as he bragged to workers about winning wage deals, Mr Mighell is determined he will not be forgotten. The ETU's Victorian secretary has told members his union will continue to be active with Labor, the Greens or any other minor party representing workers and their families. Mr Mighell makes it clear in a letter to members that he only resigned to "ensure that I could not be used by the Howard Government as a political pawn in this forthcoming election". "Make no mistake, if the ALP wins government, the ETU will continue to campaign without fear of favour to protect our members' interest."



Record chill blitzes Tasmania. If record hot weather anywhere proves global warming (as the newspapers and Greenies so often tell us), then the story below must surely prove global cooling. Or am I missing something?

THE spate of chilly weather is set to ice southern Tasmania's coldest June on record. Grove, just south of Hobart, has had 21 mornings in a row when the mercury plunged to 2C or below, the Bureau of Meteorology said yesterday. And the average minimum for Hobart this month has been just 3.1C -- a dramatic low compared to the usual 5.2C.

A balmy May and 20 years of mild winters made the chill more of a shock, said Ian Barnes-Keoghan, from the bureau's climate section. "It's been very dramatic," he said. "Overnight temperatures have been creeping up in the past couple of decades, so cold nights have become less common and this is a bit of a flashback."

Southern Tasmania's figures were a standout for June. "And May was so warm, the temperature didn't drop below 5C," Mr Barnes-Keoghan said. "A couple of places are on track for the coldest June on record, although the temperatures might pick up during the rest of this week."

The frost has been good for fruit-growers. Huon Valley grower and Fruit Growers Tasmania spokesman Thomas Frankcomb said apples and cherries needed the chill. "It helps the fruit buds mature so when they pop in the spring they pop evenly and with good, strong flowers," Mr Frankcomb said.


South Australian public health system in big trouble

SOUTH Australian psychiatrists have threatened to resign en masse from the state system next week, dramatically widening the public sector revolt against the Rann Government's bid to rein in costs and pay growth. Up to 50 psychiatrists are believed to be ready to quit the system on Monday if the Government does not fund 20 extra specialists to provide what their union calls a "minimum" adequate level of service and pay.

Treasurer Kevin Foley sought to rein in public sector unions last month by warning a wage breakout would tear a $190million hole in the budget if it was 1 per cent above what the Government had allowed for.

Public sector psychiatrists have now joined teachers, ambulance officers, nurses and dentists in threatening industrial action to back their demands for more financial resources than the Government is willing to commit. "This is not some idle threat, dangling out there to impress people," said Andrew Murray from the South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association, the union representing the mental health sector. In other industrial moves:

* South Australian dentists in the public system - seeking a 35per cent pay rise over three years - took unprecedented industrial action by refusing to charge public patients gap fees.

* State schools will shut early on Thursday to allow teachers to deliver protest letters to their local MPs.

* Ambulance officers could introduce work bans today.

Mental Health Minister Gail Gago said negotiations with psychiatrists were at an "extremely sensitive stage".


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Australian films give a distorted view of life in suburbia -- chaotic images highlighted

TENTACLES of settlement began spreading out from our fledgling cities in the 1800s as families sought a place to call home away from overcrowded urban living. People had left the farm for the city; now they left the city for the suburbs. In Melbourne, C.J. Dennis celebrated an ordinary larrikin in his best-selling verse novel The Sentimental Bloke. Raymond Longford turned it into one of our earliest silent films in 1919 and it was an instant hit. In the poem's final stanza, the Bloke sits in perfect contentment with wife Doreen and baby on the front porch of his suburban cottage, listening to the birds.

A detached house on a garden block was home for most people, rich, poor and otherwise, although it may not have been a way of life that lent cultural richness. In the first half of the 1900s, Australia was all about football, baked dinners and stultifying convention; at least that's how it seemed to our cultural monitors. Patrick White despised it, as did Barry Humphries, but many writers, such as Christina Stead, evoked their suburban childhoods beautifully, often in memoirs written after they'd left the country.

Sumner Locke Elliott, who was born in 1917 in Sydney, wrote Careful He Might Hear You about his youth, spent between warring aunts in working-class Carlton and ritzy Vaucluse. He left for the US in 1948 after years of an "anguished life as a covert homosexual".

Brisbane suburbia is immortalised in Johnno, David Malouf's memoir of his adolescence and early adulthood in the '40s and '50s, as it is in Over the Top with Jim (the biggest selling Australian childhood memoir), Hugh Lunn's tales about growing up in a Queenslander in Annerley Junction during the same period. (Strangely, neither has made it to film.)

Robert Drewe explored the suburbs of Perth and Sydney with his memoir The Shark Net and acerbic collection of short stories The Bodysurfers, which nailed the mores of Sydney's eastern suburbs during the '80s. (Both also became excellent television drama.)

There is little of the subtlety of these authors in films set in the suburbs. On film, it seems, we would rather deal with our demons than wallow in rosy memories. For many filmmakers, the suburbs mean cars, sport, crime, violence, westies, bogans and ethnic gangs. Some made brilliant films that were almost too convincing to stomach: The Boys and Romper Stomper. And the working class gets a bad rap, all dysfunctional families, unemployment and junkies. We did have an antidote, however, in the well-crafted, multi-layered Muriel's Wedding, Strictly Ballroom and Lantana, and, of course, the hit comedy The Castle.

Back in 1966, John O'Grady's amusing bestseller They're a Weird Mob was turned into a record-breaking film. The story of an Italian sportswriter (Walter Chiari) forced to work as a brickie's labourer pointed out with affection the foibles of Australians and the challenge of being a "New Australian". The cast included Chips Rafferty and Ed Devereaux. Clare Dunne was there, too, but a film made at the height of Australian chauvinism can't be faulted for its masculine bias.

Another striking and inflected representation of masculinity came in 1977 when Bryan Brown arrived on the scene in the short feature Love Letters from Teralba Road, about a man trying to reconcile with the wife he had bashed (an equally strong Kris McQuade). "My main aim as a director was to capture the feel of the western suburbs, which I knew well from living in Fairfield in my father's pub for five years," director Stephen Wallace said.

Don's Party, a play by David Williamson, chronicled the rise and fall of an election-night party in a middle-class house. Now Bruce Beresford's film of it wears a retro air, but in 1976 it was set in a typical home, with types familiar across the nation's aspirational suburbs talking politics and getting drunk, the sexes segregated at different ends of the house.

Donald Crombie's Caddie (1976), a story of a beautiful, tough woman battling her way through the Depression, has plenty of melodrama and soapy elements. But it's based on a true story, Caddie: The Autobiography of a Sydney Barmaid by Catherine Elliot-Mackay. It shows us what life was like for a woman forced out of the tennis-playing upper-crust suburbs and made to earn her living in rough pubs, where a few centimetres off the hem of her skirt earned enough in tips to feed her children.

In the '80s, some definitive suburban stories were produced. Puberty Blues (1981) revealed the dirty secret of life as a surfie girl in the masculine, insular world of Sydney's Cronulla beach. Even better, the two heroines leave it behind at the end of the film.

Wendy Hughes and Robyn Nevin played the duelling aunts in Careful He Might Hear You, Carl Schultz's wildly successful adaptation of Elliott's book, which swept the AFIs in 1983. Then came Bliss, adapted from Peter Carey's story of midlife crisis and directed by Ray Lawrence, about a man (Barry Otto) who dies and wakes up in a hellish world. Set in middle-class suburbia and hippiedom -- then the middle class's favourite escape hatch -- it succeeded perhaps because Carey and Lawrence worked in advertising and knew their target audience inside out.

On the other side of the country in Perth, Glenda Hambly's Fran was the story of a young mother trapped in poverty and the paucity of spirit in a housing commission estate, and her desire to have a good time. Noni Hazlehurst, who later was a real-life suburban idol in Play School and Better Homes and Gardens, won an AFI award for her role.

Jocelyn Moorhouse's Proof, with Hugo Weaving, Genevieve Picot and a baby-faced Russell Crowe, is a sharp-edged story about trust. Weaving plays a blind man who habitually takes photographs of his surroundings, then doublechecks that they match what he has been told. Proof, with its lonely parks and drive-ins, is one of our most penetrating stories of suburbia. Set in Melbourne, Death in Brunswick had Sam Neill, Zoe Carides and John Clarke in blue singlet as working-class buffoons. Then the Paris of the south took on a harder edge in Metal Skin (1994), all cars, murder and madness under rainy grey skies, and 1998's Head On, Ana Kokkinos's unsettling film with Alex Dimitriades as a speed-fuelled gay Greek boy in search of his identity.

Good or bad, suburban stories will continue to be made. Recently Last Train to Freo and Suburban Mayhem have continued the violent, confronting vein of drama, but Kenny gave a softer view. However, the blokiness is persistent: Bra Boys, Mall Boys, Wog Boys, even My Mother Frank. Another chronicler of suburbia will come along to illustrate the complexities of life in the 'burbs and capture the imagination of a nation. Meanwhile, the Kerrigan family and the Sentimental Bloke are enjoying the serenity.


Left-leaning public broadcaster hosts antisemitic comments

Hoist with their own petard

THE ABC's Media Watch is fighting claims of hypocrisy after its website published anti-Semitic comments mocking the Holocaust and claiming a Jewish conspiracy. The comments were published a day after the taxpayer-funded media watchdog accused news outlets including The Daily Telegraph of publishing racist reader comments on their websites. In a major embarrassment, the program is accused of the same conduct and faces attack from Jewish leaders and federal Labor MP Michael Danby after its viewers suggested "Zionist groups" had taken over the ABC.

"ABC is starting to show a disproportionate number of Jews in the places of power in the ABC," one viewer said on the Media Watch website. "The only understanding I can make is that Media Watch carries the torch for Globalism and maybe even Zionist groups as they are known to push Hate Speech laws so they can't be questioned themselves in crime." Media Watch also willingly published comments by another viewer slamming media outlets for the "vilification of Muslims" and claiming Islamic Australians were being treated in the same way as the Jews in Nazi Germany. "The Muslims are used as scapegoats domestically, and internationally to defend the crime of the war in Iraq. They serve the same purpose as the Jews of Hitler's Third Reich," the post said.

The comments were posted the day after the show took aim at The Daily Telegraph by gathering a tiny sample of racist reader comments, posted over an extended period, and holding them up as indicative of the site's content.

Melbourne MP Michael Danby has written to ABC managing director Mark Scott calling for Media Watch executive producer Tim Palmer to be stood down for the "appalling" incident. "I feel compelled to write this letter to you because I believe Media Watch, the centerpiece of what should be the ABC's weathervane of engagement with the media, including critics of the ABC, is now spearheaded by an individual who has a record of aggressive belligerence to criticism," he wrote. "Mr Palmer, as executive producer of Media Watch is ultimately responsible for the content of (its) website."

The comments also sparked outrage from NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff, who demanded an explanation from the national public broadcaster. "Reasoned debate has a legitimate place in a democratic society. However, freedom of speech comes with responsibilities," he said. "An openly racist statement has no place on a public broadcaster's website - unless it is there to expose racism."

When asked about the racist comments, Mr Palmer told The Daily Telegraph: "You're easily shocked." While admitting the comments were inappropriate, he said Media Watch was "caught by surprise by the sheer volume" of emails to the site last week. Mr Palmer claimed the posts remained on the website for a "few minutes" before being taken down.


"No resources" to investigate corrupt police in South Australia

THE Police Complaints Authority and State Ombudsman do not have the resources to investigate corruption, it has emerged. Former Ombudsman Eugene Biganovsky and PCA head Tony Wainwright have confirmed any allegations of official corruption, including against police, have to be investigated by SA Police.

The comments by Mr Wainwright and Mr Biganovsky follow calls by Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Pallaras, QC, and former Auditor-General Ken MacPherson for an independent anti-corruption commission, similar to those operating interstate. The State Government repeatedly has ruled out setting up an anti-corruption agency, arguing the Police Complaints Authority and SA Police Anti-Corruption Branch were capable of performing the task.

Mr Biganovsky, who retired last Friday after 22 years investigating complaints against the SA public sector, said his office did not have the capacity to investigate systemic corruption in the public sector or local government. "We're all limited on what we can do," he said. "It comes to a question of time, resources and expertise." Mr Wainwright yesterday also told The Advertiser his office did not have the staffing or expertise to investigate serious corruption allegations against police officers.

Its main role was to oversee investigations by police into public complaints against officers, not conduct inquiries. "We direct investigations (against individual police officers), oversee them and assess their results," he said. "We do not have an investigative function as such. "Our main role is to oversee the investigations conducted by police into complaints received by this office."

Mr Biganovsky said he asked Mr Wainwright last year if he could officially oversee the authority's operations but the request was declined on jurisdictional grounds. "Legally, the Ombudsman has no power to oversee the Police Complaints Authority but oversees other agencies such as the Consumer Affairs Commissioner, Equal Rights Commissioner and Health Complaints Commissioner," he said. "It is a political question about whether State Parliament wants to modify the legislation to allow the Ombudsman to look at the practices and procedures of the Police Complaints Authority to ensure they are conducted fairly, efficiently and quickly."

Mr Biganvosky said the legislation controlling the Police Complaints Authority - which, by law, must conduct all of its operations in secret - was introduced in the mid-1980s and could be reviewed to "see if it is doing all the things it was intended to do."


Crippled by paradigm paralysis

The media and governments get the terror threat. Too bad our academics and think tanks don't, writes foreign editor Greg Sheridan

THE arrest by Indonesian authorities of Jemaah Islamiah terrorists Zarkasih and Abu Dujana is of the greatest importance for Australia. It is a stunning achievement by the Indonesian police. If anyone ever doubted the benefit to us of having a competent, moderate government in Jakarta led by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, they should doubt it no longer.

Al-Qa'ida is enjoying success in the Middle East but it is suffering real setbacks in Southeast Asia, substantially because of the Indonesian Government, which has arrested 200 terrorists and put many of them through open, credible trials.

Zarkasih was the emir of JI, its overall leader and in particular its spiritual leader, a position formerly held by Abu Bakar Bashir. Dujana was the head of military operations.

These arrests grew out of intelligence gleaned in arrests in March, which also yielded a huge cache of explosives. Now Zarkasih and Dujana will yield their own intelligence treasures. JI is still a formidable threat. It still has a core membership of 1000, with many more sympathisers. Its mainstream group has reportedly decided to abandon attacks on Westerners for the moment and concentrate on recruitment, indoctrination, exacerbating ethnic and religious conflict within Indonesia and preparing for future military conflict.

Its radical splinter, led by Noordin Top, is believed still to support anti-Western bombings. No one knows for sure where Top is, but he is believed to be somewhere in Java, while another key JI figure, Dulmartin, is likely to be still hiding in the southern Philippines. The Indonesian President, his Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, former president Gus Dur and leaders of mainstream Muslim organisations have all made statements welcoming the arrests.

This is central to Indonesia's success in the war on terror. The civil society is aligned against Islamist terrorism and is therefore able to deny it the social space it paradoxically finds in the failing dictatorships of the Middle East.

Indonesia's success in the war on terror is thus a direct security dividend from its democratisation nearly a decade ago.

However, these arrests in one perverse way indicate a specific failure by Australia. The Australian media's response to them was dominated by three international researchers: Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, Rohan Gunaratna, an academic based in Singapore, and US academic Zachary Abuza.

Doesn't it strike you as bizarre that there is not a single Australian researcher on Southeast Asian terrorism of international repute? This represents a profoundly important institutional failure by two groups: the first, our universities; the second, our strategic class. Six years after 9/11 and five years after the Bali bombings, there is hardly a single Australian academic working full time on Southeast Asian terrorism. Universities are funded to the tune of billions of dollars, but much of what they have come up with in terrorism research is rubbish. Much of it is postmodern theoretical nonsense about how the discourse of terrorism "demonises the other". Little of it involves traipsing around the jungles of Java or Mindanao, or the region's prisons, interviewing terrorists.

Similarly, we have two main international relations think tanks, the government-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and the privately funded Lowy Institute. Both do good work and we are a better country for having them. But neither has had a single person devoted full time to studying Southeast Asian Islamist terrorism.

Both the universities and the think tanks have produced some good work on terrorism. This has been done mainly by area experts, whether Indonesianists or scholars focusing on the Middle East or whatever, analysing terrorists as part of the societies they study. This is valuable. But surely Southeast Asian Islamist extremism deserves at least a few bodies actually working on it full time. If I were founding a think tank today I'd hire the best Southeast Asianists around and tell them to work 28 hours a day on this subject and dominate the Australian debate. The media is thirsty for such expertise. So is the public. So for that matter is the Government (although of course our intelligence agencies devote vast resources to the subject).

The universities have failed in part because of their postmodern and left-liberal bias, which says that the West must be the author of all sins, and therefore they don't study terrorists in their own terms. The strategic community has failed because of its continued paradigm paralysis, its chronic inability to regard terrorism as a serious strategic issue. The platonic ideal of this outlook is represented by the Australian National University's Hugh White, who declared in the June 6 issue of The Australian Literary Review that terrorism is not a threat to the international system.

He also declared, mystifyingly, that I am "confident that traditional state to state conflict is a thing of the past". As I have never uttered or written anything remotely alleging that, and it is certainly not a view I hold, this is a bit strange. I do on the other hand believe that terrorism can threaten the international system, as can state to state conflict. Where old-fashioned strategic analysts such as White are so anachronistic is in their failure to see the complexity of the interaction of these two dynamics.

Paul O'Sullivan, the head of ASIO, pointed out in a speech yesterday that al-Qa'ida does precisely want to revolutionise the international system. Apart from the question of al-Qa'ida obtaining weapons of mass destruction, O'Sullivan pointed out: "The argument that the threat from terrorism is exaggerated also ignores the dangers terrorist networks pose to vulnerable or failing states. Transnational Islamic terrorists don't require WMD to challenge the authority and legitimacy of such states, exploit their weak spots or quietly rebuild capacity under the radar."

Governments in Jakarta and Canberra and, paradoxically, the media, have to deal with the world as it is, and therefore accord terrorism the attention it deserves. Universities and think tanks can take comfort in the chummy common room embrace of dead paradigms. But, in doing so, they offer sub-optimal service to their nation.


Monday, June 25, 2007

These are the types that Labor party policy will put back in charge of Australian workplaces

OPPOSITION Leader Kevin Rudd has been embarrassed by accusations from a major union that the US is a terrorist state - and the emergence of another video allegedly showing CFMEU thugs threatening employers. As Mr Rudd struggles to distance himself from the unions, it has been revealed that the powerful Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has openly condemned the US for sponsoring terrorism. The union provides millions of dollars to the Labor Party in campaign funding.

News of its attack on the US comes as Mr Rudd has been at pains to emphasise his commitment to the ANZUS alliance, after former Labor leader Mark Latham condemned George W. Bush as the "most incompetent and dangerous President in living memory''.

On its website, the CFMEU is promoting a campaign for the release of the so-called "Cuban Five'', offering T-shirts emblazoned with the demand "Stop US Terrorism''. According to websites on the issue, the US arrested the Cuban Five in Florida in 1998, alleging they were spies in a group called the Wasp Network. Charges included use of false identification, espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. The five were convicted on all 26 counts by a US Federal Court and jailed in December for terms of between 15 years and life. An appeal is pending.

A spokesman for Mr Rudd refused to comment on the CFMEU website, saying it was a matter for the union to explain its position. At the same time, another video tape has emerged of a CFMEU official in Perth allegedly trespassing on a construction site and threatening employers who try to evict him. It follows a similar video of West Australian CFMEU official Joe McDonald screaming obscenities at employers on the same site.

Mr Rudd is moving to expel Mr McDonald from the ALP but he is refusing to go quietly, demanding a chance to put his case to the ALP's National Executive. The latest tape involves an alleged altercation between a manager from the Q-Con company and two union officials at a Perth site during a union inspection on April 27, shortly after workers rallied to highlight safety concerns at the site. The tape shows pushing and shoving between the parties, amidst warnings from the employers that the union officials are illegally on the premises. The tape also shows police being called to end the impasse.

Mr Rudd said he understood the tape was at the centre of an ongoing police investigation. "I have made my position clear on the matter of workplace violence,'' Mr Rudd said. "We have drawn a line in the sand. I have a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to violence, threats of violence and unlawful behaviour in the workplace.''


Australian health bosses adopting British-style dirty tricks to "fiddle" their statistics

HEALTH chiefs have been accused of using "sneaky tactics" to reduce surgery waiting times at Queensland hospitals. Thousands of patients waiting for operations are getting letters from Queensland Health asking them if they still need treatment. If they fail to reply within 30 days, they are automatically taken off the list and forced to return to their GP.

The Sunday Mail can reveal there are about 32,000 Category 2 and 3 patients who currently qualify for a letter from the department. Usually about one person in four fails to respond.

Hospital staff are outraged that as many as 8000 patients could drop off the list, perhaps without realising. They spoke out after Health Minister Stephen Robertson recently boasted how his measures to reduce surgery waits were working. One doctor, who couldn't be named because of a Queensland Health ban on staff speaking out, said it was a dirty trick to play. "It's just more sneaky tactics by the Government to make the waiting times look better", he said. "There is the risk that people could move house or be on holiday and not receive the letter. They could have their letters lost in the post, and others could just forget about replying altogether."

Ross Cartmill, Queensland president of the Australian Medical Association, said it was wrong not to publicly announce the letters were being sent. "I can understand them wanting to cleanse the waiting list by finding out who still needs treatment, but they should be using the media to tell people about it." The letters are sent out to Category 2 patients needing an operation within 90 days, and Category 3, who require surgery within a year. Managers say the letters are sent out to "ensure the highest standard of service to our patients". Patients who fail to specify they still need an operation are sent a follow-up letter. It states: "If you require further treatment for your condition, we urge you to contact your general practitioner."

There are 35,583 patients on the waiting list for operations across the state. More than 10,000 of these are waiting longer than is clinically safe with almost 200 classified as needing urgent treatment within 30 days. Health bosses refused to reveal how many people have failed to respond. Spokeswoman Carolyn Varley said: "We don't collate that." But sources told The Sunday Mail about a quarter of patients do not reply.

A second Queensland Health spokesman said the figure was not "accurate", but was unable to say what the figure was: "This process is not done to reduce waiting lists, but to ensure they are accurate and that resources can be utilised efficiently." Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said it would be more ef- ficient and cheaper to phone patients. "This is just an underhand way to try to reduce waiting lists and it's not fair on patients," he said.


Greenie politics of empty gesture from the Australian Left

Comment by Christopher Pearson

KEVIN Rudd calls climate change "the great moral challenge of our times". His guru, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, certainly wouldn't have agreed, given his old-fashioned preoccupations with abortion and eugenics. But it's the kind of rhetorical flourish that probably tells us all there is to know about the Opposition Leader's moral compass. As he sees it, a hypothetical threat - which has got a lot of people vaguely worried about something that may well never materialise - trumps poverty and preventable disease in the developing world, international peacekeeping initiatives and winning the long war against terrorism.

If Rudd wants to paint himself as a moral crusader, with curbing greenhouse gas as his great cause, he should at least be prepared to demonstrate that he means business. So far all the Opposition has had to offer is gesture politics and desperate attempts to shirk debating the economic and social costs of bizarre prescriptions advanced by various climate change fanatics, including Labor's environment spokesman Peter Garrett.

Labor holds it as an article of faith that there can be no serious response to climate change unless and until Australia ratifies the Kyoto Protocol. That is the beginning and the end of what the Australian Labor Party is pleased to call its comprehensive approach to climate change. It's no more than a shibboleth, as group-defining as a Masonic handshake and almost as much of an anachronism.

Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is a hand-me-down policy bequeathed to Rudd by Kim Beazley and to Beazley by Simon Crean before him. As a policy, it is intellectually threadbare because most of what it has delivered is the illusion of making a difference rather than the reality. For people looking for some sort of insurance against the risks climate change is said to pose, the debate moved beyond Kyoto years ago. Australian diplomatic initiatives culminating in the foreshadowed Sydney Declaration at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum summit, and bringing the Group of Eight nations into post-Kyoto undertakings, are much more pragmatic, but Labor has tended to trivialise them because it didn't think of them first.

The existing Kyoto targets cover barely one-third of global emissions. The agreement does not cover the US, India or China, leading emitters now and for the foreseeable future. Even in the most unlikely event that all the signatories to Kyoto meet their targets, emissions are set to rise 41 per cent in 2010. Without Kyoto, the increase would be 42 per cent. It's a case of much ado about not much.

China and India are perfectly reasonable in seeing economic development as their main priority if they are to lift many hundreds of millions more of their people out of poverty. They simply won't sign up for emissions targets that shackle their capacity for growth, notwithstanding the moral hectoring of affluent advanced economies, which historically were the main emitters. India and China sought and won exemptions that they are unlikely readily to surrender.

As for the chief proponents of the protocol, most have proved unable to meet their Kyoto aspirations. From the outset it has been obvious to all but the zealots that the Kyoto system was designed by Europeans, adopting European prescriptions that suited European interests, with precious little regard for highly fossil-fuel-reliant economies such as Australia's. Yet even in the countries where the protocol is defended most fervently, performance on carbon emission cuts is abysmal.

As the latest report of the European Union Environment Agency makes clear, the 15 EU economies of western Europe taken together have succeeded in achieving only a 1.5 per cent reduction in emissions since the 1990s, against a Kyoto target of 8 per cent. It is only when you count the eastern Europeans, whose decrepit smokestack industries crumbled after the collapse of the Soviet empire, that the EU begins to get close to meeting its commitments.

Were Rudd's Labor as serious as it claims to be about climate change, there is another crucial policy it would have to reconsider. Of those countries in western Europe that have achieved significant emission reductions, almost all have nuclear power generation or access to nuclear-powered electricity grids. For example, Sweden gets 46 per cent of its electricity supply from nuclear power, Belgium 54 per cent, Finland 28 per cent, Germany 27 per cent, Britain 15 per cent and France a hefty 78 per cent.

The ALP remains obsessed with a shambolic and unworkable Kyoto system. Yet at the same time, as John Howard never tires of pointing out, it remains an unwavering ideological opponent of the one energy source capable of providing an alternative baseload electricity supply with negligible carbon emissions. This is less of a climate change policy than a climate change posture.

For all I know, at heart Rudd may be as sceptical about greenhouse gas-induced global warming as Michael Costa, the Labor Treasurer of NSW, who openly dismisses it as a bad joke. But no matter what the Opposition Leader thinks, caucus would insist on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol if he wins the election. Julia Gillard and Greg Combet, to name but two, are feudal chieftains who just wouldn't take no for an answer.

As the last rounds of preselections are finalised, a clearer picture is emerging of what a Rudd government would look like. A lot more union officials will be entering parliament and demanding frontbench positions at the expense of younger and more politically savvy people who presently occupy them, especially the women. It would not be a ministry of all the talents, comparable with the first Hawke cabinet.

It's unlikely that many would aspire to be change-managers with a commitment to economic reform, like the best of the class of 1983. Nor are they technocrats in Tony Blair's New Labour mould. The main emphasis would be on re-entrenching the union movement's anachronistic privileges as far as possible and otherwise playing it safe and keeping faith with party pieties. The mind-set that gave us the no-new-mines policy on uranium and steadfastly resisted the sale of Telstra for the past 11 years on some elusive principle, after selling off far more strategic assets in public ownership, would be much in evidence. In so far as we can judge from its platform, it would be a government that seldom allowed the high cost of implementing bad policy to deter it from doing so.

As most readers will know, I am a greenhouse sceptic and bitterly regret that the Howard Government didn't use the advantages of incumbency to stimulate a far better informed debate on climate change than we have seen so far. I have repeatedly urged the Prime Minister to sack or move sideways the string of environment ministers who so often became the hopeless captives of their advisers, only to see the Government en masse follow suit.

Watching the federal Government poised to spend billions of dollars on a notional problem when there's no shortage of real problems that need fixing, is wormwood and gall to me. The only crumb of comfort is that some of the projects funded under the greenhouse rubric can be defended on other grounds. For example, coal is a dirty fuel as well as a source of carbon dioxide. Burning it, and any other type of fossil fuel, as cleanly and efficiently as possible makes sense. Again, there are other reasons Australia may choose to pay the developing world to stop deforestation apart from carbon storage, including protecting the diversity of species and the earth's supply of oxygen.

Apart from those considerations, I suppose if there's going to be any kind of government intervention on greenhouse gas emissions, it would be better to leave it to the Coalition's relatively cautious style of management rather than entrust it to green enthusiasts. It is, after all, only by virtue of a hard-nosed approach to bargaining and pleading a special case for fossil fuels in our domestic economy that Australia got an achievable Kyoto target in the first place and became one of the few countries on track to meet it. In any event, as we are reckoned to be responsible for only 1.5per cent of global emissions, our contribution to curbing them should also be commensurately modest.


School discipline problem greeted with the usual wringing of hands

And expressions of good intentions, of course. No suggestion of bringing back real punishment for misdeeds. A great lesson for kids to learn!

EDUCATION Minister David Bartlett does not support suspension and wants to reduce the use of the discipline tactic in Tasmanian schools. He said research showed long suspensions led to students becoming disconnected and dropping out of school. Last year, 2713 students were suspended, at least once, for an average three days for reasons including drugs, sex, weapons and physical attacks.

Yesterday Mr Bartlett flagged sending students to alternative educational venues in schools or in the community rather than suspending them. "What I believe is that we do need to keep young Tasmanians connected to schooling," he said. "A suspension of three days does not necessarily disconnect them from schooling. "But I do get concerned when students are spending longer times out of schools."

He has ordered an audit of what government and non-government venues already exist and wants to start promoting them to schools. "We need to get the schools using them," he said.

The Australian Education Union is pushing for small separate schools, or behavioural units, to send violent students to. The AEU has argued that suspension does not improve a student's behaviour and has heard reports of students attacking teachers every week. Last week, AEU state manager Chris Lane said teachers' only option was to suspend children who returned to the classroom just as badly behaved.

Mr Bartlett said suspension was not his preference but sometimes it was the "only solution". He said the Government did need to invest in education programs to provide another option to sending students home. These programs included the Keep it Big program at Rosetta High, Chance on Main at Moonah and the Bridgewater Farm School. Schools set their own policies on suspension and Mr Bartlett said a suspendable offence varied from school to school.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Federal Left backs Aboriginal reforms

PREMIER Peter Beattie's attack on a radical federal plan to combat indigenous child sexual abuse has sparked a rebuke from Labor leader Kevin Rudd. Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough also struck out at Mr Beattie yesterday, claiming the State Government's own alcohol-management plans in indigenous communities simply did not work. "I don't wish to deride him for trying . . . but there are currently truck loads of alcohol being driven through his plan as it stands," Mr Brough said.

The Government's plan to use Commonwealth powers to take over Northern Territory townships, force children into medical examinations and ban alcohol for six months appeared to gather rapid pace yesterday. Mr Brough indicated it might mark the beginning of a total overhaul of indigenous land tenure. Those who saw benefits in a more civilised, fully policed community might push to abandon collective land ownership so they could own their own home, he said. Mr Brough hopes to have 10 of an anticipated 60 new police officers sworn-in as early as Monday. The army also is ready to move into the Territory to assist. Mr Brough said doctors, accountants and business owners also wanted to help in this "national emergency."

Mr Beattie said he was concerned the plan announced by Prime Minister John Howard on Thursday was a gimmick motivated by a federal election. Mr Beattie conceded he was at odds with Mr Rudd over the issue but insisted the proposed six-month ban on alcohol, which was central to the plan, would fail. "If Kevin wants to support it, that's fine but I don't," he said. "What happens when you come off the six months . . . you either go back on another binge or you move somewhere else into another community."

But Mr Rudd said."I don't agree with what Peter has said on that. "At this stage I have no basis to doubt Mr Howard's intention on this and I'd rather work through it with Mr Howard on a positive, bipartisan basis." Mr Rudd sent a veiled warning to his Labor colleagues to toe the line on the issue. Mr Rudd said he would also support any decision by Mr Howard to recall Parliament to push through the plan. "The key challenge here is to protect little ones from all forms of abuse," he said.


No room at a major public hospital in South Australia

DOCTORS have been asked to stop sending patients to the Flinders Medical Centre emergency department. The overcrowded EU has admitted up to 74 patients a day at its emergency department during the past fortnight. That is just one below the point at which it would execute its "extreme emergency" code white plan, developed last winter after unprecedented demand for services. Documents obtained by The Advertiser show up to 180 people a day were presenting themselves at the Flinders emergency department and up to another 100 nightly. However, not all are admitted for treatment. Few are 'flu cases.

Southern Adelaide Health Service acute services executive director Michael Szwarcbord this week instructed hospital medical and nursing staff to:

DISCHARGE early as many patients as possible.

ACTIVELY "pull" patients out of emergency to other wards to free-up beds.

DEFER voluntary and planned admissions.

NOT accept any non-urgent patient transfers.

In a memo, stamped "urgent", issued to all Flinders staff on Monday, Mr Szwarcbord revealed GPs had been asked to avoid referring patients to the emergency department if there were "safe alternatives for their care".

Australian Medical Association state president Dr Peter Ford, however, said that message "placed considerable pressure on GPs" who were already heavily taxed. He claimed there was "considerable denial" in the Health Department over the pressures the system was under. As a further example, he said first-time mothers who had normal deliveries were being sent home from the Women's and Children's Hospital the same day they gave birth.

Opposition health spokeswoman Vickie Chapman yesterday claimed the documents showed Flinders was "in crisis" and the State Government's health budget was "more about saving money than lives". "The public is in pain and it is only going to get worse, not better," she said. "Those of us lucky enough to survive until 2016, when the Government's new Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Hospital opens, might have a chance but I expect the mortality rate to increase before then."

Health Minister John Hill, who is also Minister for the Southern Suburbs, admitted winter would be "a challenge for health staff". He said the Government had a strategic plan to unite hospitals, health and ambulance services, GPs and rehabilitation services in the face of a huge increase in demand. "There will also be more emphasis on keeping out of hospital patients who do not need to be there," he said. "South Australians can be assured that our health system is prepared and that our services will be providing the best possible care for our community." Mr Hill said sending patients home was "entirely a matter for the clinicians and nobody is telling them to do that". He also queried Dr Ford's suggestion officials were unaware of the pressure, saying: "We sure are, that's why we have introduced these reforms, because without them, the system will buckle."

Mr Szwarcbord's June 18 memo revealed 22 non-urgent elective surgery cases and four non-urgent elective procedures scheduled for Tuesday this week had been cancelled. "The hospital is experiencing overcrowding as a result of the high number of patients presenting to the emergency department and the number of patients requiring admission," he said. "At present, there are 61 patients in the emergency department, 35 of whom are waiting for an in-patient bed."

Memos, dated June 7, 13 and 18 obtained by The Advertiser, reveal the emergency department has been operating on code grey - 60 to 74 patients - for the past two weeks. The department has a "winter escalation plan" which works on a colour code system of green for up to 37 patients, amber for up to 54 patients, red for up to 60 patients, grey for up to 74 patients and white for 75 or more.

Mr Szwarcbord said the Flinders problem was exacerbated by the nearby Noarlunga Hospital operating at full capacity and the Repatriation General Hospital experiencing high demand. He advised staff on Monday that, while a range of measures had been implemented to "ease the situation", a "code white" would be activated if the problem escalated. Under the emergency code white, the hospital will:

INCREASE staff levels by hiring more casuals.

EXPEDITE patient discharges at all three southern region hospitals.

FACILITATE internal patient transfers, where appropriate.

LOCATE SA Ambulance staff on site to assist with transfers.

OPEN selected treatment, day patient and outpatient clinical areas for beds.

RESTRICT access to the emergency department to key staff only.

Mr Szwarcbord was unavailable for comment yesterday but Emergency Medicine director Dr Di King said in an emailed statement that high demand over the past two weeks could be the result of industrial action and reduced beds because of an upgrade of the pediatric unit. Dr King said that as part of a $153 million redevelopment at the hospital, the emergency department would be expanded to cope with a "growing volume of patients". Minor works were under way in ward 4G to provide care for 20 additional patients.


Single-sex schools the best?

So it would seem in Victoria

SINGLE-sex schools are the state's top performers when it comes to university enrolment rates, according to Government data released yesterday. Top of the class of 2006 were the students from Isik College's Broadmeadows campus for girls, with all of last year's year 12 students enrolled at university this year. Most of the students are studying at the University of Melbourne and Monash University. It's a similar story at the school's boys campus at Upfield, with 95 per cent of VCE graduates now at university and 5 per cent opting to defer their study.

Korowa Anglican Girls School in Glen Iris and Presbyterian Ladies College in Burwood tied for second place with an enrolment rate of 96 per cent, followed by Melbourne High and Melbourne Girls Grammar (both 91 per cent). Korowa's principal, Christine Jenkins, said while numerous factors played a part in students' success, many girls preferred learning in a single-sex environment. "They are much more likely to make contributions in classrooms," she said. "They aren't worried about their image and they can be themselves and take risks in a supportive environment."

PLC vice-principal Carolyn Elvins agreed single-sex education made sense because boys and girls learnt differently. "Schools can cater for those (differences) more effectively in a single-sex environment," she said, adding that girls liked to learn collaboratively and tended to be less competitive.

But Isik College principal Mehmet Koca was reluctant to link the school's results to gender. Mr Koca said small class sizes and a mentor program made for a winning combination. Under the mentoring system, graduates volunteer to return to the school to tutor students after hours in specific subjects. "That gives students a role model they can look up to and the tutoring is free of charge," Mr Koca said. "It also helps students believe in themselves and aspire to university." Isik College was set up 10 years ago as a private school for economically and socially disadvantaged Turkish-Australian students. This year's Broadmeadows school captain, Iman Zayegh, 16, said the single-sex environment was supportive and comfortable. "When you're comfortable in the environment, you're more likely to work to your full potential and achieve your goals," she said. Ms Zayegh, who gets tutoring in chemistry and is aiming to study pharmacy at Monash University next year, said the mentoring program was invaluable.


A summary of some of the lies that Australia's Leftist historians have told in order to condemn British settlement in Australia

From the inimitable Keith Windschuttle. I met Keith once many years ago -- when he still had hair

There are two central claims made by historians of Aboriginal Australia: first, the actions by the colonists amounted to genocide; second, the actions by the Aborigines were guerilla tactics that amounted to frontier warfare.

Lyndall Ryan claims that in Tasmania the Aborigines were subject to "a conscious policy of genocide". Rhys Jones in The Last Tasmanian labels it "a holocaust of European savagery". Ryan says the so-called "Black War" of Tasmania began in the winter of 1824 with the Big River tribe launching patriotic attacks on the invaders. However, the assaults on whites that winter were made by a small gang of detribalized blacks led by a man named Musquito, who was not defending his tribal lands. He was an Aborigine originally from Sydney who had worked in Hobart for ten years before becoming a bushranger. He had no Tasmanian tribal lands to defend. He was just as much a foreigner in Tasmania as the indigenous Hawaiians, Tahitians and Maoris who worked there as stockmen, sealers and whalers at the same time.

Musquito's successor as leader of the gang was Black Tom, a young man who, again, was not a tribal Aborigine. He had Tasmanian Aboriginal parents, but had been reared since infancy in the white middle class household of Thomas Birch, a Hobart merchant. Until his capture in 1827, he was Tasmania 's leading bushranger but, as with Musquito, his actions cannot be interpreted as patriotic defence of tribal Aboriginal territory.

Ryan's account of the alleged abduction of Aboriginal children by settlers is replete with so much misinformation it is impossible to excuse it as error. In 1810, she claims, Lieutenant-Governor David Collins warned settlers against kidnapping Aboriginal children. However, there is no evidence Collins ever gave such a warning. None of Collins' orders in 1810, or any other reference cited by Ryan about the abduction of children, support her claim. Ryan footnotes the newspaper, the Derwent Star of 29 January 1810, as one of the sources she consulted. However, according to the Mitchell Library, that edition of the newspaper is not held by any library in the world. It has been missing since the nineteenth century. Ryan claims that in 1819, Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell issued an order about the abducted children. She says: "Sorell ordered that all Aboriginal children living with settlers must be sent to the charge of the chaplain, Robert Knopwood, in Hobart and placed in the Orphan School." However, the proclamation Ryan cites does not say that. It merely ordered magistrates and constables to count the number of native children living with settlers. Moreover, there was no Orphan School in Hobart in 1819 or at any time during Sorell's administration. The first such institution in the colony, the King's Orphan School, was not opened until 1828 and Reverend Knopwood was never involved in running it.

Henry Reynolds claims Lieutenant-Governor Arthur recognized from his experience in the Spanish War against Napoleon that the Aborigines were using the tactic of guerilla warfare, in which small bands attacked the troops of their enemy. However, during his military career Arthur never served in Spain. If you read the full text of the statement Reynolds cites, you find Arthur was talking not about troops coming under attack by guerillas but of Aborigines robbing and assaulting unarmed shepherds on remote outstations. Reynolds edited out that part of the statement that disagreed with his thesis.

Reynolds claims that Arthur inaugurated the infamous "Black Line" in 1830 because "he feared `a general decline in the prosperity' and the `eventual extirpation of the colony'". Reynolds presents that last phrase as a verbatim quotation from Arthur. However, Arthur never said this. Reynolds actually changed the words of one of the most important documents in Tasmanian history but no university historian picked up what he had done. Historians commonly describe the "Black Line" as an attempt to capture or exterminate all the Aborigines. However, its true purpose was to remove from the settled districts only two of the nine tribes on the island to uninhabited country from where they could no longer assault white households. The lieutenant-governor specifically ordered that five of the other seven tribes be left alone.

Lyndall Ryan cites the Hobart Town Courier as a source for several stories about atrocities against Aborigines in 1826. However, that newspaper did not begin publication until October 1827 and the other two newspapers of the day made no mention of these alleged killings.

Ryan claims that frontier warfare in Tasmania's northern districts in 1827 included: a massacre of Port Dalrymple Aborigines by a vigilante group of stockmen at Norfolk Plains; the killing of a kangaroo hunter in reprisal for him shooting Aboriginal men; the burning of a settler's house because his stockmen had seized Aboriginal women; the spearing of three other stockmen and clubbing of one to death at Western Lagoon. But if you check her footnotes in the archives you find that not one of the five sources she cites mentions any of these events.

Between 1828 and 1830, according to Ryan, "roving parties" of police constables and convicts killed 60 Aborigines. Not one of the three references she cites mentions any Aborigines being killed, let alone 60. The governor at the time and most subsequent authors, including Henry Reynolds, regarded the roving parties as completely ineffectual.

Lloyd Robson claims the settler James Hobbs in 1815 witnessed Aborigines killing 300 sheep at Oyster Bay and the next day the 48th Regiment killed 22 Aborigines in retribution. However, it would have been difficult for Hobbs to have witnessed this in 1815 because at the time he was living in India. Moreover, the first sheep did not arrive at Oyster Bay until 1821 and it would have been very hard for the 48 th Regiment to have killed any Aborigines in Tasmania in 1815 because at the time they were on garrison duty in County Cork, Ireland.

The whole case is not just a fabrication, it is a romantic fantasy derived from academic admiration of the anti-colonial struggles in South-East Asia in the 1960s, when its authors were young and when they absorbed the left-wing political spirit of the day. The truth is that in Tasmania more than a century before, there was nothing on the Aborigines' side that resembled frontier warfare, patriotic struggle or systematic resistance of any kind.

The so-called "Black War" turns out to have been a minor crime wave by two Europeanised black bushrangers, followed by an outbreak of robbery, assault and murder by tribal Aborigines. All the evidence at the time, on both the white and black sides of the frontier, was that their principal objective was to acquire flour, sugar, tea and bedding, objects that to them were European luxury goods. We have statements to that effect from the Aborigines themselves.

Unlike Lyndall Ryan, Reynolds does not himself support the idea that the colonial authorities had a conscious policy of genocide against the Aborigines. Instead, Reynolds's thesis is that it was the settlers who wanted to exterminate them. He claims that throughout the 1820s, the free settlers spoke about and advocated extirpation or extermination. However, even on the evidence he provides himself, only a handful of settlers ever advocated anything like this.

In 1830, a government inquiry into Aboriginal affairs conducted a questionnaire survey of the leading settlers to determine their attitudes. It was possibly the first questionnaire survey ever conducted in Australia. Reynolds knows this survey existed because he has quoted selections from the settlers' answers in at least two of his books. However, he has never mentioned the survey's existence in anything he has written. Why not? Well, obviously, if his readers knew there had been a survey they would want to know the results, that is, all the results not just a handful of selected quotations. I examine the full results in my book. They show that in 1830, at the height of Aboriginal violence, very few of the settlers were calling for the extermination of the Aborigines. Some wanted to pursue a policy of conciliation towards the Aborigines. Othes were against violence but wanted to remove the Aborigines to a secure location, such as a peninsula or island. Only two of them seriously advocated exterminating the Aborigines. But theirs were the only words that Reynolds quoted.

The full historic record, not the selective version provided by Reynolds, shows the prospect of extermination divided the settlers deeply, was always rejected by government and was never acted upon.

In the entire period from 1803 when the colonists first arrived in Tasmania, to 1834 when all but one family of Aborigines had been removed to Flinders Island, my calculation is that the British were responsible for killing only 120 of the original inhabitants, mostly in self defence or in hot pursuit of Aborigines who had just assaulted white households. In these incidents, the Aborigines killed 187 colonists. In all of Europe's colonial encounters with the New Worlds of the Americas and the Pacific, the colony of Van Diemen's Land was probably the site where the least indigenous blood of all was deliberately shed.

Why, then, have the historians of Tasmania told this story about genocide, frontier warfare and widespread bloodshed. I suggest several of the reasons in my book: to make Australian history, which would otherwise be dull and uneventful, seem more dramatic than it really was; to assume the moral high ground and flatter their own vanity as defenders of the Aborigines; in some cases to pursue a traditional Marxist agenda or to indulge in interest group politics of gender, race and class. But the greatest influence on them has been not so much a commitment to any specific political program but the notion that emerged in the 1960s that history itself is `inescapably political'. This is a phrase Reynolds used in 1981 in the introduction to his book The Other Side of the Frontier. He also wrote in a journal article: "history should not only be relevant but politically utilitarian, . it should aim to right old injustices, to discriminate in favour of the oppressed, to actively rally to the cause of liberation."

I completely disagree. That position inevitably corrupts history. Without it in Aboriginal history, there might have been less licence taken with historical evidence and a greater sense of the historian's responsibility to respect the truth. The argument that all history is politicised, that it is impossible for the historian to shed his political interests and prejudices, has become the most corrupting influence of all. It has turned the traditional role of the historian, to stand outside his contemporary society in order to seek the truth about the past, on its head. It has allowed historians to write from an overtly partisan position. It has led them to make things up and to justify this to themselves on the grounds that it is all for a good cause. No cause is ever served by falsehood because eventually someone will come along and expose you. Truth always comes out in the end, and when it does it discredits those causes that were built on lies.

More here

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Australians tougher than the Brits

Navy men repelled five Iranian boats

THE ADF has confirmed that Australian sailors repelled five Iranian gunboats during an armed four-hour confrontation in the Persian Gulf. A spokesman said the armed stand-off lasted four hours and happened in March 2004.

Earlier today the BBC reported that an Australian Navy crew had aimed its machine guns at an Iranian gunboat in the Persian Gulf which threatened it just weeks before 15 British sailors were captured in a similar incident. According to the report, Iranian forces made a concerted attempt to seize a boarding party from the Royal Australian Navy. The Australians, though, to quote one military source, "were having none of it".

The Australians apparently re-boarded the vessel they had just searched, aimed their machine guns at the approaching Iranians and warned them to back off, using what was said to be "highly colourful language". The Iranians withdrew, and the Australians were lifted off the ship by one of their own helicopters.

The lessons from the earlier attempt do not appear to have been applied in time by British maritime patrols. The 15 Britons were searching a cargo boat in the Gulf when they were captured over a boundary dispute. When Iranian Revolutionary Guards captured the British sailors and Royal Marines in March, it was not exactly their first attempt. The British personnel were eventually released

The circumstances for the Britons in March were slightly different in that they were caught so much by surprise that, had they attempted to repel the Iranians with their limited firepower, they would doubtless have taken very heavy casualties.

But military sources say that what is of concern is that the Royal Navy did not appear to have taken sufficient account of the lessons of the Australian encounter. In an oblique reference to the threat from Iran, Britain's First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, has recently admitted there was a need for greater strategic awareness in the northern Gulf.

RSL state president Doug Formby said if the report was accurate, it reflected the quality of training and dedication of Australian service personnel. "I think that Australians over many years have been recognised throughout the world as being amongst the best trained, best prepared soldiers, sailors and airmen for any (military) commitment, he said. "If this has happened, these fellows have just done whats expected of them and what they were trained to do. "I would like to put it down largely to the training and preparation and professionalism of our service people. If it reflects well on our servicemen, well thats great.


Union thug representing the Labor party

KEVIN Rudd is under pressure to dump the endorsed ALP candidate for a Tasmanian seat, branded a union thug by the Howard Government. As the ALP's national executive committee agreed yesterday to suspend West Australian union official Joe McDonald from the Labor Party, pending expulsion proceedings, the Opposition Leader faced calls to disendorse Kevin Harkins, the candidate for the seat of Franklin.

Mr Harkins came to the attention of the royal commission into the building and construction industry in 2003. It found he had engaged in "unlawful conduct" as a member of the left-wing Electrical Trades Union. However, he was not charged with any offence. In parliament yesterday, Peter Costello said Mr Harkins's candidacy represented a test for Mr Rudd. "He threatened a builder, by saying, 'If necessary, the union, they would block off the entrance to our site with the truck in the middle of a concrete pour'," the Treasurer said. "I call on the leader of the Labor Party and I call on the whole of the Labor Party to dissociate themselves from this ETU official, Kevin Harkins, to make it clear they'll stand up against thuggery whether it's captured on videotape or not."

Harry Quick, the sitting Labor MP for Franklin, who will retire at the next election, told The Australian last night that the Labor leader should dump his proposed replacement. "All ETU candidates should be disendorsed," he said. "They're birds of a feather. The people in Franklin have been saying to me since he was endorsed that they can't vote for him." Mr Harkins could not be reached for comment.

Victorian ETU leader Dean Mighell was forced to quit the party last month after an audio tape emerged of him using foul language to brag about his tactics with employers.


Labor leader shows poor understanding of economics

But he DOES speak good Mandarin Chinese!

KEVIN Rudd’s weakness on economic policy has been exposed through a series of gaffes beginning with his notorious interview on ABC radio last week. When he was asked about productivity he continually referred to forecasts, despite repeated prompting about the availability of the more recent quarterly outcomes. It was clear he hadn’t read and couldn’t understand Australia’s national accounts.

After this debacle Rudd sought confidential advice to help him understand the subject. This advice, written by Rudd’s economics advisers, subsequently became public. The secret briefing stated that “it is likely that the (productivity) outcome will be higher than estimated in the budget. Nevertheless, our view is that you should continue to cite the budget estimate”. In other words, Rudd was wrong. He was told he was wrong. But he was told to go on misleading the public anyway.

The secret paper, written by his staff, undermined all the claims Rudd had been making. It advised him that a surge in mining investment will artificially depress productivity until projects are completed and increased production begins to flow; it notes that the drought has been depressing productivity because agricultural output has been dramatically cut; and noted that productivity is likely to accelerate as these effects pass.

We have made large inroads into unemployment, particularly in the past year. As unemployed people join the workforce, particularly long-term and unskilled employees whose productivity is less than the average, they reduce overall productivity. After time and experience, their output lifts. As the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development pointed out, “any slowdown in average measured productivity resulting directly from a change in employment is, to a large extent, a statistical artefact and does not imply that individual productivity has fallen.”

Anyone who understands productivity understands this. But some people are more interested in the statistical artefact, especially if they think they can turn it to political advantage. While this episode has been instructive about the economic inexperience of Rudd, the important thing is to look forward to what we can do to lift productivity.

A flexible industrial relations system promotes productivity growth by making it easier for firms to take on new workers, allowing wages to be set to encourage higher outcomes, and allowing workers to move to higher productivity firms or industries. It also allows firms to more easily restructure their organisations to take advantage of new, more efficient technologies or business practices that improve productivity.

The OECD and the International Monetary Fund both urged industrial relations reform to lift productivity, with the IMF explicitly “urging the implementation of this package of reforms (Work Choices) to widen employment opportunities and raise productivity by enhancing flexibility in work arrangements.” The governor of the Reserve Bank stated in 2005, “The biggest thing in this area (productivity) is industrial relations reform.” If Labor was interested in productivity, why would it want to roll back the biggest contributor - reform of industrial relations?

Labor wants to not just roll back to where we were before Work Choices, but as Paul Keating says, “take them further back than the legislation I put in place in ‘93”. This rollback would take us back more than 14 years.

Normally at this point of the economic cycle Australia would be suffering a wages breakout. But since the introduction of Work Choices in March 2006, nearly 360,000 jobs have been created while inflation has remained under control. To quote former Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane: “Obviously, it makes the job of monetary policy (setting interest rates) easier, the more deregulated the labour market is.” In other words, flexibility keeps pressure off interest rates. Rudd’s industrial relations policy would take us back to the past and put pressure on interest rates.

Rudd’s gaffes over the past week have exposed his poor understanding of the economy. If his policy were implemented, this would throw Australia backwards on jobs, growth and living standards.


Greenie toilet stupidity comes to Australia

As usual, all it achieves is to inconvenience people

With mounting horror, customers at the Candana Designs fancy bathroom shop in Woollahra read the large sign erected in the toilet section: "To comply with Australian Standards all toilets are required to flush with a maximum of six litres of water. In order to comply with this regulation, manufacturers have reduced the size of the 'throat' inside the toilet pan. In most cases this necessitates using a toilet brush after flushing and flushing a second time." In other words, to flush a toilet properly, you'll need to flush twice and use 12 litres of water - which is more than the amount used by the old nine-litre toilets with wider "throats", which are better at ingesting potential blockages.

Thousands of years of sanitation and a drought have brought us to this point: toilets that don't do what toilets are supposed to do. That famous 19th-century British pioneer of sanitary plumbing, Thomas Crapper, would be rolling in his grave. Thanks to new federal regulations which came into force on January 1, it is now illegal to install a toilet that does not have a six-star water efficiency rating.

According to Marc Reed, managing director of Candana Designs, the feeble flush of the new eco-friendly toilet has made a lot of customers hopping mad. "We've had numerous complaints from people who . are paying $2000 for a toilet . and say it's not flushing. The old toilets used to flush everything away. But with the six-litre, it only takes 80 per cent of the waste away and you have to flush it again - which means you're using more water than you used to." As a result, Reed says, there is now a growing market for second-hand toilets.

While six-litre/three-litre flush toilets have been the norm for new houses for years, to the average consumer, new water-efficient toilets mean a lot more action with the toilet brush and the constant threat of blockages. It's not a matter often referred to in polite company, but the toilet is nonetheless something Australians use, on average, five times a day, accounting for one quarter of household water use. As those who have experienced a new eco toilet know, having to flush several times is not the worst of it. There is also the problem of what is known in the trade as "marking", as the water sits lower down the bowl, leaving exposed vast expanses of vitreous china.

A narrower throat also means more blockages. If you happen to have an over-zealous user of toilet paper in your family, colloquially known as the "scruncher", this is inclined to happen regularly.

Often children will continually flush the toilet in an attempt to hide the evidence of their profligacy. The inevitable result is water that rises and rises and rises as you stare transfixed, feet stuck to the floor as it reaches the rim, and then subsides, or doesn't, in which case your feet are stuck to the floor in more ways than one. You can find yourself channelling Peter Sellers's character Hrundi V. Bakshi from The Party. The water-conscious are fond of saying "if it's yellow, let it mellow", but if it's brown it's supposed to flush down, not erupt all over your bathroom floor.

Australia's foremost toilet expert is Dr Steve Cummings, head of research and development at Australian manufacturer Caroma, inventor of the dual flush toilet. In an interview this week that would make Kenny proud, he explained that Caroma has spent "hundreds of thousands of hours" designing its eco-friendly toilets, test-driving new designs at its Wetherill Park laboratory, where artificial materials are used to monitor the flush.

Unlike many imported brands, Caroma has not sacrificed throat size to increase suction. "We've put a lot of effort into fine-tuning the design of the pan and the cistern," he says. "If you design a toilet properly . if the toilet seat, the water surface area and the user are ergonomically aligned . the target area [should be hit]." He does point out that much "depends on the diet" of the user, which may account for some of the "enormous problems" with blockages that occur in America.

Caroma's sales in the US have doubled in the past year, as water consciousness takes hold, and the old super-sized 20-litre American models are outlawed. Cummings says he has had just a handful of complaints about Caroma's eco-friendly toilets. "The toilet brush has been around since the 19th century," he says, not very sympathetically. "Some people just don't want to clean the toilet." In the US, he warns, "they have plungers".

And there's much more to come. Caroma's Smartflush uses just 4.5 litres/three litres. Its new waterless urinal, the H2Zero Cube, last month won the Australian Design Awards' inaugural sustainability prize. Its secret is a one-way airtight valve that would save 2 million litres of water a year in the average office building. Worried about the smell without water? There is a built-in deodoriser, activated by the heat of the urine. Hmmm.

As the rain pours down on Sydney this week, we are left with these absurd legacies of the drought, from small-throated toilets to dribbling showers to Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull's latest discussion paper about putting recycled sewage into our drinking water. But no new dam for Sydney has emerged for discussion, as the population continues to grow.

Meanwhile, on the South Coast, at Braidwood and Hillview and Nerriga, near where the Welcome Reef Dam would have been built on the Shoalhaven River, rainfall recorded in the past 20 days was 150 millimetres, 181 millimetres and 274 millimetres respectively. That would have been a nice start for a dam, not to mention saving wear and tear on the toilet brushes of the future.


Another attempt to solve Australia's most intractible problem

Nothing works well but Aborigines were safer and healthier under the old paternalistic system. It seems that a partial return to that is underway

Australia’s Aborigines were stripped of the right of self-rule yesterday after the Government declared the widespread sexual abuse of Aboriginal children to be a national emergency. John Howard, the Prime Minister, banned the sale of alcohol across an area the size of France and imposed restrictions on access to pornography. He also announced tight controls on welfare benefits, which will be cut if children fail to attend school. Aboriginal families will be required to spend at least half their fortnightly welfare on food and essentials.

In a statement to Parliament the Prime Minister said: “We are dealing with children of the tenderest age who have been exposed to the most terrible abuse from the time of their birth, virtually. Any semblance of maintaining the innocence of childhood is a myth in so many of these communities, and we feel very strongly that this kind of action is needed.” In what amounts to the end of a decades-long and largely failed path of self-determination for Aboriginal people, hundreds of extra police will be deployed in northern Australia to enforce the laws, which will apply on land that has been returned to Aboriginal ownership over the past 30 years.

The sudden move was prompted by the findings of an inquiry, released last week, that showed alarming levels of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children. The inquiry, led by a leading QC and an Aboriginal child expert, found that children were being abused in each of the 50 settlements that they visited in northern Australia. There are hundreds of such settlements, many with fewer than 100 people. The inquiry, established by the government of the Northern Territory, found that children were being abused by Aboriginal and nonAboriginal adults. It concluded that “rivers of grog” and a lack of education were great contributors to the levels of abuse.

It also found that very young Aboriginal girls had been taken into Darwin by nonAboriginal men, who traded sex for drugs. Girls aged between 12 and 15 years were being provided with cash and gifts for having sex with white mine-workers. Video and other forms of pornography were used widely by men in Aboriginal communities, and overcrowded housing conditions meant that children were exposed to sexual activity from a very young age, the inquiry reported.

Mr Howard said that he was concerned over what he considered to be the Northern Territory’s inadequate response to the findings, and that was why the Government was using its powers to seize control of the Aboriginal settlements there. He said that every child under the age of 16 would be checked by teams of doctors which would be sent into Aboriginal areas. Remote schools would receive more funding so that they could provide pupils with a meal every day. The settlements will be under federal control for the next five years; able-bodied unemployed will be made to repair houses and clean up communities in return for continued welfare payments.

The decades-long entry-permit system, under which Aboriginal people have controlled access to the 660,000sq km (255,000sq miles) of Aboriginal lands in northern Australia, will be largely scrapped.

The measures were condemned by leaders of Aboriginal communities. The lawyer Michael Mansell, an Aboriginal activist [Actually a white Leftist -- complete with blond hair] , said that the Government’s actions were an “immoral abuse of power” aimed at taking over people’s lives. “Mitch”, a member of a government board helping Aborigines who were taken from their parents under past assimilation laws, said: “I’m absolutely disgusted by this patronising government control. Tying drinking with welfare payments is just disgusting. If they’re going to do that, they’re going to have to do that with every single person in Australia, not just black people.” Mr Howard urged of Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales, where the federal Government does not have the power to override local legislatures, to introduce similar bans on the distribution of alcohol.

Alan Carpenter, Premier of Western Australia, said that his government was addressing the issue of child abuse, and questioned why Mr Howard had declared it a national emergency after 11 years in office. Throughout his premiership Mr Howard has focused on practical measures to tackle Aboriginal disadvantage, often angering critics with his tough-love approach at the expense of symbolism, such as an apology for past injustices. There are about 470,000 Aborigines in the 20 million population of Australia. They are the country’s most impoverished community, with life expectancy more than 17 years lower than the national average.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Unions 'salivating for Rudd win'

MILITANT unionists like Joe McDonald are salivating at the prospect of running the country if Labor wins the next election, Prime Minister John Howard says. Proceedings to expel Mr McDonald from the Labor Party will begin when Labor's national executive committee meets today in Canberra. The WA Supreme Court yesterday released a video of Mr McDonald at a Perth building site on April 24. In that tape, Mr McDonald abuses a company representative who tells him he can't enter a building site.

Mr Howard today said Mr McDonald's behaviour represented a "pattern of union conduct". "They are salivating at the prospect of a Labor victory," he said on Sky News. "You heard Mr McDonald talking about people working at Hungry Jacks, I mean what he's really saying is 'if Rudd wins, we'll be back in town, we'll be running the country again, and we'll make sure you don't have a job'," Mr Howard said.

While Mr Rudd claimed to have zero tolerance of bad union behaviour, his policy was actually one of "optimum toleration" and expelling Mr McDonald from the party was pointless. "It's a meaningless stunt designed to give the impression that Mr Rudd is getting tough with the union movement," Mr Howard said.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd called the urgent meeting of Labor's national executive today to recommend Mr McDonald be booted out of the Labor party after he viewed the footage yesterday. "Under my leadership, I have made it clear that it is completely unacceptable for any member of the Australian Labor Party to behave in such a manner," Mr Rudd said.

Deputy Leader Julia Gillard said the videotape showed further unacceptable conduct by Mr McDonald. "Kevin and I have made it clear that under our leadership of the Labor Party there will be zero tolerance for unlawful conduct, for thuggery, in Australian workplaces. "Australian workers don't want it, we don't want it. We will crack down on it whenever we can," she said. [Like HOW?]

Ms Gillard said the the committee would not be discussing the matter of two NSW union officials who have been charged with intimidation and assault because it was still before the courts.


Brick-thick unionists doing their best to undermine Rudd

THE union movement has issued a warning to Kevin Rudd over his handling of a union official caught abusing a company representative on tape. Unions NSW secretary John Robertson today warned Mr Rudd he did not control the union movement as the Labor leader prepared to expel a construction union official from the party over an abusive rant against company representatives which was caught on tape and released by the WA Supreme Court yesterday.

The row has come as a turf war between rival unions in Sydney has left one union official with a broken foot, while another allegedly received a death threat on his mobile phone. Two National Union of Workers officials, organisers Charlie Morgan and Bruno Mendonca, were yesterday charged with assaulting and intimidating a Transport Workers Union official, allegedly stomping on and fracturing his feet and throwing him against a wall.

While Mr Rudd is faced with a new union scandal, Mr Robertson issued a caution over the treatment of the union movement. "Kevin needs to realise he doesn't run the union movement in the same way that the union movement doesn't run the Labor Party," Mr Robertson said this morning. "These are obviously issues of concern if they're actually proved. "That's part of the problem with the debate at the moment, that the (charges) are alleged. Until the courts have actually dealt with them I think it's inappropriate for anybody to take any action."



Big chill hits Queensland

BONE-chilling winds of up to 75km/h have blasted through southeast Queensland, bringing down trees, powerlines and even a brick wall. The southwesterly winds saw Brisbane record its lowest June temperature on record. A maximum of 13.1C was recorded at the airport but the wind chill factor dragged this down to only 5.6C.

At a Fortitude Valley construction site, a freestanding wall collapsed on to a neighbouring unit block at about 5am, hammering the roof with up to 80 concrete bricks. Builder Ivano Berlese said it was a "freak of nature". "It really must have come through here hard, because the wheelie bins were all blown over and there was a power line down in another street," he said. Five people were evacuated from the top floor of the building at about 5:30am and allowed back in briefly a few hours later, to pick up some belongings.

The wind was also blamed for halting train services on the Cleveland line, after blowing debris on to overhead wires. Queensland Rail said buses were organised to transport passengers between Lindum and Cleveland, during the morning peak. Fallen trees and branches also caused disruption to traffic and power supply. More than 4000 homes and businesses were blacked out across southeast Queensland throughout the day.

The Lockyer Valley, Gatton, Dayboro and the Sunshine Coast fared the worst. Brisbane escaped relatively unscathed from blackouts. The cold snap pushed southeast Queensland electricity usage to its highest this winter as people turned on power-hungry reverse cycle airconditioners and heaters.

Weather bureau statistician Ann Farrell said the previous June record for the airport was 13.9C in 1958 and the coldest overall was 10.6C in August 1954. Toowoomba was worse off, recording a wind chill temperature of -9.3C overnight, with parts of the Darling Downs reporting a blast of early morning sleet and snow. At noon it had risen to -3.8C. All of the Downs and Granite Belt reported extremely cold conditions, with Warwick 1C at 2pm and Applethorpe -1.2C, thanks again to the wind. Overnight Brisbane dipped down to -2.5C, allowing for the wind factor.

Ms Farrell said overcast conditions had caused the temperature to be about 5C lower than predicted. "Once cloud cover comes over and it combines with cold air, the temperatures won't go up," she said. Better conditions are predicted for today although it will remain cold, with clear skies. Moreton Bay was no place to be with gusts recorded to 76km/h at the Inner Beacon, about halfway between the mainland and Moreton Island.


Teacher training to curb school violence

Wotta lotta ineffectual and irresponsible waffle! The offenders should be prosecuted, jailed and the outcomes publicized

The Education Department has launched a training package for teachers to help them deal with escalating violence in Western Australian schools. State schools have reported 45 incidents of parents or caregivers threatening staff members since July last year. Six involved physical violence.

The package will include strategies on preventing and managing violence in schools and offer information about restraining orders and legal advice.

The Education Minister Mark McGowan says abuse of teachers is not acceptable. "Teachers have been assaulted and teachers have been abused and parents have misbehaved and these sorts of things aren't good enough," he said. "I would encourage parents also to have a look at themselves and accept it when a school tells them their child may not be behaving the best and have a look at ways of improving their child's behaviour rather than blaming the school."


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Leftist elitism again

In America, there seem to be only minor grumbles about politicians who claim to represent "the little guy" flitting about in private jets and living in huge mansions etc (The Clintons, John Edwards and Al Gore spring to mind), but egalitarianism is much more deeply embedded in the Australian psyche and the story below about Australia's Federal Leftist leader will be very critically received by many Australians.

Rudd might claim that his preferential treatmment was the work of the restaurateur rather than his own doing but many Australians would have expected him to wait his turn. Conservative Prime Minister John Howard is known for lining up patiently on election day and waiting for his turn to vote.

The pic is from a Brisbane free newspaper (of June 14) called "City News" and the story appeared on p.17

In case the text is not clear, I reproduce it below:

Ruddy fish thief

DOESN'T it warm the cockles of your heart that Australia is an egalitarian nation where power and privilege won't curry you any favours? Yeah, right. Reader Josh ordered the salmon when he and his mates went for lunch at swanky Eagle St Pier eatery II Centro recently. They then noticed prime ministerial hopeful Kevin Rudd and a bunch of 'suits' arrive. Within 10 minutes they had food on their table, despite arriving after our luckless Josh, who noted our Kev had also picked the salmon. Then I was told that they'd run out of salmon and I had to choose something else. "Bloody Rudd was eating my lunch," Josh told Buzz.

Police "too busy" to stop dangerous party

Australian police are "too busy" for most things, it seems. See also my posting of June 8th. It's lucky that no-one mentioned below was killed or seriously harmed

DRUNKEN girls as young as 14 were cavorting naked in a street during a wild pool party, neighbours said last night. Older men tried to lure some of the children into their utes, and a few of the girls had passed out. A neighbour said about 150 youngsters attended the party in an inner-city Darwin suburb on Saturday night. "Some of them were really young girls who were very drunk," she said. "And there were lots of gatecrashers."

The party spilled into the street. "Several of the girls were vomiting in the gutter by my nature strip," she said. "There were people lying in the middle of the road."

The neighbour, who has two young children, said many of the girls were in bikinis. Others were topless or naked. She cared for two girls who had passed out until they were collected by their guardians. "I was worried about the people on the street and that someone was going to get run over," she said.

The neighbour said some of the teenage girls were calling up their friends and bragging about being drunk and naked. "The guys were trying to get the girls to walk off with them," she said. "It looked like everyone was trying to get laid, which is awful for kids at that age."

The neighbour said the party started about 6pm and didn't finish until 3am. She telephoned police about 11.30pm, but was told they were "too busy". Police turned up around 1am.


Labor party supports tough proposals on black welfare

INDIGENOUS policy faces a revolution no matter who wins the federal election, with Labor backing Noel Pearson's push to link welfare and personal responsibility. Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin has thrown Labor's support behind radically restructuring welfare payments, while the Howard Government is preparing cabinet submissions that would ensure welfare was quarantined for use on housing and food.

The plans embrace proposals put forward by Mr Pearson, the Cape York indigenous activist, who wants Aboriginal families to be stripped of welfare payments if their children are abused or miss school. He has spent a decade arguing for an end to passive welfare but until now has failed to win bipartisan political support.

A report by Mr Pearson's Cape York Institute, to be launched today, calls for an overhaul of the Aboriginal work for the dole program, CDEP, under which 35,000 Aboriginal people work in return for welfare. He suggests abolishing the program for anyone younger than 21, and placing them under "conditional income management" if they do not begin a traineeship or find a job within three months of finishing school. The report also calls for an expansion of private home ownership, with a subsidy for families who want to construct houses in remote communities.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said he was preparing several cabinet submissions in line with Mr Pearson's hard-core approach. Under Mr Brough's plan, all families - white and black - that spent welfare money on alcohol, gambling and drugs would be forced to direct-debit part of their benefits to pay for rent, electricity and food.

Ms Macklin said while she did not agree with everything Mr Pearson proposed, anything that supported the interests of children deserved to be taken seriously. "The principle that family tax benefits follow the interests of the child is one we strongly support for both indigenous and non-indigenous children," she said.

While Ms Macklin gave cautious support to Mr Pearson's plans, Labor federal vice-president Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal cabinet minister in the NSW parliament, expressed her concern. "It really is about playing god with people's lives," Ms Burney said. "It feels a bit like a rerun of punitive practices in the past that proved fruitless."

On Queensland's Palm Island, which has unemployment of more than 90 per cent, the proposal for a community-based "cop" with power to withhold welfare payments was also universally rejected. "There are other reasons kids don't go to school other than parental neglect," said Mayor Delena Oui-Foster, who said the proposal smacked of racism. School attendance on Palm Island is high, largely because an increasing number of parents, such as Nazareth Foster, place enormous value in education. Her children, Mia and Teri, have not missed school this year: "I want them to have a good education - these days, you get indigenous people getting certificates and degrees, and that's what we've got to aim for here."


Judicial arrogance attacks freedom of the press

LAST week, the High Court of Australia displayed a disdain for a jury verdict that went to the heart of free speech in this country. It concerned the small matter of a restaurant review. I say small because in the scheme of things a restaurant review is hardly cutting-edge commentary. But when restaurant critics are gagged, it does not augur well for free speech.

By and large, we are fortunate in Australia to have a sensible bunch of judges on our highest court. But when they go awry, sidelining common sense, they really go for broke. Which is what they did when they set aside a jury verdict that decided a review about a swank Sydney restaurant, while critical about some of the food and some of the service, did not defame the restaurant owner.

In 2003, The Sydney Morning Herald food critic Matthew Evans was unimpressed with Coco Roco, which billed itself as “Sydney’s most glamorous restaurant”. The limoncello oyster had flavours that “jangle like a car crash”. The carpaccio arrived with a “dreary roast almond paste”. And, Evans asked, what was the chef thinking by adding apricot halves to a sherry-scented white sauce adorning a prime rib steak? Food critics can be a snippy lot. But that’s the gig. Anything less and they become spruikers for prime rib steak laced with sherry-scented sauce and apricot halves.

The restaurant owner sued for defamation under NSW’s 7A system where a jury decides whether something is defamatory. In a separate later hearing, a judge decides on whether defences are made out and on damages payable. The jury found Evans’s review did not defame the owner of Coco Roco. On appeal, the NSW Court of Appeal tossed the jury verdict in the bin, preferring its own view that the review was defamatory. Late last week, the High Court agreed.

Although Australia has a new set of uniform defamation laws, in some states and territories the jury will still determine what is defamatory. That is why the High Court case sends a chilling message. According to justices Ian Callinan and Dyson Heydon, the restaurant review was defamatory and any other finding was unimaginable. There was no point sending the issue back to a jury for redetermination, Callinan said during argument, because you might end up with the same perverse finding.

Which raises the question: why bother with a jury at all? Of course, courts have powers to overturn perverse jury verdicts. But was the jury’s decision so perverse? Or was it a case where reasonable minds may differ, where criticism of some bad food and some poor service did not reflect on the competence of the restaurateur? No, said the High Court. No room for reasonable debate here.

Even more troubling, the majority judges said community standards were irrelevant in determining whether the review amounted to defamation of a business. It’s an odd rule that lowers the defamation bar for businesses. (Even stranger given that if a business incorporates, it cannot sue for defamation.) Again, so why bother with a jury comprised of men and women from the community? By effectively telling us to skip the jury trial where something negative is said, the High Court has told critics that they can expect litigation if they are too honest in their opinions.

Equally concerning was the tone of the judges during the hearing. Argument got off to a rollicking start when Justice William Gummow asked: “But when were (the restaurateurs) going to get their hands on some money and how?” Slow down, judge. Damages are determined after defamation has been established and after a court rejects defences.

Now, I’ve seen some scary-looking Santas in my time, but none more so than when a judge such as Gummow does his Santa routine, looking around for someone else’s money to dole out to a disgruntled plaintiff. It’s a quaint and other-worldly judicial view that regards newspapers as so influential that one review is so obviously defamatory as to send a restaurant bankrupt. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have been campaigning against the Howard Government for the past decade. And to no avail.

So did the review really destroy the restaurant? Or was it the poor food? Indeed, some bad reviews bring in the crowds. Am I the only one who goes to see a movie after it is panned by certain trendy critics? A give-it-a-miss review from certain quarters almost guarantees that it’s a movie not to bemissed.

The decision to throw out the jury verdict evinces not so much an air of unreality about how the world works as a thick fog of arrogance that judicial views on questions of fact ought to supplant those of ordinary beings who make up a jury.

In a curious turn of events, Justice Michael Kirby - the great dissenter - injects a healthy dose of common sense into this case. Usually he’s busily crafting the law to suit his own preference, often disguising his views under the cloak of community standards. But then, as the saying goes, even a broken watch is right twice a day. Here he is full of judicial humility and restraint. He deferred to parliament’s intent to have a jury decide defamatory material according to community standards and rejected the view of his haughty buddies who preferred their view to that of a pesky parliament or a jury.

Callinan’s apparent disdain for the jury is especially odd. In a speech given just after his High Court appointment, he scoffed at elitist criticism of juries and cited the view of Patrick Devlin, a former lord justice of Britain’s Court of Appeal, that “trial by jury is more than an instrument of justice and more than one wheel of the constitution: it is the lamp that shows freedom lives.” As Callinan will soon step down from the High Court after a distinguished career, hopefully he won’t mind the criticism.

After all, his spirited defence of juries was accompanied by an admission that criticism of judges is par for the course. Criticism of judgments is rather like being on the end of a stinging theatre review, he mused. He then cited a few colourful reviews including a damning criticism of a J.B. Priestley play, When We are Married, where the critic described the play as “an ideal treat as a night out for your despicable in-laws”.

After the High Court effectively sidelined juries last week, tilting the playing field against free speech, we may no longer be able to enjoy such robust criticism of theatre, books, restaurants and the like. Judges may prefer to live in an overly precious society where polite talk replaces honest criticism. But it will dull the lamp that shows freedom.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kneejerk Leftist policy ideas undermined by the facts

Productivity figures blast a hole in Leftist propaganda plans but "spin" based on old figures is the suggested solution!

KEVIN Rudd's economic brains trust has told him that productivity is likely to accelerate, blasting a hole in Labor's election-year argument over the state of the economy. Just days after John Howard accused the Opposition Leader of economic illiteracy, his senior advisers have told him the outlook for productivity is looking better, after years of low growth. They also partly blamed the productivity slowdown, reversed only in the past two quarters, on the booming labour market, which has seen unemployment fall to a 32-year low of 4.2 per cent. This undermines the ALP's claim that the productivity slump is largely due to a lack of investment in education and infrastructure.

A confidential nine-page briefing document was prepared for Mr Rudd last Friday - one day after he failed during a radio interview to acknowledge the rebound in productivity growth. A spokesman for Mr Rudd said last night the briefing paper was consistent with the party's expectation that, although there was likely to be "some correction" in productivity numbers, there were "no clear signs of a return to the strong productivity growth of the 1990s". Labor argues that Australia needs an education and broadband "revolution", as promised in its platform, to deliver stronger productivity growth, which the Government's May budget forecast to flatline over the next year.

But the briefing document, prepared by Mr Rudd's senior economics advisers, Tim Dixon and John O'Mahony, says the outlook is already looking rosier. "We should expect that as the rateof GDP growth picks up, quarterly productivity statistics will be strong in the next year or so," Mr Rudd was told. And while productivity growth has slowed over the past few years, the Labor analysis, obtained by The Australian, backs up the Government's claim that it is partly due to the strong employment market. "Part of the reason (for the decline in productivity) is because employment growth was stronger in the early 2000s compared with the mid 1990s," the document says. "Stronger employment growth is often associated with weaker productivity growth." It also blames the drought and the massive investment in mining as factors that have caused a slowdown in productivity growth.

Labor seized on the May budget - which forecast zero productivity growth - to argue the Government has no reform agenda to ensure economic prosperity after the resources boom ends. But last week's national accounts figures showed a pick-up in productivity in recent months - 1.4 per cent in the December quarter and 0.6 per cent in the March quarter. Mr Rudd, however, failed to acknowledge this rebound during a radio interview on the ABC's flagship AM program last Thursday morning. John Howard and Peter Costello later seized on Mr Rudd's comments during a robust parliamentary debate, claiming that he knew "precious little" about economics.

Labor's economic brains trust provided the Opposition Leader with a detailed briefing paper, titled Productivity and the National Accounts, the day after this parliamentary tussle. The "leader's meeting/policy brief" was is designed to "provide a response to the questions on productivity raised by (ABC journalist) Chris Uhlmann on AM on June 14". Mr Rudd's office last night verified the document.

With economic management certain to dominate the election campaign, Mr Rudd is determined to prosecute the Government over the rate of productivity growth. But he has been warned that the next national accounts figures - due out in early September, just before the likely start of the formal election campaign - is likely to back the Government's argument. Labor's economic team argues that Mr Rudd should continue to cite the Budget forecast - of zero productivity growth - "as it has not been updated by Treasury". "While quarterly or annual productivity statistics are not reliable, it is still worth making the point that there is no evidence that we are out of the low productivity cycle," Mr Rudd is told. The Opposition Leader is told by his advisers that productivity "in its simplest form ... equals outputs divided by inputs".

A spokesman for Mr Rudd last night noted that in January Labor stated that "while the even sharper decline in productivity since 2004 is unlikely to continue without some correction, it nevertheless indicates that there are no clear signs of a return to the strong productivity growth of the 1990s". "Therefore when the briefing paper refers to the fact that we 'should expect that as the rate of the GDP growth picks up quarterly productivity statistics will be strong in the next year or so', this is consistent with federal Labor's public observation in January (and) is entirely consistent with Labor's argument that we have seen a long-term decline in productivity growth."


These are the guys the Left wants to put back in charge of Australian workplaces

Union bullying of site manager taped

A SECRETLY recorded video and audio tape shows the federal secretary of a militant construction union standing by as three underlings bully and intimidate an occupational health and safety manager on a Perth building site, calling him a "f..king maggot" and a "f..king idiot".

The recordings, obtained by The Australian, show Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union national secretary Dave Noonan, assistant state secretary Joe McDonald and three other union officials being asked at least a dozen times to leave a city building site run by Len Buckeridge's BGC, one of the country's biggest construction companies.

While Labor takes more hits in the polls because of its perceived ties to renegade unionists, media companies will today apply to the West Australian Supreme Court to get access to two other damaging video tapes of Mr McDonald and other CFMEU officials. One tape shows Mr McDonald calling a builder a "f..king, thieving parasite dog" who would end up working at Hungry Jack's. Some have interpreted this as a veiled threat should Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd win the next election.

While those tapes were deemed admissible by the Supreme Court last week when Broad Constructions moved to ban CFMEU officials from their building sites, they were not shown to the court because union lawyers argued that they were embarrassing and could be used for political purposes. The tape obtained by The Australian was taken by BGC occupational health and safety manager Paul Smedley, a former detective, in November 2004. It was used in a West Australian Industrial Relations Commission finding against a union organiser, Michael (Mick) Powell, who the commission last year found acted in an "unacceptable and improper" manner while he was with Mr Noonan at the Barrack Street site. The commission found Mr Powell's language and behaviour to be "unprovoked, aggressive and intimidatory".

The tape records Mr Smedley asking the unionists to identify themselves after he discovered they were on the BGC site. He then asked if they had their right-of-entry cards on them. When Mr Noonan, then the CFMEU's assistant federal secretary, replied that he did not, Mr Smedley told him to leave. This sparked a barrage of abuse from Mr Powell and fellow union organiser Jamie Leggo, in which Mr Smedley was called a "f..king maggot", a "piece of shit", a "cockhead" and a "f..king idiot". Mr Leggo tells Mr Smedley: "Me and you are going to have a lot of fun, c...'. Eventually, after seven minutes of abuse and threatening language, the union officials - including Mr McDonald, who Mr Smedley claimed was singing Skip to my Lou, my darlin' in the background - left the site.

When the matter was dealt with in the WAIRC in April last year, Mr Powell had his right-of-entry card suspended for one month because of his renegade behaviour. He was counselled by the CFMEU.

Mr Noonan yesterday defended his union, saying the exchanges were part of a dispute over safety "in an industry where a worker dies, on average, every week". "When safety is an issue, there is no place for shrinking violets - the proposition that swearing on a building site is some form of scandal is a joke," he said. He accused Mr Buckeridge of threatening behaviour himself, referring to a 2005 parliamentary speech by Labor senator Glenn Sterle, who accused the tough-talking businessman of boasting in an HR Nicholls Society speech that he had compiled a hit list of 30 unionists who should be "rubbed out".

UnionsWA secretary Dave Robinson told The Australian he condemned the behaviour of the CFMEU officials caught using insulting language on tape, but added that construction industry union officials were frequently subjected to strong-arm tactics of bosses who were far from saintly. "The CFMEU operates in a very tough environment ... it's a bitter struggle to improve things for their membership," he said. "None of that excuses any unacceptable conduct but the industry generates that sort of behaviour from the employers as well as from the unions representing their members." CFMEU state secretary Kevin Reynolds said he condemned violence but bad language was the language of the construction industry. He said Mr Buckeridge used "extremely colourful language himself" and it was no accident that he employed as his safety manager a former police officer.


Trust your bureaucracy to set intelligent education priorities

Universities are producing thousands of useless graduates in sociology and English literature (etc.) but useful disciplines are being cut back

MINING-RELATED departments in universities are shrinking at the time of the nation's biggest resources boom, with 10 geoscience schools closing or downsizing over the past 10 years and only 30 metallurgists graduating a year. Mining companies are forced to hire graduates trained in similar disciplines, such as chemical engineering and materials science, and train them on the job to meet the shortfall in professions such as metallurgy.

A skills summit organised by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia in Canberra today will highlight the severe shortages of qualified professionals in geoscience, metallurgy and mining engineering. APESMA chief executive John Vines said public debate over the skills shortage to date had focused on the trades, and the intention of the summit was to highlight the shortage of skilled professionals in the engineering, science and technology sectors. In a discussion paper, APESMA calls for a tax incentive scheme, similar to the one promoting research and development, offering employers a 150 per cent tax rebate for spending more than 2 per cent of labour costs on training development. Mr Vines said the Australian average was 1.3 per cent of a company's payroll, while 4 per cent was considered world-best practice.

In its position paper for the summit, the Australasian Institute of Metals and Metallurgy calls on the federal Government to increase its university funding for mining degrees as part of a strategy to remedy the "dire state of minerals education". It wants the federal Government to increase funding for minerals courses by about $4000 per student, to bring it into the highest cluster of university funding, along with agriculture. Universities receive $13,411 from the Government for every student in science and engineering courses, which are expensive to deliver, compared with $17,870 for agriculture students.

The institute, representing more than 8000 professionals in geoscience, minerals processing and mining engineering, also calls on the Government to commit to a set of national principles for higher education, along the lines of the National Research Priorities, to ensure that "disciplines of national importance" are maintained.

Geosciences professor at Monash University Ray Cas described geosciences as a "nationally endangered species" and AIMM chief executive Don Larkin said at least eight minerals departments had closed since 2000. Mr Larkin said the federal Government had given a commitment to fund disciplines of national importance but, because of the Government's philosophy to move to a user-pays and market-driven tertiary education system, that was not happening.

A survey of almost 2000 members conducted last month by AIMM, and due for release on Friday, found that about two-thirds said the professional skills shortage had left them short-staffed. More than half said the shortage meant more people were working in senior roles outside their experience. And more than 60 per cent believed their employer was paying more for less-experienced personnel, with salaries rising about 18 per cent since 2005. A paper by Professor Cas says at least 10 geoscience departments have "either been closed down or downsized to the point of being ineffectual" over the past 10 years.

The closures include the geoscience department at the University of NSW, once the biggest in Australia; previously significant departments in the universities of La Trobe, RMIT, Bendigo and Deakin in Victoria; Flinders and South Australia in Adelaide; New England and the University of Technology, Sydney, in NSW; as well as smaller, regional schools. Other departments have been amalgamated into other disciplines such as geography and environmental sciences, leading to a rationalisation and decrease in staff at universities including Sydney, Wollongong, Western Australia, Melbourne and Ballarat.

But student enrolments are growing in second and third years. Professor Cas says Monash University has a record number of students, and now the largest in Australia, despite the number of first-year students not growing beyond about 200. The number of graduates at Queensland University is also growing. A 2005 agreement between international mining company Xstrata, which has a number of operations in Australia, and UQ is designed to lift the number of metallurgy graduates at the institution from five in 2004 to 20 next year.

Australian Council of Deans of Science chairman John Rice said it would take 10 years to rebuild the infrastructure, expertise and resources of these departments, with a skills shortage in the industry also translating into a shortage of people able to teach in universities. Professor Rice said the shift by government to funding universities based on student numbers made the low-enrolment schools unviable, but said the removal of the cap on full-fee paying places in the last federal budget left room for industry to step in and pay for mining courses.


His Eminence hits back at attempts to silence him

THE Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, has criticised "intolerant parliamentarians" for trying to stifle the right of religions to speak out on ethical matters. Cardinal Pell singled out the Greens MP Lee Rhiannon for seeking to limit the say of the churches. "I'm not sure that Lee Rhiannon could be characterised as particularly tolerant or sympathetic to Christian religions," he said. "I think she has a considerable history in that area. I don't have chapter and verse but my office does." Cardinal Pell said he expected his right to lobby MPs on a bill that aims to overturn the ban on embryonic stem cell research would be upheld by State Parliament's privileges committee. It is investigating whether his warning to Catholic MPs that a vote for the bill would have consequences for their position in church life constituted contempt of Parliament.

Speaking at an inter-faith conference , Cardinal Pell said the principle of the separation of church and state was not intended to silence religious leaders but to protect clerics like himself from "interfering government and over-enthusiastic parliamentarians". A small minority of commentators and intolerant MPs wanted to delegitimise the public expression of religious views, he said. "None of us as religious people should co-operate with that or oblige them in any way. We must insist on our right of expression of public views." Cardinal Pell said he would continue his lobbying efforts when the bill reaches the upper house later this month.

James Haire, from the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, defended the right of religions to involve themselves in politics. Professor Haire said privatising religion to the nave, the temple or the cloister was a foolish and futile way of dealing with the variety of legitimate views held by people of faith.

Ms Rhiannon defended her right to comment and criticise. "I've consistently said Cardinal Pell has a right to participate in debate but he did cross the line when he used people's religious life as a point of leverage to gain support for a no vote in the stem cell bill," she said. "In singling me out he is failing to recognise there was much stronger criticism from cabinet. In referring his comments to the privileges committee we've had an outcome. "Cardinal Pell is learning there [are] boundaries in the way he conducts himself."


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It's the economy, Kevin

PETER Costello has a running gag in Parliament, which tickles tiny minds, including the one behind this column. Every now and then the Treasurer will, in mock solemnity, advise the House that the annual Fundamental Injustice Day is fast approaching. Costello says this calender event was established by Labor's Kevin Rudd on June 30, 1999, in the House of Representatives. Rudd, an MP for less than a year, had said, "When the history of this Parliament, this nation and this century is written, June 30, 1999, will be recorded as a day of fundamental injustice." Rudd vowed that this was "injustice that is real, an injustice which is not simply conjured up by the fleeting rhetoric of politicians". What he was talking about was the introduction of GST. [A sales tax. Now long accepted]

And Fundamental Injustice Day would be a forgotten faux commemoration, mere fleeting political rhetoric, were it not for Peter Costello's frequent, playful reminders. He is scoffing at Rudd's overblown foreboding delivered eight years ago and poking fun at the Labor leader's current grasp of economics generally. Costello's jokes verge on arrogance, but a glance at the economy shows he might have something to be arrogant about.

Something extraordinary is happening to the Australian economy. A boom is under way, and it is an unusual one. It is not a matter of interest rates possibly rising next year; the big news is that they haven't risen already. It is not all pretty, and Labor can make a case showing the current boom has an unpleasant underbelly, as shown by bankruptcy figures. But there is much that is good, as shown in a speech last week by Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens, who noted changes in the past 12 months. "Compared to what we expected a year ago, then, growth has turned out to be stronger, employment higher but underlying inflation a bit lower and wages growth has been steady in the face of unanticipated labour market strength," said Stevens.

There is a lot of money sloshing around the nation and it is being used by employers to hire workers, and to increase wages generally, and by households to buy things and borrow. Usually when these factors are combined, inflation goes through the roof, dragging interest rates with it. But that is not happening, and it is not seriously anticipated it will happen for some time.

Stevens said one of the reasons for the restraint, at least in part, was the industrial relations structure - the workplace laws covering wage decisions in a market in which workers should be able to name their price because demand for them is high. "Despite, on most counts, the tightest labour market conditions for a generation, growth in most measures of labour costs has remained well disciplined for the past two years or more, after a mild acceleration earlier," said the central bank chief, whose duties include setting interest rates. "Wages are rising quickly in some areas, but quite slowly in others. "That is, relative wages are changing, adjusting to the forces at work on the economy but without, so far at least, a serious inflation of the whole economy-wide cost structure."

That means wages are going up significantly where they can be afforded, say in the mining industry, but those increases are not being passed on to industry sectors and individual companies where they can not be afforded. That means pay rises can be paid for by increased company earnings, and are not jacking up the costs - and thus prices - in companies without boosted revenue.

Back when he was trying to install Fundamental Injustice Day in the nation's history books, Kevin Rudd explained why this appealing situation had arisen. He quoted Prime Minister John Howard acknowledging financial deregulation and tariff reduction completed by the previous Labor governments. Rudd said Howard believed the third pillar of reform was "fiscal consolidation" - cutting debt - and the fourth was changes to industrial relations law. Hey, maybe he was right.

Nobody should think the economy is problem-free and that all are benefiting from good times. The organisation Australians for Affordable Housing notes that over the past year house prices have risen twice as fast as incomes, and that rents are increasing faster than general inflation.

In another direction, the Australian Industry Group last week warned that the high value of the Australian dollar was making it hard to sell manufactured goods overseas.

Then there is the boom itself. Labor's shadow treasurer Wayne Swan dismisses Government involvement in the boom's creation, saying it is a product of "the strongest global economic growth in more than 30 years". Swan also points to Stevens' speech, where he mentions the expanded global economy and called it "a boost of first-order importance, with real national income nearly eight per cent higher than it would otherwise have been". However, at the coming election the issue might not be the derivation of good times but whether or not Kevin Rudd knows enough about the economy to maintain them


Geography revival?

FIRST it was history, then English - now the Federal Government has geography firmly in its sights. Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday announced a $45,000 study into the teaching of geography in Australian schools in a bid to ensure the subject is included in the curriculum. The inquiry will look at what is being taught in states, including Queensland, where geography and history have been subsumed into Studies of Society and the Environment in most schools.

The federal inquiry follows lobbying by geography teachers and academics, who yesterday welcomed the move. Ms Bishop said it would investigate the decline in the quality of geography tuition in schools. "The Institute of Australian Geographers and the Australian Geography Teachers Association have raised concerns with me that too little geography is being taught in schools, and that in some cases, environmental and political studies are masquerading as geography," she said.

Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford welcomed the inquiry and said most of the concern centred on how well students were being prepared up to Year 10 to take on the subject at senior level.

Australian Geography Teachers Association President Nick Hutchinson said geography professionals had lobbied hard for the inquiry after geography barely rated a mention when the national curriculum was being mooted. "I think we were really afraid that geography was going to disappear," Mr Hutchinson said. The inquiry will examine the time devoted to geography and determine minimum course requirements and should be completed by August.

Mr Welford, meanwhile, announced yesterday that teaching graduates unable to find jobs would be paid by the State Government to retrain in a bid to tackle the chronic shortage in special education. The Government was offering 35 scholarships worth $4000 each, he said. The scholarships will fund graduate certificate courses in semester two this year and will target primary graduates with good results.


'Tough love' plan for Aboriginal communities

ABORIGINAL families would be stripped of welfare payments if their children are abused or miss school under a plan by indigenous leader Noel Pearson to make benefits conditional on behaviour. Payments would also be withheld if public housing was damaged or rent not paid, or if people were found guilty of domestic violence.

In the most far-reaching reforms ever outlined for Aboriginal communities, Mr Pearson recommends a community-based authority be established with enough powers to withhold welfare entitlements.

Just days after a landmark report found sexual abuse was rife throughout indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, Mr Pearson's Cape York Institute has called for all welfare payments to be conditional as part of a program to rebuild "social norms". The blueprint, From Hand Out to Hand Up, a copy of which has been obtained by The Australian, is expected to be released within days. Financed by the Federal Government, it lays out a series of "obligations" that indigenous families would have to meet in order to receive full welfare entitlements, such as Newstart and Community Development Employment Project allowances. The report places better education outcomes at the heart of a push to improve Aboriginal self-sufficiency and remove the last vestiges of a "passive welfare" culture.

Mr Pearson, whose template to wean indigenous people off welfare has been criticised by some Aboriginal leaders, recommends that family payments be halted if three unexplained absences are recorded by a child during a school year. To ensure children are not left destitute as a result, payments would be redirected to a responsible adult within the community. They would then ensure the child was properly cared for. Entitlements could also be withheld when children were found to have been neglected or when parents knowingly allowed abuse to occur.

With alcoholism and drug-taking rife in some indigenous communities, the report recommends people be stripped of their benefit rights if they commit offences involving alcohol, drugs, gambling or domestic violence. And a month after the federal Budget placed a new premium on private housing for indigenous communities, the report says adults must abide by public housing tenancy agreements. Payments would be stopped if people were found guilty of using their homes for illegal purposes, if they damaged the houses or if rent were not paid.

In order to police the new approach, the report recommends a statutory authority - the Families Responsibilities Commission - be established and granted sweeping powers. The institute suggests that the FRC be chaired by a former magistrate - to give it the "gravitas and stature of a Crown body" - and be given a series of options for dealing with transgressions. For minor offences, a warning could be issued. But more serious - or recurring - offences would see the FRC step in and order payments be stopped.

The recommendations will be a challenge for the Coalition and the Labor Party ahead of the election. A series of senior ministers have in the past backed the thrust of Mr Pearson's "tough love" approach to reform, but it is far from certain that the Coalition will endorse his new recommendations, which would require significant changes to social security laws.

In a searing assessment of life in Cape York, which has four main indigenous communities, the institute says a welfare "pedestal" exists. This encourages people to obtain welfare and remain on it, "despite employment or education opportunities being available in or near communities". "The goal of policy solutions to address the pedestal is to see individuals come off welfare (or not enter welfare) and join the real economy or undertake education and training opportunities," the report says.

Mr Pearson has over the past decade led debate on the need for reform, but his often uncompromising approach has raised hackles within sections of the indigenous community.


Flesh-eating bacterium on rapid rise in Victoria

HUNDREDS of Victorians each year are contracting a virulent flesh-eating bug described by scientists as "the most dangerous in the world". More than 300 Victorians fell victim to the invasive 'A' streptococcal disease during a two-year period of a study and 25 of them died.

Medical experts want the disease to become a reportable condition in Victoria. Australian streptococcal expert Prof Jonathon Carapetis, who led the study, said people in Victoria were not being protected against the spread of the bacteria. "There is a strong case that people who come in contact with streptococcal patients are at risk," he said. "They should be given antibiotics to prevent contracting the nasty bug, as is done with those who come in contact with meningococcal - and they are not. "We also believe that immuno globulin and clindamycin can stop the bacteria, but most people are not being given these drugs."

The disease particularly affects children under five, pregnant women and the elderly. One of the victims in the study was a two-year-old child, with a history of a sore throat, who died of streptococcal bacteraemia.

Prof Carapetis said the Victorian health department needed to make it a notifiable disease because Victorians were at risk. "It has been around for decades and we suspect in that time there have been many more severe cases," he said.

The study, between 2002 and 2004, tracked the number of serious strep cases found in hospitals and GP's surgeries in Victoria. Of the 25 victims, five died from necrotising fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) caused by the streptococcal bacteria and 11 died from toxic shock because of overwhelming infection.


Monday, June 18, 2007

School discipline revival in Western Australia?

SCHOOL bullies and other disruptive students will be removed from schools and taught in behaviour centres, away from their victims. Education Minister Mark McGowan announced the controversial pilot program yesterday. Three centres for teenagers are expected to be set up in Fremantle-Peel, the City of Canning and Kalgoorlie by October as part of the trial, which will be extended to other areas if successful. Five behaviour centres for primary school students are planned for 2008.

Mr McGowan said yesterday it was unfair for well-behaved students to put up with disruptive and violent classmates. It was also unfair to keep troublemakers in learning environments where they were unhappy. Mr McGowan said many disruptive students had underlying mental-health or emotional problems, learning difficulties or dysfunctional home lives, for which they needed help. "They need specialist help that is not always available in schools so that they can return to a mainstream school, training, employment or a combination of these options,'' Mr McGowan said. "The behaviour centres will offer intensive literacy and numeracy support, a specialised curriculum focusing on problem solving, coping strategies and regulation of behaviour, and individualised school transition plans.''

Yesterday's announcement follows a commitment by Mr McGowan earlier this year to improve the image of public schools. He said he was educated in public schools and believed in them. ``While (troublemakers) make up less than 1 per cent of the total student population, their impact is great,'' he said. ``There is no point expecting teachers to struggle on handling these students because everyone suffers. ``About 25 students are excluded from WA public schools every year, almost all of them secondary students. ``The pressure on teachers, other students and families is intolerable. ``Some kids have a very tough life and they will show behaviour that reflects that. ``I am not targeting them, but I am trying to find an environment that suits them while at the same time making the rest of the school better.''


The unhinged Left in Australia

By Andrew Bolt

I WENT to Doctor S yesterday up at the Epworth and said I was in strife. That much I know is true. Something was wrong with my vision, I said. I wasn't seeing things as they surely must be if all was well. And that's true, too. Please tell me all I need is the long holiday I'm going on this very week, I pleaded. But Dr S rules out stress. So the awful suspicion grows that there's nothing wrong with my vision and the unbelievable things I've been seeing are all true, as well. How frightening.

For a start, I this week read - or thought I read - a United Nations Environment Program manual, which insisted the real problem with Zimbabwe was not that it was ground so deep in the dirt by its brutal leader that it was short of food, work and even power. No, it was simply growing too fast. "Zimbabwe is presently entering a stage of rapid industrialisation and motorisation," the UNEP sighed. "This has resulted in increased air pollution, as well as the increased emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide." Still, I guess the country's huge power blackouts will soon fix that.

But please tell me, dear reader, that it's just my eyes letting me down. Can such madness really be? Not all the odd things I'm seeing are so serious. Take Dust, a book the ABC has published with the sole purpose, it seems, of making happy children very sad. Again I thought I must have gone cross-eyed because no publicist could sell a children's book like this:

"In a perfect world, this book would not exist. But we do not live in a perfect world. At any given moment of any given day, there are people dying from natural disasters over which we have no control. Beyond natural disasters we add disasters of our own making, but even if we all learn to live in peace, there will still be millions of people who need help."

And no book for children could open with these words of a starved child in Niger: "I died last night." Or end with an image of the Grim Reaper leading black children across a hill littered with skulls. I know this is just a trivial example of those things I see that cannot be, yet like all the others it shows glad being subverted for grim, or foul being hailed as fair, or evil mistaken for good. A world stood on its head.

I first feared my eyes were playing up when I read the diatribe of Amnesty International's chief, Irene Khan, in her latest annual report on the world's worst villainy. She'd singled out just four evildoers by name: in order, our John Howard, the US's George Bush, Sudan's genocidal Field Marshal Omar Al-Bashir and Zimbabwe's brutal Robert Mugabe. I must be reading wrong, right?

Or is it really also true that of all the regimes that crush workers, ban unions and shoot union leaders, our ACTU picked Australia for the International Labor Organisation's shame file of the worst of the worst? Indeed, I heard ACTU president Sharan Burrow on radio, confirming that's exactly what she did. So maybe the problem's affecting my hearing, as well.

After all, yesterday I heard journalist David Marr complain for 15 minutes on the government-funded ABC that this Howard Government was silencing exactly his kind of dissent. What's more, I've witnessed Marr make the same claim on ABC television (twice) and in a new book and huge articles this month in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. If the Government is crushing dissent, what is this Dissenting Marr, this Sydney Solzhenitsyn? Just another of my strange visions? Indeed, Marr even spent a whole session of the government-backed Sydney Writers Festival whingeing along with Clive Hamilton, who so furiously agrees the Government is stifling debate that he's written his own book, Silencing Dissent, one of at least six new tomes this past year that damn dissent-crushing Howard. Whole perches of intellectuals now squawk that they cannot speak in fascist Australia, deafening us with complaints of being silenced, and deaf to irony themselves.

I'd laugh if I wasn't still worrying about my eyes, which cannot see the Australia that all these smart people say festers under my feet. Take retired County Court judge Peter Gebhardt, who this week said he agreed with Fascist America, in 10 easy steps, in which writer Naomi Wolf tells how America supposedly lost its freedoms under Fuhrer Bush. Gebhardt listed some of the ways: "creating a gulag (Guantanamo Bay); developing a thug caste (security contractors); setting up an internal surveillance system; harassing citizens' groups; engaging in arbitrary detention and release; targeting key individuals; controlling the media (arrests of US journalists are at a record level); believing that dissent equals treason; suspending the rule of law . . ." And he warned: "Over the past decade, many of Wolf's 10 steps have been evident in this country . . ."

Gosh, they have? Yet the police state this ex-judge describes resembles nothing remotely like the country I've lived in, and still see today. But you see why I worry. Surely all these intellectuals, so many with important public jobs, cannot all be mad? You might try to cheer me by saying such people see things more gloomily than the rest of us, but up bobs Prof Robert Manne, voted our Most Influential Public Intellectual. Sure, Manne is as convinced as Marr that "debate is presently under threat", but he's also quick to hail a kinder, gentler, more moral society when he's told of one.

Hear barking Manne start to coo when he describes not our own foul society, but the "enchanted world" of Aborigines before whites came: "(Anthropologists have) discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning." But still I worry: How could our top intellectual so praise a society in which the strong ruled the weak, infanticide was common, death rates by warfare horrific, life expectancy low and bashing of women - as measured by the fractured skulls since found - astonishingly high?

Is it me? Or is upside now down? Inside out? Maybe it is. Consider . . . We now worship global warming preachers who belch more greenhouse gases from their mansions and private planes than do their disciples. Our richest musicians stage Make Poverty History concerts in which not a dollar is raised for the poor and even the fans get in free. Our politicians say "sorry" for stealing Aboriginal children no one can find or name. The head of Melbourne University Press, formed to publish academic works of the highest quality, now wants to publish the memoirs of al-Qaida recruit and dropout David Hicks. The Sydney Peace Prize is given to a writer who tells us to join the "Iraqi resistance" - now blowing up women and children - because their "battle is our battle".

The Australian Catholic University gives an honorary PhD to Age cartoonist Michael Leunig, who likens Israel to Auschwitz, paints George Bush as the devil, asks us to pray for Osama bin Laden and praises "the music you can hear playing in your toes at night". Our leading historians defend the fashionable untruths they tell about our "genocidal" past by sighing - as did Professor Lyndall Ryan - "Two truths are told. Is only one 'truth' correct?" Marrickville Council, in inner Sydney, decides this month to twin, not with any town in Israel, but with the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, now under the control of Hamas extremists.

On it goes: the artists who take pride in displeasing; the Age columnist who yesterday declared, "I'd be happy with a benevolent socialist dictatorship"; the prominent Leftists, led by the ABC's Phillip Adams, who invite Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez to come here to "inspire" us to be just that; the academics who want to try George Bush, not David Hicks; the immigrants who want Australia to be more like the countries they fled; the discrimination police who entrap Christian pastors, but leave hate-preaching imams well alone; and . . . And? God, it's all true. I'm out of here. Goodbye.


Well-deserved Royal recognition for Australia's greatest satirist

CBE is in the middle ranking of the order -- just below where the title "Sir" confers

HIS comic creations Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson, have had an "in" with the Queen for years. Now, it's finally Barry Humphries' turn. One of Australia's funniest and most beloved performers was yesterday awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. "It's very nice to receive an honour from the Queen," Humphries said while eating breakfast in the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. "It means that I can be called Commander. It also might help me getting a good table in a restaurant," he joked.

In Brisbane until next Sunday with his production Barry Humphries - Back with a Vengeance, the 73-year-old said it was lovely to receive such unexpected recognition. "This really came out of the blue," he said. "You get a letter from Downing St, from the Prime Minister, asking if you would accept it and you write back and say, 'I think I might'." The satirist received his letter three weeks ago and has had to keep the award secret since, even from his family. "It was rather hard. I did feel like running around immediately with a loud hailer and telling the world," he laughed. "It's put a little smile on my face which might not have been so broad yesterday."

Source. More on Humphries here. There is a description of his latest performance here.

Nuke deal between Russia and Australia very close

AUSTRALIA is set to strike a controversial nuclear deal with Russia. Uranium from Australian mines could be powering Russian nuclear power plants by the end of the year, Federal Government officials say. The Howard Government is close to finalising a treaty with Vladimir Putin's regime to allow exports of Australian yellowcake, and possibly enriched uranium. The Opposition says the Government also has plans to accept nuclear waste from overseas. Australia has never exported yellowcake to its Cold War foe, although Russia has processed Australian uranium for other countries under a 1990 agreement.

John Carlson, head of the Federal Government's Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, said the bilateral treaty could be finalised by September. "The timetable is very tight but I believe we can do it," Mr Carlson told a Russian news agency. Mr Carlson discussed the deal on a visit to Russia this month. He also told Russia that Australia would enrich its own uranium at some point. "It's too early to say whether we will or will not participate in the Russian (enrichment) centre but our principle is to have enrichment in Australia in future," he said.

Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett said the treaty with Russia raised doubts about the Government's uranium policy: "As a senior government official has now admitted that we will have nuclear enrichment in Australia, we also need to know what discussions and commitments were given to Russian officials or any other countries concerning Australia being used, as Russia's nuclear weapons stockpile is one of the world's largest, although Moscow is not making new bombs, and its three plutonium reactors are used for power generation."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said a condition of the treaty was Russia's decision in 2006 to separate its civilian nuclear program from its military one. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane confirmed on Friday that Australia was considering building an enrichment facility. There has been speculation it would cost $2.5 billion, and could be located at Caboolture in Queensland, Redcliffe in South Australia or outback Western Australia.


Sunday, June 17, 2007


Three current articles below that may herald a return to the more realistic practices of the past

Bring back the cane, says Federal Minister

FEDERAL Health Minister Tony Abbott has suggested a return to corporal punishment to ensure discipline returns to schools. The comments came after Mr Abbott watched footage of a vicious attack on a Melbourne schoolgirl. The grainy vision from a mobile phone showed a teenage girl repeatedly kicked in the head and body by two other teenagers.

Mr Abbott was alarmed by the footage and said it showed that current methods of discipline in schools were not working. "I mean, we've taken corporal punishment out of the schools because we think that's brutal and yet our playgrounds seem to be becoming more brutal than ever," the minister told the Nine Network today. "Maybe a little bit more discipline in the schools would prevent some of the ugliness that we've just seen."

Mr Abbott said it was a different situation in his day. "When I was a kid at school, if you got up to mischief you were punished, not severely, but never-the-less you were punished." Victoria Police have cautioned two teenage girls over the assault [Big of them! How much evidence do they need to lay an assault charge?] which took place last year in Melbourne's western suburbs


Violent pupils out of control

TASMANIAN teachers want separate schools for violent children who attack them and other students. Every week the Australian Education Union hears about a teacher who has been hit, punched, stood over or threatened. AEU state manager Chris Lane said teachers' only option was to suspend violent children, who returned to the classroom just as out of control. "They come back after two weeks and just do it again," he said.

AEU welfare officer Barbara Elliot said in one classroom kids had "rioted" and broken legs off chairs to beat each other. She said teachers needed separate education facilities for children to learn how to control their anger. Teachers could work with violent students individually or in small groups in a calm and safe environment where there was nothing to throw. "You would make such a difference," Mrs Elliot said. "A child might only need two or three weeks and they could return to the classroom. You would save so much money because teachers would not be off work on stress leave and the jails would not be so full."

Mrs Elliot said suspending a violent child was like temporarily turning off a machine that had cut off a hand. "You turn it back on in a couple of weeks and nothing has changed," she said. "It is still dangerous."

Mrs Elliot and Education Minister David Bartlett rejected calls from Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott to bring back corporal punishment. Mr Bartlett said he "absolutely" rejected a return to the cane but said teachers needed better support to discipline students. He said he was discussing options with the AEU to protect teachers, including strengthening the law. "We need to provide clarity for our teachers to ensure ... they are strengthened by law and protected by the system to ensure they're not the ones that end up in the firing line," he said.

Mrs Elliot said corporal punishment would only teach students that violence was OK. "The state school system is not overrun with violent children," she said. "But there are violent children and we need a sensible way to deal with them when they can't remain in the classroom. "Teachers have a right to a safe workplace." She said after assaults, teachers found it hard to return to the classroom. "Some sit in their car and cry at the end of the day, others get home and break down," she said.


Professor to take state's schools back to basics

In a further move away from its disastrous foray into outcomes-based education, the West Australian Government has appointed the head of the respected NSW curriculum authority to advise it on newcourses for kindergarten to Year 10. The chairman of the NSW Board of Studies, Gordon Stanley, will head a national advisory panel appointed by the West Australian Government to review proposed content for the reintroduction of school syllabuses. [I know Gordon Stanley, a very conscientious man. I doubt that he would like the label but he is as conservative as you can get in his circles without being marginalized. And the NSW High School curriculum is undoubtedly the nation's most traditional]

The West Australian approach to school curriculums, detailing what students should be able to do rather than the knowledge they should be taught, has been widely criticised for dumbing down school subjects. In the discredited courses, Year 12 English students were asked to study the Big Brother TV show and Mr Men children's books, and music students were not required to read music or play an instrument. By contrast, the NSW syllabuses are renowned for their rigour, and often cited as the gold standard, not only by NSW education ministers, in the debate over a national curriculum.

Professor Stanley's involvement will be viewed as an acknowledgement of the superior quality of the NSW school syllabuses, which West Australian Education Minister Mark McGowan has previously cited as the model for the state. Mr McGowan yesterday said the new syllabuses would dictate that all primary school students spend half their school day studying maths and English.

But the minister said it was too simplistic to interpret the changes as the death of outcomes-based education. "We will never move away from the idea of focusing on student-centred learning; that is, what does the student learn from this?" Mr McGowan said. "But the idea that we don't need a syllabus, and teachers just use their imaginations and experience - particularly for those who have no experience - is just flawed."

The new syllabuses will also allow teachers to use traditional marking methods such as grades or percentages, but they can choose to use the controversial "levels", associated with the outcomes-based education method. Mr McGowan said he was correcting an error by former Liberal education minister Colin Barnett, who in 1998 "scrapped the syllabus from kindergarten to Year 10 and introduced a curriculum framework that did not contain specific course content". He said that while he had full confidence in the state's Curriculum Council, which oversaw the implementation of the ill-fated OBE courses, it made sense to appoint a national panel of experts for the overhaul.

Joining Professor Stanley on the board are foundation chair of mathematics education at Melbourne University Kaye Stacey; associate professor of early childhood at the University of South Australia Susan Hill; associate professor in history at the University of NSW Bruce Scates; and director of the Wesley Research Institute Julie Campbell.

Mr McGowan became Education Minister late last year in an attempt by the Carpenter Government to quell widespread revolt against the state's version of outcomes-based education and the hasty introduction of new courses in Years 11 and 12. His predecessor, Ljiljanna Ravlich, also faced questions over allegations that her department had mishandled claims of sexual misconduct by teachers.

Professor Stanley has been president of the NSW Board of Studies since 1998 and oversaw the introduction of a restructured Higher School Certificate in 2000-01.



A report released today by the Australian Childhood Foundation, in the lead up to their annual fundraiser Childhood Hero Day Thursday 14 June, has revealed that Australian children are deeply concerned about the state of the environment and the impact of climate change. The report, 'Children's fears, hopes and heroes - Modern Childhood in Australia', surveyed 600 10-14 year-olds across Australia and revealed that:

* 52% are scared that there will not be enough water in the future

* 44% of children are worried about the impact of climate change

* 43% of children are worried about the pollution in the air and water

Dr Joe Tucci, CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said "Children's sense of their place in the world is under threat. Children are nervous about global problems and the implications for the future they are faced with. "It is often said that children and young people live in the here and now with little regard for the future. These findings clearly challenge this popular notion."

The report also revealed that more than a third of children were anxious about terrorism, were worried about having to fight in a war and one in four believed the world will end before they reach adulthood.


Major government hospital boss: We're in crisis

THE chief of one of Queensland's biggest hospitals has branded the facility "in crisis" and urged staff they must discharge patients quicker. In a damning leaked email, Princess Alexandra Hospital senior clinical chief executive officer David Theile warned staff that the hospital was not coping with demand. The admission by Dr Theile is a massive blow to the State Government's claim that Queensland's health system is "turning the corner" after a massive funding injection.

"The hospital is in a crisis situation with beds unavailable and emergency department access block," Dr Theile wrote in the email late last month. "Could all effort be applied to discharge all clinically suitable patients as rapidly as possible. Such effort is required now and needs to be sustained."

Meanwhile, the hospital's ability keep its two operating theatres open for urgent surgery is being compromised by Queensland's chronic shortage of radiographers. Another leaked email from director of medical imaging Wayne Nuss warned because the hospital needed 10 additional radiographers, only one would be rostered on outside business hours. There had been occasions outside normal working hours when two theatres that required radiographers were simultaneously requesting a radiographer, he said. "In most circumstances, unless considerable notice is provided and staff are available, we unfortunately will not be able to provide that level of coverage." Princess Alexandra staff said the hospital would now struggle to deal with multiple trauma cases needing X-rays.

Similar problems are occurring in other hospitals across Queensland with the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital having difficulty keeping its CT scanners functioning. Figures obtained by The Courier-Mail show the radiographer shortage is causing a big blowout in waiting times for cancer victims needing chemotherapy.

Dr Theile yesterday admitted the PA Hospital was "desperately short of beds" and the need to discharge patients quicker occurred "reasonably frequently". But he said there was "virtually no chance" of compromising patient care as doctors were required to speed up administrative rather than clinical work. The dire situation with radiographers had improved with five hirings but on weekends only one remained, Dr Theile said.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

The New Mufti of Muslim Australia

A more charming fanatic

Report by Andrew Bolt

I WAS chatting to the charming Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam, now Australia's new Mufti, when we were interrupted by the Queen. Her Majesty settled herself at her table, while we and the other few hundred guests at the Royal Exhibition Building lunch waited politely. Two archbishops - one Catholic and the other Anglican - then said Grace and I whispered to the sheik, "Why aren't you up there, too?" "One day I will be," he replied. I was joking, but I'm sure Fehmi was not.

And why shouldn't he hope to be up there, making the Christians shuffle up a bit to make room for his very different and demanding faith? I mention this not to damn his cheek, but to point out Fehmi - however moderate he is painted - is not there to police our Muslims and assimilate them for you. His job isn't to get Muslims used to secular Australia, but Australia used to Muslims.

That point may be lost by commentators who, with me, have long wanted him to replace the disastrous Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilaly as Mufti, our senior Muslim cleric. I wanted Hilaly sacked for preaching hatred, and thought it disturbing that Muslims chose to be led by a man who'd praised suicide bombers as heroes, called the September 11 terror attacks "God's work against oppressors", and insisted raped women be "jailed for life". And what a symbol of determined apartness he was, with so little English after 30 years here. But how much better off are we with Fehmi chosen on Sunday by the new Australian National Imam's Council to take over as Mufti?

Not so much. But let me first count Fehmi's blessings. He is a most courteous man, who has often preached against violent jihad at his Preston mosque, and publicly and often called for the Sydney-based Hilaly to go. Lebanese-born, he speaks fine English after 55 years here, and has impressed leaders of other faiths, with the admired Rabbi John Levi praising him in a 2001 ABC profile as "extremely wise and compassionate".

Yet, last year, Levi said Fehmi had "shocked" him: "He is under great pressure from a radicalised community, but nothing can excuse his destruction of decades-long work on Jewish-Muslim understanding." And here's the problem. In the end, Fehmi leads believers who demand he be far more radical than you'd expect from a "moderate". What alarmed Levi, and the Howard Government, is that Fehmi backed the Hezbollah terrorists in their war with Israel, hailing them at a rally as "freedom fighters". Worse, when asked at his first press conference as Mufti if he accepted Osama bin Laden was behind the September 11 attacks, he stalled: "What evidence?" Advisers then stopped him from speaking on Iraq.

Excuses will be made that Fehmi dares not be as moderate as he'd like, and he's often hinted that's so. He urged that the Danish cartoons of Mohammed not be published here because they'd "disturb people who can do things that we don't want them to do." He criticised police raids on suspected extremists in Perth because "we worry about some amongst our people who become so angry about this sort of thing, and might do some act, which we won't be happy about".

When Channel 9 asked him about Sheik Mohammed Omran, who has been linked to terrorists, Fehmi said only: "I know him and he has his own way of thinking, which I don't want to talk about." And note this. At Monday's press conference, he refused to repeat his past criticisms of Hilaly, defending him instead. What's more, the imams' council went out of its way to save Hilaly's face, saying it first voted to keep this notorious bigot as Mufti, only to have him turn it down. This was no repudiation of him. And back at his Lakemba mosque, Australia's biggest, Hilaly reminded us: "Control will always be in Lakemba." Which is why I fear Fehmi is just a soothing distraction.


Call for surgeon report cards

Long overdue. If the profession refuses to police itself, information should at least be made available, imperfect though it may be

REPORT cards for surgeons showing patient death rates should be introduced to help people make decisions about which doctor to choose for an operation. The recommendation from bioethics expert Justin Oakley includes making mortality rates available to the public on an internet database that lists every surgeon and hospital in Australia.

Professor Oakley, from Melbourne's Monash University, has called on federal and state governments to help fund the development of a public reporting system following the Bundaberg Hospital scandal, in which Jayant Patel was linked to at least a dozen deaths and dozens of injuries through incompetence. Professor Oakley said the national database should start with report cards for cardiac surgeons, a system that has recently been set up in Britain. It should then be expanded to include all surgeons. He said the report cards, which could also include surgery complication rates, would keep surgeons more accountable to the public. "The mortality rates of each surgeon should be made available to patients so they have a better idea of their surgeon's track record," Professor Oakley said. "It also improves the safety and quality of care. If surgeons know their performance will be seen by the community, that is a powerful incentive for surgeons to maintain their performance."

The Patel scandal at Bundaberg Hospital had shown that internal peer review was not enough to keep the profession accountable, he said. Professor Oakley, who heads Monash's Centre of Human Bioethics, said any mortality rate for surgeons would have to be adjusted based on the risk of the operation. "They would adjust the mortality rate depending on the mixture of patients," he said. "It would take into account patient profile. If a surgeon performs on a lot of patients that are high risk, like those that are a bit sicker or older, that is factored in to the rate."

Professor Oakley, who has co-edited a book on the subject due out in August, said governments would need to invest significant resources to make a report card system viable and it should be set up sooner rather than later. "I don't think we should wait for a scandal to occur to allow patients to get access to the track records of surgeons," he said.

However, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons president Andrew Sutherland said there were immense practical difficulties in implementing report cards, calculating a mortality rate and making risk adjustment. "It's a terrific idea but the risk assessment (of mortality rates) is very difficult," he said. Factors such as high-risk operations would make it almost impossible to determine a fair rating. "We are totally against report cards because there is so much opportunity for unfairness," Dr Sutherland said. "The practicalities are not possible at this time."

Dr Sutherland said the college had started conducting audits of surgery deaths in some states and said there were plans to expand the program nationally. Deaths were reviewed by specialists with the aim of trying to prevent problems from recurring, but the findings were not made public, he said. "Pretty soon we'll have an audit of surgical mortality in every state."


Trains may be "green" but they cost taxpayers a bomb

TAXPAYERS fork out $900 to subsidise every Traveltrain passenger journeying from Brisbane and Cairns - the equivalent of seven air fares. Damning new figures have revealed a massive blowout in the cost to taxpayers of keeping Queensland Rail's Sunlander and Tilt Train services operating. The figures show the State Government's subsidy cost has more than tripled in just six years and taxpayers will be slugged $130 million in 2007-08. Plummeting passenger numbers in the age of budget airfares has been blamed for the blowout.

Transport Minister Paul Lucas last night said the Government was committed to keeping rail services operating - regardless of the costs. However, the Coalition accused the Government of milking cash from coal companies - who must pay for track improvements - to subsidise inefficient services. A comparison of Budget figures shows the subsidy cost of each passenger per kilometre will be 50> in 2007-08 compared with 15> in 2001-02. A passenger wanting to travel one way by train between Brisbane and Cairns pays $206.80 for an economy seat and up to $742.50 for a first-class cabin. The journey would take between 26 and 31 hours. However, the real cost would be $1106.80 and $1642.50 without the 50>/km subsidy for the 1800km trip.

But with air fares between Brisbane and Cairns as cheap as $129 one way, the Government could fly about seven people for free at the same price it pays to send a single Traveltrain passenger on the same journey. The flights take two hours and 25 minutes.

In 2001-02, 632,000 passenger trips were made on Traveltrain. This fell to 432,000 in 2006-07. The Tilt Train derailment in 2005 contributed to the fall in passenger numbers. Queensland Rail was predicting an increase in patronage of 1250 in 2007-08.


Merit pay for Australian teachers is coming

Schools should trial a new teacher salary system

In the face of near hysterical opposition from teacher unions and state Labor governments, the federal Education Minister Julie Bishop is pushing ahead with a plan to introduce merit-based pay for teachers, and so she should. As The Australian reported yesterday, Ms Bishop has asked teams of expert consultants to develop different models for merit-based pay. It may be that good teachers get a cash bonus for lifting the grades of an entire class; or that the principal recommends a pay rise for a particularly outstanding individual; or that parents and students push for a rise for a teacher who has tamed a particularly unruly bunch of students. With some luck, there will be a host of schools jostling to sign up to trial the new models before the system can be rolled out across the nation.

Merit-based pay is obviously good for teachers, but there is evidence it is good for students, too. In the US, where teachers can get a cash bonus if they lift their student's scores, literacy and numeracy has improved. Australian teacher unions say they would rather use any extra money to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes. But there is no evidence that smaller class sizes automatically or even necessarily lead to better results.

Unions are likewise wary of competition among staff, complaining that it could erode the pleasant, collegial atmosphere of a school. The argument does not make sense. In most workplaces, there are talented high flyers and flat-footed time-wasters. There are juniors, seniors, big bosses and trainees. They get paid on merit, and they are required to work towards common goals. They don't kill each other over the fact that some earn more than others. Also, it is standard practice in most professions that if you work hard, you can ask for a pay rise. If you don't get one, you can take your labour to a different workplace that will give your pay packet a boost.

Recent reports have proved beyond doubt that teaching no longer attracts as many bright students as it did in the 1980s, in part because women, who make up the bulk of teachers, have more career options. But the problem with teacher pay obviously has an impact. In NSW, a teacher reaches the peak salary after nine years, which usually means, by the age of 31 or 32, they are earning as much as they will ever earn. By the age of 50, their morale must be completely shot.

It is often said that nobody goes into teaching for the money. Some go in for the short days and the generous holidays, for a love of children, or to perform public service. But greater financial rewards will make teaching a more attractive profession for smart people, who might otherwise drift to economics, medicine or the law, or indeed any job where their performance is recognised with one thing we all need, money.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Typical Optus stupidity

As woeful as Telstra is, Optus is worse. It once took me nearly a year to get Optus to admit to a fault and reimburse me -- and that was only after I wrote to the chief executive of their parent company -- which was in London at the time. And when I tried to get some details about their wireless internet service recently, I had to write to their parent company again -- by now in Singapore -- before I got any information out of them. The journalist below only got any information because he had the private number of an Optus executive. I would LOVE to see Optus go broke. Whoever bought up their assets might figure out how to run a REAL phone company. Optus at the moment are living testimony to the fact that a duopoly is not much better than a monopoly.

I am back with Telstra at the moment but only because I have found the one guy there who is able and willing to help with problems. And, boy, is he needed! He is some guy called Sol Trujillo. He doesn't fix you up himself but he passes your letter on to someone who can. Now if only I could get his phone no.!

I note that Telstra has just cut off one of the avenues for complaints about it so arrogance just seems to be the hallmark of Australian phone companies. And, as I pointed out on May 25th, the government "Ombudsman" who is supposed to keep them in line is of very limited help. It's lucky Australians are such an easygoing lot. In any other country, one of the company officials concerned would probably have been shot by now. We do however now have a lot of Muslims living here who may not be so easygoing

For me, not being able to access the internet is like losing an arm. Imagine how I felt on Saturday morning when the wild weather not only knocked me offline but took my home phone with it. Both my home phone and cable internet are provided by Optus - a usually harmonious relationship that last weekend was put to the test.

Now, I'm not for a minute comparing my woes to the devastation across the state. There were people far worse off at the weekend but for me the frustration of trying to get some information out of Optus, to confirm the storm caused the dramas, drove me to the brink of insanity. After dialling the customer number using my mobile (also Optus but thankfully still working) I got a painfully annoying auto-reply recorded message which asked me to explain the nature of my inquiry. I got the dreaded "I'm sorry, I didn't get that" reply and after four attempts (two were ruined because I swore into the phone) I advanced to the next stage. I was finally put in touch with a "customer service representative".

After more time on hold I was connected to a friendly man named Ravi who had a distinct Indian accent, which was at times hard to understand. He suggested I restart my modem - which I'd already tried. Ravi told me he was unaware of any network problems. I asked Ravi where he was and he told me he was in Delhi, India. "What's the weather like?" I asked. "It's very hot," he said. "Do you know about the weather in Sydney?" I said. "No," Ravi answered. "What's it like?" I explained we were seeing some of the worst storms, wind and rain in the past 30 years. Ravi suggested I wait things out.

I then called the office number of a contact at Optus corporate affairs on the off chance she would receive it before the end of the long weekend. To her credit, I got a call back an hour later and it was only then I found out there were several surrounding areas without internet and phone connections and technicians were working on the problem. It's a shame, I told her, I had to talk to a robot and someone in India to try and find out what was going on in my own backyard.

Services were restored nearly 24 hours later. The weather was still hot in India.


Leftist candidate mocks aspirational Australians

A LABOR candidate has caused an uproar by dismissing thousands of voters as being on the edge of Kath & Kim country. Labor's Barbara Norman has made the unfavourable comparison of Melbourne's leafy eastern suburb of Ashburton. And Ms Norman has effectively given up on the fight for the Liberal-held Melbourne seat of Higgins before the campaign has even started. She made the Kath & Kim comparison this week, claiming that the seat held by Treasurer Peter Costello was diverse but impossible to win. At one end of Higgins was the multicultural, gay suburb of Prahran, and at the core of the seat were the captains of industry in Toorak. "Then at the other end it has Ashburton, out near Chadstone, which is almost Kath & Kim country," Ms Norman told The Canberra Times. "So it's very diverse."

The comment prompted an angry response from some Ashburton residents, who have seen their house prices soar in the latest boom, making it one of the hot suburbs. And Mr Costello immediately shot back. "I stand up for the people of Higgins," he said. "And anyone who makes a statement like that shows they have no understanding of our residents and our area."

Ms Norman, who is a senior manager at RMIT, yesterday defended the comparison with Kath & Kim. Kath and Kim were the main characters in the highly successful ABC TV satire of the same name, which ridiculed families in Melbourne's outer suburbs as ignorant and materialistic. Of the comparison to the program, Ms Norman told the Herald Sun: "That was just a description that I guess it's something that people readily associate with." Ms Norman said she supported her potential constituents, adding that they were "all terrific". Winning the seat, held with a margin of 8.8 per cent, was a tough ask. "I see it as a big challenge," she said.

In yesterday's Canberra Times she said she had no chance. Despite being preselected in a tough seat, Ms Norman has formidable credentials. She is the business and partnerships manager of the Global Cities Institute at RMIT, the Australian Fabian Society's national president, and a life fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia. Higgins has been held by two prime ministers.

Ashburton locals were yesterday outraged by Ms Norman's description of their area as "almost Kath & Kim country". Eliza Spring, 32, said she hadn't seen anyone who looked like Kath or Kim in the area. "It's quite the opposite," she said. "Has she been out here? "She's trying to draw an analogy that we'll all respond to, I guess. Maybe she's just got it wrong. "There's actually a really good sense of community, which is good."

Trent Bussell, 21, from Glen Iris, said the description was "a bit over the top". "Chapel St (South Yarra) is more of a nightlife area and this is more suburban, but you wouldn't say it's Kath & Kim country." Chris Turner, 57, said Ms Norman's label was "a disgrace". "Actually this area has always voted Labor, the south ward. Kath & Kim - how insulting," he said. "I would say she hasn't been here very much. "I do vote Labor, but I'm a little worried if she's the candidate."


Another delusory whine about "gagging" from a Leftist

CLIVE Hamilton calls himself an author but surely he's a comedian. How else to explain the following? Yesterday, New Matilda ran Hamilton's latest piece in which he said of The Australian: "No news organisation in Australia has done more to silence critics and independent voices." Now, here's the pay-off: this was run on the same day that The Australian published Hamilton's latest research paper. So while Hamilton was complaining that The Australian was silencing critics, The Australian was publishing Hamilton. Late last year, The Australian also published a report produced by the Australia Institute, of which he is executive director, on the subject of corporate pedophilia.

Hamilton complains that The Australian declined to publish extracts from his new book. That's quite right. We didn't think it was up to scratch.

Hamilton's latest paper focuses on the relationship between universities and the fuel industry. He says BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Woodside are providing universities with funding and this should generate "grounds for concern." But why? Hamilton surely isn't suggesting that fuel companies will try to crush academic freedom? Of course he is. His report says academic freedom "could be compromised as commercial interests penetrate decision-making". This is an anti-capitalist, Marxist conspiracy theory and offensive to academics across the nation, whose freedom, rigour and intellectual honesty can't be so easily purchased.


Rescuing Australia's blacks from the Greens

By Noel Pearson

THE aspirations of indigenous people in remote Australia to re-establish a real economy underpinning the sustainability of their society are at odds with the vision of urban-based conservation organisations such as the Wilderness Society. The confrontation that has emerged between the advocates of land rights in Cape York and those who advocate for so-called wilderness may be the start of a sharpening clash of values.

Traditional land owners and communities in northern Australia are caught in a dilemma: the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage is foremost among their concerns about the future of their land and culture, while they also understand economic development is essential for the future of their people. Without economic development, indigenous people are dying on welfare dependency. The only other solution to a real economy is wholesale migration to urban areas and the abandonment of their culture: to die in a miserable urban underclass. So which is it to be: no development and continuing the downward spiral of social breakdown, or seeking development that can sustain people on their traditional lands?

In the wider society, attitudes towards the environment and development range between two extremes. The extreme of one side argues that environmental and development policy must serve the needs of the human species and nature must yield. Few tears are shed when another species becomes extinct. The extremity of the other side argues that policy must serve the needs of preserving and enhancing ecological diversity and humans must yield. Few tears are shed when thousands die and billions suffer in poverty. It may be that the underlying psychology of extreme Western environmentalism is that mass depopulation from disease and starvation would be an ecological benefit.

The rest of us, positioned somewhere between these two extremes, want something called sustainable development. The achievement of sustainable development depends on working out this conflict between the two camps, which seem interested only in their own side of the argument. Somehow, compromises are fashioned out of this conflict, because if either side had its way, development would either stop completely or it would be completely unrestrained.

But does the vast middle determine the terms of the policy debate, or is the concept of sustainable development just a veneer for what is really a crude struggle between two extreme (whitefella) ideologies? When indigenous groups I know of are confronted by the opportunities and challenges of economic development, and they are faced by a wider society that is generally divided into two opposing camps, they have to come to terms with both sides of the argument. They hear the precaution and prudence of those who advocate for the environment, and this precaution and prudence resonates for them, because it is part of their tradition. But they also can see that the world beyond their own is underpinned by development, and they too need development. So they seek to balance the need for development with the imperatives of environment and culture. They seek sustainability.

The problem facing indigenous people in Cape York is that in recent years land-use policy has been most influenced by the relatively extreme end of the green spectrum. Single-issue environmental organisations, which see conservation in a particular way, are in a unique position to determine policy affecting remote parts of Australia because of the value they provide to political parties in delivering green votes in marginal seats in urban centres. They are able to trade environmental lock-up in remote and regional areas for organised green electoral support. But the capacity to deliver 2 per cent to 3 per cent of the vote in marginal seats hardly represents a basis for a mandate to determine crucial environmental and social sustainability questions.

This week Queensland Premier Peter Beattie tabled the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Bill, which represents our best opportunity to strike a balance between conservation and development for the future of this region. This law has the potential to ease Cape York people’s struggle to reconcile conservation and development. The tabling of this bill represents the culmination of decades of conflict between pastoralist, mining, Aboriginal and conservationist interests. In 1996, at the height of the controversy over native title in pastoral leases, Rick Farley succeeded in bringing together the conflicting parties, who signed the Cape York heads of agreement on land use. The former head of the National Farmers Federation and member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was a conservationist (he was a founder of Landcare), a cattleman and a supporter of Aboriginal people. It was he who guided the parties to the view that we needed to find a balanced solution.

Farley succeeded in bringing the parties together because the conservation lobby was led by Greg Sargent, a campaigner from the Wilderness Society who understood that conservation needed to respect the land rights of indigenous people as well as the economic development needs of the pastoralists and people who lived in the region. The third person responsible for bringing these parties together was Goombra Jacko, an elder from the Junjuwarra clan.

Beattie has finally delivered on the hopes of these men. The new law provides for joint management of Cape York’s national parks between the state Government and the traditional owners. The original wild rivers legislation that threatened to frustrate indigenous economic development will be amended to protect native title rights and interests and to provide for mandatory water allocations for indigenous communities in each of the catchments affected by a wild river declaration. Indigenous communities will be able to make applications for vegetation clearing on Aboriginal land for sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and animal husbandry.

This new legislative framework is a step in the right direction. It provides indigenous communities with the key to the door when it comes to finding real jobs and pursuing enterprise. The new legislation needs to allow indigenous communities to take advantage of development opportunities that are supported by science and economics.

Australia, and indeed the world, has entered a phase where the environment looms large on domestic and international agendas. The environment has not been so pressing an electoral issue since the 1990 election won by Bob Hawke.

In crisis conditions it is important for nations to make rational decisions. The recessionary effects of wild decision-making based on electoral impulses is a risk the Australian people face in the lead-up to this year’s poll. The consignment of indigenous people in remote Australia to perpetual welfare dependency on the grounds of environmental lock-up is another risk. The problem with the latter is that the potential indigenous victims of these policies do not have electoral power and their needs are likely to be overrun.

The search for sustainable development will continue as legitimate concerns for the future of the environment grow. I hope Western environmentalism does not turn out to have a fundamentally misanthropic (nature before humans) and genocidal (just keep the indigenes on welfare) ethical foundation.



THE price of uranium - already up 85 per cent since January - could reach $US200 a pound within two years, Australia's biggest securities firm, Macquarie, says. Analysts have revised forecasts for the nuclear fuel upwards following its dramatic run this year, driven by dwindling supplies and limited expansion opportunities. The spot price of uranium rose to $US138 a pound last week. It began the year at $US72 a pound.

Macquarie analysts Max Layton and John Moorhead believe the price will average about $US125 a pound this year, but have tipped a peak of about $US150 a pound by year's end. "We would not be surprised to see prices move up to around $US200 a pound over the next two years," they said, citing supply deficits and growing interest in speculative trading.

The world uranium market is expected to remain in deficit for at least the next two years as secondary supplies of ex-military uranium are depleted and miners race to catch up with demand. In March, Paladin Resources shipped the first uranium from its Langer Heinrich project in Namibia - the world's first new uranium mine in more than a decade.

Canada's Cameco was due to bring on the giant Cigar Lake mine soon but a flood last October will delay production until at least 2010. At the same time, concern about climate change has prompted a rush towards nuclear power, with 30 nuclear reactors under construction and 74 more planned.

Macquarie has forecast a 14.4 per cent rise in reactor requirements, but demand could be much higher with a further 182 reactors proposed, mostly in Asia. Resource Capital Research recently raised its uranium price forecast to $US125 a pound this year, and $US140 a pound next year. The value of Australian uranium explorers was up 23 per cent in the first three months of the year

Macquarie said reports suggested almost 20 per cent of mine supply, or about 8000 tonnes of uranium, was being held off the market by traders - and tipped increased speculative activity could quickly drive prices lower. Mr Layton and Mr Moorhead said traders, speculators and hedge funds could "very quickly become drivers of the down leg to this cycle".

The New York Mercantile Exchange launched a uranium futures market last month, which Macquarie has described as a "potentially bullish wild card". The June contract closed yesterday at $US137 a pound, while the December contract was at $US148.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Big floods no help to water supply because of inadequate dams

The Greenie influence in operation. It has long been known that existing dams are to an extent in the wrong place but huge opposition from environmentalists keeps preventing the building of new ones

Sydney water authorities are 40 years too late to build new dams that could have taken advantage of the flooding rains last weekend, a water expert said yesterday. Barry Thom from the Wentworth Group warned that it would require the flooding of the picturesque and now World Heritage-listed Colo and Grose valleys in the Blue Mountains to augment Sydney's depleted water storages.

He said that despite the scale of the flooding in the Hunter Valley over the weekend, the recent rain events were still relatively minor compared with the more extensive floods along the east coast of Australia in the 1950s and 70s. "It was still a very localised event," he said. "We didn't see floods all along the east coast, as we did in the 1970s or in 1955."

Professor Thom said state governments faced decadal shifts in rainfall patterns that have delivered predominantly dry conditions since the early 80s. Most of the network of urban dams in Australia was built during higher rainfall cycles around the 60s. "If we are going to provide adequate water supplies there needs to be a recognition that, as population grows, we have to be prepared to manage for these lower rainfall conditions," Professor Thom said.

Sydney's 15-dam network is still about one-third full, with 80per cent of the supply coming from the massive 9000sqkm Warragamba Dam catchment. It received 43mm of rain over the weekend. Sydney Catchment Authority bulk water manager Ian Tanner said Sydney's dams were located uphill from the city to allow gravity to supply the water and using natural geography to minimise evaporation. "Sydney has one of the highest per capita stored waters in the world," he said.

"Brisbane can tend to rely on its summer rains, Melbourne on its winter rains. We're caught in the middle. Our rains come whenever they feel like it." Water Services Association chief executive Ross Young said the biggest problem with existing dams was that rainfall patterns were shifting to more coastal rain, which delivered less rain into these inland catchments.


Private schools fear ALP's funding plan

The Labor party is trying to walk both sides of the street again. Around 40% of Australian teenagers go to private schools so this is a big issue

IN a potential replay of Mark Latham's politically bruising fracas with the independent education sector in 2004, private schools have complained that Labor's stand on school funding could "take us back to the dark old days when parents were penalised for their financial contribution to their children's education".

In an internal circular, leaked to The Australian, Independent Schools Council of Australia chief Bill Daniels says he has written to Opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith to express the organisation's concern that promises on funding by Mr Smith and Kevin Rudd are "inconsistent with some of the statements in the ALP national platform". Mr Daniels claims a clause in the platform that says "income from private sources" will be taken into account when deciding how much money a school will receive is at odds with promises by the Opposition Leader and Mr Smith that no private school will be worse off under Labor and that Mr Latham's "hit list" of well-off private schools is dead.

Mr Smith last night committed a federal Labor government to maintaining funding levels and existing indexation arrangements for all schools. This latest problem for Mr Rudd on the policy front follows weeks of controversy over Labor's "back to the future" workplace policies, which business groups claim would force them to bargain collectively with unions and impose a centralised umpire on the wages system.

Under the Howard Government, independent schools have been funded under a formula based on the socio-economic status of a school's parent cohort. There is no reduction in funding for schools that charge high fees or engage in active fundraising - a situation private schools fear could change if the Labor platform is implemented under a Rudd government. "The current funding arrangements do not take into account resources, including income from private sources, that are available to any school, government or non-government," Mr Daniels says in his letter to Mr Smith. "While the Australian Government's socio-economic status funding model is a measure of the capacity of parents to contribute to their child's education, it does not limit that contribution."

In his circular, which will be published in the ISCA newsletter today, Mr Daniels complains that "what we see injected into the schools funding debate is the idea that it is morally wrong for governments to fund non-government schools". "Worse is the notion that parents can spend their hard-earned money on anything they like except on the education of their children - and that once they do that they must be punished, in a funding sense," he writes.

"The 'hit list' may be gone but (Labor's) policy, if implemented, would take us back to the dark old days when parents were penalised for their financial contribution to their children's education. No matter what ideologies drive the education debate, it must be acknowledged that many parents are making significant sacrifices for their children's education. "As (Labor federal president) Warren Mundine said, 'congratulate and support, not punish and denigrate'."


Staff crisis hits public hospital CT scans

MAJOR Queensland hospitals could be forced to sideline one of their key diagnostic tools because of chronic staff shortages. The Government's failure to retain and attract radiographers is impacting heavily on the ability of some hospitals to conduct CT scans on patients. The scanners, operated by radiographers, help doctors to diagnose ailments from cancers to the internal injuries of accident victims. A leaked email obtained by The Courier-Mail has exposed the dire situation faced by one of the state's biggest health facilities, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. In the email to Queensland Health's radiology steering committee, RBWH director of medical imaging Peter Scally warns the hospital is struggling to maintain CT scanning of patients. "We are experiencing difficulties keeping the CTs functioning because of the numbers of trained radiographers. Have lost two lately," he said.

A Queensland Health spokesman said options were being considered to ensure CT scans continued. "All urgent patients and inpatients will continue to take priority," he said. [Big deal! Don't they anyway?] The spokesman said the shortage of radiographers was not unique to RBWH or Queensland Health. The revelation comes after The Courier-Mail exposed how cancer victims are being forced to wait more than three times longer than recommended for radiation treatment.

Premier Peter Beattie yesterday said the Government was addressing the problems. Mr Beattie said millions of dollars was being invested in extra cancer-fighting equipment, a new pay deal was being negotiated and Queensland Health was "aggressively recruiting" new staff. "We are also recruiting within Australia and overseas for more doctors, nurses and medical radiation staff," he said.

But an internal Queensland Health document shows the so-called "Work for Us" campaign has attracted few new staff. By January 25, Queensland Health had received 5224 expressions of interest but appointed fewer than 300 new staff. Only two of these were medical imaging professionals. The QH spokesman said the internal report was misleading because it did not include radiographers appointed directly by each district.


Your government will protect you -- again

GAPING security flaws have been exposed at Sydney Airport, with The Daily Telegraph able to gain easy and unfettered access to potential terror targets at Australia's largest airport. Access was granted to its most sensitive areas without any background checks or security searches. These included the airport's 30-million-litre jet fuel tanks, a number of 747 aircraft, refuelling stations, baggage cars, conveyor belts and customs areas.

With only photo ID, an airport contact and a cursory glance from contract security guards, we penetrated the inner sanctum of the international airport without scrutiny of identity or motive. There were no background and criminal history checks, no metal detectors, no bag or body searches, and no explosives or drugs dogs.

The Daily Telegraph exposed the risks in the wake of the foiled terror plot to blow up New York's JFK Airport and in the lead-up to APEC. All it took to obtain 24-hour access was to go to the airport's security office and have a holder of an Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) request a "visitor pass''. The only requirement was a driver's licence and the pass was issued in five minutes - no questions asked.

Entering the tarmac via one of dozens of "back door'' security gates, The Daily Telegraph spent more than an hour moving unhindered to and from potential terror targets. New airport staff members have the same access for a maximum three months on temporary passes until the police background checks, which take six to eight weeks, are conducted and an ASIC issued. The condition of entry for both temporary and visitor pass holders is that they are escorted by an ASIC holder, or face a fine of just $550. Once inside it was assumed that all personnel were there for lawful reasons and there were no further challenges to their legitimacy.

The security shortcomings leave the country's biggest airport vulnerable to terrorist attacks on a scale rivalling the recent attempt on New York's JFK Airport. Four Muslim radicals were charged with conspiring to attack JFK airport by blowing up jet fuel supply tanks, attempting to set off a chain reaction along the network of fuel pipelines that would have killed thousands of people and destroyed the airport. Sydney Airport's aviation fuel pipelines also run under the airport and along the tarmac. Even without access to the tarmac, the seven aviation fuel tanks situated off Airport Drive are set back only 30m from a wire fence.

A Sydney Airport spokesman said the visitor and staff passes complied with the Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005. "The Australian Government and its expert security assessment agencies have determined these rules,'' the spokesman said. On two separate occasions, The Daily Telegraph walked around the tanks for about 30 minutes without being approached by security. The Transport Workers Union's Sam Crosby said flawed security put thousands of airport workers and passengers at risk.


The Left needs to get real

By Janet Albrechtsen

SOME fights deserve a few more rounds. So let’s go another round with the one started so magnificently by The Australian (Reality bites the psychotic Left) challenging the psychotic Left to take a reality check.

Like a tired actor who plays the same role over and over again, hamming it up each time, the leitmotif of the Left lacks a certain sparkle. They line up like drones to tell us that debate has been stifled this past decade. Bookshelves in your local bookstore are groaning under the weight of tomes written on the subject. Perhaps these evangelical intellectuals on the Left think that if they say it often enough, it will become the received wisdom. They could not be more wrong. The more they say it, the more they remind us of their own irrelevance.

A few years ago, it was historian Stuart Macintyre in his book The History Wars moaning about the “weapons of mass destruction” employed by certain commentators and historians to challenge Australian history. Weapons such as careful research and a preference for facts over fiction. Imagine the audacity of Keith Windschuttle checking original sources and finding some academics had fudged facts. Meanwhile, Australian history moved on to a healthier debate where the politics of shame no longer dominated.

Then came Robert Manne’s Do Not Disturb where leftists claimed that conservative politics was cheapening our democracy and creating social and ethnic division. Were the conservatives not aware that multiculturalism and other sacred “isms” were not policies or ideas to be challenged so much as articles of faith?

We’ve had Silencing Dissent by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison whose title says it all. And now there is more of the same from David Marr and his Quarterly Essay titled “His Master’s Voice - The Corruption of Public Debate under Howard”.

By any measure, if this is silence imposed by an authoritarian Howard Government, the Left need to go back to their dictionaries. While they are there, they may want to flick back to the “narcissism” word. If you had to sum up the state of thinking from left-wing intellectuals, this word does the job. Their unrestrained intellectual vanity leaves no room for debate. So self-absorbed are they in their own genius, so obvious is their own correctness, disagreement is not merely wrong but immoral. Those on the other side of the political divide are not just misguided. They are evil. They are, said Dennis Glover in his contribution to the debate, “right-wing thugs”.

These guys are bruised by two facts: there are now more people challenging left-wing orthodoxy (and they don’t like it one bit); and fewer people are listening to their left-wing diatribes (and they really hate that).

To be fair, Glover managed to pin down part of the Left’s problem. He said that too many progressive journalists ceded ground in the culture wars when they stopped writing about ordinary people. These progressives have taken up a field way off to the Left where they decry capitalism and affluence, ignoring what matters in mainstream debates.

But it goes further than that. They stopped writing about issues that affect ordinary people because they stopped thinking about those issues. Instead, they talk down to ordinary people. Marr’s latest fulmination is filled with depictions of Australians as too lazy to care about our political culture - “more subjects than citizens” - apparently living under some mesmerising hex imposed by Howard.

Unwilling or unable to confront the arguments from opponents, they claim some conservative conspiracy is tricking mainstream Australia and trying to keep the Left out of debates. It’s a neat way of avoiding one’s own intellectual irrelevance. When they start to acknowledge their own intellectual shortcomings and their disdain for “ordinary” Australians, perhaps debate will become richer.

The market for ideas - the West’s most precious achievement - works best when ideas are tested by worthy opponents. Each side keeps the other honest. Through that intellectual argy-bargy, good ideas triumph and silly ideas are sidelined. Neither side should be heard to whine that the other hits too hard. Unfortunately, the Left still seems to want the ring to itself. That kind of sums up the strength of their positions.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reality bites the psychotic Left

By refusing to face modern realities, the Australian Left has dealt itself out of the national debate. Lack of reality contact is the defining mark of psychosis

FOR evidence, if any more were needed, that the intellectual Left has become completely divorced from reality, turn to page 14 of the latest edition of The Monthly, where Clive Hamilton describes the therapeutic effect of bushfires at Christmas. "As the orgy of spending reaches a climax we begin to wonder whether we have become decadent," the Australia Institute executive director writes. "The firies who battle the elements on our behalf remind us of our 'true' selves."

Since Mr Hamilton and his neo-Arcadian cohorts contend that affluence is a bad thing, 13 years of consecutive economic growth must be driving them nuts. Indeed much of the work emanating from Mr Hamilton's left-wing think tank fits the dictionary definition of the word psychosis: "marked by distorted perceptions of reality". This is the institute after all that believes in a vast corporate conspiracy to stall action on climate change, accuses David Jones and Myers of "corporate pedophilia" and claims that Australia is becoming an increasingly authoritarian state where dissidents are silenced.

This last thesis, expounded at length in Silencing Dissent published earlier this year, would seem difficult to sustain at a time when the marketplace of ideas has never been so crowded. In newspaper opinion sections and magazines and on radio and televisions and increasingly online, Australians are engaged in intelligent conversation about the issues of the day great and small. Blogs and internet chat rooms have given everyone a seat at the debating table. Technology has lowered the barriers to publishing. A host of new periodicals online and in print including The Monthly, New Matilda and The Australian's own Australian Literary Review are providing new platforms for discussion while established journals such as Quadrant and the Griffith Review are reaching new readers and providing a home for new writers. The queues outside venues at this year's Sydney Writers Festival, record attendances at similar writers festivals around the country and new events such as next month's Adelaide Festival of Ideas are public expressions of a confident, mature democracy in which informed debate flourishes.

It is hard to reconcile these objective facts with the commentary taking place in the parallel universe inhabited by disaffected intellectuals who insist that critics are gagged in the gulag they like to call "John Howard's Australia". In his contribution to Silencing Dissent, Robert Manne claimed the nation was headed on "the increasingly authoritarian trajectory of the political culture" under Mr Howard.

The hallmark of the disaffected intellectuals is their hyperbole, as evidenced from the latest tract to appear from the "silenced" Left, David Marr's Quarterly Essay, His Masters Voice: The Corruption of Public Debate under Howard. As David Burchell pointed out in The Weekend Australian, Marr wants us to believe that Mr Howard's influence over the national psyche is so intense that just about every act of suppression in our public life is somehow attributable to the Prime Minister.

The silencing of dissent thesis tells us more about the current health of the cultural Left than it does about the health of the nation. While the Left is still fighting the intellectual battles of the 1970s, the rest of the world has moved on. Progressive only in their own, inflated self image, the commentariat finds itself stranded on the outer fringes of the national debate, stuck in an intellectual cul-de-sac without the courage or confidence to retrace its steps. Their voices have not been silenced, they have simply lost their relevance. While the mainstream debate is conducted elsewhere, the progressives are stuck in the corner, muttering darkly among themselves. Seventeen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, they are rebels without a cause still trapped in dialectical Marxist maze.

Irritatingly, the marginalisation of the self-styled progressives has only served to reinforce their unshakable belief in their own moral superiority. This conceit informs the kind of rigid political correctness that shuts down debate. To question multiculturalism is racist, to suggest that Aborigines would have a better future if they were participating in the mainstream economy is assimilationist. To challenge the precepts of political Islam is to demonise Muslims and to demonise any minority group is failure to recognise the superior virtue of the oppressed.

The only acceptable prejudice is anti-Americanism, which gives today's left-wingers some strange bedfellows from Cuba's Fidel Castro to the fanatical Islamists in the middle east. As Nick Cohen points out in his incisive book What's Left?, it used to be the conservatives who made excuses for fascism. "Now liberals and leftists are far more likely than conservatives to excuse fascistic governments and movements," he writes. "Give them a foreign far-right movement that is anti-Western and they treat it as at best a distraction and at worst an ally."

Closely related to their hatred of the US is their contempt for capitalism. The impact of the modern share-owning democracy has yet to dawn on them. Corporations no longer answer to the bourgeoisie, they answer to shareholders -- ordinary people who are now stakeholders, either directly or through the $1 trillion in superannuation. Karl Marx's dream has been fulfilled now that the workers truly do control the means of production.

On one of the burning topics of the day, climate change, this profound hatred of capitalism has led them down another philosophical dead end which advocates a romantic vision of suffering for a cause. Rather than objectively assess the realities of climate change and the practical task ahead they advocate symbolic, but ultimately futile, penance. By persisting with a misguided campaign to turn back the clock and demonise the Howard Government for not being harsh enough, once again, the debate has passed them by. Kyoto is giving way to a new global compact at which the US and Australia are at the centre. As research into clean coal technology for electricity generation looks set to become not just a reality but much quicker than even optimists had expected, those who advocate a return to dark nights and cold showers again look foolish.

In their retreat from modernity, the wrongly named progressives part company with Marxism which, despite its fatal flaws, was at least grounded in the spirit of the enlightenment, progress through scientific inquiry. Today's Left has allowed itself to become trapped in a parallel universe, out of touch and far removed from the mainstream where the real Australian discourse takes place. It is not just a geographical divide, though it is true the Left tends to be at its strongest in the latte belt and tertiary institutions. It is a class divide between an elite on one side and the mass of ordinary people on the other. It is not just Mr Howard they hate but Mr Average, as Marr's telling reference to Patrick White's return to Australia from Europe makes plain. White later recalled, "it was the exaltation of the average that made me panic most" and for Marr Mr Howard is "the exalter of the average". The Australian Left's reluctance to make the effort to understand Mr Howard's popular appeal is one of its most fundamental failings of the past 11 years. In the Left's narrative, Mr Howard has won four elections through a combination of luck and duplicity and on each occasion the electorate was too lazy or too stupid to make the right call. Only members of the intellectual elite are smart enough not to be fooled by Mr Howard's trickery. This threadbare analysis has helped consign the Labor Party to Opposition since 1996.

While the disconnection has certainly expanded over the past decade, all is not lost. There is a way back, a way to overcome the tyranny of distance between the Left's world and the real world. Left thinkers elsewhere in the world have moved on and cut themselves back into the cultural debate. In Britain the reformed Left has signed up to the Euston Manifesto, which aims to draw a line "between forces on the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values". In France, left-wing thinker Bernard Henri Levy has been bitterly critical of those who believe "that Islamism can be embraced and put in the service of the Left" while Medecins Sans Frontieres founder Bernard Kouchner, a fierce advocate of humanitarian intervention, has been appointed Foreign Minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy. The way forward for the Left in Australia is to acknowledge that the politics of the outsider is an adolescent phase and develop soundly based, intelligent arguments that will earn them a place at the table of national debate.


Jobs are not just luck

Low unemployment is an inconvenient truth for unions (The ACTU is Australia's equivalent of Britain's TUC or America's AFL-CIO)

THE ACTU's ham-fisted attempts in discussions in the International Labour Organisation to silence Australian government official James Smythe revealed an inconvenient truth about the union movement. Trade unionists care more about their membership than they do about the unemployed.

Mr Smythe wanted to raise Australia's stellar jobs creation performance and unemployment levels that have reached a 33-year low. Unemployment has declined to 4.2 per cent and more than 90 per cent of the 358,700 new jobs created since Work Choices are full-time. The ACTU international representative at the ILO made the startling claim that jobs growth was not relevant to a discussion of Work Choices legislation.

But record low unemployment is not an accident, or as the ALP claims merely a reflection of the global boom times. If it were true that unemployment has nothing to do with government policies, then how to explain a country such as France, which has had chronically high unemployment since the 1970s. The French electorate is convinced that government policy has something to do with it and has given newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy a convincing majority on a platform of tackling unemployment by trying to get rid of the arthritic rigidities of French labour laws. Australia's jobs creation record is one that France and many other highly regulated European economies can only dream of.

This has not happened overnight. As former prime minister Paul Keating pointed out on ABC-TV's Lateline last Thursday, the transformation of the Australian labour market started with his reforms in 1993 and have continued up to the present day. The introduction of AWAs has given employers and employees a framework for direct, uncomplicated negotiations and the repeal of unfair dismissal laws has given employers, particularly in small business, the confidence to take on new staff, knowing that they will not be forced into costly legal proceedings if, for whatever reason, they need to reduce staff at some point in the future.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Business Council of Australia feel strongly enough about the damage Labor's proposed changes might do to the economy to pay for an advertising blitz. The ads paid for by the employer organisations will acknowledge reforms undertaken by both Mr Keating and John Howard. ALP parliamentarians and union activists were outraged that Australian businesses might pay for an advertising campaign and threatened business that there might be consequences. That position smacks of rank hypocrisy and thuggery. Why should unionists be privileged to put forward their viewpoint while employers hold their tongue?

Union advertising in Australia has focused on "your rights at work". But more fundamental than rights at work is the right to work at all and unions have a very poor record in protecting the rights of those who want to move from welfare to the workplace.


State cancer care in crisis

SECRET waiting lists have revealed how Queensland Health consistently exposes cancer victims to deadly treatment delays. Internal hospital documents show hundreds of victims are routinely forced to wait more than three times longer than recommended for potentially life-saving radiation treatment. The "Report on Delay for Treatment" documents show there has been little or no improvement since The Courier-Mail obtained the same figures 10 months ago.

At the time, Health Minister Stephen Robertson downplayed the figures as a week-to-week prospect and insisted the Government was addressing the problem. There is now growing concern in Queensland's hospitals that efforts to address the radiation therapy waiting times have failed.

Coalition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek yesterday said there was clearly an ongoing problem the Government must urgently address. "People are dying in our system because of these poor services," he said.

According to the figures for the Princess Alexandra, Mater and Townsville hospitals, priority-two patients, who have been diagnosed with aggressive cancers and internal bleeding, are now waiting up to 49 days for radiation treatment. Queensland Health's recommended maximum waiting time is 14 days to avoid "a significant adverse effect on outcomes". Priority-three patients, who predominantly suffer breast and prostate cancers, are waiting up to 69 days for treatment. The recommended maximum waiting time is 28 days. The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital was the only cancer-treating facility in Queensland at or below recommended treatment times.

However, hospital sources said this was because of a shortage of oncologists to refer patients for treatment. A Queensland Health spokesman admitted therapy waiting times were yet to show improvement. "Despite an overall improvement in elective surgery waiting times through the $10 billion health action plan, radiation therapy waiting times continue to be exacerbated by a national shortage of specialist nursing staff and oncologists," he said. The spokesman said Queensland Health would continue to pursue radiation professionals to reduce waiting times.


Political posturing about fuel prices in Australia too

THE only way the Government can cut the price of petrol is to reduce its tax and excise, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) says. Following last week's petrol spike, which saw the price in Sydney peak at to $1.43 cents a litre, Labor said it would establish a national petrol commission to monitor and investigate price gouging. Prime Minister John Howard has promised to meet the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission watchdog (ACCC) this week to offer it more powers.

RACV spokesman David Cumming dismissed both plans and said the only way fuel prices would drop would be to cut petrol tax and excise. "This is pure window-dressing, both parties are trying to avoid the fact that we are being ripped off by the Government," Mr Cumming said on ABC radio. "We are being ripped off by the tax on the tax and by the very high excise we pay in this country."

Mr Cumming said a price commissioner and the ACCC could not interfere on pricing because the fuel market was not regulated. "The ACCC already has the powers in relation to collusion," he said. "They can tighten up their powers on collusion if they wish to but if we are talking about the bottom-line which is the pump price ... what you do is you get rid of the tax on the tax and you look at bringing down the excise.

"You have to ask yourself why are we paying 38.1 cents per litre excise when only 8 cents of that money goes back into roads and the rest basically goes into the surplus of the Federal Government. "The only thing the Government or the Opposition can do is to look at the taxes, they don't want to talk about taxes."

NRMA president Alan Evans said he believed there had been collusion between fuel companies but in the form of an unwritten understanding to match prices. "The NRMA has been pursuing for over two years more power for the ACCC because we have seen what has been going on with oil prices. We know motorists are being ripped off," he said on ABC radio. "Finally, after two years of solid work we are getting some action from both the Government and the Opposition. Now we will make sure that both of them live up to their commitments."

Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia executive manager David Moir said he welcomed the ability for someone to lift the veil and look at the deals and arrangements and profit margins. "Then, hopefully, that will mean that people are charging normal profits but not getting into price gouging," he said on ABC radio.

ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel has urged the Government to introduce jail sentences for price-fixing. Mr Samuel said the process of introducing jail sentences for hardcore cartel activity was important. "It changes the cost-benefit analysis very significantly," Mr Samuel said. "If you get caught now you will face penalties and fines, not five years' jail."

Federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd yesterday proposed appointing a petrol commissioner within the ACCC to oversee petrol prices.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Academic freedom under severe assault in Queensland

Conservatives are not allowed to criticize disgusting work emanating from Leftist colleagues???? The critique that was so "offensive" can be read here. On TONGUE-TIED I give more details of what this is about and what you can do about it

TWO QUT academics who objected publicly to a PhD thesis called Laughing At The Disabled have been suspended without pay for six months. Creative industries faculty senior lecturers John Hookham and Gary MacLennan criticised the thesis in a newspaper article in April. Late Friday afternoon they were suspended, had their work emails disconnected and were barred from the university premises. Six months salary effectively amounts to a fine of $35,000 to $40,000 each.

QUT vice-chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake, said yesterday he was responsible for the penalty after a committee, chaired by former Industrial Relations commissioner Barry Nutter, unanimously upheld complaints made against the two men. These had come from thesis author Michael Noonan and two academics.

Professor Coaldrake said controversial research needed to be balanced with legal obligations and ethics. "Academic freedom is a great privilege and it should not be used to denigrate or ridicule people with vastly different ideas," he said.

UQ disability expert Lisa Bridle also criticised the thesis. Dr MacLennan and Dr Hookham were reluctant to speak publicly yesterday, other than to admit they had needed medical help to cope. "I'm gobsmacked at the level of brutality," said Dr MacLennan, 64.

Queensland Advocacy director Kevin Cocks said the penalty "seems quite severe for two people who have tried to express concerns around vulnerable people".

In their article in The Australian, the two academics objected to a film part of the thesis, which put two disabled men in social situations "in which they could only appear as inept".

Dr Bridle, the mother of a 12-year-old boy with Down syndrome, said it appeared the two men were used as "props". Dr Bridle and Mr Cocks wrote to Professor Coaldrake in April that they were alarmed by the project. "This project is a very ethically sensitive one and it should not proceed without external scrutiny," they wrote.

Mr Noonan confirmed yesterday that the name of the project had been changed to Laughing With the Disabled.


High school "kit" just Leftist propaganda

A KIT for children explaining the Government's industrial relations laws is Labor Party propaganda, Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey says. The kit, designed for HSC students, was given to high school teachers and career advisers at a recent forum in Sydney.

The kit states its aim is to give students a better understanding of the laws but Mr Hockey said the lessons were pro-union. "They (the lessons) aren't serious about helping children understand their rights at work," Mr Hockey said. "This is part of the slick and tricky political campaign being run by the Labor Party and unions."

Mr Hockey said the kit should explain the WorkChoices legislation as it stands and cover protections like the fairness test. "The unions have found a despicable way of wiggling anti-government propaganda into our classrooms while (Opposition Leader) Kevin Rudd stands by in silence," he said. "The classroom is no place for Labor Party propaganda. The union movement is the heart and soul of the Labor party, from the campaign funds to their policies to their candidates.

Meanwhile, The Australian reported today that peak business groups will spend millions of dollars promoting the workplace laws through advertising. The Business Council of Australia and The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry had signed off on a joint advertising campaign. The advertisements, due to start within weeks, had been tested on focus groups and had the backing of the Master Builders Australia and the Minerals Council. They would focus on the Government's Workchoices policy and the shift to enterprise bargaining under the Keating government.

The new campaign comes as employers accuse the ACTU of trying to disable government attempts to defend the Workchoices laws. The Federal Government is also believed to be poised to begin another advertising campaign after the legislation for its fairness test passes through federal parliament.


Dangerous loony repeatedly let loose

Eventually they had to kill him -- brilliant, Eh?

QUEENSLAND'S chief coroner has blasted the Department of Mental Health for returning a sex offender to an open ward days after he abused a patient. State Coroner Michael Barnes said the death of mental health patient Sparka Isarva "James" Huntington at the Logan Hospital on December 14, 2003, raised serious issues. Mr Barnes found the department had no policy at the time to properly detain patients such a Huntington, a forensic patient with an extensive history of serious sex and violence offences, who repeatedly abscond.

Huntington, 31, died of undetermined causes while being pinned down in the courtyard of the hospital's acute observation unit at Meadowbrook, 30km southeast of Brisbane. Mr Barnes's findings raise serious issues about his remaining in the community despite a Mental Health Tribunal order and ruling he posed a significant risk to the community.

The hearing was told Huntington arrived for treatment at the Logan Hospital on December 6, 2003, 10 weeks after his leave was revoked and nine after he escaped from the hospital upon being returned by police. After assessment, he was admitted to an open ward. "The next day it seems (Huntington) seriously sexually assaulted another patient and again absconded," Mr Barnes found. "When (he) was brought back to the hospital by police on 8 December he was again housed in a an open ward. Mr Huntington again absconded. "The serious error of judgment seems to have occurred because there was no policy in place to ensure that a patient on a forensic order who absconds is placed in a more secure ward when he is returned to a mental health service facility."

The hearing also heard Huntington was heavily and forcefully restrained by both medical and security staff in what Mr Barnes found "an uncoordinated, chaotic, prolonged struggle (which) only ended when the patient died". While finding no one responsible for his death, Mr Barnes said not enough had been done to train staff. At the time of the inquest, only 50 per cent of Logan Hospital mental health staff had taken a course Queensland Health introduced in 2003.


New mufti a gentle soul, says Islamic Council

AUSTRALIA'S new mufti, Sheik Fehmi Naji El-Imam, is a gentle soul who will not be as high-profile as his predecessor, the director of the Islamic Council of Victoria says. Controversial Muslim leader Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali yesterday declined to accept another term in the top Islamic post. Australia's imams elected 79-year-old Sheik Imam to the role of mufti instead.

Director of the Islamic Council of Victoria Waleed Aly says Sheik Imam was widely respected. "He is a very gentle soul," Mr Aly said on ABC radio. "He's been around as an imam in Australia for some 50 odd years, he has got an Order of Australia, he is very widely respected and highly regarded in Victoria. "He wants to ensure that Muslims and non-Muslim Australians are pulling in the same direction and that there's a convivial relationship between the two. "I think what you will find is someone who is slightly less high-profile in the role than previously."

Sheik Hilali sparked controversy last year when he likened immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat, during a Ramadan sermon in Sydney. Sheik Hilali has also praised jihadists for fighting against coalition forces, has been accused of mishandling charity money raised after last year's Israel-Hezbollah war and declared that Australian Muslims had greater citizenship rights than those with a convict heritage.

Mr Aly attributed some of the controversy to Sheik Hilali's role as mufti. "The real damage that had been done in the past wasn't merely because Hilali had given some sermons but that he had given some sermons with the title of Mufti of Australia." Mr Aly said people often assumed the role of mufti is equivalent to that of an archbishop. "Assume falsely, so at least now there is a better hope of putting any such controversy in context."


Monday, June 11, 2007

Ambulance Service in crisis -- pleads for volunteers

As is so often the case with government "services", more funding simply leads to worse service -- with the extra money just going to an ever more obstructive bureaucracy. The Queensland Ambulance Service is a prime example -- perhaps even worse than Britain's "National Health". There was very little controversy about the ambulance service when it was funded by private subscription but since it was "socialized" a few years ago, the complaints have never stopped

The Queensland Ambulance Service desperately wants help. It is asking for volunteers to pull people out of car wrecks and drive them to hospital in an ambulance. The extraordinary plea came days after the State Government promised $50 million and 250 new paramedics for the trouble- plagued service. The ambulance volunteers also will be expected to do basic first aid. They will need no particular skills - but will receive training and uniforms.

Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney said the calls for emergency drivers made a mockery of Premier Peter Beattie's claim that the state had the world's best service. "It is clear the Premier's promise was as hollow as every other promise he's made on health, water, electricity and roads," he said.

Last month Sunday Mail reports revealed frontline anger at roster reform, excessive hours, lack of staff, vehicles and equipment, and lack of management support. As Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell boasted of improved service, the officers in stations near Gladstone pleaded for help.

An advertisement in Wednesday's Calliope Shire newsletter read: "Wanted- Emergency Ambulance Drivers. The role includes emergency driving to hospital, extrication of patients from vehicles and residences..."

The above story by DARRELL GILES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 10, 2007

Foreign doctors to learn Australian

It is a tremendous indictment of Australian medical education that Australia does not train enough of its own doctors -- despite the fact that there is great competition from young Australians to get into medical schools

FOREIGN doctors are having speech lessons in a bid to improve communication with Australian patients and avoid medical mishaps. A pilot program is aiming to make doctors whose first language is not English easier to understand for the average Australian. The 10-week course tackles pronunciation, understanding of slang or colloquial "ocker" expressions, language attitudes and speech patterns.

A growing number of overseas-trained doctors are filling hospital and GP positions in Australia amid a national shortage of medical workers. Many take jobs in rural or remote areas, where they are more likely to struggle with cultural and language barriers.

Gai Rollings, director of speech pathology at Toowoomba Base Hospital, has started the program with doctors from Africa, India and South America. "I don't think they have trouble understanding our accent but they might have trouble understanding some of our expressions," she said. "We are looking at how they are actually pronouncing their sounds and how they put stress on words." She said the doctors' speech would be rated by members of the public before and after the course. "If (a doctor) asks a nurse to help putting this solution into an IVF, that could be a really risky situation if the nurse doesn't understand what he is asking," Ms Rollings said.

Andrew Schwartz, president of the Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association, said the program was "a fine idea" but would not achieve much in practical terms. "We have got a drastic shortage of doctors so Australian people are going to have to accept they have got to listen and make sure they are getting their message through at the same time."

The above story by CLAIR WEAVER appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 10, 2007

Global cooling?

Early snow in Southern Australia gets ski resorts off to good start. If melting snow and ice in some places proves global warming, surely extra heavy snowfalls in other places proves global cooling? Or am I missing something?

The timing could not have been better. As thousands of holidaymakers made their way yesterday to the NSW and Victorian ski fields for this weekend's opening of the season, that precious white stuff, which went missing for much of last winter, began to fall. With forecasters predicting a winter ofabove-average snowfall, it seems the disappointment of last season will quickly be forgotten.

The NSW town of Thredbo got off to a good start yesterday, with about 5cm of snow falling on the slopes. The resort will start operating lifts from this morning. Perisher Blue had two lifts running yesterday. In Victoria, Mount Hotham and Mount Buller had about 26cm of natural snow, with extra cover from snow-makers.....

Thredbo's businesses spent yesterday preparing for the arrival of the hordes of tourists who descend on the slopes for the opening weekend of the ski season. The town's population has already swelled with the arrival earlier this week of about 700 seasonal workers. Although the slopes open for skiers and snowboarders today, some took advantage of the empty slopes yesterday for more gentle activities. For the Fisher family, from Mackay in Queensland, the sight of snow was a novelty. At the urging of their four children, David and Julie Fisher made a special detour from their round-Australia trip for an afternoon of toboganning.


The Keating recipe for Labor

Former Australian Labor Party Prime Minister and Treasurer Paul Keating has recently made swingeing criticisms of the present Labor Party leader. The irony is that Keating was a genuine and intelligent reformer who did much to make Australia more capitalist whereas the present leader offers no reforms other than to take Australia back to an era of all-powerful unions. So we have a pro-market reformer and a conservative reactionary from the same Leftist party at odds. Hard to get your head around. But the editorial from "The Australian" below tries to sort it out

THERE was something captivating yet preposterous in Paul Keating hectoring his party and the nation on ABC television's Lateline this week, wedding ring in view, carrying on like he had never made a mistake. In Keating's world, the pneumatic rams of reform introduced by the past two labor governments, his and Bob Hawke's, continued to massage the progress of an economic utopia for which he was responsible. Treasurer Peter Costello was merely the beneficiary of Hawke and Keating's brilliance and Labor, in a weak-kneed, bumbling fashion, was too scared, weak or stupid to embrace their heritage and claim the prize.

Beyond the extravagance of its delivery, there were some home truths for the Government and Labor in Mr Keating's spray, together with a few inaccuracies and glossed over disappointments. Contrary to those who characterise The Weekend Australian as a captive of conservative politics, we have long been making many of the points that Mr Keating has sought to highlight. Like Mr Keating, we have been a longstanding critic of the Howard Government's reform credentials. We believe the Howard Government has dropped the ball on micro-economic reform and its lack of vision has crimped the ability of the nation to capitalise fully on the boom fuelled by the rise of China.

The Weekend Australian has for many years lavished praise on the reform legacy of the Hawke and Keating years. The period from 1983 to 1996 transformed the way Australia does business. While not always responsible for devising the policy prescriptions, Hawke and Keating were brave enough to seize the reform initiatives identified but not implemented by their conservative predecessor. This included the floating of the Australian dollar and deregulating the banking sector. Keating can also claim credit for winding back import tariffs, opening the Australian economy to global competition, driving a wave of competition at a state level, introducing enterprise bargaining to boost productivity growth and introducing compulsory superannuation.

In Mr Keating's view, these reforms underpin Australia's contemporary prosperity and he can't understand why Labor does not want to claim the fruits as their own. We, too, have long believed that Labor has made a mistake in distancing itself from the Hawke and Keating reform legacy. While former Labor leader Mark Latham had promised to do so, he was persuaded against it. His error allowed Mr Howard to demolish Labor's chances with its interest-rate attack on Labor's economic credibility. The mistake has been compounded by the ALP's desire to embrace the ACTU's agenda to wind back industrial relations to the pre-reform days.

Labor in Opposition has handed the mantle of economic reform to Mr Howard, an oversight compounded by its decision to campaign against just about every economic change the Howard Government has implemented without putting forward any useful alternative plan. When it has put forward an alternative, Labor's plan has been to stake out the extreme position with Bob Brown's Greens or wind back the clock. On both IR and climate change, Labor has surrendered the centre ground to Mr Howard in favour of electoral risk.

In his Lateline appearance, Mr Keating was scathing of Labor's handling of its IR changes. He put forward a coherent alternative for the federal Government to use its newly acknowledged corporations powers to legislate a minimum wage and conditions against which all agreements, whether they be collective or individual, would be measured. Mr Keating said there should be neither positive nor negative discrimination for trade unions within the system. Unions, he said, were dying on the vine, lacked passion and were incompetent.

Keating's critique exaggerates the reality of the Howard Government's reforms against union membership but there is a lot of sense in what he says about Labor selling a simple message that includes a free market for wages with a safety net. But instead of the simplicity put forward by Mr Keating, deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard has allowed Labor to be dragged out on the fringe to support collective agreements and potentially pattern bargaining by the more militant unions. If Labor were to succeed in turning back the industrial clock, it would represent a break with Australia's post-war reform continuum. It would become the first government since World War II to wind back economic reform.

Through the accord and enterprise bargaining, the Hawke-Keating years delivered on workplace flexibility and, with Labor's links to the trade union movement, were able to encourage workers to sacrifice wages growth to compensate for the adjustment made necessary by the floating of the currency. While attempts to reform the waterfront were mostly unsuccessful, it was under the Hawke and Keating governments that iron ore producers started to tackle the inflexible work practices that restrained productivity. Labor delivered what The Weekend Australian's Paul Kelly has documented as the end of certainty.

While Mr Keating feels poorly done by in the recognition he has received from Labor, his foray into the campaign being mounted by Kevin Rudd is fraught with danger. Labor certainly has been poorly served by the small-target, defensive strategy adopted at the past three elections. But many of Mr Keating's criticisms are as personal as they are perceptive. It would be unwise to sheet Labor's failings entirely to Gary Gray or David Epstein.

Nonetheless, The Weekend Australian encourages Mr Rudd to take stock of Mr Keating's appeal to the brave. We had hoped at the beginning of this year that Mr Rudd would grab the reform nettle that Mr Howard and Mr Costello have been reluctant to embrace. This included a proper reform of federal and state relations in the areas of health and education. Labor's reform substance remains to be seen. It would indeed be unfortunate if Labor's election momentum were to be derailed by internal and petty squabbling. Or if the ALP's agenda again becomes inward-looking and driven by focus groups. In truth, while Mr Keating remains keen to take the credit, the reality is that the economy remains the Government's big story, an electoral appeal. For Labor, denial of this reality, or the historic role it has played, is no recipe for success.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Unionists already lurking in parliament

By Imre Salusinszky

KEVIN Rudd knows he has to distance himself from the ugly face of unionism - as showcased this week by ranter Dean Mighell -- if he expects to win the election due later this year. But a survey of his own troops, especially in the Senate, confirms Labor's umbilical tie to the union movement. On the Labor side, the upper house resembles an elephant burial ground for "bruvvers". More than two-thirds of Labor's 28 senators have trade union backgrounds, with some having held more than half a dozen union jobs. Yet the vast majority of them are hiding their lights under bushels, with only two occupying frontline shadow portfolios -- legal affairs spokesman Joe Ludwig and communications spokesman Stephen Conroy. In Victoria, two of the three spots on the Senate ticket have been allocated to union-aligned candidates. Second spot on the NSW ticket has been given to Australian Manufacturing Workers Union chief Doug Cameron.

The above story appeared in "The Australian" on June 2, 2007

Downpours not enough to counteract disastrous Greenie limits on water storage

The rain keeps pelting down and causing widespread floods but with no dams built for many years little of it was caught and stored

The rain that has drenched eastern Australia this week is unlikely to ease suburban water restrictions or bring relief for farmers facing zero water allocations for the coming year. Snow will fall in the NSW alps for the opening of the ski season this weekend, but heavy rain is unlikely to reach the southern tablelands or Canberra, according to forecasters. Rain fell across the entire Sydney water catchment yesterday, including 10.9mm over Warragamba, which supplies Sydney's water, in the 24 hours to 1.30pm and 54.8mm over the Blue Mountains catchment. Most of it, however, just wet the dry earth. [Some of the "dry earth" can be seen in the pictures above. I am guessing that the car owners concerned would be wishing that the rain really HAD just soaked into the earth]

Combined dam levels were at 36.9 per cent of capacity -- 0.4 percentage points lower than this time last week. But the Sydney Catchment Authority is hopeful the forecast for more rain overnight and today will create much-needed run-off. The largest dumps occurred in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, where one station at Tocal received more than 100mm in two hours. Wyong received 75mm in one hour and Kangy Angy had 66mm in an hour. A number of areas along the Hunter coast received more than 200mm over the past three days. Wind gusts reached 106km/h yesterday near Newcastle, north of Sydney, and Fort Denison on Sydney Harbour.

The rain started in southeast Queensland and the north of NSW and has been slowly moving south. Forecasters expected the centre of the rain system to move to Sydney overnight and the Illawarra, south of Sydney, today. It should move east tomorrow. Queensland's dump of rain -- 30-70mm fell in 48 hours over most of the state's east, south and southeast -- has led to a slight increase in dam levels. The biggest falls were in the southeast, where Brisbane's catchments are situated. The falls were the best two days of rain since October 2005. South East Queensland Water storages rose from 18.22 per cent to 18.38 per cent, providing an extra seven to eight days' supply.

There may be more shower activity in the state's south later next week but by then weather in the catchment will again be dry and large run-offs are not expected. It is unlikely that the rain will have any impact on the need for tight water restrictions in NSW and Queensland.

Queensland households are on tough level-five water restrictions prohibiting sprinklers, hosing gardens and washing cars. In July, towns in the Murray-Darling Basin could be banned from outside water use. Prime Minister John Howard warned Murray-Darling Basin farmers in April they would receive no water allocations for the coming year unless substantial rain fell. Experts believe the downpours will not be enough to change the prognosis for farmers who rely on water from the basin.

Source. See also here and here

Vouchers are the way to go for Australian schools

They are the logical next step in improving education outcomes and would be a winner for the politicians who back them, writes Kevin Donnelly

WHAT is the best way to strengthen schools, raise standards and, in an increasingly competitive and challenging international environment, ensure that more Australian students perform at the top of the league table?

One approach, favoured by those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo, such as the Australian Education Union and the educrats responsible for the present parlous state of Australian education, is centralised and bureaucratic. Schools, especially government schools, are forced to conform to a top-down and inflexible system of command and control management where there is little, if any, room for autonomy at the local level, or flexibility in curriculum and developing more effective ways to meet the demands of parents and the marketplace.

The alternative, based on research identifying the characteristics of "world's best" education systems (as measured by international tests) and overseas innovations such as vouchers and charter schools, is to free schools from provider capture and to increase parental choice. Vouchers involve parents receiving an agreed amount of funding from government that they can then use to send their children to either government or non-government schools. The money follows the child and, as a result, good schools prosper and grow while underperforming schools face the consequences of falling enrolments and reduced demand.

Related to school choice is the need to ensure that how well schools perform, or underperform, is made public. When school effectiveness is clouded in secrecy, it is impossible for parents to make informed decisions about where their children go to school. At the minimum, all schools should be made to release details about educational performance, staff morale, absenteeism, student behaviour and, where relevant, indicators such as Year 12 results and post-school destinations.

Compare this to the present situation in Australia where, notwithstanding the rhetoric about identifying and turning around underperforming government schools, there are few, if any, consequences for failure and, as a result, thousands of students receive a substandard education.

Vouchers can either be universal or targeted at particular disadvantaged groups, such as children with disabilities or children educationally at risk because of their socioeconomic background. Vouchers can also either provide the full cost of educating a child, measured by the per-student cost of educating a child in a government school (about $10,000), or they can be set as a percentage, for example, by being means tested.

However, increasing educational choice by giving parents the right to choose where their children go to school is ineffectual if all schools, government and non-government, are forced to follow the same industrial-age management regime and dumbed-down, politically correct curriculum. The other side of the voucher equation is what in the US are termed charter schools. If schools are to be in a position to respond to community expectations, they need the autonomy and flexibility to meet parental demands. Charter schools, within general guidelines, fashion their own management style and curriculum, freed from the constraints of an intrusive and insensitive government-controlled bureaucracy.

As outlined in a 2006 paper prepared by the Australia Institute, titled School Vouchers: An Evaluation of their Impact on Education Outcomes, those associated with the cultural Left side of politics are staunch critics of freeing up schools and increased parental choice. The authors of the paper argue there is no evidence increased competition and autonomy improve educational outcomes.

An argument is also put that Australian society will become less cohesive as vouchers will lead to "greater segregation on the basis of race, religion, academic ability and socialeconomic status" and, based on the assumption that choice will lead to more parents choosing non-government schools, that state schools will be seen as second-rate and the least preferred option.

As might be expected, given that its continued survival depends on a centrally controlled, compliant state system of education, the AEU is also opposed to vouchers and the existence of non-government schools more generally. After criticising the federal Government's introduction of literacy vouchers, the AEU, at its 2005 federal conference, attacked opening schools to market forces by stating "the introduction of the voucher system of funding ... will ensure that much-needed government funding is directed away from those public schools with the greatest need into private pockets without any accountability requirements whatsoever". According to Pat Byrne, the AEU president, the Howard Government's policy of supporting parental choice is a ruse to destroy the state system.

It's ironic that supporters of state schools, such as the AEU, spend thousands of dollars on campaigns talking up government schools, under slogans such as "state schools are great schools", while arguing that introducing vouchers will lead to increasing numbers of parents fleeing the state system. Logic suggests that if state schools are as successful as their advocates make out, despite the introduction of vouchers many parents will still prefer state schools. The popularity of selective government schools in NSW and the fact that Victorian parents, if they can afford the real estate, are buying into areas with highly regarded state schools, proves that given a choice, parents will not necessarily "flee" the government system.

In his book Education Matters: Government, Markets and New Zealand Schools, Canberra-based economist Mark Harrison, in opposition to arguments about lack of effectiveness, details research showing that voucher-related choice and competition improve educational outcomes. Common sense also suggests this would be the case. If nothing else, the collapse of communism and the success of capitalism proves that the old days of statism have long since died and the most effective approach to government policy is to allow responsibility and decision-making to rest in the hands of those most affected, ie, at the local level. Harrison cites research undertaken at Harvard University into voucher schemes implemented in Washington and New York as concluding that "the academic achievement of voucher students who attended private schools grew faster than the similar students who did not receive a voucher and attended public schools".

Research evaluating the Milwaukee scheme arrives at a similar conclusion about the benefits of vouchers; instead of lowering standards or creating social fragmentation, there is evidence that not only are students' test scores improved, in addition, as Harrison states, "parents are highly satisfied, there was no creaming, parental involvement increased, the program targeted disadvantaged students successfully and reduced segregation".

Caroline Hoxby, a US-based academic and author of School Choice: The Three Essential Elements and Several Policy Options, on examining the results of the Milwaukee scheme, also argues that increasing choice and competition lead to improved results, as measured by improvements in students' mathematics scores.

Those supporting vouchers also make the point that improved standards are not restricted to schools enrolling students with vouchers; nearby government schools, given the reality of competition and the consequent incentive to improve, also register stronger results.

On identifying the characteristics of those education systems that achieve the best results in international mathematics, science and reading tests, Ludger Woessmann, from the University of Munich, reinforces the importance of choice and competition, especially as the result of a strong private school sector and decentralisation of management. Woessmann argues the market provides strong incentives for schools, as institutions, to provide a better service by meeting the expectations of parents and raising standards. If parents are not satisfied, they go elsewhere, and there are clear consequences and rewards for performance. While acknowledging the central role individual teachers play in successful learning, Woessmann also makes the point that those education systems suffering from provider capture, especially where teacher unions have an undue influence, underperform in terms of international test results.

While critics of vouchers, such as the AEU, emphasise that increased diversity and competition will only benefit so-called wealthy, elite, non-government schools, it is significant that American voucher schemes focus on supporting disadvantaged groups such as Hispanics and African-Americans. Such is the success of these schemes in addressing educational disadvantage, as noted by Terry Moe, a researcher at the Hoover Institution, that "in poll after poll, the strongest supporters of publicly financed vouchers are blacks, Hispanics and the poor, especially in urban areas".

As the 30 to 40per cent of Australian parents who send their children to non-government schools are well aware, debates about vouchers are of more than academic interest. Not only do these parents pay taxes for a system they do not use, thus saving state and federal governments millions of dollars each year, hard-earned cash has to be found to pay school fees. The reality is that parents who, as a result of the perceived shortcomings in government schools, choose non-government schools are financially penalised. While state and federal governments support such choice by partially funding students attending non-government schools, the amounts provided are well short of the costs involved and the system lacks the preconditions necessary for an effective voucher system.

On the grounds of equity and social justice, it makes sense if more parents, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are able to choose between government and non-government schools. Ideally, such a voucher would be set at $10,000 and the money would follow the child. Vouchers and charter schools, reflecting a commitment to choice, competition and accountability, present new territory in the education debate. At first glance, such initiatives are a natural fit for the Howard Coalition Government and, given the cultural Left's antagonism, something traditionally opposed by the ALP. As such, vouchers and charter schools provide one policy area where there are clear differences between the two parties and fertile ground for public debate.


Vouchers are the way to go for Australian Universities too

Comment by Steven Schwartz, the vice-chancellor of Macquarie University

The Group of Eight universities has launched a far-reaching higher education policy statement and, again, educational vouchers have been thrust into the spotlight. Ever since the Nobel economics laureate Milton Friedman suggested funding education with vouchers in 1955, the idea has surfaced periodically in Australia only to be met with howls of rage from education unions and yawns of apathy from everyone else.

There are three reasons this time could be different. First, educational vouchers can no longer be dismissed as impractical. School voucher systems operate successfully in several countries and a university voucher system has been introduced in Colorado. Second, both sides of politics are committed to a diverse system of higher education. By forcing universities to find a competitive niche, vouchers foster diversity more effectively, and certainly more efficiently, than the present system of centralised formula funding. Third, it has previously been taken for granted that vouchers would be politically unpopular because they would have to be rationed. It was feared that promising everyone a voucher would lead many extra students to enrol, thereby causing a budget blowout. But times have changed. There is no longer any need to worry about hoards of frustrated students queuing for vouchers because, the Government says, there is no longer any unmet demand.

Everyone who wants to attend university is already being admitted. Unless it decides to be uncharacteristically generous, a universal voucher entitlement would cost the Government no more than the block grant system. Vouchers would overcome anomalies inherent in the present funding arrangements by introducing rudimentary market forces into a system that operates according to Government fiat. At present, universities have little ability to respond to student demand. The quota of Government-subsidised student places at any university each year is determined by history: universities get about the same number they received the previous year, with small adjustments.

We know that students prefer some universities to others. However, even if they wanted to, popular universities are prohibited from expanding their intake to meet student demand. Indeed, like plant managers in the old Soviet Union, university managers are punished if they enrol "too many" students. As a result of quotas, many qualified students are turned away from their university of first choice. They are forced to try their second, third or even fourth choice, until they finally find a university that will admit them. By limiting the number of places in any university, the Government makes it impossible for universities to expand their intake in response to student demand. It is a way to protect less popular institutions whose students might go elsewhere if given the chance.

Giving funding to students in the form of vouchers and eliminating quotas would allow universities to adjust supply to meet demand. But vouchers would not be enough. To ensure the highest levels of excellence, they would need to be combined with the deregulation of university fees.

At present, the amount students pay through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme is largely determined by the Government; universities have limited leeway to charge more. Yet, they are in competition with generously funded competitors from around the world. If we want to compete in the premier league, we have to direct resources to those institutions that achieve the highest standards of excellence. Lifting the cap on student contributions would allow our best universities to raise their fees; this would bring them the additional resources they require to compete with the world's best. To ensure that access to elite higher education institutions is not limited to the rich, universities that raise their fees should be required to spend some of their new wealth on income support for needy students.

In reality, however, only a small number of institutions would be able to charge premium fees and provide exceptional services. Many would go for low price and high volume. Other models would also develop. Some universities would offer vocational and technical types of education. Others would focus on distance learning. Some would deliberately focus on a small number of programs that met student needs.

Under a voucher system, universities would have to be attractive to students because that is the only way they would receive any resources. Students would benefit because they would control the purse strings and would therefore be able to influence what was taught, by whom and when. Institutions would benefit by being able to adjust their offerings to meet student demand. Most of all, Australia would benefit from having stronger world-class universities to produce the graduates we will need to ensure social and economic progress.


His Eminence upholds Catholic orthodoxy without fear or favour

He is wise to do so. It is the wishy-washy churches that have empty pews

Comment below by Christopher Pearson

It should have come as no surprise to anyone last week when George Pell announced he would ask principals in Sydney's Catholic schools and teachers in charge of religious instruction in his diocese to affirm their loyalty to Catholic doctrine. He wants them to swear an oath of fidelity to what the church teaches, with specific reference to various issues of sexual morality and an exclusively male priesthood. But the theological modernists who've long ruled the roost in Sydney were appalled at the idea of a bishop taking orthodoxy seriously and expecting the people responsible for the formation of young Catholics to do likewise.

They voiced their indignation in the secular media and fringe Catholic magazines, as modernists and ultra-liberals have been doing since the Second Vatican Council. However, on this issue the boat-rocking exercises met with limited success. I expect most non-Catholics don't much care one way or the other and there's also a matter-of-fact general acceptance that every club has its rules and members in good standing abide by them.

Later in the week, Pell put himself in the line of fire a second time by issuing a statement about embryonic stem cell research, on behalf of the Catholic bishops of NSW. It was essentially a collegial response to contentious legislation rushed into the NSW parliament. But it was also another pretext for the cardinal's clerical detractors, The Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC to brand him as an authoritarian zealot.

Sydney's Anglican Archbishop Phillip Jensen condemned the bill just as forcefully as Pell did. The research the bill was designed to give licence to was compared to the unethical developments of Nazi scientific experiments. He also warned that, if passed, the bill would "enshrine in law the corrupt view that the embryos used are not morally significant or important". Despite that, Jensen was left unscathed, on this occasion at least, and almost all the media attention was on the cardinal.

The statement Pell had issued was unobjectionable. "No Catholic politician, indeed no Christian or person with respect for human life, who has properly informed his conscience about the facts and ethics in this area, should vote in favour of this immoral legislation."

One of the main responsibilities of bishops is to teach their people precisely so they can develop their individual consciences, informed by sound doctrine rather than in a moral vacuum. There is an even weightier responsibility when telling Catholic politicians, who have to vote on contentious moral issues, what the church's position is. This is especially the case, as was obvious last week, when they are ignorant and not very observant Catholics, indifferent to the church's teachings when they are politically inconvenient.

No Catholic theologian of any consequence has argued in favour of human embryo cloning, or creating embryos with three or more genetic parents, or creating human-animal hybrids for testing purposes. Although these procedures raise new issues, in the sense the science itself is new, they are experiments that contravene fundamental tenets regarding human procreation. No consequentialist argument, based on possible miracle cures down the track, could trump first principles.

Pell tells me that when The Sydney Morning Herald's Linda Morris attended his press conference, she had given advance notice of two questions on the subject of excommunication. He told the press, as she duly reported the next day, that he wasn't threatening Catholic politicians who chose to support the bill with excommunication. But he did say there would be "consequences in the life of the church" for those who voted for the legislation.

Consequences short of excommunication were once widely understood, both by Catholics and most religiously literate adults. They ranged from the risk of disapproval from other people in the pew and earnest entreaties to think things over by the clergy to stern words from your confessor, if you availed yourself of the sacrament of penance. He might withhold absolution until there was some sign of contrition or even advise against going to communion until you had acknowledged the error of your ways. Such consequences, which these days would perhaps weigh only on a delicate conscience but still reflect the seriousness of the offence, fall a long way short of medieval declarations of anathema, with bell, book and candle, as the saying goes.

There has recently been a lot of (mostly ill-informed) media hype on the issue of excommunication. Raymond Burke, Archbishop of St Louis in the US, caused a great stir when he said he would refuse the sacrament to Catholic pro-choice Democratic candidate John Kerry in the lead-up to the previous presidential election.

On the plane to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI told an interviewer that, in some cases where people were directly involved in assisting at an abortion, they automatically excommunicated themselves. This was the case in a technical sense, known as latae sententiae, whether or not the church formalised the matter by announcing it.

Voting in support of cloning is a serious matter, although not in the same grave category as participating in an abortion. Still, it is hard to imagine how any of the notionally Catholic MPs, of whatever party, who voted in favour of the bill could imagine themselves as being in good standing in their membership of the church. For all that, press speculation about possible excommunication combined with Pell's warning of lesser consequences had them waxing righteously indignant about threats and "bully-boy tactics".

NSW Premier Morris Iemma said he "wouldn't take kindly to being denied communion", as though it were a simple matter of entitlement. His deputy John Watkins said he was "a bit mystified by the authoritarian view" put by the cardinal. Frank Sartor, the NSW Planning Minister, went one better and described Pell's comments as "reminiscent of the Dark Ages".

Federal Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey decided to buy into the argument, even though it was a state issue. He offered, for all the world as though he'd given the matter great thought, the line: "I don't object to Pell expressing that opinion, but I do object to any suggestion that there are consequences."

As the cardinal noted in an article on Friday in The Sydney Morning Herald, actions do have consequences, as any politician who crosses the floor soon finds out. I was heartened to see NSW Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell undertook to consider what Pell had said and refrained from grandstanding. The Nationals' Adrian Piccoli couldn't resist boasting: "I would like to see them try and stop me taking communion."

NSW Emergency Services Minister Nathan Rees made the silliest contribution so far from a serving politician. He objected to what he called Pell's "emotional blackmail", saying: "The hypocrisy is world class. No government would seek to influence church teaching when providing taxpayer funds for the refurbishment of St Mary's Cathedral or the education of Catholic school children or to subsidise rates exemptions for churches." He also raised the possibility of referring the cardinal's remarks to the house's privileges committee: "I consider Cardinal Pell's incursion a clear and arguably contemptuous incursion into deliberations of the elected members of the parliament."

The debate hasn't reflected much credit on many of the Catholic politicians in the NSW parliament. Nor does it show the quality of instruction they received in church or in Catholic schools in a flattering light. It's clear many of them don't know the first thing about what their church teaches on life issues and don't regard themselves as being under any obligation to take notice when it's pointed out to them. They have a convenient and strangely Protestant notion of the sovereignty of conscience - shared, it seems, by Jesuit priest and academic Frank Brennan - and somehow imagine "everyone's entitled to their own opinion" in matters of faith and morals. There is a theological term for this. It's called "a condition of invincible ignorance".

When I spoke with Pell in the middle of the brouhaha, he sounded a bit saddened but not at all surprised by the turn the debate had taken. "All this talk of excommunication is a distraction from the main issues. No amount of political bluster will change the fact that this bill is an assault on human life, for gains which are so far nonexistent. Everyone claims to believe in the sanctity of human life. We really mean it."


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Lazy NSW police unrepentant

What do you expect of public servants? Get a gun!

POLICE Commissioner Ken Moroney has thumbed his nose at public opinion, defying calls for tougher action against street crime. His defiance came after The Daily Telegraph struggled to have a crime investigated by police despite having photographic evidence of a mugging in Sydney. Last night the victim, a 16-year-old TAFE student, revealed his fear over the attack on Tuesday night near Central railway station. His mother, Margaret Short, said her husband tried to report the crime to police but was "fobbed off".

"When my husband Don rang Central (Police Station) they wouldn't even take a statement, insisting it must come from our son. They just fobbed him off. "They said the victim has to report the crime and because our son didn't want to, they couldn't record it for him. But our son was too scared to do that." The boy told the Daily Telegraph last night: "The police said they know who it is, or have an idea, but can't guarantee anything. "I didn't want to go to police because I thought if (the culprits) found out who I was, I could get bashed or some of their mates would find me and make trouble." The boy, who last night revealed he was menaced with a knife in the attack, subsequently visited Surry Hills police yesterday.

Victims of crime said yesterday that they had given up expecting police to do anything about it. However, Mr Moroney insists his officers are doing the best they can. Figures reveal that hundreds of thousands of citizens who have been robbed, assaulted or who have had their homes invaded are not bothering to report it.

The Commissioner yesterday chose to dodge the issue by citing the state's falling crime rates. With hundreds of angry citizens inundating the Daily Telegraph website with reports of lazy police, Mr Moroney said last night it would be "unrealistic" to expect everyone to be happy. He said police internal research indicated that confidence in the police was high and that the community felt safe - but he refused to release the figures so the public can make up its own mind.

"I expect all my officers to do their best at all times. "They have an oath of office and that is their pact with the people of NSW. "Police are not perfect human beings. "Figures show the majority of crime categories are either falling or are steady. {Because people no longer to report stuff] "Does that mean that every individual who looks to police for assistance will be 100 per cent happy 100 per cent of the time? "That would be unrealistic, but I hope the public understands that we do have a committed police force who are doing the best possible job they can."

The annual Australian Bureau of Statistics survey of victims of crime for the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research for 2006 - the latest figures available - show 127,500 victims of assault did not report it in 2006, 22,800 people did not report that they had been robbed, 26,300 people did not tell police their house had been broken into and another 63,100 people did report an attempted burglary.

"The most common reasons why people don't report crime are that people don't think the police could or would do anything about it, the offence was too trivial, or nothing was stolen," BOSCAR director Dr Don Weatherburn said. Victims of Crime Assistance League executive director Robyn Cotterell-Jones said it was because they were sick of being given the brush-off. "Police are making a decision about whether a case is going to make it to prosecution and if not, they are simply not bothering to do anything with it," she said.


Australia's PM negative on homosexual adoption

PRIME Minister John Howard says he is opposed to gay couples adopting children and heterosexual adoption is a benchmark society should maintain. But he said that didn't mean gay and lesbian people had no affection for children.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission has recommended to the Victorian Parliament that gay couples be allowed to adopt and lesbians have access to IVF treatment. Mr Howard said today he believed children should ideally have a mother and a father. "It gives children the best opportunity in life," he said on Southern Cross radio. "I know for some that sounds harsh, I don't think it's harsh, I think it's something that most people believe is the desired, the ideal outcome. "I'm not saying that gay and lesbian people don't display enormous affection to children."

The Prime Minister said limiting adoption to heterosexual couples was a benchmark Australian society should maintain. On IVF for lesbians and single women without partners, he said: "In the past we have objected to that."

The Victorian Law Reform Commission report, tabled in state parliament yesterday, said the Government should change the law to allow lesbians to access reproductive treatment, even if they are not medically infertile. "An appropriate test is whether a woman is 'in the circumstances in which she finds herself unlikely to become pregnant other than by a treatment procedure'," the report says. A court decision in 2000 found it was discriminatory to deny treatment to a woman based on whether or not she was in a relationship with a man.

Gay couples currently are unable to adopt in Victoria, but the commission says they should be able to. "The commission believes it is important the widest possible pool of people is available to help these children," the report says. "Research shows that a parent's sexuality is not a predictor of harm to children."

Felicity Marlowe, 33, said she looked forward to the changes being endorsed, as she had no legal status in the lives of 11-month-old twin boys Rafi and Callum, born to her partner of seven years, Sarah Marlowe. "It would mean a great deal to me to be able to receive that legal recognition, and in terms of the future rights of my children it is important too," said Ms Marlowe, a member of the Rainbow Families council. "The discriminatory laws that currently exist don't stop people from creating families, but they do undermine the rights ... of the children."

But Australian Families Association spokeswoman Angela Conway said the changes pandered to the gay agenda without considering the best interests of children.


Family group slams $2.5m anti-smack campaign

A hardy perennial resurfaces in Australia

A NEW $2.5 million campaign urging parents not to smack their children has upset a family group that supports smacking. It is not illegal for parents to smack their children, but the Federal Government's "Every Child is Important" campaign argues against it. The kits in 16 languages will be available soon in various community, health and education centres.

"Hitting a child does not teach acceptable ways to behave," project material says. "Instead it may result in a repeat of the misbehaviour. "Often children are so upset or angry after being hit, they forget why they are being punished."

Family Council of Victoria secretary Bill Muehlenberg said it was wrong to use taxpayers' money to push an anti-smacking line most parents would disagree with. Mr Muehlenberg, who smacked his three boys, said in some cases with small children it was the only option. "It's usually done as a last resort, done in love, done with moderation, self-control," he said. "In other words it's not the same as abuse, which we already have laws on the books about."

But Dr Joe Tucci, CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation that compiled the "Every Child is Important" campaign, is opposed to smacking. He says parents should work out why their child is misbehaving and address the cause. "You don't have to hit your children to teach them right from wrong," he said.

Sunrise presenter and father of four David Koch is a high-profile smacking advocate. "Smacking is very different to being abusive," he told the Herald-Sun. Koch said it was wrong to smack when you were emotional, but an out-of-control child may need it.


Parents told to make up for school failures

PARENTS have been urged to "do the times table" with their children after almost one in four Queensland Year 7 students failed to meet the national benchmark for numeracy. Education Minister Rod Welford conceded yesterday that numeracy standards in Queensland schools weren't good enough and parents could help to address the problem. "Parents can help by doing tables with their children at home. Nine-year-olds should be learning their tables," he said.

Figures released in this week's State Budget showed just 76.2 per cent of students met the benchmark last year, down from 80.3 per cent the previous year and well short of the 82 per cent target forecast in last year's Budget. The tests, each August, also measure literacy. More than 95 per cent of Year 7 students met the national writing benchmark and 83 per cent met the reading benchmark.

The Australian Council for Educational Research's Ken Rowe said the benchmarks were minimum standards. "You can't get much lower than those benchmarks and in reality, somewhere between 40 and 60 per cent of students entering high school from government, Catholic and independent schools lack sufficient skills to engage with the secondary curriculum," Dr Rowe said. "Our priority must be teaching the teachers to teach."

Mr Welford said the "results clearly are not good enough". He said students who failed to master basic numeracy at primary school were more likely to have problems in secondary maths and he wanted the annual tests moved forwards to May to give teachers more time to help children rectify problems. "These tests should also be passed on to the students' secondary schools so that process continues," he said.

This week's Budget included a new $1.5 million numeracy initiative aimed at boosting the results. Mr Welford said the initiative aimed to "help build teacher capacity through professional development programs and the development of teacher resources and training packages".

Opposition Education spokesman Stuart Copeland said the school curriculum was "too overcrowded" for many children who needed more time on the basics. "I am also concerned that we are starting to see the effects of falling OP scores for entry to the teaching profession," Mr Copeland said. "If teachers are not being well-prepared to teach literacy and numeracy this is a damning indictment of the universities."


Friday, June 08, 2007

Police indifference to crime

I had a similar experience to that below when my car was stolen. I was able to hand the Queensland police written ID for one of the thieves but they were not interested

IT wasn't the most lethal crime committed in an Australian city this week, but by chance it was caught on camera - and despite having the pictures in front of them, the police blatantly refused to investigate. The refusal of Sydney police to even pretend to investigate the crime captured by The Daily Telegraph photographer will anger anyone who has been told that "petty" crimes such as minor theft, vandalism and harassment aren't worth the bother.

The Daily Telegraph saw a random mugging of a young man for his money and Nike trainers late on Tuesday. Photographer Noel Kessell witnessed the brazen robbery by a gang of five youths outside Central Station at peak hour. At the notorious crime blackspot on the corner of Eddy Ave and Elizabeth St at 6.30pm the men cornered their victim and ordered him to empty his pockets and remove his shoes. Kessell captured on camera two of the youths fleeing across Elizabeth St, clutching the stolen shoes.

But at Surry Hills Police Station Inspector Karen Myers could not muster any enthusiasm. "I bet you thought, 'You beauty', you've got a story, but sorry, I'm not making a comment. These pictures don't mean anything," said the inspector when The Daily Telegraph offered the images to assist police. "These pictures could mean anything. It could just be a bloke running down the street with some shoes in his arms. "Without a victim there is no crime," she said with an attitude that has angered victims.

Kessell said the victim ran off before he could tell him he had witnessed the robbery. The young man may have reported it to another police station, but Inspector Myers would never know because she made no notes of the crime report to cross-reference it on the police computer system. Describing it as an "old crime", she was not interested in passing the photos to detectives, who may have recognised the thieves.

Dr Michael Kennedy, senior lecturer in policing at the University of Western Sydney, said: "This is not an isolated incident." Dr Kennedy, a former detective with 18 years service, said it was an example of policing being run as a business with performance bonuses for commissioned officers. "Success is measured in terms of data," Dr Kennedy said. "This is an indication of the lack of experience and maturity of commissioned officers."

Victims of Crime Assistance League executive director Robyn Cotterell-Jones said she was not surprised by the inaction. "Lots of victims are saying, 'What's the point of reporting a crime if the police won't listen to you'," she said.

Kessell was in a taxi when he saw the mugging. "It happened so fast. A group of about five young men gathered around another male, ordered him to go through his pockets and then told him to take his shoes off," he said.

It was only when The Daily Telegraph called the office of NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney that the police acted. Last night, Kessell made a statement to police and handed over his photos. Acting Surry Hills Commander Detective Inspector David Egan-Lee said street crime was a major focus for police in the Central Metropolitan region. "While the police response at the time may not have been optimal, we have assigned a team to examine the incident and with the help of The Daily Telegraph hope to apprehend the offenders," he said.


A wise woman

A TASMANIAN mother has refused to agree to bail for her teenage son in a desperate bid to end his life of crime. And she has called on other parents of young lawbreakers to stop backing their children. "The police do the best they can, I think it's time these parents woke up to themselves," the woman said. The Bridgewater woman took the radical step after her son was arrested over a series of alleged offences last week. She has also refused to take her son's phone calls from the Hobart remand centre.

She does not want to reveal her identity for fear of reprisals. "At the moment I am the worst mum in Bridgewater because I am not standing by his case . . . but I want my son off the streets while he's a thief before he becomes a murderer," she said.

She spoke out yesterday in the hope that other parents would take the same stand. The woman said the parents of young lawbreakers had a lot to answer for, with many supporting or encouraging their children's actions by buying stolen goods from them and hiding them from police. She said she was disgusted by a recent incident in Bridgewater in which toddlers stood by watching while police were pelted with rocks when trying to make arrests. "What kind of example is that for the younger generation?" she asked.

Last Friday three teenagers hurled rocks at police from the roof of a Bridgewater house in a three-hour stand-off after police approached the house during an investigation into car thefts. More than 50 police attended the confrontation at Hobden Place. Three police vehicles were damaged and the incident attracted 100 spectators. The teenagers were later charged with assaulting police, damage to property, recklessly discharging missiles, motor vehicle stealing and creating a common nuisance.

Speaking to the Mercury yesterday, the Bridgewater woman said a few years ago her teenage son had been a normal, happy young man about to embark on a promising sporting career. But within months of "falling in with the wrong crowd" he was locked up in Ashley Detention Centre for theft. In the years since he has been in and out of the centre numerous times and has pushed his mother to the limit. "I have never once tried to hide him," she said. "I have actually been out at night looking for my son and calling the cops to where I thought he was. "We all love him and want him to be the person he was."

The woman said she did not believe Bridgewater, an area often stigmatised as having a high crime rate, was any worse than other suburbs. "I think it's our society, there is just no authority over kids," she said. Her worst fear was that her son would be involved in a crime that went wrong and led to a person's injury or death.


Professor slams leftist curriculum "plan"

A Rudd Labor government risks creating a "noodle federation" as states sign up to different pieces of its education policy rather than developing a cohesive national framework. University of Queensland professor Kenneth Wiltshire described Kevin Rudd's self-described education revolution as "about six dot points in search of a rationale", containing little detail of how the measures would be implemented.

Speaking after giving evidence to the Senate inquiry on the academic standards of school education, Professor Wiltshire said the ALP policy lacked coherence and the only plan for implementation was an assertion that the states would co-operate "by some magical mechanism". "There's no guarantee whatsoever just because the state governments are the same political party Mr Rudd is going to get their co-operation," Professor Wiltshire said. "Public policy by definition should have content, its rationale, the tool of implementation. "But the 'education revolution' has no costing, no delivery mechanism; it needs to be spelt out in far more detail. "I fear Mr Rudd's creating a noodle federation, with some states referring powers to the commonwealth and some states not."

Professor Wiltshire, the JD Story professor of public administration at the university, chaired the review of the Queensland school curriculum under the Goss Labor government. He served as a special adviser to the Australian National Training Authority and was Australia's representative on the executive board of UNESCO, the UN education body, until 2005.

In evidence to the inquiry, Professor Wiltshire described the Queensland education system as the worst in the country. He said the school system forced subject specialisation on students at too young an age, requiring them to choose between being literate or numerate - between the humanities and the sciences - at 12 or 13, and to decide on an academic or vocational pathway at 14 or 15. "We're forcing these choices on kids at far too young an age," he said. "We should be keeping options open and giving them a generalist education for as long as possible."

In his evidence, Professor Wiltshire also highlighted the lack of careers guidance in schools and called for "root and branch" reform of the TAFE system, arguing for the introduction of a HECS-style scheme. Professor Wiltshire said the only improvements in educational standards over the past decade had occurred as a result of intervention by the federal Government. He said reforms over the past 10 years - including better reporting on students, greater choice for parents, and moves to a national curriculum - would not have occurred if the federal Government had not taken a stronger role in education. 'State governments obviously haven't been able to properly deliver what people want," he said.

Professor Wiltshire called on the inquiry to recommend a federal-led approach to curriculum, a strong national board for curriculum reintroducing syllabus specifying content, and strong national performance standards and assessment.


His Eminence shocks atheists: Archbishop Pell lobbies hard for his faith

ACCORDING to Fairfax newspapers, Cardinal George Pell has, for the second time this week, sparked a terrible controversy. Before anyone panics, Pell has not denied the existence of God or cast doubt on the resurrection of Jesus. That really would be controversial.

No, in the first apparent outrage, Dr Pell said he would ask Catholic school principals to swear an oath of fidelity to their partners and to not use birth control. In other words, he expects Catholic teachers to abide by Catholic teachings. The second so-called "controversy" concerns Dr Pell's decision, earlier this week, to warn Catholic MPs in the NSW parliament to vote against a bill that would allow for stem cell research, saying experimentation was grotesque.

Dr Pell did not say that Catholics who voted for the bill would be excommunicated or that they would suffer eternal damnation. He did say there would be "consequences" for their place in the life of the church but did not make it clear what these consequences might be. It has been suggested that some priests may refuse holy communion to MPs who voted for the bill.

Some commentators have criticised Dr Pell for mixing affairs of the church with the state. In fact, Dr Pell is doing no more than his job. As Cardinal, it is his responsibility to explain and uphold Catholic principles, to remind Australian Catholics of the rules that apply to their lives, if lived as Catholics. In other words, Dr Pell is engaged in the thoroughly modern practice of lobbying elected representatives in the same way as some feminist groups lobby for a woman's right to have an abortion; and some providers of pornography lobby for X-rated videos to be available at the corner store. It would be quite strange if Dr Pell had told Catholic MPs to vote either for or against the bill without first examining their conscience. It is his business to bring conscience to the fore.

In any case, it is clear that Catholics regard Dr Pell's advice as exactly that: advice, to either be heeded or ignored. NSW Premier Morris Iemma, who is Catholic, said he would vote for research; so too did his Catholic deputy, John Watkins.

The real controversy here is the one that has existed since scientists discovered that stem cells may hold within them great promise, in the form of treatment for many different diseases. But how much experimentation should be allowed? This newspaper has always spoken in favour of science and technology - indeed, in favour of hope for humankind, and the possible end of some suffering. But each and every decision involving a human embryo takes place within an ethical framework and Dr Pell does well to remind our community to at least think carefully before we take steps down uncertain paths.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Teachers quitting over sex inquiries

Given the way they are treated, men who take on a teaching career are a courageous lot

TEACHERS are quitting their jobs. rather than fighting to clear their name of alleged sex offences, because investigations are taking too long. The Queensland Teachers' Union said some investigations were taking several years and teachers refused to stay in the job with suspicion hanging over their head. "The nature of the job is stressful enough without having that on top of it," said union president Steve Ryan. "There have been a number of teachers who have just resigned because they don't want to go through the trauma."

Education Queensland said that most investigations were concluded in case the teacher sought to be re-employed at a later date. An exclusive report in The Sunday Mail last week revealed 82 state school employees, mostly teachers, were being investigated for alleged sex offences involving students. The allegations ranged from serious sexual assaults to showing sexually explicit material to making sexual comments to children in conversations, phone text messages and on the internet.

Education Queensland said there were 414 outstanding cases involving allegations of official misconduct against staff. As of May 1, there were 12 teachers under suspension, eight with pay and four without. The four without had appeared in court on criminal charges and been committed for trial.

One male teacher who contacted the Sunday Mail said he had fought for two years to clear his name after students accused him of indecent behaviour. The teacher, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said charges were thrown out of court because of lack of evidence. But Education Queensland had stalled on giving his job back and allowing him to return to the classroom. "Teachers are easy targets for a lot of cheap shots. A small percentage of the community think male teachers are motivated by a desire to be close to children," he said. I have dedicated my whole life to this career ... hopefully I will get my iob back one day."

Mr Ryan said many of the 82 cases against the teachers would eventually be dropped, and it was unfair that parents and students might assume a teacher was guilty if he or she left the profession because the investigation had been prolonged.

The above story by DARRELL GILES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 3, 2007

Truthless Tasmanian Greenie

Greenie "facts" are rarely anything of the sort

CELEBRITY protesters are giving activism a bad name. Australians have endured the truly mediocre musician Pink blathering on about the wool industry, actress Toni Collette sounding off on wool and mining, and now Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan has weighed in (again) on the timber industry... Highly quotable, he is frequently consulted by the ALP's media arm, the ABC, whenever the national broadcaster wants an articulate critic to paint a word portrait of an island state populated by oafish rampaging thugs intent on raping the environment. As the poster boy for the deep Greens, his work has been featured in The Guardian, the voice of the Left in Britain, and has a longish whine currently featuring in London's conservative newspaper The Daily Telegraph, and the Melbourne-based left-wing periodical The Monthly....

Sufficient to say that an injection of fact might enhance some of the author's exports. Another who feels the same way is Federal Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation Minister Eric Abetz, who yesterday took a critic's blue pencil to Flanagan's most recent work at the biennial conference of the Institute of Foresters of Australia and the New Zealand Institute of Forestry at Coffs Harbour on the NSW North Coast.

According to Abetz, who actually does know something about forestry, as opposed to Flanagan, whose knowledge may lie in the literary field, the essay "tells more untruths than Pinocchio on a bad day". In fact, Abetz claims Flanagan has inserted some 70 "deliberate or inexcusably negligent errors of fact, selective citing of fact, or twisting of facts".

He takes the writer to task for making claims such as "the great majority of Tasmanians appear to be overwhelmingly opposed to old-growth logging", and asks, if this is so, why the Greens, the only party with a policy to completely end old-growth forestry in Tasmania, polled just 17 per cent of the vote at the 2006 state election - a decline on the previous election. He also cites the 2004 federal election, noting that Labor, supported by the Greens, lost two House of Representative seats and a Senate seat, and the Greens' vote went backward, with policies aimed at shutting the Tasmanian forest industry.

In the second paragraph of his article, Flanagan makes the claim that the Federal Court has found the forestry industry to be illegal, but this, too, is at best a huge stretch and at worst an untruth because the court actually ruled that in one small patch of forest, Forestry Tasmania was operating outside the terms of the Tasmanian Regional Forest agreement, as defined by the court. Readers on the mainland and in Britain wouldn't have a clue about the details of the case and would no doubt believe Flanagan's bald assertion.

It is a pity his audience won't and don't want to hear Abetz's response, but though the author claims that Tasmania's great forests will soon "belong only to myth as the last of these extraordinary places is sacrificed to the wood-chipper's greed", the reality is that Tasmania will continue to have 47 per cent of its forests forever protected, including 79 per cent of the old-growth forests, and more than half of the Styx.

Nor do Flanagan's repeated claims that old-growth forests are logged for wood chips stand up. Those trees are logged for their precious timber for craft wood, furniture and veneers. Only the residue is chipped for paper - which is better than permitting it to be wasted.

What is it about timber - the most sustainable, most energy efficient of all our resources - that people like Flanagan cannot get their heads around or dislike so intensely? Do they really want to live in concrete boxes decorated with moulded plastics and admire fittings made of long chains of polymer? Tasmania is home to all manner of self-appointed protest groups, Doctors for Forests, Lawyers for Trees, whatever. Perhaps Flanagan wants to initiate Novelists for Paperless Books. What is obvious is his fiction is apiece with the myths that have sustained the Greens and the loopier members of the Green Left for decades, and bears no relation to the realities underpinning the island's industry and economy.


Your government will protect you -- again

Aged care system overseen by lazy, fat-bottomed bureaucrats who don't give a damn as long as all the boxes are ticked

NURSING homes found to be neglecting, mistreating or providing poor care to patients are being protected by a government-appointed agency, according to aged care critics. The agency is lacking in transparency and reliant on residents and staff too scared to speak out, they say. The watchdog is also accused of being too reliant on paperwork by aged care management and not investigating what is happening in patients' rooms. The frequency of audits by the ACSAA has also been called into question.

And critics also claim the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency, which is responsible for checking the standards of nursing homes throughout Australia, does not provide a true and accurate picture of what is happening in homes because it fails to disclose past reports on its website. The Courier-Mail can confirm aged care facilities which have been sanctioned in the past for horrific standards have their damning reports taken off the ACSAA's website once problems have been "fixed". founder Lynda Saltarelli said this system was protecting homes and failing consumers as it denied future residents and their families access to a home's track record. Ms Saltarelli said some homes were repeat offenders, but consumers had no way of knowing this. Diane Bates, founder of Daniels Shield (Doesn't Allow Neglect In Elderly Lives), said as a former aged care worker, she knew staff were drilled on what to tell the agency when inspections were made - and many residents interviewed were too scared to tell the truth in fear of being thrown out. "Most of their checking is done by checking the bookwork," Ms Bates said. "Now, if I tick a box and say I just won Gold Lotto, it doesn't mean to say I did."

But an ACSAA spokesman defended the agency's reporting rules, saying that while past reports were not on the website anybody wanting a copy of an older report could request it. "That said, the most recent report is usually the most relevant," the spokesman said. He also said 10 per cent of residents or relatives representing them were always interviewed privately and this was always cross-checked with the paperwork compiled.


Baby incentives work

Australia now pays mothers $4,000 for having a baby

AUSTRALIANS have more than satisfied Treasurer Peter Costello's famous directive to go forth and multiply, achieving the second-highest birth record. Figures released yesterday from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal 265,900 babies were born in 2006, the highest number since 1971, when 276,400 arrived. Statisticians predict the nation could greet its 21st million member on June 29.

But 2006 also produced a record number of deaths (133,900, up 2.1 per cent on 2005). But that didn't dampen the spirits of Mr Costello, who could claim some credit for the population boom with his celebrated challenge "one for dad, one for mum and one for the nation". "This is a good thing," he said yesterday.

He predicted the quarter of a million new arrivals would further boost the economy and help care for the elderly. The confidence to breed stemmed from confidence in the strong economy, he said. And while he didn't directly link a Labor election win with a reversal in the birth rate, he hinted at the possibility. "People are confident and feeling secure about employment and think it's a time to start a family," he said.

The ABS says Australia's population was 20,852,000 at the end of 2006, an increase of 1.4 per cent, or 293,100 people, since the end of 2005. Bald Hills mother of three Amanda Hay helped the boom by giving birth to twins last week. Ms Hay, 37, who will return to part-time teaching next year, said the Government's baby bonus only went so far in helping young families. "It just helps out a bit," she said.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Muslim students seeking jihad fatwas

AUSTRALIAN Muslim university students eager to become jihadis are regularly seeking advice from Islamic spiritual leaders in the hope of winning religious approval to travel overseas and fight. Leaders have warned that the obsession among some young Muslims to become holy warriors was also driving them to "shop around" for fatwas - religious rulings - should their initial request be turned down.

Moderate Sydney-based Islamic cleric Khalil Shami said young Muslims, "predominantly university students", frequently asked his advice on travelling to war-torn countries to fight in the name of Islam. This comes two years after hardline Islamic university students were involved in the London bombings that killed 52 people and injured 700 others. It also follows The Australian's revelations in January that a 25-year-old Somali Australian, Ahmed Ali, died fighting alongside Islamists in his country of birth in December last year.

Sheik Shami said he always warned aspiring Islamists against fighting because he believed Muslim countries were being run by corrupt leaders who were more interested in making money and advancing their political profiles than liberating their people. "There are some people who would like to go and perform jihad," he told The Australian in an Arabic and English interview. "I say don't go. Because those fighting aren't truly fighting in the path of God. I've been asked numerous times and I've advised against going," added Sheik Shami, an imam at Penshurst Mosque in Sydney's southwest. He said young Muslims interested in jihad either called him anonymously to ask his advice or approached him at the mosque.

Sheik Shami, who is also an Australian Federal Police chaplain, said he had not notified authorities about Muslims interested in jihad because he did not want to betray the trust of people making the inquiries. "If you come to me and tell me about something, it's not nice for me to go and tell the authorities about you because you trust me and I have to just keep your secret," he said. "I know I have enough faith in myself. I'm not going to hurt the person or hurt the authorities."

The federal Attorney-General's department last night said clerics were not obligated under common law to pass on national security information. "A Muslim cleric would have the same obligations as any other member of the community," a department spokesman said. "The Government would expect that any person in receipt of such information, whatever their religious beliefs, would have a duty to prevent terrorist activity and pass the information on."

Sheik Shami's comments follow revelations in The Australian last week that Muslims were refusing to give national security authorities counter-terrorism tip-offs, fearing they might implicate themselves or be labelled traitors by fellow community members. Sheik Shami said young men often became more enthused about seeking advice on jihad after seeing horrific images of fellow Muslims caught up in conflict.

Islamic Friendship Association of Australia president Keysar Trad admitted hearing young Muslims asking their cleric for advice on going to fight jihad overseas. He said some even went to more than one imam in the hope of getting a green light for joining the battle. "Some people will shop around, what you might term as fatwa shopping, and I am yet to meet an imam who would say yes, go," Mr Trad said. "My personal assessment of these kind of people is they want the imam to reassure them that staying here in luxury and comfort is OK, that's all they're doing. But then they go (and say), 'I would've gone only if the imam let me'."

Melbourne cleric Isse Musse said aspiring jihadis do not usually ask for fatwas from their imams to approve their departure for battle. And while the Somalian imam had never been approached by young Muslims wanting to join overseas terror outfits, he said in most cases people would only seek advice about such issues from their clerics.


Australian police and courts not interested in punishing racist attacks by Muslims

They were walking home after a night at the Woolooware Golf Club - two men and two women - when a Toyota Camry pulled up and the driver asked: "Have you been at Cronulla today?" One of the men, Dan, replied: "It's bullshit down there. Don't go there."

It was an innocuous answer, but the six men in the Toyota had earlier been part of a 100-car convoy that assembled in Punchbowl and made its way to the southern beaches that night, December 11, 2005. They had already been involved in violent incidents at Maroubra and Brighton-le-Sands, part of the self-styled "intifada" that exposed the inertia of the police and the court system. The full magnitude of this inertia is yet to be fully understood. The failure is ongoing.

Dan's response didn't really matter. These men were not on a peace mission. The car doors were flung open. "Get the Aussie dogs!" one of them shouted. Dan told his friends: "Run!" They began sprinting down the street. Then he heard another comment: "Get those f---ing Aussie sluts."

He stopped. Even though there was a group of malignant strangers chasing him, something more forceful than fear pulled him up. "I turned around and fronted them," he told me. "As the first one got to me I punched him in the head. He went down. It was a good punch." He was swarmed. "They knocked me down. I was face down, with my arms up to cover my face. I had one on either side of me, kicking my head. It was like a pendulum. The other guys were stabbing me and whatever." The stabbing would have been worse except that the knife was struck with such force that the hilt broke off, leaving the blade stuck in Dan's back. The attackers stopped and drove off after another car approached. Dan was prostrate on the street.

"There was blood everywhere," he said. When someone walked over Dan said he could feel something in his back. "There's a knife, it's broken off," the man said. "Fair enough," Dan replied. "I pulled out my mobile and called the ambulance." There were so many emergency calls that night that a TV crew arrived before the police. He heard a shocked policewoman screaming down the radio: "He's bleeding out!"

Why had he stopped to face a fight he could not win? "Because," he replied, "when I heard them say 'Get those sluts', I thought, 'What are they going to do to those girls?"' He knew that young men like these - men who used "Aussie" as an insult, who hunted in packs, who called non-Muslim women "sluts" - had committed numerous gang rapes and sexual assaults in Sydney. They had sexually confronted and intimidated hundreds of young women over the years. He decided to absorb the attack so the women could get away. He almost died in the process.

Despite the hundreds of violent incidents on this night and the two nights that followed, not a single major conviction and sentence has been handed down. In Dan's case, it took the help of the media. The police were able to break the case after a TV news broadcast of an appeal for witnesses on May 23 last year. The broadcast showed photographs of a beige 1988 Camry sedan, and the first three letters of its registration, plus police computer images of three of the attackers.

Soon after, calls began coming in to the phone of Yahya Jamal Serhan, 21, of Chester Hill. Police recorded various unidentified males telling Serhan that his father's car was on the news and one of the police images looked like him. Serhan and another who cannot be named because he was under 18 at the time were charged with affray and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm.

Earlier this year, the police prosecutor Sergeant Brett Eurell, presenting the prosecution case, told a court: "This was a joint criminal enterprise by members of a group of males who engaged in an unprovoked, racially motivated, premeditated attack." He opposed bail in order to protect the witnesses. The magistrate, Paul Falzon, after reading the statement of police facts, concluded: "They believed someone would roll and provide information to police, that they had to locate that person and bash him. Now, that is not consistent with innocence."

Serhan and the other assailant were convicted. Both had been in prison for nine months pending the trial. They were sentenced to time served. So on the last day of the trial they walked free. The other four men in the Toyota that night were never identified by Serhan and his accomplice. They were never charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

For leaving an innocent man to die on the street in an unprovoked attack, two men were sentenced to nine months in prison and four men got away with it. Nor were their violent actions elsewhere that night ever the subject of prosecution.

"I had been warned by the detectives to be prepared for the worst," Dan told me. "I was told what would happen and then it did actually did happen. I couldn't believe it. I believed that, given the severity of the assault, and their refusal to name the other guys in the car, these guys would be locked up for three or four years. They just walked away." Dan went into a decline after the trial. He has been receiving counselling. He, along with every one of the victims in the nine gang-rape trials involving young Muslim men in Sydney in recent years, went to the courts for justice and got a circus.


Radical move: Catholic schools to teach Catholicism!

The Catholic archdiocese of Sydney wants its 167 school principals, its deputy principals and religious education co-ordinators to publicly commit to a "vow of fidelity" by adhering to church teaching on homosexuality, birth control and women's ordination. In a first for the Australian church, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, is set to extend the oath of fidelity and profession of faith, a requirement of church law for bishops, priests and heads of seminaries, to all senior educational leaders. The oath demands "religious submission of intellect and will" on questions of faith and morals - even if these are inferred but not defined by the pope and his bishops - and an acceptance that everything solemnly taught by church tradition is divinely inspired. It suggests they would be bound not only to impart these teachings but to live by them.

The controversial requirement is contained in a draft pastoral plan circulated to all parishes of the Sydney archdiocese for comment. The plan, at least two years in the drafting, gives a series of priorities, goals and strategies for the archdiocese from 2008 to 2011. Among its other new measures are marriage preparation classes for senior secondary school students, twice-yearly reviews of its educational bodies, and forums so Catholic politicians can be updated on church teachings. There will also be renewed efforts to teach youth about "sexuality and life issues" through formal courses and seminars, and measures to bring in to the fold young people inspired by next year's World Youth Day.

Cardinal Pell has taken an intense interest in Catholic education, ordering the rewriting of the religious education curriculum, and aiming to turn around Catholic thinking that faith is caught, not taught. The oath has symbolic value as a public commitment to the moral teachings and identity of the church and is not an attempt at control, the archdiocese says.

But a recent Vatican push to institute an oath for theologians in the US was greeted as an attack on academic independence and an attempt to impose tighter doctrinal controls over education institutions connected to the church.

One critic of the archdiocese's plan says it contains "shades of the Opus Dei", the Spanish-founded conservative Christian movement that achieved notoriety as the villain of the fictional bestseller The Da Vinci Code.Writing for the online magazine Catholica, a Sydney priest, Father Dan Donovan, said the plan needed a serious rewrite and failed to take note of the "infiltration" of Opus Dei and the Neocatechumenal Way, a lay movement that heads the turbulent Redfern parish. In addition, the plan lacked a suitable process for "critiquing structures and providing just outcomes, and was directed to the needs of clergy and not churchgoers", he said. "There must be developed a listening hierarchy who are able to connect with the broad masses of the faithful and their issues rather than endorsing the agenda of the various movements."

The Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Julian Porteous said the oath would act as a reminder to educational leaders of their role in promoting church teachings. "It's not about control," he said. "The oath gives greater clarity to the importance of the role of principals in schools, that their first responsibility is that the Catholic faith is taught and lived authentically within the school. "Anybody who speaks in a Catholic education institution is meant to be presenting the Catholic faith in its integrity. There can be a place for theologians to make explorations of criticism, but in teaching positions the role is to very much be faithful to the teaching of the church."


Hospital cutbacks in Tasmania provoke rage

THOUSANDS of concerned demonstrators marched through the cold and rain at Latrobe yesterday to protest against the planned downgrade of the Mersey Hospital. Labor Braddon MHA Brenton Best was one of the estimated 2000 to express anger at the sweeping health reforms.

Mr Best's colleague Health Minister Lara Giddings, who last week pleaded with the people of the North-West to give her plan a chance, did not attend the rally. She wants to make the Mersey Hospital a dedicated hospital for minor day surgery. Under her plan, Burnie would become the emergency and acute-care centre for the North-West.

Mr Best, who has built his political career on supporting the Mersey, told the hostile crowd he would consider crossing the floor to vote against the reform. West Coast Mayor Darryl Gerrity said the promise had drawn applause. He said there was a lot of distrust of Ms Giddings in regional Tasmania, which would feel the hospital downgrades and closures the most. "We are now officially second-class citizens," he said.

He said there was anxiety on the West Coast, where the Rosebery Hospital will lose its 24-hour staffing. "There is no public transport, we can't get up (to Burnie)," Cr Gerrity said. "All we have got on the West Coast is volunteer ambulance officers."

Mersey Community Hospital support group chairman Steve Martin said yesterday's march showed the community's passion for the hospital. "It's the biggest march I think Latrobe has ever seen." He said Ms Giddings had no real plan, funding or personnel and not enough ambulances. "This will put people's lives at risk," Mr Martin said.

The State Opposition chose yesterday to air its first concerns about the reform. Opposition health spokesman Brett Whiteley said the Government had not listened to the smaller communities, such as Rosebery and Ouse. "One thing of which people can be sure is that we won't be in lock-step with Ms Giddings on absolutely everything she proposes," he said. He said Rosebery was an isolated community with dangerous roads to the nearest hospitals.

Treasurer Michael Aird said the Government had no choice but to introduce reforms, which were driven by safety and financial sustainability.


A totally unhinged Leftist in Australia's mainstream media

Post below lifted from Slatts. See the original for links

All I can suggest is that the gods must be in a destructive mood. Andrew Bolt reproduces an insane farrago of unsubstantiated vitriol by demented lefty David "Hedy La" Marr. Extract:

Since 1996, Howard has cowed his critics, muffled the press, intimidated the ABC, gagged scientists, silenced non-government organisations, neutered Canberra's mandarins, curtailed parliamentary scrutiny, censored the arts, banned books, criminalised protest and prosecuted whistleblowers.

Presumably Marr's superiors at Fairfax have examples of Howard muffling them. Instead of the vapors-prone one embarrassing his bosses with merely unbacked hysterical allegations, perhaps he could provide us with these examples.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Incredible bungle: Queensland hospital bureaucrats build TWO unusable operating theatres

HOSPITAL bosses spent $2.5 million building two operating theatres, and then shut them down because doctors said they were unsafe to use. The theatres built for cardiac surgery at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital have been out of action for a month while modifications are made. Doctors say it has put a strain on resources, meaning patients are having to wait even longer for operations.

But managers described the situation as "normal" and denied that patients were suffering. They refused to reveal how much the renovation work would cost taxpayers, but said it involved changing benches, a stock room, flooring, airconditioning and electrics [just a few things!] in order to meet workplace health and safety guidelines.

One senior staff member, who can't be named because Queensland Health has banned its staff from speaking out, said the situation was "extremely serious". He said: "The fact is, people needing cardio procedures are dying while we sit here and look at new surgical theatres we can't use because the Government stuffed up building them. "They're boarded up because they are the wrong size and the wrong building materials have been used."

Figures show there are 391 patients on the waiting list for heart operations at the Prince Charles Hospital, of whom 57 have been waiting longer than is considered clinically safe. The theatres were in use for only two months before staff found the range of problems.

Mary Montgomery, district manager for Northside Health Service District, said staff had since been consulted [What an original idea!] about the modifications. "It is normal for any new operating theatre to have an adjustment period in which some refinements and modifications may need to be made," she said. "It is only through using the new theatre that any necessary adjustments can be identified."

Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said it was not "normal" to factor an adjustment period into an expensive project. "I can't believe we have credible people saying it's normal to spend $2.5 million on operating theatres and then to find fault with them," he said. "It doesn't happen in private enterprise because businesses would go broke if they ran things like that."

Queensland Health has a history of shutting down its operating theatres. In March, The Sunday Mail reported how theatres at Ipswich, Logan and Redland hospitals were out of action because there were too few staff to run them. Previously, a theatre at the Princess Alexandra Hospital was used as a storeroom for four years. It was opened only after a Sunday Mail report prompted health bosses to take action.

The above story by HANNAH DAVIES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 3, 2007

PM warns of 'Garrett recession' over Greenie emission controls

AUSTRALIA faces a recession it does not have to have if voters back Kevin Rudd at the next federal election and endorse Labor's preference for big cuts to carbon emissions. This was the warning from John Howard yesterday as he urged voters to consider "who do you trust to make these vital decisions about our future". The Prime Minister asked the electorate to weigh up whether Labor could manage the economy through the climate issue, the "most important economic decision in the next decade".

Mr Howard was speaking at the Liberals' last set-piece meeting before the federal election, the Liberal Party federal council in Sydney, where he shifted ground after years of denying that Australia could go it alone on combating climate change. He promised to set a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after the federal election and to create a carbon trading system by 2012. Adopting the findings of his hand-picked emissions trading task group released last week, Mr Howard claimed his resistance as a virtue, saying it was now time to create a system that would serve Australia's economic priorities.

The Prime Minister singled out Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett for ridicule, warning that his preference for big cuts to carbon emissions was a recipe for a recession. Mr Howard said Mr Garrett's proposal to cut emissions by 20per cent of 1990 levels by the year 2020 could only be met by replacing every coal-fired and gas-fired power station with a nuclear plant and removing every car, truck and motorbike from the Australian roads.

"Can I say that again, removing all vehicles from our roads," he told conference delegates. "A 20 per cent cut from 1990 levels from 2020 would be the recipe for a Garrett recession. That is not a recession which Australia has to have. Labor wants to approach the biggest economic challenge of our time with a policy framed in Europe for European conditions, as if Australia were a small, densely populated nation with high winds somewhere east of Denmark."

His move to highlight the economic risk associated with addressing climate change came on the eve of an opinion poll showing growing support for the Coalition. The Galaxy poll, published today, has the Coalition up four points to 47 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis and Labor slipping four points to 53per cent.

Mr Howard yesterday said the world was not about to end because of climate change, "but equally we would be foolish to ignore the accumulated scientific evidence that mankind's behaviour has contributed to the process of global warming". "We must get this right," he said. "If we get this wrong, it will do enormous damage to our economy; to jobs and to the economic wellbeing of ordinary Australians, especially low-income households. The question I pose to the Australian people, quite directly, is this: who do you trust to take the vital decisions about our future?" The Coalition's "aspirational" emissions target would be set only after an exhaustive study by the federal Treasury, an approach that stood in stark contrast to Labor, Mr Howard said.

Labor says it would like to see a 60 per cent cut in emissions from 2000 levels by 2050, with a trading system up and running by 2010, and has commissioned former senior public servant Ross Garnaut to examine the issue. The Opposition Leader said last night that after 11 years, Mr Howard was trying to convince voters he was not a climate change sceptic by not revealing his target until after the election and doing nothing to stop emissions for five years. "His only target is the upcoming election," Mr Rudd said.

Mr Garrett said Mr Howard's "outrageous" comments warning of a recession were an affront to leading companies represented on the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change, including BP, Origin Energy and Visy, which had independently endorsed a target of a 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2020. Mr Garrett said Mr Howard was in "disarray" after having rallied against unilateral action in the past. "The very clear message that comes from the Prime Minister today is that he is only seeing climate change through the eyes of his electoral prospects."

In his speech, Mr Howard endorsed businesses's preferred model of a "cap and trade" system - where a federal government issues permits, either for free or at a nominal price of $20 for one year at the beginning of the scheme. Businesses can trade with their permits or pay a penalty for more. Over time the market would determine the price of carbon.


University of NSW fails economics

The place is run by a Prof. of business management so you expect him to know nothing about real-life business -- and so it has proved to be

THE University of NSW will pay up to 148 students stranded by the closure of its Singapore campus as much as $85,000 each to study in Sydney. Compensation, redundancies and lost revenue could mean the failed venture's costs could amount to more than $40 million. The university will pay students for travel, visa and accommodation costs in Sydney for the life of their degree. Another 126 students are eligible for return air fares to Sydney and 12 months' accommodation in compensation. UNSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer has admitted that $17.5 million had been spent on the Tanglin campus before it opened this year.

The shortfall in enrolments for the first semester had cost a projected $15 million in revenue because only 148 of the anticipated 300 students signed up. UNSW Asia had leased a building from the Singapore Government until the end of 2009, when its Changi campus was supposed to open.

The university has flown in "teams of people" to Singapore to help students with visa applications. It may face penalties for not seeing through the deal. The NSW Auditor-General's Report To Parliament 2005 said the Singapore Economic Development Board would provide funding, capped at $S100 million ($78 million), for start-up costs over the first 10 years. The board's managing director, Ko Kheng Hwa, said the terms that were typically offered "normally comprise tax incentives, loans or grants, which are recallable if pre-agreed milestones and outcomes are not met".

As well, 64 local academic and general staff employed by UNSW Asia are yet to agree on redundancy packages. Another 41 staff from Australia are unsure about their future. An Australian academic, who did not want to be named, said his wife had given up a good job to move to Singapore and he had taken a two-year lease on a house. "There are many senior professors who have moved here, who have given up senior positions at ANU and other universities, sold family houses, given up retirement plans, to move here with young children," he said. He said the damage to UNSW's reputation, and those of Australian universities in general, was enormous. "UNSW has killed off any hope of ever marketing itself as an international university, certainly in our lifetime. "It has been a monumental mismanagement."

Another academic believes that only between four and six of the Australian teaching staff out of a faculty of 48 will be offered jobs at the Sydney campus because of recent redundancies and a freeze on casual staff. "There are a group of very distressed people who are desperate for information from the university and it's not coming," he said.

In announcing the closure, UNSW promised all students a place in the same course in Sydney. Of the 148 students who enrolled, 100 Singapore residents will be offered $17,340 a year for the duration of their degree. The other 48 will be offered $9460 a year. This will total almost $2.2 million a year. President of the UNSW's student representative council Jesse Young said: "It's a disappointing waste of taxpayers' money that could have been spent on the Sydney campus." A UNSW representative said 13 students had accepted a place at UNSW Sydney.



Medical journals moving out of their area of competence is folly. And a journal from the home of the ever-decaying "National Health Service" lecturing Australia on its health system really is hilarious. See Matthew 7:3-5

ONE of the world's [once] most respected medical journals, The Lancet, has called for regime change in a once-great country whose health policies are succumbing to "the politics of fear and neglect" and "profound intolerance". Its target? Zimbabwe? Pakistan? Kazakhstan? No, The Lancet was referring to Australia and the Howard Government. In an editorial which might have been ghost-written by Mark Latham in a particularly bilious mood, the journal called upon voters to let shine "a new enlightenment to Australian health and medical science".

Earlier this month its editor Richard Horton visited Sydney. He must have briefed himself on the state of Australian science. The editorial, for instance, quotes "the respected scientist Ian Lowe" on the "extraordinary lengths" that the Government had taken to "silence independent opinion within the research community". Lowe is a respected scientist, but failing to mention his position as president of the Australian Conservation Foundation to Lancet readers is like describing Peter Garrett as a respected rock star, not as a Labor politician and a former president of the ACF.

I don't regard myself as a Coalition supporter, but I am alarmed at this heady mix of politics and medical science. Opposition health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon was a bit hasty in describing the editorial as "a devastating indictment of the Howard Government's record on health". Words like these could create an expectation that within a few months after an election victory enlightened Labor Party researchers will cure the obesity epidemic, the asthma epidemic and the depression epidemic, along with finding a solution to Aboriginal health woes. Unhappily, The Lancet editorial is only the most recent example of a worrying increase in advocacy science in top-flight journals. Traditionally, these luminaries have confined themselves to their areas of expertise. Public policy in areas such as HIV/AIDS or Aboriginal health was discussed in terms of specific programs, not as political huckstering.

But with the election of conservative governments in both the US and Australia, neurons in editorialists' cerebellums started to misfire madly. Not only The Lancet, but also the British Medical Journal and Nature and the US-based New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of the American Medical Association and Science have become increasingly hostile towards the George W. Bush administration.

With some reason, of course. The American health system is a mess. The Bush administration has apparently tinkered with official reports, sacked recalcitrant scientists and placed sympathetic officials in key positions. But that's exactly what voters expect politicians to do. When they read newspapers, they hold their noses and measure governments' ever-improving graphs and optimistic forecasts with a bulldust meter.

But not when they read medical and science journals. Like Labor's Roxon, they naively expect that the white-coated gods of science speak truth to power in words uncontaminated by ideological prejudice. No longer. The journals have more or less squarely allied themselves with the liberal side in America's culture wars over abortion rights, therapeutic cloning, sex education, AIDS policies and population control. It has become nearly impossible for dissident scientists to get papers published in these sensitive areas because - they claim - independent opinions are silenced. The new field of stem cell research offers the most egregious example.

Back in 2003, after President George W. Bush had restricted funding for embryo research, the editor of the NEJM, Jeffrey Drazen, vowed to aggressively seek out and publish research on embryonic stem cells. "Physicians and scientists in the US should be at the centre of the action, not on the sidelines," he argued. He dismissed ethical objections.

The other journals, including The Lancet, did much the same, even though they admitted that there were "few tangible clinical benefits to report". The consequences of this ideologically blinkered policy were not long in coming. Science rushed into print two stunning articles about the creation of the world's first human therapeutic clones and stem cell lines. It was a brilliant coup that vindicated its editorial opposition to Bush's ethical and scientific caution.

And it turned out to be the worst fraud of the past hundred years, the handiwork of a publicity-hungry South Korean researcher who knew that Western journals were equally hungry to prove their case. How the editor of Science, Donald Kennedy, responded to this humiliating turn of events is instructive. Like any beleaguered politician, he appointed his mates to an investigating committee: three editors at Science, one former editor at Science, and two of the most passionate advocates of embryonic stem cell science in the US. It was hard to imagine a team less likely to ask tough questions. Had editorial misgivings been steamrollered because of his partisan commitment to embryo research? We will never know.

The real victims of a growth in political advocacy will be the journals themselves. With rising levels of fraud and self-serving commercialism in the ivory towers of academe, the credibility of leading journals is a more valuable asset than ever before. Politicking editorials can only tarnish this. And a habit of playing politics can backfire in unexpected ways. In an entertaining example of holier-than-thou-manship, the British Medical Journal is campaigning to knock The Lancet's halo into a cocked hat. Out of "sisterly concern for a fellow journal", it has called for a boycott because The Lancet's publisher, Reed Elsevier, organises a few fairs for the international arms trade. Richard Horton's explanations have been rather feeble. If The Lancet's friends play games like this, there is little need for the Australian Government to panic over the attack on its own far-from-perfect record.


The stupidity of a British medical journal

The editor of "The Medical Journal of Australia" comments below on the editorial mentioned above: "Australia: the politics of fear and neglect". Lancet 2007; 369: 1320

From the first days of European settlement, our colonies were bombarded with bureaucratic edicts from the Motherland, until Federation and Australia's emergence as a proud and independent nation put an end to our dependency. But the Motherland's long-lost role was recently revived in an editorial in The Lancet entitled Australia: the politics of fear and neglect. Short, simplistic and sensational, it proclaimed that Australia's progressive and inclusive culture was burdened by a dark underbelly of political conservatism.

It further asserted that the Australian Government had effectively silenced dissent in the scientific community, and propagated a political view "that those who spoke up for indigenous health were simply `establishing politically and morally correct credentials'". To top it off, the Prime Minister was portrayed as ruthlessly exploiting Australia's strong undercurrent of political conservatism.

And The Lancet's solution? Gratuitous advice to oust the conservatives at this year's federal election and usher in a new era of "enlightenment" for Australian health and medical science!

Significantly, the editorial was silent on the concerted efforts of dedicated Australian researchers and doctors working to improve Indigenous health, and the fearless advocacy of this goal by various professional bodies and this Journal. Despite The Lancet's assertion of "silenced" scientists, its editorial was strangely silent on the conservative government's unprecedented investment in health and medical research.

Following The Lancet's edict, a commentary in The Australian warned scientific and medical journals not to engage in politics+ and put their public standing, independence and integrity at risk. As long as there remain unresolved issues in the delivery of health care to all Australians, requiring political attention and action, the MJA will never heed this injunction. But, in pursuit of this goal, the recent edict from London is hardly an example to emulate.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Rudd may face second crisis over union video

LABOR Leader Kevin Rudd is facing further embarrassment from militant unionists, with revelations a senior CFMEU official has been caught on video allegedly threatening employers with revenge after a Labor election victory. According to industry sources, CFMEU official, Joe McDonald, is shown on the tapes telling an employer words to the effect: "You wait till f..king Kevin Rudd's elected. I'll be back!".

He was allegedly caught on camera making the threats by inspectors from the building industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, set up by the Howard Government to police the industry. He was allegedly trespassing on a company site at the time - a practice outlawed following the Cole Royal Commission into the construction sector.

If authenticated, the video would suggest unions were simply waiting for Mr Rudd to be elected before expecting their rights to unilaterally interfere in workplaces to be restored. The ABCC Commissioner, John Lloyd confirmed evidence produced in a case involving a firm called Broad Constructions "includes two videos". Sources said the evidence involved footage shot by ABCC inspectors of Joe McDonald, and described him as being "over the top and making threats".

Mr McDonald's CFMEU colleague and union state secretary, Kevin Reynolds, has criticised Labor's decision to retain the ABCC until 2010, accusing Mr Rudd of caving into employers. But Mr Rudd told the WA Labor Party Conference yesterday: "When it comes to the construction industry, we support a strong cop on the beat."


Labor's green 'fanatics' in denial, says Turnbull

The Federal Government is stepping up its attack on the Opposition's climate change policies. The Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull is defending the Government's decision to wait until next year before setting pollution reduction targets. He told the ABC's Insiders program it is a sensible approach. "Are you going to trust a bunch of fanatics, which is really where Garrett and Rudd are at the moment?" he said. "They are on a fanatical, moralising campaign blind to the economics, blind to the realities, determined to prove they are greener than the greenest green. "And if you have policies based on that type of ideology you may feel pure but you will be pure at the price of being very poor."

Labor leader Kevin Rudd has said his party is committed to a 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Mr Turnbull rejects the suggestion that the Government has been in denial on climate change, citing initiatives such as a move away from incandescent light bulbs, and its funding to stop deforestation. "Labor are the real climate change deniers, they are denying the global perspective of climate change," he said. "Labor has not thought any of this through."

The Prime Minister will focus on global warming and carbon emissions trading when he delivers a major speech today at the Liberal Federal Council in Sydney. Mr Howard will tell the council that managing climate change will mean higher costs for business and householders but he will argue the Coalition would do a better job of managing that than a Labor government. He is expected to attack the Opposition's approach, accusing it of being irresponsible for setting a greenhouse reduction target but not doing the modelling to know how that would hit the economy.

He will stress that a carbon trading system is necessary. Mr Howard will lay out the principles of emissions trading that his task force has called for and explain how the Government is moving towards implementing it. Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese says the Government has been in denial on climate change for too long and he has labelled the scheme a political stunt.


More cutbacks in Melbourne public hospitals

WARDS are being closed, surgeries cancelled and hospitals left in disrepair as the health network serving some of Melbourne's poorest battlers reaches breaking point. Western Health network is slashing its services, including to children, because of costs. Surgeons in the network -- which includes Western Hospital, Sunshine Hospital and Williamstown Hospital -- were told of the deepening crisis this week. It is understood there will be budget cuts estimated at $15 million. The consequences are believed to be:

MORE than 2000 elective operations to be axed in the '07/'08 financial year

ONE ward being closed at Western Hospital, with patient numbers down by about 100

UP TO 40 people waiting on trolleys each day in emergency departments at Western and Sunshine

AND two of the three pediatric surgeons at Sunshine Hospital are taking leave because their working hours are being slashed.

A Western Health network spokesman confirmed the budget troubles on Friday. Staff in the Western Health network have confirmed the ward closure at Western Hospital. Staff told of there often being "more than 20 people in the Emergency Department on trolleys awaiting admission". AMA Victoria president Dr Douglas Travis confirmed Western Health had over-run its budget. He said: "There is a planned general reduction in services. "Administrators go through great anguish deciding how best to 'cut the cloth to fit'."


State political party wants gun training for kids

CHILDREN should start firearms training from age 10 and shooting programs should be reinstated at schools, says the NSW gun lobby. At present children as young as 12 can gain a gun permit, allowing them to shoot semi-automatic pistols, bolt-action rifles and other firearms under supervision.

NSW Shooters Party MP Roy Smith told the Sunday Telegraph his group would lobby parliament to allow 10-year-olds to gain two years' experience with air rifles before they sat for gun licences. "Kids these days get in trouble because we don't trust them with anything," Mr Smith said. "BB guns and air rifles now have to be registered when, in my day, all the boys were running around with them; we don't trust kids with pocket knives and we don't trust them with (fire) crackers. "So essentially the first taste of responsibility kids get in Australia nowadays is when we hand them the keys to the car - often with tragic consequences." Mr Smith said his party would also lobby for gun safety programs and shooting lessons to be reintroduced into school curriculums.

In contrast, the Coalition for Gun Control last week urged the State Government to abolish gun permits for minors. Spokeswoman Sam Lee said the law was "absurd". "It is dangerously ironic that a young person cannot possess a fake or replica handgun but that they can legally use a real one," she said. "We don't let them get a driver's licence until they are 17, because it's too dangerous, but we let them shoot with a semi-automatic handgun before they are even teenagers."

Sporting Shooters Association of Australia statistics show big increases across all ages - including minors - in its membership. Spokesman Adam Leto said in 2000, there were just 15 members under the age of 18. Last year that figure had jumped to about 400, with an average of 120 new members signing up every three months. "We now have about 1000 members under the age of 18," he said.

Western Sydney schoolboy Matthew Woolnough, 12, earned his gun licence two months ago and goes to target practice with his brother Aaron, 14, at an SSAA indoor range. "I enjoy it," he said. "It gives you confidence although the other kids say, 'you can't play soccer so you have to shoot guns instead'. "I have a disease which makes my cartilage disintegrate so I can't (run around on the field)."

Ashleigh Bell, 17, took up shooting initially because of her dream of becoming a policewoman. "You feel really strong and confident when you know how to use a gun and the other kids think it's pretty cool," she said. "It's relaxing, it improves your concentration and when you're feeling angry you can come here and shoot instead of taking it out on a person."

Her sister Rebecca, 12, currently has her temporary membership exemption - a precursor to a minor's permit, which she is due to receive next month. "I wanted to do it because I saw my sister liked it so much," she said. "I've been told I've got a pretty good eye so I'm pretty happy with that."


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Top universities to tackle languages dieback

Hmmm... I am a bit dubious about this. Although I am myself a great dabbler in languages, it is undisputable that acquiring a native command of a foreign language is a rare feat that is usually accomplished only under conditions of total immersion in that language -- and even immersion is often not sufficient. So most students of a foreign language are wasting their time if they expect a useful outcome from it. It is however a good cultural experience. For me, being able to understand Schubert Lieder in the original is sufficient recompense for my studies of German. So I think availablity of foreign language study should be there but I would oppose any compulsion or mandatory requirements

Leading universities are demanding radical action to tackle a crisis in the number of Year 12 students graduating with a foreign language, which has dropped from 40per cent to six per cent over the past four decades. The Group of Eight universities want a second language to be compulsory for all students from primary school to Year 10, more incentives to study languages at university and an advertising campaign promoting the benefits of learning a foreign tongue.

The Group of Eight, consisting of research-intensive institutions such as Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland universities, say the number of foreign languages taught at the tertiary level has almost halved, from 66 to 29, in the past 10 years. "Crisis is not too strong a word to describe the decline in foreign language education in our schools and universities," Group of Eight executive director Michael Gallagher said. "Despite many positive efforts from committed teachers and language experts, the percentage of Year12 students graduating with a second language has fallen from 40per cent in the 1960s to as low as 6per cent in some states in Australia today."

He called for a national approach involving schools, universities and state and federal governments. "Our national deficit in foreign-language capability is something we can no longer afford to ignore," he said. "It is Australia's great unrecognised skills shortage, and the one most directly relevant to our competitiveness and security in an increasingly global environment."

A planning paper released yesterday by the Group of Eight found that most schools, public and private, do not require students to take a second language. It says this lack of emphasis on foreign languages at school put pressure on university language departments. "The number of languages taught at our universities continues to fall," it says. "Of the 29 languages still on offer at tertiary level, nine are offered at only one Australian university and only seven are well represented across the sector."

The Group of Eight found only five universities offered courses in Arabic and fewer than 3per cent of university students studied an Asian language despite Asia representing 70per cent of Australia's largest export markets. The Group of Eight proposals include more funding to strengthen language education, especially at universities. Targeted funding to boost the morale, skills and number of language teachers was also recommended, along with the expansion of bonuses for students who took languages in Year 12.


When eating "right" goes too far

EXTREME healthy eating is becoming such an obsessive ritual that it is risking young women's health and spawning a new eating disorder - orthorexia. A term coined by international doctors in the past decade, orthorexia is when sufferers - particularly adolescent girls - become hooked on healthy and "pure" eating and put serious and damaging restrictions on their diets.

One leading Sydney expert, who said she was seeing an increasing number of teenage girls with the condition, said orthorexia could have short and long-term effects on bone quality, mood and immunity. The Children's Hospital at Westmead dietician Susie Burrell told The Saturday Daily Telegraph the signs of orthorexia were hallmarks of a serious eating disorder to come. "These are usually girls who only want things very healthy, they are very fat-phobic, they cook the meals themselves, they are very fussy about what they will and won't eat," she said. "There is a focus on keeping lean and thin and looking good and it's often smart girls who are doing well; they get very good grades, they're a good daughter and it goes to the next extreme."

Sufferers of the modern food affliction tend to control their meal portions to the extent where they avoid processed foods entirely and eat very small amounts and sometimes exercise obsessively. Unlike clinically diagnosed eating disorders such as anorexia, orthorexia is characterised by sufferers who have a fixation with food, rather than with weight loss.

Anthea Durrell, 14, said she saw schoolgirls in her year who became fanatical about what they ate and said messages about obesity could be misconstrued. "Lots of celebrities these days are really skinny, like Nicole Richie, and they have such a bad impact on what girls see as beautiful," she said. "It gives them messages that it is really bad to be even on the edge of being chubby.

Eating Disorders Foundation chief executive Amanda Jordan said current messages in regard to childhood obesity and increased weight gain could be wrongly interpreted in young, image-obsessed women. "You get really valuable messages that are getting interpreted in a way that actually works against a person's health," she said. Ms Jordan said orthorexia could become an obsession cycle of self-starvation which then escalated into life-threatening eating disorders. "There is a clear trend in people thinking there is a right way to eat and people going too far in following those guidelines," Ms Jordan said. "It's good to be working against having an obese population, particularly in children but the message over time is getting confused with the message that all fat is bad. "The tendency is sometimes to go overboard and I am really worried it will lead to an increase in eating disorders."


Wait for elective surgery getting longer

WAITING times for elective surgery have jumped, with patients nationally now typically having to wait more than a month before receiving the treatment they need -- and in many cases nearly a year. Median waiting times for patients admitted to hospital from waiting lists have been creeping up since 2001-02 by one extra day each financial year, reaching 29 days in 2004-05.

The latest nationwide hospital statistics, published today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, show patients needing elective surgery had to wait a median of 32 days in 2005-06. This means half of the patients waited 32 days or more. Waiting times are blowing out on some other measures too, such as the time needed to get 90 per cent of patients admitted. In 2005-06 this was 237 days, up from 217 days a year earlier, and 44 days more than in 2003-04.

However, the Australian Hospital Statistics 2005-06 report found a lot of variation between states and territories. Queensland took only 127 days to see 90 per cent of the patients, whereas the ACT took more than a year, 372 days. The ACT was the worst performer on elective surgery waiting times, with 10.3 per cent of its elective patients waiting for more than a year.

Of the states, Tasmania performed the worst, with 8.7 per cent of elective admissions taking more than a year and 90 per cent of patients seen within 332 days. The Northern Territory was next (7.7 per cent waiting for more than a year, and 313 days needed to see 90 per cent of patients), followed by NSW (5.4 per cent and 291 days). However, the proportion of patients nationally having to wait more than a year fell slightly - from 4.8 per cent in 2004-05 to 4.6 last year.

A spokesman for ACT Health Minister Katy Gallagher said the territory's median waiting figures had increased due to a policy of targeting patients facing extremely long waits. An extra 94 patients who had been waiting two to three years had their operations in 2005-06 and the "additional throughput" had affected median waiting times. A spokesman for the Tasmanian Government said the biggest hospital reforms in the state's history, including plans for an elective surgery hospital, had been launched. A spokeswoman for NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher said more elective surgery was being done than ever before, and only 66 people had been waiting longer than a year for elective surgery - down from more than 10,000 in January 2005.

John Dwyer, chairman of the Australian Healthcare Reform Alliance, said long waits cost the system more because patients often required expensive drugs.


Captain Cook was a wise and compassionate man

The report below corroborates many other reports of him by non-political writers -- including of course Cook's own detailed journals of his voyages and other reports by those who accompanied him. To modern-day Leftist historians, however, his heroic voyages of discovery in the Pacific on behalf of the British navy -- including the first reports of the East coast of Australia -- are just another example of evil white men exploiting noble primitive people. A short biography by Richard Alexander Hough offers good factual background

It was high summer, 1774, when Georg Forster crossed the Antarctic Circle on board Captain James Cook's ship Resolution. But as he recalled several years later, it did not feel, look or sound like summer to the 118 men shivering with cold and fear on the converted coal carrier. "Fogs and storms alternated with each other; often a storm would rage even during dark fogs; often we did not see the sun for a fortnight or three weeks," wrote Foster, who was 17 at the time. Vast masses of ice "emerged from the sea like floating islands", moving unseen until the last moment, encircling the ship. "How often were we terrified by being able to hear the waves breaking on the ice without being able to lay our eyes on the object of our fear," reflected Foster in a remarkable essay written in German in 1787, but only now published in English.

More revealing, though, than the conditions during the three-year expedition - Cook's second great voyage of exploration - is the picture that emerges of the conduct of the captain. Not only did Cook deny himself many of the pleasures due his position, but he showed uncharacteristic "fatherly care towards his men", Foster, a German naturalist, philosopher and polyglot adventurer, said. "At just the right moment he allowed them to have a party. Or, when the weather was too cold or the work had exhausted the crew, he would personally serve an invigorating drink." He even gave up his own quarters to make the overworked sailmaker more comfortable.

Foster's essay goes some way towards restoring a hero's reputation that has been tarnished by a series of recent "revisionist" histories. "There has been a bit of a backlash against the traditional idea of 'Cook the great white explorer'," says Nigel Erskine, curator of exploration at the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. Indeed, books written from the point of view of indigenous people - such as the acclaimed Discoveries by Nicholas Thomas - have so moved minds that Cook is in danger of being rebirthed as "someone who shot his way round the Pacific".

Now, belatedly, the publication of Foster's essay Cook, der Entdecker (Cook, the Discoverer) - accompanied by a facsimile of the original German text - provides yet another correction. Erskine says Foster had the literary skills to transport readers with no knowledge of life at sea into the shuttered wooden world of the Resolution. "When the sea is very rough the mast may swing up to 38 degrees from the perpendicular," he writes. "At such times I have seen the tip of the yardarm immersed in the crest of a wave. "Every wave, therefore, swings a sailor on a yardarm some 50 yards up the mast through an arc of 50 to 60 feet."

From such vivid accounts, Cook re-emerges as a hero - not just an extraordinary finder of far-off lands, but a man who combined courage, compassion and a seafarer's eye for detail. Ultimately, Foster eulogises Cook, who was clubbed to death in Hawaii in 1779. "I imagine him as one of the beneficient heroes of antiquity who, on the wings of eagles, ascended to the assembly of the blessed gods."

Foster had sailed with his father, Johann Reinhold Foster. It was not a happy trip: a shipmate later described Foster snr as an "unsociable, ill-tempered, lying, bribing, knavish . piratical pretender of knowledge". On their return, relations with the British establishment deteriorated further, as the Fosters became involved in a strikingly modern wrangle over publication rights to Cook's voyage.

In a limited edition of 1050 copies, Foster's essay is the sixth book in the museum's Australian Maritime Series. Derek McDonnell, of the publisher, editor and translator Hordern House - which tracked down a copy of the German book in Massachusetts - says: "Cook is still a superstar."


Saturday, June 02, 2007

The morally blind "Amnesty" organization

They think in terms of race rather than in terms of harm done to people. So who are the racists? Article below by Australian columnist Andrew Bolt

AMNESTY International has a lethal dose of our new intellectual disease - the racism of the anti-racists. It's got it so bad that what was once the world's most admired human-rights group can no longer tell the moral difference between a democrat and a dictator. At least, not when the democrat is as white as - yes! - John Howard, and the genocidal despot is not.

Amnesty's secretary-general, Irene Khan, last week released its 2007 report, and in its foreword listed what to her were the greatest threats to human rights. "Today far too many leaders are trampling and trumpeting an ever-widening range of fears," trumpeted Khan, a Bangladeshi Muslim whose own country, by the way, is under military rule. And she named four leaders - no one else - who demonstrated to her this kind of "myopic and cowardly leadership".

The Muslim and morally blind Ms Khan above. Not an unusual combination of attributes. Muslim respect for human life and their love of Western civilization is well-known

First, was our own Prime Minister Howard - prime evil for stopping boats of illegal immigrants. Second, was US President George Bush, for invoking "the fear of terrorism" just "to enhance his executive power". (I know, that fear was invoked not by Bush, but by terrorists on September 11, 2001, and ... but we're interrupting Khan's lecture.) Trailing in third place, in Khan's pantheon of evil, was Sudan's Islamist President, Omar al-Bashir, behind a genocide in Darfur that's killed some 200,000 people. Last was Robert Mugabe, who has turned Zimbabwe into a cemetery for the starving, although Khan merely accuses him of grabbing land for his supporters.

This grouping of two leaders of free democracies with two genocidal thugs is bizarre, but does have supreme virtue for the modern anti-racist racist. See? Two whites were "balanced" by two dark-skins. Two Westerners by two Third-Worlders. Two Christians by a Muslim and an old Communist. What could be fairer? And that fake balance - so kind to the cruel - ran right through Khan's essay. A typical line: "The politics of fear has been made more complex by the emergence of armed groups and big business that commit or condone human rights abuses." How about that? Al-Qaeda (which Khan never mentions by name) is no more deadly than a big business like Nike.

Here's another: "If unregulated migration is the fear of the rich, then unbridled capitalism, driven by globalisation, is the fear of the poor." Perfectly balanced. The capitalism that actually makes poor people richer, is thought by Khan to be as scary as the race riots and no-entry immigrant enclaves of France, or the bomb plots of jihad-minded sons of immigrants in Britain.

Nowhere does she note that the West is swamped by migrants from the East precisely because the East has too little capitalism. And, of course, too many dictators. Nor does Khan acknowledge that the fears expressed by her hated Western politicians have very real causes, often originating in lands ruled by Muslim theocracies and autocrats.

You might think I've read too much into one article, but Khan has form in likening the worst to the West, and seeing an equivalence between those defending the West and those trying to destroy it. Three years ago, for instance, she said that of all the horrors of the world, the US-led "war on terror" (her scare quotes) was "the biggest attack on human rights, principles and values". Honest. To Khan, defending ourselves against Islamist terrorists is deadlier to human rights than, say, the brutalising of Zimbabwe, the mass murder in Darfur, the state oppression in China, the civil wars in Algeria and Sudan, the withering of democracy in Russia, the Islamist fascism of Iran, and the open jail of North Korea.

The following year, Khan even called Guantanamo Bay the "gulag of our time" - this time making a prison for 400 suspected terrorists seem as terrible as the vast Soviet network of forced labor camps in which millions of innocent civilians were jailed in conditions so brutal that countless of them died. This outraged Pavel Litvinov, a former Soviet "prisoner of conscience" adopted by Amnesty, who warned: "By using hyperbole and muddling the difference between repressive regimes and the imperfections of democracy, Amnesty's spokesman put its authority at risk."

I wish. In fact, Khan's anti-racist racism and consequent likening of white democrats to black totalitarians has made her a hero. In 2004, she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize and invited to give the University of South Australia's annual Hawke Lecture, broadcast across the land by the ABC. How the audience at that lecture cheered Khan as she cried there was a "feeling in many parts of the world that the West has lost its moral high ground to advocate human rights" - an irrational feeling she has tried harder than most to whip up. Those cheers confirmed that Khan simply reflected a suicidal tendency among the West's intelligentsia to see the worst in the West and the best in the totalitarians pledged to destroy it.

Want recent examples? There are our prominent Leftists - ABC host Phillip Adams, propagandist John Pilger, columnist Jill Singer, Islamist Keysar Trad - who've invited Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez to visit and "inspire" us. That is, when he's not too busy closing down TV stations that criticise him, rigging laws to stay in power and calling George Bush a "devil".

There's Age cartoonist and National Living Treasure Michael Leunig, who similarly draws Bush as a devil, Howard as a murderer and Israel as Auschwitz, but demands we treat terrorist chief Osama bin Laden as our "relative" and "consider (his) suffering". There's the Melbourne University Press boss, Louise Adler, who two weeks ago likened al-Qaeda recruit David Hicks to Nelson Mandela.

There's University of Technology Sydney's Islamic law lecturer, Jamila Hussain, who this week called visiting author Ayaan Hirsi Ali an "extremist" who should stay "where she came from" when real extremists - Muslim ones - have forced this liberal Sudanese-born feminist and critic of misogynist Islam to bring her bodyguard to ensure she doesn't suffer the fate of her former colleague, director Theo van Gogh, assassinated in 2004.

Or take the Global Peace Index released this week by The Charitable Foundation of local IT millionaire and philanthropist Steve Killelea. It rated Australia at 25 in its ranking of countries most at peace - and the US at just 96, below even Syria, China, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Libya. Democratic Israel was rated the least peaceful of all, apart from Sudan and Iraq. Not one report I saw of that survey drew the obvious conclusion: that this was madness. That this was a manifestation of a moral blindness among our elites.

And now Amnesty International is as blind as the rest, flailing at the very societies that most protect the freedoms it claims to defend. How defenceless we are, when even this once-great defender of human rights now treats us as one of the deadliest enemies of all.


Another gross bungle in a Melbourne public hospital

In the photo above the former patient is holding the plum stone the careless public hospital doctors could not see -- plus the X-rays they could not see either

A PROFESSIONAL opera singer performed eight shows with a plum stone stuck in her throat after doctors failed to see it in an X-ray, even though it was "clearly visible". Soprano Tania de Jong could not eat solid food for six days after the emergency department bungle. The Alfred hospital later admitted it had misread the X-ray and vowed to review its procedures.

"I underwent the most excruciating pain," Ms de Jong said. "It felt like I was being strangled. "The stone was sitting between my mouth and vocal cords, and it really hurt to do anything - eat, drink, sing."

After the April 2005 debacle, Ms de Jong was forced on to a diet of baby food, painkillers and anaesthetic sprays for a week until she sought advice from a different hospital. X-rays revealed the object in her badly swollen oesophagus, and the stone was removed in an urgent operation.

The Herald Sun has seen letters in which the Alfred admitted its mistake and agreed to reimburse Ms de Jong's medical expenses on condition the law graduate did not sue. The hospital's emergency department head, Prof Mark Fitzgerald, wrote in an email sent in May 2005 that the stone was "clearly visible" and "should not have been missed". On July 7, the hospital apologised to her in writing, saying it would introduce a system of "double checking" X-rays.

Ms de Jong is satisfied the hospital has reviewed its systems. The accomplished performer founded singing group Pot-Pourri and runs entertainment consultancy Music Theatre Australia. "It could have been life-threatening, and with me being an opera singer it could have affected my whole livelihood," she said. "I was told I may never sing again because they'd have to stretch my vocal cords so much to get it out. "It was very, very frightening."

Her story follows the Herald Sun's report this week about nurse Bernadette Ireland, who says the Alfred sent her packing after she swallowed part of a mussel shell. Prof Fitzgerald last night said such cases were common. "Often the symptoms resolve and then people aren't sure whether they still have something in their throat or whether it's a scratch on the surface of the oesophagus that's caused in the passage of the object," he said. Some objects did not show up clearly on X-rays and it was easy to overlook them because of "variation in light and shade". He said he was still investigating the case of Ms Ireland, who had not lodged a formal complaint with the hospital.

Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said yesterday an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report showed Victoria's emergency departments were the nation's best. Half of all patients were seen by a doctor five minutes faster than the national average. [So the other half weren't! Meaning no overall difference!]

But Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the same report revealed median elective surgery waiting times had increased by four days - more than for any other state.


PM wants diseased migrants and refugees kept out

PRIME Minister John Howard says he wants procedures in place to stop migrants and refugees with contagious diseases from coming to Australia. The Australian National Audit Office found that the Immigration Department knowingly approved visas for migrants with serious communicable conditions, despite authorities' inability to monitor them.

Mr Howard said today that a review of the situation was imminent and the best outcome would be a ban on migrants and refugees who were HIV-positive or who had leprosy. "My view is the best result is that no one with those sort of ailments is allowed into the country," Mr Howard said on Macquarie radio. "I'm going to review the current position, and I want procedures put in place that see as far as possible that that doesn't happen. "We are looking at it the next week or so."

Fairfax newspapers reported today that HIV-positive migrants could be forced to report to health authorities within a month of arriving or face losing their visas. Health Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews had advised Mr Howard to adopt the policy. The report said the Federal Government could also advise state health authorities of new HIV-positive migrants, but was weighing up the policy against privacy considerations. The federal Health Department would also audit state and territory guidelines for dealing with people who knowingly expose others to HIV.

Last month, Mr Howard said he did not believe HIV-positive people should be allowed into the country, but would seek advice on the matter. Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike last month partly blamed HIV-positive migrants and residents from interstate in a rise in HIV infection numbers in Victoria.


Widespread parent dissatisfaction with Australian schools

AUSTRALIAN parents are largely unhappy with the quality of school education, says a new Federal Government report. The survey of 2000 parents, conducted earlier this year, found many believed their children were receiving a substandard education. Only 58 per cent of parents said primary schooling was up to scratch, and less than 40 per cent said secondary schooling was acceptable. Dissatisfaction has jumped since the last Parents' Attitudes to Schooling survey in 2003, where 61 per cent of parents said primary school education was good or very good, and 51 per cent said secondary education was good or very good.

Those with a child in a non-government school were happier with both education and teacher quality than those with a child in a state school.

Just over a third of parents surveyed this year said they believed their child would leave school with adequate literacy and numeracy skills. Only one in five thought their child had learned enough about Australian history, and less then half said they had received adequate science lessons. However, more than 72 per cent were satisfied with the quality of teaching at their child's school.

Premier Steve Bracks yesterday defended the state's schools, saying Victoria has the best-performing education system in the country. "Our completion rates for year 12 education and its equivalent is going up, our literacy and numeracy levels are going up, we have the lowest teacher to student ratios ever in Victoria's history," Mr Bracks said. "Also, we have committed to rebuilding or modernising every school in the state. "The survey was done before the Budget where we committed $1 billion to . . . education."

Australian Education Union Victorian president Mary Bluett said the survey did not accurately reflect parents' attitudes. "In terms of their child's school and teachers, parents say they have high satisfaction; however, when asked . . . how they think education is going, their attitudes change and that reflects a general talking down of schools. "There has been a relentless attack on standards and the quality of teaching from the Federal Government, and parents have picked up on that."


Friday, June 01, 2007

Gay bar win opens can of worms

HOTELS and nightclubs should be given the green light to ban men or women at venues with a "gender imbalance", the Australian Hotels Association said yesterday. The AHA made the claim yesterday after a landmark decision at the state planning tribunal allowing a Melbourne gay pub to ban heterosexuals.

AHA state CEO Brian Kearney said the decision should lead to more leniency for venues wanting to address the issue of gender balance. "We are hopeful this decision might result in a more flexible attitude to publicans who want to ensure a good mix of men and women at their venue," Mr Kearney said. "There have been a few cases before VCAT by hotels wanting the right to refuse entry to males or females when the balance isn't right, but they have been overwhelmingly rejected."

The Herald Sun yesterday revealed the owners of Collingwood pub the Peel won the right to refuse entry to straight men and women. Owner Tom McFeely argued the exemption, under the Equal Opportunity Act, would help prevent "sexually based insults and violence" towards its gay patrons. Mr McFeely said that while the pub welcomed everyone, its gay clientele had expressed discomfort over the number of heterosexuals and lesbians coming to the venue over the past year. "We've had instances in the past where, for example, a bucks' night has come up to the Peel or a hens' night," he said. "Our whole atmosphere changes immensely."

Mr McFeely said that before the ruling it was illegal to refuse entry to a large group of people based on sexuality, making his gay customers uncomfortable and unable to express their sexuality freely. He said there were more than 2000 venues in Melbourne that catered to heterosexuals, but his pub was the only one marketing itself predominantly to gay men. "Heterosexuals have other places to go to, my homosexuals do not," Mr McFeely said.

But he said there had already been a backlash against the decision, with dozens of people phoning with homophobic abuse. "The phone honestly hasn't stopped ringing and that's sad," Mr McFeely said. "But it also, in my head, demonstrates the need for this type of thing because there is still quite a bit of homophobia in the general community."

The Peel yesterday received support from the Equal Opportunity Commission, which said gays had the right to socialise in a safe place. "From my understanding this was not a move for a blanket ban of straight people. It was a decision taken to maintain the safety of the hotel's gay patrons," EOC chief Helen Szoke said. Ms Szoke said while the decision was unique, it did not necessarily open the floodgates for other venues wanting discrimination exemptions. "Each case before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is looked at on its own merit," she said. "It is not OK in all cases to ban men or women just to get the gender balance right." [So she has prejudged the matter]


Gross public hospital negligence

A WOMAN claims emergency doctors at The Alfred hospital told her to go home and take a Panadol after she had a mussel shell wedged in her throat. Experienced nurse Bernadette Ireland, 56, said she endured four days of excruciating pain and edged perilously close to death before medics finally took an X-ray. It revealed the razor-sharp shell lodged in her oesophagus at the base of her neck.

Ms Ireland said she was shocked when doctors in the hospital's emergency department suggested she had only imagined her problem. "They said, 'You only think it's in your throat -- it's only scratched your throat when it went down'," she claimed. Ms Ireland, a nurse of 35 years, said her protests fell on deaf ears. She said she told them: "I'm a registered nurse and I'm pretty sure it's in my throat."

The aged care nurse had been dining at Albert Park's Misuzu Japanese restaurant on April 27 when the shell piece -- bigger than a 20c coin -- lodged in her throat. Ms Ireland kept her composure and called for an ambulance but was told her case was not urgent enough, so she drove to The Alfred.

After she waited 45 minutes, a doctor said she would not be X-rayed as it would probably not reveal any shell fragment. "Nobody would listen to me, that's the worst part," Ms Ireland said.

She said she could not swallow after the ordeal but was instructed to down pain-killers. "They said, 'Take two Panadol and go home and the pain will go'," Ms Ireland claimed, so she took soluble Panadol every two hours overnight and into the weekend. Weak and unable to eat, she visited a GP on Monday morning who told her to get back to the hospital urgently.

Ms Ireland said she arrived with a fever of 38C and X-rays finally revealed the shell. It was surgically removed under anaesthetic about 11pm that day. Ms Ireland stayed in hospital for the next three days on an intravenous drip of antibiotics.

She said the hospital offered no explanation. "I didn't even get a sorry," Ms Ireland said. She said she went public because she feared her case would not be taken seriously if she went back to the hospital.

An Alfred hospital spokeswoman said it was looking into the claims. Ms Ireland's is the latest horror story to emerge since Health Minister Bronwyn Pike was forced to defend claims hospital were taking drastic steps to cut costs as the financial year ends.

A great-grandmother, 91, died from heart disease 15 hours after she was discharged from the Royal Melbourne Hospital in April. A memo, published in the Herald Sun, revealed that the Royal Melbourne Hospital has set discharge quotas ahead of July 1. The Monash Medical Centre has blacked out most elective surgery procedures this week, leaving doctors idle and patients waiting.


Labor Party backs down on plan to unleash rogue unions

LABOR has enraged unions with a pledge to keep the Howard Government's building industry watchdog for almost three years if it wins Government. Opposition IR spokeswoman Julia Gillard said Labor would retain the Australian Building and Construction Commission until 2010. "We will not tolerate old school thuggish behaviour," Ms Gillard said. "Anyone who breaks the law will feel the full force of the law."

Ms Gillard told the National Press Club the ABCC would eventually be replaced by a watchdog under Labor's workplace authority, Fair Work Australia. The pledge to keep the ABCC, even for just a few years, is a significant shift by Labor and will be used to blunt attacks that it is too close to the union movement. Ms Gillard said the industry was rife with illegal activity. "Under a Rudd government, there will not be a single moment where our construction industry is without a strong cop on the beat," she said.

Unions savaged the announcement, saying the ABCC could interrogate building workers with the threat of jail hanging over those who refused to answer questions. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national secretary Dave Noonan said Labor should be pledging to axe it as soon as possible. "The abolition of the ABCC should be brought forward, not pushed back," Mr Noonan said. "Labor ought to take a clear stand here in favour of workers, and that Labor ought to be abolishing this body and the laws it operates under."

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the peak union body would continue to fight for the regulator to be axed. Ms Burrow said the laws covering the ABCC meant ordinary workers could be fined tens of thousands of dollars for taking industrial action.

Ms Gillard also announced Labor would ensure appointees to its watchdog were not just ex-unionists, and would have to be given the green light by all sides of politics. Officials from each state and territory would have to sign off on Fair Work Australia members, she said.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said Ms Gillard could not be trusted to keep the unions at bay. "She released her workplace relations policies more than a month ago and they've changed with every speech and interview," Mr Hockey said.


Independent schools are the model to which state schools should aspire

By Joanna Mendelssohn

RECENTLY I had a reunion with my very first friend, Anne. Our parents had been neighbours so we were babies together. Anne is blessed with an analytical talent for numbers, yet is a born communicator. She became a maths teacher. For more than 35 years she has taught maths to generations of students in state schools, in the city and the country.

She was able to take this path because, when we left school at the end of 1967, the NSW Education Department gave her a teaching scholarship that paid all fees and a generous allowance in return for her agreement to teach. This used to be the norm across the country; bonded teaching scholarships gave ordinary Australians the opportunity for a financially comfortable university education while ensuring a steady supply of young, qualified teachers for the state system.

In the 1970s, with the baby boom at an end, the system changed. Suddenly there was an oversupply of qualified teachers, so newly qualified teachers were freed of both their bonds and guaranteed jobs. Those who really wanted to teach could find soul-destroying work as casual relief staff until a vacancy occurred, but many left teaching altogether.

Before other avenues were open to us, teaching was often seen as the ideal profession for women, but by the 1980s this was not the case; there were also problems with teacher education. Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan's research at the Australian National University has tracked the entry grades of teaching students during a 20-year period. From 1983 to 2003, the percentile rank of teaching students fell from 74 to 61, while the rank of new teachers fell from 70 to 62. The drift was to a mediocre middle.

In those years the teaching force in state schools, bulging with teachers who had qualified in the late '60s, became stagnant as few new staff were employed. When, after years of casual teaching, young teachers finally found a job, they were often already burned out by a system that had failed them.

Anne told me of the school she remembers with greatest affection. It was deep in rural NSW. Because this school was so distant from any big town, the staff had no choice. They had to live near the families of the children they taught and they had to relate to the community. Teachers also socialised with each other outside of school hours. The direct result of this physical isolation was a culture of connectedness between the staff, students and community, and they worked together for the common good. Whenever I hear politicians speak of values and education in the same sentence, I think of this country school.

Education has been dragged to the centre stage of the political debate, where it is squabbled over as some kind of trophy in an increasingly infantile battle between politicians, teachers unions and dogma-led lobby groups. Meanwhile, parents are left puzzling their way through the verbiage as they try to decide which school can possibly deliver the most appropriate education for their children.

The problem with Australian schools is not whether they are independent, state or faith-based, but the size of their governing bureaucracy and the nature of the culture within that bureaucracy. State schools, independent schools and faith-based schools all teach to the same curriculum (albeit a different one in each state). The first great advantage of independent schools is not their manicured sports grounds or sandstone buildings (some of the best schools have neither). It is that they are small, discrete entities. The bureaucracy has a human scale and an easily identified chain of command. Parents and children know where to go if they have a problem. Each school employs its own staff and is free to foster their professional development, and promote them when they excel.

It used to be the case that teachers working in independent or faith-based schools tended to be poorly qualified in comparison with those in state schools. They were also paid considerably less. As the salaries and status of state teachers sank, in a kind of seesaw effect, the salaries, status and qualifications of teachers in independent schools rose.

The way this happened is at the heart of the state of school education today. When the state systems would not employ their newly trained teachers, private and faith-based schools leapt at the chance to upgrade their staff, and many state school-trained teachers, once rejected, now hold leadership positions in elite independent schools.

In the '70s and '80s, innovative principals, including Rod West of Sydney's Trinity Grammar, went out of their way to encourage first-class scholars to think of teaching as a career. Thanks to a significant real increase in school fees and increased government support for non-state schools, teachers in these schools are paid the same or more than those in the state system. They do, however, earn their money, as these teachers are faced with far higher expectations. As well as teaching in the classroom, teachers in independent and faith-based schools are expected to become a part of the school community. They need to be available (often by email) out of school hours and, above all, to adopt the ethos of the school where they work. It is amazing what a school can achieve if the entire school community is travelling in the same direction.

The key to developing quality teachers in whatever system comes back to how they are appointed, mentored and promoted. Good schools look after their staff. Smaller, flexible administrative units make it easier for independent schools to identify the talent, mentor new staff to ease them into a career path and then promote staff or redeploy them to where they can be most useful to the school.

By contrast, state systems are still struggling to free themselves from their historic bureaucratic past. Australia's state school systems were established well before Federation, when every state proclaimed itself to be a nation. In other English-speaking countries, where the population was less sparse, schools tended to be run by local authorities. Australia is unique in the immense size and scope of our centralised education administration. There is in any bureaucratic institution a tendency to "team think". In schools, this tendency was exacerbated by a tightly controlled employment structure where, for more than a century, almost all employees had started as school-leavers and risen up a well-defined hierarchy.

Because the dominant group entering this workforce was from an aspirational working-class background, there was from the start a strong union presence. The union presence was embedded within the departmental hierarchy so the junior teacher would often discover that the person supervising her was also the union representative.

Times change, but workplace cultures change slowly. Although there have been some reforms in the way staff are appointed, it is still the case that individual state schools in Australia have less flexibility in appointing and dismissing staff than government-funded schools in equivalent countries.

The Prime Minister has recently declared that he will require a situation where principals alone have the choice to hire and fire staff. At the same time, he has declared a fatwa on bullying in schools. I'm not sure that replacing an unfeeling bureaucracy with an authoritarian hierarchy is going to change school cultures to something inclusive.

A school is a large and complex organisation. Surely the best way to build a team with the school community is to have each school appoint staff, but using a committee that includes parents and colleagues as well as the hierarchy. Bringing the community into the life of the school is a big task. Independent and Catholic schools do this well by co-opting that most effective cultural glue, Saturday sport. All students in these schools are expected to play a team sport and every Saturday, across the country, parents are car pooling and driving to ovals in distant parts of the city. At the ovals parent groups run barbecues, and cheer on their children. The teachers also participate as coaches and wise school principals call by. The schools' sense of community comes from such small weekly acts.

If sporting clubs could liaise with local state schools and be funded so that all state school children could play competitive Saturday sport, and if state teachers could also be involved with supporting their students, then more parents would be involved in the daily life of their schools. It is the kind of cultural glue our schools need to make them strong and help give them a sense of community.


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