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

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


30 June, 2012


29 June, 2012

Leftist attempts at censorship never stop

A truth-telling media threatens their survival

MEDIA owners will be forced to submit to a public interest test under a plan to be presented to the federal cabinet within weeks.

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the test had nothing to do with Gina Rinehart increasing her stake in Fairfax as work had been under way for two years to tighten media regulation and ownership rules.

"We've been looking at these issues with a view to acting for a considerable period of time," he said. "Ms Rinehart will come, Ms Rinehart may go. But we've actually been putting in place a whole range of processes to give us some advice, to canvass these issues publicly.

"I absolutely reject that anything that we're doing at the moment is based on a knee-jerk reaction to Ms Rinehart. We have strong views about the charter of editorial independence but the Convergence Review, the Finkelstein [review], all occurred long before Ms Rinehart was a significant media player."

Mrs Rinehart has refused to sign Fairfax's charter of independence, should she win seats on the Fairfax board, and has publicly threatened to sell her shares in the company if she was not offered board seats "without unsuitable conditions".

Fairfax issued a statement on Tuesday saying it would not invite Mrs Rinehart to join the board until she signed the charter.

The chairman, Roger Corbett, said he regretted the decision and hoped "it might be possible" for Mrs Rinehart to join in future. "However key elements yet to be agreed include acceptance of the charter of editorial independence as it stands and the Fairfax board governance principles as agreed by all existing directors," he said.

"In coming to this view the board has gauged the opinion of other shareholders and noted some of their recent public comments on these matters, noting in particular they share the company's view on maintaining editorial independence and their desire that board members act in the interests of all shareholders. The company has received tens of thousands of emails and other correspondence from shareholders, our readers and others making it clear that they support Fairfax's long-standing position on editorial independence."

The Australian Financial Review reported yesterday that the public interest test legislation could vet investors such as Mrs Rinehart and the expansion plans of Rupert Murdoch's News Limited. "Labor MPs have been told to sell the idea of a media crackdown to their electorates over the next six weeks after allegations involving the media's role in the Peter Slipper affair galvanised cabinet into 'fierce backing' of the controversial test," the paper reported.

Senator Conroy said there was a clear role for legislation but it was incumbent on news organisations to abide by their codes of conduct.

"There's been a whole range of issues internationally where it's been seen that people [journalists] have played roles - and I think that's the hardest part in today's 24/7 media cycle, just finding that balance between comment, reporting, opinion - and that's why news organisations have their codes of conduct and their standards," he said. "And we're asking simply that they apply them."


The obscure world of public interest

This is getting decidedly whacky.  Yesterday's Australian Financial Review reported an exciting new thought bubble from Canberra, saying "federal cabinet is set to approve and present to Parliament a tough public interest test for media ownership".

The core ingredient behind the sudden propulsion of this idea must be that both Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch are unsuitable people to run newspapers.

The faith politicians have in such an amorphous concept as "the public interest" is unbelievably touching.

Presumably, in this context it will be tied up with the Convergence Review's thoughts about "diversity of unique owners" and the Finkelstein report's recommendations about regulation of journalistic standards.

Certainly, there is a strong case against our unacceptably concentrated newspaper business, where poor devils in South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory are plied only with Murdoch newsprint.

Some sort of regulatory ownership and standards straddle might just squeak through because there would be enough politicians who cannot stand the media.

"The public interest" is a phrase sprinkled through legislation with gay abandon. It sounds democratic and noble, but at the end of the rainbow it has to be interpreted by a judge, or a cluster of judges - a recipe for uncertainty, because the judges themselves are uncertain.

Already in legislation the phrase competes with itself. For instance, in the Court Suppression and Non-publication Orders Act, a court can suppress something if it is in the public interest and that public interest outweighs the public interest in open justice. It's almost a foregone conclusion as to which "public interest" will win in that contest.

Again, in the legislation that is supposed to give journalists protection from revealing their sources in court, the public interest in preserving confidentiality can be overborne by the public interest in disclosure.

The Defamation Act starts off with some high-flown sentiment about not placing unreasonable limits on "publication and discussion of matters of public interest".

It does not amount to a hill of beans.

The phrase appears in the Broadcasting Services Act, giving the minister power to take control over material to be broadcast "in the public interest". In the government's issues paper on a cause of action for serious invasion of privacy, "public interest" appeared 57 times. In the Finkelstein report, it was 85 times, the same number of times it was mentioned in the Convergence Review (including 13 times on one page).

No doubt it is a popular rubric because it artfully allows plenty of imprecision and circularity in its application.

None of which is to say there are no justified complaints about the media's behaviour. Material submitted to the Federal Court this week by Peter Slipper's lawyers, and based on discovery of text messages and emails, points to a conspiracy involving the Liberal National Party and a News Ltd journalist "to get" the Speaker.

In relation to another parliamentary undesirable, Craig Thomson, Channel Nine's "hooker" exposé´ backfired recently.

And the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has been upset that The Daily Telegraph did not apologise for mistakenly claiming he was so mean he cut out the free bottles of water and snacks for children touring Parliament House.

Really, a public interest test is fine, as long as no one tries to define it. Lord Phillips (Baron Phillips of Worth Matravers), the president of England's Supreme Court, tried to give it clarity in a recent libel case involving The Times: "The public interest is whether, and in what circumstances, it is in the public interest to refer to the fact that accusations have been made …"

Already, you can feel things slipping away.

The handmaiden of "public interest" is "fit and proper" - another fertile field of conjecture. A majority of members of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee thought Murdoch was not fit and proper to run newspapers. Others did not have a problem with him. Ofcom, the regulator is having a long, hard think about it.

Would Rinehart be fit and proper to control Fairfax? She is perfectly entitled to have off-the-wall ideas and start her own rag to propagate them. It's another thing altogether if she wants to force them down the gullet of the second biggest newspaper chain in the country.

Maybe a direct, uncomplicated way of defining the public interest in media legislation is a one-line act that says: "These people cannot control a press or broadcasting business in Australia - see minister's regulations for the full list."

Otherwise, we have the situation so succinctly put by Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."


Environmental protection to be wound back to enable mining!

THE Steve Irwin Reserve on Cape York is expected to be mined, with Environment Minister Andrew Powell yesterday moving to wind back Wild Rivers environment protection.

Mr Powell released a scoping paper for a proposed management plan, which is expected to replace Wild Rivers protection on at least four rivers.

Under Wild Rivers, the previous government placed a 500m buffer zone on the Wenlock River, potentially making Cape Alumina's multibillion-dollar Pisolite Hills bauxite mine proposal unprofitable.

Wilderness Society spokesman Tim Seelig said yesterday he feared the mine would destroy the Wenlock, which had the highest number of freshwater species in Australia.

"We know Cape Alumina is just waiting to get its plans back on the table," he said. "Once protection is removed, it will be open slather."

Cape Alumina managing director Graeme Sherlock said the company was concentrating on its nearby Bauxite Hills project, rather than Pisolite Hills.

In April, Mr Sherlock said if Premier Campbell Newman changed wild rivers legislation, Pisolite Hills would be reassessed.

Cape Alumina proposes to use 12,360ha or about 9 per cent of the Irwin Reserve, which is the old Bertiehaugh cattle station.

Dr Seelig said Mr Powell was winding back the clock on environment protection.

"This will inevitably lead to more destructive development such as mining and dams in our last free-flowing rivers," Dr Seelig said.

Eight new mines had been proposed for the Cape's east and west coasts.

"(The Government needs) to commit to protecting the environment ... as the first priority and only support truly sustainable economic activities," Dr Seelig said.

He supported Mr Powell's whole-of-region conservation approach although there were few details in the scoping paper.

Mr Powell said he would release details next week but the bioregion management plan would focus on protection and management of the Cape, while allowing appropriate opportunities for economic development.

The policy would give Indigenous communities a bigger say in economic development.

Dr Seelig said he was glad Mr Powell proposed to continue the Cape York World Heritage listing process on one of the last great wild places on earth.

Activist Noel Pearson has campaigned against Wild Rivers but the process has been supported by other Murris.

The Irwin Reserve purchase was funded by former Liberal prime minister John Howard to honour television celebrity and conservationist Steve Irwin.


NSW teachers fined for striking last year

The NSW Teachers' Federation has been fined $6000 over an illegal strike.  ABOUT 67,000 teachers walked off the job on September 8 over a 2.5 per cent cap on public sector wages.  The 24-hour action defied an 11th hour ruling from the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).

IRC Justice Wayne Haylen on Thursday morning fined the union $6000.

Teachers joined thousands of other public sector workers during the September strike in what unions described as the biggest mass demonstration in two decades.

The state government has criticised the IRC for taking too long to fine the teachers union after 55,000 teachers defied the IRC once again and walked off the job on Wednesday.

They were protesting the government's latest education reforms and the union is risking a maximum fine of $10,000.  The government is working to pass legislation in the upper house to have unions fined up to $110,000 for disobeying the industrial umpire.

In his judgment, Justice Haylen said he would not impose the maximum fine because the September industrial action was less serious compared to other breaches by the union.

"The court is unable to conclude that these breaches are of the same order of seriousness as the previous two breaches by the federation," Justice Haylen said in his judgment.  "This industrial action involved protest rallies against government policy not open to arbitration.  "The rally itself was supported by all public sector unions under the auspices of Unions NSW."

The union has been ordered to pay the fine within 28 days.


Vigilantes avoid jail as victim slammed by judge

TWO vigilantes who stripped naked and bashed a teen who threw water bombs at their car avoided jail today after a judge slammed the actions of the victim.  Judge Michael McInerney said he did not accept the prosecution description of the actions of the victim as a "minor prank".

Daryl Marshall, 34, of Maiden Gully, and Beau Edwards, 25, of Redesdale, admitted they punched and kicked the teen and forced him to remove all of his clothes.

When he was too slow in complying they ripped off his remaining clothes and shoes and drove off with them.  The attack left the victim with a dislocated shoulder, black eyes and bruises.

Judge McInerney said the victim and seven other teens threw water bombs at cars driving along a stretch of road in Strathfieldsaye near Bendigo at 10.30pm in September 2010.

He said throwing missiles at cars had the potential to cause serious injury or death but the "significant provocation" did not excuse the retribution.  "The behaviour of the complainant and his friends was quite outrageous," Judge McInerney said in his County Court sentence.

The judge sentenced Marshall to 18 months jail wholly suspended for three years and Edwards to a two year community corrections order.  Judge McInerney said Marshall, who had a number of prior convictions, had a major brain injury from an assault and depression.  He said Edwards who was drunk had no prior convictions and was a person of strong character and with an excellent work record.

Judge McInerney said Edwards was sacked because of the charges and he criticised employers who took such action before the court process was completed.

"These sorts of actions seem to occur in football clubs which seem to have a total disregard for the rule of law," he said, The judge said a message had to be sent to people who took the law into their own hands and warned both men that if they offended again they would have to serve jail terms.

Edwards pleaded guilty to single counts of intentionally causing serious injury and robbery.  Marshall pleaded guilty to single counts of recklessly causing serious injury and robbery.


28 June, 2012

Legal  warning on same-sex "marriages"

Referendum may be needed

Senator Gary Humphries is warning that future legislation allowing same-sex marriage could be struck down by the High Court, leaving gay couples devastated.  The ACT Liberal says the Gillard government should not act "irresponsibly" by allowing gay marriage to become law.

"I think it is particularly dangerous to be proceeding on constitutionally shaky grounds," he said last night.

"Somebody who has been married in the belief that they are legally entering into an enforceable arrangement only to find a year later or whatever, the High Court strikes down that situation, is an incredibly difficult position.

"It seems to me that the Commonwealth should go to every possible length to avoid that occurring.

"It's utterly irresponsible to potentially put people in that position."

Senator Humphries is deputy chairman of the committee which has released its report on the private members bill of Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, of the Greens, on the issue.

He is personally opposed to gay marriage but another Liberal on the committee, Sue Boyce, backed the majority report in favour.

The committee received an unprecedented 79,200 submissions, 46,000 of which were in support of same-sex marriage.

The six-member committee voted 4-2 in support of recommending changes to the Marriage Act to accommodate same-sex marriages and that the bill pass with minor changes.

Last week, a cross-party lower house committee inquiry into two private members bills on same-sex marriage tabled a report but declined to support or reject the legislation proposed by Labor backbencher Stephen Jones and Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is opposed to legalising same-sex marriage and will not move a government motion to allow debate on the issue. But Labor MPs are allowed a conscience vote on the private members' bills.

Section 51 (xxi) of the Constitution gives the federal government power to make laws over marriage.

Senator Humphries said proponents of same-sex marriage should push for a referendum.

"They assert that there is strong support for same-sex marriage, then they would have little doubt they would get change through a referendum, but in the absence of that, I think it's very unsafe to proceed," he said.

"The committee heard strong legal argument that you can't assume the power over marriage assumes a power over other relationships we might like to call into the definition of marriage.

"When the Constitution was put together, marriage was assumed to be between a man and a woman.

"Suddenly that question is in doubt, but that doesn't alter the fact that that's a strong traditional understanding of what the word marriage means.  "To now argue that it may mean something else and we can use the power for that defined purpose for other purposes is I think quite inappropriate.

"It's either one thing or it's not.  "The Commonwealth can't acquire a power over schools by defining the section of the Constitution to give it power over 'lighthouses' to mean 'schools'."


Qld.  Government warns of real firings of surplus public servants

PUBLIC servants whose positions are abolished under Newman Government reforms will be retrenched if another job can not be found for them in six months.

A draft directive submitted to unions by the Government has outlined the plan to help whittle down the public service, despite the Premier's assurance he is doing all he can to save jobs.

Under the directive, if another position does not become available within six months, the employee will be retrenched. Alternatively, the worker can accept a redundancy and leave within two weeks of their position being abolished.

Currently permanent employees affected by workplace changes or "Machinery of Government" are given a "priority placement" across the public service.

Concerned public servants who contacted The Courier-Mail about the changes, said the directive was a clear breach of Campbell Newman's election promise there would be no forced redundancies.

"He's long intended to sack public servants," said one public servant.  "When there's a freeze on recruitment and no new positions being created, there's not much chance of getting another job if the one you're in is abolished."

Alex Scott, from public sector union Together Queensland, said the draft directive represented a further "watering down" of employee conditions.  "We have until Friday to respond to the draft directive, and we will be relaying those concerns," Mr Scott said.

Last week Premier Newman said there were 20,000 more public servants than the state could afford and he was doing all he could to save their jobs by offering modest pay rises in enterprise bargaining negotiations.

He even took to the small-screen on Sunday night to repeat his appeal for all to "tighten their belts".  Unions were unimpressed by the advertisement and yesterday Together Queensland released its own one-minute ad online in response.  Mr Scott said more ads would follow in the 12 months ahead, at a cost of $1 million to the union.  "We need an ad to make sure that the community understands there is nothing of substance behind the Commission of Audit," he said.

"The black hole that they've identified is the same black hole that existed in 2009 when the LNP announced their election commitments and all that we've seen is changes to accountancy practices rather than changes to reality."


Retailers weary of carbon tax

Retailers say they are nervous about becoming the "meat in the sandwich" when the carbon tax is introduced.

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) say stores are in a vulnerable position as the middle man between customers and the supply chain.

"It’s plain to see retailers are the meat in the sandwich, caught between consumers’ inability to justify discretionary spending and supply chain manufacturing unable to remain price competitive," ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said.  "This is a dangerous position to be in and will cost jobs."

In a survey of the ARA’s members in 2011, 83 per cent said they expected consumers to spend less after the introduction of the carbon tax.  Fifty-six per cent said they would have to pass on their increased costs onto customers.

Retailers are also worried the government’s proposed household assistance packages will not be enough to cushion the effects on household budgets.

"This will no doubt just be absorbed by the soaring cost of living," said Mr Zimmerman.

Australia’s $240 billion retail industry believes the carbon tax will only add to their financial woes.

"Retailers are already experiencing tough trading conditions and poor sales," said Mr Zimmerman.

"Now they are facing the introduction of a carbon tax which will hit business and consumer confidence at a time when relief is needed on both sides."


Hundreds have broken out of Australia's immigration detention centres

ELECTRIC fences, razor wire and security guards are no barrier to breakouts from Australia's Immigration detention centres.  Hundreds of visa over-stayers and asylum seekers have scaled fences, fled on day release programs or simply vanished after being released into the community on bridging visas.

For the first time, the Sunday Herald Sun can reveal 524 people have escaped Immigration detention in the past decade. Nearly one-third - 154 - remain on the run from authorities.

The Department of Immigration also revealed that 11 asylum seekers released into the community on bridging visas since November have absconded in breach of reporting requirements.

But this is only a fraction of the 4052 people approved for community detention since the program was expanded two years ago.

Refugee Action Collective spokesman Ian Rintoul said the escapees were desperate and often sustained injuries while doing a runner.

"They have anti-climb fences with sheer cladding so they end up with cuts from the barbed wire and injuries if they have to jump from the fences. People do get electric shocks," he said.

"They are fearful of being deported. The detention centres are hellholes."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said that, while escapes were "rare", the private company that ran immigration detention in Australia had incurred million-dollar fines in the past.

"Escapes from detention, and especially from community detention, are very rare," he said.

A spokesman added: "Nonetheless, we take any escape from detention extremely seriously."

The new figures confirm the vast majority of escapes were from traditional detention centres.

Of 98 in 2010-11, only one person was from community detention and had since been found.

Last month, Immigration official Kate Pope told Budget estimates that 13 clients had absconded from community detention since October 2010.

"Eleven are Vietnamese, of whom two claimed to be adults and were living in Victoria at the time ... nine claimed to be unaccompanied minors," she said.

"Of those, eight absconded from community detention in Victoria and one in Western Australia. Six of those Vietnamese have been relocated. Four claimed to the unaccompanied minors, all now identified as adults, two of whom are in custody pending court appearances."

In February, three Vietnamese asylum seekers fled over a northern immigration detention centre fence in Darwin at 4.06am.

Last year, authorities foiled a suspected mass breakout of almost 20 inmates at Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney.

The department said the one Malaysian and 16 Chinese nationals had overstayed their visas and were not asylum seekers.

Two years ago, 10 inmates climbed a fence at low-security Inverbrackie Detention Centre to pick fruit.

Since the Rudd-Gillard Government was elected in 2007, 18,949 asylum seekers have arrived on 329 boats - 12,397 on 189 boats since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister in 2010.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said alleged people smuggler Captain Emad recently being allowed to flee the country was a further sign the system was a mess under Labor.

"Increasing numbers of escapes are the result of a system under stress, created by the unprecedented failure of Labor on our borders," he said.


27 June, 2012

Qld. Premier Campbell Newman gives the Green/Left another sock in the eye

QUEENSLAND'S extensive network of national parks will be thrown open to new eco-tourism developments that will potentially been modelled on popular New Zealand and Tasmanian ventures, with horse riders and four-wheel drivers set to gain more access.

Permits will be scaled back and the Nature Conservation Act reviewed to remove barriers to development under a wide-ranging action plan announced yesterday at a tourism forum in Cairns.

More than 300 industry heavyweights spoke to the Newman Government for two days to develop the action plan, designed to guide the ailing sector over the coming year.

Premier Campbell Newman, who attended the DestinationQ forum yesterday, said the state must "find ways to say yes" to better use and market its national parks and marine parks.

Mr Newman singled out NZ's popular Milford Track and Tasmania's Cradle Mountain Lake-St Clair National Park as examples to follow, saying visitors came from around the world to walk, stay, eat and drink.

"Those are the sorts of things, we should be doing," Mr Newman said.  "They've got to be done the right way, but other jurisdictions are doing it - (and) the environment hasn't suffered."

Tourism leaders told the forum - the first of its kind in 27 years - of high operating costs and falling revenues stretching their businesses to breaking point, compounded by the high Australian dollar, competition from nearby countries as well as mountains of government red tape.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chairman Stephen Gregg said that red tape had dissuaded many ecotourism proposals "from ever getting off the ground".

Mr Newman said cutting red tape would be a key focus, as he announced a host of new funding to be made available for regional events, indigenous rangers and to up-skill unemployed Cairns residents.

Mr Newman also indicated there could soon be a new, direct flight from Cairns to an Asian country, likely Singapore.

Mr Newman was highly critical of the industry's peak body, Tourism Queensland, announcing that it would be restructured and told to find savings that could be redirected to promotional campaigns.

A second forum will be held next year to monitor progress and begin charting a 20-year industry plan.


Federal Government tells pensioners that aged care providers will hike fees the day carbon tax kicks in

THOUSANDS of pensioners have been warned they will have to pay more for their residential care in one of the first signs of the impact of the carbon tax.

The Federal Government has written to pensioners and Commonwealth Senior Health Card holders advising that their aged care providers will hike fees by up to $3.48 a week from July 1, the day the carbon tax kicks in.

The hike of more than 1 per cent outstrips Treasury forecasts that the cost of living will rise just 0.7 per cent under the unpopular tax.

The move comes as questions mount over who else will pass on price rises to Australian consumers from this weekend.

The letter, from the Federal Department of Health and Ageing, explains that the increased aged care fees aim to "share" the assistance payments being made to pensioners to compensate them for the carbon tax.

"It recognises that many of the everyday expenses for residents are met by aged care providers," the letter says.

"It is important to note that some of the assistance that you will receive in the initial payment should be used to offset the increase in the basic daily fee."

The price rise equates to a weekly $3.48 increase in fees, which also outstrips weekly electricity hikes of $3.30 expected by most Queensland households.

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan said the assistance paid to pensioners and Senior Health Card holders was "designed to fully take into account this fee".

"From 28 May to 8 June, more than 3.2 million pensioners were paid a lump sum payment," the spokesman said.

"Pensioners will receive a permanent boost to their regular payments equal to a 1.7 per cent increase in the maximum rate of the pension from March 2013."

Labor has always insisted many households would be better off after compensation for the carbon tax, but as the tax start date looms fears are growing.

The issue is dominating Federal Parliament this week, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott face off ahead of Sunday's introduction of the tax.

Ms Gillard is preparing for a fortnight-long blitz around Australia to sell her tax reform, while the Opposition is set to embark on a similar tour, highlighting price rises resulting from the tax.

Labor ministers and backbenchers have been ordered into electorates to spruik the tax, as the party continues the battle to revive its popularity.

Ms Gillard told the Labor caucus yesterday that Mr Abbott would be exposed for scaremongering, with Labor planning to mock his earlier claims about the tax.

Mr Abbott yesterday said the RSPCA would face a $180,000 hike in its electricity costs each year because of the carbon tax.

Appearing alongside Mr Abbott, RSPCA chief executive Michael Linke said some of the national organisation's services would be cut and about four jobs lost.

"There is no compensation to pay for this," Mr Linke said.

But Ms Gillard accused Mr Abbott of fear-mongering.

"Presumably tomorrow he will be out trying to scare Skippy the bush kangaroo and the day after he'll be trying to scare Puff the magic dragon," Ms Gillard told Parliament.

It comes after the Coalition sent small businesses in Labor-held marginal seats flyers that apologised to customers for rising costs under the carbon tax, encouraging businesses to display the posters in their store windows.

One flyer reads: "We will always strive to keep our prices at reasonable levels but because the carbon tax will make electricity and gas more expensive, our prices will increase".

But Labor said yesterday the flyers put the businesses at risk of fines of up to $1.1 million, if they falsely increase prices and blame the carbon tax.

"Mr Abbott is potentially exposing butchers and other small businesses . He cares about nothing but his political advantage," Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury said.


Dodgy science in the courts too

It's not only global warming and the flood of food myths

THE acquittal of Jeffrey Gilham is the latest in a string of decisions that reveals the serious systemic failures in the use of scientific evidence in NSW, one of the country's top forensic law authorities says.

As further revelations emerged about the failure of prosecutors in the Gilham case to call a key expert witness, Gary Edmond from the University of NSW said the case highlighted the need for radical changes to the way expert evidence was both formulated and presented at trial.

"[Jeffrey] Gilham, [Gordon] Wood … they all reveal serious and systemic problems in the ability of our criminal justice system to credibly engage with scientific and medical evidence," Professor Edmond said yesterday following the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal's acquittal of Mr Gilham over the 1993 murder of his parents.

In reaching its decision, the court found that vital pieces of scientific evidence presented to the jury in Mr Gilham's second trial were seriously flawed and t this had resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

Among the flawed pieces of evidence were the opinions of three scientific authorities that there were "similarities" between the clusters of stab wounds on the bodies of the victims.

The judges concluded that not only were these opinions without scientific foundation, but prosecutors were aware that another expert had tested the claims and found they were incorrect.

Before the start of Mr Gilham's first trial in March 2008, the Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, QC, received a report from Stephen Cordner, the then head of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, to this effect.

However, Mr Tedeschi rejected this evidence as "plainly unreliable" and based upon "a complete acceptance of the accused's account", electing not to call the professor as a witness.

The prosecutor in the second trial, Margaret Cunneen, SC, also did not call Professor Cordner.

The judges found the decision "does not withstand scrutiny". "an objective and detached prosecutor would have rejected any suggestion of bias in [Professor Cordner's] methodology or his conclusions", the appeal panel found.

Professor Edmond said this highlighted the fact that prosecutors in NSW were often more focused on the capacity of forensic evidence to persuade a jury rather than its actual validity.

He said it revealed problems about the general use of scientific evidence, in particular that such evidence was often not based on proper peer-reviewed research.

"Forensic techniques and evidence relied on routinely by investigators and prosecutors have never been assessed for their validity and reliability," he said.

"We have no idea if many of the techniques in routine use actually work or how accurate they are."


Bail reform in NSW

Every effort should be made to avoid jailing people who are later found not guilty

THE NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, has backed a proposal that people charged with crimes be given bail unless there was evidence they were a threat to the community.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the release of a Law Reform Commission review of the NSW bail laws earlier this month, Mr Smith said he wanted to look at ways to keep less serious offenders out of jail to prevent them from being corrupted.

However, he also backed recent comments by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, that the government would not weaken bail provisions for dangerous criminals.

"There will be no weakening [of the bail laws] but we will have a smarter bail law, one based on risk management, which is what I was proposing, which the Premier has accepted, and which will hopefully mean more transparent decisions on bail," Mr Smith said.

"The program is to look more at each individual person, not based on presumptions, but based on the individual themselves and whether they pose a risk.

"The system of presumptions against bail or for bail has been confusing and has contributed to unsatisfactory bail decisions in the past."

Asked if the government would remove the system of presumptions against bail, Mr Smith said: "I understand that's what we will be doing."

Mr Smith has faced relentless criticism from some media commentators who have accused him of going "soft on crime" because of his progressive approach to the rehabilitation of less serious offenders.

"People who aren't a risk to our community shouldn't be refused bail unless they have done previous things or are threatening things," he said.

The government is due to give its official response to the Law Reform Commission's review of bail laws at the end of this year.

Mr Smith said the government had made it clear it was "pushing" for a risk management approach to crime that operated independently of presumptions, and which looked at each case on its merits.

He said presumptions against bail had confused the role of courts in looking at the merits of each case.

He made the comments after announcing the head of South Australia's prisons system, Peter Severin, would replace Ron Woodham as the Corrective Services Commissioner in NSW.

Mr Severin, 55, had agreed to become the new Commissioner in NSW, after having served South Australia and Queensland "with distinction".

Mr Severin was the deputy director-general of the Queensland Department of Corrective Services before taking the top job overseeing the South Australian prisons system.

Mr Smith said Mr Severin had achieved the lowest return to prison rate in South Australia of any Australian jurisdiction for the past four years.

He said he expected Mr Severin to drive down the high rate of reoffending in NSW.

"Mr Severin's record of success demonstrates that he is the ideal person to address the high rate of reoffending in NSW," Mr Smith said.

Mr Severin had worked in the corrections system in Germany from 1980 and 1988 and has dual citizenship - his mother is Australian and his father is German. He is married and has an adult son.

Mr Smith said Mr Severin would replace Mr Woodham within a couple of months. He thanked Mr Woodham for his 43 years of service to NSW.


26 June, 2012

Greenie white elephant mothballed in NSW

Can the ones in Qld. and Vic. be far behind?  Desalination plants  were all built to avoid the need for new dams (which Greenies hate) but  we are now in a rainy climate cycle so they are not needed.  The official meteorologists (the BOM) had their brains so mushed by Warmism that they didn't warn the politicans of natural climate cycles (El Nino, La Nina) and pretended instead that the "drought" was permanent.  Huge waste of taxpayer funds  resulted

Sydney's desalination plant will be mothballed this weekend even though taxpayers will keep having to pay off its construction costs.

BUT NSW Finance Minister Greg Pearce says the $2 billion development hasn't been a waste of money.   "The fact that the desal plant will be turned off from the first of July will save Sydney Water customers $50 million a year," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.  "But we'll still have the security if we ever or when we eventually need to turn the desalination plant back on again."

Mr Pearce said it could be up to three years before the Kurnell plant operated again.

"At the moment of course the dams are full, so it won't go back on until they drop below 70 per cent, and then the desalination plant operates until they're up to 80 per cent again," he said.

Mr Pearce confirmed the government was still paying $16 million a month for the cost of building the plant and pipeline.

Greens MP John Kaye told ABC Radio the plant was expensive and completely unnecessary.  "The problem we have now is that we're paying tens of billions of dollars to keep this plant when we don't even want to operate it," he said.

In May, the NSW government announced a 50-year, $2.3 billion deal to privatise the plant, netting it $300 million to build more roads, rail and other infrastructure.


Sad solar in Qld

Queensland solar businesses fear a dramatic boom and bust after the state government slashed the solar feed-in tariff.

MORE than 180,000 Queenslanders are in the solar bonus scheme.    Those who provide power back to the grid will keep the 44 cents per kilowatt hour payment from July 9, but anyone who joins after that date will get an eight cent rate.

Stuart Stratton of Green Initiatives says the future is now uncertain for his 100-plus employees.  He's "extremely disappointed" the government drastically changed the main drawcard for households.

"Where it drops over time and it's predictable, the market can shift and your business can plan for staffing levels and training," Mr Stratton told AAP.  "When something like this happens out of the blue and you've got two weeks to adjust, it has potentially a massive downward impact on the business."

He imagines the next two weeks will be like "Christmas in July" - followed by silence.

Energy Minister Mark McArdle says Queensland households are subsidising the solar sector to the tune of $54 a year and it's unsustainable.

The Clean Energy Council says 4500 jobs could go as a result of the move but Mr McArdle has told ABC Radio he hasn't been briefed on possible job losses.

The Australian Solar Energy Society's John Grimes says his group had called for a graduated withdrawal down to about 20 cents per kilowatt hour.  "It would have allowed solar to compete and wouldn't have resulted in, sort of, this mini boom and bust," he told ABC Radio.


Hate speech against Christians in Australia

Leftists accuse conservatives of "hate spoeech" at the drop of a hat so I like to record occasionally where the real hate speech comes from:

The Australian Christian Lobby’s state director Wendy Francis says she was subject to a barrage of abusive emails and calls to her mobile phone after the LNP announced changes to surrogacy laws.

Mrs Francis started receiving the phone calls on Friday morning and estimated they were coming in every five to six minutes and she was also sent emails with pornographic images attached.

She tried to answer as many phone calls as she could but saved voicemails left on her mobile while she was talking to other abusers.

In one of the voicemails listened to by, the caller says: "You’re an evil slut and you’re going to f--king hell you dirty, f--king scraggy b--ch."

Another caller said: "I don’t know how you can go to sleep at night when there are people who are suffering, families who love each other dearly and they’re suffering because of your discrimination, because of your fear and because of your bigotry."

The calls came the day after Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie announced intended changes to altruistic surrogacy laws to exclude same sex couples, single people and couples in a de facto relationship of less than two years.

The ACL supports the changes.

"I also got three email messages with porn and the porn was disgusting," Mrs Francis said.

More here

How to escape a conviction for murder in corrupt Victoria

PEOPLE are potentially getting away with murder in Victoria because of secret plea bargaining deals being done by prosecutors, a study has found.

The study, by two Melbourne criminologists, has raised serious questions about the consequences of laws passed seven years ago that introduced the defensive homicide concept to the state's criminal statutes.

At the time of their introduction, the laws were hailed by then Victorian attorney-general Rob Hulls as "the most significant reforms to homicide laws since the death penalty was abolished 30 years ago".

Defensive homicide was intended to apply in cases where a killer acted in the belief that his or her actions were necessary to defend themselves or someone else - such as a victim of prolonged domestic violence.

Since 2005, prosecutors have had discretion to offer people charged with murder the option of pleading guilty to the lesser charge of defensive homicide.

But criminologists Asher Flynn and Kate Fitz-Gibbon, in a study published in the Melbourne University Law Review, have questioned the secret deals with defence lawyers in such cases. "Criminal cases in Victoria, including those involving the most serious homicide offences, appear to be resolved on the basis of unscrutinised decisions in a largely unregulated and non-transparent process," they wrote.

"Prosecutors can effectively be viewed as 'the key gate-keepers who ration criminal justice … Their discretionary powers allow them to play a more prominent and significant role in the delivery of modern justice than the traditional involvement of the community in a jury trial.

"As a result, the jury, and the community input, is largely silenced."

A key case that influenced the then government to change the law involved Bendigo woman Heather Osland, who was found guilty of murdering her husband in 1996 following years of repeated physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

At trial, she unsuccessfully argued self-defence. She was released after serving her minimum 9½ years' jail.

The change also followed debate about the partial legal defence of provocation, used by killers such as James Ramage who was acquitted of murdering his wife Julie Ramage in 2003.

He was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter after his lawyer successfully argued Ramage had not intended to kill her, but she provoked him to lose control.

But an analysis of defensive homicide convictions between November 1, 2005, and April 30 this year by Dr Flynn and Dr Fitz-Gibbon has found 16 convictions resulted from the Crown accepting a guilty plea from the accused to the lesser charge.

Defensive homicide carries a maximum penalty of 20 years' jail, while the maximum sentence for murder is life.

Plea deals are generally done to save resources and financial expenditure, reduce court backlogs and prosecutorial workloads, and spare accused people and victims from lengthy and often emotionally-charged criminal proceedings.

But Dr Flynn and Dr Fitz-Gibbon say that because such deals are shrouded in secrecy, there is limited transparency and accountability. They are concerned about unintended consequences. "People could be getting away with murder," Dr Fitz-Gibbon said last night.

"Because these deals are so secretive, we don't know the circumstances therefore we don't know otherwise."

In Victoria plea deals are not recognised in, or controlled by, any legislation. The only controls that directly apply are contained within the Public Prosecution Act (1994) which alludes to matters being dealt with in an "effective, economic and efficient manner".

In addition, The Victim's Charter Act (2006) stipulates a statutory requirement to inform victims of any alteration of charges, but neither statute defines or acknowledges plea bargaining.

Dr Flynn and Dr Fitz-Gibbon have called for a formal policy to be developed to "encourage prosecutors to use their discretion consistently and in line with the ideals of justice".

In the United Kingdom there are mandatory guidelines for prosecutors on plea deals that are intended to provide transparency and uphold public interests, and that have been endorsed by the courts as best practice.

The Melbourne academics have suggested such a system be introduced here urgently.

They have also suggested a legislative change that would place a "statutory obligation on prosecutors to, in effect, explain when and why they resolved a case through plea bargaining".

A review of defensive homicide cases was announced by Mr Hulls in 2010 after it was revealed the majority of people convicted of the charge up to that point had been men convicted of defensive homicide against men.

But the review, which aimed to determine whether defensive homicide was being inappropriately applied to cases of male-perpetrated killing, has not been completed following the subsequent change of government.


25 June, 2012

Does Gillard support harassment of public servants who support the opposition?

It looks very much like it.   Lori Dwyer asks below whether  Darrell Morris was bullied by the Australian Public Service after working for the Liberals

"Bullying" is a great Leftist theme at the moment.  It's an excuse for censorship.   If you criticize homosexuals you are a bully;  if you look cross-eyed at a black you are a bully and if you preach the Bible you are CERTAINLY a bully.

So it should be no surprise that the real bullies are Leftists themselves.  Thuggery is never far beneath the surface with them

The recent announcement by Julia Gilliard of a nationwide review on workplace bullying was so well received, it was almost disturbing– it seems that the culture of harassment and standover tactics within Australian places of employment is so ingrained and accepted that the detractors of this government initiative were few, and their criticism at relatively low volume.

Quite recently, the story of Darrell Morris began to generate buzz within Australia's social media circles, despite the apparent reluctance of mainstream media to become engaged in the hierarchical warfare of our public service departments.

By his supervisor’s own admissions, with the evidence collaborated by formal reports, Morris had been consistently “performing well” in his role with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He's worked in the Canberra–based department for the better part of a decade. A quiet but conscientious man, he admits that this is the only job he has ever wanted to do, and he relocated his wife and very young family to the ACT on finishing university specifically to cater to this career.

A fairly typical Aussie guy, Darrell forfeited his weekend rugby games and essential time with his kids in order to advance his employment– putting in the extra effort that is an unspoken requirement of being a ’good employee’ in this country.

It was during late 2009 and early 2010, while on leave with out pay working for Liberal Senator Helen  Coonan, that unfounded accusations of sharing classified information were leveled in Morris's direction. While DFAT issued him with a ’letter of regret’ over the incident, the subversive harassment continued and union officials report that the tone in meetings and other forms communication become between Morris and his superiors became increasingly hostile.
 It was last year, 2011, that Darrell Morris first took medical leave for severe depression. While ComCare, the relevant workers compensation providers, declared his workplace a significantly contributing factor to his illness, they have a ’no fault’ policy and no blame was laid, or compensation sought.

Morris's return to work in late 2011 was plagued with accusations of poor conduct from senior staff members and inflexibility within his senior management in regards to providing a safe and secure work environment– every employers ethical duty of care to those in their employ.

Currently on his second round of medical leave for depression, the DFAT has instructed Morris that his claims of stigmatization are invalid and further claims will result in disciplinary action. On his return to work, he will be blocked from receiving any training or promotion within the Department for a period as yet undetermined– it could be as long as three years.

While stating that a blanket ban on individuals returning from medical leave is ’policy’, no formal evidence of such a policy existing has been presented, despite numerous requests.

On this story breaking in the social medias, the general reaction from readers was subtle disgust overladen with a cynical acceptance that this conduct is to be expected within Government departments and all layers of bureaucracy, not only within our country's capital but in our state departments as well– those employed within our public sectors often work under a cloud of silence and passive aggression.

Transparency in workplace practices is always welcome, and Gilliard’s review of workplace bullying is timely, significant and valid. But it needs to focus its attention on sectors that are publicly known for using discrimination and stand over tactics– the Government’s own recruitment, advancement, internal complaint handling and ethical practice policies in particular.

Is that even possible, with the current culture of terrified silence that surrounds the topic; when people are too afraid to put name to their experiences for fear of covert retribution? When the best advice anyone within the public sector can give Darrell Morris is to change jobs, change departments, walk away and don't make a fuss?

Results of the review, due out in October, may provide a clearer picture– But don't go holding your breath. Given the current atmosphere, it may take more than one government review board to break the covert ranks of conspiratorial silence that surrounds this bizarrely underground, curiously Australian phenomenon.


That "Welcome to Australia"  sign is costing lives

By Amanda Vanstone

SURELY after another known tragedy of lost lives because people smugglers are able to sell unsafe places on boats to get to Australia, the Gillard government will finally shut the door on people smuggling.

The government must now remove the so-called pull factors that encourage people to risk their lives. Labor must take down the "Come on down" sign that makes some of its supporters feel so good, but actually costs lives.

When I was minister for immigration in the Howard government, one of the Indonesian ministers visited Australia to discuss border protection, among other things. My job was to reinforce the reasoning for our then strong border protection policies. He had a very sombre approach, but when I said "Ada gula ada semut" - "where there is sugar ants will be" - he had a glint in his eye. It is just common sense.

Tough border protection is not about being anti refugees. This is a ruse run by do-gooders who, in contrast to their sweet self-image, like to peddle hatred by asserting that people who don't think as they do are racists or uncaring.

During my time as immigration minister, we increased our intake of refugees, through the United Nations refugee agency, by a massive 50 per cent, while maintaining strong border protection. And we stopped the boats. For the government to now offer to set up an independent inquiry to look at the effectiveness of these policies seems to me no more than an unnecessary stalling tactic.

The people that use people smugglers fall within a range of categories, some with better credentials to take a refugee place than others. What all the boat arrivals have in common is a desire for Australian permanent residence and, hopefully, citizenship. But the UN Convention does not give a right to choose the country in which one will be protected.

I think it is fair to say that those who have travelled through three or four other countries before coming to Australia are no longer fleeing persecution but are rather seeking the citizenship of their choice. Who wouldn't want the golden visa card that Australian permanent residence or citizenship brings? While that is on offer, we are tempting people to get on the boats.

The government needs to reintroduce both offshore processing and temporary protection visas, or a variation thereof. Something that says: "If it becomes safe for you, we will assist you to resettle home. In the meantime, phone home and tell them they are not coming."

The Malaysian solution was never going to be all the government hoped. A half-smart people-smuggling network would quickly send 800 people to Australia for no fee, just to fill the limited number Malaysia was prepared to take. They may even then pay for those 800 to get from Malaysia back to Indonesia. Then the boats with paying customers would start again. It might increase their cost of doing business, but it would not stop the trade. What will do that is taking the goodies off the table.

Last Monday on this page, former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser made a contribution to this debate, labelling the Coalition's policy both evil and inhumane. It's the use of these words that got him the headline and it is typical of the hate-style politics that some seek to practise. (We've seen a bit more of it over the past week in the "Let's get stuck into Gina" campaign.) Fraser might like to consider what humanity there is in continuing to attract people on to these boats when so many have lost their lives in horrific circumstances.

He says Australia does not have an asylum seeker problem because the percentage of people arriving unlawfully by boat is small compared to the number of people who cross our borders each year. It is an apple-and-orange comparison.

The fact that millions of people do lawfully enter and leave Australia each year has nothing to do with the fact that thousands are choosing to land on our shores with the aid of people smugglers, having passed through other safe countries so they can live in the land of the golden visa card.

Where we are the country of first asylum, as we were with the Indonesian West Papuans in 2006, of course there can be no question. They did not go through three or four other countries first in order to force our hand. We were their nearest port of call, and we gave protection. They were a completely different category to those on the boats that come through Indonesia.

Thankfully, in a free country such as Australia everyone is entitled to voice their opinion. Former prime ministers are no exception. But I don't recall hearing Fraser's former nemesis and now friend, Gough Whitlam, publicly attacking his own party in the way that Fraser has.

There are plenty of people keen to argue the case for leaving onshore processing in place, for community detention and for letting almost everyone stay. With a throwaway line of "send back the ones who are not refugees", they reveal how little they know of the difficulties in doing just that.

These people are engaging in conspicuous compassion - it is more a statement to the world about how they would like to be seen than it is about the object of their concern. It is nothing more than the politics of convenience.

There is nothing humane or compassionate about enticing people to risk a horrific death.  For heaven's sake, take the sugar off the table.


24 June, 2012

Norton/Symantec are bunglers:  Do not use them

One of my readers received the following rubbish warning:
Fraudulent Web Page Blocked

You attempted to access:

This web page is a known fraudulent web page. It is recommended that you do NOT visit this page.

For your protection, this web page has been blocked. Visit Symantec to learn more about phishing and internet security.

Interestingly, the page had been up for only about an hour when Norton had their strange spasm above.  I received no warning from Norton and I can find no way of contacting them to ask why.

Another race that stopped a nation

An incredible triumph

BLACK Caviar, the racehorse that has captured the hearts of Australians like no other since Phar Lap, showed the world why she is regarded as the greatest sprinter of all-time with a memorable win at Royal Ascot.

But for a few strides near the line, the whole nation held its breath for a moment when jockey Luke Nolen eased up 75m out and was nearly caught by French mare Moonlight Cloud.

Nolen realised his error and shook the reins in the final three strides as Black Caviar held on to score a narrow and famous win.

Before Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and more than 75,000 racegoers, Black Caviar kept her perfect race record intact and showcased her extraordinary talents with a brilliant win in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

After the race, relief was the immediate and overwhelming emotion for trainer Peter Moody, jockey Luke Nolen, and the mare's syndicate of owners after they had endured intense media scrutiny and pressure in the build-up to Royal Ascot.

Nolen admitted he underestimated the testing straight track and its uphill climb to the finish at Royal Ascot.  "It is quite unfortunate as it is going to overshadow a very good win," Nolen said.

"There might be more talk about my brain fade rather than the horse's fantastic effort.  "It was pilot error but I got away with it. She won so it doesn't matter."

Moody was more philosophical about the scare as Black Caviar scrambled home to the narrowest win of her celebrated career.

"You only have to win by a quarter of an inch," Moody said.  "That is what we were prepared to do and we got the job done.

"We never expect dominance, we've never asked her for that. We always worry about having her ready for her next start.  "But we are very proud of her. She is 22 from 22 now, I'm extremely proud of her."

The Queen paid Black Caviar the ultimate tribute when she made her way down to the mounting yard to meet Moody, Nolen and Black Caviar after the race.

Moody admitted words could not describe how he felt to meet the Queen as the trainer of the winner of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

"It's just an ubelievable feeling to be standing here," Moody said.  "This is something I never thought I would experience, meeting the Queen, it was quite overwhelming. As we all know, Her Majesty is a horse lover.  "It was a meeting of the two Queens of Australia."

It seemed the whole of Australia stopped to watch our sprint superstar attain international glory in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes with the race shown live on Channel 7, Sky Channel and TVN, plus broadcast on Sky Sports Radio and ABC.

There were also more than 7000 Aussies, many adorned in Black Caviar's racing colours of salmon and black spots, on track to witness the defining moment in the great mare's career.

Black Caviar has now won all 22 of her races, including 12 at Group 1 level, and more than $6 million prizemoney.

She has the longest, unbeaten start to a race career in more than 150 years - her sequence of 22 successive wins equals the Australian record of Queensland bush gallopers, Sava Jet and Miss Petty, and 12 Group 1 wins is the most by an Australian-trained mare.


Appalling:  At least two years in jail on a police theory

There is NO evidence that Gerard Baden-Clay murdered his wife but police say he had a motive to do so.  And for that he is going to stay in jail for two years or more until the court system gets around to putting him on trial.

So he had mistresses?  So do most men at some time in their lives.  Even TV evangelists do.  Yet 99.9% of men who have affairs do NOT murder their wives.  So his affairs prove nothing.

And he was in debt but said he was going to be with one of his girlfriends shortly.  That could simply mean he was either going to clear out or declare bankruptcy.  Lots of men get into debt without murdering their wives.

The essence of the case is simply non-existent. It is just a weak theory, not proof of anything.  The various  "incriminating" internet searches he did also prove nothing.  A man in his position had every reason to check a lot of things out.  There is no way the case against him can reach the criminal criterion of "beyond reasonable doubt"

HE allegedly called himself Bruce Overland and promised he would come to her a free man by July 1.

But Toni McHugh knew him as Gerard Baden-Clay - her long-time colleague and lover who wanted to free himself from his wife and his life so they could be together.

What she did not know, until police told her, was that Baden-Clay was also allegedly having affairs with two other women, police have claimed in documents tendered in opposition to his bail application yesterday.

According to those same court documents, Baden-Clay had severe financial problems and the string of mistresses.

Peter Davis, SC, for Baden-Clay, described the Crown case as "weak", saying there had been no cause of death ascertained from the post-mortem examination, no evidence as to where she was killed, what date or time she was killed and no evidence to show he had left his home on the night she disappeared.

Justice David Boddice rejected that, saying the circumstantial case had factors that "if accepted by a jury" would make a strong argument.

He denied Baden-Clay's application for bail, saying the Brookfield father of three remained a flight risk.


How valuable are journalists?

A penny for their thoughts?

Deutsche Bank this week issued a valuation for Fairfax that included a nil valuation for its metropolitan print business. It is easy to point the finger at the Fairfax management and board for this outcome, but that is far too parochial an explanation. Newspapers around the world are facing similar issues.

It remains to be seen whether print media can be transformed into new and profitable business models based on paid subscriber content. However, any such transformation faces a significant constraint that was disguised by the old model: few people are prepared to pay very much for what journalists write. It is a reality journalists are understandably reluctant to accept.

Journalists cloak themselves in themselves in the mantle of democracy, but while a free media is essential to democracy, the traditional role of journalists as intermediaries and interpreters of information has been greatly diminished by the same forces that have undermined the old media business models.

For every Woodward and Bernstein, there are many more journalists who have been captured or compromised by their relationships with politicians and other institutions they are meant to scrutinise. The old media business models in many cases helped sustain these cosy relationships.

Far from being friends of free speech and media competition, many journalists have a long-standing record of support for increased regulation by government. They would prefer to answer to government regulators than to proprietors and shareholders because a competitive marketplace for speech and ownership and control of equity capital exposes them to greater competition and accountability.

Now that barriers to entry have collapsed, journalists are facing the same competitive pressures as their traditional proprietors. They will increasingly have to sell their product directly into a much more competitive marketplace for ideas and information. In the long run, this should make journalists better friends of free speech and more effective in scrutinising politicians, business and other institutions.


Mutual obligation as human rights abuse

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has written to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights drawing attention to what it believes is a serious breach of international human rights laws right here in Australia.

Has the civilian population come under bombardment from government-backed militia, like it is in Syria? Has the opposition leader been arrested and tortured, as in Ukraine? Has a woman had her 7-month-old foetus forcibly aborted in a state hospital after refusing to pay a fine for breaching the one-child policy, as it happened this week in China?

Not quite. ACOSS is outraged that single parents with children older than 8 and have been claiming Parenting Payment for many years are now being told to look for work. If they fail to find a job, they will have their fingernails pulled out with pliers and ... er, sorry, no, they will be switched to a different welfare payment, Newstart Allowance, which is less generous than Parenting Payment. This, according to the ACOSS letter, constitutes ‘a violation of human rights, as defined by the core United Nations treaties.’

It’s important to be clear what the government is exactly proposing. In 2006, new rules were introduced requiring recipients of Parenting Payment to look for employment once their youngest child turned 8 (before that, single parents had the right to stay on welfare until their youngest child reached school-leaving age, by which time most parents had lost any skills and motivation they may once have had and become almost unemployable). The new rule only applied to fresh applicants, however. Those who were already claiming Parenting Payment were exempt. It is this exemption that the government now wishes to withdraw and save taxpayers about $685 million over the next four years.

In other words, we are talking about people whose children are at least 8 years old and who have been living on welfare benefits without a break for at least the last six years. ACOSS believes there could be as many as 100,000 of them. The government thinks it would sensible to require these people to look for work, just like all other parents do. But ACOSS thinks this breaches some inviolable human right for single parents to stay on parenting welfare payments until their child turns 16 as they would have been able to do if the government had not acted.

This ACOSS letter is ill-advised for so many reasons:

* It is probably wrong as a matter of law (if ACOSS seriously doubts this, let them try running it past the judges at the Human Rights Court in The Hague);

* It debases the language of human rights and is insulting to people around the world who are suffering from real ‘human rights abuses’;

* It tries to subvert the democratic process by getting judges to overrule a decision taken by an elected government rather than campaigning politically to win over public opinion;

* It ignores the ‘rights’ of taxpayers to have their hard-earned money redirected only to people who really need it;

* It shows no regard for the long-term interests of welfare parents themselves, who will live more worthwhile lives (and will bequeath their children a better future) if they are encouraged to support themselves rather than relying on benefits for years;

* It offers no good rationale for why people who started claiming Parenting Payment before 2006 should continue to be treated differently to more recent claimants; and

* It is insufferably pompous.

The ACOSS letter is signed by 15 welfare and human rights activists and organisations with a long track record of opposing almost any welfare reform with the most breathtaking hyperbole. They include:

* the feminist academic, Elspeth McInnes, who thinks asking single parents with school-age children to look for part-time work leads to ‘homelessness and starvation for infants and mothers and more beggars in the street';

* the executive director of Catholic Social Services, whose predecessor (Joe Caddy) said that requiring single parents of school-age children to look for part-time work is ‘staggering in its harshness’;

* John Falzon of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, who thinks welfare-to-work schemes force people to ‘participate in the very structures that produce their poverty.’

ACOSS is Australia's leading social policy pressure group. It should not allow itself to be used in this way.


Big stink brewing over dumpanomics

Carbon tax to dump your rubbish?

The final battle against the carbon pricing scheme before its July 1 introduction will be amid the lumpy terrain and unpleasant pong of suburban garbage dumps. Local government will be fighting to the end the application of the $23-a-tonne penalty for carbon emissions which will be attracted by this usually unattractive community facility.

The circling ibis portend a tipping point in the carbon tax debate… sorry, that was pretty bad.The circling ibis portend a tipping point in the carbon tax debate… sorry, that was pretty bad.

Meanwhile, the Government will be insisting the same territory, the local landfill site, will become a boon for municipal councils as it will lead to money making prospects for them.

Rubbish tips are an ideal political battleground because while most suburban types don’t own an aluminium refinery or a coal mine, they do cart their clippings and other waste to the tip regularly.

And while the landfill sites of just 33 rubbish dumps out of 565 councils nationally will be caught up in the carbon pricing scheme, they are a frontline community resource.

Miners are allowing cries of dread about carbon pricing, but just yesterday giant Rio Tinto announced a big expansion in iron ore projects, and steel town Whyalla, one of the places said to be wiped from the economic map by the carbon scheme, is lobbying for an expansion of its airport.

While the question of electricity prices is not as clear-cut as the Opposition might insist, the matter of charges at the tip is as obvious as cash-short councils can and will make them, on rates notices or billboards at the dump.

While the scheme will affect only landfill sites which emit more than 25,00 tonnes of methane a year - the big ones - it indicates the reach and intrusion of the carbon scheme into basic community assets.

The Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate late last month said his council would not pay the carbon price when the bill arrives in July next year.

While this might cost his council more in legal fees to fight the Commonwealth in court than any savings from refusing to pay the carbon invoice, Ald Tate has become a local government hero.

The economics of rubbish dumps are not as simple as the old equation of garbage-in, gas-out might indicate.

Yesterday the Australian Landfill Owners’ Association wrote to parliamentary secretary for climate change Mark Dreyfus to lay out some of its research on how the scheme could warp competition.

It reported that in the Adelaide area there are two large sites clearly over the 25,000 tonne threshold, three smaller sites that are just below the threshold, and a further two small country sites.

“Under the current arrangements the two larger sites cannot pass through their CPM carbon costs without risking a significant loss of business to the smaller sites,” said the ALOA letter.

A second example was Hobart, where there is a relatively new regional landfill site and two smaller council-owned tips.

“Notwithstanding its intention to install a gas collection system shortly the regional landfill expects to have emissions above the threshold whilst the two smaller sites are below the threshold,” said the letter.

“This situation is preventing the larger regional site from passing carbon pass-through costs to its clients.”

And same for a third example in regional Victoria, where between Bendigo and Echuca landfill services are provided by a privately owned regional landfill and a number of smaller country landfills.

“The regional site estimates it will exceed the threshold in 2018 and as a consequence needs to initiate a partial carbon cost recovery from 1 July 2012. The operation of the smaller neighbouring sites is frustrating the regional sites ability to recover its carbon liability costs,” said the ALOA.

“These three examples demonstrate the need for the prescribed distance rule to be re-instated in the legislation and as a result ALOA calls on the Government to bring forward the review of the prescribed distance so that unfair competition between covered and uncovered sites can be avoided.”

But it’s the council sites where the issue will be felt most.

Mark Dreyfus is attempting to convince councillors they have a lucrative opportunity under the scheme to make some money by harnessing the methane and selling the carbon credits on the open market.

They could capture the gas and turn it into electricity to earn Renewable Energy Certificates which also have financial rewards attached.

“Good examples of councils taking a lead in these areas are Tweed Heads which has reduced its gas pollution so significantly, it will not have to pay any carbon price, and Newcastle City Council which generates enough electricity from its captured gas to power 3000 homes,” said Mr Dreyfus in a statement.

Ultimately the Government returns to its household assistance payments which it says will compensate for increased tip charges.

“Rate rises associated with landfill, if any, are estimated to be between 13 cents and 40 cents per household, which is covered by the federal governments average household assistance of $10.10 per household per week, delivered through pension increases, family payments and tax cuts,” said Mr Dreyfus.

Councillors are not dills. They see the opportunity. But they need time to invest in the the capital works to take advantage of those opportunities for decades to come.

Until they get that they will turn their rubbish dumps into carbon pricing martyrs.


Health boards to have power over Queensland's hospitals under new legislations

Back to the old days before bureaucratic chaos took hold

LOCAL health boards will soon be handed power over the state's hospitals under new legislation passed by Parliament.

The 17 boards will take over the management of resources and staff as part of a widespread decentralisation of the Queensland health system.

The Health and Hospitals Network legislation will take effect from July 1, with boards becoming responsible for their own finances.

The Newman Government also claims a series of ancillary boards will ensure a greater level of community involvement at the regional level.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg stressed that the ancillary boards will not add an extra layer of administration and will be directed to "act in a consultative way" to assist the "decision-making process" of health boards.

Board membership is currently being finalized and chairs have been appointed.

"I expect people who are appointed to boards will be highly-regarded," Mr Springborg said.

"(They will be) skilled, experienced and motivated members of the community."

Mr Springborg told Parliament that approval would need to be sought from the Treasurer and Health Minister to buy or sell land, with the legislation providing for "competent" boards to be allowed to manage hospital land and buildings, should the need arise.

"This is a reserve power - it may not be exercised and it may be exercised in exceptional circumstances," he said. "There will have to be a business plan and we will have to be very, very comfortable that they are capable of doing this."

Parliament also passed legislation that allows those working in fields such as diagnostic radiography and radiation therapy to enter a national registration scheme.


22 June, 2012

A plaintive wail from the Left

His fury is palpable but he has a point.  Australia IS one of the world's most conservative countries:  Second only to Switzerland, maybe.  He must be tearing his hair out at the torrent of conservative reforms underway in my home state of Qld.

Where to start; when did the right get a big leg-up in Australia? Whatever point is picked will be somewhat arbitrary and therefore contestable, but with my age and colours firmly nailed to the mast I will go for 1964-65.

On November 10, 1964, the prime minister, Robert Menzies, introduced conscription for possible service in Indonesia or Malaya. The necessary amendments to the Defence Act were made on April 6, 1965 and he committed Australian troops, including National Servicemen, for service in Vietnam the next day. That was the apex of a right-wing Liberal government, which Menzies led from 1949 to 1966.

The legacy he bequeathed it, in the form of Australia-wide protest at conscription and participation in Vietnam, led to the rise of the Labor Party and the election of Gough Whitlam's government in December 1972. But it fell apart for Gough with the likes of Cairns and Morosi, Connor and Khemlani and Murphy and Morosi and ASIO. It was all too much for Malcolm Fraser who got Kerr to sack Gough. But Fraser was an enigma, he demonstrated a commitment to getting rid of apartheid, compassion for refugees and concern with the welfare of Aborigines.

Hawke, elected prime minister in 1983, together with Keating as an adviser and treasurer, determined they would not go down the path of Whitlam and courted the big end of town. They introduced enterprise bargaining, which did much to undermine the power of the unions, and sold the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas. They moved the Labor Party to the right of centre and Keating as prime minister introduced mandatory detention for refugees, although he kept a small flame flickering on the left for the dignity and rights of Aboriginal Australians. Both Hawke and Keating embraced a jingoistic nationalism, centred on Kokoda and Gallipoli.

Howard redefined the right in Australian politics. He strengthened it. He extended and built upon the jingoism and nationalism of Hawke and Keating, he incarcerated and vilified refugees for political gain; he went to war in Iraq on the basis of false information supplied to the Australian people. He went to war in Afghanistan for the sake of the US alliance but without the sanction of the UN. He gave the ADF a blank cheque book and promoted the notion of entitlement, for senior officers and for himself, living off the best at Kirribilli House, Sydney. The Lodge was made into a bachelor pad. He demonised and turned the lives of powerless Aborigines upside down with an intervention designed to win an election. He set the tone and scene for the conduct of Australian politics today.

Rudd won the election from Howard by shadowing his every move; a tactic which gave left-wing agendas very little oxygen; but as we were to find out, issues of the left had little appeal for Rudd. He had stronger right-wing credentials than Hawke and Keating, which seemed to appeal to them. Rudd kept in place Howard's basic agenda, which was a big loss for the Labor Party and its shrinking support base. The Greens showed through as a political party with a strong sense of environmental and social justice. The battered mantle of left-wing politics passed from a masquerading Labor Party to them. There are not enough of them in Parliament to balance the right wing of Labor, the Liberals, Nationals and erstwhile independents, who soon may not be, if Richard Torbay is anything to go by.

Julia Gillard says she comes from the left, but in fact she comes from the right, where she seems comfortable. Refugees and Aborigines will not erect statues to her. Neither will the rest of the Australian population. She has managed to convince or please no one, least of all herself. She is an honorary and honourable member of the right.

To some extent the Fairfax press provided some balance to the forces of the right. It was hardly left wing, but it did understand social justice, which is an alien concept to the Murdoch media. Out of the desert prophets come and other ancient forms of life. Gina, larger than life, is bearing down upon the eastern seaboard like a scorching summer storm. The dust is rising and we are attempting to seal the windows and doors, but I fear she will still make a mess of our homes.

Gina will get what she wants. She doesn't care who she alienates, just ask her children. And what she wants is to run Australia for her own benefit. Abbott is to be her prime minister and he will fall neatly into line because they recite off the same sheet. The opposition will be scattered to the far reaches of her realm. Bolt will be elevated out of the blue to run a fearsome Fairfax, uncompromising in its ideological, messianic incantations of free-market principles, where the weak, the halt and the lame are to be led away, put away, from the gaze of overseas investors.

Plimer will be her high priest, Pell an avid disciple and Cowin will count the cost, if any. And from the middle of 2013, Australia will be a hair's breadth from being a right-wing, one-party state. Only the Senate will stand in the way - our only barrier to the Mongols. No checks, no balances and a future prime minister who believes the AFP and ASIO should be given even greater power. Bolt rails against the left, but there is no left, not in the union movement, academia or the ABC; with his tirades against the left Bolt looks slightly - no, considerably - unbalanced and a bully. The left in Australia is an endangered species. Its habitat is scattered and its birth rate falling.

The right already has everything it wants, but its appetite is insatiable, and where do you go on this island girt by sea, when you are chased or threatened, stuck to face your fate, unless you can catch a plane or a boat.


Disgrace:  Sydney home ablaze as firefighters strike

A MAN says he is disgusted that his Sydney house burned while firefighters were striking over changes to the workers compensation scheme.

Kym Loutfy's wife and grandson were rescued from the burning house by a passerby today, while firefighters were turning their hoses on NSW Parliament House during a protest.

Firefighters in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast went on strike for five hours at 1pm (AEST) in protest at reforms to workers compensation they say treat them poorly compared to exempt colleagues in the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and police force.

Firefighters are demanding they also be protected from the WorkCover changes, which cap benefits and medical expenses, with hundreds marching on state parliament in their first major strike in NSW since 1956.

"If the fire brigade weren't on strike they could come more quicker and there would be less cost and less damage," Mr Loutfy said utside his Sans Souci house, which had been extensively damaged in the fire.

"We have nothing to do with the strike ... Anyone can go on strike but there's supposed to be a back-up for emergency.  "I'm very very disgusted."

Radio caller Andrew said he was driving along Campbell St in Sans Souci just after 1pm (AEST) when he noticed flames coming from the front window of the house.  He said firefighters arrived half an hour after he dialled triple 0.

"We went into the house downstairs to check that no one was there. We got a lady and her baby out of there," he said.

NSW Fire and Rescue said in a statement that crews arrived at the scene within seven minutes of receiving a call from police.

It said local crews on their way to the protest responded to the call and carried out search and rescue operations.  However they went on to join the protest after the arrival of the Airports Rescue and Firefighting Service.

Ben Shepherd from the NSW Rural Fire Service said the local RFS sent two trucks and air support as well as firefighters in breathing apparatus.

"With that initial house fire there was probably a longer response time from our trucks," he told Fairfax radio network.
New South Wales firefighters have now returned to work after considering extending their strike.

Fire Brigade Employees Union president Darrin Sullivan said union executives met a short time ago to discuss continuing the strike, but it was decided to go back to work.


The charter school revolution comes to Qld.

In Britain they have also recently taken off -- where they're called "academies" or "free schools" -- but the idea, as in America,  is to get them out from under bureaucratic control while remaining government-funded

QUEENSLAND state schools have been invited to apply to become independent public schools next year and qualify for an extra $50,000 in funding.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek today visited Rainworth State School in Brisbane's inner west to spruik the benefits of moving out from his department's control.  He said public independent schools would have autonomy in decision-making, face less red tape and fewer layers of management.

"Independent public schools will have the freedom to directly recruit teachers and to build a team that is able to deliver innovative educational practices and have more autonomy to manage infrastructure and financial resources," Mr Langbroek said.

"Research tells us that parent and community engagement with schools can have a powerful impact on student achievement."

He said schools that already had significant community input would be in a good position to apply, but he would not expand on other criteria for selection.

"We're not going to use the NAPLAN table as a league table to determine whether someone should become an independent school," Mr Langbroek said.

Schools will have the freedom to pull out after a year, and those that remain in the program will have their involvement reviewed after four years.

The Minister said it would not cost parents any more to send their children to an independent public schools, but there would be some opportunities for business sponsorship.

"This is not going to be a case of businesses being able to come in and plaster schools with commercial advertising simply because they're working with schools to deliver the program," he said.

In the first year 30 schools in metropolitan and regional areas will be selected to become independent public schools with that figure rising to 120 in four years.

The Queensland Teachers Union has previously raised concerns about the program, saying it will ruin the state school system, and create real concerns about job security for teachers.


Boot camps for young offenders in Qld?

BOOT camps for young offenders will take a step closer to reality in Queensland today when Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie leads a round-table discussion about the issue.

During the election campaign the LNP promised to introduce boot camps as an alternative to youth detention centres, which Mr Bleijie has described as "colleges of crime".

"We will divert 80 juveniles, who would otherwise receive custodial sentences, away from the detention system into this three-month boot camp program," he said.

"The Newman Government will work to break the cycle of crime and give these kids a better chance of turning their lives around."

He said boot camp participants would be away from their family and friends for a 12-week regimen of "strict training and treatment to deal with drug, alcohol, mental health and education issues".

"The boot camps will give these young people an opportunity to learn values, respect and responsibility," Mr Bleijie said.

"Ultimately we want to change the culture of youth crime and reduce the number of repeat offenders."

Yesterday the Attorney-General told Parliament 30 per cent of young offenders at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre had been there five times or more.

"What we've seen over the years is a fundamental failure of young people in Queensland," he told Parliament.

He said he would make a submission to Cabinet on boot camps in the next few months.


21 June, 2012

Ethnic strife

This is a joke but there is more point to it than you might think

Noel Cleal flies to Kabul to watch a young Afghan star in a local game of rugby played with an inflated goat''s bladder. He is suitably impressed, gets on the phone to Des Hasler, signs the boy for the Bulldogs on the spot and arranges for him to come over to Sydney.

Two weeks later The Doggies are 12 - 0 down to The Sea Eagles at home with only 20 minutes left - it?s been a hard day at the office. Hasler gives the young Afghani winger the nod, and on he goes.

The lad is a sensation, playing an absolute blinder. He scores 3 tries in 20 minutes, converts all of them himself from out wide and wins the game for Canterbury . The Belmore Oval fans are delighted, the players and the coach are delighted and the media love the new star of Rugby League.

When the player comes off the ground he phones his mum to tell her about his first day in the NRL.

'Hello mum, guess what?' he says 'I played for 20 minutes today, we were 12 - 0 down but I scored 3 tries - they call it a hat-trick - and we won. Everybody loves me, the fans, the press, they all love me - I'm so happy.'

'Just wonderful,' says his mum, 'Let me tell you about my day ?

.... Your father got shot in the street, your sister and I were ambushed and assaulted - she would have been raped but for a passing police vehicle. Your brother has joined a local gang of looters and set fire to some buildings and all while you tell me that you were having a great time!!'

The young lad is very upset. 'What can I say mum, but I'm really sorry.'

'Sorry?!!! Sorry?!!!' says his mum,

'It's your bloody fault we came to Bankstown in the first place!'

Qld.: Unions ready for war with Premier Campbell Newman over fair pay

I'm looking forward to it.  They'll find that they've got another Sir Joh on their hands -- and Sir Joh creamed them

UNIONS are preparing to go to war against Campbell Newman over fair pay, with multiple industrial battles brewing following the Premier's hardline stance.

Teachers are set to rally outside State Parliament today, core public servants are threatening to strike and firefighters have lodged notice of industrial action from August 1.

But in a strong indication the State Government may ditch its election promise not to force redundancies, Mr Newman yesterday said Labor had hired 20,000 too many public servants and they could no longer be afforded.

"We're not saying they're going to go, but when unions start to make pay cases and say they want more, well I'm afraid that makes it even harder to save those jobs," he said.

As the State Opposition accused the Government of throwing workers into uncertainty by muddling its job cuts figures, Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams warned slashing 20,000 public sector jobs would strip millions of dollars from already struggling regional economies.

The Government this week angered core public service workers with a 2.2 per cent pay offer without incremental increases - its lowest deal yet.

Together union secretary Alex Scott yesterday said its members would be better off not signing the agreement at all, saying they would effectively take a 1 to 2 per cent pay cut.

He said staff may take industrial action from August, while the United Firefighters' Union of Queensland has lodged notice of industrial action from August 1, angered by the proposed buyout of their allowances and overtime in return for a 2.7 per cent pay rise.

It came as some public servants set to lose their jobs on June 30 raised concerns huge chunks of their severance payments could be forfeited to the taxman because the State has refused to process payouts before July 1.

Thousands of Queensland bureaucrats employed for years on so-called "temporary contracts" are set for unemployment under a contract extension freeze.  Axed workers are entitled to two weeks' pay per year of service, capped at 52 weeks.

From July 1, federal tax changes mean workers whose overall income including payouts exceeds $180,000 will lose 45c of every dollar earned over that cap to the Commonwealth.

"Genuine redundancy" payments are excluded from the cap, so workers facing layoffs - such as Fairfax staff - would only pay tax rates of 15 per cent (for over-55s) or 30 per cent (for under-55s) on payouts of up to $175,000.  Their income would not be taken into account.

It is understood that expired contracts of Queensland's temporary employees would not be eligible for that exemption because their job losses are not considered redundancies.

Treasury was last night unable to say how many people would be affected or how much the payouts would cost the Government. One accountant, who is handling the finances of several public servants but did not wish to be named, said the Government was unfairly penalising workers by refusing to transfer cash before June 30.

"It's just lousy that they won't process the payments in double-quick time," he said.

Queensland nurses and midwives are also voting on a 3 per cent pay offer made before an interim audit report last Friday dramatically downgraded the state's financial position, but Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle would not rule out future industrial action.

The Queensland Teachers Union is disputing a 2.7 per cent pay rise tied to changes in working conditions, which president Kevin Bates said "threatens the future of education in Queensland".


Qld. government renames and amends Civil Partnerships Act in parliament

SAME-sex couples will no longer be able to enter into a "civil union" in Queensland - they will be known officially as registered relationships.

Under a further change to the previous government's controversial law, the Newman Government will rename the Civil Partnerships Act, the Registered Relationships Act.

The amended, and renamed Act, which was introduced to State Parliament tonight, does away with state-sanctioned ceremonies for people entering into registered relationships.

It also makes it easier for couples to "de-register" their relationship by removing the requirement they go through the District Court, and instead can apply to Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Despite outrage over the proposed scrapping of state-endorsed ceremonies, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie insisted that the amendments did not "prohibit a couple from holding a private ceremony".  "The ceremony does not affect the legality of the registration process," he said.

Mr Bleijie told Parliament that the changes will see the process become "simplified" and "less onerous", and will "more accurately reflect the purpose and objectives of the act".

Premier Campbell Newman revealed last week that the changes were made to appease Christian churches who were "offended" by a marriage-type ceremony for same-sex couples.

The civil unions issue is believed to have divided the LNP after the party spoke of possibly repealing the legislation during the election campaign.

On Monday, Deputy Speaker Mark Robinson told ABC Radio he personally believed the LNP should have repealed Labor's law to reflect the concerns "of the large majority of Queenslanders".

Gay rights groups have expressed relief the Government did not overturn the legislation but criticised the abolition of state-sanctioned ceremonies.

Some turned to Twitter to suggest the watering down of the laws have made the process akin to registering a pet dog.  "I marry (or wed) my beloved. I register my dog," one wrote.  "Registered relationships ... next you get a little plastic tag to wear and an ear tattoo," wrote another.

Labor MP Jackie Trad used Twitter to describe Mr Bleijie's stance as "just unbelievably heartless".


Qld. govt.  planning to change union donation laws

The Labor Party's campaign in next year's federal election has been dealt a serious financial blow in Queensland.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is changing electoral donation laws so that unions will no longer be able to give money to political parties unless the donation is approved by a secret ballot of members.

Mr Newman says he decided to act after he saw a media report that the ALP was considering increasing its union affiliation fees by 40 per cent.

"At a time when people are struggling to make ends meet, we think it is terrible that hard-working union members should have to be hit by a large increase in union fees to go to a particular political party," he said.

"What we are proposing is an arrangement where once a year they would put their proposals for the next 12 months to the membership, have a democratic secret ballot and to get that signed off by the members.  "Surely that is fair and reasonable?"

But the proposal has outraged Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk and the state secretary Anthony Chisholm, who says there are more than 20 affiliated unions.

"Sure, we mightn't have the money, but we'll have the people power on the ground, which is the traditional strength of the Labor Party," Mr Chisholm said.

"If you are going to go down this track you have to have a real good look at whether companies, without reference to their shareholders, should be able to donate money to political parties," he said.  "We need a level playing field."

Mr Newman acknowledged the argument.  "I think that's a fair point but all I say is that corporations do have to answer to shareholders at annual general meetings," he said.

"Frankly, what the unions are saying is a bit disingenuous and self-serving.  "We've seen terrible, terrible things going on, it is alleged, in the Health Services Union where money has been totally spent on all sorts of spurious things.  "I don't think the unions have a leg to stand on in making that comment."

Labor was considering increasing the affiliation fees as a way to raise funds ahead of next year's federal election, which will be fiercely contested in Queensland.

But Mr Newman says that was not his concern.  "This is not about the federal election or the next state election or council elections," he said.  "This is about the democratic rights of union members to actually have a say where their money is going and to not just automatically support a political party."

The Coalition government in New South Wales recently enacted donation laws which forbid unions and corporations from making any political donations, and only allow individuals to contribute a maximum of $2,000 a year.

Mr Newman would not reveal if he had plans to follow suit.  "I'm certainly not ruling out other reform to election funding arrangements in Queensland," he said.


20 June, 2012

Gillard's shallow boasting irritates Europe

Can she get ANYTHING right?

FRANCE and Germany have joined a chorus of European leaders calling for other countries to stop lecturing them on how to fix their economic crisis.

The split between the Eurozone and the US and Australia deepened this morning at the G20 in Mexico with French President Francois Hollande saying it didn't need advice from others.

He was joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  "We can have differing points of view ... but Mrs Merkel and I know that Europe must have its own response," he said as the final day of the summit began.  "It must not be given to us from the outside."

But a bullish letter from Ms Gillard in the lead up to the summit appeared to lecture Europe on what to do by saying it could learn lessons from Australia.

Yesterday European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that he hadn't come to the G20, being held in the luxury seaside region. Of Los Cabos to be given "lessons" from anyone.

Ms Gillard's controversial foray into the G20 has set.tone for the final day of the meeting with Europe pushing back against political pressure from other countries to fix its problems.

During a meeting earlier between US Preaident Barak Obama, Ms Merkel appeared to soften to calls for greater integration of banks across Europe to help ease the debt crisis and re assure markets.

Ms Gillard has publicly pushed this line in a speech to a business leaders meeting of the G20 in which she repeated her claims that Europe could learn from Australia.

Ms Gillard will jet out of the resort region of Los Cabos this afternoon to Rio for a world meeting on sustainable development and climate change.

The PM has denied she was the intended subject of a retaliatory spray from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso after a speech urging world leaders to follow the "Australian way" in managing their struggling economics put her at the centre of a global diplomatic spat at the G20 summit in Mexico yesterday.

Emerging from the first official meeting with leaders gathered at the luxury resort region of Los Cabos last night, Ms Gillard defended remarks in which she claimed Europe could learn "lessons" from Australia on how to manage an economy through a crisis.

In a day of backtracking and diplomatic shuffling, Ms Gillard toned down her language and said she had praised Europe for making progress.

The Opposition sided with the Europeans and labelled Ms Gillard an "embarrassment".

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Labor lacked the credentials to be giving advice after delivering four budget deficits.


Citizenship lure to aid Defence recruits

I'm being optimistic here.  The Brits are laying off a lot of very experienced troops.  Let's hope it is mainly them that we are getting.  They generally fit in seamlessly with our forces  -- similar language, culture, organization, doctrine etc.

THE Australian Defence Force will beef up the number of foreign recruits after parliament passed a law to allow family members to become citizens in just 90 days.
In the past the spouse and children of a foreign soldier, sailor or flyer joining the Australian military had to be permanent residents for four years before they could qualify for citizenship.

The government bill, introduced to parliament several days after a similar opposition bill was tabled, also allows dependent children with a disability who don't attend school and a dependent parent to be fast-tracked.

Defence Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon said the new law was the result of months of work.

In recent years the ADF has sent out tentacles to numerous countries to fill skilled technical jobs such as pilots, submariners, warfare officers and military police. Even a foreign padre has been recruited.

During the past three years it has hired 573 foreign troops who were accompanied by 603 family members.


A shot across the bows for loan sharks?

Court cuts 96% interest rate to 7%

EASTERN Suburbs cash lender Adam Tilley is suing a Sydney artist for her Paddington home after she defaulted on a 96-per-cent-a-year loan -- 12 times higher than bank rates.

Tilley's company Big Kahuna Holdings took Joanna Kitas to the NSW Supreme Court after she defaulted on a $160,000 loan she took out for her brother - a bankrupt who owed $77 million, court documents said.

Socrates Kitas, also known as Scott Kitas, pressured his sister to take the loan and lodge her million-dollar property as security, the court was told.

He needed the money to put a deposit on a Vaucluse mansion selling for $2.8 million, court documents said. But he told his sister he needed a business loan, otherwise he would be "ruined" and he had "kids to think about", the court heard.

The loan was granted in February 2007 through Big Kahuna Holdings, the company run by Tilley and his wife Sally-Anne, the court heard.

Ms Kitas signed the documents "without reading them" or "obtaining independent legal advice", the court heard.

But when Ms Kitas, whose income is mostly from selling art, defaulted the rate blew out from 48 per cent to 96 per cent per year, the court heard.

When she did not pay that amount, Tilley launched legal action demanding her house, the $160,000 lent and unpaid interest. By the time the matter reached the court, Ms Kitas had fallen out with her brother.

Judge Lucy McCallum told the court the interest was "truly extortionate" and ordered it to be cut to 7 per cent.

A decision will be made in relation to the Paddington property when the matter returns to court on a later date.

Ms Kitas is well known in eastern suburbs art circles. In 2009 she entered a portrait of cricketer David Warner for the Archibald Prize.


Some conservative  Concerns about the Limited Understanding Conveyed by Australia's Proposed National History Curriculum

Information without understanding?

One of my concerns is that culture is treated as a consequence, rather than a cause, of history. For example, the proposed Year 1 Content Item H1KU4 refers to considering: 'How the roles of individuals and groups have evolved over time to meet changing human needs".

The problem is that the curriculum does not seem at any stage to require considering how "roles of individuals and groups" (ie how people behave individually or corporately, as a consequence of their cultural assumptions) can affect history. For example, the ability of societies to change (socially, politically and economically) is a function of the "roles of individuals and groups" within the society, and an ability to change is in turn a major determinant a society's success or failure in terms of technological / economic advancement and influence relative to other societies (eg see Competing Civilizations). And the weak "role of individuals and groups" in dealing with change has apparently created major challenges that still need to be faced by Australians with indigenous ancestry (see The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement).

A closely related concern is that the curriculum would not provide any depth of understanding of the way in which ideas have influenced history. The curriculum would certainly introduce various historical ideas - specifically those of: (a) Egypt or Greece or Rome (H7KU16); (b) China or India or Australasia (H7KU22); (c) Medieval Europe (H8KU13); (d) the Renaissance (H8KU19); and (e) radicals (H10KU4). However this would not lead to a coherent understanding of:

*    the particular ideas that have been the foundation of Australia's culture, institutions, society and economy. For example, a growing scientific understanding of the natural world could emerge in Europe at the time of the Renaissance and subsequently accelerate economic advancement, only because of Christendom's expectation that the natural world would be lawful. Many of the ideas that are needed to understand Australia's heritage seem unfortunately to be either absent from, or optional components in, the proposed curriculum;

*   the way in which different ideas (or the absence interest in abstract ideas) have led to different outcomes. For example, constraining the ideas that may be considered to those consistent with the world-view that Islamic scholars have elaborated around the Qu'ran arguably has significant (adverse) implications for Muslim dominated societies (see About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science). And the absence of Western societies' commitment to abstract ideas and universal values in some Asian societies (because they lack a classical Greek heritage) can lead to ways of doing things that are quite different ways to those Australians have any basis for understanding (eg see East Asia in Competing Civilizations).

Professor Stuart Macintyre, who spoke about the history component of the proposed curriculum in ACARA's Video Transcript ('Development and Consultation Overview: K–10 Draft Curriculum’, March 2010) emphasised: engaging those with diverse backgrounds; increasing understanding of Australia's regional context and of others; and promoting sustainability.

However there is a sense in which the proposed curriculum's worthy goal of encouraging acceptance of others as they are, conflicts with the need to understand what works and what doesn't work, and perhaps even the distinction between good and evil.

Moreover functionally-useful understanding of Australia's place in a region in which dominant societies lack the commitment to the abstract ideas and universal values that Western societies derived from the West's classical Greek heritage requires far more than brief references to Asia's history. Without much deeper understanding, cultural differences that are 'invisible' to those with 'Western' world views could put Australia's liberal and democratic traditions at risk (eg see Babes in the Asian Woods).

 Other observers perceived defects in the 'Asian' component of the proposed national history curriculum. For example:

*        there is a need for massive further funding to equip teachers if Asian component is introduced to curriculum - as teachers are not yet able to deliver on Asia literacy (according to Kathe Kirby - Asia Education Foundation). The draft curriculum was seen as very Eurocentric [1];

*       attempt to tell Australian story in Asia context was 'lame and impotent' according to Tony Milner (ANU) - as it fails to prepare Australians for the world they are moving into. WWII needs to focus not in Europe but on Japanese conquests in Asia. The curriculum focuses on rights / liberty / progress which does not have same impact in Asian societies [1].

A reasonable case can be made that many of the dysfunctions and conflicts that plague human societies are the unintended outcome of the failure of intellectuals to critically evaluate the consequences of differences in cultural assumptions (see Competing Civilizations) . It would not be constructive at this time to reflect this weakness in Australia's national school history curriculum.


19 June, 2012

E-health records shambles about to befall us

The British experience of a similar scheme should be a warning.  The Brits have spent many years and billions of pounds on a similar scheme and still have not got it working properly.  And the British habit of "losing" masses of people's data is unlikely to be much different here.  Anybody with medical records that might embarrass them should avoid this thing like the plague.  I am going to register, however, just to see how it all goes.  I like a laugh

The national electronic health record database to be launched on July 1 has both medical and security experts calling for better e-health controls.

Australia has no co-ordinated approach to e-health safety and security – and with the national Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) just weeks away, the risk of a safety crisis is growing daily.

People who choose to register for a PCEHR from July 1 will have access to a range of their medical data from Medicare, and over time also doctor's summaries, pathology results, scans and prescriptions.

"I would rest more comfortably if DOHA [the Department of Health and Ageing] was more pragmatic about the risks involved in accessing personal health records," says Graham Ingram, who heads the information security emergency response centre AusCERT.

"At the moment DOHA is saying, don't worry, the transactions are secure. They are not highlighting the risks that are associated with accessing your information over the internet from a compromised machine."

Ingram wants DOHA to "drop the blanket assurance" that the PCEHR records are safe and says that the risk of identity theft is high, adding DOHA can't guarantee the security of records accessed on a private machine or through an internet café, for example.

A very public security breach occurred last month when DOHA's eHealth education website was defaced by a team of hackers known as 'LatinHackTeam' on May 17.

The hack involved a defacement to Defacements are the digital equivalent to a protest graffiti. In this case it included a homepage change with text celebrating it.

The changes were quickly removed from the DOHA site. A copy of the hack was documented on the Zone H defacements website.

IT security consultant Chris Gatford of HackLabs said the hack showed a critical security process, that should have blocked access to external editing of the site, wasn't followed.

Gatford said vulnerabilities could include a coding error, a software patch not applied or having no process to detect security vulnerabilities – all standard basic security processes that should be integral to such a major project.

Professor Enrico Coeira is the co-author of a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia in April which calls for better clinical safety governance for e-health.

His collaborators on the paper include Dr Mukesh Haikerwal who heads Clinical Leadership, Engagement and Clinical Safety at the National E-health Transition Authority (NEHTA), which is spearheading the implementation of the PCEHR.

The writers call for the establishment of an independent, national, expert-based body to oversee e-health clinical safety governance, with the capacity "to investigate, analyse and act upon significant risks in the system."

The wide range of clinical software in existence throughout the health system is unregulated and unmonitored and the authors cite studies in e-health safety in Australia showing evidence of "past harms and future risks".

"It's important not to confuse safety and security," says Coeira.

"E-health security is about stopping people inadvertently or deliberately having access to information they are not supposed to, whereas safety is about whether a person can be harmed because information is wrong, or not delivered, or delivered to the wrong person."

Coeria says safety and security issues stretch beyond the issue over the vulnerability of the PCEHR records.

"E-health in the form of clinical software is being used everywhere right now – by every GP, every pharmacist, and every hospital – and it is entirely unregulated," Coeira says.

He says that without strong standards in place, something as simple as a flawed clinical software update could change the medication information in the clinical health records of a number of patients, unintentionally risking widespread harm.

"We know from research in other countries, that things can go wrong and patients can get hurt. We are not saying the PCEHR is unsafe. We are saying, we don't have any idea. And there is no national approach to governing how it is done, monitoring what goes on, and recording and responding to any problems."


HIV positive dentist claims Dental Board of Queensland 'contravened his human rights' by preventing him from conducting 'exposure prone dental' work

A human right to infect people with AIDS?  This is an offensive politically correct absurdity

A DENTIST who is HIV positive claims the Dental Board of Queensland has "contravened his human rights" by preventing him from conducting "exposure prone dental" work.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, in a just published four page written decision, has given the green light to the dentist, know only as "M", to take action against the Board under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

QCAT senior member Clare Endicott said she was satisfied M be given an opportunity to establish if his complaint was a "contravention of his human rights."

"M is a dentist who is HIV positive," she said.  "The Dental Board of Queensland has directed M not undertake exposure prone dental procedures in accordance with one of its policies.  "M contends that the application of that policy contravenes (the Act) and as a result constitutes unlawful discrimination.

"This case involves very grave matters with implications that could have wider consequences than those immediately affecting the parties."

QCAT has already ruled the conduct of the Board in this case did not constitute "unlawful indirect discrimination", but has yet to decide if it was "unlawful direct discrimination."

The Board had submitted the application by M was "vexatious, misconceived, lacking in substance and an abuse of process."

Ms Endicott said the Board conceded it had discriminated against M, but submitted it was exempt from consequences under sections of the Act.

She said M opposed the Board's application to bring an early end to proceedings, saying he wanted to adduce evidence to refute the reliance of the Board's "statutory defences".

"Both M and the Dental Board should have the opportunity to have their arguments about this complaint considered by the tribunal," Ms Endicott said.

"The implications (of this matter) have a bearing on how the instrumentalities of the State, including the respondent Board as well as this tribunal, conduct themselves when dealing with the rights of individuals."

"I am satisfied that M must be provided with the opportunity to have a just determination of his complaint which alleges a contravention of his human rights."

On March 12, Ms Endicott refused an application by the board to bring an early end to the proceedings.


Coal hard light of day for dud Green/Left scheme

Kevin Rudd's decision to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on technology to capture and store carbon has failed to deliver.

They've conferenced in empire-style Parisian ballrooms and dined in Kyoto on food cooked by a genuine Iron Chef. But deeply disgruntled former staffers believe Australia's $300 million Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute has not achieved very much.

In 2008 the then prime minister Kevin Rudd decided a fledgling technology called carbon capture and storage was the key to two of his government's big aims: joining a successful international fight to reduce global warming and continuing to be the world's largest exporter of coal.

In his grandiloquent style, he promised $400 million to a new not-for-profit company, the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, which would get CCS up and running at home and also "lead the world".

The funding was pared back over time, but industry and government sources and former staff of the institute are frustrated that much of the $300 million spent on the institute has been "squandered".

Even the man appointed to haul it away from government hand-outs and into the world of commercial reality - Brad Page, the former head of the peak electricity industry body - concedes the original $100 million a year "seed funding" given to the institute was more that it knew how to spend.

"It's actually impossible to spend that amount of money responsibly," he tells The Sun-Herald.

But his predecessors tried, in lavish ways that raised the ire of senior bureaucrats and ministers. Since 2009, more than $235 million has been delivered to the institute, $122 million of it already spent and another $113 million in its bank account, beyond the reach of Treasury's razor, information provided at a Senate estimates hearing reveals.

Treasury managed to claw back more than $80 million of the promised $400 million before it was handed over. Only about $80 million remains to be paid over the next five years.

The institute has 78 staff, including nine permanent employees overseas - two in Washington, three in Tokyo and four in Paris. Former senior employees say its first chief executive, the British businessman Nick Otter, was paid well over $500,000 a year - more than the Prime Minister.

Page insists he has "no idea" what his predecessor was paid and his own salary is "nothing like that". The institute's five board members are paid from a budget of $400,000 a year and are entitled to first-class air travel.

The first members' meeting was in Canberra, where the institute is based, in early 2009. But its second, in November 2009, attended by more than 15 Australia-based staff, was in the luxurious ballroom of the InterContinental Hotel in Paris, opposite the Paris Opera and decorated in similar ornate style.

Both industry sources and former staff concede the jaw-dropping opulence sent "all the wrong messages" to the 180 members who attended.

"The spending was very difficult to justify," said one former employee.

And it did not end in Paris. In 2010 when they met in Kyoto, they enjoyed a dinner cooked by a celebrity Iron Chef ( the institute says his services were thrown in for no extra charge by the hotel).

Documents released under freedom of information show a staggering $54,257,000 was spent on "operational expenses" in the first two years.

The spending began before the institute even existed. Rudd - who decided at a G8 meeting in Japan in 2008 that the success of CCS was vital to Australia's interest - set it up on advice from Boston Consulting, rather than the public service, at a cost of $1.5 million. By September 2008, he summoned business leaders to Canberra for a 30-minute presentation unveiling his plan.

Many were nonplussed, unsure about its aims or how it would be different from the CO2 co-operative research centre set up under the Howard government ( with almost $50 million in federal funds), Dick Wells's National Low Emissions Coal Council ($400 million in federal funding) or another international body set up by the US, the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum.

"I still have no real idea how it will work or what it will do," one chief executive said at the time.

But the public service was already doling out $65 million to future institute "partners", including $21 million to the Asian Development Bank, almost $20 million to the International Energy Agency, $10 million to the Clinton Foundation headed by the former US president, and a grant to a body called the Climate Group to "advance" CCS. The Sun-Herald understands there is deep concern about what Australia is achieving from these contracts.

The institute was soon seeking global members and now boasts more than 300, including foreign governments, corporations, industry organisations and research bodies. There was no reason not to sign up. There is no joining fee.

In July 2009, the grand idea was paraded on the international stage, its reannouncement the key initiative at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy. It was a heady moment for the Australian prime minister, who shared the podium with the US President, Barack Obama, the leaders of the developed world listening behind him.

At the time, Australia's $400 million was termed "seed funding" with hundreds of millions from other governments also anticipated. But it took years for the US government to come good with $1 million and the European Union has only this year contributed €3 million ($3.8 million) for the institute to take over work it had previously contracted elsewhere.

Its advisory panel included the world's best and brightest, among them former World Bank boss James Wolfensohn and influential climate economist Sir Nicholas Stern. Wolfensohn has since left.

Despite all its money, it took the institute some time to clarify exactly what it would do to meet its ambitious brief. At its inception, a spokesman for Rudd said the institute would not "actually fund demonstration projects overseas" but would "provide expertise … and research".

However, in its first report to the Minister for Resources, Martin Ferguson, revealed under freedom-of-information laws, the institute said it was planning to "make approximately $50 million per annum available to support a substantial portfolio of CCS projects around the world".

And in a letter to Ferguson in February 2010, institute chairman Russell Higgins wrote proudly that the initial offer to support international projects received an "extremely encouraging" response. The institute had received requests from overseas projects asking for a total of $500 million of Australia's money. So far, the institute has spent $37 million on projects, mostly overseas. Several have failed. Only about $6 million has been spent on projects in Australia.

A total of $8 million was spent on a single CCS plant proposed by the energy company Tenaska, in Texas. In a recent report, Tenaska conceded it was still unable to bridge a "financing gap" required before the project could proceed because the US government had not provided any assistance. Internationally, the only CCS projects working on power plants are where the injected carbon dioxide serves an additional revenue-raising purpose - helping to recover more oil deposits from underground.

"They thought they could purchase an acceleration of projects overseas, but it was clear from the start that even though we had a lot of money, doing that would cost a lot more money than we had," the former employee says.

Peter Cook, the former head of the research centre CO2CRC and a professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne, says Australia should have used its money to make sure at least one domestic carbon capture and storage project was built to prove to investors that the technology worked at commercial scale.

"Some of the other countries must think we are wonderfully generous, but I believe we could be getting a lot more bang for our buck," he said.

Page says the institute's function is now "knowledge sharing" - to make sure each new project around the world does not repeat the mistakes of the last. He says the money was initially paid to overseas projects to begin building up the institute's publicly available "knowledge bank", but from now on it will commission specific research and will no longer fund projects on the ground.

As the government funding runs out, Page's job over the next two years "is to develop a strategy for the future … where our services are attractive enough to be paid for by our customers." It will almost inevitably involve fewer staff and pared back operations.

But the main knowledge being "shared" is that, like all low-emission technologies, CCS is more expensive than coal, and therefore (unless it can make a revenue stream through enhanced oil recovery) it requires upfront capital assistance from governments, and ongoing subsidies while a carbon price remains low.

The institute itself came to this conclusion after its first global "audit", released in October 2009 and Page concedes this remains the reason for slow progress on CCS around the world.


Is the easy ride finally over for Qld bureaucrats?

PREMIER Campbell Newman has given his strongest indication yet of the number of jobs that will be shed from the public service to save money.  Responding to a question from Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk in Parliament today, Campbell Newman said Labor had employed 20,000 more public servants than the State could afford.

"Labor was paying those 20,000 by borrowing, by incurring debt," said Mr Newman.  "We're going to fight as hard as we can to save those jobs (but) we've got a terrible job ahead of us to get the State's finances back on track."

His revelation comes after threats of strike action by public service union Together Queensland, in response to the government's new pay offer to core public servants of a 2.2 per cent rise and a freeze on promotions.

Together secretary Alex Scott said the "outrageous offer" was the lowest the Newman Government had made to public servants since taking office on March 24.

Just days after the sobering Commission of Audit report, the State's 60,000 public servants have been offered 2.2 per cent annual pay rises and the prospect of no extra cash for promotion in the next three years.

The offer also removes from the public service award "any provisions impeding managerial prerogative", a move the union says will "abolish consultation in the workforce and silence workers".

Alex Scott from Together Queensland, which represents more than 38,000 public servants, said it was an "outrageous offer" that would leave most workers financially worse off.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the public servants can take the matter to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, which last year granted police a substantially higher rise than they were originally offered.

But the Newman Government has legislated to try to prevent that happening again, requiring the independent umpire to take into account the State's financial position in wage cases.

The law changes have prompted criticism of the Government from unions, which claim the amendments water down the commission's independence.

Although public servants cannot take industrial action until the current agreement ends on July 31, Mr Scott said it was an avenue they would explore.  "We're working through the mechanisms and clearly the feedback from our members is that they're insulted by this offer," he said.

"It seems to be designed to inflame the public sector and makes a mockery of Campbell Newman's assurances prior to the election, that the public service had nothing to fear from an LNP government."

Mr Scott said it was clear the timing of the offer, just days after the Costello Commission of Audit report, was intended to "scare workers into accepting".  "Nurses got 3 per cent, teachers have been offered 2.7 per cent, medical officers 2.5 per cent and now public servants 2.2 per cent," Mr Scott said. "They're using the Commission of Audit report to try to bully and intimidate workers."

The report found the public sector had grown to represent 4.5 per cent of the population in June last year, compared with 4.1 per cent in June 2000.

"If the size of the public sector had remained at the same per cent of the population, employee numbers would be around 18,500 lower and expenses around $1.5 billion lower," the report noted.

Minister assisting the Premier Glen Elmes said based on the report's findings, it was clear everyone had a part to play in tightening the belt.


18 June, 2012

A homosexual nobody criticizes the Salvation Army

When homosexuals have done one thousandfth of the good works that the Salvos have done I might listen to them

THE Salvation Army is facing a backlash after its online anti-homosexuality and gay marriage stance sparked a social media boycott campaign.

Gay pop star Darren Hayes - the face of '90s hit machine Savage Garden and a mentor on The Voice - has called for the boycott.

The Salvos responded last night by pointing out they helped Australia's most marginalised and needy, including gay and transgender people.

After spotting the Salvos' online statement on homosexuality, Hayes tweeted to his 60,748 followers: "Important for gay people to know the true position of the Salvation Army when considering who to donate to. Sad." He said asking people to control their sexuality was like asking someone to change their eye colour.

Salvation Army spokesman Major Bruce Harmer said most of Australia's faith-based charities would be excluded from receiving donations if judged purely on Hayes' criteria.

"TSA would suggest a more appropriate measure for people to use is to look at how an organisation treats and deals with members of the community who are marginalised, vulnerable, experiencing disadvantage or oppression," he said. "On that measure, TSA is one of the most compassionate and non-discriminatory in the way it works with people who are marginalised in our community, including many who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender."

He said gay people could be officers of the church if they vowed to be celibate as well as unmarried heterosexuals. Major Harmer said a statement on its website, which described homosexuality as "unacceptable" to God and that it should be "restrained" with willpower, was its current position.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard's talking up the economy glosses over grassroots fears

By Mike O'Connor (Mike is normally a humorous writer but the lies and deceptions of the illegitimate Gillard government seem to have strained his good humour to the limit)

ASKED how they expected their family's finances to fare for the rest of the year, a third of those surveyed recently said they expected matters to get worse.

The poll, conducted by Westpac and the Melbourne Institute, found that this was the most negative outlook recorded in 22 years.

Meanwhile, at the business leaders' forum held in Brisbane, organised by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and to which only a handful of Queensland's business leaders were invited, the Prime Minister urged the "suits" to talk up the economy.

It seems it is their fault that people feel so glum about their futures.

All that is needed is for everyone to hold hands and sing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life and we'll be fine.

As a result of this summit, the Prime Minister now knows that the business community is not happy about the carbon tax.

If it took a summit conference for her to establish this, we're in more trouble than most of us thought.

The conference was symptomatic of the reason so many of us feel let down, for in the end it was a stage erected for the Prime Minister's podium, one from which she could attempt to gain the support of the business community by telling them that she was listening and that a cut in company tax was back on the agenda.

Was this the same tax cut promised in Treasurer Wayne Swan's Budget, an assurance as easily broken as it was made?

Well, yes, it was but this time it will be different.  Saying it was now an "absolute priority", the Prime Minister promised the cut.

But there was a slight catch.  Someone would have to work out a way for it to somehow pay for itself so it would not affect the Budget's bottom line.

This was the equivalent of telling every wage-earner in Australia that they could have a $100-a-week pay increase as long as they could find a way that it would not cost their employer any money.

The speeches made, nothing decided and nothing gained, the stage was then dismantled and the Prime Minister and her entourage scuttled back to Canberra, leaving the rest of us sitting by the flickering light of a candle trying to read our latest electricity bill, one in which the decimal point seemed to have moved one place to the right since the same time last year.

Shielding the candle against the wind, I shuffled out to the post box to see if my household assistance grant, otherwise known as The Don't Mention The Carbon Tax Handout, had arrived.

Then I remembered that our household had been judged to be fantastically wealthy and therefore ineligible for any help in coping with the impost of the Prime Minister's carbon dioxide tax.

The only mail, however, was from my superannuation fund telling me that all the money I'd put in over the past year had disappeared.

This meant that I would have been better off taking my weekly super contribution to Eagle Farm or Doomben every Saturday and putting it on the favourite in the feature race.

Please stop telling me that Australia is the envy of the world when my retirement savings are being trashed, and don't tell me I will be cushioned against rising prices caused by the carbon tax when every rational element in my being tells me that this will not happen.

Please stop trying to buy votes by handing out bucketloads of cash to people for having babies, buying new homes or simply not earning as much money as other people when the nation plainly can't afford it, and please stop trying to split us by attempting to paint everyone who earns more than $80,000 a year as a filthy capitalist pig.  It is, believe me, extremely irritating.

Look after the abjectly poor and dispossessed but please stop institutionalising a system that in many instances penalises people who have worked hard throughout their lives while rewarding those who have done as little as possible.

Oh, yes, and a word about hypocrisy.

Last week, Treasurer Swan blasted European leaders for lacking political guts. "Put simply, what is required is some basic political courage," thundered the Treasurer.

Was this the same Swan who took one look at the Henry review into our taxation system, one which urged the Government to undertake sweeping reforms, and quickly filed it under Too Hard?

Still, one must look on the bright side. Now that Treasurer Swan has branded the euro leaders as cowards from the incredibly brave distance of 20,000km, there's little doubt they'll lift their game and solve the whole mess by the end of the week.

It was left to Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens to urge the Government to take direction from the Productivity Commission.

Is this the same commission the Government ignores because it says that the mountains of money spent by the Gillard Government as a sop to the unions in propping up doomed industries such as the car industry are an absolute waste? The same.

As Bank of America Merrill Lynch Australia's chief economist told The Financial Review: "When it (the Government) doesn't want the opinions it thinks the commission will give, it doesn't ask them."

What was it that Swan said the Europeans were lacking?  Ah, yes. That's right.  Courage. Basic political courage.


Testing reveals some surprisingly good schools in poor areas

Sitting in the parliamentary press gallery in Canberra, waiting with the other vultures for Craig Thomson to make his statement to Parliament on May 21, I was surprised by the venom already being directed in the chamber. It had nothing to do with Thomson. Dr Sharman Stone, a Liberal MP, was on her feet blasting away:

"We all know that NAPLAN is a farce - it is not a sensible way to measure your children's increasing knowledge across the nation - but we already have NAPLAN indicating that there is a substantial drop in literacy, numeracy and people being able to interpret literature."

Stone's loathing of the one-size-fits-all measurements imposed on the nation's schools by the Gillard government was echoed in an open letter signed by 100 academics last month which condemned the NAPLAN tests wholesale:

"As a group we are appalled at the way in which the Commonwealth government has moved to a high stakes testing regime in the form of NAPLAN, despite international evidence that such approaches do not improve children's learning outcomes."

Farce. Appalled. These are strong terms. Then last week came a report from the Australian National Audit Office which found that the $322 million spent by the government over the past three years to lift national literacy and numeracy standards had barely made a dent.

All this raises the question: is the NAPLAN scheme just another Labor bureaucratic white elephant like the pink batts scheme, the gold-plated school building program and the billion-dollar-a-year asylum-seekers debacle?

The jury is out. Whatever flaws the NAPLAN data may have, it does tell a great deal. It confirms private schools generally outperform non-selective public schools of comparable socio-economic rank. It confirms girls schools outperform boys schools. It confirms that a school's socio-economic catchment area has a huge bearing on school performance.

Everyone already knew that - except for the NSW Teachers Federation, which prefers ideology over reality - but now the figures say it. What those NAPLAN scores and ICSEA (Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage) indexes also reveal - and this is their point - is that the hero schools can rise above their socio-economic limitations and deliver superior academic performance that breaks the iron grip of wealth.

You don't have to be wealthy to get a good education. I've gone through the data and ranked schools by their ICSEA socio-economic scores, then cross-referenced these with their NAPLAN scores rank. I found a dozen schools which rank at least 200 places in NAPLAN results above their socio-economic rank.

Here are those schools, from modest, low socio-economic areas. Half are public and half are private:

1. Pal College Sydney School of Mathematics and Science, Cabramatta (NAPLAN scores rank 161)

2. Taree Christian College (321)

3. Moriah College, Queens Park (87)

4. Sefton High (42)

5. Barellan Central (134)

6. Tempe High (116)

7. Macquarie Fields High (86)

8. Cabramatta High (481)

9. Freeman Catholic College, Bonnyrigg (140)

10. Malek Fahd Islamic, Greenacre (48)

11. James Sheahan Catholic High, Orange (303)

12. St Ursula's College, Kingsgrove (110)

Two schools have the advantage of being partially selective, Sefton High and Tempe High, while two other state schools, Barellan Central and Macquarie Fields High, belong to centre-of-excellence programs. But all draw students from modest socio-economic areas.

Why rate a school like Cabramatta High so highly when it ranks only 481 on the NAPLAN scores? Because it ranks 758 among the 783 high schools in NSW in the ICSEA socio-economic measure. Thus it is a comprehensive school in one of the 30 poorest areas in the state but its scores ranked it 277 places above its socio-economic ranking. This is exceptional.

Another school in Cabramatta did even better, topping my list. Pal College Sydney School of Mathematics and Science is a small private school which, like Cabramatta High, has more than 90 per cent of its students from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Despite a low socio-economic score of 925, Pal College ranked 161 in NAPLAN scores, by my calculation a phenomenal 510 places above its ICSEA socio-economic rank.

Seven of these 12 schools have students who are predominantly from non-English-speaking backgrounds while an eighth, St Ursula's, has a small NESB majority, mainly Chinese. These schools - Pal College, Sefton High, Tempe High, Macquarie Fields High, Cabramatta High, Freeman Catholic, Malek Fahd and St Ursula's - are engine rooms of upward social mobility for immigrant families.

The three schools in regional NSW on this list, Taree Christian, Barellan Central, and James Sheahan Catholic, have almost no students from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

The six private schools, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, would be selected by parents with a heavy investment in their children's education, as would non-denominational Pal College.

Overall, good religious schools deliver the highest economic pay-off in delivering above-average performance. Although state selective schools, being free, are the great bargains of the education system, even they tend to match the high correlation between superior test scores and superior socio-economic ranking.

The sheer diversity of these 12 schools points to common advantage: they must all have high-quality leadership. Thus the move to give greater autonomy for headmasters at state schools, to match that of private schools, should be buttressed by the NAPLAN data because it shows schools can rise above modest circumstances.

The chairman of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, Barry McGaw, says: "Opponents of NAPLAN would deny parents and students information that sits in a bigger picture than the local school. They would deny the schools the chance to identify others from which they might usefully learn."


Australia's  'how-to guide' for people smugglers

THE Immigration Department has been accused of running a "marketing department" for people smugglers after publishing an online guide to asylum-seeker processing and fact sheets detailing free legal assistance available to arrivals.

A new section of the department's website explains the journey irregular maritime arrivals take when their boat is intercepted in Australia.

The site also explains the appeals process for rejected claims and the visa process for successful applications.

"This website contains general information for you if you arrived in Australia by boat without a visa," the department tells visitors.

The government yesterday said it was best to be proactive and distribute the facts rather than let asylum seekers be fooled by people smugglers.

But opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison dubbed it a "how-to guide".   "The only thing missing from this website is a hotline to the people smugglers that they can call and an introductory video from Captain Emad," he said. "You can effectively call this ''."

Some of the information has been available on the department's website for months, but was compiled into an easy-to-use resource in recent days.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday said the information was important to counter the false promises people smugglers peddled.

"Scott Morrison would rather asylum seekers get the myths from people smugglers; these are simply the facts," the spokesman said.


21yo Aussie woman jailed in Thailand over false rape  claim

What stupid woman!  The Thais have been extraordinarily lenient in sentencing her to only 15 days.  Even in Britain she would probably have got years

A 21-year-old Sydney woman has been sentenced to 15 days jail in Phuket for falsely accusing a local taxi driver of assaulting her.

The woman, whose name has not been released, told Thai police she was the victim of an assault early on Sunday on the resort island and that two other Thai men restrained her during the attack.

The report, confirmed by Phuket Provincial Court sources, said the woman initially told the officers she become separated from her boyfriend in a nightclub area of Patong early on Sunday morning.

She said she was taking a taxi back to her resort when the driver picked up two other men.  She alleged he then drove to a secluded area and assaulted her while the other men held her down. Afterwards, they took her passport and cash.

However, Phuket police said they interviewed the women over two days before she confessed to fabricating the story after security camera footage revealed she had been safely taken back to her resort by a motor bike taxi driver.  After confessing to giving false evidence the woman was detained and held in a local cell.

Deputy Superintendent of the Phuket Kathu district Police station, Colonel Sermphan Sirikong, told a local newspaper the allegations had the potential to harm Phuket's reputation as a holiday destination.  "It's sad that tourists have to lie about this kind of thing," Col Sermphan said. "It could damage Phuket's tourism industry."

The woman faced the court today in the company of Australian consular officials.


17 June, 2012

Australia and Asia:  Belated intellectual realization of what is already well underway

Something not mentioned below is the fact that Australia's population is now something like 5% of Han Chinese origin.  I still sometimes get a bit of a start when someone of unmistakeable Han  appearance addresses me in broad Australian!  And the number of tall Australian men I see with a little Asian lady on their arm is so frequent as to be amusing.  The Asian ladies know what they want  -- big men  --  and get it.  My own big blond 6' tall son always seems to have an amiable Asian lady in his company

Sam Roggeveen, editor of the Lowy Institute’s blog The Interpreter, recently suggested that coming to grips with the Asian Century may represent a ‘great national project’ for Australia. Embracing Asia ‘goes to the core of our national identity’ and cannot be done without political leadership, he added.

The Asian Century is not a pithy turn of phrase. It points to one of the most important geo-strategic shifts in world history. After approximately 500 years of European and American pre-eminence, power is rapidly moving back to Asian capitals and centres of commerce.

As profound as the changes heralded by the dawn of the Asian Century might be, it does not require a great nation-building response from Australia. We are already deep in an Asian embrace.

The rise of Asia is nothing new for Australia in the economic arena. From the resources sector to higher education, the Australian economy is already tied to Asia’s growing economies.

The top five destinations for Australian exports are China, Japan, Korea, India and Taiwan, and we are negotiating free trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea, India and Indonesia.

The Australian tourism industry is emblematic of the shift to Asia. While North Atlantic economies are depressed by ongoing financial meltdowns and paltry growth figures (around 2% in the United States and 0% in the Eurozone), Australia is increasingly drawing tourists from the rapidly expanding Asian middle classes.

Last year, Australia welcomed 542,000 Chinese visitors, and Tourism Australia projects that Chinese tourists could inject as much as $7 billion-9 billion annually into the Australian economy by 2020. With more than 2 billion newly prosperous Indian and Chinese middle-class consumers expected by mid-century, the importance of Asian markets will only grow.

Appreciation of the significance of Asia’s rise is not restricted to corporate boardrooms or elite defence and foreign policy circles. The latest Lowy Institute poll shows that Australians are aware of Asia’s importance to our prosperity and security: 68% of respondents said it was very important for Australia to be seen in a positive light by countries in our region.

Australia’s view of Asia is also becoming increasingly optimistic. Positive feelings towards Japan are at an all-time high, and China is increasingly viewed in a positive light.

Australia’s integration into Asia need not be a national project. It is already underway and will continue apace.


Illegals  abuse law to overstay in Australia

FAILED asylum seekers, foreign students overstaying their visas and others facing deportation admit to rorting the immigration system to stay in Australia, according to an official report.

The Immigration Department study revealed unsuccessful visa applicants had a "dig in and resist" mentality, believing they had a "personal entitlement" to stay in Australia and could beat the system with persistence. It found some refugee advocates, migration agents and religious groups misled asylum seekers by raising expectations and false hopes about their chances of staying in Australia.

Based on interviews with people facing removal from Australia and immigration officers, the report revealed the department was besieged by those with a "stay-at-all-cost" mindset.

It found people used every means to extend their stay and many saw marrying an Australian as a viable way to remain permanently, with the aim of later bringing out family. "Most respondents displayed a 'dig in and resist to the end' mentality (and) they had a strong sense of personal entitlement to stay in Australia," the report said.

"They believed the system was there to be exploited and no decision was seen as final."

Among those surveyed were Afghan, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, UK and New Zealand nationals. Most had been in Australia between two and 10 years - some for decades.

The report said, while many claimed to fear persecution in their home countries, they strongly believed they had a right to stay based on their social and economic contribution to Australia.

"(There was also) a sense of shame around returning to the country of origin having nothing to show for their stay in Australia," it said.

The report said many surveyed asylum seekers were drug addicts and had mental health problems, and they had a general attitude that the department lacked credibility and was "just trying to get rid of people". The Management Of Enforced Removals In Australia: A Client Perspective report was done for the department by consultants Hall & Partners/Open Mind.

It recommended the department improve "messaging" so clients better understood the migration process and were given alternatives to remaining in Australia.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan police have arrested 53 people who were trying to leave the island illegally in a boat believed to be heading for Australia. The trawler was stopped by the navy off the island's southeastern coast on Tuesday and the men were handed over to police, who arrested a further 26 people on shore, including 21 Afghans and five Pakistanis suspected of using Sri Lanka as a transit point.


When Australian military "justice" a sham and a joke

A coverup to protect an erring  female officer

A SENIOR Defence Force investigator who "came down hard" on Diggers caught drinking in the Middle East was cleared of a boozing charge after her hearing was conducted without witnesses.

Two former investigators and key prosecution witnesses, whose accounts of her drinking at the Hilton Hotel in Dubai led to her facing charges, only found out about the hearing several weeks after it was over. Military personnel are banned from consuming alcohol in the Middle East.

Investigator Flight Lieutenant Tricia Hill, who was officer-in-command of the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service contingent in 2011, was a key figure in prosecuting soldiers caught drinking in Dubai and Afghanistan. A total of 160 troops were disciplined for drinking during 2010 and 2011.

In one case a corporal was fined $5000 and demoted for drinking in Dubai.

According to a whistleblower, who was drinking with the officer in Dubai and in Jordan in 2011, she consumed at least six drinks in Dubai and "copious" amounts over several days by the pool in Jordan.

The charge against her was moved to Canberra, because the witnesses were back in Australia. When the case was heard without them the charge was dismissed. One of the whistleblowers described the failure to ensure witnesses were present as "perverting the course of justice".


Horrors!  Grass grows in some parts of Antarctica

The Greenies sure have a lot to worry about

ANTARCTIC scientists are making plans to defend the continent against green alien pests.  Believe it or not, green grass does grow on the Antarctic continent and scientists are calling it an alien invasion.

Paddock grasses such as poa annua, or bluegrass, are encroaching on areas that do not have permanent ice and snow cover. And alien flies have been spotted buzzing around.

Australian Antarctic Division Terrestrial biologist Aleks Terauds said such infestations had only been there a few years.  Dr Terauds, speaking yesterday at a Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research forum in Hobart, said they along with unwanted micro organisms had been ferried in on the boots and equipment of scientists and tourists.

A team led by Dr Terauds yesterday announced that they had divided the vulnerable areas those with no permanent snow cover, adding up to about two thirds of the size of Tasmania into 15 distinct regions based on location, climate, flora and fauna and geology.

"While quarantine procedures are already in place for intercontinental travel, such as cleaning clothing and equipment before arriving in Antarctica, there are less biosecurity measures for intra-continental movement," Dr Terauds said.

He added that scientists had not ruled out bids to eradicate existing alien populations that could run rampant with global warming.


Australian radio commentator Alan Jones officially censured over perfectly reasonable global warming comments

Since the % of CO2 in the air is in any case tiny and there have always been large natural causes of it,  what Jones said was a perfectly reasonable ballpark estimate.  ALL estimates involve a large element of guesswork and assumption anyway

In a separate investigation, ACMA also looked into remarks made by Jones on March 15 last year when he told listeners on his breakfast show that "Human beings produce .001 per cent of carbon dioxide in the air."

ACMA found Jones had breached the code of practice when he made no effort to check his claims and 2GB needed to improve its processes for fact-checking or face a licence condition.


15 June, 2012

ADF brutality report: Senior officers suspected of carrying out horrific abuse

These allegations are undoubtedly true but it would be a mistake to apply civilian standards to them.  "Bastardization" is routine in most armed forces -- to toughen up recruits and to reveal those who would crack under harsh pressure if captured.  A line has to be drawn but only a Royal Commission would have a reasonable chance of doing so

DEFENCE Minister Stephen Smith denies there's been any attempt to cover-up the extent of physical and sexual abuse in the Australian Defence Force over the last 60 years.

The executive summary of a government-initiated review into Defence abuse was released yesterday, more than three months after Mr Smith made public extracts only.

The summary of the review conducted by law firm DLA Piper was released following a freedom of information request by the ABC.

It states "it is certain" that many boys, young men and young women were subjected to serious physical and sexual assault while they were in the ADF from the 1950s "at least into the 21st century".

The summary says previous report findings and Defence files show very little evidence perpetrators had been called to account.

"(And) there is a risk that those perpetrators now hold middle and senior management position within the ADF and there is a risk that those that witnessed abuse and did not report what they witnessed now hold middle and senior management positions within the ADF," the 25-page document states.

Mr Smith denied releasing extracts from the summary in early March was part of a cover-up.  "I released enough material to make the point that these were very serious allegations and very concerning matters," he told ABC TV.

"The materials released today simply serve to further underline the seriousness of the matters I've been dealing with for some considerably time."

The Defence Minister said he didn't know if any perpetrators of abuse were still serving in the ADF.  "If you want to get down to individual allegations to determine whether people are still in the system ... you've got to go through a proper fair process," he said, adding people had a right to respond to accusations.

The Piper review includes allegations from 775 people. It suggests the overwhelming majority are "plausible allegations of abuse".

Mr Smith said investigating so many claims over a 50-year period was "complex and complicated".  "It can't be done overnight and it couldn't be done as a job lot."

However, the Minister said the fact the Government hadn't ruled a Royal Commission proved it was serious about tackling the issue.

"That may be the most effective way of dealing with these matters," Mr Smith said, adding the Government wasn't too far away from announcing what action it would take.

The review canvasses a range of options including compensation, a public apology, meetings between perpetrators and victims and a Royal Commission.

The Government launched the review following the so-called ADFA Skype scandal in April 2011 when footage of a male cadet engaging in consensual sex with a female cadet was streamed via Skype without her knowledge to a group of cadets in another room.


Huge Australian marine reserve under fire

THE Coalition has promised to review the world's largest single marine reserve off the Queensland coast and warned it would cost Labor seats at the next election.

The Federal Government's 3.1 million sq km national marine reserve, stretching from the tip of Cape York to near Bundaberg, was yesterday welcomed by the tourism industry and environmentalists but slammed by fishing groups.

Nationals Senator Ron Boswell said the reserves would cost Labor marginal seats and the Coalition would review the network, which including about one million sq km of the Coral Sea off Queensland.

But federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said Labor was confident the issue would not prove political poison.

He said virtually all concerns of amateur fishers had been met by providing a large area outside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park for fishing.

Conceding long-line fishers would be the worst affected, Mr Burke said boundaries had been drawn to follow the shape of reefs - a bonus for charter boats and divers, although it would affect spear fishers.  About $100 million would be needed to pay out fishermen nationally.

The proposal has angered commercial fishermen, who have warned the decision will shut down business and cost Australians more to buy their favourite seafood imported from China or Vietnam.

The Australian Marine Alliance released a cost-benefit analysis saying it would devastate the country's coastal communities at a $4.35 billion cost and hit 36,000 jobs for "little if any environmental benefit".

In Cairns alone, charter boat operators, game boats, aquarium collectors, spearfishing tours and commercial fisherman estimate it will cost them up to $60 million.

Skipper Graham Johnstone, who headlined the infamous Marlin Wars of the late 1970s, declared the industry would be "back on the warpath".  "They think we are a soft touch," said Mr Johnston, one of the pioneers of the north's promotion as an international mecca for black marlin fishing.  "We are looking into an abyss and we will not accept them meddling in our affairs."

Daniel McCarthy, president of the Cairns Professional Gamefishing Association, said members felt hijacked by the green lobby in Canberra.  "What are we protecting it from?" Mr McCarthy said.  "It is not about protection but about exclusion.  "It'll end up a huge fattening paddock for poachers."

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said most concerns on better protection of reefs, dive sites and game boat access had been met and this was welcome.


Greater autonomy for schools leads to better academic results

Kevin Donnelly

The NSW Teachers Federation and public school advocates such as Trevor Cobbold argue that there is little, if any, evidence to support the benefits of increased school autonomy.

If true, their claims undermine the argument that choice and diversity in education, represented by autonomous government and non-government schools, is a good thing and suggest that moves around Australia to empower schools at the local level are misdirected.

But there is increasing international evidence that freeing schools from centralised and bureaucratic control is beneficial.

A 2007 paper commissioned by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development analysing the characteristics of stronger performing education systems argues that school autonomy is an important factor.

The paper's authors say: "Various forms of school accountability, autonomy and choice policies combine to lift student achievement to substantially higher levels."

They clearly argue autonomy is beneficial when they say: "Students perform significantly better in schools that have autonomy in process and personnel decisions."

The 2007 OECD paper also puts the lie to claims that autonomy exacerbates disadvantage, concluding that "there is not a single case where a policy designed to introduce accountability, autonomy, or choice in schooling benefits high-SES students to the detriment of low-SES students, ie, where the former gain but the latter suffer". (SES refers to a student's socioeconomic status.)

A second paper, written by Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann and commissioned by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, also argues that autonomy helps to strengthen education. "Students perform significantly better in schools that have autonomy," the authors write.

A third paper, involving researchers at Britain's University of Buckingham and published in 2008, also argues that one of the reasons non-government schools achieve such strong results is because decisions are made at a local level. The authors argue non-government schools generally outperform government schools because such schools enjoy "more autonomy than do those in state schools".

Such is the growing consensus that school autonomy leads to stronger results that a 2008 Australian budget paper, Statement 4, Boosting Australia's Productive Capacity: the Role of Infrastructure and Skills, argues school autonomy is "likely to have significant positive impacts on student performance".

The benefits of freeing schools from centralised control are also endorsed in Britain's The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper 2010. "Across the world," it argues, "the case for the benefits of school autonomy has been established beyond doubt."

While not directly addressing the impact of autonomy, Gary Marks from the Australian Council for Educational Research has also argued that non-government schools consistently outperform government schools in literacy and numeracy tests and year 12 results - even after adjusting for a student's socioeconomic status.

Implied in this is that school autonomy is beneficial since Catholic and independent schools, unlike government schools, have greater freedom over areas such as staffing, curriculum focus and academic environment.

It is true that some studies are equivocal about the benefits of school autonomy, as Cobbold noted in the Herald this week. A 2010 paper titled Markets in Education notes that while there are some positive effects related to a more market driven approach to education, they "are very modest in size".

But what Cobbold fails to acknowledge is that the same paper suggests one of the reasons the evidence is less than clear is because schools, as a result of government micromanagement, are not truly autonomous.

"Complicating the ability to give a clear answer is the fact that many policies attempting to introduce market mechanisms in education do so simultaneously with increased accountability," it says.

Australian schools are being micromanaged in this way and all roads lead to Canberra - best illustrated by the Rudd/Gillard education revolution, where schools are forced to follow government dictates in national curriculum, national testing and teacher standards, even though the rhetoric is about autonomy.

Positive student outcomes are not just related to test results. Pioneering work in the US by James Coleman argues that empowering schools at a local level leads to increased social cohesion and stability too.

In the Catholic school system, it is known as subsidiarity - where decisions are made at the level of those most affected by them. Subsidiarity strengthens community ties and values such as reciprocity and a commitment to the common good.


REAL public service cuts may be coming in Qld.

Mostly they end up as tokenism

There’s a very cold winter coming for the Queensland public service. Premier Campbell Newman’s shock-and-awe strategy is about more than just cutting job numbers and costs. It’s all about reshaping and redefining what the public service looks like, how it operates, and what services it will actually deliver in the future.

Most of the $186.5 million in savings do not come from cutting budgets for tea, coffee, sandwiches and plants. The savings are being generated by the sacking of "temporary" employees.

Directors-general currently have a weekly meeting with the public service commissioner where they are required to provide an update on their progress. And this is the first wave. Some staff have been given an assurance that they have a job until September but there are no guarantees after that.

The Public Service Commission has prepared a three-stage strategy to move "unwanted'' public servants out of the system.

Stage one is to try and find another position, which seems unlikely at a time of job shedding.

Stage two is to offer a voluntary redundancy package. If you don’t take that, then there is stage three which is retrenchment.

Senior public servants are now saying that the government is looking at shedding not hundreds of jobs but thousands – not temporary positions but permanent positions. The government has been setting the platform for deep job cuts under the umbrella of the audit report, with the interim findings due out today.

On top of the job shedding, departments have also been told that they have to come up with a range of innovative cost cutting proposals – for that read what services can be out sourced (commonly known as privatisation) - and what services can be scrapped or wound back.  So long as it does not fall within the definition of a "frontline service", no service is off the table and no department is immune.

When he won last year's New South Wales election, new premier Barry O’Farrell ordered his own commission of audit into the state’s finances, which found the public sector was dealing with cumbersome structures, unnecessary barriers, poor data, unclear reporting lines and ineffective systems.

Since then, he has cut 5000 jobs through the voluntary redundancy program and another 10,000 jobs are earmarked to go in the next four years to produce the projected saving of $2.2 billion. Those that are left have been told they will simply have to work harder.  It’s not too big of a stretch to suggest the Queensland commission of audit will find something similar and the rhetoric and savings will not be lost on Newman’s cost cutting team.

The government has already given itself a range of extra weapons for a looming battle with the public service. Significant changes to the public sector industrial relations environment were crashed through parliament as a priority before its “urgent” Cost of Living Bill. Given the Liberal National Party holds 78 of the 89 seats in Parliament, the current joke in George Street is that Newman faces more opposition from die-hard Nationals than he does from the ALP and independents in Parliament.

The amendments brings about two significant changes – firstly it allows a minister to terminate industrial action if he or she is satisfied that the action is threatening the safety and welfare of the community or is threatening to damage the economy. Secondly it means that the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission must consider the state’s financial position and fiscal strategy when determining wage negotiations. All useful weapons to have in your political arsenal when you are faced with an audit report which will tell you the state is broke and you are facing 25 enterprise bargaining agreements.

The drive to renovate and reshape the public service will be by the newly formed Office of Public Sector Renewal set-up to “achieve a renewed, refocussed and more efficient public service, realise significant savings and drive cultural change” – which is a nice way of saying cutting jobs, making departments smaller and controlling their staffing and privatising anything that can be pushed out to the private sector. It’s being headed by Amanda Pafumi who has been brought in from the Brisbane City Council.

The Queensland Premier is not the first politician to be drawn to the rhetoric promising to make government and public services more customer-focused. It has attracted public sector reformers around the world from all across the political spectrum. For many it was just a mantra – but Newman has come at a time when the public sector has been hit with a perfect storm for change.

Firstly, it has been overwhelmed by escalating community expectations that are now accustomed to convenient, accessible and tailored services from the private sector and are demanding – not unreasonably – the same from the public sector. They want to see clever use of technology as part of the citizen focus – an area that has been a failure for past Queensland governments.

Secondly, taxpayers are sick and tired of seeing the administrative requirements of the bureaucracy being more important than the needs of the long suffering taxpayer.

Thirdly, in the post-GFC world, there is a desire to embrace changes that might lead to lower costs.

Fourthly, it comes at a time when the long suffering taxpayer has had a gutful of the fiascos in health – there are only so many Doctor Deaths; payroll screw ups; fake princes and a missing $16 million that the public will tolerate.  None of these were of the LNP’s making but, ironically they stand to benefit. The circumstances will give the government the carte blanche to cut and reshape the public sector in its mould of small government is good government.

A range of changes coming though the Public Service Commission will allow the government to directly control staffing levels and costs. There is an audit of frontline and non-frontline staffing which will be completed by June 30. This will be followed by public sector renewal reviews to look at staffing levels within the budgets. What this means is that directors-general will be told what their staffing establishment will be (that is: how many executives; how many front line staff; how many support staff they can have) and a budget and told to make it work.

On top of that the Public Service Commission is preparing a directive, sweetly named - management of employees requiring placement – due out in mid June – which will give them the power to direct agencies and displaced workers to an agency or position. Neither will be able to refuse a “reasonable” offer.

But there is a big difference between slicing off a number of jobs and changing the way services are delivered. The messaging coming out of the government is defining a two-class workforce. This suits the short-term political agenda but you have to wonder how much damage will be wrought before the rebuilding process starts.


Surgery wait deaths grow in Tasmania

NEW figures show 125 people died while waiting for elective surgery in Tasmania in the financial year to May, up from 107 last year.

A Government response to questions raised in Budget Estimates hearings reveals the Royal Hobart Hospital is the state's worst performer when to comes to elective surgery, with just 67 per cent of category one patients seen within the clinically recommended timeframes, compared with 88 per cent at the Launceston General Hospital and 77 per cent at the North-West Regional Hospital.

Just 50 per cent of Category two patients were seen within the timeframes, with 561 waiting for operations at the Royal for more than 12 months, while for the least-urgent category three patients, performance was slightly better with 55 per cent of patients seen in time and 474 on the waiting list.

One category three patient has been waiting more than 10 years for their operation.

Figures show 16558 people were removed from waiting lists last year, 85 per cent because they had received their operation.

Liberal health spokesman Jeremy Rockliff said Tasmania was performing worse than other states by a large margin in every category of elective surgery.

"The Government has no one else to blame but itself for our appalling elective surgery waiting lists," Mr Rockliff said.

"This shows that the biggest problem with the health system in Tasmania is this Government.

"The Government has had over a decade to deliver on its promises to cut elective surgery waiting lists, but they've failed."

Health minister Michelle O'Byrne said the Liberal party had adopted the Government's health savings as part of its own alternative budget.

"So while they feign concern, the fact is that by their own position, they accept the need for health spending to be managed, and would have needed to make exactly the same decisions around elective surgery in order to meet that target," she said.


14 June, 2012

I am DEEPLY suspicious of this prosecution

If you are unlucky enough  to be in the vicinity when a murder is committed,  the Qld. cops are likely to say you did it.  The thoroughly reprehensible prosecutions  of the unfortunate Barry Mannix and Graham Stafford  are evidence enough of that.  And the crooked cops who fitted up both men have never been punished

And it's sheer laziness behind such practices.  I have twice supplied police with precise ID for people who have committerd offences against me but no discenible action was taken in either case.  In one case the ID was simply thrown into the bin on the apparent grounds that car thefts are too minor to be taken seriously. 

And I don't mind naming the irresponsible police constable who "lost" the ID concerned.  It was the Virgin Turgeon of Dutton Park cop shop,  who still works there but who has since been promoted.  If she sues me for defamation,  I would be overjoyed to air the whole matter in court.  And I have the means to do so.

And the Baden-Clay case fits the laziness mould.  He was the husband of the deceased so suspicion automatically fell on him.  The fact that they could find nothing to pin on him for months and the fact that the forensic science results turned  up nothing show how weak the case is

And although he is a man of known good character with only the normal quantum of human weaknessess, that apparently did not count either. 

The chief thing that made him "suspicious" appears  to be that he appeared insufficiently emotional about his wife's death.  Those  who know anything about Australian judicial history will however recall that as being the chief charge against  Lindy Chamberlain  -- and we all know how that turned out.  Hollywood even made a movie out of it

GERARD Baden-Clay spent last night behind bars after being charged with the murder of his wife Allison.

Nearly two months after phoning police to say the woman he called his "angel" had disappeared, he was taken into police custody on Wednesday and charged with causing her death.  He was also charged with unlawfully interfering with a corpse.

The real estate agent arrived at Indooroopilly police station yesterday afternoon where he met head of homicide Detective Superintendent Brian Wilkins and the top cop in charge of the drawn-out investigation, Detective Superintendent Mark Ainsworth.

The detectives left the station at about 5.20pm, refusing to comment.

It is understood Baden-Clay was in the police station for several hours before his lawyer Darren Mahony arrived.  On his way in, Mr Mahony confirmed his client was inside. About an hour later he emerged and said his client was about to be charged.  "Police have indicated the intention to charge my client with murder," Mr Mahony said. "He's devastated."

He said Baden-Clay would "defend the charge vigorously".

Members of the public watched as media waited for Baden-Clay's departure. Shortly after, the 41-year-old was bundled, handcuffed, into a police car and driven to the Brisbane watchhouse by detectives.  Upon arrival at the watchhouse, Baden-Clay looked shocked but just stared straight ahead.

Allison Baden-Clay was reported missing by her husband at 7.30am on April 20 when he told police she had left the house the previous night and not returned.

Her disappearance sparked a massive search, with police turning up on their days off to join dozens of investigators and State Emergency Services volunteers to scour the bush around the family's Brookfield home.

Search crews checked dams and abandoned mine shafts in the densely wooded suburb, pleading with locals to conduct searches of their own properties.

Her body was found 10 days later by a kayaker on the banks of the Kholo Creek at Anstead. At the same time, homicide detectives and scientific investigators arrived at Baden-Clay's Brookfield Rd home.

Police asked The Courier-Mail to move back and blocked the driveway with their cars while investigators scoured the property with torches.

Yesterday, the couple's three daughters, aged 10, 8 and 5, were taken into police care at a separate station before being collected by Allison's parents, Geoff and Priscilla Dickie.

Baden-Clay's parents, Nigel and Elaine, made no comment to media when they arrived at their Kenmore home yesterday evening.

Allison Baden-Clay was an accomplished ballerina who travelled Australia and the UK as a girl with the Australian Youth ballet.

As an adult, she spoke six languages and rose through the ranks from a Flight Centre sales assistant to the company's national human resources manager.

It was while working at Flight Centre that she met Gerard Baden-Clay. She left her career behind to care for her family of three daughters.

Her husband's great-grandfather, Lord Baden-Powell, started the scouting movement, a fact Baden-Clay mentioned often in his online business profiles.

He was regularly quoted in media reports about the real estate market.  "In business, it's simple: never lie," he said in 2008. "For starters, it's the wrong thing to do but secondly you will always get caught out and usually when you least expect it.  "There are just too many people, too many personalities, too many trails ... and too much to lose."


Bureaucratic obtuseness defeated for once

Immigration bureaucracies worldwide are mini-Kremlins

THE Immigration Minister has ordered his department to allow British policeman Peter Threlfall and his family into Australia.

Chris Bowen's intervention followed revelations in The Advertiser yesterday that the family had been denied visas because Mr Threlfall's 25-year-old step-daughter, Sarah, has autism.

Mr Threlfall last night likened the backflip to winning the lottery.

He said SA Police had told him his original job offer as a constable in Ceduna would be honoured, and he hoped to be in Australia by September. "This is unbelievable. I just can't get over it," Mr Threlfall said from London.

"I knew it was achievable, it was just getting the right person to overturn this bad decision, but it was so hard to get to that person. My wife is in tears - we are so happy."

The Threlfalls were originally denied visas because an Immigration Department medical officer deemed Sarah's condition would place a burden on health- care and community services in Australia.

This was despite the fact Sarah has two jobs and plans to study as a hairdresser in Australia. Disability advocates last night applauded Mr Bowen's intervention, but demanded the immediate scrapping of the "discriminatory" policy behind the original decision.

Intellectual Disability Association of SA chairman David Holst and Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young both called on the Government to bring immigration policies into line with a 2010 parliamentary report on the issue.

"This case, like similar ones in recent years show why there must be reforms to the health waiver requirement," Ms Hanson-Young said.

"The Greens call on the Government to fulfil the recommendations from the Enabling Australia 2010 parliamentary inquiry report, particularly raising the 'cost threshold' of the health requirement and those criteria affecting family migration."

Opposition immigration spokesman Mitch Fifield said there needed to be greater flexibility in cases such as that of the Threlfalls.

Mr Threlfall hoped his case would help ensure policy change after the Immigration Department deemed Sarah could be a $500,000 burden on Australian healthcare and social services, despite assurances she was employed, largely self-reliant and rarely sought medical assistance in London.

"You can't adopt a hypothetical situation without taking into account any positives," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Bowen said after learning about the case he had asked the department to "facilitate entry for the family".

Migration Institute of Australia state president Mark Glazbrook said cases such as this were too common.

"There is this general assumption that certain conditions will have a high cost and because of that the visa will be refused, even when you can get strong evidence to say there shouldn't be a high cost," he said.

The Threlfall family received a deluge of support from readers of AdelaideNOW and The Advertiser's Facebook page yesterday.

"That's disgusting! Let them in and stop the discrimination against disability," one reader commented.

Autism Advisory and Support Service president Grace Fava applauded the decision, saying people should not have to live with a label.

SA Police Assistant Commissioner Bryan Fahy said SAPOL would honour its original employment offer.


Careless public hospital kills toddler

Bacterial meningitis is such a swift killer that precautions against it should always be top priority

A MAJOR Perth hospital has launched an investigation into the death of a 17-month-old baby girl who passed away after being given the all clear to go home.

Baby Hayley, from Parmelia, was rushed to Swan District Hospital by her mum Pamilla on Monday, Ten News reported tonight.  The toddler, who had a rash and was vomiting, was admitted to hospital with symptoms of meningococcal infection.

A nurse at the hospital said it was unclear what Hayley’s condition was, giving her Nurofen and water.

Pamilla was told at 7am the next morning that she could take her daughter home by a doctor but refused to leave when she realised Hayley’s rash had spread across her body.  About two hours later, Hayley passed away.

"I've done everything I can to make sure my girls are happy and my kids are healthy and what for, " mother Pamilla said.  "When you have to bury your own child for something that could have been prevented, it's horrible.  "I can't cope right now - I've got a three-year-old that I've got to try and explain that her sister's not coming back anymore. I want answers."

A spokesperson from the North Metropolitan Area Health Service said: “We express our condolences to the family for the tragic loss of their daughter.  "We are in the process of conducting a full investigation of the case.

"Due to patient confidentiality we cannot comment on specific patient details at this time.  "As the matter has now been referred to the Coroner it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”


It's ok to swear at the boss, says Labor party lapdog

FAIR Work Australia has ordered the reinstatement of an employee who was sacked for telling his boss to "get f ... ed".

Security guard Craig Symes was sacked from Linfox Armaguard last year after he told his manager to get f ... ed, complained about the "f ... ing roster" and then aggressively poked a notice board - all while carrying a loaded gun.

Symes, who had worked with the Brisbane firm since 2000, cracked during a monthly meeting last December after having a fight with his wife before work. "He was frustrated with his wife and, in hindsight, should not have come (to the meeting)," FWA heard.

He abused manager Aryn Hala after being assigned to a faulty armoured van and stormed out.  Symes later apologised in writing but was sacked the next day.

FWA ruled Symes' behaviour amounted to misconduct but found his dismissal was harsh.

While finding swearing at a person was "of a different character" to swearing at an object, or as an adjective, FWA Commissioner Helen Cargill said it was "also relevant to consider the evidence that the respondent's workplace is one in which bad language is commonly used and in which ... employees may have received mixed messages about such use".

She said the swearing was not "overheard by other employees which could have undermined Mr Halas' authority".

Ms Cargill ordered the company reinstate Symes with back pay - less six weeks pay as a penalty.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard says company tax rate should be lowered to help businesses compete with Asian rivals

Fine talk but she's said it all before  -- with no resultant action

AUSTRALIA'S company tax rate should be lowered to help businesses compete with Asian rivals, Julia Gillard says.  The Prime Minister also wants State property taxes to be cut to encourage people to move to find work.

Ms Gillard floated these ideas in a speech to business leaders in Brisbane last night, saying she wanted her economic forum to focus on making Australia more competitive and creating a more mobile workforce.

But she faced demands from business groups taking part in the forum to cut the $23-a-tonne carbon tax and water-down workplace laws - measures she has ruled out.

As she opened the two-day summit, Ms Gillard urged businesses, unions and community groups to talk up Australia's economy to help boost confidence. She said any tax cuts would need to be revenue-neutral, meaning the money must be generated elsewhere without hurting the Government's tax base.

"We all need investment to flow, we all need jobs to grow, we all need consumers to spend," Ms Gillard told the forum.  "The facts speak up for Australia - but I will say to you, they don't just speak for themselves."  "So speak up, because we are strong today, and we do have a chance now to build that strength for the future."

In a upbeat speech, Ms Gillard told the 130 guests that Australia was in a strong economic position compared to the rest of the world.  But, she said, Australians could not rest on their laurels, saying they had to make our own luck.

Ms Gillard claimed credit for last week's national accounts figures, saying they showed the Government had "got the macro policy settings right" and that consumers were spending again.

Treasurer Wayne Swan told the forum Australian companies needed to build stronger ties with China, as the participants were presented with an update on the Government's "Asian Century" white paper.

Mr Swan called for bipartisan political support for helping businesses break into Asian markets and announced he would lead a delegation of business people to Hong Kong and Beijing next month.

He also called for a "mature" debate about Australia's flagging productivity levels, saying we should aim to increase our performance from about the top dozen countries to within the top ten.

Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens will address the forum this morning before sessions led by key ministers on the impact of the high dollar, innovation, infrastructure, skills and cutting red tape.

Business leaders taking part in the talks include Rio Tinto managing director David Peever, GM Holden chairman Mike Devereux, QR National chief executive Lance Hockridge and ASX chief executive Elmer Funke Kupper.

Premier Campbell Newman has shunned the forum, along with the NSW and WA premiers, but Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu is attending with other Labor leaders.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott dismissed the forum as a "carefully stage-managed, choreographed event which is just about trying to conscript people into supporting policies they don't agree with".


13 June, 2012

Tony Abbott vows to clear way for giant Olympic Dam mine

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has committed to removing all obstacles to the Olympic Dam mine's expansion and making its success a priority of the Coalition if it wins government.

He also said that Prime Minister Julia Gillard must give BHP Billiton a written assurance that the Minerals Resource Rent Tax will never be imposed on copper, gold and uranium - which are central to the expanded mine's operations.

Speaking to The Advertiser before a two-day visit to South Australia from today, Mr Abbott, right, said yesterday the Government should simply "abolish the bloody thing" to ensure the project went ahead.

"No one could be more enthusiastic about the Olympic Dam expansion than I am," he said.

"I want to do everything I humanly can to help this expansion to go ahead by not having a carbon tax, not having a mining tax, and trying to ensure that we don't have bloated construction costs because of union militancy through the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

"So there are three major incentives to go ahead that I could provide BHP were the Coalition in government."

Mr Abbott said the project was crucial to the SA economy, creating thousands of jobs and adding up to $7 billion a year in gross state product. It was "hanging in the balance", he warned. BHP Billiton was threatening to put the project on hold, citing the rising costs of doing business in Australia. While the resources giant will be one of the main contributors to Labor's multi-billion-dollar MRRT from next month, this will apply only to super profits made on coal and iron-ore mines.

Mr Abbott, however, says the company and its backers now increasingly are worried about sovereign risk - the future danger of profits being eroded by expanded taxes or more new taxes.

"No one thinks a re-elected Labor government will continue to restrict the mining tax to just those two minerals (coal and iron) and BHP now regards Australia as having serious sovereign risk issues, thanks to the Gillard Government," he said.

"The only way to persuade the mining industry the tax will not be extended to other minerals is to abolish the bloody thing and that's what we'll do."

Mr Abbott, who will visit resources industry businesses while in SA, said the Government should admit it now was putting up barriers to wealth generation.

BHP Billiton has revealed it is unlikely to go ahead with all of its major resources projects as it grapples with declining commodity prices, slowing growth in China and higher operating costs.

"If the Government were serious it would say, 'look, we got it wrong on the carbon tax, at the very least we'll bust it down to the European price rather than have it sitting there at $23 a tonne'," Mr Abbott said.

"They would also enter into a project agreement with BHP to explicitly exclude, for the life of the Olympic Dam expansion, any mining tax application to this project."

With just weeks before the carbon price and the MRRT take effect on July 1, Mr Abbott warned they might force the company's hand.

"Well, you'd have to say based on what (chief executive) Marius Kloppers and (chairman) Jac Nasser have said recently, that the project is hanging in the balance at the moment," he said.

Marius Kloppers recently said on Lateline that because of a whole range of factors including the carbon tax, Australia had moved from being a low-cost to a high-cost place to do business and Jac Nasser said "no" when asked if BHP was going to go ahead with the $80 billion worth of investment.

On the ABC's Q&A program on Monday, Ms Gillard compared Mr Abbott's unrelenting campaign against the carbon price with fears generated by the High Court's Mabo decision.


No homosexual marriage and watered-down civil unions in Qld

AFTER much speculation, Premier Campbell Newman has announced the Civil Partnerships Act recognising gay relationships will be retained in Queensland but couples will have to do without a "state-sanctioned declaration ceremony".

Mr  Newman said the "amendments" to the act will provide certainty for couples who have entered into civil unions and bring Queensland into line with other states.

But he said what was most offensive about the legislation to Christian churches was that the provisions of the act sought to "emulate marriage".

"There were two ways people could go about registering a civil partnership. They could simply fill out some forms, submit them, then a partnership would be registered or alternatively there was a state sanctioned voluntary ceremony," Mr Newman said.

"That was the bit that, for people in Christian churches has been unacceptable to them because it sought to emulate marriage."

He said since the act's introduction, a total of 609 civil partnerships were registered of which just 21 had held declaration ceremonies.

"We made a commitment to Queenslanders we would revisit the Civil Partnership Act and my government feels making these changes is the best outcome for everyone and now it's time to move on," Mr Newman said.

The law will change to remove the option of a state-sanctioned ceremony, without removing the option of registration of the civil unions.

The changes were welcomed by both Christian lobby groups and gay rights activists.

Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays national spokeswoman Shelley Argent said the group had feared the laws would be repealed completely.

"He could have done much more damage than what he has done. And I think what he's tried to do, to be fair to Campbell Newman, he's tried to placate both sides," she said.

"It's not ideal but still it's much better than what we were expecting."

But Ms Argent said the decision to remove state-sanctioned ceremonies amid pressure from Christian groups was disappointing because the ceremonies were not religious.

"Removing the ceremony is disappointing but at least it's providing the protection that our lesbian daughters and gay sons need in these relationships," she said.

Ms Argent hoped the decision not to fully repeal civil unions was a "step forward" and would help put gay marriage on the federal agenda.

Australian Christian Lobby Queensland director Wendy Francis was "pleased" the decision pulled Queensland into line with other states.  "They have reversed some hastily put through legislation," she said.  "We now have what is equal to a relationship register so the parts of this legislation that had been mimicking marriage have been removed. For that I'm very grateful."

But Ms Francis said she would have preferred the laws be repealed completely.  "I think the legislation itself is bad legislation so when you start tampering with bad legislation it's hard to start from a fresh point of view," she said.

Christian lobby groups have been vehemently opposed to the laws, labelling civil unions a stepping stone to gay marriage.

But gay rights activists have argued that the unions are necessary to ensure same-sex couples have equal legal rights.

Mr Newman hinted during the election campaign that the LNP would act if it won power.  Former deputy premier Andrew Fraser introduced the legislation in what many saw as a blatant attempt to retain his marginal Mt Coot-tha seat.

As at May this year, 460 Queensland couples had entered into civil unions.


Education review leader Professor Brian Caldwell claims teacher quality remains key to improving student outcomes

And because there aren't enough good teachers to go around,  larger class sizes are needed.  That's heresy but decades of evidence support it

EDUCATORS have warned teacher quality remains the key to improving student outcomes amid concerns about the basic literacy and numeracy knowledge of aspiring primary school teachers.

The Courier-Mail revealed yesterday about 40 per cent of higher education students who sat a trial Pre-Registration Test for Aspiring Primary Teachers failed one of three components of the exam.

The exam tested basic literacy, numeracy, science content and teaching strategy knowledge in the three areas required for a primary school level.

Third and final-year teaching students from around Queensland sat the trial, although the test was designed for graduates.

However, it is understood there was a high failure rate on some basic questions primary school students would be expected to know.

The LNP has postponed the pre-registration test over cost concerns despite saying the trial results were "concerning".

Professor Geoff Masters, who recommended the former Bligh government run a pre-registration test and whose organisation helped developed the exam, said the trial results were the reason a test was needed.

"It just underlines the importance of moving ahead and using this in practice to see what percentage of the entire graduating cohort is not meeting the standards that the QCT (Queensland College of Teachers) is setting," Prof Masters said.

Professor Brian Caldwell, who co-led a review of teacher education in Queensland, said teacher quality remained the key to improving student outcomes.

"If one was looking for a single factor that would make an impact on outcomes for students and closing the gap between higher and low-performing students, we would be doing everything we can to raise the academic standard of those entering the teaching profession," he said.

"Around the country we are accepting many students of low academic ability and then teacher education faculties proceed to pass more than 90 per cent of them.

"And that is not the kind of profession teaching is now - it is a highly sophisticated profession that calls for a high capability to analyse complex data about students and diagnose the kind of teaching support that they need."

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said he would work with universities and higher education to ensure quality teachers entered the classroom.


Electricity bills to go up again - by 21 per cent in Sydney

Household electricity prices are to rise by as 21 per cent from July 1 - or about $7 a week - due to the carbon tax and the cost of renewable energy schemes.

Gas prices are also to rise, by up to 15 per cent, again largely due to the carbon tax.  AGL customers will pay an extra $2.03 a week, on average, equal to $104 a year, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal said.  All rises, both gas and electricity, are to take effect from July 1.

In its final decision released today, IPART said heavy spending to upgrade the electricity network, coupled with the impact of the carbon tax, is driving electricity prices higher.

The tribunal called for changes to limit future price rises.

Prices will rise by an average of 18 per cent across the state, which is higher than the interim decision of an average 16 per cent, with this increase due to higher than expected costs to generate electricity.

Customers of EnergyAustralia, who mostly live in the inner city and eastern suburbs, will face the highest rises of 20.6 per cent, or $364 a year for most households.

Most rural households will face rises of up to 19.7 per cent ($8.21 a week, or $427 a year), while customers of Integral Energy, who mostly live in Sydney's western suburbs, face an 11.8 per cent rise ($4 per week, or $208 a year).

These rises will hit customers who are still on regulated tariffs, although not those who have switched accounts to rival suppliers. Households still on regulated tariffs account for around half of the total.

"There are aspects of the National Electricity Rules and the National Electricity Law that could be changed to reduce pressure on prices and to make sure that expenditure on the electricity network is efficient," IPART Chairman, Dr Peter Boxall said.

"We've also outlined some areas around reliability standards, green schemes, and subsidies that could be reviewed to limit future price increases."

The primary driver in the rising prices is heavy spending to upgrade the electricity network, the so-called "poles and wires", he said. This accounts for around half the price increase.


12 June, 2012

Ya gotta laugh!

Huge excitement over an apparent temperature rise of one tenth of one degree Celsius! plus an argument from ignorance!

As the old saying goes, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  But they ignore that.  Given their inability to "explain" a tiny fluctuation they say it MUST be due to human activity!  They sure are exemplars of scientific rigor!  They should go into epidemiology.  Speculation passes for fact every day  there

It's not research anyway.  It's just modelling.  Did they include a model where clouds had a cooling effect?  I don't need to guess.  For your delectation,  I append the journal abstract

A US-led research group is claiming to have bolstered the argument that global warming is real, and humans are largely to blame.   Scientists say this is the most comprehensive study to date on global ocean warming.  The research has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The team looked at rising ocean temperatures over the past 50 years, and a dozen models projecting climate change patterns.

Australian based co-author, Dr John Church from Australia's island state of Tasmania says there's no way all of the world's oceans could've warmed by one tenth of a degree Celsius without human impact.  He says nature only accounts for 10 per cent of the increase.  [How does he know?]

Dr Church says researchers from America, Australia, Japan and India examined a dozen different models used to project climate change, past studies have only looked at a couple at a time.

"And this has allowed the group to rule out that the changes are related to natural variability in the climate system," he said.

Leading climate change and oceanography expert, Professor Nathan Bindoff says scientists are now certain man-made greenhouse gases are the primary cause.  "The evidence is unequivocal for global warming," he said.

He says the new research balances the man-made impacts of warming greenhouse gases and cooling pollution in the troposphere, against natural changes in the ocean's temperature and volcanic eruptions.

"This paper is important because for the first time we can actually say that we're virtually certain that the oceans have warmed, and that warming is caused not by natural processes but by rising greenhouse gases primarily," he said.

The research team says the ground-breaking study will help guide further climate change research and international policy development.

Human-induced global ocean warming on multidecadal timescales

By P. J. Gleckler et al.


Large-scale increases in upper-ocean temperatures are evident in observational records. Several studies have used well-established detection and attribution methods to demonstrate that the observed basin-scale temperature changes are consistent with model responses to anthropogenic forcing and inconsistent with model-based estimates of natural variability. These studies relied on a single observational data set and employed results from only one or two models. Recent identification of systematic instrumental biases in expendable bathythermograph data has led to improved estimates of ocean temperature variability and trends and provide motivation to revisit earlier detection and attribution studies.

We examine the causes of ocean warming using these improved observational estimates, together with results from a large multimodel archive of externally forced and unforced simulations. The time evolution of upper ocean temperature changes in the newer observational estimates is similar to that of the multimodel average of simulations that include the effects of volcanic eruptions.

Our detection and attribution analysis systematically examines the sensitivity of results to a variety of model and data-processing choices. When global mean changes are included, we consistently obtain a positive identification (at the 1% significance level) of an anthropogenic fingerprint in observed upper-ocean temperature changes, thereby substantially strengthening existing detection and attribution evidence.

Nature Climate Change (2012) doi:10.1038/nclimate1553

The usual defence bungledom

Not a single ship seaworthy when needed to help cyclone victims

TWO of the navy's crucial support ships remain in dock and unavailable despite an outlay of more than $170 million of taxpayer funds and a ministerial bollocking.

The 28-year-old, 18,000 tonne replenishment ship HMAS Success and the 5800-tonne, 32-year-old amphibious vessel HMAS Tobruk, are both docked at Garden Island naval base in Sydney Harbour.

More than $106 million has been spent on the Success since January 2010, and it spent only 14 days at sea last year.

The Tobruk has absorbed $65 million since May 2009, but remains in dock with technical problems related to her age.

The Success was upgraded with a new double hull in Singapore last year, but a serious misalignment between her engines and propeller shaft, made worse by the extra weight of the new hull, had to be fixed. This involved shifting her 80-tonne engines by a fraction of a millimetre. Another $37 million is earmarked for a mid-life refit later this year.

Defence is examining options to buy a new replenishment ship and the official line is the $170 million spent on the old vessels was worthwhile.

Insiders say any more money should be directed to new vessels.

To make matters worse the navy's newest amphibious support ship, HMAS Choules, is undergoing routine maintenance although she is on 48-hours notice to move.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith slammed the navy last year when the entire amphibious fleet was unavailable for disaster relief support in the wake of Cyclone Yasi.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said the Government must explain what value for money taxpayers had received from the outlays on the old support ships.


Not much multiculturalism in Sydney's elite schools

FEW children of recent migrants are entering Sydney's high-fee private schools, which remain the preserve of Australians from English-speaking backgrounds.

At many of the city's high-fee independent schools less than 10 per cent of students have a parent who speaks a language other than English. Trinity, MLC and Meriden - all in the inner west - are the only high-fee privates where more than half the student body comes from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

Nearly half the private high schools in Sydney enrol more than 80 per cent of their students from English-speaking backgrounds, according to an analysis of figures published on the federal government's My School website.

Monte Sant' Angelo, Wenona, Kambala, St Ignatius, Queenwood, Redlands and Ravenswood are among those schools where fewer than 10 per cent of students state that they or their parents speak a language other than English.

A number of private schools, catering for specific religious, ethnic or cultural groups, are almost exclusively attended by students from language backgrounds other than English.

In stark contrast to the elite private schools, public selective high schools are dominated by children of recent migrants. James Ruse, regarded as the highest-achieving school in Australia, draws 96 per cent of enrolments from other language backgrounds [mostly Chinese]. Only Auburn Girls, with 98 per cent, attracts more students from other language groups.

The map of school ethnic diversity parallels much of Sydney's cultural complexion. Although government high schools educate far more of the students from other cultures, public schools on the city's fringes, the north shore and southern suburbs also enrol few students from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Helen Proctor, a lecturer in the faculty of education and social work at the University of Sydney, said it was not clear whether the ethnic mix of private schools was the result of enrolment policies, geography or parental choice.

"Parents are broadly in favour of multiculturalism but alarmed about any concentrations of ethnicity, other than Anglo ethnicity, in a school," said Dr Proctor, a co-author of a book on school choice.

Schools such as Monte give direct preference to children of former students, while other private schools require students to be enrolled within the year of their birth to guarantee entry.

But Vicki Steer, the principal of Ravenswood, which has 9 per cent of students from other language backgrounds, acknowledged independent schools faced a challenge to win favour from migrant communities, most particularly those from Asia.

"For many families, having a child accepted at a school such as James Ruse is something they would perceive as a higher honour than an academic scholarship to Ravenswood," she said.  Ravenswood has introduced Chinese into its language offerings in part to make the school more attractive to Chinese Australians.

"We are committed to a multicultural society and promoting an understanding of other cultures and ways of life," Ms Steer said.   "We are very conscious of the fact that our girls live on the upper north shore, that for many of them their experiences can be limited and we have to try and create experiences for them."

Dr Paul Burgis, the principal of PLC Sydney, where 34 per cent of students are from other cultural backgrounds, said there was a huge level of exposure to, and acceptance of, other cultures at the school.

"It would almost be offensive if I, as a principal, was to talk about it: 'Why do you have to raise it as an issue? We're past that now, we're just friends'," he said.  "At a school like PLC it's almost an invisible question."


Julia's rejection of homosexual marriage "hurtful", say activists

SAME-SEX couples would find Prime Minister Julia Gillard's comment that a committed relationship doesn't require a marriage certificate hurtful, a marriage equality group said today.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard drew on her own relationship to defend her opposition to same-sex marriage on ABC TV last night.

Ms Gillard is not married to her long-term partner Tim Mathieson, but says that doesn't mean they aren't in a committed relationship.  "I think you can have a relationship of love and commitment and trust and understanding that doesn't need a marriage certificate associated with it," Ms Gillard told Q&A.   "That's my life experience - so I'm speaking from that life experience."

Australian Marriage Equality national convener Alex Greenwich said Ms Gillard's comments would be viewed as hurtful by many same-sex couples.

"The Prime Minister is able to choose not to marry, however this choice is denied to many same-sex couples who desperately want to celebrate the traditions of marriage and have the legal protection, security and recognition that comes with marriage," he said.

"The Prime Minister may not want to marry herself, but most Australians value the importance of marriage greatly and as such want their gay and lesbian friends to have equal access and be treated as equal citizens by the marriage act."

Mr Greenwich said Australia is the only developed English-speaking country without a major party leader who supports marriage equality.

The AME and some clergy have also slammed an Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) video campaign that claims same-sex marriage may lead to polygamy, saying it is scaremongering.

Mr Greenwich said international experience proves there is no link between same-sex marriage and polygamy.  "This scare campaign proves the ACL has no argument left except fear. Its offensive nature will drive undecided politicians and members of the public towards supporting marriage equality," he said.

Labor MPs will be allowed a conscience vote on gay marriage when legislation is put before the parliament.


11 June, 2012

Must not re-enact history?

The British Raj is part of Indian history and in my experience Indians are more likely to be amused by it  -- particularly by British eccentricities  -- than anything else.  And since the Indians attending the function below thought it was fun one has to conclude that only sourpusses are complaining about it

A colonial-themed event at a university has resurrected an uneasy past. The dress code on the invitation "white tie or colonial uniform" seemed innocent enough. College students arrived at St Paul's great hall dressed in immaculate black dinner suits with matching white handkerchiefs.

They were met by a team of Indian and south Asian waiters, dressed in colourful traditional cultural garments and college students dressed in formal attire, who served them Indian delicacies and curries.

It was St Paul's yearly "upscale" dinner. This time the theme was "end of the British Raj".

But within days of the grand event, ideological war broke out at the University of Sydney over whether the elite college, which is no stranger to controversy, was basking in the glory of colonialism and slavery. Before long, vicious vitriol began ricocheting across Facebook.

"I am Indian and I used to go to college. My relatives suffered in colonial India. This theme offended me and brought me to the brink of tears," one female student wrote.

"Please, can you all come to our next party? It's Mexican themed, and we'll be celebrating all the abductions and beheadings you can poke a stick at," a student responded.

"I have this turban and - what luck! - it's just your size," another provoked.

Had it not been a letter to the student newspaper, Honi Soit, from an outraged arts student, Mason McCann, the white tie event may have gone unnoticed.

"I do not think the party was a celebration of Indian culture, it was a celebration of imperialism," Mr McCann told The Sun-Herald.

"The party demonstrates a serious deep disconnect between the culture of St Paul's and the culture of the University of Sydney. I am deeply offended by it.  "They have a responsibility as a prestigious and old institution to project a positive public image to both the other students and the public, and I think that party succeeded in doing just the opposite of that."

In response to Mr McCann's letter which was published in full, Hugo Rourke from St Paul's, who as senior student speaks on behalf of his peers, wrote to Honi Soit to justify the party.  "It was a successful event, held in good taste and enjoyed by attendees and employees alike," he wrote, seemingly shocked that the event would cause such uproar.

The catering company for the event, Sodexo, were similarly taken aback by the suggestion their workers had been forced to don cultural garb.

Its state manager, Ram Devagiri, said his staff, who all have a south Asian backgrounds and work at the college full-time serving three meals a day, were having an "absolute ball" at the party and had become "annoyed" at the insinuation there were racial undertones at play.  "They are not happy that they are being dragged through this, because they actually had a great time that evening," he said.

"We didn't go out looking for a couple of Indian-looking blokes and bring them in. They work there all the time."

But when it was revealed that Mr Rourke's published response had been edited, the debate shifted to Facebook and racial vilification was exposed.

"If you can find me anyone of Indian heritage who was at all offended by the evening at St. Paul's for (Jazz Dinner Dance) I'd be astounded," one flabbergasted St Paul's student wrote.

"That's it, ban ALL the upscale parties!!" another wrote.

On Wednesday, the Student Representative Council passed a motion condemning the themed party by writing a letter to the college's spokesman, the warden, Dr Ivan Head, asking for an explanation.

"The meeting was very controversial, there was a lot of debate about it," said SRC welfare officer Rafi Alam.  "Most of the people who said it wasn't racist were white people who go to college or have friends in college, but the non-whites were quite upset about it," Mr Alam said, who has a Bangladeshi background.

It is understood that a handful of students boycotted the dinner.

Mr Alam said the party proved that "racial subtext" existed at the university.

When The Sun- Herald contacted Mr Rourke, he "had nothing to say on the matter". The warden, Dr Head, did not return calls.

Does the St Paul's party constitute discrimination? The president of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, Stepan Kerkyasharian, said that as long as there was no insistence that only people from the Indian subcontinent could serve as waiters, then what happened at the St Paul's function "would not be discrimination".

Re-enacting a period in history like the British Raj "may offend some people but I don't think the act itself constitutes discrimination or vilification".

"I think if [re-enactment] is done accurately and in good faith and the re-enactment itself is not offensive, is not intended to vilify and is not discriminatory, then one has to accept the historical reality," Mr Kerkyasharian said.

"If the message here was, 'Look, Indians are slaves … or Indians are only good as waiters' I would find that objectionable.

"But if the intent was to create this historical imagery … I wouldn't see that as deliberately derogatory or deliberate vilification of people of an Indian background," Mr Kerkyasharian said.

The popularity of re-enactment is growing and the Australasian Living History Federation now boasts 85 member organisations that specialise in eras ranging from the ancient to the medieval, Napoleonic, Victorian, US Civil War, colonial Australia and the two world wars.

The federation's secretary, Jessica Robinson, said some re-enactments had caused anger and those with particular potential to offend included the US Civil War, the world wars, the Crusades and colonial Australia.

But she is adamant that, when done sensitively, they can all be re-enacted without the performances in any way glorifying slavery, Nazism, religious hatred or the conquest of Aboriginal people.

"Our main rule is that we don't want re-enactment to be a vehicle for any kind of political ideology that someone is trying to force through in the modern era," Ms Robinson said.

Jeff Yuille is a corporal in the 2nd Virginia Living History Group, which celebrates the Confederate regiment of the same name that fought for the South in the US Civil War. Its members dress in period costume, camp out, eat period food and sometimes stage mock battles against other living history groups representing Union soldiers from the North.

Although some believe any celebration of the Confederacy is a de facto celebration of slavery and racism, Mr Yuille said his group had never experienced any protests.

Criticism of the British Raj function, he said, sounded like "political correctness gone mad" and only represented the view of a "crazy minority".  "They are reliving history," he said of the event.

Stephen Gapps is a historian and curator at the National Maritime Museum who conducted his PhD thesis on the history of historical re-enactment.  "I think some events are difficult to re-enact because of the long memories of the terrible events, particularly colonial [Australian] stuff and the US Civil War," he said.  "Some things should not be re-enacted, like events from the Holocaust," Dr Gapps added.

But he believes that if controversial topics are tackled with authenticity and sensitivity and "get people from both arguments involved in the beginning", they can be cathartic rather than divisive.

Dr Gapps said Colonial Williamsburg, an American historical theme park, represented an 18th-century landscape where slavery was common, but previously "hardly any elements of the presentation dealt with slavery".

It was decided to get black Americans involved in recreating a slave auction - a move that attracted hundreds of protesters - but they walked away from the performance saying "it was fantastic and it showed the humanity of the situation".

Holding a British Raj dinner was "fraught with danger", said Dr Gapps, because Sydney has a big sub-continental population, so it had to be approached carefully.


Student teachers fail primary school-level tests

Another indication of how low educational standards have sunk

ALMOST half of aspiring primary school teachers failed parts of a landmark test featuring literacy and numeracy questions that Year 7 students should be able to answer.

The results have reignited concerns about the quality of teaching graduates entering Queensland classrooms.

The Courier-Mail last week revealed that about 12 per cent - almost one in eight - high-school leavers who began a teaching course this year had an Overall Position of 17 or worse.

Figures released by the Queensland College of Teachers reveal about 40 per cent of third or fourth-year teaching students who sat the trial Pre-Registration for Aspiring Primary Teachers Test failed the literacy, numeracy or science component.

Educators defended the results saying the test was aimed at graduates and some students may not yet have been exposed to some of the test material.

However, The Courier-Mail understands there were high failure rates on some basic content questions.

The test was introduced by the former Bligh government after principals raised concerns that some graduate teachers lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills.

It contained questions on teaching strategies and basic primary school level content which they will have to teach.

Professor Geoff Masters, who recommended the teacher test, said the results gave weight to principals' concerns.  "Some of the questions are fairly straightforward tests of literacy and numeracy," Prof Masters said.  "It does raise a question about whether some students who are getting through their initial teacher education programs have the levels of personal literacy and numeracy and the knowledge of how to teach literacy and numeracy that we require in our schools."

The test, which has cost more than $2 million to develop, has been shelved under cost-savings measures.

The Queensland College of Teachers, which conducted field trials in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Toowoomba and Cairns in March last year, said 483 students took part.

"The outcomes of the trials indicated 72 per cent of the participants would have met the benchmarks set for the literacy instrument, 82 per cent for numeracy and 81 per cent for science respectively," a QCT statement said.

"If the test proceeds, candidates will be required to meet the benchmarks set in all three areas. Approximately 40 per cent would have been required to re-take at least one of the instruments. The results of the trial should be considered as indicative."

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the results were concerning.  "The trial test was conducted on less than 10 per cent of the entire cohort of third and fourth-year teaching students to assess the validity of the possible test questions and the logistics of implementing the test itself, rather than the quality of teaching graduates," Mr Langbroek said.  "However, the results are still concerning which is why I plan to work with universities to ensure that they are producing quality graduates to teach Queensland children."

Queensland Deans of Education Forum chair Professor Wendy Patton agreed that the results were cause for concern.

But she said variables had to be taken into account, including the fact that third-year students had been given "graduate" tests, and it was still unknown what the trial test questions were.

She said individual students were not provided with their marks, with an assurance those wouldn't be published.  "We have to acknowledge that these were not students at the end of their program," she said, adding that she hoped they would be able to answer the questions by the end of their course.

Under QCT guidelines, higher-education institutions are required to provide extra tuition to any student who needs support in literacy or numeracy. Prof Patton said that was being done.


One in eight Education bureaucrats get the chop while more teachers are put on

Campbell Newman is rapidly unwinding sick Labour Party priorities

THE jobs of one in eight bureaucrats are being axed in the Department of Education, Training and Employment.  The department is reducing staff by 12.5 per cent - about 385 jobs, mostly workers on temporary contracts.

Among the areas facing the greatest reductions are human resources, which has three times the staff of similar sized companies in the private sector, and the indigenous education unit.

While administrative workers are in the firing line, the number of teachers is expected to increase by about 400 next year.

Education, Training and Employment Minister John-Paul Langbroek said all government departments needed to cut waste and find savings to pay off "Labor's $85 billion debt".  "The changes apply to administrative positions only, meaning no school or TAFE position will be affected," Mr Langbroek said.

Public sector union Together Queensland has been battling to save jobs with up to 175 information technology workers to be cut by July 1.  Some of those IT workers were permanent teachers seconded to the Department, which are now returning to classrooms and replacing teachers on temporary contacts.

It comes as DETE cancelled a $250,000 technology expo for teachers on Friday.  Education assistant director-general David O'Hagan said other Smart Classrooms activities would continue.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates accused the Newman Government of "paying lip service to its pledge not to impact on frontline services" over the IT worker and conference cuts.


An Aborigine debunks the do-gooders

Brad was a self-help guru, who found fortune and fame peddling a bunch of easy answers to a gullible people.  Although simply a character in The Simpsons, like many other characters from that beloved cartoon, it is not hard to find people in real life who could play that same part.

Like Jack.

After his recent appearance on Australian Story, Jack Manning Bancroft is riding a wave of public adoration.  Touted as everything from a future Indigenous leader, to an Aussie inspiration, overwhelmingly, the feedback coming in from his TV appearance has been extremely positive.  If you listen to the viewers, he's achieving huge success with Indigenous youth, turning the tide of low expectations and bringing high profile supporters and donations to disadvantaged Aboriginal kids.

At least, that's what Australian Story told them to swallow.

Jack runs an outfit called AIME - Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience.  He teams Uni students (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) up with Indigenous students, to mentor them through High School, for around an hour a week (it must be an action packed hour..).  It is supposed to assist with raising the rates of Indigenous students finishing Year 12, and encourage more Indigenous students to go on further, to University studies and a brighter future.

The outfit is funded by both Universities and corporate sponsors (such as Rio Tinto & Google), no doubt as they feel it is a worthwhile cause.  Even Thorpey is on board, and he's putting his money (well, to be technically correct, the money of his donors) where his mouth is.

But I can still hear that nagging little cartoon voice of Lisa Simpson.  You see, like Brad Goodman, Jack Manning Bancroft and AIME are peddling a bunch of easy answers.

In operation for almost 8 years now, you may be surprised to know that AIME does not operate in a single remote area.  Heck, they don't even operate in the Northern Territory, Western Australia or South Australia.  You may be surprised to find that in Victoria, they've chosen to work with schools that not only have some of the lowest percentages of Indigenous students in the state, but, they've also chosen schools that are some of the most expensive and prestigious.  Schools like Scotch College (who do give two scholarships a year to boys from the N.T), Trinity College and Xavier College.  Melbourne Grammar School is also on their list, as is Parade College.  Looking at the list of public schools that they work with, it appears the maps past Hampton Park are not in existence.  A shame really, as if they were to talk with the Principal at say, Bairnsdale Secondary College in Gippsland, they would find that not only are there schools with a high percentage of Indigenous students, but, that those same students would benefit from any help on offer, as they are some of  the neediest and lowest performing in the state.

It is much easier to mentor a young affluent white boy from Scotch, who identifies as Indigenous, than a struggling black kid from the sticks who doesn't dare dream as big as finishing High School with a passing grade.  It is much nicer to sit down and discuss the merits of various Universities and the trivialities of campus life with a young kid in a crisp, smart uniform than to try to elevate the aspirations of a child whose parents don't care enough to ensure he is well fed, let alone well dressed and bathed.

For eight years, it appears Jack has deceived himself, and, the rest of us.  He's told us he's making a change, and, more importantly, he's Closing the Gap.

He is not.

Instead, he has created a divide.  Widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  While the wealthy Identifiers are improving their outcomes from good or great, to fantastic, the neediest have lost ground.  Hell bent on convincing ourselves that things are improving, we place people like Jack on a pedestal.  He tells people what they want to hear, and asks only that you throw money his way in return for his good deeds and innovative ideas.  Like the citizens of Springfield, we can't get enough of our Brad Goodman and his easy answers.

I don't doubt that there have been some hard luck kids who have been helped by AIME.  I also don't doubt that they've done some good work as a result of their programs.  Heck, I don't even doubt that some of the kids they've helped have had dark skin.  What I do take issue with, is allowing what appears to be a genuine fear of failure to dictate your policy and programs, resulting in the help again going not to those most in need.

Let's say Joe Average decides to start an organisation to help Aboriginal children.  Joe wants to be able to get donations coming in by the bucketload, so, he looks around the other organisations who claim to do the same thing as him, and makes his pitch even better than theirs.  Red Cross say they will lift literacy rates by 10%  among 5-12 year old Aboriginal children by 2015.  To get more donations than Red Cross, Joe markets his organisation to potential donors as being ready, willing and able to take that number to 25%.

This is where things get tricky.  Instead of working harder or smarter with old theory, or implementing some new, previously untried revolutionary program to work with struggling kids, Joe simply takes his half-baked organisation to selected areas, excluding any schools with kids that have consistently poor outcomes or a high percentage of low-income earners as residents.  He works with a small group of children who identify as Indigenous (often several generations removed from a single full-blood ancestor), offering nothing new or exciting, but, simply uses their natural progress to fiddle with the averages and achieve his goals on paper.

We're a nation that likes facts and figures, but, we're a population that likes them spoon-fed to us.  We certainly seem to prefer it when someone else tells us what conclusion we are meant to draw from statistics and percentages, if our current mindset is anything to go by.  Indigenous specific statistics are no exception.  In the twenty years from 1986 to 2006, the Indigenous population doubled.  While part of this is attributed to natural rates of procreation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that this staggering increase is also due in part to people identifying as Indigenous where in previous counts, they did not.

The boom in our numbers has been great for those trying to 'Close the Gap'.  All of a sudden, gains can be made, by little more than a tick in the box.  We can all reassure ourselves that we're going forward, not backwards, because the statistics don't lie.  As a percentage, we have more middle income and high income Indigenous households than ever before.  As a nation, we've made serious ground when it comes to preventable childhood diseases ravaging Indigenous youngsters.

But that's when you look at the nation as a whole.  When you take the statistics and break them down, you see the real picture.  Urban Indigenous populations are making all the gains.  The remote communities make little gain, none, or in some cases, are going backwards.  While their often fair-skinned, urban counterparts are achieving on par in almost all areas with their non-identifying peers (the gold standard we apply when we speak of a Gap), the improvements of which we so often speak and celebrate are just not being delivered to those who need it the most.  Those who were struggling then, are most likely to still be struggling now.  My experiences with remote communities have done nothing but strengthen this conviction.  The overwhelming poverty, dysfunction and suffering remains at the same levels year after year for many remote communities, but to hear the city slicker fauxborigines speak, we're doin' fine.  We hear self-appointed Elders constantly tell us the importance of Welcome to Country ceremonies and demand their performance as a mark of 'respect', yet never think to question why they have placed so much focus on a shallow tokenism, when children are being abused and neglected. 

Instead of helping their poorer, blacker cousins, often, the fauxborigine exploits them for their own gain. 

We are allowed to get upset when intellectually impaired children are excluded from across the board testing (Naplan) in an effort for a school to post an artificially inflated score.  It is unquestionably wrong for a school to discriminate against disabled children in order to appear as though their students are outperforming their expectations. Why are we so afraid to apply the same logic when discussing Aboriginal students?  At present, should you dare to point out that disadvantaged, dark skinned Aboriginal children are being excluded in much the same way from programs such as AIME to keep their success rates high, you will be denounced loudly by every fauxborigine with a Twitter account.  Accusations of racism if you admit to being non-Indigenous, and, a perpetrator of lateral violence if you happen to be black like I am.  Personally, I despise a term like lateral violence being levelled at me by someone with pale skin.  The term implies that the accuser and myself are on an equal footing, when clearly, we are not.  I cannot hide what I am, they can and do.  Even if they have 'identified with their culture practically from birth' (a readily coined phrase by many in the 'Industry'), it makes no difference.  They demand every Caucasian person in Australia admit that they are the beneficiaries of White Privilege, yet refuse to accept that simply by virtue of their own pale skin, they too are the recipients of this very same Privilege.  Hypocrisy at its finest.

During his TV appearance, Jack compares himself to an Undercover Cop, with regards to his Aboriginality.  He explains that people cannot tell he is Aboriginal just by looking at him (just as one cannot tell an Undercover Cop in plain clothes is a Police Officer), and because of this unique position he holds, he is able to permeate the various layers of society and discover racism across all walks of life (and of course, is personally offended by it - give me a break).  Lucky him.  I don't know a single black skinned and obviously Aboriginal person who wouldn't mind trading skins for a day so he can really learn what it's like.  Perhaps then he will stop making ridiculous and insulting statements and realise just how good he has it.

Overhearing a racist joke or comment is so far removed from being rejected dozens of times for rental properties or jobs for no other reason than the way you look.  Seeing an Aboriginal person be refused service by someone who just served you without problem is light years away from being the person denied that simple courtesy again and again.   Having two people in primary school call you a name after you told them you are Aboriginal is a walk in the park compared to having that label applied to you almost every day, and that label sticking with you long past the days of the schoolyard, without having to utter a word about your heritage to anyone.

I hope Jack will decide to prove me wrong and start working with impoverished and remote Aboriginal communities.  It will be much harder than working with the kids from a private school, but I can promise you that it is infinitely more rewarding, and I warn you that it will at times, break your heart.


10 June, 2012

Aussie monarchy support hits 25-year high

AUSTRALIANS have thanked the Queen for their long weekend with a poll showing support for the monarchy is at a 25-year high.

According to the Roy Morgan poll conducted during the regent's Diamond Jubilee celebration, 58 per cent of Australians support the monarchy, a six per cent increase compared to October.

Support for a republic slid two points to 35 per cent.

Tasmanian Liberal senator and avowed monarchist Eric Abetz said the week of celebrations had confirmed Australians' affection for their sovereign.

"This shows that Australians understand the value of stability of the monarchy as a unifying institution," Senator Abetz said.

"As Australians celebrate the Queen's birthday and Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee, we should give thanks for the monarchy as a stabilising and enduring institution and for Her Majesty's life of dedicated service."


Tony Abbott announces tougher asylum policy

ASYLUM seekers who are believed to have destroyed their documents before arriving in Australia will have a presumption against refugee status under a coalition government, Tony Abbott says.

As part of three policy "enhancements", which the opposition leader would immediately be put into place under his government, Mr Abbott said there would be a "strong presumption that illegal boat people who have destroyed their documents not be given refugee status".

Mr Abbott said the government would also ensure that his Immigration Minister "uses the right" to appeal against affirmative decisions.

"This right has never been exercised under this government," he said.

He wants to know why 90 per cent of refugees who arrive illegally by boat receive successful asylum applications.

He says other countries have "heavier rates of rejection" and wants to know why this situation exists in Australia.

It is not the first time the opposition has flagged a crackdown on asylum seekers entering Australia without proper documentation.


Catholic bishop who rejects Catholic treachings finally exits

The church did well to put up with him as long as it did

A DISSIDENT Catholic bishop who criticised the church's "authoritarian" nature and doctrines on celibacy and female priests has resigned.

Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Patrick Power, an auxiliary bishop of the Canberra-Goulburn archdiocese, on Thursday, five years before he reached the church's mandatory retirement age of 75.

Bishop Power had criticised the church's response to sexual abuse scandals and called for its systemic reform.

"Bishop Power was one of the most progressive, reformist bishops that Australia has seen," the editor of the Catholica website, Brian Coyne, said.

Yesterday, Mr Power reiterated his concerns that the church was moving away from the modernisation inaugurated by the Vatican II reforms designed to make the church more accessible.

"It's not just the Pope," he said. "In the whole life of the church, that there's been a move away from the Second Vatican Council and that's been a great disappointment."

In a 2010 article on sexual abuse cases and the church, he wrote: "I wondered aloud if the church would be in its present state of crisis if women had been part of the decision-making in the life of the church."

The NSW chairwoman of the group Women and the Australian Church, Bernice Moore, said Mr Power's legacy was "one of true commitment to people".

Mr Power denied his retirement was prompted by frustration with church hierarchy. "I'm 70 and I'd always intended to resign," he said.


Bound and gagged: freedom of speech and the Finkelstein report

On December 29, 1819, the young Earl of Ellenborough addressed the House of Lords in defence of the Tory government’s Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill. The bill substantially increased the taxes on cheap newspapers and pamphlets. It was a controversial measure, in no small part because it was transparently directed at the government’s radical critics in the press. Ellenborough had taken his seat just a year earlier and he sought to calm his fellow peers.

The bill was not directed against the “respectable press”, Ellenborough told the House. It was targeted at the “pauper press”– cheap publications that were “administering to the prejudices and passions of a mob”. These newspapers and pamphlets “only sent forth a continual stream of falsehood and malignity”. So, he proclaimed, “in the best interests of the country” his government must extinguish the “gross and flagrant abuse of the press”. Against Whig protest, the bill passed.

Nearly 200 years later, the report of Australia’s Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation in 2012 struck remarkably similar notes. This report, commissioned by the Gillard government and written by former judge Ray Finkelstein, claimed that freedom of the press – and freedom of speech in general – has resulted in “inequality, abuse of power, intellectual squalor, avid interest in scandal, an insatiable appetite for entertainment and other debasements and distortions”. Finkelstein’s proposed solution was a regulatory agency that would enforce “standards” on newspapers, magazines and virtually all Australian news or opinion websites.

Ellenborough was frustrated by the disruptive, anti-authoritarian journalism of radicals such as William Cobbett. The spark for Finkelstein’s report was the hostile relationship between Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in Australia and Julia Gillard’s Labor government. Both purported to be concerned with questions of taste and press ethics, yet these lofty ideas were scant cover for their true concerns: political antagonism between government and press. The same rivalry, two centuries apart.

Certainly, the similarity of Ellenborough’s and Finkelstein’s complaints obscures the great changes that have occurred in the development of freedom of speech over those centuries. The mid-20th century saw a concerted legislative push to remove the limits on expression that had built up over the past few hundred years. Blasphemy laws were eliminated. Restrictions on obscenity, from racy novels to picture postcards to pornographic films, were substantially reduced. The scope of legitimate political opinion was widened; contrast, for instance, the repressive penalties for sedition during the First World War and much freer debate over the Vietnam War or the First Gulf War at the end of the century.

Yet that liberal tide is receding. In Australia, the laws against blasphemy that were eliminated in the 20th century are back under a new guise of racial and religious vilification. “Hate speech” has filled the void of the obscenity laws of the past: a steadily increasing set of statutory rules and case law has created a “right not to be offended” which directly competes with the right to freedom of speech. The voluntary press councils that were introduced in the middle of last century to ward off newspaper regulation seem certain to become mandatory bodies in the wake of the British phone hacking scandal. With campaign finance laws and election restrictions, political speech is being regulated – “managed” – in order to suppress voices that are considered too loud.

Commercial expression is the subject of an increasing number of restrictions in the service of public policy – particularly in the field of public health. Outright bans on advertising certain products are increasingly common. The addition of privacy into human rights law has also thrown up new, and substantial, restrictions on speech, such as the UK’s “super-injunctions”, where courts now routinely place gagging orders on the very existence of a gagging order. Even anti-sedition laws have experienced a resurgence as part of the War on Terror.

Virtually everybody says they support freedom of speech. But in every single debate over the new wave of speech restrictions there have been intellectuals, commentators and activists smugly claiming that freedom of speech is not “absolute”, or that their pet issues raise no free speech questions at all. Neither the 19th century’s Ellenborough or the 21st century’s Finkelstein believed they were damaging the liberties of their subjects when they proposed legislation to target “intellectual squalor” or “falsehood and malignity”. In liberal democracies, the importance of freedom of speech has been downgraded. It is a value which is no longer central to our self-image, and one which is apparently easy to discard if other goals present themselves. The news that the international watchdog Reporters Without Borders had dropped Australia’s position on their Press Freedom Index from 18 in 2010 to 30 in 2011-12 went without much comment.

But freedom of speech is not merely one value among many.

In the US, the First Amendment of the Constitution demands that Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. This apparent stridency has generated a small genre of scholarship in that country trying to define the appropriate limits – if any – of free expression. In no other area of the law is the relationship between philosophy and practice so well-studied, or so highly theorised. This makes sense. As the American jurist Harry Kalven wrote in the 1960s, “free speech is so close to the heart of democratic organisation that if we do not have an appropriate theory for our law here, we feel we really do not understand the society in which we live”.

I argue that the liberty to express an opinion is at one with the liberty to hold an opinion. In a very real sense freedom of speech defines the relationship between the state and the individual. As Benedict Spinoza wrote in the 17th century, “The most tyrannical governments are those which make crimes of opinions, for everyone has an inalienable right over his thoughts.”

It is in the battle for liberty of conscience that we find the first buds of Western liberalism. In our secular age it is easy to forget that for much of our history, religious freedom was the first, and most important, liberty. The case for freedom of speech did not sprout fully formed in the mind of John Stuart Mill as he wrote the famous On Liberty. Nor was it an innovation of the American founders as they drafted the First Amendment. John Milton – whose 1644 tract Areopagitica is commonly cited as the first argument against censorship – was drawing upon 2000 years of thought.

We cannot understand the importance of free expression without knowing how this vital liberty was born; how thinkers and societies throughout history have developed the idea that individuals have the right to express themselves without fear of sanction by the state.

Freedom of speech is a liberty that has been defined and refined for more than two millennia. The greatest thinkers in Western civilisation have explored its tenets and debated its foundations. In ancient Greece, the father of philosophy, Socrates, was executed for heresy. Yet his student, Plato, believed the ideal state would be one that banned all poetry which did not either praise gods or famous men. Cicero and Tacitus saw freedom of speech as the keystone of Roman liberties. Augustine and Calvin punished their fellow Christians for mere doctrinal disagreements. Spinoza, Milton, Locke, Voltaire, and Mill have all defended, to greater or lesser degrees, the right of individuals to believe and speak views of which governments disapprove. Even Karl Marx – no icon of individual liberties – was a passionate defender of press freedom. Yet the communist states that were his legacy have been among the most rigidly opposed to free expression. And it was the Soviet bloc that promoted the concept of hate speech – a concept which has spread throughout the liberal democratic world.

Our modern liberties are the result of a great dialogue within Western civilisation. Intellectual and legal developments made on one continent or in one country ricochet across the Western world. Australian ideas about political and social freedom are drawn from the history of Greece, France, the US, Rome, the Dutch Republic, and, of course, Britain.

And it is only by understanding that history that we can resolve the confusion about free speech in our time. Both ancient Rome and ancient Athens had a philosophy of free expression. But the two differed in an important way. The Athenians imagined freedom of speech as a foundation principle of their democracy. The Romans imagined freedom of speech as a foundation principle of their liberty. The difference is subtle but significant. If we believe that freedom of speech is an instrument, deployed for democratic purposes, we will find it sometimes necessary to restrain certain speakers – that is, to violate their free speech – in order to pursue a higher democratic goal. By contrast, if we believe, as the Romans did, that freedom of speech is a right held by individuals, then any attempt to restrain speech, for whatever reason, will be anathema.

These two competing ideas – free speech as a democratic instrument, and free speech as a right – have echoed through history and still define the contemporary debate.

I argue that only the Roman tradition of individual rights provides a stable and coherent case for free expression.

The reason for this lies in the intellectual origins of speech freedom – the relationship between liberty of conscience and liberty of expression. The free, morally autonomous individual is one who can construct their own identity, form their own beliefs, and pursue their own desires while tolerating the identities, beliefs and desires of others. This idea is the core of liberalism. And its foundations were first articulated in the debate over religious toleration, and later freedom of speech. In this, Rome, with its tradition of scepticism and individualism, casts a brighter light over Western civilisation than Athens.

In the 21st century, it is the very idea of freedom of speech that is now being challenged. Benjamin Constant, an early French liberal, wrote in his Principles of Politics that:

One habitual ruse of the enemies of freedom and enlightenment is to affirm that their ignoble doctrine is universally adopted, that principles on which rest the dignity of the human race are abandoned by unanimous agreement, and that it is unfashionable and almost in bad taste to profess them.

We must show there is no such unanimous agreement.

It is easy to support freedom of speech when we agree with the content of that speech. So we need to ground our support for free expression in something more than platitudes – a resilient foundation that can cope with both the pleasing and the offensive. Freedom of speech has been, and still is, one of our most vital liberties. If we discard it, we critically undermine the moral foundations of liberal democracy, and lose our basic human individuality.


8 June, 2012

More whining teachers

They're Prima Donnas worldwide.  Check Wisconsin, NYC  and Britain, for instance

TEACHERS have rejected a pay deal from the Queensland Government and are planning to rally outside State Parliament in a fortnight.

The Queensland Teachers Union issued a newsflash yesterday telling its members they had rejected an enterprise bargaining package, which included a 2.7 per cent pay rise per annum over the next three years.

The union has raised concerns over what the Department of Education, Training and Employment "requires" to be removed from its current certified agreement as part of the enterprise bargaining offer.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said classroom teachers would earn up to $90,238 a year, graduate teachers up to $61,636 a year and principals up to $147,981 a year under the agreement.

Graduate teachers would be kept at the same classification for three years before being eligible to access annual increments.

The QTU warns pay progression "would require certification by principals of teachers' satisfactory conduct, diligence and efficiency rather than increments being held by exception as is currently the case".

Mr Langbroek said: "The salary increase of 2.7 per cent a year promises an increase in real wages with the annual national inflation rate currently just 1.6 per cent (CPI year to march quarter 2012).

"It is a fair offer in the current economic climate, particularly given the job security that teachers enjoy."

But the QTU has warned beginning teachers would lose more than $6000 over the life of the agreement, while "items" like class sizes they had fought for would be removed and "considered matters of policy to be determined by the department".

"Examples of items suggested by the department which are better determined by policy are: class sizes; remote area incentive scheme ... workload management and work/life balance; job security; conversion to permanency of temporary teachers ... policy can be changed at any time by the government and department without consultation with teachers and principals.

"These issues have been included in agreements over the past 18 years as a protection against unilateral change by government or department. The entitlements won over six EB campaigns and more now become uncertain."

The QTU newsflash states it will be seeking a permit for an after-school rally outside Parliament on June 19 or 20.


Dumb teachers

ABOUT one in 10 high school graduates who took up teaching courses this year had an OP 17 or worse.  Overall Positions (OPs) range from one, the highest, to 25, the lowest, and are used to rank students wishing to be admitted for tertiary education.

The revelation follows concerns new teachers are graduating without basic numeracy and literacy skills and that universities are churning out too many graduates despite an oversupply of primary school teachers in Queensland.

A report this year revealed more than 12,000 primary school and 4000 other teachers were seeking work with Education Queensland in January.

In submissions to the Productivity Commission for a Schools Workforce report released in April, the Department of Education, Training and Employment said it had concerns about the imbalance of graduate primary school teachers, while the Queensland Catholic Education Commission said it was concerned the oversupply could lead to "a decrease in the quality of teaching graduates".

Figures released to The Courier-Mail by the Queensland College of Teachers revealed 11.8 per cent of high school graduates who entered teaching courses this year had an equivalent of an OP 17 or worse, and about 3.6 per cent had an OP of 20 to 25.

QCT director John Ryan said higher education institutions providing teacher education "must provide extra tuition to any student who needs support in literacy or numeracy".

But he said the Queensland school-leaver figures were better than those nationwide.  "As a percentage, Queensland had more students with higher entry scores and less people at the lower end of the scale than the rest of Australia entering teacher education.  "This data only applies to school-leavers and accounts for approximately 50 per cent of people entering teacher education."

The revelation came as recommendations to introduce a pre-registration test aimed at improving the quality of teaching graduates has been postponed for a second time because of concerns over cost.

Controversial recommendations made to the Bligh government aimed at lifting teacher standards, including enforcing a better alignment between demand and supply by limiting practicum (practical experience) places, are also in limbo, with their fate yet to be decided by the Newman Government.


Thousands of government jobs face axe in NSW

TEN thousand more jobs will be cut from the public service and speeding fines will rise by 12.5 per cent to help drag the NSW budget back into surplus from a forecast deficit of more than $800 million next financial year.

The announcements will feature in the O'Farrell government's second budget on Tuesday, which is expected to reveal the forecast deficit for 2012-13 is $826 million.

This is largely due to a collapse in forecast GST payments from the federal government of more than $5 billion since September.

The Treasurer, Mike Baird, is expected to announce 10,000 public sector jobs will be shed on top of the 5000 redundancies announced in September.

But while the earlier job cuts were pursued through voluntary redundancies, that approach is not guaranteed this time.

Instead the cuts, anticipated to save $2.2 billion over four years, will be achieved by imposing a "labour expense cap" to target an annual 1.2 per cent reduction in labour costs across all government agencies.

The government will recommit to exempting nurses, police and teachers in schools, but not TAFE teachers, from the cuts.

It will also give directors-general of departments the flexibility to achieve the targets through measures such as job redesign or by reviewing contractor levels.

The increase in speeding fines is expected to reap the government $140 million over four years and follows the announcement last week by the Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, of a sharp increase in fixed and mobile speed cameras.

There will also be a crackdown on public sector annual leave balances. The government is expected to say that the interim commission of audit conducted by the former Treasury official Kerry Schott revealed about 12 per cent of NSW public servants had more than 40 days' annual leave owing.

The announcement on Tuesday will require accrued annual leave to be cut to 40 days by June 30 next year, 35 days by 2014 and 30 days by 2015. It is forecast to save $220 million over four years.

The measures, along with a forecast improvement in economic conditions, will contribute to returning the budget to projected annual surpluses of more than $600 million from 2013-14, rising to more than $1 billion in 2015-16.

Mr Baird declined to comment on the detail of the budget but confirmed the government would "be taking a range of difficult and necessary decisions in our budget on June 12 to restore the state's finances so we can fund critical programs, services and infrastructure needs".

But the secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon, said the extra cuts would hit frontline services despite the government's promise that they would be spared.

"These cuts will drown nurses, police and other frontline public sector workers in paperwork and stop them doing the jobs they were employed to do - serving the community," Mr Lennon said.

"Telling departments to find savings through reduction of labour costs will demoralise the workforce through job cuts and the growth of casual and labour-hire employment."

Mr Lennon said the latest economic data showed NSW was in the slow lane of the two-speed economy. "Cutting jobs and services will only make that worse."


Rapid action to control Bolshie unions in Queensland

QUEENSLAND has new Industrial Relations laws today after State Parliament rushed through changes to the Act, proposed just three weeks ago.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie hailed the changes as putting the government "one step closer to getting the State's finances back on track".

Unions had opposed some aspects of the amendments which they believed compromised the independence of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission and watered down its powers.

Among the changes are new powers for the Attorney-General to intervene and halt industrial action, and a requirement that Treasury officials brief the QIRC on the State's fiscal strategy and ability to fund public sector pay rises.

The government was keen to introduce the changes with 25 enterprise bargaining agreements to negotiate in the next 12 months, including teachers, ambulance officers, police and the core public service.

Mr Bleijie said the Bill reflected the Government's desire to have a balanced and responsible approach to public sector wages.

"The Act has been amended to require the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) to give consideration to the State's financial position when making wage decisions," Mr Bleijie said.

The changes will also allow an employer to put an enterprise bargaining offer directly to employees for their consideration.

The majority of the provisions in the Bill will apply upon assent from the Governor.

Opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said the urgency in which the legislation was passed highlighted the Government’s twisted priorities.

“By passing this legislation the Government has wasted no time in returning to their favourite ideological pursuit, attacking the rights of workers,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Instead of debating the apparently “urgent” Cost of Living Bill the Government has chosen to rush through legislation which attacks the rights of workers."

She said she shared unions' concerns about the impact of the laws on the independence of the QIRC, which amounted to a broken election promise.

In November last year Mr Newman stated: “The LNP has no plans to change the role of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.”


7 June, 2012

Laborite takes credit for mining boom

A boom that they are still trying their best  to block.  But the mine employees  are now clearly spending the very high wages they earn.  And some  spending generally  will have been brought forward to beat the  onset of the carbon tax

GLOATING over a "stunning set of numbers", Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday said Australians should have a "bounce in their step".

March national accounts showed households had driven the country to record economic growth of 1.3 per cent for the first quarter - double the forecast and the strongest in five years.

The numbers pointed to annual growth of 4.3 per cent - normally considered an overheating economy - and left economists bewildered.  Even the Treasurer's Office asked they be double checked.

"They are proof that something special is happening in our country," Mr Swan said.

But retailers and business groups expressed horror at the Treasurer's claim that it was a "great day for Australia", saying few people outside the mining sector were likely to share his enthusiasm - particularly with the carbon tax due to start within four weeks.

"We're having a horrible time in retail ... there's certainly no bounce in our step," Harvey Norman boss Gerry Harvey said.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Greg Evans said the figures did not reflect most people's experience: "Most parts of the economy including retail, hospitality, manufacturing, construction and tourism are all still finding it so tough."

Aussie Home Loans founder John Symond said there was a long way to go before the Treasurer could make such claims: "The lack of confidence has been horrendous. There's been this build-up of uncertainty and the carbon tax plays a big part.  "We're nowhere near the bounce Mr Swan believes. I think he's beating his chest."

In the city yesterday, shoppers might have been jumping over puddles to get to the sales but few thought the economy was doing so well that they had a bounce in their step.

Lizanne Kohler, Ottilie Wouters and Juliette Cleton agreed the Australian economy was in good shape but thought their "bounce" was thanks to the bargains, and not Wayne Swan.

"There have been a lot of sales - and that's good for us," Ms Wouters said. Ms Cleton said she had a budget for discretionary spending and would not break it.

The ABS figures revealed the primary driver of the growth spurt was household consumption, which made up 0.9 per cent, followed by private business investment.

"What a stunning set of figures," Mr Swan said.  "I think these figures send the loudest possible message to the world that Australia is the strongest performing developed economy, bar none."'

The figures ran counter to the Reserve Bank's decision to drop interest rates by 0.25 points only a day earlier on the basis of only "modest" growth and fears of deteriorating global economic conditions.

Opposition spokesman Joe Hockey said: "Imagine how well our country could do if we had a good government?"

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the figures proved "doomsayers" wrong.

Australian National Retailers Association chief executive, Margy Osmond said: "I think across the sector there are pockets of good news but ... it'd be very, very rash to suggest a bounce."


Support grows for dobbers

AUSTRALIANS overwhelmingly support protections for whistleblowers and their right to go to the media, according to a landmark poll.

Debunking the notion that Australians dislike "dobbers", the nationwide survey also adds impetus to calls for the federal government to introduce promised legislation to safeguard whistleblowers.

Sampling the views of 1211 people, the survey found four out of five endorsed the principle that people should be "supported" in revealing inside information that exposed wrongdoing.

Even more people - 87 per cent of respondents - said whistle blowers should be able to use a media organisation to draw attention to corruption and other illegal, unethical and unsavoury activities.

Most felt that whistleblowers should first go through official channels. However, half of those surveyed believed "too much" information was kept secret. Twenty-six per cent felt the "right amount" of information was disclosed, while 7 per cent said more information should be under wraps.

A.J. Brown, the leader of a team of academics from Griffith and Melbourne universities examining whistleblowing, said the survey contradicted the notion that Australia had an "anti-dobbing" culture.

"There has been a fair amount of opinion that values like loyalty and mateship are so much part of the national psyche, Australians are hostile to recognising whistleblowing," Dr Brown said.

According to the survey, 60 per cent supported whistleblowers going public, even if it involved exposing the misconduct of a family member or friend. Approval was higher if a fellow staff member (77 per cent) or boss (82 per cent) was the target.

Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP and former intelligence analyst who was sacked after he accused then-prime minister John Howard of misleading the public before the Iraq War, said whistleblowers usually paid a heavy price for going public.  Stress, lost income, former colleagues' hatred, and family breakdown were the lot of the whistleblower, Mr Wilkie said.

Australia has a patchwork of whistleblowing protections at the state and territory level but many are seen as inadequate.  Last year, Victoria's ombudsman, George Brouwer, said "extensive alterations" were needed to the state's Whistleblower Protection Act.

At the federal level, there is no legislated protection for whistleblowers in government agencies, despite the reform's inclusion in the agreement of the three independent MPs with the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to form a minority government in 2010.

The legislation was supposed to be introduced in July last year. A second deadline of December 31 was also missed.

The Herald understands the proposed bill has already been redrafted more than 100 times, such is the sensitivity of the topic, particularly among bureaucrats.

The Special Minister of State, Gary Gray, has told Mr Wilkie and others that the government hasn't dropped the reform entirely. His spokesman told the Herald it would be delivered before the next election.


Queensland Environment Minister  is a climate change sceptic

QUEENSLAND'S new Environment Minister says he is not "100 per cent convinced" that humans are causing climate change.

Andrew Powell said he believed the climate was warming and humans needed to stop polluting and reduce their reliance on non-renewable energy sources.  But he said he was "sceptical" human activity was to blame for all the changes.

"I think I represent a view that is fairly consistent across a certain percentage of the population, that until I'm 100 per cent convinced I'm always going to be a bit sceptical," he said, speaking during a press conference at Newmarket.

He was backed by Premier Campbell Newman, who first registered "surprise" that Mr Powell had been questioned over his stance.  "I mean the sea-level rise predictions have changed constantly over the last 15 years and I think that's what he's saying," Mr Newman said.  "(Mr Powell's) saying something that a Labor Minister would never have had to the honesty to say - we don't know what the impacts are precisely."

Asked whether he believed humans were responsible for climate change, Mr Newman said: "In terms of what the precise impacts will be of climate change anybody who says they know is having a lend of you."  He said it was "refreshing" Mr Powell was "prepared to tell the truth".


"Clean" energy users may still have to pay carbon taxes

FAMILIES relying on 100 per cent "green power" may still have to pay the carbon tax, the prices watchdog says.

The Gillard Government's chief carbon cop, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims, predicted the surprise green power hit would become one of the "big issues" needing to be resolved.

"You could be charged the carbon price even if you've got 100 per cent green power because of the way the product is put together," he told the Herald Sun.

"It does depend on the structure of the contract. The way these products are traditionally structured, they could well be liable for the carbon price."

Consumers should first discuss the issue with their power companies but he urged anyone who was unhappy to contact the ACCC.   "I'm quite happy for them to elevate it to us," he said.

The ACCC had become involved because some customers had already received an "ambiguous answer" from power companies.

"People on 100 per cent green energy have been complaining they're getting charged a carbon price and they are saying what's going on here?" he said.

Mr Sims said it was a complex billing system but under some green energy schemes, power companies charged customers for "black power" and then charged a premium for a renewable energy certificate.

"They stick that on top of the black price," he said. "So because the carbon price is going to increase the black price, then they're increasing your price as well.

"It depends how the product was sold to them. If someone told them the energy you're getting is coming only from renewable sources, then I think there's a problem.

"If someone's told them you are underpinning investment in renewables then I think they could be liable to the black charge."

Mr Sims also revealed the ACCC was investigating a gymnasium that had added what appeared to be too much to its post July 1 membership fees and blamed the carbon tax.

"It didn't look right for a gymnasium," he said. "The amount of the increase was beyond what we would think was right, so we're looking into that."

Mr Sims said consumers should contact the ACCC where they think people were putting up prices excessively due to the carbon price. In most cases working out prices for business was straight forward.


6 June, 2012

Carbon tax a foundational faith for the Australian Left?

Taxes generally certainly are

LABOR was demonstrating "breathtaking arrogance" by refusing to countenance the repeal of the carbon tax under an Abbott government, the Coalition said yesterday.

"How arrogant and out of touch is this government to say it will defy the verdict of the people? The next election is going to be a referendum on the carbon tax … Any Labor Party which persists in opposition in supporting a carbon tax is a Labor Party which is arrogant and out of touch," the Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, said yesterday.

The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, told the Herald on Monday there were no circumstances in which Labor would support a repeal, meaning the Coalition would probably have to go to a double dissolution election to abolish it and the tax would operate well into a conservative government's first term.

Combet also vowed to hold Abbott to account for his "rank" and deceitful" campaign against the tax, which he said had been based on untruths.

But Abbott is continuing his attack, saying yesterday the tax was "an act of economic lunacy" which would be "toxic for families' cost of living".

"As for the damage that the carbon tax will do, we are already seeing it. I mean, jobs are already being lost in places Kurri Kurri … Airlines are already shutting routes because of the carbon tax. Councils are already putting up rates because of the carbon tax," he said.

The Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter cited the carbon tax as a long-term consideration in its decision to mothball its operations, but said the strength of the Australian dollar and low commodity prices were far bigger reasons and that the decision would have been taken "with or without a carbon tax."

Brindabella Airlines said tax was a "major factor" in the closure of some marginal routes.

IPART has ruled that councils across NSW will need to raise rates by just 0.4 per cent to cope with the costs of the tax.

The Coalition has said it will "begin" to repeal the tax on day one, but many constitutional experts say it will be difficult to meet the requirements for a double dissolution election (two rejections by the parliament three months apart) before a new Senate takes its seat in mid-2014, meaning the repeal process could under some circumstances take years.


Who is it who wants to destroy our heritage buildings?

An architect, of course.  Let him go get "playful" with himself.  Thank goodness Prince Charles stomps on such critters in London.  We need the Prince here too

TOO many buildings in NSW have been preserved in aspic for sentimental reasons instead of being sympathetically adapted and reused, the newly appointed head of the NSW Heritage Council, Professor Lawrence Nield, said yesterday.

He supports preserving "genuine heirlooms". However, very often preservationists, particularly those in local government, confused heritage with sentimentality, preserving anything old and Victorian and destroying valuable buildings from the 1930s, '40s and '50s, he said.

Part of what made for a livable city such as Sydney or Barcelona was "getting the balance between old and new right" and juxtaposing the "playful with the serious".

For example, the Cook and Phillip Aquatic Centre, which he designed, is located between two of Sydney's most august buildings, St Mary's Cathedral and the Australian Museum. He also designed Canberra's Questacon, the second-most visited building in the ACT. It was a "huge decision to put something as popular" as a science museum for children and teenagers within the parliamentary triangle, next to the National Library and a short skip away from the offices of Treasury, he said.

During his 45 years as an architect, Professor Nield has won awards around the world, including the Australian Institute of Architects' 2012 Gold Medal for Outstanding Achievement and the French Republic's Order of Arts and Letters in 2007. One of his designs, the Caroline Chisholm High School in the ACT, completed in 1986, has already been listed as a heritage building in the ACT.

As the council's new chairman, Professor Nield said he was very interested in "living heritage" rather than museum pieces. "We need to have milestones that tell us about our past. It may be a disused blast furnace in Newcastle or a shipwreck," he said.

To illustrate his planning philosophy, he used the term "palimpsest", which means to scrape something clean, and start again without destroying the foundation.  [The fact that a palimpsest is regarded as a work of vandalism among paleographers is apparently unknown to him] The transformation of Sydney's Mint, which added a new wing, and the QVB, which was once a market and is now a shopping centre were examples of the principle in action.

"People want to see buildings grow and change over time. We don't want them frozen," he said.

The Minister for Heritage, Robyn Parker, said Professor Nield would also drive heritage reforms to make the system more transparent. The council will now have a 14-day window to make recommendations on listings to the minister. The changes include a website which will track an application's progress, and a requirement that listings by the minister be made public.


Few want to give up city living - go-bush grant is a failure

This is a replay of the Whitlam decentralization scheme of the 70s.  It failed then so it is no surprise that it has failed again.  Do governments ever learn?

THE cash carrot offered to get city slickers to relocate to the country is being ignored, with less than 700 applying for the $7000 grant - and most of those who do apply seem to be moving to the next suburb.

The state government offered the money to Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong residents willing to sell their homes and go bush.

But in almost a year, only 636 grants have been issued - well short of initial projections of 10,000 per year, and lagging behind the revised expectations of 7000 a year.

A comparison of where people are moving from and to shows the grants have been most popular in the Hunter and Illawarra.

However, among the top five suburbs people are moving from is Adamstown, which is a nine-minute drive to Charlestown - among the top five suburbs people are moving to.

In response to questions on notice in parliament by Labor MP Mick Veitch, the state government produced the number of regional grants handed out, by postcode.

Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said that in the current financial climate it was not surprising so few grants were being taken up.

"In view of the current economic conditions, with low consumer and business confidence, it is not surprising many Sydney families are choosing not to make a tree or sea change at present," Mr Stoner said.

"The government remains convinced that encouraging balanced population and economic growth across the state is good for NSW.

"Personally, I wouldn't need a $7000 incentive to move from the city to one of our beautiful regions, where costs of living are lower, the food is fresher, the air is cleaner and the commute to work is enjoyable."

The NSW government spent $739,640 on a campaign to promote the grants, that ran from January to March. It initially budgeted $1 million to promote the scheme.

Opposition Leader John Robertson called it a flop.

"One week out from the state budget, Barry O'Farrell's key election pledge to drive a population shift away from Sydney and into the bush is in tatters," he said.

"To make matters worse, one third of people who received the grants have been paid to leave the Central Coast, Hunter and Illawarra regions - starving rather than growing areas outside Sydney."

The majority of grants were handed out to those aged between 61 and 70, followed by those aged 31 to 40 and 51 to 60.


Northern food bowl dream branded a folly

Much of what the Greenies say below is true but they underestimate Chinese farmers. 

Since China itself is now a net food exporter, however,  the need for the scheme is far from obvious:  Just a wet dream of some Canberra bureaucrat who knows a lot less than he thinks he does

The Wilderness Society has described Australian Government moves to attract Chinese investment to develop agriculture in northern Australia as a waste of taxpayers' money.

The Federal Government expects to release a study later this year into policy changes to allow large-scale agricultural investment by China in the north.

Wilderness Society spokesman Gaven McFadzean says the Government's Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce has previously found the region could never be turned into a food bowl.

"It is virtually in drought (for) seven or eight months of the year, evaporation is very high," he said.

"The geology and the topography of northern Australia does not suit major dam construction.  "It is very flat and most of the rainfall falls very close to the coast, so dam construction is very hard.  "Overwhelmingly the soils of northern Australia are impoverished and nutrient poor."

Mr McFadzean says previous studies have shown irrigated agriculture in northern Australia could only be expanded by about 40,000 hectares.

He says the scale of production being considered by the Federal Government would be unviable and environmentally damaging.

"We are extremely concerned by the scale and size of what is being proposed across northern Australia ... very large agriculture and development projects involving dams on rivers, major land clearing, major new infrastructure, with significant environmental impacts," he said.  "We think (it) will be a waste of taxpayers' money."


5 June, 2012

Survey shows Australians support foreign labour

A new survey shows a majority of Australians support the use of foreign workers to address labour shortages, but are also opposed to large-scale foreign investment.

The Lowy Institute poll has found 62 per cent of people support the use of temporary skilled migration when local employees are not available.

The annual survey was conducted before the Federal Government announced it would allow 1,700 foreign workers to be employed on the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia.

But the institute's executive director, Michael Wesley, says the poll gives some indication of what Australians might think about the plan, and shows many people are worried about foreigners buying Australian assets.

"We found that 81 per cent of people we asked are against foreign companies buying Australian farmland," Mr Wesley said.

"Australians continue to be worried about the amount of Chinese investment the government is allowing in - 56 per cent think the government's allowing too much Chinese investment into Australia.

"I think people are well aware that some of the big projects in Australian history like the Snowy Mountains scheme were built using skilled labour, because the labour wasn't available from within the Australian population.

"So they're aware that our prosperity and our progress as a nation does depend on allowing in people with the skills that we need."

The survey has also found support for Australia's alliance with the United States has reached its highest level since the poll began in 2005.

But support for tough action on climate change has continued to fall, with 63 per cent of respondents opposed to the government's carbon tax.


At long last!

Crooked lawyer struck off for excess charging

RUSSELL KEDDIE, the principal of the personal injury law firm Keddies, has been found guilty of professional misconduct and struck off the legal roll for his part in the gross overcharging of a paraplegic client.

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal found yesterday Keddies had overcharged Suang Ying Meng by about $215,000 when it acted for her following a bus crash in South Australia in 2002.

A senior associate of the firm, Philip Scroope, was also found guilty of professional misconduct, reprimanded and fined, although he has been allowed to continue practising as a lawyer.

Disciplinary proceedings against two other Keddies partners, Scott Roulstone and Tony Barakat, were dropped after Mr Keddie agreed to take "ultimate responsibility" for overcharging Ms Meng. Mr Roulstone now works for a rival firm, Slater & Gordon, which acquired Keddies for $30 million last year. Mr Barakat left Slater & Gordon last December and runs his own firm, Barton Lawyers.

While the Legal Services Commissioner, Steve Mark, succeeded in having Mr Keddie struck off, the high-profile lawyer retired in December and handed in his practising certificate, rendering the tribunal's order somewhat redundant.

In 2008, the Herald reported many Keddies clients had complained about alleged excessive charges. While Ms Meng's case is the only one to have proceeded to judgment before the tribunal, dozens of cases from former clients are before the courts.

Mr Keddie, Mr Roulstone and Mr Barakat also face contempt of court proceedings, accused of failing to abide by an order preventing them from contacting former clients who were taking legal action against them.

Ms Meng, a Chinese national, was awarded $3.5 million to cover medical expenses for the rest of her life. However she was paid a net sum of $2.32 million from Keddies.

The tribunal found Keddies's $819,694 legal bill form contained errors, mistakes, duplications and charged for work that was not performed, or was unnecessary or unreasonable.

Mr Scroope, who signed off on the bill, partly blamed the firm's computerised costing system. But the tribunal found Mr Scroope should have paid much more attention to the bill, and the level and frequency of overcharging was "quite extraordinary".

Mr Keddie acknowledged the flawed system and his failure to supervise staff entering costs involved a "substantial dereliction of duty and a high degree of negligence".


If they're happy and they know it . . .  "Positive education"

CRITICS deride it as "happyology", but positive education is taking hold from the gleaming halls of Geelong Grammar to the classrooms of hardscrabble public schools across the country.

The brainchild of an American psychologist, positive education aims to help students cultivate positive emotions and character traits, improving their behaviour and fighting depression before it sinks in.

Teachers faced with the challenge of teaching adolescents in the 21st century have embraced it with fervour, led by the elite Geelong Grammar and its team of specially trained staff.

"If our investment saves one kid from committing suicide in 10 years' time it's worth every single penny," said vice-principal Charlie Scudamore.

"This is not about kids walking around with a smile on their face, ignoring critical human emotion.

"It's about a flourishing person who is in control of their emotion, who can deal with adversity, knows that adversity is going to hit them and there will be sad times and bad times, but they can bounce back from that."
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Geelong Grammar has pioneered the spread of positive education over the past four years, incorporating it across the whole school as well as running specific Year 7 and 10 classes and seeking donations from parents to run courses on the concept for other school teachers.

Nathan Chisholm, principal of Altona College in Melbourne's western suburbs, said the adoption of positive psychology had produced a remarkable change in student and staff attitudes at his battling public school.

"We have shifted the culture from one of welfare to one of wellbeing, and that's a really important thing," Mr Chisholm said.

South Australia has appointed positive psychology founder Martin Seligman as its latest thinker in residence, using a pilot program in the Adelaide Hills to help determine whether rollout of positive psychology should occur across the state system.

While the growing number of schools involved, and support from prominent psychologists, has lent weight to positive education, Sydney psychologist Vera Auerbach warned it would not help children with serious mental health issues.

"I think it's flavour of the month; I think it's like a fad," she said. "If you're a well-adjusted individual and you've got no issues in life, positive psychology might help by just putting something on top of it.

"If you are deeply depressed and suicidal, if your boyfriend has broken up with you and you don't want to live any more, then I don't think this positive-psychology stuff works at all."


Women are not so green behind the wheel

WOMEN aged between 25 and 49 have been rated the worst on the road when it comes to eco-friendly driving.  A new study has found they scored poorly on everything from car-pooling, braking, airconditioning use and driving in the right gear.

At the other end of the scale, a panel of experts studying the green credentials of Australian drivers scored women over 50 as the nation's most environmentally sensitive.

The national survey of 3000 drivers was conducted for car insurer AAMI.  The impact of driving behaviour on the environment was ranked to produce a "green score" out of 10.   Factors taken into account included whether a driver removed unnecessary weight from the car boot, how often they serviced their vehicle and their willingness to use public transport.  Key findings include:

DRIVERS of both sexes over 50 have a lower environmental impact than those aged 18-24.

OLDER motorists are most likely to service their car.

VICTORIAN drivers have the highest impact on the environment.

AAMI spokesman Reuben Aitchison said the fact that women over 25 were worse for the environment than equivalent male drivers came as a surprise.

"In particular, they were less likely to avoid high speeds or drive in a higher or lower gear than needed, and were far less likely to car-pool," Mr Aitchison said.

"The much maligned older driver sets the best example, with smoother, slower driving and attention to servicing," he said.

Greenfleet chief Sara Gipton said car manufacturers had reduced the environmental impact, but technology went only so far.  "Drivers must take advantage of these improvements to get the greatest benefit," Ms Gipton said.

The release of the findings coincides with World Environment Day today.


4 June, 2012

Death threats just par for the course for climate skeptics

The wimps of the Green/Left claim that various criticisms of their mental ossification are "death threats" (See here).  It's just projection. The skeptics are the ones that get the threats  --  from Green/Left thugs

DEATH threats and vile abuse are real. They infect the daily lives of key players in the debate over climate change. But it's not what you think: the main recipients of this torrent of abuse are not climate scientists.

They are the journalists and broadcasters whose job requires them to test the received wisdom on this and many other subjects.

They are the inheritors of that great tradition in which Western civilisation has encouraged criticism of the orthodoxy in order to expose its flaws.

That tradition, which thrives on dissent, is very much alive in parts of the media. But it is under threat.

The intolerance of those who support the orthodox view on climate change has reached the point where the physical safety of those who express a contrary view is regularly threatened.

So where is the outraged media coverage?  The ABC and like-minded outlets have devoted considerable resources to allegations of death threats against scientists who defend the orthodox view on climate change.  Later events have undermined the veracity of those allegations, but you would never know unless you were prepared to wade through the corrections on the ABC's website.

But at the same time, real abuse and real death threats against those on the other side of this debate have been largely ignored.

At the moment, climate change is one of the "hot button" issues that brings out the crazies. But it's not just climate change.

Melbourne columnist Andrew Bolt has also had threats of physical violence for criticising Islamism and Anita Heiss's book Am I Black Enough for You?.

He has even been threatened for opposing a national day of mourning for the Black Saturday bushfires.

Bolt puts it down to the morally superior manner of those who play a leading role in setting the tone of public policy debate.

The most startling incident occurred a decade ago when an activist organisation published his home address on its website "along with an exhortation to burn the house down".

Two weeks ago a filmmaker, whom he named, used Twitter to urge his followers: "Let's assassinate Andrew Bolt." It was later removed.

A Greens candidate at the last federal election used Twitter to publish this: "Andrew Bolt is a vile c ... of a man. I openly condone hunting him down and beating him to within an inch of his life."

Sydney Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair says he has received "death wishes" rather than death threats. The last one contained the cheery sign-off: "Die painfully, yours sincerely ... ".

Blair says this happens relatively frequently, whenever a "hot button" issue is in the news. And the most popular trigger is "anything to do with climate change".

Most of this material arrives by email and while they are abusive, Blair says they are not real death threats.  "They want you to die, rather than saying they are going to kill you," he says.

But he was worried after he published on a private website Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that had triggered death threats against the cartoonist.

The Sydney Morning Herald accompanied its report on this incident with a photograph of Blair, which led to police calling him and suggesting he might wish to move to a more secure location.

Broadcaster Ray Hadley says he usually receives about 600 emails a day on a range of subjects, and 10 per cent are abusive.

In the 11 years he has been with Sydney radio station 2GB he has received about 20 death threats, only one of which seemed serious enough to refer to police. It contained details of his movements but turned out to be the work of an eccentric pensioner with an alcohol problem.

"The rest are in the form of 'I wish you were dead and if I could make you dead I would do it' ", Hadley says. "But some of the people I know in the security industry say that if someone is going to knock you off they are not going to tell you about it."

At The Australian, editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell says he has received hundreds of death threats during his 20 years as an editor and editor-in-chief and has ignored them all.

He says the recent debate about alleged death threats against climate change scientists gave rise to an implication that death threats only came from climate change deniers. But in his experience, that is not the case.

He has received threats from both sides of the climate change debate - from those accusing him of destroying the planet for their grandchildren and from those demanding that the newspaper withdraw its support for a carbon tax. In the past two years, most of the threats from the Right have largely come from Queensland and Western Australia.

He believes there would always have been threats made against those in the media and email has simply made it more convenient.

Climate scientists, like other new players in public policy debates, were clearly shocked by the vile nature of some of the abuse they have received.

But after 20 years of abuse and threats, Mitchell has some advice: "These climate scientists need to harden up."

The abuse directed at climate scientists, bad as it was, needs to be kept in perspective.

Ten years ago, the Brisbane home of The Australian's Hedley Thomas was peppered with bullets late at night, narrowly missing his wife and children.

Thomas, who has five Walkley awards, has received threats but does not take them seriously, "because if someone wants to do you in, they are not going to give you a warning".

He says he has never been scared away from a story because of threats.

More than a decade ago, reporter Tom Dusevic was beaten by two young men with baseball bats who were waiting for him when he returned home at night. This came shortly after Dusevic had written a contentious article. But he believes it was probably just a case of mistaken identity.


Tony Abbott's push to cut green tape would benefit Queensland first

QUEENSLAND would become the first state to gain greater control over environmentally sensitive developments if Tony Abbott wins the next election.

The federal Opposition has struck a preliminary deal with the Newman Government to allow it to take control of all approvals under federal environment laws, with the exception of offshore developments.

Federal opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt has been in talks with some states about a possible handover of approval powers to allow faster processes if the Coalition wins power.

He said Queensland had the most advanced proposals to cut "green tape" and the Coalition would use the state as a model for streamlining development applications.  "Queensland would be the first cab off the rank if we win the next election," Mr Hunt told The Courier-Mail.

The plan is designed to prevent fights between state and federal governments over environmental approvals.

State Environment Minister Andrew Powell has won backing from Mr Hunt for a plan to roll out strategic approvals across the whole state, rather than the current process of individual assessments.

The plan is based on discussions between the federal and Queensland governments for a strategic plan for developments affecting the Great Barrier Reef.

"We want to get to the point where there is an agreed level of environmental standards between the Commonwealth and the state," Mr Powell said.

Mr Hunt said the LNP "have shown better environmental credentials than the previous government" by scaling back the planned expansion of the Abbott Point coal terminal and fighting the poaching of turtles and dugong.

The move comes as a UNESCO report warned coastal developments in Queensland were posing a risk to the reef.

But Mr Powell said the UNESCO report backed the Queensland Government's current strategy of developing a joint plan with the federal government for developments affecting the reef.


Australia's Boatpeople crisis grows as 246 arrive in three days

LABOR'S border security crisis is deepening, with the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat over the weekend accounting for more than half the forecast arrivals for the month of June.

A large boat carrying 150 asylum-seekers and crew was intercepted yesterday north of Christmas Island by Customs and Border Protection officers.

It was the second boat to be detected in Australian waters over the weekend after another vessel carrying 87 passengers and one crew member was picked up on Saturday evening.

It is the third boat to arrive in the first three days of June, and brings the total number of asylum-seekers who have made the dangerous boat journey this month to 246.

This comes after 1176 asylum-seekers arrived last month - the highest number since August 2001, when the Howard government moved to implement the Pacific Solution after the Tampa crisis.

Department of Immigration officials confirmed to a Senate committee last month that Labor's budget is based on estimates that an average of 450 boatpeople will arrive each month over the next financial year.

But since Julia Gillard's bilateral agreement with Malaysia to send 800 asylum-seekers to Kuala Lumpur in exchange for taking 4000 processed refugees was scuttled by the High Court, and negotiations with the opposition to amend the Migration Act to allow for offshore processing broke down in November, an average of 733 asylum-seekers have arrived each month.

The Australian understands the Department of Immigration, along with the departments of Finance and Treasury, will review whether their estimates are appropriate in November's mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.

The opposition blamed the latest boat arrivals on the government's refusal to adopt the Coalition's Pacific Solution.  "Labor is using their Malaysian people-swap as a political shield against their own accountability and responsibility as a government," opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.

But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen put the blame on Tony Abbott.   "Until the Coalition is prepared to allow offshore processing to occur, the Australian people can only conclude he prefers to see more boats arrive, because it's in Mr Abbott's political interests," Mr Bowen said.

The Law Council of Australia has meanwhile condemned the government for detaining in adult prisons up to 28 Indonesian minors accused of being involved in people-smuggling.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry, the law council said it was concerned there may be up to 28 cases where Indonesian minors have been held in detention facilities alongside adults.

"These cases, which have been brought to the attention of the public and the parliament by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Indonesian government, suggest serious inadequacies in relation to the age determination processes employed by Australian authorities and in relation to the approach taken to prosecuting and sentencing persons who claim to be minors for people-smuggling offences," the submission says.

The law council has raised concerns the government might be in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Tarantulas halt cane toad spread

THEY may be creepy and crawly, but tarantulas could become man's best friend in the war against one of Australia's worst pests.

Large native spiders, including the Australian tarantula, the wolf spider and the racing stripe spider, have all been found to prey upon cane toads, the Townsville Bulletin reported.

Experts believe the stealthy arachnids are so successful at hunting the toxic toads, they could be credited with keeping the amphibians' numbers down across North Queensland.

They have suggested residents who want to keep toad numbers at bay in their backyard, should attract spiders into their garden.

Queensland Museum spider expert Dr Robert Raven said he had witnessed a tarantula devouring a toad in the wild near Cooktown several years ago.

"The toad had jumped near the entrance to the spider's burrow at night, and the spider just launched out and grabbed it and took it down into the burrow, like a scene out of a movie," he said.

Since their introduction to North Queensland in 1935, cane toads have been steadily marching west and south to conquer the rest of Australia.

It is now estimated there are 10 toads for every person in Australia.

Dr Raven, who has lived in Cairns, believed spiders, alongside other native predators such as birds and snakes, have played a major role in keeping toad numbers from increasing over the past half-century.

He said residents could help attract native spiders to their yards, to help control the spread of cane toads, by keeping a moist pocket in a side part of the garden.


3 June, 2012

UNESCO meddling aims to put Queensland into a Greenie straitjacket

HALTING port and industry development along Queensland's coast to protect the Great Barrier Reef is not an option, Premier Campbell Newman says.

His comments come as the UN's environmental arm UNESCO released a report that says rapid coastal development is threatening the health of the reef.

The report warns the reef could be listed as a World Heritage site in danger unless substantial changes are made to its management, sparking calls from green groups for the government to put a moratorium on massive coal port developments.

Mr Newman told reporters on Saturday that his government was committed to protecting the reef and the environment.  But he made it clear halting port and infrastructure development connected to the coal and liquified natural gas industry was not an option.  "We will protect the environment but we are not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down," Mr Newman said.

Later he added: "We are in the coal business. If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat we all need to understand that."

Mr Newman said the previous governments over the past decade were to blame for the "haphazard" and "ad hoc" development of ports.

"The business and economic issues that we were concerned about are very similar to the environment issues UNESCO has identified," Mr Newman said.  "Very clearly there needs to be a proper strategy, orderly progression of these developments. We shouldn't be building a multitude of new ports and we won't be."  Cabinet will be discussing this on Monday, he said.

Australian Marine Conservation Society director Darren Kindleysides said the world expected Australia to look after the unique reef, which was worth $6 billion annually to the tourism industry.  “The rush to ship coal and gas through the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef intensifies by the day," Mr Kindleysides said.  "Australia must now put the brakes on the approval of any new port and infrastructure developments risking the Reef."

The UNESCO report recommends an independent review into the management of Gladstone Harbour, which is at the centre of a diseased fish outbreak.

Mr Newman said he was already in the process of developing a water management plan for Gladstone Harbour.

He said it would be similar to the "watersway partnership" in Moreton Bay, where universities, government agencies, local councils and natural resource management groups jointly monitor water quality in creeks and rivers.

Legal issues may stop reef report response

The federal government may not be able to meet a major recommendation of the UNESCO report on the Great Barrier Reef, Environment Minister Tony Burke says.

About 45 development applications are in the pipeline that could “potentially” affect the reef including LNG and other processing facilities, port expansions, dredging, tourism developments and aquaculture.

The busy coal terminals of Abbot Point and Hay Point in north Qld are also undergoing expansion while new port facilities are anticipated on Cape York and Balaclava Island in central Queensland.

Mr Burke said the state and federal governments were already undertaking the “most comprehensive and complex assessment” ever to have been done on the reef.

It’s due to be delivered to UNESCO by February next year.

“The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s greatest treasures, it is one of Australia’s most significant environmental places and has been recognised as one of the healthiest coral reef ecosystems, and best managed marine areas in the world,” Mr Burke said.

The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) has taken issue with key findings of the scathing UNESCO report about the management of the Great Barrier Reef.

The report, released on Saturday, noted the international body's "extreme concern" at the "unprecedented" rate of development along the Queensland coast, and warned the reef could be listed as a World Heritage site in danger.

But QRC chief executive Michael Roche said the industry was on a sustainable footing.  "We believe that the scale of development is very much a steady-growth scenario, not unprecedented growth," he told AAP.

Mr Roche said he did not accept the figures about increases in shipping movements put forward by environmental group Greenpeace.

"We need to ensure that all of these comments and requests and recommendations from UNESCO are seen in the context of realistic estimates of development," he said.

Mr Roche said the industry was serious about the looking after the Great Barrier Reef.  "Industry has long demonstrated its commitment to protection of the reef through direct funding of essential reef research," he said.

"(It has met) the exacting environmental protection standards of the state and federal governments in seeking project approvals."


A navy that can't even work a rubber boat

THREE high-level investigations into the capsizing of a naval boat - dumping eight senior defence officials in calm waters - have identified speed as a key factor in the accident.

Not that the jet-propelled inflatable was going too fast, but rather too slow to complete the transfer of the Department of Defence Remuneration Tribunal officials to a moving frigate.

A maritime safety inquiry revealed the Juliet 3 Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) had less stability at low speed and was travelling at less than eight knots when it flipped over. It also found that there were "too many people seated too far forward" and this destabilised the vessel.

The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the tribunal officials were being transferred from HMAS Maitland to HMAS Darwin when Juliet 3 overturned on July 27 last year.

One tribunal member suffered concussion, another a back injury while a third is still undergoing treatment for knee and arm pain.

The navy investigations found a large volume of water went over the bow of the boat shortly before it rolled.

Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, revealed all eight tribunal members, who were aged between 40 and 60, and two crew landed in the water.

Three investigations were launched, including a maritime safety inquiry which found speed was the most likely cause of the incident, he said.

A Comcare investigation due to be released next month identifies 10 areas of improvement.

Vice-Admiral Griggs denied Opposition claims that modifications to the boats had made them unstable, but admitted that crew needed to ensure that not too many people were seated "too far forward" in the boats.

"There were too many people too far forward so, when the boat lost directional stability, it allowed the bow to go into the water and chip the water over the bow, which caused the capsize."

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said it was of concern that civilians had been in the boat at the time.


Queensland Rail workers' shorts ban short lived

Some arrogant bureaucrat in an airconditioned office finds out that he knew a lot less than he thought he did.  Queensland is HOT for much of the year

THE humble work shorts have been saved from extinction with Queensland Rail workers winning their fight to bare their knees.

New uniforms for train crews are believed to be the latest victim of government cost-cutting with workers told they can keep their shorts.

The new look favoured by Queensland Rail featured long pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect workers against skin cancer.

But with a hefty price tag of $500,000, and the opposition of The Courier-Mail readers who feared it could be the end of the "Queensland uniform" of shorts and long socks, the new look is now understood to have been abandoned.

Owen Doogan from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union said members always had the option of donning more protective clothing and the shorts ban was regulation gone mad, adding there was never a safety issue with shorts.

"We're absolutely delighted that our members will have the choice to wear shorts if they wish," said Mr Doogan.

"Given the sort of work they do, and the climate we live in, it's common sense."


More defective standards at a Qld. govt. regional hospital

Let's hope it's not as bad as Bundaberg

A CORONIAL inquest is set to resume into the death of Judith McNaught, who died after a routine operation to remove her gall bladder.

Ms McNaught, 69, died on June 6, 2010, five days after the operation at the Rockhampton Base Hospital.

The three-day inquest resumes tomorrow in the Rockhampton Coroners Court.

The legal representative for the family, Sarah Atkinson, said the post-mortem report revealed Ms McNaught died as a result of massive organ failure following septicaemia.

"We understand that she was moved from the post-operative ward to another ward and not properly observed or assessed for a long period of time," she said in a statement.

Ms McNaught's son, David McNaught said: "Our requests for information and an explanation about what went wrong have been ignored by the hospital."


1 June, 2012

Leftists just can't think ahead  -- or is it just that they rely on conservatives to have better manners than they do?

An obvious riposte to the poster below would be; "I'm Julia Gillard and I'm threatened by marriage and children". (Prime Minister Gillard has never married, has no children and is in a relationship of  some sort with a male hairdresser!)

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has described posters that depict him as racist, homophobic and sexist as tacky and not funny.

The posters, snapped inside the Sydney electorate office of Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, carry the slogans: "I'm threatened by boats and gays. Gays on boats are my worst nightmare" and also "Note to Ladies: Make me a sandwich".

Mr Abbott told the Nine Network today: "It's tacky, it's not funny and Tanya Plibersek should be better than that and the Labor Party should lift its game."

Ms Plibersek's office yesterday refused to be drawn on the question of an apology, but later tweeted: "Have instituted formal satire ban in the office".

In a prepared statement she said: "It is satire, I have asked the staff member to take it down."

However, Liberal party deputy leader Julie Bishop said she was so outraged by the posters she raised the issue during Question Time yesterday after noticing the pictures on her iPad.

Ms Bishop said she found the posters highly offensive, as did the Opposition Leader, who's own sister is in a same-sex relationship.

"It is offensive and she (Ms Plibersek) should apologise," Ms Bishop said.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey also weighed into the furore, adding the news of the posters capped an awful week for politicians and that all MPs have to do better.

"It's been an awful week for the profession of politics and we just have to get on with the job," he told the Seven Network.

Mr Hockey said Mr Abbott was being pragmatic about the posters.   "He's offended but he just gets on with it," Mr Hockey said. "We've just got to get on with the job."

The posters, which were photographed inside the Sydney electorate office of Labor MP Tanya Plibersek, caught the attention of a 2GB listener who forwarded the photos onto talkback radio host Ben Fordham and immediately sparked outrage.

On his Sydney Live show yesterday, Fordham asked how Ms Plibersek would feel if the shoe was on the other foot and "nasty posters" of Julia Gillard were on display in a Liberal MP's office.


Qld government hospitals, doctors facing grave claims

Another accusation of lax regulators

A QUEENSLAND MP has gone to the state's crime and corruption watchdog with grave allegations of medical misconduct involving four hospitals and seven doctors.

Independent MP Peter Wellington yesterday took the allegations to the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC), and also raised them with Health Minister Lawrence Springborg.

He told AAP the allegations include medical incompetence, unapproved research on patients, the illegal dispensing and over-prescription of drugs, sexual misconduct and Medicare fraud.

There are also allegations of corruption and concealment of wrongdoing by hospital management.

The Sunshine Coast MP said complainants - including concerned doctors, nurses, patients and their relatives - contacted him after state and federal regulatory bodies failed to act.

He says they are extremely angry and frustrated by the inaction and want a proper investigation.

Mr Wellington met CMC chairman Ross Martin yesterday and handed over documents to support the allegations.

He said Mr Martin had promised the CMC would assess whether an official investigation was warranted.

"I believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant a total review of state and federal statutory authorities set up to investigate medical malpractice," Mr Wellington said.

"The reason they want me to raise this in parliament is to apply the blow torch so these authorities know they can't treat the complainants in the way they have."

Mr Wellington said the allegations involved hospitals and doctors across the state.

He said he would not be naming them when he spoke about the allegations in parliament today.

He said he and the health minister - who discussed the claims yesterday - had agreed to await the outcome of the CMC's inquiries.


Jobs bonanza in new brown coal rush

If Greenies hate coal, they REALLY hate brown coal (lignite) -- but it is very close to the surface so just has to be dredged up  -- making it very cheap.  It has been powering Victoria for  decades.  It is also now the major source of power for Germany

 A PLAN to export Victoria's brown coal will deliver 3300 jobs and more than $11 billion in new revenue as the state plots its own mining boom.

Internal government documents seen by the Herald Sun reveal the enormous scale of the proposed project and how advanced negotiations are.

The Baillieu Government has been in secret talks with a consortium from India, Japan and Australia for more than a year about granting access to the state's huge deposits of brown coal, papers show.

That project alone would generate $11 billion in state revenue and create 3000 jobs on its construction and another 300 on-going jobs through its operation.

And the Herald Sun understands that windfall could be the tip of the iceberg, as other overseas groups are interested in similar-scale schemes.

Documents detail how a consortium led by Australian company Exergen, backed by India's biggest business group, Tata, and Japan's third-largest trader, Itochu, is in talks with the Government over one plan.

Tata Power executives met state Energy Minister Michael O'Brien and federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson in October, claiming the coal project could deliver $11 billion in royalties to Victoria's economy in the next 40 years.

Exergen has told the Government it has spent $20 million developing technology that can reduce the moisture content of brown coal from 65 per cent to 25 per cent, making it suitable for export.

Under the first stage of its Victorian project the consortium plans to spend $50 million building a full-scale commercial demonstration plant, to be operational within three years of it receiving an allocation.

Exergen is also collaborating with the CSIRO to develop the use of its treated brown coal, and claims three direct injection coal engines would be able to replace a third of the electricity generated at Hazelwood, but with vastly lower emissions.

Exergen chief executive officer Trevor Bourne told the Herald Sun his group wanted access to a billion tonnes of Victoria's brown coal, with full confidence it could make the project commercially and environmentally sound.

"We are going to invest $100 million in proving this - we are confident enough to spend that money," he said.

"We are a committed company that think we can have an impact reducing carbon dioxide and unlocking the value in the Latrobe Valley."


Biased critics can't regulate

by Keith Windschuttle

THE recommendation by Ray Finkelstein that the Gillard government establish a news media regulatory body is not only the most serious assault yet proposed on press freedom in this country.

It would elevate to a position of power the one group of people most jealous of and hostile towards the news media: academics in media studies and journalism.

Finkelstein proposes a News Media Council chaired by a retired judge or eminent lawyer, with 20 part-time members. He says the council should both be, and be seen to be independent from government. On the critical question of who gets to appoint the chair and the members, without the government of the day stacking it with supporters, he proposes a committee of three academics appointed by the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Commonwealth Solicitor-General.

This recommendation is a bad joke. It is virtually impossible to find three academics who are not firmly committed to the Left. For the past 25 years, appointments in media studies at almost all Australian universities have been captured by the Left. Consequently, the academic literature is essentially a political critique designed to show the news media is at fault whenever it fails to support the Left's own jaundiced view of the world. If academics from this field ever gained the positions Finkelstein envisages, they would ensure his council was composed of people exactly like themselves.

One of the major flaws of Finkelstein's report is that he bases his case for media regulation on an uncritical acceptance of a number of case studies written by media academics. He should have been more sceptical. Let me offer two examples which I believe show the shoddy quality of academic research that now passes muster in university media studies. The authors are Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University, and David McKnight, associate professor of journalism at the University of NSW. In both cases, their targets for analysis are the The Australian. Both academics were sought out by the Finkelstein inquiry, which wrote to them asking for input. Manne gave oral evidence at the inquiry's Melbourne hearings and McKnight made a written submission.

In his recent Quarterly Essay, Bad News, Manne presented The Australian's coverage of my book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History as his first proof that News Limited had become a dangerous case of power without responsibility. "Because of the decision taken by The Australian to host the Windschuttle debate, the character of the nation was subtly but significantly changed." McKnight takes a similar line. In his new book Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power, McKnight says The Australian initiated the nation's "culture wars" by launching "a public onslaught" on the story of the "Stolen Generations" and by its promotion of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. McKnight says The Australian put my book on the national political agenda "with a sympathetic profile of its author, several news stories and eager support from its conservative columnists and contributors. Unsurprisingly, The Australian was Windschuttle's outlet of choice for responding to his critics."

In both these cases, the authors' content analysis is substandard and deceptive. It is true that in the course of this debate I wrote several articles in The Australian in response to my critics. But here is a list of other publications which also accepted my opinion pieces: The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, Herald Sun, Courier-Mail, Adelaide Advertiser, Hobart's The Mercury and West Australian. Despite McKnight's assertion that The Australian carried "a sympathetic profile" about me, I can't find one fitting that description in my files. However, there were two profiles in Fairfax's SMH and The Age, one by Andrew Stevenson and one by Jane Cadzow.

ABC radio and television also gave me good coverage. Tony Jones on Lateline hosted two separate debates about my work, one with Henry Reynolds, the other with Stuart Macintyre. I went on Phillip Adams's Late Night Live and was interviewed by Michael Duffy on Counterpoint. To my delight, I also scored the hour-long morning interview on ABC Classic FM where, as well as talking about my work with Jana Wendt, I got to choose and introduce five favourite pieces of classical music. When I debated Henry Reynolds at the National Press Club, the ABC televised the entire proceedings of one hour.

In other words, rather than some right-wing conspiracy by The Australian to engage in a culture war to change the national character, the media coverage of my writings on Aborigines, in which I accused Australian historians of exaggeration, invention and corruption, was a response to a newsworthy story that virtually all major Australian media outlets took seriously. Academics such as Manne and McKnight, who use selective quotation and calculated omission in order to spin this into some dark plot to manipulate public opinion, cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

Yet Finkelstein has constructed his proposed media regulation regime on the faith that the academic colleagues of these two authors are honest brokers. Sadly, it is not so. In fact, if it came to a contest between the reliability of media academics and the journalists who produce our newspapers and news broadcasts, the latter would win by the length of the straight.

Finkelstein recommends that publishers who distribute more than 3000 copies of print per issue, or news internet sites with a minimum of 15,000 hits per year, would be subject to the dictates of his News Media Council. Quadrant falls well within this range.

If Finkelstein's oppressive scheme is implemented, we would feel compelled to defend the long tradition of press freedom by engaging in civil disobedience. While I am editor, Quadrant would not recognise the News Media Council's authority, observe its restrictions, or obey its instructions, whatever the price. We hope other publishers take a similar stand.


31 May, 2012

The "yellow peril" again?

Much of the world --mainly the vast countries of India and China  -- is undergoing rapid economic development.  The raw material of that  developent is of course people  -- followed closely by steel.  Steel is needed for everything, from machinery to buildings.  And steel is made from coal and iron ore.  So the demand for those two inputs is growing exponentially. 

Providentially, Australia is relatively close to both East and South Asia.  And Australia's West coast has gargantuan reserves of readily recoverable iron ore while Australia's East coast has gargantuan reserves of readily recoverable coal.

So Australian companies are digging like crazy and will pay almost anything to get the workers who work the digging machines and do all the associated tasks.  But the demand for skilled workers willing to work in isolated areas is so difficult to meet that it is hampering the development of new mines.  Solution:  Import skilled workers.  And the Australian government has agreed to that -- issuing "EMA" permits.

Enter the unions.  And enter  people with the traditional Australian fear of "cheap" workers from China.  The result is a deeply unattractive debate.

JULIA Gillard's concessions to unions over skilled migration in the mining sector have inflamed xenophobic sentiments, sparking business warnings of potential damage to Australia's relations with its Asian trading partners.

As the Prime Minister last night strongly defended her policy of putting Australian jobs first, the mining sector complained that "racist innuendo" surrounding Labor's new Enterprise Migration Agreements had taken politics to "a new low".

Former Queensland Labor treasurer Keith De Lacy, a former Macarthur Coal chairman, said "a fair bit of xenophobia" had underpinned the debate over EMAs, while the chief executive of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, Steve Knott, likened it to the debate over the White Australia policy. And in an address to the Minerals Council of Australia's annual dinner last night, Rio Tinto managing director David Peever warned against the dangers of divisiveness.

While the opposition yesterday demanded the Prime Minister pull her backbench into line or risk alienating Asian giants including China and Japan, former federal MP Pauline Hanson told The Australian that mining sector jobs had to be reserved for Australians.

The former One Nation leader declared she had "grave concerns" about EMAs, as north Queensland independent MP Bob Katter warned on his website: "Most Australians do not believe our country should be run by foreign interests who are determined to enforce a master-slave situation and undermine our workers' wages."

The highly charged rhetoric follows Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's decision last week to allow the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia's Pilbara - which is 70 per cent owned by Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting - to hire up to 1700 foreign workers for the proposed $9.5 billion mine's construction.

Despite the design of EMAs having been settled months previously, Ms Gillard told union officials last Friday she was "furious" about the Roy Hill EMA and on Tuesday she agreed to the formation of a Labor caucus committee to oversee Mr Bowen's handling of future agreements.

Yesterday, the debate took a fresh turn as business leaders and the opposition warned that Labor had opened the door to a rise in xenophobic and racist sentiment. Pointing to comments from Mr Katter and Labor MPs including Kelvin Thomson and Doug Cameron, they said the debate about foreign labour had taken a distasteful turn that was against Australia's interests.

Mr De Lacy attacked the involvement of the Labor caucus committee, declaring the government had already taken two years to work out EMAs, which can be awarded to mega-projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 employees. "It is just economic vandalism to fiddle with it in this way for all the wrong reasons," Mr De Lacy told The Australian.

"And the wrong reasons are: it's not as though there's people there; there's a fair bit of xenophobia involved with it. It just proves once again that the resources sector increasingly is feeling that it is being treated as the enemy. "Are we the only country in the world that treats as the enemy that sector driving the economy and driving prosperity?"

Mr Knott accused critics of the agreements of resorting to "racist innuendo" that he likened to the debate over the White Australia policy. "The embarrassing political discourse surrounding Australia's need for a targeted migration policy to address peak construction labour demands has taken politics to a new low," he said.

"We're deeply concerned a number of our elected politicians appear to have joined the current campaign of negativity, lies and self-interested fear-mongering, complete with recurring misinformation about migrant rates of pay and sub-standard treatment.

"The racist innuendo and slurs against these workers is abhorrent and divisive, and must stop."

Mr Peever last night told the MCA dinner that "divisiveness can have no future in the vibrant Australia to which we aspire, where all Australians can be better off and continue to enjoy the unique fruits of this great land".

"Mining has a pivotal role to play in creating this future for all Australians and for our country," he said. "Complacency and inadequate understanding of the drivers for the sector are our enemies."

Howard government foreign minister Alexander Downer said the reaction from the unions and some elements of the Labor Party to the EMA was a profound embarrassment for Australia.

"It was a really ugly outbreak of xenophobia, and if Australia wants to work with Asia and work with its region, it's got to get over this sort of behaviour," he said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said she believed Labor MPs, including Senator Cameron, had framed their recent comments about the EMA to appeal to racist and xenophobic sentiment.

"It sends a very poor message to our region that we don't welcome foreign workers," she said.

"These projects will not go ahead unless we are able to access workers from overseas. We should be welcoming them."

Ms Bishop said Ms Gillard should reprimand members of her caucus for resorting to "inflammatory and racist language". Ms Gillard said last night Australia would always need skilled workers and that demand would increase as the economy continued to grow.

"While grappling with that challenge, Labor will do what we have always done - put Australian jobs first," the Prime Minister said through her spokesman.

"This is an important policy matter, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition shouldn't be trying to exploit it. If the Liberal Party genuinely cared about Australian jobs, they would join with the government in supporting the Australian car industry; the Australian steel industry; as well as the retail sector, through tax cuts and cash payments."

South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon warned that while he welcomed skilled migrants, it was fair for people to ask whether policies were configured to ensure that Australians were given every opportunity to access work.


A face behind the "yellow peril"

Chinese worker is a good man - and a godsend

TO his boss, Chinese boilermaker Yong Jun Li is a godsend.  The 40-year-old is part of a small team of tradesmen, some Australian, some Chinese, who are busy in Perth's southern suburbs making mechanical anchors for the Gorgon gas project in Western Australia's far north.

Mr Yong, his wife Lan Hua Wang, 42, and their 16-year-old daughter Xi Li came to Australia in stages, starting with Mr Li in 2007 on a 457 work visa.

He rejects the accusations that migrant workers like him are cheap labour or are taking jobs away from Australians.  He understands he is needed, and does not feel any resentment from his co-workers.

Mr Yong's view is straightforward: work should be based on merit regardless of where a person comes from or the colour of their skin. If the Australian is better at the job, he should get the job. If the Chinese 457 visa worker is better, the gig should be his.

"If my work is good I deserve the job, if it's no good I should go home," Mr Yong said.

Blake Engineering manager Dave Gibney said his business would be in trouble without him.  "He's the best boilermaker we've had come through here by a long shot," Mr Gibney said.

In turn, the Li family has grown to love their new life in Perth.   Their daughter is doing well at high school and wants to study business at university.  His wife is working six days a week as a cleaner and she and her husband save enough each week to pay for extra tutoring.

They also hope to buy a house one day if they are accepted as permanent residents so they can grow old in the country they say gave them the biggest opportunity of their lives.  "I like Australia. I am very happy," said Mr Yong, who also studies English at TAFE.

Mr Gibney said he tried hard, and for a long time, to fill his workshop with local workers before turning to 457 visas to top up its workforce.

WA, which has an estimated $225 billion worth of projects under way or in the pipeline, accounts for almost one-quarter of the 457 visas issued in Australia.

The WA government's Workforce Development Minister Peter Collier says the top priority in his portfolio is to prepare West Australians for work but that skilled migration "will be a necessary strategy to fill those jobs unable to be filled by the local workforce".

He says research by the state's Department of Training and Workforce Development suggests the state could have 150,000 fewer skilled workers than it needs within five years. By 2020, the deficit could be 210,000 workers.

The WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry has watched the state's labour market tighten, and says temporary skilled migrants play a vital role in helping fill the short-term needs of many projects in the construction phase where there are shortages for workers with specific skills.

"WA faces labour and skills shortages in many industries," a chamber spokesman said.  "If we don't boost the current growth in the workforce, WA will fall 210,000 workers short by the end of the decade.  "In certain industries, there are simply not enough workers locally to meet demand."

Mr Yong has put in his application for permanent residency and expects to receive an answer within a week.  "I hope I can live in Australia," he said.


Gillard turns policy gold into ugly national debate

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Bowen, in parliament this week, has outlined an indisputable rationale for an unambiguously good policy of the Gillard government. In promoting the economic advantages that will accrue to all Australians through the first Enterprise Migration Agreement, struck for the massive Roy Hill iron ore project, Mr Bowen has correctly pointed out that the option of recruiting up to 1700 temporary foreign workers will underpin the creation of 6700 jobs.

"This project is vital for Australia's future," he said, "and this agreement is vital for delivering it."

The logic is sound, the decision was sensible and the arrangement should prove a win for the mine developers, national economy, and local and guest workers.

Yet the government has contrived to turn this decision into a political own goal, which now has revived the ugly strains of 1990s Hansonism. Australian Workers Union boss and ALP national executive member Paul Howes said the deal helped the mining magnates that Labor was supposed to be attacking and ALP senator Doug Cameron led the xenophobic charge. "I just think that in the week where Australian workers are being marched off the job in Kurri Kurri and Tullamarine," he said, "that we're marching Chinese workers on to Roy Hill -- it just defies logic to me."

Other union leaders, Labor MPs and independent MPs have echoed these sentiments, descending into the sort of anti-foreign worker rhetoric we thought the labour movement had outgrown. This is disappointing, retrograde and could damage the national consensus that has developed around our immigration program.

Julia Gillard should have been able to condemn this reaction. But, rather, it was she who had encouraged it by expressing her anger about the EMA decision, behind closed doors to union leaders last week. So the Prime Minister has put herself in a humiliating and ambivalent position on this crucial national issue -- trying to give sustenance to the policy and, simultaneously, its critics.

This failure of leadership has resulted in an ALP caucus committee on EMAs to keep the executive in check. The independents have followed by forcing parliamentary committee scrutiny for EMAs. Potential investors, who have been encouraged by the EMA policy as a way to address skills shortages and provide bankability, must now consider added layers of red tape, administrative uncertainty and political doubt before committing to major projects.

Given the government's need for traction, a wise Prime Minister would have seized this announcement herself and revealed it at a media event in the Pilbara, with fully briefed union leaders, a premier and the world's richest woman by her side to add their endorsements. This way, Ms Gillard would have shown national leadership and demonstrated to the country that she had faith in our workers, our investors, our immigration program and our economic future.

Instead she has rankled her union backers, sown division in her ranks, unleashed populist independents, triggered a debate against foreign workers, complicated the process and created doubts in the business community.

In a perverse reversal of the alchemy of the mining industry, Ms Gillard has taken policy gold and turned it into dirt.


Chancellor slams Australia's university fee system as 'communist'

AUSTRALIA'S higher education system is akin to communism, one of the country's leading academics said yesterday.

Monash University chancellor Alan Finkel told the National Press Club the "centralised" system, in which the federal government sets course fees, was hampering Australia's research and innovation promise.

"What's happened in the last few years is they've freed up student demand so we've gone from a controlled sector … [that sets student numbers] but they've maintained central control, what I like to think of as a communist system in terms of how the universities are controlled from the federal government, which means we can't set fees," Dr Finkel said.
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"And if you can't set fees you can't increase the fees in order to have more money to invest in higher quality.

"So we need to allow diversification across the sector in terms of quality of research, quality of education."

Dr Finkel's comments come as Times Higher Education magazine published its inaugural "100 under 50" list.

The list is designed to showcase the "best" global universities aged 50 years or less. Australia performed strongly on the list, with 14 universities in the top 100.

Editor Phil Baty said the list was "brilliant news". "Only the UK has more representatives in the top 100 list than Australia, which beats the US, France, Germany and Canada," he said.

Australia's entries include Macquarie University and the University of Wollongong (tied at 33), and the Queensland University of Technology (40).


Another 1000 jobs cut from South Australian public sector

A FURTHER 1000 public sector jobs will be lost over the next three years.  The cuts - across all departments and agencies - are in addition to the 4100 public service job losses announced in last year's State Budget.

The latest cuts are expected to save the Government up to $160 million over the three years.

The Government aims to shed the jobs through a combination of targeted separation packages and natural attrition, but the move has sparked a storm of protest from public sector unions.

Public Service Association general secretary Jan McMahon warned that SA families would pay the price for job cuts.

Ms McMahon said the cuts would affect "real services" including social workers, youth workers and park rangers.  "We can't continue to lose the skills and capabilities and resources that are needed to deliver services to ordinary South Australian families and that's not to mention the loss of investment," she said.

"The public sector is not some faceless conglomerate, it's a critical cog in the wheel of our society.  "If it can no longer effectively deliver the services it is responsible, for then all South Australians will feel the pain."

Unions are already campaigning against previous job cuts they consider to be an assault on their members.

Treasurer Jack Snelling said he was doing everything in his power to ensure frontline services were not affected.

"Savings measures are needed to reduce the size of the Government, reducing the pressure on the state's finances while creating a leaner government," he said.  "Any full-time equivalent reductions will result from a mix of targeted separation packages and natural attrition and have been allocated across government agencies."

Treasury anticipates the separation packages will cost about $60 million, reducing the savings.

Business leaders and the Opposition have been highly critical of public service numbers in recent months.  The Motor Trade Association and Business SA called for widespread job cuts in their pre-Budget submissions.

Yesterday, the Australian Industry Group released its pre-Budget submission, calling on the Government to ensure the number of SA public sector employees, as a percentage of total employees, was the equivalent of the average of the other mainland states, and to deliver on its promise last year to reduce the public sector by 4100 jobs.

On June 1 last year, there were 84,882 full-time public sector employees, making up 12.6 per cent of the state's workforce. The numbers were as low as 66,933 in 2002.

The Advertiser reported in December last year that SA's public sector had grown by almost a quarter in the past decade, adding $1.3 billion to the Budget bottom line.

Less than a month later, the Government admitted the exact number of public servants was unknown because the last official report on workers was more than 12 months old.  The public service wages bill is predicted to grow from $6.6 billion in the current financial year to more than $7 billion in 2014-15.  Superannuation expenses will add another $400 million a year to that bill.

In its pre-Budget submission, MTA chief executive John Chapman said the Government needed more commitment to reducing public sector workforce numbers than it had shown to date.

After her recent re-election, PSA general secretary Jan McMahon said she would make the fight against public service cutbacks a priority.


30 May, 2012

"Death threats" to Australian climate scientists were all hokum

Scorn is not a death threat

The death threat saga has reached parliament, with questions being asked at a Senate Estimates Committee of Prof Ian Chubb, current Chief Scientist, but Vice Chancellor of the ANU until March 2011. Most amazingly, Chubb confirms there were no death threats until the journalists got hold of the story!

The Australian reports that Liberal senator Scott Ryan questioned Chubb, who responded that, in 2010: "A senior member of his staff came to him with concerns from the institution's climate scientists over emails they had received and said they had also had "a couple of visits from people who had walked in off the street".

The staff member expressed a desire to have the climate scientists moved from their then-location, Professor Chubb said. "We looked at what we could do and we moved them. Senator, we did not make a fanfare, we did not go public. We simply moved them and got on with our business,"

Basically they were given swipe card access. So does this incident refer to the "kangaroo cull" incident, or another? He goes on to confirm he never read the emails:  "They were at least abusive but let me be clear . . . I didn't read the emails. I trusted the man who came to me, he was a senior member of the staff and he represented concerns of the staff to me," Professor Chubb said.

Yes, it has been accepted all along that the emails were offensive. However, Chubb saves the best until last:  "For the record, there were no alleged death threats except when journalists picked up the story."

So is this a media beat up? Can we now assume that this means that during Chubb's watch as Vice Chancellor, which ended in March 2011 with the appointment of Ian Young, there were no death threats to climate scientists at ANU? If so, why are the ANU still insisting, through the ABC correction, that they did, in fact, receive such threats?

The window during which such threats must have been received is closing rapidly, and is now restricted to the period March - June 2011. I am still awaiting a response to the questions I sent to the ANU's media office on Friday, seeking clarification.

Time, I think, for the ANU to finally come clean on this mess.


New Gillard government red tape 'risks mega-projects'

BUSINESS and the Coalition have accused Julia Gillard of making policy on the run at the behest of union leaders after reports she was considering requiring a cabinet subcommittee to oversee new Enterprise Migration Agreements to protect Australian jobs.

The attacks came last night as unions rejected business warnings that more red tape would smother the new EMAs, specifically designed to meet labour shortages in the booming resources sector by allowing the engagement of foreign workers.

Controversy over the new agreements continues just days after Immigration Minister Chris Bowen outraged trade unions by granting the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia, which is 70 per cent owned by billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting, a permit to hire up to 1700 foreign workers for its construction.

While the design of the EMA, which can be used on megaprojects requiring more than 1500 workers and $2 billion in investment, simply delivered on a Labor decision announced more than a year ago in the 2011-12 budget, Ms Gillard amended the plan on Friday after union complaints, creating a Jobs Board to ensure Australian workers have the first opportunity to seek the mining-sector jobs.
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Yesterday the Prime Minister went further, telling parliament that although she backed the Roy Hill EMA she planned further "oversight" of the new system.

While she offered no detail, sources said last night a cabinet subcommittee could be used to monitor the situation. Although no details have been finalised, there was speculation the committee could include Wayne Swan, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten and Mr Bowen.

However, senior government figures were last night backing away from the move amid a backlash from Ms Gillard's colleagues about the message the establishment of such a cabinet sub-committee would send.

Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said last night the new committee and the Jobs Board were "complete overkill".

"Since Friday's announcement about the Roy Hill EMA, various union bosses have been lining up with the usual and over-the-top class war and anti-migration rhetoric," Mr Knott said. "The fact that the PM is jumping in to appease this union ranting by announcing further red tape to an already complex EMA approval process highlights the shallow depths of government decision making.

"The after-announcement decision of a government jobs board is bordering on ridiculous, at best a waste of taxpayers' money, at worst a plot for joint government-union control of critical labour supply pipelines for such mega-projects."

The Business Council of Australia was also concerned about the changes, taking the unusual step of going around Ms Gillard to appeal directly to Labor MPs ahead of a caucus meeting today. Tony Abbott last night seized on the ongoing transformation of EMAs chaos to accuse Ms Gillard of succumbing to panic.

"Julia Gillard is losing control of her ministers and losing control of government policy," the Opposition Leader told The Australian.

"This is just further evidence Julia Gillard can execute a prime minister but she cannot execute a policy or a program."

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, said the latest changes would make Mr Bowen's position untenable.

"Such oversight was not part of the policy when announced more than a year ago and would be another slap in the face to Mr Bowen, from a desperate Prime Minster who simply can't get her story straight," Mr Morrison said.

While Labor has made much of the economic upsides of the mining boom, Mr Bowen's announcement last week highlighted concerns about whether the nation would be able to supply the construction workers and engineers that resources mega-projects needed.

With Left faction convenor Doug Cameron having foreshadowed a caucus attack on EMAs, BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott wrote to all Labor MPs yesterday warning them not to give in to the "knee-jerk temptation" to smother the EMAs in red tape.

"The successful delivery of these projects is far from assured and one of the major barriers is the current shortage of labour," she wrote. "The government

has made the changes to the migration system in recognition of this very real risk."

She said employers agreed that Australians should be filling the jobs being created by the mining boom. "But the reality is that skilling-up Australian workers for these often specialised projects will take time, and even for workers who do have the right skills many simply don't choose to take (jobs) for understandable lifestyle reasons," she said.

"At a critical time for a number of major projects, the EMA program is all about helping Australia overcome temporary and acute labour shortages in high-performing sectors of our economy."

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies said the EMA's design had been settled through previous consultation. "If the government is now going to go back and revisit all the conditions and make the hurdles higher in terms of qualifying for an EMA, then we would be seriously concerned," said chief executive Simon Bennison. "I think that there are sufficient safeguards in there for the government to feel quite comfortable that the companies have got to be very diligent in making sure that they provide every opportunity to Australian workers in taking up those positions. So I would like to think that the government does not have a knee-jerk reaction to activities by a number of the unions."

Union leaders stood firm. New ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said he would push the government to ensure the Jobs Board was used to require companies to prove they had tested the local market and interviewed local applicants before winning approval to engage overseas workers.

Mr Oliver said the union movement had been telling the government for 18 months that mining companies should not be able to take the "lazy option" of importing labour.

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes maintains that the Roy Hill agreement "stinks".

He said while EMAs could be a "smart way" to proceed in principle they should not be approved until the local labour market was thoroughly tested.

Mr Howes said the Jobs Board should have been functioning before the Roy Hill deal was approved rather than being announced simultaneously.

Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union boss Peter Tighe declared the government would face a backlash if it did not require a Jobs Board for every project. "And if the government doesn't do that they'll have a political problem with the Australian workplace," he said.

"We just think that the arrangements around the EMAs are that loose you could drive a truck through them."

In parliament, Mr Bowen said Mrs Rinehart was proposing a $9.5bn project at Roy Hill and needed to be able to satisfy financiers that she could deliver the workforce to build on schedule. He said the EMA allowed the company to hire up to 1700 foreign workers, but they would work alongside 6700 Australians.

Mr Ferguson said Australians needed to understand that, without foreign workers filling construction vacancies to build the new mines, projects that would employ thousands of Australians over the long term might not be built.

Ms Gillard faced heavy opposition questioning over her position on EMAs in parliament. She said she supported the Roy Hill project, but in meetings with Mr Bowen and Mr Shorten last week had agreed to stronger oversight of the agreements.

Mr Shorten told The Australian that the Jobs Board would put the onus on employers to show that they had considered local workers before taking overseas workers for a project.

The union push is focused on the Jobs Board to be set up for Mrs Rinehart's project, but would also be applied to a looming agreement for several big LNG export facilities including Chevron's Gorgon project in Western Australia and Inpex in the Northern Territory.


Queensland hospitals postponing elective surgery and temporarily closing beds to get budgets back in the black

KEY Queensland hospitals have postponed elective surgery and temporarily closed beds as they battle to get overblown budgets back in the black before July.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has had to intervene to protect frontline workers amid reports some health regions were cutting too hard, but he has sanctioned reductions to some services.

Although insisting urgent surgery and emergencies would not be affected, Mr Springborg said some cuts were necessary to ensure new Hospital and Health Services were not lumbered with "Labor's debt" when they come into force from July 1.

"We're imposing a very, very strict financial discipline, otherwise taxpayers are the losers," he told The Courier-Mail.

Townsville Health Service will likely be $12 million in the red come June 30 and a leaked email shows District CEO Andrew Johnson has suspended temporary and permanent appointments, including frontline positions, for the rest of the financial year.

But Dr Johnson said in a written statement that permanent frontline vacancies continued to be filled, despite later stating the district's full-time equivalent staff had grown by an "unsustainable" 221 since December.

On the Gold Coast, six beds were closed and about 50 elective surgeries cancelled after senior theatre and ward staff resigned, with management deciding not to replace them until the new financial year.

Mr Springborg said Queensland Health was $300 million behind by the close of 2010-11.

In a memo to QH boss Tony O'Connell, he warned health regions could not defy an order that frontline workers be protected from a wider government freeze on appointments.

Together secretary Alex Scott accused the Newman Government of taking a "slash and burn approach" to balance budgets and said the union would lodge a complaint with the Industrial Relations Commission.

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle said she would write to Dr O'Connell detailing workers' concerns.


Liberal Party State government approves Gina Rinehart's $6b Alpha Coal mine in Galilee Basin

THE Newman Government has approved the $6.4 billion Alpha Coal Project in Queensland's Galilee Basin owned by Indian conglomerate GVK and Gina Rinehart's Hancock Coal.

The mine is expected to generate 3600 jobs in construction and 990 in operation.  It is also expected to be one of the biggest in Australia and is the first for the Galilee Basin.

Announcing the approval in parliament on Tuesday morning, Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney welcomed the decision and said the project would produce significant economic benefits for the state and nation.

"There'll be an estimated $11 billion boost to the economy during the mine's three year construction phase - 80 per cent of that will be retained in Queensland," Mr Seeney said.

"Once operational, Queensland's economy should see an economic boost of $1 billion per year from this mine alone.  "Australia can expect an $80 billion dollar rise in exports over the life of the mine."

Mr Seeney said the Coordinator-General had approved the mine with strict conditions and the move was a major step towards opening up the Galilee Basin's coal deposits.

"The proposal is for a 30 million tonnes per year open-cut coal mine and a 495km railway line from the mine to the Port of Abbot Point near Bowen," he said.

Mr Seeney made no mention of the possibility of the controversial enterprise migration schemes Ms Rinehart needed at her Roy Hill mine in the Pilbara.


29 May, 2012

Defence Force to remove Rising Sun badge from Grade 2 Slouch Hat, deeming it ‘disrespectful'

Adding a clip to the "Grade 2" hat would make more sense and be more respectful.  As I have worn a digger hat myself in my time, I feel rather strongly about this.  It just seems a snide way to downgrade a very proud tradition.  Men died under that badge

The Australian Defence Force has made the controversial decision to remove the badge from the downward brim of the Grade 2 Slouch Hat from July 1, deeming it "disrespectful".

A Defence spokesman said the decision had nothing to do with widespread cuts announced in the Budget.

"The Rising Sun Badge should never be hidden from view or worn pointed to the ground as is the case when worn on the downturned brim of the Grade 2 Slouch Hat, as this may be viewed as disrespectful," the spokesman said.

"This decision was made in respect of army's symbol."

Lieutenant General Morrison told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra today that it was his decision alone to ban the badge from the Grade 2 hat.

"The Grade 2 Slouch Hat is constructed in a way that its side can never actually be put up," he said.  Lt Gen Morrison said there was no interlocking latch on the top of the hat so it could never be worn up showing the Rising Sun badge. It had always been on the underside of the brim.

"It seemed to me to be inappropriate and I made the decision as the chief of army to take the badge off the hat," he said.  "It seemed disrespectful to me."

Lt Gen Morrison said most soldiers understood the logic behind his decision.  "I know that there have been a few people that have said that they don't agree with it," he said.  "It was on my shoulders to make the decision and I did."

The Rising Sun Badge will remain on the upturned brim of the Grade 1 Slouch Hat during ceremonial duties.

Soldiers will be allowed to keep the Rising Sun hat badges they currently own.

The Rising Sun badge was originally known as the General Service Badge but is now officially called the Australian Army Badge.


Queensland Health's 14,859 workers employed on temporary contracts could face cuts by Campbell Newman's government

About time.  They could cut twice as many without losing a single doctor or nurse

QUEENSLAND Health workers look set to bear the brunt of job losses ordered by the Newman Government as it continues slashing costs.

New figures show the department has 14,859 workers employed on temporary contracts - many of whom could face unemployment after the government ordered a freeze on extensions.

Education Queensland will also be heavily affected, with 13,774 temporary workers, followed by 1908 within Communities and 972 in Transport and Main Roads.

The exact job losses may not be known until August, when the Public Service Commission prepares its next quarterly workforce report.

The commission's report shows the average female temporary employee is paid $63,265 a year, while the average male is paid $73,838 - about $10,000 a year less than the average wage for full-time permanent employees.


University of Queensland nepotism inquiry completed by Crime and Misconduct Commission

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission has completed its investigations into the University of Queensland nepotism scandal and its report will be tabled in Parliament.

Vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger were forced out after The Courier-Mail revealed a "close family member" of Prof Greenfield's had gained entry to the medical faculty without the proper entry requirements.

A CMC spokeswoman said yesterday the report would contain a number of recommendations, but declined to elaborate.

"The public report will also incorporate recommendations from two ongoing reviews announced earlier by the CMC and associated with the forced offer for entry."

Prof Greenfield has denied any wrongdoing saying the relative was admitted to the medical school as the result of a misunderstanding.  [It was a "misunderstanding" that his daughter was admitted???  Pull the other one.  Greenfield is a smart bootlicker who got just a bit too smart  -- JR]


Mining triumph turns into own goal

YVETTE Cooper, a British Labour MP who served in Gordon Brown's Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary, must have been thoroughly confused as she watched Question Time from the Speaker's Gallery yesterday.

A government sending out $700 million worth of pension bonuses and stitching up a $9.5 billion mining deal, securing at least 6758 Australian jobs, was under attack and on the back foot at the kick-off of the week's Parliament.

With an economy named by the OECD as the best place to be in the world, Australia was last week rated as the number one investment destination, attracting half a trillion of planned project spending.

Figures from Geneva confirmed Australian households enjoyed the sixth highest per capita income of any nation.

Against this, it's hard to imagine how a government could stuff up the Western Australian Roy Hill mining deal but Julia Gillard's Labor administration achieved it - and not just because it's a Gina Rinehart project.

Through a combination of poor internal and external communication, a sorry mistake in timing, a decision-making process that seems to involve more looking over the shoulder than targeting voters and plain dumb political tactics, what should have been an unalloyed good news story became one that spanned just about every perceived and imagined problem besetting the Labor Government, leaving the impression of leadership instability and ministerial rivalries while making it appear foreign workers were getting a preference over locals.

As Immigration Minister Chris Bowen explained in Question Time, Roy Hill involved the "biggest single debt-raising on the planet this year" which will create more than 8000 jobs in the construction phase alone.

Instead of providing simple, unambiguous answers, Gillard chose to channel former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty's criticism of her government and made it all too hard - taking three questions to give an unequivocal statement of support to the Roy Hill project.

A former senior Labor staffer who worked for Bob Hawke in the mid-1980s recently remarked this Prime Minister's office only finds out what's going on after it happens - a damning criticism of a political operation.

That analysis is very acute in light of this Roy Hill episode. As has been said before, it takes a special genius to kick own goals like this.


Coldest May in 51 years hits Australia's national capital

But they still think we'll die of global warming without a carbon tax

Canberrans have shivered through the coldest May in 51 years – and the second coldest on record, according to meteorologists.

Forecasters Weatherzone, which is owned by Fairfax, said overnight temperatures dipped below zero this month, more than 3 degrees below the average.  The average overnight low in May was -0.2 compared to the normal 3.1 degrees.

The last time Canberra suffered through a cold-spell like this was in 1961, when May also averaged -0.2 of a degree.

"The weather pattern has been dominated by high pressure systems," Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said.  "Skies have been clearer than normal and the air drier than normal, which have combined to make most nights dip below freezing."

The only colder May on record was in 1957, when the average minimum was -2.6 degrees.  "This freezing weather is more typical of July, when the average minimum is -0.1 of a degree," Mr Dutschke said.


28 May, 2012

Furore over allowing  skilled legal immigrants into Australia

It is only uselesss illegal immigrants who must be accepted without question

JULIA Gillard faces a split within her Cabinet after she distanced herself from her Government's decision to allow Gina Rinehart to import 1700 foreign workers.

The move has infuriated Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and his supporters.

They insist he followed standard processes before the decision to permit migrants to work on a major West Australian iron ore project, 70 per cent owned by Mrs Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting.

Ms Gillard told union leaders on Friday she was not comfortable with the deal and had only learned of it when she returned from overseas last Wednesday.

But Mr Bowen's office said it had been in regular contact with Ms Gillard's senior staff, as well as the offices of senior ministers Bill Shorten and Wayne Swan, about the deal.

Other Government sources accused Ms Gillard of trying to blame Mr Bowen and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who both backed former prime minister Kevin Rudd in the last leadership challenge, for the decision.

But Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes, who has described the decision as "sheer lunacy", yesterday accused Mr Bowen of accepting an "ambit claim" from Mrs Rinehart without question.

Ms Gillard refused to comment on when she became aware of the deal, despite saying she demanded new conditions just before the announcement on Friday, to ensure it could not be used if there were Australians willing and able to do the work.

This has not been enough to calm anger among the Labor Caucus, with Senator Doug Cameron threatening a fiery debate at tomorrow's meeting.

Amid renewed leadership tensions, chief Government whip Joel Fitzgibbon gave only a vague denial that he had been actively canvassing support for Mr Rudd, tweeting: "no one does more to support the PM and the Government than me!".

Ms Gillard said Mr Fitzgibbon's words "speak for themselves".

But some of her allies said Mr Fitzgibbon had made it clear he no longer supported the Prime Minister after he was overlooked for a promotion.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the tweet "put in flashing neon lights the division ... inside the national Government right now".


Former Qld. Labor party government  commissioned, covered up report into excessive red and green tape

A SECRET report has emerged, exposing the reams of red tape and irrational regulation strangling Queensland business across an array of industries.

Obtained by The Courier-Mail, the two-volume report compiled from interviews with 80 business leaders was commissioned and then kept secret by the former Bligh government.

The highly embarrassing report, conducted in partnership with the Australian Industry Group, contains detailed case studies of businesses forced to shed staff, cancel contracts and incur huge costs because of bureaucratic bungling and random government rules.

It is understood the only action taken on the May 2010 report was to establish a new business commissioner at a cost of $1 million a year, condemned by some sectors as more bureaucracy.

The Newman Government has inherited the responsibility of untangling a series of red-tape disasters as it seeks to meet an election commitment to reduce regulation by 20 per cent.

Premier Campbell Newman described the decision to commission and bury the report as "extraordinary", saying it exposed how business was drowning in red tape.  "This report provides some stark examples of how ridiculous rules and regulations waste the time and money of businesses," he told The Courier-Mail.  "Unlike Labor, which put this report on the shelf to gather dust and did nothing to ease the burden on business, the LNP is determined to change the culture of government from one that promotes red tape to one that actively reduces red tape."

The report breaks down the issues that business faces in interacting with state and local authorities across nine key areas, including case studies and recommendations.

One prime area of complaint involved environmental regulations - so-called "green tape".  In one case study, a major fertiliser company spent millions of dollars improving its water efficiency, but then complained that government-enforced reporting requirements focused on how much water it had used flushing toilets.

In another, a waste recycling company operating in the Torres Strait had to report to 42 state and local authorities.

Fire safety requirements were also a bugbear, with two firms revealing they were forced to post "exit" signs along open-sided 80m-wide workshops.

Workers' compensation requirements were also of concern, the report highlighting the case of an equipment manufacturing firm that paid an employee through WorkCover for a shoulder injury that was sustained at work.  "It was later found that WorkCover had paid the employee for the same injury to the same shoulder when with a prior employer," the report said.

Other problems were reported across areas including planning, procurement and government grants, along with everyday issues such as regulations and other rules being out of date or unavailable on department websites.

It is unclear whether Business Commissioner Blair Davies was ever made aware of the report.  His office did not return calls to The Courier-Mail.

AiG Queensland director Matt Martyn-Jones said while the report was two years old, the issues were still relevant and red tape remained a "dead weight" on the shoulders of business.  "We are very encouraged that the Newman Government has committed itself to reducing red tape by 20 per cent," he said.  "Close consideration needs to be given to how this target is measured and how it's achieved."

Mr Martyn-Jones said the best way to help business was with practical steps resolving issues highlighted in the report.

Consideration should also be given to setting up a task force of industry leaders.

The Courier-Mail has highlighted many examples of red tape, including a requirement for piggery operators to install illuminated exit signs inside pigpens.


The Qld. Labor party water debacle

Rather than build the new dams needed to cope with a rising population they grabbed at any and all alternatives  -- too bad about what they cost.  Dams are of course anathema to Greenies

THE LNP Government is struggling to meet a key election commitment to bring down water charges as miserly Queenslanders scarred by a decade of drought save every drop.

The state's refusal to squander water will cost the Government about $400 million in the next five years as water revenues dry up.  The LNP had also inherited a water debt of about $9 billion rather than the $7 billion it was prepared for.  The annual interest on the debt now exceeds half a billion dollars.

Premier Campbell Newman is trying to hammer out a plan to manage the water debt while still honouring his commitment to bring down water costs for Queenslanders by about $80 a year.  "This is going to take a bit of working through," a Government spokesman said.  "But the Government remains committed to reducing water bills for Queensland households."

The previous Labor government ran up a huge debt attempting to drought-proof Queensland with large-scale projects, including the Gold Coast desalination plant and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project.

The Western Corridor was the largest such project in the southern hemisphere and included 200km of large-diameter pipe as well as advanced water treatment plants at Bundamba, Gibson Island and Luggage Point.

Revenue forecasts on the capital works program, completed when the state consumed more than 300 litres a day per individual, have proven wildly inaccurate.

The latest figures show daily residential water consumption across southeast Queensland for the 14-day period ending May 9 was 151 litres per person.

With water usage well below forecasts, about $400 million is predicted to be lost by 2016-17.

The LNP is examining a plan flagged during the election campaign that involves spreading the debt repayment plan over 40 years rather than 20 years.

A plan to restructure the state's water infrastructure involving the handing back of water distribution and retailing to councils is expected to go before Cabinet soon.

The plan will also involve amalgamating the four bulk water entities into one entity to reduce the cost of supply.

The Local Government Association of Queensland says it expects the pre-election pledge to lower water costs to be honoured.


Must not mock the New Zealand accent?

The NZ accent is a very strange version of English.  It is the only version of English to have lost an entire vowel.  They pronounce "Fish and chips" as "fush and chups".  And the other vowels are not too healthy either.  "Battered" is pronounced as "bettered"

A disgruntled Kiwi has been hit with a string of charges after losing his cool over a local TV advert poking fun at the New Zealand accent.

The 44-year-old Griffith man allegedly assaulted and intimidated a WIN television employee on Friday in an apparent payback for the station airing a Knockonwood television advert that features two animated kookaburras speaking with thick New Zealand accents, the Area News reports.

The satirical ad shows the kookaburras saying “sweet as, bro” and “choice, bro” – slang terms often associated with our trans-Tasman neighbours.

The man allegedly abused the furniture store's staff over the phone on Friday before turning up at WIN's Yambil Street offices and demanding to know who authorised the advert.

Police claim he assaulted a male member of the station's advertising staff during the altercation.

He was later arrested and charged with misuse of a telecommunications device, intimidation, common assault, resisting arrest and intimidating police.

Paul Pierotti, managing director of Knockonwood's parent company, the Caesar Group, said the incident had not convinced him to take the advert off air.

“We had no intention of offending anyone ... if anything, it's just a bit of light-hearted fun,” Mr Pierotti said.  “It's part of the culture of both Australia and New Zealand to poke fun at each other.

“At the end of the day, we wanted to create an ad that cut through and sometimes to do that you have to go for a novelty angle.  “We are really sorry if anyone found that offensive.”

The accused has been released on conditional bail and will front Griffith Local Court on June 13.


27 May, 2012

Children to be given a taste of danger at new childcare centre

CHILDREN would be given trees to climb in, a creek to explore and material to build cubby houses under proposals for a new childcare centre and kindergarten which aims to buck the trend of wrapping them in cotton wool.

The proposal by C&K, which runs a string of childcare centres, comes as the organisation dedicates an entire weekend conference to the topic of "children's right to childhood" and the consequences of risk aversion.

International speakers, including New York's Lenore Skenazy who was dubbed America's worst mum after she let her nine-year-old travel by himself on the subway, will address the C&K early childhood annual conference at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

C&K chief executive Barrie Elvish said that over the past decade there appeared to be an increasing emphasis "on creating what the regulators and the governments like to say is safe environments for children to play in".

"By making it too safe we are actually not giving children the opportunity to build resilience," he said.

"What C&K is doing about it, apart from this conference . . . we have just purchased part of the old Ithaca TAFE at Ashgrove and we intend creating an outdoor environment which challenges not just the existing regulations and future regulations, but also the perceptions of what might be safe and unsafe environments for children.

"We are not talking about blindfold bungy jumps.

"We are talking about the ability for a child to learn through mistakes and a child to learn through failure - a child to learn if you do jump off something too high it might hurt you when you land."

Mr Elvish said it was part of a risk-benefit, rather than just risk, approach championed by conference keynote speaker Tim Gill, who helped change the way the United Kingdom Government viewed playground risk.

Yesterday Mr Gill said the journey to being a capable adult involved "a few bumps and scrapes and knocks".


Australia's chief climate commissioner Tim Flannery calls for the removal of toxic teeth from dead people

Mercury in teeth is bad but mercury in CFL light bulbs is OK??

CLIMATE change campaigner Tim Flannery says mercury tooth fillings should be removed from corpses before they are cremated.

The practice should be made law, Australia's chief climate commissioner said.

"You don't want to poison people when you are cremated," Prof Flannery said.  "No one would want that."

Addressing the Australian Medical Association's national conference in Melbourne yesterday, he said an awareness campaign was needed.

"I think people would be comfortable with removing the fillings, it is just a matter of awareness," he said.

Prof Flannery said undertakers should be required to remove the fillings and families also could request it.

"You just need a pair of pliers," he said.  "It is a $2 solution."

He said the mercury in teeth fillings was not a problem in people alive because it was not in a methylated form.

"For mercury to become dangerous, it has to get into the atmosphere, which happens when we are cremated, then blow over the oceans (and) go into the ocean depths, where there is very low oxygen, and then transform by bacteria into a methylated form of mercury," Prof Flannery said.

"This is then ingested by fish and the fish get put on the dinner plate."

He said he had not raised the issue with the Federal Government, but he felt it was significant and could be dealt with easily.

While talking about health and environment at the AMA conference, he also raised concerns about a lack of readiness for extreme weather events.

Prof Flannery said deaths from heat were increasing and the community needed to be better educated about the health risks.

"Deaths from heat is a silent killer that is increasing around the world," he said.  "The most vulnerable in our community are most at risk."

Prof Flannery said the loss of respect for science in the climate debate had been "one of the most damaging aspects".


Threat to Victorian kindergartens

A VICTORIAN preschool was forced to close its popular three-year-old kindergarten because the Federal Government did not fully consider the consequences of its new childcare standards, management claims.

Templeton Orchards Preschool in Wantirna says its three-year-old kinder service is a casualty of Labor's National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education.

New regulations will be introduced nationally from next year.

And a survey of kindergartens in Victoria has found more would close or reduce services for three-year-olds because of the agreement.

On Tuesday a lobby group representing thousands of Victorian families will meet the Minister for Early Childhood Peter Garrett and the Federal Minister for Childcare Kate Ellis.

Kindergarten Parents Victoria said it was hoping to get a better deal for Victorian families at the meeting. Chief executive Emma King said she wanted a sensible, staged implementation because Victoria's kindergarten system was unique and valued by many.

Templeton Orchards Preschool vice-president Lelania Currie said its service for three-year-olds was closed because it could not get staff.

"Our teacher and assistant resigned at the end of last year," Mrs Currie said.  "It was because of the uncertainty about their jobs."

She said her preschool had offered the program for 20 years: "The logistics of what the government wants . . . leaves no time or staff for a three-year-old program."

The agreement provides 15 hours of kinder for four-year-olds every week - a move that has wide support - but experts say putting it in place will have the most impact in Victoria because of unique circumstances and they want a flexible timeline.

But Mr Garrett - who has previously threatened to withhold almost $100 million in funding if the State Government failed to stick to the agreement signed in 2008 - said there was a large degree of flexibility under the agreement with the states: "I am yet to see compelling evidence from the Victorian Government as to why they need more time to implement this commitment, or why three-year-old kinder would need to be cut as a result of the Universal Access agreement."

Mr Garrett said the Gillard Government was providing a major boost in funding to help Victoria achieve universal access, of $210 million over five years.

Victoria is the only state to offer a kindergarten for three-year-olds, a service that is fully funded by parents.

It has also one of the highest rates of four-year-olds attending kindergarten - 95.2 per cent - but Victorian Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Wendy Lovell, says most services are at capacity.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the Government's implementation of childcare reforms had been botched.


Greek crisis sees new wave of migrants to Australia

The face of Australia's Greek community is rapidly changing because of the economic crisis crippling Greece.

Immigration statistics show around 280 expatriates - mostly families and skilled migrants - have come back to Australia over the past year but the total number of Greek citizens in Australia is expected to be higher, with many more here on holidays.

The Honorary Consul for Greece in the Northern Territory John Anictomatis says there has been a huge influx of new Greeks in Darwin.

"For the last six months, the figures show that on average about 10 new arrivals a week are coming back to Darwin, whether it's family groups or people coming back on their own before they bring their families back to Australia," he said.

Drossos Tavlarios, 27, came to Darwin from his home on a Greek island after being unable to get work.  He says he is one of the lucky ones.  "Everything, everything is okay, very nice in Darwin," he said.

Mr Anictomatis says he gets desperate calls from Greece every week.  "They're mainly desperate about employment, their children's future," he said.

The influx to the Top End has prompted Territory Government minister Kon Vatskalis to call on the Federal Government to consider special working visas for Greeks who have been affected by the economic crisis.

Mr Vatskalis says the Territory is set to face a major skills shortage when a major gas project starts.  He says it makes sense to bring Greeks over on working visas to help fill the gap. "We're talking about an exodus of people from the industry now because they are going to get well paid jobs with Inpex," he said.  "How are we going to replace these people? We can't replace them out of nothing."

Meanwhile, the British government is drawing up emergency immigration controls to combat any surge in economic migrants from Greece and other European Union countries if the euro collapses.

Interior minister Theresa May has told a UK newspaper that it is right for Britain to do some contingency planning, but did not say what steps could be applied.

An increasing perception that Greece or other debt-laden countries might have to leave the eurozone has brought concerns that millions could lose their jobs and go abroad in search of work.


24 May, 2012

A qualified victory for new electricity generator in Victoria

New power station approved but only when an old one shuts down.  Excerpts from a Greenie report below

A recent decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has meant that Victoria’s environment continues to be at great risk from coal pollution.

The company Dual Gas went to VCAT seeking approval to build a 600MW coal-fuelled power station in the Latrobe Valley using ‘syngas’ – a combination of coal and gas to make electricity – which would see Victoria generate dirty coal power for at least another 30 years.

As the environmental regulator, the Environment Protection Authority should have led the charge in standing up to a project that flies in the face of good environmental protection policy.

Instead, in a classic example of failure of leadership, the EPA lacked the mettle to deny the application entirely, instead taking an awkward middle ground of approving a 300MW plant, leaving the door wide open for Dual Gas to push for the full 600MW plant.

One of the key points that VCAT had to consider is the idea of best practice in generating electricity.

VCAT defined best practice by considering syngas electricity as compared to power generated by brown coal, comparing Dual Gas’ project to the profoundly dirty Hazelwood. The trouble with that comparison is that almost anything would be an improvement.

Ultimately, the EPA boxed itself into a corner, unable to justify its compromised position, and lost, with Dual Gas getting approval from VCAT for the full 600MW plant. Fortunately, VCAT listened to DEA’s recommendations and put some conditions on the power station to limit some of the more toxic emissions.

In a twist of fate, VCAT also put a condition on the power plant that has put a freeze on the whole project until some of the more dirty power stations are shut down under the government’s Contracts for Closure scheme.

With uncertainty about the time frame for the closures under the scheme, Dual Gas has put a hold on the development.


Irresponsible court official has  actions nullified

THE recent case involving a Braybrook landowner who fell foul of the Sheriff’s Office offers lessons both for people with unpaid debts and for the authorities tasked with collecting outstanding amounts.

The Supreme Court of Victoria this week overturned the sale of Zhiping Zhou’s family home for the not-so-princely sum of $1000 after the Sheriff offered it at a no-reserve auction in its attempt to recoup $100,000 that Mr Zhou had failed to pay after three years.

For anyone receiving a warrant for the seizure and sale of land, the message flowing from Mr Zhou’s case is simple: when the Sheriffs Office says it is coming for your land, assume it means business and seek immediate legal advice.

For the Sheriff, the message is equally clear: in executing a warrant for seizure and sale you have a common law duty to act reasonably in the interests of both the judgment creditor and the judgment debtor to obtain a fair price.

In this case, a fair price - according to Supreme Court Justice Peter Vickery and Mr Zhou’s lawyers - would have been significantly higher than $1000 and probably closer to the property’s $630,000 market value.

While these type of auctions regularly fetch sale prices well below market value – due to the property owner’s inability to hold out for a better price – one might find it reasonable to assume that the sale of a house valued at over $600,000 would be enough to cover a $450,000 mortgage and the $100,000 Mr Zhou owed to other creditors.

In giving the reasons for his decision, Justice Vickery acknowledges that, while “a fair price is not necessarily the market value”, there should be some floor level, a reserve, below which a sale should not be allowed to proceed.

Under the Sherriff Act 2009, the Sherriff is empowered to sell property seized in accordance with relevant court rules.

To recover a debt, the creditor can apply for a Court judgment classifying the outstanding amount as a judgment debt. A further application can then be made for a warrant of execution – enforceable by the Sherriff – to seize and sell personal property like motor vehicles and household items.

If that personal property is insufficient to cover the judgment debt, the judgment creditor can issue a warrant of seizure and sale, enabling them to sell any land owned by the judgment debtor.

While that process appears to have been followed in the Zhou case, Justice Vickery determined that the judgment debtor is entitled to some protection under common law. In his reasons he states that if it becomes apparent to the Sherriff that the highest bid received at auction is “far below” the true value he would be acting “unreasonably” and in breach of his common law duty to accept it and should therefore pass the property in.

Fortunately these cases are extremely rare and the clarification around common law rights provided by this Supreme Court judgment is likely to make them even rarer.


Carbon tax fight reignites after smelter closure

The Federal Opposition has savaged the Government over the closure of an aluminium smelter in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, blaming the carbon tax.

Norsk Hydro posted a statement on its website saying, among other factors, its long-term profitability would be affected by "increasing energy costs and the carbon tax".

This prompted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to launch a series of attacks on the Government in Question Time on Wednesday, calling on the Prime Minister to apologise.

Julia Gillard rejected the carbon tax was to blame, instead referring to other reasons cited by the company, including a plunge in global aluminium prices.

Politics aside, for Norsk Hydro workers the closure is a "slug in the guts".

The smelter at Kurri Kurri employs 344 people directly, but Australian Workers Union spokesman Richard Downie says many more will be affected by the closure.  "We've got 400 to 500 women and men up there and they're not all at a retiring age," he said.  "They need to keep working and putting bread on the table, and this is just a real slug in the guts for the Hunter Valley - Newcastle and the Hunter Valley."

On its website, Norsk Hydro says despite extensive efforts to improve the plant's cost position, it has been unable to improve profitability.

"The profitability of Hydro's Kurri Kurri plant has suffered as a result of the continued weak macro-economic conditions, with low metal prices and an uncertain market outlook, as well as the strong Australian dollar," it reads.

"Following a thorough review, it is clear that the plant will not be profitable in the short term with current market prices, while long-term viability will be negatively affected by a number of factors, including increasing energy costs and the carbon tax."
'Final straw'

That statement was seized on by the Opposition's environment spokesman, Greg Hunt.  "What we've seen today is confirmation that the carbon tax is the straw that broke the camel's back for the Norsk Hydro plant at Kurri Kurri," he said.

Liberal Bob Baldwin is the Federal Member for Patterson, which adjoins Kurri Kurri Hydro.  He says previous job losses there have been due to the high dollar and low aluminium price, but says today is the first time Norsk Hydro has blamed the carbon tax.  "But it's not too late. Mr Combet can bring an urgent bill to the house to suspend the carbon tax, because this is the start of things to come," Mr Baldwin said.

The closure arose in Question Time when Mr Abbott asked Ms Gillard to apologise to the Norsk Hydro workers.  "Given that the carbon tax is already a wrecking ball swinging through the aluminium industry, the coal industry, the steel industry and the aviation industry, will the Prime Minister apologise for the 344 workers whose livelihoods are now imperilled by her broken promise never to have a carbon tax?"

Ms Gillard responded with sympathy but not an apology, blaming the closure on the low aluminium price and the NSW Government's refusal to reach agreement on a long-term electricity supply contract.

"So if the Leader of the Opposition is really concerned about these jobs, as opposed to his mock political concern, then he may consider getting on the phone and speaking to his Liberal counterpart, Premier (Barry) O'Farrell, about that matter," she said.


Council carbon tax double standards 'ridiculous'

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce says it is unfair for some councils to have to pay the carbon tax while others do not.

A number of councils have been included in the list of organisations that will be subject to the price on carbon.

To help clear up confusion, the Clean Energy Regulator has written to more than 100 councils, generally all with populations above 20,000 and that have landfills, to help them determine whether they will have to pay for the greenhouse gases they produce.

The Federal Government says councils will not have to pay anything next financial year and most of them would not be liable after that.

But Senator Joyce says making a distinction between councils does not make sense.  "This is ridiculous - now we have the concept of righteous lawn clippings and naughty lawn clippings," he said.  "Quite obviously righteous lawn clippings are to be found in the botanical gardens of Sydney, and bad ones are to be found in the Maranoa Regional Council in the middle of Roma."

Among those councils that are investigating if they have to pay the carbon tax are six central-western New South Wales councils - Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst, Mid Western and Young.

A spokesman for Orange City Council says it is not anticipating any impact because it will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through recycling organic waste, while staff at Bathurst have concluded it will not have to pay.

Lithgow City Council spokesman Andrew Muir says it has engaged an expert to help work out if it faces any liability.  "We got to the point where we thought we needed some help from someone who had experience," he said.  "We had certainly gone through the process, even some time to try to work out if we may be liable.  "Those initial calculations led us to believe that we wouldn't be, but we need to be 100 per cent sure."

Mr Muir says the issue is confusing and needs expert advice.  "Basically a person who is expert in land-filling and also has experience in dealing with the Clean Energy Regulator's (web)site and the calculator, they put together [the numbers] to ascertain the liability," he said.  "We certainly believe we can have that calculation done by the end of the month."


23 May, 2012

Australia the happiest OECD nation in the world, survey finds

Happiness is associated with conservatism and Australia is a very conservative country by world standards  -- but which is the chicken and which is the egg here is moot

AUSTRALIA is living up to its nickname of "the lucky country", with a new survey marking it as the happiest industrialised nation in the world based on criteria such as jobs, income and health.

Having sidestepped the economic malaise gripping much of Europe and with near full employment owing to a once-in-a-century resources boom, Australia has come out on top ahead of Norway and the US in the annual Better Life Index compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The findings come despite fresh signs that not every Australian is enjoying the benefits of the resources boom, with tourist attractions seeing a drop in visitors and many manufacturers rethinking their Australian operations because the strong local currency has made exports uncompetitive.

A rising cost of living also is weighing heavily on consumers, who are tightening their purse strings or using the internet to hunt for bargains on items that can be purchased overseas.

The OECD survey - which rates its 34 member countries on categories like housing, jobs, education, health, environment and work-life balance - shies away from explicitly giving any one nation an overall top ranking, but if each of the 11 categories is given equal weight, Australia's cumulative rank rises to No.1, according to the OECD website. It is followed closely by Norway and the US.

Australia's high rank - based on data from the United Nations, individual governments and other sources - is largely due to its strong economic performance despite the economic turmoil in Europe and anemic growth in the US.

Strong demand for iron ore and coal exports means Australia's unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in April, compared with 10.9 per cent in the eurozone and 8.1 percent in the US. More than 72 per cent of the working-age population in the country is employed, compared with the OECD average of 66 per cent.

Unlike many of its developed peers, Australia's government plans to return a budget surplus in the next fiscal year and forecasts its net debt to peak just below 10 per cent of GDP, a fraction of the borrowings seen elsewhere.

The Australian dollar has recently dipped below parity against the greenback, though it remains at historically high levels and is also strong against the euro and pound, giving shoppers firepower if they travel overseas.

Despite a minority government that's sinking in the polls after a series of scandals involving key lawmakers and policy missteps, 71 per cent of Australians trust their political institutions, compared with an OECD average of 56 per cent.

In addition, 85 per cent of people in Australia described their health as good, well above the OECD average of 70 per cent. The survey also found that Australian men spend nearly three hours every day cooking, cleaning or caring - one of the highest scores across the OECD's 34 member countries and ahead of men in the US, Germany and Canada.


Green-Left climate change bias easy as ABC


MALE climate-change deniers are like terrorists, pedophiles and slave owners, claimed a contributor on BBC Radio 4's religious affairs slot Thought for the Day last week. By the BBC's lamentable standards, I'm afraid, this is what constitutes reasonable, fair and balanced commentary on the climate-change debate.

But as I've only now begun to appreciate after a month's tour of Australia, the greenie-lefty bias of your own ABC is, if anything, even worse.

In Melbourne, I had a run-in with prickly ABC talk radio host Jon Faine, who kept insisting how "professional" he was being during the course of a brusque, hugely unsympathetic interview in which he interrupted my every answer and tried to tar me as a card-carrying agent of Satan in the pay of Big Oil. Why? Because I have had the temerity to suggest that there is no strong scientific evidence to support the theory of man-made global warming. (Which there isn't).

My reception at Brisbane's local ABC branch was only marginally less frosty. Before I went on, the host actually felt compelled to apologise to his audience for having a "contrarian" such as me on the show. He was doing so in the interests of "balance", he cringeingly explained. "Gee, thanks, mate!" I thought. "With an intro like that anyone would think I was a kiddie-fiddler or a Nazi, not a climate sceptic!"

Now it's not that I'm afraid of tough interviews. Actually -- as I hope I showed to my new best mate Fainey -- I find them rather fun. Rather, my objection to the ABC, as it is to my own country's BBC, is that it acts clearly and persistently in violation of its obligations as a publicly funded national broadcaster. It's supposed to be fair and balanced -- and it is. But only so long as your definition of "fair and balanced" is greener than Christine Milne and further left than Julia Gillard. Which, in my book, isn't very.

Shortly before my interview with the ABC in Brisbane, I had the contrasting pleasure of a live encounter on 2GB with Australia's most popular talk radio host Alan Jones. Well, obviously I was going to enjoy it more: Jones, like me, like most of his listeners, is a climate-change sceptic. Of course, I realise that for some Australians Jones is more toxic than a blue-ringed octopus. But here's the difference between Jones and his ABC counterparts: if you don't like him you don't have to pay for him, not one cent.

Whereas with all the ABC's vast battery of presenters, of course, you do -- no matter how much you may dislike their almost uniformly green-left-progressive politics. (The single exception, as far as I'm aware, is Paul Comrie-Thomson's consistently superb Counterpoint: the ABC's equivalent of one of those Potemkin villages the Soviets used to build to impress visitors with just how free and lovely their country was.)

And you don't only pay for the presenters (and their battalions of support staff), either. You also pay -- out of the $1 billion-plus of your money spent by the government on the ABC each year -- for their lavishly appointed work environments. The studios in which I met the ABC's Steve Austin and 2GB's Jones couldn't have been more different. Austin's was spacious and state-of-the-art in an office building you could have mistaken for that of a law firm or a bank; Jones was squeezed into a shoebox like the Black Hole of Calcutta at the back of an anonymous industrial estate.

Does this reflect their audience size and reach? Of course not: Jones's show is many times more popular than Austin's. Rather, what this illustrates is the massive difference between public and private-sector budgeting. As the ABC shows, if it's coming out of the taxpayer's pocket then money is no object. In the real commercial world, on the other hand, not even the mighty Jones gets the gold star treatment because profligacy is the enemy of profit.

But the fact the ABC offers relatively poor value for money to its shareholders -- Australian taxpayers -- should be the least of your worries. What's of far more concern is the way that for years this fatly overindulged organisation, with its stranglehold on the Australian broadcast media, has been given carte blanche to skew the political debate in a relentlessly leftwards direction.

It's the same in Britain with the ABC's ugly elder sister, the BBC: on any given subject you know what the organisation's position is going to be -- anti-business, pro-regulation, credulous and uncritical on all green issues, slavish in its endorsement of politically correct pieties, always in favour of ever-expanding government.

Which is fine if you believe in that sort of thing but if you don't you have a problem: here you are, forced to dig into your pocket every year to help people whose politics you violently disagree with campaign for all the things you hate. Not only that, but people who are actively seeking to close down alternative points of view.

In Britain we've seen this with the Leveson inquiry, in Australia you've had a (bitter) taste of it with the Finkelstein report, and in the US it's evident in the ongoing attempts by the Left to hamstring (mostly conservative-leaning) talk shows with the Fairness Doctrine. Whatever their professed aims, each one of these represents a bullying attempt by the statist establishment -- fully endorsed and often orchestrated by its friends in the left-leaning mainstream media -- to gag any broadcast organisations that dare dissent from the prevailing politically correct orthodoxy.

One of the things that has always puzzled me about the Left is that for all its fine talk about the virtues of free speech, it's often at least as eager as any authoritarian Right regime to close it down.

Nowhere is this tendency better exemplified than by the behaviour of those two gruesome siblings, the BBC and the ABC: despite their pretensions of even-handedness and social responsibility, the way they abuse their near-monopolistic domination of their country's broadcast media owes more to statist tyrannies than free democracies.


Pesky "Green" car

Some customers have "failed" a Nissan test to see if they were suitable for the new Leaf electric car.

Nissan has knocked back some customers interested in purchasing its first electric car, the Leaf, because they have been deemed “unsuitable” for ownership.

The plug-in electric vehicle officially hits the market on June 1, but interested customers need to pass a two-stage approval test before being issued with a certificate that will allow them to purchase the $51,500 car from one of Nissan’s special EV dealerships.

The test involves answering five questions about their intended usage for the car, followed by a visit from Nissan’s electrical supplier Origin Energy for an assessment of the suitability of the customer’s home electrical network.

Speaking at a promotional event at Melbourne’s Federation Square designed to raise awareness of the Leaf’s non-reliance on petrol, Nissan Australia model line manager James Staveley told Drive the company had approved about 100 customers with another 100 undergoing the process.

Some intending customers have also been declined. “If you answered that you regularly drive from Melbourne to Sydney, then we might have politely informed the customer that this is not the car for them,” Staveley says.

“The majority of customers we have declined have been because they don’t have off-street parking available to them, which we consider essential for a safe and convenient recharging environment.”

When Mitsubishi brought the only other mass-produced electric car available in Australia to market, the i-MiEV, it initially appointed leases only to high-profile corporate customers.

As supply restrictions eased it later placed the car on general sale, although Nissan says it intends to maintain its selection criteria “to ensure our customers have a great experience with the Leaf”.

Nissan Australia is only holding one firm order on its books for the Leaf. “We chose to do it that way. We held a competition to be the first person to own a Leaf in Australia, and the family that won now holds the first and only order,” Staveley says.

For customers who pass the two “toll gates” of the selection process, the car will retail for $51,500 (plus on-road and dealer costs). That includes a recharging cable, but not a wall-mounted recharging station.

A package including the telephone book-sized station adds a minimum of $2700 to the price, or more depending on the logistics involved in its installation.

Staveley says the recharging station isn’t a mandatory purchase, but that plugging the car directly into a 15-amp power outlet – which is the minimum infrastructure required and costs several hundreds of dollars to install – will take five hours longer to fully charge the car.

“It’s the customer’s choice but we’d really prefer that people take the option of the recharging station because then we know it’s being properly and appropriately installed and minimises the risk of anything going astray,” he says.


Labor party captive to undemocratic union bosses

Labor's crisis is not about rorting of union treasury but unrepresentative union power at the heart of the party's political councils

Craig Thompson is only the most pathetic part of the gift which keeps giving to the Liberal Party. Even were he out of the picture, the Health Services Union would still be a gaping sore, as the Australian Council of Trade Unions has realised too late. But even if the ACTU, or a completely fresh HSU reform group throw all the current rascals out and return the HSU into the industrial mainstream, the union would still serve as an emblem of one of the cancers eating the heart of the political and industrial Labor movement.

The internecine brawling in the HSU is not only about which group of professional suits get access to the union treasury, so that they can give jobs to their friends and relations, pay each other fabulous sums, jet around the nation with their spouses and lovers, extract personal tolls from organisations doing business with the union, and, if needs be, buy sex on the union credit card.

It is also very much about power in the political Labor Party. Labor's incapacity to move resolutely past its Thomson crisis is not only a measure of the fact that it is a minority government, unable to face a by-election. It is because real action to rid itself of the underlying problem would strike at the way the party is now organised.

At issue is not the close and probably unseverable links between political and industrial Labor. It is about how union bosses can in effect, vote on behalf of all of their members, in the higher councils of political Labor. To vote as though their own opinion was the reasoned opinion of all of their members, determined after close consultation, meetings or even focus groups within the union itself.

In most unions, however, there's no pretence of such consultation or discussion. Just most union officials are now part of a professional elite, unlikely ever to have themselves physically performed work of the type their members perform, the viewpoint of the officials is generally determined through the councils of factional systems, and the self-interests of a few key players.

It is particularly at the interface of party and union that one usually sees the most obvious nepotism, or blatant patronage, and how it is dragging down the performance as well as the reputation of the party. When a party is in power, particularly at state levels, union officials expect to be appointed to statutory boards and authorities, the beneficiaries of grants supposed to achieve public purposes and to have their lovers, sons and daughters placed in ministerial office jobs.

Family is almost always a part of it. One of the late powers of the HSU, Mike Williamson is a former national president of the ALP though he has never had a thought, or insight, or said a thing which has helped fight the good fight. He and some of his allies are the subject of allegations, as yet unresolved, of receiving six-figure kickbacks from people providing seven-figure services to the union.

As a key operator in the Sussex Street Labor machine, and vice president of the NSW branch of the party, he would have been involved in its decision to pay Thomson's legal bills, lest he fall into bankruptcy. His daughter, Alex, is on Julia Gillard's staff.

Williamson is personally close to Leo McLeay, the former Labor speaker who famously had to be compensated from the public purse when he fell off a parliamentary bike. The McLeay dynasty might by itself illustrate how some have turned Labor into a family business. Leo, in heavily publicly pensioned retirement, is "ombudsman" for the HSU. His job has been to prevent the sorts of abuses which are so prevalent. Leo's son Mark is an HSU organiser. Another son, Paul, was a NSW Labor minister, until he joined the long list of ministers who had resigned in disgrace, in his case over accessing pornography.

Another national official of the HSU is Natalie Bradbury, whose brother, David, is Assistant Treasurer. He holds the marginal seat of Lindsay, near Penrith, on which Gillard lavished so much personal attention, and party moral credit, in 2010.

The Jacksons represent another faction of the HSU fighting over the rich spoils of office. Kathy Jackson is the present HSU national secretary, but has in recent times lacked the confidence of the Williamson faction, about whom she is now a "whistleblower". Her claims of complete moral purity might be more credible if she did not have a history in union affairs when her former husband Jeff, was the Victorian branch secretary.

All outsiders always insist they are acting only on behalf of the members, and she is no exception. In bodies such as the HSU actual corruption - in the sense of witting diversion of money to one's own interests - is usually preceded by a corruption of the spirit. Thinking the best interests of the membership come from becoming entrenched in power, and in resisting the entry of those who want entry into the cosy club. A reason to fill the office with relations, mates, and others so interlocked with other power groups that betrayals have serious consequences. Nothing should be too good for the workers, or the workers' representatives.

But the problem is by no means confined to the HSU, nor to patronage and nepotism. It comes as much from the tendency of senior union officials to think that they are, ex officio, senior statesmen of the party, ex officio wise, and from their tendency to think that public policy, public appointments and even public appropriation can be handled much as it is inside the cosy councils of union Labor.

The power of a Joe de Bruyn comes, essentially, from the shop assistants' union. He and his group may, or may not be good stewards of SDA interests, and modest in their draw on the union's funds. In that sense, they may be better than the HSU group, even if they have often had common cause with it.

But de Bruyn has strong personal moral views, sincere ones deriving from his Catholic faith. His power in Labor, including his power over Labor social policy, comes from the fact that he can "vote" his SDA membership as though every unionised shop assistant in Australia shares his view, though there is no reason whatever, to think that any but a minority do. To be fair there are other unions whose votes cancel his out, if again without reason to think them representative of their memberships, or cast on that account.

One might remark that at least de Bruyn believes in something. There are any number of factional chiefs, particularly in NSW, not known for believing in anything very much, apart from their own self-advancement or, in some cases, celebrity status. Some of these lack even an understanding of what was once agreed as a necessary separation of powers between union and caucus, as well as platform and aspiration versus practical reality.

The union-party interface can be used legitimately to advance the broad causes of the industrial labor movement, the reason why the two link between political and industrial wings has been so strong since the formation of Labor parties in the late 1800s. But it needs to be modernised, and made accountable and transparent.

That's not going to happen under Gillard Labor. Gillard is a creature of the present system. Her very being there is a result of the judgment and the power of that system. Labor is trying to sell the HSU, and Thomson, as an anomaly, rather than an evidence of its condition.


22 May, 2012

Backing for immigration ban grows

MORE than half of Australians want to ban immigration because population growth is out of control.  The number of people wanting to close the border to immigration has risen from 41 per cent in 2005 to 51 per cent, research by AustraliaSCAN reveals.

Almost two-thirds believe migrants should try to "fit in" when they arrive.

Mary Drost, from suburban residents' action group Planning Backlash, said the results confirmed community concerns about rapid population growth, with Australia running the highest per capita migration program in the world.

"The roads are getting more congested, the trains are full, the schools and the hospitals are overloaded," she said. "We can't cope with it in Melbourne."

Just a third of the 2000 people questioned by Quantum Market Research believed overseas migration made Australia "a more interesting and exciting place", down from almost half in 1995.

Monash University migration expert Bob Birrell said the results showed public opinion had moved into new territory.

"I think they are right to be worried," he said. "We have record levels of immigration and, as a consequence, we are allowing 100,000 migrants to enter the workforce at a time when employment growth is at a level lower than that."

The Government's immigration and refugee program for 2012-13 is expected to reach a record 203,000 people, similar to the mass migration intakes of the 1960s.

But the major political parties show no signs of wanting to slash immigration. Opposition spokesman Scott Morrison blamed Labor's border protection policies for public hostility to migration, which was why the Coalition wanted to reinstate its border protection policies to stop the boats,

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said migration had brought substantial economic and cultural benefits, and net overseas migration had blown out under the Howard government.

"Our immigration reforms are delivering a sustainable level of migration, while responding to labour market needs," he said.

Jennie Blencowe, research and policy manager of AMES, a migrant resource group, said Australia was a nation of migrants with 45 per cent of the population either born overseas or with a parent born overseas.

"Refugees and migrants who come here have a very strong desire to fit in to Australian society," she said.


Queensland flood victims join class action claim

 I think the plaintiffs have got an open and shut case.  The flood compartment should never have been used to store water

MORE than 3000 Queenslanders have joined a legal claim over the deadly 2011 floods as class-action law firms ramp up pressure on the cash-strapped State Government.

The firms plan more town hall meetings and increased advertising in a bid to recruit more claimants.

Maurice Blackburn and financial backers IMF have hired two US experts as part of a million-dollar effort to establish that there was negligence in the operation of the dams in 2011.

Early briefings have boosted the firms' confidence about taking on the Government, which is yet to state its position on compensation.

"They've given us a greater insight into what went wrong and why," Damian Scattini of Maurice Blackburn said.  "It was mismanaged throughout the period and there is the suggestion of prior negligence. The upshot is that it shouldn't have happened this way."

Rival law firm Slater & Gordon is also investigating possible action against the Government but would not give details of its clients.

Ultimately any payouts would be funded by the taxpayer.  A spokesman for Premier Campbell Newman said the new Government had yet to receive any legal claims and was still busy working through the recommendations of the flood inquiry, which it planned to implement in full.

"The Premier has said if anyone has suffered injustice at the hands of the State Government he would ensure they were treated fairly," he said.

"The Queensland Flood Commission has made no finding of negligence on the part of the state or the dam operator."

Ipswich councillor Paul Tully, a flood victim who has signed up to the Maurice Blackburn scheme, predicted that the Newman Government would eventually settle with victims  many of whose health had been damaged along with their property.  "I'd be 100 per cent certain that Campbell Newman will want all of this finalised by 2015 before the next state election," he said.  "They won't want this to be a political issue."

IMF's John Walker said his firm would place newspaper ads to attract more flood victims, including those whose businesses had failed as a result.

Maurice Blackburn and IMF will also hold further public meetings later this month in Brisbane.  "The strength of the claim is in the numbers," Mr Walker said.

IMF is funding research into the floods in return for up to 30 per cent of any eventual pay-out.

Mr Walker said the $15 million flood inquiry, which closed in February, had not made any findings relevant to the potential class action.  "The flood inquiry wasn't there to identify wrongdoing," he said.  "It was whether the manual was followed. We are trying to identify the standard of care (and) . . . any difference between that and what occurred."


New conservative Qld. Govt. to review same-sex civil union laws

The LNP Government looks set to overturn controversial civil unions laws.  Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie is expected to recommend the legislation passed this year by the ousted Bligh government be scrapped.

The move comes as an exclusive Galaxy/Sunday Mail poll reveals that 50 per cent of people are in favour of same-sex couples getting married, with 33 per cent opposed.

Almost one in three people polled nationwide last week believed Prime Minister Julia Gillard opposed changing the law because she was "out of touch with the community".

Premier Campbell Newman hinted during the election campaign that the LNP would act if it won power.  "We would be looking at that (repealing civil union legislation) if we become the government but there are other very important things," Mr Newman said in March.

Former deputy premier Andrew Fraser introduced the legislation in what many saw as a blatant attempt to retain his marginal Mt Coot-tha seat.

When Parliament resumed last week the LNP didn't waste time in putting the civil union debate back on the floor.  A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General said: "He will be bringing proposals to Cabinet within a few weeks."  She declined to elaborate, but party sources said there was widespread support among the 78 MPs to change the legislation quickly.

However, in response to the Sunday Mail's story, on Sunday morning a spokesperson for the Premier's Office contacted to indicate the matter was not a priority.  "No submission on this issue has been put to Cabinet," the spokesman said.

Mr Newman was attacked during the campaign for personally supporting gay marriage but outlining the LNP stance on civil unions.

Federally, Tony Abbott is defying sections of his own frontbench and the majority of voters in refusing a conscience vote on gay marriage.

Former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has previously admitted to pushing for a free vote on the issue.  The push was slapped down by Mr Abbott but that does not guarantee some Liberal MPs won't yet cross the floor to vote for change.

Calls for a free vote sparked debate within Coalition ranks last year, with senior frontbenchers such as Joe Hockey, who opposes gay marriage, Christopher Pyne, George Brandis and Mr Turnbull debating the merits of a free vote behind closed doors.

A Galaxy survey commissioned for The Sunday Mail, shows Mr Turnbull's position is backed by 77 per cent of Coalition voters.   According to the survey, three in four voters back a conscience vote regardless of which party they support.

While calling for a free vote, Mr Turnbull has reserved his position on how he would vote on the gay marriage legislation until it was presented to Parliament. "My view is there should be a conscience vote," Mr Turnbull said last year. "I raised the matter privately with Tony some time ago."

The issue of gay marriage flared last week on ABC television when Mr Hockey told the openly gay Finance Minister Penny Wong, who recently had a child with her partner Sophie Allouache, that children should have a mother and a father.

WA Liberal MP Mal Washer said he personally backed gay marriage - but wouldn't vote for it.  "I think it's inevitable," he said. "But if it came to a vote, the consensus in my electorate is pretty conservative so I wouldn't vote for it."


First uranium mine in WA a step closer

The first uranium mine in Western Australia is a step closer after the Environmental Protection Authority gave the project the go-ahead.

South Australian miner Toro Energy is seeking to develop the mine at Wiluna, about 550 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie.  The proposal has been in the pipeline since the WA Government overturned a ban on the practice in 2008.

Toro's managing director Greg Hall says his company has consulted widely with the community.  "The process with traditional owners has been quite a long one," he said.

The mine is expected to operate for 14 years and produce up to two million tonnes of mineralised ore and 1,200 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate each year.

The EPA's chairman Paul Vogel says there will be little risk to those living nearby.  "The exposure to radiation for those communities near Wiluna is very, very low," he said.

Dr Vogel says the uranium will be trucked in sealed containers to the South Australian border, past Kalgoorlie, and shipped out from Port Adelaide.  "We paid particular attention to that knowing that the community was particularly concerned about that," he said.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlum says the authority's decision suggests it has failed in its role.  "If creating a permanent carcinogenic hotspot in the north-east Goldfields that will still be carcinogenic thousands of years in the future, then something has gone wrong with the EPA," he said.

Dr Vogel says the Toro project will be subject to the most rigorous monitoring program possible, overseen by the radiological council and the Department of Health.  "My understanding is there will be financial assurances required, there will be monitoring requirements to meet the trigger levels," he said.  "And, if those trigger levels are exceeded, then the Department of Mines and Petroleum will ensure those standards are met over time."

Senator Ludlum says he expects Toro to face an uphill battle to get the project up and running.  "I think given the state of the world market that is still trying to work out the consequences of the ongoing disaster in Japan where all nuclear reactors are currently closed, I don't think Toro has a chance in hell of bringing this project to market," he said.

The Opposition's Bill Johnston says WA Labor remains opposed to uranium mining but, if Toro is granted final approval before the election, it will not stand in the way of its development.  "The Labor Party's decision is that if final approval has been given to a mine before the election then we would honour those final commitments," he said.

The mine is expected to generate 350 jobs during the construction phase and 170 once it is operational.

Mr Hall says he hopes Toro can make a final investment decision by the end of the year.  "We now will await the decision by the Western Australian Minister," he said.  "The recommendation is open for appeal for a two week period and the Minister will decide on a course of action beyond that."

Toro's application now needs to be approved by the state's Environment Minister Bill Marmion before being passed on to the Commonwealth for federal approval.


21 May, 2012

Cockatoos come before people

The irony is that these birds are worth thousands of dollars overseas -- but it is forbidden to export them.  Trapping and exporting them would be to everybody's benefit but bone-headed regulations stand in the way

WHITE cockatoos - not bats - are in plague proportions in Atherton, south of Cairns, and locals want the Queensland Government to consider a kill permit.  The far north rural hub is under siege from thousands of protected sulphur-crested white cockatoos and locals want some shot or poisoned.

Huge flocks roost in the trees next to the Atherton Hospital directly in the flight path of the rescue helicopter, make a racket, strip and kill old gum trees, and ravage corn and peanut crops.

Council staff have started blasting the air with special blank cartridges called Bird Frite to try to scare away the birds.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the kill permit for bats, revealed by The Courier-Mail last week, was only a last-resort option for farmers, with no intent to deploy it in urban areas.

"The intent is to still look at relocating bats," Mr Powell said.   He said there was no plan to extend it to the cockatoos.

Tablelands Mayor Rosa Lee Long said she hoped Bird Frite would not shift the problem to another part of town.  "They are lovely birds, very pretty to look at, but they are a noisy nuisance and make a terrible mess," she said.

"The only other option is a cull.  "It is a bit like the bats, if they are in plague proportions, they may need a cull to bring back a balance."

She urged the Government to consider extending lethal Damage Mitigation Permits to bats, dingoes, wild dogs, crocodiles and parrots.

"Like bats, dingoes, and crocodiles, the cockatoos are protected species. No one likes to kill anything, but our priority must be to protect the health, life and limb of people over wild creatures."

Pensioner Gaye Webster, in her 80s, lives under some of the favoured roosting trees of the vast flocks. She wants a cull.

"Shoot them," Mrs Webster said. "Kill off a few cockys. The mess they make is absolutely disgusting.  "Bushies reckon it only takes a couple of dead cockatoos to scare the whole lot off.  "It is like these bats and the Hendra virus. Give me the poison, I'll dish it up to them.  "People against a cull are the ones who don't have to live with them."

Alex Adoberg, who owns the Atherton Hinterland Motel, said he was opposed to killing the parrots. But the Bird Frite program, trialled last year, did not seem very effective, he said.  "They seem to lift off and then come back and land again. I'd prefer to keep trying to scare them off, I don't like the idea of a cull."

He said the biggest threat - other than farmers losing entire crops in a day - was the risk posed to incoming helicopter pilots.   "They lift off out of the trees straight into the helicopter flight path. That is the scariest part."


Some optimism about Australia's security

Excerpts from an interesting Leftist critique below.  I tend to agree that Australia faces no foreseeable danger from invasion.  The rest of the world is so preoccupied with its own problems and concerns that is unlikely that we are even on anybody's radar

As the inhabitants of an island continent that shares no land borders with other nations, Australia is well placed to avoid conflict with its neighbours. This is because most wars are about territory and the position of borders.

Thankfully, our forebears managed to secure the whole continent for themselves rather than having to share it with another European nation. The colonies and their successor states subsequently held together as one federation. As a result, we have avoided the potential for conflict that a divided continent would create.

Despite this, we have feared being displaced, particularly by the rise of different Asian nations and by our slowness to populate and develop the continent. When we had just 5 million people, and the numbers across the north barely filled a sizeable town, it is not surprising that Australians feared invasion. There was also a conviction back then that practically all the continent was capable of being occupied.

Now we openly acknowledge that two thirds of the continent is arid or semi-arid and Australia will never support a population comparable to that of other continents. At the same time, we have experienced a fivefold increase in our population and some of the isolated settlements across the north have grown into cities.

Rather than huddling in south-eastern cities, and presenting a relatively empty north to the world, Australians have developed mineral and other resources in the tropics and established new settlements to support those developments. It has now become much more difficult for outsiders to argue, as they used to do, that Australians were not making adequate use of the continent.

Apart from having a more secure hold on the continent, there has been another fundamental change in our defence position. Instead of posing threats to our sovereignty, a range of powerful Asian nations now have a strong interest in protecting Australia as a secure source of raw materials and food and as a market for their excess consumer products.

Indeed, a potential invasion of Australia would probably cause more alarm in Beijing, Tokyo and New Delhi than it would in Washington. This dramatic change in our circumstances requires us to make a fundamental reappraisal of our defence policy and the amount that we spend on it.

The next thing we should do is make a more realistic prediction of the likely future threats to our security. During the 20th century, there was much talk of protecting our sea lanes and maritime approaches. While we certainly need to be able to assert our authority in Australian waters, the idea of protecting our sea-borne trade routes and maritime approaches needs to be rethought.

The idea of protecting our sea lanes originated when Australia's trade was principally with Britain and Europe and the security of those trade routes was an economic necessity. It also suited Britain to have us concentrate our defence spending on the navy. But today, our trade routes are principally to China and other Asian nations, who were the source of the supposed earlier threat and now are just as concerned about keeping those trade routes secure. It is difficult to see from where any future threat might come.

There might be a theoretical risk from Indonesia, but any such risk is only going to be exacerbated by Australia starting a regional arms race with Jakarta. Instead, Australia needs to continue the sort of confidence-building and military co-operation that has been the hallmark of our recent relations with Indonesia.

With no serious threat to our possession of one of the most defendable territories on earth, it is time for Australia to set aside its historic fears of invasion and adopt a defence policy and budget that suits our circumstances


Conservative Qld. Premier to legislate for  tough new workplace powers to break strikes

THE Newman Government will give itself tough strike-breaking powers, including ordering public servants back to work, fining individual workers, and capping pay rises.

In a move that has been compared to the Howard government's controversial WorkChoices, the LNP is set to overhaul industrial relations laws to minimise trouble while it reforms the public service.

The proposed changes introduced to State Parliament include new powers for the Attorney-General to order striking public servants back to work in drawn-out disputes.  Those who fail to comply face $2700 individual fines, or $13,500 for unions.

The Government will also be able to bypass unions and put pay offers directly to a vote, in a change that reflects the Federal Government's Fair Work Act.

And the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission will have to consider the state's ability to afford public service pay rises, which could effectively cap them, to avoid a repeat of last year's bitter police pay battle.  The QIRC granted Queensland's 10,500 police an 11.1 per cent rise over three years, 3.6 per cent more than the former Labor government wanted to pay.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said his Bill would ensure the state had an affordable public service that "delivered for all Queenslanders".

But unions are concerned the changes are aimed at suppressing a worker's ability to strike ahead of massive reforms and job cuts planned by the Government.

Industrial action is already being discussed by staff at the Department of Communities, which is being hit hard by the dismissal of hundreds of temporary workers.

Alex Scott, from the Queensland public sector union Together, said there was growing concern about moves to redefine some frontline workers as "non-frontline" to maximise opportunities for job cuts.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Peter Simpson said he believed there was a hidden agenda to bring government-owned corporations (GOCs) such as Energex, Ergon and Queensland Rail back under the public service.  "Bringing them together under one director-general would eliminate a lot of duplication but also a hell of a lot of jobs," Mr Simpson said.

He said the law changes would ensure any strike action was minimised.

Another area of concern to unions was the "workplace and productivity reforms" being sought by the Government in return for a maximum 3 per cent pay rise for public servants.  As yet, the Government has refused to say what the reforms will involve.

Mr Scott said a failure to focus on reforms that delivered services to the community would result in industrial action.

"What we're seeing at the moment, with things like cuts to tea and coffee, isn't about revitalising services," he said.

Beth Mohle, from the Queensland Nurses Union, echoed Mr Scott's concerns, despite her union being the first to reach agreement with the Government on a 3 per cent-a-year pay deal.

"Even though there's been reassurances, it's obvious from the legislation it's about containing costs for government," Ms Mohle said. "There is a concern about the implications for us in the long term."


How $1.5b Federal budget surplus hides $8.7b deficit

Left-leaning economist Ross Gittins comments below as politely as he can on a very shonky budget

What if I told you the true expected budget balance for next financial year wasn't the much trumpeted surplus of $1.5 billion but a carefully buried deficit of $8.7 billion?

I'd be justified in making such a statement because that deficit figure is officially known as the "headline cash balance" and, as a journalist, I'm in the headline business.

I'd also be justified in drawing it to your attention because the government in its budget papers has made no effort to convince us the headline figure is of no macro-economic significance - rather, we should focus solely on the "underlying cash balance" of a $1.5 billion surplus.

Indeed, I'm not sure the headline figure is of no macro significance. Why not? Because I happen to know - no thanks to the government - that the difference between the two figures includes, among various things, the government's spending on the rollout of the national broadband network.

That's of no macro-economic significance? That has no effect on economic activity? Don't think so, chaps.

I'd really like to be able to tell you just what the transactions are that explain the difference between the headline and the underlying balances. But if there's a table anywhere in the voluminous budget papers spelling that out, I can't find it.

I'm sure if the econocrats had their way there'd be such a table, but the preference of the politicians and their private-office spin doctors is to conceal rather than explain. And even just the figure for the ironically titled headline balance has been carefully hidden to ensure it doesn't hit the headlines.

It didn't rate a mention in the Treasurer's budget speech; in the multicoloured Budget Overview document it was included as a "memo item" (that is, they don't tell you how it was arrived at) on page 36.

In the budget papers proper, it went unmentioned in budget statement 1 (also known as the budget overview) and got a single mention on page 9 of budget statement 3.

The hiding of the headline deficit is just one example of the way the budget papers are becoming less informative rather than more, and the way the government's spin doctors are turning them into an exercise in media management rather than transparency and accountability.

The budget speech used to be a thorough and trustworthy exposition of the new measures announced in the budget; these days it's a made-for-television rave about the budget's good points.

I suspect one reason the budget papers have become less rather than more user-friendly over the years is the spin doctors' desire to drive journalists away from the budget papers proper to the multicoloured Budget Overview, known to econocrats as "the glossy".

It's glossy by name and gloss by nature, putting the best gloss possible on the budget and focusing on whatever messages the government is trying to peddle.

It offers a seemingly useful list of the "major savings" announced in the budget, but you can't be sure all the "saves" you'd like to know about are listed. The single line for "other" savings accounts for almost a quarter of the total.

But that's honest compared with the list of "major initiatives" announced in the budget, otherwise known as "spends". It's a table without totals, meaning it doesn't even have a line for "other" spending. If it did, other would account for almost a third of the total.


20 May, 2012

Ya gotta laugh

Below is a recent bit of Warmist "research" from Australia.  I guess that they hope nobody notices the figures behind their conclusions.   I have always been one of those pesky people who look at the actual results in a scientific paper rather than the conclusions authors draw from their results -- and that habit is richly rewarded here.

What they actually found is quite hilarious.  They found that the current temperature in the Australian region is essentially identical with the temperature in the 13th century! 

To be precise, it was just nine hundredths of one degree warmer in the 20th century than it was in the 13th century.  A better disproof of 20th century warming would be hard to imagine.  The big surprise is that they didn't deep-six their study instead of publishing it
Journal of Climate 2012

Evidence of unusual late 20th century warming from an Australasian temperature reconstruction spanning the last millennium

Joëlle Gergis et al.


This study presents the first multi-proxy warm season (September-February) temperature reconstruction for the combined land and oceanic region of Australasia (0°S-50°S, 110°E-180°E). We perform a 3000-member ensemble Principal Component Reconstruction (PCR) using 27 temperature proxies from the region. The proxy network explained 69% of the inter-annual variance in the HadCRUT3v SONDJF spatial mean temperature over the 1921-1990 calibration period. Applying eight stringent reconstruction ‘reliability’ metrics identified post A.D. 1430 as the highest quality section of the reconstruction, but also revealed a skilful reconstruction is possible over the full A.D. 1000-2001 period.

The average reconstructed temperature anomaly in Australasia during A.D. 1238-1267, the warmest 30-year pre-instrumental period, is 0.09°C (±0.19°C) below 1961-1990 levels. Following peak pre-industrial warmth, a cooling trend culminates in a temperature anomaly of 0.44°C (±0.18°C) below 1961-1990 levels between A.D. 1830-1859. A preliminary assessment of the roles of solar, volcanic, and anthropogenic forcings and natural ocean-atmosphere variability is performed using CSIRO Mk3L model simulations and independent palaeoclimate records. Solar and volcanic forcing does not have a marked influence on reconstructed Australasian temperature variations, which appear to be masked by internal variability.

In 94.5% of the 3000-member reconstruction ensemble, there are no other warm periods in the past 1,000 years that match or exceed post-1950 warming observed in Australasia. The unusual 20th century warming cannot be explained by natural variability alone, suggesting a strong influence of anthropogenic forcing in the Australasian region


Energy saving light bulbs spark mercury concerns

AUSTRALIA'S switch to low-energy light bulbs is creating a new environmental disaster as tonnes of the mercury-filled fluorescent lamps end up in council landfills.

With 95 per cent of discarded home light bulbs tossed into household rubbish bins, councils say there is an urgent need for a national scheme to recycle globes to ensure the mercury inside them does not find its way into water supply systems.

Mercury is one of the key ingredients of low-energy bulbs, but can cause neurological damage and birth defects if consumed by humans.

The lighting industry says the new bulbs contain just 5mg of mercury fluorescent tubes have three times that much but only 5 per cent of the bulbs are recycled.


Huge public hospital backlog in W.A.

AMA president David Mountain with his wife Helen and kids Kate and Lara and pet dog Voss. Picture: Matthew Poon Source: PerthNow

THE number of patients waiting for elective surgery in WA, including those waiting to get on to the waiting list, would fill 40,000-seat Patersons Stadium, figures reveal.

Some on the list are waiting up to four years just to see a specialist, according to outgoing Australian Medical Association WA president David Mountain.

The latest published wait list is almost 17,000, but the State Government estimates there are at least 24,000 more patients waiting just to get a specialist appointment.

It means the true elective surgery waiting list is at least 41,000, with patients waiting for serious operations, including hip replacements, cataract and cardiac surgery unable to walk, talk or hear in the meantime.

Dr Mountain said the Government should shed light on the hidden "waiting list to get on the waiting list" because some patients got on to the official list years after their need for surgery was first identified by a GP or other health professional.

Before the last election, the WA Liberal Party promised that from the March 2009 quarter, it would "publish by hospital figures showing the number of patients waiting for a pre-surgical assessment". It has so far failed to do so.

The Liberal commitment read: "This waiting list to go on the waiting list is something that Labor (the then government) wants to keep hidden. But if we want our governments to be truly accountable for their performance then this deceit has to stop By the end of 2009 we also will ensure that the time from original identification of a problem to an outpatient pre-surgery appointment will be no more than six months."

Opposition health spokesman Roger Cook said the Government had broken its election promise to reveal the true number of people waiting for elective surgery and patients were suffering in silence.

Health Minister Kim Hames said WA Health was looking at ways to calculate this data, but it was only possible to provide an estimate, partly because many patients were waiting for private specialists not in the public system.

"I am committed to reporting publicly on the number of patients waiting for a specialist's appointment," Dr Hames said.

Elective surgery often involves serious conditions such as people needing hip replacements, cataract surgery, cardiac surgery and left untreated can prevent people from walking, hearing or seeing.

Dr Mountain said there were several waiting periods patients had to get through before surgery, but only one was recorded.

"First there is a delay in the initial letter from the GP getting through the administrative processes to get to the out-patient clinic, then there's a delay in sending a reply saying how long it will take to get an appointment and organising a date, and then you have to wait for the appointment which is when you get put on the waiting list," Dr Mountain said.

Dr Mountain, 48, will finish the standard two-year stint as head of the AMA in just over two weeks, when another president will be voted in at the organisation's annual general meeting.

``I need a break," Dr Mountain said. ``I've got research and academic things, and I'm a head of department at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and I have two kids who probably feel they've been a bit on the backburner for the last year or so."

His wife Helen, a genetic counsellor, said her husband had worked hard to find time for the couple's two daughters Lara, 9, and Kate, 10, but things would be easier without the demanding AMA role.

Outgoing Australian Medical Association WA president David Mountain explains how to fix the five biggest problems with the health system:

1. Double the Medicare rebate for GPs – “The rebate has been seriously undervalued for 15 years in a row and is well underneath what it should be. The average practice is charging $60 to $70 but the rebate is only half of that. You can’t get a plumber to come to your house for less than $100. It’s amazing to me that some doctors in the outer suburbs are (bulk-billing) because it would be very hard to earn a decent living after paying all the costs of running a practice.”

2. Health bosses and bureaucrats need to butt out and let medical professionals do their job, run hospitals and make decisions – “They need to change their attitude and stop treating clinicians as the enemy. Decisions are routinely made that are centralised, bureaucratic and don’t involve people in their day to day work or allow clinicians to make decisions they need to make. Many of the decision-makers are detached from the reality of providing services to patients. It needs to come from the top, they need to get out of the way and not constantly be a hindrance, slowing everything up.”

3. Increase training positions in hospitals and general practices – “We have triple the number of students that we’ve had in the last few years – an extra 200 doctors that we have to find training positions for. We’ve got new buildings but it takes time to get people into those jobs and to train them so we need to build capacity into the system now.”

4. More resources for elective surgery targets and the Four Hour Rule – “We have major problems with the capacity of the system coming up in the next two to three years. Even with the Fiona Stanley hospital and the others coming online, the demand for beds is much higher than the number of beds. We’re not seeing enough beds, nurses, doctors and other staff coming into the system. There needs to be more major new builds planned in the next 10 years otherwise we’re really going to struggle.”

5. Get rid of the Health Corporate Network – “It’s another nightmare bureaucracy. It is incompetent at paying people properly, appointing people and demoralises people trying to do their job. It’s a terrible experiment that should be cancelled. It rumbles along as a sub-disaster, making life difficult for everyone.”


Australia is a very gassy place

Mining companies are increasingly taking an interest in shale after it took off in the US, writes Paddy Manning.

Nobody knows the extent of the shale gas resource in Australia but the potential is big, perhaps big enough to reduce coal seam gas to a sideshow.

The federal agency Geoscience Australia set the theme of this week's annual Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference by estimating shale gas could double Australia's natural gas reserves, from 400 to 800 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas.

The US shale revolution, spurred by the advent of horizontal drilling and fracture stimulation (or fracking) technology, transformed world energy markets in five years.

Shale gas now accounts for about 23 per cent of the US's annual gas production, according to the US Energy Information Administration. By contrast, coal seam gas (CSG, or coal bed methane as it is known in the US) provides about 7 to 9 per cent, says the managing director of Beach Energy, Reg Nelson.

What has happened in the US is likely to happen here, he says.

Beach, which gets most of its revenue from oil production, has been a pioneer in unconventional gas. Beach sold an early-stage investment in coal seam gas play Arrow Energy to Shell, at a handsome profit.

Beach has some of the best exploration acreage in Australia's most prospective shale gas field, the Cooper Basin in South Australia. Beach shares dived this week after a media report suggested the company had shut down a data room opened to potential co-investors, due to a lack of interest. Nelson says Beach terminated the sale process once it got strong gas flows from one of its wells in the Cooper: "We thought, we've got something big here, we can add value to this. And when we sell it, we're not going to sell it for a small premium. It's going to be a big one."

Certainly there is plenty of jockeying going on, with juniors including Senex, Drillsearch and others seeking to prove up their shale reserves and sell on to a larger company. Big oil producers such as BP, Total and Shell are interested; BHP Billiton's petroleum chief, Mike Yeager, said his team was "studying every square inch of Australia right now" looking for shale gas.

Australia's shale gas reserves are not located under prime agricultural country but in the middle of the desert, and there is a gas pipeline nearby at Moomba. Shale gas wells are deeper - generally well below aquifers - and typically recover more gas per well, meaning fewer wells need to be drilled.

Drew Hutton, the president of the anti-coal seam gas group Lock the Gate, warns shale gas production in the Cooper could have implications for Western Queensland's wild rivers, protected under legislation. "The nomination of the western rivers came about because the traditional owners, local cattleman and local councils got together with the wilderness society and lobbied for it."

He says the US experience shows there are still groundwater concerns associated with shale gas extraction, and there would likely be an environmental campaign - though perhaps not a Lock the Gate campaign - against shale gas in the Cooper.

Nelson, a former South Australian mining regulator who spent much time capping uncontrolled flows from bores in the Great Artesian Basin, says he has "no concerns whatsoever" about groundwater contamination from shale gas.

"The important point is, Cooper Basin gas has been around for 40-50 years. A lot of these reservoirs have been fracked, because the sands are tight. There's been about 700 wells fracked since 1969."

If Cooper Basin shale production was safer, could the entire coal seam gas debate be bypassed? The vice-president for eastern Australia at Santos, James Baulderstone, says at an estimated $6 per gigajoule, shale gas is 20 to 30 per cent more expensive to produce than coal seam gas, and technology and capital constraints mean significant shale production is unlikely to be economic this decade. Santos is concentrating on getting more out of the declining conventional gas reserves in the Cooper Basin, with advanced infill drilling, and on developing its coal seam gas fields in the NSW Gunnedah Basin.

"You need a diversity of supply," he says. "One of the great things about NSW's gas resource is its location to market and where it sits on the cost structure. When you model the cost curve, the coal seam gas will be cheaper than shale to start with, it's easier to develop and we believe that it will fill market demand in the 2015-25 window. Shale would then come on stream towards the end of the 2020 decade, and start to displace coal seam gas as it becomes cheaper over time."

With a majority stake in the Moomba gas plant, and the most acreage in the Cooper Basin, Santos will play a big role in developing Australia's shale resource. It has recently drilled its first vertical shale well, and will drill its first horizontal well later this year.

"We're all very excited about shale but it's not something you can do overnight," Baulderstone says.


Courts under fire in mental health row

MENTAL illnesses are being exploited by some defence lawyers to reduce sentences for people found guilty of serious offences, despite a lack of evidence linking the ailments to criminal behaviour, mental health experts say.

Groups including the Mental Health Council of Australia and beyondblue have urged more rigorous psychological examinations of people charged with crimes when mental illness is claimed in mitigation. They say those with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

Several prosecutors from the Office of Public Prosecutions also told The Sunday Age they were frustrated that depression had become a "pro forma defence tactic" used to seek leniency.

One senior prosecutor said defence lawyers were exploiting a Victorian Court of Appeal decision in 2007 that reduced the moral culpability, but not legal responsibility, of those diagnosed with mental disorders.

Mental Health Council of Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan said there were doubts about the diagnosis of some mental illnesses. Distinctions between normal sadness and clinical depression were still widely debated in the mental health profession, he said.

"It seems to me, that on the back of the very poor evidence we have, there is no prima facie case of a link between crime and mental illness."

Mr Quinlan was critical of a recent attempt by a defence lawyer to seek leniency for a client with depression, after the man was found guilty of downloading child pornography.

"Some people who suffer severe psychotic conditions may have an argument about not being able to form intent, but those suffering high-prevalence mood disorders such as acute anxiety and depression have an inability to find motivation and plan, which would obviously impact their ability to commit a crime," he said.

His claims are at odds with a Corrections Victoria report that found almost half of adults in custody had a history of mental illness and 34 per cent of children in detention centres had psychological disorders. Beyondblue estimates major mental illnesses are up to five times more prevalent among prisoners than in the general community.

Law Institute of Victoria president Michael Holcroft said there was a correlation between mental disorders and a range of criminal behaviour. It was "totally appropriate" for a lawyer to raise mental health when entering a pre-sentencing plea, Mr Holcroft said.

"People under the influence of drugs and alcohol or suffering from mental health episodes are far more likely to get themselves into trouble than the standard person in the street. And to avoid re-offending, the courts need to address the underlying source of the problem."

He said lawyers relied on expert medical opinion and had a responsibility not to mislead the courts.

"To say there is no link between crime and mental health is extraordinary. People come before the courts with myriad issues," Mr Holcroft said.

In 2010, the Magistrates Court set up a specialist court and program to provide extra support for the rising number of accused people claiming to have depression and other mental disorders. At the time, magistrate John Lesser said more than a third of those who appeared before Victorian courts had some form of mental illness.

But Superintendent Spiros Kalliakmanis, of the police prosecutions division, raised concerns about the growing number of cases diverted to the specialist court. "It is a matter for the court to determine the legitimacy of a plea. However, any abuse of these jurisdictions and services has an impact on the ability to offer quality services to members of the community who are in real need," he said.

Beyondblue chief Kate Carnell said depression had no bearing on a person's propensity to commit a crime.

"The reality of mental health issues is people don't do things that they wouldn't otherwise do or behave dramatically out of character. Magistrates should listen to the mental health experts and make sure that the information that is being presented in court is evidence based," she said.

Kristen Hilton, director of civil justice at Victoria Legal Aid, said about 20 per cent of its clients had mental health problems. "The research and our practical experience shows that someone with a mental health issue is far more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system.

"I would hope there's a general community consensus that someone's mental condition should be taken into account during sentencing," she said.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert Clark said genuine mental illness was relevant in sentencing. "But claims of mental illness should not be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility for culpable conduct."


19 May, 2012

Poll finds no Julia Gillard Government MP would survive election in Queensland, with 23% primary vote

Qld. is the "must win" state to form a Federal government

QUEENSLANDERS are waiting to smash Labor out of the state.  Support for federal Labor has collapsed to a mere 23 per cent in Queensland, the latest Galaxy poll conducted exclusively for The Courier-Mail shows.

No federal Labor MPs would be left in the Sunshine State if this result were repeated at the next election.

And the majority of voters say this humiliation would be just desserts for Labor.  Almost 60 per cent of respondents to the poll said Labor deserved to be reduced to a rump of one or two seats in Queensland.

Under Julia Gillard, Labor's primary vote has, for the second time, fallen to the lowest level recorded in the history of the Galaxy poll.  The 23 per cent primary vote marks a slump of more than 10 points since the last election.  It's a decline of seven points since the last state-based federal poll in November and takes Labor back to its low recorded in a Galaxy poll last August.

The Liberal National Party primary vote is now at 56 per cent. This would see Labor crushed in Queensland by 64 per cent to 36 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis, assuming preference flows from the past election.

The collapse in support suggests federal Labor has not gained any benefit after voters took out their anger on former premier Anna Bligh in March.

Galaxy chief David Briggs said the dire poll for federal Labor was in line with the two-party preferred figure observed in the state election.  "Support for the federal Labor Party has slumped in Queensland. Voters look like they are prepared to give Julia Gillard's federal team the same treatment that was meted out to the Bligh government in the recent state election," Mr Briggs said. The poll surveyed 800 people across Queensland last Tuesday and Wednesday.

It came just over a week after the Government used its Budget to promise $5 billion in new handouts to ease cost-of-living pressures for families and people on low incomes.  In the same week, the Government starting running advertisements promoting its coming suite of tax cuts and welfare boosts designed to compensate for the carbon tax.

But community opposition to the carbon tax appears to be growing stronger as the July 1 start date approaches.  Only 25 per cent of voters supported the carbon tax and 72 were opposed, the poll found.  Among Labor supporters, a small majority of 54 per cent supported the carbon tax. But among the LNP supporters who Labor needs to win over, only 8 per cent backed the tax.

Opinions have hardened in the nine months since a Galaxy poll in August found 28 per cent supported the tax and 67 per cent were opposed.


Tony Abbott rejects claim the carbon tax will have trivial impact

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has rejected claims he's "over-egged the pudding" with his warnings on the climate tax.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday said Australians would realise Mr Abbott had been scaremongering when the tax is implemented in July.

But Mr Abbott is standing by his claims, saying the more people know about the tax the less they like it.

"This is a gratuitous act of economic self-harm," he said at Flemington Markets in Sydney's west today.

"The carbon tax is socialism masquerading as environmentalism.

"The more the public see of the carbon tax, the less they like it.

"I think the public understand that compensation is for today, but the tax is forever and it's going to go up and up and up as time goes on."

From July 1, the Government will make less than 500 of Australia's biggest polluters pay an initial $23 for every tonne of carbon they put into the atmosphere.

This will be followed by a market-based emissions trading scheme in 2015.

The aim is to cut 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2020.


Quit Facebook or be expelled, school says

A Queensland primary school principal is threatening to expel students aged under 13 who refuse to delete their Facebook accounts, in a bold bid to stamp out cyber bullying at her school.

The policy has been applauded by cyber safety experts who say schools are grappling to deal with a surge in problems caused when children use social media sites designed for adults.

Leonie Hultgren, the principal of Harlaxton State School in Toowoomba, Queensland, has explained the school's new policy in its latest newsletter.

Ms Hultgren wrote that the school expected students would adhere to the Facebook guideline that users must be 13 years old to create an account.

It is not uncommon for primary students aged under 13 to falsify their birthdates to set up a Facebook account.

Ms Hultgren said it was school policy that students and their parents would obey state and Commonwealth laws, as well as the guidelines set by social networking sites, with regard to children's use of such sites. Therefore, she stated, no Harlaxton student aged under 13 was to have a Facebook account.

"Parents should understand that a student who contravenes the law or rule in a digital scenario may need to meet with the Principal to discuss this issue and their continued enrolment at Harlaxton," Ms Hultgren wrote.

The Queensland Education Department’s director for the Toowoomba region, Greg Dickman, said the department, "fully supports the principal in managing these issues at a school level".

He said Queensland state school principals had the power to discipline students if they were found to be using technology inappropriately "both at school and outside of school hours".

A Victorian Education Department spokeswoman said that while principals could seek meetings with parents if students aged under 13 had Facebook accounts, they did not have the same disciplinary powers as their Queensland counterparts.

"The principal can only request the family to remove their child's Facebook profile," the spokeswoman said.

Ms Hultgren declined to be interviewed, but in an open letter to parents, she detailed the thinking behind the new policy. She acknowledged some families may ask: Why is Facebook a school issue?

"As many of the parents in the (senior) class would testify, there has been some considerable Facebook traffic that either bullies a child of this school or in some cases denigrates some staff and the school. Either of these circumstances warrant the school becoming involved," she wrote.

But Steven Troeth, a partner at Gadens Lawyers, which provides legal advice to leading Melbourne schools, said that while schools had the right to take disciplinary action when Facebook was used to bully students or staff, even if the bullying occurred outside school hours, he doubted principals had the authority to issue a blanket ban on social media.

He said the Facebook guideline that stipulated users must be aged 13 and older was not enforced by any law.

" 'You won't come to our school if you have a Facebook page' seems to me to be extending beyond the realms of the school's ability to dictate what students can and can't do at home," Mr Troeth said.

"But it's understandable that they might want to have some control over it because of the potential to impact on the school."

Cyber safety expert and former Victorian policewoman Susan McLean advised the Toowoomba principal on the new policy. Ms McLean said the reaction from some quarters was "appalling".

"You could not print the response to the principal that some of the mothers wrote on Facebook," Ms McLean said.

She said children broke the law if they provided false information online about their ages. Schools had a duty of care, she said, which meant that if they knew a student aged under 13 had a Facebook account then the child needed to be reported to Facebook so the account could be deactivated.

"If a child cannot and will not make a good decision on their own personal safety, if their parents fail in their job in protecting their own children then the next line of defence is teachers," Ms McLean said.

Ms Hultgren's move has been applauded by adolescent and child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg.

Dr Carr-Gregg has spoken to the Toowoomba principal and congratulated her on her stance.

"I think this is a desperate attempt to deal with really disturbing and problematic Facebook behaviour which is impacting on her school," Dr Carr-Gregg said.

Dr Carr-Gregg said increasing numbers of primary schools in Victoria were experiencing problems as a result of Facebook use among students.

"It's directly related to the lack of supervision of very young people who do not have the skills, knowledge and strategies to manage their digital behaviour."

In her letter to parents and students, Ms Hultgren applauded those who had refused to allow their children to set up a Facebook account before they turned 13.

"There is a reason why the legal age for Facebook in Australia is 13. There is an assumption that by that age children will have been taught (and understand ) the implications of using social media. It is anticipated that the child will have gained a strong moral purpose and be able to differentiate between what is socially acceptable and lawful and what could be considered libellous and unlawful.

"We have spent the last five years teaching our students about respect, relationships and resilience. It may seem insignificant to lie about your age to gain access to a social media site but where does it stop?"


Qld. Health bureaucracy on the way out

LOCAL hospital boards will have the power to hire and fire their own chief executives under new laws to be introduced in State Parliament today.

At least 17 new boards will be established to run the state's 128 hospitals.

The move by Health Minister Lawrence Springborg is seen as a full-frontal attack on central control of hospitals favoured by the Labor state governments for nearly two decades.

Under new Health and Hospitals Network legislation, the boards will be responsible for their own financial management and be able to set their own priorities for patient care.

The new law is seen as the first step by the Newman Government in tearing down the massive Queensland Health bureaucracy which has been criticised for having more spin doctors than real doctors.

Under the Springborg plan even the ownership of land and buildings will be vested in the boards.

In more populated areas, Mr Springborg also plans to establish a series of ancillary boards to wrench power out of the hands of city bureaucrats and return it to the regions.

The boards will begin operating from July 1.

"They will no longer be outposts of the empire," a spokesman said. "They will be accountable and responsible to themselves. They will run their own show."

Under the changes each board will have to have a doctor or nurse as a member and each chief executive will be subject to the direction of the minister.

The boards will, however, be required to seek ministerial approval if they intend to end an existing hospital service.

Local boards will have autonomy in speaking to the press, ending years of frustration from local media organisations unable to gain comment on vital matters of public interest in their areas.

Under the Springborg plan hospitals will have to regularly publish surgery waiting lists and "ramping" details - the number of times patients in ambulances are forced to wait outside hospitals while beds are found.

The lack of local input was one of the reasons why complaints against rogue surgeon Jayant Patel were not taken seriously.

Patel was the Bundaberg Hospital surgeon jailed over the deaths of three patients.

Under the new laws the minister will have the power to suspend the chief executive or members of hospital boards for misconduct.

Mr Springborg is understood to have consulted leading barrister Tony Morris, QC, for advice on the changes.

A source told The Courier-Mail that an administrator might be appointed to run a Cape York board.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative