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, 2013

Julia Gillard:  A failed feminist flop and a warning to women in politics

The Australian Labor Party (ruling Leftists) has just switched leaders, dumping Julia Gillard (left above) and installing Kevin Rudd (right above)

Before she is totally forgotten in Australian politics (yesterday?), I thought I might point out an unintended truth in La Gillard's claim that her term in office has made it easier for other women in politics.  She has indeed.  She has shown them what NOT to do.

She didn't even start out well.  She gained power not by winning an election in her own right but by being propped up by turncoat conservative independents.  The voters of the two electorates represented by the said independents voted overwhelmingly AGAINST the Labor party but got Julia anyhow.  So she led what was essentially an illegitimate government.  From the very beginning she was not much of an example of female success.

And what does one make of the fact that Kevvy got nearly double  her poll numbers as soon as he replaced her?  That is about as harsh a reproof as one can get in politics.

What led to her final downfall, however, was her feminism. When half the voters are men, feminist ideas have to be promoted gingerly.  Julia did not do so and her final poll numbers among men were around 20%!

Her first big gaffe was the one that got her most praise at the time.  It was the speech that gave feminists orgasms worldwide, the speech where she condemned Tony Abbott as a misogynist. 

Unfortunately for her, however, she gave examples of where she thought the conservative leader had uttered misogynisms, and they were the sort of thing that would cause many men to say: "Hey!  I think that too".  She was in effect  criticizing Abbott for saying that men and women are different.  That may amount to misogyny among feminists but for most people it is just commonsense.  It is even commonsense that is amply backed up by science.  So she got a bit more of the feminist vote (which she mostly had already) but showed herself as a feminist extremist to most other people.  And that is a big "most".  Feminists of Gillard's stripe are still a small and cranky minority.

And then she really blew it with her "blue tie" speech, in which she claimed that her loss of power would lead to Australia being led by men in blue ties to the permanent exclusion of women. Tony Abbott, like many conservatives, often wears a blue tie.

The claim was however never plausible in any way.  The deputy leader of the opposition conservative parties is the very effective Julie Bishop, an unmistakeable female!  And because Australia is a monarchy, the ultimate legal authority in Australia  -- as Gough Whitlam found out to his rage -- is the Governor General, who also happens to be female.  And are we forgetting federal parliamentary conservatives like Jane Prentice, Natasha Griggs, Karen Andrews, Nola Marino etc.?

Julia's little bit of hysteria about her own importance did however have one amusing sequel.  Kevvy embraced it.  He has been wearing blue ties ever since!  It was indeed men in blue ties who took power from her, though not the group she foresaw.

So that speech was the last straw for a lot of men.  Her poll numbers among men dropped off a cliff almost immediately.  Most men give feminism some leeway but hysterical feminism was too much.

And right to the end she was pushing feminism -- setting up a commission of inquiry into how badly treated women are.

So the reasons for her disastrous poll ratings and her ignominious dismissal are clear, and I think they show  that women with leadership aspirations should do as Margaret Thatcher did:  campaign on the rightness of her policies, not on the basis of what she has between her legs.

There is  a rather amusing attempt to vindicate La Flop by one of her advisers, a British Leftist,  John McTernan.  He attributes her downfall to "a brutal and unfair misogynist culture" that we apparently have in Australia.  No mention of her poll numbers or the fact that it was the LEFT who deposed her. Those misogynist Leftists!

He has a point however in saying that she was a good "parliamentary performer".  Her ability not to answer questions was indeed non pareil. She was the queen of bluster instead.  I once saw Tony Abbott ask her the same question three times in a row without him getting an answer on any of those occasions. Verbal fluency she had.  Honesty would have been better.

Why Rudd is speaking from his nether region

RECYCLED Prime Minister Kevin Rudd didn’t learn a thing during the three years and three days he spent in the wilderness.

Yesterday he had the opportunity to deliver a gift to the Australian people - the gift of an election - and he squibbed it.

Instead, he used his first address on his return to parliament as Prime Minister to utter platitudes dripping with hypocrisy and cant and publicly demonstrate he has not changed.

Humility is clearly not in his complex vocabulary either in terms of what he might consider "detailed programmatic specificity” or as a "complementarity that could be developed further in the direction of some form of conceptual synthesis”.

Clearly his brief tribute to Julia Gillard, the nation’s first female prime minister, the woman he had brought down less than 24 hours earlier, was as fine an example of a conceptual synthetic as so many of his other arrogant musings.

Observing him standing at the Despatch Box again and musing on the need for politicians to try and be "kinder and gentler” with each other with Gillard’s blood still dripping from his dagger was hard to stomach - but when he then went on to pay tribute to the woman he had so spectacularly deposed as a "standard bearer for women” - his performance lapsed into the delusional.

In Rudd’s world, Gillard was a major reformer with a proud record of great achievements.

If he believed this in any small portion, he would have given her a skerrick of genuine support instead of working tirelessly over the past three years to white-ant her.

Rudd says he has benefited from the perspective of spending time in what he termed "the nether regions” and a "distant place” within parliament but whatever the beneficial effects of his period on the backbench may have been they have yet to be revealed to the public.

It is now six months since Gillard launched the longest election campaign in the nation’s history - during a speech at the National Press Club. It was a huge mistake, which fed into the general paralysis of her Labor-independent-Green minority government and highlighted its serial policy failures.

That was not her intent, of course. Gillard said she believed her early announcement would permit business and consumers to "plan their year”.

They people of Australia certainly did plan their year. They effectively drew the curtains on 2013. They withheld investment, they withdrew their confidence, and the economy shrank.

Gillard said it should be "clear to all which are the days of governing, and which are the days of campaigning” but, while there was a lot of campaigning, she was fighting a raging civil war within her own party that left scant time for governing.

Rudd, had he learnt anything, had he listened to anyone during his frequent trips to shopping centres around the nation over the past three years, would have understood that the millions of Australians he claims were clamouring for his return really only wanted a circuit breaker - and they saw his resurrection merely as a means to curtail the longest election campaign in our history.

But his time in exile was wasted. Nothing he offered yesterday was new. He said the hardest thing was to offer a policy plan for the nation - and he proved his own point.  He offered no policy plans.

Yet, when last he was prime minister, he changed the Howard government’s successful border protection policy, which had emptied the camps on Christmas Island and stopped the boats, to an open border policy which has led to 45,000 illegal boat arrivals.

On the day before the 2007 election, he said that he would turn the boats around and then never did. He signed Australia up to the United Nations’ hysterical global warming agenda and opened the door to the carbon dioxide tax through an emissions trading scheme campaign - which he then turned around and dumped.

He started FuelWatch and GroceryWatch - and subsequently dumped them as well.

He launched the pink batts insulation scheme - which cost four lives and a billion dollars to fix.

He said he would fix public hospitals or take them over - but walked away from the policy - and he promised to deliver budget surpluses over the economic cycle and failed in that, too.

After Question Time, Sky News anchor David Speers astutely observed that Rudd had slipped right back into the prime ministerial chair. Nothing had changed. That’s the problem.

Three years ago Rudd did not even stand against Gillard in the leadership ballot when his disgruntled colleagues told him he was Labor’s problem.  Three years on, overnight polls notwithstanding, he remains Labor’s problem.

If the first Rudd government was dysfunctional, this incarnation embodies dysfunction on steroids.

We all know how disparaging those who worked with Rudd have been about his character, labelling him variously as an egomaniac, narcissistic, disloyal psychopath. That was on a good day.

It would be in his interest, and the interest of the Australian people, to keep the number of days voters must wait until the next election to a minimum.


The contemptuous political class

The political class has contemptuous attitude towards the Australian public. And I am not talking about our new Prime Minister. The case in point is the upcoming referendum on whether to recognise local government, which in reality expands the powers of the Commonwealth.

The referendum seeks to amend section 96 of the Australian constitution to read: ‘Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State, or to any local government body formed by a law of a State, on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.’

If the referendum is successful, not only will the Commonwealth have expanded powers into areas that have traditionally been the responsibility of the states, but it will duplicate state bureaucracies at a federal level.

The expansion of government power is coupled with a $32 million public information campaign that treats the public with utter contempt.

The contempt arises from the fact that $31.6 million of taxpayer funding is for the ‘Yes’ campaign, while only $0.5 million is for the ‘No’ campaign.  If the case for reform were strong enough, such asymmetrical financial support would not be necessary.  By way of comparison, for the republic referendum, the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns each received $7.5 million.

The political class is spending your money to convince you that they should be more powerful.

Despite the excessive spending on a public information campaign, there is evidence that government ministers don’t even understand the logic behind the efforts to expand Commonwealth powers.

With overwhelming electoral and financial support for the referendum from the political class (with several exceptions), it is important for individuals, communities and civil society at large to organise themselves against the further encroachment of government into their lives.

If you want to get involved in the ‘Yes’ campaign, you can read more on the Australian Local Government Association’s campaign website,  and if you want to get involved with the ‘No’ campaign, visit the Vote No To Canberra’s Power Grab website.


A good enough reason for a trip to Adelaide

AUSTRALIA'S finest pasties are baked at Glenelg's Orange Spot Bakery.  The Anzac Rd institution is again officially home to the country's best pasties after being awarded the top prize in the national "Great Aussie Pastie Competition" this month.

The bakery has won the coveted award, dished out by the Baking Associations of Australia, four years running.

It took eight judges three days to sample 1500 pies and pasties in Melbourne this month.

"We're really pleased. We've worked really hard as it takes a long time to get it down pat," Orange Spot owner Nick Davey said.

He said changing his pastry recipe was the key to his success. "I'm not going to go into too many details, but the head judge told us it was the best pastry he's tasted in 25 years of judging.

This year Mr Davy changed the formula, production and baking process.

"It's not something that happens overnight. It took us six months to perfect, so there's a lot of stuff that's thrown in the bin along the way."

Top-quality local ingredients were crucial, he said.


28 June, 2013

The blue tie men

Julia was more prophetic than she knew

My magic power is still working

I don't actually have any magic power but it sometimes seems as if I do.  If I think something in politics should or will happen, very often it does, sooner or later.  A case in point is the resurrection of Rudd.  On 23rd., I said on this blog that the ALP would have to bring him back  -- despite that idea being widely pooh-poohed at the time.

And when I did hear of that prophecy coming true I immediately knew that there was a way for Rudd to win the next election.  He should abolish the carbon tax and the mining tax and seek a bipartisan agreement on "asylum seekers".  All three changes would cost him very little but would take Abbott's chief weapons away.

I didn't actually think he would do all that.  He is too Leftist.  But the latest news reports do point to the mining tax going and a revamp of the carbon tax and a possible shift in a conservative direction on the boat people.

So my magic power was pretty good.  Rudd and his allies are  looking at exactly the policies that I prophesied.  Why do I have that magic power?  I guess its just that I have a realistic grasp of the forces at work in politics.  The ALP couldn't ignore Gillard's poll numbers and Rudd would have to want to use a new start to disarm Abbott if possible.

ALP to ride on pennies from Kevin as PM Rudd set to offer election sweeteners to voters

KEVIN Rudd could offer a range of sweeteners - including dumping the carbon tax - in a last-ditch attempt to snatch victory from the Coalition.

Mr Rudd has refused to commit to the saving and spending measures in Labor's Budget announced just last month, leaving him open to re-write the party's playbook as the election nears.

The restored PM will push to dump the carbon tax and go straight to an emissions trading scheme in a bid to unshackle the Government from the politically toxic policy.

After failing to announce any new policies on his first day back in the top job, Mr Rudd is under pressure from within Labor to overhaul funding for schools and hospitals, replace the carbon tax with an ETS and dump the mining tax.

Mr Rudd was last night locked in talks with his key backers as he came under increasing pressure to present a clean break from the era of his predecessor Julia Gillard.

He is expected to announce a new ministerial line-up as early as today after losing more than a third of the Cabinet in his political comeback.

The Courier-Mail understands that the carbon tax, which is due to rise to $24.50 next week, will top the agenda when the new prime minister convenes his first Cabinet meeting on Monday.

However, in a signal that he would conduct a consensus government, Mr Rudd has indicated to colleagues that no changes would be made without approval of the Cabinet.

Axing the current fixed price and going straight to a market-based floating price could see the cost drop to as little as $6 a tonne. It was estimated that the move could cost several billion dollars in revenue.

With Parliament not due to return before an election, Mr Rudd is likely to announce it as an election policy.

Ms Gillard's deadline for Campbell Newman and other hold-out premiers to sign up to Labor's national school funding plan is likely to be extended beyond Sunday.

Mr Rudd faces calls to take a tougher approach to asylum seekers to counter the Opposition's attacks that he sparked the recent increase in boat arrivals by watering down border protection laws when he was last in charge.


Kevin Rudd urged to his fix boats mistake after being sworn in

KEVIN Rudd has told colleagues he will not "lurch to the Left" on asylum-seekers, with caucus members publicly urging him to toughen Labor's policy or risk seeing his government consigned to the "dustbin of political history".

As Mr Rudd used his first day in office to recast his leadership, swearing off the "old politics" of division and conflict, Labor MPs' warned the resurrected Prime Minister that his efforts would count for nothing if he failed to tackle the "illegal immigrant problem".

Labor senator Glenn Sterle told The Australian Mr Rudd had assured him in the wake of Wednesday's leadership ballot that he would not soften Labor's stance on the issue, which has helped destroy Labor's standing in western Sydney.

In a clear reference to Mr Rudd's 2010 warning to the party not to "lurch to the Right" on asylum-seekers, made at the time of his removal as prime minster, Senator Sterle said Mr Rudd promised not to "lurch to the Left" either. "Kevin said to me (after the ballot), he will not be taking a lurch to the Left," Mr Sterle told The Australian yesterday. "He understands that it is a major issue in Western Australia and in western Sydney."

Senator Sterle's comments are part of a wider hardening of rhetoric on the asylum issue within the Labor Party, spearheaded by Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who said after Ms Gillard's ousting that the refugee system was broken, with economic migrants, not refugees, now flooding Australia's shores.

Senator Carr said the asylum problem had changed "under our noses", with genuine refugee supplanted by opportunists. "They're not people fleeing persecution," Senator Carr told the ABC's Lateline program. "They're coming from majority religious or ethnic groups in the countries they're fleeing. They're coming as economic migrants."

In Mr Rudd's first term as prime minister, Labor unwound many of the Howard-era measures that had helped stem the flow of floats. Since he was elected in late 2007, more than 44,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Australia in more than 740 boats. With the arrival of three more boats yesterday, more than 12,807 asylum-seekers have arrived this year alone.

Mr Rudd's targeting of the carbon tax has been on his agenda since he challenged for the leadership in February last year and indicated he would review the fixed-price period.

The clean energy package Ms Gillard negotiated with the Greens and the regional independents is designed to transition to a floating price, linked to the European emissions trading scheme, on July 1, 2015. The fixed price will increase to $24.15 for each tonne of carbon from Monday.

Mr Rudd's office last night confirmed he would be discussing the "implementation of the carbon price when cabinet meets next week".

But the issue of asylum-seeker arrivals remains the most contentious and politically damaging for the new Rudd government.

Senator Sterle said that in his home state of Western Australia, Labor's handling of the asylum issue had resulted in a "steady decline" in support for the party.

And, in a view shared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and border security agencies, Senator Carr blamed the high success rate for refugee claims in Australia for contributing to the problem. "We've reached the view that as a result of court and tribunal decisions, it's coming up wrong. We need a tougher, more hard-edged assessment," he said.

Senator Bishop said Senator Carr's assessment was representative of a wider view within the Labor caucus, which has become increasingly spooked by the electoral backlash facing the party over its handling of the issue. Senator Sterle said if the party could not find a solution to the issue "we'll be confined to the political dustbin of history".


Convicted rapist, drug dealers and a killer knowingly hired by Queensland Health

A RAPIST, a convicted killer and several drug dealers and fraudsters are among almost 200 people with criminal convictions knowingly hired by Queensland Health who still work there, a Right to Information investigation has found.

Despite a crackdown on criminal checks in the wake of the "fake" Tahitian prince, Joel Morehu-Barlow, in the past year, 34 Queensland Health employees have faced further convictions and, of those, 11 remain employed.

They include several nurses and operational staff found guilty of drug-related charges, theft, wilful damage and assault.

Of those who lost their job since January 1, 2012, two were charged with murder and one with sexual assault, while another three were convicted of armed robbery, sexual assault and unlawful wounding.

A spreadsheet of Criminal History Advisory Panel decisions obtained by The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws, show decision-makers appointed a drug dealer to work in aged care in 2009 because, although the "conviction was serious, this occurred more than 25 years ago (and) there have been no convictions since then".

The length of time since the offence was given as the reason why Queensland Health gave the green-light for an armed robber to be hired in 2009, also in aged care, despite being sentenced to six years imprisonment (but only serving two) in 1983.

However, it was only three years after the conviction that Queensland Health hired another drug dealer as an "operational support officer" in the Torres Strait in 2010. The applicant was convicted and fined in the Magistrates Court in 2007 for supplying and possessing dangerous drugs and forgery.

In another case, a student "social worker" was also given a job in 2011 after being jailed for 18 months in 2005 for supplying a prohibited drug because they had a "consistent employment history" and were "undertaking tertiary studies".

Other Queensland Health documents show crimes occurring on the job, including one nurse who faced court on 16 charges after allegedly withdrawing money from ATMs with debit cards stolen from patients, while another continued to pocket cab vouchers for several years before being caught.

Many more Queensland Health staff faced charges in the past year after allegedly committing fraud, stalking a co-worker, stealing drugs such as morphine or pethidine, accessing child pornography or were found in possession of methamphetamine.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg acknowledged three employees who were hired despite particularly serious convictions, one of rape in 1998, one of robbery in 1999 and one of unlawful killing in 1997, were still employed.

"Less than 200 employees sought and were approved for Queensland Health employment with a criminal conviction," Mr Springborg said.

"That's just a quarter of a per cent of Queensland Health staff."

Mr Springborg said background criminal history checks had tightened since Morehu-Barlow was caught siphoning off more than $16 million of taxpayers' money while working at Queensland Health.

"Queensland Health has protocols that require background criminal history checks ... these were expanded to include checks of the criminal record in New Zealand in July 2012," Mr Springborg said.

"Administrative arrangements for 'grants', such as those exploited by Joel Barlow, have been reviewed by the former Auditor-General, Glenn Poole. The majority of these have been redesignated as service agreements, and their accounting obligations tightened."


27 June, 2013

The comedy act of the day:  Latham likens Rudd to a snake

"Biffo" never changes.  He still hates everyone,  particularly members of his own party

FORMER Labor leader Mark Latham has likened Kevin Rudd to a rat and a "snake in the pit" for ousting Julia Gillard from The Lodge.

Mr Latham, who lost the ALP leadership in 2005, described Mr Rudd's win over Ms Gillard in Wednesday's leadership ballot as the victory of a saboteur.

He said the message Mr Rudd was sending to Australia's youth was "to stab people in the back".

"It's to be a rat and a snake in the pit - that's the message that Kevin Rudd sends," Mr Latham told Fairfax radio.

He said Labor has "lost all sense of any moral perspective on how to conduct themselves".

"It's to leak to Laurie Oakes without having the guts to put your name to your words, it's to destabilise, it's to go behind people's backs."

Mr Latham said he doubted Mr Rudd had changed since being toppled as prime minister in 2010.

"Does it look like he's changed? All those lies about his intentions, all those lies about not wanting to challenge again," Mr Latham said.

"The saboteur of 2010 is now the leader of the 2013 election campaign."


NSW government to introduce new bed tax on public housing tenants with spare bedrooms

The same policy in Britain caused quite an uproar recently but it is plainly just

PUBLIC housing tenants with spare bedrooms will be charged a weekly tax as the state government commits to moving 500 people a year into smaller accommodation.

Community Services Minister Pru Goward will today announce details of the controversial bed tax, which will be charged to all public housing tenants who have an extra bedroom and refuse to move to a smaller property.

Singles with extra bedrooms will be charged an extra $20 a week, and couples will be charged an extra $30 a week under the tax.

Ms Goward said there were more than 17,000 public housing properties with three or more rooms that are occupied by singles or couples, and she is prepared to cop some resistance to the idea.

"I ask all the tenants with vacant bedrooms in their property to think about the needy families with children who remain on the waiting list," Ms Goward said.

"These tenants should think about putting up their hand to move to a more suitably sized property.

"The government has looked at a number of ways to encourage more families with children into multi-bedroom homes and were unsuccessful. We need a stronger incentive."

The government expects to reap $2.2 million from the rehousing of tenants, but Ms Goward said it was not a revenue-raising scheme.

The state government will target suburbs with high numbers of public housing tenants with extra rooms, where there are large numbers of families on the waiting list that need those rooms. It is understood Liverpool, Mount Druitt and Shellharbour will be the first suburbs targeted when the push begins in September.

Ms Goward said tenants would only be charged the tax if they refused to move: "Everybody will benefit, existing tenants will be rehoused more quickly, families waiting for help will receive it sooner and the NSW taxpayer whose dollars will be used more efficiently (will benefit)."

Blake Johan, 21, was born with cerebral palsy and his family of four have been on the government housing waiting list for seven years. They currently live in private housing.

Blake's father, Dean, said the bed tax initiative was a good way to get the right residents into the right homes.

"If they're not using the room they should be paying extra for it," Mr Johan, from Barrack Heights, said.

"There's plenty of people waiting and waiting."


Australian children's education dropping further against world standards

THROWING money at schools is no guarantee children will do well, with Australian student performance declining on most international scales despite increased funding.

Despite enjoying a growth in public spending of more than four times the OECD average, test results across most rankings have fallen, according to a snapshot of world education released yesterday.

It comes as Julia Gillard used her final caucus meeting to confirm education reform will be a key focus of Labor's election campaign.

With Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia unlikely to sign on to Gonski before the Prime Minister's June 30 deadline this Sunday, heated debate over school funding is set to continue in the lead up to the September election.

The new data also reveals Australian teachers are among the best paid in the world.  Teachers' salaries are above the OECD average and have risen steadily, some 13 per cent since 2000 at all education levels.

This increase is below the OECD average salary rise of 17 per cent however, teachers in Australia earn 91 per cent of the salary of other workers similar age and education level, compared with an average of as little as 80 per cent.

The Education at a Glance report said spending on schools in Australia increased by 24 per cent between 2008 and 2010 - more than four times the average increase of five per cent.

Education experts said the data was proof "the system isn't working".

"When you have that sort of substantial increase in expenditure and you are not getting improved effectiveness or an increase in student outcomes, it's just clear evidence that we are spending in the wrong areas," Dr Ben Jensen, director of school policy for the Grattan Institute, said.

Dr Jensen said spending on "fads" such as laptops for every child had contributed to the problem.

"This is only partly to do with the federal government. This is also an issue for the state governments and the non government sector as well, which are wasting just as much money," he said.

The Prime Minister's national plan for school improvement, or Gonski reforms, pledge to restore Australian schoolkids to the top five countries by 2025. In the most recent international ranking, released last December, Australian Year 4 students came 27th in reading.

But Dr Kevin Donnelly from the Education Standards Institute said the return to the top of international rankings "won't happen without significant changes" to how schools are run.

"Just spending money for spending sake doesn't make sense. There is a lot of evidence that even with increased expenditure standards haven't gone up," he said.

"If you look at some of those countries that outperform Australia in testing, they spend a lot less money."

Improved curriculum quality, better teachers and a stronger focus on discipline were all contributors to student success, he said.


A failed last throw:  Unmarried and barren feminist tries to win the Mumsy vote.  Stunt backfires

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been accused of spinning a yarn after a PR stunt to show off her domestic skills unravelled yesterday.

The Welsh-born leader came under fire for incongruous photos showing her knitting a toy kangaroo present for Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby.

The photo-shoot for Australian Women’s Weekly show the prime minister  - often criticised for her perceived lack of homemaking instincts -  sat in an armchair surrounded by balls of wool and her dog Reuben faithfully by her feet.

‘It’s a cute project to work on,’ she said.  ‘In terms of knitting for Kate’s baby - I knit for babies, in part, because they are smaller projects.  ‘I’ve got not that much time in my life. You can get them done and there’s a sense of satisfaction in having completed it,’ she added.

But the pictures of homely bliss caused her critics to drop their stitches.  They dismissed the domesticated scene as a ‘contrived’, saying Gillard has long made a habit of rejecting feminine presentations.

One columnist wrote she was  ‘giving encouragement to young female politicians by plying a hobby now synonymous with mad old aunts.’

Nationals Senator Fiona Nash said the photos showed ‘a lack of connection’ with the Australian public.

The PM’s press office insisted it was not just a PR opportunity -  even though the magazine said the idea for the shoot came from her spin doctors.

Christopher Pyne, Liberal MP, told reporters: 'We know the prime minister is good at spinning a yarn - and now we have the picture to prove it.'

Gillard, 51, from, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, has been subjected to several personal attacks recently.

The sexuality of her partner was questioned by an Australian radio host and barbed comments have been aimed at her figure - with friends saying she is the victim of infamous Australian male chauvinism.

Others questioned how her knitting for the royal baby sat with her strong republican stance.

'I campaigned for a yes case. We will get there again,' she told the magazine.

'There is a real sense of respect for the Queen, so I do think a natural moment to look again will be when her reign comes to an end.

‘Prince William and Kate, and their child will still be personalities in Australia; people will still follow their lives with interest,’ she said.


26 June, 2013

Illegal imigrants dilute charity resources

PROCEEDS from the $5.3 million Vinnies CEO Sleep Out will be shared with asylum seekers, leaving one high-profile participant "disappointed".

Dozens of high-profile business leaders slept rough for a night last week to raise the money for the St Vincent de Paul Society's homeless services, which also help asylum seekers.

Australian Hotels Association CEO Paul Nicolaou, who is also a former Liberal Party state candidate, raised $88,000 and says he is "disappointed" a charity like Vinnies is needed to help asylum seekers paid 89 per cent of the dole.

"There are 100,000 people who are homeless across the country. If we are allowing refugees to go on the streets and not providing for them and it has to be funded by charities like St Vincent De Paul, there is a huge problem, the federal government needs to pick up its act," said Mr Nicolaou, who is nursing a cold after his night on the streets.

"The resources (of St Vincents) are needed to help existing people."

The Coalition condemned the government for putting more than 14,000 asylum seekers into the community and leaving charities to provide additional support.

"Labor's community dumping policy of illegal boat arrivals is occurring without any consultation or thought for the consequences on communities and organisations like St Vincent de Paul who do their best to provide much needed services to our most needy," Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor's spokesman said the welfare payments to asylum seekers were "adequate but not generous" because the government did not "want the provision of support to be an incentive that encourages people to put their lives in the hands of people smugglers".

A spokeswoman for the charity said it did not discriminate and some of those assisted would be refugees living in the community.

"The St Vincent de Paul Society provides assistance to the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our community and has done so, without discrimination, for close to 160 years in Australia," she said.

"The Society in NSW runs over 30 homeless services across the state assisting men, women and children including rehabilitation and learning centres. The society assists all people at risk of or experiencing homelessness and this would include people living in our community as refugees."

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr told caucus colleagues that Iranians were coming to Australia by boat to escape an economy crippled by international sanctions, not to flee persecution.

Mr Carr also told colleagues people smugglers were fuelling the trade and the economic boat migrants were taking places from the humanitarian program for genuine refugees.

Of the more than 13,000 people who have arrived this year, 4136 have been from Iran, compared to just 2749 for all of last year.

Mr Carr's comments came during a fiery caucus meeting, during which Victorian backbench MP Laura Smyth told Mr O'Connor the government's no-advantage policy was "indefensible."

Under the policy, asylum seekers could be left in the community without their refugee claims being processed for as long as they would have waited if they were in an overseas camp.


Melbourne households will suffer an increase of up to $222 a year in water bills, mainly to pay for Greenie desal plant

Melbourne water bills will rise between $167 and $222 in the coming financial year.

WATER bills for Melbourne households will surge up to $222 a year, mainly to pay for the southern hemisphere's biggest desalination plant.

The drain from July 1, approved by the Essential Services Commission, means costs have more than doubled in six years for many families.

Customers with the biggest three retailers face average 19 to 25 per cent annual price rise before inflation, then CPI rises for the following four years.

ESC analysis reveals that once inflation forecasts are factored in, typical residential bills for Yarra Valley, South East and City West Water will climb 33 to 40 per cent over five years.

That is before any water is drawn from the controversial $24 billion Wonthaggi desal plant.

ESC chairman Dr Ron Ben-David said that "two-thirds to three-quarters" of the new increase covered desal plant costs.

2Yarra Valley bills for an average home will rise $222 in 2013-14, and by an estimated total of $354 over five years.

South East Water's will rise $221 initially, and by $344 by 2017-18.

City West customers face a $168 jump next financial year, and a $282 rise over five years.

Bills for Western Water, which is less exposed to the desalination plant, will increase $47 next financial year and $270 for five years, up 28 per cent.

Customers will be slugged a total of $12 billion over five years. This is about $1 billion less than requested after the regulator identified savings from lower financing, labour and energy costs.

"This represents a significant reduction from the increases originally proposed by the businesses," Dr Ben-David said.

Consumer Action chief executive Gerard Brody said: "The community should be pleased the ESC has made a genuine effort to limit price rises but, for those households already struggling to pay their bills, this will hit hard."


Australian economy set to record 22 years of consecutive growth

THIS coming Sunday evening, the Australian economy will achieve a remarkable milestone, closing off the books on 22 years of consecutive economic growth.

It will be a remarkable achievement. But it will mask enormous turmoil in the Australian economy.

And, of course, the more important question is: where to from here?

The winds of economic change have been blowing a gale. But the Prime Minister is right: we're going to be OK.

On Monday, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, delivered a warning against "unreasonable pessimism" about Australia's economic future.

There are indeed reasons for optimism, which I will get to.  But it is also important to recognise the period of intense economic change we have all lived through since the global financial crisis.

The economy today is barely recognisable to the one Labor inherited just five and a half short years ago.

On the eve of the global financial crisis, the Australian economy was growing between 4 and 5 per cent a year.

Economic growth today is running at 2.5 per cent - far from recession territory - but below its long term average of about 3.25 per cent.

The inflation genie that so troubled the later years of the Howard government has been vanquished.

Just prior to the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers in late 2008, Australia's rate of inflation hit a whopping 5 per cent. Today, it's a tepid 2.5 per cent.

Lower inflation has meant sharply lower interest rates.

The Reserve Bank's official cash rate stood at an eye-watering 6.75 per cent in the last few months of the Howard government, no doubt contributing to the mood of discontent.

Today the cash rate is at an historic low of 2.75 per cent, providing much relief for mortgageholders.

We survived the global financial crisis - thanks to China, interest rate cuts and the Rudd Government's quick stimulus - but it has hardly been plain sailing since then.

Australia's jobless rate has begun a slow march north, from 4 per cent in early 2008 to 5.5 per cent.

The high Aussie dollar has sounded the death knell for many manufacturers. Ford Australia is closing its doors and Holden is warning of more to come.

It is difficult to understate the enormity of the changes being wrought on the Australian economy right now by a still high Australian dollar and the winding down of the mining boom.

The reforms of the 1980s which made our economy more flexible - like floating the dollar and decentralising wage bargaining - have allowed the economy to undergo a period of intense structural change.

More recently, the tidal wave of mining investment has crested and its pullback will detract from growth in coming years.

Sharemarkets have been on the slide in recent weeks on market expectations central banks in the United States and China will soon start tightening policy, bringing to an end the days of cheap money.

But there are silver linings to a lot of these economic storm clouds.

It would be a good thing if China's maturing economic growth could be made more sustainable by authorities there curbing a recent credit boom.

Similarly, the world's biggest economy - America - is picking itself up off the floor, meaning the central bank there will soon stop printing money.

As the rest of the world recovers, other currencies are becoming more attractive to investors, meaning the Australian dollar has taken a tumble to around US92 cents.

Again, this is a good thing.

The falling Aussie dollar will relieve pressure on our struggling industries such as manufacturing, education services and tourism, all of which are significant employers.

In another positive development, mining investment has peaked, but exports remain strong and will continue to contribute to national income.

And it's only a matter of time before housing construction picks up, given you can walk into a bank and get a home loan rate with a "4" in front. And rates can go even lower still.

Meanwhile, Australian households are sitting on a war chest of savings, having spent the last five years using lower interest rates to pay off their mortgage faster.

This is a very different economy than it was six years ago. But we're managing the transition surprisingly well, so far.

There will, of course, always been doomsayers.

The investment bank Goldman Sachs recently predicted there is a 20 per cent chance Australia's dream run of 22 years consecutive growth will soon end in recession.

Their central case, however, remains that growth slows to 2 per cent this year and 1.9 per cent next year as the mining investment boom wanes and the dollar remains relatively high.

"While a recession in Australia is possible we believe there is still time for the economy to respond to the combination of better global growth, domestic policy stimulus, and a lower Australian dollar."

I'm not a betting man, but 80 per cent odds of success sound pretty good to me.


Victoria to tighten parole laws in wake of Jill Meagher's murder, to be 'the toughest in Australia'

Victoria's Premier says the state's new parole laws, which will make breaching parole a criminal offence, will be the toughest in Australia.

Under the new laws, which will be introduced in the Victorian Parliament later this week, breaching parole will now be classed as a separate offence.

A breach of parole may mean breaking a curfew, or breaching an alcohol ban.

Denis Napthine says he found it extraordinary that breaching parole was not already an offence in Victoria.

The penalty for breaching parole includes up to three months' jail, and or a $4,200 fine.

"The bill also gives police new powers to arrest and charge a parolee for a breach of parole terms and conditions, whether or not it involves further offending," Dr Napthine said.

"This means police effectively have extra powers to deal with parolees before they have committed further offences, by arresting them for parole braches and putting them back behind bars."

While police will have the power to detain people suspected of breaching parole, it does not say for how long people can be detained before they are charged.

The legislation will also require police to notify the parole board of any alleged breach with 12 hours.
'Listening to the community'

The further toughening of the parole regulations come in the wake of the murder of ABC employee Jill Meagher.

Convicted killer Adrian Earnest Bayley raped and murdered Ms Meagher last year while on parole, in a case which sparked outrage amongst the community and criticism of the Parole Board.

Dr Napthine says the move will make Victoria's parole laws the toughest in Australia.

"Anybody who breaches the conditions of their parole will be taken off the streets," he said.

"The further strengthening of our parole system is what the community expects and this is what the Coalition Government is delivering."

The changes build on reforms passed earlier this year.

Dr Napthine says the Government is listening to the community's concerns.

"Our community Victoria has a fundamental right to protection and safety," he said.

"It's absolutely essential that we have the laws and the police powers in Victoria to make sure we have a safer community."

Corrections Minister Edward O'Donohue says the Government has also commissioned former High Court justice Ian Callinan to carry out a review of the Adult Parole Board's Operations.

He says a review is currently underway.

"These sweeping changes to Victoria's parole system form part of the strengthening of law and order in Victoria, which the Coalition was elected implement," Mr O'Donohue said.

"These reforms include the recruitment of an addition 1,700 police and 940 Protective Service Officers to patrol railway stations in Melbourne and regional centres, and the introduction of tougher sentencing, in line with community expectations."

Opposition MP Jill Hennessy says Labor will work with the Coalition to reform the system.

"We will look forward to working co-operatively with the Government to try to insure we are able to address the deficiencies that have been so painfully identified in recent times," she said.


Google protect crooks

Google can be very high-handed in dealing with those who use their services.  They seem to see us as disposable trash.  Which is fair enough, I suppose.  You get what you pay for and most Google services are free.

I think it is a cause of concern, however, when they protect crooks at the expense of the general public.  If crooks can cover their tracks, they can go on deceiving and ripping off people.

And Google DO protect crooks.  If some crook asks for a report of his misdeeds to be deleted, Google will delete it from their servers.  They can't be bothered weighing up the rights and wrongs of complaints, apparently.  So crooks appear to have a completely open go to sanitize their record.

That has happened to me twice now.  Two shady gentlemen in Australia about whom I had blogged succeeded in getting my blog posts taken down by Google.  I reproduce below the latest takedown notice and a follow-up notice when I attempted to protest. Google have effectively blocked any communication from me.

The shady characters are Paul Darveniza and Ali Davut Sarikaya, also known as Dr David Kaye.  I have used one of my old Wordpress blogs to repost the news  items that Google deleted.  See here.  I would be obliged if people would link to it.  We might get justice back on the road that way.

Blogger blog takedown notification

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25 June, 2013

Tony Abbott attacks Gillard over restrictions on legal immigration

Pauline Hanson is a generally conservative independent politician who is known for her criticism of Asian immigration.  Many of the skilled workers whom Gillard wants to bar are also Asian.  Abbott is generally sympathetic to minorities so is appalled by Gillard's stance

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has called Julia Gillard worse than Pauline Hanson and used the government's chief spin doctor's foreign worker visa to attack and mock legislation to crackdown on 457 visas.

After accusing the government of "dog whistling" and creating a distraction from its failure to stop tens of thousands of asylum seekers arriving on boats, Mr Abbott told Parliament the Prime Minister was dividing Australia.

"I never thought I would see the day it wouldn't just be an independent Member of Parliament, a disendorsed member of a political party but it would be the PM of this country (seeking) to deliberately divide Australian from Australian to serve a political purpose, it is an embarrassment," he said.

The proposed laws which would force employers to market test and advertise to prove no Australian was available to fill a position was "false patriotism from a failing government," he claimed.

Mr Abbott mocked Ms Gillard's head of communications John McTernan, who is working in Australia on a 457 visa, calling his employment a case of "complete hypocricy."

"I've got nothing against the Prime Minister having someone working in her own office on a 457 visa, if he is the only person who can do the job, fair enough," he said, mocking the new legislation.

"For all I know there wasn't a single Australian capable of giving political advice to the current Prime Minister. For all I know not a single Australian wanted the job.

"I don't say that person is stealing the job of an Australian, I assume that person is making a unique and special contribution to our country. But if it is right in the PM's office, why isn't right for the other employers in this country?

"If the PM didn't have to advertise, if the PM didn't have to engage in six months of labour market testing why should every other employer in this country?"

He claimed the government "can't get tough on illegal arrivals by boat so they've decided to get tough on legal arrivals by plane."

"It is happening because this government has a political problem. Never mind the facts, never mind that everyone who has seriously looked at this knows the system is working well and if there are one or two problems or abusers they can be sorted out in the normal course of events," he said.

"The government has got a political problem, so what do they do? They look for someone to blame, they look for more people to demonise in their attempt to hold onto office.

"This government has a serious political problems, it's the border protection disaster which has meant since August 2008 we've had more than 700 illegal boats, we have had more than 44,000 illegal arrivals by boat. A problem this government cannot solve, a problem this government has effectively surrendered to the people smugglers."


ALP MPs kept in dark on disastrous Labor poll which predicts election wipeout

AN internal ALP report containing polling for 40 seats across Australia, and circulated among selected members of Julia Gillard's leadership group, shows Labor would be lucky to retain 30 to 35 seats after the election.

But the report has not been shared with most Labor MPs.

The Daily Telegraph has obtained data from the party's UMR research report compiled for the ALP national secretariat in the past two weeks.

It shows that in NSW, the swing against Labor is 10 to 12 per cent on average and warns it would lose 12 seats in NSW, the majority in Sydney.

In WA, the report warns of a wipe-out with the party unlikely to retain any seats, but for the outside chance of keeping Fremantle.

In SA, it would keep only two seats, including Kingston.

It would lose all four seats in Tasmania. The polling report shows that independent Andrew Wilkie would keep Denison, however.

It would also lose its two seats in the Northern Territory. In Victoria, it has forecast the loss of eight seats.

And in Queensland, Labor would be left with only Kevin Rudd's seat of Griffith and possibly the seat of Oxley.

A senior ALP source confirmed that a select group of cabinet ministers in the leadership group were aware of the report but had declined to circulate it or share the results with MPs at risk of losing their seats.

It warns that Labor, with an overall primary vote of 32 per cent, would likely only retain between 30 and 35 seats in the 150 seat House of Representatives - a loss of more than half its existing MPs.

The report showing the polling results of 40 seats across the country also reveals that the swings were twice as bad in seats held by Labor than those it didn't hold - confirming the electorate was now intent on punishing Labor.

"This reduces us to a rump. I'm not sure people realise this is going to be a defeat of the likes the Labor Party has never seen," the ALP source said.

Several MPs last night, when told of the report, demanded that the results be shared with the caucus.

The polling report comes on the back of analysis by The Daily Telegraph warning that Labor would also likely be stripped of any influence in the Senate, with the Coalition being delivered command of the numbers in both houses of parliament.

Yesterday Rudd supporter and veteran ALP strategist and campaigner Bruce Hawker warned that the Labor Party and the trade union movement risked oblivion if it lost its ability to influence the Senate - with Labor and the Greens likely to be able to command no more than 36 votes out of the 76.


Australia's banks are top of the world again

At the risk of being totally obnoxious, I note that about half of my portfolio is in Australian bank stock

Australia's big four banks have been ranked the most profitable in the developed world for the third year running, reigniting criticism about their market dominance.

With big bank profits likely to exceed $26 billion this year, figures show the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and NAB made better returns last year than lenders in 10 major developed countries, including Canada, the US, Britain and Europe.

In figures to be published on Monday, the Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements says pre-tax profits of the big four were equal to 1.18 per cent of their total assets.

This puts Australian banks well ahead of all other wealthy countries on the list, with lenders only in the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China making better returns.

The league table shows Australian banks have lower costs than most of their peers and enjoy wider interest margins, a measure of profitability from lending. After the banks failed to pass on official interest rate cuts in full to borrowers last year, consumer group Choice seized on the results as a sign of feeble competition.

Its head of campaigns, Matt Levey, said the figures undermined bank claims that conditions were tough, an argument banks made last year to justify unpopular decisions on mortgage rates.

"It shows we have inadequate competitive pressure in that market. We still have don't have a situation where consumers are willing enough to look beyond the big four banks," he said.

"These are institutions which enjoy a privileged position in the community. They are supported to a huge extent by government and taxpayers and in return I don't think we are seeing the amount of competitive pressure that we deserve to see," he said.

The big four control 83 per cent of the lucrative mortgage market, after several smaller lenders were taken over during the global financial crisis.

In late 2010, the Gillard government made changes designed to put more competitive pressure on the big four and the issue will be examined again as part of a financial system inquiry if the Coalition wins government in September.

But the chief executive of the Australian Bankers' Association, Steven Munchenberg, said the banks' superior profits were explained by the economy's resilience. Most other countries on the list had been in the economic doldrums in recent years.

"There's a little bit of the Steven Bradbury effect - we've been doing so well because everyone else has fallen over," Mr Munchenberg said.

"The big difference between Australia and the rest of the world is we've had 20 plus years of uninterrupted economic growth."

But even before the crisis, the figures show Australian banking was a highly profitable business. Among developed countries, only the US had more profitable banks between 2000 and 2007.

In response to a sharp slowdown in loan growth since the global financial crisis, banks have embarked on deep job cuts. The Finance Sector Union says the big four cut more than 3300 positions last year, and 1300 jobs so far this year.

After it emerged last week that ANZ was considering sending 590 jobs overseas, the union's national secretary Leon Carter said the profit numbers from the Bank for International Settlements showed banks were "sacrificing" their staff for shareholder gain. The figures also showed Australian banks' operating costs were the fourth lowest among their peers after Sweden, France and Japan, at 1.19 per cent of assets.

Net interest margins were third highest among banks in developed countries, while provisions for bad loans were in the middle of the pack.

The BIS also ranked Australian banks as the most profitable in the developed world in 2011 and 2010. The latest report said Australian banks had "consolidated" the gains of previous years.


Spring Gully offers creditors full payment

A victory for sentiment.  I am pleased to say that I too bought some of their products recently, via Dick Smith. 

Background: A small family firm that has been making quality products for generations was losing out to cheap supermarket brands largely sourced from overseas.  Sympathy was aroused

Jams and pickles maker Spring Gully and its administrator say creditors can expect to be paid in full, in instalments, if they approve a management plan at a meeting next Monday.

Copies of a deed of company arrangement were sent to creditors last week by administrator Austin Taylor.

They outlined a return to profitable levels for Spring Gully's normal business operations due to strong sales and said creditors would get an initial downpayment then quarterly payments until the debt was cleared.

Spring Gully managing director Kevin Webb said strong support from shoppers had allowed the offer to repay 100 cents in the dollar.

"The support that we've been given by our consumers, everybody to be honest, through the corporate world, the media, through our customers, other retailers and I think we all know that the support has been absolutely amazing for Spring Gully," he said.

"Through that support, and what's been happening over the last two months as we've traded very strongly, we've been able to put together this proposal that, if the creditors decide to accept it on the first of July, we will then sign that with our creditors and move forward."

After Spring Gully ran into financial strife this year, retailers and customers showed overwhelming support for its range of food products.


24 June, 2013

Another government computer boondoggle

When will they ever learn?  Tailor-made computer programs rarely work.  Buying "off the shelf" is the only hope

The disastrous $180 million Victorian school intranet could be scrapped at the end of the month prompting fears that months of student work and reports would be lost.

The four-year contract with NEC to run the troubled network has not been renewed days before it expires on June 30, with a decision yet to be reached on its future.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said the government was committed to protecting the Victorian education system from the "Ultranet debacle", which he said the Auditor-General had confirmed was "botched from conception to implementation by the former Labor government".

Mr Dixon said the Ultranet had already cost Victorian taxpayers at least $180 million – three times its original budget – despite being used by only 4 per cent of the intended 1.5 million teachers, parents and students.

"While it is unfortunate that current negotiations are now public, we will continue to work towards extracting whatever value we can for Victorian schools from this failed Labor program," Mr Dixon said.

Ian McKenzie, the principal of Alkira Secondary College – one of 18 schools to pioneer the Ultranet – said he had a teacher desperately archiving material from the Ultranet to ensure it was not lost.

"What about the student work sitting there, the teacher observations ... I'm scared what might happen to all the information on it," Mr McKenzie said.

"The blood, sweat and tears that has gone into the Ultranet and the work teachers put in – it's soul destroying. I have to face parents who took me on face value when I said: 'This is the best thing since sliced bread – every school is going to be using it in the future."

Troy Moncur, the leading ICT teacher at Nichols Point Primary, has started an online petition urging Premier Denis Napthine and Mr Dixon to save the Ultranet.

He said 52 schools now used the Ultranet to provide parents with fortnightly updates on their child's progress instead of generic outdated report cards in June and December. Four thousand reports had been published on the Ultranet in the last week alone.

"Staff are worried about the stuff they have put up – photos, comments ... if it's going to be terminated at the end of the financial year that wipes off 18 months of history of kids' work and activities. We are not sure what to do."

"NEC Australia is working with governments across the globe, particularly in China and the Middle East, who are interested in adopting the Ultranet," NEC Australia spokesman Heath Caban said.

The Ultranet, promised by the former government before the 2006 state election, was designed to provide a state-wide secure network that would enable parents to view their child's timetables, school work, academic progress and attendance and teachers to share curricula.

The project was dogged from the start by inadequate planning, cost blow-outs and failed tenders. A disastrous training day in 2010, which left 42,000 teachers unable to log on when the system crashed at 9am, also delayed the rollout of the Ultranet in schools.

A scathing Victorian Auditor General's report late last year found it had failed to deliver the promised benefits and had been shunned by schools.

The audit also revealed serious "probity lapses" surrounding the tendering of the Ultranet, with the budget expected to blow out to three times what was first intended in 2006.

Victorian Auditor-General Des Pearson said it was difficult to understand how the Ultranet went ahead when the Education Department was advised the project should cease or be delayed.

He recommended the Education Department review its internal tendering, probity and financial management practices in light of the serious issues identified by the audit.

The debacle is the latest in a string of government IT projects gone bad. Victoria's CenITex agency was found to be riddled with nepotism and black cheque misuse last year, while Queensland Health's payroll system debacle is still the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

However, Australian Government's Chief Information Officer Glen Archer has said government IT projects are "not well understood" by the wider community.


Judges wiping young repeat offenders' criminal records clean

YOUNG offenders who repeatedly commit serious assaults, break-ins and other crimes are having their records wiped by higher courts.

Magistrates are recording convictions against offenders given numerous chances, but their decisions are being overturned on review.

In one case this year, a teen involved in a brutal bashing of a man lured through a fake Facebook profile of a woman had his conviction removed.

The cases raise more questions about whether laws are too heavily weighted against the recording of convictions for juvenile offenders.

They come as Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie gave his strongest indication yet that he would make all juvenile criminal history admissible in adult courts for the first time.

"Some young people make stupid mistakes and do deserve a chance to turn their lives around but I believe serious, repeat offenders shouldn't be able to hide behind their age like they can now," he said.

"I am considering making all criminal juvenile history admissible in adult courts, whether a conviction was recorded or not."

The Courier-Mail revealed in March that three in every four juveniles sentenced for assaults and sexual offences in the past three years did not have convictions recorded.

Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey said at the time that there was "legitimate community concern" about how convictions were recorded against juveniles.

The Courier-Mail can today detail a series of cases where repeat or serious offenders had their criminal records scrubbed clean.

Childrens Court judges have deleted convictions imposed by magistrates in at least 14 published decisions since last year.

In one case, a Far North Queensland teenager had convictions recorded against him on his fifth and sixth appearances in court.

The youth went on to commit other offences but a judge removed the original convictions from his record.

Another case involved a Mackay teenager who had convictions recorded on his third court appearance, for offences including car theft and burglary.

He went on to face court a further five times, but a judge removed the convictions from his record.

A Mt Isa teenager claimed he was unaware convictions were recorded against him for break-ins and had them removed by a Childrens Court judge on review.

Glen Cranny, chair of the The Queensland Law Society's criminal law section, yesterday said there was "good reason" for a different criminal justice system for youths.

"That is, that they should be considered separately to adults in terms of their vulnerability and continuing emotional, cognitive and physical development, so different considerations do apply," he said.

"The society's view is that children do deserve special consideration.  "That is obviously a challenging proposition sometimes when some of the most disgraceful child offending is considered. 

"But in those instances convictions can be recorded of course, subject to judicial officers' discretion.  "We say it's a matter that should be really left by and large to the judge who has all the facts of the case at his or her disposal."

The default position of courts under the Youth Justice Act and appeal decisions is convictions are not recorded for juveniles.

If a youth offender is later in court as an adult, their juvenile criminal history can only be taken into account where convictions are recorded.

Employers asking for criminal histories also do not have to be told of any juvenile offences unless convictions are recorded.

Magistrates and judges considering convictions must take into account the nature of the offence, the child's age and impacts on rehabilitation and future employment.

Mr Bleijie is conducting a major review of the state's juvenile justice system as part of a promised crackdown on youth crime.

Under one reform being considered, all juvenile history would be made admissible in adult courts regardless of whether convictions are recorded.

He yesterday said 68 per cent of 3159 respondents to a government Safer Streets crime survey in March believed the measure would be effective or very effective.

Judges had "wide discretion" to vary sentences, including the power to revoke or record convictions, he said.

"It is important that magistrates and judges maintain their discretion when recording convictions as the circumstances of each case can vary significantly," Mr Bleijie said.

"The recording of convictions can also be relevant to future employment prospects."

In other possible reforms, young offenders in detention could be automatically transferred to an adult prison when they turn 17.

More "naming and shaming" of young offenders, the removal of detention as a last resort and a new offence for breaching bail are also being considered.

Mr Cranny said the society had raised concerns with the Attorney-General about many of the changes.

"We haven't seen any empirical evidence to suggest that there is a trend of concern or increasing reason for concern," he said.

"The society's view always is that law reform in this area, in all areas, should be based on proper research, empirical evidence and not based on anecdotal evidence or nebulous concepts like community feedback.

"For that reason we don't share the same belief that there needs to be substantial changes to the youth justice framework as it currently stands."

Justice de Jersey and Childrens Court president Judge Michael Shanahan declined to comment yesterday.


Politically incorrect food names in Australia

IS a Redskin an indigenous American or something to chew over and do little chocolate baby lollies offend you or are they simply delicious.

The racial overtones of Redskins lollies, featured as an ingredient on last night's MasterChef lollybag cake challenge, revives debate over the naming conventions of some of our favourite chewy treats.

The original Redskins wrapping featured a feather-bonneted indigenous American with a bright-red face, but that disappeared long ago.

The chocolate-flavoured and brown-coloured jelly babies we call Chicos, would also be unlikely to see the light of day in the politically conservative US.

"Public standards, apart from politics, in civility have changed dramatically over the years," said social historian Professor Janet McCalman, from the University of Melbourne.

Professor McCalman rejects the term political correctness, preferring community standards of civility, which she says extend across a whole range of things.

"If you really want to dig, there are all sorts of stereotypes which exist in advertising," she said offering attractive blondes, red-headed children, "cheap" Scotsman and public health dangers "caused" by Asiatics as examples.

"We are a lot more sensitive about what you can or cannot say."

But before falling victim to political-correctness in the late 1970s, American sweets included Cherry Chan Candy and Candy Crafter Peppermint Coolies featuring a Chinese face under a conical hat.

A Canadian tourist was shocked to discover Eskimo lollies on sale in New Zealand, saying the word Eskimo was unacceptable in her country and the indigenous people of Canada preferred Inuit. Meanwhile, while they are not food, Maori cigarettes are sold in Israel.

Scottish shortbread, Welsh rarebit, Irish cream, Kiwifruit are a whole other debate.

* Redskins - considered an offensive term by native Americans.

* Chicos - a chocolate-flavoured and chocolate-coloured jelly baby some consider has racist overtones, offensive to people of Latin-American descent.

* Fags - the fake lolly cigarette was renamed and rebranded as Fads. The name was also considered offensive by homosexuals.

* Jewfish - now know as mulloway. In WA they fish for a species known locally as dhufish.

* Long or short black - What we know as a strong shot of coffee, most commonly found in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, is know in the US as Caffe Americano.

* Coon cheese - While the term is highly-offensive in the US, ironically it's creator is one Edward William Coon of Philadelphia, who patented a fast maturation method for cheese.

* Scalliwag biscuits - formerly known as Golliwogs, images of blackfaced, curly-haired cartoonish characters have been offensive for decades, but were revived in a skit on the now-defunct Hey! Hey! It's Saturday.

* Gaytime - Sydney chef and gay icon Christine Manfield deliberately chose the name of this ice-cream and re-created it as a dessert at her now-closed Universal restaurant in Darlinghurst.

* Kaffir lime - Kaffir is a derogatory Afrikaans term for black Africans or whites who associate closely with blacks. For this reason, some South Africans refer to the fruit as K-lime.

* Coles changed the name of its own-label biscuit Creole Creams after a Queensland academic advised the word Creole had been used in a racist way to describe a person of mixed European and African ancestry.


University corruption over admission of VC's stepdaughter to medical school continues

THE University of Queensland has not released a Crime and Misconduct Commission report into UQ's handling of internal misconduct complaints it first received almost a year ago, angering university staff who helped bring it about.

UQ refuses to reveal the content of the document, received in final form in April, even as its Chancellor, John Story, told The Courier-Mail how keen he was to see the CMC's long-awaited full report into the 2011 nepotism scandal that claimed the jobs of a former vice-chancellor and his deputy.

That report, which the CMC has been promising to table in Parliament for months, is expected to include elements of the "Quality Assurance Review" that UQ won't release.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the CMC provided a draft of the quality assurance report to then vice-chancellor, Debbie Terry, in July or August 2012 after interviewing more than a dozen University staff about their experiences of bringing complaints of misconduct against UQ management.

One senior academic interviewed for the review, who did not want to be named, said a CMC officer had told him in July 2012 the report was about to be provided in a publishable form "and it would be up to UQ whether it made it public".

UQ management's behaviour "suggests they're not prepared to abide by their statements that they will be accountable and transparent", the academic said.

A former senior UQ administrator said he and other staff had expected the report to be published and had been "very disappointed" when they realised last year it would not see the light of day.

UQ said former chair of Universities Australia, Emeritus Professor Gerard Sutton, and former parliamentarian, Dr David Watson, had "made themselves aware of the content of the draft CMC Quality Review" as part of their independent review.

But a spokeswoman said any questions about publishing the CMC report were a matter for the crime-fighting body.  "It's a CMC report," she said.

The CMC, which launched the review of UQ's internal complaint-handling processes on its own initiative in April 2012, declined to comment other than to confirm it had delivered the final report a year later.

UQ Chancellor John Story said this week: "It has been 17 months since the CMC announced that it was reviewing the (nepotism) matter. The matter has dragged on for far too long, and it is in everybody's best interests that it be resolved. We are looking forward to the finalisation of (their) report, and we are willing to accept any fair criticism of our handling of the matter and any reasonable suggestions for improvement."

The Courier-Mail revealed this month how the CMC had helped UQ deal with the reputation fallout from the nepotism scandal by tipping it off about media inquiries.


23 June, 2013

Gillard renews gender push

Pissing off male voters seems to be her shtick.  That half the voters are men seems to have escaped her.  Does Kevvy harp about  discrimination against men?  There's plenty of it.  See the divorce laws.

Her rant against Tony Abbott for his conventional views about sex differences got her adulation from feminists and puffed her up so next time she went all out against any man who wears a blue tie!   Quite insane and perceived as such

This latest push (below) will further reinforce her image as an obsessed feminist and confirm doubts among men about her fitness to lead the nation as a whole

She is just an angry screecher.  At least Kevvy smiles sometimes.  The ALP have got to  dump the shrew and bring  back Kevvy

The Gillard government will make a new pitch to female voters by announcing an inquiry into workplace discrimination against women taking parental leave when they are pregnant or caring for a baby.

Concern that women are being demoted, sacked or having their hours unfavourably "restructured" while on parental leave, or after their return to work, has prompted the inquiry by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

It will be announced on Saturday, less than three weeks after Prime Minister Julia Gillard tried to put gender at the centre of the election by suggesting women would be marginalised under an Abbott government.

The commission will conduct a national survey on the prevalence, nature and consequences of discrimination relating to pregnancy at work and return to work after parental leave.

After taking evidence from industry, employers, unions, other groups and victims of discrimination, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick will make recommendations on whether new laws are needed.

Ms Gillard said the inquiry, will be "pivotal" in assessing the scale of the problem and what should be done.

"It's very concerning that there are even anecdotal reports that people, particularly women, feel discriminated against when they are caring for young children," she told The Saturday Age.

The inquiry follows pressure from the ACTU to respond to evidence that one in three Australian women leaves the workforce permanently while pregnant or after having a child.

The chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Peter Anderson, welcomed the inquiry, saying: "Provided it is not a witch-hunt with preconceived views, this is a timely investigation."

It was supported by former attorney-general Nicola Roxon before she left the portfolio earlier this year. It will be announced on Saturday by her successor, Mark Dreyfus, Families Minister Jenny Macklin and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten.

The Prime Minister's standing with male voters dropped significantly in an Age/Nielsen Poll this week after Ms Gillard warned in a speech at the launch of the Women for Gillard support group that abortion could become the "plaything" of male politicians if there were a change of government.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said the inquiry was needed because too many families were struggling under a system that had "not evolved to take into account the modern family".

Ms Kearney said women continued to experience discrimination in the form of job loss, missed opportunity for promotion and training and even demotion when they returned to work "because many bosses out there just don't get it".

An ACTU survey of 42,000 women last year found that employer unwillingness to consider flexible work arrangements to help women return from parental leave was a primary cause of stress, forcing many to quit their job.

"It's illegal to discriminate against women for being pregnant but this hasn't stopped one in five women reporting that they have been disadvantaged in the workplace," Ms Kearney said.

A national online survey will be conducted in August ahead of an interim report by the commission in October. After three months of consultations with affected groups and individuals, the commission's final report will be presented in May next year.


The racism that adopted children endure in Australia (?)

I imagine that most of what the self-righteous woman below reports is roughly true, if exaggerated, but the issue is one of perspective not of truth.  All kids get picked on by other kids any time they are different.  I used to be abused at school for having no interest in sport, an almost criminal offence in a small country town.  But it was like water off a duck's back.  There is no stress-free life.  You just have to learn to cope with adversities that are beyond your control.  That she has so little to actually report shows in the fact that her last 3 paragraphs refer to things that happened in the 19th century!

And if people looked at her askance while she was changing a baby in the middle of a plane might there not be reasons for that other than the shape of the baby's eyes?  She is just a whinger determined to proclaim what a do-gooder she is

Susan Murphy

Changing a nappy on a plane isn’t easy and it didn’t help to know we were being watched. The eyes of our fellow passengers bored into the backs of our heads - the novice moves of new parents; alternative entertainment to the in-flight film. Our newly adopted son looked over my shoulder, and through eyes that might have been painted on with two strokes of black ink and a calligraphy brush, he watched them back. I like to imagine he was thinking, "Who are you to make judgements about me?”  Strapped into seats in a mass of genetic sameness, the cargo of people remained anonymous.  But we had committed a public act.  No longer protected by our middle Anglo ordinariness, we had adopted a baby from another country and joined a minority group.

At new mothers’ group Cherie liked to talk about the size of her baby’s penis and her sister’s plastic leg. She was good for me. She gave me insight into how some people think and I learned to refine my answers to the questions we would be asked for years to come about our children; to find a balance between lightness and brevity. I tried not to take myself too seriously. When she asked me: "How do you know he doesn’t have AIDS?” or "Was his mother a prostitute?”  I answered her patiently and refrained from snarling in return, "How could you call your child Talon?” When I saw her husband’s death notice in the paper a few years ago, I remembered Cherie and the early lessons she’d taught me.

But the lessons weren’t all about me. Racism emerged early when my son was called Ching Chong boy in the toilet block during his first week of primary school. He sensed that this was unchartered territory and was reluctant to tell me what had happened. The grade six perpetrator's path would intersect with ours again years later, in the inevitable way of country towns; with mine as a teacher of students who had dropped out of school and with my husband’s as the young man’s defence lawyer in court. The primordial urge to tear the boy apart with my bare hands, as I might have done had I got to him at the time of the  attack on my child, had subsided by then.

Racist comments have peppered the children’s school years and ranged from old favourites (I learnt as a child that ‘Chinamen’ kept coins in their ears), to the more creative, ‘Koreans fuck dogs to make bread’. My son has been called an Asian faggot on Facebook and told to go back to where he came from by strangers in the street. I have witnessed people talking to our children in the loud slow voice some people use when talking to people who don’t speak English, sometimes despite having just heard them speak. I have seen drastic improvements in helpfulness when someone on the other side of a counter realises we are together.  My son doesn’t leave the house on Australia Day; the Cronulla riots of 2005 struck a particular chord with him.  

People who live within the confines of an Anglo-Celtic world (many politicians for example) don’t believe Australia is a racist country because they don’t see it up close. We see it; sometimes blatant, often subtle. Ethnicity is worn like a national costume with judgments and assumptions attached. Negative stereotypes are slapped on the wearer like an armband. We squirm when we see North Koreans goose-stepping in a military parade or people destroying chickens during an outbreak of bird flu in China. We cringe when we hear politicians banging the populist drum about asylum seekers or 457 visas. Our hearts sink when we see footage of a woman on a train screaming at two young men that her grandfather had fought in the war to "keep black c---ts like you out of the country”.

In 1886 the anti Chinese cartoon named ‘The Mongolian Octopus’ reached across the pages of The Bulletin, his tentacles poised to squeeze the life out of ‘white’ Australian men, women and children.

The body depicts a menacing Chinese character with shaved head and bad teeth; the tentacles labelled with names of diseases, debauched pastimes and drugs. One of them is wrapped around a piece of furniture and labelled ‘Cheap Labour’.

Racist policies in Australia are no longer enshrined in laws such as the White Australia Policy but scratch the surface of commonly held views and the octopus still lurks. So spare a thought for the non-Anglo-Celtic Australians who live here too, particularly children; and remember: dog whistlers don’t bother whistling if there is no-one to whistle.


NSW criminals back on streets after five-minute parole hearing

The State Parole Authority is deciding to release murderers, sex offenders and other serious criminals based on initial deliberations lasting only five minutes "at the most", it has been claimed.

Noel Beddoe, who voluntarily left the authority at the end of last year, has written to Attorney-General Greg Smith outlining concerns that the "safety of the community wasn't always uppermost" in the parole process. On Friday NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell said he would like to see violent offenders locked away forever after a woman was allegedly assaulted by a criminal on parole, Terrence John Leary, on Wednesday evening.

A former secondary school principal of 20 years, Mr Beddoe said it was increasingly difficult to give complex cases the attention they deserved.

After "a minute's deliberation" at private meetings, authority members would make initial decisions on whether prisoners should be given parole. "The more complex ones [take] five minutes at most", he said. On one day before Christmas last year, authority members examined 106 matters in three hours.

Initial parole decisions for serious criminals who have served 12 years' jail or more go to a public hearing, where the Crown, Corrective Services, victims and the offender can make their case.

However, the authority makes the final decision.

For less serious criminals, the authority's earlier recommendation can lead to their release.

Mr Beddoe, who was appointed to the authority in June 2009, said the focus seemed to be getting inmates out of jail rather than whether they still posed a danger to the community. He also questioned the efficacy of inmate rehabilitation programs.

"The majority of inmate re-habilitation programs had never been evaluated," he said. "I raised the issue in policy planning meetings more than once only to be rebuffed. It always bemused me why a clear educative process wasn't entered into."

Terrence Leary, 46, is back in jail over the alleged attack on Wednesday, which happened while he was on parole for the murder of a 17-year-old girl in 1990. The parole authority had denied his bid for parole six times, believing he had not dealt with his offending behaviour.

However, he was released in August as he approached the end of his sentence.

"It's an appalling situation," Mr O’Farrell said. "Like members of the community, I’d like to see these people locked up forever and the key thrown away.

"But unfortunately, that’s not how the legal system in this country works."

After the Jill Meagher murder case in Melbourne, Mr O’Farrell said that Mr  Smith had asked Corrective Services NSW for a review of the handling of serious sex offenders on parole and other related matters.

Mr Smith has also asked retired Justice James Wood, QC, to examine the circumstances of Leary’s release. "I also have put the State Parole Authority on notice of the community concern,” Mr Smith said.

Martha Jabour, who has spent six years on the parole authority representing the interests of victims, said she believed the decision to release Leary was the right one.

She defended the parole release assessment. "It’s a very transparent process," she said.


Tony Abbott to detail plans to 'substantially increase' population of northern Australia

Shades of Albury/Wodonga and Whitlam's decentralization!  Still, it is true that Northern Australia is spectacularly under-used.  It is an enormous potential asset in theory but turning theory into practice is another thing.  Don't hold your breath

AUSTRALIANS could be offered new tax perks to move to north under a Coalition plan to "substantially increase" the populations of cities including Cairns and Townsville.

Public servants from the CSIRO and AQIS could be forced to move north and defence facilities in the region expanded as part of the plan.

Funds from Australia's foreign aid budget could also be used to pay for research into tropical diseases to tackle the risk of malaria and tuberculosis entering the country.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will today outline a raft of options to dramatically boost investment in northern parts of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

A Coalition policy options document sets targets to double Australia's agricultural output, attract two million foreign tourists a year to northern Australia and boost energy and resource exports. 

The plan does not commit the Coalition to any changes or provide any costings.  But Mr Abbott will pledge to produce a white paper with detailed proposals within 12 months if the Coalition wins the election.

The calls to boost investment in the north come as the Liberal National Party is actively wooing preferences from Bob Katter's party, especially in regional Queensland seats.  Mr Katter is a strong advocate of increasing population and economic activity to turn the north into a "food bowl" for Asia.  [Obsolete thinking.  Asia is now a net food EXPORTER.  It is its own food bowl.  Bob knows the North but he doesn't know the world well]

Options in Mr Abbott's plan include investigating new dams and groundwater projects to support an expansion of farming in northern Australia.

Infrastructure Australia could audit of all major projects in the region to set priority improvements over the next 15 years as part of the plan.  The Coalition will also soon commit new funding to the Bruce Highway, along with a faster timetable of upgrades.

Cairns, Townsville, Darwin and Karratha are targeted for massive population boosts, with a review of existing relocation payments and regional tax perks planned to encourage people to move to these cities.

Premier Campbell Newman and his WA and NT counterparts will be consulted on the plans and will be asked to audit regulations that discourage people from moving north.

"For too long, families have been reluctant to move to northern Australia because of the absence of adequate infrastructure and governments and the private sector have been reluctant to invest in major projects because of insufficient population," Mr Abbott said.

The Opposition Leader said developing northern Australia was the best way to tap into the booming economies of our Asian neighbours.

"We want to capitalise on northern Australia's existing strengths and natural advantages in agriculture, cattle, and energy as well as to seize opportunities in tourism, education and health services," he said.

"We are determined to break the ongoing development deadlock that has held northern Australia back for so long."


21 June, 2013

A moronic conversation about school "engagement"

The article below is from an academic Leftist  blog called the Conversation.  The blog is in a way aptly named as it is little more than a self-congratulatory conversation among  Leftists living in a little Leftist bubble

Both the original academic journal article ("The longitudinal association of childhood school engagement with adult educational and occupational achievement: findings from an Australian national study") and the discussion of it below ignore the elephant in the room:  IQ.

Smarter kids enjoy school more so are relatively more "engaged".  How do you think dummies feel at school?   And it is an IQ advantage which gives kids various advantages in later life.  All the stuff below is just waffle.  "Engagement" may have some separate benefit beyond IQ but the work below is incapable of telling us if it has.

Amusingly, the original authors controlled for: "age, sex, markers of socio-economic status in childhood, personality and school-level variables (i.e., number of students, single sex versus co-education; government, private or independent)" but left out IQ.  In the weird mental world of the Left, if you can't change it, it does not exist.  They were well aware of the problem of confounding but IQ was just too "incorrect" to mention, apparently

Children’s interest and engagement in school influences their prospects of educational and occupational success 20 years later, over and above their academic attainment and socioeconomic background, researchers have found.

The more children felt connected to their school community and felt engaged, rather than bored, the greater their likelihood of achieving a higher educational qualification and going on to a professional or managerial career.

The study from researchers at Menzies Research Institute Tasmania is published in the British Educational Research Journal.

The researchers used data from the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health study, which collected health-related data from school children aged nine to 13 years, and again 20 years later when they were young adults.

The research team created a "school engagement index” using questionnaire items on school enjoyment and boredom, including items such as motivation to learn, sense of belonging, participation in school or extra-mural activities and enjoyment of physical activity.

They found that each unit of school engagement was independently associated with a 10% higher chance of achieving a post-compulsory school education at some point during the next 20 years, including as a mature age student.

And those who were engaged at school were more likely to go on to a professional, semi-professional or managerial career.

Lead author Joan Abbott-Chapman, University Associate at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, said the study was an important confirmation for teachers and educators that what happens in school has life-long consequences.

"If students can be engaged by curriculum, through the mode of delivery, through a rich variety of learning experiences and through the way teachers relate with students, then this is going to pave the way for achievement in adulthood,” she said.

Parents also have an enormous influence over their child’s educational participation, Dr Abbott-Chapman said, but they could take heart that even students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds could be encouraged to achieve success.

"If parents are able to co-operate with schools and teachers to help to promote student engagement, then this is likely to provide a springboard, if you like, for future achievement in school and in employment right through to adulthood,” she said.
Improving engagement

Senior Lecturer at Flinders University Dr Susan Krieg said the study reinforced the importance of school curricula to promote active, rather than passive learning styles that engage both the mind and body, and involve humour, music and movement.

"It is important to recognise that the patterns of engagement begin very early, much earlier than formal schooling,” Dr Krieg added.

Professor of Global Health at the University of Melbourne Rob Moodie agrees.

"The notion that a school should be about sports, music, drama – not only numeracy and literacy – is really important. They enjoy it, they enjoy being there.”

Professor Moodie said the link between educational and occupational outcomes also extended to better health outcomes and well-being later in life.
Levelling the playing field at school

Dr Fiona Mensah, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, said children who become marginalised at school often have very negative outcomes.

"Disengagement is strongly predictive of school dropout, delinquency and problem substance use in adolescence and early adulthood – emphasising how critical it is that children remain engaged during schooling as they transition to adulthood,” she said.

The next step for this type of research, according to Louise Newman, Professor of Psychiatry at Monash University, is to look at whether a school environment can function as a protective environment for children who are at risk of disengagement.

"So that would look at things like children with family difficulties or children with attachment problems, or children from low socioeconomic areas, or children where a family might not promote or value education.”

"Can the school – and to what extent – provide an environment for those children so they can still develop those sorts of positive attitudes?”



Conservative control of the Senate likely

TONY Abbott stands to gain control of the Senate on September 14, relegating Labor to its worst election result since 1901, according to a new state-by-state polling analysis.

New fears have spread through senior Labor ranks that the number two Labor Senate positions in a number of states could now be at risk with Labor's primary vote at or below 30 per cent in most states. And the union movement is becoming increasingly worried that unless Labor can maintain some influence in the Senate with the Greens, it will be powerless to stop the Coalition trying to crush the union movement.

An analysis of the latest polls, showing a primary vote of 29 per cent, suggests Labor could end up with only 25 to 26 Senate positions out of 76.

With the primary vote in the Senate traditionally three to five points lower for Labor than what it receives in the lower house, Labor stands to elect potentially just a single Senator from Western Australia and Queensland and just two in most other states.

With the Greens likely to end up with 10 to 11, Labor would not be able to exert any influence in the Senate.

The Coalition, in a worst-case scenario, would end up with 38, giving it 50 per cent of the Senate, and needing only one of several expected Conservative Independents to control both houses. "The Senate is the real story of this election," one senior ALP figure said. "This is where the future of the Labor party hinges."

The dire prediction for the Senate is being cited by senior Labor and union figures as another reason to support leadership change, with polls suggesting Kevin Rudd would lift Labor's primary vote and not simply save lower house seats but quarantine Labor from annihilation in the Senate.The analysis also suggests that Labor could end up with as few as 30 seats in the 150 seats House of Representatives - a result without precedent since 1901 when Labor commanded 14 seats out of 75 in the first Federal Parliament.

With a leadership showdown expected next week, Labor sources claimed last night Bill Shorten was telling colleagues he "needed more time". "We just hope he isn't deliberately trying to delay the inevitable."But Ms Gillard yesterday received public backing from key union figures, following claims Mr Shorten had been in discussions with them to push for her to stand down.

Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes yesterday denied rumours that the union movement was softening in support for Ms Gillard.
Julia Gillard  Despite publicly calling for MPs to topple Mr Rudd three years ago, Mr Howes yesterday said his union would not direct MPs how to vote if a ballot was brought on next week.


Abbott is a centrist, not an extremist

Nicolle Flint

At the start of this parliamentary sitting week former prime minister Kevin Rudd said: "I will do everything I physically can to stop Mr Abbott becoming the next prime minister of Australia because he's the single most extreme right-wing political leader that the Liberal Party [has] ever thrown up in [its] history."

Never mind that the primary role of the federal government - or an aspiring prime minister - should be to run the country.

Never mind Abbott's support for multiculturalism and constitutional recognition for Aboriginal people, or his refusal to embrace climate scepticism and his proposal to implement an interventionist economic policy (direct action) to address climate change.

Add to this Abbott's paid parental leave scheme, a preference for increased federal government control over the states and his belief that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare," and it is clear that Abbott is no "extreme right-wing political leader".

It is also clear that far from damaging the Opposition Leader's bid for prime minister, Rudd is cementing it. Kevin from Queensland does not appear to be helping the Gillard Labor government with his energetic tour through Labor electorates, so much as hindering it - although perhaps not nearly as much as the Prime Minister is hindering herself. And while Rudd refuses to challenge for the Labor leadership, and the Prime Minister refuses to step down, the chaos will continue and the Coalition will be delivered government.

If Rudd and Prime Minister Julia Gillard wish to continue to fight this election playing the man not the ball, by tackling the person not the policy, then let's assess Abbott on this basis. Let's ask ourselves what sort of person we want to govern our nation?

We should elect a prime minister who has outlined the principles upon which their beliefs and policies are founded, who has the courage of their convictions, but even more impressively, and indeed importantly, the strength to temper such convictions following considered reflection. Abbott's book and manifesto Battlelines provides evidence to this effect.

We should elect a prime minister who is a role model for fitness and community service. To date Abbott's annual pollie pedal, which he co-founded in 1998, has raised $2.5 million for various charities, while simultaneously raising the profile of these charities and their causes. Abbott is an active supporter of and fund-raiser for the Manly Women's Shelter and a founding member of Pink Lads, part of the McGrath Foundation, which raises money to fund breast cancer care nurses. Undoubtedly he contributes to many more charities and philanthropic causes that don't get anywhere near as much media attention as they deserve.

We should also want a prime minister who demonstrates depth of compassion and sensitivity. I challenge any reader not to be moved by a recent article by Abbott dedicated to his friend and mentor, the late Christopher Pearson, or the first chapter of Battlelines that records his anguish at the uninvited media attention his friends and family suffer by association. Charges of sexism and misogyny appear truly farcical when measured against the care and respect expressed in these opening pages for his wife Margie, former girlfriend Kathy and her biological son Daniel, whom Abbott and Kathy long believed to be their biological son.

And if we want a prime minister who will challenge us to think, then Australians should elect an Abbott-led government. As Abbott states in Battlelines: "What mattered to me, then and now, was the impact of ideas on events and the critical importance of a written argument in shaping people's ideas." One can disagree with some of his ideas or policies or beliefs, and still consider Abbott to be a serious and sound thinker worthy of election to the office of prime minister. The challenge, of course, for those who disagree with his policies or beliefs, is not to complain from the sidelines, but to respond in kind and engage in the battle of ideas. This is of fundamental importance to a robust democracy and democratic process.

Australia has not had a federal Labor leader whose core philosophies and vision for Australia have been so clearly - and thoughtfully - articulated since Mark Latham. Our national debate is poorer for it. And this is why, along with other obvious policy-based reasons, it's time for the failed Rudd and Gillard experiment to end. It's time for Labor to find a leader who might inspire or provoke debate about the sort of country we want to live in, and who has the courage to articulate their vision through written argument, one who can foster a more robust battle of ideas. We should, therefore, await Chris Bowen's forthcoming book with great anticipation.

Meanwhile, if Australians want a prime minister with conviction, vision, a dedication to community and compassion, and who leads by example, then we should elect an Abbott government. Tony Abbott is the thinking person's prime minister, and to my mind, regardless of what certain women might try to argue, Tony Abbott is the thinking woman's prime minister.


Homosexual marriage bill fails in the Senate

A bill to recognise the marriages of gay and lesbian Australians who wed overseas has failed to pass the Senate, despite Liberal senator Sue Boyce making good on her promise to defy her party on the issue.

The bill, sponsored by the Greens, was defeated 45 votes to 28, with Senator Boyce crossing the floor in support.

Labor senators who voted against the bill included David Feeney, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Ursula Stephens.

Senator Boyce had told Fairfax Media before the debate and vote on Thursday that she was prepared to "cross the floor" to back two bills – the international marriage bill and another that bans discrimination against gay and transgender residents of Commonwealth-funded aged care homes.

The Greens' bill to recognise in Australia same-sex marriages performed overseas was voted on in the Senate on Thursday. The aged care bill will be voted on at a later date.
Liberal Senator Sue Boyce crosses the floor passing Coalition and ALP Senators to vote with the Greens and some government Senators. The division was lost.

"It's an important step towards marriage equality," Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who put forward the bill, told Fairfax Media on Thursday morning.

"We have thousands of couples now living in Australia who've gone overseas and gotten married . . . and they arrive back home at Sydney International Airport and all of a sudden they have to check their marriage at the customs gate."

Thursday's bill would have changed a section of the Marriage Act that states that "certain unions are not marriages".

The Act says that foreign weddings between "a man and another man" and "a woman and another woman . . . must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia".

During the debate, Labor Senator Louise Pratt, who has a transgender partner, told the Senate the current law imposed "unnecessary hurt and hardship on couples" by rejecting their marriages when they arrived home after marrying overseas.

"As an LGBTI Australian myself and as a member of this place I am not going to stop fighting until our equal rights are achieved," Senator Pratt said.

Senator Hanson-Young told the Senate in the debate that thousands of Australians were "sitting in hope today that their friends, their family, their loved ones and their work colleagues will finally be able to have the relationship with the person they love recognised as equal".

"I urge all members today, regardless of what your leaders have told you, to think with your hearts, open your minds and vote the way you know is right. Do not let anyone say you do not have the right to speak up for what your constituents want, for what you know in your heart is the right thing to do just because your leader has told you to stay put," she said.

But Liberal senator George Brandis responded by saying there was something "chillingly unpleasant about hearing [Greens] Senator Hanson-Young giving one of her emotional speeches and claim, as she does, that her point of view is the only morally legitimate point of view".

"How dare you," Senator Brandis said. "How dare you be so puffed up with moral vanity? Because, Senator Hanson-Young, there are millions and millions of Australians who vigorously dissent fro your view, who have a commitment to the definition of marriage has always been understood."

The Labor Party lets MPs vote according to their conscience on same-sex marriage, but Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has refused to allow a free vote within the Coalition despite members including Kelly O'Dwyer, Malcolm Turnbull, Wyatt Roy, Simon Birmingham and Senator Boyce all supporting marriage equality.

Senator Boyce told Fairfax Media before the debate that she had spoken with Mr Abbott about her opposition to the party platform.

"It's an awful feeling, it's not something you want to do," she said. "There is a lot of camaraderie, we are good colleagues. It's an awful feeling but I just think it's important enough that we get this piece of legislation through."

Senator Boyce said Mr Abbott pointed out to her that within the Liberal Party one was entitled to a free vote on any topic.

"A conscience vote means people can move around as they like," she said. "But also none of us have signed a piece of paper like Labor and the Greens have saying we'll always do what the party tells us to."

There is an understanding within the Coalition that shadow ministers must vote according to the party's position or else sacrifice their cabinet position.

Mr Abbott said he had not "counselled" Senator Boyce over her plans to cross the floor.

"I appreciate Sue's position and we're not a Stalinist party," he told reporters in Queanbeyan.

"Obviously we have a clear position that we don't support gay marriage as a party, but people on our side of the political fence have always had the right if they feel strongly enough about something to make their own decision."

Support for marriage equality is growing, not just in the Parliament, but significantly within the Australian public and some MPs, including former prime minister Kevin Rudd and Labor MP Bernie Ripoll have changed their minds on the issue and now support marriage equality.

Senator Hanson-Young said the "ludicrous thing" about the issue of marriage equality in this Parliament is that "you have Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott effectively standing in the way of these reforms happening".

The senator believed there was more support for the legislation in the Senate than in the House of Representatives and she hoped support had grown further since the issue was debated last year.

"I hope that we can get a few more people across the line than we did last time," she said.


20 June, 2013

Free Speech Goes Down to Defeat in Canberra

Student newspaper members at Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra have recently learned the hard way how various Muslims do not accept criticism and condemnation like adherents of other faiths. Amidst the ecumenical satire of ANU's Woroni, the outrage and disciplinary threats provoked by the school newspaper's mocking of Islam suggests that this faith shall enjoy a privileged position among all beliefs.

As the Woroni editors explained on the newspaper website on May 26, 2013, the "'Advice from Religion' infographic on the back page" of the year's Edition 5 from April 18 "caused a flurry of activity." This infographic mocking Islam "was the fifth in a series that satirized facets of different religions; chronologically, Catholicism, Scientology, Mormonism, and Judaism." Many readers "condemned the piece as insulting and offensive to Islam and to religion in general." The editors acknowledged being "accustomed to receiving heated feedback," but "in this instance the extent of interference" by university officials "was unprecedented."

The day after publication, ANU Chancellery members met with Woroni's entire editorial board to discuss a "formal complaint submitted by the International Students Department" (ISD). As the Chancellery later stated to Woroni, the Islamic infographic violated "University rules" and Australian Press Council (APC) principles. The Chancellery added that the "University has a large international footprint and is mindful of maintaining its reputation of providing a welcoming environment for a diverse student and academic population." Referencing the 2005 Danish Muhammad caricatures and September 15, 2012, Muslim protests against the Innocence of Muslims film in Sydney that turned violent, Chancellery officials expressed concern about ANU's reputation and security.

To Chancellery calls for an apology and the infographic's official retraction, Woroni reacted "in a similar manner" to past complaints. A published "apology" would follow "to any readers who felt victimized... stressing" the infographic's "satirical" intent. The subsequent April 19, 2013, Woroni public response expressed these sentiments and denied any intention "to make anybody feel uncomfortable."

Yet the Chancellery remained unappeased. Regular uploading of Edition 5 as a PDF to the Woroni website archive and Facebook pages prompted a second meeting with Woroni editors and the three infographic authors. The Chancellery therein warned that the continued presence online of the Edition 5 PDF would lead to disciplinary action under Section 3.1(b) of the ANU Discipline Rules condemning as "misconduct" behavior that "unreasonably hinders other persons in the pursuit of their studies in the University or in participation in the life of the University." These disciplinary measures, along with threats to Woroni's ANU student funding, prompted removal of the back page from the Edition

As The Australian reported (subscription for original story required), the infographic at the origins of the controversy asked from a mockingly Islamic perspective "How should I value women?" The "answers referenced Aisha, the prophet Mohammed's nine-year-old wife, and described the 72 'houris' -- women depicted in the Koran as large-bosomed virgins who are a reward in paradise -- as a 'rape fantasy'." The Australian added that someone from ISD effectively told one of the authors, Jamie Freestone, that he did not "understand the seriousness of this. In Pakistan, people get shot for this kind of thing."

Yet, as the May 26 explanation indicated, Woroni "regularly features material that is challenging, and even at times confronting," befitting universities as "forums to critique ideas and beliefs." Edition 1's premiere backpage "Advice from Religion" infographic, for example, asks "I'm a man. Can I have sex with this person?" Sarcastic answers from "Catholicism" included molesting priests and lack of female consent.

Edition 2 references various conspiracies and esoteric beliefs in presenting the answers of "Scientology" to "Should I be candid and tell the truth?"

While Edition 3 only has its cover page uploaded, Edition 4 shows "Judaism" giving answers of "Exterminate them" (Old Testament) and "Segregate them and claim what's yours" (modern Israel) to the question "How should I treat other cultures?"

Nonetheless, pages 10-11 of Edition 6 posted on the Woroni Facebook page document the controversy the Islam infographic generated in reader letters. ISD President Muhammad Taufiq bin Suraidi bemoaned that the student-funded Woroni had not shown a "certain level of cultural sensitivity" amidst ANU's student body, a quarter of which is from abroad. Bin Suraidi promised, though, that the ISD would "work closely with the Woroni... such that an incident of this nature does not reoccur."

Nadiatul Akmal Mohd Radzman from the executive committee of ANU's Muslim Students Association (MSA) also took issue with Woroni. She, for example, contested various assertions of the infographic such as the "myth" of "72 virgins in Paradise," something controverted by Freestone in his adjacent letter with Koranic verses (55:56, 56:22, 78:33).

Radzman called "making fun of others... bullying" and falsely equated Islamic beliefs as a "way of life, not just a religion" with ethnicities like Asians. "We have racial tolerance, why can't we have religious tolerance?" she mistakenly analogized. "There are many other funny things that you can make fun of," she superficially concluded, "like botox and iPhones."

In contrast, Freestone's Edition 6 letter, also published on his personal website, saw no "reason to have a special standard for established religions that we would never conscience for any secular group, political party or new religious movement," even though "it's highly unsettling and confronting for believers to have their faith mocked."

In the future, though, Freestone will no longer make this principled stand for open debate at Woroni, for he described this letter as "my last contribution to Woroni." As the May 26 explanation noted, though, the evident "implications of these events for freedom of speech" will remain.


Huge bungle:  Millions spent as revival of West Australian  power station stalls

The State Opposition is calling on the government to explain why it has spent $250 million on a failed attempt to revive the mothballed Muja power station.

In 2009, the government announced the private sector would pay to refurbish the ageing coal-fired station, near Collie, by December 2011.

Four years later, the power station still is not fully operational and it appears the private company involved has pulled out amid ballooning project costs.

Labor says it is taxpayers, not the private sector, who now face a $250 million bill.

The Opposition Leader Mark McGowan says the government has serious questions to answer.  "We need to get to the bottom of how what was supposed to be a free development for the taxpayers, put in place by the private sector, now looks like costing taxpayers $250 million," he said.

"How can that massive waste of money have taken place?  And, we don't have a properly operational power station."

The Energy Minister Mike Nahan has conceded the original plan was for the private sector to foot the bill as part of a joint venture with state-owned corporation Verve Energy.

But, he says the private company involved was unable to cover ballooning project costs and the venture is not working.  "It is collapsing yes, it hasn't proven to work out and when we make the final decision I will make a full public comment on the history, costing and problems with the joint venture," he said.

The Premier Colin Barnett says the Government announced the refurbishment before realising how badly the power station's boilers were corroded.  He says the facility may never become fully operational because of those safety concerns.
"At this stage I can't say whether units 1 and 2 will come on, the extent of the corrosion damage is so extensive, that (they are) unacceptable from a safety point of view," he said.  "From an economic point of view I don't know if it's viable but three and four have been refurbished and are operational."



Three current articles below

Climate BS ignores the facts

All sorts of bad things are happening as a result of climate change, according to the claims below.  Problem:  There has been no temperature change for 17 years.  So all the problems listed CANNOT be a result of "climate change".  They are natural

The cost of climate change on human health has Monday been hit home with a report by the Australian Climate Commission outlining the serious threat of extreme weather.

According to the report, heat causes more deaths than any other type of extreme weather event in Australia, and the country's hottest days are still getting hotter.

"Climate change is a serious threat to our health with the elderly, the very young, rural and indigenous communities and those with pre-existing medical conditions being particularly vulnerable," said Dimity Williams, general practitioner and spokesperson for Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA).

According to the report, the duration and frequency of heatwaves has been increasing and is projected to continue to do so in the future -- posing risks for Australians and putting additional pressure on health services.

"During a heatwave our body is placed under extreme stress and we can experience lethargy and heatstroke, with heart attack and even death effecting vulnerable people.

"During the 2009 heatwave in Victoria there were 374 excess deaths and a surge in demand for ambulance and emergency care," said Williams.

Climate change may also lead to various other health consequences for Australians and the global population.

Changes in temperature and rainfall may allow mosquito-borne illness like dengue fever to spread south in Australia, and air quality may also be affected worldwide with increased concentrations of ozone, fine particles and dust.

"Climate change will have far reaching consequences for health and will also lead to increases in certain types of air pollutants as well as airborne allergens like pollen. These have serious impacts on lung diseases like asthma and on heart disease," Williams said.

"As a GP who has many patients with asthma I am concerned that climate change will mean an increase in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks for my patients," she added.

Climate change and extreme weather are also reported to lead to mental health issues, with increased depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide and self-harm -- as seen in the wake of recent natural disasters in Australia.

Western Australian GP George Crisp added, "we are already seeing increasing mental health problems from the impacts of extreme weather events and changing rainfall patterns particularly in rural communities and in younger people."

The Climate Commission has previously announced that 2011-2020 is the critical decade for tackling climate change -- particularly for turning around rising emissions of greenhouse gases and stabilising the climate system.

"Climate change is making many extreme events worse in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment, " said Chief Commissioner Tim Flannery in a statement.

"Protecting the community means strong preventative action through deep and swift cuts in emissions this decade, to stabilise the climate and halt the trend toward more intense extreme weather, " he added.


No drink container deposit for Qld

And the Greens are peeved that their suspect survey was ignored

AN overwhelming majority of Queenslanders want a 10c cash-for-containers recycling scheme but the idea has been rejected by the State Government.

The Federal Government is investigating a national deposit scheme which would feature a 10c refund per can or bottle.

Greenpeace campaigner Reece Turner said a decision would be made within weeks on the issue, despite opposition from Queensland.

The Newspoll, which found 85 per cent of people in Queensland wanted the scheme, was commissioned by Greenpeace and recycling group the Boomerang Alliance.  [I'd like to see the wording and sampling frame]

"With state leaders due to make a decision any time in the next few weeks, this poll should send a clear message that we have had enough of trash polluting our parks and waterways and killing our birdlife," Mr Turner said.

State Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the sticking point for any refund scheme was that someone had to pay for it.

"While the Newman Government is passionate about reducing litter and improving recycling rates, we do not believe increasing the cost of living is the best way to achieve that outcome," he said.

"Rather than increasing the cost of living for Queenslanders, this Government has introduced a range of initiatives to improve recycling rates and reduce litter."

These included boosted litter clean-ups, the rollout of a bin network and grants to help councils crack down on illegal dumping.

Clean Up Australia's Ian Kiernan backs the refund scheme, which is aimed at reducing litter.

Most packaging material would be returned either through current collection systems, collection depots such as charity bins or via the retailer.

Australians use 13 billion to 14 billion drink containers a year and Clean Up Australia estimates 45 per cent of the rubbish collected every Clean Up Australia Day is beverage-industry related.

Waste such as plastic and balloons launched at functions are devastating for creatures such as marine turtles and birds.

South Australia has had a container-deposit scheme since 1977 and has a recycling rate of cans and bottles of up to 85 per cent, while other states are less than half of this.

A similar scheme in the Northern Territory was stopped after Coca-Cola, Lion Nathan and Schweppes took the NT government to court.


Financing wind power in Australia

So then, just where do these huge subsidies go?  Are they used to line the pockets of those who propose these renewable plants?

Well, no, not directly, but in the long run.

Let’s do a scenario, based on virtually every renewable power plant proposal.(and here I’ll use the most common, a Wind Plant)

Here you need to realise that ALL the costs for the plant are recovered from the sale of the electricity to the grid for consumption by, well, consumers of power from the grid, in those three sectors, Residential, Commerce and Industrial. Those costs are the up front Capital cost for the construction, (all of it associated with that) maintenance, wages, upkeep, and of course the profit margin, and everything associated with the Plant. That electricity is then sold to the grid, and the retailers then add on their extras, including their profit margin as well, so that’s why there is a large disconnect between the wholesale price and the retail price.

So then let’s have a wind plant around 500MW, around 250 towers. The most recent one proposed, that for King Island comes in at around $2 Billion. That cost has to be recovered from the sale of electricity, calculated over the (hoped for) 25 year life of the Plant.

However, as is the case with every renewable plant, Governments, both Federal (the larger amount) and States will chuck in up to half that cost, so now all the plant has to recover for the sale of their electricity is only $1 Billion, making it now obvious how the cost of the electricity generated seems cheaper, now the cost has been, umm, manipulated.

Now, on top of that, in that stage when the plant is, umm, negotiating with Government, a further subsidy is now worked out. The government will subsidise that wholesale cost of electricity by giving the wind plant operators a set amount per MWH for the electricity that they generate. So now, the wholesale cost of electricity has come down again, further making it seem cheaper to generate. As part of negotiations, it is further mandated that the retailers MUST purchase ALL the power generated from the wind plant, no matter when it is generated, so, as is often the case, anything up to half and more of that power is generated while we all sleep, when consumption is at its lowest, and the plants that run all the time cover all that consumption, so, given the chance, retailers would (naturally) purchase only the cheapest power for that period, and no be locked into having to purchase the expensive wind power, which is more often than not, not even being consumed, because the load is already being covered by those 24/7/365 plants with their infinitely cheaper electricity.

This adds to the retail price, but does not make wind cheap, and in fact seemingly gives the opposite impression, adding to the out of hours electricity wholesale cost by bumping up the average cost for those hours, making coal fired power seem to be more expensive.

The third subsidy is that now this is a renewable plant, they now receive renewable energy certificates for the power they generate, and these certificates can then be on sold to CO2 emitting plants to cover their CO2 emissions debt.

So, now we have three relatively large subsidies.

All are put towards that wholesale cost for electricity, lowering it significantly, and allowing now for any slight increase adding to the overall profit margin going back to the operators, if you can see that point, because even just a couple of dollars extra amounts to a huge amount, and THAT is what goes into the pockets of the operators.

However, this is not free money for these people. Someone has to pay. The governments (both of them) get their money back by now setting their part of the return from the retailers, thus adding to the cost of every consumer’s power bill.

This added extra comes in at around 14 to 16% of your total electricity bill, not just for you in the residential sector, but for the huge consumers, those in the Commerce and Industrial sectors.

So, while 14 to 16% (some people) may see as reasonable, here’s the rub.

That 14 to 16% extra on your power bill is for only 2 to 2.5% of the power actually being provided for sale.

So, while wind power seems cheap and coal fired and even gas fired power now seems more expensive, at each stage those costs have been artificially manipulated.

Either way, it’s not cheap, because all those original costs are being paid for, by you and me and everyone who consumes electricity, and commerce and industry overheads (their electricity bills) are all passed down to consumers anyway.

WE pay. WE pay. WE pay.

Now, while all these wind plant protests concentrate on bird and bat chopping, health problems, loss of visual aspect etc, and while these problems have their own significance, by far the biggest thing we should be concentrating on is CAPACITY FACTOR, and the total inability of Wind Plants to deliver their power at better than 30to 35%, and at intermittent times instead of for times when power is being consumed the most. Wind supporters and their lobbyists can fight those first mentioned problems by quoting a lack of published evidence, and how any and all of these are (quoted off the cuff in a dismissive manner) anecdotal. What they have no answer to is a direct question about that failure to deliver, Capacity Factor, and intermittence. This was classically shown last night in an interview between Ticky Fullerton and Morton Albaek from the Vestas Company, touring Oz at the moment to drum up business. When asked about Baseload, one fleeting question, he totally ignored it, continued with the meme and mentioned the overall MIX of electricity supply.

We pay an absolute Motza for wind power in ways we don’t even realise, and yet, at every step, we are told it is cheap, and in fact getting cheaper.

If all these subsidies were totally removed, watch how proposals for wind plants would disappear, and disappear ….. IMMEDIATELY.

This is an absolute con job, and no one even mentions it.

See how they are winning.


19 June, 2013

Wind power 'terrorising' rural communities, rally hear

FARMERS from across the country have described a constant rumbling and pulsing in their heads and a feeling of oppressive anxiety they attribute to wind power.

About 150 people from small towns across the country turned up to a three-hour rally at Canberra's Parliament House hosted by shock jock Alan Jones, who was keen to keep the tone polite.

In scenes very different to the infamous carbon tax protest on the same spot in 2011, where protesters held offensive placards including "ditch the witch", Mr Jones reminded those gathered "to be very peaceful and make sure the argument wins the day".

"So be careful of your placards and make sure they are all in very good taste."

He told the crowd companies were terrorising rural communities and if there were no issues with wind power, turbines should be erected in his home Macquarie Street in Sydney.

But the rally also heard from everyday farmers upset with turbines in their communities.

Retired Naval electronics engineering officer and beef farmer David Mortimer said he and his wife had been "wind turbine tragics" when they accepted a $12,000-a-year deal to host them on their land at Millicent, SA.

They now have four turbines 2.5km from their home they say have robbed them of their health and 17 more are planned for close by.

Mr Mortimer now suffers night-time panic attacks, acute anxiety, heart palpitations, tinnitus, earaches, headaches and angina-like pains and his wife has dizzy spells, although both have been cleared by doctors.

"I get this sensation of absolute acute anxiety and it feels like someone is pushing an x-ray blanket over me and weighting me down into the chair and I can't get out ... I feel like I'm on narcotics," he said.

"We've got this constant turmoil, constant pulsing in our head, constant rumbling ... deep, drumming rumbling."

"The new ones they want to put in are going to kill us."

Clean Energy Council Policy Director Russell Marsh dismissed the claims, saying no international research had attributed health impacts to wind power.

When away from home, the silence was like a vacuum, he said.

Lyn Jarvis, from Wellington, is fighting plans for turbines across from her NSW stud beef farm, said she was saddened to see so many people in her position.

"The wind industry, they brand us," she said.  "I'm not a bloody activist, I'm a farmer. I don't want to be here.  "We're not activists, we're trying to protect what's ours."

She said there was not enough research into the effects of wind energy.

Coalition senators who spoke promised an Abbott Government would review the renewable energy target that at least 20 per cent of Australia's electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020 and claimed wind energy was costly and received too many taxpayer subsidies.


Union tail wags the Labor dog

In February 2006, when NSW Labor assistant secretary Luke Foley told union bosses over a Chinese meal that he wanted to remove the faction's support for Macdonald to remain in the NSW upper house, he was overruled.

Two powerful Left-aligned unions, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, would not wear it.

Macdonald was endorsed for another term in the upper house. This is how power is exercised in the Labor Party. To truly understand where power lies, it is necessary to examine the party's structural link with trade unions. Trade unions select 50 per cent of the delegates to the party's state conferences. Delegate numbers are allotted to a union based on that union's number of members.

The delegation's composition is determined by the union secretary. At the conference, these delegates sit together and vote as one, as directed by the union secretary, enabling the secretary to bargain with other powerbrokers to win their hoard of votes.

Conferences decide on policy, elect party officials and determine Senate and upper house pre-selections. Unions regard spots on the party's executive bodies as theirs. They expect to have their delegates to the party's national conference elected by state conferences. They demand seats in parliament for their candidates. And they get them.

This power is partly informal. Joel Fitzgibbon, the convener of the NSW Labor Right in Canberra, told me last December that "trade union blocs" are able "to control individual MPs". Anybody in a position of power who challenges this -- an MP, a party official, a conference delegate -- will find their own position under threat.

A faction, or faction boss, has power only because of the votes they control at party conferences. This is why reducing the proportion of union delegates to conferences is critical. Without a reduction from 50 per cent to perhaps 20 per cent, no reform will ever transform who exercises power and how they exercise it.

More broadly, the influence of unions throughout the party is pervasive. Most members of the government's frontbench have worked as a union representative or as a lawyer for unions.

Unions send their staff to marginal seats to campaign. They pump money and other resources into local, state and national campaigns. At the coming federal election, unions affiliated to Labor are expected to draw on a war chest of about $5 million.

The hollowing out of the party's membership -- from 150,000 in the 1930s to 50,000 in the 90s, to 31,000 with two years' standing today -- has been coupled with a rise in the influence of unions.

As members have been squeezed out from participating in the party's key councils or standing as candidates for parliament, the influence of a political class dominated by unions and political staff has grown inexorably.

Concomitantly, the party in government has become vulnerable to policies that prop up old smokestack industries, that re-regulate the labour market and denigrate skilled migration.

The great party-union partnership for reform in the 80s and 90s has dissipated. As former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty argues, unions today lack leaders who are prepared to advocate trade-offs in return for economic reforms that are in the national interest.

Prime ministers Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were never beholden to unions to support their leadership. Kevin Rudd was undone, in part, by unions that witnessed his instinctive distrust of union powerbrokers.

Julia Gillard's leadership has been supported by trade union leaders who do not resile from their right to publicly state who should lead the party.

At the recent Australian Workers Union national conference, Gillard paid tribute to its long-time strongman Bill Ludwig and aligned her government to the union cause.

"I'm the leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from," Gillard said. She rejected the moderate, progressive and social democratic labels that Whitlam, Hawke and Keating embraced. Gillard led a union party. "That is what we believe in and that is who we are," she said.

Gillard has encouraged, even courted, an expansion of union power. No leader since Calwell has been more beholden to, or more of an advocate for, union power.

The party was formed by the trade union movement in 1891.

In 1986 NSW premier Neville Wran warned the party not to break its links with organised labour. But in 2011 he told me in an interview that Labor had "lost its way", as its candidates no longer represented the community.

"On our side, it is university, union, ministerial or MP's office and then stand for an election," Wran said.

"If you've been in that cloistered world, how can you expect to know what the real world is like?"

Labor does not need to sever its links with unions but it does need to reinvent them. Partly, it is about modernising the structure of the party to reflect the community.

Whereas union density in the workforce was 40 per cent in 1990, today it is just 18 per cent and falling. If unions no longer represent even one-fifth of the workforce, how can they represent half of delegates to Labor conferences?

A few weeks after Whitlam became Labor leader, he addressed a Labour Day dinner in Melbourne. His speech was the polar opposite to Calwell's banquet oratory a few weeks earlier.

Whitlam argued union participation in the party "must not merely be rhetorical but real and representative of the whole trade union movement". Entrenching the power of union bosses, who propped up Calwell's leadership (as they do Gillard's today), was not what he had in mind.

Whitlam wanted Labor once more to be a mass party that represented the broad community.

Labor should consider how to encourage the one million affiliated union members to play a role in the party, rather than be ruled by 100 key union apparatchiks.

Grassroots trade union members could play a role in selecting local candidates, participating in policy development and helping to directly elect the party leader.

But the critical structural link between unions and the party, cemented at state conferences with a 50 per cent bloc vote, should be reduced to about 20 per cent.

Unless the party is prepared to slash the proportion of trade union delegates at its conferences, the grip that union and faction bosses have on Labor will not be broken.


Watchdog lacking any bite as scammers fleece us

Get caught nicking a $5 T-shirt from Big-W and the police will take you down the station. Get caught stealing a $500 washing machine via a credit card fraud perpetrated on an online merchant and the police, well, they have a lot of other things to do. Keep the white goods.

As for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – it's a joke. The ACCC yesterday published the grandly titled Targeting scams: "Report of the ACCC on scam activity 2012" – a self-incriminating document that demonstrated the alleged consumer watchdog is earnestly whistling Dixie while ignoring 99.9 per cent of scamsters.

The report received an amazingly facile level of media coverage. Organs reputable and otherwise published and broadcast and blathered on about little more than the accompanying ACCC media release, apparently not bothering to read the actual report and certainly not considering what it meant.

Typical was the tame AAP copy reproduced on these august pages:

"Scammers fleeced Aussies out of more than $93 million in 2012, a 9 per cent jump from the previous year.

"In a statement on Monday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said losses reported to it totalled $93.4 million in 2012, but the actual losses were likely to have been higher."

The $93 million nonsense figure was what individuals and businesses had bothered reporting to the ACCC – heavens knows why they bothered as the ACCC seems to have managed just two prosecutions, both involving pyramid schemes.

The body of the report exposed just how silly that $93 million headline figure is: "Reports of financial losses to the ACCC are just the tip of the iceberg as victims of scams are often too embarrassed to report their experience. In April 2012 the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Personal Fraud Survey 2010-11 found that Australians lost an estimated $1.4 billion to personal fraud (which includes credit card fraud, identity theft, and scams).

"The survey results showed that 2.9 per cent (514,500) of Australians were victims of scams ... In addition to scams, the survey found that 3.7 per cent (662,300) of Australians were victims of credit card fraud, and 0.3 per cent (44,700) of Australians were victims of identity theft."

So nearly 7 per cent of Australians, one in every 14 of us, are victims of scams and fraud worth $1.4 billion in a given year and the ACCC managed two pyramid scheme prosecutions. Oh, and lest I be accused of overlooking an important detail, there also was this: "The ACCC also assisted the Essex Police obtain evidence from an Australian victim of a global scam, for which some of the perpetrators were subsequently sentenced to jail and some money was returned to victims."

The ACCC doesn't even try to lumber fraudsters and scam artists – it just hopes to "disrupt" them with a little education of us mugs. Education is indeed a good thing and that deserves a tick, but locking up the very nasty little perpetrators wouldn't be a bad idea either. They're not even trying.

Responsibility for that of course should be shared with the various police fraud squads – but they are rather hopelessly under-manned, under-skilled and really only interested in the big stuff, preferably if it's rather simple, old-fashioned fraud.

Many of the online and telephone con artists are based overseas, but there are plenty of low-life locals as well. Successful fraudsters keep their jobs relatively small and remain mobile. That way the police and ACCC won't bother taking an interest, even when a case is handed to them on a platter.

At last month's Retail World conference (disclosure: I was paid to chair it), online retailers told how completely frustrated they were in trying to get any authority to take action over fraud.

For example, a fridge is purchased online by someone using a credit card. Fridge is delivered. The owner of the credit card phones his or her bank claiming they did not authorise the purchase – perhaps claiming a child used the card without permission. The bank refunds the money to their customer and hits the retailer with a charge-back. In the words of the Queensland Police website, the retailer then becomes the complainant – nearly all the time, police don't want to know about it.

What's more, from the same website: "If the cardholder is reimbursed for the loss, financial institutions have agreed that they do not require the cardholder to report the matter to police for investigation."

The banks are treating this sort of fraud as merely a cost of business. The retailers are getting nothing in return for their merchant fees.

A major online white goods retailer told me one of the fraudsters tried to hit them a second time. The retailer attempted to interest the local gendarmes in catching the thief in the act – but they weren't interested.

The scale of the problem and the lack of action are rather breathtaking. As well as the ABS survey, the ACCC document mentions a 2012 Australian Crime Commission report on the nature and threat of "serious and organised" investment fraud in Australia – as opposed to the merely light-hearted and disorganised investment fraud.

"The report found that more than 2600 Australians may have lost over $113 million to serious and organised investment fraud in the previous five years. Financial losses could be even higher because people tend not to report this kind of crime."

Which again is understatement. This is an area where ASIC occasionally bans someone, but mainly the perpetrators get away with it.

The ACCC report goes into exhaustive detail in analysing the 83,803 notifications of scam-like activity it received, 88 per cent of which were from individuals who suffered no loss but were just passing on the information. But for all crime being committed, aside from those two prosecutions, our public guardians' best effort came down to this:

"Disruption activities may allow law enforcement agencies to restrict or even discontinue the activities of a scammer, and to prevent the harm that they may otherwise cause, often without having to identify or locate the scammer. One such example was the ACCC's work with dating website operators to develop voluntary industry guidelines."

Ah, a voluntary industry guideline – that'll strike fear into the hearts of crooks every time.

The supposed authorities have been overwhelmed by this class of crime. The law is too complicated in dealing with it, the manpower to tackle it is not forthcoming, there is yet again no sign of anyone having fire in the belly, a desire to kick heads. The scumbags who prey upon the gullible effectively have a free hand to go forth and defraud while police will visit a pop star's hotel room to inspect a half a joint.

The report isn't entirely depressing though. In the breakdown of various types of cons, there was $444,895 attributed to "psychic and clairvoyant" scams – how would they know?


Bernardi: I was right on gay marriage and bestiality

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi says he has been "proved correct" that legalising same-sex marriage would lead to demands to endorse polygamy and bestiality.

"I stand on the record and say, well I was right," said Senator Bernardi, who resigned last year as Tony Abbott's personal parliamentary secretary following public outrage about his comments.

Senator Bernardi's latest comments come as a Greens bill to recognise internationally sanctioned same-sex marriages is set to be debated in the Senate on Thursday.

The same sex-marriage bill was also debated last night in the Federation Chamber, with Labor MPs Greg Combet, Stephen Smith and Bernie Ripoll all saying they supported legalising gay marriage. As Kevin Rudd did recently, Mr Ripoll said he had changed his mind and would now support the bill.

Amid these developments, Senator Bernardi told Fairfax Media that some sections of society were now moving in the "abhorrent and disgusting" direction he had predicted.

"There is actually now a petition been put together for the House of Representatives by Green activists to legally recognise multi-member unions," Senator Bernardi said.

He was referring to a recent petition by the Polyamory Action Lobby in which the group said: "We demand nothing less than the full recognition of polyamorous families".

"Now I said that would happen," Senator Bernardi said. "It's happening."

"I think there should be alarm . . . If you're going to re-define a word to satisfy demands of a minority then you're going to face continuing demands in that space."

Senator Bernardi also stood by his controversial comments last year that the "next step" after recognising same-sex marriage was to support "creepy people" who chose to have sex with animals.

"Bestiality, of course it was an extreme example, but once again it's linked to the radical agenda of the Greens Party," he said.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Senator Bernardi's comments demeaned all Australians with friends and family in gay relationships.

"Linking the love that thousands of Australians have for each other to bestiality is disgraceful," she said.

"Once again Cory Bernardi has attacked gay and lesbian Australians and has humiliated his party."

The Greens want marriage to be between two people regardless of their gender, Senator Hanson-Young said. The party does not support any other changes to the Marriage Act.

Senator Bernardi said he was simply speaking his mind and he accused other politicians of changing their positions for political convenience.

"[Kevin Rudd] used to hold the doorstops outside of church and now he's suddenly had this epiphany about same-sex marriage," Senator Bernardi said.

Mr Rudd is among a number of Labor politicians who support the legalisation of same-sex marriage, though Prime Minister Julia Gillard maintains her personal opposition.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has refused to allow a conscience vote within the Coalition despite party members including Kelly O'Dwyer, Malcolm Turnbull, Wyatt Roy, Simon Birmingham and Sue Boyce all supporting same-sex marriage.


18 June, 2013

Prime Minister Julia Gillard loses 500,000 male voters in a month with her "blue tie" speech

Seen as hostile to men

WHEN the NSW branch of the Labor Party was told by the Prime  Minister's office they wanted to do a membership outreach for women it was seen as another part of the bigger social media push being waged in the run up to the September election.

It was organised with the help of the famed Sussex Street operation but the media for it was left to Gillard's office.

NSW officials wondered what was going on when they saw a Sunday newspaper preview of the event but didn't think too much of it.

However, when it went from what was assumed to be a narrow cast to women party  members to a national rallying cry for all women, officials were alarmed.

Within minutes of Gillard delivering what's now called the "blue tie" speech, calls  came into party offices - not just in NSW - questioning the wisdom of such a strident feminist call.

Now we've got some scientific evidence of just how cack-handed this was.

Yesterday's Nieslen survey recorded one of the biggest shifts in a gender  demographic pollsters can remember.

Gillard's vote from women was unchanged - a statistically insignificant 1 per cent  rise - while the male vote fell off a cliff.

In primary vote terms, Gillard lost 7 per cent of men which is about 500,000 males  walking away from the ALP in a month. In preferred votes it was a 10 per cent  collapse.

This is an example of the political tin ear Simon Crean said Gillard had after he was  sacked as a minister.

It's also a peek into the strategic wasteland that's put Gillard on a road to nowhere.

First, they grab an idea from the US as if that's clever in itself. They then misapply  it to Australia by thinking the critical mass the Barack Obama campaign has is replicable here.

Lastly, they introduce the trademark Three Stooges touch by falling over  themselves and then blaming each other for the failure.

You have wonder what the Prime Minister's office thinks it's doing.

They put out, with Gillard's blessing, two message in the blue tie speech: women  would be banished from political debate and abortion would be back on the agenda if Tony Abbott was PM.

Neither passed the sniff test. The person on the Ferny Grove train wouldn't think these things are likely.  The Nielsen poll says this assessment was spot on.


Coalition to deport refugees convicted of crimes

Refugees could be sent back to their countries or imprisoned indefinitely for committing most crimes in Australia under a Coalition government.

This comes despite warnings by legal experts that the changes would be illegal under international law.

The federal Coalition announced on Sunday that, if it was elected, foreigners convicted of crimes punishable by more than one year in jail would have their visas cancelled automatically, even if they were sentenced to less than a year's imprisonment.

Such people - including refugees, asylum seekers and visitors - would lose their right to appeal except in "special circumstances". They would be detained until they could be deported and would not be allowed to return to Australia for 20 years, double the present period.

This follows Bureau of Statistics figures in March that showed asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas were about 45 times less likely to be charged with a crime than members of the general public.

The proposed changes would significantly broaden the immigration minister's power to cancel the visa of people sentenced to more than one year in prison.

Shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison said the minister would consider the circumstances of each case, but confirmed that, under the changes, refugees could be sent back to the countries they came from.

The Refugee Convention allows signatory countries to deport refugees in limited circumstances, including those who present "compelling reasons of national security" and a "danger to the security of the country in which he is" or, having been convicted of "a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country".

Mr Morrison said that foreigners could also be held in detention indefinitely in cases where it was not possible to deport them, citing examples of people who had been detained indefinitely despite having committed serious crimes in Australia.

A senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, Daniel Webb, said it was unlawful to deport someone to a place where they were at risk of persecution.

Liberty Victoria president Jane Dixon, SC, said the changes would include most Australian crimes, and raised concerns that the Coalition was guided by "maximum sentences rather than the context of what led to the offending".


Wind protesters take fight to Canberra

CONTROVERSIAL shock jock Alan Jones will host an anti-wind farming rally in Canberra on Tuesday.

The rally is scheduled to start at 10am (AEST) on the front lawns of Parliament House and will include addresses by Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Liberal MP Alby Schultz.

Protest organisers on the website have warned that the rally might be "spoiled" by pro-wind farming groups who my turn up with "Ditch the Witch type placards".

Labor MP Kelvin Thomson told parliament on Monday that people had nothing to fear about wind farming.


WA Government to slash 1,200 public sector jobs

The WA Opposition says the Government's decision to cut 1,200 jobs and cap its annual wages bill is an insult to public servants and the wider community.

The so-called efficiency measures have sparked fiery scenes in State Parliament.

Around 1,000 workers will be offered voluntary redundancies, while 200 others could be sacked under the public sector reforms.

The Government will also introduce a new wage policy to keep pay rises in line with the rate of inflation.

Premier Colin Barnett says the state's annual wage bill is rising by about 8.5 per cent every year and that it is not sustainable in today's tough economic climate.

"This is a responsible action, it is a necessary action and it is an early action," he said.

But Opposition Leader Mark McGowan says the move is outrageous, especially in light of recent hefty pay rises given to ministerial staffers.

"These job cuts are a rude slap in the face to the people of Western Australia after the Premier went on a hiring spree in his own office and lavished pay rises of up to 52 per cent on his favoured staffers," he said.

"What sort of example is that for the public sector and the people of WA?"

Treasurer Troy Buswell says it is not sustainable for the Government to continue spending almost 50 per cent of its budget on public wages.

He says the Government is acting early to avoid dramatic job losses, as seen in Queensland.

"I think we're reacting sensibly and one of the reasons we're reacting sensibly is exactly to avoid what the Queensland Government has had to do," he said.

"I'm not going to do that, we have to fundamentally change the way we do business."

The Premier says he does not expect the cuts to affect frontline services, but concedes teachers, nurses and police officers are likely to be among those who take voluntary redundancies.
Union says Premier ignoring reality

However, the Community and Public Sector Union has rejected the Premier's claim, with spokeswoman Toni Walkington saying Mr Barnett is ignoring reality.

"Of course it's going to affect frontline services," she said.

"Clearly the Premier has not been taking heed of messages that many in our community are sending to him about the fact that there a huge waiting times in a whole range of services."

Mr McGowan says he has no doubt the cuts will effect services.
CPSU Secretary Toni Walkington Photo: Toni Walkington says frontline services will be affected. (ABC)

"Now we're likely to see some of the most experienced nurses, teachers and police in WA leave the public service at a time we're struggling to find people to do those vital jobs," he said.

Mr Barnett says WA is the only jurisdiction in Australia that cannot make involuntary severances.

"While job security is always important, gone are the days when it was appropriate for people to regard a job in the public service as life-long tenure," he said.

Mr Barnett has also announced a cap on the salaries budgets of government agencies and a new wages policy to ensure pay increases remain in line with inflation.

The Government hopes the measures will save $2 billion over the next four years.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the reforms are proof the State Government understands the budget challenges it currently faces.

Spokesman Tim Bray says the package goes a long way towards addressing those challenges.

"There's certainly been lots of pressures on the state budget over a long period of time, not just the last term of government but the last decade," he said.

"So what we're pleased to see is that they are taking action, and this is good strong action to try to bring the budget back into check."


16 June, 2013

Australia's Refugee system all at sea

Dishonesty in a system run by Leftists?  How unsurprising!

THE refugee determination process in Australia is a sick and dysfunctional farce. This is the verdict of people at its coalface. Their collective judgment is that you could get a blind donkey refugee status in Australia.

It is not that the system is run by bad people, certainly not by corrupt people. But the system is so loosely designed, so completely open to manipulation by asylum-seekers, people-smugglers and community groups emotionally committed to asylum-seekers, and then interacts inappropriately with the Australian legal system, that it has become a multi-billion-dollar joke that is more or less completely worthless.

This week I have spoken to a number of serving and former Immigration Department officials, members of the Refugee Review Tribunal, the independent assessments review body and workers at various detention centres.

I have obtained a copy of a written account by a former senior Immigration Department official. It is very depressing. The official writes: "In the case of boatpeople, most are flying to Indonesia or Malaysia and there has been a growing trend to effectively prebook their voyage. They are less interested in seeking protection than in gaining work and residence rights in Australia. These are people who would largely be ineligible for normal migration but by claiming to be in fear of persecution they are usually allowed to stay in Australia, even though many will later visit their homeland once they have an Australian passport.

"I can confidently say that we are approving large numbers of people who are fabricating claims, and indeed the current refugee determination system works in favour of those who are most adept at spinning a yarn.

"That is not to say that myself, and others, did not deal with people who had been badly affected by generalised violence in countries like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, but this is quite different from having a credible contemporary claim of persecution. It appeared to me the majority of people I was dealing with had been fed claims which were known to be the sort of statements that were being accepted for approval.

"I remember one young applicant saying to me that it is known in the detention centre that you had to say you had been kidnapped if you wanted to be approved, and it is this sort of enhancing and inventing of claims, no doubt aided by the communications facilities we provide to the detainees, which is contributing to the deluge of boat cases we are currently experiencing.

"There was a small number of claimants who were being honest and these people often told quite sad stories of poverty, owing money lenders, being involved in family disputes (or) being threatened because of a romantic involvement. Such claims were likely to be refused for being outside the (Refugee) Convention but if a vague story was presented involving threats by groups like the Taliban or the Sri Lankan military, such applications were more likely to be approved. As the Captain Emad episode showed, it is easy to hide your identity, and even your nationality, in the refugee process, so presenting a fabricated story is not a difficult undertaking.

"Unlike other visa classes there is no objective criteria ...

"There is a benefit of the doubt test in the convention which weights the decision-making process towards the applicant and various court decisions have leant towards the view that if a claim cannot be disproved then it is difficult to refuse.

"While there is some public acknowledgment that many members of ethnic communities in Australia are paying and organising (at least in part) the travel of friends and relatives on the boats, much less attention is given to those who are monitoring the decision-making process and are identifying the type of claims that are having most success.

"From interviewing many asylum claimants the overwhelming primary objective is to obtain the right to work in Australia. This is so they can send money back to their families and repay loans which have been taken for their travel. There are other factors such as the welfare and houses we provide."

This experienced immigration officer, like numerous others, refers to the new experience of middle-class Iranian asylum-seekers dissatisfied with social conditions in Iran. A former member of the Refugee Review Tribunal, who also participated in the independent review assessments of refugee claims, told me: "I was dealing with Iranians who had left Tehran a week before arriving at Christmas Island."

He, like others, spoke of an aggressive entitlement mentality among Iranians. This was backed up by a health worker at a detention centre who said he had told an Iranian there was a three-week waiting list for an appointment with an optometrist. This was no good, the Iranian said. He had money and could pay to go private.

Another worker at the camps described assaults and intimidation of staff that are never reported or acted on and for which asylum-seekers suffer no penalty.

The senior immigration officer says that if the refugee convention is interpreted the way the UN High Commissioner for Refugees wants it to be interpreted, then there is absolutely no limit to the "literally millions" of people who could claim asylum so long as they get to Australia.

The former RRT member says his work was demoralising and meaningless. He was charged with reviewing departmental decisions not to award refugee status to an individual. If he upheld the department's decision - that is, said no to an asylum claimant - he might have to write 20 to 40 pages of argument justifying his decision as it was certain to be appealed in the courts.

If he overturned the department and recommended granting refugee status, he need only write one page and no one would ever review or question the decision.

While no one told him to decide in favour of asylum claimants, there was an overwhelming pressure to clear numbers as quickly as possible.

This will get worse in the future, as processing is temporarily suspended and a huge backlog is building up.

Refugee acceptance rates after all levels of review are now 95 per cent and above. Any quasi-judicial process that achieves a result like that has to be questioned, he says.

"I would sometimes receive a completely compelling story that was impossible to refuse.

"The problem is I would receive exactly the identical story a hundred times over, with only the names changed. People on Christmas Island would tell me to my face they had copied their story from someone else."

All the cases that went to court resulted in transcripts produced by the courts. These transcripts, with key winning testimony highlighted, were widely circulated among claimants, and their advocates, at Christmas Island.

What the officials describe is a process degenerated into farce, which costs billions of dollars. Even those who are refused refugee status are not sent back. This system has nothing to do with fairly determining refugee status and nothing to do with protecting Australia's national interests. It is folly, futility and charade.


Australia officially recognises third gender of 'intersex' on all documents for people who do not feel they are male or female

Australia has announced new guidelines to recognise the gender category 'intersex' on official documents.  Under the new system, which will come into effect from July 1, individuals will not be required to have undergone sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy to select the new category.

Since 2011 Australian nationals who were biologically not entirely male or female, have been able to select 'X' as a gender category on their passports.

Transgender people have been able to pick whether they are male or female providing their choice is supported by a doctor.

The changes mean people will now have the option to select M (male), F (female) or X (Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified).

It follows a recommendation by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2009 for the government to consider setting out guidelines for the collection of sex and gender information.

According to Australia's Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus the new guidelines will make it easier for people to establish or change their sex or gender in personal records held by federal government departments and agencies.

He said: 'We recognise individuals may identify, and be recognised within the community, as a gender other than the gender they were assigned at birth or during infancy, or as an indeterminate gender.  'This should be recognised and reflected in their personal records held by departments and agencies.'

If an Australian wants to change the gender entry on their personal record, the government will now accept a statement from their doctor or psychologist, a valid Australian passport or a state or territory birth certificate or other document which shows their preferred status.

Mr Dreyfus said:'Transgender and intersex people in Australia face many issues trying to ensure the gender status on their personal records matches the gender they live and how they are recognised by the community.  'These guidelines will bring about a practical improvement in the everyday lives of transgender, intersex and gender diverse people.'


Education's ominous national plan destined for failure

THE government isn't quite sure what to call it - is it the National Plan for School Improvement or Gonski or Better Schools?

For a while there, the government decided to refrain from using the term Gonski to describe its ambitious plans to alter school funding and impose federal oversight of schools. And well it might; there is an important point of difference between what the federal government is proposing and one of the core premises of the Gonski report.

According to the Gonski report, "the panel recognises that the states and territories have constitutional responsibilities for the delivery and management of schooling. They require a strong degree of autonomy to meet the needs of their state or territory school communities and student population."

The problem with using the term National Plan for School Improvement is that it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue.

And, let's face it, that mouthful is a bit spooky. The Soviet Union probably had a national plan for school improvement, along with national plans for all sorts of other improvements.

Better Schools could work. But under that heading the government includes the national curriculum, ongoing teacher training and better communication with parents, in addition to funding based on student needs.

So how is the implementation of the new school funding system progressing under the earnest and increasingly desperate stewardship of ex-pop singer Peter Garrett? We should not forget this is not just any area of policy, it is one of the Prime Minister's pet projects.

The answer is that progress to date has been long on politics and short on systematic and measured policymaking. Lots of shots of Garrett and Gillard with generally well-behaved school students, but the real outcomes are partial and patchy.

Take the Australian Education Bill 2012 that was rushed through the House of Representatives late last year. What was the point? It read like a Labor Party pamphlet with lots of buzz phrases, including students receiving excellent education, students reaching their full potential in the Asian Century and Australia having one of the top five performing school systems in 2025.

There was the truly bizarre section 10, which stated that the act did not create legally enforceable obligations. Why would the government ask the parliament to pass an act that had no legally enforceable obligations? Obviously, the government saw some political advantage to the passage of the bill; it was arguably a gross misuse of parliamentary processes.

The first five-plus months of this year have been a chaotic period of policy confusion, incomplete modelling, uncertain funding and costly side deals offered to the more amenable states and territories. The government even seems to have managed to get the non-government schools offside.

In the week before last, the government rammed a large number of amendments to the Australian Education Bill through the House of Representatives. There are 71 pages of amendments, compared with the 11 pages in the original bill. The main thrust of these amendments is to carve out separate deals for participating states and territories and non-participating states and territories, respectively.

These amendments are very strange. Normally, one would expect to see these sorts of details articulated in regulations or as attachments to the National Education Reform Agreement, rather than sit in an act. Again, politics is the explanation, plus an attempt by this government to rule from the grave.

At least the federal government has been quite frank about its intended takeover of school education. In the Prime Minister's words, "The funding flows to states, territories and Catholic and independent schools who agree to the actions, targets and reporting for improvement which we agree under the national plan."

In other words, the national plan trumps everything. Note that "all schools will engage with at least one school in Asia in support of the teaching of a priority Asian language, taking advantage of the National Broadband Network", according to Gillard. Schools, Asia and NBN all in the one sentence - how good is that?

As Kevin Donnelly points out, the real trouble is that the new arrangements and accountability requirements being foisted on schools are the complete antithesis of giving schools and their principals more autonomy.

The Australian Education Act may not withstand a constitutional challenge. After all, section 99 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act states that "The commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one state or any part thereof over another state or any part thereof".

Moreover, Bronwyn Hinz and Brian Galligan, of the University of Melbourne, have raised broader constitutional problems for the Gonski reforms stemming from the fact school education is a residual power of the states.

The authors claim it is only a matter of time before there is a further legal challenge.

According to Hinz and Galligan, "Gonski and the High Court both stated that the commonwealth should retreat from schooling, the former on practical grounds, the latter on constitutional grounds. The commonwealth rejected both their conclusions."

The state of play with Gonski is that NSW, the ACT and South Australia have signed up. The remaining Labor state, Tasmania, in all likelihood, will sign up soon.

Given the parlous state of the budgets of Tasmania and South Australia, it is quite fanciful that either can really afford Gonski, given the co-funding requirement. But because the Gonski financial arrangements are heavily back-end loaded, the fiction can be maintained for a little while.

There are some short-term financial penalties for the non-participating states that Garrett clearly hopes will be sufficient to get Queensland and Victoria over the line. The decision to kill off several National Partnership programs in education, funded by the commonwealth, is a further part of Garrett's armoury.

The bottom line is that the implementation of Gonski is no way to conduct important public policy reforms. And if the key is the reform of school funding to reflect student needs, we should take note of Hinz and Galligan's observation that "the funding formula Gonski recommended is already being used in various degrees by most states".

But when it comes to leaving the control and management of public schools in the hands of the states and territories, the Labor government isn't having a bar of it.

New controls, new bodies, new accountability measures, all 10,000 schools submitting annual School Improvement Plans - it is no wonder that the lagging states are a bit hesitant. And most of these new arrangements also will apply to non-government schools.

In the meantime, we should not be concerned with the educational outcomes of only the worst performing students. We also should worry about those at the top, whose performance has slipped according to international standards. There is work to be done, but the National Plan for School Improvement is far too expensive, constitutionally dubious, overrides the states and territories and is unlikely to make much difference.


Fat-fighting nonsense

And what evidence do they have to show that this system will do any good?  None.  It's just dubious theory

The Government is touting a new five-star food labelling system as the latest tool to help fight the obesity epidemic in Australia.  The star scale would rate foods from half-a-star to five stars, based on nutritional value.

Federal, state and territory ministers will discuss the proposal for the new voluntary system at a meeting tomorrow.  If they agree, it is likely stars will appear on the front of food packaging by the middle of next year.

But it is understood the Food and Grocery Council is not convinced the plan is ready to roll out.

The federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Shayne Neumann, says he wants all jurisdictions and the industry to support the scheme.

"I'm very pleased the jurisdictional representatives will be there on Friday," he said.  "I've had some discussions already and I'm very pleased with the response so far in relation to it.  "An at a glance, interpretive information guide is what consumers want. It's a powerful tool."

Michael Moore from the Public Health Association of Australia says the system will make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices.

"People will be able to just, at a glance, have a look at the front of the pack and go, 'Hey this is four-and-a-half star food, that's obviously good for me, it's obviously good for my children'," he said.

"Or one-and-a-half stars - 'look we'll eat a bit of that but we'll be careful'."

The proposal has been worked on for months by representatives from the food industry and retailers, health and consumer groups.
Obesity tipped to soar

Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition says the aim of the proposal is very clear.  "The situation is very serious already. We've got more than 65 per cent of adults overweight or obese and 25 per cent of children," she said.  "And, the projections are that by 2020 that will rise to 80 per cent of adults and two-thirds of children."

She says it is a population-wide problem and while obesity rates are higher among low-income earners, it is a middle-class problem

"There's not going to be one magic bullet and we need to give people the kind of information that will help them make better decisions and healthier decisions," she said.  "So front of pack labelling system that gives people interpretive information will help them cut through the marketing spin."

Food and Grocery Council has concerns

Most packaged food will be covered. Soft drinks and confectionary will be exempt, but will display the kilojoule content.

But the ABC understands the Australian Food and Grocery Council has concerns about the cost to food manufacturers to change labelling and how the 'health value' of a product would be determined.

The ABC understands it is prepared to consider the options, but it has also written to the states with some concerns.  The council did not return calls from the ABC.

Mr Moore says the group has been involved in the process and has lashed out at what he calls their delaying tactics.

"I must say I feel a little jaded because my organisation, the Heart Foundation, Cancer, Choice, have spent quite a significant amount of time and quite a reasonable amount of money to come to this point and I think it's entirely inappropriate action from the Food and Grocery Council," he said.


14 June, 2013

As a fourth generation white Australian, what’s my culture?

The writer below seems to have the odd idea that because something is shared by more than one culture it is therefore not part of either one's culture.  Strange.  For instance, both Australians and Britons like fish and chips a lot.  So that cannot be part of Australian culture?  Australia and Britain both have distinctive cultures but for historical reasons there is a large degree of overlap between the two.  What problem that poses I have no idea.  Enthusiastic fish and chip eating is still part of Australian culture, like it or not.

And what about the English love of curry, which rivals their love of fish & chips?  Can there be an English weekend without curry these days?  Is that not part of English culture because curry is originally Indian?  You would have to leave out a large part of what is characteristically English behaviour to argue so.

The distinctive part of Australian culture that is most obvious  is our slang.  The distinction between a nong and a galah is one that only Australians can make or recognize.  And someone described by Australians as a drongo has real problems.  Sadly, however, the influence of movies and TV is tending to replace Australian slang with American slang, particularly among the young.  Australian slang is much more vivid and varied as far as I can see so that is a real loss.

The author below has a good point, however, in saying that we can be proud of what we are not.  That we have ditched 90% of the idiotic English social class system, for instance, is a huge and honourable distinction.  I would be happy to argue that that alone makes Australian culture superior to English culture  -- JR

"How can you have a clash of cultures when you're playing against a country with no culture?"

This was retired English cricketer David Gower's response to a question about the upcoming Ashes series as being a "clash of cultures."

And you know what? I kind of agree.  We Australians might have plenty of cultural festivals, the yoghurt range at most supermarkets is superb and our beer is based on some of the finest yeast cultures on the planet.

But nearly every country I've visited features traditional dress, music, food and architecture.

As a fourth generation white Australian male, what's my culture?

A pie with a side of steak and prawns cooked on a barbecue, with pavlova for dessert?

Well pavlova is from New Zealand, and the rest of that meal has existed well over two hundred years.

What about my traditional music, dance or clothing? A singlet, board shorts and thongs, drunkenly swaying to Crowded House or ACDC. Bands whose key members aren't Australian either.

Even if that was traditional, it's not something worth re-enacting at the airport to welcome visitors. But if that job were going, I'd gladly take it.

A couple of years ago I went travelling through parts of Europe and Asia, instead of seeing what my culture lacked, this time I saw the advantages.

We might not have any typically Australian food, but you can get just about anything here, and in terms of quality ingredients, our food is admired on a global scale. For example, most visitors agree that our McDonalds and KFC are the best.

Unlike other countries, the Australian accent doesn't easily reveal the town or city or often even state you're from, and nobody gives a stuff about your family name, who your parents are, where you went to school or where your grew up.

Our rivalries have been forged through battles on the sporting field, not actual battles.

To me, Australia is a place where if a hand is offered you shake it, if someone needs help you give it, and you're free to believe whatever you like as long as it doesn't hurt anyone.

Also, I reckon there are a few traits that mark me as distinctly Australian.

Such as knowing my football club song, how to fill out a box trifecta and a good price for a kilo of prawns, but not knowing every word of the national anthem, the date of the Queen's actual birthday or where my name is "from", and being equally proud of all those things.

Along with understanding the logic behind drive-through bottle shops, believing that insulting friends or family is a sign of respect, and despite our efforts to capture typically Australian on film, I think this was best done by a bunch of drag queens in the desert.

Really though, the idea of "Australian" is very much a work in progress. We're so diverse and have been together as a group such a short time, that any definition is still up for negotiation.

Which is actually an amazingly privileged and unique position.

Compared to more established and less-diverse countries, we have nowhere near the baggage. Through our actions and decisions, we all have a pivotal role in determining what it means to be Australian.

Our history is our future. Our culture is what we decide. Please, let's not stuff it up. We are the lucky country.


Must not probe Julia Gillard's unusual living arrangements

Julia's live-in companion is a hairdresser who does seem rather effeminate at times.  There is therefore a widespread presumption that he is bisexual.  Apparently, you must not mention that, however

RADIO presenter Howard Sattler has been taken off air for being "disrespectful and irrelevant" in quizzing the PM over her partner's sexuality.

On Sattler’s Drive show yesterday, Ms Gillard was asked about the recent offensive menu saga, if she ever wanted to be a teacher, her lack of religious belief and the topic of same-sex marriage.

After discussing topics for 12 minutes, Sattler then asked Ms Gillard if he could address some of the rumours about her partner Tim Mathieson's sexuality.

"That’s absurd,” she said to Sattler.

Sattler prompted her further: "But you hear it, ‘he must be gay, he’s a hairdresser’."

Ms Gillard refused to be drawn on the controversial comments.

"I mean Howard, I don’t know if every silly thing that gets said is going to be repeated to me now,” Ms Gillard replied.

"To all the hairdressers out there, including the men who are listening, I don’t think in life one can actually look at a whole profession full of different human beings and say ‘gee we know something about every one of those human beings'.”


Australian jobs 'near-shoring' to NZ as companies cut costs

The suddden proliferating of Whittaker's chocolate in Woolworths arises from their lower labour costs in NZ

Thousands of Australian jobs are being shipped across the Tasman to New Zealand as firms chase lower wages and less restrictive labour laws.

Off-shoring - or 'near-shoring' - positions to New Zealand has intensified as firms realise they can get the same quality output for at least 30 per cent lower cost.

Last month ANZ announced plans for 70 jobs to be transferred across the Tasman.

Auckland-based Telnet has so far lured four Australian companies in a range of industries from media to cosmetics and aviation to join its ranks.

The ASX-listed film-streaming business Quickflix is among them.  "We have an opportunity to help them achieve that," Telnet managing director John Chetwynd said.

With an unemployment rate at an 18-year high of nearly 8 per cent, Wellington is welcoming Australian businesses with open arms.

Melbourne-based CallActive has secured three floors of commercial real estate in central Wellington for what will become a 1,000-seat call centre.  "The company tax rates are lower, salaries are a little bit lower, superannuation is only 3 per cent ... utility costs are a little bit cheaper," CallActive's Justin Teippett said.

Contact Centres Australia opened its first New Zealand call centre earlier this year.  In April, Unity4 also announced plans to transfer jobs to New Zealand.

New Zealand's finance minister Bill English says call centres are not the only Australian industry setting up shop in the country.

"What we are finding is that the effect of off-shoring is not just in call centre jobs, but in high tech jobs and in IT jobs," he said.

Fairfax media began off-shoring last year with 40 production jobs, earlier this year it announced another batch of editorial jobs as well as most of its call centre work would shift to New Zealand.

Some businesses making the move argue the New Zealand lifestyle is a key selling point for those workers given the opportunity to relocate.


Aggressive anti-vaccination nuts

The Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), which is actually anti-vaccine, is fighting an order to change its name.

It claims to be a lobby and support group that promotes health choices.  But the New South Wales Fair Trading Department says that is misleading because it is, in fact, an anti-vaccination group.

New Zealand father Ian Williams has become the latest vocal campaigner in favour of vaccination.

He and his wife had not vaccinated their children, but then their son got a cut on his foot, and the situation became very serious.

"It took a stay of 24 hours in hospital for them to diagnose it was tetanus, because the spasms started getting worse and worse," he said.  "It's a terrible thing. Your whole body arches, your arms go up in the air."

Mr Williams says the vaccine controversy is difficult to navigate.  "It looks like, when you go into it, there's a whole lot of pros and cons, and there's a 50-50 argument," he said.

In reality, almost 100 per cent of doctors are pro-vaccine.

The Australian Vaccination Network sounds like an organisation that would agree with Mr Williams' views that vaccination is a life saver, but it does not.

In fact, it actively promotes the link between vaccination and autism, a theory that was debunked by the medical world 20 years ago.

The NSW Department of Fair Trading has ordered it to change its name, but the AVN is resisting the order in court.  The parties will be back in court on Friday.

New South Wales Opposition health spokesman and paediatrician, Dr Andrew McDonald, says the AVN's name is a serious problem.

"This is all about false advertising. The Australian Vaccination Network, a vehement anti-vaccination group, who are doing whatever they can to keep their name near the top of a Google search," he said.

"They're number two on a Google search if you use the words 'Australia' and 'vaccination' and that's why they want to preserve their name to keep it there."

Journalist Jane Hansen has been heading up a recent campaign at Sydney's Sunday Telegraph designed to raise vaccination rates.

"Anyone who criticises the AVN - and this is journalists, politicians or even parents that have had sick children who have gone public with their views on vaccination - very quickly find themselves on the end of some pretty vile attacks," she said.

"They pride themselves on this all natural approach but there's no peace, love and lentils if you criticise them.

"They come at you, criticising you of being on the payroll of 'Big Pharma'."

Dr McDonald has also felt their sting.  "We've had the police around our office following and they've investigated threatening emails to this office," he said.

PM has contacted the founder of the AVN, Meryl Dorey, to respond to those allegations.

Dr McDonald says it is time for doctors to educate the community about the consequences of non-vaccination.

"The tragedy is that we are now seeing as much whooping cough as I did 30 years ago," he said.  "We've just had a major epidemic of measles in Campbelltown.  "Unless we improve our immunisation rates, we are at risk of future epidemics."


13 June, 2013

University and watchdog in bed together over corruption scandal

In the original scandal, Deputy university boss Keniger admitted the stepdaughter of boss Greenfield into the medical school even though she was not qualified.  Greenfield did nothing to reverse or disown that, relying instead on it being covered up.  But Procopis blew the whistle and ended up being fired for doing so.  So on top of all that corruption, the CMC is now involved with corruption and secrecy of its own in the matter.  No wonder all the principal figures have now resigned

THE state's independent anti-corruption body helped the University of Queensland manage the fallout from its nepotism scandal at the same time it was investigating the educational facility.

Documents show the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the state's leading university co-ordinated their media responses even as the CMC was probing UQ's actions, including its public statements about the scandal that forced out its two most senior members of staff.

Queenslanders are still waiting for the CMC report more than 18 months after vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy, Michael Keniger, left UQ over an "irregularity" in the enrolment into the medical faculty of a relative of Mr Greenfield.

The CMC last night said its actions were normal protocol. It said its internal rules obliged it to disclose inquiries relating to UQ internal investigations to the public bodies involved and any "heads-up" alerts were also a courtesy.

But emails obtained by The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws show the CMC last year gave the university advance warning of questions about Phil Procopis, the senior UQ staffer who brought the nepotism scandal to light and was later made redundant.

Mr Procopis, who was never the subject of an investigation, also had a part-time job as head of the CMC's audit committee.

In an email forwarded to then-vice-chancellor Debbie Terry on July 3, heavily redacted by UQ to remove references to Mr Procopis, Ms King wrote: "Hi all, just to keep you in the loop, Siobhan Barry of the CMC has just rung to advise she spoke to Mark Solomons yesterday about (redacted) ... She was unable to provide us with a written copy of the statement as it related to (redacted) CMC role but provided this verbal summary instead."

And in an April 2012 email, UQ communications manager Jan King wrote to Ms Terry and executive director (operations) Maurie McNarn: "Shelley Thomas of the CMC has given us a heads-up that she has taken a call from Leisa Scott of The Courier-Mail in relation to a complaint about the offer of a place in the dentistry program and a staff appointment in the School of Psychology ... So we may receive a call."

UQ in turn routinely copied in the CMC on its responses to inquiries from media outlets.

Mr McNarn, when asked to comment on a proposed statement to The Courier-Mail about Mr Procopis, wrote to Prof Terry on July 1: "Looks good to me. CMC media were the only ones that spring to mind, however if the article is unfair or inaccurate we might wish to send it to key government ministers media (both levels, but emphasis on state) with a covering note stating that this is what we provided and what is inaccurate to pre-empt their questions."

Earlier, the university had considered using the crime-fighting body's involvement as an excuse not to answer questions.

In a December 2011 email exchange, Kelly Robinson, executive general manager of Rowland, the company hired by UQ to give advice on public relations crisis management, wrote to UQ bosses: "Given the CMC is quoted as saying they have requested further information (as per The Courier-Mail story on Saturday), we could simply say `given the CMC has requested further information on this matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further'."

UQ, which promised greater transparency and accountability in the wake of the 2011 scandal, initially refused to deal with The Courier-Mail's Right To Information request in February on the grounds it would be "a substantial and unreasonable diversion of university resources". Many of the documents eventually provided are entirely blanked out, including in some cases the identity of the senders and recipients.

The CMC is struggling for survival after a damning review this year.

Its misconduct arm, which has been probing UQ since 2011, has come under fire for the slow pace of investigations and misplaced priorities.

CMC chairman Ross Martin stepped down in April for health reasons and acting chair Warren Strange quit in May.

The Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said last night it was "critical that the state continues to have an independent statutory body to oversee crime and misconduct".

"We want to ensure this body is able to operate efficiently and with the highest level of integrity, by being open and accountable itself," he said.


Doctors, police warn Prime Minister Julia Gillard of asylum time bomb

 ASYLUM seekers languishing in suburbia are a ticking time bomb, doctors and police warn in a letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

They say they can't deal with problems caused by a lack of welfare and mental health support.

The letter, sent by South Eastern Melbourne Medicare Local and seen by the Herald Sun, says gang violence, street brawls and drug and alcohol problems are taking hold in Melbourne's southeast and Ms Gillard must urgently direct health resources to the area.

One mentally troubled man even set himself on fire.

Confronted by up to 200 arrivals a month, South Eastern Melbourne Medicare Local says it can't meet the health needs of marginalised young men who, banned from working, are becoming more and more isolated.

SEMML chairman Dr Nicholas Demediuk said many had experienced trauma and had worsening health and little support.

"We request the opportunity to provide further details on this community priority area and discuss strategies that we believe will address this simmering time bomb in our community," his May 31 letter said.

"It has been widely reported to local services that people from Afghan backgrounds are experiencing racial stigma in Melbourne's southeast, and there are specific neighbourhoods where tension has escalated to violence.

"This situation can contribute to risk issues by compounding mental health issues."

"At board level a major current concern relates to increasing violence and crime in our catchment, including gang-related brawls and increasing drug and alcohol issues."

The area now houses 2496 Afghans aged 10 to 24.

The Gillard Government remains under intense pressure to solve the boats crisis, with 716 boats arriving under Labor - and 15 vessels carrying 1184 people arriving this month alone.

The City of Casey and City of Dandenong have seen the greatest influx under recent humanitarian settlements.

The medical network warns it needs greater resources to cope with the young people arriving on bridging visas.

In comments quoted in the letter, Senior Constable James Waterson of the police Southern Metropolitan Multicultural Liaison Unit said young Afghan men were turning to crime including property damage, sexual assaults, and violence.

Sen-Constable Waterson said police were being called to incidents where men awaiting residency were threatening self-harm, including a case where a man set himself alight.

"The common theme across these incidents is that the offender/person involved has recently arrived in Australia, is suffering severe depression and anxiety and has turned either a criminal offender or to self-harm," Sen-Constable Waterson wrote.

"Further discussions with these males has revealed many of the causal factors are around lack of employment options, which has an effect on their ability to repay loans and/or send money back to Afghanistan for help.

"This, coupled with the prospect of not being granted residency in Australia, is influencing these people to either commit crimes for financial gain or as an outlet."

Asylum seekers in the community are provided with six weeks' accommodation support, but are not allowed to work and must survive on 89 per cent of the Newstart allowance.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Labor's failure to stop the boats was creating a mounting human cost, as well as a budget blowout.

"Labor's no care, no responsibility bridging visa policy is dumping the consequences of their border failure out into communities with no regard for the impacts such as on health, state budgets or the resources of charities and other non-government organisations," he said.

Paul Perry, spokesman for Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, said the Federal Government provided a range of health services to refugees.

The State Government will lobby at Friday's meeting of health ministers for Canberra to increase health funding for released asylum seekers and refugees.


Naughty menu

A full-figured Ms. Gillard

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has described a menu distributed at an opposition party fundraiser that made crude and derogatory comments about her body as "grossly sexist".

The menu was presented at a dinner for former minister and Liberal National Party election candidate Mal Brough.

It offered up "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big Red Box".

Opposition leader Tony Abbott condemned the incident, calling the menu "tacky".  "I condemn it, as Mal Brough has. We should all be bigger and better than that," he said. "We should be appealing to every Australian's best self as we go into this election."

The fundraising dinner, in late March, was attended by about 20 people, with shadow treasurer Joe Hockey as the guest of honour.

The menu card in question also mocked former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and two other Labor party lawmakers, as well as the Greens.

Both Mr Hockey and Mr Brough have told local media they do not recall having seen the menu.

Mr Brough - who has apologised - said the text was drawn up by a non-party member who was "deeply apologetic", the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.


Risky humor again

Muslim woman wears full-face burqa in Brisbane court

A MAGISTRATE has questioned whether a Saudi woman appearing in court should have been allowed to wear "a full burqa" or face covering, telling her "this is an Australian court".

Brisbane Magistrate John Costello was sentencing a woman who pleaded guilty to leaving her baby, four and half months, unattended in a car in direct sun for 45 minutes last year.

Mr Costello asked the woman's lawyer Peter Saggers if what she was wearing was "a full burqa" and he indicated it was.

"I can only see the eyes of that defendant," Mr Costello said.

The magistrate questioned whether it was "appropriate" for the full burqa to be worn in court, saying: "This is an Australian court" and he queried "the validity" of her wearing it in court.

But Islamic groups yesterday came out in support of Mr Costello, saying they supported magistrates asking women to remove their face covering if there was a reasonable question of security or identification.

Mr Saggers told the magistrate the woman, 27, was from Saudi Arabia and said: "I have not seen her dressed in any other way."

Mr Costello then proceeded to sentence the female student, without requiring her to remove her face covering, more commonly called a niqab when it reveals the eyes.

Islamic Council of Queensland president Mohammed Yusuf said he opposed any blanket law requiring women wearing burqa or niqab to show their face.

But he said the Islamic council would not object to a magistrate asking a woman to remove her face covering if there was a reasonable question of security or identification.

Mr Yusuf said individual cases could be handled with sensitivity, with the woman taken into another room for identification by a female police or court officer.

Yasmin Khan, president of Islamic community festival Eidsfest, said magistrates should be able to ask women wearing a burqa or niqab to remove their facial covering in court.

"Where justice and security are an issue women should identify by at least showing their face, to identify the person who has been charged," Ms Khan said.

She said another person could falsely pose as an accused person by wearing a face covering.

Nearly three years ago a Perth judge caused controversy when she ordered a Muslim woman to remove a full burqa while giving evidence before a jury in a fraud trial.

"Judges and magistrates are acutely alive to the sensitivity of these situations. They respect the requirements of particular religions," Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey said yesterday.

"They would request removal of a burqa only if necessary for the due determination of a proceeding - if, for example, the identity of an alleged offender were in issue."

Deputy Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Neroli Holmes said the Anti-Discrimination Act did not apply to court directions.

She said it was not unlawful discrimination to respectfully ask someone to remove headwear if it was required "for purposes of reasonable legitimate public safety or identification".

An Islamic woman should be asked to remove her headwear in a respectful way and not in the presence of men, where possible, Ms Holmes said.

A Brisbane Muslim teenager recently complained to Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commission of being held against her will in a service station, after refusing to remove her full burqa.

In yesterday's court case Mr Costello sentenced the woman to a six-month good behaviour bond.

The court heard the woman and her husband, who also was charged, left their baby in the car, in direct sunlight with windows wound up, for 45 minutes. A nurse called police.


12 June, 2013

Row over asylum health costs as Victoria leads revolt

THE Gillard government is facing a states' revolt over the soaring cost of healthcare for asylum-seekers and refugees, with the influx costing tens of millions of dollars and straining an already overloaded system.

The three most populous states want the commonwealth to be held accountable for fast-rising health costs incurred, due to the rising tide of community-based asylum-seekers and refugees since the Rudd government dumped the Pacific Solution five years ago.

The ministerial Standing Council on Health is set to demand the Gillard government share the burden of increased costs for basic services, including immunisations for asylum-seekers, mental health and dental services, interpreters and stronger support for foreigners seeking access to the primary care system.

Victoria - with the backing of NSW and Queensland - will on Friday demand a better funding deal for the states to eliminate cost-shifting and for Canberra to accept responsibility for the surge in asylum-seekers.

Victoria has conducted a detailed assessment of how the states are being forced to pick up extra health costs, when it argues that border protection is a federal issue.

Victorian Health Minister David Davis said yesterday his state was prepared to help asylum-seekers and refugees but the commonwealth needed to contribute to the cost, which was leading to further pressure on already strained budgets.

"If they are coming, you can't put your head in the sand," Mr Davis said. "You've got to get ahead of the game."

Health ministers will debate what to do to immediately help new arrivals who have been released into the community, a move aimed at easing pressures on the detention centre network, which has been unable to cope with the influx of more than 43,000 irregular marine arrivals in the past 4 1/2 years.

Paris Aristotle, a member of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, has backed the push by the three states, warning that many foreigners are being left stranded by the current system and the lack of community support.

Mr Aristotle said while Australia had a generally strong record on helping people, the large numbers had exposed many services. "Those pressures are playing out in the forms of people being destitute, people being unable to sustain themselves or their families adequately," Mr Aristotle told The Australian.

The ministers will debate whether all asylum-seekers not in detention should be eligible for Medicare.

They will also discuss forcing the commonwealth to ensure eligibility for healthcare funding regardless of their stage in the immigration queue.

"Any services, such as public hospital care, provided by state and territory health systems, which would normally be paid for through Medicare, should be reimbursed by the commonwealth on a fee-for-service basis," Victoria will argue.

It will say the commonwealth currently only funds healthcare for asylum-seekers in a form of detention and for health services under Medicare. But asylum-seekers are eligible for almost all state health and aged services, and the states are picking up the bill for hearing, dental and immunisation.

Victoria acknowledges that most asylum-seekers are eligible for Medicare.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor said: "Primary healthcare for refugees who are permanent visa holders and those in the community on bridging visas are covered by Medicare. Using Medicare . . . represents the most efficient method of providing these health services to asylum-seekers in the community, reducing the burden on the states and territories."

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has backed Victoria's position, saying he raised the issue last year in the context of health services and costs affecting northern Queensland.

A spokeswoman for NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said she was looking forward to the discussion: "NSW will be participating in the debate at the Standing Council on Health to ensure there is sufficient funding to cover the increased cost of healthcare for refugees."

The cost to the states of dealing with the extra community-based asylum-seekers and refugees is likely to near $100 million.

Victoria, which makes up a quarter of the national economy, allocated more than $22m extra to help deal with the issue in this year's budget.

The Victorian paper estimates the number of asylum-seekers by boat and living in the community on bridging visas was 20,000 nationally in the nine months to last month and 6600 in Victoria.


Minister Alison Anderson mauls ABC "fact-checker" Russell Skelton

OUTSPOKEN Northern Territory minister Alison Anderson has unleashed a scathing attack on the head of the ABC's new fact-checking unit, Russell Skelton, slamming his work as "highly partisan" and saying he is unfit for the role.

Skelton became the centre of controversy when a string of tweets he made targeting Coalition figures was revealed in Senate estimates hearings a fortnight ago. ABC managing director Mark Scott said the tweets had come before the former Fairfax journalist had joined the broadcaster.

"Journalists have views; journalists vote," Mr Scott said, defending the appointment. "The test is not what their views are; the test is how they do their job."

The creation of the unit has caused concerns within the ABC, with talk among some staff that it will further expose the broadcaster to claims of bias.

Ms Anderson, a former commissioner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission, said Skelton's appointment was "not in the interests of the national public broadcaster, or of the nation". The pair clashed over his 2010 book King Brown Country, which slammed her and her family's involvement with the Papunya Community Council.

Ms Anderson declined to be interviewed for the book, which won a 2011 Walkley Award. She said "its principal source was deeply hostile to me", understood to be a reference to her former partner, and adding that it "contained almost 70 basic errors of fact and detail".

A police investigation cleared Ms Anderson of any wrongdoing.

The Australian understands that Ms Anderson sought legal advice last decade over Skelton's reporting and that the original publisher of King Brown Country declined to proceed with the project over fears of litigation.

Skelton has a longstanding friendship with Des Rogers, a political rival of Ms Anderson's.

Ms Anderson defeated Mr Rogers to win Labor preselection for the Alice Springs and southern outback seat of Macdonnell in 2005. She left Labor in 2009 to sit as an independent, then joined the Country Liberal Party in 2011. Ms Anderson defeated Mr Rogers, the Labor candidate, to win the seat, renamed Namatjira, at the Territory poll last August.

She said Skelton "conducted himself more like a campaigner than a reporter" in the campaign.

Scott McConnell, of Ingkerreke Outstation Resource Services, a supporter of Ms Anderson, said he had "shirtfronted" Skelton when he arrived in Alice Springs before the poll, demanding that he declare his friendship with Mr Rogers. A statement appeared at the end of a feature published days before the poll.

The Australian has found quotes from Mr Rogers in Skelton's reporting on indigenous affairs dating back to 2007.

Mr Rogers accompanied Skelton as his guest to the 2011 Walkley dinner in Brisbane, where he won the award for King Brown Country, and also appeared with him at a function in a Melbourne bookshop promoting the book weeks before the Territory election.

Mr Rogers yesterday acknowledged their friendship. He said he had introduced Skelton to the Papunya community, but denied he had been a source for the book.

He praised Skelton's reporting, saying "he only writes stuff from an evidence-based perspective", and dismissed Ms Anderson as "a headline grabber" after "anything to get her in the media".

Opposition leader in the Senate Eric Abetz, who first raised the matter of Skelton's tweets, said: "Even the ABC's own Media Watch appreciates the grave issue of apprehended bias with Skelton's appointment."

Skelton dismissed Ms Anderson's claims, saying she was approached on "countless occasions over a number of years" for comment during the writing of his book. "Since publication . . . Ms Anderson has not approached nor disputed any of the facts contained in King Brown Country -- the Betrayal of Papunya with either me or my publisher," he said.

Skelton said the book was "informed by multiple sources including members of Ms Anderson's extended family".


Unfounded accusation of racism from a black

An Indigenous broadcaster has used his nationally-syndicated radio program to say the Northern Territory town of Katherine "reeks of racism".

Tiga Bayles, who hosts a talk show on Brisbane's 98.9 FM, is also the chairman of the Australian Indigenous Communications Association.

After visiting Katherine last week, he told his radio audience he was shocked to learn the shopping centre in the town, about 300 kilometres south of Darwin, charges $2 for people to use its toilets, a move he believes is targeted at Indigenous people.

"I said how the town of Katherine reeks of racism, you can smell it in the air, it hits you between the eyes when you drive into the place, when you walk down the street, when you go for a coffee," he said.

"I believe this policy of keeping toilets locked is aimed at First Nations people, Aboriginal people."

Katherine mayor Fay Miller said Mr Bayles' comments were out of line.

"I resent people who arrive in our town and make disparaging comments on the basis of their five-second experience," she said.

She says the shopping centre's pay-per-use toilet fee applies to all members of the community.

"It has been running for some time now," she said.  "I know that everybody who goes in there has made comments about how wonderful and clean it is."

Ms Miller said she may write to shopping centre management to ask for the fee to be reduced to $1.

The shopping centre operator has denied that the pay-toilet system is racist.

Federation Centres owns the shopping centre and spokesman Brandon Phillips says the policy ensures the toilets are clean, and it is not discriminatory.  "We have no intention to discriminate against anyone," he said.

"It is a matter that we were required to address in some way, given the health and safety concerns for people utilising the facilities.

"It's designed to provide a clean and safe surrounding for people in the centre, which I think is to the benefit of all people.

"I acknowledge it's a difficult situation and the charge will be reviewed over time."


Opposition accuses Julia Gillard of stoking 'gender war' with abortion comments

And her strange horror of blue ties!

The Opposition has ruled out making any changes to Australia's abortion laws after Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned the issue would become the "political plaything of men" if Tony Abbott becomes prime minister.

Ms Gillard made the comments yesterday while launching a fundraising organisation linked to the Labor Party, called Women for Gillard.

"We don't want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better," she told the gathering.

The launch was closed to the media but vision was provided by the Prime Minister's office.

This morning Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop called the comments a "crude political ploy from a desperate PM leading a bitterly divided party" and demanded an apology from Ms Gillard.

"She's clearly trying to distract attention from her own self-inflicted political woes," Ms Bishop told ABC News Breakfast.

"I think Australians deserve better than this from the top leadership in the country.  "We would expect a PM to seek to unite the country, not divide it through some false gender war."

Ms Bishop reiterated the Coalition would not make any changes to abortion laws if it wins Government, something Ms Gillard "well knows".

"I find it offensive that she's raised it as a political issue and quite frankly she should apologise for raising false and offensive claims," Ms Bishop said.

"It's a very crude political ploy as I say, and it surprises me that the PM is playing to such base politics.

"This ridiculous notion that men in blue ties shouldn't be leading the country - there's a photograph doing the rounds of the social media of [US] president [Barack] Obama in his blue tie, with vice-president Joe Biden standing next to him in a blue tie.

"I'm sure that Julia Gillard wasn't trying to suggest that the United States leaders were incompetent."

In her speech, Ms Gillard drew attention to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's recent decision to wear pale blue ties to soften his image.

"It's a decision about whether once again we will banish women's voices from the core of our nation's political life," Ms Gillard said. "I invite you to imagine it: a prime minister - a man with a blue tie who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie.  "A treasurer who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister, another man in a blue tie.

"Women once again, banished from the centre of Australia's political life."

Labor backbencher Stephen Jones, a Kevin Rudd supporter, was surprised by Ms Gillard's comments on abortion.

"I'm not convinced of the wisdom of kicking this into a political debate," he said yesterday.

"I think the 2013 election should be faced up around the big policy issues, as important as that one is."

However, he said it was unremarkable that Ms Gillard raised the issue in a speech to women.

Another backbencher told the ABC the Prime Minister's comments in support of women were completely inconsistent, given her decision to endorse Senator David Feeney for the safe Lower House seat of Batman.


11 June, 2013

The Sydney Harbour bridge?

It's the Hell Gate railway bridge in New York, photo from 1940

Tamil illegal immigrants  getting  'enhanced screenings'

Weeping for Tamils is absurd.  If any of them were real refugees, they could find refuge in Tamil Nadu, which is the Tamil "eelam" (homeland) just 50 miles away across the Palk strait in India.  The ones who come here are just economic migrants

A former Immigration Department official has condemned Australia's process of so-called "enhanced screening" of asylum seekers as dangerous and says the department felt pressured by the Prime Minister's office.

Under enhanced screening, asylum seekers can be rejected based on their answers in an initial interview soon after arriving in Australia.

The method has been used to send more than 1,200 asylum seekers straight home, just days after they arrive on boats.

All were Sri Lankans, and the Australian Tamil Congress says some have ended up in prison once they are returned home.

Former Immigration Department official Greg Lake has told the ABC's 7.30 program he fears legitimate refugees have been rejected.

Mr Lake was the operations manager at the Nauru detention centre earlier this year, and he also held management positions at the Christmas Island and Scherger detention centres, before quitting in April.

He says the interviews begin with a simple question: "Why did you come to Australia?".  "And if they say, 'I've run for my life because this government is persecuting me, because I'm a Tamil', for example, that's the kind of thing we'll go and explore with further questions", he said.

"But if they didn't say anything along those lines ... if the question is asked and nothing is invoked, at times it can be done on one question, which I think is very dangerous, especially given the vulnerability, it's usually done within the first week or so of a person arriving, that's a very volatile time for someone who's just stepped off a boat."

He is concerned some legitimate refugees have been rejected.

"I would never say with 100 per cent confidence yes, but it wouldn't surprise me if we found out later we had [rejected legitimate refugees]," Mr Lake said.

In a statement, the Immigration Department says it rejects any suggestion the enhanced screening process denies asylum seekers an opportunity to demonstrate their protection claims.

But lawyer David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, disagrees.

"I have received personally credible evidence that some of these people coming here who have then been summarily expelled under this enhanced screening have raised serious and strong claims for refugee protection," Mr Manne said.


Dump anti-dumping

Many factors have been cited behind Ford Australia’s decision to cease production. While government policy has supported the local car industry to the tune of billions of dollars, other government policies have directly undermined the industry’s competitiveness.

Australia’s anti-dumping system is a case in point. Anti-dumping duties on imports of Chinese-made alloy wheels and the threat of duties on steel imports in response to complaints from BlueScope Steel have directly hurt the local car industry.

There is a certain irony in the government’s subsidies to the car industry being undermined by its anti-dumping system, which is notionally intended to help industry, but in reality hurts Australian producers and consumers.

The government is establishing a new Anti-Dumping Commission from July this year and has committed extra resources to identify and impose additional duties on imports deemed too cheap under Australia’s anti-dumping laws.

Dumping is not an exception to the general case in which a country that is a net importer of a good benefits from lower prices. The gain to Australian consumers – including Australian businesses that consume the dumped good – from lower prices is larger than the loss to Australian producers of the dumped good.

Despite its pejorative connotations, Australia’s economic welfare is enhanced as a result of ‘dumping’ by foreign producers.

Dumping is no different to an improvement in Australia’s terms of trade (the ratio of export prices to import prices); allowing increased domestic consumption out of the same amount of domestic production.

Dumping is not illegal under World Trade Organization rules. Nor does the WTO require Australia to have an anti-dumping system.

Australia should dump rather than enhance its anti-dumping system.

Even if Australia retains an anti-dumping system, the responsible Minister should use their discretion under the existing law to refuse anti-dumping and countervailing measures applications on public interest grounds.

They should instead highlight the benefits of cheaper imports for Australian consumers and the economy as a whole, building community support for free trade.


Australian lake sees little change in 7,500 years

Looks like "climate change" is not very global after all.  Politics aside, however, it really is a beautiful lake

Scientists in Australia say they've found a unique lake that appears to be exactly as it was 7,500 years ago, untouched by climate change for thousands of years.

Blue Lake -- one of the largest of a number of lakes inside Blue Lake National Park on North Stradbroke Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia -- has remained relatively stable and resilient for millennia.

A group of researchers from the University of Adelaide studied the lake's water discharge and quality, and its fossil pollen and algae, to complete a historical record of the lake over the past several thousand years. They also compared photos of the lake over the past 117 years and published their findings in the academic journal Freshwater Biology.

The lake is so clear that even though it's more than 10 metres deep, you can see clear to the bottom, the study's lead resarcher Cameron Barr.  "It's like God's bathtub," Barr said in an interview. "It's beautiful. It's absolutely beautiful."

The island where the lake lies is a sand island, and Blue Lake's water is continuously replenished every 35 days, he added.

"We know that there have been variations in climate in the region including North Stradbroke Island over recent decades, but during that time the depth, shoreline and water chemistry of Blue Lake has displayed little variation," Dr Barr told the newspaper.

It has remained in its current state even as the rest of the region has shifted toward a drier climate, he added.

"It appears that Blue Lake has been an important climate 'refuge' for the freshwater biota of the region, and is in the same condition now as it was 7,500 years ago," Dr Barr said. "With appropriate management, the lake could continue relatively unchanged for hundreds, possibly thousands of years to come."


10 June, 2013

The do-gooder Left kills some more people

Illegal immigrants in boats had stopped coming to Australia under the previous conservative government but the welcome flags waved by the Labor Party restarted the (very risky) flow

More than 40 people are missing and feared dead after an asylum seeker boat sank off Christmas Island and questions are asked about the speed of Australia's search and rescue response.

Thirteen bodies were spotted in the water on Saturday and Australian authorities, two merchant vessels and a chartered aircraft spent Sunday searching for survivors, 74 nautical miles west of the island.

A three-day search for survivors was called off late on Sunday night with not a single person recovered from the water.

Customs and Border Protection was deciding on Monday morning if an operation would be mounted to recover the bodies.

Questions have been raised about the time taken to mount the rescue operation, as an air force plane first identified the boat when it was only 28 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island at about 5.45pm Sydney time on Wednesday.

The boat was carrying about 55 people on deck, mostly men but also a small number of women and children. Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said it was "too early to tell" where the group was coming from.

When the boat was spotted, it was stationary but did not seem in distress, he said. It is understood Australian authorities did not receive a distress call from the vessel.

HMAS Warramunga arrived in the area at 1.30am on Thursday, but could not find the boat. After searches on Thursday, a plane spotted the submerged hull about 3pm on Friday. When the Warramunga arrived at the location, it could see only pieces of wood and life-jackets.

"This is another terrible tragedy, another terrible reminder of how dangerous these journeys are," Mr Clare said on Sunday.

Mr Clare said the search would be subject to a full review by Customs and Border Protection, "as is standard practice". But the Greens believe there should be a more thorough inquiry, beyond the standard internal review.

Indonesia's ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, recently ruled out collaboration to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia. But opposition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan said Australia did not need a formal arrangement with its neighbour to turn boats back.

BPC Commander Rear Admiral David Johnston said there would be risks involved with the Coalition's tow-back plans.

HMAS Warramunga located a boat on Sunday about 110 nautical miles north of Christmas Island they believed made a distress call the day before. The boat has about 70 people on board, who are now being transferred to Christmas Island.


The PUP party has a woof

Minor conservative parties such as PUP and KAP look like being very helpful in the next election.  They should draw a lot of the protest vote that the Greens must largely have forfeited and that vote should flow through to the Liberal party via preferences -- and could give the Liberals control of the Senate

And the band played Waltzing Matilda. They also played True Blue, Botany Bay, C'mon Aussie C'mon and Tenterfield Saddler. There was talk of Anzacs and "the lucky country", of great days gone by, and more Anzacs. Even by modern political standards it was wall-to-wall jingoism at the Sofitel Hotel on Sunday as Clive Palmer, federal leader of the new Palmer United Party, announced more than 40 candidates to stand for NSW seats at the federal election.

"People have had enough of the major party duopoly in this country, of Julia Abbott and Tony Gillard," Palmer told the 100 strong audience. "The Liberal Party is bankrupt of ideas, while the Labor Party is just bankrupt. Voters have been taken for granted, and now they want a new alternative."

The PUP candidates include small business owners, an IT entrepreneur and a Bollywood film producer. All gave short speeches outlining their major concerns, from homelessness and hospitals to the revitalisation of the Sydney CBD.

Palmer also took the opportunity to kick around some pet hates, including the carbon tax, which he described as a cash grab. Not only would the tax be abolished, but PUP would retrospectively compensate people for its impact.

Then there was healthcare. PUP would set aside $80 billion for the health budget, money that would "go direct to hospitals", so that it couldn't be "siphoned off and manipulated by the states". Asked where the money would come from, he said: "The same place the NBN money came from."

He vowed to cut the tax paid on second jobs by 50 per cent, to thin a bloated public sector, and to get rid of FBT, "so that people would get out and about again, having lunch together, swapping ideas", and employ restaurant staff.

Palmer also outlined PUP's immigration policy. There would be no more detention centres, which he likened to "stalag Nazi camps", because illegal arrivals would be encouraged to fly.

"Flying from Jakarta is cheaper for them than paying a people smuggler," Palmer said. "And they would have all their papers because without them they wouldn't be able to get on the plane. So we would know where they came from. We could then keep the families together, not separate. We would put them up in a hotel, together, and give them proper legal assistance, with a fair hearing, to determine if they have right of entry. And those who had no right of entry would be sent back."

According to Palmer, who is standing as a candidate in the Sunshine Coast lower house seat of Fairfax, PUP will soon have 150 candidates in the field. But he declined to say how much he had spent on the campaign.

"My wife manages all my money," he said. "It's up to her."


Tasmanian opposition targets NBN mismanagement

ASBESTOS is just one of the NBN's problems in Tasmania, the state's opposition claims.

Liberal spokesman Michael Ferguson says an indefinite shutdown has resulted in 300 workers being stood down in the state.

He says businesses are in danger of going under because they have not been paid for work on the project.

"The indefinite nature of the construction shutdown means there is a cloud of uncertainty around the whole NBN project, and numerous small businesses and the livelihoods of hundreds of workers are at risk," Mr Ferguson said in a statement.

"Labor should not be allowed to apportion blame for the NBN construction stoppage on recent asbestos-related issues.

"We are hearing from numerous sources that the construction stoppage is entirely due to mismanagement of the government project itself."

Meanwhile, Tasmanian Labor senator Lisa Singh has called on Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten to open a Comcare office in Tasmania.

Senator Singh says concerns about asbestos in Telstra pits in the state highlight the need for the workplace safety body to be there.

She says the matter was raised at the first meeting of Mr Shorten's new taskforce on Wednesday.

"I am pleased that the minister has asked Comcare to hold discussions with Workplace Standards Tasmania to ensure this happens," she said.


Does Julia Gillard show where affirmative action for women leads?

She built her whole life around politics, only to become a political failure

Following Martin Ferguson’s decision to retire from politics at the next election, prominent Labor women have argued that a female candidate must get the nod to run in the safe seat of Batman in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and that failure to do so will be a betrayal of the principles of the Labor Party.

Labor’s affirmative action rules require female candidates to be preselected in 40% of winnable electorates. The feminist rationale for this and similar kinds of gender-based policies is that patriarchal institutions and attitudes are so entrenched throughout society that some form of social engineering is essential to tilt the playing field in women’s favour.

These rules have been operating for almost 20 years. Currently, 26 members of the federal Labor caucus are members of Emily’s List – the networking organisation dedicated to helping women get elected to parliament and achieve Labor’s affirmative action targets.

Due to serial maladministration and ineptitude, the federal Labor government is overwhelmingly discredited with both commentators and the public. If the polls are right, Labor faces an almost unprecedented electoral catastrophe in September.

For the last three years, the government has been led by an Emily’s Lister, Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Some have attributed the government’s problems to the PM having a ‘tin ear’, politically speaking.

Though likely to attract the routine charge of misogyny, it is legitimate to question the role affirmative action may have played in the government’s fate. If a person does not have the political skills to get preselected and elected on their merits, will they have the political skills to contribute to a successful government?

There is now a push (backed by the Australian Human Rights Commission) to introduce gender quotas into corporate Australia and require company boards to reserve seats exclusively for women.

This is unnecessary given today’s commercial and workplace realities. Good managers these days are rewarded for their talent management – for finding the right employees, helping develop their skills, and maximising their contribution to an organisation.

Developing this kind of organisational culture is the key to business success – and to ensuring women progress through the corporate ranks. Any board of directors that allows gender to trump merit with regards to the appointment of talented women is not acting in the best interests of its shareholders – as any corporate trainer will tell you.

This is the message that should be promoted to aid the advancement of women.

Women and men should have equal opportunity to rise to whatever tier on the corporate ladder their skills and abilities allow because this is in business’ best interests.

Quotas, however, are fundamentally un-egalitarian. And business has an easy riposte to demands they be imposed – how’s that worked out for the Labor Party?


9 June, 2013

Another Leftist white elephant

FORMER premier Peter Beattie warned Queenslanders in 2007 that they had to desalinate or die of thirst.  However, his government's decision to rush ahead with the $9 billion southeast Queensland water grid, including the Gold Coast Desalination Plant, has been condemned in a report by the state Auditor-General, Andrew Greaves.

He has slammed the lack of proper planning for the grid that costs taxpayers $76 million a month to run.

Mr Greaves found while the massive project was "appropriate" in the face of an "unprecedented drought, better planning may have avoided the need for such drastic and costly action".

In his report tabled in State Parliament this week, he said there was "no robust business case" for the $1.2 billion desalination plant at Tugun and the potential benefits of the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme were overstated.

"The construction and operation of the manufactured water assets come also at significantly higher costs than first anticipated, which further casts doubt on their value for money," he said. "There has also since been a significant and sustained reduction in water consumption in southeast Queensland.

"Apart from water security, no other expected benefits have been realised. The environmental outcomes will not be achieved and economic outcomes were not specified."

The Courier-Mail exposed major problems with the desalination plant, including rusting pipes, faulty valves and cracking concrete soon after it opened in 2008.

Last year, the newspaper also revealed that French water giant Veolia stood to reap more than $30 million a year from the problem-plagued water grid.

Currumbin MP Jann Stuckey, whose electorate is home to the plant and who spoke out against it while in Opposition, said taxpayers were now stuck with the "lemon".

She said while the plant, which operates on standby, was 'of some use' such as in the recent floods, it had proven to be 'a waste of taxpayer funds'.

"It's certainly no comfort to the people of my electorate," she said.

Gold Coast and Hinterland Environment Council president Lois Levy said the plant had been built without an environmental impact assessment and was energy-hungry.

She said it would be too expensive to mothball and reactivate in the event of another drought.

"We're between a rock and a hard place," she said.


Taxed and regulated to death

Australian farmers are very efficient so they have done their bit

HUNDREDS of food industry jobs are at risk as the company behind iconic brands Edgell and Birds Eye considers the closure of plants in NSW and Tasmania.

US-based multinational Simplot says food manufacturing plants at Bathurst and Devonport will shut down if they can't become competitive.

The Bathurst operation employs 167 permanent staff and the Devonport plant 158, but hundreds more are employed as casuals.

The company says the Bathurst plant will close midway through 2014 if its financial performance can't be improved.

The Devonport operation has been given two months to produce a five-year plan or face closure in three to five years.

Simplot Australia's managing director Terry O'Brien said the high costs associated with manufacturing in Australia meant the company could not compete with cheap imports.

The high Australian dollar had made a bad situation worse, he said.

"The frozen and canned vegetable categories have been chronic profit under-performers for years, regardless of the value of the Australian dollar," Mr O'Brien said in a statement.

The company arrived in Australia in 1995 and boasts international sales of more than $5 billion annually.

As well as Edgell and Birds Eye, its Australian brands include Leggo's, Chiko, John West and Lean Cuisine.

Mr O'Brien said Simplot Australia would focus on finding ways to make the plants viable when it met with government, employees, unions and growers.

"If insufficient opportunities are identified, we will be forced to close our Bathurst plant after the next corn season," he said.

"Our Devonport plant will be required to produce a five-year improvement plan with satisfactory outcomes or face the prospect of a longer-term (three- to five-year) closure."

Tasmanian Liberal senator Richard Colbeck, who last year chaired a select committee on Australian food processing, said government-imposed costs like the carbon tax were to blame.

"It is time the Gillard government started removing barriers and costs for Australian business rather than imposing them," he said.

Tasmania's Labor government was preparing for urgent talks with Mr O'Brien on Wednesday night.

"Simplot is an iconic industry on the northwest coast and the government will do whatever it can do to assist the company," Deputy Premier Bryan Green said.


Lazy Qld. cops

QUEENSLAND'S most senior police are demanding to work a day a week from home and spend another five hours of work time in the gym.

The Queensland Police Commissioned Officers Union - which represents inspectors, superintendents, chief superintendents and assistant commissioners - is also seeking private use of police vehicles for members when they are on call, as well as fully funded private issue mobile phones.

The demands are included in the union's 11-point log of claims tabled during enterprise bargaining negotiations with the Queensland Police Service and Public Service Commission.

Number four reads "five hours per week per commissioned officer to undertake health and well-being training" and the sixth claim says "allow commissioned officers the opportunity to work from home one day per week maximum".

Both the commissioned officers' union and the Queensland Police Union are seeking pay rises totalling 11.1 per cent over three years.  The claim includes two 3.8 per cent increases and a 3.5 per cent hike.

The QPS is offering only 2.2 per cent a year, and has proposed a reduction in annual leave from six to four weeks for non-shift workers.

As the matters are in negotiation, QPCOU acting president Steve Imhoff declined to comment on why the union believed members should be allowed to carry out their duties from home.

Australian Council of Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman said the claim seemed out of step with recommendations from the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the more recent Operation Tesco, which called for greater supervision of junior police by senior officers.

"Police officers and firefighters and ambos all have a common theme in their role and that is being on the street, dealing with emergencies," he said.

"That's what the commissioned officer's role is all about - supervision - using their greater experience . . . when an event is unfolding so the best possible policing tactics can be brought to bear.

He said in the absence of any explanation from the union, the demand seemed "tactically not that smart" in the wake of police service restructuring.

"If they're in effect saying we can do our work from home the immediate response is you're just leaving yourself open to further arguments by the commissioner that there are too many of you," he said.

More than 100 commissioned officers recently accepted voluntary redundancies from the service, including then-president of the QPCOU John Pointing.

Mark Burgess from the Police Federation of Australia said he was not aware of police officers in any other state or country, being able to work from home.

A spokesman for Police Minister Jack Dempsey declined to comment on the QPCOU demands.

"The Government has placed its offer on the table," he said. "Both parties will now negotiate from there."

QPU president Ian Leavers would only say negotiations were progressing well.


Compliance toll a lose-lose game for universities

LET'S hope that the mooted review of red tape in higher education is quick, accurate and decisive. The weight of regulatory compliance confronting the sector is monumental, to the point where institutions must consider regulation among their greatest risks.

What passes for regulation at present seems more akin to paranoia. Rather than a sensible underpinning of quality in the sector, regulation has become an obsessive overburden that is stifling development and innovation.

And the cost? The public appropriations to run the regulator pale into insignificance by comparison with the real cost to the sector. The cost of compliance, in the hundreds of millions, must rankle university leaders as they contemplate cuts to fund Gonski reforms.

Private providers in the sector also are hit hard. At their scale, they simply can't absorb the compliance overburden without risking their whole operation.

And the apotheosis of compliance overburden? The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

The national regulator is fast engulfing the sector with controlling tentacles pushing into the furthest corners of institutional life. The cost to the sector is high, the threat to institutional autonomy real and regression to a TEQSA-determined norm spine chilling.

The impost of escalating compliance on higher education is amplified by opportunity cost. Resources lost to compliance reduce teaching and research quality and stifle innovation. It's a lose-lose game.

Several universities are in the middle of the TEQSA re-accreditation exercise. Here, swaths of academics and administrators struggle to interpret the regulator's requirements for quantitative and qualitative data. Time is eaten up compiling and delivering portfolios, responding to interrogatories, correcting errors of fact and misinterpretation, commenting on the regulator's drafts and ultimately responding to commendations and recommendations in the public arena. And then they must prepare for regulatory follow-up that demands to know of any change in circumstance in the interim.

Universities now have risk managers, risk assessors, quality assurance directors and departments and the back-up dedicated to regulation.

University committees, executives, legal officers and vice-chancellors oversee TEQSA reporting, pore over responses, handle the misinterpretations and design the communication strategies to cope with the agency. It's a monster. Compare all this with the more rational peer and self-regulatory regime that previously served the universities and the community well.

Recall that the compliance overburden came to pass because a few private providers played wide and loose with international student visas, dodgy courses, poor services and insufficient financial viability.

The upshot? Universities and the best of the private providers now find themselves in a web of regulation that has punished the entire sector, rather than just dealing with the recalcitrants.

Draining resources, though, is not the only problem of this overburden.

Compliance is taming the sector. Fear of the regulator's red flag embeds timidity, works against diversity and pushes the sector towards a line of regression.

The capacity of an institution, public or private, to develop a world view, shape a vision and innovate is at risk.

Colouring a different teaching and research profile, shaping distinctive graduates and creating innovative ideas is the lifeblood of any institution. A monocultural approach to sector regulation, imposing sector-wide standards and metrics, pushes institutions towards a norm - or, if they resist, into liminal existence.

This is particularly true in the case of private providers. By and large this sector provides a valued education to many Australians.

The best private providers are agile and innovative. They maintain quality programs and deliver highly proficient graduates into the professions and industry. They are highly focused, often specialising in areas that universities will not or cannot offer. They have a different but valuable approach to education from the universities.

Yet they fall within the purview of TEQSA and are little appreciated or understood. The regulator has a conventional and university-led view of higher education culture, and it seems determined to push this orthodoxy hard into a diverse sector in which private providers are integral but different.

A one-size model may be convenient to the regulator but tough on quality private providers, especially those in more liminal areas, which may be the real movers and shakers of the sector.

Ironically, TEQSA itself is now at risk because it seems determined to regulate from a position of singularity.

The agency has failed to recognise that a flexible, contextualised and nuanced model is needed, one that moderates risk for all concerned but encourages innovation and respects difference. And one that is more in tune with Australia's diverse regions, communities and democratic ethos.


7 June, 2013

A victory for  free speech

It was unpleasant and foolish speech but clearly within the realm of political comment

IF THE internet put a bunch of cowboys in the saddle, some recent court decisions might have opened the stable doors.

Hero of the hooting and hollering posse is Brett David Starkey, a spammer who is not unrepresentative of a whole bunch of people for whom moderation and manners seem alien concepts.

Starkey sent 88 emails to more than 100 recipients over 46 days calling for the extermination of "left-leaning politicians and their associates".

Directly or through forwarded messages, his emails included assertions that "Australians need to arm themselves against the Labor and Greens parties who are puppets of the trillionaire, criminal global banking families who are conspiring to World Ownership/World Government run by the United Nations".

And: "The Australian Government, elected and staff, are riddled with Rothschild Globalist/Zionists" and that "Humanity has to declare war on all of them and deal with this treasonous filth appropriately".

More seriously in my view, he said former prime minister Kevin Rudd was "a treasonous criminal" who needed to be "jailed or shot" and called for "Labor and Green parties" to be "eliminated from existence".

He demonstrated his political ecumenicalism by naming Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Rudd, former Greens leader Bob Brown and Liberal Malcolm Turnbull as conspirators who should face charges of treason.

Such pleasantries earned him 12 months' probation when he appeared in Brisbane Magistrate's Court in December and was convicted of using a carriage service to menace when he sent the emails to 107 people between February and April last year.

However, this week District Court judge Kiernan Dorney overturned the conviction because he was not satisfied the emails were "menacing, harassing or offensive" when applied to the objective "reasonable person" test.

As for "menace" the objective test would imply the receipt of the email would cause apprehension, if not a fear, for the recipient's own safety.

He suggested that the main concern of the recipient might be whether to consign the emails to the "deleted" or the "spam" folder.

Large among the precedents Dorney cited was the split High Court ruling that upheld an appeal by Sheik Man Hafron Monis after he had been charged with using a postal or similar service in a menacing, harassing and offensive way when he sent horrible letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers.

That appeal was upheld because three of the judges agreed that a section of the Criminal Code was inconsistent with the implied constitutional freedom of political communication.


Ex-Labor pollster tips 'epic disaster'

For more than two years, Rod Cameron's pessimism about Labor's prospects has been a strictly private affair. Although he dubbed Tony Abbott unelectable, the former ALP pollster remained circumspect on the challenge facing the party he served in more than 50, mostly winning, state and federal campaigns.

"I didn't want to throw any curve balls in while there was a prospect that the party would do what I thought it would do - and that's just act out of self-interest," Mr Cameron explains. Now, "more in sorrow than anything", he is predicting an epic Labor disaster.

He is not alone. While the mood of the Labor caucus has been despondent for months, it seems that only now, 100 days from polling day, the gravity of what is in prospect is really sinking in.

For Mr Cameron and many others, the party's failure to return to Kevin Rudd, when the message from the polls was that he could restore Labor to a competitive position, has been an act of insanity that threatens Labor's existence.

"The majority of the modern Labor Party - the caucus, the leadership, the machine and, importantly, the union bosses who now dictate policy - has totally lost the plot," is how he expresses it.

"When they reaffirmed Julia Gillard's leadership, they really were turkeys voting for Christmas - and what a Christmas it will be. It will be a total wipeout in the outer suburbs of all the capital cities and the regional and rural areas to boot."

There's not much time left for Labor to turn to the polls around.
Maxine McKew, the giant slayer who defeated John Howard and became a Rudd loyalist, agrees. "What is being played out now is an absolute tragedy," she says. "Labor has been in tight fights before and had its back to the wall, but I don't think we've ever experienced anything quite like this."

Similarly perplexed is Barry Cohen, a minister in the Whitlam government, who anticipates an even worse result on September 14 than Gough Whitlam suffered in 1975 and 1977. Mr Cohen cannot fathom why backbenchers aren't petitioning Ms Gillard to step down for a fresh face, suggesting Bill Shorten would at least offer the prospect of a "reasonable defeat".

But it isn't that simple. Those who will soon face the voters can be divided into three camps: those, such as Ms Gillard and a swag of senior ministers, who are behaving as if a real contest still beckons; those who will support a return to Mr Rudd if the opportunity beckons; and those resigned to defeat but utterly opposed to Mr Rudd.

"You have to put yourself in the position of each caucus member," is how one former MP puts it. "Yes, you're desperate. Maybe you're resigned to a crushing defeat, and still slightly self-delusional that you may buck the trend. And you ask yourself: 'Do I support Kevin again? Does he deserve it?"'

One perspective inside the Parliament is that the antics this week of Joel Fitzgibbon, Senator Doug Cameron and, more subtly, of Mr Rudd himself are as treacherous as they are unhelpful. Another is that they are an understandable reflection of a situation that is almost entirely of Ms Gillard's making.

Internal perspectives don't change the assessment of Rod Cameron and other outsiders of what is likely to happen in September. He thinks caucus "will be reduced to a rump in the low 30s, and that's both number of seats and primary vote. And the new leader will take over a trade union party with a policy outlook totally at variance with the values … of the great majority of Australians."

Tellingly, Mr Cameron now describes Mr Abbott as the "hitherto unelectable" Tony Abbott. "I'm afraid I'm going to have that stamped on my gravestone - that I declared him unelectable."

One difference between the loss that beckons and past defeats, he says, is that Ms Gillard is in denial on the extent to which she is responsible for Labor's low stocks.

Inside the PM's bunker, there is steely confidence that a campaign built around education, disability reform, the national broadband network and economic management will yet produce a contest.

The only certainty, come September 15, is that there will be much to reflect upon.


No vote for gay marriage bill before election

GREENS MP Adam Bandt has accused Labor of deliberately delaying a vote on his gay marriage private members bill.

Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt had hoped his marriage equality private members bill, before the lower house, would go to a vote on Thursday.  However, it is not listed on the schedule.

Mr Bandt accused Labor and the coalition of deliberately delaying a vote.  "It's disappointing for me and heart-breaking for many others," he told AAP.

"Labor is worried about Kevin Rudd being on one side of the chamber and Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott sitting together on the other side trying to hold back the tide of history."

A spokesman for the manager of government business Anthony Albanese told AAP that debate on the bill was continuing and many more MPs wanted a chance to have their say.

Last year the Greens had pushed for a vote to be delayed for Labor backbencher Stephen Jones's gay marriage bill until there was more support within the parliament, he said.

Since last year's unsuccessful vote, France and New Zealand have legalised gay marriage.

A stream of Australian MPs have announced their support and a change of heart on the issue, including former prime minister Kevin Rudd.  Labor has granted its MPs a conscience vote on the issue.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott has opened up some wiggle room and the prospect of a conscience vote for coalition MPs after the election.

Mr Bandt is optimistic another Greens bill, giving legal recognition to same sex marriages conducted overseas, might be voted on in the Senate before parliament rises at the end of June.



Three current articles below

Greenie fanaticism kills hospital patient

AN engineer has linked the state government's Climate Smart program with the decision to lower water temperatures at a Brisbane hospital where legionnaires' disease has broken out.

One patient has died and another is in intensive care after being infected with the bacteria, which has been found in water taps at the Wesley Hospital.

The hospital's entire water system is now being flushed out with hot water in a bid to kill the bacteria, with surgery and new admissions cancelled until at least next week.

An electrical engineer has told ABC Radio a push to save energy was one of the reasons water temperatures were lowered at the hospital.

He said the move was part of the government's now-defunct Climate Smart program, which aimed to help businesses and homeowners cut energy consumption.

He said anyone who used the Climate Smart service would have had the temperatures on their hot water systems turned down, something he says encourages bacteria such as Legionella.

"Anybody that's had the Climate Smart service had the temperature reduced from normally about 65 to 70 degrees, down to 50," he said.

The government has said the temperature was reduced to cut the risk of patients being scalded.


$600m of Australia's foreign aid to be blown on "climate change" programs

AUSTRALIA'S foreign aid program will spend $600 million on climate change programs in Third World countries.

Pacific, Caribbean and African countries will share millions of dollars to help tackle climate change while environmental advisers will be paid $200,000 or more to help some of the world's poorest countries.

Another $3 million will be spent developing five-star green energy ratings for fridges, airconditioners and other household appliances in the Pacific as AusAID searches for ways to spend its growing budget.

Millions of dollars will be spent to retrofit houses in poor African communities, while $15 million will be pumped into helping villagers along the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

The Opposition last night called on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to immediately suspend the "wasteful spending" on climate change.

The $600 million spend on climate change comes as the rapidly growing aid program - managed by AusAID - has reached a staggering $13.3 billion in managed contracts, according to documents published this week.

More than 6000 separate contracts are being managed by AusAID, with 4000 contracts negotiated in just one year, 2010-11.

Documents show about $3 million is being spent to "build a group of Pacific leaders" with a greater understanding of climate change, while $20 million will be spent to help East Timor better understand changing weather patterns.

Senior government ministers keen to slow the large sums being channelled into foreign aid are likely to use Kevin Rudd's demise as foreign affairs minister to argue for budget reductions.

Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop labelled the climate change spending "an outrageous abuse of Australian foreign aid".

"I call on the Prime Minister to immediately suspend this expenditure on programs that will have zero impact on global emissions," she said.


$100m - Climate change deal with Indonesia including "online forest fire monitoring system" and teaching "sustainable and adaptable" farming techniques in schools

$20m - Undertake climate change research through "Pacific Climate Change Science Program"

$3m - Develop a group of Pacific "leaders" who can better understand climate change

$3m - Help Pacific nations introduce five-star "green energy" ratings for fridges, air conditioners and lights.

$2.3m - Help Caribbean establish "disaster management emergency" agency

$232,000 - Fund an environmental management adviser in Fed States of Micronesia

$194,000 - Provide training materials and policy briefs for Indonesian Govt officials

$182,000 - Conduct "greenhouse gas emission assessment" of Vietnam

$36,000 - Develop a DVD titled "Climate Change in the Pacific"

$15,000 - Aust booth at Climate Change Education Expo in Indonesia


Australian business group wants rethink on greenhouse gas emission targets

Australia should reconsider its pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by mid-century given the slow global action on climate change, the country's most powerful business group says.

The Business Council of Australia also wants Australia not to increase its short-term emissions target beyond the minimum 5 per cent cut backed by both major parties.

The federal government's Climate Change Authority is reviewing the national greenhouse targets linked to the carbon price.

Australia has committed to cutting its emissions by at least 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.

It has said it could commit to a 15 or 25 per cent cut in that time frame, depending on the level of international action. Its carbon price legislation includes a commitment to an 80 per cent cut by 2050.

In a submission to the authority, the council says emissions pledges made at United Nations talks fall short of limiting global warming to two degrees - the level scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

The council says with the world headed towards warming greater than two degrees, Australia needs to consider less ambitious targets that reflect its fair share of cuts under less ambitious global action.

The council's deputy chief executive Maria Tarrant said the authority should carry out modelling to determine what Australia's targets should be under different warming scenarios.

"There is a big difference between what countries are pledging and committing and what is actually happening," she said.

The Climate Institute's Erwin Jackson blasted the council's logic. He said avoiding the dangerous impacts of warming would require countries to put forward targets that were ambitious, and that 80 per cent was the bare minimum Australia should commit towards meeting the two-degree goal.

Some experts have recommended Australia lift its emissions targets to reflect a growing pace of action around the world.

Professor Ross Garnaut, Labor's former climate adviser, said with the US, Europe and China making significant headway in meeting their targets, Australia should adopt a 17 per cent cut by 2020.


6 June, 2013

More immigration blunders by the Gillard government

Leftist governments everywhere seem to be soft on illegal immigration -- with many unfortunate results

JULIA Gillard has ordered an investigation into how an al-Qa'ida terrorist was housed for months in low-security immigration detention, as Labor seeks to fend off opposition attacks suggesting the flood of boat arrivals is jeopardising national security.

The Prime Minister caved in yesterday after days of having resisted opposition demands for an inquiry into the case of convicted Egyptian jihadist Maksoud Abdel Latif, who Tony Abbott said was housed behind a "pool fence" in the Adelaide Hills.

Ms Gillard said the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security would examine the management by government agencies "of persons seeking asylum who present complex security issues" - particularly the case of Latif.

In question time, the Opposition Leader moved to link illegal boat arrivals to security concerns, declaring that 42,000 people had arrived on 700 illegal boats since Labor took power and more than 10,000 had been released into the community without comprehensive ASIO checks.

Senate estimates hearings have been told that last month security agencies faced a backlog of more than 19,000 asylum-seekers yet to be processed.

Australian authorities confirmed yesterday the arrival on Tuesday of two more asylum-seeker boats.

One was intercepted north of Christmas Island, carrying 54 passengers and three crew. A second vessel was detected northwest of Darwin, with 79 people on board and two crew.

Mr Abbott asked Ms Gillard in parliament: "Given that a convicted jihadist terrorist was held at a family facility in the Adelaide Hills for almost a year, through what officials called a clerical error, will the Prime Minister now concede that Labor's policies have made Australia less safe than it was under the former government?"

Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott's question showed the divide between a government that was building and investing for the future and an opposition that was "trading in fear".

The investigation by the nation's top-ranking security watchdog will probe how key agencies such as the Immigration Department and ASIO are conducting security assessments of asylum-seekers.

The government faced immediate demands for a wider investigation.

It was forced to vote against a motion by independent Andrew Wilkie for a parliamentary committee inquiry into the case.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the inquiry announced by the Prime Minister was not broad enough because it did not address how the Immigration Department allowed the convicted terrorist to "stay behind a pool fence" under the watch of two ministers.

The row was sparked by revelations that Latif, who is accused of being a member of terror group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, had been housed in the low-security Inverbrackie detention facility in the Adelaide Hills for almost a year before being transferred to the Villawood detention centre.

Neil Fergus, chief executive of security company Intelligent Risk and a key adviser to the federal government on security at the Sydney Olympics, said the episode reflected the great difficulty for security agencies of prioritising a mass of cases.

Mr Fergus said one of Osama bin Laden's greatest coups was Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which for decades had been one of the most ruthless and bloodthirsty terrorist groups around. It produced al-Qa'ida current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

He said al-Qa'ida had suffered severe operational reversals but there should be no presumption that the risk had gone away. "When a beast is cornered, it can often be more dangerous," Mr Fergus said. "They are dispersing resources. They are, as you can see from the London attack, telling people over the internet to self-initiate attacks."

He said that did not necessarily relate directly to the Egyptian man now in detention custody.

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor revealed before question time yesterday that the Immigration Department sent a submission to his predecessor, Chris Bowen, on September 28 last year on the Latif matter.

The submission was not signed, indicating Mr Bowen did not see the document. The Australian understands it dealt in general terms with how the visa application should be handed in relation to emerging security concerns.

Mr O'Connor said the submission was not provided to him when he was appointed Immigration Minister. No matters were raised with him or his office until April 17. This is when it briefed him on the asylum-seeker's movement from the low-security Inverbrackie to Villawood detention facility. The man had remained in detention since arriving in Australia.

Mr Morrison said the inquiry announced was not broad enough because it did not address how the Immigration Department allowed a convicted terrorist to remain in low-security detention under the watch of two ministers.

He called for a full independent inquiry or for the joint standing committee on intelligence and security to investigate, as pushed for by Mr Wilkie in the parliament.

He said Australia did not owe protection to the asylum-seeker under the refugee convention because he almost certainly posed a threat to national security.

Opposition home affairs spokesman Michael Keenan said the inquiry announced by the Prime Minister also did not look at the role of the Australian Federal Police. The apparent lack of co-operation between Australia's key security agencies was a key opposition concern.

It is understood the Coalition is also considering reviewing the interoperability of national security agencies should it win the September election.

Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis suggested Australia would be unable to return Latif to Egypt because it was a country with the death penalty.


How ASIC's blundering attempt to block one website took down 250,000

They are arrogant to be blocking any sites.  Nobody voted for  this.  And arrogance is a good predictor of blundering

Australia's corporate watchdog has admitted to inadvertently blocking access to about 250,000 innocuous websites in addition to the 1200 it had already accidentally censored.

ASIC made the concession in a statement at a senate estimates hearing on Tuesday night, after it caused controversy by interpreting a 15-year-old law in the Telecommunications Act as giving it the ability to block websites.

The largest number of sites censored when attempting to block one particular site ASIC believed was defrauding Australians was 250,000. Of these, ASIC said about 1000, or 0.4 per cent, were active sites. It said the 249,000 other sites hosted "no substantive content" or offered their domain name up for sale, rather than hosting a fully-fledged active site.

ASIC asked internet service providers (ISPs) to block sites it believed were defrauding Australians by IP address (such as instead of domain name (such as This meant thousands of other sites were blocked in the process, as many sites are often hosted on one shared IP address.

ASIC told senate estimates in its opening statement that it was now examining how it could ensure only a site's specific domain name was blocked and ways it could alert the public to a site being blocked via a pop up page. It was also examining ways such a page could indicate why access was blocked and to whom queries could be made to dispute a block.

ASIC deputy chairman Peter Kell told estimates the watchdog had used section 313 of the Telecommunications Act on 10 occasions in the past year to request a number of Australian ISPs to block sites. ASIC sent the notices to four or five ISPs on each occasion.

On all 10 occasions it requested websites be blocked by IP address instead of by domain name.

In another already reported case, about 1200 sites were blocked by mistake. On the other eight occasions ASIC said "only the targeted criminal site, or the targeted site and a very small number of other sites" were affected.

So far ASIC, the Australian Federal Police and a yet-to-be-revealed national security agency under the Attorney-General's remit have used section 313 to block sites at a federal level. State and territory law enforcement authorities are also able to use section 313 but it is not yet known if they have done so as there is no one agency that has oversight.

ASIC has vowed to report annually on its blocking of websites, the only authority to do so.

Use of section 313 to block websites was only uncovered last month after the webmasters of the Melbourne Free University site couldn't figure out why it was no longer accessible. After making a number of inquiries to their ISP, the webmasters were told that the Australian government had blocked access to the site. The ISP wouldn't provide any more detail.

It wasn't until after the media and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam got involved that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy revealed to tech publication Delimiter that ASIC was behind the censoring.

Soon after the revelation, the department convened a meeting on May 22 with federal government departments and agencies, including ASIO, to discuss use of section 313.

Communications Minister Senator Conroy has since expressed his support of there being more transparency around the way section 313 is used by law enforcers.


Qld passes stricter laws for unions

QUEENSLAND unions must now conduct membership ballots to get majority support before spending large amounts on political campaigns.

Officials will also have to declare personal interests and gifts under the new rules, which apply to industrial organisations.

Thirty-four trade unions and 32 employer associations will be affected by the amendments.

Workers will now have the right to choose whether they want to join an association, Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said in a statement on Thursday.

The government has also changed the definition of "worker" in relation to compensation claims at the request of WorkCover Queensland.

"This is about transparency, accountability and restoring public faith in these organisations," Mr Bleijie said.

Unions strongly opposed the changes when they were proposed, arguing they were designed to weaken workers' groups.


Disappointment for Greenies: Gas seepage could be natural in Qld

QUEENSLAND'S GasFields Commission says historial studies indicate methane gas seepage may have occured before large scale coal seam gas mining began.

The state's CSG arbiter, the GasFields Commission, says a range of soil surveys taken between the 1980s and 1990s found low levels of naturally occurring methane gas.

Commissioner Steven Raine says the historical studies of gas seepages in many coal basins undertaken by the state government, industry and research agencies show they occur naturally.

"The focus of our project was specifically to try and see what general historical data and information was available," he said in a statement.

"These soil gas surveys demonstrate that landscape gas seeps did exist naturally prior to the recent expansion of the onshore gas industry in Queensland."

Prof Raine noted that while initial evidence suggested that gas seepage could be natural, studies of seepages is some areas were yet to be completed.


Serious rot at the Commonwealth bank

And the regulator didn't want to know

When a group of Commonwealth Bank employees agreed to meet in October 2008, they settled on the Buena Vista Hotel in Sydney's Mosman, a place they could huddle incognito to hatch a plan that would change their lives forever.

By the end of the lunch, the men had agreed to become whistleblowers, using the pseudonym the "ferrets" to tip off the corporate regulator about the goings-on at CBA's financial planning arm, specifically one of the bank's top financial planners, Don Nguyen, who had worked for the bank since 1999.

Five years on, one of the whistleblowers is dead after passing away in his sleep at 35. The second, the ringleader, has agreed to go public to warn of the perils of being a whistleblower after leaving the bank earlier this year. The others still work in the industry but want to remain anonymous to avoid the backlash of being a "dobber".

The men discussed at great length the risks at that fateful lunch, but as each of them considered that up to 1300 clients - most of them retired, seriously ill or unemployed - and $300 million in client funds could be torched by Nguyen, they decided to tip the bucket on the bank's star planner. But doing that also meant exposing the culture inside the planning arm of the most venerable and trusted financial institution in the country.

The clincher had been the decision to promote the fast talking Nguyen in October 2008 to senior planner, a month after he had been suspended over allegations of charging improper fees and paying cash backhanders to branch staff to divert client referrals.

Instead of being terminated and his clients compensated, they were fobbed off and their depleted funds blamed on the global financial crisis, which was now imperilling the international economy.

As Nguyen's clients poured through the doors in a panic about their loss of income, some on walking frames, others with heart conditions, emphysema and dementia, the whistleblowers hit the go button on a four-page fax to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission on October 30.

It was a big day for Jeff Morris and his whistleblowing mates. They sat in their offices waiting for the axe to fall.

The fax, obtained by Fairfax Media, contained a detailed history of Nguyen's activities and revealed an "extraordinary commonality in the risk profiles of the clients, whereby all, including the retired, the disabled and the unemployed, opted for aggressive high-growth [investment] strategies".

Most importantly, it warned that the files were being "cleaned up". The whistleblowers detailed three locations where the files could be found and provided a list of the major players involved inside Commonwealth Financial Planning Ltd (CFP). "The cost of dealing fairly and honestly with the losses suffered by Don Nguyen's clients certainly runs into the tens of millions - enough to cost all the managers involved their jobs," the fax said.

One elderly couple, the Blanchs, saw their retirement savings depleted to a point where they were forced to live on government assistance. They had invested $260,000 with Nguyen in March 2007 in the belief he had put them in eight moderate-risk investments. They soon found out he had placed them in high-risk, high-fee generating products, wiping out more than 65 per cent of their savings.

Their daughter, Merilyn Swan, says the stress took years off her parents' lives. "One day I went to visit them and saw my dad sitting with his head in his hands and he said: 'I can't believe what has happened'. He was humiliated, he suffered depression, had a stent put in his heart and had psoriasis due to stress," she said.

Mervyn Blanch, who was 81, had worked all his life, had no debt and wanted to protect his wife's finances as she was 11 years younger. He had been a CBA customer since 1950, so the couple naturally went to the bank to seek advice. "They saw a few advisers, including Don Nguyen, who told them he usually didn't deal in such small amounts because he was one of the top financial planners. They felt confident and lucky when they got him," Swan says.

Nguyen's abilities, particularly for bringing in new business, were almost legendary in the financial planning division by this time.

CFP constantly reminded its staff who was "the best" by posting a league-style ladder around the office trumpeting the rainmaking acumen of its top performers at the branch level and across the division.

Nguyen had long been close to the top of the pile, writing $39 million of business - 3½times his target - at one point in 2007. "It was either public glory or humiliation, depending where you ranked," a former planner says.

Subtlety was not Nguyen's strong suit, with pride of place in his office given to a photograph of him posing next to the bronze bull on Wall Street.

But as the global financial crisis deepened, the kind of high-risk investments Nguyen was putting his clients' money into began to sour at a rate that became all too obvious.

Mervyn and his wife, Robyn, watched in horror as the value of their savings plummeted from $260,000 to $92,000. Once self sufficient, they were forced to see Centrelink. By this point, ASIC had been sitting on the whistleblower's fax for almost two months. CBA, on the other hand, had known there were problems with Nguyen's work for much longer.

Against this background, Swan was busy sifting through the paperwork, trying to find out what had gone wrong with her parents' life savings.

As the weeks and months ticked by, and still no sign of ASIC, the whistleblowers had a gutful of waiting and decided to anonymously inform senior executives at the bank as well as Group Security, the CBA division that investigates fraud and corruption.

Group Security's response on June 4, 2009, was that their allegations were "currently under investigation by the bank" and their identity would be protected if they chose to reveal themselves.

On June 20, Nguyen was called into a meeting with senior management and Group Security, and confronted with his various wrongdoings. He was not sacked on the spot but allowed to go away and resign on July 6, citing illness. CBA advised his former clients only that he had resigned.

Concerned about the scale of the problem, CBA went into damage control. It set up Project Hartnett, with 10 case managers busily working on Nguyen's files, and others assigned to clean up the steaming pile of mess as the financial crisis wreaked havoc on the financial markets.

Documents reveal Nguyen had placed the Blanchs, along with many other clients, into high-risk investment products, contrary to instructions. As the financial crisis raged on, these investments went into free-fall.

It is here things started to get complicated for the Blanchs, and the bank.On July 23, 2009, two weeks after Nguyen had resigned, a letter appeared that set alarm bells ringing for the elderly couple. A client relations manager let it drop that they had invested in "high risk" investments. "After looking at your account, I can see that most of the options you are invested in are high-risk options," the letter said. The second bombshell was that some of their money had been placed without authorisation in a mystery high-risk global infrastructure product offered by CBA.

Gobsmacked by the contents of the letter, they went on a mission to get answers. Instead they received requests for their original documents. They refused.

Then a letter arrived that changed the Blanchs' world. It was sent by CFP's customer experience manager on October 21, 2009. It contradicted the previous letter and said a review of the file indicated they were "moderate risk" investors. The letter included a table that claimed to be from the original documents prepared by Nguyen. "Based on the above evidence, CFP believes Mr Nguyen did meet your stated aspirations, needs and objectives."

Trawling through the letter and document, they discovered the table was different from the one in the original document. The letter also said it could not confirm why a "portion of their investment had been placed in the FirstChoice Global Infrastructure option". But in light of the oversight, CBA made a "final" compensation offer to the Blanchs of $6777 as a sign of "goodwill", without CFP admitting any liability.

The Blanchs were now hell bent on getting the bank to produce documents, which arrived about a month later. They were markedly different from the original documents. "I was stunned," their daughter said. Nguyen had left the bank in July; yet the cover letter, which included his name, was dated September 7, 2009. New pages had been added to the document, including a new table of contents, new financial forecasts and footnotes with Nguyen's name had been removed.

The bank claimed the document was original, according to the Blanchs. One source said the changes had been tailored to retrospectively address various aspects of their complaint about the shortcomings of the advice they had actually received.

Once CFP realised the Blanchs had kept the original documents, one of its customer experience managers admitted to altering the Statement of Advice to "simplify things," minutes of a telephone conversation between the manager and Swan show.

The bank then offered to almost quadruple their compensation from $6777 to $25,000. Within three months, it was offering $95,000, but without admitting liability.

Desperate for the income, the Blanchs agreed to a settlement in July 2010. But the money did not compensate them for their pain and suffering. "This is the people's bank. We feel like we have been betrayed and lied to," Swan said. "Trying to get our money back was like prising it from a cold dead hand."

Their money now sits in a term deposit, but not with the CBA. "When we finally extracted the money and terminated the account, we were told we could invest in other products. I said, 'My god, how can you think we would do that? There aren't enough tranquilisers in the world to let me go there'," Swan said.

As the Blanchs and other clients were trying to sort through their losses, Project Hartnett was in full swing, and the whistleblowers, spearheaded by Morris, had had enough. They went to ASIC's headquarters to see if they could instigate some action.

"It was so stressful. We had been waiting for things to happen after warning ASIC about the need for speed 16 months before and it hadn't rumbled into action as certain members of staff were busy making Nguyen's clients' profiles more conservative," one of the whistleblowers says.

In March 2010, two weeks after the whistleblowers went to ASIC's offices, the regulator seized Nguyen's files.

The files were crammed details about victims, including an 88-year-old woman who signed a document, which Nguyen later filled in saying "generation of more income was not important to her". It also said her time-line for investments was seven years with access to funds after five years, when she was 93. The woman, who had invested $1 million with CFP, said Nguyen did not tell her $30,421 of her investment would be paid to CFP, including $16,732 in commission to Nguyen.

As legal letters started to come in and complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service continued, CBA agreed to a voluntary compensation scheme. Some former staff and industry observers believe it was to avoid the headache of official sanctions known as enforceable undertakings as ASIC trawled through the files.

Others suggest it was to cauterise the damage to their reputation.

Whatever the case, ASIC jumped on the bandwagon and praised CBA for its "co-operative and consultative approach".

Some victims saw it differently. They felt abandoned by the CBA and ASIC, and believed the bank should have acknowledged the extent of what went on during the Nguyen era. "I think the whole thing has been a cover-up from start to finish," Swan says.

By March 10, 2011, Nguyen had been banned from working in the financial services sector for seven years by ASIC, and the compensation scheme was in full swing. CBA sent settlement offers to clients, but some obtained by Fairfax Media, dated March 27 and October 11, did not disclose the existence of Nguyen's banning order or the extent of his misconduct, stating only that he had provided "inappropriate advice".


5 May, 2013

Cutting illegal immigration essential if the present  Australian government is to have a hope of survival

JULIA Gillard has been warned that the government's strategy to win votes through its big-picture education and disability policies is being swamped by community anger over asylum-seekers, as senior Labor figures all but write off enough seats in three states to guarantee Tony Abbott a comfortable victory.

In a meeting of Labor MPs described by some as "surreal, with a feeling of resignation", the Prime Minister was given an ultimatum by a key supporter, western Sydney MP Laurie Ferguson, to turn the public debate on asylum-seekers in Labor's favour or the government would be "dead" in the party's heartland.

As Newspoll showed that Labor continues to trail the Coalition by 16 points on a two-party-preferred basis, and a separate poll showed Labor facing a swing of more than 15 per cent that put it on track to lose the safe Victorian seat of Isaacs, held by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, a senior source said the party had told MPs in the marginal Victorian seats of Corangamite, Deakin and La Trobe they were "on their own".

The Opposition Leader moved to play down expectations of a Coalition landslide.

"I've always likened winning an election from opposition to climbing Mount Everest, and we are 102 paces from the summit but those 102 paces are the hardest paces of all and one slip, even at that late stage, can be very, very dangerous, even fatal," he said.  "So I take nothing for granted."

Mr Ferguson, whose seat of Werriwa is considered in danger, yesterday demanded the Prime Minister get personally involved in the refugee debate and confront Mr Abbott on the issue, warning "unless you take this head on, we are dead in western Sydney".

Later, after a meeting of the Labor caucus, Mr Ferguson said the refugee issue was undermining Labor's key policies such as school improvement and DisabilityCare.

"It is so central it is blocking out everything else," Mr Ferguson said. He said he was concerned there was a feeling in the Labor caucus that the issue would go away but this was not the case.

Last night, Mr Ferguson said Labor had abandoned the field and the Prime Minister needed to explain that there were no easy options on the issue for either side of politics.

Ms Gillard needed to speak in "common language" and explain what the regional solution meant.

Aside from asylum-seekers, the caucus meeting also heard concerns from Mr Rudd and former resources minister Martin Ferguson, a Rudd supporter, about the government's attacks on 457 visa rorts.

Mr Rudd asked Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor about the number of breaches, while Mr Ferguson asked for regional and state breakdowns. However, other caucus sources said other MPs urged Mr O'Connor to take a tougher line on foreign workers.

Some Labor sources say the government's vote is holding up reasonably well in the inner city but is being punished in the suburbs. If this is repeated at the election, it will spark a debate about how to reconcile progressive inner-city issues with more conservative suburban issues.


Fact-checker for public broadcaster needs scrutiny

He wouldn't know a fact if he fell over one

By the time Mark Scott left the Senate committee hearing into the ABC on Wednesday he smelled. An unpleasant odour had attached itself to the testimony and credibility of the ABC's managing director. The source of odour could be summed up in two words: Russell Skelton.

That Skelton has had several ethical collisions, is a fierce political partisan, and has left an unedifying trail of puerile smears, would not matter to the public at large if Skelton had not just been appointed the chief fact-checker of the ABC. This is ludicrous. Either Skelton foxed the committee that appointed him, or they didn't care, or were oblivious. Either way it is a shocking look for a corporation which puts its hand out for $1 billion a year from taxpayers.

On Wednesday, before the Senate committee on environment and communications, Scott had to cover for the ABC's mistake. The hearing is going to leave an indelible mark on the Coalition's trust in the ABC, as these exchanges make clear:

Senator Eric Abetz (Liberal): "Mr Scott, do you have any sense that a recent survey which found that 41 per cent of ABC journalists said they would vote for the Greens, 32 per cent for Labor and 15 per cent for the Coalition generally reflects ABC journalists' political leanings?"

Scott: "No. There are about 1000 journalists who work across the ABC in news, radio, rural divisions and others … we have 1000 journalists and 34 were contacted … Do I believe it is an overwhelming problem? No, I do not … "

Abetz: "Why on 5 May this year would your recently appointed fact-checker, Mr Russell Skelton, have retweeted 'Abetz and Christian fundamentalists want race war. Begins in September'?"

Scott: "Who originally tweeted it?"

Abetz: "Marcia Langton. Russell Skelton retweeted it."

Scott: "Firstly, Mr Skelton was not an employee of ours at the time. Also … a retweet is not necessarily an endorsement at all … "

Abetz: "Yes … but it is completely and utterly without foundation. And yet your Mr Fact-Checker has gone about retweeting it."

Skelton had clearly repeated Langton's slur with approval, as it was one of numerous occasions when he has quoted her. His contributions on Twitter also reveal an open contempt for the Coalition, a fawning regard for Julia Gillard, an obsessive dislike of News Ltd and Rupert Murdoch, Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones, and a preoccupation with global warming, asylum-seekers and Aboriginal affairs.

Most of the ABC's revenue comes from government, the ABC's cost to taxpayers now exceeds $1 billion a year, and there were ample landmines in Skelton's record to disqualify him from a job that self-evidently required a reputation for scrupulous impartiality.

Abetz: "You know that his job includes - and the advertisement said so - 'the editor will, amongst other things, deliver engaging content that builds a reputation for accuracy, impartiality and clarity'. Impartiality is one of the very conditions that the ABC set down for this job, and here we have tweet after tweet after tweet indicating the complete opposite …

"Is this the same journalist who has been criticised, once for a one-sided story about the Aboriginal intervention and a second time in relation to his Age story, 'A town without hope', about Aboriginal degradation in Balgo? Skelton did not go to Balgo. The story was accompanied by pictures of a camp 300 kilometres away. My source? The ABC's Media Watch. Is this the journalist who has been accused of grossly inaccurate journalism and even making up interviews?"

Scott: "If there are concerns about the performance of that unit, I am sure they will generate attention here."

Abetz: "Yes, but it will all be too late after the election."

Abetz: "What about this tweet: 'Another take on Julia Gillard PM: grace under pressure'? This is just cheer-squad stuff from the person you have appointed as an allegedly impartial fact-finder." He contrasted this with a selection of Skelton's displays of scorn for the Opposition Leader: "Abbott's extremism on display", "Abbott now a liability, a proverbial albatross", "Abbott refusing to do his homework".

Abetz: "Do you still believe, given all this evidence, that Mr Skelton is a suitable appointment to this task?"

Scott: "We will judge him on the work that he does."

Abetz: "Isn't it a fundamental requirement that the position of fact checker be filled by a person without any perceived biases?"

Scott: "Yes."

The fact-checking unit's reputation for impartiality is thus stillborn. Management has blundered. The Coalition will remember.

Throughout these exchanges, the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy maintained a stream of interference on behalf of Scott, interjecting more than 40 times. This merely served to reinforce everything Abetz was saying about bias.

Here I make two personal notes. The first is that Mark Scott is an old comrade of mine at the Herald, and I know him to be a good person and a fine manager. At the committee, he was in damage control. The other note is that when I was scrolling through Skelton's Twitter feed, fact-checking Abetz's remarks, I was gob-smacked to discover a tweet that Skelton had posted on October 10: "This column by @Paul_Sheehan_ originally said 'he (Tony Abbott) raised 3 daughters, something she (Julia Gillard) was unable to do' #vomit."

It was a retweet of a tweet by Mia Freedman. At least Freedman had the decency to publish a retraction after the Herald's news director pointed out that this was a fabrication. Skelton, the ABC's fact-checker-in-chief, did not check the lie. He just passed it on, and let it stand, unchecked, uncorrected and unpleasant.


Mobility fear as man told of 1000-day hospital delay

A thousand days. That's the epic wait Trevor Perry was told he could expect to see a neurosurgeon at the John Hunter Hospital spinal unit.

"I may have to wait three years for the initial appointment, then will come the surgery wait," he said. "I fear as I'm losing mobility, at only 55 years of age, I'll be in a wheelchair before anything can be done."

Mr Perry has prolapsed spinal discs and has already waited 18 months for his appointment. He is on the pension after being forced to leave his job as a plant machinery mechanic.

"The income protection ran out two years ago and I'd like to go back to work," he said. "I might have to try to borrow the money so I can go through the private system.  "The public system is in decay. It's in free fall."

Experts say Mr Perry is not alone in his experience, with secret "waiting lists for the waiting list" plaguing public healthcare and forcing people to borrow money for private treatment.

Last week, Kurt Brinschwitz discovered he had Dupuytren's contracture, an inherited connective tissue disorder that will cripple his hand.

"After my GP gave a referral to a hand specialist, I attempted to book an appointment at Sydney Hospital - to be told there was a 1½-year waiting list. Just for the consultation," he said. "It was a bit of a wake-up call."

When Fairfax Media contacted the Sydney Local Health District, a spokeswoman said that Mr Brinschwitz had been given the wrong information.

"The patient will be seen at Sydney Hospital within a 90-day waiting period," she said.

"A letter detailing this was sent this morning to the patient prior to this complaint being known to the hospital."

The spokeswoman said patients were prioritised by clinical needs and the longest they would wait was 365 days.


KerAP, Crap and more crap: "Australia produced a record amount of renewable energy" in 2012

12% of the 13% would have been from DAMS, which Greenies hate.  Australia has a lot of old hydro-electric plants (such as the Snowy) which the Greenies would not permit today.  But they are very useful peak load facilities

Australia produced a record amount of renewable energy last year, with clean electricity sources such as hydro, wind and solar generating more than 13 per cent of the nation's power, new industry figures show.

A report by the Clean Energy Council says hydro electricity is still the most dominant clean-energy source, representing 58 per cent of all renewable electricity generated in 2012.

But the council's chief executive, David Green, said other sources were growing strongly, with wind energy rising to 26 per cent of renewable generation and solar to 8 per cent.

Despite the growth, the report also finds Australian investment in renewables fell by $1.3 billion dollars last year, from $5.5 billion in 2011 to $4.2 billion.

Much of the decline in investment came in solar, as government incentives to install rooftop panels were axed and the cost of systems fell. The fall mirrors a 10 per cent decline in renewable energy investment globally in 2012.

Mr Green said the findings showed technologies such as wind, solar and bioenergy were starting to make a major difference to the way electricity was produced and consumed.


4 June, 2013

Pauline back in the political game

One Nation will be renamed "Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party" in a bid to harness public recognition of Ms Hanson, the party's co-founder - and newest recruit.

Ms Hanson confirmed to Fairfax Media that moves were afoot to add Pauline Hanson to the One Nation brand.  A change would revive the original name of 1997.

ABC election expert Antony Green said getting the "pulling power" of Pauline Hanson's name above the line on the ballot paper would give the party its best possible chance of getting a candidate elected in September.

Mr Green believes One Nation will fall short but her presence on the ballot will give the "minor and micro parties" a better chance of election to the Senate.

Ms Hanson said her name would cut down on any confusion among voters that wanted to vote for One Nation.

Ms Hanson will run for a NSW Senate seat in the federal election.

"Pauline Hanson is the brand of One Nation," she said on Monday. "I'm so proud to be back with them."

The former federal member for Oxley co-founded One Nation in 1997, but left the party in 2002 saying she had been forced out.  She said she has now been welcomed back with "open arms" and will run on a One Nation ticket with candidates who have yet to be decided.

"I think now's the time for me to go back and finish what I haven't finished," she said. "I believe that I'm the redhead [voters] can trust."

The Queenslander said she believed the NSW Senate race was the right place for her.  Ms Hanson explained her partner was from NSW and she owned property in the state. She also said it was hard to stand for a lower house seat, as the preferential voting system was "weighted in favour of the major parties".

Ms Hanson was elected to the seat of Oxley as an independent in 1996 after she was disendorsed by the Liberal Party for comments on government assistance for indigenous people. She lost the seat in 1998, and has since made six unsuccessful attempts at re-election at both state and federal levels.

She dismissed the suggestion that she was contesting the election for the money, saying she was one of the first people to come out against the federal government's proposed boost to party funding last week.

In 2007, Pauline's United Australia Party received $213,095 in electoral funding and in 2004, Ms Hanson individually received $199,886. These figures do not reflect what may have been spent during the course of the campaigns.


Australian conservatives duck for cover over climate

(The next election is only months away)

The report below refers to various claims of sea-level rise.  They may or may not be well-founded. Either way, no sea-level rise has been caused by global warming  -- because there has been no global warming over the period concerned

The delegation of parliamentarians from four tropical Pacific Islands nations braved the Canberra cold last week, and that wasn't the only climate shock they suffered.

They watched the impressive intellectual exchange of question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and then moved on. But almost as soon as they left, Parliament started to debate a motion on whether the science of man-made climate change was real. This came as a bit of a jolt to the legislator visiting from Kiribati, a country of about 100,000 people on 33 small, low-lying islands strung along 5000 kilometres of the equator.

"Climate change is real in our places," Rimeta Beniamina, a government MP and vice-chairman of his parliament's climate change committee, told me, expressing surprise at what was going on in the chamber a few metres away.

"A few years ago it was not taken very seriously. But now quite a few villages are experiencing hardship. Beaches are eroding, houses are falling down, crops are damaged and livelihoods are destroyed.

"The intrusion of salt water is very evident. The sea level may be rising millimetres a year, but it is still rising. The strong winds and rising tides are the worst part. Once the salt water enters the land, that's it. Trees are falling along the coast, crops dying, pigs and chickens are affected."

A US study published over the weekend in the journal Nature Geoscience found the global sea level had risen by 16.8 millimetres between 2005 and 2011.

Clark Wilson, a co-author of the study and geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, says: "There was an increase in the melting rate in Greenland starting in 2005 and that is probably the underlying story why," according to the Wall Street Journal. The academic study was funded by NASA and the US National Science Foundation.

The rising seas are whipped up by increasingly severe El Nino weather cycles, damaging the coastlines of countries including Kiribati, pronounced kee-ree-bas.

"Some communities have been forced to move backward from the coast," Beniamina says. "The problem is, there is not much land to move back to."

People are jamming into the overcrowded main island, Tarawa. Its centre has a population density estimated at three times that of Tokyo, says an April report by Australian journalist Bernard Lagan in the Global Mail. Fresh water supplies are at risk and there is not enough land to bury the dead.

Kiribati President Anote Tong has declared a policy of orderly evacuation that he calls "migration with dignity". The nation is a proverbial canary in the carbon emission coal mine, and the prognosis is unhappy.

Beniamina says: "I'd be very surprised if people here were not aware of the science of climate change." But, of course, it's not awareness that is in question in the Parliament but conviction.

The Parliament was debating a motion put by NSW independent Rob Oakeshott to try to clear that up: "That this House expresses full confidence in the work of Australia's science community and confirms that it believes that man-made climate change is not a conspiracy or a con, but a real and serious threat to Australia if left unaddressed".

Why did Oakeshott think it necessary? "I thought it was important to get everyone on the record. Some of the Coalition members run around the country playing to an audience of conspiracy theorists and deniers."

The record does show that about a quarter of the Coalition's federal MPs have, at some point, expressed disbelief or outright denial that man-made climate change is real. Among them is Tony Abbott, who, before becoming Opposition Leader, said he was "hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change", and famously called it "absolute crap".

The proportion of scientific papers published on the subject that reject the man-made origins of climate change is, however, far smaller than the proportion of sceptics on the Coalition benches.

Of about 12,000 scientific papers published worldwide in the 20 years to 2011, only 1.9 per cent did, a survey last month by James Cook University showed, and 97 per cent argued that climate change was real and man-made.

But when the Oakeshott motion was put to the House, the sceptics were nowhere to be seen. No one spoke against it in the bright glare of full national scrutiny: "We accept the science, we accept the targets and we accept the need for a market mechanism; we just happen to clearly, absolutely, fundamentally disagree over the choice of those mechanisms," Coalition spokesman Greg Hunt said. Prime among them, the carbon tax.

And when it came to the vote, the motion was carried on the voices, without dissent. This is taken as a unanimous vote. It "positions the deniers and the conspiracy theorists where they should be - on the fringe," Oakeshott says.

The topic of what to do about climate change is returning to the centre of the agenda for the world's two biggest economies and biggest carbon emitters, the US and China. It's one of the half dozen top issues at their coming California summit.

The problem will not go away for the planet, even after the Australian election, even if some would prefer to ignore it, although it's probably too late for Kiribati.


VW Australia are getting really stupid now

They seem determined to create more Toyota buyers.  The VW reliability reputation is shot

It started with a faulty car. But soon Levon Kara's battle with Volkswagen Australia spiralled into more than the usual travails of a disgruntled customer. He never expected a multinational car company to threaten his job.

In 2010, Mr Kara wanted Volkswagen to replace his 2007 Golf. The car had suddenly lost power on the road - an unnerving failure that has affected many Volkswagen owners and may have led to the death of Melissa Ryan, who died on the Monash Freeway in 2011.

Mr Kara did his homework and knew Volkswagen had issued a recall in the US related to the high-tech automatic transmission called the direct shift gearbox (DSG). This had followed a safety investigation by American authorities.

Mr Kara, whose car had the same type of transmission, mentioned the American recall and threatened to take the company to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Then the threatening legal letters started to arrive.

But it was one email from Mr Kara that Volkswagen's lawyers appeared to jump on. Mr Kara, who worked as a government IT contractor, had used his government email address in one correspondence to Volkswagen. Volkswagen accused Mr Kara of trying to use his position to intimidate the company.

Volkswagen's lawyer researched the public servant's code of conduct and, in a letter to Mr Kara, told him that the code prohibited the use of a person's position for private benefit. "I am currently awaiting my client's instructions as to whether I should lodge a formal complaint with [Mr Kara's employer] concerning your conduct."

The car was repaired three times. In the end, it lost power suddenly about 10 times, once when Mr Kara was in the middle lane of a freeway, another when he was about to cross train tracks.

He took Volkswagen to VCAT but, faced with the legal might of the company, decided to give up.

"I was worried about my employment," he said. "I've got this big organisation that is threatening my livelihood and I thought, 'I'm not sure I've got the stomach for this'."

Volkswagen Australia did not return Fairfax Media's calls on Monday. The company has pulled much of its advertising from across Fairfax Media following reports on the problems with the cars' sudden deceleration.

Almost 100 people have come forward to confirm they experienced sudden power loss while driving Volkswagens, particularly Golfs, Passats and Polos. Of the 92 who contacted Fairfax Media, many were driving automatics, but about 10 per cent were driving manuals - the type of car Melissa Ryan died in. Her family and the truck driver who hit her believe the car suffered a sudden loss of power. The coroner will hand down her finding on Ms Ryan's death next month.


A Lebanese politically unpalatable in The Shire

Michael Towke is 34. He attended Marcellin College, Randwick. He is a Lebanese Christian, a practising Catholic and the eldest of eight children. He has a first-class honours degree in engineering and a BA, both from the University of Sydney, and won the Alan Davis Prize, the top prize for sociology.

He has an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. At 17, he joined the Army Reserve and served for 20 months. He is president of the Sylvania conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society and has been volunteering for Vinnies since he was 15. He works as a telecommunications engineer. He has lived in the Sutherland Shire for 10 years.

Towke is also a long-serving member of the Liberal Party. In July 2007 he won preselection for the then safe federal Liberal seat of Cook. He was set to replace the outgoing member, Bruce Baird. The contest attracted a large field, including Paul Fletcher, who recently won Liberal preselection for Bradfield (vacated by the former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson), and a former state director of the NSW Liberal party, Scott Morrison.

Towke won easily. On the first ballot, he polled 10 times as many votes as Morrison, 82 votes to 8, who was eliminated in the first round. His victory meant that a Lebanese Australian would represent the Liberal Party in the seat where the Cronulla riot and revenge raids had taken place 18 months earlier, in December 2005. "The campaign against me started four days after preselection," Towke said.

Two senior people within the Liberal Party, whose identity is known to a widening circle within the party, went through Towke's nomination papers to find every possible discrepancy and weakness. Then they started calling selected journalists to tell them Towke was a liar. The first story appeared in The Daily Telegraph on July 18, 2007, under the headline, "Liberal ballot scandal in Howard's backyard." Three days later, on July 21, a second story appeared in the Telegraph: "Towke future on hold." The next day, in The Sunday Telegraph, a third story: "Party split as Liberal candidate faces jail."

"That was the story that sent my mother to hospital," Towke told me.

Then came a fourth story in the Telegraph, on July 25: "Towke lied, but just by degrees." Four different Telegraph journalists, two of them very senior, wrote those four stories, so the campaign of leaks and smears was assiduous. There is insufficient space to detail all the claims made and disputed. Towke was portrayed as a serial liar, an exaggerator. He disputed every such imputation with factual evidence. After it was obvious his political credibility had been destroyed by these stories, he started defamation proceedings. A year of legal attrition ensued.

Shortly before the matter was to begin in court this month, Nationwide News paid and settled.

It is telling that experienced Telegraph journalists appear to have based their stories on sources they trusted, suggesting those doing the leaking were both senior figures and seasoned in dealing with the media.

Though Towke would eventually win his legal war, the damage had been done. The adverse media coverage set in train a reaction within the party to get rid of him. A second ballot was ordered, in which the balance of power was shifted away from the grassroots in Cook and to the state executive. The second ballot gave the preselection to Scott Morrison. Amazing. He had been parachuted into the seat over Towke's political carcass. Morrison clearly had backers who wanted him to get the seat. "These guys were prepared to ruin my life," Towke said.

Why? There was a view among some senior Liberals that a Lebanese Australian could not win Cook in a tight election.

Two years later, Towke's honour has been restored. His name has been cleared, his standing in the party rehabilitated, and his ties to the electorate broadened.


3 June, 2013

Qld. Premier sorry for soaring power prices, wants debate over Greenie concessions

PREMIER Campbell Newman has vowed to rein in the "mind-blowing, excessive" increase in electricity prices, flagging likely new charges for households with solar panels.

Submissions will go to Cabinet today regarding spending on poles and wires which has contributed to the 21 per cent price rise facing households.

It follows last year's Council of Australian Governments meeting, at which Prime Minister Julia Gillard sought agreement from state and territory leaders to reduce overinvestment in poles and wires.

Mr Newman said he was "very sorry" his Government could not deliver on his intention to soften power bills with a rebate - but he was working to limit future increases.

"There's some papers going to Cabinet which talk about all the things that will be done to take the edge off this sort of thing," Mr Newman said.

"It's a matter of national competitiveness now. People in the US and Canada and even the European Union now are paying less than us (for electricity). It has to be dealt with."

He said he also wanted a debate over the solar feed-in tariff which was "ultimately costing other Queenslanders".

"The solar feed-in tariff sees a relatively small group of households get a very lucrative deal, far too lucrative in many cases, and the rest of the households are paying for that," the Premier said.

"Roughly 180,000 households are benefiting with low power prices or getting cheques and well over 1.5 million are paying for that benefit to those people."

The Courier-Mail understands 92,600 Queensland households pay nothing for power or get money back as a result of the generous solar feed-in tariff introduced by the previous Labor government.

Under the deal, residents with solar are paid 44c a kilowatt hour for power - about 21c a kilowatt hour more than what it costs them.

The Newman Government has slashed the benefit for new solar panel installations to 8c.

Mr Newman described the situation as "just ridiculous".  "The solar tariff feed-in situation is one that sees those with the financial means to pay for panels win at the expense of poorer households and disadvantaged people," he said.

"I'm just making the point today.  "I'm not saying we have anything in particular in mind, but I'm saying firstly I want people to understand why we have high power prices."

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk urged caution on reduced spending on maintenance and expansion of the network.

"Now what we're seeing is a government that has no solution and has no answers when they went to the election saying they were going to lower the cost of living," she said.


Must not suggest that dealing with Sudanese is difficult

Consdidering the primitive and violent background of the Sudanese, it would be surprising if they were not difficult  -- but reality must be ignored, of course

POLICE in Melbourne's west have been caught mocking African migrants and their local community on racist stubby holders.

Chief Commissioner Ken Lay has vowed to act against those responsible, and senior officers have slammed them as "offensive".

About 50 of the drink coolers are believed to have been made up for, and distributed among, officers in Sunshine, which has a large refugee community.

On one side of the stubby holders is a cartoon image of a mudfish and the words: "Sunshine police. Whoever says Sunshine brings happiness has never worked here."

"Mudfish" or "muddie" is derogatory slang for Africans, referencing the bottom-feeder species that is a common food source in Sudan and other countries.

The other side takes a further dig at the many refugees from Sudan and other war-torn nations who do not know their date of birth, proclaiming: "My date of birth is 01/01/?"

The items were produced last year and have been used regularly at the station's "mongrel" drinking nights.

"It's extremely disturbing," said Tamar Hopkins, principal solicitor at Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre. "It's about ghettoising a whole area. It's appalling. This is really shocking."

Northwest metro police commander, Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp, said he was extremely disappointed and angry, adding: "The production of these holders was utterly misguided and offensive."

After being alerted to the stubby holders by the Herald Sun, Chief Commissioner Lay directed the force's internal watchdog to act on the matter.

Assistant Commissioner Crisp said it was his understanding that local managers became aware of the stubby holders last year, taking action to destroy them - although the Herald Sun was shown one last week - and counselling two officers held responsible.

"Since learning of this issue however, the Chief Commissioner has deemed that the counselling the members received was wholly insufficient, and he has directed the Professional Standards Command to review the matter and consider further options," he said.

"This is completely at odds with the high standards the community rightly demands from its police," Mr Crisp added.

"We simply will not tolerate racism within the force and I think our improving track record in this regard - which has included the expulsion of five police members for racist behaviours since 2010 - is indicative of our determination to provide no quarter to racism within the organisation.

"It is absolutely vital that Victoria Police treats all communities with respect."

But community solicitor Ms Hopkins said: "It really reinforces the fact that there is a problem at a really deep cultural level.

"We're not talking about accidental over-policing but ingrained prejudices. These kinds of actions and activities are about humiliating and degrading people."

Ms Hopkins said it also spoke to the force's failure to deal with racism despite promises to do so after earlier incidents involving accusations of assaults and illegal stops and searches using racial profiling against young Africans.

In February the force agreed to launch a public inquiry into racism in its ranks as part of settling a Federal Court case brought by 16 Africans aged 13-20 and an Afghan man, 23.


Four-year surgery wait

Patients are being forced to wait more than two years to see a specialist doctor - what the Australian Medical Association calls "the hidden waiting list" - before waiting up to another two years for surgery.

"It's the waiting list to get onto the waiting list for surgery," AMA (NSW) president Brian Owler said. "If you don't have private health insurance, the waiting time is sometimes years - not just for surgery, but for things like testing for childhood allergies, the pain clinic."

In opposition, Health Minister Jillian Skinner said that after years of "Labor rorting, it's time to measure the real waiting lists". "We will abolish Labor's 'waiting list for the waiting list'," she said in March 2011.

But Dr Owler said: "I don't think we have seen any action on hidden waiting lists … we need to start measuring it and reporting it."

A letter from Liverpool Hospital eye clinic to a Sydney patient, obtained by Fairfax Media, says due to the high demand for services "and the current resources available, the waiting period at the present time for a routine appointment is approximately 2½ years".

The Optometrists Association Australia said some people were housebound for four years while waiting for eye surgery. NSW/ACT chief executive Andrew McKinnon said the wait for an appointment with an opthalmologist was compounded by the further wait of one to two years for elective surgery.

"There is nowhere that I am currently aware of where you get public cataract surgery in less than two years," he said. "The difficulty is if cataract becomes significant then it is socially debilitating for people - you can't read and you can't see. You become socially isolated. Someone needing a cataract operation could be housebound for as long as four years."

Opposition health spokesman Andrew McDonald said a 2½ year wait to see an opthalmologist for an appointment is "just a joke".

"It's completely indefensible," he said. "It is time for a statewide review into eye services."

Rusli Suwito, an optometrist in Liverpool, said he had been unable to refer patients to the Liverpool eye clinic for at least four years.

Dr Owler said the problem "is not confined to Liverpool … You see it particularly in western Sydney and in regional centres."

Australian workforce figures show there are more than 800 ophthalmologists in Australia, with about 350 in NSW.

Dr McDonald said most of them work in private practice because eye services are given a low priority in public hospitals. Official figures show 5116 cataract operations were done in 2012 and the average wait for patients was 231 days in NSW compared with 56 in Victoria.

Figures show 71,509 people in NSW were on the waiting list for elective surgery in March 2012.

Mrs Skinner said since March 2011, the government has delivered over 7700 extra elective surgeries.


Bettina supports female Viagra

Bettina Arndt

Around the world, the search continues for solutions to the top-ranking sex problem facing women - loss of desire.

Drug companies are seeking a pink Viagra, a drug to boost female libido. The stakes are high, with some surveys suggesting more than half of all women experience fading desire in long-term relationships. Marital distress is inevitable when women lie in bed at night dreading the hand creeping towards them.

The latest cabs off the rank are Lybrido and Lybridos, explains Daniel Bergner, whose book What Do Women Want? - Adventures in the Science of Female Desire will be published next week. These new drugs are very sensibly targeting activity not just between women's legs but between their ears.

Writing recently in The New York Times, Bergner described research on the biochemical ingredients governing sexual desire, the balance between the lust-inducing dopamine rush produced by testosterone and the inhibiting effects of serotonin. Lybrido has a testosterone coating that melts in the mouth before the woman swallows a delayed-release tablet containing a Viagra-like substance that increases blood flow in the genitals. In Lybridos, the Viagra-like molecule is replaced by an anti-anxiety medication that suppresses serotonin.

Results of initial trials of both drugs are looking good and are soon to be presented to the US Federal Drug Authority, which is likely to require larger trials. If all goes well, these new drugs will hit the market around 2016, no doubt to be snapped up by huge numbers of women.

An Adelaide professor ran a trial for another libido-enhancing drug and had women contacting him from all over Australia, desperate to get on board. Yet many others won't be interested. For every woman keen for a solution to her lost libido, there are others who wouldn't dream of popping a little pink pill to enhance sexual desire. There are plenty of women happy to shut up shop, simply refusing to have sex - and expecting their husbands to just suck it up.

Controversy surrounds the clinical definition of low libido in women (hypoactive sexual desire disorder), which only includes women who see their diminished drive as a problem - that is, it causes them personal distress. Only 10 to 15 per cent of women meet the criteria for HSSD - while surveys that include women not bothered by their low libido can hit nearly 60per cent. The Sex in Australia survey of nearly 20,000 people found 55 per cent of women reported low desire.

Does it really make sense to dismiss low desire if the woman regards it as no big deal? If a couple visited a therapist because the woman was complaining the man was a premature ejaculator, the fact that it didn't bother him wouldn't be regarded as grounds for ignoring the problem. Surely the impact of any issue detracting from a harmonious sex life deserves proper attention.

This is not to suggest low-sex-drive women are obliged to consider drug treatment. But many regard it as outrageous to even suggest there is any obligation on the woman to consider her partner's needs.

A few years ago, when I published The Sex Diaries, howls of protest greeted my suggestion that women might sometimes "just do it" since new Canadian research had shown desire can kick in once lovemaking begins, leading to sexual pleasure for women. "Bettina Arndt - Rape Cheerleader!" shrieked one blogger, ignoring the fact that I had always said men too must "just do it" if they are the ones rejecting their partners.

The crazy thing is women do so much to please their partners. They cook lavish three-course meals and spend hours searching shopping centres for his favourite Y-fronts when a 10-minute bonk every so often would make their man a lot happier than a lot of the things they do for him. It's not as if making love is such a big ask - it's not like cleaning an oven. A female doctor wrote to me saying she tells her female patients, "It's not root canal therapy!"

There's a lesson here for young men choosing a long-term partner. They shouldn't just go for the sexiest chick, hoping the tap won't ever turn off. As Bergner explains, there's solid evidence that while most couples in new relationships start off with equal lust for each other, after a few years female drive often goes into a dive, leaving male desire far higher. A man would be far better off finding a woman who sees it as part of her responsibility to keep sex on the agenda, maybe even one who wouldn't baulk at sometimes popping a little pink pill.

The truly lucky man is blessed with a sexually generous woman, one who believes in taking one for the team.


2 June, 2013

Tom compromises

He will no longer be giving odds from the commenters' box during the game but will appear as part of advertising breaks

HIGH profile bookmaker Tom Waterhouse will cut back his appearances on the Nine Network's NRL coverage, starting Friday night.

Waterhouse, the son of trainer Gai Waterhouse and bookie Robbie Waterhouse, has become the public face of the controversy surrounding live betting odds being spruiked on television, especially during football games.

The public outrage over the growth of bookies promoting betting odds during games has led the government to announce a crackdown on the practice.

Waterhouse on Friday, in an open letter in The Daily Telegraph, said he would step back.

"I am sorry. I have listened to the PM and Australia and have made the call with Channel 9 to dramatically cut back on my advertising from tonight," he said.

Waterhouse said in the letter that had around five per cent of the racing and sports betting market in Australia and spent approximately five per cent of the betting advertising dollar.

He said he was competing with offshore giants such as and as well as local players such as the TAB.

"Punters like to watch sport, so I have focused on sports advertising, which flows through to benefit the sports," he said.

"I would love to be still betting at the track but the world has moved on and punters want to be able to bet online.

"However the public has spoken and you will see less of me on TV."

Under the government's proposals, all promotion of live odds by gambling companies and commentators will be prohibited during live broadcasts of sport.

The broadcasting industry body Free TV Australia has indicated Prime Minister Julia Gillard won't need to force the changes, promising to revise its code within a fortnight.


NBN issues compared to failed 'pink batt' scheme

The roll out of the national broadband network has suffered its worst week with key partner Telstra battling at least one local community after the discovery of asbestos during construction work, while an accident on Friday left a network-related contractor dead in Kiama.

The federal government is hoping a meeting at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday will defuse concern it may be blamed for mishandling another large program, with independent senator Nick Xenophon drawing parallels with the abandoned roof-insulation "pink batts" scheme, which left four workers dead.

"The difference is that with asbestos, families might not know there is a problem for up to 40 or 50 years," Senator Xenophon said.

Comcare, the federal health and safety agency, issued prohibition orders on work involving the construction of the broadband network after asbestos was improperly handled at several pits owned by Telstra. These include Greenacre in Sydney's west, where work was halted on May 2, Penrith and the ACT.

"It's all over the place," Senator Xenophon said. "I'm worried that this is a systemic issue."

Penrith resident Matthew O'Farrell, who was evacuated from his house over asbestos concerns, said he had been given no indication from Telstra when he and his family could return to their Hornseywood Avenue home. No agreement had yet been reached on how the work would be completed, he said.

"That's what we're angry about, they've put nothing in writing yet or agreed to how they're going to do our homes … all they're worried about doing is their pits," he said. "What we're worried about is when they do their pits they'll then say we don't care any more about you."

Telstra is conducting an audit of asbestos management for all contractors and has set up a team of 200 specialists to inspect and supervise all remediation work once it resumes. A Telstra official told a community meeting this week the country has between 5 million and 8 million pits, many built with asbestos lining.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said Monday's meeting would focus on Telstra and how the company will ensure future work involving asbestos will be strictly controlled.

"We're calling all the stakeholders together on Monday to make sure the voices of everyone that is concerned are not swept under the carpet," he said.

The government would also seek a commitment from Telstra that they would not walk away from any claims made by workers who may have been exposed to asbestos, he said.

President of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia Barry Robson said it had asked Telstra to track down the four workers to register them with the dust diseases board. "You think you are getting the message out there and then a big company like Telstra does something like this and you say to yourself … they just don't get it," he said.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, meanwhile, said in a statement he was "deeply saddened" by the death of a 56-year-old man who was crushed during a workplace accident involving an NBN contractor's truck in Kiama on Friday morning. Police are investigating the incident.


Govt to crack down on LEGAL immigrants

But for illegals it's "come one, come all"

JULIA Gillard will reignite the foreign workers controversy with plans to introduce cash fines for bosses who fail to offer jobs to Australian workers first.

Warning that a "tick-a-box" approach currently applies to companies claiming they face local labour shortages without even advertising jobs, unions are pushing the Prime Minister to act before the September election.

The Sunday Telegraph can reveal cabinet will tomorrow night debate the measures, which include financial penalties for employers who lie or mislead authorities about labour shortages to import workers on 457 visas.

The 457 visa is the most commonly used program for employers to sponsor skilled overseas workers to work in Australia temporarily with a little more than 100,000 workers currently in Australia under the visa class.

The number of 457 visa classes has jumped 20 per cent in the last year.

Currently, bosses must claim there is a labour shortage to secure a foreign worker but do not have to prove it.

"Why do they like 457 visas if they have local labour available? Because they can deport these workers in a month," a senior government source claimed.

"It makes WorkChoices look like a picnic."

Senior government sources also said the Department of Immigration was reviewing "serious" allegations over exploitation of some low-skilled workers, suggesting there was a "fine line" between the abuse of 457s and labour trafficking.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the Coalition was open to "common sense" reforms to the scheme but accused Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor of grossly exaggerating the numbers of workers being exploited.

"Our real fear is they are using this as a Trojan horse to introduce industrial inspectors," Mr Morrison said.

"There's no doubt that immigration policy is being driven by the union movement and union donors to the Labor Party."

The crackdown follows a push by big union donors to the Labor Party to lock in the changes before the September 14 election.

But the 457 debate has sparked bitter divisions within the Gillard government ranks, with accusations the Prime Minister was "dog-whistling" to racists.

Last month, former Labor leader Simon Crean said the debate over 457 visas was a good policy with bad rhetoric. "She's gone the class warfare," Mr Crean said.

"The 457 visa debate was a good example of the message being taken out of context - because it looked like 'we'll put Australians before foreigners'. Unequivocally, immigration has been good for this country."

Mr O'Connor sparked controversy earlier this year when he suggested the number of 457 visa rorts to be in excess of 10,000.

"I can assure you we will be looking to legislate," he said at the time.  "There will be some parts that might be reformed through regulation."

Mr O'Connor has previously pledged to allow the Fair Work Ombudsman's inspectors to check businesses were complying with the scheme's guidelines.


Anti-Muslim speech disallowed

After what Muslims have done and keep doing, people must be expected to be angry about it

Australian Defence Force personnel, paramedics and a NSW rural firefighter have been caught posting racist and religious slurs on social media pages despite the furore over the racist insults directed at AFL star Adam Goodes.

All three organisations have launched investigations after receiving a stream of complaints that their employees and volunteers have been posting the comments on known race-hate and Facebook pages over the past week. All of the people involved clearly identified themselves on social media pages, some posting pictures of ambulances, firetrucks and themselves in uniform, as well as identifying their work position or organisation.

The postings from soldiers and sailors are the latest in a string of racist scandals to have hit the Australian Defence Force over the past decade, including inflammatory remarks by serving personnel in Afghanistan, soldiers dressing like the Ku Klux Klan and racist and sexist Facebook groups.

One message on a hate page, understood to be from a serving soldier, said: "My mates wife ripped the scarf of a muzzos head, after she run up the arse of their Porsche, it was so she could see where she was going next time."

Another serving officer, who had been the subject of a complaint to Defence in the past two weeks, was again posting comments on Friday about Muslims, saying, "Kill em all."

The ambulance officer contributed to a group post about a Muslim person the group wanted to "kill or deport".

One of the hate messages put up just a few days ago by the rural firefighter said: "We as Australians have a 'CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT' to freedom of speech. But you go ahead and voice your opinion and the government say it is wrong. SO I sayd [sic] F--- the government Send all the f---ing Muslims back to their own country and then nuke the place. No more problems with the c---s."

The posting came during a week of controversy triggered by a young teenage girl who called AFL star Adam Goodes an "ape" and fuelled by Collingwood president Eddie McGuire.

A Defence spokeswoman confirmed the Office of the Inspector-General of Defence was investigating the fresh allegations of inappropriate comments made by Defence members on social media sites. "If any investigation determines that inappropriate behaviour has occurred, the matter will be referred to the relevant service for action."

In 2011 Facebook and YouTube postings by a small number of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan sparked controversy. Videos showed soldiers referring to Afghans as "sand coons", "dune coons", "niggers", "smelly locals" and a "raghead".

Last year the ABC uncovered a Facebook group where serving and ex-military personnel were swapping bawdy comments about women and offensive remarks about Muslims.

And in 2004 soldiers at Townsville's Lavarack Barracks dressed in Ku Klux Klan-style hoods and posed behind some Aboriginal and other dark-skinned soldiers.

The executive director of the Australian Defence Association, Neil James, said such behaviour would be very disappointing given that the ADF was so strong on its social media policy . "When you are fighting a war in complex human terrain - among people - it is not clever to be giving them things they can use as propaganda against you, it is also not looking after your mates," he said.

ADF investigations will also examine comments, such as "Death to Islam", which were posted by a man wearing what appeared to be an Australian army uniform.

A complaint by a peace group which monitors websites was sent to the Rural Fire Service, saying one of the postings had been made last week. The group called for the firefighter to be disciplined.

A fire service spokeswoman said the service had not been aware of the comments but "now they have been brought to our attention, the service has taken immediate action".

She said the service had already contacted the volunteer and he had agreed to remove the post. Disciplinary processes had been started.

Ambulance NSW has also launched an investigation after receiving a complaint about an employee who contributed to a racist group post that revealed the address of a person who was disliked by the group and who they wanted to "kill or deport".


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