Saturday, March 31, 2007


LAST Sunday was Neighbour Day. The idea behind the day is simple and worthwhile. Neighbours are encouraged to say hello to one another. Neighbour Day was started by Melburnian Andrew Heslop in 2003 and is now celebrated throughout the country. The concept has been welcomed by politicians from both sides of politics, federal and state governments and local councils.

It is ironic that governments support Neighbour Day, given government regulations are a chief cause of the decline in the sense of community in our neighbourhoods. Forty per cent of Victorians engage in some sort of voluntary activity, and voluntary organisations are central to strong neighbourhoods. Yet government rules are putting the future of those organisations and what they do at risk. Community initiative is being stifled as regulations become so burdensome that many volunteers find that their participation is simply not worth the trouble.

Fund-raising sausage sizzles are now subject to 40 pages of regulation from the Department of Human Services. It is a legal requirement that functions appoint an "event co-ordinator", who must complete a checklist of more than 30 questions, ranging from the time the event started and finished, to whether the area was free of pests, to the name, address and phone number of anyone who supplied food. To conduct a sausage sizzle will probably require two separate permits from the local council. One permit to authorise the fund-raising and another to allow food to be sold.

The purpose of all this bureaucracy is, of course, to prevent food poisoning. And, possibly because of additional regulation, a few people have been saved from an upset stomach. But there is a trade-off. As governments make it harder and more complicated to run voluntary activities, volunteers become less willing to organise those activities. People no longer attempt to help themselves, and instead they look to government for the solution to their community's problems.

It might be obvious, but what is often forgotten is that voluntary organisations are run by volunteers. Even if they wanted to, volunteers don't have the time to navigate their way through 40 pages of instructions, fill out five pages of paperwork, and then wait 14 days for council approval, all so that they can cook some sausages. Common sense has been replaced by adherence to a rulebook. Most people understand that buying food at a school fete is different from buying it at a commercial restaurant. Many of the issues council health inspectors try to solve could be fixed by simply declaring that anyone purchasing at a community event does so that their own risk.

The modern-day mania for "risk management" has eliminated a range of activities previously conducted by voluntary associations. While risk was once an accepted part of everyday life, now it is something that must be eliminated.

For a number of years a group of volunteers has operated an after-school sports program for children living on an inner-city housing commission estate in Melbourne. The program was supported by an AFL club whose players regularly visited the estate to teach drills to the 30 children who attended each week.

This year, with the program growing and consuming more time, the volunteers decided to hand over the running of the program to a local government agency. The first requirement from officials at the agency was that the program institute a "risk management" plan and that every volunteer have a "position description". It didn't matter that the worst accident any child had ever experienced was a bump on the head, and that volunteers had spent years working quite happily without "position descriptions". The result was that because none of the volunteers had the time or expertise to complete the necessary paperwork the program was cancelled.

Victorians would be surprised to know there's a state government department responsible for voluntary organisations. It's called the Department for Victorian Communities and its mandate is to work "with local people throughout Victoria with the mutual goal of strengthening communities". The department is even running an inquiry into the red tape faced by community groups. So far nothing much has happened. Maybe a new and radical approach is necessary. The best thing government could do is get out of the way. Rather than attempting to abolish the inevitable risk associated with practically anything a community group does, government could let people make their own choices. It is hoped that as attitudes change back to what they once were, we may no longer need to be reminded to say hello to our neighbours.


Can you combine a career with motherhood?

By Australian journalist Caroline Overington

YOU cannot have it all. That's the message that Carmel Tebbutt imparted to women when she stepped down from the NSW ministry to spend more time with her six-year-old son, Nathan. It's the same message that Natasha Stott Despoja sent to women, when she announced that she would not stand for re-election in 2008, to spend more time with her two-year-old son, Conrad. Tebbutt said she didn't want other mothers to think it was impossible to "combine a career and being a mother".

But it's true, you can't have a high powered career if you're a mother, not unless you: a) have a husband at home who does not work; or b) have paid help (or a doting grandma) to pick up the kids from school, supervise their homework; put them to bed; prepare the school lunches; and provided you can live with the guilt of never being there for any of the significant moments in your child's life.

Most women can't do it. It feels wrong - indeed, it probably is wrong - to be pounding away at a career while your children lie sobbing in bed, wondering why you're not home. That's why most mothers work part-time: three or four days a week, even in high-powered jobs. And that's why it's simply not true that you can't have it all.

You can, it's just that most women don't want it all - not if "all" means spending most of their waking hours away from their children. Given a choice between a career and the kids, most women will go for a bit of both, thank you. Don't tell anyone, but for most of us, that is having it all.


Alzheimer's tackled by testosterone boost

RESEARCHERS in Perth have made a groundbreaking discovery into the prevention of Alzheimer's disease, after showing that boosting testosterone levels in the body can lower levels of a toxic brain protein linked to the development of the crippling condition. Preliminary results from a clinical trial of West Australian men, presented at the prestigious Royal Society of Medicine in London, show that not only does the use of a testosterone cream lower the protein beta amyloid but importantly it appears to improve memory.

Professor Ralph Martins, of the Sir James McCusker Foundation for Alzheimer's Research at Hollywood Private Hospital, said from London that he was excited by early results from an ongoing trial of healthy men aged 50 to 72 who had a testosterone deficiency and only mild signs of memory loss. They have been treated at Perth's Well Men Centre using a WA-made testosterone cream, and the trial follows an earlier study of guinea pigs which showed the treatment reduced their levels of beta amyloid.

Professor Martins said that it was the first real evidence of cause and effect. "In the past we've shown an association, so when you lower testosterone, you raise beta amyloid levels, and we've also shown an association with people at higher risk of getting Alzheimer's, but we wanted to see what happens in the brain," he said.


Cancer trigger mapped

A DEADLY "active ingredient" in almost all human cancers has been mapped by Australian scientists, bringing the world closer to a potentially life-saving treatment. The breakthrough, published today in the international journal Science, will speed up the global research effort to develop anti-cancer drugs that "switch off" tumour growth.

Cancer researchers at the Children's Medical Research Institute have discovered the composition of an enzyme called telomerase, overactive in almost 90 per cent of cancers. It makes both healthy and cancerous cells immortal and is regarded as one of the most important triggers in cancer. Telomerase was believed to contain a mixture of any of 32 different proteins, but Dr Scott Cohen and his team found only two were involved. "We discovered it was a really simple composition," Dr Cohen said. "All these researchers studying it can really focus now, and that should boost the productivity of research into new drugs, which is very exciting."

The team made the finding by growing cancer cells to collect the hard-to-find enzyme, then purified it down and used a $1 million telescope to work out what it contained. "The next step is to define its shape, if you can do that you can pretty effectively design drugs to very specifically target telomerase, turn it off and stop the cancer growth," Dr Cohen said. The researchers say it is one of the biggest achievements in the telomerase field since the enzyme was discovered by former Melbourne researcher Elizabeth Blackburn in the 1980s.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Is this the cleverest "climate" policy yet?

Plan to rescue the world's forests

AUSTRALIA will form a global fund to fight illegal logging and forest destruction worldwide with the aim of halving the rate of deforestation and achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions 10 times greater than under the Kyoto Protocol. Along the lines of the AP6 Asia-Pacific climate pact, the $200 million Australian initiative will operate outside the Kyoto climate change protocol and will be funded by other developed nations to help developing nations preserve forests.

Germany, Britain and the US are expected soon to contribute to the fund, which will have Indonesia as its prime target. The UN has identified Indonesia as having the world's highest rate of forest clearing. Yesterday, British economist and climate change expert Nicholas Stern said Indonesia ranked third in the world as a greenhouse gas emitter, after the US and China, because of the destruction of forests.

The new world fund - with a similar structure to the six-party Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate created early last year - will give John Howard momentum on the climate change issue as Labor paints him as negative and reluctant on global warming. Labor yesterday peppered the Prime Minister with questions on global warming and promised a $50 million program to subsidise solar panels on homes to cut power consumption and greenhouse emissions.

Mr Howard responded in parliament by pointing to a split between the state Labor governments and federal ALP over compulsory targets for solar and wind power. Mr Howard and Kevin Rudd yesterday both met Sir Nicholas, who said in his report on the effects of climate change last year that deforestation in developing countries was one of the greatest contributors to global warming. Sir Nicholas's report for the British Government predicted dire consequences unless immediate steps were taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Howard will announce the start of the global fund today as the Government attempts to take the political initiative on climate change. The forest fund, to be managed by the World Bank, is designed to help developing countries start sustainable forest industries, plant new forests, stop illegal destruction of rainforests, provide monitoring of forest production, education in forest management and help communities dependent on illegal rainforest timber find alternative jobs.

Deforestation accounts for 20per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and it is estimated that a tonne of CO2 can be sequestered - or taken out of the atmosphere - through tropical reforestation for just $US2, a fraction of the cost of other technologies. The World Bank has estimated the mismanagement of forests costs the global economy $US10billion a year and says 85 per cent of the world's forests are not managed in a sustainable way.

In its submission to the Prime Minister's taskforce on global warming and emissions trading, the National Association of Forest Industries says forests "can play a significant role in addressing climate change concerns through the benefits of carbon sequestration and managed native forests and plantations".

Mr Howard told parliament yesterday that Australia would work towards achieving its target in cutting greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol but said he would not adopt policies that cost jobs. "Whilst there are quite a lot of things in Stern's report and in his work that we agree with, we will take decisions in the national interest," Mr Howard said. "History is littered with examples of nations having overreacted to presumed threats to their great long-term disadvantage."

Mr Howard highlighted a split between the state Labor governments and federal ALP over the policy on renewable energy to combat climate change. In a submission to the Prime Minister's taskforce, the state governments have recommended that mandatory targets for generating power from solar, wind and other renewable sources be phased out when anemissions trading system is introduced. The states say a market-based system of encouraging greenhouse gas reduction through emissions trading is not compatible with mandatory targets. The federal ALP's policy "supports a mandatory renewable energy target which will promote the growth of renewable energy industries such as solar and wind power". "Labor will ensure a genuine and substantial increase in the percentage of Australia's energy generated from renewable sources," the policy says.

But the states have recommended mandatory renewable energy schemes be discontinued or not renewed. When asked about renewable energy targets in parliament, Mr Howard said that as he was being asked to expand mandatory targets the states wanted to phase them out. "This is at the heart of this debate - you cannot run power stations on renewables. Yet the Leader of the Opposition and those who sit behind him believe you can," he said.


Stern warnings on climate consensus: The thinking man's climate change extremist hits town

An editorial from "the Australian" below

BRITAIN'S climate change emissary, Nicholas Stern, has left something for everyone in his lightning visit to Australia to warn of the likely costs of not taking precautionary action on global warming. The federal Government was given a tick for considering nuclear energy as an answer to cutting carbon emissions. Labor was given encouragement for setting a target to reduce the emissions. The coal industry was assured it was a logical long-term player in the world energy business and that Australia was perfectly placed to research clean coal technology, which would make a profound impact if it proved viable.

Global warming activists, meanwhile, would be heartened by Sir Nicholas's view that Australia should sign the Kyoto climate change protocol and was morally obliged to act on cutting its carbon emissions, even though in real terms any cuts would have a negligible impact on the global situation.

Set against Al Gore's hyperbolic visions of doom, Sir Nicholas can appear to be almost a voice of reason. This is because, unlike Mr Gore, who may morph into a climate change- fuelled US presidential candidate at any moment, Sir Nicholas is a serious bureaucrat and former World Bank chief economist. This should not obscure the fact, however, that he was handpicked to undertake the review of climate change by British Prime Minister Tony Blair for political as much as altruistic reasons.

British politicians have seized on climate change with what appears an almost religious zeal. Both major parties are attempting to outbid each other with climate change responses that promise austere measures for British citizens including the possibility of rations and progressive taxes on air travel. While there have been criticisms of Sir Nicholas's research, including from this newspaper, he has succeed in engaging business in the debate. Where Mr Gore has adopted the rhetoric of zealotry and exaggeration, Sir Nicholas has employed the logic of an insurance actuary. He has persuaded business to accept it makes economic sense to address the issue of climate change now, because if the science proves true, the cost will be much higher the longer it is left. This precautionary principle is well understood by the business mind, which also sees the potential for profit in a carbon trading regime.

That said, Sir Nicholas has not been shy of indulging in a little headline-grabbing of his own, with warnings that the cost of responding to climate change will equal two world wars and a depression. However, he has not overdramatised the state of scientific confidence on the impact of global warming, or the human contribution to climate change, to the same extent as others, notably Mr Gore and Australian of the Year Tim Flannery. Nonetheless, Sir Nicholas's call for harsh carbon emission targets, with reductions of between 60and 90 per cent, are best viewed in the context of the continuing need to draw attention to the issue. A target will always only be a target, and success in meeting it will depend on the success of new technology and innovation.

In political terms, John Howard had little choice but to meet Sir Nicholas, but the Prime Minister has made it clear the Government's response would be guided by protecting jobs and safeguarding the economy. If the Opposition sees Sir Nicholas's visit as a welcome precursor to this weekend's climate change talkfest, it would be wise to take a leaf from the Stern book of diplomacy and ability to deal with business. Having succeeded in getting business to the table, Labor must now satisfying the diverse groups without wrecking its claim to economic credibility.

For a lesson in the art of clever climate change solutions and politics, it's hard to beat Mr Howard's plan to combat illegal global logging, which could deliver 10 times the carbon savings of Kyoto.


Just another end-is-nigh climate guy?

Here's the headline news from Tim Flannery, Australian of the Year: The climate is changing much faster than we thought even a short time ago. These changes will be vast and certainly catastrophic if we do not act. Thousands of species -- including our polar bear -- are headed for extinction. The collapse of the Gulf Stream could trigger a new nuclear arms race and usher in a nightmare era of global conflict. Left unchecked, climate change could well bring about the end of our civilization.

Whew. Pretty grim stuff. Yet Mr. Flannery swears he's no alarmist. "Just because the news is alarming doesn't mean the messenger is alarmist." His book The Weather Makers is riding high on the international bestseller lists, and he's a hot commodity on the speaking circuit. (He's addressing a think-tank conference for Canadian politicians today.) In Australia, where a severe drought has pushed climate change to the top of the agenda, he's at least as influential as Al Gore. The two have other things in common. Both simplify the science, cherry-pick the evidence and play down the uncertainties. They make it seem as if massive action is a no-brainer.

Too right, mate. We all want to do something. But what? How? What kinds of policies make sense? And what about the rest of the world? China, the fastest-growing carbon emitter on the planet, is building a new coal plant every week. Why should it sacrifice its prosperity to save our polar bears?

Mr. Flannery confesses that he gave short shrift to the dilemma of big developing countries. "The reason I don't talk about that is that it's a perfect formula for doing nothing." The flip side of this end-is-nigh pessimism is a remarkably cheery faith in new technologies and the prospect of global co-operation. "There is quite a significant shift even in China," he says optimistically. "They're talking a lot about renewable energy. The richest man in China makes solar panels." One day, he predicts, China could be the supplier of cheap solar panels to the world.

Maybe so. But Mr. Flannery prefers to gloss over the unpalatable economic tradeoffs that people and their governments are probably not prepared to make. For example, he thinks Australia ought to get out of the coal business. Like Mr. Gore (and unlike David Suzuki, who believes we must drastically cut our standard of living in order to avert Armageddon), Mr. Flannery basically promises climate gain without pain. He's also partial to massive social-engineering schemes. For example, he argues that the only equitable way to reduce emissions is to grant every human being an equal "right to pollute" with greenhouse gases. Under this system, developed countries would have to buy enough carbon credits from poor countries to cover their emissions. This would have the added (in his view) advantage of redistributing wealth from the greedy West to the impoverished rest. Does such a scheme have a chance? Not on this planet.

Mr. Flannery admits that emissions trading in Europe has been a flop (he blames the Italians for gaming the system, although they're not the only ones), and that the Kyoto targets are meaningless. He's for Kyoto anyway. "It's like a baby. It's useless when it's born. It needs nurturing, and then you can build it into anything you want it to be." He also points out that everything in his book is based on reputable scientific studies published in major journals, such as Nature.

What he doesn't say is that he tends to pick the most sensational studies and ignore the ones that contradict them. About the starving polar bears, he writes: "It looks as if the loss of nanuk may mark the beginning of the collapse of the entire Arctic ecosystem." Just one problem. The polar bear population is booming. And they've weathered climate changes far longer than humans have. Mr. Flannery was a bit defensive when I raised this. "You'll always find an expert to contradict any study."

Mr. Flannery is a very influential man. I hope his predictions of imminent catastrophe are wrong, because his ideas for tackling global warming are pretty lame. Do I have better ones? Nope. My point is, the real debates have only just begun.


Leftists who want to cut income tax!

Another lurch to the Right from the Australian Left. They even endorse federalism over centralism!

A HIGH-LEVEL report prepared for the Labor premiers has raised the prospect of increasing the GST and lowering income taxes as part of a broader set of measures to overhaul federal-state relations. The premiers are being told that Australia could reap a "federalism dividend" of $86billion a year - or $4188 a head - if taxes such as the 10per cent GST and income tax rates were traded off to give the states greater financial freedom. To achieve the pay-off, Canberra must also stop playing politics with commonwealth grants to the states and reform the delivery of key government services such as health and education, where there is significant duplication of responsibilities.

The findings come in a new report for the premiers, Australia's Federal Future, which concludes that multi-tiered government, contrary to common perception, is an efficient model. It argues that the Australian federal-state system offers social and economic benefits that centralised government - such as in Britain and France - cannot. "Research suggests that federalism may have increased Australia's prosperity by $4507 per head in 2006 and that this amount could be increased by another $4188 or even more (totalling $86 billion) if Australia's system was more financially decentralised," it finds.

Co-authored by ANU professor of public policy Glenn Withers and University of Sydney associate professor in law Anne Twomey, the report will today be presented to the Council for the Australian Federation, set up by the premiers to co-ordinate policy at Council of Australian Government meetings. COAG meets on April 13 to consider issues such as control of the Murray-Darling Basin water system, global warming and setting education benchmarks.

But the Howard Government is likely to seize on the Labor premiers receiving a report that raises the spectre of tax changes. John Howard will press the point that changing the rate of GST requires the agreement of all states and the commonwealth, a more likely scenario if Labor wins the federal election.

Professor Withers told The Australian that to deliver the benefits of decentralisation, the states require more financial autonomy, and part of the solution is tax reform. "Australia needs to consider rebalancing its spending and income tax mix to both better support the states in what they can spend without ties and allow the income tax burden to be reduced," he said.

The report says "serious tax reform would recognise that Australia overtaxes incomes and undertaxes spending compared with other OECD economies". It concludes that the commonwealth has used its control of the GST revenue to impose its political agenda on the states. "Recent trends in Australian federalism show a shift from competitive and co-operative federalism to a system of 'opportunistic federalism', where the commonwealth uses its array of financial and legislative powers to intervene selectively in areas of traditional state responsibility to make ideological or political points," it says.

Professor Withers said Australia should be prepared to harness the advantages of a strong multi-tiered system of government, which provides greater scrutiny and limits opportunity for corruption, and encourages competition between the states to attract business and immigrants. "The common view is that several tiers of government create bloated public services, but this is a myth," he said. "Unitary states in the OECD employ nearly 11 per cent more public servants (as a percentage of overall employment) than us. In other words, if we hadn't had a federation we would have another 180,000 public servants."

The report advocates taking heed of other OECD countries that have streamlined the health and education sectors, and endorses last year's National Commission of Audit that called for the states to be responsible for preschool, primary and secondary education, and the commonwealth to take over responsibility for vocational training and higher education. Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said that the report "debunks some of the myths about our federation being expensive and the states being awash with cash".


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Homeschooling revolt

The Australian State of Queensland seems to have laws about homeschooling that are similar to Germany's. The approach to enforcement is however very different

An attempt by the State Government to overhaul home-schooling registration requirements appears to have failed. A new system was introduced in January to make it easier for parents teaching their children at home to legally report to the state without fear of being forced to send them to school. But Eleanor Sparks of Education Choices Magazine for home-schoolers said thousands of parents were reluctant to register with the Government "There is still a lot of distrust there. A lot of parents don't want to sign up and then have the department try to change the way they choose to educate their children," she said.

An Education Queensland report estimates up to 10,500 children are being home-schooled, but just 260 of them are officially registered with the State Government. Education Minister Rod Welford does not accept the figure though it comes from his own department's Home Schooling Review. He said he believed parents who have registered under the department's distance education scheme (4800 students) and the 260 students under the new system represented the "overwhelming majority". "There may be one or two hundred who we still haven't captured because we don't know precisely the number of children who are not in school," he said.

He said he believed the "home-school industry" had an interest in exaggerating its numbers. "I want to spread the message that it is against the law not to be registered, and secondly that it is in their interests to do that," he said. "It is not a question of bludgeoning parents into some sort of Big Brother control system. "By registering those students we can give them support such as advice on teaching text and give them some assistance through nearby schools if they want to access that."

Parents who reject the school system say they do so for many reasons. There are financial benefits to home schooling as parents do not have to worry about fees. uniforms, text books or trips. But parents say the decision to home-school also means financial sacrifices, as at least one parent must spend all their time with their children.

Amanda from Ipswich told The Sunday Mail she opted out of schools because she feared exposing her children to peer groups there. "I know that a lot of people out there think that people like us are weirdos who want to live outside society but we're not. We just don't believe that schools are the best place to put your children." Amanda, who asked that her full name not be revealed, has not registered any of her children with Education Queensland and has never followed a structured learning system.

Her eldest child, Gabby, 15, did not start reading until she was nine but is studying for a bachelor of arts at the Open University (an online higher education service that does not require any entry grades). "I enjoyed it. It was a fun way to learn and now that I am at university I don't find the work too hard. I am able to handle it," Gabby said.

Parents must send their children to school unless they receive special dispensation from Education Queensland. But Ms Sparks says governments have turned a blind eye to thousands of parents who choose to school their children ast home.

The article above by Edmund Burke appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 25, 2007

Road to university widens

A good idea. General knowledge is so indicative that it has been used as a proxy for an IQ test

THOUSANDS of VCE students could get an extra shot at university under a plan to use general knowledge tests in course selection. Under the radical proposal, the General Achievement Test would be used for the first time alongside ENTER and VCE scores for selection in some uni courses. The GAT would be used to help choose "middle band" students -- whose results fell just below ENTER cut-off scores for courses. The proposal by Monash University and the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre could be implemented by the middle of this year if schools support it.

A joint discussion paper outlining the plan says that, although the ENTER provides a "good outcome" for most students, there is a need to improve the selection process for some university applicants. "For some students, the ENTER score may not fully reflect their ability to succeed at tertiary study," the paper states.

About half of all university courses -- up to 1500 of them -- use "middle band" selection along with the ENTER score. This means that some universities look at individual subject scores when deciding whether to take middle-band applicants. But under the proposed plan the GAT -- which tests English, maths and science skills -- would be taken into account for the first time.

Every VCE student currently sits the GAT in the middle of the academic year but it has been used only to check student work and exams. The GAT could also be used as a supplementary tool to select students who have suffered disadvantage during year 12. "It is proposed that applicants' GAT scores . . . be available for use as an additional tool to increase the reliability of middle-band selection," the report states.

VTAC director Elaine Wenn said the proposal would be implemented by June if supported by schools and universities. She said Monash University had advanced the proposal but other universities could take it up if it were approved. Ms Wenn denied the plan amounted to a move away from the ENTER score as the main selection tool for university. "The ENTER score is still the best predictor of academic performance," she said. Monash University pro-vice chancellor Prof Merran Edwards said the university was trying to improve middle-band selection.

The president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Brian Burgess, said the ENTER score was not a particularly effective way of selecting students. "That one third of students fail their first year says something about how universities are selecting their students," he said. Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Mary Bluett welcomed the plan. "We think the idea of broadening out the entry criteria is a good thing," she said. "Too much depends on the ENTER score."


Students' results just get worse

SHOCKING student test results revealed thousands of children were getting lower scores in literacy and numeracy the longer they stayed at school. The disturbing trend has emerged in a national analysis of results provided to Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop. Figures showed the 6 per cent of Year 3 students who failed to reach the numeracy benchmark grew to 9 per cent by Year 5 and 18 per cent in the first year of high school. Despite millions of dollars poured into classroom programs, 25 per cent of Year 7 students in NSW did not meet benchmark standards for numeracy and 12 per cent for reading.

The number of students meeting an acceptable standard in numeracy plummeted between primary school - where it reached the mid-90s - and high school. Ms Bishop said yesterday she was worried about the results showing the decline in student performance after Year 3. "It concerns me that too many students are still failing to meet these minimum standards," she said. "Reading, writing and mathematics are fundamental life skills that every person needs for further education, employment and participation in society."

The data, based on 2005 exam results in all the states and territories, had taken the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs almost two years to process. In NSW, females outscored males by up to 6 per cent - particularly in reading and writing. Students in Years 3 and 5 performed better than the national average but slipped below it once they reached high school. Students living in cities did slightly better than those in regional and remote areas.


Facing black realities

Comment by Christopher Pearson

Since the 1960s, across the spectrum of Australian politics, there has been a default position on traditional Aboriginal culture. It is, axiomatically, a many splendoured thing, as viable a world view for contemporary indigenous people as it was for their ancestors. Louis Nowra's new book, "Bad Dreaming: Aboriginal Men's Violence Against Women and Children", is a sustained critique of all that.

Nowra is to be congratulated for rare courage in confronting the dysfunctional aspects of both traditional culture and its latter-day manifestations. It's not likely to win him many friends. But then, as someone who's been thinking about the cultural problems underlying Aboriginal men's violence against women and children for more than 30 years, he's had plenty of time to sort out which of Aboriginal Australia's (usually self-appointed) champions are in earnest.

Two who he thinks have failed that test are fellow columnists at The Australian, Phillip Adams and Elspeth Probyn. "After recent revelations about the extent of domestic violence in Aboriginal communities," Nowra says, "Adams, a left-wing ABC broadcaster, opined that the public outcry about its magnitude was an example of conservatives using the information to pick on Aborigines, expressing his belief (erroneous, of course) that there is just as much domestic violence and child abuse in the general community."

Probyn, a professor of gender studies at the University of Sydney, is another of those experts who's reluctant to let the facts get in the way. According to Nowra: "She wrote that the abuse in Aboriginal communities is 'supposedly rife', yet was horrified that children would be removed from their families, even though it would be to protect them from a grim situation. And that has been the problem with this issue. Ideology has taken prevalence over revealing the ghastly facts of what is happening to indigenous women, boys and girls."

Nowra has assembled a catalogue of the ghastly facts to silence all those who want to wish the problem away. He quotes Nanette Rogers, the Alice Springs lawyer who was interviewed last year to such gripping effect on Lateline: "The volume of sexual assault is huge and I don't have a single file in my room that is not related to violence."

There are other, more clinical, indications of the scale of the problem. The rate of syphilis infection in the Northern Territory Aboriginal population is 65 times the non-indigenous rate. One-third of 13-year-old girls in the territory are infected with chlamydia and gonorrhoea. How much of the underage activity was involuntary, as well as illegal, is hard to say. However there is no shortage of Aboriginal leaders to attest that sexual abuse of children has reached epidemic proportions in urban, rural and remote communities.

Nowra cites research to show that more than half the perpetrators of sexual violence were victims of it themselves in their youth. It's a sign of what anthropologists call "a repetitive culture". At least one in 10 Aboriginal boys can expect to be sexually assaulted. In Western Australia there was a documented tenfold increase in the sexual assault of women and children between 1961 and 1981. The urban statistics are grim, especially for Alice Springs, but grimmer still in remote settlements. "One of the most salient features of domestic violence and child abuse is that the highest incidences are occurring in communities that are the most traditional, and where men defend their actions as being part of customary law."

There are a variety of contemporary circumstances that exacerbate the problem of sexual violence. The collapse of Christian observance and the work ethic among most of Noel Pearson's generation is part of it. Bored idleness on welfare is another major element. Alcohol, illegal drugs and pornography sap the self-discipline of men, many of whom are already demoralised and lacking any moral compass. One of the more shocking passages in the book recounts the matter-of-fact way in which middle-aged perpetrators talk to him about their exploits, with no sense of shame.

These are all contributory factors, but Nowra claims it is the dysfunctional elements of traditional culture, which still persist in even more pernicious forms, that are the ultimate cause. He takes a short tour through the historical and anthropological record, from Watkin Tench's journal in 1788 to the end of the 19th century. His conclusions are hard to argue with, although the sub-discipline of feminist anthropology has been trying to divert attention from the inconvenient evidence for most of the past 40 years.

Aboriginal custom entrenched a male gerontocracy. Women were commonly treated as though they were chattels and could be lent out in sexual servitude to strangers in exchange for trade goods or to help settle a dispute. Sometimes young girls were offered to white men in payment for food, blankets or axes. Nowra quotes A.W. Howitt on the gang rape of young girls, typified by orgiastic scenes, sometimes including their fathers. He also cites Joan Kimm's finding that "the sexual use of young girls by older men, indeed much older men, was an intrinsic part of Aboriginal culture and is a heritage that cannot be denied". Nowra is admirably straightforward about traditionally sanctioned sexual relations between men and boys, another taboo subject for most anthropologists. He notes boy-wives in some tribes and the widespread evidence of pederasty. Along with Fred Hollows, he touches on homosexual activity, casual and otherwise, in historic as well as contemporary rituals of initiation. He also remarks on the many gay Aboriginal men in present-day Australia and tells the story of an Aboriginal drag queen he says he became close to after leaving university. "He told me that he had been molested by his father and two brothers when he was young. At the time it seemed far-fetched to me. But it sparked an interest in Aborigines and their cultural conflicts with white society."

Nowra summarises the argument thus: "Traditional Aboriginal society expressed anger through aggression but the violence and sexual behaviour was tightly structured through ritual, ceremony and proscribed procedures. But with the influence of alcohol and acculturation, some of these customs have become a pathological distortion of those that were the basis of traditional life."

Because white Australia sentimentalises hunter-gatherer customs - no matter how brutal - latter-day noble savages are exploiting the precedent of past practices to do as they please and ignore the law. Another dimension of the problem is that Aboriginal women are very often reluctant to report domestic violence or sexual abuse. He says "they cannot separate their cultural identity from their gender. In other words, some women believe that if they accuse their men of such crimes, they in turn can be accused of criticising their own culture. After two centuries of seeing their culture devalued and mocked by whites, one can understand this. So they would rather suffer in silence than be seen to be criticising their identity as Aborigines. They consider their status as a woman to be less important than being Aboriginal."

The importance of Bad Dreaming lies in its documentation of shameful abuses that the perpetrators and their lawyers and other apologists have been able to cover up for decades. One of the strongest arguments Nowra mounts is that the permit system - which excludes journalists, among others, from visiting isolated settlements where women and children often lead lives of quiet desperation - should be abolished. "The permit system, although useful for protecting sacred sites, is also used to keep dark secrets of domestic violence and sexual abuse from being publicised," he writes. "People should not be prevented from accessing what are essentially public townships, accessed by public roads."

There is no quick fix for a culture with so much archaic baggage, not to mention "sit-down money", drugs, all-day pornographic video sessions and binge drinking. Nowra seems attracted by Tony Abbott's suggestion of "a new form of paternalism". He finds it almost indistinguishable from Nicolas Rothwell's more nuanced view that failing indigenous communities should be subject to "a system of benign social control". He offers as a small sign of hope the example of Groote Eylandt, where a new alcohol management scheme came into force in July 2005: "Anyone who wanted to drink had to have a permit. At the first hint of domestic violence, the permit was revoked. Within a year, domestic violence on Groote had dropped by 40 per cent."


Wednesday, March 28, 2007


In American terms, he would be the bluest of the "Blue Dogs"

KEVIN Rudd has risked a brawl with Labor's Left by placing economic growth and free trade at the core of a new policy platform. The Opposition Leader's proposals, obtained by The Australian, would denounce passive welfare, embrace the casualisation of the workforce, boost business grants and formally bury Mark Latham's disastrous Tasmanian forests policy with support for logging.

The draft platform, which also embraces public-private partnerships to fund roads andother infrastructure, ensures a showdown between Mr Rudd and powerful Left unions at next month's ALP national conference. Seeking to win over swinging voters, Labor dumps previous positions on welfare and indigenous affairs in the new policy platform as Mr Rudd shifts to the middle ground.

While Labor remains firmly opposed to the Government's workplace reforms, the new platform recognises the growing march of independent contractors. The policy jettisons previous discomfort with the casualisation of the workforce in a move that will alienate left-wing unions, which favour government encouragement of full-time work.

The Australian last month revealed a plan by five powerful left-wing unions to push their alternative economic plan at the national conference. The unions want Mr Rudd to muscle up to big business and abandon free trade deals. But the new ALP platform places a much stronger focus on wealth creation and free trade, under plans to lock in the high levels of public support for Labor seen in opinion polls. "Labor is committed to building a modern economy that competes successfully in global markets for agriculture, resources, manufactures and services," the draft platform says. "With the economic fundamentals in place, Labor's key priority is to raise the incomes and living standards of the Australian people by building an economic climate of enterprise and innovation."

The policy blueprint - which will be voted on by 400 delegates at the showcase ALP event - rejects the heavy hand of government intervention, or a withdrawal from free trade deals. Instead, the Labor leadership argues that long-term prosperity ensures Australia is "able to sustain high-quality public services and a generous safety net for those in need". It locks Labor in to keeping "taxes as low as possible, consistent with maintaining a sound revenue base to fund quality public services". Fearful of another interest rates campaign at the election, Labor will pledge to preserve low inflation as the "key to maintaining low interest rates".

Amid a concerted government attack over Labor's plans to raid the Future Fund, the ALP platform backs new measures to build superannuation savings. Labor wants to build national savings by introducing "new programs and incentives to encourage families to save for their children's future". The reform push comes as Mr Rudd has ditched Labor's "hit list" of public schools and won caucus approval to overturn the ALP's historic opposition to selling off Telstra. In a move that will be endorsed by the powerful Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Labor will also formally dump Mr Latham's 2004 policy to lock up hundreds of hectares of old-growth forests in Tasmania. Announced just days before polling day, the forestry policy was blamed for Labor's loss of twoTasmanian seats: Bass and Braddon.

In the new policy, Labor says it now supports "sustainable economic, environmental and community outcomes for Tasmania's forests". While Mr Latham blindsided the CFMEU - and the Tasmanian Labor Government - Mr Rudd has committed to consulting with unions, industry and the state Government on a "sustainable" forestry plan. This will involve no loss of jobs in the forestry industry and support for the existing Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement, announced in May 2005 by John Howard.

Labor is committed to overhauling the policy platform by placing economic policy at the heart of a new blueprint. Labor will go to the election with a commitment to boosting levels of business research to "above" the OECD average - and consider a tariff freeze for the textile and clothing sector - as part of a new industry plan. It will establish an independent authority, Infrastructure Australia, to oversee a national plan to build roads, rail and ports infrastructure. But it will also challenge the big Left unions by recognising the "legitimate role" of public-private partnerships in financing roads and other infrastructure. In a historic shift, the draft platform recognises the "legitimate role" of PPPs, which have been controversially used to build road tunnels and other costly infrastructure.


Literacy suffers as teachers take on propaganda roles

PRIMARY schools are swamped by a cluttered curriculum that places equal importance on issues traditionally taught by parents, such as awareness of dog attacks and nutrition, rather than the core skills of literacy and numeracy. The Australian Primary Principals Association, representing more than 7000 government and non-government primary schools, will today release a position paper calling for a charter to redefine the role of primary schools and cull the curriculum to focus on education rather than social welfare.

APPA president Leonie Trimper called on the nation's education ministers to discuss the issue at their meeting next month and form an independent group of primary educators to draft a charter. Ms Trimper said it was time to reassess the curriculum and the importance placed on different aspects of traditional subjects like literacy. "Are there things in literacy that should be of lesser importance: for example, is viewing as important as listening, speaking, reading and writing?" Ms Trimper said. "We would rather do less and do it well and make sure it's well resourced."

Ms Trimper said rather than schools supplementing parental responsibilities, the pendulum had swung too far. Schools were now forced to offer breakfast programs, values education, nutrition, personal finance, road safety, and even awareness of dog-biting and parenting programs. A joint report by the APPA and the federal education department in 2004 found that primary schools were also under-funded; for every $100 spent on a high school student, only $73 was spent on a primary school student. Ms Trimper said the needs of primary schools rarely featured in public debate or government policy.

The policy paper prepared by Greg Robson, from Edith Cowan University, says the pressures placed on primary schools "may well be undermining their capacity to deliver continuing success". "The pressures are significant, the expectations unrealistic, the appreciation of what is needed underdeveloped and the phase has lost its pre-eminence as a point of focus in education," the paper says. Professor Robson, who oversaw the introduction of highly criticised year 11 and 12 courses as head of the Curriculum Council in Western Australia, said a charter should reposition primary schools as the key phase of schooling.

The national umbrella group of parents and citizens organisations, the Australian Council of State School Organisations, yesterday supported a charter that refocused primary schools on the traditional core tasks of literacy, numeracy and socialisation. ACSSO executive officer Terry Aulich said primary schools were overloaded with excessively detailed curriculum and were forced to deal with social problems without adequate resources.


Clean coal is all hot air

Comment by Australian economist Alex Robson

LAST month Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd announced Labor's National Clean Coal Initiative. Roughly speaking, the term clean coal refers to various technologies for removing carbon dioxide from coal when it is used to generate electricity, both before and after combustion occurs. The term encompasses carbon capture and storage technologies. Rudd's policy commits $500 million of taxpayer funds on the development of these technologies, with the proviso that each taxpayer dollar must be matched by two private sector dollars. Rudd also proclaimed that Labor would establish an emissions trading scheme, set renewable energy targets, develop plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, convene a summit on climate change and ratify the Kyoto protocol.

Apart from ratifying an obsolete international treaty and organising yet another Canberra talkfest, Labor's policy of subsidising corporations, making grandiose plans and setting impressive-sounding targets is eerily similar to existing Government policy.

The Howard Government happily boasts about Australia meeting its Kyoto targets and has already set up a taskforce to examine emissions trading schemes. Its Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund has committed taxpayer funds of $500 million for research, with the proviso that each taxpayer dollar must be matched by - you guessed it - two private sector dollars. Additional funding is planned for future years. This subsidy is simply a form of taxpayer-funded corporate welfare, with no discernible benefit to Australia in terms of the effect on climate change.

Neither Rudd, Howard nor any other Canberra politician seem to be willing to admit that none of these policies will have any impact on global temperatures. Indeed, even if Tasmanian Senator Bob Brown got his wish and shut down Australia's coal industry overnight, it would not make a whit of difference to climate change.

So much for Rudd providing sensible policy alternatives. The only real difference between the two spending initiatives is that Labor will revert to its unhealthy old ways and explicitly try to pick winners by directly focusing the subsidy on clean coal technology. In contrast, the current government subsidy is neutral with respect to the technology used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

These minor differences are simply political manoeuvring. Labor is attempting to appeal to green voters, appease the coal mining unions, and shore up votes in marginal coal-producing electorates. But in the rush to get on board the clean coal bandwagon, both parties seem to have ignored the Howard battlers - ordinary taxpayers with mortgages and electricity bills.

When it comes to clean coal, there is a gigantic elephant in the room. Although $500 million is a significant amount of money to spend on corporate welfare, it is a drop in the ocean compared with the higher costs of electricity generation that are involved in the use of clean coal technology, and the effects that these higher costs will have on consumer prices. The vast majority (77 per cent) of Australia's electricity is produced using black and brown coal. As Labor's policy announcement acknowledges, CSIRO scientists have estimated that carbon capture and storage technologies are not commercially viable (and will not be for many years), and would effectively double the cost of producing electricity. It is also estimated that electricity prices could rise by 40 per cent.

There is no way that individual electricity producers will voluntarily double their generating costs unless they plan on going out of business. Thus clean coal technology will not be adopted unless governments force producers to use it, taxpayers directly subsidise it or if an artificial price (effectively a tax) is placed on carbon emissions. Forcing electricity generators to adopt this cost-doubling technology is equivalent to imposing a 100 per cent tax on the consumption of coal, without the government collecting any revenue. Both parties seem to believe that such a policy will somehow put the coal industry on a sustainable footing and protect coal jobs. This is pure economic fantasy. Doubling the effective cost of coal will likely lead to a significant reduction in coal demand and significant job cuts in the coal industry.

Similarly, the idea that such large increases in consumer electricity prices will not lead to higher inflation and higher mortgage interest rates is completely divorced from economic reality. The only alternative is to shift the costs to the taxpayer by directly subsidising clean coal electricity generation. Inevitably Howard's battlers will end up footing the bill for a bipartisan clean coal policy that will have absolutely no effect on climate change. No wonder neither side wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Dr Alex Robson teaches economics at the Australian National University


Rotated map puts a twist in the foundation tale

DID a Portuguese seafarer called Christopher de Mendonca lead a fleet of four ships into Botany Bay in 1522 - almost 250 years before Captain James Cook? The startling claim is made in a book - published today - by the retired Canberra-based science journalist Peter Trickett. Trickett believes Mendonca left irrefutable evidence of his historic voyage: a detailed and uncannily accurate map of Australia's entire east coast.

Trickett's quest began eight years ago in a Canberra bookshop where he bought a beautiful portfolio of rarely seen maps - exquisite reproductions from the Vallard Atlas, a 16th-century document so precious and delicate it never leaves its air-conditioned vault in the Huntington Library in Los Angeles. The original Vallard Atlas contains 15 hand-drawn maps, completed no later than 1545 in Dieppe, France, and represents the entire world as it was then known to Europeans. Scholars had long asked why part of one of the Vallard maps - featuring 120 place names in Portuguese, not French - closely resembled the coast of Queensland. But they had dismissed it as a coincidence, because the map suddenly jutted out at right angles for 1500 kilometres, bearing no relation to any known coastline.

However, Trickett came up with an intriguing theory: what if the atlas compilers in Dieppe had wrongly aligned two Portuguese charts they were copying from? He called in a computer expert who was able to cut the map in two and rotate the bottom half 90 degrees.

"Up to that point it was just a theory," Trickett says. "But once it was rotated . the entire east coast of Australia, and part of the south coast as far as Kangaroo Island, was revealed in incredible detail."

Trickett believes the charts were made by Mendonca, who set off from the Portuguese base at Malacca with a fleet of four ships on a secret mission ordered by King Manuel I. If Trickett is right, Mendonca sailed past Fraser Island, into Botany Bay, around Wilsons Promontory and as far as Kangaroo Island before returning to Malacca via the North Island of New Zealand. But because the Portuguese wanted to prevent other European powers learning about their discovery, Mendonca's charts were kept secret. Instead, says Trickett, Mendonca was rewarded by being made commander of the lucrative fortress at Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, where he eventually died. "His voyage ranks with that of Columbus or Magellan," says Trickett. "But it was secret, unfortunately."

On the southern coast, Trickett says, Mendonca clearly marked many of the outstanding features: Cap Frimosa (Wilsons Promontory), Illa Grossa (Kangaroo Island), Rio Real (Spencer Gulf) and Golfo Grande (the Great Australian Bight). But the most significant feature on the Vallard map is Baia Neve. Trickett insists this is what Cook later called Botany Bay, the birthplace of modern Australia.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Muslim moderate seeks police protection

One of Australia's most important Muslim leaders has sought police protection after criticising controversial cleric Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali. Tom Zreika, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association - and Sheikh Hilali's employer - said he received non-stop phone threats yesterday after he released a document urging greater integration and for Muslims to "mend their ways".

The report, prepared for a national meeting of imams in Sydney this weekend, says some Muslims are "ruining it" for all and that Australians have "had enough" of Muslims. His report also recommends that imams become involved in community activities such as voluntary firefighting and surf lifesaving.

Mr Zreika said he was threatened recently after saying, "I can't tolerate this freak show", following recent remarks by Sheikh Hilali. But yesterday, after the contents of his paper were publicised, the threats, from Muslims, came non-stop. "They just say, 'Mate if you don't shut your mouth we are going to come and fix you up'," Mr Zreika said. "I know they are Muslims because they quote Muslim prayers."

In his paper, Mr Zreika, a barrister, says the vast majority of non-Muslims understood and empathised with Islamic issues in Australia, but a small group of Muslims were inciting anti-Islamic feelings. "Only when we mend our ways and we respect our fellow country people can we demand tolerance and forbearance." Among Mr Zreika's suggestions for the new board of imams, which will be responsible for accrediting prospective clerics, are that imams should be citizens or permanent residents and not have been members of suspicious groups. He says they must do everything possible to prevent radicalism or fanaticism.


Amazing bureaucracy stymies vital checks on foreign doctors

Since overseas-trained doctors, mainly from India, have done great harm to Australian patients (including deaths) this is a matter of considerable importance

Plans to establish a national system to rigorously assess the competence of overseas-trained doctors have stalled after the NSW Government rejected a range of measures backed by the other states and territories. The recommendations include standardised supervision guidelines for all overseas-trained doctors and the creation of an independent body to assess doctors' qualifications and clinical skills.

"All the jurisdictions have signed off on the improved standards to assess doctors trained overseas, bar one," said Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal. "I don't know why NSW is dragging its feet."

The Council of Australian Governments announced in July last year that new nationally consistent guidelines to assess doctors would replace the ad hoc state-based systems. Overseas-trained doctors working in Australia are normally assessed by the Australian Medical Council. However, doctors who come from countries with similar medical systems to Australia's can enter the country on temporary visas and are not required to take the AMC's examinations if they agree to work in an area of need.

A report commissioned by the Howard Government, but never released, found more than 3500 doctors enter Australia every year on temporary visas and are given jobs without having their competence assessed by the AMC. The report recommends that all overseas-trained doctors should undergo a standardised assessment process before commencing work in this country.

Lesleyanne Hawthorne, associate dean international of the University of Melbourne's faculty of medicine and author of the report, warned that it was unlikely all the states would agree on how doctors should be evaluated. "The idea of getting uniform screening standards that every state will sign up to is a pipedream, because the states are competing with each other to attract overseas-trained doctors," Dr Hawthorne said.

The NSW Department of Health would not explain why it opposed the changes. "The commonwealth and the states are still in discussion on the matter to develop final proposals for agreement by health ministers," the department said in a statement. "NSW continues to work closely with other states and territories to ensure doctors from countries which have been assessed as having equal standards to Australia do not face unnecessary restrictive barriers to employment."


Fast forward on literacy IS possible

A PERTH trial of a program aimed at helping children with learning delays has achieved dramatic gains in literacy in just 10 weeks. But the principal of Fremantle-based Samson Primary School, Barry Hancock, said he was struggling to get other schools and the Education Department to look at the results. Four Perth schools took part in the trial last year of the computer-based program Fast ForWord to test claims it could boost learning in children struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and other learning delays. A total of 144 students aged 5-14 took part in the trial, and were found to have made significantly better gains in language and literacy tests than a comparison group who received the standard WA curriculum alone.

On average, students who completed the 10-week program improved from being in the bottom 12 per cent of age literacy to the bottom 25 per cent. Their receptive language skills jumped from the bottom 12 per cent to bottom 21 per cent, while their expressive language improved from the lower 10 per cent to lower 18 per cent.

Mr Hancock said the program should be made part of the WA school curriculum because it was the only one that worked on the pathways in the brain to allow children to become better learners. "It's the greatest thing I've found in 40 years of teaching,'' he said. ``It teaches kids how to concentrate and to learn. "It doesn't matter how good teachers are, some kids are going to slip through the net because what you're telling them goes in one ear and out the other.'' Mr Hancock trialled the program on 36 of his students with special needs and found that all improved. Some made gains equivalent to two years of learning after just 10 weeks.

Quinns Rocks mother Amanda Cope said the program had improved her daughter Leticia, 13, who had repeated a year at school, but whose reading and writing skills were now above average. The Education Department said use of the program in schools was at the discretion of individual principals.


Boom in busts

SILICONE breast implants are getting much larger, with models deciding "bigger is better" for their careers. The trend has forced Australian plastic surgeons to import the super-large 1000ml implants from the US. They credit former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, despite her recent much publicised breast reduction, for encouraging models to be ambitious about breast size.

Pamela Noon, from the International Surgery Group on the Gold Coast, told The Sunday Mail: "In the last four to six months I've noticed a rapid increase in size. "The trend for women having breast augmentation is to go large. Our patients believe bigger is better." Ms Noon believes there are two factors influencing the trend, which has three clients this week booked for 800ml implants. She said many patients after having surgery realised they should have chosen a larger size: "We're now encouraging them to think very carefully about their size."

The other factor was many patients no longer looked upon Pamela Anderson as a "freak", because other models have breasts just as large. The average implant size for the Coast surgery has increased from 280ml to 375ml in the past five years, and models with 400ml implants have recently sought surgery to double the size


Monday, March 26, 2007

New mothers badly treated in government hospitals

A CRISIS in Queensland's maternity service is leaving one in three mothers traumatised and endangering the health of their babies. A Sunday Mail investigation has revealed shocking lapses in care in overcrowded maternity units, with mothers going into labour in corridors and others pressured into having unnecessary caesarean deliveries. Poor post-natal care has led to some women needing emergency hysterectomies after developing avoidable infections.

A new study by Jenny Gamble, state president of the Australian College of Midwives, has found 30 per cent of mums experience symptoms of psychological stress after giving birth in Queensland hospitals. Lobby group the Maternity Coalition said overcrowding was now a problem statewide following the closure of 38 maternity units. In rural Queensland, a different study shows five women a week give birth before reaching a hospital with specialised maternity care.

The State Government was warned of the appalling state of maternity services two years ago, but midwives say it has so far failed to help frontline staff or their patients.

A Sunshine Coast couple have launched a court action against Queensland Health, alleging their son was born with cerebral palsy as a result of an emergency caesarean. On Thursday, an inquest was told that a young Brisbane mother suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage after another caesarean delivery.

Maternity Coalition president Joanne Smethurst said Australia's standard of care was almost "Third World". "The health of mothers and babies is suffering every day, but the Government has wasted two years doing nothing," she said, adding that hospitals were encouraging women to be induced and undergo caesareans because of a shortage of midwives and beds. Queensland has a caesarean rate of 32 per cent. The World Health Organisation recommends 10-15 per cent. Dr Gamble, who also runs the midwifery program at Griffith University, wants a community midwife scheme introduced: "We know what the problems are, we just need the Government to get on with it."

Since 1995, Queensland Health has received 20 reports on the state of its maternity services. The most recent, presented by the department's maternity services steering committee, said action was needed to improve care for women in rural areas and called for the introduction of post-birth care for all. In the past two years, the steering committee has spent almost $1 million on paperwork to prepare for the creation of yet another committee on the crisis. Steering committee chairwoman Cherrell Hirst said State Cabinet still had to approve the second committee and would make a decision by the end of the month.

She said it could be four years before any improvements in care were seen. "Stage one was setting up the interim committee, ahead of establishing the second committee," she said.

Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the situation was outrageous. "We get review after taskforce after investigation, and meanwhile services suffer," he said. A spokeswoman for Queensland Health said "moves are under way" for change. The Gold Coast Health Service District Birthing Centre, opened in May 2006, offers an "alternative model of care for birthing", but nothing has been rolled out state-wide


Fresh food now bad for you!

FRESH fruit, vegetables and salad sprouts are responsible for an increase in food poisoning caused by the potentially deadly salmonella and E-coli bacteria. There were 27 outbreaks of gastroenteritis between January 2001 and June 2005 across Australia due to fresh, uncooked produce including orange juice, cucumbers, lettuce and alfalfa spouts, resulting in almost 700 people becoming ill, with 51 hospitalised, a conference has been told. At least half of the outbreaks occurred at restaurants and nearly one-fifth of gastro illnesses were linked to fast food or takeaway shops.

The Communicable Disease Control Conference was told this month that fresh produce in particular may cause outbreaks because it was often eaten raw. Adrian Bradley from the NSW Food Authority said the widely held assumption that fresh produce didn't harbour pathogens such as salmonella, norovirus and Campylobacter was now known to be incorrect. OzFoodNet, the national food-borne illness surveillance system, shows that three major salmonella outbreaks occurred in 2006. More than 120 people in Western Australia and Victoria fell ill in the first half of last year after eating alfalfa sprouts. In October 2006, more than 120 cases of food poisoning caused by eating rockmelons occurred along the eastern seaboard. In November there was a small outbreak of salmonella linked to pawpaw.

Overseas evidence suggests contaminated water, fertiliser, contact with pests or animal faeces or insufficient cleaning of produce prior to sale could cause contamination. A spokesman for the Department of Health and Ageing said centralised growing and distribution of fresh produce, as well as enhanced detection, might be a factor in the increase in outbreak numbers. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) plans to introduce primary production and processing standards for high-risk fresh produce such as sprouts.

The NSW Food Authority said people considered "vulnerable" such as young children, the elderly, diabetics, pregnant women and those with cancer or suppressed immune systems should never eat any type of sprout. It advises avoiding any bruised, damaged, mouldy or slimy produce and washing all produce with cool tap water immediately before eating.


"Outcomes-based" education shown the door

The widely criticised model of outcomes-based education introduced in West Australian schools was effectively dismantled yesterday when the Government announced the return of syllabuses specifying what students should be taught and a return to traditional marking methods.

Education Minister Mark McGowan has commissioned a detailed action plan addressing problems with the curriculum for kindergarten to Year 10 after an independent evaluation concluded the changes introduced over the past decade "cannot be regarded as a success". Mr McGowan described the evaluation report as a "cold shower" and announced that syllabuses detailing the content of courses would be reintroduced next year. The changes also include providing clear reports to parents based on grades linked to common standards, providing resources for teachers for planning and assessing students, and reintroducing traditional methods of marking, such as percentages.

Under the curriculum framework introduced in 1998, marks were replaced by "levels" at which students were working, based on the idea that students travel along at their own pace. The curriculum adopted an outcomes approach to learning that focused on what students should achieve and assessed what they learn rather than traditional syllabuses that focus on content and how and when it is taught. The state Government has faced widespread criticism over its changes to school education, particularly over the introduction of levels, and the new courses of study for Years 11 and 12, which are claimed to be of poor academic standard.

A group of teachers formed to fight the changes, People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes, welcomed the announcement as a step in the right direction. PLATO president Marko Vojkovic said the syllabuses and levels were two key pieces of the outcomes-based education jigsaw but there was still a way to go. Teachers will be able to choose the type of assessment they use, marks or levels, which Mr Vojkovic said was unacceptable. "Levels should be abandoned altogether," he said. "There shouldn't be a choice between a valid and invalid method; if it's invalid it should be thrown out." He said the draft syllabuses did not contain enough specific content but their reintroduction was a philosophical move away from outcomes-based education.

In a letter sent to teachers yesterday, the department said syllabuses would contain explicit descriptions of core elements to be taught. In kindergarten to Year 3, the emphasis would be on literacy, numeracy, social, emotional and physical development. In Years 4-7, syllabuses will expand to include science, civics and citizenship, and information and communication technologies. Syllabuses for Years 8-10 will cover all learning areas. The evaluation of the curriculum changes found almost 60percent of teachers did not agree the changes had improved teaching and learning or student assessment in recent years.


Australia's humane British founders

Leftist historians give the impression that Australia's founders were genocidal military dictators. But many of Australia's early colonial leaders were human rights activists ahead of their time, as Keith Windschuttle documents below. Australia's first governor, Capt. Phillip was anti-slavery before Wilberforce! Following the documentation below is a summary of what the Leftists say -- and a rebuttal of it

According to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the 200th anniversary of his country's abolition of the slave trade tomorrow offers the chance to say how profoundly shameful slavery was. Equally, however, it provides the occasion to commemorate those who abolished the trade. In 1807, the British were the first people in the world to do so. This was one of the great feats in the history of human freedom and its originators and their motives deserve to be understood and celebrated today.

Moreover, there was a strong connection between the British colonisation of Australia and those who campaigned against slavery. Today, our contemporary historians avoid this topic. Hence, few Australians are aware of how powerful the abolitionist sentiment was in colonial Australia or how strongly English abolitionists influenced the political and moral foundations of this country.

Soon after British secretary for home affairs, Lord Sydney, appointed him the first governor of NSW in September 1786, Arthur Phillip drew up a detailed memorandum of his plans for the proposed new colony. In one paragraph he wrote: "The laws of this country (England) will of course be introduced in New South Wales, and there is one that I would wish to take place from the moment his majesty's forces take possession of the country: that there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves."

In all of Australia's founding documents this statement stands out starkly. There are no other appeals to great principles, no declaration of independence, no constitutional preamble full of nation-building sentiment. Instead, we were founded by bureaucratic correspondence from the British Home Office to the Admiralty, the Navy Board and the Treasury, by other letters, commissions of appointment and warrants for transportation, and by one act of the British parliament concerned mostly with "the transportation of felons and other offenders". Hence Phillip's paragraph above, especially his unequivocal and spare avowal, "there can be no slavery in a free land", is probably the best founding proclamation we have.

It was a remarkable declaration to make at the time. For a start, it demonstrated that its governor and those who appointed him had more ambitious plans for the new colony than they made public. "A free land" meant much more than a dumping ground for convicts. Phillip clearly expected NSW eventually to be composed largely of free settlers. Moreover, Phillip's objection to slavery was noticeably ahead of his time. At this distance, it may seem part of the stock opinion of the day, just one more expression of the abolitionist movement that persuaded the British parliament to outlaw the transportation of slaves on the high seas. But there was more to it than that. As Phillip said, the laws of England did not permit slavery. The ownership and sale of human beings had been illegal in England since the early Middle Ages, but by the 1700s the growth of the slave trade to the Americas saw thousands of black slaves employed as servants in London, Edinburgh and other urban centres. In the celebrated James Somerset case of 1772, Lord Mansfield found that English law did not permit slavery and that black servants were free to go as they pleased.

Nonetheless slavery still thrived across the British Empire. The merchant fleet of Liverpool dominated the transport of slaves from Africa to the Americas; the sugar plantations of Britain's Caribbean colonies were dependent on slave labour; and slavery was widespread in the Muslim realms of British India. Moreover, Britain's former colonies in North America had just formed an independent union based on an appeal to freedom and equality, yet still they housed almost 700,000 slaves.

Phillip wrote his memorandum before the abolitionist movement gained public momentum. At the time, to take a stand for this moral cause put him decidedly on the progressive side of politics. The abolitionists' parliamentary leader, William Wilberforce, decided to take up the issue only in May 1787, eight months after Phillip declared his own attitude. The abolitionist evangelicals in the Church of England and their Quaker supporters were then a marginal group of activists. Their spokesman, Thomas Clarkson, had not yet begun the speaking tours of British cities that were to make abolition a popular cause. By 1791, when Wilberforce introduced his first bill to abolish the slave trade, the movement had made progress but parliament still rejected it decisively by 163 votes to 88.

Although the evangelicals were the main force behind the abolitionist movement and Wilberforce its best-known politician, Phillip had not been greatly influenced by them. Indeed, he was not an especially religious man. His 1786 memorandum discussed his proposed colony's housing, health care, clothing, relations with the Aborigines, rewards and punishments for convicts, land grants, shipping regulations, exploration and trade. Conspicuously, he mentioned neither religion nor the church. In practice, he seemed to regard religion primarily as a utilitarian device for maintaining social order and good behaviour.

Instead, he took a more secular political position that saw slavery as an offence against the tradition of "the freeborn Englishman" that defined his country. This was a political and a folk tradition that extended back at least to the English Civil War but probably much further. It meant that no one in England could be born into slavery, bondage or vassalage. All were born with inalienable rights to freedom.

Phillip was also the inheritor of the British naval tradition that looked down on Europe's original imperial powers, Spain and Portugal. Since the Spanish Armada, English Protestant sailors had been nourished on a diet of anti-Spanish stories designed to show that the adherents of the Catholic Church were capable of any cruelty. Tales of the atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition and the brutal treatment of African slaves and the indigenous people of the Americas entrenched the sentiment.

A further influence on Phillip was the humanitarian movement that emerged within the British Enlightenment in the late 1700s. This movement, which had support from early British anthropologists and the Anglican Church, emphasised the unity of humankind. All human beings, whatever their skin colour, were members of the one species and were thus equal, both at law and before God. This sentiment led several Scottish intellectuals to openly condemn slavery, especially Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), plus George Wallace and Adam Ferguson. In England, William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) made a firm break with Roman law on the subject.

In April 1787, Phillip made another memorable statement that applied this egalitarian sentiment to the Aborigines of NSW: "Any Man who takes the life of a Native will be put on his Trial the same as if he had kill'd one of the Garrison. This appears to me not only just but good policy."

Since his early 20s, Phillip had found slavery repugnant. As a junior naval officer on a tour of duty to the Caribbean in 1760-62 he saw the Spanish and British slave plantations on Jamaica, the Leeward Islands and Cuba. "By the time he left the lavish islands," writes his biographer Alan Frost, "Phillip has come to see that behind their gleaming skin lurked a gruesome skull." The evil commerce and the lot of the slaves, Frost records, made an abiding impression on the young naval officer. Phillip spent the years 1775-78 in Brazil as a captain in the Portuguese navy. During a lull in duties at sea, he made an investigation of the king of Portugal's Brazilian diamond mines. He discovered much about Brazil's "Forbidden District", where 5000 African slaves mined diamonds under the constant gaze of their individual overseers. This experience confirmed his aversion to slavery.

Phillip's successors as governors of NSW, John Hunter, Philip Gidley King and William Bligh, were all naval men who shared similar ideas and experiences. All had served in the West Indies or North America and subscribed to the same naval values and humanitarian spirit. They had directly encountered or heard tales of the slave trade to the Americas much like that experienced by Lachlan Macquarie in August 1809 while en route to NSW. Off the Brazilian coast, Macquarie's ship accosted a Portuguese slaver bound for Rio de Janeiro carrying 540 African females. Disease had broken out and, to prevent the infection from spreading, the captain had thrown 50 live women overboard. Elizabeth Macquarie was shocked. Her husband's biographer, John Ritchie, records: "Elizabeth's humanity shuddered at this monstrousness and caused her to think of the abolitionist William Wilberforce."

As well as the Enlightenment tradition of the naval officers, the Australian colony harboured a vigorous evangelical movement. Evangelicalism was a reform movement that arose within the Church of England in the late 18th century. It aimed to apply the principles of the Gospels to social life. Its main causes were penal reform, the abolition of slavery and missions to the native people of the empire. The founding of NSW as a convict society in the Pacific, where the Australian and Pacific Island tribes seemed ripe for conversion, was tailor-made for the movement. Although Wilberforce's main project was the abolition of slavery, he was also concerned with improving the living conditions of convicts, Aborigines and Pacific Islanders. From the outset, he took a close interest in NSW, soliciting reports from his evangelical followers in the colony and acting as patron of their appointments. He successfully nominated the colony's first two chaplains, Richard Johnson and Samuel Marsden.

He thought the key to good colonial order was religious observance. In 1792 he wrote to home secretary Lord Dundas saying he had information from NSW that among "the higher, as well as the lower ranks, a degree of open profligacy and vice is allowed if not encouraged there". He urged Dundas "to introduce and keep alive amongst the bulk of the people such a sense of religion as will make them temperate and orderly, and domestic and contented".

Until 1796, Lachlan Macquarie had unquestioningly accepted slavery. He was then a captain in the British army in India. At the time, India had a population of eight million slaves and the institution had existed since time immemorial. Indeed, in 1794, when he joined his regiment in Calicut, Macquarie purchased two slave boys from the market in Cochin. His first wife, Jane, was the daughter of the chief justice of Antigua in the West Indies and she owned a small number of slaves there. Jane died of consumption in 1796 and in her will she set her slaves free. Her husband followed her example and emancipated his Indian slaves, enrolling them in a parish school at Bombay to learn to read and write.

Later, as military secretary to the governor of Bombay, Jonathan Duncan, and as a friend of wealthy merchant Charles Forbes - two Englishmen who endorsed the emerging humanitarian sentiment of the time - Macquarie became a critic of slavery. He returned to England in 1807, the year of the abolitionists' victory, and caught the enthusiasm for their cause. That year he married his second wife, Elizabeth, and came under the influence of her religious outlook, especially her belief that all human creatures were equal in the eyes of God.

These views changed the course of Australian colonial history. Determined to avoid any comparison between convict transportation and slavery, Macquarie radically reformed the punitive regime for convicts, turning it into a program for their regeneration. He moderated corporal punishment, reduced life sentences to 15 years and reprieved numerous convicts sentenced to death. Where Bligh had granted two pardons during his 18-month term as governor, between 1810 and 1820 Macquarie gave 366 absolute pardons, 1365 conditional pardons and 2319 tickets-of-leave (certificates of exemption from compulsory labour). He granted land to emancipists (pardoned convicts) and expirees, and even invited some to dine with him. He appointed former convicts as magistrates, as assistant surgeon, acting surveyor, civil architect and poet laureate. To celebrate St Patrick's Day in 1810, Elizabeth Macquarie invited to dinner 58 convicts and their overseers.

Although Lachlan Macquarie's generosity and clemency sowed seeds of dissension among the free settlers that eventually brought him down, he demonstrated that a penal regime of this kind worked. Most successive governors kept his policies largely intact. The long-term result was that probably more than half of the 160,000 convicts transported in 80 years were transformed from the criminal subcultures of their youth into useful citizens: farmers, tradesmen, soldiers and, in a small but notable number of cases, successful professional and business men and women. Transportation to Australia became history's most successful large-scale experiment in penal reform.

Macquarie translated Wilberforce's agenda into policy towards the Aborigines. He established the Native Institution for Aboriginal children; he settled Aboriginal adults on a farm at George's Head and gave them seed and tools; he built huts for others at Elizabeth Bay and gave them a boat, fishing tackle, salt and casks; in 1814 he inaugurated an annual gathering and feast for all the Aborigines of the Sydney region.

Left-wing historians today record with some satisfaction that all his Aboriginal policies eventually failed. They still demonstrated Macquarie's intention towards the Aborigines, which was to give them the gift of British civilisation. He regarded them as his equals and thought that with only a little assistance they could make the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

In the 1820s, two other Australian colonial governors, Ralph Darling and George Arthur, owed their positions partly to the reputations they gained for actions against the slave trade. Other prominent Australian colonists who had dealings with Wilberforce in London or who gained positions here on his recommendation included navigator Matthew Flinders, lieutenant-governor Charles La Trobe, judge Barron Field; merchant and philanthropist Robert Campbell, banker and newspaper editor Edward Hall Smith, author Nicholas Liddiard, pastoralist John Leake and Anglican clergyman Thomas Hassall.


Leftist historians hide Australia's humane past

The idea that slavery was an affront to humanity that had no place in a free land was part of the original definition of what it meant to be an Australian. Unfortunately, in today's academic climate in which the Left dominates history and the prevailing mind-set is to disparage our origins, very few academic historians discuss these issues. Anyone looking to the Oxford Companion to Australian History for insight will find its editors, Graeme Davison, John Hirst and Stuart Macintyre, did not think the abolitionists worthy of an entry or even a mention in the subject index.

Moreover, although NSW founder Arthur Phillip's original anti-slavery declaration was once well known to earlier generations of students, historians today rarely mention it. Even when they do, their intention is usually to qualify it heavily. For instance, in The Europeans in Australia (1997), Alan Atkinson calls Phillip's statement "almost gratuitous", then tries to make him look the odd man out in the colony by saying that once he returned to England, the officers of the marines hoped the Aborigines "might be harnessed to a form of slavery on the current American model".

This claim is hardly credible. The sole evidence for it is half a sentence written in 1795 in the diary of the alcoholic, dissolute magistrate Richard Atkins, a long-time adversary of the officers, who did not name those concerned. Moreover, Atkinson neglects to inform his readers that the other half of Atkins's sentence mocks the very notion. The full sentence Atkins wrote was: "They seem to adopt the Idea that the Natives can be made Slaves of, than which nothing can be more false, they are free as air and Govr. Phillip's conduct was highly approved of for reprobating that idea."

Worse still, students of Australian history taught by the present generation of university lecturers are swamped by allegations that colonial officials were guilty of genocide against the Aborigines. According to Ann Curthoys and John Docker of Australian National University, joint editors of the 2001 edition of the academic journal Aboriginal History, Britain was the most "overtly genocidal" of the European colonial powers and its colonisation of Australia produced a genocide comparable to that of Nazi Germany. Most other authors in that journal agreed with them.

Since genocide is a crime of government and a crime of intent, this accusation is disturbing. If true, it means that all those Australian colonial officials who supported the abolition movement, who were proteges of William Wilberforce and who publicly declared that all human beings were equal before the law, must have been liars and hypocrites. Moreover, their words must have been the opposite of their deeds not just once but consistently across several decades and throughout many colonial administrations. In other words, the accusation is implausible on these grounds alone and is evidence not of the intentions of our founders but of how something has gone seriously wrong with the historical interpretation that prevails in this field.

Today, on the rare occasions it is discussed in Australian history books, the abolitionist movement that triumphed in 1807 usually figures only as an introduction to the campaign in the late 1830s to end convict transportation. Those colonists and their English supporters who were opposed to transportation often compared it with slavery. It is true that Britain's Molesworth Committee of 1838, whose report effectively ended transportation to NSW two years later, did use the comparison with slavery to capitalise on abolitionist sentiment in the wake of the 1833 act outlawing the ownership of slaves in the British Empire.

This makes recent historians think they are licensed to repeat the charge as if it were true. In her volume of the Oxford History of Australia (1992), Jan Kociumbas calls the convict regime variously "slavery" (her scare quotes), semi-slavery and a system of slave labour. This analogy is false since convicts could not be bought or sold in Australia and most were sentenced to fixed terms, after which they were free to remain here or return home. And unlike slaves, their children were always born free. Hence, it is historically inaccurate to use the term today to describe what the convict system was really like.

However, in an era when readers of Australian history are so readily seduced by the pseudo-scholarship of books such as Robert Hughes's bestseller The Fatal Shore, which portrays the convict era as Britain's equivalent of Joseph Stalin's gulag archipelago, bad news is obviously what sells. That Australia's founders were so closely connected to, and so strongly motivated by, one of history's great movements for human liberation is, for some perverse reason, something we now prefer not to know.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Federal Left dumps its maternity leave plan

Another backflip

LABOR has dropped its explicit support for two-year unpaid maternity leave as part of a push to give Kevin Rudd flexibility to unveil other family-friendly policies in the lead-up to the election. The move will upset some Labor figures who would prefer a more prescriptive approach to maternity leave.

The debate over maternity leave comes as Labor positions itself on a number of fronts for the election, with resources spokesman Chris Evans yesterday predicting the ALP's economic credibility would be damaged if the party's national conference blocked plans to lift the ban on uranium mining. It is the latest in a series of moves by Mr Rudd to drag the party to the Centre on education, privatisation and indigenous affairs.

The Weekend Australian has learned senior party figures intervened to remove specific backing for two-year unpaid maternity leave. An earlier draft policy had guaranteed parents the right to request up to two years' leave after the birth of a child. Instead, the new policy platform -- to be adopted by the ALP's national conference next month -- will offer a commitment to a work and family package "to ease the pressure on working families". It will also flag "more options" for parents to help them balance work and family.

The shift away from prescriptive policies has been adopted by Labor's new leadership team, which wants to have maximum flexibility to announce detailed policies in the election lead-up.


An interesting anecdote

POLITICAL lobbyist Greg Rudd - elder brother of Kevin - made a curious admission when addressing a group of uranium miners in Adelaide yesterday. "I hadn't got around to voting in an election until I was about 30," the would-be PM's three-year-older sibling said. "Up until then my view was: 'A pox on both your houses.' It was easy, trendy and safe to be a cynic." He said he woke one morning and realised the attitude was "pretty piss-weak".

Rudd also had a heart-warming tale about receiving a call from John Howard in 1990 when he was working for Con Sciacca, then social security minister, who had lost his son to cancer. "How's Con?" Howard asked. "Not flash," Rudd replied. Howard asked if Sciacca had lots of mates lending support and was told they were staying away because they didn't know what to say. "Would he mind if I dropped in to say hello?" Howard asked. Rudd said Sciacca would appreciate it. "So John Howard came up and spent a half-hour with Con and Con appreciated it beyond belief. Howard didn't have to do that, but he did," Rudd said.


Deceitful Leftist historians

Manning Clark, our most famous Left-wing historian, has been caught in a lie - nothing new. But how other historians have excused it explains much. Much that is rotten in the telling of Australian history.

Clark was a Stalinist whose History of Australia is marked by hatred of the British, the rich and the Liberals. But only after his death was there muttering about his many dodgy facts. This month, Clark's biographer, Mark McKenna, himself a historian, announced another untruth. Clark often claimed he witnessed Kristallnacht -- Hitler's infamous pogrom against Jews in 1938. Actually, said McKenna, Clark didn't get to Germany until weeks later.

But, of course, McKenna wouldn't say Clark had "lied". No, he said he didn't doubt Clark knew of Kristallnacht and had reacted to it, telling a "moral truth": "In this sense, there is no fabrication." It felt right.

Klaus Neumann, a Swinburne University historian, is just as delicate: "Clark, too, may have fashioned a story of his life in line with what he thought was expected of him at that point in his life. He did not set out to dupe his readers . . ."

Isn't that the heart of the Left's take on not just history: to say what's expected, rather than what is true? That may explain how historians have insisted, against the facts, that there was a stolen generation and a Tasmanian genocide. "Moral truths" are now confused with real ones.


Crocodiles first?

Crocodiles swarming across northern Australia are heading for a victory - people are to be fined for getting in their way. Abundant food supplies and a ban on hunting have led to an explosion in crocodile numbers, forcing frequent beach closures in the far northern city of Cairns. This week residents in Townsville, further south, were alarmed when crocodiles were sighted swimming alongside the main thoroughfare of the city. Now the state of Queensland's new saltwater crocodile conservation plan proposes to fine swimmers caught in designated crocodile waters up to A$7,500.

The proposal is intended to give the crocodiles more space and limit their contact with humans. But capitulation to the crocodiles in the land that spawned the Crocodile Dundee films has not been welcomed by residents. Bob Katter, an Independent MP in the national Parliament, ridiculed the plan. "It is a classic example of lateral thinking," he said. "Instead of removing the crocs, they are going to remove the human beings."

Commercial hunting of crocodiles was banned 32 years ago and many now believe that the ban has led to an explosion in crocodile numbers, combined with the ready availability of crocodile foods.

Mr Katter said yesterday: "Action needs to be taken to cull them and push them out of settled areas. Shoot the bastards. The people who tell us we can't shoot them would die of fright if they saw one."

Lindy Nelson-Carr, the Queensland environment minister, denied that the population of crocodiles had spiralled out of control and said that the state's protection plan was a balanced approach to managing them. "It is more likely that more people are visiting or moving into croc habitat, and so more people are noticing crocs," she said, when publishing a conservation plan that would provide for fines for people found in crocodile habitat. Ms Nelson-Carr claimed that only about 30,000 saltwater crocodiles remained in the Queensland wilderness. Her figures were disputed by crocodile experts, who said that the numbers could be between 65,000 and 70,000.

Cathy Groundwater, who lives just south of Cairns, said yesterday that crocodiles had slowly colonised freshwater swimming holes that had been used for years by residents and tourists. "I think crocodiles should be culled because they are not endangered," she said. "I learnt to swim in this river, my kids learnt to swim here. It would be nice for my grandson to be able to, as well."


New prostate cancer drug

An experimental drug designed to fight the spread of aggressive prostate cancer is showing great promise for future sufferers, Australian developers say. A team from the University of New South Wales is working on a new therapy for prostate cancer patients who stop responding to standard hormone treatments. The medication is still in the development stage but if new tests prove successful, it could bring relief for a group of men for whom there is currently no treatment, said study leader Dr Kieran Scott. "We've seen enough positive data to know it's worth testing in people," Dr Scott said.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men, with patients usually treated with some combination of surgery, radiation and hormone medications. These drugs effectively limit the spread of prostate cancer in the early stages by suppressing the male hormones that tumours need to grow. But over time cancers often stop responding to this treatment, putting men at risk of tumour growth and cancer spread to the bones.

Dr Scott said his team at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney believed it had a new oral medicine that could slow the growth of hormone-resistant cancer and stop its spread. The medication works by blocking an enzyme which releases Omega-6 fatty acids - fats which, when consumed in the diet, have been associated with increased rates of disease. "We think we can slow the growth of tumours that are resistant and we believe the drug may also help slow the growth of tumours in bones," Dr Scott said. "If we can help in those two areas then we'll have a therapy for prostate cancer patients who currently have no good treatment."

The team has been granted Cancer Council NSW funding for a new round of tests, with plans to manufacture and trial the experimental compound in the most severely-affected patients if they have success. "I've been working in this area for 10 or 15 years and to be honest I didn't think this would work," Dr Scott said. "But the data keeps me going because it keeps suggesting this approach really will work."

Other cancer grants awarded include an investigation of genes that predispose people to melanoma and a study of new techniques to minimise breast cancer surgery side-effects.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Uranium: Another lurch Rightward from Australia's Left

Eat your heart out, Greenies!

QUEENSLAND Premier Beattie has reversed his strong opposition to uranium mining and now says he will support it in his state. A spokesman for the premier, who is on a trade mission to Africa, said Mr Beattie had backed away from his previous position after his government received a report showing uranium mining would not threaten Queensland's coal industry. Mr Beattie is now expected to support an end to Labor's no new mines policy at the ALP national conference next month on the condition that it is only sold to countries that have signed the non-proliferation treaty.

Queensland is estimated to have up to $3.2 billion in uranium deposits. Mr Beattie has been a staunch defender of Labor's policy not to allow more uranium mines because it would threaten the coal industry. The state government also recently introduced legislation banning nuclear facilities. But according to The Australian newspaper, a report commissioned by the government from the University of Queensland's Sustainable Minerals Institute has found uranium mining, and nuclear power, pale in comparison to the global demand for coal-fired electricity generation.

Green groups today expressed outrage at Mr Beattie's change of heart. The Wilderness Society's Lyndon Schneiders said it was a broken election promise. "Only a month ago Mr Beattie and his government indulged in a round of self-congratulation for legislating against the construction of nuclear power plants in Queensland," Mr Schneiders said. "If Mr Beattie accepts that nuclear power is unsafe ... why is he prepared to open the door to flood international markets with Queensland uranium?"


Leftist leader warns far-Left on hatred of private schools

Kevin Rudd has broadened his campaign to move Labor to the political centre with an aggressive defence of his policy not to cut government funding to private schools, which he says is a fact of life. The Labor leader has used his own story - starting in public education and later moving to a private school and back again - to argue Labor must recognise that parents will move students between different types of schools according to needs and interests.

Mr Rudd and his education spokesman, Stephen Smith, promised this week that private schools would not lose money - a policy designed to bury Mark Latham's "hit list" of private schools in 2004 and Kim Beazley's freeze on funding of rich schools in 2001. The blunt message is one of a series of steps being taken by the Labor leader during the first half of the year to drag the party away from some of its historic left-wing pillars and create a less intimidating face for mainstream voters.

The next move will be on indigenous policy, with the ALP party conference in four weeks' time to debate a fundamental shift that will put economic development for Aboriginal people at its core. The same conference will be asked to junk opposition to the privatisation of Telstra - a critical part of delivering Mr Rudd's $4.7 billion broadband package - and to end the 25-year prohibition on new uranium mines.

The Left is set to come under further pressure over its opposition to Mr Rudd's move to scrap Labor's no-new-mines policy after Queensland Labor Premier Peter Beattie yesterday reversed his opposition to allow further uranium mining in his state. Mr Beattie relented after accepting advice that uranium mining would not threaten Queensland's coal industry. The move paves the way to open up $3.2 billion worth of uranium deposits. This leaves only the Labor states of Western Australia and NSW still opposed to new uranium mines.

Mr Rudd yesterday outlined his centrist credentials during a speech in support of Morris Iemma's bid to be re-elected as NSW Premier this weekend. "What we offer is a balance of fairness and flexibility," he said. "It's the Labor way. We know what it takes to grow businesses. We know what it takes to expand the economy. "We've been in this business for a long, long time. "But we are never prepared to sacrifice the interests of working families, as the Liberals seem to think is the only way ahead. "So the choices, friends, are stark. The choices are stark when it comes to the future provision of public services."

At a caucus meeting on Tuesday, several speakers responded to the education announcement by asking for a Labor focus on the public school sector. Former teacher and ACTU president Jenny George, and NSW colleagues Sharon Bird and Julia Irwin said Labor must be seen as a strong supporter of government schools. Mr Rudd is believed to have lectured the caucus, reminding MPs that Labor's endorsement of Robert Menzies's 1963 decision to give public funds to private and religious schools was made more than 30 years ago by Gough Whitlam.

Labor should forget about distinctions between the public and private sectors and instead talk in terms of equal opportunity. The party did not want two tiers of schools to develop, the leader argued. "He was almost spelling it out to them slowly and deliberately, 'Get used to it'," a Labor insider said.

The present ALP platform says Labor governments must give priority to the public sector, and that priority is seen as an important means to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Others at the meeting said they were worried that the coverage of education policy always ended up focused on private schools, presenting a false emphasis in voters' minds. However, the speakers did not directly attack the party policy announced by Mr Rudd and Mr Smith, which stipulates that private schools will not lose money. But sources said Mr Rudd regarded the demands from Labor members that he talk up the government schools as showing a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue.

The education move has parallels with the decision to dump Labor's opposition to privatising Telstra. That change allowed the party on Wednesday to propose a $4.7billion rollout of advanced broadband services, paid for in part with money drawn from the Future Fund, which holds billions of dollars worth of Telstra shares.

Both strategies give Mr Rudd a way of developing a new centrist policy while pushing the Howard Government further to the Right. "We say there's a role for government," Mr Rudd said yesterday in reference to the funding approach for broadband. "They (the Coalition) say there is no role. The choice is as stark as that. "We come from a different set of ideas, which says public services are a normal part of the fabric of Australian life and we are the party which delivers it. They are the party which gets rid of them. That's the choice."

Labor insiders fear the decision to take money from the Future Fund has left Mr Rudd vulnerable to attacks by Peter Costello on the Opposition's economic credentials. But the Treasurer's assault in regards to raids on the Future Fund will be blunted by a new Treasury report revealing the ageing of the population is becoming far less menacing.

Ms George and Ms Bird did not comment yesterday on the caucus meeting, but Mrs Irwin said she was happy to hear Mr Rudd say he wanted to create a world-class education system for all. Labor's policy, which is to create a needs-based formula but also to continue indexation of grants for wealthy schools, has been welcomed by the Independent Schools Association and the Independent Education Union. The Australian Education Union, which represents government schools, believes there is still an imbalance in the present funding arrangements, under which public schools receive about 35 per cent of the federal funds while educating about 70 per cent of the students. Private schools receive little taxpayer support from state governments.


Mixed-sex wards fury in Australia too

It's a big issue in British government hospitals

QUEENSLAND Health has been accused of robbing patients of their dignity by forcing men and women to share hospital wards. Doctors say the practice has become widespread across the state because of the chronic bed shortage in public hospitals. The state has fewer beds than it did 10 years ago - even though its population has grown by one million.

One nurse who protested over the opening of a mixed-sex unit at her regional hospital said: "The patients don't like it, but many of them are elderly and don't like to complain. "Vulnerable patients rely on us for care but the system has no respect for them. "It astounds me that anyone could ever think this was acceptable."

A 45-year-old female patient said she was appalled to be placed with two men in a four-bed bay when she was admitted to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. "A friend of mine had discharged herself when she was put in a mixed ward," she said. "I thought it couldn't be that bad - until I was put in one myself. One of the men had dementia and kept getting out of bed and undressing in front of me. "It was embarrassing for me and demeaning for him. "I'm no prude, but mixed-sex wards cannot be justified."

Dr Ross Cartmill, a urologist at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital and a spokesman for the Australian Medical Association, said: "The problem occurs at every hospital with a bed shortage - which is most hospitals. "Patients growl about it, but most think it's just better to have a bed than none at all."

Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek warned that mixed-sex wards could open patients to allegations of voyeurism and inappropriate behaviour. Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it was more efficient to place patients in mixed wards if they required specialist treatment, such as cardiac and neurological care. "All hospitals understand the need to be sensitive to their patients whilst being flexible, so that they can provide a bed for every individual who needs one," Dr Young said.


Government faces up to illiteracy among older kids

READING and writing coaching will be offered to Years 6 and 7 after students fell below accepted standards. Education Minister Rod Welford said yesterday that Education Queensland would pay teachers $54 an hour, the supply teaching rate, to conduct the intensive coaching after school. "We will be alerting parents that their students have fallen below Year 5 benchmarks and that we can give them this assistance," Mr Welford said. "It is absolutely essential that they improve their skills before they reach secondary school or they will be unable to handle secondary subjects."

The most recently released National Report on Schooling in Australia showed that Queensland children are the nation's best readers in Year 3, but by Year 5 they descend to being almost the worst, second only to Northern Territory children. In Year 3, when Queensland children are younger than many of their southern counterparts, 97 per cent achieved the national reading benchmark. However, by Year 5 only 83 per cent of Queensland children reached the benchmark. The latest set of assessments is due out next week.

Mr Welford said international data showed that Queensland's best primary school readers and writers were on a par with children in Finland, which was the best performing nation in the world on literacy. "However, we have a very long tail of students who are not making the grade, a very wide gap between the most able and least able students," Mr Welford said.

The move was welcomed yesterday by Ken Rowe, research director of the Learning Processes research program at the Australian Council for Educational Research. "It's never too late," Dr Rowe said. He said experience in Melbourne had shown that an hour of weekly expert coaching could make a real difference to students' ability to read and therefore to learn all subjects. "It is the foundation," he said. However, Dr Rowe, who chaired the Federal Government's 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, said intervention should ideally start with some students as early as Year 3, as soon as problems were identified.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Another Leftist speaks up for a return to educational standards

REVIEW of "Dumbing Down" by Kevin Donnelly. Review by much-published Leftist historian Ross Fitzgerald . He writes that Kevin Donnelly is a first-class polemicist hammering the postmodernists wrecking Australian schools

AS a liberal-humanist and member of the Left, I still find it disconcerting that so-called progressivists continue to oppose selective schools, unambiguous academic standards and the teaching in our schools of distinct disciplines such as history, geography, science, mathematics and English. This is because, for the working class, high-quality education represents the most effective avenue for social mobility and for ascending the ladder of economic and intellectual opportunity.

Kevin Donnelly is a first-class polemicist in the best sense of that word. In his regular contributions to The Australian, his provocative book Why Our Schools are Failing (2004) and now in Dumbing Down, he focuses attention on the pernicious effects of outcomes-based and politically correct curriculums and the impact of the so-called culture wars on our primary and secondary schools and, by implication, ouruniversities.

For the record, Donnelly and I were both on a committee appointed by then federal education minister Brendan Nelson to introduce the teaching of civics in our schools. Unlike Donnelly, I am a member of a committee reporting to Education Minister Julie Bishop, which oversees the teaching of values in our schools.

In Dumbing Down, Donnelly is particularly strong in dealing with the teaching of history and English. With regard to Australian history, it is difficult to disagree with his contention that many students leave school "with a fragmented and superficial understanding of the past".

He usefully reminds us what the distinguished conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey actually said in his now famous-notorious 1993 John Latham memorial lecture. Blainey argued that what he termed the black-armband view of Australian history "might well represent the swing of the pendulum from a position that had been too favourable, too self-congratulatory, to an opposite extreme that is even more unreal and decidedly jaundiced". Blainey in fact acknowledged that the stories, contributions and sufferings of women, indigenous Australians and of non-Anglo-Celtic migrants had too often been ignored. Hence he maintained that "it is wrong to ignore the sins of the past and that what is needed is a balance between celebrating our achievements and acknowledging our past mistakes".

Donnelly is also right on the money when he discusses the deleterious effects of English departments in Australian universities being recast as centres for cultural studies and of school children no longer required to be taught the basic rules of spelling, grammar and syntax. He rightly accepts that there is "a certain amount of truth in the argument that education can be used as an instrument to enforce control and to impose a one-sided view of the world". As Blainey acknowledged, the way Australian history was taught in our schools in the 1950s and '60s "undervalued indigenous history and uncritically promoted Australia's British heritage and the benefits of Empire". At the same time, it is important to stress that the rules of grammar and syntax, and of basic mathematics, remain the same "whether taught by a socialist or a capitalist".

In his 1869 article, On General Education, no less a person than Karl Marx argued that "Nothing (should) be introduced either in primary or higher schools that admitted of party and class interpretation. The rules of grammar, for instance, could not differ, whether explained by a religious Tory or a free thinker."

Sometimes Donnelly's stress on proper style and correct spelling, grammar and syntax comes back to bite him: too often in Dumbing Down he resorts to the worn-out phrase "of course" and once at least refers to "its principle conclusions".

Nevertheless, he usefully attacks the stupidity of entrenched notions of cultural relativism, which maintain that there is nothing inherently worthwhile about particular cultures and that all cultures are of equal worth. As he argues, this approach "ignores the fact that some cultural practices such as female circumcision, misogynism and sati (where wives throw themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres) are unacceptable in the West and that values such as tolerance, compassion, the rule of law and being committed to a free and open society are culturally specific."

Both the Coalition Government under John Howard and the ALP under Kevin Rudd have rightly nominated education as a key issue leading up to this year's federal election. It behoves us all as citizens and parents to ask, for example, why it is that competition and academic excellence, a belief in our best students being rewarded and in the central importance of an intellectually rigorous academic curriculum are so often attacked by educationalists as "elitist and socially unjust".

To the contrary, an understanding of the basic building blocks of science, mathematics, history, geography and English is the surest launching pad for culturally and economically disadvantaged children, as is an education system whose standards are assured via competitive examinations, discipline-based curriculums and more formal methods of teaching.


Amazing authoritarianism from a food Fascist: Kids should only drink water!

PARENTS who give their children fruit juice as a healthy option could actually be making them fat, new research shows. Deakin University researchers found that children who drink more than two glasses of fruit juice - or cordial - a day are more likely to be overweight or obese.

Parents were asked by telephone about their children's intake of certain foods, including fruit juice. The study found intake of fruit juice and cordials was a bigger issue than soft drink for the almost-2200 Victorian four-to-12-year-olds whose parents were questioned. Children who drank more than 500ml of fruit juice a day were more likely to be overweight or obese than those who had none. And those who drank three or more glasses of soft drink or four glasses of fruit juice on a given day were more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese compared with children who did not regularly consume sweetened drinks. "Many more children were drinking the fruit juice and cordial than soft drinks," said nutritionist Andrea Sanigorski.

She said parents might be unaware that regular and large amounts of fruit drinks, including fruit juice, could be bad for their children's long-term health. "I think they think it's a healthier option than soft drink," Dr Sanigorski said. "The main message is that, day in and day out, what kids should be drinking is water; what they should be taking to school is water. "That should be their main drink. "Younger children, in particular, should also be having milk. "Sweetened beverages, whether it's soft drink or fruit juice or fruit drink, is a concentrated form of sugar that they shouldn't be having often or a lot of. "This work raises the awareness for parents that there is, in some cases, just as much sugar in fruit juice and fruit drinks . . . as in the soft drinks."

Dr Sanigorski said the study, published in the international journal Public Health Nutrition, also found few of the children were eating vegetables. "A large proportion of kids, about one in five, had no vegetables on the day that we asked about," she said. "Only 12 per cent had more than three - but the recommendation is for five serves a day." Dr Sanigorski said the study's findings were consistent with those for children in the US and the United Kingdom.


Another field-test of fluoridation

THE teeth of Australia's "fluoride generation" - children born after 1970, when fluoride was added to drinking water - are twice as healthy as their parents' teeth, a landmark dental report has found. But Queensland children are missing out because successive state governments and most councils have always refused to add fluoride to water. Three-quarters of the rest of mainland Australia have fluoridated water supplies, and Brisbane is the only state capital without it. Queensland Health provides subsidies to councils to add fluoride, but will not make it mandatory. Only 5 per cent of Queenslanders - those living in Townsville, Dalby, Mareeba, Moranbah and Bamaga - have fluoride added.

Studies show Queenslanders have 30 per cent more tooth decay than average in Australia. Researcher Professor Gary Slade said the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, which was released yesterday, proved fluoridation improved teeth for life. "These results provide the first evidence within the Australian population that drinking fluoridated water during childhood translates into significantly better dental health in adulthood."

The survey of more than 14,500 Australians found people born between 1970 and 1990 had an average of 4.5 teeth affected by decay. They had only half the decay levels of the previous generation. However people born before 1930 had an average of 24 teeth affected by decay.

The World Health Organisation has urged governments to legislate to ensure access to fluoride in all countries. But a spokesman for Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson said there were no plans to fluoridate the water supplies. "We just offer the subsidies to councils," he said. "It's a decision that we want the councils to make with support from their local communities."


Haven't these lazy cops got anything better to do than worry about a woman's breasts?

A photograph of a young Victoria Police constable exposing her breasts while in uniform, which she sent to her policeman boyfriend, has been circulated through the force's internal email. The ethical standards department is examining the matter to determine whether an offence has been committed as a result of the circulation of the image, a Victoria Police spokeswoman has confirmed.

It is believed the policewoman, named on the Nine Network tonight as Constable Melissa Scannell, took the image on her mobile phone and passed it on to her boyfriend as an intimate get well message. The constable was in her police uniform with her name badge visible, her shirt undone and her breasts exposed when she was photographed.

But the image was circulated widely through the force's internal email, landing in the inboxes of top-ranking officers and ethical standards department detectives. "She has sent an image to her boyfriend and obviously he has done the wrong thing and forwarded it on," a Victoria Police spokeswoman said. "The ethical standards department has been notified. They are aware of the incident, which involved the circulation of a photograph, and they are examining it to see if an offence has been committed."


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Anger over 8-year wait for surgery

MORE than 1500 patients from across Queensland face a wait of up to eight years for operations. The Australian Medical Association says hundreds of those waiting for ear, nose and throat surgery at the Royal Brisbane Hospital may never be treated. Patients are not being told the likely wait and many give up waiting and seek private treatment.

People with the longest waits are those classified as Category 3 patients - needing operations to fix sinus problems and recurrent tonsillitis. They are constantly pushed to the bottom of the list while surgeons treat more urgent cases. State president of the Australian Medical Association Zelle Hodge said the waiting time had blown out due to a lack of resources. She said 1500 patients were waiting for surgery. "People aren't told by the hospital how long the waiting list is and I think when they eventually find out they just don't believe it," she said. "Even I find it boggling to think of an eight-year wait, but it is true. "Although people will move up the waiting list, they keep getting pushed down again because of new urgent cases that keep coming in. "Unfortunately the Royal Brisbane looks after the majority of ear nose and throat patients in the state so that makes the situation worse. "Many people give up waiting and seek treatment from private hospitals, while others who can't afford to do that will continue to wait and never get their operation."

Queensland Health says that it has reduced waiting times for patients classified as urgent and life threatening cases. In January there were 187 patients waiting longer than the clinically recommended time of 30 days, compared with 360 in October last year. But figures also reveal an increase in semi-urgent and non-urgent patients waiting longer than the target times. A quarter of semi-urgent Category 2 patients now wait longer than the target of 90 days, and more than one third of Category 3 non-urgent patients are waiting longer than the recommended 365 days. The total number of patients waiting longer than recommended is 10,200.

The Queensland Cancer Council said even cancer patients were being forced to wait too long. Coalition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said that Queensland Health performed fewer operations than the public health system in other states. "ENT is failing patients anyway, but to be saying eight years to people, well they might as well be saying they can't provide the service at all," he said. Queensland Health said emergency surgery must always take priority over ot,her surgery.

The above article by HANNAH DAVIES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 18, 2007

Another lurch to the Right from Australia's Left

Labor is to overturn its historical opposition to the Telstra privatisation as part of a broader pitch to boost its economic credentials ahead of the election. In a move which will upset sections of the Left - and the key communications union - Kevin Rudd is poised announce the big policy change in Canberra.

Labor is expected to announce plans to invest around $5 billion in broadband services using some of the proceeds from Telstra, which are currently held in the Government's Future Fund. The historical shift recognises that Telstra has already been effectively privatised, although a large slab of the Commonwealth's shares remain locked away in the Future Fund.


Why governments should run schools -- NOT

A cautionary tale from the Australian State of NSW

PRINCIPALS have resorted to conducting a survey of up to 300 public schools to uncover a 10-year backlog of maintenance problems that the NSW Education Department has been fighting to hide. Public schools have been forced to put up with 10 years of stinking, blocked toilets and threadbare carpets and four years of termite infestation and raised asphalt in playgrounds, the survey by the Public Schools Principals Forum has found.

The State Government is refusing to release a document which reveals how school maintenance programs were suspended at a time it was pouring $1.6 billion into the Olympic Games. In a document called the Asset Maintenance Plan, written in 1998, the Education Department estimated the cost of repairs needed in schools around the state and rated them in order of priority. But nine years later the department still insists it is secret and has refused repeated freedom-of-information requests to release it, and rejected the Herald's request last week.

When asked whether money had been diverted from school maintenance and capital works to the Olympics, the Minister for Education, Carmel Tebbutt, said it was a "popular theory". She admitted that repairs had been delayed to make way for other priorities within the state budget over the past 10 years. And she acknowledged that school maintenance was a problem with "a backlog we haven't managed to get on top of". "It has caught up, and we need to address it. That's why we have put in an extra $120 million over four years on top of our existing commitment," she said.

The department refused to release the Asset Maintenance Plan, 1998-2003, after The Sun-Herald lodged a freedom-of-information request for it in 1999. It claimed then, as it did last week after the Herald lodged another request, that the document was exempt because it had been prepared for submission to cabinet.

In 1999, Brian Chudleigh, then the chairman of the Public Schools Principals Forum, raised concerns about the poor physical state of public schools and questions about how much maintenance spending for schools had been put on hold to build Sydney's Olympic stadiums. Mr Chudleigh, who was principal of Robert Townson Primary School, said it was "the best-kept secret in town". "All principals were told back then was that there is no money for school repairs," he said. "We invested millions in the Olympics and perhaps that's why so much of the school infrastructure has been allowed to run down."

The president of the Secondary Principals Council, Jim McAlpine, said the public should know how much money earmarked for education had been spent on the Olympics.

Mr Chudleigh, once again the chairman of the Public Schools Principals Forum, which conducted the survey, said principals were insulted by the low priority the Government had given to basic repairs. Last week the Government pledged $158 million over four years on equipping each school with an interactive whiteboard. It will spend an extra $120 million over four years to tackle maintenance problems. "It is no good to put icing on the cake like whiteboards when we don't have the fundamentals in place," Mr Chudleigh said.

According to the survey of principals, Blaxland Primary School in the Blue Mountains has put up with leaking roofs since 2004 and Kempsey High School has been battling termites for close to four years. Newbridge Heights Primary School says its sewer has been blocked for up to 10 years. Muswellbrook Primary School has complained of leakinging demountables for seven years.

Mr Chudleigh said that at his own school a child had tripped over worn-out carpet and hit their head on a desk. Since the department subcontracted its maintenance about 10 years ago, carpets had become threadbare and painting infrequent. "Instead of replacing carpets, they began patching them with any colour they could get their hands on," he said. Ms Tebbutt said the extra maintenance funding brought the total for maintenance for 2006-07 to $214 million.


Organic food is no better

ORGANIC food has no nutritional benefit over regular products despite the belief it is healthier and costs much more, scientists say. Shoppers who buy organic often believe they are getting nutritionally superior products - but experts say there is no evidence to support this claim. Research shows most fruit and vegetables on sale in Australia have the same levels of nutrients and no traces of pesticides, regardless of whether they are organic or not.

Jennie Brand-Miller, professor of molecular and microbiological sciences at Sydney University, says many consumers are paying more, mistakenly believing that organic is better. "We need to get the message out there that non-organic produce is genuinely good quality,'' she said. "We have got a lot to gain from eating fresh fruit and vegetables so the best message is eat as much as you like.''

Organic produce is usually more expensive than conventional foods - sometimes double in price. Consultant dietitian Shane Landon said Australian food standards were high, ensuring all produce was safe to eat. "If people do want to pay a bit more to buy organic and have an orange that looks a bit funny that's fine, but I'm not convinced it's healthier,'' he said. A consumer would have to eat truckloads of non-organic food to accumulate any meaningful amount of pesticides or chemicals in their body, he said. And analysis shows some organic produce does contain residual pesticides.

Suggestions of high levels of hormones in chicken have been proven to be an urban myth, as oestrogen has been banned as an ingredient in chicken feed in Australia since the 1960s.

Advocates prefer to eat organic food because it is likely to have travelled a shorter distance from harvest to shop than its non-organic counterparts, therefore making it more environmentally friendly. Professor Brand-Miller said there was some evidence that organic food, which should be produced without the use of pesticides and artificial chemicals, might be kinder to the planet in the long-term. Erin Pearson, a speech pathologist from Oatley, has bought organic food in the past but didn't notice any difference. "I feel the normal stuff is just as good and organic does tend to be more expensive,'' she said


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Australia's "hurricane"

Australia had a big "hurricane" (We call them "cyclones") and flooding not long after the New Orleans event. The town affected (Innisfail, my birthplace) was quite small so not comparable to NO in size. What was VERY different was the self-help response from the people living there. Contrast the report below with the endless whining still emanating from the New Orleans leadership. Innisfail was actually largely back to normal after a week

The head of cyclone Larry recovery efforts General Peter Cosgrove today said while "remarkable" progress had been made there remained a few cases of people yet to recover from the disaster. Speaking 12 months after the massive storm hit northern Queensland destroying homes and crops, General Cosgrove said much had been achieved. "It's had remarkable progress since all of those terrible scenes people saw a year ago," Gen Cosgrove told ABC Radio. "Thousands of homes have been repaired, many hundreds of people have been supported in staying in employment, kids are back to school and life returns almost to normal."

A few dozen people are still awaiting repairs or rebuilding of their homes. "You've still got a handful of cases that are chronic, really sad and bad, which will take still some time to resolve," Gen Cosgrove said. The former defence chief said those people were either waiting for labour costs to decrease or to receive charitable donations.

He conceded there had been a few shortcomings in the relief effort. "That's the nature of human activity. "But I think people rallied magnificently well, governments really sort of put a bomb under themselves and got moving very quickly. It's sort of a benchmark for the future (for) what Australians in need might hope for from governments when they ... find themselves in the same predicament."


Extremists take over Newcastle mosque

HARDLINE international students have wrested control of a major NSW mosque, ousting the local cleric amid accusations the group is rapidly converting followers to extremist Islam. Up to 150 university students from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt who follow the fundamentalist Wahabbism ideology were central to the overthrow at the weekend of the executive board of the Newcastle Muslim Association.

Deposed association president Yunus Kara yesterday accused the students of pushing for new leadership of the port city's mosque in order to advance their own extremist agenda and continue "brainwashing" local Muslims. "The international students have used their puppets to come forward and dictate," Mr Kara told The Australian. "They're driving them to whatever ideology that (suits them). Their ideology is extremism ... but they teach under the banner of Islam."

But the association's newly elected treasurer, Michael Cawley, denied the claims of the ousted leadership, accusing them of labelling opponents Wahabbis. Mr Cawley, a convert, said the international students were merely visitors to the mosque and had no control over the new leadership. "Basically, what happened is anyone who didn't agree with the (former) president's point of view were labelled Wahabbi," said Mr Cawley. "It's unfair."

Newcastle Mosque's deposed imam, Bilal Kanj, who was also voted out on the weekend, said while the students openly denied their Wahabbi beliefs and radical Koranic interpretations, they were converting people during prayer group meetings and other religious gatherings. "If you were to ask them, they will deny they're Wahabbi," said the Australian-born cleric, who moved to Newcastle three months ago to work as a full-time spiritual leader. "They play it very discreetly. We've been studying them all of our life and we know how to spot them very easily."

Mr Kara said the international students were aged between 20 and 30, and were known to make home visits to members of the port city's 600-strong Muslim population to preach their beliefs. This home preaching may suggest that the appointment of a new imam is not an immediate priority of the new leadership. Mr Kara said radical students have gathered more support over the past two years after they began to flock the mosque in larger numbers. He said an absence of proper religious leadership at Newcastle mosque over the past 30 years -- prior to Sheik Bilal's appointment - also meant the students could exploit the void to spread their own ideologies.

Sheik Bilal said the students were becoming more proficient at spreading their isolationist messages. "During my presence here it was very, very quick," he said. "Because they went really, really hard with (preaching) their beliefs." Sheik Bilal said the students were becoming popular with the locals by adopting name-and-shame tactics, spreading lies about the town's moderate Muslim leadership.


Cut taxes on homes, the Federal treasurer tells the state government Leftists

PETER Costello has challenged the states to slash stamp duty, warning the fight to make housing more affordable is a test for Kevin Rudd's promise of co-operative federalism. As the Treasurer and his state counterparts prepare to hold talks at a ministerial council in Canberra next week, he warned that the federal Opposition Leader's pledge was a hollow one if he could not convince the states to slash taxes. "All of the states are now in a net bonus position with GST revenue," Mr Costello told The Australian. "This year the net bonus between them will be $2billion. Next year it will be $3.3 billion. The year after it will be $4.5billion and the year after it will be $4.9 billion.

"It is our view these windfall gains should be applied to reduction of indirect taxes. Stamp duty on residential conveyances will be $8 billion in 2007-08. "If the Labor Party wants to do something about housing affordability they would do something about state governments, land release and taxing. "You can't have Kevin Rudd saying, 'Oh, the Labor Party wants to do something about housing affordability', when it is the Labor Party that is restricting land release and taxing housing and construction."

The Treasurer also called for a strict timetable for the abolition of stamp duty on business conveyances and warned against any "backsliding" on taxes that the states had abolished under the GST deal. He warned it was already clear that some states were attempting to reintroduce stamp duties on marketable securities. "There has been a suggestion, particularly out of Western Australia, that they will put a stamp duty on trading carbon credits," he said. "Some of the states are going to use the trade in carbon credits to try and get back into the stamp duty business."

The Treasurer accused the states of "exploiting the Senate's recalcitrance" on failing to apply the GST to food in the original deal to argue for ongoing delays to the abolition of indirect taxes. However, he again ruled out ever applying the GST to food.

South Australian Treasurer Kevin Foley said the Labor states were complying with agreements at previous ministerial conferences to cut business taxes. "I don't agree with the argument that stamp duty is affecting housing affordability," he told The Australian. "Mr Costello should worry about the pressures his management of the economy is putting on interest rates, I think that goes to the issue of affordability more than stamp duty. I would see payroll tax as a tax that would rate higher as a tax that should be cut than stamp duty."

West Australian Treasurer Eric Ripper said the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which determines the split of GST revenue for the states, was expected to slash Western Australia's share of GST grants by $1.2 billion over the next four years. "The commonwealth's failure to keep its promise on interest rates is having a major impact on housing affordability across Australia," Mr Ripper said.

NSW Treasurer Michael Costa said his state could only further cut taxes, including stamp duty, if it won a fairer share of the GST. "Mr Costello would do better to forget the politicking and work with the states to get some transparency, efficiency and simplicity back in state-federal fiscal relations," he said.

Victorian Treasurer John Brumby said Mr Costello's comments were "a bit rich considering that since the Howard Government promised to keep interest rates low, it has presided over four separate rate increases".


Hooray! South Australian kids deserting useless education

UNIVERSITY campuses in the country are struggling for students because of a booming regional economy enticing young people away from study and into full-time jobs. An unemployment rate as low as 3.8 per cent in some areas - well below the average for Adelaide - has left about a third of places at country campuses vacant this year.

The University of South Australia's director of regional engagement, Professor Len Pullin, said campuses at Mount Gambier and Whyalla both had a capacity of 85 but only had about 60 students enrolled. "We could take many more than that, there's no doubt about that," he said. It was "tough" getting university enrolments in regional areas, he said, because of the lure of well-paid jobs in growing regional industries and an emphasis on practical training. "Because there's a huge skill shortage, people can look at those instead of coming to uni where you're facing virtually three years of low income," Professor Pullin said.

Easy entry to equivalent courses in metropolitan areas was contributing to regional vacancies, and cut-off scores were not as high as they should be, he said. Courses in business, accounting, nursing and social work are offered at both Mount Gambier and Whyalla, with scores less than 60 required to get into nursing at both. The cut-off for the equivalent metropolitan course was 67.05 this year.

Whyalla mayor Jim Pollock said electricians, boilermakers, labourers and other "hands-on" jobs were in demand across the Upper Spencer Gulf. "I certainly do think it's a lot easier for young people to get jobs in the country areas with mining exploration happening in our region," he said. Limestone Coast Regional Development Board chief executive officer Grant King said many of the jobs in forestry and timber processing, growing industries in the South-East, required some training. "There are plenty of opportunities but it's not easy to come straight out of school to pick up some of the jobs that are in demand," he said.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Leftist leader rebuffs far-Leftist hatred of miners

Doug Cameron, the Scottish far-Left unionist leading the hatred, has been an envy-filled hater of business for many years. His contempt for those who do better in life than others is plainly visceral

KEVIN Rudd has rebuffed a push by left-wing unions for a Labor government to impose a new super-tax on mining company profits. And the Opposition Leader has attacked union chief Doug Cameron, who is likely to run for the Senate for the ALP this year, as "absolutely wrong" in his call for Labor to "muscle up" to the resources industry.

Mr Rudd told The Weekend Australian yesterday the union movement had to accept that Australia lived in a global economy and had to maintain tax competitiveness or risk losing foreign investment and jobs. "When Doug talks about muscling up to Australia's resources companies, his approach is absolutely wrong and belongs to a bygone industrial age," Mr Rudd said.

The Labor leader's rejection of the union position follows moves by five left-wing unions to use next month's ALP national conference to move the party to the Left. And it marks the latest step in his quest to convince voters Labor can be trusted with the economy - the issue that was the party's electoral Achilles heel in the 2004 election.

Despite concern within Labor that the party must steer a moderate course to defeat the Howard Government, the left-wing unions, including Mr Cameron's Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, want the ALP to oppose the signing of free trade agreements with other nations and to limit partnerships between governments and private enterprise on infrastructure projects. The unions - including the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the Community and Public Sector Union and the Australian Education Union - want a Rudd government to scrap the Howard Government's budget tax cut on superannuation payouts.

Mr Cameron, who is seeking preselection for Labor's NSW Senate ticket, said this week it was time for Labor to muscle up to mining companies and ensure more of their profits were contributed to a better society. Mr Cameron proposed a special "super profits tax" and said mining companies should be required to develop communities around remote mines rather than flying workers in and out. Profits from the mining boom were being squandered for lack of long-term government vision. And a policy document for the union push, released last week, said that speaking the language of privatisation, free trade and deregulation was foolhardy.

But Mr Rudd told The Weekend Australian yesterday he would not accept attacks on the resources sector or a retreat from an open economy. "Doug needs to realise we now live in a modern market economy, and international taxation competitiveness is important," Mr Rudd said. "The Government needs to work on a co-operative basis with the resources industry on critical challenges such as climate change." This was why Labor had proposed spending on the development of clean coal and other means to cut greenhouse gases. "It's that co-operation model for dealing with big business which is what Australia needs for the future," he said. "Doug does a great job in speaking up for the interests of workers, and I respect his view. "But on this one he is absolutely wrong."

Mr Rudd said he would gladly accept John Howard's challenge to discuss future economic directions, and that he was not afraid to talk about interest rates. In the 2004 election, the Prime Minister hit Labor's economic credibility by warning it would repeat the high interest rates that marked its last period in office in the late 1980s and early '90s. "If Mr Howard wants to debate 17 per cent interest rates under Labor, I am equally delighted to debate the 22 per cent interest rates under his stewardship as treasurer, just as I am prepared to debate the amount of debt he left the Labor government," he said. Mr Howard's economic credibility was in doubt because he had failed to drive increases in productivity, Mr Rudd said. "The mining boom has masked the Government's economic policy lethargy over the past half-decade or more," he said. "They have no plan to build productivity once the mining boom ends, and end it will."


Labor backs private schools

A big backdown from hate-filled class-warfare rhetoric of the recent past

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd today promised not to cut government funding for private schools. His announcement reaffirms a decision by his predecessor Kim Beazley last year to dump a hit list of elite schools. Mr Rudd said a Labor government would support the rights of parents to choose which school to send their children.

"We will do that by funding all schools, whether they are government, non-government, religious or secular, based on need and fairness," Mr Rudd and Labor education spokesman Stephen Smith said. "A Rudd Labor government will be concerned about the quality of education rather than engaging in a government versus non-government schools debate. That is behind us," they said.

In 2004, then-leader Mark Latham unveiled a list of 67 elite private schools to lose government funding if he was elected. "Previous attitudes by federal Labor to a so-called hit list in non-government schools was wrong," Mr Rudd and Mr Smith said today. Labor's objective was to raise standards in all schools, they said. "We are about supporting schools rather than taking money away from them."


Victorian schools to help working parents

Schools would open 10 hours a day under a radical proposal to help relieve the growing pressure on working parents. Victorian education leaders have backed a recommendation to keep schools open an extra four hours a day from 8am to 6pm. The proposal was put forward by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in a report released recently. The plan would essentially create a "one-stop shop" for parents, who would be able to use on-site before and after school hours care.

Victorian Principals Association president Fred Ackerman said the recommendation was about providing parents with a convenient service. "We are here to provide a service for the community, for parents and their kids," he said. But Mr Ackerman said appropriate facilities needed to be built as part of the State Government's $1.9 billion plan to build new schools and upgrade existing rundown ones. "This shouldn't be seen as an add-on without any additional resources and facilities," he said.

Australian Education Union Victorian president Mary Bluett said she supported the idea of schools having extended hours care on site if appropriate facilities and resources were available. "It makes enormous sense," she said.

A spokesman for Victorian Education Minister John Lenders said while the Government appreciated schools needed to cater for families, there were no plans to extend school operating hours to make on-site before and after hours care compulsory. Instead, the Federal Government needed to do more to help make workplaces family friendly to relieve the stress on working parents, he said.


Sun's pulse a good predictor of weather outlook in Australia

Cough! Splutter! Choke! I live in an area of pretty average rainfall in Eastern Australia (Brisbane) and it rains nearly every second day here so do take the "DROUGHT-BREAKING rains across eastern Australia" below with a grain of salt. And I suppose it would be churlish of me to mention that there has recently been flooding right up and down the Eastern seaboard of Australia -- from North Queensland to Tasmania. Journalistic silliness does not however detract from the research reported below

DROUGHT-BREAKING rains across eastern Australia have been predicted in new modelling by a scientist who believes massive pulses in the sun's magnetic field are helping to drive the Earth's climate systems. If proven, the research will make the prediction of floods and droughts in Australia far more reliable and influence models projecting future climate change.

Robert Baker, from the University of New England, claims to have found a strong relationship between the rhythmic pulsing of the sun's magnetic field and weather systems, particularly in the southern hemisphere. The sun's magnetic emissions are known to peak every 11 years, a phenomenon demonstrated by increased sunspot activity. The sun also switches poles every 11 years. It last flipped in 2001. Associate Professor Baker said modelling of the sun's magnetic activity showed high rainfall during times of high activity and drought when the sun was stable. This suggested the fluctuations impacted on the upper atmosphere, which was in turn reflected in changes in the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), the measure of air pressure over the Pacific Ocean used as a reliable indicator of drought and flood.

Dr Baker said the most intense droughts in eastern Australia, including the Federation drought, tended to occur every 22 years, about a year after the southern pole of the sun flipped and became positively charged. In a paper, which has been submitted to the journal Solar Terrestrial Physics for peer review, he claims changes in solar magnetic fields can explain about 50 per cent of the variation in the SOI. The impact of solar magnetism is more noticeable in the southern hemisphere and in regions such as eastern Australia because more variable climate is driven by proximity to large oceans.

He said this relationship between the sun and climate required further research because it might help to explain an important but little understood natural cycle influencing the Earth's climate systems. "The sun drives the whole system," he said. "There is a natural impact that the sun has in terms of weather patterns maybe over a century." Dr Baker said the sun appeared to follow a longer-term magnetic cycle of about 80 years, meaning it might be possible to predict floods and droughts for the next 30 years based on historical records from the mid-1920s.

Dr Baker said the SOI was currently following a similar pattern to that recorded after 1924 when eastern Australia enjoyed heavy falls after a period of prolonged drought. Dr Baker's model puts a more scientific and transparent theory to the concepts first developed by long-range weather forecasters Lennox Walker and Inigo Jones. It also suggests there may be a longer 500-year solar cycle, which may help explain climate variability over the past centuries, including periods of unexplained climate variability such as the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.

Dr Baker said he was concerned about the welfare of rural communities amid unfounded speculation the current drought might continue for decades.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Code of silence makes rise in Lebanese Muslim crime hard to solve

The report below is coy about details of the crime concerned but it is not too hard to make an educated guess. In these days of official coverups in the name of political correctness, one has to have a good memory of how individual incidents played out to get to the truth -- and NSW police complaints about non-co-operation from the Lebanese Muslim community have often been made. If there were NO ethnic dimension to the problem you can be sure that would have been stressed. It's getting to be like the USA or Britain -- where failure to mention the race of a criminal tells you that he was black

NSW police are solving fewer sexual assaults, abductions, armed robberies and other serious crimes than they were able to a decade ago. Research by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics shows the likelihood of detectives catching a rapist within 90 days of an attack has fallen since 1995 from one in two to less than one in four.

Acts of indecency are also half as likely and other sexual offences almost 20 per cent less likely to be successfully investigated within three months, the 10-year analysis shows. Arson cases have become 30 per cent harder to crack, while the chance of nabbing a thief who specialises in breaking into cars has plunged by more than a third to a paltry 2.6 per cent.

Despite an overall crime decline over the past two years, recent bureau data also shows some offences being committed more often than in 1995. Fraud is up 72 per cent - perhaps explaining why police are 66 per cent less effective at solving it. On the other hand, fewer people are being murdered, which coincides with a 10 per cent improvement in homicide investigations. However, a 35 per cent decrease in robberies involving a firearm, when matched by a 27 per cent decline in clear-up rates, was both puzzling and concerning, bureau director Don Weatherburn said.

"Certainly there's been a decline in clear-up rates for sexual assault which, as an offence category, has increased," he said. "But why has there been a similar decline for armed robbery even though there's been a fall in the total number of offences that detectives have to investigate? "I don't know, is the short answer to the question. It's one you'd have to address to police."

Bond University criminologist Professor Paul Wilson said it "could be that there are a whole lot more amateurs randomly engaged in armed robberies who are managing to get away quickly and are then proving hard to catch". "Or, it could be that police are not concentrating on the crime as effectively as they used to," he said. Opposition police spokesman Mike Gallacher said the figures indicated long-term neglect of police resources by the Government.


Death threats over Muslim comments

Muslims do their best to prove the Rev. Nile correct

NSW Christian Democratic Party leader Reverend Fred Nile says he has received death threats over his call for a moratorium on Islamic immigration to Australia. Mr Nile, who is recontesting his upper house seat at the March 24 state election, on Saturday called for a 10-year ban on Islamic immigration. He wants the immigration department to give preference to persecuted Christians while studies on the impact of Islamic immigration are carried out during the moratorium. Mr Nile has previously called for a ban on the wearing of full-face scarves in NSW.

Today, he said he and another Christian Democratic Party (CDP) candidate had received death threats in recent days. On Friday, a man had telephoned Allan Lotfizadeh, the CDP candidate for the western Sydney electorate of Auburn, and said: "You Christian pig. You are dead", Mr Nile said. Yesterday, Mr Nile said, a man approached a CDP election worker at Granville and asked her where Mr Nile lived, and what he had against Muslims. He had then said: "Tell Fred Nile I am going to act out my faith on him".

Mr Nile said he believed the threats were linked to his statements on Islamic immigration and full-face scarves. "I think, if they're talking about the Muslim issue it's related to the Muslim issue," he said. Mr Nile said the threats, which have been reported to police, highlighted the need for the immigration moratorium. "The reason why I called for the moratorium is because of what's happening in France and Holland where the Muslim minority are becoming militant," he said.

Prominent Muslim community leader Keysar Trad condemned the threats against Mr Nile. "Anybody who thinks of making death threats should cease and desist and anybody who knows anybody who's making threats should call the police," he said. Mr Trad said many members of the Islamic community had been the victims of threats and verbal or physical abuse. "Now he (Mr Nile) has an idea what it's like for us," Mr Trad said.

A split appeared to emerge in the CDP over the immigration issue today, with Mr Nile's fellow upper house MP Gordon Moyes indicating he had reservations about the policy. "In the Christian Democratic Party we are instructed to vote on issues according to our conscience and therefore we can have different points of view on some issues," Dr Moyes said. "I have some differences with Fred on this matter but Fred is the one standing for election so I'm not getting into that debate."


Launch of Gender equality in Australia's aid program

Speech by The Hon Alexander Downer MP Minister for Foreign Affairs at the launch of Gender equality in Australia's aid program. Nobody official is mentioning it but it IS a poke in the eye for Muslim countries

I am delighted to be here today to launch the new gender policy for Australia's overseas aid program for two reasons. Firstly it reflects the government's conviction that everyone should have the chance to succeed in life - women, men, girls and boys. Secondly it strikes a personal chord for me. I have three wonderful daughters and I am eternally grateful that they have grown up in a society which guarantees them equal access to education and to health services. They are free to make decisions relating to the sort of life they wish to create for themselves and the children they may one day have. Our society gives them opportunities to earn their own incomes and become leaders if they choose.

When I look at my daughters I find it difficult to accept that hundreds of millions of women around the world still do not have access to even the most basic services - clean water, education, health centres. They and their families are living on less than $1 a day. This gender policy reflects the yawning gap in opportunities by focusing on areas we consider to be fundamental to achieving gender equality-

- improved economic status

- equal access to health and education by women and men

- equal participation in decision making and leadership

- and greater gender equality through regional cooperation efforts

All too frequently there is a temptation to treat gender as an add-on issue, rather than as a central challenge of development. The White Paper on the overseas aid program, which I released last year (26 April), places gender equality at the centre of efforts to reduce poverty and increase the effectiveness of aid.

Inadequate or under-investment in social and economic opportunities for women limits economic growth and slows poverty reduction. Disparities in education and employment, in access to land, credit and public services are not just morally unfair, they make for bad economics.

We know through analysis and observation that societies are healthier where women are more educated and there is a high social and economic return from investing in women's health and education. Mortality rates fall, household income rises and children almost certainly have a better quality of life if their mothers are healthy, educated, economically active and are respected members of society .

If South Asia, Sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East had had the same gender equality in schooling as East Asia did between 1960 and 1992, per capita growth in those regions would have been higher by a half to nearly one percentage point per year. Stimulating economic activity is a vital part of the fight against poverty -no country has ever succeeded in reducing poverty without first achieving economic growth.

I find it interesting that recent articles in the Economist magazine have noted that the employment of women has done more to encourage global growth than have either new technology or the new giants China and India during the past couple of decades. In South-East Asia, products made or grown by women dominate two-thirds of the region's export industry - the most dynamic sector. We want to see women continue to make economic advances. Through the aid program we will help provide women with access to financial services, training and technology and will support business enterprises led by women.

One of the most valuable contributions the aid program can make is to improve the health and education of women and children in the Asia Pacific region. In partnership with governments, the broader community and other donors we have made good strides in both areas.

But we are confronted by the fact that in several countries in the region - PNG, East Timor , Laos, Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India - a woman is 50 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than she would in Australia. Women in poor countries are also far more susceptible to HIV than women who are educated, have access to health services and are in a position to negotiate safe sex. In many places, women's low social status also makes them vulnerable to domestic abuse. Domestic abuse not only hurts women and their families but economies too. A few years ago the Reserve Bank in Fiji estimated the direct and indirect cost of violence against women in that country to be over 200 million Australian dollars, which at the time was equivalent to seven per cent of their Gross Domestic Product.

I am pleased to say that Australia will help countries evaluate programs aimed at reducing domestic abuse to make work in this area more effective. We are also firmly committed to building on the good work that has been achieved in education. In Indonesia for example we are in the process of building two-thousand schools that support universal education and encourage both boys and girls to remain at school. This is a tremendous step forward and will give Indonesian children - and in turn their children - opportunities that eluded their parents and kept them in poverty. I will be visiting Indonesia next week and look forward to inspecting the progress of construction of the schools program.

It is logical that since women represent half the world's population, they should have an equal say in decision-making and represent half of our leaders. However globally, women are still heavily under-represented in parliaments. In the Pacific for example, representation is particularly low. In 2005, the number of women in Parliaments was on average just three per cent. Having women in positions of leadership means they can develop policies and frame laws that influence behaviour and determine the equitable allocation of economic and social resources.

Women's role in building the right environment for stability is often overlooked. Bougainville is a very powerful example of the role played by women in resolving conflict and setting in place the building blocks for stability. After 10 years of fighting the women had had enough. Through their formal and informal networks they were able to influence and shape a better, peaceful future for all Bougainvilleans. It's a stark reminder of the positive power of involving both men and women. To ignore 50 per cent of the population is simply bad policy.

And we all know, particularly in this House, what happens when you implement bad policy. You get bad outcomes. We often discuss gender equality as though it only concerns and benefits women. This is not the case. Societies advance more successfully when everyone has the chance to realize their potential. We will not achieve gender equality without the involvement of men, on equal terms with women. Gender equality is a responsibility that is borne by us all. There is increasing awareness of the benefits to men themselves of promoting equality, beyond just the knowledge that they have done the right thing. The general health and well-being of families and communities has a positive flow-on effect to everyone. And amongst all this there is growing awareness that men are often disadvantaged by the constraints of masculinity. Hopefully discussions about these issues will become louder and more mainstream.

So it's clear - an essential ingredient needed to reduce poverty is equality for both men and women. Challenging and changing long held beliefs and values takes time as we know from our own experience in Australia. But we also know from that experience that achieving equality elevates society in general. It advances human development. I commend to you the Australian Government's policy on gender equality in our aid program.


Sexy politicians

Pauline Hanson had a two-week affair with her former staffer, outgoing NSW MP David Oldfield after he seduced her, 11 years ago in the Sundowner Village Motel in Canberra. In her explosive biography, Ms Hanson has also detailed a string of other affairs including how her two marriages ended because one husband cheated on her and the other was an alcoholic. But among the bombshell revelations in the book is how she did have a sexual relationship with Mr Oldfield, despite a decade of denials, and a bitter falling out in recent years. "We enjoyed each other's company and talked for hours. We ended up spending the night together. It was dawn before he left," Ms Hanson said.

She said Mr Oldfield, who at the time was working for then backbench MP Tony Abbott, insisted the affair be kept secret, and was afraid to be seen in public with Ms Hanson. In previous interviews, Mr Oldfield has denied a "physical relationship" with the former One Nation leader claiming it would have undermined their jobs, while Ms Hanson has always refused to comment.

However, Ms Hanson's former friend and staff member, Barbara Hazleton, told Woman's Day magazine Mr Oldfield began sleeping with his boss in October, 1996. Ms Hanson has finally chosen to tell her version of the story in her upcoming autobiography, Untamed And Unashamed. She said Mr Oldfield pursued her, and they enjoyed their first night together in Canberra's Sundowner Village Motel after he cooked her dinner. "He said he was concerned about being seen in public with me and asked if we could go somewhere private to talk and have dinner. "It was very hard in Canberra because I had already become well-known. "I suggested that we have dinner in my unit at the Sundowner Village Motel, which had its own cooking facilities. "David not only arrived with the food and a bottle of wine but he also prepared it. We enjoyed each other's company and talked for hours."

In an extract published in The Sunday Telegraph today, Hanson also reveals the shame of falling pregnant at 16, and how she was left a wreck after her first husband, Walter Zagorski, repeatedly cheated on her. She also reveals how he doubted he was the father of their second son, Steven, and hints at having suicidal thoughts. "I took a couple of strong painkillers I still had from the time I had shingles, with some alcohol," she said. "It was a stupid thing to do."

Ms Hanson said her second marriage to Mark Hanson was little better and it ended after years of alcohol-fuelled violence. "Our first serious marriage problem started with Mark ill-treating my sons, Steven in particular," Hanson writes. The incidence of abuse escalated, and when he put his fist through a wall the mother of four fled, working 18-hour days to feed and clothe her family.

Ms Hanson, who spent two-and-a-half years writing her memoirs, remembers first meeting Oldfield in 1996. She said the relationship was short-lived, and was over in a couple of weeks. Mr Oldfield has since married Lisa Oldfield, a co-host on afternoon chat show The Catch-Up. "I knew he was not a man I could have a long-term relationship with or fall in love with," Ms Hanson said. These days, Ms Hanson said, she would only go to Mr Oldfield's funeral to make sure they buried him.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

The very incorrect Pauline Hanson gives Muslim warning

Pauline Hanson will urge major political parties to stop the flow of Muslim immigrants into Australia when she launches her bid to become a senator this year. Warning Australia could go down the same road as some European countries, where she says racial tension are "out of control", Ms Hanson says federal politicians will eventually have to decide on Muslim numbers in Australia. "We have to decide now whether we want to go the way Britain, France and the Netherlands have gone," she says in an exclusive interview in today's print edition of the Herald Sun. "England's being lost. It's losing its identity and its way of life."

Ms Hanson also denies she is re-entering politics for financial gain, claiming the major political parties need a shake-up. She says the Muslim way of life is totally opposite to the Australian way, citing instances of multiple marriages, the forcing of women to wear the burqa, closure of pools to males and shopping centre bans on Christmas decorations. "The fact is they're Muslim first and Australian second," Ms Hanson says.

She is also releasing her life story, entitled Untamed and Unashamed, which is to be launched this month by Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones.


Poor teacher training recognized

State Education Minister Rod Welford has called a meeting of the heads of university teacher training departments to plan an overhaul of teacher training in Queensland. The meeting follows the release of a joint survey by the principals of state, Catholic and independent schools showing that teaching graduates wanted courses overhauled to give them the skills to teach and manage students. Almost a quarter of beginning teachers plan to leave the profession within five years because of the pressures they face.

Mr Welford met with 70 principals in the Cairns area yesterday, and said they were deeply concerned about the levels of practical training given to students. "It's far too little," he said. Some students undertaking four-year degree courses spent less time prac teaching than those undertaking 12-month postgraduate teaching courses, which had struck a better balance.

Mr Welford said as well as discussing the report, the meeting with the deans of education was essential as new national guidelines for teacher training were being drawn up and the Queensland College of Teachers was reviewing teacher training in Queensland. Mr Welford said the report had shown that Queensland schools and principals were the best in Australia at inducting new teachers into schools. "They deserve a big tick for this," he said.

The Minister's view was supported by first and second year teachers at St Rita's College Clayfield, Monya Duplessis, 23, Anna Sayers, 36, John Mundell, 29. The three beginning teachers said they were being mentored and supported by their department heads and were guided in how to handle issues such as parent-teacher interviews. Even with strong support, however, they find their 7.30am to 5pm days a challenge. "You have to be constantly on the ball and there is very little down time," Mr Mundell, a University of Queensland graduate said. He spent 26 weeks of his 18 month Bachelor of Education degree prac teaching and found the experience invaluable.

Ms Duplessis, a QUT graduate, said her lecturers prepared her well for the challenges of prac teaching in schools at Shailer Park and Woodridge. "If you are equipped with the skills and if you are prepared it is not too much of a problem."

Ms Sayers, a former marketing and business executive who completed her teacher training part-time at the Australian Catholic University said life would be much harder for teachers in smaller rural and remote schools with fewer resources. Principal Sister Elvera was concerned by the report's revelation that 27 per cent of beginning teachers are asked to teach subjects in which they are not trained. "I think it would be very very difficult and the students would soon be aware of the fact," she said.


Sun findings energize climate skeptics

The science of how global warming occurs has become crucial to our economy. So why are dissenting explanations of the sun's influence on our fate being pushed aside, asks Matthew Warren, environment writer for "The Australian"

It says a lot about the complexity of climate science that we can put a man on the moon but we still can't predict the weather beyond the next few days. The warming of the planet, and man's contribution to this phenomenon, has become the top scientific issue of this generation.

Science by its very nature is an argument. But apparently not this one any more. Yet a minority of scientists are still lining up to challenge the accepted wisdom with their claim that global warming is being principally driven by the sun, not by human activity. The mainstream view is that an accumulation of greenhouse gases, mostly due to human activity, is trapping too much of the sun's heat within our atmosphere. But the rebels against this dominant view suggest massive variations in the sun's heat radiation are far more influential in warming than accumulating greenhouse gases.

The UN-linked Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the executive summary of the science of its fourth assessment report in February. It reported "90 per cent" certainty among consulted scientists that the 0.6C average temperature increase measured during the 20th century was largely caused by the release of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels by industrialised economies. In other words, by humans.

Although the scale of warming predictions had altered little during the preceding six years of research, politicians and mainstream climate-change scientists queued up to declare the argument about human-caused climate change was officially over. Despite such confidence, hundreds of blogs across the world continue to run charged claims and counterclaims on the internet about the various positions adopted by climate scientists. The scale of the argument is unprecedented and reflects considerable uncertainty. By comparison, there are no blogs debating the validity of the periodic table of elements, for example.

Despite these claims, the minority of scientists who disagree with the mainstream view are still at large and remain unmoved by the latest IPCC report. Their views have recently been exhumed by two equally contentious, polar opposite documentaries profiling them on British and Canadian television. Last month, the ABC's Four Corners screened the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program The Denial Machine, which claimed the campaign for caution about human-caused climate change was conceived by spin doctors and driven and funded by oil and coal companies. Produced last November, the program compared scientific scepticism on climate change to the tobacco industry's much publicised one-time campaign to discredit links between smoking and lung cancer.

Then last week Channel 4 in Britain screened a program called The Great Global Warming Swindle, in which many of the same scientists from the CBC program were interviewed to put the dissenting sceptics' sun-driven case on human-caused climate change. Yet to be screened in Australia, and unlikely to make its way on to Four Corners, the program argued the warming measured during the 20th century was the result of changes in solar activity, not increases in carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. It also took issue with what it described as a multibillion-dollar global warming industry that continued to play up the threat to support research, funding and relevance.

The debate over climate change has become increasingly stifling and intolerant to dissenting voices as the mainstream position has become more secure. Some argue it is appropriate, indeed necessary, to censor such dissent for fear it will delay action on the increasingly urgent policy response needed to make deep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Unsurprisingly, the program sparked considerable controversy. One of the scientists interviewed claims he was misrepresented not so much by what he said on air, but by being associated with the thesis of such a one-sided polemic. Main British media outlets subsequently committed considerable space to attack what they claimed were the half-truths and discredited facts, as well as the credibility of the dissenting scientists who made them. While not interviewed for Channel 4, hydro-climatologist Stewart Franks at Newcastle University in NSW is one such scientist. Like all other scientists quoted in this article, he says he has never received any funding from any industry, but is increasingly uneasy about the dangerous path the debate is taking, where alternative views are discouraged and reputations attacked and discredited.

Franks says our understanding of the physics of climate is still so limited, we cannot explain natural variability or predict when droughts will break, or the when and why clouds form, which makes him wary of mainstream claims projecting temperature changes over the next century. He argues that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere account for only about 2 per cent to 3 per cent of the overall warming effect, meaning even major increases in gases lead to only slight shifts in temperature: between 0.5C and 1C. He is less certain than other dissenting scientists that variation in solar activity is the cause, but doubts that greenhouse gases are the main driver of temperature changes. "It's clear that we don't understand enough of the physics of climate to understand natural variability but I don't expect climate change from CO2 to be particularly significant at any point in the future," he says.

Franks points to new modelling which has measured changes in the Earth's albedo or reflectance, driven mainly by cloud formation. The paper by a team of geophysicists reported an unexplained decline in cloud cover until 1998, which caused the Earth to absorb more heat from the atmosphere. This resulted in increases in incoming solar radiation more than 10 times bigger than the same effect attributed to greenhouse gases. Franks says the current IPCC models assume albedo is constant but such research should be added to the body of knowledge, not excluded or rejected. "It's reached the point that anyone who offers an open mind publicly is basically criticised and put down," he says.

New Zealand climatologist Associate Professor Chris de Freitas says it is generally agreed greenhouse gases are having a warming effect on the radiation balance of the Earth, but there is disagreement on the extent of positive feedbacks. The IPCC models claim the warming caused by the release of carbon dioxide encourages accelerated warming, with the system spiralling slowly but insiduously upwards. The IPCC models predict a range of temperature increases from 1.1C to 6.4C by 2100. So much for certainty.

De Freitas, unlike the IPCC, thinks the warming effect of carbon dioxide decreases over time as it becomes more saturated in the atmosphere. "There is so much scope for disagreement because there is so much uncertainty. This was one of the most outrageous implications of the first IPCC report - claiming that the science was settled," he says. "The big problem is the feedbacks warming accelerates itself . We don't still understand the very complex climate system. None of the models have proved to be accurate at all. So using the outputs of models is fallacious because they're not evidence of anything, they're just hypotheses. "The IPCC started it in their first report by calling it a 'consensus view' to shut down debate. By calling their critics deniers, they are saying, 'look these guys are arguing against the impossible'."

The IPCC is the scientific and political engine room of the climate-change debate. It's "consensus view" is based on 19 different computer models to project temperature changes based on known increases in greenhouse gases. At least one of the 1500 "leading scientists" it quotes as its underpinning authority is also one of its staunchest critics, Richard Lindzen, who is Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a contributing author to this year's fourth IPCC assessment report but remains highly critical of how the panel operates, claiming it is largely a political process underpinned by science, which carefully stage-manages the release of its reports to maximise political impact.

The IPCC made headlines across the world in February with the release of the executive summary of its assessment report, which Lindzen says was severely modified by the political session that writes it and which is now modifying the full scientific report to fit for release in May. "That's a very funny procedure by most standards," he said. "You don't appeal to consensus if you have a scientific argument. "Very few of the models are independent and they all share certain profound difficulties. They all get clouds hugely wrong and a small change in clouds has a much bigger effect than doubling CO2."

Bob Carter, who is a research professor in marine geology at James Cook University, says there are some excellent scientists involved in the IPCC process and the actual report is likely to be both sound and useful science. But he is even more scathing of the process. "I think it is probably without precedent in any Western democratic process, the idea that you would publish an executive summary before the report and then openly say that 'we need a few more weeks to work on the report to make sure it is consistent with the executive summary'," he says. "I don't know how anybody can take them seriously. It's become a religion. I have no doubt that a number of the IPCC supporters genuinely believe. Others know very well that the evidence isn't there, but it suits them to believe. "I'm agnostic. And when the evidence is there I shall be perfectly happy to believe the hypothesis. But the evidence is not there."

In his Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, former US vice-president Al Gore's central claim in his description of the science was his correlation of 650,000 years of temperature changes with atmospheric carbon concentrations using polar ice-core samples. Gore described the relationship as complex, but made the most of the theatre, climbing up on a crane to accentuate the scale of the increases in greenhouse gas. But the sceptics point to a paper published in Nature and Science magazines showing the historical relationship between carbon dioxide and temperature has the gas lagging, not leading. That is, greenhouse gas rises occurred about 800 years later than allegedly matching temperature change, as the warming seas released more gas into the atmosphere and trapped it when cooling.

This doesn't discredit the mainstream theory that present levels of greenhouse gases are still well above historical levels, but it is one of several areas where even mainstream scientists believe Gore appears loose with the science to make his film more dramatic. The CBC documentary referred to predictions of sea-level rises of up to 24m as a result of climate change. The IPCC predicts rises at worst of about 50cm by 2100. If it's not OK to mislead the public in criticising climate-change science, why is it OK to mislead people in selling it?

Recently Prime Minister John Howard was effectively forced to recant a comment made in parliament that the science was uncertain. Clean Up Australia boss Ian Kiernan recently accused federal Finance Minister Nick Minchin of being an "unscientific looney" because he expressed some doubts about the validity of the climate-change science. Suddenly it's not just unfashionable to hold some doubts or keep an open mind on the science of climate change.

Having accepted the risk flagged by the mainstream science that the planet is warming, by developing an appropriate policy response, the debate in Australia has effectively decoupled the science from the policy response. We have agreed the issue is too important to wait for more conclusive answers, that we are prepared to act comprehensively on climate change, possibly at considerable cost, on the trust that most respected, credible scientists are deeply concerned about the seriousness of this threat. Greenpeace played an important role in its formative years by challenging companies, and governments developed economies. Why was that OK then, but this is not now?


Cowardly Cowdery in trouble

About time. Cowdery has never seen a criminal that he was not dubious about prosecuting

NSW Attorney-General Bob Debus has launched a blistering attack on his Director of Public Prosecutions, accusing him of making "unwarranted and insulting" remarks about his fellow public servants. Writing in The Australian today, Mr Debus accuses Nicholas Cowdery QC of engaging in "the kind of politicking he might otherwise decry" by suggesting last week that the state's top public servants had been bullied out of providing frank and fearless advice to their political masters.

And in a revelation that will embarrass the DPP, Mr Debus has released a dismissive email Mr Cowdery sent last December in response to an invitation to provide input into NSW Premier Morris Iemma's state plan.

In his speech last week, Mr Cowdery attacked the plan - which sets 50 performance benchmarks to be met by 2016, including several in the area of crime and justice - as "ludicrous" and "a political manifesto". But in the email, Mr Cowdery wrote that the plan had "nothing to do" with his office and that he had "no stake" in it. He added, "This is my preliminary view and, if one is needed, my final view", and closed the email with, "Merry Christmas!"

Mr Debus's attack on Mr Cowdery is all the more pointed coming at the beginning of the final week of his 16-year ministerial career. The Iemma Labor Government's longest-serving minister, Mr Debus will retire from his Blue Mountains electorate at the March24 state poll and is considering a tilt at the federal seat ofMacquarie. Mr Debus told The Australian last night that he had been unable to remain silent when Mr Cowdery had called into question the integrity of senior public servants who were unable to defend themselves. He said several of those involved had told him they were "quite peeved" by Mr Cowdery's assertions, which they regarded as "a kind of disloyalty".

"I reckon I've defended Nick's independence a dozen times over the past six years, in the parliament and in the media, and I've felt it my proper responsibility to doso," Mr Debus said. "But suddenly I find he's using the independence that has been given to him to prosecute criminals instead to cast completely gratuitous aspersions on the role and integrity of other department heads." Mr Debus said Mr Cowdery's message on the state plan was "the kind of email life tenure and guaranteed independence can easily encourage somebody to write", and pointed out that at the time the DPP was at a conference in Paris while his fellow officials were taking part in public meetings on the plan. "He was there with my permission and he was attending meetings of international prosecutors, but nevertheless he was on the Champs Elysee when his colleagues were in High Street, Penrith, consulting on theplan."

The stoush between Mr Debus and Mr Cowdery is the latest chapter in the DPP's long history of upsetting both political parties by suggesting their law-and-order policies are driven more by the search for headlines than a real desire to address the root causes of crime. Opposition legal affairs spokesman Chris Hartcher said last night: "Debus hasprotected Cowdery for the past six years, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. "It's a falling-out among the soft Left who have sought to dominate the criminal justice system with an attitude which has been to put the defendant ahead of the victim. It's no surprise Debus's swan song is more like a death-bed repentance."

Mr Cowdery had no comment last night, but a spokesman said Mr Debus had twice rejected the DPP's advice on whether to appeal a case - not once, as stated in his opinion article. "On both occasions the attorney was unsuccessful," the spokesman said.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dissecting British prejudice about Australia

A comment below on the Patrick West article by Guy Rundle, European editor of the Australian Leftist magazine, "Arena". It is a long time since I have seen a copy of Arena and it has only a little of its content online but I surmise that, like "Spiked", it is these days more a magazine of retired Marxists than of current Marxists. It is, however, a lot "Greener" than "Spiked". Green is a common refuge for former Reds. The article below certainly does not spare the Left. I am slightly pleased that Mr Rundle has picked up Mr West's incorrect spelling of "schooner". I thought of mentioning that as a pointer to Mr West's lack of erudition but concluded that it was a bit trivial

`The Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting an exhibition of Kylie Minogue's costumes' said Sandi Toksvig on a recent episode of BBC Radio 4's News Quiz. `It's on loan from the Australian Arts Centre, which is now presumably empty.' Boom boom. As far as anti-Australian gags go, that is pretty much par for the course. Increasingly, British views of Australia - especially as expressed by the middle-class commentariat - take as their starting point the idea that Down Under symbolises all that is cultureless, naive and vulgar.

As an Australian in Britain, you simply get used to it. More often than not such anti-Australian sentiments find their expression in the leftish mainstream press, where ostensible liberalism often serves as a mask for cultural elitism. It was a bit of a shock, then, to open up spiked last week and find in Patrick West's TV column every British cliche about Australian culture and life stuck into one article.

Based largely, it would appear, on conversations with a few ex-pats, West's startling conclusion is that Australia is not the sunny, fresh-minted utopia of Neighbours, but is more like the Gothic suburban fantasy of Kath and Kim - a cultural predicament which has apparently driven from Australia not only record numbers of smart people but also just about the whole A-list of Aussies, from, er, Clive James to Germaine Greer. However, wherever they go, Australians retain a childlike naivet‚ which comes to the fore when they've had a skinful, says West, which is very often of course. Oh, and the women will push you to the floor and have your fly open before you've even finished your `scooner' (sic).

Well, if your research sample is the front bar of the `Shebu Walkie' (the Walkabout beer barn in Shepherd's Bush, London) over a schooner (a beer) or two, then inevitably you're going to uncover those kind of back-of-the-beermat findings. Let's dispel a few of the myths in West's piece.

For a start, there's the ex-pat diaspora. There are around one million Australians living outside of Australia, or about seven per cent of the adult population. About half of them say they have left permanently, although a proportion of these subsequently change their minds (1). By contrast, the number of British citizens living overseas is 5.5 million, or about 12 per cent of the adult population; around 100,000 Brits a year leave Britain permanently (2). Their most favoured destination is a place called Australia, with Spain coming second.

True, the make-up of British and Australian ex-pat communities differs, with the British composed of more retirees and fewer professionals than Australia's diaspora - but that is simply a consequence of Australia being part of the global periphery. Like Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland and many other fairly sparsely populated places, Australia's citizens are responding to the increased mobility afforded by globalisation, and to the creation of global capitals like London and New York, which offer professional opportunities that are unavailable in their homeland.

The second mistake in West's article is his claim that all Australia's leading intellectuals have left. This leaves me no choice but to take the odious path of cultural boosterism and reel off a list of those who haven't left, or didn't leave, Australia: Nobel Prize-winning novelist Patrick White; world-class poets Les Murray and AD Hope; Nobel Prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty; philosophers David Armstrong and Rai Gaita; Booker Prize-winner Thomas Keneally; France's most performed overseas playwright Daniel Keene; Pritzker (architecture's Nobel) winner Glenn Murcutt; actor (now artistic director) Cate Blanchett; scientist Tim Flannery. There are many more.

Those whom West cites as ex-pats (and he left out the most talented ex-pats, such as novelist Peter Carey and critic Meaghan Morris) are overwhelmingly those who are either global travellers, such as John Pilger, or metropolitan performers such as Germaine Greer (who alternates between A-list work and Celebrity Big Brother-style fiascos) and former clip-show host Clive James. It's those who stayed - such as White, Murray or Murcutt - who produced world-class work, connecting local traditions to global modernism. Maybe West hasn't heard of them because they don't work in his narrow world of the London media.

What is really awry in West's piece is that he has missed the way in which the image of Australia is used within British culture and debate for purposes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the southern continent. The fashionable disdain in Britain for the suburbanism that dominates the image of Australian life is a barely disguised form of prejudice directed at working-class and mainstream culture, displaced in such a way that it can avoid charges of naked elitism.

There's no doubt that Australia has a different set of class relations to Britain - and that is partly because Australia has a far smaller cultural elite (or core of knowledge/cultural producers, to put it more technically) and larger suburbs of detached houses with gardens and a cultural life largely based around mainstream (and mostly American) films, TV and music. In terms of comfort for basic wage-earners, Australia is one of the most congenial societies yet devised, though it is at the same time frustrating and unsatisfying for those who want a more cosmopolitan lifestyle. Hence the grousing from the professional diaspora who have either permanently relocated to London or are in the first flush of enthusiasm for London life (usually put paid to by a couple years of London rents, rain and trains).

Yet even a cursory glance around everyday British culture - from Big Brother to the half-hour lobotomy of Emmerdale or Gillian McKeith's poo TV, to Soho on a Saturday night - should show that Britain is hardly lacking in cheerful assertive vulgarity. So why does the Australian version get such a kicking, especially from the left or `progressive' direction?

The answer, of course, is because it's safe to bash Australia. No one from the liberal or left-leaning fraternity can come out and say - as Simon Heffer or Theodore Dalrymple have done - that the British working classes are a slatternly disgrace. So instead such disdain is displaced on to a white settler country which does have - mainly in rural areas - all the residual racism common to white settler countries. And then such disdain is presented as a critical and progressive attitude. So in West's article we find that the kind of thing once patronisingly said about blacks - that they have a joyful sense of rhythm - can now be transferred on to white Australians (or Kiwis or South Africans or the Irish) who are praised for their naive childlike drunkenness that we jaded metropolitans have long since lost.

This easy chauvinism serves another purpose, too. It assuages the all-pervasive anxiety amongst the left-liberal elite that mainstream culture is actually winning - that Jade Goody, Garry Bushell and Girls Aloud are setting the pace today, and that the remaining institutions of liberal elite culture (Radio 4, the Guardian, David-fucking-Hare) are being pushed to a position of utter irrelevance reminiscent of, well, Australia. More and more British liberals project their fears for their own self-preservation against the hordes on to a nightmare vision of Australia, where they imagine the hordes have been victorious.

The point is that Australia is ahead, not behind, the curve the UK is on - it is dealing with the problems that any society faces when it has started to satisfy the basic needs of a large section of the population. Kath and Kim is neither a clown show nor a proletarian minstrel turn. It is a slightly rueful self-reflection on the difficulties you face when you have got everything you think you wanted - the house, the garden, the holidays, the shopping centres - and now you're wondering what else you can do. Not understanding that, Mr West, leaves you looking, well, a bit of a galah.


Why the wizards of Oz understand the war

Comment from British writer Melanie Phillips

Coming from Britain to Canberra to interview members of the Australian government is like leaving a fetid malarial swamp to be douched with fresh cold water from a mountain spring. These guys are so on-side in the great fight for civilisation against barbarism that they make `Bush's poodle' Tony Blair sound like a Harold Pinter wannabe on a bad day in Basra.

As Britain impatiently awaits the disappearance of the Prime Minister it has impaled on the turnpike of Iraq, as it pulls troops out and as both Gordon Brown and David Cameron delicately signal that they will distance themselves from US foreign policy, John Howard's government is increasing the number of Australian soldiers in Iraq and its ministers remain passionately committed to the battle for democracy in the Arab and Muslim world.

Their scorn for the current British mood of defeatism and appeasement is palpable. What, for example, does Foreign Minister Alexander Downer think about those in Britain who claim that the Iraq war has made the world a more dangerous place? `Their proposition that we should let the extremists win in Iraq and that will reduce terrorism is like saying, let Hitler take France and that will secure things a bit more. Or that if only we hadn't taken on Hitler he wouldn't have bombed the East End. It's a completely fatuous proposition. For the extremists, it's fantastic that people are saying this -because the logical conclusion is to surrender.'

What does Attorney-General Philip Ruddock think of the British government's long-standing opposition to what it sees as America's indefinite detention of terror suspects without a proper trial in Guantanamo Bay? `This shows an ignorance of the rules of war, which recognise you are entitled to hold those who engage in hostilities against you until the end of that war. It's not a question of holding people indefinitely because generally you expect to see a war conclude. `This is not war as conventionally understood. It's something worse. If people are waging war by using unconventional weapons in order to target civilian populations, you tie your hands behind your back by saying you must treat this as a normal breach of the law. We have an obligation to protect the safety and security of our populations. Law enforcement in its traditional sense does not protect our community.'

As for Treasurer Peter Costello on the subject of radical Muslims in Australia -well, he's hardly likely to win the Tories' Patrick Mercer Memorial Cup for cultural sensitivity: `Basically, people who don't want to be Australians, and they don't want to live by Australian values and understand them, well then they can basically clear off.'

The Australian government understands something that many in the beleaguered administrations of both Blair and Bush (not to mention the British Tories or US Democrats) just don't get. The Aussies grasp that the free world is under sustained attack from the same enemy on a myriad global fronts; that taking the path of appeasement on any one of these fronts is to undermine that world's whole defence; and that it is busy undermining itself at every opportunity.

In Britain, Blair is portrayed - unflatteringly - as Bush's closest foreign confidante. In fact, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard is said to be more influential, stiffening the Bush spine against Blair's obsessive fantasy that a solution to the Israel/Palestine impasse will somehow magically deflate the Islamist global balloon and reinforcing the Americans in the surge in Iraq.

His government is solid in the belief that the war in Iraq simply must be won. `If we were to withdraw from Iraq it would make Darfur look like a Sunday afternoon picnic', says Downer. `There would be widespread massacres spreading through the country. Neighbouring countries wouldn't just stand back; they would feel a kith and kin obligation to become engaged and once they were dragged into this cauldron the consequences would be horrific. It would be the greatest victory al Qaeda had ever had and would energise their forces around the world, including in Britain.'

To a Britain which parrots the Islamists' line that the war in Iraq is, on the contrary, the principal recruiting sergeant for terror, Downer retorts that in south-east Asia, the war in Iraq has produced a decline in support for Islamist extremism and terrorism. `Partly this is because the Indonesian government has promoted the notion of moderate Islam. The world's largest Islamic country and our next door neighbour is a vigorous democracy, where people are able to dissent from government and form political movements. That's why I believe that democracy is a very important means of defeating terrorism. The claim that brown guys don't do democracy is just outrageous. So if you happen to be Asian or Arab you're supposed to enjoy oppression? Just bring on the evidence!'

One can't help wondering how this most neo-con of foreign ministers would fare if transplanted by serendipity into those temples of overseas appeasement in London's King Charles Street or Washington's Foggy Bottom.

Of course, the Aussies' moral and political clarity springs in large measure from the robustness of John Howard himself. Howard's political genius - his Liberal party has won four general elections on the trot - derives from his extraordinary ability to articulate the values and aspirations of Middle Australia. And those values are shaped most fundamentally of all by Australia's place on the globe. Australia sees itself as profoundly vulnerable: an outpost of European civilisation surrounded by alien ideologies, which might at any time have designs upon a rich country with a huge land mass but too small a population to defend it. The outcome is that Australia is driven by the need to retain the protection of the US, and also to hose down any global disturbances which might conceivably affect it.

So apart from Iraq its troops are currently engaged in more than a dozen other regional conflicts. But the big thing that Howard understands is that the war upon civilisation is being waged both from without and from within. He arrived at this view through two seminal events in 2001. The first was 9/11, which he witnessed at first hand since he happened to be in Washington that day. The second was the hijacking of that year's anniversary celebration of Australian federation by those perpetrating historical myths to portray Australia as fundamentally illegitimate.

As a result, his government is leading from the chin against both Islamist radicalism and the multicultural orthodoxy which paralyses the country's ability to acknowledge the reality of such a threat. So not only has it taken tough measures against illegal immigration and is now tightening its citizenship requirements, but at a stroke abolished multiculturalism by renaming its Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Of course, effective policy is about more than such grand gestures; but they certainly help shape public debate. It's that elusive quality called leadership. Howard has got it. We haven't. Oz rocks.


Your bureaucrats will protect you -- NOT

Doctors have warned a proposed Tasmanian law to relax the registration of overseas-trained specialists could lead to unsafe treatment and even death. The Medical Council of Tasmania said the amendment to the Medical Practitioners Registration Act, which passed the Upper House last year, would lower standards nationally. President Mike Hodgson said the amendment would allow up to 10 overseas-trained specialists working in the state to apply for unconditional registration without assessment of their skills or qualifications. [Extraordinary!]

"We don't know that these individuals are safe," he said. "This amendment is not in the interests of public safety. "It will not allow the Medical Council to apply conditions on the registration of such practitioners even if they are performing poorly or have health problems. "It would even allow an overseas-trained specialist who was suspended, for whatever reason, to apply for unconditional registration." Asked what the impact of the Bill could be, he said: "What happened with Dr (Jayant) Patel." Dr Patel, an Indian-trained doctor dubbed Dr Death, is alleged to have caused a number of deaths at Bundaberg hospital where he was director of surgery.

Dr Hodgson said the amendment, which still needs to pass the Lower House again to become law, would allow specialists to apply for registration without assessment. He said the amendment would also remove the Medical Council's ability to control which specialties the doctors worked. It would also allow the doctors to use their unconditional registration to practice anywhere in Australia. "Under the mutual recognition, they can practice in any other state or territory in Australia, so we are imposing our lesser standards," he said. "It is not consistent with the rest of the country."

The Medical Council can now impose conditions on doctors' registrations to ban them from certain tasks, specialities or working without supervision. It also co-ordinates the assessment of doctors' skills and qualifications, which Dr Hodgson said varied greatly between countries.


Teachers criticize their own education

Graduate teachers say universities are failing to make the grade and want courses overhauled to give them the skills to teach. The 1351 state, Catholic and independent school teachers surveyed in all states in October last year said they needed better training in how to actually teach and manage students. All the teachers canvassed had less than three years' experience.

While 93 per cent said they "loved" or "liked" teaching, almost one in four, or 24 per cent, planned to leave the profession within five years because of the pressures they faced. Much of the pressure resulted from more than a quarter of the teachers, or 27 per cent, who were teaching subjects outside their areas of expertise. This occurs most often in English, maths and religion, but also in science, social studies, languages, the arts, technology and special needs. "At a time when literacy and numeracy are high on both the Commonwealth and State Government agendas, it is a concern that mathematics and English are the two subjects with the highest volume of beginning teachers working outside of their training," the survey report said. Uncertainty of employment was also a major concern, with 54 per cent of the surveyed teachers on contracts.

Among Queensland teachers, 60 per cent rated their practical teaching in schools as excellent or very good preparation to teach effectively. But only 30 per cent said their university pre-service was excellent or very good as teacher preparation. Comments from teachers included:

"The university is out of touch with real teaching."

"The Bachelor of Education was a whole lot of ----. I did not learn anything until I started teaching."

"I was disillusioned with my diploma of education training. I felt that the lecturers were out of touch with today's school environment. They were more concerned with the academic aspect of the degree than the practical hands-on experience that could have really made my transition into teaching so much easier."

"Not enough on behaviour management."

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said the findings were no surprise and supported the union's research. "It is certainly a concern to us that good teachers are leaving the system too early," Mr Ryan said. "It is not simply lack of training but workload and stress are also major problems."

In the report, teachers said they valued schools with strong induction programs, saying it made them more likely to remain in the profession, rather than being left to their own devices, with little support. Many also said they were overwhelmed and dispirited because of high workloads and the bureaucratic requirements of state education departments. "I could cope if I could just teach," a teacher said.

Almost half of those surveyed had become teachers after previous careers. Leonie Trimper, the president of the Australian Primary Principals Association, said the wide range of experience of many new teachers was "a rich resource we cannot afford to lose". "We've had 25 reports into teacher training in the past 20 years and little has changed," she said. "It's just not good enough." Geoff Ryan, the chairman of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, said: "we need an improvement in the relationship between schools and teacher training institutions".


Friday, March 16, 2007

Hate-speech against Australians?

With separate parliaments recently established in Scotland and Wales and a separate English parliament under discussion, Britain is the disunited kingdom. Part of the reason for that is that Brits look down on one-another at a great rate -- for reasons of social class and according to where they live -- both of which are usually indexed by accent. Anybody who lives North of Watford, for instance, is regarded as a semi-barbarian by most of those who live in the South-East. And to most of the English, the Scots are simply hilarious! And the Welsh are good only for singing, of course. G.B. Shaw (who was an Irishman) summed it up well with his famous saying that: "No Englishman can open his mouth without causing another Englishman to despise him".

Such unhappy people do, of course, also sometimes take it out on people from overseas and Australians are often recipients of some such animus. On the whole, however, Australians are much better accepted in Britain than are other Englishmen! I once had an upper-class girlfriend in London, for instance, who was quite ready to marry me but who would NEVER have married a Cockney (working-class Londoner)!

Most Australians, however, are unaware of that context. They do not realize how generally prejudiced the English tend to be about other groups and get more offended than they should be when some ignorant English twit mouths off about Australians. Australians fail to realize that the same English twit will despise other Englishmen even more. Hence the outraged reply in the Australian mainstream media to a recent example of such twittery. The twit concerned certainly did make some extraordinary and ill-founded generalizations. Excerpt:

"the Land Down Under is not populated by the hearty, the gregarious and the welcoming, but by white trash (I don't particularly like that phrase because no-one has the courage to use its equivalent, `black trash', but you get the point). Australians are some of the most coarse, racist people on earth, as Kath & Kim rightly portrays. For example, an American girl who seeks courtship will tentatively ask you for a meal and weeks of getting to know you; an Australian girl will come up to you at the Walkabout bar in London's densely Aussie-populated Shepherds Bush and inquire `Would you like a f*ck?'

What the author, Patrick West, failed to explain is that the English have always migrated to Australia in droves and that over a million British-born people live in Australia to this day (over 5% of the Australian population). That is called "voting with your feet". Migrating to another country is a big move. People don't do it unless the new country is a lot more attractive to them than the one they left. So the judgment of English people who know Australia well is very favourable. But I guess that the English too must be white trash and some of the most coarse, racist people on earth.

As Mr West observes, there are also many Australians (106,000) who have moved to Britain for work opportunities but they are nowhere nearly as many as those who have gone the other way.

It seems highly likely that Mr West's diatribe could fall foul of Britain's Draconian hate-speech laws. The publication in which the diatribe appeared is "Spiked" -- a generally libertarian British publication -- so I would regret it if "Spiked" went the way of its predecessor publication -- LM -- which had to close down as the result of a lawsuit. Given the British legal environment, I think that the editor would be wise to withdraw the article promptly and substitute an apology for it. The reaction in the Australian MSM is given below:

There is a well-known newspaper term used to describe where unwanted stories go - they are spiked. A story is spiked when it is deemed not newsworthy, badly written and researched, or if there is simply not one spare column centimetre left in the paper to run it. This week I discovered another spiked which, according to its mission statement, is "an independent online phenomenon dedicated to raising the horizons of humanity by waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms". All it needed to say is that it is a website at times dedicated to publishing rubbish written by British social commentator Patrick West. His latest drivel Life in Oz: Nothing like Neighbours is most certainly worthy of being spiked.

West pontificates: "Answer me this - if things are so great Down Under, why do so many Aussies leave?" He then attempts to answer his question: "It's because Australia is not the paradise it is portrayed to be on Neighbours. One of my Aussie colleagues is often asked why she chose to live in miserable, rainy Britain ... her answer was simply: Australia is nothing like Neighbours. It's more like Kath and Kim."

West continues: "She went on to explain that the land Down Under is not populated by the hearty, the gregarious and the welcoming, but by white trash ... Australians are some of the most coarse, racist people on earth, as Kath and Kim rightly portrays. "For example, an American girl who seeks courtship will tentatively ask you for a meal and weeks of getting to know you; an Australian girl will come up to you at the Walkabout bar in London's densely Aussie-populated Shepherds Bush and inquire, 'Would you like a f...?"'

Quite frankly, I'm relieved Australia is nothing like Neighbours, with the likes of busybody Harold popping in and out of your home all day. Give me Kath and Kim (who are not racists, by the way) any day. Unsophisticated, perhaps, to Londoners -but racist? How? When? Strangely, West makes no mention of English soccer fans banned from Europe because of their racism and violence over the years. Ever heard of an Australian sports supporter being banned overseas?

We all know Kath and Kims. Every city has them - New York's live in Queens, London's reside in Essex and ours in Melbourne's Fountaingate. Yet however they may dress or speak, most Kath and Kims would be the first to support their neighbours and complete strangers - more so than the sophisticated inner-city slickers (like West) that look down their nose at them. It is also a gross over-generalisation to say Australia is full of white trash.

But West's argument collapses when he says all the "clever" Australians flee to Britain. "Because despite all of their protestations against Barry Humphries' character Sir Les Patterson, Oz's own farting, swearing reprobate cultural attache, Australia remains a philistine country," he writes. "Think about it. Who do the Americans celebrate as national heroes? George Washington, George Gershwin, Ernest Hemingway, Franklin D. Roosevelt and so on. "We Brits revere Chaucer, Shakespeare, Elgar, Nelson and Churchill. And who do the Australians put on their postal stamps? Ned Kelly, a murderous bandit who famously put a metal dustbin on his head and tried to kill coppers."

And to think all this time I thought modern Britain worshipped Posh and Becks, reality TV stars such as Big Brother's resident racist Jade Goody, and the articulate Gallagher brothers.

But West, who is also the author of Conspicuous Compassion - which was reviewed in Britain's The Times (by one of his own countrymen) as "utterly devoid of insight ... nonsense ... pandering to the fashionable pull your socks up, preachy attitude" - continues with more gibberish. "This is why all the most cerebral Australians, such as Clive James, Germaine Greer, John Pilger and Peter Singer, have lived for so long either in the UK or the USA. They all wanted to get away from the land of Kath and Kim," he adds.

How does he explain then how England got Pete Andre and Jason Donovan? What West should have said is not necessarily the smartest Aussies flee to Britain, perhaps just the most opportunistic. And what he doesn't acknowledge is that your Clives and Greers are caught in a time warp. They think Australia is still the Australia they left decades ago, ensuring most of what they say is irrelevant. As for Singer? The US can keep the academic who in 2001 stated that "mutually satisfying activities" of a sexual nature may sometimes occur between humans and animals.

The immigration department granted 28,821 working holiday visas for Brits in 2005-06. In the same period a further 32,152 UK residents gained permanent residency here. For "the most coarse, racist people on earth"' we've sure got something going for us that Poms love. Maybe West could come and investigate in person. I know some welcoming B&Bs in Fountaingate where he could stay.



Perhaps I should mention that I have written some rather scornful things about Britain. I have just re-read them and am rather pleased about how well they stand up -- even though they were written nearly 30 years ago.

Update 2:

There is a rejoinder to the West article here. And there is a contrasting British view of Australia here. The contrasting view is based on an actual visit to Australia -- unlike Mr West's puerile outpouring.

Arrogant and aggressive Greenies

I have myself seen many examples of similar cyclist aggressiveness towards others

I resent the sentiments expressed in the Herald's letters pages that cyclists are all lovely, patient, clean, green folk generally entrusted with saving the planet - and that people are trying to kill them. I think they are trying to kill us. Enjoying a pleasant moonlight after-dinner stroll around the bay with three friends, I heard a strange chirruping noise. Looking back into the gloom, we saw a flashing Christmas tree bearing down on us at great speed. We scuttled out of the way but the rider expressed displeasure that we hadn't moved uniformly to the left as he powered between us. Foolishly, I suggested it might have helped if he'd slowed down.

Suddenly brakes - which until then he had he appeared reluctant to use - were employed in an emergency stop and he returned to inform us angrily that we were on a cycleway. I pointed out it was a shared footpath. Unfortunately, this led to such spittle-spraying vituperation that it became impossible to add that, not 50 metres back, he had passed a sign which stated: "Cyclists must give way to pedestrians." Perhaps he was going too fast to notice, or maybe there was a literacy problem. There was certainly a safety issue.

There's a pleasant park in our municipality. One side has a dogs-off-leads exercising area, the other a well-equipped children's playground. You'd have to have the brain of a gnat to cycle at high speed through either. Well, it happens every day. There's a switch in some cyclists' brains which flips to "everyone must get out of my way" mode as soon their buttocks touch those little triangular seats.

Recently on the Iron Cove Bridge, as I stepped from the stairwell onto the footpath, I was nearly T-boned by a bicycle rider travelling at more than 80 kmh (he had a strong tail wind). If he'd cleaned me up (there were only millimetres in it), I would have been slammed into the wall and he would have been thrown out into the path of the traffic. It was a very, very close call.

During my many kilometres of walking each week I find competitive, risk-taking, goal-fixated cyclists are more common than ever before, and that's a big worry for someone who takes most of his exercise on foot. Cycling far too close to walkers, dogs, children; not offering fair warning of their approach; travelling ridiculously fast in the company of people on foot; and generally assuming that they have the right to exclusive use of the byways is not only arrogant, it is totally contrary to the concept of saving the planet. And I hold the (probably forlorn) hope that I'd still like to be around to see it saved.


Something else the climate "experts" don't understand

But it will be blamed on global warming, of course

A massive whirlpool has developed off the coast of NSW, dragging down the sea surface by almost a metre, diverting a mighty ocean current and chilling Sydney beachgoers. The mysterious whirlpool is 200 kilometres across and 1000 metres deep, reaching the ocean floor, CSIRO oceanographers say. The centre is 100 kilometres from the coast and could stay there for several months. And another eddy of similar proportions is sitting further off the coast.

CSIRO satellite oceanographer Dr David Griffin said that, while cold-water eddies regularly appeared off Sydney, scientists knew very little about what causes them or the influence they have in the Tasman Sea ecosystem. "What we do know is that this is a very powerful natural feature which tends to push everything else aside - even the mighty East Australian Current," said Dr Griffin.

The sea level has dropped 70 centimetres at its centre while the water 400 metres below the surface is 6 degrees centigrade colder than normal. The colder water has helped bring down the average water temperature at Sydney beaches by several degrees. At the eddy's centre, cold water from 400m is raised about 200m. The sea surface, conversely, is lowered by 70cm. This dip in the surface of the ocean is invisible to the eye, but it can be accurately measured by satellites and a robotic Argo float deployed by the CSIRO. The eddies are invisible to the human eye but would contribute to cooler beach swimming conditions, said Dr Griffin.


John Howard: Australia's "strong horse"

Comment from America by former Harvard sociologist Thomas Lifson

One foreign leader who makes me stand up and cheer is John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia. In the last year, Howard has gained increased prominence for his willingness to stand up  for a truth too few other leaders in the democratic West are willing to speak:
The truth is that people come to this country because they want to be Australians. The irony is that no institution or code lays down a test of Australianness. Such is the nature of our free society.

It would however be a crushing mistake to downplay the hopes and the expectations of our national family. We expect all who come here to make an overriding commitment to Australia, its laws and its democratic values. We expect them to master the common language of English and we will help them to do so.

When leaders lead with courage, others are inspired. Howard's Treasurer, Peter Csotello when one step further, and told immigrants who want to bring sharia law to Australia that they should move to a country where they will be more comfortable. Howard backed him up!

Now, further proof that leadership in these matters works

FIVE of the nation's most powerful Islamic clerics, including Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali, have been banned from talking to the media by Muslim leaders for delivering "anti-Australian" messages.
Australia's Lebanese Muslim Association (the largest group of Muslim immigrants to Australia are the Lebanese) is concerned that comments to the effect that women who dress immodestly deserve to be raped harm them.

LMA president Tom Zreika yesterday told The Australian the letter was issued to end the "perceived un-Australian viewpoints given by some clerics".

"One of the big issues is the double-speak by the various imams," Mr Zreika said.

He added that the messages some clerics delivered in Arabic contradicted comments given in English while talking to the mainstream media.

"They go on to the Voice of Islam and talk about something which really isn't in accordance with our views as Australians.

"(While) most of our clerics are selected on the basis that they have Australian values and Australian characteristics ... some of them haven't (lived) up to that."
If only CAIR would take such a position! But don't hold your breath.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hardline Muslim clerics urge tax cheating

Hardline Muslim clerics are encouraging their followers to cheat the tax system because they consider paying income tax contrary to Islamic law. Muslim leaders have warned that fundamentalist imams who put sharia law ahead of Australian law are also condoning welfare fraud and the cash economy as tax-evasion methods.

Sydney-based Islamic leader Fadi Rahman told The Australian that the extremist clerics who were preaching messages against paying income taxes were also staunchly opposed to Western ideologies, including the Australian way of life. He said he had heard hardline clerics at Friday sermons in Sydney highlight the importance of cheating the tax system. "I mean, just like how you've got clerics (with) extreme views who are telling the Muslims in the Western world to declare war against the very country that they live in and the very country that is paying for their day-to-day life, you'll find that these are the clerics who are telling them to dodge the tax system," said Mr Rahman, a youth leader and the president of the Independent Centre for Research Australia. "Tax, itself, is not allowed in Islam. So they (clerics) encourage them that if there's any way that you can dodge paying the tax, then you should do it."

The Australian understands that the clerics pushing for tax evasion espoused a fundamentalist form of Islam called Wahabbism. While sharia law does not require Muslims to pay taxes, it does require them to pay zakat (alms) towards charitable causes.

Prominent Islamic cleric Khalil Shami, who said he had heard of imams encouraging tax evasion but had no direct knowledge of it happening, warned spiritual leaders to abide by Australian laws, saying tax evasion was a form of "theft" that would serve only to undermine the government help given to the Muslim and mainstream communities. "They have to give the right advice to the people because we come to this country and we have to follow the law of this country," said the imam of Penshurst mosque, in Sydney's southwest. "Everything that the Government do, we have to support it, we have to stand behind it ... to help the land and to help the law of the land."

The fundamentalist Ahlus Sunnah Wal-Jamaah Association, which is headed by Australia's most radical cleric, Mohammed Omran, hit back at suggestions that its imams - including Abdul Salam Mohammed Zoud, who heads the group's Sydney branch - were among those calling on their flock to cheat on their taxes. "Of course we pay taxes and we go as far as to collecting money from our Muslim communities and donating it to organisations (such as the Royal Children's Hospital) to help," said the Wahabbi organisation's spokesman, Abu Yusuf. He said the authorities should deal with tax cheats "as they would with anyone else breaking the law".

Muslim community leader Keysar Trad, who worked at the tax office for 14 years, said he believed some Islamic fringe groups would include "cheating on taxes" as part of their teachings. "We know that some fringe groups within the community have some aberrant teachings," the president of the Islamic Friendship Association said. "If one of those fringe groups was giving a message that did not serve society as a whole ... such as cheating on taxes, I would not be surprised." Mr Trad said he was often told by "conservative" clerics to quit his former job at the tax office because they considered it contrary to sharia law.

Mr Rahman, who helps young Muslims turn away from radical Islam and steer clear of criminal activities, said hardline Muslim clerics were not fazed that their followers were "double-dipping" by working cash-in-hand to avoid paying tax and collecting social security benefits on the side. "While we work hard to pay our taxes, it's not fair on the rest of us," he said.


Stalinists in South Australian education

Year 12 board wants to put parents in the Mushroom Club -- kept in the dark and fed bullsh*t. "The children of the light love the light and the children of the darkness love the darkness" -- to paraphrase Jesus (John 3: 19-20)

The state's examination board is attempting to suppress by law the Year 12 performances of individual schools. The Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia has asked the State Government for new laws to prevent public comparisons between the performances of public and private schools. Under a legislative review to be in place by 2010, the Government is about to force the SSABSA to release these details to the Education Department and the Education Minister, but the board wants to keep this from being extended to public release.

Its existing policy is only to publish statewide results, which do not include variations between individual schools or between government, independent and Catholic systems. Individual schools are able to obtain their own results and compare them with statewide averages through a password-protected website administered by SSABSA.

The board, which sets and approves curriculums and assesses student achievement for Years 11 and 12, is a State Government authority, but is not directly answerable to the Education Minister. Under the Government's review, it will be replaced by a new body called the SACE Board, which will be answerable to the minister. SSABSA says its proposal to block the public release of school performance details would avoid the "damaging effects" of comparing these. [Quite a confession of public school failure!]

Chief executive Janet Keightley said the board was "very clear" that the school a child attended was a "small contributing factor" in academic achievement. "To rank schools on this basis is very, very misleading and very dangerous because it means people will make serious decisions on very, very poor quality information," she said. "Any kind of simplistic comparison is not advantageous."

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said yesterday that parents had a right to know the academic standards and overall performance of schools and poorly-performing schools would be shown up by the release of results. "If parents were provided with this information, state governments would have to answer to them for the failings of state education systems," she said.

A spokeswoman for SA Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said the State Government did not have a position on the issue. "The Government will develop a policy when in possession of all the facts and responses from the public consultation," she said. South Australian Institute for Education Research president Ted Sandercock said researchers needed the data. "Quite often, you want to see what are the differences and what are they due to," he said. Association of Independent Schools executive director Garry Le Duff said he wanted the same access to information as the Education Department. "It should be released to individual schools and all school sectors, not just to the government sector," he said.


Another State health system in trouble

The boss of Tasmania's massive Health and Human Services department has quit, halfway through a series of major and "difficult" reforms. DHHS secretary Martyn Forrest yesterday announced his resignation, saying he had accepted an education position in the Middle East.

In the past few years there has been an exodus of senior bureaucrats and medical specialists from the department, which Health Minister Lara Giddings admits is stretched to the limit. Dr Forrest's departure comes as the DHHS is going through budget cuts and unprecedented change and all services -- including public hospitals -- are under review. A new Royal Hobart Hospital is being planned, the swamped child protection system is in the midst of an overhaul and there are fears of hospital closures in the North-West.

Dr Forrest said there was never a good time to leave. He admitted the job had been challenging and stressful and the department had been "in a bit of a moribund state, a bit depressed" when he took charge in late 2005. "Now I think that it has got a bit of confidence about what it is doing," he said.

Ms Giddings admitted Dr Forrest's departure could lead to "very short delays" in the clinical services and primary health services plan. But the State Government was committed to reform to prepare for increased future demands. And she defended the departure of Dr Forrest and other key DHHS people as "nothing out of the ordinary for a workplace of more than 11,000 people". The RHH churned through four CEOs in little more than a year and security marched emergency department head Alastair Meyer out of his office last April. Other resignations include:

-- Children's Commissioner David Fanning, who quit in September saying the system was not coping, and still has not been replaced.

-- DHHS deputy secretary Anne Brand quit last March, telling Dr Forrest it was "time to move on".

-- Alcohol and Drug Service clinical director David Jackson quit last February, saying he could no longer watch young people die of drug addiction.

-- RHH head of obstetrics and gynaecology Melwyn D'Mello resigned just before the election was called last February.

-- And hospital CEO Ted Rayment was deposed under a shroud of mystery in August 2005.

Australian Medical Association southern division chairman Haydn Walters said Dr Forrest had overseen a period when politics, not clinical need, had driven spending. Prof Walters said Ms Giddings now had a good opportunity to appoint someone with experience in health -- which he said Dr Forrest lacked -- to spend money sensibly. "Find somebody who wants to work with the doctors and nurses rather than treat them like the enemy because they spend money," he said.

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Neroli Ellis said Dr Forrest had replaced senior nurses with bureaucrats from the Education Department. Dr Forrest was head of the Education Department from 1997 until October 2005, when he moved to the DHHS to replace John Ramsay. "ANF has serious concerns with the legacy he has left behind," Ms Ellis said, adding many of the bureaucrats were on five-year contracts.

State Opposition health spokesman Brett Whiteley said Dr Forrest had been an impeccable public servant and his departure was a "major blow". Mr Whiteley said the health system had been in "meltdown" under Labor and delays in vital reforms were expected. Dr Forrest said the Fit program to cut red tape in the bureaucracy had been his major achievement during his 17-month term. Ms Giddings thanked Dr Forrest for his leadership and initiating reforms and said his departure should not hurt the department.


Hip woes hit under-50s

High-impact exercise blamed

More middle-aged people are having hip replacements because high-impact exercise has wrecked their joints. While osteoarthritis used to be a disease of the elderly, it is increasingly common in the under 50s. Road jogging, strenuous aerobics and skiing are just some of the activities that take a toll on joints, leading to knee and hip replacements.

Bill Donnelly, a surgeon at Brisbane Orthopaedic Specialist Services, estimates 90 per cent of the 30,000 joint replacement operations in Australia every year are because of osteoarthritis. "There is an increase of people under 50 having the operations because of an increase in competitive and contact sports and also high- impact activity," he said.

Twenty years ago, patients under 55 were told they were too young lor surgery, but increased demand and improved technology has changed that. The old-style full hip replacement involved a large part of the femur being removed as well as the ball and socket of the hip joint, but a new technique, hip resurfacing, conserves the damaged areas. The operation is recommended for younger patients who want to continue an active lifestyle.

"In six or seven years, this operation has increased from 2 per cent to 10 per cent of the joint-replacement market," Dr Donnelly said. "There are restrictions, however, and if people go back to jogging, and playing contact sports, the joint will become loose. We tell patients to switch their activities to cycling, walking, swimming and golf."

Dianne Dixon is only 43, but has had a knee operation and hip resurfacing, after years of netball and road jogging. A car accident escalated the problem. The mother of four, from Maroochy Waters on the Sunshine Coast, said that without the surgery she would have been in chronic pain. "I've had to give up the netball and the jogging, but I do keep active with low-impact exercise," she said. Dr Donnelly said joint replacements shouldn't be taken lightly. "They're fantastic, but they are a last resort."

The above article by HANNAH DAVIES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 11, 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

'Turn the world to Islam'

A lot of this would ordinarily be harmless religious nuttery but the violence associated with such attitudes makes it of concern

Radical Islamic literature, DVDs and websites are proliferating across Melbourne while authorities are seemingly helpless to stop the underground trade in hate talk. In tucked away Melbourne bookshops and prayer rooms, as well as online, text and recordings commonly slur Jews and urge followers to Islamise the world. The faithful are told to obey only Sharia law.

A Sunday Herald Sun audit of Islamic bookshops found dozens of books, pamphlets, DVDs and CDs with radical and sometimes violent messages. One book, Man-Made Laws Vs. Shari'ah, urges Muslims not to "accept anything from their governments and rulers except sharia", stating any other system is heresy. The book prescribes stoning for adultery and drinking alcohol and advocates flogging for casual sex. The same text claims the Jews have always waged a war against Islam.

Another booklet, The Conditions of La Ilaha Illa Allah, states all children of Israel are going to hell. "A painful torment is theirs because they used to tell lies," it states. It describes a Muslim's aim as "to strive for a returning to the true Islamic way of life . . . and to bring about a society guided upon the Revelation and for the Laws of Allah to be applied upon the earth."


Global warming extremists will never be satisfied

The highly polluting nature of Victoria's brown coal, which it uses to generate electricity, has always been a great anomaly in the Bracks Government's claim to leadership in combating climate change. It would therefore be reasonable to assume that yesterday's announcement of a $100 million federal government contribution to improving the environmental profile of burning brown coal would be cause for celebration by those who campaign hardest to stop global warming.

Think again. Greens leader Bob Brown says the Government should fund only renewable energies such as wind and solar. And Greenpeace has denounced the Victorian clean-coal deal on the basis that even though carbon emissions might be less, a new plant would still cause an overall increase.

Such extreme positions demonstrate once again that these groups are not serious about tackling the substance of the problem. This is because, if successful, the Victorian project would reduce the carbon emissions from burning brown coal by up to 50 per cent, making it a more environmentally benign than the higher value black coal reserves of NSW and Queensland. What's more, the research is being undertaken in association with Chinese interests and is therefore directly relevant to helping address the world's most pressing climate change issue, China's rapid industrialisation.

That climate change politics represents the new front line for anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation campaigners is not new. This is why the Government is right to reject climate change demands that risk economic wellbeing, both for Australia and the developing world. And it is why Labor must be careful how it handles the debate.

While Australian commercial television networks are jumping on the climate change bandwagon with sophisticated graphics showing tornadoes ripping through Sydney Harbour Bridge, debate is increasing about the quality of the science underpinning global warming hysteria. A recent Channel Four documentary in Britain, The Great Climate Change Swindle, presents a coherent argument for why governments must hasten slowly in responding. The British documentary highlights the anomaly that temperatures are rising faster at the earth's surface than in the upper atmosphere, directly contradicting the greenhouse hypothesis. It also highlights the fact that ice core data relied on by global warming alarmists actually shows world temperature increases occurred hundreds of years before corresponding rises in the level of atmospheric C02, again contradicting greenhouse theory. The program puts forward evidence to show the world's climate is controlled by clouds, which are controlled by cosmic rays, which are in turn controlled by the sun.

This is not to suggest the Government should not help fund ways to improve the environmental performance of Australia's coal industry. But as the Victorian example shows, some will accept nothing less than overturning the world's industrial order, dooming billions to continued poverty in the Third World.


Jewish dingbats in Australia

When in 2001 the French ambassador to the UK made an off-the-cuff remark calling Israel a "shitty little country", he was articulating a feeling that is commonly seen and heard throughout Europe whether in immigrant ghettoes or at posh dinner parties. And while in Europe opposition to Israel is largely cloaked in strategic cowardice - Western support for a Jewish state only makes us a target for Islamic terrorism - across the Middle East all the demented ancient fantasies of anti-Semitism, from blood libel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, are still given wide airing.

All of this is useful to bear in mind given news of the formation of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, which claims to "dissent" from the supposed uniformity of opinion among high-profile Australian Jews on the subject of Israel. Yet even as IAJV purports to take the moral high ground it promotes a dangerous moral equivalence between Israel, a legally sanctioned state created by the UN, and its neighbours who have since its birth repeatedly tried to push it into the sea.

And we wonder what controversial Israeli actions they feel they are not allowed to disagree with. Yitzhak Rabin's signing of the Oslo Accords, which enshrined the principle of land for peace only to be roundly violated by the Palestinians? The growth of the Kadima party, which was formed by no less a hawk than Ariel Sharon and is predicated on giving up territory for security, and which is now the largest party in Israel? Likewise their wilfully naive analysis of Israeli-Arab relations ignores the reality of Middle Eastern geopolitics and the bloody struggle between Sunni and Shia Islam. Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's antagonistic comments towards Israel have failed to provoke uproar in Europe. But Iran's nuclear ambitions have lifted tensions throughout the Middle East and forged a new level of co-operation between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Certainly, Israel is not without sin. But it is a democracy that has voted repeatedly for peace and coexistence. This will not be possible until its enemies come to the same conclusion.



It gives believers the feeling that they are doing something useful -- and hassling big, successful businesses is SO satisfying! No mention that the research findings are consistent only with very weak effects and then only at high levels of exposure. Two reports below:

Nutritionists and health campaigners have welcomed plans by fast-food and baked-goods giants to phase out harmful trans-fatty acids from their products following federal government pressure. A meeting of food industry representatives in Sydney yesterday agreed to come up with a plan by September to remove trans-fats, which are suspected of raising the risk of heart disease and have already been banned in some overseas jurisdictions.

Federal Assistant Health Minister Christopher Pyne, who called yesterday's meeting, had threatened to force food companies to declare trans-fat levels on nutrition information panels if a voluntary reduction were not agreed. At present, information panels only have to include details about trans-fats if the food in question is making a health claim about the fat it contains. Mr Pyne said the agreement was "a major breakthrough" and would bring much greater benefits than simply including trans-fats on labels, which he claimed many consumers did not read. "There are some companies that have moved to remove all saturated fats, and I think most other companies will follow suit," he said.

Companies represented at the meeting included McDonald's, Domino's Pizza, Hungry Jacks, KFC, Pizza Hut, Pizza Haven, Oporto, Red Rooster and Subway as well as the Baking Industry Association.

However, experts called on the federal Government to "keep on the case" to ensure the food industry followed its words with action. Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton welcomed the phase-out plan, but added that the "absurdity is that they (trans-fats) were ever there in the first place". "We just need to make sure this isn't a delaying tactic - McDonald's got kudos for saying several years ago they were going to take trans-fats out of their products, and they are only just doing it now," she said. "The real message to the public ought to be: don't eat these foods."

Trans-fats occur naturally at low levels in meat and dairy products, but they are also made artificially by dissolving hydrogen in oils to make them solidify. Trans-fats extend shelf life and improve texture, and are widely used in fast foods and baked goods. They are thought to be even more damaging to health than saturated fats, because as well as raising levels of dangerous low-density lipoprotein cholesterol they also reduce levels of the good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein.


One tenth of one percent of trans-fat is "harmful"? So it says below: Totally unproven, to say the least. Lots of foods would naturally have higher concentrations

A leading fast-food company has refused to bow to the Federal Government's demand it remove harmful fats from its products. The Assistant Health Minister, Chris Pyne, hosted a meeting of industry leaders in Sydney yesterday but failed to secure unanimous support from fast-food groups for healthier cooking. Yum! Restaurants, which owns the KFC and Pizza Hut brands, attended the meeting, and according to sources there remained silent throughout, despite being given three chances to speak against an undertaking to meet a September deadline for a plan to remove trans fats from all products and reduce the use of saturated fats.

Yum! Restaurants said in a statement released after the meeting that KFC Australia had been using palm oil - which is 52 per cent saturated fat - "for many years" and had no intention of converting to a healthier cooking oil. "Palm oil has less than 1 per cent trans fats, and as a result our chicken and chips all contain less than 0.1 per cent trans fat," the statement said. "As these levels are already extremely low, we have no plans to change our recipes or processes from this." Yum! Restaurants declined to comment further.

The Australian Heart Foundation says the palm oil used by KFC is far from healthy. Its view is backed by a 2003 World Health Organisation report that found consumption of palm oils contributed to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The burger chain McDonald's announced last year it was swapping its liquid canola oil blend for a canola-sunflower blend with about 12 per cent saturated fat content. Palm oil and canola-sunflower oil have identical trans fat content (1 per cent).

Responding to Yum! Restaurants's statement after yesterday's meeting, Mr Pyne said: "Everyone made a commitment to return in September with a plan how to reduce both trans fats and saturated fats. [Yum! Restaurants] were part of that meeting, and they signed up by omission. I will be insisting they, too, return in September with a plan for [reducing] both . We are expecting the industry to co-operate in the removal of unhealthy cooking processes, but [if they don't] there are other tools available to government to achieve this aim."

Mr Pyne denied he had undertaken to also broach the subject of industry disclosure of trans fat content at the meeting. Under present regulations, trans fat content need be declared only if the product makes a health claim such as "99 per cent fat free". This means that trans fats on most food are lumped in with beneficial unsaturated fats, which help lower cholesterol. Trans fats, on the other hand, not only raise cholesterol levels but also destroy the benefits of the "good fats" present in a food.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rising ethnic crime in Australia

We are all considered to be too immature and irrresponsible to be told which ethnic groups are the problem but you don't have to be Einstein to guess that the Lebanese Muslims are high on the list -- followed probably by the Vietnamese. The Han (Chinese) and the Jews will be low on the list. "New Zealanders" (Maoris and other Polynesians) have a high rate of criminality but they probably do not figure much in the sort of crime discussed below

It’s not considered politically correct to draw links between crime and ethnic groups. But that’s what South Australian police force has done in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry on organised crime, warning ethnic based groups are an fast emerging threat. The submission also foreshadows potential struggles between the ethnic groups and more traditional organised crime networks for control.

"Ethnic based crime groups not currently recognised as high threat are beginning to emerge and will continue to evolve. This may cause some conflict with crime groups that currently exist,” South Australia Police says in its submission.

“These emerging groups bring with them their expertise associated with particular criminal commodities and it is likely that they will expand their interests once they are familiar with the Australian legislative and criminal environments. “In time individuals will break away from these ethnic based groups and become significant entities in their own right. “ The submission says there is an intelligence gap when it comes to what is known about ethnic crime groups in Australia.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission is holding an inquiry into the future impact of organised crime. It will look at the best strategies to tackle the threat and investigate whether present laws are adequate.

The SA Police submission says the most under-reported serious offence associated with organised crime is extortion. “It is a very profitable form of crime and in the absence of complaint, there is no evidence to substantiate related charges. Assets derived from the extortion are legitimised using the business structures available to crime groups,” it said. “Victims and witnesses are intimidated and extremely reluctant to report the crime and/or give evidence. “

In a separate submission SA’s Director of Public prosecutions warns that the move to easy “low document” loans and reduced checks before banks issue credit cards is proving a boom for fraudsters. The submission says it has become relatively easy to for an offender to secure a loan or a credit card over the telephone, online or by fax using forged documents. The banks or financial institutions make “minimal verification checks”, making them vulnerable to high organised fraud.


TV viewers keen to save planet? Not really

TEN Network's programmers are baffled. With so much attention on climate change and consumer research indicating viewers were keenly interested in a 2« hour feast of practical advice on how they might save the planet, Ten's ratings for the Cool Aid blockbuster on Sunday night were still a disaster. Viewing numbers peaked at 618,000, compared with more than 1.6 million each for Grey's Anatomy and CSI on Seven and Nine respectively, and averaged just 464,000 people across the country.

"Truthfully, we're confused," says Ten's network head of programming, Beverley McGarvey. "They didn't come. It's not like they came to the show, sampled it and went away. They didn't come. "We had study guides in schools, we had the full support of the print media, [Natch!] both editorially and with advertising, and an extensive [Ten Network] on-air campaign with a number of different creative treatments and different stances. "We spent a fortune to get the audience there and it didn't work. We've talked about it quite a lot internally. We're disappointed."

Ten isn't alone. Despite the focus on climate change, the green conundrum is alive across myriad product categories, including toilet paper. Australians spend $500 million a year on the stuff but just $20 million each year goes to brands using recycled paper. Since 2005 the category has been in decline, although it showed some promise in the latter part of last year.

The success story for Australian paper manufacturer ABC in the past 18 month has been its conventional brand Quilton stealing market share from big brands such as Sorbent and Kleenex, rather than improved sales of its recycled Naturale range. "Recycled as a category is bugger all," says Joe Hancock, managing director of Gorilla Communications which developed the Quilton ad campaign Loves your Bum. "Using recycled toilet paper is a no-brainer yet people are not prepared to make the sacrifice on their arse." Toilet paper and TV shows are entirely different categories but both are facing the same challenge on the green front - how to get mass appeal and then turn a buck.

The latest research says it should be possible. Grey Global's annual Eye on Australia consumer trends study is about to release its findings for 2007. On the environmental front, Australians say they're interested in environmental issues and behavioural change. "For the first time this year people say they can make a difference when it comes to the environment," says Grey's managing director, Jane Emery. "Roughly 60 per cent say they can make a difference." The biggest shock in this year's survey, however, is that 50 per cent of Australians now say they will need to start "dobbing each other in" for bad environmental behaviour such as wasting water resources. "That's a major change," says Emery.

But between all the pro-environment rhetoric from consumers, Grey also found disparities between sentiment and behaviour. Part of the Eye on Australia work includes an ethnographic study where researchers visit homes. "People are quite passionate about it but when you wander around the house, all they've got is a bucket in the shower," says Emery. "They don't know what to do." If Ten Network's experience means anything, the masses may not really want to.

Planet Ark's chairman and Australian frontman for Al Gore's hit documentary An Inconvenient Truth, John Dee, begs to differ. "We are naive if we think everyone is going to drop their spending habits overnight," he says. "To get people to switch brands, you are striking at the heart of why people buy brands. "When people say they really care about the environment they really do care. What gets in the way of rhetoric and action is price and quality." Dee argues education is critical, pointing to a mail-out of "how to save" leaflets to 5 million homes last week by companies such as Bunnings, Philips, Hills Industries, CSR's Bradford Insulation, and mailhouse Salmat. "So much of the Government rhetoric which has gone out to combat climate change has been around costing jobs and damaging the economy that households don't realise many of the changes they can make can actually save money," says Dee.


National standard for teachers

Are we REALLY going to get teachers who can spell and add up?

Teacher graduates will have to meet uniform standards of literacy and numeracy for the first time under a national system to accredit education courses. The draft framework, approved by state and territory teacher registration boards and obtained by The Australian, sets out mandatory requirements that education courses must meet for teachers to be registered in government, Catholic or independent schools across the nation.

The framework, developed by the Australasian Forum of Teacher Registration and Accreditation Authorities, will specify required levels of literacy and numeracy as well as content to be taught in teacher education courses - a minimum four years of full-time study and a minimum amount of practical classroom experience. Institutions will have to provide evidence of "a mix of professional studies, discipline studies and embedded professional experiences (and) ensure appropriate subject content studies," it says.

A spokesman for AFTRAA said the policy would, for example, specify the level of science a student must study to qualify as a science teacher. "At the moment, there aren't explicit requirements that are national and in some places there aren't explicit requirements at all," he said. Teaching courses that fail to meet the standards will not receive accreditation, and the qualifications of their graduates will not be recognised by schools.

The framework comes amid a national debate over the need to increase the standards and professionalism of teachers and moves toward a common school curriculum framework for all states and territories. The Federal Government and the Labor Opposition have both committed to introducing a core national curriculum as a way of improving standards and avoiding syllabuses being hijacked by educational fads. National accreditation of teacher courses is the first step toward national teacher registration and professional standards, which AFTRAA is expected to go on to develop. With a shortage of teachers, particularly in maths and science, national recognition of teacher qualifications is an important step in allowing teachers to move more easily across state borders.

The AFTRAA comprises all state and territory teacher registration boards and was charged by the council of the nation's education ministers to develop national recognition. At present, the accreditation for courses varies widely between the states and territories and this framework will provide mutual recognition, so that a course accredited in one state will be recognised in another. The move effectively sidesteps the federal Government's process for accreditation of teaching courses through Teaching Australia, which is intended to be voluntary. It is considering a model ranking courses using a star system instead of ensuring standards.

The Australian Council of Deans of Education welcomed the framework and its president, Sue Willis, said the deans were strongly committed to a national system for accrediting courses. "We have nothing to fear; teacher education can only benefit from high common standards of accreditation," she said.

But Professor Willis said the council was "totally underwhelmed" by the idea of voluntary accreditation as proposed by Teaching Australia and by using rankings instead of standards. In its reply to Teaching Australia, the ACDE argues that rankings would "significantly compromise the value of accreditation" and that such a system should be separate to accreditation. Professor Willis said the council had argued for national accreditation for the past 10 years and wanted a one-stop shop, so was concerned about how the AFTRAA process would work with Teaching Australia. "We want one accreditation framework, one set of accreditation rules, which everyone applies," she said.

ACDE is also concerned by the lack of representation of teacher educators on the AFTRAA boards, particularly given its intention to prescribe the content of teacher courses. A spokesman for federal Education Minister Julie Bishop welcomed the AFTRAA framework for moving to a national system of accreditation. "The more work that's done in this area, the more likely we are to see a positive change and higher standards in teacher education," he said. The AFTRAA spokesman said that the forum welcomed the involvement of Teaching Australia in the process and there was no reason it could not help co-ordinate the work.


Queensland to shower by the clock

Where Greenie dam-hatred has got Queensland

A small, plastic egg timer is the latest weapon in the fight to keep southeast Queensland from running dry. The Queensland Water Commission today announced level five water restrictions that will target in-home water use. The commission says shower timers hold the key to making huge savings in the home. The timers will be distributed widely as part of an education campaign encouraging people to spend just four minutes per day in the shower - down from the average seven-minute wash - to save 36 litres, per person, a day.

But commission chair Elizabeth Nosworthy denied the shower reductions would trigger a body odour problem in the state's south-east. "It's not a big thing," she said. "We're not asking them to give up a huge lot to go from a shower of seven minutes to a shower of four minutes." She said cutting showering times - which could include turning water off while soaping up - was the easiest and quickest way to achieve massive water savings in the home.

Residents will also be encouraged to plug sinks rather than let taps run, run full dishwashers on economy settings, use washing machines only with full loads and use grey water or shower water on gardens. Together with shorter showers, this would save 61 litres per person each day. Water savings devices such as dual flush toilets, water tanks, and water efficient shower heads, dishwashers, and washing machines will also be encouraged. Ms Nosworthy said the education campaign was about changing people's behaviour for the long term.


Monday, March 12, 2007

The health bungles never stop in Australia's oldest socialized medicine system

[Queensland] Health bosses are building a $30 million operating theatre at a Brisbane hospital, while existing theatres sit empty because of a lack of staff. Only last month, the Beattie Government talked of slashing elective surgery spending after a budget blowout. Theatres at Ipswich, Logan and Redland hospitals have been out of action for months because there are not enough staff.

But plans for a new theatre at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, which is next to Health Minister Stephen Robertson's electorate, are forging ahead. The project is part of a $95 million refurbishment promised for QEII during the election campaign. It will incorporate 30 beds and will open early next year, aiming to cut the number of patients waiting too long for operations.

The Australian Medical Association has criticised building new theatres when others sit idle. State president Zelle Hodge said: "It's like a scene from 'Yes Minister'. "You have to question why they are building a new theatre when we already have theatres in the same area not being used because of a lack of staff or beds."

Figures show more than 10,000 patients are waiting longer than is clinically desirable for elective surgery in public hospitals - almost 200 of those are classified as urgent. Meanwhile, an operating theatre at the Princess Alexandra Hospital has sat idle for the past four years - used only as a storeroom. It finally opened last month after a Sunday Mail report prompted Queensland Health to take action.

Doctors are disappointed about the new QEII theatre and say other services have been sacrificed to support "another Robertson ribbon-cutting photo opportunity". One member of staff, who refused to be named because of a Queensland Health ban on speaking to the media, said creating more theatres was "a ridiculous plan'. A doctor said: They might as well just pour the money down the drain."

In recent months, two new operating theatres have opened at Redcliffe and Caboolture hospitals at a cost of $68.6 million. The emergency department at Caboolture Hospital is still being managed by a private firm at a cost more than double the standard public running costs - a year after it had to close because of staff shortages.

Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the funding should be spent on extra beds. Queensland Health refused to comment when asked why a new theatre was being built while others stood empty. It also refused to say whether there would be staff available to run it.

The above report by HANNAH DAVIES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 11, 2007

Christian politician calls for a halt to Muslim immigration

The leader of the Christian Democratic Party, Reverend Fred Nile, has called for an immediate moratorium on Islamic immigration to Australia. Rev Nile, who is the longest serving member of the NSW Legislative Council, was speaking to supporters at a gathering in the Sydney suburb of North Ryde yesterday. He said there has been no serious study of the potential effects on Australia of more than 300,000 Muslims who are already here, and Australians deserve a breathing space so the situation can be carefully assessed before Islamic immigration can be allowed to resume.

In the meantime, Australia should extend a welcoming hand to the many thousands of persecuted Christians who are presently displaced or at risk in the Middle East. "I pray that within a decade, Muslims in Australia will clearly have demonstrated their commitment to Aussie values including democratic pluralism and the rights of women. We can then assess whether Muslim immigration should begin again," he said.

Rev Nile is leading 21 Christian Democratic Party candidates contesting seats in the NSW Legislative Council at the March 24 state election. Fifty-three Christian Democratic Party candidates are also running in Legislative Assembly electorates across the state.

Rev Nile said there are many reasons why it's appropriate for NSW voters to make a statement on a federal issue as important as immigration. He said NSW has the benefit of a big share of Australia's Middle Eastern Christians, and they're rightly alarmed at the rapid growth in NSW of Islamic concentrations, where the English language is disregarded and Australian family values are unknown or despised


Frozen food now a danger for children

Any hope regarding Crohn's disease is however welcome

World-first research by Melbourne experts has found that frozen food may be the cause of a dramatic rise in immune disorders in children. Studies reveal a bacteria that thrives in freezing temperatures is present in almost half of Victoria's cases of childhood chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Royal Children's Hospital experts proved Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis is present in the digestive system in about half of newly diagnosed cases of Crohn's disease. It is also found in cattle and it is the first time it has been linked to Crohn's disease in children.

More than 45,000 Australians diagnosed with the incurable disease and the youngest patient is only two. The breakthrough research could relieve sufferers, who have difficulty eating and can have weight loss, diarrhoea, fatigue and stunted growth. "The worldwide increase in Crohn's disease far exceeds anything that can be explained by a genetic predisposition alone," RCH head of gastroenterology Dr Tony Catto-Smith said. "We know the bug is present in our environment. And 41 of the 100 CD cases have the bug present in blood, and biopsy suggests some form of association. Whether this bacteria is the trigger is unknown, though."


Leftist avoidance of the education issues

Kevin Donnelly responds to a critique of his new book, saying that Macintyre's review is penned with a "thumbnail dipped in bile". Kevin Donnelly is director of Melbourne-based Education Strategies and author of "Why Our Schools are Failing and Dumbing Down" (Hardie Grant Books). Stuart Macintyre's review of "Dumbing Down" appeared in "The Australian Literary Review" on March 7.

Stuart Macintyre's so-called review of my book Dumbing Down, about the parlous state of Australia's education system, in The Australian Literary Review this month unfortunately teaches the reader more about Macintyre's prejudices and idiosyncrasies than what the book is about.

Macintyre begins his critique by detailing the central role he played in civics projects under the Keating and Howard governments. In the first 880 or so words, we learn that then prime minister Paul Keating personally selected Macintyre to head a review of civics education; that Macintyre, given his unfamiliarity with school curriculum, travelled Australia at taxpayers' expense, researching how civics was taught in schools and how the Kennett government's "draconian policies", to use his words, destroyed Victoria's system of school education.

Readers are also told, notwithstanding an undergraduate degree in English and politics, 18 years teaching secondary school English and social studies and an MEd and PhD in curriculum, that my contribution to discussions about civics education in shared meetings was "restricted to generalities" and "sometimes naive and tendentious". After wading through additional irrelevant and gratuitous comments, such as Kennett government education bureaucrats supposedly describing me as Rasputin and the federal Government employing me as a consultant to the civics education program for a "substantial sum", never quantified but not as much, I would suggest, as some academics earn as a result of Australian Research Council grants, Macintyre finally realises that what he should be doing is reviewing Dumbing Down.

After pointing out some grammatical and other mistakes, Macintyre all too briefly summarises the book's central concerns about falling standards and the politically correct nature of the curriculum. Macintyre also provides a superficial summary of the book's argument that the culture wars of the 1960s and '70s help to explain educational experiments such as outcomes-based education. Macintyre's diatribe finishes with the claim that debates about falling standards and the politically correct nature of the curriculum represent a strategy to divert public attention from the fact that the federal Coalition Government supposedly fails to fund education properly.

Ignored is that state ALP governments have the primary responsibility for funding school education and that the reason federal government funding to non-government schools has increased is because increasing numbers of parents are deserting government schools; the reality, as it should be, is that the money follows the child.

Those who have read Macintyre's book The History Wars, in which he famously compares Prime Minister John Howard with Caligula and extols Keating's big-picture politics on issues such as reconciliation, multiculturalism and the republic, will know, notwithstanding his arguments in support of "academic honesty" and against resorting to "personal abuse", that Macintyre often fails to follow his own advice. When referring to my involvement in civics education, comments such as "He was retained to assist our work by offering specialist expertise but he didn't do much of that" and "Someone from the other side of the table muttered darkly that he was always invigilating the work of the department. Hence his nickname, Rasputin" demonstrate a decided lack of professional integrity.

In arguing that I fail to explain what is meant by outcomes-based education, Macintyre also shows he has either not read the book or, if he has, is guilty of misrepresentation. Not only does the book provide a definition of OBE in its glossary but it also gives a detailed analysis and description of Australia's adoption of OBE in recent years.

Macintyre writes: "The suggestion that outcomes-based education licensed an abandonment of education standards is false: on the contrary, it was an application of evidence-based methodology to the measurement of standards." Not only is such a sentence a prime example of the type of edu-babble that bedevils education, but the claim that Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education is based on evidence that it has been successful, here or overseas, also is wrong. As outlined in Dumbing Down, when outcomes-based education was introduced into Australia, it was experimental, it had been adopted by only a handful of countries and, according to NSW's Eltis report, there appeared little evidence that it had been successfully implemented elsewhere.

Macintyre is also incorrect when he states: "It had taken considerable negotiation for the states and territories to reach agreement in the late 1980s on a set of national statements and profiles that at least identified 'key learning areas'." The facts are that the development ofthe Keating government's national curriculum occurred during the early '90s and most education ministers at the July 1993 meeting inPerth refused to endorse the statements and profiles.

Macintyre states that I am wrong in suggesting Australian students do not perform well internationally, when he writes: "Nor do the standard international studies of student achievement support Donnelly's claims that Australia trails well behind other countries." An unbiased reading of Dumbing Down will show, in relation to achievement, that I never argue that Australia is "well behind other countries"; what I state is that we are in the "second eleven" and consistently outperformed by five to six other countries. I also acknowledge that Australian "students did very well" in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Program for International Student Assessments for 15-year-old students.

Of greater concern, if it were true, would be Macintyre's claim that there is a "paucity of evidence" for my claim, as a result of Australia's adoption of OBE, that standards are falling. Not only do I quote many examples demonstrating that standards have fallen, including a commonwealth study that reveals that almost half the academics interviewed agreed that standards had fallen over time, but I quote from the 1996 national literacy tests showing that 29 per cent of Year 5 children could not read at the minimum level and 33 per cent of Year 5 children did not meet the minimum standard in writing.

In suggesting that I restrict arguments about the curriculum being dumbed down to subjects such as English, history and mathematics, Macintyre conveniently ignores that a good deal of the book addresses broader, but no less important, issues such as the deleterious effect of non-competitive assessment and OBE-inspired approaches to learning such as constructivism and developmentalism.

On the concluding page of The History Wars, Macintyre admonishes those he describes as conservative history warriors for acting like bullies and for forsaking reasoned argument in favour of caricaturing opponents and impugning their motives. On reading what he has to say about Dumbing Down, it is clear he fails to follow his own advice and, to paraphrase Banjo Paterson, Macintyre's review, instead of being balanced, is penned with a thumbnail dipped in bile. [For the victims of a modern education, Donnelly is here alluding to a line in the famous A.B. Paterson poem "Clancy of the Overflow"]

It is also ironic, while Macintyre bewails my contribution to the education debate as "oversimplified, alarmist and opportunist", that the ALP, at both state and national levels, has recently and somewhat belatedly embraced what I have argued since the early '90s, often as a lone voice; that is, that curriculums should be teacher-friendly, concise, written in plain English and based on the academic disciplines.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Journalists let Leftist leader off the hook

By Christopher Pearson

Some commentators on national politics are content to put a point of view. Others always seem to want to dictate the terms of the debate and to patrol the boundaries, announcing where the middle ground is and what questions are out of order. I think of them as the orchestrators of the national conversation and note, in the wake of damaging detail about Kevin Rudd's dealings with [corrupt] Brian Burke, that they were especially busy last week.

Matt Price is The Australian's Sketch columnist and, along with columns in various Sunday papers, he also has regular spots on radio in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. On Wednesday he wrote that most of Australia was heartily sick of hearing about Burke. He reckoned "the shellacking Rudd has been copping from the Government has been both preposterous and counterproductive". He even promised, if the Burke imbroglio improves the Coalition's standing in the opinion polls, to buy a panama hat and eat it, an undertaking I'm looking forward to watching him honour.

Of course it's only natural that Price, the leading chronicler of Kevinism and its rich vein of comic possibilities, should want to keep the Opposition Leader in play as long as possible. He probably thinks of him with something of the proprietorial fondness most 1970s cartoonists felt for Billy McMahon or the Schadenfreude evident in Max Gillies's impersonations of Bob Hawke.

Far less forgivable were Michelle Grattan's performances as political editor of The Age and daily contributor to ABC Radio National's Breakfast program. Her measured tone in either medium belied the fact she was engaging in a lot of special pleading on Rudd's behalf. Her most brazen moment was on Wednesday, when she led a comment piece with the line: "The federal Government's attack on Kevin Rudd over the WA corruption scandal backfired yesterday when John Howard promoted to the front bench a senator with shares in companies linked to disgraced lobbyist Brian Burke."

The suggestion was that there was some kind of moral equivalence between the Opposition Leader's entanglement with Burke and senator David Johnston, in common with thousands of other people, having bought shares in two publicly listed mining companies that paid Burke to lobby for them. But as Johnston pointed out, it was a ridiculous suggestion. Ordinary shareholders have no say in such decisions; they're matters for company directors.

Try as the fourth estate may to trivialise Rudd's problems over Burke, there's no getting around his demeanour from Thursday afternoon until Sunday, when the heat was really on. His body language during the first long press conference was shifty and evasive. He seldom looked directly at the people who'd asked questions as he answered them. In later encounters with the press he ignored unwanted questions, stuck to a script and looked sweaty and sometimes panic-stricken. For the most part the media may have decided that there was no further case to answer, but he behaved like a man who could see everything coming horribly unstuck. Even on Monday, during his press conference in the Treasury Gardens in Melbourne, a reporter from The Age noted his right leg was trembling.

It is a pity that so few commentators at the time pointed out something the whole of the political class takes for granted. Rudd's decision to face the media may have looked courageous. However, it was far less risky than the traditional recourse of those who claim to have been misrepresented, which is to state your case in parliament, where misleading statements, even if unintended, can have direr and more immediate consequences.

Just how much less forensic than political opponents the press gallery is apt to be is obvious from a reading of Thursday's transcript. Take, for example, this exchange over Rudd's reasons for being in Perth:

Journalist: "Could I put it to you that while the leadership wasn't on the boil then, that you'd been engaged in a long-term strategy to have yourself known to the far regions of the party empire and that ... you went to Western Australia three or four times in the year for, at least in part, that purpose?"

Rudd: "No, that is not the case. I had a job as the shadow minister for foreign affairs. I also had subsequently a job as the shadow minister for trade. The presence of me in the west was because we were receiving general requests from the national secretary and others to get the message of the party out to every part of the country, and I was doing that. And I can't recall what other functions I was attending at the time. I'm sure there was a number of them. I remember, for example, on one of those visits, I can't exactly remember when, speaking to a whole bunch of students at the University of Western Australia. I remember also speaking to a large number of, a gathering put together by KPMG in Western Australia."

Rudd denied it point-blank, but even his most one-eyed supporters should acknowledge the benefits that constantly criss-crossing the country in 2005 had for his long-term leadership ambitions. The claims of the press conference as a place for testing politicians' truthfulness pale by comparison with the forum of parliament. Apart from showcasing Rudd's phenomenal recall of precisely what he didn't say, Thursday's encounter demonstrated that most modern journalists are too polite - at least when it comes to dealing with Labor leaders - to do their jobs properly.

If that sounds a harsh judgment, think about Rudd's vagueness on the matter of what he could remember about what he was doing on his visits to Perth. The public has a right to know and you might even imagine it would be in the leader's interests to set the record straight. In fact, we don't need to rely on his memory because we know that, along with everyone else on the front bench, his staff members keep a diary for him and hard copies of it are routinely printed out for them so they know where he is and when he can be contacted. If the media were interested in finding out what commitments he had in Perth, they should have demanded to see the diary entries for the relevant days.

Had he been making a statement to the house about his doings, as the Prime Minister often does, he'd have been expected as a matter of course to consult his diary and furnish details, and woe betide him if his account was less than exhaustive.

What was on Rudd's mind that set his leg trembling? Why did he repeatedly accuse Howard last weekend of taking the nation to war "on a lie" about weapons of mass destruction when he did not reject the evidence of WMDs in such terms at the time, if at all? Why accuse Howard of lying - that word again - about the AWB fiasco, when he knows a royal commission cleared all the relevant ministers of misconduct and found AWB had misled them? Why, most intriguingly, was he upping the ante so far as to call for a snap election, despite all the practical difficulties with getting half-Senate polls out of alignment with general elections and plenty of candidates not yet preselected.

Accusing someone else of lying when your own truthfulness is in question is a primary school gambit, although I seem to remember teacher's pets sometimes got away with it. Can Rudd have thought most people wouldn't notice that's what he was doing or that they wouldn't care? Or was he perhaps hoping to send a semi-coded message: I may have been a bit loose with the truth but he's a habitual liar, far worse than me?

As for the cry of "bring it on, let's have an early election", the obvious attraction is that it's a great way to change the subject. Winning an election would also be the best way to establish, or to reinforce, his moral legitimacy to govern, especially if it had been called into question or was at imminent risk of being impugned. Burke hasn't had anything to say about his meetings with Rudd but, then, he doesn't have to say anything and it doubtless suits his purposes better not to do so. Right now his silence is worth a great deal to federal Labor. Can there be any serious doubt that Burke probably has the power to destroy Rudd with a single phone call, where it's a case of his word against the Opposition Leader's? Such is the cunning of the snare that Burke wouldn't even have to be telling the truth to end Rudd's leadership.

Rudd has allowed himself to become a hostage for the foreseeable future. Never mind what may or may not emerge of what he said to Burke in the course of at least one call to a phone line we now know was being tapped by the Corruption and Crime Commission. Rudd may not have realised until last week it was suddenly brought home to him, along with the rest of us, how comprehensively Burke had got his hooks into him. As Peter Costello put it, "Burke saw him coming and played him like a piano."


Dear fun police, you'll never take me alive

By Caroline Overington

Late in 2004, gadfly Christopher Hitchens was asked by his editor at Vanity Fair to take a walk around New York City, breaking all manner of rules. Hitchens did as bidden: he sat on a milk crate, put his feet on the subway seats and rode a bicycle without putting both feet on the pedals. (It must have been something to see, since Hitchens often wears his shirts open to the waist to better display the hair on his belly, apparently known as the "Pelt of the Hitch".) He tried to smoke while drinking at a bar, putting forward the position that cigarettes improved his memory and digestion, and made him a finer writer. Still, he was quickly told to put it out.

For this orgy of lawlessness, Hitchens could have been fined many hundreds of dollars. The point, of course, was to demonstrate how safe (and dull?) New York has become, with so many petty rules in place. Surely the people would soon rise up and riot? In fact, it's getting worse. Last month, a New York lawmaker proposed a ban on the wearing of gadgets such as iPods while crossing the street because people have been killed doing just that, oblivious to cars while grooving away to loud music. There is talk of banning the word nigger - even in music - because it's so offensive.

Hitchens says there is "nobody good enough in the world" to be a censor, let alone of language. "No one should have that job," he said recently. "That is a flat-out fundamentalist proposition to me." Why, he complained, "is one not allowed to go to hell in their own way?"

Of course, what starts in New York spreads like lava across the globe and so the pettiness has come to Australia. Last week two Sydneysiders were banned from smoking in their home, a decision that came after organisers banned the Mexican wave at the cricket, which came after Sydney's Waverley Council announced a plan to ban trans fats, which came after music fans were warned not to wave Australian flags at the Big Day Out.

Then, last week, organisers announced a list of restrictions for the walk celebrating the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. People would not be able to just turn up on the day and saunter with abandon. Walkers would have to register in advance and say how many people would be in their group. They wouldn't be able to bring a skateboard or an excited puppy. Worst of all, they would be told what time they could start walking, and there would be no stopping on the way.

Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Roger Clarke who, as with Hitchens, has had it up to here with officialdom, says the issue is basically one of "gutlessness; we are quivering at the ludicrous". My colleague Peter Lalor, author of The Bridge, is also dismayed. In his magnificent book, he tells the tale of a nine-year-old boy who rode more than 1400km on horseback, unsupervised, from Leongatha in Victoria just to make the official opening. But that was 1932: now, even Lalor admits he won't let his nine-year-old cross the street without supervision.

We know why it's happening, of course: we are trying to take the pain and risk out of living. The trouble is, it can't - and shouldn't - be done. When I wrote about the rules for the bridge walk in The Weekend Australian last Saturday, a kind reader got in touch to say: "Yes, it's as if the length of life is the only thing that matters." Which, in turn, is like that old joke: if you give up alcohol, cigarettes, red meat and magnificent sex with people you hardly know, you may not live longer but it will certainly feel like it.

I can't count the number of reckless things I've done in the past week, but here's a sample: I rode my retro-styled motor scooter to the beach wearing not leathers but a bikini; I dived from a cliff into the sea at Tamarama while carrying a handful of my recently departed dog's ashes, even though the beach was technically closed and there were blue bottles all about, because I wanted to have one last swim with her; I sat in the garden with a neighbour and we laughed and drank so much red wine that we forgot it was a school night and let the children fall asleep in their uniforms on the loungeroom floor.

The following day, we bounced around on our trampoline, which is the old-fashioned type with no fence around it, so we could have fallen off at any time and snapped a bone. And when it started to rain we got so soaked we had to peel off our clothes. None of it was safe, not all of it was painless, but we felt magnificently happy and alive, and that is more important.


One big happy nuclear family

Nuclear power is looking palatable to more people, and this will please the Government, reports Dennis Shanahan

For a while it looked as if John Howard had leaped too far ahead of public opinion on nuclear energy and got himself into serious electoral trouble. The ALP certainly thought so and at the last Labor national executive meeting eight days ago, approval was given to a draft letter for ALP candidates to frighten the life out of their constituents about a nuclear power station in their back yard.

Howard and the Liberal leadership are convinced the benefits of being seen to be forward-looking with nuclear energy as a carbon-free energy source is a long-term winner with those concerned about a cataclysmic future from global warming brought about by the use of fossil fuels. There are, of course, Liberal MPs in marginal seats who are frightened of Labor's not-in-my-back-yard campaign. The Prime Minister's campaign for the past two years has been directed at a big-picture image of doing something practical about greenhouse gas emissions, with a view to metropolitan seats that worry senior Liberal ranks.

Labor, as it battles accusations of being anti-job for adopting green policies and urging the the limitation of the coal industry through the Kyoto protocol, is trying to give way on some of its longstanding ideological positions and recognise the futility of a ban on new uranium mines. An expected change of policy at the national conference next month allowing new uranium mines in Australia could easily lead to the opening of several new mines through to 2012 in Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, and the expansion of our $570million-a-year uranium export industry. That could lead to all sorts of jobs in prosperous mining areas and greenfield sites with high levels of indigenous unemployment - not to mention prolonging the resources boom. This is consistent with Labor polling on uranium mining being more acceptable than nuclear energy.

The other side of Labor's coin is to run all the harder against nuclear power in Australia and conduct a populist not-in-my-back-yard campaign while promising to address the greenhouse gas emissions problem by ratifying the Kyoto protocol and lifting targets for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Labor has polled people on the impact of a nuclear power station on their real estate values and found devastating results. Hence, the questions to Howard about whether he would allow a nuclear power plant in his own lower north shore Sydney seat of Bennelong. Howard steadfastly refused to rule it out, but there's little doubt a floating wind farm taking over Lavender Bay on the harbour or a pig manure bio-mass plant on the city foreshore would be taken equally askance.

Historically the issue of nuclear power in Australia has been flirted with by various governments - Liberal and Labor - but opposed by the population on the basis of not wanting a nuclear plant nearby, the prospect of adding to radioactive waste and the sheer expense.

Al Gore's Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth and the British Government's Stern report, which warned of the catastrophic economic and social impacts of man-made greenhouse emissions - "worse that the two world wars and the Depression combined" - have changed public perceptions around the world. Every peculiar local weather event is seen as a result of global warming.

While a storm of public opinion was brewing, practical steps by governments around the world on nuclear energy, as well as self-interested actions undermining emissions-trading schemes, have combined to change the underpinnings of the nuclear industry. It's like a perfect storm building in disparate Atlantic nations. Nations with unimpeachable social progressive agendas, such as Sweden and Finland, are choosing to expand nuclear power; the British Labour Party, under greenhouse zealot Tony Blair, is considering renewing its nuclear power stations; neutral organisations such as the European Union are promoting safety in the former Soviet states; long-term nuclear nations such as France are providing waste treatment; and nuclear holocaust threats such as Russia and the US are moving towards recycling nuclear waste.

The EU's attempts to establish a carbon-trading market and push a price incentive to cut greenhouse emissions have effectively failed. The price for a tonne of carbon has slumped from E33 ($56) to just a single euro per tonne after a second round of overallocating carbon credits. Even Brussels-based green groups such as the Climate Action Network are despairing and describe the lax credit allocation and market as "a major disappointment and worrying precedent".

The Australian nuclear debate, such as it is, has missed these developments politically although the public appears to have raced ahead. According to the latest Newspoll survey, when asked about nuclear power linked to solving greenhouse gases there has been a dramatic reversal with more people supporting nuclear power than not for the first time. During the past four months support for nuclear power has risen from just 35 per cent in December to 45 per cent last weekend and opposition has fallen in the same time from 50 to 40 per cent.

Previous Newspoll surveys in May and December last year had the highest support at 38 per cent and lowest opposition at 50 per cent with 40 per cent being "strongly opposed". The key difference stems from the question of trying to reduce greenhouse gases. While there was traditionally a higher level of support for nuclear energy among job-loving males, at 53 per cent, there was little support among health-conscious women, at 38per cent. Interestingly, support for nuclear energy was up at 49 per cent among 18-to-34-year-olds, suggesting a sharp awareness among younger Australians about greenhouse gas emissions. People are still overwhelmingly opposed to having a nuclear power plant in their back yard, with only one in four saying they would support a nuclear plant in their region. The strength of Labor's NIMBY campaign is political. Yet it is a dangerously narrow proposition given the speed with which popular opinion is shifting.

In France, where 80 per cent of the domestic electricity comes from nuclear plants, there is now a PIMBY effect - Put It In My Back Yard. One of the key reasons to build a new, third nuclear plant at Flamanville in Normandy was positive lobbying from local councils, business and people wanting to add to the more than 10,000 direct jobs in the area dependent on the nuclear industry. There are court challenges to the planning for the plant but they are not locally popular. France has come to live with nuclear plants and the jobs and cheap electricity that go with them. France's leading-edge nuclear recycling and reprocessing plant at La Hague has encouraged French politicians and power generators to claim France has solved the nuclear waste problem. It is said to cut net waste by 95 per cent. The French are returning remaining waste locked in a vitreous mass to the customer.

By about 2012 Australia will be accepting back its processed waste from the Lucas Heights nuclear research centre and will be confronted with a practical demonstration of nuclear recycling and waste storage.

Sweden and Finland, bastions of social democracy and environmental protection, are also expanding their nuclear energy programs because they fear less snow will result in less hydroelectricity in Scandinavia and they don't want to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. All these countries want energy security first and in a form that is greenhouse-friendly second. Of course, they are expanding their renewable energy sources with huge offshore wind farms, solar plants and solar thermal heating but they believe they cannot provide base-load electricity from these sources.

These are some of the iron laws of energy logic - all nations, including the developing economies of India and China, want energy security. Even China is prepared to cut projected economic growth to cut greenhouse emissions. Fossil fuels and nuclear energy will provide the bulk of the world's electricity needs at least until 2050. If you accept the need for immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases a lot by 2050, you have to consider the options of expanding renewable energy sources, taking advantage of "low-hanging fruit" by lifting energy efficiency, developing clean-coal technologies, using more natural gas and using more nuclear energy.

Howard's response to the Newspoll results this week was cautious and he still wanted to reassure the coal industry, which affects so many seats: "We have a future and growing demand for electricity and I think what over time is going to occur, if we are sensible, is that nuclear is going to be factored into that and it will contribute to the generation of electricity in the future and that will not necessarily mean that jobs are going to be lost in the coal industry." Australian politics is still sensitive to nuclear scares and coal industry job losses but the speed and strength with which the public has grasped concerns about global warming could override both sensitivities in the near future.


Bipartisan Australian support for Bush's Asian policy

Democrat win worst scenario for Asia

By Greg Sheridan

Labor leader Kevin Rudd is a strong admirer of George W. Bush's foreign policy, especially in the area of most importance to Australia, namely Asia. Rudd recently told the Nine Network's Laurie Oakes: "There are many things that the Bush administration, its foreign policy in east Asia, has done absolutely right. "For example, the success in recent times in bringing the North Koreans to their senses over their nuclear program, the very skilful management, so far, of the China-Taiwan relationship."

This is a view shared not only by the Howard Government but by all arms of the Australian bureaucracy. Australia's ambassador to the US, Dennis Richardson, told The Australian this week that the Bush administration's record in Asia is impressive. Richardson said: "Over the last few years, the US has improved its bilateral relationship with each of China, Japan and India. I think you would have got long odds a few years back on that happening. And that set of trans-Pacific relationships determines the strategic environment in which Australia lives."

Richardson is dead right. The implication of both Rudd and Richardson's judgments (certainly shared by the Howard Government) is that the most difficult thing a Rudd government would face in Washington would not be the dying days of a Bush administration but a new Democratic administration, led by Hillary Clinton or someone else.

Just consider the scale of the Bush success in Asia. In US foreign policy, Asia is basically a Republican gig. The Democrats do Europe. When Bush came to office he stacked his foreign policy team with people with deep and diverse Asian experience: Colin Powell, Rich Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Jim Kelly and many others. They implemented highly effective Asia strategies. Remember in the early days of the first Bush administration the wiseacres were all predicting a war between the US and China? Instead the relationship has been exceptionally stable. The Bush administration, while making sure China does not cross any red lines over Taiwan, has also disciplined Taiwan and dissuaded it from any grand pro-independence gestures, while protecting its de facto independence. The Bush administration has eschewed any protectionism towards China. China-US relations have had their ups and downs, but broadly they have been an unqualified success.

Japan has been an even bigger success. Mike Green of Georgetown University, writing in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, describes the ties between Bush and Japan's recently retired prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, as "the strongest relationship between a US president and a Japanese prime minister in history". More than that, just as envisaged in a pre-election document authored by Armitage, Japan was encouraged to a strategic and diplomatic renaissance, including renegotiating the US-Japan alliance so Japan is more a reciprocal security partner for the US than previously, and encouraging the trilateral security dialogue between the US, Japan and Australia.

India has been even more dramatic. The new strategic partnership between Washington and Delhi, including the nuclear partnership, is potentially more important than Nixon's opening to China, and also proceeds from long-standing analysis by Bush's senior Asia hands.

Now there is the agreement with North Korea, which admittedly still has a long way to go. There are two salient points about it. It was a triumph of the US mechanism, the six-party talks, because it involved South Korea and Japan giving aid to North Korea that the US Congress would never have allowed the US to give itself. And it represented success by the Bush administration in finally getting China to put some pressure on North Korea.

Add to that renewed high-level US attention to Indonesia, including the administration's long and successful battle to get Congress to lift restrictions on US-Indonesia military-to-military relations, and the most intimate US-Australian alliance since World War II.

The Republicans get Asia because they like Asia and spend a lot of time there. The Asian security system is essentially a US Cold War construct that Republicans have been running for the majority of the past 60 years. But there are deeper, structural reasons why Republicans do Asia and Democrats do Europe. In Asia, the nation state reigns supreme and everyone guards national sovereignty. They co-operate but they co-operate as separate nations. In Europe, liberal international institutionalism - the UN, the European Union, and others - has more of a hold. Obviously, with exceptions, Republicans are comfortable in Asia, Democrats in Europe.

So while the Middle East is a mess, Asia is an unqualified success for Bush, and this is of primary importance to us. Australian officials have already worked systematically to identify key figures in a likely future Democrat administration. Those nominated include: Bill Richardson, the Hispanic former governor of New Mexico; Jim Steinberg of the Brookings Institution who was formerly Bill Clinton's deputy national security adviser; Kurt Campbell, a former Pentagon official who has extensive Asian ties; and Richard Holbrooke, who went within an ace of being Clinton's second secretary of state.

Holbrooke is a worry. Around Asia there is a lot of quiet concern about a future Democratic administration on several grounds: will it be more protectionist on trade, will it be weaker in the war on terror, will it have the same military commitment to Asian security, and what sort of secretary of state would Holbrooke make from an Asian perspective? I have heard Holbrooke argue, to a room full of Asianists, that the US is a European power but not an Asian power, and that the US will always be more deeply concerned with the internal politics of Europe than Asia. That's a fair summation of the default Democratic view. Whether Rudd, Howard or Peter Costello is PM in 2009, perhaps the worst thing he could confront would be a Democrat in the White House who would be less attuned to Asia, and therefore far less helpful to Australia.


Saturday, March 10, 2007


There is always a drought somewhere in Australia so more rainfall is highly desirable. New climate modelling suggests that 'Asian Haze' has boosted Australian rainfall -- but, true to form, the Greenies still manage to find a dark and gloomy lining in even that silver cloud

New research suggests that elevated particle emissions resulting from increased economic activity in Asia may have increased Australia's tropical rainfall. Until now, there has been ample evidence that these particles have important effects on climate in the Northern Hemisphere but little such evidence in the Southern Hemisphere. Because the sky is generally blue over Australia, climate scientists have tended to assume that these particles (called aerosols) are essentially a Northern-Hemisphere problem.

Recent simulations using the CSIRO climate model suggest that the `Asian haze' is having an effect on the Australian hydrological cycle and has generated increasing rainfall and cloudiness since 1950, especially over northwest and central Australia. The effect occurs because the haze cools the Asian continent and nearby oceans, and thereby alters the delicate balance of temperature and winds between Asia and Australia. It has nothing to do with Asian pollution being transported directly over Australia.

This implies that decreasing pollution in Asia later this century could reverse this effect and lead to an increase in Australian drying trends. We are only at the beginning of understanding the trends but sooner or later these emissions will be cleaned up and then a trend of increasing rainfall in the northwest and centre could be reversed. This is potentially serious for Australia, because the northwest and centre are the only parts of Australia where rainfall has been increasing in recent decades.

An aerosol is a haze of small particles or droplets suspended in the atmosphere. Representing aerosols in climate models and understanding their influence on cloud formation and rainfall is one of the biggest challenges facing climate scientists. Climate modelling is a valuable tool for teasing out what is actually causing climatic changes, rather than simply assuming that future trends will be an extrapolation of existing trends.

This research, to be published early in 2007 in the Journal of Geophysical Research, increases confidence in the accuracy of future climate simulations for Australia, because it improves the simulation of 20th century rainfall trends over Australia. Since the cooling effect of aerosol pollution is possibly comparable to the warming effect of increased levels of carbon dioxide, one message from this research is that aerosols are an essential inclusion if we are to accurately describe present and future Australian climate.

The new research is based on simulations performed with a new low-resolution version of CSIRO's global climate model - including a treatment of aerosols from both natural and human-induced sources. The work was done in collaboration with scientists from the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting at the Australian National University; the University of Michigan's Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton. A copy of the full paper can be downloaded from here.


Affirmative action at work

Hiring someone on the basis of what they have between their legs is not likely to lead to a top quality appointment -- as Queenslanders are learning about their feminist governor. The post is largely ceremonial but, being vice-regal, is very prestigious. The Leftist Queensland government that appointed her to the post is known for affirmative action appointments -- in the legal system particularly. The governor is formally the head of the legal system. She would appear to be a rather arrogant and unpleasant person when not on her best behaviour. Vice-regal figures are normally expected to be beyond reproach

Government House has been thrown into turmoil with the dramatic arrest of a footman, the theft of jewellery and allegations of harassment and bullying. Police said Darren Andrew Sills, 39, was arrested in a swoop on Government House, but was still on the run yesterday after skipping bail. Sills served Governor Quentin Bryce and visiting dignitaries.

The security breach is further embarrassment for Ms Bryce, who has been criticised for what staff say is her autocratic style. Police said the Sills warrants related to "relatively minor" thefts at Cairns, and were unrelated to the reported theft of four valuable rings from Ms Bryce's personal jewellery box. The rings were reported missing a month before Sills joined the staff. The Order of Australia medal awarded to the Governor's husband, Michael Bryce, was considered to be of little value by the thief.

Staff are bitter they are under suspicion while the case remains unresolved. Meanwhile, staff are leaving in droves with departures including three chefs, an under butler, a chauffeur, a personal assistant and a second footman. Staff complain of unnecessary interference by Ms Bryce, who even insisted that gardens be torn up so purple and pink flowers could be planted for International Women's Day.

There has been an exodus of long-serving staff since Ms Bryce, an ardent feminist, was given the plum job in July 2003. The vice-regal crisis worsened this week with whispers of possible strike action in support of a chauffeur, Lee Sinn, who told his union he had been bullied by management. He was supported by the Sergeant of Arms, Terry Hunter, who also filed a harassment claim with the Queensland Public Sector Union against management. Mr Sinn was infuriated when ordered to remove a small indigenous badge from his lapel. Mr Sinn said yesterday his issues were with managers, not the Governor, who had always treated him courteously.


Economic vandalism: Left-wing unions are up to their old tricks again

It is with extraordinary timing that the ALP's left-wing union affiliates have hijacked Labor's economic credibility, just as the strength of John Howard's decade-long economic miracle has been reaffirmed. Denouncing economic neoliberalism, the Left block has called on Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd to ban free trade agreements and public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects. They have called for the federal Government's superannuation reforms to be abolished, despite the bipartisan support they have received, the first-home owner's grant to be means tested and for negative gearing tax incentives to be scrapped for rich speculators. Bemoaning that some members of the Left have dumped alternative economics for the language of privatisation, deregulation and competition policy, the union block is championing a return to old-fashioned class warfare with policies to punish the rich by scrapping tax trusts and banning share options for high-income earners.

Coming, as it does, on the day that the national accounts figures showed NSW had escaped recession and the national economy remained in robust health, the Left's call is not the sort of economic choice Labor should be wanting to take to voters. For Mr Rudd, it adds to a growing list of concerns that must be confronted at the ALP's national conference, to be held on April 27-29, including how to deal with growing public support for a nuclear fuel industry and counter extreme calls from within his own party to wind down Australia's coal export industry and ban big carbon-emitting businesses to combat climate change. Mr Rudd already has enough on his plate confronting the ACTU's hardline stance on rolling back the federal Government's Work Choices legislation while simultaneously trying to woo small business and the growing army of Howard-voting small contractors who used to belong to Labor.

The common thread for Mr Rudd is to keep his party firmly anchored to the middle ground and not allow it to be hijacked by extreme elements. Ill discipline in the area of economic management is the last thing Mr Rudd needs. But it is the challenge being issued by the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, the Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union, the Community & Public Sector Union and the Australian Education Union. This Left alliance represents more than 700,000 workers and will control a sizeable block of the 400 votes at the ALP conference.

The Commonwealth Public Service Union's decision to consider affiliating with the Labor Party, as reported in The Australian today, is further bad news for Labor's economic credibility, even if affiliation cannot take place before the national conference. For Mr Rudd and Labor, this is more than simply a behind-the-scenes technical battle. To succeed against the Government, Labor must connect with middle Australia and remember that the economic reforms of the Hawke and Keating years, including the embrace of globalisation and the introduction of compulsory superannuation, provide its best message for voters to demonstrate economic credibility.

Just as British Prime Minister Tony Blair was forced to stare down the old-school socialist warriors to fashion New Labour, Mr Rudd must remain focused on the main game. If Mr Rudd allows himself to be sidetracked into fighting endless ridiculous battles within his own party, he will surely lose the war that matters most for Labor, the one against John Howard.


Australian scientists discover effective malaria treatment

Scientists from the Northern Territory Menzies School of Health Research say they have discovered an effective treatment for the strand of malaria found in the Asia-Pacific region. Senior researcher Ric Price says two treatments for the vivax strain of malaria have been successfully trialed in Papua New Guinea.

The treatment combines a Chinese herbal extract and a longer-acting anti-malarial drug used to combat the more deadly strain of the disease found in Africa.

Dr Price says the disease costs developing countries tens of billions of dollars a year. He says this treatment will help relieve that strain. "Forty per cent of the world's population is at risk of vivax malaria and there are nearly 250 million cases a year in the region," Dr Price said. "So not only does this treat the infection but it also protects you from reinfection, so that has special relevance for people in endemic environments."


Friday, March 09, 2007


Global warming bad for health?

This is hilarious deception. It is COLD weather that promotes flu etc. Warm weather is good for you in many ways. Brisbane is warmer than Sydney. Does that mean it is less healthy? There is no sign of it. Australia is so big that people can choose just about any climate they like to live in. They do so now and they always will. Tropical North Queensland or chilly Tasmania? Take your pick!

And the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports: "There were no clear patterns in reporting of health-related actions between States and Territories" (p. 6 here). And note that one of the Territories concerned was the very hot Northern Territory! Both hot and cold climates have their advantages and disadvantages but overall there is a balance.

And if the 0.6 degrees C. warming observed across the 20th century is repeated in the 21st, they will not notice the difference even if they stay exactly where they already are

Children in rural Australia will face health problems as climate change starts to bite, and the impact on adults will go much further than the depression that is already affecting some drought-hit farming communities. A national rural health conference heard yesterday that health effects of climate change on rural communities would also include family stress, breathing and respiratory problems caused by more airborne dust and domestic hygiene and infection problems caused by poorer-quality drinking water.

Disruption to agriculture would affect food production, raising prices and lowering the quality and availability of vegetables and other healthy products. Rates of smoking, alcohol and other drug use could also be expected to rise.

Tony McMichael, director of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, said in a keynote speech to open the conference in Albury, NSW, last night that there would also be direct effects, such as the increases in numbers of people killed by heatwaves, storms, floods and bushfires. Research by the centre and the CSIRO has forecast that, among people aged over 65 in Sydney, the death rate caused by heatwaves could rise from the 40 deaths per 100,000 people to between 79 and 239 deaths per 100,000.

Dengue fever and other tropical or mosquito-borne diseases - currently confined to the Top End between Broome and the Cape York peninsula - would also extend southwards as far as Carnarvon on the west coast and just north of Rockhampton on the east. Professor McMichael said recent research by his centre had also shown that parents' stress was conveyed into the family home and increased stress hormones in young children "with immediate and long-term implications for their emotional development and their general bodily health". "We need to be aware of the emerging problems here, and do proper research, and develop intervention strategies," Professor McMichael told The Australian. "We are not talking about new problems that people haven't had before in severe droughts. We are talking about them becoming long-term, and at some level permanent." Suitable strategies included better early-warning systems for severe weather events, better community supports and better infrastructure design.

Tony Hobbs, a GP in the NSW Riverina town of Cootamundra, and chairman of the Australian General Practice Network, said rural doctors were already under pressure and said a significant rise in ill-health would probably force some care to be delivered by nurses and other health workers instead of GPs. "This drought has already had an impact - we have already seen rising rates of depression, including at my practice," Dr Hobbs said. "If this cycle were to continue, that would put an added burden on general practice."


Police escorts as Sydney buses run gauntlet

Maroubra and La Perouse have a significant black population

Violence and vandalism on Sydney's streets has become so rife that, for the first time, police cars are being used to escort buses through danger areas. In a bid to counter brick and rock attacks by bored thugs, armed police are boarding night buses and accompanying them in marked vehicles.

Areas around Maroubra and La Perouse face being cut off from public transport altogether amid fears by Government bus drivers that someone is going to be killed in the near-nightly hail of bottles and bricks. A woman was hit in the head by a half brick and passengers showered with glass in the latest incident.

The step to use police to protect buses on the 394 and 391 routes comes as western Sydney operators battle to stem vandal attacks by using private security guards. Some suburbs, including Bonnyrigg, Cranebrook, Glenmore Park, Lethbridge Park, Prospect, Willmot and Quakers Hill, are declared "no-go zones" when missile attacks flare up. Sydney's largest operator, Westbus, has begun trialling CCTV cameras mounted on the outside of buses to counter thugs.

In the east, police officers from Operation Beachsafe have been seconded to ensure the passage of buses into and out of South Maroubra, Malabar and La Perouse. With State Transit already paying security guards seven nights a week on these services, police and transport officials will meet today to discuss a long-term solution.

Bus driver Christian Jaure said the situation at La Perouse was bordering on being out of control. "It's the worst I've ever seen it," Mr Jaure said. "The troublemakers never buy a ticket and there's not much the driver can do about it without support. "They just pull the emergency brake (which slows the bus and opens the back door) wherever they want to get off. They don't bother with bus stops."


Childcare scandals prompt overhaul

Too little too late

A string of devastating child-protection scandals in Western Australia last year has sparked a $100million overhaul of child services - the biggest in the state's history. Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse will be adopted in a major backdown by the Carpenter Government, which has fiercely opposed it in the past. And the embattled state Department for Community Development, implicated for failing to protect vulnerable children in its care, will be split in two to create a new Child Protection Department.

Premier Alan Carpenter yesterday also indicated that a more hardline approach would be pursued to remove children from parents who put them at risk. He promised more group homes and other places for at-risk children and more support for struggling foster carers. Western Australia is the only state without mandatory reporting and Mr Carpenter said he was still concerned it could "overload the system" with unsubstantiated reports. But he accepted that tough measures were needed to ensure children were safe. Doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers would all be required to report suspected child sex abuse under legislation to be introduced later this year.

The Premier came under enormous pressure last year after revelations about the death of 11-month-old Wade Scale shocked the country. Baby Wade drowned in a bath after being returned by the department to his drug-addict mother and violent father despite repeated warnings from relatives concerned for his safety. The department's actions were strongly criticised by Coroner Alastair Hope. It was also revealed that about half of all child deaths notified to the Coroner had some form of contact with the department before they died.

Frontline childcare workers attacked the Government for inadequate resources which stopped them investigating some abuse cases and left them with nowhere to send children in at-risk situations. The Australian revealed that up to 900 cases were placed in a queue because all caseworkers had full loads, prompting Mr Carpenter to inject an extra $50million over four years to address urgent problems. The Premier also established a major review into the department. Its report was released yesterday, with all but one of 70 recommendations adopted by the Government.


Mr Bean bakes in the Southern sun

A leisurely day out for Mr Bean and his famous friend Teddy has caused organised chaos at Sydney's Bondi Beach. In a stunt to promote his new film, Mr Bean's Holiday, Rowan Atkinson's alter-ego Mr Bean, wearing his trademark tweed jacket and red tie, dipped his toes in the surf at the famous Australian beach yesterday. Arriving by bicycle, the popular international star was all smiles as he waved to a growing group of gobsmacked onlookers, before setting up his post at the beach.

The English-born phenomenon managed to utter a few phrases. "It's very nice here," he grinned. "The weather's hot, but the water's very cold." Asked what he thought of Bondi Beach, which played host to hotel heiress Paris Hilton this year, Mr Bean gave it two thumbs up. "Oh, I love it. It's the best Bondi Beach I've ever been on . . . it's a nice place for a holiday."

Surrounded by a troupe of lifesavers, Mr Bean wasn't shy of getting into the Aussie spirit, wriggling into a pair of Speedos -- over the top of his trousers -- before taking time out to meet one of his youngest fans, Jackie Lawrenson, 2.

The toddler from North Bondi was walking with dad Gordon when they spotted her idol. While the tot appeared terrified cradled in Mr Bean's arms, Gordon said his daughter was the actor's No. 1 fan. "She is a bigger fan then me and has been since she was little," Mr Lawrenson said. "She might have looked scared . . . but I have no doubt tonight she will be saying 'Mr Bean, Mr Bean', over and over again. She loves him."

Mr Bean last caused waves Down Under 10 years ago when he walked the red carpet for his first film Bean. Mr Bean's Holiday will be released on March 29


Thursday, March 08, 2007

The second battle of the lone pine

Last weekend I hiked up to the North Head of Sydney Harbor and took a tour of the coastal defenses, run by the Royal Australian Artillery association -- costing about US$8. The tour group descended into the underground magazines and tunnels of a British designed 9.2 inch coastal battery, which used to sit on armored gunhouse above a concrete barbette before it was cut up and sold for scrap. The Vietnam vet who served as guide described the almost pitiful attempts of the artillery association to keep the artillery museum going. The environmentalists want the old coastal fortifications turned into their version of a park and the day the artillery association fails to turn things over is the day when the greenies foreclose, cut up everything and "restore" things to the state of nature.

One display of particular significance to the artillerymen was the Lone Pine seedling, which grows along a path running behind the crest of the North Head. It was grown from an pinecone gathered from the original tree around which the Australians fought the Turks for several days in Gallipoli. Here's a picture of the plaque and the seedling, which isn't much to look at but has an interesting modern story behind it. For those who can't click on the picture below to read the words on a larger image, I've reproduced what the plaque says:

"The Lone Pine ridge was the scene of a major diversionary attack launched by the 1st Australian Division on the 6th August, 1915. The Turks had cut down all but one of the trees that covered the feature for use in constructing their trenches. The ridge, with the remaining and predominant single Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis), became known as the Lone Pine. In four days of savage hand-to-hand fighting the Australians lost almost 2300 men while the Turkish losses were estimated at 5,000. Seven Victoria Crosses were awarded in the action.

This tree was raised from seedlings grown from a pine cone sent home from Gallipoli by Lance Corporal Benjamin Smith of the 3rd Battalion, AIF. It was planted on the 6th August 2006 to commemorate the 91st Anniversary of the Battle for Lone Pine and is a constant reminder of the sacrifice made by fellow Australians in World War I.

So for the Australian Army, Lone Pine was a significant engagement, along the lines of Iwo Jima or Bastogne. Wikipedia has long entry on the Battle of Lone Pine, but the casualty numbers alone convey the magnitude of the sacrifice. In an era where the loss of 3,000 men over several years in Iraq is considered unacceptable, it is practically unimaginable for modern Westerners to conceive of how a nation numbering only 5 million in 1915 could expend 2,300 men in four days to take a Turkish position -- in the Middle East -- for God, King and Country.

But the environmentalists prohibited the artillerymen from planting the Lone Tree seedling. No pleas, appeals to patriotism or arguments from significance would move them to withdraw their objections. The reason the environmentalists gave was that the Lone Pine seedling would disturb the local habitat. It represented the intrusion of an exogenous or foreign species into an are reserved for indigenous plant life. But more likely it represented an intrusion into their vision of the world. The artillery museum on the North Head is now the refuge of an increasing number of old artillery pieces which were once displayed in town parks, but which have been banished by pacifist campaigns. But at any rate, here's the offending tree, descended from the original.

Pictures were presented to show that present vegetation covering the North Head was entirely post war. But nothing would move the environmentalists. The struggle was in some ways a metaphor for the political divisions in the modern world between those whose concept of a nation is its people and traditions and those who conceive of it as an ecosystem delineated by a United Nations-approved boundary. For one the nation lives in memory, and for the other it lives in a non-sentient land. In this case, the artillerymen succeeded in finding a loophole in the environmental regulations. They surrounded the tree with a very large wooden tub sunk beneath the ground which was then covered over with wood chips to disguise the fact. The second Battle of the Lone Pine was won by technically converting the tree into a potted plant.


Australia's great Leftist fraud

A much acclaimed but very strange far-Left historian -- Leninist in looks and Leninist in sympathies. Towards the end of his life he was a great Australian Labor Party hero. The article below scrambles to put an acceptable face on his demonstrable dishonesty. No conservative would be treated so indulgently. But truth has never concerned Leftists much, of course. Reality-denial is an essential part of being a Leftist. They even admit openly that for them "There is no such thing as truth". More background on Clarke here

As an old man looking back on his life, Manning Clark claimed to have seen with his own eyes the horrors of Kristallnacht. Witnessing this notorious Nazi pogrom changed his life, said Clark, and made him the historian he was. It became the most famous story of a great storyteller. "I happened to arrive at the railway station at Bonn am Rhein on the morning of Kristallnacht," he told the poet John Tranter in 1987. "That was the morning after the storm-troopers had destroyed Jewish shops, Jewish businesses and the synagogues. Burned them and so on . I saw the fruits of evil, of human evil, before me there on the streets of Bonn."

But Clark was not there that day. The historian's biographer, Mark McKenna, reveals this week in The Monthly that Clark did not reach Nazi Germany for another fortnight. The person who saw the broken glass and smoking synagogues on that morning in November 1938 was the woman Clark was to marry. "It was Dymphna Lodewyckx, not Manning Clark, who witnessed the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht."

It's not a small point. In the last dozen years of his life, Clark told the story on radio, on television and in newspapers. He wrote a most moving version in his memoirs: "Dymphna was there on the platform at the Bonn railway station when I stepped off the train early in the morning of 8 November, 1938. We walked in ecstasy up the stairs of the Bonn railway station, out of the darkness below into the light. We were in for a rude shock. It was the morning after Kristallnacht."

McKenna was shaken by the discovery that Clark could not have been there that morning to see the wreckage that foretold the Holocaust. But there was no doubt about it. Working on the Clark family papers last year, McKenna found a letter Dymphna Lodewyckx had written from Bonn to Manning Clark in Oxford a couple of days after these events describing the smashed shops, the ruined synagogue and a rabbi's house in flames: "The violence was over when I came - but the crowds were everywhere - following the smiling SS men, children shouting in excitement, grown-ups silent ."

At first McKenna thought he had made a mistake. "Like many others, I had taken Clark at his word. I had even quoted the Kristallnacht story in my published work. I reread Dymphna's letter carefully, checked Clark's diary entries, and saw that it was impossible for Clark to have been in Bonn on the morning of 10 November. As his own diary confirms, he did not arrive in Bonn until 26 November."

This revelation is bound to reignite the controversies that have blazed around Australia's most famous historian since Clark emerged in the late 1970s as a public defender of the Whitlam government. These attacks culminated in 1999 in an eight-page "investigation" in Brisbane's The Courier-Mail condemning the historian as a communist, an agent of influence and perhaps a Soviet spy. That attack collapsed in derision [according to whom? The facts reported were not challeged, only their interpretation], but the 16 years since Clark's death have seen continuing questioning - both academic and political - of his sweeping six-volume narrative of Australian history, and of the quirky persona he created for himself of the Old Testament prophet in a battered Akubra.

Even so, Clark remains the nation's most influential historian. McKenna's biography, due for publication next year by Melbourne University Press, is one of at least two under way. Presenting his Kristallnacht discovery for the first time to an academic conference last year, McKenna had no doubt the historian set out to deceive. "I am convinced that Clark chose deliberately to place himself on the streets of Bonn, knowing full well that he was not there. This was Clark's inner lie. But he had also told the story in public, and traded on his audience's trust in him as a historian."

McKenna asked: "Does this make Clark a fraud?" His answer then was yes and no: while inventing the details of that morning said a great deal about Clark's self-dramatising character, McKenna didn't doubt for a moment that what Clark learnt of the pogrom and what he saw of its aftermath a few weeks later had the profound impact he always claimed. McKenna writes: "In this sense, there is no fabrication."

But in a chunk of the biography published this week in The Monthly, McKenna has taken a big step back from his original allegation of deliberate deceit. "I believe that the older Manning Clark did possess some awareness of the fact that he was not present on the morning after Kristallnacht," he writes. "But to claim to know the extent to which he was conscious of it is to claim to know the inner depths of his mind." [Can conservatives use that defence too?] The fallible memory of an old man must not be ruled out, argues McKenna. "I know I can never recover what he truly remembered, the memory of his inner voice, the voice only he heard."

But McKenna, a fellow in history at Sydney University, acknowledges the big problem for Clark is the retelling of the Kristallnacht story in the 1990 autobiography A Quest for Grace. Here Clark quotes other letters of his and other diary entries from those months in 1938. "It seems highly unlikely," McKenna told the Herald, "that Manning did not see the letter that showed quite clearly that Dymphna was there the morning after Kristallnacht and not him."

The historian's son, The Australian Financial Review journalist Andrew Clark, has told the Herald, "Mr McKenna has discovered what he believes is a discrepancy in the dates of my father's visit to Bonn . He is not contesting that my father visited my mother in Bonn after Kristallnacht, just the precise date of his arrival." He argued that the fact his father was recalling events 40 or 50 years in the past "goes some way in explaining any alleged discrepancy in dates".

Clark faults McKenna for not providing readers with a full context of those events. "If he had done so, readers would have known that at the alleged time of my father's arrival in Bonn, the Nazis' murderous acts against Jews was still in evidence." He regrets McKenna did not speak to him: "Not because I am my father's son, but because I had extensive conversations with my late mother about this period, conversations which vividly confirmed the enormous impact this evil act . had on my father."

If another round of the so-called Culture Wars is to be fought over Manning Clark's reputation, this piece of operatic scene setting - "both romantic and tragic", writes McKenna, "like Verdi doing Shakespeare" - will be the focus of renewed and perhaps savage controversy. Had Clark forgotten he was not there? Had his wife's memories become his own in a 50-year marriage? Was he mischievously pulling our legs? Or was he setting out to deceive? McKenna is hoping for a nuanced discussion of his discoveries, not one that simply slams Clark's credibility. "He created himself as a myth, cultivating a theatrical persona of the people's priest and sage, telling history as parable. And as the Kristallnacht epiphany reveals, the moral of the parable always mattered more than the facts." [An historian for whom facts do not matter??]


Now we know: The human headline has cirrhosis

Previous post about this on April, 10, 2006

Radio presenter Derryn Hinch has advanced cirrhosis and will undergo surgery to remove a suspected cancerous tumour. The "Human Headline" told 60 Minutes last night he had kept his illness secret for fear of being labelled an alcoholic. "I saw it as the drunk's disease," he said. "I saw it as a weakness in my character. I was embarrassed about it, I was ashamed of it. In my mind it showed a flaw that I didn't like."

The cirrhosis formed on Hinch's liver after years of heavy drinking. Hinch's doctor, Howard Tang, said a transplant might be his only option.

Renowned for his love of wine, Hinch said he used to drink up to four bottles of white wine a day. "We'd have lunch every Friday from 1 to 2. It was 1pm to 2am," he said. Rumours about the 63-year-old's illness have circulated since pictures of him looking gaunt started appearing in the papers and on television. Theories on his condition ranged from Alzheimer's to AIDS. Hinch said he had practically drank himself to death.


Three charged over Melbourne race attack

Why did it take so long? I doubt that any action would have been taken at all without all the media attention

Three country footballers have been charged over an attack on a Jewish man in Caulfield last year. The Ocean Grove footballers, part of a group of 20, allegedly also yelled racist abuse including "f--- off Jews" and "Go the Nazis" at Menachem Vorchheimer as he walked near Caulfield racecourse with his two children last October. An off-duty police officer driving the mini-bus carrying the footballers home from a trip to the races is now the subject of an Office of Police Integrity probe after an investigation by the ethical standards department.

Mr Vorchheimer said the men stole his skull cap and punched him after he approached the bus to ask them to apologise. A man, 23, was charged yesterday with intentionally causing serious injury, recklessly causing injury and assault using insulting words. A man, 28, was charged with theft, while a 21-year-old faces a charge of assault using insulting words. The three Ocean Grove men are expected to face court in about six weeks.

Deputy police commissioner Kieran Walshe declined to comment on the investigation into the senior constable who was driving the bus, saying the matter was in the hands of the OPI. "There could be a disciplinary charge, an admonishment notice or management intervention," he said yesterday. "But no decision will be reached until we receive advice from the OPI."

Mr Walshe defended the the 5 1/2 month delay in laying charges. "This was a very lengthy investigation. There were a lot of people in the vicinity, and we wanted the investigation to be thorough," he said.

Mr Vorchheimer has also launched civil action through the Equal Opportunity Commission against Victoria Police and the officer involved. He said yesterday he was happy criminal charges had been laid, but he felt he had to pursue civil action in order to get true justice. "All the way it's been a long battle, and there's still a long way to go," Mr Vorchheimer said.

Ocean Grove Football Club president Michael Vines said the long investigation had taken a heavy toll on the club. "It has created a fair bit of difficulty. If the air could have been cleared earlier, it would have been a lot better," he said.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Greenie foot-shooting

Ironic: Their global warming hysteria is giving them something they REALLY hate

Fear of global warming has dramatically reversed Australians' attitude to nuclear energy, with more people supporting nuclear power for the first time. In the past four months, support for nuclear power has risen from just 35 per cent to 45 per cent, and opposition has fallen in the same time from 50 per cent to 40 per cent. But people are still overwhelming opposed to having a nuclear power plant in their backyard.

The Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, is the first survey showing more support for, than opposition to, nuclear power stations in Australia. Previous Newspoll surveys, in May and December last year, had the highest support at 38 per cent and lowest opposition at 50 per cent, with 40 per cent being "strongly opposed".

The key difference in the survey results stems from the question of trying to reduce greenhouse gases. John Howard has been campaigning for a nuclear debate in Australia and ordered a report on nuclear power on the basis of fighting global warming. The Prime Minister has constantly referred to nuclear power as "clean and green" and an option that has to be considered to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. From strong opposition to nuclear power, the balance of opinion has turned to being slightly in favour when linked with cutting greenhouse gas emissions....

Mr Howard has been running a campaign on the benefits of nuclear power in fighting greenhouse gas emissions, although Labor is opposed to nuclear energy. The Government commissioned a study into nuclear options for Australia by former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski. Yesterday, Labor launched an extraordinary attack against the integrity of the businessman, claiming he had been put in charge of the nation's nuclear research organisation to campaign for nuclear power.

Opposition industry spokesman Kim Carr said Dr Switkowski could not be trusted as the new chair of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation because he had accepted an invitation to write a report on the prospects for nuclear power. "Once again, Mr Howard has put his own political interests ahead of the nation's, appointing a cheerleader for nuclear power as chair of the board for the nation's only research organisation devoted solely to nuclear science and technology," he said. "There is no doubt Dr Switkowski has qualifications in the area - in nuclear engineering and high-level management - and Labor does not call those into question. "However, Dr Switkowski has also earned his political stripes writing the recent report for the PM recommending that nuclear power is imposed on Australia." ...

Dr Switkowski's interim report found that nuclear energy would not be competitive against coal and gas power for at least a decade, but by the middle of the century the nation could feasibly host 25 nuclear power stations along the eastern seaboard.


The latest on Australia's "drought"

Which we were all told was caused by global warming. Since then we have had flooding in every state. Does that prove global cooling?

Floodwaters have wreaked havoc across the Top End - ripping up roads, isolating communities, cutting the railway line, toppling powerlines and stranding dozens of tourists. But it isn't all misery - mechanic Daniel Mumme took advantage of the conditions to get in some skiing practice - albeit in a flooded road gutter outside his Berry Springs' home. And youngsters found a new swimming hole to play in after this African mahogany toppled over in Moulden.

While there was some relief for damp Top Enders yesterday - with floodwaters receding -showers are expected today. "It has been extremely wet,'' senior forecaster Ian Robertson said. "After such a dry October, November and December, we're back on track. "The Top End can expect more showers in the next few days, but the monsoon trough is weakening, resulting in a return to the usual afternoon and overnight showers and storms and a bit of sunshine in the mornings.''

Major roads, including the Arnhem and Kakadu highways, remained closed last night, while the Stuart Highway had re-opened at Adelaide River. Motorists have been warned to be cautious of roaming cattle when driving near the township. The Adelaide River finally burst its banks yesterday, closing the Arnhem Highway for at least three days. Traffic can go only as far as the Fogg Dam turn-off. A flood warning was issued at Katherine, but was last night downgraded to a flood watch.

Mr Roberston said up to 9am yesterday Darwin Airport had received more than 100mm for its third consecutive day - a record for the rainfall gauge. [If it's a record, it must prove global warming!]


Poorly educated teachers hobble science studies

An ageing workforce and rapid advances in technology could have a serious impact on the quality of science teaching, an analysis commissioned by the Federal Government warns. The study concludes: "It is probable that a significant proportion of science teachers may be out of touch with contemporary science and also lack the skills to change their teaching to meet new challenges." The issues paper, published in October, was written by Professor Denis Goodrum, head of education studies at Canberra University, and Professor Leonie Rennie, of the Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia. The authors said the lack of current knowledge was apparent even in teachers who held university science qualifications. "Many teachers have narrow and specialised degrees, which leaves them with limited content knowledge to teach general science, and their knowledge dates rapidly."

The authors have sought submissions on the document, which will be used to help prepare a science education framework for the federal Education Department this year. The paper says insufficient science training at university means primary school teachers "frequently" lack confidence to teach the subject, and staff shortages have forced schools to use teachers with limited science knowledge. It describes course outlines as "content-heavy and alienating". "Many students find the school science curriculum . to be unimportant, disengaging and irrelevant to their life interests and priorities," the paper says. It recommends higher salaries that recognise the experience of scientists who have switched to teaching, and more money for professional development.

Professor John Rice, the president of the Australian Council of Deans of Science, said unless continuing professional learning was better funded and teachers were required to take part "you're always going to have the workforce going out of date".

The Australian Science Teachers Association and the Australian Education Union said improving support for science teachers would help to keep students in classrooms. "If you are going to do your best to make it engaging, exciting and motivating for students, you not only need a knowledge base, but a passion for the subject itself," said the union's Victorian president, Mary Bluett.

The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers has warned that skill shortages in areas such as engineering would worsen without an increase in enrolments in school and tertiary science courses. "Australia's economic competitiveness will be the casualty in the process," said the association's chief executive, John Vines.

The federal Opposition has pledged to reduce HECS fees for maths and science graduates, with extra cuts for those entering teaching, but the Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, said promoting the subjects to students and improving pay for teachers were better options


A hot chocolate a day found to help bloodflow

Interesting how once-demonized foods like wine and chocolate are making a comeback. Given the considerable health and longevity benefits of being moderately overweight, will fat one day be rehabilitated too?

Hot chocolate lovers can raise their mugs in a toast to Adelaide researchers who have found that drinking cocoa daily has positive effects on blood vessel functions and could help lower blood pressure. The University of South Australia's Nutritional Physiology Research Centre has found that cocoa - rich in flavanols - relaxes blood vessels.

ATN director Peter Howe said the chemical components of cocoa were similar to those found in grape skins and seeds. "They're very similar to other polyphenols found in grapes," Professor Howe said. "Therefore we can also link that to the French theories that drinking wine is good for circulation."

The team's research focuses on purified cocoa. "We're building on studies that show the blood vessels on the peripheral part of the body react to a certain stimulus," he said. Diabetes sufferers, smokers, obese people and those with high blood pressure all have impeded blood flow.

The researchers will now begin a non-invasive study examining whether daily doses of cocoa can have a sustained impact on blood pressure over 24 hours. "It ties in with other research on polyphenols, including red wine and particularly green tea," he said. But Professor Howe said lovers of rich chocolate should not get overexcited yet as researchers were studying a refined cocoa product, rather than products on shop shelves.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Muslims too sensitive, says His Eminence

Muslims are overly sensitive and are the only migrants to have plotted violence against Australia, Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell has claimed. Dr Pell said Muslim leaders needed to develop more appropriate responses to criticism. "In a democratic society, every group is criticised - Prime Minister (John) Howard said quite rightly last year that if Catholics rioted in Australia every time they were criticised, there would be regular riots," Dr Pell said. "It's not appropriate that Muslims regularly reply to criticism with insults, denigration and evasions while avoiding the point of issue, and unfortunately we've seen too much of this from some Muslim public personalities." The comments came during Dr Pell's appearance on a panel about Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia as part of the national deliberative poll.

Dr Pell, who began studying Islam after the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the US, said he had met "many wonderful Muslims". "But there are Islamists who are at war with the Western world - most of the victims of these extreme Muslims are fellow Muslims," he said. "So its important to distinguish accurately your real friends from your enemies and from those who only seem to be friends."

Dr Pell said integration was a "key tool" for a harmonious and secular democratic society. "Equal rights however, carry with them equal responsibilities - problems arise when minorities demand special consideration that places them outside the law as it applies to other citizens," he said. "Flexibility and adaptability are called for when refugees and immigrants arrive in our country but there is a limit in (adopting) minority demands beyond which a democratic host society cannot go without losing its identity."

Dr Pell said there was a small minority of Muslims "who really don't identify with Australia at all and are hostile to it". "There seems to be some significant evidence that some of them are planning violence against us here and elsewhere - that doesn't seem to happen in any other migrant group," he said.

Sydney Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali sparked controversy last year when he compared immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat and suggested that rape victims who did not wear Islamic dress were as much to blame as their attackers. He later appeared on Egyptian television to say Westerners were "liars and oppressors" who had less right to live in Australia than Muslims.

Dr Pell said a fear of Muslims had been "created" by the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and the attacks on London transport in 2005. He said Muslims in Australia were offered the same rights as other citizens but he doubted non-Muslim minorities in the Muslim world were afforded the same equality. "I don't think that's the case. I don't think we could be having a meeting like this in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia," he said. "Christians are being harassed, they're being persecuted and even sometimes in the Sudan being sold into slavery. I would like to know where my Muslim friends stand on this issue."

Sheik Mohammed Omran, from Melbourne's Islamic Information and Support Centre, said it was important to consider why Muslims were fighting against the West. "Why has the youth of England betrayed England even though they are fifth or sixth generation?" Sheik Omran said. "We have to learn from the mistakes of others and not repeat it here." Sheik Omran said Australia had a responsibility to make Muslims feel welcome. "You are the host. When I come to your house as a guest and you welcome me with an open heart, I see your generosity as a human - it doesn't matter what I believe in, I will love you and care for you as much as you care for me," he said. Muslim countries had been great allies of the West during the fight against "our first enemy", communism, and Australia still had a close alliance with Indonesia, which has the world's biggest Muslim population, Sheik Omran said.


Another suspicious hospital death

Queensland Health is about to become embroiled in another medical controversy. The details surrounding the death of Deborah Burgen, 49, will be heard in a coronial inquest today. The Mount Isa hearing is the first significant coronial inquest since Queensland Health was embarrassed by the Davies commission of inquiry in 2005. Paramedics took Ms Burgen to hospital, but she died from surgical complications on February 28, 2005. She was operated on for a twisted bowel.

Ms Burgen's family told The Courier-Mail that: "She was a person who lived for her family. "We feel absolutely robbed, robbed of everything." Unlike the furore embroiling Dr Jayant Patel - who is wanted on several counts of manslaughter, grievous bodily harm and fraud - more than one doctor was assigned to treat Ms Burgen. At least five doctors looked after Ms Burgen over two weeks. One of the doctors who treated Ms Burgen was overseas trained and will give his evidence via video link in India.

Dell Burgen said her sister loved her family and "spoiled them rotten". "She had so much to live for," she said. "She loved to laugh. She would throw her head back and let out a big roar."

State Coroner Michael Barnes, who will hear the case, said the purpose of an inquest was to put on the public record the facts and circumstances surrounding deaths. "It has to consider any changes to policy or practices that could reduce other deaths happening in the future," Mr Barnes said. "The material produced from the inquest can be referred to prosecution authorities of disciplinary bodies for failing to take action."

In yet more embarrassing news for the department, southeast Queensland public hospitals yesterday ran out of psychiatric beds, forcing mentally ill patients, some suicidal, to wait for hours in crowded emergency departments. Australian Medical Association Queensland president Zelle Hodge said hospital psychiatric staff were "almost at the end of their tether" with the huge demand. "The psychiatrists are telling us that they have to work out which are the least sick patients in hospital that they can move out," Dr Hodge said. "People are being discharged not on the grounds that this is an appropriate time for them to go but because they're the person who probably needs the bed least."


A corrupt government "regulator" protected by its Leftist friends

Dumped Tasmanian deputy premier Bryan Green enshrined a monopoly enjoyed by two ex-Labor ministers days after bureaucrats complained that their firm was failing to deliver "essential" services. Documents obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information show the builder-accreditation company was called to a meeting with senior bureaucrats on February 6 last year to respond to concerns about key failings. The meeting was called after a "formal measure-up" of the Tasmania Compliance Corporation identified failures in a raft of areas, some considered "critically important".

The assessment by the Government's Building Standards & Regulation (BSR) concluded that, after more than two years of operation, TCC had failed to investigate a single complaint against a builder. This was despite at least 12 complaints being made - including at least three that "should have initiated an investigation", according to conclusions of the Government's Director of Building Control, Robert Pearce, on February 1. BSR found the company had failed even to develop a complaints mechanism, despite this being an "essential" part of its role in protecting the public from dodgy builders. BSR also found the firm, run by former Tasmanian health minister John White and ex-Queensland prisons minister Glen Milliner, had failed to audit a single builder, even though this was a "critically important obligation". These and a long list of other failures came despite TCC collecting an average accreditation fee of $495 from 2994 builders and building professionals, giving it an annual income of up to $1.48million.

The 6 1/2-hour meeting between BSR and the company on February 6 addressed a range of "concerns" about TCC's performance. Three days later, on February 9, the outcome of the meeting - at which documents suggest TCC was told to "lift" its performance - was discussed by the Government's Building Regulation Advisory Committee. The committee had pushed for an audit of the TCC since September 2005, when minutes of a meeting show it expressed "concern that TCC is not doing (its) job". Minutes of the February 9 committee meeting show Mr Green's office was informed of the failings. "It was noted that the minister's office is aware of the current issues and difficulties in relation to the TCC's performance."

However, six days later, on February 15, Mr Green signed a secret deal allegedly guaranteeing to protect TCC from competition for three years, with compensation of two years' fee income should the monopoly be revoked. The deal was signed two days before the calling of a state election at which both Opposition parties promised to strip TCC of its role.

Premier Paul Lennon insists he and other senior ministers were unaware of the deal's existence until it was revealed in The Australian on June 13. Mr Green resigned in July. In October, Mr Green, his former adviser Guy Nicholson and Mr White were arrested and charged with conspiracy. All three have pleaded not guilty and Mr Green and Mr White are due to appear in court this month.


NSW: Young criminals to be reined in?

The Left-leaning media might be huffing and puffing about the policy below but it is basically a ripoff of a policy of the British Labour government

Teenagers could be jailed for six months if they disobey antisocial behaviour orders the Coalition says it will introduce if it wins power. The Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam, said yesterday that under the plan youths could be prevented from going out at night, associating with certain people or visiting certain areas. Once a troublesome youth was brought to the attention of a magistrate by police, the magistrate could impose the orders, similar to an apprehended violence order, even though the youth had not been charged with anything. Juveniles who breached the orders would face sentences of up to six months.

The Opposition spokesman on police matters, Mike Gallacher, said the orders would be introduced in "certain areas" first. He did not elaborate on those areas, but said: "It'll be up to the police to determine . where they feel would be the best [area for a trial] based on their crime figures."

On Friday, Mr Debnam announced that he would make it easier for 10- to 14-year-olds to be locked up by overturning the concept of doli incapax, which prevents convictions of children unless prosecutors can prove the child knew his or her behaviour was wrong. And he said his government would allow courts to name children over the age of 14 once they had committed a serious offence. Mr Debnam also announced yesterday that if elected he would provide an extra 600 police, bringing his total promise for extra police to 1700. Last night the Premier, Morris Iemma, accused Mr Debnam, who is behind in the polls, of "desperate stuff" with his latest law-and-order announcements. "It was only on Friday he was locking up 10-year-olds; 48 hours later he's had another attempt to try and up the stakes on the law and order issue."

But Mr Debnam said: "Labor has said we want to send 10-year-olds to jail. What a lie. Our policy is for early intervention to rescue the kids, not lose them to a life of crime."

The president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, said imposing antisocial behaviour orders could lead to children being trapped in households where there was alcoholism and violence. The president of the NSW Bar Association, Michael Slattery, compared the orders to anti-terrorism detention orders, and said the "current AVO system works very well".

The Opposition's plan is modelled on controversial antisocial behaviour orders in Britain. The British National Audit office recently found that 55 per cent of orders were breached, and many young people were found to consider receiving such orders as a badge of honour. On Thursday Mr Iemma said he would introduce "better behaviour orders" for youths. Mr Iemma's office said penalties for breaching those orders had yet to be decided. Mr Debnam said the Young Offenders Act would also be amended to allow only one warning and one caution to be given to a young offender "before they attend a youth conference or court for action".


Monday, March 05, 2007


Bureaucracy is a sort of slow-growing cancer. Things look OK at first but the slow decline ends up with the function concerned in a very bad way eventually. The Queensland "free" health service is a very old one (dating from 1944) -- and it is now in such big trouble that patients are dying rather than being helped. The "Dr. Patel" scandal led to apparent reform attempts but the downhill slide continues nonetheless. That there are now three bureaucrats for every health worker is a large part of the cancer. Several articles below. The first is a letter to the editor of the Brisbane "Courier Mail" and refers to the story about elderly public hospital patients being slowly starved that was mentioned here on Feb. 27th. The letter appeared on Saturday, March 3rd.

Hospital shocks

I refer to reports of patients in hospital becoming malnourished. I was a patient in a major public hospital recently. On either side of me were two elderly patients.

Their meal trays would be put on their bed trolleys and half hour or so later the tray person would collect and remove the untouched tray.

I told nursing staff that these people could not reach the trays or feed themselves or get the items open. I was told in a roundabout way to mind my own business. I would struggle out of bed, place the trays close enough to them, open the little fiddly butter/ juice lids and encourage them to eat.

This caused me great distress as for the entire time I was there (three weeks) these two people had very little oral intake. Again when I took it higher to the ward supervisor, I was told politely she would look into it.

I have witnessed enforced a malnutrition on many occasions. It seems the lack of staffing is the crux of the problem. Staff have so many urgent duties to attend to that spending 30 minutes feeding up to 20 patients does not take priority.

On another topic, who made the brilliant decision to mix patient gender in wards at a certain public hospital? It is not good to wake up following surgery to see three elderly male patients sharing the bay with you, and have to spend your time with curtains around your bed to screen out the views of various parts of the male anatomy being left uncovered, as well as procedures being done without any form of privacy being considered. Maybe this is shock therapy to make sure you do not return to this hospital in future.

P. Townsend, Albion

Hypocritical health boss in damage control

Health bosses have sent an urgent memo to staff telling them Health Minister Stephen Robertson has "complete confidence in the public health system". The "Special Broadcast" came after an opinion column in The Sunday Mail criticising Mr Robertson's decision to have heart surgery at a private hospital.

In an email sent on Monday, Queensland Health director-general Uschi Schreiber said: "I am particularly concerned that these media articles include disparaging statements about Queensland hospitals and, by implication, of the people who work in them. "I want to stress that I know from working closely with the minister over the last 20 months that he has complete confidence in Queensaand's public health system and the highest admiration for the people working, in it. "He is a strong advocate for the public health system."

But staff are not convinced, describing the email as "hilarious". One doctor, who declined to be named because of a Queensland Health ban on staff speaking to the media, said if Mr Robertson had faith in the public system he would have used it. "He did exactly what we expected him to do, even though it was a bad political move," he said. "It was a life-or-death situation for him and he's not going to be a patient in a public hospital in a system that he knows is in trouble."

Mr Robertson, 45, chose St Andrew's Hospital at Spring Hill in Brisbane for an angioplasty operation to open his arteries. In the email to staff, Ms Schreiber said: "It is probably worth pointing out that the minister would have been equally criticised had he chosen to occupy a public hospital bed despite having private health insurance."

But one member of staff said Mr Robertson should have gone into a public hospital as a privately subsidised patient. "It would have been a big pat on the shoulders for staff if he had done that," he said. "Morale is low enough without having the Health Minister snubbing us. "They put the email out to stop people making comment, and everyone found it hilarious because we all know the real state of play."

Grandmother Lee Brown, 66, of Redland Bay, has no choice but to wait for her angioplasty at Redland Hospital because she cannot afford to be treated privately. "I read about Mr Robertson in The Sunday Mail while I was in hospital and I thought, `holy mackerel, that's just double standards'," she said. "I don't think these ministers have the faintest idea how to run the health system. They don't live in the real world, where people have to wait for nine hours in casualty."

The above article by HANNAH DAVIES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 4th., 2007

Ambulance response time slips

Response times for ambulances sent to code-one emergencies are getting worse despite record funding for paramedics. More than one-third of patients with life-threatening injuries or illness wait longer for help than the government benchmark time. Queensland Ambulance Service figures show response times have slowed for 2006-07. This comes despite a budget of $355.7 million, up $42.4 million on the previous year. If the trend continues to July, about 5000 additional patients will be affected.

A spokeswoman for Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins confirmed that the number of first-on-scene responses in under 10 minutes had dropped. But she said paramedics had attended more code one emergency cases than ever before. To March 1, the QAS had responded to 5506 more incidents within 10 minutes com- pared to the corresponding period last year. "Each year the demand for ambulance services continues to grow as a result of Queensland s growing and ageing population,' she said. The QAS continues to boost frontline paramedic numbers, with 280 new paramedic position since 2003."

Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell last year said ambulances arrived at code one callouts within 10 minutes in 69.38 per cent of cases. The Government had set a benchmark of 68 per cent which had been lowered from the original 70 per cent. But sources told The Sunday Mail the latest figure had dropped to 66 per cent statewide this year. In some regions of Brisbane, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, response times had fallen to under 60 per cent.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone said the slower response was costing lives. "Taking longer than 10 minutes to respond to an emergency (code one) is a matter of life and death," Mr Malone said. "There can be no arguments that patients have died because ambulances have not got to them on time." He also slammed the Government over the $100 annual ambulance levy paid by all Queenslanders - "with little to show for their money"

"Peter Beattie's promise of the world's best anibulance service has proved to be as hollow as most of his promises", Mr Malone said.

The above article by DARRELL GILES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 4th., 2007

Injured woman waits in pain

A grandmother who broke her leg had to wait in the sun for more than an hour for an ambulance. Lynne Jones, 59, slipped and injured herself at Redland Bay last month. "I was in a lot of pain. I was lying on the grass in the heat, with ants crawling all over me," said Mrs Jones, of Thornlands in Redland Shire. "It was a Sunday morning. You would expect 15-20 minutes for an ambulance to turn up, not 65 minutes. It was totally unsatisfactory."

Mrs Jones' grandson had called Triple-0 and the operator advised not to move her until the ambulance arrived. When her daughter called about 30 minutes later she was told there was no ambulance at Redland Bay and one had to be sent from Wynnum, 25km away. Mrs Jones said Lions Club volunteers who were running a sausage sizzle nearby kept her comfortable, shading her with an umbrella and using a wet towel to keep her cool in the 30C heat.

One of the volunteers drove to the Redland Bay ambulance station, only to find it locked up. "They were starting to get a bit worried for me," Mrs Jones said.

The paramedic who eventually turned up needed help from the volunteers to get her into the ambulance. He expressed his dismay to her about the delay, she said. "It does make you wonder what we pay our ambulance levy for." Mrs Jones said she had waited 45 minutes for an ambulance after a previous fall at a shopping centre. "The service has got worse, not better," she said.

A Queensland Ambulance Service spokeswoman said higher-priority incidents came ahead of Mrs Jones' non life-threatening case. "At the time, the QAS was experiencing an unusually busy period with nearly twice the average workload for that area," she said.

The above article by DARRELL GILES appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 4th., 2007

Victoria's Leftist government looks after its own

Thugs paid to protest!

Protesters who clashed with police in the violent S11 riots have been given a secret payout by the Bracks Government in return for dropping legal action. The Government and Victoria Police have agreed to a $700,000 payment to protesters in the confidential deal. The cash is on top of $600,000 taxpayers have paid in fees for the Government's solicitors. Forty-seven demonstrators and law firm Slater and Gordon will share the windfall. The lawyers are believed to be allocating about $600,000 to cover their fees.

All parties in the legal dispute were tight-lipped about the deal yesterday. The protesters sued authorities after wild riots outside the World Economic Forum at Crown Casino in September, 2000. Protesters spat at and poured urine on police and hurled ball-bearings, marbles, nails, nuts and bolts. Those who sued alleged their injuries, including fractures to vertebrae, sternums and wrists, and shock and anxiety, were caused by police action. News of the payout has fuelled worries that the S11 protesters' success could prompt similar action from participants in November's G-20 riots in Melbourne.

It is understood agreement was reached when the event's insurers -- who will cover the payout -- bowed to the prospect of even higher legal costs. And authorities caved in to concerns that even if they beat the protesters and were awarded costs, they would not have been able to get the money from them.

S11 litigants included comedian Rod Quantock, serial protester Ciaron O'Reilly and an SBS TV cameraman. They alleged they were hurt when police cleared a path for WA Premier Richard Court. The protesters sued the state of Victoria and 953 officers who worked at the riot, including former deputy commissioner Neil O'Loughlin - in charge of the police operation - and former traffic assistant commissioner Ray Shuey.

Inspector Glenn Weir, of Victoria Police, said the settlement resolved all proceedings against police and the state relating to the protest. "The parties . . . are all satisfied that an appropriate resolution has been reached without the need for costly and time-consuming court proceedings," Insp Weir said. Lawyers from Slater and Gordon refused to discuss the case this week.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said the deal was another shady deal by Premier Steve Bracks, who was already under the microscope over a secret pre-election agreement with the Police Association. "The Victorian public will be rightly outraged," Mr Baillieu said. "This is yet another backroom deal and people are sick of Labor's backroom deals."

The police paid out more than $6 million after strip-searching hundreds in a raid on Tasty nightclub in 1994. In 2000, 30 protesters baton-charged by police outside Richmond Secondary College in 1993 were paid $300,000.


Attempt to ban Australia's favourite food

Interstate football rivalry is heating up with Victorian nutritionists calling for a ban on the calorie-laden meat pie at matches. Melbourne Nutritionist Shane Bilsborough says fat-filled pies - consumed by one in four fans at AFL and NRL games - should be taken off stadium menus. His call follows a move by top UK soccer clubs, including Arsenal and Glasgow Celtic, to replace meat pies with wholemeal pizzas.

But Sydney University nutritionist and author Dr Jenny O'Dea says: "This is the food police going overboard. "The idea that one meat pie at the footy will make people fat is wrong.'' And leading health food advocate nutritionist Rosemary Stanton said banning foods just made them more desirable. "But there is certainly a case for making pies more healthy. It would actually be very easy to make a much-healthier version of a pie - it would just increase the price,'' she said.

Mr Bilsborough said pies sold at the MCG and Telstra Dome contain an average 35g of fat and sporting events should encourage people to eat healthier foodoptions. "When you go to the football all that is on offer is pies, chips, soft drinks and pasties - it's all rubbish,'' he said.

But Telstra Stadium spokesman Kyle Patterson said fans had a wide range of food options. "It's a matter of balance and we are happy with where we stand - we are in the business of providing choice and if you want a salad when you are here, then you can purchase one,'' he said.


Sunday, March 04, 2007


This sort of thing has become chronic under Britain's Labour government but the Leftist NSW government has the same virus

When the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932, more than a million people turned up to celebrate. They came on foot and by old-style tram, and they danced all over the road. One boy, aged nine, rode a horse 1300km unaccompanied just to get there on time. But that was 1932, when people were robust, capable of crossing the road without a note from the Premier.

If you imagine the free-wheeling 1930s spirit will reign when the bridge opens to the public for its 75th birthday on Sunday, March 18, think again. At this year's walk, you won't be able to wake up, decide it's a lovely day, put on a pair of sandals and just go. You'll be told when and how and even with whom you can walk. You will have to register before the day, which means going to a website, giving your name and getting a ticket, which will in turn give you a time-slot - say 10am-11.30am - during which you'll be allowed to set off. If you're walking in a group, the organisers want to know how big it is. And you won't be allowed to add to the group once your number is approved. You can only walk one way, and you won't be allowed to stop. There will be no lunches on the bridge.

The organisers - it's the Premier's protocol department, apparently, although the event is sponsored by The Sydney Morning Herald - provide all manner of advice that adults were once thought not to to need: comfortable walking shoes are "critical" while sunscreen is "important", and there must be no rollerblades, no skateboards, no bicycles, no popping open the champagne, and - perhaps worst of all - no glorious golden retrievers straining at the lead. No pets at all.

There will be an Aboriginal smoking ceremony, but that has organisers in a spin. Children, the elderly, the asthmatic and the weak of heart, consider yourself warned. Organisers say: "Smoke may irritate eyes and throat so ALL bridge walkers are advised to stay upwind of the smoke drums".

Pedestrians on the bridge yesterday couldn't understand it. Jogger Ally Corbett said the bureaucracy could "ruin the fun". And Kieran Knox, walking hand-in-hand with Natalie Meredith, said: "I reckon they should block it off and have a festival".

The regulations come during a week in which a Sydney couple were told they couldn't smoke in their own apartment because it annoyed the neighbours. The week before, the Mexican wave was banned at the cricket. And Waverley Council in Sydney's east wanted to ban Australian flags on Bondi beach, air-conditioners and swimming pools.

There was a time when adults were able to pop outside without a hat -- and if they got sunburnt, well, bad luck, it was a lesson learnt, and one to pass on to the kids. Now the Government steps in to warn us even about the perils of getting blisters on the back of our feet. Scott Crebbin, a spokesman for the bridge walk, said: "It's about ensuring it's safe, comfortable and spread across the day."


Leftist luminary shaky on the facts

How characteristic! Conservative commentator Gerard Henderson replies to an attack by wealthy Leftist columnist and broadcaster Phillip Adams

PHILLIP Adams must be running out of topics for his weekly missive in The Weekend Australian Magazine. Only this can explain his use of an entire column last Saturday devoted to me. He constantly referred to me as “Poor Gerard” or “PG”. Pretty funny, eh? Adams confuses ridicule with humour. It’s a standard put-down to cite an opponent by his or her first name, preceded by the adjective poor. It is also a substitute for argument.

However, there was some (unintended) wit in PA’s recent column.  Namely, the assertion that he is “un-insultable”. In fact, PA has one of the thinnest skins in Australian public life.

Last week Adams alleged that we fell out when he chaired an event at the 1999 Adelaide Festival of Ideas. The implication in the piece was that I objected to his introduction and compared it unfavourably with what he said about George Monbiot. In fact Monbiot was not on the platform – he appeared at the festival in 2003.

The leftist in question in 1999 was Beatrix Campbell, who has a regular spot on Adams’s ABC Radio National program. Their combined wit is on display with their constant reference to British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the “beau Blair”. How funny can you get?

In July 2003, Adams sent me a mocking letter. In response, I laughed at your man’s pompous “Phillip Adams AO” letterhead. It seemed ridiculous to me that an irreverent commentator, who regularly laughs at others, should feel the need to proclaim his gong on his personal letterhead. Ever sensitive to criticism, Adams accused me of envy. Shucks.

In conclusion, I should correct two howlers in Adams’s column last Saturday.

As I have repeatedly told Adams, I did not want to replace Jonathan Shier as ABC managing director in 2002. First, I am happy at The Sydney Institute. Second, I would not find any attraction in the task of heading down to Canberra to get a load of taxpayers funds to supplement the lifestyle of Adams and his fellow comrades at the ABC. I note that Adams now concedes that the only source for his rumour is an anonymous ABC board member who might have been telling him a fib. Really.

Finally, Adams’s claim last week that James McClelland was perhaps John Kerr’s closest friend is ridiculous. I knew both men. They did not even talk to one another during the final 15 years of the former governor-general’s life. Before he died in 1991, Kerr attempted a reconciliation with McClelland but the latter rejected the approach.


Taking ownership of black housing

Realistic black leader Noel Pearson explains why privatising welfare housing for blacks can lessen the problem of passive welfare in black settlements

Is inadequate housing and overcrowding the cause of the social chaos and abuse in my home town, Hope Vale, that I described in Inquirer two weeks ago? I may placate my critics if I said yes, but there is no necessary causal connection between overcrowded housing, under-investment in infrastructure and abuse. There are many places in the developing world where large extended families live cheek by jowl in miserably poor housing, and there is no violence, incest and chaos. Many of the world's poorest people are strong in family life and socially rich, even if they are materially poor.

Poor, overcrowded housing does relate to health issues and many social tensions and problems. But it is to engage in denial to say sexual and other violence against one's own people is the consequence of government neglect of housing and infrastructure needs. The honest answer as to the source of the abuse I described last week is grog and drugs. It is the epidemic of grog and drugs, and the chaos and breakdown of social and cultural norms that they have occasioned, that have resulted in people abusing their own kith and kin.

Abuse is not a question of bricks, mortar and money. It is a question of collapsed social and cultural norms and the breakdown of moral codes within families and communities. The problem with the prevailing norms today is that there is too much tolerance of abuse. The great majority of people in dysfunctional communities are not engaged in pathological behaviour and they are opposed to the abuse. The problem is that they are passive and there is a social paralysis in the face of horrific problems.

Most Hope Vale people hate the abuse. But they won't stand up to the abusers. And they won't insist that the behaviour of the abusers must be confronted. Many of them deny the connection between the grog and drugs and the noise and abuse. Yes, they will admit the connection when pressed, but then they will say; "Oh, but it's the irresponsible drinkers who make it bad for the responsible ones." Or they will say: "It's not the grog that's the problem, it's the boredom", or the lack of jobs, or government neglect, or the lack of recreational facilities, or the overcrowded housing.

This is what is known as the symptom theory of substance abuse. This theory argues that addictions to grog and drugs are not the primary problems; their abuse is only a symptom of other problems. The symptom theory is an ideology of social denial of addiction. The denial that the individual addict needs to avoid facing up to their addiction as the cause of their misfortunes, and that of their kin, is furnished by the progressive ideology of the symptom theory. Therefore the editor of the National Indigenous Times newspaper, Chris Graham, argued last week that the main cause of violence in indigenous communities is government under-spending on Aboriginal programs and infrastructure. Both the addicts engaged in abuse and the majority of Hope Vale community members, who would love nothing better than for the abuse to stop, are misled by people such as Graham who put forward the so-called "bleeding obvious" explanation of overcrowding and under-investment in bricks and mortar as the reasons for social problems.

I would say most indigenous people and leaders across the country would concur with Graham's view. It is a measure of the extent to which we are unable as a people to face up squarely to the devil of substance abuse and the perverse ideology it generates. Does this mean overcrowding and insufficient investment in housing and infrastructure are not substantial problems? Of course not. But if we invested the $2.3 billion that has been estimated as the shortfall in indigenous housing provision tomorrow, we would make little progress with social problems. This investment would be wasted without fundamental policy changes.

The policy changes we propose as part of our reform agenda for Cape York Peninsula proceed from an analysis of housing that differs from that of people such as Graham and Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, who see overcrowding and under-funding as the principle problems. While we agree these and other issues such as poor construction and inappropriate design are relevant factors, we believe the poor state of housing is also attributable to the behaviour of householders. Good houses are too rapidly turned into bad houses. The life expectancy of houses on Aboriginal land is ridiculously low, from 10 to 20 years, compared with 50 years for public housing in the mainstream.

Under-funding is not the only cause of overcrowding. The short lifespan of houses worsens the situation as it reduces the number of habitable dwellings. When construction costs of housing in remote areas range from $250,000 to $400,000 a unit, then patently we have to confront the problem. The causes of the destruction of indigenous homes include passivity (people don't value what has been delivered as passive welfare) and the collapse of responsibility. No matter how strong our analysis is on dispossession, government responsibility and indigenous rights, we cannot avoid speaking the truth about passivity and lack of responsibility.

Families must have skin in the game if indigenous housing is to move from passivity to responsibility. This means ownership. The welfare housing model introduced into Aboriginal communities 30 years ago was a poor, inappropriate model characterised by: perpetual tenancy; a mixed record of tenancy management by community council landlords who lose nothing because there is always the next government grant; insufficient rental rates; poor rental collection; and poor maintenance of stock. This model has shaken down to the situation we see today: houses that cost a bomb to repair; houses that have a short life; families expecting to be given a replacement house when the old one disintegrates.

Before we turn to housing on Aboriginal land, we should first acknowledge that home ownership off Aboriginal land - in the mainstream - is an outstanding success. The indigenous home loans program administered by Indigenous Business Australia has resulted in more than 12,000 homes being owned by indigenous families across the country. You compare these privately owned homes with the houses rented by families, black and white, from welfare housing organisations. The contrast is profound. They are well maintained, the owners do not allow over-crowding problems, there is pride and all of the benefits that flow from owning a home.

Home ownership off Aboriginal land is outstandingly successful policy, while welfare housing on Aboriginal land is an irrational disaster. Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough should be working with Aboriginal housing organisations to privatise their housing stock and to vastly increase the funds available through the home loans program administered by the IBA. There should not be waiting lists for loans. Instead of simply cutting off welfare housing allocations to urban areas, the Government should be building on success and pushing the revolution forward. By all means, get away from welfare housing and move people into home ownership, but don't be mean about funding.

As for housing on Aboriginal land, I want to get two issues clear about my views. First, community members should obtain long-term leases, for example 99 years, from communal land trusts, on which they can own their own homes. There is no question of holes appearing on Aboriginal land as a result of foreclosure because the land would remain inalienable outside of the community. Second, this limitation on alienation outside of the community would mean that no real property market can be created in relation to housing on Aboriginal land. Houses will be largely unrealisable assets, more valuable as homes than real estate.

A home ownership program must take into account, therefore, the following issues: first, the affordability of homes in a situation where construction costs are high and incomes are low; second, the undesirability of promoting economically irrational decisions by families as to where they invest their capital (they may be better off investing in realisable assets elsewhere), while understanding the decision to live on Aboriginal land does have its costs.

The Government is talking about 99-year leases, not freehold alienation of title. Why is loss of land therefore being raised as the fear against home ownership? The fact the Government made legislative changes last year that have gone beyond the facilitation of private ownership of leases to community members, and eroded land rights, partially explains the paranoia. But the other source of objection is the failure of people who own their own homes to imagine that the rest of our mob would like the same thing, too.


The decline of Australia's schools

Julie Bishop, the federal Education Minister, was quite matter-of-fact on The 7.30 Report on Wednesday night. "About a third of our 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate." Left unspoken were two other obvious conclusions:

First, these were kids their teachers had given up on. Second, their parents lacked the ability or inclination to rectify the problem at home. For the first time since the mid-19th century, reading has become a chore adults quite commonly delegated to other people and inter-generational illiteracy is becoming an entrenched dimension of disadvantage.

It's with this grim view of the present and the foreseeable future in mind that we should take on board last week's report from the Productivity Commission. As usual, it beat the drum on the benefits of reforming energy markets, transport and infrastructure; unfinished business that can further enhance national prosperity. But it stressed the need for a new agenda: human capital reform. Partly this was a matter of reducing chronic disease and injury to ensure fewer people are excluded from the work force. Partly it was a matter of reforming tax and welfare systems to increase incentives to work. Mostly it was about education.

If ever there were a time for a back-to-basics approach, the Productivity Commission says it is now. The agenda takes in improving early childhood education, literacy and numeracy, better school completion rates and skills training. It estimates substantial reform could add 9 per cent to economic output during the next 25 years, increase household incomes by an average $1800 and lift workforce participation by nearly 5 per cent. It also calculates that during that time it could boost state and federal revenues by up to $25 billion.

The Productivity Commission's brief is to imagine how much better off we'd all be in a more rationally ordered world. Sceptics tend to share Kant's intuition that "out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made". But even so, within living memory, before 1970, we know that ordinary state school students were regularly achieving much higher levels of literacy and numeracy than their present counterparts. Is it too much to ask the current crop of schoolteachers to replicate these results?

According to the annual Schools Australia report, released on Monday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, an increasing number of parents think it is. They are giving up on public education in hordes and droves. In the past decade, private schools have grown at nearly 20 times the rate of government schools. The number of state school students has risen by just 1.2 per cent since 1996, compared with 21.5 per cent for Catholic and independent schools, to say nothing of the more radical option of home schooling, for which reliable statistics are hard to find. In Victoria, where dissatisfaction with public education has long been an issue and nearly 40 per cent of senior secondary students are educated privately, overall enrolments remained relatively steady. In South Australia during the decade, government school enrolments fell by 7.7 per cent and in the ACT by 12.3 per cent.

These regional collapses of confidence in public education are certainly spectacular but they need to be seen against the backdrop of long-term change. Since the Karmel report in 1975 and the era of substantial public funding of non-government schools, there has been a fairly steady drift to the private sector. Jack Keating, an educationist at the University of Melbourne, reckons it at about 0.4 per cent a year. Last year 66.8 per cent of Australian children were in government schools and 33.2per cent in the private sector. If, as seems inevitable, the rest of the country follows Victoria's example, the ratio will soon be 64.6per cent to 35.4 per cent.

The question everyone in the political class is tiptoeing around is this. At what point do most public schools simply become sinks of disadvantage, places where a residue of kids with average or below average IQs and more than their fair share of other problems confound everyone's efforts to teach them life's basic survival skills? You could re-formulate the question by asking: at what stage does the abandonment of public-sector education by what used to be called the lower middle classes reach a tipping point?

Some compare the presence of parents who work in the professions to the proverbial "leaven in the lump" of a school community; the dads who are likeliest to coach the soccer team and the mums who volunteer to teach remedial reading. Others, less sentimentally, say that petit bourgeois parents are good at getting grants and zebra crossings out of local MPs because they're more effective at making formal complaints and marketing grievances to the media. Those parents and their children are gravitating towards the larger, academically successful and selective public schools, which are likely to stay that way while most of the smaller, academically weaker schools will stay small and become weaker still. That means average students are probably going to be increasingly short-changed, as the burden of looking after the overall educational needs of communities in non-selective schools becomes a more thankless task, entrusted to an increasingly demoralised bunch of teachers.

There was a time when I would have greeted any decline in public-sector education as a cause for celebration. I still think that a great many state teachers and their appalling unions have preyed like parasites on the long-suffering proletariat. The trouble is that the private sector often employs the same kinds of teachers, is politically correct and third rate in much the same ways and is infected with many of the same fads and questionable methods.

The Catholic parochial system, for example, is almost beyond parody. The values and formation it purports to instil in its pupils is anything but Catholic. Father O'Bubblegum, Auberon Waugh's comic creation, can still be found strumming his guitar and singing the lyrics of John Lennon's Imagine, with no sense of incongruity, at school masses. Vatican II-era nuns can still be heard pushing the feminist pieties and Marxist Sociology 101 they learned as mature-age entrants in diploma courses 30 years ago. Lay teachers who are often neither Catholic nor discernibly Christian are entrusted with religious instruction.

It is scarcely surprising that so few of the kids passing through the system should still be going to church even one Sunday a month by the time they're 20. Apart from the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, few Australian Catholic bishops have attempted any sort of reform or reined in their education bureaucracies. Some profess themselves powerless to do so. Accordingly, there has been a marked trend in recent years for traditionally minded Catholic parents to send their children to Anglican or Lutheran schools where, whatever else is lacking, at least the biblical catechesis is adequate.

While the Catholic schools are more aggressively ordinary and anti-intellectual, there's no shortage of paid-up philistines in the independent schools. And let's not forget the genteel ideologues. The social justice wing of the Uniting Church is over-represented, as are the deep greens, people who won't teach phonics and the social studies teachers who fancy themselves in "Sorry" T-shirts. It's gratifying to see how many of the young survive their ministrations with critical faculties intact and a sceptical, often explicitly conservative attitude to all the codswallop they've been taught.

A great deal more could and no doubt should be said about the shortcomings of Australia's Catholic and independent schools. But, whatever private education's failings, if what we conceive as the public sector is to remain viable it is going to have to become much more like its private competition. Whether along the lines of charter schools or various hybrids, public schools urgently need to be rebadged and given a new remit. The less they operate like government agencies, the more confidence they're likely to inspire in parents. The more power parents and principals have, at the expense of head office and the unions, the better the chance of shifting demoralised or incompetent staff and boosting morale. Performance-linked pay is another overdue development.

In the rebadge exercise, there should be a rethink of the ownership and control of schools that aims to capture the benefits that come when an enterprise is owned (and loved) by the people who work there, or even by an individual, rather than by the state. For example, short of outright sale, there's a case to be made for leasing existing public school premises at peppercorn rentals to the entrepreneurial heads of the low-fee colleges that are burgeoning on the outskirts of most of the capital cities. Some, I'm sure, would leap at the chance to take over deadbeat schools, lock, stock and barrel and run them more or less non-selectively on a state subsidy, which would in all likelihood be a fraction of the present cost. In a market system, as Keating argued in The Age last week, they should be rewarded for taking on the most challenging and disadvantaged pupils.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Teach the teachers

When a friend asked at a school meeting a few years ago what were the key concepts her child would be learning that year, the beginner teacher couldn't answer. In an age when at some schools you can take a course in text messaging it seems even teachers no longer know what our kids are meant to be learning.

Whole terms are wasted on themed units about the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. After six years in primary school, my daughter could recite to you the entire history of the Olympics -- but she has only a very patchy knowledge about the history of her own country.

The push by both major parties to have a national curriculum is long overdue but it will only be welcomed by parents if it unites the states behind a higher standard rather than the lowest common denominator. And it will only work if the people delivering that new curriculum are well trained to deliver it.

A report out this week found the training and morale of the teaching profession is just as big a problem as the curriculum they teach. The House of Representatives inquiry Top of the Class found one in five beginner teachers leaves the profession within their first five years of teaching. More disturbing for parents is that the report highlighted the worrying fact that the people teaching our kids may often have no command themselves of maths and literacy. Only four of the 31 universities that carry out teacher training require their students to have Year 12 maths.

Melbourne University told the inquiry it would have to disqualify half its student teachers if it required them to have Year 12 maths. That's why the House of Representatives committee is calling for trainee teachers to have their literacy and numeracy skills tested when they start their degree.

Having a good grasp themselves of what they should be teaching our kids is one thing, but knowing how to get that message across is another. In my job I get to question prime ministers and I've performed in front of television cameras and on radio. However, none of these jobs has scared me as much as the time I had to give a talk to the 25 kids in my daughter's class. Trying to hold the attention of 25 nine-year-olds, keep them under control and try to get a message across is no easy feat.

That's why you'd think our teacher training courses would be chock full of practical teaching experiences for our teachers. But they're not. In NSW, a person who graduates with a one-year Diploma of Education will have spent just 20 days in front of a class. Someone who does a four-year teaching degree will get 80 days in front of a class during their university training. In the ACT, the requirement is just 30 days teaching practice.

The inquiry found that very often this very important practical component of a teacher's education is not supervised by universities or assessed because they don't have the staff or the money. All the educational and psychological theory lessons in the world won't help when you've got to control a class of 30 kids, one of whom tries to use the Bunsen burners to set the science lab alight or throws a chair through the window. That's the sort of behaviour my cousin had to deal with in her first year of teaching.

It's when they leave university that the teacher training system really cheats new teachers. The inquiry found very few of them got any help at all settling in or learning to apply the theory they'd learned at university in the classroom in their first year out. In fact, nearly three out of four of them don't even get a permanent job so the schools who take them on have no vested interest in building up their skills.

A Department of Education, Science and Training survey of recent graduates found 57 per cent were engaged on short-term contracts. Fifteen per cent were stuck with the graduate teacher's nightmare of relief teaching work and only 28 per cent were in permanent jobs. The inquiry warned the teaching profession was rapidly ageing and over the next seven years we would be facing a serious shortage of teachers. Just having a warm body in front of a class will be the priority. No parent will be satisfied with this sort of system. Every parent wants their kids to learn the basics.


Some easing of law on surrogate mothers

West Australian families unable to have their own children will soon be able to have a baby through a surrogate mother under proposed new laws. A new bill has been introduced into state parliament to help women who cannot carry a child because of medical reasons, Attorney-General Jim McGinty says. "My heart goes out to those women who cannot carry their own children and want to fulfil their dream of becoming a mother,'' Mr McGinty said today. "Surrogacy is currently not permitted in WA and, as a result, we have had instances where families have travelled interstate, or overseas, to jurisdictions where it is allowed.''

The new laws would not allow surrogacy for commercial gain nor would they force the surrogate mother to give up the child if she decides to keep the infant after birth. Mr McGinty said the surrogacy bill would provide a framework to regulate surrogacy arrangements and provide a mechanism through the Family Court for commissioning parents to be legally recognised as parents of the child.

Under the bill, surrogate mothers would have access to IVF if the commissioning woman would herself be eligible for IVF due to medical infertility. Birth certificates would have both commissioning parents named as the legal parents of the child


Proof that warming in Western Australia is all about the sun

Post lifted from Gust of Hot Air

I promised you some good analysis on Southern Pilbara (central-west Western Australia) yesterday when I analysed the temperatures and I keep to my promise so here it is:

Yesterday we came up with the very unusual result that despite the fact that there was no significant increases in temperature from 9pm to 6am in southern Pilbara - and not even any recogniseable patterns - we found that the area recorded a significant increase in minimum temperature. This is very surprising. We also found that in the area temperatures were significantly higher from 9am thru to 3pm when the sun is at it's hottest.

At first look it's quite clear that the reason southern Pilbara is heating up is solely due to the sun. The sun is just getting damned hotter. So why the increase in minimum temperatures, especially when there is no difference in temperatures throughout the night?

I decided to have a look at the differences in temperature anomalies for neighboring times over the years. In other words, I looked at the temperature anomalies for Midnight minus 9pm. As previously noted, 9pm doesn't have a lot of data for Southern Pilbara so it is hard to find a pattern, and the statistics suggest no difference (t = 0.24, p = 0.81). In other words, Midnight has not been heating up at a quicker rate than 9pm over the years in Southern Pilbara.

The same goes for 3am minus Midnight, only this time we have a good amount of data. There is no pattern. Temperatuers at 3am have not been heating up quicker or slower than Midnight over the years (t = 1.4, p = 0.15).

But wow, look at this. When looking at 6am minus 3am, we find that temperatures have increased at a significantly higher rate at 6am than 3am (t = 5.3, p < 0.01). Keeping in mind that we did not find a significant increase in temperature at 6am, however we have found that the temperature increase at 6am is significantly greater than 3am. This has occurred with especial magnitude in the last 10 years as shown in the graph.

And a similar pattern occurs when looking at the 9am - 6am anomalies. A significant increase occurs (t = 6.04, p < 0.01). With temperatures increasing on average 0.5 degrees more in the past 10 years. If you look at the 6am and 9am graphs, this makes sence, as in the last 10 years 6am was about average temperature whilst 9am temperatures were about 0.5 degrees above the norm.

Surprisingly this is where the large boom stops. Analysis of Noon minus 9am temperatures suggest no increase or decrease in temperature (t = -0.6, p =0.55). A cyclic pattern can be seen, but this could be purely due to random variation.

And now for the even more surprising results. 3pm minus Noon saw a significant decrease in anomaly temperatures (t = -8.1, p < 0.01). The decrease is almost perfectly linear and is clearly obvious. So despite significant increase in temperature for south Pilbara for Noon and 3pm, 3pm isn't heating up as much as it has been 3 hours before.

The obvious linear line in the graph of 6pm to 3pm is startling. So perfect is the line, that the amount of variability is very small. The decreasing trend is very significant (t = -10.8, p < 0.01).

There was no significant difference in temperatures when looking at the differences between the 9pm and 6pm anomalies, however a smaller database for temperatures at 9pm could have been a factor (t = 1.3, p = 0.18).

So what does all this mean? How is this all relevant. Well let's summarise what we have just found. The rate of increase or decrease in temperatures with respect to the time 3 years prior makes little difference at night, but when the sun is a factor the difference is significant. Temperature anomalies at 6am and 9am have increased significantly with respect to the time 3 hours previous over the years, whilst temperatures at 3pm and 6pm have decreased significantly with respect to the time 3 hours previous.

But to understand fully what this means, we have to discuss very briefly how daily temperature works. Basically we reach a maximum temperature, and from that point on the temperature generally decreases. When the sun as set, there is no general reason why temperatures will be on the rise, so they decrease until the sun makes an appearance again. In southern Pilbara the sun rises in general half way between 6am and 9am depending on the season.

We suggested before that is was relatively obvious that the sun was a major factor in determining the average maximum temperature in Southern Pilbara, as we saw no increases in temperature over night. We have also proven that the sun has made significant increases in maximum temperature rather than minimum during years when Australia is heating up. So would a stronger sun therefore also have an influence on minimum temperatures? Our analysis suggests so.

Whilst no increases in temperature were found for Southern Pilbara from between 9pm and 6am when the sun was set, at 6am, the temperature increase as compared to 3am was highly significant. The sun, whilst not risen, quite possibly was warming up neighbouring areas more than normal, and adding heat to the air above at a greater rate than normal. Thus paving the way for when it makes its grand entrance at sunrise.

Hence, whilst not making a significant temperature difference at 6am before sunrise, it made a significant increase in temperature compared to 3 hours prior at a time where normally the minimum temperature would have been reached. This extra layer of heat paved the way for massive increases in temperature at 9am after the sun had risen. Following, due to the massive increases in temperature 9am, Noon and 3pm also had increasing temperatures due to the intensity of the sun, but not quite as dramatic as that when the sun rose. Hence we have a situation where we have a significant increase in temperature at 3pm but a highly significant decrease in temperature at 3pm with relation to Noon. I guess there's only so much difference that the sun can make.

So what can we conclude about Southern Pilbara? That increases in the suns intensity has caused the area to heat up during the day, to stay at a constant temperature during the night, and most importantly, that increased intensity in the sun has not only caused increases in maximum temperatures but also increases in minimum temperatures.

Who would have thought that the sun has something to do with heat?

Australian submarine fleet still a joke

Short of salors and half-blind anyway. Australia should be buying proven designs, not trying to design its own defence equipment.

Australia's submarines are having trouble spotting the enemy because of faulty periscopes. The navy has become so concerned by the problematic periscopes that it has commissioned a series of studies to explore ways to improve or replace them. The so-called search-and-attack periscopes on the Collins-class submarines are described by the navy as being "critical" to the "mission effectiveness" of the submarine fleet.

Crammed with hi-tech sensors and stealth characteristics, they are a far cry from the simple periscopes portrayed in Hollywood war movies. They are needed to give the commander a visual sighting of an enemy and, if they break down, a submarine is partially blinded and would be a liability in battle. But after more than a decade at sea, the search-and-attack periscopes are wearing out. "The periscopes were originally specified and designed over 15 years ago," a Defence spokesman said. "Obsolescence and normal wear and tear dictate that the periscopes are assessed and their maintenance routines reviewed."

Defence sources say the periscopes in the six submarines had so many faults last year that the repair company, BAE Systems, could not keep up. Relief for the repairers has come only this year because the submarines are spending less time at sea because of an acute shortage of crew. The issue is a setback for the submarine, which has overcome serious teething problems [Like having to scrap their entire computer system after spending around $300 million on it] to become one of the country's most effective defence assets.

Sources say some of the periscope breakdowns have undermined submarine missions but none has been serious enough to force one back to shore. "Periscopes have a built-in redundancy to ensure that defects do not adversely affect operations," a Defence spokesman said. The navy has commissioned a study to examine the future of the periscopes and help the navy plan for next-generation technology. In December, the navy also commissioned a report on "periscope spares usage and maintenance effectiveness" to ensure that the problems could be properly repaired. The periscopes provide the primary sensors for the Collins combat system.

The sensor systems on the periscopes include optical and electro-magnetic sensors for all-weather, around-the-clock surveillance, situation awareness and target acquisition. "These provide the Collins with its stealth characteristics and are critical to its mission effectiveness," the navy says. Despite their current problems, the periscopes are a vast improvement on those used in the 1990s. A 1999 Defence report said the first periscopes on the Collins-class fleet vibrated badly and did not focus properly.

Meanwhile, Opposition defence spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon yesterday said revelations in The Australian yesterday about the acute shortage of submariners were an indictment on Defence Minister Brendan Nelson. "A recruitment, retention and skills crisis in the Australian Defence Force is undermining Australia's national security," Mr Fitzgibbon said. "Revelations that staffing shortfalls of 30per cent in the submarine arm are hampering submarine operations highlight minister Nelson's failure to properly manage these key defence assets." The navy has been forced to cut the number of sailing days because of the acute shortage of trained submariners."


Friday, March 02, 2007


For over 18 months - in conjunction with others in 3 states and under the guidance of Constitutional lawyers, I have been researching our land ownership rights. What is becoming clear to us, is that the NSW and QLD state govts in particular, and including so-called democratic govts all around the world are in the process of removing firstly our land ownership rights and secondly our personal rights.

The threats of global warming have been an absolute boon to this long-term plan, allowing the greenies to whip up such fear in the community that the community then literally begs the govt to make laws to protect us from this threat. Hence, farmers (of whom I am one) are blamed for much of the development of warming and are being forced by laws and courts which were outlawed in Britain in the 1600's! to stand aside under duress while their land ownership rights - also supported via the Magna Carta, the 1688 Bill of Rights and onto our Constitution - are eroded and removed.

We Australians must learn our rights, speak them out and stand up for the cornerstone of our country. If you are interested in the issue of land ownership and our rights this site may inform you. We are currently preparing for 7 High Court cases asking the judiciary to clarify our rights and other relevant issues.

I do not believe in the threat that we are told global warming offers, but I do think that the changes people are making in their lives due to these GW threats are probably beneficial long term, but to force people to do so through rules and regulations is against everything every freedom fighter over the centuries stood for and against our basic Constitutional laws. Laws which were set in place by Godly men and are being removed by unGodly ones. We as average citizens cannot break the laws of our land without punishment, why then the guardians of those laws - our politicians and law makers?

Federal Leftists get on school standards bandwagon

The cartoon above refers to the fact that the new Federal Labor party policy is very similar to the policy of Australia's Federal conservatives. The main difference apears to be that the Left will not put much backbone into it

Kevin Rudd has pledged to introduce a back-to-basics national curriculum in maths, science, English and history within three years of winning office. In a move aimed at seizing the initiative on the national curriculum debate after years of discussion, the Labor leader said it should be "concise, in plain English and understandable to both parents and teachers".

And in a challenge to teachers' unions, Mr Rudd said union leaders would not be offered a place on the National Curriculum Board that a Labor government would establish to develop consistent national curriculums from kindergarten to Year 12.

The new benchmarks would include a recommended reading list of Australian literature and classics, which the Opposition confirmed last night would include Shakespeare. Younger maths students would be required to understand multiplication and fractions, and senior history students would have to demonstrate a systematic understanding of Australian history.

"Australia has been talking for years about the need for a national curriculum," Mr Rudd said yesterday. "A national curriculum will mean that a student moving between Western Australia, Queensland, NSW and Victoria will not be disadvantaged." Labor predicted the plan could be achieved in consultation with the states. It immediately won qualified support from Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, but the NSW Government remained sceptical about the value of a national curriculum, even under a federal ALP government.

Labor's plan would also include a new discussion to boost languages in schools, echoing the elevation of "language other than English" program in the Queensland Goss government during the 1990s, when Mr Rudd was director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The program, introduced in 1991, had set an ambitious target to have all Queensland students studying a second language by 2000.

A veteran of battles with the teachers' union in Queensland during his years as a public servant and more recently during the debate over the state's controversial Studies of Society and the Environment, Mr Rudd said there was no place for unions on the curriculum board. "We will not have representation from the unions," he said. "This is a professional curriculum body with representation from the states and territories and curriculum experts from the non-government sector as well."

Mr Rudd's show of determination to resist union pressure on education came as the Government sought to paint him as weak on industrial relations. A succession of government ministers demanded Labor reveal whether it would keep small business exempt from unfair dismissal laws after Labor frontbencher Craig Emerson hinted on Tuesday night that Labor would give the sector special treatment. Dr Emerson's comments at a meeting of small business people caused jitters among some Labor MPs and unionists, who are demanding Labor give all workers the same treatment, regardless of the size of their employer.

In parliament, Education Minister Julie Bishop accused Mr Rudd of plagiarising the term "education revolution" from [disgraced] former Labor leader Mark Latham. "Naughty boy! You stole that idea, didn't you?" she said, later adding: "You will have to go to the naughty corner, won't you?"

Ms Bishop said the suggestion that a national system could be achieved through co-operation with the states was "politically naive" and signalled she would introduce her own plan for a national curriculum by using the threat of funding to force action.

Labor was also on the attack over early childhood education in parliament, seizing on secret cabinet submissions revealing the Prime Minister had recommended action in 2003 but failed to deliver.

Mr Beattie yesterday backed the plan to develop a national curriculum, but only if standards were lifted. "We don't want to lose the edge that we have, but if it means lifting the national standard up to Queensland standards then we would support that," he said.

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt welcomed the more consultative approach adopted by Mr Rudd and Opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith, but said NSW would not accept a national curriculum simply for the sake of uniformity. "I remain concerned that any move to a national curriculum could result in an undermining of our standards," she said.

The chairwoman of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, Sue Willis, said progress towards a national curriculum framework was continually being derailed by short-term policy bursts that failed to provide any consistency over the long term. Victorian Education Minister John Lenders said he was confident that Mr Rudd's proposal would "lift standards rather than dumbing down standards to the lowest common denominator". "Ms Bishop's approach has been aggressive and confrontational," Mr Lenders said.

NSW Teachers Federation president Maree O'Halloran said it was essential for teachers to be involved in any national curriculum. "The people who actually develop and deliver the curriculum and understand the needs of students and teachers are the people in our classrooms currently," Ms O'Halloran said.

The announcements build on Labor's policy to invest $450 million to provide four-year-olds with 15 hours a week of high-quality early childhood education and provide $111 million to encourage students to study maths and science at university.


More on police corruption in Victoria

Police union fingered

Victoria's police corruption watchdog has launched an inquiry into the force's disciplinary system after releasing a report accusing the police union of obstructing attempts to root out rotten officers for more than acentury.

The report on historic patterns of corruption within the force said the Police Association had nurtured a "them and us" culture that encouraged officers to "develop improper associations and protect corrupt officers". Office of Police Integrity director George Brouwer said the association needed to decide whether to act for the vast majority of honest officers or "throw all its weight and effort behind protecting or supporting people who have serious question marks about them".

Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon said the association's role in protecting its members' interests at times "may have hindered" attempts to fight corruption in the force.

The report sparked an angry reaction from the association, with secretary Paul Mullett describing its findings as "scaremongering", "ill-based" and "fundamentally flawed".

Announcing the inquiry, Mr Brouwer said there were a lot of weaknesses in the internal disciplinary system, including processes that could be manipulated by corrupt police to delay proceedings against them. The report outlines the association's role as a "militant group with significant political clout" in objecting to inquiries and fighting anti-corruption reforms stretching back more than 100 years. It said the use of the association's $14 million legal fighting fund had led to police accused of corruption receiving substantial financial support from the union.

Speaking after the opening session of a two-day national round table on police corruption hosted by the OPI, Mr Brouwer said the association was "one of the factors that has complicated issues" for the chief commissioner in cleaning up the force. "The association can play a very important constructive role in order to produce and support an ethical force. It can also play a negative role," he said.

Ms Nixon denied that her position as chief commissioner had been undermined by a secret pre-election deal negotiated directly between the Bracks Government and the association. While acknowledging that Queensland's Fitzgerald inquiry had recommended such negotiations should not be conducted behind the back of a police commissioner, Ms Nixon said she should not have been included in the talks. "That was a negotiation between a political party and a lobby group," she said. "I don't think my position has been undermined. I'm the police commissioner and I have a contract until 2009. I haven't had an undermined position."

Ms Nixon said she hoped the inquiry would lead to changes that made the disciplinary system more effective and overcame delays in dealing with officers who were guilty of corruption or misconduct.

Senior Sergeant Mullett denied that the association had hindered attempts to clean up Victoria Police, saying it was "totally opposed to corruption" and had only been defending the rights of its members. He accused Mr Brouwer and Ms Nixon of "working hand-in-glove" to undermine public confidence in rank-and-file police by attacks on the association. He said that not giving the association a chance to respond to matters raised in the report before it was tabled in parliament yesterday had been a denial of natural justice.


Environmentalism: More facts, less evangelism needed

Comment by columnist Janet Albrechtsen

The timing is perfect. Al Gore wins an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth. If Rolling Stone is right, Gore will soon be running for president with his “save the world” message. Then, next month, Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, will be in Australia preaching the same message. His visit will be the 21st-century version of a Billy Graham crusade, complete with demands that we come to Jesus. Sinners - those sceptics of the Stern gospel on global warming - will be urged to repent. Many of them, overcome by emotion and group hysteria, will do so. And if the eco-evangelists could arrange it, there would be television cameras to capture images of new believers swooning into their saviour’s arms.

Even for those of us who realise the human psyche is drawn to emotional claims of doom and gloom, it’s easy to fall for the hype. Catch a few glimpses of the Christmas bush fires, the drought, Gore looking like an ageing Superman impersonator predicting cities being swamped and headlines that Bondi beach is under threat. Add more headlines about the ostensible consensus among experts that humans are causing catastrophic global warming. Employees soon start to question the big companies they work for because, these days, big is synonymous with bad. The big bosses start embracing global warming so they look lean and clean in a competitive marketplace for goods, services and employees. People start calling on governments to do something. Governments then get drawn into the whirlwind of global warming, overreacting on the basis of emotion, not fact.

Before Stern arrives, it’s time to visit the other camps on climate change. Those who are sceptical of the degree and dangers of warming predicted by Stern and co. Those who point out there are benefits to global warming. And those who warn against regulatory overreach. Relegated to economic and scientific journals, the serious rebuttals of Stern rarely get a mention.

Instead, the sceptics of the global warming orthodoxy are the deniers. But when The Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman recently wrote: “Let’s just say that global-warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers”, it unveiled the emotion and zealotry driving this debate. In fact, it’s not a debate at all. If it were, we might see a headline along the lines of “Experts sink Stern” because that is precisely what a group of eminent scientists and economists did late last year.

The Stern Review: A Dual Critique in the December edition of World Economics debunked Stern’s claim that “much of the debate over the attribution of climate change has now been settled”. It warned that Stern’s exaggerated predictions depend on a selective and biased treatment of scientific sources and evidence. Stern’s review is classic come-to-Jesus stuff for those searching for a utopian, post-carbon world. No cost-benefit analysis of global warming. No careful prodding of uncertain studies. Just end-of-the-world scenarios. And the saviour is Stern’s prescription of hiked-up carbon taxes.

Stern points to emissions driving global temperatures to dangerous levels. The critique of Stern points out that the rate of warming during the late 20th century was similar to an earlier natural warming period between 1905 and 1940, a period preceding industrial-driven greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the recent warming, according to these scientists, was of less magnitude than earlier millennial warmings during the medieval, Roman and Minoan warm periods. And a rapid rise in CO2 emissions for the two decades after 1940 was accompanied by a fall in temperature. That’s right: cooler temperatures.

In fact, scientists such as Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, and Bob Carter from James Cook University point to the real possibility of global cooling should the sun revert to the lazier position associated with the Little Ice Age. The Russian Academy of Science has issued similar warnings.

Stern predicts a global population of 15 billion by 2100. More people means more suffering. Yet, according to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, there is only a 2.5 per cent probability that world population will exceed 14.4billion by 2100.

Fewer people means less suffering, but that doesn’t suit Stern’s exaggerated claims. Stern’s executive summary points to anywhere from 15 per cent to 50 per cent of species facing risks of extinction if temperatures rise by even 2C. The critique points out that higher CO2 emissions will boost plant growth, promoting biodiversity that may assist ecosystems, something Stern ignores. The scientists conclude that Stern’s assessment, based on studies that are “fraught with uncertainties”, presents a “worse-than-worst scenario, based on a naive and one-sided appeal to literature”.

Stern’s most glaring omission is the human ability to adapt to changes. Apparently climates change but humans do not. Stern’s black predictions of declining agricultural yields and global hunger - “250 million to 550 million additional people may be at risk” - are based on studies that ignore human ingenuity: people developing new technologies, planting new crops, choosing different animal breeds and so on. As the critique points out, estimating “the impacts of climate change decades from now is tantamount to estimating today’s level of hunger (and agricultural production) based on technology of 50 years ago”.

Technology has transformed the world because people adapt. Ignoring such a basic feature of human history and progress tells you much about the lack of rigour behind the evangelists who preach the global warming message.

But wait, there’s more. The critique reveals that Stern relies on information from groups that have an “explicit policy of refusing to allow external examination” of their data. They point to the Climatic Research Unit, whose data feeds into global temperature predictions used by Stern. Phil Jones from the CRU has said: “Why should I make the data available to you when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

The so-called consensus on global warming is a manufactured one built by those whose careers depend on acceptance of climate change fundamentalism. And the peer-review process means drawing peers from the same global warming orthodoxy milieu as the authors. But brace yourself for more preaching. Stern’s visit will be followed by Earth Hour, supported by the City of Sydney, the NSW Government and an array of businesses, when Sydneysiders will be asked to turn off their lights for one hour. Then a surge of electricity will be needed when the Save Our Selves from climate change 24-hour concert hits Sydney later this year. When we get more facts and less gimmicks, there will be a real debate on global warming. Until then, governments should tread carefully.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Anti-white bias in the South Australian Fire service

Surely the only criterion for selection as a fireman should be how good the person is likely to be in putting out fires. Lives could be lost by having incompetents on the fire trucks

A special Metropolitan Fire Service training course to help people pass tough entry tests has been restricted to women, Aborigines and ethnic minority groups, causing tension within MFS ranks, the firefighters union says. The "pre-application" pilot program run by the MFS has been criticised by firefighters, who say it is unfair to the hundreds of male Anglo-Saxon applicants who miss out every year.

The MFS is accepting applications for full-time firefighters in the metropolitan area and Port Pirie as part of its latest recruit course, expected to start by June. Recruitment data, obtained by The Advertiser under Freedom of Information laws, reveals the MFS is still failing to attract more applicants from diverse backgrounds. The FoI data shows there were 34 women invited to undertake the most recent recruiting process last year, nine people born overseas and 81 whose parents were of non-English background. This compares with 497 Anglo-Saxon male applicants invited to try out. The course success rate is just 8 per cent.

United Firefighters Union of SA president Bill Jamieson said there was a "great deal of angst" within MFS ranks about the special policy. "On the balance of fairness, we can't support this special program," he said. "The same opportunities are not given to other recruits, and in this case it is the employer helping them to pass."

MFS Chief Officer Grant Lupton said the course was designed to "level the playing field" in order to meet State Government targets of increasing the participation of women and Aboriginal people in the public sector. He said there were just four female full-time firefighters in a force of about 800. "All government agencies have a responsibility to reflect the community they serve," he said. "We serve a diverse community in South Australia yet our workforce doesn't reflect that at all. When I've got fire trucks rolling up to a job it would be great to have a woman, an indigenous person or an Asian there, rather than just all white men."

Emergency Services Minister Carmel Zollo yesterday said the State Government was "an equal opportunity employer . . . it is important that everyone has the opportunity to apply for jobs". Opposition emergency services spokesman Mark Goldsworthy said the MFS policy had merit.


School authorities say: 'Be happy your son is bullied'

A mother who sought Education Department help amid repeated assaults on her six-year-old son by a classmate was twice told "bullying builds character", a court has heard. Angela Cox yesterday said she was stunned by the comment which came after her son Ben was choked by a nine-year-old boy at Woodberry Public School, near Maitland, on the Central Coast. "I was really annoyed the school hadn't done anything," she said. "(Department officer) Ian Wilson told me bullying builds character and it was a good thing."

Mrs Cox and her son Ben are suing the state, claiming the department was liable for the treatment of her son in 1995 and 1996, which left him depressed, anxious and reluctant to leave the house. "I couldn't believe something like this could happen," she told the Supreme Court yesterday. "(After the violence) he wasn't the same boy he used to be."

Ben, now 18, spends his days watching TV or playing computer games. He has only completed schooling to Year 7. Attempts to have his education continued at other schools and by correspondence failed. Mrs Cox said, with the school doing little more than occasionally putting the nine-year-old on detention, she removed him from class. "I went to the principal, said, 'I'm taking Ben out of school' because they couldn't provide a safe place for (him)," she said. "(The principal) said, 'Sorry, but you keep some, you lose some'."

Needing departmental permission to move him to a school outside the immediate area, she spoke to Mr Wilson again. "He said he couldn't provide total safety for my son and bullying could happen (anywhere). He told me bullying builds character."

When Mrs Cox was asked what the alleged bullying had done to her son's mental health, she replied tearfully: "In his mind he always thinks he's that little boy, ready to be hurt again." Mrs Cox's own psychiatric history was raised in court yesterday and she admitted spending time in hospital due to chronic depression. She denied she had kept her son or her daughters Hannah and Rebekah home from school because she needed companionship when she was too ill to leave home.

Ben had played rugby league in his mid-teens but there were still problems like his fear of the change rooms, she said. Counsel for the state Robert Sheldon asked her if her son had ever been any good at school. "I don't think we ever got the chance to see," she said. Mrs Cox also denied she made any attempt to stop her son from going to school because she was "worried about losing him" as he headed into high school.


Australia getting it right about immigrant integration

Comment from American writer Herb London. There is another article here (or here) by Prof. London on the moral and intellectual vacuity of the student Left

In 1966 Australia's trade with Japan exceeded its trade with the United States and with Britain. At that time, it became increasingly difficult for Australia to maintain the exclusionary White Australia policy. That didn't stop Australian officials from trying. The Japanese at first were considered "Caucasian" under immigration provisions. But that stance was obviously unsustainable. Gradually and incrementally, the policy was revised to treat Asians as equals with Europeans.

But the liberalised immigration policy did not address the domestic condition of new immigrants. Was it desirable to have them integrated into Australian life? If so, how was this to be achieved? Or did it make more sense to have the immigrants relate to the larger culture through a form of modest separation - what can be described as cultural pluralism?

For decades, Australia countenanced the latter position, celebrating the cultural diversity of its immigrant population. It is now clear, however, that this celebration has turned into questioning and criticism. In some cases, physical separation has led to divisions in matters of national loyalty and adherence to national laws. As a result, the Government is moving from British-style multiculturalism to a policy of integration.

Although it might seem trivial, Australia has changed the name of its Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. This is one manifestation of an intense debate about what it means to be Australian, as rising nationalism is fuelled by worries that the nation is being torn apart by competing immigrant value systems.

Several incidents in which local Islamic groups have pledged loyalty to sharia (Islamic law) instead of the Australian constitution might be the catalyst for this national debate. The Prime Minister, John Howard, has often voiced his displeasure with multiculturalism, but he is acting to tighten requirements for attaining citizenship, including extending the waiting period and promoting a written test for new citizens.

Malcolm Turnbull, erstwhile parliamentary secretary and now the Minister for the Environment, gave voice to this policy shift by noting, "There was a time in the 1990s when I feared that multiculturalism was heading to a stage where the concept of Australia would cease to exist. So concerned were we about our ethnic or cultural backgrounds, we would forget what we were today, and Australia would be seen less as a nation than as just a place where people lived but did not call home."

The newly assertive voices on this matter are saying Australia is a liberal, democratic, English-speaking society, and it is up to new arrivals to adjust to this reality. About 25 per cent of Australians were born outside the country, more than in any other nation except Israel. The debate is addressing how far Australia should modify its identity in order to accommodate new arrivals.

In December 2005 a mob of white Australian youths, incensed by what they considered the harassment of women by Lebanese youths on a Sydney beach, went on a rampage, beating anyone with a Middle Eastern appearance. This riot left a scar on the nation that is still visible.

Muslims contend the policy shift is a form of discrimination that suggests that if you aren't white, you are "less equal". But Howard has addressed this concern: "You can't have a nation with a federation of cultures. You can have a nation where a whole variety of cultures constantly influence and mould and change and blend in with the mainstream. The core culture of this nation is very clear; we are an offshoot of Western civilisation."

Howard knows what he believes and believes what he knows. Moreover, he is unafraid to speak his mind, as he showed recently in condemning the US senator Barack Obama's misguided call for a timeline to withdraw troops from Iraq.

In a Western environment where the force of political correctness prevails, it is difficult to assert the superiority of Australian culture. To do so invites opprobrium from the multiculturalists. But no amount of criticism can change reality. Howard and Australia deserve congratulations for doing what is appropriate and right. If only we had a John Howard in the US.


Greenhouse sceptics to congregate

Hard-core global warming sceptics will descend on Canberra today for the release of a book claiming environmentalism is the new religion. Former mining executive Arvi Parbo will launch Ray Evans' new publication, Nine Facts About Climate Change, at a function at Parliament House. The book claims climate change is nothing new and declares Howard Government investments in solar power and in cleaning up coal a "complete waste of taxpayers' money".

"Environmentalism has largely superseded Christianity as the religion of the upper classes in Europe and to a lesser extent in the United States," Mr Evans says in the publication. "It is a form of religious belief which fosters a sense of moral superiority in the believer, but which places no importance on telling the truth," he says. "The global warming scam has been, arguably, the most extraordinary example of scientific fraud in the postwar period."

The function is organised by the Lavoisier Group, founded in 2000 by Ray Evans and former mining executive Hugh Morgan to test claims that global warming is the result of human activity. Mr Evans is a longstanding friend and colleague of Mr Morgan and a committed activist on issues such as workplace reform through the HR Nicholls Society, which he founded with federal Treasurer Peter Costello.

Former Labor minister Peter Walsh also will attend today's function, and the group will hold a dinner to be addressed by climate-change sceptic Chris de Freitas, Associate Professor in the School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science at Auckland University. Liberal MP Dennis Jensen has organised the function on behalf of the Lavoisier Group and expects about 50 people to attend the dinner. Dr Jensen, a nuclear physicist, has said he is not convinced that human activity is responsible for global warming.

In an interview with The Age last month, Mr Evans acknowledged that last September's visit by former US vice-president Al Gore to promote his Oscar-winning global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth had helped generate a lot of publicity on climate change. But he described Mr Gore's film as "bullshit from beginning to end". [Some good Australian bluntness] "The science from the anthropology point of view has collapsed. The carbon-dioxide link is increasingly recognised as irrelevant," Mr Evans said. "But the Government's frightened. "Cabinet, from what I understand, is by and large still sceptical of climate change, but it is scared of the drought and worried about how Labor will make use of it."


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