Monday, March 31, 2008

Australian politicians shun "enviro-friendly" cars

POLITICIANS are spending taxpayers' money on gas-guzzling cars and four-wheel drives while telling average Aussies to cut their carbon emissions. More than 100 federal MPs drive taxpayer-funded 4WDs and V8s, and 113 MPs have family-size sedans and wagons. But there are only 10 Toyota Prius hybrids in the privately plated vehicle fleet. And only five MPs have bothered to request LPG vehicles, which are better for the environment than petrol models.

The Herald Sun obtained details of MPs' taxpayer-funded vehicles after months of bureaucratic buck-passing. But the Department of Finance refused to reveal the vehicle choices of individual MPs, claiming the information was private. The Government, which signed the Kyoto Protocol as its first official act, does not impose any environmental restrictions or guidelines on the selection of privately plated vehicles. MPs must select their car from a list of Australian-made vehicles. If they want a non-standard or imported vehicle, such as a 4WD, V8 or hybrid, they must pay the difference from their electoral allowance. "At present, the onus of choice is on the parliamentarian," said a spokesman for Special Minister of State John Faulkner.

Most of the four-wheel drives selected are Australian-made Ford Territorys, which burn about 13 litres of fuel in 100km on the open road. Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores use about 10-11 litres/100km, while the Toyota Prius uses 4.4 litres/100km.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said politicians should drive the most efficient cars available. "I think it's clear the Australian people would like to see the Government leading the way on this," acting executive director Chris Berger said. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, who drives a Mitsubishi 380 but has a Prius on order, said the Commonwealth was looking at ways to improve its environmental performance. "The Government has committed to leading by example in reducing emissions from its own operations," her spokesman said.


Hot air about black health

By Christopher Pearson

LATE last year Kevin Rudd, along with the premiers and chief ministers, announced they were committed to the target of closing the 17-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous Australians and the rest of the population. That resolution was formalised last week in a statement of intent, signed by Rudd and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson and various health organisations, during a health equality summit in Canberra. The plan is that the gap is to be bridged within 22 years, in 2030.

There's something inescapably Mickey Mouse about an in-principle commitment to an outcome at a distant date with a suspiciously round number. By that time, of course, the main signatories and all their front bench colleagues will be long gone from parliament and in many cases from public life altogether. Still, that doesn't mean the undertaking won't keep coming back to haunt them, like Bob Hawke's line about no child left in poverty.

The level of seriousness with which the federal Government is approaching the issue can be judged by its programs and its rhetoric. Last week Rudd claimed that 17 per cent of the life expectancy gap, almost three years, could be attributed to Aborigines smoking at about twice the rate of other Australians. He promised $14.5 million over four years to tackle high smoking rates, which strikes me as no more than a drop in the bucket. Rudd says another seven years of the gap can be accounted for by factors such as alcohol abuse and poor nutrition, which lead to higher than average incidence of diabetes, renal failure and other chronic diseases.

He and Nelson committed to providing healthcare services and facilities that "are capable of bridging the gap in health standards by 2018", a phrase gnomic to the verge of meaninglessness.

Let us take the Prime Minister at his word and, for argument's sake, accept that 10 of the 17 years' gap can be put down to smoking, drinking and poor diet. The first thing to note is that these are all matters of individual choice, rather than anything that could even remotely be considered an occasion of national disgrace. In a pluralist society, the nanny state can deplore people's lifestyle choices but Aborigines are as entitled as the white proletariat to tell nanny to mind her own business. As well, at least in the short term, addictions to nicotine and alcohol are largely unresponsive to health awareness campaigns.

There are other elements of Aboriginal life, especially in remote communities, that are no doubt prejudicial to good health but are nonetheless matters of personal choice. The dogs to be found in rural encampments, for example, carry all sorts of infections and parasites, yet adults and children often curl up with them at night. Likewise, those indigenous mothers whose vestigial education didn't extend to hygiene often choose to steer clear of bush clinics and visiting doctors. In doing so, they leave untreated ear infections that can easily lead to hearing loss or deafness in young children, who are then themselves almost beyond the reach of education. Yet the state cannot and surely should not be in the business of compelling adults, with or without children, to attend a clinic.

In some settlements, betrothed girls as young as 12 and 13 are encouraged or permitted by their parents to have sexual relations with a prospective husband. This often leads to emergency caesarian sections because the girls are too small to bear a baby in the usual way, and it contributes to higher infant mortality rates. These liaisons are legally problematic, of course, but traditional. A government that tried to enforce the law regarding criminal dealings with a minor in cases such as these, regardless of particular circumstances, would be asking for trouble and would be roundly condemned for interfering with time-honoured practices. These are some of the culturally specific reasons for the bleak indigenous morbidity and mortality statistics.

However, there is a school of thought in public health that holds that the meaningful comparison is not with the rest of the population considered as an amorphous mass but with the non-Aboriginal members of the bottom income decile. It's thought to be much more of an apples and apples comparison and more instructive when it comes to gauging the nature and scale of the problems.

Leading British epidemiologist Michael Marmot has shown (in Inequalities of Health) that socioeconomic characteristics of communities, as well as individual characteristics such as income, education and occupation, affect health outcomes. When it comes to across-the-board comparisons in the lowest decile, we can extrapolate from American studies that suggest whites tend to have worse health outcomes than blacks, though on the same income. It also follows from Marmot's findings that for Aborigines to achieve the same health outcomes as the rest of the population they'd have to cover something approaching the same socioeconomic spectrum: a very tall order in only 22 years.

He has another publication, The Status Syndrome; How Your Social Standing Directly Affects Your Health and Life Expectancy, which is worth mentioning here. Its focus is also on the relationship between socioeconomic position and health outcomes. This holds even when you control for the effects of variables such as income and education and risk factors such as smoking. The direct link he identifies concerns the psychic benefits of being in control of your life and having opportunities for the full range of social engagements.

The land rights movement has always maintained that there is a considerable sense of personal and collective empowerment in returning to ancestral territory, more important than easy access to up-to-the-minute facilities. These are considerations that David Scrimgeour, an authority on indigenous epidemiology, points to when trying to explain why health outcomes in recent West Australian research are in some respects better in remote settlements on traditional lands than in cities. He told Michael Duffy, co-host of Radio National's Counterpoint, that rural mortality rates were lower, especially with "the big killers of Aboriginal people: heart disease and diabetes".

Those outcomes also suggest that access to medical facilities may not, of itself, make as much of a difference as is usually assumed. Elsewhere, in The Medical Journal of Australia, Scrimgeour says that indigenous morbidity rates from all causes appear to be the same across the urban-remote continuum, which supports Marmot's view that socioeconomic status is the central issue.

Rather than taking a health-based approach to achieve better health outcomes, there's a compelling case for adopting a wider social policy approach. Its main emphasis is going to have to be on extending the operation of the real economy into as much of rural and remote Australia as possible. If Rudd Labor is serious about Aboriginal health, it will confine itself to tinkering at the margins with the Northern Territory intervention. It should give wholehearted support to 99-year leases, building more privately owned housing in outback communities and generating real jobs. If the ALP is going to address the socioeconomic basis of indigenous morbidity and premature mortality, it is first going to have to take on board Noel Pearson's critique of passive welfare.

A less rhetorically driven and more factually based version of the relative positions of the poor and those in the middle-income deciles would be helpful, too. A recent Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey showed that those of the poor who participated in the real economy have been getting better off during the past five years. That means, among other things, that in the lowest income decile the task of catching up -- in terms of income and health -- will be that much harder for Aborigines who've been entirely reliant on benefits.

Tony Abbott, a seasoned health minister whose shadow portfolio includes indigenous affairs, takes a sceptical view of last week's announcement. "There has been no shortage of good intentions in this area but precious few good outcomes," he told The Australian. "I have a deep suspicion of statements of aspiration unless they are backed up by specific measures that can realistically be expected to make a difference. Unfortunately, that's where our modern reluctance to be judgmental about other cultures kicks in. A lifestyle characterised by domestic violence, substance abuse and unemployment is not conducive to good health, regardless of people's ethnicity or culture. There will be little change in Aboriginal health outcomes until the way they live comes more closely to resemble that of other Australians."


West slowly awakening from suicidal slumber?

It is, by any measure, a sunny day when moralising elites are forced to eat their words. Only a few short years ago many were busily deriding Australia as an "international pariah" on immigration. Indeed, only last year our new citizenship test was labelled as nasty stuff by people such as journalist David Marr and former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser.

Enter the British Labour Government, which last month announced its intention to introduce tough new citizenship tests and, get this, bring in immigration controls "based on the Australian model". Far from pariah-dom, Australia is a role model on how to control immigration and integrate migrants. More important, as Western nations learn from one another, each new step taken looks more confident and assertive than the previous one.

Finally, perhaps, the West is realising, as Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said late last year, that "it is confidence in your own heritage that allows you to be generous to those of another heritage".

Old ideas that should have never been discarded are being revisited. Although the Brown Government is pitching this as a "vision of British citizenship for the 21st century", it is, in reality, an old one. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's vision of British citizenship as one "founded on a unifying idea of rights matched with responsibilities" marks a long overdue turning point in Western thinking, a return to more sensible times where basic Western values were asserted with confidence.

For the past few decades, the progressive fad of minority rights, fuelled by multiculturalism, has flourished. Once a hard form of multiculturalism took root, one that treated all cultures as equal, the values of the host country were effectively under attack. Cultural relativism morphed into a virulent strand of Western self-loathing where tolerance was reinterpreted to mean tolerating those intolerant of Western culture and values. Brown's reforms are aimed at overturning that rights fetish, a counterproductive and indeed dangerously one-sided notion where people could demand of the state but the state could not demand of them.

These days the multiculti crowd is dwindling to a few stragglers. But they include people who should know better. Last month, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, called for the introduction of some aspects of sharia law into Britain and told the BBC that Muslims should not be required to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty and state loyalty".

The cultural loyalty that Williams robustly defended explains why parts of British society are already unofficially dispensing their own form of sharia law. A few weeks ago London's Daily Mail exposed how parallel courts were operating in Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Manchester, Dewsbury, Birmingham and other towns settled by the 43,000-strong Somali population. Violence within the Somali community is dealt with by groups of elders who meet to hand out punishments in the form of an apology and compensation to the victim. Aydraus Hassan, a Somali youth worker from Woolwich, told the Daily Mail that families rarely called in the police because they preferred their own system of justice. "This is how we have dealt with crime since the 10th century. This is something we can sort out for ourselves," he said.

Cultural loyalty also explains the heartbreaking reports of female genital mutilation among African communities in Britain. Last month, a Liverpool newspaper reported that, despite new laws to prohibit FGM, up to 90 per cent of women in some ethnic communities are mutilated. African tribal elders are being flown into Britain to perform the mutilation. This is happening under the noses of authorities for the simple reason that Western nations such as Britain succumbed to the scourge of cultural relativism where migrants were allowed to openly spurn Western values.

Brown's reforms are a small but important step in reasserting the traditional three-way contract: majority tolerance, minority loyalty and government vigilance in both directions. That contract, well understood by migrants in the 1950s and '60s when they arrived with a sense of obligation to the new country, knowing what was expected of them, was scuppered by multiculturalism. In a sign that the British Government is finally learning the lessons of the past three decades of multicultural mayhem, the 60-page green paper published by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith mentions the M-word only once, as follows, quoting from an Aberdeen participant: "Multiculturalism is a two-way street; they must accept us and change too."

As Brown outlined in his speech in London to launch the reforms, British citizenship will depend on migrants entering into a contract where rights are matched with responsibilities. For example, he says, people are protected from crime but in return agree to obey the law. People can expect and receive services but in return will pay their fair share of taxes and have an obligation to work. Britain will support families but will expect families to take care of their own. Importantly, the Brown Government will consider amending its Human Rights Act to create a new British bill of rights and responsibilities that will detail "not just what people are entitled to but what they are expected to do in return".

In line with Brown's notion of "earned citizenship", a new category of probationary citizens will not be entitled to full rights associated with citizenship. The Brown Government will explore whether some services - such as the right to post-18 education, the right to public housing and social security benefits - will apply only on full citizenship. Probationary citizens will be required to donate to a fund to help finance local public services.

The Brown Government's reforms are an acknowledgment of the "progressive dilemma" - the conflict between solidarity and diversity - outlined a few years ago by David Goodhart, editor of the progressive Prospect. Coming from a member of the Left, Goodhart's observations packed a punch. He talked about us not just living among strangers but having to share with them. "All such acts of sharing are more smoothly and generously negotiated if we can take for granted a limited set of common values and assumptions," he said.

The changes outlined by Brown are unashamedly about cementing solidarity, outlining a common identity and expecting migrants to sign on to the traditional social contract in an era of globalisation where more and more people born in one country want to live in another. It is Goodhart's thesis writ large and long overdue.

That Western governments are forced to articulate the importance of Western values and the traditional social contract tells you how far these core principles fell into disrepair. But at least, finally, it suggests that the West is slowly waking from its suicidal slumber.


Let rest of world (mainly Europe) make climate errors

KEVIN Rudd has an unfortunate proclivity for proclaiming Australia should lead the world in its response to global warming. For a country so richly endowed with carbon-based energy resources, this does not immediately commend itself as the most obvious policy course for us to follow. And the latest discussion paper on emissions trading from the Garnaut review, released last Thursday, should have set political alarm bells ringing on the potential costs of action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong is right to describe emissions trading as one of the most far-reaching and complex reforms in Australian history. Economist Ross Garnaut, who is conducting the review of climate change policies for the state and federal governments, defers to nobody in his alarm at the pace of global warming and his sense of urgency about responding to it.

However, among the "core factors" his terms of reference require him to take into account is this one: "the costs and benefits of Australia taking significant action to mitigate climate change ahead of competitor nations". While Garnaut is keen to see Australia play a full part in international efforts on climate change, his interim report suggests we should calibrate our responses so that they mirror "similar adjustment costs to other developed nations". Just what this will mean in practice is a fascinating question.

The indications are that even the relatively trivial emissions targets set under the Kyoto Protocol are likely to be missed by many signatory nations, including Canada, New Zealand and various European countries, which are looking for ways to avoid the penalties involved for so doing. Britain, which has claimed it will meet its Kyoto target comfortably (because it shut down its coal industry in the 1990s, for reasons that had nothing to do with climate change), turns out to have been using dodgy measurements. According to the method preferred by Britain's National Audit Office, there has been no reduction in its emissions from their 1990 level.

But even more interesting is the way things are unfolding when it comes to future action. The European Union has been a leading proponent of the apocalyptic view of the consequences of climate change and an advocate of strong global action. Yet in recent months there has been a far from unified response to proposals from Brussels on emissions targets and related matters from the EU's members. Germany and France, the EU's two most powerful members, have been unhappy and vocal about the effect on their energy-intensive industries, including the steel and car industries, of targets such as a 20 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020.

Ironically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chaired last year's EU spring summit (where she was all for the adoption of such targets), did an about-face this month. Germany led a push to get energy-intensive industries special treatment, alarming the Greens in the European parliament, who described it as small-minded and "a frenzy of bargaining for exemptions and further compromises".

There is growing concern in Europe that energy-intensive industries could move offshore if the EU is too ambitious in setting its emission reduction targets. The summit communique provides for special treatment for energy-intensive industries if international negotiations fail to get other countries to match Europe's emission targets.

The European Commission's president Jose Manuel Barroso is concerned this compromise will undermine Europe's credibility in international negotiations. He is talking of the possibility of protectionist measures against imports from countries such as China, with lower environmental standards, if international agreement on climate change action isn't reached by 2009. This would be a disastrous move, for Europe and the world.

Japan is also running into difficulties with its Kyoto target and appears to be looking for ways to shift the goalposts in the next round of climate change negotiations.

In the US all the presidential candidates are talking about commitment to an emissions trading system and targets, but there is no reason to think Congress, which is in a protectionist mood, will sign on to any international agreement that doesn't impose obligations on China and other developing countries to accept binding targets for emissions cuts. There is no sign China or India will agree to that, and if China and the US don't play ball, then it's game over for any meaningful international agreement post-Kyoto in 2012.

Garnaut has acknowledged that at the present rate of progress in global negotiations, agreement on a comprehensive plan to substantially slash greenhouse gas emissions could be decades away. This is not an environment in which Australia should be rushing to set up an ambitious national emissions trading scheme. The Rudd Government should think again about its aim of finalising its plans by the end of the year.

It is not only a matter of not getting ahead of our international competitors in imposing substantial costs on key national industries. What Garnaut proposes also involves vast transfers of wealth, jobs and resources domestically, as government reallocates the billions of dollars in revenue its emissions trading scheme would raise. Garnaut has suggested ways to use these enormous revenues to compensate households and other victims of the higher prices and job losses involved. But the whole of economic history suggests the scope for misallocation and misuse of these funds by government is great.

Neither climate change alarmism, based on still uncertain science, nor misplaced ambition to be a world leader in emission reductions should rush us into premature decisions on such a fundamental issue. The rest of the world isn't in any hurry.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rudd and Bush in agreement

US President George Bush has praised Australia's decision to withdraw its combat troops from Iraq as a sign of both military success and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's strength of character. Making the best of a diplomatic setback, Mr Bush said Mr Rudd was not abandoning Iraq, but simply changing mission. "Obviously, the Prime Minister kept a campaign commitment, which I appreciate," Mr Bush said of Mr Rudd's election promise to withdraw 550 combat troops. "I always like to be in the presence of somebody who does what he says he's going to do. This is a guy who meant it."

Speaking after meeting the Prime Minister at the White House early yesterday, Mr Bush said Mr Rudd's plan was no different from his own intention to withdraw five US brigades by July. "Troops are coming out because we're successful. I would view the Australian decision as a return on success," he said. "That's fundamentally different from saying 'Well it's just too hard, pull them all out.' "

Mr Rudd assured the US that Australia would increase diplomatic and humanitarian assistance to Iraq and pledged $165million in aid. Both men stressed the alliance was in good shape and went beyond the individuals occupying office. "That friendship will strengthen and endure under the leadership of Kevin Rudd," Mr Bush said.

Whereas the President once called former prime minister John Howard a "man of steel" and designated him as an honorary Texan, yesterday he dubbed Mr Rudd a "fine lad". When pressed whether Mr Rudd deserved the "man of steel" moniker, Mr Bush said "yeah, heck yeah". Mr Rudd designated Mr Bush as an honorary Queenslander. Both men were united on the crisis in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Mr Rudd said China needed to discuss Tibet's administration with the Dalai Lama.


Toothless watchdog

NSW Opposition leader Barry O'Farrell has marked his first anniversary in the job with a stinging attack on the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), accusing it of ducking tough State Government corruption claims. In an extraordinary outburst, Mr O'Farrell said the ICAC was a far cry from the fearless watchdog it was under previous commissioners Ian Temby and Barry O'Keefe.

He said that although Mr Temby was appointed by former premier Nick Greiner to head the ICAC for its first five years, he was obviously no Liberal Party pin-up because a finding of corrupt conduct led to Mr Greiner's resignation in 1992. ICAC found Mr Greiner acted corruptly by appointing his former education minister, Terry Metherell, to a public service position in return for resigning from his safe Liberal seat. The finding was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Mr Temby was much more demanding of the government than the incumbent commissioner Jerrold Cripps, Mr O'Farrell said. He added that politicians were no longer fearful of the ICAC "because its inner-spring has wound down". "That's best evidenced by its refusal to investigate the Greens' reference to ICAC of [Planning Minister] Frank Sartor's alleged phoning of corporates for donations," Mr O'Farrell said.

The ICAC decided last month not to investigate an allegation made by the Greens that Mr Sartor had called the managing director of Stockland and asked if the company would purchase a table at a political fundraiser. At the time, Mr Sartor said he did not remember the phone call, which was alleged to have been made at a time that he was considering substantial development applications from Stockland.

"I do not believe Ian Temby or his successor would have sat by and allowed a government to give a planning minister so much centralised planning power that he or she would make decisions on development applications of political donors to their party," Mr O'Farrell said. "Six months ago, ICAC to its credit put out a report saying that system should change, but for six months nothing's been done." Mr O'Farrell said the ICAC was "doing some very good work" in local government but did not "seem to want to take on the real political operators in this state". "I think you can make the case that it's been taking the low hanging fruit instead of reaching for the high stuff."

Mr O'Farrell said a Coalition state government would compel ministers to report any claims of corruption to the ICAC. "That's why Morris Iemma can get away with saying anyone who has information should pass it to ICAC rather than act himself." In veiled criticism of the previous commissioner, Irene Moss, Mr O'Farrell said the ICAC had begun to change before the appointment of Mr Cripps. "I think Mr Cripps is following in a model which was set before he arrived," he said. "I think at some stage ICAC found it all too hard and started to put its educative role ahead of its investigative role."


Sydney's killer hospital strikes again

And nothing is being done about the gross negligence concerned

A major [public] hospital has admitted that it failed to properly treat a disabled woman who died while in its care. Karen Stone, 41, was admitted to Sydney's St George Hospital in October 2004, with acute leg pain. She died a few days later from pulmonary thromboembolism after an undiagnosed clot in her leg travelled to her lung, the State Coroner found the following year. Now her mother wants to know why doctors at the hospital failed to give her routine preventative treatment.

Lynette Stone said both she and her daughter repeatedly asked hospital staff to investigate if the pain was caused by deep vein thrombosis. Their concerns were dismissed, even though Ms Stone was a high-risk patient. Mrs Stone questions if her daughter's disability meant she received less care and attention from staff. Ms Stone had a rare medical condition called Prader-Willi Syndrome that causes an obsession with food and eating, poor muscle tone and learning difficulties.

Debora Picone, who was in charge of the hospital at the time and is now the Director-General of NSW Health, said in a letter to the Health Care Complaints Commission soon after the autopsy that there was no excuse for the failure. "A satisfactory explanation was not documented in the clinical record nor was the caring medical team able to provide one when questioned," she wrote. She admitted the hospital should have provided anticoagulant therapy. The simple, but life-saving, injection was finally ordered by a professor who was taking a group of medical students on tour of the ward two days later, but the treatment was still not administered for another 24 hours. Ms Stone died the next day.

"It cannot be ascertained why the omission of treatment occurred," Professor Picone wrote. The Health Care Complaints Commission did not investigate the death, instead offering conciliation - an informal discussion with no power to make any decisions. Lorraine Long from Medical Error Action Group said government departments set up to deal with complaints had proved to be "ineffective" and a "waste of time" for bereaved families. "I have not encountered a person to be satisfied with a health-care complaints commission anywhere in the country," she said. "They want you to conciliate a death - it's obscene."

Mrs Stone said her daughter was a "wonderful soul" who brought endless joy to her family and friends. "In my heart I feel she should still be with us. If only they had taken more care, questioned more about why the pain wouldn't go away, she would not have died," she said. "If she'd been 'normal' would they have taken more notice of her?"

Venous thromboembolism, which refers to deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, causes 10,000 deaths each year in hospitals - more than lung and breast cancer combined. Professor Beng Chong, a hematologist at St George Hospital and head of the Department of Medicine at the University of NSW, said many hospitals did not assign the task of venous thromboembolism risk assessment to particular doctors or nurses, while many simply forgot.


Absurd: Firefighters answering medical emergencies

FIRE crews in Queensland have been used as a first response in medical emergencies for several years, despite denials by authorities. Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws reveal that crews have been diverted from fires to attend medical matters because of a shortage of ambulances. In one case, a Cairns fire crew had to abort a fire call and attend a person who had been knocked unconscious in a nightclub fight.

In an exclusive Sunday Mail report in December, sources said fire trucks would soon be known as "red ambulances" in a radical plan to have firefighters attend more medical emergencies. The vehicles were to be fitted with life-saving defibrillators and used as a first response while the crisis-hit Queensland Ambulance Service struggled to cope with soaring life-threatening emergency calls.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts, Fire Commissioner Lee Johnson and then Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins strenuously denied the claims. Mr Roberts said there was "no current plan" to convert fire trucks into red ambulances. But in a letter from the United Firefighters Union in July 2006, Mr Johnson and Mr Higgins were advised of "inappropriate requests" to use fire trucks as first responders.

Union state secretary Mark Walker said members were told the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service would not be used in this capacity - but it happened regularly. "Clearly, the QAS communications centre has requested QFRS attendance to provide a first-responder role . . . (when) there is no agreement with QAS for such a role," he said. Mr Walker said TV footage had shown an incident in the Brisbane CBD where a cyclist hit a pedestrian, with firies in attendance and no ambulance. A Charters Towers fire crew had been placed on standby for medical calls one weekend due to unavailability of QAS crews.

"We have serious concerns with our members being exposed to additional risks by being called upon to do the work of the ambulance service," Mr Walker said. "We also have concerns regarding the additional risks to the community when 13-tonne fire appliances are responded to any number of other incidents that do not warrant our attention." Mr Walker sought reassurance from the commissioners that the QAS would not dispatch fire crews "to incidents for the sole purpose of providing medical assistance".

In subsequent correspondence last year, the union said it was prepared to discuss an emergency medical service role for firefighters, but there needed to be a restriction on the number and type of incidents attended plus appropriate training.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Your regulators will protect you

Controversial GP Michael Tait is under investigation over allegations he diagnosed a woman as a hypochondriac even though she was keter found to be riddled with tumours, and tried to put her on a $2000-a-month anti-ageing therapy. For 15 months, Elizabeth Orchard consulted the New Zealand and British-trained GP - now facing deregistration over his unconventional treatment of 150 terminally ill cancer sufferers - as her health deteriorated after she collapsed on the family farm in the Gold Coast hinterland. Dr Tait, who ran a GP practice alongside his Gold Coast anti-ageing clinic, was the only doctor they could find on the day of her February 2002 collapse.

According to the 57-year-old former businesswoman - who Sydney doctors later discovered had a 7.5cm-wide benign brain tumour and seven breast tumours - Dr Tait was more interested in putting her on human growth hormones, which he has since been convicted of illegally importing and selling. Despite having paralysis in one of her legs, increasingly blurred vision, bleeding from her breasts and memory loss - even forgetting her son's name - Ms Orchard said the only tests Dr Tait ordered during scores of visits were a back X-ray and an abdominal ultrasound, at her request.

Ms Orchard said she was required by her income protection insurer to have Dr Tait oversee her treatment and provide progressive reports for her benefits. In 2003, Dr Tait ruled her fit for work, leading to her benefits being cut off despite her being bedridden. "I sought opinions from other doctors but unbeknown to me, they were consulting Dr Tait, because he was my official doctor for the insurance policy," she told The Weekend Australian. "He was telling them that I had already had every necessary test possible and nothing abnormal had showed up. So no one took me seriously. He was repeatedly dismissive of my problems, my symptoms and called me a hypochondriac."

Ms Orchard said that, in June 2004, her mother paid for her to undergo a brain scan in Sydney. "They found a massive tumour in my brain and the doctors told me I had about two weeks to live, without surgery, because it had reached critical mass," she said. "The doctors told me it was an old tumour, probably 10 years or older. "I then underwent a 9 1/2-hour operation for the brain tumour and had a later operation to remove 5kg of breast tissue." Ms Orchard said she faced further operations and had ongoing seizures and a shortened life expectancy.

She is currently receiving legal advice over her treatment and last year made a complaint to the Medical Board of Queensland, but she said she was disappointed it was yet to take action. A spokesman for Dr Tait yesterday refused to comment. Authorities last week filed an action in Queensland's Health Practitioner's Tribunal against Dr Tait over his "unconventional" therapies. Some of his patients - including the late soccer legend Johnny Warren - allegedly paid up to $20,000 for treatment. In 2006, Dr Tait was convicted on nine charges of obtaining and selling a restricted drug, for which he was fined $9600.


Tasmania's 'deadly' government health-care system slammed by doctors

TASMANIA'S healthcare system is dangerous and is putting lives at risk, says the Australian Medical Association's state president. Haydn Walters says unless the $25 million bonus hospital funds promised by the Federal Government this week are spent opening beds, people will die. He said the money must be used to make the state's deadly healthcare system safe. "We have a very ragged, degraded healthcare system and it puts lives at risk," he said.

Dr Walters said surgeries were delayed because there were not an adequate number of beds to admit patients post-operatively. He said the equivalent of two wards of beds were closed at the Royal Hobart Hospital. "Beds have closed because we can't afford to open them, so without question the extra funding has to be spent on opening beds," he said.

Dr Walters said people with gall-bladder disease should have surgery within four to six weeks, but public patients in Hobart were waiting between nine to 12 months. "People with arthritis are forced to put up with the pain because they can't get in for surgery and gynaecology patients who are incontinent can't get in for reconstructive surgery at all," he said. "It is uncomfortable and unsafe in Tasmania at the moment if you don't have private health."

Dr Walters believes if beds were made available and proper staffing levels provided, the health system would be safer. "It will take the pressure off nursing staff, the emergency ward, the waiting lists -- and if we treat staff with respect, we will start to build a better public hospital system," he said.

Premier Paul Lennon said the allocation of the $25 million was a decision for Health Minister Lara Giddings and her department. Ms Giddings welcomed the additional funding but did not elaborate on how the money would be spent. Both Mr Lennon and Ms Giddings expressed disappointment that Tasmania receives only 31 per cent funding from the Commonwealth compared with 40 per cent received by Victoria. Ms Giddings said if Tasmania were to receive the same funding as Victoria, public hospitals would be $111 million better off each year. Tasmania will receive $217 million from the Commonwealth over 2007-08 with the state contributing $492.6 million, 36 per cent of the state's total Budget.


Soft life in prison, courtesy of Queensland's kindly Leftist government

QUEENSLAND'S worst criminals spend their days watching latest-release DVDs, playing PlayStation games, listening to CDs and eating chocolate and chips. The perks enjoyed by inmates, who include murderers, rapists and pedophiles, have angered prison guards. Prisoners get up to seven new DVDs a week streamed free of charge over an internal channel on TVs in their cells. Other perks such as CDs, PlayStation games, lap-top computers and junk food must be paid for by the prisoners themselves - either through prison earnings of between $25 and $40 a week, an unemployment allowance of $20 a week, or a trust fund to which relatives can contribute up to $50 a week.

President of the Queensland Prison Officers Association Brian Newman yesterday said the Corrective Services department was making it "way too easy" for prisoners. "Our members see much more than the public could imagine in terms of the benefits afforded to prisoners without having to earn them," Mr Newman said.

But Debbie Kilroy, from prisoners' support group Sisters Inside, said people were sent to jail as punishment, not to be punished when they got there. Their punishment is being in prison," Ms Kilroy said. "It's always been a very blurry line for some prison officers how they are treated once they're in there."

Prisoners are not allowed to watch R-rated films, but MA (mature adults only) classified titles such as 30 Days of Night, Alpha Dog and Black Sheep are among those provided to prisons by Amalgamated Movies, a company licensed to supply films to correctional facilities and other closed institutions.

A Townsville-based prison officer said most people would be surprised to learn inmates were able to access such luxuries. "They can refuse to attend courses that address their offending behaviour, refuse to attend court if they don't want to see the victims, and just sleep in watching videos and eating junk food instead," the officer said. "Added to this they get sport every day, guitar lessons and art and craft."

Queensland Corrective Services confirmed prisoners were able to purchase a range of items such as sports shoes, chips and chocolates as "privileges". "Depending on a prisoner's behaviour, their access to these items can be removed by Corrective Services staff," a spokesman said. QCS also confirmed DVDs were streamed free of charge to televisions hired by the prisoners for $2 a week. "All prisoners in Queensland correctional centres are locked down for 12 hours each day, from 7pm to 7am. Because of this extensive lock-down period, televisions are made available to assist in occupying prisoners during this time,in turn contributing to the safety and security of the centre," the spokesman said.

But Catholic Prison Ministry co-ordinator David Martin said it was not fair to suggest prisoners spent their days lounging in their cells, watching DVDs and scoffing junk food. "There's a lot of disillusionment, there's boredom, there's isolation. It's a tedious life with no work and it can only lead to unrest. It's not conducive to them being rehabilitated," Mr Martin said. He said prisoners could earn money for work in jail, and were entitled to spend it in fortnightly "buy-ups". "There has been no increase in the remuneration for prisoners but we've seen items like hair brushes increase from $2.59 to $12.51 in 12 months," he said.

Prisoners' Legal Service co-ordinator Matilda Alexander said there was no real benefit to anyone for a prisoner to be left staring at the walls of a jail cell. "What's the advantage of having someone sit in a cell, who wants a job but there's not enough jobs to go around, who wants to do a program but there's not enough places - why begrudge them some form of entertainment?" she said.


Bikini the new feminist symbol (?)

FORGET burning bras - today's young self-styled feminists prefer to show their girl power in a skimpy swimsuit. At least they do if they're participants in one of Australia's biggest bikini pageants being held next week on the Gold Coast. Entrants in the annual Ralph Australian Swimwear Model of the Year contest insist they were not merely sex objects.

Serial pageant entrant Ilia Valdez, 20, said far from demeaning and objectifying women, the quests empowered them. "There are always going to be people out there who say what we do isn't right, and that it's going to be degrading for women and such," said Ms Valdez, a finance manager with a boutique investment firm. "What I have to tell them is that it's the complete opposite. It builds women's self-confidence and strength and it helps if you want to get into the media industry - there are so many avenues it opens up ." Ms Valdez said while there was some bitchiness, relations between quest rivals were "generally great".

Another avid swimwear pageant entrant, Gold Coast model Christie-Lee Sharpe, 24, said the events offered good prizemoney and perks. The Ralph pageant, promoted by the national men's magazine, boasts $50,000 in cash and prizes. This year the finalists also will audition for a spot on Neighbours. "Sex sells and I think it's a case that if you've got it, flaunt it - I'm not going to look like this forever," Ms Sharpe said.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Jobs for the girls

Queensland does after all now have a female Premier. An all-Lesbian judiciary coming up? Not mentioned below is that Leanne was involved in the disgraceful prosecution of Pauline Hanson -- thrown out on appeal. As you can see below, Leanne has difficulty looking feminine even when she tries

QUEENSLAND'S controversial chief prosecutor Leanne Clare has been appointed a District Court judge. Attorney-General Kerry Shine said the director of public prosecutions would join barristers David Andrews and William Everson as the state's newest judges. "The three new judges are all highly regarded by the profession, and will complement the existing judges who perform such an important role in meeting the justice needs of Queenslanders," Mr Shine said.

Ms Clare, who has been Queensland director of public prosecutions since 2000, has faced calls for her resignation over a number of cases. She has been criticised over her handling of the extradition of former Bundaberg surgeon Dr Jayant Patel and her department's approach to a case involving nine men who raped a girl, 10, at the Aurukun community, in far north Queensland.

Ms Clare will step down as DPP next week, and Mr Shine said the search would begin immediately for her replacement. Her deputy Paul Rutledge will act in the position while it is being advertised. "The position will be advertised nationally in coming weeks and I am sure will attract a strong field of applicants," Mr Shine said. "As attorney-general I am keen to see that someone with extensive prosecution and legal experience and respect within legal circles is appointed as the next DPP."

Ms Clare began her legal career as a clerk in 1980 and joined the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1986. She has previously acted as a judge of the District Court and was appointed senior counsel in 2006.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman welcomed Ms Clare's appointment. "She's been formerly an acting judge, and performed well in the role, so it's appropriate she be appointed," Mr O'Gorman said. "It's been a long time since a judge has been appointed from the DPP's office."


Earth Hour should be grounded

A lot of hot air is going into tomorrow's Earth Hour, and I don't just mean the hot-air balloon sent up last Saturday to promote this hour-long switch-off. But, good God, why did the organisers choose that way to promote a campaign to make us cut our gases? Sending up the 32-metre light globe-shaped billboard burned so much gas - and emitted so much carbon dioxide - that we'll have to switch off 10,000 lights tomorrow just to make it up.

Perfect, then, that it landed in the Peanut Farm Reserve, and equally symbolic that The Age gave this wildly inappropriate stunt fawning coverage. Why? Because Earth Hour proves that what threatens us is not so much global warming, but lousy journalism. Asking us to turn off lights between 8pm and 9pm is a crusade by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. And already one light is staying on and flashing alarm.

You see, it's always a danger when newspapers take up campaigns. Suddenly they get tempted to report only stuff that pushes their agenda, and to ignore facts that don't. The Age and SMH - already giddy with global warming evangelism - perfectly illustrate this danger.

Earth Hour started last year in Sydney, where the SMH campaigned furiously to get everyone in the CBD to turn off their lights for an hour after dusk to "raise awareness" that our gases from electricity use were allegedly warming the world to hell. But it was a flop - lights blazed on - yet you won't read that in The Age or SMH. On the contrary, the SMH's Sunday paper, The Sun-Herald, instead ran "before and after" pictures purporting to show Sydney plunge from a blaze of light into a great gloom. But the dark "after" picture turned out to have been badly under-exposed compared with the "before" picture. And the "before" picture turned out to have been taken not just before Earth Hour but two days earlier, when, as Media Watch reported, "weather conditions helped make the whole scene look much lighter".

Nothing dishonest was done, of course. It's just that these two "mistakes" suited the paper's agenda. It didn't stop there. Check how The Age now routinely reports last year's "success":

"Last year's first Earth Hour had as many as 2.2 million Sydneysiders and 2000 businesses turn off their lights, causing a 10 per cent drop in the city's energy use."

Really? First, it's mad to think half of Sydney's population switched off for a stunt centred on the CBD. This figure is actually a huge extrapolation from a poll of fewer than 800 guilty people who claimed they'd maybe switched off something or other during the hour. Second, the claimed dip in power was just for the CBD, not all Sydney. Third, the 10 per cent cut claimed for the CBD is itself a gross exaggeration.

A cut so tiny is trivial - equal to taking six cars off the road for a year. But David Solomon, a finance PhD student at the Chicago University's graduate school of business, crunched Sydney's power figures to exclude seasonal and daily fluctuations, and concluded there was actually close to no power saving at all. "When a fixed effect is included for the whole day, the drop in electricity use during Earth Hour is statistically indistinguishable from zero."

So why does The Age exaggerate? Because it's on a campaign to persuade, not inform, which is why it also won't report other awkward facts. Here's one: global temperatures have fallen since 1998. Indeed, all four big global temperature tracking outlets, including Britain's Hadley Centre, now say global temperatures over the past year have dropped sharply. NASA adds that the oceans have also cooled for the past few years.

Why doesn't The Age tell its readers this, instead of scaring them with reports, and balloons, that are just hot air? That's crusading, not reporting.


PM cracks down on political donations

When I donated to the BNP, I was told that, as a foreigner, I could donate only 200 pounds, so Rudd is being even meaner than that. It seems an invasion of individual liberties to me. A rule that parties had to publicize overseas donations above $1,000 would seem sufficient

The Rudd Government will ban political donations from overseas in Australia and force the disclosure of all donations above $1000. Special Minister of State John Faulkner has confirmed the new laws will be introduced during the next sitting of parliament and the Government aims to pass the laws in the same period.

In a move to tackle candidates such as One Nation founder Pauline Hanson profiting from campaigns through public funding, new laws will also tie election funding to spending. "Our plan is to introduce legislation in the next session for passage in the next session,'' Senator Faulkner said today. The Government will also work on more wide-ranging reforms by commissioning a green paper to reform and modernise electoral laws.

The Prime Minister will write to the states to seek their co-operation in overhauling political donation laws across the country. "In the short term, the legislation will urgently move on five issues. The first is to set the campaign disclosure level at $1000 reversing the Howard government's huge increase in the disclosure $10,0000, indexed,'' Senator Faulkner said. "I am very committed to restoring the integrity of our electoral system in this country.'' [Any proof that it LACKS integrity?]

The Government will also remove loopholes allowing political parties to hide big donations through separate divisions and increase public scrutiny by introducing six-month timeframes for disclosure.

Because political candidates secure taxpayer funding on the basis of the votes they secure, some independent and minor candidates secure a financial windfall while spending little on campaigning. After the 1998 election, for example MsHanson's One Nation secured more than $3 million in public funding, more than the Nationals did. However, the party would have spent just a fraction of that amount on campaigning. At the time, to be eligible for any funding, a candidate or party had to win at least 4 per cent of the formal first-preference votes. The reform plan also follows controversy in NSW over big political donations from building developers in the wake of the Wollongong Council scandal.


Victoria police under fire for corruption again

GROSS mismanagement and allegations of theft, rorting [misuse of funds] and kickbacks in senior levels of Victoria Police are being investigated by a secret internal corruption taskforce. The taskforce, which includes forensic accountants, is believed to have identified tens of thousands of dollars that are either missing or unaccounted for. One senior manager who allegedly ran up a $5000 monthly bill while operating a private consultancy through his Victoria Police mobile telephone is understood to have been charged with theft. Victoria Police has confirmed a senior manager has resigned as a result of the investigation.

It is understood that investigators have so far found about 90 mobile telephones were distributed without records being kept of where they went. The wife of a senior manager was allegedly given a Victoria Police mobile phone and laptop for her private use. The potential misuse of travel budgets and allegations of kickbacks to police employees from suppliers are also being investigated.

The internal investigation into the troubled Business Information Technology Services department began about a month ago after an audit uncovered wide-ranging financial irregularities. A police source said the investigation had the potential to evolve into one of the biggest and most complex internal probes of its kind ever undertaken by Victoria Police. The information technology department, which is responsible for overseeing all information and computer technology within Victoria Police, has been dogged by controversy and allegations of incompetence, wrongdoing and cost blowouts for years. The investigation is so complex it has been put in the hands of Commander David Sprague, who previously headed such high-profile cases as the execution-style murders of two young police constables in Walsh Street, South Yarra, in 1988 and the hunt for the child killer dubbed "Mr Cruel".

Those under investigation are understood to be mostly civilian public servants employed by Victoria Police and not uniformed officers. The head of the BITS department, Valda Berzins, was appointed chief information officer from outside the force by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon in 2004 to "clean up" chronic problems with Victoria Police's technology section. Ms Berzins, who is also part of Ms Nixon's executive management group and reports to the Chief Commissioner, declined to comment on the investigation. She referred The Australian to Victoria Police's communications director.

An initial audit of the technology department by the force's Corporate Management Review Division is understood to have resulted in a damning report with 106 recommendations, a number of them critical of the department's top management. The internal corruption investigation was ordered after an initial assessment that criminal behaviour could be involved.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said a "range of matters around process" had been identified and work was under way to "rectify these issues". "We can confirm that as a consequence of the audit one senior manager has resigned," she said.

Past problems in the department include alleged misbehaviour by senior managers, attempts to cover up budget blowouts and the discovery of child pornography links on a senior manager's laptop. The department was responsible for overseeing a contract that blew out from $151.5 million to $239.5 million.


New Zealand man 'raped by wombat' claims he now speaks Australian

A bit of fun. This belongs on a humour site but only Kiwis and Australians would get it. A wombat above. They're a sort of burrowing Koala

A New Zealand man has been sentenced to community work after telling police he was raped by a wombat and the experience had made him speak "Australian". Arthur Ross Cradock, 48, from the South Island town of Motueka, called police on February 11 and told them he was being raped at his home by the wombat and he needed help, The Nelson Mail newspaper reported. The orchard worker later called back and said: "Apart from speaking Australian now, I'm pretty all right, you know."

Cradock pleaded guilty in the local court to using a phone for a fictitious purpose. He was sentenced to 75 hours' community work. Police prosecutor Sergeant Chris Stringer told the court alcohol played a large role in Cradock's life. [Sheep too?]


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Christianity trumps socialism in caring for black kids

Community-run child dormitories should be established in remote indigenous communities in the Northern Territory to ensure children are fed, clothed and bathed, former Australian of the Year Galarrwuy Yunupingu says. Dormitory-style accommodation with cooking, showering and sleeping facilities should be built near schools, Mr Yunupingu told Fairfax. "The missionary days were good. The missionaries looked after the kids much better than the government does today," he said.

Adolescents as young as 12 in his Arnhem Land town of Nhulunbuy were still vulnerable to sexual abuse and manipulation by men selling alcohol, drugs and pornography, despite federal intervention in NT indigenous communities, Mr Yunupingu said. "I see intervention people running around trying to fix doorknobs and broken windows," he said. "What has that got to do with the kids? It's not filling up their stomachs. "There are thousands of kids waking up to no breakfast in these communities ... you can't turn a blind eye to it."

Mr Yunupingu is in Melbourne to address an economic and social outlook conference being held at Melbourne University, where he will say 60 elders of his own people in Nhulunbuy had decided to take a stand against those who had been reportedly abusing the town's indigenous youth.

The NT's Little Children are Sacred report, which prompted the federal intervention, alleged a rampant sex trade in an unnamed community where non-Aboriginal mining workers gave Aboriginal girls aged between 12 and 15 alcohol, cash and other goods in exchange for sex. The community was Nhulunbuy, Fairfax said.


"Bootcamp" for fat kids?

This is REALLY getting Fascist

Bootcamp in schools is not necessary and teachers should not cop the blame for unfit children, the State Government said yesterday. Education Minister David Bartlett said schools were already doing enough to ensure kids were fit and healthy and parents needed to play a larger role. He said bootcamp was "too extreme", school curriculums were already crowded, and schools needed to focus on literacy and numeracy over sport.

His comments come after high-profile TV fitness trainer Michelle Bridges, from the TV show The Biggest Loser, said Tasmanian students should undertake high-intensity bootcamp for at least 30 minutes at the start of each school day to reduce skyrocketing obesity rates. Bridges said she was shocked Tasmania had one of the nation's highest obesity rates and that doctors had been treating children as young as two for obesity-related health conditions. And she said Tasmanian schools could lead the nation with daily bootcamps which would have "massive results" on students' exercise, nutrition and learning.

But Mr Bartlett said he did not support bootcamps and was confident students already did enough exercise at school. "I don't like the term bootcamp because it's too extreme," Mr Bartlett said. "But in fact there are physical education programs happening in all our schools, and some of the best ones are those style of things where kids get out in the morning, do their exercise, get ready and come back in and start learning. "We have mandated two hours of physical education a week in every school in Tasmania, and in almost every school I've been into physical activity and education happens every day."

He said parents needed to stop blaming schools for unfit children, and do more at home to encourage exercise and good eating habits. "It's a crowded curriculum and people in Tasmania, I believe, as my number one priority, want me to lift literacy and numeracy rates and that's what we're working hard on," Mr Bartlett said. He said more emphasis needed to be put on what happened at home.


The wonders of a government education

Angry students have walked out of their classrooms in protest at the run down state of their primary school. More than 50 pupils holding placards, including one which read "My wet socks suck"', gathered outside Trinity Beach State School, Cairns, in far north Queensland on Wednesday to draw attention to what they call sub-standard facilities. Parents also joined the protest.

Students and parents claim the school's classrooms are run down, cramped and mouldy, there is nowhere to play when it rains, the oval is a boggy mess, the demountables need replacing and the toilets smell. Parent Neils Munksgaard held up a tattered school library book to illustrate the point. "This is out of the school library and you can see it's all patched up with tape and it doesn't look good,"' he said. "And that's pretty much the state of the buildings."

The strike went ahead despite the state government yesterday promising $40,000 in additional funding. Local MP Steve Wettenhall said Trinity Beach State School was "a great school", but organised a petition for parents to sign. "I heard what they said and I'll be taking that message back to Brisbane, and I'll be talking with the education minister (Rod Welford) about the issues at Trinity Beach State School," Mr Wettenhall said.

P&C president Ian Stone said the school was in such a state of decay that some parents had removed their children. "Due to lack of maintenance in the school's general appearance, some parents have chosen to take their kids elsewhere, and that's a crying shame," Mr Stone said.


Australia's museums becoming tools for Leftist propaganda

By all accounts Dawn Casey, the indigenous woman chosen to be the director of Sydney's largest and most popular museum, the Powerhouse, is a polished performer and formidable administrator. She managed to get Canberra's controversial $155 million National Museum of Australia (NMA) opened on time and on budget in 2001, a feat so fine the builders presented her with a framed piece of the Berlin Wall, on which was engraved, "For making the impossible possible".

But Casey, 57, is also a cultural warrior who believes museums should be political, should showcase "suppressed" voices and a multiplicity of "truths", and should be places of "dissent and debate", as she wrote two years later, in a paper for Australian Museums & Galleries Online. This is presumably what the NMA was all about, conceived by its architect, Howard Raggatt, as "one in the eye for John Howard", with its design modelled on Berlin's Holocaust museum and directly equating Australia's history with the Jewish Holocaust in Europe. Gigantic Braille messages pressed into its anodised aluminium cladding reading "Sorry" and "Forgive us our genocide" were early proof that this was a museum in the business of waging cultural war, despite the softly spoken manner of its well-liked director of four years, Casey.

Black-white relations were summed up by black figures hanging in effigy near a white trooper with a shotgun in his hand. The Anzac tradition was trivialised, with its sole presence a bleached-out statue of a digger. World War II was shoved into the corner of a display case holding Phar Lap's heart. Australia's non-Aboriginal history was treated as a silly joke, summed up in an upside down hills hoist and Victa mowers as the ultimate suburban irony. There was a monument to Gough Whitlam, alone among prime ministers, and suffusing every exhibit what the present director, Craddock Morton, calls a "black T-shirt" view of history; 1970s-style left-wing, and facile.

The arrival of the First Fleet was described in one exhibit as a "biological invasion", but in the Casey era the museum contained next to nothing about the ingenuity, scientific and technological innovations that marked the next two centuries. No Howard Florey. No CSIRO or Qantas. This is a museum as ideological battering ram, not a place for increasing knowledge.

Welcome to the postmodern future of the Powerhouse. After a worldwide hunt, the board has chosen as its director a person who is capable and admirable in many ways, but who, if she sticks to her track record at the NMA, could take the museum down a fraught path. A clue to the nature of the museum is its name, Powerhouse, as the museum was built on the site of an old electricity generation station in Ultimo. It is a science, technology, industry and design museum. Its greatest attractions are a celebration of man's ingenuity and it pays homage to cars and aircraft and space travel. Perhaps that is an anachronism but that's part of the definition of a museum; preserving the past for us to learn from, and wonder at, not twisting it to reflect fleeting modern sensibilities.

The Powerhouse is also popular, and has posted record admission revenues in recent years for shows such as Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings, with about 200,000 visitors to each. It has become a staple Sydney school holiday outing, with plenty of gadgetry, experiments, virtual reality and genuine science to keep children amused while teaching them about, say, static electricity. In science and engineering, there are not "many truths" and the NMA under Casey was notable, according to the Carroll report of the collection, for its almost complete lack of science, technology and industrial content.

Nick Pappas, president of the Powerhouse's board of trustees, is unfazed by Casey's record at the NMA. He said yesterday Casey was chosen because of her ability and because she is "very good at bringing in audiences and dealing with government in a constructive way". The board, which includes feminist Anne Summers, financier Mark Bouris and educator Judith Wheeldon, didn't even consider the criticism of the NMA's ideological bias under Casey's watch. "We didn't see it as a positive or a negative," Pappas said, adding, ominously, that the Powerhouse is also a museum of "social history" and that Casey has "a very, very broad mandate". It was just such a broad mandate in social history that brought the NMA undone.

Pappas says he also sees the Powerhouse as "a people's museum". "I don't see radical ideology as part of that. It is a place of education and entertainment . but debate is not a bad thing. Museums should never be offensive but they should be challenging." The board's aim, he said, is to better "integrate the museum with the city and integrate it with the public", which they hope is their new director's forte. The previous director, World War I buff Kevin Fewster, who has since taken up a job in London heading the National Maritime Museum, was said to have had too low a profile, despite having brought in record crowds.

Casey, on the other hand, has a high media profile. She will be forever hailed by legions of Howard-haters as the heroine who gave Howard "one in the eye". But while there may no longer be a Howard to kick around, contrary to popular belief, last year's election did not end the culture wars. The left was not suddenly victorious, as signalled by a new prime minister who likes to call himself a conservative.

So while Casey has complained about her conservative critics, and told a Senate estimates committee that it was "extremely unhelpful that in the last few years we have been brought into the culture wars that exist out there", she is being disingenuous. It was Casey, her pet historians and the designers of the museum and its exhibits that deliberately provoked a culture war "in there" when no one was looking. It is difficult to see how Casey's philosophy can find expression at the Powerhouse without drastically changing the nature of the museum.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dangerously long hours for paramedics in Victoria

EXHAUSTED paramedics in Victoria have fallen asleep at the wheel and made mistakes drawing up drugs as their fatigue levels reached dangerously high levels. Ninety-eight per cent of 346 paramedics who took part in a union survey, to be released today, said they experienced workplace fatigue in the past 12months. More than one-third had to leave shifts prematurely because of fatigue, and 87 per cent said fatigue had affected their judgment while at work.

A number of paramedics said they had fallen asleep while driving ambulances. "I've been so tired I've drawn up the wrong drug and nearly given it to a patient," said one Melbourne paramedic, who declined to be named. Another wrote that he became "so fatigued that I fall asleep whilst driving at work (occasionally) and on the way to and from home (most days)". One employee said he was working overtime and "had to contact the duty team manager and inform him that I had actually driven past the hospital after falling asleep at the wheel, (and) being woken by my partner's shouts".

Ambulance Employees Australia Victorian secretary Steve McGhie said the findings were a wake-up call to the Brumby Government and the ambulance service. "These findings are a clear sign that our ambulance system is in crisis and that Premier Brumby has taken his eye off the ball," he said. "Will it take a paramedic or patient dying before Premier Brumby fixes this crisis? "We urgently need a major increase in ambulance funding for additional paramedics. "Extra staff will help reduce the workload of paramedics, enable them to get proper meal and rest breaks and have some down time between cases."

Mr McGhie said paramedics, patients and the broader community were being put at risk by fatigue arising from an extreme workload and "dangerous" rostering arrangements. "For the last few years, ambulance caseload has increased at a much higher rate than operational staffing levels," he said. "The Victorian Government likes talking about how it has doubled ambulance funding since it came to power, but in recent years funding has not kept pace with escalating caseloads."

According to the survey, paramedics said their workloads and the fact they often had no meal break or rest break during shifts of up to 14 hours were key reasons for their fatigue. "Jobs never seem to go smoothly when I'm fatigued," a rural paramedic said. "I'm slower to process what needs to be done. You leave equipment at the scene. It's very hard to stay awake driving at night, especially long distances like we have in the country. "Lucky I haven't had to work out drug calculations while fatigued, but it's only a matter of time."

A Melbourne paramedic said that "on a couple of occasions, on night shift I have had to try to calculate drug doses". "One was for a child that needed to be sedated and intubated," he said. "I was completely incapable of it. I had to rely totally on the dose and volumes calculated by my partner. I couldn't assist by even confirming his calculations. "My mind had turned off due to fatigue."


Dangerously long hours for paramedics in Queensland

SOME Queensland paramedics are working punishing shifts of up to 17 hours despite a recruitment drive that has so far netted more than 200 additional officers. Ambulance Employees Australia's Steve Crowe said yesterday the amount of overtime being worked also raised concerns about how many extra hours ambulance officers would do when new 12-hour shifts - designed to better spread resources - were introduced later this year. "Demand for services is skyrocketing. We've identified at least six examples of paramedics working 14 to 17 hours straight in recent weeks," he said. "I don't know how widespread it is yet, but if I was a manager of a station and I had someone working seven hours' overtime, I'd be horrified."

Shadow emergency services minister Ted Malone said he also had reports of 14 to 15-hour shifts, while a QAS spokesman said records showed that at March 2 only 3.2 per cent of shifts had an extension greater than two hours this year.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the government was on track to meet its target of 250 new recruits in 2007-08, with more than 200 already on board. Another 100 frontline officers would also be appointed following the findings of last year's audit. He said the extra staff would help cope with the unprecedented and increasing demand facing the QAS. ``Last financial year the QAS attended over 815,000 calls for assistance, averaging around one call every 39 seconds,'' he said. ``Already this year, the QAS has attended more than 610,000 call-outs.''

Mr Crowe said another 700 paramedics were required to meet demand.


Australia's self-inflicted African problem

POLICE are advising the Immigration Department for the first time about how and where to settle troubled African refugees. Senior Victorian police have urged the department to settle Sudanese families in country towns such as Mildura and Sale, away from suburban Melbourne where young African men are being caught up in street crime. The Australian understands that police first appealed to immigration officials last year following a spike in criminal activity among young Sudanese men, while Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon was attempting to play down the problem. Sudanese gang violence escalated last September, with the fatal bashing of 19-year-old Liep Gony near Noble Park railway station, in Melbourne's east.

Police advised against settling Sudanese in "dysfunctional areas" such as housing commission flats in Melbourne's north and east, and a growing number of the 15,000-member state community are now living in Mildura, Sale and Wonthaggi. African Think Tank chairman Berhan Ahmed yesterday praised the rural settlement, saying it would help the Sudanese integrate, find work and avoid drugs, alcohol and street crime. "The influence of drugs and alcohol will not be there [You're kidding!], and it will be much easier for kids and refugee families to adjust in rural areas," he said.

Dr Ahmed - a Melbourne University senior research fellow studying refugees living in rural Victoria and their city counterparts - said young Africans living in the country were more likely to perform better at school and get work. While it was difficult to resettle refugees who were already living in Melbourne, he said the Brumby Government could offer them better housing and jobs to encourage them to move. "You entice them by giving them opportunities," he said.

Victoria Police's multicultural liaison officer, Joseph Herrech said helping Sudanese refugees to settle in Melbourne was a challenge for immigration officials and police. He said grouping the Sudanese together at times led to crime-related problems, and separating them often exacerbated their emotional hardship. "We've recommended to Immigration that they be spread out slightly more," he said.

Other police recommendations to the immigration department include developing better pre-departure programs for humanitarian refugees to educate them more about Australian culture, the judicial process and the law-enforcement agencies. Police sources have told The Australian that gangs involving Sudanese men, including African Power and the Bloods and Crips - inspired by the Los Angeles-based crime groups - have grown in numbers and become more of a concern in the suburbs of Collingwood and Carlton.

Former immigration minister Kevin Andrews decided to cut back the African refugee intake last year amid fears they were not "settling and adjusting" into Australian life.


Rudd to slice red tape

Sounds good. In the right direction, anyway

The Rudd Government will today further expand its deregulation agenda, adding food, electronic conveyancing and mine safety to the 16 areas under consideration. But the move, to be discussed at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Adelaide, is expected to delay by several months proposals that have been in the pipeline for some years. COAG is expected to hail its success in clearing the political hurdles for a range of bureaucratic hotspots identified two years ago. This includes producing nationally consistent environmental assessments and approvals, product safety regulations, rail safety and a national system of trade measurements.

But as the process becomes bigger and the list of legislation longer, pressing issues such as financial credit protection for people using mortgage brokers, margin lending or non-bank borrowing, will be roped together and dealt with in a legislative discussion or green paper. In the case of protection for people using mortgage brokers, the move will further delay a five-year process that was on the verge of completion after NSW drafted legislation for COAG to consider last year.

The move has angered credit reform advocates, including the NSW Consumer Credit Legal Centre. "This is ridiculous," solicitor Katherine Lane said yesterday. "Every day that goes past is a day without protections, with no licensing, no recourse to dispute resolution regimes - none of these consumer protection measures we desperately need."

Uniform guidelines on how business reports to governments are designed to make it easier for companies to meet their obligations. "At present, business has to report financial information separately to different government agencies and in different formats, imposing a heavy compliance burden," says the COAG report to be delivered to the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers. "By eliminating unnecessary or duplicated reporting the project will reduce the volume of complexity of reporting business to government."

In a rare move the commonwealth will defer its administrative responsibility on environmental assessments and approvals to the states. Where the commonwealth agrees to a state's assessment it will not then re-visit the same issues when an approval is granted for a project. It is a move which would prevent a repeat of the 2006 incident where the commonwealth used the threatened orange-bellied parrot to derail a Victorian-approved windfarm.

Some of the new areas being added to the COAG deregulation agenda may contradict other proposals. A push by South Australia for others to copy its laws allowing identical labels for domestically-sold and export bottles of wine may run into problems in a push for graphic health warnings on alcohol. Graphic warnings may not be acceptable for export bottles, reversing the estimated $60 million saving the SA approach has delivered.

The Business Council of Australia, which estimates that duplicated regulation costs business $16 billion annually, yesterday welcomed renewed commitments from the federal Government to accelerate the national reform agenda under COAG.


Aussie soldiers turn noses up at ration packs

This Easter many Australian soldiers serving in Iraq will open their ration packs with disappointment. Forget the chocolate eggs; nutritionists say the traditional Australian army rations aren't appetising enough. Soldiers are refusing to eat the rations and their health and morale is suffering as a result, and the Army is spending thousands of dollars to make ration packs more appetising. It seems hard to believe, but experts say the success of military operations is being compromised by the unpalatable ration packs given to our troops.

Australia is part of a hot region and most defence personnel are deployed to high temperature zones. Soldiers stationed overseas are becoming sick, lethargic and they're under-performing, because they can't bring themselves to eat their pre-packed hot meals. Chris Forbes-Ewan, a nutritionist with Defence Science and Technology Organisation in Tasmania, says the reason for that is pretty clear that people lose appetite in the heat. "The current pack includes meals that need to be heated to be fully edible; main meals spaghetti bolognese and beef with noodles and sweet and sour foods and these sorts of things," he said. "Also freeze-dried rice and potato and onion powder."

Mr Forbes-Ewan says soldiers need to be given mission-specific ration packs according to the climate they'll be working in. "While food plays an enormous role in morale, quite often the only thing the soldier has to look forward to is his, or her next meal," he said.

Naturally his team's priority was to develop a hot-weather combat pack, and they've already made a prototype. "The new pack consists mainly of grazing type foods, eat-on-the-move goods," he said. "[It includes] trail mix, energy bars, sports bars, sports drink, beef jerky is another one." The nutritionist says a new heat-resistant Army chocolate is also on the drawing board. "It's a mood lifter, because it is so popular, it's a good food to fortify with vitamins," he said.

The new hot weather combat supplies are being trialed at the Land Command Battle School near Tully in far north Queensland. The Federal Minister for Defence Personnel, Warren Snowden, is optimistic the soldiers will like it. "Soldiers weren't that happy with the current ration packs and weren't eating enough of the ration pack food in the field," he said. "They are being required to undertake high intensity physical work, which is very stressful, for days at a time often, and we need to make sure that they're operating at their best, not only for their own safety but so that they can complete the missions, which they are being tasked to do and that is the defence of Australia."


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More cooking the books in NSW hospitals

NSW Health appointed a nurse whose job was to massage triage data in the emergency department of a Sydney hospital to make it look favourable, emergency doctors say. The nurse, appointed just before the state election, was there specifically to ensure computer data met triage targets, the vice-president of the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine, Sally McCarthy, said yesterday.

This follows revelations in the Herald yesterday that managers at Gosford and Ryde hospitals were so under pressure by the health department to meet targets that some had falsified "time seen" data - the record of when treatment began on a patient.

On the nurse, Dr McCarthy said: "They had somebody looking at that, basically harassing other staff and putting in data themselves. That's not somebody to provide care for patients. That's simply someone to click off on the computer to basically show that patients were seen within benchmark times. It was really just an attempt to get the data looking good."

While the NSW Minister for Health, Reba Meagher, insisted the Gosford case was isolated, Dr McCarthy said the doctoring of data was more widespread and was made easier after the department about 18 months ago widened the definition of when treatment began to include nursing care in several instances. An emergency physician at Prince of Wales Hospital, who could not be named because she was prohibited from speaking to media, said yesterday that "there have been numerous verbal directives from hospital administrators to change data". "This is not an isolated instance. Most other hospitals, and I'm aware of Liverpool and Nepean hospitals being asked to do the same thing," she said. Another emergency physician said he witnessed the same thing at Blue Mountains Hospital last year: "There was a huge amount of pressure . to enter data to meet benchmarks."

Ms Meagher rejected the claims. "There is no evidence to suggest that inaccurate reporting is widespread," she said in a statement. "Hospitals in NSW have been performing well."

Triage data is highly political and used as one of the performance indicators of health bureaucrats. The chief executive officer of Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service, Matthew Daly, admitted a manager at Gosford Hospital had falsified triage data early last year and had been disciplined. "She was altering figures that had previously been entered," he said. He said new recommendations had since been implemented "about the clarity of nurse-initiated protocols - when the clock starts". Mr Daly said no pressure was placed on her to alter data and it was "just absurd to do, and simply dishonest". Another recommendation was to limit access to data.

The director of performance improvement at NSW Health, Tony O'Connell, said it was an outrageous claim that data doctoring was widespread and due to pressure from the department. "There's no evidence that I have that it has happened anywhere else [other than Ryde and Gosford]," Dr O'Connell said. "It's really quite perverse of the college to say on one hand people around Australia should be seen within recommended times . and then turn around and say the department is bullying people to deliver them


The DOCS saga continues

It seems that NOTHING can civilize this collection of prime bureaucratic assholes

A dying five-year-old girl who is chronically disabled has been left in the care of abusive foster carers who are banned from caring for any more children. A number of children have already been removed from the western Sydney couple, who at one stage requested only girls to foster. Both the New South Wales Department of Community Services (DOCS) and the police have investigated the carers, who have been categorised as dangerous, yet the State Government has done nothing to remove five-year-old "Susie" (not her real name) from their care.

The horrifying case comes after new statistics show 27 disabled children died under the care of DOCS in 2006. It also follows the death of Shellay Ward, a seven-year-old autistic girl who allegedly starved to death after being left with her parents, despite her younger sister having already been removed by DOCS.

The Foster Care Association's Michelle Irwin said four investigations have been held into Susie's carers, including three in 2005 and one in 2007 over allegations of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. "The department can't have it both ways, they can't remove some children and allow this defenceless little girl to remain there," she said. "Either clear (the couple) of the allegations or remove this child."

Susie suffers from a severe form of muscular dystrophy and has defied doctors who gave her just six months to live when she was born. A DOCS spokeswoman confirmed the investigations but was unable to explain the delay in finalising inquiries.

Ms Irwin said it was not clear whether Susie had suffered abuse but said "there have been very serious sexual allegations made against this family". "There hasn't been a thorough investigation into whether the little girl has been abused." A joint police/DOCS investigation has already led to the foster parents receiving a Category 1 and a Category 2 listing - meaning they pose a risk to children.

The Daily Telegraph understands the carers have fostered between five to 10 children over the last five years and at least one two-year-old boy was taken out of their care after witnessing a suicide attempt by a house guest.

Opposition disability spokesman Andrew Constance said DOCS put disabled children in the too-hard basket: "The Government's answer to these problems is typically to leave a child with the disability in harms way because they just can't find other solution." Community Services Minister Kevin Greene said he would look into the case. [DOCS needs to be abolished and a new body set up with none of the old employees]


More bureaucrats who don't give a damn

They should all be fired

AT LEAST 13 Queensland Health bureaucrats - including the new boss of the Torres Strait district- allegedly received a damning report into staff safety that was left to gather dust. A briefing note prepared for Health Minister Stephen Robertson claims new district manager Cindy Morseu was emailed the Torres Strait Risk Assessment report early last year. The audit report was undertaken in late 2006, 16 months before a nurse was allegedly raped by an intruder in her living quarters on remote Mabuiag Island last month.

The inaction in implementing the report's recommendations and who was responsible have been referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission. Mr Robertson forwarded the case to the CMC after former district manager Phillip Mills, the uncle of Ms Morseu, denied he ever saw the document because he was posted to Cairns at the time. According to the briefing note, Torres Strait workplace health and safety officer Tom Sanderson claimed the report was sanctioned by the region's director of corporate services, Ashley Frost. There are conflicting versions over events but Mr Sanderson told the department the final report was sent to the Torres Strait in January 2007. "As far as I know it went to Ashley initially as the requester," Mr Sanderson said in the briefing note.

However, the briefing note warns of a lack of evidence because of a policy to delete emails after a certain time. Ms Morseu has refused interviews but Mr Frost, now working for QH on the Sunshine Coast, last night said she was acting manager while her uncle was in Cairns. "I know it went to the district manager, whoever that was at the time, and then it would have ended up at the executive meeting . . . but I can't remember when I would have seen it," Mr Frost said.

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg questioned whether there was more damning briefing material. "The minister is either incompetent or dishonest so either way people should be very worried and so should the Premier," Mr Springborg said. Premier Anna Bligh said she could not guarantee work to upgrade security measures at centres would be completed before the nurses' union deadline this Friday.


Cops fail integrity testing, but results remain secret

The wallet containing $285 handed in at the Katoomba police station was too tempting for Senior Constable Kate Michelle Howes to ignore - so she went shopping. That mistake cost the 27-year-old officer her career. Howes had no idea the lost wallet was a deftly targeted test of her integrity, orchestrated from within the NSW Police Force.

Her case is the only public evidence that the force still conducts integrity tests among its own ranks as part of its fight against corruption. But the results of these tests, a good barometer of the cleanness of the force, is not information the police want you to know. It is one of a growing list of matters sought by The Daily Telegraph under Freedom of Information that is being refused release by the force.

Last May, Howes pleaded guilty in the Mount Druitt Local Court to embezzlement. She was fined $1000 and placed on a three-year good behaviour bond. Worse was to come. On February 2 this year, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione dismissed Howes, using his authority under section 181d of the Police Act 1990.

Integrity testing was a key reform arising from the Wood royal commission in the mid-1990s. But details of how the tests are done - and, more important, how many officers pass or fail them - are not for public discussion. The police have argued that to discuss any aspect of its program - even the release of statistics on how many are undertaken - would undermine its effectiveness.

In a ruling earlier this month, the Ombudsman backed this secrecy. "The public interest favours the continued successful operation of the integrity testing system and consequently continued secrecy regarding the numbers and conduct of integrity testing," investigation officer Maya Borthwick said.

In Howes' case, it was a clever sting. Foreign coins were tossed in with the cash to make it appear as though the wallet belonged to a tourist who would not be around to claim it. The person who handed it in appeared to be a member of the public. Howes succumbed to temptation and went shopping, apparently for clothing and manchester. She still had $150 left when she was charged.

Figures released in 1998 revealed that of the 40 sting operations carried out, just 18 officers passed. Despite this, a police spokesman yesterday ruled out releasing any details of the integrity testing program. "Police will not reveal methodology or how regularly integrity testing is conducted," the spokesman said. "However, police can confirm that integrity tests have led to criminal charges being laid." Not all officers who fail the tests are sacked. Some remain in the force but face internal disciplinary proceedings.


Useless education degrees

Standards are so low anyhow that it is hard to imagine standards being too low for the authorities but so it seems

A TEACHING degree at a leading university has been refused accreditation for failing to properly prepare students in key primary school subjects, with some of its course units described as being more akin to TAFE-level study. Three other universities are also restructuring their 12-month graduate diplomas in primary education to meet new accreditation standards that emphasise content ahead of educational theory, with a year considered insufficient time to complete the mandatory subjects.

The four-year Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Wollongong is being restructured for next year after it was rejected by the NSW Institute of Teachers and a new set of standards agreed to by the states and territories. It is believed this is the first time a course has been rejected under the new system. Newcastle, Macquarie and the Australian Catholic University have also been forced to restructure their 12-month graduate diploma courses.

Wollongong's deputy dean of education Brian Ferry said the university had received "feedback" from the NSWIT that its four-year degree - which trains teachers for children aged up to eight in childcare centres, preschools and the first years of primary school - had failed to meet accreditation standards. But Professor Ferry said that was not the same as failing accreditation or the course being rejected. "The institute has just asked us to increase a bit more emphasis on the primary aspect of this program," he said. "We just have to make sure we cover the key learning areas in a little more detail."

Professor Ferry said the university had decided to recast the course from next year for teachers of children under five, to meet the demand anticipated from the federal Government's focus on the early years of life.

The Australian understands that the NSWIT panel found a large proportion of the course focused on children five years and younger, giving insufficient attention to key areas in the primary curriculum. It criticised the course for being of poor quality, saying a number of the early-childhood units were more at the level of TAFE study than university standard. But Professor Ferry denied the course had been described as TAFE-level.

It is understood the NSW Education Department, which previously approved courses, expressed strong reservations in 2006 about early primary teaching courses in general. The NSWIT accreditation standards require more content to be taught than under the previous system, and, critically, does not accept educational theory as content.

NSWIT chief executive Tom Alegounarias refused to comment on individual universities, but said it was always expected that not all courses would meet the new requirements. Mr Alegounarias said the higher standards had been negotiated in full co-operation with the universities. "We are in a difficult transition period where universities are deciding how to accommodate the new subject content requirements, and the literacy and numeracy requirements," Mr Alegounarias said.

NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca said Wollongong University's experience showed the new process was working and that universities were taking it seriously.

Macquarie University head of the school of education John Hedberg said the school's diploma of education was now a two-year course that undergraduates wrapped into their degree studies, such as arts.

Professor Ferry said the faculty was planning to extend the academic year, so that students started earlier and finished later with fewer breaks, to enable them to finish the required course content.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Incomes leap for low-paid

THE incomes of the nation's poorest households rose more dramatically than those of the richest Australians in the final years of the Howard government, buoyed by rising wages and bulging welfare payments. While lone parents, indigenous Australians and the disabled still struggled, overall the poorest households have enjoyed the largest rise in income over the past six years.

The findings of the first study to track changes to income and wealth in the same group of people cast a new light on one of Kevin Rudd's central themes in Opposition - that in John Howard's "brutopia" the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. During last year's election campaign, Mr Rudd described working families as the "forgotten people", but the new research appears to paint a contrary picture. Since 2001, earnings for those at the bottom of the ladder rose more sharply than for those near the top - the top 10 per cent suffering a slight fall from 2001 to 2006.

While the rise in overall wealth favoured the top end - primarily due to higher property ownership - increases to lower-end incomes meant the rich hadn't skated away from the poor. "The figures show current income is not a good predictor of future income," said labour economist Mark Wooden, who will detail the findings at the two-day New Agenda for Prosperity conference, presented by the Melbourne Institute and The Australian, opening at Melbourne University on Thursday.

The data comes from the federal Government's Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, a longitudinal study of 14,000 people nationwide, which is managed by the institute. "It shows everyone has done pretty well in Australia since 2001," Professor Wooden, institute deputy director, told The Australian. "The rich have done a little better overall than the poor, and those with property have had a big surge. "But those with property are spread across the income spectrum."

The data, compiled by the institute's Roger Wilkins, shows median incomes - after adjusting for inflation - for those in the lowest 10 per cent of households increased 29 per cent after tax to about $26,000. The top 10 per cent saw their income fall by 2.5 per cent to $138,000. Wealth for the median household has risen rapidly since the turn of the century, from $215,000 to $340,000, fuelled by the property boom and a 51per cent increase in average superannuation balances to $123,000. For the bottom 10 per cent, wealth rose from $114,000 to $175,000. For the top 10 per it rose from $770,000 to $975,000.

"Income changes have tended to favour the poor, with the biggest winners being those in the bottom 10per cent and the biggest losers those in the top 10 per cent," Professor Wooden said. "And if you factor in non-cash benefits provided by the Government, the figures would tilt even more in favour of the poor."

Professor Wooden said a significant contributor to the improved fortunes of the poor had been better employment prospects and relatively strong wages growth. Moves from welfare to work almost invariably mean increased incomes, but even among the employed it has been the low-paid who have fared best. "People don't tend to move from one minimum pay job to another," he said. "They move to better jobs. Also at the lower end, there are automatic pay increments built into the system, whereas atthe top of the scale when people are close to their maximum productivity potential, pay increases are harder to come by except when there's a promotion. "And those lighthouse examples of directors getting massive bonuses or payouts? They are just a tiny fraction of the overall picture."

The pro-poor picture in income growth had policy implications for welfare delivery. "The Government could be handing out dollars to people who will be doing a lot better in the near future," Professor Wooden said. "This approach won't do much to address systemic disadvantage."

Those who remained stalled in the lowest 20 per cent of income and wealth over the six years surveyed were the indigenous, lone parents and the disabled. "It is here where the study could point the way to more targeted welfare delivery," hesaid.

In an essay titled Howard's Brutopia: The Battle of Ideas in Australian Politics published in The Monthly in 2006 shortly before he became Opposition leader, Mr Rudd cites warnings about the "brutopia of unchecked market forces".


NSW hospitals cook the books

NSW Health says altering hospital records to show better treatment times in emergency departments is not a widespread practice. Falsified records from Gosford Hospital showing faster emergency treatment times had been forwarded to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), NSW Health director of performance improvement Dr Tony O'Connell confirmed today. But audits of numerous public hospitals revealed that the practice was not widespread, he said.

"We've been doing both internal and external audits of numerous hospitals and there's no evidence that this is widespread," Dr O'Connell told AAP. "In fact it was from an internal audit at Gosford hospital that it was discovered that there was one person who was doctoring results, and that was reported to ICAC and ICAC were satisfied with the actions which the area health service proposed to take to address that issue."

Dr O'Connell denied that NSW Health had been covering up the results of the audits and said they had not been released because they were "standard" reports. "We haven't released them because they're kind of standard ... that any big organisation would do and they don't show anything wrong with the way that the data is collected," he said. "So we haven't released it, but gosh I think we should now."

Dr O'Connell said any staff caught altering hospital records would be dealt with under the department's fraud guidelines. "Any behaviour by staff which corrupts data deliberately is fraudulent behaviour and would be addressed in the department's fraud guidelines, which all staff when they start work are made familiar with," he said.

Hospital staff understood they needed to treat patients in emergency departments quickly and better hospital resources would assist them, Dr O'Connell said. "Our intent is to get patients through our (emergency departments) in the clinically appropriate time. We want patients not to be queueing, we want patients not to be waiting an inappropriate length of time."


Drunken cop promoted

A POLICE officer who admitted to drinking at least 18 beers before going on duty to carry out a breath test has not been disciplined. Instead, Senior-Constable Alan Reedy has been promoted - despite telling a court last month about a wild night in Cunnamulla that ended with him knocked unconscious after trying to arrest a woman.

Reedy was at the Warrego Hotel about 10pm on May 14, 2005, when asked by colleagues to carry out a breath test. After the test he drank two rums at the Club Hotel and about 12.45am declared himself on duty to arrest local woman Corrinne Mitchell, who he says spat on him, sparking a fight that ended in Reedy being flown to Toowoomba Hospital for treatment. Three people pleaded guilty to charges over the incident but five others fought the charges, which were dropped last month when a judge ruled Reedy's evidence unreliable. A police spokesman said the matter was being reviewed but "at this time the Queensland Police Service has not received any complaint about the matter".

Reedy, who is now a plainclothes detective in Cairns, admitted in the District Court in Charleville to drinking about two mid-strength beers per hour between 10am and 6pm while off-duty at a golf function. From there, the then-constable went to a barbecue where he continued to consume alcohol, before moving on to the Warrego Hotel about 10pm.

In court, defence barrister Phil Hardcastle asked Reedy: "Now how many drinks did you have at the Warrego before you went back on duty to do this breath test?" "Mate, it was just one drink all up," Reedy replied. Mr Hardcastle says: "Then you drop into the Club Hotel. You have two rum and Cokes and you're called away by Senior Constable Lahey?" "Yep," Reedy replies.

An attempt by Constable Lahey to take Reedy home failed - he returned instead to the Club Hotel where he was later assaulted by a group of people after he put himself back on duty and tried to arrest Ms Mitchell. In court, Crown witnesses backed the defendants' claim that Reedy had directed racial comments at Aborigines in a bar and then dragged Ms Mitchell by her hair, pulling clumps out. Reedy denied the claims.

A statement from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions states the charge of grievous bodily harm against Ms Mitchell and four others was thrown out because "the judge concluded that it would be unsafe to rely on the complainant's memory to establish guilt beyond doubt". "The reasons for this were that the complainant had consumed a large amount of alcohol before the injuries were inflicted . . . and he had been knocked unconscious in the attack." A police spokesman admitted a driver had been charged over the earlier breath test performed by Reedy.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman said the public had the right to have their breath tests carried out by officers who were not affected by alcohol. QPS policy states officers who have a blood alcohol content above .02 face disciplinary action. Mr O'Gorman called for a Crime and Misconduct Commission inquiry into the police handling of the matter. A police spokesman said Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson and Reedy were unavailable for comment.


Australia's Chinese suburbs are top-drawer

Safe, peaceful, affluent and a great place to eat. But they do tend to be targeted by robbers. If only all immigrants were as high-quality as the Chinese!

SUBURBAN multicultural hubs are on the rise, with overseas-born residents accounting for more than 50 per cent of the population in some suburbs. An analysis of Census statistics by RP Data research director Tim Lawless has found Robertson, in Brisbane's south, is home to the highest proportion of overseas-born residents, with migrants comprising 58 per cent of its population. Mr Lawless said the majority of foreign-born residents were from mainland China and Hong Kong.

"Robertson was followed by Stretton, with 55 per cent of the population born overseas, also mainly from China and Hong Kong," he said. "The Brisbane CBD comes in as the third highest suburb based on residents born overseas. This would be due to the high number of international students that reside within inner-city accommodation."

Rocky Lee and his parents, Ming Lau and Yiu Lee, have recently moved to Stretton. Hong Kong-born Mr Lee said he and his family had lived in Carindale, in the city's southeast, since they arrived in Brisbane about 10 years ago, but had wanted to move to the Stretton area because of its multicultural reputation. "And I think it's also got a reputation as a prestigious area," Mr Lee said.

Louis Soh, of Yong Real Estate, based on Brisbane's southside, said the majority of his clients were born overseas. "I would say that about 60 per cent are from overseas," Mr Soh said. He said migrants, particularly those from China and Hong Kong, were attracted to the southside because of its standing as an Asian hub. "There's the Chinese shopping centre in Sunnybank and a lot of people have relatives here," Mr Soh said.

Mr Lawless said migrant clusters were evident throughout Brisbane. Darra and Richlands, in the city's southwest, hold the largest migrant clusters - Vietnam-born residents account for 17 per cent of the suburbs' total population. The second largest cluster was the Chinese community living in Sunnybank, with 9.3 per cent of the overall population, while South Africans living in Anstead [Anstead has large semi-rural blocks of land] account for 6.2 per cent of the total population.

Conversely, Ipswich [a most unprestigious area], which forms part of the greater Brisbane area, is home to the most Australian-born residents. More than 93 per cent of the population in Purga, Deebing Heights and Tallegalla were born in Australia. The Australian Demographic Statistics report shows more migrants settled in Australia last year than in any other period in history.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lack of beds delays public hospital surgery

DOZENS of life-saving operations are being cancelled every day in southeast Queensland public hospitals because no intensive care unit beds are available. Nine major surgeries were put off at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital on just one day last week due to the lack of post-operative ICU beds. Health sources said that was happening every day at the PA - despite a huge injection of extra funding from the State Government in January for this very problem.

The PA received a $10.4 million boost after the mid-year budget review, after the hospital had been forced to turn sick people away last year. A $15 million budget blowout led to 60 beds being closed in October and 20 per cent of operating theatre procedures cancelled. Premier Anna Bligh stepped into the non-surgery crisis and delivered the life-saving funds. "The PA Hospital will progressively reopen beds and restore theatre lists. This will enable the hospital to return to full activity within a few weeks," Ms Bligh said at the time.

But it would appear little has changed. On Tuesday, nine operations were cancelled or postponed because no ICU beds were available. For one cancer patient needing a life-saving Whipple operation, which involves the removal of the head of the pancreas, a portion of the bile duct, the gallbladder and the duodenum, it was the second time in two weeks that surgery was put off. His operation has been rescheduled for Tuesday, but it will go ahead only if there is a spare bed in intensive care for the following two days. Another patient was referred from Ipswich Hospital to the PA last week for heart surgery, but was sent home because no ICU bed was free.

A senior Queensland Health employee, who declined to be identified, told The Sunday Mail that operations were cancelled at the last minute because beds were taken by trauma patients. The source said a spate of major accidents had produced victims with severe injuries at the same time. As a result, patients waiting in hospital wards for serious surgery were sent home. He claimed the Government was reluctant to invest more money in ICU beds, which cost $10,000 a day to run.

A Queensland Health spokesman said there were 568 critical-care beds in Queensland including ICU, coronary, pediatric and neonatal units. More would come on line as new hospitals were built on the Gold and Sunshine coasts. The spokesman said Queensland Health did not collate statewide figures on the number of operations cancelled or postponed because of ICU bed unavailability.

Queensland Health's Public Hospital Performance Report for the 2007 December quarter revealed many patients were still waiting longer than recommended for critical surgery as record numbers presented to emergency departments. The report found that Category 1 patients who had waited longer than the recommended 30 days for surgery had almost doubled to 13.9 per cent in 12 months.

Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek slammed the Government for not fixing the problem at the PA. "Where has all the money gone? The PA is not allowed to say 'We cannot take people'. It begs the question: What is happening at all the other hospitals?" Mr Langbroek said.


An admirable and realistic approach to defence reform

Get rid of the bureaucrats, not the soldiers. There is another article here on our new defence minister which is very encouraging

There is "fat" in the non-uniform ranks of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says in support of his $10 billion savings demand. Mr Fitzgibbon today said while he would not foreshadow where the ADF should make the desired spending cuts, its operational capabilities were quarantined from the major budget review. "I'm not going to pre-empt our review ... but it is pretty obvious to anyone who watches defence closely that on the non-uniform side there is a deal of fat," the minister told Sky News today. "I've made it clear, and the prime minister has made it clear, we won't touch any area which affects operations or logistics or capability. "We're talking about the business side of defence, the bureaucratic side, ensuring it is running as leanly as possible."

His comments come after The Weekend Australian reported the Rudd Government has asked the ADF to slash $10 billion in spending over the next decade. It also says the defence department's 20,000 member civilian workforce has ballooned by almost 4000, or more than 20 per cent, since 2001.

Mr Fitzgibbon today said the savings would not be stripped from the ADF, but reinvested into its "higher priority" projects. He said the Rudd government was committed to ongoing three per cent real annual increases in the ADF's budget. The efficiency drive was necessary as the former Howard government had left the defence budget in "a real mess", Mr Fitzgibbon said.

The former government had invested in new defence infrastructure but there was a $6 billion hole in annual operating and other ancillary costs to support it, he said. "It's like putting aside money in the family budget to pay off the car but not also budgeting for the fuel, the maintenance, the rego, the insurance," Mr Fitzgibbon said. "We've got to ensure that the $22 billion that we invest in defence each year is spent efficiently and effectively, and that means finetuning that department and making sure that we don't carry fat."

A defence watchdog today said finding the desired savings would be difficult, but cuts to the ranks of supporting bureaucrats was the right place to start.


Union flexes its muscle

This is a bit hard to believe but is alarming if true

THE powerful Maritime Union of Australia is beginning to flex its industrial muscle after a successful meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at The Lodge in Canberra. A leaked confidential union strategy document reveals the MUA believes it has "strong support" from Mr Rudd and is planning to push new industrial arrangements. The union wants a return to "pattern bargaining", a technique to negotiate increased wages and conditions. Opponents say it would increase inflation and interest rates.

The document also reveals plans to pressure the Government into reversing laws that "penalise" workers with a recreational cannabis habit. Union national secretary Paddy Crumlin met Mr Rudd on Australia Day when, according to the document, the PM agreed to give the MUA access to government-collected personal security information on so-called "scabs" crewing non-union ships.

The question of wages is addressed under the heading "Enterprise Agreement". It advocates "common terms and conditions" for all workers in key parts of the industry. The document, prepared in January, argues against a long negotiating period with individual employers. It suggests using "terms and conditions that are contained in the offshore oil and gas industry agreement as our log of claim". "This will greatly assist in proceeding much quicker to negotiations," the document says. "Those conditions would also need to include appropriate living away from home allowances that apply in remote and expensive living areas, ie northwest Australia."

The effect of such a campaign would be to impose the boom wages and conditions applying in WA to the rest of the country - regardless of productivity. Under the strategy of pattern bargaining, the union would target an industrially weak employer first, gain an agreement and then force it on employers across the industry - again regardless of productivity or conditions in workplaces.

The document is likely to be seized on by the Opposition, which has been warning that under the Government's new industrial relations regime a non-productivity-based wages breakout is much more likely.

On "scabs and parasites" crewing non-union ships, the MUA says it has received co-operation from ministers including Deputy PM Julia Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

The Sunday Mail put the MUA's version of the meeting to the Prime Minister's office. A spokeswoman confirmed Mr Crumlin was at The Lodge as part of a National Australia Day Committee event. Questions on non-union crews and their security details were referred by the PM's office to Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus. A spokeswoman for Mr Debus said the MUA had been informed that security checks undergone by foreign crews were more stringent than those required for Australian crew "and that was the end of the matter".


Australian Study Shows Dramatic Drop in Abortion, Low Proportion of Homosexuals

An extensive study of Australian attitudes towards sexuality and Australians' sexual behaviour has revealed that younger generations of Australian women are obtaining abortions much less frequently then the previous generation. Dr. Julia Shelley of Deakin University in Melbourne, one of members of the team of researchers conducting the study, told, "We've plotted a sudden decline in the abortion rate that is so low it harps right back to the time when abortion was illegal and rarely practiced.'' "That means that a young Australian woman these days is about as unlikely to have an abortion now as her grandmother was back in her day.''

The study, begun in 2005, involved 8,205 randomly selected Australians (4,124 females and 4,081 males) being interviewed about various issues related to sexual health and behaviour. "The main aim of the study is to follow a nationally representative group of Australians over their lifetime documenting both the natural history and patterns of health and relationships," reads the official description of the study.

According to the study, less than 5 percent of women born in the 1980s have had an abortion, which is significantly less than the 14 percent of older women. Dr. Shelley pointed out that the peak time for women to obtain an abortion is between the ages of 20 and 25, indicating that the figure of 5 percent for women born in the 1980s is unlikely to climb much higher over time.

The researcher attributed the decline in the abortion rate to several factors, including an increased use of contraceptives and a change in attitude that favors giving birth to children in Australia. According to Shelley, Australia is presently experiencing an increase in birthrate. However, Shelley was only willing to admit that women increasingly deciding not to abort, and instead to give birth to their children "may partially" explain the fall in abortion, instead putting most of the emphasis on an increased use of contraceptives, brought about thanks to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

"If women generally are now more willing to have babies if they fall pregnant then it may partially explain the fall in abortion among younger women,'' she said. However, she indicated "safe sex" practices are the primary reason for the decrease in abortion rates. "Widespread sexual education trailed the sexual revolution by some decades and I think the effect of that only more recently cut in and change practices,'' she said. "But probably more significantly, the occurrence of HIV and AIDS has vastly increased condom use which has the side effect of stopping unwanted pregnancies.''

The study also indicated that an extremely small fraction of the Australian population self-defines as "homosexual." Only .66 percent of women and 1.03 percent of men defined themselves as homosexual. This figure is well below the "statistic" of 10 percent that is often touted by homosexual activists. The extremely low percentage of homosexuals in the population agrees with the findings of other similar studies in Western countries. Besides those who self-defined as homosexual, another 1.26 percent of women and 1.23 percent of men defined themselves as bi-sexual.

However, the study also found that Australians have extremely liberal attitudes towards sex and marriage, with 86 percent of women and 88 percent of men agreeing that sex before marriage is acceptable.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

The German Kriegsmarine (navy) men were frank and truthful

This is a follow-up to my post yesterday about the sinking of the HMAS Sydney by sustained heavy fire from the German raider Kormoran. Because it was a converted freighter, there seems to be a common assumption that the Kormoran was lightly armed. It in fact deployed very extensive and heavy armament, all of which was very effective at the close range incautiously offered by the Captain of HMAS Sydney. Above is the flag the Kormoran fought under

The exact location of the HMAS Sydney was given to Australian authorities seven days after the ship's sinking. The captain of the German raider, the Kormoran, which had fired on the Sydney off the West Australian coast, gave the co-ordinates of the battle to a Royal Australian Navy officer after German survivors were picked up at sea. "I told him immediately, as I had made up my mind to do: 111 degrees E by 26 degrees 34' S," Captain Theodor Detmers wrote in his book The Raider Kormoran. "I knew that the search would now take place where it would be most effective and perhaps save the lives of more of my men."

But it appears that Captain Detmers was not believed, neither in November 1941 when he made his initial report, nor when his book was published, first in German and then in English in 1959. Instead, it took 66 years before searchers found the Sydney's wreck where Captain Detmers had pinpointed, 150km off the coast in 2468m of water. All 645 crew members of the Sydney perished. About 80 of the Kormoran's crew were killed and 317 survived.

The wreck of the Sydney was found this week, near the Kormoran, as the result of a taxpayer-funded search by the Finding Sydney Foundation. Yesterday, the search vessel Geosounder returned to the WA port of Geraldton after the successful mission.


An interesting excerpt from another report on the subject:

On the night of January 10, 1945, Detmers and 19 others escaped into the countryside. He was on the run for eight days before being arrested in Shepparton. When he was searched, authorities found a small, coded notebook. It was immediately seized and sent for decryption and analysis. What the authorities did not know was that Detmers had left behind a small brown German-English dictionary at the camp, in which he had used a pencil to put faint dots under letters on each page, giving the same details of the Kormoran's co-ordinates and log details as were in his seized notebook.

The war ended and Detmers was repatriated in 1947. He returned to Germany, debilitated by a stroke down his left side. His dictionary was his most prized possession. But in 1990, Brisbane author Barbara Poniewierski, on a research trip to Germany, uncovered the existence of Detmers's dictionary while attending a reunion of Kormoran survivors. Detmers had apparently bequeathed the dictionary to his sister's son and, when Poniewierski got a phone call from famed shipwreck hunter David Mearns seeking confirmation that the dictionary existed, she gave him the name of Detmers's relatives in Hamburg.

When Mearns got his hands on the dictionary, he engaged former Royal Navy captain and linguist Peter Hore to crack the code. It wasn't hard. It was just a matter of, quite literally, joining the dots. They spelled out a few words a page, detailing the battle, the co-ordinates, and all the log details of arguably Australia's most famous naval encounter. It confirmed Detmers's original notes seized from him at Shepparton more than 60 years earlier.

Mearns has said he used Detmers's dictionary as "factual ground zero". And he knew if the dictionary could lead him to the Kormoran, it would also reveal to him the final resting place of HMAS Sydney. "Captain Detmers's versions were nearly always identical, so I concluded he was always telling the truth," Mearns told journalist Carmelo Amalfi. "No other shipwreck hunter has had so many vital clues about the Sydney's resting place."

Man sues over amazing 13-hour ambulance wait

A grandfather who will spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state is suing Victoria's ambulance service after waiting 13 hours for help after hitting his head. Katrina Marinovic is bringing the Supreme Court action - believed to be potentially worth more than $1 million - on behalf of her father, Ilija, who now has little brain function and is fed through a tube. Ms Marinovic says her father fell and hit his head at 8pm on October 26, 2006, but was forced to wait until 9.30am the next day for treatment after a mix-up meant an ambulance was sent but then cancelled.

"He was such a big character and such a strong person, it's hard for us to see him now compared to what he was before," Ms Marinovic said. "Thinking that he was left for all those hours, it really affects us. "He would give you the shirt off his back - he was that sort of man." The plasterer, 56, lost his balance outside his Preston home and fell down steps on to concrete. A neighbour immediately called 000.

The statement of claim alleges an ambulance was dispatched then cancelled and the matter was handed over to police to investigate whether medical help was needed - which did not occur.

The Marinovic family, who are represented by law firm Arnold, Thomas and Becker, are suing the Metropolitan Ambulance Service, the Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority and the State of Victoria. The writ alleges that the ambulance service and its dispatcher, along with the police who were contacted after the 000 call, were negligent in failing to follow up the request for help. It claims police did not comprehend the urgency or send an officer to check whether an ambulance was needed.

Father of three Mr Marinovic, who also has two grandsons, had emergency skull and brain surgery but was left in a vegetative state, with his family claiming the lengthy delay made his injuries worse. He is living in a nursing home near his family in South Morang, where he needs constant medical attention. The family are seeking medical costs, damages for loss of earnings and loss of life expectancy and for pain and suffering. A spokesman for the ambulance service said they were awaiting further details from court documents.


Yet another safety report ignored by the Qld. Health Department

The Torres Strait Islands are rather idyllic places. Some good pictures here. It takes a government to make a hell of them

A THIRD report detailing how the safety of nurses in the Torres Strait was compromised has emerged, placing renewed pressure on embattled Health Minister Stephen Robertson. This latest report warns how the personal safety of health staff was at risk throughout the archipelago because of rapidly deteriorating buildings, including on Mabuiag Island where a nurse was allegedly raped last month. The report has further exposed a culture of inaction as it was written in October 2005 - a year before a damning risk report warned of the need for urgent action. Another report, commissioned in the weeks after the alleged rape, has also prompted criticism the Government still failed to act.

Amid Opposition calls for his resignation, Mr Robertson yesterday spoke of his frustration that another warning had been ignored by his department. "This is clearly just another case where a report has been commissioned and very little work has been done on it," said Mr Robertson, who again refused to accept responsibility. It comes as a walkout of nurses in the Torres Strait looms amid revelations they had written to former health director-general Uschi Schreiber in 2006 and 2007 highlighting their plight.

The newly uncovered report - conducted predominantly for workplace health and safety purposes - identified problems on all 14 islands visited. On Mabuiag, the report warned issues "revolve around personal safety and environmental issues", including lattice slats that were a ready-made ladder to the upstairs accommodation. "A duress alarm does not work in the toilet and, after visiting several other facilities, it was found there were similar problems at other facilities with the same system," it said.

Mr Robertson said it was not acceptable that neglect of the accommodation had placed staff at risk. However, the minister said he had seen Queensland Health's commitment to the area first-hand on his tour of four islands on Thursday. "Generally the standard of accommodation is pretty good," he said.

In a bid to hose down a growing furore over whether the Government acted after the alleged rape, Mr Robertson will today release the briefing notes he received after the incident on February 5. The notes - released to The Courier-Mail last night - said the incident had "reignited issues around the security and safety of staff". They also detail how assaults on Thursday Island nurses in 2007 had prompted a risk-assessment by occupational health and safety officers and the cycle was repeated after the Mabuiag Island incident.

Deputy Opposition Leader Fiona Simpson said the minister should take responsibility for his inaction and resign. But Mr Robertson rejected the call and insisted he had also acted on problems in the region highlighted by local Labor MP Jason O'Brien. "They know as well as anyone else that right throughout this whole episode, on not one occasion have I been found wanting in terms of my response when matters have been brought to my attention," he said.

Premier Anna Bligh said the Health Minister retained her full confidence. "Mr Robertson will do whatever is necessary to ensure the right response for staff and patients," Ms Bligh said.


A government that can't

Nurse strike on Torres Strait Islands likely. I suppose it is very optimistic to expect promptness and efficiency from a government

A NURSE has abandoned a condemned Torres Strait health centre as frenzied repair work throughout the islands appears unlikely to be completed in time to prevent a district-wide strike next weekend. The Courier-Mail has been told it would be "almost impossible" for maintenance workers to fix all the problems which have come to light since a nurse was allegedly raped on Mabuiag Island last month. Locksmiths and carpenters have been shuttling between the islands for the past fortnight, frantically fixing broken locks, windows and doors and addressing years of unresolved maintenance requests.

On Wednesday, a nurse walked off the job after being forced to live in a condemned building on Darnley Island while a new, purpose-built clinic sat empty nearby. Sources said the nurse refused to keep working on the island until power was connected to the new building.

Queensland's Health Minister, Stephen Robertson, flew to the Torres Strait on Thursday in a bid to diffuse growing anger over worker safety in the remote region. During the trip, Mr Robertson visited several islands - including Mabuiag - to meet with Queensland Health workers. The State Government is under fire for failing to act on a report completed in late 2006 which warned about problems at work and accommodation facilities in the Torres Strait. The Queensland Nurses Union has set a March 28 deadline for the Government to fix the security issues or nurses will walk off the job across the region. QNU secretary Gay Hawksworth welcomed Mr Robertson's visit and hoped it would prompt faster repairs. "I'm pleased that he's gone there to see it first-hand and talk to nurses directly," Ms Hawksworth said. "But our deadline remains March 28."

Nurses working on 11 islands in the region have raised repeated concerns about poor security, lighting, faulty duress alarms, generators, fire and smoke alarms, broken locks and problems with sewerage systems. Premier Anna Bligh said she hoped the issues could be resolved quickly. "The most urgent matters in relation to security are being attended to first and then work is being prioritised," she said. Ms Bligh also defended Mr Robertson's handling of the issue: "The Minister for Health . . . has had what can only be described as unreliable advice out of the Torres Strait on these issues in the past, so he is personally going to satisfy himself on the progress of work and ensure that it is proceeding in the fastest possible place."

Mr Robertson said Queensland Health had to demonstrate that it was seriously addressing the problems but he urged nurses to remain. "I am hopeful that as we address these issues the level of frustration and angst and anger will reduce," he said.


Australia hears some climate facts for a change

All we usually get is speculative forecasts. The article below is by popular columnist Christopher Pearson

Catastrophic predictions of global warming usually conjure with the notion of a tipping point, a point of no return. Last Monday - on ABC Radio National, of all places - there was a tipping point of a different kind in the debate on climate change. It was a remarkable interview involving the co-host of Counterpoint, Michael Duffy and Jennifer Marohasy, a biologist and senior fellow of Melbourne-based think tank the Institute of Public Affairs. Anyone in public life who takes a position on the greenhouse gas hypothesis will ignore it at their peril.

Duffy asked Marohasy: "Is the Earth stillwarming?" She replied: "No, actually, there has been cooling, if you take 1998 as your point of reference. If you take 2002 as your point of reference, then temperatures have plateaued. This is certainly not what you'd expect if carbon dioxide is driving temperature because carbon dioxide levels have been increasing but temperatures have actually been coming down over the last 10 years."

Duffy: "Is this a matter of any controversy?" Marohasy: "Actually, no. The head of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has actually acknowledged it. He talks about the apparent plateau in temperatures so far this century. So he recognises that in this century, over the past eight years, temperatures have plateaued ... This is not what you'd expect, as I said, because if carbon dioxide is driving temperature then you'd expect that, given carbon dioxide levels have been continuing to increase, temperatures should be going up ... So (it's) very unexpected, not something that's being discussed. It should be being discussed, though, because it's very significant."

Duffy: "It's not only that it's not discussed. We never hear it, do we? Whenever there's any sort of weather event that can be linked into the global warming orthodoxy, it's put on the front page. But a fact like that, which is that global warming stopped a decade ago, is virtually never reported, which is extraordinary."

Duffy then turned to the question of how the proponents of the greenhouse gas hypothesis deal with data that doesn't support their case. "People like Kevin Rudd and Ross Garnaut are speaking as though the Earth is still warming at an alarming rate, but what is the argument from the other side? What would people associated with the IPCC say to explain the (temperature) dip?"

Marohasy: "Well, the head of the IPCC has suggested natural factors are compensating for the increasing carbon dioxide levels and I guess, to some extent, that's what sceptics have been saying for some time: that, yes, carbon dioxide will give you some warming but there are a whole lot of other factors that may compensate or that may augment the warming from elevated levels of carbon dioxide. "There's been a lot of talk about the impact of the sun and that maybe we're going to go through or are entering a period of less intense solar activity and this could be contributing to the current cooling."

Duffy: "Can you tell us about NASA's Aqua satellite, because I understand some of the data we're now getting is quite important in our understanding of how climate works?" Marohasy: "That's right. The satellite was only launched in 2002 and it enabled the collection of data, not just on temperature but also on cloud formation and water vapour. What all the climate models suggest is that, when you've got warming from additional carbon dioxide, this will result in increased water vapour, so you're going to get a positive feedback. That's what the models have been indicating. What this great data from the NASA Aqua satellite ... (is) actually showing is just the opposite, that with a little bit of warming, weather processes are compensating, so they're actually limiting the greenhouse effect and you're getting a negative rather than a positive feedback."

Duffy: "The climate is actually, in one way anyway, more robust than was assumed in the climate models?" Marohasy: "That's right ... These findings actually aren't being disputed by the meteorological community. They're having trouble digesting the findings, they're acknowledging the findings, they're acknowledging that the data from NASA's Aqua satellite is not how the models predict, and I think they're about to recognise that the models really do need to be overhauled and that when they are overhauled they will probably show greatly reduced future warming projected as a consequence of carbon dioxide."

Duffy: "From what you're saying, it sounds like the implications of this could beconsiderable ..." Marohasy: "That's right, very much so. The policy implications are enormous. The meteorological community at the moment is really just coming to terms with the output from this NASA Aqua satellite and (climate scientist) Roy Spencer's interpretation of them. His work is published, his work is accepted, but I think people are still in shock at this point."

If Marohasy is anywhere near right about the impending collapse of the global warming paradigm, life will suddenly become a whole lot more interesting. A great many founts of authority, from the Royal Society to the UN, most heads of government along with countless captains of industry, learned professors, commentators and journalists will be profoundly embarrassed. Let us hope it is a prolonged and chastening experience.

With catastrophe off the agenda, for most people the fog of millennial gloom will lift, at least until attention turns to the prospect of the next ice age. Among the better educated, the sceptical cast of mind that is the basis of empiricism will once again be back in fashion. The delusion that by recycling and catching public transport we can help save the planet will quickly come to be seen for the childish nonsense it was all along.

The poorest Indians and Chinese will be left in peace to work their way towards prosperity, without being badgered about the size of their carbon footprint, a concept that for most of us will soon be one with Nineveh and Tyre, clean forgotten in six months. The scores of town planners in Australia building empires out of regulating what can and can't be built on low-lying shorelines will have to come to terms with the fact inundation no longer impends and find something more plausible to do. The same is true of the bureaucrats planning to accommodate "climate refugees".

Penny Wong's climate mega-portfolio will suddenly be as ephemeral as the ministries for the year 2000 that state governments used to entrust to junior ministers. Malcolm Turnbull will have to reinvent himself at vast speed as a climate change sceptic and the Prime Minister will have to kiss goodbye what he likes to call the great moral issue and policy challenge of our times. It will all be vastly entertaining to watch.

THE Age published an essay with an environmental theme by Ian McEwan on March 8 and its stablemate, The Sydney Morning Herald, also carried a slightly longer version of the same piece. The Australian's Cut & Paste column two days later reproduced a telling paragraph from the Herald's version, which suggested that McEwan was a climate change sceptic and which The Age had excised. He was expanding on the proposition that "we need not only reliable data but their expression in the rigorous use of statistics".

What The Age decided to spare its readers was the following: "Well-meaning intellectual movements, from communism to post-structuralism, have a poor history of absorbing inconvenient fact or challenges to fundamental precepts. We should not ignore or suppress good indicators on the environment, though they have become extremely rare now. It is tempting to the layman to embrace with enthusiasm the latest bleak scenario because it fits the darkness of our soul, the prevailing cultural pessimism. The imagination, as Wallace Stevens once said, is always at the end of an era. But we should be asking, or expecting others to ask, for the provenance of the data, the assumptions fed into the computer model, the response of the peer review community, and so on. Pessimism is intellectually delicious, even thrilling, but the matter before us is too serious for mere self-pleasuring. It would be self-defeating if the environmental movement degenerated into a religion of gloomy faith. (Faith, ungrounded certainty, is no virtue.)"

The missing sentences do not appear anywhere else in The Age's version of the essay. The attribution reads: "Copyright Ian McEwan 2008" and there is no acknowledgment of editing by The Age. Why did the paper decide to offer its readers McEwan lite? Was he, I wonder, consulted on the matter? And isn't there a nice irony that The Age chose to delete the line about ideologues not being very good at "absorbing inconvenient fact"?


Friday, March 21, 2008

Rudd the idiot thinks Aborigines are just unlucky (or something)

They're DIFFERENT, not the same. All men are equal only in the sight of God (if God is that blind. He certainly is said to treat sinners and the virtuous differently). Rudd must know that NOTHING will bring Aborigines up to white health standards because nothing will make Aborigines behave like whites. Everything that could be tried has been tried. The Aborigines were healthier BEFORE the government started intervening in fact.

But even under the missionary supervision of yesteryear Aborigines had lots of health problems due to poor levels of hygeine etc. If people insist on living unheathy and risky lifestyles it is their right but they ARE going to die younger because of it.

There must be something about being a Labor Prime minister that brings on delusions of omnipotence. A lot of us still remember Bob Hawke's declaration that "By the year 2000, no Australian child will be living in poverty". Nothing remotely like that change happened, of course. Same will go for this load of baloney

OK: I know Rudd's not an idiot. He's just cynically buying applause from gullible people

Programs to tackle smoking and to train more indigenous health workers are the first down payments on reaching the Federal Government's target of ending the health and life expectancy gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people. At the Close The Gap summit in Parliament House in Canberra yesterday, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, signed a statement of intent with health and indigenous groups, promising to bring equality to health standards by 2030. Mr Rudd has pledged to end the 17-year life-expectancy gap within the next generation and halve the infant mortality gap within the decade. [How??]

The Olympians Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe attended the event. Freeman urged the Government to "stay focused" on its commitment. Mr Rudd announced $14.5 million in funding to tackle the high rates of smoking in indigenous communities [Are you going to forbid it?] which contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Another $19 million was announced to encourage more indigenous people to become health workers.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, hailed the statement of intent as a "monumental development". "Benchmarks and targets for achieving these fundamental human rights for indigenous Australians are not only possible, but are now firm commitments. Let us hope that an indigenous baby born in 2030 has the same life expectation, the same access to quality health services and the same life outcomes as non-indigenous Australians," Mr Calma said.

But the Opposition said the Government had breached its claimed bipartisan approach to indigenous issues by leaving it until the last minute to consult it about the pledge to close the gap. The Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, was invited to speak at yesterday's event, but Mr Rudd left the function as he started to speak. A spokesman for Dr Nelson said that if the Opposition had been consulted it would have suggested the pledge to achieve health equity should have referred to the importance of addressing alcohol abuse, school attendance, policing, home ownership and employment outcomes. "We want to see this initiative work yet some people would question whether this was truly reflecting the spirit of bipartisanship," the spokesman said.



The year nominated by Hawke was 1990

Leftist wants to thwart white flight

How these animals hate ordinary people who are just trying to keep their kids safe!

Refugees should be settled in a wider spread of locations to avoid large-scale withdrawal of Anglo-European children from government schools, a senior government MP says. In a phenomenon known as "white flight", some parents send their children to private schools rather to state schools with a high proportion of pupils of other racial backgrounds, parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs Laurie Ferguson said.

He told Fairfax white flight had become a big challenge for multicultural Australia. "People fear there is a monoculture in some suburbs. They believe there is an over-dominance of some cultures in schools which is denigrating the quality of education," Mr Ferguson said. "So they are withdrawing their kids from government schools and sending them to religious or selective high schools. "This leads to further concentration of marginalised communities in government schools and the further stigmatisation of these schools.''

The term white flight was first coined in the US in the 1960s, when white parents sent their children to private schools instead of keeping them at newly-desegregated public schools.

White flight was a big challenge, especially in western Sydney and parts of Melbourne, Mr Ferguson said. "Deliberate policy decisions" needed to be made to diversify the location of housing for refugees and humanitarian entrants, including many settlers from Africa whose children grew up in refugee camps and had limited education, Mr Ferguson said.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Brian Burgess said that in Victoria, the phenomenon was "more like a middle-class flight" than a white flight. But teachers at "radically diverse" schools said white flight was alive and well in Melbourne.


The HMAS Sydney story

There has been great excitement in the press recently over the discovery of the wreckage of the WWII Australian cruiser "Sydney". See here, for example. The wreck has been touted as perhaps solving the "mystery" of how the ship was sunk. But it is not much of a mystery. Below is a excerpt from the summary of what the German survivors of the battle that sank the Sydney said at the time

On November 19, as the Kormoran approached the area off Shark’s Bay from the south-west in warm sunshine and perfect visibility, Detmers decided to maintain his course and wait until dark before turning eastwards towards the coast. At five minutes to four in the afternoon, as he was enjoying a cup of coffee in the wardroom, the alarm bells sounded, and a ship, thought to be a sailing ship, was reported approaching through the shimmering light on the horizon.

With the foretop lookout initially unable to identify what type of ship it was through the heat haze, but maintaining a running commentary on what he thought he could see, Detmers, called the crew to action stations, turned the Kormoran about through 260 degrees and called for full speed. Studying the approaching vessel through the sighting telescope of the gunnery control point on the signal deck, his worst fears were soon realised as the ominous shape of the approaching vessel became clearer. Detmers knew that with four hours to go until nightfall, he had nowhere to hide, and with what was becoming clearer by the second in the gunnery glasses capable of a top speed that was twice that of his own ship, he also knew that evasive action would be out of the question.

Bearing down on the Kormoran was a 6,830-ton Perth-class light cruiser, armed with eight six-inch guns, and a top speed of over 32 knots. Although the Kormoran was also armed with six-inch guns, they did not have the range of those on the cruiser which could easily bombard her from a range of 10,000 metres with all the advantages of modern fire-control and four twin turrets, without ever having to come within range of her guns.

Disregarding the fact that as a converted freighter with an unarmoured wafer-thin hull, she was unlikely to have any chance against an armoured regular warship of this type anyway, Detmers felt that unless he could somehow get within 6,000 or even 8,000 metres, where the advantages of the cruiser’s fire-control system would be far less significant, he knew that his position would be hopeless. Apart from anything else, one stray shell into the 420 high-explosive mines she was carrying and the Kormoran, like the Pinguin, would be blown to smithereens.

Knowing that his chances of survival were virtually nil, Detmers resolved to ensure that he would at least be in a good opening position should it come to a fight, and hoped that the enemy might make a mistake that he could exploit. Playing for time, during which the cruiser might just come closer, he knew he had to rely heavily on his disguise and pray for luck. Dropping the foretop lookout and lowering the crow’s nest so as not to arouse too much suspicion, Detmers had groups of seamen deployed among the ‘shipping crates’ around the decks in civilian clothing, altered course to present his stern to the oncoming cruiser, and slightly increased his speed.

When the signal N.N.J. was repeatedly flashed from the cruiser, neither Detmers, his Chief Signalman, Erich Ahlbach, nor anyone else on the Kormoran’s bridge had a clue what it meant, so it was ignored, but when it was followed by the demand ‘What ship?’, Detmers astonished his signalman, who was about to morse the response with either the ship’s searchlight or her top lamp, by instructing him to reply with ‘flag wagging’, merchant-navy fashion … slowly and awkwardly. In the meantime the cruiser was coming steadily closer.

It was abundantly clear to Detmers that as he had no alternatives and was going to have to fight this cruiser, he wanted her as close as possible to remove some, if not all, of her advantages. The more confusion his signalmen could create with their flags, and the longer they took to respond to the enemy’s signals, the less time he would have to ask awkward questions that Detmers could not answer.

With the cruiser now about 15,000 metres off the starboard quarter, approaching at a speed of about 20 knots and, by the amount of smoke she was making, clearly firing up her engines, Detmers replied to the ‘What ship’ demand, by instructing the signal-code pennant to be hoisted half-way, meaning, ‘I can see your signal, but I can’t make out what it is’, after which he allowed some more time to elapse before flagging that he now understood, followed, a little later, but very slowly, first with one flag missing, and then with several tangled flags, by the Straat Malakka’s recognition signal. This last ruse was one of Leutnant Ahlbach’s own ideas, as he skillfully assisted his commander in his playing for time, slowly lowering the entangled flags before hoisting them again so clumsily that the obviously highly-irritated officers on the bridge of the cruiser had to signal twice to get him to hoist his signal clear.

With the cruiser now 12,000 metres away, she acknowledged receipt of the ‘Dutchman’s’ identification signal, and flashed a further signal requesting his port of destination. Detmers, who couldn’t understand why the enemy ship was still maintaining radio silence and why he hadn’t yet been asked to heave to, could only assume that her captain did not consider the Kormoran as a suspicious ship, replied ‘Batavia’. By this time the cruiser was between 8,000 and 9,000 metres and closing. Viewing her through the less conspicuous and portable anti-aircraft rangefinder from the bridge, Detmers could see that her four twin 6-inch turrets as well as her port torpedo tubes, were all trained on him, but noted that none of her 4-inch anti-aircraft guns were manned.

Without any noticable reduction in speed, and showing the narrowest of profiles, the cruiser continued to close with the Kormoran, while flashing a further signal, this time requesting the nature of her cargo. In replying ‘Piece Goods’, the German signalmen worked so inefficiently and so slowly that it was virtually incomprehensible to the enemy. To add to the confusion, at about five o’clock, Detmers ordered that the Dutch flag be raised and instructed his Radio Officer, Reinhold von Malapert, to transmit a ‘QQQ Straat Malakka’ distress signal, which was picked up and acknowledged by the Perth station.

Conscious of the fact that his crew had been at action stations for over an hour, and that for all of that time they could see and hear nothing, Detmers spoke to them quietly over the intercom. Telling them that they were about to go into action against ‘a small cruiser’ that they should be well able to dispose of, he received an answering cheer that told him all he needed to know about their state of readiness.

Noticing that the cruiser’s seaplane was on it’s catapult being prepared for take off, Detmers realised that the Kormoran would not stand close scrutiny from the air, but on the other hand, it’s mother ship was now only 3,000 metres away, and turning slightly to starboard, thus presenting a little more of her silhouette. As 3,000 metres was the extreme effective range of the Kormoran’s anti-aircraft guns, ideally, he wanted the distance between the two ships to close even further so that when the time came for action he could bring all his guns to bear at their maximum effectiveness, and so, he left the initiative with the enemy captain.

Unable to believe the enemy’s total lack of caution in approaching what was an unidentified ship, the officers on the bridge of the Kormoran had for some time expected the cruiser to call their bluff by requesting their secret call sign letters, which of course they did not know. But at last, it came. Hoisting the letters ‘IK’, part of the Straat Malakka’s four-letter secret call sign, the cruiser came abeam of the Kormoran no more that 1,000 metres away, at a reduced speed, and so close that the Germans could see members of her crew leaning on the rails staring at this strange ‘Dutch’ freighter.

Reminding Ahlbach to keep it slow with the flags, Detmers watched as the cruiser repeated the demand for the secret letters, this time in clear, and wondered if he now needed to go through the whole time-wasting routine of demanding the cruiser’s name, as any self-respecting Dutch captain might be expected to do in such circumstances, and as he would certainly have done had she asked for his secret call sign earlier, but decided that he no longer needed to. He needed no more time.

The cruiser was now sailing directly abeam of the Kormoran at a greatly reduced speed and at a range of under 1,000 metres. At exactly 17.30, within the space of a record six seconds, Detmers crew dropped the Dutch flag and their camouflage and ran up the German battle flag. On hearing Ahlbach report ‘War flag flying!’ he gave Skeries the order to fire at will, with the starboard 37mm guns and three of the first 150mm salvo scoring hits on the cruiser’s bridge and forward gunnery fire-control position.

As the raider’s second 150mm salvo was fired, the cruiser opened up with a full eight-gun broadside, which passed harmlessly high over the Kormoran’s stern. The Kormoran then fired eight salvos in succession, at six second intervals, without any fire coming back, due to the damage done to the enemy’s fire-control centre by her first salvo. At this range it was virtually impossible for the German gunners to miss, with every 155mm shell scoring a direct hit. While the twin 37mm AA guns pumped shells into the cruiser’s bridge and the 20mm flak and machine guns hammered away at her upper decks, preventing her crew from manning their anti-aircraft weapons and torpedo batteries.

Leutnant Greter got two torpedos away, one of which struck the cruiser below the forward gun turret, putting both turrets, A and B, out of action and staggering the ship, causing her to slow still further, leaving just the two after turrets, X and Y, firing independently, scoring three direct hits. The first went through the Kormoran’s funnel, and exploded on the disengaged side of the ship, killing two men in the radio shack, the second exploded in the auxiliary boiler-room and oil bunker amidships, starting a fire and putting her fire-fighting system out of action and most significantly, the third destroyed the sensitive transformers of the main engines.

With the engine room soon fiercely ablaze from ruptured oil pipelines, and the personnel desperately trying to control the fire, by 1745 hours the Kormoran’s engines were inaccessible. But her gunners kept up their merciless barrage, doing a tremendous amount of damage and slowly reducing the cruiser to a blazing wreck. The roof was blown off turret B, the Walrus seaplane was blown off it’s catapult into the sea, and flames were shooting up everywhere. The German anti-aircraft and heavy machine-gun fire was so intense that no one could move on the cruiser’s decks and not one torpedo was fired at the raider.

Turning slowly towards her, the crippled and burning ship appeared to be trying to ram her tormentor, but with so little speed and already down by the stern, she passed harmlessly behind her, with all her turrets pointing to leeward and out of action, and exposing her hitherto undamaged starboard side to the ferocity of the Kormoran’s anti-aircraft guns.

Enjoying a brief respite as she passed astern of the raider, during which Detmers maintained his course to present the smallest possible target in case of a torpedo attack, and the German gunners took the opportunity to cool their overheated gun barrels with water, the shattered cruiser was subjected to another onslaught as she appeared in the sights of Skeries’ port side 155mm guns. Intending to turn to follow the crippled enemy ship to finish her off, Detmers found that his ship was slowing, as the engine-room telegraph reported that both diesels were losing power and that contact with the engine-room had been lost.

Fortunately for him and for the Kormoran, the ship still had some way on her, as someone on the cruiser managed to fire a spread of four torpedoes, all of which passed harmlessly astern, just as the ship shuddered as her engines finally failed.

Having given instructions that the Chief was to use his discretion as to whether or not to abandon the control room, the messenger returned to report that the engine room was out of action and that there was no reply from anyone. It began to look as if Chief Engineer Scheer and all of his control room and engine room crew had lost their lives in the flames.

Meanwhile the gunners kept up their devastating fire, scoring direct hit after direct hit, reducing the shattered and hapless cruiser to a mass of flames. At 1825 hours, with the daylight rapidly fading and the burning warship drifting over 10,000 metres away, the German guns, having fired 450 shells, registering over fifty 150mm hits, fell silent, as Detmers ordered a cease fire.

For the next two and a half hours the crew of the Kormoran, which was almost as badly ablaze as her enemy, could see the glow of the fires ravaging what was left of the cruiser disappearing slowly into the gathering gloom, until suddenly, they saw one massive flame, as if from a gigantic explosion, and after that, nothing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Postmodernism in Australian education and culture

By Sydney's premier Leftist bookseller, Bob Gould (above). I remember Bob well. He is an old Marxist (and one-time Marist?) who still has that real respect for working class people and their aspirations that the best of the Left once had. He accurately identifies how the modern "intellectual" Left have degenerated into sneering, supercilious and incoherent babblers. I was sad to see one of my ex-girlfriends identified among the sneerers. She is no fool but life must have disappointed her. Introduction to the article only below. It was written in 1999 but I think things have got worse since then

Over the past 15 years the rise of postmodernism and cultural theory has had a devastating impact on the intellectual life of the left in Australia. It has drastically affected the humanities, it has contributed substantially, along with some other factors, to the elimination of narrative Australian history as an academic discipline in some universities. The effect of this sweeping intellectual fashion in the humanities can only be compared with the impact of the cane toad on Australian fauna and the prickly pear on the flora. Like those two pests, the high theory of postmodernism tends to wipe out everything else in the cultural territory through which it sweeps.

Discussion of this phenomenon presents certain difficulties to me at a personal level. Several of the high priests and priestesses of the new clerisy are old personal friends, or at least, not particularly unfriendly old acquaintances. I have witnessed this bizarre beast grow and grow, right from its first landing in Australia via the works of Althusser, Foucault, Thomas Szas and Roland Barthes in the early 1970s.

For my sins, I sold in my bookshop hundreds of copies of books by the above, in the old Paladin and Verso editions, when they were the new and coming thing. They of course competed in those days with such writers as Hunter S. Thompson, Carlos Castenada and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

Surveying the cultural devastation caused by the structuralists and postmodernists, I now believe that, by comparison, Hunter S. Thompson, Castenada and Robert Pirsig, who, after all, don't claim that their writings are some sort of science or history, are much less damaging to the cultural landscape than the high theorists. Castenada et al at least have some virtue as entertainers if your tastes lie in their direction.

Witnessing the devastation of the intellectual terrain by postmodernism, structuralism and the high theory, and having played a part in the wide distribution of many of these texts when they first hit our shores, I now feel a bit like the people must have felt later, who, with the best of intentions, introduced the rabbit or the cane toad to Australia.

I remember when Andre Frankovits (now the companion of Meaghan Morris) who, with his mate Arthur King, had been battling along making hammocks for a living, got the quite smart idea that he would reprint in Australia the works of Baudrillard, one of the early structuralists, partly as a business venture and partly because he agreed with the works intellectually.

I never heard that Andre made much out of the books as a business venture He priced them a bit too cheaply. But they certainly made a considerable impact in academe, and other publishers came along publishing the same and similar books at far higher prices, as the postmodernist intellectual fashion developed.

I have been a bit amazed to observe the rise and rise of my old acquaintance Meaghan Morris, as the Pirate Queen of the new high theory. When I knew Meaghan a bit in the early 1970s, she was a warm-hearted, affectionate, rather insecure, slightly neurotic person (as we all were to some degree in those days), already a considerable polymath, with an enormous but then rather undirected knowledge of Western literature.

I have been positively awed by her rise to become the Australian megastar of cultural theory of this whole discipline, which has devastated the humanities rather more effectively than the Nato bombs devastated the Serbian military machine. At a human level, I'm impressed and pleased by the worldly success of an old friend, but intellectually my reaction is a good deal more ambivalent. I find Meaghan Morris's writings witty and entertaining and, thank heaven, a good deal less obscure than most practitioners of postmodernism, but even in her work I am irritated by the reduction of many questions that require social and human activity and intervention, to witty abstractions.

Most Australian postmodernists and high theorists are far more obscure and pretentious than Morris, and I suspect the popularity of Morris's work rests in the fact that she at least can be understood most of the time.

In a similar way I have known John Docker, another significant Australian postmodernist, and his wife, Anne Curthoys, a respected academic historian turned fellow traveller with postmodernism, most of my adult life. They are old friends. It is a bit cruel to be joining a crusade against a cultural fashion partly created by old friends and acquaintances, but I suppose that is one of the hazards of political and cultural life.

Keith Windschuttle and Alan Sokal

In intellectual activity it's usually fraudulent to lay claim to too much individuality. In developing ideas we always stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and we are always influenced by the books we have read. We usually proceed, if we've got any common sense, by way of study, analysis and, ultimately, criticism of other people's ideas, if we come to disagree with them or grow beyond them. Knowledge is a spiral. If we don't proceed like this and claim too much special individual intellectual discovery, we are usually either (1) plagiarising others without acknowledgement or (2) mad.

In this spirit, I hereby introduce into this narrative the two major recent introductions to and critiques of postmodernism and high theory. They are both, in their own special ways, indispensible for any serious person who wants to come to grips with this cultural phenomenon. The first book is The Killing of History by Australian Keith Windschuttle. This book is extremely valuable because:

(a) it provides an extremely lucid and understandable introduction to the ideas of the high theorists. In fact, it makes many things that are almost unintelligible, intelligible to the reasonably educated reader, no mean feat in this territory.

(b) It provides a very effective deconstruction of these ideas from the standpoint of defending the Western cultural tradition, the enlightenment, and the narrative historical sciences.

I disagree profoundly with Windschuttle's rejection of Marxism in the social sciences. In retrospect, his work on this book and the book itself, took place during a major transition in Windschuttle's outlook. He has now shifted over totally and spectacularly to the neoconservative right in politics. (One wonders whether Windschuttle would now repudiate the explicit defence of the Enlightenment in The Killing of History, from his new, ultra-neoconservative standpoint.)

Nevertheless, despite his subsequent transition to neoconservatism, The Killing of History remains a unique and important book. Its defence of the enlightenment and narrative history is persuasive and extremely useful. There is no book quite like Windschuttle's (which has just been reprinted in the United States) in rebutting the havoc wreaked by postmodernism in the historical and social sciences.

The second book is Intellectual Impostures by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. This is the book that stems from the magnificent, seriously intended deception perpetrated by Sokal on the postmodernist journal Social Text in 1996. Sokal, a physicist, submitted to Social Text a 35-page article, titled Transgressing the boundaries: Toward a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity. This piece included many of the most extravagant and mad reworkings of the physical sciences perpetrated by postmodernists, in one article, with prodigious authentic footnotes at the end.

One of the conclusions of the article was that material reality doesn't really exist! Nevertheless, Social Text did not wake up to the spoof aspect and published the piece seriously as a contribution to intellectual discourse. The Sokal/Bricmont book is mainly concerned with the madness of cultural theory applied to the natural sciences and mathematics. Like Windschuttle, they initially summarise the views of the high theorists that they intend to critique.

They then reproduce their Social Text article as a kind of demolition job, and draw out the lesson that the uncritical acceptance by the journal of their reductio ad absurdum article underlines the potential damage to the natural sciences from indiscriminate application of cultural "theory". One would be very hesitant to fly in an aircraft built or designed by a postmodernist.

More here

Far-Left journalists trying to cover up abuses in black communities

Award-winning journalist Paul Toohey has handed back his prestigious Walkley Award to protest against a push by the journalists' union to make media representatives outline their intentions to authorities before being granted access to Aboriginal communities. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, led by federal secretary Christopher Warren, last week released an additional "code of conduct" for journalists entering and reporting on Aboriginal communities. It calls for reporters to contact "police and council at the first opportunity and inform them what they intend doing in the community".

Toohey, who was named Australian Journalist of the Year in 2000 for his reporting from northern Australia and won a Walkley Award in 2002 for a magazine article on petrol sniffing in Aboriginal communities, said yesterday that the MEAA "was now actively working against media freedom in favour of what it mistakenly believes are the interests of Aborigines". "It shows, surprisingly, a profound ignorance of how journalists work. And of how Aboriginal communities work," said Toohey, The Australian's chief Darwin correspondent. "Would the MEAA suggest to correspondents in China that they should first consult authorities before seeking out Tibetan dissidents? What if the journalist wants to do a story about the local police, or corruption in the local council? Since when does the independent media announce its intentions to the state?"

Central Australian Aboriginal Labor politician Alison Anderson yesterday described the MEAA's proposed "code of conduct" as a sham. Ms Anderson, who favours the removal of the permit system for Aboriginal communities because she believes it works towards shielding predators and exposes women and children to abuse, said the code was "absurd". "Communities have to be opened up like every other town. And we have to be treated like equals. Journalists don't ask police in country Victoria for permission to speak to someone in that town," Ms Anderson said.

The MEAA, which runs the Walkley Awards, developed this revised code of conduct for journalists following the Rudd Government's decision to wind back the previous government's changes to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act, which would have seen Northern Territory communities open to all comers.

The Rudd Government has reinstated the permit system so communities will remain closed. The only exception to the new rule is that government workers and journalists would not need permits.

"The Government thinks the media should be grateful for this, but anyone who takes a broader view must have genuine concerns that communities will remain secretive, steel-trap worlds," Toohey said. "Instead of taking the sensible course and replying that it would suffice for journalists to adhere to its existing 12-point code of ethics - which outlines how journalists should act with honesty, fairness, independence and show respect for the rights of others - the MEAA's response was to come up with new ways to restrict journalists going about their business."

But Mr Warren said the proposed code was meant to be "situational, and attempts to take into account the particular cultural sensitivities presented when operating on Aboriginal land". In a letter to The Australian, Mr Warren writes: "In our experience - and that of our colleagues on the ground in the Northern Territory - to consult with local authorities before entering indigenous communities is an expedient which can usually help, rather than hinder, the reporter in the performance of his or her duties."

The permit system has caused difficulties for Toohey in the past. In October 2002, he travelled to Wadeye, about 400km south of Darwin, after a young Aboriginal man had been shot dead by a policeman. Toohey was the first journalist to report on the killing and the gangs of Wadeye, and went to the community after becoming aware of a planned heavy police presence on the day of the victim's funeral.

Toohey applied for a permit to enter the community. He was unable to secure one but made the long journey anyway. Police at the community arrested and detained Toohey and fingerprinted him, and he was charged and prosecuted for infringing the laws governing access to Aboriginal land. In the Darwin courts, magistrate David Loadman found Toohey guilty but did not convict or fine him. The DPP appealed, and a conviction was recorded. Ultimately, the Territory's Court of Criminal Appeal reinstated the magistrate's ruling.

Ms Anderson opposed any restrictions on journalists' access to communities. "There has to be no scrutiny on journalists. They have to be able to drive in, do their job and get out. This is just another hindering factor which is closing the communities up to abuse and lack of transparency," she said. Toohey said last night he had sent his 2002 Walkley Award to Mr Warren's office in Sydney in protest at the MEAA's proposal.


More revelations about disgusting health bureaucracy

QUEENSLAND Health Minister Stephen Robertson is in the Torres Strait today to get a first-hand look at security for health workers. Nurses are threatening to strike from March 28 if security does not improve in the state's remote north. A nurse was raped on remote Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait last month and was told to return to work after the attack, receiving no help to leave the island. Mr Robertson has been under fire this week over his handling of health workers' security issues. A spokesman said the minister was visiting a number of islands in the region to inspect progress on security improvements.

Yesterday remote area nurse Janine Evans, 43, broke her silence to reveal how health authorities exposed her to danger by failing to tell her about a written threat to her safety while working at Hopevale, on Cape York; and later heartlessly hauled her through the courts over taking a work vehicle to escape another community.

It took at least three weeks before a Cairns-based manager informed Ms Evans about the letter, from the family of a patient, which warned she should never work with Aboriginal people again and "if we see her on her days off she should watch out". In an extraordinary admission last night, Queensland Health said it had no specific policy for staff if they received written or verbal threats. "Anyone with fears for their safety should contact police," a spokeswoman said. Ms Evans said: "I just think it's terrible to leave me in there when they knew about the threats," she said.

Ms Evans was later taken to court over a work vehicle she used to escape Coen, on Cape York. She fled because she was struggling to cope, blaming a lack of support. The latest allegations show that the crisis in remote health is not just confined to the Torres Strait, where nurses are threatening to strike from March 28 if conditions do not improve.


Child welfare agency meltdown revealed

The special commission of inquiry into DOCS has been told many people have lost faith in the agency and a staff shortage is impacting on its ability to care for children. The inquiry was set up last year after two children known to the department died within weeks of each other.

Yesterday, public hearings were held in the northern New South Wales town of Moree. Staff from the Community Options program, based at Gunnedah, spoke passionately about the decline in DOCS services. Christina Adams told the hearing the community has lost faith in DOCS and people are not reporting children at risk because of a lack of action. Another worker said she had reported children in danger and it had taken DOCS two years to respond. The family is now living in squalor.

The member for Barwon, Kevin Humphries, said the service is chronically underfunded. "You're not going to get people to work for a service that generally the community does not have confidence in," he said. Mr Humphries warned the inquiry's findings would have to be taken seriously. "If his [the Commissoner's] recommendations are not adopted, the next inquiry that people like myself and the community will be calling for will be a war crimes tribunal," he said. "That'll be something that the minister, I can guarantee you, will lose his job over." He also called for NSW to engage the Federal Government's Northern Territory Intervention strategy at a local level

The hearing also heard there were strains on the service at Narrabri and a shortage of foster carers. A worker from the only refuge in the town said there is only one alcohol and drug counsellor in the town and she is pushed to capacity. A representative from Moree Plains Shire Council told the inquiry it wants to re-enact the parental responsibility legislation. The act allows police to remove children from the streets and return them to their home or a safe place.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The ANZACs are not dead

The old warrior genes are still there. It is unusual for someone of such a senior rank to lead his men from the front. Major is the highest field rank. This is probably a good moment to remember another heroic Australian of that ilk, Major Peter Badcoe, VC

A QUEENSLANDER and former Australian Digger has forged a name for himself while serving with the British Army in Afghanistan, earning the Military Cross for gallantry. Major Mike Aston was awarded the third-highest award for bravery for leading his company through three months on the front-lines under "some of the most intense close combat the British Army has experienced for some years".

Major Aston, who spent 11 years with the Australian Army at Duntroon, said he was "speechless" when he received the award. "It was unique for a company out there to do so many things," he said. "During our time we were moving around doing a lot of strike operations. "We were a very aggressive company, always on the front foot, and we took the fight to the enemy . . . and sadly did suffer a number of casualties."

Major Aston grew up in Toowoomba, 200km west of Brisbane, and entered the Australian Defence Force after completing high school at Centenary Heights State High. During his time in the Australian Defence Force he was awarded Soldier of the Year in 1990 and was nominated for the Sword of Honour.

His mother, Yvonne Aston, told The Courier-Mail she always knew her son would achieve in the army but was worried about him while he was fighting in Afghanistan. "It was very tense because several men in his battalion were killed, first his (second-in-command) and then another major was killed, which upset him," she said. "That was the only time I was worried about him."

She said he had come a long way since his early days in the Australian Army. "I can remember him sneaking off and ringing me and saying it was so hard." Major Aston is now serving as a staff officer with a UK armoured division in northwest Germany.


'More clerks than nurses' in NSW health system

The NSW health system employs more clerks than nurses, and continues to obstruct desperately needed reform, the former director-general of the Premier's Department said yesterday. Ken Baxter, who ran the agency under Labor premier Bob Carr, yesterday released an Australian Centre for Health Research report calling for a federal takeover of public hospital funding, saying the scale of state bureaucracies, cost-shifting and woefully inadequate reporting data justified the overhaul. He cited annual report data that showed more than a third of NSW's 90,997 health staff were classified "administrative or other". "In the NSW health system, there are more clerks than there are nurses," Mr Baxter said, estimating nurse numbers at 30,000.

In Tasmania, the system was even more heavily weighted towards office workers, with 45 per cent of the 8992 full-time equivalent staff classified as administrative or other, his figures show. Administrative jobs accounted for a quarter of positions in the Northern Territory and a fifth in Queensland and the ACT, with data from Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia non-existent or incomplete. "A number of the states can't give you accurate figures and certainly none of them (are) comparable," Mr Baxter said.

Many of the jobs in health had gone to IT support, despite the fact that more than $2 billion had been spent on IT systems throughout the Australian health sector "without delivering any real improvements" in performance data or services, he said.

The ACHR report into the future of Australia's federal-state healthcare agreements argues for a slimmed-down system where area health services and local boards run public hospitals, directly funded by the commonwealth based on their success in meeting performance indicators. The states would be left as owners of the hospitals, but would relinquish their current roles as co-funders and sole administrators.

Mr Baxter said more direct lines of responsibility would help reduce cost-shifting estimated at up to $500 million a year. "If we want that same level of service and we want the same standard, then some of these changes have got to be made," he said. "And none of them are going to be comfortable. But if you ask (NSW Health Minister) Reba Meagher, life is not comfortable for Reba at the moment."

Ms Meagher has faced off several scandals over substandard services at hospitals such as the busy Royal North Shore in Sydney while leading resistance to commonwealth calls to sign up to nationally consistent performance data for state hospitals. But she defended herself against Mr Baxter's claims, saying frontline clinical staff, including doctors, dentists, ambulance workers and allied health professionals, as well as nurses, outnumbered administrative staff and made up two-thirds of the system's workforce. "NSW Health has been actively restructuring the health system to shift resources away from administration into frontline health services," she said.

She also defended NSW's record in reporting on hospital performance, citing emergency and surgery data by hospitals published quarterly. But "we won't support benchmarks that are simply reporting for reporting's sake or have the potential to act as a disincentive for medical staff to report adverse events," Ms Meagher said.

Mr Baxter called the arguments against the release of hospital scorecards "nonsense". The NSW Government had surrendered in the face of bureaucratic resistance, he said.


Qld. teachers join nurses' protest over Torres Strait worker safety

The deepening crisis over worker safety in the remote Torres Strait islands is fuelling threats of strike action by teachers fearful that dilapidated staff housing will fail to protect them from physical abuse. A chronic lack of maintenance has left accommodation for teachers working at many of Queensland's 180 remote schools in a poor state and unable to be secured against intruders.

Education Queensland has admitted that since 2003 at least five teachers posted in the Torres Strait have sought counselling after facing physical threats, with two of them opting to be transferred immediately. There have also been at least six Workcover claims related to threats against teachers in the region.

The plight of teachers, nurses and other workers in remote communities has hit the headlines following the alleged rape of a nurse on Mabuiag Island last month. Health Minister Stephen Robertson has come under heavy political fire over his handling of the incident during which he has been regularly found wanting on the issue of worker safety in remote communities and what the Government was doing to address the issue.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said there was not enough accommodation for teachers and existing housing was run-down and unable to be secured. Like Queensland Health's facilities, Mr Ryan said Education Queensland's buildings commonly had missing or broken security screens - leading to break-ins and thefts from teachers' homes. The poor housing in remote communities was discouraging teachers from moving to them, he said.

The union estimates $160 million needs to be spent over the next three years to bring teacher accommodation across the state up to standard. "If strike action is the only way to get the State Government to listen, members . . . may be obliged to follow suit," Mr Ryan said. Premier Anna Bligh yesterday said: "I have absolute confidence in Stephen Robertson as the Health Minister."


Rabbit fish key to saving Great Barrier Reef

What? We don't have to stop global warming after all?

A RAVENOUS weed-eating fish might be the key to saving large sections of the Great Barrier Reef from destruction, scientists say. Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University researcher Professor David Bellwood said new research had shown the herbivorous rabbit fish - capable of stripping an area of vegetation - could fight coral-stifling weeds. "When a coral reef is weakened or damaged through human activity such as climate change or pollution or by a natural disaster like a cyclone, the coral will usually recover provided it is not choked by fast-growing marine algae," Prof Bellwood said.

"The problem is that over the years we have fished down the populations of fish that normally feed on the young weed to such a degree that the weed is no longer kept in check - it can now smother the young corals and take over." He said the chances of coral re-establishing itself after such an event were small.

But in a video study in which different fish were observed grazing in overgrown areas of the reef, schools of rabbit fish (Siganus canaliculatus) were seen chomping away at 10 times the rate of other weed-eaters. "To our surprise and disappointment, the fish that usually mow the reef - parrot fish and surgeon fish - were of little help ... then, to our even greater surprise, a fish we had never seen in this area before was observed grazing on the weed," Prof Bellwood said. He said the brown, bland-looking fish had been overlooked in the past but could be an important protector of the reef.

But he said it was important other herbivores were protected so they could work alongside the rabbit fish. "In Australia these herbivore fish populations are still in fairly good shape, but around the world as the big predators are fished out, local fishermen are targeting the herbivores," he said. "In Hawaii, the Caribbean, Indonesia, Micronesia and French Polynesia there are reports of serious declines in herbivore numbers of up to 90 per cent. "By killing them, we may be unwittingly eliminating the very thing which enables coral reefs to bounce back from the sort of shocks which human activity exposes them to."


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Racist do-gooder judge again: Six months' jail for raping 13-year-old girl

Black kids are not entitled to the same protection as whites, apparently. This is not the first time judge Martin has put the law second to the depraved values that have become common in dysfunctional black communities. He condones the depravity instead of fulfilling his duty to correct and discourage it

The Northern Territory's chief judge has warned men in Aboriginal communities to stop condoning child abuse after a 20-year-old was sent to jail for having sex with his 13-year-old promised bride under her parents' roof. However, child abuse campaigners yesterday criticised as inadequate the six-month sentence given to the offender by Chief Justice Brian Martin, who accepted that the 13-year-old victim, who fell pregnant as a result of the abuse, had "actively encouraged" the relationship.

Yesterday, in the Supreme Court at Alice Springs, Justice Martin said senior figures in Aboriginal communities "must learn to accept" that sex with children was illegal. The judge made the comments after acknowledging that both the parents of the victim and offender, as well as senior figures in their remote Aboriginal communities, had accepted the sexual relationship between the 13-year-old child and the man, who was 19 at the time the offences took place, as normal.

The offender, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty to three charges of having sexual intercourse with a child over a two-month period in 2006. Lawyers for the offender had pointed out in submissions at his plea hearing that the victim's father was an Aboriginal community police officer in the remote central Australian settlement where the offences occurred. The Australian is unable to name that community as it would identify the victim.

In sentencing the 20-year-old man yesterday, Justice Martin accepted that the offender was a young man with an immature understanding of sexual matters who had been "subject to conflicting messages" within his community. "Those who might be expected to tell you that a sexual relationship with a child was wrong took the opposite view and encouraged your relationship," Justice Martin said. "You had approval for the relationship not only from your parents, but also from the child's parents. Their approval extended to occupying the same bed together within the homes of both sets of parents."

The court heard yesterday that the victim had been subject to violence within the relationship by her promised husband, who abused alcohol. She had also fallen pregnant as a result of the abuse, and when she was seen at a community clinic, health workers discovered that she had contracted three different sexually transmitted infections. The court was told that the young victim's baby had died in-utero.

Justice Martin said that the "tragic and traumatic" consequences of the sexual abuse were a "graphic illustration" of the dangers of such relationships within Aboriginal communities. "There is a need to send a message to men in Aboriginal communities, both young and old, that sexual intercourse with children is never acceptable and is against the law," he said. "The message must go out that whatever view may be held by a community or individual Aboriginal man about traditional marriage or traditional relationships with young children, sexual intercourse with children is against the law and will result in offenders being sent to prison."

Bernadette McMenamin, chief executive of the anti-child abuse group Child Wise, said the sentence was inadequate, and slammed Justice Martin's suggestion that the victim had "actively encouraged" the sexual relationship.


Shifty Leftist politician

An empty suit trying to dodge responsibility for negligence over what IS his responsibility: The on-job safety of his Department's employees. He should resign to make way for someone who IS willing and able to get on top of his Department

BESIEGED Health Minister Stephen Robertson has come under renewed pressure for producing different versions of events surrounding his knowledge of the alleged rape of a nurse in the Torres Strait last month. The latest development in the saga came yesterday after the Opposition released a leaked Queensland Health report prepared between February 25 and 29 in response to the alleged rape on Mabuiag Island three weeks earlier.

The Occupational Health and Security Environmental Scan reveals the departmental team that prepared it was given "previous risk assessments and reports" to help them in their work. The team included a senior bureaucrat in QH headquarters in Brisbane.

Mr Robertson has repeatedly maintained he was unaware of any risk assessments written before the alleged rape occurred until media reports about the incident on March 4. He tabled in Parliament last week a 2006 risk assessment report that highlighted problems with locks, doors, windows and other security features on accommodation used by nurses in Torres Strait. However, Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg revealed the report had been sanitised and that it downplayed the urgency and seriousness of the problems.

Mr Robertson yesterday said he was told about the scan on February 27 but insisted he was not told about about the 2006 risk assessment report. He also said he did not have any contact with the bureaucrat who wrote it, principal occupational health and safety consultant Peter Clarke. However, when questioned further, Mr Robertson appeared to become confused. Asked if he found out about the alleged rape when work on the scan began, Mr Robertson said: "Yes, it would have been around about that time."

He then backed away from the comments and refused to discuss them further. "If you are now asking me for an absolute version of events about what happened when, I'll go back and check because the last thing I want to do is say something (wrong)," he said. A spokesman for Mr Robertson later changed the story again, saying the minister was told about the alleged attack on February 7, two days after the alleged rape.

The contradictions came as Mr Springborg repeated his accusations of a cover-up, saying it was no longer credible for Mr Robertson to claim the only person who knew about the 2006 report was the district manager in the Torres Strait at the time. "It wasn't 2000km away in the Torres Strait islands as the minister would have you believe," Mr Springborg said. "It was actually two floors away in his own building. His defences are crumbling by the day. He is either dishonest or incompetent."

The Queensland Nurses Union has threatened staff will walk off the job in the region unless basic security is not improved by March 28. They also want more than one nurse stationed on each island.


Scum Muslim doctor still registered to practice

A doctor who was able to continue practising after sexually assaulting two patients, lied about his indiscretions in an attempt to become an eye surgeon, the Medical Tribunal has heard. Dr Fahreed Bahrami, 44, was found guilty in 2002 of rubbing his penis against a one female patient and of touching the breasts, buttocks and thighs of another female patient before placing her hand on his penis. However the former Iranian refugee was able to continue practising on the condition he have a chaperone present during intimate examinations, after the NSW Medical Tribunal in 2003 found he was unlikely to reoffend.

Bahrami was again before the NSW Medical Tribunal yesterday, accused of altering his medical registration to "conceal that his practice was conditional," according to counsel for the Health Care Complaints Commission, Philip Strickland. Mr Strickland told the tribunal that Bahrami had tried to apply for membership to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Opthalmologists and in doing so had falsified his registration certificate to appear that he had general registration. Bahrami then signed a false statutory declaration and submitted the false registration card to the college, the tribunal heard. False applications were submitted and rejected three times before the college became aware of the discrepancy, Mr Strickland told the tribunal.

Mr Strickland said in lying about his registration status Bahrami's conduct had been "dishonest" and "deceptive" and he should be deregistered. He said Bahrami was guilty of unsatisfactory professional misconduct and that in falsifying the documents and later withholding that information from the tribunal that he was not of good character.

Dr Paul Beaumont, an opthalmologist and mentor of Bahrami's over a two-year period said his charge was "probably" a truthful and trustworthy member of the medical profession. However he agreed with Mr Strickland that Bahrami had been "repeatedly dishonest" in his dealings with the tribunal and in regards to his medical registration.


Temporary work permits for immigrants heavily sought in Australia

Computing professionals led the list of top 15 occupations for primary 457 visa grants in 2006-07, the Immigration Department said. Britain contributed the most workers in the past six months, followed by India

As the new temporary foreign workers change the face of Australia's workplaces, business groups last week called for an immediate boost to skills training positions and unions expressed concern that increasing reliance on developing-country workers risked lowering general wages.

Immigration Department figures obtained by The Weekend Australian provide a snapshot of temporary foreign workers brought into the country on skilled migrant visas, which allow the employees to stay for up to four years. The figures show the breadth of the skills crisis runs across the economy, as industries ranging from the healthcare sector to communications, mining and manufacturing import skilled workers to fill vacancies.

Workers from India, China and The Philippines are flooding into Australia's hospitals, factories and construction sites as employers increasingly look to developing countries to combat chronic skills shortages. In 2006-07, 46,680 temporary permits, known as 457 visas, were issued to foreign skilled workers. Health and community services accounted for 16 per cent of all 457 visas issued, communication services 10 per cent, property and business services 10 per cent, manufacturing 9 per cent and construction 9 per cent. Professionals exceed the number of other 457 classes, making up seven of the top 10 skills categories.

But as employers search for workers, Australia is increasingly turning to developing countries to fill its vacancies. Britain contributed the most workers in the past six months (6130), followed by India (3670), The Philippines (1870), China (1850) and the US (1570). British workers were most likely to work as doctors and nurses or in the property and business service sector. Americans were concentrated in communications.

But the use of Chinese workers grew rapidly, particularly in manufacturing. Indian workers were concentrated in communications and health, while workers from The Philippines were imported for building sites and manufacturing.

The rate at which the visas are issued continues to grow. While 46,680 visas were issued in the 12 months to June 30 last year, 25,750 were issued in the six months to the end of December - a 10 per cent increase on current trends. While the resource-rich states of Western Australia and Queensland have been driving the so-called "two-speed" economy, the slower growth states of NSW and Victoria took the greatest numbers of 457 visa holders.

The chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, said the 457 program had grown quickly and business had become "dependent on it". "But the economy is also very dependent on it and we're going to be very dependent on it if we want to keep the economy growing," she said.

The director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, Bob Birrell, said the most striking trend was the high take-up rate among citizens from the developing world. "In the six months since the end of the financial year, China has overtaken the US. That's a pretty good indication of where the program is going," he said. "Five or six years ago, that was not the case."


Monday, March 17, 2008


Three current articles below:

Queensland: Teachers fear for their lives

Education authorities are under fire for providing dangerous and "deplorable" living conditions for teachers sent to work on Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait. As the State Government continues to face fall-out from the rape of a nurse on the island, serious safety concerns have been raised about living quarters for teachers. The home retained for teachers has screen doors that won't lock, no airconditioning or washing machine and is generally run down, with broken vinyl flooring and peeling paint.

The father of a young teacher sent to the island from Brisbane this year was so frightened for her safety he wrote to his local MP pleading for an urgent security upgrade to the property. "I am appalled by this situation and believe this is a disgrace to have young female teachers working under these conditions, he wrote on February 26, before the rape was made public.

"There is no security for (his daughter) and the other resident of the premises and recently (a woman) was dragged from her residence and raped." He said his daughter, 24. now sleeps with a knife beside her bed", although it is understood the teacher later explained she had the knife in a cupboard.

The Bribie Island father, who did not want to be named, yesterday said his daughter had first approached her school principal about the state of the premises. "The principal had to get in contact with somebody to fix it up and was told there wasn't any money," he said.

A locksmith was sent to the property to fix security locks and screens at the premises within days of the letter being sent to Pumicestone's Labor MP Carryn Sullivan and then on to the North Queensland seat of Cook's Labor MP Jason O'Brien. Education Minister Rod Welford also personially responded to the case assuring the teacher and her father that the property would he fully repaired.

Opposition leader Lawrence Springborg said the case raised concerns about the standard of all remote housing for medical and teaching staff. "I raised in Parliament a motion which called for all the safety audits to be released for these type of remote communities around Queensland for the departments of health and education," he said. "The Government didn't release that information and voted down the motion. "If you've got one teacher's house that is like this, you've really got to ask how many others there are."

Education Queensland quick reaction to the teacher's father's letter is in stark contrast to Queensland Health's response to security concerns. The department failed to act on a safety report that warned remote area nurses were at "extreme" risk. 16 months before the nurse's rape in her island home on January 5. The nurse's quarters on Mabuiag Island were described in the report as one of the worst, with no locks, security system or working lights.

The article above by David Murray appeared in the the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 16, 2008

NSW: Teachers flee as attacks rise

EVERY school day a teacher is assaulted with punches, kicks, chairs and in several cases have had guns held to their heads. The Daily Telegraph can reveal the personal hell some teachers experienced in New South Wales public school classrooms last year - and why so many are giving up on the profession. Teachers filed 252 official reports of assault or serious threats to their safety, including 102 physical assaults, between September 2006 and August 2007.

Reports released by the Department of Education and Training under Freedom of Information laws show teacher safety fears make up almost one-third of reports of serious disruptions in schools. The incident reports show teachers are regularly threatened with firearms or other weapons - from broken bottles to knives - by students, parents or intruders.

A survey of new teachers by the Australian Education Union released this month found nearly half did not see themselves still teaching within 10 years, with "behaviour management" one of the top concerns. More than half said they had not received any professional training in behaviour management. The issue tops the list of teachers' concerns in secondary schools (more than 65 per cent) and is the second most important issue in NSW schools overall.

Among the reports, one of the most worrying cases reported by teachers, a male Year 7 student held a "silver automatic pistol" to a female teacher's head for one minute after he had been stopped from playing tackle football with friends. Police called to the western Sydney high school found the pistol was a "realistic" replica but the teacher did not know at the time. The student was arrested and charged with assault and use of a prohibited weapon. In other cases, a Year 12 girl in the Sutherland area of Sydney's south was suspended after driving a car at her principal, who was forced to leap to safety.

The reports show children as young as five are presenting with mental health problems, often forcing schools to call in a specialist "mental health team". At a primary school in the Lake Illawarra area, a kindergarten boy went berserk and tried to "trash" the classroom. "As the teacher went to shut the door, he was struck in the back of the head by a chair," the report reads. The teacher required physiotherapy after the attack.

Former NSW Central Coast teacher Richard Neville is one of many who has left the profession out of fear for their safety. He ended his 12-year career as a high school teacher after two students attacked him with scissors and a lump of wood. Now a fireman, Mr Neville said he found the job "safer than teaching". "The boy who came at me with the pair of scissors and the one who took the swing at me with a lump of wood were 13 year olds," Mr Neville said.


Strike threat by Cairns State school parents

PARENTS will pull their children out a Cairns state school in a strike aimed at fixing "Third World conditions" there. Strike organiser Mark Cash yesterday said the State Government was failing Trinity Beach State School students and the community. "This school has none of the things other schools have," he said. "They just keep patching it up. There's no real change. "Something has to be done. I don't want to have to shift my kids to another school."

Parents and children yesterday gathered outside the school, ahead of the planned strike, to voice their concerns about its condition. "We need fair, decent facilities," father of two Neils Munksgard said. "We need somewhere where the kids can play when it's raining. The grounds are completely waterlogged." "The classrooms are very crowded . there are a lot of general maintenance issues."

Mr Munksgard said he believed if things were not fixed soon, more parents would take their children out of the school, which was established in 1970. "I put it down to inefficiency and bureaucratic neglect," he said.

Barron River MP Steve Wettenhall agreed the school needed urgent attention, but said a student strike was "ill-conceived". "I don't support the proposition that students attending the school be disrupted and embroiled in an issue that has nothing to do with them," Mr Wettenhall said. "This is not the way to go about achieving outcomes for the school." Mr Wettenhall said he hoped to fix rusty guttering and drain pipes, which were contributing to the school's drainage problem, with special funding.

A statement released by the Education Department yesterday said flooring containing asbestos was being managed in compliance with the Queensland Government's policy. "The school has also organised for maintenance staff to urgently address ongoing problems with the junior toilet block," the statement said. Both the Far North Queensland executive director of schools and the regional facilities manager met with the principal yesterday and inspected the school.

The strike is planned for between 9am and 10am on Wednesday, March 26. Mr Cash said he expected to see at least 300 parents and their children get involved. "Everyone we've spoken to has said they will be coming."



Three current articles below:

Torres Island sex danger ignored by State Health

QUEENSLAND Health faced more damaging allegations last night after it was revealed it ignored repeated warnings that a man who allegedly raped a nurse on Mabuiag Island was mentally unstable. The revelations came as The Courier-Mail conducted an inspection of health centres on the remote Torres Strait islands where there was evidence the department had made superficial upgrades in a desperate bid to avert a threatened nurses strike from March 28. It also emerged that the nurse who was allegedly raped, has indicated she wants to return to the island. A 22-year-old Mabuiag Island man has been charged with rape and burglary over the February 5 incident.

Doctors also have called on the Queensland Government to improve safety for health workers amid revelations authorities failed to act on and allegedly doctored a November 2006 report outlining security risks at Torres Strait health centres.

The Courier-Mail toured the island's facilities yesterday and found many of the buildings, especially the newer ones, did not display significant degradation. However, frustrated health workers highlighted serious design and maintenance issues. They accused health bureaucrats of repeatedly lying to them, ignoring a decade of complaints and abandoning them. "I just think it's disgusting that it took the rape of a very lovely person to get some movement and for them to take action," a health worker said yesterday.

Workers were wary of speaking to The Courier-Mail because they said they were under a gag order from Queensland Health not to speak to the media. Teachers on the island also have been banned from talking about their working conditions and safety concerns.

All facilities inspected yesterday had been fitted with new security locks. But workers said the improvements fell short. "Somehow the keys find their way into the community," one said. Badu Island handyman Bob Brown said he recently fitted new doors to the island's health centre.

Other islands reported an influx of visitors, including top Health Department bureaucrats and nurse's union representatives, all promising to fix problems. But the island health workers said they had heard it all before and were committed to walking off the job this month unless "real and lasting" improvements were made.

On Mabuiag Island, former council chairwoman Louisa Guise, who is awaiting results of Saturday's election elections, said the island and health centre had been unfairly represented in the media. "With the news everything comes out like it was an old building but that was opened in 2004 and cost $3.5 million," she said. "In the papers it seemed like the community didn't care and everything came back to the community but it was only one person."

Ms Guise said islanders had warned Queensland Health for the past seven years that the alleged rapist had mental health problems and had asked for him to be removed from the island. Mental health workers came to Mabuiag and assessed the man but left him there, she said. Ms Guise said the nurse had loved working on the island and wanted to return. "She wants to come back," she said.

Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson has referred the case to the Crime and Misconduct Commission. The Australian Medical Association Queensland president Ross Cartmill has called for more safety for medical professionals in remote areas.


How parliament works

With particular reference to the latest Queensland Health Dept. botch job

Dress a man in a pinstripe suit, put a sheaf of papers in his hand, give him some basic acting lessons and you have a template for a Queensland government Cabinet minister. The papers are useful props in the theatre of parliament and can be brandished aloft to add credibility to some of the larger lies being uttered, while the acting lessons are helpful in pretending anger and dismay when the latest evidence of ministerial incompetence explodes on the front page of this newspaper.

The pinstripe suit? There is a misplaced belief that this adds a vestige of authority to the wearer. If worn with a shirt and tie that are even remotely compatible, this might even work. Sadly, as ministers to a man appear to get dressed in the dark or while blindfolded, this rarely happens in the Queensland Parliament.

It is the expression, however, that look of indignant rage, that is most important, for it is with this that you seek to deflect blame for your sins of omission and commission. We were treated to a vintage performance of IR - indignant rage - last week by Health Minister Stephen Robertson as he thrashed around on the floor of Parliament looking for someone to blame for Queensland Health's latest crisis. As reported, Robertson discovered in the wake of the alleged rape of a nurse on a remote Aboriginal community that a Queensland Health report highly critical of security for government staff, including health workers, had been ignored.

Shock! Horror! Outrage! The minister was furious. Why hadn't he been told? Someone had to be blamed and it certainly wasn't going to be the pinstriped, paper-waving, duly sworn in Minister of the Crown responsible for Queensland Health.

This is the same minister, as it happens, who checked into a private hospital when he required heart surgery rather than place himself in the caring hands of his own department's public hospital system.

A public service scapegoat was quickly unearthed. Given a target, the minister delivered another convincing display of IR, damning the man as disgraceful and incompetent for not having acted on the report. Premier Anna Bligh who learnt from that master of deception, Peter Beattie, never to accept responsibility for your actions, joined the attack, sinking a high-heeled shoe into the hapless public servant.

Robertson was still indignant when the public servant in question, whom no one in the Government had bothered to contact, pointed out that he had been transferred before the report had been completed and had never seen it.

Oops! It will come as no surprise to hear that when told of this, Robertson was shocked and horrified to the point of indignant rage, his IR directed, it could safely be presumed, at whoever had supplied him with a scapegoat who had a watertight alibi. Couldn't he trust anyone to do anything? Did he have to go out and find his own scapegoats? He didn't have time for that. He was too busy being outraged.

Then there was the matter of the report itself. The public, you'd think, had a right to know what it contained but Robertson seemed to think that he might need to get legal advice on the matter, and no free pinstriped suits with ill-matching ties for guessing what that advice was going to be. Having been sat on in north Queensland, the report was to be sat on in George Street. By the time all concerned had taken turns in sitting on it, it would be tissue thin. As he was about to slide the report beneath the seat of his pinstriped trousers, it became obvious that not even the gullible members of the Queensland public were going to allow the minister to hide behind some highly suspect legal advice. They may have fallen for some whoppers in the past but this was going to be a stretch, so it would have to be released.

Then a funny thing happened between the report being removed from under the ministerial posterior and it appearing in Parliament. Some rotten bugger tidied it up, changing a few key words in an apparent attempt to lessen its impact on what was left of the Government's credibility. When the minister's attention was drawn to this, he was shocked and horrified, saying he had no idea who had altered the report. In any case, the mysterious disappearance of words like "immediately" and "extreme" was neither here nor there, he said.

Not that he wasn't treating the matter seriously - and to prove it, he said: "I treat this matter very seriously." So there. Furthermore, as well as being outraged and indignant, he was angry. "I don't mind if people think I look angry because that's what I am," he said.

We're all angry, Mr Minister. Angry that someone who has lost control of his department doesn't do the honourable thing, hand in his taxpayer funded pinstriped suit and resign.


VIC: Surgeons walk out of public system

SURGEONS are quitting Victoria's public health system in alarming numbers, dismayed at their working conditions and pay, a ministerial review says. Morale is low, frustration is rising and senior and junior surgeons are joining the exodus, the independent review says. The Australian Medical Association says this is evidence that Victoria is on the precipice of a crisis in public health. "Public hospitals are at a crossroads: what happens now will determine whether we plunge into crisis or not," AMA Victoria president Doug Travis said. "Fewer surgeons will mean fewer operations. It's that simple."

From 2000 to 2006, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) surgeons operating only in the public sector dropped by almost 40%, from 139 to 84. At the same time, the number of FTE surgeons operating publicly and privately fell by almost 10%, from 914 to 826. FTE numbers in the private sector stayed steady. FTEs do not directly correspond to surgeon numbers, but show that surgeons are doing less work in public hospitals. Tim Woodruff, of the Doctors Reform Society of Australia, said this was a worrying trend that would hurt those with serious, complicated illnesses who could not afford private health cover.

The Ministerial Review of Victorian Public Health Medical Staff was completed in November but has not been released by the Government. The Age has seen the part of the review that looks at problems with retaining senior staff in the public system. It says the problem is not confined to surgeons. "Both general working conditions and remuneration are driving Victorian doctors from the public sector both into the private sector and interstate," the review says. "Reasons that attracted clinicians to public hospitals in the past are rapidly disappearing." Procedural specialists are a particularly endangered species, the review was told. "There is considerable disquiet particularly amongst orthopedic surgeons within the public health sector, with many surgeons having resigned their public appointments within the past 12 months," the review panel heard. "These resignations not only include many senior surgeons but also a number of junior surgeons."

Low pay in the public sector is a key determinant in the problem, the review says. But surgeons in the public systems are also affected by a loss of goodwill and job satisfaction. "There were many reports of poor morale, a feeling that medical practitioners were devalued by the system and by management," the review says.

Medical practitioners told the review panel there was a proliferation of hospital bureaucracy, setting key performance indicators that did not relate to quality of care but increasingly emphasised patient throughput.

One submission says staff morale at Victorian hospitals is at an all-time low. "Attendance at medical staff meetings, once dynamic, frequently fails to make a quorum," it says.

Another complained about the increasing separation of hospital management from medical, nursing and paramedical staff. "This . has led to such a high degree of frustration that many who were previously committed to the public hospital system have often decided to spend the minimum time possible (if any) in the public health system."

Dr Travis said the report's findings matched his own observations. Younger surgeons were more likely to go interstate, where they could earn up to $100,000 more a year, he said. Older surgeons were more likely to cut the amount of work in public hospitals. "We are on the precipice," he said. He called for the immediate release of the report so work could start on addressing its recommendations.

Last week Nationals leader Peter Ryan quoted in Parliament a leaked section of the report's findings that said reduction in bed numbers and high occupancy rates were causing stress in the health system. "It puts the lie to the position the Government consistently portrays: that the system is running well," he said.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews told Parliament the review was entering its final stages. "There will be a Government response," he said. Yesterday a spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said the report would be released shortly. "The Brumby Government has recruited an additional 1800 doctors to the system since coming to government," she said. "We currently invest around $40 million each year to recruit and retain our health workforce. "We are working with the Rudd Government to address this issue."


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shocking pupil violence report in government schools

As night follows day, weak discipline leads to misbehaviour

More than 65,000 Queensland state school students have been suspended for disruptive and violent behaviour over the past five years. The startling figure includes 13,838 students in Years 1 to 12 caught with "objects", including weapons, on school grounds. A total of 801 primary and secondary students have been expelled for bad behaviour and "physical misconduct involving objects". Of the state's 10 school regions, a total of 51,734 students were suspended in the five-year period for physical misconduct alone.

The figures come amid a series of violent school-related incidents and police concerns that assaults involving students are becoming more severe. The figures, from September 2002 to June 2007, were released under freedom of information laws to The Sunday Mail. The data is from the department's School Disciplinary Absence database, which was established in June 2002 and records disciplinary action that falls under the categories "physical misconduct" and "physical misconduct involving an object". The database does not contain the words "assault" or "weapon", and Education Queensland would not define "object".

A spokeswoman said physical misconduct, which "can include" poking, pushing and hitting students and staff, represented 30 per cent of all incidents and had remained stable over the past few years. She said the increase in the suspensions for physical misconduct showed schools were taking the issue seriously. There were 14,000 disciplinary absences out of about 480,000 students statewide....

Police, students and teachers told The Sunday Mail that while violence had not escalated, it was a continuing problem. Several police officers said students were using the internet and texting on their mobiles to arrange fights after-hours, or to upload footage of school violence. Two students from a south Brisbane high school said group bashings were becoming more popular.

Stationing police officers at schools had had an impact on reducing violence, officers said. "School-based officers have a better advantage to head off trouble before it starts and be better prepared. Because they are on the ground he can be hearing things," an officer said.

Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford said there was a level of offending behaviour in every school but he did not believe violence had increased significantly in state schools. The Queensland Teachers Union said that while violence was an ongoing issue, really serious incidents were isolated. "Schools are a reflection of society so I think as we see increasing evidence of it in society, we can expect to see the same thing in schools," union president Steve Ryan said. He added the union's concern was that the department supported schools when they took disciplinary action.


Trees trump people

One balmy Sunday evening last month, when the Queen Victoria and QE2 cruise ships came to Sydney Harbour, Neutral Bay mother Phionna Tomaszewski gathered with friends in a park at Cremorne Point to watch. Her six-year-old daughter was climbing trees and swinging off branches with other children when an "irate, elderly woman" berated her for "damaging" a coral tree and threatened to call council rangers.

Tomaszewski found her daughter "bawling her eyes out ... My daughter (all 20-odd kilograms of her) ... was reduced to tears by a stranger when all she was doing was playing in a tree" she wrote in a letter last week to The Mosman Daily, where a lively feud has continued ever since. But in another letter to the paper, Margaret Watson, a friend of the elderly woman, defended her interference by saying the children had been "swinging on the branches, breaking one off ... After another branch broke, my friend approached and requested that they cease".

Tomaszewski, who said on Friday she would prefer not to comment further, denies branches were broken. She let fly with two letters to the paper: "Last week's storms would have done more damage to the gorgeous foliage of Cremorne Point than an entire army of kids playing in and around the tree. Climbing trees and having adventures outside is a key element of childhood physical and mental development."

Well, they used to be. But these days, it seems, trees are more important than people. To reprimand a six-year-old girl for swinging on the branch of a tree reflects more than simple intolerance towards children. It represents a new world view in which flora and fauna are more important than humans. In this era of climate alarmism, humans are seen as the source of all evil. Without humans, goes the addled thinking, there would be no carbon dioxide, and hence no global warming. Thus, when the Medical Journal Of Australia published a satirical letter from Perth obstetrician Barry Walters in its December issue proposing a carbon tax on babies, and carbon credits for sterilisation, it was reported as a serious news story. Such outlandish sentiments have become so acceptable that few people got the joke.

Environmentalists and animal rights activists openly spruik genuine anti-human philosophy, without fear of criticism. Briton Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and director of the world's largest animal rights group PETA, has been quoted as saying "Mankind is the biggest blight on the face of the earth" and that human life has no special meaning. "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals." Similarly, American environmentalist, and founder of Earth First! Dave Foreman, who equates economic growth with environmental vandalism, has been quoted saying: "Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental."

The mainstreaming of this extremist view probably began with Australia's own philosopher Peter Singer, now Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, feted by The New York Times as the "greatest living philosopher" for his thesis that humans are no more precious than animals. To uphold the sanctity of human life, he says, on his website, is "speciesism, and wrong for the same reasons that racism and sexism are wrong. Pain is equally bad, if it is felt by a human being or a mouse". He holds that abortion to nine months can be morally justified, as can the killing of a "defective infant" for up to 28 days after birth and euthanasia for the elderly and mentally disabled. He has suggested the animal kingdom be divided into "non-human persons", such as apes and dogs, and "human non-persons", such as old and infirm people.

Singer's ideas have taken root in subtle ways, only noticeable if you look for them over time. When North Sydney Mayor Genia McCaffery joined former prime minister Paul Keating in blasting the recent Superboat Grand Prix for disturbing the harbour, she said, "I wonder how many marine animals were either injured or killed during the event". Maybe none - but a man was.

When it comes to certain human desires, such as water views, footpaths without cracks, or children's Saturday sport, foliage has been taking precedence for some time in many Sydney councils. But now human health is being put at risk by councils with a sacred mission to return suburbia to the jungle. Killara Park, for instance, has become infested with disease-causing ticks since the council stopped mowing an "environmentally significant bushcare site". Locals are now refusing to walk their dogs there for fear of tick attack, The North Shore Times reported last week.

These are small stories along the same continuum. Over time they eat away at the idea of human exceptionalism and, ultimately, the sanctity of human life. This idea provides the moral underpinning for western civilisation, which is why it is under threat. The surprise is that defending it has virtually become a fringe activity, left to people labelled religious fundamentalists - or angry mothers.


Leftist teachers block military cadet training in government school

An elite girls' school has been accused of sexual discrimination by its own students after banning its army cadet program. Angry MacRobertson Girls' School students who participated in the cadet program say they were aware several teachers were openly hostile to their involvement, with one student alleging the 30 cadets were compared to "Hitler Youth". MacRobertson Girls' High School principal Jane Garvey informed the cadets that the program would cease at the end of the year after a school council decision in November.

The girls allege that the ban is sexual discrimination as it prevents them from continuing in the cadet program with brother school, Melbourne High School. The girls, dressed in military attire, would participate in drills at Melbourne High and attend skills camps.

Year 12 student and cadet under officer Bridget Pianta said some teachers objected to girls taking part in any military activity. "You would think that with a school's ethos that girls can do anything that boys can that they would be encouraging it, especially something that encourages leadership in girls," she said. The highest ranked officer in the cadets, the regimental sergeant major, is a girl from the select-entry, single-sex government school. "It seems to me that it was politically sensitive and by closing the program they hoped it would go away," Ms Pianta said.

Ms Pianta, who helped initiate the program in 2005, said it was widely known that two teachers were overheard calling the cadets "Hitler's Youth". The Sunday Age has independently verified the comment from the student who heard the teachers speaking. After the student made a complaint, it was alleged that the male teacher "had not meant it". "Many of the teachers there are way left of Marxism and I am fine with that if they are honest. But don't try and come across all PC and say you accept others if you don't," the former student said.

In a letter, Ms Garvey told the girls that the program would not continue because it was disruptive and had been subject to administration problems. It was also difficult to find a teacher to supervise the program. A teacher has subsequently been found to run it for the rest of the year.

Melbourne High School principal Jeremy Ludowyke confirmed that his school's council had written to MacRob asking it to allow the year 10 to 12 girls already enrolled to complete their training. He said male and female students benefited enormously from the program, which has been running at Melbourne High for more than 100 years.


Paddy's day

Australia has more residents of Irish extraction than any other country per capita - about 42 per cent of us have Irish ancestry, which explains our talent for beer drinking. So in the case of the death of St Patrick, to be marked this coming Monday, its strictly unAustralian to not down tools in favour of a room-temperature pint of stout.

If you celebrated the Year of The Rat in January, if you've ever suffered through Vince Sorrenti or knocked back too many cannolis on Norton St in April, or helped the Germans polish off some of their Krombacher in The Rocks during Ocktoberfest, surely you can find your way to an Irish pub on Monday.

Back in March of 1840, The Australian newspaper reported one of Sydney's first St Patrick's Day gatherings was held in the new Sydney court house. Around 400 of Sydney's elite Irish partied until just before dawn. From that point, Sydney's Irish population swelled, in no small part to that other great Irish talent, breeding.

A national peak of 228,000 immigrants at the turn of the century bred a whole new generation of Paddys who bred more little Keirans and Ryans and by 1979 when the Irish got their act together to create an organised St Patrick's Day parade, more than 50,000 Sydneysiders turned up for the craic and a green beer or 10.

This Sunday, while organisers mix Irish coffees and Guinness stalls amid Korean noodle and kebab stands in Hyde Park where the parade ends, it will be the same immense Irish pride being served to the people of Sydney as back in 1840. And believe me, they want you to join in. Its a grog-a-thon of mass proportions - a good solid binge - it's not much of a challenge really.

And the whole city is invited. You don't need an Irish passport or a Claddaugh ring to neck a breakfast beer before work on Monday and while you might not get a seat at the bar, youll get a warm Cead Maile Failte - a hundred thousand welcomes - in any Irish pub. Because everyone's Irish on St Patrick's Day. So work up a thirst and dig out your daggy greens or risk being pinched by a leprechaun. Just leave the bloody Paddy jokes at the door.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

More gross stupidity and disregard for justice from Australia's Federal police

And do they HATE admitting that they were wrong! It has to be forced upon them. They need a new boss at least -- plus wide-ranging remedial education in the rules of evidence. Latest on the best-known AFP bungle -- the Haneef case -- here. They were real Keystone Kops in that matter

Australian Federal Police agent Gerry Fletcher, a veteran investigator lauded for bringing down some of Australia's biggest organised crime gangs, was this week back on the job, working the phones. After a two-year fight against now-descredited allegations of corruption, the former narcotics strike-team chief was sitting alone, on the seventh floor of AFP offices in Sydney fielding tip-offs from the public.

Just three years ago, Detective Sergeant Fletcher, 54, was the pride of the AFP, awarded one of its highest honours - the Australia Day Medallion - for his "nationally and internationally" recognised work busting open drug syndicates. But it all turned horribly wrong in April 2005 when Fletcher answered his work phone and agreed to meet a mystery caller the next day at a cafe across the road from his Sydney office. His coffee companion was cocaine kingpin and then AFP target the now-dead Michael Hurley.

The 25-minute meeting, immediately reported by Fletcher to his superiors, led to the 30-year veteran's sacking in February 2006, which was overturned last June by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, but the reinstatement order was obeyed by the AFP only 10 days ago.

While Fletcher is not allowed to talk about his ordeal, his wife Jenny yesterday took the extraordinary step of going public about the "witch-hunt" her husband endured at the hands of Australia's top cops. "What was done to my husband was unconscionable and wrong," she told The Weekend Australian. "He deserves more than the dishonourable and disrespectful manner with which he has been treated by a very small minority within the hierarchy of the AFP. "He was suspended, reinstated and sacked without cause, being the finding of the AIRC, but maintained his loyalty to the AFP throughout."

With this week's announcement of the judicial inquiry into the Mohamed Haneef affair, Ms Fletcher called for a similarly independent review into the AFP's handling of her husband's case. "The disturbing parallels between Gerry and the Haneef case are striking - they tried to brick-in my husband like they did with Haneef," she said.

The Fletcher case is not the first time the AFP has drawn the ire of the AIRC, which in 2004 slammed its professional reporting and confidant network, under which agents can anonymously report on their colleagues but which has allegedly been abused to secretly smear reputations. AIRC deputy president Brian Lacy said the internal network of "clandestine informers" was dangerous, just as likely to contribute to corruption and unethical behaviour as eradicate it.

The system remains in place, albeit with some changes; not so the Federal Police Disciplinary Tribunal, which did not hear a case from 1999 until it was closed down in 2006. The tribunal - following attacks the top brass didn't want to air their dirty laundry in public - was meant to give natural justice to officers under investigation. Instead, they are forced to mount expensive litigation to defend themselves - an avenue that Fletcher was forced to take, to the tune of $60,000.

An old-style policeman, Fletcher was regarded as an investigator who spent time on the street rather than in front of a computer screen, building contacts and finding informants. In the words of former assistant commissioner Bob McDonald, who gave evidence on his behalf, Fletcher had a unique understanding of "who's who in the Sydney criminal underworld". But it was a style that occasionally brought him into conflict with his bosses. Within weeks of the meeting with Hurley, the crime boss was picked up on a listening device saying he had been tipped off to the operation into his activities. He then disappeared as police swooped.

Hurley was eventually caught, but died of cancer early last year before he could stand trial for masterminding a cocaine cartel that smuggled drugs into Australia through Sydney airport. AFP bosses suspected Fletcher was the source of the tip-off to Hurley. Fletcher told the AIRC that until he got to the coffee shop, he didn't know he was to meet Hurley, thinking instead it might be a retired policeman. When he realised it was Hurley, he immediately reported it to his superior.

Fletcher, suspended with pay, was eventually cleared by the NSW Crime Commission for the alleged leak. But it didn't stop there. As a result of the meeting, Fletcher was counselled and told he would be soon moved from his position with narcotics in Sydney. Later, he was accused of failing to uphold AFP standards and was in need of further counselling - which Fletcher rejected. He then went on the front foot with his bosses. He wrote back, saying that apart from Hurley he had never met with informants alone and remained committed to AFP policies and guidelines as to "human sources". The AFP didn't like it and said it no longer trusted the veteran policeman. He was then sacked.

Over the next two years, Fletcher fought for his career in various courts. Spectacularly, during the hearings, it was revealed that Hurley had spoken about his contact with Fletcher while under AFP interrogation. Hurley was asked what Fletcher's reputation was on the street. "100 per cent honest. I think he's locked everyone up you can talk about," he said.

Maybe it hurt Fletcher more than it helped. But for Jenny Fletcher, her husband's long record of arrests and commendations should have been enough. "He gave 30 years to the force and they treat him like this," she said. "Every man and woman in this country who has chosen a career in the AFP ought to have the peace of mind that that career will not be ripped out from under them 5, 10, 20 or 30 years on by personal agendas."

The AFP last night issued a statement saying Fletcher "has been fully reinstated at his substantive level into an operational area of the AFP".


Bureaucratic bungledom

The tale below will sound familiar to anyone who has tried to get a large bureaucratic organization to fix something. Yet the Left want to saddle us with ever more bureaucracy! The only explanation which makes sense of such insanity is to say that their carefully-masked hatred of us all trumps the "compassion" that they claim

Last year I had a bizarre brush with the bureaucracy. I got locked in an argument with the taxman, and emerged with a fine for my trouble. Why? Because I had the temerity to tell him he wasn't charging me enough income tax. After I submitted my annual return he sent me an assessment saying I'd made an arithmetic error of $12,012 and enclosing a refund cheque for $3878. Phew. I'd been expecting a bill for $1948. But I knew it was too good to be true. I checked and confirmed there'd been no error in my arithmetic.

I could have let the taxman's mistake ride, but I had a feeling that, should it be discovered, the bureaucrats might find a way to blame it on me. In my position, I couldn't risk that. Or maybe it was just the pedant in me. Anyhow, I sat straight down and wrote to the taxman, explaining (wrongly, as it turned out) how I imagined the mix-up had occurred and asking for the $12,012 to be added back to my taxable income. Naturally, since the refunded money didn't belong to me, I didn't bank the cheque.

I heard nothing for almost three months. Then, on the very day I'd posted another letter reminding the taxman I'd had no response to the first one, I got a call from a woman in the Tax Office. From memory, she was in Brisbane. She called to tell me my letter made no sense and that the refund was correct. A furious argument ensued, with me insisting that, far from the taxman owing me money, I owed him.

I asked if she had my return in front of her. No, its content had been entered into the computer and it wasn't available. We argued back and forth until she asked if I'd claimed a $12,012 deduction for Australian film industry incentives. No, of course I hadn't. Ah. That $12,012 was the total of my supplementary income. Whoever punched my figures into the computer had mistakenly entered it one line down, the line for film industry deductions. So I win the argument and am complimented for my honesty. Leave it with me, I'll get it fixed.

I hear nothing for more than two months, when I get another phone call from another woman in the Tax Office. This one was in Parramatta (by now I'm keeping notes of conversations). She was just calling to say my letter made no sense and that the refund was correct. Another furious argument, but this time shorter as I produce my trump card: contrary to what you see before you, I made no claim for a film industry deduction. Another win. I explain that, since I knew I wasn't entitled to the refund, I hadn't banked the cheque. Oh. Then would I mind sending the cheque back to her? Really? Why? It's the Tax Office's cheque, so all you have to do is cancel it.

She was doubtful. Cheque cancelling wasn't done by her section. But she agreed to cancel it and issue a new assessment. At least she got on with it. Within a week I received an amended assessment giving me 26 days to pay $6028. Huh? Well, there's the $1948 I always owed them, plus the $3878 refund I wasn't entitled to, plus $202 as a "shortfall interest charge". The ungrateful blighters. They'd charged me interest for having the use of their money when I hadn't banked their cheque.

I fully intended to stand on my dig, paying the money I owed but refusing to repay a refund I hadn't actually received and certainly refusing to pay what amounted to a fine for being honest. But that would have required another carefully worded letter, and time got away from me. So I banked the cheque and waited (just to make sure they hadn't cancelled it after all), then paid up.


Staff flee rotting hospital

ROYAL North Shore Hospital was in such decay that the floor of its medical records room collapsed and specialists were so demoralised they were fleeing to the private sector, leaving the public health system on the brink of breaking down, a senior doctor has told an inquiry.

The hospital's professor of medicine, Stephen Hunyor, told a public inquiry yesterday his cardiology department went a year without air-conditioning - which, he said, ruined experiments because of high temperatures - and staff complained for four years about poorly functioning toilets. "We've had bricks falling from the main building, we've had a floor collapse high up in the building where the medical records are being stored," he said.

Professor Hunyor, a cardiologist staff specialist who has been at Royal North Shore for 33 years, was giving evidence at the special commission of inquiry into acute care services in NSW public hospitals. He said doctors had "review fatigue" and the inquiry was the last chance to fix problems in the system before it was too late. "Your commission of inquiry is the last stop before some really bad outcomes," he said.

There was an atmosphere of "secrecy" over the $702 million Royal North Shore redevelopment, which would not have enough specialists anyway if the exodus was not stemmed before it was built in the next five years. "Morale is a crucial issue here at the moment and I think it's true to say many of the good specialists are fleeing to the private system," he said. "It's so easy now for these dispirited, demoralised specialists just to say it's all too hard and move to the private sector where they can earn substantially more money."

Executives at Royal North Shore did not last for more than 18 months, causing "administrative Alzheimer's", he said, describing the lack of corporate knowledge as "very dangerous".

Clinicians were constantly subjected to "mindless cost-cutting", while money was wasted on consultancies and plugging staff shortages for which bureaucrats remained unaccountable. "We see $30 million spent on locum people being flown, sometimes from New Zealand, to work in the emergency department for a weekend and being paid large sums," Professor Hunyor said. "We are very concerned that the doctors have no power, no influence in substantive decisions on the operation of their hospital and the medical system." He said specialists were expected to develop clinical services plans without knowing what facilities they would have at the new hospital.


Detachment matters: Journalists are outsiders, not political players

WITH hindsight, we should have seen the warning signs when the ABC decided to call its Sunday morning political discussion program Insiders. As smart and witty as Barrie Cassidy's guests can be, insiders is a tag to which they should never aspire. Yet as former Liberal leader John Hewson argued in The Australian Financial Review yesterday, sections of the media increasingly "see themselves as significant players" rather than mere observers of the game of politics. In the run-up to the last election, Dr Hewson pointed out, a significant majority of journalists nailed their flags to the Rudd mast. This was evident in print, in the broadcast media and online. And it has important implications for the public, for the media and for politicians.

Commentary and opinion are important elements of the political discourse and enhance the democratic process. A detached and independent mindset, however, is always important, especially for those paid to scrutinise politicians.

Journalists need to guard against becoming too close to those they write about. Relying on a "drip feed" of press releases or strategic "leaks", at the expense of probing and independent analysis, demeans their profession and sells the public short. It can lead to a conflict of interest tempting journalists to turn a blind eye to the mistakes of those on whom they rely as sources. There are lessons to be learned from the US media's cosy relationahip with disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer. Like well-trained house dogs, much of the supposedly sophisticated New York media lapped up his crusader image, portraying him as a white knight. In their eagerness to flatter and build up what they had convinced themselves was the main story, they were apparently oblivious to the fact that he could be equally as flawed as those he pursued for white collar crime.

While Kevin Rudd and his close colleagues have much to gain from a pliable, starry-eyed media pack, they, too, should guard against becoming addicted to the none-too-subtle applause of the gallery. Tailoring political moves to keep the plaudits is a recipe for bad policy, especially when decisions that fly in the face of the majority of gallery opinion would be in the best interests of the nation. The interests and opinions of the journalists, who co-exist with them and their advisers in the bubble-like world of the parliamentary triangle, rarely reflect those of the majority of voters.

Dr Hewson's observations were timely, coming at the end of a week in which the Prime Minister played most of the media off a break over so-called teenage binge drinking and the Opposition was berated by a senior gallery figure for having the temertiy to ask questions in parliament. And in a soliloquy that rivalled Sir Robert Menzies's "I did but see her passing by" for pusilanimity, an experienced Canberra journalist who should have known better lauded Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard for "wit, charms and cheek" for her "word, gesture and gaze" and for a "compelling presence at the dispatch box" on issues from workplace relations to beauty parlours.

Many stories, by their nature, will inevitably favour one side of politics or the other. But balance and detachment are the keys. Politics, as Dr Hewson said, is played out across virtual 24-hour news cycles. This gives journalists even greater responsibility to keep a clear perspective and step outside their narrow world. Insiders, which plays a useful role in reviewing events from a broader perspective and canvassing different viewpoints, might be better entitled Outsiders. Because that is what journalists should be.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Leftist class hatred in academe

One of the reasons why people become middle class is because they watch their pennies. Note that policy recommendations made below by Left-leaning academics are made WITHOUT research to back them. It could be that the baby bonus is most effective in influencing the decisions of middle class parents. Nobody knows and nobody seems to be interested in finding out. Typical Leftist arrogance. They just KNOW

The baby bonus has been branded an "unbelievably expensive" way to boost the birth rate that should be comprehensively overhauled in conjunction with the raft of payments to families. As pressure mounts on the Rudd Government to find billions of dollars in savings in the May budget, economists have called for a review of the current "mishmash" of family payments - two different Family Tax Benefits, two types of childcare payment and the Baby Bonus - to ensure the $17 billion a year serves a more coherent policy purpose.

Griffith University's Ross Guest, supported by influential economists Bob Gregory and Chris Richardson, said failing to means-test some family payments was creating too much middle-class welfare. The programs also led to inefficient and costly churning between tax receipts and welfare payments. Parents having a baby today receive a one-off $4187 payment regardless of household income, increasing to $5000 after July 1. The Child Care Tax Rebate was increased by Labor from 30 to 50 per cent of parents' out-of-pocket expenses to a new cap of $7500 per child, again regardless of income. And, if a mother is not working, she can claim more than $3000 a year under Family Tax Benefit Part B, whatever her partner earns.

Many mothers who do not necessarily need the baby bonus would not pass up the opportunity to take it, reasoning that every bit of financial help from the Government is welcome. But those in more comfortable income brackets argue the extra money does not affect their decision to have children, with some considering the bonus a defacto maternity leave payment from the Government. "I can see, most definitely, there are groups of people who would have children for the bonus, but in our situation it didn't really make much difference to us," Sydney's Carla Steege, who collected $4000 with the arrival of her daughter Annabell 10 months ago, said.

Ann Pearson, a 37-year-old strategist with AMP, gave birth to her first son seven weeks ago and recently claimed the baby bonus. A single mother living in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern, Ms Pearson said she hoped the baby bonus would not become means-tested because "if it was, I probably wouldn't have gotten it". The payment will allow Ms Pearson to spend more time with her new son before returning to her job: "When I got it, I put it straight on to my mortgage. It means, with the mortgage being that bit lower, I can have a more time to spend with Aidan at home before I go back to work," she said.

Professor Guest said a strong case existed for Labor to use the budget to rationalise these disparate family welfare policies, "bundling them together as one family support payment". "The baby bonus is just not an effective expenditure. We pay for every birth and most parents would have a first child anyway, irrespective of the bonus," he told The Australian.

Former treasurer Peter Costello introduced the baby bonus in 2004, citing it as a measure to improve the nation's fertility rate. He urged Australian couples to have "one for the husband, one for the wife and one for the country". Last financial year, it cost the government $1.16 billion, a figure that will climb as it increases to $5000. With more women having their first babies in their 30s, and richer women having more children, the baby bonus is increasingly ending up in the hands of wealthier families.

Despite Treasury's concerns, Wayne Swan this week ruled out any change to the baby bonus and said Australia's middle class did not receive too much welfare. But economist Professor Gregory said the baby bonus remained an inefficient means of improving fertility and the Government should consider treating all family welfare measures as "a whole". "If it was put in place to get more children, then it's unbelievably expensive. Every new mother gets it, but you might only get a few extra babies that wouldn't have been born regardless," said Professor Gregory, from the Australian National University Research School of Social Sciences.


Baby bonus safe, Rudd says

The baby bonus is safe, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says. Economists have called for a review of family payments, calling the baby bonus an "unbelievably expensive" way to boost the birthrate. Parents having a baby between now and June 30 will receive a $4,187 payment, no matter how much they earn. From July, the payment will rise to $5,000.

But Mr Rudd said the Government had no plans to change the bonus. "The baby bonus is absolutely safe," he told Fairfax radio today. "We committed ourselves to its retention before the election and we will stick with it. "You've got to look at the data, and I think it has had an impact in terms of nudging up slightly the birth rate in the country. "Some may dispute that, but I think it's effective and most mums and dads that I've run into certainly welcome that cheque arriving."


Amazing that it's the politician and not the academics who says that "You've got to look at the data". It's a credit to Rudd and a great discredit to the academics

Life in black communities very dangerous for whites

Nurses need shelters from attack in black communities but the Leftist State government doesn't want to know about it

An internal Queensland Health report on nurses' security in remote locations in the Torres Strait has recommended that secure "bomb shelters" be provided for staff where they could hide when under attack. The report, which was provided to Queensland Health 16 months ago but tabled in parliament by Health Minister Stephen Robertson only on Wednesday, described the risk level posed to most employees working in the Torres Strait as "very high" or "extreme". As revealed this week by The Australian, the report has not been acted on since it was compiled in October 2006.

Mr Robertson tabled the report after The Australian revealed the case of a nurse who worked alone on Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait. Last month, the 27-year-old woman was attacked while she slept and raped by an intruder.

The full report details how "strongrooms" needed to be established in each isolated facility. "A strongroom is a selected area within a building that has two exits, but all walls and doors are built to a standard that can keep a staff member safe until help (exit strategy) arrives," the report states. "This room should be self-contained and hold emergency bottled water and pre-packed food. It should have several lines of communication ... be able to withstand physical aggression and be fire resistant." The report says that if these initiatives were put in place, staff could also keep patients safe if under threat of violence.

On Wednesday, Mr Robertson said that a bureaucrat in Queensland Health had not passed on the report, but yesterday he asked the Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate after a former district manager in the Torres Strait said he never received the risk assessment report. Mr Robertson had earlier accused the officer, who has since retired, of being responsible for the inaction on the report which saw it "lie on a desk for 16months".

The Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association weighed into the controversy yesterday, saying there were clearly unacceptable inadequacies in the safety of health staff working in the Torres Strait. AMA president Dr Chris Davis said his organisation was concerned that Queensland Health appeared to have been made aware of the issues but had decided not to take action. "Queensland Health has a duty of care to provide a safe workplace for its employees," Dr Davis said. "The Queensland Government is very quick to ensure that employers discharge their obligations under the Act but as an employer themselves have not done this."

Nurses in remote communities have issued an ultimatum to the Government, demanding their facilities be brought up to safe and secure standards by March 28 or they will refuse to staff the island community health centres. The Queensland Nurses Union has also said there will be no more single-nurse assignments in island communities, and that at least two must be appointed at all times. If that is not done, they will provide only fly-in/fly-out day clinics.


Police goons walk free

This is a tremendous disgrace. For betraying their position of trust they should have been locked up for years

Confronting secret footage of an armed robbery suspect being bashed by three Victorian detectives has been publicly released for the first time. The three policeman whose bashing of an armed robbery suspect was caught on secret video have walked free. A magistrate yesterday cleared the release of the video that killed the trio's police careers.The damning footage shows the suspect being kicked, slapped, tackled and hit with a telephone at the St Kilda Rd police complex.

The three former armed offenders squad officers were charged after the screening of the video footage at a police corruption watchdog hearing in September, 2006. It is the first time the graphic and damning video has been released to the media. The video, credited with leading to the disbanding of the armed offenders squad, was first aired at a controversial Office of Police Integrity hearing in September, 2006.

Yesterday, former Sen-Det Robert Lachlan Dabb, 36, former Sen-Det Mark Harrison Butterfield, 38, and former Det Sgt Matthew Adrian Franc, 38, left court free men, but with their careers over. Magistrate Peter Lauritsen sentenced Dabb and Butterfield to 10-week intensive corrections orders and Franc to a five-week Intensive Corrections Order. An ICO is a jail sentence served in the community [????] that combines community work, education and treatment.

The men pleaded guilty to the unlawful assault on May 10, 2006, of a suspect arrested over two armed robberies. Unlawful assault carries a maximum three-month jail term. The trio, who were given glowing character references in court, still face charges of misleading the OPI director.

The black and white video is filmed from a camera hidden in the ceiling of an interview room at the armed offenders squad offices in St Kilda Rd. It was placed following a letter of complaint to the OPI about the activities of members of the now-disbanded armed offenders squad. The suspect is slapped, kicked, flung across the room and hit with a telephone and tissue box in five separate attacks over four hours. He repeatedly cries in pain.

At one stage Butterfield tackles the man to the ground and tells him: "Welcome to the armed robbery squad." At another point he is told: "Start showing us some respect here. F------ (slap) armed (slap) robbery (slap) squad." In the final assault, Dabb strikes the man with a phone after he complains that he has yet to be given a phone call: "Want a phone call? "Here it is, here's ya f------ phone call . . . "Don't learn about attitude, do ya? Want to make another one?"

In dramatic scenes, Dabb collapsed in the witness box at the OPI hearing when he first viewed the video clips. The three men initially denied it was them in the video. All three have since resigned from Victoria Police.

On Wednesday, a former colleague of Franc gave evidence that he regretted that his offence had affected more than 30 detectives in the disbanding of the armed offenders squad. The court heard the assaults were aimed at getting a gun used in the armed robberies off the streets.


Howard says that conservatism still sets the agenda

By Janet Albrechtsen

SITTING in a cafe in Washington on a sunny spring afternoon last Wednesday before a gala tribute dinner, former prime minister John Howard is, to coin a phrase, relaxed and comfortable. Speaking to The Australian in his first interview since losing the 2007 election, Howard is characteristically philosophical about his critics, his election loss, the state of conservatism and the future of the Liberal Party. For Howard, it is history that counts. And he is confident that history is on his side. Just as it will be on the side of conservatism.

The American Enterprise Institute, one of the most influential policy institutes in the US, has an eye on history, too. Which explains why one has to travel to Washington to see Howard get the dues he deserves, receiving the AEI's renowned annual award. It is given to an individual who has, in the words of the AEI, "made extraordinary intellectual or practical contributions to improved government policy or social welfare". Previously known as the Francis Boyer Award, recipients have straddled all fields of excellence and have included former US president Ronald Reagan, US Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, Islam scholar Bernard Lewis, Henry Kissinger, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Alan Greenspan.

Just before the dinner, AEI scholar Danielle Pletka told The Australian that the recurring question some Australian media outlets asked her was: "But why Howard?" Howard's critics still don't get it. In the sweep of history, conservatism has triumphed. Back home, the Howard haters, who continue to gloat at his loss, will never accept that.

Just as they will never acknowledge that Howard deserves credit for his role as one of Australia's most successful prime ministers. The former prime minister understands that. "Well," he says smiling, "there have been people in the media who have been critical of everything I have done for 15 or 20 years because they are culturally and viscerally opposed to what I stand for."

He is equally unfazed by members of the Liberal Party who are quickly trying to dump Howard as part of the past. As the Four Corners program a few weeks ago demonstrated, the Liberal Party is no mood to celebrate its former four-time election-winning PM.

To be sure, Howard bears much of the blame for the final stain that tarnishes his record. After all, a leader is inevitably defined by their last act in office. Howard's failure to heed the advice of his senior Liberal colleagues to hand over the leadership to Peter Costello last September will always be remembered as a final act of hubris. Deciding to stay on, preferring to be remembered by history as a fighter, not a quitter, knowing that electoral defeat was ahead, his leadership record would be indelibly marked down.

Asked whether he accepts the lingering hostility some Liberals feel towards him, Howard says, "Leave me out of that," telling The Australian only that, "whenever a party loses, people want to move away from the past. Those things tend to find their balance. If you've got red meat achievements to point to, that will sort itself out over time."

Those achievements place Howard "right at the AEI sweet spot" says Christopher DeMuth, the president of the AEI. DeMuth points to Howard's economic policies that balanced the budget, continued the deregulatory policies of the Hawke/Keating governments, reorganised Australia's welfare system, privatised Telstra, reformed labour laws and cut taxes. And the Howard government's unerring support for the Iraq war, which has strengthened the US alliance, drew rounds of applause from the high-powered group of more than 1000 people who attended the black-tie dinner in Washington to pay tribute to Howard.

Out of office federally and in every state and territory, conservatives in Australia are not having an easy time. But again Howard looks to the historical record. "The conservative side of politics has had some striking gains in the last quarter-century. And they are permanent," he says, pointing to the implosion of the Soviet Union and the renewed sense that Western civilisation should feel proud of what it has achieved, replacing the left-liberal addiction to self-flagellation.

Since the election of the Rudd Government, the familiar refrain is that conservatism is beat. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said that the right-left labels no longer apply. Yet, Rudd eagerly embraced much of the conservative agenda. And as Howard reflects on his election loss, it's a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Says Howard: "The most constant comment made in the lead-up to the last election is that Rudd was trying to be a younger version of me. And there is some truth to that ... He did not win because he was different. He won because he was like me." If you are interested in following the flow of ideas, says Howard, that points to the prevailing power of conservatism.

The problem, of course, is that in the wake of Rudd's embrace of the centre-Right, the Liberal Party is politically stranded, trying to mark out its own agenda in order to win back voters. Howard is sanguine, pointing to his own experience where an Opposition can have a critical influence on policy. "One of the most constructive and satisfying periods I had in parliament was between 1990 and 1993 when I was industrial relations spokesman for the Opposition. I think I helped turn the debate around in quite a big way on industrial relations. Even (Paul) Keating ended up talking the language of enterprise bargaining even though the reality was far less than he claimed. But I sensed a very real shift in the debate over that time.

"You have to remember when we went into Opposition in 1983, the Liberal Party still believed in centralised wage fixing. There was, for practical purposes, very little difference between our position and that of the Labor Party. Then we had quite an internal debate in the '80s about whether we should embrace individual contracts and various other things that are (now) taken as a given. Once we sorted out our own position, which took some years, then we were able to bring the full force of that position into the debate against the Labor Party.

"What I think is important is for the Liberal Party, in Opposition, to be arguing policy positions that represent an authentic difference. Not difference for its own sake, but differences that have their own virtues. And you can do that." Not an easy task. But Howard is certain that the party he led for more than a decade has history on its side.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wicked man mentions racial realities

Small town Aborigines are almost entirely welfare-dependant and have a very high rate of crime.

A mayoral candidate who wants to be elected a "racist mayor" has called for Aborigines to be relocated from his southwest Queensland shire. Kevin Wise, 66, has single-handedly ignited racial tensions in Cunnamulla after he distributed 100 inflammatory flyers quoting his plans to replace indigenous families with "Vietnamese peasant families".

In the flyer he pledges to call on "the Federal Government to offer 25 indigenous families $50,000 each to relocate anywhere away from the Paroo Shire" and for their places to be allocated to 25 non-English speaking Vietnamese families". "I guarantee that within that five years, these families will have advanced this shire's wealth and future prosperity out of all proportion to that achieved to date . . ." the flyer reads.

The man who wants to be "an elected racist Mayor for Paroo" told The Courier-Mail he deliberately asked for indigenous homes to get the flyers. "I let it be known that I preferred them to go to Aboriginal households so that it wouldn't appear that I was running gutless and I was trying to sectionalise the receivership of the documents," he said. He calls Cunnamulla a "dead in the water" community and the Stolen Generations a myth.

Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Susan Booth said the comments were "hurtful" and "incredibly stereotyped". Ms Booth said she could not comment further in case the flyer became the subject of a complaint and possible action.

Cunnamulla resident Maureen McKellar held back tears as she spoke of the devastation she felt when she read the comments and called Mr Wise a racist. Another resident, John Mitchell, said the comments had "stirred up a hornets nest" and the community was now depending on Aboriginal academic Stephen Hagan to file a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Commission.

Mr Wise yesterday maintained he was not racist. "Every bugger in town is saying what I am saying out loud, but they won't say it themselves - arguing about the dead-end Aboriginal industry and their effects on town." Mr Wise said he wanted Vietnamese families to move in because they were hard working and would tend market gardens in the community. "Aboriginals are certainly not going to put in the hard yards to establish market gardens or anything," he said.

Mayor Ian Tonkin denied his community was racist and said Mr Wise should apologise. Mr Hagan said he carefully considered giving publicity to Mr Wise's vilification but said the circulation of racist comments had to stop. He plans to complain to the Anti-Discrimination Commission.


Queensland State government aims axe at bureaucrats

Good if it happens

The Queensland Public Sector Union (QPSU) fears jobs will be lost and frontline services cut under a state government overhaul of the public service. The government today announced five new major reform initiatives aimed at improving the sector and delivering yearly savings of up to $80 million. Premier Anna Bligh said bureaucracy needed to be reined in after growing within her government during the past decade. Queensland also faced a tough June budget as a result of upheaval on the global financial markets and tough decisions were needed, she said. "If these savings were not made from areas which are no longer priority within head offices, then we would be facing options in the budget of either deficit budgeting or not being able to grow into areas of services where we believe further growth is necessary beyond what we've already budgeted for," Ms Bligh said.

Under the reforms, the government will create a new public service commission by amalgamating the Service Delivery and Performance Commission with the Office of the Public Service Commissioner by July 1. It will also create an amalgamated civil and administrative tribunal, replacing about 26 different tribunals across the state, including the Anti-Discrimination and Small Claims tribunals. Expected savings of more than $80 million a year will be used for frontline services such as health and education, and an expenditure review committee will be established to monitor and prioritise spending across agencies and departments.

The government will also review about 600 government boards and statutory bodies to reduce both numbers and costs. Ms Bligh said the initiatives were the most wide-ranging changes in the Queensland public sector in the past decade and promised there would be no forced redundancies. "(But) there will be some public servants whose services are unable to be reallocated to frontline service delivery," Ms Bligh said.

QPSU general secretary Alex Scott said there had been more reviews of the Queensland public sector than ever before under the Bligh Labor government. "We've gone from the Smart State to the review state," he said. "We don't see any way that the government can make these savings without cutting jobs, which means cutting services."

Treasurer Andrew Fraser, who has previously vowed to "cut the fat" from the state budget, described the reforms as a belt-tightening exercise. He said agencies would not be allowed to trim frontline services to achieve savings. Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg supported the creation of one new civil and administrative tribunal, but was worried about cutbacks to services.


Bureaucrat jobs abolished -- but bureaucrats still on payroll!

MORE than 40 Queensland Ambulance Service staff have been advised their jobs no longer exist, after a far-reaching government audit. One of Anna Bligh's first moves on becoming premier in September last year was to order an audit into the service. Ms Bligh said the service was not performing well, despite the fact Queensland spends more money per person on ambulances than any other state. Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts today told state parliament that $4 million in savings would be achieved by June this year.

The audit aims to save $12 million, to be spent on 100 frontline ambulance officers. Mr Roberts said this would be achieved within the next financial year. "Work is continuing to identify additional positions in accordance with the audit findings," he said. Affected administrative staff are being retrained or redeployed, but there will be no forced redundancies for permanent positions.


Tell a big enough lie often enough ...

The article below is probably correct about the extent to which cholesterol can be lowered. That lower dietary cholesterol would save lives is the lie

Lowering the cholesterol of every Australian by 10 per cent would save 3000 lives a year, according to research which calls for a nationwide shift on diet and exercise. The study by Sydney researchers has found that a small, 10 per cent drop in "bad" LDL cholesterol could be achieved in just a few weeks, primarily by cutting back on saturated fats and exercising more. The shift would save 3000 people annually who would otherwise be dead from heart attack, cardiovascular disease or ischaemic stroke, the researchers at the George Institute for International Health found.

"These are quite significant findings," said Dr Rachel Huxley, the institute's director of nutrition and lifestyle. "We're not talking drugs; we're talking simple diet and exercise changes that an individual can make to lower their LDL in less than a month."

The key change would be lowering saturated fat intake, particularly full fat dairy products, convenience meals, takeaway foods, confectionary, cakes and biscuits - the biggest contributors to LDL in Australia. Statistics show about 12 per cent of energy consumed in an average Australian diet comes from saturated fats, 50 per cent above recommended levels. "If we could cut down on those food items we could make a substantial contribution to reducing the amount of saturate fats that we consume and the number of people that are dying," Dr Huxley said.


Challenge to Rudd's economic intelligence

Protectionism reduces a nation's wealth and prosperity but Rudd seems to be listening to the ignoramuses who want it

With the general expectation that the strong demand for our resources from China, India and the developing world more generally will continue for a couple of decades, Australia is clearly looking at a long-term shift in its comparative advantage. We cannot cherish and try to preserve, as if in aspic, our existing industry structure. We have to accept that our minerals and energy industries and related industries will flourish while others will decline. The alternative is to end up with what Paul Keating called an industrial museum, created by Australia's era of high protection. Yet Rudd, whose grip on economics is tenuous, has a fatal blind spot.

He says he wants a productive and competitive Australian economy, but he also says his economic policy objective is to prepare Australia for what he seems to think is the approaching end of the China boom. His left-wing log of an Industry Minister, Kim Carr, justifies his protectionist approach to industry policy, on display in the car and textile, clothing and footwear industries, as preparing Australian industry "for a future beyond the mining boom".

Before the election, if you asked Rudd if he was worried about the sort of industry policies Carr might come up with, you would get an assurance that Carr wouldn't be making industry policy, the PM would. Presumably he is, and it is the wrong policy, pandering as it does to manufacturing unions and other vested interests Labor has put in charge of the industry reviews.

What Rudd needs to be preparing Australia for is managing a long period of resources-driven prosperity, which means not only accepting but facilitating the admittedly painful changes in our economic structure. If, as seems to be the case, Rudd doesn't like the changes being forced by the China boom, what is the alternative? Australia could, in theory, run a policy that would involve taxing away all the profits of the mining industry and then investing them, unhedged, abroad. This would have several consequences Rudd and Carr (and the unions) would presumably find congenial.

For one thing, it would discourage investment in the resources sector, relieving pressure for employment, capital, and goods and services to move to these and related industries. Because such a policy would also lower the exchange rate, this effect would be reinforced. And because the resource windfall would be taxed and invested abroad, there wouldn't be any redistribution of income from our strong terms of trade via tax cuts or government spending domestically. This would cool off the Australian economy, cut domestic spending, relieve capacity constraints and reduce inflationary pressures. It would also have a deeply deleterious effect on our future prosperity. If you think this is too silly for words, just look at what is going on with the car and textile industries.

And there is at least one other bitof it that could get into policy: storing future budget surpluses invarious government funds to prevent fiscal policy from adding to long-term pressure on inflation and interest rates. Putting present surpluses into convenient repositories such as the Future Fund and the Building Australia Fund, or into superannuation, to avoid adding to demand and interest rate pressures may be acceptable as a short-term cyclical response. But as a long-term policy for dealing with the proceeds of a long-running resource boom, it fails.

It makes sense for countries such as Norway, which has a sovereign wealth fund in which it puts its oil revenues; or, closer to home, Pacific Islands that depend on resources such as guano, or forest timber, with a limited life. But Australia's iron ore and coal and some other resources are abundant enough to deal with decades-long demand booms, and piling up billions of dollars in government funds that then have to be invested doesn't make sense. Do we want government-controlled funds owning half the Australian share market, forexample?

Governments are likely to have very different motivations from company boards, as the international controversy over the activities of sovereign wealth funds recognises. And the discipline of funding recurrent spending from recurrent revenues is an important one. Nor is storing surpluses to meet future demand from an ageing population, for example, good policy. It amounts to giving up before we start on better, alternative policies designed to lift national wealth and productivity.

Far better to use the money on tax cuts and tax reforms that have dynamic economic wealth effects, and on infrastructure that meets strict and transparent economic and social return criteria. Such policies will provide the productivity and future budget revenues to meet future spending demands. Rudd must resolve the dangerous ambiguities in his economic policies before they do some serious damage.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Leftist Jew-hatred virulent in Australia too

Back to the 1930s and uncle Adolf. Hitler's view of Jews would be counted as wise among today's Leftists, though not among the centre-Leftists who at present run Australia. Once again it is the conservatives who are the best friends of Israel

A bipartisan motion congratulating Israel on 60 years of statehood has provoked division in federal Labor, with one government MP threatening to boycott the vote and union heavyweights accusing the Jewish state of racism and ethnic cleansing. The parliamentary motion is due to be passed by MPs today, commemorating 60 years of friendship between Australia andIsrael.

The motion provoked a clash between Kevin Rudd and Labor MP Julia Irwin yesterday after Ms Irwin questioned why the Government was supporting the gesture, given Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. And today a group of individuals and organisations, including the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the Maritime Union of Australia and South Australian Democrat MP Sandra Kanck, have put their names to an advertisement in The Australian condemning themotion. "We, as informed and concerned [and hate-filled] Australians, choose to disassociate ourselves from a celebration of the triumph of racism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al-Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948," the advertisement reads.

Today's motion will commemorate Australia's role in the establishment of Israel and commend Israel's commitment to democracy, the rule of law and pluralism. It reiterates Australia's commitment to Israel's right to exist and to finding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Partyroom sources told The Australian that Ms Irwin unsuccessfully attempted to table a number of Amnesty International reports during yesterday's caucus meeting, which she said detailed Israel's alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. Ms Irwin told The Australian she had yet to decide if she would support the motion.

National secretary of the CFMEU John Sutton said the union was critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Referring to the recent violence, he condemned the "latest slaughter of Palestinians". The man who authorised the CFMEU's participation in the ad, NSW secretary Andrew Ferguson - brother of Labor MPs Laurie and Martin Ferguson - said while he objected to some of the more pungent language in the statement, he supported the basic thrust. He said the CFMEU had no problem with Israel's right to exist.

Sections of Labor's Left have long struggled to reconcile themselves to the party's support of Israel, and the problem threatened a rift between Labor and the Jewish lobby last year. In 2003, Ms Irwin called for UN intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and read an email to the parliament that described the Jewish lobby in Australia as "the most implacable, arrogant, cruel and powerful lobby in the country". The head of the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, dismissed Ms Irwin's remarks, saying Israel's critics in the ALP were confined to the party's fringes.


More black racism in dysfunctional Aboriginal communities

Aurukun Council has moved to sack its new chief after two months amid allegations of racism against white staff in the troubled Cape York community. John Bensch, a South African national who took the job in January, said the violence in Aurukun was equal to that in any of the shantytowns in his home country and that white staff were routinely threatened and belittled by community members.

He remains in the role after the council received legal advice it could not sack him ahead of Saturday's council elections in the north Queensland community. But Aurukun Mayor Neville Pootchemunka said Mr Bensch's future would be decided at a meeting today. Mr Pootchemunka refused to elaborate on why the council had turned on its chief executive, although the fight is thought to relate to staffing disputes and concerns the council was resisting further restrictions on the community's troubled council-run hotel.

``One of the hardest challenges is keeping staff here,'' Mr Bensch said. ``They have been threatened and not made to feel welcome. They are here to do essential jobs, but get little support. ``Some of the local staff turn up to work when they feel like it, leave early. I've been trying to change that, and I think it has caused some problems.''

Mr Bensch said his relationship with the council soured after he tried to hire staff to fill vacant positions, including electricians and carpenters. ``They don't see that it is my job to hire staff,'' he said. ``Things get very messy here very quickly.''

Mr Bensch, a former chief executive of councils in South Africa and New Zealand, said he had had rocks thrown at his car and a window smashed on his second day in the job. ``We have had people walking around the council offices saying get rid of these white c..ts,'' Mr Bensch. ``It is very difficult to get key staff to stay. I would say the majority of Australia has no idea about how bad things are here."

Part of the breakdown between Mr Bensch and the councillors has been over the operation of the council-run Three Rivers Tavern canteen, long identified as a flashpoint for trouble in the community. Queensland Liquor Licensing wants the council to restrict the canteen to the sale of light beer, with food to be served, extra security staff to be put on and opening hours restricted to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. "The proposal has been to increase the price of beer to cover the extra expenses with the food and the security, but council doesn't want to do that," Mr Bensch said.

Mr Bensch said councillors yesterday had to abandon attempts to sack him over his outspoken comments after they received legal advice they had no power to dismiss him because they were in caretaker mode ahead of this Saturday's council elections. "I had a three-month probationary period, so I think they were probably trying to terminate my contract before that comes up," Mr Bensch said. "I think they would have been in trouble as I have to run the election. I'm the returning officer."

Aurukun, on the western side of Cape York, is one of the most troubled communities in north Queensland and attracted international headlines last year after The Australian revealed a judge did not jail nine men who raped a 10-year-old girl, saying she had probably agreed to have sex with the men. Since then, there have been at least two riots, and white staff, including nurses and teachers who work in the community, spend their evenings in compounds or secured housing as youths roam the community.

The work culture in Aurukun has sunk so low the community's only store failed to open one day last week because no staff turned up. Mr Bensch, who has been outspoken about some of the problems besetting the community, said he welcomed planned welfare reforms. "People only want to work certain hours because they risk losing benefits. There are just so many obstacles stopping people from becoming fully engaged," he said.


Victoria's politically correct police force

Too many useless dickless Tracys and not enough robust young men

Fit young men are being denied entry to Victoria Police while the force recruits more women and people approaching retirement age. A 142cm [4'9"!] woman, a 61-year-old man and two men in their late 50s are among the 157 recruits now in training. The recruiting policy was yesterday described by one serving policeman as "political correctness gone mad". The Opposition and the Police Association also challenged the policy.

Police command defended the system, saying the force could not legally refuse any applicant on the grounds of age, gender or height. But some qualified male applicants have waited two years after sitting the police entrance exam and still don't know if they will be accepted. One would-be recruit told the Herald Sun he had been told by police friends his position on the training academy's waiting list fluctuated each month "depending how many women have applied".

Russell Dickson, 24, is 188cm, has a university business degree, works out almost every day and passed the force's entrance exam in March 2006. He has a female friend who is 157cm, struggled to complete year 10 and applied to join the force a year later. She started training at the academy last month. "I know she didn't do as well on some of the tests as I did, but none of that seems to matter," Mr Dickson said.

More women than men graduated from the police training academy for the first time in 2007. Police figures show that 33 per cent of last year's 1098 applicants were women. Almost 52 per cent of the 316 recruits who graduated during the year were women. The number of women in the 11,250-strong police force has jumped from 15 per cent to almost 23 per cent in the seven years since Christine Nixon became the first female chief commissioner. But that number is short of Ms Nixon's aim to boost female police numbers in Victoria to 25 per cent by last June -- and well short of the national average of 31 per cent.

Deputy Commissioner Simon Overland yesterday denied female applicants were given preferential treatment. He said the reason they were being selected in large numbers was because many scored higher than men during the selection process. Mr Overland said there had been a campaign to encourage women to apply, but applicants were treated according to the score they achieved in the selection process. He said the percentage of policewomen in Victoria was still the lowest in Australia.

Assistant director Sue-ellen Zalewski, of the police human resources department, said rankings on the force's order of merit were based solely on results in the entrance exam and a selection panel interview. She said the force aimed to at least reach the national average of female police. There were 250 people on the order of merit who had qualified and were hoping to be accepted for training, and another 1000 at earlier stages of the selection process, she said. She said Victoria Police was the only force in the country with a waiting list. Ms Zalewski said of the eight squads and 157 recruits now in training, 92 were men and 65 women.

The Police Association and the Opposition yesterday questioned the fairness of the recruiting system. Opposition police spokesman Andrew McIntosh said the recruiting policy "should be about equal opportunity -- not reverse discrimination". "It's wrong if the high-jump bar is set differently for some people and not for others," he said. "Reverse discrimination is just as disingenuous as having a discriminatory policy."

Police Association secretary Paul Mullett said the association was supportive of equal opportunity principles, but not at the expense of the best possible police force. Sen-Sgt Mullett called on Ms Nixon to apply for exemptions from equal opportunity laws. "Because of the nature and type of work policing is, we believe the Chief Commissioner should be seeking an exemption to avoid these issues," he said. "She should be given an exemption so she doesn't have to employ people in their 50s or 60s -- male or female -- or people who could be physically incapable of performing all the tasks that could be required of them."

Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission chief executive Dr Helen Szoke said criticism of female police undermined the force's significant gains. Dr Szoke said an employer could seek exemption from the Equal Opportunity Act if they could demonstrate that a physical characteristic would be a "significant and genuine barrier" to employment. It was not against the law for an employer to discriminate if it was necessary to protect health or safety.

Mr Overland said the force aimed to be representative of the community. He said age, height and gender were not a reliable guide to policing ability. "I don't think it's as simple as that. You can't distinguish on that basis. "We've got some big, burly blokes who are absolutely useless and we've got some tiny policewomen who are absolute terriers."

Mr Overland agreed it had been a problem for some smaller members to manage the weight and bulk of all the items carried on a police utility belt -- such as a baton, firearm, radio, capsicum spray can and handcuffs. "We've had to modify our equipment to suit all of the workforce, and we're looking at vests as an alternative carriage system," he said.

Police figures show the oldest recruit last year was 60, the youngest 19 and the average age was 30. Twenty recruits were former police who have been re-appointed. The 61-year-old recruit in training at the academy is also a re-appointee. One sergeant said a 142cm policewoman would have "no hope of carrying everything on the utility belt". "I've worked the past six months in the CBD, and after dark it's a war zone," he said. "A copper that size -- male or female -- would be about as useful as a chocolate teapot." A female sergeant said the recruiting policy was "great in theory but useless in practice".


Aborigines spend more on food as intervention bites

That wicked paternalism actually gets kids fed!

STRICT restrictions on welfare payments in Aboriginal communities have led to a dramatic rise in the consumption of fresh food, a development that has intensified Labor support for a key aspect of the Northern Territory indigenous intervention. A survey of store managers in remote Aboriginal communities has found spending on nutritious food has increased dramatically - with six in 10 stores recording more turnover.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said she had commissioned the early survey - well before the 12-month review promised by the Government - to see if the forced quarantine of Aboriginal welfare was working. She told The Australian she was convinced that income quarantining was working to deliver fresh food to indigenous children in the Territory. "Income management is leading to increases in the purchase of food, which is what we wanted to see happen," Ms Macklin said. "What I'm very pleased about is at this early stage evidence shows that families, including children, are benefiting by more of their money being spent on food," she said. "Even though it hasn't changed for everybody, it has changed for more than the majority. I asked for this because I wanted to get evidence to see if improvements are being made. This is certainly some good early evidence."

The new figures put pressure on the Rudd Government to keep income quarantining in 73 remote Aboriginal communities, even after the review of the intervention, launched by John Howard last June, is completed in the middle of the year.

Ms Macklin said only three out of 10 stores had seen no change in spending on food, while one had seen a decrease. The figures will blunt a push by the Left in the Rudd Government, who believe there should be no forced quarantining of income in the NT. They say there should be quarantining only for those proved as irresponsible spenders.

Rodney Matuschka, manager of the Finke River Mission Store at Hermannsburg in central Australia, said food was not the only thing that indigenous people could spend their 50 per cent quarantined money on, but he was finding there was at least a 20 per cent increase in food being bought for children. Mr Matuschka said families could spend their money on DVDs and other products, but he was actively discouraging them from doing so. "Prior to the intervention, people could voluntarily quarantine their money so that they didn't spend it on grog. But it is mostly women who spend it now."


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Crime epidemic coverup

The criminals are black, you see

AUTHORITIES are investigating the high turnover rate of single female teachers and nurses on some Torres Strait islands amid claims of a sex-crime cover up. Peeping toms, sexual harassment, stalking and even rape are among the reasons most listed by white female workers in requests for urgent "compassionate" evacuation and transfer, a source has revealed. One senior Torres Strait public servant yesterday told The Courier-Mail there was a direct link between a high turnover of staff and sex crimes.

Islands such as Saibai, Dauan, Mabuiag and Badu have a much higher turnover of outside staff than other island communities that offer two-year contracts. "Some of these young female workers are only lasting a few weeks to three months before they get transferred out," said the source, who asked not to be named. "We believe there is a cover-up between the rates of reported sex assaults and urgent transfer of female staff on certain islands. There is a direct link between the two that the Government does not want anyone to know."

As health officials met community leaders on Mabuiag yesterday over the bungled handling of the rape of a nurse on the island last month, it was confirmed the nurse had made repeated requests for upgraded security before the incident occurred. The single health worker on the island complained of broken locks on doors and windows, no curtains and no running water. She was refused permission for an urgent evacuation after she was raped and then had her pay docked when she fled on a flight paid for by her boyfriend. The nurse also claimed she previously spent three days with the decomposing body of a heart-attack victim before a helicopter took it to Thursday Island for post-mortem.


Growing black population drives out whites

Meaning mostly that idle welfare dependants are driving out productive citizens

Nobody in the besieged Iemma Government should be surprised that white students are fleeing state schools, or that towns like Moree, Dubbo and Tamworth are being overwhelmed by the social demands of dispossessed, impoverished Aboriginal communities. Rural towns - even places like Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Kalgoorlie and Wadeye - are urban time bombs. Their fast-growing indigenous communities represent the biggest challenge facing policymakers in Canberra, Sydney and Darwin.

The Herald reported yesterday that a secret report by high school principals revealed that white students were fleeing public schools, leaving behind those of Aboriginal and Middle Eastern origin. The survey raises serious concerns about "white flight" undermining the public education system and threatening social cohesion.

The indigenous population is growing at three times the national average, and governments are failing to keep up with the increasing "ghettoisation" of rural communities as services fail to keep pace with demands for better housing, health care, education and policing. The problem appears to be so immense that policymakers seem utterly unprepared for the impact of the massive demographic change. And nowhere are the pressures being felt more than in schools, where record numbers of Aborigines are enrolling.

The crisis has been well documented by two of the nation's most experienced policymakers and researchers, Michael Dillon and Neil Westbury, in their recently released landmark book Beyond Humbug. It should be compulsory reading for every member of the Iemma cabinet. They discovered that the influx of Aborigines into rural towns has been matched by an exodus of non-indigenous Australians who have moved out, taking skills, wealth and in some cases businesses with them. In Broken Hill the non-indigenous population dropped 5.9 per cent. In South Australia's Port Augusta the decline was 6.8 per cent.

On the growth of the Aboriginal population, Westbury told the Herald: "It is a bedrock issue, without doubt one of the biggest issues facing government. For too long governments have adopted a one-size-fits-all approach which fails to account for individual community needs. We have towns doubling in size every generation, but they are still being funded like communities." Westbury worked with the former Northern Territory chief minister, Clare Martin, before disagreement over policy led to a falling out.

Dillon, an academic and former administrator, is senior policy adviser to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin. Between them Westbury and Dillon have decades of experience in administration and policymaking. Westbury said housing and education presented the most profound challenges, and if swift action was not taken levels of dysfunction would only get worse. He said the present level of funding would be inadequate for what lay ahead.

He said the fast-growing indigenous population was presenting governments with a crisis far larger than that identified by the Howard government's emergency intervention, which was a response to endemic levels of abuse in Northern Territory remote communities.


Defence: Bungle after bungle

Only half of Australia's submarine fleet can be sent to war, because of a critical shortage of qualified submariners. The crisis has left the Royal Australian Navy with only three full crews for its six Collins-class submarines, severely undermining the effectiveness of one of the nation's most vital and expensive defence assets. "It's becoming a ghost fleet," said one submariner, who asked not to be named. "We are losing our crews - it feels like the Mary Celeste." The Australian understands that the navy currently has a 37per cent shortfall in submarine crews - the highest on record for the $6 billion Collins-class fleet. The shortfall has forced the navy to slash the number of sailing days for the fleet for the third time in as many years.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, who has inherited a recruitment crisis across the Australian Defence Force, has pledged that the issue will be a first-order priority for the Rudd Government. The submarine crew crisis comes at a time when the navy is unable to send its four FFG guided missile frigates to war because of a bungled $1.4 billion upgrade. Last week's decision by the Government to axe the troubled $1 billion Seasprite helicopter program has also left the navy's Anzac-class frigates without a vital capability designed to protect them from hostile ships and submarines.

The Defence Department maintains that despite the "significant shortfall" in submarine crews, it still has enough to "meet operational requirements" for the submarines. But Defence does not say if these operational tasks have been reduced in line with declining crew numbers. Defence sources say the exodus of submariners - mostly to better-paid jobs in Western Australia's booming mining sector - has been stemmed in recent months, raising hopes that the worst may be over. However, there is no sign of any recovery in crew numbers from current historical lows.

The navy requires about 45 sailors to crew a Collins-class submarine, but about 50 per cent of these need to be qualified technicians - the same skill sets required by cashed-up mining companies. Despite offering a range of incentives to recruit and retain submariners - including substantially higher pay than other military personnel - the navy has struggled to retain its crews. One or two of the six Collins submarines are in dock for maintenance at any one time, but the navy needs at least five full crews to give it the flexibility it requires to respond to a military crisis. Three submarines - HMAS Dechaineux, HMAS Farncomb and HMAS Sheean - are undergoing maintenance, but even if they were ready for duty there would be no crews for them.

Defence experts have warned that the reduction in time spent at sea will mean crews get less exposure to operational experience and the basic war training they require. Former defence minister Kim Beazley, who commissioned the Collins-class fleet in the 1980s, said the navy would want at least four crews, and preferably six, available at any one time. "I am sure the navy would want four crews available at any point in time and in a perfect world they would want to be ableto adequately crew all thesubmarines," he told The Australian. "Good economic times always make it tough for recruitment. One of the major tasks confronting the Government will be how to sustain and retain recruitment for the submarines."

The navy has tried to lure submariners by increasing pay and bonuses, giving submariners starting salaries in excess of $80,000. But the unusual lifestyle of submariners has had it hard to attract Generations X and Y to the so-called silent service. The Collins-class submarines cruise silently beneath the surface, often for months at a time, eavesdropping and collecting intelligence on key targets. Sailing schedules are top secret and crews are forbidden to speak with outsiders about their work. Days are broken up into four shifts of six hours on and then six hours off around the clock seven days a week. "The types of people we are looking for are what we call extroverted introverts," the Navy says on its website. "People who get along with others but at the same time are mentally able to occupy their 'own space', even though others surround them."

The Australian revealed in December that Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon had ordered planning to begin on the next generation of submarines to replace the six Collins-class boats when they are retired in 2025. The 17-year submarine replacement plan will be the longest and most expensive defence project undertaken in Australia, potentially costing up to $25 billion. It comes at a time when regional navies such as Indonesia's, China's and India's are seeking to drastically expand their submarine fleets, potentially altering the balance of naval power.


Huge costs to Australia of heeding the dubious warming claims

HUNDREDS of prominent scientists this week attended a conference in New York hosted by the US Heartland Institute. The scientists rejected claims that we are seeing catastrophic human-induced global warming. They concluded that the earth may be undergoing a period of modest warming but that it and cooling are constant features of the earth's climate. There was agreement that present global temperatures are not abnormal.

The debate on global warming has displaced the struggle about whether socialism or capitalism was the best approach to running an economy. Radicals once sought to replace private enterprise with state control. Now they want the removal of coal, oil and gas to justify a new and more comprehensive form of state control. As with the march of socialism, even politicians sceptical about the claims of an impending catastrophe are being forced to go along with measures promoted by the radicals. Taxes and regulations to reduce carbon emissions are being steadily introduced while governments pray that their effect will be minor.

The all-embracing of measures being touted, for example in the Garnaut report, involve everyone in the world being allocated the same amount of carbon dioxide and this being steadily reduced. For Australia, average emissions would be reduced to a fifth of their existing levels, from around 16 tonnes per person of carbon dioxide equivalent to less than 3 tonnes. Victorians would be particularly badly placed because of our reliance on the Latrobe Valley's fabulous deposits of brown coal for cheap electricity generation.

Nobody knows how an economy could operate with standards of living like Australia's while adopting the sorts of measures proposed. Carbon dioxide emissions are the automatic outcome of driving cars, generating electricity, smelting metals, making concrete and just about every other activity. To reduce carbon dioxide emissions to a fifth of present levels would require, at the very least, replacement of coal by nuclear - something the present government has refused even to contemplate. It would require an almost complete ban on car use. It would certainly be the end of any holidays overseas or on the Gold Coast - and air-conditioning and central heating too.

Victorians have pioneered the use of low-quality brown coal as feedstock for power stations that produce some of the cheapest electricity in the world. This has been the backbone of our economy and it is impossible to envisage how we could be competitive with the rest of the world without it. Not only would the emission control proposals cause a trebling of electricity costs to households - especially without nuclear - but Victoria would lose its low-cost energy advantage. We would see the departure of aluminium smelting, metal production, the chemical industry, and car manufacturing. Costs of services like retailing would rise considerably.

Before further dangerous excursions into energy-control policies, governments need to take note of the grave doubts of so many of the world's eminent scientists at the Heartland Institute conference.


Monday, March 10, 2008

White flight from "multicultural" schools now in Australia too

Australia's stupid bitch of a Deputy Prime Minster deliberately ignores the safety and educational quality issues behind the "flight"

PARENTS should be happy for their children to undergo a multicultural experience in NSW public schools, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. Ms Gillard was responding to a report that public schools in NSW were suffering "white flight" as Anglo-European students avoided racially diverse institutions.

Ms Gillard, the federal education minister, said parents always had the choice of the best school for their children. "Part of growing up and part of being an adult in Australia today is you have got to have the ability to mix in multicultural Australia," she told ABC Radio. "I would have thought that parents would value as part of the education experience, their child being in multicultural Australia, learning about different cultures, learning about diversity because that is the nation they are going to live in."

The 2006 survey conducted by the NSW Secondary Principals' Council found that in some parts of Sydney and NSW the students were avoiding public schools in favour of independent ones. Fairfax newspapers reported that public schools were being avoided because they were predominantly attended by Lebanese, Muslim, Asian or Aboriginal students. "This is almost certainly white flight from towns in which the public school's enrolment consists increasingly of indigenous students," the report said. "The pattern is repeated in the Sydney region. Based on comments from principals, this most likely consists of flight to avoid Islamic students and communities."


Kids removed from violent school and frog-like bureaucrats go crap, crap, crap

A third of the school's students are black -- so nothing can be done, of course. The mother just needs to appreciate multiculturalism and ignore the fact that her kids are getting beaten up

Violence at Cooktown State School has forced one mum into a daily 160km [100 mile] dirt-road trek in a bid to keep her children safe. Zachery Tholen, 8, and his sister Charlotte , 7, are now thriving at Rossville State School, 300km north of Cairns, their mother Dayna Tholen, 32, told The Cairns Post.

But after the family moved to Cooktown in April 2007, the children endured months of physical abuse, Ms Tholen said. "They were scared to go to school," she said. "It was a constant thing. He (Zac) got hit in the face six times. "One side of his face was all swollen. "He was all shaken up." Zachery was also kicked repeatedly in the crotch by a six-year-old student, sworn at, pushed and slapped, his mother said. Charlotte suffered cuts after being shoved off playground equipment. "It's an everyday occurrence," Ms Tholen said. "It happens to everybody."

Other parents reported excessive swearing, teachers forced to resort to yelling, a child head-butting a teacher, students spitting on each other and students selling marijuana at the gate of the adjoining high school, Ms Tholen said.

"They're not acknowledging that there is a problem," she said. "People say it happens everywhere, but this is our fourth school and no it doesn't happen everywhere." More teachers could help instil discipline at the school, she said. "I'd be happy to see the cane brought back, but that's never going to happen," she said.

The school run to Rossville, 40km each way, twice a day, was "hairy" Ms Tholen acknowledged. "The roads have been washed away and we've moved debris off the road so we could pass. "We were out moving logs back into the river." But since starting the new year at Rossville in January, she said: "They're enjoying school, that's the main thing. I'd do anything for them."

In a statement, Education Queensland said a review of Cooktown State School's Responsible Behaviour Plan would be complete by the end of Term One. Staff were available to address behaviour management issues which included a second deputy principal, a guidance officer and a part-time teacher who provided behaviour support, the department said. The school principal was also happy to meet concerned parents or community members.


Terrified rape victim refused help by disgusting "Health" bureaucrats

If these moral imbeciles are allowed to stay in their jobs it will be a grave reflection on the Leftist State government

Her trembling fingers pressed the buttons to dial 000. She screamed - the phone was dead. Outside the unlocked medical centre on the Torres Strait island of Mabuiag she could hear voices, laughter and wolf-whistles from her alleged attacker and his friends. In the dark of February 5, the 27-year-old ran to the telephone connection - it had been deliberately turned off. She reconnected it, dialled the emergency number and it diverted to Cairns police, a thousand kilometres away. She revealed how she had just been raped and that the alleged perpetrator was still outside her building with several of his drunken mates. He'd also stolen a bottle of vodka and she feared he would be back.

The police officer said he would immediately ring the community police officer on the island, but reported back to the victim that the local representative of the law had responded it was raining and he was not prepared to walk around to the crime scene in the rain, even though he was told the alleged perpetrator was still on the premises. Desperate and frightened, the young woman crouched at the top of the darkened steps, gripping a crayfish spear, determined, if necessary, to stab the intruder to death when he returned to continue his cowardly assault.

The community police officer, only identified as Patterson, later rang a neighbour of the surgery and he came over to be with the nurse. Patterson turned up at 6.30am, after the rain stopped. At 7.30am the victim rang her director of nursing on Thursday Island. The woman director told her the rape and burglary was unfortunate and that she should return to work at 9am. The nurse said she wanted to be flown out and was told she could catch the only commercial flight at 11am. She replied that could not be done because police were coming (two hours by boat) from Thursday Island to inspect the crime scene and take her statement. They arrived at 12.30pm.

The nurse was told the next day when she repeated her request to be flown home to Sydney that she would be brought only to Thursday Island, no accommodation provided, no medical attention organised and that any days away would be deducted from her pay or leave. It was made clear that Queensland Health did not consider the rape worthy of reporting and they were not prepared to help her. The nurse mistakenly thought that Queensland Health, with helicopters, doctors, nurses, crisis counsellors, the Royal Flying Doctor Service on call and a Medivac helicopter available at Thursday Island, 30 minutes flight away, would activate an immediate response. In fact, they cut off her pay from that day, and did not pay out her contract until last Friday after details were published in The Australian.

Queensland Health northern area general manager Ms Roxanne Ramsey explained that the nurse's treatment was the result of "a local breakdown in communications in organising for her to be taken from the island". [Crap, crap, crap]

What actually happened was that her boyfriend, who worked on Horn Island, had to fly in by helicopter on February 5, take her by boat the 40 minutes across Torres Strait to Badu Island where she received her first medical help and examination. He then had to pay $800 to charter a plane to get her to Thursday Island by which time the Queensland Nurses Union had arranged for the department to fly her to Sydney.

Just weeks before the rape, a drunk on a nearby island punched a window and broke his wrist, and the department quite happily organised a Medivac helicopter at $13,000 an hour, to have him flown to Cairns.


Dangerous ambulance shortage in NSW too

AMBULANCE officers fear lives are being put at risk because there are not enough ambulances or crew members to respond to emergency calls. The NSW population has increased by almost half a million people since 2000 but the number of ambulances available to respond to triple 0 calls in that time has been cut by six, unions say. Response times are falling, with 10 per cent of Sydney ambulances not reaching patients in the 16-minute target.

"The public would expect that if you are having a heart attack the ambulance would be there in 10 minutes. Statistics show that reaching a patient in under five minutes doubles their chances of survival but get there after 10 minutes and the patient will not survive," Health and Safety Union Hunter president Peter Rumball said. "If we cannot get ambulances to people then their lives are being put at risk," he said.

The union says NSW needs another 200 ambulances and 2000 crew members to meet the increased demand. Union figures - disputed by the NSW Ambulance Service - show that in 2000 NSW had 852 general purpose ambulances; eight years later that figure had dropped to 844 despite the population increasing by more than 400,000. In the past two years the demand for emergency "life threatening" responses by ambulances increased by 19.4 per cent.

The Ambulance Service said the number of ambulances had jumped from 834 in 2002/03 to 876 in 2006/07, with more in action thanks to a leasing deal.

The union said ambulance staff on the Central Coast were so stretched that ambulances were often dispatched from the Hunter or Sydney to deal with emergencies. Last week an ambulance from Wahroonga was sent to an emergency on the Central Coast. On Friday the union will take the Ambulance Service to the Industrial Relations Commission to help win overworked staff the right for a meal break. Ambulance stations at Cessnock and Nelson Bay still have single officer crews, which are also the subject of a forthcoming action at the commission.


How judicial parasite racked up $2000 a day

QUEENSLAND'S top judge and his wife have clocked up $130,000 on overseas travel in just over a year, enjoying first class flights, chauffeured limousines, European rail tours and exclusive Roman hotels that once housed 17th-century Italian princes. In their busiest period abroad yet, Chief Justice Paul de Jersey and his wife Kaye slugged taxpayers almost $2000 a day while visiting courts and attending conferences in Italy, Tonga, England, Germany, India, Luxembourg, China and New Zealand.

Almost 500 documents, seen by The Courier-Mail under Freedom of Information laws, reveal a paper trail of $250-plus dinners at five-star restaurants such as The Ritz in London, $200-plus lunches in Hong Kong and $160 for the hire of a limousine in Sydney. The couple also ditched cattle class, choosing first and business class instead with return airfares for one trip to London via Frankfurt and Hong Kong costing $25,686.

Justice de Jersey yesterday defended the $131,983 bill, insisting the travel was for important work to ensure the state's judicial system "developed and matured".... Justice de Jersey said his wife was required at engagements on three trips that together totalled $102,000. "It has been important she be with me on this travel," he said.

More here

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The State of Corruption again: A prosecution without evidence?

A district Court judge has slammed a shoddy police investigation into child-sex accusations against a teenage boy. He said officers had failed to go to the alleged crime scene, take photos or interview witnesses. Judge Philip Eaton was scathing of police handling of the case against 19-year-old Luke Wilkinson, who this week stood trial on one count of sexual intercourse with a child aged between 13 and 16. A jury of six men and six women took 20 minutes to return a unanimous verdict of not guilty on Thursday after a three-day trial.

Police laid the charge against the former Bible College student last March after a girl alleged that Mr Wilkinson, then 16, had sex with her in January 2006 in the coolroom of a Victoria Park supermarket when she was aged 14. Mr Wilkinson vehemently denied the charge. The court heard that investigating officers from Kensington police did not inspect the alleged crime scene or interview supermarket staff. No forensic evidence was tendered to the court and no clothes were seized to back-up the sex claim.

"I have to say in relation to the police investigation, that it seems to me somewhat extraordinary that the person who is investigating wouldn't go to the alleged scene of the crime and have a look around and possibly take some photographs,'' Judge Eaton told the court. "It is lamentable that a factual investigation and proper investigation, I have to say, was not carried out in this case, which may have led to the matter taking a different path to what it presently has''. Judge Eaton said that while it was "entirely proper'' for prosecutors to proceed with only the testimony of the girl, the lack of other evidence had made the defence of the allegation ``more difficult''.

The defence team twice urged the the DPP to drop the charge. Some jury members were visibly upset as defence lawyer Linda Black detailed the ``gross injustice'' of pursuing the case. "It is an absolute disgrace to find him (Mr Wilkinson) sitting in that box on the state's evidence in this case,'' Ms Black said in her closing address to the jury. "I would hope you have come to the same view as me: how on earth did this case get to here? "Clearly, the system has failed.''

Ms Black said the girl was "deliberately lying'' and had concocted a "ridiculous story'' in association with another man -- who is close to her family -- as a diversionary tactic to take attention away from child-sex charges against him.

Mr Wilkinson now wants to know why police and the DPP continued with the case against him when they had no evidence. Outside court, he demanded an apology and described the past year as a "year from hell''. "I actually wish that I had done something wrong because then I would have deserved this,'' he said.

WA Police spokesman Insp Peter Hatch said the police, along with the DPP and the Department of Child Protection, would review the handling of case. Sex-assault allegations were commonly difficult to investigate and this case more so, given the report was made 14 months later. "The lengthy lapse in time impacted on the gathering and value of available forensic evidence,'' he said. DPP corporate services director Peter Byrne said the prosecutor was right to proceed to trial because the girl maintained she was telling the truth.


University forgets that lectures need to be understood

I am sure that the Chinese man concerned is a perfectly fine person but why was he hired for a job he could barely do? It sounds to me that a compulsion to do "diverse" hiring trumped all sense

The University of Queensland's prestigious law school had to sideline a new academic recruit from overseas because of poor English speaking skills. Qiao Liu was hired as a School of Law lecturer last semester but drew complaints from students that they could not understand his classes. Executive Dean Ian Zimmer confirmed Mr Liu, an Oxford graduate, had to be stood down from lectures to be given time to improve his language skills. "The School of Law acted quickly on student concerns," Prof Zimmer said.

Mr Liu began teaching Contract B to about 400 students in a large lecture theatre at UQ last July. After complaints from students, the school's then deputy head Prof Ross Grantham sat in on two lectures. He was accompanied by another law professor during the second lecture. They agreed Mr Liu's accent "seemed to be pronounced by the sound system in the large lecture theatre, creating communication problems," Prof Zimmer said.

Mr Liu agreed he should take time out from teaching in order to improve his language skills. Former Law School Dean Charles Rickett took over Mr Liu's classes for the remainder of last semester. Mr Liu resumed teaching at the start of this semester, on February 25. Under changes to the Bachelor of Law structure, he now takes on about 25 students at a time, as opposed to 400 last year, Prof Zimmer said. "No concern about Mr Liu's 2008 teaching has been raised with Prof Grantham (now head of the Law School), however he plans to sit in on Mr Liu's next class," he said.

Prof Zimmer, who was chairman of the selection committee that hired Mr Liu, said the recruit "came to us with excellent references, presented well during his interview, and was hired as a junior lecturer". At the time of his appointment he was a lecturer in law at the University of the West of England. Since July last year he has published two major articles on the law of contract in one of the world's most prestigious law journals, the Cambridge Law Journal.

The university declined to reveal Mr Liu's salary package, but Prof Zimmer said the lecturer had continued to contribute last semester through tutorials, research and an increased marking load. Mr Liu's university profile says he "teaches and researches in contract law, Chinese law, with a particular interest in comparative study of Chinese and Anglo-Australian private law".


Ban on African refugees all talk

A HIGHLY controversial "ban" on African refugees imposed by the former government last year did not happen, Immigration Department figures show. As immigration minister in the Howard government, Kevin Andrews sparked national fury in October when he declared African refugees were drunks and brawlers who were not integrating in Australia. To accusations he was playing election-year race politics, he said no more African refugees would be processed until the latter part of this year because the quota of 4000 for the 2007-08 year had been filled. But five months after his comments, figures reveal the quota has yet to be reached.

About 30 per cent of Australia's humanitarian intake of 13,000 for the 2007-08 year was allocated to Africans, with the rest divided between applicants from Asia and the Middle East. Immigration figures show that, up until January 31, 2100 visas for Africans under the special humanitarian program were issued.

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, said no freeze had been imposed on the intake of African refugees and processing of applications continued. "African migration continues and we want to do more next year. The previous minister's comments were politically motivated," he said.

The Government was committed to helping African refugees under both the special humanitarian and family reunion programs. "The Rudd Government did not approve of Kevin Andrews's commentary. There is no doubt Australia's reputation was hurt [by Mr Andrews]. We have a job to do rebuilding confidence and our international reputation," Senator Evans said.

Influential refugee advocate Marion Le was astounded that the "freeze" on the intake wasn't real. "We were told the case load was full and no more could be processed until at least July this year," she said. "People who were in the pipeline were denied entry to Australia because of [Mr Andrews's] comments." Mr Andrews said the former government had not said it was ceasing the intake, only reducing it.


A new government hospital with REDUCED services!

One of Australia's leading doctors has condemned the decision to demolish the hydrotherapy pool at the troubled Royal North Shore hospital. The pool, vital to spinal injury, stroke and orthopedic patients, is to close later this year and hospital administrators have admitted it will not be rebuilt during the $732 million redevelopment.

Leading spinal expert Professor John Yeo said the decision was "a grave mistake and a grave disservice to the community". "We have to make sure it is the same facility that RNS offers now and if it can't then we're going backwards. Why should we do that in this day and age?" Professor Yeo said the hospital administrators had "no knowledge of what goes on in hydro - they sit behind a desk and have probably never walked into the area and seen what's involved".

Physiotherapist Lisa Harvey said it was outrageous that the biggest health capital works project in NSW history did not include a vital piece of infrastructure. Outpatients, who make up 50 per cent of the pool's users, will be told they can travel to nearby Greenwich Hospital for hydrotherapy services. Inpatients, who make up 2 per cent of users but are the most severely injured or disabled, are yet to be offered any alternative treatment.

Australian Medical Association NSW branch president Andrew Keegan said the RNSH redevelopment threatened to end up like bungled $98 million Bathurst Base Hospital redevelopment.

Kevin Hitchcock credits two months of rehabilitation sessions in the pool for "getting me out of a wheelchair and walking again". After breaking his neck in a shallow part of the Hawkesbury River 16 years ago, the former Channel Ten news director defied predictions that he would be a quadriplegic and slowly learned to walk as his daughter Kirra, who was five weeks old at the time of the accident, was taking her first steps. "Hydrotherapy is so important for recovery from spinal injury. It gets you up and moving again," Mr Hitchcock said.

A hospital spokesperson said: "A hydrotherapy pool has not been included in the plans for the RNSH redevelopment, but suitable clinical options for inpatients will be explored in the next phase of consultation with clinicians." [Bullsh*t, Bullsh*t, Bullsh*t]


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Reality bites Rudd (1)

Rudd did well out of airy rhetoric at first but the real decisions now have to be made and he is making odious ones

The reality of being a "fiscal conservative" in government has created the first real criticism and bad publicity for Kevin Rudd and his team in three months. Rudd ran television advertisements while in Opposition declaring he was a fiscal conservative. The ads were effective and worked. But rhetoric from Opposition is assuming an entirely different character in the cold light of government. The limits on any government's ability to keep down inflation, interest rates and living costs make it clear it's easier to be a fiscal conservative in Opposition. As Opposition leader, Rudd also used the fantasy of "Brutopia" to accuse John Howard of being mean and uncaring. Rudd was seen as the fiscal conservative with compassion.

But the razor gang, proposed to give substance to the claim for fiscal conservatism, has started to slash programs and it is Rudd's caring and compassionate image that is bleeding. Carers are set to lose payments in the short term, in the name of cost-cutting to reduce government spending and create an even bigger budget surplus to take pressure off inflation and interest rates in the long term. It's a tough call. The chronically ill, the dying and disabled cared for at home are not only in genuine need but also keep pressure off the health system. These decisions are obviously distressing Jenny Macklin. Justification for the payment cuts to some of the most stressed and distressed Australians based on them being a "one off" are exactly the grounds Labor in Opposition used to attack the Howard government over the ending of dental care programs.

This week there has also been government approval for rises in private health insurance premiums beyond the inflation rate despite Nicola Roxon's demands from opposition that the government not approve such increases. And the banks continued this week to raise interest rates for household mortgages beyond the Reserve Bank's official rate rises despite Government's calls for them to consider homebuyers.

Reality is mugging rhetoric, and the pressure is about to intensify on Rudd to maintain the line on economic management that helped him win the election.


Reality bites Rudd (2)

LABOR will scrap a $500 seniors' bonus payment created by John Howard last year to help the over-65s deal with rising costs, despite a massive community backlash over plans to abolish the $1600 carers' payment in the May budget. But as welfare advocates and unions yesterday joined the Opposition in condemning the social spending cuts, the Treasury said spending under the Howard government was unsustainable and likened its profligacy to that of the Whitlam Labor government.

A Treasury report provided crucial support for Wayne Swan's insistence on the need for deep spending cuts in the 2008-09 budget to ease pressure on inflation and interest rates. "The recent growth in spending stands out, along with the growth in spending under Whitlam in 1974-75 and the increased spending following the recessions in 1982-83 and 1990-91," the Treasury report stated.

The Australian revealed yesterday that the Government planned to axe the $1600 carers' payment as part of its May budget savings. As the Treasurer refused to confirm the plans yesterday, other government sources said the $500 seniors' bonus, created last year, was also in the budget razor gang's sights. Sources said the Government maintained its determination to deliver all election promises, but that all Howard government programs faced a line-by-line search for spending cuts.

The carers' bonus was paid to 400,000 Australians for the past four years, providing up to $1600 each, while Mr Howard created the seniors' bonus last year at a cost of $1.3 billion. Both payments were said to be one-off - meaning they were funded out of budget surpluses and were not written into the budget forward estimates. News of the plan to axe the carers' bonus sparked widespread community anger yesterday, highlighting the political risks facing Mr Swan as he grapples with the need to reduce budget spending.

Carers Australia chief executive Joan Hughes said many family carers lived below the poverty line and used the $1600 to augment their living expenses. "It's going to be a very tough time for carers," she said. Mental Health Council of Australia spokesman Simon Tatz said carers needed the payment to help with medication, food, transport and accessing services. "The utilities allowance cannot substitute for what the carer bonus can buy," Mr Tatz said.

The move sparked a warning from the Australian Services Union that the Rudd Government's "social inclusion" agenda might be damaged before it had even started. The ASU covers non-government workers providing housing, counselling and other support services. National assistant secretary Linda White said the budget would have to be carefully thought through, and that taking money from programs that helped the people on the margins of society would be counter-productive. "Taking money out of programs in a circumstance where there is already some difficulty being experienced at the front line getting labour - there is already significant difficulty getting workers for the pay on offer - then the Government's social inclusion agenda could be in jeopardy before it starts," Ms White said. Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Stephen Jones said his union was concerned about job losses, but was also "concerned about the impact on the most vulnerable in the community".

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson demanded that Mr Rudd intervene to protect carers. "Whoever it is in Mr Rudd's Government who dreamed this up needs to pick on someone their own size," Dr Nelson said. "Anyone who thinks that Australia's carers do not deserve the support they are getting just needs to walk a mile in their shoes." Liberal MP Chris Pearce became personal by questioning whether Mr Rudd, whose wife, Therese, is a successful businesswoman, had forgotten what life was like for non-millionaires.

Since Labor's victory in November, Mr Rudd and Mr Swan have gone to great lengths to warn about the need for spending cuts and to demonise the Howard government for reckless spending and pork-barrelling. The Treasury study released yesterday, prepared by Kirsty Laurie and Jason McDonald of the department's budget division, made similar observations. It said that, including spending since 2004-05 and budgeted through to 2010-11, the Howard government gained an additional $391billion as a result of increased tax revenue, resulting mainly from the resources boom. New spending decisions and tax cuts totalled $314billion. Most of the money had been consumed by increases in government spending, which had grown more rapidly in the past four years than at any time since the 1990 recession. Much of the money had gone on social welfare to the aged and families with dependent children.

There was a remarkable increase in the number of spending proposals announced in each of the Howard budgets, rising from 359 in the 1997-98 budget to 825 in the last election year. Most of the initiatives were small, with 90 per cent valued at less than $100 million over the forward estimates. However, the number worth between $100million and $250million grew from 16 to 49 in the past 10 years, while the number of $1billion-plus proposals jumped from one to nine.

Over the same period, the Howard government dropped the ball on savings. "In the 1997-98 budget, close to a third of all measures had a savings component whereas, more recently, savings measures have averaged around 1.5 per cent of total measures," the report says. There was also a rapid rise in spending on industry assistance, rising at an average rate of 6 per cent a year since the commodity boom began. Treasury warned this spending could distort the allocation of resources.


Reality bites Rudd (3)

The Federal Government's $6 billion program for affordable housing is under a cloud before it has even begun because investors and developers publicly backing it privately warn it is flawed and will not work. The plan to tackle the national housing crisis by offering an annual subsidy of $8000 a dwelling in tax credits in return for investors providing discounted rents has been deemed not enough for investors in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

Although the Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek, remains confident she will be chasing away investors, property companies, superannuation funds and housing industry associations say the offer, made up of $6000 from the federal and $2000 from state governments, is far too low and will have to be increased or remodelled if it is to succeed. Lend Lease's spokesman on affordable housing, Guy Gibson, said other incentives such as access to public land or partial capital guarantees might have to be offered before investors are prepared to enter a risky and "emerging market". "We support the program but it's a very complex issue," he said. "Our work to date suggests there might need to be some other incentives. If the Government doesn't get the mix right then they probably won't get the scale of investment they are looking for to make this work."

The executive director of the Property Council of Australia, Peter Verwer, said the subsidy would have to be topped up to attract investment in major cities where affordable housing had to be tackled. "Housing affordability has to be addressed in those cities," he said. "I think $8000 a year is well on the way but it might fall short in some of the more expensive cities and won't provide the incentive required unless governments, perhaps local government, can top up the amount. "We're overwhelmingly positive about this measure and it's now up to the private sector to come back to the government city by city and locale by locale. In some places there won't be a shortfall, in others there will be."

Industry superannuation funds have similar concerns. John Sutton, the secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and director of the industry fund CBUS, said there was not enough detail to make an investment decision. "It's early days and we'll just have to suck it and see, but the program may not exactly achieve everything the Government wants," said Mr Sutton, a longtime advocate for affordable housing. "I'm sure the Government is capable of making some adjustments. I don't think the detail has been put before the super funds yet but there is a willingness on our part if those mechanics can be ironed out."

Ms Plibersek dismissed industry concerns and said the Government would not be increasing or remodelling its offer: "I'm confident that it does add up and I have spoken to plenty of institutional investors who say they're interested," she said. "I am sure private companies who are in the business of maximising their profits would prefer to have a larger government subsidy but the proof will be in the pudding. I have a queue of people from a cross-section of investors who are ready to proceed."


Rudd backdown (1)

Kevin Rudd has backed away from a sweeping pledge that the Kokoda Track should remain untouched, paving the way for a compromise deal on mining in the area. Mr Rudd emerged yesterday from talks in Port Moresby with Papua New Guinea counterpart Michael Somare to declare that PNG would decide its future.

The announcement is a major boost for the Australian mining company which wants to build a controversial copper mine, even though it cuts across the existing track. In PNG there is overwhelming support for the venture.

Mr Rudd late last year criticised the proposed mine and said the Kokoda Track should be preserved "as it is", but he has now toned down his rhetoric. A compromise deal is likely to be announced next month involving World Heritage listing. But it's almost certain there will have to be diversions from the current track on to other "parallel" paths to go around the mine.

The controversy over the Track dominated Mr Rudd's talks with Sir Michael but there was agreement between the two nations on working together on climate change. Mr Rudd also released the "Port Moresby Pledge" that he said signalled a "new era" of relations between Australia and the Pacific.

On Kokoda, both men agreed for officials to discuss options and for a major ministerial meeting next month in PNG to find a solution. He said there were a lot of challenges "but above all . . . this sovereign state Papua New Guinea will be making its own decisions about the future".

Sir Michael said the PNG Government would back World Heritage listing but indicated some areas would be excluded for development. "Definitely it will be listed . . . but there will be areas that we have to take into account the interest of our people," Sir Michael said.

Mr Rudd said the Kokoda Track was of great historical and emotional attachment to Australians but it was a different language to last year. "If any of you have walked the track, been up there and seen the sacrifice of all those Australians who pushed back the Japanese invasion which was heading towards Australia, we should honour them by preserving the track as it is," he said in November.


Rudd backdown (2)

Federal Parliament's controversial Friday sitting will be scrapped with the Government blaming the Coalition's behaviour for its decision. Leader of the House Anthony Albanese today announced the parliamentary reform introduced by the incoming Rudd Government, which resulted in uproarious scenes on the first Friday sitting last month, will be abandoned. The day had been set aside for private members' business, but Mr Albanese said this would now be contracted and moved to Mondays.

"On the last Friday sitting of the parliament we saw a disgraceful performance of the Opposition searching for relevance," Mr Albanese said. "We saw a deliberate and premeditated attack on our parliamentary processes by the opposition." Mr Albanese said he would not allow the Parliament to be brought into disrepute, as Opposition members had pledged to continue being deliberately disruptive.

He also released a letter that has been sent to Liberal Leader Brendan Nelson explaining the changes. "Private members' business will be moved ... outside of the current hours scheduled, replacing the opportunity that MPs were to be given on Fridays," the letter says. "This will mean Parliament sitting later on Monday evening."

A cardboard cut-out of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was brought into the chamber during the Friday sitting day two weeks ago, as Opposition members complained that Mr Rudd was having a "rostered day off''. Four opposition MPs were expelled from the House of Representatives, including one who had to be escorted from the chamber, as the five-hour sitting descended into farce. "What occurred on Friday with that, as you put it, childish behaviour would have been unacceptable in my son's year two class,'' Mr Albanese said. "A political party led by John Howard would not have behaved in that way on the floor of the House of Representatives.''


Friday, March 07, 2008

A Leftist government that slashes welfare payments

The bureaucracy is sacrosanct: Must not fire any of them -- even though firing just one would free up money to pay dozens of welfare recipients. It is clear where the real priorities of a Leftist government lie. The power to control people is what matters -- not helping them. And the "climate change" fairy matters more than the old and the sick, of course

LABOR will scrap annual bonuses of $1600 paid to carers as its budget razor gang carves deep into welfare programs to cut spending and curb inflation. It will replace the payments with a higher utilities allowance but will leave the sick and disabled and their carers hundreds of dollars a year worse off. Although Families Minister Jenny Macklin refused to confirm the plan last night, she stressed the payments, created by the Howard government and paid for the past four years, had never been written into budget forward estimates and were "one-off".

As senior sources confirmed the payments were to be scrapped, Wayne Swan yesterday told a business lunch the Howard government had engaged in the "old politics" of pork-barrelling, leaving the incoming Government facing the need to make dramatic budget cuts to reduce the inflationary pressure that was driving up interest rates.

Terminally ill Queensland pensioner Ashley Norman, 73, contacted The Australian to attack the Rudd Government over its plans, saying Labor had supported the bonuses in Opposition. "My wife gets $100 a fortnight to look after me," Mr Norman said from his home in Mackay. "She's got to do everything I did, everything she did and care for me like a baby. "What he's (Kevin Rudd) doing is criminal. To take $1600 off us after giving it to us every year for four years, it's criminal."

Opposition frontbencher Tony Abbott accused Labor of using carers as "human shields in the fight against inflation". "You've got this big surplus; you've got to do something with it," he said. "Let's not victimise carers."

Mr Abbott said the cuts brought to mind a 2006 essay by the Prime Minister in The Monthly magazine entitled Howard's Brutopia: The Battle of Ideas in Australian Politics, in which Mr Rudd said Australia had become a brutopia because of the Howard government's "market fundamentalism". "(The cuts) suggest that Rudd's essay was a political marketing exercise, not a statement of real personal belief," Mr Abbott said. "What happened to Rudd's compassion? Rudd, it seems, is more capable of running a brutopia than Howard ever was."

Almost 400,000 Australians have received the Carer Bonus for the past four years. The bonus paid $1000 to carer payment recipients and $600 to carer allowance recipients. Because many households received both payments, the bonus had become a regular $1600 windfall.

Ms Macklin yesterday refused to rule anything in or out in the budget, in line with the rote response being given by all ministers. But she said the Rudd Government understood the difficulties faced by carers and was extending the Utilities Allowance to Carer Payment recipients for the first time with an increase to $500 a year, every year. "The Carer Bonus payments were only one-off payments, which the previous government never guaranteed into the budget," she said.

Carers Australia chief executive Joan Hughes said she held grave fears for the bonus. "We've already heard from various departments there's not going to be any more growth in our programs," she said.

The payment is one of at least 30 Howard government programs, worth $3.6 billion, to be dumped under Labor as it struggles to slice spending to curb inflation it blames on reckless spending and vote-buying by the previous government. Prior to the federal election last November, Labor produced costings of its own election promises along with $5.4 billion in savings to be achieved through scrapping or modifying Howard government programs. The razor gang is striking across all areas of government, with many slashed programs to be replaced by other new payments.

While some, such as the Carers' Bonus, will leave recipients worse off, others will be replaced by more lucrative spending schemes based on changed priorities. For example, Mr Swan will replace the low-emission technology demonstration fund, worth $140 million over four years, with a range of climate change related spending worth significantly more. Similarly, many old rural grants programs are to be replaced by others aimed at helping farmers adapt to climate change. And Labor's abolition of a $359million dental health plan will be countered by more than $600 million in new spending.

Mr Swan, who has spent the months since Labor's election softening up the electorate for the spending cuts and attacking the failure of the previous government to guard against inflation, repeated the message yesterday in a speech to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce. The Treasurer said the previous government had spent public money to win elections rather than ensuring the long-term productivity of the economy. "Our election struck a blow at old politics and left us confronted with its legacy - a legacy of the old way that elections had to be bought, spending could be reckless, there was no need to invest in the future because pork-barrelling could get you through," he said. "Put simply, the economy hasn't been adequately equipped to meet the challenges that have come with our 17 years of expansion coupled with the terms of trade boom. The supply capacity of the economy isn't keeping pace with demand."

The Howard government has been criticised for the generosity of its middle-class welfare, but in his first major speech since the election defeat, Mr Howard last night defended his record. "The taxation system should generously recognise the cost of raising children," he told an American Enterprise Institute dinner in Washington DC. "This is not middle-class welfare. It is merely a taxation system with some semblance of social vision."

Mr Norman has spent weeks attempting to find out whether the Rudd Government would continue with the carer's payment for his wife, Patricia, 70. He said he had written seven letters to Mr Rudd and received no reply. Despite gasping for breath from chronic emphysema caused by laying asbestos roofs during his working life, Mr Norman has pestered anyone who would listen to him about the payment. Yesterday he said he was told by Mr Rudd's Parliament House office that the payment would be axed. He said Ms Macklin's office told him they were considering dumping the payment while local Labor MP James Bidgood indicated there still might be a chance of saving it. On Monday, he was admitted to Mackay Base Hospital. It was there that the doctor told him he would not have long to live. "They told me it's only a matter of time," he said.


Bureaucracy stymies healthcare again

An offer by 26 Queensland surgeons to fly to the Northern Territory to treat indigenous children with ear infections has been ignored because of bickering between two federal government departments, doctors claim. Harvey Coates, a clinical associate professor at the University of Western Australia and a senior ear, nose and throat surgeon at Perth's Princess Margaret Hospital, said ear disease was a silent epidemic among indigenous children in some communities, and it was tragic that offers from doctors who were willing to help were not being accepted. "It is frustrating that when a group of specialists is ready and willing to go and help, that they can't just go and get on with it," Professor Coates said.

He said a dispute between the federal Department of Family and Children's Services and the federal Health Department had meant that the offer, which was made shortly after the Howard government's intervention into the Northern Territory was launched last year, had yet to be acted on. It is believed the departmental dispute revolves around how the doctors would be organised and funded.

Since the federal intervention was launched, more than 800 doctors have volunteered to fly into remote communities in the Territory. But so far it is believed only a handful of specialists has been sent to provide follow-up care for the thousands of cases of ear disease, tooth decay and skin conditions discovered through the emergency intervention.

The Health Department said four ear, nose and throat surgery blitzes were planned for Alice Springs, starting on April 14 and providing surgery for up to 200 children. It acknowledged that the work would be carried out eight months after the intervention was launched. "Finding sufficient numbers of skilled specialists to supplement the NT specialist pool, along with accommodation, is challenging but within the next few weeks an initial cohort of health professionals will be deployed to local health services in the Alice Springs region," a spokeswoman for the Health Department said. "In relation to ear disease, there are important preparatory procedures that must be carried out before children can undergo surgery. Therefore children are currently receiving ear mopping treatment and audiological assessments in their home communities."

Professor Coates said it was especially frustrating not to be able to effectively address the huge problem of ear disease among indigenous children because the long-term effects were largely preventable. The prevalence of chronic discharging ears among indigenous children in the NT is at 94 per cent, yet the World Health Organisation says a rate of more than 4per cent is indicative of a massive public health problem. "Throughout their childhood, the average Aboriginal child will have middle ear disease and hearing loss for 36 months compared with an average of three months for the non-indigenous child," Professor Coates said.

The disease often leaves the children with hearing loss, which in turn impedes their ability to communicate and learn at school. It also leads to a "downward spiral of truancy, underperformance, early school leaving and a life-long impact on vocational outcomes", he said. The disease, which has few accompanying symptoms until the tympanic membrane ruptures and pus discharges from the ear, can be treated by a relatively simple surgical procedure.

Professor Coates, who is the chair of the indigenous sub-committee of the Australian Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, said he was keen to adapt a New Zealand ear disease program to suit Australia's needs. In New Zealand, a fleet of "ear buses" visit schools and towns to examine children and provide direct referrals to GPs and ear, nose and throat surgeons via video diagnosis. "Mobile operating theatres have been advocated where day surgery can be performed adjacent to a hospital," Professor Coates said. Such a bus could travel to remote indigenous communities and not only treat ear disease among young children but also perform other basic surgeries with lower risks of complication such as the removal of skin lesions.


Our proud record

By John Howard

THE former Australian government, which I led, was accused of many things, but never of betraying its essentially Centre-Right credo. We pursued a blend of economic liberalism - in the classical sense of that term connoting as it does a faith in market forces - and social conservatism. Far from being in conflict, the one reinforced the other.

From our election in 1996 we pursued reform and further modernisation of our economy. On the social front we emphasised our nation's traditional values, sought to resurrect greater pride in our history and became assertive about the intrinsic worth of our national identity. In the process we ended the seemingly endless seminar about that identity that had been in progress for some years. When we left office in November last year Australia was a stronger, prouder and more prosperous nation than it had been 12 years earlier.

Of particular note, economically, were our major reforms to the taxation system, the complete elimination of net federal government debt, and changes to our labour market laws that produced a freer and less union-dominated system. These last reforms, strongly supported by small business, not only boosted productivity, they helped reduce unemployment to 4.2 per cent, a 33-year low, when the government left office, compared with 8.5 per cent in March 1996. They included the abolition of unfair dismissal sanctions on smaller firms, which had been discouraging those enterprises from taking on more staff.

The new Government in Australia has pledged to reverse those labour market changes. That will be a mistake. It will be the first time in 25 years that a major economic reform in Australia has been reversed. In particular, bringing back the old unfair dismissal laws will stifle employment growth among small businesses.

Today's world remains confronted by the ongoing threat of Islamic fascism, a new and quite unfamiliar assault on our values and way of life. It relies on indiscriminate terror without regard to the identity or faith of its victims. It also calculates that it is the nature of Western societies to grow weary of long struggles and protracted debates. They produce, over time, a growing pressure for resolution or accommodation.

The particular challenge posed by extremist Islam means therefore that more than ever before, continued cultural self-belief is critical to national strength. We should not think that by trading away some of the values that have made us who we are will buy us either immunity from terrorists or respect from noisy minorities. We should not forget that it is the values of our societies that terrorists despise most. That is why we should never compromise on them.

It is not only their intrinsic worth that should be staunchly defended. It is also because radical Islam senses - correctly - that there is a soft underbelly of cultural self-doubt in certain Western societies. There are too many in our midst who think, deep down, that it is really "our fault" and if only we entered into some kind of federal cultural compact with our critics, the challenges would disappear.

Perhaps it was this sentiment that led the Archbishop of Canterbury to make the extraordinary comment several weeks ago, that in Britain some accommodation with aspects of sharia law was inevitable. It is fundamental to the continued unity and purpose of a democratic nation state that there not only be respect for the rule of law but the state have but one body of law, to which all are accountable, and from which all are entitled to an equal dispensation of justice.

For almost a quarter of a century now, the Western world has enjoyed low inflation. The result has been stronger growth, lower unemployment (except in those nations that still persist with absurdly regulated labour markets) and the liberation of hundreds of millions from poverty. We should be concerned if the world were re-entering a period of higher inflation. The right responses will be grounded in free market orthodoxies. We should avoid resort to re-regulation. We should preserve the independence of central banks. We should maintain open and free labour markets. We should continue cutting taxes where possible and we should seek to increase savings. If individuals won't save then governments must add to public savings by running budget surpluses or significantly reducing budget deficits.

Above all there must be no return to protectionism. Freer world markets, particularly, but not only, in agriculture are essential. For certain poorer nations the dismantling of trade barriers by developed nations will be far more helpful than foreign aid.

A conservative edifice must always have at its centre the role of the family. Despite the repeated attempts of some social engineers, the field evidence suggests that united, functioning families remain not only the best emotional nursery for children but also the most efficient social welfare system that mankind has ever devised. Holding families together in preference to picking up the pieces when they fall apart must always be the major driver of social welfare policy. It remains a reality in Western societies that two of the greatest contributors to poverty are joblessness and family breakdown. We should maintain a cultural bias in favour of traditional families. That doesn't mean discriminating against single parents but it does mean ceaselessly propounding the advantages for a child of being raised by both a mother and father.

Taxation laws should promote, not penalise, marriage. The taxation system should generously recognise the cost of raising children. This is not middle-class welfare. It is merely a taxation system with some semblance of social vision. The tax-payment system must also support choice for parents about who cares for their children. When a parent elects to withdraw from the workforce, either wholly or partly, to care for a child that decision must be supported by the taxation system.

Maintaining a cultural bias in favour of families also means that governments should reinforce the role of parents in choosing what form of education their children receive. The major growth sector among independent schools has been in the low-fee independent Christian category. This is a direct result of more liberal funding arrangements initiated by my government. Our funding policies have, in practice, produced the same outcome as education vouchers by significantly expanding the choices available to parents of relatively modest means.

Much to the surprise of many experts - and to the chagrin of many who are critical of the US and of the Bush administration in particular - the surge strategy in Iraq is beginning to bear fruit. The most convincing sign of all that some progress has been made is the significant decline in media coverage of Iraq. The dominant left-liberal elements in the media in both our countries apparently cannot bring themselves to acknowledge good news stories coming out of Baghdad.

There is a view in some quarters that Afghanistan is the "good" war and Iraq somehow a distraction from winning the war on terror. While it may be politically convenient, this view is profoundly naive and dangerous. You only have to look at al-Qa'ida's own words and actions to know that Iraq is every bit as much a major front in the war on terror as Afghanistan. We simply cannot afford to lose in either. And despite all the reverses I remain convinced we will prevail in both.

What is critical now is that the surge is given time to work. The Iraqi people desperately need the time and space created by the surge to sustain the tentative political progress we are seeing. It would be a tragedy if those gains were surrendered now by premature drawdowns.


Noel Pearson on Aboriginal drug and alcohol abuse

My home community was built on the ruins of historical dispossession. Our people rebuilt relatively stable families and worked hard in a discriminatory society and economy, while retaining an indigenous cultural identity and languages. Then our people were given welfare money, free time and more access to addictive substances and processes. Epidemics of addiction and a corresponding collapse of social norms ensued.

When the epidemics gained momentum, they became the primary cause of recruitment of novice substance abusers and gamblers. The social chaos in some communities is more severe than can be explained by underlying issues such as inherited trauma. Too many people from relatively stable backgrounds were sucked into the vortex of dysfunction. Genetic susceptibility on the part of some individuals and negative formative experiences cannot, in my opinion, explain the magnitude of the Cape York disaster.

The symptom theory of addiction (of which the self-medication hypothesis is the most extreme special case) is the most damaging idea for Cape York communities when they try to reverse their descent into dysfunction. No matter how isolated from progressive mainstream debate, every dysfunctional person in the backstreets of Cape York communities can give an account of some variant of the symptom theory as the explanation and the excuse for their behaviour: "I drink because...".

This is why I rejected in my article of December 8-9 former footballer and drug addict Gary Ablett's contentions (The Australian, November 29) that use of psychoactive substances is "basically self-medicating, a coping mechanism" and that "it's time we realised that drugs are not the problem but a symptom of far deeper issues, both in people's lives and in our society".

Gaughwin conceded that Ablett is wrong to reduce and simplify the problem of addiction to one dominant construct (that addiction is treating psychic pain). But he maintained that my criticism was insensitive and cruel because it denies people such as Ablett the tolerance, understanding and empathy that are crucial to their recovery from addiction. Ablett has my empathy and my support in his decision to remain drug-free. I did in fact conclude my article by stating that it is possible that "the initial susceptibility to experimentation on the part of an individual such as Ablett is explained in his need for relief from (psychic) pain".

My criticism of Ablett is that he advocates a social theory of self-medication as the main cause of addiction. Patently, the general public's ability to take a principled stand against abuse of addictive substances and processes is compromised if they are led to believe that experimentation is generally a symptom of deeper problems.

Interestingly, Gaughwin shares my belief that, in spite of the biological and neurological basis of addiction, "the ideas and values we hold about freedom and free will" are the most important determinants of the spread of addiction in society: "If there is a root cause of addiction, it is ethical," Gaughwin concluded.

The symptom theory is a hideous idea that is deeply embedded in our society's consciousness about substance abuse (how many times have you heard a colleague or family member or a professional on television say "The drugs are just a symptom of..."?). It is hideous because it furnishes those who are engaged in substance abuse with a perfect justification for their indulgence. Beyond its crippling effect on individual users, it has a devastating social effect: it debilitates any decisive social response because it discourages a social response to addiction as the problem in its own right, and instead deflects attention towards a vast array of so-called underlying factors, most of which are beyond the reach of social policy. So we are left sitting on our hands while the addiction epidemics continue to grow.

More here

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Incompetent and untrained public hospital staff kill young mother

Very dangerous to have a medical emergency in a public hospital -- where responsibility stops nowhere and where supervision is minimal -- despite hordes of "managers"

REBECCA MURRAY was pregnant and healthy when she was admitted to Bathurst Hospital, but a day after delivering her third baby by caesarean the 29-year-old was dead. She had hemorrhaged, but nurses only realised when they saw her bloodied sheets.

Two weeks earlier, the 36-week-pregnant mother and her husband, Jim, had posed for this family photo with their son and daughter, Emelia and Lachlan, who were awaiting the arrival of a brother or sister. On June 24 last year, however, Mr Murray was in the waiting room of the old Bathurst Hospital, relieved that his newborn daughter, Grace, was healthy but unaware that down the corridor his young wife lay dying after a series of preventable errors.

A NSW Health incident report reveals that Mrs Murray had been transferred to a recovery ward after a routine caesarean when her blood pressure dropped dangerously low. Nurses should have called a medical emergency team but instead left her bleeding. The report admits that the nurses were so inexperienced they did not know how to recognise a postpartum hemorrhage.

It was more than 30 minutes before hospital specialists arrived, and Mrs Murray was taken back to theatre for surgery. She needed a blood transfusion after losing huge amounts of blood, but the incident report concedes that two vital blood-warming machines were faulty. Both "kept turning off for no identifiable reason". Worse still, theatre staff did not know how to use one machine and didn't know the password to operate it, the report said. Soon after, Mrs Murray suffered a cardiac arrest in theatre and doctors decided to transfer her to a metropolitan hospital. She was taken to the intensive care unit at Nepean Hospital. But, by 10.50am on June 25, she was dead.

The report concluded the "inadequate information exchange between treating clinicians contributed to a delay in recognition of the obstetric emergency" and "the rural base hospital medical records did not include an accurate record of blood loss, blood product and fluid replacement".

A new $98 million Bathurst Hospital opened in January, but surgeons suspended routine elective surgery last month, warning that serious design and construction flaws - such as an inadequate emergency alarm system and a pipe that leaked raw sewage into the maternity ward - were putting patients at risk.

Mrs Murray's death has been referred to the Health Care Complaints Commission and the coroner. But Mr Murray, left alone to raise three children, is demanding an apology from NSW Health and has not ruled out legal action. "This isn't a Third World country where a woman who is healthy goes in to have a baby and never walks out of those hospitals to kiss their kids goodnight again," Mr Murray told a news conference at State Parliament with the Opposition yesterday. "My kids have to grow up having no mother. I believe she should still be alive if things had been done properly."

The Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said it was a tragic example of systemic problems. "How is it that massive blood loss goes unattended in a NSW hospital?" In Parliament, the Health Minister, Reba Meagher, said her sympathies were with Mr Murray. But she said the Opposition could not attack the entire health system because of one tragic case. "I am advised that Mrs Murray suffered acute complications following the birth of her child and was transferred to Nepean Hospital, when her condition continued to deteriorate after extensive treatment," Ms Meagher said. "While any maternal death is tragic, it is also extremely rare." Whenever Mr Murray takes his children to visit their grandparents, he says, they think they are going to visit their mother - "asleep" in the hospital.


Improving Aboriginal education needs big rethink

JULIA Gillard's plan to fund 200 additional teachers with $100 million of support is a commendable response to the Northern Territory's crisis in indigenous education. But the Education Minister has been poorly advised. The proposed measures will not come close to delivering indigenous literacy and numeracy. It would be better to identify effective solutions now than have to make another apology in 20 years.

For the past two years, the NT's Department of Employment, Education and Training has reported years Three and Five literacy benchmark pass rates of about 90per cent for non-indigenous children. For indigenous children in Darwin and Alice Springs, the pass rate drops to 60 per cent. But for indigenous children in remote areas, the rate crashes to just 20 per cent. Even this pass rate is overstated: most of the children attending the 62 homeland learning centres have not even been tested for years Three and Five benchmarks.

Thirty years of welfare dependence with attendant alcoholism, drug abuse and violence in indigenous communities have played a role. Poor school attendance also has been blamed for poor results. But most indigenous parents are desperate for real education for their kids. NT school enrolments for 2008 appear to be higher than the 2006 census data (which admittedly probably undercounted the indigenous population) indicate.

The main reason for poor attendance is that many indigenous people are offered pretend education: the product of pseudo-curriculums and inadequate teaching. In the few schools where there are effective teachers who ignore the official curriculum for indigenous children, they attend school and pass the tests.

The separate curriculums followed by indigenous schools are a form of apartheid. When children of non-English-speaking immigrants enrol in Darwin schools, they follow the mainstream curriculum but take English as a second language programs. Indigenous parents in the Top End want their children taught the mainstream curriculum in English from kindergarten so they can get jobs and participate in society. They know that only literate communities can preserve traditional languages in the modern world. All commonwealth funding for education in the territory should depend on the condition that indigenous children are not intellectually segregated but taught the same curriculum as other children.

The absence of indigenous teachers in the NT is another indicator of educational failure. The NT's population is 28 per cent indigenous but, of 4572 registered teachers there, only 164 (3.6 per cent) identify as Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders. Of these, only 63 (1.4 per cent of the total) have completed the normal four-year course of education required to qualify as a teacher. Most of the other 101 indigenous teachers have been registered (together with another 600 non-indigenous teachers) without such qualifications. These 700 underqualified teachers are concentrated in the 62 learning centres and in the community education centres that act as substitutes for schools in predominantly indigenous communities. These teachers have not been assisted to upgrade their qualifications to present standards and there is no provision in the new commonwealth legislation for them to do so.

The bill allocates $18.4 million for the creation of 190 education department jobs for former Community Development Employment Program participants, a change long overdue. In contrast to teacher aides in mainstream schools, who help children in classes taught by qualified teachers, indigenous teacher aides in learning centres are often the only people in front of the class. Many of the CDEP teacher aides would not pass the Year Seven literacy test. What steps are being taken to assist these teacher aides to become literate and numerate?

The planned funding does not include housing for additional teachers outside Darwin. At present NT housing costs, this would require another $22.5 million in 2008 and $67.5million by 2011. Such funding - $90million in total - would almost double the planned commitment.

Because of past policies, more than 5000 of the nearly 8000 indigenous teenagers in the NT cannot pass the national literacy benchmarks. Nor could another 5000 men and women in their 20s. The accumulated backlog of insufficiently literate indigenous young people is 10,000. They represent the future of indigenous communities.

No part of the present education system can accommodate teenagers with Year One literacy. They cannot sit side by side with six-year-olds or in a class of teenagers from the mainstream education system. To bring these indigenous teenagers to the stage where they could access mainstream jobs and further education would require one or two years of sheltered accommodation in an English-speaking environment, intensive tutoring and part-time employment. The minimum cost would be $50,000 a year for each student. The real cost of remedying past failed policies would therefore be $500 million to $1 billion.

There is clearly a lack of any remedial action on this scale. Even partial solutions will require more funds than have been committed. Parents of students who do not pass benchmark tests are entitled to vouchers worth $700 a year to have their children tutored. This program assumes literate parents and access to qualified tutors. Parents in one remote indigenous community have therefore asked the federal Government if they can aggregate these vouchers and use them together with foundation funds to pay for a remedial teacher for their children. They have not even received the courtesy of a reply.


Plastic bag bans absurd

Plastic bags are under siege, pilloried globally as a menace to the environment and a symbol of man's conspicuous consumption, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Without plastic bags we would all buy less, goes the thinking. But, of course, we won't. Hence you have the ludicrous situation at Bunnings where a customer buys a small, but nonetheless unwieldy bag of potting mix (in dirty plastic wrapping), a tape measure, a paint-sample pot, marker pens, pest oil and a bottle of Thrive, and is expected to carry it all out of the store in her arms, thus making filthy her white shirt, because Bunnings is a good environmental citizen and no longer provides plastic bags, or only reluctantly and for 10 cents a piece.

Australia's chief bag-slayer is our Environment Minister, the lantern-jawed former rock god Peter Garrett, who has little of substance left in his portfolio after the meaty bits were handed to Penny Wong. But his caged activist persona is just perfect for the kind of empty symbolism which has marked the Rudd Government's first 100 days. When it comes to evil Japanese whalers and plastic bags, Pete's your man. His first big act in office has been to declare bags would be banned or taxed into oblivion by year's end, and he has convened a summit of the nation's environment ministers next month to achieve that end. Jumping the queue on Sunday was South Australia's Premier, Mike Rann, who announced a ban on bags from next year. "I am urging all states to follow this important step in ridding our environment of these bags that contribute to greenhouse gases, clog up landfill, litter our streets and streams as well as kill sea life."

All very virtuous-sounding, except none of it is based on fact. The Productivity Commission did a cost-benefit analysis in 2006 on the merits or otherwise of plastic bags, and found they comprise just 2 per cent of litter and it was not certain if they damaged animals. The commission claimed plastic bags may be eco-friendly in solid landfill, because of their "stabilising qualities, leachate minimisation and minimising [of] greenhouse-gas emissions". Three-quarters of us recycle the bags as bin-liners, pooper-scoopers or carry bags, thus confining stuff that might otherwise become litter.

But, as usual, green hysteria obscures the truth. For instance, Planet Ark's founder, Jon Dee, was quoted in 2006 saying he had been "inundated" with calls from farmers whose calves had died after swallowing plastic bags. But the National Farmers Federation has never heard of such a thing, a spokesman said yesterday. Nor has the Cattle Council of Australia had a single report.

A 2002 Newfoundland study of 100,000 marine animals killed each year, which is widely cited by green groups as proof of the evils of plastic bags, turns out to have been wildly misquoted. The deaths were actually attributed to fishing nets. So ban fishing nets. And since cigarette butts comprise almost half of Clean Up Australia's rubbish collections, why not ban cigarettes instead of plastic bags? Unlike bags, fags are not useful, and there would be the long-term benefit of improved health.

In an attempt to fend off draconian bans, retailers have been getting stingy with plastic bags and making bucketloads on green imported Chinese faux-enviro-bags. We can live with that, but what is intolerable is the fact that so many plastic bags have become so flimsy they are next to useless for anything heavier than a Paddlepop. At my local shop an irate women recently marched in to demand a new bottle of soft drink after the one she had just bought fell through a hole in the bag and smashed all over the floor of the fish-and-chips store two doors up. Whose fault is it that the bag was a disaster, what was the customer's duty of care, and who should compensate the poor fish-and-chips shop owner for his sticky floor? Such are the great questions thrown up by the looming ban on plastic bags.

There is nothing about banning plastic bags that makes sense, yet it is a global craze, latched onto by lazy governments desperate to appear green. The tragedy is that while the ban will do little for the environment, it will ruin Australian businesses which make and recycle the bags. The largest manufacturer, Melbourne's Detmark Poly Bags, makes almost all the Australian checkout bags used by retailers, including Woolworths. Detmark, a 25-year-old private, Australian-owned company worth $15 million to $20 million, with about 30 workers, will be "just wiped out" if the Government's plastic bag ban is enforced, its managing director, Malcolm Davidson, said yesterday.

He points out the ethylene gas which is turned into ethylene pellets from which he makes his bags, is a byproduct of natural gas from the Bass Strait, piped to a processing plant in Melbourne. "If we didn't use the gas they'd have to burn it off", hardly a Gaia-friendly solution. Repeat Plastics Australia (Replas) is another successful Australian-owned company that will be hurt by the ban, since the fewer plastic bags available for recycling, the higher the price of the raw product. It turns plastic bags into everything from horse feeders to jetty planks, park benches to bollards.

"The plastic bag is a perfect product," said the company's national marketing manager, Mark Jacobsen. "It's 100 per cent recoverable, 100 per cent recyclable, cheap, practical. It would have to be one of the best products ever invented . The public is being hoodwinked into thinking plastic bags are bad . when the problem is [some people] are not disposing of them properly."

There is now such a shortage of waste plastic for recycling, he says prices have doubled in the past 18 months. "We are crying out for plastic," he says. "This has put the recycling industry back 50 years. How illogical can you get?"

As for the thick green so-called eco bag, which Garrett has described as "canvas", it also is a plastic bag, made of polypropylene. Each is the equivalent of 1000 of the original polyethylene bags, Jacobsen says. And "no one wants to recycle them," as the plastic requires a higher temperature to melt. The bags rip and soil like any other bag, despite the hype, and at some point they must be disposed of. They might not do much for marine animals, but someone is making a lot of money out of them.


Dysfunction defines the NSW department of lost children

Short of frontline staff but overflowing with bureaucarts

KATE ran away from home when she was 14. She insists she isn't exaggerating when she says she has moved "about 100 times" in the five years since. Sometimes the NSW Department of Community Services moved her. Sometimes she just took off. Sometimes she misbehaved and got herself expelled, says Kate (not her real name). "If it's your behaviour, they kick you out that second, although you've got nowhere to go. "I never really got to be a normal teenager," she says. "I didn't go to the one school. Nothing was ever permanent. I always had stuff that fitted into one bag, because I was always prepared to move."

There are about 12,700 children and young people in out-of-home care in NSW, including the "high-needs kids" whose behaviour is almost unmanageable. A DOCS official who spoke to Inquirer on condition of anonymity says the department pays "as much as $15,000 a week to have one of these kids babysat by a non-government (welfare) agency".

Most observers agree DOCS ranks poorly against human services departments in other states. Yet the department's constant air of crisis makes the front pages only when a child "known to DOCS" dies in suspicious circumstances. The department is now under scrutiny at the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW. The inquiry was called following the death of seven-year-old Shellay Ward, an autistic child who allegedly starved to death, one of a number of deaths in recent months involving young children repeatedly reported to DOCS.

Under mandatory reporting legislation in most states, police, teachers, childcare workers and doctors are obliged to report suspected abuse or neglect. In NSW they contact a central helpline to report on children who have been harmed or are thought to be at risk of harm. There were 286,033 such reports in 2006-07, three times as many as in 1999-2000. Nearly half were from police, who contact the DOCS helpline following any incident of domestic violence where a child is present, irrespective of the seriousness of the incident or whether the child is involved.

Figures from the NSW Child Death Review Team show that the number of children in NSW who have died from fatal assault has shown little variation since 1996, but the number of notifications of suspected child abuse has gone through the roof.

Andrew McCallum, chief executive of the Association of Child Welfare Agencies in NSW, calls mandatory reporting "a perverse mechanism which drives up reports but doesn't do much to assist in the protection of children". "Everyone feels good about it," McCallum says. "But what it does in reality is overload the system, as we've seen in NSW."

Surveys organised by the Public Schools Principals Forum revealed that principals who contacted the DOCS helpline did so to no avail nine times out of 10. "Fewer than 11 per cent are being actively responded to by DOCS," says retired principal Brian Chudleigh, deputy chairman of the organisation. That left many principals ringing the helpline repeatedly. Chudleigh recalls hearing of a child at a school in the far west of NSW who was 11 years old the first time the principal reported him. "The principal told us how this child frequently came to him begging him not to send him home because he was afraid of his violent father." But the principal reported on the same boy three years running without hearing anything about it from DOCS.

Shortly before Christmas, a departmental officer asked an executive from a non-government agency if the agency could step in on a contingency basis to replace departmental officers working in the field. The agency was being asked to deal with families reported to DOCS for the first time. The executive says that DOCS was so short of front-line staff that its officers could only go from one child abuse notification to the next. Things are very different in the department's headquarters in the inner Sydney suburb of Ashfield, which is jam-packed with senior officials.

The department's director-general Neil Shepherd, who is retiring next week , came into the job in 2002 from the Cabinet Office, and had the clout to convince the state Government to give the department an additional $1.2 billion over five years. The results were certainly evident in Ashfield. The hierarchy answering to Shepherd and his four deputy directors-general includes eight executive directors, 36 directors, 17 managers and eight regional directors, and legions of assistant directors, unit managers and program managers.

"Neil Shepherd wanted to do something about the closed-shop culture," the DOCS official tells Inquirer. "He wanted fresh blood and brought in people from other departments. He may have had all the best intentions. But having people come from outside just because of their management skills isn't good enough. "Many don't have a clue about child protection. But they are the ones writing policy. Instead of reviewing old policies and what's happening, they write a new one. We have hundreds of new directions, new policies, new guidelines." Despite the constant chopping and changing, "you don't see much difference", says Gary Moore, former chief executive of the NSW Council for Social Service. "That's partly the culture of the organisation, the dysfunctional way it operates."

DOCS has employed about 1000 more caseworkers in recent years, according to a press release from Community Services Minister Kevin Greene. But the DOCS official, from an office out in the field, says the new project officers and managers generate so much paperwork that front-line staff, already swamped by thousands of notifications, have less time to spend with vulnerable families and children than they did in the 1990s. In those days front-line staff spent about 70per cent of their time with them, he says. "Now workers spend about 40 per cent of their time on face-to-face contact with families and 60 per cent on reports, phone calls and meetings."

Those figures go some way towards explaining the high staff turnover, says Jacqui Reed, chief executive of the Create Foundation, which works on behalf of children in care. "Instead of working as social workers, they're pen-pushers filling in reports." But the paperwork may be just that: paperwork. "I've never expected, nor have I got, anything out of making a report," says a psychologist who has worked for DOCS. "Making a report doesn't lead to a tangible outcome. You do it because it's the law."

In NSW each year between 13,000 and 14,000 children are found to have been harmed or to be at risk of harm, says Judy Cashmore of the University of Sydney's law faculty, an expert in the field. "About 3600 of them go into out-of-home care each year, but whether they go into care or not, we know next to nothing about what happens to them over time."

Though much of the inquiry into child protection has been held behind closed doors, the public forums conducted by commissioner James Wood QC highlighted the fact that mandatory reporting is a one-way process. "We are legally bound to give all the information we have, but we get nothing in return," Chudleigh says. "Schools make the report, then are shut out."

Before the helpline, schools concerned about children who appeared to be neglected or abused would contact the local DOCS office and work with it to try to resolve the problem, Chudleigh says. Such initiatives have been replaced by processes, as human problems are described on forms that can withstand legal scrutiny, not to mention headlines, whether or not they change the situation.

The psychologist says: "The fear is not so much that mistakes will be made but that they will be revealed." It may be that the ceaseless tinkering reflects the fact that DOCS has an almost impossible task that it's meant to perform to increasingly unrealistic standards. "The expectation is that we are going to prevent child abuse," the DOCS official says. "We can't prevent it any more than the police can prevent a crime."

Victoria also has mandatory reporting but the number of notifications barely changed in the eight years that notifications in NSW trebled, according to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Bernie Geary, Victoria's Child Safety Commissioner, warns against complacency, saying it doesn't make sense to compare the figures from state to state "because the criteria around the system of reporting deaths from abuse are different". But many believe that Victoria is doing better by assisting families before there's a crisis. According to McCallum: "Fewer children are coming into care in Victoria. Yet there are also fewer kids requiring intervention by child protection staff. The Victorian Government handed almost everything but child protection to non-government agencies. "It made the distinction about who did what very clear. The result is you have fewer people coming into the child protection system. You have non-government agencies working alongside child protection workers to try to get alternative services to taking kids into care."

It is regularly said that in concentrating the role of its Department of Human Services Affairs on forensic child protection, Victoria has done what so clearly needs to be done in NSW. But the immense practical problems such genuine restructuring would involve are minute compared with the philosophical difficulty. Government in NSW is so reactive that policies often seem to be the product of a form of media management. The beleaguered DOCS embodies that approach by treating inevitable mistakes and tragedies as exceptional. "You can't get it right all the time, no system can," Moore says. "That doesn't mean they shouldn't do much better than they do."


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

School test results to go public

Federal education chief ignores school fears and opts for openness. Both creditable and surprising in a dedicated Leftist. Background to the story here

The Federal Government will publish the results of new national literacy and numeracy tests for Years 3, 5. 7 and 9 students, despite strong opposition from Queensland educators, a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard said on Friday. The Government's focus was on achieving higher standards, greater accountability and better results for the whole school system, he said. At least one million students from more than 9000 schools around the country will sit the literacy and numeracy tests from May 13 to 15.

Parents from state and independent schools, many principals and Queensland Education Minister Rod Welferd have voiced fears about publishing the test results, claiming they could damage schools and their communities. They believe that if the wrong type of test is developed and the results publicised, it would waste taxpayer money and hurt the image of many hard-working schools.

Mr Welford wants the tests to be a diagnostic tool that helps uncover problem areas for students, rather than establishing a benchmark that creates a "leagues table" for schools.

Ms Gillard's spokesman said stakeholder concerns were taken into consideration in the development of the test, and the matter would be discussed further at the next meeting of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs. "By comparing the performance of schools, it would be possible to ensure resources were placed where they would be required most," the spokesman said.

Mr Welford said he had asked Ms Gillard if a regular meeting of state education ministers could be organised before the May tests to discuss the process, but that appeared unlikely to happen. If the test was designed to just set a benchmark, it would only grab a picture of one day in the 13-year schooling life of a student, Mr Welford said. "The idea that we would be creating a leagues table is a folly and a waste of time. It's a scandalous waste of public funding," he said.

The Queensland Joint Parent Committee, which represents parents from state schools, the Catholic and independent sector, and parents of children at isolated schools, has written to Mr Welford opposing any publication of results.

The article above is by Paul Weston and appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on March 2, 2008.

The bloody-minded Queensland Health Dept. again

They don't even give a sh*t about their staff, let alone the patients. That's what happens when you have a bureaucracy that has been bloating up since 1944. Labor party Premier Ned Hanlon instituted in Queensland in 1944 one of the world's first "free" hospital systems

A nurse who was raped on remote Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait was told by Queensland Health immediately after the attack that if she left the island she would have the days away deducted from her leave. The Australian has been told the nurse had to get a local islander to take her by dinghy on a 30-minute trip to Badu Island, where she was taken by plane to Thursday Island.

Since the attack on February 5, Queensland Health has refused to pay the nurse any wages or expenses, telling her that, because she was "injured" at work, it is an issue for WorkCover and the department was not responsible. This is despite Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson yesterday apologising for his department's not acting on a 16-month-old report that assessed the personal risk posed to nurses on the islands as "extreme".

The internal report, which Queensland Health denied existed before it was leaked to The Australian, warned that the residential quarters provided to the nurse on Mabuiag was one of the worst, having no locks on the doors or windows, and no security system or working lights.

A colleague of the nurse said yesterday she had complained about the lack of security before the rape but nothing was done. "She was sent there to quarters that were not secure, without a doctor or police officer on the island, and in quarters where there was no lighting working, no running water, and no gas for the stove," the friend said. "And when she reported the rape to Thursday Island (authorities) and said she wanted to come off, she was told she would have to have any time taken off deducted from leave owed to her. "She arrived on Thursday Island because her partner arranged for a flight, and had to get her own accommodation, and then the nurses' union arranged for her to get to Cairns, where she received medical and psychological assistance."

The colleague said the nurse gave statements to police, who arrested and charged the alleged perpetrator. "Now she has returned to her home outside Sydney and has not been paid a cent since the incident, being told it is the responsibility of WorkCover," the colleague said. "The nurses have advised the Government through the union that they will be withdrawing their labour if security of their accommodation on the remote islands is not brought up to scratch in a month."

A Queensland Health spokesman said the nurse would get "special leave on full pay, with the pay coming through WorkCover". Speaking in Cairns, Mr Robertson said the internal report, revealed in The Australian yesterday, had not been acted on because it had "sat on the desk of a former manager". "That's not acceptable and I apologise for that," he said. Mr Robertson said the Government's QBuild arm would now take over maintenance of the Torres Strait Islands buildings. New security is to be installed in facilities on Mabuiag Island.


Queensland voting fraud

By Terry Gygar

The recent appointment of former State MP Mike Kaiser as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh's Chief of Staff has again drawn attention to the "elephant in the corner" that the Australian Electoral Commission, the ALP and (it seems) the Coalition Parties, don't want to discuss - the ease with which the Australian Electoral Roll can be "rorted" to skew election results and the apparent frequency with which this occurs.

Kaiser was forced to resign from the ALP and his seat in the Queensland Parliament in 2001 after admitting to signing a false electoral enrolment declaration in 1986. This was apparently part of a branch stacking effort related to an ALP pre-selection ballot. The incident didn't badly affect his career in the Labor Party however, as he moved on to become Assistant National Secretary of the ALP, then Chief of Staff to NSW Premier Morris Iemma in 2005 and now holds the same position for Queensland's Anna Bligh.

Phoney electoral enrolments have apparently been part of ALP culture for time immemorial. Peter Beattie, who feigned shock and horror in 2001 when Kaiser's "indiscretions" became public, admitted, in his earlier autobiographical book In the Arena when discussing the 1983 election campaign: "Doorknocking Alexandra Hills was an interesting affair. One female member of the Labour Party was not at home when I called on her at the vacant allotment where she purportedly lived. To my not particularly great surprise, she later voted in the pre-selection."

This surprisingly candid admission not only shows that Peter was obviously not surprised to find ALP members engaging in false electoral enrolments, which apparently were quite common knowledge, but also illustrates one of the tried and true methods of fiddling electoral rolls. These obviously experienced rorters admitted to fiddling pre-selections, but in doing so they also had the capacity to significantly influence general election results. There are three simple ways of fiddling the poll:

* enrol people at existing addresses when the person enrolled not exist or does not live there;
* enrol people at addresses that don't exist; and
* don't deprive the dead of the right to vote, just because they are no longer alive.

All three methods have been proven to be historically popular with the ALP (in Queensland at least) especially in marginal seats, where a few dozen votes can often make all the difference. Method one led to the downfall of Mr Kaiser, but is not popular with the foot soldiers because it gives a real address at which investigations can commence. Only the most dedicated would take that risk today.

Getting the dead to vote is another matter. On July 26, 1989, Darryl Leonard Cox, pleaded guilty before Mr Page SM in the Brisbane Magistrates Court to falsely and knowingly signing an application for a postal vote in respect of a person who was dead. His actions were excused (in Hansard) by the local ALP MP on the grounds that: "When Darryl Cox signed a statement to be helpful to an elderly person, he was not aware that the person was dead .". The ALP "Campaign Director" and chief spokesman at the time, Wayne Swan, was conspicuous by his silence.

Enrolling people at non existent addresses is perhaps the safest way to organise a rort. You can then forge a postal vote application (if you have a secure "letter drop" address) or, a safer alternative, vote absentee miles away with little fear of detection.

When I was unexpectedly elected to Queensland Parliament in the 1974 anti-Whitlam landslide, I became one of the first MPs to engage in direct mail. Without computers, this was an enormously draining effort which required the entering of the details of every registered voter on a white system card and then sorting the tens of thousands of cards in to street order and personally signing letters to be hand delivered to them. While this task was in progress, some interesting anomalies emerged - people were enrolled in parks, creeks, vacant lots and, most notably, several dozen had their addresses in the Lutwyche cemetery.

The Electoral Office didn't want to know about it (some things never change) and I was forced to physically post a letter to each of these "phantoms", ensure they were returned by the Post Office, and then pay a fee to object to the presence of each on the electoral roll. As a result, over 600 people were removed from the roll before the next election and, to my not great surprise, my majority went up noticeably. Now I can't say for sure that these "phantoms" all voted Labor, but they certainly weren't voting for me.

More here

Greenie people-hate at work

Former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery has lashed out against rising immigration. The renowned scientist and climate change activist said water scarcity was a major argument against bringing in more people. "Any responsible politician needs to consider that first before they can consider increasing the stress on the water situation by increasing the population," Prof Flannery said.

Prof Flannery, last year's Australian of the Year, made the comments last week in response to the South Australian Government's push for more migrants. "In my view, there should be more emphasis on helping those who are already there in the state than just bringing more people in," he said.

Prof Flannery's comments could just as easily have applied to Victoria, which is also aggressively recruiting skilled migrants. Victoria's population is tipped to be 6.2 million by 2020, 10 years earlier than forecast.


Incredible economic naivety

Innovation Minister Kim Carr reportedly spent yesterday lobbying senior executives of Toyota to secure the production of hybrid cars for Australia. The news will no doubt gladden the hearts of green-collar activists who favour government subsidies for environmentally trendy technologies. It will also be music to the ears of protectionists in the car industry and blue-collar activists in the Australian Metal Workers Union who are intent on protecting jobs in car plants. For the rest of us, though, it means pouring $500 million of taxpayers' money into Toyota's pocket for no appreciable return.

Even when Australia had high rates of unemployment, propping up the Australian car industry made no good economic sense. As economists have argued and experience has demonstrated, subsidies simply distort the market and draw resources away from areas where Australia has a comparative advantage to areas where it doesn't. In an economy that is operating at close to full capacity, protecting inefficient industries just exacerbates labor shortages and drives up wage inflation.

It might give environmental nationalists a warm, green glow to drive a Prius made in Australia, but all it is really doing is putting an already expensive car even further out of reach of the cost-conscious purchaser. The way to make Priuses cheaper in Australia would be to drop tariffs from 10 per cent, as they are, to zero. Priuses in Japan are already more expensive to make than normal cars because they come off a smaller production run. But it will not advance green technology globally to have a smaller, even more expensive production run in Australia.

If Senator Carr really wanted to advance green technology, he would pour money into research and development areas where Australia has a real comparative advantage such as carbon capture and storage technologies to clean up coal, hot rocks geothermal technology and solar energy. In each of these areas, resource endowments, climate or space are already helping us to be world leaders.

Or if it wanted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars, the Government could take the more politically unpalatable step of rationalising its taxes on vehicles. At present, import duty is lower on four-wheel-drives than other cars, providing a perverse incentive to drive these larger vehicles with lower fuel efficiency. Similarly, fringe benefit tax on company cars reduces the further you drive, encouraging people to travel thousands of kilometres they don't need to, simply to get a tax break.

Yet the Government is sending out disturbing signals that it is not interested in being economically rational. Rather than allow the Productivity Commission to review the automotive sector as Treasury argued, it has given the job to former Victorian premier Steve Bracks. Yet while the Productivity Commission could evaluate whether it makes sense for Australia to prop up its car industry with endless billion-dollar subsidies, Mr Bracks has already said that the overwhelming objective will be to have a sustainable passenger motor vehicle, components parts and research and development industry in the auto industry in the future. Senator Carr has left open the option of freezing the industry's tariff protection, which is due to fall from 10 per cent to 5 per cent in 2010, and Mr Bracks has also previously opposed tariff cuts. Kevin Rudd might claim to be an economic conservative but Kim Carr is showing no signs of being an economic rationalist. And taxpayers and consumers will have to pay for it.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bureaucracy endangers the troops

Rifle ranges that have been safely used for years are suddenly deemed "unsafe" -- which, far from making the troops safer, makes them less safe!

AUSTRALIA'S elite fighting forces – some just days away from overseas missions – have been banned from training with standard-issue ammunition after it was discovered that rifle ranges were too small and posed a safety risk. Crack troops, including snipers and special forces, have been forced to practise with smaller calibre bullets in place of the standard-issue 7.62mm ammunition because Australian shooting ranges do not meet NATO safety guidelines.

Australia's standard issue sniper rifle is the SR-98, which uses a 7.62mm, as does the M4 Carbine used by Australian special forces units. The SR-98 is in service with Australian, British and German snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan. But at least three ranges that cater almost exclusively to Australia's special forces community – including Special Air Service, commando and paratroop soldiers preparing to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan – have had restrictions placed on the use of 7.62mm ammunition. Troops training at these facilities, including one in Perth and one in southwest Sydney, are usually deployed overseas soon afterwards.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is aware of the issue and has sought further briefings and information from his department.

Sources said the ban had the potential to compromise Australia's frontline soldiers, making it difficult for snipers and special forces personnel to complete mandatory monthly requalification courses with weapons that use the 7.62 ammunition. Instead, Australia's frontline soldiers are forced to practise with 5.56mm ammunition, a situation described by one defence department source as "dangerous". "These are boys who are keeping their readiness up for potentially being sent overseas to places like Iraq or Afghanistan," he said. Things become very interesting if you're a special forces sniper who can't train and is being sent to Afghanistan next week ... so, yes, I suppose it is dangerous."

A Defence Department spokeswoman confirmed restrictions had been placed on the firing of 7.62mm ammunition atthree ranges used by elite soldiers. Additional safety measures have been imposed on firing 7.62mm ammunition because Defence is considering the adoption of the NATO standard for calculating range safety conditions. The spokeswoman said these required a greater safety area than that applied under the existing army safety conditions. Sources have told The Australian that Defence was facing a multi-million-dollar bill if existing rifle ranges were extended to meet NATO safety standards. A Defence spokeswoman confirmed all ranges were being reviewed in the wake of the restrictions.

The spokeswoman said the restrictions on the use of 7.62mm ammunition posed no safety risk, and that alternate training areas were available. The issue is the latest to affect Australia's fighting forces, who have been forced to use sub-standard equipment amid serious concerns about procurement policies. Two years ago, The Australian revealed many Diggers were forced to buy their own equipment after losing faith in the standard of equipment issued by the Department of Defence.


Federal health dithering

In the past two years there have been seven reports into reforming the nation's health system, but this week instead of action Kevin Rudd gave us yet another committee. The Productivity Commission, Access Economics, the House of Representatives, the Treasury and even former health department chiefs have all diagnosed the diseases afflicting our health system and prescribed the remedies. We know Prime Minister Rudd has read these seven reports because he footnoted them in his 27-page election health policy last year.

If the health system was a patient crippled with pain, it would be wondering this week why it needed the opinion of an eighth specialist and was told to wait another 18 months before getting treatment. A cynic might muse that Rudd is putting off the inevitable increase in spending needed while his Government tries to prove its economic credentials in the May budget.

The problem with waiting to act is that confidence in our health system is eroding as crises emerge daily: public hospitals too busy to care for patients, doctors accused of butchery, and new hospitals with rooms too small for the beds!

Apart from highlighting the incompetence of the Iemma Government, the problems are symptoms of the three issues confronting our health system. The first is a major medical workforce shortage. Twelve million Australians lack adequate access to a GP and we need an extra 2000 doctors to solve the problem. We are training more doctors. Last year 1568 students graduated from university medical courses and by 2012 the number will rise to 2945. But when these extra students leave university, there will not be enough training places for them. All graduates must do a year's internship in a public hospital - but there are currently only 1800 such places funded.

Some of these doctors will want to train to become specialists and there is currently not enough operating theatre time to give them the experience they will need to qualify. It takes 11 to 12 years to train a new doctor, but our health system is in crisis now.

It has long been argued that we should be using our existing workforce more smartly - giving nurses limited prescription rights - the ability to order medical tests - and training them to carry out routine procedures like Pap smears to free up doctors for more complex tasks. For this to work, the Government needs to give nurse practitioners their own provider numbers and Medicare rebates. We shouldn't have to wait 18 months for another committee to tell the Government to act.

Rudd has done a lot in his first 100 days: said "Sorry", signed Kyoto, moved to scrap AWAs, given the states $150 million to clear hospital waiting lists - but he has also set up 25 committees or inquiries. There's a risk that voters who wanted change at the last election will soon be demanding less talk and more action.


Government health department negligence again

"Queensland Health" is a rolling disaster area

A nurse on remote Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait has been raped by an intruder more than a year after the Queensland Government was warned her accommodation and that of others in the region lacked even basic security, putting them at "extreme risk". The Queensland Government ignored the internal report it received in November 2006, despite its authors warning of significant risks to staff "that need to be addressed immediately". Following last month's attack, the 27-year-old victim - who worked alone on the island and had pleaded for improved security - was flown to Cairns where she was admitted to hospital.

The conditions in which nurses, teachers, police and other public servants are expected to live when posted to Cape York and Torres Strait island communities have been the source of constant complaint for more than a decade. The Queensland Nurses Union said yesterday that the state Government had been given a month to get security for all health facilities in the Torres Strait or nurses would withdraw their services.

Queensland Health has repeatedly refused to release the damning report, which has been leaked to The Australian, but in a statement yesterday said it would immediately improve security.

The nurse had been on the island only a few weeks before the attack, which occurred at 3am on February 5. Police subsequently arrested a 22-year-old Mabuiag Island man and charged him with rape and burglary. He appeared in the Torres Strait Island court on February 15 and was remanded in custody. A 17-year-old accomplice was charged with burglary.

The nurse, who was on 24-hour call, had constantly complained to her immediate superiors about the lack of security of her living quarters, which are above the island's medical clinic. She works alone and there is no doctor or police officer on the island, which has about 300 residents.

Mabuiag Island had sought a permanent nurse appointment for years, and the victim of the attack was the first to be given the position. Her colleagues yesterday told The Australian the woman had made repeated complaints about the lack of security and she feared for her safety, but there was no response from Queensland Health.

The nurses were also critical of what they said was a culture of secrecy being maintained by Torres Strait Island administrators and police to not reveal the real truth about violence in the region, particularly against non-indigenous workers.

In November 2006 a report titled Torres Strait Risk Assessments was compiled by Russell Grigg and Bruce Irvine, security managers with the Townsville Health Service District. They inspected all accommodation on all islands and their summary said: "The security risk assessment found that the level of general security afforded to the Torres Strait Health Service District is of a poor standard and exposes Queensland Health staff to extreme risks. "There are some significant risks that need to be addressed immediately to ensure the district meets its obligations under the Workplace, Health and Safety Act 1995, which is to provide a safe working environment for its staff."

The inspection of the nurse accommodation on Mabuiag concluded that the "identified hazard" was "extreme". Its lists of security faults in the premises included poorly maintained doors and locks, no security cameras, inadequate fire systems, no aggressive behaviour management training for staff and inoperable security systems.


Long-overdue reform for trial lawyers

Barristers [trial lawyers] could be out of a job if they continue to ask rape victims intimidating and humiliating questions under rules to come into effect next month. NSW Bar Association president Anna Katzmann SC yesterday pledged that the tough new code to rein in the aggressive cross-examination of victims would be taken seriously. The ultimate sanction for barristers who continue to belittle, mislead or intimidate rape victims in the witness box is to be found guilty of professional misconduct and struck off the barristers' roll.

The rules, which are open for public scrutiny from today, follow pressure from Attorney-General John Hatzistergos in the wake of outrage following the treatment of victims in gang rape trials. In a major cultural change, the rules also oblige barristers to refuse their client's instructions if questions would offend the witness.

Members of the public, as well as those involved in the court case, will be able to lodge complaints with the Bar Association and the Legal Services Commissioner. "We think these rules provide appropriate balance between the interests of vulnerable witnesses and the rights of an accused person to a fair trial," Miss Katzmann said. She said the barristers' ruling body, the Bar Council, could itself initiate a complaint if it was concerned by courtroom behaviour. Prosecutors and defence barristers who specialise in sexual assault trials will have to take part in seminars about the rules, with input from the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.

Manager Karen Willis said the main issue was that the evidence be examined, not the witness ridiculed, undermined and demeaned. "What currently happens is that defence lawyers think the way they should do things is to get the complainant into a position where she is so confused, upset and traumatised that she is incapable of answering questions," Ms Willis said. "Defence lawyers use that to say she is an unreliable witness. This is not examing evidence, it is mistreating a witness. That has to stop." The public has until March 25 to have its say.

It is the latest in a series of reforms, including enshrining consent in the law, that followed The Daily Telegraph's campaign Justice For Women Now. A copy of the proposed rules is at the Bar Association website


Monday, March 03, 2008

Rudd's ideology-blinkered uranium policy irks India

OK to sell uranium to Communist China but not to democratic India?

KEVIN Rudd was lashed yesterday by one of India's most influential foreign affairs commentators over the Prime Minister's ditching of his predecessor's pledge to sell uranium to the emerging economic powerhouse. Brahma Chellaney launched a searing denunciation of Mr Rudd's "abstruse, retrograde ideology" over his reversal of a decision made last year by John Howard to sell uranium to India. Mr Chellaney accused Mr Rudd in The Asian Age newspaper of striking "a jarring note amid a growing convergence of strategic interests" between the two countries.

Under the headline "Rudd's rudderless reversal", Mr Chellaney noted that Mr Rudd was the free world's first Mandarin-speaking head of government, saying he "has made plain his intent to cosy up to the world's largest autocracy, China, while nullifying an important decision that his predecessor took to help build a closer rapport with the world's largest democracy."

The stridency of Mr Chellaney's attack reflects the widespread annoyance at high levels in New Delhi over the Rudd Government's reversal on the uranium issue. The Indian Government was irked when, in January, it sent special prime ministerial envoy Shyam Saran to see Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in Perth and found itself being bluntly told - even though it had not asked - there would be no sale of Australian uranium to India. Indian sources insist Mr Saran was taken aback by the minister's forthright stance as he had gone to Perth only to brief Mr Smith on New Delhi's negotiations with Washington over its civilian nuclear deal and specifically not to ask to buy Australian uranium. "Chellaney is saying what many of us feel about the Rudd Government's pathetic hypocrisy on this issue," one highly-placed official told The Australian yesterday.

The criticism of the Rudd Government is in sharp contrast to the significant strides made in Indo-Australian relations in the Howard years, which are praised by Mr Chellaney. But in overturning the decision to sell uranium to India, Mr Chellaney says, Mr Rudd has been "notably regressive". "Driven by misplaced non-proliferation zealotry, Rudd not only went ahead with cancelling Howard's decision, but his Government also continues to parrot the same lame excuse, as if he has not read the Non-Proliferation Treaty text. "In touting its ideological resolve to uphold the NPT, the Rudd Government wants to be more Catholic than the Pope. Far from the NPT forbidding civil exports to a non-signatory, the treaty indeed encourages the peaceful use of nuclear technology among all states.

"Rudd has no qualms about selling uranium to China but will not export to India, even though the latter is accepting what the former will not brook - stringent, internationally verifiable safeguards against diversion of material to weapons use."

Mr Rudd's office would not be drawn on claims his Government had mishandled Australia's relationship with India. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said only that it remained government policy not to sell uranium to countries who had not signed the NPT. Shadow foreign minister Andrew Robb said the Government's handling of the relationship with India had been "clumsy".


The master of Islamist doublespeak comes to Brisbane

The Swiss Islamic activist Tariq Ramadan has been invited by Griffith University to be the keynote speaker at its conference opening in Brisbane today. The fact that Australia is allowing Ramadan to enter the country at all will raise eyebrows in security circles elsewhere. Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood: the spiritual backers of al-Qa'ida and Hamas and whose goal is to Islamise the world. While it is, of course, unfair to tar someone with his grandfather's views, there is ample reason to think that in the case of Tariq Ramadan the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

Ramadan has been banned from entering the US because of his alleged association with extremists. The Geneva Islamic Centre, with which he is closely associated, has been linked to terrorists of the Algerian FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) and the GIA (Armed Islamic Group). A Spanish police report claimed that Ahmed Brahim, an al-Qa'ida leader jailed in Spain, was "in frequent contact" with Ramadan, a claim he has denied. Yet the Swiss activist has not only been allowed into Britain but is ensconced at St Anthony's College, Oxford as a research fellow and is much lionised by the British establishment, appearing at security seminars on Islamism and even serving as an adviser to the British Government on tackling Islamic extremism.

So how to explain this wild divergence of views about Tariq Ramadan? And does Australia have cause to be concerned? Ramadan's message is highly seductive to a Western world terrified by Islamic radicalism. For Ramadan preaches the comforting message of an unthreatening Islam that can accommodate itself to modernity and to the West. He does so in a charismatic style combining high intellect, a winsome French accent and impossibly hip glamour. To the desperate British establishment, the picture he paints so beguilingly of a way out of the Islamist nightmare has made him into the rock star of the counter-terrorism circuit.

But closer scrutiny of what he actually says - and perhaps even more importantly, does not say - suggests the talented Mr Ramadan is an Islamist wolf in moderniser's clothing. To the Islamic world he says one thing; to credulous Western audiences quite another in language that is slippery, opaque, manipulative and disingenuous. His reputation as a Muslim reformer owes everything to the wishful thinking of those who want so much to believe in him that they fail to grasp what he is really saying.

Partly, this is because much of his work is in French. The writer Caroline Fourest has analysed it and her book, Brother Tariq: the Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan has just been translated from French into English. All who are concerned to halt the spread of radical Islamism should read this book. For it shows without doubt that the poster boy for Islamic reform is in fact one of the most sophisticated proponents of the global jihad.

Ramadan claims he has "no functional connection" with the Muslim Brotherhood. But he was trained at the Leicester Islamic Foundation in England, the controversial institution that propagates the doctrines of the key Islamist ideologues Maulana Maududi and Syed Qutb and which aims to promote "an Islamic social order in Great Britain". And Ramadan has repeatedly said that his grandfather's views have "inspired" him and "there is nothing in this heritage that I reject".

So what is the heritage of Hassan al-Banna? He did not just promote the most reactionary and oppressive Islamic fundamentalism. He also devised a strategy of "graduated conquest" - pursued by the Muslim Brotherhood around the world - by which not only the countries of the former medieval Islamic caliphate, but all countries where Muslims live, are to be gradually Islamised and then taken over by an Islamic government under sharia law. This is the "heritage" Ramadan endorses. The only difference is that he has developed a particularly subtle strategy for seducing the West into embracing Islamist thinking without realising what is happening.

On the issue of terror, he is particularly slippery. Professing to oppose terrorism, he denies that his grandfather had anything to do with jihadi violence. Yet al-Banna explicitly supported the armed jihad which he considered to be the highest and "most sacred" form of holy war. Ramadan claims his grandfather limited this to "legitimate defence" or "resistance in the face of injustice". But this is precisely the weaselly formulation by which Islamists justify the "resistance" of human bomb terrorism in Israel or Iraq.

Behind the honeyed words about reform and tolerance which have entranced his Western fan club, Ramadan has consistently lined himself up with the forces of obscurantism, intolerance, hatred and violence. The first association he set up in 1994, the Muslim Men and Women of Switzerland, promoted confrontation and stirred up tension. He wrote the preface for a compilation of fatwas by the European Council for Fatwa whose president, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has said human bomb operations in Israel and Iraq are a religious duty.

Through his stronghold in the Union of Young Muslims in Lyon, he radicalised thousands of young French Muslims. In 1993, he was involved in a successful attempt in Geneva to stop production of a play by Voltaire on the grounds that it insulted Islam. In a telling exchange with the future French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he refused to condemn stoning to death for adultery, calling merely for a moratorium on this barbaric practice. And all those who oppose him he labels Islamophobes, Jews or Zionists. The desperation to embrace this most devious "reformer" is gravely misplaced. Truly moderate Muslims are undermined and indeed endangered by Ramadan at every turn.

Far from offering a way to modernise Islam, he proposes instead to Islamise modernity. And he is all the more dangerous precisely because his weapon is not a bomb-belt but his tongue. Some may say that, even if his thinking is reactionary, that is no reason to refuse to let him into the country. This naive view ignores the fact that the Islamists' war of civilisation is being conducted principally on the battleground of ideas.

Terrorism merely backs up the Muslim Brotherhood's fundamental strategy of cultural infiltration, incitement, demoralisation and conquest. As Fourest has written, the strategy of Ramadan is to globalise the Islamic awakening that is part of that strategy. In May 2003, the Appeal Court of Lyon agreed that language employed by preachers such as Ramadan "can influence young Muslims and can serve as a factor inciting them to join up with those engaged in violent acts". Wherever he goes, Ramadan is a pied piper leading the young to jihad by his mesmeric tunes. Through his appeal, he is probably the most dangerous Islamist in the Western world.

Thanks to the short-sightedness of the British Government, brother Tariq has been given a platform to radicalise innumerable young Muslims. Does Australia really want to follow suit?


MP warns Islamist on racist messages

A FEDERAL Labor backbencher has warned Muslim thinker Tariq Ramadan, who is banned from entering the US, against advocating Islamic extremism, violence and preaching a duplicitous message while in Australia. Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby urged people attending Professor Ramadan's Brisbane conference today - including the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, Laurie Ferguson - to emphasise Australia's rejection of terrorism. "I just expect that the laws of Australia will be followed and that there will be no breaches of them, which will include racial and religious vilification," Mr Danby said.

He also responded to allegations made by Muslim leader Ameer Ali in The Weekend Australian that it was common among scholars such as Professor Ramadan to alter their messages for different audiences. "We don't accept in this country people saying one thing to please the authorities and another thing privately, or to a segment of the population," Mr Danby said.

Mr Ferguson [a prominent labor unionist and member of the Federal government], who will introduce Professor Ramadan at the Queensland Government-backed Islamic conference, has played down the US ban as an "over the top" measure. The US found the professor donated $940 to humanitarian foundations in Europe which provided money to Hamas. Professor Ramadan said he was not aware of Hamas's terror affiliations [What a crock!] because they were not proscribed at the time.


An inconvenient truth about rising immigration

The article below is from Australian economist Ross Gittins -- who generally leans Left if economic rationality permits. As you see, however, he does more than his fair share of pointing out unpopular truths

JOHN HOWARD never wanted to talk about his booming immigration program. It seems Kevin Rudd's lot doesn't want to either. Why not? Because it just doesn't fit. For Mr Howard, it didn't fit politically. Didn't fit with the xenophobic rhetoric he used to win votes back from Pauline Hanson and to wedge Labor. For Mr Rudd, it doesn't fit with any of his professed economic concerns - about inflation, about mortgage stress and about climate change.

You'd hardly know it, but we're in the biggest immigration surge in our history. According to Rory Robertson of Macquarie Bank, net immigration has exceeded 100,000 a year in 12 of the past 20 years, having exceeded 100,000 only 12 times in the previous two centuries. The Howard government planned for an immigration program of up to 153,000 this financial year, to which you can add a planned intake of 13,000 for humanitarian reasons, and maybe 20,000 New Zealanders. That doesn't count an increase in the number of skilled workers on class 457 "temporary long-stay" visas, nor the growing number of young people on working holiday visas. In his first 100 days, Labor's Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, announced an increase of 6000 in the skilled immigration program for this year, a liberalising of the working holiday visa scheme and a committee to propose ways of making the 457 visa scheme more effective.

The third point in Mr Rudd's five-point plan to fight inflation is to "tackle chronic skills shortages", and part of this is to do so through the immigration program. Clearly, the Government believes high levels of skilled migration will help fill vacancies and thus reduce upward pressure on wages. That's true as far as it goes. But it overlooks an inconvenient truth: immigration adds more to the demand for labour than to its supply. That's because migrant families add to demand, but only the individuals who work add to supply.

Migrant families need food, clothing, shelter and all the other necessities. They also add to the need for social and economic infrastructure: roads, schools, health care and all the rest. Another factor is that their addition to demand comes earlier than their addition to labour supply. Unemployment among recent immigrants is significantly higher than for the labour force generally. Admittedly, the continuing emphasis on skilled immigration - and on the ability to speak English - plus the fact that many immigrants are sponsored by particular employers, should shorten the delay before they start working.

Even so, we still have about a third of the basic immigration program accounted for by people in the family reunion category. You'd expect the proportion of workers in this group to be much lower. So though skilled migration helps reduce upward pressure on wages at a time of widespread labour shortages, immigration's overall effect is to exacerbate our problem that demand is growing faster than supply.

The Rudd Government professes to great concern over worsening housing affordability. First we had a boom in house prices that greatly reduced affordability, and now we have steadily rising mortgage interest rates. The wonder of it is that, despite the deterioration in affordability, house prices are continuing to rise strongly almost everywhere except Sydney's western suburbs.

Why is this happening? Probably because immigrants are adding to the demand for housing, particularly in the capital cities, where they tend to end up. They need somewhere to live and, whether they buy or rent, they're helping to tighten demand relative to supply. It's likely that the greater emphasis on skilled immigrants means more of them are capable of outbidding younger locals. In other words, winding back the immigration program would be an easy way to reduce the upward pressure on house prices.

Finally, there's the effect on climate change. Emissions of greenhouse gases are caused by economic activity, but the bigger your population, the more activity. So the faster your population is growing the faster your emissions grow. Our immigration program is so big it now accounts for more than half the rate of growth in our population. It's obvious that one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce the growth in our emissions - and make our efforts to cut emissions more effective overall - would be to reduce immigration.

Of course, you could argue that, were we to leave more of our immigrants where they were, they'd still be contributing to the emissions of their home country. True. But because people migrate to better their economic circumstances, it's a safe bet they'd be emitting more in prosperous Australia than they were before.

My point is not that all immigration should cease forthwith but, leaving aside the foreigner-fearing prejudices of the great unwashed, the case against immigration is stronger than the rest of us realise - and stronger than it suits any Government to draw attention to.


How queer can you get?

These guys make the Catholics look puritanical

Brisbane's Holy Trinity Anglican Church has been dubbed the "Unholy Trinity" after it was revealed a pedophile, an alleged pedophile and a practising priest with his own seedy past are leading its Sunday services. Following revelations in The Courier-Mail this week that convicted pedophile priest Robert Sharwood, who was released from jail only three months ago, has been allowed to sing in the choir with children, it has now been discovered that Canon Barry Greaves, who will stand trial on child sex charges in August, participates in bible readings.

Their role in the Fortitude Valley church has been approved by the Parish Council, headed by rector Trevor Bulled, who was convicted of indecent behaviour in a public toilet almost 20 years ago. Fr Bulled was stood aside by the Anglican Church in 2001 during an unrelated police investigation after his bluecard was confiscated, but was cleared and reinstated three years later.

When asked to comment this week on the church's decision to allow a convicted pedophile to sing in its choir, Fr Bulled replied: "Most certainly not". He then added that Sharwood was a suitable distance from children. But he refused to respond to ongoing attempts to contact him regarding his own criminal history.

Brisbane Anglican Church Bishop John Parkes defended Holy Trinity this week, claiming the ministry had done an extraordinary job helping the most vulnerable and damaged people in our society. "They're caring for . . . damaged people. I would hate to see the church ever turning its back on anybody, however grievously they've offended," he said. He said there were appropriate safeguards in place to protect the rest of the congregation. Bishop Parkes said he had confidence in Fr Bulled and referred to his past conviction as an "old matter", although conceded it was unfortunate.

But Bravehearts executive director Hetty Johnson said she was "appalled" the three men all had active roles in the church. "It's the 'Unholy Trinity' and a window of what's been going on for generations - they're afforded more time and compassion and forgiveness than the victims," she said. A hearing of the church's professional standards association today will determine whether Sharwood should be defrocked.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Federal cutbacks sacrosanct, says Labor party finance chief

This is better than could be expected from most conservative finance chiefs

The Federal Government remains completely serious about cost-cutting even though resources revenue is likely to continue rising, a senior minister has said. Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner said today the economy generated huge revenues over the last four to five years - which the previous government spent on getting itself re-elected. Consequently, he said, the new Labor government had to deal with a serious inflation problem as well as rising interest rates with the Reserve Bank of Australia tipped to lift interest rates further next week. "It may well be that revenue ends up being stronger that was previously projected," he said on Channel 10. "We can't assume it, we are going to ensure that we do cut into government spending, get rid of wasteful inefficient programs and put serious downward pressure on inflation."

Mr Tanner said it was important to get the message out that the government was going to substantially increase the budget surplus. "We are going to push it higher so that it puts downward pressure on inflation and on interest rates," he said.

Mr Tanner said Australia was not immune from pressure from the United States but was nowhere near as influenced by what happened in the US than once was the case. "The story for our economy is that for the past 4-5 years we have had huge amounts of additional income flowing in mostly from China because of the mining boom," he said. "The former Liberal government, rather than investing or exploiting the proceeds from that huge increase in income by putting it into infrastructure and skills and building our economic capacity for the longterm future of this country, chose to spend that money on trying to get re-elected."

Mr Tanner said the result was a a serious inflation problem. "We have got to reduce government spending overall and redirect spending into things like better skills and more infrastructure so our economic capacity grows and we can absorb that huge increase in income that is coming from the mineral boom," he said.


Justice, NSW style

Accused walk free without trial

Accused criminals walk free every day because of a shortage of police trained in court work. The NSW Police Force's leading Children's Court prosecutor has quit his post in protest, citing an intolerable workload. Senior Sergeant Allan Treadwell had been trying to hold down a supervising prosecutor's role at Parramatta and oversee legal and administrative operations for Sydney's entire south-western sector, senior police sources said.

"It got to the point where he kept telling headquarters it was impossible for him to continue," said a colleague, who asked not to be named. "He was in court every day and then trying to be a full-time paper-shuffler at night and they just kept saying it was tough luck. In the end, he told them to shove it." It is understood Sergeant Treadwell has accepted a lower-profile position at the same rank.

Fairfield prosecutor and NSW Police Association official Frank Reitano said the once steady stream of police recruits keen to work in the court system had simply dried up. Quoted in the union's monthly Police News, Sergeant Reitano said probationary constables working general duties could potentially earn more in allowances than some of his colleagues. Efforts to address the issue had stalled at the top level, he said. As a result, prosecutors were being forced to work under extreme stress, crucial briefs of evidence were not being checked before being presented to magistrates, and problem cases were being withdrawn or thrown out when it was realised there was no time to fix them. "[It] makes us look bad in the eyes of the community, not to mention the upset it causes informants, victims and witnesses," Sergeant Reitano said. "We are doing the best we can with the little that we have."

Senior sources said the prosecutor shortage was the key factor in cases "falling over" and alleged offenders being let off "virtually every day of the week". In tacit recognition of the problem, some magistrates had even begun opening their courts 90 minutes later each morning to give police a last-minute chance to prepare cases.

Opposition police spokesman and former policeman Mike Gallacher said some police officers were cynically referring to themselves as "owner-builders" because they believed the force was only interested in taking criminal prosecutions to the "lock-up stage", rather than seeing them through to the end. Mr Gallacher also said the officer shortage had been highlighted earlier this month, when a prosecutor at far-western Dubbo called in sick, triggering a statewide scramble to replace him for the day. A sergeant was sent from Bathurst because there was no one closer available. Another sergeant then had to be dispatched to Bathurst from Katoomba, and yet another from Penrith to Katoomba.


Insurers cash in on "obesity" hysteria

It's actually people of middling weight who live longest so this is just a scam

A "FAT tax" is being imposed on the obese, with life insurance firms charging at least 50 per cent more on their premiums. The increased charge can be as much as 300 per cent if obese applicants fall into other high-risk health categories, such as being a smoker or having previous medical conditions. All major insurance companies have introduced the policy, according to brokers.

Lifebroker Financial Assurance, Australia's leading online life insurance broker, told The Sunday Telegraph that overweight people should expect to pay higher premiums. Chantelle Pain, insurance consultant with the firm, said: "Some insurers are more lenient than others, but the premium which obese people pay ranges from 50 per cent extra. "Being significantly overweight means you are at greater risk of contracting certain diseases. It is the same as increasing a smoker's premium or someone who has previous medical conditions."

A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more is attracting the price hike. This is assessed when you fill out an application form that requires you to provide your personal details including height and weight. A BMI of 20 to 25 for adults is considered healthy, but some doctors believe a BMI figure may not always be an accurate measure of health, as athletes often have a high weight-to-height due to the muscles built up for their sport.

For a healthy, non-smoking 55-year-old man with no weight problems, life insurance should cost about $1700 a year for $500,000 of cover. If he were obese, the annual premium could cost an extra $850.

While agreeing "there has to be consequences for lifestyle choices", Dr Steve Hambleton, a spokesman for the Australian Medical Association in Queensland, said companies were simply cashing in on the country's obesity crisis. "It seems rather opportunistic of insurers to be adding as much as 50 per cent on simply because someone is obese," he said.


Religious and ethnic ghettoes forming in Melbourne

Migration is helping to bolster non-Christian religious enclaves in some Melbourne suburbs, Census figures show. The concentration of Islamic residents is growing to the city's north, while the number of Buddhists is on the rise in the outer south-east. Traditional areas of Judaism like Caulfield are becoming more Jewish. At the same time, mainstream Christian faiths like Catholics and Anglicans are losing adherents, according to a Herald Sun analysis of 2006 Census data.

About one-third of residents in the northern suburbs of Coolaroo and Meadow Heights are Muslim -- up from a quarter a decade ago. The area is home to large Turkish and Iraqi communities. Broadmeadows also has a big Islamic population -- 28.3 per cent, up from 21 per cent in 1996.

The suburb with the biggest concentration of residents from a non-Christian religion is Caulfield North, with 43.6 per cent identifying as Jewish in the last Census. The figure a decade ago was 39 per cent. In neighbouring Caulfield and Caulfield South, the Jewish population is 39 per cent.

For the Orthodox Jewish Marom family, who migrated from Israel via New Zealand, Caulfield has always felt like home. "I like going around the streets and seeing other Jews around," said Nitza Marom. "I like the middle-class feel . . . it's a beautiful place, close to the beach, close to the city."

But in Springvale, Buddhists are making their presence felt, with the proportion jumping from 17.2 per cent in 1996 to almost one-in-three now. This reflects the substantial Vietnamese and Cambodian communities in the suburb.

Conversely, the big Christian churches are losing ground. Greenvale has a Catholic population of 55.9 per cent, but the figure has dropped by almost 5 per cent since 2001. Mt Eliza is the top Anglican suburb with 26.1 per cent, down from 30.4 per cent a decade ago. At the last Census, 27.5 per cent of Victorians identified as Catholics, followed by Anglicans (13.6 per cent), and Uniting Church members (5.6 per cent). Buddhists comprised 2.7 per cent of the population and Muslims 2.2 per cent. One in five Victorians had no religion.


A happy day for Brisbane

I have often attended a Christmas service at St. John's. It is a truly magical place. The sermons are just fluff, though

Brisbane's St. John's Cathedral is now 17m closer to heaven after two copper spires were lifted on to its roof. Each weighed more than nine tonnes and crowds packed Anne Street and nearby Cathedral Square to watch as cranes fitted the spires. Bishop of Brisbane John Parks said it was an "extraordinary moment", bringing construction of the Gothic cathedral one step closer to completion. "We began building the cathedral in 1906 and almost 102 years later we're in the process of finishing it. We will have it done by the end of the year," he said.

St John's is believed to be the only stone-vaulted building in the southern hemisphere and the last Gothic cathedral to be completed in the world. More than $3.95 million had been raised for the facelift since 1989, with another $3million still needed. "There are some people who have given us more than a $1million of their own money and some who have given $10 because it's all they can afford," Bishop Parks said. "There have been a mountain of people who have contributed and I'm grateful to each and every one of them."

He said the revamp had spiked a "huge" amount of interest. "Since we've had that western door open, we've found people wander in off the street and our congregation has grown, strongly," he said.

Construction is set to be completed by December 1. "It will be a pretty special Christmas, indeed," Bishop Parks said.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Secretive government railway

There are clearly some big nasties being covered up. Don't travel on a NSW train. You too could be involved in another "Granville" disaster

The NSW Ombudsman has released a scathing report into RailCorp's refusal to release documents about rail safety and replacement of old carriages even though the Ombudsman says release of the documents is clearly in the public interest. RailCorp has blocked access to the documents for more than three years. The Ombudsman's report says RailCorp's behaviour "may be indicative of a broader systemic failure to properly determine freedom of information applications by journalists".

Even though the applications for documents were made in 2004 and 2005, and much of the information is now of historical interest only, RailCorp is still refusing to abide by the Ombudsman's recommendations and release the documents.

The report criticises RailCorp for the excessive delays and says the Minister for Transport, John Watkins, refused an invitation last year to speak with the Ombudsman about the report.

Both FoI requests were made by the Herald: one for documents involving the decision in 2004 to buy 498 new rail carriages and the other for technical reports about the risks of the Goulburn Street car park in the city and the Hurstville SupaCentre collapsing on train lines.

The Ombudsman spent two years negotiating with RailCorp and arguing there was nothing sensitive about many of the rail carriage documents RailCorp would not release. Although RailCorp eventually released some documents, it refused access to many others including such apparently innocuous ones as those dealing with "design of passenger windows on future rolling stock". The Ombudsman was bewildered: "We could not see any consistency as to why some documents were released but not others." ... "RailCorp has not provided any compelling reasons why such confidentiality should be maintained years after the documents came into existence."

The Ombudsman was equally critical of RailCorp's refusal to release to the Herald's former state political editor Anne Davies its risk assessments and other documents about what could happen if a train derailed and hit the piers supporting buildings constructed above train tracks.

RailCorp has argued commuters may lose confidence in CityRail if they knew of the risks, including the numbers who might die, and that CityRail would lose revenue as a result. Even though RailCorp has admitted to risks associated with some buildings above rail tracks, and announced steps to reduce risks of them collapsing, it still refuses to release the technical reports. It has also claimed that the reports might be of use to terrorists planning an attack.

The Ombudsman's report dismisses these arguments. "In our opinion it is very much in the public interest to know that obvious or known risks have been reduced and this interest is not outweighed by a mere theoretical possibility that this kind of information could somehow be used in an engineered attack." The Ombudsman makes four separate findings of "unreasonable" conduct by RailCorp and recommends RailCorp release further documents. RailCorp has already said it will not do so. A RailCorp spokeswoman said it was considering the Ombudsman's findings.


Rudd says No to intellectual Left agenda

Kevin Rudd has assured mainstream Australia he will avoid radical social and cultural change by resisting calls to broaden his reform agenda and by sticking to his election promises. The Prime Minister warned that people had "elected the wrong guy" if they believed that once he was in power he would unveil a secret left-wing reform agenda or suddenly yield to pressure from sectional interests.

Calling for people to move beyond "the classical Right-Left divide", Mr Rudd said he had been upfront about his election promises and would focus on delivering them in full. "There's nothing terribly complicated about me," Mr Rudd said. "If you obtain the people's support, that's what you go ahead and do."

The Prime Minister made the comments in an interview with The Weekend Australian to mark Monday's passage of 100 days since he was elected. He also said he had no interest in debating whether the private sector should be contracted to deliver government services, and foreshadowed plans to engage the private sector in his fight to improve the lives of indigenous Australians.

He said that despite the threat to the economy of inflation, he would deliver his promised $31 billion tax-cut plan in full. And despite Opposition warnings of a possible wages breakout, he would also rewrite industrial relations laws as planned.

Mr Rudd will celebrate his 100-day landmark still riding a wave of public support for his formal apology to the indigenous Stolen Generations and his ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The latest Newspoll survey for The Australian, published last week, gave him a record preferred prime minister rating of 70 per cent.

In the lead-up to the election, the Coalition warned voters that Mr Rudd would be a captive of trade union leaders, state Labor governments and sectional interests, and that his pre-election claims of economic conservatism would quickly disappear after he was elected. The Prime Minister also faces a growing clamour from the Left for wider reform outside the promises he made in last year's election campaign. A collection of 20 essays written by academics and thinkers released last week and edited by Robert Manne calls for Mr Rudd to "resume the conversation between public intellectuals and government". The essays urge him to consider some politically risky moves such as scrapping 99-year leases on indigenous land, overhauling negative gearing, limiting first-home buyers' grants and introducing punitive laws on electricity generation and car emissions.

Yesterday Mr Rudd said he had no secret plans and gave short shrift to the wish list. "I think they might have elected the wrong guy," Mr Rudd said. The Prime Minister said he was not worried that his approach would alienate the left wing of the labour movement, stressing that politics had moved "beyond the classical Left-Right paradigm". "It just doesn't apply to the politics of the future," Mr Rudd said. "It's time to put some of these classical, and I think arcane, divides behind us."

Mr Rudd, whose wife, Therese Rein, built a successful job-placement company by delivering Job Network services for the previous Howard government, said the quality of government service was more important than the delivery mechanism. Citing the example of his election promise to lift indigenous life expectancy and literacy standards, Mr Rudd said: "It's not who provides services to indigenous communities, it's who most effectively provides those services to deliver what isthe agreed national set of policy outcomes. "That's where the real debate is. It's not in debates about public or private ownership or classical divides between Left and Right. The key thing here is to have a clearly defined set of objectives for the nation. Then the legitimate intellectual and policy debate for the country, given that we've been elected, is how we best reach those objectives."

The Prime Minister said the high point of his first 100 days was the fact that he could "look the Australian people in the eye" and declare he was keeping his election promises, such as the Kyoto ratification and the indigenous apology. "Why I say that is a high point is that the public have become exceptionally cynical about 'core promises and non-core promises'," he said, referring to his predecessor, John Howard. "I think we have to work incredibly hard, therefore, in order to maintain the public's trust in order to do the things you will need to do into the future."

The low point of his first three months had been the assassination attempt on East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta - a close friend.

Mr Rudd said he was surprised by the strong national and international reaction to his apology to the Stolen Generations. But he would not be truly satisfied unless he followed the apology with real improvements in indigenous health and education standards. "I am also acutely conscious of the fact that to get effective local community buy-in, we're going to end up with hundreds of different solutions on the ground across the 400 remote Aboriginal communities across the country," he said. "But the ultimate policy effectiveness will be measured against the targets we've set."


Police thugs in Victoria

The assault of an armed robbery suspect by three detectives, which was captured on secret video surveillance, had been a one-off incident totally out of character, their lawyer claimed yesterday. The footage recorded by corruption investigators was shown to the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday following guilty pleas to assault charges from Robert Dabb, Mark Butterfield and Matthew Franc. Defence barrister Paul Holdenson QC said the three had already paid a high price for the assault on May 10, 2006, losing the careers they "lived for and loved". He said both the prosecution and defence would be submitting that the three should not be sent to jail. The hearing was adjourned to March 12.

Mr Holdenson said the suspect was believed to have been responsible for two violent jewellery store robberies in which shots had been fired, and the detectives were eager to locate the gun so that 'it not be used again by someone else". He said Dabb, 36, had suffered depression since resigning and was living on a disability pension. Butterfield, 38, was working as a builder's labourer on a "substantial reduction in income" and Franc, 38, was driving a delivery truck.

Prosecutor Michael Tinney said the suspect was repeatedly assaulted after being arrested by detectives from the now disbanded Armed Offenders Squad. The assault was captured on a camera installed by the Office of Police Integrity, which was investigating complaints against the unit.

The hearing was told that Butterfield threw the suspect off his chair and then assaulted him. Later, after the suspect complained he had not been allowed to make a call, Dabb hit him over the head with a telephone and said "Here's ya f**king phone call", Mr Tinney said.


Exodus from Australia's state schools

Note: The figures below cover primary and secondary schools combined. The flight to private schools is much greater at the High School level

The exodus from Australia's battling state schools has grown, with more parents sending their children to Catholic and independent schools. Official figures released yesterday showed 66.4% of the nation's 3.4 million full-time students were at government schools last year, falling from 66.8% a year earlier and 70% in 1997. In Victoria, which has the second highest proportion of students in non-government schools after the ACT, just over 35% of students, or 297,970, now go to non-government schools, compared to 262,948 a decade ago.

While the proportion of Australian students attending government schools fell, the state school student population rose 1.7% to 2,268,377 in the decade. But their growth was dwarfed by the performance of non-government schools, where enrolments rose almost 22%.

The figures are given in the Schools Australia report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The snapshot of the education system also showed that while there was a jump in teacher numbers over the past decade, much of the growth was in non-government schools, where the number of full-time teachers grew by almost 38% from 1997, compared with 10.5% in government schools. In Victoria, the number of teachers in non-government schools grew 33.1% in the decade to 2007, while the government school teacher population increased by just 14%....

The figures released yesterday reignited debate about the cause and effect of the drift to non-government schools as the Federal Government stood by the contentious funding model inherited from the former government. The funding formula, known as the SES model, measures a school's need according to the socioeconomic status of families who attend....

Nationally, retention rates of full-time students from year 7/8 to year 12 rose slightly, from 71.8% in 1997 to 74.3% last year. Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard said there was still a long way to go to get the retention rates to 85% by 2015 and 90% by 2020 - targets nominated by the Labor Government.

The annual Schools Australia report also showed [that] A greater proportion of teachers were female, with a 3.5% increase since 1997. Last year 68.7% were female compared to 65% a decade ago.

State opposition education minister Martin Dixon said what was of most concern was the numerical drop of students in Victorian state schools, from just over 536,000 in 2006 to 535,800 last year. "People are voting with their feet and going to what they think are better schools."


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