Tuesday, March 31, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks that the new antibiker laws in NSW are a stupid kneejerk reaction that will make criminals out of a lot of innocent people. Similar laws are planned in other States.

Paternalism harms rather than helps blacks

Just giving them dole money without restriction was disastrous too. Cutting off the dole altogether and just providing soup kitchens is the one thing that might work

The Sunrise Health Service covers 112,000 square kilometres of the Northern Territory east of Katherine and is at the frontline in dealing with the health parts of the intervention. All but one community within its area are subject to the intervention's measures, including welfare quarantining.

Sunrise has compared data collected before and since the intervention and the results are dispiriting. Anaemia is an iron deficiency that leads to poor growth and development, and as such is an indicator for the general health of children. Since the intervention, anaemia rates in the area have jumped significantly. In the six months to December 2006, 20 per cent of children were anaemic. A year later the figure had increased to 36 per cent, and by June last year it had reached 55 per cent, where it stayed in the last six months of 2008. Now, more than half the area's children face big threats to their physical and mental development. In two years, 18 months of which was under the intervention, the anaemia rate nearly trebled.

There is also a worrying rise in low birth weight among babies. In the six months leading up to the intervention, 9 per cent of children had low birth weights. This rose to 12 per cent in December 2007, and to 18 per cent six months later. By the end of last year, it was 19 per cent, double the figure at the start of the intervention.

Since compulsory income management of welfare payments began in the region in late 2007, there have been documented instances when it affected people's capacity to buy food. This included diabetics, who with no local store access were unable to access food for weeks at a time. Their response to this situation was to sleep until food became available.

Income management has not reduced alcohol or drug consumption - indeed, alcohol restrictions on prescribed communities has merely shifted the problems to larger towns or bush camps. And it has not stopped "humbug" or the conversion of Basic Card purchases into cash for grog. There is also no evidence that it has increased the consumption of fresh food among Aboriginal families, which is vital to fighting anaemia.

There was strong agreement about the need to protect women and children from violence and to improve the socioeconomic position of Aboriginal families between those who designed and welcomed the intervention and those who questioned its methods. The key criticism from those of us asking questions was why all the evidence of what is known to work to make communities safer and to improve education and health was ignored in favour of expensive, untried, top-down, heavy-handed policy approaches.

On Friday, the Government is expected to endorse the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, along with the national apology to the stolen generations, another symbolic shift from the Howard government's indigenous policy. But there are still striking similarities between the practical approaches of the former government and the present. Nowhere is that clearer than the continuation of the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, the right to appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the right to seek redress under the Northern Territory anti-discrimination legislation.

The suspension of the right to seek redress have left those people subject to welfare quarantining with no avenues of complaint if they feel unfairly treated. And there are more reasons to be concerned about continuation of the intervention without reflection on what is working and what is not.

While the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, has said she is relying on conversations with some people about the need to continue without reviewing the policy, the evidence on the ground - like that from Sunrise - suggests it is time for the Government to seriously rethink the mechanisms it is using in the Northern Territory, especially around welfare quarantining.

There are two challenges for the Government over its indigenous policy. The first is to make it compliant with the standards it supports in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The second is to make real its promise that it will be led by the evidence of what works rather than ideologies that don't. Both challenges will lead to more positive steps to addressing the socioeconomic disparity experienced by Aboriginal communities and the issues of protecting women and children that has been the justification of the intervention.


Melbourne public hospital lied over waiting lists

THE Royal Women's Hospital has been systematically lying about its surgery waiting list for almost a decade, says a damning report that has forced the Government to overhaul Victoria's hospital funding system. Health Minister Daniel Andrews yesterday apologised to patients who waited months longer for surgery than the Women's has claimed since the late 1990s. He said an independent audit — commissioned after The Age earlier this month revealed the hospital had incorrectly reported data to the Government — confirmed the creation of a "second waiting list" that was disguising the hospital's real performance.

About 180 patients waiting for semi-urgent surgery every year waited an average of 95 days longer than the hospital was reporting, the audit found. This occurred in the context of inadequate scrutiny at the executive level. The finding comes after The Age revealed allegations last May that hospitals were manipulating data to meet benchmarks for bonus funding. Mr Andrews consistently denied the practice was taking place and refused to investigate.

In response to the audit's finding, Mr Andrews yesterday announced that:

* A long-standing $40 million bonus funding pool used to reward hospital performance would be scrapped.

* Six hospitals would be audited without warning every year.

* Patients would be notified in writing if their waiting-list status changed, so they could challenge any discrepancies.

Mr Andrews said he was furious about the audit results and put all Victorian hospital boards on notice that data manipulation was unacceptable. "Health services are accountable for their data and there is an expectation that they record and report it accurately," he said.

The audit of the Royal Women's Hospital found that although staff spoke of "two waiting lists" in front of senior and executive management, executives claimed they knew nothing of it. A "data-entry instruction sheet" revealed that when patients neared a benchmark for how long they should wait, they were put on a secret list, which effectively stopped the clock.

The Government rewards most hospitals with bonus funding if they meet performance benchmarks, but the Royal Women's is not on this list. Mr Andrews said it had previously been on the list and that data manipulation appeared to be a long-standing practice potentially motivated by the incentives. He said he had appointed a delegate to the board of the Royal Women's to ensure the fraud was eliminated. The secretary of the Department of Human Services had received the report and would take legal advice on what action could be taken against those involved, he said.

Royal Women's chief executive Dale Fisher said she had ordered a clinical review to establish whether patient care was affected by the list rorting. She said that, "on the face of it", there was no effect on patients because the list manipulation did not change the booking date of an operation, only the report of the patient's waiting time. "The people got treated at the next available opportunity," she said.

But Ms Fisher admitted it might have hurt the hospital's gynaecological department. "That's one of the disappointing things … that it did compromise our view of demand in gynaecology," she said. "We could have strategically allocated more resources." She said "appropriate disciplinary action" would be taken against staff involved in the practice. This could range from counselling to sacking — but no one had yet lost their job.

Ms Fisher defended her management of the hospital, saying there was no reason the executive team would have spotted the practice, because it was designed to "iron out" the kinds of peaks and troughs that drew management attention. "I am pleased that we found the problem and fixed the problem," she said.

But Ms Fisher said she may never have realised the seriousness of the issue if it was not for a report in The Age this month about waiting-list fraud in unnamed hospitals — a month after she knew about the list problem at her own hospital. "When I found this … I viewed it as a management problem that we needed to fix. The level of seriousness was raised as a result of that article … It was the issue of possible fraud (that) raised the level of seriousness." The hospital will centralise training of staff to get greater control over data reporting, and its internal auditors have been asked "to make sure we're not missing anything else".

The Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Doug Travis, welcomed the decision to scrap the bonus pool, saying it would allow hospitals to focus on patient care. "There has been a culture in Victorian hospitals to hit your (key performance indicators) no matter what," he said. "Our community needs to be assured that hospital funds and resources are directed where they are needed."

Shadow health minister Helen Shardey said the Government's response was inadequate because six random audits a year would allow a major hospital to go three years without being audited. "There should be an immediate independent audit of all hospital waiting lists," she said.


Military not ready for war as fighter jets, choppers and submarines unfit for frontline

BILLIONS of dollars of fighter jets, warships and military equipment cannot be used in their current state because they would be too vulnerable to enemy fire. A critical lack of upgraded weaponry has left the Australian Defence Force unable to deploy most of its frontline fighters or warships at short notice against any enemy with modern air defence systems or anti-ship missiles.

An investigation by The Australian reveals much of the ADF's most powerful weaponry is awaiting upgrades or promised replacements and is useful only for training purposes or deployment on operations where there is little or no risk of high-level conflict. As such, the ADF, which receives $22 billion in taxpayer funds each year, cannot conduct any high-level operations without substantial support from coalition forces such as the US.

Former Defence official Allan Behm said: "I think the public would be absolutely astonished and gobsmacked to think we spend so much on defence every year and yet we can't send much of it into harm's way because it won't work or it will not survive in a contest."

Defence experts say none of the RAAF's soon-to-be-retired F-111 strike bombers nor the majority of the 71 F/A-18 Hornet fighters can be used against modern air defences because they lack sufficient electronic protection.

Similarly, they say the navy's eight Anzac frigates cannot be sent into a hotly contested war zone because of a lack of defensive weaponry, while the four other frigates, the FFGs, are still unavailable after a bungled and delayed $1.5 billion upgrade.

Experts say the problem reflects a litany of delayed equipment upgrades as well as a Defence Department mindset that focuses more heavily on future purchases than on current operations. They say the proper balance between current and future defence needs has been lost. Daniel Cotterill, former chief of staff for Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, told The Australian: "There is a bias within Defence towards investing in the future force rather than giving government the fully functioning options they really need today."

The Government is in the final stages of preparing a Defence white paper that will outline a multi-billion-dollar shopping list of new planes, ships and hi-tech weaponry. But the ADF is in a parlous state of readiness for serious conflict.

A deficiency in anti-submarine warfare capabilities means the navy would be unlikely to risk sending surface ships into zones where enemy subs were present. Andrew Davies, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said: "Our ability to actively search for submarines is very limited to short-range technologies and we have little or no ability to successfully fire a weapon at a modern submarine." Only half of the six-boat Collins-Class submarine fleet is available and a shortage of crew would make it impossible to sustain operations for long.

The army cannot deploy any of its 33 Blackhawk helicopters into warzones, including Afghanistan, because they remain vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles. It is also considered unlikely to deploy its M113 armoured personnel carriers because, despite receiving a $500 million upgrade, the M113s are considered vulnerable to large improvised explosive devices, such as those used by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Experts say the Government needs to pressure the ADF to make its existing equipment more operationally effective rather than wait for future replacements.


Keystone Keelty should be fired

FEDERAL Police Commissioner Mick Keelty can duck an issue better than George Bush dodges flying shoes. According to Keelty, the security at an airport where a man was bludgeoned to death last week - in full public view and for many minutes - was "acceptable". You wouldn't use that line at the Comedy Festival. The crime shocked the nation, but the arrogant Keelty seemed pretty relaxed about it.

He has now caught the attention of a few people who want him sacked, a call I have been making for more than a year. Keelty's Keystone moments are too many to mention.

Last year he called for undemocratic restrictions on the reporting of terror-related cases, evidence that he does not appreciate the instruments of the democracy he is paid to protect.

Later, AFP officers were reported to have called the panicking family of Melbourne backpacker Britt Lapthorne, missing in Croatia, aggressively instructing them on how they should behave.

They should "tone down" their language, "ignore the media" and "think of the bigger picture". The dignified parents of the doomed Lapthorne wouldn't have said to Keelty's men what most would.

Young Scott Rush will be shot dead in Indonesia soon for trying to import heroin from Indonesia to Australia. But Scott's dad had a lawyer call a mate attached to the AFP to see if the boy could be stopped at the airport. Instead, the AFP passed on Scott's details to their Indonesian counterparts and he strolled beneath the sign that read "Departures" and on to his grim fate.

Under Keelty, the AFP made fools of themselves - and Australia - by pursuing a suburban doctor, Muhamed Haneef, who someone clearly believed to be a terrorist.

Upwards of $7.5 million was wasted as the AFP had 250 officers on the case, assisted by 225 Queensland police, 97 interstate coppers, six Customs staff, six translators, four officers from other forces and two British police.

If Haneef is a terrorist, and 600 investigators missed their man, Keelty should be sacked. If he is a harmless doctor and we spent all that money trying to prove otherwise, Keelty should be sacked. Keelty should be sacked.


Monday, March 30, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says that was mainly the young and the foolish who observed earth hour

This is pretty disgraceful: Man imprisoned on such weak evidence that it did not even go to trial

These police "taskforces" seem to let their task go to their heads and think that suspicion alone is enough to imprison someone. One is reminded of the AFP's chaotic and dishonestly-handled Haneef case

An alleged Melbourne gangland figure has been cleared of a charge of murder. Police alleged Angelo Venditti, 43, of Aspendale Gardens, hired slain hitman Andrew "Benji'' Veniamin and another man to carry out the contract killing of drug dealer Paul Kallipolitis in 2002.

Senior Crown prosecutor Geoffrey Horgan SC today requested the charge against Mr Venditti be struck out during his committal hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

Outside court, Mr Venditti said he was "ecstatic''. Reading from a prepared statement, he said the day marked an end to a traumatic time in his life. "As a result of being charged by the Purana taskforce with murder, a crime I did not commit, I spent five months in a maximum security jail, endured emotional and physical hardship and have incurred significant financial loss,'' Mr Venditti said.

It emerged during Mr Venditti's bail hearing in December that new AFL Richmond Tigers recruit and former West Coast Eagles player Ben Cousins was an acquaintance of the accused.

Mr Venditti asked that his privacy and that of his friends and family now be respected. "Including my good friend Ben Cousins who was exposed to smear and innuendo that was both untrue and unfair,'' he said. "He should be allowed to continue with his rehabilitation off the field and his brilliance on it.'' Mr Venditti also thanked his legal team.


Rudd on the road to disaster

DURING the 1979 oil shock, the great French political scientist Raymond Aron noted that in crises, governments usually had little to fear from Oppositions but everything to fear from themselves. Only rarely did governments display the intellectual rigour to adapt to the new circumstances. Their tendency, catastrophically evident in the presidency of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, was to retain commitments that were even more economically costly than when first made. Emerging difficulties then led to half-baked populism, with all its long-term costs.

Kevin Rudd could teach Giscard d'Estaing a thing or two. Rudd's errors are not merely the odd concession to economic folly, they go to the core of our economic prospects.

How can one justify reducing labour market flexibility when it will determine whether millions of Australians are condemned to unemployment? Rudd is fond of quoting Olivier Blanchard, the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. Only a few years ago, Blanchard found that unfair dismissal laws increased the duration and severity of unemployment, in a result confirmed by a vast empirical literature.

How can one justify an emissions trading scheme that imposes large costs for purely symbolic benefits? Originally, the Government, adopting Churchillian tones, portrayed those costs as the white man's burden. That wore thin, not least because Rudd and Penny Wong look less like heroes than like dentists who might convince us to sit in the chair, but not to seek certain death on the barricades. Predictably, the replacement rhetoric was that the scheme wouldn't hurt a bit. Now the scheme's defenders are reduced to saying it could be worse.

As for the national broadband network, the Government seems intent on making its predecessor's policies look good, a feat I considered to be beyond human ingenuity.

The Coalition merely wasted time and money. This Government seems determined to wreck the network we have. Stephen Conroy is poised to try what no country has seriously contemplated: undertaking a complete revamp of the incumbent's network against the incumbent's active opposition. This involves huge costs and risks for users, especially in country areas, for Telstra's shareholders, and for taxpayers, who will bear the project's inevitable and mounting losses. If the Government doesn't like Telstra, so be it. But if it wants to level the Telstra house to the ground while building a house of its own on remnants, then the honest course of action would be to buy back Telstra. Anything else breaks faith with millions of Telstra shareholders, endangers service quality and places an unconscionable burden on taxpayers.

The NBN is only the largest of the Government's ill-conceived ventures. Rather than pursuing genuine regulatory reform, which would remove disincentives to invest in infrastructure, the Government's Building Australia Fund is allocating billions of dollars to projects that would likely fail any serious cost-benefit analysis.

As for the Government's car plan, the only hope is that the US industry will collapse before it can get its hands on Australian taxpayers' hard-earned dollars.

Finally, debate will continue about whether the stimulus packages were justified but there can be no debate about whether the associated spending programs make sense. They don't. The principle that taxpayers' funds should be used only where the benefits outweigh the costs has been ignored.

Consider this. The funding for schools specifically prohibits money being used to install air-conditioning. Yet many studies reveal that intense, prolonged heat reduces learning productivity. As a result, school halls will be repainted while education continues to suffer.

Ultimately, all government spending must be paid for from taxes that have high economic costs. To claim that Keynesian multipliers create magic puddings that can make this all come good is nonsense on stilts. A dollar misspent is a dollar misspent, and reduces incomes by at least that amount. The employment "created" by that dollar, when it could have been used for more worthwhile alternatives, is part of the waste, not a benefit. The quality of public expenditure is therefore crucial and on this count alone the Government's record is distressingly poor.

Lack of transparency makes the Government's record all the poorer. John Faulkner promised full disclosure. In fact, disclosure has been pitifully inadequate. Access to the modelling underpinning FuelWatch: refused. Access to the model used to evaluate the ETS: refused. Access to the cost-benefit studies underpinning the NBN: refused. Access to the Building Australia Fund's project appraisals: refused. Access to the Treasury's assessment of alternative stimulus packages: refused.

This makes a mockery of democracy, whose virtue, as the historian and philosopher R.G. Collingwood argued, lies in forcing governments to operate "in the open air, and not as a post office distributing ready-made policies to a passively receptive country". This Government seemed full of policy wonks who would bring a fresh breath of serious expertise. Unfortunately, it has proven far more adept at politics than at policy. Roosevelt too won many elections, but he did so by schemes that prolonged the Depression. And some of those schemes, such as the introduction of massive farm subsidies, imposed huge, enduring costs on the world economy.

Luckily, Australia is too small to do the world much harm. But history shows we have a rare genius for hurting ourselves. And there is no surer way of doing so than through public policies that are poorly conceived and wasteful. Rudd and Wayne Swan know that: it's time they acted on it.


Logan Hospital staff quit after government ignores complaints

ONE of Queensland's busiest public hospitals has lost five of its most senior doctors and managers, with no signs of them being replaced. Logan Hospital has been seconding staff from other public hospitals in Brisbane to cover the shortfall of experienced medical staff.

Deputy Premier and new Health Minister Paul Lucas confirmed the worrying turnover, but noted that three of the staff remained within Queensland Health at other hospitals.

Mr Lucas will today begin a two-month "health listening tour" across the state to "see first-hand the challenges facing the health network". Acknowledging major problems at Logan Hospital, Mr Lucas said the Government had to do more - something it promised during and after its successful election campaign. "Senior doctors are often harder to recruit and retain, and I'll be listening to the thoughts of medical professionals about how best to retain expert staff on my statewide listening tour," he said yesterday.

The Sunday Mail first highlighted problems at Logan Hospital last May in a frank open letter from Dr Michael Cameron, then the senior staff specialist in emergency medicine at Logan Hospital. Five months after being asked to talk to Premier Anna Bligh and then health minister Stephen Robertson about the issues Dr Cameron left Logan, saying it was "too dangerous and too dysfunctional". "Everyone is overworked and overwhelmed ... the pressure definitely got on top of me," Dr Cameron said last September.

He stayed with Queensland Health, but took his emergency skills to the newer Redland Hospital in January. Dr Cameron's position at Logan Hospital had not been filled as of last week. Sources said the director of emergency services had also left Logan Hospital last month to take up an identical position at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. Three other senior staff had resigned in the past year because of the workload and pressure. Sources said Queensland Health had moved doctors in from around southeast Queensland hospitals to fill the gaps.

"Logan has degenerated even further," a senior public hospital doctor told The Sunday Mail last week. "They have got major problems there. Lucas has got an uphill battle."

The Minister - handed the poisoned chalice by Ms Bligh last week - said more people would be put into frontline services. "Queensland Health tells me that since 2005, we've hired an extra 100 doctors for Logan Hospital and almost 220 extra nurses - an increase of 66 per cent and 41 per cent respectively in less than four years," said Mr Lucas, who kicks off his tour with a visit to Dr Cameron's Redland Hospital.

"I know Dr Cameron is very highly thought of and I am very keen to meet him and to understand his perspectives on the health system. "Dr Cameron is one of more than 6600 doctors employed by Queensland Health, and I'm undertaking this tour to see what's happening on the ground, and speak to professionals like him and others right across the health network."

Mr Lucas said he would visit hospitals in Cairns, Townsville and southeast Queensland this week. He also promised to visit health facilities on the Torres Strait islands to ensure repair work on sub-standard nursing accommodation had been completed. Mr Robertson was stripped of his responsibilities during the election campaign after it emerged that the housing had not been fixed. He was ultimately banished from the Health portfolio.

"I want to see every part of our health system at work - from the kitchens, to the wards, to our emergency departments and doctors out there delivering services in the community," Mr Lucas said. "Health impacts on many aspects of people's lives and I'm determined to see what's happening on the frontline and how we can improve the services Queensland Health delivers." Mr Lucas said he would also visit a hospital emergency department in action during a peak period.

Dr Cameron said he would be keen to help the new Bligh Government health regime. He said he was enjoying work under different conditions in Redland Hospital.


Melbourne Catholic Church embraces testing to ID gay priests

THE Melbourne Catholic Church has embraced a Vatican recommendation to test potential priests for sexual orientation. Under the guidelines, potential priests who "appear" to be gay must be banned. The head of the Vatican committee that made the recommendations has made it clear celibate gays should also be banned because homosexuality is ‘‘a type of deviation’’.

Archdiocese of Melbourne spokesman James O’Farrell confirmed Carlton’s Corpus Christi Catholic seminary had started adhering to the guidelines, but refused to comment further.

Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby spokeswoman Hayley Conway said the church was sending a ‘‘dangerous and offensive’’ message about sexuality. ‘‘They seem to be moving backwards in a lot of ways which is really unfortunate . . . especially for those who are Catholic and out, and there are a lot of them already struggling,’’ she said. ‘‘If the plan is to root out pedophilia or child molestation, targeting people with homosexual tendencies isn’t the way to go about it.’’

Outspoken Catholic priest Father Bob Maguire said the document ‘‘flies in the face of secular society’s sense of fairness and justice’’. ‘‘The point is not to what gender you are attracted, but how you manage that attraction,’’ he said. [Since it seems to have been badly managed in the past, surely it is best not to have that problem in the first place. Frustrated homosexual would-be priests could easily become Anglicans, where they would find many "friends" and plenty of gorgeous eucharistic services, complete with bells, smells and elaborate vestments]


Sunday, March 29, 2009

'Extinct' possums back from the dead

There are MILLIONS of possums in Australia and New Zealand. "Brushtail" possums commonly live in the roof spaces of older houses in Brisbane, where they make a considerable racket. It is hard to imagine how noisy such small animals can be. They sound like a thundering herd of elephants when they run about on my ceiling at times. Visitors from South are often greatly alarmed by the noise they make there and look dubious when you tell them that it is "just possums". Most Brisbane people are used to them, however. Nonetheless possum removal experts do a good trade. The fact that the slightly different species described below is so rare almost certainly indicates that it has been out-competed by the more adaptable common "brushtail" species and was headed for extinction anyway.

Although they are only about the size of a small cat, Australia's possums (a different but related species to the American opossum) are remarkably fearless of humans, which is rather endearing and gives rise to the Australia expression of "Stir the possum". If you disturb them they will often snap back rather than run away. That fearlessness is probably bad for them in New Zealand, however. New Zealanders hate them and do all they can to kill them. The fact that there are probably more possums in New Zealand than there are people might have something to do with that. But I certainly enjoy it when I am having an evening meal on my verandah and a possum comes strolling past along the telecoms cable that runs above the street in front of my house. They are remarkably confident little animals and seem to do a high wire act with total ease

And I can vouch for the fact that Australia's "brushtail" possums are marsupials. I got quite a clear view of the marsupium of a female possum while sitting at my dinner table recently. There is a mulberry tree that abuts onto my verandah and possums often leap about in it quite unconcerned about the nearby human presence. It is always a great pleasure to see them there. And I live in an old inner-city area, not in any kind of rural setting. But Australian inner city areas tend to be pleasant, leafy places. I also see wild turkeys about the place a lot

A POSSUM population believed to have been wiped out by climate change is in fact clinging to survival, scientists say. Researchers say they have discovered three living brown lemuroid ringtail possums in the Daintree National Park, on Cape York, although the Daintree possums were believed to have been killed off during a heat wave in 2005.

No white lemuroid possums - which once accounted for 40 per cent of the lemuroid possum population in the area - have been located so far.

But Associate Professor Steve Williams of James Cook University said there was no reason to believe they wouldn't have survived alongside their brown relatives. "I don't think there is any reason to believe the white ones are harder hit than the brown ones," he said.

Lemuroid ringtail possums are found in just two locations, at the Carbine Tablelands in the Daintree and in the Atherton Tablelands, west of Cairns, though white lemuroids are extremely rare in the latter location.

Prof Williams said the Daintree possums had not been spotted since an extended heatwave in 2005, leading to the belief that they had been pushed to extinction by climate change. He said the species could not cope with extended periods of temperatures over 27 degrees.

"Over the last 50 years, the number of days where you get that temperature has been steadily increasing, to the point that in 2005 there were 27 consecutive days where the temperature went above that threshold," he said. "That seems to have really knocked them down."

Prof Williams said the species still hadn't been found in locations where they had been common and his research team would try to identify why they had survived in the current location.

He said the possums remained extremely vulnerable and another heatwave could wipe them out. "I don't think they are out of danger in any shape or form. It is very clear that these heatwaves are steadily increasing," he said. [And where is the evidence for that? It is just a creed he is uttering]


Supermarket cakes have (shock!) additives in them

This is absurd. Australia has strict food laws and what is in the cakes is legally approved. It is true that a very small number of kids have sensitivities that give them a bad reaction to some additives but the article below gives the impression that kids generally have such reactions. The original heading on the article was "Coles and Woolworths cakes send kids hyper". There are all sorts of food sensitivities, many quite rare, and if you catered to them all there would be nothing left on the shelf

CAKES sold in our leading supermarkets are riddled with additives that cause hyperactivity in children, a consumer investigation has found. The Australian Consumer Association, Choice tested 97 cakes in Coles and Woolworths and found two Woolworths bakery cakes to be the worst offenders.

Choice spokeswoman Elise Davidson said Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Iced and Fresh-Filled Cream cake had 27 additives. The Top Taste Rollettes Choc and Woolworths' Bakehouse Sponge Single Birthday Fresh Cream were close equal seconds, with 26 additives each.

Ms Davidson said many cakes were found to contain more than 20 additives, including food colours linked to hyperactivity and additives used to prolong shelf life or cover-up cheap ingredients. "Most people wouldn't use 40 ingredients when baking a cake at home, yet that's what we found in a large number of these cakes," Ms Davidson said. Food colours are used to enhance appearance but also enable manufacturers to get away with using cheaper ingredients, such as apples instead of raspberries in jam filling and palm oil, instead of butter.

More than half the cakes also contained food colours identified as increasing hyperactivity in children, in a UK study published in the medical journal, The Lancet.

Ms Davidson said parents should check product labels for the offending food colours. "Consumers expect the cakes they buy to be fresh and to maintain that freshness, so food manufacturers use additives," Ms Davidson said. "But we think consumers should be aware of the type of ingredients that go into a lot of these cakes".

The study found that price was no indicator of quality, with some of the most expensive brands among the heaviest users of additives. Australians spend $312 million a year buying cakes from supermarkets, which equates to about 70 million cakes.


Make an important service much dearer in the midst of a recession

So clever only a Leftist would think of it

CHILDCARE costs are set to soar as the states and territories look at forcing centres to hire more staff. And parents may face another blow as the Federal Government's quality watchdog insists that $3 billion a year in subsidies to working parents be scrapped.

A panel of childcare experts set up by the Council of Australian Governments has recommended that centres hire more staff - one carer for every three babies, one for every five toddlers and one for every 10 children aged three to five, The Australian reports. "Quality care is expensive and somebody's got to pay," the panel's chairwoman, Alison Elliott said. "It obviously will become more expensive if you change the ratios (of carers to children). "But we need to have the best quality environment for children." [Why not have the best quality for everything? I am sure we "need" it]

The Federal Government's National Childcare Accreditation Council has recommended the Government stop paying parents subsidies and rebates for childcare fees, and instead give direct grants to childcare providers offering the best care. "It is envisaged that the objective of containing childcare fees for families would be achieved by lowering operational costs for services," the childcare quality watchdog says in a submission to the Senate inquiry into childcare. "Provision of operational assistance should be linked to a requirement to provide high quality childcare. "Tying additional funding to quality improvements would offer services and incentive to enhance the quality of care they provide, in contrast to the current system of merely applying ineffective sanctions for non-compliance."

The Federal Government spends nearly $3 billion a year on means-tested fee subsidies, paired with an automatic 50 per cent refund of out-of-pocket childcare costs of up to $7500 a year per child.

Professor Elliott, who heads the school of education at Charles Darwin University, said the expert COAG panel did not calculate the added costs of requiring extra staff, nor recommend whether taxpayers or parents foot the bill. But Queensland's biggest non-profit provider, C&K, recently increased its fees by 15 per cent across the board to pay for a 1:3 ratio in its babies' rooms. Had the price rise not been subsidised by parents of older children, the parents of babies would have had to pay $80 a day instead of $60.

The staff-to-child ratios recommended to COAG are significantly higher than those existing in the states and territories, where they range from 1:4 for babies in Queensland and Western Australia to 1:10 for toddlers in South Australia.


Teachers given the cane go-ahead in some Queensland schools

THE cane is still being wielded at some Queensland schools where parents sign legal waivers to give teachers the power to hit their children. The corporal punishment option is offered at some of the state's fastest-growing independent schools as part of their strict behaviour management strategies. Religious beliefs are used to justify discipline at some schools, The Sunday Mail reports.

With more than 55,000 suspensions handed out at state schools last financial year - a jump of more than 20 per cent in two years - Independent Schools Queensland has reported growing support for private schools catering for the "disengaged and at-risk" school sector.

Bundaberg Christian College principal Mark Bensley said corporal punishment had become a drawcard for some parents because of a "lack of boundaries" at other schools. "A growing number of parents come to our school and say the school got their attention because it uses the paddle," Mr Bensley said. "If they choose to not sign it (the waiver), they are not refused enrolment. But a very significant majority of parents sign because they like that we understand the need for boundaries, fairness and consistency." Mr Bensley said the plastic paddle - shaped like a table-tennis bat - was a "last resort" when suspensions, detentions and warnings had failed.

The school, which has 600 students in Prep to Year 12, gave the paddle 10 times last year and seven times in 2007, he said. "I would never use the paddle unless we have spoken to both parents and have their blessing for it to be used," Mr Bensley said. "It is always administered in a loving way. In fact, we pray with them afterwards."

Corporal punishment was banned in state schools in 1995 by a decision of Cabinet but was not written into law. Parents, teachers or guardians are allowed to use "reasonable force" in disciplining children. The 109-year-old law was applied in a case involving a Gold Coast high school teacher last year who was acquitted on an assault charge after he admitted slapping a Year 8 student.

But State Attorney-General Cameron Dick warned that Section 208 of the law that relates to the matter was "by no means a carte blanche authority for teachers to use physical force to manage students".

Colin Krueger, principal of Mueller College at Rothwell on Brisbane's northern outskirts, said the school used the cane at the request of parents. Parents are asked to sign a consent form as part of enrolment which gives teachers the power to use "firm but fair" discipline "administered in a spirit of love according to Proverbs 13.24, 22:6 and 22:15", which promote the "rod of discipline" to "correct the foolishness raging in every child". Mr Krueger, principal of the school for 19 years, said using the cane on a child "depended on the circumstances". "If kids are persistent and we have tried every other avenue, it will be administered if parents request it. We haven't used it for a couple of years," he said. "I've had many kids come back to me and say 'Thank you for giving me the cane'."


Saturday, March 28, 2009

“Earth Hour or Blackout Night?”

"Earth Hour" is supposed to be observed in Australia tonight Saturday, March 28, 8:30-9:30pm.

The Carbon Sense Coalition today came out in support of Earth Hour, but said it should be renamed “Blackout Night” and be held outdoors, for the whole night, in mid-winter, on the shortest and coldest day of the year - 22 June in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Chairman of “Carbon Sense”, Mr Viv Forbes, said that spending just one night in the cold and the dark, with no hot coffee or beef on the barbecue, using no light, heat or vehicle energy from coal, gas, petrol or diesel, and without protection from metal or concrete structures, would be good practice for the blackouts and shortages to come if world rationing of carbon products and carbon energy is achieved.

“Winter nights are usually still and cold, so the candles crew can really experience what it will be like to depend on alternative energy when there is no sun and no wind. The back-to-nature brigade can also try living without iron roofs and concrete walls. And the eat-no-meat mob can experience a night without hamburgers and cappuccinos.

“To hold a candles-and-champagne party indoors, on the mildest night of the year, for just one hour, shows that the whole thing is tokenism. Moreover both candles and champagne emit carbon dioxide. Let the true believers try the real thing in one of the extreme seasons so they can appreciate the great benefits we take for granted when using all of our carbon fuels and foods.

“Instead of sneering at human achievements they should salute the people who keep the lights on for the other 364 days of the year.

“Australia gets almost 90% of its electricity from hydrocarbon fuels – black coal, brown coal, gas and oil. And without the nuclear power that underpins electricity supplies in more advanced countries, the massive cuts in carbon dioxide emissions demanded by the deep greens would see Australia headed for the Romanian power rationing experience - during the Ceaucescu regime in Romania, each house was limited to ONE 25 watt bulb for all of their light.

“All over the world we have aging power stations and an orchestrated campaign by a few warm and well-fed agitators to harass, delay and deter construction of new power facilities.

“Such a campaign can only have one result – blackouts and brownouts will recur erratically every time we have extremes of cold or hot weather. “So we support “Blackout Night” to prepare our population for the dark days ahead”.

The above is a press release from Viv Forbes [info@carbon-sense.com], Chairman of the Carbon Sense Coalition.

A small sop for small business: Tax deferred but not cut

Recognizing their importance is apparently not enough to generate significant steps towards helping them -- such as exempting them from payroll tax. Has it occurred to the loony Left that a tax on jobs is a bad idea amid rising unemployment? The Feds gave that tax to the States to levy in 1971 so they could also take it back if they wanted to -- with compensatory adjustments to grants to the States

SMALL businesses will be excused from paying more than $700 million in taxes in an effort to save Australian jobs. The Federal Government will today announce that small businesses, self-funded retirees and small superannuation funds hard hit by the global recession will benefit from $720 million in "cash-flow relief" from July. The announcement means about 1.5 million taxpayers will pay less tax in 2009-10.

In a move welcomed by small business leaders, the Government will slash PAYG instalments by 6 per cent. So, instead of getting a tax refund at the end of the financial year, businesses will save money during the year instead. The Government said they hoped, by keeping more money in the pockets of small business owners, they would be able to hang on to employees. "Small businesses across the country are the backbone of our economy, providing jobs for millions of Australian families," Treasurer Wayne Swan said. "That's why the Rudd Government is determined to do everything we can to help small businesses in the face of the global recession which is hitting the Australian economy."

In NSW, about 350,000 businesses with annual turnovers of less than $2 million will benefit. The Government said it would make the move because otherwise - as a direct result of the current economic conditions - small businesses would overpay hundreds of millions of dollars in PAYG instalments throughout the year. Small Business Minister Craig Emerson said to address this the Government would cut the quarterly PAYG instalments for the 2009-10 financial year. Only taxpayers whose PAYG instalments are adjusted for growth in GDP are affected. "The reduction will provide cash-flow benefits to around 1.5 million taxpayers, cutting their PAYG instalments by around 6 per cent," Dr Emerson said.


Australian government now letting in illegals under false pretences

The man described below was clearly not a refugee. Even if he was endangered in Afghanistan, he was clearly safe once he arrived in Pakistan. He ceased to be somebody in need of asylum at that point. There are millions of Afghans in Pakistan. But because he arrived in Australia illegally, apparently that made him a real asylum seeker. The fact that he is a Communist no doubt also helped to endear him to Australia's Leftist government. Clearly, he is an economic migrant only and many more like him can now be expected

FOUR asylum seekers who were rescued by the Tampa in 2001, but sent back to Afghanistan during one of the most controversial chapters in Australia's political history, have been found to be genuine refugees.

One of the men, Asmatullah Mohammadi, told The Age he was so desperate to escape the Taliban he risked his life in a second boat journey with people smugglers, despite fearing he would again be rejected by Australia.

He said 11 other Tampa survivors — who had failed to win refugee status after months on Nauru — were killed by the Taliban when they returned to Afghanistan.

The revelations have prompted calls for an inquiry into the Howard government's "Pacific Solution", introduced after the Tampa crisis, under which asylum seekers intercepted before they reached Australia were processed on Nauru or Manus Island.

Immigration lawyer David Manne said an inquiry should seek to remedy injustice and harm that flowed from the Pacific Solution, which excluded asylum seekers from access to Australian law, rights and protection. "People were placed under enormous pressure that amounted to constructive coercion to return to situations that were extremely unsafe," he said.

Migration agent Marion Le, who at the time raised doubts about the quality of the Immigration Department assessments of those who had been rejected, said it was reprehensible that people had been told Afghanistan was safe and sent back.

The four Afghans are the first asylum seekers on board the Tampa who were told by the former government they were not owed protection. They were re-assessed after a second attempt to reach Australian shores. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said: "These people arrived unlawfully and were taken to Christmas Island, where they were assessed as being owed our protection and therefore had the bar lifted to allow them to apply for a protection visa."

They were among 73 Middle Eastern boat people who were quietly resettled in Australia this month after the Immigration Department found they had genuine fears for their safety if returned to their homeland.

An Immigration Department spokesman said the decision was made taking into account current information.

Mr Mohammadi, who was a member of a communist party, said he fled Afghanistan because he was threatened by the extremist Muslim mujahideen. But on August 24, 2001, he found himself caught up in a political storm when the distressed wooden fishing vessel carrying 433 asylum seekers was rescued by the Tampa, on the eve of a federal election.

Mr Mohammadi said that after 17 months on Nauru he was sent back to Afghanistan with about $1000. "When they sent me back to Afghanistan, I was upset and very stressed," he said through a Dari interpreter.

He said he obtained work as a builder for a foreign company in Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan, but fled to Iran after two of his colleagues were killed by the Taliban because they were perceived to be working for "foreign criminals".

He was expelled to Pakistan after Iranian authorities discovered he had no documents, and from there travelled to Australia via Malaysia. "I knew it was a big danger to come by boat to Australia — it wasn't my first time — but I was that desperate."

Mr Mohammadi said he wanted to thank all Australians and the Government for "letting me in". "I am relieved and I feel now I am alive, I am not dead," he said. He wanted to find work as a builder and hoped that his wife and six children could eventually join him from Iran.

Ms Le said she had reviewed more than 200 rejected Nauru files and discovered errors, including merged cases and untested "dob-in" material, such as unsubstantiated allegations that a person did not come from Afghanistan.

"Departmental people who were on Nauru were told these people were not refugees," she said. "This came about because of the reprehensible policy of the Howard government. Everyone can stick the knife into the Immigration Department but … public servants were just doing what they were told."

Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the refugee determination process had been deeply political. "We need to have a royal commission to open our eyes to what was done in our name so it can never be repeated."

Of the 433 asylum seekers rescued by the Tampa, 131 were immediately resettled in New Zealand. The remaining 302 were processed on Nauru. Of these, 101 were found to be refugees, 14 were resettled as non-refugees, one died and 186 returned home after failing to win refugee status.


Fraud and loathing in disastrous NSW public hospitals

Patients sent to imaginary beds and a doctor who complained about it gets persecuted!

ON APRIL 28, 2006, Shellharbour Hospital boss, Michael Brodnik, distributed an email. A decision had been made, he wrote, to set up a new unit within the emergency department. "The unit will be … four beds, conceptually down the right hand wall of ED but using the concept of 'virtual beds'," he told colleagues. Patients who arrived at emergency and needed admission would be assigned a virtual bed if no official in-patient bed was available, remaining physically in emergency. Brodnik said he had no control over the change, reassuring staff: "It really is a paper exercise."

The rationale was to get patients off the emergency department's books within eight hours of arrival - a watershed imposed by government as a so-called "key performance indicator" or KPI, amid political pressure over backed-up hospitals and ambulances unable to offload patients.

At Shellharbour Hospital, an outpost serving the cookie-cutter sprawl that straggles down the coast from Wollongong, that target was hard to achieve, because some patients had to be transferred for diagnostic tests.

By May, Shellharbour was still processing emergency patients too slowly, and emails were flying. The head of the hospital's emergency department, Dr Simon Leslie, sent a measured one to Sue Browbank, Brodnik's boss: "We are being asked to run our health service on the basis of the need to treat one statistic," he wrote. "Doctors have not been ignorant or uncaring of the need to manage our resources appropriately … but are driven firstly by patient care and community needs."

For a while, Leslie continued a vocal opposition to the imaginary beds. The directive to reclassify patients "according to any objective look at it was fraudulent", he told the Herald last week. "It required staff in my emergency department to write down records that were incorrect." Later he tired of battling the fait accompli and settled back to running front-line health care in the hard-to-staff hospital.

That could have been the end of it, but then Peter Garling, SC, came to town. On April 14 last year, at one of the inquiry's 34 public hearings, "Dr Leslie told me the 'virtual ward' was a fiction to compensate for the fact that Shellharbour Hospital does not have a short stay unit," Garling recounted in his report. Leslie's evidence resulted - finally - in the ward's abrupt termination, though this, as he had previously observed to Browbank, was, "easy because it doesn't actually exist".

Three weeks later, Browbank informed Leslie of the appointment of a Southern Hospitals Network Director of Emergency Medicine - which, according to Garling's later deconstruction, "both technically and in reality … effected the abolition of Dr Leslie's position". Leslie was ordered to stop calling himself director of the emergency department and told he could instead apply for a part-time position. "How is it possible," he asked a human resources manager, "to remove me from the role for which I have a contract and in which I have been acknowledged and satisfactorily functioning for over two years?"

The vaporisation of his job and claim it had never really existed were normal practice during "amalgamations and clinical reviews," the manager soothingly responded. "In many cases roles and responsibilities have changed, staff displaced and new position descriptions written."

Leslie's was a story Garling could not resist. A microcosm of the poisonous malaise he had observed on a statewide road-trip to 61 public hospitals, it comprised four elements the senior counsel had noticed repeatedly: a bottleneck between emergency and in-patient beds; inflexible performance criteria imposed from on high, then middle-management sleights-of-hand to meet those demands; and a yawning gulf of alienation between clinicians and administrators.

So when Leslie updated the inquiry on the personal fallout from his testimony, Garling in late September 2008 ordered five people as well as Leslie to four gruelling days of extra hearings, devoted to the doctor's treatment. They included Debora Picone - in 2006, chief executive of the South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service, but elevated in 2007 to director general of NSW Health.

That won Leslie no respite. On the contrary, shortly after Garling's summonses landed on managers' desks, Leslie was cut out of meetings and told to hand back his pager and vacate his office - though ultimately he did not do so, successfully arguing both were essential to his work.

In her sworn evidence, Browbank acknowledged Leslie's job description was signed by a doctor expressly delegated to work out his role and title. Yet she maintained the position could not exist, because the doctor had no authority to create it. Garling rejected the semantic contortion. Browbank's stance "flies in the face of the obvious facts revealed by the evidence and is wholly untenable," he concluded. Because Leslie's treatment was "unreasonable, repeated, unwelcome, unsolicited, offensive, intimidating, humiliating and threatening," Garling wrote, "I find it amounted to bullying and harassment in accordance with NSW Health's own guidelines."

Leslie is an unlikely poster boy for victimhood. Affable and easygoing, it is hard to imagine him having the sleep disruptions and obsessive thoughts he says beset him at the time. He simply carried on going in to work. "At heart," said the 52-year-old, "I'm a doctor who likes to look after patients."

Doctors who like to look after patients are the backbone of the health system, but are massively disenfranchised. Re-engaging them would be the most critical step in reforming NSW Health, Garling said, proposing a Clinical Innovation and Enhancement Agency - under which clinicians would determine protocols for patient care. As well, he proposes an independent Bureau of Health Information to monitor hospital performance, freeing doctors like Leslie from political pressure to fudge the loathed KPIs.

The toughest challenge is how to make hospitals gentler. "The workplace culture in NSW public hospitals is characterised by lack of respect and trust, absence of empathy and compassion, inability to celebrate the success of others, failure to communicate, and a lack of collaboration," was Garling's damning verdict after his journey to the heart of the health system. Its anti-bullying policy had failed, dissent was quashed and persecution was rife.

Garling recommends making individual employees - all 118,000 of them - more directly responsible for their behaviour, reorienting the system away from blame towards constructive criticism and strengthening complaints procedures.

Last July, Leslie lodged a formal complaint about his treatment. Eight months later he has not been told how it will be resolved. Terry Clout, the area health service's chief executive, told the Herald he was seeking more information and would consider "any actions that may be required". He declined to comment further, citing, "procedural fairness" in the "personnel matter".

Leslie said the delay was "a process to wear me down". He understands deliberations will not privilege Garling's account of events - despite the evidence the commissioner collected under unmatched statutory powers.

Perhaps that is unsurprising. Garling said Leslie's situation went unresolved because Shellharbour managers "did not demonstrate … the slightest knowledge of what constituted bullying and unacceptable behaviour".

When is a bed not a bed? Leslie has paid a price for trying to reconcile the internal logic of NSW Health's storytelling with empirical reality, and no one has ever apologised. He will now take his case to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission. If Leslie - with the inquiry's weight behind him - cannot bring NSW Health managers to account, possibly nobody can. "Mr Garling's put a fairly heavy burden on me," he said. "I feel an obligation not to let that go to waste."


Trial aims to tame bad behaviour in classroom

BASIC etiquette is being taught to parents and children in a prep school trial aimed at tackling bad behaviour and improving academic success. It follows a rise in violent behaviour in prep classes, with Education Queensland introducing suspensions for out-of-control four and five-year-olds to protect teachers and fellow students from pupil assaults.

While unions and school associations have called for full-time teacher aides to stem the violence, others have urged better parenting and social support, which a trial called STEP -- Supporting the Transition for Entry to Prep -- is trying to address.

Participants in STEP, an extension of Mission Australia's and Griffith University's crime prevention Pathways to Prevention Project -- say it has already transformed children's behaviour. STEP co-founder Dr Kate Freiberg said the program targeted lower socio-economic areas where parents with time and financial pressures were least likely to teach their children the necessary skills for a smooth school transition. "The idea is when kids are growing up in tough times of certain circumstances it can constrain and limit their social and emotional development and they start school behind the eight ball," Dr Freiberg said.

She said the program tried to engage parents and children in education while teaching them basic skills such as the importance of discipline and reading. "It can be simple things like not being able to sit and listen and pay attention or know how to participate in a group setting," Dr Freiberg said. "Just really basic things like packing lunch boxes and what the teachers are going to be asking you when you get there and how it is important to sit and listen to what the teacher says and skills for getting along with other kids."

Mother-of-eight, Fua-laau Faolua said she now understood how important it was to read to her children and be involved in their homework. The program also has taught her how to use "time out" and speak at her children's level, which has turned daughter Litarina's behaviour around. Litarina now eagerly attends Durack State School Prep.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Australian interest in environment issues wanes as Facebook group urges Earth Hour power ON

An anti-Earth Hour group urging Australians to keep their lights blazing this weekend is a sign of waning interest in environmentalism, experts say. The global Earth Hour movement – founded in Australia in 2007 – is asking people to switch off their lights for one hour on Saturday night. But a Facebook group is urging people to "keep every light you own running during Earth Hour".

The group urges people to protest by switching lights on "if you think turning the lights out for an hour is completely ridiculous and will change nothing". "Or if you just think people who really believe global warming is a giant threat are dumb, join this group to keep every light you own running during Earth Hour."

Group member Alexander Woodhouse says: "The Earth Hour makes people feel like they've done their share and makes them sleep better... that's nice for them but it doesn't really help the earth." Another member wrote: "I don't believe the vast majority of those participating have given it enough thought to get to that point. ‘It's helping! I don't know how, but it's helping! I'm helping! I don't have to do anything else because I'm doing this now! Go me!'"

Australians have been losing interest in environmentalism for years, says social analyst David Chalke, who leads the annual AustraliaSCAN survey, a cultural change monitor established in 1992. "Absolutely the GFC (global financial crisis) has accelerated a decline in interest in environmentalism that was already going on,” Mr Chalke said. "Environmentalism has been in decline among the Australian public for the last five or six years. "The notion that we’re all becoming more environmentally concerned is not true. We get concerned occasionally when (global warming activist) Tim Flannery tells us we’re all going to die – but it’s not a genuine fundamental shift in values. "The impending recession has focussed people’s minds and priorities and clearly they are much more focussed of my job, my family, my house, rather than the more distant and esoteric idea of climate change. The attitude is: if the climate changes we’ll live with it."

Earth Hour will see lights go out in 82 countries and more than 2400 towns between 8.30pm and 9.30pm (local time) tomorrow night. Organisers hope one billion people will switch off. But practical measures – like demand for candles - suggest interest in the initiative has dipped this year. Last year, nearly 10,000 candles were ordered by a Caulfield candle business in Melbourne to cope with the demand during Earth Hour, but shop owner Roy Merrington said demand had dropped markedly, The Age reported. "I would like to think we would do the same (trade), but we will probably do half that," Mr Merrington said. "People's attention is elsewhere … the conversation about the health of the planet is on the back burner, because people are paranoid about money — and quite rightly."


"Great men are almost always bad men" (Acton)

We like the story of the disgraced former judge Marcus Einfeld, jailed last week for lying about a minor traffic fine, because it is a reassuring morality tale. It restores our belief that character is destiny, that karma eventually catches up with everyone, and that lying, even in an era when trust is in short supply and truthfulness downgraded, is a serious transgression that can land a big wig in jail.

Einfeld didn't just start telling lies in 2006, when he falsely named a dead friend as the driver of his car when it was caught travelling at 10kmh over the limit by a speed camera in Mosman.

The pattern of deception apparent in even a superficial examination of his life shows that he gained a lot of kudos and reward from his fabrications, whether it was padding his Who's Who CV with dodgy degrees from American "diploma mills", or alleged plagiarism, or allegedly claiming a lost overcoat on expenses when he was head of the Human Rights Commission, having already lodged an insurance claim, or using the names of people living overseas in statutory declarations to evade traffic fines. A habit of dishonesty went unpunished.

Instead, Einfeld was richly rewarded, becoming a darling of the legal and media establishment, with an Order of Australia and named a "National Living Treasure". Sad as it is for a 70-year-old man suffering from prostate cancer and depression to be thrown in jail for what essentially began as a trivial matter, his punishment represents a larger righting of wrongs.


Being an incorrigible academic, I thought I might give a fuller version of the famous quotation from Lord Acton. It formed part of Acton's opposition to the declaration of Papal infallibility of 1870
"I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. "

Crooked top cop in Tasmania?

ONE of Tasmania's highest-profile criminal cases - the trial of suspended police commissioner Jack Johnston - continues today. Mr Johnston faces a preliminary hearing before magistrate Sam Mollard at 10am on two charges of disclosing official secrets. Mr Johnston is accused of telling two politicians, including former premier Paul Lennon, about a top-secret police investigation into potential government corruption. The police probe was investigating whether the Lennon government promised a senior legal appointment to barrister and Queen's Counsel Stephen Estcourt in return for favours.

Another matter under investigation was the Shreddergate allegations, after former attorney-general Steve Kons shredded a Cabinet document recommending lawyer Simon Cooper be made a magistrate following a phone call from former Premier's Department chief Linda Hornsey.

Mr Johnston, who has pleaded not guilty, was suspended as commissioner by Premier David Bartlett in October after being charged with disclosing official secrets. He is on leave with full pay.

The 26 witnesses to be called before this week's open preliminary hearing -- expected to run for eight days -- include some of the state's top politicians and powerbrokers. Facing questions from the Crown and the defence are ex-premiers Paul Lennon and Michael Field, Acting Police Commissioner Darren Hine and ministers Jim Cox and David Llewellyn. Whistleblower Nigel Burch, Ms Hornsey and Director of Public Prosecutions Tim Ellis are also key witnesses.

This week's preliminary hearing will be followed by a Supreme Court hearing before a judge and jury. The lawyer representing Mr Johnston, Roland Browne, was last week given court approval to expand his questioning of witnesses.

The charges allege that on or about April 9 or April 11 this year, Mr Johnston improperly told Mr Cox in a briefing note, and Mr Lennon in a conversation, confidential details about the secret police investigation. Mr Johnston was charged with disclosing official secrets under Section 110 of the Criminal Code. The charges allege Mr Johnston knew details of the Estcourt matter by virtue of his senior public office and that, as commissioner, he had a duty to keep the allegations and investigation secret.

No charges were laid in either of the matters investigated by police after the DPP found there was insufficient evidence to proceed.


War on bosses won't fix economy

Michael Costa

WAYNE Swan's legislation requiring shareholders to approve executive termination payments worth more than a year's base salary is another political stunt from a government that has run out of economic policy steam. Its use of the Productivity Commission to conduct a nine-month inquiry into executive pay shows a lack of understanding of markets and is a waste of public resources.

Executive remuneration should be transparent to shareholders. Directors should be accountable for the decisions they make on behalf of shareholders, including executive remuneration. If the Government thinks there is lack of transparency to shareholders in executive remuneration arrangements, this is a failure of its corporate regulatory framework, which it should amend.

The problem with the Government's announcement is that it is not motivated by concerns about transparency. It is another childish attempt to blame our economic problems on executive greed. It also is an attempt by a desperate government to extricate itself from its failure to get Pacific Brands to change its decision to move part of its operation offshore.

By linking executive remuneration to class war and broader economic problems, Swan is following in Kevin Rudd's ideological footsteps. Swan asserts that "the largesse of the last decade has been a slap in the face of many working people" and that many recent payments to executives have been viewed as obscene.

It may be true that many people are angry about executive salaries but that doesn't provide grounds for the Government to engage in a general attack on chief executives and the corporate sector. This is particularly unhelpful at a time when the Government should be strengthening business confidence.

Justified public outrage in the US over bonuses for American International Group executives and in Britain over the pound stg. 700,000 a year pension for Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred Goodwin is an entirely different situation. These outrageous payments involved taxpayer funds as part of government-orchestrated bailouts. But, government bailouts aside, whether an executive's remuneration is considered obscene by the community is largely irrelevant to the directors and shareholders of the company. The responsibility of company directors is to act in their shareholders' interest.

Swan seems to think the interests of the broader community and the individual shareholder are one and the same. They are not. Shareholders want their companies to do well. Often this is at the expense of other companies and their shareholders. The community, on the other hand, wants the best and cheapest products. Workers want their firm to survive and provide job security. Their job security and wages, despite union attempts to take wages out of competition, often come at the expense of rival firms. Workers want the equity investments in their super funds to perform well even if they happen to be in rival firms. These are the fundamental tensions in our economic system. It is the creative destruction that provides our enviable standard of living. The sooner the Government wakes up to this, the better off we all will be.

Company directors must secure the best executive team to guarantee the prosperity of the firm. The challenge for directors is to ensure that remuneration packages align the interests of management with that of the shareholders. This is not easy. A whole body of economics has developed around resolving this agency problem. The core concern is that management can capture company directors and operate the company in their interest rather than shareholders' interest. When this happens, management is in a position to extract an economic rent from the company, reflected in excessive executive compensation. Maximising executive compensation, not shareholder value, becomes the focus of the company.

The most common solution to the agency problem has been share-based incentive payments. This can create its own problems. Executives have an incentive to focus on increasing short-term share price at the possible expense of long-term shareholder value.

There are many examples. The unsustainable expansion of companies such as ABC Learning and Babcock & Brown could fall into this category. These were dominated by strong chief executives who were instrumental in their foundation and initial success. The failure of these companies demonstrates the direct link between corporate results and rewards.

This is of little comfort to shareholders. The directors failed to provide executive incentives that balanced the short-term remuneration objectives of executives with a longer-term interest of shareholders. Better-quality directors, not government regulation, is the solution to this problem. Recent research suggests that directors would achieve better performance from executives by altering remuneration packages to place greater emphasis on a combination of share price and earnings performance.

But even with the best endeavours of the most diligent directors there is no guarantee that companies won't fail, which is what generates the higher rewards of those that succeed.

The same solution applies to more established companies where large remuneration packages are poorly aligned with corporate performance. Directors, not executives, have the responsibility to ensure proper alignment. Better alignment will assuage shareholder concern about executive performance and pay. But it will not deal with the price companies have to pay for a skilled executive, which is set by a highly competitive global market. Highly skilled executives command large salaries. Just because governments and sections of the community believe these salaries to be excessive or obscene doesn't mean they are wrong. Morality has nothing to do with it.

Many in the community regard the salaries of Hollywood actors and sports stars as obscene. That doesn't mean the government should hold an inquiry or attempt to regulate them.

One of the most misleading ways of assessing executive salaries is by comparing them with the pay of workers. The Economist claims that in 1980 the average pay for chief executives in the biggest companies in the US was about 40 times that of an average production worker. In 1999, it had increased to about 85 times and was estimated to be more than 400 times during the recent asset price bubble. This may be true, but it is irrelevant. The market for chief executives is not the same as the market for production workers.

Many factors explain the growth of executive salaries and the relative decline of production workers' salaries, including their relative supply and demand. Executive remuneration cannot be effectively regulated by governments. It would be foolish to try. The resources of the Productivity Commission would be better spent examining the economic consequences of the Government's Fair Work Australia legislation, which will have greater consequences to the economy than any chief executive's salary package.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Razor gang eyes 450 government boards, statutory authorities

This will be great if anything comes of it

MORE than 450 government boards and statutory authorities in Queensland have been told to justify their existence or face the axe. Fresh from an election victory in which it promised not to cut frontline public service jobs, the Bligh Government is preparing to target less sensitive parts of the bureaucracy for efficiency gains.

Amid calls for greater accountability in the public sector, a review has found that Queensland's statutory bodies spend more than $6.2 billion a year, or 17 per cent of all state spending. The Government is likely to use the independent review's findings to decide on the abolition or restructure of many government bodies, with their functions being taken over by government departments.

While Lawrence Springborg's promise to save $1 billion a year in efficiency dividends dominated the election campaign agenda, the Government has set about finding up to $200 million in annual efficiency gains from next year. A spokesman said Premier Anna Bligh had not yet received the review's final report but it remained "on track" to be handed to her next week.

Led by Griffith University Professor Pat Weller and former senior bureaucrat Simone Webbe, the review has caused great consternation in the state public service. Some bodies have protested that they should not be the subject of review, while Auditor-General Glenn Poole has expressed his approval. Bodies under the microscope range from the Queensland Water Commission to the Babinda Swamp Drainage Board. Other organisations targeted include the Industrial Hemp Advisory Committee, the Fibre Composites Forum and the Community Consultative Committee for the Control of Exotic Pest Fish.

The review was part of a major overhaul of the public service announced by Ms Bligh last year, which included an audit of each department and a $60 million "productivity dividend" to be collected across government departments. However, the Government has since set itself a target of finding another $100 million in public sector efficiencies from next year, rising to $200 million from 2010.

In a preliminary report, Prof Weller and Ms Webbe said the review would apply a formal "threshold" test to each of 457 statutory authorities and other government bodies in Queensland.


Christian school rejects Muslim teacher

A CHRISTIAN school in Werribee has been forced to defend its refusal to offer a training placement to a Muslim teaching student on the grounds of her religion. Victoria University student Rachida Dahlal has reportedly lodged a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission against Heathdale Christian College, accusing it of discrimination and prejudice.

But the faith-based private school stood by its decision last night. It said it would have been "inappropriate" to offer the student a placement because of the school's Christian ethos. Principal Reynald Tibben said Mrs Dahlal - who wears a head scarf and is a devout Muslim - may have found it difficult to work at a school where the teachers' morning staff briefing includes prayer devotion and Bible reading. "The way we practise our education is not just nominal, it's actually what parents want for their kids, and it would have been confusing for the kids. It's not that we have anything against her or her beliefs, we just felt it was an inappropriate placement," Mr Tibben said. "There's obviously a difference between being a Muslim and a Christian - so it was a religious issue from that perspective - but it was as much about supporting her as it was the college."

Mrs Dahlal could not be contacted by The Age last night.

According to the Wyndham Leader, the 35-year-old mother had chosen Heathdale because it was the closest school to her home, and one of few offering her specialty subjects of mathematics and French.

Mr Tibben said his school, which takes about 12 university students for training each year, offered to support Mrs Dahlal in finding another school and questioned why Victoria University hadn't given "a little more thought" in guiding her into a school-based placement. The university's acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor John McCallum, said Mrs Dahlal had been counselled about Heathdale's policy of taking those whose values aligned to its own.


Freedom of Information improvements

EMBARRASSMENT to the Federal Government will no longer wash as a valid excuse for bureaucrats to block the release of information to the public. In the first significant overhaul of the nation's 27-year-old Freedom of Information laws, Special Minister of State John Faulkner yesterday announced the Government would scrap all FOI application fees. The Government will set up an independent umpire to adjudicate on FOI applications and encourage the release of information from public service agencies. Cabinet records would be released after 20 years instead of 30 years, and Cabinet notebooks would be available after 30 years instead of five decades.

Senator Faulkner said the reforms would demonstrate the Government's commitment to openness and transparency. Under the plans, FOI requests would no longer be denied on the grounds the information would embarrass the Government or cause misinterpretation or confusion about government activities.

"The Freedom of Information commissioner will be for the first time an independent champion of FOI, charged with overseeing agencies' compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the legislation," Senator Faulkner told a Freedom of Speech conference in Sydney. However, classified national security information would remain protected in the national interest.

News Limited chairman and chief executive officer John Hartigan said that in Australia "freedom of information simply isn't working (and) in fact it has become an oxymoron". "Secrecy and censorship of what we are allowed to know has reached troubling levels," Mr Hartigan said. "In some cases the lack of transparency by our elected government is frightening. Just think about the Australian Wheat (Board) scandal or the Mohammed Haneef case."


Food freak mayor imposing her views on others

SYDNEY Lord Mayor Clover Moore has banned Tim Tams from council events for fear they're partially produced through cruel child labour on Africa's Ivory Coast. In a move to create "sustainable, healthy and cruelty-free catering" at City of Sydney meetings and events, staff have stopped providing chocolate biscuits along with meals containing eggs, bottled water, fat-rich cakes, dairy deserts and "bad" fish species.

One of the first attempts at the new politically correct meals policy was at the council's Investing in Sydney's Future business forum on February 25. On the menu were vegetables (locally grown), NSW wines (organic) and "a good fish species choice" (blue-eye trevalla).

Liberal councillor Shayne Mallard, who was at a briefing on the guidelines, said the first hint of the new policy was when Tim Tams disappeared from meetings. "We are being dictated to by a radical green agenda telling us what fish we can eat, what water we drink and banning eggs or Tim Tams instead of focusing on issues like saving jobs," Mr Mallard said.

"Council staff told me Tim Tams were banned because 80 per cent of world cocoa production comes from the Ivory Coast, where there are allegations of child labour." An Arnott's spokeswoman said only a very limited supply of chocolate was from the Ivory Coast. "But this supplier is a member of the International Cocoa Initiative, which is dedicated to ensuring no child is exploited in the growing of cocoa and to ending child and forced labour," she said.

Requests for comment from Ms Moore were declined yesterday but a spokeswoman said: "No particular brand of food or drink has been identified as being off the menu." In a memo obtained by The Daily Telegraph, the council's environmental projects manager Kirsten Woodward said the council would serve only cruelty-free and healthy options. "Vegan, vegetarian and lactose intolerant options have also been developed for future events," Ms Woodward's memo said.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Does Australia's Green/Left REALLY believe in public transport?

An email below from a North Queensland relative of mine to Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan [Wayne.Swan.MP@aph.gov.au] -- pointing out that the previous conservative government of Queensland did a lot more for rail transport than the present Leftist State government has done. He is appalled that the Queensland government railway system is getting out of freight transport -- the thing that railways are best at

You are trying hard to combat this terrible recession we are about to go into, so please take on board a few ideas of mine. You need to reverse the former Howard government's preference for road over rail transport, even on lines Townsville to Mt Isa, not to mention the Brisbane to Cairns main line.

I understand the Commonwealth has contributed some, but not a lot, of money on the Brisbane to Townsville line but virtually nothing on the rest of the line Townsville to Cairns.

Now I have travelled by car many many times over the years to Brisbane and have noticed an enormous improvement in the highway standard. Unfortunately this has attracted more and more monster trucks, in many cases driven by cowboys. Qld Rail, owned entirely by our state government, does not really want to provide a service for small freight users in the country - they want large customers, so do not look after the former.

In fact they have changed over to road transport for the entire Townsville to Mt Isa route - can you believe a railway using trucks? It defies belief as well as placing cars on the road at great risk. Tonight on 60 Minutes, we saw the devastating consequences of drink drivers killing innocent people - trucks cause devastation also directly and indirectly but no government federally or state seem to care.

You want to increase infrastructure spending? Then start with Qld Railways, electrify the line at least to Townsville from Rockhampton and straighten out many bends. Old Joh had a vision for this state once he was firmly established as Premier and he seemed to find the money for electrification, starting in Brisbane for the suburban network, then extending to Rockhampton. They also electrified and duplicated many of the coal lines in a short period of time, on time and under budget.

Why is it we have Labor governments in Qld who don't seem to be able to do anything - Goss appeared to have no vision and wanted everything closed in the bush; Beattie promised everything but rarely delivered and now Bligh will be a clone of Beattie. Unfortunately the LNP did not inspire any confidence that they would be any better.

Look: John Howard backed the NT line Alice Springs to Darwin. Once given the go-ahead, it was built with remarkable speed and will be a national asset in the years ahead. Unfortunately, unlike the main lines in the Eastern states such as Qld, it will always be underused.

I think the federal government should take over the NSW and Victorian rail tracks and bring them up to the Qld mainline standard to reduce the truck movements on our highways. It will prove cheaper in the long term, save lives and road trauma, slow down the wear and tear on our roads and reduce diesel consumption, all of which is imported.

Well, Wayne, are you going to do anything or just throw it in the too hard basket?

Single-sex hospital wards return in NSW

HOSPITALS are to be radically reformed in New South Wales, with single gender wards returning, under major changes to be announced by the State Government. The Daily Telegraph can reveal the Government will restructure hospitals - with some services possibly shutting - when it officially responds next Monday to the Garling inquiry, held last year into NSW hospitals. Mixed-gender wards will be wiped out where possible, with men and women returning to single-sex rooms or separate ward bays.

It follows Commissioner Peter Garling SC's disgust at men and women sharing wards when he handed down his 1100-page report last November. The move back to gender wards will cost $12 million over four years and was approved by Cabinet last night. Health Minister John Della Bosca said public hospitals needed to have greater resources to place men and women in separate rooms.

Under the new plans, elderly patients would be treated in their homes rather than in hospitals in order to alleviate pressure on the system. In his report, Mr Garling said hospitals were not a suitable environment for the elderly. "My recommendations are designed to encourage models which deliver as much care as possible in the home and not in the hospital, which is a very alienating place for older citizens," Mr Garling said. Other reforms include:

* THE sacking of doctors who repeatedly fail to wash their hands;

* BEDSIDE briefings by doctors and formal shift handovers;

* BETTER supervision of junior doctors; and

* EMERGENCY response teams within hospitals.

The Garling inquiry began a year ago and was aimed at restoring the ailing health system. The landmark 10-month investigation followed a string of mishaps and the death of teenager Vanessa Anderson. The 15-year-old died at Royal North Shore Hospital in November 2005 after being given the wrong medication for a brain injury after she was struck in the head by a golf ball.

Mr Garling's controversial report made 139 recommendations, some of them regarded as radical. At least 10 hospital emergency departments were deemed "unsafe" or unnecessary. The Government has been considering whether to endorse Mr Garling's recommendation to close Manly, Ryde, Sydney, Mt Druitt, Auburn, Camden, Bulli and Kurri Kurri's emergency departments.


Cannabis users 'suffering new syndrome'

THERE is mounting evidence to support the existence of a new syndrome afflicting heavy cannabis users, after the world's first cases were found in South Australia. The condition "cannabinoid hyperemesis" was first identified in a group of about 20 heavy drug users in the Adelaide hills in 2004, and a new case has emerged this time in the US. The syndrome is characterised by nausea, stomach pain and bouts of vomiting - ill effects which, oddly, sufferers say they get some relief from by having a hot shower or bath.

The new case, involving a 22-year-old man in Omaha, is published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology where doctors were also told to consider it when treating people with unexplained vomiting. "Given the high prevalence of chronic cannabis abuse worldwide and the paucity of reports in the literature, clinicians need to be more attentive to the clinical features of this under-recognised condition," writes Dr Siva Sontineni, and colleagues, from the Creighton University Medical Centre.

In the US case, the sufferer had been smoking marijuana daily and in heavy doses for six years. This eventually led to bouts of vomiting lasting two to three hours daily, and this was worse after meals. As with South Australian cases, the young man initially turned to "compulsive hot bathing behaviour" to relieve the symptoms but he was not cured until he gave up smoking cannabis altogether.

Adelaide-based drug expert and emergency ward doctor, Dr David Caldicott, said he had seen three cases of the illness and it was possibly also under-reported by sufferers. "We're probably seeing the tip of the iceberg in the emergency departments, it's probably far more common but far milder (in the broader community)," he said.

Little was known about how cumulative cannabis use could lead to vomiting and, particularly, why sufferers would find some relief in hot bathing, Dr Caldicott also said. "That's a distinct and unanimously recurrent feature of this condition, and we don't know why," he said. "Grown men, screaming in pain, sweating profusely, vomiting every 30 seconds and demanding to be allowed to use the shower. It's a very dramatic presentation."

Dr Caldicott said the condition had been identified in a small number of cannabis users "but in the medical community it is now considered to be a real condition".

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, based at the University of NSW, is taking a more conservative approach. Centre director Jan Copeland said more cases would need to emerge before it could be considered a new syndrome linked to chronic cannabis use. "It is not unusual for there to be significant mental and physical health complications with this level of cannabis use," Professor Copeland said.


Crooked Victorian cop finally convicted

THE former media chief for Victoria Police has avoided jail after pleading guilty to perjury charges. Stephen Linnell, 40, was given an eight-month jail sentence, fully suspended for two years, in the Melbourne Magistrates Court today after leaking sensitive information about a murder probe then lying about the leak under oath. He was also fined $5000 over the charges.

Linnell pleaded guilty to three counts of perjury and three counts of disclosing confidential information. The court previously heard Linnell leaked sensitive information about a murder probe to then assistant commissioner Noel Ashby because he saw him as a mentor and close friend.

The information related to the 2003 murder of male prostitute and alleged rapist Shane Chartres-Abbott and the probe was examining whether police were involved. Linnell then lied about leaking the information when called to give evidence under oath at an Office of Police Integrity (OPI) hearing in 2007. The court had heard Linnell was trying to "protect a mate'' and had nothing to gain personally from passing on the information. He claimed to have been manipulated by Mr Ashby in his drive to succeed Christine Nixon as chief commissioner.

Mr Ashby and former police union secretary Paul Mullett also face perjury charges and will appear at a pre-trial committal hearing in May. Both have said they will fight the charges.

Linnell quit his media director job in November 2007 and now works as a journalist at a suburban newspaper. Wearing a black pinstriped suit and white shirt, Linnell showed little emotion as magistrate Peter Couzens sentenced him. "The price you have paid both professionally and personally for your actions is the price you will continue to pay for the rest of your days,'' Mr Couzens said.

Linnell's family, including his brother Gary who is the editor of Sydney's Daily Telegraph, and other supporters took up almost two rows of the packed courtroom.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG notes the bikie brawl at Sydney airport and is disturbed at the lack of security it reveals

Snooty Australians diss New Zealand

If an inability to buy a copy of "The Age" (Australia's most Leftist major newspaper) is a problem, I think that tells you all you need to know about the complainers. I rather think that an inability to buy a copy of "The Age" is a mark in New Zealand's favour. And why can't they read "The Age" online, anyway? Are they that dumb? I suspect that they have a poor opinion of New Zealand because their arrogance has made them unpopular. When I was in New Zealand I found it to be a very pleasant and remarkably scenic place with excellent wines. And the Kiwis have just got rid of their destructive Leftist government -- which puts them one ahead of Australia

AN Australian couple has upset Kiwis with an online expat guide which warns that Auckland is a "horrible soulless city" and its inhabitants are "hobbits" who cannot dress properly. The anonymous duo have used their website, fushnchups.co.nz, to attack their new home across the Tasman, rubbishing everything from the country's beer to its major cities and lack of worldliness.

"I was horrified that I couldn't buy a copy of The Age, even in the major bookstores. True story," wrote the bloggers, a professional couple in their late 20s.

They sum up the largest city, Auckland, as horrible and soulless, a comment the city's tourism CEO Graeme Osborne took exception to. "Maybe they're just envious that Auckland recently rated ahead of every Australian city as a tourist destination," Osborne said. "They should get in touch with me personally and I guarantee I'll change their impression."

The couple also trashed Rotorua, a popular tourist destination famed for it sulfuric activity, saying it "absolutely stinks". "It smells like the whole town let rip at once," they say on the site, set up as a guide for Australians contemplating making a move over the ditch. "Can blokes (in Rotorua) get away with letting out a silent-but-deadly in bed next to the missus?" they ask. "How do people tell when their eggs have gone off?"

Ruth Crampton from Destination Rotorua said the Aussie bloggers had missed the point. "It's the smell that makes us special," Crampton said. "And didn't they read that scientists have discovered the gas which causes smell is great for men's sexual arousal and prowess? "That's a reason to visit."

The New Zealand beer brewery, DB, took exception to an open letter on the site which says the national brew is lacking in hops. "They can't be serious," a DB spokeswoman said. "We've got some of the best beer in the world."

The bloggers also waded into touchy tran-Tasman waters, laying claim to pavlova and Phar Lap, but adding "you can have Russell Crowe".

Professor Philippa Mein Smith, of the NZ Australia Connections Research Centre at the University of Canterbury, said the comments were "pathetically rude" and did nothing to help the two countries relate. Picking up that the young pair were from Tasmania, she decided to give some back. "Isn't Tasmania the butt of all the jokes over there?" Prof Mein Smith said. "They're just attacking us because they themselves are at the bottom of the pecking order back home." [Tasmania is known as the home of ABC, where A stands for apples, B stands for beer and C stands for something I had better not utter. It refers to Tasmania's reputation for incest]


Setback for Australia's Gestapo

iiNet quits Government web filter trials. "Gestapo" is an abbreviation for "Geheime Staatspolizei" or "Secret State Police". Judge for yourself whether it fits

AUSTRALIA'S third largest internet service provider (ISP) has pulled out of the Government's web filtering trials, saying the plan is "no longer just about stopping child porn".

The Government's plan involves a nation-wide filter that stops "unwanted material" from appearing on Australian user's computer screens. iiNet says the ambiguity of "unwanted material" is what caused it to pull out of the trials. “We are not able to reconcile participation in the trial with our corporate social responsibility, our customer service objectives and our public position on censorship,” iiNet managing director Michael Malone said in a statement.

“It became increasingly clear that the trial was not simply about restricting child pornography or other such illegal material, but a much wider range of issues including what the Government simply describes as 'unwanted material' without an explanation of what that includes."

Shadow Minister for Communications Senator Nick Minchin said the iiNET withdrawal cast further doubt over the internet filtering trials. “This decision by iiNet casts further doubt over the veracity and credibility of these trials and raises more questions about the Rudd Government’s unpopular mandatory filtering policy,” Senator Minchin said. “While the Government has selected six ISPs to take part in the first stage of the trial, I am advised that none of them, other than Webshield, which already offers its customers an ISP-level filtering option are in a position to even yet start.

“The onus is squarely on Communications Minister Senator Conroy to demonstrate what he is proposing is even technically feasible and while the Coalition is prepared to examine any trial results that are produced, he must commit to an independent audit of any results to ensure they are credible. Without the involvement of the nation’s three largest ISPs it is difficult to see how any meaningful results will be produced," he said.

Earlier this year, the Government snubbed larger ISPs Optus and iiNet when announcing participants for its first round of live trials, instead favouring a handful of small ISPs. One of them, Primus, has since compared compulsory web filtering to China.

Optus will still seek to participate in the second round of trials, according to ZDNet.com.au.

iiNet had stated it would take part in the trials to prove that an ISP-level web filter won't work. “Everyone is repulsed by, and opposed to, child pornography but this trial and policy is not the solution or even about that." “In reality, the vast majority of online child pornography activity does not appear on public websites but is distributed over peer-to-peer networks which are not and cannot be captured by this trial or policy.”

The web filter is based on blacklist of websites administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Last week, a list of websites purporting to be ACMA's blacklist was leaked online, containing alleged links to child porn as well as more common sites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, and small businesses.

Geheimepolizist Conroy denied the leaked list was the same as ACMA's, but said it contained "some common URLs".


Australia: State of secrecy

THE media in the US enjoys an incredible amount of freedom, at least compared with the media in Australia. For example, the media in the US can tell you exactly what Barack Obama did on his first full day in the White House. He spent the first 10 minutes alone in the Oval Office in quiet contemplation. During that time, he read a letter that former president George W. Bush had left on the desk for him. At 9.10am, wife Michelle popped in. Together they went to prayers, then, on his return to the Oval Office, Barack Obama issued his first memo as President. The topic? Transparency in government.

In that memo, widely available online, Obama instructed the heads of all the various government agencies he controls to be open and honest with the American people. The presumption, he said, should be "in favour of disclosure". To that end, department heads should renew their commitment to freedom of information law and take "affirmative steps to make information public". Moreover, they should use modern technology (that is, the internet) to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government.

Now, it's all very well for Obama to issue such a memo on day one in office. Time will tell how transparent his administration actually is, but it's interesting to compare that memo from Obama's first full day in office with the Rudd Government's progress on transparency in government.

When Labor was in Opposition in Australia, it too promised a "sunlight" policy on information held by government. It pledged changes to freedom of information laws that would make so many more documents accessible, in a reasonable time frame and at a sensible fee, to anybody who wanted to seethem. It promised protection for whistleblowers, who could include people such as the nurse who came forward and exposed the horror at the heart of the Bundaberg hospital scandal; and it promised shield protection for journalists such as the Herald Sun's top reporters, Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey, who were fined $7000 each and given criminal records for refusing to reveal their sources on a story about lax airport security that was correct and in the public interest.

These changes are necessary and overdue, and not just because the media says so. The ordinary member of the public probably has no idea how difficult it is to get even the simplest information out of government.

Under existing law and protocol, anybody employed by the government - that can mean a nurse, a police officer or a bus driver - is threatened with disciplinary action if they speak to the media.

It's not possible for journalists to call state schools and ask principals what they think about a state government plan to tackle bullying. It's not possible to call social workers in indigenous communities to ask them whether new rules on the supply of petrol have helped or harmed the young. All must go through the central press office: in other words, through government.

In recent weeks, the Rudd Government has busily been insisting that it has, or is, delivering on its promise to make government more transparent. Last Friday, for example, Attorney-General Robert McClelland congratulated himself for introducing to parliament the Evidence Amendment (Journalists' Privilege) Bill 2009, otherwise known as the Government's shield laws for journalists.

McClelland says the law will provide "much-needed protection for journalists", but it won't do any such thing. It won't give a journalist the right to protect their source and it won't place the onus on the government (or any other agency) to explain why a source should be exposed.

All the change will do is give judges some discretion when dealing with journalists who won't reveal their source.

How will this change compare with law in other democracies? The Australian National University's leading student of shield laws, Lorraine Ingham, last year compared Australian laws with legislation in New Zealand, Britain and the US. She says Australia continues to "lag well behind its foreign counterparts" because there is "no presumption in Australia that a journalist need not reveal their source" and the new legislation will not change that.

Moreover, there is nothing in the Australian amendment about public interest or about the right of the people to a free flow of information, both of which are features of the US and the NZ laws.

According to Ingham, it should be incumbent on the Australian government, or whatever other party is seeking disclosure, to explain why the identity of the source is a matter of public interest and the reason can't be: "Because we want to charge them with the offence of leaking."

McClelland says that, under his amendments, judges will have to consider "the potential harm disclosure of identity could cause both the source and the journalist".

With respect, the fact journalist or source may come to harm if their identity is revealed is hardly the point. The point should be: Is this information in the public interest? If so, it's right and proper that it's before the public.

The protection of one's source is of paramount importance to journalists. This was proven in 1995, when The Australian's editor, Paul Whittaker, who was working as an investigative reporter for Brisbane's The Courier-Mail, refused to answer 430 questions at a commission of inquiry about the source behind a story about former Labor senator Graham Richardson. The inquiry was set up to determine who had leaked to Whittaker and Marian Wilkinson, then a reporter at The Australian, information about a politically sensitive investigation into allegations of corruption concerning Richardson. Richardson was accused of being supplied with prostitutes by Gold Coast businessmen in exchange for making favourable representations on their behalf to a US defence contractor. Whittaker's home was raided and he was threatened with being jailed indefinitely for contempt, but he held firm and 14 years later he shows no sign of buckling. He has never revealed his source.

A coalition of media organisations, formed last May under the banner of Australia's Right to Know, has welcomed the planned changes, saying the amendments, if passed, will at least mean that journalists won't "automatically face conviction or jail" if they refuse to disclose the identity of a source.

McClelland says the new law should be read in conjunction with the Government's planned laws to protect whistleblowers, which are likely to be introduced later this year.

The whistleblower laws are likely to be informed by the findings of a legal and constitutional affairs committee headed by Mark Dreyfus QC. That committee suggests that whistleblowers first take their concerns to a superior of some kind (and, in the process, probably wreck their career); and, if that doesn't work, they should complain to an external body such as the Commonwealth Ombudsman (a process that is itself likely to be a bureaucratic nightmare, befouled by politics). If - or when - that fails, the whistleblower must wait a reasonable period (whatever that may mean) before taking their concerns to journalists, and then only if the matter concerns "an immediate and serious threat to public health and safety".

According to Dreyfus, these changes would "transform the culture of the public service and protect whistleblowers from reprisals".

In fact, whistleblowers would still have to jump through hoops and lawyers would have a field day trying to decide what constitutes an immediate and serious threat.

This newspaper wonders: would airport security qualify? After all, it was The Australian that in 2005 published details from an internal Customs report that revealed lax security and drug-smuggling rings at several airports, leaving the country vulnerable to terrorism. The report had been ignored by internal officials for two years before it eventually was leaked to the newspaper. No journalist was dragged to court but Customs official Allan Kessing was charged, convicted and sentenced to nine months' jail, later suspended. He lost his job and is fighting an appeal, which has cost him his savings, all while protesting his innocence. The Australian has never given up its source. Its view issimple: the story was correct and in the publicinterest, and therefore was published.

University of Queensland business school lecturer Bill De Maria has described the planned reform of whistleblower law as "mean and narrow in its vision" and "embarrassingly conservative in its proposals". "It won't give protection to ordinary members of the public wishing to report instances of commonwealth wrongdoing," he says. "It won't give protection to people fed up with bureaucratic obstruction and harassment who go to the media."

Australian Press Council chairman Ken McKinnon agrees, saying: "The future situation will be hardly better than it is today. Whistleblowers know that their best and quickest chance of rectifying corruption, waste and general governmental incompetence is to go directly to the press."

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren says: "This Government made some very positive noises in Opposition. There are some signs that it has a positive attitude to some of these issues, but we'd like it to go a lot further. Paying lip-service is not enough. It demands national leadership, practical legislation and committed campaigning. It also demands a change in culture, from that of secrecy to one of transparency and openness."

Nobody is pretending the news media always gets the balance right when it comes to the release of information. As John Hartigan, chairman and chief executive of News Limited (publisher of The Australian), said in one of his many speeches on this topic: "Certainly our media is imperfect and its journalism sometimes flawed. The media, like most industries, has room for improvement."

Hartigan's point, however, is that media "remains our primary source of information" about politicians and government, and "the only one that can challenge that information, to test that it's right ... to unearth the things they're hiding, tell everyone what's really going on."

That is why members of the Right to Know coalition - Fairfax, the ABC, SBS, the commercial television networks and News Limited - remain united on the subject of media freedom. Today this group will host a forum on the Right to Know.

Of particular interest will be Special Minister of State John Faulkner, who is expected to outline details of the freedom of information reforms. He has hinted that a change in culture is necessary. That's both true and overdue.


Fraudulent immigration "cut"

Leftists love immigration because it will upset the "complacency" (read "comfort") of ordinary folk. Anything that upsets the status quo is good. Being happy with how things are is forbidden. So Australia's Leftist government has fostered a big rise in immigration -- despite the fact that its unionist backers are very dubious about it

CONGRATULATIONS to Immigration Minister Chris Evans for the best spin since Shane Warne was at his peak, but I suspect the minister might be surprised at how easy it has been to befuddle most of Australia's media. The "leaking" of the "14 per cent cut" in skilled migration on Sunday worked a treat, capturing the headlines on Monday and getting a second run with the official announcement that night on the box and in Tuesday's fish wrappers.

Most of it, as Evans well knows, was misleading nonsense, just throwing the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union a bone to protect a few construction and building tradies, being seen to be doing something about rising unemployment, while actually having no meaningful impact on this year's record migration surge.

Yes, Evans did announce a cut of 18,500 in the skilled permanent migrant category, "slashing" the intake by 14 per cent to 115,000. He might not have mentioned this still meant a 12 per cent increase on the previous year's intake and represented a bare 5 per cent impact on total migration this year, that's close to 350,000. Make that 332,000 now, still a record high.

The industry and union response was in tune with the Government's intention of being perceived to be active in the hitherto missing policy area while not really rocking the boat or reducing the demand created by new migrants. There are uncomfortable truths about the mix of labour and migration policies in this recession, starting with the reality that the labour market is weakening from a strong base.

If you accept that the Australia of 4 per cent unemployment effectively had "full" employment, then our present 5.2 per cent nominal jobless rate really means 1.2 per cent. There were already doubts in the first half of last year about the sustainability of sub-5 per cent unemployment, if inflation was to be contained.

Less media coverage was given to total employment remaining flat. Admittedly, this was due to a surge in part-time jobs making up for the fall in full-time jobs, but in harder times, a job is a job. Even when unemployment reaches the 7 per cent forecast by the Government and major banks, it won't be much above the level before Australia's last recession.

As Evans admits, there are still areas where Australia lacks skills and must import the end-product of other countries' investment in education and training. Some people are losing jobs and more will, but in any historical context, we're a long way from being in the crisis the politicians and headlines suggest.

The Government has caught itself in a trap by convincing the electorate before the last election that working families were doing it tough, when they really never had it so good. From such heights, any fall can seem steep.

Our real immigration numbers are much higher than the official immigration program generally reported. May's budget boosted the "official" program places by 20 per cent to 190,300 - just to put this week's cut of 18,500 in perspective - but there are another 160,000 not officially referred to as migrants. Kiwis, 457 visas and a few others are not part of the official migration policy.

It is not unreasonable to expect the number of dipthong stranglers [New Zealanders have a distinctive accent] from across the ditch will at least be maintained, some of them economic refugees, maybe finding work here in construction. Last financial year, 34,491 Kiwis settled. There were another 1428 people in an unspecified "other non-program" category.

And there are the subsection 457 guest workers who are the first to feel the chill winds of labour protectionism. It seems 457 visas are down about 20 per cent in January and February, or about 100,000 people this year. I'd argue that the way 457s hold up is a better indicator of the real strength of the Australian labour market and our skills shortages and mismatches than what comes out of ABS labour surveys.


Monday, March 23, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says Australia now has a culture of bingeing, and not only on alcohol

Farewell Pauline

It would seem that Australia's most famous political outsider is finished. I voted for her three times because her policy on Aborigines seemed to me to make her the least racist candidate. Her platform had two major planks: A drastic cutback in immigration and an end to special treatment of Aborigines. For that she was branded racist despite her message being in fact what was contained in the name of her party: One Nation. She wanted immigrants to assimilate and everybody to be treated the same by governments. Assimilation is in fact the opposite of racism. It says that being Australian is cultural and you can become an Australian regardless of your race. Note that the last representative of her party was married to a man of Chinese descent -- hardly racist. Despite Pauline's various defeats, her concerns about lax immigration controls resonated strongly with the people and underlay the swingeing and effective crackdown on illegals put into place by John Howard

Saturday rammed home the final nail in the coffin for One Nation, with the defeat of its sole MP and the failure of Pauline Hanson in her seventh attempt to be elected to parliament.

One Nation became a significant political force when it won 11 seats when it first contested the Queensland election in 1998. But Rosa Lee Long, who had been the One Nation MP for Tablelands since 2001, looks to have failed in her bid to win the new seat of Dalrymple in north Queensland. Counting was close on Saturday night and Ms Lee Long was yesterday not conceding, saying she would fight to the last vote.

With Ms Lee Long's apparent defeat, the only connection One Nation has with elected politicians is that one of its MPs elected in 1998, Dorothy Pratt, still sits in the Queensland parliament as the independent member for Nanango. Ms Pratt left One Nation during her first term.

Ms Hanson's candidacy in Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, attracted national media attention but not enough voters. She secured 22 per cent of the vote to run third behind Labor and the Liberal National Party winner Aiden McLindon.

Ms Hanson has sought election to the Senate three times and once to the NSW parliament, since she won the federal seat of Oxley in 1996 and failed to win the new seat of Blair in 1998. On Saturday night, she would not rule out another tilt at politics, despite having said when she nominated this would be her last run at politics. She'd wait and see how she felt after a good night's sleep. "I think I've got a great result to get the vote that I have," she said. Ms Hanson said the vote confirmed for her so far was an indication people were not satisfied with the major parties.

The One Nation founder blamed the media for her loss, referring to the publication of raunchy photographs of a young woman erroneously claimed to be her in the mid-1970s by News Limited Sunday newspapers. "I seem to get this huge media hype every time I run," Ms Hanson said. "I feel I am being hounded by the media. I have had to deal with issues that no other candidate has had to deal with."


Australian rights record under scrutiny in UN seat bid

What a lot of crap. Human rights are as good in Australia as in any country in the world. And as far as Aborigines are concerned, successive Australian governments poured welfare money down their throats for decades because anything else would have been called racist. The fact that welfare did more harm than good is no surprise but it was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't

PRIME MINISTER Kevin Rudd's dream of winning a UN Security Council seat might be dashed by international concerns about Australia's record on human rights.

Australia's poor treatment of its indigenous population and refugees will come under scrutiny by an international human rights watchdog, amid continuing lobbying for a seat on the prestigious UN body that oversees military and peace-keeping operations.

The Human Rights Committee will today examine Australia's human rights record and issues, including the Northern Territory intervention and immigration detention.

Australian lawyers meeting in New York last week said a good report from the committee would improve the Prime Minister's bid to join the Security Council.

"It would assist substantially," said Human Rights Law Resource Centre director Philip Lynch. "Australia has put human rights front and centre of its Security Council bid."

High level officials from the Immigration, Indigenous Affairs and Attorney-General's departments will represent Australia during the two-day hearing.

Andrew Hudson, senior associate at non-government organisation Human Rights First, said the committee objectively examined countries and their compliance with treaties and standards.

"It will criticise Australia's human rights record to the extent that it falls short," he said.

Unlike the US and Britain, Australia does not have a bill of rights. Proponents sense the Security Council bid could propel the Rudd Government to enshrine human rights in law, as they are in Victoria and other states.

Teena Bagli, from the National Association of Community Legal Centres, said human rights had to be secured for a bid to succeed. "It's vital for the Government - who has said human rights is important and is a part of their Security Council bid - to walk the walk," she said.


University rejects demand for Muslim prayer room

The existing eight Muslim prayer rooms are not enough, apparently

AUSTRALIAN universities are responsible for providing quality education, not consecrated religious spaces, according to a university involved in a bitter dispute over Muslim prayer rooms.

Dozens of Islamic students plan to protest today to demand that a dedicated Muslim prayer room replace an existing multi-faith centre at Melbourne's RMIT. But acting pro vice-chancellor Maddy McMaster said it was not for universities to provide consecrated religious spaces. "A university's responsibility to its students is to provide them with a quality education," she said. "Recognising that the educational experience is not confined to the classroom, RMIT offers other services, including prayer rooms. It falls to religious communities to provide the consecrated spaces."

The dispute over prayer rooms at RMIT's Swanston Street campus began when a Muslim prayer room was demolished in late 2007 as part of renovations. The university's Islamic student association claims it was promised new rooms but that the institution reneged on its promise by making them multi-faith. They are now campaigning to have the multi-faith rooms declared Muslim-only. "As a result (of the multi-faith centre) students and staff have been forced to pray," the RMIT Islamic Society said on its website. "As a consequence of not having a Muslim prayer room on Swanston St, Muslim females have allegedly been subject to sexual abuse, harassment and religious vilification."

Organisers of the protest - which has the backing of the National Union of Students and the RMIT Student Union - say they have been left with no choice but to take action.

But Dr McMaster said the university already provided a number of prayer rooms for Muslim students across all its campuses. "It is difficult to see how we can improve on eight Muslim prayer rooms, with one more opening, as well as providing Muslim students with preferential access to two prayer rooms in the multi-faith Spiritual Centre," she said. "(Universities) should provide quality resources for those who choose a spiritual path. But as a secular institution, such resources do not include consecrated spaces such as churches, synagogues or mosques."

NUS president David Barrow said the demand for Muslim prayer rooms was increasing and space was a problem. "With the influx of international students from Muslim countries, the Muslim prayer rooms haven't been able to cope with the load," he said.


The crazy politics of learning to read

By Miranda Devine

Ideological promoters of the discredited "whole language", or osmosis method, of teaching children to read have been unmasked this week. The whole language lobby's devious and irrational opposition to evidence was exemplified in a bid to derail the State Government's trial of MULTILIT, a successful remedial reading program based on explicit phonics teaching.

In an email stream last week from Associate Professor Brian Cambourne, of Wollongong University, to literacy educators who subscribe to a university mailing list, strategies for winning the "reading wars" were laid bare. Cambourne, regarded as the "godfather" of whole language in Australia, urges his network to "flood Verity's [the Education Minister, Verity Firth's] office" with messages designed to denigrate MULTILIT and undermine the trial "at an almost subconscious level". He also suggests linking the program to "readicide", which he defines as "the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools".

Confronted this week by The Australian's education writer, Justine Ferrari, Cambourne came up with this extraordinary quote: "When you rely on evidence, it's twisted … We rely on the cognitive science framing theory, to frame things the way you want the reader to understand them to be true."

That sounds like a postmodern justification for obfuscation.

To their great credit, it appears that both Firth and the federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, are more interested in results than ideology. Gillard has tied literacy and numeracy funding to programs proven effective by evidence-based research. "This is about finding out what works," Gillard said in a press release last May. Similarly, Firth has said she is not interested in "internecine debates". She urged educators to "stop arguing about what we believe and start talking about what we know".

In other words, reading programs should be based on evidence of what works. Paying lip service to phonics under the rebadging of whole-word theory as "balanced" instruction isn't enough. Both Firth and Gillard are lawyers who understand the value of evidence. Interestingly, both are also members of the Labor Left, which will insulate them from the ideological ad hominem attacks usually employed by the leftists of the whole-language lobby, and may help to unhook the teaching of reading from its historic left-right baggage.

It has never made sense that the whole-word doctrine has been a hobbyhorse of left-wingers, when its results work particularly to the detriment of the working class. Underprivileged children have suffered most from the marginalisation of phonics in schools, as their homes are generally not rich learning environments. The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (of which I was a member) found as many as 30 per cent of year 5 students had literacy problems preventing them from "effectively participating" in further schooling. The National Curriculum Board reportedly puts the figure for struggling readers at between 20 per cent and 40 per cent.

How can anyone dismiss the miracles that go on every day in classrooms in Uniting Church centres in Ashfield and Redfern and in a Noel Pearson-led trial in Cape York, where the reading age of indigenous students is three to four years behind the national average.

You just have to see for yourself the joy in the faces of children as they learn the sounds of the alphabet and how to put them together in words, and they suddenly realise what the "black stuff" on the page means.

In the program trial in Coen, on Cape York, some children started learning so quickly a special accelerated program had to be devised for them. After two terms there were average gains of almost two years in reading accuracy.

How can anyone ignore Melbourne's Bellfield Primary, one of the most disadvantaged schools in Australia, which transformed itself by rejecting whole language theory and instituting a program of explicit phonics instruction. The results were stunning, with 91 per cent of grade 2 students reading with 100 per cent accuracy compared to the previous 31 per cent. How can anyone reject results of the seven-year study of underprivileged children in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, who were taught to read using an intensive form of phonics, and wound up more than three years ahead of their peers.

In his email stream, Cambourne gives a clue to the origins of his ideological blinkers when he dismisses the evidence on which the MULTILIT trial rests as a "neo-liberal" concern.

"I believe that the neoliberal views of 'evidence-based research' … can be shown to be just as flawed as their economic theories". How the science of teaching children to read became an ideological battleground is a mystery to Professor Kevin Wheldall, the inspirational creator of MULTILIT. But there is no doubt it has been a tragedy, as the whole language movement has held sway for 40 years, with its Rousseauian notion that children learn to read naturally just by being exposed to books. When it became clear this was not the case for as many as two-thirds of children, whole-language proponents did not question their beliefs but turned to social justice for justification. Teacher education courses became infected with the revolutionary idea that only by eradicating poverty and underprivilege (by overthrowing the patriarchal, authoritarian, elitist capitalist system, of course) could students progress.

This has been as futile and damaging as the notion that we cannot prevent catastrophic bushfires unless we stop climate change. It is using the tragedy of illiterate children as the means to achieve an ideological end.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Another cop gets away with it

A cop drinks three 15 oz. glasses of beer in an hour -- which would put him well over the .05 limit -- and it is the guy who told of that who gets punished! The fact that the cop's friends in the force declared him under the limit would convince no-one. In Queensland, a "schooner" is three quarters of a pint

A QUEENSLAND barman has lost his job after he dobbed in a police officer for downing three heavy beers in an hour then driving home with his three children in the car. Craig Tomsett of Gladstone was sacked by his boss at the Gladstone Golf Club when the police officer in question made a written complaint about his behaviour on February 13.

In the letter, the police officer admitted to drinking three schooners of Toohey's Extra Dry in an hour then driving home with his children. He said when he was breath-tested at home by police he was "well under 0.05" despite having consumed the equivalent of 4.5 standard drinks.

"If Tomsett alleges I was intoxicated to such an extent that he was concerned about me driving a motor vehicle, the question begs asking as to why he continued serving me alcohol which is in clear breach of the Liquor Act 1992 and Liquor Regulations 2002," the officer wrote in the letter sent from Gladstone Police Station. "An offence which, if proved to be accurate, would lead to a substantial monetary fine for the Gladstone Golf Club."

He also claimed Mr Tomsett, 39, had a personal vendetta against him as a police officer and suggested the single father would be "well advised to look after his own back yard".

Mr Tomsett was sacked the day after his employer received the letter, which he has passed on to the Crime and Misconduct Commission. Police this week confirmed the Ethical Standards Command was investigating Mr Tomsett's complaint with the CMC overviewing.

Mr Tomsett admitted he and the police officer were former neighbours who had a falling out last year over the officer's dogs but he denied the drink-driving allegation was a payback. "I have an obligation of care to notify police. His statement in itself is evident that he was drink-driving," Mr Tomsett said.

Since making the complaint to the CMC, Mr Tomsett said he had been followed by the police officer in question and on Thursday his house was raided by police and the dog squad. Gladstone police said the raid was related to a separate matter but Mr Tomsett claimed he was the victim of intimidation. "I had an officer intimidate me and threaten to put my four-year-old son into child services. It just beggars belief. They found nothing," Mr Tomsett, who has previously been fined for possessing a small amount of marijuana, said.

Gladstone Golf Club manager Ivan Carr said Mr Tomsett was sacked because of his "inappropriate behaviour" towards the police officer but declined to comment further.


Australia's secretive internet censorship

The censorship is offensive enough by itself but the veil of secrecy over it is an open invitation to abuse by bureaucrats and politicians

SECRECY, said British judge Sir John Chadwick, is the badge of fraud. He was speaking in the context of financial fraud but it seems equally to apply in Australia where governments wear the badge while robbing us of our freedoms, all the while pretending to do precisely the opposite. We have over the past decade descended down a path of official deceit where governments erode our freedoms of association and expression while making it an offence to speak of their fraudulence.

It began in the hysteria of a post-9/11 world when the Government stole our presumption of innocence and the protections of habeas corpus under the pretext of protecting us, and then made it a crime to speak about its trespasses. Demonstrable incompetents were empowered to bang people up and, if their blunderings found nothing criminal, to release them under an oath of secrecy and pain of punishment if they revealed what had been done in the name of national security. Secrecy became an end to itself, behind which the Government and its minions were able to hide their worst excesses and intimidate their victims.

Now, under the pretext of protecting us from corruption on the internet, a government of a different colour hides its abuses of power behind another veil. And it threatens punitive damages against anyone who lifts the veil and exposes its stupidity.

Anyone who gives more than a passing thought to their rights should have been long concerned over the Federal Government's nobly declared but ill-considered and illiberal plan to filter the internet. More specifically, they should have been outraged over the Government's blacklist of 10,000 sites which were to be added to another 1300 identified by the unelected and faceless Australian Communications and Media Authority to be filtered out of our consciousness.

Just what might we be protected against? We may never know. The ACMA list was said to be mainly of child pornography sites, but last year Broadband and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy could not even define the grounds for restricting the 10,000, although they were supposed to contain "illegal and unwanted content". Now we learn the ACMA list of banned sites has mysteriously grown to more than 2300, with no public inquiry and no rights of appeal. Worse, we are not allowed to know what is on the proscribed list and anyone who wants to rescue us from our ignorance is threatened with up to 10 years in jail.

An outfit called Wikileaks put online a leaked list of what purports to be the banned list, including entirely innocent sites and blameless individuals. For its trouble, it was threatened with huge fines and placed on the blacklist. Conroy denies the veracity of the list but we may never know because it is a dark secret shared by the Government, the ACMA and a favoured few who stand to get fat by perfecting the internet filter.

For all Conroy's denials and sanctimony about irresponsibility, the expert opinion is that for the national filtering scheme to work the Government, through the ACMA, will have to be party to the distribution of possibly salacious, hurtful and erroneous information to a select few private companies.

And we, the people whose freedoms are curbed, will be forbidden under pain of penalty from ever knowing or speaking of what is hidden from our eyes.

What next? Who next? This is an assault on our freedoms, an insupportable presumption of power by government and its unelected officers that begins to erode freedoms guaranteed since Magna Carta. It is a Kafkaesque exercise in mindless tyranny that is unworthy of one of the world's oldest, proudest and previously durable democracies. Secrecy may be a badge of fraud. It is also the flag of frightened men.


Australia's population rises dramatically

The increased immigration was explicitly sought and encouraged by Australia's new Leftist government

The population of Australia experienced its biggest increase last year as the birth rate soared and migrants flooded in. The population rose by 390,000 - the equivalent of a city the size of Canberra - to reach 21.5 million people. Until two years ago, the annual population growth had never exceeded 300,000.

The growth rate of 1.84 per cent was the highest since 1970, after which advances in birth control and lower migration sent population growth plunging, dropping below 1 per cent for most of the following 30 years.

Although both birth and immigration rates can decline with a recession, the rapid population growth of recent years is expected to soften the impact of the global downturn. "The faster rate of population growth means that the economy can grow at a faster pace," Commsec chief economist Craig James said. "More people in Australia means greater demands for houses, roads, schools, hospitals and a raft of retail goods, and as such is providing much needed stimulus in trying times for the global economy."

Nationally, the birth rate is almost [1.84 is "almost" 2.1??] up to replacement rate, having risen from 1.72 births per woman in 2003 to a rate of 1.84, the highest in 21 years.

KPMG demographer Bernard Salt said the growth figures reflected the boom, which did not end until late last year and that it was no accident women had started having more than two children each in the resource states of Queensland and Western Australia. Tasmania has been above that level for three years.

NSW has the lowest birth rate of 1.79, while the rate is about 1.95 in Victoria and South Australia.

Australian National University demographer Peter McDonald said the recession might bring only a small fall of 10,000 to 20,000 in the number of births, which reached 295,000 in the 12months to September. Professor McDonald said it was hard to tell how long the trend would last, but the long decline from the 1970s, marked by women postponing their first child, appeared to have reversed. The change in the birth rate had been most marked among women aged between 28 and 40 years, he said.

Family benefits and other supports for women in the workforce appeared to explain the change, he said. Advanced nations with low birth rates of about 1.2 all lacked effective family policies.

Perth mother Justine Giles already had three children when she gave birth to twins Bryn and Tassia in November. "It was a bit of a shock, but we're delighted now," she said. Ms Giles, 38, said many of her friends had stopped at two for financial reasons, but she and her husband had always wanted more. "I grew up in a family of five and I had a large extended family and I've always really enjoyed the company of my extended family," she said. The baby bonus was not a factor because "$5000 doesn't go very far in raising a child".

The ABS said 60 per cent of the population growth came from migration, with people who were here for at least a year reaching 235,800. This is 33.5 per cent more than a year earlier, and more than double the immigration rate of four years ago.

Although there were reports that the applications for 457 temporary work visas had fallen sharply, there were still strong flows of students and working holidaymakers, Professor McDonald said. "If you add up the categories, I don't think you'll see much fall in migration as a result of the Government's cuts," he said, referring to the decision to reduce the intake of skilled workers by 14,000 a year.


Some sense about crocs coming?

The people-hating Greenies will go hysterical, of course. Even with 80,000 of them, crocs will still be "endangered"

TOURISTS could soon be allowed to hunt crocodiles with the Northern Territory Government renewing a push to allow safaris to help cull the predators. The government is expected to increase the crocodile cull in the rural area, following the death of 11-year-old Briony Anne Goodsell in Lambells Lagoon, reports the Northern Territory News.

Tourism Minister Chris Burns said he still supported calls for crocodile safari hunting. This has renewed calls for crocodile safaris to help with the cull. "When I was Environment Minister, I was front and centre, lobbying Canberra to have very limited croc safaris," he said. "I'm still a supporter of that."

The previous federal government knocked back several applications for the Territory to set up a croc safari.

Dr Burns suggested a new application could be made to the Rudd Government as part of the latest review of crocodile management. Environment Minister Alison Anderson said the government remained in favour of croc safari hunting "particularly as an enterprise opportunity for traditional owners". She promised to pursue the issue with Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

Mr Garrett's office said no proposal had been lodged for a crocodile safari. But spokesman Ben Pratt said the minister would consider an application under the legislation if one was lodged.

Ms Anderson said crocodile safaris would not solve the problem of increasing interactions between humans and crocodiles in the rural area. "Management in these more densely populated areas requires a range of strategies, including monitoring, removal and community awareness." She said those strategies would be set out in the updated Crocodile Management Plan, to be released soon.

The previous federal government stopped international hunters from shooting crocodiles in 2005 by banning export of trophies – skin and skulls. However, the death of Briony Anne Goodsell's has prompted the NT Government to implement tighter controls of the crocodile population, recently estimated to be the highest in Australia at more than 80,000.


Australia ready to boycott Durban II

Australia said it will boycott the Durban II anti-racism conference unless the heavily anti-Israel conference draft document is changed. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in federal parliament March 12 that Australia would join Israel, Canada, the United States and Italy in withdrawing from the United Nations-sponsored conference pending a revision of the text of the draft documents for next month's conference in Geneva. “If we form the view that the text is going to lead to nothing more than an anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic harangue and an anti-Jewish propaganda exercise, Australia will not be in attendance,” Smith said.

“We will give the working group every opportunity to revise the text in a qualitatively improved way to ensure that that does not happen, and we will make our judgment at a time of our choosing when we have given all nation-states concerned the opportunity to add qualitatively to the text to enable it to form the proper basis of debate at the conference," he said.

Numerous Jewish representatives have lobbied the federal government to boycott the April 20-24 conference, which they fear will be a reprise of the U.N. World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that took place in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. Israel and the United States walked out of the conference, which they criticized as an anti-Israel hate fest.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Do-gooder judge was a psychopathic liar

Einfeld was so active in Jewish affairs that this will be an embarrassment to the whole community. It is also sad for me: I knew his father, Syd, slightly and found him to be a very decent man. Fortunately, he is now deceased so has not lived to see his son so disgraced

HE walked in to court like he was leading the parade. Ahead of him was his son Edward, in rock star sunglasses, clearing the way. His daughter Alexis found an arm, the smile she flashed at her father suggesting she found the whole situation over the top. All this for the small matter of a $77 fine that carried three demerit points, they seemed to sniff. And so a smile was met with a smile.

Marcus Einfeld was heading into court and, if all went to plan, he'd be back at the club to enjoy a leisurely lunch in the afternoon. First there was this little matter he had to get through. So in Court 13A of the NSW Supreme Court Einfeld found the dock and took his seat and pushed his face deep into his hand, and as Justice Bruce James started his sentencing remarks, Einfeld closed his eyes.

As the lies piled on top of the lies, causing great shame in front of all his family, Einfeld's head never lifted.

There was the dead woman, but there was another dead woman. The second dead woman was the one driving when Einfeld's car was snapped by a speed camera.

The detail in the lies were absolute. She not only drove his car, he lied, he had recalled how he explained to her how his e-Tag worked, how to drive his car. He met her in Bangladesh, this woman. She was of average height, "no higher than my shoulder, slim build with hair that's brownish, not dark nor blonde". She did not exist. He invented whole conversations.

Which naturally meant that if he could create her he could take her away, and so he invented her death, and a call from a man with a North American accent. "I'm ringing to let you know she has died, he may have said 'might have been killed'," Einfeld had testified. "I said 'Bloody hell, I don't believe it'." How could he. He invented it all....

"Sentencing," Justice James announced. Einfeld's head picked up, and through bloodshot eyes he looked squarely at the judge. Justice James said the offences "strike at the heart of the administration of justice". "Any lawyer," he said, "and especially a lawyer who has been a barrister and a judge, who commits such an offence, is to be sentenced on the basis he would have been fully aware of the gravity of his conduct."

Einfeld who had been happy to be addressed as Justice Einfeld when he initially fronted court, despite no longer being a judge, was seeing justice from a new angle. Now it dawned what this case was always about. That the rich and influential cannot get away from crimes the poor and middle class have been slugged with for years.

Justice James gave him three years, with a two-year non-parole period.... At 12.26pm Marcus Einfeld paid the price for dodging a $77 fine and three demerit points and was led through a side door.


Leftist "educators" still doing their best to dumb down Australian education

Science curriculum 'an insult'. Knowledge is a threat to the Left so they replace it with propaganda. Populism, not knowledge, keeps the Left afloat

PRIMARY school principals have condemned the national science curriculum for failing to focus on scientific knowledge and skills, describing its low expectations of primary teachers and students as insulting. In a scathing submission to the National Curriculum Board, the Australian Primary Principals Association says the science curriculum is overly concerned with teaching methods and too little with scientific content. "The aims are unbalanced in being too focused on active citizenship and the social outcomes of science at the expense of scientific knowledge and skills," the submission says. "The focus is on the uses of science and on matters which cluster around science, such as values, attitudes, approaches, rather than on science itself."

The association, which represents principals in government, Catholic and independent schools, says the curriculum largely ignores how little science is taught in primary schools, and particularly the lack of teachers with specialist science training and the resulting reluctance to teach science. The national curriculum is a chance to address this shortfall, but the proposed framework fails to take the opportunity, the submission says.

When the curriculum does address primary students, the APPA says it "seriously underestimates" the ability of children in the early years of school to work with real science content, and that it fails to outline a science program. "The suggestion that topics and major concepts could include 'block play and structures' and movement, as if these were substantially scientific in nature, is insulting to primary teachers," the submission says. "The suggestion that the world may well seem complex and complicated to children at this stage is likewise insulting."

On the English curriculum, the association welcomes the proposal to teach grammar and spelling explicitly and strongly supports the focus on teaching the basics, such as phonics, in reading and writing. While the principals agree that non-print texts should be studied in the English course, they say print literature should be the main medium studied -- putting the APPA at odds with the professional association representing English teachers.

The Australian Association for the Teaching of English says in its submission to the board that the amount of traditional literature taught will have to be reduced to allow room for the study of other forms of texts. However, the APPA criticises the jargonistic language used in the English curriculum, arguing that the terms are in "unnecessarily complex and specialised language".

"Language such as 'oriented to colonial agenda' (which seems to mean about Australia's past), 'authoritative teaching' (which seems to mean explicit teaching), 'disciplinarity' (which may mean the practice of English teaching) and 'modalities' (ways of communicating) seem to be either neologisms or terms drawn from academic discourse," it says. The principals would prefer the curriculum to be written in language familiar to primary teachers and others "not engaged in the academic study of subject English".

APPA president Leonie Trimper said the principals' overriding concern was that each subject was making an ambit claim for lesson time and risked further overcrowding the primary school timetable.


Thuggish defence of secrecy by the Victorian government

It tells you what a bungle they must be covering up

A BRUMBY government agency threatened to criminally prosecute a Coalition staffer who was pursuing a freedom of information request about Labor's politically sensitive north-south pipeline project. Melbourne Water threatened criminal contempt proceedings - which carry a maximum five-year jail term - against Clay Manners, an adviser to Nationals leader Peter Ryan, who was pursuing the FOI claim on behalf of Mr Ryan.

Melbourne Water claimed Mr Manners inappropriately passed on information he had received through initial FOI proceedings to allow Mr Ryan to pursue a second FOI request. The threat of criminal proceedings was made despite the fact that Mr Manners was pursuing the initial request on behalf of Mr Ryan and it was written on Mr Ryan's letterhead.

After lawyers for Mr Manners pressured Melbourne Water to explain its grounds for the contempt action, Melbourne Water dropped the threat on February 24. However, Melbourne Water is yet to release the documents that Mr Ryan believes will show the north-south pipeline would not be able to receive or deliver the amount of water claimed by the Government.

"This is just another sorry episode in the Secret State," Mr Ryan said yesterday. "If the Victorian Government was a public company, it would be charged with misleading and deceptive conduct. "It gives you a better understanding of why they have refused to have an independent commission against corruption."

The disclosure of the legal threat is embarrassing for Victorian Labor, which has boasted of its "open and transparent" approach to public office.

The Government yesterday tried to fend off reports that the pipeline would deliver much less water than promised. Despite earlier claims that the pipeline would deliver up to 75 billion litres of water to Melbourne, The Age newspaper quoted water authorities as privately saying it would struggle to supply half that amount in 2011, its second year of operation. Deputy Premier Rob Hulls yesterday admitted he did not know how much water the pipeline would deliver to Melbourne after 2010.

Mr Manners lodged an FOI request on behalf of Mr Ryan in April last year, seeking documents detailing the proposed entitlement Melbourne Water would hold to water supplied to the pipeline from the Goulburn River. The Nationals believed the documents would show the rules governing the amount of water available to Melbourne. The request was written on Mr Ryan's letterhead, but was signed by Mr Manners.

Melbourne Water identified two documents as relevant to the request. One was released with small deletions, but the second - an email exchange between officers of Melbourne Water and Goulburn Murray Water - was withheld as it was deemed to be exempt. Attached to the email was a spreadsheet predicting the allocation of water savings if a water entitlement arrangement was put in place.

As the legal proceedings continued, Melbourne Water changed tack. On November 13, it advised it would no longer claim the document was exempt. Instead, it claimed that all but one paragraph was irrelevant to the original request. Believing Melbourne Water was trying to frustrate access to the document, Mr Ryan submitted a second FOI request, seeking the full contents of the email in dispute.

Mick Batskos, a lawyer acting on behalf of Melbourne Water, wrote to Mr Manners on December 19, accusing him of inappropriately using a statement from the first FOI proceedings and passing it on to Mr Ryan. "I am instructed that my client is considering pursuing criminal contempt of tribunal proceedings against you," Mr Batskos wrote.

Lawyers for Mr Manners wrote to Mr Batskos asking him to provide details of the relevant facts that he believed supported a criminal contempt prosecution. After being asked again to withdraw the allegation or provide supporting facts, Mr Batskos wrote on February 24 that Melbourne Water did not intend to pursue criminal contempt proceedings.

Mr Ryan said yesterday he was concerned that such a serious allegation was made "with little or no legal substance" and highlighted the lengths taken by Melbourne Water to frustrate the release of the documents.

In a statement late yesterday, Melbourne Water defended its conduct, saying it took its obligations under FOI "very seriously". "Melbourne Water asked Mr Manners to explain the breach and accepted that it was inadvertent. Melbourne Water is glad this issue has been resolved." the statement said.


More contemptuous and contemptible behaviour from the Queensland police

Complaints chief faces fresh inquiry on bullying claims. Where is the supposed police watchdog (CMC) in this? As useless as ever, apparently

A senior police officer who was made far north Queensland's regional complaints manager after he was himself the subject of numerous complaints is under investigation again. This time Inspector Ian Swan is accused of harassing officers, using derogatory terms to describe indigenous people and urinating on the front lawn of the Cooktown Court House.

He was first investigated in 2002 when he was responsible for the Innisfail police district. Sources have told The Courier-Mail that police officers and civilians lodged complaints against him over his style of management. The Queensland Police Service refused to reveal the outcome of the investigation.

Insp Swan was transferred to Cairns, where he was made responsible for upholding professional practices of police. The position involved handling complaints against police and administering disciplinary measures. He was again investigated by the Ethical Standards Command and then Assistant Commissioner Peter Barron for allegedly leaving an offensive phone message for a Cairns Post reporter in March 2005. After a two-week investigation, the QPS said "appropriate action" had been taken but declined to divulge details.

Later that year, he became the northern stations inspector, overseeing about a dozen police stations north of Cairns. The QPS confirmed officers attached to Cooktown police station had lodged grievances against him including alleged use of offensive language to describe indigenous people and alleged threatening treatment over staffing matters. Police also told The Courier-Mail Insp Swan was accused of urinating on the front lawn of the Cooktown Court House on November 20, 2008.

Despite lodging the grievances last year, officers have only recently been interviewed and Insp Swan's responsibilities have remained unchanged. A Queensland Police Service spokesman said no further information could be released about the investigation. The spokesman said harassment in the workplace was taken seriously by the QPS and the matter would be thoroughly investigated.

Insp Swan expressed surprise about the complaints made against him when contacted by The Courier-Mail but declined to comment on the matter.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Millions may have visited popular websites on 'leaked blacklist'

A SECRET list of websites purporting to be from the communications watchdog has been leaked to the public, and includes one of the most popular sites in the country. The pornography site, which news.com.au cannot name, is the 38th most popular site in Australia, according to web ranking service Alexa. It is more popular than sites like White Pages, Yellow Pages, Optus, Career One and the official sites of the NSW, Victoria and Queensland state governments.

However the Communications Minister has denied this "leaked list" is the original from the watchdog.

A secret blacklist of illegal sites, maintained by the Australian Communications And Media Authority (ACMA), is the basis of the Federal Government's web filtering plan. Under the plan, all internet service providers will be forced to block access to sites on the blacklist.

The fake list was published on a public website without any age verification or warnings. It contains 2395 sites, which is what identified it as a fake, says Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. "The published list purports to be current at 6 August 2008 and apparently contains approximately 2400 URLs whereas the ACMA blacklist for the same date contained 1061 URLs," Senator Conroy said in a statement. Last November the media watchdog said its blacklist contained 1370 sites.

“The leaking of the list has confirmed some of our worst fears,” said vice-chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) Colin Jacobs earlier today, before the list was slammed by Senator Conroy. “This was bound to happen, especially as mandatory filtering would require the list to be distributed to ISPs all around the country."

As well as sites suspected of publishing child pornography the fake list includes pages on Wikipedia, YouTube and Wikileaks as well as online gambling sites.

ACMA has warned that anyone who republishes the list or attempts to access child pornography sites on it could face up to 10 years in prison. It has also warned that linking to sites on the list could incur fines of up to $11,000 a day.


Now oranges are unhealthy! Where will the madness stop?

Netball Queensland bans oranges at half-time -- despite no proof of harm

A juicy stoush is brewing between a state sporting body and citrus growers over the banning of oranges at games because of potential damage to teeth. Netball Queensland, the umbrella body for 82 netball associations, has sanctioned the ban based on the high acid levels of oranges and the potential harm to children's teeth, according to Brisbane's Courier-Mail. "Most of our associations have banned oranges at half-time or are discouraging coaches from offering oranges," said a Netball Queensland spokeswoman.

But Queensland Citrus Growers, which is about to roll out a major campaign promoting fruit at sports games, said it was outrageous to be discouraging children from eating fresh fruit. State manager Chris Simpson said "citrus and kids' sport had been synonymous for generations". "I'd like to see medical research and evidence to prove fruit is unhealthy, particularly fresh citrus," Mr Simpson said.

Netball Queensland's consultant dietitian Kerry Leech said acidity was the problem. "When players come off the court at half-time they're generally a bit dehydrated and the worst thing for teeth in that environment is acid, because it erodes the enamel," Ms Leech said. "So we're encouraging fluids to re-hydrate at half-time rather than eating half an orange."

Dr Derek Lewis from the Australian Dental Association's oral health committee agreed oranges and athletes were not a good mix. Mr Simpson said his organisation was launching a campaign in which hundreds of mandarins would begiven away at sporting functions. "If they're concerned about oranges, why not try an Imperial mandarin?"


McDonald's makes major move into school education with free online maths program

A lot of Leftists will pop a few rivets over this

McDONALD'S will today make a major move into school education, offering a free maths program to more than 1.4 million students. McDonald's restaurants across the nation are bankrolling the company's biggest foray yet into schools. Under the scheme the Maths Online tutoring program - usually costing $40 per month - will be provided free to individuals, classes or entire schools in the government, Catholic and independent systems.

When they open the program on their computers, students will see the McDonald's logo and the words: "Proudly provided by your local McDonald's restaurant."

McDonald's yesterday refused to reveal how much it was paying for the school campaign, claiming the figure was "commercially in-confidence". But The Daily Telegraph understands the total cost will run into millions of dollars.

McDonald's has the support of Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard and the Australian Secondary Principals' Association and will promote the program to students from Year 7 to Year 12. Ms Gillard yesterday commended the company for "encouraging secondary schools and students across the country to utilise this resource".

But State Opposition education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said that parents expected education to be independent of corporate interests. "Maccas should stick to making hamburgers and the Government should stick to educating children," Mr Piccoli said. Professor Bobby Banerjee from the University of Western Sydney College of Business said the program might improve students' maths but it was also promoting McDonald's. "There is a return for the company - they claim they are doing it to serve the community but that's not entirely true," he said.

Maths Online was developed by a team led by Sydney teacher Patrick Murray and features hundreds of animated and narrated lessons and over 15,000 exam-style questions. Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Blair said McDonald's was making a "generous contribution to building the foundation skills of Australian students". "The Maths Online product will be a marvellous assistance to the work of mathematics teachers throughout Australia," he said.


Unions may yet rue Rudd's IR reforms

By Michael Costa (A former Labor treasurer of NSW)

THE Rudd Government's Fair Work Australia Bill represents payment for services rendered by the ACTU as part of the bargain to oust John Howard. But unintended consequences could undermine the longevity of both partners. The high-profile nature of the Work Choices campaign run by the ACTU before the 2007 election means Rudd has no alternative but to address its key concerns.

The danger for Rudd is that he may well have to face the economic and political consequences of a policy that goes further than necessary to eliminate the ideological components of Work Choices.

The public rejected Work Choices because it was perceived to be unfair. The unfair dismissal provisions and the dramatic reduction of award protections clearly caused anxiety among the workforce. The Coalition's hastily organised retreat on the no-disadvantage test was too late to stop the return of so-called Howard battlers to Labor. Howard had betrayed their trust and they sought and achieved retribution.

While employers are right to be concerned about the new unfair-dismissal provisions, if they contain a workable 12-month probation period they should provide plenty of scope for small businesses to operate successfully. The real sticking point will be on the issue of operational reasons for unfair dismissal. As the Pacific Brands outsourcing demonstrates, this could be used to frustrate productivity improvements.

You could argue that it's unfair for workers to be dismissed because a firm chooses to outsource its production overseas but it's another thing to claim the dismissals themselves, as a matter of business strategy, are unfair. The Government needs to clarify this quickly. The irony is this could see firms choosing to expand production overseas to avoid rigid unfair dismissal processes that hamper responsiveness to competitive pressures.

The extensive union right of entry provisions are a potential problem for employers but it is hard to argue against protection for workers who choose to belong to a union. Equally, it's hard to justify unfettered right of entry for unions to workplaces where they have no members. Enforcement of statutory entitlements is the responsibility of government. This government legislation sets the standards it should to provide neutral enforcement.

The real problem with the legislation is its model of collective bargaining. This model is more than a restoration of the pre-Work Choices or even pre-Workplace Relations Act arrangements. It goes much further.

Even the ACTU acknowledged this was unprecedented in its Your Rights at Work Campaign update for summer 2008-09, when it said: "The new collective bargaining laws introduced by the federal Government will, when they are passed by the parliament, represent one of the most momentous overhauls of industrial relations in this country for 100 years."

The introduction of compulsory "good faith" bargaining with a new arbitral body, Fair Work Australia, means that an effective broad re-regulation of the labour market is likely. This overturns not only Work Choices but also important reforms made in labour market regulation under the the Hawke and Keating Labor governments.

Good faith is extremely difficult to establish in practice and will result in less pressure for enterprise agreements and more arbitrated outcomes. Industrial arbitration, by its nature, tries to please everybody and quite often, as a result, pleases nobody. In an environment where business certainty is critical, workplace productivity could suffer. The old system of arbitration was buttressed by protectionist tariffs.

The claim by the ACTU and the Government that this model will deliver higher productivity is mere window-dressing. Industrial arbiters are not skilled to arbitrate on productivity and business strategy. The only way this could possibly work is if an independent body, such as the Productivity Commission, were resourced to provide advice on the productivity impacts of decisions made by Fair Work Australia. The unions inevitably would resist this. Fair Work Australia cannot be allowed to replace enterprise management in developing business strategy. This would be an unmitigated economic disaster.

The Government faces challenges in being seen to deliver its part of the bargain with the ACTU while avoiding an array of productivity reducing rigidities that undermine economic performance. It is the Government, not the ACTU, that will be held responsible. The Australian public wanted fairness reintroduced into the labour market, not greater business and job uncertainty.

The ACTU also faces the prospect of a Pyrrhic victory in the medium run. The campaign it ran against the Howard government's Work Choices provided it with a much needed sense of purpose and a convenient explanation for its declining membership.

When the Australian Bureau of Statistics released data last April showing trade union membership had fallen by 5 per cent, or 89,000 people, in the year to August 2007, ACTU president Sharan Burrow, claimed it showed "unions have successfully survived Work Choices". Burrow may really believe this but, more likely, it was convenient spin. The data in fact shows that the net decline in actual union membership between 1996, the year Howard was elected, and 2007, the year he was defeated (11 years) was 414,000. In the six years from 1990 until 1996 under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating the decline was 465,000. In other words, there was a greater absolute decline in membership under Labor's pre-Work Choices legislation.

While industrial legislation and employer attitudes may play some part in declining union membership, it is not the main part. Structural change in the economy is clearly the overriding factor.

Alarmingly for unions, they have not captured the hearts and minds of young people and continue to be over-represented in the public sector and declining industries. By making the basic system fairer and removing the Work Choices ogre, unions may have removed any reason for workers to become members. The passing of the Fair Work Australia Bill may reduce the incentive for workers to join unions and restrict employer flexibility and national economic competitiveness at a crucial time.


Victoria's Leftist government is closing the door now the horse has escaped

Controlled burns begin in bid to avoid bushfire repeat

Controlled burning has begun in Victoria aimed at preventing a repeat of the devastating summer firestorm that killed at least 210 people. Environment chiefs have started a program of controlled burns on public land this week following criticism not enough was done to reduce rural fuel loads in the lead-up to summer. The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) will burn 25ha of public land near Bendoc, in East Gippsland, today to safeguard the town. About 120ha near Mallacoota, in the far east of the state, will also be burnt.

DSE spokeswoman Jennifer Willis said more than 150,000ha of land was torched in fuel reduction burns last financial year. There were no targets for this year's autumn/spring program with the burns being weather dependent. She said conditions needed to be dry enough so that the fire ignited and spread, without getting out of control.

Environment Minister Gavin Jennings said controlled burns would continue as conditions allowed, but acknowledged they may be stressful for some residents. "We are aware that seeing smoke will cause some anxiety for people, especially people impacted by the recent bushfires and ask the community for their patience throughout this program,'' he said.

Mr Jennings said burning would occur in strategic locations to protect towns and minimise disruption to bush ecology. Asset protection burns will target most areas, including the Otways coast, the Wombat Forest and Macedon and the Dandenong Ranges.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wikileaks posts absurd list of Australia's blocked internet sites

The "child pornography" excuse used by the Leftist Federal government is shown to be a fraud. ACMA is just a would-be Gestapo. "Gestapo" is an abbreviation for "Geheime Staatspolizei" or "Secret State Police". Judge for yourself whether it fits

The cornerstone of the Federal Government's nationwide internet filter, a "blacklist" of over 2000 websites to be blocked, has been leaked online. The list of 2395 websites was leaked by website Wikileaks today about 11am (Qld time), a website which itself was this week added to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) blacklist for leaking a similar list of censored websites in Denmark.

According to reports, up to half of the banned websites on the list are not even related to child pornography, but include entries in online dictionary Wikipedia, single links to particular YouTube videos, euthanasia sites, the website of a tour operator and a Queensland dentist.

The current list of banned websites stands at 2395, but the [NeoFascist] Government hopes to eventually expand the list to 10,000 sites Australians will be prevented from accessing.


If you Google "Wikileaks", you will find a link to the report on their front page. I could give you the link but I am threatened with a fine of $11,000 a day if I do -- even though there is NO pornography on the Wikileaks page

Federal Labor party Reps. keep quiet on proposed Warmist laws

They represent blue-collar workers and mums and dads who face the greatest job losses under an emissions trading scheme, but three Queensland federal Labor MPs are publicly remaining silent about the risk. Chris Trevor, Kirsten Livermore and James Bidgood -- who represent parts of central Queensland and north Queensland -- have repeatedly refused to talk about the concerns of industries and workers in their electorates.

Fears of thousands of job losses in the mining sectors have intensified in the past week as resource giants warn of massive job cuts under an ETS. Mayors in Mt Isa and Gladstone are demanding the measure be delayed from 2010 to 2012. Queensland representatives from the coal and mining sectors yesterday held protracted meetings with advisers from the offices of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson. Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche and mining giants also held a private dinner with about seven Queensland MPs, calling for the coal sector to receive at least 60 per cent in free permits under the ETS.

But Climate Change Minister Penny Wong has repeatedly refused to budge on the matter, saying the coal industry would have to pay to pollute. "We are not letting up on this. It is too important," Mr Roche told The Courier-Mail yesterday. "It's fair to say that the Government underestimated the concerns of the coal sector under the white paper. "One of the MPs we met with . . . said if there isn't (policy) change, 'I'll lose my seat'."

For the past two days, The Courier-Mail has asked the three MPs to explain how the ETS will affect their electorates and what they were telling their constituents. But staff in their offices said the MPs were either unavailable or too busy.

Mr Roche said he had no complaints dealing with Labor MPs even though they were publicly toeing the party line. However, he said he was told Queensland MPs were strongly advising Caucus about the concerns of the industry. The Courier-Mail understands Caucus is split on the starting date of an ETS because of the continuing global economic uncertainty.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said it was time Queensland Labor MPs stood up for their electorates. "He (Mr Trevor) represents thousands of people involved in the coal mining industry and yet where is he speaking up for them?" he said. "Where is Chris Trevor standing up for the miners of Central Queensland?"


Complacent South Australian prosecutors refuse to arrest a dangerous nut -- with appalling consequences

They refused to act even after urgent approaches from the Parole Board

Parole Board chief Frances Nelson, QC, has blamed weak laws for Monday's tragic attack that left a man and a boy dead and a newborn baby injured. Angry and distressed, Ms Nelson told The Advertiser yesterday that she had asked the Director of Public Prosecutions at least four times to have mentally ill drug addict David James Wyatt locked up because he was a danger to the community. Ms Nelson also lashed out at laws governing mentally ill offenders subject to supervision orders, saying she had warned Attorney-General Michael Atkinson of a looming "disaster".

Wyatt, 24, killed his son, 2, and stabbed his partner, 21, and baby daughter before fatally stabbing himself in the family's Charlson St home at Davoren Park at 2am on Monday.

"I was just horrified because I think they are two deaths that needn't have happened and one of them is a child and I think that is appalling," Ms Nelson said. "His partner is critically ill and the 15-day-old baby was stabbed and it distresses me that I knew there was a potential for serious violence and I was impotent to do anything about it."

Wyatt was placed on a four-year mental health supervision licence for robbing a woman at knifepoint at Parafield Gardens in February, 2005. He was suffering a drug-induced psychosis and was found not guilty of aggravated robbery by reason of mental incompetence, meaning he could not be jailed, but could be detained in a mental institution. Under state laws, the Parole Board is given responsibility for monitoring offenders, such as Wyatt, released into the community on mental-health licences.

Ms Nelson, however, said the board was powerless to detain mentally-ill patients. "It gives us the statutory responsibility to supervise these people but doesn't give us the power to do it properly," she said. "Unfortunately, I have to say that I spoke to the Attorney, I think at the end of February, about (mental-health supervision laws) and I said to him `there will be a disaster if something isn't done'."

She said the Director of Public Prosecutions was reluctant to ask courts to revoke mental-health orders because of a shortage of beds in such facilities as James Nash House.

Ms Nelson said if her board had the power to revoke licences, Monday's tragedy most likely would have been avoided. "If he were an ordinary parolee, we would have brought him in on a warrant until he sorted himself out. That's the tragedy," Ms Nelson said.

Despite repeated warnings from the Parole Board, Wyatt was allowed to remain in the community. In court last year, Wyatt claimed he was not getting help for "voices" in his head.

Despite what she described as "classic warning signs," Ms Nelson said the weakness of laws to detain mentally-ill offenders had allowed Wyatt to remain in the community. "I have been telling government for years that this is a serious defect in the legislation and I had concerns that community safety is compromised as a result . . . (but) no one has been prepared to do anything about it," Ms Nelson said.

She said she and other Parole Board officials had interviewed Wyatt several times. They warned him his continued breaches of his conditions could land him back in custody. "He certainly had a history of drug-induced psychosis . . . he may well have had some mental illness but, it seems to me, that his basic problem was drug and alcohol use," Ms Nelson said of Wyatt. "The last date that we requested the DPP do something was on the 12th of February.

"The DPP wrote back and told us that notwithstanding that he wasn't reporting and he was non compliant, they were not going to act on the breach of licence that we reported."

More here

Lebanese Muslim gang rapists cop it in jail

They are such scum that they asked for it in my view. They acted like big men when dealing with defenceless women but did not do so well in the company of other men of their own low standards

Four of the state's most notorious killers, including notorious triple family killer Matthew Wayne De Gruchy, have appeared in court this morning over the vicious jail bashing of infamous gang rapist brothers. Matthew Wayne de Gruchy, who is serving a 28-year jail term for the murder of his mother and two siblings at Albion Park Rail, near Wollongong, in 1996, is among the four murderers, two rapists and an armed robber allegedly involved in the vicious bashing of the brothers who can only be known as MSK and MAK.

The bashing, in a yard of Goulburn jail in February 2007, almost killed MAK who suffered severe head injuries and needed to be airlifted to hospital for brain surgery. His brother was treated for a broken arm.

After an extensive two-year investigation the inmates have been charged and made their first appearances for inflicting grievous bodily harm in Goulburn Local Court this morning. The inmates charged, who appeared this morning via videolink, include De Gruchy who was only 18 when he killed his mother Jennifer, 42, brother Adrian, 15, and sister Sarah, 13. Also charged was triple child murderer Craig Andrew Merritt. Jay William Short, who murdered Lithgow teenager Alison Marie Lewis in 1997, was also charged, as was killer Shannon Daley. Adrian Gray, serving time for armed robbery, and Chebli Djait, serving time for drink spiking-related sexual assault, have also appeared in court. Yet to appear is another man, serving time for aggravated sexual assault.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Governments that are strangers to business

PICK the odd man out: Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd, John Key. Only one of them, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Key, has any material personal experience of how to make a dollar in the private sector. Rudd may be the wealthiest Prime Minister Australia has had, because of his wife’s admirable business acumen, but even that business is built on government contracts. Rudd’s experience is that of a lifelong public servant and politician, with a short stint as a consultant with KPMG. Obama is the world’s most famous community organiser, lawyer and, since 1996, full-time politician. Only Key - who was a manager at a clothing manufacturer and then moved into currency trading - has worked in a wholly private enterprise for any meaningful period of time.

This is not to denigrate the public service or community sectors. They do important work. But a lifelong immersion in the public sector creates a government-focused cast of mind and blind spots about the private sector. Obama and Rudd are in the business of pursuing growth by government programs, which demonstrates a dangerous ignorance of the role of growth led by productive private enterprise, small business in particular. No wonder Obama gave Rudd the thumbs up last week for the PM’s approach to the global financial crisis. But if there was ever a time when we needed those who understand the importance of growth in the private sector, it’s now.

If you doubt that blind spot, here is how US Vice-President Joe Biden explained the Obama administration’s strategy to help small business. He was asked on the CBS Early Show by a viewer who had laid off most of her staff last year how the US President’s trillion-dollar stimulus package would help small business. Biden was plainly stumped. After buying time by suggesting the woman contact his office, he then spluttered that “it may very well be that she’s in a circumstance where she is not able, her customers aren’t able to get to her, there’s no transit capability, the bridge going across the creek to get to her business needs repair, may very well be that she’s in a position where she is unable to access the - her energy costs are so high by providing smart meters, by being able to bring down the cost of her workforce”.

This is not a spoof. Either Biden is a buffoon who does not know his stuff or there is no stuff to know. The best Biden could conjure up for a small business owner was to build a bridge to improve her customers’ “transit capacity” and smart meters so she can count her energy costs.

Closer to home, addressing the NSW Chamber of Commerce in Sydney a few weeks ago, Rudd had nothing much to tell small business either. Small business men and women waited in vain for Rudd’s vision for small business. All they got was Rudd’s standard helicopter made-for-television view of the GFC and Australia’s response to it. There was no chance for questions and answers. “It was all spin and no substance,” said one businessman at the luncheon.

Rudd’s appointment of Craig Emerson as Small Business Minister was promising. Yet the Government as a whole demonstrates no understanding that, with two million small businesses employing about 4.5 million people, according to the Council of Small Business of Australia, small business is the key to real growth.

Now ask yourself why the Obama administration and the Rudd Government have nothing much to offer small business. Given that both are committed to industrial relations reforms that boost the power of unions, perhaps they have very little interest in small business where unions have no hold? Or could it be that neither is focused on growth derived from private enterprise, preferring to forge ahead with growth by bigger government? A bit of both perhaps.

Key, on the other hand, understands what is needed to make businesses hum: lower taxes, smarter regulation and a flexible labour market. He has recognised that a one-off sugar hit - or cash splash - won’t help business employ people for any longer than it takes to spend the cash. Permanent tax cuts help business employ more staff - permanently.

He told The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel a few weeks back that he is determined to stop the slide that has seen NZ fall to the bottom half on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s per-capita gross domestic product rankings. “We have been on a slippery slope ... so we need to lift those per capita wages, and the only way to really do that is through productivity growth driving efficiency in the country.” Key is cutting taxes, reforming regulations that inhibited foreign capital and tackling environmental legislation that has been misused by green groups to stop private sector investment. Oh, and he is undertaking a line-by-line review of every government department as part of his Government’s commitment to capping spending.

No wonder Key is the odd man out. And it is a shame that NZ will not be attending the G20 meeting in London next month, the latest effort by world leaders to confront the global financial crisis. Spend big and all will be in order is Obama’s resounding theme. It’s all stimulus this and stimulus that. Is it too much to hope that G stands for growth, not group-think?

Yet real growth - through the private sector - is not a concept you hear much about these days. We have a Government that talks incessantly about the dangers of the GFC yet is steadfastly committed to industrial relations policies that will, through their unfair dismissal laws, discourage small businesses from employing more people. And a Government that only accidentally supports small business when it suits some other agenda, cherry picking small business stimulus winners to push Labor’s green credentials and its education revolution. Good for those who sell insulation batts and a small band of workers who will build new school halls. But there is no broader vision to encourage growth in the small business sector as a whole.

There is plenty the Rudd Government could do if encouraging jobs growth was its genuine focus. Banking on rising unemployment and focusing on retraining is not enough. For example, the PM, keen to stamp his influence on state governments, ought to be paying the states to abolish payroll taxes - which have the direct effect of hindering employment - rather than funding this year’s sales of plasma TV sets. And that’s just for starters.

This could be the Liberal Party’s moment in the sun, reminding us it stands for encouraging real growth in small businesses, in the same heartland that once delivered it government


The Islamic Assault on Free Speech

It is one of the many benefits of Christianity that the West enjoys religious freedom and freedom of conscience. The properly understood notion of the separation of church and state arose from the Christian worldview, and goes back to the words of Jesus: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”.

Islam of course knows of no such separation. Church and state are one in Islam. There is no sacred-secular distinction in the Muslim world. Everything is religious and everything is political. As Rodney Stark wrote, “Muhammad was not only the Prophet, he was head of state. Consequently, Islam has always idealized the fusion of religion and political rule, and sultans have usually also held the title of caliph” (The Victory of Reason).

Or as Dinesh D’Souza put it, “The prophet Muhammad was in his own day both a prophet and a Caesar who integrated the domains of church and state. Following his example, the rulers of the various Islamic empires, from the Umayyad to the ottoman, saw themselves as Allah’s viceregents on earth” (What’s So Great About Christianity?).

As Bernard Lewis explains, “In classical Arabic and in the other classical languages of Islam, there are no pairs of terms corresponding to ‘lay’ and ‘ecclesiastical,’ ‘spiritual’ and ‘temporal,’ ‘secular’ and ‘religious,’ because these pairs of words express a Christian dichotomy that has no equivalent in the world of Islam” (Islam and the West).

It is the genius of the West to have run with the Christian version of events in this regard, and not the Islamic one. But these cherished freedoms are ironically now being whittled way in the West as we increasingly seek to appease militant Islamists.

In many parts of the Western world Muslims are demanding, and getting, preferential treatment. And in the process, freedom of religion is slowly being eroded. A classic example of this can be seen in Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. This bit of scurrilous legislation has been used to silence Christians from proclaiming their faith, and from making rational criticism of Islam. The nefarious Victorian law effectively cramps real freedom of speech and religious diversity.

Of course hyper-sensitive Muslims around the world are seeking to implement such censorship on all non-Muslims. At the UN level, for example, Muslims are hoping to use UN Resolution 62/154, which has to do with "combating defamation of religions” to allow Islam to be above all criticism and critique.

A number of people have written about this recently, expressing their concerns. Atheist Christopher Hitchens for example wrote in the Australian warning of “so-called mainstream Muslims, grouped in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, who are now demanding through the UN that Islam not only be allowed to make such absolutist claims, but that it be officially shielded from any criticism as a result.”

The Resolution is full of typical UN balderdash: “For example, paragraph five ‘expresses its deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism’, while paragraph six ‘notes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001’.”

“You see how the trick is pulled? In the same weeks this resolution comes up for its annual renewal at the UN, its chief sponsor-government (Pakistan) makes an agreement with the local Taliban forces to close girls' schools in the Swat Valley region (a mere 150km or so from the capital in Islamabad) and subject the inhabitants to sharia law. And this capitulation comes in direct response to a campaign of horrific violence and intimidation, including public beheadings.”

One reason why the Victorian legislation is so fatally flawed is that it mixes two quite different things: racial or ethnic vilification, and religious vilification. There may be a case to seek to reduce wrongful discrimination based on race, but to seek to isolate religious views from theological scrutiny and public debate is ludicrous. This is just what is happening in the UN Resolution:

“Yet the religion of those who carry out the campaign [of Islamist violence] is not to be mentioned, lest it ‘associate’ that faith with human rights violations or terrorism. In paragraph six, an obvious attempt is being made to confuse ethnicity with religious allegiance. Indeed this insinuation (incidentally dismissing the faith-based criminality of September 11 as merely tragic) is in fact essential to the entire scheme. If religion and race can be run together, then the condemnations that racism axiomatically attracts can be surreptitiously extended to religion, too. This is clumsy, but it works: the useless and meaningless term Islamophobia, now widely used as a bludgeon of moral blackmail, is testimony to its success.”

The muzzling of free speech is the sure outcome of this: “See where the language of paragraph 10 of the resolution is taking us. Having briefly offered lip service to the rights of free expression, it goes on to say that ‘the exercise of these rights carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs.’ The thought buried in this awful, wooden prose is as ugly as the language in which it is expressed: watch what you say, because our declared intention is to criminalise opinions that differ with the one true faith. Let nobody say that they have not been warned.”

The five-year-long court case involving two Christian pastors should suffice to demonstrate the lunacy of Victoria’s anti-vilification laws. The entire case was a travesty of justice, and was simply an attempt by Muslims to silence Christian voices which dared to question Islam.

To have such laws on an international scale would achieve as much for the Islamists as 9/11 ever did. As always, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, and this goes for religious freedom as well. The question is, will the West resist this clampdown on freedom of speech, or will it instead submit to appeasement and dhimmitude?


Negligent social workers and the tragic death of a boy in inappropriate care

A TODDLER in foster care died of unexplained head injuries after his father had pleaded with authorities to move him. The boy, Luke, died on January 12 after living with a 74-year-old pensioner who also looked after three other children, all of whom were also state wards, The Australian reported. Luke's mother and father were drug addicts. But his father, who cannot be named, said he knew from supervised visits that the house Luke lived in was overcrowded and that the carer could not look after four children at once.

A coronial inquest is being held into Luke's death. He slipped into a coma after suffering head injuries and died six days later in his father's arms. Luke's father told the coroner he did not believe his son was properly cared for - neither by the 74-year-old foster parent or by Queensland's Department of Child Safety. He said he tried to have Luke moved elsewhere five times before he died. "I disagreed with the decision to place my child with a 74-year-old woman who was already burdened with three older children, all at home on school holiday," he wrote to the coroner. "This would make it virtually impossible to show the care and attention needed for a two-year-old."

He said Luke was "constantly" injured while at the home, including severe bruising to his head and body and a burn to his hand. He said he pointed out scratches on Luke's face to the DOCS supervisor on his last visit with his son. He said Luke's foster carer told him Luke also had bruises on his buttocks from jumping off his bed and that "she could not control him".

A few days later, Luke was in the hospital in a coma. "They (the department) didn't even have the decency to call me the night it happened," the father said.

The department's director-general Norelle Deeth [Death?] said she could not discuss specific cases, but added: "It must be remembered that children are only removed from their families ... because the parents abuse or neglect them." [The bitch is trying to blame the concerned father whom her Department ignored] She said the circumstances of Luke's death would be extensively examined.


Billions for Australian car-makers now looking worse than stupid

It was meant to be a bold statement in troubled times when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Industry Minister Kim Carr launched their New Car Plan for a Greener Future last November. The Government hailed the decision to provide $6.2 billion to the Australian car industry as "the most comprehensive plan ever devised for this vital sector of our economy". Their plan was designed to cover the industry until 2020. Only four months later, it is obsolete and dangerous.

The plan did not make sense when it was launched and makes even less sense now. It should have been obvious that the Australian car industry was facing existential difficulties. German newspapers were already discussing the end of General Motors' Opel and Vauxhall when Rudd was presenting his grand car plan. It is odd, to say the least, to exclude petrol from the planned emissions trading system while trying to make transport greener by giving subsidies to domestic car producers. You don't have to be Einstein to realise this amounts to nothing but old-fashioned protectionism hiding behind a green smokescreen.

The Government has a far easier option to make us drive more fuel-efficient cars. Instead of paying GM Holden or Toyota Australia to develop four-cylinder or hybrid engines, simply scrapping import duties and abolishing the luxury car tax (which strangely sets in at about the price of a European premium sedan) would make Australians think twice before buying a thirsty Holden Commodore rather than a more fuel-efficient BMW, Mercedes or Honda.

The drama surrounding Holden's US parent, GM, makes the Government's plan look ridiculous. What's the point in planning the long-term future of a sector when one of the biggest players may go under next week? When they launched their car plan last year, Rudd and Carr emphasised how important car manufacturing was to Australia. Rudd declared only about 15 nations in the world today could create a car from scratch, and Australia had to be one of them. [Why?] With such naive political backing the troubles of GM will be an enormous challenge not only for Holden but for the Government.

European politicians were far quicker to realise a GM insolvency would render their local GM subsidiaries unviable. In Germany and Britain, the homes of GM's Opel and Vauxhall, they feared a collapse of GM would lead to the collapse of the local car industry.

For months German and British politicians, trade unionists and car workers have been desperately trying to find a way to separate their companies from the moribund GM, only to discover that this is close to impossible. Not only do their cars share technologies and platforms with other GM companies but even the patents developed in Germany for Opel have been transferred to a US company, which in turn used them as collateral for the US Government's emergency loans to GM. So the taxpayer subsidies Rudd is giving Holden may end up in the coffers of its ailing parent in Detroit.

This leads to the next problem, the role of the US Government in GM's future. When the US Government agreed to provide emergency funding, the 294-page legal document outlining the terms and conditions contained a clause that in effect put the US Government in charge of GM's strategic policy. It says any transaction in excess of $US100 million must be approved by President Barack Obama. Moreover, in its restructuring plan, GM states that without Australian taxpayer support the company will quit the Australian market. So the fate of Holden must be on the agenda when Rudd meets Obama in Washington next week.

GM's auditors have raised substantial doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern. An insolvency would almost inevitably trigger the liquidation of GM's foreign assets, including Vauxhall, Opel and Holden. But it is unlikely that in the present economic climate -- with global excess capacity in car manufacturing estimated at 20 to 30per cent -- a private investor would be brave enough to buy these failing companies. And if Vauxhall and Opel are too small to survive as independent entities, then Holden won't succeed either.

When Rudd finally realises the dire straits Holden is in, he will probably nationalise it faster than you can say Commodore. So, after the Rudd Bank prepare for the Rudd Car. Then, just like their European counterparts, Rudd and Carr will find themselves in difficult negotiations with GM to do a deal that will depend on Obama's approval. Committing $100,000 of taxpayer money to saving each job in the car industry was already a prodigious waste of money but this will look cheap compared with the cost of nationalising Holden. In time, Australians will come to rue the day Rudd decided to treat the car industry as an issue of systemic significance.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009


It's not what people voted for. The Labor party's tenacious adherence to an ideology of destruction reveals them for what they really are: Elitists who hate ordinary people and whose top priority is hurting ordinary people. "By their fruit ye shall know them". What they are doing to destroy jobs is utterly obscene under Australia's present circumstances. Three current articles below

Labor party ideologues determined to discourage job creation by medium-sized businesses

Julia Gillard has rebuffed a demand by independent crossbench senators to increase the definition of a small business to 20 employees, saying the Government has a mandate to enact the unfair dismissal policy it took to the 2007 election. Family First senator Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon met the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday to put their concerns to her, but she indicated she was unwilling to change the definition of a small business, which is a key sticking point in the deliberations on the bill.

Senator Xenophon told The Australian he was serious about pushing for the larger definition of small business and said he did not agree with the Government that it had an unqualified mandate on the issue. "My view is that I have an obligation to scrutinise legislation and look at its implications. The world is a very different place compared with November 24, 2007, and if circumstances change that may need a change of approach," he said. The debate on Labor's workplace legislation will begin today, giving Ms Gillard more time to negotiate with senators Xenophon and Fielding.

Ms Gillard said that before the 2007 election, Labor "did something the Liberal Party would never have dreamt of doing". "We published a comprehensive workplace relations policy and sought a mandate for it," she said. "I refer most particularly to the policy implementation plan of Forward with Fairness published in August 2007, which sets out our comprehensive plan for unfair dismissal, including committing special arrangements for small businesses with fewer than 15 employees." The Government has refused to negotiate with the Coalition, which wants the definition to be increased to 25 full-time workers.

For many small businesses, Labor's unfair dismissal reforms are a cause for concern. Some, like Sydney childcare operator Lienna Mandic, were happy with the Howard government's laws. "I'd say bring back Work Choices," Ms Mandic said. "We were happy. I'd like to see a return to the removal of unfair dismissal laws for people employing under 100." Ms Mandic established Kids World Kindy in western Sydney with her husband 14 years ago and now runs four centres employing about 30 people, meaning she does not meet Labor's definition of a small business.

She said Ms Gillard's reforms would heighten risks for employers, stifle growth and deter businesses from hiring. "I'm not going to give an opportunity to anyone any more with no experience," she said. "So how are people out of college or university going to get a job?" Ms Mandic said it was essential that small businesses retain the ability to dismiss workers if they were not performing. "We have a right to employ people who are able to fulfil the job description. If they're not, we should have the right to terminate those people and find someone who's more suitable," she said.

The Coalition is likely to convene a special partyroom meeting later this week to discuss whether it will support any amendments the Government offers to the independents.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson said the Government had failed to deal with key concerns about the legislation in its own amendments. "Most of the government amendments are technically useful so far as they go, but none of them goes to the important policy changes that need to be made to restore balance to the legislation," he said.

Bosses, the Coalition and the independents have expressed concern over wider union right-of-entry provisions and, in particular, the ability of union officials to inspect employees' records. But Senator Xenophon told The Australian he was now comfortable that the bill adequately protected the private records of workers. "I'm just concerned about thresholds for small business. I'm expressing business concerns right now," he said. Senator Xenophon is pushing for increased rights of entry for unions that protect home-based clothing workers, known as outworkers. He said 24 hours was too long a warning for bosses of outworkers to be given before unions could enter workplaces.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said Senator Xenophon and the Greens were negotiating on the proposed new industrial laws in good faith, but she singled out Family First senator Steve Fielding as trying to make the new laws worse than Work Choices. Senator Fielding is proposing that workers employed in small businesses with fewer than 20 employees be exempted from bargaining provisions aimed at protecting the low-paid and that small businesses be exempt from union rights of entry. Ms Burrow said the amendments would effectively exclude between a third and half of all workers from union representation in the workplace and nearly two million low-paid workers from bargaining support.

Liberal Party maverick Wilson Tuckey put further pressure on Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull yesterday to oppose the laws altogether, arguing that Liberal MPs were not consulted before Work Choices was declared dead.


Job creation in the restaurant industry to be discouraged too

Just as licensing regulations restrict competition in the hotel industry, working conditions in pubs have long been standardised by the award system and the liquor trades union. By contrast, the restaurant business is lightly regulated, dynamic and highly competitive. Restaurants used John Howard's Work Choices and its individual work contracts to more flexibly deploy and reward their waiters and cooks.

Now it's payback time as the Rudd Government foists the straitjacket of the protected hotel industry on to its restaurant competitors. Penalty rates, overtime, loadings, allowances and rosters built into the hotel industry over generations will be loaded on to restaurants. Don't tip your waiters for good service; they already may be on a 275 per cent penalty rate. At these penalty rates, don't count on a fine dining-led recovery; it's bistro self-service.

Yet this industrial relations assault on one of Australia's great small business sectors hardly registers in the national political debate. That's because Julia Gillard's IR counter-revolution has been been turned into the political issue of the Liberal leadership, and because the policy issue is too complicated for the glibness of today's sound-bite politics.

Among the serious media, it seems that only The Australian is capable of recognising the threat to small business entrepreneurs as well as the business model that sustains the international reputation of Australian fine dining. It has hardly registered at the Australian Financial Review, which once heroically led the charge against the industrial relations club, or The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which remain blissfully unaware of the attack on the celebrity chefdom they so celebrate.

The particular threat comes from the combination of Gillard's new Fair Work legislation in Canberra and, more insidiously, her order to the Industrial Relations Commission in Melbourne to quickly "modernise" hundreds of industrial awards into a few dozen industry-based awards to regulate Australia's workplaces from the start of 2010.

Australia's award structure has mutated, rather than competitively evolved, over the past century into a large and incoherent body of business regulation. Gillard spits disdain for Work Choices rip-off merchants who stripped away basic human rights from a defenceless proletariat. But the mish-mash of a system is more about micro-regulating business.

Under Gillard's counter-revolution, the restaurant trade is being "modernised" into the hotel-industry award structure and business model reflexively favoured by the IRC. Traditional workplace regulation for pubs, which now might cover only 80,000 or so workers, will drive the work rules for the 250,000 or so restaurant and cafe workers. Just one example is set out in sections 32.1 to 32.4 of the "modernised" Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010. These impose 25 per cent penalty loadings for working on Saturday, 175 per cent for Sunday work, and 250 per cent for public holidays. Casuals get a hefty 25 per cent loading on top of that, lifting them up to 275 per cent for public holidays. A 10 per cent weekday penalty applies after 7pm along with detailed rules for overtime, rest breaks, loadings for driving a forklift or holding a first aid certificate, and whether Fridays can be pay days (they can't). Higher-cost, pub-based rules apply for junior staff, even 19-year-olds.

Beer stains from Australia's drinking history can still be seen in this hotel-based award structure. The penalty for evening weekday work signposts the end of the six o'clock swill in the 1950s and '60s. Yet this old hotel sweetheart deal should have little to do with how restaurants operate in 2010.

Businesses based on selling and consuming liquor are controlled by licences that, being limited in number, change hands for large sums of money, particularly when they come with licensed poker machines. Just as the liquor trades union polices the award, the Australian Hotels Association spends millions lobbying governments to regulate in favour of pubs. By contrast, there is no regulation on the number of outlets preparing and serving meals. This business is much higher risk and lower margin: while many pubs have been around for a century or more, new restaurants open and close all the time. Opening a restaurant is a classic low-barrier business opportunity for migrants. Working part-time in a restaurant is a classic source of income for university students.

Restaurants tend to be much smaller businesses than pubs and naturally trade for fewer hours, based around two meals a day rather than all day and night drinking. And this calls for a more flexible workforce that, in practice, is younger, more casual and partly paid directly by customers. Waiters get tipped, barmaids don't. So it's bizarre for a "modernised" award to increase penalty rates for what, in practice, are the restaurant industry's standard operating hours. An estimated 75 per cent or so of restaurant business is done at night and weekends. If you want to be a chef, that's when you'll work.

It's even more bizarre when this customer demand is matched by the changing pattern of labour supply. In this diverse and multicultural society, working at nights or on weekends actually suits many workers, such as students. Under Work Choices, the Restaurant & Catering Industry Association reckons it signed up 10 per cent of restaurant staff on template Australian Workplace Agreements, which rolled penalties and loadings into a simpler and higher hourly pay rate. Gillard's new system won't permit such individual work contracts. The new system will include "flexibility" clauses, but these can be guaranteed to operate inflexibly.

And the IRC flatly dismissed restaurateurs' pleas to retain their own modernised award, which really only needs to run to a handful of pages. Instead, it roped restaurants into a complex pub-based hospitality award. "We accept that there are some differences in trading and staffing arrangements between various sectors within the hospitality industry," an IRC full bench explained. "Equally, however, there is some commonality between the sectors. It is also significant that there is a level of diversity in the operations of various businesses within sectors of the industry."

Such dribble is now back in charge of regulating how Australian businesses employ their staff


Labor heartland turns on proposed Warmist laws as modelling shows big regional job losses

The mayors of three of the nation's biggest mining cities have demanded Kevin Rudd delay introducing carbon emissions trading, warning it will smash jobs and seriously damage key regional areas. The mayors of the traditional Labor strongholds of Newcastle, Gladstone and Mount Isa have called for the emissions trading scheme to be put off.

And the managing director of Frontier Economics, Danny Price, who conducted still-secret modelling for the NSW Treasury on the Rudd Government's plan, said the impact of the scheme across industrial regions, including central Queensland, the Hunter and Illawarra in NSW and Victoria's Gippsland, would be "very high" and "very severe". "In those regions, the effect on regional GDP would be many, many times more than the national effect forecast by the Treasury, which predicted an ETS would cut 0.1 per cent of average annual growth," Mr Price said.

The growing opposition to the Rudd Government's ETS came as the Opposition intensified its attack on the scheme as a job destroyer, with Malcolm Turnbull declaring the Coalition would not vote for the ETS in its current form. After the Opposition Leader's weekend declaration that the Coalition would not support a 2010 start-up date or the current design of the Rudd plan, the Government has become increasingly isolated on its support for the scheme.

Newcastle Lord Mayor John Tate said any sensible person had to be concerned about climate change, but he saw no harm in delaying the introduction of the ETS while also pursuing alternative energy sources and developing technologies to reduce emissions from coal. "I just can't understand why you would put that sort of impost on Australian industry and agriculture at a time when we are trying to compete with the world," Mr Tate said. "I would urge the Government to consider the economic future and the job future of our citizens. Don't bring an impost on business large or small that's going to affect the viability of those businesses. It's just like another tax."

Mr Tate said Newcastle was faring reasonably well in the current economic climate because the federal and state governments were funding massive infrastructure spending, including a new coal loader at the city's port, works to deepen the south arm of the Hunter River and more than $580million on rail improvements. The spending was designed to boost the city's capacity to export coal.

Mount Isa Mayor John Molony said mines in his community employed 4000 people, including 300 apprentices. "I believe the ETS should be held in abeyance until the economic downturn is over," Mr Molony said. Mr Molony said copper and lead smelting and copper refining in Mt Isa and Townsville added major value to the nation's exports and would be severely hindered by emissions trading. Stressing that the problem of climate change required global action, he said it made sense to delay Australia's contribution to reducing emissions until it was clear what action other nations would take.

Gladstone Mayor George Creed, whose city's port is the exit point for massive coal exports from central Queensland, said the ETS would damage his community's industrial viability at a time it could least be afforded. Mr Creed said mines and heavy industry in Gladstone were already shedding jobs, and Australia's total carbon emissions accounted for a fraction of the world's output. "We are not going to hurt anything in the world if we wait for another year or two," Mr Creed said.

Latrobe Mayor Lisa Price, who represents an area that includes three open-cut brown coal mines, said her community was sitting on 500 years' worth of coal supplies and would not accept emissions trading without clear undertakings on structural adjustments to replace the jobs lost in mining.

The mayors spoke out as independent senator Nick Xenophon said the Government's legislation was doomed in the Senate, given that all parties on the cross benches believed it to be fundamentally flawed. During a sustained question-time attack on the claimed job-destroying consequences of the ETS, Mr Turnbull suggested the scheme should be shelved until the outcome of the UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen later this year were known. The Opposition Leader said the Government should not commit itself before the administration of US President Barack Obama clarified the details of its proposed emissions scheme. Mr Turnbull cited a confidential briefing from coalmining giant Xstrata predicting that the scheme would force the closure of up to four mines and cost 1000 jobs, most of them in Queensland.

But Mr Rudd said the Government was determined to act on climate change, saying the economic costs of inaction would be far greater than the costs of action, particularly for a hot and dry nation such as Australia.


Heavy government internet censorship at work -- not in China -- in Australia

I doubt that this would survive a High Court challenge, however

The Australian communications regulator says it will fine people who hyperlink to sites on its blacklist, which has been further expanded to include several pages on the anonymous whistleblower site Wikileaks. Wikileaks was added to the blacklist for publishing a leaked document containing Denmark's list of banned websites.

The move by the Australian Communications and Media Authority comes after it threatened the host of online broadband discussion forum Whirlpool last week with a $11,000-a-day fine over a link published in its forum to another page blacklisted by ACMA - an anti-abortion website. ACMA's blacklist does not have a significant impact on web browsing by Australians today but sites contained on it will be blocked for everyone if the Federal Government implements its mandatory internet filtering censorship scheme. But even without the mandatory censorship scheme, as is evident in the Whirlpool case, ACMA can force sites hosted in Australia to remove "prohibited" pages and even links to prohibited pages.

Online civil liberties campaigners have seized on the move by ACMA as evidence of how casually the regulator adds to its list of blacklisted sites. It also confirmed fears that the scope of the Government's censorship plan could easily be expanded to encompass sites that are not illegal.

"The first rule of censorship is that you cannot talk about censorship," Wikileaks said on its website in response to the ACMA ban. The site has also published Thailand's internet censorship list and noted that, in both the Thai and Danish cases, the scope of the blacklist had been rapidly expanded from child porn to other material including political discussions.

Already, a significant portion of the 1370-site Australian blacklist - 506 sites - would be classified R18+ and X18+, which are legal to view but would be blocked for everyone under the proposal. The Government has said it was considering expanding the blacklist to 10,000 sites and beyond.

Electronic Frontiers Australia said the leak of the Danish blacklist and ACMA's subsequent attempts to block people from viewing it showed how easy it would be for ACMA's own blacklist - which is secret - to be leaked onto the web once it is handed to ISPs for filtering. "We note that, not only do these incidents show that the ACMA censors are more than willing to interpret their broad guidelines to include a discussion forum and document repository, it is demonstrably inevitable that the Government's own list is bound to be exposed itself at some point in the future," EFA said. "The Government would serve the country well by sparing themselves, and us, this embarrassment."

Last week, Reporters Without Borders, in its regular report on enemies of internet freedom, placed Australia on its "watch list" of countries imposing anti-democratic internet restrictions that could open the way for abuses of power and control of information. The main issue raised was the Government's proposed internet censorship regime. "This report demolished the Communications Minister's contention that Australia is just following other comparable democracies," Greens communications spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam said. "We are not. The Government is embarking on a deeply unpopular and troubling experiment to fine-tune its ability to censor the internet. "I agree with Reporters Without Borders. If you consider this kind of net censorship in the context of Australia's anti-terror laws, it paints a disturbing picture indeed."

EFA said the Government's "spin is starting to wear thin" and it could no longer be denied that the ACMA blacklist targets a huge range of material that is legal and even uncontroversial. The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has repeatedly claimed his proposed mandatory filters would target only "illegal" content - predominantly child pornography. "As time goes on, pressure will only mount on the Government to expand the list, while money and effort are poured into an enormous black box that will neither help kids nor stem the flow of illegal material," EFA said. "If the minister truly believes that children are seeking out, or being bombarded with, child pornography, then there's a dearth of both common sense and proper research in the ministerial suites."

Already, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby, Jim Wallace, has said he hopes the sex industry will go broke as a result of the censorship scheme. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon previous expressed his desire to have online gambling sites added to the blacklist but has since withdrawn his support for the scheme, saying it was dangerous and could be "counter-productive". The Greens and Opposition also oppose the scheme, meaning any legislation to implement it will be blocked. The Opposition has obtained legal advice that "legislation of some sort will almost certainly be required", but others have said it may be possible to implement the scheme without legislation.

Speaking at a telecommunications conference last week, Senator Conroy urged Australians to have faith in MPs to pass the right legislation. Despite previously saying his scheme would be expanded to block "refused classification" content that includes sites depicting drug use, sex, crime, cruelty and violence, he said opponents of his plan were spreading "conspiracy theories".

The Government's internet censorship trials are due to begin shortly but critics have said they may not provide much useful data on the real-world implications because none of the major ISPs were chosen to take part.


Child died after public hospitals sent him home three times

Calling this kid's problem "croup" is absurd. Croup has a frequent cough and there is no mention of that. And croup is very common so the doctors should have known that. The negligence is gross

Timothy Wood's parents knew something was terribly wrong with their son, but they could not get the help they were sure he needed. Desperately straining for air and with swelling around his neck, the 19-month-old was sent home from hospital on July 16, 2005, for the third time in four days. The next afternoon, he was rushed back to hospital, where he died two days later.

Anthony and Robyn Wood hope a coronial inquest will give them some answers. Their solicitor Kathryn Booth, of Maurice Blackburn, said outside the Victorian Coroners Court yesterday: "Mr and Mrs Wood have been waiting a very long time to have this inquest and it's been important to them to get answers as to why Timmy died after three presentations to two different hospitals."

Mr Wood said: "The last thing we want to have happen is the same thing happen to another child - it was bad enough to go through it. "You're not meant to outlive your children and it will be something that we will take to our grave."

In statements tendered to the court, Mr Wood said he believed the Austin Hospital should have done things differently when he took his son there on July 16, 2005. "I do not believe that Timothy should have been discharged from the hospital that evening," he said. "The medical staff was not in a position to accurately diagnose the extent of Timothy's problem or make a decision to discharge him as he had not been closely monitored and examined during his time at the hospital." Giving evidence, Mr Wood was even more direct. "We thought the observation levels (at the Austin Hospital) were pathetic. They weren't there," he said.

Timmy became sick on Thursday, July 14, 2005. By about 2am on the Friday, his breathing was badly restricted and his parents called an ambulance. He was taken to the Royal Children's Hospital, where he was diagnosed with croup, observed for four hours and given medication before being sent home. On the Saturday morning, the Woods were still concerned and took him back. When they saw the triage nurse they were told if they waited in emergency for a doctor it would be unlikely that the treatment plan would change.

They went home, but Timmy did not improve and they called a 24-hour maternal health nurse help line. The nurse could hear Timmy's laboured breathing and told Mr Wood to call an ambulance immediately and prepare for an overnight stay. But when they got to the Austin hospital - the Royal Children's was full - Timmy was not admitted. Instead, he was given more medication and sent home.

The next day, he stopped breathing. Mr Wood administered CPR until an ambulance arrived and Timmy was rushed to the Royal Children's Hospital, where he died two days later. Mr Wood wrote in a letter to the coroner in August 2005: "It was said to us by some of the (intensive care unit) team at the Royal Children's Hospital that they are amazed that a child can die from croup these days. "The Austin Hospital and medical team simply let us down."

The inquest, before coroner David Drake, continues.


Monday, March 16, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is appalled at the smutty and apparently fraudulent attack on independent conservative politician Pauline Hanson

Icing the hype

By Andrew Bolt

The ABC accepts - without question - the word of a green alarmist that the world is both heating and drowning:
BARBARA MILLER: Just two years ago the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a worst case scenario, sea levels could rise by up to 59 centimetres by 2100. New information has now led to that figure being revised significantly upwards to a projected rise of a metre or even 1.2 metres. Dr Will Steffen the executive director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University is at the summit in Copenhagen.

WILL STEFFEN: The 59 centimetres did not take into account the changes of the big polar ice sheets like Greenland and west Antarctica because they couldn't be modelled very well at that time. We now have better information on how Greenland and west Antarctica, the polar ice sheets are behaving, and they're leading us to believe that sea level rise will indeed be more than that 59 centimetres.

But here's what the same conference was also told about Greenland - but which the ABC didn't report:
The giant Greenland ice sheet may be more resistant to temperature rise than experts realised. The finding gives hope that the worst impacts of global warming, such as the devastating floods depicted in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, could yet be avoided.

Jonathan Bamber, an ice sheet expert at the University of Bristol, told the conference that previous studies had misjudged the so-called Greenland tipping point, at which the ice sheet is certain to melt completely. "We found that the threshold is about double what was previously published," Bamber told the Copenhagen Climate Congress...

And what of the actual observations of this reputedly fast-warming, fast-drowning climate? In fact, sea levels haven't risen for the past two years. Temperatures haven't risen for the past decade. Hurricanes and cyclones have been decreasing in total energy. Greenland hasn't been following Europe's warming trend.

And while the ABC subcontracts its reporting of an alarmist conference to alarmist scientists and activists, it virtually ignores another conference of sceptical scientists and other experts running at the very same time. Is there a reason that so many reporters refuse to tempter their alarmist reports with cool facts based not on predictions but on observations?

When the wildest predictions at the IPCC conference are for sea level rises this century of up to 1.2 metres, will ABC science guru Robyn Williams concede at last that his own claims of sea level rises of up to 100 metres were grossly alamist and hyperbolic, with no basis in science? When will Media Watch pounce on a science journalist that can insist on something so preposterous?

More HERE (See the original for links)

Australia to reduce immigration intake

Cuts to the nation's skilled migration intake will help protect local jobs, Immigration Minister Chris Evans says. The federal government will slash the skilled migration program by 14 per cent, or 18,500 jobs, over the next three years. The cuts will be coupled with deletions to the critical skills list, which specifies which jobs are open to migrants. All building and manufacturing trades will be removed, forcing companies to find bricklayers, plumbers, welders and carpenters domestically. Employers can bring in foreign workers only if they cannot source the labour locally.

Mr Evans says the government wants to ensure migrant workers are not competing with Australians for jobs during the economic downturn. "That's (building and manufacturing) where we are seeing a drop off in demand, some major redundancies, we don't want people coming in who are going to compete with Australians," Mr Evans told ABC radio.

It is unlikely further cuts will be made to the critical skills shortage list including health, engineering and information technology jobs, he said. "I doubt they're going to be making any changes in that regard, we are down to a fairly short (critical skills shortage) list now."

The Master Builders Association says the cuts are warranted. Chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch says unemployment in the building and construction sector is rising. "We're projecting at least a loss of 50,000 jobs in this industry over the next 12 months," Mr Harnisch told ABC radio.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said the government should be prepared to reduce further Australia's migrant intake as the economy slows. Mr Turnbull said the government has "finally recognised" the gravity of the threat migration poses to jobs in Australia. "They should be prepared to reduce the immigration intake in light of the economic circumstances," he told ABC Radio, when asked whether the government should go further than the latest announcement. "We're disappointed they have failed to do so in recent months."

But the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) says there will be trade skill shortages despite the economic downturn. "You don't want migration policy to move in high peaks and low troughs, because that does create dislocations through the economy," chief executive Peter Anderson told ABC radio. "It is far better to allow the labour market to operate in a more natural way."

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce says there is still a need for overseas workers in the Australian workforce. Abattoirs was one example where employers were struggling to fill vacancies with local labour, he said. Senator Joyce, in cautiously welcoming the announcement, said the government still needed to be careful about cutting worker immigration, especially for the meat-processing sector where operators struggled to maintain full production. "If we take away 30 per cent of the production line, you end up closing the whole production line down," he told reporters in Canberra.....

Nationals MP Mark Coulton has described as "ironic" the decision to cut the intake, saying sending jobs offshore would be a consequence of an emissions trading scheme (ETS). He said a 14 per cent cut to the skilled labour intake was not a huge amount when compared to the numbers of jobs that could be lost to the ETS and the government's planned changes to workplace laws.appropriate industries. "Doing a willy-nilly reduction in skilled migration is problematic," he told reporters. "You need to ensure that the intakes that you do reduce are in areas where, in fact, there is going to be a reduction (of local jobs)."

Dr Jensen warned that a rushed implementation of an emissions trading scheme - scheduled to begin in July 2010 - would also cost local jobs. "It's (the ETS) going to be introduced next year... (and) next year is going to be particularly bad economically." Liberal MP Stuart Robert said the ETS would export jobs overseas. "If Prime Minister (Kevin) Rudd is going to look at immigration... he needs to look at the ETS at the same time," he told reporters.

Senior Liberal senator Eric Abetz says the announced cut is appropriate, but warned that border protection measures are being weakened. The government's immigration policy was in "tatters", highlighted by the latest arrival of boatpeople at the weekend, he said. "We seem to be getting more uninvited migrants to this country and they are busily cutting the number of skilled migrants," he told reporters...

More here

Criminals still get out of jail free in Victoria

RAPISTS, armed robbers, drug traffickers, culpable drivers and arsonists are among hundreds of serious offenders being set free by Victorian judges. Supreme and County judges handed out wholly or partially suspended sentences to 30 per cent of all offenders convicted in 2007-08. Two years after sentencing experts and the government said suspended sentences should be abolished, judges continue to hand them out in serious cases.

Among those given wholly suspended sentences were four rapists, 23 armed robbers, 44 drug traffickers, two culpable drivers, seven arsonists, 23 people convicted of sexual penetration of a child and 14 convicted of intentionally causing serious injury. Figures show 477 of the 2206 offenders dealt with by judges during the year were given wholly suspended sentences. Another 176 serious offenders received partially suspended sentences.

Sentencing Advisory Council chairman Prof Arie Freiberg said he was surprised by the new figures, which suggested the law was "not operating as parliament intended". "I am concerned that judges seem very strongly wedded to the view that the suspended sentence is a valuable sentencing option for them, and they basically maintain that view," Prof Freiberg said. The Sentencing Act was amended on November 1, 2006, to allow judges to impose suspended sentences for serious crimes committed after that date only in exceptional circumstances. The new law was intended to reduce the use of suspended sentences for offences including murder, manslaughter, intentionally causing serious injury, rape, sexual penetration of a child under 16 and armed robbery.

Offenders given wholly suspended sentences spend no time in jail unless they commit another crime during the period of suspension. They are not required to perform any community service and are not subject to supervision, rehabilitation or treatment programs or conditions such as drug or alcohol testing. The rate of suspended sentences imposed in the higher courts jumped from 27 per cent to 30 per cent in 2007-08.

Another 6195 offenders were given wholly or partially suspended sentences in magistrates' courts, which deal with less serious offences. The percentage of offenders given suspended sentences in magistrates' courts rose from 6.7 per cent of all sentences to 7 per cent -- the equal highest rate ever recorded.

The State Government announced in May, 2006, that suspended sentences would be phased out over three years and totally abolished by December, 2009. Its decision was in line with recommendations from the Sentencing Advisory Council, which said abolition of suspended sentences would result in "real truth in sentencing". But in April last year, in its "Final Report Part Two", the council changed its position and said the corrections system could not cope with the influx of prisoners if suspended sentences were abolished. Instead, it recommended changes to offer credible, effective alternatives to suspended sentences.


Claims Victorian public hospital waiting lists are doctored

THE Opposition wants the state government to launch an inquiry into allegations hospitals are fudging figures to avoid fines. The Victoria Police fraud squad is investigating claims many hospitals manipulate waiting list data to cash in on government bonuses and avoid paying fines.

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the practice showed the health system was "at crisis point". "The fact that these revelations have been sent to the police, the fact that the upper house is starting an inquiry to look into all of these matters of hidden waiting lists, I believe, is proof that the Brumby government is covering up, is not prepared to investigate and is concealing the truth." Ms Shardey said hospitals were forced to fudge figures to maximise every opportunity for funding because the health system had been mismanaged. "The Brumby government needs to investigate what is going on in our hospitals, where waiting lists are being fudged and where they are being altered to hide the true state of the time that people are waiting for procedures in our hospitals."

A computer expert who wrote a file carrying the alleged information - but who wants to remain anonymous - was employed to analyse patient data systems at several major Victorian hospitals. "Many of the hospitals and health services I have consulted with over the last year have admitted to me that they fudge the figures to avoid the fines and cash in on the bonus funding for meeting the reporting requirements," the file stated. The effect of the practice would mean a patient could be waiting up to a year for surgery but the file would show a much shorter wait, Fairfax reported today.

The file also alleges hospitals use two sets of waiting lists, where one is kept "in the drawer", used when beds become available or when a patient is clinically ready for surgery. Senior hospital staff privately admitted administrators want to avoid fines for not treating patients within required times and want to claim bonuses from the Victorian government for meeting targets, the file said.

The "ghost ward" claims follow allegations that a doctor at Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully was sacked after he submitted concerns about hospital data manipulation to an opposition-led upper house inquiry in January.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Different reading methods on trial

This is a fraud. Such a trial was done a few years ago in Scotland with the result that kids taught using phonics ended up two years ahead in reading age compared to the rest. What's so different about us and the Scots? This is just a ploy to delay the inevitable. Leftist teachers WANT kids to be poorly educated. And they succeed. With "whole word" learning, lots of kids end up virtually illiterate. Knowledge is the enemy of Leftism and being unable to read is a major obstacle to acquiring knowledge

The divisive debate over how best to teach children to read has prompted the first trial in Australia comparing phonics-based techniques with other methods. The NSW Government is planning a pilot study assessing a reading program that teaches children letter-sound combinations as the first step in reading. Their progress will be compared with students taught by methods that place less emphasis on phonics and more on "whole language" techniques, such as pictures and sentence structure. It is believed to be the first head-to-head comparison of phonics with other reading programs in the nation.

In an interview with The Weekend Australian, NSW Education Minister Verity Firth said the aim of the trial was to gather evidence of what worked. "Surely all of us can agree we want the best for our kids, and stop arguing about what we believe and start talking about what we know," she said. "As Education Minister, my job isn't to find myself in the middle of internecine debates, but to try to be able to look at how reading is taught with the primary motivation of what's best for our kids."

NSW will run the trial as one of the programs funded through the National Partnership with the commonwealth on literacy and numeracy that was agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments. Ms Firth said the state's aims were in line with the federal Government's objectives, which had called for phonics trials. The NSW study will use the MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time in Literacy) reading program developed by education researchers at Macquarie University, which places letter-sound relationships or phonemic awareness as the foundation of learning to read. The details of the trial are still being finalised but it is envisaged it will run for at least a year, targeting students in Years 3 and 4 reading well below the level of their peers.

The debate in the reading wars is over the importance of teaching phonics to children learning to read, with "whole language" techniques supplanting the sounding out of words as the first step in learning. The term whole language is no longer used, proponents now call for a "balanced" approach that teaches a range of methods, such as looking at the pictures on the page, the context of the word and the syntax of the sentence, rather than starting with sounding out the letters of the word. As reported in The Weekend Australian last month, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English has criticised the emphasis on phonics in the draft national curriculum, saying it "comes at the expense of the focus on a balanced reading program".

In its submission to the National Curriculum Board, the AATE calls for explicit reference to be made to "all three cueing systems" used to make sense of the written word. Under the three cueing systems model, the sounding of letters is the least important skill, with children first asked to use semantics and guess the word based on the context including using pictures, and then use the sentence syntax to work out the meaning. The third and least important cue is sounding out the letters.

Literacy associate professor Kerry Hempenstall said the three cueing system had been discredited as a method for teaching reading. "It has never been validated that anyone can integrate these three methods," he said.


Fruit-juice drink has sugar in it! Horrors!

Maybe sugar should be banned from restaurants and cafes too. Who needs sugar in their tea or coffee?

It claims it has "no bad stuff" but children are being warned to avoid a new fruit juice drink. One Sydney school has even taken the extraordinary step of hiring a dietitian to talk to parents and experts have slammed the makers of Golden Circle LOL No Bad Stuff for preying on children. Teachers became alarmed after spotting students as young as six drinking the carbonated fruit juice for breakfast.

Bankstown Grammar School is so concerned about the effects on children it is calling on parents to stop allowing the drink in lunch boxes. The private school has already banned Coke and Mars bars but still finds the sugary sweets creeping into students' bags. "We could try banning it (LOL) but we have tried before on other products and kids still end up bringing them in," principal Terry Lidgard said. "I would rather educate the students ... like harm minimisation."

Manufactured by a leading fruit juice company, the cans of drink contain 26gm of sugar. Emblazoned with large smiley faces and colourful labelling, the drinks have come under fire for looking like caffeine energy drinks such as Red Bull and V. The Children's Hospital at Westmead dietitian Susie Burrell criticised Golden Circle for preying on kids. "They have a big enough market, they don't have to target children like this. It is marketed in a way that makes it look healthy," she said. Golden Circle was contacted but did not respond.

US research advises kids should not consume more than two sweetened drinks a week. "Fruit juice contains sugar and this is highly concentrated. It is bad for teeth. It contains no other nutritional value," Ms Burrell said. "Parents should be giving their children flavoured milk [Really? Milk is highly calorific!] or water." At least one in four children in Australia is overweight.


Greenie thugs urge environmental movement to use violence

A thin cover for hatred of other people

People are being urged to break into shops, "disable" four wheel drives and throw pies at people by an extreme environmental group being promoted by the NSW Greens. The group Rising Tide is planning a blockade of the world's biggest coal port in Newcastle, for which Greens MP Lee Rhiannon has held a "direct action and civil disobedience" workshop to prepare protesters. Rising Tide claims the protest will be legal and peaceful, however it also warned participants "there can be no guarantee against arrest". Ms Rhiannon - who will attend the blockade with her staff - yesterday praised Rising Tide but said she was unaware of its support of vandalism and did not condone it.

Rising Tide said people concerned about climate change should also "shut down" petrol stations and blockade power plants. The suggestions are contained in a list of 64 "actions" posted on the group's website. A spokeswoman for Rising Tide stood by the list, saying the actions were "trivial" compared to the threat of climate change. Many of the suggestions are benign but some are clearly illegal and potentially dangerous. They include:

* DISABLE a 4WD. (Letting the tyres down is one way - and doesn't leave you open to "malicious damage" charges, because it doesn't damage the vehicle);

* THROW a pie at chief spin doctor at the NSW Minerals Council;

* SHUT down petrol stations;

* SUBVERTISE - distort the messages on adverts for climate criminals;

* PAINT bike lanes on the road;

* START a campaign against air flights; and

* BLOCKADE or occupy a power station."

Rising Tide spokeswoman Georgina Woods said the group stood by the suggestions, saying they were "on the scale of things, a little bit of inconvenience". "Our group is non-violent but we feel we're facing a wide unprecedented challenge and a little bit of civil disobedience as an expression of community frustration," she said. Green activist Lisette Salkavich, who distributed an email urging people to get involved in the Rising Tide blockade, said that while she had not done it herself damaging property could be morally justified in some circumstances and climate change was an urgent threat.


Amazing: A fair history of Australia on TV

Tomorrow night a program will screen on ABC TV that is doubly strange. First, it is about colonial Sydney, a subject that rarely makes it to television. And second, it's pretty good. Both are causes for celebration. The program is the first part of a documentary mini-series called Rogue Nation. In terms of audience size, this will be the most popular treatment of its subject in many years, and will presumably become an important educational resource on DVD. So the fact that it's good rather than bad matters.

In recent decades, film and book depictions of colonial history have tended to focus on bad-news stories about convicts and Aborigines. Many of these productions have been excellent and important contributions to our history, but taken together they have painted a dark picture that has obscured the fact that much that was good was also happening in the early years of white settlement. The best known example of what I'm referring to is Robert Hughes's The Fatal Shore. Although a ripsnorter of a book, it largely ignored the big thing that occurred in our early decades. And that was the surprisingly quick and successful development of a white society and its economy.

Would the ABC be interested in this, I wondered? The corporation has done some good historical docos (The Navigators, and Don Parham's Riot Or Revolution), but its reputation is mixed. The story of early NSW involves politicians and businessmen, types of whom the national broadcaster has not always demonstrated much understanding. In fact, you'd have to say that over the years it has more often than not reflected a left-wing view of what matters about Australian history.

One recalls the docudrama about the wharf dispute, Bastard Boys, in which the unionists and their supporters were human, even heroic, while those on the other side were knaves or fools. I still have vivid memories of actor Geoff Morrell's depiction of Chris Corrigan. The Patrick's chief was shown as a sort of human string puppet, with a rich assortment of nervous tics. In that case the ABC had heavily loaded the dramatic dice to support a left-wing view of the events being shown.

So it's with pleasure I can report that Rogue Nation is well worth a look. It involves dramatic reconstructions interpolated with narrative by the historian Michael Cathcart. The first episode focuses on the dispute between pioneer John Macarthur and Governor William Bligh. Geoff Morrell plays Macarthur, whom he doesn't much resemble (maybe he's the ABC's idea of a capitalist?) Chubby-cheeked John Wood plays Bligh. Each actor is obviously far too nice a bloke to represent the hard man he's supposed to be, but this is a perennial problem with Australian drama. Less understandable is the fact both characters speak with an Australian accent. Despite such problems, the thing romps along entertainingly and informatively. Although it covers too much ground far too quickly, it's a welcome reminder that early Australian history is richer and much more interesting than suggested by several generations of uninspired teaching. It is good to see more well-made Australian history to stand alongside the many fine series from abroad that the ABC screens.

As with those foreign series, the subject matter of Rogue Nation is well chosen: it covers events that had important implications for a majority of the white inhabitants and their descendants. And the insight on display is grown-up: there is an acknowledgment that powerful people outside the labour movement can contribute to society, even if they're not always honest or likeable. This is refreshing, because too often in history different moral standards are applied to the right and the left. Again and again, in books and lessons and on film, we have seen the left's heroes, such as John Curtin and Lionel Murphy, largely forgiven their faults in order that we might focus on their virtues. It's not that anything wrong is put in most of the time, it's just that some of the bad stuff is left out, or at least minimised. It's a question of balance, and in these cases the balance is tilted by affection.

This would not matter so much if such generosity of spirit was extended to all subjects. But it is not. With conservative leaders, such as Robert Menzies or John Howard, it has usually been the opposite: their virtues and values are played down and their faults exaggerated. Through the repetition of this process over many years, conservatives have been pushed beyond the moral pale and largely out of the historical picture. There is nothing sinister about this most of the time. It is just the outcome of a thousand tiny acts of inclination and personal preference expressed by a predominantly left-wing intellectual culture. At its basis is the simple fact that its members simply don't find conservatives interesting. We saw this with the ABC TV series The Howard Years.

Compared with the equivalent program about the Hawke/Keating years, Labor In Power, it was perfunctory and cliched. You could see the makers had done their best to be fair, but nothing could make them interested in what made their subjects tick. And so the result was uninteresting. Fortunately, the makers of Rogue Nation seem to have been fascinated by their autocratic and prickly subjects, and they have conveyed this on screen. The result reminds us that there's a lot more character to this place than is often realised.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Police thugs

There has been some disquiet at my reaction yesterday to a Western Australian jury verdict which found that police had used excessive force and that the injuries the police suffered when the victims defended themselves were therefore the fault of the police themselves. I applauded the verdict -- and felt that the police injuries might serve as a salutary warning against excessive use of force by them in the future.

Some video of the melee concerned has been available for some time but the jury had the opportunity to see that video plus hear eyewitness testimony about the matter so I am quite happy to call the jury verdict justified, regardless of what impression the video may make on the casual viewer. There would have to be previously unknown evidence brought forward for a jury verdict to be overturned.

Note the following comment: "But one of the McLeods' lawyers, Michael Tudori, said yesterday it was an "absolutely disgrace" that Mr Porter and others had criticised the case when they had not been present at the trial. He said the McLeods had been protecting themselves and family members from excessive police force, The Weekend Australian reported. "The jury's verdict was unanimous in that the police used excessive force; that's how and why they were acquitted," he said. "The police should be looking at and reviewing that footage as to how they behaved."

The official reaction to the matter, however, has been predictable: Proposals to legislate so as to narrow the ways in which people can legitimately defend themselves from police misbehaviour.

In the circumstances, I thought I might say a little more about why I applaud the injuries suffered by the police in the matter. For starters, I should mention this case as an addition to the four recent cases of police misbehaviour that I linked to yesterday. An elderly Asian lady was thrown around like a sack of dirt and badly hurt by NSW police officers. And all on the basis of mere suspicion, suspicion which was neither justified nor reasonable. The police were subsequently exonerated from any blame in the matter. From that and other cases it seems clear to me that the whole reason why many police are in the force is that it gives them the opportunity to hurt people and get way with it.

My disgust with the police was however triggered long ago -- in the Mannix case of 1984 in Queensland. A young lad was "fitted up" by police with with the murder of his father and was released from prison some months later only because the real villain voluntarily confessed to the crime. How lucky can you get? Barry Mannix might still be in jail otherwise. The case attracted much public outrage and an Inquiry was held but no action was ever taken against the police thugs concerned. It all happened during the Joh Bjelke Petersen regime and I was a member of the National party at the time. I resigned from the party over the failure to take any action against the police misbehaviour concerned.

The behaviour of the Queensland police in general, however, eventually became so malodorous that Bjelke-Petersen set up the Fitzgerald enquiry -- which resulted in the Chief of Police being sent to jail for some years. And if the Police Chief was corrupt, what does that say of the force he led?

It may be noted that there was another inquiry into Queensland police malpractice -- the Lucas Inquiry of 1977 -- which had recommended reforms to police procedures that might have prevented the onlaught on Mannix -- but the recommendations of that Inquiry were ignored.

And my disquiet was thoroughly sharpened when my car was stolen a couple of years ago. When I got the car back, I found that someone had dropped an ID card in it. And that someone could only be one of the thieves. So I went to the local cop shop with the card in the belief that I was handing them a conviction on a platter. They were simply not interested in pursuing the matter. I wrote to the officer in charge of the local station, to the chief of police, to the minister for justice in the government and to the Premier but all I ever got were fob-offs. My matter was simply too unimportant to bother with. Not enough opportunity for a stoush, apparently. More on the Queensland police here. Scroll down for details of my matter.

Perhaps because police have "dirt" on them, politicians tend to back and defend the police no matter what. While that is happening there is little that anyone can do but cheer when police get hurt. I would sympathize only if there were reasonable and effective recourse against police misbehavior available. But I know of nowhere in Australia where that prevails. The Mallard case certainly revealed long-term rottenness from top to bottom in the Western Australian force.

Climate sceptics fight tide of alarmism

By Miranda Devine

As the Rudd Government's job-killing carbon emissions trading plans come under fire, a conference of sceptical scientists met in New York this week to discuss developments bolstering the case against human-caused global warming. A disproportionate number of Australian scientists who lead the charge against climate alarmism spoke at the conference organised by the Heartland Institute, a US free-market think tank. Among them were the James Cook university paleoclimate scientist Dr Bob Carter, the former head of the Australian Greenhouse Office, David Evans, and Bill Kininmonth, the former head of the Australian National Climate Centre. "Each of the Australians were there because they have something special to offer," said Carter yesterday on the phone from Connecticut.

Evans told the conference the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change relied on the existence of a "hot spot" in the upper troposphere over the tropics, predicted by computer models. But it did not exist. Kininmonth said predictions that global temperature "might pass a 'tipping point' and even go into a phase of 'runaway global warming' are an outcome of the flawed computer models and are not a realistic future scenario". Carter told the conference on Wednesday that climate change has always occurred and by focusing on futile attempts to stop it by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, we have lost sight of the need to adapt. Countries need to "be better prepared to understand, cope with and adapt to the damaging effects of . natural climatic events and trends".

Carter declared the conference mood optimistic but a downbeat Vaclav Klaus, president of the European Union and the Czech Republic, said sceptics had made little headway. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, he was the only person in a private session of European leaders who expressed doubts about anthropogenic global warming. "The environmentalists don't want to change the climate. They want to change us and our behaviour," he told the Heartland conference. "Their ambition is to control and manipulate us. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising they recommend preventing [climate change], not adaptive policies. Adaptation would be a voluntary behaviour." Environmentalism had replaced socialism as the totalitarian threat to freedom in the 21st century, he said. "Environmentalists . do not want to reveal their true plans and ambitions: to stop economic development and return mankind centuries back."

The Heartland conference has received little coverage in Australia, and the odd New York Times report has dwelled on sneering dismissal from Greenpeace campaigners. But as sober analysis of developments in climate science filters out and economies decline, there are signs public perception is changing. Klaus cited a poll that showed only 11 per cent of Czechs believe humans have a significant influence on warming. A Lowy Institute poll last year found climate change had dropped down the list of policy priorities from equal first place to fifth, with Australians caring more about jobs. An Ipsos MORI poll found most Britons are not convinced climate change is caused by humans. In October, a poll commissioned by US conservation groups found only 18 per cent of respondents strongly believed climate change is "real, human-caused and harmful".

Carter described the most powerful speaker as Arthur Robinson, a professor of chemistry and co-founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. In a wake-up call to Christian groups who have rushed to embrace climate alarmism, Robinson pointed out the world's poor will bear the brunt of carbon prohibition policies. He described as "technological genocide" efforts to deny cheap energy, in the form of coal-fired power plants, to the Third World. "Billions of people who live at the lowest level of human existence will suffer greatly from the rationing of energy, and this, in turn, will lead to the death of hundreds of millions." Banning the use of DDT for mosquito eradication was the first "example of genocide by the removal of technology, [resulting] in the deaths of 30 to 40 million people and [leaving] half a billion infected with malaria".

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology climatologist Richard Lindzen told the conference: "Being sceptical about global warming does not by itself make one a good scientist, nor does endorsing global warming make one a poor scientist. One of the most difficult things is to realise . that most of the atmospheric scientists who I respect do endorse global warming. [But] the science they do that I respect is not about global warming. Endorsing global warming just makes their life easier." He also told to the conference, in excerpts posted on YouTube, "Most arguments about global warming boil down to science versus authority. For much of the public, authority will generally win, since they do not wish to deal with science . Those who are committed to warming alarm as either a vehicle for a post-modern coup d'etat or for illicit profits will obviously try to obfuscate matters."

But how can the courageous independent scientists in New York compete for attention with climate hysteria coming from such world leaders as Prince Charles, who in Rio de Janeiro this week claimed: "We have less than 100 months to alter our behaviour before we risk catastrophic climate change." Australia's future head of state is on a 10-day eco-tour to South America, aimed at boosting his popularity. He will travel in a luxury private Airbus, delivering a carbon footprint estimated at more than 300 tonnes. It just shows that what counts with climate hysterics is not the greenness of the planet but the brownie points they gain.


Political censorship of the web already ongoing in Australia

People must not see an anti-abortion page. And if abortion is not a political issue, I don't know what would be

In an unprecedented move, Australia's communications regulator has threatened to fine a company up to $11,000 a day for indirectly leaking part of its top-secret list of banned internet web pages. The action by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has wide ramifications for media companies, online publishers, web hosting suppliers and any organisation that publishes feedback from readers or customers on their website.

On March 10, ACMA issued Sydney web hosting company Bulletproof Networks with an "interim link-deletion notice" for allowing its customer, the Whirlpool internet community website, to post the link to an anti-abortion web page blacklisted by the regulator. Whirlpool is a popular website with around 276,000 members who regularly provide comments on the internet and broadband in Australia.

The interim notice, obtained by The Australian, stated that on February 19, ACMA received information that a Whirlpool forums page "may contain links to other websites that may contain 'prohibited content' or 'potentially prohibited content'".

According to the notice, ACMA determined that end-users in Australia could access the content on the blacklisted web page. ACMA gave Bulletproof around 24 hours to act. "Bulletproof must comply with the interim link deletion notice as soon as practicable, and in any event by 6pm on the next business day," the notice said. Bulletproof spokesman Lorenzo Modesto was surprised to receive a call, and the notice, from ACMA but decided to comply. "We received a call from ACMA's Jaclyn Smith on Tuesday morning. She laid out the whole scenario for us," Mr Modesto said. Bulletproof then contacted Whirlpool and a decision was made by the community website to remove the link.

"We took action and got the link removed as per ACMA's notice because it's the responsible thing to do when you get any such notice from the authorities," Mr Modesto said. "The (ACMA) notice stated that if we don't comply we could face fines of up to $11,000 a day. As a business we'd rather avoid that and focus on doing what we do best," Mr Modesto said. Mr Modesto said it was the first time the company had received a notice from authorities to take such action.

However, compliance didn't mean web hosting companies should take on the role of "content police". "We're a hosting provider. We'll comply with these notices and we have by notifying and working with our customer Whirlpool but no one should expect us to be the content police on the internet. "We cannot monitor what our customers' customers or members are doing on the web ... the police aren't liable for the crimes criminals commit, are they?" Mr Modesto said.

Whirlpool owner Simon Wright questioned why ACMA chose to slap the notice on Bulletproof instead of Whirlpool since it had published the web page. "ACMA should have contacted us first. "We felt compelled to remove the link to avoid getting Bulletproof into trouble," Mr Wright said. "Threatening friendships is something mobs do, not governments." ...

As at January 31, the ACMA blacklist comprised of 1090 web pages including refused classification, X18+ and MA15+ content. The blacklist, compiled via a complaints-based mechanism, is being used as a basis for federal Government-backed live ISP filtering trials.


His Eminence Cardinal Pell believes West now scared of criticising Islam

The West has become scared to criticise Islam and accepts death threats by Muslim extremists as normal, Cardinal George Pell has suggested in a speech in England. The outspoken Catholic Archbishop of Sydney said laws intended to promote tolerance were being used to stifle debate, which was "fermenting intolerance under the surface". In the March 6 speech at Oxford University, he also attacked a global campaign of "bullying and intimidation" by secular groups trying to drive Christians from public debate and stop churches providing schools, hospitals and welfare.

"Many in the West have grown used to practising self-censorship when it comes to Islam, just as we seem to accept that ex-Muslims who criticise Islam and extremism, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, require round-the-clock police protection," he said. "You can be persecuted for hate speech if you discuss violence in Islam, but there is little fear of a hate-speech prosecution for Muslim demonstrators with placards reading 'Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas'."

He said the expense and time of defending frivolous hate-speech allegations and the anxiety from "being enmeshed in a legal process straight out of Kafka" stifled robust discussion. "No one in the West today would suggest that criticism of Christianity should be outlawed," he said. "The secular and religious intolerance of our day needs to be confronted regularly and publicly."

Some secularists wanted a one-way street, and sought to drive Christianity not only from the public square but from providing education, health care and welfare to the wider community. "Modern liberalism has strong totalitarian tendencies," he said.

Cardinal Pell said a Californian referendum that rejected same-sex marriage had been a focus for demonstrations, violence, vandalism and intimidation of Christians. He said "this prolonged campaign of payback and bullying" would have received much more attention if same-sex marriage supporters had been the victims. It was strange how some of the most permissive groups easily became repressive despite their rhetoric about diversity and tolerance, he said. "Opposition to same-sex marriage is a form of homophobia and therefore bad, but Christianophobic blacklisting and intimidation is passed over in silence," he said.

Cardinal Pell said discrimination laws had been used to redefine marriage and the family. Children could now have three, four or five parents, relegating the idea of a child being brought up by his natural mother and father to nothing more than a majority preference. He said last year's Victorian law decriminalising abortion made a mockery of conscientious objection, which had been attacked as merely a way for doctors and nurses to impose their morality on their patients. Cardinal Pell said Christians urgently needed to deepen public understanding about religious freedom.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Jury recognizes excessive use of force by police goons

Police goons often hurt others by their reckless use of force (See here and here and here, for instance) so it is good to see them getting hurt back. It might help restrain future goonery from them. In view of the systematic corruption at all levels of the Western Australian force revealed by the Mallard case, it is about time something gave them a jolt. Thank goodness for the jury system

A father and his two sons have been found not guilty of assaulting policeman Matthew Butcher, left partly paralysed after he was head-butted in a brawl. A District Court jury yesterday found Robert McLeod, 56, and his two sons Barry McLeod, 29, and Scott James McLeod, 35, not guilty of eight charges laid after the fight at Joondalup's Old Bailey Tavern in February last year. The verdict has sparked concerns from the police union that officers are no longer protected when carrying out their duties.

Barry McLeod faced the most serious count, of doing an act with intent to cause harm, admitting to a ``flying head butt'' in which he struck Constable Butcher, 33, to the head from behind after the policeman shot his father with a Taser gun. Robert McLeod later collapsed from a heart attack - his third in three years.

Defence lawyers argued he and the other two members of his family acted in self defence when confronted by police, who they said acted with excessive force as they attempted to arrest them.

Ushered from court in his wheelchair, supported by uniformed police, Constable Butcher told reporters: ``I'm disgusted.'' His weeping wife Katrina said she was ``utterly disgusted'' by the verdict.

Neither Barry McLeod nor Scott McLeod - who smiled and laughed with supporters as he walked free - commented to waiting media. Their father was not in court as he has been recovering in hospital after suffering blood clots on the brain over the weekend.

Despite acquitting the men of assaulting police, the jury of eight men and four women convicted Scott McLeod of a lesser charge of threatening to kill a member of the public who videotaped the brawl on his mobile phone.

During the six week trial, the court was told the fight began between the McLeods and a group of painters, spilled onto the street and then escalated when police arrived. By their verdict, which was returned after a day and half of deliberations, the jury found prosecutors had failed to prove that Barry McLeod did not act in self defence, or did not come to the defence of his father when he assaulted Constable Butcher.

More here

A pre-trial account of the facts of the matter

A 56-year-old man on trial for assaulting a police officer during a brawl outside a Perth tavern says he punched the officer to protect his son.

Robert Mcleod is on trial in the District Court with his sons Scott Mcleod and Barry Mcleod. He told the court the three men were attempting to break up a fight outside the Joondalup Tavern in February last year when Barry McLeod was attacked by police. He said Constable Matthew Butcher pulled Barry McLeod's t-shirt over his head while another officer struck him.

He said he punched Constable Butcher to the stomach two or three times in order to free his son. Moments later Constable Butcher fired a Taser at Robert McLeod, who then suffered a heart attack.

Mr McLeod has conceded that at the time he was very annoyed at the police, who he claims assaulted his son for no reason.


Victoria's police crooks again

They couldn't lie straight in bed

Victorian police abused recording procedures to improve crime clearance rates, an Ombudsman report found. An investigation into crime statistics and police numbers found some police misused recording procedures "to make it appear more crime has been successfully solved than is actually the case".

Crime in Victoria is captured on the Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) database. Some offenders arrested and processed had unrelated, unsolved offences for which no one had been arrested added to their file, to "clear up" crime rates, the report said. It identified antiquated administrative practices for recording crime and outdated technology as major impediments to accurate reporting.

Ombudsman George Brouwer recommended the Office of Police Integrity investigate "falsification" of police records and called for the establishment of an independent authority to collect crime data. The Ombudsman's investigation followed a survey in the Herald Sun last April showing crime statistics were recorded in a way that meant far more offences were committed than were ever made public.

The report says discrepancies between reported crimes and official crime statistics are a result of poor crime reporting and deficient systems. In a sample survey, the Ombudsman found 80 per cent of calls made to the emergency services hotline 000 did not result in reported crimes. The report said this lack of correlation was problematic and needed review, with operational police admitting much of the crime was written off and not recorded.

One anonymous serving officer reported the limitations of the system meant a criminal charged with more than 1000 offences in a four-year period was listed as committing only one crime because the computer was incapable of recording more than 999 crimes. "What disturbed me is that my team put in months of work on this file, to be rewarded with the clean-up of one crime," the senior sergeant said.

Chief Commissioner Simon Overland said the Ombudsman's report related to an isolated incident and denied there was a systemic problem with distorted clearance rates. "As best I can tell there is one instance that they're talking about," Mr Overland said. "If that's happened, clearly that's of concern, and it should go to the OPI (Office of Police Integrity) and we should get to the bottom of it. "If there are more, we need to know about it."

Premier John Brumby welcomed the report, telling Parliament Victoria was the safest state in the country, but he admitted having the best-quality data was crucial. "We have record numbers of police, and crime has reduced across the state," he said.

Last month, Productivity Commission figures showed Victoria had the lowest spending per head of population on police services. In 2007-08, the Government invested only $305 per Victorian on policing services, the nation's lowest for the fifth consecutive year.

The Police Association said it was not in the interests of its members to cook the books to make crime statistics look better. Secretary Greg Davis said there were some fault lines with the system, which he described as cumbersome.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said the under-reporting of crime with the use of dodgy statistics undermined the Government's claims to be tough on crime. "This makes a mockery of John Brumby's claims about reduction of crimes in this state. We need more police and more police on the street."


Palestinian/Jewish dialogue unwelcome in Australian Arab organization

by Philip Mendes

The recent Senate Inquiry into allegations of academic bias highlighted the intense ideological divisions within universities and schools of learning. As confirmed by the Inquiry, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides one of the most volatile and polarised sources of such division. My personal experience as a long-standing participant in this debate suggests that even the most moderate academic supporters of Israel cannot find common ground with pro-Palestinian academics for respectful debate and dialogue.

For 15 years from 1987 till early 2002, I was active in the left-wing Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS). The AJDS position on the Middle East was very straightforward: a two-state solution based on the State of Israel existing roughly within the 1967 borders, and the corresponding creation of a state of Palestine within the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A key AJDS strategy was to establish links and dialogue with members of the local Palestinian and Arab communities.

Central to this strategy was a concern to show the rest of the Jewish community that Jews willing to recognise Palestinian rights and aspirations would receive positive feedback from local Palestinians and Arabs. A further implicit motivation was that successful Jewish-Arab dialogue in Australia based on mutual recognition and compromise could perhaps be seen as a model for successful peace negotiations within Israel/Palestine. This strategy included participation in the Australasian Middle East Studies Association (AMESA), an academic association consisting of both academics teaching in Middle East Studies - some of whom were Arabs and others who were Anglo-Saxon - and members of the local Palestinian and Arab communities.

Throughout the period of AMESA's existence (from about 1981 onwards), AJDS representatives had regularly been invited to speak at AMESA conferences, and welcomed within AMESA circles. My own involvement in AMESA had perhaps been less significant, but had included presentations to two AMESA conferences, contributions to the Deakin University (and AMESA-linked) Journal of Arabic, Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies, and contributions to the AMESA Newsletter. In addition, I had submitted in November 1997 at the request of a leading AMESA figure a witness statement to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission supporting a case by the Australian Arabic Council against the Herald & Weekly Times and Australia/Israel Publications (AIP).

Briefly, the matter involved some allegedly racist anti-Arab statements made by a visiting AIP-sponsored speaker David Pryce-Jones which had been published by the Herald Sun. The matter was subsequently settled out of court, and the Australian Arabic Council thanked the author in writing for "your very honest and powerful witness statement, and all your support throughout the two year case".

Not only this, but two prominent AMESA and Arab community intellectuals, Ray Jureidini and Christine Asmar, had approached me to draft a joint opinion piece on Jewish-Palestinian community relations in Australia. The article was intended to pinpoint the negatives of existing relations, and the future potential for improving relations. Plans were even made for the publication of a joint monograph on Palestinian and Jewish experiences of otherness and racism in Australia.

In late 1998, I was invited by the President of AMESA, Christine Asmar, to contribute an article to the AMESA Newsletter exploring how AMESA might improve its relations with the Jewish community. The submitted piece made the following points: that there was at best token representation of Jews in AMESA, that there did appear to be an in-built structural bias against Jewish representation within AMESA, but that nevertheless there were different views within the Jewish community about AMESA including some interest in identifying common ground.

In order to facilitate constructive engagement, I suggested the following: that AMESA adopt for its 1999 Conference the theme of "Jewish/Arab dialogue and friendship historically and today"; that AMESA invite the Executive Council of Australian Jewry to nominate two representatives to participate in the Conference Planning Committee; that AMESA invite the Israeli Ambassador and the Palestinian Ambassador to co-open proceedings, that AMESA consider inviting a mainstream Israeli writer or academic as a keynote speaker; and that AMESA invite the editor of the Australian Jewish News and a commensurate Arab community newspaper to speak at a joint session on Australian media presentations of Jews and Arabs, and possibilities for joint action against racist coverage.

To my surprise, AMESA chose to publish six responses to my article in the same issue without either my prior knowledge or permission. Three of the responses were broadly positive. However, the other three responses - from Ray Jureidini, John Docker, and Ned Curthoys - were vociferously critical. Their common concern seemed to be that my proposals would transform AMESA from a pro-Palestinian organisation into potentially a pro-Israel organisation. Docker, an anti-Zionist Jew, was the main concern. He argued without any evidence that my intention was to "intimidate, threaten and marginalise Jewish intellectuals" who did not conform to the Jewish community consensus. He claimed that my proposals would lead to the "surveillance and control of" AMESA by Zionists who had also suppressed "debate and discussion" in the media. Similarly, Ned Curthoys argued that my proposal was "grotesque", and reflected a "totalitarian vision for society".

Both Docker and Curthoys knew that I had argued for over 15 years both within and outside the Jewish community for the legitimacy of Palestinian national aspirations, for the creation of an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel, and for a free and tolerant Jewish debate around these issues. I was the last person who could reasonably be accused of wanting to censor anyone.

But worse was to come. I wrote a relatively short, careful and arguably measured response to the six responses, pointing out the negative and positives, and trying to focus again on the desired objective of achieving better relations between AMESA and the Jewish community.

Initially, Christine Asmar indicated that she would have to cut my letter to one page to which I reluctantly agreed. She also indicated at the same time that our proposed joint paper on Palestinian-Jewish relations would not go ahead. One month later I was informed by a new editor that she had cut and rewritten (without consultation) my letter to 150 words. I subsequently wrote a protest letter to the AMESA President, but to no avail. The organisation had closed ranks, and I was purged. My experience of Jewish-Arab dialogue was over.


Government hospital fires whistleblowing doctor

Outspoken Upper Ferntree Gully doctor Peter Lazzari, a strident critic of the health system, says he was sacked today for no apparent reason. The consultant physician, an employee of the Angliss Hospital for the past 13 years, told Knox Leader he was given his marching orders earlier today and was given no reason for his dismissal.

But he had no doubt it was because of his stinging criticism of Eastern Health and the State Government.

He recently made a submission to the Upper House Parliamentary Inquiry into Public Health Data calling for tougher penalties for hospitals that fudge waiting list times.

He said bonuses for hospitals should be scrapped and negligent health executives hauled before the courts to fix the state's health system.

He is understood to be seeking legal advice following his dismissal.

Eastern Health has yet to comment.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The notorious Royal North Shore Hospital again

It may be one of the best trauma centres in Australia but patients at Royal North Shore Hospital have to bring their own soap. Nurses at the hospital have revealed cash flow problems have caused the Intensive Care Unit to run out of basic hygiene supplies.

The State Government ordered a review of the $1 billion redevelopment after surgeons said operating theatres were too small. As of December 2008, the Northern Sydney and Central Coast Area Health Service, Royal North Shore Hospital, owed $25.8 million on a total 11,214 bills. A nurse, who did not want to be identified, said colleagues in ICU had bought soap last month because stores had run out. "They had to personally buy soap to wash the patient," the source said. "They ran out of toothpaste for three weeks, which is of real concern for intubated patients."

Head of RNS trauma unit and chair of the medical staff council Tony Joseph said he knew of suppliers who had not been paid. "I haven't personally heard of staff buying soap but I know that some suppliers have stopped medical equipment," he said.

Clinicians revealed six operating theatres will be too small to carry out complex surgery. Health Minister John Della Bosca has ordered a review after the Telegraph revealed they will be unable to perform trauma, cardiac, spinal or cancer surgery. NSW Infrastructure Co-ordinator General Bob Leece will review the project.


Melbourne traffic controller too friendly

This is the sort of stupidity you expect of safety-deranged Britain

A council efended its decision to ban a Deer Park North school crossing supervisor from high-fiving students and parents. Lollipop man Charlie Cremona has welcomed the children of Deer Park North Primary School in Melbourne's west for the past 18 years. After standing in the sun, rain and wind twice daily for all those years, he was stunned when told recently he must stop "high-fiving" students and parents on his Hovell St crossing.

But Brimbank city development general manager Peter Collina said the ban was in response to a parent's complaint about "a number of concerns, including that of physical contact with the children". "Council has investigated the complaint and observed the supervisor's behaviour and found that a number of his actions all potentially distracted him from his responsibility to keep the crossing safe," Mr Collina said.

Mr Cremona said the friendly interaction with the community was one of the bonuses of the job, in which he helps 130 children over the crossing each day. The grandfather-to-be estimated 80 per cent of his group would slap a quick high five along the way.

School principal Joe Vella said Mr Cremona was a "terrific" supervisor with "a heart of gold". Mr Vella said the ban on high fives took away the human element of the job. "For what (crossing supervisors) put up with they probably deserve more respect,'' Mr Vella said.

A Facebook group, "Support Charlie the lollipop legend and bring back the high five", has been set up to push the council to repeal its ban. But Mr Collina said while high-fiving "may appear innocent enough, it should be limited to times when children are not being assisted to cross the road". "Council realises that establishing a rapport with the parents and children is important and encourages all school crossing supervisors to do so,'' Mr Collina said in a statement. "However, the safety of the children is the primary purpose of Mr Cremona's duties and it is vitally important that he gives his full attention to his duties, especially while children are on the crossing. Any distraction from his attention to all of the children on the crossing - and the traffic at or approaching the crossing - will potentially place the children at risk."

Mr Cremona said he felt self-conscious and embarrassed as children were instructed not to slap hands any more. "One little girl, a little three-year-old with her mother started crying when I told her I couldn't high-five any more - she didn't understand," Mr Cremona said. Grade 6 student Jessica was visibly upset and confused by the ban when the Leader visited last week. "I don't know what's wrong with it, everyone used to give him high fives, he's been doing it for ages," she said.

Local mothers and former students Nicole Sierzputowksi and Beth Neville said the ban was "pathetic" and "stupid". Ms Neville said Mr Cremona's friendly style encouraged the children to "do the right thing" and use the crossing safely. "I've never seen it run so smoothly," Ms Sierzputowksi said. The pair are petitioning to "Bring back Mr Cremona's high fives" and have 400 signatures so far. Mr Collina said the council had received public responses both in favour of and against its ban.


Climate concerns fading as economy dives

Concern about climate change is slipping away as the economic crisis continues to bite, a poll shows. The proportion of people concerned about climate change has fallen from 90 per cent two years ago to 73 per cent, the poll found. While worries about global warming fade, anxiety about job security and falling asset prices is very high, the poll of 1,000 people found.

It also found the federal government faces an uphill battle in selling its emissions trading scheme, its main weapon in the fight against climate change. More than a third of those surveyed had not even heard of it, and fewer than one in 10 said they had a good understanding of the scheme. Just under half of the respondents, 49 per cent, said they had no understanding of emissions trading.

The poll was conducted in February by strategic consultancy firm Mobium Group.


Success of cancer trial means a new front-line treatment

A MELBOURNE cancer breakthrough may allow patients' immune systems to beat previously untreatable ovarian and other tumours. The breakthrough could potentially save hundreds of Australian lives each year.

Advanced testing of the radical "immune modulation" treatment began this week and will see 20 Melbourne ovarian cancer patients given only a single chemotherapy pill a day in cycles to try to beat the disease that otherwise kills four out of five patients within five years. The trial by the Women's Cancer Foundation and Monash University aims to remove cells that prevent a patient's immune system from overcoming the cancer. After identifying the group of cells inhibiting the immune system, the scientists tracked the cells' life cycle and found they were created by the immune system every 10 to 14 days.

Foundation board member Prof Michael Quinn said that by using just a single daily chemotherapy pill during the three days when the cycle begins, the cells could be killed to give the immune system a free run at beating the cancer. "The great thing about this is that if it works, we can use it for virtually every solid tumour," he said. "It could be for bowel cancer, lung cancer, soft-tissue cancers, and that is the really attractive thing about this, that it can be translated to other tumours. "Everything we have got today clinically and in the laboratory has been very encouraging, so everything backs this up and there is definitely something in this."

In the latest trial, blood samples are taken from patients every second day to measure levels of the inhibitor, and when the levels rise in the cycle, tablets of a low-dose chemotherapy drug are taken for three days.

Prof Quinn said the Melbourne team would know within 18 months if the treatment was successful as a front-line treatment for tumours. To raise the $150,000 needed to undertake the final stage trial, the Women's Cancer Foundation is holding the We Can Walk It Out walk and fun run at The Tan from 10am on Sunday.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG sees Kevin Rudd's outburst of bad language as just a distraction from political failure on both sides of politics.

Follow the Kiwi leader, not Obama

Despite the federal fiscal stimuli we had to have, Australia is almost certain to experience the recession it was not supposed to have. So, with earlier stimulatory measures failing to work as expected, what alternatives would work better? The answer is: those primarily focused on the production rather than the spending side of the economy.

Federal fiscal packages unveiled since October last year have aimed to boost consumption in the short term, in keeping with Treasury advice at the outset that the best fiscal response to the global financial crisis was to "go early, go hard, go households". However, an arguably sounder fiscal response would have been the exact opposite: go later, go easy, go firms.

This does not mean federal policymakers should have ignored the downturn or that all aspects of fiscal stimulus packages have been unworthy. On the contrary, many infrastructure projects scheduled for future years have been overdue, there is some business tax relief and business regulation problems are being addressed.

But too much faith has been put in using fiscal policy to boost consumption on the demand side of the economy in the short run via tens of billions of dollars' worth of bonus payments. A different mix of measures should have recognised that the financial crisis first struck the aggregate supply side of the economy, not the demand side.

For federal fiscal policy to go later would have meant letting monetary policy go further in the first instance to pre-emptively manage the expected downturn in short-run macro-economic activity. The Reserve Bank of Australia has had much greater scope to do this compared with central banks abroad because official interest rates in Australia had been too high for too long before the global financial crisis hit home.

Inflation also had been wrongly diagnosed as an aggregate demand problem rather than a supply side, or cost-push, problem thanks to high oil and other international commodity prices. The lowering of official interest rates by four full percentage points since September and the sharp exchange rate depreciation since then will do more to buffer the economy from the worst of the crisis than any fiscal action in train.

It also would have been advisable for federal fiscal policy to go easy in the light of the whack to budget revenue and the budget bottom line as a result of global commodity price falls and diminishing company and capital gains tax receipts. Moreover, going easy on fiscal policy would have avoided the problem that will soon arise when government borrowing to fund growing state and federal budget deficits puts upward pressure on long-term interest rates, thereby limiting the Reserve Bank's discretion to lower interest rates across the spectrum.

"Go households" has meant channelling scarce federal fiscal outlays to select segments of the economy's household sector. But this has ignored the fact firms were the first victims of the crisis. For many struggling firms, falling sales were initially less of a problem than the unavailability of credit. Paradoxically, the raft of hasty public spending initiatives implemented across the world may hold back recovery if households and markets become increasingly alarmed about higher future taxation, interest rates and inflation.

Unemployment is the scourge of recessions. However, it is the business sector, not households, that ultimately employs most people, creates most of gross domestic product and invests in the economy's future. Hence, it would have been better to assist firms' bottom line directly on the cost side through rapid regulation relief and tax relief, such as payroll tax reduction, than assist indirectly on the revenue side through trickle-down sales. Though the federal fiscal response so far offers some business tax relief, this is dwarfed by the bonus payments aimed at boosting consumption.

Rather than following aggregate demand-oriented approaches adopted by the US, Britain and other countries, federal policymakers should look to New Zealand, which so far has avoided measures aimed directly at inflating consumption spending. Instead, the NZ Government has emphasised supply-side measures that will flatten marginal taxes levied on individuals, improve infrastructure and quickly lower the regulatory burden on business.

This is not the first time NZ has led the world in economic policy innovation. It was a Labour government there that initiated comprehensive economic reform under the direction of treasurer Roger Douglas from the mid-1980s. This change in policy direction occurred following a currency crisis resulting from fiscal excess and included labour market reform, privatisation, public finance reform and trade liberalisation. The breadth and depth of NZ's reforms had no precedent in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the measures were initiated before the Hawke-Keating government commendably followed suit with a similar reform program that delivered the strong productivity gains Australia enjoyed until the turn of the century.

NZ was also the first country to formally legislate for an independent central bank whose sole objective was to keep inflation low. Years later Australia adopted a weaker version of the NZ monetary policy model, as did Britain. It's now time to emulate the spirit of NZ's fiscal response to the crisis.

We all know about NZ's rugby prowess and how often it beats Australia at the game. If we were to score Australia v New Zealand on fiscal responses to the global financial crisis so far, it would be Australia 0, NZ 1. That's not counting penalty tries where one side gets points for being obstructed by the other. Such obstruction will be evident as public sector borrowing resulting from aggregate demand management by the state and federal governments in this country pushes up Australasian interest rates at NZ's expense.


Australian conservatives in luck as White House guru backs carbon delay

The Coalition and business groups have received unexpected backing for their argument that a recession is no time to introduce emissions trading -- from US President Barack Obama's top economics guru. In a previously unreported academic paper posted on the Harvard University website last August, Lawrence Summers argues that "expenditures for climate change will be far easier to make in economies where per-capita income is growing". Mr Summers, a former president of Harvard and treasury secretary under former US president Bill Clinton, is currently head of Mr Obama's National Economic Council and works in the White House.

His argument chimes with the position put by Opposition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb and Australian Industry Group chief Heather Ridout. However, it is starkly at odds with the determination of Kevin Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong to have an emissions trading scheme in place by next year, despite the downturn.

Mr Summers urges policymakers to create "reference points" for the beginning of the economic losses caused by emissions trading, not just for greenhouse levels themselves. He argues that, in an economic expansion, greenhouse abatement measures will be seen as less painful because they will mean the sacrifice of income growth, rather than of real income. "Prime ministers and presidents can't hope to sacrifice GDP for climate control without hearing strong cries of protest from those experiencing loss-aversion on their incomes," Mr Summers writes. "In growth economies, matters will be easier, because the cuts will come against what would have been their incomes, a moving and hence more fuzzy reference point."

Ms Ridout yesterday reiterated her call for the ETS to be delayed until 2012. "We want the delay for reasons such as the impact of the global financial crisis on the preparedness of business to take action and the scale of the administrative task," she said. "The current timetable is too onerous and the global financial crisis is hampering the ability of businesses to prepare and finance the major emissions reduction strategies that are required."

Mr Robb said the Coalition would examine the Government's draft legislation, released yesterday, but said its version of an ETS was flawed. "There are many in the Labor caucus ... who are deeply disturbed about the direction the Government is taking this, especially at a time when we have got the economy under such enormous pressure," he said.


Economists warn about weak effect of Rudd bonus

Retailers hope a massive cash injection for families will prop up spending and keep their stricken businesses afloat. Hundreds of thousands of families will get $900-$950 bonus payments from today - part of a $13 billion government handout. But an Access Economics report, to be released today, suggests consumer caution could last well into next year.

Single-income families who receive Family Tax Benefit B will get $900 one-off payments under the economic stimulus. And families who receive Family Tax Benefit A will get a $950 back-to-school bonus for each child aged 4-18. Carers, disabled pensioners, students and drought-affected farmers will also get $950 cash payments. Taxpayers earning less than $100,000 will receive further one-off bonuses of up to $900 from April.

The Australian National Retailers Association said the cash could save businesses. "This is an unbelievably cautious consumer market," association chief Margy Osmond said. "So packages like the stimulus one are particularly valuable."

But Access Economics said looming job losses and a worsening housing market meant relief would be short lived. "That means a big loss of labour income, and will serve to keep consumers ultra-cautious," he said.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said figures showed stimulus payments to families in December had boosted savings, not spending. But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that the spending had marginally improved spending.


More gross incompetence from Queensland Health

Anna Bligh has abandoned Health Minister Stephen Robertson after revelations he had failed to fix dangerous health staff accommodation. The Premier today repeatedly refused to support Mr Robertson after The Courier-Mail revealed public servants were still living in 60 hazardous dwellings of the original 101 residences identified across the state. Mr Robertson had promised last May to fix the problems within a few months following the completion of a statewide audit in the wake of the sexual assault of a Torres Strait nurse in her rundown living quarters.

Campaigning in Mackay today, Ms Bligh said she was "absolutely not' happy at the failures, saying she would seek a "please explain" from Mr Robertson and his director-general Mick Reid later today. "I'm very disappointed to hear progress I thought was happening has not happened," Ms Bligh said. "I will be asking serious questions ... when I return to Brisbane. I want to know why this was the case." Ms Bligh was unable to say when the residences would be fixed but has promised to provide details later today. Asked if Mr Robertson still had her support as she had previously indicated, Ms Bligh said: "I will be asking questions about this issue when I get back to Brisbane."

Her comments came after The Courier-Mail reported the failures with five of the "extreme" dwellings still being fixed. The substandard conditions were discovered after a statewide audit - launched after a Torres Strait nurse was sexually assaulted in her rundown accommodation - found broken or missing locks, security screens, lighting and smoke alarms. Asked about the progress a fortnight ago, Mr Reid was clueless and said: "I would presume all 100 have been done."

However, Mr Robertson yesterday admitted to the failure but insisted some "improvements" had been made to the five unfinished, inhabited "extreme" dwellings. He blamed the delays on the vagueness of his own audit, bad weather and re-tendering of contracts after a poor industry response. "In May last year, I had the expectation that these renovations would, indeed, be completed within months," he said. "While work is progressing well on this rectification work, there have been a number of issues which have led to the work taking longer than I was first advised."

But Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said the failure showed Labor had learnt nothing as the initial assault in the Torres Strait came after damning security reports were ignored. "If they spent as much time fixing things as they do spin-doctoring and making excuses, then things would be done," he said. Mr Robertson had initially lauded his response to the housing audit, fast-tracking $10 million in funding and promising completion within "weeks and months". "This should never ever be repeated (and) I am determined to ensure that," he had said. But the money spent on the work only totals $4.06 million.

The revelations come only a fortnight after Mr Robertson refused to apologise for attacking a public servant involved in the Torres Strait case, despite being unable to produce any evidence to justify the attack.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bowel cancer patients waiting on Kevin Rudd

How about some "stimulus" for those who really need it, Kevvy?

MORE than 350 bowel cancer patients a month are dying as they wait for Kevin Rudd to approve a subsidy for a $55,000 drug that may extend their life. Eight months ago the Federal Government's expert medicines advisory body approved a subsidy for the cancer drug Avastin, which costs $55,000 a year. The decision should have cut the cost of this medicine to just $32.90 for general patients and $5.30 for pensioners. But before the subsidies can be paid Cabinet must rubber stamp the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee ruling because the subsidy for the drug will cost taxpayers more than $10 million a year.

In the eight months since the drug was approved for subsidy 1600 patients who could have had their lives extended for five months by the drug have missed out. Just 305 patients have been able to afford the $20,000 they need to go on to a special scheme in which Roche, the drug's manufacturer, helps patients with the cost of the drug.

Retired teacher Jan Plummer, who was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in March 2007, has taken Avastin for two years. And she is urging Cabinet to act quickly to subsidise the drug. "I can imagine how many people who are waiting to go on this drug and can't afford it," she said. She says she was able to use it because her health fund, NSW Teachers Federation, is one of only a few which help pay the cost. "God help those who don't have health cover or whose funds don't pay," she said.

She says she's been able to travel, swim, run and use a personal fitness trainer while using the drug that has to be delivered intravenously every two weeks. The only side effect has been high blood pressure that's treated with tablets.

It's not the first time Cabinet has delayed subsidies helping sick people. In March last year The Daily Telegraph revealed three costly treatments for Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and renal disease were delayed. A spokesman for Health Minister Nicola Roxon said yesterday he could not comment on when Cabinet might consider the drug. Roche said price negotiations were settled in August last year.

Bowel cancer, the nation's most common with more than 12,500 new cases emerging every year, is the second biggest cancer killer, after lung cancer, with 4500 people dying from the disease each year.



Three current articles below

Queensland weather pattern returns to 1970s

Weather bureau boss says 20 more years of data needed to draw conclusions about climate change. Note: Queensland is roughly twice the size of California

WEATHER patterns have returned to those of the 1970s - the past two summers had featured a good monsoon season and a couple of cyclones. Weather bureau boss Jim Davidson said despite the "normality" of the past two seasons, three unusual events had dominated Queensland's weather this summer. They were the flooding in northwest Queensland and the Gulf of Carpentaria, north Queensland's Ingham being hit with two major back-to-back floods and Cyclone Hamish at one stage hitting category 5 - the strongest possible. Last year major floods also hit central Queensland, in places such as Charleville, Longreach, Mackay and Rockhampton.

Mr Davidson said the past two summers showed the extreme weather patterns that a state as large as Queensland could experience. He had warned in October that coastal residents should prepare for a summer cyclone and flood season, with monsoon activity expected to be above normal. Mr Davidson said the season was dominated by a rain-bringing La Nina weather pattern as opposed to the El Nino conditions that had occurred through much of the decade-long drought. As well, the north had been boosted by an active monsoon. The three cyclones - Hamish, Ellie and Charlotte - were an average number for a season, although more cyclones could continue to form until about mid-April.

Mr Davidson said it was unusual that Hamish was the fourth category 5 cyclone to form in the past five years, but it was "too early" to put that down to climate change. "There's no obvious explanation for this happening," he said. "They are hard to predict, not easily explained and it's far too early to put this down to climate change. "It will take at least 20 years of scientific and statistical observations before we can make that sort of call. "We have very cyclical weather patterns."

While a huge slab of north, east and western Queensland has been swamped by the best wet season in years, the Murray Darling Basin on the NSW border is so dry entire rivers have stopped flowing. Little water has made it into the basin, about 260,000 sq km of which is in Queensland. University of NSW wetlands researcher Richard Kingsford has labelled conditions a disaster. Mr Davidson said the situation in the Murray Darling showed there was rarely a time in a state as large as Queensland that there was not some place in drought.


Climate change - it's part of natural cycle

A carbon tax is unnecessary and will ruin the Australian economy, a leading academic has warned. With an arm-long list of achievements, Adelaide University geology Professor Ian Plimer told the PGA Convention that there were fundamental problems in the science being put forward in favour of climate change. "An emission trading scheme is based on flawed science and its constraints will destroy the agricultural industry," Prof Plimer said.

"And the interesting thing about ruminants, which is a main argument for climate change, is that there are more of them on earth now than there were 20 years ago, however the methane deposit is going down; so how do we explain that?

"I think the agriculture sector can suffer very badly from emissions trading and the mining and manufacturing industry will also suffer but the reality is those people living in Sydney and Melbourne are driving the political agenda. "The problem is that (people in) the bulk of the electorates live in cities, never experience drought, they always get fresh food, they don't realise that drought is part of living in Australia. Unfortunately the agricultural vote is the same vote as a drongo living in the city who is doing nothing to expand the economy.

"We are a country with first world thinking and third world infrastructure, we cannot afford to make make a mistake on this. "The science is flawed; and if the science is flawed then the whole concept of emissions trading is invalid." Prof Plimer said climates always change, always have and always will. "Climates change in cycles and will change randomly," he said.

"Where those cycles change are based on where that solar system is in the galaxy, how our orbit wobbles, how energetic the sun is, tidal effects and extraordinary events such as massive volcano eruptions." "What you don't see is any evidence in the past, and that is only 4567 million years, that carbon dioxide has driven climate change. "It is the exact inverse."


Scientists cast doubt on deal to tackle global warming

Two leading [British] climate scientists have broken ranks with their peers to declare that hopes of getting a meaningful deal on halting global warming this year are already lost. Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and Professor Trevor Davies, one of the centre's founders, said it was time to start looking for alternatives to an international deal.

They made their comments on the eve of a three-day conference in Copenhagen this week in which thousands of climate change researchers will meet to discuss the latest discoveries in the field. The findings will be used in December when world leaders attend a UN summit, also in Copenhagen, to try to work out an international treaty on greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Anderson and Professor Davies expect politicians at the summit merely to pay lip service to scientific evidence that greenhouse gas emissions need to be brought under control within a decade, if not sooner. They said that rather than wait for an international accord it was time now to consider what action could be taken. "We all hope that Copenhagen will succeed but I think it will fail. We won't come up with a global agreement," Professor Anderson said. "I think we will negotiate, there will be a few fudges and there will be a very weak daughter of Kyoto. I doubt it will be significantly based on the science of climate change." He is certain that negotiators will place a heavy reliance on technological solutions that have yet to be invented or proven, rather than recognise the scale and urgency of the problem.

Their comments came as Climate Change Minister Penny Wong prepared to release legislation to establish Australia's Climate Pollution Reduction Scheme tomorrow. Greens leader Bob Brown insists the Government cannot water down its commitment to emissions cuts because of the global financial crisis. "We don't accept for one moment the quisling attitude that this economic downturn means that climate change should be put on the shelf," he said "That is very dangerous and irresponsible thinking."

Professor Anderson believes that the severity of the likely impacts of climate change has been underplayed, and that to doubt that temperature rises could be limited to 2C is a political heresy. He said that scientists had been held back from voicing their doubts. "The consequences of the numbers we come up with are politically unacceptable. It's difficult for people to stand up. To rock the boat significantly is difficult for them."

Professor Davies, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (UEA), where the Tyndall Centre is based, shares this assessment and regards geoengineering schemes as a potential insurance policy. The GeoEngineering Assessment and Research initiative (Gear) has now been set up at UEA to assess the projects that have been suggested. Among the geoengineering solutions that have been proposed are putting mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight away from Earth, and encouraging the growth of plankton by pouring nutrients into the oceans. "An increasing number of scientists are talking about Plan B now, the big, global geoengineering things," Professor Davies said. "That's one of the reasons we've set up this centre - not that we think many of the aspects are sensible but because we think it's necessary to assess them."


Monday, March 09, 2009

This employment law's so bad it should just be let go

For a government to impose additional costs on business during good times is courageous. In tough times it is simply foolish. Our surplus has been spent, unemployment is rising, we teeter on the cusp of recession and yet the Rudd Government is about to make life even harder for the vast bulk of our business community. Since March 2006 the Howard government's reforms have treated businesses employing less than 100 staff like responsible entities. For the first time in ages, businesspeople were able to dismiss employees who they could no longer employ without fear of being sued and consequently having to pay huge amounts of go-away money just to avoid a ghastly legal process.

Due in June, Rudd's new laws will condemn these businesses to a dreadful legal treadmill where the only way to get off is to cough up and cough up big. The legislation will hinder business growth and affect survival; it's an added stress and cost that they don't need and it comes at the worst possible time.

When it comes to sacking people for poor performance or misconduct there are two facts; firstly, no one who is sacked ever believes they deserved it. No matter what they did, they always deem it to be unfair. It is part of the human condition that we construct lies to self and others in order to be the innocent victim of an injustice rather than an appropriately punished perpetrator. The actuality is in the vast majority of cases employees who are sacked are sacked well after they should have been; they have usually been making life for everyone in their workplace hell, co-workers are fed up with them and in a temporary moment of courage or desperation the manager eventually takes the action they should have taken much earlier by saying goodbye.

Having said that, I concede sometimes employees might be sacked unfairly. I have yet to see it for myself, but I am told it happens. The point is, thanks to Rudd, business will now bear a huge cost for all those employees who deserve to be removed from the workplace, instead of the tiny proportion that might not.

Secondly, nobody likes or enjoys sacking an employee; employers avoid it like the plague. Like most people, they are terrified of conflict. Let us not forget that small business owners work closely among their employees, developing strong working relationships and where workforce relationships are tight, bosses, and how they treat team members, are in turn watched closely by staff.

So in plain terms, what does the new legislation mean for bosses, workers and the economy? After June this year, employers with fewer than 100 staff will have to pay to seek advice from expert consultants or lawyers prior to dismissing staff, costing the average small business up to $10,000 or more for every person they wish to dismiss. After the dismissal, businesses will have to pay these consultants again for representation at a court-style dispute resolution session in the offices of Fair Work Australia. For your reference, dispute resolution is simply code for "How much will you pay your ex employee to go away?"

These resolutions will not be achieved on the basis of justice, truth and fairness, but on the threat of mushrooming costs and unpredictable risks to the employer, costs and risks that will be exaggerated by the Fair Work Australia officials to terrify the employer into paying up.

Based on more than 15 years' experience in unfair dismissal processes, I found most workers and bosses who expect to have their story heard and justice dispensed are left shocked and disillusioned. Both employer and employee receive a short time to outline their case and the mediator hearing the matter usually makes it clear that they are not interested in the pedestrian details of their mundane story.

The better part of the dispute resolution session is always devoted to haggling over money. Because no evidence can be presented, the mediator has no way of telling who is lying, so the focus is to find the means to settle the dispute. This is done with a transfer of dollars from the employer's bank account to the ex-employee's. Weeks' pay is the standard term used for settlement currency, instead of dollars, possibly because it seems smaller and non-specific. Twelve weeks' pay sounds relatively insignificant until you convert it into dollars.

Knowing that unsettled cases proceed to a formal court hearing, at a cost of $25,000 to $50,000, and with active encouragement, misinformation, strong pressure and even bullying by the mediator in more than 80 per cent of cases the employer buckles by agreeing to a go-away fee. The matter is deemed settled, cash is transferred and a certificate is issued. For the employee, the odds of success are better than at any casino; they present to the session with a $50 fee, and after an hour usually walk away with over $10,000 in cash.

Under Labor's old laws, workers made 12,194 unfair dismissal applications for the period July 2005 to June 2006; 10,012 were settled at dispute resolution. Using a conservative estimate of 13 weeks pay per case, multiplied by the minimum wage, small businesses paid at least $109 million that year in go-away money.

In the year following the introduction of Work Choices, small business became exempt, and as a result only 7257 applications were made. Using the same formula for the 6068 settled cases, $69 million was paid. Under Rudd's new laws, I predict we will see the small and medium business sector slugged with a go-away money bill of well over $120 million a year. In 2009, this is a cost businesses can ill afford.

Rest assured, it is a cost that will be passed on to all Australians. Now that's unfair.


Comrade Rudd's great con game

It is going to be fascinating to see how long Kevin Rudd, the greatest illusionist ever to become prime minister of Australia, can maintain this illusion of omnipresent leadership created by his energy, his ubiquity and his hypocrisy. Underline hypocrisy.

Rudd is on course to become the next Gough Whitlam, but Whitlam without the wit. Like Whitlam, he may win a second election before the electorate wakes up. At least Comrade Whitlam was stuck with a claque of criminals in his ministry - Al Grassby, Jim Cairns, Rex Connor - whereas Rudd has no such impediment.

So remember the words, uttered last night, by Rudd on Channel Seven: "Any person's job loss through no fault of their own is a lost job too many when it comes to me. I'm the Prime Minister of the country, the buck stops with me."

Was Rudd able to save a single one of the 2000 manufacturing jobs lost at Pacific Brands last week? No, the buck stopped with the workers. This is the man who increased the immigration program to the largest annual intake in Australia's history, and it is now swelling the ranks of job seekers. This is the man whose Government will, tomorrow, introduce workplace legislation which will increase the power of unions, and give pause to job creators. This is the man who has offered no structural relief to the great job-creating engine of the economy - small business. And this is the man who panicked at the first sign of danger and sprayed the entire $20 billion budget surplus he inherited up against a wall.

If Rudd wants to be Everywhere Man, then let him play the role and bear the consequences. Like most other Western leaders responding to the global financial freeze, he is making it up as he goes along, because we are in uncharted territory. Global industrial output has fallen faster in the past six months than it did at the advent of the Great Depression in 1929-30.

The response of policymakers has been to pump a massive increase in liquidity and government debt obligations into the system. But as the eminent economic historian Professor Niall Ferguson, of Harvard and Oxford, recently warned on his website: "The general assumption seemed to be that practically any kind of government expenditure would be beneficial, provided it was financed by a really big deficit."

Sound familiar? Ferguson continued: "There is something desperate about the way people are clinging to their dog-eared copies of John Maynard Keynes's General Theory. Uneasily aware that their discipline almost entirely failed to anticipate the current crisis, economists seemed to be regressing to macroeconomic childhood, clutching the multiplier like an old teddy bear.

"The harsh reality that is being repressed is this: the Western world is suffering a crisis of excessive indebtedness. Many governments are too highly leveraged, as are many corporations. More importantly, households are groaning under unprecedented debt burdens. Worst of all are the banks. Some of the best-known names in American and European finance have balance sheets 40, 60 or even 100 times the size of their capital .

"The delusion is that a crisis of excess debt can be solved by creating more debt. Yet that is precisely what most governments currently propose to do." Space precludes listing Ferguson's prescriptions but they can be found on his website, and summed up with this sentence: "The solution to the debt crisis is not more debt but less debt."

Tell that to Kevin Keynes. In opposition, Rudd opposed the GST, which in retrospect has been a tremendous stabilising influence in the economy, thanks to John Howard. During the last election, Rudd campaigned as an "economic conservative". Upon winning office, and inheriting a $90 billion financial buffer from outgoing treasurer Peter Costello, he accused the previous government of creating a dangerous inflation threat. It was a fabrication.

After the global financial storm broke, Rudd attacked the excesses of neo-liberal market capitalism even as he spent the entire $20 billion budget surplus he had inherited from the neo-liberals in an absurd attempt to claim he had kept Australia out of recession. The evolution of his economic position has been an opportunistic fraud, exposed by those on his own side of politics.

As the former Labor leader Mark Latham wrote on February 20, in The Australian Financial Review: "When Kevin Rudd lobbied me in October 2004 to become Labor's shadow treasurer, his sales pitch was straight from the neo-liberal playbook. He was enthusiastic about pro-market policies such as deregulation and reducing the size of the state. [As leader] he went to the polls as Howard-lite."

Michael Costa, former Labor treasurer of NSW, dismissed Rudd's recent attack on the excesses of market capitalism, in a critique in The Australian on February 6 as "rambling and selective" and warned that Rudd's response to the global crisis "is likely to do more damage to the economy".

As Niall Ferguson has also warned. When the recession in Australia gets worse, and Rudd's Keynesian cliches have increased the long-term cost of the government intervention, Labor will run a diversionary personal campaign against the Leader of the Opposition, simply because Malcolm Turnbull is a wealthy former merchant banker.

What, you may ask, about the multi-millions the Rudd family has made from neo-liberal policies of the Howard years? Latham had something to say about this, too: "Rudd's wife created an impressive business network and fortune from the Howard government's privatisation of labour market programs."

Rudd can trim his economic sails to pick up whatever political wind he can find because he embodies the hollowness of the pursuit of power before principle.


Some Sydney local councils have pretentions to being wise and significant

But end up displaying their ignorance

Sydney's "inner west bank" is in ferment over Israel's alleged crimes against its enemies. Several councils in Sydney's inner-west have passed motions over the past 10 days accusing Israel of war crimes for its assault on Hamas strongholds in Gaza. One of the councils, Marrickville, established a sister city relationship in 2007 with the West Bank town of Bethlehem, whose council is controlled by proscribed terror group Hamas.

According to a motion passed by Marrickville Council last week, Israel is guilty of "the deliberate destruction on (sic) infrastructure and attacks on United Nations facilities". The motion says Israel should be forced to negotiate directly with Hamas, despite the terror group's declared intention to destroy the Jewish state. It calls for the immediate closure of all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

A motion passed last week by neighbouring Canterbury council "acknowledges the pain and suffering many Palestinian residents are experiencing as a result of the recent bombing by Israel". The Canterbury motion "condemns all violence, and is particularly concerned with this disproportionate offensive of Israel".

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief Vic Alhadeff said the motions were "completely unbalanced" and ignored the fact the war between Israel and Gaza was the result of Hamas firing 8000 mortars into Israeli civilian areas "while using Palestinian civilians as human shields". "The motion also misrepresents the test of proportionality in international law," he said. "What is a country to do in the face of sustained attacks on its population? What government would not act to protect its civilians?"

Independent Marrickville councillor and former mayor Dimitrios Thanos also criticised the council's move, saying it is "not our role to be writing letters to foreign governments stating positions that will be ignored". Marrickville Greens councillor Cathy Peters rejected the suggestion local councils should be focused on improving services rather than meddling in conflicts.


Baby bitten six times at childcare centre in Townsville

Another reason why a loving home is the only place for the little ones. Care by strangers sucks

A baby was bitten six times by another child - so badly that she was bleeding and bruised - but staff at her daycare centre didn't even notice. Lilly Herschfield, 15 months, was sent home as usual from Rupertswood Early Learning Centre and her injuries weren't discovered until her mother Michelle removed the toddler's shirt at home, the Townsville Bulletin reports.

The Queensland Government's Early Childhood Education and Care Office is investigating a complaint from her furious father Glenn Herschfield, who also reported the injuries to police following the incident on February 12. An official serious injury report filed by the centre said one of the two staff members in charge of Lilly's room had left 'for a period of time' while the other staff member changed a nappy in another room. According to the report, the staff member who left the room has been dismissed, while others at the centre have been formally reminded of the centre's safety policies. The centre's Townsville owner and their Sydney solicitor both declined to comment on the incident.

Mr Herschfield said he feels betrayed and wants to know why the toddlers were left alone long enough for his daughter to receive so many savage bites to her back, arm and thigh. He has been told he can only contact the centre though their lawyers. "We've just been shut out," Mr Herschfield said. "How can she be bitten that many times and no one see anything? "I expect to have her come home with paint on her or a smile on her face, but not with bite marks all over her. It makes me absolutely sick in the guts."

Mr Herschfield said he wanted to speak out about the incident so other parents would know what had happened. He's also angry at the Queensland Government who told him the issue would be dealt with 'in-house'. "I've just got a lot of questions," he said.

"She would have been lying there screaming ... I can't believe that no-one heard anything. "I think it's shameful. "I'm the father of this child, I deserve to have some answers."


Sunday, March 08, 2009


The debate about this is worldwide and Australian fat-cats get peanuts compared to top businessmen in the UK and USA. But the issue has nonetheless arisen from time to time in Australia -- most recently in the case of Pacific Brands. I present below two well-argued cases for and against attacking extraordinary pay packets. I myself cannot see that there is any discipline -- market or otherwise -- on huge executive remuneration. I certainly feel that any firm which undergoes a substantial collapse during the year should not be allowed to pay its top executive any more than the average wage in that year. I am myself a shareholder in many leading companies (including Pac Brands) and feel that shareholders are constantly being robbed by company executives without any recourse at all being available to them. The idea that company boards exercise any effective supervision seems to me to be very seldom true. Company boards are mostly made up of "good ol' boys" who avoid like the plague any "rocking the boat"

The case against legal control

TIME to give credit where it's due. In spades. The Rudd Government appears to be keeping its head on executive remuneration when all about them are losing theirs. Malcolm Turnbull proposes to give shareholders a binding veto over executive remuneration and on ABC's Lateline on Friday night, Opposition families spokesman Tony Abbott went over the top in prosecuting the Turnbull proposal. Abbott dared the Rudd Government to act urgently to change the rules. "There is no reason why the Government couldn't, next week when parliament next sits, change the rules and say that shareholders should be able to vote down excessive directors' and excessive CEO's salaries."

Well, yes, Tony, there is a good reason. It is a really dumb idea, and a disappointing one to come from Liberal ranks, the party that is meant to be committed to sensible regulation of business. The Government knows giving shareholders the right to vote down executive pay is a dumb idea. Indeed, one hopes the Opposition does too, but they have the luxury of irresponsibility. The Coalition is revelling in the age-old power of oppositions to propose cheap, populist vote-winners safe in the knowledge no responsible government could ever enact them.

Mind you, all the politicians have been equally and disgracefully cheap in jumping on the bash-Pacific-Brands bandwagon. Between their fulminations, none has been honest enough to point out that the allegedly greedy bonuses were paid to Pacific Brands executives some time ago for their performance in the 2007-2008 financial year, a record year for the company. The payments were decided before the Lehman Brothers collapse triggered the full horrors of the global financial crisis. The directors of Pac Brands were as ignorant of what was to come as Wayne Swan, the boffins in Treasury and all our politicians. And the confected uproar about chief executive Sue Morphet's pay increase from $685,775 to $1.8 million failed to mention that her pay rose when she stepped into the top job.

At least Swan appears to be steering clear of what could become a race to the bottom on the question of executive remuneration. Though the Treasurer blusters about being "sickened" by the pay rises for Pacific Brands executives, he keeps his cool about doing much about it. The ACTU's chief class warrior, Sharan Burrow, is paid to foment envy so it's no surprise she wants executives financially disembowelled, but Swan has steadfastly played a straight bat about regulation in this area, whispering assurances that "ultimately, shareholders will hold their executives accountable".

The discrepancy between the Government and the Opposition was on striking display during the Lateline debate between Abbott and Agriculture Minister Tony Burke. In response to Abbott's challenge to legislate on executive remuneration urgently, Burke said while some work was being done on remuneration of Australian Prudential Regulation Authority-regulated institutions, there were limits on government interference between shareholders and a private company. Burke rightly taunted Abbott by asking him if it was so easy and desirable to change the law on executive pay, why didn't the Liberals do it when they were in government.

Enough of the politics. What of the policy? Why is it a bad idea for shareholders rather than boards to have the last say on executive remuneration? For starters, a prime reason for the success of a public company as an investment vehicle is that it recognises the difference between ownership and management.

Owners do not have the time, skills or energy to manage companies. They elect boards of directors to hire and fire managers, set their pay and oversee their work. In concept, it reflects representative democracy. We elect politicians to run the country for fixed, or relatively fixed, terms. At the end of that period, we can give them the boot if they have done a lousy job or re-elect them if they have done a good job. But between elections, we don't get to second guess or micromanage their decisions. Athenian-style democracy just doesn't work.

Representative democracy doesn't guarantee perfection. Governments often make mistakes. Sometimes terrible blunders. So do boards of directors, including on remuneration. But the right remedy is for voters to sack their elected representatives when given the opportunity to do so. For them to try to micro-manage the decisions of the board on specific matters about which the shareholders have no skills, information, resources or time to do a full analysis is a recipe for a vastly increased number of mistakes.

It is true that there has been agitation in recent years towards greater shareholder activism. Increased disclosure requirements enable shareholders to better exercise their traditional rights: to vote at board elections and vote with their feet. Shareholders get to vote on share issues and on major mergers and acquisitions because those matters go directly to the fundamental nature and structure of their investment.

Determining remuneration is entirely different. It is a quintessentially operational matter. To give shareholders a binding vote on remuneration crosses the Rubicon. It would mark the first time shareholders have been given an executive power traditionally vested in directors. It beggars belief that the Liberal Party is willing to overturn such proven principles.

There are plenty of other good reasons why shareholders should not have the last say on remuneration of public company executives. Such significant shareholder power would cause a stampede of talent out of public companies to private entities. Indeed, why work in Australia at all? Why not join the already significant Aussie diaspora in Hong Kong, the Middle East, New York or London?

We need to learn from the New Zealand brain-drain that their new Prime Minister is trying manfully to reverse. In a globalised world, talent flows from the area of highest regulation to the least. While some loss of local talent is inevitable because we can never, and should never, match the jurisdiction of least regulation, why make it dramatically worse in return for no real benefit?

Finally, there is the need to not strangle incentive. Regrettably the Coalition-which should have this buried in its DNA-seems to be pandering to the opposite instinct. They are now beset with the jealousy and class war gene. We accept easily the vast amounts paid to golfers, tennis players, rock stars and actors. No one ever whines about the pay discrepancy between a key grip and lead actor. Why do we constantly invoke such meaningless comparisons in the corporate sphere? We should be encouraging our best and brightest to run our most productive enterprises. While it may presently be fashionable to complain about the undoubted mistakes in executive compensation, let's not substitute a system that drives talent out of our key businesses.


The case for legal control

I guess it was inevitable that, at a time when companies are laying off workers by the thousands, we'd see a revival of public outrage over the huge salary packages and exit payouts of chief executives. The suspicion arises that senior executives actually award themselves bonuses for their fortitude in undertaking the distasteful duty of depriving fellow employees of their livelihoods. But the public has been utterly disapproving of exorbitant executive salaries for at least 20 years. Liberal and Labor leaders have often echoed that condemnation without there being any noticeable slackening in the rapid rate at which remuneration has continued increasing.

So the question is whether the present outrage will lead to any genuine attempt by the Government to curb executive remuneration, or whether we'll get more angry words and not much else. It will be a big test of Kevin Rudd's professed desire to reform "extreme capitalism" and have social democrats such as himself correct the depredations of the evil "neo-liberals". Don't hold your breath.

I'd be happy to defend high executive remuneration if I believed it was, as many executives claim, a product of market forces. In truth, it's more easily explained as an instance of market failure. It's just not possible to believe the ever-growing sums these executives are paid bear any relationship to the value of their contribution to their company's success. There doesn't seem to be any correlation between executives' pay and their company's profits or share price. When the sharemarket soars and the economy booms their remuneration rockets. But when, as now, the market plummets, the economy turns down and company profits take a dive, we might see, at best, senior executives forgo an annual increase.

Executives will tell you all they're doing is keeping up with the going rate. Each year company boards employ independent remuneration consultants to advise them on the adequacy of their executives' pay. This is a racket. The truth is that paying for independent advice is a contradiction in terms. Inevitably, anyone who's selling his advice will sell the product the customer wants. It's called capitalism. In practice, a handful of remuneration consultants endlessly work their way round the circle of listed companies telling each that their pay levels are below the norm. In the process, of course, they keep bidding up the norm.

The reason executive pay seems to be in a stratosphere all its own, unrelated to market realities, is that it's not set at arm's length. Directly or indirectly, chief executives have too much say in the setting of their own remuneration. Within big companies, the yawning gap between senior executives' salaries and those of everyone else - the double standards in the setting of salaries - is a cause of sullen resentment and passive resistance. If senior executives are aware of this non-co-operation, it doesn't worry them enough to prompt them to change their behaviour. Which raises a question that's long fascinated me: how can they keep it up? How can they keep living by double standards their fellow company employees and the community find so repugnant?

You could explain it simply in terms of their greed (and our envy), but that's too simple. Most of these people are motivated far less by money and far more by power and status. They're working far too hard to gain much enjoyment from their possessions. Their yachts are usually moored all weekend. They regard their salaries as points in the game - the more points they amass, the more they see themselves as winners. No, I think they've convinced themselves they're members of a different race to the rest of us. They're Arians and we're not. They maintain this fiction by careful choice of what sociologists call "reference groups" - the circles of society with which they compare themselves and which they seek to impress.

So if you're a senior executive you compare your salary only with those of other senior executives - in your own company and in other companies in your industry. And you always compare up, never down. It wouldn't surprise me if most of these people secretly believed they weren't doing all that well in the pay stakes and that it was all quite unfair. "I'm just as good as Joe Blow at XYZ Limited - better, actually - so how come he's getting 30 per cent more than me?"

It's a mistake to think politicians have done nothing to curb executive pay. One thing they tried was requiring more detailed information in company annual reports about who was getting what. It backfired. Rather than prompting moderation, it armed senior executives with greater knowledge of what their rivals were getting and motivated them to try harder to catch up with and overtake those rivals.

Next a government imposed the requirement that senior executives' salary increases be put to the vote at shareholders' annual meetings. Trouble is, the vote is indicative of shareholder feeling, but not binding on the company. It turns out to be hard to muster a no vote among all the big institutional investors that hold most of the shares in our public companies and, even then, some no votes have been ignored. Even so, I like Malcolm Turnbull's suggestion for such votes to be made binding - as far as it goes. Where proposed salary increases were rejected, directors would have to come back to an extraordinary shareholders' meeting with an amended proposal. That would be expensive and cumbersome, of course, but that's the deterrent. It would motivate boards to ensure their first proposal was sufficiently moderate as to ensure its approval. New chief executives could be hired on no more than their predecessor's package pending shareholder approval.

But the community deserves a say, not just shareholders. If it had the courage, the Rudd Government could register the community's disapproval by removing the company's tax deduction for salaries in excess of, say, $1 million. Or salaries in excess of $1 million could be taxed in the executive's hands at the penalty rate of, say, 60 per cent. The point is that enough should be done to firmly register on senior executives' minds the community's censure. "Your behaviour is anti-social and we desire you desist."


Victoria's new top cop sounds a lot tougher than his squishy predecessor

His fat Lesbian-loving predecessor was simply out of her depth, which she eventually realized and resigned -- not before corruption ran riot in the force, however. So much for the "affirmative action" mentality that put a woman into the top police job despite her slender qualifications for it

Underworld solicitor Zarah Garde-Wilson should not be able to practise as a lawyer, according to Victoria's new top cop, Simon Overland. And in a candid interview with the Sunday Herald Sun, the Chief Commissioner has argued for the worst sex criminals to be locked away for life. Days into his new role at the helm of Victoria's 11,000-strong police force, Mr Overland has also:

REVEALED his secret real-life role in the events now dramatised in the controversial second series of Underbelly;

STATED footballers are role models whether they like it or not and need to be careful of the company they keep; and

TOLD how, at the height of the gangland war, organised crime figures were agitating for a Royal Commission to slow down police investigations.

Ms Garde-Wilson, former girlfriend of slain gangster Lewis Caine, has in recent years beaten gun and perjury charges and efforts by professional watchdogs to ban her from acting as a lawyer. She was accused in court by an AFP agent of tipping off a criminal that charges against him were imminent.

Asked if he believed Ms Garde-Wilson should be able to continue practising, the Chief Commissioner said she should not. "My personal view - no," Mr Overland said. He said he was not criticising the decision that allowed her to remain a lawyer, but was adamant in his view she should not be permitted to practise.

But the Commissioner's most powerful words were reserved for the issue of punishing sex predators in the community. "I have a view that there are some people who represent such a danger to our community that they should just be locked away and they should just be locked away forever and never be released," he said. "And I don't know if we do enough of that. "If someone is a genuine sexual predator, if someone is a genuine pedophile - I'm careful here because a lot of people get branded with those labels and there's a question whether they are - but if they are, they will be a threat to the community for their entire lives. "And I'm very much behind just saying, 'Well, that's it, it's a community safety issue, lock them away. Life means life'."


Bankrupt public hospital partly closed down

Bed numbers have been slashed this week at Sydney's biggest hospital, in a round of ward closures aimed at reining in a $70 million blow-out in the region's health spending. Ten of 16 operating suites have been closed and elective surgery has been cancelled, with staff forced to take leave, sources said. Forty-three cardiology and heart surgery beds have shut since late last year, said medical and nursing staff, culminating last week in the closure without notice of the heart surgery ward - which staff found empty and locked when they arrived for work.

The unprecedented axing of about 70 beds comes after the Herald revealed in late January that Sydney West Area Health Service, which oversees Westmead, owed $26 million to creditors - more than any other region and almost a quarter of NSW Health's outstanding debt to suppliers at that time.

Neurosurgery and general surgery beds have also closed, said the sources, while casual nursing shifts have been curtailed across the entire hospital, as displaced permanent staff are redeployed into vacancies on the roster. The closures represent about 9 per cent of Westmead's total capacity, and are the biggest round of cuts at a single hospital to strike the beleaguered state health system. The chairman of the hospital's Medical Staff Council, Andrew Pesce, said the closures were by far the most severe the flagship teaching hospital had seen. "It's a quantum leap [compared with] the modest bed closures usually built around [public] holidays," Dr Pesce said.

Coming a month before Easter and without any promise that beds would reopen or surgery resume, the closures were the equivalent of an extra Christmas closedown, said Dr Pesce - referring to the practice of selectively suspending services during the holiday period to save money. "If things continue the way they are going, the morale of the place will become so low that doctors and nurses will start leaving," he said. Hospital managers were not solely to blame because NSW Health gave them "unrealistic budgets".

Public hospitals had traditionally been insulated from state spending cuts, Dr Pesce said, but NSW's wider financial crisis meant they were no longer receiving favourable treatment. Health accounts for about one-third of the state's spending, and had blown out by about $300 million at the time of November's mini-budget. Area health services were ordered to save $943 million over four years.

A spokesman for the Health Minister, John Della Bosca, declined to address the Herald's specific questions about closures, offering instead in a written statement: "There have been adjustments to bed platforms and relocations of some services within Westmead's overall funding base . Westmead has further capacity to improve bed utilisation and this is a priority for management attention in the relevant services as part of the operational strategy." He also did not answer a question about the number of patients whose elective operations were cancelled, instead insisting elective surgery was still available but saying the hospital was "under resource pressure and needs to ensure that its priorities are met but not exceeded and that all opportunities to ensure it operates efficiently are explored".

The president of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Morton, said he understood patients would be moved to general wards under the care of "staff who don't have the same skills". Patients would be at risk if already overcrowded hospitals were further stressed. .. That's when mistakes happen."

The Opposition's health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said the closures would endanger patients. "The evidence is quite clear that delayed treatment makes conditions worse and makes the hospital stay longer - and therefore more expensive."


Saturday, March 07, 2009

New guidelines say two drinks a day increases risk of death

And who do they think is going to be guided by them? This is just more rubbishy "modelling" (Translation: pretentious guesswork) based on equally pretentious epidemiological speculation. All the big Wall St firms had modellers to save them from doing risky things and look where it got them! And none of the climate models predicted that global warming would peak in 1998 and remain flat thereafter either

Two alcoholic drinks a day - the maximum recommended on a regular basis under new national health guidelines - put people at greater risk of death from alcohol than from drowning, being in a pedestrian accident or an accidental fall. The long-awaited [awaited by whom?] guidelines, released yesterday by Australia's top health advice body, warn that the health benefits of alcohol have been overstated, and that someone consuming two drinks a day has nearly one chance in 100 of dying from alcohol-induced injury or illness. That compares with a one-in-683 lifetime risk of drowning, a one-in-403 risk of being in a pedestrian accident and a one-in-125 risk of a fatal fall, the Weekend Australian reports.

World-first modelling of the health risks of alcohol shows that above two drinks a day, the dangers escalate quickly - taking drinkers closer to better-recognised dangers such as car crashes (one in 54), cancer (one in four) and heart disease (one in four).

The guidelines, published by the National Health and Medical Research Council, also recommend that adults drink no more than four drinks on any one occasion. Children and young people under 18, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and breastfeeding mothers, are all advised to avoid alcohol altogether.

The guidelines, which halve limits set in 2001, were greeted enthusiastically yesterday by health groups. [Yea! New ammunition for dictating to others!]

Despite renewed concern from some experts that many Australians might ignore the advice, some organisations called for even tougher steps. The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation called for mandatory health warnings reflecting the new advice to be put on all alcoholic products, while the Cancer Council Australia said it would have preferred the daily drinking limit for women to be halved again, to one drink.

Jon Currie, chairman of the NHMRC committee that compiled the new advice, said the guidelines were "not telling you what you can and can't do", but were instead designed to help Australians make informed choices about health risks. He said the health benefits of alcohol had been exaggerated and that any positive effect could be achieved by consuming just one drink every two days. In addition, any benefit would affect only middle-aged and elderly people. "There is no level of drinking alcohol that can be guaranteed by scientific evidence as being completely safe," Professor Currie said. [There is no way that Prof. Currie's advice can be guaranteed as completely safe, either]

However, the guidelines have already come in for the same criticism they attracted when released in draft form in October 2007, when they were attacked by some experts as too removed from most people's experience. Alex Wodak, director of the alcohol and drug service at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, said the gap between the two-drink recommended limit and many people's habits was such that "I fear these recommendations will be dismissed by many people".


Qld. police need a watchdog with more bite

The previous watchdog (PCT) was ridiculed out of existence and this one may go the same way. Background to the story here

Civil libertarians have called for parliamentary oversight of the police, saying the service's watchdog has lost its bite after 20 years. The calls come after the Crime and Misconduct Commission rebuked an officer who applied a Taser to a 16-year-old girl and accused the police service of failing to learn from mistakes. But CMC chairman Robert Needham dismissed the call for more oversight and defended the decision to not insist on disciplinary action against the constable in the Taser incident.

Queensland Council of Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman said the CMC had proved "largely ineffectual" at reining in wayward police behaviour. "If there is a concerning pattern, what's the CMC doing about it?" he said. "It just seems to be a lot of hand wringing at the moment." Mr O'Gorman called for the next government to institute a standing parliamentary committee to supervise police. He said it should not investigate individual complaints but look at policy issues and concerns, such as the misuse of Tasers.

Mr Needham said he had been forced into making his most public attack on police after frustration at their attitude towards the incident. "I've been expressing my view for quite a while and it seems to cause no change of attitude in the Queensland Police Service," Mr Needham said. He said it was the "harshest criticism" he had delivered in his four years at the commission.

Calling his relationship with Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson "good, amiable and friendly", Mr Needham said he disagreed with the police's internal reports on the case. "It speaks of the officer being left with no option but to deploy the Taser and that the officer displayed sound judgment," he said. "In my view neither of those statements is correct." He branded the constable as "gung-ho" but did not believe he deserved dismissal or formal discipline. "It is inevitable that mistakes will be made but my strong view is that police should learn from those mistakes," he said.

He had also accused police of displaying a "concerning pattern" towards the handling of incidents. Mr Needham said up to 60 complaints against police "crossed his desk" every year, of which about 20 troubled him, he said. However, he said his position had been misinterpreted as an attack on Taser usage. "I want to make it clear that I am not saying that there is a concerning pattern of Taser usage," he said.


Huge ambulance bungle in Qld.

HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars have been spent on ambulance stretchers that are too high for resuscitation and won't fit in highrise lifts. The stretchers, imported from Canada at a cost of $6500 each, are claimed to be injuring paramedics, sending WorkCover claims though the roof. "They're an absolute disaster," one ambulance officer told The Courier-Mail yesterday. "There has been no end of problems with them. They don't fit into highrise lifts, they're too high to do CPR on and they're injuring paramedics left, right and centre. It's a major stuff-up. The QAS haven't done their homework." The new stretchers are 96cm tall - 13cm higher than the existing models, which can be shortened further.

The revelation is an embarrassment for the Bligh Government in the midst of an election campaign where its economic credentials are on the line. The State Government has been trumpeting its decision to buy the stretchers, capable of carrying patients up to 228kg, as part of a $17 million roll-out of new ambulances across Queensland. "These pieces of equipment make ambulance transport safer and more comfortable for both patient and paramedic," Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts boasted in a press release last November.

But paramedics and their union say the stretchers have been nothing but trouble since coming into service six months ago. They said WorkCover claims by paramedics had skyrocketed by millions of dollars as they struggled with the "unstable and unsteady" stretchers. "Some paramedics are refusing to use the stretchers because they're afraid of being injured, but we're being forced to use them against our will," one officer said. "The QAS is breaching its own workplace health and safety policies by making us use them. The number of handling injuries is diabolical."

He said two paramedics were needed to lift the stretchers but many rural ambulance stations were one-man operations. The QAS had designed its new ambulance fleet around the new stretchers rather than the other way around, he said.

Prebs Sathiaseelan, president of the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, said QAS management had refused to listen to the concerns. The Department of Emergency Services yesterday did not respond to a list of questions from The Courier-Mail, with its media unit saying QAS senior managers were tied up in meetings.


Migrants 'vital to recovery'

Do-gooder BS. Make dumb assumptions and you get dumb conclusions. He thinks he can predict what will happen in 20 years' time

The Rudd Government has been told to resist pressure to slash Australia's permanent immigration intake in the face of lengthening dole queues, or risk stifling the nation's eventual economic recovery. Leading demographer Peter McDonald has warned against short-sighted immigration decisions, saying overseas migrants will be the key drivers of economic growth over the next 40 years as millions of baby boomers move into retirement.

"At present, Australian labour force policy tends to be more a matter of reaction than of long-term planning," Professor McDonald wrote in a report presented to the Immigration Department this week. "Labour shortages emerge, and attempts are made to plug them through training or immigration. This approach often leads to short cycles of under- and over-supply, as has been evident in the IT industry in recent years. "In the short to medium term (the next 20 years), immigration is the only means available to meet large aggregate labour demand in Australia."

Professor McDonald, director of the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, said immigration levels tended to move behind the economic cycle: highest when peak economic activity tips over into recession, and savagely cut just at the time more workers were needed to help rebuild the economy. When the 1974 recession hit, net overseas migration was 87,000. The following year it was cut to 13,500 and only returned to 1974 levels in 1980. In the 1982-83 recession, net migration fell from 123,000 in 1981 and 103,000 in 1982 to 55,000 in 1983, only returning to 1981 levels six years later.

"Immigration has a long lag-time," Professor McDonald said. "Targets are set well in advance, visa grants often take a long time, and then the immigrant has many months to actually take up the grant. We shouldn't let the numbers drop off as dramatically as they have in past recessions. We should be evening out the peaks and troughs." Record numbers of migrants came to Australia last year and more than 200,000 are expected in 2008-09.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has flagged cuts to the number of foreign workers allowed into the country in the wake of the global financial crisis, saying the Rudd Government is committed to protecting Australian jobs.

Professor McDonald said no immigration strategy could prevent a fall in labour supply in the 2020s as the population aged. His modelling found the optimum number of migrants to maintain a growing economy in coming decades in response to the changes in age structure was about 180,000 a year. "Migrants do provide their own economic stimulus," Professor McDonald said. "They come into the country with money, they spend it to buy houses and set themselves up."

But immigrants create pressure on existing infrastructure, and housing supply is already a problem in the capital cities, particularly Sydney. "A plan relating to Australia's future levels of immigration must be co-ordinated with policy for urban infrastructure, especially housing, transport, water and appropriate energy supply," Professor McDonald said.


Friday, March 06, 2009

A great rarity: Crooked cop goes to jail

A policeman jailed for turning off a watch-house video which was recording while another officer punched a female prisoner had his appeal dismissed. In the District Court at Beenleigh late last year, Craig Stuart Ablitt was sentenced to 15 months' jail to be suspended after five months. He had pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in the assault of Dulcie Isobelle Birt, 25, by disgraced fellow officer Justin Anthony Burkett.

The court heard Ablitt switched off the video which taped prisoners in their cells just before Burkett punched Birt about the head and body at the Loganholme watch-house on April 5, 2004. Birt was being held on shoplifting charges at the time.

Ablitt was in charge of the videotape console at the watch-house and turned the machine off during a confrontation between Burkett and Birt in the cell. It was alleged that later that shift, Ablitt handed the video to Burkett, saying:"You had better put that in your top drawer".

Last August Burkett was sentenced to three years' jail, suspended after nine months, after pleading guilty to perjury, attempting to pervert the course of justice and assault causing bodily harm.

In the Court of Appeal, Michael Byrne QC, for Ablitt, argued there should be a reduction in his client's sentence to maintain parity with Burkett's sentence. However, in an unanimous judgment the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. Justice Cate Holmes said Ablitt's action had the ability to undermine confidence in the police service and the administration of justice. "Ablitt was the senior officer on duty at the police station and his actions that day show a gross dereliction of duty," Justice Holmes said


Useless public hospital emergency department

With his foot aching from serious burns, Norman Daw was forced to find other care after waiting five-and-a-half hours for treatment at Caboolture's emergency department. A hot bolt had dropped into his boot during an industrial accident last month, causing an injury which needed a skin graft.

Despite the pain, he drove home to Springfield, on Brisbane's southside, to see his own doctor. He said his doctor referred him to the burns unit at Royal Brisbane Hospital where he had the burnt flesh removed and skin grafted into the wound the next week.

"I wouldn't take a dead cat to the place (Caboolture)," he said. "I'm not saying the staff were at fault. "They mustn't have the numbers to see how the nurses on duty did not have the knowledge to recognise a severe burn." He was angry that although emergency department staff had put cream on the wound and dressed it, he was not offered pain relief or referred immediately to the burns unit in Brisbane.

A Queensland Health spokesman said a nurse assessed all patients who arrived at the emergency department. Category 1 and 2 patients usually were experiencing a life-threatening situation. In non-urgent cases, patients are stabilised, treated and referred to facilities as required.


Fruit juice with added goodness may be bad

FRUIT juices containing added extras such as herbal supplements or antioxidants do not have significant health benefits and may actually be harmful to some people, Australia's leading consumer group says. An investigation by Choice has found juice with extras such as aloe vera, echinacea, ginkgo, ginseng, spirulina, barley grass and wheat grass did not contain enough of the extracts to have any meaningful health impact.

Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn said the low levels could actually be an advantage because some extracts at higher doses were not necessarily safe. He said gingko could interfere with other medications such as anticoagulants while anyone suffering high blood pressure should take ginseng only in small doses and pregnant women should not take it at all. "In our view the use of medicinal herbs in products like juices should be banned unless specific approval is given after a proper safety assessment, an idea which our food regulator has abandoned," he said.

Juices promoting extra antioxidants were also a concern, with no evidence that taking antioxidants as a supplement provided any preventative benefit for cancer or heart disease. "Apple juice has only 14 per cent of the antioxidant capacity you'd get from actually eating an apple," he said. "The juice market is rife with claims which are not matched by reality and it's often best to stick to the whole fruit or vegetable."

Mr Zinn said the juices with added extras were also more expensive than those without. "Many of the products, which go by names such as Kickstart, Energy Lift and Green Recovery, are mostly inexpensive apple juice with a few added extras," he said. One juice from Berri which claimed to contain "over 30 per cent of your daily needs" of omega-3 fats in fact contained only eight per cent of the Heart Foundation's recommended daily dose for men, he said.


Hoax callers to face jail in Queensland

Not before time

The Queensland government is promising to crack down on fake emergency calls after a hoax which cost thousands of dollars. Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts described a hoax call yesterday - claiming a young man had been seriously injured in a fall near Gympie north - as an "act of gross stupidity''. "In the worst case a crank call could cost the lives of people in a real emergency situation.''

He said proposed amendments to legislation meant false and malicious calls to fire and ambulance call centres could attract up to a $10,000 fine or one year in jail. Offenders could also be hit with $1,000 on-the-spot fines.

Chief pilot of the Energex helicopter that was involved in the callout, Craig Mecham, said crank calls wasted thousands of dollars and put lives at risk. The hour's worth of fuel for yesterday's callout cost about $3,000. "It's clearly a waste of resources ... and presents the communication centres with a problem as far as priority and allocation of resources should something else come up,'' he said. "Someone has picked up a mobile phone (in this case) and thought they'd have a bit of fun.''


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Three Qantas A380 superjumbos grounded in recent days

Even before these planes entered service, I said on various occasions that I could feel a re-run of the De Havilland "Comet" affair coming up. The Comet was the first of its class too. It was the first passenger jet airliner and it had an attractive design feature: Big rectangular picture windows for passengers to see out of. But after a while the Comets started exploding in flight. It was eventually found that those big picture windows were the problem. They weakened the airframe so much that it cracked and the plane disintegrated. To this day all airliners now have small oval windows. And the military version of the Comet -- with NO windows -- is still flying 50 years later: The Nimrod. It was a great plane except for that one fault. What will it be with the A380? Could be excessive system complexity. Everything on the plane is computerized and we all know how computer programs "hang up" at times. Frozen control surfaces at the wrong moment could be catastrophic. Problems are certainly coming thick and fast. I wouldn't go on one for love or money

QANTAS has been hit by a string of problems which have grounded all three of their flagship A380s in the past few days. One of the planes was back in service this morning, but the other two were declared unserviceable with a fuel tank indication system problem, reports The Herald Sun. "Qantas is an early customer of the A380 and naturally, as with any new aircraft type and like other operators of the A380, we expect the occasional issue to arise," the airline said in a statement. "We are working very closely with Airbus to resolve these but we remain committed to the A380 as the cornerstone of our new generation product offering."

The airline's first superjumbo, the Nancy-Bird Walton, was initially delayed for 19 hours in Sydney on Saturday because of a fuel leak. After repair work the much-heralded plane was cleared to fly the "kangaroo route" to Singapore then London. In London, it was again found to be leaking fuel and experienced a nose wheel ground steering issue. The plane was declared "unserviceable" and had to be grounded.

The episode comes after Qantas grounded the same plane due to a "minor technical fault" at Los Angeles airport five weeks ago. In the latest incident, the Nancy-Bird Walton was scheduled to fly from London to Melbourne as a one-off because of the initial delay in Sydney.

Passengers travelling to Melbourne on flight QF10 were delayed for more than 16 hours as a result of the dramas. One passenger stranded in London told News Ltd: "Lots of people were really excited to be going on the new plane. "Now basically they've cancelled the flight because there's a fuel leak. "It's a worry because it's brand new and a fuel problem is pretty serious." They eventually left London on a Boeing 747 at 2.24pm Monday, instead of the original departure time of 10pm Sunday.

A Qantas spokeswoman yesterday said repairs had been completed and the Nancy-Bird Walton departed London for Melbourne on flight QF10 at 11.25pm Monday local time (10.25am Tuesday Melbourne). The other two A380s were grounded in Sydney and engineers were ``currently working to resolve this and we hope to have both aircraft returned to service very soon'', the airline said. Of the two "unserviceable" A380s in Sydney, one was scheduled to be ready to operate QF31 Sydney-Singapore-London at 5.40pm today. The other A380 was scheduled to be back in operation tomorrow.


Risky decision

A FUEL gauge fault with the Qantas A380 fleet was identified mid-flight more than two weeks ago but engineers ordered the aircraft to continue flying the scheduled London to Australia routes.

The fuel gauge fault that led to the grounding of all three Qantas A380s earlier this week was first discovered on February 14, when QF 31 was in Singapore, en route to London from Sydney, reports The Advertiser. The aircraft continued flying the long-haul route for another two weeks before the airline's executives decided the fault was serious enough to ground the fleet.

The aircraft's manufacturer has since issued an alert to other operators of the A380 recommending action to fix the apparent glitch with the fuel gauges. It is not yet clear whether the flaw is a design fault.

On Monday, about 300 passengers were forced to wait more than 16 hours for their flight from London to Melbourne as another A-380 fault was rectified.


Sharks protected but what about people?

The usual misanthropic Greenie priorities are denying Australians a treasured part of their lifestyle -- surfing

Duncan Low stood forlornly with his surfboard on Avalon Beach just after dawn yesterday looking out at the "sharky" grey waves that he dared not venture into alone. A tall, blond, 15-year-old Adonis with a peeling pink nose and a wetsuit, Low has surfed at Avalon every morning since he was nine years old. But after the weekend attack on another teenage surfer at the popular northern beach, few people are game to plunge in, at least while the surf remains poor and the sky cloudy . "I would be surfing but no one else is here," he said. "No one's coming out because of the sharks. It's pretty annoying . My dad said not to go out by myself. He's heaps worried."

Andrew Lindop, also 15, is recovering in hospital after being bitten on the leg by a two-metre great white shark at North Avalon on Sunday. It was the third Sydney shark attack in three weeks. A great white also attacked 33-year-old surfer Glenn Orgias at Bondi last month, and just the previous day a navy diver, Paul de Gelder, 31, was mauled at Woolloomooloo. Despite doctors' efforts Orgias has lost a hand and Gelder a hand and a leg. With the Sydney attacks added to another three around Australia within 24 hours in January, surfers and fisherman have begun to dispute official claims and declare a shark boom in our waters.

Yet instead of sensible discussions about how best to protect human life and limb, the debate over shark attacks has taken a surreal turn, in which Sydney's waterways are deemed to be the sole province of man-eating sharks and tough luck to humans. "Dirty, stinking humans . scum of the planet and hopefully sharks will be here for millions more years after we're extinct" was typical of one misanthropic comment on a surf website this week.

The Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald, has been telling people since January the ocean and the harbour are the shark's "domain", not ours, And lately he has been instructing us not to swim at dawn and dusk, when sharks are active. Talk about blaming the victim - when do most Sydneysiders get a chance to surf but before or after work and school? Surfing or swimming in the ocean is intrinsic to the Australian way of life. Humans have as much right to be in there as sharks. We have been designed to swim and are at home in the water.

Low waded in for a dip at Avalon about 7am yesterday but the regular ocean swimmers confined themselves to the rockpool. "I'd normally be out there," said Simon Abbott, 38, "But it's not worth the worry. It takes the edge of your enjoyment." The sky yesterday, as it has been for days, was grey and cloudy, with a hint of red just after sunrise, meaning poor visibility in the water, and less likelihood of spotting a shark before it spots you.

Another local, Warren Burgess, 69, declared: "There's too much seaweed in there. Every time it brushed your leg you'd be s----ing yourself." Burgess never remembers seeing so many sharks.

Michael Brown, director of Surfwatch Australia, a private helicopter coastal patrol service, said yesterday the explosion in shark numbers this season has been "unbelievable". He estimates an increase of about 80 per cent since last summer. Three years ago, he saw one great white a season. Last summer, he spotted seven. This year he's seen 27. And the sharks are bigger than ever - 3.5 metres and 4 metres long off Long Reef and Palm Beach. He attributes the population explosion to cold ocean eddies of five years ago, which brought a surge of nutrients from the ocean floor to feed a bumper crop of phytoplankton, which in turn fed the tuna, bonito and other baitfish sharks eat. Nice for the sharks but risky for humans. And next summer, Brown says, will be even worse.

It is of no comfort to the victims that the great white shark has been officially declared an endangered species. Commercial fishermen are blaming government protection of sharks and bans on commercial fishing for the shark boom. Large NSW marine parks created in 2002 have led to a local explosion in shark numbers, they claim.

What's more, shark nets that have protected Sydney beachgoers for more than 70 years are under attack from environmentalists. The meshing program has been a successful protection measure in NSW and Queensland, especially when coupled with drumlines - hooks attached to a float with bait designed to catch sharks near popular beaches. Yet in NSW shark nets are now listed as a "key threatening process" by the Government's Fisheries Scientific Committee. So the committee will be looking to get rid of the nets, while environmental and animal welfare groups ratchet up the pressure on the Government. And despite claims that the nets are useless, the evidence says otherwise.

Before the nets were installed there were 28 shark attacks and 15 fatalities from 1922 to 1936 in Greater Sydney, Dr John Paxton of the Australian Museum told the 2006 Shark Protection Summit. "The introduction of shark meshing in 1937 resulted in ending the fatalities on surfing beaches," Paxton told the summit. "There was a corresponding fall in the numbers of total attacks per decade. The shark nets were exceptionally successful and their introduction certainly justified at that time." Of course, nets are not foolproof, as shown by the attack at Avalon. They were never designed to provide a barrier between sharks and humans, but to deter and catch "resident" sharks which feed near popular beaches.

No one disputes that sharks are a crucial part of the ecosystem and no one is advocating wholesale slaughter. But if it comes to a choice between a shark life and a human life there just should be no contest.


Queensland police goons again

Cops use Taser on a young girl who was already held down! They must think it is a punishment device and that they are judge and jury

The CMC has blasted the Queensland Police Service after an officer Tasered a teenage girl at South Bank last year. The CMC (Crime and Misconduct Commission) has accused Queensland police of failing to learn from its mistakes after an investigation into the unnecessary Taser use on a girl, 16. CMC chairman Robert Needham said there was a "concerning pattern" in the handling of critical incidents and urged Commissioner Bob Atkinson to rein in his troops.

The CMC spoke out after overseeing an internal police investigation into the use of the Taser on the girl, who failed to obey a police order at South Bank in April last year. The incident came months after The Courier-Mail revealed Police Minister Judy Spence had sidelined the service's top brass and brokered a deal with the police union to give Tasers to every frontline officer. Ms Spence's intervention came barely halfway through a 12-month trial and in the middle of the union election. Yesterday Ms Spence's office said the minister would not comment on the CMC criticism until she had read the report. "I'm not expecting it to happen today," a spokesman said.

However Ms Spence's office reversed its stance and released a statement after The Courier-Mail sought comment from Premier Anna Bligh. "The Commissioner of Police has advised me the Queensland Police Service will completely re-examine every aspect of this entire matter," Ms Spence said.

The South Bank incident was one of at least nine complaints against officers for using Tasers inappropriately. The girl, 16, had defied a move-on order and was being held down by two security guards when an officer used a Taser on her thigh.

A magistrate later ruled the officers did not give adequate directions and threw out a charge of obstructing police against the girl. Mr Needham labelled the actions "very poor policing". "The commission expected the QPS to use the incident as a learning opportunity for the officer involved and for Taser training generally, but there is no evidence to show this has occurred," he said. "My observations of QPS failure to learn from mistakes are not limited to this case." He urged Mr Atkinson to "send a strong message to all police that they must objectively assess and learn from policing incidents".

Solicitor Margaret Brain, of Slater and Gordon, said she was preparing civil action against the police on the girl's behalf. "It was a violent incident that has traumatised her," she said.

Mr Atkinson acknowledged the matter "could have been handled better" and said police would "carefully consider" issues raised by the CMC. "It's probably the most severe criticism the CMC have expressed of the Queensland Police Service for many years, and that concerns me," he said. Police Union president Cameron Pope could not be reached for comment.


Surgery delay in public hospital causes man to lose finger

A Brisbane man who had to make his own way to hospital after a work accident - because an ambulance did not arrive - ended up waiting two days for surgery and lost a finger. Wayne Rogerson, 42, of Manly West, severed the middle finger on his left hand in a workplace accident at Rocklea on Friday. He waited in agony for an ambulance but after 90 minutes decided to get himself to hospital with the digit packed in ice.

His frustration continued at Princess Alexandra Hospital where he was prepped for surgery three times in two days. On each occasion the operation was postponed because of other emergencies. When Mr Rogerson finally made it into theatre on Sunday morning the finger had been thrown out. Trilby Misso senior managing lawyer Luke Short said the digit was discarded because by that stage it was unable to be reattached. "The surgeons had to cut below the first knuckle to repair the finger correctly," Mr Short said.

Mr Rogerson said his frustration with the health service and distress at losing part of his finger was made worse by election advertisements featuring Premier Anna Bligh promoting the PA Hospital. "I nearly kicked the TV when I saw the ad with the Premier saying how great it was at the PA. I am so angry about how the health system has let me down the first time I've had to use it," he said.

Mr Rogerson was equally frustrated by the lack of explanation from the Queensland Ambulance Service for not showing up at his workplace. "All they could confirm was that my case had been logged as call number 956," he said. But yesterday the QAS said it had experienced an unusually high demand at the time of the accident, just after 10am on Friday, responding to 80 emergency cases in an hour. "An ambulance was immediately dispatched. Four minutes into the journey, this ambulance was diverted to a life-threatening cardiac case," a QAS spokesman said.

A second ambulance sent a short time later was diverted to another life-threatening case. "At 10.44am the QAS received a further call from a man at the scene who reported the patient was becoming anxious," the spokesman said. "The closest resource became available at 10.54am and was en route to the scene, when the Communications Centre was advised that alternative transport had been arranged."

A PA spokeswoman said it was unable to comment because it had not been given permission by Mr Rogerson.


Mathematics in crisis as teachers go private

Advanced mathematics is disappearing from public school classrooms, leaving students able to learn only basic maths, because the few qualified teachers are being snapped up by the private sector. The shortage of maths teachers will become more acute as fewer students continue maths at university, undermining the nation's skills base in engineering, the sciences and technology, scientists warn. "The inequitable access to quality mathematics education is a national disgrace," the National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences says in a report calling for a national strategy to boost the discipline.

An estimated 40 per cent of senior school mathematics teachers do not have a maths major, the minimum needed to teach the subject to senior years, the committee believes. That is up from 30 per cent in 1999. At the same time, university enrolments for maths majors fell almost 14 per cent between 2001 and 2007.

The committee is part of the Australian Academy of Science. Its chairman, Hyam Rubinstein, said state schools could not compete with the private sector for qualified maths teachers. "Students not having access to (higher level maths) in government schools is really disadvantaging them in a number of important areas of study," Professor Rubinstein said. "It is just going to make the skills shortage worse because, even with the economic downturn, we need to replace our engineers who are all ageing, and we aren't going to be able to do that if people aren't doing mathematics at school."

The number of Year 12 students studying advanced maths has fallen 20 per cent, from 25,000 in 1995 to 20,000 in 2007. The proportion of Year 12 students studying senior maths has now fallen from 14 per cent to 10per cent, with the proportion taking intermediate maths down from 27 per cent to 21 per cent. In contrast, the proportion studying elementary maths has risen from 37 per cent to 48 per cent.

Mathematical Association of Victoria head Simon Pryor said: "Year 7 and Year 8 are critical years, especially if you are going to get kids to love mathematics." Mr Pryor said principals, hit by limited resources, were being forced to staff maths classes with teachers lacking maths qualifications. This year, Mr Pryor took a call from a young teacher at a Victorian state school who last studied maths at school in Year 12. He was desperate for coaching after discovering he had been given a full load teaching maths to Years 10 and 11.

While it is not new for the association to get cries for help from teachers with little maths training, Mr Pryor said he was surprised that senior school students were being taught by teachers lacking maths training. A senior mathematics teacher, who preferred not to be named, said unqualified maths teachers inevitably could only teach practical maths. As a result students were missing out on the higher, abstract maths required to go on to university study.

The National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences is calling for a national system of mathematics teacher registration. It wants school systems to be able to offer "golden handshakes" to attract mathematicians into teaching. It also wants schools to offer tenure to new maths teachers. It recommends a widening of the federal Government's HECS discount scheme for science graduates entering teaching to include other degrees that also include maths, such as computer science and engineering. It also wants the Government to crack down on universities and ensure government money specifically targeted for maths and statistics departments is not spent elsewhere within the universities.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Let crippled banks fail: Kevin Rudd

Sad that it takes a centre-Leftist to get it at least half right

Kevin Rudd has called for unviable overseas banks to be allowed to collapse and an international effort to shift toxic assets off the balance sheets of surviving banks as an essential first step to global economic recovery. The Prime Minister has vowed to pursue his proposals at a meeting of the G20 nations in London on April 2, arguing that "ring-fencing" toxic assets is the only way to end the global recession.

Mr Rudd outlined his plans in a speech to business leaders in Sydney yesterday in which he said the freezing of global credit flows was at the centre of the worldwide crisis. Unless banking systems in the US and Europe could be cleansed of non-performing assets, credit would remain frozen, preventing Australian banks from resuming lending to stimulate economic activity. "Whatever actions Australia takes domestically to cushion us from the impact of the global economic recession are fundamentally shaped by the actions of other governments (individually and collectively), both to stabilise their financial institutions and to stimulate global growth until private credit markets recover," Mr Rudd told the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "There can be no long-term economic recovery until we get global private credit flowing again."

Mr Rudd said Australia's banks remained strong. However, ineffective financial regulation in the US and Europe had caused an explosion of easy credit, with the resulting bad debts stuck on balance sheets of globally important banks, clogging the flow of credit around the world. It was estimated banks were holding toxic assets worth as much as $US3.6trillion.

Mr Rudd said Australian officials were working with their counterparts from other G20 nations on a response that would involve "stress-testing" troubled banks to discover which were sound. "All non-viable banks must be closed," he said. "Keeping insolvent banks alive is itself systematically damaging. All toxic assets on bank balance sheets must be neutralised." This could be done by creating a publicly owned asset-management company to isolate toxic assets or through other methods of "deploying public and private capital to ring-fence and then remove toxic assets," he said. "This needs to be done quickly and comprehensively and may require compulsion. "These toxic assets sitting on bank balance sheets in the US and Europe have become a poison in the bloodstream of the global financial system. Sick and unhealthy assets have the capacity to affect healthy assets and banks. It's like a virus which, if left untreated, can easily spread."

Mr Rudd's comments give the clearest indication yet of the behind-the-scenes action leading up to the crucial G20 meeting. The Prime Minister has also given the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority the task of examining ways to discourage institutions paying financial bonuses to reward risky investment practices by executives and traders. APRA is expected to propose a mechanism by which banks that continue to reward risky investment will be required to keep more capital in reserve, thereby limiting their lending potential. Mr Rudd is convinced inadequate regulation in the US was responsible for the global recession and uniform global regulation will prevent a recurrence. "This was capitalism out of control," he said.


Australian decision not to tour Pakistan now shown as justified

Australian cricket's security adviser yesterday described the deadly attack on the Sri Lankan team as a "tragic vindication" of the decision to cancel Australia's last two tours to Pakistan. Dave Woodman, a former member of the Australian Defence Force, said it was always difficult to advise against a tour when so much money and public interest was at stake. "I have always said that the process may be a bit of a juggling act trying to keep different parties happy, but once the decision is made, we don't budge," Woodman said. "We copped plenty when we handed our recommendations down last time, but we knew we had made the right decision for the wellbeing of the players.

As a co-founder of Brisbane-based company BLP Training and Services, Woodman and fellow director Reg Dickason have overseen every aspect of security relating to the Australian cricket team for almost a decade. A former police officer, Dickason is the man on the ground, travelling with the team both domestically and internationally, while Woodman assists with the pre-tour planning and security assessments for Cricket Australia and the ICC.

It was on the advice of Dickason, who is in the West Indies overseeing the security of the England cricket team, and Woodman that CA scrapped scheduled tours of Pakistan in 2002 and last year, with the latter, in particular, drawing heavy condemnation from officials on the subcontinent.

However, Woodman said news yesterday of the deadly attack by gunmen on the Sri Lanka team's tour bus in Lahore was proof of the very real security threats that exist in Pakistan. "The role we play is a funny one because it tends to be a job that no one really appreciates until something goes wrong," he said. "People can take shots at you and your decisions because you can't validate it until something like this happens. "It's a tragedy what has happened, but from my perspective it vindicates the tough calls we have made in recent years."

More here

Outrage as man who raped girl, 4, walks free

The NSW legal establishment loves its criminals. Maybe they have things in common

THE Opposition has demanded that the Director of Public Prosecutions urgently appeal against the sentence of a 24-year-old man who escaped jail despite pleading guilty to raping a four-year-girl as she slept at her grandmother's house. The man, who cannot be named, was given a two-year suspended jail term in the District Court in Sydney on February 5 after he pleaded guilty to breaking into a house at Gulmarrad near Yamba in November 2007 and sexually assaulting the girl.

Police were called to the house on November 22 after the girl's grandmother discovered her car had been broken into. When they arrived, the girl told them that a man had been inside the house overnight and had sexually assaulted her. The man was arrested five days after the attack when police matched him to DNA on clothing found at the scene.

He was charged with sexual assault of a person under the age of 10 as well as several other charges including break and enter. The man spent 14 months in prison awaiting his sentence but walked free after his appearance last month. The shadow attorney-general, Greg Smith, said the Director of Public Prosecutions should urgently consider an appeal and described the sentence as "unbelievable". "It seems totally inappropriate for the court to impose such a light sentence where the maximum penalty for such an offence is 25 years. An explanation is required," he said.

Mr Smith said the leniency of the sentence sent a poor message to the community. "The community have a right to expect the punishment to fit the crime. Here the crime was against a four-year-old child," he said. The girl's MP, Steve Cansdell, said he was "angry and disgusted" the man had been released. "I have had a crisis meeting with shadow attorney-general Greg Smith and he has agreed the NSW Opposition will do everything possible to convince the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal this ridiculously lenient sentence. "Crimes against children, particularly those of a sexual nature, deserve the harshest possible punishment, but instead this animal is out on the streets, walking and possibly stalking his next victim."

A spokesman for the DPP refused to comment, saying his office was awaiting a transcript of the judgment.


DPP appeals against rape sentence

THE Director of Public Prosecutions lodged an appeal yesterday against the sentence of a man, 24, who pleaded guilty to raping a girl, 4, as she slept in her grandmother's house. The Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, raised concerns about the sentence with the DPP after the Herald revealed that the man, who cannot be named, was given a two-year suspended jail term after pleading guilty. Mr Hatzistergos would not comment on the case but said it was worth remembering that the maximum sentence for sexually assaulting a child under 10 years was 25 years, and the standard minimum sentence was 15 years. "I referred the matter to the director because there were understandable concerns about this particular sentence, and I believed it required further analysis," Mr Hatzistergos said. "It's an abhorrent crime."

Police were called to a house at Gulmarrad on the North Coast on November 22 after the girl's grandmother discovered her car had been broken into. When they arrived it emerged that the young girl had been sexually assaulted. The man was arrested five days after the attack when police matched him to DNA.


Australian miners' message against Warmist laws comes with teeth

The hiccups the Rudd government is having over its emissions trading scheme will not be soothed by the messages it is getting from the black coal industry. The miners are Australia's biggest commodity exporters, earning around $45 billion last year, and they supply 57 per cent of domestic electricity. They employ 30,000 people and another 100,000 indirectly. They feed $15 billion a year in to the nation's pockets through remuneration, hiring contractors and buying goods and services.

And they hand over $4 billion in royalties to state governments while paying another $2.5 billion in direct and indirect taxes. In the context of the current Queensland election, they are the largest single contributor to the Bligh government's budget.

Against this background, they are out and about via the Australian Coal Association at present making it very clear that, as the global commodity boom slides in to history, they are less than happy at the way they are being treated in the emissions trading process.

The message comes with teeth - the black coal miners have so far retrenched 2,000 workers as they wrestle a big downturn and there will be more job losses, they warn. For every job lost at the mines, ACA adds pointedly, three more are lost elsewhere in the service chain. Substantial investment in coal mining is now under review or deferred, says the ACA, and equipment orders associated with mine expansions are being cancelled.

The black coal miners' gripe with ETS is based on their belief that they are one of the most trade-exposed industries in the country, as well as being emissions intensive. Their key rivals overseas - Indonesia, South Africa and Colombia among them - don't face carbon charges and, in fact, Australia is the only developed country to include "fugitive emissions" from coal mining and petroleum production in an emissions trading scheme. The major source of the miners' greenhouse gases - 22 million tonnes a year or about four per cent of the national total - are "fugitive emissions."

The miners' point to a set of numbers as the basis for their unhappiness. At $25 per permit, the Rudd ETS is going to cost them $4 billion over five years. The government is offering them assistance amounting to $500 million over five years for "gassy" mines and $250 million over five years, providing they spend the same amount as well, for abatement activity. The grants are subject to 30 per cent company tax.

If black coal had been included in the EITE - for emissions-intensive, trade-exposed - list of industries, miners would receive $500 million, or more, per year for 10 years in permit allocations. This would not be taxable. By comparison, the export LNG industry, included in the government's EITE list, will receive assistance amounting to 60 per cent of its emissions trading costs.

The coal miners reject the government assertions that they should be excluded from the EITE list because they can achieve abatement through taking up relatively low-cost technologies. "Fundamentally incorrect," says the ACA. And the association says the government concern that some mines make windfall gains could be addressed simply by an allocation rule that directed permits to mines with high "fugitive emissions."

It will be interesting to see how all this plays in the Queensland election.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG sees all the recent shark attacks off Sydney's beaches as a metaphor for the many other sharks attacking our way of life

5000 left without cancer treatment in NSW

Cancer patients are being denied lifesaving treatment, with New South Wales and Federal Government "buck-passing" blamed for leaving up to 5000 people a year without radiotherapy. In some parts of the state, dying patients are being forced to pay up to $8000 through private radiotheraphy units or wait up to two months for a public facility because the State Government is underinvesting in equipment and services. At the same time the Federal Government is permitting private units to have a monopoly in rural areas.

Cancer Council NSW has slammed the governments for placing patients' lives at risk. Today it will hold a call-in for patients to describe their horror stories so a database can be compiled to lobby governments. Chief executive officer Dr Andrew Penman said some people were foregoing the treatment because it was too costly. "There is a Medicare coverage but it doesn't pay the full cost if you go private," he said. "Some patients are waiting longer than the 21 days recommended to start treatment. Radiotherapy prolongs survival." In St George, in Sydney's southeast, patients are sometimes waiting up to eight weeks.

Radiotherapy is used on various cancer patients who doctors believe have a great chance of recovery. It also reduces the size of tumours that need to be operated on and lowers the chance of tumours recurring after being removed. NSW only has 42 machines to treat the 19,000 cases a year that require radiotherapy, but the Cancer Council claims at least 5000 are missing out because of lack of machines and exorbitant private fees. The Cancer Council wants the Government to provide at least 20 radiotherapy units by 2011.

On the Central Coast, only one private radiotherapy unit is available. If patients, such as mother-of-four Elizabeth Bratby, can't afford the up-front cost, they are either forced to travel to Newcastle or Royal North Shore for treatment. Ms Bratby was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, but three years later tumours returned in her pelvis. Told her treatment would cost $8000, the now 53-year-old was forced to beg the doctors to waive the fees. "I could not have paid it," she said. "I know of an elderly woman who needed radiotherapy but just didn't do it because she couldn't pay and she couldn't afford to travel the long distances."

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said other areas including Wagga Wagga were also badly hit by the funding shortfall. "It is heartbreaking for patients to be told the radiotherapy treatment they need is either inaccessible or unaffordable," she said. The Cancer Council's radiotherapy call-in will be held all this month.


Science versus propaganda

by Bob Carter (Bob Carter is an adjunct professor of geology at Australia's James Cook University)

The editorial in last weekend's Australian, "Carbon trading is not the only answer" (21/22 February), addressed the controversial issue of the government's planned emissions trading legislation, commenting that "We need to hear other ideas on greenhouse gas reduction". Talk about missing the point! For the pressing issue that we need to deal with is the hard reality of natural climate change, rather than wasting money on futile attempts to "stop" speculative human-caused warming.

If ever we needed a reminder regarding the power and danger of natural climatic events, then Mother Nature has just provided us with two. The northern half of Australia has been submerged under floods, and large areas of the southeastern corner of our continent have been ravaged by firestorms. These events resulted from unpredictable natural events such as our planet has ever been heir to.

Just as the "science" that is cited in favour of dangerous human warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions shows all the hallmarks of orchestrated propaganda, so too the real science shows beyond doubt that the wide array of extreme natural events - which include climatic warming trends, cooling trends, step-events, heat waves, droughts, cyclones, floods and snowstorms - poses great dangers for humanity.

"Greenhouse gas reduction", by any means, is an irrelevancy, for it deals only with the speculative problem of as-yet-unmeasured human-caused global warming, and that at a time when the globe has been cooling for ten years. In contrast, a national climate policy that better improves our ability to recognize and adapt to real (i.e., natural) climate change and events is an urgent necessity, and would cost but a fraction of the mooted carbon dioxide taxation scheme, a non-solution to a non-problem if ever there was one.

By their very nature, strategies that can cope with the dangers and vagaries of natural climate change will readily cope with human-caused change too, should it ever manifest itself.

Australia needs adaptive policies to deal with real climate change in place of the government's expensive, inefficient and ineffective plans to "prevent" an entirely hypothetical global warming. Why is it so difficult for our major political parties to discern this obvious truth?


NSW police can do no wrong

The usual farce of police investigating one-another. An innocent woman was shot for no good reason by a panicky dickless tracy and the police are going to cover up for their dickless tracy until hell freezes over. She is not fit for police work and should be removed

A woman shot by police has accused investigators of a cover-up after the junior officer involved was cleared without a written report. Susan Bandera, 48, was critically injured when she was shot twice by police responding to a dispute at a North Parramatta unit block on December 21. She is alleged to have lunged at officers with what was initially thought to be a knife but later found to be a fork.

At the time, NSW Police Deputy Commissioner for Operations Denis Clifford said he was satisfied by an initial report from the critical incident team, which said the policewoman "acted appropriately" when she fired her weapon at Ms Bandera. "It is important to note that this interim report centred only on the actions of the police officer in the discharge of her firearm," Mr Clifford said on January 2. "The exact circumstances of the earlier confrontation are still being investigated and will be the subject of a further report."

But, after a freedom of information request to NSW Police, The Sun-Herald has learnt "neither an interim report document nor a final report document" exist. Instead, the junior officer was cleared based on two "verbal briefings" between Mr Clifford and the investigation manager from Gladesville Police in the days following the shooting.

Ms Bandera, who is waiting for her shattered spine to heal around the bullet fragments, which doctors deemed too dangerous to remove, said the police were "a law unto themselves". "It's changed my life," she said. "I want [the officer] to be charged just like everybody else and I don't think she should work for the police force any more. My kids nearly ended up with no mother." Ms Bandera said she had not been contacted by police since early January and her legal team had trouble obtaining documents.

"I want the truth to come out, which is that I was being attacked and police shot me," she said.

Sonni Michael Angelo, 23, who was arguing with Ms Bandera before police arrived - but denies attacking her - said there was no need for the officer to shoot Ms Bandera after the pair were sprayed with capsicum spray.

A police spokesperson said it was common to use "a number of methods, including verbal" to deliver the findings of an interim investigation. No one has yet been charged over the incident. Police said there would be a final report when the investigation was complete.


Whistleblowers to be silenced

For the women and men of conscience in the Australian public service, February 25 will be noted despondently as a day when their parliamentary representatives again failed to step up to the plate and protect people who wish to disclose official wrongdoing. On this day a parliamentary committee published its report on new commonwealth whistleblowing proposals that will proceed languidly to parliament for consideration.

This is the third time in the past 15 years that a national government committee has tried to hold the burning coals of whistleblower protection. But this committee report cries "ouch!" the loudest. It is mean and narrow in its vision, embarrassingly conservative in its proposals and will do nothing more then send commonwealth whistleblowers, like lab rats, into management-controlled bureaucratic mazes.

What are the deep problems that make these official efforts to protect Australians who wish to speak truth to power so wantonly incompetent? For a start, the recommendations are not alive to the fact that people in Australia are dead scared to report wrongdoing, notwithstanding the fact that whistleblower legislation has been on state statute books in Australia since 1993. On the international level a new PricewaterhouseCoopers' study found that only 8 per cent of surveyed companies attributed fraud detection to their whistleblower systems (up from 3 per cent in 2005). This was only slightly higher then fraud detected by accident.

Very low disclosure figures are also found in our state corruption fighters. In 2007-08 only 74 verifiable public interest allegations under the Queensland Whistleblower Protection Act 1994 were processed by the Crime and Misconduct Commission and Queensland public sector agencies. Whistleblowing in the West Australian public service is also a low-level activity three years after the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003 was enacted. In 2006-07 only 13 people made protected disclosures to public authorities. These minimalist disclosure statistics from three Australian corruption fighters complement the abundant international research insight into why employees steadfastly avoid making public interest disclosures.

The whistleblower committee that engineered this bland little document simply cannot see that the commonwealth public sector landscape is not one of robust public interest voice but of deep self-protecting silence. And throwing more bureaucracy at them won't change this one iota. Here are some of the hot coals that this committee couldn't handle. It won't give protection to ordinary members of the public wishing to report instances of commonwealth wrongdoing. What does the committee fear here?

It won't give protection to people fed up with bureaucratic obstruction and harassment who go to the media. The committee says it will give such protection. But like a child on the back step at night, the committee did not venture forth. The only way you will get protection if you go to the media is if the bureaucracy has taken an unreasonable amount of time to process your complaint (whatever that means) and it is a matter of public health or safety. So, unless you know of some bureaucrat pouring bubonic plague into your river, forget about going to the media.

This media embargo is in all whistleblower laws in Australia except the NSW one. Governments are very threatened by journalists properly instructed by whistleblowers with the inside stuff. Thus, when we get another AWB scandal or Haneef-type allegation against the Australian Federal Police, the media will have to continue to rely on backdoor leaks, which seriously hamper this central democratic institution fulfilling its accountability role.

The committee embraced a managerialist-driven model of whistleblowing, against the international research evidence, when other options were available, including a model of whistleblowing as a form of collective public servant dissent.

Only two decades ago whistleblowers were pilloried as loose moral cannons creating organisational mayhem and threatening loyalty bonds in the workplace. This is evidenced by the titles of past papers including: "Police who Snitch: Deviant Actors in a Secret Society" and "Whistleblowers: Saint or Snitch?" Now their ethical services are being integrated into management orthodoxy. Whistleblowing is coming in from the cold.

The story of how whistleblowing has emerged as the darling of governments and corporations busy engineering anti-corruption campaigns is an intriguing one. An account of whistleblowing's makeover provides through-the-keyhole insights into one of the most fundamental changes occurring in the workplace, the attack on, if not the slow burn down of collective forms of workplace dissent. So whistleblowing is what you have when you no longer have a collective voice. The committee shamefully disregards this bigger trend in favour of more of the same.

What went wrong? For a start the committee (Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, to give it its full title) was not only a backbench committee, it was a very young backbench committee. Half of its members came into parliament at the end of 2007. At the announcement of the inquiry (July 10, 2008) these five (including the chair of the committee, Mark Dreyfus) only had five months' parliamentary experience.

Other than its policy immaturity the committee may well have had serious distractions. For most of the life of the committee, one member, Kevin Andrews, did not know whether he would face improper behaviour findings by the Clarke Inquiry into the Case of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

Sophie Mirabella, the member for Indi, was also on the committee. Was the fact that she attended only one out of 10 public hearings of the committee related to the presence on the committee of Belinda Neal, the member for Robertson, who was found by the House of Representative Standing Committee on Privileges to have acted below the standards expected of politicians when she told pregnant Mirabella that her baby would be born "a demon".

The committee could have made a real achievement here. It could have been instructed by successful overseas schemes. It could have lessened its overt reliance on research inputs from a university project that on the researchers' own admission had flaws in the methodology. It could have consulted much more widely in the community. The first parliamentary inquiry into commonwealth whistleblowing in 1994 attracted 102 witnesses and 125 public submissions. This time, the committee had only 71 public submissions and 77 witnesses. All we can hope for now is that the parliament rises to the occasion and seriously renovates this proposal into a strong response to assist all Australians who care about official integrity. However, if this proposal released on February 25 becomes law, my advice to commonwealth whistleblowers of the future is to keep your mouth shut.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Police cover up ethnic violence again

Police and cinema chiefs have clashed about outbreaks of violence that have resulted in a critically-acclaimed film about Lebanese gangs being pulled from theatres across the state. The Combination has been dumped by all NSW Greater Union cinemas - the second blow for the movie's makers in just four days, after one of its stars was sentenced to almost six months in jail for a violent assault not dissimilar to those the film depicts.

At least two incidents at its Parramatta cinema complex had compromised the safety of staff and moviegoers, Greater Union's Robert Flynn said yesterday. A sold-out screening of the film was nearing completion on Saturday night when an altercation between a number of patrons began and then spilled out on to the street - apparently sparked after a girl asked other patrons to be quiet. On Thursday night a guard was hospitalised after he was assaulted for asking a patron to stop smoking.

Police and the cinema operator disagree about the seriousness of the incidents, The Australian reports. "A fight broke out. It went into the foyer, over the aero-bridge, and our security (footage) shows police arriving," Greater Union spokeswoman Melissa Kesby said. "We have people being put in police cars on the security footage. "A staff member was hit in the head. We can't understand why police are saying that nothing happened, because that's not what our staff said."

A spokeswoman for NSW police said: "Police were advised (on Saturday night) there were four people involved in an altercation, and perhaps 50 onlookers. Police got the call at 17.38, and were there at 17.39, and there were no signs of that incident."

Meanwhile film's writer and actor, George Basha, who plays a Lebanese-Australian fresh out of jail, said the decision to pull the film was "discriminatory". "You've got 300 or 400 people in the cinema, and then you've got three or four kids, 15 and 16 years old, making a nuisance," Basha said. "The cinema is saying they were smoking in the cinema, and there were fights breaking out ... I've seen fights happen. I'm pretty sure those films didn't get closed down."

Leading film critic, David Stratton, told The Australian the movie had "a powerful message". "It points out the problem with violence," Stratton said. "It's an excellent film, an important film. It seems to me to be an extreme reaction, a knee-jerk reaction. "It's akin to shooting the messenger. Good films are meant to provoke and challenge, and that is what this film does."

Film distributor Allanah Zitserman from Australian Film Syndicate said the decision to scrap screenings at all NSW Greater Union cinemas was upsetting for the cast and crew. "The film has done exceptionally well so far, it's been selling out in these areas," she said. "It's particularly devastating because here we have an Australian film that's connecting with audiences, touching a nerve and three days into its release it's been pulled because of a small group of troublemakers who've spoiled it for everyone else."

The company hoped to hold talks today with Greater Union about overturning the decision.


Homebirths may be pushed underground by meddling socialist government

Something that the human race has done since pre-history is suddenly wrong

Hundreds of women each year who choose to give birth in their homes are likely to face greater medical danger for themselves and their babies with the introduction of regulations that could force the practice underground. From the middle of next year, midwives will be required to hold professional indemnity insurance as a condition of practice, under the Rudd Government's plan to streamline registration requirements for all health professionals.

No commercial insurer has been prepared to offer an insurance policy to an independent midwife since the medical indemnity and wider insurance crises of 2001. When the new regime comes into effect, it will no longer be legal for these uninsured independent midwives to attend home births. The only exception will be if the midwife is employed by one of the very few publicly funded services, thought to be fewer than half a dozen nationwide.

Although the number of women giving birth at home is tiny in Australia - just over 700 in 2006, or 0.26 per cent of all births - this represents a committed group. More than 50 per cent of submissions to the federal Government's recent maternity services review came from women calling for greater support for homebirthing services, which claim up to a 10-fold greater share of births in some overseas countries such as Britain. Since 2001, an estimated 150 midwives have provided homebirth services to women, at a typical cost of between $3000 and $5000, but without rebates from Medicare or private health funds, and without insurance cover that would give recourse to compensation should anything go wrong.

Midwifery experts, consumer advocates for homebirthing and even some obstetricians are calling for the problem to be sorted out before midwives are forced out of homebirths. Sarah McLean, a volunteer with the Homebirth Access Sydney consumer group, is pregnant with her third baby and is planning to deliver at home. She said the prospect of losing the option of homebirth was "quite devastating". "It's ridiculous to effectively make homebirth illegal, when other countries like Britain have publicly funded homebirth programs," Ms McLean said.

Caroline Homer, professor of midwifery at the University of Technology Sydney, said the "worst-case scenario is that women would be unattended" when giving birth. "Another scenario is that the midwives will continue to practise under other names, but there won't be any standards of care, and no peer review or evaluation, because it will all be in secret," Professor Homer said. "Removing independent midwives and saying we won't do homebirths won't solve the problem; women will continue to have babies at home."

Obstetrician Andrew Bisits, director of obstetrics at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital, said there was no reason that the federal Government should not support midwives' indemnity costs as it already did for obstetricians and other doctors. Between 2003 and 2006, the federal Government subsidised doctors' premiums to the tune of $54.39 million. "If that's denied, you will have a number of people going underground, making these very fragile, secretive arrangements," he said. "It's much more sensible to be positive about it."

Homebirth supporters had been hoping the Maternity Services Review would solve the problem by recommending federal support for midwife indemnity. In the event, the report said homebirthing was "a sensitive and controversial issue" and the "relationship between maternity healthcare professionals is not such as to support homebirth as a mainstream commonwealth-funded option (at least in the short term)".

Evidence for the safety of homebirths is disputed. US research published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 found low-risk women giving birth at home with midwife supervision had lower rates of medical interventions, such as the use of forceps, and no greater risk of their baby dying either during birth or soon afterwards.


Warmist Wong is wrong

Business has a new nickname for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. They call her "The High Priestess", reflecting the view that Wong has been overtaken by religious zeal - rather than rationality - in her campaign to impose the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme on Australia. It also reflects the fact that in the context of the global financial crisis this is now a changed world from the one in which the idea of an emissions trading scheme was debated before the last federal election.

Back then the collapse of the world's financial markets was dismissed by Labor. Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan scoffed at the idea of a global downturn. At that time they were obsessed by an economy which they thought was on an inflation-fuelled freight train, running out of control and in need of a yank on the interest-rate brake. And Peter Costello, warning of a "global tsunami", was labelled a desperate Henny Penny, peddling fear as an election device to scare voters back into the Coalition fold.

Not now. In the resource-boom environment that prevailed then, business was prepared to countenance the idea of an ETS - even if it involved some job losses and extra cost - because with the economy expected to stay on a growth path it was an acceptable price to pay for a cleaner, greener future.

No more. Last week saw a decisive shift in sentiment, with the influential Australian Industry Group - generally seen as close to the Government - calling for a delay in the introduction of any ETS until 2012, rather than the Government's proposed 2010. In a statement, the AIG described 2010 as "neither necessary nor realistic" and was explicit too about the likely impact of the bleak global outlook on Australia's emissions task. "Australia is already on track to meet its Kyoto commitments over the period to 2012," the group said. "The sharp downturn in the economy and the associated reduction in emissions . . . will reduce our abatement task in the short term."

In other words, the targets set and still championed by Wong are now irrelevant. The truth is, business always had reservations, but in the afterglow of Rudd's emphatic 2007 mandate it kept those concerns muted. But now AIG's reservations have been echoed by Onesteel, BlueScope Steel and the Australian Farm Institute.

Andrew Robb is Wong's Coalition opposite number on the ETS. Even before his instalment in this position he had around 50 major companies coming quietly through his back door, pressuring him to get Wong to change tack. Since January, when formally endorsed to shadow Wong, he's had 20 more.

In a week in which the loss of 1850 jobs at Pacific Brands has finally crystallised the truly national threat to employment security flowing from the global credit crunch, the Opposition is now linking the ETS directly to these fears. "Every sewing machine, every production line, every mill, every conveyor belt, every piece of machinery that uses energy will suffer a new cost as a result of the ETS that our overseas competitors will not have to face," thundered former National Party Senate leader Ron Boswell last week.

His point is that in setting carbon-reduction targets, Australia is well ahead of its low-wage trade and manufacturing competitors such as India and China. The United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen later this year will try to bring those developing countries and others on board. But if it fails in this endeavour, the Opposition argues, Australian industry will be dangerously exposed.

A year ago, Boswell was almost a lone voice. Even the Coalition was committed to an ETS - and this remains nominally the case - but Malcolm Turnbull now says it's only part of the solution. Boswell suddenly has company. Under this pressure, the Government - if not Wong - appears also to be shifting ground. First, Treasurer Wayne Swan tried quietly to set up an inquiry into the merits of an ETS - despite the fact the Government was already nominally committed to such a scheme. When the obvious contradiction blew up in his face, Swan scuttled the idea.

Last week there was another straw in the wind. In his first minor front-bench reshuffle, Kevin Rudd assigned one of the best operators in the Government, Greg Combet, to become parliamentary secretary to Wong with explicit responsibility for climate change. There are two ways of looking at this: Combet is there to help Wong, or he's there to ride shotgun on Rudd's behalf. In his former guise as ACTU Secretary, Combet had only one priority: the protection of workers' jobs. After the human and economic tragedy of PacBrands, Wong may find Rudd's focus too has shifted Combet's way. In which case, last week may turn out to be the time when the ETS - at least in its current form - hit the wall.


Nasty Leftist bitch backed by NSW government but found to be a liar

And the taxpayer picks up the bill!

NSW taxpayers are facing up to $1 million in legal bills after a landmark court case found that a woman on a State Government board had defamed two of her colleagues by saying they were having an affair. Three-time Labor candidate Meryl Dillon had her legal costs covered by the Government while the people she defamed were refused the same protection, even though they were all connected to the same board. The Government said it is standard practice to help board members who are sued "while acting in their official capacity" and insists Mrs Dillon's Labor credentials are irrelevant.

Now that she has lost the case, taxpayers will have to cover the massive legal bills of both sides - a result that has enraged the Opposition and seen the case referred to the corruption watchdog.

Last week District Court judge Michael Elkaim, SC, found Mrs Dillon had acted out of malice and not genuine concern for the reputation of the Border Rivers-Gwydir Catchment Management Authority when she told its chairman, James Croft, that board member Les Boland and then-general manager Amanda Cush were having an affair. The judge said Mrs Dillon's case was damaged because she had passed the gossip to others before she spoke to Mr Croft. She told Mr Croft of the rumour without trying to find out if it was true and despite the fact that she did not believe it. "I accept that her relations with the plaintiffs may not have been conducive to such an approach but, nevertheless, she made the bald statement to Mr Croft without any qualification as to its lack of proof," Judge Elkaim said.

A jury had already decided Mrs Dillon had defamed Mr Boland, a farmer, and Ms Cush, who later lost her job over unrelated matters, when she spoke to Mr Croft. Judge Elkaim had to decide whether she was protected by qualified privilege - that is, if she was properly carrying out her duties as a board member by informing the chairman. But he decided her actions were malicious and awarded $5000 each in damages to Mr Boland, now 64, and Ms Cush, now 39. They said Mrs Dillon's revelation had had a devastating impact on their lives.

Mrs Dillon said she was "very disappointed with the outcome". "I believed I was doing the right thing - in fact, my duty - by having a confidential meeting to advise the chairperson of issues relating to the governance of the [catchment management authority]," she said. "It would seem that it is a very cautionary tale and one that has far-reaching implications for any member of a board or statutory authority and their need to weigh their obligations as a board member against their own personal risk."

Nationals MP Kevin Humphries, who defeated Mrs Dillon to win Barwon in 2007, said NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal should cancel the payment of legal bills from the case. "If people want to defame others then they should be liable, not the taxpayer," he said.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Mandating Markets for Wind Power - a Stealth Tax on Electricity Consumers."

Statement by Viv Forbes, Chairman of the Carbon Sense Coalition

The Carbon Sense Coalition today accused the Federal and some state governments of imposing Stealth Taxes on electricity consumers by forcing power retailers to buy expensive power from inefficient and costly renewable energy sources. The Chairman of the Carbon Sense Coalition, Mr Viv Forbes, said that there were no climate benefits whatsoever in forcing consumers to buy an increasing proportion of their electricity from expensive and unreliable suppliers like wind farms. "This whole pork barrel exercise must be designed to buy green votes because it will have negligible effect on carbon dioxide emissions, and no one could measure or feel any effect on world temperature.

"The policy is obviously an insincere fraud. If politicians were sincere in their belief that there is a critical need to cut CO2 emissions, they would be investigating what France has done to generate 75% of their power from low cost reliable nuclear power, or what Norway has done to get 97% of their power from reliable low cost hydro power. Unlike wind power, these options can generate electricity cheaply with zero CO2 emissions and without needing wasteful backup from carbon emitting coal or gas plants.

"But we hear of no proposals to build a nuclear power station in the Latrobe or the Hunter valley or new hydro schemes in the Snowy, Tasmania or North Queensland.

"Obviously there are no green votes in these efficient zero-emission power options so we see politicians wasting a never-ending stream of funds from taxpayers and consumers on expensive unreliable playthings like wind farms and home-hobby solar panels.

"Are these people for real? Australia currently gets about 94% of its electric power from carbon fuels, mainly black and brown coal. Billions of dollars in community savings are tied up in these stations and their associated transmission lines, coal mines and engineering skills.

"The ALP thinks we can cut carbon emissions by 20% and at the same time cater for a growing population, all within the next 12 years. Not to be outdone, the liberals seem to be advocating tougher targets, and Al Gore and his local green disciples think we can do without coal power altogether.

"When they start fiddling with a basic industry like power generation, misleading people on the cost, capacity and reliability of wind and solar power, and threatening the sudden closure of old but reliable coal fired stations, they will suddenly find they cannot get the blackout genie back in the bottle.

"Wind farms have proved useless in providing sufficient reliable power in critical times. During the recent long frigid spell in UK, their wind turbines were becalmed like flotilla of sailing clippers on a glassy ocean - they produced 0.4% (yes, less than one percent) of total UK power requirements - reliable old coal stations were cranked up, and heat and light for shivering Britons came from: coal (50%), gas (31%) and nuclear 16%.

"Again during the heat waves in South Australia and Victoria, the contribution from wind generators was small and generally in periods of low demand. Things were even worse in West Texas, where a sudden drop in the winds on the Texas Plains caused such instability in the power grid that the whole grid was shut down.

"Denmark is finding its wind turbines a liability - they cannot use the unreliable power and have to sell it at a loss into the European power grid.

"The A$88 million half year loss reported yesterday by BB Wind Power in Australia is a sign of the future for all shareholders who subscribe funds to these financial black holes. When subsidies and mandated market shares are removed, as they will be, wind power will be revealed as a sub-prime investment. Investors will find they were relying on whims not wind.

(The Chairman of BBW admitted that BBW relies on political supports for future profits when he said: "The Australian government's renewable energy targets and encouragement of renewable energy investment in the US would drive the company's profits in the short-term". AAP 24/2/09)

"Already wind towers are being scrapped in Europe but still Australia is forcing consumers and taxpayers to subsidise these expensive playthings.

"The Carbon Sense Coalition has made a submission to one of the many enquiries running in Canberra Wonderland. This submission opposes any extensions of the renewable energy target schemes and recommends that current schemes be scrapped before they do irreparable harm. The full submission can be viewed at: http://carbon-sense.com/2009/02/22/stealth-tax/

The above is a press release from Viv Forbes, Chairman, The Carbon Sense Coalition, MS 23 Rosewood Qld 4340 Phone: 0754 640 533. Email: info@carbon-sense.com www.carbon-sense.com

Mistresses can claim maintenance under new laws

Sounds like converting all relationships into prostitution to me

CHEATING husbands will be open to divorce-style litigation from their mistresses under new laws. Mistresses can now claim income maintenance, property and even superannuation funds under the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures), dubbed the "mistress laws", which were passed by the Senate last November and came into effect today (March 1).

The main objective is to remove same-sex discrimination from the Family Court system, but they have left the door open for a raft of de facto relationship claims.

The laws declare that de facto couples who satisfy basic criteria - such as being in the relationship for at least two years - will be treated in the Family Court in the same way as a married couple. It also applies to same-sex couples.

The laws will change the way property is divided by enabling the court to consider the "future needs" of partners, as it does for married couples.

Men or women who have a second relationship outside a marriage are now liable to legal action in the Family Court should the second partner decide he or she deserves income support or a share of assets. This is particularly the case if a child is involved.


Government faces Senate showdown over workplace laws

The Federal Government faces a Senate showdown over its plans to overhaul workplace laws. The Opposition has signalled amendments to Labor's sweeping changes to the industrial relations landscape. A Labor-dominated Senate committee delivered its long-awaited report into the Fair Work Bill yesterday. ALP senators concluded the Bill was even-handed in the way it treated bosses, workers and unions.

But, in a minority report, Coalition senators were concerned some of the changes could be unfair and, potentially, job-destroying. The Opposition has consistently said it would not stand in the way of Labor's changes. But the Senate committee inquiry heard submissions from employers expressing fears Fair Work went much further than the policy Labor took to the 2007 election and was handing too much power to unions. After yesterday's dissenting report, the Opposition is certain to press for amendments.

Labor wants the Bill passed by the end of this parliamentary session. But calls have been growing in Coalition ranks to resist the legislation more strongly. Should that translate into more outright opposition, the Government would be forced to court votes from the seven crossbench senators - five Greens and two independents.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard called on the Senate to pass the Bill, saying it was "fair, effective and balanced".


Defence bureaucracy hopelessly bogged in trying to get soldiers' pay right

Even after huge pressure from Parliament

The angry wife of a crack SAS trooper has predicted defections among the elite fighting squad if an ongoing pay dispute is not fixed urgently. The woman, who cannot be named because that would identify her husband, warned that Australia's fighting capabilities would be left with a "huge hole" if the men left the squad.

In response, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon yesterday issued an extraordinary guarantee through The Sun-Herald to the families of the country's 500 elite fighting squad that he would intervene to fix any lingering problems. And Defence dispatched a team of pay specialists to the squad's barracks in Perth to solve the problem "in the shortest possible time", Army Chief Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie said.

The urgent remedial action followed fiery scenes in Parliament after the Opposition accused the Government of continuing to dock soldiers' pay despite promising in October it would cease. The claw-back of money arose from a contentious May 2008 Remuneration Tribunal decision reclassifying the soldiers.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop accused Defence of leaving one soldier without any pay for a fortnight in late January, which Mr Fitzgibbon and Defence denied. But the upset wife who spoke to The Sun-Herald, and who is a family friend of the SAS member discussed in Parliament, backed Ms Bishop's version of events yesterday. She said the officer had been lent money by the department to tide him over after being told that, because of his debts, he would not receive any pay in the fortnight leading up to January 22. The army gave him an advance, which was clawed back in the following two fortnightly pay periods.

Mr Fitzgibbon said yesterday he could not guarantee that the "antiquated, broken [pay] system" had not deducted pay from people who should not have had it deducted. "My appeal to him, his partner and any other soldier is this: if in defiance of my order people are still having money deducted as a result of the Remuneration Tribunal decision, they should come to me. "I can guarantee they will not be disciplined, and I will guarantee I will fix their problem."

He added that if families were not prepared to come to him, he would create a position of a conciliator or an independent mediator. "Men in the field are very, very worried about the terrible impact on their families", the distressed army wife said about the dispute, which could result in pay drops of up to 40 per cent for some soldiers. "There is a drop in morale and a lack of trust [in] the chain of command [to] support these soldiers."

Mr Fitzgibbon repeated that Defence had put an immediate stop on debt recovery after he ordered that when the issue was first raised last October. The wife disputes this, as does Ms Bishop, whose Perth electorate covers the barracks.

SAS Association national president Dave Lewis said there was a serious problem to be resolved in relation to pay scales. Former Labor minister Kim Beazley weighed into the debate, saying the problems were due to a "poisonous culture" which developed in Defence under the former coalition government.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?