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

The original version of this blog is HERE. Dissecting Leftism is HERE (and mirrored here). The Blogroll. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here. Other mirror sites: Greenie Watch, Political Correctness Watch, Education Watch, Immigration Watch, Food & Health Skeptic, Gun Watch, Socialized Medicine, Eye on Britain, Recipes and Tongue Tied. For a list of backups viewable in China, see here. (Click "Refresh" on your browser if background colour is missing) See here or here for the archives of this site

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


31 March, 2010

The greatest moral conundrum of our time … until the next one

By Peter Costello

Last year, we were told, the most important issue for the country - for the planet - was greenhouse gas emissions. This meant the Senate had to pass the government's carbon pollution reduction scheme. It was so urgent it had to be legislated before the end of the year, and before the summit in Copenhagen.

We were led to believe if the Senate refused to pass the legislation there would be a double dissolution of Parliament. The Liberal leader, Malcolm Turnbull, warned this would lead to a humiliating election defeat for the Coalition. Kevin Rudd declared climate change "the great moral and economic challenge of our time".

Now the legislation has become less important than getting 30 per cent of the GST from the states so the government can rearrange financing in the hospital system. Can a momentous moral challenge fizzle out like this? Or are you beginning to suspect all the crisis was politically driven?

I was thinking about this on Saturday night during Earth Hour - when people are urged to turn off their lights to show they support reducing greenhouse gases and saving the planet. Four years ago newspapers ran front-page pictures of Sydney in darkness as people everywhere switched off their lights and contemplated the impending doom that fossil fuel electricity would bring upon us.

Earth Hour did not attract such prominent coverage this year. Most front pages ran with pictures of the formula one grand prix in Melbourne - a gas-guzzling, high-octane car race that is shown on millions of plasma screens guzzling electricity all around the world. It is hard to think of anything less devoted to renewable energy and carbon reduction. The Victorian and NSW governments are so concerned about gas emissions they are competing against each other with taxpayers' money to get future rights to host the event.

What amazes me is the way this greenhouse campaign can be switched on and switched off as quickly as the lights during Earth Hour. And for the moment the government has decided to switch it off so we can all get back to talking about health funding.

Our monthly Anglican newspaper broadly reflects the prevailing progressive left opinion. In the December issue, in the lead-up to the government's self imposed timetable for securing the emissions trading legislation, it ran four extensive articles on the need for action over climate change. It published no contrary views.

In fact, the Copenhagen summit was given more column inches than Christmas, which is quite an achievement for a religious newspaper. But the issue has hardly registered in the newspaper since. Even though nothing has happened, the urgency has gone out of the campaign.

The activists from NGOs who flew to Copenhagen to get urgent action on carbon emissions have gone back to their previous causes. This doesn't mean they are insincere - on the contrary. It's just that their enthusiasm can be heightened or lessened with adroit management from the political professionals running the government's election year agenda.

I watched this issue elevated in the lead-up to the 2007 election, when it was used to illustrate how the Howard government was old, tired and out of touch. It was brought to fever pitch late last year to wedge the Coalition.

Without any immediate political target, it lies dormant. But I expect it will be back for the election - probably in an attack on the Coalition's policy on direct abatement measures. Which is why the public is entitled to get a little cynical. You never hear Rudd arguing for an emission trading scheme as if he really believes it is "the great moral and economic issue challenge of our time". He raises it, he drops it, it comes and it goes - like all the other issues of the regular media cycle.

Those scientists who made exaggerated claims about the Himalayan glaciers undermined trust in the science behind global warming. And those politicians who made exaggerated claims about their policy proposals have undermined trust on the political issue. It would have been better to be honest enough to admit the uncertainties, and acknowledge the downside of their policy. As it is, Earth Hour has become an apt metaphor for their tactical approach - a time to spread darkness, rather than illumination.


More wasteful "stimulus" spending

And it took a very determined man to stop the rot

PROTESTING parents have hijacked plans to spend $3 million of taxpayers' money building a duplicate library and hall at a school in Kevin Rudd's electorate.

Nine months after Education Minister Julia Gillard told federal parliament that Holland Park State School was "delighted" with the "once-in-a-lifetime enhancement of its facilities", her department has quietly agreed to let the school swap the unneeded buildings for eight new classrooms.

The switch was made after lobbying by the school's Parents and Citizens Association, which warned the Prime Minister repeatedly last year about potential rorting of his government's $16.2 billion spending spree.

P&C president Craig Mayne - who has since quit the post - blew the whistle on cost blowouts last year in two letters to Mr Rudd and five phone calls to his Griffith electorate office.

"My issue is not with the program but how it is being implemented," he wrote in June. "We have a situation where the Queensland Public Works Department is proposing and implementing a system that is open to massive rorting."

Mr Mayne, a former civil engineer who oversaw the building of his school's hall for $200,000 under budget, said no other business would use the Queensland government's "design and construct" contracts to build nearly $2bn worth of halls, libraries, classrooms and covered learning areas in 1200 state schools. "What it will turn into is a `Do and Charge' process, with final costs blown out to match available public funds for the job," he wrote.

"We have sole operator project managers being paid $525,000 for six months' work."

Mr Mayne wrote to Mr Rudd again in August, complaining that his concerns were being "fobbed off" by the PM's electorate office and suggesting the Building the Education Revolution program would not deliver "bang for bucks".

Mr Mayne first aired his concerns a year ago in a letter to Senate president John Hogg in which he predicted that some of the "pre-qualified contractors" being used by the Queensland Education Department would "end up multi-millionaires out of all of this".

"Frankly, it scares me witless to see the potential waste if normal EQ practices are employed," the letter said. "I hope my many concerns are taken seriously and that procedures are put in place to ensure that BER funds get to where they are needed, and do not get lost along the way, due to bureaucracy on one hand and profiteering on the other." Senator Hogg replied with an email stating "Thanks Craig".

Mr Mayne also raised his concerns with the former director-general of EQ, with Queensland Attorney-General Cameron Dick and with the education policy adviser to Premier Anna Bligh.

A senior official from Mr Rudd's Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet responded in September, explaining that state education departments were responsible for BER projects in government schools. "I am advised that the (Queensland Department of Public Works) have sent all projects under BER to tender," the letter, signed by Office of Co-ordinator General assistant secretary Andrew Jaggers, states.

But Queensland Education Minister Geoff Wilson revealed this week that $490m of BER work in Queensland had never gone to tender. A spokesman for Queensland Public Works Minister Robert Schwarten yesterday said 20 per cent of the P21 program was not publicly tendered.

An EQ spokeswoman said Baulderstone Queensland Pty Ltd was managing the Holland Park State School project. Documentation for a new block of eight classrooms was being finalised, she said, and its construction would be put to tender soon. The school has also won approval for $200,000 worth of electronic whiteboards.


Student doctors not learning anatomy

This is incredible. Anatomy is utterly basic

MEDICAL students at some universities are receiving minimal training in anatomy, undergoing as little as 56 hours in a five-year course - 10 times less than their counterparts at other institutions.

A comparison of anatomy tuition at 19 medical schools found enormous variations in teaching time, ranging from 85 up to 560 hours across some six-year courses, and as low as 56 hours among five-year degree programs - even though four-year courses managed to offer at least 75 hours.

The research - triggered by recent controversies over newly graduated doctors' shrinking anatomical knowledge - also found most staff who taught anatomy were not senior doctors, but instead non-clinical staff who included physiotherapists and even other medical students.

Further, more than half of Australia's medical schools did not set a minimum level of achievement for their students in anatomy and did not separately mark it. Several universities admitted this meant students could do "very poorly" in their anatomy studies, but could still progress and graduate if they did well in other disciplines.

The study's lead author, Steven Craig, a recent medical graduate, said he could recall fellow students not bothering to revise anatomy in the lead-up to barrier exams that would decide whether they continued in their course, knowing that poor knowledge of the topic would not jeopardise their place on the program.

"We believe consideration should be given to developing undergraduate learning goals or guidelines for anatomical teaching," the authors wrote in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery.

"A standardised national curriculum and perhaps even a standardised national examination to assess anatomical knowledge prior to graduation may be needed to ensure all graduates attain at least some minimum acceptable knowledge base in gross anatomy."

The findings mark the first attempt to gauge how much anatomy tuition Australia's medical schools are providing, after The Australian in 2006 reported growing concern among senior clinicians and academics that many medical schools had cut anatomy teaching to potentially unsafe levels to make way for other topics. Some experts have attacked the priority given to non-medical topics such as communication, ethics and cultural sensitivity.

The medical colleges for surgeons, anaesthetists and pathologists, which train specialist doctors and oversee standards, said the findings vindicated their longstanding concerns and called for all medical schools to properly assess students' knowledge of anatomy and other basic sciences.

John Quinn, executive director of surgical affairs for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, said "a large variation" in anatomical knowledge was already apparent among recently graduated doctors.

Those with poor understanding of anatomy ordered more tests, including X-rays and CT scans that exposed patients to potentially harmful radiation, when these might not be necessary. "I think it would be reasonable to have a national minimum standard of teaching (anatomy)," Dr Quinn said.

Ross Roberts-Thomson, president of the Australian Medical Students Association, said no student should be able to graduate without being tested on essential topics such as anatomy.

But he rejected calls for a national curriculum or exam, and said students at medical schools that delivered less formal anatomy tuition might be learning in other contexts not captured by the figures. "If you are learning about heart attacks, you learn about the anatomy of the heart during that assessment," Mr Roberts-Thomson said.

Jim Angus, president of Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand, said he was concerned at the claim some students appeared to believe anatomy could be safely left out of exam revision. "Game-playing should not occur - I don't like the sound of that at all," Professor Angus said. However, he rejected the call for national standards.


Greens versus blacks

THE Kimberley's peak indigenous body has attacked the "disgusting" tactics of green groups and out-of-town celebrities opposed to industrial development near Broome, accusing them of fundamental dishonesty and abusive, dirty politics.

The Kimberley Land Council also said the Wilderness Society and Save the Kimberley environmental groups were "pitting family groups against each other" in a bid to undermine traditional owners, who have made the tough decision to back a job-creating multi-billion-dollar gas hub at James Price Point on the Dampier Peninsular, 60km north of Broome.

Declaring Aborigines the first conservationists, KLC executive director Wayne Bergmann said it was "distressing" that Aborigines were being vilified as "developers" by green groups and said opponents needed to understand the damage they were doing to local indigenous people.

"Save the Kimberley and the Wilderness Society are pretending to champion the indigenous cause in order to bolster their own position and credibility," Mr Bergmann said. "They're not helping Aboriginal people. Our future does not lie in a contrived alliance with bogus green groups; our future rests with Aboriginal people stepping up and taking control."

Celebrities such as John Butler, Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst and Missy Higgins have joined retired Federal Court judge Murray Wilcox in pushing to stop the gas hub, accusing the Barnett government of riding roughshod over the rights of local Aborigines.

The KLC says the development, which will service the offshore Browse basin gas fields, will bring jobs. "The Jabirr Jabirr people are the only people who can make this decision about their country, and their decisions need to be respected," Mr Bergmann said in a speech late last week.

"The Kimberley Land Council works for and takes instructions from traditional owners. The KLC does not make decisions for traditional owners. We support the decisions of our people and their right to make those decisions."

Aborigines needed to use their land to create wealth and jobs, as 75 per cent of the indigenous population was between 16 and 26, and unemployment, suicide and crime rates were far beyond those of white Australia, he said.

Taking exception to suggestions green groups knew more about looking after their land than Aborigines did, Mr Bergmann said the KLC was examining other conservation and job-creating initiatives, including setting up a carbon trading scheme.

"Is it too much to ask that our children have opportunities for their future, have a safe environment where they can learn about their culture, language and become well-educated, that they go to school and that they can function as active participants in our society? That we put an end to poverty and disadvantage?" he said. "The actions of Save the Kimberley and some elements of the Wilderness Society, in particular, show they have no real respect for Aboriginal traditional owners and their responsibility for their land and sea country."

Save The Kimberley refused to comment, but the Wilderness Society's Peter Robertson said divisions within indigenous groups had been caused by both state and federal governments imposing "highly destructive and risky projects on Kimberley communities and the region's unspoiled environment".

"The reason there is a rising level of tension in parts of the Kimberley is because governments, in their reckless haste to approve the project, are placing communities under enormous pressure," Mr Robertson said.

"For example, WA Premier (Colin) Barnett continues to threaten traditional owners with the compulsory acquisition of their land if they do not agree to the LNG project (and) this was publicly described by the Kimberley Land Council as `negotiating with a gun to your head'."


Arrogant and bungling Federal cops again

THE Australian Federal Police has been criticised by a Supreme Court judge for bungling a two-year investigation into three men who sent funds to the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers separatist group, including improperly arresting a suspect and abusing his rights.

The AFP's mistakes occurred during its 2007 arrest and questioning of Arumugam Rajeevan, one of three men who will be sentenced in the Victorian Supreme Court today for providing money to a terrorist organisation.

Federal agents arrested Rajeevan at gunpoint despite having no legal basis to do so, refused requests from a barrister and lawyer to speak to him during his five-hour voluntary interview, and subjected him to questioning described by the Victorian Supreme Court's Justice Paul Coghlan as "really well over the top" and "outrageous".

The AFP, which sustained heavy criticism over its handling of another terrorist investigation into the Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef, said it could not comment on the case until the men had been sentenced.

However, it is believed the AFP has already made changes to deal with the problems that arose during the Tamil Tigers investigation.

Last year Australian prosecutors withdraw all terrorism charges against Rajeevan, Aruran Vinayagamoorthy and Sivarajah Yathavan.

In December they pleaded guilty to a lesser charge under the charter of the United Nations Act, a federal law that makes it a criminal offence to provide an asset to a terrorist organisation proscribed by either the UN or the Australian government.

In pre-trial comments in January last year - which could not be reported at the time - Justice Coghlan said federal agents had "abused" the rights of Rajeevan.

He said the manner in which Rajeevan was questioned by a federal agent, Patricia Reynolds, was "beyond any training a proper investigator can have" and a "fundamental departure from the [proper] principles".

After his criticism, the prosecution decided not to use Rajeevan's interview as part of its case.

Justice Coghlan queried why the AFP did not give Rajeevan access to lawyers while police were questioning him. He also described as "frighteningly high-handed" Rajeevan's arrest at gunpoint in 2007 by federal agents and warned police they risked incriminating themselves by testifying about the potentially unlawful arrest.

After the arrest, police realised they did not have enough evidence to arrest him and told him he would be "unarrested", a notion which Justice Coghlan described as "bizarre".

The prosecution described the arrest of Rajeevan as "a fairly grave mistake".


30 March, 2010

List of "banned" websites to be kept secret by Australia's own Geheime Staatspolizei

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Goering Conroy has agreed that greater oversight of which websites will be banned under the Government's mandatory internet filter is needed but has ruled out making the list public.

The Federal Government plans to introduce a filter aimed at blocking access to illegal material such as child pornography or content refused classification (RC) by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. But the blacklist put together by the communications watchdog has not been made public, raising concerns that governments can impose censorship without proper oversight.

Senator Conroy said conceded greater transparency was needed in terms of what was deemed RC material. "We have a discussion paper that we've issued calling for increased transparency measures," he said. The measures were needed to make sure governments could not slip things onto the list, he said.

However, Senator Conroy said making the list public would undermine what the internet filter policy was designed to achieve. "Out of all the issues in the filter (policy) this is the one that's caused me the most thought because a URL address is just that, it's an address," he told ABC Radio.

"When you publish a list of titles of books that are banned, or movies that are banned, you don't give access to the materials by producing that list. "The problem when you produce a list of URLs is you are actually giving the address of where to go and look."

Some of the world's largest providers of internet services, including Google and Yahoo, have criticised the Government's plans to introduce a filter, describing the move as heavy-handed.

Google said last week that while protecting the free exchange of ideas and information could not be without some limits, people should retain the right to freedom of expression.

The US administration has also raised concerns about the plan. A State Department official has reportedly said it was contrary to US foreign policy of encouraging open internet access and the spread of economic growth and global security.


Government-provided health insurance condemns man to death

ROBIN Stevens is dying of prostate cancer and he can no longer get the drug that was helping him. If he had breast cancer, he would still be eligible for Taxotere, a chemotherapy drug. His wife Angela says the powerful breast cancer lobby has ensured women have access to the "gold medal" treatment, but men don't have the same benefit.

His doctors have written to state and federal politicians, saying that without Taxotere, his cancer - which has spread to his bones - will "increase and overwhelm him".

His GP has written to federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon, asking her to review the case and allow further treatments. "Unfortunately, without this treatment of Taxotere, I fear that Robin's bony metastasis will increase and overwhelm him," he writes.

Mr Stevens' urologist says he has responded well to the drug and that it should be the main part of his therapy. Mrs Stevens says he received 10 shots of Taxotere, which is all men are allowed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and then pushed to get three more. Another cycle would cost up to $30,000.

"We have . . . been advised that because the women's breast cancer lobby groups are very proactive and far more organised than men's lobby groups, they . . . have been successful in having unlimited access to the drug Taxotere," she wrote in a letter to politicians. "I would like for my husband to have every opportunity to have an extended quality of life."

Associate Professor Bogda Koczwara, head of medical oncology at Flinders Medical Centre, said the Government had to consider cost-effectiveness with every PBS listing. "There is often that sentiment . . . that some cancers have better advocacy," she said.

The Health Department said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee used sound, evidence-based principles to decide which products should be subsidised, or restricted. The same requirements were used in all cases, to ensure consistency and fairness, a spokeswoman said.


Nursing cuts in South Australia endanger patients

COUNTRY hospitals are being ordered to slash frontline staff, raising fears patient safety will be put at risk, the state's peak medical body has claimed.

The Australian Medical Association told the Sunday Mail that the Health Department had written to regional nursing directors and instructed them to streamline nursing rosters under a major review of staffing levels.

The AMA claims the Country Health SA (CHSA) review, which affects 36 hospitals, is aimed at delivering savings of about $22 million from the country health budget.

The Sunday Mail has obtained the results of a health department review of staffing figures at the Port Lincoln Hospital that indicated it had about 130 "excess" nursing shifts per fortnight - or 13 full-time equivalent positions.

AMA western area representative and Port Lincoln GP Dr Sue Baillie said the review was accompanied by a letter to the hospital's nursing director stating the hospital was over-staffed and had to reduce staffing levels.

Dr Baillie said losing 130 shifts would be the equivalent to losing a quarter of the hospital's fortnightly roster and claimed doing so could force the closure of an entire ward.

"It will mean job cuts but the most critical thing is staffing-to-patient ratio is going to be dangerously low," she said, adding that other major country hospitals had been sent similar letters telling them to review their rosters.

"To achieve this target, they are talking about having three nurses on at night to cover accident and emergency and two wards . . . which is positively dangerous.

"We have had increased services and demand, and increased patient loads but staffing levels haven't changed in the 17 years I've been here, yet we are supposed to reduce them further."

Details of the review of nursing levels come as the Government and Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) are due to enter wage negotiations next month. As part of its claim, lodged on Thursday, ANF SA branch secretary Elizabeth Dabars said the union would be demanding an "increase not a decrease" in the workforce.

"It's up for negotiation but certainly we are not looking to reduce staffing levels," she said. "We don't necessarily object to the (review) process but we will be objecting if there is any impact on patient care.

"They are saying at this point there will be no change made, not at this point in any event, and no change without discussion; it's something we need to be diligent and vigilant with."

In an emailed statement, chief executive George Beltchev said CHSA was expanding hospital and community-based health services across the state, and was looking at the best way to manage demand and allocate funds.

"No recommendations have been made and the ANF will be formally consulted before any changes are made to staffing arrangements," he said. "To help with this, a working group has been set up with membership including senior nursing staff, the chief executive of CHSA and representatives of the ANF."

He said funding for country health services had grown 66 per cent since 2002, 663 extra nurses had been employed in country health, while the number of doctors had doubled.


Australia's refugee policy sunk by 100th boatload

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has reached an unwelcome milestone after the 100th boat carrying asylum seekers arrived under his watch. Yesterday's embarrassing century was immediately seized on by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who claimed Labor had lost control of Australia's borders. And with hundreds of boat people expected to arrive in coming months, the Government is bracing for a voter backlash when the election is held later this year.

Adding to the Government's concerns was yesterday's escape by three Chinese nationals from Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre. That takes to seven the number of escapes from the centre in the past month and eight for the year so far.

Anxious Government MPs admit voters are growing increasingly concerned about the breach of Australia's borders and many are demanding tougher action.

In the latest incident, two boats carrying a total of 85 asylum seekers were intercepted by naval vessels, one near Christmas Island yesterday and another near Ashmore Reef northwest of Western Australia on Sunday night. The refugees were last night on their way to Christmas Island.

With the election year less than three months old, a near record 32 boats have already arrived in Australian waters. They have carried 1574 asylum seekers - most from Afghanistan which has seen increased hostilities following the resurgence of the al-Qaeda-aligned Taliban.

The Rudd Government claims the surge in boat people arrivals is due to global factors, however the Opposition blamed what it called Mr Rudd's softer border policies.

Fresh from completing his weekend triathlon, Mr Abbott hit out at the Government for softening its immigration policies. "The Government plainly is at sixes and sevens over this," Mr Abbott said. "Today the 100th boat has arrived at Christmas Island since the Rudd Government abandoned the Howard government's border policies.

"We've had 89 asylum seekers transferred from Christmas Island to Villawood, allegedly for security reasons, and yet some are escaping. This really is a Government that has lost control of Australia's borders."

The Opposition reported that the hot button issue was causing major concerns in marginal seats, particularly in regional areas. It will run a tough election campaign arguing that Mr Rudd's decision to scrap the Coalition's tougher border-control measures had been a key factor in the increased arrivals.

Some Labor MPs are reporting an increase in community concern over the refugee issue. "It's not going to lose us an election but it is causing us grief," one senior Labor MP said.

But the Government is unlikely to revert to Mr Howard's tougher border protection measures, which included temporary protection visas and offshore processing under the so-called Pacific Solution.

The Government is now being forced to send planeloads of asylum seekers on to the mainland as it tries to prevent the Christmas Island detention centre from being clogged with new arrivals.

Apart from the 89 moved from Christmas Island to Villawood on Saturday, another 51 detainees were transferred to various mainland locations last week. The Immigration Department has a facility at Darwin on standby to take the spillover from Christmas Island but the Government is trying to avoid using this. Another transfer from Christmas Island is expected to be made today, with many of them granted visas.

Senator Evans has said the 89 already transferred to Villawood were on a "removal pathway" after having their claims for asylum rejected.


29 March, 2010

Even the Obama administration doesn't like Rudd's internet "filtering"

THE US has weighed into the row over the Rudd Government's plan to censor the internet, saying it has raised concerns about it with Australian officials.

The Obama administration wants to encourage an open internet to enhance global economic growth and security and is mounting a diplomatic assault on threats to the open web around the world.

The US State Department, America's foreign office, has publicly aired concern about the internet filtering plan championed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Responding to questions about the filter from commentary website The Punch, US State Department spokesperson Noel Clay said: "The US and Australia are close partners on issues related to cyber matters generally, including national security and economic issues. "We do not discuss the details of specific diplomatic exchanges, but can say that in the context of that ongoing relationship, we have raised our concerns on this matter with Australian officials."

The Rudd Government has faced increasing criticism over internet filtering in recent weeks after it released submissions by companies including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft on how to improve its policy.

Many of the submissions were highly critical of the filtering plan. Concerns included that the scope of content to be censored was too broad, that the filter would be ineffective or slow internet speeds, and that the list of banned material could be leaked to the public.

Under the plan, Australian internet service providers like Telstra, Optus and iiNet would be forced to block access to a secret list of webpages containing refused classification material.


Patients' lives ebb in 'ramped' ambulances

PATIENTS with potentially life-threatening conditions are waiting more than 30 minutes in ambulances before being admitted to emergency departments, new figures show. At Logan Hospital on March 12, the average waiting time for Code 1 patients – those considered serious enough for paramedics to use lights and sirens to get them to hospital – was 50 minutes.

Documents obtained by the Queensland Opposition reveal the Nambour and Royal Brisbane and Women's hospitals have also recorded greater than 30-minute waits for Code 1 patients on separate days in the past five weeks.

The figures, obtained from the Queensland Ambulance Case Information Reporting database, show that for the whole of February the average wait in an ambulance before admission to the Logan Hospital for Code 1 cases was 41 minutes.

Ambulance union organiser Kroy Day said the Queensland Government should be ashamed. "The Government is consistently under-resourcing emergency departments for their demand," said Mr Day, of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union.

"There's four patients that we're aware of . . . that have died on stretchers waiting to get into a hospital over the past three years. "Whether they would have died anyway, we don't know. But for people to be waiting on an ambulance stretcher when they're already at hospital for an extended period is just unacceptable. It's appalling."

Mr Day said that when paramedics had to wait for lengthy periods outside EDs, they were unable to attend other seriously ill patients, compounding the problem.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the leaked figures were damning, given Code 1 emergencies encompassed the highest-priority patients such as those experiencing chest pain, severe blood loss and people involved in serious car accidents. "Ambulance ramping has been a problem in Queensland for years. Now we can see for the first time the horrendously long waits seriously ill patients with life-threatening conditions are enduring," he said.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Mason Stevenson said anything less than prompt treatment for code 1 patients was unacceptable. "Paramedics do a wonderful job. They are highly trained, especially to deal with life-threatening emergencies," he said. "But they don't have all the services, medications and specialist care that is available in our major public hospitals."

Queensland Health's acting Director-General Michael Walsh said the department was investing $145.2 million in ED upgrades in nine of the state's busiest emergency departments, including Logan. He said an expansion was already under way at Nambour.


Rudd on his own with "clean" coal

AUSTRALIAN taxpayers are the only financial backers for Kevin Rudd's $100 million-a-year global clean coal initiative, as world leaders have failed to match their resounding endorsement of the idea at the G8 meeting last July with a single dollar.

Praised by US President Barack Obama as a "significant" announcement, the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, which is charged with speeding the development and take-up of clean coal technology, has attracted more than 200 of the world's biggest economies and companies as members. But to date their only financial commitment is to guarantee $10 in the event the institute goes broke.

Last night, the Prime Minister's office played down the lack of financial support from other governments, saying the institute's board was responsible for capital raising but to date had been primarily focused on securing membership and conducting a global audit of the state of carbon capture and storage projects and research of the technology.

The opposition said it showed other countries believed CCS was costly and that a plant would not be commercially operating for at least 20 years.

Mr Rudd's spokeswoman said it was anticipated CCS technology would be discussed during the US President's mid-year visit to Australia. "The Australian government is pleased that the GCCSI is co-ordinating and helping fund international work to deploy and commercialise CCS," she said. "Investing in clean energy and energy efficiency remain key planks of the government's climate change policy, including our $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative."

Dale Seymour, the institute's senior vice-president of strategy, told The Australian: "The fact we've got 30-odd national governments and some sub-national governments as members is a great first-up indication that they support (the institute). "It's not about the money in the first instance. Someone had to come out and provide the leadership and the direction in the first instance and the Australian Prime Minister has done that."

Mr Seymour said one of the institute's medium-term agendas was "to create a value proposition sufficient that others will see value in investing in us".

"Their obligation to be a member was that they would promote and facilitate and actively engage in the acceleration of CCS projects and they've all agreed to do that," he said.

The institute expects this year to hand out $50m in funding in direct support for global carbon capture and storage projects around the world.

Mr Seymour said the institute had received about $500m in applications for the funding, which would be used to burst through barriers to their implementation. It is also commissioning detailed work on how to overcome financial, commercial, policy, regulatory and legal issues to enable projects to proceed.

Opposition energy spokesman Ian Macfarlane said the failure of world governments to make a financial contribution to the institute reflected the fact that "everyone from Rudd down knows there is not going to be one of these commercial plants commence for at least 20 years".

At the G8 meeting in L'Aquila last year, governments had been looking for an announcement that sounded great, but "everyone has done their sums" and the technology was too expensive, he said.

Mr Macfarlane said Mr Obama's announcement of $US8bn ($8.9bn) in government guarantees for nuclear power plants in the US, announced last month, showed the President's thinking. If the Australian government were serious it would look at nuclear power for base load electricity generation, he added.

Mr Macfarlane said Mr Rudd should have learned the lesson from the Howard government's involvement in the AP6 (the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate) where the Americans and other major countries had enthusiastically backed the plan but had not contributed substantial funds.

Mr Seymour said that, although the timing was "tight", he was confident the G8's goal of launching 20 carbon capture and storage demonstration plants by the end of this year could be met.

There were a significant number of large-scale proposals around the world being assessed in Europe, the US and Canada in addition to the $2.5bn CCS flagships initiative in Australia.

Mr Obama has announced a taskforce aimed at getting up to 10 plants up and running by 2016 and EU nations have $6.3bn set aside in order to develop CCS and renewable energy projects.


Don’t criticize call centres (?)

The writer below has obviously never called Telstra. The only time I ever get anywhere with them is when I start to shout -- and shout repetitively at that

Everyone loves to hate call centres, but it’s time to give them a break because they generally provide a convenient and effective service. If you’re foaming at the mouth right now thinking that the ten minutes you’ve just spent on hold being told “your call is important” was neither convenient nor effective, consider the alternative.

In many cases it’s a drive down to your local shops, a few minutes spent hunting for a parking spot and then a few more walking past shops before you get to the retail outlet where you want to conduct a transaction.

Once there, you’ll wait for a few minutes in a queue, then probably get sucked into a calorific impulse buy during the return journey.

Even if you get in and out as fast as possible you’re looking at 20 minutes to get something done at a local bank branch or Medicare office, plus the cost of petrol, parking and that snack you didn’t need.

Is that really so bad compared to a few minutes on hold?

But, I hear you saying, you are sometimes forced to drive to a retail shopfront because so many call centres these days use offshore worker and it is jolly hard to understand what they say.

Plenty of Australian companies recognise that the offshore call centre experience is not always great and they’re fighting back in two ways, one of which is bringing their call centres back to Australia because they recognise that while going offshore is cheap, they’ll make more money in the long term by providing good customer service.

Another is by working with offshore call centres to improve their workers’ accents, or moving work to countries where staff speak English that’s easier on the Australian ear.

Across the industry, meanwhile, the prevailing wisdom now suggests that if you want to save money, simple “offshoring” is great, but the way to customers’ hearts is great customer service.

This admission is typical of the call centre industry, which generally works very hard to provide good service.

I run a podcast for call centre managers and whenever I attend the conferences and seminars where they congregate, I’m amazed at how genuinely they care about doing a really good job and the big investments companies make to improve service. For example, I know of call centres that spend the winter making plans to cope with events like a deluge of calls after summer electrical storms.

Those plans use amazing technologies that can find anyone inside an organisation that has ever worked on the call centre and turn their desks in to an extra call centre extension during busy times.

I’ve also spoken to call centres that have devised new ways to improve the accuracy of predictions about when repair people will show up to repair problems that can’t be fixed over the phone. That creates better service on the phone and in the real world.

Another reason to appreciate call centres is that the industry is huge. I’m told by Dr. Catriona Wallace at analyst house that more than 300,000 people work in the industry in Australia, and that growth outpaces the rest of the economy.

Plenty of those jobs are part time or work-from-home, so call centres offer a lot of flexible work for Australians.

Australia is also very good at providing call centre services, so much so that last year an Indian company acquired a local call centre company because it wanted its smarts. The Indian company now plans to more than double the workforce here in Australia – and some Aussies will probably end up taking calls from overseas as offshored call centre agents.

That’s a man-bites-dog story if ever there was one, but the mainstream media ignored it because call centres generally only get a run when the news is bad.

Not every call centre is excellent and not every interaction with the good ones ends well. But don’t let the bad apples and the occasional thorny problem make you think that the people running call centres don’t care.

It’s just not easy to take a few tens of thousands of calls a day and get everything right, every time. Most try as hard as they can to provide a service that’s more convenient – and cheaper - than the alternatives, and we should all appreciate that by being kinder to our call centres.


28 March, 2010

Radical Islamic elder preaching hate in an Australian suburb

There can be little doubt that this is incitement to violence (which conventionally falls outside free speech protections) but officialdom seem to be sitting on their hands. If you laugh at the Koran, however, they will be down on you like a ton of bricks. And critics of Islam are "far-Right white supremacists" who must be silenced as engaging in breaches of "Racial and Religious Tolerance". The guy below certainly seems to be in breach of religious tolerance

A RADICAL Islamic elder who praises the Taliban and preaches violent jihad to a band of keen followers is being investigated in Perth by WA and Federal police. Sources confirmed the joint-agency investigation after The Sunday Times revealed to police that the newspaper had infiltrated a group in which the sheik described armed jihad as the "top" ideal for Muslims and likened the Taliban to "angels".

Muslim community members said they warned police weeks ago that the Middle Eastern man was recruiting disaffected young Muslim men at a Perth mosque and spreading dangerous messages - about armed jihad, or holy war, against those fighting Islam; and that he claimed to know, and have trained with, Osama bin Laden. They stressed that mainstream WA Muslims did not share the views and were concerned police had not acted on their tip-offs. They alerted The Sunday Times as a last resort "before something really bad happens . . . before this poison spreads".

In an undercover investigation, The Sunday Times obtained information from meetings at the sheik's northern suburbs home where, before a group of young men, he promoted armed jihad as the highest ideal for Muslims, praised the Taliban and said he had fought in Afghanistan against Soviet forces.

In other meetings, he praised bin Laden - and even Hitler, justified the actions of suicide bombers, claimed that US presidents were priests and said that Allah would "get" the US and Jews for their actions.

The man, an Australian citizen whom The Sunday Times has not named under police advice, also said that though Islam forbade killing, people who had tried to stop those bringing the religion to others in the past were killed so that people could receive the word of God.

Muslim community members said they feared police were waiting for the man and his followers to do something "terrible", so they could make a dramatic arrest and then point to "home-grown terrorists" as justification for repressive police measures and surveillance of all Muslims.

But sources confirmed an investigation was under way because of earlier information received. It involved both the WA Police State Security Investigation Group and the Australian Federal Police.

Last Saturday, in front of five men and youths, the man said that jihad, at its "top" end, was to fight those who fought against Islam, and that going into battle and "putting your life on the line" for Islam was the highest ideal. "I'm not afraid to say that if angels walk this earth, they are the Taliban," he said.

In the same meeting he told one youth that he had fought in Afghanistan during the Soviet conflict.

On another occasion he said that people could say Osama bin Laden "is no good . . . but he helped a lot of people when they are needing help, he built hospitals, he built schools, he give food when people was hungry".

He said Allah would punish Jews for their wrongdoings and of Hitler he said: "He enjoyed art, and he enjoyed music, that means he had some softnesses (sic) in him. He looked after his people".

The man also said that suicide bombers were the result of bombing by the US and its allies. "In Iraq, (a man) come home, he find his wife leg there, head there, his children (in) three pieces and his father (in) five pieces and the home is gone," he said. "What do you expect from this person? "I make myself pieces to at least kill (those) who killed my father, who killed my wife."

When The Sunday Times contacted the elder yesterday, he denied encouraging jihad anywhere, or any wrongdoing, and said he was a loyal Australian, but that the Koran said "jihad is top of the worshipping because this is (a believer) risking his life".

Asked about his views that Allah would punish the US and Jews, he said: "Allah (is) not punishing anyone doing the right thing."

He said he had met bin Laden when working for a relief agency in Afghanistan in 1980-81 and had "asked him for some donation for some people" as part of that relief work. He denied claiming he had trained and fought alongside him.

Yesterday he agreed he had said the Taliban were like angels. "Compared to what we are seeing from the other side when the killing coming (sic) or the bombarding happening, I said we can consider Taliban like angels for that, because they are not attempting to hurt the people, but the war is happening there," he said.

WA Police would not reveal any details of its investigation, but a spokesman said officers worked collaboratively with Federal Police and the Australian intelligence community on such issues. A Federal Police spokeswoman said the AFP did not "comment on who it may or may not be investigating".


Australian intelligence agency sinking under "asylum-seeker" workload

AUTHORITIES were last night preparing for another mass transfer of asylum-seekers from Christmas Island, as Australia's intelligence watchdog warned ASIO was struggling to cope with the deluge of security assessments on boatpeople.

The warning from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Ian Carnell, came as the authorities on Christmas Island readied for the arrival this morning of a Qantas Boeing 737, the third and largest charter flight to arrive on the island in four days.

Yesterday, Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison declared the transfer, the latest in a growing number of flights, marked the "end of universal offshore processing". "This is a significant departure of policy," Mr Morrison told The Weekend Australian. "They are implementing their plan to abolish universal offshore processing and that is a consequence of their failed policies on border protection," he said.

The arrival of today's jet, which seats about 190, comes after Customs delivered a further 68 people from two boats to the jetty yesterday. The charter is the latest in an increasing number of flights from Christmas Island, which is desperately overcrowded because of the surge in boat arrivals.

Today's charter follows a jet that took detainees to Perth on Wednesday, and another yesterday that delivered eight Indonesian crew and 51 asylum-seekers without visas into various forms of mainland detention in Brisbane and Melbourne.

It came as Mr Carnell told The Weekend Australian the number of complaints against ASIO has more than quadrupled, after a blowout in processing times for asylum-seeker security checks. And he warned ASIO had been forced to transfer skilled staff from other visa security screening categories to cope with the surge.

The Immigration Department said those transferred on Thursday were considered "vulnerable", meaning they were unaccompanied minors, family groups or crew. Those aboard today's flight will join more than 250 asylum-boat passengers and crew already on the Australian mainland.

The growing number of boatpeople detained on the mainland without visas has prompted the opposition to accuse the Rudd government of using the transfer to relieve the overcrowding on Christmas Island, a claim rejected by the government.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has denied there is anything unusual about the transfers, noting that the Howard government also flew people at risk to the Australian mainland.

The stoush came as Mr Carnell said there had been a "major" increase in complaints against ASIO over the time it was taking to perform security checks.

Speaking to The Weekend Australian, Mr Carnell said this financial year alone his office had received 670 complaints. That compared with just 157 for all of 2008-09. "There's obviously a surge of work there," Mr Carnell said. "ASIO generally treat detention cases as priorities. To the extent they can, the Christmas Island cases have priority." One consequence of that priority was that ASIO had had to divert resources from other visa categories, such as onshore migrants, Mr Carnell said.

Writing in a parliamentary submission, the intelligence watchdog said: "It also seems that there has been an impact from the diversion within ASIO of resources to deal with increased numbers of irregular arrival cases. The large majority of irregular cases must, under the current criteria, be assessed from a security point of view."

But Mr Carnell defended the agency, saying the number of complaints was "not high" when set against the large number of assessments it was not required to perform.

And, in a parliamentary submission on the subject, he suggested asylum-seekers from one unnamed country might be making vexatious complaints against ASIO on the instructions of migration agents.

"It is notable that a large proportion of the recent complaints come from visa applicants in one particular country, and one possibility is that some migration agents are routinely advising clients to make a complaint after a visa application is made."

Mr Carnell said the surge in asylum checks presented a "conundrum" for ASIO. "The resources really sit in-house," he told The Weekend Australian. "For the complex cases you can't just recruit people off the street."

Yesterday, ASIO said the reason for the surge in complaints lay outside its control. But a spokeswoman for the agency refused to say if the demands posed by the surge in boat arrivals had forced ASIO to pull staff from other duties.

"We are unable to make comment on matters relating to operational requirements of the organisation," the spokeswoman told The Weekend Australian.

All told, there were 1966 people on the island yesterday, leaving just 74 spare beds. But another 130 people from three intercepted boats this week were on their way.

On board yesterday's charter flight were two families without visas - the department has increasingly used its discretion to transfer selected young people and families who are deemed to be vulnerable and close to receiving visas to the mainland.

Two babies and a young boy clutching a teddy bear were among the asylum-seekers who arrived at Christmas Island yesterday on board Customs vessel Triton. They were from boats intercepted near Ashmore Reef and Adele Island off the Kimberley coast and had undergone initial health checks aboard Triton. [Healthy parasites are welcome, apparently]


Negligent government railway bureaucracy ignores basic safety procedures

The line concerned winds its way up a mountain range so has always had safety problems but you would never know that from the actions of Queensland Rail. Bureaucrats don't give a stuff about anything. Their jobs will never be at risk

Seats in the Kuranda tourist train's VIP carriages became flying missiles during Friday's terrifying landslide crash because they were not properly secured to the floor, rail union officials say.

In a series of potentially deadly safety breaches, up to 80 lounge seats in the train's two Gold Class carriages were not anchored and could be moved around by passengers, who paid an extra $45 to ride in the luxury section.

Other unsecured items such as water coolers and public address systems were also sent flying when the train carrying more than 220 passengers derailed about 16km into the journey from Cairns to Kuranda when it ploughed into a landslide shortly after 10am on Friday.

Five people, including a two-year-old boy and a 62-year-old woman, were taken to Cairns Base Hospital and treated for minor injuries.

The Sunday Mail can also reveal that a routine test run by a 4WD scout vehicle was not carried out before the train left Cairns, despite assertions by the rail union that the 9.30am train should never have left the station because of the inclement weather.

A test run is supposed to be completed before every service [because of the known dangers -- dangers which materialized in this instance] and one was done before the first train of the day left for Kuranda at 8.30am.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union spokesman Les Moffitt said its members had been instructed not to work in the Gold Class carriages until the safety issues are rectified.

"The seats in the Gold Class section are just like you would have in your loungeroom, you can pick them up and move them around and it's just unbelievable the train was allowed to operate with seats that weren't anchored," Mr Moffitt said.

"Queensland Rail's engineers surely should've known you just don't put loose items like that on any train, let alone a popular tourist train with hundreds of passengers that can get up to 60km per hour." he said.

"Trains have been cancelled for less intense weather before and it's unbelievable that a test run was only carried out before the first train left."

A Queensland Rail spokesperson said the issue of unsecured seating would be included in the crash investigation and confirmed a test run was not carried out ahead of the 9:30am service.

QR said it was too early to say when the line would reopen. Salvage crews planned to return to the crash site on Sunday in a bid to get the locomotive back to Cairns for repairs.


Rudd’s "Yes Minister" hospital plan

The most telling part of the Health debate this week was when a journalist questioned Kevin Rudd about the fact that what was desperately needed (and not in his shiny new plan) was more hospital beds.

Rudd responded in classic bureaucrat-speak, asserting that “the funding that we’ve provided already, the 50% increase in the grants to the hospitals of the States, is the equivalent of 5,750 hospital beds”.

That might be so Mr Rudd, but where’s the evidence that even one actual real bed has been created? Patients can’t sleep on an “equivalent bed” that exists only in the accounting world – they actually need the real thing.

This is a classic example of how bureaucratic aims and actual outcomes are often wildly divergent.

It’s reminiscent of the classic Yes Minister episode where the Minister visits the most efficient hospital in Britain, only to find it has no actual patients. “Yes, but that’s what makes it so efficient Minister” asserts the process-driven public servant.

No one questions the Rudd Government’s ability to create a new policy, and for that policy to be articulated with effective political spin so as to give the impression of a “monumental change”.

No one questions the Rudd Government’s ability to spend taxpayer funds on grandiose ideas. But what should be questioned is their ability to actually deliver real, tangible outcomes that represent value for taxpayer funds. And no where is that more vital than in our public hospital system.

Rudd’s hospital plan, as far as I can tell, creates a new large bureaucracy and changes the funding mix from 40% Federal, 60% State to a 60% Federal, 40% State mix. It’s hard to see how this will improve accountability, let alone “end the blame game”.

And while there is not an extra dollar in health funding until 2014 in Rudd’s plan, when the responsibility of increased funding does fall to the Commonwealth, the question must be asked – will we get value for money? Will we see the desperately needed extra hospital beds, doctors and nurses, or will it be more about political outcomes?

The Australian people have a right to be sceptical about Labor’s ability to deliver. Who would have thought that a seemingly simple Government program to give away free home insulation could be so mismanaged as to result in 4 deaths, scores of houses catching fire, thousands of homes under safety threat and endless stories of rorting and rip-off?

Speaking of which, the $16 billion funding for school halls is a debacle of growing proportions. Some estimates predict that the Government will receive only about $7 billion worth of building works for their $16 billion. Not surprising considering they paid more than 10 times commercial rates for some buildings.

So that’s $9 billion of taxpayers’ money utterly wasted. Gone. Ostensibly it’ll be in the ledger as an investment in “Education” – but there is absolutely nothing to show for it. I wonder how many real hospital beds (as opposed to Mr Rudd’s “equivalent” ones) could have been purchased with that wasted $9 billion.

If Labor can’t run a program to give away free pink batts, and they can’t run a cost-effective program to build school buildings, then why should you trust Labor to deliver a practical over-haul of the public hospital system?

It’s a fair question - one that should be legitimately asked without being met with faux indignation and accusations of “negativity”.

Mr Rudd’s own bureaucrat-speak about “equivalent” hospital beds confirms that he is more interested in what figures can be presented by the bean-counters, rather than the number of patients actually being treated and the quality of the care they receive.

But that’s no surprise – the Rudd Government has been a triumph of spin over substance. Why should this new “latest, greatest, monumental” policy be any different?


27 March, 2010

Anti-Islam rally under threat in Victoria

No free speech allowed? Let me see if anything happens when I am critical of Islam: "I think Islam is the Devil's mockery of Christianity". I would be at great risk from the authorities if I said that in Victoria

POLICE are monitoring a group linked to far-Right white supremacists who are planning an anti-Islam march on state Parliament. The march, scheduled for next month, threatens to further damage Melbourne's reputation, already battered by attacks on Indian students.

A group linked to far-Right white supremacists has set up a Facebook page promoting a mass rally against immigrants and Islam. There are fears it might descend into a Cronulla-style riot. "Listen Aussies, it's time to harden up, close the gate, look after our own and keep our country as our country," the Facebook page says.

Premier John Brumby slammed the rally, and said the matter had been referred to police. "Racism is unacceptable in Victoria and will not be tolerated," he said. "It is highly distressing when people seek to abuse their right to freedom of speech."

The president of the Islamic Friendship Association, Keysar Trad, condemned the rally. "It's their democratic right to rally against anything they like, but it gives a very bad image of Australia to our neighbours, and doesn't do much for internal cohesion," he said. "The organisers should realise the majority of Australians do not share their view and can see the benefits and contributions Muslims have made to Australia.

"My message to the community is that Australians will not buy into this type of action. "We've moved on from Cronulla, and they need to realise that."

The Facebook group has gathered about 40 members and has received support from interstate.

Some posting messages have criticised the event. "Cronulla comes to Melbourne. Another sad day for Australian history," one message says.

Police are concerned about the event and have warned organisers not to break the law. "A police response will be decided on once all of the information and intelligence is assessed," a spokeswoman said. "Police will be in touch with the organisers of the event in the near future. "Victoria Police will not tolerate any breach of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act."

A man listed on the Facebook page as being behind the rally said he had no connection to it. However, his own Facebook page links to several white supremacist groups.


Parents revolt over bureaucratic waste

But the light of publicity brings a rapid backdown

ALMOST half the population of a tiny NSW town blockaded its school's gates yesterday to prevent builders and managing contractor Bovis Lend Lease from entering the site to perform works under the Rudd government's Building the Education Revolution program.

The small primary school in the NSW Hunter Valley town of Cassilis had been slated to receive a toilet block and a covered outdoor learning area for a combined cost of $250,000 under the schools building program.

After learning that construction costs had blown out so much that the COLA had to be scrapped, the toilet block downsized and that the drinking fountains were not going to be replaced, parents decided to take matters into their own hands. About 40 of the town's residents created the blockage yesterday.

"Enough is enough," Cassilis P&C association spokesman Phillip Morton said. "We want to stop the project. And the reason we want to stop it is we believe if we do that now, we can incorporate the facilities we need into the building. But if we wait till it's complete, it's only going to be harder to extend, and it will cost taxpayers more."

Under the original plans, provided to the school in May 2009, Cassilis was allocated $140,000 for the construction of the COLA.

A further $110,000 was budgeted for a seven-core toilet block, which included a girls' bathroom of six cubicles, a boys' bathroom of three cubicles and a triple urinal, as well as a separate staff toilet and a disabled access toilet.

So in the first week of this school year, when Cassilis was suffering through a heatwave, builders demolished the shed and removed the bubblers.

But just a couple of weeks later headmaster Ross Craven was advised by the NSW Department of Education and Training that due to a blowout in costs the toilet block was being downgraded to a one-core facility, with no staff toilet, no disabled toilet, a single urinal and only three cubicles. With no drinking fountains.

Then about a fortnight later came the news that there would be no COLA either, as that smaller toilet block was projected to cost $279,000. To add insult to injury, the school was then informed it must pay to replace the drinking fountains.

"It's just craziness. It was the middle of summer," Mr Morton said. "The only other option if kids want a drink is to use handbasins next to the old toilets, which is obviously unhygienic. And they're the sort they did away with in most schools because the taps are low and kids knocked their front teeth out trying to get their mouths underneath."

Just how costs could overrun to such an extent also remains a concern. The school asked for a budget breakdown, but none has been provided.

What it does know, however, is that the 8m x 7.3m COLA (which never eventuated) would have cost just $15,300 to construct and supply if the school had self-managed the project. A quote was obtained from a local supplier but the principal was advised by the NSW DET to use Bovis Lend Lease.

Mr Morton also notes that the assessment of the school's needs was conducted in February last year, when the school's population was the lowest in more than 100 years at 16 students.

However, the school's population is now 23, an increase of nearly 50 per cent in a year. And with two new mines opening up within 20 minutes' drive, which are estimated to provide up to 800 jobs, the demand for schools is expected to increase further still. "If they'd consulted with us properly we'd never have been in this position," Mr Morton said.

The decision to blockade the school gates was approved, after consultation with police, at a meeting on Thursday night. The protesters arrived at 6am, and stayed until 9am.

After The Weekend Australian put questions about the case to the relevant state and federal departments yesterday, authorities last night reversed their position and agreed to pay for new drinking fountains. The school can also keep its old toilet block as well as receiving a new one.


Getting black kids to go to school is the first challenge

But it is one that is not nearly being met

SOMETIMES I just cannot understand how governments think when it comes to setting indigenous policies. Two of the five goals that all Australian governments are now striving to close the gap on indigenous disadvantage concern education.

It is probably useful to distil a complex policy agenda down to a handful of key goals, because some of these dashboard indicators can capture whether or not progress is being made across a broad policy range and gaps are closing.

But I have problems with the policy reasoning underpinning the two educational goals.

First the goal of doubling the year 12 completion rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is strange. Of course secondary school completion rates are important, but in a strategic sense there other more fundamental prerequisite policy goals which, if solved, will automatically result in higher year 12 completion rates.

The strategically important goal is closing the gap on literacy and numeracy achievement by indigenous students. You solve this problem, you solve the year 12 completion rate problem.

There is a strategically important prerequisite to closing the gap on literacy and numeracy, and that is school readiness and attendance. You can't close the gap on literacy and numeracy unless you first close the gap on school readiness and attendance.

So if I were the policy-maker, I would establish school readiness and attendance as the target goal. And I would set a very brief timeframe for achieving it. School attendance is not rocket science: surely governments and indigenous communities can close this gap in short order.

The good thing about school readiness and attendance is that it is a tangible, actionable goal. What is needed to be done is clear. The benefits and flow-on effects of achieving school readiness and attendance are plain and palpable. Governments, educators and communities can't hide behind the elusiveness of a goal such as year 12 completions, which really describes the desirable outcome rather than a strategic goal.

You can hold people accountable for performance on school readiness and attendance in ways that you cannot hold people to account for an outcome such as year 12 completion rates.

Bureaucrats, politicians and communities are therefore let off the performance hook. They can say they're working on lifting year 12 completions while doing nothing decisive on school attendance and readiness.

Which brings me to my problem with a second education-related goal set by the Council of Australian Governments. They have established the goal of halving the gap in indigenous reading, writing and numeracy within a decade.

In many ways this is an obscene goal. It accepts a level of educational under-achievement that is unnecessary and avoidable. It condemns indigenous children to educational failure when better outcomes are achievable.

Given the social injustice that flows from educational under-achievement - low employment rates, higher rates of poverty, higher rates of social problems, higher imprisonment rates, poorer health and, ultimately, lower life expectancy - you would think that Australian governments committed to closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage would not adopt any policies that were needlessly low in their expectations. And yet, this is what they have done.


Being a boy is no walk in the park in Australia today

Teenagers have never been given much respect but never have they seemed quite so marginalised as they are today. Strangers are all too willing to think the worst of the next generation of taxpayers they will expect to support them in their old age. This is especially true for boys.

It's a harsh world for a teenager, more violent and forbidding than for their parents' generation, an anti-child culture with restrictions and rules for everything and adults who are too preoccupied to give them the attention they pretend not to need. The automatic assumption if something goes wrong is it's the teenager's fault.

Take 15-year-old John, who was set upon and bashed with four friends at a park in Gordon on the upper north shore this summer. The boys had been to see a movie in Hornsby and were due home by 8.30pm.

When they arrived at Gordon station at 7.30pm they still had half an hour until sunset. One of the boys had a ball so they trooped over to the park to play touch footy before going home. Bad luck for them, a group of thugs wanted their phones and wallets. They escaped, but one boy suffered a black eye and split lip.

When they arrived home, upset and dishevelled, John's mother, a nurse, patched them up and took them to the police to report the assault. She was surprised by the attitude.

“It was like they had done the wrong thing. The police said 'What were you doing in the park? You shouldn't have been there.' Apparently this park is renowned [for bashings]. So kids can't even go to a park and throw a ball round any more? It's all their fault. They're good boys but no wonder they have a bad attitude to police.”

Since when is a suburban park a no-go zone in daylight? If this is the experience of well-behaved boys from caring families, less emotionally advantaged teenagersfare far worse.

The obvious reaction is to rail against inactive police who allow crime hot spots to flourish, empowering thugs with their reluctance to confront them, while applying the full force of the law onto citizens guilty of nothing more than minor traffic misdemeanours or being young and male.

But we are seeing stabbings, bashings and escalating violence among ever-younger children, which indicates something more profound is wrong with the nurturing instinct in our increasingly disconnected communities.

You can see it in everyday vignettes which show emotional advantage doesn't necessarily correlate with socio-economic status.

There is the well-heeled mother at the hairdresser having hair extensions attached while her bored seven-year-old does his best to amuse himself with pen and paper for hours. Every time he wants to show her his drawing or whine about how long it's all taking, she snaps, determined to have her scalp massage in peace, or update her Facebook on the laptop she brought along. “This is Mummy's relaxation time,” she says, shooing him away. It's hard to imagine the child gets more attention at home.

In a technological age it is too easy for adults to become engrossed in selfish personal pursuits which eat into time that should be spent connecting with their children, and children are so easily occupied by their own digital entertainments they are less likely to complain about being ignored.

This is a form of modern neglect which the psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg calls “Tamagotchi parenting”, with no supervision, limits or boundaries. He describes children growing up in Australia today as the “most vulnerable generation in our history”, lacking the “social and ritual protective factors” of cohesive societies, from stable institutions to neighbours who look out for each other. Binge drinking, anxiety and violence are just symptoms.

James Pitts, CEO of the Odyssey House McGrath Foundation, sees what happens to the most vulnerable children, when low self-esteem, anxiety and a dearth of role models lead to serious drug addiction.

By the time young men get to Odyssey House's residential treatment centre in Campbelltown, their lives are out of control. They must have had nine previous drug treatment attempts to qualify for a highly structured, peer-dependent program which uses stable male role models and team sport to teach social skills.

For 60 per cent of the males, their biological fathers have been absent since they were seven or eight. But even in intact families, says Pitts, we have become, "narcissistic in our pursuit of happiness. Parents don't have the kind of time to devote to children; kids have to fend for themselves."

Equally important is that, outside of home, few people know who they are or care whether they are up to mischief.

At a time when children are trying to spread their wings and join society, they are greeted with hostility, resentment and indifference. “That protective resilience within your own community doesn't exist nowadays,” says Pitts. The concept that “it takes a village to raise a child” has been lost.

Meanwhile, strong male role models and authority figures such as police and teachers have been disempowered, fearful to exert discipline in case they are accused of assault or intimidation and dragged through punitive procedures.

Then there is the uber-violence of movies and games which influences boys just when they are learning how to be men.

The popularity of the recent Ultimate Fighting Championships at the Acer Arena, the world's fastest-growing “sport”, suggests increased appetite for barbaric spectacles.

“Young people these days are ... much more sophisticated, more in-your-face, more vocal, verbal and visual than past generations,” says Pitts. “They are a big challenge for parents and teachers."

Yes, they are a lippy, assertive generation, but they are a challenge worth rising to. After all, we reap what we sow.


26 March, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is disgusted at the way the Rudd government panders to China

Australian Immigration Blamed For Huge Population Surge

Australia's growth rate is 2.1% p.a., compared to 0.7% for the UK and 0.9% for the US, making Australia one of the fastest growing countries in the world. Lucky old Australia! Thank the Leftist Rudd government for Australia's shortage of affordable housing, its packed commuter trains and its ever more congested roads!

Australian immigration is once again being blamed for a hefty rise in the population of Australia as figures rose above 22 million. The figures released today, show that the population topped 22 million in September of last year. The actual figure is 22,066,000. Many critics of the Australian migration program are blaming immigrants to Australia for the rise.

Overseas migration for the year ending 30 September 2009 was 297,400, more than half of the overall increase for that year. This keeps the growth rate at 2.1%, compared to 0.7% for the UK and 0.9% for the US, making Australia one of the fastest growing countries in the world.

Western Australia, currently experiencing a mining boom and are actively recruiting migrant workers to fill skilled shortages, recorded the largest percentage gain at 2.9% whereas Tasmania had the smallest gain at 1.0%.

Critics argue that such a fast growth spurt could have devastating consequences for the economy as it struggles to support such a population surge. Environmentalists too are concerned on the impact of Australia’s fragile ecosystem and have urged population growth to be listed in the federal environmental laws as a threat to biodiversity.

This is all in contrast to Kevin Rudd’s plans for a “big Australia” as outlined in October of last year when he announced plans to sustain such a huge population growth: “This Government is building for the future – we call it nation-building for the future. But let’s be optimistic about the fact this country’s growing, so many around the world are heading the other way.” “I actually believe in a big Australia I make no apologies for that. I actually think it’s good news that our population is growing.”

Back then Mr Rudd was criticised for not having any sustainable plans for water infrastructure, the protection of the environment and maintaining quality of life and prosperity.

Former Premier of New South Wales Bob Carr has urged the government to slash the Australia immigration program by half and Federal Labour MP Kelvin Thomson has said that the figures are “a recipe for environmental devastation.”

The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship have already tightened the immigration program, putting a cap on general skilled visas, raising the criteria for English language skills and overhauling the skilled occupation list.


The Green Left want to fire the broadcasting boss who questions global warming

The usual Fascist intolerance of dissent and would-be thug tactics evident in the article from "GreenLeft" reproduced below

Journalists at the ABC have come under strong pressure from the organisation’s chairperson to give more weight to the views of climate change deniers.

In a speech to 250 programmers, journalists and executives at the ABC’s Sydney headquarters on March 10, chairperson Maurice Newman warned of “group-think” and “a collective censorious approach” in media reporting of climate change.

The issue, he said, was one where “contrary views have not been tolerated, and where those who express them have been labelled and mocked”, the March 12 Australian said. The previous day, the newspaper had said Newman “warned ABC staffers that he would not tolerate anyone suppressing information”.

Newman’s allegations were interpreted as an attack on the integrity and professional judgement of ABC news staff. Journalists at the Sydney meeting rose to their feet to express shock and anger.

A spokesperson for Friends of the ABC later described Newman’s criticisms as “extraordinary and inappropriate”, saying his comments looked to be “an attempt to influence ABC programming to be more favourable to global warming scepticism”.

The ABC, it is fair to say, has a one-person anti-environment pressure group in its top official. A former stockbroker and businessperson, Newman is a friend of former prime minister John Howard, who appointed him in 2007.

Newman claims to be “agnostic” on climate issues, but sources quoted in the Australian describe him as “a passionate climate-change denialist in private”.

His unsubtle message adds to crude pressures on the ABC to report climate questions in a vein that (in the view of mining executives, at least) befits the country that is the world’s number-one coal exporter.

The usual charge leveled against the ABC has been of flagrant green bias on climate issues. Writing in the March 16 Spectator, former Australian opinion editor Tom Switzer argued: “With honourable exceptions, such as Chris Uhlmann, [ABC journalists] actively campaign for an alarmist cause.”

Analysis of the ABC’s reporting, though, reveals a quite different pattern.

Early this year, the ABC followed the herd of the commercial media in failing to debunk the claims of British climate change denier Christopher Monckton during his Australian tour.

Climate writer Clive Hamilton, in a January 28 post, related the dismal story of Monckton’s interview with ABC journalist Fran Kelly: “He compared climate scientists…to the eugenicists of Nazi Germany and to the Soviet scientific fraud Trofim Lysenko….

“Fran Kelly allowed Monckton to present himself as a credible scientific voice, and … did not ask him what his qualifications were.

“She did not ask him why he lied about being a member of the House of Lords, or why he claims to be a Nobel laureate.

“She did not ask him about his preposterous claims to have won the Falklands war or to have invented a cure for Graves’ disease, multiple sclerosis, and HIV.”

On March 11, reported on a Media Monitors count of references to Monckton since the beginning of the year, comparing them with references to renowned US climatologist James Hansen, who at that point was close to the end of his own Australian tour.

Monckton, with training in classics, mathematics and journalism, had received 455 mentions across the media; Hansen, only 21.

For the ABC, the ratio was almost as lopsided. Monckton, the narcissistic crank and impostor, rated 161 references; Hansen, the doyen of US climate scientists, just nine.

If the ABC has any bias on climate change, it is not in the direction alleged. If its journalists are “alarmists”, they practice a rigorous self-censorship.

When Monckton out-references Hansen by 161 to nine in ABC coverage, it is plainly not climate deniers within the organisation who are having to watch where they tread.

The implication that a different “balance” is needed, meanwhile, begs the question: what is to be balanced against what?

Science is not about opinions, but findings that other researchers, through observation and experiment, can reproduce. If the “science” of the denialists can’t meet these criteria, it is not science but speculation and has no place in news reporting.

Where does demanding “balance” in the reporting of science lead? To requiring that evolution be balanced with creationism, modern medicine with leech therapy, and astronomy with the signs of the zodiac?

Newman’s speech and interview, meanwhile, provide insights into the thinking of senior business figures that rely for their “understanding” of climate change on diligent reading of the Murdoch press.

Again and again Newman’s “facts” are plain wrong, as when he maintains that “growing numbers of distinguished scientists [are] challenging the conventional wisdom with alternative theories and peer-reviewed research”.

The last serious effort to pose an alternative, “natural” cause for global warming, Henrik Svensmark’s theory of the effects of cosmic rays on cloud formation, was disproved years ago.

If Newman were merely an ignoramus on climate change, that would not matter, provided he worked to guarantee journalists the ability to gather information freely, and to relay it without pressures or harassment.

But that is not the situation. Instead of defending his staff, Newman is adding to their already substantial problems.

Journalists and the public in general should demand to be rid of him.


More Greenie deceit on Australia's major public broadcaster

Sydney’s Geoffrey Cousins, the former adman, tells the gullible 7.30 Report why Tasmanian cannot have Gunn’s planned pulp mill:
It isn’t world’s best technology at all. It doesn’t use totally chlorine-free technology - that’s world’s best practice. It is going to use native forests, not plantation timber, certainly in the first period. And it is going to put significant amounts of dioxins into Bass Strait. Now, if all of those things were cleared away, fine.
Let’s look at just one of those claims for starters - the one I’ve highlighted. Here’s the real amount of dioxin that Gunn’s says the mill will release:
The mill will therefore discharge a combined total of only 0.111 grams of dioxins and furans in liquid and gaseous emissions each year… The total yearly emissions of dioxins and furans to air and water from the mill will therefore be approximately equal to the volume of a single grain of rice…

The likely concentration of dioxins and furans in the pulp mill liquid effluent is estimated to be 3.4 pg dioxin equivalents per litre… The 3.4 pg per litre expected concentration in effluent is the equivalent to the concentration of salt after one salt grain has been put in a volume of water occupying 70 Olympic sized swimming pools…

As another example, the average concentration of dioxins and furans in human breast milk in Australia is approximately 340 pg TEQ of dioxins and furans per litre.
I think the adman tried to panic us about nothing.


Yet another official computer stuff-up

Vic Police halts criminal database overhaul. When will bureaucrats learn that the more "capable" (complex) they make their system, the more likely it is to fail? A simple legacy database program would probably do all they really need anyhow

A multi-million-dollar overhaul of the Victoria Police criminal database has been suspended over potential cost blow-outs and ongoing problems.

The state's Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) database has been getting a major overhaul since a 2005 ombudsman report called for scrapping the system amid repeated allegations it was being misused.

The system has been slowly replaced since late last year with LINK, a Canadian-based computer program used by about 90 police agencies worldwide, in the state's $59 million database replacement program.

But Victoria Police announced in a statement on Friday that "after much consideration" the project was being suspended for six months over technical problems and potential budget concerns.

"A detailed analysis has indicated that, based on the current approach and utilising existing resources, integrating the 20-plus systems that need to be joined with LINK will be a more technically challenging and costly process than was envisioned in the original business case," Victoria Police IT director Michael Vanderheide said in a statement.

"The project will therefore be suspended for around six months while independent experts work through these complexities to determine the most cost effective way forward." Mr Vanderheide stressed that LEAP "remains adequate" and police administration will work quickly to resolve the problems.

"We are committed to finding a solution that allows us to move forward without needing to invest significant funds," he said. The exact funding amounts already spent on the LINK project are not known.

The move comes after another state computer system was rolled out despite continued problems.

Victoria's myki public transport ticketing system was due to be rolled out by March 2007 but is currently used only on trains and is at least $350m over budget.


Note that my QANTAS/Jetstar and Queensland Police blogs are still getting frequent updates

25 March, 2010

Australia's asylum spike bucks world trend: UN report

The number of refugees seeking asylum in Australia jumped by almost 30 per cent last year despite global numbers remaining steady, challenging Kevin Rudd's claim that instability abroad is behind the surge in refugee boats.

As Border Protection command yesterday intercepted two more asylum boats, the third in as many days, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released its annual report on global asylum trends.

Yesterday's boats, which were carrying a total of 79 people, will push Christmas Island well beyond its official capacity of 2040 unless detainees are moved en masse to the mainland or the centre is once again expanded to house the growing population of detainees.

The UNHCR's report showed virtually no change in the number of people seeking asylum in the industrialised world, with 377,200 asylum applications last year compared with 377,100 in 2008.

But in figures that have fuelled claims the Rudd government has encouraged people-smugglers by softening Australia's refugee policies, the UNHCR reported a 29 per cent increase in asylum claims in Australia last year.

In a further complication for the government, Indonesian officials yesterday expressed concern at the growing number of its citizens who are incarcerated in Australian jails for crewing asylum boats.

Speaking to The Australian, a spokesman for the Indonesian embassy in Canberra said most of those caught were poor fishermen with no knowledge of the fate that awaited them once in Australian custody.

"Most of the Indonesians detained in Australia in connection with the arrival of boatpeople are poor traditional fishermen, lured by the promise of money (sometimes as little as $US150) from the organised people-smugglers to carry a boatload of passengers who originally come from as far away as Afghanistan," the spokesman said. "These fishermen are the boat crew and not the masterminds of people-smuggling."

Yesterday's figures provoked a statistical jousting match, with the opposition claiming the UNHCR's report put the lie to the Rudd government's claim that so-called "push" factors were behind the rising tide of boats.

But the UNHCR's regional representative, Richard Towle, said they showed nothing of the sort. Citing a 45 per cent increase in the number of Afghan asylum-seekers - the main group arriving in Australia by boat - Mr Towle said violence in source countries was to blame. "If you look at Afghans globally, there are striking increases of Afghans, particularly in Europe," Mr Towle told The Australian. "I wouldn't say that what's happening in Australia bucks the trend at all. I would say it's entirely consistent."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the UNHCR's report made it plain the Rudd government's softened policies were drawing asylum-seekers to Australia's shores. "Afghanistan is hardly a regional neighbour of Australia," Mr Morrison said. "People are coming here because they believe they're going to get the outcome that they want as a result of the policies the government is pursuing."

While the number of Afghans seeking asylum worldwide increased, the number of Sri Lankans climbed by a modest 4 per cent, undermining government claims that an exodus of Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka was one of the reasons for the surge. The Rudd government has repeatedly blamed the fallout from Sri Lanka's bloody civil war for the rise in boat numbers.

Despite the concern over unauthorised boat arrivals, the UNHCR numbers showed most asylum claims lodged in Australia were made by Chinese with 1186 claims made last year. Afghans comprised the next biggest category (940) followed by Sri Lankans (533) and Zimbabweans (344).

Broken down by region, Europe experienced a 1 per cent increase in asylum claims last year, while North America had a decline of 5 per cent.

Mr Towle cautioned against comparing Australia's numbers with regional blocs. "If you want to disaggregate it you could look at Australia versus Greece or Australia versus Finland and Norway and you'd get completely different answers," he said.

Mr Towle added that Australia accounted for less than 2 per cent of asylum-seekers seeking refuge in the industrialised world. The US received 49,000 asylum claims, more than any other industrialised country. The US was followed by France (42,000), Canada (33,300) Britain (29,800) and Germany (27,600). This compared with Australia which received 6170 protection applications in 2009.

While an increase on 2008, last year's figures remained well below the high-water mark of 2000 when 13,100 people sought protection in Australia.

Yesterday, Border Protection Command intercepted two boats in two hours off Ashmore Reef and Adele Island. The first boat was carrying 19 passengers and three crew and the second was carrying 55 passengers and two crew.

According to the Immigration Department, there are 2008 people on Christmas Island. But the figure does not include the 79 intercepted yesterday or the 22 picked up on Sunday.

It is likely some desperately needed space will be cleared today when a regular charter plane comes to the island to collect staff, asylum-seekers who have been granted visas and possibly asylum-seekers who are deemed to be on "a visa pathway" and close to receiving refugee status.


Australian shares beat developed world over past 110 years

Forget the carnage of 2008 and early 2009, Australia has been the best performing developed sharemarket over the past 110 years, according to funds manager Fidelity International. Gerard Doherty, managing director of Fidelity’s Australia business, says the Australian share market has posted a real return of 7.5 per cent a year since 1900, outperforming the US by 1.6 per cent and Britain by more than 2 per cent a year.

Next best after Australia was South Africa and then Sweden, with the US -- the world’s biggest economy and reserve currency -- bringing in the fourth best annual real return, The Australian reported.

But the annualised returns are in local currencies, meaning the US’s annual return of 5.88 per cent would look pretty good in Australian dollar terms when the Aussie falls against the US, as it did last year to a low of US62.5 cents in February.

Doherty claims $1 invested in the Australian market in 1900 would have been worth $2844 at the beginning of this year. The market levels were provided by the London Business School, which used the major indices of the day over the 110 years.


China sends a message and Rudd obeys

STERN Hu's confession in a Chinese court to allegations of bribery has exactly the same moral and forensic credibility as the confessions captured journalists make in Taliban custody. The confession itself tells you absolutely nothing about Hu's conduct. If I had been in a Chinese jail for nine months and had the prospect of earlier release with a confession or later release without one, I'd confess to anything. It's probably as near to a plea bargain as you'll get in the Chinese system.

But in modern Chinese communist culture, confessions have long had a big part. The classic work on Chinese prisons was by a French Chinese, Jean Pasqualini. His Prisoner of Mao details an astonishingly gruesome experience that included, among other things, 15 months of interrogation leading to a 700-page confession.

China has changed since Pasqualini's experiences of 35 years ago. But it hasn't changed altogether. The hardest heads in the Australian system understand what the Hu business is all about. Beijing has sent a message to Australia: tremble and obey.

The Hu case changes the context for all Australians doing business with China, whether commercial or political. Former treasurer Peter Costello captured this most clearly when he remarked soon after Hu's initial detention last June: "Since Stern Hu is now in detention, someone else will have to lead Rio's negotiations with the Chinese steel mills. My guess is they will not push the negotiations as strenuously as Hu." The manner of iron-ore price negotiations is changing substantially, but Costello's broad point is certainly correct.

Evidence that the Chinese intimidation has worked is sadly mounting up. As this newspaper revealed last Saturday, the government made a secret commitment to the Chinese that neither Kevin Rudd nor Julia Gillard would see the Dalai Lama on his visit to Australia last December. This was a change in policy, as Rudd had seen the Dalai Lama in opposition and said he would be happy to see him in government.

Similarly, I have learned that the government has pretty much decided that no Australian minister will visit Taiwan during the Rudd government's the first term. This is a big change of policy and a big act of appeasement of Beijing.

Australia follows a one-China policy that recognises a notional Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. At the same time, Australia opposes any threat or use of force by Beijing to change Taiwan's status, which is de facto independent.

Consistent with the one-China policy, Australia has for many years sent ministers to Taiwan to support Australian trade. In truth these visits also recognise the political achievements of Taiwan.

Taiwan represents every single political value Australia admires: democracy, a free press, a pluralist society, respect for human rights, equal rights for women and a productive and economically successful society that provides for the wellbeing of its own people.

A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says the Rudd government has not made a formal undertaking to Beijing that no minister will visit Taiwan during the first term of the Rudd government. But no Rudd minister has visited Taiwan so far and the spokesperson confirms that there is no plan for a visit.

This will be the first time at least since the Hawke government that a whole parliamentary cycle has gone by without such a visit. If the opposition were not such a complete political and moral vacuum on these issues you might have expected it to have had something to say. It is a signal act of cowardice and appeasement on Australia's part. For a long time we sent a minister to Taiwan every year, but Alexander Downer was weaker on China issues than John Howard and the practice slipped a bit, but certainly we never went a whole term under Howard without a ministerial visit. This is just another way in which China policy is worse, more cowardly and less effective today than it should be.

The world has watched the Hu case. And one lesson is that if you rely on the moral courage of the Australian government or opposition, you are relying on nothing at all.

Could it be that the Vietnamese government, which is preventing two Jetstar executives from leaving Vietnam, drew lessons from the Hu matter ?

Rio Tinto has produced a wonderfully convenient investigation that clears the company of all wrongdoing but leaves Hu's guilt or innocence as a matter on which it cannot pronounce.

Of course it is remotely possible that Hu, like millions of others in China, paid or received a bribe, although there is no reason to think so. But Beijing's decision to prosecute him, and the ostentatiously contemptuous manner in which it has dealt with the Australian government, was taken to intimidate Australia. In this, Beijing seems to have succeeded.


A firm friendship forged over time

By Daniel Mandel (Daniel Mandel is director of the Zionist Organisation of America's Centre for Middle East Policy)

While the current diplomatic overtones may suggest a thawing of the close alliance between Australia and Israel, a recap of that relationship over the past 61-plus years shows that the friendship, like most, has ebbed and flowed

Australia and Israel have experienced a relationship both strong and supple over 60-plus years, but it would be a mistake to regard it as a given, as being somehow the inevitable product of a community of values or interests. If the relationship is warm and stable, as these things go, it is fair to say that it has not always been so - that it has been occasionally marred by tension, and that it has served as the object of internal politics.

The Australian Labor Party, which can be credited a role in Israel's emergence into the community of nations in the late 1940s - courtesy of its deputy prime minister and external affairs minister, H. V. Evatt - has often been split on the relationship, especially since the new Left became a factor in Labor politics in the late 1960s.

The conservative side of politics cannot claim to have had a deep interest in Zionism until after it became an established fact, nor has it ever been entirely free of a constituency more interested in trade with Arabs than friendship with Israelis.

At a particular conjuncture of local politics and international developments, the relationship - warm, honoured, secure - can seem suddenly cool, fraught, uncomfortable. Those who remember some episodes during the prime ministership of Gough Whitlam need no reminder of this. It is also undoubtedly something that Australia's supporters of Israel experienced in recent weeks, when a diplomatic spat erupted without warning over the use - it is alleged by Israeli intelligence - of skillfully forged Australian passports by those who eliminated a Hamas operative in Dubai.

Within days, Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem had been called in to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a brow-beating, and a few days later - though a connection with this event cannot be proved - Australia abstained on a United Nations (UN) vote regarded as hostile to Israel, on which it might have been expected to vote against. To say these things is not to understate the liberal and generous impulses that have nourished the Australian end of the relationship, but rather to speak of the brittleness that affects even the most secure of Israel's foreign relations.

It has never escaped the understanding of Arab states that Israel's foreign relationships can be made fraught and even frayed by campaigns of comprehensive hostility that entangle Israel's friends in complications with other states. It was thus in Jerusalem 60 years ago, when the Arab world (save Jordan) took up the Vatican cry to internationalise the city. The government of Ben Chifley, needing every Catholic vote and facing the December 1949 election that consigned the ALP into the wilderness for 23 years, supported internationalisation over Israel's strenuous objections.

The successor conservative government of Robert Menzies showed little interest in the country until 1956, when Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, leading in time to the Suez War, at which point suddenly Israel was recognised as a friend of the Anglosphere. Otherwise, Israel remained largely a non-issue - a very minor trading partner - until the 1967 Six-Day War converted Israel in a good deal of the public's mind from plucky defendant to contentious conqueror. The 1973 Yom Kippur War intensified the sea change.

Israel had been lucky with Australia to that point in having a generally well-disposed Australian public, one whose servicemen in two world wars had found hospitality and the kinship of war among the Jews of pre-state Israel. Its servicemen had been led by generals such as Harry Chauvel and Thomas Blamey, who were well-disposed towards Zionism, indeed whose most famed Australian colleague, John Monash, was himself a Jew and exponent of Zionism. After 1973, such historical legacies could be seen to matter less.

Even so, the relationship proved lucky in the individuals managing it. Elements of the ALP Left purported to discern liberation from colonialism in Arab supremacist movements, such as the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), but for every leftist firebrand Bill Hartley, there proved to be a centrist Bob Hawke, who worked hard to prevent recognition of the PLO on Whitlam's watch.

With the eviction of the Whitlam government from office in December 1975, the Liberal-National Country Party government of Malcolm Fraser proved a warm friend, even if individual ministers, such as then National Country Party leader Doug Anthony, were not. When the Egypt-Israel peace treaty was signed in 1979, it was the Fraser government that dispatched Australian peacekeepers to join in supervising the demilitarisation of Sinai.

It was in this era that Australia often joined what had sometimes become a minority of three supportive votes for Israel in UN conclaves - the other two being the United States and Israel itself - the UN having already long been the instrument of tyrannies of all stripes.

Although that record flagged somewhat when Hawke became prime minister, the passionate sincerity of Hawke's affection for the country led to the relationship being bolstered in other ways - not least in the 1986 Australian parliamentary resolution repudiating the UN's Zionism-is-racism libel. It was also Hawke who made strong prime ministerial efforts to bring about the release of captive Soviet-Jewish dissidents in the last years of the Soviet Union. In these efforts, a wide bipartisanship predominated.

Indeed, the two major parties have normally made a point of stressing the depth and warmth of the bilateral relationship, epitomized nowhere better than in Hawke's successor, Paul Keating. Keating headed swiftly to Jerusalem to attend Yitzhak Rabin's funeral. His eventual successor, John Howard, castigated him for not having included him among his entourage for the occasion. Upon succeeding Keating, Howard made a point of strengthening Australian support for Israel in international forums, evident for example at the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, which turned into an organised campaign to delegitimize Israel and promote anti-Semitism.

Howard also proved exceptional in rejecting the language of triangulation that reigned worldwide when Yasser Arafat died three years into the Oslo war he had launched: Howard frankly scolded Arafat for having rejected the peace settlement offered by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton. When Israel's defensive barrier appeared on the West Bank landscape in the wake of Arafat's terror offensive, the Howard government opposed the attempted lynching of Israel in New York and The Hague.

By and large, the tenor and, mostly, the substance of the relationship have abided under Kevin Rudd, even if some individual UN votes have altered. It was Rudd who moved a motion honouring Israel's 60th anniversary in 2008, seconded by then opposition leader Brendan Nelson. "It's good as a nation that we speak as one on something like this," said Rudd, cognisant of the fact that such bipartisanship on Israel is not to be taken for granted, even among democracies. In short, Israel has enjoyed an often lucky relationship with the "Lucky Country", one in which the animosities of individual diplomats and politicians has mattered ultimately less than the support of a Hawke or a Howard.

From Australian Jewish News, March 5, 2010

24 March, 2010

The debt elephant in the operating room

Comments by Barnaby Joyce

The old fashioned, but I think correct view, of spending public money is to approach it as no different from that of spending your own money. Amongst a myriad of quotes confirming this view, Franklin Roosevelt summed up the principle by saying “Any government, like any family, can, for a year, spend a little more than it earns. But you and I know that a continuation of that habit means the poorhouse.”

Government’s that do not manage costs end up costing the taxpayer. The pink batts disaster is the most prominent example. We are now paying to rip out or fix much of what has been installed.

The 19th century French economist, Frederic Bastiat, once suggested, in jest, that one way to stimulate the economy would be to break shop windows. At least the regulatory standards in the glazier industry may have been more up to scratch!

The Building the Education Revolution (BER) is turning into the B. Enormous Rip-off.

Mr Tanner was so correct when he said that he had to get the stimulus spending out without dotting the i’s and crossing and t’s.

Labor party management is an oxymoronic farce. Mr Tanner’s latest release of the monthly financial statements is so remarkable it is comical. The savings announced are because even they cannot manage to spend the absurd amounts of money fast enough. No increase in revenues, just that they cannot write the cheques quick enough.

The graph below shows that they are still writing them pretty damn fast, another $2.1 billion in the past fortnight.

The Murweh Shire Council in Charleville tells me that they can build a kilometre of sealed road for $200,000. So in the previous fortnight this Government has borrowed enough money to fund the construction of 10,000 kilometres of road in regional Australia.

Campbell Newman tells me that the Clem7 tunnel cost $2.2 billion, so the Labor party in the past fortnight has borrowed a little less than the cost of the biggest road tunnel ever built in Australia.

If we take the median price of a house at about $500,000, the Labor party in the past fortnight has borrowed enough to buy a third of your average suburb, and apparently this is all normal.

And what is so dangerous about this is that it is not a one-off. This is turning into rolling extensions of debt.

Their fig leaf is to say that we are not going to be $57 billion under water for 2009-10. Mr Tanner says $48 billion instead. Is this something to be celebrated?

It’s still, in raw numbers, the largest deficit in the history of Australia. We are supposed to take that as a good result. This is the Labor party’s panicked response to, in the Reserve Bank of Australia’s words, one of the mildest recessions we’ve had.

The excuse for everything from the Labor party is that spending money is a good thing. There is a vast difference between spending money well and wasting money. To go shopping is one thing, to wander home with 300 pounds of boiled tomatoes is something entirely different.

It is absurd to believe that these people can lord themselves as good economic managers, when they epitomise bad managers in all of its forms. In fact, chapter 1 in the book of How Not to Mange Your Business should give the current Labor government as a working example.

No control of costs, no control of delivery and no desire to change. This leopard can’t change its spots. The Labor party hasn’t delivered a budget surplus since 1989-90.

The Coalition delivered 10 surpluses in the last 12 budgets we delivered. The contrast is clear.


Sharia law would harm Aussie Muslim women

SHARIA law for Australia is being mooted again. The Australian Muslim Mission and Islamic Friendship Association of Australia are advocating its introduction, especially in relation to family and inheritance, as these would be "an advantage" for women whose civil divorce is not recognised in Muslim countries.

Arbitration courts for conferring an Islamic divorce or even settling disputes based in religion may appear innocuous and a useful option, but relevant experience outside Australia highlights some of the problems.

The saga of sharia law in Ontario, Canada, is instructive. Proponents of sharia courts had argued that the Canadian government should not interfere in religious practice or education. Established under Ontario's Arbitration Act of 1991, these courts dealt with a spectrum of family and business disputes and, although the procedure was voluntary, court decisions were binding.

Homa Arjomand, a Canadian migrant from Iran, had long been aware of decisions that discriminated against women in terms of marriage, divorce and custody. In some cases, domestic violence had gone unpunished, divorced women were faced with minimal alimony and custody of children, and underage girls were sent back to countries of origin where they were forcibly married.

Aware of Islamist ideology and methods in the Iranian theocracy, Arjomand was alerted by a speech of Syed Mumtaz, leader of the Canadian Society of Muslims. In 2003, at the launch of the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice, Mumtaz declared that a "good Muslim" should choose sharia in preference to Canadian secular courts. He also said the new organisation was seeking to institute sharia tribunals. Arjomand believed these tribunals would restrict women further, imposing laws such as those that limited daughters' inheritance to half the portion of sons, and others according to which a woman's testimony counted for half that of a man.

She suspected women would be coerced into accepting participation in the arbitrations and although secular courts were not bound to approve sharia rulings, Muslim women would feel too intimidated to challenge Islamic court decisions. She feared these developmentswould compromise Muslim women's rights to equitable treatment under Canadian law and lead to a parallel legal system, so she launched a campaign against sharia courts in Canada.

Eventually Ontario's Premier Dalton McGuinty brought in legislation to ban all faith arbitrations. In 2006, Arjomand received the Toronto Humanist of the Year award.

In Britain, the Arbitration Act 1996 allows for alternative dispute resolution through sharia tribunals whose rulings are enforceable in county courts or the High Court. According to a report by the Civitas Institute, at least 85 official and unofficial sharia courts, often operating in mosques, arbitrate cases of family and financial disputes. Civitas has argued that any judgments that discriminate against women could be inconsistent with human rights law and has called for legislation to prevent legal enforcement.

Members of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation in Britain have drawn attention to oppressive laws they escaped by migrating to the West and their desire to be governed by legislation based on universal human rights. Unwitting endorsement of traditional Islamic law and practice, they have warned, could increase domestic violence and "honour crimes" to the levels in their countries of origin.

A parallel legal system exists in Malaysia, affording fewer rights and protections to Muslim women in the context of polygamy, divorce, custody and inheritance. Women's rights activist Marina Mahathir, daughter of Malaysia's former prime minister, has labelled this "a kind of apartheid, not based on skin colour but religion".

Non-Muslim women have benefited from progressive secular laws while Muslim women have been subject to increasingly restrictive sharia laws (a shift also observed in parts of Indonesia). For example, Malaysia's parliament passed amendments to family law that would have made polygamy and divorce easier for men. They were eventually rescinded in 2006 following a campaign by women's rights activist Zainah Anwar and her organisation Sisters in Islam; the cabinet subsequently decided to allow the attorney-general rather than the religious department to assert control.

Reformers in many Muslim countries are battling for repeal of discriminatory sharia laws they claim are based on a narrow, patriarchal reading of the holy texts and not in keeping with the egalitarian ideals inherent in authentic Islam. On a wider level, progressive Muslims recognise that international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have precedence over religious considerations. These views were expressed in the Arab Human Development Report 2005, with the recommendation that Arab states remove sharia-related reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, particularly article two, which prescribes the principle of equality.

Quotas for women in legislative and political spheres also were advocated in the report.

These principles would appear to offer more advantages for Muslim women than traditional Islamic law and practice. In contrast, parallel sets of family law, sex discrimination in Islamic jurisprudence and growth in sharia law in neighbouring Muslim countries restrict women and could be troublesome for Australia.


More computer nonsense -- "centralizing" data services

How often have we heard that before? If it works at all it will cost a bomb

TAXPAYERS have been told a plan for federal government data centres will save up to $1 billion over 15 years, but according to the opposition, the target is farcical. Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner unveiled yesterday the whole-of-government strategy to centralise all procurement of data-centre services until 2025.

Instead of buying services directly, agencies would rely on a panel of data-centre suppliers, to be established by the end of the year, Finance spokesman John Sheridan said. "We aim to have the panel working by the end of this calendar year," he said. On whether the government would build its own data centres, Mr Sheridan said: "We intend to investigate the notion of government-owned data centres."

Tender documents would be issued in the third or fourth quarter to facilitate the selection process. The minimum floor space required by agencies will be 500sq m, with a lease period of 10 years and optional extensions of up to five years. The government spent about $850 million a year on data-centre services and occupied about 30,000sq m of floor space, equivalent to that of the big four banks combined, Mr Tanner said. He expected the footprint to hit 60,000sq m in "coming years".

"The government's data-centre equipment is not centralised," he said at a CeBIT data centre conference in Sydney. "It's spread across Australia, located in not just large enterprise data centres but also in cupboards, converted offices, computer and server rooms, and in commercial and insourced data centres. These are primarily older data centres that are reaching the limits of their electricity supply and floor space. With government demand for data centre ICT equipment rising by more than 30 per cent each year, it was clear that we needed to reassess how the government handled its data-centre activities."

Mr Tanner said $1bn could be saved through Labor's data centre reform program.

The government's green goal was to reduce the 300,000-odd tonnes of carbon its data centres generated each year to 260,000 tonnes annually over the next five years.

Government data centres have traditionally been in the ACT to be close to the corridors of power, but Mr Tanner said facilities outside the ACT would be considered.

The $1bn savings figure came from a review by British efficiency expert Peter Gershon, who investigated ways the government could slash technology and communications costs.

The data-centre strategy announced by Mr Tanner was based on a secret report prepared by the Australian Government Information Management Office. Opposition finance spokesman Barnaby Joyce took Labor to task for not actually delivering savings of $1bn.

"This is beyond bad, it's farcical," Senator Joyce said. "When they avoid the expenditure that's fine, but when we avoided the expenditure we apparently gutted the health budget. "Let's put their lexicon into their words and say they expect to gut the data-centre costs for $1bn over 15 years. And even when they're gutting these costs, it pales in comparison that in the last fortnight they've extended their gross borrowings by $2.1bn."

He said Labor's economic management was comical and tragic.

"These are definite signs of people who have never managed a business before in their lives . . . that they have no control on costs and then they grasp at straws by these nebulous statements of avoiding costs somewhere in the future, but the actual fact of where we are is just pandemonium," he said.

There was no proof in the AGIMO report as to where and how the cost "avoidance" would be achieved, because it was not publicly released. "That goes into the library of reports that the Labor Party has never released . . . just like the Henry tax review and the McKinsey-KPMG national broadband network implementation study."

A spokesman for Mr Tanner said the AGIMO data centre report could not be released because it was "commercial-in-confidence".


Grass is also Green

You may have heard of Peter Spencer, the desperate Australian farmer who went on a hunger strike to draw attention to the fact that government bans on clearing vegetation had stolen his assets and destroyed his business. Peter is just one of many Australian farm families reduced to desperation and even suicide by seizure or sterilisation of their land to satisfy the voracious green god.

The most massive injustice occurred a couple of years ago, when, as a sacrifice to the Kyoto god, the federal government conspired with state governments to ban vegetation clearing on all property, even freehold. This was done in an underhand way to allow the government to seize carbon credits from landowners without paying compensation.

Many well meaning people, while not happy with the tactics and the refusal to pay compensation for property seized or devalued, think that there will be some environmental or climate benefits to come from all this.

Generally there are none.

Even if extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was a good idea (and it isn't), no tree can keep extracting it on a long term basis. Every living thing (including trees, grass, cows and humans) borrows carbon from the environment as it grow, stops extracting it at maturity, and hands the valuable carbon back to the environment when it dies and the body rots. Net life time extraction equals ZERO. It is absolute scientific nonsense to believe that trees can have a long term effect on so called greenhouse gases. Like everything politicians touch, short term appearances and secret agendas are preferred to long term reality.

Banning the clearing of scrub regrowth in our grasslands is also a backward step environmentally. Everyone can see and understand tree forests, but no one appreciates the grass forests beneath their feet. Natural fires created our grasslands long before humans occupied Australia. They are valuable environmental landscapes far more important to humans than the stupid carbon credit forests and eucalypt weeds now invading them. With closer settlement and excessive areas locked up by governments, fires no longer protect our grasslands and landowners must use machinery to maintain their grass. Preventing this is like telling a market gardener he is not allowed to chip weeds invading his vegetable patch. Every landowner tries to guard the long term value of his land. No one has a monopoly on knowledge on how to do it. Some properties may need more trees, some less - if more trees are a benefit, landowners will grow them without coercion.

Does anyone seriously believe that a few green politicians and activists can devise one dictatorial land plan for every property from Longreach to Wagga and then use legal bludgeons, land confiscation and a desk bound bureaucracy to enforce the co-operation of landowners?

The Senate is currently carrying out an enquiry into some aspects of this massive land mismanagement. It is a bigger scandal than the home insulation scheme, and few politicians are free of blame. The Senate will be surprised at the injustices that will be revealed by this enquiry.

The Carbon Sense Coalition has (in some haste) made a Submission to this enquiry. We urge you to read it and print it out for friends. See it here


Mass immigration kills Australian culture, says demographer

With support from both conservatives and the Greens

TRADITIONS based on heritage, sporting culture and common language are threatened by mass immigration, a leading demographer has warned. Monash University population expert Dr Bob Birrell has said the huge influx of people with few or no English skills had created social problems in Melbourne suburbs such as Dandenong, Sunshine and Broadmeadows and most major cities were feeling the population strain, the Herald Sun Dr Birrell made the explosive comments in an article for Policy, a magazine published by the Centre for Independent Studies, a right-wing think tank. In a plea to the Rudd Government to slash the current immigrant intake of 180,000 a year, Dr Birrell warned that the predicted population of 35 million by 2050 would be a disaster for urban living and the environment. "One would have to wander deaf, dumb and blind through Australian capital cities to not notice how urban congestion has already reduced the quality of life," he said.

The intake dominated by people from non-English speaking backgrounds was transforming Australia, Dr Birrell said. "We are losing core elements of what was once shared. Almost all could once aspire to a house and land ... and sharing a common language, sporting culture and heritage," he said.

But mass migration was creating ethnic enclaves in suburbs with cheap housing, and planning rules were forcing Australian-born "losers" and non-English speaking background migrants to live in congested neighbourhoods, "cheek by jowl".

Kevin Rudd has made it clear that he believes in a big Australia. In a recent speech he declared that migration was "good for our national security, good for our long-term prosperity, good in enhancing our role in the region and the world".

But the Federal Opposition and the Greens said questions needed to be asked about Australia's immigration plans. Opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, told the ABC there should be an inquiry into how many people the nation can support. "It's about what the carrying capacity is," he said. "We need to get that perspective from regional areas as well as metropolitan areas, where issues of congestion and housing affordability are major problems as well as public transport.

"What's more important, is the process for planning. For example, the states and territories have no input into questions of immigration and migration intakes but they're the ones at the end of the day that have to service the needs that are created by it."

Greens Leader Bob Brown said there should be an independent national inquiry into Australia's population target. "So that politicians do have an idea of the carrying capacity of this country, its infrastructure, its ability to deal with those quite worrying projections of 35 million people by 2050," he said. "We've got to do better than just say well let it happen."

Other leading academics have also questioned the challenge that mass intake of migrants will pose. In their book Australia's Immigration Revolution, Andrew Markus, James Jupp and Peter McDonald agrue that while immigration "offers `the most immediate and simplest short term measure to deal with labour and skills shortages" it also comes with serious questions about social cohesion.

Prior to the 1950s 80 per cent of immigrants came from the United Kingdom. Between the 50s and the 1960s migrants from continental Europe became the majority.

After the abolition of the White Australia policy in the early 1970s the mixture of migration changed again. Today, the largest proportion of immigrants come from Asia and Oceania. China and India rival New Zealand and Britian as the biggest source of immigrants.


23 March, 2010

Police slam new rules on racial descriptions in seeking crime suspects

A LIMIT on racial descriptions of criminals was putting political correctness before crime busting, police say. Descriptions including Black African, Indian and Eastern European are among those dumped in media releases seeking crime suspects. They have been replaced by four categories: Aboriginal, Caucasian, Asian and other.

Police Association secretary Greg Davies said it was putting unnecessary impediments in the way of catching criminals. "It is quite silly and counter-productive and of no assistance to anybody to make everything vanilla," he said. "It is not a matter of being racist, it is a matter of solving crime." Sen-Sgt Davies said it should be about giving the public the best information possible. "It is political correctness taking precedence over solving crime," he said. "We need to have accurate descriptions of suspects if we are going to release information to the public. "We need to make it as specific as possible."

Chief Commissioner Simon Overland said they tended to use broad categories of race when speaking to the public. "We have moved away from those terms because sometimes they can cause offence," he said on radio.


Attention BBC: which of Australia's cities is almost dry?

By Andrew Bolt

A word to the BBC’s Sydney reporter Nick Bryant. Mate, Australians now have the Internet and can read and check the bizarre reports you file back home, like this one:
Australia is in the grip of “the Big Dry”, one of the worst droughts in a century.

Major cities confront the major possibility of running out of water daily, and some are building desalination plants that draw from the sea.
Here’s the rain anomalies for this summer, showing above average rainfall for most of the country:


And here are the current storage levels on these cities that “confront the major possibility of running out of water daily”:

Sydney: 59%

Melbourne: 34.3% with desalination plant to come online next year.

Brisbane: 97.7%

Perth: 39.6% with desalination plant online.

Adelaide: 62% plus water piped from the Murray.

Your correction should be a beauty. Claiming you simply consulted Alarmist of the Year Tim Flannery is no excuse.


Police carry bashed Geelong teens to hospital in divvy van amid ambulance shortage

A teenager rushed into emergency surgery after being bashed was ferried to hospital in a divvy van because no ambulances were available. Len Lowry said his son Dale was out town with friend Daniel, who was celebrating his very first night out at a nightclub, after turning 18 four days earlier. ''This guy came up to Daniel and started having a shot at him and my son knew the guy, so he has tried to calm the situation down and has got hit,'' he told Radio 3AW this morning.

''Daniel was laying unconscious in the street, he had to have emergency surgery on Sunday afternoon and he has a broken eye socket and bleeding on the brain.'' ''They were bashed, Dale has a broken nose, six stitches in his cheek and an eye that is just starting to open now,'' he said. Despite their injuries Mr Lowry said the mates were thrown out of the Room 99 club by bouncers, along with their alleged attacker.

Mr Lowry said police were called to the scene and when they called paramedics, they were told an ambulance would not be available for an hour. ''It is an absolute disgrace, police should never have been put in that position,'' he said. ''I don't blame police for moving them but what is happening when we only have three ambulances to cover the whole of Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula?'' Mr Lowry said he intended to make a formal complaint to Ambulance Victoria and the State Government.

Police are believed to be investigating a link between the attack and a man who allegedly bit half another man's ear off later that night.


Case brought by incompetent Federal regulators thrown out

Let's hope massive costs are awarded against them

John Kizon has walked free from an insider trading trial in the this morning after all charges against him were dismissed. Today in the Perth District Court, Judge John Wisbey discharged all counts of engaging in insider trading and conspiring to trade in shares while possessing insider information against the prominent Perth businessman, after concluding there was not enough evidence to support the charges. Mr Kizon's co-accused, his business associate Nigel Mansfield, had all but four charges dismissed.

Outside court, Mr Kizon's lawyer Stephen Shirrefs, SC, said the judge had ruled the evidence submitted by the prosecution against his client was "fatally flawed" and defective. He said the evidence "pointed entirely the other way and was fatal to the prosecution case" against Mr Kizon. Mr Shirrefs said the alleged insider information which the prosecution relied on "could not be established by the evidence to be correct or true". In other words, it could not support the Commonwealth's case against his client and as a result, Judge Wisbey was right to acquit Mr Kizon on all charges.

The charges related to share trades in and online gambling company My Casino during a six-month period between January and July 2002. The prosecution had claimed Mr Kizon had traded in the two companies after receiving information not available to the general public. However, Judge Wisbey today ruled that the information that came to Mr Kizon could not be classified as "insider" information.

At the start of the trial, the court was told that between January 6 and January 21, 2002, Mr Kizon and Mr Mansfield conspired to procure shares in after they caught wind of lucrative information, including that the Perth-based company's expected 2001-02 profit had surged from $3 million to $11 million after its turnover lifted from about $50 million to $111 million that year.

Judge Wisbey has dismissed the jury for the day. They will return tomorrow to hear closing arguments from the prosecutors and defence before deliberating the final four charges against Mr Mansfield, which relate to the trading of shares in companies My Casino and Eurast Limited.

Outside court, Mr Kizon said he would not comment on the specifics of the case as the trial against Mr Mansfield was still ongoing, but he thanked Mr Shirrefs and Mr Mansfield's lawyer Martin Bennett for their efforts in the trial. The insider trading trial against Mr Kizon and Mr Mansfield started approximately eight weeks ago.


22 March, 2010

Libs back from the dead and in with a chance

The state elections show momentum and maths moving Abbott's way

THERE are two federal messages out of the Tasmanian and South Australian state elections at the weekend: momentum and mathematics. And both are moving Tony Abbott's way.

First to momentum. Anybody who tries to tell you that voters in either state cast their ballots on the basis of Abbott or Kevin Rudd's policies, or on the basis of their respective plans for health care and hospitals, or their approach to climate change, is talking tosh.

What they did vote on was the issue of unity; that after years of corrosive in-fighting over leadership, both state Liberal parties finally got their acts together and voters rewarded them for it. The fact that the swing back to the Liberals in both states was just over 7 per cent reinforces this fact. The swing away from them when they lost at the last election was so bad that had they recovered by half as much, they would have been returned decisively in both states.

The result shows the high-water mark of the Labor brand in Australian politics, and this includes federally. Many people have been wondering why Rudd's fall from grace, as measured by the polls, has been so speedy. My analysis for what it's worth: Rudd's misfortune has been to come at the end of the Blair era. The electorate has watched for more than 10 years now as do-nothing state Labor premiers have dominated the evening news in fluoro jackets, framed by bulldozers. The same goes for milling about hospital beds with television cameras, harassing patients who are just trying to get better. All in the name of a health policy that doesn't start until 2014.

That sort of Hawker Britton news management may have worked at a state level but voters have now seen so much of it that they have also seen through it. They also expect more of their federal leaders.

So that's the Labor brand. What of the Liberals? Here the theory is that with Howard gone the Coalition drifted, first under Brendan Nelson, then under Malcolm Turnbull. The ascension of Tony Abbott has changed all that. He now offers a real point of difference to Rudd and, critically, he has reunited the party. They're no longer the rust bucket full of leaking holes they once were. And as in Tasmania and South Australia, voters are beginning to reward them in the polls.

This was most evident in South Australia, where the Liberal base returned in large numbers in traditional seats such as Norwood, Bright, Morialta, Hartley and Adelaide. The Mike Rann v Isobel Redmond contest was also redolent of the Rudd-Abbott square-off. Rann was your classic spin merchant, the last of the Labor state premiers in the mould of Bob Carr and Peter Beattie.

Rudd is the first federally to be cast in the state mould. Abbott, like Redmond, is judged to have been the real deal by the electorate; straight talking and authentic, somebody with whose views you might not necessarily agree, but who you respected nevertheless because they simply held them.

Which brings us to the federal election. There's a perception abroad that with Rudd so far ahead, Abbott has no chance. The maths of the Tasmanian and South Australian elections, both with swings of just over 7 per cent, speaks of another equation. As we speak the Coalition needs 17 seats to hold government in its own right. Sounds daunting.

But if there were a sizeable swing to the Coalition, the independents, Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott, all holding conservative seats, could be expected to sit with the conservatives. That reduces the task to 14 seats.

Under the most recent redistribution there are five seats which have become notionally Labor but are actually represented in the parliament by Liberals: Dickson, Macarthur, Gilmore, Greenway, and Swan. They're expected to come back to the Coalition. If you doubt that, Peter Dutton recently paid for some polling in his seat; Rudd's popularity rating was net 22. Dutton was on net 20.

The redistribution has put Greenway within reach. So that reduces the 14 seats the Coalition needs to win to 10.

Then there are the other winnable marginals in Queensland where voters have gone sour on Rudd: Leichhardt, where local Liberal favourite Warren Entsch is standing again; Dawson, where the local Labor MP is resigning due to ill health; Flynn, a coalmining seat where the local member has already declared he's "gone" on the issue of climate change; and Brisbane, which is now ultra-marginal and is being contested for the Liberals by former MP and seasoned campaigner Teresa Gambaro. In Bonner, former member Ross Vasta is going around again. Forde is regarded as a possibility. The redistribution also abolished a seat on each side.

In Robertson, NSW, the most marginal Labor seat in the country, the Liberals look like a shoo-in, thanks to the antics of sitting member Belinda Neal. The same for nearby Dobell. The Nationals are looking to pick up Page again. Bennelong is, in the words of one shadow minister, the white whale; the seat will be pursued obsessively by the party as Captain Ahab. But in the end it will be uncertain who has captured whom .

Lindsay will be gettable for the Liberals because, unlike either Nelson or Turnbull, Abbott appeals to the Howard battlers. Eden-Monaro could well change hands based on its status as the nation's bellwether seat. Abbott's stand on climate change will be vital there.

In Victoria, Corangamite should come back to the Liberals based on the fact Stewart McArthur went round one too many times. And in Tasmania, looking at the weekend's numbers, Bass and Braddon are definite chances. In SA, Hindmarsh is dominated by the elderly, whom Abbott may well appeal to. Kingston swings with cost of living and interests rates, neither of which look to be coming down. In the Northern Territory, as in Hasluck in the west, boatpeople are a big concern. And that leaves Wentworth and Turnbull's intentions. Of which we know nothing. But you see where I'm going here. In the end there may only be four to five seats in this.

In February Rudd addressed his party caucus after another bad Newspoll. He warned it needed to be mindful of the perils of first-term governments and that this year's election campaign was likely to be very tight.

"Remember, the government's majority is what, eight seats?" he said. "Two or three percentage points? It doesn't take much to move that. Two or three people in a hundred change their votes, then Mr Abbott's prime minister."


Paying nurses to play doctor will make system sick

The Medicare reforms will only exacerbate the problems facing public hospitals

CRITICISING the nursing profession is like killing Bambi. Nurses who devote their lives to the care of the sick rightly deserve our honour and respect. But the problems with the Rudd government's changes to Medicare, which fundamentally change the role of nurses in the health system, cannot pass without comment.

Under the legislation passed by the Senate last week, nurse practitioners will for the first time be allowed to bill the Medical Benefits Scheme for treating patients with minor illnesses and prescribe certain medications on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

These changes are not only an egregious waste of health dollars. They will also encourage nurses not to work where they are most needed: in public hospitals, feeding, washing and medicating the sickest patients in the nation.

To understand what the problems are you have to appreciate the structural defects with the health system. Since free fee-for-service general practice visits were introduced in 1984, increasing amounts of taxpayers' dollars have been spent at the least severe end of the health spectrum. To try to contain the cost of bulk-billed services that were immediately overused and quickly became a political sacred cow, the number of medical training places was capped in the mid-1990s. Today's GP shortage and longer waits for appointments is the result.

As the cost of Medicare spiralled, health spending was controlled at the one point in the system where real savings could be made. Public hospital budgets were tightly capped and bed numbers hugely culled (by 60 per cent since 1984) to limit the number of patients who could be treated. Today's ever longer waits for elective surgery and emergency admission are the result.

Rationing of services by waiting based on relative need is an unavoidable feature of all government-run, taxpayer-funded health systems. But what Medicare has produced is an irrational and immoral rationing in the form of an inverse care law.

People with no or relatively minor health problems can see the doctor free of charge and virtually on demand an unlimited number of times at taxpayers' expense, while people with serious illnesses are denied timely access to care and are forced to wait and suffer in the long queues for essential treatment in overcrowded hospitals.

Paying nurses to substitute for doctors so the "worried well" don't have to wait is the wrong priority. This will simply pour more money into the part of the system that will do the least to improve health.

Creating an alternative, lucrative career path for practice nurses will also worsen the shortage of nurses willing to work in hospitals and therefore make it even more difficult to increase the number of hospital beds. It will exacerbate the problems in the nursing profession that have stemmed from the shift from in-hospital training to university-based education in the 80s.

According to many nurses trained under the old vocational system, university training has been a disaster. The three years spent in the classroom has left many nurses unprepared for life in the wards, leading to premature permanent retirement.

This is backed up by the failure of the federal government's greatly undersubscribed back-to-work program. Last year, just 541 returning nurses took up the offer of $6000 cash bonuses, half the number expected and only 7 per cent of the five-year target.

The changes to Medicare aren't a victory against the doctors club, they're a win for interest group politics. The nurses union has flexed its considerable political muscle and convinced the government to use taxpayers' money to pay nurses to do the kind of community-based clinical work that many university-trained nurses now prefer to do.

This is one of the reasons many frontline hospital staff support a return to the traditional system. On-the-job nurse training would enable trainees to discover whether they are actually cut out for nursing. This would also open up nursing careers to students who are unable to gain university admission. And it would enable many hospital beds to be immediately reopened. While we clearly need more ward-based nurses, this does not diminish the need for specialist nurses who will require higher education.

Practice nurses have an important role to play in modern health care. But to ensure safety and quality, practice nurses should work in the same clinics in partnership with doctors who have full clinical responsibility for the care of patients.

When the MBS was introduced the M was said to stand for the all the Mercedes that GPs would now be able to afford. It's the same story this time round. Paying nurses to play doctor will see taxpayers money subsidise a new class of health entrepreneurs. It will not do what all good health reform should promote: the efficient use of scarce resources to ensure the truly sick receive better care.

Any government serious about health reform should end this rort before it has even begun.


Australians living in prosperous times, says CommSec

AUSTRALIANS have never had it so good, to coin a phrase. Commonwealth Securities chief economist Craig James says a new measurement tool launched today shows that Australians are indeed living in prosperous times. The CommSec National Performance Gauge stood at a record high at the end of 2009, rising four per cent over the past year when other countries were trying to cope with global financial crisis.

While the recent Australian Bureau of Statistics national accounts data showed Australia outperformed the rest of the world in 2009, the data indicates how the broader economy fared rather than individuals.

"The CommSec National Performance Gauge attempts to fill the void by focusing on issues that matter to ordinary Aussies," Mr James said. "That is, financial decisions like buying a car or house, filling up the car with petrol, the state of the job market, wages and confidence levels." The CommSec gauge has seven measures:

- Income per head

- Retailing spending per head

- Unemployment

- Consumer confidence

- Number of weeks to buy a car

- Number of weeks to pay the average monthly mortgage repayment

- Litres of petrol that can be purchased on the average wage.

The starting point for the gauge is 1987.

Over the past decade, the CommSec gauge has increased by just over 10 per cent. "While the standard of living of ordinary Australians has lifted over time, those who have done best have been those holding assets such as shares and houses," Mr James said. Adding shares and house prices to the index - the CommSec National Performance Gauge Plus - this shows a 42 per cent jump over the past 10 years.

The gauge shows that car affordability is the strongest in 35 years, taking a person on the average wage just under 30 weeks to buy a new Ford Falcon, down from 36 weeks five years ago.

You can also buy just over 1,000 litres of petrol per week on the average wage, a gain of seven per cent over the same five-year period. During that time, income per head has increased by six per cent and retail spending has risen seven per cent. And while there are gripes about rising home lending rates, the gauge shows it takes a worker on the average wage 1.58 weeks to make the monthly repayment on an average mortgage, similar to levels of five years ago.

Among the states and territories, the ACT tops the gauge's ranking, followed by Western Australia and Tasmania. The country's two most populous states, NSW and Victoria, came seventh and eighth, respectively.

Mr James admits it is difficult to accurately compare different periods of time. "Many, perhaps fondly, remember the simpler times of the 1950s and 1960s. And some people would prefer that interest rates were lower or perhaps jobs were more plentiful. "But in terms of general economic well-being, you would be hard pressed to fault the current times."


Is the national curriculum overdue, or spoiled by political correctness?

By BRETT MASON (Senator Brett Mason is a former university lecturer and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education and School Curriculum Standards)

A necessary and long overdue step in education reform in Australia or the further entrenchment of a politically correct agenda in our primary and secondary schools? Or, indeed, both?

These will be some of the questions that parents and others interested in the education of our children will be asking when considering the draft National Curriculum in English, Mathematics, History and Science, recently released for public consultation by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority.

The idea that all Australian primary and secondary students, regardless of which state or territory they attend school in, should be studying the same things, at the same time in their academic progression, and according to the same standards, has been bandied around for years. It is no longer seen as controversial, and now enjoys broad public support. The devil, as is so often the case with Rudd government initiatives, will be in the detail – of both the finished Curriculum and its implementation.

With the draft National Curriculum now publicly available we can start forming an opinion on the former; and with the Rudd government’s past track record in implementing its lofty programs we are inclined to fear the latter.

While some aspects of the Curriculum, such as the greater emphasis on achieving practical literacy and numeracy, are welcome improvements, there are serious concerns about the direction the Curriculum drafters chose to take in a number of other areas, such as history and science. Perhaps the root problem with the draft Curriculum is ACARA’s decision to weave through all the subject areas three “cross-curriculum perspectives”, no matter how relevant these over-arching themes are to each subject. They are the “Indigenous perspective”, “a commitment to sustainable patterns of living”, and an emphasis on Asia and Australia’s engagement with the region.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with our primary and secondary students learning more about Aboriginal culture, the environment or the history of our region. It is, however, a question of weight, priorities and perspective as to how much, when and in what context students are required to absorb these themes. And the picture presented in the draft Curriculum does not look promising.

Thus, for example, in the Science curriculum, year 9s are to study traditional Chinese medicine, before being given their first opportunity a year later to look at the periodic table of elements, arguably the most important document of modern chemistry, which systemises and informs our understanding of the physical world around us.

Or take 4 year olds in preschool being taught the significance of ANZAC Day and Sorry Day at the same time, while having to wait until Grade 3 to learn about Australia Day and its meaning and place in our nation’s history.

Indeed, the Curriculum contains 118 references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture and history (with Grade 5s studying “White Australia” and Grade 9s Aboriginal massacres and displacement). But there is only one reference to Parliament, and none to Westminster or the Magna Carta, the aspects of our political and cultural heritage that have made Australia perhaps the most peaceful, successful and prosperous democracy in the history of humanity.

If the new National Curriculum sounds like the return and the entrenchment of the “black armband” view of our history, you can be forgiven for being confused. Unlike its drafters, the Coalition – as well as a large majority of Australians - believe that, on balance and for all its faults, Australia’s history is a cause for celebration rather than constant breast-beating.

Here again we have all the ingredients of another Rudd government disaster in the making: a grand but not unattractive idea (the National Curriculum), a tight schedule (2011 is to be a pilot year involving a number of schools around the country), and little thought given to the practicalities of making it all work. There are no resources coming from the Federal government for all the additional teacher training and development required, while extra burdens will be imposed on those who have to deliver the initiative.

Primary school principals in particular are already worried about their capacity to deliver the science, history and math components according to the detail prescribed. We are already experiencing teacher shortages, particularly in areas like science, and the demands of the new Curriculum will merely exacerbate the problems while leaving others to pick up the pieces. For instance, it has been highlighted that only 16 universities in Australia train history teachers and 10 of these are in NSW. It will be necessary for universities to significantly adjust to meet this new demand, particularly given that the Curriculum mandates as many as 80 hours of history a year. Bear in mind that NSW, the only state that currently teaches history as a stand-alone subject, only sets aside 50 hours per year for teaching this subject in years 7 to 10.

Quite apart from the technicalities, the Australian Education Union and legions of individual teachers will in the end have a considerable influence on how the final product is translated for consumption in the classrooms. In the past this has proven to be a game of Chinese whispers where Australia’s mainstream often misses out in favour of elite preoccupations. In its 2007 Curriculum Policy Document, the AEU states, for example, that the first task of schooling should be to "assist in overcoming inequalities between social groups".

To that end, a curriculum entails "recognising that Australia is a multicultural society and that therefore students come to school with a variety of backgrounds, cultures, histories and values, all of which are equally valid" – a statement of cultural relativism that not many outside of the AEU head office would actually agree with.

Or that through a curriculum “students should gain an understanding of the role that the construction of gender has played and continues to play in society”, another exposition of political correctness of little obvious benefit to making our children better educated and productive citizens.

With a die-hard commitment to these sorts of values, parents could be forgiven for fearing that no matter how balanced the National Curriculum will be the ideologues in our education system will always find a way to teach what they want and how they want it.

Parents and other interested parties have just under three months to provide feedback on the draft; that is if they manage to access the information and navigate the rather user-unfriendly feedback website. Perhaps the "digital education revolution" should have started with the government. All we can do at this stage is make our voices heard and hope that a more balanced and mainstream vision of a National Curriculum will prevail.


21 March, 2010

Money doesn’t grow on trees

By Sara Hudson

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s decision to support Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin’s income management bill signals a much-needed change in attitudes to welfare in Australia.

When I was young, my mother would often say, ‘money doesn’t go on trees’ in response to my pleas for her to buy me something. Today, when I tell my own children that I can’t afford to buy them something, their response is, ‘So why don’t you use your credit card?’ Teaching children that there isn’t an endless supply of money from a hole in the wall or a plastic card is one of the tasks of parenthood.

By the time they leave home, even if children haven’t quite grasped the fact that money is something you have to earn, they soon do. Generally, most people wake up to the painful reality of working for a living and the effort required to earn their dollars.

However, it’s a different story for those who have never had the experience of working. It’s a sad reality, but the more the government gives without expecting anything in return, the more people tend to expect that the government will meet their every need. Many develop a strong sense of entitlement about what the government ‘owes’ them – and the sense of individual responsibility weakens and dies.

Macklin’s decision to extend income management across the entire Northern Territory, regardless of ethnicity, and eventually on a national basis to individuals who meet certain criteria, is a good one. There needs to be a differentiation between money earned and money received from the government. If people have less freedom regarding how they can spend their welfare payments, then maybe it will make them think harder about the advantages of working.

For those who haven’t learned the skills of budgeting, income management ensures that at least some of the welfare payment goes towards essential needs – like food for their kids. Unfortunately, too many children in Australia know what it means when their mum says she hasn’t got any money – waiting until dole day to get a decent feed. Sure, income management is paternalistic – but in this case, it’s a necessary evil.

Tackling the insidious effects of passive welfare requires some ‘tough love.’

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated March 19. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Battle looms over cuts to history curriculum

As a 5th generation Australian who is mightily pleased to be an Australian, I don't think I can be accused of ill motives in what I am about to say but I do think that the teaching of Australian history can be overdone. It is a very praiseworthy history but it is small beer on the world scene. American, British and European history are far more important for study in schools

WRITERS drafting the national curriculum need to reduce the amount of Australian history taught - raising the spectre of another fight over what is cut when the document is finalised later this year. The chairman of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, Barry McGaw, told the Herald that he was open to reducing the history content in response to concerns that it contains too much for teachers to cover. Professor McGaw said he was "open to any advice the history teachers want to give to us". "We need quite specific advice," he said. "They need to say what needs to come out."

The president of the Australian History Teachers Association, Paul Kiem, said feedback from around the country confirmed the draft curriculum was too content-heavy, particularly in years 9 and 10 when the bulk of Australian history was taught. "There has to be some culling," he said. "There needs to be a pause and discussion about what is significant knowledge in Australian history and what we expect people to know by year 10. "Australian history dominates years 9 and 10 and it is one area in which decisions will have to be made about reducing content or introducing options."

Drafters of the curriculum, which is open for public consultation until May 23, have so far satisfied a range of political interest groups by covering as much as possible within a framework of 80 teaching hours each year. Some also believe there will not be enough time to teach world history in the depth outlined in the draft curriculum. At present, NSW is the only state that tailors its curriculum to a specific time frame: 50 hours for history.

Those involved in the curriculum drafting have confirmed the history outline is overly ambitious and will need to be condensed, have topics removed or have core areas taught as electives. Teachers believe the curriculum authority is nervous about stirring up political tension over which topics it will remove.

The NSW Board of Studies and the state government have been silent on any contentious national curriculum debate issues this federal election year. Mr Kiem said his and other teacher organisations were frustrated at the silence of state and territory Labor governments. "It is a very significant problem," he said. "There is no transparency. No one is saying how many hours we will have to work with. "We have been saying for a long time that we need to get a response … about implementation and from universities about teacher training. If we don't get answers from state and territory governments, there will be inconsistent implementation."

Mr Kiem said he was concerned that the national curriculum authority was not open or flexible enough to offer core history curriculum in the form of options. "We are looking at a document that can be implemented flexibly," he said. "My impression with ACARA is that there is a generic template approach to designing the curriculum, the notion that all students will be studying the one history course. There is a real need to consider those implementation issues. What is needed is flexibility. How you do that is develop core and options."

A spokeswoman for the NSW Minister for Education, Verity Firth, declined to comment on details of the history curriculum. "From day one, the NSW government has supported the development of the national curriculum and we are currently examining the details of the draft," she said.


The grammar you teach when you are not teaching grammar

The gobbledegook below sounds like a face-saving way of admitting that the abandonment of grammar teaching was a big mistake

THE problem is huge: low levels of literacy among up to half of Australians. The solution: a new national school curriculum, literacy for the 21st century and, gasp, grammar.

Some say dropping grammar in the 1970s began the slide to today's textese - "yng peeps cant rite proply".

But many older Australians live with literacy levels lower than young people. The issue is the needs of people and the economy are changing and so is the curriculum.

Is boring old grammar the answer? Well, not really. It's a modern approach to grammar that's being introduced. And the ambitions are broad: lift children who slip through cracks in the education system to a level of reading and writing that reflects Australia's wealth.

Almost half of adult Australians have literacy skills lower than those needed to meet the demands of everyday life and work in a knowledge-based economy, Bureau of Statistics figures show.

Scarily, nearly two-thirds of those whose first language is not English scored below the minimum.

Even so, compared with other countries, Australia rates well on high-school students' scores in reading, maths and science tests. The problem is that achievement differs across the country - and between the disadvantaged and the better off. Last year's national tests reveal nearly one in three year 9 students in the Northern Territory is below the minimum standard in reading, writing, spelling and grammar and punctuation - they do not have rudimentary literacy skills. In NSW, about one in 10 students is at this low level.

The draft national curriculum puts grammar, spelling and punctuation at the centre of English teaching and learning. But why now?

Grammar was cut in the '70s because of a view it didn't help students' writing, said Dr Sally Humphrey from the University of Sydney's linguistics department.

"It was like, 'We're just going to give you building blocks; we're not going to show you how it works in text."' The grammar starring in the new curriculum "isn't a set of rules for 'correct' use", she said, but "a set of resources or a tool kit" to be used according to the situation - whether it's texting, giving a presentation in class or writing a history essay.

"Each of those three situations would require different resources, different patternings of grammar, to do the job properly in that particular context," Dr Humphrey said. "We want to give kids the grammatical resources for being able to do lots of different things."

Reintroducing grammar was also part of an effort to strengthen the literacy of children from multilingual and disadvantaged backgrounds, said the lead adviser to the new English curriculum, Professor Peter Freebody from the University of Sydney. "Our teachers and our systems are geared to doing well for the mainstream," he said. Imagine that school results, including literacy, are shaped like a tadpole. The fat body, representing the bulk of students, does well or quite well. But there's a long tail of people left behind.

Professor Freebody said students didn't learn to read by year 3 and then just build content knowledge. Different kinds of texts demanded different understandings, he said, "and those things don't come free with the territory just because you're good at reading and writing when you're in year 3".

While grammar's return may sound like going back to the '50s, the modern educator's knowledge of grammar, and its use for teaching "reading and writing and enriching kids' understanding of content areas, that's not going backwards", Professor Freebody said.

The new curriculum was arranged into three strands - language, literacy and literature - with grammar an "integral component" of each strand.

It's about "letting kids in on the 'secret' of how good writers and good text producers do their work through the resources of language, through the resources of grammar - 'hey, this is how it's done!'," Dr Humphrey said. "And that's an equity issue … Kids who haven't got access to middle-class homes and middle-class ways of using language that are valued in the schools, they do need [the workings of language] made explicit."

The Australian Industry Group has highlighted the negative effect of low literacy and numeracy on productivity, safety and training. Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the new curriculum was "a long overdue step, so we're strongly supportive of it". Ms Ridout stressed the need for more specialist expertise in language across the board. "We don't just not have it in schools; we don't have it in TAFE, in the VET sector, and we don't have it in the workforce."


Is there any unmassaged climate data out there?

This is yet another example of things that don’t add up in the world of GISS temperatures in Australia. Previously, we’ve discussed Gladstone and Darwin.

Ken Stewart has been doing some homework, and you can see all the graphs on his blog. Essentially, the Bureau of Met in Australia provides data for Mt. Isa that shows a warming trend of about 0.5 degrees of warming over a century. GISS takes this, adjusts it carefully to “homogenize urban data with rural data”, and gets an answer of 1.1 degrees. (Ironically among other things, “homogenisation” is supposed to compensate for the Urban Heat Island Effect, which would artificially inflate the trend in urban centers.) To give you an idea of scale, the nearest station is at Cloncurry, 106km east (where a flat trend of 0.05 or so appears in the graph). But, there are other trends that are warmer in other stations. Averaging the five nearest rural stations gives about 0.6 degrees; averaging the nearest ten stations gives between 0.6 and 0.88 degrees.

Mt Isa and surrounds with temperatures
Mt Isa and surrounds with temperature trends
But, they increase the slope of the trendline from less than 0.5 to more than1.1 degrees Celsius per 102 years by lowering the earlier data by 0.3C. They say they do this because they homogenise urban data for discontinuities caused by station shifts, Urban Heat Island (UHI), etc., by their stated method: “…[U]rban stations are adjusted so that their long-term trend matches that of the mean of neighboring rural stations. Urban stations without nearby rural stations are dropped.” (
The Mt Isa Graph

The Giss (red) line shows a steeper warming trend, because earlier data is adjusted down.

But in the end, the temperatures don’t fit linear trends very well. In Bourketown, for example, there was a rise, but it was mostly during 1945 – 1988, and in the last twenty years, as Ken points out, there has been a significant fall.

Burketown 327km north east

By themselves, these minor revisions wouldn’t be worth getting excited about, but the fact that they keep occurring and that they are so blatant and always in a warmer direction surely becomes too many nails in the coffin.

One can only assume that the people “adjusting” never thought anybody would check. And if billions of dollars were not on the table, probably nobody would have.

Thanks to Ken Stewart for his dedication.


20 March, 2010

Hilarious! Australian students become the first "Aborigines" to attend Oxford University

I wish the young people mentioned in the news story below all the best but calling them Aborigines is a laugh. I have a blue-eyed, fair-haired sister in law who is also called an Aborigine. Such is the politically correct nomenclature used in Australia. That real Aborigines have black skin, dark eyes, flat noses and heavy features is supposed to be invisible, apparently. At least the guy on the right below has something of the distinctive heavy features.

Even Charlie Perkins was not much of an Aborigine. His skin was yellowish rather than black and his nose was as narrow as mine. Such people would once have been called "half-castes" or "quarter castes" and beyond that simply "whites", though it might occasionally be observed that such "whites" had "a touch of the tar-brush" in their ancestry.

In short, the people in this story tell you NOTHING about people of wholly Aboriginal ancestry, though the do-gooders no doubt will be pretending that it does. I think it is an imposture to keep referring to people as "Aborigines" when they are clearly nothing of the sort. It certainly does no favours to Aborigines to have people held out to them as role models who are in fact effectively whites. I know Aborigines well and they have their own great strengths and virtues -- but they are not the same as the strengths and virtues of whites. May I use "paternalism" as a descriptor of the nonsense below?

Paul Gray, left, and Christian Thompson sit with Rachel Perkins, the daughter of Charlie Perkins

When Australian indigenous leader Charlie Perkins played football against Oxford university students in Britain in the 1960s, he was inspired to forgo a contract with Manchester United and return home to pursue a university education. Mr Perkins eventually become the first indigenous person to graduate from an Australian university in 1965 and went on to become a prominent Aboriginal leader who campaigned for civil rights reform.

Now two students will study at Oxford in his honour, the first Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the prestigious British university. Christian Thompson, 32, and Paul Gray, 26, were announced this week as the inaugural recipients of the Charlie Perkins Scholarships to attend Oxford University.

Mr Gray will develop research into the neurobiological processes in children as a result of traumatic events in early life as part of a postgraduate degree in experimental psychology.

Mr Thompson will undertake doctoral studies in fine art at the Ruskin School of Art where he will conduct research on the Indigenous Australian artefacts at the Pitt Rivers Museum’s Collection. Mr Thompson, an acclaimed artist who is currently studying at the Amsterdam School of Fine Arts in the Netherlands, described it as a “life changing opportunity”. “To be one of the first two Aboriginals to ever go to Oxford is pretty wild,” he told The Times. “It’s going to be exciting to be in an environment which is all about the pursuit of knowledge.” Mr Thompson will also hold a residency with the Blast Theory art collective in Brighton in August prior to starting his studies at Oxford.

For Mr Gray, it will be his first visit to Britain. “I’m really excited about it, it’s going to be such a great opportunity for us,” he said, adding that he is a little wary of the British weather. “Luckily I don’t feel the cold too much, so hopefully it’ll be ok.”

The pair will travel to the UK next month for an orientation visit to the university and will begin their studies in October. The scholarship is jointly funded by the British and Australian governments.

SOURCE (Andrew Bolt has a more graphic comment on the matter)

Media bias about religion: Rudd's Catholic background is good; Abbott's Catholic background is bad

Rudd was brought up as a Catholic but now mainly worships at Anglican churches. He always makes clear that he has a strong Christian committment, however

TONY Abbott is a phenomenon, a former trainee priest who wears his conservative Catholicism on his sleeve; Abbott is an experiment for our politics, public attitudes and media coverage.

There is nothing new about a political leader being a Christian. Paul Keating was steeped in his Catholic background; Malcolm Turnbull was a convert to Catholicism; John Howard, reared a Methodist, practised as an Anglican; and Kevin Rudd is an Anglican who gives television doorstops outside church. Rudd provides politics with a slightly more religious face and hopes to gain from this.

Yet Abbott is different. None of the others contemplated a religious life, spent three years in a seminary or had the same depth of religious experience. Abbott's Catholicism is integral to his political personality. It runs through his speech, outlook and values. It provokes alarm from influential women and feminists.

But what is especially different is that Abbott keeps talking about his values and morality.

During last week's ABC1 Four Corners program on Abbott, interviewer Liz Jackson ventured that "maybe it's the language" he uses that helps to make Abbott so provocative. Former journalist and Peter Costello press secretary Niki Savva said this week that Abbott cannot stop talking about sex, morality and women. This raises the question: Do his advisers ever tell him to tone it down?

On this point the contrast between Abbott and Rudd is pivotal. Abbott opens the door on his moral views and Rudd, as Prime Minister, has firmly closed the door. It is fascinating that the media responds in a dutiful manner. It questions Abbott relentlessly and it largely leaves Rudd alone. Yet the views of the two men seem almost identical. What does this say about media professionalism and fairness?

In Rudd's famous 2006 Monthly magazine article he called German theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer his hero and quoted him approvingly that "when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die". Rudd backed Bonhoeffer's rejection of the Two Kingdoms doctrine: the gospel being about the inner person and not the realm of state affairs. By endorsing Bonhoeffer's view Rudd offered the most assertive vision of an active Christianity in politics.

Yet Rudd's Christianity is more acceptable to the media because it enshrines a social justice agenda to support "the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed". Rudd also believes abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research are "matters of deep individual conscience", which means he is not prescriptive on such matters.

Abbott, by contrast, reflects the Catholic struggle between individual conscience and church interpretation of God's will. He flirts with being prescriptive about conscience matters. So Abbott laments 100,000 abortions annually and wants abortion to be "safe, legal and rare"; he says he finds homosexuals "a bit threatening"; and he reveals advice to his daughters not "to give it [virginity] to someone lightly".

This difference is subtle yet vital. Rudd and Abbott have similar views on same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia but Abbott's more prescriptive rhetoric brings him into the firing line.

Of course, Abbott is a politician seeking advantage. He judges his social conservatism will appeal to the former Howard battlers who believe in family and traditional values. Yet the differences between Howard and Abbott are illuminating; Abbott, unlike Howard, has a more explicit religious profile and this poses a greater electoral risk for him.

The truth, however, is that in hard policy terms the guise of "Abbott as Christian crusader" is overdone, exhausted and marginal. Abbott does not seek to qualify the secular state. He has made this clear for many years. He does not seek any change in abortion laws. He does not object to same-sex couples, just their marriage, like Rudd. He does not seek to impose Catholic teaching on Australia. Any such notion is untenable in Australia's secular state.

The real objection to Abbott is that he refuses to disguise his muscular, conservative Christianity. The Australian people will pass their own judgment on muscular, conservative Christianity but it is manifestly offensive to our progressive media. There are numerous examples but the most recent was the Four Corners program last Monday on The Authentic Mr Abbott. The unifying theme was Abbott's religion to an extent that would have been inconceivable in any comparable program on Rudd.

But the real issue was the treatment of Abbott's religion. It was a sustained exercise in reinforcing stereotypes where, for the umpteenth time, Abbott was portrayed as patronising about women, reactionary on abortion, prone to impose his moral beliefs and unsympathetic to the poor and homeless.

Many viewers would have loved it. This program magnified out of proportion and distorted the policy significance of Abbott's religion as distinct from Abbott's views on economics, finance, foreign policy, welfare, education, health, parental leave, industrial relations and so on that will bear directly on what an Abbott prime ministership would mean for Australians.

The more challenging and worthwhile media approach was to discover the "authentic Mr Abbott" by contesting caricature and stereotype. What, for example, is the most obvious political example of Abbott's Christianity?

It is surely his personal commitment to and visits to remote indigenous communities during his entire career. As a newly elected backbench MP in 1994 and 1995 Abbott began these three to four-day visits. They intensified when he became employment minister, then health minister. Abbott formed a relationship with Noel Pearson and became one of the great political backers of Pearson's reforms.

With more time after the Coalition's 2007 defeat, Abbott spent three weeks in 2008 as a teacher's aide working in the classroom from 9am to 3pm at Coen in north Queensland, assisting Aboriginal youngsters with their literacy, and has since followed the progress of some of these children. Last year he spent 10 days at Aurukun in Queensland assisting the truancy team.

Frankly, this shows a rare personal commitment not duplicated by any other national party leader. It is part of the Abbott story unknown to the public. Such commitment is integral to Abbott's Christianity and Catholic background. Yet it violates the stereotype of his Christianity as a negative repressive factor, which is the ABC's dominant ideological mindset.

Such a depiction of Abbott would be contentious because it would mean his Christianity leads to something worthwhile. By the way, have you ever heard on any ABC current affairs program any suggestion that Abbott's Christianity has positive as opposed to negative implications? If so, you are a privileged person.

Four Corners highlighted the welfare sector's outrage about Abbott and stamped its angry foot over his refusal to endorse Rudd's target to halve homelessness by 2020. Yes, Rudd's targets can be constructive but they do not guarantee good policy. Indeed, targets are often self-serving tokenism. At the 1998 election Kim Beazley pledged to cut the jobless rate to 5 per cent but Howard repudiated the target only to better the figure. The program did not mention Rudd's recent concession that homelessness in Australia is increasing. Is this not relevant when Abbott is being critiqued for not matching Rudd's target?

What matters are results, and this was Abbott's point. The program's choice of homeless targets to reinforce the stereotype of Abbott as unsympathetic to poverty-busting intervention was unpersuasive and revealed a pre-conceived mindset towards him.

The program briefly mentioned former One Nation operative David Oldfield, who was employed by Abbott and whose defection to Pauline Hanson was a serious embarrassment for him. Having raised Oldfield, the program declined to mention his consequence: that Abbott as a minister and without seeking Howard's approval launched a political and legal campaign against Hanson that led, eventually, to her imprisonment. Abbott once said he saw this campaign "as the most important thing I have done in politics". Yes, the ABC has covered this issue before. But the idea of a conservative Abbott pursuing Hanson, another violation of the stereotype, was nowhere to be seen in the profile.

The program, fixated on Abbott's religion, missed the obvious point: that Abbott is a classic "Lord, forgive me" Christian, open and humble about his personal failures. Abbott's Christianity underpins his beliefs but facilitates his saga of confessional changes of mind, notably on multiculturalism and parental leave. What, pray, might come next?

Neither Abbott nor Rudd wants to make religion an election issue. While it lurks in the background, it should be kept firmly in the background. It would be a serious lack of judgment if the media invested Abbott's religion with more weight than it deserves in this contest. It would be an equal lack of judgment if the media, in depicting the political meaning of Abbott's Christianity, offered a series of sustained distortions.


Malcolm Fraser's famous missing trousers: Maybe Mossad stole them

Andrew Bolt has below what is probably the last word on the matter. I once met Malcolm Fraser and it took a real effort of will to suppress any mention of the word "trousers" in the resultant conversation

The scary thing is that Malcolm Fraser is now so far to the Left that he probably actually believes it:
Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs (is) jointly written by Fraser and Margaret Simons. According to Simons, Fraser wanted to expose himself to critical questioning. So the co-authored book attempts to be both biography and autobiography which, of course, is impossible.

As is the attempt to finally make go away what happened in Memphis, in 1986, when Fraser lost his pants… “So what happened in Memphis?” asks the book. “Fraser gave some brief comments to the media at the time but has never expanded on them. He does not intend to do so now.”

So much for the critical questioning…

The book explains (Fraser) ... went to town “hoping to find some of the famous live blues venues”. He went for a drink at the flash Peabody Hotel but “awoke in a very different place: the Admiral Benbow Hotel, a notoriously seedy dive”.

It goes on: “Today, both (wife) Tamie and (personal assistant) Heather Barwick are convinced Fraser was telling the truth, that he was drugged.”

Well, yes. The book proposes he may have been the victim of a simple crime, but hints that darker forces were at work. Who? It doesn’t say. The likely suspects were the CIA, because the US was at the time standing in the way of the sanctions, or maybe Mossad, because Israel was apparently selling arms to South Africa and didn’t want Fraser wrecking the deal.

“However,” says the book, “he prefers not to entertain conspiracy theories.”
Paul Toohey goes on to give some gossip of the kind that suggests Mossad may not have sent secret agents across the world to snatch Mal’s daks.
I once went to Memphis looking for Fraser’s pants. I did not find them but I did find other things…

Fraser had checked into the Benbow after midnight, signing in with a scrawl that appeared to read “Joan Jones” from Victoria, and paid for the room with a $100 bill. Fraser later told the Memphis Commercial Appeal he had not called the police about his missing $10,000 Rolex, passport, wallet, $600 cash and, let’s not forget, his trousers because “I had a busy schedule to keep and chances of getting my stuff back seemed pretty remote”.

Fraser was most likely drugged at the classy Peabody by an attractive woman. After the story broke, Janine Perrett, a New York correspondent for The Australian, wrote how “poor old Malcolm was suffering memory losses”.

But she could jog his memory a short time later in New York, where Fraser promised her “an exclusive interview on the merits of floating exchange rates”. The interview never happened. Instead, Fraser wanted to go with Perrett to a “dark, smoky, smoochy bar”.

Australian bishops lead crossing to Rome

FOUR bishops, 40 priests and thousands of parishioners from the Traditional Anglican Communion will petition the Vatican by Easter to be received into the Catholic Church. Archbishop John Hepworth of Adelaide, primate of the TAC, said 26 parishes in Western Australia, Tasmania, NSW, Victoria, far north Queensland and South Australia hoped to be united with Rome by the end of the year.

The move comes as 100 Anglican parishes in the US and some in Canada have announced their decisions to convert to Catholicism en masse, voting to take up an offer made by Pope Benedict XVI in November in his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (On Groups of Anglicans). The initiative allows Anglican bishops, priests and entire congregations, if they wish, to join Rome.

Archbishop Hepworth, 65, who is married with three children, said the Pope had allowed for a continuation of Anglican practices, including a married clergy. "In an age when the traditional family is under attack, the presence of a priestly family at the centre of parishes is a real gift," he said. He said the motivation for the move to Rome was a desire for Christian unity and dissatisfaction with the secularisation of the Anglican church. This, he said, included the ordination of women and practising homosexuals.

Traditional Anglicans had also become disillusioned by radical bishops such as John Shelby Spong in the US publicly disbelieving the Gospel accounts of basic tenets such as the bodily Resurrection of Christ, he said.

"Under the process, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accepts petitions, they are then referred to the local Catholic bishops' conference which gives advice, then an Ordinariate will be established," he said. "I would like to think the process would be close to being finalised by the end of the year because the Pope wants results."

Australia's Cardinal George Pell said members of the TAC would be "most welcome" when the process unfolded. To ease the way, the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference has appointed Bishop Peter Elliott of Melbourne, the director of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, to liaise with traditional Anglicans considering joining the Catholic Church. "The papal offer gives traditional Anglicans the opportunity to be united in communion but not absorbed by the Catholic Church," Bishop Elliott said. "The Catholic Church will be enriched by the very prayerful and dignified approach to worship and the sense of good taste and culture of traditional Anglicans."

Once the Ordinariate is established, ordinary Catholics will be free to attend its Masses.

Archbishop Hepworth acknowledged that some traditional Anglicans would opt not to join the Ordinariate "and they will need to be catered for".

The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Dr Phillip Aspinall, was in flood-affected areas of western Queensland yesterday and uncontactable. But in a recent statement he said that the TAC "is a group of people who are not part of the Anglican Church of Australia nor in communion with the global Anglican Communion". But at least two of the bishops involved in the petition, David Robarts of Launceston and Harry Entwistle of Perth, hold general licences within the mainstream Anglican church's Diocese of the Murray and are therefore in communion with Canterbury.

Dr Aspinall warned lay Anglicans if they wished to become Catholic "they will have to accept all the teaching of that Church including its moral teaching, for example, on contraception".

In Britain, Anglican and Catholic authorities are considering the financial implications of any mass conversions, including the possibility of church sharing or the Catholic Church taking out 100-year leases on former Anglican churches.


Note that my QANTAS/Jetstar and Queensland Police blogs are still getting frequent updates

19 March, 2010

Racist brawl in Melbourne

The races are not named, of course but the "very tall fellows" would undoubtedly be East Africans (e.g. Sudanese) and the other group were probably Polynesians (e.g. Maori, Samoans). Polynesians tend to be very aggressive. A fighting response to any mockery would be absolutely normal for Polynesians

Six men have been charged over a terrifying brawl at a shopping centre in Melbourne’s east yesterday. Police said the fight erupted at the Whitehorse Plaza shopping centre in Box Hill and involved nine men from two groups.

Reports allege some combatants carried knives and used chairs to attack the second group, with the fight spilling on to Whitehorse Road and surrounding streets.

Paramedics were called but treated only one man, a 19-year-old who claimed he had not been injured but was vomiting. He was taken to Maroondah Hospital in a stable condition. One bystander suffered a cut to the head but did not need medical treatment.

About 5pm, police arrested nine men over the fight. Six men, aged 18 to 23, from the eastern and south-eastern suburbs, were charged with affray. The three other men were released without charge. The six will appear in the Ringwood Magistrates Court at a later date.

Witness ‘‘Kelly’’ told Radio 3AW today ‘‘some very, very tall fellows were whistling and calling out’’ when another group responded to the noise. ‘‘Eventually it turned into a bit of a face off, a bit of a face off, and then it turned into a full-on brawl,’’ she said. She said the two groups were from different cultural backgrounds [i.e. races] and the fight went on for ‘‘10 to 15 minutes up and down the mall’’.


Rest easy. Your airline "security" staff will protect you from iced tea!

Filipina woman spends five days in jail after iced tea mistaken for drugs. They're deep thinkers, our security personnel

A TOURIST from the Philippines has been cleared of wrongdoing after she spent five days in custody on drug charges due to a mix-up over packets of tea she brought into Australia. Customs had detected amphetamines in three 800g packets of lemon-flavoured ice tea brought in by Maria Cecilia Silva, 29, at Melbourne airport on March 13 and handed her over to the Australian Federal Police.

In the Melbourne Magistrates Court, magistrate Jack Vandersteen ordered the Director of Public Prosecutions pay Ms Silva $5000 for her ordeal.

When her bags were searched at the airport a drug detection dog had reacted to the iced tea containers and further testing of one of the containers came back with a positive result for amphetamine.

Ms Silva was released after the prosecution withdrew a charge of importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug. Her barrister Michael Penna-Rees said the packets of tea, which she had bought in a Philippines supermarket, had never been opened.

Mr Vandersteen took the unusual step of releasing Ms Silva inside the court instead of having her returned to the cells and released at the side entry of the courthouse. Once freed, Ms Silva was in tears and clung to a female prison guard who led her through the court to a friend who was waiting to embrace her. "She's traumatised, she's lost a lot of weight and she'll be seeing a doctor," Mr Penna-Rees said. "She's a wedding planner in the Philippines, her mother is a wedding singer and her father is a wedding musician - it's a family business. "She's a totally innocent young lady who has experienced five days in an horrendous situation having her liberty taken away and placed in cells with some serious offenders."

Mr Penna-Rees said he understood that there have been similar problems with packets of iced tea on previous occasions. [But no ability to learn from that??]


A new low for the ABC

"Comedian" Fiona O'Loughlin says Bindi Irwin 'creepy', needs slap in face. One hopes that the ABC has enough remnants of good taste not to employ the garbage ever again

RECOVERING alcoholic comedian Fiona O'Loughlin has sunk to a new low, calling Bindi Irwin a creep who needs a slap in the face. Viewers branded O'Loughlin spiteful and hateful after her performance on Wednesday's episode of ABC music quiz Spicks and Specks.

O'Loughlin described 11-year-old Bindi as a "bit creepy" before doing an over-the-top impersonation of the child star's voice. She then made a gesture indicating Bindi was crazy, before miming a slap across the child star's face.

The bitter outburst stunned fellow panellists, particularly Chris Durling, a former member of Bindi's Crocmen. Durling said working with Bindi was a great experience, describing her as "gorgeous" and down-to-earth. "What you see is what you get," Durling said of Bindi.

A laughing O'Loughin replied: "Yeah, a freak show."

Series regular Alan Brough waded into the awkward discussion, joking that O'Loughlin was spiteful and hateful for getting stuck into a little girl.

Viewers were quick to voice their outrage, with the ABC's online message board awash with criticism, saying the show had lost the plot. Viewers said O'Loughlin was "tasteless", "un-Australian" and a bully....

O'Loughlin discusses her battle with the booze in an interview to be published in Saturday's Herald Sun.


Whistleblowers get protection in federal legislation

THE federal government has accelerated its push for a more open system of government by introducing the first federal law protecting public servants who reveal maladministration. It plans to reverse decades of government secrecy by protecting public servants who reveal serious wrongdoing to the media. The new scheme is intended to encourage whistleblowers in the federal public service by giving them the nation's most extensive system of legal protection and support.

Cabinet secretary Joe Ludwig, who unveiled the scheme in parliament yesterday, was praised last night by whistleblowers and legal academics for delivering a scheme that goes beyond the more limited schemes in force in the states. "It is close to world's best practice," said legal academic A.J. Brown. "It will change the culture of government," said Peter Bennett, president of Whistleblowers Australia.

The scheme will be contained in a planned public interest disclosure act that will fulfil Labor's promise to address the problems in the legal system highlighted by the case of convicted whistleblower Allan Kessing. Senator Ludwig declined to discuss the Kessing case last night, but lawyers believe the government's scheme could have been enough to prevent Mr Kessing being convicted in 2007 over the disclosure of long-ignored flaws in security at Sydney Airport. "This is not a scheme to legitimise leaking in general - it is a scheme to protect whistleblowing through appropriate channels," Senator Ludwig said.

The government plans to introduce an internal system for handling public interest complaints within the bureaucracy that will involve every agency in the federal public service. If that system fails to address concerns about serious matters in a "reasonable" time, public servants will be given legal protection if they tell the media or anyone else.

The scheme would also protect what is expected to be a smaller category of public servants who bypass the internal system and go directly to the media with public interest disclosures about serious matters. Direct approaches to the media would be protected whenever exceptional circumstances exist, in cases where a public servant believes on reasonable grounds that there is a substantial and imminent threat to people's lives, health or safety.

Senator Ludwig said the scheme would be the first stand-alone system of whistleblower protection for the commonwealth public service. It has been unveiled a week after Senator Ludwig and Attorney-General Robert McClelland welcomed a report from the Australian Law Reform Commission calling for the repeal of part of the Commonwealth Crimes Act that imposes criminal penalties for unauthorised disclosures by public servants.

The whistleblower scheme would mean complaints about wrongdoing would usually be made to a public servant's own agency and if necessary to an external agency such as the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. The government aims to have the public interest disclosure act in force by next January.


18 March, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is furious that Kevin Rudd seems to be slighting NSW in favour of Queensland

That "welcome" ritual again

Some straight talk from Gary Johns, formerly a minister in the Keating Labor government. He is referring to the politically correct custom -- recently criticized by Tony Abbott -- of acknowledging Aboriginal "traditional ownership" of the land at the outset of public meetings. I heartily agree that such tokenism is contemptible while there is negligible policing of Aboriginal violence towards their women and children -- JR

An American anthropologist studying Sydney Aborigines commented recently, "Doing culture can reinforce one's indigeneity or it can make one appear unreal." Welcome to country is a constant reminder of a people bypassed by progress. And how long should this go on? For 40,000 years until the ledger is somehow squared? Is there nothing else an Aborigine would want to be known for?

The welcome ceremony is part of a mindset that locks Aborigines out of the world in which they desperately need to engage. Government ministers offer a rote acknowledgment of traditional custodians but don't enforce truancy laws to make Aboriginal children attend school. Ministers will hold hands, walk over bridges and spend taxpayers' dollars on busybody schemes, but to do something effective such as forcing a child to attend school in the face of an ignorant parent: never.

I recall Howard government minister Philip Ruddock giving a welcome to country in Perth while the commonwealth was opposing a native title claim by the Nyungar people over Perth. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin offers an acknowledgment at most functions, even while withholding welfare cheques from Aborigines.

Whether doing the wrong thing (not enforcing truancy laws) or the right thing (opposing poorly conceived native title claims and imposing income management for poor behaviour), the acknowledgment is trotted out. There are problems with its apparently simple wish "to show respect for Aboriginal culture and heritage and acknowledge the ongoing relationship traditional custodians have with their land". It is a gesture full of holes and with some weird fellow travellers.

One-quarter of Aborigines do not recognise a particular area as their homeland and one-quarter live in areas that may have some relationship to their original land, but those are the poor beggars who are worse off by a long way.

As for custodians, it perpetuates the myth of the Aborigine as the gentle gardener. Paul Albrecht, a former pastor at Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory, says the Aboriginal concept of caring for country is not related to environmental concerns: it's about guarding sites of significance and caring for sacred objects. Their primitive technology and frequent moves meant they did not evolve rules for land care as it is understood today.

On occasions when the substantive matter has to do with Aborigines and the function is taking place on Aboriginal land as recognised by Australian law, a welcome to country or acknowledgment is appropriate. But to indulge the concept on land that is owned by others is an insult to the latter's rights. Indeed, by overplaying the historic claims to all Australian land, the welcome acts as the original sin: it can never be expunged unless the whitefella leaves.

Peter Adam, principal of Victoria's Anglican theological institute Ridley College, was stupid enough to suggest this, saying last year that all non-Aboriginal Australians should be prepared to leave if the indigenous people wanted that, "making restitution for the vile sin of genocide". "The prosperity of our churches has come from the proceeds of crime. Our houses, our churches, our colleges, our shops, our sport grounds, our parks, our courts, our parliaments, our prisons, our hospitals, our roads, our reservoirs are stolen property," he said.

What should the three-quarters of Aborigines who are of mixed descent do? Stay or go?

In last year's Massey Lectures in Canada, anthropologist Wade Davis boldly asserted that "the other cultures of the world are not failed attempts to be modern, failed attempts to be us. Each is a unique and profound answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?" He suggested that "the aboriginal people were never touched by the desire to improve the world" and that for them "the purpose of humanity [is] to sustain the Garden of Eden". What a paternalistic prig! Aborigines did their best to alter the environment by hunting macropods to death and burning much of Australia's forests, altering for all time the Garden of Eden.

Undertaken at the wrong time and place, the traditional acknowledgment serves the purposes of those determined to lock Aborigines out of the modern economy. If ministers don't agree, they should stop doing it.


Qld. Government backs down on controversial land tax grab

THE Bligh Government has caved in to demands from the property sector and will overhaul its land valuation system. From next year, commercial, industrial and residential land will be valued according to "site valuations'' which take into account the land's current market value if it was vacant. Valuations will not take into account the value of leases on that land.

Premier Anna Bligh said the change would bring Queensland into line with other states. But she said it was not expected to affect average mums and dads and would not result in significant changes to rates and property taxes. "This has been done to provide greater certainty for our commercial and industrial sectors and residential property investors, it is not a revenue measure,'' Ms Bligh said. [Ho! Ho! Ho!] She said Queensland would transition to the new system in time for 2011 valuations.

The backdown follows a campaign from the property industry against moves by the Government to retrospectively legislate to force commercial property owners to pay land tax based on valuations which took into account what their sites were used for. However, the Government is expected the today pass laws to effectively validate previous valuations so it is not forced to refund any tax to owners.

Property Council of Australia Queensland executive director Steve Greenwood said the decision was a major win for the industry which he did not believe would have been achieved without its very public campaign against the proposed legislation. A fighting fund poured tens of thousands of dollars into newspaper and radio advertising against the bill.

Mr Greenwood said while the changes to the legislation meant that land valued in 2010 would have improvements taken into account, that was a concession which needed to be made to ensure the system was overhauled in the long run. He said the State Government now had a strong commitment to get the system right by June 2011.


Useless NSW police

A FAMILY with two young children spent two hours waiting for police by the side of the road after apprehending a boy who hurled a rock through the windscreen of their car, only to be told officers were too busy to respond. On the same day the State Government defended triple-0 response times, the Smith family from Lismore told of their anger at being forced to release the boy who threw the rock. "I was furious. I had my two kids (Amelia, 3, and Bayley, 2) in the back of the car," Adam Smith said of the incident.

Mr Smith and his wife Beverly were driving in Lismore on Tuesday afternoon when a rock shattered the windscreen. An angry Mr Smith ran to a nearby vacant block where a group of kids were loitering and saw a young boy running off as his mates pointed and yelled out: "It was him, it was him."

Mr Smith called triple-0 and was told to wait by his car as "police were on their way". But more than two hours later, and after repeated calls to police, Mr Smith was told there were only two police cars in the area and both were busy with other jobs.

"I had the kid there. He was waiting with us. I told him the police were coming and that they would want to speak to his parents," Mr Smith said. "But it was after 7.30pm, getting dark and I couldn't keep him any longer." A final desperate call to the police operator ended with Mr Smith being told to leave the scene and make a report at a nearby police station. "What's the good of that?" Mr Smith asked.

The Daily Telegraph yesterday revealed a blow-out in police response times across NSW, with crime victims left waiting an average of more than an hour for non-urgent response. Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione yesterday defended the figures and said an increase in the number of calls to police and the inclusion of regional figures had skewed the statistics. "Our response times in (Sydney) have improved over the recent three years," he said.

"But when we're dealing with increasing community sizes in other parts of the state you have to understand that sometimes it will take us longer than 20 minutes to get to a location."

The Daily Telegraph was yesterday swamped with horror stories of experiences with triple-0 and delayed police responses. Among the stories was a woman who recently lay assaulted on a street in Glebe. The victim told the triple-0 operator she was about 300m from the police station. The operator said there was nothing that could be done if she didn't know exactly what street she was on.


Food Fascists trying to ban Australian food icons

Since Australians have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, it would be more logical to ENCOURAGE Australian food favourites

JOHN Joannou knows a thing or two about Chiko Rolls [pic above] and the public's continuing demand for fried food. The Parramatta takeaway store owner dunks, fries and then drains battered products of all sorts - to go with the 150kg of chips he sells every week. But Chiko Rolls, battered savs, potato scallops and other fried morsels are firmly in the sights of a conglomeration of western Sydney councillors.

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils will ask takeaway shops and cafes to remove the fat and salt in foods in an attempt to make the community the healthiest in the nation. "We want to be the healthiest region in Australia by 2020," the organisation's president Alison McLaren said.

To do so, fast food shops are being asked to have "healthier options" on their menus like McDonald's, which now carries a range of items approved by the Heart Foundation. One plan is to ban the use of palm oil, which is high in saturated fats.

At Lakeside Seafood, Mr Joannou doesn't quite know what all the fuss is about - he switched to healthier cottonseed oil years ago. "People want to eat healthier foods so you have to find ways of giving that to them or as a business you'd die in the backside," he said. "We started doing this years ago off our own bat." Mr Joannou has grilled fish and salads on the menu, and gives the options of no butter on burgers and egg white instead of whole egg.

He said no matter what people would still find a way to have their "bad foods". "I don't think it's going to matter what they tell people - people are still going to want to eat these sorts of foods."


How to stop the boats with kindness (NOT)

Andrew Bolt

PROMISES, promises. Before the last election, Kevin Rudd said he had a plan to stop boats of “asylum seekers” from getting here. “You’d turn ‘em back.”

Oooh, tough talk. So how many of last year’s 61 boats - or the 24 that have reached us this year already - has the Prime Minister turned around? Um, not one, actually. Yes, he did once ship a few boat people to Indonesia on our Oceanic Viking, but even then he soon took them back.

Result? The boats this year are now arriving at a rate faster than anything we’ve seen in decades.

You see, in July 2008, election safely won, Rudd changed his tone. No more Mr Tough Guy, he decided. He’d instead undo the strict laws the Howard government had set in place to stem the flood of boat people - laws that had cut the number of boats to just 18 in all the previous six years. My red dot on the Department of Immigration graph above marks the day that the Rudd Government announced it was going soft.

Rudd had already scrapped the temporary protection visas, which allowed us to send back boat people once their countries were again safe. He’d also abolished the “Pacific Solution”, under which boat people were sent to Nauru and Manus Island with no guarantee they’d be let into Australia.

And on July 29, 2008 - that red dot day - he told the world the era of wicked John Howard was truly over. There would now be no more automatic detention of boat people. Children and adults cleared of security risk would be set free while the Government worked out if they really were refugees. And rather than make boat people prove they were no threat, the Government would have to prove they actually were to keep them in detention.

Look at the Government’s own graph. In indisputable numbers it tells yet another insulation-style story of fine talk resulting in disaster.


17 March, 2010

Token ceremony openings must be brought to an end

The smart-ass Leftist writer below finds fault with the Lord's prayer but says not a word about the ritual but totally hollow invocation of Aboriginal land "ownership" that leads off many official functions in Australia today. It's undoubtedly deliberate but one-sided nonetheless. The difference, of course is that Australia today is a product of Christian civilization, not Aboriginal traditions. But we see no acknowledgment of that below

There is nothing more certain to generate cynicism than having to suffer political correctness in full force. When the experience is compounded by the paternalistic condescension of those who don’t really believe what is being said or done but in their generosity are reaching down to those they really see as simpler than them, it’s intolerable.

The idea that you must open your gathering and deliberations by paying lip-service through a ceremony or incantation demanded by vocal spokespersons for what amounts to sectional interests, should offend most citizens. For many, when the ceremony invokes a cosmology or belief system that they consider anachronistic at best, or superstitious at worst, it is particularly galling.

What is surprising is that the “keepers” of the tradition involved are not themselves regularly offended by how meaningless the forced participation is, are not angered by the co-opting of a practice that means something to them but is being used and retained by others simply for political purposes. So let’s be brave enough to call for an end to pretence: starting each day of Parliament with the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father as it is known to some) should be challenged and the practice ended.

Wilson Tuckey has been brave enough to ignore the hypocrisy by absenting himself on most occasions from the trite formality.

And one can only be reminded of the Mantis analogy used by the David Carradine character, Caine, in the 70’s TV Show Kung Fu, observing cowboys praying before a gunfight – our politicians look like they are praying just before they go in for the kill. So let’s stop this hollow practice and relieve our politicians of the hypocrisy.


Now it's coconut trees that are bad

COCONUT palms may be ­symbols of the tropics to many, but a scientist says they are damaging the natural environment and may help spread dengue fever. Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station director Dr Hugh Spencer has spent the past six years studying the impact the palms have had on native beach vegetation.

He has found the thin 50-100m line of forest that lies between the reef and rainforest - called the littoral zone - is constantly under siege from coconut palms, which edge out native trees, pounding them into submission by constantly dumping fronds and fruit on them. Coconuts that are left to rot on the ground collect water, providing perfect breeding grounds for the dengue-carrying mosquito.

To prevent the palms from conquering the beachfront at Cape Tribulation, Dr Spencer and a small group of volunteers have been regularly removing juvenile palms the only way they know - by hand. Where there used to be entire groves, native plants such as pandanus and she-oaks are slowly reclaiming the beach. "We're getting very, very good recruitment of natural vegetation," Dr Spencer said. "We've literally removed thousands of coconuts. We're all volunteers. Nobody gets paid in this place. "It basically means that we are protecting and recovering the most endangered of our forest types."

Cairns Regional Council general manager infrastructure services Ross McKim said the council did not have a policy either. But it did have a duty of care denutting palms to reduce the risk of liability. "Council is aware that the removal of coconut palms can be an emotive issue and actively manage the trees that are featured along the foreshores and parks of the region," Mr McKim said. "Council undertakes denutting and palm frond removal and manage those trees already in place, rather than remove what trees are currently there. "While we are aware that these plants may not be native to Australia, council appreciates these palms play an important part in creating the tropical feel of the region."

Dr Spencer previously took more direct action to eliminate palms from the beachfront by boring holes in a number of palms and poisoning them. The actions angered other locals, who referred to him as a "coconut killer". Dr Spencer said his relationship with his critics appeared to have simmered. "I kind of get the feeling that there is more of a mood of acceptance that they really are a problem," he said. "I get the feeling that is starting to filter though, but I don't have any proof. "I'm not having many people getting their knickers in a twist about coconuts being removed any more."


Police chief too fast to apologise

By Andrew Bolt

Shouldn’t the Chief Commissioner at least read a report by a heavily politicised group before accepting its conclusion that his force contains racists?
VICTORIA Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland is embroiled in another race row after admitting that there are bigots on his force…

The damning allegations were made to The Australian as Mr Overland responded to a report claiming routine over-policing, physical assault and verbal abuse by police against African youths in three Melbourne municipalities.

The full report is expected to be publicly released today and is yet to be seen by Mr Overland, who endured a difficult first year as Victoria’s top cop…

The report into police dealings with the African community, compiled by researchers on behalf of Victoria’s Legal Services Board, is based on a series of anonymous interviews with 30 young Africans, eight community workers and two police in Greater Dandenong, Flemington and Braybrook - three areas with high numbers of African-born residents…

“I have to acknowledge that, like the broader community, we all undoubtedly have some people who have racist attitudes,” Mr Overland said.

“That is not OK. It is particularly not OK if they act on those racist attitudes in a work context and where I find evidence of that, those people can expect to be dealt with very decisively.”
The irony is that as an organisation, the police have actually been soft on African offenders, not hard, dropping charges, covering up the ethnicity of offenders and deceiving the public about crime rates in Somali and Sudanese communities.

How unwise it is to now feed the perception that the reason police arrest so many African youths is that the force is racist, rather than that these youths are more likely to be involved in crime.


A bigoted public broadcaster

Comments below by Janet Albrechtsen on Australia's ABC. "Aunty" is derisive Australian slang for the ABC

IT was a telling moment when Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes leapt to his feet last week to protest against the critical remarks made by ABC chairman Maurice Newman.

Inadvertently, Holmes proved Newman's point. An organisation whose first reflex is to reject even the most measured criticism will end up undermining its reputation and its legitimacy. No organisation is beyond reproach. Indeed, the case for taxpayer-funded public broadcasting depends on the ABC's commitment to reflect the people who pay the bills: Australians.

Having just completed a five-year term on the board, I am the first to cheer about what is best about the ABC, an organisation filled with many first-rate professionals. From its inception in 1932, it has provided a stellar range of services. Indeed, its rural and regional network of radio stations are filled with local presenters and producers who have a real sense of the cross-section of people who listen.

But there is a difference between cheering and cheerleading for the ABC. The former means being honest enough to suggest constructive ways to make the ABC better. The chairman did no more than that.Newman encouraged a "spirit of greater curiosity and open-mindedness". There should be no sense that there is an "ABC view" but rather a respect for the audience, allowing them to make up their own minds. He mentioned the tendency towards "group-think" when reporting the causes of the global financial crisis and climate change.

Newman reminded his staff to remember the ABC charter, a polite way of saying the ABC is there to serve the people of Australia.

Those who quickly denounced Newman for editorial interference, people such as Holmes, Greens senator Christine Milne and the erroneously named Friends of the ABC, have presumably not read section 8 of the ABC Act, which imposes a personal legal duty on directors to "ensure that the gathering and presentation by the corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial".

When ABC boss Mark Scott used his first public address in October 2006 to make clear the ABC would be "looking for further diversity of voices, ensuring that the ABC is the town square where debate can flourish and different voices can be heard", he spoke directly to that duty placed on us as directors.

During that first speech, Scott announced a review of Media Watch as a first example of the ABC providing more opportunity for debate and discussion. Hence the irony of Holmes's knee-jerk objection last week.

As MW host, he is fond of quoting various sections and sub-sections of codes and legislation back at media outlets, especially radio talkback hosts who have failed to comply. Yet Holmes has disregarded the ABC's own charter when it comes to matters of impartiality and balance.

Admittedly, questions of balance are not black and white. But a media watchdog doing its job might have asked whether it was best reporting practice for a prominent ABC radio host to decide that Climategate was not worth discussing because he decided it was of no significance. Or was it good, balanced journalism for an ABC television news bulletin to cover the launch of the MySchools website with five critics (three unions and two principals) and two lone Labor government voices (Kristina Keneally and Julia Gillard) in favour? Could the producer not find some people outside the government who thought MySchools was good for children and parents?

There are other simple tests that one could ask when judging balance and impartiality.

Is it a sign of balanced journalism that factual errors in news reports about, say, the environment or the Middle East tend to skew one way: pro-green, anti-Israeli? Why was Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth not subjected to the same intense dissection as the documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle? Would the ABC's Drum website run a five-part series by a single climate change sceptic? If not, why not? Clive Hamilton is no scientist, yet he was given that privilege a few weeks ago. And was it balance when an ABC reporter asked Newman on Wednesday whether he was "a climate change denier"?

The truth is that not much is required to make the ABC an even better media organisation, a truly vibrant town square of diverse opinions and perspectives. But you can see how easily group-think settles in. It happens at conservative gatherings, too. No conspiracy is necessary. The simple fact is if you spend too much time listening to views with which you agree, you grow complacent and bored. Even if a young journalist starts out with a refreshingly different perspective, Stockholm syndrome can happen in Sydney and Melbourne and Canberra.

As a counterpoint, ABC journalist Chris Uhlmann must be weary of being mentioned in dispatches. Last year Holmes was "gobsmacked" when Uhlmann's political analysis extended to questioning the Prime Minister's use of religion for political purposes. Uhlmann made more ABC heads turn in 2008 when he spoke about the "theological nature" of the climate change debate and the "lunatics" attached to the end of a very long caravan.

Anyone who writes about balance at the ABC mentions Uhlmann as a standout from the rest of the crowd. It should not be like this at the public broadcaster. There should be plenty of Uhlmanns and others, too, with different perspectives. I know of only one. An ABC reporter once introduced herself to me at a gathering by whispering in my ear that she was secretly a conservative. Why whisper it? The ABC should be a proudly diverse set of people, like the country it serves. And perhaps that is the critical point. The ABC is there to serve the people who fund it. If it chooses to undermine its raison d'etre by ignoring constructive criticism, there will be greater existential threats ahead for Aunty.


16 March, 2010

A grasshopper tale for modern Australia

The ant works hard in the withering heat and the rain all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while he is cold and starving.

Channels 7, 9 and 10,the ABC and SBS show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.

Australia is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing, 'It's Not Easy Being Green.'

Students stage a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing, 'We shall overcome.' Cardinal George Pell then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

Prime Minister Rudd condemns the ant and blames John Howard, Robert Menzies, Capt James Cook, and the Pope for the grasshopper's plight.

Bob Brown exclaims in an interview on Today Tonight that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and calls for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, Labor in conjunction with the Greens draft the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government and given to the grasshopper.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper and his free-loading friends finishing up the last bits of the ant’s food while the government house he is in, which, as you recall, just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around them because the grasshopper doesn't maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow, never to be seen again.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident, and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the ramshackle, once prosperous and once peaceful, neighborhood.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be careful how you vote next time.

Kevin Rudd hits new low with voters: Newspoll

KEVIN Rudd's personal approval is at its worst since he became opposition leader in December 2006, and the Coalition is in its best position on primary votes since John Howard was prime minister and Kim Beazley was Labor leader.

Despite the unveiling of the Rudd government's $50 billion plan to fix public hospitals, and the Prime Minister's frenetic media appearances and meetings with premiers over his health plan in the past two weeks, satisfaction with Mr Rudd has hit a new low of 48 per cent and dissatisfaction is at a new high of 41 per cent. This is his worst approval rating since he replaced Mr Beazley as Labor leader.

Mr Rudd declared a little over two weeks ago that Labor had been getting "whacked" in the polls for some time, and he thought they needed to "lift their game" or they would continue be whacked in the polls.

Although there was little real change in the primary vote in the latest Newspoll survey, conducted exclusively for The Australian last weekend, a one-point fall for the ALP from 40 to 39 per cent, within the three-point margin of error, means the Coalition's unchanged primary vote of 41 per cent to Labor's 39 per cent is its best position since November 2006.

Based on the distribution of preferences at the last election and a rise in the Greens' support, the Rudd government still has an election-winning lead on a two-party-preferred basis of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Mr Rudd maintained his clear 25-percentage-point lead over Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister, by 55 to 30 per cent..

In the past week, the government has mounted a critical campaign against the Opposition Leader for being "opposed to everything" and obstructing the government in the Senate, as well as advocating a "big new tax" on business to fund a six-month paid parental leave scheme for workers earning up to $150,000 a year.

At the same time, Mr Rudd has travelled to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to meet the Labor premiers of Queensland, NSW and Victoria to discuss his proposal for the federal government to take over 60 per cent of the funding of public hospitals by taking back 30 per cent of the states' GST revenue.

But Mr Rudd has met resistance from the premiers and was roundly criticised for ignoring NSW Premier Kristina Keneally as she welcomed him to Sydney for the health talks.

In his campaign to lift his falling personal stocks, Mr Rudd has admitted breaking political promises, personal shortcomings and the bungling of the $2.45 billion roof insulation scheme.

According to the latest Newspoll survey, voter satisfaction with Mr Rudd fell three points, from 51 to 48 per cent, and dissatisfaction rose from 40 to 41 per cent. These are the lowest satisfaction rating and highest dissatisfaction rating for Mr Rudd since he became Prime Minister, and represent a net satisfaction rating of just seven points.

Mr Rudd has had the highest satisfaction rating of any prime minister during the 25-year Newspoll survey series of 71 per cent, reached just after the parliamentary apology to the Stolen Generations, but since the end of September last year his satisfaction rating has fallen 19 points and dissatisfaction with him has risen by 16 points.

While Mr Abbott has been accused of blundering politically and putting his colleagues offside over his unilateral announcement of a paid parental leave scheme, his personal support is virtually unchanged, as satisfaction with the Liberal leader went from 48 to 47 per cent and dissatisfaction was the same on 38 per cent.

Financial Services Minister Chris Bowen yesterday told parliament the former leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, had told the ABC he thought Mr Abbott's dramatic change of heart over the emissions trading scheme was "entirely political in Tony's case". "I do accept that the Opposition Leader is a conviction politician," Mr Bowen said in question time. "But his only conviction is winning the next election: doing or saying whatever it takes to win the next election. He parades as opposing out of principle, but his only principle is opposition."

On the question of who would make the better prime minister, both Mr Rudd's 55 per cent and Mr Abbott's 30 per cent have been unchanged for the past month.

The Coalition's primary vote support has also remained unchanged at 41 per cent, the first time the Coalition's primary vote has remained at or above 40 per cent for a two-month stretch since late 2006.

While steady in statistical terms, Labor's primary vote shift from 40 to 39 per cent, to equal its lowest primary vote since the election, means the Coalition is now in the best relative position to the ALP since November 2006 when Mr Howard was prime minister and Mr Beazley was removed by Mr Rudd as the Labor leader of the opposition.

Since the middle of October last year, Labor's primary vote has fallen 9 percentage points, from 48 per cent to 39 per cent last weekend. Since the end of November last year, the Coalition's primary vote has risen 6 percentage points from 35 to 41 per cent.

But despite the Coalition's strongest primary vote showing for more than three years, Labor still holds an election-winning lead on a two-party preferred basis because of the flow to Labor of Greens' preferences.


The CSIRO calls this proof?

By Andrew Bolt

It’s a bizarre way to “prove” their case:
AUSTRALIA’s two leading scientific agencies will release a report today showing Australia has warmed significantly over the past 50 years, and stating categorically that ‘’climate change is real‘’.

The State of the Climate snapshot, drawn together by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology partly in response to recent attacks on the science underpinning climate change, shows that Australia’s mean temperature has increased 0.7 degrees since 1960. The statement also finds average daily maximum temperatures have increased every decade for the past 50 years.

The report states that temperature observations, among others indicators, ‘’clearly demonstrate climate change is real’’, and says that CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology ‘’will continue to provide observations and research so Australia’s responses are underpinned by clear empirical data’’.

The report also found that the 2000s were Australia’s warmest decade on record; that sea levels rose between 1.5 and three millimetres a year in Australia’s south and east, and between seven and 10 millimetres in the north between 1993 and 2009; and that sea surface temperatures have risen 0.4 degrees since 1960.
Why is this surprisingly scanty propaganda pamphlet bizarre, and not quite honest?

First, no one is doubting that “climate change is real”. Climate changes all the time. This is not the debate.

Second, we’re talking about global warming, so why does the CSIRO and BOM’s pamphlet give only Australian temperatures? Is that because it knows that to show world temperatures stayed flat since 2001 actually casts doubt on just how much man’s gases are driving the post-mini-ice-age warming?

Third, given the CSIRO praised the since-discredited An Inconvenient Truth, claiming ”its scientific basis is very sound”, can we really trust its advocacy science?

Fourth, the CSIRO and BOM’s document does not address any of the recent challenges to the processes which produced the concensus that man is almost certainly to blame for most of the recent warming. Nor does it mention recent debate about adjustments made to Australian temperature records of the kind that increase the reported warming trend.

Fifth, what’s most at issue (other than man’s contribution to any warming) is whether any warming will in fact be disastrous, and something we must spend billions to help avert. The record so far of alarmists such as Al Gore, Tim Flannery, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the IPCC and even the CSIRO itself is that the catastrophism is wildly exaggerated and we might often do better to keep our money in our pockets for the day that we’re called on to cope with whatever happens in the far-off future. But on this, again, this document adds zero to our understanding.

But, of course, this brazenly political document got the unquestioning hero treatment on the ABC’s AM program, in what sounded like the two fingers to its chairman.


How much can this propaganda sheet be trusted to tell you the let-the-cards-fall-where-they-may truth? Judge from this example: " rainfall on the Australian continent has been relatively stable"

Stable? Why didn’t the CSIRO and BOM tell the reassuring truth - that total rainfall has in fact increased?

More HERE (See the original for links)

Flood of "boat people" heads to Australia

SEVERAL hundred boat people are expected to arrive within days aboard two illegal vessels, triggering a mass transfer of refugees from Christmas Island to the mainland. The likely influx will trigger a huge taxpayer-financed operation and be seized upon by the Opposition as Kevin Rudd's "Tampa".

Darwin's immigration detention centre is on alert for the arrival of the asylum seekers who will be moved near the city after being processed at the overcrowded Christmas Island. "If one of the big boats arrives, then Christmas Island will be blown out of the water," a source said.

According to intelligence reports the illegal vessels, carrying several hundred people each, are expected to make for the Ashmore Reef area off northwest Australia rather than directly to Christmas Island, south of Java. The Customs vessel Oceanic Viking and charter aircraft are on stand-by to transfer more than 300 people to Darwin within 72 hours after either of the vessels is intercepted. If both make it to Australia then up to 600 people will be moved to the mainland.

The transfer of asylum seekers to the mainland will be politically explosive, reinforcing concerns the Prime Minister broke his election promise to turn back the boats. Private Coalition polling shows up to 85 per cent of voters in marginal seats believe Mr Rudd has not delivered on a pledge to maintain a tough refugee policy. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has repeatedly said Labor's softer border protection scheme is proving a magnet for people smugglers.

The numbers of boat people arriving in Australian waters has accelerated in recent months, with the Government saying it was a global trend. This year, almost 1200 boat people have arrived on 24 vessels - nearly half the number of asylum seekers that arrived last year. For the first time since the latest boat people crisis began, the Darwin centre on old Defence Department land at Berrimah will become a holding centre for refugees waiting to obtain protection visas.

The Federal Government has been keen to avoid having to process asylum seekers on the mainland. High-level sources said the delicate balance of 140 spare beds on Christmas Island had been the result of good luck rather than good management, but that luck was about to run out. "We are ready to use Darwin when a big boat arrives," a source said.

Boat people have to be processed "offshore" on Christmas Island for legal reasons, so new arrivals cannot be taken directly to Darwin.


15 March, 2010

Indigenous tokenism an empty gesture, says Tony Abbott

I have always thought this custom was a sort of pious fraud but I am pretty surprised to see a mainstream political figure saying likewise

TONY Abbott has opened up a new front in the culture wars by declaring that Kevin Rudd and other Labor ministers demonstrate a misplaced sense of political correctness when acknowledging the traditional owners of land at official functions. Mr Abbott's dismissal of the modern practice of acknowledging traditional owners as "out-of-place tokenism" also won support among some Aboriginal leaders, who have described the trend as "paternalistic," The Australian reports.

The Opposition Leader said Labor politicians felt obliged to observe the practice, despite the fact it was inappropriate in many instances.

"Kevin Rudd is not an old-style lefty . . . but the Labor Party is full of people who are, and I guess this is the kind of genuflection to political correctness that these guys feel they have to make," he told the Adelaide Advertiser. "Sometimes it's appropriate to do those things, but certainly I think in many contexts, it seems like out-of-place tokenism."

But the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation's Eddie Mulholland said it was a positive move to acknowledge Aboriginal owners. "What's Tony Abbott trying to achieve, some cheap political shot?" Mr Mulholland asked. "It's an acknowledgment that we do exist with humans. "It is not that long ago we were classified as part of the flora and fauna."

Labor backbencher Steve Georganas defended the practice, saying it was the right right thing to do. "They are the traditional owners of this land," he said, adding Mr Abbott's comments were "totally disrespectful".

Liberal frontbencher Eric Abetz said he did not generally acknowledge traditional owners of the land when making speeches. "I find it personally to be quite paternalistic," he said, adding he had done when it was appropriate. "Why don't we acknowledge a whole host of other people and indeed deities?"


Establishment scientists accuse climate change sceptics of 'smokescreen of denial'

More assertions -- but "models" instead of facts. You can't model anything as complex as climate. We would have accurate weather forecasts if you could

AUSTRALIA'S leading scientists have hit back at climate change sceptics, accusing them of creating a "smokescreen of denial". The CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology will today release a State of the Climate document, a snapshot of Australia's climate data and trend predictions.

The apolitical science organisations have weighed into the debate as they believe Australians are not being told the correct information about temperatures, rainfall, ocean levels and changes to atmospheric conditions.

The State of the Climate report offers Australians an easy-to-understand snapshot of data. "Modelling results show that it is extremely unlikely that the observed warming is due to natural causes alone," it states. "Evidence of human influence has been detected in ocean warming, sea-level rise, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns."

CSIRO chief executive Dr Megan Clark said both organisations felt it was time "to give Australians the facts and information they are looking for and to do so in a way that is very transparent and available". "We are seeing a real thirst for knowledge from many Australians and we are responding to that huge public demand. There is a lot of noise out there and a lot of reference to other countries and people want to know what's happening in this country."

Dr Clark said the CSIRO had been observing the impacts of human-induced climate change for many years and had moved on from debate about it happening to planning for the changes to come.


Families in fear of 'fuel poverty' as energy costs pushed up by Greenie nonsense

SOARING electricity prices will force more working families into "fuel poverty" where they simply cannot afford to pay for power. That is the grim prediction from an energy ombudswoman, who revealed that the number of people fearing they will have their electricity disconnected had surged by a third. In New South Wales alone more than 18,000 households had their power cut off last financial year and, with about $200 added to the average bill last July, that number is only expected to grow.

But the worst pain is expected from increases of up to 62 per cent over the next three years.

The largest retailer, Energy Australia, has an extra 36,000 customers on bill extension or payment plans - 30 per cent more than last year. The second-largest retailer, Integral Energy, has 19,000 more customers in assistance schemes - up 10 per cent.

But the real concern is that more big increases will be too much for many of these households to bear. Clare Petre, NSW Energy and Water Ombudswoman, said yesterday: "We are already receiving complaints from people who can pay now but are worried about their capacity to pay in the future."

Pricing regulator IPART proposed rises of 44-62 per cent over three years to pay for a backlog of network maintenance and the Federal Government's proposed ETS. Ms Petre said these increases could cause "fuel poverty". "It may well, that's our concern, particularly if the [ETS] comes in," she said.

Fuel poverty - a household spending more than 10 per cent of income for an adequate 21C warmth - contributed to nearly 37,000 English and Welsh deaths in 2008-09. In Australia, it isn't the cold, it's the heat. High temperatures were linked to 374 deaths in Victoria last year. IPART said a single aged pensioner would spend 7-12 per cent of income on electricity after the ETS and an average household up to 6 per cent more.

Port Macquarie mum Cassandra O'Meara said she was looking for ways to cut use after her family's power bill went from $500 to $1700 thanks to a new pool and plasma TV. "It's just ridiculous," Mrs O'Meara said of the cost jump yesterday.


Call to Send asylum seekers to the back of the queue

Family First Senator Steve Fielding says the Federal Government should consider sending asylum seekers who arrive by boat to refugee camps in other countries because they are "jumping the queue".

The Government has been dealing with an influx of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat, with the 21st vessel this year being intercepted yesterday. The Christmas Island detention centre has been expanded to cope with the increase, but is nearing capacity.

Senator Fielding says while his proposal is "controversial", people smugglers are exploiting asylum seekers because Australia has become a "soft touch". He says his idea should be considered to stop the "tidal wave" of boats coming to Australia. "I think Australians would like the idea of the process of saying, 'If you're going to try and jump the queue you go to the back of the queue and wait in a refugee camp and wait your turn to come to Australia," he said.

When asked by reporters if his proposal would contravene Australia's obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees, Senator Fielding replied: "I think you can still work with the UNHCR on that issue because if they're fleeing for their lives why wouldn't they want to be waiting in a refugee camp where they're safe and sound?"

A spokesman for Senator Fielding says he is not proposing to send asylum seekers back to their home country. Senator Fielding says Australia could negotiate with countries that have refugee camps to send the asylum seekers there.

Dr Graham Thom, refugee coordinator for Amnesty International Australia says the proposal breaches international law. "It is also completely impractical and unrealistic," he said. "Australia would be trying to return refugees to countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia who are already completely overburdened with refugees.

And Dr Thom says refugee camps are far from safe. "In the camps on the Syria/Iraqi border which I visited in 2008, the conditions were appalling and extremely unsafe In these camps," he said. "Women had been burnt to death when their tents caught on fire, children had been hit and killed by passing trucks and refugees faced extreme weather conditions with little protection."

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Evans declined to comment on the idea. After coming to power in 2007, the Rudd Government dismantled the Howard government's Pacific Solution and abolished temporary protection visas. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has signalled that a Coalition government would "turn the boats back" and bring back a form of a temporary visa.


14 March, 2010

We're true believers in individual rights

By Joe Hockey, a prominent Australian conservative politician

YEARS ago I was introduced to the political party that is called Liberal. Its founder, Robert Menzies, was very clear about its commitment to liberty: individual liberty as much as social liberty. He said: "We took the name Liberal because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary, but believing in the individual, his rights and his enterprise."

I was ready to join such a party because in my younger days I had given great thought to the political philosophy that I found most compelling. I would like to think there was a moment of epiphany, but in the end there was one writer who stood out to me, and that was John Stuart Mill. Mill's famous statement of liberal principles is: "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant."

And just in case we have a tendency to gloss over words such as freedom, Mill defines it: "The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it."

The way I see it, the choice is black and white: freedom for each and every one of us. Or freedom for an elite few who want to tell the rest of us what to do. In federal parliament I represent the only party that was established to advance the cause of liberty. I am concerned that some of the liberties we take for granted are being eroded by the actions of government. I fear that step by step and in a way that barely registers in the consciousness of most people, we are losing some of the protections against the arbitrary and interfering actions of the state.

It's true that the rise of religious extremist movements and their expressed belief that only violence can lead to justice - a proposition refuted by the examples of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King - represents a challenge to societies. Our response should be to enhance and expand liberty, not to curb or curtail it.

As a liberal, a legislator and a lawyer, it is the anti-terrorism laws, enacted by a government of which I was a member, that has given me great cause to reflect on our individual rights. Under normal circumstances, much of the powers conferred on enforcement agencies are ones that I would be horrified to see any democratic government advance. In particular, I make mention of preventive detention without charge that severely limits access to legal assistance or even outside communication; control orders that limit movement and may be in force for up to 10 years; and expanded police stop, search and interrogation powers. However, I reached the conclusion that the threat to liberty of so many justified the actions we took against so few. When effectively the whole polity is under threat from attack by people determined to bring it down, then the government's responsibility is to secure the safety of its citizens.

What is important to me is that the restrictions on individual liberty contained in our anti-terrorism legislation do not become permanent. The act includes a sunset clause for some of its more draconian elements. There is a compelling case for those sunset clauses to be something less than their present 10 years. We must objectively, dispassionately and regularly review their efficacy, preferably in a bipartisan way.

And this brings me to other threats to our freedoms that are much closer to home. Some of these come from our own political leaders. For example, there was a recent suggestion that the drinking age be raised to 21. Yes, we have a problem with binge drinking. But if you are old enough to fight for your country, if you are old enough to vote, if you are old enough to be tried in a criminal court as an adult, then you are an adult, and the concept of telling someone who is 18, 19 or 20 that they are prohibited from consuming alcohol is an infringement of individual liberty.

Similarly, we see the federal government seeking to introduce laws that will effectively censor the internet. Of course we all want to stop unlawful material being viewed on the internet. There are appropriate protections in place for that and I have personal responsibility as a parent. I don't mean to suggest that there is no room for government intervention and regulation. There is probably a legitimate debate to be had about the controls (for example, via the classification system) placed on extremely violent video games.

But in other areas such as DNA testing, data matching, credit history and mobile phone tracking, we must be ever vigilant to prevent the punishment of the few becoming the entrapment of the many.

In addition to this, we should be concerned about the rapid proliferation of closed-circuit television cameras across our cities. Even in my local area CCTV was set up to protect the welfare of revenue-raising parking meters from vandals, but they have inadvertently provided a viewing platform of the community going about its business.

In every state and territory there is an endless and rarely challenged demand for expansion in police powers, taken to extremes in Western Australia with a proposal to allow virtually unrestricted stop-and-search powers for police. I understand similar proposals also have won favour in Victoria. Surely the Australian interpretation of liberty extends to the right of an individual to go about their daily business without being subject to a random body search by police.

Finally, the government has before it the report of the [Frank] Brennan committee, which recommends a human rights act. The federal Coalition has indicated its opposition to such a bill, a position I support. My concerns about a human rights act lie in the power and authority that such an act would give to the judiciary. Such responsibilities would be undemocratic and ultimately undermine the independence of our courts.

A conflict often occurs between different human rights. Many, if not all, involve contestable propositions that fall outside the usual role of judges to interpret the law through the prism of legal principles; they are essentially political rather than legal judgments. For example, the courts could be asked to judge whether a law that bans tobacco advertising infringes on free speech. This is not a legal issue but one that should fall within the responsibility of democratically elected legislators to determine.

I am a true believer in the separation of powers. If courts are making findings on contestable and essentially political issues, politicians and those in the community who support the actions of the parliament will find themselves criticising their findings. Unwittingly, judges will find themselves players rather than arbiters and be the subject of the full weight of public opinion and sanction. There are better ways to guarantee human rights.

Ultimately it is what beats in the hearts of Australians that forms the best protection. Our desire for a fair go, our healthy scepticism and our belief in self-reliance, diversity and our multicultural society are the values that have guided Australia's development. It is the duty of us all to ensure every new generation of Australians - whether native-born or recently arrived - share those ideals.


Old-style teacher investigated for challenging the self-esteem gospel

A TEACHER accused of verbally abusing students by telling one he should die believes he is being punished because modern kids are too sensitive. Former Doncaster Secondary College teacher Edward Wolf, who has 40 years' experience in education, said when he moved from an Altona school to the Doncaster school, he believed the children had an air of "self-entitlement" and the student and parent population was like "Footscray with money".

Mr Wolf, who is facing misconduct charges before a Victorian Institute of Teaching disciplinary panel, said he used firm words with unruly students who disrupted class or left the classroom without permission. He denied telling misbehaving Year 10 pupils they were "idiots", but admitted telling one troublesome boy to "shut the f--k up" and another that "just because your dad wanted to get his rocks off, I have to deal with you".

Mr Wolf admitted kicking a student's table from under her feet because she refused to take them down from the desk when her dress and raised legs were "immodest". He also admitted telling a boy named Dyson, who refused to stop banging on a wall during class, to "do what your name says - die, son".

"Considering what they have said to me and other teachers, I don't see them as that sensitive," Mr Wolf said. "If you give it, you should be able to take it. Teachers only have words as a means to work with students and if those words are efficacious, then in that context I consider them appropriate."

Mr Wolf, 61, who wants to retain his teaching registration, said he now realised there was an emotional impact to his strong language. "I am aware that students are now very much more sensitive than they have (been) in the past," he said.

Several alleged incidents of coarse or highly personal language occurred from 1998 to 2008. The panel heard this week that Mr Wolf became angry when a group of Year 10 students left his class without permission in 2008. One male student, now 18, said Mr Wolf started abusing him and two other students when they returned to the room, but the boys knew they had mucked up. "Personally, I did not take it to heart, it was just a teacher lashing out. In one ear, out the other," one student told the hearing. Another said: "We were very rowdy, we were hard to control. We, one time, took it too far and Mr Wolf snapped."

The VIT panel will hand down its findings on a date to be set.


More bureaucratic waste of tax dollars

A NSW public school compelled to use a government-approved contractor for renovations to its school hall under the Building the Education Revolution scheme says it was quoted $200,000 more than a neighbouring private school, which used a local contractor.

St Paul's Lutheran School and Henty Public School in the rural town of Henty, near Wagga Wagga, in the state's southwest, each received $850,000 under the federal government's $6.2 billion school infrastructure scheme. Henty Public School hoped to restore its hall and renovate the school's 1950s toilet block, but was unable to refurbish the toilet block after it was given a $230,000 quote from contractor Laing O'Rourke for building management and design of the hall. As a private school, St Paul's managed its own funds and employed a local contractor who used the money to build three classrooms, a toilet block and playground area, with $31,000 for building management and design.

Kellie Penfold, who has three children at Henty Public School and is the secretary of the P&C, said the school community felt "ripped off" to see the neighbouring private school get more for its dollar, while the local contractor was also more efficient. "By the time we were getting costings, they had nearly finished construction," Ms Penfold said. "The P&C felt that if the school was able to self-manage its own project, we would have been able to deliver more money to our community -- because we would have used local suppliers -- and secondly, so much more infrastructure for our kids," she said. "For $850,000 we could have built a new building . It was a lot of money to spend on renovations."

Ms Penfold wrote to Laing O'Rourke, the state government-appointed managing contractor for the Riverina region, in December to question the comparably "high charges". The company's response was that it needed approval from the government at every stage of the design and construction process and was also "required to report weekly and monthly to the Government on a myriad of matters". "Our work is thorough, well planned and will lead to buildings that are sustainable and ready for long-term use, all delivered in a tight time frame," the letter says.

A spokesman for Education Minister Julia Gillard said the program was "supporting jobs in local communities in response to the global recession, while building Australia's educational and productive capacity for the future." [Stupid PR spin that translates as "Drop dead"]


Weasel words about illegal immigrants to Australia

With Christmas Island full to the gunwales, the boatpeople issue is set to re-emerge, and language will play a crucial role in this political debate

In the long-running controversy about people-smuggling, language often has been misused to disguise what is going on. Instead of relaying the facts about people-smuggling, carefully chosen words are creating an entirely false impression. George Orwell would be turning in his grave.

We have long debated the term "illegal arrivals". Unfair labelling was the call, and most people now use the bureaucratic "unauthorised boat arrivals" or the less precise "asylum-seekers" - less precise because there is an important distinction between these asylum-seekers and those camped in, say, Sudan; namely that the former have circumvented normal processes and arrived on our shores without visas.

When people downplay the boat arrivals issue by trumpeting the numbers of asylum-seekers who arrive by plane they neatly skirt around this point: that those arriving by plane arrive legally, with visas in hand. They may illegally overstay those visas and then claim asylum, but the fact remains they arrived legally, with authorities knowing who they were and where they came from.

Orwell believed language should be used to simply and directly convey what we mean. He identified that sloppy use of language could contaminate political debate, and vice versa: "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

And so it is that every few days or so we are alerted to another boat load of asylum-seekers being intercepted by Australian customs or navy patrols. This is a most misleading use of the English language. The skippers of these people-smuggling boats know exactly where they are going and what they want. They head for Australian waters, usually near Ashmore Reef or Christmas Island, and their aim is to be met by an Australian vessel and taken for processing.

Whatever individual Australians think about changes to our border protection regime, rest assured the smugglers and their customers know the new rules: no trip to Nauru; no detention in the desert; no temporary protection visa; three months maximum in the Christmas Island centre; then off to mainland Australia with a visa.

So these boats and their passengers are not intercepted by Australian vessels, they seek them out. To say they are intercepted is to say I was intercepted at the Martin Place station in Sydney yesterday by the train to Central. Lucky I had a ticket ready.

The latest example of this came on Thursday. Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor issued a formulaic media release saying, "Border Protection Command today successfully intercepted a suspected irregular entry vessel." It went on to say that the group of 47 people would be taken to Christmas Island where they: "will undergo security, identity and health checks. Their reasons for travel will also be established."

To save the minister some time, allow me to suggest their reason for travel was to get to Christmas Island and receive visas to live in Australia.

The same formulation was used two days earlier for a group of 57 people, three days earlier for a boat with 47 people on board, four days before that with 13 people, two days with 45, and again just six days earlier for a vessel with 50 on board. Five days before that there was another arrival, but this time the media release trumpeted: "Border Protection Command Rescues 45 people."

This underscores the point. When the boats are not intercepted in good time, they ring for help and arrange a rescue. You will not be surprised that, according to the minister's media release: "The people on board the vessel have indicated they wish to come to Australia and will be taken to Christmas Island." These announcements are farcical.

There is a bit of self-censorship of these arrivals going on in the media, so that quite often the arrivals receive little or no coverage. But, when they do, the government's language is usually repeated by journalists and it gives a false impression. Newspapers, websites and radio bulletins proclaim that "Australian authorities intercepted the boat" or that a boat "has been intercepted".

Whether we agree with the government's policies or not, let's not create the impression that our vessels are out there intercepting unauthorised boats, preventing them coming to Australia. Let's not pretend these rendezvous are not welcomed by the asylum-seekers. Let's not confuse rescues and interceptions with successful deliveries of asylum-seekers into the hands of Australian authorities.

This is not to say the Australian personnel don't have a difficult and dangerous job. As we have seen, confusion and miscommunication can have disastrous consequences, especially when the expectation is a simple tow to Christmas Island.

But let us be clear. The only intercepting that occurs is at Christmas Island if arrivals are found not to be legitimate asylum-seekers.


13 March, 2010

Millions blown on dud arms

MORE than $1.2 billion worth of munitions are in an "other than serviceable" state, and the Defence Department is wasting tens of millions of dollars on payments to a French arms company, the national auditor says. Of the non-serviceable ordnance, $124 million worth of bombs, grenades, shells, bullets and missiles are beyond repair, an Australian National Audit Office report, released yesterday, says.

The auditor also found that the Defence Materiel Organisation, which buys equipment for the Defence Force, has not tightened up its armament procurement process, despite promising to do so four years ago.

The findings come on the heels of a Herald investigation that uncovered seemingly profligate and inexplicable spending by the Defence Force.

The auditor also found the Defence Department is locked into a contract under which it pays the French arms giant Thales $93 million a year to maintain factories that produce "increasingly irrelevant items". The factories, at Benalla in Victoria and Mulwala in NSW, are under-utilised and marked by "an inability to meet preparedness requirements". Although the contract is due to end in 2015, the department may be liable for further, unspecified, payments.

The report surveyed recommendations made in 2006. Although the department said it had implemented all 15 of these, the auditor found only four had been fully implemented.

One of the problems the department needs to tackle, the report said, is the condition of its $2.9 billion worth of armaments. The army alone had 57 per cent of the value of its ordnance in a non-serviceable condition. "There were a range of ongoing issues which detracted from the effective procurement of explosive ordnance for the ADF. Cumulatively, the impact of these issues is substantial."

The executive director of the Australian Defence Association, Neil James, said many of the problems could be traced back to cost-cutting, particularly contracting out to companies such as Thales.

Defence said it welcomed the report, but that none of the issues identified affected Australian troops serving overseas. It said it was undertaking reforms to address the problems.


Hopeless mathematics teaching in Australian schools

THE Group of Eight [universities] has declared mathematics education in Australia is in crisis. A six-point rescue package for maths and related disciplines recommends better dialogue between mathematics and teaching faculties to improve the mathematical competence of teachers. At the same time, it accepts an increasing number of students will be taught secondary school mathematics at university through expensive "enabling" programs. These will require "systematic organisation" and new funding initiatives.

A groundbreaking review of the mathematics and statistics disciplines at school and university by the Go8 found "the state of the mathematical sciences and related quantitative disciplines in Australia has deteriorated to a dangerous level, and continues to deteriorate."

The review was compiled by a committee of the nation's senior mathematicians headed by former University of Sydney vice-chancellor Gavin Brown. It found that in 2003 the percentage of Australian students graduating with a major in mathematics or statistics was 0.4 per cent, compared with an OECD average of 1 per cent. Between 2001-2007 the number of mathematics major enrolments in Australian universities fell by approximately 15 per cent. In contrast from 2002 to 2006 the number of applicants to mathematics degrees in Britain increased by two-thirds.

Professor Brown told the HES yesterday an attitudinal study which found only 33 per cent of year 8 mathematics students said they enjoyed maths - compared to an international average of 54 per cent - had "frightened" him. "This finding sticks out like a sore thumb," he said. "It suggests that the subject is taught reasonably well at technical level but not at the excitement level, and it's probably because many of the teachers are being asked to teach outside their own areas of expertise. They've never been passionate about the subject."

Professor Cheryl Praeger, Winthrop Professor in the school of mathematics and statistics at the University of Western Australia, told the HES that "very bright" students were entering Go8 universities inadequately prepared for university mathematics because of the poor state of maths tuition in schools. "Many will be learning their high school maths at university," she said. "We have to provide for them." She warned Australia risked becoming a Third World country if it failed to move quickly to arrest the decline in mathematics.

The chief executive of the Australian Research Council, Margaret Sheil, said she shared the concerns of the Brown review and had made mathematics one of the targeted disciplines for the next round of the federation fellowships. But she observed that statistics, which was important for new developments in biology, health and economics, was in an even worse state. She said universities could play a leadership role in arresting the decline at school level, because "strong and vibrant mathematics departments create opportunities to train strong and vibrant mathematicians, and that spins off into teaching."

The chairman of the Go8 Chair, University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Alan Robson, welcomed the review and its recommendations, which focused on equipping primary school teachers with mathematical skills and identified the need for remedial maths courses at the tertiary level.

The Go8 has renewed its push for a new higher education policy architecture focused on targeted funding to strengthen the top research institutions and render them more internationally competitive. The Go8's executive director, Mike Gallagher, will warn a higher education congress in Sydney today against attempts to emulate research universities across the sector. He will stress the need for more cost-effective forms of higher education supply, such as teaching only institutions, amid expanding domestic enrolments.


Senior Citizen waits months for 'urgent' brain surgery

They're letting this guy walk around with a time-bomb in his head

A PENSIONER has been set a date for brain surgery after accusing Queensland Health of "playing God" and forcing him to wait more than 200 days longer than he should have for the urgent operation. The state opposition seized on the case of 70-year-old Hans Hagen, who understood himself to be on a category-one waiting list for more than seven months. That's despite him being listed as in need of surgery within 30 to 60 days.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle tabled in parliament a copy of a letter from Mr Hagen to Health Minister Paul Lucas. It outlined the way his case had been handled since he was recommended for the aneurysm-correcting surgery in September last year. In it, Mr Hagen accuses Queensland Health of "playing God with my life". "My predicament is especially extreme as my life is threatened by two medical problems either of which could kill me without warning," Mr Hagen wrote. "Hence, I am at a loss to understand why my surgery has been delayed for such a long time."

He said he'd been told by Queensland Health staff that the extended wait was because he'd been reclassified to category two.

Mr McArdle demanded in question time that the health minister "explain to Mr Hagen in person why he has been waiting 267 days for urgent brain surgery".

Queensland Health district executive Dr David Theile said Mr Hagen had on Monday been scheduled for surgery in April. "Princess Alexandra Hospital apologises to the patient for any confusion about the surgical category assigned to him," Dr Theile said. "However, the hospital does not agree that his surgical condition, as has been published, is high risk." It is understood Mr Hagen's GP believed he was a category one patient, when specialists had classified him as category two.

Dr Theile said the hospital had been working with Mr Hagen since February to prepare him for surgery. "This has included consultations with specialist clinics in the hospital and privately as arranged by Mr Hagen's GP," Dr Theile said. "The hospital is sorry if this delay has caused concern for Mr Hagen, but he has expressed his satisfaction with his proposed surgery date with the hospital in communications today."


Britain voted worst place in developed world to bring up children (while Australia is the best)

Comment from Britain

Britain is the worst country in which to raise children, while Australia is the best, a study has found. The survey of [British] expatriates living in six different countries found there was a better standard of living Down Under, and a better quality of family life. A massive 78 per cent of children who moved there from countries such as the UK spent more time outdoors than they did before, and the majority ate more healthily.

In comparison, foreign children who moved to Britain were more likely to become lazy and inactive.

A third of parents who have moved here said their children watched more TV than they did before and 27 per cent saw an increase in the amount of time spent playing video games. Overall, Britain was also branded the most difficult country to move to. Schools were found to be less welcoming, and it was difficult to arrange child care.

A massive 45 per cent of parents said the quality of their family life had decreased since moving to the UK - just 16 per cent noticed an improvement, according to the survey commissioned by HSBC. Britain was rated the lowest of the six countries examined. The list, from best to worst, read Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, the U.S. and the UK.

The results bode well for Leah Wood, 31, who recently emigrated to Sydney with her Australian husband Jack MacDonald and their nine-month- old daughter Maggie. Miss Wood, the daughter of Rolling Stone Ronnie said she wanted a 'fresh start'. She said: 'My husband is Australian and I love the lifestyle and the pureness of this city. It's really easy to be organic here. I want the best for my little Maggie.'

An HSBC spokesman said: 'When you're talking to an expat community you're obviously talking to people with a varied degree of experience in terms of different countries. 'The key centres around childcare and education... they were the things that were really highlighted. The UK has scored lower than some of the other countries in those respects.'

But Britain did rank highly in terms of cultural integration, with 83 per cent saying they were able to adapt to UK living 'well' or 'really well'. The spokesman said: 'The UK is a great place to be able to dip into a number of different cultural experiences.'

The Offshore Offspring report, commissioned by HSBC, examined children's integration, health and well-being by questioning 3,100 expats from 50 nations living in the six countries. In 2008, emigration from recession-hit Britain reached a record level with 427,000 people leaving, up from 341,000 in 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics.


12 March, 2010

The chairman of Australia's major public broadcaster is critical of its global warming evangelism

He has no day-to-day influence on programming, however

STANDING in front of senior journalists and program makers and challenging them about "groupthink" and uncritical reporting is, at best of times, a dangerous thing to do. At the national broadcaster, and using the climate change debate as an example, it was bound to be incendiary.

On Wednesday morning, chairman Maurice Newman opened the ABC's annual leaders conference - attended by about 250 senior program makers, journalists and executives at its Ultimo headquarters in Sydney - to deliver an unprecedented address. It was a barely disguised attack on his perception of journalistic culture at the ABC.

"I would like you to think about how we might encourage, in our internal debates, more open minds and diverse opinions," Newman told employees. "How might we ensure that in our newsrooms we celebrate those who interrogate every truth, both convenient and inconvenient; create an atmosphere in which one can hold a view that runs contrary to prevailing wisdom without fear of ridicule from those with whom we work. "This is part of the journalistic culture we simply must get right if we are to continue to be trusted by all Australians."

At a time when the ABC is using new technology to push the boundaries of its original charter and has displayed an entrepreneurial zeal under managing director Mark Scott, Newman has set off an internal political battle Scott has so far skilfully avoided.

Scott has been forced to defend his journalists. A brief statement read by Tony Jones on ABC1's Lateline on Wednesday said: "Tonight, ABC management responded to Mr Newman's speech, saying it stands by the integrity of its journalists and its processes."

To the surprise of many present at Wednesday's speech, Newman, a Howard government appointee, spent some time outlining the case that many climate change sceptics have been making about the ABC: that there is a bias towards climate change alarmists and anyone questioning the science tends to be "labelled and mocked". "This collective censorious approach succeeded in suppressing contrary views in the mainstream media, despite that fact that growing number of distinguished scientists were challenging the conventional wisdom with alternative theories and peer-reviewed research," Newman said.

He cited the BBC's reporting, highlighting that the BBC Trust was carrying out a review of the accuracy and impartiality of the British broadcaster's coverage of science amid allegations the BBC had sat on the climategate emails from the University of East Anglia for a month. "While disturbing," he said of the controversy, "it is heartening to know that the BBC takes quality control seriously." The clear implication is that Newman would like the ABC to do something similar. It is a not-so-veiled suggestion that editorial director Paul Chadwick, installed in 2006 under Scott and Newman, should ensure editorial balance.

The responses to Newman's speech have been predictable. Some see it as management interference in the ABC editorial processes, others as a case of Newman expressing some hard truths.

Perhaps not surprisingly, first to express outrage was Jonathan Holmes, the presenter of ABC1's Media Watch.

After Newman spoke, Scott followed with his own speech but, according to those present, did not directly address the chairman's comments. He then opened the forum for questions in which Holmes rose to his feet and, according to those present, said: "It was an excellent speech, Mark, but I found it difficult to concentrate because I'm so angry about what the chairman just said", or words to that effect.

Holmes's view is that it was an inappropriate forum for the remarks. An ABC spokesman says it was an internal discussion, though a speech to 250 people at the ABC was unlikely to remain internal for long and Newman reiterated his remarks in a lengthy interview on ABC radio's PM that night.

The Friends of the ABC says Newman's criticism of the coverage of global warming was "extraordinary and inappropriate". Spokesperson Glenys Stradijot says Newman "is entitled to his personal views on controversial matters. But his expression of them while he remains head of the ABC damages public confidence in the national broadcaster's independence". She goes on: "Just as worrying, Mr Newman's comments look to be an attempt to influence ABC programming to be more favourable to global warming scepticism."

But others wonder if this argument holds, as the ABC board, as a taxpayer-funded entity, is responsible under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act to "ensure that the gathering and presentation by the corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism".

The ABC has been under heavy fire in the past few months for its reporting on climate change, partly with reference to the climategate emails, and as public opinion shifts on the issue, particularly after the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit.

In an editorial in the Australian edition of The Spectator, Tom Switzer, a former opinion editor of The Australian, writes that ABC "journalists, with honourable exceptions (such as Chris Uhlmann), actively campaign for an alarmist cause the public no longer buys". "Around the world, media outlets both public (including even the BBC) and private (including even The Guardian) are doing real investigative work into the science and the scientists at a time when the political climate is changing dramatically. It is an embarrassment that `our' ABC is stuck so resolutely in the past."

For climate change agnostics or sceptics, Newman's speech is long overdue. Self-proclaimed agnostic Bob Carter, a geologist and environmental scientist with James Cook University in Queensland, says the ABC refused to publish an article on its The Drum website, despite initially requesting it. This followed a series of articles by well known climate change advocate Clive Hamilton on the website. Carter says he was asked to contribute after what he says were complaints to the ABC for not publishing alternative views. "They wrote to several so-called climate sceptics seeking to commission a series of five articles expressing a different point of view on climate change for publication the week after Hamilton's were run," he says.

"The Drum, after advertising that these five articles would appear, subsequently chose to publish only three - by Alan Moran, Joanne Nova and Tom Switzer - and declined to publish the invited articles by me and Sydney geologist Marc Hendrickx." Carter says the ABC emailed him saying the reason for declining the article, which was critical of visiting US climate scientist Jim Hansen, was that: "The Hanson [sic] theme feels that it's been overtaken by the interview with him that Fran Kelly did on RN [Radio National] this morning".

Carter's article was subsequently published on the conservative website Quadrant Online.

Newman cited the British newspaper The Guardian in his speech on Wednesday, saying: "The moment climatology is sheltered from dispute, its force begins to wane. Which raises an important question for a media organisation. Who, if anyone, decides what to shelter from dispute? And when? Should there be a view that the ABC was sheltering particular beliefs from scrutiny, or failing to question a consensus, I would consider it to be a dangerous perception that could lead to the public's trust in us being undermined . . .

"We can see that history has at times proven not to be on the side of conventional wisdom or the consensus view, but on the side of those who dissented from them. More significantly, we see too how media have failed us by not being rigorous and questioning enough, resulting in many misrepresentations taking too long to be discovered. We have seen so often the time of greatest certainty is, in fact, the time to be most sceptical. "If we spent more time on biopsies in journalism, as [US-based blogging journalist] Arianna Huffington has suggested, there would be far fewer autopsies."

What's clear is Newman has shifted the debate back on to the ABC, just when its managing director found himself in a sweet spot, looking to expand and take advantage of the commercial pressures his competitors (as he calls them) find themselves under as they struggle to compete amid declining advertising dollars and rapid technological shifts.

Last October, Scott spoke on the subject of "The fall of Rome", an examination of what he saw as the age of declining media empires. "When you have been so powerful and dominant for so long, it is hard to believe that empire is slipping away." he said, in a speech that also focused heavily on Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation (publisher of The Australian). But on Wednesday, Newman, a friend of John Howard, reminded Scott of the dangers of hubris.

"The ABC has never been more popular, never stronger. Never has more attention been paid to the ABC by both the public and our competitors," he said. "I think that now, when the corporation is at its strongest, is an ideal time to take a look at ourselves. Not when our critics choose to. "To question ourselves about how well we are meeting the ABC's high standards. Just as we ask hard questions of others, we need to ask ourselves: how we might better fulfil and honour the contract we have with the Australian people."

Pointedly, while noting Murdoch had been a critic of public broadcasting, at the end of his speech Newman quoted Murdoch to emphasise his argument that the ABC should not underestimate its audience, saying he was struck how Murdoch pointed to an American study that reported many editors and reporters do not trust their readers to make decisions. "This is a polite way of saying these editors and reporters think their readers are too stupid to think for themselves," Newman quoted Murdoch as saying.

The media industry's destiny then lay within the organisations themselves, he said: "In the culture and ethical constructs of each organisation, not in the latest technological innovation."

This is an alternative view to Scott's speech and in that sense Newman is leading by example, as now the ABC has a debate and a very public difference of opinion between the chairman and the managing director.


Widow sues government over faulty ambulance equipment -- equipment KNOWN to be faulty

A woman is suing the Queensland government for $1.62 million over claims faulty ambulance equipment contributed to her husband's death. In a statement of claim filed this week in the Brisbane Supreme Court registry, Carmal Corsie and her three children allege the government was negligent in failing to ensure crucial equipment was working properly when an ambulance came to collect Iain Corsie on March 23, 2007.

According to the claim, the ambulance was called to the family's Mitchelton home after Mr Corsie, 38, suffered pains in his chest and arm. Mrs Corsie claims ambulance officers checked his condition and determined he was having a heart attack. They used a Heartstart 4000 monitor/defibrillator to conduct an ECG before he was allowed to walk to the ambulance.

Court documents claim the defibrillator malfunctioned while en route to the hospital, and that the paramedics elected to divert to the ambulance station to find a replacement piece of equipment. Shortly afterwards Mr Corsie lost consciousness and died.

The Corsie family claims it later learned the defibrillator had malfunctioned in late February and then failed to pass an equipment check the day before Mr Corsie's death. Court documents allege the machine was not serviced or taken out of use.

The family is suing the government for $1.62 million, claiming it was negligent in failing to ensure proper, working equipment was available to treat Mr Corsie. They also allege the ambulance took an unacceptable 19 minutes to arrive at their address after being called, and then should have travelled directly to hospital instead of making a detour to the station. "If the defendant had not been negligent, the deceased would not have died," the claim states.


Australia on shame list

Because of Australia's Leftist government insisting on net censorship despite widespread opposition

A TOP media rights watchdog has listed Australia along with Iran and North Korea in a report on countries that pose a threat of internet censorship. Paris-based Reporters Without Bordersput Australia and South Korea on its list of countries "under surveillance" in its "Internet Enemies" report

Australia was listed for its government's plan to block access to websites featuring material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse. Critics say the plan is a misguided measure that will harm civil liberties.

In South Korea, the RSF report added, "draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting self-censorship". "These countries are worrying us because they have measures that could have repercussions for freedom of expression on the internet," RSF secretary general Jean-Francois Julliard said.

Russia and Turkey were also added to the watchlist, which is a category below RSF's top "Enemies of the internet", the countries it considers the 12 worst web freedom violators. These include Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam.

"The world's largest netizen prison is in China, which is far out ahead of other countries with 72 detainees, followed by Vietnam and then by Iran, which have all launched waves of brutal attacks on websites in recent months," RSF's report said.

A senior manager of US internet giant Google, David Drummond, said there was an "alarming trend" of government interference in online freedom, not only in countries that are judged to have poor human rights records. He cited Australia's plans as an example, saying that there ``the wide scope of content prohibited could include socially and politically controversial material". The Australian case "is an example of where these benign intentions can result in the spectre of true censorship", he added. "Here in Europe, even in France, at this very moment, some are tempted by this slippery path of network filtering."


Learning about Hayek the hard way

By Dr. Oliver Marc Hartwich, a German economist. He probably reads Hayek in the original

In his masterpiece, The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek considered the follies of mistaken policies to conclude: "We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish." If only Kevin Rudd heeded this advice, his much-televised apologies for the government's insulation fiasco and other policy blunders would be more credible.

The Prime Minister is not the greatest fan of Hayek, as he has repeatedly made clear in several essays and speeches. Yet Hayek's economics offer some valuable explanations why the government's big stimulus package was bound to run into difficulties. Furthermore, an injection of Hayekian thought into the policy-making process could save us from similar disasters in the future.

Although Hayek was one of the last polymaths, it is fair to assume that he had never heard of pink batts. Nevertheless, he would not have been surprised that the government's drive to quickly roll out a nationwide insulation policy would run into numerous difficulties. At the core, the government's policies suffer from two connected problems: lack of knowledge and unintended consequences. Hayek had given both these challenges for public policy a great deal of thought.

Hayekian economics is built on the fundamental insight that modern societies are much too complex to be planned. The sheer number of variables to be taken into consideration often exceeds the capacity of modern supercomputers.

It was the Prime Minister, in his interview on ABC1's Insiders, who provided a good example of such virtually unmanageable complexity. Noting that Australia's health system comprised 763 hospitals, 115 million [annual] visits to general practitioners and 49 million hospital services, he mourned how difficult that made it "to get it right". Who could possibly doubt that? In the face of such complexities, all attempts to micro-manage the day-to-day workings of a system are futile. No single government agency could gather the necessary knowledge to effectively control the operation of each and every one of the nation's hundreds of hospitals.

It is dangerously naive to assume that bringing the health system under the central control of the federal government would miraculously make it more efficient. Quite the reverse may be the case.

In his Nobel lecture Hayek issued a stark warning against such micro-management: "To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power [that] enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge [that] in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm."

For any ambitious politician this is a sobering insight. It runs against all desires to "get on with the job" and "deliver outcomes". When Rudd now says that "we didn't properly estimate the complexity of what we are embarking on", this shows how he is learning the meaning of the Hayekian knowledge problem the hard way.

At the same time, his government is also learning Hayek's law of unintended consequences. In The Road to Serfdom Hayek lays out how governments, lacking knowledge and foresight, often implement policies that create more problems than they solve. This in turn leads to yet more government action with yet more unintended consequences.

This precisely has been the story of the government's insulation scheme. What began with the best intentions of stimulating the economy and saving energy has not only tragically cost lives and caused much distress, it has become a policy that keeps dragging on long after the initial reason for stimulating the economy has disappeared.

Hadn't we been promised "shovel-ready" jobs? And isn't it ironic that the Reserve Bank of Australia now has to counteract the consequences of excessive government spending with higher interest rates?

Hayekian economists had been pointing out these difficulties with the government's ambitious and rushed stimulus measures when hardly any politician was willing to listen. It is little consolation to them now when the Prime Minister tells presenter Kerry O'Brien on ABC1's The 7.30 Report: "I am disappointed in myself for not asking more questions."

Once you have understood the ubiquitous knowledge problem and the law of unintended consequences, policy-making does not become easier. But at least it alerts you to the limitations of politics. A certain Hayekian humility would certainly suit our politicians well.

How this may look in practice was demonstrated nicely by former Conservative British cabinet minister Peter Lilley. As minister, he famously instructed the civil service to always include one item on the list of policy options that was usually forgotten. In Britain this became known as "Lilley's option" and it was very simple: "Do nothing." Lilley later explained that he was convinced that "sometimes doing nothing was less bad than doing something".

It's an experience from which the present generation of politicians could still benefit. Unfortunately, most of them follow neither Lilley nor Hayek but Winston Churchill: "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."


Indonesia to jail people-smugglers for five years

People-smugglers caught in Indonesia will face five years' jail under tough anti-trafficking measures unveiled yesterday during a historic speech to federal parliament by visiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. In the first speech by an Indonesian leader to Australia's parliament, Dr Yudhoyono announced that a new law would make people-smuggling a crime in Indonesia - a move designed to discourage the Indonesian fishermen who have carried thousands of asylum-seekers into Australian waters.

The President's announcement followed a day of high drama in which Indonesian counter-terrorism police confirmed the death of the country's most wanted terrorist, Bali bombing mastermind Dulmatin, on Tuesday during a raid targeting a militant hideout in Jakarta.

Dr Yudhoyono was reading an earlier speech to a state luncheon in the Great Hall at Parliament House in Canberra when a military aide passed him a note. "I have great news to announce to you," the President told guests. "After a successful police raid against a terrorist hideout in Jakarta, we can confirm that one of those killed was Mr Dulmatin, one of the top Southeast Asian terrorists that we've been looking for," he said through an interpreter.

At 2.30pm, the President was escorted into a House of Representatives chamber packed with MPs from both houses, where he was introduced by the Speaker, Harry Jenkins.

Praising the Australia-Indonesia relationship as "solid and strong", Dr Yudhoyono warned of new "non-traditional" threats posed by terrorism, people-smuggling, drugs and natural disasters, for which Canberra and Jakarta should be prepared. He said both governments acknowledged that the vexed issue of people-smuggling was a regional problem, requiring a regional solution. "And to strengthen our legal instruments, the Indonesian government will soon introduce to parliament a law that will criminalise those involved in people-smuggling - those found guilty will be sent to prison for five years," Dr Yudhoyono pledged to loud applause.

His promise came as Australia's Border Protection Command confirmed the interception of the 21st asylum-seeker boat this year.

The Australian understands Indonesian authorities are preparing to deal with another situation - the 248 Australia-bound Sri Lankan Tamils refusing to get off their boat in the Indonesian port of Merak after a four-month standoff. This newspaper has been told Indonesia is preparing to remove the Sri Lankans by force if necessary, and send them to Tanjung Pinang immigration detention centre for processing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "These people will be transferred to another location in West Java soon," a senior Indonesian official said. Dr Yudhoyono described a "love-hate relationship" between two countries, which he said had evolved into a model partnership - not without its challenges, but one that was drawing world envy.

He said government-to-government ties between Jakarta and Canberra had never been better. But Dr Yudhoyono warned against complacency. He said he was personally concerned about ill-informed perceptions of Indonesian society by Australians, and vice-versa. "There are Australians who still see Indonesia as an authoritarian country or a military dictatorship or as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, or even as an expansionist power," the President said.

On the other hand, there were Indonesians afflicted by what he called "Australia-phobia - those who believe that the notion of White Australia still persists, that Australia harbours ill-intention towards Indonesia," he said. "We must expunge these preposterous mental caricatures if we are to achieve a more resilient partnership."

Earlier, Mr Rudd heaped lavish praise on Indonesia's achievements following the end of the Suharto regime in 1998. "The people of Indonesia enjoy a free media, an open society and religious tolerance," Mr Rudd said. "They live in a multi-party democracy in which transitions to power take place according to law. "In Indonesia, democracy now has strong foundations."

During talks earlier yesterday morning, Mr Rudd and Dr Yudhoyono agreed to further strengthen relations with an annual leaders' retreat and a meeting of foreign and defence ministers.

Tony Abbott said he supported Mr Rudd's remarks but used his speech in parliament to criticise Labor's policy on border protection.

In a three-hour meeting yesterday morning, Dr Yudhoyono and the Prime Minister discussed the three Australian drug smugglers facing the death penalty in Indonesia. "He indicated to the President that should any member of the group seek clemency, he would support the request directly with the President," a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said last night.

Work will soon start on a prisoner exchange agreement between Indonesia and Australia.

Both leaders also discussed the 1975 killings of the Balibo Five journalists and expressed sympathy for those bereaved by the tragedy.

The Indonesian leader flew out of Canberra last night to Sydney for talks with business leaders aimed at boosting trade links.


11 March, 2010

More "stimulus" waste

Its been raining hot water heaters in some places

A FOOTBALL team was granted 17 new hot water systems and knocked back an offer of even more, sparking debate about reckless federal spending. Tiny Koondrook Barham Football Club on the Murray River, Victoria, now has almost one hot water system for every player in the team.

President Rod Barrington said the club knocked even back more units. "They wanted us to take more," he said. Other clubs were given so many hot water units they couldn't pay the power bills.

As the Rudd Government struggles with the roof insulation scandal, the Herald Sun can reveal shocking waste of taxpayer money on unwanted hot water units. Koondrook Barham is the worst example. Its dressing shed, which has only four showers, now features a bank of taxpayer-funded, 315-litre hot water systems. "It got round a lot of clubs these units were available and the contractors approached us," Mr Barrington said. "I think we wound up paying $20 per unit."

As Energy Efficiency Minister Greg Combet tried to restore confidence in the insulation program, his department scrambled to explain the latest abuse of the handouts. Mr Combet's spokesman said the hot water rebate was only available for households, and could not explain how sporting clubs had benefited.

But Koondrook-Barham isn't the only club to be lumped with hot water units. Catani football ground, in Gippsland, said it was given 12 units for its six showers but has turned them off because they were too expensive to run. Catani recreation reserve president Mick Marson said electricity bills doubled.

"We thought, 'Geez this is more than too many', but we were told to have 12 so we took 12," he said. "The Government likes handing money out. They just didn't do any research about where it is going. It is taxpayers that pay for it."

At least five other clubs in the Central Murray League and the Ellinbank and District League were given new hot water systems. Ellinbank Football Club was given 12 units but was operating on six after the rest were stolen.

The Federal Government last night admitted it had become aware that some installers had been fitting multiple heat pump hot water systems, above the capacity needed by the user. A spokeswoman said it had introduced regulations in September 2009 to prevent oversized heat pumps being installed.


Another election promise broken

THE Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, now seems unlikely to meet another big election pledge - to introduce a national dental scheme. The scheme was to have delivered a million services to Australians in urgent need of treatment.

The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, has blamed the Coalition for "blocking" the necessary legislation in the Senate. But sources have told the Herald that the government and opposition came close to agreement for an expanded scheme. Negotiations stalled over a relatively minor issue concerning measures to curb rorting. The opposition health spokesman, Peter Dutton, said the government "did not want to accept even relatively minor changes … It was politically convenient for the government to say this measure was being blocked".

The stand-off over the dental scheme has centred on the government's refusal to introduce its program until the opposition agreed to axe an increasingly popular Medicare dental scheme which funds up to $4250 in dental treatment for patients who have an associated chronic medical condition. More than 400,000 patients have received treatments under the Medicare dental scheme, which has been most popular in NSW - with about 250,000 recipients - and is gaining in popularity in Victoria where about 100,000 have benefited.

However, the Medicare dental scheme, introduced by the previous government, has been associated with allegations of rorting and Medicare is investigating claims involving about 50 dentists who may have undertaken and been paid for work not eligible for the Medicare payment.

Labor's more modest scheme, which would have cost less than half the $700 million so far paid out for the Medicare program, would have reached more people but would not have provided the treatment many would need, the Association for the Promotion of Oral Health has said. The talks aimed at a compromise foundered over the opposition's bid to ease the government proposal for a clamp on high-end dental services.


Education Dept. gives bullying bureaucrat a free ride

A PRIMARY school principal in Brisbane's southeast is under investigation for bullying, after Education Queensland appointed him despite him being shifted from two other schools following similar complaints. Teachers passed a no-confidence motion against a principal in the Redlands area at the beginning of the school term, which was soon after his deputy walked out.

Education Queensland has confirmed an investigation is underway.

The principal was also disciplined after an incident in a previous school where he allegedly raised his hand to strike a female staff member. Following his removal, The Courier-Mail understands he was placed in head office at Education Queensland before he was sent to the Redlands school, where he's remained for at least six years.

It comes only days after Premier Anna Bligh backed a national Say No to Bullying day, but yesterday Education Minister Geoff Wilson refused to comment on the department's decision to appoint a principal with a history of bullying. "Staffing issues at individual schools are dealt with by the Department of Education and Training," he said in a statement. "I expect them to investigate all cases thoroughly and to adhere to all processes and protocols when doing so."

Education Queensland did not respond to concerns the department was aware of the principal's record when they appointed him at his current school. 'The department can only act if a formal complaint is made. Staff are encouraged to contact their executive director to do so," Human Resources assistant director Craig Allen said. "The performance management process is in place to ensure all staff are treated justly and fairly in the workplace." Mr Allen said bullying was not tolerated.

The Courier-Mail believes the schools' executive director Paula Anderson has been contacted about the matter. The investigation started yesterday.


Do-gooder laws protect young bullies

THE mother of a 12-year-old boy bashed at a police-run disco is demanding new laws to ensure young bullies pay for their actions. Lynette Bishop has issued a direct challenge to Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, saying laws are needed to protect children suffering at the hands of bullies. She said her son was scared and angry after being beaten by a group of young boys at a blue-light disco on the Sunshine Coast on Friday night.

She said she intends to press charges but police had warned her that the case has little chance of making it to court. "We're going to go ahead and try and lay charges," Ms Bishop told the ABC. "But at the end of the day, as we've been advised by police, they're not really going to be able to do anything because Queensland legislation is such that every attempt must be made by the police to avoid laying charges on a minor." Even if the case made it to court, Ms Bishop said, police had advised that the likely outcome would be a warning for those involved.

She said there had been too many cases of extreme bullying and the Government must act. "I am as sad as I am mad about what is not being done by our politicians. "There's nothing in place now, despite what Anna Bligh said on the news last night that there are strict guidelines and policies in place - that's absolute rubbish. "I can't even get a restraining order out against these boys to protect my own son because they are too young."

Laws were needed to "re-empower" police, teachers and parents, she said. "I issue a challenge to her to come back to me within a three-month period as to what she's doing to change the legislation and exactly what legislation she (Ms Bligh) thinks is in place to protect our young."

Ms Bishop said her son was fearful, given that one of his assailants attended his school. "My son was strangled to the point where is throat was so swollen afterwards that we were concerned about his ability to breathe. "He's better physically, the bruises are fading, the swelling is going down, but emotionally he's a scared little boy and he's angry."


Punchy Polynesians may be expelled from school

Nudgee is a Catholic school and Brisbane Catholic schools often have a substantial Polynesian enrolment, mostly from Samoa, I believe. They are very big (in more ways than one) in school sports

TWO members of Nudgee College's first XV rugby team are facing expulsion over their role in an alleged punch-up after last week's GPS swimming carnival at Chandler. The two senior students have been ``suspended pending an enrolment review" after questioning about the incident involving a rival school.

A Brisbane Boys' College student was knocked unconscious when he was allegedly king hit by a Nudgee student. The boy had been stooping to help a school mate who had been struck in the chest, as they walked to the bus following the carnival - which Nudgee won.

The BBC students have claimed the attack was completely unprovoked but the Nudgee students have told their school they were being racially abused.

BBC headmaster Graeme McDonald has said it was more a case of interschool rivalry getting out of hand. The schools did not report the incident to police and the boy who was severely concussed as a result of the punch, is recovering satisfactorily.


More punchy Polynesians

The girlfriend of a wheelchair-bound Canadian tourist who was allegedly attacked by two teenagers at a train station in Sydney's west last night says she is disgusted by the assault. Kristin Sharrock, of Mosman, said the 35-year-old victim - who is undergoing surgery for head wounds today - had ‘‘been through a lot in his life and he doesn’t deserve what’s happened’’.

Ms Sharrock said she was called at midnight by police and told what had happened. ‘‘I was disgusted. I can’t believe someone would attack anybody, let alone someone in a wheelchair.’’

The 35-year-old man, who lives in Mosman, was on the platform at Mount Druitt train station when the teenagers approached him, police said. They "verbally intimidated" him, so he tried to leave by a lift at the station, police said. But one of the youths allegedly punched him in the face, knocking him out of his wheelchair. The teenagers then allegedly stomped on him, hitting him on the head and body with metal bars - one from the wheelchair, police said. They then tried to take his wheelchair and belongings.

Police allege the pair left but returned a few times to batter the victim with the metal bars again before running from the station. A NSW Ambulance spokesman said emergency services were called to the station about 11.15pm. The victim was taken to Westmead Hospital in a serious condition about 11.45pm.

Mount Druitt Local Area Commander Superintendent Wayne Cox told reporters this morning that the attack had taken between three and five minutes and had been captured on security video as well as being witnessed by a train station employee. He described the attack as ‘‘a calculated assault’’. ‘‘It’s one of the most serious attacks I’ve seen,’’ Superintendent Cox said....

A 16-year-old youth was charged with robbery and assault offences today and is due to face Parramatta Children's Court. Police are still looking for the second alleged attacker, who they say is aged between 12 and 15 and of Pacific Islander appearance.


10 March, 2010

Coral reefs safe after all

Hoagy will be disappointed

Reef ecosystems were able to persist through massive environmental changes imposed by sharply falling sea levels during previous ice ages, an international scientific team has found. This provides new hope for their capacity to endure the increasing human impacts forecast for the 21st century.

In the world's first study of what happened to coral reefs when ocean levels sank to their lowest recorded level – over 120 metres below today's levels – a study carried out on eight fossil reefs in Papua New Guinea's Huon Gulf region has concluded that a rich diversity of corals managed to survive, although they were different in composition to the corals under more benign conditions.

“Of course, sea levels then were falling – and today they are rising," said Professor John Pandolfi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland. "But if we want to know how corals cope with hostile conditions, then we have to study what happens under all circumstances. “We've seen what happens to corals in the past when sea levels rose and conditions were favourable to coral growth: we wanted to see what happened when they fell and conditions were adverse. “When sea levels drop you get a catastrophic reduction in coral habitat and a loss of connectivity between reefs.

In the Huon region, the team found, coral reefs survived the hard times low of sea levels with as much richness of species – but with a different composition to what they had during the good times. “As a rule the coral colonies during the period of low sea levels were closer to the sea floor and slower-growing in comparison with times of high sea levels.” “What we have found suggests that reef systems are able to survive adverse conditions given suitable shallow rocky habitat.

"An interesting finding of this study is that complex coral ecosystems were maintained during the less optimal periods of low sea level. These may have been critical to the re-establishment of nearby reefs once environmental conditions began to improve.” “The fossil record shows that reefs have been remarkably successful in surviving large environmental disturbances.

More HERE (I have left out the propaganda and just kept the factual bits)

Journal abstract follows:

Community dynamics of Pleistocene coral reefs during alternative climatic regimes

By Danika Tager et al.

Reef ecosystems built during successive periods of Pleistocene sea level rise have shown remarkable persistence in coral community structure, but little is known of the ecological characteristics of reef communities during periods of low sea stands or sea level falls. We sampled the relative species abundance of coral, benthic foraminifera, and calcareous red algae communities from eight submerged coral reefs in the Huon Gulf, Papua New Guinea, which formed during successive sea level fall and lowstand periods over the past 416 kyr. We found that dissimilarity in coral species composition increased significantly with increasing time between reef-building events. However, neither coral diversity nor the taxonomic composition of benthic foraminifera and calcareous red algae assemblages varied significantly over time. The taxonomic composition of coral communities from lowstand reefs was significantly different from that of highstand reefs previously reported from the nearby Huon Peninsula. We interpret the community composition and temporal dynamics of lowstand reefs as a result of shifting energy regimes in the Huon Gulf, and differences between low and highstand reefs as a result of differences in the interaction between biotic and environmental factors between the Huon Gulf and Huon Peninsula. Regardless of the exact processes driving these trends, our study represents the first glimpse into the ecological dynamics of coral reefs during low sea level stands when climatic conditions for reef growth were much different and less optimal than during previously studied highstand periods.


Lack of housing will 'challenge recovery' - Reserve Bank

AUSTRALIA is facing an under-supply of housing that isn't meeting the demands of a growing population, an RBA official says. Australia is likely to devote a higher share of its GDP to housing than before, or risk a "further adjustment" in housing prices and rents to balance supply and demand.

Unlike most countries rocked by the GFC, Australia did not have an unsustainable surge in housing investment in the middle years of the 2000s resulting in over-supply of housing, the Reserve Bank's assistant governor (economics) Philip Lowe says. He said the rate of increase in homes has been below the average of the past 50 years, while population has increased at its fastest pace over the same period. "If we are to build more dwellings, we need to ensure that planning guidelines and infrastructure provision can accommodate this. This will pose challenges for all levels of government.

A second challenge was "the capacity of the economy to deal with an increase in dwelling construction at a time when investment elsewhere in the economy is also very high. "If housing construction is very strong at the same time that the resources sector is expanding, there will be competing demands for a range of skilled workers and specialised services. "Managing these competing demands and ensuring the adequate supply of workers with appropriate skills will be a challenge."

While challenges remained, three decades of reform by governments and business had honed the Australian economy to weather not just the global financial crisis of 2008, but the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He said the central lesson of the past 18 months was the importance of flexibility in the economy and economic policy to respond to crisis.

The Reserve Bank slashed interest rates from 7.5 per cent to a 50 year low of 3 per cent over seven months between September 2008 and April 2009 in response to the international debt crisis. Since then, it has raised the cash rate to 4 per cent in a series of moves that began in October 2009.

"This flexibility, though, did not just materialise out of thin air," Dr Lowe said. "Instead, it was the result of many years of policy reform and hard work by governments and business.


NSW getting tough on Muslims who do not assimilate

The reference to Muslims is not explicit but "He said the laws of Australia would now be recognised above people's cultural backgrounds" gives the game away. No Sharia

New migrants from all ethnic backgrounds will have to "demonstrate a unified commitment to Australia" under new state laws. For the first time multiculturalism legislation will also talk about "shared values" after changes were approved at a State Cabinet meeting yesterday. Until now the Community Relations and Principles of Multiculturalism Act stated all institutions and people had to "respect and make provision for the culture, language and religion of others".

Community Relations Commission chairman Stepan Kerkyasharian said the law change would create a new definition of multiculturalism. "We're not telling people to change their religion - we're not telling people to all look the same," he said. "There are some things where we have to be all the same. Those things are the way we obey the law and the way we demonstrate our commitment to Australia. "What this [change] does, it says that while we accept that Australians have different languages, backgrounds, they may speak different languages at home, they may have different religions, different ethnic groups, the bottom line is we have some common values.

"As Australians we all have a commitment to this country." He said the laws of Australia would now be recognised above people's cultural backgrounds.


Germaine Greer is an intellectual Paris Hilton

"A woman who sought attention more than revolution"

By Janet Albrechtsen

FEMINIST Germaine Greer is being lauded this week for living her beliefs. She is financially independent, alone, beholden to no one. Forty years after publishing The Female Eunuch, Greer is blissfully free. But there is a more pertinent question. Is Greer happy? If she is, she does a good job hiding it.

One of my girlfriends was very excited when, last year, she heard I was going to share the panel on ABC1's Q&A with Australia's most famous feminist. Alas, my friend pines for Gough Whitlam, so she and I were always going to have a different perspective.

That said, Greer is the author of what is regarded as a seminal feminist work, so credit where it's due, I thought. But to meet her is to encounter a grouchy old woman wedded to a bitter philosophy about men, women, love and life. Forty years on, there is simply no reason to celebrate Greer's sour feminism. Instead let us celebrate that Greer's revolution has not come to pass.

Of course, when the lights are turned on, the cameras focused and the audience awaits, Greer turns on the charm. With a voice made for the stage and a sharp wit, television producers and arts organisers love her.

Behind the scenes, Greer is a series of grunts and grumbles. Entering the ABC's make-up studio last October, I cheerily walked over to Greer and introduced myself. She replied with an inaudible grunt. A moment later, she grumbled to the make-up lady about a young relative staying with her who enjoyed watching the 1953 romantic comedy Roman Holiday. "Why would a girl watch such rubbish" she boomed. Why not? It beats the over-sexed shows my teenagers sneak in.

Then Greer grumbled around the green room where we assembled before going on air, muttering about her agent this, her agent that. More grumbling when she spotted a copy of The Australian on the coffee table in front of her. What a terrible newspaper, she said to no one in particular. Perhaps, not unreasonably, she expected the ABC to provide a copy of Green Left Weekly.

Of course, Greer is a committed Marxist whose revolution never came. So go easy on the word influential. It's true that women are far more sexually liberated now than in 1970. No doubt Greer helped remove the shackles. But Greer's thesis was much broader than her attention-seeking advice that women taste their menstrual blood to be at ease with their bodies. In the final chapter of The Female Eunuch, Revolution, she wrote that independent women should not marry, the family unit was a rotten environment to rear children, the trappings of consumerism were evil, and wearing make-up and nice clothes was wrong. Instead, women should live together in communes, sharing work and appliances, cooking to no timetable and using just a bit of kohl eyeliner for fun. "Revolution," she wrote, "is the festival of the oppressed."

Had my mother read The Female Eunuch, she -- roughly the same age as Greer -- would have laughed at this as the self-indulgent musings of a woman who sought attention more than revolution. And time would prove my mother right. Witness Greer's eager participation in those crass capitalist by-products, Big Brother UK, Big Brother's Little Brother and Big Brother's Big Mouth. Now famous for being famous, her thirst for celebrity far outstrips her influence as feminist. In a way, Greer has become the intellectual version of Paris Hilton.

Alas, like most working-class women, my mother did not read Greer's feminist bible or join the festival. Too busy working and racing home in the afternoons to care for children, women such as my mother and grandmother practised their own, quieter, form of feminism. They had no time for such ivory tower dreaming.

Even today among Greer's biggest fan base, the well-educated middle class, her vision never got off the ground. Most women still marry, have babies and believe -- with plenty of evidence to support them -- that the family unit is best for children. Most enjoy the trappings of capitalist society and recognise that capitalism has improved their lives, not to mention millions of other lives. With a make-up collection that extends beyond a kohl pencil, many are happy with those choices.

Is it possible that women revere Greer precisely because they haven't read her book? In fact, I'm guessing Greer's book is one of those books people lie about having read to sound, you know, intellectual.

If so, they haven't missed much. Reading The Female Eunuch last week was like watching a "look at moi, look at moi" scene from Kath & Kim. And that is the thing about Greer's positions through the years. They have been all about her. When she was young and sexy, she proclaimed the virtues of sex, anywhere, with anyone, anytime. There were no limits when it came to sexual love or sex without love. She was the "Saucy Feminist That Even Men Like" on the 1971 cover of Life magazine and openly admitted that during her three-week marriage in 1969 she slept with many others.

By her late 40s, Greer appeared to decide (or was it the market talking?) that her sex life was over. In an interview with Steve Chapple and David Talbot in Burning Desires: Sex in America published in 1989, Greer said she found love and sex boring. "I spent most of the best years of my life trying to get it right and I'm just delighted not to be worried by it any more. I really couldn't care less." Masturbation? "Basically dull. I think we can all agree on that . . . Doctors now prescribe it, certain proof that it's deeply dull," she said. Oral sex? "It's like being attacked by a giant snail. I prefer conversation."

By this stage of her life, Greer was looking fondly at Islamic societies and the segregation of men and women. Then, she started looking at teenage boys and the "the sperm that flows like tap water". Imagine the outcry if another woman had said that.

Greer says a lot of tosh. A sexy, sassy young woman can get away with it when people look more than they listen. Now older, not even a sharp, articulate tongue can save her from the fact she speaks no more for Australian women -- or any women -- than Barry McKenzie speaks for Australian men.

Greer is entitled to her shifting positions and failed endeavours, but having lost her interest in sex and love, she is now the killjoy spoiling everyone else's fun. If Greer is the pin-up girl for her beliefs, it's not surprising that millions of women have chosen, and will continue to choose, a very different path.


9 March, 2010

Rights bill is still a threat

By James Allan, Garrick professor of law at the University of Queensland

NEXT Wednesday, Frank Brennan is due to speak to the Labor Party caucus. Brennan chaired the Attorney-General's committee that came out in favour of a statutory bill of rights.

Brennan was described, when that committee was set up, as a fence-sitter, a disinterested person. Of course that label was nonsense. Before being appointed, Brennan had been on the record more than once as being in favour of Australia enacting a statutory bill of rights. In fact Attorney-General Robert McClelland didn't appoint a single known bill-of-rights opponent or sceptic.

Still, public opposition to this statutory bill of rights proposal, including among a big chunk of the Attorney-General's Labor Party colleagues, has been such that we learned a fortnight ago that cabinet was not treating a statutory bill of rights as a high priority. That's a polite way of saying nothing will happen before the next election.

Enter Brennan and the invitation offered to him by Labor Party proponents of a bill to speak to caucus. Presumably the hope is that Brennan will stiffen the spine of the government and get it to think again. Let's hope not. I'm a long-time opponent of these anti-democratic instruments and the Rudd government was brave to stand up to the chardonnay-sipping lawyers' wing of the party over this.

But what will Brennan say to caucus this Wednesday? Here's my bet. He will tell them that unless Australia enacts a statutory bill, our jurisprudence and judges' decisions will no longer be referred to by top judges in Canada, New Zealand, Britain and Europe. (Americans rarely refer to foreign precedents.)

He'll paint the spectre of isolation and urge caucus to think again. Here's why they should ignore Brennan.

To start, the claim about being isolated jurisprudentially on rights issues if you lack a bill of rights is largely false. When you buy a bill of rights, all you're really getting is the views of unelected judges rather than of elected legislators. But there's no reason judicial views should be more morally attuned or rights-respecting than those of elected legislators.

Take free speech. People in Australia have more freedom to say what they want than do Canadians. Look at hate speech or campaign finance rules or defamation regimes. Canada, which for 28 years has had one of the strongest bills of rights, has noticeably more restrictions on speech than we do here.

In fact, last year Canada's Supreme Court referred specifically to our High Court's views in changing their defamation law. The case was called Torstar. It hardly showed Australia being isolated on issues of free speech.

But if, for the sake of argument, the cost of not having such a bill of rights is that Australian top judges feel a tad isolated when next they jet off to international conferences, that's frankly a cost that is worth bearing. After all, we're talking about transferring power to unelected judges. We're talking about inroads into democratic decision-making.

That's true no matter how often proponents prevaricate and pretend that a statutory version won't make any difference, leaving us to wonder why they would expend so much effort.

The sensible wing of the Labor Party here looks as though it has killed off any explicit enacting of a statutory bill of rights. But the Brennan committee foreshadowed a back-up strategy that the lawyers' wing of the Labor Party just might try.

The ploy here will be to insert one of the key provisions of a statutory bill of rights, known as a reading-down provision, into another statute, probably the Acts Interpretation Act. This transplanted provision will do the same work of authorising judges to interpret all other statutes in a new-age way as it would in a real bill of rights. It will allow them to read other statutes in a way they, the judges, happen to think is more rights-respecting.

A similar provision in Britain has resulted in the judges saying they can ignore the clear meaning of other statutes and the clear intentions of parliament. Put one of these in some other statute and you get a bill of rights in all but name. Watch to see if this secondary ploy is being foisted on the sensible wing of Labor.


Greer rubbished

You may also have read this week that the playwright Louis Nowra has written an essay in The Monthly magazine, published yesterday, to mark the 40th anniversary of The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer's 1970 treatise. Nowra flays Greer and rubbishes her book.

She just didn't get women, Nowra reckons. Women, he says, still want romance and marriage and children and all the "fripperies" - frocks and make-up and cosmetic surgery - that Greer urged them to give up. (Many surely do.) They "love shopping more than ever". (My daughters certainly do.) Botox injections, says Nowra, have become "virtually a woman's rite of passage". (Mmmm? Maybe around Kings Cross, where he lives. He should get out more.)

Nowra says of Greer: "Her notion that women would use power differently from men was hopelessly idealistic." Perhaps, but so is this from Nowra: "One is immediately struck by how much the Western world has changed for women, who now run corporations and are heads of government bureaucracies, as well as being business leaders, film directors and soldiers. Few occupations are denied women … When Greer wrote her seminal book only 4 per cent of American wives earned more than their husbands; now this figure is verging on 20 per cent."

Wow! In Australia, we read this week, less than 2 per cent of ASX200 companies have a woman at the helm. One in 12 directors is a woman. Women earn 82.5 per cent of men's pay - worse than in 1985. Combat roles for female soldiers are severely restricted. Woman's Day, meanwhile, strikes a blow for the sisterhood by publishing a photo of a teenage Lara Bingle in the shower, taken in 2006 by her then lover, the footballer Brendan Fevola, and the mag reasons it was going to come out anyway. And Bingle was a "home-wrecker". Ding-dong, the witch is fair game. And happy International Women's Day for Monday.

All that said, Nowra's essay is a great read, a brutal but thoughtful and sometimes fair critique of The Female Eunuch and of Greer: the daughter embittered by her narcissistic mother's emotional abuse; the powerful polemicist who inspired women to leave their husbands but who wrote off gays as "faggots"; the fantasist who reckoned mothers could live in farmhouses in Italy where a revolving door of friends, relatives and local peasants would care for their children; the acid-tongued mauler of other prominent women; the woman who imagined herself as the wife of the Bard ("I'd f--- Shakespeare except that he especially asked that his bones not be disturbed"); the author of "dull and graceless" and "increasingly daft" prose; the attention seeker on Celebrity Big Brother; and, ultimately, the "irrelevant noise of a shock jock few people listen to any more".

Perhaps Nowra's cheapest shot is likening Greer, a "befuddled and exhausted old woman", to "my demented grandmother". If the dead could sue, his granny surely would.


Another bungling bureaucracy

Victoria's gun safety laws in firing line

VICTORIA'S gun safety regime is under fire after a string of privacy breaches and other police gun register blunders. Shooters and traders say public safety is at risk from errors that could see information about guns fall into the wrong hands.

In one of the worst examples, one person received about 80 registration certificates for a single gun. And a gun dealer was sent five application forms for a dealer's licence it had already renewed, along with a renewal for a pistol owned by an unknown person and the private details of a second shooter. In other cases the details of guns and their owners have simply vanished from the registry.

Firearm Traders Association secretary Graeme Forbes said the State Government had failed to act on warnings sensitive information was leaking and ignored calls for an independent review.

The registry keeps track of registered firearms and to alert officers to the presence of firearms on properties they visit. Mr Forbes said the system was so bad the Police Minister had to intervene last June to allow about 100 traders to stay open as police failed to send licence renewals out on time. In December, Victoria Police was forced to remove from its website a list of licensed gun traders that included traders who had died, retired, closed, had their licences bought back by the Government or, in one case, been charged with criminal offences.

Mr Forbes said the force's only response was to promise a new computer server and to re-establish a Firearms User Group. "These are serious public safety issues," he said. "This is especially the case after the fuss the federal and state governments made about firearm laws in the late 1990s."

Combined Firearms Council president Bill Patterson said serious concerns had been passed to the Police Minister more than a year ago. "We were told the minister was very concerned and was initiating a report on the registry," he said. "It's been 14 months and we've got nothing we can point to that's being done." "That is why we have put in place the strictest gun licensing controls and tough sanctions for firearms trafficking. "We have also introduced the toughest prohibited person arrangements and the strictest regime for the controls over imitation and replica firearms."

A police spokesman said the registry relied on information provided by shooters and police were keen to enhance communications with shooter groups to address their concerns.


Retrospective land tax to hit Queensland property investors

UNLESS we can stop it, sometime soon (maybe this week) new laws will be passed in Queensland which are breathtaking in their scope and audacity. They will massively increase the cost of living and doing business in Queensland.

Under the innocuous title of the Valuation of Land and Other Legislation Bill 2010, the Queensland Government will literally rewrite history and rewrite the dictionary. It will retrospectively change the way land tax is applied in Queensland – back to June 30, 2002. Imagine, as others have observed, if the Federal Government retrospectively changed the corporate tax rate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent and back-dated the decision by eight years?

But the most serious change is to redefine "unimproved" land to actually include improvements. I know that sounds hard to believe, but the Bill will redefine "unimproved" to include the hard work of property owners, including (among other things) the buildings they have erected, the leases they have in place, business goodwill and infrastructure charges. The absurdity of this is highlighted by a clause in the Bill which states that "unimproved value" has been given "a special meaning that must be applied whether or not that definition accords with the ordinary meaning of that term". George Orwell, the author of 1984, would have been impressed with this real-life example of doublethink.

What does all this mean? It means the more successful you have been at improving the value of your land or business, the more land tax you will pay. And contrary to the Government's claim, the Bill will have an effect on residential properties by increasing the value of residential land.

While your home remains exempt from land tax, your investment property may not. Just think about this for a moment: the "benefit" you receive from rental income from an investment property will now be included in calculating the "unimproved" value of your land, which then determines your land tax bill. These effects are not restricted to property owners, with increased costs able to be passed on to tenants.

Of significant concern is the fact that this Bill was introduced after the Queensland Government lost several court cases and subsequent appeals over the past six years. The courts consistently found that the Government was not valuing land in accordance with its own legislation. Each time, the Government argued for certain interpretations of the law. Each time, its case was dismissed. Now, the Government's losing arguments have been incorporated in this Bill. Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson had the audacity to dismiss the opinions of many learned judges in a press release on February 11 when he said it was the Government's intention to "correct the Appeal Court's interpretation of the law".

How can business operate in Queensland with that kind of uncertainty? If the Government truly believed the courts got it wrong, it could have appealed to the High Court – the fact that it didn't speaks volumes.

I can be no clearer than this: If this Bill is passed, it will massively increase the cost of living and doing business in Queensland. It will increase costs for owners of investment properties and for all businesses, not just "the big end of town".

And, alarmingly, the Government has also changed the appeal process. It will be almost impossible to object to a valuation issued by the Government, which will have the ability to decide whether or not a land owner is allowed to take the Government to court in a valuation dispute. Effectively Caesar judging Caesar.

It is our view that this Bill has been designed solely to raise revenue from Queensland property and business owners. It is a bare-faced money grab.

The Property Council is in no doubt that the Government has not considered (or, at best, doesn't understand) the full ramifications of the proposed changes. The Government doesn't even consider them as changes. In his speech to Parliament, the Minister said "the Government's policy has always been to value land as developed".

In the past month I have not spoken to a single valuer who agrees with that interpretation. We must stop this Bill being passed because the changes will destroy property values and capital investment in Queensland.


8 March, 2010

Jurors to hear prior crimes of people on trial in South Australia

Long overdue. Juries should have ALL the evidence available to them -- and "form" is a very important type of evidence

JURIES would hear the criminal histories of people on trial under a planned new law that sweeps away legal tradition. If he is returned by voters on March 20, South Australian Premier Mike Rann has promised to amend the 1921 Evidence Act to allow juries to hear a suspect's prior crimes in cases involving violent crime and sex offences.

However, civil libertarians say the reform would undermine the basis of the judicial system. Mr Rann denied he was throwing out the principle of innocent until proven guilty, saying the legal system was "stacked in favour of criminals". "It's about making sure that juries have all the facts before them," he said. "There'll be a big fight over it, there always is when we try to toughen up criminal law, but this is about doing something for the victims. In particular we're concerned with serious repeat sexual offenders such as paedophiles, where it's just a revolving door."

Civil libertarian George Mancini said there was no demand in the legal community for such radical reform and questioned the motivation. "This is designed to cause prejudice to the accused and deflect juries from the proper task of deciding whether the accused did the crime," Mr Mancini said. "No one else in Australia is considering anything like this. It seems to be just another law and order action to make people look like they're tough on crime."

Adelaide barrister David Edwardson QC said common law already provided for prior convictions or criminal conduct to be presented to a jury in certain cases. "I presume Mr Rann himself wouldn't want innocent people or people who didn't commit a crime, even if they've committed crimes in the past, to be wrongly convicted or imprisoned," he said. "It certainly undermines what I understand to be a democratic and fundamental right, that is the presumption of innocence." [Rubbish!]

The Opposition did not rule out supporting Mr Rann's proposal, with legal affairs spokeswoman Vickie Chapman saying the Liberals would look at the policy closely if more detail was offered. "All this today is without any detail and to make it look like they're tough and as if they're going to keep people in prison," she said.


Grassroots conservatives are fired up by Tony Abbott

It is Tony Abbott’s 93rd day as Leader of the Liberal Party and he’s being cheered as a hero. He’s just arrived at the Mosman RSL, one of the few affordable venues in the richest suburb on Sydney’s ultra-conservative North Shore, and the member for Warringah is not among friends but fanatics. If Abbott is trying to argue that it’s a marathon not a sprint, and that the party has a lot of work to do ahead of polling day, tonight is not the night for such dispassionate political cliché. It feels like a dress rehearsal for a victory party. Every single person that I speak to on the night not only believes that the Libs can win, many are saying they will win.

It’s been an unusual week. Buoyed by the humiliation of Kevin Rudd over the insulation scandal, the Opposition Leader headed bush on the last such trip he will take before the election, and what for one tragicomic moment looked like the last trip he would ever take anywhere as his party got lost for five hours in the middle of nowhere.

Friday has been more sedate, at least by Abbott’s standards. There were no quad bikes or out of control road trains, but he did start the day by walking 30km from Palm Beach to Balmoral to raise funds for charity. Now, he’s walking up the turquoise-carpeted stairs at the Mosman RSL, past the house band playing Dancing Queen, past a framed portrait of his beloved Queen Elizabeth, to deliver what’s called the Sir Robert Menzies oration at the 65th birthday celebrations for the Mosman Liberals, the oldest branch in the land.

Oldest in terms of longevity, and possibly also in the age of its membership. There are a couple of beehive hairdos here that put Bronnie Bishop to shame, and more pearls than in Broome. But the age profile has been lowered on the night by the presence of several tables of younger members from the Lindsay branch, from the western suburb of Penrith, where the Howard era started in triumph with Jackie Kelly’s thumping 1996 by-election victory and ended in farce with the fake Islamic pamphlet scandal just days before the 2007 poll.

One couple are so excited about what Abbott insists should not be described as the Abbott juggernaut – "Mate, mate, mate, please don’t call it that whatever you do" – that they’ve flown over from Perth just for the night.

But if Abbott is trying to talk things down he’s talking to the wrong people. "Tony is doing a terrific job, you can just feel the energy," says Ann Youl, an elegant retired lady who is straight out of North Shore central casting. Mrs Youl and her husband, a retired navy commodore, lived in India, Singapore and the UK before returning to Sydney where she joined the Mosman Liberals in 1990 "when the country was going to ruin under Mr Keating with massive unemployment and high interest rates".

Melanie Mattherson and Ann Youl, who loves Abbott but didn't care for the witchetty grub. Melanie Mattherson and Ann Youl, who loves Abbott but didn't care for the witchetty grub. ‘It’s terrible what Labor has done to Australia again," Mrs Youl tells The Punch between sips of her champagne. "We were the envy of the world, we had weathered the economic problems which had befallen Asia, we had a booming surplus, we paid $96 billion off the debt, and in two years just look at what Mr Rudd has done." "I have no doubt that Tony can win. He’s a down to earth Aussie, he is having a go. But I must say I was a bit upset about that witchetty grub I saw him eating on television, and I told him that (his wife) Maggie wouldn’t kiss him when he got home."

Mrs Youl’s friend Melanie Mattherson chips in: "People are responding to Tony because he’s a real person, he’s not a plastic person."

Adding to this love-in atmosphere is a bloke by the name of John Winston Howard, glass of red in his hand, who’s being back-slapped by all-comers over his appointment as president of the International Cricket Council. "I always thought being prime minister was the best job you could have, but I was wrong," Howard jokes.

For a man who always cautioned against hubris in office – if ultimately succumbing to it by holding onto the prime ministership for so long – John Howard is having a bit of trouble containing his excitement at the speed at which his progeny has turned Liberal fortunes around. "I don’t think Tony has put a foot wrong," he tells The Punch. "He’s given real heart and hope to the Liberal Party."

Mr Howard is even more effusive in his introductory remarks for the Leader. By this stage the crowd has been well whipped up and is in virtual victory mode. MC and Liberal Party member, John Mangos from Sky News, introduces Mosman branch President David McLean, who notes that dinner guests are arriving late after being "stuck in NSW Labor traffic". McLean also describes NSW Opposition Deputy Leader Jillian Skinner as representing "the incoming Liberal State Government" even though the election won’t be held until next May.

When John Howard takes to the podium he gives a typically direct appraisal of what he sees as Tony Abbott’s three greatest strengths over Kevin Rudd. The first two are predictable enough. He says Mr Abbott is a man of high intelligence – "We could always rely on Tony to give an authentic middle-of-the-road point of view," he deadpans about his boisterousness in Cabinet. He says Abbott is "possessed of great compassion," citing his sitting in a filthy humpy with two impoverished Aboriginal men in the Territory last week with Abbott asking: "Do you sleep here every night?" "I think that was touching, it was genuine, and it resonated with the Australian people," Howard says.

Thirdly, and most interestingly, Mr Howard cites Mr Abbott’s capacity for self-deprecation as his greatest political strength. He says that when he was PM, he would deliberately say that the two most important jobs in Australia were prime minister and captaining the national cricket team, as his way of telling the public that he didn’t have tickets on himself.

In a pointed sledge at Mr Rudd, Mr Howard says: "Tony does not take himself too seriously, and I really don’t know who else I have in mind when I say that. I can’t possibly think of who I have in mind. Australians like their leaders to have a bit of self-deprecation. They want them to be dignified, they want them to be strong, but they want them to be able to relate to the man and woman on the street."

Howard then notes that there has only been one one-term government since Federation – "Even Gough Whitlam lasted two terms" – but says there is a chance that the Rudd Government can become the second (after the Scullin Labor Government which was punted after just two years during the Depression.)

"Australians want someone at the top who really believes in something," Howard says in closing.

By the time Abbott takes the stage, with a projected image of Robert Menzies as his backdrop, he looks almost embarrassed with the adulation, and possibly even unnerved by the optimism. Perhaps as a result he gives a pretty dry speech, with more of an internal message in his well-established capacity as a chief spear-carrier for the party’s conservative faction, where he disputes the revisionist assessment of Menzies as a small-l liberal who may have baulked at aspects of the party’s modern ideology.

Abbott says this interpretation of Menzies stems from his quote that "we take the name Liberal because we are determined to be a progressive party." Abbott suggests that Menzies had been verballed, noting that in the full version of the quote he concluded that he did not mean "small-l" liberal in the American sense of the word. Abbott then draws a parallel between Menzies at the 1949 election where he was campaigning to stop bank nationalisation and to end petrol rationing, and the position the post-Turnbull Liberals have adopted against Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme.

Sheepishly and with one eye on his mentor, he gets to the question of whether he can win. "Well, John," he says, "it would be a historic boilover for the Rudd Government to be only the second one-term government since Federation. "But it just might happen."

As the applause finally dies down, Abbott concludes by drawing on a Liberal Leader from the unheralded end of the party’s spectrum, Billy Snedden, who famously talked proudly of leading the Opposition to a magnificent loss. "Most of all I want to say to you that I am playing to win," he says. "Ladies and gentlemen there is no such thing as a magnificent loss and I don’t intend to preside over one."

After his speech Abbott tells The Punch that he is "having a great time" in the new job but that he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself and is taking it one day at a time. He asks about the traffic on his Punch piece on Friday about his Top End visit and is pleased to hear that it’s had a couple of hundred comments, even if much of it is abuse. He’s less pleased to hear that it got fewer comments than the shirts-off photo gallery comparing him to another political man of action, Vladimir Putin. "You should do a gallery comparing Rudd to Yeltsin," he says, adding that at least Yeltsin was often pissed so he had an excuse.

Due to the crush of party faithful chatting to Abbott before his speech, and the presence of Howard who has been virtually mobbed by young Liberals and old ladies, the night has gone an hour over schedule.

The vote of thanks falls to Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, a formal Turnbull loyalist who crashed and burned in last December’s leadership ballot only to watch Abbott skate through the middle by just one vote. The briefest speech of the night is also the best. Despite being a believer in climate change Hockey succinctly explains why a pro-ETS Opposition was never going to make any inroads against a pro-ETS Government. "We were effectively Kevin Rudd’s human shield," Hockey says. "Those days are over."

As the night ends with a fundraising auction for the Lindsay campaign – the framed signatures of John Howard and Robert Menzies fetch $3000 – it’s unclear whether Abbott’s obvious ability to energise the party’s base will also extend to swinging voters. Clearly it has started to turn around – the published polls show an average three-point reversal in Labor and Liberals vote over the past few months, with Abbott also gaining on Rudd as preferred PM.

The Libs could be looking at conservative re-run of 1998, where Kim Beazley clawed back so many traditional Labor voters that he won the popular vote but not enough seats. They could also be looking at victory. As Abbott said – and has Kevin Rudd himself has warned Caucus – it just might happen. The man who is most determined to keep a lid on things, and to make sure that the Libs don’t lapse into their time-honoured "natural party of government" cockiness, is the man who most wants to be our next PM.


NSW workers face pay cuts of up to $370 a week under Rudd government workplace reforms

The usual "one size fits all" Leftist approach at work

TENS of thousands of NSW workers face pay cuts of up to $370 a week under sweeping Rudd Government workplace reforms. In a major election-year challenge to Labor, truck drivers, funeral workers, bar staff, aged care nurses and clerks are furious at award changes. Union leaders claimed the Government had breached its promise that no worker would be worse off.

And the ACTU has warned "unscrupulous" bosses would exploit the new industrial framework to rip off workers and cut pay and conditions. Nearly 50,000 NSW truck drivers stand to lose up to $200 weekly because they will come under a new national award scheme from July 1. They now plan to take their protest direct to Canberra with a 1000-strong convoy organised for June.

While the Prime Minister and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard promised no worker would be worse off under their industrial reforms, a Daily Telegraph investigation reveals this declaration to be another Rudd Government broken promise. As the ACTU yesterday launched a new assault against Opposition Leader Tony Abbott warning he would bring back WorkChoices and individual contracts Labor's reforms also carry serious consequences.

The loss of pay and conditions is a result of the Government's plan to condense the numbers of national and state awards - from more than 2000 to 130. As secretary of the Funeral and Allied Industries Union of NSW, Aiden Nye went to the barricades to oust John Howard and his dreaded WorkChoices. Now the 35-year industry veteran is fighting to ensure his members are not short-changed. "Mate, it's terrible. And we can only see it getting worse," Mr Nye says. "At least a couple of thousand" of funeral sector workers will be hit by award changes from July 1, including embalmers, who the union boss said would be stripped of up $370 a week.

Ms Gillard defended the Award Modernisation and said workers could apply to Fair Work Australia to ensure their pay was not cut.


Most States in revolt over Federal health plan

KEVIN Rudd faces growing distrust among premiers over his proposed health funding shake-up, reducing the chance of a negotiated agreement on a federal takeover of public hospitals. With Western Australia and Victoria already openly hostile to the Prime Minister's plan to seize 30 per cent of state GST revenues to bankroll the move, Queensland hardened its attitude yesterday by linking its co-operation to a major increase in funding for aged-care services.

Amid indications that NSW bureaucrats were livid over Mr Rudd's lack of consultation on the issue, Tony Abbott accused the Prime Minister of purposely alienating the states for political reasons. He pointed to Mr Rudd's refusal to reveal to premiers details of other health reforms such as boosting bed and doctor numbers but expecting them to embrace his plan.

Mr Rudd was unmoved last night, demanding state leaders back his plan in the public interest. "It's time to get on with it," the Prime Minister said.

Last week, Mr Rudd proposed to take 30 per cent of GST revenue from state governments to bankroll a commonwealth takeover of 60 per cent of the funding responsibility for their public hospitals. He promised to improve hospital efficiency by creating local boards to deliver the services and said if states disagreed he would take the issue to the people via a referendum at or before this year's federal election.

Mr Rudd also foreshadowed further health reforms to be released later to lift hospital bed numbers, expand primary care, increase the supply of doctors and nurses, and improve preventive health programs, aged care, mental health and dental health. [And mend broken hearts, no doubt]

In a messy interview on Melbourne's 3AW radio last week, Health Minister Nicola Roxon did not deny that the details of reforms such as setting maximum waiting times for hospital surgery had already been finalised. But Ms Roxon refused to make them public, saying she first wanted to deal with financial governance.

Mr Rudd backed that position in an interview with The Australian on Friday. Yesterday, Queensland Health Minister and Deputy Premier Paul Lucas said the Bligh government agreed with the principle of a commonwealth takeover of hospitals. But, he added: "It's not reasonable to expect us to sign up to the detail of things when we haven't actually seen them." Mr Lucas said his state was under extreme pressure on aged care and would link extra funding to Queensland's support for Mr Rudd's health proposal at the Council of Australian Governments meeting.

While Mr Rudd had delivered on promises to provide more temporary aged-care beds to take the frail elderly out of hospital wards, Queensland faced a critical shortage of long-term aged-care places. "I am extremely concerned that the aged-care sector has been surrendering bed licences, not taking up new licences," Mr Lucas said. "Root-and-branch reform of aged care, including paying providers more, is as crucial to healthcare reform as healthcare reform is of itself."

Victorian Premier John Brumby said Mr Rudd should simply return to the old 50-50 split on hospital funding with the states. "In Victoria's case, that would mean close to $1 billion a year extra for our state from the commonwealth," Mr Brumby said. "The reality is, I think as all the independent commentators have observed, the heavy lifting and the extra effort in health in the last decade on health has been done by the states. "The Prime Minister is probably frustrated. I think he is frustrated that he has announced a major health reform and, to be honest, he hasn't got too many supporters out there."

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, who wrote to Mr Rudd last week seeking more details on his plans, said she had genuine questions about funding arrangements and service delivery, and was awaiting answers. While Ms Keneally said she was positive about the opportunity for historic reform, senior NSW government figures told The Australian they were livid over Canberra's handling of the issue. "The first we knew something was imminent was during the week beginning 22 Feb, when a set of bilateral meetings of officials on health reform was cancelled without notice or reason," a source said.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett, who last week ruled out handing over his state's GST, hardened his criticism, describing parts of the proposals as not having been thought through. "I think the federal government is trying to pull together the detail now, quite frankly," he said.

Mr Abbott, speaking in Adelaide, said Mr Rudd should be more honest with the states. "I think Mr Rudd knows this is going to be rejected," Mr Abbott said. "It's about the appearance of action rather than real action."

Mr Rudd said he had announced what areas were set for further reform. "In terms of hospitals, beds, doctors, nurses, aged care, dental health, mental health, let me just say this: we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get hospital reform right. Doctors want reform of our hospitals to happen, nurses want it to happen, working families who can't find a place with elective surgery want it to happen."

Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett and South Australia's Mike Rann, both fighting re-election campaigns, endorsed Mr Rudd's proposals.


Is atheism promoting intolerance?

It wasn’t so long ago that most atheists kept their non-belief of a God or other deities largely to themselves. They lived in a world where most people believed - and continue to believe – there is a God or some other spiritual being that is at the controls of everything around us - even if some people can’t put their finger on who or what this Force is.

But now a new strand of atheist is emerging. Independent thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are prepared to speak out publicly and condemn established religious beliefs, accusing the "God followers" of having a dangerous influence on society.

Is this new atheism at risk of causing a new battlefront of conflict and division in society? Monash University Professor and Anglican priest Dr Gary Bouma seems to think so. He told the Studies of Religion in Focus conference in Sydney today that atheists or people without a specific faith are fuelling sectarian conflict and creating problems for interfaith tolerance in Australia.

According to ABC News, he aimed his criticism at groups that vilify or deny the right to build mosques and those who say that religious voices should be driven out of the public policy area or that religion shouldn’t be in schools, etc.

The battlelines between atheism and religion appear already to have been drawn in New Zealand at least. Last month, atheists who wanted to run an advertising campaign on buses across the Tasman proclaiming "There is probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life" were blocked from doing so by one major company.

While Christianity remains the most dominant religious faith in Australia, there are also signs that this country is becoming a more diverse society. At the same time, the 2006 Census identified 18.7 per cent of Australians claiming they had "No Religion", a percentage that has been steadily increasing.

As many of the newly-arrived and long-established faiths seek to co-operate in creating a more tolerant nation, the strand of atheism that expresses hostility towards all religious belief and seeks to convert the world to one of non-belief threatens to destabilise that process.

Contrary to what some atheists believe, the world would not be a better place without religion.


7 March, 2010

What a great steaming nit Malcolm Fraser is!

And that's being much more polite than I really feel inclined to be. For those who are not big on history, Fraser is a former Australian Prime Minister in the conservative cause, whose most notable post Prime-Ministerial activities have principally consisted of losing his trousers one night in Memphis Tennessee and sucking up to African dictators. He is much reviled among Australian conservatives for having done nothing for the conservative cause while he was in office.

His latest profundity is about the assassination of a HAMAS chief in Dubai:
"Mr Fraser said the Jewish state could no longer use the Holocaust as an excuse to justify state-sanctioned murder, and criticism of its policies should not be dismissed as anti-Semitism."
It has apparently escaped the notice of "Trousers" Fraser that Israel has not even acknowledged responsibility for the assassination and so has not blamed it on ANYTHING, let alone the holocaust. And the accusation that Israelis (who are of course predominantly Jews) have committed "state-sanctioned murder" is interesting. He fails to recognize that HAMAS is by its own assertions at war with Israel and that the assassination might reasonably be regarded as legitimate self-defence in that case. Fraser's one-sided slur on Israel DOES then sound like precisely that antisemitism which he denies.

But the man is a proven liar anyway so the only sadness is that his bigoted and probably senile comments were reported at all.

There is an amusing comment here which argues that Fraser's comments are probably in breach of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of the State in which he resides (Victoria).

Australians work twice as long to pay for a house as they did 50 years ago

High levels of immigration and Greenie-inspired land-use restrictions can principally be blamed for that. The immigrants have got to live somewhere but State and local government regulations severely ration the locations on which new houses can be built. So inadequate supply causes prices to shoot up, as it always does. Greenies and "asylum seeker" advocates have hit the pockets of Australians hard.

As Miranda Devine says:

"To fulfil Kevin Rudd's "big Australia" promise of 60 per cent population growth by 2050, Sydney will bear the brunt of the expansion, almost doubling in size to 7 million people. We must "embrace" this inevitability, a forum of planners, bureaucrats and business types agreed this week. Since all those new people have to live somewhere and the state government won't release more land in greenfields areas, prepare yourself for more backyard infills and congestion, according to the Committee for Sydney forum at the Park Hyatt. And yesterday, Infrastructure Australia confirmed as much, with a report showing Sydney is the most congested city in the country. Those of us who live here don't need a report to tell us Sydney's once envied livability status is heading downhill, with worldwide indexes recording the slippage. Even Melbourne beats us now".

AUSTRALIANS have to work almost three times harder to pay off the average family home than they did 50 years ago. Figures compiled by CommSec for The Sunday Telegraph reveal homebuyers on the average income now have to work for 19,374 hours to buy the average Australian house with the average mortgage.

Based on an eight-hour day and a five-day working week, that equates to about 10 years of work. In reality, it takes much longer to own a home, because wages must pay for all living expenses, not just housing. In 1960, it took homebuyers just 7500 hours to pay off the average mortgage.

CommSec chief economist Craig James said that half a century ago, average wage-earners took home the equivalent of $1.08 an hour. They needed to work 25 hours to meet the monthly mortgage repayment of $25, based on an average five per cent interest rate and a mortgage of $4620. Today, the average worker earning $30.04 an hour spends 70.7 hours - or almost two weeks of the month - at work to cover the monthly mortgage repayment for an average $283,000 loan at a 6.64 per cent interest rate.

The figures show rising costs and growing property prices have largely outstripped wages and young couples today need to work longer and harder to achieve the great Australian dream of owning their homes. Whereas homes were once affordable on a single wage, families now realistically need two incomes to fund a mortgage. "This is your single biggest purchase," Mr James said. "This is where people are living. "We're building bigger and better homes, so it was always likely we were going to be paying more in terms of the mortgage - and we're certainly working longer to pay for that. "We're working longer, but we're probably working more flexibly and in jobs that we like."

Mr James said that in Australia, unlike other countries, there was a lot of pressure to buy rather than rent and homeowners often saw their mortgages as a method of saving. "Records from the Commonwealth Bank suggest more than 70 per cent of people are paying more than they need to in terms of their home loans, so they're ahead of their loans. "People see the home as a way of saving; they see it as an outlet for their finances. In other parts of the world, that's not the case, but Australia has always had an affinity with the home.

"In the 1960s, it was a simpler life. Now more money is spent on housing, computers, the internet, mobile phones, whereas before it was food, clothing, transport. "We do have more opportunities now, but whether we're happier remains to be seen."

Sydney University anthropologist and author Stephen Juan said it now took two incomes and 30 years to pay off the average home. Half a century ago, it was one income and 15 years. Mortgages costing the average household 29 per cent of its income put huge strains on the family unit, Dr Juan said. "With that kind of inflation for the biggest item a middle-class family buys in their lifetime, which is the family home, when you have that kind of colossal increase that has been greater than the percentage increase in salaries - that's the reason we have the crunch. "There's so much pressure on us. We're losing our leisure time, we're losing our time for families, we're having to commute further and further to get to work, we're finding it more and more difficult to pay our mortgages. "Economically, we're being really stressed, and there's not enough time to do everything we have to do."

Dr Juan said that 50 years ago, promises of technology brought predictions of an easier life and more time available for family and healthier lifestyles. "It was said we would have more time and be a leisure class because the machines would do the work," he said. "What has happened, however, is that you have to pay for these materials and for this technology. "We've got better technology and better leisure-time activities available, but we don't have the leisure time. It's a catch-22."


Police may lay charges over fatal results of rushed Greenie scheme

Peter "The Skull" Garrett should be in the dock too. He is the responsible Federal environment minister who seemed not to know his a*se from his elbow and basically seems to have supervised nothing in his portfolio

THE Federal Government's home insulation debacle took another twist yesterday with police confirming criminal charges could be laid over the three Queensland deaths. Detectives have been interviewing witnesses and gathering forensic evidence in all three cases, which occurred between October 2009 and February this year.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland officers are continuing separate investigations. They were still interviewing people last week and moving towards a potential prosecution of individuals or companies. Individuals could face two years jail and a maximum $100,000 fine if found guilty of offences causing death.

The latest moves come as a NSW company ABC Insulation became the first installer to be penalised. It was hit with a $10,000 fine after a dodgy installation resulted in extensive fire damage to a western Sydney home. In Queensland, authorities said they were working quickly to complete reports into the fatalities. Police said they were investigating the deaths, but added it would be up to the coroner in each case to decide whether police explored criminal charges.

The directors behind two Queensland companies linked to fatalities were newcomers to insulation installation.

Matthew Fuller, 25, was electrocuted and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Monique Pridmore, received serious burns while installing foil insulation in a Meadowbrook home in Logan last October. He was working for QHI Installations, a company contracted by Brisbane-based Countrywide Insulation to do the work. Countrywide Insulation was founded by former bankrupt Jude Kirk, whose previous business interest was in telemarketing. A spokesman for Countrywide said it had not had any contact with authorities since an interview before Christmas. Countrywide reportedly secured 2000 insulation contracts before it was deregistered.

Also under investigation is the death of 22-year-old Mitchell Sweeney, who was electrocuted while working in the ceiling of a house at Millaa Millaa, southwest of Cairns, on February 4. He was employed by Gold Coast company Titan Insulations. Company records show Titan was co-owned by 26-year-old Nicholas Lindsay, a Building Services Authority-licensed builder, who established the company with Frederick Palomar in 2009. Titan was struck off the registered installers list before the program was scrapped, but Mr Lindsay is still able to operate as a builder.

Ben Aarons, the owner of the home where Mr Sweeney was killed, said he had not had any contact with authorities or Titan since the day of the accident. "I haven't heard a thing. They left a few rolls of insulation here but I don't think they'll be back to pick it up," he said last week. "The power was off for about 12 days. They got an electrician in to check everything about three weeks ago and it was given the all-clear. "But the Sweeney family lost a son so it's no big deal to go without power for a little while."

A third Queenslander killed was 16-year-old Rueben Barnes. Mr Barnes was killed on November 18 while installing insulation at Stanwell near Rockhampton. He was working for Arrow Property Maintenance, a company based in Rockhampton since 2006.


Row over barbecue as primary school opts to offer halal sausages

A ROW over sausages has a school community sizzling amid competing claims of bigotry and animal cruelty. What was supposed to be a welcome-back barbecue for students at Coburg West Primary School has turned into a debate over the Islamic halal method of preparing meat.

Members of the school's Parents and Friends Association believed they were being inclusive when they ordered halal-only sausages for last month's barbie. But some parents thought it was political correctness gone mad to offer only halal meat.

Parent Diane Rees said yesterday that she was outraged when told by the PFA that "we have to buy halal because we have some Muslim children in the school". "I said to the principal, 'I think you're discriminating against the majority of the school and appeasing the minority by only serving halal,' " she said. "It's not fair on my children that they can't eat at the school."

Ms Rees said she wasn't anti-Muslim - her concern was over the way animals were killed under the halal method, which involves a knife cut to the jugular veins and carotid arteries in the neck. "They take two long minutes to die and I think that's bloody cruel," she said.

But Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Ikebal Patel said research showed that, done properly, halal was a quick and humane slaughter of animals. "I think they are using the issue of some halal sausages at a barbecue, for God's sake, to bring out their own xenophobic bigotry," he said. "It was very thoughtful of the parents and friends association to try to cater for Muslims. I think they (the critics) need to get real and get a life on this one."

School principal David Kilmartin, who has been in the job for only a month, said halal-only barbecues were not school policy and the PFA had been told to provide a choice of meat in the future. "I don't think it was done with any malice. I'm assuming there would have been requests from Muslim families to have halal meat," he said.


McDonald's rejects push to have more halal-serving outlets

McDONALD'S has rejected a push to have more halal-serving outlets despite pressure on the fast-food giant. A Victorian burger fan, Amin Assafiri, launched the Facebook campaign in frustration at having to drive from driving 8km north to the closest halal McDonald.

Mr Assafiri lives to the north of Melbourne, in Fawkner, with the nearest Hala McDonald's in Roxburgh Park. His "Make Fawkner McDonald's halal!" Facebook page has attracted 341 members -- not enough to sway the burger chain's management.

"We can only accommodate the market so much," McDonald's spokeswoman Kristy Chong said. "It is a considerable cost to go halal. "There are already three halal McDonald's in Melbourne."

Mr Assafiri said at least 1000 Muslims living in Fawkner made special trips to Victoria's halal McDonald's in Roxburgh Park and Brunswick East. The third Victorian halal McDonald's will open in a renovated Preston McDonald's in June.


More bureaucratic arrogance from a Leftist government

Parent anger at new Queensland car seat laws

THE launch of new baby and child seat laws in Queensland has left parents confused, angry, out of pocket and facing $300 fines. In less than four weeks, parents face fines of $300 and the loss of three points for driving without the correct baby and booster seats. But parents and child safety advocates say the Government has so far failed to publicise changes to size and age requirements. Currently, all babies aged 0-6 months must be in capsules and older children have to be in safety approved child booster seats, which match their weight, or wear seatbelts.

The new laws are much more specific, making it illegal for children under four years to be in booster seats from March 11. It means that seats that are safe could now be illegal.

While parents and retailers say the new laws are sensible and aim to make travelling safer, not enough has been done to promote them. Parents Sharlet and Ben Edwards have been caught up in the changes. Like many other parents, they had intended moving their daughter Chloe, who turned six months yesterday, out of her capsule and in to their almost three-year-old son Luke's current seat, moving him to a new booster they bought for $150.

But confusion over the rules means they are having to check with the police over whether they need another seat. "There has been a complete lack of information," Mr Edwards said. "We want the kids to be safe and follow the law." Mr Edwards said a simple solution would have been for the State Government to have pamphlets outlining the law change attached to all seats for sale. Instead, he now has to take the seat to a police information booth for advice.

Childsafe Queensland executive officer Susan Teerds said the foundation was receiving 20 to 30 calls a day from confused and concerned parents.


6 March, 2010

Like Obama, Rudd finds reality to be more complex than he thought

It's typical Leftism: Arrogant ignorance. And also like Obama, voters fear that Rudd is not the man they thought he was.

THE apologies made the headlines, but there was something far more significant in Kevin Rudd's acts of contrition last weekend. "One of the problems that we have had as a government," he admitted on ABC television, "is that we didn't anticipate how hard it was going to be to deliver things." Moments later he added: "The reason that we've had problems with this is we didn't properly, I think, estimate the complexity of what we are embarking on."

The comments were startling because Rudd's claim to govern was based on his claims as an administrator. Unlike most of our prime ministers, he had never served as a minister. He had never even been a government backbencher. Yet Australians were told in 2007 Rudd was a safe pair of hands because he was an experienced public sector administrator. He could deliver. "More than ever, Australia needs a government that will help the nation fulfil its promise, rather than a government that makes promises it can't fulfil," Rudd declared before the 2007 election.

The comments feed a fear among some voters that Rudd is not the man they thought he was. Leaked Labor polling that appeared in a Sydney newspaper during the week pointed to problems with "believability" and "deliverability". The morning before the Prime Minister's National Press Club speech on hospital reform this week, the Coalition opposition distributed a document accusing him of failures on health.

Only two of the 31 -- later 36 -- promised GP super clinics are open, his commitment to leave the private health rebate unchanged has been broken and his mid-2009 deadline for public hospital reform was well and truly missed.

Last month on ABC1's Q&A he admitted to making "about 600" election commitments. The opposition is suggesting he was not just kidding voters about his ability to deliver but also kidding himself, and public administration experts are openly speculating he bit off more than he could chew. "All ministers learn to their peril how important implementation is," former secretary of the Health Department Andrew Podger says.

Scott Prasser, head of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University and a former Queensland bureaucrat himself, says the Prime Minister has only co-ordinated policies, rather than made them work. He points to Rudd's time as director-general of the Queensland Cabinet Office. "He headed a co-ordination body, co-ordinating submissions and processes into the cabinet process, not a delivery body. He's a central agency bureaucrat. He's never really been in a line department."

When he launched his hospitals package, Rudd described it as "the most significant reform of Australia's health and hospital system since the introduction of Medicare".

Neal Blewett, the Labor health minister who oversaw that, believes Rudd's agenda is far more complicated. "We were building on Medibank," he says. "We had a very detailed program which we took to the election of 1983. We had spent two years in working that out. We had the advantage that out of government we had a pretty detailed plan, but let me say it took most of 1983. We didn't get the agreement settled with the states, apart from Queensland, until the end of the year, and again we had the advantage of having talked this over, particularly with the Labor states, in some detail before the election took place. Moreover, we did not constitutionally require the approval of the states."

Blewett says Rudd's proposal presents three additional challenges. "It's novel in a sense that Medicare wasn't. It's massive in scale. I think you would need a longer period of negotiation to get this settled with the states, and it has constitutional complexities Medicare did not have."

Blewett believes the principles of Rudd's proposals are sound. "For the last 10 years or so the profession and health academics have been arguing basically in this direction," he says. "I think the principles are right but there is an enormous amount of devilry in the detail and that is going to take a lot of working through."

Jenny Stewart, professor of public policy at the Australian Defence Force Academy, has a similar assessment of the situation, but puts it far more bluntly. "What Rudd is proposing is quite sensible," she says. "I just think he doesn't have a clue what it's actually going to take to effect real change and, at this stage of where he's at, that is starting to look like real weakness." Rudd, Stewart warns, "doesn't know what he doesn't know". "Rudd thought he was going to be good at this sort of stuff because of his background without perhaps understanding what he was doing was very much top-down."

Stewart says Rudd, despite his background, has "no gut feel for the difficulties of program management. He wants to project this can-do image but he doesn't connect very well with the big picture he is trying to paint." She is afraid this is a recipe for policy failure, and political loss of face.


Rudd on the defensive -- but comes out swinging

KEVIN Rudd has vowed he will not change his leadership style or government decision-making processes in a pointed rebuke to critics within his own caucus who fear his centralised approach is driving Labor's slide in opinion polls and risking its re-election prospects.

The Prime Minister has also declared he is prepared for a political war with state governments resisting his proposed seizure of 30 per cent of their GST receipts to bankroll a takeover of public hospitals, warning premiers and chief ministers he will not "haul up the tawdry white flag" in the face of opposition.

And Mr Rudd has flatly refused to fast-track the release of the Henry review of the tax system, completed last year, in a direct rejection of growing pressure from colleagues to table the document, expected to be politically controversial, as soon as possible to avoid fuelling an opposition scare campaign close to this year's federal election.

The Prime Minister made the comments yesterday in an exclusive interview with The Weekend Australian at his Sydney residence, Kirribilli House. It followed news in yesterday's edition of The Australian of growing tension within the government over Mr Rudd's performance and political judgment, including a cabinet split over the Henry review, last month's messy collapse of his $2.45 billion home insulation scheme and the realisation that the government has failed to deliver many of its 2007 election promises.

Mr Rudd is encountering resistance from state and federal MPs over the health plan, which would sideline health bureaucracies, with the commonwealth providing direct funding to local boards in control of groups of up to five hospitals. There is particular concern in Labor circles over Mr Rudd's determination to hold a referendum that could see him campaigning against state Labor governments.

But yesterday, as Tony Abbott described him as "a one-man band" unable to delegate, Mr Rudd had little sympathy for dissent and dismissed questions about his style. "I'm not interested in perceptions of style -- never have been, never will be," Mr Rudd said. "I'm interested in substance -- what we deliver."

Dismissing complaints that his government was too centralised around his office, Mr Rudd said Australians expected their prime minister to take the central role in big-ticket policy issues, including health, education, taxation and climate change. "We will not be changing the way in which the cabinet operates," he said. "All the detail work has usually been done in the relevant cabinet committee. That is the right structure in which things are done. The core ministers -- the core line ministers working on it and then brought to full cabinet for reporting and decision. That is the right way to do things."

Mr Rudd described his cabinet as "a first-class team". But he said he retained a close involvement in decision-making because he wanted to ensure his government delivered "substantive outcomes" against which it could be measured by voters.

Asked to account for the bungling of the home insulation scheme, suspended last month after dodgy installations were linked to four deaths and dozens of house fires, Mr Rudd conceded the delivery of the program had been flawed but said the policy formulation had been sound.

And he said he had no immediate plans to release the tax review, completed last year by Treasury secretary Ken Henry, despite demands from colleagues that it be released ahead of next month's budget. "We're going to take this one step at a time," the Prime Minister said. "It is important to get the policy and funding settings right for health and hospitals reform, to know where your landing point is there, because everything affects everything else. "We have to be very mindful of that before we reach final conclusions on tax as well."

Mr Rudd said the health reforms topped his current list of priorities, although he was still committed to continuing his fight in the Senate for the creation of a carbon emissions reduction scheme to tackle climate change.

The Prime Minister said every Australian had seen ample evidence of inefficiency in hospital service, and only a federal takeover would end the "duplication, waste and overlap" in the system. "We intend to get on with it," Mr Rudd said. "Lots of politicians of all sorts of political persuasions have sidestepped this one for too many years. In every state of Australia, I have not gone to a single meeting at a local hospital where people have not put up their hand and said this system needs to be radically changed and radically improved."

He predicted a wave of "opportunistic politics" from state politicians and bureaucrats, as well as the federal opposition, but said there was "a large constituency" for change among average Australians, who understood the deficiencies in the current health system from first-hand experience....

Despite concerns among some of his colleagues about the advisability of holding a referendum on the health reform issue, Mr Rudd said no one should doubt the depth of his resolve, although his preference was to "get the bloody thing done" with the co-operation of the states. And as the states argued that public hospitals needed an immediate injection of extra funds, the Prime Minister said structural reform must come first, because there was "a grave risk" the states would squander further public funds if he handed them "another blank cheque"....

Earlier yesterday, Mr Abbott said Mr Rudd was dominating his government and should place more trust in his ministers. "This is a government which is dominated by one person who will only do things that he can focus on," Mr Abbott said. "He stops his ministers from doing anything that he's not doing himself. . . "This is a one-man band that can only concentrate on one tune at one time, and I think it's high time that Kevin Rudd trusted his other ministers."


NSW demands no hospital closures

Rudd promises that -- but we know what a politician's promise is worth -- and so do other politicians

NSW may refuse to sign up to the federal health reforms until Prime Minister Kevin Rudd guarantees no small hospitals will be forced to close. In a letter to Mr Rudd, Premier Kristina Keneally has hinted the state would not come on board unless future funding increases were secured and the issue of who would bear the cost of rolling out the restructure was resolved.

Mr Rudd has threatened to take his reforms to a referendum if the states do not agree by the time of the next COAG meeting in April.

Ms Keneally has joined health officials and clinicians in raising concerns about how rural and regional hospitals would meet "efficiency targets" under a pay-for-service funding model planned by Mr Rudd. More specifically, she has asked who would be responsible for paying to keep them open if they failed to meet the efficiency targets. NSW clinicians have warned 118 hospitals in NSW would not fit into a pay-for-service model because they do not perform enough procedures to make then financially viable.

Mr Rudd and his Health Minister Nicola Roxon have said that the reforms would not force closure because a rural loading would be applied. However, that loading, and whether it would be sufficient to keep rural and regional hospitals viable, has yet to be determined and would only be done so by a nationally appointed umpire.

"What would happen if, for reasons of geography or population base, a regional hospital is not able to deliver services at an 'efficient price'?" Ms Keneally's letter asked. "Who decides the future of that hospital? Will it be the Commonwealth, the states and territories or the CEO of the Local Hospital Network?"

Mr Rudd yesterday repeated his claim that no hospitals would close as a result of the reforms and issued a guarantee to keep them open. "The guarantee from the Australian Government is absolute. And that is that the formula which will be developed on the pricing of hospital services will not lead to the closure of any regional, rural or small hospital."


Leftist government punishes honest judge

THE career of a judge who criticised NSW Labor's dealings with donor developers is hanging in the balance after the government knocked back a request from the state's Chief Justice for him to work in the Supreme Court's short-staffed equity division. The Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, is refusing to explain why Justice David Lloyd's commission was rejected. But the opposition says it appears to be political payback against a public servant who held the government to account.

Justice Lloyd angered the government last year when he described its secret negotiations over the state's biggest housing development as a "land bribe". He ruled that the former planning minister Frank Sartor was biased when he approved projects for the Rose Group, an ALP donor, in Catherine Hill Bay and Gwandalan because he had agreed to look kindly upon them in exchange for 300 hectares of conservation land.

When Justice Lloyd retired from the Land and Environment Court in January, the NSW Chief Justice, Jim Spigelman, invited him to be an acting judge - a job he has filled in the past. "Cases were listed for me but at the last minute the Attorney-General rejected the Chief Justice's request," Justice Lloyd said this week. "I don't know the reasons why." Asked if he thought he was being punished for his comments last year, he said: "Some people have suggested it to me, but I wouldn't know. I don't know whether anyone in the cabinet would be that vindictive."

The five-member equity division of the state's top court is understaffed after Justice Robert Forster was diagnosed with a brain tumour last year. "The equity division is in a bit of strife because cases are listed before two judges who aren't there," Justice Lloyd said. He said Justice Spigelman still hoped to bring him in later in the year. The Chief Justice declined to comment, other than to point out through his spokeswoman that all appointments had to be approved by the Attorney-General and cabinet.

Mr Hatzistergos's spokeswoman said the government does not comment on the appointment of acting judges. "[They] are a matter for cabinet and most acting appointments are made in July of each year," she said.

But the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, said it looked like political retribution. He said the government had an appalling record of dealing with public servants who have "dared to hold them to account" and it was time to remove political patronage from judicial appointments - as they have been in Britain.


Train young Australians to replace immigrant workers, says Deputy PM

A commendable idea and mildly surprising from a Leftist government but how is she going to do it? For many young Australians it is a rational decision to live on the dole and go to the beach rather than undertake any kind of training. I am afraid this is just more Leftist hot air. The Rudd government and the Obama government are remarkably similar in that respect. They both claim that they can solve big problems but in reality have only the most superficial ideas about how to do so

YOUNG Australians should start filling many of the jobs currently taken by imported labour, the Federal Government says. The current reliance on imported labour will not help young Australians find work in future, Education and Employment Minister Julia Gillard says. "Obviously, with skilled migration we are dealing with the skills challenges of today," Ms Gillard said.

"But for the future, I don't want us to be in a country where we are desperately scouring the world for skilled labour, and to get people to come here and do jobs, whilst at the same time young Australians are unemployed and can't get a start. "We want to make sure that we are getting those young Australians a start, so they can fill those jobs."

Ms Gillard was speaking after the launch of Australian Workforce Futures: A National Workforce Development Strategy. It is a report by Skills Australia, an independent statutory body providing advice to the education minister on the skills needed for Australia's workforce and how to develop them.

In a speech at the launch, she said the global financial crisis had reduced the need for technicians and trade workers, and created demand for more professional jobs. "Essentially, there is a long-term trend of growth in demand for higher skills, and a reduction in the share of low and unskilled jobs," Ms Gillard said. In the 12 months to November 2009, Australia shed 97,000 technical and trade jobs, she said. At the same time 78,300 professional jobs had been created. Youth unemployment was unacceptably high in regional Australia and in areas that had relied on manufacturing for generation after generation, she said.

Addressing the problem would require lifting literacy and numeracy skills, and encouraging Australians to further their education. "The more you learn, the more you earn," Ms Gillard said. "There is a benefit to individuals in full-time employment of approximately $100 per week for each extra year of education beyond compulsory schooling. "A person with a bachelor degree earns about 24 per cent above average earnings. "A person leaving school before finishing Year 11 tends to earn 20 per cent below average earnings. "And those with post-school qualifications are also able to work around seven years longer than those without post-school qualifications." [Faulty logic there. It's the brighter kids who undertake further education and they would probably do better anyway]


Europcar again

Three years ago, I returned a car to Europcar in Adelaide and was later billed for damage to an aerial. I eventually won this little battle and thought no more of it. Some time later, I was billed $150 for the returned car to be "commercially cleaned" as Europcar had determined that the car had been vomited in.

I was the only person in the car on this trip and I definitely had not contributed to the alleged source of this accusation, so I protested. However, telephone conversations and letters failed to elicit an apology or refund.

- Nick Mackay


5 March, 2010

Not happy, Kevvy

He thinks he can over-ride opposition to his hospital plans coming from States run by his own Labor Party. I don't think he can do that. He threatens to over-ride the States by putting up a constitutional referendum. But everybody knows what a bluff that is. Federal referenda are passed in Australia only if there is no significant opposition to them. Otherwise a majority of Australians vote "No".

His claim that bureaucrats are his opposition is also deceptive. At least in the State of Victoria, it's the State Premier who doesn't want his funds taken away. And if State Premiers campaign against any referendum it will surely be lost. Mind you, the NSW Premier seems to see Rudd's proposals as taking a monkey off her back, so they might all eventually come to that conclusion. Kevvy is definitely NOT a savvy politician to be taking on the public hospitals mess. John Howard wisely left that to be blamed on the States

THE states will not be allowed to block health reform, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd insists. Reiterating his belief that "health bureaucrats" are using scare tactics in New South Wales to undermine plans for a federal takeover of public hospitals, Mr Rudd said the reforms would be going ahead. "We will speak directly with the states between now and when the Council of Australian Governments convenes in the first part of April," he said. "I've written to all the state premiers and chief ministers, and there is going to be huge amount, to use the technical term, of argy bargy between now and when the Council of Australian Governments meet. "Some may agree, some may disagree ... some may tell us to jump in the lake, but you know something, that will not stand in our road."

Mr Rudd was speaking after he and federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon toured parts of St Vincent's Hospital and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney to meet patients.

Mr Rudd said no hospitals would close as a result of the reforms, which involve stripping states of some GST revenue and using it to increase the commonwealth's contribution to funding of state hospitals. Critics have said the plan could force 100 small and regional hospitals to close in NSW alone.

Mr Rudd has accused "health bureaucrats" of running a scare campaign over the issue. "There is absolutely nothing in any one of the reforms that we would put forward in this plan that would cause any hospital in the country to close," he told Channel 7. "What you have at present is a campaign... by various state governments in Victoria and NSW against any change. "Therefore you have a deliberate fear campaign that is put out there by various state health bureaucrats at the moment in NSW about hospital closures."

Asked later if the NSW Government was orchestrating the campaign, Mr Rudd told reporters at St Vincent's: "Why the NSW health bureaucrats are out there saying these sorts of things .. (is a) matter for them, you can sort that out."


Is Hansenism more dangerous than Lysenkoism?

This is the essay Australia's ABC tried to ban. See story here

On June 23, 1988, a young and previously unknown NASA computer modeller, James Hansen, appeared before a United States Congressional hearing on climate change. On that occasion, Dr. Hansen used a graph to convince his listeners that late 20th century warming was taking place at an accelerated rate, which, it being a scorching summer's day in Washington, a glance out of the window appeared to confirm.

He wrote later in justification, in the Washington Post (February 11, 1989), that "the evidence for an increasing greenhouse effect is now sufficiently strong that it would have been irresponsible if I had not attempted to alert political leaders".

Hansen's testimony was taken up as a lead news story, and within days the great majority of the American public believed that a climate apocalypse was at hand, and the global warming hare was off and running. Thereby, Dr. Hansen became transformed into the climate media star who is shortly going to wow the ingenues in the Adelaide Festival audience.

Fifteen years later, in the Scientific American in March, 2004, Hansen came to write that "Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue. Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic".

This conversion to honesty came too late, however, for in the intervening years thousands of other climate scientists had meanwhile climbed onto the Hansenist funding gravy-train. Currently, global warming alarmism is fuelled by an estimated worldwide expenditure on related research and greenhouse bureaucracy of more than US$10 billion annually.

Scientists and bureaucrats being only too human, the power of such sums of money to corrupt not only the politics of greenhouse, but even the scientific process itself, should not be underestimated. In recognition of these events, the term Hansenism is now sometimes used to describe the climate hysteria which had, until recently, gripped western media sources and political, business and public opinion in a deadly grasp.

Histories of science contain an account of the ideological control of Soviet biology during the mid-20th century by plant scientist Trofim Lysenko, who by 1940 had risen to be Director of the influential Institute of Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Lysenko and his supporters rejected the "dangerous Western concepts" of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution. They preferred the Lamarckian view of the inheritance of acquired characteristics; for instance, that cows could be trained to give more milk and their offspring would then inherit this trait.

Whilst this was not an unreasonable hypothesis to erect in the early 19th century, by the 1930s the idea had been tested in many ways and was known to be wrong. Requiring its application to agricultural and allied biological research in the USSR was disastrous, not least in the vicious persecution of scientists that took place, and the legacy of this sad episode still disadvantages Soviet biology today.

Lysenkoism grew from four main roots:

* a necessity to demonstrate the practical relevance of science to the needs of society;

* the amassing of evidence to show the "correctness" of the concept as a substitute for causal proof;

* noble cause corruption, whereby data are manipulated to support a cause which is seen as a higher truth; and

* ideological zeal, such that dissidents are silenced as "enemies of the truth".

The first of these roots has been strongly represented in Australian government attitudes to the funding of science as far back as the 1980s. The remaining three roots exemplify closely the techniques that are currently used by global warming alarmists in pursuit of their aims – as recently exposed for all to see by the Climategate and IPCCgate scandals.

Lysenkoism damaged mainly Soviet science and society, whereas Hansenism has now been exerting its pernicious influence worldwide for more than twenty years. The climate alarmism involved has long been undermining the precious public trust from which science draws its traditional influence and sustenance, and now Climategate has opened up new sinkholes all over the place.

Hansenist climate alarmism has also damaged the standing of many leading science journals and science organizations, which have replaced their formerly careful editorial and organizational balance with environmental alarmism and naked global warming advocacy.

Future historians of science are likely to judge the 1988-2009 frenzy of climate change alarmism as even more damaging than Lysenkoism, because of the distrust that collapse of the global warming paradigm has already inculcated about using science to inform modern policy making.

Instead of exercising the leadership that is desperately needed to correct this, and to restore public faith in science and scientists, public utterances from Australia’s senior research advisors show that they have so far lost the plot that they are no longer even in the theatre.

Thus we have Megan Clark, CEO of CSIRO, boasting on Brisbane ABC 612 radio that “there are 40 CSIRO scientists on the IPCC panel”, as if this were something to be proud of. Meanwhile, the Chairman of Universities Australia, Peter Coaldrake, describes the Climategate scandal as “this tabloid decimation of science”. Next, Margaret Sheil, CEO of the Australian Research Council, has said she is deeply concerned about the backlash generated by emails from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit [and] the criticisms of Rajendra Kuma Pachauri, head of the IPCC. Finally, Chief Scientist Penny Sackett has, so far as I can determine, remained silent since her “me too” February 9th comment in support of an anodyne statement of blessing for climate sceptics issued by the U.K.’s chief scientist, John Beddington. How much influence the views of these independent scientists have had on Dr. Beddington can be judged from reading the apocalyptic study that he has just released regarding the effects of imaginary future climate change in Britain (Land Use Futures: Making the Most of Land in the 21st Century). This study is described in a letter by Dr. Gerrit van der Lingen in today’s Christchurch Press as:
A group of 300 ivory tower scientists, economists and planners in the UK, led by the British Government’s scientific advisor, have come up with a new apocalypse scenario, still based on the belief in catastrophic man-made global warming (February 27-28). They probably felt they had to do this because Climategate and the revelations of serious errors in the IPCC report have fatally exposed the man-made-global-warming scam. Their vision lacks any scientific credibility and totally ignores human nature. Their action is nothing more than a rear-guard action.

Moreover, Copenhagen has shown that the balance of world power has shifted to the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Western countries, including New Zealand and Australia were totally side-lined in Copenhagen. It is now extremely unlikely that an international climate agreement will ever be reached. Thanks to the BRIC countries, we can now all heave a sigh of relief.
Breathtakingly, in the light of all this, our Australian research managers’ expressed concern remains that the revelations of Climategate and IPCCgate have caused a public re-examination of the science of global warming, with a consequent shift in public opinion. Apparently they have nary a thought for the deep scientific malaise and malfeasance that has now been exposed for the whole lay world to see – part of which is being investigated currently in a British parliamentary committee investigation.

On the heels of revelations about meteorological data tampering overseas, irregularities have also been discovered in the way that Australian temperature data have been manipulated. And, across the Tasman, NIWAgate is developing apace, as the N.Z. National Institute of Water & Atmosphere battles to provide a parliamentary accounting for its historic temperature archive, which may yet prove to include the “dog ate my homework” excuse for the apparent absence of some records. Yet no comment at all has been offered on any of this - and related matters of science ethics, procedures and policy - by Australia’s science leaders.

It is crystal clear that there is only one way to restore public confidence in climate policy and research in Australia, and that is for an independent and authoritative investigation to be carried out into the matter before an experienced judge assisted by scientifically expert counsellors.

As Senator Fielding’s four scientific advisors – all of whom are experienced and independent climate scientists – have recommended in their due diligence report (item 7) on the advice being provided to Climate Minister Wong by her department: "Parliament should defer consideration of the CPRS bill and institute a fully independent Royal Commission of enquiry into the evidence for and against a dangerous human influence on climate. We add ..... that the scientific community is now so polarised on the controversial issue of dangerous global warming that proper due diligence on the matter can only be achieved where competent scientific witnesses are cross-examined under oath and under strict rules of evidence”.


Frog die-off: Don't tell me Warmists got that one wrong too!

Not a single mention of climate change in the report from NSW below: How unusual! How surprising! A few years ago global warming was the universally acclaimed culprit

In the world of amphibians, it is the equivalent of finding the Tasmanian tiger. A species of frog presumed extinct for nearly 30 years has turned up in the Southern Tablelands. The yellow-spotted bell frog was once ubiquitous in the northern and southern tablelands of NSW, but was almost wiped out after the chytrid fungus arrived from Africa in the early 1970s.

It was found alive and well in 2008 by government researcher Luke Pearce, who was searching for a native fish, the southern pygmy perch. Instead, he spotted the bell frog, which has distinctive markings on its groin and thighs. But Mr Pearce had to wait until last October before he could return with David Hunter, the threatened species officer of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, to confirm the finding. "We heard this bell frog call," Mr Pearce said. "[We] went down looking for it and actually nearly stepped on it. It was quite amazing. This frog was just waiting there to be found."

In one stretch of stream on a farm in an unspecified part of the Southern Tablelands, an estimated 100 yellow-spotted bell frogs have been found. Six tadpoles have been taken to Taronga Zoo to establish a breeding program. "If it has a predisposition to being resistant to this fungus, as opposed to having site attributes resulting in resistance, that will afford it much greater protection when we start putting it elsewhere," Dr Hunter said.

Michael McFadden, an amphibian keeper at Taronga Zoo, said the fungus had caused the loss of seven frog species in Australia. It was thought to have wiped out two species that have been found in the past few years. In all, almost a quarter of the state's frog species have been affected by the fungus, including 15 threatened varieties such as the green and golden bell frog, the corroboree frog and the spotted tree frog. "Highland species of frogs crashed really hard," he said.

Two years ago, the armoured mist frog of northern Queensland was found after not being seen since the early 1990s. "This is the equivalent of discovering the Tasmanian tiger, in terms of amphibians, in terms of frogs," the NSW Environment Minister, Frank Sartor, said of the latest find


Sorry, but some have to suffer for their art

By Barry Cohen, who was arts minister in the Hawke government

DAVID Throsby, economics professor at Macquarie University, has brought down his latest report entitled, "Don't Give Up Your Day Job", pointing out that the lot of artists is not a very happy one, financially speaking. The report states that "census figures show artists' income fell from the median level of $30,000 in 2001 to about $26,000 in 2006 while salaries for most professional groups rose." It adds: "It has been a decade since the Australia Council released the report on the financial status of artists and found that a third lived below the poverty line. "Half earned less than $7300 for their art and only 12 per cent were working full-time."

Well there's a surprise! Most artists can't make a living out of their chosen art. Who would believe it? My mind returned to my early days as federal arts minister when I appeared on a public platform with the federal secretary of Actors Equity. He concluded his address fulminating that "of the 4000 members of my union only 400 are working". The players collective loved it but then didn't hear his sotto voce comments as he sat down. "And that's all that deserve to be working."

Periodically, we hear the nonsense parrotted by the arts community claiming that artists of Australia are treated much the same as chimney-sweeps were in Dickens' day. Comparisons are often made with salaries earned by the average worker up to and including the head honchos of our top companies. Those who struggle along on $8 million a year.

Throsby and the Australia Council are absolutely right about the low earnings for the great majority of artists but it has always been thus and will remain so. And the reason? Most occupations, be they clerks, sales assistants, miners, shearers, boilermakers, doctors, dentists or school teachers, have a limited number of positions available which, once filled, guarantees that those seeking employment in that area will look further afield. It's called the free market and it works. There aren't thousands of aspiring boilermakers lining up for jobs that don't exist. They find work that puts a roof over their heads, food on the table and financial security.

Artists, and I use the word loosely, are an entirely different kettle of fish. We must remember that there are millions of them in Australia out of a population of 22 million. Precisely how many I have no idea, but picture for a moment all those you know who fancy themselves as artists: painters, sculptors, singers, musicians, dancers, actors, composers and the millions of handicraft artists that indulge in embroidery, tatting, quilting and the like.

My First Lady, the beauteous Rae, is a dab hand at any craft she puts her mind to. Her days are full making magnificent quilts. Recently, together with a local quilting group she delivered 73 quilts to fire victims in Victoria. Does she earn anything from her art? Not a cent. Does she expect to? No and nor do her fellow quilters. They do it because they love doing it. It is an art but it is also their hobby.

I've been a little luckier over the past 20 years as a columnist with eight books, seven of which made the best-seller list. It's been a nice little earner, but thank God it wasn't my only source of income. Like Rae, I write because I love writing. Would I continue if there was no longer a market? Almost certainly, because of the pleasure it brings and not because of the financial reward.

A few artists are extremely well paid, earning in the millions, while a substantial number make a good living. However, in the arts, unlike most other trades and professions, there are 10 times more practitioners than there are opportunities for fame and fortune.

And who decides who is an artist? More importantly, who decides who is a good artist? In an occupation where there is no shortage of egos it's easy to declare oneself to be an artist and expect the world, or the government, to provide you with a living. It's nonsense and the sooner the arts community stops whining about how their talents are not being rewarded the better. The arts community should be honest with aspiring artists and warn them that their worth will be determined by the market, by who buys their records, books, paintings or pays to see them perform.

Some expect governments to provide. And they do. The federal government picks up the tab for a vast number of artistic activities. Indeed the spending on everything from the National Gallery through to the Film and Television School comes to $696 million. And then there's the ABC, SBS and extensive state and local government programs. Governments are continually expanding their arts programs, creating opportunities for artists while stimulating tourism and ensuring the arts are more widely enjoyed.

We are indebted to David Throsby for his latest report on the plight of our artists. It's the 11th in a similar vein over the past 30 years. What is needed is some solutions. Let's hope we don't go the way as some European countries where those who are declared to be artists are guaranteed a salary for life. Denmark is one such country and so is Holland. Such a system guarantees there are any number of artists beavering away filling up warehouses with paintings no one will ever see.

There is a vital role for governments to play in developing talented artists, but please spare us from the nonsense that everyone who declares themselves an artist should be guaranteed an income.


4 March, 2010

The Australian Psychological Society shows its political bias

As a former member of the APS, their bias is no news to me. A reader writes:

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) is apparently perpetuating the global warming myth, directing readers to Al Gore and Tim Flannery for authorative information (links provided), offering tips on how to indoctrinate children with warming mythology and even psychoanalyzing skeptics. The diagnosis of the APS is that denialism is a common reaction to global warming;
“Sometimes, if the information is too unsettling and the solutions seem too difficult, people can cope by minimising or denying that there is a problem, or avoiding thinking about the problems.

Being sceptical about the problems is another way that people may react. The caution expressed by climate change sceptics could be a form of denial, where it involves minimising the weight of scientific evidence/consensus on the subject. Or it could indicate that they perceive the risks of change to be greater than the risks of not changing, for themselves or their interests.”
I wonder if climate change skeptics need to be medicated or whether long-term psychological treatment is sufficient to cure an enquiring mind?

Rather than maintaining an objective and apolitical stance, as you might expect from a group of psychologists, the APS is in overdrive to promote its view of climate change, at the expense of objectivity and reason. As a mental health professional and skeptic, it is disappointing to say the least.

Rudd adopts failed British approach to hospital waiting times

"Targets" ("national standards" in Ruddspeak) were Tony Blair's brainwave. They doubled costs but still led to rushed care, dangerous neglect and death in some instances

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has kicked off a media blitz to sell his proposed shake-up of the nation's hospitals by promising to put a cap on waiting times. Mr Rudd has said that under the proposed new national standards, maximum waiting times would be in place for elective and emergency surgery.

"What we need through new tough national standards is for patients to have confidence that there will be maximum waiting times, that there will be absolute maximum waiting times for elective surgery and for treatments of accident emergency," Mr Rudd told Channel 9 today. "We don't have those standards nationwide at present," he said, adding that he would take ultimate responsibility for those standards being met.

Mr Rudd has said that patients would be sent to private hospitals, at public cost, if they could not be treated within the agreed time period. Patients have also been promised the same level of care regardless of where they live in the country.

A new National Health Hospital Network to be set up by the states will determine what services will be provided by hospitals and where patients will need to travel to access services. Under the plan, the most efficient hospitals will become "super providers" for elective surgery or maternity services. But some procedures will be stripped out of hospitals and put into communities so patients do not have to travel long distances.

States will be stripped of 30 per cent of their GST funding - about $90 billion over five years. Mr Rudd has said he can end the "blame game" because the Commonwealth will become the "dominant" health funder. He will ask the states to sign-off on the deal next month. If they don't they could face a referendum. Under the plan, the Commonwealth will pay 60 per cent of costs, set targets and be in charge of workforce planning. The states will pick up the remaining 40 per cent tab and maintain capital planning rights.

"Small hospitals hit"

Senior NSW Government sources told The Daily Telegraph that the plan would not put any more money into the health system. They said the 100 hospitals across regional and rural NSW would be financially unviable under the system, which would allocate funding on a per-procedure basis, because the volume of medical procedures in small hospitals was too low. "The state Government will have to make a decision as to whether it can continue to subsidise these hospitals or close them," the unnamed sources said.

Mr Rudd's office has said the reforms will not force any hospitals to close. "There will be loadings to recognise the needs of people in regional Australia," a spokesman said.

Most state premiers have said they will wait for more detail before committing to support or oppose the plan when they meet for the April edition of the Council of Australian Governments. The Prime Minister next month. But WA's Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has given an early "no" vote.

Second opinions

Most economists and policy experts have described the Government's health blueprint as promising but not an instant remedy. David Penington, senior fellow at the Grattan Institute, has said there is no way the necessary expertise can be developed embracing all of Australia's 753 public hospitals.

He has said there will have to be two levels of bureaucracy directly involved with the public hospitals and a new layer of management at the local network level. "It is hard to see that this will deliver better services, to address the need to greatly improve the interface between hospitals and primary care, rationalise duplication between hospitals, or solve the continuing problem of elderly patients occupying inappropriate beds in high cost acute hospitals," Professor Penington said.

Health economist John Deeble, one of the architects of Medibank and Medicare, has said the Rudd Government has identified the system's most pressing problem: the fact that health costs will soon outstrip state revenues. But he has said the proposal for a mosaic of hospital networks is "completely vague" and makes little sense in capital cities, where 70 per cent of Australians live. "Each of them will be competing for resources and each will want their own specialist centre," Professor Deeble said. "It (the plan) is not going to happen in a hurry, and it doesn't produce any more money for the hospitals as far as I can see - so it won't solve the waiting list problems immediately."

Stephen Leeder, director of Menzies Centre for Health Policy, has said the "Local Hospital Networks" that will be established in the plan will each comprise between one and four of Australia's existing public hospitals and risk being too small to be able to plan sensibly. "It's a bit like looking at a sketch for a new kitchen - it all looks good and the colours are nice, but the question is does the stove work and does it all hang together?"


Victoria says that more money is what is needed, not an administrative reshuffle

STATE Health Minister Daniel Andrews says the federal health reform plan short-changes Victorian patients. The proposal was all about administrative reform, but he said "health reforms need to be about more money" so more patients were able to receive the necessary treatment more quickly. Victoria remained $1 billion a year out of pocket since the blowout in the 50-50 split in state and Commonwealth funding, he said.

Under the plan, the Federal Government would contribute 60 per cent of all costs, up from its current 35 per cent. But Mr Andrews said there'd be no more money for Victorian patients until 2014, and even then it would be less than $200 million. The benefit to Victoria's health budget would gradually grow to $1.2 billion, but not for a decade.

Mr Andrews said that if the Commonwealth provided an extra $1 billion a year now, Victoria could almost double its capacity for elective surgery and build two hospitals in regional and outer suburban areas every year. "Our test has always been more money to treat more patients and to treat them faster," he said. "And we will continue to fight to get that."

He said the data showed Victoria had the best-performing health system, and only extra cash would improve hospitals. But the state might lose out under a federal model. "I wouldn't want to see (us) under a national scheme with Victoria's capital works program having to compete against those of other states," Mr Andrews said. "For instance, the $1 billion Royal Children's Hospital - would it be funded as it was, or would it have to compete against children's hospitals across Australia?"

AMA Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley said the federal plan took with one hand and gave back with the other. "In Victoria alone, we need another 600 hospital beds; we also need another 187 each year to manage population growth. That needs extra funding now," he said. "Other states will see more changes. We already have case-mix; we already have local boards. "We need to ensure that we protect existing innovation in Victoria and drive reform."

Dr Hemley also questioned whether patients would be better off in the long run. "Doctors were hoping that health reform might involve patient care, rather than just governments' funding arrangements," he said.


'There are too many bosses', says patient Joan Maple

And Rudd wants to create more of them!

Joan Maple, 84, from Mt Martha has been waiting for a knee replacement for two years. "I have been waiting at least two years to see a doctor and have had problems for three or four years, but my knee just gets worse. I don't know who you blame - it is not the hospital's fault, it is not the doctor's fault, I think it is just the bureaucracy.

There are too many bosses and not enough workers, and I don't think they can see the little people for the trees. And I don't know if the Federal Government takeover is good or bad. I think the new plan is right, but I doubt they are capable of delivering it the way they are going at the moment.

Frankston Hospital is trying to do a wonderful job, but they just can't handle all the people who need handling. I need a new knee. I have had an assessment from the physiotherapist and every three months I have to fill out a questionnaire to let them know about my condition, but I still haven't even been able to see a doctor.

I have just joined a health insurance fund because I just can't wait any longer. I have to wait 12 months before I can have the operation, but I still think it will come around quicker than waiting in the public system."


New mathematics curriculum a feeble tool calculated to bore


On Monday, after almost two years of work, a draft of the new Australian national curriculum was released. As maths lecturers deeply dissatisfied with the state of Australian education, we were keen to see what would emerge. Keen, but pessimistic. We were concerned about the almost total lack of involvement of mathematicians in the writing process and unimpressed by the background documents, which displayed a disturbing ignorance of mathematical culture.

Our doubts have unfortunately been confirmed. We are convinced that implementing such a curriculum will do little to improve the woeful state of Australian mathematics education.

The substance of the draft, which covers prep to year 10, is in the year-by-year syllabus, with an "elaboration" of each point: the syllabus point indicates "what" is to be taught; the elaboration suggests "how" it is to be taught. The syllabus itself is divided into three streams: number and algebra, statistics and probability, and measurement and geometry.

These artificial divisions, while necessary, have led to an unnecessary dissolution of the syllabus; every part of every stream is addressed in every year. The few concepts in the statistics syllabus, for example, are continually drip-fed over 11 years. There is simply no reason for "data" to be collected and analysed over and over again.

A more central problem with the syllabus is what is emphasised and what is de-emphasised, or omitted entirely. To illustrate, consider the approach to calculators and technology. We shouldn't need to say it, but pushing buttons on a calculator is not doing mathematics: it may (rarely) be a "how", but is never a "what". Yet, "calculator" appears time and again as a core concern of the syllabus. By comparison, reasoning involving proof - the one compelling argument for teaching mathematics - is reduced to elaboration, just another method of getting to a (usually boring) fact. This technology ramming extends to advocating the use of calculators to introduce adding in prep, a suggestion so appallingly misguided it beggars belief.

The technology fetish goes hand in hand with another major problem with the draft curriculum: a preference for "practical" mathematics at the expense of more fundamental and ideal concepts.

As a consequence, number (mainly arithmetic) crowds out algebra, measurement crowds out geometry, and statistics swamps everything. This emphasis on supposedly useful mathematics is seriously misguided. The result is an unbalanced, ugly, bitsy, pseudo-applied curriculum. It will constitute woeful preparation for students continuing maths beyond year 10, and we predict it will bore the pants off everyone.

We have many specific objections to the draft curriculum. Here is but a sampling. We cannot see why times tables have been shoved out to make room for "multiplication facts", nor why multiplying by 7 alone is omitted from the year 4 syllabus, nor why the 11 and 12-times tables are never even implicitly referred to. We wonder why "theorem" - the central concept in mathematics - only ever appears with "Pythagoras", and why the proof of this one theorem is merely an elaboration. We wonder why pi and real numbers and irrational numbers barely get a mention.

We also wonder why there is a pandering to indigenous Australians while the major Chinese and Arabic contributions to mathematical wisdom are ignored. Why isn't Euclid or any mathematician (other than Pythagoras) ever mentioned by name? So much for presenting mathematics as a human endeavour.

Attempting to sell mathematics by imposing an artificial concreteness, by inflating the importance of calculating bank interest, is simply farcical.

Just as children best learn to read by experiencing the joy of great stories, they best learn mathematics by experiencing its beauty and the joy of mathematical play. But in this curriculum there is little sense of the fun and the beauty of mathematics. Not a hint of infinity, of the fourth dimension, of Moebius bands, of puzzles or paradoxes. Why? If mathematics can be taught as ideas, as something beautiful and fun, then why is it not being proposed? Because it is difficult to do. To teach real mathematics makes demands on the teacher, and it is risky.

What is proposed is little more than a cowardly version of current curriculums, a codification of the boring, pointless approach - which is "safe" but which has already failed a generation of students.

The draft curriculum begins by declaiming the beauty and intrinsic value of mathematics, and the elegance and power of mathematical reasoning. But as a means of unfolding all this before our students, the proposed curriculum is a feeble tool indeed.


3 March, 2010

Rudd's solution to hospital waiting lists: Two more layers of bureaucracy

A much expanded Federal bureaucracy plus new local bureaucracies will be added to the already-bloated State bureaucracies -- and you can bet that not a single State bureaucrat will lose his job

KEVIN Rudd says he will strip the states of a third of their valuable GST revenue to pay for a massive Commonwealth reform of the public health and hospital systems. In a speech to the National Press Club this afternoon, the Prime Minister said the Federal Government will fund 60 per cent of public hospital services and up to 100 per cent of primary health care outpatient services.

Under the historic proposal, local hospital networks would be formed to run hospitals, taking power away from bureaucrats. The states will have to sign up to tough new national standards the Prime Minister says will deliver better hospital services.

Mr Rudd said if the states don't agree to the plan, he will take it to this year's election along with a referendum to seek the necessary powers for the Commonwealth to make the reforms a reality.

The Prime Minister said the plan will end ``blame shifting and cost shifting'' and lead to less waste and duplication across the multi-billion dollar system. The announcement will set the Prime Minister on a collision course with the states, who must hand over power and revenue to ensure the reforms can go ahead.

The Federal Government has also promised to fund 60 per cent of the cost of maintaining and improving public hospital infrastructure.


Wicked by name and wicked by nature

The great majority of their vans were found to be unroadworthy by the Queensland government recently. The NT government is obviously less vigilant. Another vehicle-hire firm to avoid. There are a lot of crooks in the industry. I myself would only ever deal with one of the biggies -- such as Hertz.

TWO German backpackers have been left stranded in Darwin after their Wicked campervan broke down - and the company refused to give any money back. Luisa Heduschke, 19, and Kathrin Legermann, 20, had hired the colourful campervan for $2300 in Alice Springs last week to take it on a 17-day road trip to Darwin. "Every time we had to go through the tiniest bit of water the engine stopped and we had to wait on the side of the road for the van to get going again," Ms Heduschke told the Northern Territory News. "After 800km we had to refill all the oil, because it had run empty, but another 400km further on it was empty again."

The two backpackers rang the Wicked hotline to complain about the oil leak and were told to "bring the van to Darwin" so a Wicked mechanic could have a look at it. Instead of taking 17 days for their sightseeing trip across the Territory, the women spent just six days on the road, worried the car would stop "in the middle of nowhere". When they arrived at the Wicked depot in Darwin they said they were told they could give the car back if they were unhappy with it.

But when the women asked for their money back, after missing out on 11 of the 17 days they had paid for, they said they were told: "The policy is not to give money back when the van is returned early."

"Wicked ruined our road trip, took our car and kept our money - we can't even do something else because we don't have the money," Ms Heduschke said. Wicked spokesman Stephen Sealey was not available for comment.


Another "Green" fraud

PETER Garrett is under fresh pressure over using discredited science and dodgy data to declare a conservation zone over the Coral Sea. Mr Garrett faces a renewed attack after a scathing new study found he used "distorted" and "biased" data to make the conservation order. This comes with the newly demoted Environment Protection Minister still under fire over the home insulation fiasco.

The former Midnight Oil rocker proclaimed the interim conservation zone last May in a push by green groups headed by the US based Pew foundation to turn 1 million sq km of the Coral Sea into a "no-take zone". But, in a report commissioned by Marine Queensland, the state's peak fishing industry body, marine biologist Ben Diggles, found the research cited by Mr Garrett was based on "discredited science".

The Marine Queensland study, obtained exclusively by The Courier-Mail, said Mr Garrett based his decision on research sourced and partly funded by the Pew foundation. Much of the discredited research is over claims of the "rich biodiversity of the Coral Sea" and reports 50 per cent of marlin, swordfish and tuna stocks had declined in 50 years, based on data supplied by Japanese longliners.

Marine Queensland, Coral Sea Alliance, pro-fishing groups and the Opposition last night said the findings cast serious doubt about the "credibility and competency" of the embattled minister. They said the high-profile nationwide bio-regional review was "on the brink of disaster" and called for Mr Garrett's immediate sacking.

Last night a spokesman for Mr Garrett dismissed any links to Pew foundation and said any future decisions would be made on the "basis of good science".

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd needed to order an immediate review. "Mr Garrett has a history and a habit of making his decision and ignoring his facts," he said. "This is another example of a minister who is out of control. "Mr Garrett should clearly have lost his job as the architect of the botched home insulation program, however the only remaining part of his portfolio, is now itself under serious question. His credibility as a minister is simply untenable."


A grave consequence of government inaction over bullying in their schools

They've got "plans" about bullying but that is just hot air. Reading between the lines, the aggressors were black or ethnic, and they cannot be touched, of course. That would be "racist"

A YOUNG boy has suffered terrible injuries while fleeing a bully who threatened to kill him and his school did nothing to prevent it, his mother says. Eight-year-old Blair Retallick is in intensive care after fleeing a tormentor on a school bus and running into the path of a four-wheel drive outside a Townsville school on Monday.

Patricia Retallick said her son was the target of a long-running campaign by school bullies and had been kicked, spat on, bitten, punched and verbally abused. But nothing was done despite her many complaints to Bohlevale State School and the bus company, she said.

Blair remains in the Townsville Hospital with injuries including a fractured skull, a bruise to his brain, and a lacerated liver.

Mrs Retallick said Blair and her other children, including a daughter aged five, had been targeted by bullies on the school bus for some time. She said her approaches to the school achieved nothing, nor did her complaints to the bus company running the school service. "He was having an altercation with a child on the bus and it flowed out as the bus stopped," she told the ABC. "He was running as the boy was saying to him 'I'm going to kill you' and he ran straight into the path of a car as he was running away from the boy."

She said witnesses, including other children on the bus, had reported the tormentor's kill threat, and said kids from other families had also been bullied on the bus but nothing had been done. "It shouldn't have happened. It should have been dealt with," Mrs Retallick said. "The majority of families on that bus have had issues with those kids on that bus." Mrs Retallick said she raised the bullying issue with the school as recently as Monday morning, just before her son was injured.

The incident comes just a week after the Queensland Government said it would create the a new alliance to tackle violence in schools. The announcement came after a government report found schools were not properly checking if their anti-bullying programs were working. In a statement, Education Queensland's North Queensland region director Mike Ludwig said it was premature to speculate on the cause of the accident. Counselling had been offered to the family, he said. [It's the government that needs the counselling]

Mrs Retallick said she wanted action, including better systems to report bullying. "There needs to be changes with the education department on how we can report these things," she said.

She said Blair could be in hospital for up to a month. "It's unknown at the moment. Some of his injuries are so extensive that anything could happen and it could change in the blink of an eye," she said.

Monday was supposed to have been the last day her children caught the bus to school. The family was planning to move to New South Wales and the ongoing bullying had been a factor in the decision to move, Mrs Retallick said.


Tell us again why we need population growth

The political class is on a collision course with the punters they are elected to represent over the issue of population growth, because they are failing to engage the public in a meaningful, mature debate.

While the major political parties have signed up to the official long-term projections of 36 million by 2050, the public overwhelmingly thinks that’s way too many. In response, the politicians bat on with the reflexive response “There is No Alternative”.

This dissonance highlights much that is wrong with our political system. It also opens up big opportunities for both the extreme Right and the environmental Left over the coming years.

The numbers speak for themselves, people are rejecting the idea of big population growth by a factor of two to one. I think the reason is that the public is struggling with this debate is that the arguments in favour of growth and loaded with internal inconsistencies which are too often served up as truisms. If you were to chart a discussion between the punters and the pollies on population, it would go something like this.

Punters: The cities are bursting at the seams, the roads are clogged, the trains don’t work; we need to build more power stations to keep things running: why on earth would we want more people?

Pollies: We need more people so we can build our economy, creating more job opportunities and more economic growth.

Punters: But isn’t growth the problem? Why do we need growth, if all we are going to do with it is pay for things like cleaners and cabs and the things we need to deal with a faster, busier life?

Pollies: But if we don’t have economic growth, we won’t build up the tax base so that we have enough money to pay for the aging population, all those Baby Boomers who are about to exit the workforce and expect to receive a pension to keep them going for another 30 years.

Punters: But you have spent the last ten years making massive surpluses and handing all the money back to us in cheques we never asked for. Now you are spending billions on school canteens and insulation batts that no one ever asked for – surely we could just save a bit more money now. Even better, pump up the superannuation to 15 per cent so we can pay our own way.

Pollies – But these injections of funds are important to stimulate the economy and keep it growing.

Punters; But who said we wanted to grow?

Pollies: And while we are at it, the insulation problem is part of the effort to make our cities more environmentally sustainable.

Punters: Don’t talk to us about the environment. If you cared about the environment you would not be trying to truck in millions of more people into our fragile continent. Adelaide is already running dry, droughts are becoming more regular – surely millions more people is not the environmental solution.

Pollies: Its actually pretty simple: with a larger population, you’ll be able to generate the economic activity to come up with environmental solutions.

Punters; You are talking about growth again, can you just explain to me why growth is good?

Pollies: Well, if you went to university like we did, you would know that basic economics dictate that economies that grow create wealth and jobs and those that contract are miserable and dangerous places where the common currency is the banana.

Punter: But you keep telling us we have a skills shortage, why would be creating jobs that we can fill?

Pollies: That’s precisely why we need to increase out population base, so we have enough workers to drive are growing economy.

Punter: You’re not listening to us.

Pollies: You are too stupid to understand the big picture.

Punter: Wankers.

Sadly, that’s where our national debate on population is right now.


Police coverup on specious grounds: "A police officer in South Australia has been arrested and charged with rape but senior police have refused to provide details, saying they want to protect the alleged victim. AdelaideNow reports the serving officer, 24, was arrested by Sexual Crime Investigation Branch detectives yesterday. Police said they will not release any more details of the police officer or the circumstance of the alleged rape, as it may tend to identify the victim. Neither will they release the location or time where the alleged offence occurred, as is normal practice. The officer has been suspended from duty pending the outcome of the court case. He will appear in the Holden Hill Magistrates Court in April. [They are obviously afraid that if he is identified, other victims will come forward. My Queensland Police blog continues to get plenty of updates]

2 March, 2010

Weather forecasters ignored -- rightly -- because the warning was wrong. Nothing adverse happened

I wonder why people have no confidence in them? But they can predict global warming, of course -- even though predicting the pathway of a tsunami should have been a cinch compared to the complexity of predicting the climate 50 years hence

LIFESAVERS have blasted hundreds of surfers who defied tsunami warnings and hit the waves on Gold and Sunshine coast beaches yesterday. Crowds of onlookers along the coast also were criticised for ignoring tsunami warnings issued by the weather bureau to avoid coastal areas. Many ventured to vantage points with their children, despite the unknown risk.

Although all beaches and both coasts were closed, recreational board riders ignored the alert en masse. Many swimmers also flouted the warning while thousands of spectators risked a tidal surge by lining the beaches. "It's disappointing," Surf Life Saving Queensland duty officer Kevin Dunn said. "Most people did the right thing but the board riders seem to do what they want. They don't understand the repercussions and how serious it could have been."

The Quiksilver Pro world surfing championship tournament at Snapper Rocks was postponed until later in the day, leaving superstars including Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning high and dry. Despite excellent surf, Quiksilver Pro tournament director Rod Brooks said organisers were taking no chances after spectators were injured by a freak wave during a recent surfing contest in California.

Recreational surfer Geoff Martin, 48, shrugged off the tsunami warning and a plea from his mum not to venture into the ocean. He said the clean 1.5m waves rolling through Currumbin were too good to miss. "My mum rang me about seven o'clock this morning and said: 'I hope you're not going surfing'," he said. "Of course, I was straight down the beach."

The Gold Coast City Council activated its Disaster Management Centre and set up an evacuation centre for residents of low-lying areas, but the lack of any serious wave action meant the initiatives became a training drill.

Across the Sunshine Coast every major beach was officially closed though scores of swimmers took to the water from Caloundra to Noosa. At Maroochydore, surfboard riders barely missed a beat, gathering off main beach to chase waves throughout the day. Just before midday neighbouring Coolum Beach patrol captain Peter Gardiner said he could count at least four swimmers who had ventured into the water despite lifesaver warnings that the danger remained.

Mr Gardiner kept Coolum beach shut down though to mid-afternoon after reports of slight disturbances in southern waters came in just before midday.


Strange commentary on people of middling weight

Since it has repeatedly been shown that people of middling weight live the longest, how come they are "unhealthy"? One has to suspect bad sampling or heroic assumptions behind the report below -- probably both

JUST a quarter of Australians are at a healthy weight, says a study that puts the total cost of caring for the overweight and obese at over $56 billion a year. Direct health care and other related costs totalled $21 billion, according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, while government subsidies cost another $35.6 billion a year.

Stephen Colagiuri, Professor of Metabolic Health at the University of Sydney, and his co-authors analysed data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study, collected in 1999-2000 and 2004-2005. He said the research took account of all costs – borne by individuals and the tax-paying public – which flow from the problem of being overweight or obese. "Traditionally, studies report only costs associated with obesity and rarely take overweight into account," Prof Colagiuri said in a statement.

"We found that the direct cost of overweight and obesity in Australia is significantly higher than previous estimates. "As the number of overweight and obese adult Australians continues to increase, the direct cost of overweight and obesity will also continue to rise," he said.

The study took in body weight data from 6140 typically middle-aged people, just over half (54.1 per cent) of whom were women. Just 24.7 per cent of those in the study were deemed to be of normal healthy weight, with 32.4 per cent considered overweight and 42.9 per cent rated as obese, according to their body mass index score or waist circumference. Prof Colagiuri said it was important to account for both overweight as well as obesity as both were associated with an increased risk of health problems and cost.

Healthcare costs flowing from the nation's overweight and obese include ambulance services, hospital visits, prescription medication and items such as blood glucose self-monitoring meters and strips. The research also took account of the cost of transport to hospital, supported accommodation and special food, while government subsidies included aged, disability and veteran pensions, mobility and sickness allowances and unemployment benefits.


A rather odd finding about mothers

Neither women who work full-time nor women who stay at home full time have the healthiest children. It is women who work part time who have the healthiest children. The reason why can only be speculative, however. It could be a random result

Mothers who work part-time raise the healthiest children, while stay-at-home mums are more likely to have kids who are chubby couch potatoes, research reveals. A new study of more than 4500 Australian preschoolers found children of part-time mums ate less junk food, watched less TV and were less likely to be overweight.

The results have sparked renewed calls for family-friendly work policies to promote healthy lifestyles for kids.

Researchers from the University of New England in NSW believe the unexpected finding may be driven by part-time mums being more conscientious on the days they are at home to care for their children.

This could explain why they restrict TV viewing and unhealthy snacks more than other mums, while ensuring their kids are physically active. "It wasn't what we expected at all," said co-author Jan Nicholson, principal research fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne. "When mothers work part-time, there's obviously something about the way the house is run and the way parents are looking after their children that is protective," Professor Nicholson said.

The study, to be published in the international journal Social Sciences & Medicine next month, also shows full-time working mums tend to have less healthy children.

Overall, part-time mums let their children watch about an hour less TV per week than other mums. The children also ate fewer snack foods, had more time to exercise and were exposed to less junk food advertising.



Four current stories below

Brainwashing of children by Chairman Rudd and his helpers

White guilt and climate hoax to be taught as fact in all Australian schools

SCHOOL children will learn about climate change and Sorry Day under the Federal Government's draft national curriculum. The new document, launched by Prime Minsiter Kevin Rudd and Education Minister Julia Gillard at the Amaroo School in Canberra, outlines the education plans for kindergarten to Year 10 English, maths, science and history students to replace state and territory standards next year.

Mr Rudd described it as a back-to-basics approach to teaching and learning, with grammar and arithmetic a focus. "What we are on about is making sure the absolute basics of knowledge, the absolute basics of education are taught right across the country," he said.

However, the draft also suggests five-year-olds discuss community commemorations such as Sorry Day and 15-year-olds explore the link between carbon dioxide and global warming.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne has slammed the 242-page document as a disaster waiting to happen. "We have a seemingly over-emphasis on indigenous culture and history and almost an entire blotting out of our British traditions and ... heritage," he told said. "I am deeply concerned that Australian students will be taught a particular black armband view of our history without any counterbalancing."

Professor Stuart MacIntyre, who oversaw the history stream of the draft curriculum, dismissed Mr Pyne's complaint. "I think anybody who looks at the curriculum online will have great difficulty in finding any armbands," he said. "One of the ways we (avoid this), of course, is to set the peopling of Australia, both by the original inhabitants and then by European settlers, in a comparative perspective."

Head science adviser to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, Dennis Goodrum, said one theory that wouldn't feature in the document was creationism. "The evolution theory is a cornerstone of science based on evidence and observation," he said. "Intelligent design is not ... in this particular curriculum because it is not science." But Professor Goodrum said global warming would be raised and investigated.

Ms Gillard acknowledged some teachers would need retraining to deliver the new curriculum successfully. "All schools ... invest in professional development to teach teachers about the curriculum," she said. "Obviously, that effort will be moved from teaching about state-based curriculums to teaching about the Australian curriculum."

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos criticised Labor for rushing the process and not announcing how much the rollout would cost. "With implementation of the national curriculum due to commence next year, we are most concerned that there is still not any plan with an associated budget," he said.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young called on the government to reveal how much money would be allocated to the curriculum in May's federal budget.

Family First senator Steve Fielding said it must not cost taxpayers an exorbitant amount to administer.

The draft national curriculum, available online for public consultation until May 23, will also be trialled by 150 schools during the same period.


Give Britain its due or we'll can it: opposition

THE federal Coalition has threatened to scrap the new national curriculum, saying it places too much emphasis on indigenous and Asian perspectives at the expense of British and European culture. Its education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, said the curriculum was "unbalanced".

"While there are 118 references in the document to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and culture, there is one reference to Parliament, none to 'Westminster' and none to the Magna Carta," he said. "Grade nines will consider the personal stories of Aboriginal people and examine massacres and 'indigenous displacement', without any reference to the benefit to our country of our European heritage and the sacrifice of our forebears to build a nation. The early signs are that the black armband view of history is back."

Mr Pyne said a Coalition government would review the curriculum. "If we find the review confirms our very serious doubts then we'll scrap the national curriculum and we'll start again because it would be better for students to have the curriculum that they have now under the states than for them to have an unbalanced curriculum that will do them more harm than good," he said.

In an interview with the Herald, the federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, said she was worried by the threat. "When you've seen the opposition fight up hill and down dale to wreck [the] national curriculum and to wreck MySchool, then it does send a shiver up your spine about what they may do in the future." ....

Helen Walton, of the Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations of NSW, said her organisation was happy with the increased focus on family, community and Aboriginal history.


Political correctness invades the science curriculum

As The Australian reported on Saturday, it’s not until Year 10 that science students will have any exposure to the periodic table of elements – potassium, hydrogen, all that stuff you used to learn rote-form back in the good old days. But there’s some waffly nonsense about non-western views of science, including Chinese medicine, and Aboriginal ideas of farming and land management.

Worst of all is the proposal to teach Aboriginal Dreamtime stories as part of the science stream. With due deference to the Rainbow Serpent, this is spiritualism not science, and every bit as wrong as the calls from Christian hardliners for the utter rubbish that is “creation science” and “intelligent design” to be taught alongside evolution and natural selection.

The greatest test of the curriculum will be the extent to which it can restore some basic old-fashioned principles of literacy, grammar, spelling – all the stuff that went out of fashion in the 1970s when everyone was simply encouraged to set their minds free and use their imagination, even if you could barely understand a word they had written.

The approach being taken with everyone’s favourite dysfunctional state government here in NSW stands as a warning against the mediocrity which has infected teaching in recent times.

While not everyone can, or should, attend university, there’s something desperately unambitious about the NSW Board of Studies decision to modify the second-tier NSW English Studies course to remove Shakespeare, but allow the “study” of rubbish movies such as The Matrix and the irritatingly twee television show Seachange.

If we are going to dumb down what is already a basic English course then maybe we should introduce a new subject called an Introduction to Remedial English – like a Dummy’s Guide to Dummy’s Guides.

At least we are not seeing this approach from Julia Gillard, who will have won plaudits from many parents yesterday – and probably upset the teachers unions – by arguing yesterday that too many Australian kids no longer have a basic grasp of reading and writing.

To judge the draft curriculum for yourself, go to the ACARA website - – and follow the links.


Hatred, violence in Australian schools' classrooms

STUDENTS injured almost 3000 public school teachers in the past two years, an Education Department report obtained by The Advertiser shows. The Occupational Health and Safety Incident/Accident Report shows students were "deliberately" responsible for 98 per cent of the 2957 injuries reported by teachers from January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2009. Bruising and superficial injuries made up more than half the reported incidents with 3 per cent of incidents resulting in workers' compensation claims.

The figures raise further concerns for the safety of teachers, following a violent attack this week on a teacher at a northern suburbs primary school. According to police, the teacher was on yard duty at Swallowcliffe Primary School at Davoren Park, when a brick was thrown at her, hitting her in the back of the head. As she lay on the ground suffering from shock, the attackers then stole her office keys and, later, some cash.

Concerned parents said the school went into "lockdown" over the incident, with students finally allowed to go outside during recess and lunch yesterday. Students were also offered counselling after the attack.

South Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said the "startling" report showed that teachers were increasingly being put in dangerous situations. "The figures paint a picture of rising levels of violent incidents that teachers are facing," she said. "Teachers expect to go to work to teach, not to be assaulted or injured."

The attack is the latest in a spate of violent incidents in schools this month. Last week, an Underdale High School pupil was punched in class by two youths posing as students.

In Brisbane earlier this month, Elliot Fletcher, 12, was fatally stabbed in the chest by a fellow student in the school toilets of St Patrick's College. But the Education Department played down any suggestions of a rise in violence in schools, describing this week's attack as very serious but a "one-off incident".

Education Department deputy chief executive Jan Andrews said police investigations were continuing and she expected the attackers, when found, to be charged. She added that they were currently checking the "accuracy" of the leaked report and that the majority of incidents were "minor". "We encourage teachers to report all incidents," she said. "The incident reporting rate has increased and that is something we are happy about," she said.

Swallowcliffe Primary School principal Assunta Alfano was yesterday unavailable for comment. But a parent of a Year 5 student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the school had been plagued by safety concerns.


1 March, 2010

Bureaucracy is irredeemably stupid

Comments below by Sara Husdon

Despite extensive consultation with communities in the Northern Territory about what type of new houses they would like as part of the government’s Indigenous housing program, it appears that the government is still following the same old tired designs for the construction of houses.

Two years ago, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, promised ‘a makeover with a difference’ as part of the government’s $672 million ‘strategic’ Indigenous housing program (SIHIP).

NT Housing Minister Rob Knight said that design teams would look at the territory’s outdoor lifestyle and climate when designing houses.

But as Nigel Scullion, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, pointed out in a recent media release, the new houses built under SIHIP look surprisingly similar to the old ones.

In the past, houses in remote NT communities were regularly criticised as being designed by white bureaucrats with no understanding of the way in which Aborigines live and no consideration for the 40 plus degree temperatures. ‘They are sweat boxes ... you wouldn’t put your dog in there during the heat of the day,’ said one government official in The Age.

Yet, it seems the two new houses built in Wadeye have not been built according to local residents’ wishes. During the extensive consultation process, residents repeatedly said that they wanted large verandas; outdoor living areas; and toilet access from outside, but these three design features have not been included.

Pictures of one of the new houses taken by Nigel Scullion as part of his press release show an ugly grey rectangular box, with a bright yellow metal awning. These houses look almost identical to the ones they were meant to replace.

Residents of existing homes have also been ignored by the government, with recent refurbishments in Ali Curang falling far short of their expectations. Houses remain filthy and incomplete. New stainless steel benches have been installed but not much else, prompting concerns that the houses would fail to meet the standards of the Residential Tenancies Act.

Macklin has come out in defence of these refurbishments, saying that they were only meant to include new kitchens and bathrooms – in contrast to her promise two years ago for a ‘makeover with a difference.’

It seems Aboriginal people have been duped again.

Rather than continuing to look to the government to meet their housing needs, residents of remote Indigenous communities would be better off copying the residents of the Ilpeye Ilpeye town camp near Alice Springs. There, traditional owners have allowed the Australian government to acquire their land and change the community lease to freehold title. This change will enable residents to become home owners and perhaps finally kiss the government and their broken promises goodbye.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated February 26. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Billions squandered: Abbott

COST blow-outs and safety risks have raised the alarm for parents and principals as cracks appear in the Rudd Government's multibillion-dollar schools stimulus program. With only 7 per cent of NSW primary school projects completed under Building the Education Revolution's (BER) Primary Schools for the 21st Century program, serious problems have emerged.

As Education Minister Julia Gillard launched a new national curriculum in Melbourne yesterday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott launched a stinging attack on the $16.1 billion schools program, the most expensive element of the government's economic rescue package. "They [the government] were in such a hurry to spend the money that they didn't think through the consequences, with tragic results in the case of the Garrett program and wasteful results in the Gillard program," Mr Abbott said. "The Auditor-General will look at this item by item, but I suspect the government will want to delay the findings until after an election. "This hurried $16 billion program will end up delivering only $7 billion in value … Kevin Rudd thinks he's the economic genius who saved Australia from a recession but the public might conclude he's just won the gold medal for waste."

Ms Gillard rejected the claim building costs had been inflated. "The costs are not just for the actual building but all the pre-construction work as well - site investigation, concept design, detailed planning, approvals, services, site works and much more," her spokeswoman said. "Usually, school communities do not see or experience these costs as they are expended long before work starts on site.

"NSW has a rigorous system of price control in its roll-out of the Building the Education Revolution package to ensure value for money whilst still meeting the requirements of the program to provide stimulus to the state's economy. "Quotes are carefully scrutinised and compared against benchmarks for similar buildings throughout NSW. We have gone to the open market and the prices for these buildings are those set by the open market."

But schools say they are getting anything but value for money. At Berridale Public School in southern NSW, children are unable to use their newly installed $908,000 library as parents believe the building poses a safety risk. While the library, the same model of which is going into hundreds of NSW schools, complies with building codes, it has only one door. Parents say the building needs an emergency exit.

Students and staff at Tyalgum Public School in the state's north can't use their $850,000 library and office block as it doesn't fit its foundations. The building is on temporary footings until the local contractor can rectify the work. Tyalgum principal Peter Meadows has been told by the NSW Department of Education not to talk to the media about the bungle.

Builders at Rose Bay Public School last week damaged a broadband cable line and a water main while working on the site. And parents at other schools have been told they will not get items they were promised such as solar panels and rainwater tanks because their projects are over budget.

Original costings by the BER office 12 months ago show significant price discrepancies. Small libraries originally costed at $285,000 are now costing triple that amount. Covered outdoor learning areas have more than doubled in price. (The original costings excluded GST, site works, professional fees and cost escalation beyond February 2009.) The program is the subject of an Australian National Audit Office investigation, the results of which are due to be tabled this autumn.

Under the terms of the BER, managing contractors of projects are given an incentive payment - up to tens of thousands of dollars - for completing work on time. Parents have raised questions about whether projects that are more likely to be finished on time will receive priority so the managing contractor can receive the payment. But a NSW Department of Education spokesman said the projects were on track and would be finished by the deadline early next year.

While the school building projects were designed to provide work for local businesses, some schools say builders are coming from more than 100 kilometres away. The department said 80 per cent were local - within 150 kilometres or two hours' drive.

Schools told they will miss out on some promised items because of budget blow-outs may be able to re-apply for funding once costs are finalised next year.


Government-employed surgeons forced to go on leave to save cash -- while patients wait

SURGERY waiting lists could blow out even further as overworked surgeons are forced to take leave so hospitals can dig themselves out of the red. "To hell with the patients," was the message, said one frustrated Brisbane surgeon, who felt pressured to abandon his patients.

Queensland Health has issued denials, but Salaried Doctors Queensland President Dr Don Kane is adamant. "Many, if not most, of the hospitals across the state are over budget," he said. "When budgets are in trouble, I'm not surprised they are resorting to this. "They aren't concerned about surgeries. The budget is what's precious."

The SDQ also said hospitals were tightening overtime rules and delaying the filling of critical vacancies. Patients are being left on surgery waiting lists or without consultations. In November, medical staff at Rockhampton Base Hospital were told by their district chief executive all overtime had to be pre-approved.

"That's rubbish," Dr Kane said. "I can tell you SDQ has a lot of issues at the moment with Queensland Health." Dr Kane said his organisation, which represented 3000 doctors, was not opposed to the Government controlling expenses, but was sick of money being squandered on consultants and questionable programs and services.

Waiting lists for high-risk patients who should get operations in 30 days were getting worse, he said. "The Government has got its head in the sand and the minister is asleep at the wheel."

A Queensland Health spokeswoman denied surgeons were being forced on leave and admitted there were "negotiations" going on with those who had hefty time accrued. "The department is committed to meeting its obligations for employee welfare and its financial performance," she said. Asked about the financial status of hospitals, she said "I can't tell you that."

The SDQ said it was likely medical officer locums were not being used to replace surgeons on leave. "Their locums have dried up and locums are a very expensive option," Dr Kane said.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said locums were a "relevant option" available for replacing staff, but hospitals "wouldn't automatically take a locum on."

The Courier-Mail reported in May, 2008 that top surgeons were being forced to stop working for up to six months as patients waited even longer for operations. Queensland Health had allowed doctors to rack up months of leave but demanded they take it all.


Businesses to be compelled to employ more females

So capable women will be unable to prove themselves. People will think they owe their position to quotas, not ability

BUSINESSES will be forced to employ minimum numbers of females in the workplace under new laws being considered by the Federal Government. Bosses employing 15 or more people will be required to report on the gender balance in the workplace under proposals in a new government commissioned report. The KPMG report was commissioned last year to review the role of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.

Among the suggestions was a push for workplaces to have a voluntary 40 per cent female representation at all levels within three to five years. If this failed, mandatory quotas enforced by sanctions and penalties would be introduced.

But industry groups have rejected the quota concept. In its submission, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it supported "the attainment of equal opportunities based on merit, rather than the filling of quotas".

But Australian Institute of Management state chief executive officer Carolyn Barker said she supported quotas. "There is evidence that when governments particularly put in quotas . . . the number of women in executive positions and on boards increase," she said. "And I have to say, is that such a bad thing?"

The Brisbane Institute CEO Karyn Brinkley said quotas were not the long-term solution for women's careers. "I don't know that I see a lot of point in quotas," she said. "I think it detracts from the argument that you appoint them because they have amazing sets of skills, and attributes that are very complementary."

A further suggestion was for the publication of league tables, listing the best and worst businesses that met gender targets.

The report showed only 54 per cent of the female labour force was in a full-time occupation, compared with 84 per cent of males. At the same time, males received 17 per cent more in their paypackets than women.

A spokesman for Minister for the Status of Women Tanya Plibersek said the department was considering the report and would release its findings in coming months.


Large areas of sub-tropical Australia have just had the heaviest rainfall in 100 years

Warmists have spent years telling us that global warming would bring drought, so ...

A MAN has drowned after falling off his motorcycle into a flooded creek as parts of Queensland receive their heaviest rain in 100 years. The 57-year-old Mirani man was last seen riding his motorcycle on Sunday night. Police were notified he was missing at 7.55pm (AEST) on Sunday and searched the Devereux Creek area near Marian. They located the man's body in the creek.

A police spokesman said it appeared heavy rain may have made the creek area boggy and dangerous. Parts of southwest Queensland have had their best rainfall in 100 years as a monsoon trough squelches over the Northern Territory border. Birdsville, in the state's far southwest corner, has received 168mm over the past 24 hours - its heaviest rain in at least 100 years. Bedourie has recorded 188mm, the best on record since 1938.

The record rain has sparked flood warnings for several rivers across the state, including the Thomson, Paroo, Fitzroy and Barcoo rivers.

Today the trough - dubbed a landphoon by forecasters - is expected to move further into the south-west causing heavy rain as far south as Cunnamulla with the potential for more downpours of 100mm plus. Meteorologist Martin Palmer from Weatherzone said in south-east Queensland the rain was expected to intensify by lunchtime moving in from Toowoomba. "We should pick up around 40mm may be even 50mm in and around Brisbane itself, but tomorrow looks like it's going to be the day for the south-east, "Mr Palmer said.

"There's a massive amount of rain showing up towards the Sunshine Coast, up towards Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. Down towards Brisbane and the Gold Coast, were looking at between 60 and 80mm over the 24 hours." The falls are expected to ease from tomorrow night into Wednesday morning but would not completely dry out.

With localised flash flooding expected over much of southern Queensland later today, Emergency Services are reminding us of the dangers, especially for children....

The Weather Bureau warns that the southeast, Channel Country, Maranoa and Warrego, southern Central West, Central Highlands, Coalfields, Darling Downs and southeast could get heavy rain due to an intense monsoonal low.


There is a new Australian blog here for those who follow the stockmarket. He invests a lot in resource stocks -- which are giving him a big pain at the moment. And his holding of bank stocks is confined to the one bank that is NOT doing well. Maybe send him some sympathy!

Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.