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

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


31 March, 2013

Gai Waterhouse defends son Tom against footy betting attacks

I am sure any mother would be proud of a son like Tom: Always well presented, doing an extraordinarily complex job and loving it. And bookies are like royalty for many Australians -- helping to bring excitement into routine lives. And Tom pays millions for his advertising opportunities -- JR

POLITICIANS should lay off Tom Waterhouse, whose only fault is "working his butt off", according to his mother, champion horse trainer Gai Waterhouse.

In fierce defence of her star bookmaker son, Waterhouse accused some MPs of trying to kill off every industry in the country, adding that if everyone followed her son's example, the nation would be a better society.

"They should stop criticising - all they can ever do, the Greenies and all the rest of them," she said.

Tom Waterhouse was barred from offering opinions during sport broadcasts after a parliamentary hearing last week found he was blurring the lines between the roles of bookmaker and commentator. From this round of league on, he will be limited to talking about sporting odds.

But his mother said: "Bugger the criticism. They want to kill every industry in Australia and then they wonder why they are going belly up.

"He is out there working his butt off. If everyone worked as hard as my son Tom we'd have a much better society in Australia."

Senator Richard di Natale was particularly critical of the bookmaker's appearance on Channel 9's NRL coverage.

"People watching footy with their kids don't want to see Tom Waterhouse ads rammed down their throats, and see pseudo commentators giving odds," he said. "People are very, very angry at this sport being enmeshed with gambling."

Despite playing a reduced role, Tom Waterhouse has still been the victim of ongoing abuse on social media regarding Nine's numerous live crosses to him for updates on betting odds during games - with people referring to the network's rugby league coverage as "The Tom Waterhouse Show".

Gai Waterhouse expressed annoyance that her son had been singled out for criticism.

"They have the freedom of choice of turning their television off," she said, adding that her son had the skills required to be a commentator.

"He is not a pseudo commentator," she said. "First of all he does a lot of research into it. Secondly, he's been passionate about sport since the year dot.

"But thirdly, they (viewers) don't have to pick up the phone to have a bet. They don't have to pick up a cigarette and smoke it. They don't have to do anything.

"People have got intelligence and make up their minds. There are plenty of firms out there sponsoring the sport that are selling to the public.

"But because Tom is a name and we know the name you can criticise it and that is the problem with the senator."

Speaking for the first time on the issue, the 30-year-old bookmaker said he had not been rattled by the broadcast changes.

"It's one of the many things going on - it's just part and parcel of business," he said.

"We have a million things on the go and that is one of them.

"Whether it is rugby league or other things, people will go: 'What are you doing?' And heckling a bit.

"I just try and take it in my stride and just do it."


Man dies after left to treat himself when ambulance dispatchers wrongly classed his injuries as non-life threatening

A BRISBANE man died after he was left to treat himself for 15 minutes when ambulance dispatchers wrongly classified his injuries as non-life threatening.

The man, whose leg was crushed by his own truck, died of a heart attack only three minutes from the closest ambulance station, after a series of blunders resulted in an ambulance being dispatched from a more distant station.

The case, revealed under Right to Information, is the latest to highlight problems within the Queensland Ambulance Service and emergency departments.

Paramedics have blamed inconsistent front-line staffing, unreliable communications equipment and muddled training for the problems that continue to plague the QAS despite promises of reform four years ago.

In the latest RTI, The Courier-Mail was given full access to only 73 pages of documents, partial access to 384 pages of documents but refused access to 944 pages detailing patient complaints to the Department of Community Safety.

Breaching patient privacy and cases still under investigation were cited as reasons documents were withheld.

Other cases referred for further investigation including to the Queensland Health Quality and Complaints Commission were:

* A 90-year-old woman vomiting from severe abdominal pain waited more than eight hours for emergency treatment after being diverted from two hospitals before being treated at QEII Hospital.

* Five acute patients left in an emergency department corridor "unsupervised and unmonitored".

* A patient with severe cramping and struggling to breathe waited 50 minutes for an ambulance to arrive and was then left in a hallway at Caboolture Hospital before being admitted.

Timeline of a tragedy

* An ambulance carrying a man in extreme pain returned to the depot to put him in another ambulance before taking him to hospital.

Records show the Brisbane man who was crushed by the truck was bleeding heavily while QAS staff juggled lunch breaks, and messages left on radios and pagers went unanswered.

When paramedics arrived, they realised his injuries were so severe they required an Intensive Care vehicle and a medical officer, who arrived 15-20 minutes later.

Nearly 50 minutes after he first called triple-0 the man had a heart attack and could not be revived.

QAS Commissioner Russell Bowles said he was not proud of the way the man's case was handled but recommendations for improvements had been implemented.

"We will continue to try and improve the system. When you deal with the workload we do, you make mistakes."

Paramedic unions say the system has not been fixed. "Those guys are under a hell of a lot of pressure," said United Voice ambulance co-ordinator Jeanette Temberley, who said staff usually got blamed for any bad outcomes.

Australian Paramedics Association Queensland president Prebs Sathiaseelan said radios regularly failed and there weren't enough staff to cover for breaks.

Mr Bowles denied QAS needed more staff or that staff were over-burdened or not well-managed.

"I say our workforce is adequate. It was a litany of errors that just happened," he said.

A spokeswoman for Community Safety Minister Jack Dempsey said he was too busy to be interviewed by The Courier-Mail.


Bungling doctors could face criminal charges for allegedly killing and maiming patients

SIX doctors could face criminal charges for allegedly killing and maiming patients in major medical blunders over the past six years in Queensland.

Several patients allegedly suffered unnecessary amputations and another was left a quadriplegic when a surgeon failed to detect a neck injury after a car crash. One patient is believed to have died in an operation later found to be unnecessary.

There are further allegations of patients being horribly disfigured by cosmetic surgery and of two children who suffered severe injuries when a routine medical procedure at a doctor's rooms in a country town went terribly wrong.

A total of 23 cases were referred to Queensland police last week following the completion of an independent review by a senior barrister.

The review was carried out by former Fitzgerald inquiry investigator Jeffrey Hunter, SC, who reported to Health Minister Lawrence Springborg.

Most of the accusations are directed at doctors at private and public hospitals at Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Gympie and Cairns.

The review was sparked by a report in The Sunday Mail in which Queensland Health whistleblower Jo Barber, a former detective, said serious complaints against doctors were often covered up.

Mr Hunter also confirmed Ms Barber's claims that doctors with mental health and drug problems were permitted to treat patients. One doctor alone has been named in 11 cases of criminal negligence relating to surgical procedures including angioplasty, a procedure to widen blocked blood vessels.

Patients had died and suffered other complications when stents were inserted to open blocked arteries, Mr Hunter reported.

A plastic surgeon faces accusations in seven cases involving ill-fated breast enlargements and facelifts.

It is alleged one woman was left with "pixie ears" after a botched facelift.

Several others were left with misshapen breasts in operations which Mr Hunter said likely amounted to grievous bodily harm.

"In each case, my opinion is that the allegations involve breaches of such magnitude as to potentially amount to breaches of criminal law," Mr Hunter said in his report.

Mr Springborg said he had been frustrated that he couldn't get clear answers to explosive allegations made by Ms Barber and others in The Sunday Mail and The Courier-Mail, which was why he had ordered Mr Hunter's review.

He said he was especially disappointed by lengthy delays following up complaints.

"Yawning gaps in the complaints process remain unresolved in my opinion. Very real cases have been allowed to slip through the cracks." he said.

"These matters are now in the hands of police."

Mr Hunter said some allegations had been outside his terms of reference.

"In others, it was plain that although negligence and errors of judgment had occurred, the practitioner's conduct fell short of amounting to criminal negligence," the report said.

Ms Barber took her allegations of widespread medical malpractice to the CMC last year, prompting a review by former Supreme Court judge Richard Chesterman, QC.

He recommended further investigations of unresolved cases going back five years.

Mr Hunter said he had "cast a wide net" and examined 3318 files, which were whittled down to 703, and then 89. He said in his report that many files were identified that, in the end, did not involve death or serious harm to a patient.

"Many files related to practitioners who had mental health and substance abuse issues, but who were not alleged to have caused any harm to a patient."

Mr Springborg said the accountability of the complaints mechanism was also on trial.


Reforming the welfare state

Andrew Baker

Australia’s federal, state and local governments spent $316 billion on the welfare state in 2010-11 which includes spending on health, education, income support payments and public housing.

Of this spending, about half or $158 billion, can be classified as ‘tax-welfare churn’ – which is the process of levying taxes on people and then returning those taxes to the same people in the form of income support payments and welfare services, simultaneously or over the course of a lifetime.

Compared to other countries, Australia has low levels of churn, however, churn is still a problem as it imposes a number of social and economic costs, including higher taxes, administration and inefficiency costs from a bloated government, rent seeking from lobby groups, government paternalism and increased welfare dependency.

We can do something about the problem of tax-welfare churn in Australia.

In my new report, TARGET30: Tax-welfare churn and the Australian welfare state, I outline the churn problem and provide a number of policy reforms that are not only worthy in their own right, but have the additional benefit of reducing churn.

These reforms target, amongst other things, government support for the aged, family payments and the disability support pension.

Australia’s system of retirement savings needs to be reformed so that more people spend more of their own money for longer on their own retirement, rather than receiving the pension.

Further measures to reduce government expenditure on pensions include: raising and aligning the age pension and preservation ages; including the family home as part of the age pension assets test; and introducing a requirement to use superannuation savings to purchase an annuity.

Family payments like the $4.5 billion a year Family Tax Benefit Part B and the $1.2 billion a year Schoolkids Bonus should be abolished. FTB Part B is a badly targeted payment that goes to families that are clearly not poor and do not need the extra money while the Schoolkids Bonus is of dubious education benefit. Further savings can be found by means testing payments like the Carer Allowance and the Child Care Rebate.

The disability pension needs to be reformed by including activity test and participation requirements for those with a partial capacity to work, in order to maximise the economic benefits of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The current cohort of Disability Support Pension recipients should also be reassessed under tougher eligibility criteria introduced last year.

These are just some of the many ways we can reform the welfare state, cut spending, cut taxes, and empower more people to look after their own welfare, rather than relying on the welfare state.


29 March, 2013

Good Friday

I usually try to get along to church on Good Friday and I did so today -- but to a different church. I went to St. John's Presbyterian at Annerley. I normally go to Ann St. Presbyterian in the city.

I "discovered" St. John's only recently, when I was driving in the area and took a wrong turn. As I was driving down the "wrong" street, however, I noticed a very well-maintained and attractive church in it. So I went along to the 8.30am service there today to find out a little more about it.

It is built in a Queensland 1920's style, with an exterior of both weatherboards and stucco. The stucco is painted cream and the weatherboards maroon. The overall effect is very pleasant. See below

The interior was quite impressive, with hammerbeam ceiling supports and NO GRAVEN IMAGES. There was very attractive leadlight coloured glass in the casement windows but no stained glass, no pictures. And there was neither a crucifix nor a cross in sight. Presbyterians of old were quite iconoclastic and this congregation was obviously happy to continue that. The second picture below -- looking towards the entrance of the church -- gives you some idea of it.

Note the steel bracing for the ceiling. That was a custom in the 1920s for giving structural strength to large open spaces. Schools used it too. I grew up in such spaces so felt at home with it.

The congregation tended to be elderly as usual but filled up most of the back of the church. I would say the church was about two thirds full, so that is quite creditable.

An interesting custom among the congregation is that they nearly all followed the Bible readings in the pew Bible. The pew Bible was a very fine one: A NKJ version with references, concordance and a good clear black font well adapted to being read by old eyes.

The minister was VERY elderly, walking with the help of a stick, and his message was a very traditional one, focusing on salvation -- which is of course entirely appropriate at Easter.

So it was a pleasant way to reconnect with my Presbyterian background. Anne enjoyed it too. I never have to twist her arm to get her to church -- JR

Comedienne Wendy Harmer appreciates Easter too:

When I was a child, Good Friday was my favourite day of the year.

It was deeply melancholic. A time to ponder death, sacrifice, forgiveness. All the big stuff.

And days like that, steeped as they are in deeper meaning, are rare when you're an Anglo-Australian born into an atheist household.

Back then, in country Victoria (and I'm old enough to start sentences with "almost half a century ago"), the shops and pubs were shut. There was no cheering for your footy team. No treasure hunts for sparkly, foiled eggs at the local park (or at Kirribilli House, I imagine). No cheery "Happy Easter" greetings.

Everything just … stopped. I didn't quite know it then, but what I was appreciating was a day devoted to quiet reflection.

The Greatest Story Ever Told was made when I was 10. "Awww. Truly this man was the Son of Gahd," is the infamous quote from John Wayne, improbably cast as a Roman centurion.

The movie was playing at the cinema in town and my father wouldn't take me to see it. In his mid-30s, he had declared himself a "humanist". No more Church of England Sunday school for us. It was the end of any religious malarkey.

However, I've remained deeply attracted to the tale of suffering and resurrection at the heart of the Christian narrative. Endlessly fascinated by accounts of religion, belief, myth, legend and fairytales from any and every culture.

Yes. I'm one of those pathetic non-believers philosopher Alain de Botton bangs on about. The sad, godless orphans who can't pass a church or temple without entering to light a candle or offer a flower.

We sit in abandoned pews or kneeling on woven mats inhaling the fragrance of incense and marvelling at the extraordinary human labours that built such glories to their gods. We're envious of the belonging true believers enjoy.

And, also, we wonder. What comes next?

Like de Botton, I'm in no need of a god to worship. Not for comfort or moral direction. I'm quite sure about that.

But also, as de Botton says, I do wish our society - one of the most secular on earth - would borrow from the calendars, rituals, oratory and the exhortation to physical action that propelled even my atheist father down to the river to catch a fish for Good Friday tea.

There's a hunger in this nation for something beyond the gaudy flag-waving of Australia Day. We have been having this discussion for decades. Time to move it along.

Gough Whitlam was a proud atheist. Bob Hawke, an agnostic, declared he learnt this at his father's knee: "He said if you believe in the fatherhood of God, you must necessarily believe in the brotherhood of man. It follows necessarily and, even though I left the church and was not religious, that truth remained with me."

None of our prime ministers of recent times has been overtly religious - apart from Kevin Rudd, who sought the role of kindly vicar. Defeated by nihilists, he would probably argue.

Today, we have the confirmed atheist Julia Gillard, and devout Catholic Tony Abbott in opposition. They seem to have made a pact not to offer up their beliefs for popular debate.

But with the election ahead, can you imagine a more riveting discussion from our political leaders? Do you believe in God? Or not? What's at the heart of it? What's it all for?

Even the children in the house would draw closer to the television. Beyond the meagre fare of tax, welfare and infrastructure, we're all famished for such sustenance.

I've seen that hunger satisfied at literary festivals, dubbed the "new religion", where 400 people gather under canvas on Sunday mornings to listen in rapt attention as much-loved authors exchange ideas and provoke roars of laughter or heckles from the back row. Sermons where the congregation talks back.

I've been at Marieke Hardy's Women of Letters events where almost every speaker, beautifully articulating life's losses and joys, ends up in tears as the audience sobs in unison.

As host of the the Sydney Festival "Hope" series of talks I heard the survivors of the Black Saturday fires speak of resilience and I, like everyone present, was uplifted, spirits soaring.

You can see that our children want something more, too, as they flock to Anzac Day in record numbers, drawn by its grand, enduring theme of the ultimate sacrifice.

Halloween is easy to write off as a schlock-fest of lollies and dress-ups but it's captured our children's imagination, allowing to them linger on death and mystery. They're drawn to the US Thanksgiving ritual too, which has more purchase than Christmas in the great American multicultural society.

And so I wonder what we offer our children - apart from the odd ethics or special religious education class in schools?

How do we make the public space for quiet gratitude for this peaceful society, born from such pain and inhumanity? It's hardly during "the race that stops a nation". How do we cease our frenetic activity, stop and give thanks for the "boundless plains we share"?

This year my municipal council is offering Easter "vacation activities" at its care centres with visits from "professional magicians and DJs", excursions to the reptile park, cooking classes and a workshop on how to create your own TV reality show.

On reflection, I'd rather sit down with my kids to watch The Greatest Story Ever Told.

"Peace be with you. And also with you."

I'd love to borrow this simple ritual from the Catholic Church where you turn and offer the greeting to the person sitting next to you. Imagine it observed at the State of Origin. Just after the national anthem is sung.

"She'll be right. I reckon." It could be our answer to the war cry of the haka.

An expression of respect and reconciliation. Born of suffering. Powerful. Undefeatable. Uniquely us.


Halal Easter eggs and cat food: where big money meets Islam

Cadbury will sell a mountain of chocolates this Easter, as it does every Easter. It has been careful to make sure that its products are certified as halal, even though it is not necessary. Hundreds of companies in Australia do the same. Halal certification has become a big business.

The essence of halal is that any food is forbidden to Muslims if it includes blood, pork, alcohol, the flesh of carnivores or carrion, or comes from an animal which has not been slaughtered in the correct manner, which includes having its throat slit. Food labelled as halal invariably involves the payment of a fee. It does not extend to chocolate but Cadbury lists 71 products which are halal, ranging from Dairy Milk to Freddo frogs to Red Tulip chocolates. The website also states: "We do not have any kosher-certified products."

"Cadbury also pay for halal certification on the Easter product range, even though Easter is a Christian celebration and nothing to do with Islam," says Kirralie Smith, who runs a website called Halal Choices. The website lists 340 companies in Australia that pay for halal certification, including Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Franklins, Kellogg's, MasterFoods, Nestle and even Kraft's Vegemite.

Halal Choices has received more than 250,000 visits since Smith, a Christian activist, created the website two years ago to draw attention to the incremental extension of sharia into Australian culture.

"[Cadbury has] a standard letter to people who complain about their halal certification which says they have been assured the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils [which issues halal certifications] are not involved in any illegal activity," Smith said. "They might want to explain the $9 million in fraud involving the Malek Fahd school."

(Last year the Malek Fahd Islamic School in Sydney was ordered to repay $9 million in state funding which the state and federal governments said had been illegally transferred to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. A federal government audit also questioned numerous payments made to AFIC by Islamic colleges in Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide.)

Halal certification has long been an accepted practice similar to the labelling of food as kosher for Jewish consumers. The website of the Islamic Co-Ordination Council of Victoria states: "With five office staff, two external food technologists, four sharia advisers and over 140 registered halal slaughtermen/inspectors, ICCV is the largest and the most respected halal certifier in Australia … We have no shortage of manpower. We are ready to serve any company in Australia that is interested in producing halal product (meat and processed food)."

At the World Halal Forum held in Malaysia last April, Australia had 13 delegates. Nestle was a major sponsor, Fonterra another. The forum's website stated: "Two milestones [at the conference] were the first major steps towards the convergence of halal and Islamic Finance, and recognition of the importance of halal accreditation schemes, especially in the non-Muslim world."

What troubled Smith was the extensive payments for halal certification for hundreds of products that did not require any halal process. She then discovered examples of overt pressure.

"A wholesale chicken supplier in Perth lost $120,000 a year over three years because he wasn't halal certified," she said. "The chickens he sold had been ritually slaughtered and were halal, but because he would not pay for certification he found all his outlets were forced to boycott him. He was outraged and held out for three years but had to give in to save his business. … Isn't that illegal?"

Halal mainly involves meat. Much of the non-meat food supply is intrinsically halal, and thus does not require certification, including milk, honey, fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and grains. Yet many producers and suppliers of such products pay for halal certification.

"I emailed Capilano Honey after I discovered they were paying for halal certification," Smith said. "This was their response: 'While we appreciate that honey is considered halal under Islamic law, it is our customer's requirement to provide halal certification in order for us to conduct business with them.' This sounds like extortion to me. And why does nearly every fresh loaf of bread you buy in a supermarket or fast food chain have a paid halal certification? I have a list of 23 pages of halal certificates for breads.

"Parmalat have a huge list of halal-certified products, most of them being the white milk you buy in supermarkets. White milk does not need to be certified. They don't mark their labels and now they have removed the certificates from their website because of negative feedback.

"Purina Fancy Feast cat food is now on the list of halal-certified foods. Are cats becoming Muslim? Or is a lot of this just a money-making scheme?"


Paperwook keep frontline police officers off the beat for hours

FRONTLINE SA police are bogged down by so much paperwork they are being taken off the streets for up to several hours each shift.

The Police Association says the introduction, over the past decade, of more than 30 pieces of legislation and new regulations are to blame for officers needing up to two hours to charge a single suspect.

Association president Mark Carroll, in an exclusive column in The Advertiser today, says officers need to comply with more than 100 pages of protocols to charge a suspect.

Mr Carroll outlined more than a dozen examples - such as barring orders, impounding hoon drivers' vehicles and intervention orders - which are taking uniform and CIB officers off the streets - a move that will place pressure on Premier and Treasurer Jay Weatherill to honour a Labor promise to recruit an additional 313 police.

Mr Carroll said yesterday statements by Police Commissioner Gary Burns that promised recruiting targets would be cut to meet budget savings targets would place more pressure on uniform officers and further diminish "visible" patrols.

"We totally support the legislative changes but they have a major impact on our workload," he said. "When you look at the complex changes in procedures some (changes) also require - all of these things have a compounding effect.

"Therefore, whenever new legislation is enacted it impacts upon the workloads of police and you have to recruit extra police above attrition to deal with that new workload.

"If you do not, you force police to do more with essentially the same numbers, which reduces their visibility (on the beat).

"Ask any member of the public, they want to see police on the roads, on the beat, doing what they do best."

Some recent government initiatives that have taken police off the beat include:

THE impounding of about 8000 cars under hoon legislation annually, which consumes about 5000 hours of police time.

THE issuing of about 2500 barring orders (from licensed premises) annually which consumes around 1250 hours.

DOMESTIC violence intervention orders that can consume a patrol for an entire shift in some cases, but a minimum of 90 minutes if an arrest is made.

Rank and file officers also estimate that at least a third of all police patrol work involves people with mental health issues - a significant portion is attributable to the individuals being housed in the community instead of government facilities.

Mr Carroll said the comprehensive training required to implement many of the new legislative measures impacted on police resourcing.

"This (training) is a massive exercise in itself and takes up a large amount of police time," he said.

"You have to recruit more police just to maintain the same level of service the public has enjoyed.

"You can't have budget cuts that take away the ability for the commissioner to continue the recruiting of 313 (additional) police.

"If you do so you are not keeping pace with the legislative changes that have impacted police workloads. Those workloads will eventually diminish the police officers available to respond to calls from the public for assistance."

He said the association supported Mr Burns' recent initiatives aimed at increasing frontline officers, which included reorganising policing regions and introducing mobile task forces.

While Mr Burns declined to comment on budget deliberations, Mr Weatherill said SA had a "well-resourced police force, which is of the highest quality and integrity." "We have more operational police officers per capita than any other state," he said. "This is borne out by the 40 per cent reduction in victim-reported crime over the past decade and Adelaide being rated Australia's safest city."

Mr Carroll said Productivity Commission figures that stated SA had the highest number of operational police per capita in Australia - 320 per every 100,000 people - were "misleading."

This view was supported by the Police Federation of Australia, which had expressed concern over how the figures were collated.

Figures for SA state there are 5256 "operational police staff" when there were only 4506 "sworn staff" in SAPOL.

The Police Federation believes more categories should be included in the Productivity Commission report to give an accurate reflection of the number of operational police in each state.


NT: Unit owners could be forced to sell

UNIT owners could be compelled to sell their homes to developers under proposed changes to the Unit Titles Act. The changes would make it easier for developers to revamp old apartment blocks, even if some owners object.

The proposals have shocked residential property owners and delighted the real estate industry.

At present if 19 out of 20 unit owners want to sell their apartments to a developer but only one refuses, the block cannot be sold. Industry is seeking to overturn this rule.

Property owner Rachael O'Doherty was horrified. "I'd be devastated," she said. Ms O'Doherty said her daughter was wheelchair-bound, causing her to fork out thousands of dollars in modifications for her unit. "Where would I start again?" she said. "This is my home, I've been here 13 years."

Ms O'Doherty would have to pay many thousands of dollars more in stamp duty on the purchase price of a replacement property, which would by necessity have to have wheelchair access.

"To be out-voted and lose your home would be shocking," she said.

The Property Council of Australia helped instigate the review, and NT president Brendan Dunn said the move was designed to help most people, not to hinder them or take away their rights.

He said blocks could deteriorate until they couldn't be repaired, and minority sellers could demand exorbitant "unfair" prices.

Similar proposals were law in other countries such as Singapore, and would prevent the creation of slums, Mr Dunn said. "The idea is to allow for rejuvenation," he said.

Mr Dunn said one example was the units in Mitchell St, Darwin, opposite the theatre complex. "They're holding up the development of the CBD," he said.

Refuseniks would be given "fair value" for their apartment, Mr Dunn said.

When asked what that would be, he said that would be the unit price equivalent.

All unit owners have a share of the total value of the property including common areas, and they would receive their share of the total sale price of the unit complex.

Six different options are being considered by the Department of Justice.

They range from allowing a majority of 90 per cent to as few as 70 per cent to vote out minority owners and force a sale.

Some options work on a sliding scale with blocks older than 20 years given the least proportion of owner consent.Â

The Justice Department is now looking at submissions before advising the Attorney-General on what, if any, changes should be made to the law.


28 March, 2013

Libs to fix asylum seeker problem

The opposition says it will use the full resources of the navy and customs fleets to stem the flood of asylum seeker boats. Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Australia had a significant fleet of navy and customs vessels and a coalition government would be deploying those assets necessary to get the job done.

But he would not explain just how that would be done. "I am not about to give the people smugglers a heads-up about those sorts of operational matters," Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Thursday.

"What they can be assured of is they can expect an Abbott-led coalition government to put an end to this madness and we will deploy the assets that are necessary to get the job done and the resolve that is needed to get the job done."

The opposition says 600 asylum seeker boats have reached Australian waters under Labor since 2007, with a surge in recent weeks. More than 3300 asylum seekers have arrived by boat this year, more than double the arrivals in the same period in 2012.

Mr Morrison said the coalition had been very clear about its policy of turning back asylum seeker boats where it is safe to do so.

Indonesia opposes the controversial plan and Labor and the defence force say people smugglers and asylum seekers will respond by sabotaging vessels to ensure they can't be returned, endangering passengers and defence personnel.

Mr Morrison said he was confident the Australian Defence Force, and particularly the navy, were quite capable of carrying out the policies of the government of the day.

"Our officers and our naval personnel are trained in these areas and we know that they have the capacity to get the job done, just like they do over in the (Persian) Gulf where they intercepted about 1000 vessels and many of those vessels had armed weapons pointing at them when they did so," he said.


Gillard Government to grab retirement savings

Australia as the new Cyprus?

HIGH income earners could have their retirement nest eggs slashed by $80,000 as a result of tax hikes being considered by the Gillard Government to buttress the budget bottom line.

Exclusive modelling by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling for News Limited reveals a 50 year old earning $180,000 today, and with a typical nest egg for that age and income of $250,000, could expect to watch it grow to $914,000 by aged 67 under current arrangements, assuming they made no additional contributions beyond the compulsory rate.

This would be reduced to $835,000 or $79,000 less - if Labor were to increase the tax rate on super contributions to 30 cents in the dollar, up from 15 cents currently, for people earning above $180,000.

The Gillard Government has already increased the tax rate on super contributions to 30 cents for people earning over $300,000.

There is speculation Labor will extend this measure in the May budget as a key budget savings measure.Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, yesterday failed to rule out a raid on the super of high income earners to boost the tax revenue base as the population ages.

Asked directly if the contributions and earnings of the superannuation funds of high-income earners would be used to pull the budget out of its debt hole, Ms Gillard yesterday would not give a clear answer.

"Any decisions we make will be about the long term interest of the superannuation system," Ms Gillard said yesterday. "I can assure people superannuation is a Labor creature and we will always nurture it well."

Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson last year urged the government to cut superannuation tax concessions in the May 14 budget in order to secure its revenue base as the population ages.

However, a key cabinet minister, Craig Emerson, yesterday indicated any tax grab would be directed at very high income earners.

The trade minister said Labor was "not interested in increasing taxation on the everyday working men and women of Australia."

However, "if there is any capacity for, at the very high end, in different areas . . . I'm not saying we could never even look at something like that".

A research fellow at NATSEM, Dr Marcia Keegan, said tax increases on the super of high income earners would be felt hardest by those nearing retirement who had planned to make additional voluntary contributions.

"For some households, an increase in the contributions tax may be the difference between full independence from the age pension at retirement and drawing a small part age pension.

"However, according to Dr Keegan, high income individuals would still have an incentive to salary sacrifice into super, as the 30 per cent tax rate would still be lower than their marginal tax rate of 45 per cent.

Furthermore: "The households affected by these increases are a small minority of high wealth households, and even with a higher contributions tax rate, most would still have enough for a comfortable retirement according to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia's standards."


School Lets Children Make Supervised Risks

IT'S the childhood we'd all like to remember. At Petrie Terrace State School, in Brisbane's inner city, cubby houses are tucked away and children are swinging from tyres roped to trees.

Other students are running through a tyre obstacle course fixed to the ground and teachers watch children sometimes stumble, pick themselves up and run on.

It is a far cry from the school bans on cartwheels, tiggy [tag] and red rover amid what principals have dubbed "the litigious age".

School principal Eunice Webb said she thought the fear of being sued had been behind an increase in playground crackdowns, but it was getting in the way of learning.

"What I am more afraid of is children who don't know how to take a risk, that to me is a bigger fear," she said.

She said tight supervision was paramount and this was always in place.

Parents are also behind the move, helping to build the playground.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said schools had come under pressure from parents and some children were so protected they no longer knew how to solve problems and were afraid to take risks.

"I would certainly commend Ms Webb for creating the environment where children can take risks safely with support," Mrs Backus said.


Average incomes up 38% since 1989: report

INCREASES in average incomes over the past 20 years have been shared by all, but high wage earners have benefited most, a new report shows.

The Productivity Commission study of income trends in Australia has found average incomes rose from about $800 to $1100 a week in the two decades to 2009-10, expressed as 2011-12 dollars.

On average the increase was 38 per cent since 1988-89.

But the commission said while the gains of the past 20 years had flowed to both high and low income groups, "income has grown faster among high earners than lower earners".

According to the report, pay for the top tier of workers increased by almost 70 per cent from just under $2000 to around $3200 a week (in 2011-12 dollars).

The inequality was attributed partly to differences between the average earnings of full-time, part-time and self-employed workers, and the faster growth in numbers of part-time workers over the 20-year period.

"The increase in population share of this 'low income' group in total workers moderated the growth of labour income when all employees are considered," the report said.

Over the two decades the number of part-time workers increased by 136 per cent to 3.1 million, while full time workers grew by 43 per cent to 6.6 million, the report said.


27 March, 2013

Julia Gillard to leave Australians in $165 billion dollars worth of debt this term alone

GILLARD Government debt levels are forecast to blow out by 60 per cent to $165 billion in this term alone - equal to more than $14,000 for every working Australian.

Analysis of Budget documents reveals that between the 2010 election and Federal Treasury's update in October last year, the 2012-13 net debt estimate rose $54 billion to $144 billion.

With Wayne Swan having junked the Government's commitment to a surplus this financial year, Bank of America Merrill Lynch now forecasts Treasury will raise the estimate by a further $21 billion in the May budget.

"The government is starting to develop some form when it comes to over-estimating the improvement in its budget balance," Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief economist Saul Eslake said yesterday.

Ahead of the budget, the Coalition is honing in on a number even larger than net debt - the total value of bonds and other securities issued by the Government, or gross debt, which has ballooned from $151 billion at the 2010 poll to $267 billion now. In the last budget the Government raised the gross "debt ceiling" from $250 billion to $300 billion.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott believes Mr Swan will increase it again in May.

Mr Abbott told News Limited yesterday: "If Labor is determined to increase the cap on gross debt above $300 billion, if they cannot show a credible and speedy path back to surplus, if they cannot show a plan to start seriously paying off the debt, it will add further weight to our planned No Confidence motion in the Gillard Government."

Mr Swan's spokesman said the Government had no plans to raise the gross debt limit. Merrills' Mr Eslake said the increase that had already occurred was "troubling".

"If the trends that look increasingly obvious aren't addressed at some point we might cross that threshold from safe territory to dangerous territory very, very quickly," he said.

Monash University Professor of Business and Economics Jakob Madsen said the gross debt rise was "disturbing". "It's a dangerous trend and it's at the wrong time. It's completely unnecessary to hand out left, right and centre and the way they do it is not very clever," Professor Madsen said.

Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott said spending had grown "out of step" with revenue. "If that doesn't change we are going to have serious public debt problem," Ms Westacott said.

Mr Eslake, Professor Madsen and Ms Westacott all said Australia did not currently have a debt crisis. But, Ms Westacott said, "we do have a budget management crisis".

In that context, the Coalition is intensifying pressure on the cross-benchers, seeking support for a No Confidence motion.

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott invited Mr Abbott to call him or come to his electorate if he wanted to discuss a no confidence motion. "Let's have a bike ride, or a surf," he said.

However, Mr Oakeshott added that he was opposed to a no confidence motion in budget week. It would reflect badly on Australia internationally, he said. Between the 2011-12 Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook and the 2012-13 Myefo, Treasury's estimate for this financial year's interest payments on government net debt soared by 20 per cent from $5.9 billion to $7.1 billion.

The Merrills forecast suggest a further increase in interest payments of as much as $1.1 billion.

Government net debt of $165 billion equates to $14,238 for each of Australia's 11.6 million workers, up from $8001 per worker at the last election, an increase of $6237.

Mr Swan's spokesman said Australia's net debt levels were "dramatically lower" than those of every single major advanced economy: "Our current net debt is 10 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, compared to around 80 per cent for the US and UK and around 35 per cent for Canada.

"The Government will reduce net debt in a sustainable way that ensures our economy remains one of the strongest in the world and protects Australian jobs and economic growth," the spokesman said.

To repay the debt, cuts were required "almost everywhere", Professor Madsen said, and the GST rate could need to be raised.

Mr Eslake said not only would spending have to be reined in, but the current $111 billion a year in tax concessions could have to be wound back.

Ms Westacott advocated reducing the current number of government agencies from 932 and making "health dollars work harder".


Labor's class war is not so classy

THERE is nothing so dangerous as somebody with nothing to lose. And so the nation should have a lot to fear from the Gillard government in its current kamikaze state.

All but the most deluded Labor MPs know that the party is heading for a landslide defeat of epic proportions. It is the political equivalent of being hit by an asteroid.

Wayne Swan has one more budget before he and his colleagues are consigned to electoral oblivion. Already he has been forced to abandon his much vaunted surplus because of his botched mining tax - first going for a blatant cash grab to distract attention from the dumped ETS in 2010 and then swinging back so far the other way that the mining tax mach II has effectively failed to raise any revenue whatsoever.

And so having tried and failed to raid the cookie jar of the resources boom, the Treasurer has now turned his attention to Australians' superannuation savings. You can almost see the dollar signs in his eyes.

The fact that this move is even being contemplated is emblematic of all that is wrong with the Labor government and tells us why it has seen a mass exodus ahead of its inevitable plunge to the ocean floor.

Firstly, as rebel statesman Simon Crean told the Financial Review, it is a trashing of Labor's own legacy. The party that created Australia's landmark compulsory superannuation contribution scheme - the Snowy Hydro of its day - is now picking it apart one thread at a time.

The second problem is that, by targeting the contributions of higher income earners and then working down to whatever threshhold it needs to make ends meet - as the government is tipped to do - it sends a clear message that is is still fixated by the undergraduate "class war" mentality that has both failed to recapture its working class base while at the same time estranging middle-class and aspirational voters.

But then again, who cares? Not only will Ms Gillard lose government in September but Mr Swan will likely lose his seat. Their political careers are over and the flailing and backflipping all over Labor's core policy beliefs mean they do not even have a legacy to preserve.

In short, they have nothing to lose by raiding what's left of the Treasury coffers with the zeal of wanted bushrangers. Indeed, there will no doubt be a school of thought within the party that they should bleed the war chest dry so as to starve Tony Abbott of funds in his first years in office.

On that note we can offer them at least this consolation: So generous, vague and uncosted are the Opposition Leader's promises thus far - not least his pie in the sky maternity leave proposal - that he will have quite enough trouble funding them without Labor torching the village on the way out.

And so we urge the government to put the national interest ahead of its own political interests in framing next month's budget. Think of the long-term future of our country.

Yes, Labor is to be defeated but it can still be defeated with dignity and have history remember that it at least did one thing right.


Is the degree outdated?

Most school leavers take the next step and go to university to obtain a degree. But with changing workplaces and the increasing speed of technology - to what degree do you need a degree?

Earlier this month, Universities Australia released a report from "The Australian Workforce Productivity Agency" warning that the industry demand for people with higher education is set to sky rocket with growth rates of between 3 and 4 per cent every year till 2025.

Yet with so much evolution in the work place and the technologies that are running them, should a degree still be a definitive requirement or has it become more industry specific?

Ten years ago more than 50% of Australians wouldn't have been able to read this article online due to Internet access constraints. Twenty years ago, stories like this were typed on electric typewriters and faxed to editors, while 30 years ago the yellow pages was the number one source to find the phone numbers for people to interview. Times have changed... drastically.

There are still plenty of people in the work force who would have completed their university studies 20 - 30 years ago, a time before tablets, Google and smart phones, a time when you got a bad back from lugging around the fourth edition of a 10 kg textbook or writing your thesis from facts you found in your Encyclopaedia Britannica that took up an entire wall of your house.

According to many employers or if you check out the latest job listings, it's clear, a degree is still a big desire, even though they could have come fresh off the printing press when a mullet was something on your head, not on your plate and a mouse was something that ate cheese.

Of course if your life long dream is to be a scientist or a vet or a lawyer, higher education is not just necessary it's imperative to ensure you learn the knowledge required to execute these types of positions.

But for many other industries where "hard skills" are required to get the job done is university always the right way to go?

Lincoln Crawley, the Managing Director of Manpower Group Australia, New Zealand as well as the President of RSCA (Recruitment and Consultant Services Association) says in the Australian job market a degree is still an advantage.

"This is a complex issue, what is appealing to prospective employers is that a degree gives the impression of a desire for continuous learning" says Crawley.

So if Crawley was presented with two candidates with similar abilities however one has a degree and the other doesn't who usually gets the job? "If two candidates are all things being relatively equal, then it should be the propensity to do the role and add value to the work place that wins the position not the pieces of paper," he says.

At the time this article was written, a number of universities and Universities Australia were approached to comment on this issue from a Tertiary standpoint, but given the current revolving door of Ministers (Chris Bowen's replacement will be the fifth in 15 months) and the aftermath of the spill, no one was available to comment.

Do those extra letters after your name really get you those extra dollars in your pay packet? Does a degree place you in a position of power and strength in the job market or can it just another form of workplace discrimination?

Most people see the advantage of further education and the pursuit of constant learning, but not everybody believes you always need a piece of paper to prove it.


Gravy for Canberra water boss

ACTEW misled its shareholders, the government and the ACT's taxpayers over managing director Mark Sullivan's $855,000 annual salary, Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says.

A letter from the water utility's chairman, John Mackay, to the government in September 2011 assures the company's two shareholders, the Chief Minister and Treasurer, that Mr Sullivan's pay packet was $621,000.

But the managing director was paid $855,000 that year, a figure the Chief Minister says is not appropriate to manage a government-owned water monopoly.

Mr Sullivan is Australia's highest paid water executive by a margin of more than $200,000. An investigation is also under way into how Treasury and Chief Minister's department bureaucrats failed to alert their political bosses to the under-reporting of the salary for more than four months after they became aware of the discrepancy.

Mr Mackay said he based his letter to the Chief Minister on the same flawed figures that made their way into the annual report and that he and his colleague acted promptly when the mistake came to light.

"It was an honest mistake, we weren't trying to hide anything, there was no conspiracy," the chairman said on Tuesday. "The accounts people went and got a number, jammed it in a report and it was wrong. I am absolutely sure that from a company law sense, we did what we had to do."

Ms Gallagher and Treasurer Andrew Barr have been criticised after it was revealed last week that Mr Sullivan's wage had been under-reported by nearly a quarter of a million dollars in a key company publication and that the two shareholders did not know how much the executive was paid.


26 March, 2013

Abbott gets cheers from fruit shoppers

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott has had a rousing reception from customers in a western Sydney fruit shop as a new poll points to a landslide win for the coalition at the next election.

More than a dozen shoppers and workers applauded Mr Abbott as he left the Minchinbury fruit market on Tuesday, while some cheered and shouted "well-done".

Mr Abbott's visit to the electorate of Chifley came as the latest Newspoll showed Labor trailing the coalition by 16 percentage points - 42-58 - on a two-party preferred basis.

But Mr Abbott said he was not expecting to win the election with complacency and restated his plans to scrap the carbon tax and create a "bonfire of regulations".

"We don't take the people of Chifley for granted. People right around the country want a government that is focused on them ... not a government focused on its own survival.

"We understand your life, we want to make your life easier. That's why we want to scrap the carbon tax, and cut red tape," he said.

One of those who cheered Mr Abbott was Diane Hooper, a worker at the fruit market, who said she'd vote for the coalition at the next election. "(Abbott) seems genuine, he seems like a really nice man," she said.

But not everyone welcomed the visit. "Tony Abbott? He'll do anything for a vote," said one shopper.


Mahmoud Eid at the very heart of rioting in Sydney

PUNCHBOWL plumber Mahmoud Eid was in the thick of the mayhem of last September's Muslim riots in Hyde Park, kicking a police dog and pushing a policewoman into a garden bed during several violent confrontations.

Yesterday, the 26-year-old - who was identified by media reports of the riots - pleaded guilty to three charges stemming from the protests, which followed an anti-Islamic video being posted on YouTube.

Eid, wearing a black hooded jumper, was among protesters who clashed violently with police.

Two days after seeing his face in media reports, Eid walked into City Central Police station.

Police were able to identify him from the images due to a clearly visible 3cm scar on his forehead.

After sifting through protest footage, investigators were able to track his movements during the riot, despite Eid changing his outfit with three different shirts or jumpers. "It was found that at every confrontation, (Eid) was present and was an active participant despite numerous opportunities to cease his involvement and leave the scene," a police statement of facts said.

Eid was first caught lashing out at police dog Chuck - who early last year helped catch fugitive killer Malcolm Naden - as his handler tried to arrest another protester.

He delivered a "full-force swinging right kick" to the ribs of the german shepherd, who was left limping and on pain-killing medication for a week.

Later in the afternoon, Eid was seen kicking a riot-squad officer's shield. He then pushed a female constable into a garden bed as two officers tried to arrest him.

During a search warrant on Eid's family home before his arrest, police found a high-visibility work shirt carrying his employer's name and a pair of blue cargo pants hanging on the washing line - both of which he was seen wearing during the riot.

Police prosecutor Matt Baker said the details of Eid's crimes were "probably the most serious" of the 12 people who faced court over the riots. Eid will return to court in May for sentencing with his most serious charge - rioting - carrying a maximum 15-year jail term.


Ratbag head-teacher out for good

Former Kew Primary principal Kim Dray, who stood down in 2011 amid controversy over a radical toileting policy, will not return to the school next term despite being exonerated after a 19-month inquiry.

Dr Dray, who was slated to resume as principal next term, changed her mind late last night after staff unanimously voted they did not support her return and parents bombarded the government with complaints.

Australian Principals Federation president Chris Cotching said Dr Dray felt "pretty gutted" by the whole thing, but it would be very difficult for her to return to Kew Primary next term given the hostility.

"I think the department needs to provide a lot more support to her to enable that re-entry to occur," he said.

Dr Dray came under fire from parents after she trialled a "whole class approach" to toilet breaks, in which the entire class would go to the toilets if one child needed to go.

Parents said they were not consulted over the trial and it led to children wetting themselves and girls being too embarrassed to go to school if they had their periods.

In August 2011 Dr Dray asked to be temporarily reassigned while the Education Department investigated because she was concerned about the effect of the media coverage on the school community.

But parents and teachers raised concerns when it was announced Dr Dray had chosen to return to Kew Primary in term two, after she was exonerated following a 19 month investigation conducted by Lander & Rogers Lawyers on behalf of the department.

At a full staff meeting on March 20, Kew Primary staff unanimously voted they did not support the return of Dr Dray.

"Staff made it aware that it was a very toxic environment under Kim’s leadership and staff were divided, vulnerable and damaged," according to the minutes seen by Fairfax Media.

"It is unanimously felt by staff that Kim’s style of leadership does not fit with Kew Primary School and that her return is not in the best interests of the school."

Parents had also met with Kew MP Andrew McIntosh on Friday to express their concerns and an extraordinary council meeting had been scheduled for Wednesday.

But Mr Cotching said Dr Dray had been completely exonerated by an Education Department investigation and should be allowed to resume as principal.

He blasted the department’s decision to investigate Dr Dray under division 10 – misconduct and inefficiency – of part 2.4 of the Education and Training Reform Act, saying it was a "gargantuan stuff-up" and an investigation that should have taken a month had dragged on for 19 months.

"It should never have got to this stage," Mr Cotching said. "It’s the grossest mismanagement of a complaints process I’ve seen in my experience as a principal.

The investigation is understood to have called 20 witnesses, collected three folders of information, and examined every area of Kew Primary’s operation, including school finances, security and Dr Dray’s dealings with the school council, before recommending that no action be taken.


All sweet for conservatives as Labor sours in NSW

Premier Barry O'Farrell is reaping the benefit of corruption hearings involving two former Labor ministers and ructions over the federal leadership, according to a poll that has the NSW opposition stuck on a historically low primary vote.

The Nielsen poll reveals only 23 per cent of those surveyed would give NSW Labor their primary vote - a result that will compound fears about the party's prospects at the federal election on September 14.

The NSW Coalition's primary vote sits at 52 per cent, with the Greens at 10 per cent, independents at 9 per cent and others on 5 per cent.

On a two-party preferred basis, the Coalition maintains the advantage it secured over Labor at the March 26, 2011 state election, leading by 63 per cent to 37 per cent, a swing of just 1 per cent to Labor in two years.

"What this poll really says overall is Labor has made little or no progress since the last election," research director John Stirton said.

Public inquiries into former Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald at the Independent Commission Against Corruption meant "voters have been continually reminded of the government they tossed out", he said.

The statewide poll of 1000 voters was taken last weekend as the dust settled after the latest Labor leadership wrangling involving Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her predecessor Kevin Rudd.

Locally, ICAC has recently concluded public hearings into allegedly corrupt mining deals involving former NSW Labor powerbroker Mr Obeid and former mining minister Mr Macdonald. ICAC has begun a second inquiry into a lucrative coal exploration licence issued by Mr Macdonald to former union official John Maitland.

The poll reveals that Mr O'Farrell has an approval rating of 54 per cent and a disapproval rating of 35 per cent for a net approval rating of 19 per cent - the highest for a NSW premier since Morris Iemma's net approval rating of 27 per cent in 2007.

Opposition Leader John Robertson recorded a net approval rating of minus 11 per cent, with a disapproval rating of 43 per cent and approval rating of 32 per cent - the

worst result for an opposition leader since the Liberals' Peter Debnam, whose rating was minus 21 per cent in March 2007.

Mr O'Farrell retains a strong lead over Mr Robertson as preferred premier, 62 per cent to 25 per cent - the biggest lead since March 2003, when then premier Bob Carr led John Brogden by 64 per cent to 25 per cent.

The results show that the ICAC inquiries have neutralised any potential political benefit to Labor from some of the O'Farrell government's controversial decisions, including cuts to the education budget and allowing recreational hunting in national parks.

Mr Robertson has sought to counter the impact of the ICAC inquiries by calling for the expulsion of Mr Obeid and Mr Macdonald from Labor. He has also announced reforms including banning Labor MPs from holding jobs outside Parliament and requiring his shadow ministry to publicly disclose their taxable income and the interests of their spouse and family members.

Mr Stirton said voters know the difference between state and federal governments, but Labor is experiencing difficulties at both levels, including the arrest in late January of federal MP Craig Thomson, who is charged with defrauding the Health Services Union.

"Those messages are reinforcing each other and that's the worry for Labor," he said.


25 March, 2013

Juvenile offenders will no longer get a clean slate when they turn 17 under proposed Qld. Government changes

MOST of the state's dangerous youth offenders, even rapists, do not have criminal records because courts are not recording convictions against them.

Three-quarters of juveniles sentenced for assaults and sexual offences in the past three years did not have convictions recorded, meaning they can legitimately tell an employer they do not have a criminal history.

It also means that if they commit another offence after they turn 17, judges cannot take into account their criminal history during sentencing if no conviction was recorded.

A three-month investigation by The Courier-Mail reveals the judiciary is reluctant to record convictions against juveniles because they are worried about the prospects of their rehabilitation.

The State Government today releases its Safer Streets Crime Action Plan - Youth Justice, which Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said would end youths "thumbing their noses at the law".

Among the proposals are for sentencing judges to take into account an adult's juvenile history; transferring young criminals to adult prisons when they turn 18; and evaluating bootcamps trialled on the Gold Coast and Cairns.

Mr Bleijie will today ask for public feedback on youth offenders and ask for strategies on dealing with them.

He said he was considering reviewing laws that would "ensure courts are given the full picture when sentencing adults with juvenile criminal histories".

"Section 184 of the Youth Justice Act 1992 gives judges the discretion to record a conviction in relation to a young offender," Mr Bleijie told The Courier-Mail.

"Currently where a conviction is not recorded, any offences committed as a juvenile are not able to be taken into account by a court if the offender is subsequently sentenced as an adult."

He is also considering a breach-of-bail offence for juveniles, which critics said was unnecessary. A three-month investigation by The Courier-Mail into youth offending has revealed how the judiciary is reluctant to record convictions against youth offenders - even those found guilty of rape - because they are worried about their ability to rehabilitate.

Three-quarters of juvenile offenders sentenced for assaults and sexual offences in the past three years did not have convictions recorded.

However, 11 youths who appeared before the Supreme Court for murder, attempted murder and other aggravated assault charges since 2010 all had convictions recorded.

While not advocating for any particular change, Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey acknowledged there was community concern.

"The point of not recording a conviction relates primarily to an offender's future employment prospects, and with some offenders, for example sports people, to the prospect of obtaining a visa if travelling for that purpose," Justice de Jersey said.

"The exercise of the discretion whether or not to record a conviction is potentially sensitive, in that many prospective employers would argue that they should be informed about the past history of an applicant for employment, warts and all," Justice de Jersey said.

He said if an offender had been convicted but no conviction was recorded to the "outside world" they do not have a criminal history.

Sentencing judges can take into consideration previous crimes if a conviction was recorded.He said the Court of Appeal had noted there was a presumption that under Section 183 of the Juvenile Justice Act convictions not be recorded.

"That has led to a general reluctance to record convictions against children," Justice de Jersey said.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman said there was no evidence youth justice was more of a problem.

"Fundamentally, if convictions against children haven't been recorded and there have been any appeals, then that speaks for itself," he said.

The Queensland Law Society's criminal law committee member Ken Mackenzie said courts were obliged to take into account how a conviction recorded would impact on a juvenile's future.


Flood of illegals increasing

MORE than 120 asylum seekers arrived on three boats over the weekend with new UNHCR figures showing refugee claims in Australia are increasing five times faster than the rest of the world.

The three vessels have cemented a record number of arrivals for March under Labor with 1215 so far with a week to run.

The figures, from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, show just 115 people arrived in March last year, 373 in 2011, 746 in 2010 and just 54 in 2009.

A UN report last week revealed Australia's asylum claims topped 16,000 in 2012, a 37 per cent increase compared with an eight per cent increase across 44 industrialised countries.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison claimed the figures show the government's policies were encouraging asylum seekers to travel to Australia.


Right wing? No, I'm a liberal and proud of it

by Australian physicist John Reid

Recently, a friend asked me why I have such "extreme right-wing opinions”. This came about after I had expressed some scepticism about human induced climate change and various other Green shibboleths. This is my response.

I associate the term "right wing” with the following political beliefs:

(i) the State is more important than the individual,

(ii) Capital is more important than Labour and trade unions and industrial action should be suppressed,

(iii) the State is justified in censoring books, newspapers and the media in order to suppress ideas that the government or important lobby groups may find unpalatable,

(iv) warfare is not merely unavoidable but desirable,

(v) those in power know best; hierarchical forms of government are preferable to democracy, and

(vi) these self-evident truths are continually being undermined by the malign influence of International Communism in its various forms.

What are some of the beliefs of the Left? Nowadays, Marxist Socialism is largely discredited in the West, apart from a small minority of the faithful. In its place we have an amalgam of feminism, militant environmentalism and welfare state advocacy. This constitutes The Left in present day Australia and has, rather cleverly, avoided being branded as a particular "ism”. That is unless we include Post-Modernism, which acts as a sort of intellectual umbrella but which is so arcane and confusing that most Left-inclined non-academics tend to muddle along without it.

The Green-Left-Feminist (GLF) world-view includes many of the following:

1/ All cultures are equally valid (from Post-Modernism).

2/ Prior to the Modern Era (which usually began around the time when the speaker attended university) Western society was a Dickensian hell in which women were subjugated by their violent husbands and children underwent harsh physical punishment and rote learning at school.

3/ We have nothing to learn from our past, which was controlled by white male patriarchs.

4/ Owing to Capitalist Greed, the planet is about to come to an end as fragile ecosystems collapse under the strain of the resources taken from them and the poisons being pumped into them.

5/ All ecosystems are fragile – there is no such thing as a robust ecosystem.

6/ Human beings are a scourge on the planet. The world would be a better place without human beings.

7/ It is our job as human beings to ensure that the world is preserved exactly as it is now, like a giant museum. No more species should ever be allowed to become extinct whatever the economic cost of keeping them viable (David Attenborough).

8/ Scientists, and especially environmental scientists, have a profound understanding of the natural world and only they know how it should be managed. Lay people have no right to criticise them because they always know best.

9/ Scientific truth is whatever a consensus of grant-funded scientists say it is. Retired scientists and those employed by Big Business are not to be trusted.

10/ As there will be no more wars; all money spent on defence is wasted.

11/ Nuclear is bad. All nuclear power plants should be closed down.

12/ Carbon dioxide is bad (i.e. all combustion).We should obtain all of our energy from alternative, Green technologies.

13/ Hydro-electricity is bad because it involves building dams.

14/ Notwithstanding #1 above, pre-industrial societies like New Guinea hill tribes and Yanamomo Indians are superior to our own in their dealings with Nature and with one another. War is a product of capitalist society and is unknown among such people.

15/ All wilderness and all forests must be preserved, whatever the cost, because trees are more important than people and forests are more important than communities.

16/ Large native trees are sacred (Richard Flanagan). Whales are sacred.

17/ These self-evident truths are continually being undermined by the malign influences of the Energy Lobby and the Murdoch Press

Note the similarities. Both Right and Left downplay the individual, both appeal to authority, both, in the extreme, become totalitarian, both attribute evil motives to their detractors and subscribe to the malign influence theory.

The political philosophy which opposed them is liberalism. Liberalism is neither Right nor Left. In wartime the Left tends to be more liberal and the Right illiberal, as during the Cold War and the Viet Nam War. Today it is the Left which has become illiberal. To question the Leftist "truths” listed above is to be a "redneck” or a "denier”.

I am a liberal, with a small "l”, although recently I have joined the large "L” Liberal Party. I grew up in a family with a liberal orientation. I first became self-consciously liberal after hearing John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty read by Prof Sydney Orr when I was a student at the University of Tasmania. The year was 1959, the centennial of the essay.

Along with Voltaire and many others, Mill was part of the Enlightenment tradition of liberal thought. It is a tradition which is deeply embedded in our culture and one of the reasons for our stability and our success.

More than 150 years later, Mill’s ideas about the suppression of slavery and the desirability of female suffrage have come to pass in Western countries. I believe that he got it right about liberty, about freedom of speech, and about the necessity for informed and inclusive debate in a healthy democracy.

However his more socialistic ideas, about workers’ collectives and so on, sound more than a little naďve nowadays. I believe that if Mill were alive today he would not support socialism and would be horrified by the perversions to which it has led. In 1859, when he put pen to paper, Stalin’s purges, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the excesses of Pol Pot and the sheer lunacy of North Korea were yet to happen. He would have been appalled by the unnecessary suffering and suppression of the human spirit brought about by this fervent, mindless and un-self-critical ideology which holds the State or the Party above the individual.

To me, the problem with GLF’s, particularly the Greens, is that they confuse what is desirable with what is possible. They also confuse loyalty and truth. Being Left is rather like being a Collingwood supporter: you may, in your heart of hearts, suspect that the 'Pies are going to lose next weekend but you can’t say so publicly because that would be disloyal.

A society which puts loyalty before the truth is not a healthy society. The Vietnam war might have been avoided if the US had been able to talk to the Chinese, who were equally dissatisfied with North Vietnam at the time (according to Kissinger). However the US State Department had been purged of its China experts. Anyone who had actually been to China was seen as being "soft on Communism” by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. There could be no real debate or communication with China under those circumstances, and prejudice held sway at the cost of millions of lives.

In my view, in this country, liberalism has come under threat. We can no longer assume that we live in a society in which minority opinions can be heard and debated. There are several examples where this principle is increasingly disregarded.

One is the recently shelved attempt to install a government-controlled watchdog to censor media content following from the recommendations of the Finkelstein Report.

Another is the prosecution of Andrew Bolt under the racial vilification laws. Bolt was dragged before the courts for criticizing what he wrote was the opportunist use of scholarships and prizes, intended for disadvantaged Aborigines, by relatively affluent middle-class people. He hurt their feelings by speaking the truth, evidently. He in no way vilified Aborigines per se, some of whom agree with him. It should be noted that the affirmative action provisions, under which such prizes and grants were set up, actively discriminate on the basis of race and are, ipso facto, themselves racist. The disadvantaged should be given preference according to the nature of their disadvantage, not because of their DNA.

The controversy over the visiting Dutch politician Geert Wilders is another case in point. Wilders has always emphasized that he is not opposed to Muslims, only to their religion, Islam, which, he considers an oppressive ideology and an existential threat to Western liberal values. His position is similar to that of Churchill in prewar Britain who was condemned for expressing concern about the rise of Nazism in Germany. Churchill happened to be correct and Wilders may well be wrong, but at least he should have the right to be heard and have his views discussed. We suppress the ideas of such Cassandras at our cost.

Finally, I regard the so-called "climate debate” as a classic case of the breakdown of the liberal spirit, this time within the scientific community. Putting aside the technical details about whether climate variability is or is not influenced by human activity, the manner in which this campaign has been conducted is a disgrace. Even the term "climate change” is loaded, presupposing, as it does, that the climate was once stable and is now changing; real scientists would use the phrase "climate variability”.

The polemical nature of the IPCC reports, the way in which opponents have been systematically vilified and denied access to funds and publication, the absence of any critical third party evaluation of the models, all imply an illiberal and political agenda. Certainly scientists need to seek funds and to put their best foot forward in doing so, but the way in which the climate people are using Green hysteria to attract massive funding amounts to nothing less than the prostitution of science. It is illiberal to the core.

No, I am not right wing. I am a liberal.


Don’t blame corporate sector for low Indigenous employment

According to a new report by the Diversity Council Australia, Reconciliation Australia and Lend Lease, the corporate sector needs to more effectively engage with Indigenous communities to close the gap in employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

In the report, 27 Indigenous industry leaders gave the corporate sector an average score of 5.1 out of 10 for community engagement and employment of Aboriginal people.

But the corporate sector should not be blamed for low Indigenous employment. The barrier to improving Indigenous employment figures is not the lack of effective (what Reconciliation Australia would term ‘culturally appropriate’) engagement with Indigenous communities, but practical things, like the appalling education outcomes of remote Indigenous Australians with many unable to read, write or count.

Rather than blaming private sector employers for not engaging appropriately with Indigenous communities, governments and training providers should be held responsible. Many more Aboriginal people could be employed if government education departments were doing their jobs properly.

Remote Indigenous people may complete multiple training courses but the training never leads to employment because underlying illiteracy problems are not addressed. Indigenous students are allowed to pass courses in Business Administration from the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education without knowing how to turn on a computer or write a simple sentence in English.

The private sector, most notably mining companies, have lead the way in offering: training; support with literacy and numeracy; pre-vocational courses; introductory job rotations; flexible traineeships; and apprenticeship on-the-job programs. Several mines, including the Argyle diamond mine in the Kimberley, the Granites goldmine in the Tanami desert, and the Century zinc, lead and silver mine in the Gulf of Carpentaria, have decades of experience in providing employment opportunities for the local Aboriginal population. In some mines, Aboriginal people make up 20 per cent of the workforce.

Yet even with all the pre-employment training and accelerated training provided by mining companies, there are many remote Indigenous Australians whose literacy and numeracy is not sufficient for them to be employed safely in mining operations. Still, mining companies are so keen to employ Indigenous people they have created ancillary positions in gardening, maintenance services and land management.

To say, as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda does, that employers should not ‘pay lip service to reconciliation’ is a slap in the face to all those private sector employers who are doing everything they can to try and employ more Indigenous people.

Andrew Forrest states that under the Aboriginal Employment Covenant, 335 employers have pledged over 60,000 jobs for Indigenous people. So far 14,000 Indigenous people have moved into employment. More would be employed if they had the right education.

The Diversity Council Australia and Reconciliation Australia are perpetuating a myth that more Aboriginal people could be employed if employers were not so racist. The truth is employment opportunities abound for educated Indigenous people.

It is education not racism that is holding Aboriginal people back.


24 March, 2013

Afghans lead 37% rise in asylum seeker claims

Just what Australia needs: A whole swag of illiterate and aggressive Muslims

The number of people arriving in Australia to claim asylum jumped by more than a third last year, driven by an increase in arrivals from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last year 15,800 people claimed asylum in Australia, up 37 per cent from 2011. Afghan nationals (3079) and Sri Lankans (2345) accounted for more than a third of asylum seekers to reach Australian shores.

The increase in the number of Sri Lankans travelling to Australia by boat attracted intense public and political interest last year.

The number of Sri Lankans - mainly young Tamil men, but also Sinhalese, Muslims and small numbers of women and children - to make an asylum claim in Australia jumped from 371 in 2011 to 2345 last year (a rise of 630 per cent, but from a low base), figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees show.

The agency's numbers do not include those who arrived by boat after August 13 last year, when Australia restarted offshore processing and, according to the UNHCR, "have not yet entered a refugee determination process, or been able to lodge a formal claim for protection".

The number of Sri Lankans who arrived "irregularly" by boat on Australian shores increased by a far greater amount last year, from 211 to 6428.

Continued insecurity across Afghanistan and uncertainty over that country's future post-2014 saw the number of Afghan nationals applying for asylum jump 79 per cent to 3079.

And the number of Pakistani asylum seekers reached 1512 last year, up 84 per cent from 2011.

Australia's asylum seeker numbers, while politically sensitive, remain numerically small. Australia receives about 3 per cent of the total asylum claims made in industrialised countries around the world.

The UNHCR noted in its report: "By comparison, asylum levels in Australia continue to remain below those recorded by many other industrialised and non-industrialised countries."

Nearly half a million - 493,000 - asylum claims were lodged in industrialised countries last year, the second highest number on record after 2003.

Europe received 355,000 asylum seeker claims, while North America had 103,000. War, civil strife, political repression and sectarian violence continue to force movements of populations across borders.

In particular, conflict in Syria has prompted a new mass wave of refugees fleeing that country.

Afghanistan continues to provide the most asylum seekers of any country in the world, with 36,600 last year, followed by the Syrian Arab Republic, Serbia, China and Pakistan.

"Wars are driving more and more people to seek asylum," the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said. "At a time of conflict, I urge countries to keep their borders open for people fleeing for their lives."

And while the latest UNHCR figures deal with asylum claims to industrialised countries, more than 80 per cent of refugees live in developing countries.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has previously called for greater equity in assisting displaced people.

"The burden of helping the world's forcibly displaced people is starkly uneven," he said. "Poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones. While anti-refugee sentiment is heard loudest in industrialised countries, developing nations host 80 per cent of the world's refugees."

Afghanistan alone has a diaspora of more than 2.7 million refugees across 71 countries, but more than 95 per cent are in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.


'Why didn't they help my girl?'

A HOBART father is considering legal action against the Education Department after he says his 13-year-old daughter was subjected to eight months of bullying at her school, culminating in her nose being broken and an attempt made to set her on fire.

The father, whose name has been withheld to protect his daughter's identity, said he was left dumbstruck by the failure of school authorities to provide the most basic duty of care. "I'm shattered," he said of the school's inability to deal with the repeated bullying of his daughter.

The distraught father said he could not believe his daughter's tormentors – five 13-year-old girls -- were not expelled.

Rather, the man's daughter has become a victim again by being forced to change schools.

"I was in the army, I protected my country and now I can't protect my little girl," he said.

After being contacted for a response by the Mercury, the Education Department said it would investigate.

"The department takes all incidents of violence seriously and has procedures in place to deal with them," Education Department deputy secretary Liz Banks said.

"In this instance, the school acted promptly and the actions included suspension, mediation and appropriate counselling and support for the students involved."

However, the victim's father rejected Ms Banks' claims that the school had acted "promptly".

He said the school principal failed to meet with him, despite repeated requests.

The father said the school failed to contact police when his daughter, a Year 7 student, was punched in the face by her main tormentor in the school playground on March 6.

The attack resulted in his daughter having surgery last Wednesday to reset her nose, after a week waiting for the swelling to go down.

That assault occurred on her 13th birthday and her father had allowed her to mark it by having her naturally red hair dyed brown the day before.

"The teasing had started off last year with name-calling the usual 'ranga' and the like, and she wanted to dye her hair. I held out for a long time but it didn't stop and I gave in for her birthday," he said.

"I couldn't believe they didn't call the police after my daughter was punched in the face.

"I took her to the doctor on March 6 ... She told me [my daughter's] nose was broken and I took her to the police station."

He said police had been very supportive and were dealing with the matter and the offender was suspended from school for a week.

"The day after she returned from that suspension, [my daughter] was in what was supposed to be a safe zone classroom during the lunch break," he said.

"The teacher's aide supervising the room had not been told that the girls weren't allowed near her and she let them in.

"They walked straight up to [my daughter], sprayed her with aerosol cans of hairspray and deodorant and tried to light her on fire with cigarette lighters."

The terrified girl managed to push her way through the group and run to safety with her clothing singed.

The father again met with the school and it was suggested the best option would be to remove his daughter from the school and place her elsewhere.

"I can't believe it," he said. "I'm afraid for her life."

He said the Education Department had phoned him yesterday after it was approached by the Mercury. "They say they're looking into it but they're eight months too late. This is going to scar her for the rest of her life."


Easy moralism on forced adoption ‘sorry’

The Prime Minister’s apology for forced adoption predictably heaped opprobrium on previous generations for the harsh and outdated attitudes that used to exist towards unwed mothers.

Equally predictably, the Prime Minister made no mention of contemporary failings, and took no responsibility for dealing with the consequences of the progressive policies of today.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the single mother’s pension by the Whitlam Government. This policy helped end the practice of forced adoption because the provision of taxpayer-funded income support gave women who became pregnant out of wedlock the realistic option to keep their children.

The 2012 Greens-dominated Senate inquiry into forced adoption reflexively lauded this as a social leap forward that marked the start of a more tolerant era. However, in the rush to criticise the conservative attitudes of early times and praise modern-day respect for family diversity, the negative social consequences were wholly ignored.

The politically incorrect reality that has emerged in the past 40 years is that welfare for the unwed has led to the very social problem that forced adoption was designed to prevent - the inability of (some but not all) single mothers reliant on public assistance to properly care for children outside of a traditional, financially self-supporting family.

The inconvenient truth is that the right to welfare has become a pathway to welfare dependence and welfare-related dysfunction for a significant underclass of single mothers and their children, and has contributed significantly to the scale of the child protection crisis confronting the nation today.

Australia’s growing underclass of problem families with serious child protection concerns includes disproportionate numbers of single-mother families with a raft of problems (drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness) that impede proper parenting. They account for more than one-third of all substantiated incidents of child abuse and neglect in Australia, and are over-represented at more than twice the expected rate, given the number of single-mother households.

Despite these statistics, the links between family type and child welfare are rarely discussed.

Elites in the media, politics, and academia are uncomfortable making judgments about different kinds of families. This is despite the impact that the reproductive and relationship decisions made by adults has on children, and despite the reams of social science evidence that shows that the children of never-married single mothers do worse on average on all measures of child wellbeing compared to other kinds of families.

Hence, the social disaster surrounding the rise of state-sponsored single-motherhood does not get the attention it deserves. Instead, as the national apology for forced adoption shows, we prefer to practice the easy moralism that condemns the sins of the past, while ignoring the current day sins of ‘enlightened’ social policies that are toxic for child welfare.


Penalty rates and job insecurity

The government’s plan to enshrine penalty rates in the Fair Work Legislation should be seen as part of a broader campaign against insecure work run by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Unfortunately, moves to strengthen penalty rates may have the perverse effect of creating further job insecurity.

This week a full bench of the Fair Work Commission, headed by President Iain Ross, rejected a bid by employers to reduce penalty rates for retailers and fast food companies.

Retailers applied to have the 25% Saturday penalty scrapped and the 100% Sunday penalty reduced to 50%. Fast food retailers sought to scrap the 25% penalty rate for Saturdays and the 50% penalty rate for Sundays, in addition to a 10% penalty to apply on weeknights after 10pm to replace the current 15% which applies from 9pm.

President Ross claimed that ‘while aspects of the application are not without merit – particularly the proposals to re-assess the Sunday penalty rate in light of the level applying on Saturdays – the evidentiary case in support of the claims was, at best, limited.’

Moves to remove penalty rates signal a growing dissatisfaction among the business community with the costs of the award system, particularly since the changes to award wages and penalty rates brought about by modern awards. The award modernisation process, plus the recent Safety Net Review, has culminated in significant hikes to labour costs.

It comes at a time where unprecedented competition from online retailers, both at home and abroad, has created downward price pressure. Small retailers are essentially getting squeezed at both ends – their revenues are falling at the same time that labour costs are increasing.

What this means is a very uncertain business environment for small retailers, and further job insecurity for the workers they employ.

A removal or reduction in penalty rates would give small retailers much-needed relief from cost pressures and allow them to operate for longer and at higher capacity during non-standard hours. For many retailers, these are the most important trading hours and would represent significant employment opportunities for workers in a fickle job market.

Penalty rates are proving more and more incompatible with the nature of the modern retail environment. A less onerous penalty rates system will alleviate cost pressures and contribute to greater business activity and better employment opportunities.


22 March, 2013

And the winner is … Abbott

Julia Gillard called a party room meeting to settle the Labor leadership matter, and the winner was Tony Abbott.

Labor managed to inflict serious new damage on its present leader, fatally wound its only real alternative, expose itself as deeply riven, and subject itself to ridicule.

It was the first time that an Australian prime minister had called a party-room meeting to settle the leadership, only to discover that there was no challenger.

"This has never happened," said ANU political scientist John Wanna. "The closest thing would be when John Curtin died and Frank Forde was put in for a week while they sorted themselves out."

But nobody had died. Labor was suffering an internal crisis of confidence in the Prime Minister.

After more than 2˝ years of being consistently in a losing position in the Nielsen poll, the great bulk of Labor MPs did not believe the government could win the election that Gillard had called for September 14.

Supporters of Kevin Rudd started to organise a bloc of votes to elect him leader in the hope of salvaging the government. Three things went horribly wrong for them.

First, they were unable to amass a majority of the caucus. They were within a handful of votes, but needed fresh impetus. They thought they could overcome this, but for the other two problems.

The second failure was that the man who was supposed to deliver the critical votes for a winning tally, Simon Crean, turned out to be carrying no more votes than his own.

Crean was supposed to break the stalemate by declaring that he had lost confidence in the Prime Minister. In the leadership spill that would eventually follow, he was counted on to bring three or four other votes to give Rudd a winning edge.

But while he certainly broke the stalemate, he turned out to represent a faction of one.

And third, their candidate, Rudd, refused to fight on his own behalf. He had sworn that he would not challenge Gillard but would only take the Labor leadership again if drafted by an overwhelming majority, and if the position were vacant.

Gillard turned out to be prepared to vacate the leadership to settle the matter, but Rudd was not handed the overwhelming majority he demanded.

"If he had actually lifted the phone" to lobby for votes, said one of his dismayed allies, "he'd be prime minister now." But he insisted on the sanctity of his pledge, even though it doomed his cause and exposed his supporters to the wrath of the Prime Minister. Rudd kept his promise, but he has destroyed his credibility as a leadership candidate.

As he entered the caucus room, he paused before the TV cameras and announced that he would not be a candidate. It was a moment of gut-wrenching disappointment for his supporters and gleefully comical anti-climax for his detractors.

By Thursday night, at least three Rudd supporters had paid the price of openly supporting Rudd; Crean had lost his cabinet post, Richard Marles had resigned as parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, and Joel Fitzgibbon was reconsidering his position as government Whip.

More than 40 MPs had allowed themselves to be counted as his supporters in a caucus of 100 available members. Few will consider repeating that exercise.

One of his most important and effective lieutenants declared: "I'm over Rudd." But in the process, Labor has revealed that almost half the caucus was prepared to vote for Rudd even without him asking. This indicates that Gillard suffers a major deficit of confidence.

And Crean confirmed publicly what others have realised - that Gillard cannot win an election, and that she is basing her strategy on divisive "class war". Labor's Prime Minister, its alternative leader, and the government itself have been damaged. It looks ridiculously dysfunctional, and it is exactly as it appears.


The RET: Just more proof Labor couldn’t organise a stiff drink in a brewery

Labor’s management of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) is a massive failure, Queensland Senator Ron Boswell said today.

"Labor’s mis-management of the RET ranks right up there in terms of massively expensive, wasteful, policy and administrative failures as the carbon tax, the mining tax, debt management, illegal boat arrivals, pink batts, and their so-called Building the Education Revolution program,” Senator Boswell said.

"Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has announced that the government will stick with the 41,000GWh target for large scale renewables by 2020 – despite the fact that it will represent closer to 27% than 20% from renewables, even as the target rapidly moves out of reach because of Labor’s serial mismanagement of the policy.

"The government totally undermined the target when it promoted a huge blow-out in roof top solar installations through ridiculously generous subsidies that created vast numbers of effectively worthless Renewable Energy Certificates,” Senator Boswell said.

"The companies that have to acquit the target simply bought tens of millions of these phantom certificates, for next to nothing, and now have enough in the bank to not need to go back to the market until, at the very least, the end of next year.

"As a result, wind farm development has collapsed, and the target is disappearing over the horizon.”

Senator Boswell said the spot prices for both large scale generation certificates, and small scale technology certificates, were languishing at well under $40 – with no sign they will go significantly higher for a very long time.

"Wind energy, which is the government’s only hope of meeting the target, needs a certificate price of much closer to $60. A certificate price at that level could be years away.

"Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and, if the target is going to be met, there will have to be an even greater injection of taxpayer cash than has been wasted to date, so rent-seekers can get their turbines built and reap massive profits in the future.

"If this government was re-elected in September, it would then be hurling billions at the problem from the $10 billion clean energy fund that the likes of the Greens and the Member for New England foisted on us. It’s just more proof, if any were needed, that this mob could not organise a large drink in a brewery.”

Via email

Teachers told to fall into line and use the same teaching methods across a subject

HOW children are taught in the classroom is set to be transformed in state schools.

Principals have been told the same teaching method must be used across a subject schoolwide.

Education Queensland deputy director-general Lyn McKenzie said the new "pedagogical framework" - a teacher practice plan - requires state schools to have a consistent teaching approach for the first time.

Ms McKenzie said the move, to be coupled with a push for parents to become more involved in their children's schoolwork, would help lift students' results and take schools from "good to great".

"The research is showing that there needs to be a consistent practice across the school when you are teaching the way you do multiplication, the way you do reading," Ms McKenzie said.

She said it wasn't beneficial for students "to have to learn a whole new way of doing something because that teacher teaches it slightly different".

"Teachers bring their personality and their energy and their professional ideas of how to re-explain something, but there needs to be a consistent approach," Ms McKenzie said.

She said teachers would then be able to work together better to help boost student results.

"We know from the research that if you get consistent teaching practice within the school and that teachers work collaboratively to learn the skills from each other, that students' results will lift," Ms McKenzie said.

"So this is the next piece of the puzzle to go from good to great. This, and working with parents, will take us to the absolute next step."

Schools have until the end of the year to have a pedagogical framework in place, with each state school able to use different methods across subjects.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus, Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller and Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said some schools already had this in place and agreed it could help results.

But Mrs Backus said it was important to remember teacher-student relationships were the most important element of teaching, while Mr Bates said the framework's success would depend on how it was implemented.

The framework has been launched alongside the parent and community engagement plan, following research showing teachers have less of an effect on students than parents.


NBN rollout delayed, again

White elephant

Australians will need to wait a little longer for faster and universal broadband, after the company building the NBN again delayed delivery of the project.

NBN Co announced on Thursday afternoon it was revising down its forecast for the rollout of fibre optic cable from the June 2013 target of 341,000 premises to between 190,000 and 220,000 premises. It is the third time the target has been revised.

NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley said: "We are accountable for the delay and are disappointed it has occurred.

However, he laid the blamed squarely with contractors who he said were responsible for meeting the targets.

"The problem is we are just not seeing the ramp up of construction workers on the ground that would be needed to deliver these targets," Mr Quigley said.

On Wednesday, during question time, the opposition asked Communications Minister Stephen Conroy if he was using carrier pigeons to seek updated information about connections from NBN Co.

Mr Conroy was being grilled on whether NBN Co would achieve is June 30 targets.

Senator Conroy said there had been "workforce mobilisation issues" in Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory.

He said NBN Co had taken control of construction of the NBN in the NT because contractor Syntheo, a joint venture between Service Stream and Lend Lease, had failed to meet rollout targets.

Syntheo, told the Australian Securities Exchange on Wednesday it had "pulled out" of construction in the Northern Territory ahead of an expected announcement on significant delays, according to the Australian Financial Review. The company is also responsible for all construction work in Western Australia and South Australia, under a separate contract.

The NBN Co will now take over the rollout in the Northern Territory including training and employing "additional specialist telecoms workers ('fibre splicers"') to help recover lost time in the rollout of the network".

Last month, Mr Quigley blamed Syntheo for NBN Co needing to lower its forecast of existing premises to be passed by optic fibre cable this June to 286,000. There were 52,014 premises passed at the end of 2012.

Senator Conroy said the information about the connections was detailed and complex and involved multiple construction partners. "It's not simply a question of NBN Co pushing a button," he said. On Wednesday he said 40,000 Australians were using the NBN.

The opposition spokesman for communications, Malcolm Turnbull has condemned the delay.

"This is just 14 per cent of the December 2010 target and barely more than 50 per cent of the target announced last August. It is also just another forecast," Mr Turnbull said.

He has said Australians would have faster and cheaper broadband under the coalition and promised to release the coalition's NBN policy "months before the election".

Last week a new report by a consultancy group, outlined the policy options for the coalition should it win the federal election in the interest of "informing and invigorating" the policy debate. The report by Allen & Overy and Venture Consulting reiterated major elements of the NBN, "not just the total project", must be subject to a clear cost and benefit analysis. And among other things, it said existing assets that can be effectively deployed, should be made available by the government at low cost, not be paid to be shut down, as is the case with the Telstra copper network.

The NBN Co has said its remit is to deliver fibre to 93 per cent of premises, as asked by the government, not to explore alternative existing methods of delivery.

The report also recommended the role of the NBN Co be reviewed to perhaps act more as a coordinating agency, than a builder, contracting out design, build and maintenance responsibilities to third parties.

NBN Co also announced the replacement of chairman Harrison Young with Siobhan McKenna as of today. Mr Young resigned today after three years as chairman. Ms McKenna is a managing partner of Ten Network.


21 March, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is predicting that Kevvy will depose Julia Gillard.

Green light for farmers to clear land under vegetation management laws

QUEENSLAND farmers will again be able to clear their own land as they see fit under changes to vegetation management laws being introduced to State Parliament today.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps travelled to Hughenden in the state's north-west to announce the changes designed to boost food production and deliver jobs.

They visited sheep and cattle farm Dunluce where owners Ninian and Anne Stewart-Moore have been unable to expand their dam under existing laws.

Mr Cripps said landholders would have to present a business case to support their application for land clearing.

"I stress that these reforms are not a signal that the Newman Government is relaxing environmental standards and do not give the green light for landholders to carry out indiscriminate clearing," said Mr Cripps.

A group of local farmers and councillors immediately welcomed the changes as a much needed easing of "unnecessary restrictions".

"It's an injection into agriculture that's definitely needed," said Mr Stewart-Moore.

"We hope to see a balance between some sensible clearing of trees to make way for some development."

"We're not talking about broad scale clearing of massive amounts of hectares, we're just talking about being able to use the best landforms to do the development that is potentially available to us."

Irrigator Corbett Tritton said the changes would "lift the cloud" under which farmers had been living for the past 10 years.

"We're not living with a cloud over us, feeling like criminals any more," said Mr Tritton.

"What the Minister's told us today is really going to stimulate the bush. "Everybody's so frightened to do anything in the bush you can't move without having to fill out forms and people coming to tell you what you can and can't do."

Mr Seeney said the government would also make changes to the over-policing of the vegetation management act that had occurred under Labor.

"The infringement provisions within the Vegetation Management Act have gone way out of kilter with everything else that it could be reasonably compared with," he said.

"We will be using this opportunity to amend the act and normalise those happenings and bring them in line with infringements in other acts."


Sir Lunchalot was corrupt

Sir Lunchalot (Ian Macdonald)

FORMER minister Ian Macdonald granted a mining lease to his union mates despite senior members of his own department urging him to reconsider, ICAC heard yesterday.

The corruption watchdog is investigating the reasons Mr Macdonald granted the "hot property" Doyle's Creek mining lease to ex-union boss John Maitland and a group of investors with no competitive tender in 2008.Alan Coutts, the former deputy director-general of the primary industries department, said he never considered the training mine to be "a particularly good idea". Another described it as a "thought bubble" and a "very poorly detailed proposal".

ICAC heard the former national president of the CFMEU turned the $165,000 Doyle's Creek investment into a $15 million windfall.

The inquiry heard Mr Macdonald's justification was the site could be a training mine, a decision that went against department and industry advice.

"I saw (the training mine idea) as being a bit of a stalking horse to get access to a major coal resource in the Hunter Valley," Mr Coutts told ICAC.

"Your concern was that the real reason for a direct allocation to Mr Maitland or his associates would be because of who he was?" Peter Braham SC, counsel assisting the inquiry, asked.

"Correct - I think there wasn't a reason to give a direct allocation to Mr Maitland. I just couldn't see any reason why you would do that," Mr Coutts said. "The only reason you'd allocate it to John Maitland was because of who he was and Maitland was a very senior and influential past figure of the union movement and known to be reasonably close to the minister."

Mr Coutts said he was contacted by one of Mr Macdonald's staff after the department disagreed with the proposal. "It was suggested that the submission wasn't along the lines that the minister was hoping for and could we have another look at it," he said.

A previous ICAC hearing was told Mr Coutts was removed from his senior post after questioning the Bylong Valley mining lease.


Australian carbon tax contributes to record number of businesses insolvencies

As U.S. lawmakers debate imposing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, evidence is emerging that Australia’s carbon tax has hit businesses hard.

News Limited Network reported the country’s carbon tax was contributing to a record number of firms facing insolvency. Data from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission showed that a record 10,632 businesses faced insolvency for the 12 months to December 31 2012 — up from 10,481 for 2011.

Australia’s largest manufacturing firms asked the central government to scrap the nation’s carbon tax as it disadvantages local companies that are attempting to compete on a global market.

Critics argue that the carbon tax is putting Australian businesses at a disadvantage and will lead to job losses.

"In the absence of similar schemes by major trading partners, Australia’s carbon tax places tremendous pressure on Australian manufacturers and inevitably leads to job losses and business closures,” said the group Manufacturing Australia.

Origin Energy managing director Grant King said that the carbon tax as well as other green programs made up as much as 30 percent of small and medium sized businesses’ electric bills.

"No wonder (companies) are saying it is hurting us,” said King.

Australia has been taxing carbon emissions since July 1 of last year at a rate of $23AUD per ton. The system will become a full-blown cap-and-trade scheme in three years and will be integrated with the European cap-and-trade system.

Australia’s tourism industry has also been impacted by carbon pricing. A study commissioned by Tourism Accommodation Australia says the carbon tax will add $115 million in costs to hotels and motels.

"The additional costs imposed on hotels from the carbon tax are coming straight off the bottom line,” said Rodger Powell, TAA managing director.

However, the Australian government defended the carbon tax, saying that the effects on businesses and consumers would be modest.

"The Federal Government has always been up front that there would be a modest impact on the accommodation industry, such as small electricity price increases flowing through the economy under carbon pricing,” said a spokesman for Australian Climate Change Minister Greg Combet.

Minister Combet also said that the government was "acutely conscious of the pressures on parts of Australian manufacturing which are due to the high value of the dollar and intense competition on world markets.”


A crooked Customs & Excise service

The shock arrest of four customs officers since late last year for alleged collaboration with a crime ring importing illicit drugs through Sydney Airport would have come as no surprise to senior members of the Customs and Border Protection Service.

Files released to Fairfax Media under freedom-of-information laws logging more than 700 allegations of staff wrongdoing between 2007-08 and 2009-10 are saturated with references to bribery, corruption and suspected associations with crime figures or motorcycle gangs. It is, as one file note says, a "systemic issue".

Last month, in evidence before a Senate committee, customs chief executive Mike Pezzullo warned senators that the worst was not over and that more officers would be arrested in the months ahead.

He admitted that internal investigators had been severely under-resourced for years, with only a handful of internal affairs officers to monitor thousands of staff until mid-2007.

The investigation summaries reveal repeated references to officers under suspicion for links with crime syndicates or bikie gangs - the latter referred to as OMCGs or Outlaw Motor Cycle Gangs.

In one case, the files allege an officer helped import monkeys, snakes and lizards "allegedly being handed from … [the] Customs and Border Protection officer to OMCG members in the car park of Sydney international airport".

Another was "allegedly assisting an Italian organised crime syndicate" while a third was suspected of tapping into computer systems and passing on intelligence to drug traffickers and Asian crime syndicates.

While this man had resigned by 2009 before formal action could be taken, the files warn "concerns still exist into what his activities were prior to his resignation and what threat he still poses to the border".

Numerous entries reveal concerns that customs officers are aiding key figures in the black-market tobacco trade.

In 2009, an informer wanted money to unmask five customs officers allegedly working with illegal tobacco importers. The file notes a government agency would "run" the mole as an informant but all further details are suppressed.

An officer suspected of assisting tobacco scams comes to attention in NSW for "a transhipment entry for a container later found to contain approximate (sic) 6 million sticks of counterfeit cigarettes". Audit data suggests she "accessed a suspect container some days before it was selected for an X-ray examination".

Reports of bribery or attempted bribery were another constant headache for investigators. In 2008, one officer was offered $80,000 for help with importing "precursors", the raw ingredients from which illegal drugs sold on the street are made.

Another was caught allegedly asking a bank teller how to deposit a large sum of cash without the money being reported. Several amounts of $9900 went into his account - each deposit just shy of the $10,000 threshold for mandatory reporting of financial transactions.


20 March, 2013

Some interesting experiments on "racism"

In the 1950's and 60s there was a concerted Marxist-led effort by psychologists to prove that people with "racist" attitudes were psychologically maladjusted. The fact that the whole world had been racist up until the war didn't seem to hold them up any.

Reality triumphed eventually however and psychology textbooks these days routinely concede that some form of "in group favoritism" is normal, natural and essentially universal. We all tend to like best people similar to ourselves. In Freudian terms it is an extension of self-love.

It seems, however, that economists have been reinventing the wheel by demonstrating in-group favoritism yet again. There is a description below. The authors found that bus drivers were less likely to give a free ride to dark-skinned people.

As with all such experiments, however, the problem of generalizability arises. What generalizations, if any, can we extract from the findings? The authors of the study offer a fairly expansive interpretation of their findings but a simpler explanation might be that dark skin is in all the English-speaking countries associated with a high crime rate, so the drivers may have been more likely to suspect dark-skinned requests for a free ride of being dishonest. The principle of parsimony would favour that explanation.

But in reality it is all speculative. NOTHING firm can be concluded from the data. And the authors themselves show how weak generalizations in that field are. They show that what the drivers said they would do and what they actually did were roughly opposite. As LaPiere showed in the 1930s, you cannot infer behaviour from expressed behavioural intention. But if you cannot predict behaviour even from behavioural intention, what can you predict? Again the answer is nothing.

So these little experiments are fun but are no cause for any heartburn. We are all "racists" to a degree but what implications that has for behaviour will vary with both the individual and the situation. Only a Leftist could deny that.

Of course, part of the problem is how racism is defined. To the hysterical Left any mention of race is racism and any mention of racial differences is doubly so. Such reactions are irrational however so the most expansive definition I would support is "preference for one group over another". And that is the sense in which I have used it above.

Even that usage, however tends to associate too much with racism. It associates probably harmless attitudes with some of the great evils of history. A more historically-grounded definition would be: "Advocating or practicing harm or disadvantage to other people solely on account of their race". Racism of that sort is exceedingly rare today outside Muslim countries.

Two economists from the University of Queensland, Redzo Mujcic and Professor Paul Frijters, will publish the results of a natural field experiment on Thursday in which trained "testers" of different ethnic appearance got on buses in Brisbane, discovered their travel card wouldn't work, but then asked the driver to let them to make the trip anyway.

Various testers did this more than 1500 times. Overall, the driver agreed in almost two-thirds of cases.

But whereas the success rate for testers of white appearance was 72 per cent, for testers of black appearance it was just 36 per cent.

Testers of Indian appearance were let on 51 per cent of the time, whereas those of Chinese, Japanese or Malaysian appearance were allowed to travel about as much as Caucasians were.

On average, bus drivers were 6 percentage points more likely to favour someone of the same race. Black drivers tended to be the most generous, accepting in 72 per cent of cases, compared with 54 per cent by Indian drivers and 64 per cent by Asian and white bus drivers.

If you think that's interesting, try this: to test the importance of how people were clothed, the testers were then dressed in business suits with briefcases. The success rate of whites rose by 21 percentage points and the combined rate for blacks and Indians rose to 75 per cent.

Next, the testers were dressed in military clothes. The success rate of whites rose by 25 percentage points while the combined rate for blacks and Indians rose to 85 per cent.

As a follow-up, the researchers then conducted a random survey of bus drivers at selected resting stations in Brisbane, presenting them with pictures of the same test subjects and asking the bus drivers whether they would let them on or not with an empty travel card.

Some 80 per cent of the bus drivers at resting stations indicated they would give free rides to Indian and black test subjects, even though in reality less than 50 per cent were let on.

Indeed, bus drivers said they would let on white subjects 5 percentage points less often than black subjects, whilst in reality white test subjects were favoured at least 40 percentage points more than black testers.

The main reason given for not letting someone on was it was against the rules, while the main reason to let someone on was it was no burden to do so.

It's all a bit disturbing - if not so surprising - but how do we make sense of it? And what's it got to do with economics?

Frijters, perhaps Australia's leading exponent of "behavioural" economics, is developing an economic theory of groups: the different types of groups and how and why they form. All of us feel an affinity with a range of groups. Businesses and government agencies are groups, but there can be groups within those groups; working teams as well as sporting teams. Mixed in with all this are in-groups and out-groups - people we want to associate with and people we don't.

Often we form groups so as to co-operate in achieving some goal. And groups often involve reciprocation - I do you a favour in the expectation that, when my need arises, you'll do me one.

So Frijters explains the results of his experiment in terms of group behaviour. "People with Indian or black complexions are more likely to be treated as an out-group and less worthy of help compared to Caucasians and Asians," he says.

"The reason bus drivers were more reluctant to give black and Indian help-seekers a free ride was that they did not personally relate to them."

When testers were sent to bus stops in military clothes this made them appear to be patriots, defending the same community as the bus driver. So the drivers' original out-group reaction could be overcome by in-group clothing.

The more favourable treatment of testers in business dress suggests the "aspirational groups" of the bus drivers include people richer than themselves, people with more desirable visual characteristics. That is, people the drivers regard as part of their in-group.

If all this sounds more sociological or to do with social psychology than with economics, it is. But that's the point of behavioural economics: to incorporate insights from other social sciences into economics.

And what have groups got to do with economics? That's simple: the objective of many groups is to give their members greater control over economic resources.

Frijter's new book, An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups and Networks, written with Gigi Foster, will be published this month.



The research described above is still unpublished in its original form so I am not entirely sure what is in it but the authors would appear to be reinventing the work of Hechter as in:

Hechter, M. (1986) Rational choice theory and the study of race and ethnic relations. Ch. 12 in J. Rex & D. Mason (Eds.) "Theories of race and ethnic relations", Cambridge: U.P.

Hechter, M. (1987) Nationalism as group solidarity. "Ethnic & Racial Studies" 10, 415-426.

Hechter, M., Friedman, D. & Appelbaum, M. (1982) A theory of ethnic collective action. "International Migration Review" 16, 412-434.

Govt reportedly drops discrimination bill

THE federal government's decision to put its proposed anti-discrimination laws on hold has been welcomed by the Institute of Public Affairs.

The conservative think tank heralded the move, reported in The Australian on Wednesday, as a victory for free speech.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was reported as saying the government could not proceed with plans introduced by his predecessor Nicola Roxon to draw five existing statutes under a single piece of legislation.

The statutes covering age, disability, race, sex and other forms of discrimination were to be consolidated, with the most controversial change relating to the onus of proof.

The government could not proceed with the draft bill at this time and would be sending it back to the attorney-general's department for more work, Mr Dreyfus told The Australian.

The IPA said it was "outrageous" the government would make it illegal to offend someone because of their political opinion.

The think tank said reversing the onus of proof was another "fundamental problem" and the decision to withdraw the legislation entirely instead of attempting to amend it was the right move.

Under the proposed changes, after the complainant established a prima facie case of discrimination, the respondent would then have to show the action was justified or didn't amount to discrimination.

The IPA has argued the onus of proof should remain on the person making the accusation as it was often very difficult to prove innocence.


Victorian government caves in to teachers

HALF-day stop-work action is still planned for Victorian schools in term two despite a major backdown by the Napthine Government in the bitter teacher pay dispute.

But parents and teachers are optimistic a deal can be reached quickly to avert the industrial action after the Government scrapped its insistence that pay be linked to performance.

Premier Denis Napthine said the removal of the key sticking point in the ugly battle showed his "real commitment" to resolving the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement stalemate.

"The Government can announce today that it has decided to take discussions on performance pay off the table, and deal with this issue ... outside the current EBA processes," he said.

Dr Napthine said the Government was still committed to a merit-based pay system in the long run.

The head of the Australian Education Union in Victoria, Meredith Peace, said the backdown by the Government wouldn't mean an end to the industrial action.

This includes rolling half-day regional stoppages, set to hit schools in May and June, and a ban on teacher overtime, which has forced the cancellation of school camps, productions, sports and excursions outside school hours.

"We will stop campaigning when we get an agreement with the Government," Ms Peace said. "This doesn't resolve the dispute.

"There are a number of outstanding issues ... salaries is one of those, workload, class sizes, the high level of contract employment."

The union and Government will meet again today to discuss the issues.

The AEU in November reduced its pay claim to 12.6 per cent over three years, while the Government offered 2.5 per cent a year plus performance pay.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said industrial action was hurting parents and small businesses that ran camps and other extra-curricular activities.

He said the Premier should get personally involved in the dispute to achieve a quick outcome.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she hoped the dispute could be resolved in time for the end of term one next week. "Common sense has prevailed. Let's get on with educating these kids," she said.

Institute of Public Affairs policy director Tim Wilson said the Government must push ahead with performance pay.

"We should be making sure there are incentives so that teachers deliver the best outcome for kids and can be judged against that," Mr Wilson said.


More glories of multiculturalism

Muslim thugs at work

A jury has been told how a woman witnessed four men kill her son with machetes and meat cleavers in their Sydney home three years ago.

Mohammed Karimi, John Khoury and Mahdi Mir have pleaded not guilty to the murder of Kesley Burgess, who was killed in his Lurnea home in 2010.

Prosecutors say they were part of a gang trying to steal "turf" off drug dealers in Sydney's south-west.

The men sat side by side in the NSW Supreme Court today as Ken McKay outlined the prosecution's case.

He said Karimi and Khoury recruited men for the attack while Mir was allegedly one of four men who carried out the killing.

The jury was told they armed themselves with machetes and meat cleavers and demanded cash and drugs.

The court heard Mr Burgess's mother Tracey Burgess watched them attack her son with the weapons as he lay on the ground.

She pleaded with the men to kill her instead, before running into the kitchen and finding some cannabis to give them.

Mr Burgess, 25, died in hospital two days later.

The family told police they did not know their attackers or why they had been targeted.

The jury has also heard from Maxine Rogers, who police say the group accidentally targeted in a home invasion at Warwick Farm on the same night.

She said her attackers - who prosecutors say are linked to the accused - held a knife to her throat in front of her daughters.


19 March, 2013

Tom Waterhouse believed to have been offered $500m for bookmaking business

This has got nothing to do with politics but I am running a small excerpt because I like Tom's attitude. It's great to find a man who loves his job. I might perhaps note that bookies attract great respect in Australia so that may help form his attitude

BETTING'S "everywhere man" Tom Waterhouse is believed to have been offered at least $500 million to sell his thriving bookmaking business. A leading UK-based betting operator is rumoured to have made the substantial offer to buy out the nation's biggest individual bookmaker.

In an interview late last year, Waterhouse said he has no intention of selling his bookmaking operation.

"I still want to be doing this business in 50 years," Waterhouse said. "What do I need to sell it for? I wouldn't want to change my lifestyle. If I had the choice of lying on the beach or being a bookie, I'd be a bookie."

Born to be a bookie, Waterhouse is continuing the family tradition of his grandfather Bill and father Robbie.

Bill was once the world's biggest bookmaker and although retired, he retains an active role in family's betting operations. Robbie remains one of Sydney's leading rails bookies and a form expert.


Media giants warn Communications Minister Stephen Conroy power grab threatens us all

TELEVISION and newspaper bosses have demanded federal MPs reject proposed media changes, warning they would put at risk what Australians can watch and read.

In dramatic scenes in Canberra yesterday, Channel 7 owner Kerry Stokes blasted the plans as "draconian", News Limited boss Kim Williams said they were undemocratic and Fairfax chief Greg Hywood said the Government was seeking to impose a "nuclear option" on its critics.

Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews indicated he also was against the media changes, in a fresh blow to the Gillard Government.

As Julia Gillard's critics inside Labor claimed the legislation was a test of her authority and leadership, the Prime Minister said she was open to "sensible suggestions".

After talks between Ms Gillard and independent MP Rob Oakeshott broke down and he told the PM in writing he would not support any of the six media reform Bills, the Government was last night "actively considering" a compromise plan by Greens leader Christine Milne to "save" the legislation.

The Greens said they would vote with Labor if legislation were changed to "better define" a proposed public interest test, protect regional news and allow only two existing press councils.

Mr Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, said the Media Advocate at the centre of the changes was a "sledgehammer" with power beyond that of the Tax Commissioner.

He told a snap Senate inquiry that in his 40 years in the media "I have never seen anything so intrusive ... can only recall legislation in this haste in the wake of 9/11". "The legislation is in my opinion draconian," he said.

Mr Williams said News Limited, which owns the Herald Sun, would mount a High Court challenge if the laws were passed. "In the event that these laws are passed we will immediately be seeking leave to appeal to the High Court," he told the committee.

"These Bills breach constitutional rights, equate to direct government intervention and regulation of the media, and are a direct attack on free speech, innovation, investment and job creation," he said.

"These proposals will affect every Australian and the quality of their democracy. This is bad legislation with a bad process."

Mr Williams released a 20-page open letter to all MPs that he said was a "sober, non-hysterical analysis" of the problems. He said it was inappropriate the Media Advocate would rule on mergers and oversee reporting standards.

Mr Hywood, whose company, Fairfax, owns The Age, said the regulatory powers would have "too many dangers in the long term" and would "shut down" a news organisation. "This is a nuclear option," he said.

He said the Advocate wouldn't be independent, as ministers appointed those who reflected their views.

Ten Network's Hamish McLennan said more regulation was not needed, while Foxtel's Richard Freudenstein objected to "flawed" legislation.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the Advocate would not look over the shoulder of media or rule on complaints. "The Advocate's job is simply to say: does the Press Council uphold its own standards? "The Advocate has no role in setting those standards."

Labor senator and committee chairman Doug Cameron referred to the phone hacking scandal in the UK. "I find it absolutely breathtaking to be lectured by the Murdoch press about the privacy laws," he said.

Mr Williams said two independent inquiries had found no such activity had taken place in Australia.

Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews expressed reservations about the media changes. "I ... believe freedom of the press is integral to our democracy," he said. "People are right to take a free press and free speech very seriously. I certainly do."

Premier Denis Napthine said he had severe misgivings. "I am flabbergasted that the Federal Government would want to curtail the free speech in the media of this state," he said.

TV bosses were at odds at a separate inquiry looking at abolishing the "75 per cent reach" rule that prevented network broadcasting to more than three-quarters of the population.

Nine Network chief David Gyngell, whose company wanted to buy the Southern Cross network if the rule was axed, said it was outdated, owing to the internet.

"I wouldn't allow the 75 per cent rule to be removed without the certainty of the high-quality news content viewers currently receive," he said, adding that regional journalists would keep their jobs.

Other networks oppose the change.

The Senate committee is due to hand down an interim report on Wednesday, while the joint select committee will report on the reach rule on Tuesday.


Qld moves to resume uranium mining

The Queensland Government is moving ahead with plans to restart uranium mining in the state, with a committee handing Cabinet a report that makes 40 recommendations on the matter.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps says an inter-departmental committee will be set up to consider the findings.

"This group will submit a draft report to the Resources Cabinet Committee outlining an implementation strategy for the recommendations, including identification of any budget implications and necessary legislative changes," he said.

"We will also establish a Uranium Mining Stakeholder Committee comprising representatives from local governments, Indigenous groups, industry, environment and natural resource management groups in accordance with the report's recommendations."

Mr Cripps would not specify a timeline for implementing the findings.

Uranium was last mined in Queensland in 1982 near Mount Isa in the state's north-west. It was banned by a Labor state government seven years later.

Committee chair Paul Bell says they have also recommended the development of environmental conditions specifically for uranium mining.

"There is a basic framework there in place now to provide a very safe and a very good place for people to not only work but certainly for communities to be ensured that safety in transport is now being able to be maintained in this industry," he said.

Mr Cripps says jobs will be a flow-on from the resumption of uranium mining.

"Particularly for regional and rural communities in Queensland, job opportunities and in particular to Indigenous communities in rural and remote areas of this state," he said.

The Queensland Resources Council says the community is on board with uranium mining because of the new investment and work it will create.


Duck hunting protesters urged to respect laws

Protesters are being urged to abide by new laws governing this year's duck hunting season in Victoria. The season starts today with protesters, hunters and police gathering at Lake Cullen in the state's north-west.

High rainfall has meant record duck numbers this year, and the Coalition Against Duck Shooting is calling for the sport to be banned.

But new laws mean protesters and the media are not allowed to go within 25 metres of the lake's edge.

Laurie Levy from the Coalition Against Duck Shooting has questioned the purpose of the newly-introduced exclusion zones, saying he does not think they are designed for safety, but to protect shooters.

"Game Victoria's role is as the gamekeepers," he said. "They look after duck shooters and we have to be out there to look after our native waterbirds, because there isn't anyone else doing it. "We're not protesters, we see our role as being similar to the Red Cross.

"We go into a war zone to help the innocent victims. "We're not out there protesting - we're out there opposing duck shooting, yes - but we're also helping the innocent victims that duck shooters leave behind."

Mr Levy added the coalition's constant campaigning has dramatically reduced the number of duck hunters. "If you go back 20 years there were thousands and thousands of them, and public opinion has reduced duck shooters by 75,000-80,000," he said.

The CEO of the Sporting Shooters Association, Wayne Holdsworth, insists safety is their main priority.

The Victorian Government predicts good conditions will allow for a full 12-week season.


Union braces for next chapter in ICAC probe

The coal miners' union is bracing itself for a damaging series of revelations from an anti-corruption inquiry involving a well-respected former leader.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption's (ICAC) probe into the granting of mining licences to entities connected to the family of New South Wales Labor Party powerbroker Eddie Obeid has already damaged the ALP.

Now the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is bracing itself for a reputational hit in the next part of the inquiry, which is due to begin on Monday.

The CFMEU's former national secretary, John Maitland, is staying out of the public eye at the moment and has cancelled today's public auction of a $1.6 million farm near Kempsey on the NSW north coast.

However the former union veteran still has $5-million-worth of property on the market, including a $3 million property in Victoria owned through his family company, Jonca.

Mr Maitland bought the farms after he became a multi-millionaire just four years after retiring as CFMEU head.

That wealth came on the back of an investment of less than $200,000 and a mining licence issued by his friend, the then state mining minister, Ian Macdonald.

It was the same year Mr Maitland became a Member of the Order of Australia, in recognition of his services to international and Australian industrial relations.

Now, the unravelling of the story of the rise from union man to rich mining investor threatens to drag in his former union colleagues.


18 March, 2013

The unmentionable: Social class and education

Social background is an overwhelming determinant of educational achievement. Rich people are smarter and so are their children. So for pupils living in wealthy suburbs, the social contacts you make are the main benefit of a private education

Public and private schools on Sydney's north shore have continued to achieve almost uniform high results in NAPLAN testing, a trend believed to be one factor driving the enrolments surge in local public schools.

The income that Wenona School, an independent school on the north shore, receives per student is almost three times what is received by Lindfield Public School. Yet the NAPLAN results achieved by their students are roughly the same.

Steph Croft, from the Northern Sydney Regional Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, said the My School data, first published in 2010, was helping to drive the surge in enrolments in the area's public schools, which has seen the highest growth of any region in Sydney over the last five years.

"There's a group of people who are choosing schools off the My School website and moving houses to get into the area for certain schools," she said.

A snapshot by Fairfax Media of government and non-government schools in the north shore region shows high results were achieved regardless of school sector in the 2012 NAPLAN tests.

From the Sydney Church of England Grammar School, known as Shore, where fees tipped $25,000 in 2013, to the public Mosman High School and the Catholic systemic school Blessed Sacrament, children in most grades achieved test scores significantly above the national average in reading in both year 3 and year 5.

The principal of Lindfield Public School, Craig Oliver, said he was not at all surprised his students were performing on par with their private school peers.

"If I was a parent of a child I was considering enrolling in a high-fee private school and I was making my decision on the basis of NAPLAN results alone, I would be considering the public school option was a very attractive one," he said.

"In terms of funding, we don't attract anything like the levels of funding the private schools do but we certainly do make the best of what we do have."

He said many of the families at his school could afford a private school education but chose to stay in the public system.

The headmaster of Shore, Timothy Wright, said it was not surprising the whole area was performing well.

"It's a well-known fact in educational research that literacy and numeracy performance does broadly correlate with socio-economic status … because it correlates with such things as parent education and parent commitment to education," he said.

"Without having done a scientific poll, I'd be confident to say that most of the students in my school have parents both of whom went to university."

He said schools in the area also tended to retain good teachers.

"Our staff turnover would be 3 [per cent] to 5 per cent in a typical year and I think stable staffing helps build strong academic cultures."

All of the schools had a similarly high score on the My School's website's Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, which uses a range of data to rate the education and affluence of a child's family, as well as whether the school is in a regional or remote area and proportion of indigenous students.

Dr Wright said he was happy to see public schools doing well but believed Shore offered points of difference outside NAPLAN measures. "We would say our point of difference is in the breadth of our co-curricular and other activities that aren't necessarily available in all public schools."

Helen Proctor, from the faculty of education and social work at the University of Sydney, said parents were looking for more than just strong academic results and were often influenced by behaviour, networking, facilities and discipline.

"Why does someone buy a top-level BMW when a Holden can do the job?" she said.


Visa campaign exposes hypocrisy in PM's office

Julia Gillard's promised crackdown on 457 visas is symbolic and symptomatic of every problem that is dogging the Labor Party today. It is bound to the unions, divisive, deceptive and desperate.

The 457 visa allows business to bring to Australia workers they need and cannot get here. It allows Australian business to grow bigger and stronger and in that way protects Australian jobs. The visa doesn't Australians to be put at the back of the queue and the Prime Minister knows that. Her promise therefore is hollow.

A food processing firm might want to tender for supplying a product to a new or developing market overseas. That might require being able to install, quickly, some whiz-bang new imported high-tech machinery in order to meet the increased demand. Workers familiar with that machinery may be in short supply here. A 457 visa is the answer. By winning the tender, the jobs of all the Australians at the firm are more secure - but you might need the 457 visa holders to achieve that.

People on these visas have been brought in to help build the enormous infrastructure projects that our mining boom has generated. Others might come in to train some of our surgeons in new and highly advanced surgical techniques using new and highly advanced equipment.

In all sorts of industries there will some times be the need to overcome a general skill shortage or to meet a highly specialised and short-term skill requirement. A failure to fill that gap will weaken the company and consequently weaken the job security of everyone working there.

The benefits of the 457 visa are not limited to the private sector. State governments have benefited from being able to bring in the skills they need. The point is simply this: if we need it, we should be able to get it.

The unions have never liked this visa. Especially the unions that are backing Julia Gillard. She is not doing well in the polls and, either in return for the continuing support of some key unions or to shore it up, the Prime Minister announces a crackdown on the visa they dislike. Whoopee. Former and current union officials who feel the need to look powerful can tell all their mates that they "told the PM what she needed to do". But the jobs of Australian workers in companies that cannot get the skills they need to thrive are at risk.

Where are the examples of rorting of this visa? Labor tightened it up a few years ago . . . did they mess this up? Surely with the mining boom drawing skilled workers out of capital cities, we can understand that there will be skill shortages.

So in the first instance, Gillard's 457 announcement reminds us that the unions have too much influence over this government.

Not surprisingly, Pauline Hanson liked what she heard and may feel motivated to climb out of her political grave. Gillard has single-handedly reinvigorated the woman whose views were so offensive that John Howard disendorsed her from the Liberal Party.

We know that many members of the Labor caucus are not just uncomfortable but angry at the language the Prime Minister is using. Who can blame them? This was no simple dog whistle. She grabbed a megaphone and ran her words through the biggest amplifier she could find. The result was predictable. This announcement is yet another indication that this Prime Minister simply divides the Labor caucus.

Some say Gillard went down this path to try to distract voters from her failure to "fix" the continuing influx of boat people. Of course, after Kevin Rudd was knifed because the government had, in Gillard's words, "lost its way", this was one of the three policy areas that the new Prime Minister said she would fix. So in another way the 457 debate highlights one of Labor's major policy failures.

To allow the union tail to wag the government dog, to announce policy without any good reason, to divide the caucus, to breathe any life into Pauline Hanson and to highlight your own policy failure takes a fairly special gift. But wait, there's more.

When you employ someone from another country in your own office, as the Prime Minister does, it is hypocritical in the extreme to say that you will make sure Australians are at the front of the jobs queue and not left at the back. How did her communications chief, Scotsman John McTernan, get to the front of the queue in her office? Does she really want to say there is no one in Australia who has the qualifications to be in charge of her communications?

Australians are fairly laid back about many things, but not hypocrisy. If you say one thing and do another you arrogantly and mistakenly assume that electors are mugs. They are not.

Perhaps this also reveals a more serious question. Ministers' offices are privy to all sorts of information that needs to be kept secret in the national interest, and none more so than the Prime Minister's office.

It is for that reason that staff members need to qualify for a security clearance. It used to be, for good reason, that you could not get such a clearance unless you were an Australian citizen and held no other allegiance. Has that rule changed and if it has, why, and at whose instigation? Surely on such a sensitive matter as security clearances the rules have not been bent to accommodate a Prime Minister wanting to employ a foreigner ahead of an Australian?

Julia Gillard made her 457 announcement because she thought it would help her. She mistakenly thinks most of us dislike foreigners. As a migrant herself, I would have thought she would understand that this nation was built by migrants. We cannot grow and prosper without them.

We are an immigration nation. It defines us, it is who we are. And yet our Prime Minister by her words encourages us to be sceptical and fearful of those who come in lawfully and bring their skills to help build a better Australia.


Attack on the Media just a distraction

Paul Sheehan

What follows is a quote from a column I wrote about Stephen Conroy, which enraged him, as intended. It was written long before he was leader of the government in the Senate, and a cabinet minister, and directing tens of billions of dollars in federal spending.

The column was published in the Herald on December 6, 2004, more than eight years ago, but its core is as relevant today as it was then. It began:
"You can learn a lot about people in toilets. I first encountered Senator Stephen Conroy in a toilet in the NSW Parliament. It was the morning of Tuesday, May 20, 1997. We were at Macquarie Street for a hearing of the joint standing committee on electoral matters . . . I was there to present a submission on corruption in union elections. We would clash soon enough.

"Conroy is intensely irritating, with a cockiness untempered by charisma and exacerbated by a grating accent he brought from England when his family emigrated. In the past 10 days, Mark Latham has received enormous, perhaps fatal, criticism of his leadership for a public brawl with Conroy, but Conroy is a special case. Latham has taken a disproportionate blame for the party's problems, becoming a scapegoat for a much deeper problem in the party - it has devolved into an insular patronage machine dominated by vindictive mediocrities.

"Conroy personifies this problem. He embodies it. His constant warring and plotting in the past year prompted the former ALP federal president Greg Sword to call him 'mad', and the federal Labor MP Bob Sercombe to call him a 'dill', among other insults from other Labor opponents.

"When I encountered Conroy he still had his P-plates as a senator. He was only 34. He had been in Parliament less than a year. And he had not even been elected. He'd been appointed . . . in 1996 to fill the vacancy left by the departure of senator Gareth Evans. Such is the manner in which Labor factional warriors can make their way . . .

"His reward was Senate preselection at the age of 33. Once in the Senate, Conroy could start knifing people under the protection of parliamentary privilege. He did not waste any time.

"On September 12, 1996, barely four months after arriving in the Senate, Conroy used privilege to target a dissident faction in the NSW postal workers' union . . . accusing the two men who had exposed election corruption . . . of being responsible for the fraud . . .

"Ugly. The judge had found precisely the opposite. Conroy had made his speech on the eve of a new union election. Within 24 hours, thousands of copies of his speech - in the authoritative format of Hansard - were distributed around mail centres under the heading, 'The Cheat Team'.

"[One of the men he named as a cheat] challenged Conroy to repeat his remarks outside Parliament.


"I faxed a dozen questions to Conroy about his speech.

"Silence . . .

"Last Monday, Labor frontbencher Laurie Ferguson had had enough: 'The whole party's tiring of Mr Conroy's concern that he's not the leader in the Senate.' By then, the damage had been done. Latham now looks like Simon Crean, even though Labor's problems are far deeper than the leader's shortcomings.

"Conroy does not have clean hands in these matters. This is not new. When I first encountered him on May 20, 1997, he was occupied at a urinal in a men's toilet. As I walked in, he finished his business and walked out. He did not pause. He did not wash his hands. He went straight back to the committee room. You do not forget such images."

No you don't.

Now to the present, to the man who has set himself up as a moral arbiter, and wants to impose a super-regulator over the Australian media, with little or no debate in cabinet or the Parliament, and without ever presenting a shred of evidence the regulation is needed. The handling of this matter by Conroy, with the endorsement of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, has devolved into yet another pointless debacle on Gillard's watch. There is no longer even a pretence that the government is trying to balance the interests of union and employers, or the interests of unions and the 87 per cent of private sector workers who are not union members. There is not even a pretense of answering questions in Parliament.

Her government has concocted a false controversy over temporary work visas as a distraction from the election-turning reality that the immigration program has become an unspeakable policy sink-hole, a multi-billion-dollar budget blowout, with more and more illegal boats arriving while more and more legal foreign workers are encountering growing delays in their visa applications. Good people are being turned away in their thousands while people who have lied their way into the country, by cynically destroying their documents, are being fed and housed by the taxpayers.

There are multiple other issues that have contributed to an aura of instability around the Prime Minister. Conroy, as one of Gillard's most staunch supporters, has done her no good and the great fear among the federal Labor caucus, that it burned its bridges when it rejected Kevin Rudd twice, is now perceptively giving way to a greater fear: that most of the electorate has already decided to remove Gillard.

The three most strident supporters of Gillard, and critics of the former leader Kevin Rudd, a stridency that seemed to preclude a return by Rudd, are Treasurer Wayne Swan, former attorney-general Nicola Roxon, and Senate leader Conroy.

All are now damaged goods. Roxon is already on her way. Which means the prospect of a packaged change, removing Gillard, Swan and Conroy, has clarified as more possible by the majority of the federal Labor MPs who are calculating their own survival options this year.


Not enough midwives in NSW government hospitals

Two heavily pregnant women were turned away from a western Sydney maternity ward within 48 hours - giving birth in a home and the hospital car park - amid claims by midwives of a sick health system exposing mothers to risk.

The Sun-Herald has found Nepean Hospital's actions in turning away Michelle Trotter and Paula Bailey early last month were symptoms of a maternity ward in crisis. And there are allegations that a new statewide staffing policy for midwives has resulted in chronic shortages of midwives in maternity wards in flagship hospitals including Westmead and Liverpool.

In an investigation into conditions at Penrith's Nepean Hospital maternity ward Fairfax Media can reveal:
Paula and Scott Bailey with baby Madison, after she was born in the carpark of Nepean hospital. Credit Channel 7

Sent home: Paula and Scott Bailey with baby Madison, who was born in the carpark of Nepean hospital. Photo: Channel 7

An internal hospital document showing maternity department is about 20 full-time staff short, leaving midwives concerned the department is "no longer able to function safely".

Insiders warning "a wave of discontent" among staff would result in a "mass exodus".

One Nepean Hospital maternity staff member, with 10 years' experience as a midwife, said: "We are being run ragged and the cracks are starting to show. We are juggling jobs, which means we are juggling with people's lives. If you're an expectant mother, you expect more. You deserve more."

In 2011, NSW Health moved to adopt Birthrate Plus, a British tool for calculating the required number of midwives in NSW maternity

services, based on a minimum standard of one-to-one midwifery care throughout labour and birth.

While state health hierachy have refused to publish the results, the leaked Nepean data demonstrates chronic shortages have arisen despite the guidelines.

Hannah Dahlen, from the Australian College of Midwives, said other Western Sydney hospitals - namely Westmead and Liverpool - were hiding similar statistics about shortages.

Dr Dahlen, who is also Associate Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, said: "The hospitals out in Sydney's west deliver more babies than anywhere else in the nation and the birth rates are increasing faster than staffing. So it's a case of finding midwives. But secondly, it about finding the money."

She added: "It's this constant game that gets played. Managers have to control budgets. If they don't, then they're out of a job. Eventually you see frazzled midwives burning out and leaving. And, of course, patient care is going to suffer."

On February 7, an overdue Michelle Trotter presented at Nepean, only to be sent home with Panadeine Forte and sleeping pills. Two hours later, she was back, having given birth on her own kitchen floor.

Just two days later, a heavily pregnant Paula Bailey arrived at Nepean Hospital with her husband Scott, only to be sent home three hours later without any medical assessment.

When Mrs Bailey aired concern, a nurse allegedly replied: "That's pregnancy, love. Suck it up, princess. You don't know what pain is but you will when the baby comes." Mrs Bailey's waters then broke when she arrived home, triggering a frantic dash back to Nepean.

She once again failed to gain assistance - resulting in her baby, Madison, being born in the hospital car park at 3am.

Dr Dahlen said babies being born in hospital car parks or en route to maternity wards was more common than people might think."

But she stressed: "It's very hard for midwives to show that when they are absolutely running on the smell of a very oily rag." Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District chief executive Kay Hyman confirmed there was a shortfall in the number of nurses and midwives at the hospital.

"Individual reviews of the recent complaints at Nepean Hospital are ongoing due to the in-depth detail required. However, a lack of staffing was not a contributing factor in these cases," she said.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the Nepean Hospital's budget had been increased since last financial year and the number of nurses and midwives at the hospital had increased since 2010.

She said there was an external review of Nepean maternity care processes under way.

"Recruiting midwives is a challenge, across Australia and internationally," she said.

But a senior area health service source has also confirmed that in order to meet its "financial obligations" Nepean has been further hampered by an order that it reduce its use of agency midwives, nurses and overtime. "These nurses are crying out for help so outside agency help is something of a lifeline … even that's now being taken away."


17 March, 2013

Tough new penalties wanted for racial spite

People get abused for all sorts of reasons. You need to get used to it. It is part of life. I was accused at school of being a homosexual because I had no interest in sport. It was like water off a duck's back to me. I just went on my way reading books. Why should racial abuse get treated differently? If you agree with Alan Jones, why should you be prevented from saying so? The behaviour of Lebanese Muslims is notorious

The broadcaster Alan Jones could have been jailed for up to three years for labelling Lebanese Muslims "vermin" and "mongrels" who "rape and pillage", under a proposed overhaul of NSW racial vilification laws.

The criminal prosecution of a woman who racially abused the ABC newsreader Jeremy Fernandez on a Sydney bus in February might also have been possible under changes being suggested by prominent community groups.

The Jewish Board of Deputies and the NSW Community Relations Commission are pushing for a radical overhaul of the laws in submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into whether it should be easier to criminally prosecute cases of serious racial vilification.

The inquiry was ordered by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, who was concerned there has not been a prosecution since the laws began in 1989. The inquiry has been attacked by opponents who say changes risk trampling on free speech.

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act applies penalties of up to $5500 and six months' jail for inciting hatred, contempt or ridicule against a person or group based on their race.

But it must be proved that the person threatened physical harm against the person or group, or their property, or incited others to do so.

The community groups argue the reference to physical harm should be scrapped.

The Jewish Board of Deputies argues there is "a serious gap" in the law and suggests a new offence of "conduct intended to harass on grounds of race". The change would mean criminal prosecutions could be pursued over racial harassment that involves threats, intimidation or "serious racial abuse", whether or not a physical threat is involved.

The submission argues the maximum penalties should be a fine of $27,500 or two years' imprisonment for individuals and fines of up to $137,500 for corporations. It also says the offence should be included in the Crimes Act, be subject to a jury trial and include online abuse.

The Community Relations Commission argues for similar changes and proposes a maximum penalty of three years in jail.

The commission's chairman, Stepan Kerkyasharian, who is also president of the Anti-Discrimination Board, argues in the submission that the laws "ensure that both incitement of hatred and harassment can be prosecuted".

He also says the laws should be extended to cover cases where a person is assumed to be part of a racial group even if they are not and clarified to capture vilification online and on social media.

"If the ferocity of the verbal attack is significant enough, that in itself should be enough to be a breach of the act," Mr Kerkyasharian said.

But the secretary of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said the proposals "go too far".

Mr Blanks said criminal prosecutions could be made easier by removing the requirement to prove the intention to incite physical violence. This would "preserve the right to free speech but attack speech with consequence".

In January Jones was ordered by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal to apologise on air for describing Lebanese Muslims as "vermin" and "mongrels" who "simply rape, pillage and plunder a nation that's taken them in".

In February, Mr Fernandez tweeted that while on a bus a woman had said he was a "black c---" and told him to "go back to my country" during a 15-minute tirade of racial abuse.


Homework haters

Learning to study and work by yourself is an essential skill. You will learn that way for most of your life so you need to learn how. And you probably learn best by studying at your own pace

HOMEWORK hijacks family life, is stopping children from exercising and should be reviewed, a leading child psychologist has warned.

As debate continues over the effectiveness of homework, The Sunday Mail can reveal Education Queensland has abolished its homework time guidelines, including that Prep students "generally" should not be set any.

Students aged 4-5 are now often being sent home with "readers".

Early Childhood Teachers Association president Kim Walters said they were against that idea, with Prep students better off reading practical texts such as recipes and catalogues at home, or having stories read to them by parents.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, who has been voicing concerns about homework for years, said while he was not opposed to it, he was opposed to how it was being delivered.

"The reason I want a change is because the evidence base is there that says there is no academic benefit from homework in primary school, it hijacks family life, they (children) are not doing enough exercise and it causes fights," he said.

He said homework should be reviewed nationally and either abolished in primary school or include practical activities such as housework, shopping, sport and board games.

Associate Professor Mike Horsley of Central Queensland University said homework should be reformed.

Prof Horsley, who co-wrote the book Reforming Homework, said while research showed homework had no effect on achievement in children aged under eight, and little benefit in Years 4 to 6, it did have benefits for younger students by teaching them to "self-regulate" if it was of high quality.

"Research done in Germany shows that often kids who spend a long time doing homework actually achieve less than kids who spend a very small time doing homework," he said.

"It has to involve new learning - not drill and practice ... and they (children) have to have a fair degree of say in how and when and what they do in their homework."

He said homework did make a difference to achievement in Years 10 to 12 and was a contentious issue.

An investigation by The Sunday Mail has found many Queensland Year 11 and 12 students are being set about three hours of homework a night, including assignments.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller said in state schools about 15 hours a week was the general guideline for homework in Year 12, but ambitious students often studied more.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said "the happy medium is to make sure kids can still be kids".

Education Queensland assistant director-general Marg Pethiyagoda said state schools developed homework policy in consultation with their school community.

"Teachers are best placed to decide the extent and type of homework that suits the individual learning needs of their students in all year levels, including Prep," she said.


Taxpayers fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars for lawsuits over blunders at Queensland public hospitals

If it wasn't for the fact that most people get better anyway, they'd be in real trouble

TAXPAYERS have been forced to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars after blunders at Queensland public hospitals left a baby severely brain damaged, a woman unaware she was dying of breast cancer, and a patient without an unnecessarily amputated leg, new reports show.

More than 500 lawsuits were lodged against Queensland Health between July 1, 2010, and December 31, 2012, but fewer than a third were finalised and just nine reached settlements, according to documents obtained by The Sunday Mail under Right to Information laws. The failure to detect a woman's breast cancer resulted in the largest payout, of $610,000.

Lawyers specialising in personal compensation say they receive an average of two calls a day relating to medical negligence, but very few result in legal action, not because it can't be proven, but because it's not cost-effective.

Bennett and Philp Lawyers director Mark O'Connor said the system was geared against the disadvantaged - namely the aged, people on disability pensions, and stay-at-home mothers who were unlikely to return to the workforce.

"If someone has a damages claim worth less than $63,991 after July 1 last year, they can recover their legal costs, but less than that, no matter how valid the claim is, the most you can get back is $3210 - that's if your claim is worth more than $38,391. Below that you don't recover any legal costs at all," Mr O'Connor said.

"If you have a pensioner who suffers an injury in a public hospital that gives them a few months of grief, no matter how legitimate the claim is, the action almost certainly won't be pursued because you won't get the opportunity to recover any of the legal costs. Any legal costs come out of the damages and it's just not worthwhile."

Mr O'Connor said the difficulty with health litigation was exacerbated by the fact doctors were loath to give evidence against each other.

"Health applications are extremely difficult for a lot of reasons because lawyers who investigate claims are captive to expert opinion from other doctors and that's often difficult to get," he said.

"If I have a claim against an orthopaedic surgeon from Queensland I would have to source that opinion from NSW or Victoria because it's such a collegiate profession."

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said the cases of improper treatment were a small portion of Queensland public hospitals' annual caseload.

"The Government regrets these incidents and believes the small number of people who are harmed are entitled to have their claims addressed through QGIF (Queensland Government Insurance Fund) and the legal process," he said.

"Unfortunately, false claims are made from time to time and for this and other reasons, careful consideration of each case is necessary."


Crims 'let off lightly'

POLICE have blasted what they say are light penalties given to offenders they spend time and resources hunting down.

Police union boss George Tilbury says he and many police officers across WA are "extremely frustrated, particularly when they put in significant efforts to investigate crimes, only to see the offenders let off ".

"Victims (of crime) tell us they feel let down because offenders are getting off lightly," he said. "At the end of the day, all our officers want is justice to be served."

Several officers vented their frustration to The Sunday Times this week. "There are too many second chances being handed out and the community has a right and an expectation to feel protected knowing that these people are locked up," one said.

Mr Tilbury also complained that court cases took too long. "We are seeing in a lot of cases now, lawyers are encouraging their clients to draw out the process so that they can examine all the evidence only to plead guilty on the day of the trial," he said.

"It takes a significant amount of police resources to prepare a case for trial."

But Criminal Lawyers Association of WA president Linda Black said police were often to blame for long court delays.

"The reality is that a significant reason for the delays in matters being brought to a conclusion is because of the failure of police to disclose in a timely way the evidence and the materials relevant to the charge," she said.

She said WA also had one of the highest incarceration rates in Australia.


15 March, 2013

Ita Buttrose joins growing chorus of prominent Australians who don't back Labor's media "reforms"

AUSTRALIAN of The Year Ita Buttrose has slammed Labor's media reforms saying the public should be the ultimate judge of what is appropriate journalism.

The publishing queen told News Limited she was disappointed with the government's package of reforms, announced this week, and did not believe greater regulation of the press was necessary.

"I don't think we need any further regulation," Ms Buttrose said.

"There are already enough regulatory authorities and it's not really clear what the problem is with the current way of doing things.

"At the end of the day the public makes their own decisions. If they feel we've done the wrong thing they switch us off or don't buy us. The public should be the ultimate arbiter."

Ms Buttrose has been a staple of the Australian media landscape for decades. She was the founding editor of Cleo and editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph in the 1980s.

In January Ms Buttrose was announced as the 2013 Australian of The Year at a ceremony on the lawns of Parliament House presented by Julia Gillard.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has come under fire for Labor's media reforms, with many slamming the package as an attempt to constrain freedom of the press.

Senator Conroy has said the measures would be put into parliament next week and needed to be passed by Thursday or they would be abandoned.

This morning he said it was not an imposition to ask parliament to pass the laws quickly because the issue had been debated since 2007.

"For people to suggest that there hasn't been an effective debate around the country, they are just ignoring the facts," he told ABC radio.

He said some of the media coverage on the reforms had been "hysterical" considering the concepts in the package had been in place in the US and UK for years.

Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said he believed it was unlikely the reforms would pass through parliament.

He said Senator Conroy had done a poor job at selling the package. "He could not sell fresh fish to starving seals," Mr Turnbull told the Nine Network.

Labor needs to secure the votes of several independent MPs in order to pass the reforms. But former Labor MP now independent Craig Thomson and independent Rob Oakeshott have both indicated they won't back the package.


Qld authorities failed abused baby: report

Typical bureaucratic indifference is no match for evil

A BABY girl was not protected from abuse by her parents because of multiple failings by Queensland's child safety department, a watchdog says.

The baby suffered bleeding on the brain, broken legs, haemorrhaging in both eyes and fractured ribs, and 10 child protection workers could face disciplinary action.

A report by the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian (CCYPCG) says the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services failed the baby multiple times, according to Fairfax.

The report says the department may be liable for legal fees if the child decides to sue for neglect when she is older.

The report says the baby was sent home from hospital with her parents when she was supposed to be taken into child safety protection, and that her parents, in particular her father, had a history of child abuse.

It's claimed an interstate agency had also contacted the department warning them of the unborn child's risk when the girl's mother was pregnant.

But the department failed to issue an Unborn Child High Risk Alert which would have told hospital staff to notify them of the girl's birth.

"The subject child was detrimentally affected by multiple failures in the department's service delivery which amounts to maladministration and requires redress," the CCYPCG's report said.

"... as such, the department has an ongoing responsibility to provide not only ongoing care, protection and therapeutic services for the subject child, but also to ensure access to appropriate legal services and other advice and assistance.

"This will allow the subject child to pursue any legal and other remedies available, at an appropriate age and time."

The department's Ethical Standards Unit as well as the Crime and Misconduct Commission are assessing whether 10 child protection workers should face disciplinary action.

The CCYPCG's recommendations include overhauling practices within the department as well as providing an apology and explanation to the girl when she's old enough.

The girl will remain in care until she turns 18.


RBA official delivers jobs caution, property optimism

The Reserve Bank is sceptical about February's job surge, but it has reaffirmed its cautiously optimistic view of the housing market.

A senior RBA official says a huge surge in jobs growth in February will not be the single determining factor for the central bank's outlook on interest rates.

ABS figures released yesterday showed 71,500 jobs were added to the economy last month, and the unemployment rate remained steady for the third month in a row, at 5.4 per cent.

Speaking to the Australian Institute of Building in Sydney last night, one of the Reserve Bank's assistant governors, Christopher Kent, said the future of Australia's jobs market was hard to predict.

"I would pause for a minute to think - we don't want to turn things around on the basis of one month's number, particularly as I referred to, some of this number may be overstated," he cautioned.

"The labour market is very important, but it's not the full story, so you'd want to sort of be looking at a range of other indicators before you made that call [that rates should not be cut any further]."

However, Dr Kent did say there are clear signs of a nascent pick up in the real estate and construction sectors.

Dr Kent says low interest rates, the relatively easy availability of credit for home buyers, and confidence in housing prices are the key factors driving growth.

"Our liaison with industry has confirmed that the demand for new housing has been more positive over recent months," he said.

"At the same time, however, our contacts note that conditions remain relatively subdued in most states."

Dr Kent says, with mortgage repayments taking up the lowest proportion of disposable income in the past decade, housing construction levels should rise.

"The availability and relatively low cost of finance for home purchases, combined with improving conditions in the established housing market, has been supporting housing construction in the last couple of quarters, and the expectation is that dwelling investment will continue pick up from here," he said.

"However it's really hard to know how strong this pick up is likely to be."

Dr Kent also says there has been a clear shift to higher density housing over the past decades, and that is likely to have a big impact on the market in the longer term.


PM accused of using rubbery figures in 457 visa fight

She wants to keep LEGAL immigrants out -- while hosting thousands of useless "asylum seekers"

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is being accused of using rubbery figures to justify her call for a crackdown on 457 visa rorts.

On Thursday Ms Gillard told an Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) conference that temporary overseas work was growing faster than employment.

She said temporary overseas worker numbers were up 20 per cent compared with the same time last year, whereas employment growth for the period was only 1 per cent.

"That in itself is evidence of a problem," she said.

"The number of people coming here to fill short-term gaps should not be growing 20 times faster than employment overall."

But demographer and government adviser Peter McDonald says the Prime Minister's statement does not bear scrutiny.

He says that is because the retirement of baby boomers means Australia starts each year 140,000 workers short.

457 visa numbers

2011-12 - 125,070
2009-10 - 67,980
2007-08 - 110,570
2003-04 - 39,500

"If the labour force grows by 1 per cent as the Prime Minister says, that's about 120,000 [people]," he said.

"So we take the 120,000 growth, 140,000 we have to make up, [making a] combined 260,000 new workers that we have to get into the labour force, and 457s make up about 40,000 of that.

"I think the way the Prime Minister expressed it about growth rates, not using numbers, was really statistically misleading."

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor says Mr McDonald's comments are wrong and irrelevant.

"The Government is perfectly correct in saying the total 457 issues has vastly outstripped total employment growth, but the total figures really aren't the point of our reforms," he said.

"The Government doesn't think all 457s are rorts, the Government thinks there are problems with particular firms and particular occupations."

The ABC has confirmed that no-one in the bureaucracy is driving the Government's push against 457 visas.

On the contrary, the Immigration Department issued a statement in February saying falling demand since last June showed the program was responding well to economic needs.

But Ms Gillard sees it differently: "457s are a gap filler for our skills-poor economy at times and places of highest need. Yet that is simply not what is happening today and that is why we must fix it," she told the union summit.

Ms Gillard also said it was unacceptable that too many temporary overseas workers were filling health jobs and that local workers were missing out. She said tighter requirements on visa applicants and employers would address that.

"Most striking of all is the widespread use of temporary skilled labour in hospitals and health," she said.

But Mr McDonald says "nasty" comments like that undermine the system. "The Prime Minister talked about health workers, for example, in I think quite a nasty way," he said.

"The health workers that she's [talking about are] highly skilled health workers, many of them working in regional areas, the only doctor for miles, the only pharmacist for miles.

"And she's telling them that they've been given the priority whereas Australians have to clean the toilets or work cleaning the hospitals, etc. "I think that's pretty nasty stuff."


14 March, 2013

Another pseudo Aborigine

He may be a perfectly fine fellow as far as I know but just look at the picture and tell me if he is an Aborigine

ADAM Giles is the new Chief Minister and Dave Tollner is his deputy after the pair ousted Terry Mills from the top job while he was on a trade visit to Japan.

Mr Giles, who becomes the first indigenous leader of a government in Australia's history, said he was approached by colleagues who begged him to take the job yesterday.

"Late this morning I was approached by a number of my colleagues and asked if I would take on the role of being Chief Minister of the Northern Territory," he said.

"I accepted that role from the majority of my colleagues. "It feels great to stand here as the Chief Minister elect. I am truly humbled."

Mr Giles said taking the reigns of the CLP Government was a "significant challenge" and he would focus on communicating their policies to the public.

"I think there is a great message to sell by the Country Liberal party and I look forward to selling that message," he said.

Mr Giles then thanked Mr Mills for his political contributions and said he still regarded his former boss as a "friend". "I wish him all the best and I look forward to him continuing his role in Parliament in the NT," Mr Giles said.

It is understood Mr Giles has already selected his Cabinet which will be announced this afternoon. The NT News understands Lia Finocchiaro will return to the back bench.

The bush electorate - that includes Alison Anderson, Bess Price, Francis Xavier and Larisa Lee - were instrumental in securing Mr Giles' leadership.

Just last Wednesday they refused to support his first bid for the top job but it is understood they were won over and supported Mr Giles in a vote yesterday.

Ms Price was spotted dining with Mr Giles and Mr Tollner at Il Piatto restaurant in Darwin on Tuesday night and enjoying lunch with the new bosses and Indigenous Advancement Minister Anderson yesterday.

Ms Anderson was outspoken in her criticism of Mr Giles' first bid to become the boss, calling him a "little boy" and "spoilt brat" who should have been happy to accept Mr Mills' offer to become his deputy chief minister.

The coup has been the fourth attempt on Mr Mills' leadership after John Elferink aborted an attempt last month when he realised he did not have the numbers.

Mr Tollner also mounted a failed leadership bid when the CLP were in opposition in 2010.

For the extended coverage of the leadership coup including analysis of the event get a copy of today's print edition of the NT News.


Some people are easily offended

An attempt to be helpful offends

Liberal Eleni Evangel's win over John Hyde in the seat of Perth in the weekend's state election came as a surprise to some but for one constituent, it was Ms Evangel's campaign material that provided the biggest shock.

Ms Evangel won the seat from Mr Hyde who had held it since 2001 but she did not win any support from Perth woman, Kerry Jacobs.

Mrs Jacobs received a campaign letter written entirely in Chinese from Ms Evangel in the lead-up to the election.

Mrs Jacobs' maiden name is Chong (she was married last year). Her parents are Malaysian and speak Mandarin but she was born in Perth and has lived here all her life.

"I was really offended," she said. "I can understand it's generally an Asian sounding name but other than that, I have no idea how she [Evangel] came to the conclusion that I must speak Chinese."

Mrs Jacobs assumed the mistake was made because the Liberals must have had an old copy of the electoral roll, with her maiden name on it and someone made an assumption based purely on that.

She said she initially had no idea what the letter said as she could not even tell if the language was Mandarin - all she knew was that it was Chinese.

"My parents have been here since the 70s and my dad has never received anything like this," she said.

Mrs Jacobs said she was bothered by an assumption she was from a certain background based on her last name or appearance.

Although a Vietnamese neighbour who received a letter in Vietnamese did not appear to be offended about his letter when he spoke to Mrs Jacobs about it, he agreed his correspondence must also have been tailored to his surname.

"She [Ms Evangel] may have been told that because this is a culturally diverse area, it would work to her advantage," Mrs. Jacobs said.

But she pointed out that she would prefer to see Ms Evangel out at Chinese New Year celebrations and taking part in cultural events rather than sending letters in different languages based on assumptions.

Ms Evangel said letters were sent out in Chinese, Vietnamese and Serbian languages.

"Community leaders recommended doing this as there are some people in the area who aren't so fluent in English," she said.

Ms Evangel said members of culturally diverse community groups identified people with names they thought were from certain backgrounds from the electoral roll and would therefore speak certain languages.

However she said most of the foreign language letters were sent out with an accompanying version in English.

"There was a hiccup in the office and one set of letters was sent out without the English translation," Ms Evangel said.

"It's a shame because it was a bit of a slip-up during the hectic lead up to the election."

Ms Evangel said she received a small handful of complaint letters about the matter but many more "thank yous."

She said she had meant well by sending the letters in different languages.

"I'm of Greek background, my mum's been here 50 years, she can communicate in English, but there's no way she'd be able to read something like that [a letter in English]. We read it and explain it to her," Mrs Evangel said.

Those who did not receive the English version of the letter were sent it about a week after the first letters were sent out, Ms Evangel said.

Ms Evangel did not say whether any further material that she sent out to constituents would be done in a similar fashion.

"For now I'm concentrating in getting setup, which will take a couple of weeks, there is so much to do," she said.


Church leader vows to fight mosque decision

The head of the Catch the Fire Ministries has vowed to appeal against a decision to approve a mosque next to the Christian church he plans to build in Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs.

In an eight to one vote, the Casey City Council approved the mosque for an industrial area in Doveton. About 2,000 people signed petitions opposing the mosque.

Pastor Daniel Nalliah, who is also the founder of the Rise Up Australia Party, says the decision marks a sad day for Australia.

"This is not the end of the application. We will taking this application to High Court or Supreme Court," he said. "We have consulted our legal team and we will be talking later."

A racial vilification charge was brought against Pastor Nalliah by the Islamic Council of Victoria. It was overturned on appeal in 2006.

Sherene Hassan, from the Afghan Islamic Centre, says Pastor Nalliah is an aspiring politician, just trying to make a political point.

"We were actually well into the planning process before we found out that we were going to be next door to Pastor Nalliah," she said. "I think there was a few members of the community that had some concerns based on fear. "I think people should practise their Christian teachings of love thy neighbour."


Need to cut government fat before we all pay the price

THERE was an important lesson to come out of the government's announcement that there will be no surplus this year. We learned that, despite a strong economy and the serious political consequences of breaking another promise, governments are seemingly incapable of breaking their addiction to increasing spending.

Egged on by sections of the public and the media, spending across all tiers of government has grown at more than 4 per cent a year for the past 40 years, outstripping GDP growth despite some of the strongest economic conditions this country has seen.

Governments have been spending in bad times, as then prime minister Kevin Rudd said in 2008, to "underpin positive economic growth in the Australian economy", and governments have been spending in good times, such as the expansion of middle class welfare under the Howard government and the efforts of Julia Gillard to "spread the benefits of the boom."

Government spending creates a growing constituency with a vested interest in voting for even greater largesse. The Centre for Independent Studies estimates that in the 2010 election nearly half of all voters relied on the government for the majority of their income.

In some parts of the country the story may be worse: University of Tasmania professor Jonathan West calculates that only a third to a quarter of Tasmanians earn their income independently of government. Unsurprisingly, Tasmania receives large subsidies from the rest of the country and the unemployment rate is nearly 3 per cent higher than the national average. Few talk about how we are going to pay for all this. With rising healthcare costs, an ageing population, and lower economic growth, government spending is set to exceed 50 per cent of GDP by 2050. This will mean higher taxes, higher debts, and even slower growth.

The CIS has launched the TARGET30 campaign to halt these worrying trends and promote the benefits of smaller government. It aims to cut government spending to less than 30 per cent of GDP over 10 years. This is an achievable target that can be met by holding spending constant in per capita terms. This will put Australia in the best shape to meet our future challenges.

TARGET30 will focus on ways that essential services can be delivered while reducing waste before a crisis like the continuing meltdown in Europe hits here.

Australia needs a debate on the size of government. It is absurd to argue, as some have, that government's current revenue base is insufficient and we need higher taxes. Governments already rake in more than a third of everything Australia produces; failure by governments to meet their basic obligations (e.g. in defence and infrastructure) demonstrates incompetence, not underfunding.

There is no credence to the argument that there is no fat to be cut. Government spends about half a trillion dollars a year; some of this is necessary, but much of it is not. Simple steps can get the budget back into balance in the medium term.

First, the next government must audit all government programs to see which are really necessary, and which actually meet their goals. Obvious areas of inefficiencies, such as the $10 billion a year provided in industry assistance and the duplication of departments at commonwealth and state level, should be scrapped immediately.

We can spur improvements in health and public hospitals by encouraging competition, especially through the use of vouchers and increased use of private sources of health funding. Substantial benefits would also come from reducing middle-class welfare churn; a good first step would be abolishing the $4.5bn Family Tax Benefit Part B payment.

We should all be made aware of the true costs of government services, such as the level of subsidies provided under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and for public transport; and price signalling through user charges should be extended.

In addition, governments should focus on improving the performance of the public sector. The NSW Treasury predicted that its fiscal gap could be completely closed through increases in public sector workforce productivity of 0.5 per cent above the national average.

Australia is in a strong economic position, but we must cut government spending now to ensure future prosperity.


13 March, 2013

Tony Abbott hits back at suggestions he has created an abusive culture in public debate

Calling Abbott a mad monk is OK, of course

TONY Abbott has described the actions of four protestors who hurled abuse at Julia Gillard in question time yesterday as deplorable amid claims from Labor he incited the outburst.

Speaking this morning the Opposition Leader said the Prime Minister and the parliament needed to be respected after members of the public were kicked out of the public gallery for shouting "Ju-liar" and "moll" at Ms Gillard.

"People should be polite to the Prime Minister, it doesn't matter what they think of her policies or her government, they should be polite to her - that's the respect that the senior leadership of this country ought to be given," Mr Abbott told 2GB's Ray Hadley.

"And people certainly shouldn't be disruptive of the parliament, so I deplore any disruption. But on the other hand I think people are certainly entitled to express an opinion and one of the things that really upsets me about this government is that it seems to be trying to bully people into silence."

Labor has pointed the finger at Mr Abbott over yesterday's protest action in question time, saying the Opposition Leader has fostered a culture that allows members of the public to feel they can abuse parliamentary process.

Cabinet Minister Tanya Plibersek this morning said Mr Abbott was to blame for the outburst by four protestors who were later ejected from the public gallery.

Yesterday Ms Plibersek was heard shouting at the Opposition Leader across the chamber "you created this culture" and today stood by her remarks.

"We have Liberal members of parliament whipping people up at a rally on the lawns of parliament house, we have people in Liberal party t-shirts who then come into the parliament with the feeling that their behaviour is sanctioned by the highest levels in the Liberal party in Australia," Ms Plibersek told the Nine Network. "It's a very bad time and a very bad culture."

Labor MP Graham Perrett accused Mr Abbott of "throwing grenades" into the public debate to create a climate where protest action occurs.

"He spent two years of throwing grenades rolling them down the aisle and saying ‘do this, go and stand under defamatory disgusting signs', he does all of that and then suddenly says ‘oh an election is coming, better slip on the blue tie, put on the white shirt' and suddenly all of that skulduggery and dirty behaviour, suddenly stops," Mr Perrett said.

"That's not the culture that Mr Abbott has created and the chickens are coming home to roost.”

Greens MP Adam Bandt also said the Coalition was to blame for some of the negativity resonating throughout public debate.

"I do think the Liberals do bear some responsibility for the ugly direction that some of the public debate has gone in recent years," Mr Bandt said.

"Tony Abbott has sided with the kind of denigration of the parliament and of the Prime Minister even that has not been seen for many, many years."

Coalition MPs said it was "ridiculous" to suggest Tony Abbott had fanned a negative public debate and Labor was simply trying to distract the public from its policy failures.

"It's a ridiculous suggestion from a desperate government who is trying to divert attention from their failures," opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison told Sky News.

Liberal MP Jamie Briggs said it was "an absolute double standard" from Labor.

"Because they don't like the fact they are being held to account for the broken promises they made," he said.


Conroy's media rule changes face defeat

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Conroy denies his media law changes are an attack on the freedom of the press, as MPs and media organisations line up against the plan.

Senator Conroy says he won't be "bartering" on the details of the plan to get it through parliament by his deadline of Thursday week, even though the specific details of the legislation have yet to be made public.

The planned measures - to be introduced to parliament on Thursday - include a public interest test on media mergers, to be overseen by a government-appointed bureaucrat.

The public interest media advocate would also ensure the self-regulatory body that handles complaints about the print and online media does its job properly.

The minister was compared to despots Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao and Fidel Castro in News Limited's Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday.

However, Senator Conroy said the media advocate would not have the power to restrict freedom of the press.

"That's just not the case at all," he told ABC radio on Wednesday when asked whether it amounted to government regulation of the press.

He rejected claims by News Limited boss Kim Williams that the changes amounted to the biggest attack on freedom of speech since World War II by introducing government-sanctioned journalism.

Senator Conroy said the changes - which stemmed from two media reviews in the past 18 months - had been widely debated and not rushed.

Liberal frontbencher Eric Abetz says it's not good public policy to restrict freedom of the press. "That is clearly what is on the government agenda," he said. "To top it all off they want to ram it and force it through the parliament."

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce described Senator Conroy's plan as "quite bizarre".

Labor senator Doug Cameron described the plan as "modest", adding that the response from News Limited and the opposition had been "hysterical". "I don't think News Limited exercises its responsibilities well at all," he told ABC television.

"If you've got this power and influence you should not desecrate the democracy you are involved in."

Independent senator Nick Xenophon says he believes the measures won't go anywhere even though some, such as a cut in licence broadcast licence fees, have merit.

Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt, whose vote will be crucial in the lower house, questioned whether the government was serious about its legislation passing parliament.

"You do wonder if Labor would be happy, if in fact it fell over, and whether that is behind its odd arbitrary deadlines on such an important reform," he told reporters.

Independent MP Craig Thomson said the package was "disappointing" and a long way from the recommendations of the expert media reviews.

Other crossbenchers Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are awaiting the detailed legislation before deciding whether to support it.

A one-day parliamentary inquiry into the laws will be held on Friday.


A crime to criticize abortion in Tasmania

"Abortion has effectively been legal in Australian states for more than 40 years, although it has remained in the criminal code. The number of prosecutions in all that time can be counted on one hand. So why the sudden enthusiasm for decriminalization?

"Because the real aim of the Labor-Green coalition which is running Tasmania is to criminalize abortion dissent. With only two weeks for the public to respond, the Health Minister, Michelle O’Byrne, has drafted what may be most draconian abortion law anywhere.

"The neighbouring state of Victoria decriminalized abortion in 2008. Ms O’Byrne says that this is the model for her bill. But the Victorian bill contains no penalties for conscientious objectors; the Tasmanian bill does. The Victorian bill doesn’t mention counsellors; the Tasmanian bill threatens counsellors with jail. The Victorian bill doesn’t mention protests; the Tasmanian bill threatens protesters with jail.”

Whenever you have a "public inquiry” in which ordinary citizens are given next to no time to prepare and enter a submission, then you know the government is trying to pull a fast one. They don’t really want public input – their mind is already made up. So that ridiculous deadline (March 22) certainly gives the game away.

And consider just what a Big Brother bill this really is: "If this bill passes, a part-time volunteer counsellor for an organization supporting pregnant women could be jailed for a year and fined up to A$65,000 if she refuses to refer a woman to a place where she can get an abortion. The bill’s definition of a counsellor includes anyone who gives ‘advice or information relating to pregnancy options’ and ‘whether or not for fee or reward’. Overnight, all agencies which disagree with abortion will be forced to shut down.

"Medical practitioners will be obliged under threat of a $65,000 fine to make referrals if they have a conscientious objection. To anyone who believes that an unborn child has a right to life making a referral means cooperating with evil. The proposed laws are coercing participation in the overall process of abortion procurement.

"Nurses who refuse to participate in abortions could be fined $65,000. The right to peaceful protest will also be shut down. The bill imposes a 300-metre-wide exclusion zone around abortion clinics. The maximum penalty is 12 months in jail and a $65,000 fine…

"To make matters worse, the prohibited activity includes intimidating, protesting or photographing, and ‘any other prescribed [sic] behaviour’. The sloppy wording, in combination with an open-ended section on regulations, could be used to punish innocent activity.

"The Health Minister has been quite disingenuous about the scope and purpose of her bill in her statements to the media. She has mentioned none of these tyrannical measures and has given the public a mere two weeks to respond to one of the most far-reaching pieces of abortion legislation ever proposed anywhere.”


Gas exploration regulated into oblivion

Coal seam gas company Metgasco says it is putting its northern New South Wales programs on hold, blaming recent State Government regulation changes.

The company is suspending its Clarence Moreton exploration and development program, which has been the subject of a series of community protests.

In a statement, Metgasco's company director Peter Henderson says it has not been an easy decision to make but was necessary because of the uncertainty surrounding regulation of the CSG industry.

A series of new regulations including a two-kilometre exclusion zone imposed around residential areas were announced last month.

The State Government is also introducing exclusion zones for critical industry clusters, such as for horse breeders and wine producers.

Mr Henderson says the changes were brought in without consulting the industry.

"The CSG industry in New South Wales endured an 18-month shutdown while the State Government reviewed the industry and put in place regulations it lauded as the toughest in Australia, if not the world," he said.

"Only five months after introducing these new regulations and confirming its support for the industry, the NSW Government has yet again announced new regulations, this time without any consultation with the energy industry."

Drew Hutton from anti-CSG group the Lock the Gate Alliance says he hopes it is the beginning of the end of CSG in the state. "Metgasco is reading the winds here," he said. "They're realising that the State Government is changing tack as a result of an enormous amount of pressure from the community and the Federal Government likewise with its adoption of a water trigger."

Metgasco's statement contained no references to yesterday's decision by the Federal Government to toughen environmental laws covering coal seam gas projects.


12 March, 2013


Talks on the great climate fraud

· Tuesday 12th March: Evening (7:00 pm) Irish Club, 175 Elizabeth Street Brisbane CBD. opp. The HILTON

· Wednesday 13th March: Gold Coast: Wednesday 13 March: 7:30 pm (Daylight saving time) at Coolangatta/Tweed Heads Golf Club, (end of) Soorley St, Tweed Heads South

· Thursday 14th March - Evening (7:00) Gold Coast: 288 Gooding Drive CARRARA ~Reach Out For Christ Church; ~QLD launch of Rise Up Australia Party.

· Friday 15th March - Cairns - Evening (7:00) Croswell Hall, Cairns State High School, Digger Street Entrance

· Saturday 16th March - Daytime (1:00pm) Rockhampton - Elizabethan room, Leichardt Hotel, Bolsover Street

Gillard trying to buy re-election

Amid growing speculation that Prime Minister Julia Gillard will have to abdicate or face a beheading at the federal election, talk is turning to the country's infrastructure as suggestions of pork barrelling and policy backflips emerge.

It is a sad indictment on a government that returned to power in 2007 promising to rebuild the nation and lift productivity using infrastructure as the centrepiece.

To this end it gave the country its first infrastructure minister and set up an independent advisory body, Infrastructure Australia (IA). IA was designed to eliminate pork barrelling by creating a priority list of infrastructure projects based on a cost-benefit analysis and advising on major policy reforms – including how to make public private partnerships (PPPs) work and rational tolling.

Fast forward to today and outside of the NBN – which has its own set of controversies – the government's grand plan for infrastructure is in tatters and sound policy and decision-making have been hijacked by real politics.

To put it into context, $3.6 billion was outlaid in the last federal budget to support state infrastructure, compared with $7.69 billion in the previous year. This is a drop in the ocean compared with what is required to bridge the country's $770 billion public infrastructure backlog.

The neutering of IA became apparent when the government rolled out the NBN without consultation and 10 days out from an election it committed $2 billion to the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link project in Sydney.

The rail link didn't qualify for IA's priority list or the state government's Metropolitan Transport Plan 2010. It did qualify for votes though. So did a series of rail, road and port infrastructure projects that qualified for funding despite their absence from the IA list on the basis that more work was needed.

As the 2013 federal election looms and pressure mounts on the Labor Party to preserve as many seats as it can, backflips on infrastructure policy are becoming more blatant – and desperate. These include Treasurer Wayne Swan's threats to Queensland based on the state's blueprint for better healthcare, the WestConnex project and the ATO draft determination.

The Queensland government's blueprint was an attempt to cut costs and create efficiencies in an unsustainable health sector by opening it up to new financing models, privatisations, outsourcing and exposing its health services to contestability.

The Treasurer's reaction was almost hysterical as he warned the reforms posed a "threat to Medicare and the values behind it – particularly quality healthcare through free public hospitals". He also said the government would do what it could to stop the reforms.

This was seen as an attempt to placate the Health Services Union and the public sector, given there is no evidence the blueprint would have any impact on Medicare or public hospitals as the only difference is there would be a different contracted employer.

Then there was the Prime Minister's $1 billion pledge during last week's stint at Rooty Hill to ease congestion in Sydney's western suburbs by building the WestConnex (M4 East, M5 East and inner-west bypass).

Funding came on the proviso that tolling would be banned on existing sections of the M4 and M5 motorways. Under the proposal, Gillard has also said that the scope of the project would be extended, to provide commuters travelling on the M4 with a direct link to the city and freight travelling on the M5 with a direct link to Port Botany.

Given it will cost up to $15 billion to complete, such a condition effectively rules out private sector interest, which makes the announcement look like a cynical attempt to claw back votes.

Ruling out tolls also puts it in direct contrast to advice put forward by IA – the body it set up – in its last two reports to COAG.

The brutal reality is there are two ways to fund public infrastructure: taxes or tolls.

But examples of cynical announcements don't stop there. Reports emerged on Monday that during Gillard's trip last week 19 proposed western Sydney infrastructure projects that had applied for Regional Development Australia Fund grants had made it to the fourth round. Only three projects from other regional areas managed to get through to the next stage.

There are also questions over the release of the ATO draft tax determination, unveiled in December without industry consultation. In summary, debt deductions for PPPs will be reduced, making them less viable, changing a project's economics and ultimately making the capital program more expensive.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia said in a submission: "The draft taxation determination is impacting both existing and future projects, by creating uncertainty for project arrangers, investors and the various state governments. It has also created uncertainty among lenders to such projects. We ask that, as a matter of priority, the draft taxation determination be resolved quickly to remove this uncertainty. We are willing to assist in this process." Indeed.


NSW firm over teaching benchmark

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has refused to back away from his plans to set benchmarks for new teachers based on HSC results, despite universities saying they may not implement the plan.

Universities threw their support behind a Commonwealth government plan announced on Monday for new standards for teaching students which include an assessment of aptitude but do not set a minimum standard academic result.

Applicants could be screened for their suitability for teaching via methods which could include "interviews, demonstrated values and aptitude, and a written statement."

The move comes less than a week after the NSW government announced its own reforms aimed at improving the quality of teaching, including setting minimum HSC requirements for school leavers hoping to enter teaching degrees.

Universities Australia said institutions in NSW will not implement any proposals which conflict with the national plan.

"The significance of the federal government's intervention shifts the responsibility for achieving teacher quality to the national arena. In effect this national plan displaces the recently announced NSW plan," said Universities Australia's chief executive Belinda Robinson. "All universities will act on the basis of a national plan and NSW universities will not implement any proposals that are inconsistent with it."

But Mr Piccoli said that while he hoped to work on the plans in collaboration with universities, his government would not back away from setting a "tougher standard" for teachers in this state.

"My interest is not in university revenues [but] in making sure we've got the best teaching possible … Singapore, Finland, Ontario, South Korea - all of the countries that outperform Australia have very high standards for entry."

Mr Piccoli warned NSW students who studied teaching degrees and did not meet the HSC requirements would not get jobs after graduation. "The universities can enrol them but they won't get a practicum placement and they won't be registered when they graduate."

Like the state government, the federal government has also called for a new literacy and numeracy test that teaching graduates will have to pass before they can graduate, to demonstrate their skills are equivalent to the top 30 per cent of the population. Other aspects of the federal government plan, part of its National Plan for School Improvement reforms, include taking a national approach to teacher practicum and a review of all teaching courses by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said the changes were aimed at ensuring every teacher had the "passion" and "personal capacity" to be the best teacher possible. "It's not unusual for some universities to go through a process of asking people to write down why they want to be a teacher, to spend some time in an interview identifying their passions and their interests," he said.

The executive dean of education at Charles Sturt University, Professor Toni Downes, said having both plans in place would be "the worst case scenario".

"It would almost strangle the university sector," she said. "It's going to be one of the most highly regulated professions … If the state government cared about getting the best and brightest, I think they'd go out and work on transforming the workplace, helping teachers to be more highly respected with higher rates of pay."


'No surprise' that racist bus altercation wasn't reported

A Perth cultural studies expert says overt racism - like that displayed in a recent shocking altercation between two women on a Transperth bus - often goes unreported because of its common nature and the fact many people all but accept it.

The Transperth incident, which was captured on video and uploaded on to YouTube, was not reported by any of the passengers on board: something that did not surprise Curtin University's Jon Stratton.

The video, which was filmed on the Circle Route bus on March 5 near Hilton, shows a woman verbally abusing another woman, who she refers to as Chinese, for speaking in another language.

Comments such as "f... off on your boat you dog," are yelled at the woman.

No response is heard, but a short time later another woman appears to try to intervene by yelling at the abusive woman. The intervention does nothing to stop the woman's abuse, other than divert it towards the third woman.

Insults based on race, sexuality and appearance are exchanged, with the woman who was defending the "Chinese" woman then also hurling racial abuse, before the argument turns violent and the two begin a fight which ends with both on the floor of the bus, one pinned under the other.

Professor Stratton said although some people may have chosen not to report the incident because of the potential of of being a witness if the case ever went further, there were others who accepted that race based-altercations happened in Australia.

"We like to think of ourselves as multicultural and accepting of others but when it comes down to it, it's only really OK when someone of another race is in their place like serving food at a Thai restaurant," he said.

"It's okay for racial differences to crop up in restaurants provided 'they' stay out of sight."

Public Transport Authority spokesman David Hynes, who confirmed the incident was not reported by any passengers, said the type of behaviour involved was not confined to public transport.

"Statistics suggest an increase in this type of behaviour and violence is less on public transport than in the general community," he said.

"That's a bit of a sad comment on society. Perhaps people are being a bit desensitised to this sort of thing."

Professor Stratton said racism and xenophobia often spilled out on public transport because people were couped up together with people from all different backgrounds, who they might not usually spend time with.

The Perth incident is not the first racist episode involving public transport to recently make headlines.

Earlier this year, ABC News presenter Jeremy Fernandez went public with his recollections of racial abuse on a Sydney bus in front of his young daughter and Melbourne commuters were subjected to a horrifying display of racism and threats of violence on a bus when a French woman was abused for singing in her native tongue.

Professor Stratton said the fear of people speaking languages other than English in Australia had existed since the 1950s.

"You don't know what they are saying, they might be talking about you, saying nasty things about you and if they are speaking another language they have not assimilated," he said.

He said since the John Howard era, Australia had instituted a number of assimilation-based policies and there was a need for more policies which allowed education and understanding.


19th-century weatherman's trove of records found

A northern New South Wales family has uncovered a meteorological treasure in the form of decades of meticulous weather records from more than a century ago.

Farmers are good record keepers of the day-to-day weather on the land, but Algernon Belfield went above and beyond his duty.

For 40 years from the late 1800s, he watched rainfall as well as humidity, cloud movement and wind speeds.

His records were so good that they are now being shared by scientists to help improve the way weather is forecast in Australia.

The rare and unique discovery of his observations started with an annual spring clean at the home of Elspeth and Richard Belfield on the outskirts of Armidale. "I said to him 'what on Earth are you going to do with these weather records?'," Ms Belfield told AM.

"I had a look at them and they were so complex and we had various people look at them and they all said 'we think these records are incredible'."

With that advice, she sought a second opinion. That confirmed the little books were in fact some of the most accurate historical weather records in Australia.

"They've since found their place in the national archives, they're in the White House, they're in the UK, they're being studied around the world by various scientific bodies," Mr Belfield said.
The home of Algernon Belfield Photo: The home of Algernon Belfield on the outskirts of Armidale (Source: Richard and Elspeth Belfield)

The reason the books are so rare is the level of meteorological detail that was observed. Every day, at the same time from 1878 to 1922, Algernon Belfield set out on foot to the same spot on his property to update his books.

"He would go to his weather station and get all his weather details," Richard Belfield said. "My father said you would never go there at 8.50 because grandfather was on his mission and you just did not disturb him.

"He did 10 readings - cloud, moisture, all sorts of things every day. There's nothing like them in this period that's come to light so far."

That is a point not lost on Bill Oates from the University of New England. "Suddenly amidst all these records you find this one particular run of really detailed methodical weather record keeping that sits on this continuous run for 40 years," he said.

"We haven't seen anything like this before. A lot of people record rainfalls, a lot of people are recording for the government meteorologists, but this is just a one-off stand-out set."

As well as the detail that Algernon Belfield kept, the importance of his work is the time these records were taken.

The Bureau of Meteorology officially started standardised records in 1910, and they did not start in the New England district until 1961.

Martin Babakhan from the University of Newcastle does a weekly forecast for farmers and says the data are helping him and others better predict weather here in Australia. "We are coming up with the tools to give ourselves the best forecasting weather patterns for farmers," he said.

"If you can't understand the past, how can you expect us [to understand the future?]."


11 March, 2013

We'll fire climate staff and sub-let offices, warns Federal conservative spokesman

An incoming Coalition government might sack staff from the doomed Climate Change Department if they refuse to take redundancies.

The subsequent surplus office space in the Nishi building could be sub-let, or the Coalition might cancel the department's 15-year $158 million lease.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt detailed plans for abolishing the department amid reports the government might get in first to make savings in the budget.

Abolishing the Climate Change Department would reduce overlap with other areas, Mr Hunt said.

"From a managerial perspective, I think it makes a lot more sense. It's a significant and genuine efficiency and improvement," he said on Sunday. "It's more logical and more efficient to have a single department of climate and the environment."

Mr Hunt said the merger would result in job reductions. "The merged department will be significantly smaller," he said.

"Our preference is to have voluntary redundancies - we've never hidden that it would be a significantly smaller department."

Mr Hunt described the Climate Change Department's lease as one of the worst property deals for the Commonwealth in the past 20 years. "They've managed to lock us in for an extraordinary amount of time with a building that is arguably surplus to needs," he said.

"We'll review the contract and review the options for sub-leasing to the private sector. I don't want to pre-empt the outcome of what would be a genuine review process.

"I am extremely confident from discussions I have had that we can save the Commonwealth very, very significant amounts of money. "We will make significant savings in terms of staffing and associated administrative and building costs."

A Coalition government would also abolish the Energy Security Council, the Climate Change Authority and the Climate Change Commission, as well as the $10 billion Clean Energy Fund.

Speculation on the Climate Change Department was sparked after Prime Minister Julia Gillard said last month its secretary, Blair Comley, would leave.

Nishi developers Molonglo Group said on Wednesday the apartments were nearly finished but was unable to give a firm idea of when the project would be completed. Most work at the Acton site has been shut down since last Monday, when Ply, the main contractor, allegedly owing millions to local subcontractors, called in the administrators.


Homework hits home as Qld. schools outsource teaching to parents

MUMS and dads will be asked to teach their children literacy and numeracy at home under a state reform designed to improve student results.

Parents will be called on to play a bigger role in education under new instructions from Education Queensland to schools.

The move is recognition of research showing children learn much more from their parents than their teachers.

Parent body P&Cs Qld welcomes the idea, saying "it is the parent's responsibility to be the educator".

Principals are also supportive, saying the idea would counter the shift in responsibility from parents to schools.

Under the instructional framework, state schools are being told to consider running training and developmental courses for parents and to invite them in as guest teachers.

Other initiatives include setting practical literacy and numeracy activities that involve parents, providing parent literacy and numeracy workshops and sending staff into homes to explain the jargon used in schools.

"Parents and the broader community play a vital role in supporting successful learning outcomes for our children," the framework states.

It says a key marker of success will be parents being acknowledged as the first teachers of their children.

Some schools, including Redbank Plains and Glenala state high schools, have already demonstrated remarkable improvements in student results.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said the framework was about "valuing parents as part of the education process", not just telling them about it.

"It has got huge merit and it has got merit because what it recognises is that education doesn't just take place in school," Mr Bates said.

He said research showed school was responsible for about 20 per cent of a child's learning, family about 40 per cent and social about 40 per cent.

"In that sort of a situation we have to realise that clearly schools can do a lot, but they can't do it all," he said.

EQ deputy director-general Lyn McKenzie said the new framework was about turning "good schools into great schools". She said the teachers would not be doing less.

"It is about how can we help the parent add value to their child," Ms McKenzie said.

"Unless we work with the families in helping them understand how to assist their child in their learning then it will be more difficult to go from good to great schools."

Qld P&Cs CEO Peter Levett said the group backed the framework. "It can be as simple as reading to your child or asking them at the end of the day how school went," Mr Levett said.

"It comes back to ... that parents are the first teachers of their children and that responsibility continues throughout your child's education.

"Obviously there are parents that are time poor (but) it is the parent's responsibility to be the educator and that is not taking away from what the school is doing, it is adding to it."

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus agreed.

"Over the last 15 to 20 years there has been a massive shift to schools being asked to be responsible for elements such as teaching your child to swim, sex education and behaviour, which previously were clearly the responsibility and domain of parents," Mrs Backus said.

She said parents without a good education could make a difference by demonstrating they valued learning.


Hanson wants to contest next election

Former One Nation MP Pauline Hanson says she wants to contest the next federal election. Ms Hanson says she will run as an independent in a Queensland seat but has not decided which one.

She represented the federal seat of Oxley in Queensland for two years from 1996. She was originally pre-selected as a Liberal but was dumped from the party, sat as an independent and then founded One Nation.

Ms Hanson has raised migration and job security as key concerns.

"Our country's changing, we're not being listened to," she said. "Too many people are hurting.

"My fear is that my children and my grandchildren and many other Australians will never own their own home, there's no job security.

"We're bringing in people into the country that are filling positions that belong to Australians.

"I think that we need to take a stance on who we are as a nation, as a people, as our culture and our way of life."


Surgeon wins big payout over job loss

The South Australian Government has agreed to pay a cardiac surgeon $4.3 million in compensation over loss in income and damage to his reputation.

Professor John Knight was stood down by Flinders Medical Centre in 2009 during an investigation of an 81-year-old heart patient's death. The surgeon later was cleared by the Coroner of any wrongdoing.

But after a brief period of re-employment Professor Knight's contract with the hospital was not renewed.

Opposition health spokesman Rob Lucas said it would cost taxpayers even more once legal costs were added. "This is a disgraceful example of incompetence and financial mismanagement by the South Australian Government and Health SA and ultimately the cost to taxpayers will be in excess of $6 million," he said.

"Once the Coroner completely exonerated Professor Knight, the issue for the former minister for health and the Government is why did the Government then continue both his demotion, in terms of no longer being head of the unit, and then ultimately the non-renewal of his contract in the public health system at the Flinders Medical Centre?"

The SA Government's internal consultant Warren McCann will now head a review.

Health Minister Jack Snelling told Parliament it would examine SA Health's policies relating to the suspension of staff.

"Following this settlement and the earlier coronial inquest, I announce that I have approached Mr Warren McCann, Commissioner of Public Sector Employment, to carry out an independent review of the circumstances in which it is appropriate for a suspension of a clinician or health worker to be made," he said.

Professor Knight said the settlement confirmed the claims made against him were false and mischievous. "Whilst these outcomes are satisfying I am still without an apology from the Government," he said.

"I'm also profoundly saddened that I continue to be deprived of the ability to continue my academic career and work in the public hospital system.

"Furthermore I remain deeply distressed that a number of people who loyally stood by me in the face of baseless allegations have suffered ostracism and harassment in the workplace and ultimately loss of position."

Former health minister John Hill said he never personally attacked the cardiac surgeon.

Mr Hill, who made a statement to Parliament at the time of Professor Knight's suspension, now said he only relayed facts about the case at the time.


10 March, 2013

The left is misguided when it uses a bill of rights to distribute wealth

Protecting rights means more than doling out money

How protected are our rights to free speech? Two rulings of the High Court last week have brought the question into focus.

The court upheld an Adelaide bylaw that bans preaching on a city street and a federal law that forbids offensive material being sent through the post. These rulings can be added to the Gillard government's anti-discrimination bill (which would make it unlawful to offend someone's political opinions at work) and the proposed regulation of newspapers and blogs.

All of these laws, existing and proposed, would be quickly slapped down in US courts as laughably unconstitutional. The American bill of rights is very powerful. The First Amendment unambiguously protects free speech, free press and religion.

Yet in Australia, bills of rights haven't had much support by liberals and conservatives. The reason is simple. The First Amendment was written more than two centuries ago. Modern bills of rights tend to increase government power, rather than limit it. This is because our human rights advocates believe that to protect human rights we simply have to transpose United Nations treaties onto Australian law.

In recent inquiries, those advocates have called for a rights act to guarantee everything from free university to welfare - all because they're in UN documents. The UN even thinks we have a human right to high speed internet.

Instead of protecting people from the government, these "rights" are all about obligations - obliging taxpayers to give more money to the government so it can fund more stuff.

The distinction is important. America's Bill of Rights starts bluntly: "Congress shall make no law" restraining speech or religion. It's all about protecting people from their government. By contrast, the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says governments must guarantee food, clothing, and housing; that governments have a responsibility "to improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food"; that governments must ensure an "equitable distribution of world food supplies".

In other words, governments should control more things, tax more things, redistribute more things.

If the left want to understand the reason their opponents are sceptical about modern human rights, well, there you have it.

What would a conservative or liberal bill of rights look like? It would have to be entrenched within the constitution. It would have to mean something.

Courts would be able to enforce it. Labor attorney-general Rob Hulls was very proud of introducing Victoria's Charter of Rights in 2006 but the government can - and his government did - ignore that charter whenever convenient with no consequence. Why fill the statute books with motherhood statements? A bill of rights is a radical measure, not a tool for political self-congratulation.

Yet politicians don't like the idea of a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights. It might prevent them from doing whatever they want. The Rudd government forbade the National Human Rights Consultation report (which received 35,000 submissions) from considering anything that would reduce Parliament's "sovereignty". But that's the point - to stop Parliament from trampling our liberties. Anything less is a waste of time.

In Britain, Tories opposed to Tony Blair's labyrinth Human Rights Act want to replace it with a minimalist British Bill of Rights. Their proposal would protect "headline" liberties rather than a mishmash of economic and cultural aspirations. We could introduce something similar.

Such a bill would guarantee freedom of religion and association and protect people against incarceration without trial and all that good stuff. It could also have rigorous protection for property rights, for instance, and it would not dilute its right to free speech with a right not to be offended.

Yes: a bill of rights need not just be a wish list of the left. Let's haggle.

Many conservatives object that a bill of rights would give unelected and unaccountable judges the ability to dictate public policy. Fair point. But that ship sailed a long time ago.

A century of High Court cases has taken our constitution in directions that would shock the founders. We no longer have any meaningful division of power between state and federal governments. The court has "discovered" rights in the constitution that are "implied" but not written down. Any conservative who believes we can restore a strict interpretation of the constitution is bizarrely optimistic.

So instituting a bill of rights wouldn't be handing power to judges. They already have it. A bill of rights could take it back - allowing the Australian public to have a say on the fundamental rights with which Parliament may not tamper.


Sales of coconut products go through the roof but nutritionists warn it should not be overused

THE coconut craze has reached new heights, with health food retailers struggling to meet demands for the superfood trend, as consumers spend up big for coconut-derived waters, flours and dairy replacement products, despite the high saturated fat content.

Organic food retailer Deborah Wray reports that coconut water sales have tripled in the past six months, and her eight Wray Organic stores are unable to import enough coconut flour to keep up with customer demand.

There's also strong demand for drinking coconuts and coconut milk-based beverages, yoghurts and ice cream.

Coconut oil - used for nutritional and beauty reasons - sells for up to $32.95 per litre online, while coconut flour costs $15-20 per kg.

Demand has steadily grown since Miranda Kerr was misquoted by Cosmopolitan magazine in late 2011 saying she consumed four tablespoons - rather than teaspoons - of the oil daily.

"Two years ago we had one brand of oil, now there's about eight. Customers say they love the taste and regularly add it to smoothies," Ms Wray said.

Previous health concerns, she adds, probably related to hydrogenated coconut oil, which can convert the pure saturated fats into trans-fats, rather than the extra-virgin organic varieties now in fashion.

City-based nutritionist Jessica Cox cautions that it can be easy to overdo it.

"It's not evil but it's not a miracle cure," she said. "

It would concern me if you were having a smoothie in the morning, with loads of coconut milk, snacking on coconut chips then roasting with coconut oil.

"A certain amount of fat in the diet is really important but once you exceed that . . . it will start to affect your fatty acid profile, which can bump up your cholesterol."


WA win shows Labor 'on the nose': Barnett

SECOND-TERM West Australian Premier Colin Barnett says his party's resounding win at the polls proves the Labor party is "on the nose" nationwide.

The conservative leader also said in his victory speech on Saturday night that the Liberal's spectacular state election victory endorsed an ethical and principled government, which not only supported a strong economy, but had introduced education and health reforms.

Mr Barnett made no mention during his speech of the law and order platform the party had made the central plank of its election campaign - when it flagged more mandatory sentencing measures.

And while he said the Liberal/National coalition would be able to finish the projects it had started, he didn't emphasise the transport card WA Labor had played so hard.

"This government has been a good government," he said.

"This is the moment to enjoy.

"And I promise you a good government for another four years."

The swiftly called result surprised even blue-blooded Liberals, with predictions the Liberal/National coalition could hold as many as 40 seats in WA's Lower House on Monday.

The WA Electoral Commission put counting on hold before midnight WST, saying three quarters of the votes had been tallied and the overall result was clear.

The Liberals then held 46.9 per cent of the vote and coalition partners the Nationals six per cent, compared to 33.4 per cent for Labor.


Women choosing meek over macho in dating game

The study of almost 700 people by the University of Queensland's school of psychology showed that when the going gets tough, women choose gentler, more feminine-looking men, not more masculine-looking, macho beefcakes.

Using online dating profiles morphed to create more masculine or more feminine facial features, the study showed that women with less money or financial security preferred to date men with more feminine looks.

Research co-author and evolutionary psychologist Dr Shelli Dubbs said the women perceived the softer-looking men to be less likely to stray, kinder and more willing to share their money and assets with them and their children.

"Often women prefer that whole cute, fresh-faced, boy-next-door look."

So it's Colin Farrell out, Ed Norton in. It's less Russell Crowe and more Patrick Dempsey, less Tommy Lee and more Justin Bieber.

Dr Dubbs said the study supported the findings of other similar international studies and defied the old adage that nice guys always finish last.

"The women of lower socio-economic status, whose career prospects weren't as good, and had less financial security overall, had very different mate preferences," she said.

"The fact they went for more feminine-looking men is an indication of how they see them as more kind, more caring, more likely to remain faithful, how good a father they might be, and while they may not be as well off as the more masculine-looking guys, they are more likely to share their resources with the women."

Dr Dubbs said while men with more masculine looks are arguably seen as having better genes, stronger, being more dominant and potentially commanding bigger incomes, women also saw them as bad-boy, Peter Pan types more likely to cheat on them.

"We always say that nice guys finish last, but this shows more masculine guys aren't always preferred by women," she said.

But other studies have shown that women still prefer bad boys for a fling. Dr Dubbs said women went for more macho men when they were ovulating.

Dr Dubbs said while the study did not test whether a tougher economic climate also steered women to softer, gentler-looking men, it's a conclusion that could be extrapolated from the research.


8 March, 2013

Computer use linked to literacy for pre-schoolers

The bumptious Susan Greenfield won't like these findings. A truly odious woman. For nothing more than her own attention-seeking reasons, she has done her best to upset the world's children

PARENTS of screen-loving pre-schoolers can relax. A new Australian study has found four-year-olds who spend more time on the computer have better knowledge of the alphabet than others.

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute survey of 1500 four-year-olds found more than half used a computer at least once a week.

They found this was closely tied to letter recognition, which is linked to reading and spelling ability.

Researcher Professor Sheena Reilly said greater computer use among pre-schoolers "appears to have a positive association with emerging literacy development" and was much better than watching TV.

Computer products, such as keyboard games, are marketed to children as young as nine months old.

"These days you do see lots of kids playing games on iPads and iPhones and even reading books on them," Prof Reilly said.

She said the link between literacy and computers remained significant even when researchers controlled for factors such as socioeconomic status and parental reading ability.

"It is possible that the kinds of activities pre-school children engage in when using a computer, including interacting with the letters on the keyboard, stimulate letter knowledge," Prof Reilly said.

But she acknowledged it was "also possible that pre-school children with strong emergent literacy skills and good letter knowledge are more likely to choose to engage in computer-based activities than those with weaker skills".

Prof Reilly said the study did not distinguish between educational and recreational computer use.

Canterbury mother of three and GP Kirstin Charlesworth said her son Lachlan, 5, played letter and number games on the computer.

"It's no replacement for one-on-one time with a parent, but high-quality computer time has its place," Dr Charlesworth said.

"I think it's important that kids go to school with some idea about computers and how to use them."


NSW Minister ignores "expert" climate panel

NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker has not met the state's climate change council - a group set up to advise the government - for more than a year, despite repeated pleas during the recent heatwaves and floods.

Departmental staff said the delay was a symptom of "paralysis" afflicting the government over its climate change policies, with key studies delayed or shelved. The council - comprising top business, emergency services and science leaders - has written to Ms Parker, seeking her response to its "request for engagement".

After Fairfax Media contacted the government this week, the minister indicated she would start consulting the council again.

In its letter to Ms Parker the council said "current and future NSW governments may find that extreme events exceed their capacity to respond effectively with serious economic, societal and political consequences".

The council, set up in 2008 to provide impartial advice, asked that the government undertake a strategic examination of risks from extreme weather and climate variability. "We do now have a malaise where the politics is preventing investment in renewables, or in coal or coal seam gas for that matter," said a member, John Connor, chief executive of the Climate Institute.

But he and other members stressed they were keen to engage constructively with the government.

Ms Parker was unavailable to discuss climate policies this week. In a statement she said the council had been put on ice while a review of policies was undertaken but it would meet again soon.

"Climate change is a global issue and it is appropriate that mitigation efforts are led by the federal government," it said. "The NSW government takes climate change seriously and is focused on removing unnecessary duplication between state and federal schemes and delivering programs that are both cost effective and efficient."

The government will soon release a new policy on wind energy, and a document on energy efficiency. It supports the federal opposition's promise to replace the carbon price with a different pricing system that it calls "direct action". But NSW relies heavily on the carbon price to cut emissions.


Unis fear teacher reforms will deter students

They will. Only desperates or the dedicated would want to take up teaching in Australia's now chaotic and dumbed-down schools. NSW will just not get the high achieving students they want into their absurd teacher-training courses

Universities have hit out at the government's new HSC benchmarks for teachers, claiming it is an attack on their independence and a poor measure of the future success of a teacher.

As part of reforms designed to improve the quality of teaching in NSW, the O'Farrell government on Thursday announced school leavers hoping to become teachers would have to achieve at least three Band 5, or results over 80 per cent, in at least three subjects, including English.

Only 28 per cent of all of last year's HSC students would meet that standard, according to the NSW Board of Studies.

"Universities are autonomous, self-governing institutions," Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said. "This action significantly and seriously undermines the independence of universities."

Ms Robinson said it was probable that many universities, particularly those in regional areas, would see a drop in enrolments as a result. She called into question a claim made by Premier Barry O'Farrell on Wednesday that raising the standards would encourage more people into the profession.

"The way to lift prestige would be to really address the serious issue of remuneration," she said.

The government blueprint flagged the possibility of a new pay structure to recognise teachers who achieve accreditation in more senior roles, now known as "Highly Accomplished" or "Lead Teachers". The most a classroom teacher in NSW can earn now is $90,000 a year, according to the NSW Teachers Federation.

Several university leaders expressed concern that the new benchmarks could contradict agreed standards.

In 2011 state and federal education ministers agreed that all "applicants' levels of personal literacy and numeracy should be broadly equivalent to those of the top 30 per cent of the population" but it has not yet been determined how that standard would be achieved.

But Edmund Mission, general manager at the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, said the NSW benchmarks were consistent with that plan. "It sounds to me like it lines up pretty well," he said.


Changes to Federal act will limit union access to sites

Union officials face limits on the number of visits they can make to factories and worksites under the latest changes by the Gillard government to the Fair Work Act.

Big employers, such as BHP Billiton, have complained union officials have been abusing right-of-entry rules and in some cases have made hundreds of visits to its sites.

It is believed that under the proposed changes, the Fair Work Commission will be able to decide if there have been too many visits.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten hosted a meeting with employer groups and unions on Thursday to discuss the new proposals as well as the government's already flagged changes around work-and-life balance.

It is believed the changes will also give unions greater rights as to where they can meet workers.

In 2008, Fairfax Media reported a case where male and female workers at a factory in Melbourne's west were forced by their employer to hold meetings in the women's toilet area.

Union officials also complained they are often forced to meet workers in a boardroom or an area where they are watched by management, a situation that discourages workers from attending.

Under the changes, it is believed union officials will be able to meet workers during meal and other breaks in the area where workers spend those breaks.

Mr Shorten is also understood to have signalled there will be limited access to arbitration on new projects, known as greenfields agreements, when talks break down.

In those cases Fair Work Australia will resolve the impasse.


Police arrive hour late to call to find woman dead in Cairns home after reports of a disturbance

A one-hour response time is GOOD for Qld. cops!

POLICE have launched an internal investigation relating to the suspicious death of a woman in Cairns after officers arrived at the house an hour after the call for help.

Police were called to attend a home in Boden Street, Edge Hill, about 9.20pm Wednesday after a disturbance.

When officers arrived, an unconscious woman was found inside the house and attempts to revive the woman were unsuccessful.

She was pronounced dead at the scene.

A 38-year-old Townsville man has been charged with acts intended to cause grievous bodily harm.

"Initial inquiries by investigating police have identified that the police response occurred about one hour after the call for assistance,” a police statement said.

"The circumstances of the police response are subject of an independent internal investigation by the Queensland Police Service Ethical Standards Command, with overview from the Crime and Misconduct Commission.”

The death of this woman has also been reported to the State Coroner.


7 March, 2013

Most trainee teachers fail benchmark

Fewer than one in three of school leavers starting teaching degrees this year would meet the O'Farrell government's new benchmark for teachers, part of a suite of reforms designed to lift the standard and status of teaching in NSW.

Teaching students will have to pass new literacy and numeracy exams to gain their degrees, while new teachers will be supported by mentoring and support initiatives to strengthen their skills.

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli described the plans as the "most significant reforms around quality teaching ever undertaken in Australia by any jurisdiction".

While he admitted that some of the reforms would incur "significant" cost, he did not commit new funding nor suggest any reversal of the recent $1.7 billion cut to the education budget.

High-school leavers who hoped to do a teaching degree would have to score a minimum of "Band 5", or 80 per cent, in at least three of their HSC subjects, one of which had to be English. Of this year's intake of teaching students who were high-school leavers, only 30 per cent achieved that standard.

Premier Barry O'Farrell said he did not believe the new requirements would discourage people from entering teaching.

"Quite the reverse," he said. "I think the fact that we're seeking to raise standards, to raise the status of teaching, will encourage more people to enter the profession."

Board of Studies president Tom Alegounarias said the new standards did not translate to an exact ATAR cut-off, but he said 70 was a rough estimate.

Under the proposed reforms, all teachers would also have to register and be accredited by the NSW Institute of Teachers, and those who had been out of the profession for more than five years would have to do a refresher course, which would be available by 2014.

Unions and the non-government school sector welcomed the reforms on Wednesday but stressed financial support would be crucial to their success.

"I'm confident and hopeful the government realises how resource-intensive this is," the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said.

But the universities said the stricter benchmark could lead to a teacher shortage.

"Introducing entry requirements such as this ignore the well-documented fact that input measures are very poor predictors of graduate success and teacher quality," chief executive of Universities Australia Belinda Robinson said.

The Australian Council of Deans of Education warned the moves could add "significant layers of complexity, review and costs" to initial teacher education courses.

New measures would also be put in place to remove more quickly and de-register teachers who did not meet the professional teaching standards.

Mr Piccoli said the government's response had not been prescriptive about how this would take place, as different sectors had different industrial-relations arrangements.

"Within the government sector I can say it is something of a difficult and cumbersome process for principals so there are things we need to do to make the process shorter and more predictable," he said.

Laura Robinson, a primary teacher at Croydon Public, did not rely on HSC marks to become a teacher, but studied a master of teaching as a mature-age student.

She said raising the bar for high-school graduates entering teacher education "can't be a bad thing". But, she said, it was not the solution to lifting education standards. "Funding is the answer. We need to raise the bar within schools before we focus on graduates," she said.

The year 3 teacher was in her fourth year in the job and said it was a balancing act. "You're trying to do your best but, if you've got a budget of $150 a year for your class, that doesn't really work."


PM gun figures shot down by statistics chief

The Prime Minister's campaign to tackle criminal gangs is wobbling, with three state governments unhappy about her idea of national laws and a crime statistician saying she has exaggerated NSW's gun problem.

As part of her five-day campaign to win back Labor votes in western Sydney, Julia Gillard has talked tough on law and order.

On Sunday, Ms Gillard announced a $64 million "national anti-gang taskforce".

Ms Gillard said: "When we look at the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, we see that, over the past 15 years, shootings in public places have soared."

But NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics director Don Weatherburn said the Prime Minister was wrong to claim that shootings have "soared".

According to Dr Weatherburn, the number of non-fatal shooting offences in NSW peaked in 2001 and then began to fall.

The only type of shooting to increase during the last two years has been guns "discharged into premises" but even those declined late last year, Dr Weatherburn said in a statement.


Coalition decries union 'whitewash'

Unions say they have been vindicated by a report into union governance commissioned after the Health Services Union scandals.

The report to the ACTU executive on Wednesday made 13 recommendations to improve how unions operate, including the use of credit cards, financial transparency and disclosure of senior officials' pay.

But none of the recommendations are mandatory and it is up to individual unions how, or if, they implement them. While the report said the general picture of Australian unions was that they are "honestly run", the report did not investigate that issue itself.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz described the report as a whitewash.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said unions should "feel proud" of the report, commissioned by the ACTU last year. Its panel of experts was headed by former Federal Court judge Rod Madgwick.

He said the positive response to the report from union leaders on Wednesday meant that he expected them to make changes, where needed.

Mr Oliver said the review was never meant to investigate corruption itself, but he was confident the problems had been limited to a "couple of individuals in one union".

He said the report found many unions were "well advanced in modern governance and management practices" and that present laws around union rules were "some of the most rigorous in the world".

The Coalition has been pushing for tougher rules to force greater disclosure. It also wants unions regulated in the same way as corporations.

Senator Abetz said unions had not taken the issue seriously.

"When you have a handpicked reviewer making voluntary recommendations, you have got to wonder if it was something prepared in anticipation of the Melbourne Comedy Festival."

Senator Abetz said problems were not isolated to the HSU. The opposition has also highlighted allegations that Electrical Trades Union officials from NSW pocketed $1.8 million in directors fees that under union rules should have gone back to the ETU. And last december Fairfax Media also revealed the existence of a union "slush fund", Industry 2020.

Cesar Melhem, Victorian secretary of the Australian Workers Union, was the sole shareholder of Industry 2020, which has raised about $500,000 since 2008 used to support the political activities of his Right faction sub-group within the ALP.

Mr Oliver said its recommendations would relate only to unions themselves, not separate funds created by officials.


Three doctors suspended from WA government hospital

Andrew Allan, 16, died in November 2010 a day after presenting at the hospital feverish, weak and struggling to breathe. The cause of death was swine flu and a bacterial infection.

Andrew Allan, 16, died in November 2010 a day after presenting at the hospital feverish, weak and struggling to breathe. The cause of death was swine flu and a bacterial infection.

Three doctors have been suspended from a regional West Australian hospital over the deaths of five patients who died after being discharged.

WA's Department of Health revealed on Wednesday that the three doctors from the Northam Hospital would be referred to the Medical Board of Australia following an investigation by the state's chief medical officer Gary Geelhoed.

They were also suspended from practice at Northam's emergency department.

A damning report pinpointed a lack of medical leadership in the emergency department, poor communication and uncertain roles in and between medical disciplines as major issues at the hospital.

"After reviewing the cases, I felt that some of the medical practitioners had questions to answer regarding their practice in specific cases," Professor Geelhoed said.

The hospital first came under scrutiny after the death in 2010 of 16-year-old Andrew Allan, who was sent home with Panadol after the hospital failed to diagnose swine flu.

That led to a scathing coroner's report on his treatment.

Earlier this year more worrying cases came to light, including the death of 53-year-old woman Eva Dimer. She was sent home with headache tablets after collapsing in July 2011 but collapsed again within 30 hours and died in Perth two days later.

The report said: "Inadequate history taking, poor communication between disciplines and lack of appropriate medical examination resulted in [Mrs Dimer] being denied appropriate medical care".

Tamika Ullrich, a 23-year-old nurse, died after being sent home from Northam Hospital on December 29 last year with painkillers for a severe headache.

The report said inadequate medical history taking, the absence of physical examination and almost no medical documentation "did not give the best chance to detect a potentially treatable condition".

The review found the management of Ms Ullrich "was not consistent with best medical practice".

Lachlan Hughes, a 12-day-old baby, died in 2010 of heart failure after the hospital sent him home twice.

Janice Saulys, 69, visited the hospital last June with a broken arm and returned after vomiting and was found to have the onset of renal failure.

She was treated but sent home, only to return a week later, fall into a coma and die two weeks later.

All of those cases are being investigated by the WA coroner.

The report said some of the problems had arisen from the hospital growing quickly from a 'country practice' to a busy regional centre in recent years - but the issues should have been addressed.

"The problems encountered in the Northam emergency department could have been anticipated and avoided by medical leadership with appropriate authority and experience," it concluded.

Prof Geelhoed also recommended the employment of an emergency medical specialist to provide medical leadership and the establishment of a formal link with a metropolitan emergency department, with the possibility of sharing staff and shifts.

WA's Director General of Health Kim Snowball said work was under way to carry out the recommendations as quickly as possible.


6 March, 2013

Economic growth healthy

Australia’s economy grew 0.6 per cent last quarter, a slight improvement from the September quarter, taking growth for the year to 3.1 per cent.

Economists expected the economy to grow by 0.6 per cent in the December quarter and 3 per cent for 2012.

The annual growth was the highest since 2007, when the economy grew by 3.8 per cent.

Growth in the fourth quarter was driven by a 1.1 per cent contribution from public investment and 0.6 per cent from net exports, the Bureau of Statistics data showed.

Private investment fell 1 per cent while there was a 0.4 per cent slide from changes in inventories.

The mining, manufacturing, health and finance sectors all contributed about 0.1 per cent to GDP growth.

At the same time, the terms of trade fell by 2.7 per cent in the December quarter.

Some analysts revised their estimates upwards this week, after a raft of economic data - such as the first estimates of companies’ 2013-14 capital expenditure, retail sales and current account deficit - pointed to continued momentum in the Australian economy despite an expected slowdown in mining investment.

Yesterday, the Reserve Bank kept interest rates at 3 per cent, saying that the current settings were appropriate for the economy with subdued non-mining investment and moderate consumer spending.

At the same time, retail sales bounced back from three months of falls, rising by 0.9 per cent in January, while the current account deficit narrowed and government spending increased.

Australia's economy has remain resilient despite global economic headwinds and a strong currency, with its counterparts in Europe, the United States and Asia continuing to battle high unemployment and a fragile recovery.

The Australian dollar spiked to 102.77 US cents, a high for the day, following the data release.


Lies, damned lies and Labor claims

Ross Gittins

I guess you've heard the news: the Gillard government has obtained new analysis of data from the Bureau of Statistics showing that Tony Abbott's election commitments inflict brutal damage on working families, particularly those in western Sydney, increasing taxes and cutting support to families.

According to Treasurer Wayne Swan, Abbott's commitments include scrapping the tripling of the tax-free threshold, axing the new schoolkids' bonus and abolishing family payments from the household assistance package introduced in June last year.

The government tripled the tax-free threshold from $6000 to $18,200 a year from July last year, we're told, delivering tax cuts to all taxpayers earning up to $80,000 a year. Most of these people received savings of at least $300 a year, with many part-time workers receiving up to $600.

The schoolkids' bonus is worth $410 a year for primary school students and $820 a year for secondary school students to families who receive family tax benefit part A.

The household assistance package increased payments to families who receive benefit part A by up to $110 per child and by $70 per family for those receiving benefit part B. The median family income in Fairfield is $106,000. This family, with two children both in primary school, father working full-time on $86,000 a year and mother working part-time on $20,000 will be almost $1500 a year worse off, we're told. The mother will pay $600 more in tax and they will lose $820 in schoolkids' bonus and $72 in other benefits.

The median family income in Penrith is $118,000. This family, with two primary and one high school student, the father earning $70,000 and the mother on $48,000, will be $2300 a year worse off, we're told. The father will pay $250 more in tax, the mother will pay $300 more, and they'll lose $1640 in schoolkids' bonus and $108 in other benefits.

Terrible, eh? There's just one small problem. This stuff is so misleading as to be quite dishonest.

For a start, this is just politically inspired figuring, which doesn't deserve the aura of authority the government has sought to give it by having it released by the Treasurer with a reference to "new analysis of Bureau of Statistics data" and allowing the media to refer to it as "modelling".

It's true you'd have to look up the bureau's census figures to get the details of the median family in a particular suburb, but after that the "modelling" could be done on the back of an envelope.

There's a key omission from Labor's description of its wonderfully generous household assistance package: why it was necessary. Its purpose was to compensate low and middle-income families for the cost of the carbon tax. Since the Coalition promises to abolish the carbon tax, Abbott has said that all the compensation for the tax will also go. (Strictly speaking, the schoolkids' bonus is linked to the mining tax, but the Coalition is also promising to abolish this tax, and Abbott has said the bonus, too, will go.)

The trick is that Abbott has yet to give any details of how or when these concessions would go and what they'd be replaced with. But this hasn't inhibited Labor. It has happily assumed what the Coalition intends and is presenting its assumptions as hard facts.

The most glaring omission from Labor's calculation of the hip-pocket effect of all this is its failure to acknowledge the saving households would make from the abolition of the carbon tax.

Based on Treasury's original calculations, this should be worth about $515 a year per household, including $172 a year from lower electricity prices and $78 a year from lower gas prices.

Some Labor supporters argue that even if the carbon tax is abolished, prices won't fall. This is highly unlikely. The state government tribunals that regulate electricity and gas prices would insist on it. And a Coalition government would no doubt instruct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to police the wider price decrease.

Labor's repeated claim to have tripled the tax-free threshold from $6000 to $18,200 a year has always been literally true, but highly misleading. That's because it conveniently ignores the complex operation of the low-income tax offset.

When you allow for this offset, which Labor has reduced and changed without removing, the effective tax-free threshold has increased by a much smaller $4500-odd from $16,000 to $20,542. This explains why the tax cut arising from the seemingly huge increase in the threshold is so modest (for many, $5.80 a week) and also why the move yields no saving to anyone earning more than $80,000 a year. For them, the threshold increase has been "clawed back".

The idea of a Coalition government bringing about an actual increase in income tax is hard to imagine. Labor omits to mention Abbott has promised a modest tax cut, though he hasn't said when it would happen.

Labor also omits to mention that the generous schoolkids' bonus replaced its earlier 50 per cent education tax refund, which offered savings of up to almost $400 a year on the eligible expenses of primary school students and up to almost $800 for secondary students.

Labor has assumed that Abbott would merely abolish the schoolkids' bonus without reinstating the education tax refund. Maybe he would; maybe he wouldn't - he hasn't yet said. But only a one-eyed Labor supporter would trust Labor to read Abbott's mind.

It didn't take the announcement of an election date to ensure the informal election campaign would begin as soon as we were back at work in January. It's a daunting thought.

But at least it gives people like me plenty of time to demonstrate the dishonesty of the claims being made.


Leftist opposition to LEGAL immigration

THERE is a certain irony to a man with a very thick Scottish accent [Labor senator Doug Cameron] banging on about the evils of 457 visas, the arrangement that allows workers to come to Australia on a temporary basis.

Ditto the woman whose family came from Wales to make a better life. According to Julia Gillard, migrants must be put at the end of the queue and the 457 visa program must be kept in check.

Lacking any systematic evidence of actual rorting of the program, the Prime Minister has decided to rely on "community feedback" - code for lost votes - to clamp down on the program and to impose additional red-tape on all employers, most of which comply with requirements.

Perhaps the most bizarre proposed new condition is English language competence of temporary migrants. For jobs that do not require English language ability, this makes no sense at all.

Were such a condition introduced by the Coalition, there would be accusations of racism. But we should not forget the deeply protectionist and anti-immigration roots of the union movement that has been baying for changes to 457 visas.

Gillard has also claimed that "we inherited from the previous government a 457 temporary foreign-worker visa program that was totally out of control".

If the number of 457 visa holders is indicative of control, then it actually looks as though this government has lost control of the program. In 2007-08, there were 111,000 457 visas granted; in 2011-12, the number was 125,000.

Britain remains the largest source of 457 visa holders, with other significant countries including India, Ireland, the US and The Philippines. While there has been some fluctuation over the past few years, the industry that accounts for most 457 visas is healthcare and social assistance. There are also significant numbers of 457 visa holders working in construction and IT.

The program is good policy. There are various conditions attached, including the need for local labour market testing and the requirement for market wages to be paid.

Given these safeguards are met, employers can access productive and enthusiastic workers from overseas when local workers are in short supply.

And for construction projects which are temporary, the use of 457 visa holders makes sense, particularly where the project is located in a remote location to which it is difficult to attract Australian workers.

Certainly, a good proportion of 457 visa holders do apply to stay in Australia. These people must fulfill the same requirements as other permanent skilled migrants, including the waiving of any entitlement to welfare for a two-year period.

"Trying before you buy" makes a lot of sense for these individuals.

If Canberra is serious about Australia being an open and innovative country hooked into Asia, there is no place for the retrograde changes being made to the 457 visa program.


Teachers angry over lost perk

QUEENSLAND is taking "a giant step backwards" in the classroom and defying world best practice by banning teachers from professional development during school time, national education experts warn.

Principal and teachers warn student learning will suffer in state schools as a result of the controversial move.

But Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek says parents want to see their children have the same teacher throughout every school day and denies the move is a cost-cutting measure.

The State Government has sparked widespread concern and surprise by its decision to ban Professional Development (PD) during school time in state schools, amid a national focus on improving teacher quality in a bid to boost student results.

Grattan Institute school education program director Dr Ben Jensen said the ban was a giant step backwards.

"It goes against what the best schools in Australia are doing and what the best systems around the world are doing and directly runs against the idea that schools should operate in a way that continually improves learning and teaching, which should be our objective," Dr Jensen said.

He said schools needed to move towards a model in which professional learning was built in to how they operated daily, rather than running largely ineffective PD courses and workshop.

Professor Brian Caldwell, who was hired by the State Government in 2010 to provide a review of teacher education, backed Dr Jensen, saying PD was essential to boost teacher quality.

But Mr Langbroek said it was better for students if PD happened outside school time. "Parents expect continuity with respect to teaching in the classroom," he said.

"For this reason the Government made the decision to limit professional development to the six pupil free days each year, school holidays or afternoons after school."

He said concerns had been raised about some instances in which it was difficult to do PD outside school hours and the Government was working towards "an appropriate solution" around those.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said the six pupil free days for PD was not enough time given the introduction of new national curriculum, increasing technology and workplace demands.

"QASSP absolutely supports teacher continuity...however, If we are to improve student outcomes we have to improve teacher quality," Mrs Backus said.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said if the ban remained students would "miss out on a whole range of opportunities - not as a consequence of teachers not being willing to - but teachers not being able to deliver the newest educational practices and theories".


5 March, 2013

Greenies attacking Coca Cola

Their sort probably don't drink Coke anyway. It has after all got both caffeine and sugar in the standard product. Horrors! And the low calorie version has ASPARTAME in it. Could anything be worse (aside from global warming, that is)? It's probably even got that nasty hydrogen hydroxide in it

ANGRY consumers are flooding social media with threats to boycott Coca Cola after the company's court win yesterday to dismantle a Northern Territory recycling scheme.

The Federal Court yesterday ruled in favour of the beverage company who argued the state government's 10 cent deposit recycling scheme, introduced in January 2012, was costly and ineffective.

Coke had argued the extra 10 cents added to its products was unfair to consumers, despite the fee being refundable.

The soft drink company yesterday had to call police to break up a protest at its Sydney headquarters led by Clean Up Australia chairman Ian Kiernan and Greenpeace CEO David Ritter, but it's having a harder time dealing with the angry mob online.

Hundreds of people have flooded the company's Facebook page with furious messages and complaints, with many users pledging to never buy Coke products again.

One user posted a picture of a dead bird with a cut open stomach full of plastic waste, along with the message "Brought to you by Coca Cola".

"Disgusted with your resistance to the NT recycling scheme. Have you never heard of corporate responsibility?" the user wrote.

"Bad move. Bad corporate citizenship. You've lost me as a customer for ALL your products," wrote another, while one user commented: "My family believe in recycling so no more Coke products for us EVER AGAIN."

The protest has also spilled over to Twitter, where users have been tweeting angry messages under the hashtag #CokeFail.

"Help stop @CocaCola trashing Australia #cokefail," tweeted @RiaLettner.

"Don't buy Coke. Shame. #cokefail" tweeted @Visivoz.


Australian universities improve world standing

AUSTRALIAN universities have improved their international standing in the past year and now enjoy the third highest ranked reputation in the world.

The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, to be released today, found Australian now lags only behind the US and UK, with six of our universities ranked in the Top 100.

In the past year, Australian universities outperformed the Netherlands, Japan and Germany, with two new entrants on the list _ Monash University in Victoria, and the University of NSW _ joining the four existing place holders.

The University of Melbourne improved its rank from 43 to 39 and Australian National University from 44 to 42. Sydney University rose one place to 49, and University of Queensland remained in the 80th percentile.

Times Higher Education editor Phil Baty said the reputation rankings have been held since 2011 and Australia has improved its standing at each survey.

The results are based on a global opinion poll and take into account more than 16,000 responses from senior published academics in 150 countries.

"Australia is a country very much on the way up in terms of worldwide academic prestige," Mr Baty said in a statement.

"In many ways these results show that Australia's image among scholars around the world is catching up with the reality: until now it has tended to perform less well in the reputation rankings compared with the overall, objective World University Rankings.

"These results show how well poised Australia is to make the most of its geographical advantages: while it has strong links with the best universities in the West, it has also made the most of East Asia's booming higher education scene. If it continues to exploit these opportunities, Australia could be a serious beneficiary of the Asian century, which is great news for its economy and competitiveness."

Monash University president Ed Byrne said in a statement: "Australia is ideally situation between the rising academic powerhouses of Asia and established centres in the old Westticipate a bright future."

UNSW Vice Chancellor, Professor Fred Hilmer, put the institution's first-time inclusion down to a "very strong improvement path".

"When you look at the quality of the student intake, it's gone up every year. It's harder and harder to get in and if you look at research in particular, we are winning increasingly competitive grants," Professor Hilmer said.

Universities in the US and UK still hold the bulk of the top 100 positions, (43 in the US and nine in the UK) with an elite group of six "super-brands" including Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, holding the top positions since the rankings' inception.

The highest ranking university outside of the US and UK is the University of Tokyo at 9th, while India and New Zealand are among the countries with no entrants on the Top 100 list. China's two most prestigious universities, Tsinghua University and Peking University, both dropped slightly in the rankings, but they remain in the Top 50.


Whingeing teachers cost the taxpayer a heap

Teachers claiming thousands of dollars from WorkCover for everything from hugs to excessive photocopying

QUEENSLAND teachers are claiming thousands of dollars from WorkCover for everything from hugs from students to excessive photocopying.

The Sunday Mail this week revealed an average nine teachers a day were being paid by WorkCover, with 4193 claims made since July 1, 2010, worth $18.39 million.

Accidents account for most of the claims but many appear questionable, including a $33,979 payout for "consistent use of computer at work" and $522.16 for "prolonged sun exposure".

Others include $35,850 for being "hit by waves in surf" and $2313 for "sitting for a long period of time".

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said the WorkCover system was not infallible but, to get a payout, some documentation would be needed to back up the claim.

He said the main problem was many legitimate psychological claims were overlooked.

"I've heard many teachers who I've worked with who've said to me: 'I feel like I'd have been better if I'd have thrown myself down the stairs because at least then I know I'd get some help - whereas, suffering as I am purely the psychological injuries of the work I've been doing, I get nothing.'

"So, from many people's perspective, there is that clear bias towards physical injury versus a person who can be suffering very significant injury but it's a psychological one that isn't something you can actually see."

Griffith University associate professor in employment relations, Bradley Bowden, said the rate of workers compensation claims tended to rise in industries that were under pressure, with employees using it as a way to top up their income or protest against working conditions.

But he said it was difficult to sort the genuine cases from those lodged for personal gain. "There's no doubt people certainly do that (lodge spurious claims) and have done it as a way of protest or supplementing their income, but trying to work out what's what in an individual case is difficult," he said.

Prof Bowden said low-level claims were often a case of "tick and flick", and were rarely investigated.

"There's very little policing of claims at that level, it's simply relying on the due diligence of the local GP," he said.

"It's just not worth WorkCover investigating - you'd be spending far more resources than what it's worth."

Last June the Queensland Government launched an inquiry into the state scheme, including its financial position, how it compares with other states and its impact on the economy and competitiveness.

This month the reporting date for the inquiry was extended after more than 200 submissions from individuals, industry bodies, unions and other organisations. The committee will now report back by May 23.


Doom city again

The situation for blacks has gone downhill ever since the missionaries were replaced by bureaucrats

THE situation in the remote north-western Queensland town of Doomadgee has worsened after a mob stormed the police station early Sunday.

Residents of the small indigenous township have reported that overnight there were a number of disturbances in the streets.

A manager of a local business, who did not wish to be named, reported that the township has become unsafe after dark. "Last night there was people running through the streets and property broken," he said. "Kids are running riot and they've broken into the same property up to three times."

The issues in the remote community began on Friday night when a man was arrested and charged after allegedly striking a female police officer in the face with a torch.

The officer received lacerations to her face and a suspected broken nose, and was transported to Mount Isa hospital.

This was followed on Monday morning by a mob storming the local police station in protest at the charging of the local man.

A police officer reported that there had been windows broken in the incident. Police could not provide any further comment.

Locals are worried that the tension will continue to rise in the community. "Police have been lenient so far, " said the local source. "But they will have to come down heavy on this or else things will get progressively worse."


4 March, 2013

Bottled water boofheads slowly waking up

You see people, particularly women, carrying bottles around as if their life depended on it. Maybe it would in a desert but not in a modern city

Bottled water producers are facing increasing pressure as the product falls from favour among the industry's most loyal buyers.

Figures provided to Fairfax by Roy Morgan Research show that in the 12 months to September last year 30 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds said they drank bottled water, compared with 36 per cent in 2007. In the 14 to 25 age group, 33 per cent drank bottled water compared with 35 per cent in 2007.

The industry's opponents believe the numbers show a tipping point has been reached, and bottled water sales will fall as people learn more about a product that is, according to Clean Up Australia chief Ian Kiernan, "a bloody disgrace".

The Australasian Bottled Water Institute claims volume growth is expected to be between 7 and 8 per cent this year, but concedes there has been a marked drop in the number of young people buying the product.

"We think it's due to a number of reasons," says the institute's chief executive, Geoff Parker. "Maturity of the category is part of it, the anti-bottled water detractors are good in their messaging, and other categories within health and wellness, such as iced teas, are doing very well."

The fall among younger people is heartening for those who see bottled water's success over more than a decade as built on scare campaigning and environmental damage. There has been a long battle between industry representatives and opponents.

The central argument of proponents is that people are entitled to free choice and bottled water is a good option compared with sugary soft drinks. They claim to support increased water consumption from the tap, bubbler or bottle.

Opponents say the industry is pushing a product that makes huge profits from a precious natural resource, has no dietary benefit compared with tap water and produces large amounts of waste.

"It's really encouraging to see such a drop in consumption of bottled water among young people, because as they grow up, the overall market is definitely going to decline further," says Jon Dee, the managing director of activist group Do Something!

"Once you stop the habit at a young ages, it carries through. We've finally reached the tipping point."

Dee says the reason the volume of bottled water sales still grew, despite fewer people buying it, was that the companies were doing "two-for-one promotions" as the product was so cheap to make.

By way of illustration, the NSW Office of Water says the cost of applying for water supply works approval ranges from $2257 to $5889. If approval is granted, a company pays the annual charges set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. The tribunal says the cost of water extraction is about $5.50 to $6.50 per megalitre - one million litres.

Sally Loane, director of media and public affairs at Coca-Cola Amatil - which sells about half of Australia's bottled water - says the company buys water at prices set by licence holders. It then sells the bottled product to retailers at wholesale prices, and the retailers determine the cost to consumers.

"There are massive costs involved in setting up the bores, then monitoring them, making sure everything's sustainable, the ongoing hydro-geological tests … There are very big costs involved," Loane says, adding that the company has invested heavily in producing light plastic bottles. Loane says the product's retail price "comes down to what people are willing to pay".

"If people didn't want bottled water, the industry would go broke," she says. "The fact is it's demand-driven and people want it."

But Dee describes the supply price as "a scam". "You look at petrol - it goes through a massive production line to get to the point where it can be used," he says. "Yet bottled water is twice the price. It's a huge con."

Mineral or spring water is sourced from groundwater reserves. Bottled water may also come from treated municipal water or rain. The final product must comply with the Australian Food Standards Code.

"People think they're just using the water that comes out of the spring," Dee says. "But the quality of spring water much of the time isn't that great. It has to be filtered, just like tap water."

Tap water contains fluoride. Jason Armfield, a senior research fellow at the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health, says the association is investigating the links between bottled water and the increasing rates of childhood tooth decay.

"There's a general perception that drinking bottled water is good for you," Armfield says. "Compared to drinking soft drinks, it is. But it's not healthier than drinking fluoridated tap water. There's been an increase in the number of children suffering dental decay, and bottled water may be one of the contributing factors."

A more easily measurable impact is waste. Kiernan says more than 12 per cent of all rubbish collected on Clean Up Australia Day last year was soft drink and water bottles.

"These bottles last 450 years or more," he says. "They break up into smaller pieces … It gets ingested into the food chain, which then gets ingested by us all, with toxic effect. It's sinister."

Kiernan says "brilliant marketing" is behind bottled water's success, despite the fact it comes in a petro-chemical container and is much more expensive than petrol.

"Meanwhile, the cost of what comes out of the tap - which is the best quality water you can get - is two cents a litre," Kiernan says.

"How mad are we? Most of these water bottle companies are multinationals - Coca-Cola, Schweppes … and what they're doing is stealing our aquifer water. It's ours, not theirs. They're stealing it and then selling it to us in plastic containers. It's a bloody disgrace."

Loane says Coca-Cola Amatil's move towards lightweight plastic containers is a reaction to consumer sentiment. It is hoped smaller producers will follow suit.

But Jeff Angel, executive director of the Total Environment Centre, says there's a lot of ground to make up. "The recycling of plastic bottles is down into the low 30s," Angel says. "One of the reasons is that a lot of plastic bottle drinks are consumed away from home.

"But people are starting to realise this is one of the dumbest consumer products ever to appear. You can't get Coca-Cola out of your tap at home. You can get water. Yet people still want to buy it. It's consumerism gone mad."

Angel suggests a reason for the drop in consumption could be that people are getting used to filling water containers at taps and carrying them. And councils are starting to install more bubblers, for example at Manly and Bondi beaches. "The damage to the environment from plastic bottles is so serious - the CSIRO estimates up to 50 per cent of marine plastic pollution is from beverage containers - we have to set up systems that massively reduce the number of plastic bottles left in the environment," he says.

But Parker suggests the environmental concerns on the subject are overblown. He says bottled water has "the lowest environmental footprint of any commercial beverage".

"Over the past decade the industry has made significant progress with lightweighting, which is about using less plastic to make the bottle," Parker says.

"Some of those 600ml bottles now are hovering around the 10 or 11 grams of plastic, which is pretty light. People talk about landfill, but the whole bottle is recyclable. All people need to do is put it in the right bin and the recycling takes care of itself."

Parker says the bottled water industry uses 650 million litres of underground water a year, just 0.001 per cent of Australia's national supply, "a pretty small drop in the proverbial bucket".

Tap water is the best option for consumers, Parker admits, but bottled water is not in competition with tap water.

"Bottled water competes with the beverages it sits next to on a supermarket shelf or petrol station fridge, not water from a tap.

"As an industry, we're all for people drinking more water from whatever source - be it from the bottle, the tap or bubblers," Parker says.

"A nation that ranks fourth in the OECD for obesity should be drinking more water. But we're not for promoting one particular source of water to the detriment of another.

"We're not for things like the sleepy little hollow that's Bundanoon a few years ago implementing an unofficial ban on bottled water. We're against those draconian measures. If Manly wants to put in more bubblers, fantastic. But let all the shop owners there and the visitors to Manly have a free choice over what type of water they want to consume. It's about free choice."


Qld. State Government to combat classroom assaults on teachers

THE State Government says violent children in schools will be booted as new figures show 600 Queensland teachers successfully sued for $2 million in the past 2 1/2 years as a result of injuries sustained in the escalating battle against classroom assaults.

WorkCover claims obtained by The Sunday Mail under Right to Information laws show teachers are increasingly subjected to student assaults, including bites, kicks, punches and being hit by furniture that has been thrown at them.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said violence would not be tolerated and he had been asked by Premier Campbell Newman to this year come up with a plan to toughen school discipline and give principals "more teeth".

He said there was no doubt student bad behaviour was the biggest issue facing schools today but the key was to not "give them an inch".

"Principals tell me that their greatest problem is dealing with behavioural issues," Mr Langbroek said.

"We need to make sure we can crack down at an earlier level by getting rid of a lot of red tape that currently exists.

"If you let them get away with things we end up having some kids who are belligerent enough to think that they can keep getting away with it.

"I want to make it so the principal can act immediately and that will give them (students) a bit of a shock, but that precise detail I'm still working on."

Mr Langbroek said when he attended Sunnybank State High School in the 1970s, the worst he saw was verbal abuse.

The Queensland Teachers Union said it was harder than ever being a teacher, which was backed by WorkCover claims showing that along with attacks, they're being spat on and forced to restrain "aggressive" students.

Union president Kevin Bates said the problem was two-fold: an increasing lack of respect from students for people of authority, and teachers being unprepared for the challenges that await.

"Clearly teachers are coming under increased risk and threat from physical violence in their day-to-day work," Mr Bates said.

"Within our community people are desensitised (more) to violence.

"There's much greater need for professional development for teachers in terms of how do you manage situations and avoid escalation."

Overall, an average nine teachers a day are being paid out WorkCover claims, with 4193 made since July 1, 2010, worth $18.39 million, triple that of previous years.

Most of the claims were in response to accidents or wear and tear, but Mr Bates said many so-called accidents masked other violent attacks.

"I know I've come across a lot of examples of people hit in the head with a ball, ostensibly an accident," he said.

"In the circumstances it's a situation where you can very easily argue that in fact it was a deliberate action to injure or intimidate the teacher."

The most that was paid out to a teacher by WorkCover was $642,194.50 after being exposed to asbestos.


Early parole not working with re-offending rife

ONE in three Queensland criminals who are spared jail or are released early from prison break the law again within two years.

Community frustration about how prisoners are sentenced, coupled with new national recidivist data, looks set to spark tension between State Government and the judiciary.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie is now "considering the issues" surrounding court-ordered parole handed down by judges.

"There is a genuine concern in the community that offenders receive immediate court-ordered parole without serving actual jail time," Mr Bleijie told The Courier-Mail.

"I know there are concerns within the community about people not serving jail time and I believe offenders should be made to earn their parole."

The 2013 Report on Government Services reveals that, at 32 per cent, Queensland had the nation's highest rate of offenders sent back to jail or community corrections orders for committing more crimes or breaching their reporting conditions. The transgressions happened within two years.

Eligibility-based parole is determined by the Parole Board, however, court-ordered parole is a fixed date dictated by the court at sentencing.

Asked if parole was working, Chief Justice Paul de Jersey said it served several purposes.

He said courts exhausted non-custodial responses before imprisoning offenders.

"Actual imprisonment bespeaks a real criminal orientation and a real risk of re-offending," he said. "Ultimately the best chance of avoiding that situation is to ensure an optimal rehabilitative effort during incarceration."

A Queensland Corrective Services spokesman said the approach was "to be tough on high risk and high impact crime".



Three current articles below

Marine park poorly conceived

Up to 150 mantas have been spotted by divers off Lady Elliot Island after a spike in nutrients flushed out by record flooding at Bundaberg.

Rated as the best place on the planet to dive with the marine creature, Lady Elliot is home to the Project Manta survey.

The project's latest research shows the graceful animals can migrate up to 3000km every year.

Scientists also found they stop at "cleaning stations", the aquatic equivalent of a fishy car wash, where smaller fish nibble off dead skin. Popular sites are North Stradbroke Island and Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea.

But the Osprey Reef site is under threat, with outraged dive operators and researchers condemning as a "sham" the latest plans by the Federal Government to lock up nearly a million square kilometres of the Coral Sea in the world's biggest marine reserve.

Underwater filmmaker Richard Fitzpatrick said the giant mantas were at risk because the critical "cleaning station" site known as The Entrance, on the western side of Osprey Reef, was unprotected under the plan.

"(Federal Environment Minister) Tony Burke has singled out Osprey Reef yet he has failed to protect it," the Emmy-award winning diver said.

"Green zones are useless unless they take in movement patterns of animals. The plan takes no notice of the science."

Veteran dive operator Mike Ball said the new no-go zones need more bite to protect sharks and manta rays.

Osprey Reef, a 2km-deep seamount that plunges into the deep blue, is the state's only underwater shark feeding dive site and an iconic $16 million-a-year dive expedition destination.

Mr Ball and others want a 3km-wide no-go fishing zone to protect the entire seamount, 140km outside the Great Barrier Reef.

The 25-year veteran of Coral Sea dive expeditions said the whole Coral Sea plan was a sham if it did not protect the most iconic of the isolated ocean reefs.

"There is zero protection for the southwest part of the reef," Mr Ball said.

But aquarium collectors, charter boat operators and spearfishing crews oppose the move to lock up such a vast swathe of the ocean, home to prized black marlin, whales, tuna and swordfish.

Mr Burke said plans would be finalised mid-year before coming into force in July 2014.


Everything is caused by global warming says Australia's official Warmist

Since there has been no global warming for 16 years (even the head of the IPCC says so), he is clearly talking through his anal aperture

CATASTROPHIC bushfires, damaging rain and the most intense heatwave on record this summer are just a taste of what climate change will bring, a new report says.

Climate Commissioner Will Steffen said the extreme weather of 2012/13 was climate change in action, and more events are on the way.

In his Climate Commission report, Angry Summer, released today, Prof Steffen also said Queensland's one-in-100-year flood was one part of a "very, very unusual summer".

"We've been storing extra heat in this system for about a century now, due to increasing greenhouse gases," he said. "When we do the sums, as we do in the climate models, for the next couple of decades you're going to see increasing likelihood of very hot weather and more record hot weather."

That means wilder weather than last summer, when a staggering 123 records were broken throughout Australia in 90 days.

It was the hottest summer, capped by the longest and most extreme heatwave on record. Sydney, Newcastle and Hobart sweltered through their hottest days on record. The average temperature in Australia was 40.3C on January 7.

Rainfall records were smashed along eastern Australia, tropical cyclones wreaked havoc, bushfires raged in every state and territory and tornadoes hit Bundaberg.

Prof Steffen acknowledges Australia has always had extreme weather. But he argues the way these events are shifting "tells a very, very compelling story" because extreme weather events are occurring in a climate system that is warmer and moister than it was 50 years ago.

Prof Steffen said action taken now to cut greenhouse gas emissions would have a big influence on how hot it would be in the second half of the century.

Climate Commissioner Professor Tim Flannery argues the events of summer didn't happen out of the blue and were forecast decades ago by scientists warning of the dangers of man-made climate change.

"As these record-breaking conditions continue, it gets ever more difficult to deny there is a link between them and human activity," he said.


Cooking Books for Hot Summers

The lack of good history at the BoM makes their pronouncements of "hottest" etc. of dubious worth. It should be remembered that Watkin Tench recorded Sydney temperatures very similar to the recent Sydney maximum in 1790. BoM records are a long way short of 1790 (Yes. 1790. Not 1970) -- JR

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has "confirmed" that it is been the hottest summer on record in Australia. But I'm sceptical.

The "record breaking hot summer" is apparently a statistical fact derived from simply averaging across 104 or 112 localities - depending on whom at the Bureau is providing the information. No mention is made of how the temperatures for all of these localities have been "corrected" over recent years through the ACORN program [2]. In general the "corrections" are such that temperature records for specific localities pre-1970 are adjusted down, while records for specific localities post-1970 are adjusted up.

In their media release [1] attention is drawn to the town of Moomba in South Australia which apparently had the highest temperature recorded at 49.6 degrees C. Interestingly the station of Moomba only opened in 1972 - this of course is not reported in the same media release.

I've been trying to get a good long temperature series for some rainfall hindcasting that I've been doing for southeast Queensland, and have found that none of the Brisbane temperature recording stations have had any permanence. While once the main temperature recording station for Brisbane was in a bay-side suburb, in recent years the temperature recording station has been moved to the middle of East Brisbane just south of the city's CBD - where coincidently it tends to be hotter.

The Bureau's media release goes on to claim this summer follows a pattern of extremely hot summers in various parts of the world over the last few years.

The phenomena whereby government climate scientists correct the historical temperature record to support their theory of anthropogenic global warming is not unique to Australia. In fact the Australian Bureau of Meteorology may be simply following instructions from The Team. The Team are, of course, that notorious in-group who run policy at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. In the leaked Climategate emails there is discussion involving The Team focused on the need to reduce global sea surface temperatures, SST, during the early part of the 20th Century by about 0.15 degree C.. By reducing, the blip in SST temperatures for example between 1940 and 1945, it is suggested that the rate and magnitude of global warming for the period 1910 to 1945 can be made to not exceed the rate and magnitude of warming for the 35 year to 2009.

Interestingly recent "corrections down" to historical global temperatures by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, GISS, have been concentrated in this period, Figure 1. The net effect of the adjustments has been to generate a more smoothly increasing global temperature since 1880, and reduce a warming blip that occurred in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The US National Climatic Data Center has also been making "corrections" to the historical global temperature record, Figure 2. Indeed through administrative means January 1915 can be made to appear significantly cooler than January 2013, Figure 2.

This used to be known as cooking the books, however, of course, our esteemed climate scientists have detailed justifications for all the changes they have been busily making to all the global historical temperature databases


3 March, 2013

At long last! Police negligence accepted. Murder charges in the deaths of Atherton women 21 years ago

To anybody who knew even the basic facts about this matter, it has been crying out for justice. The small-town cops who ruled that the deaths were suicide were widely ridiculed. Were they just lazy or did they want to avoid upheavals in their small town? Perhaps both. Or could it be a simple as what one of the cops involved said: He claims a senior police officer refused to order an investigation into the suspected double murder because of overtime costs?

FOR 21 years, Vicki Arnold's family has been told the mild-mannered chartered accountant bashed her best friend with a rock, slit her throat and shot her twice before turning the gun on herself - firing two shots through her own head in an apparent murder-suicide.

She did this, according to a police investigation and two coronial inquests, despite having no motive and no history of depression or any other mental health issues.

Yesterday, State Coroner Michael Barnes tore holes in the findings of police and the previous inquests - declaring it was more likely Ms Arnold, 27, and her best friend Julie-Anne Leahy, 26, were murdered.

In an extraordinary hearing before a packed courtroom, Mr Barnes ordered Mrs Leahy's husband Alan stand trial on two counts of murder.

A warrant was issued for his arrest and he is expected to be extradited from Western Australia to face court in Queensland.

Mr Leahy yesterday told The Courier-Mail he would maintain his innocence. "Of course I will fight the charges," he said.

The bodies of the women were found inside the Leahy family 4WD in remote bushland near Cairns in August 1991 - two weeks after they failed to return from a late-night fishing trip.

"Those involved in the early stages of the investigation failed to gather, lost or corrupted evidence that may have established the truth of what happened at Cherry Tree Creek on the night of July 26, 1991," Mr Barnes said.

"They then set about squeezing what evidence was left into an explanation that required no further action."

He said two coronial inquests went along with the police opinion that the women's deaths were an open-shut murder-suicide.

The court heard Mrs Leahy's husband told police the women had left home after midnight to go fishing and never returned.

Mr Barnes said it was telling that Mr Leahy spent that night in bed with his wife's 16-year-old sister Vanessa. "Alan Leahy spent considerable time in his wife's sister's bed on the night the two women disappeared," he said.

"A possible interpretation for what would seem cavalier behaviour is that he knew his wife would not be returning."

Mr Barnes also found:

* While Ms Arnold had bought the gun that was used to shoot the women, the most likely scenario was that she had done so for someone else. Mr Barnes said she knew nothing about guns, yet insisted on buying a .22 rifle while giving various explanations as to why she needed it.

* Ms Arnold had neither the equipment or the know-how to saw down a rifle. Mr Leahy did and lied about owning a vice, which would have been used to shorten the barrel.

* Ms Arnold had no motive, appeared content the night she disappeared and had apparently embarked on a midnight fishing trip despite having made work appointments for 6am the following day.

* It was unlikely Ms Arnold had shot herself in the back of the head after first shooting herself in the thigh and chin.

* Trajectory examinations found one bullet was likely fired from the back seat.

* The sawn-off barrel from the gun, a hacksaw and instruction manual were placed inside a pillow slip from the Leahy house and left in Ms Arnold's driveway two weeks after her body was found. Mr Barnes said "only someone who had themselves been involved in the deaths had a motive to do that".

He said while Ms Arnold did not appear to have a motive, Mr Leahy did.

The court heard Mr Leahy had been having an affair with his sister-in-law, had mounting debts and stood to gain $120,000 from his wife's life insurance. He also lied about owning true crime magazines - one depicting a murder made to look like a murder-suicide. The court heard the day before the women disappeared, Mrs Leahy had asked her younger sister to stay home from school - a request the teenager was convinced meant Mrs Leahy wanted to confront her about the affair.

Mr Barnes ordered Mr Leahy to stand trial at the next sittings of the Supreme Court in Cairns, giving him 14 days to surrender to police.

The women's relatives in court - and others viewing the hearing live in Cairns - cried and applauded as Mr Barnes delivered his finding.

Mrs Leahy's brother Peter Martin punched the air. "I'm on top of the world," he said. "(The decision) takes Vicki straight out of the picture - as it should have been from word go. We can wake up tomorrow morning and have a smile on our face."

In Cairns, Ms Arnold's wheelchair-bound mother Vida sobbed as Mr Leahy was ordered to stand trial.

"I've waited nearly 22 years for this result," she said. "I've lost a lot of sleep over the years. Who knows if I'll get any sleep tonight." She thanked Mr Barnes, her lawyer Philip Bovey and State MP Curtis Pitt for correcting a "miscarriage of justice".


Vague federal "reforms" to education under challenge

CHRISTIAN schools have threatened to withdraw support for Julia Gillard's education funding reforms if the Prime Minister fails to spell out the effects on individual institutions within one month.

Christian Schools Australia also hit out at states looking to go their own way, saying premiers would be disregarding the national interest if they could not agree on a national plan to overhaul school funding.

Ms Gillard's hopes of striking a deal with the states at a meeting with premiers next month have suffered a blow in the past week, with Victoria and Queensland indicating they would develop their own alternative plans.

A Senate committee is examining the Gillard government's legislation designed to pave the way for the Gonski school funding reforms, which would see a set amount of funding allocated for each student to be topped up with "loadings" recognising disadvantage and disability needs.

The chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, told the inquiry the sector was being asked to buy into a scheme that was not fully articulated yet, and had shown "great patience" and "tremendous goodwill" in its approach up to this point.

Mr O'Doherty said if the exact detail of the effect on individual schools was not clearly explained by the end of this month, the government should introduce legislation to extend the present funding system beyond December.

"Quite frankly, at the end of this year, the money simply runs out," he said.

The Australian Education Union federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, told the inquiry Ms Gillard's signature education reforms - set to deliver an extra $6.5 billion in funding to schools each year - were not dead so long as everyone displayed "a degree of political maturity".

The deputy executive director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, Barry Wallett, said 900 schools in the independent sector were in a non-systemic arrangement and several hundred of those could lose funding if the Gonski model was implemented in its pure form.

Although the federal government continued to promise no school would lose a dollar, Mr Wallett said the indexation level to keep up with annual increases in costs was yet to be determined.

The National Catholic Education Commission chairwoman, Therese Temby, said the bill designed to pave the way for the Gonski reforms was couched in "highly aspirational language" and silent on actual funding details.

The Catholic Education executive director, Stephen Elder, said the Victorian government had done modelling on the Gonski reforms, which showed about 30 per cent of schools would lose money. He said the process had been long and drawn out, and was causing "enormous anxiety".

The associate secretary of the Department of Education, Tony Cook, reiterated that no school would lose money.

"A school will receive more money in 2014 than they received for 2013 based on this particular model."

The executive director of Independent Schools Queensland, David Robertson, said time was "getting pretty tight here" and he was aware of schools that had delayed building projects as a result of the uncertainty.

Visiting Hobart, Mr Gillard refused to concede her reforms were in jeopardy.

"Well, I'm absolutely determined to get this done," she said.


Frankly, this secrecy is undemocratic

AUSTRALIA boasts a stable democracy and a famously frank political culture. Yet for all that robustness, Australians too readily accept secrecy by those representing us.

Like many journalists, I know a simple truth: if you want useful detail and you want it before your deadline, don't bother waiting for our leaders or their high-level officials. That way lies stone-walling and obfuscation.

A better bet is to go straight to the Americans, the Brits, the New Zealanders, or even the Indonesians.

And you don't even need to go to them directly. Sometimes their websites display a level of detail Australian officials reflexively withhold as if the country's survival depends on its non-disclosure.

Foreign officials are sometimes disarmingly frank and are often quite happy to background media revealing pertinent facts, context and atmosphere.

Perhaps surprisingly, Australia's claimed egalitarianism and supposed disdain for rank and privilege does not extend to a perceived right of ordinary people to information.

When US President Barack Obama travelled to Cambodia last November for the East Asia Summit, members of the White House press corps were given a detailed briefing covering what the administration hoped to achieve in foreign policy terms and how the President would go about it. The briefing was transcribed and made available on the White House website.

Australian journalists covering the summit were provided a logistical briefing on Prime Minister Julia Gillard's main appointments. Matters of inevitable interest to the media were judiciously excluded, such as the fact that Ms Gillard's partner Tim was accompanying her and that his son would meet the couple in the Cambodian capital.

A Reuters colleague tells of approaching the Australian embassy in Burma during a period of intense political violence. He was turned away amid "blind panic" at the ramifications of talking to the press. The British, on the other hand, invited him inside, offered a full briefing and even provided internet facilities.

Domestically, the same non-disclosure tendencies inform most of what governments do.

Last week, Fairfax Media's Anne Davies reported on a push to have Gillard reveal her daily diary, so Australians can see what she is doing, and with whom she is meeting.

This kind of information is available in other countries, including the US and Britain.

Yet it is so foreign to official Australian sensibilities as to be almost unthinkable.

Ask the Prime Minister's office about issues being considered at Cabinet meetings and, more often than not, there is a reluctance to confirm even that a meeting is scheduled.

Now as we enter the longest-ever federal election campaign, both sides are moving into super-secure mode. This involves not revealing where and when the leader will be at any given time.

The dominant fear is of protesters stealing the limelight and wrecking carefully stage-managed television pictures. To that end, advice to media is parsed out on an event-by-event basis.

This circling of the wagons reaches its absurd apotheosis during the campaign proper when travelling media are not told of campaign functions and destinations sometimes until the last possible moment. This secrecy is inimical to democracy.

In its place we get circuses such as this week's Western Sydney soiree crafted to impart the illusion of accountability and participation while cementing in place the polar opposite.


Labor's record on crime is poor: Abbott

A federal government plan for a gang crime taskforce sounds very much like an old coalition proposal, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is expected to announce a joint police taskforce to combat gang crimes including gun violence and drive-by shootings, particularly in western Sydney, on Sunday.

The $64 million taskforce will include 70 federal and state police with bases in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, News Limited reports.

Mr Abbott says it sounds like a coalition proposal from the last election.

"It sounds very much like the government is playing catch-up politics here," he told reporters at Auburn in western Sydney.

"We'll have a good look at it. If it makes sense we'll support it."

However Mr Abbott says Labor's record on crime control shows it doesn't always live up to its promises.

"They promised in 2007 that there would be 500 additional AFP (Australian Federal Police) officers," he said.

"They've actually cut more than $250 million out of the AFP and as part of those cuts, 97 officers went."

The government also had cut $22 million from the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), he said.

"There are 144 fewer people in the ACC," he said.

And $60 million had been cut from Customs, meaning less than 10 per cent of incoming air cargoes were now screened, the federal opposition leader said.

The NSW Labor opposition called on Premier Barry O'Farrell to back the anti-gang taskforce.

"After more than 200 shootings, it's clear that whatever the O'Farrell government is doing just isn't working," Opposition Leader John Robertson said in a statement on Sunday.

"The Commonwealth has announced a taskforce today that will help tackle gang-related violence in western Sydney and the premier should support it.

"We need all the resources we can get to tackle gun crime and criminal gangs in Sydney's west."


1 March, 2013

Freezing asylum visas not racist: Abbott

CALLING for the freezing of bridging visas for asylum seekers is not a form a racial vilification, federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says.

His immigration spokesman Scott Morrison is pushing this policy idea after a Sri Lankan asylum seeker was charged this week with indecently assaulting a university student in Sydney.

But Mr Abbott denies this would racially vilify asylum seekers.

"I just think that's wrong," he told reporters in Brisbane on Friday. "It's very important that people whose status is yet to be determined are being monitored by the government. The government needs to know where they are."

He stood by Mr Morrison's comments. "Of course. The government has to maintain control of the system," Mr Abbott said.

Cabinet minister Penny Wong denies the decision to give asylum seekers bridging visas is creating an underclass in the community.

The finance minister told Sky News the government is providing more initial support than the Howard government did under its temporary protection visa regime.

"There is no easy answer, and anyone who says there is, is wrong," she said on Friday.

The government needed to implement policies that prevented asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat and risking their lives.

"No one can forget the tragedies we have seen in this area in past years," Senator Wong said.


Another State government rejects Federal grab for control of schools

Queensland has joined Victoria in telling Julia Gillard to "butt out of education" as it revealed it would follow Premier Ted Baillieu in hatching its own school funding reform plan.

In the latest setback to the Prime Minister's hopes of striking a deal with the states, the Queensland government declared on Thursday the Prime Minister should "give up" on her Gonski school funding reforms.

Queensland is the second conservative-run state to go its own way, despite Ms Gillard's insistence that they sign up to the federal plan at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April.

Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said on Thursday he was frustrated by the federal government's failure to detail how it would fund the Gonski reforms and accused federal Labor of using education as a "wedge" during an election year.

He said while Queensland wanted to work with the Gillard government, it would follow Victoria's lead in preparing its own plan.

"The Premier [Campbell Newman] has already expressed that he sees some merit in the Victorian plan but most importantly, we are our own jurisdiction with our own challenges and that's why we need to come up with our own plan that suits us, not have some sort of Australian government idea that they have come up with that they want to impose on the states," Mr Langbroek said.

Federal Schools Minister Peter Garrett condemned the move and said it was wrong of the Queensland government to suggest it did not have details of the plan.

"They have had details of the model for months and state officials have been working through it with Commonwealth representatives," he said.

Mr Baillieu announced last Saturday that the Victorian government would pursue its own education reforms, which included a voucher system for disadvantaged students.

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos accused Coalition leaders in Queensland and Victoria of putting politics ahead of the needs of children.

Ms Gillard has placed the plan to inject an extra $6.5 billion annually into school funding at the centre of her re-election pitch.


Stress among conservatives over renewable energy goal

Pressure is mounting within the federal Coalition to abolish or scale back the 20 per cent renewable energy target, with Nationals senator Ron Boswell claiming his party backs his demand the policy be axed.

While pledging to abolish the carbon price, the Coalition has always offered bipartisan support for the RET, which remains the biggest driver of investment in renewable energy.

But Senator Boswell told the Senate on Thursday that the RET should be abolished because it was increasing electricity prices and was "costing jobs in western Sydney".

"The whole of the National Party agrees with me, although we haven't got a formal policy on it yet, and I suspect many Liberals do also," Senator Boswell said. "If we want to have a manufacturing sector in Australia, we have to dump the carbon tax and abolish the RET."

A high-profile Liberal candidate in the New South Wales seat of Hume, Angus Taylor, said last week that the RET was an inefficient and expensive way of reducing emissions, and argued it should be restructured, possibly to include projects generating electricity from gas.

The Coalition climate change spokesman, Greg Hunt, has said there are no plans to change the RET, but the Coalition would consider a review to be held in 2014.

Meanwhile, Greens senator Christine Milne will use a speech on Friday to take aim at the Coalition's Direct Action climate policy, which she claims is a "sham".

Direct Action proposes to spend more than $1 billion a year, mostly on competitive government grants to companies or farmers who "bid in" ideas for how they might reduce emissions.

But Senator Milne will outline why she believes the scheme has no chance of working.

"The Coalition expects more than 60 per cent of the abatement to come from soil carbon - but the science to back this up is not yet solid, so this abatement would not be recognised in international treaties. That's a show-stopper," she will say.

And she will quote Coalition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull to make the point that "assessing the tenders to ensure that they involve genuine reductions in emissions is fraught with difficulty.

"As Malcolm Turnbull has said, and I quote, 'If a scheme operates whereby the government pays the firm to reduce its emissions intensity … there is firstly going to be a substantial and contentious debate about what the correct baseline is, and then whether it will actually be reduced …

"Arguments of considerable ferocity will arise as to whether a new piece of equipment would have been bought anyway, with the risk that the government ends up funnelling billions of dollars to companies to subsidise their profit without achieving any real additional cuts in emissions.' "


Chinese cows get taste for Aussie hay

Three hay processing companies from Australia are now supplying stock feed to a fast-expanding dairy industry in China.

All three are from South Australia; Balco, based at Balaklava, JT Johnsons of Kapunda and Lithgow Enterprises of Tailem Bend.

Between them, they exported about 18,000 tonnes of oaten hay to China last year.

"When you look at the markets we supply fodder to - Japan, Korea and Taiwan - they are basically full markets, stable markets," said Balco managing director, Malcolm May.

"For our industry to grow, we have to sell hay somewhere else and China has got an absolute appetite for our hay, we believe, in the long term."

Mr May said there were 13 companies registered nationally to sell oaten hay to China for dairy cattle feed, but only the three SA companies had successfully entered the market.

Dairy food is not traditional in the Chinese diet, but over the past decade per-capita consumption has increased four-fold.

In 2000, the average annual consumption was just 7.3 kilograms for the Chinese, but in 2011 it had risen to 28.4 kg, said peak industry body Dairy Australia.

There are now about 12 million dairy cattle on farms in China, which is 10 times the size of the Australian herd.

Australia exports hundreds of thousands of breeding stock to the Chinese.

Stock feed supplies had been limited and of low quality in China, creating the demand for overseas hay.

The United States is the biggest exporter of stock feed, sending alfalfa hay (known as lucerne in Australia).

But Chinese dairy farmers are finding their cattle also like the taste of Australian oaten hay and produce a better-quality milk when it is used in conjunction with other feed.

Oaten hay is harvested when green and baled after drying in the paddocks.

"We have been using oaten hay ever since it entered the Chinese market," said Jing Dehua, a dairy farmer and deputy president of the Shanghai Dairy Association. "The fibre is beneficial to a dairy cow.

"More dairy farms will use it as their facilities and management improve."

A sticking point is price. A high dollar makes Australian-grown hay expensive compared with supplies from other countries.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative