Thursday, May 31, 2007

Foolish scapegoating of majority white society

ABORIGINAL culture isn't just nice dot paintings, it includes binge drinking and wife bashing. The facts are that tribal ways do not work, writes Andrew Bolt.

An Aboriginal woman interrupted the Prime Minister's "reconciliation" ceremony in Canberra on Sunday to give him a reconciling spray. "We have been genocided . . . by your Government, your court," she shouted. And newspapers confirm: "The crowd erupted in loud applause."

How they clapped, those "genocided" Aborigines, with government cheques in their pockets and a government lunch in their bellies. That's genocide? Let them confront what's really killing young Aborigines. And it's not some white politician. No, it's their fantasy that you can live tribal ways and get Western outcomes. That Aborigines don't have to choose between "blackfella ways" or health and wealth.

Read Prof Helen Hughes's new book, Lands of Shame. See where black suffering is worst? Where we'll most likely find children sick or neglected, women bashed, men unemployable, and so many parents drunk or idle? It's not among the many Aborigines assimilated to Western culture. It's among the Aborigines who live furthest from it, leading lives more truly "Aboriginal", as deemed by spokesmen with well-funded jobs, white partners and suburban homes.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd now glibly vows to close the black-white gap in life expectancy "within the next generation", and was cheered by the same Howard hecklers for nothing but words. If kind wishes were dollars, Aborigines would be rich. Rudd's promise of a "sorry" and $261 million more in health and education spending to add to the $3.3 billion a year already spent by the Government on Aborigines will solve nothing.

No, we must instead end our love affair with the Noble Savage. You want Aborigines to be richer and healthier? Then give them every help to make lives in Western society and to leave the shattered tribal homes and culture that destroy so many. Already people who have dedicated their careers to black causes are suggesting what was once unsayable.

Prof Peter Sutton, anthropologist and author of the searingly frank The Politics of Suffering, asks how much longer Aborigines can remain in "racially segregated communities" and avoid the need to change their culture. That culture isn't just nice dot paintings, he says. It can also include binge drinking. Or wife bashing. Or letting children decide whether to go to school or -- mostly -- not. Or favouring relatives over better workers. Or blaming sorcerers for avoidable deaths. Or rejecting delegated authority. Or . . . Writes Sutton: "So many are in denial over the need for cultural change if indigenous disadvantage is to be addressed at its roots."

Hughes agrees and attacks decades of apartheid policies that gave us this failed "socialist homeland model" -- a string of cultural ghettoes which leave many Aboriginal children unable even to speak English, their futures destroyed. Cultural change hurts. For Aborigines, assimilating implies a rejection of their past. BUT assimilation will also be fought by intellectuals, whose own culture, as famed psychologist Prof Steven Pinker says, "is loath to admit that there could be anything good about the institutions of civilisation and Western society".

So corrupt is that intellectual culture that a privileged crowd cheers even preposterous claims that Aborigines are being "genocided" by their trying-hard Western government. So corrupt, that it praises instead the broken tribal culture that truly destroys black children. For shame.


Union thug lets us know what's coming when the Labor party lets unions off the leash

HE describes employers as "greedy pr. .ks" and compares workplace inspectors with paedophiles. Meet Electrical Trades Union secretary Dean Mighell the ugly face of unionism that Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd does not want you to see. In a foul-mouthed address to members of the Electrical Trades Union obtained by The Daily Telegraph, Mr Mighell brags about getting pay rises for his workers by threatening to strike.

"Now we have kept that 4 per cent agreement across our industry and I'd like to know how many millions of dollars they've paid workers that we've racked up through that little bulls. .t stunt," he told a mass meeting of members at Melbourne's Dallas Brooks Hall. "But it was good fun and it's still there, so that's a couple of pots (of beer). Just remember a little bit of bulls. .t, put it aside every week, have a little smile when you have a beer because some d. . .head's paid for that that shouldn't have."

In his speech, Mr Mighell, who apparently struggles to complete a sentence without an expletive, displayed the type of thuggish behaviour that Mr Rudd and industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard have been trying to play down. The speech was delivered in November last year but a recording only emerged yesterday. Mr Mighell has since described Prime Minister John Howard as a "skidmark on the bedsheet of Australian politics".

In his tirade, Mr Mighell unleashed on government inspectors from the Australian Building and Construction and Commission, set up to clean out corruption in the building industry. He described the inspectors as "c. .k smokers" before comparing them with paedophiles. "Some of you might have seen them, usually fat blokes that look like rundown coppers," he said. "What they'll do is, they're not allowed to enter your home, which is pretty good because you just can't be too sure of their orientation in terms of certain things you wouldn't want them near your home, wouldn't want them near your children."

The maverick unionist also vowed to ignore the Federal Government's law preventing union organisers from coming on to a worksite without giving notice. "Our employers in our agreements we've negotiated don't want that. They're happy for us to go on 24/7 because they're not terrorists and we don't often belt them up unless they deserve it."

While the Opposition decides how to placate the hundreds of thousands of workers on individual contracts, Mr Mighell left his audience in no doubt that he and his union colleagues would tear them up.


Big advance in cornea surgery

Australian surgeons have restored a man's vision by performing a procedure that eliminates the need for a complete transplant of the cornea. The procedure causes fewer complications and restores eyesight faster than a cornea transplant, doctors say. Rasik Vajpayee, head of the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital's corneal unit in Melbourne, who performed the surgery, said it was an exciting development. "This new treatment has the potential to help sufferers of endothelial corneal blindness to see again, offering them the ability to lead an independent life," Professor Vajpayee said.

Diseases of the cornea -- the clear surface at the front of the eye that lets it focus -- can lead to blurred vision or blindness. Previously, doctors would make a large incision in the eye, remove the diseased or damaged cornea and replace it with a donated cornea, using sutures. Although the procedure has a 90 per cent success rate, it can take 12 months for the eye to heal and patients can experience complications, including infection and distorted vision. Some require corrective surgery if the replacement cornea becomes loose.

In the new procedure, which rarely requires sutures, surgeons make a small incision in the eye and remove only the diseased layer of the cornea, which is then replaced with a layer of healthy donor tissue. "Previously we were replacing the whole cornea, which has about five layers," Professor Vajpayee said. "But there is a serious shortage of corneas around the world. This procedure could allow us to treat two or three patients with tissue from the same donor."

Professor Vajpayee said surgeons had performed the procedure on hundreds of patients in the US, with great success. "The complete transplant uses up to 20 sutures, which all have to be removed," he said. "This has better outcomes and patients recover faster."

David Wall's vision has improved daily since a fortnight ago, when he became the first Australian to undergo the procedure. The 75-year-old's eyesight had deteriorated significantly over the past year. "Eventually I couldn't see anything out of my left eye, it was just a blur," Mr Wall said. "It was affecting my balance and I had to concentrate really hard on the ground when I walked, so I didn't fall." Mr Wall said he could already see objects and read large letters. "It's getting better each day -- I'm very happy with it."


Testing methods mask our failings

Good marks from one source can't disguise Australia's falling standards of education, writes Kevin Donnelly. The PISA assessments are very undemanding

HOW well are Australian students performing? Based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment test, they appear to be doing very well. The results of the 2000 literacy test ranked Australia second out of 32 countries and in 2003 only four countries outperformed our 15-year-old students in mathematics. Groups with a vested interest in arguing that all is well, such as the Australian Education Union and the Australian Council for Educational Research, quote the results in their submissions to the Senate inquiry into education standards as evidence that there is no crisis.

Wrong. While the PISA test reflects favourably on Australian students, it is open to a number of criticisms. As argued by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute in its Senate inquiry submission, the PISA test "is not a valid assessment of mathematics knowledge, as only a fragment of the curriculum is tested".

The outstanding performance of Australian students in the PISA literacy test is also open to doubt, as students did not lose marks for faulty spelling, grammar and punctuation. If our students had been corrected, many would have failed as, in the words of one researcher, "It was an exception rather than a rule in Australia to find a student response that was written in well-constructed sentences, with no spelling or grammatical error."

A second measure of the performance of Australian students is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study carried out in 1995, 1999 and 2003 and involving up to 46 countries. These tests assess essential mathematics and science knowledge. Australian students in Years 4 and 8, while doing well, are in the second XI as measured by TIMSS and are consistently outperformed by countries such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, The Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

In more successful overseas education systems, more students achieve at the highest level. In the 2003 TIMSS science test, only 9per cent of Year8 Australian students performed at the advanced level, compared with 25 per cent from Taiwan and 15 per cent from Japan and England. In mathematics, only 7 per cent of Australian Year8 students performed at the advanced level, compared with 44 per cent of students in Singapore. There is also a significant gap in Australia between better performing and less able students. Successful countries overseas are able to get more children to perform at the higher end of the scale, while Australia has a long tail of underperformers.

Further proof is found in a US report by the American Institutes for Research, published on April 24. While acknowledging the difficulties in terms of methodology and making comparative judgments, the report interprets the TIMSS Year8 test results in the light of the expected levels of performance (basic, proficient and advanced) as measured by the US-based assessment of educational progress. On analysing the 1999 TIMMS results for Year8, the US report lists the following countries as having greater numbers of students achieving at the advanced level: Singapore, 34 per cent; South Korea, 26 per cent; Hong Kong, 23 per cent; Japan, 24 per cent; and Belgium, 15 per cent. The percentage of Australian students who achieve at the advanced level is 8 per cent.

The situation is not as bad with the Year8 science results: only Taiwan and Singapore appear to have significantly more students performing at the advanced level. But in the 2003 Year8 TIMMS test, Australians students again underperformed. While 35 per cent of Singaporean students performed at the advanced level, 24 per cent from Hong Kong, 29 per cent from South Korea, 30 per cent from Taiwan and 20 per cent from Japan, only 5 per cent of Australian students achieved at the top level.

Much has been made of the dumbing-down influence of Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education, where everyone is a winner and the curriculum promotes a one-size-fits-all approach, in explaining student underperformance. But also of concern is the way Australia carries out its national benchmark testing in literacy and numeracy.

The results over the past four years at Years3 and 5 suggest all is well in numeracy. About 90 to 94 per cent of students reach the benchmark standard and in reading the figure hovers close to 92 per cent. Such results appear worth celebrating. Not so. Not only is the benchmark described as the agreed minimum acceptable standard - defined as "standards of performance below which students will have difficulty progressing satisfactorily at school" - but there is the suspicion that the bar is set so low that the overwhelming majority of children are guaranteed success.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Leftist wants someone to loathe

Australian Leftist columnist Phillip Adams often writes in a rather ironic way but the article by him excerpted below does seem to be a clear confession of the hate that drives him -- as it does with so many Leftists. That they hail the slightest negativity emanating from conservatvies as "hate" shows how urgent is their need to project their own failings onto others. Adams is commenting on the likely defeat of Australia's conservative government at the next election -- due later this year. Adams is a millionaire so his hate is not born of "poverty". And, yes, that poster he has on his library wall is who you think it is

For God’s sake don’t tell Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, but despite a lifetime’s atheism I have, over the past decade, been driven to prayer. My increasingly desperate appeals have been addressed to Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Thor, Ra, Vulcan and sundry totems, jujus, graven images and idols - entreating one or more of them to end the Howard Government....

But nothing happened. To be perfectly frank the disappointing lack of response considerably added to my religious scepticism. But now, suddenly, the gods are acting! The various almighties are finally showing him the door! And I’m suddenly getting a bit worried. How will I get on without him? .... Just as Mum needed Kennett to give meaning to her existence, I may well be sustained by Howard hating. How will I get through the day without the prospect of the six o’clock news when I can, in the family tradition, yell at the screen?

The world faces a similar problem with George W. Bush. The most unpopular president since Harry Truman at his nadir - and as Jimmy Carter rightly says “the worst president in US history” - will soon be banished from the political stage. For nigh on seven years - though it seems almost an eternity - countless millions have loathed the man. He has increased the blood pressure of not only hapless Democrats but also a large majority of my fellow Australians and pretty much the entire population of Europe.... Where will all that hatred go when he’s gone? What will people do with it?

For 11 years John Winston Howard has been my central focus, my obsession, my bogeyman, my nemesis. To be without him might answer those prayers. But as has been wisely said “Beware the answered prayer”!

More here

Dangerous "Green" car

The shocking image of this tangled wreck of what was a Reva all-electric car has prompted road safety authorities to keep it off Australian roads. The wreckage of the Indian-built car is the result of a simulated crash at just 48 km/h.

The crash test dummy at the wheel of the Reva has its legs crushed, and hangs limply and exposed out of the door, its head having taken the full force of the disintegrated bonnet and windshield during the crash. Watch the crash test below:

But the man who wants Australian metropolitan commuters to go green in the Reva, says the shocking crash test has little relevance and that he knows the car is not as safe as other vehicles on our roads. Adrian Ferraretto, general manager of The Solar Shop in Adelaide, has been pushing for trials of the Reva here for years, and yesterday defended its safety record on the basis that it is allowed on roads elsewhere under the classification of a heavy quadricycle.

"We know the car's not as safe as say an S-Class Mercedes Benz or a Hummer or other passenger cars, but it has a different application," Mr Ferraretto said. "It's for low-speed city motoring. I don't think (the crash tests are) relevant. While it's not as safe as other passenger cars, it's safer than a motorbike."

The test on the Reva was conducted by UK motoring magazine Top Gear. It prompted road authorities in Britain to conduct their own crash tests and re-examine the road laws which allowed it on the roads there. Footage from the test was shown at a recent Australian Transport Council meeting of state and federal transport ministers. At the start of this month, as an outcome of that meeting, the Reva all-electric car was banned from use on Australian roads as it had failed a frontal crash test and did not comply with safety standards. An application by the West Australian Government to trial the Reva, an automatic two-door hatch, was rejected by the Australian Transport Council.

In Britain, however, the Reva - known as a G-Wiz - is classed as a heavy quadricycle and therefore has not had to meet the same safety standards as a car. Australia has no such vehicle category.


Mass desertion of public hospitals

So many operations and other treatments are done in private hospitals, doctor's rooms and private clinics that public hospitals can no longer train junior doctors in the skills they need. Doctors say bone surgery, gynecology, dermatology and psychiatry are areas where specialist trainees -- known as registrars, and currently trained in public hospitals -- can no longer learn the surgical and other procedures they will need to perform later in their careers. The Australasian College of Dermatologists has had to extend its training course by a year because its registrars are no longer getting enough experience in common skin conditions in public hospitals.

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show private hospitals conducted 45 per cent of all same-day operations in 2004-05. The national conference of the Australian Medical Association in Melbourne at the weekend heard that doctors training to be orthopedic surgeons in public hospitals were now more likely to treat complex and urgent cases such as road crash victims.

Geoffrey Metz, clinical dean and director of education at the private Epworth Hospital in Melbourne, told the conference the situation was made urgent by the planned doubling of medical student numbers, expected to soar from about 1500 graduates a year to 2900 by 2011. "If there's no increase in the number of beds in traditional teaching hospitals, trainees will be fighting each other over the same number of patients," Associate Professor Metz said. Epworth Hospital, run by the Uniting Church, already takes trainees, he said. "We need to do part of our training outside the traditional teaching hospitals."

Psychiatry registrars training in public hospitals were mainly exposed to patients with psychoses, whereas doctors in private practice saw a lot more patients with anxiety and depressive disorders, Associate Professor Metz said. In gynecology and pathology, there were also big differences between the types of cases registrars saw and the problems of private patients.

Sending trainee doctors into private hospitals might prove tricky, as one of the vaunted benefits of private hospital treatment is that it allows patients to choose their preferred doctor. Delegates at the AMA conference backed a resolution that a position statement be developed to guide registrar training in the private sector, with a stipulation that the arrangements "must respect patient choice by ensuring that all patients treated by trainees are informed about the role of trainees in their medical care, andfreely consent to this".

The federal Government has committed $60 million through the Council of Australian Governments to expand medical training into the private sector. But Associate Professor Metz said this "can't be seen as anything other than seed funding" because of the large number of extra trainees due to come through the system.

Omar Kharshid , who completed his specialist training to become a qualified orthopedic surgeon last year, told the conference trainees in public hospitals were now more experienced in treating road crash victims than patients with common complaints such as bunions.

Health Minister Tony Abbott said the Government would "do its bit" to expand training into the private sector, but details of how the $60 million would be spent had to be finalised.


WHO WE ARE: A column about Australia by David Dale

David Dale is the author of "Who We Are -- A snapshot of Australia today". He gets it pretty right

Here's what happened: a few weeks ago a travel magazine in Singapore asked me to write an article about the Australian character, apparently because I had produced a book called Who We Are: A snapshot of Australia today. Singapore is one of our fastest-growing sources of tourists (22,000 a month), so this was quite a responsibility. But the more I thought about it, the more I grew annoyed about the way this country has been promoted overseas this year.

So this was how I started the article: "The tourism authorities will kill me for saying this, but I'm not at all comfortable with their latest international advertising campaign, built around the phrase 'So where the bloody hell are you?' "They're pleased with the way the ad agency included The Great Australian Expletive in a slogan, and with all the free publicity this has generated. My concern is not with the alleged rudeness of the word. It's with the attitude implied in the statement. There's an arrogance there, a sense of entitlement, that is not characteristic of the Australia I know and like.

"The quality I admire most in my compatriots is modesty. We know we have exported some pretty good actors, directors, cricketers, swimmers, musicians and models. And we know we have some pretty spectacular scenery, even if it's too widely separated for comfort (try seeing the Barrier Reef, Uluru, Monkey Mia and the Tasmanian wilderness in one week and you'll need a holiday when you get home). But we still don't think of ourselves as particularly worth a journey.

"The statistic that five million people visit us every year comes as a surprise to most Australians. A more realistic slogan to represent our attitude to international tourism would be 'Why the bloody hell would you bother?'. "The tone of the campaign is alien to my sense of the Australian character -- aggressive and aggrieved rather than calm and cheerful (an approach implied by the expression 'she'll be right, mate')."

My article went on to discuss a theory of John Carroll, Professor of Sociology at Melbourne's La Trobe University, that in their relaxed approach to life Australians resemble their native animals, according to. "Peoples, like individuals, take flight into ideology, dogmatism and ranting when they feel under inner threat," Carroll said in the Deakin lecture of 2001. "It is a leading mark of Australia as a political culture to have always and without exception been sceptical of idealism, hostile to extremists, innately drawn to the moderate, the sensible, the unassuming. It points to a fundamental security of being.

"Special warmth has grown for the kangaroo, koala, platypus, and echidna that is more than the cuddly toy sort. The marsupials set a tone, in their way of being. In part it is their lack of aggression, except when cornered. The quiet way they go about negotiating their habitat has affinity with the way the people respond to bureaucratic controls. The kookaburra reminds humans, prone to taking themselves seriously, that they are easy to laugh at."


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Legal discrimination against heterosexuals now in place in Australia

This is a rather fun ruling. It would seem to open the way for bars in working class areas to exclude homosexuals on similar grounds -- that they make the heterosexual patrons feel uncomfortable. After that, what is to stop homosexuals being sent to the back of the bus? The body responsible for the ruling below is however as bent as a pretzel so any consistency or application of principle cannot be expected from them. They are guided by Leftist politics not law. It is they who prosecuted two Christian pastors for quoting the nasty bits in the Koran!

A MELBOURNE pub catering for gay men has won the right to refuse entry to heterosexuals in a landmark ruling at the state planning tribunal. The owners of Collingwood's Peel Hotel applied to ban straight men and women to try to prevent "sexually based insults and violence" towards its gay patrons. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal last week granted the pub an exemption to the Equal Opportunity Act, effectively prohibiting entry to non-homosexuals.

VCAT deputy president Cate McKenzie said if heterosexual men and women came into the venue in large groups, their number might be enough to swamp the gay male patrons. "This would undermine or destroy the atmosphere which the company wishes to create," Ms McKenzie said in her findings. "Sometimes heterosexual groups and lesbian groups insult and deride and are even physically violent towards the gay male patrons." Some women even booked hens' nights at the venue using the gay patrons as entertainment, Ms McKenzie said. "To regard the gay male patrons of the venue as providing an entertainment or spectacle to be stared at, as one would at an animal at a zoo, devalues and dehumanises them," she said. "(This exemption) seeks to give gay men a space in which they may, without inhibition, meet, socialise and express physical attraction to each other in a non-threatening atmosphere."

The Peel manager Tom McFeely [McFeely -- interesting name for a homosexual!] told the tribunal the plan to refuse entry had been advertised at the hotel, with no objections received. Mr McFeely said most of the regulars at the hotel had responded positively.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Lobby Group said she believed the ruling made the Peel one of only two men-only venues in Melbourne. "This exemption was not sought to exclude members of the community but to try to maintain a safe space for men to meet," the spokeswoman said. She said gay men at the Peel had recently been ostracised and made to feel like "zoo animals". "It's sad that members of our community would have to go to the VCAT to preserve their rights," the spokeswoman said. "This is one of the only free venues with live music in the area, so certainly some people may feel a bit unhappy about the decision."

The Peel attracted criticism in April over an ad for a gay Anzac Day party that showed a near-naked man in a slouch hat. The hotel used a Shrine of Remembrance guard as the unwitting star of an ad for an Anzac Day eve bash. The ad was published in gay magazines and on the venue's website. It was withdrawn after intense criticism from the Victorian RSL, which called it a "desecration of the Anzac spirit".


Multiculturalism entrenched discrimination for Australia's blacks

In 1967, a constitutional referendum gave Aborigines full Australian citizenship -- a bit like America's civil rights act of the same era

THE 1967 referendum, rather than propelling Aborigines into the national mainstream, was followed by an apartheid-like regime in which Aborigines descended into a world of poverty, illiteracy and violence, according to economist Helen Hughes. In a new book, Lands of Shame, Hughes, a former senior director of the economic analysis department at the World Bank and senior fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, argues that after 1967, two main approaches towards Aboriginal people were emerging, one liberal and the other socialist.

"Those liberally minded considered that with the referendum's end to legislated exceptionalism, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders would be able to integrate into the economic mainstream," she writes. "It was thought that Aboriginal lives would be enriched by participating in the technological and social advances that led to high living standards." Values such as individual freedom and equality between men and women were evolving. Immigration was leading to an ethnically plural society with a reduction in racial discrimination. Aboriginal art, dance and music were being embraced in a broader Australian culture, enabling indigenous traditions to flourish. "Thus it was thought that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders would not only be able to look back to enjoy their traditions and links with the country, but also look forward to participating in the life of reason that would free them from sorcery and fear of spirits."

Instead, she writes, the Whitlam and Fraser governments steered Aborigines towards the socialist "homeland" model championed by former Reserve Bank governor HC "Nugget" Coombs that wove together anthropology and Marxism. Rather than ending discrimination, it would be "the culmination of 200 years of exceptionalist and separatist indigenous policies". Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser said last night it was "totally and absolutely absurd" to suggest his government allowed a form of apartheid to develop. He said his government had tried to "respect and understand the difference" between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

One of the leaders of the referendum campaign, Faith Bandler, said she had "tended to support" the Coombs approach, but generations of social engineering by governments had rarely taken account of Aboriginal opinion. "It's difficult for one group of people, whose skin is white, to plan and make decisions for another group, whose skin happens to be black," she said.

But confronting critics, including Mr Fraser, who say policies of assimilation and integration from the 1930s to the 1970s not only failed but contributed to the destruction of Aboriginal families, Hughes writes: "It is not true that various policies have been tried and have failed. Policies have always been discriminatory, treating Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders differently from other Australians. "Sadly, the most damaging discrimination in Australia's history has been the exceptionalism of the last 30 years that was intended to make up for past mistreatment."


Kidney disease treatment shame

MORE than 200 kidney patients die needlessly every year because of Queensland's "appalling" public health system, according to a leading kidney specialist. David Johnson has revealed that a "woeful" lack of doctors, equipment and understanding of the disease means patients are not getting the treatment they need to stay alive. He said some patients with chronic kidney disease were receiving dialysis only once a week rather than the recommended three five-hour sessions. Without regular dialysis to remove toxins and excess water from the blood, there is an increased risk of complications developing such as anaemia and high blood pressure. As waste products are allowed to build up, the patients can die sooner than they might have.

The latest figures reveal 224 Queenslanders die every year while on dialysis and nine out of 10 die before they even get that treatment. About 1500 are having dialysis and 139 are waiting for a transplant. Professor Johnson spoke out as chairman of Kidney Check Australia Taskforce, a group set up to lobby governments to provide better services. He is also director of kidney treatment and chairman of medicine at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, which treats a third of the state's kidney patients.

"The situation in Queensland is appalling and far worse than the rest of Australia," he said. "We have one specialist per 150,000 patients and we should have one per 80,000. "The lack of workforce and funding is just woeful." Prof Johnson said the lack of dialysis machines also meant many patients were being sent to hospitals up to 100km away from home for treatment, and others are waiting more than a year to see a consultant.

His comments come on the eve of Kidney Awareness Week, as the charity Kidney Health Australia warns the country is losing the battle against kidney disease. Deaths from kidney failure have doubled in 20 years and Australia's health bill for treating the disease is growing by $1 million a week. In Queensland, the number of patients on dialysis is increasing by 8 per cent every year and doctors believe rising rates of obesity, diabetes and the ageing population are to blame. Kidney disease is the "silent killer" - 16 per cent of the population do not even realise they have it until their condition deteriorates.

Tim Mathew, medical director at Kidney Health Australia, is calling for an early GP screening program, targeting people considered most likely to develop the disease, such as the obese, people with diabetes, or a family history of kidney problems. "We basically need to get the Federal Government's support for some active kidney programs to chase the disease," Dr Mathew said. "We also need to educate GPs. "Generally, they don't know enough about it, or if they do they are not confident to know what to do about it."

A Queensland Health spokesman said the department was working to boost dialysis services to cope with the demand, and will be opening a new 12-chair dialysis unit at Redlands Hospital.


Does the Green/Left government of NSW REALLY want to get people out of their cars and into trains?

They seem to be doing their best to discourage it. Indian conditions next?

UP to 89 commuters in every carriage are being forced to stand on peak-hour CityRail services as higher petrol prices and improved reliability push up passenger numbers. CityRail's secret official figures on overcrowding show the Western Line had some evening services carrying 180 per cent of their maximum seating capacity in March, up 40 per cent in one year. With a Tangara seating 112 people, a 180 per cent maximum load equates to 89 people being forced to stand for at least part of their journey. The Northern Line was also carrying a maximum 180 per cent (up 30 per cent), the Southern Line a maximum 170 per cent (up 20 per cent) and the North Shore Line a maximum 160 per cent (up 20 per cent).

The growth in overcrowding, revealed in documents obtained under Freedom of Information, came as RailCorp released other figures confirming a strong growth in patronage for the same period. Passenger trips overall grew by 3 per cent in just 12 months to 279.5 million journeys between March 2006 and March 2007. But the increase was even more marked on particular lines with the busy Western Line up 5 per cent, or 1.6 million journeys. The East Hills Line was up 5.1 per cent and the Main North Line up 4.2 per cent.

A RailCorp spokesman said the increase in passenger numbers was putting pressure on the network but there was more additional capacity coming on-line. "Like every metro rail system in the world our passengers will still experience some congestion on busy services during peak times," he said.

The increased patronage could be contributed to the "significant gains in reliability" since the introduction of the newer, slower timetable three years ago, he said. "It could also be expected that higher fuel prices have meant more people are leaving the car at home and taking public transport," the spokesman said. RailCorp said the introduction of 144 new Oscar-class carriages on outer urban services would progressively free up more Tangaras to run on busy suburban lines, increasing seating capacities in peak hours. A further 626 new suburban carriages are to be built under a public-private sector partnership.


NSW: The decay of school discipline shows

DESPERATE teachers abused and attacked by students, other school staff and also community members in New South Wales have been forced to take out apprehended violence orders on more than 40 occasions. The protection orders have been sought as principals and teachers are assaulted, stalked, harassed and have their property damaged in schools. The revelations come after a string of incidents in schools across the state last week, including a 12-year-old boy who allegedly threatened a teacher with a replica pistol.

While the Iemma Government claims the number of AVOs taken out by teachers is falling, The Daily Telegraph can reveal some staff still feel so helpless in the face of their attackers that they seek outside help. Data on AVOs over three years to mid-2006 show a range of psychological and physical attacks on teaching staff in both primary and secondary schools. The figures have been obtained by The Daily Telegraph under Freedom of Information as five schools battle a wave of serious threats against students and teachers.

Students, ex-students, parents and community members are shown in AVO documents to have launched assaults or threats against school staff. In one terrifying incident, three high school teachers were forced to take out a restraining order against a former student who used a baseball bat to smash his way into an office. Last year police took out an interim AVO against a student, 16, suspended and charged with attempting to throttle his female teacher, 24. The woman was treated in hospital for severe swelling and bruising to her neck, chest and right hand.

A letter from deputy director-general (schools) Trevor Fletcher went out on Friday to all schools warning criminal behaviour could attract severe penalties including jail. He urged students to report any criminal behaviour they see or know is being planned. "Just because you are a school student does not mean you cannot be held responsible for a crime," Mr Fletcher told pupils. "Nor does the fact that you are playing a prank or a trick. You can still be punished as a criminal. "You should not see reporting a crime as dobbing in a mate - such action may in fact save someone's life or prevent serious injury or damage from occurring."

Opposition education spokesman Andrew Stoner called for more professional counsellors in schools because children with mental disorders were "slipping through the cracks". "We have seen the tragic effects of violent incidents involving school students in the US," he said. "NSW public schools are ill-equipped to deal with this."

The Education Department claims stiffer penalties for crimes in schools, tighter security and quick removal of serious troublemakers have contributed to the decline in AVOs sought by teachers. Education Minister John Della Bosca said good communication between students and staff in the incident at Crookwell High School - where shooting threats were made - enabled police to take swift action and ensure safety. "Schools work closely with police and parents when these type of incidents occur," he said.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Mandrake the magician

It will be interesting to hear how Australia's chief Leftist is going to stop the major health problem among blacks -- endemic substance abuse from childhood on and pervasive adult alcoholism. He's just talking malarkey

KEVIN Rudd has promised to close the 17-year gap in life expectancy between black and white Australians within a generation. In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the historic 1967 referendum, the Opposition Leader will tomorrow attempt to trump John Howard by committing Labor to a broad agenda to give indigenous and non-indigenous children the same life expectancy levels.

Labor's plan will cost $261.4million over four years, with $186.4 million coming from the commonwealth Government and $75 million from the states and territories. Labor would spend $112 million over four years to provide national coverage of child and maternal health services to indigenous Australians. It says its first step towards closing the life expectancy gap is halving the rate at which indigenous children die before the age of five within a decade. Labor also wants literacy and numeracy gaps halved within 10 years, saying children should be tested at Years 3, 5 and 7 to ensure progress is being made.

Mr Rudd's policy will meet the demands of a coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous medical, health and human rights organisations, which has been campaigning for a national commitment to a plan to address indigenous health standards. Mr Rudd will also reveal specific targets to improve the opportunities for Aboriginal children in health and education.

And a Rudd government would continue the Howard Government's mutual obligation principles, in a move away from previous Labor principles based on welfare. News of tomorrow's speech came as a Howard government plan to make it compulsory for indigenous children to learn English received a mixed response, including claims that teachers on indigenous communities had inadequate skills because they could not speak indigenous languages.

The plan was flagged by Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, who says Aboriginal children in isolated communities have no hope of advancement in life if they cannot speak English. It came as some indigenous leaders rejected criticism by former ATSIC chair Lowitja O'Donoghue of the Prime Minister's refusal to apologise over the stolen generations.

In tomorrow's speech, Mr Rudd will stress his plans will be carefully administered to deliver change rather than just handing over money. He will declare the new policy -- New Directions in Indigenous Affairs -- will deliver a new deal and "reciprocal partnership between government and indigenous Australians". The Labor leader will say both sides of politics should commit to halving the mortality gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children aged under five within 10 years.

Mr Rudd will ask the Prime Minister, in a spirit of bipartisanship, for nation reconciliation goals to be set for indigenous children. Under the plan, indigenous mothers and their babies will have access to a comprehensive "mothers and babies" service to cost $92.2million over four years. It will provide new mothers, babies and children with healthcare and early learning support during the antenatal phase, through childbirth and until their child reaches age eight. Indigenous women will have access to antenatal care, including a visit to a midwife, general practitioner or obstetrician. Indigenous children will have their weight gain, immunisation status, infections and early development monitored by a primary healthcare service.

Labor will expand a Howard Government program to provide comprehensive nurse-led home visiting services of up to 20 visits in the first year, and up to 12 visits in the second year. The party will provide a $10million capital fund to establish new hostels and expand accommodation facilities in major cities and regional centres to take in indigenous women who need to leave their communities temporarily to have babies. And all indigenous four-year-olds will be eligible to receive 15 hours of government-funded early learning programs a week, for a minimum of 40 weeks a year. At least $21 million a year will help provide these services to four-year-olds. According to a study by Oxfam, New Zealand, Canada and the US have narrowed the life expectancy gap between their indigenous and non-indigenous people to about seven years.


Rogue unions to be let off the leash -- just wait for the rorts

MOST mornings, militant unionist Kevin Reynolds meanders on to the balcony of his stunning riverside apartment, built by his loyal disciples, to take breakfast and the morning papers. He can look across the Swan River to the cranes that pepper Perth's exploding CBD, knowing that should Labor win the next federal election, his nemesis -- the only authority in 20 years to rein in his hardline and volatile union -- will be destroyed. And Reynolds, as West Australian secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, along with his colourful deputy, Joe McDonald, will again have total control over almost every major construction site in the booming West Australian capital.

It is a daunting scenario for a construction industry enjoying a relatively strike-free environment since the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which Labor has vowed to abolish, came to town in late 2005.

The booming West Australian economy has certainly been good to Reynolds, who is unapologetic about the wealth he has amassed as one of the country's most militant unionists. The 58-year-old and his wife, state Labor MP Shelley Archer, paid $1.05 million for their Raffles tower apartment last May after striking a deal with Multiplex, which built the luxurious complex. The apartment is now conservatively valued at $1.7 million. Reynolds and Multiplex, "The Well-Built Australian", have worked well together. Last July, Reynolds sold his share of Perth's Coolbelup Hotel, which he owned with former Multiplex director Derek Robson and his brother Peter Robson, for $3.6million. Reynolds and Archer, who described disgraced former premier Brian Burke as her mentor during a Corruption and Crime Commission grilling as to why she leaked government documents to the lobbyist, also own a $1.1 million, four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the Kimberley's top holiday destination of Broome. Even General Strike -- the horse Reynolds owns with Burke and others -- has picked up more than $54,000 in prizemoney.

"There are dozens and dozens of my members who live in homes equivalent to what I've purchased and there are dozens of my members who have got investment properties etcetera and I have no qualms and don't feel any problems at all -- I've invested wisely, I didn't piss my money up against the wall," Reynolds said.

Reynolds and McDonald have already started boasting about what will happen when Kevin Rudd becomes prime minister and carries out his promise to dismantle the ABCC headed by John Lloyd. "I live for the day when (the ABCC staff) are all working at Hungry Jack's or Fast Eddy's or Kentucky Fried Chicken," McDonald told The Australian recently. "That is what's waiting for them. They're all ex-policemen and they can go and do whatever ex-coppers do. I'd suggest that John Lloyd and his mates will be unemployed before I will be".

It is no surprise the CFMEU is licking its lips in anticipation of a Rudd victory. Figures obtained by The Weekend Australian show an extraordinary halt to the union's rogue strikes -- including "blue flu" where hundreds of workers called in sick at once -- after the ABCC used its powers to hit unionists with individual writs that could result in fines of up to $28,600 each. In Western Australia, days lost to industrial action in the construction industry fell from 71 per 1000 workers in the December quarter of 2004 to just nine in the same quarter of last year. For the 12 months ending in December last year, there had been 45.2 days lost per 1000 workers, compared with 725 days in 2005.

Reynolds blames the ABCC and its investigators with their "Gestapo" powers for striking fear into workers with legitimate concerns, but concedes he regrets some of his union's past industrial campaigns. "I would admit that some of our disputes, like the 'no-ticket no-start' disputes and walking off concrete pours and things of that nature wouldn't be tolerated these days, by any government," he says.

The Cole Royal Commission found lawlessness widespread in the construction industry in 2003. The commission heard that 10 West Australian construction companies had handed over a combined total of $397,935.48 to the CFMEU in Western Australia for "casual" union tickets for non-union workers. The commission also found widespread disregard for right-of-entry rules on building sites. Just last month, McDonald -- who has been convicted of assault on a city building site and stripped of his right-of-entry -- was charged with trespass on a city apartment project. Reynolds is nonetheless proud of the union's hard-fought gains such as superannuation benefits, "portable" long-service leave and wage increases.

Lloyd, the ABCC commissioner who is fighting the union in 18 separate court battles across the nation, claims credit for the relative peace in Perth's construction industry in the past year. "The productivity of industry has improved, more jobs are being completed on budget, within budget, and on time and the productivity benefits all of Australia," he says. Lloyd, whose investigators have unprecedented powers to intervene, question and prosecute unionists, said the Cole Royal Commission had done much to effect change. "The union is very apprehensive now," Lloyd says. "It would be damaging if the industry in the future returned to the conduct and standards of conduct that it had in the past."

Reynolds says the commission is an arm of the Liberal Party and was designed to destroy the trade union movement. It was part of a system of unfair federal laws that, in one case, forced Perth workers to ask permission from their boss before going to the toilet. "We're going to put our shoulder to the wheel to assist in the campaign to unseat the Howard Government and then we're going to have the biggest celebration that we can have on the night he is defeated and then life will go on as normal, the sun will rise the next day and it will set and life will go on just as normal," he says.


Disgraceful legal attack on whistleblower

WHISTLEBLOWER Allan Kessing is likely to receive a prison sentence for his role in leaking a "protected" report on crime at Sydney airport, which sparked a major overhaul of security across the country.

After hearing sentencing submissions in the case yesterday, NSW District Court judge James Bennett SC said he was inclined to impose prison time, and was considering whether to make it a suspended sentence, as a deterrent to other whistleblowers. "I'm sympathetic to the view that I should impose a sentence of imprisonment," he said.

Mr Kessing, 59, is facing a maximum two-year term in prison after a jury found him guilty in April of unlawfully communicating information as a former commonwealth officer. The court heard that the leaked information, which was subsequently published in The Australian, had resulted in a major national inquiry into aviation security and federal Government expenditure of $200 million. Mr Kessing's lawyer, Peter Lowe, told the NSW District Court that the leak had had a "beneficial effect at the end of the day". He said the leak had exposed a situation that had "outraged" the public.

Crown prosecutor Lincoln Crowley acknowledged that a suspended sentence could be imposed and asked Judge Bennett to consider putting Mr Kessing behind bars. "The only appropriate sentence would be a full-time custodial sentence," Mr Crowley said. He told the court that the leak could have jeopardised undercover operations. "The breach of trust here is more serious because of the potential to disrupt these operations," Mr Crowley.

Judge Bennett indicated he was also concerned about the possibility that the leak might have potentially disrupted police operations. Gail Batman, a senior Customs executive who was the national director of border intelligence at the time of the leak, told the court the disclosure of the report had embarrassed Customs with other agencies and the Government and had led to media scrutiny. She said several security agencies were "very unhappy" the information had been made public and had blamed Customs.

Mr Lowe later told the court that there was nothing prejudicial or damaging in the report's publication. He said he could see nothing wrong with exposing a government agency to criticism. "If you can't criticise, analyse or critique a commonwealth agency that is charged with protecting us, what can you do?"

The Australian, in May and June 2005, revealed flaws in airport security and the operation of organised crime at airports, which prompted the Government to commission British security expert John Wheeler to inquire into the issue. Sir John's report in September that year recommended widespread action, including the introduction of new police squads for airports. The Government accepted most of his recommendations and committed $200 million to establish airport police commands and increase Customs surveillance. Judge Bennett will deliver his verdict on June 14.


Another government railway failure

The bottleneck at one of Australia's biggest coal ports is costing mining companies more than $1 billion a year, threatening hundreds of jobs in the industry and risking the future of exports to key Asian customers. As more than 50 ships wait off Queensland's Dalrymple Bay port to load coal, furious coal producers are blaming "sheer incompetence" by the state-owned railway for the backlog.

Confidential correspondence and briefing papers obtained by The Weekend Australian reveal that the failure of Queensland Rail to come close to meeting its pledges on the transport of coal to Dalrymple Bay, south of Mackay, is shrinking benefits from the mining boom. The Australian revealed last month that more than 150 ships were anchored off the east coast -- most of them at Newcastle, north of Sydney, and Dalrymple Bay -- waiting to load coal.

But documents, including a crisis paper from Australia's leading coalmining companies, reveal that QRNational, rather than helping clear the Queensland bottleneck, is going backwards in the amount of coal being delivered to key ports. This is leading to soaring costs, missed revenue for mine companies and looming lay-offs.

The paper -- prepared by Xstrata Coal executive Stephen Bridger on behalf of about eight top coal producers and sent to QR's acting chief executive, Stephen Cantwell -- sets out Queensland's falling performance. It warns that the coal chain in central Queensland "is currently in a crisis which has the potential to cost the Queensland coal economy over $1 billion in revenue and additional costs in 2007 alone".

It describes the "poor performance" as being of extreme concern, and blames most of the shortcomings on "QR causes" arising from locomotive faults and cancellation of trains due to a lack of crews. "The multiplier effect of this situation on the overall Queensland economy is difficult to estimate, but it is undoubtedly substantial," it says. The documents and investigations by The Weekend Australian show the inability of QRNational, QR's freight arm, to consistently provide manpower, locomotives and wagons is largely responsible for the backlog.

The crisis paper calls for service providers and customers to evolve "from no accountability to setting and delivering stretch targets", and from "indecisive committees to real leadership at all levels". Despite the most lucrative mining boom in Australia's history, the volume of coal being taken to the ports in central Queensland has fallen. The volume of coal likely to be moved this year is about 15 per cent less than the figure coal producers were given in November, when they began negotiating with overseas buyers. Coal producers revealed yesterday that Asian buyers of coal were angry that their orders were not being met, and some were threatening to source the commodity elsewhere.

Royalties from coal are also projected to pour $1.5 billion a year into Queensland's coffers, meaning that inefficiencies have a direct impact on funds for public services. Deputy Premier Anna Bligh said last night she was setting up an urgent process [Yet another committee!] with the Queensland Resources Council and an independent umpire to investigate the capacity problems and find a solution. "I'm not denying there is a problem and it has to be fixed by the parties sitting around the table and knocking heads together," she said. "The long-term interest of the state and the nation is more important than this squabble over who caused what. There are entrenched difficulties that need to be resolved."

Coal is the biggest export earner in Australia, and Queensland is the world's largest exporter. Its deposits generated overseas sales revenue of about $18billion last financial year. QR is a government-owned corporation with a coal division boasting more than 470 services a week to more than 32 coalmines in Queensland, and "an uninterrupted coal supply chain that enables the Australian coal industry to compete successfully with international competitors".

But more than 50 ships currently queued off Mackay, on the Queensland central coast, are racking up huge demurrage costs while waiting to be loaded with coal from the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal. The terminal, which is supplied with coal by QRNational, had only 220,000 tonnes of coal available for loading -- enough to load just two of the 50-plus ships. Demurrage charges for each ship run to tens of thousands of dollars a day.

The costs to coal producers and the economy will rise because QRNational is forecast to transport less coal to Dalrymple Bay this year than it moved in 2005, according to coal producers. Several coal producers are warning there will be layoffs of hundreds of jobs in Queensland's Bowen Basin because of the inability of QRNational to move their coal.

Coal producers fear that speaking out will lead to retribution, such as the withholding of mining leases, but one producer said the problems demanded top-level attention. "We are constantly hearing this garbage about the boom in commodities exports, but in fact there is not a single kilogram more of coal going out -- in fact, it's less than two years ago," he said. "Our business and others are being systematically damaged by the lack of performance of the monopoly service provider. The people who are supposed to take our product and put it on ships are bungling incompetents, and they are going to be responsible for lost jobs."

QR's Mr Cantwell said last night he was well aware that coal producers were frustrated and concerned about the hold-ups, "and we are doing everything we can to ensure that our assets are delivering as much as they can". "We are the first to acknowledge issues with the ability of the rail system to cope and we are absolutely conscious of the challenges that we face," he said.

Newcastle faces similar issues, with mining giant Rio Tinto announcing earlier this month that it would cut 250 jobs at its Hunter Valley subsidiary Coal & Allied because of rail and port blockages at the port.


What a bonzer sheila: "Terri Irwin is on a mission to save Aussie slang. The US-born environmentalist pleaded with Australians not to replace our "beautiful" vernacular with American phrases. Under her vision, phrases such as crikey, g'day, strewth and bonzer would dominate conversations. The widow of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin spoke of her dismay that US expressions were used so much. "America has so infiltrated Australia that Australianisms are starting to fade," she said. Mrs Irwin said she made sure her children Bindi and Bob were brought up with Aussie slang. "Australian slang is part of the beautiful cultural value of this nation," she said. "Crikey - hold your head up, don't feel embarrassed about ockerism."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Another Greenie absurdity

MEET Queensland's first carbon farmer. Peter Allen, pictured, a third-generation farmer from Moura, has signed a $1 million deal for doing nothing at all. In a historic transaction, mining company Rio Tinto bought the rights to carbon dioxide stored in 3500ha of Mr Allen's heavily vegetated property, 575km northwest of Brisbane. Instead of clearing the land to run cattle, Mr Allen will preserve the trees for 120 years to ensure they soak up carbon dioxide.

When you hear talk of carbon offsets, this is where the money goes. Many of the state's farmers stand to reap multimillion-dollar incomes from selling carbon rights to large corporations or individuals wishing to become carbon neutral. "It's not like I have won the lotto or that I'm a tree-hugger. It was a purely financial decision," Mr Allen said. "We looked at the return on developing that land for grazing, compared to the return from the carbon rights. "We had to think hard before we decided to lock that land up for the next 120 years. "If it had been any less money, we wouldn't have done it."

This time last year, Mr Allen had eight bulldozers ready to knock down a swathe of trees on an investment property just outside Charleville. Under the State Government's moratorium on land clearing, farmers were given until December last year to enact one final clearing permit. Rio Tinto stepped in, offering Mr Allen and five other farmers money in exchange for their inaction. A total of 12,060ha was spared, the carbon rights secured under a legally binding contract. It is believed to be Australia's biggest carbon-trading deal.

The carbon industry is expected to boom after the Prime Minister's Task Group on Emissions Trading hands down its blueprint next Thursday. But as the carbon industry gears up, questions have been raised about the lack of regulation over the voluntary offset market - the system through which airline passengers, rock festival patrons and motorists can pay for their pollution. Green watchdogs say the voluntary market is open to exploitation, with no controls on who can sell carbon and no checks on the work carried out. Further questions have been raised about the effect of tree-planting, the popular method used by most carbon offsetters.


Pauline is back

Former One Nation party founder Pauline Hanson has put her name to a new party which she hopes will help her win a Senate spot at the next election. More than a decade after she first entered federal Parliament, Ms Hanson has launched a new political party - Pauline's United Australia Party. The party structure will help the former fish and chip shop owner improve her chances of stealing a seat from the bigger parties. "I am standing as a Senate candidate for Queensland and it was essential for me to have a party structure so I can have my name placed above the line on the ballot paper," Ms Hanson said. As an independent, she would only get votes from people bothered with numbering their entire ballot paper.

Ms Hanson entered politics in 1996 when she won the federal Queensland seat of Oxley as an independent candidate after being dumped by the Liberals for her strong views. She shocked many when, in her maiden parliamentary speech, she warned Australia was in danger of being "swamped by Asians". Ms Hanson attacked the big parties as untrustworthy and indicated she retained her firm views on immigration.

"Labor's union thugs will bash up small business and the farmers, and we will all suffer. "Mr Howard has sold us out by not halting further Muslim immigration and dumping hapless refugees from Africa on us without any consultation. "Australia must withdraw ASAP from the 1951 UN Convention on refugees."

She warned Queenslanders of the threat they faced from Labor at both state and federal levels. "Queensland coalminers and their families and all those involved in the industry are under threat from Mr Rudd and his greenie mates while another Rudd mate Peter Beattie is creating havoc with council amalgamations and his inability to solve our water problems," Ms Hanson said.

Ms Hanson predicted she would be attacked for standing up for ordinary Australians. "I will be attacked by all the usual suspects but I am used to that," she said. "I intend standing up for all those ordinary Australians who have been ignored by the big party politicians for so long."


Huge public hospital cutbacks in Tasmania

They're learning from Britain's shambling NHS -- trying to disguise cutbacks as specialization

A SWEEPING shake-up of Tasmania's health services was announced yesterday -- with Health Minister Lara Giddings declaring: "We don't have a choice here." Among major changes is a move to immediately turn the Mersey Hospital at Latrobe into an elective day surgery hospital designed to cut waiting lists around the state. In other major plans, more patients will need to travel to either the Royal Hobart Hospital or Launceston General Hospital for specialist surgery or to dedicated disease-treatment units. But a significant slice of the new reforms is also aimed at keeping Tasmanians out of hospitals, with a heightened focus on the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, both linked to ageing and lifestyle.

Launching the new Future Health blueprint, Ms Giddings said Tasmania's hospitals -- and the health budget -- would be swamped unless individuals and communities made better decisions about their lifestyles and health. She said it was not acceptable that Tasmanians did not live as long as other Australians, had higher rates of illness and disease, smoked more, exercised less and waited longer for health services. More worryingly, despite the health budget increasing by 78 per cent over the past eight years to more than $1.2 billion a year, the health status of Tasmanians and health service delivery indicators have remained worse than elsewhere. "If throwing money at the problem has not solved it, we have to ask what else needs to be done," Ms Giddings said. "The health system of the past has been a victim of politicking, ad-hoc decision-making and parochialism. We must change that (even though) I recognise some Tasmanians will be upset."

The response of the State Government, following advice from highly regarded Victorian health planner Dr Heather Wellington, has been to reform the entire structure and way Tasmanians will access health services and hospitals over the next 10 to 15 years. The Mersey Hospital will lose its crisis and acute care capabilities [REDUCING capabilities is a great way to increase already-scarce services???] to become a specialist elective day surgery hospital, with some added maternity and rehabilitation services. The North-West Regional Hospital at Burnie will become the only acute and emergency surgery hospital serving the North-West and West Coast.

However, the Mersey Hospital will keep open a 24-hour emergency reception area to stabilise or resuscitate patients needing urgent attention -- such as heart attack or stroke victims from Devonport or anyone involved in a serious car crash -- before they are sent to Burnie or Launceston by ambulance.

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Neroli Ellis welcomed the plan but said it had severe implications for nurses, especially at the Mersey Hospital. She said many nurses, who have an average age of 51, would consider early retirement rather than stay for the transition of the Mersey to Tasmania's first dedicated elective surgery centre. "Retention is going to be a huge issue," she said, adding specialist nurses at Latrobe might not want to travel to Burnie or Launceston to continue their career paths.

In other major moves, Rosebery Hospital, in the centre of the West Coast mining district, will no longer be staffed by a doctor Another great improvement???] and nurse 24 hours a day. The small rural hospital at Ouse in the Upper Derwent Valley will no longer have a permanent doctor and will be turned into an aged and respite care and community health centre.

Ms Giddings denied the reforms were all about "cutting and gutting". "We don't have a choice here; we just don't have the staff, the people to keep the system going as it is," she said. To take pressure off the three large hospitals and to better integrate health services around the state, at least four major "one-stop" Integrated Care Centres will be built in central Hobart, in Sorell or on Hobart's Eastern Shore, at Kingston and in Launceston.

These new major community medical centres will provide health services that do not require hospitalisation or emergency treatment, such as dialysis, chemotherapy, some day-surgery procedures and regular wound dressing or medical treatments. But there is no new funding for the Government's bold Future Health plan or any new staff resources.

Ms Giddings believes that with less duplication of services, better clarity of roles and more co-operation within the health system, more staff will not be needed and that the number of locums can also be reduced. Timelines for the new changes are also vague, apart from the immediate downgrading of services at the Mersey Hospital......


Another shocking example of the vast fraud that government "child protection" constitutes

Kids died after case book was closed

SIX chronically neglected children died after Victorian authorities prematurely closed their case files, abandoning the vulnerable children to carers who repeatedly failed to access support services. The case files were closed despite child protection authorities receiving an average of eight notifications for four of the chronically neglected children, the Victorian Child Death Review Committee found in its annual report tabled in state parliament yesterday. The report found that, of a total of 37,991 notifications to child protection authorities, only 11,526 investigations were launched and 7367 cases substantiated. Eighteen children known to authorities died last year, the report found, and six of those children had their cases recently closed.

Nine of the child deaths last year were due to illness and congenital conditions, four were from accidents, one was from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and four have yet to be assessed by the coroner. But the figure may represent just a fraction of the total deaths because legislation limits the number of cases that are reviewed in the watchdog's annual report. All children who were clients of child protection authorities at the time of their death are placed on the state's Child Death Register for inquiry and review. Of those whose files are closed by the Department of Human Services' child protection service, only those who died within three months are investigated.

The Australian Childhood Foundation's chief executive, Joe Tucci, attacked the Victorian Government yesterday for being more concerned with "limiting liability" for its department rather than ensuring children were protected. "It is a fundamentally flawed system that really only is there to protect the department from criticism rather than getting to the bottom of how the system is functioning in any particular year," Dr Tucci said.

The Child Death Review Committee's chairwoman, Lisa Ward, told The Australian yesterday there had been a push from within the committee for the three-month time frame to be abolished. "Certainly the committee has discussed the issue of the time frame," Ms Ward said. "The committee would endorse a 12-month time frame."

A push last year from child welfare workers for a national approach to recording and analysing child deaths has not been realised. In addition to analysing deaths last year, the watchdog reviewed 13 deaths that occurred over a three-year period. Of the 13, six vulnerable children were left unmonitored after "incorrect assumptions" from child protection workers that families were in the hands of other support services. Most of the families had been subject to multiple notifications, and the department had failed to take into account their non-attendance at appointments with support services.

Ms Ward called for greater co-operation between agencies yesterday to ensure children did not slip through the net. "It's not enough for a family to be indicating that they will get some help before the case is closed," Ms Ward said. "Child protection and other services need to work with the family to make sure that they are getting that help." The watchdog made 22 recommendations in its report, including calling for greater co-ordination between disability and health services and child protection services. The watchdog also demanded that the DHS establish clear standards to justify why the cases of families which had been the subject of multiple notifications should be closed.


Police goons facing lawsuit after bungled raid

Let's hope the outcome from this is better than in a recent similar case in California

POLICE face a six-figure civil suit payout after drug squad detectives allegedly injured a naked father-of-three during an illegal raid on the wrong house. Daryl Hurst, 39, a disability pensioner of South Townsville, claims to have suffered a broken nose and cuts to both lips when he resisted arrest during the bungled early morning swoop on his home two years ago. Police had the right number but the wrong street, the wrong house - and an innocent man.

Mr Hurst has filed a formal complaint with the Crime and Misconduct Commission after charges of common assault against him were dropped by the Crown. "They raided the wrong house," Mr Hurst said yesterday. "They came into my house like storm troopers out of a bad cop show. "I was in bed in the nude and woke up to find eight undercover police in my home. "Then they tried to throw me into handcuffs, it was a shock. "It was only natural that I retaliate and I kicked out at them, that is when they held me down and belted me three or four times in the head. "I got a gash in both my bottom and top lip and a broken nose from where they were belting me. "They owe my family an official apology, the way they humiliated my family, the way they spoke to my children, we need an apology."

Both the CMC and Police Ethical Standards Command are looking into the allegations of excessive force in the October 2005 raid. Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson declined to respond to questions about the matter yesterday, saying it was still under investigation. Officers had a search warrant to look for Mr Hurst's brother, Bruce Wayne Hurst, at another address, only a few metres around the corner.

"The drug squad should be embarrassed by their actions. They are just too in-your-face," Mr Hurst said. "It was like a home invasion. That is how it seemed."

Judge Stuart Durward, in his concluding remarks delivered in Townsville District Court yesterday, found the police to be "careless or reckless" in the execution of the search warrant. Judge Durward said it was an "unjustified and unlawful entry". "The police had no right to be in the residence nor to have entered it in the way that they did," he said. "The police conduct had serious consequences for all involved and particularly for the accused who was subsequently charged with three very serious offences arising out of the way in which he reacted to the entry by the police and their presence in the house, in what must have been a surprising and bewildering event."

The Crown dropped the charges, the jury was released without taking a verdict, and Mr Hurst was allowed to walk free. Defence lawyer Mark Stevenson said his client was now seeking a "six-figure" damages payout in a civil action. He said the matter was highly embarrassing for police.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Leftist crapola from Amnesty condemns Australia

I used to be a member of Amnesty when they restricted themselves to helping political prisoners everywhere but now they are just another bunch of one-eyed self-righteous preachers who hate America and much else besides. Don't even MENTION Israel!

Australia has NO political prisoners. Illegal immigrants are ordinary law-breakers. There is more on Amnesty boss -- the far-Leftist Ms Khan -- here. By putting John Howard in the same camp as the revolting Robert Mugabe, however, her main achievement is to make herself look absurd.

The screenshot below of the Amnesty USA site (from Taranto's post of May 23) shows how infantile they have become and his post of 24th. has more derisive follow-up. I actually thought that the Amnesty site might have been hacked by outsiders in an attempt to discredit them but it is now clear that the juvenile nonsense was in fact all their own work.

If Amnesty were seriously concerned about human rights, they would be concentrating their attention on things like this

Prime Minister John Howard finds himself alongside Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in an Amnesty International report which says they are among short-sighted fear-mongers dividing the world. The human rights pressure group has accused Mr Howard of portraying asylum-seekers as a threat to national security. The report also criticises Australia's role in the war on terror and its treatment of female victims of violence.

Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan says the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership. Ms Khan included Mr Howard with Mr Mugabe, US President George Bush and Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir in the same scathing paragraph in her foreword to the group's annual report published today. Ms Khan said the fear generated by leaders such as Mr Howard "thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership''. "The Howard government portrayed desperate asylum-seekers in leaky boats as a threat to Australia's national security and raised a false alarm of a refugee invasion,'' Ms Khan wrote.

More here

Mr Incorrectness speaks sense again

Says Aboriginal kids must learn English. That's probably even more "incorrect" than an American leader saying that Hispanics must learn English -- but it is very realistic

INDIGENOUS people had no hope of being part of mainstream Australian society unless they could speak English, Prime Minister John Howard said today. Mr Howard backed a proposal by Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough to ensure indigenous children in remote communities learned English, and said the best way to ensure they became proficient in the language was to send them to school. Mr Brough is drawing up a Cabinet proposal that would require indigenous parents to ensure their children attended school or risk losing welfare payments. He said today there was a lot of support from Aboriginal communities for the plan.

Mr Howard said: "Indigenous people have no hope of being part of the mainstream of this country unless they can speak the language of this country. "If you require them to go to school they'll have to learn English." The children of non-English speaking immigrants learnt English through their contact with the school system and so should indigenous children, Mr Howard said. "In the case of indigenous people, none of them come to Australia as mature-aged people. They were all born in this country, in that sense they're different from migrants," he said. "The children of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants are forced to learn English because they go to school. Equally, Aboriginal children should learn English because they should be required to go to school."

Mr Brough told today's The Australian newspaper that Aboriginal people should follow the example of Greek and Italian migrants and become bilingual. He said this - coupled with a "basic grasp" of mathematics and improved school attendance - would allow Aboriginal children living in deprived communities to find work and economic independence. "Most of the children (in many communities) don't speak any semblance of English," Mr Brough said. "So what chance have they got?" "They speak the language that in many cases only a handful of people do," Mr Brough said.

Defending his plan on ABC radio this morning, he said: "If we are all going to aspire, as most politicians say they do, that all Aboriginal children should have the same life expectancy, the same capacity to enjoy the bounty of this nation, then we are just living a lie if we don't ensure that they have the first fundamental that they need to be mobile citizens of Australia, and that is the English language. "These children, like all Australian children, will benefit from a strong grasp of English which allows them to make choices in their lives which they simply don't have when they only speak a language which only a handful of people can understand."

Mr Brough's proposal was met with amazement by NSW's first Aboriginal MP, Linda Burney. "I think that he needs to understand that culture and country is incredibly important to Aboriginal people and they will be protected at all costs," she said on ABC radio. "Aboriginal kids do need to be bilingual but it's a bit rich coming from a person who actually is part of a government that took away funding for bilingual programs in the Northern Territory."

Mr Brough said school attendance was essential and he would look into ways to encourage indigenous children to go to school, including stopping parents' welfare payments if their children were truants. "I am looking at welfare changes which can help with school attendance," he said. "I will look at anything at all, both incentives as well as things such as welfare quarantining, to assist the circumstances." "This is probably the number one issue I get from grandparents in remote communities," he said. "It's been pushed at me. Particularly the grandmothers, the grandfathers, they are so adamant. They understand the value of English and they understand the value of an education."

Mr Brough's comments come two days before the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which allowed Aborigines to be counted as Australians and gave the federal government the power to make laws for them.


Leftist public broadcaster made to be more balanced -- for once

The ABC board has been accused of pressuring ABC TV to broadcast a ... British documentary questioning the science behind climate change. The ABC announced on Tuesday it had bought The Great Global Warming Swindle, a documentary that says humans are not to blame for rising global temperatures. The program caused controversy when it was aired on Britain's Channel 4 in March. Eminent scientists and some of the scientists interviewed later accused the documentary makers of using fabricated data, half-truths and misleading statements.

The ABC science journalist and broadcaster Robyn Williams, who advised the TV division not to buy the program, told the Herald yesterday the director of ABC TV, Kim Dalton, had intimated in a conversation that he was under pressure from the board on the issue. "Kim implied on April 16 the board had pressured him into it . that is what our inference was from what he said and did [in that conversation]," said Williams, who described the documentary as "deeply misleading" and "part of the school of total bollocks science journalism". A reporter on the ABC's Four Corners program, Jonathan Holmes, who took part in that conversation, said: "My impression was whether you call it pressure or some kind of indication from the board or members of the board or a member of the board that he [Mr Dalton] should look at the documentary and consider running it."

Mr Dalton denied he had come under any influence from the board or that he had spoken to any of its members about the program. The chairman of the board, Maurice Newman, and the ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, did not return the Herald's calls. Mr Dalton defended his decision to air the show by saying there was still debate about whether humans caused climate change. "Global warming is up amongst the top two or three issues of public and political debate and there is no doubt that there is still opinion out there that questions that connection between global warming and CO2 emissions."

Asked whether he thought running a program that had been shown to include falsified data would damage the ABC, Mr Dalton said: "I don't think it will at all. It will affect our credibility in a way that shows where there are areas of public importance that we will provide the forum for them to be discussed."


The Melbourne medical meltdown continues

Gran dies after sent home alone

A GREAT-grandmother died alone hours after she was discharged from a Melbourne hospital and shuttled home in a taxi wearing just a nightgown. Ann Barbara Pitt, 91, died from heart disease on April 3 after she was sent packing from the Royal Melbourne Hospital where she had been admitted 12 days earlier for a tissue infection. Ms Pitt's distraught daughter Judy Liddy found her in a pool of blood on the floor of her Coburg home 15 hours after the discharge.

Ms Liddy will lodge a formal complaint with the Health Services Commissioner over the case, which comes amid rising concern about discharge quotas at the hospital. "I felt her shoulder and it was so cold I knew she'd been dead for ages," Ms Liddy said. "I'll never get over it as long as I live. "It haunts me every day and every night."

Health Minister Bronwyn Pike has been under mounting pressure since revelations the Royal Melbourne had imposed discharge quotas to achieve cash bonuses under the Government's hospital funding scheme. Documents show it aimed to discharge about 490 patients between mid-May and July to qualify for the extra cash.

Ms Liddy said the hospital had given her just one hour's notice of its decision to eject her mum at 5.30pm on April 2. "I don't believe she was well enough to be home," she said. Ms Pitt had suffered cellulitis, a condition that commonly affects the elderly or those with weak immune systems. It can be caused by infection, which medical experts say can put extra stress on the body including the heart. A coronial report cites coronary heart disease as the official cause of death. The autopsy attributes the blood loss to a fall, Ms Liddy believes.

Ms Liddy agreed to have her mother sent home by taxi - which she paid for - because she did not have enough time to make other arrangements. She hurried to meet her mother at home and found that she had been sent home without her purse. After helping her resettle, Ms Liddy set out to find the missing valuables. She returned the following day about 10.15am to find her mother dead in the hallway. "I ran out into the street screaming for help," Ms Liddy said.

She complained about the discharge, but the hospital said it could not respond because the case was before the coroner at the time. It said it could not find Ms Pitt's missing purse, but weeks later returned the item, which had been found in a stationery cupboard, Ms Liddy said.

The Health Services Commissioner is assessing Ms Liddy's complaint. Complaints to the commissioner increased eight per cent last quarter. About 62 per cent of complaints accepted for assessment relate to treatment procedures, including misdiagnosis, negligence and inadequate treatment. A Royal Melbourne Hospital spokeswoman extended condolences to the family and said patients were discharged only when clinicians deemed them ready.


West Australia faces teacher crisis

The report below fails to mention that a major reason for teachers resigning or not starting in the first place is the postmodern garbage they have been asked to teach -- something that has been a major public controversy and which prospective teachers could be expected to be well aware of. It is only older teachers who are hanging on until retirement that is keeping the system afloat

EXTRAORDINARY mismanagement of teacher recruitment has put WA at risk of teacher shortages for years, an international recruiting agency has found. The Gerard Daniels agency accuses the state Education Department of "clearly failing" to develop a workforce strategy, and says officials should have foreseen the problems now being experienced, including some schools still being short of teachers halfway through the school year. Teacher recruitment processes were antiquated, and the department's recruitment website one of the worst the agency had seen.

The agency report, marked strictly private and confidential, was unexpectedly released yesterday by Education Minister Mark McGowan, who commissioned the investigation in January when schools were short more than 250 teachers statewide. Mr McGowan said the shortage had now been cut to 28 teachers but he admitted there was a serious problem in attracting more teachers, particularly for country areas. WA has the oldest teacher profile of any state or territory, ensuring major challenges ahead as the rate of retirements increases.

If immediate action were not taken, the Gerard Daniels report said, years of shortages would result. Graduates were dropping with "application fatigue" after being forced to fill in the same handwritten personal details on up to eight different forms. If they got through that hurdle, many rejected the offers made to them because they were so inadequate. The report said about $18million was needed to overcome the shortages, and recommended structural changes to the Education Department.

Promising to provide money to tackle the problem, but unable to say how much, Mr McGowan said the Government was trying to recruit teachers from Britain, and to encourage retired teachers to return to the workforce, particularly those interested in moving to a country location.

But Gerard Daniels said a survey of recently resigned teachers found widespread disillusionment, and 61 per cent said they would not recommend the department as an employer. The study found 44 per cent would contemplate returning under the right conditions, but the agency warned that the department's "employment brand" had been damaged. Despite being the state's largest employer, it was a matter of "grave concern" that the department did not attract recruits. The booming resources sector had provided much competition for staff.

"The department should be held out as an iconic employment brand," Gerard Daniels said. "It is one of the oldest continuous employers in WA. We recommend that the department re-engineer its brand, including its job offer to graduates."

State School Teachers Union secretary Dave Kelly said the report vindicated everything the union had been telling the Government for years. He said the starting salary of $45,000 for a graduate teacher who had done four years of study was ridiculous against the wages being offered to young unskilled workers in the resources sector. Mr Kelly said pay rates must be raised, and innovative incentives were essential to get teachers to move to country areas. Basic requirements such as housing must be addressed urgently. "We have teachers being forced to live in motel rooms for months because there's no housing provided - it's shameful," Mr Kelly said. "These problems are not suddenly appearing. We've warned about what was happening for years."

He said suggestions by Mr McGowan that he might reinstate a rule to force graduate teachers to work in country schools was not the answer. Mr McGowan said the teaching workforce was larger than the Australian army in an area bigger than Europe, and overall the department was doing a good job.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Mobile telephone fraud and regulatory capture

Regulatory capture happens when an industry regulator falls under the influence of those that they are supposed to regulate. That would seem to have happened in the case of Australia's telephone regulator -- the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). I have found that out from my personal experience. The TIO seems to believe anything that service providers in the industry tell it.

What happened was that scammers somehow accessed my Vodafone cellphone account and rang up a lot of text-message charges against me. When I eventually realized what was happening and protested vigorously about it to Vodafone, they eventually refunded me the disputed charges. Before doing so however, they forwarded me an absurd email from the scammers which said that only I could have incurred the charges. Vodafone apparently accepted that bit of fantasy as correct so gave me an "ex gratia" refund only.

I was outraged at this slight on my good name and character and asked Vodafone for more details that would allow me to track down who exactly had been misusing my account. Vodafone refused to tell me anything further, however. They would not even tell me whether the charges were for messages that I had supposedly sent or for messages that I had supposedly received. Since I haven't even figured out HOW to send text messages on my current phone, that was a very relevant detail.

So I protested to the TIO about this stonewalling from Vodafone -- and also protested that the scammers had not apparently been in any way restricted and were free to carry on defrauding others.

I have received today a letter from TIO reviews officer Olivia Munro which just rubs salt into the wound. They have refused to do anything about my complaint and they too appear to have accepted without investigation that the fantasy letter concocted by the scammers was true, correct and factual. Australia's major banks lose big money to scammers but that the little guy might be similarly affected seems not to have occurred to the useless TIO. My only recourse now is to take the matter to court and I have not yet made my mind up about that.

So DON'T rely on your government to protect you. Insist that all bills are mailed to you in paper form so that you can examine them carefully and refer to them in the future. And DON'T authorize anybody to take money out of your bank account directly in settlement of what you owe. Pay all your bills yourself rather than authorizing automatic deductions from your account. You may never see your money again otherwise.

Rudd's wife violates her own husband's job "principles"

Once again we find Leftists thinking that they are an elite who do not have to comply with the restrictions that they want to impose on "the common herd". Al Gore has his Australian counterparts

A COMPANY owned by Kevin Rudd's wife put workers on individual contracts that stripped them of key award conditions. A common law contract, obtained by the Herald Sun, removed penalty rates, overtime and allowances for an extra 45c an hour. Workplace Minister Joe Hockey said the contracts could be illegal and he would investigate the matter further. "For a common law contract to remove conditions from an award would be unlawful but I need to get more information," he said today. "There seems to be a lot of questions that need to be asked about this matter."

The deal offered a $30,000 annual salary, or $576.93 a week. This is only marginally better than the $29,219 legal minimum ($560.11 a week) applying to the most junior class of worker in the industry. The offer did not include meal and travel allowances or loadings for work performed outside normal hours. The June 2006 contract noted that workers were covered by the Community Employment, Training and Support Services Award.

But the Herald Sun received legal advice that, if the contract were followed to the letter, the deal would be worse than the award and most likely fail the old no-disadvantage test that Labor wants to restore. The contract is not an Australian Workplace Agreement, and under the law, should not undercut the award.

Mr Rudd's wife, Therese Rein, is a multi-millionaire businesswoman whose companies employ 1400 workers in Australia and Europe. Her firm Ingeus is a global player in the employment and recruitment sector and last year achieved revenues exceeding $170 million. WorkDirections Australia Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Ingeus, took over Frankston company Your Employment Solutions last year and transferred its workers over to her business.

Last night, WorkDirections Australia admitted that workers had been underpaid. After inquiries by the Herald Sun, a director said workers' entitlements had been reinstated. He said former staff were being traced so they could be reimbursed.

The revelation comes as Mr Rudd stakes his claim for the prime ministership on restoring fairness to industrial relations. Ms Rein's WorkDirections job contracts removed some of the very conditions her husband wants to give back to workers. The Opposition Leader said in a recent speech that a Labor government would "restore the rights of working families to have proper access to penalty rates, overtime and shift allowances".

Labor MP Tanya Plibersek said Ms Rein's business was a separate issue to her husband's politics. "She's an independent person who's running a business," Ms Plibersek said. "Therese has said and Kevin has said in the past that she will run her business at arms length from any Labor government should we be elected. "Any decisions which are made about her businesses in the future will made independently, she'll be treated like any other business."

WorkDirections director Greg Ashmead blamed former management for the irregularities and said employees' conditions had been reviewed this year. "The terms and conditions of all current staff now mirror and mostly exceed the minimum terms and conditions of the award," he said.


Muslim pests driving cabs in Australia too

Applying their version of Sharia law in defiance of Australian law. Decent people are kind and helpful to blind people but kindness and helpfulness must have got left out of the Koran

TAXI drivers regularly refuse to carry blind passengers with guide dogs - including Australia's Human Rights Commissioner - with many citing religious reasons, or other excuses like allergies. Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, who is blind and reliant on his guide dog Jordie, is a regular Sydney cab user and said he was refused service on average once a month, including twice in two days recently. He has been told on a number of occasions that it would be against a driver's religion to allow a dog in the cab. Mr Innes has also been refused by drivers claiming to be allergic to dogs - or afraid of them - and was even left clutching at air on busy Market St by one belligerent driver who told him he had to take the non-existent cab in front.

Mr Innes yesterday received the backing of Vision Australia (VA), which said taxi drivers refusing to carry blind passengers with guide dogs happened with "too much regularity". VA policy and advocacy head Michael Simpson said that the problem was worse in the Sydney metropolitan area where there were more drivers unwilling to carry dogs based on Muslim objections. "It is fair to say that the (Islamic) religion has made the problem worse in the metropolitan areas than regional areas, where I've found taxi drivers are generally excellent," he said.

Mr Simpson, who has been blind for 30 years but uses a cane instead of a guide dog, said he was refused service at the airport because his two companions had dogs. "We asked the driver for his accreditation number and he gave us the wrong one," he said. It was only because an airline staff member had accompanied us that we got the right number and could properly complain about being refused."

Mr Innes was compelled to speak out after the Daily Telegraph last week revealed how an intellectually impaired man had been slapped with $1000 in train fare evasion fines even though he cannot understand what the offence is. He called for better training for all front-line public transport staff in NSW in dealing with disabled passengers. "I'm a lawyer and I know exactly what my rights are so I force the issue but my concern is for those for whom a refusal can be a damaging experience and discouraging," Mr Innes.

NSW Taxi Council spokeswoman Tracey Caine said complaints about refusing guide dogs were rare. "The problem has been much worse in Melbourne," she said. Ms Caine said all NSW drivers were spoken to by disability advocates as part of their training and there had been a number of awareness campaigns in the industry publication Meter Magazine: "It is illegal to refuse to take a guide dog and all drivers know it."


The anti-democratic Leftist media

Comment below by Greg Sheridan

THIS week I had the considerable pleasure of meeting a genuine hero, a military hero and a democratic hero, a moderate Muslim and a hero in the struggle for democratic self-determination. I refer to Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. A long-time Kurdish freedom fighter, he has been an indefatigable campaigner for Iraqi human rights and democracy.

Note, therefore, this incredible occurrence. Zebari held a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Monday. Yet The Age in Melbourne, the nation’s most left-wing newspaper and the paper that has most strongly opposed every aspect of the coalition action in Iraq, did not see fit to print a word about it on Tuesday. This is as glaring a case as you could imagine of simply not reporting the facts because they don’t fit your preconceived narrative.

The Age has spent tonnes and tonnes of newsprint excoriating the coalition efforts to liberate Iraq from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and give it a chance of establishing democracy. But it certainly did not want to hear the views of an Iraqi who has the legitimacy of 12 million Iraqis voting three times so that he could be Foreign Minister.

This is, sadly, all too representative of the irrational turn the Iraq debate has taken, where nobody is the slightest bit interested in any evidence that does not support their already held position.

The Australian carried my interview with Zebari yesterday and I don’t intend to recapitulate it here, except for one central consideration. This is what he said would be the result of a rapid pullout from Iraq by the coalition forces led by the US and including Britain and Australia. Zebari said a rapid coalition pullout would mean: “The country would disintegrate, it would be divided. There would be civil war, slaughter, sectarian war. There would be mayhem. International terrorists would find there would be a safe haven in Iraq, a much more important and sympathetic safe haven than they found in Afghanistan, and they will attack others from there. Iraq’s neighbours will be tempted to cross its borders and establish zones of influence there.”

Now here’s the thing. If Zebari is right, rapid withdrawal would be an unmitigated strategic disaster. It would be a tremendous victory for the terrorists and nothing would be more likely to cause conflict within the Middle East. Yet that is the logic of Labor’s position under Kevin Rudd, with the important qualification that Rudd would withdraw Australian troops after consultation with the US and not necessarily suddenly.

This is an issue that very few people discuss honestly. This is a US-led operation and the key question is when the Americans leave. Either they will leave because their own political will collapses or because the Iraqis can finally take care of security themselves. If it is the former, then the disastrous results that Zebari sketches are a strong possibility. If it is the latter, then the whole Iraq mission has been redeemed and the infamy of a genocidal tyrant justly brought to a close.

But in much of the Western debate, not least in Australia, you get the impression that commentators hate George W. Bush and John Howard more than they love the Iraqi people. Just as the international Left cared not a fig for the human rights of Vietnamese, Cambodians or Laotians, and in general didn’t mind a genocide or two once the communists were in power, so too you get the feeling they will rapidly lose interest in any amount of suffering by Iraqis provided the Americans and their allies have been comprehensively humiliated.

The other intriguing aspect of Zebari’s visit was his general praise for the Australian troops in Iraq and his report that they enjoyed a very high reputation in Iraq. This is significant in part because it echoes what several other critically credible sources have said in the past few weeks. It also demolishes the proposition of the Australian Left that somehow or other our participation in Iraq, which by the way is under the authorisation of a UN resolution, is somehow damaging our international reputation.

Ali A. Allawi, a former defence and finance minister in recent Iraqi governments, has written the definitive account of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, entitled, appropriately, The Occupation of Iraq. In it he deplores the amateurism and incompetence of some of the staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority under the leadership of Paul Bremer. However, he goes out of his way to contrast this with the professionalism of the Australians, especially the Australians involved in reconstruction.

Similarly, the recently published memoirs of the former chief of the CIA, George Tenet, are instructive on this point. Tenet has become a critic of Bush and his memoirs are designed to limit his guilt by association with the Iraq operation and put as much distance as possible between himself and the Bush administration. His remarks on Howard, though - again, strangely unreported - are instructive. He says that he and Bush agreed to delay the announcement of his resignation as CIA chief because Howard was due to visit and they didn’t want to detract from the attention the US media should pay to Australia’s Prime Minister. Tenet writes: “Howard had been one of our closest allies. Not only had he deployed troops to Iraq, but he’d also had the enormous political courage to say that he’d gone to war in Iraq not because of what the intelligence said but because he’d believed it was the right thing to do. The President didn’t want to do anything to step on Howard’s visit. Nor did I.”

This is much how many people see Howard internationally, unless they are dedicated haters of the coalition operation in Iraq. Australia, and Australia’s Government, are seen as immensely successful internationally.

The final word, though, belongs to Zebari. One of his most likable traits is loyalty to friends. I asked him if he had any sympathy for Paul Wolfowitz, the former US deputy defence secretary and a key architect of the operation in Iraq, who resigned this week as head of the World Bank. Zebari told me he had a lot of sympathy for Wolfowitz: “We Iraqis consider him a friend. He was a believer in Iraqi democracy. He has been criticised very unfairly. He was a close and determined friend of the Iraqi people and he never wavered in his commitment to our cause.” It is of course entirely right to receive a lesson in loyalty and consideration for a friend from a distinguished Iraqi democrat.


A great Auusie gal

Her pansy critics are up themselves

AUSTRALIA'S Miss Universe representative has hit back at criticism that her lifesaver national costume is frumpy and an outdated cultural cliche. Kimberley Busteed yesterday shrugged off the widespread criticism as "funny" and said she would not be changing her outfit for Monday night's Miss Universe final in Mexico City. "It sounds like people are just bitching about it, instead of suggesting other things that could be better for next year," she told the Daily Telegraph yesterday.

"Do they want me to dress up in a convict's outfit or something? "I think that, no matter what you do, you are going to get that negativity - you are never going to please everybody." While other contestants from around the world went for full-on glamour in interpreting their national dress, the 18-year-old Queensland beauty donned red bathers and a swim cap at the competition's national costume ball on Sunday.

Busteed, who is in Mexico City in the lead-up to Monday's final, said she had received overwhelmingly positive feedback at the ball. "For me (the costume) is great - all the girls here loved it," she said. "Even Miss China, who can't speak English, came up and said, 'Australia, swim, Australia'. "It was a big hit - the crowd loved it, the supervisors loved it, everybody here is loving it."

Among those who have criticised Busteed's choice of costume were Sydney fashion designer Alex Zabotto-Bentley, who labelled the look frumpy. "Australians are buff and sexy and wear swimsuits, but not like this one - it looks like she picked it up at the airport terminal," he said. "Looking (at) what the others are wearing, they are over the top but they are also beautiful."

Busteed, who is a former junior swimming champion, said she stood by the decision to wear the true-blue outfit in Monday's televised final, which will be broadcast in 117 countries. "I think it's an excellent idea considering it is the 100th year of the lifesavers," she said.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Government of Idiots?

Until the unions did their best to sink him, Australia's presumptive next Prime Minister was doing a good job of presenting himself as relatively conservative. The article below by Colebatch the Younger is therefore a useful corrective

Australia is a stable, well-governed country, but if Kevin Rudd becomes Prime Minister it may not be possible to go taking this for granted.

In the 11 years since it was elected, the right-of-centre government of John Howard has proved itself Australia's best government ever. That is not to say it has been perfect, just very good indeed. The economy has boomed and gone on booming. Per capita income has soared, inflation, unemployment and interest rates have all been low. More Australians are wealthy and enjoy a higher living-standard than ever before. A number of potentially serious regional foreign crises have been handled effectively. Australia in general is one of the most respected countries in its region and a leading player in south-east Asian international co-operation and diplomacy. It has taken a strong position in the war on terror and supported the U.S. internationally both diplomatically and militarily.

Australia has been well-governed and prosperous for so long that there is a feeling that such is the natural and unchangeable order of things. This could be a dangerous delusion. Kipling once warned of:

Life so long untroubled, that ye who inherit forget.
It was not made with the mountains, it is not one with the Deep.
Men, not gods, devised it; men, not gods, must keep ...

Alvaro Vargas Llosa wrote recently of the "Return of the Idiot" -- of economically illiterate populists like Hugo Chavez fired by anti-Americanism and the ghost of communism: "Today, the species is back in force in the form of populist heads of state who are reenacting the failed policies of the past, opinion leaders from around the world who are lending new credence to them, and supporters who are giving new life to ideas that seemed extinct." There are signs of this attitude re-surfacing on the Left in mainstream Australian politics.

That the opposition Australian Labor Party is now ahead in the opinion polls, with an election a maximum of about seven months away, is ominous, given what it has become. Bob Hawke, Labor prime minister for much of the 1980s, proved a sound, responsible and beneficial economic reformer. But it seems times have changed, and not for the better. The present leader, Kevin Rudd, despite wearing nice suits (he is an ex-diplomat) and projecting innocuousness, seems to have a grasp of economics comparable to that of Hugo Chavez. Indeed a group of Rudd's supporters -- including the national president of the Labor Party and a host of Labor-affiliated union leaders -- signed a letter inviting Chavez to Australia to advise on the governance of the country, claiming:

We have watched developments in Venezuela with great interest. We have been impressed by the great effort that your government has taken to improve the living standards of the majority of Venezuelans. Although we are on the opposite side of the globe, we feel that our shared ideals of social justice and democracy bring us close together ... what Venezuela has been able to achieve in so little time will be a source of inspiration and ideas for many in Australia.

Rudd has condoned this poisonous nonsense and refused to discipline or rebuke those responsible, despite or perhaps because of the fact that apart from anything else it is an obvious insult to Australia's closest ally, the U.S. Rudd himself spouts simplistic anti-market extremism:

Our common enemy is the political project of John Howard which seeks to reconstruct Australian society ... Howard's vision for Australia is Friedrich Hayek's rampant individualism where unfettered free markets determine the value of not only every commodity but of every person and institution.

Rudd bolsters his self-righteousness and economic ratbaggery by invoking religion. In the U.S. this might be normal for a politician. In Australia, where politicians don't wear their religion on their sleeves (Howard is a Christian but doesn't invoke the fact to justify his actions), it is a disquieting departure. This is particularly so when it is bracketed with anti-capitalism and eco-extremism, with implied or explicit claims to superior moral worth over the so-called "common enemy" and of a general monopoly of moral rectitude. Rudd has claimed:

What, for example, is a Christian view on the impact of the Americanization of our industrial relations system on family living standards and family life? What is a Christian view of global climate change, given Christian teachings on the proper stewardship of creation?

In a recent article titled "Child of Hayek," Rudd demonstrated a truly scary, Chavez-like blend of moral self-righteousness and ignorance of economic thought, theory and history. He claimed: "Friedrich Hayek...argued that the only determinant of human freedom was the market."

Actually, Professor Friedrich von Hayek said centrally planned economies are incompatible with liberty. In free societies he should be regarded as a hero. Rudd also claimed absurdly that: "Hayek argued that any form of altruism was dangerous because it distorted the market." Nothing like this is to be found in Hayek's writing. Is Rudd confusing Hayek with Ayn Rand? Or trusting no-one in his audience knows the difference? Hayek's commitment to humanity, compassion and charity was abundant and has never been questioned by competent scholars. That Rudd is capable of such perversion of history and economic ideas, whether through ignorance or irresponsibility, might seem a small thing for a private individual -- but not one who may well be Australia's next prime minister.

Rudd's green extremism crosses the borders of the irrational, with a bizarre promise to reduce Australia's carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. Terry McCrann, one of Australia's most respected and politically impartial economics journalists, summed the matter up starkly:

Kevin Rudd has recommitted a Labor government to damaging the economy in the short-term and destroying it in the longer-term.

What he proposes would do far more economic damage, sow far worse social chaos, and specifically and directly hurt individual Australians more than the damage we are still suffering from the disastrous Whitlam period in the 1970s.

Michael Chaney, president of the Business Council of Australia, has said: "You run the real risk that you'll destroy the economy without any benefit to the world's climate." This is extraordinarily strong language from the council, a normally cautiously-spoken body that works hard to cultivate good relations with all political parties.

Rudd's deputy, Julia Gillard, is a far-leftist who claimed in the national daily the Australian that a "strong economy should not be at the cost of fairness" -- and it is hardly rocket-science to work out what that means. Rudd's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, is a lawyer but best known as a rock-singer and anti-development, anti-capitalist, anti-U.S. activist and general subscriber to the package-deal of modern far-leftism. He has said that economic growth "almost always" leads to a worse environment. Shadow Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner is a member of the Party's "socialist left," the most left-wing faction in the Labor Party spectrum. He is a former student radical and strong advocate of compulsory student unions (abolished by the Howard government, to the great benefit of most of the country's university students).

Senior journalist Paul Kelly, who is anything but an uncritical supporter of the present government, has written in words of astonishment about Rudd's economic primitivism: "Rudd has seized a bizarre fate -- a resurrection of trade union power, collective bargaining rights and a far stronger industrial umpire as the keys to [the prime ministership]. Rudd's new industrial policy is a giant step into the past. Indeed, so sweeping is Labor's embrace of the principles of collective power and re-regulation that it must be wondered whether Rudd fully comprehends what he has done."

Even the Labor Party premier of Western Australia, Alan Carpenter, heading a state whose mineral exports make it one of Australia's principal economic power-houses, seems unnerved at what is being proposed.

In 1972, Australia elected a Labor government led by Gough Whitlam, a smooth, pragmatic-seeming lawyer, who came to office with an image of suave modernity not dissimilar to that of Rudd today. It took Whitlam and his cabinet, enthralled by economically illiterate populism, only a few months to reduce Australia to economic chaos. Inflation went from 4.5% to 16.9%, devastating the lives of pensioners and others on fixed incomes (Mrs. Whitlam dismissed it as "a lot of hoo-hah"). A later Labor finance minister, Peter Walsh, said: "Most of the time Whitlam behaved as if the economy didn't matter. Most of the 10 or 12 dominant ministers were economic cranks."

When Whitlam came to power, Australia had an unemployment rate of 2.4% and falling. It went into double-digits. Economic growth rate went from 4.9% in 1972 into minus figures. In September, 1974, with the country ravaged by inflation and unemployment, the Whitlam government approved a 32.5% increase in government spending. By the end of 1974 this had risen by 45%, the budget deficit had gone from 0.6% to 4.2% of GDP, and unemployment had more than doubled over the year.

The crackpot Jim Cairns, sometime deputy prime minister and treasurer, was probably a Soviet agent of influence (Whitlam himself tacitly admitted to the U.S. ambassador that Cairns was a security risk and would not share U.S. intelligence briefings with him). Cairns as treasurer printed money ever faster in an attempt to destroy capitalism. A multifaceted attack was made on the federal system, with the intention of destroying the states lest they obstructed grandiose plans of social engineering. It culminated in a bizarre attempt by the federal government to borrow money from Iraq for an undisclosed quid pro quo. Finally, with the government in complete dysfunction, the governor-general intervened to call a general election. Australia has strong democratic institutions and traditions and it survived. Nonetheless it took many years to recover from the economic damage. Though the Whitlam government's wrecking activities were limited by its relatively short term in office, the lesson is chilling: Australia elected a government of Llosa's idiots once and it could do so again.


Rudd's union problem

Plainly industrial relations is by far the most important policy issue to emerge in this election year, the one with the potential to decide the election outcome. The strongly adverse business reaction to the launch of Labor’s industrial relations policy took the political momentum away from Kevin Rudd for the first time, but only in the parliament, not the opinion polls.

The challenge for John Howard and Peter Costello if they are to retain power is to communicate the very real economic threat posed by Labor’s policy and translate it into a broader electorate concern with Rudd’s economic credentials. This is something they have notably failed to do so far. Yet Labor’s industrial relations platform is a repudiation of the very basis of Rudd’s claim for legitimacy as the next prime minister.

He is selling himself as the fresh new leader who will ensure Australia’s prosperity outlives the mining boom, and paints Howard as the ageing Prime Minister who failed to grasp his policy opportunities to secure Australia’s future. Rudd’s address to the ALP’s National Conference at the end of April was called “A Party for the Future”, and he told his audience his first step would be “to throw out Mr Howard’s Work Choices laws lock, stock and barrel”. This is not a step into the future but a retreat into Australia’s failed economic past. Paul Keating liked to call it an industrial museum. The three biggest dinosaurs in the museum were protectionism, and the unions and arbitration system that depended on it.

Under Bob Hawke and Keating, Labor largely dismantled the tariff wall and Keating introduced enterprise bargaining, albeit union enterprise bargaining. Under Howard, and with the market pressures from globalisation, the opening of the Australian labour market has continued. Until now.

It says a lot about Rudd’s industrial relations policy, none of it good, that the great resource companies at the forefront of Australia’s dynamic interaction with the global economy are also the ones bearing the brunt of Labor’s attack - with its pledge to abolish the Australian Workplace Agreements that have been crucial to these companies’ competitiveness in global markets, and the aim of returning the unions as a force in the iron ore fields, where they used to create industrial havoc. Regular strikes over such compelling industrial issues as the tomato sauce in the canteen so undermined Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier that it hastened the emergence of Brazil as a major competitor. It is no coincidence that the mining companies, operating in fiercely competitive world markets, led the charge to dismantle Australia’s tariff wall and demanded the right to talk directly with their workers and not through unions and their cat’s-paws in the state and federal industrial commissions.

Julia Gillard, the architect of Labor’s policy in consultation with the ACTU, and Rudd - who admitted knowing little of the policy detail when he announced it - have been obliged to engage in sham “negotiations” with the miners. Rudd told The Australian that the mining sector had a legitimate interest when it came to flexibility because it was exposed to international trade, then promptly confirmed he would abolish AWAs.

But it isn’t only the resources sector that has a vital interest in labour market flexibility. As Rudd acknowledged, it is a “legitimate expectation” of the general business community. Which makes all the more extraordinary Gillard’s reaction to the suggestion that business might run its own advertising campaign to explain the virtues of Work Choices. She immediately warned Australian business it could get injured, code for union biffo. “I’d be concerned if the business community got itself into the political fray. I’d be concerned if they became, if you like, propagandists for Mr Howard,” an unblushing Gillard said.

Apparently it’s OK for the ACTU and the unions to spend $25 million or more of their members’ funds engaging in the political fray and running a virulent scare campaign against Work Choices, but nobody else is supposed to have a say. Subsequent attempts by Gillard and Rudd to play down Gillard’s revealing blunder as a joke that misfired have been unconvincing.

Business is only too familiar with union violence. Labor loves to deride Howard as a politician from the era of the white picket fence. Labor’s picket fence is the one manned by violent unionists engaging in illegal industrial action and contemptuous of the law, and Labor’s proposed industrial relations framework, from what we know of it, will create an institutional and legal structure where this may again become acceptable behaviour.

Obviously the problems with Gillard’s industrial relations policy run much wider and deeper than just AWAs, important as they are. The proposal to get rid of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, for example, is driven by the unions, who resent the fact that the Howard Government has been able to make enough appointments to the commission to stop it being a reliable instrument of union power. It is to be replaced by a union-friendly bureaucratic octopus with tentacles that can reach into every workplace, from offices located in city suburbs and regional centres.

Shutting down the highly successful Australian Building and Construction Industry Commissioner, who has brought industrial peace to an industry long marked by constant industrial disputes and rampant union thuggery, is another disturbing development. So is the introduction of compulsory collective bargaining and Labor’s unfair dismissal proposals.

And the reason for all these changes? Because the unions want them, and the unions still control Rudd Labor. Yet in the engine room of the economy, the private sector, about 85 per cent of employees are not members of a union. So who is Rudd representing with his anachronistic industrial relations policies? Union bureaucrats and public servants? Hardly the most likely progenitors of our future prosperity.

In a world economy that has to absorb the output of many millions of new, largely unskilled, workers from developing countries such as China and India and cope with shrinking workforces due to population ageing in developed economies such as Australia, a flexible labour market will be crucial. Rudd promises flexibility but his labour market policies will not deliver it, and this failure strikes at the heart of his claim to have the economic credentials to be Australia’s next prime minister.


Agrarian socialism lives on

No disgrace seems enough to kill it -- and the Australian Wheat Board got it very wrong indeed -- as one of Saddam's little helpers

THE Howard government had a tremendous opportunity to radically reform one of the last bastions of socialism, and scrap forever the single desk for wheat exports, to crack open the market to competition, to create a new world, where grain growers would have freedom to trade in the same way as other businessmen.

Clearly, this was too much to expect. It’s an election year. The National Party is under siege. Growers threatened mutiny if the single desk was scrapped. Many of them still support AWB.

Never mind that AWB doesn’t deliver the best prices; that it charges hefty service fees; that it has damaged, perhaps forever, Australia’s precious trading reputation. Never mind that free trade is always better than shackled trade.

The government’s “reform” - announced during question time this afternoon - essentially maintains a single desk for wheat exports, run by a company that will look and smell very much like AWB. Also, no punishment for any minister or official; but again, what more can one expect in an election year?


Last days of literature

ENGLISH literature was in danger of disappearing and should be taught as a separate subject in schools, an education conference has heard. Griffith University Associate Professor Pat Buckridge told more than 150 English teachers on Saturday that Queensland faced the "imminent disappearance of the literary canon" if literature was not restored in schools. "In ecological terms, the thing we're on the brink of losing can be thought of as a huge and priceless piece of cultural heritage to which everyone in Australia and the rest of the world has an inalienable right of access and to which - if they want it - everyone in Australia should be offered the means of access," he said.

Professor Buckridge said a major difference he noticed in current students from those leaving school 30 and even 10 years ago was how much English and world literature they had never heard of, let alone read. "Most of them have studied, in some fashion, a couple of Shakespeare plays, but unless they're from interstate or overseas or an older age group they know of nothing beyond a few mid to late 20th century novels." He was speaking at a symposium on English Beyond the Battle Lines: Rethinking English Today hosted by the English Teachers Association of Queensland (ETAQ).

Association President Garry Collins said most English teachers were actively engaged in teaching students to use language well, including correct functional grammar and engaging students in literature. Mr Collins said the association was keen to give classroom teachers a major say on English curriculum content as part of the current review of the Queensland syllabus and the prospect of a national syllabus.

Mr Welford said a literature stream for interested students would broaden choice, just as many schools offered several maths subjects. "We could have literature, mainstream English and English communication for students intending to pursue vocations pathways," Mr Welford said. Sunshine Coast University academic and The Courier-Mail columnist, Dr Karen Brooks, said a balance between popular culture texts and traditional literature from antiquity to the present was vital.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No justice - rape victim's father

What is not mentioned below is that the victim of the rape was treated exceptionally poorly because the NSW justice system went into overdrive to water down severe sentences handed to a Muslim gang. Being kind to Muslims was the driving priority in the matter -- anything to achieve that

THE father of one of the Sydney women raped seven years ago by Bilal Skaf's gang says rape victims should avoid court, and take matters into their own hands instead. The father, who cannot be named, said criminal justice in the state was so biased against victims of crime that rape victims should have nothing to do with it. "Do not go to court. Sort it out outside of the court, if you get my drift," he said. "Once you get to court, you will not get justice. It is a justice system in name only."

This father's damning assessment was delivered after a man known as MG was acquitted of raping his daughter, who can be identified only as Miss C. While MG was acquitted of raping Miss C, he did not walk free. He is serving two 15-year sentences for his role in other rapes. Skaf and other members of his gang are already serving prison sentences for attacks on Miss C.

Her father's advice to avoid the justice system prompted the NSW Rape Crisis Centre to call for urgent reforms to ensure people are not tempted to take the law into their own hands. "Violence solves nothing," said manager Karen Willis. "I empathise with this man's position. What his daughter has gone through for seven years would be appalling. It shows we still need more changes such as special sexual assault courts to ensure people do not take the law into their own hands."

Miss C's father said his daughter had received "horrific" treatment by the courts and defence lawyers. "They subpoenaed her medical records and even said in court that she had an orgasm during one of the rapes. How in the hell would they know?" he said. "She now rarely goes out. She won't go out in crowds and when she does, she won't go out for very long. "She hates being outside, particularly when she sees Muslims. She is so anti-Islam it is unbelievable, and to be honest, so am I."

The fact that the MG case dragged on for more than five years meant he no longer had any faith in the adversarial system of justice. "The prosecution are hindered in what they can do, whereas the defence can rip these girls apart," he said. "It took seven years and my daughter could not do it any more and she was one of the strongest of the lot."

Miss C abandoned her involvement in the MG case because of delays and the removal of top prosecutor Margaret Cunneen. Her father said it was time to switch to a more inquisitorial system to stop defence lawyers dragging out cases. He also called for a better system of selecting judges. "They say the law is equal. Don't believe it," he said.

During his daughter's ordeal in the court system, he had taken his concerns to the NSW Law Society and both sides of state politics. He said he had been "spoken down to" by the Law Society, ignored by then Attorney-General Bob Debus and told by the state Opposition that real reform would require constitutional change.

He contacted The Australian after the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal wrote to this newspaper last week about the MG case. Miss C's father said he rejected the court's statement that Ms Cunneen's removal had not triggered his daughter's decision to walk away from the case.


Patients booted out of Melbourne public hospital

SICK elderly patients will be among hundreds ejected from the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a management bid for government-sanctioned performance bonuses. Documents seen by the Herald Sun reveal the hospital is planning to discharge one patient from selected units by 10am each day for the next seven weeks. Up to 490 patients, including those from the acute geriatric medicine unit, will be discharged as the financial year draws to a close. Health Minister Bronwyn Pike says the practice is common in Victoria and overseas.

The documents, which describe patients as "system blockages", also reveal elderly patients are among the 65 per cent made to wait more than eight hours for admission. In an email to senior staff, the director of the hospital's division of medicine, Tony Snell, says the discharge tactic aims to secure bonus funding under a Department of Human Services performance scheme. "The aim is to get a significant amount of the available bonus pool funding," Dr Snell writes. "We seek your support in achieving these improvements in patient care (i.e., less delay in the emergency department), which will also improve our budget situation. "In order to achieve this we are targeting the key performance indicators of length of stay in the emergency department and waiting list reduction."

Ms Pike, who says she has not seen the email, backs the practice. "We want to make sure we don't have people on a bed with a suitcase packed waiting for the hospital to get the paperwork right, or that the patient has their medication with them," she says. "I fully support setting targets for the units, because it's saying to them this is best practice." Asked whether she would encourage other hospitals to set similar standards, Ms Pike says: "I know they already are and I'm very pleased. "Anyone who would suggest this is compromising patient care is insulting the doctors and nurses who work in the system."

A Royal Melbourne spokeswoman yesterday insisted patients would not be sent home before they were ready. "It's really just asking doctors to do their rounds earlier in the morning," she said. The spokeswoman said about a third of the 170 patients presented to the emergency department each day required hospital admission. The email says that in previous years, patients have had to wait 24 hours in the emergency department before admission. It says that 64 per cent of patients are admitted from the emergency department within eight hours. But last month, in the medical division, only 35 per cent were admitted within that time frame. "To improve this we need to increase morning bed capacity and move out patients more quickly from the emergency department," Dr Snell writes. "We are aiming to have at least one patient per unit discharged by 10am." Dr Snell and another staffer would also audit patients who had remained in hospital for longer than a fortnight to see where they could assist in removing blockages in the system.

A second email from a senior staffer orders that patients identified for discharge be moved to the transit lounge and vacant beds be filled immediately. The hospital's division of medicine has 10 units, which include acute geriatrics, haematology and diabetes.

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey says the Royal Melbourne had suffered a drastic bed shortage. "The funding is not coming in on a sustainable basis, so the hospitals are having to play these games all the time," Ms Shardey says. Latest figures reveal there were 2872 patients on the Royal Melbourne's elective surgery waiting list in December last year, up 100 in six months


Reduced surgery in another Melbourne public hospital

SICK children and pregnant women will be denied surgery at a major Melbourne hospital next week. Monash Medical Centre has slashed its elective surgery list as the financial year draws to a close. Doctors believe the move is aimed at cutting costs but Monash insists it is part of normal scheduling.

Theatre schedules seen by the Herald Sun reveal a blackout on pediatric, obstetric and vascular surgery for the week beginning May 28. A high-level health care source said patients continued to wait for elective operations at Monash despite beds and doctors being available. "The surgeons are there with nothing to do," the source said. "It happens regularly and usually in the last quarter of the financial year. "It's because they've got their bucket of money for the year and now they're running out and it costs them money to push (patients) through."

Specialists were angered by the blackout. "It was believed to be due to the fact that it was a funding constraint," the source said. "It was implicit and it wasn't well received by the people who were affected."

A spokesman for Southern Health, which manages the Monash Medical Centre, said next week's surgery blackout was necessary due to an anaesthetists' conference. A spokesman for Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said emergency surgery would continue. "It's not related to funding," he said. There were 1767 people waiting for elective surgery at Monash at last count, in December.

The row at Monash came as Ms Pike defended Royal Melbourne Hospital's decision to discharge at least one patient from selected units each day until July. The Herald Sun yesterday revealed the directive, which was contained in an email that also described patients as "system blockages".

One patient who doesn't want an early release is Harry Tsogias, 40, who said yesterday he had been wrongly sent home once before. Rushed to Royal Melbourne's emergency department on April 14, unable to walk and in extreme pain, Mr Tsogias was diagnosed with sciatic pain in his right leg and discharged a few hours later. "I couldn't walk. It was so sore I was in tears," he said. "I was in a lot of pain and I was sent home." On May 10, he returned to the Royal Melbourne and was this time rightly diagnosed with an aggressive infection in his hip -- so advanced he needed surgery. After having parts of his infected hip bone cut out, he now faces the possibility of a hip replacement. "They gave me a very quick examination and sent me home," he said. "This could have been prevented."

Due to go home again this week, Mr Tsogias said he was not ready and accused the hospital of throwing patients on the street to free up needed beds. "I am not going anywhere," he said. "After what happened last time I don't want to go until I am 100 per cent cured."

The Royal Melbourne yesterday denied the Herald Sun access to patients in the transit lounge, where they are forced to wait. "They are kicking people out before they are ready to leave," said Mr Tsogias' sister, Anna Manidis. "Someone is not doing their job properly."

Royal Melbourne's executive director (clinical governance) Christine Kilpatrick said: "No patient is ever discharged prior to them being assessed by the medical staff and (staff) ensuring they are ready and safe." The hospital was under enormous pressure to free up beds, but there was no financial incentive to discharge one patient a day. "We don't have a dollar value on their bed," she said. "It is about making sure patients who are ready to leave prior to 10am have all their needs and services arranged."


Smoker's court action snuffed out

A CRAIGIEBURN man's $100 million-plus civil action against tobacco giant Philip Morris went up in smoke yesterday when a jury rejected his claim. But smoker David Clemens, 49, said he would appeal the verdict. The County Court jury of six deliberated for almost 3 1/2 hours before rejecting Mr Clemen's claim that he suffered an injury as a result of the negligence of Philip Morris. And Judge Susan Cohen ordered Mr Clemens pay Philip Morris's costs, but stayed payment of them for three months. The costs for Philip Morris's two barristers amount to more than $60,000 for the trial alone. Mr Clemens claimed that early this year costs in the case had amounted to more than $250,000. He represented himself in the nine-day jury trial.

Outside court, Philip Morris counsel Richard Stanley, QC, said the result was an endorsement for juries. "I just think it's a very good result from the jury on the evidence that was led," Mr Stanley said.

Mr Clemens told jurors he began smoking when he was 13 and was diagnosed in 2002 with emphysema, lung disease and bronchitis. He said he had not been able to give up smoking. Mr Clemens claimed to have been seduced by advertising of the image of the Marlboro man and Philip Morris failed in its duty of care to tell him about health risks associated with smoking. He said it was not until late 1987, 15 or 16 years after he took up smoking, that his wife drew his attention to health warnings on cigarette packets. But Philip Morris argued Mr Clemens knew the risk and took it.

The court heard he was an obsessive litigant, having started claims in Federal Magistrates', County, Supreme and High courts, and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In a rare move, Mr Clemens, formerly David James Lindsey, was declared a vexatious litigant in 1998 after an application to the Supreme Court by the Attorney-General. In 2005, Mr Clemens made an application to the Supreme Court for leave to sue Philip Morris and it was granted. Philip Morris appealed, arguing Mr Clemens had not paid $96,494 in costs owing to Philip Morris from proceedings in the Federal Court. The appeal was dismissed. Mr Clemens, on workers' compensation payments for an unrelated injury, did not put a figure for damages to the jury but his statement of claim put it at $100.1 million.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Your government will protect you

He was a "ticking timebomb" waiting to go off .. a prisoner who warned authorities he would kill once freed, and carried out his threat just eight days later. The prisoner, with a history of violence and mental health problems, brutally bashed a man to death as he slept in Brisbane's City Botanic Gardens. But he will not be tried for the 2005 murder of Brisbane father John Simpson, 56, because health authorities have deemed him mentally unfit.

The case has sparked calls from the victim's family, mental health support groups and the State Opposition for an inquiry into the release of mentally ill people with violent tendencies. Mr Simpson's daughter has called for an inquiry into the man's release "in the public interest" to prevent similar tragedies. "We believe we are entitled to an explanation as to how someone so dangerous could be released into the public like a ticking timebomb waiting to go off," the daughter, who wanted to be identified only as Jodie, 27, said in a letter to the State Coroner this month. "His release from jail has put the public's safety in jeopardy because it appears that the system does not have a safety net for violent, mentally ill people who have been released."

Jeff Cheverton of the Queensland Alliance, a non-government agency representing mental health groups, said prisoners with mental health problems were not given the follow-up and referral to treatment they needed on their release. Mr Cheverton said there should be graduated release of prisoners with mental health problems. Psychiatrists treating the man charged with Mr Simpson's murder had warned of his psychosis and potential danger for the past decade.

Before Mr Simpson's murder, the man - who cannot be identified under mental health laws - had been serving a three-year jail sentence at the Maryborough Correction Centre after he attacked a Sunshine Coast taxi driver with scissors and a hammer in 2002. Sentencing the man in 2003, Brisbane District Court Judge Garry Forno recommended that Queensland Corrective Services transfer him to a health institution so he could get appropriate care and the public would be protected.

However, Corrective Services decided he did not meet the criteria for an involuntary treatment order. Police and Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence said that while in jail, eight different psychiatrists had decided he was not psychotic, but displaying threatening and disturbed behavior.

Before his release from Maryborough jail in 2005, the man told prison staff he was going to kill people, including a homeless man. Police were warned and put out a statewide computer alert before his release. But it was to no avail. After being arrested for the killing of Mr Simpson, the man told police he had needed to kill to "rejuvenate his brain" and he had caught a bus from Maryborough to Brisbane and gone to the gardens because he "wanted to commit a murder".

State Coroner Michael Barnes said he could "well understand" Mr Simpson's daughter's concerns and would look into them. In March this year, the charges of murdering Mr Simpson and the attempted murder of a fellow patient at a mental health unit in 2002 were dropped after Mental Health Court Justice Anthe Philippides decided the man was of unsound mind. She ordered he be detained in a high security mental health unit.

The Queensland Police Union said the Government needed to build a "modern purpose-built" mental health facility to house violent offenders if they were not going to be jailed. "Murders and suicides are all too common now and compulsory detainment and treatment is the only way to reduce these terrible consequences," union president Gary Wilkinson said.

The man's adoptive mother said public systems had failed her son, who was left for her and her husband to pick up from prison.

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 20, 2007

The importance of good teachers

SCHOOL students who have good teachers take half as long to learn their course material as those with poor teachers, new research shows. The report provides the first objective evidence of which teachers are adding value to the academic performance of their students - and which teachers are letting children down. "The top 10 per cent of teachers achieve in half a year what the bottom 10 per cent achieve in a full year," says the author, economist Andrew Leigh, of the Australian National University.

Dr Leigh tracked three years of numeracy and literacy exam scores for 90,000 primary school students and matched them against 10,000 teachers. Good teaching - measured by improvements in exam scores - has almost no relationship with teacher experience, qualifications or any of the criteria currently used by most schools to hire or reward teachers. Instead, the best teachers appear to be good at their jobs because of innate factors like personal drive, curiosity and ability to relate to students. "Most of the differences between teachers are due to factors not captured on the payroll database," said Dr Leigh. The study shows female teachers are more likely to improve student literacy, while males are better at teaching maths.

Surprisingly, it shows students in large classes performed better than those in small ones - although it doesn't claim a causative link. It also finds no positive effects of teacher qualifications on test scores, a finding which challenges the Federal Opposition's policy of paying teachers more for better academic qualifications rather than for observed ability.

The study is likely to receive a frosty reception from teacher unions and state education bureaucracies which say exam scores cannot be used to measure teacher quality. But it has been seized upon by private schools and the Federal Government. The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said Dr Leigh's "groundbreaking" findings paved the way for teachers to be partly rewarded by the exam score improvements of their students. "It's complex but we can't stick our head in the sand and say it's too hard," he said.

The Federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, said the report supports her policy of introducing performance pay for teachers next year. "This makes a mockery of education union and Labor Party claims that teacher performance cannot be measured," she said.

The schools data for Dr Leigh's study, which includes year 3 and 5 numeracy and literacy exam scores and information about individual teachers, was provided by the Queensland Education Department after NSW and Victoria had refused to make their information available. As well as being used to identify, reward and retain the best teachers, Dr Leigh says his methodology could be used to send the best teachers where they could contribute most. If indigenous students had teachers from the top quarter rather than the bottom, then the findings imply the two-year black-white test score gap could be closed within seven years. [A very simple-minded extrapolation]


Teachers reject payment by results

Predictably. Businesses get payment by results but teachers are high-minded noble idealists, of course

NSW school principals are designing their own plan to reward quality teaching in defiance of the Federal Government's push to link performance pay to student results. The body representing 460 high school heads has rejected the Government's "ideologically driven" model. They are wary of Labor's alternative, saying it is still too thin on detail.

The president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, Jim McAlpine, said the council's plan would be "based on merit rather than performance". "[The federal Minister for Education] Julie Bishop's performance pay is going to be based on results of students in tests and that is a very narrow performance measure," he said. "But teachers who take on additional responsibilities, who undertake additional professional learning, who contribute to the further development of other teachers, merit extra pay."

From January 2008, first-year teachers in NSW Government schools will earn an annual salary of $50,250 and receive an increase each year for the following nine years up to $75,000. They will then receive no further increase unless they take up a position as a head teacher, deputy principal or principal. Top principals earn $119,000. In all there are 21 pay points in teaching, based on merit, years of experience and school size. The principals suggest creating extra salary steps for teachers who, for example, complete master's degrees and use them to help their colleagues. This would recognise the collegiality of the profession, where a number of teachers may contribute to a pupil's development.

The state Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, has also said he is open to a system of merit pay not based on student results. Mr Della Bosca and his state and territory colleagues last month rejected Ms Bishop's proposal to pilot performance pay in schools from next year, saying they would develop their own plans. Since then, Ms Bishop has said schools will be rewarded with up to $50,000 for outstanding results in numeracy and literacy. Schools could divide the money among their best teachers.

Federal Labor has said it would reward quality teaching using a merit-based system that took into account extra qualifications, professional development and working in rural and remote areas.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has said that from 2009 he would tie Commonwealth funding to the states and territories to the introduction of performance pay for teachers, giving principals more autonomy to hire and fire and providing parents with more detailed information on school performance. That information should also include cases of bullying and violence. The principals' plan is separate to another being devised by the national teacher union, the Australian Education Union.


Some attack on bloated hospital bureaucracies at last

QUEENSLAND Health does not have enough money to fund over-budget hospitals requiring key staff. Director-general Uschi Schreiber has imposed a staff freeze on districts that have blown their budgets, despite admitting the personnel were needed for "effective health service delivery". A cap has been placed on theatre-booking clerks, radiology/medical imaging clerks, ward receptionists, human resources officers and indigenous liaison officers.

Ms Schreiber has told her district health managers that the freeze would remain until the end of the financial year. In a memo obtained by The Courier-Mail, Ms Schreiber said: "I would like to bring to your attention consistently strong growth in administrative staff numbers, most notably at district level. "Whilst appropriate staffing levels for both clinical and administrative employees is a key component of effective health service delivery, this must continue to be balanced with the need for budget integrity."

The correspondence said districts, area health services and divisions would be banned from hiring any more administrators if they were above "affordable levels". She said if the extra staff was for essential, day-to-day activity, approval would have to be sought from an area general manager or an executive director.

Peter Forster's Queensland Health Systems Review, which evaluated the department in the wake of the Jayant Patel scandal, found that the department was putting budgets in front of patient care. It also revealed that the department was overburdened with bureaucrats, and recommended central office be cut to 644 positions. More than 160 had been identified as surplus.

In a statement to The Courier-Mail, Ms Schreiber's office said the 644 cap was an "annualised figure and the actual number fluctuates slightly throughout the year". There were 657.65 positions in February this year. Eleven positions were child and youth health positions "transferred to corporate office pending machinery of Government changes" and 31 were special project positions with a "set life span". "Queensland Health is actively managing administrative staff numbers and maintaining a lean corporate office," the statement said. "Administrative staff positions are established only where a strong and compelling need can be demonstrated and at the district level such positions must support clinical services. "The director-general has issued a memorandum to ensure active management of administrative staff numbers continues and appointments are linked directly in the districts to the support of clinical services, rather than an increase in bureaucratic positions."


Monday, May 21, 2007

Granny suffers 82 hours of agony in public hospital

AN 81-year-old great-grandmother endured 82 hours of agony in a Perth hospital. She lay immobilised on trolleys and in "holding pens'' before finally getting urgently-needed hip surgery in Royal Perth Hospital yesterday. Rita Robins' son Peter wants WA's besieged Health Minister Jim McGinty to explain why his fragile, elderly mum experienced days of fasting and constant surgery cancellations before she could get the operation for her seriously fractured left hip. "These are the people that public hospitals should be helping,'' an angry Mr Robins told The Sunday Times, while his mum was getting the surgery. "What do these old people do? "There are more than her going through this at the moment -- this would be just a drop in the ocean. "(Mr McGinty) says there's no health crisis, but what about this?''

Mr Robins' wife Dianne said it broke her heart to see the suffering of her kind-hearted mother-in-law -- who is a great-grandmother of five, grandmother of nine and a mother of four. "I don't think you would do this to an animal,'' Mrs Robins said. She said the elderly woman fell about 7pm on Tuesday at her Northam home and had been taken to Royal Perth Hospital by 11.45pm. Her mother-in-law then spent the next 39 hours on her back -- to stop her moving her hip -- on a trolley, being wheeled to ``empty spots'', while promises of surgery on Wednesday morning fell through.

"About 1.30pm on Wednesday, they took her to what they called a `holding pen','' Mrs Robins said. "This was just stretchers again with curtains between them in just one big open room. "And because she's on her back, they had to put a catheter in for her because she can't get up to go to the toilet or anything. "I requested that if the operation wasn't going to happen, could they feed her because she had been fasting from the night before, and could they give her some of the medication she usually takes. "But the nurse just straight out said to me, `I can't find anybody to come and do what we need to do'.''

Her mother-in-law, already suffering dementia, started to stress. "She was really tired, she didn't sleep all night, she was scared and with all this stress, it made her mind wander because she also hadn't eaten,'' Mrs Robins said. But she was left in the "holding pen'' until 2.30pm on Thursday, before getting a bed. She was made to fast again for hours on Thursday and Friday only to have the surgery again cancelled. Finally, at 9.30am yesterday, she was wheeled into surgery at RPH.

"She's not got private cover because she's a pensioner. She lives in a housing commission home,'' Mrs Robins said. "She's been a widow for seven years and she's had a real tough life. So what do these people do when they need health care?''

Mrs Robins said up to a 24-hour wait might have been acceptable. "But from the time she got to the hospital, until the operation, that's about 82 hours of her lying on her back, not being able to move,'' Mrs Robins said. "So when Mr McGinty says `There's no health crisis', I'd love to phone him up and say `Come visit now', but he's too far away from what the people are doing. "She's a wonderful lady, she's done so much for so many people _ even though she never had much. "And because she's had such a tough life she's always got out of things with a smile. So when I see her like this it just breaks my heart.''

Opposition health spokesman Kim Hames said: "If Jim McGinty cannot ensure timely medical help for people like Mrs Robins and the hundreds of others who are subjected to the same lack of treatment because of his mismanagement, perhaps it is time he does the decent thing and stands down as health minister.'' Mr McGinty refused to comment. An RPH spokeswoman said the Mrs Robins had had surgery postponed on Thursday because of pre-existing conditions, which the family denied.


'Exhausted' driver in ambulance crash

FATIGUE has been blamed for a crash involving two Queensland ambulances. The vehicles were involved in a minor nose-to-tail accident attending the same job at Kilcoy, northwest of Brisbane, about 2am on Wednesday - with no injuries to paramedics or patients. But sources said the accident investigation report revealed both ambulance crews were exhausted from over-working and this had contributed to the crash. "The paramedics had been without sleep for some 20 hours," a Queensland Ambulance Service insider told The Sunday Mail.

An exclusive Sunday Mail report this month revealed how the service was in crisis, with paramedics pleading for more staff and vehicles before it was too late. Ambulance officers expressed their anger at the new roster system, which had resulted in them working more shifts every week. Many said they were physically and mentally spent.

The accident happened only hours after the ambulance employees union threatened the State Government with industrial action if it did not address rostering and recruitment. "Fatigue was a huge part of the incident . . . the crews were extremely tired . . . although I am sure the QAS will say it is something else," the insider said. The Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, a group representing paramedics unhappy with their union, said there must be further investigation into the crash. "This raises serious concerns. It is a workplace health and safety issue which needs to be looked into," association president Prebs Sathiaseelan said. Mr Sathiaseelan said management used "emotional blackmail" on employees about to go off duty, asking them to respond to an emergency case.

State Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone said the incident highlighted how the Government was prepared to risk the lives of ambulance officers and the public. "Peter Beattie has had his hands in our pockets grabbing his ambulance tax, which he promised would give us the world's best service," Mr Malone said. "All he's done is waste our money and run the service down to the point where ambos are forced to work 20 hours without sleep. How dangerous is that? "Bullying, harassing, running staff into the ground to the point where they're exhausted."



And a substandard solution is being tried

On Christmas day a few years back, Mary Webber was the doctor on duty in a short-staffed Sydney emergency department. The elderly man in the bed before her was clearly unwell: high fever, racing pulse, heavy breathing, confused and complaining of persistent pain all over his body. Webber and her colleagues checked for the usual causes, but ruled them all out. No one could figure out why the man was so ill. He'd been in a minor car accident a week earlier, but X-rays following the incident had shown no signs of fractures.

Webber tried to transfer him to a bigger tertiary hospital better equipped to handle his case, but three declined before a district hospital finally admitted him. Doctors then had to play "catch up'' trying to access various test results and information being held by at least three different hospitals. One registrar noted in the man's file that it wasn't clear who was even in charge of his case. The delays added up, probably to about four days, Webber says. Eventually the man was diagnosed with a rare infection concealed in his spine - but by then it was too late. He died shortly afterwards.

Whether or not that outcome could have been avoided is impossible to say, but Webber says if things had been handled differently he certainly would have stood a better chance. "The doctors were following the normal processes, but if there had been a doctor whose job it was to check up on the tricky patients, someone who was senior enough to crash through some of the barriers and push some of the walls down, then this might not have happened,'' she says. "Or at least it might have been picked up earlier. Everyone was working very hard, but the system itself had inherent flaws when it came to patients like him - the system works very well for `in-the-box' patients who come down established pathways, but not so well for the out-of-the-box patients.''

Now a new brand of doctor designed to help manage and co-ordinate the care of those "out of the box'' patients is being piloted by NSW Health at five public hospitals, in an effort to improve safety and quality of care, and reduce errors and adverse events in a hospital system plagued by doctor shortages. Webber, along with two of her colleagues at Ryde Hospital, doctors Michael Boyd and Ross White, have been among the first to take on this new role of "hospitalist'' - a doctor who will work in hospitals in a generalist role that crosses the divisions between medical departments and specialties. NSW Health has allocated $1.4 million over two years for the Hospitalist Pilot Project, and plans to recruit about 20 more doctors to the position in July.

Exactly what such doctors will do has some degree of flexibility. They will liaise between specialists and junior doctors, as well as with GPs in the wider community. Some will create mentoring programs for junior doctors that review difficult cases and discuss what could be improved; some will develop new systems to deal with longstanding problems, such as a database to improve the lines of communication with GPs. The goal is to provide better continuity of care in a system that has become increasingly fragmented - ideally improving quality of care for patients who are chronically ill or have complex needs, such as the elderly or people with multiple health problems that don't fit neatly into one area.

But not everyone is enthused with the idea. In January the Internal Medicine Society of Australia and New Zealand released a position statement calling the plan a "short-sighted and inappropriate response to the workforce crisis'', that may ultimately result in substandard care as lesser-trained doctors are given the responsibility traditionally charged to general physicians who have to pass the same boards and standards as sub-specialists. "We're very much in favour of someone taking a holistic view, but we think the ideal hospitalist already exists in the form of general physicians,'' says society vice-president Alasdair MacDonald, who wrote the group's position statement. "Rather than creating a whole new class of doctors who don't have the same qualifications, we should be putting our money into recruiting and training general physicians, and improving remuneration for them to restore the balance of generalists compared to sub-specialists.''

Hospitalists first emerged in the US in the 1990s, and there are now more than 10,000 there. The NSW project marks the first time the role has been formally trialled in metropolitan areas in Australia. Victoria, Queensland and WA have all informally expressed interest in the program, says Professor Katherine McGrath, the deputy director-general of health system performance, who sponsored the program at NSW Health. In rural and regional areas - where doctor shortages are more acute - hospitalist-type roles are more common, though they often happen by default. In Queensland, however, the "rural generalist program'' has taken the idea to next level, developing a specific training module for rural doctors working in hospitals, and last year had that qualification recognised.

Such formalisation is not on the cards in NSW. NSW based the new position partly on the American model, which has had some promising results. A review of hospitalist programs published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients' average length of hospital stay was decreased by almost 17 per cent, hospital costs dropped by more than 13 per cent and most patients were satisfied with the care they received (2002;287:487-494).

But there are inherent differences in the way the US and Australian models are set up. Under the US model, hospitalists have considerably more power than those being piloted in NSW. For example, in the US hospitalists can admit their own patients, while here the specialist is ultimately in charge of the patient and just delegates responsibility to the hospitalist. There are also differences in training and qualifications. In the US hospitalists are internal medicine specialists; about half are general physicians and the rest tend to be specialists in intensive care. Several academic centres have now developed hospitalist-focused postgraduate training.

By contrast, NSW Health is targeting doctors who have experience working in hospitals but have chosen not to undergo further specialty training - such as a senior career medical officer, or a GP who would like to work part-time in hospital. There is no separate qualification required to become a hospitalist, and it's being seen as a pathway for career medical officers to progress in their careers rather than a specialty in its own right. Training will be in short bursts in the form of one-day workshops, much like the way continuing professional development works, as opposed to any formal course, McGrath says.

The hospitalists will be working on contracts that range from two to five years - eons compared to most junior medical officers, who rotate as frequently as every 10 weeks and registrars who rotate every six months to a year. "They know how the hospital system works and they can build a long-term relationship with the specialists," McGrath says. "The whole point is to ensure there is no slippage in standards of care - the patient remains under the care of the specialist, and the hospitalist works under the delegation of the specialist - that's where we differ from America. We've made it deliberately different to protect against any risks."

But MacDonald says that itself may be part of the problem. He claims that if anything, hospitalists should be under the supervision of general physicians because hospitalists recruited here are unlikely to have the expertise and training to take responsibility for complex patients. If that's the case specialists may not trust them to hand over responsibility to begin with. Instead they'll seek assistance from another specialist, increasing cross-referrals and further complicating matters. "The optimum hospitalists already exists and what effectively we're doing is saying, well we can't train enough of them, so let's create somebody that's not trained to the same extent, hasn't had to stand up to the same scrutiny and hasn't had to do the same exams - and employ them to do that work," he says. "And let's supervise them by people who don't necessarily have the breadth of specialist's knowledge across lots of disciplines, and by administrators who are often not from a clinical background."

Even among proponents of hospitalists, there is some concern that the goals of the NSW pilot project may not reflect the achievements hospitalists have made overseas. Bill Lancashire is a senior lecturer at the University of NSW Rural Clinical School and a critical care doctor at Port Macquarie Base Hospital. He is actively pushing to have hospitalists introduced there, and says they can help reduce demands on overburdened specialists by taking over management of some of the less complicated patients, as has occurred in the Canadian system. But as to whether it can actually diminish hospital errors, he is not so sure. "I think we need to think more about why we're doing it and what we hope to achieve. Across Australia there is a real concern about adverse events in hospitals, but this shouldn't just be a reflex response to that," Lancashire says. "We need the evidence to show that adverse events will be reduced, because overseas that hasn't been the impetus; it's been specialists being overwhelmed by patient numbers."

The review published in JAMA in 2002 found that while several studies showed hospitalists improved measures such as inpatient mortality and readmission rates, the results were inconsistent. Whether they will make a difference to safety and efficiency in Australia remains to be seen. The NSW pilot project ends in December next year.


Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

The editorial from "The Australian" below says that competition, not rationing, is the water-shortage solution. Given the parlous state of education these days, I guess I should point out that the heading above is a reference to "The rime of the ancient mariner" by Coleridge

AS urban Australians go about their daily lives they seem to be burdened by the plight of the ancient mariner. It continues to rain in capital cities around Australia's coastline but benighted residents are subjected to ever-tighter restrictions. Yet the parlous water shortages around Australia are less a failure of the climate than they are a failure of the market. And as National Water Commission chief executive Ken Matthews pointed out, restrictions have no place in long-term water management.

Water is undeniably a scarce commodity in the driest continent on earth, and while the amount of water on earth is fixed, the population keeps increasing. But rationing of necessities is a primitive mechanism, and in a sophisticated economy price signals are a preferable means of allocating resources. Yet from the collection of water through to its distribution and consumption, the market is not being allowed to operate.

During the 1980s, in line with the prevailing zeitgeist, state governments created corporations to manage vital utilities. This, it was argued, would deliver the efficiencies of the private sector without depriving state governments of a revenue stream. Predictably, state governments have been unable to resist milking the cash cows they have created. They received nearly $1billion in dividends from utility companies in 2005-06, up 12 per cent on the year before, while spending on water infrastructure has dropped in most capital cities. Only Melbourne and Perth have increased their spending.

At the same time, good-hearted Australians have been persuaded to make water savings that are nothing more than feel-good gestures. Urban dwellers may catch the water from their showers and develop "bucket back" as they carry it to their gardens, but that is about as useful as babushkas standing in queues in the former Soviet Union to buy potatoes and vodka, or Chinese peasants smelting iron in their back yards to meet industrial shortfalls in the Great Leap Forward.

The first step to delivering a market solution is introducing price signals. Irrigated agriculture uses about 75 per cent of water in Australia, and industry a further 20 per cent, while domestic water use accounts for not much more than 5 per cent. Until pricing signals are directed at agricultural and industrial users, they will have no incentive to seek greater efficiencies in their usage and shortages will continue. Meanwhile, domestic users refraining from washing their cars, filling their swimming pools or watering their lawns save just a drop in the bucket. Misguided state government water policies have only further exacerbated the problem. Objections to waste-water recycling have been allowed toprevail and desalination plants have been favoured, regardless of relative cost.

The real solution is for state governments to introduce competition into the business of providing water. Private companies have a bottom-line incentive to plough profits back into infrastructure and invest in the most cost-effective means of sourcing water. As with telecommunications, it might prove necessary to separate the distribution network, or piping, from water collection -- dams or recovery plants such as recycling or desalination. It is extraordinary that companies such as Macquarie Bank have been able to invest in water infrastructure in Britain but are barred from doing so in Australia.

As with other environmental issues, the backyard initiatives of well-meaning do-gooders are not the solution. Carrying buckets of water is notarational response to the water needs of a sophisticated society in the 21st century.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Muslim outrage at citizen test

MUSLIMS are outraged that prospective citizens will have to acknowledge the Judeo-Christian tradition as the basis of Australia's values system. Australia's peak Muslim body said the proposed citizenship question - revealed in the Herald Sun - was disturbing and potentially divisive. Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Dr Ameer Ali said the "Abrahamic tradition" or "universal values" would be less divisive ways of describing the nation's moral base. Dr Ali said use of the term Judeo-Christian was the result of "WWII guilt", and before 1945 Australia would have been called only Christian. "That question must be rephrased," he said.

Dr Ali was backed by Democrats senator Lyn Allison, who said the answer to the question was highly debatable. But Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews stood firm on the merit of the question. Mr Andrews said Australia's Judeo-Christian heritage was indisputable historical fact. "We are not asking people to subscribe to the Judeo-Christian ethic," he said. "We are simply stating a fact that this is part of the heritage of Australia in terms of its foundation. "This is not an exercise in political correctness. It is trying to state what has been the case and still is the case."

But Health Minister Tony Abbott confused the issue, saying the modern Australian values system was secular, or of no particular religion. The Herald Sun yesterday revealed 20 key questions, developed in consultation with Mr Andrews, that are likely to be asked of would-be citizens. Mr Andrews said the test, to begin by September, would help immigrants integrate into society better. "We celebrate diversity and people are free to continue their own traditions, but we are also very insistent that we have to build and maintain social cohesion," he said.

Dr Ali said he would request a meeting with Mr Andrews to discuss the question. "It is the wrong message we are sending," he said. Senator Allison said the test was pointless. "I don't see what it's going to achieve," she said. "It doesn't say anything about people's character, whether they are going to be good citizens." Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke said Labor agreed in principle with the test, but wanted details.



As part of the "solution" to public hospital capacity shortfalls

PUBLIC patients whose operations are botched will lose their right to sue the State Government under a plan to reduce hospital elective surgery waiting lists. Thousands of people who will have their operations outsourced to private hospitals will also be unable to access their case notes under the Freedom of Information Act if things go wrong. Under the plan, called Surgery Connect, a broker will be paid a one-off, $8.5 million fee to find private hospitals to treat the state's long-wait public patients.

Many of the operations will be complex, including shoulder surgery, hip and knee-replacements, prostatectomies and treatment of aortic aneurisms (swelling and weakness in the wall of the aorta). But, under the Surgery Connect model, the broker will be liable if an operation goes wrong. The tender closed on May 9.

The Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association said it did not tender because the cost of insurance was too high. Queensland Health last night rejected claims it had washed its hands of public patients, saying they could sue the broker if problems arose. A department spokeswoman said patient notes would remain the property of private providers, but patients could access records under the Federal Privacy Act. However, legal advice obtained by The Courier-Mail said that, in regard to some matters, it could be harder to obtain information under the Federal Act.

AMAQ spokeswoman president Zelle Hodge said she was unsure who would be willing to take on the inherent risk associated with the model. "I think patients should be extremely worried not only as an individual but the bigger picture is this is just another way to run down the public hospital system," Dr Hodge said.

In a statement, Queensland Health said the rights of public patients would not be eroded: "The broker is required to indemnify Queensland Health and to maintain appropriate levels of insurance in respect of medical negligence claims," the statement said. "The broker is then responsible for ensuring the health providers it engages are appropriately credentialled and insured for such claims. "These measures are designed to provide a safety net for patients who may have suffered adverse consequences of medical treatment they have received from the private provider. "It would be remiss of Queensland Health if it did not ensure that such contractual requirements were imposed on private providers. It is also important to keep in mind that the broker and private providers are providing health services to these patients so it is expected that, legally, they would bear the risk."

The AMAQ last year held talks with the Government about outsourcing some public elective surgery but, under its plan, patients would be treated in public hospitals and, where possible, public doctors would operate in private hospitals. President-elect Dr Ross Cartmill said the arrangement included Queensland Health providing indemnity insurance.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said contracts entered into by the Queensland Government and Queensland Health were issues for those bodies. "The outsourcing of elective surgery is an admission of defeat and an admission by Labor that the private health sector is an essential part of our health system."


School geography has lost its way, say teachers

GEOGRAPHY is taught in schools as a series of issues pushing a particular opinion rather than giving students a grounding in basic facts about natural processes and human interaction with the environment. The Australian Geography Teachers Association and the Institute of Australian Geographers told a Senate inquiry into the academic standards of school education that geography, under the umbrella of Studies of Society and the Environment, had lost its disciplinary rigour.

AGTA director Grant Kleeman told the hearing in Sydney that students studied global warming but not the atmospheric processes required to understand climate change and its impact. "The traditional discipline encouraged students to look at issues from a variety of perspectives with the expectation students then formulate their own opinions rather than inculcate them with a particular perspective," Mr Kleeman said.

IAG president Jim Walmsley said the teaching of SOSE into schools resulted in geography students being "issue-led rather than being rigorous in their understanding of these issues".

Mr Kleeman said the notion of issue-based learning was introduced in the 1970s and 80s when everything taught in schools had to be immediately relevant to the lives of students. "We're advocating a return to a more systematic study of geography and history, where you look at processes as the entry point of study rather than the issue," he said.

AGTA chairman Nick Hutchinson said the perspectives pushed in school geography included radical green opinions and neo-liberal views school, when it should have a robust core as the base. "In geography, we've taken on board everything from extreme environmental perspectives through to peace perspectives," Mr Hutchinson said. "But all the time we come back to this core of the discipline, so we can deal with an issue like deep ecology, which might be as controversial as black-armband history, but we can do it within the discipline because we have tools of dissection," he said. Deep ecology is a philosophy that says animals and plants have the right to as much ethical consideration as humans. "The automatic reaction of most kids is they want to protect nature, the environment, animals and cuddly things," he said. "The job of the teacher is to show them other sides, to facilitate class discussion so they can work out their values towards issues." Understanding the processes at work in areas such as the Great Barrier Reef or cyclones destroying rainforests showed students that destruction was part of the natural growth cycle, he said.

The AGTA says geography should be compulsory for all students in years 7 to 10 as a stand-alone subject.


Navy to protect whales: Rudd

Since I share the usual human feelings of affinity for the marine mammals, I applaud this

GUNBOATS will be sent out to protect whales in Southern Ocean sanctuaries under a Kevin Rudd federal government. The navy would be deployed to enforce laws banning whale slaughter in Australian sanctuary areas. It would be the most aggressive attempt to save the sea giants in the 200-year history of whaling in Australian waters. Under a Labor Government, whalers found operating illegally could be intercepted and boarded at sea.

Australia's whale sanctuaries were established in 1999 but since then an estimated 400 of the giant mammals have been processed by Japanese factory ships. There have been no prosecutions. The ocean monitoring would be backed up by legal action. Bids to halt whale catching would be made in the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. And direct appeals would be made to the biggest predator Japan, which would be told it was damaging a prime Australian tourism resource.

Labor will release its policy as Japanese whalers prepare to again enter southern waters for so-called "scientific" kills. Its fleet is expected to haul in 850 Antarctic minke whales, 50 fin whales, and, for the first time, 50 humpback whales.

The Labor policy also comes on the eve of the 59th International Whaling Commission meeting in Alaska from May 28 to 31. Australia's anti-whaling measures were strongly sponsored by former Environment Minister Ian Campbell, but his successor Malcolm Turnbull has been tied up with climate change and water policies.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd believes the Government has taken no real action over 11 years to oppose whaling. Since 2005, Mr Rudd and Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese have been pressing the Government to get the International Court of Justice to intervene. Monitoring of whalers in Antarctica has been left to New Zealand and non-government organisations. Mr Rudd would argue it was up to Australia to enforce its own laws, and that the option of boarding whaling ships would be available. And Labor would also expand the network of whale sanctuaries in conjunction with state governments.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Astronaut and friends

Australia's Federal Treaurer, Peter Costello, once wanted to be an astronaut. Hence the cartoon below. The hard looking female on the right is undoubtedly the thuggish Julia Gillard, who wants to deliver Australia back into the hands of the unions.

For more Australian cartoons, see ZEG.

The State of Corruption has Learned Nothing

Yesterday, the government of Western Australia was trying to get a newspaper editor fired who has been critical of them. Now they are trying to nobble the local anti-corruption body

A PARLIAMENTARY committee wants a watchdog put on the state body that exposed corruption at the Carpenter Government, to "protect" the public interest. In a move certain to spark debate, the committee of two Labor and two Liberal MPs - who report to parliament on the activities of the powerful Corruption and Crime Commission - yesterday recommended that an independent officer be appointed to monitor the use of surveillance devices and covert search warrants by the CCC and police. The committee said the role of the monitor would be to ensure the public interest was always considered in applications to use the devices.

But as a string of politicians have been caught acting improperly as a direct result of CCC phone taps and video surveillance, there was little overt support yesterday from either side of politics. Attorney-General Jim McGinty said he had no concerns about the use of phone taps and surveillance by the CCC although he was prepared to listen to arguments on the issue.

Opposition Leader Paul Omodei went further, saying another layer of bureaucracy was the last thing that was needed, although he added the Government would appreciate any attempt to limit the CCC's powers after so many of its members were caught out. "The CCC should be allowed to get on with their job," he said. "We passed legislation in the parliament that allows them to do these things (but) I think the Government's smarting because it's uncovered a whole lot of corruption in Government in Western Australia."

Sacked ministers Norm Marlborough, John Bowler and Tony McRae were all brought down by evidence obtained from phone taps and video surveillance. Labor MP Shelley Archer and Liberal MP Anthony Fels were also exposed for questionable conduct, while in a separate CCC investigation, former minister John D'Orazio was forced out of the ALP after video surveillance showed him meeting a CCC corruption target.

Committee chairman and Labor MP John Hyde said the committee's position was not an indictment on the professional conduct of the judiciary (which approves applications), the CCC or the police. The CCC yesterday refused to comment, but it has previously rejected the idea. In March, former CCC commissioner Kevin Hammond told the committee there was already enough oversight and monitoring of the CCC and there was no pressing need for a public interest monitor.

In its report to parliament, the committee said the recent spate of hearings by the CCC and its use of telephone intercepts and surveillance had resulted in greater public focus on procedural accountability. The nature of covert devices being used in accordance with the public interest was a significant consideration, it said.


Students resent 'guilt' in Leftist history teaching

HIGH school students resent being made to feel guilty during their study of Australia's indigenous past and dislike studying national history in general. The History Teachers Association called yesterday for a rethink of the type of Australian history being taught in schools and the way in which it is taught.

History Teachers Association of NSW executive officer Louise Zarmati said her experience teaching in western Sydney was that students were resistant to learning about Australian politics and, in particular, indigenous history. "This is a somewhat delicate subject but they don't like the indigenous part of Australian history," she told a hearing of the Senate inquiry into the academic standards of school education in Sydney yesterday. "The feedback I get is they're not prepared to wear the guilt. They find it's something that's too personal, too much of a personal confrontation for them. "I think it sparks a lot of racism; it certainly did in my classroom. It makes it an unpleasant learning experience."

Australia's indigenous history has been a contentious issue in the ongoing "history wars" over the interpretation of European colonisation. Historian Geoffrey Blainey brought the phrase "black armband view of history" to prominence in 1993 to describe the portrayal of European colonisation as shameful. The description was picked up in 1996 by John Howard, who later launched an offensive on the teaching of Australian history in schools. The Government is now in the process of developing a national curriculum for Australian history.

Until this year, NSW was the only state in which Australian history was a compulsory stand-alone subject for students in years 7 to 10. In years 9 and 10, students study 20th century Australian history focusing on the workings of government and the history of politics, and the subject is examined in the Higher School Certificate.

Ms Zarmati said more than 20,000 students studied history for the HSC last year, of whom more than 11,000 studied ancient history, making it the most popular history course in the English-speaking world.

Ms Zarmati said history teachers constantly struggled with the unpopularity of Australian history in years 9 and 10. "They don't really enjoy it and feel forced to do it; they don't like the politics all that much," she said. "My personal opinion is that it's the nature of the beast. "Teenagers at that stage aren't mature enough to understand the concepts but when they get to years 11 and 12, they really enjoy Australian history because they're looking at problems and issues and debates."

In other evidence to the Senate inquiry, literacy expert Max Coltheart said the federal Government's budget initiatives to improve literacy and numeracy standards with programs costing more than $500million over four years was a "waste of money". The budget included a scheme granting up to $50,000 to schools that showed a significant rise in literacy and numeracy standards, and vouchers worth $700 to provide one-on-one tuition for students failing to meet minimum national literacy and numeracy standards. Professor Coltheart, professor of psychology and head of the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science at Macquarie University, said the commonwealth should stipulate the type of reading tests schools had to use to qualify for the grants. He said children who struggled to learn to read were labelled as having a learning difficulty but they actually suffered a teaching difficulty. The budget funding would be better spent on training primary school teachers how to teach reading properly.


School science courses 'pre-Newtonian'

SCIENCE in years 8 to 10 in Queensland is essentially descriptive, with courses failing to recognise the scientific revolution triggered by Isaac Newton in 1687, leaving students woefully unprepared for senior study. Submissions to the Senate inquiry into the academic standards of school education argue the calibre of maths and science taught is low by international standards, the quality of teaching is poor and the courses fail to stretch bright students.

A submission from a maths teacher of 40 years' standing, who co-authored a series of textbooks and worked with the Queensland Board of Senior Secondary School Studies, said that maths to the end of Year 10 "fails abjectly" to provide students with the skills to progress to more rigorous maths or the physical sciences. "That this has been allowed to go on for decades is a scandal," John Ridd said. Dr Ridd said the standard of algebra taught in Queensland schools was poor and there was "now no numerical science in years 8/9/10". "It is a sad fact that science in the years up to the end of Year 10 in Queensland is essentially all descriptive. It is non-numerical, pre-Newtonian," he said.

Dr Ridd said the "awful gap" between the standard of maths at the end of Year 10 and the start of Year 11 had required a lowering in the standard of maths taught. "Maths has had to be softened, weakened, by a large amount," Dr Ridd said. "Work that used to be done in years 8/9/10 now appears in the first sections of the Year 11 maths B texts. "Naturally the longer-term effect of that is that the standards reached by the end of Year 12 have declined -- with implications for the next stage -- university maths, physical science and engineering. There is a gap there too."

Dr Ridd's concerns are echoed in a submission by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute and the International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics, which says the long tail among Australian students "of under-achievement and failure is apparent well before the end of secondary education". The AMSI and ICE-EM submission argues that the OECD maths skills test often quoted as showing Australian 15-year-olds perform highly "is not a valid assessment" of maths knowledge, with some of the questions "effectively general aptitude tests rather than mathematical ones".

The submission says that a better guide to the standard of students is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study of Year 8 students, which tests curriculum content. Its results show that by the early years of high school, a large proportion of students already lack the background skills necessary for intermediate and advanced level maths courses in years 11 and 12.

The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers agrees that students are failing to reach their full potential in maths, and attributes this to poor teaching, modelled on methods used in the 1960s that "foster memorisation as opposed to deep learning". But the association says Australian students compare favourably with their international counterparts and the achievement standards in courses compared well to those expected of overseas students. "We believe there is a disproportionate focus on comparisons between the states and territories, particularly through the media, which is not helpful to improving standards," it says.


Migrants' diseases not followed up

MIGRANTS with serious illnesses - including lepers and more than 100,000 people with tuberculosis - have been allowed into Australia despite authorities' inability to carry out proper medical supervision. An audit of the Immigration Department has found that it knowingly allows migrants to enter Australia with serious contagious diseases but frequently fails to check up on whether they have sought medical attention.

The Australian National Audit Office revealed yesterday that since 2000-01 more than 100,000 immigrants with tuberculosis had entered Australia on the condition that they submit to medical supervision. The damning report said that, despite imposing the conditions, the department was unable to follow up and check whether the medical advice had been sought. The report comes just a month after John Howard questioned whether migrants with HIV-AIDS should be allowed to come to Australia. It said the department admitted its errors and had agreed to overhaul its systems. The audit said the current health screening procedures had "limitations and gaps", which weakened the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's ability to protect Australians from public health threats. The system relied largely on the honesty of visa applicants to disclose whether or not they had a disease that could be a public health risk, the audit said.

Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke said he was shocked by the audit and urged the Government to implement the recommendations quickly. Australian Medical Association vice-president Choong-Siew Yong said it was "quite concerning" that visa-holders were not complying with their undertaking and urged the Government to do more to address the situation.

Under the Migration Act, visa applicants must meet health requirements that protect the community from public health risks and safeguard Australians' access to health services. Applicants for permanent visas undergo a medical examination, while short-stay visa applicants - including temporary skilled migrants and holidaymakers - answer a series of questions about their health history and status. "As a result, DIAC cannot be certain of detecting all people who pose health risks," the audit found.

It was also highly critical of the way the department administered and monitored exemptions from the health requirements which have allowed foreigners with diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C and leprosy to enter Australia. Visa applicants who fail to meet the health requirements can secure an exemption if they sign a "health undertaking" to report to a designated health authority in the relevant state or territory for a follow-up health assessment. Up to 20,000 undertakings are issued each year - about 90 per cent for people with tuberculosis. The audit revealed that a quarter of the 5535 health undertakings issued in 2002-03 were non-compliant. There are no formal arrangements between DIAC and state and territory authorities to check whether people have honoured their commitment to undergo further health checks.

The audit also found that, even when visa-holders were caught breaching their health undertaking, they were still allowed to stay in the country. The audit was also critical of the federal health department for failing to provide DIAC with "timely advice" on potential health risks. DIAC figures contained in the audit show that since 2002-03 nine people with leprosy had signed health waivers and secured visas to Australia. Since 2000-01, 101,468 health undertakings had been given to people with tuberculosis.

The Government agreed to adopt all eight recommendations made by the ANAO including a memorandum of understanding between DIAC and the Health Department. A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the Government would also ensure that co-operation across government agencies improved.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Arrogant Leftist "planner" wants smaller houses "to limit their impact on the environment"

VICTORIA'S Planning Minister has said McMansion-style homes are water wasters suffering from "housing obesity". Justin Madden, an architect who lives in a two-storey heritage-protected home, has said he wants more small homes on new housing estates. He has said big houses found in suburbs such as Caroline Springs and Tarneit often suffer from "housing obesity". "Melbourne's household growth - and by that I mean dwellings - is twice the population growth," Mr Madden has said. "Our increasing affluence has led to bigger houses, and I'm sure you're familiar with the description McMansions, and one of my favourites, 'housing obesity'."

But residents in Caroline Springs, Mr Madden's electorate, have said he is attacking their Australian dreams. Peter Attard, who lives in the suburb with his wife and three children, has said the chance to have a big home is "what makes Australia the best country in the world".

While the state Government delays ordering stage 4 water restrictions, Mr Madden has branded bigger houses water wasters. "When we need to minimise our consumption of things like energy and water, many of us are living in houses that consume more water and more energy than we need," he has said.

But Mr Attard has said home-owners take environmental responsibilities seriously. "I've got a whole grey water system hooked up through my house. It was designed with energy-saving measures," he has said. "The size of our house is none of the minister's business - we've worked hard, we can afford a big place, and we've got a family that fills it!"

Speaking at a planning summit yesterday, Mr Madden has flagged a competition to design smaller, more energy efficient new housing. He has said large designs and extravagant lifestyles were undermining Victoria's environmental requirements for new homes. "We've put in place five-star energy rating into new housing and that's making housing more efficient," Mr Madden said. "(But) to counter that, what people are doing is building bigger housing . . . four bedrooms, a study, the entertainment room, and as well as that they're filling it with electronic equipment."

But Caroline Springs residents Mick and Jasmina Fazlic have said Mr Madden has got it wrong. With daughter Melissa, 12, the couple say all the space in the house is used, and Mr Fazlic runs his business from home. "If you work hard, you make money. You want to enjoy that," he said.

Neville Rodger, a six-year Caroline Springs resident, has agreed size does not govern the efficiency of the house. "We've got 5000-litre water tanks that take in all the water off the roof," Mr Rodger has said. "We're not wasting water at all."

Mr Madden has since softened his stance, assuring residents the state did not dictate house size. "We do not want to tell Victorians how big their houses should be. That is up to them," he has said. Mr Madden, who recently applied to Heritage Victoria to add a family room and two bedrooms to the back of his own home, has said housing obesity is defined by the size of the household relative to the house size. "We want to ensure these houses are built as sustainably as possible, both to limit their impact on the environment, and to keep down the costs of running a household."

The size of an average new detached home in Victoria has risen by 50 per cent in the two decades to 2005, reaching 255 square metres.


It's the ABC who are the real Bastards

ACCORDING to the ABC, its drama Bastard Boys is not a documentary and it's not a docu-drama. It is a drama. And a very average one at that. It purports to tell the true story of the 1998 waterfront dispute, but it does not. It presents a fictionalised account of the Maritime Union of Australia's struggle to maintain its stranglehold on the docks when confronted with the reality that the historically corrupt trade union's practices were actually crippling shippers and exporters and making Australia an uncompetitive laughing stock on the world stage.

Originally planned to be presented in four one-hour episodes over four weeks, the ABC adjusted its programming to present two two-hour episodes in what looked like an attempt to draw attention away from the Federal Government's 12th Budget. The show rated well, for an ABC program, but ABC management should be asking its staff how such an unbalanced polemic found its way on to its airwaves at such a politically sensitive time.

Writer Sue Smith came to the project with relish. As she told ABC radio's Richard Glover on May 10: "I love wharfies." Glover, attempting a modicum of caution about the possibility that such a declaration might smack of bias, quickly chimed in: "I think (Patrick's boss Chris) Corrigan is probably very proud of what was achieved. He believes there were big efficiencies." Hmm. He probably does believe that, Richard. After all, Smith's beloved wharfies were, as they say in maritime circles, swinging the lead. They were moving Patricks containers at 18 lifts per hour, well short of the international best practice standard, and they were doing it with a nationwide workforce of about 1400.

Forget the rorts, which received a peripheral nod in Smith's fiction. The real driving force behind the dispute was the need for real reforms beyond the fiddling at the margins attempted by the Hawke Labor government, which splashed almost $420 million around the waterfront to win 4000 expensive redundancies in the 1980s.

Smith's farce ignored the history of the MUA and the old WWF in its attempts to present a chunky piece of agitprop that might have embarrassed the most ardent supporters of the dead communist system (even though there was a touching reference to one of the MUA's organisers spending romantic Moscow moments with his girlfriend).

Those interested in the true flavour of the MUA, and not merely the Bastard Boys' anodyne references to its stand on apartheid and other middle-class issues of the '70s and '80s, the late Henry (Jo) Gullett's modest memoir Not as a Duty Only - an Infantryman's War (MUP) could shed some light. Gullett, who fought as an infantry sergeant at Bardia, Libya (and was wounded) in 1941, was commissioned in the field in time for the ill-fated Greek campaign, went on to fight in New Guinea and was awarded the Military Cross for his leadership and disregard of danger. He was one of the few Australian soldiers to take part in the D-Day operations, as second in command of an infantry battalion. He was later made a company commander with The Royal Scots, and served with them until again wounded.

This straight shooter wrote of the looting of military supplies by the wharfies as his unit transhipped to New Guinea, noting: "We came to Cairns and our ships were loaded. The watersiders stole our stores in the lading, not only little things, but items like compasses, sights and arms, on which our capacity to fight depended. "This surprised us because these men were no less Australian than we were. Yet they seemed not to be on our side. Anyhow, we put guards on them and they went out on strike. So we loaded the ships ourselves. Our rate of loading was exactly twice theirs. "All of which confirmed two views which we held strongly already ... that the 2/6th infantry could do anything and that there were some very curious types among the civilian population."

Gullett, who went on to a life in politics before being appointed Australian ambassador to Greece, would not have found favour with the politically correct scriptwriters at the ABC. He would have been too straight-shooting for their lop-sided political agenda, but his views should have informed the Bastard Boys polemic.

The program appeared to be no more than a four-hour advertisement to introduce Greg Combet, the Robespierre of the trade union movement, to a wider audience. Those who weren't aware of Combet's role as ACTU boss would be now - and the ABC has glowingly presented him as a sex symbol.

Sex should not perhaps be mentioned in the NSW Central Coast electorate where he is running, not after the smear campaign Combet's supporters mounted against the unfortunate incumbent, Kelly Hoare. After being portrayed so glowingly as a caring, sharing, finch-loving ideologue by the ABC, it is something of a let-down to discover that Combet is a person prepared to campaign against a woman obviously in need of help, not a kick when she is down.

Nor did the ABC, usually so anxious to present the case for affirmative action note that the MUA was a misogynistic pack of old fogeys, and that the work force trained to replace them comprised young women who mastered the skills in a fraction of the time the unionists demanded. But then, perhaps it is not so surprising. After all, Bastard Boys was not a documentary, nor a docu-drama. It was no more than a wet and slippery dream disguised as entertainment.


Attack on Freedom of the press in Western Australia

THE State Government has refused to introduce laws to protect journalists' sources unless The West Australian newspaper, sacks editor Paul Armstrong. Attorney-General Jim McGinty said The West Australian was the nation's most inaccurate and dishonest newspaper and until it lifted its standards it did not deserve shield laws. "The board of West Australian Newspapers needs to sack the editor. It is personally driven by a particular individual,'' he said.

Mr McGinty said standards were so bad at The West Australian that if a competitor emerged that could break the paper's monopoly, the Government would consider redirecting its advertising to foster competition. "I think it is in the interests of a healthy democracy that we have competition. The public would then have a choice not to buy a crap newspaper,'' he said. Until standards improved at The West Australian, he said there would be no shield laws in his state to protect journalists' sources. "With the shield go responsibilities. And when you get a newspaper that is bigoted, lies, cheats and deceives, my view is that you don't get the shield,'' MrMcGinty said.

Mr Armstrong said yesterday he "could not give a fat rat's arse'' about what Mr McGinty said about him. "Do I care? Not in the slightest. If he hates us it tells me we are probably doing our job and doing it very well, as I know we are,'' he said. "But I would care if McGinty turned around and said that (the) newspaper and editor are excellent. That would tell me, as it would tell Chris Mitchell (editor-in-chief of The Australian), that we are a long way short of the mark,'' Mr Armstrong said.

He said Mr McGinty's remarks on shield laws amounted to blackmail. "He is saying, 'You will sack the editor and comply with government policy or I will not introduce laws that will defend the ability of the media to do its job','' he said.

The row threatens to undermine one of the key goals of the national Right to Know campaign, through which the media industry is calling for effective shield laws and the removal of restrictions on free speech. The campaign is backed by News Limited (publisher of The Sunday Times and The Australian), Fairfax Media, the ABC, the commercial radio and television industries, SBS, Australian Associated Press and Sky News. These organisations have already signalled that effective shield laws are one of their main goals. But WA's rejection of shield laws adds to concerns that the Federal Government's promised shield law might result in an ineffective legislative mishmash.

Chris Warren, federal secretary of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, has warned that Canberra's planned law needs to be accompanied by equivalent state laws and federal whistleblower protection laws. Without these additions, journalists could still be threatened with prison for refusing to reveal confidential sources, Mr Warren has warned.

Mr McGinty said the combination of "personally vicious reporting and dishonest reporting'' at The West Australian meant he was "not interested in doing anything to help them''. He said newspapers had a critical role in Australian democracy "and I think a case can be made out that The West Australian is betraying that duty at the moment''. "That has not always been the case. It is directly related to the current editor, Paul Armstrong,'' Mr McGinty said. The problems had become so acute that he believed they could only be resolved through Armstrong's dismissal. He said he had taken his concerns about the paper to West Australian Newspapers managing director Ken Steinke and the company's chairman Peter Mansell. Those discussions had been amiable but "I walked out the door and they were up to their old tricks the next day'', Mr McGinty said. "They were not genuine.''

He said the most famous incident involving The West Australian occurred on January 24 and is the subject of a complaint to the Press Council by Mr McGinty in his capacity as Health Minister. The paper had published a front-page photograph of a woman waiting for treatment at a Perth hospital. When MrMcGinty learned that the photograph had been inaccurately described, he contacted Mr Steinke and Mr Mansell. "I rang them and said, 'I know your paper is loose with the truth but this is just beyond the pale. It is just so untrue and prejudicial to public health or the public perception of the hospital system'. "The retaliation was thick and fast: a page one headline the following day condemning me not about ringing them up, but about something else.''

Mr Armstrong sees the incident very differently. He said the paper had acknowledged that it had made a mistake about the woman's age and had corrected it: "But in the context of the story, so what?'' The woman had been "extremely unwell'' with eczema and had spent several days in hospital. "The real story is that this woman could not get a bed in hospital despite the state experiencing the biggest economic boom ever seen,'' he said. "McGinty has peddled this thing around town. The facts don't support him and because his case has fallen over he is now trying to blackmail the company by using his powers as Attorney-General.''


Bureaucratic hatred of private education

An accreditation body is accused of hounding the colleges it's meant to be monitoring, writes Elisabeth Wynhausen

THESE days Jo Coffey sleeps in a caravan she has borrowed from her son or stays with friends in Newcastle, in regional NSW. Her house is gone and Coffey, the former owner of a vocational training college in the Newcastle suburb of Broadmeadow, says she has lost everything. By January this year, when she declared bankruptcy and closed down her college, Coffey, 59, had spent two years under siege from the Vocational Education and Training Accreditation Board, the agency that accredits vocational training colleges and courses in NSW.

Its critics suggest that instead of merely monitoring their standards, VETAB is hounding these training organisations until some close down. "VETAB dangles its authority over the industry like the sword of Damocles," says a consultant who helps vocational colleges deal with the regulator.

There are legitimate concerns about the burgeoning industry. Most vocational training colleges cater to international students. There are students who abuse the system as a way to get permanent residency, and so-called visa factories that aid and abet them: teaching "cooking" without ovens, for instance, or faking attendance records. This is precisely the sort of abuse VETAB is supposed to stampout.

Critics claim that the regulator goes about its business in a heavy-handed and obstructionist manner. "They make it as difficult as possible for colleges to open up at all, it's easier than closing them down," says Chris Stephens of Phoenix Compliance Management, one of many people to suggest that VETAB's operations are provoking a crisis in the industry in NSW.

According to National Centre for Vocational Education Research figures for 2005, the most recent available, the operating revenues of the vocational education sector were a fraction under $5 billion that year, when there were 1.64 million students enrolled in the publicly funded VET system, 562,100 of them in NSW.

The growing clamour about the operations of the regulator led the VETAB board to commission a review in NSW, which was announced late last year by the then education minister, Carmel Tebbutt. The operations of any regulator create tensions, but its critics emphasise that the essence of their problem with VETAB results from its culture. "I feel they treat us like criminals," says Darryl Gauld, the principal of Macquarie Institute, a Sydney college for international students.

College administrators met most recently at workshops held in Sydney last month as part of the review into VETAB. Many used the occasion to accuse VETAB of paralysing the industry. Gauld says most seemed to feel the regulator was exceeding its rightful role. "At these meetings, TAFE directors responsible for thousands of students expressed grave concerns about VETAB's (use) of power," he says.

Few were willing to talk to the HES on the record. "They're frightened to speak to the media," Gauld says. He says he isn't scared, because he's doing the right thing. Other educators, acutely aware of how long it can take for VETAB to grant approval for courses, are reluctant to speak out. "People wait for eight or nine months for courses to be approved. One person at the workshop spoke of waiting for 11 months," says the chief executive of a string of training colleges catering to international students. "If they take many months to approve a modification to the course, you can't recruit students, you can't print the brochures that have the courses in them. You're just stuck."

Tim Smith is the chief executive of the Australian Council of Private Education and Training, the organisation that represents private education providers. "It's fair to say there's a strong provider concern about VETAB's delays and strange decision-making processes," he says.

At a breakfast meeting with ACPET members last October, NSW MP Brad Hazzard, then state Opposition spokesman on education, vowed that if elected the Coalition would overhaul VETAB. While education is the nation's fourth-largest export earner, Hazzard said, "private training organisations report extraordinary delays in getting their organisations registered and new courses scoped".

VETAB is part of the NSW Department of Education. A departmental spokesman says such criticism of the body is inconsistent with the fact that "the number of VETAB-registered training organisations has risen 7.1 per cent annually since 2000". Industry insiders disagree, suggesting that VETAB regularly fails to meet the standards it imposes on the industry. VETAB auditors demand that colleges meet standards above and beyond those that have been published, Stephens says. "There's a standard that says you have to have a plan for the business. One of my clients was told he had to have a full business plan, a marketing plan and a strategic plan if he wanted to be accredited. "But the standard is very clear: it says you have to have a plan for your business. "And you know how many (employees) he has in the company? Two: himself and a director."

Vocational colleges are regularly forced to spend thousands of dollars in complying with Australian Quality Training Framework standards that may be inconsistently applied. "The problem is that each of the VETAB auditors has their own interpretation of many of the 133 standards," Stephens says. "Things that are acceptable in one situation aren't in another. The power is with the auditor and there is no one else to go to." The departmental spokesman says colleges wishing to challenge VETAB decisions can go to the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal, or approach the Ombudsman or the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Despite official talk of "procedural fairness and natural justice", providers who attended the workshops complained that VETAB auditors seemed intent on lumbering them with the largest possible number of non-compliances. "Here at this college we're trying to do the right thing," Gauld says. "Yet we are constantly challenged. This is a typical instance. Even though I sent VETAB a letter advising them of the appointment of a compliance manager, they claimed not to have been advised. "They make a mistake like that, then they blame you, then it becomes a compliance issue."

Meanwhile, the so-called visa factories running Clayton's courses somehow continue tooperate. "There's a college ready to graduate 40 students for hairdressing: teachers from that college told me they've never set eyes on those students," says the owner of another hairdressing college.

In contrast, Coffey was driven to the wall while trying to play by the rules. She set up her college in 1999, building up the courses in beauty therapy until there were about 80 students. When she was audited in 2003, she had just five non-compliances. With things going well, Coffey took a second mortgage on her home, invested thousands of dollars in the equipment required to teach hairdressing, and tried setting up a second training school in another town in NSW, with a person she knew. There were some problems and Coffey ended the association.

Later a student from the other town complained that Coffey was supposed to help her get a diploma. Coffey received a phone call from a VETAB auditor. Let's call him Flock. She insists he told her, "You are in so much trouble." "He said, 'You know what's going to happen to you ... you're going to have a complete audit."' Coffey's solicitor showed the auditor documents proving that at the time of the supposed promise to the student there was no longer any connection between the two colleges. "My solicitor said to (the auditor), you can now see Jo Coffey Training is clear on this ... and he agreed," she recalls. Even so, the audit lasted for two days, with the auditors going over everything with a fine-tooth comb while making disparaging comments. At one point, she recalls, Flock "walked in and said there's nothing wrong with the hairdressing department, it's incredibly well stocked, but she could have got that stuff in yesterday, just for the audit". "They got me into a state of complete stress. I was shaking like a leaf," Coffey says. Their report said there were 109 non-compliances. Flock phoned her about it; according to Coffey he suggested she get herself a good compliance officer, and recommended a fellow VETAB auditor.

Some might see a conflict of interest. He identified a bunch of supposed problems ,then recommended a colleague as a consultant. The department says: "Conflicts of interest among VETAB auditors are inappropriate." In the event, Coffey hired someone else. The process of fixing the non-compliances took six months and ate up another $16,000, but months after VETAB had been supplied with the evidence, Flock phoned her again. Coffey recalls him saying that the compliance officer she had hired had sent them so much material, they hadn't looked at it. Instead they proposed to audit her once again. This time they found 56 non-compliances.

Between the two audits, Coffey suffered a breakdown. She went on as long as she could, to ensure her students completed their courses, then declared bankruptcy. "I couldn't go on another day," she says. The HES sent a detailed list of questions to the department, asking that these be sent also to Flock.

A departmental spokesman said: "Complaints about the operation of VETAB are taken seriously. VETAB auditors are required to behave consistently and fairly when dealing with RTOs (registered training organisations), and a claim that this has not occurred would be of concern to the board."

Since the HES asked about Coffey's case, the spokesman says, the board has referred the allegations about its auditors to the employee performance and conduct unit, the internal body that investigates the behaviour of departmental employees. Coffey says: "It's a relief to know they're doing something about it, and I'm not alone."


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Leftist hypocrisy over Dalai Lama

Five years ago Kevin Rudd met the Dalai Lama and said Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer should do likewise, but now, as opposition leader, he is refusing to meet the Buddhist leader. "I think it's pretty weak of Foreign Minister Downer to have somehow have fabricated this excuse that he is somehow too busy to have met the Dalai," Mr Rudd told ABC radio five years ago.

Mr Rudd now says he will not meet the Dalai Lama when he visits Australia to hold several public speaking events from June 6 to 16. Mr Rudd's refusal comes after the Senate President Paul Calvert refused a request from Australian Greens leader Bob Brown to offer the exiled Tibetan leader a parliamentary reception, saying he had "to be mindful of international sensitivities on such matters".

China has long opposed the representatives of foreign nations meeting with the Dalai Lama and recognising the struggle for Tibet.


More police corruption?

Nobody in Queensland would be surprised

Police had received complaints over a period of several weeks about a nude car washing business on Brisbane's inner north despite saying publicly they had not, council heard yesterday. Hamilton ward councillor David McLachlan said a senior officer at Hendra station told him in an email that police had received numerous complaints about the Albion business, run by strip club entrepreneur Warren Armstrong. A police spokesperson told the media earlier this month that police had not had any complaints from residents.

However, Cr McLachlan said a March 7 email from Inspector David Morganti said the station had received complaints over "several weeks". Speaking for the first time on the issue, Cr McLachlan said the contradiction was troubling. "I find it disturbing that police will privately acknowledge the receipt of complaints but publicly say that no complaints have been received," he said. "I really hope this is an oversight and an innocent error."

The Bubbles 'n' Babes car wash offers topless and nude services and an x-rated show for an extra fee.

Cr McLachlan said council planning approval had originally been given for a motor vehicle repair shop to operate on the site. He said he had asked council officers how the business was allowed to operate in its current form after taking complaints from locals in the area. "To date I've not been provided with an answer to the questions I've asked," he said. "It does disturb me, as I am still the last councillor elected to (council), how long it takes to get answers to questions raised about matters that are within our areas of responsibility." Cr McLachlan said he wanted to know if a planning loophole had been exploited and what, if anything, could be done about it. "It's bewildering that we can approve ... a motor vehicle repair shop and find it weeks later offering x-rated adult entertainment," he said. "And I'd like answers to those questions I asked on behalf of the people I represent."


Your government will protect you (Some day)

AN AUTOMATIC train control system that could have prevented the Waterfall disaster and that has been operating in Perth for 15 years will be tried out in NSW this year, seven years after rail experts recommended its use. A train protection system that uses computers to monitor trains' speeds and position on the network, versions of which are being installed on several European networks, was a key recommendation of the McInerney inquiry into the Waterfall crash, which killed seven people in 2003.

But rail experts believe that the particular system Peter McInerney, QC, recommended, which is being installed on the high-speed sections of the Swiss rail network, would not be suitable for Sydney's rail network. Instead the Government has awarded contracts worth $13 million to three companies to find the train protection system that is most compatible with CityRail. It is not the first time the Government has planned a trial of an automatic protection system. One was due to begin on the Illawarra line in 2000 after the Glenbrook crash, which also killed seven people.

In the recommendations of his inquiry into that accident, Mr McInerney said no system had been developed anywhere in the world that could reliably be used on the complex Sydney rail network. "The cost of somewhere between $1 billion and $1.5 billion for technology which cannot be demonstrated to be reliable would not be justified," he wrote. "In the last decade there has been a vast amount of public money wasted on less than satisfactory communications systems (Countrynet and Metronet) and train control systems (the Queen Street project)."

The automatic systems that will be tried out from September will override cabin controls to apply the brakes if a driver does not slow down when approaching a red signal or a lower speed limit area. If the trial was successful the system would be extended across the CityRail network, a project expected to cost the Government "hundreds of millions of dollars", said the Premier, Morris Iemma. He said RailCorp had reviewed 65 automatic protection systems from around the world and decided that the European train control system was best suited to the CityRail network.

"We already have in place safety systems to bring trains that have passed red 'danger' signals to a stop," Mr Iemma said. "The CityRail network is fitted with a trackside trip mechanism that applies the brakes of a passenger train automatically if it passes a red signal. This is a significant step towards further improving the safety of CityRail services, and puts us another step closer to implementing the Government's commitments in response to [Mr] McInerney's Waterfall inquiry."

Three companies would each fit out a section of the Blue Mountains Line track and a train to see how their version of the system performs on the CityRail network, Mr Carr said. "The Blue Mountains line was the most appropriate section of track to road test [automatic train protection] due to the hills, curves and number of train movements on that line each day." The Minister for Transport, John Watkins, said the Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator recently reported that 89 per cent of the recommendations that came out of the Waterfall inquiry had been acted upon or considered. Four recommendations that RailCorp said were completed were being assessed by the regulator.


Science study falling behind

SCHOOL science courses have failed to keep pace with changes in science and society over the past 50 years, leading students to consistently bypass the subject. In a paper released by the Australian Council for Educational Research today, the nation's chief scientist, Jim Peacock, and dean of science education at Deakin University Russell Tytler argue the way the subject is taught in schools is doing a disservice to science education and say a radical "reimagining" of the curriculum is required. It warns fewer students are studying science at a time when Australia and other industrialised nations most need them.

Professor Tytler says science education in Australia is in a state of crisis, as students turn away from a subject they view as irrelevant and unconnected to their lives. "This flight from science is occurring in societies that are in increasing need of science and technology-based professionals to carry the nation into a technologically driven future," he says. "It is the pipeline into this pool of expertise that seems in danger of drying up." A shortage of qualified scientists and science teachers is exacerbating the problem.

The paper argues for science education to be refocused to spark interest and excitement in the field, rather than train future generations of scientists. Dr Peacock says it is time for a paradigm shift in science education and that traditional courses are "not fruitful" in a modern world where students send instant messages around the globe.

Professor Tytler says there is a mismatch between science as taught in schools and as it exists in the "real world". Research scientists say school science does not reflect the way they work and that "the focus should be on engaging young people, not on developing future scientists". "Science education has not kept up with either the changing nature of youth and their expectations or the changing nature of science," Professor Tytler said. "It's still dealing with knowledge as a fixed and delivered thing rather than a practical way of thinking and problem solving."

Dr Peacock said the science he learned at school did not meet the needs of today's students, and scientific research was no longer an individual pursuit but a collective, collaborative effort. "Traditional science education is not fruitful in such an environment," he said.

Professor Tytler said scientific knowledge changed so quickly the focus of schools should be on teaching students to think scientifically, learning to investigate, find information and assess it based on examples from their own lives and communities. The paper argues that one of the reasons for the failure of school curriculums to change with the times was "the silent choice of teachers for the status quo; one which supports and reflects their identities as knowledgeable experts". "The knowledge explosion significantly challenges the traditional model of the teacher as expert who delivers significant and stable science concepts to dependent students," the paper says.


A sucker born every minute

How do you save someone from themselves? More than three-quarters of the Queenslanders who were told by police they were caught up in the infamous Nigerian scam continued sending money overseas. According to fraud investigators, the victims simply refused to believe that their get rich quick schemes were nothing more than a con. And we are not talking about people lacking in education or experience. Victims identified as part of Queensland Police’s Operation Echo Track, set up last year to monitor funds being transferred to Nigeria, included doctors, lawyers engineers and professors. Greed, it seems, is the great equaliser.

Operation Echo Track identified 134 victims of investment scams, the vast majority of them caught up in some variation of the Nigerian scam. Total losses were at least $18million, with an average of $500,000 continuing to be lost every month. 

The Queensland fraud and corporate crime group’s Acting Superintendent Brian Hay said only 24 per cent of the people contacted by police and told they were participating in this scam believed it. “So, 76 per cent continued to send millions of dollars after we told them they were participating in a scam,” he said.

The Queensland figures were estimated to be one-fifth of the national loss to such scams. None of the victims had received any money in return. You can read in detail about how the Nigerian scam works on the Queensland police website at

Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes inteviewed one of the Queensland victims, businessman Graham Schoenfisch, who claims he has been financially wiped out after chasing instant riches through a Nigerian scam. At one point he received a Chase Manhattan Bank cheque for $31.5 million after paying the required “advanced fees”. It was counterfeit.

In the United States the treasurer for a county in the state of Michigan was arrested earlier this year and charged with embezzling US$1.2 million to plough into the Nigerian scam.

According to Holland’s Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations, which monitors Nigerian scams - or “419” scams as they are known because the section of the Nigerian criminal code they breach is numbered 419 - around the world, the scams are on the increase.

The scamming networks, which employ up to 250,000 Nigerians, are now using Internet chat rooms, mobile text messages, Internet gaming sites and online dating sites as well as the more traditional spam emails, faxes and snail mail to trawl for new victims.

Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations estimates that a total of US$28 billion has been lost around the world to Nigerian scams since the first emerged in the 1970s, with losses growing at 3 per cent a year. As showman P. T. Barnum said: “There’s a sucker born every minute”.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Howard shows the way on Zimbabwe

It's time somebody did, says Melanie Phillips:

JUST what was that ghostly and unfamiliar noise we heard over the weekend? Good heavens - it was the sound of a country's political leader actually exercising leadership. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, ordered his nation's cricket team to pull out of a scheduled tour of Zimbabwe in September and even threatened to suspend the players' passports if the sport's governing body did not abide by his decision. His reason was that the proposed tour would be an "enormous propaganda boost" to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, a "grubby dictator" who was behaving "like the Gestapo towards his political opponents". Despite the fact that for more than two decades the population of Zimbabwe has been starved and brutalised by Mugabe's tyranny, this is the first time a government has actually stopped its sportsmen playing there.

At a stroke, Mr Howard has thus exposed the supine hypocrisy of the rest of the world's leaders who, faced with Zimbabwe's escalating agony, have done nothing except wring their hands. What a difference, for example, from the behaviour back in 2004 of the British Government, whose supposedly "ethical" foreign policy did not stretch to stopping the England cricket team touring Zimbabwe.

Britain's cravenness is particularly shameful given that Mugabe is President of Zimbabwe only because the British put him there. A government that was intended to liberate people from repressive minority white rule has instead enslaved them through corruption, violence and tyranny.

In recent months, hundreds of Zimbabwe's opposition members, supporters and activists have been arrested, abducted or tortured. Earlier this month, a group of lawyers was beaten up by police in Harare outside the Ministry of Justice, where they were trying to present a petition against the unlawful arrest and detention of two of their colleagues. In March, the Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested and beaten. In the same month opposition activist Nelson Chamisa was brutally attacked on his way to attend an EU-African, Caribbean and Pacific meeting in Brussels - while three regime members were allowed to attend despite an EU ban against Zimbabwe's Government travelling to Europe.

Moreover, Tony Blair recently told senior Labour colleagues that Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party should be permitted to attend an EU-Africa summit in Portugal next autumn, again in flagrant breach of the EU ban - on the grounds it was better to "confront" Mugabe than exclude him.

The rest of the world has been similarly spineless. Despite South Africa's enormous influence over Zimbabwe, its President Thabo Mbeki has refused to exert pressure on Mugabe to relinquish power. Elsewhere in the sporting world, according to Zimbabwe's own state-run newspaper, football's governing body FIFA has given South Africa permission to allow visiting teams to base themselves in Zimbabwe during the 2010 World Cup. And to cap it all, Zimbabwe has recently been chosen - grotesquely - to head a key United Nations committee on the environment, while it so foully desecrates its own.

In such a morally degraded world, John Howard's initiative is so rare as to be utterly startling. Yet it is very much in line with his general political approach, in which he stands up for what he thinks is right without fear of any hostile reaction and simply calls a spade a spade. This confident outspokenness derives from a quality that is very rare in Western leaders -- being entirely comfortable in his own cultural skin.

So much of our political class is paralysed by guilt for what it perceives to be the West's original sin of colonialism. Indeed, the reason Mr Blair gave for suggesting Zimbabwe should attend this autumn's summit was that Britain's colonial past made it hard for the UK to criticise Mugabe's regime. Mr Howard, in sharp contrast, is entirely free of such absurd and crippling cultural cringe. He believes in Australia and its Western values. He thinks these values are superior to any alternatives. And it is this total absence of equivocation in upholding the national interest which explains his robust defence of both Australian identity and Western civilisation against attack.

He is an unwavering ally of America in Iraq and Afghanistan - while others are withdrawing troops from Iraq, he has sent more. He has introduced tough anti-terrorism laws, and has no truck with attempts to use human rights laws to weaken Australia's national security. And he and his senior ministers have spoken out against Islamic extremism in Australia, stating there will be no acceptance of sharia law, turning down a proposal to build a mosque with Saudi Arabian money and declaring that anyone who does not want to live by Australian values should go elsewhere. With the US presidential elections coming up next year, there is a vacancy for the leadership of the Western world. What a pity John Howard can't apply.


Take note Victoria

The editorial below does not name Victoria because Victoria does have some safeguards -- but only the Victorian government and police think that they are sufficient. The recent revelation that a policeman put in charge of "cleaning up" part of the Victoria force was himself corrupt adds point to the matter

THIS week marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Fitzgerald corruption inquiry in Queensland, an event which should be commemorated as much for the continuing relevance of its work as for the way it catalysed a clean-up of Queensland politics and policing. The Fitzgerald inquiry led to the imprisonment of four state ministers. It unmasked the state's police commissioner as a crook and it kick-started the process which ultimately disgraced premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

But as well as its work to cleanse Queensland, the benefits from the Fitzgerald inquiry that continue today are the presence of standing anti-corruption agencies that oversee police and public services around the country. And their work is as important as ever. Perhaps the way favours are done and influence is peddled has become more sophisticated, but the culture of the brown paper bag has not disappeared. In Western Australia, three ministers have resigned over their connections with disgraced former premier Brian Burke. And the record of police corruption revealed by inquiries into Melbourne's recent gangland wars demonstrates that there will always be officers whose services are for sale.

Independent anti-corruption agencies can be a pain for even honest politicians, sometimes overzealous in their pursuit of allegations that are half-baked. But every time a minister or minder, a police officer or public servant, is caught lying under oath or accepting payment in cash or kind for not doing their duty, the agencies justify their existence. The question for the states that do not have organisations like NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption, Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission and Western Australia's Crime and Corruption Commission is why not? The lesson of the Fitzgerald inquiry is that the price of honest government, with the social cohesion it brings, is independent oversight of police and public servants. It is a lesson that applies all around Australia now as strongly as it did in Queensland 20 years ago.


Too many secrets: Australia's public service must protect the public, not politicians

IT is a perverse fact of modern life that as technology dissolves the barriers to instant and limitless communication, the response of governments in Australia has been to increase the limits on what information can be made public. This ranges from a clampdown on simple public service information, such as which restaurants have failed council health checks, to the more sinister pursuit and prosecution of genuine whistleblowers who speak out for community good. It is a sobering statistic that Australia ranks 35th on a global index of media freedom by Reporters Without Borders, behind Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Korea and Ghana, among others. The clampdown on the media's ability to report, and the community's right to know, reflects both a cynical manipulation of freedom of information regimes by successive state and federal governments and a power grab by law enforcement agencies under the guise of the war on terror. The combined result has been a trend that, allowed to continue unchallenged, threatens to undermine the foundations on which Australian democracy is based.

Concern has been raised formally by Australia's major news publishers and broadcasters, including News Limited. In an address to the Australian Press Council last week, Fairfax Media chief executive David Kirk outlined the pernicious way in which the anti-terror laws operate against press freedom. Federal police have been given the right to require any person, including journalists, to produce documents, based on the suspicion that they might assist the investigation of a terrorist offence, without having to produce a warrant.

It is a criminal offence to report that such a request has been made, punishable by up to two years in prison. Just as it is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison, to report that a preventive detention order has been made in relation to a detainee or any information conveyed by the detained person. While there will always be competition between public disclosure and secrecy when it comes to issues of national security, the increasing trend towards lessening the role of the judiciary in making that decision, such as the need for a warrant to be issued, is to be deplored. It is equally clear that neither national security nor public interest is always the prime concern of governments when it comes to keeping secrets. While Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has made public concessions to press freedom, promising shield laws to protect journalists from having to reveal their sources, the commonwealth's approach is flawed.

As the case of former Customs officer Allan Kessing demonstrates, giving protection to journalists from having to reveal sources is of little use to whistleblowers, who remain at risk of being rooted out and prosecuted within the public service. Mr Kessing is facing up to two years in prison after being found guilty of making public a classified report that the prosecution argued formed the basis of a series of reports in The Australian which led to a $212 million upgrade of national airport security. The report detailed near anarchy at Sydney airport. Mr Kessing was a contributor to the report, which was apparently shelved for two years after going through the appropriate chain of command for action. The newspaper has never revealed if Mr Kessing was its source. Under NSW legislation, a whistleblower would be protected for acting in the public interest in making such a report public if his or her superiors had failed to act.

Meanwhile, two Herald Sun journalists, Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus, are awaiting sentence after pleading guilty to contempt of court for refusing to reveal a source. Harvey and McManus have refused to reveal who provided information that the Government had accepted only one-sixth of the recommendations of a wide-ranging review into veterans' entitlements and had planned to short-change veterans of $500 million. A man convicted by a Victorian County Court jury of leaking the information was given a suspended sentence but was later acquitted of the charge by the state's Court of Appeal.

There is no obvious reason why the Government could not have come clean in the first instance. The guiding principle for good governance should always be that material be made publicly available unless there is a pressing national interest reason for it to be kept private. Any decision to keep information secret or restrict publication should be subject to judicial overview. The public service must be just that, not a law unto itself.


Teachers rewarded for incompetence

EDUCATION Queensland will spend $2.5 million to jettison 500 under-performing primary school teachers. Under the voluntary program, dubbed the "burnt out bonus", eligible classroom teachers can apply for a grant of up to $50,000 by May 25 to help them make the transition to study, business or another career.

Education Minister Rod Welford said the move would open the way for new, enthusiastic teachers to take their places. "We are aware there are some primary teachers who would like to leave the profession and do something different," he said. "This program recognises the service provided to Queensland by these teachers and supports their goal of moving to a new career. "It's a positive for the teachers seeking change - and for the new primary-trained graduates waiting in the wings."

About 1200 teachers have already left Education Queensland since the Government first offered the controversial Career Change Program in 2002. Mr Welford said the program was self-funding through the savings made from the salary difference between senior teachers and new graduates. He said principals and regional officers would decide who was eligible for the bonus and he had made it clear the department was to be proactive in ensuring top performing teachers were not lost as part of the scheme.

While the teachers are not encouraged to seek work in non-government schools, Education Queensland cannot prevent them doing so. However, to obtain the $50,000, they must show details of how the $50,000 will help them establish a new career.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said the payout scheme would allow teachers "to change careers with dignity" and open opportunities for unemployed primary teaching graduates. Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations executive officer Greg Donaldson also welcomed the move. "If Education Queensland is going to look at rejuvenating the teaching workforce with all the new initiatives that have been talked about lately, then we would certainly support this scheme as it is all about getting the best for our kids," Mr Donaldson said.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Three current articles below

Labor leader in the grip of reactionary unionists

As far back as December, we’ve been giving Rudd some gentle advice that he needs to pick the Labor Party up by the scruff of the neck and shake off the union ticks and fleas. In short, Kevin Rudd needs to do a Tony Blair. Since then Rudd has failed to heed the advice, outsourcing IR policy to the ACTU and union luvvie and IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard.

Maybe Rudd will listen to Cameron, a Labor Party strategist responsible for counting voter preferences, who pointed out that: “The majority of voters are anti-union and they don’t want the unions back in their lives.” D’oh. Even better, Rudd may listen to Blair, the British Prime Minister who long ago recognised what Cameron is only now telling us. Blair’s first speech as PM to the British Trades Union Congress in 1997 is one of the finest modern day political speeches you’ll find, the sort of speech that inspires regardless of your politics.

Rudd might draw inspiration from: “"Let us build unions that people join not just out of fear of change or exploitation but because they are committed to success, unions that look forwards, not backwards...” Or this: “We will keep the flexibility of the present labour market, and it may make some shiver but, in the end, it is warmer in the real world.” Or this: “I say to the trades union movement..........You have a responsibility to people who are unemployed as well as employed.”

When Blair, Britain’s most impressive and successful Labour PM, announced his intention to step down last week, he apologised for the times he had fallen short as leader and gave his thanks to the British people for the times he succeeded. In fact, Blair deserves thanks from the British people for modernising a decrepit trade union movement and making no apologies for retaining Margaret Thatcher’s free market reforms.

It’s hard to imagine Rudd rising to a similar challenge in Australia. It requires a rare leader who can recognise imperfections on his own side of politics and the positives on the other side.


Mining chiefs put Rudd on notice

KEVIN Rudd has been delivered a strong personal message from mining chiefs to rethink his industrial relations policy so their companies can operate under a Labor government without union interference, or else put the nation's mining boom at risk. The Labor leader will consult his deputy, Julia Gillard, after being told during a weekend tour of West Australian mines that retaining "direct employee relationships" with Australian Workplace Agreements was critical to the industry's success.

But Ms Gillard, Labor's industrial relations spokeswoman, flatly refused yesterday to retreat from Labor's pledge to abolish AWAs if the ALP were elected later this year. She said Labor would not accept AWAs or any other form of legislated individual contracts but insisted that the party would accept flexible awards or enterprise agreements, and individual contracts under common law would also be available. "We are continuing to discuss these issues with the mining industry and the business community generally," she said. "One clear way of achieving flexibility is to have individual common law contracts that have as a foundation modern, simplified awards."

Ms Gillard also conceded that more than half a million workers could remain on AWAs for some years if Labor won office, under party acceptance that the terms of such contracts should be served out until they expired. "If someone is content on their AWA ... they would be free to serve out its term," she told The Australian. And she confirmed that thousands more workers would be able to continue to sign AWAs if the ALP won the election, before new laws were passed by parliament. "It's not possible for a government that isn't sworn in to ... change people's legal rights and entitlements," she said.

Ms Gillard denied that she had been sidelined by Mr Rudd over his West Australian trip to hold talks with mining groups over the weekend. "It's completely routine for Kevin and I to do meetings with business together and do them separately," she said.

Mr Rudd travelled by charter jet to West Australian mines on Saturday with Rio Tinto chief executive of iron ore Sam Walsh, BHP Billiton iron ore president Ian Ashby and Woodside managing director Don Volte. "I'm stunned by the magnitude of what I've seen here," Mr Rudd said after experiencing mining operations with AWAs and no union involvement.

Mr Walsh said the mining chiefs wanted to impress on Labor's leader the importance of maintaining a direct relationship with employees so companies could meet their business goals. He said business did not expect a "magic wand" from Mr Rudd but looked forward to further talks. Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said companies had suggested a compromise to Labor of leaving AWAs in place but re-applying a no-disadvantage test that existed before the Work Choices laws came into force. Mr Knott said companies opposed collective bargaining and awards, despite flexibility measures advocated by Labor. They did not want a return to ritual negotiations potentially involving unions every three years.

Mr Howard yesterday urged employers to pay either full award rates or full monetary compensation until legislation for the planned fairness test was in place. Asked about correspondence with BHP Billiton executives yesterday, Ms Gillard confirmed that union "right of entry" into workplaces had been raised.


Rudd ready to backflip on individual labour contracts

KEVIN RUDD is canvassing a reverse on individual work contracts despite the hard-line public stance of his industrial relations spokeswoman, Julia Gillard. The Labor leader's office is consulting with industrial relations and economics "hard heads" in the party, including the former industrial relations spokesmen Stephen Smith and Simon Crean.

There is a strong core of frontbench support for replacing the Howard Government's controversial Australian workplace agreements with another form of statutory individual contract that includes a safety net for those earning less than $100,000. The safety net would ensure new contracts meet minimum standards and improve upon the contracts they replace - and would probably be acceptable to business. "There's a few who have been pulled into this," said one source.

A number of insiders expect Labor will announce a new individual contract regime towards the end of June. But the internal and broader electoral politics are fraught, given the former leader Kim Beazley's pledge to tear up AWAs and any form of statutory individual contract. One frontbench Gillard supporter said Mr Rudd committed to honour the Beazley pledge in seeking her support in his leadership challenge. "He made commitments as part of him becoming leader that there wouldn't be a reneging on Beazley's position."

While Labor maintains a healthy lead in opinion polls, it has faced a torrid fortnight since presenting its industrial relations platform at its national conference. Yesterday the Prime Minister, John Howard, stepped up his attack. "If Labor wins, the union movement will be back in charge of industrial relations and that will be overturning one of the five fundamental economic reforms of the last generation," he said.

While Mr Rudd avoided the media, Ms Gillard mounted a strong defence of Labor's platform, but she did leave open the possibility of creating a statutory individual contract to replace AWAs as part of "fine-tuning" or "transitional" arrangements. Repeatedly asked if she ruled out such contracts, Ms Gillard told the Herald: "We will be abolishing Mr Howard's individual work agreements; we don't believe you need individual statutory agreements to get flexibility."

Mr Rudd's advisers yesterday strongly denied he had sidelined his deputy when he travelled without her to consult mining leaders in Karratha at the weekend. He met leaders of BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Woodside Petroleum in six hours of one-on-one talks, but failed to allay their concerns. "He's trying to sell us a Skoda [a budget Czech car] when we're in a BMW world now," one senior mining source said. The managing director of Rio Tinto Australia, Charlie Lenegan, said he remained "very disappointed" with Mr Rudd's workplace policy and said they had not been discussing any compromise. "What we've been doing is outlining our concerns. There have been no negotiations," he said.

Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and their advisers insist the leadership duo enjoy a close working relationship and have been united on workplace policy since before the party's national conference. "Kevin understands there's a problem, and Julia understands there's a problem, and they're discussing what to do [about replacing AWAs]" one frontbencher said. One adviser said their differences were presentational - Mr Rudd using the language of consensus, Ms Gillard opting to "draw a line in the sand and defend it". A source close to the leadership said the backlash from business had improved their bargaining position with the ACTU. Others warned negotiations would be more difficult as its secretary, Greg Combet, seeks to enter politics.


Gasp! Hard-Left public broadcaster funds anti-Moore doco

What a blunder for them. No way would they have funded it they had known how it would turn out!

A controversial documentary about Oscar winner Michael Moore, which is creating hot debate in North America, was partly funded by Australian money. The film, Manufacturing Dissent, explores Moore's life and questions some of his ethical practices during the making of documentaries including Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 911. Although the filmmakers were initially supporters of Moore who simply wanted to explore his remarkable career, the documentary eventually turns nasty, claiming Moore has fudged some facts in his famous docos to drive home his agenda. Moore, who is considered the most powerful documentary maker in the world, is said to be outraged by the film's emerging profile on the documentary circuit.

Although it was made by Canadian filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine, the movie was completed only because of early funding from SBS in Australia. While Manufacturing Dissent takes a few easy pot shots at Moore's phenomenal wealth, it also raises questions about ethical documentary making. The documentary had its premiere in North America nearly three weeks ago, with film fans queuing for hours in the hope of gaining entry to the screening.

The film is expected to be one of the biggest drawcards on the global film festival circuit this year, with every likelihood it may screen at one of Australia's key film festivals before being aired on SBS this year. A spokeswoman from SBS confirmed the Australian link to the project, saying early funding had helped the filmmakers finish the Moore project. SBS executives pre-bought the licence to the film. "The money for that is given at an early stage in the filmmaking, which guarantees some funding to the filmmaker so they can finish the program," the spokeswoman said.

Moore is yet to comment publicly on the documentary, but in at least one segment of it, his minders are seen forcing the crew to stop filming.


Howard to reshape schools

JOHN Howard will today outline a new push to "reshape the nation's education and training landscape" and force public schools to provide more information for parents on bullying and violence in the classroom. In a major speech outlining the Government's agenda if it wins the next election, the Prime Minister will sharpen his attack on Kevin Rudd's "education revolution" with a pledge to deliver a new era of accountability for parents. He will warn that principals need more support to enforce discipline in the nation's schools and parents must be given report cards on violence and disruptive behaviour.

In his speech to the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, he will also touch on the Government's proposals to place new compliance requirements on the next four-year $40 billion schools funding deal for the states. It is the second in a series of speeches titled Australia Rising, the first of which was delivered last month in Brisbane when Mr Howard warned that only the Coalition could be trusted to deliver targets to cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions without wrecking the economy.

The new schools funding deal that is being prepared by federal officials will include demands for greater autonomy for principals to hire and fire teachers and requirements to publish more information for parents on academic performance and attendance rates. The outcome is expected to deliver defacto league tables for parents, ensuring school performance is transparent on a range of measures.

"While the states and territories have primary responsibility for government schools, my Government is determined to lay a platform for high academic standards, good teachers, principals with real power and proper accountability," Mr Howard said. "Like all Australians, I am very concerned at reports of school violence and disorder. Parents would be well- served by more information about school discipline, bullying and disruptive behaviour in the classroom. "Parents are entitled to expect that their child is safe at school and that teachers and principals have the authority to ensure a strong learning environment. We want to provide teachers and principals with the necessary support for their essential work."

Mr Howard ignited a schools values debate before the 2004 election when he blamed "politically correct" teachers for an exodus to private schools. In the latest salvo, he will warn that the rise of violence in schools must be tackled.

Australian Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Blair last night said teachers needed more protection against violent students and parents. "We've got examples of kids bringing knives and weapons to school," he said. "I know of one case where very authentic-looking replica pistols have been brought in. I know of cases when students have got up in class and pointed these replica pistols at teachers. "Teachers are dealing with more young people with serious social and emotional problems who are in some cases arriving at school without any food. It varies from cases of parents coming in and physically attacking teachers and principals. "Unquestionably, there needs to be much greater support given to schools via legislation to give schools more power to remove trespassers and when we have violent parents and violent students."

However, Mr Blair also warned there was a continuing problem with private schools dumping difficult-to-manage students on the public sector. "All schools in this country receive government funding, so in my view there's got to be mutual responsibility for taking students who are troubled," he said.

The reforms Mr Howard will outline today are also expected to require the states to offer teachers performance-based pay and to lift literacy and numeracy standards. "School teachers are an important but undervalued profession. Teachers work hard in the interests of their students and my Government's role is to provide further support in their crucial work shaping the lives of future generations," Mr Howard said. "My Government is dedicated to promoting choice, quality and strong values in Australia's education and training system. "Education is crucial to Australia's future. Quality education will lift workforce participation and productivity, helping to maintain today's prosperity," he said.

In separate reforms, the Howard Government is also planning to unleash the same market reforms embraced by universities to shake up the TAFE sector and ensure training is more responsive to the needs of business. Mr Howard will highlight a range of measures in the budget, including summer schools for teachers, a bonus pool of up to $50,000 for principals to award to teachers and reforms to increase philanthropy and business donations to the nation's universities. "The $5 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund deservedly attracted many of the headlines, but new programs to improve literacy and numeracy, more Australian Technical Colleges, summer schools for teachers and reforms to fast-track apprentices will also enhance the quality and diversity of our education and training," Mr Howard said. "For some years now, my Government has aimed to restore prestige to vocational education. The broad community support for Australian Technical Colleges, dedicated centres of trade excellence with incentive structures, including flexible workplace agreements and links to local industry, indicates we are on the right track."


Monday, May 14, 2007

The grand dame

Dame Edna Everage has just flown in from London. Not one to slum it, Australia's beloved housewife gigastar is resting up at a Byron resort and spa, recuperating before she leaps on stage at the Capitol Theatre for what she dubs the "climax of [her] jubilee celebrations": the Sydney season of her new show, Back with a Vengeance. "Sorry I sound a bit husky," she purrs. "I've got a cold. It's the old jetlag. I hope you're recording this, darling? Don't sell it on eBay 'cause I'm too husky."

It's now more than 50 years since the shy Moonee Ponds housewife turned theatrical star. Her purple coiffure and elongated spectacles may be her calling card but it's her sharp tongue that has allowed her to bear the title of the longest running theatrical institution in history, with a career that includes award-winning seasons on Broadway, films and television chat shows.

She's taken time out after a massage and before a dinner catch-up with her friend Di Morrissey to reconnect with her possums via the media. Fresh from completing a seven-show British TV series, The Dame Edna Treatment, Dame Edna's theatrical return features Barry Humphries and friends and follows a successful Melbourne season during which she was celebrated with a city-wide Ednafest.

"While I was in London doing this TV show, a street in Melbourne was named after me," she says. "I thought they'd probably rename Collins Street but in fact it was just a little lane, in the better part of town of course. It had formerly been called Brown Alley, isn't that horrible? Luckily it wasn't an underpass! It is now called Dame Edna Place."

In the past few weeks she's sung duets with kd lang, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, Shirley Bassey and Deborah Harry for the series, but says TV shows are just a sideline: it is the public across the footlights she lives to serve. "I still pinch myself, darling, to think it was a little over 50 years since I stepped onto the boards in Melbourne, a painfully shy woman," she says, adding that it is now the audience who are shy. "And I'm still so humble, though I don't think humility is one of the great virtues. Like chastity, it's one of the ... well, it's not even a virtue any more. It's almost a drawback."

Her first theatrical foray was as Mary Magdalene in the local Moonee Ponds nativity ("I had to put ointment on our Lord's feet and then dry them with my hair and, of course, having mauve hair was a bit special"), but the dame attributes Humphries with setting the course for fame. "He wanted some advice about what the average Australian housewife thought, did, believed," she says. "I gave him some tips, he invited me to do a little segment of his stage show, the rest is history. Of course, he did sign me up to a contract that has proved to be unbreakable and I cannot wriggle out of it. He and I have a somewhat strange relationship."

Dame Edna says she's embraced modernity but laments the lack of style that has permeated the theatre scene and she longs for the old days when women would frock-up for a soiree. "I always like to dress better than any other woman in the audience," she says. "It used to be quite difficult. In the old days women used to dress up when they went to the theatre; it was an event. Now you're lucky to see someone with shoes on."

She's not a political animal ("If anything I'm far to the left; I like to say I'm to the left of Genghis Khan") and she won't allow pollies anywhere near her shows. But Dame Edna is quick to berate Labor and Kevin Rudd in particular: "Do we want a prime minister who looks like a dentist?"

Not one to hold her tongue, the dame has offended her fair share of people. As a guest columnist for Vanity Fair in the US, she infamously dismissed Spanish as a language of the hired help and Salma Hayek spearheaded a campaign demanding an apology to the Hispanic community. But the dame is unapologetic. "Oh that Salma," she sighs. "She was looking for some publicity ... She didn't get the point at all."

Most of her memories are sweet. She has hosted too many legends to remember - although Charlton Heston was a stand-out ("he's a bit ga-ga now but he was a lovely guest and surprisingly sporty"). She says it is her soft spot for Aussie audiences that keeps her coming home. "It's very personal," she says of Back with a Vengeance. "It's me just sharing. It's me thinking aloud on stage. Luckily my thoughts are interesting; there are people that think aloud in public who one would rather shut up."


Faked ambulance response times

QUEENSLAND'S corruption watchdog has been called on to investigate claims paramedics are forced to falsify records to enhance emergency response times. Officers contacted The Sunday Mail last week alleging they were under pressure from Queensland Ambulance Service management to claim less time to handle calls than was the case. They said this followed a worsening of response times, highlighted by Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell when acknowledging staff were overworked and morale was low. Mr Purcell said a "bad winter" last year had contributed to problems with response times, which the QAS sets at a maximum of 10 minutes for emergency calls.

A female paramedic said her boss demanded staff hit the "at scene" button in their ambulances, which alerts the communications centre to the time the ambulance reaches its destination, well before they actually arrived on scene. "I am an ethical person and refused to follow these instructions. I was warned there would be repercussions if I didn't," said the officer who declined to be identified. She took "repercussions" to mean some form of disciplinary action.

Another paramedic confirmed the "at scene" direction from QAS bosses. He said ambulance crews were grilled if they failed to meet the 10-minute deadline and it saved them intimidation or harassment by acknowledging they were already "at scene". "It is actively encouraged," the QAS source said.

The State Opposition called on the Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate the claims. An exclusive Sunday Mail report last weekend revealed that Code One response times had dipped below the 68 per cent pass mark set by the State Government. The state average in the first quarter of 2007 was 66 per cent. But, in the worst areas, most notably the Sunshine Coast, the figure was below 60 per cent. That meant four out of 10 emergency patients had to wait longer than 10 minutes, a situation the Opposition said had almost certainly led to deaths.

Another ambulance officer said with crews being sent outside their area to cover staff and vehicle shortages, it was almost impossible to get to a Code One within 10 minutes. "The QAS is like Russian roulette. They are playing with our lives," he said.

State Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney said instructing paramedics to push "at scene" buttons minutes before they were actually on site was dishonest. "It's intimidation of staff to falsify reports, to keep the truth from the public about ambulance response times," Mr Seeney said. He said the CMC needed to investigate what were very serious allegations.

Mr Purcell blamed an increasing and ageing population for an extra 5000 Code One callouts a year. A spokesman for Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins said there was no record of staff being "threatened" in respect of paramedics' allegations. He said the QAS operations manual stated officers must press "at scene" when in sight of the scene.


Expert warns against drinking recycled water

This is where the dam-hating Greenies have got Australia to

RECYCLED waste water should be used for drinking only as a last resort, an infectious diseases expert said today. Several Australian states and the ACT are considering the use of recycled water as a response to critical shortages. Professor Peter Collignon, director of infectious diseases and microbiology at ACT Pathology, told a senate inquiry the water would be better used for non-drinking purposes. "I think we should recycle as much as possible. My viewpoint is, that last option should be putting it into our drinking water," Prof Collignon said. "We should find all other ways of using water for irrigation, watering our ovals, all those things so that we have as pristine as possible the water we're using for drinking."

Prof Collignon said purifying water of sewage had historically been a major cause of public health improvement. "We're going to now, instead of separating it, physically put it back in," he said. "I think that's a major step that really requires a lot of thought before we start doing that." He said the reverse osmosis process used in the proposed recycling had been shown not to completely remove salt. "If it leaves 1 or 2 per cent of salt, why can't it leave 1 or 2 per cent of viruses?"

Prof Collignon was giving evidence at a Senate inquiry into southeast Queensland's water crisis and the proposed Traveston Dam. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has vowed to go ahead with recycling waste water without submitting the proposal to a referendum. The ACT Government has a similar plan for Canberra.

While Singapore is often cited as a user of such water, Prof Collignon said it was used only for industrial purposes. He said the only other place in the world using it as drinking water was the Namibian capital of Windhoek in southwest Africa, where the alternative was worse.

The head of the French company that will manage the Queensland project has also said recycled water should first be used for non-drinking purposes. Veolia Water chief executive Antoine Frerot told Britain's Financial Times last month that industry and irrigation should use treated waste water instead of tap water. "That would halve the demand for natural water, Mr Frerot told the paper. "That is what we should do, before talking about drinking waste water."

Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said Prof Collignon's evidence and Mr Frerot's comments cast doubts over Queensland government claims that drinking the water was safe and done all over the world. "The whole premise of recycled water saving Queensland works on the belief that you will excrete more than you drink," Senator Joyce said. "I don't think this is physically possible unless you have got a condition that requires immediate hospitalisation."


Lasseter's reef: A great Australian legend lives on

THE man who founded Darwin's Beer Can Regatta says he has discovered Central Australia's fabled Lasseter's Gold reef _ and is getting ready to mine it. Darwin businessman Lutz Frankenfeld said he has known where Lasseter's reef was for years. He found the site by carefully studying accounts of Lasseter's second and fatal trip to find the gold. "There are a lot of major landmarks to find before you can consider it the area - and we've found all of those," he said.

Mr Frankenfeld said that the reef is often hidden by sand after flooding. He said he has had Central Land Council permission to mine the site since 1994 and is now negotiating with a mining company for a potential joint venture agreement to develop the project. Mr Frankenfeld says he has had an exploration lease over the area for almost 25 years and has been slowly organising his plan to mine it. He said the site was almost 500km west of Alice Springs on the border of Western Australia.

Harold Lasseter said he stumbled on a quartz gold reef seven miles long, four to seven feet high, and 12 feet wide in 1897 at the age of 17. He said it bulged with gold. Lasseter died searching for the lost reef in 1931. Since then at least 13 major expeditions have set out to find the treasure, but all have failed. And Lasseter's grandson Robert Lasseter jnr said just as many have claimed they have struck it lucky. "My mum had a fellow on the phone last night from New Zealand who claimed he found it," he said. But Bob jnr said he did believe the gold reef existed. "Some day someone will find it," he said.

Darwin historian Peter Forrest has written that he believes Lasseter made up the story about the fabulous reef. "I haven't been given any information to make me change my mind ... but I have been wrong before," he said yesterday.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Rudd must beat unions: Labor guru

FORMER Labor Party strategist Rod Cameron says most Australians support a deregulated workplace and that Kevin Rudd must confront the trade unions over industrial relations. Mr Cameron, the head of polling company ANOP, said Labor had misjudged the public mood over John Howard's Work Choices laws, and Labor's policy made a "mockery" of the Opposition Leader's claim to represent the future.

"I think there is going to have to be blood spilt on the floor here," Mr Cameron said in an interview with The Weekend Australian. "I think that Kevin Rudd has to get into a fight with the trade union movement over industrial relations policy. And I don't mean a pretend fight but a real fight. Frankly, I don't think this is news to Rudd. "One of Kevin Rudd's main claims and believable strengths is that he is a cautious man of the future. But this is not credible if your policy is in lockstep with the trade unions."

Mr Cameron - Labor's longest-serving pollster and a pivotal figure in many election victories for the party - said trade unions were "very unpopular and they are not part of most people's lives". "You can't go back to the regulated workplace environment of a generation ago and most people don't want to return," he said. "The majority of voters are anti-union and they don't want the unions back in their lives. "While Work Choices has delivered some Howard battlers to Labor, the majority of such voters are ordinary people who work in a deregulated environment that involves casual and part-time work and they want a flexible workplace. "Labor's emerging industrial relations policy is totally contradictory to this. This policy makes a mockery of Kevin Rudd's claim to be a man of the future. A deregulated and flexible workplace is part of the modern world and Rudd cannot be a man of the future if he supports a workplace environment that takes us so far back to the past."

Mr Cameron's comments come as Mr Rudd prepares to fly to Western Australia this weekend for talks with the mining industry, a vocal critic of his industrial relations policies. Yesterday he held a private meeting with senior executives from mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton in Melbourne.

Earlier this week, Labor's special business adviser, Rod Eddington, also questioned Labor's handling of industrial relations. Sir Rod, the former chief of British Airways and a director of Rio, said the Opposition should have consulted more widely before releasing the policy.

Mr Cameron warned that Labor must accept Australian Workplace Agreements - the individual workplace contracts that Labor has promised to ban if it wins government. "Kevin Rudd has to salvage a way out on AWAs," he said. "Labor talks about transitional arrangements. But these arrangements need to be a transition to accepting AWAs." He expressed alarm at deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard's plan to give the industrial umpire power to impose settlements in disputes on grounds that harm was being done to the bargaining participants. He said this undercut Labor's support for enterprise bargaining and had "to be clarified".

Mr Cameron's remarks contradict Labor's orthodoxy of the past 18 months: that Work Choices is an election loser for the Prime Minister and Labor should work with the unions to shape an alternative policy. He warns Labor risks losing the election unless it re-thinks this approach. It is an unpalatable message that will infuriate much of the union movement and ALP. But Mr Cameron's credentials as a reader of the public mood and the pivotal role he played in so many Labor election victories should mean his comments have an impact. "I think Work Choices is exaggerated as a vote winner for Labor," he says. "John Howard went too far with Work Choices. I would judge it has helped Labor with a 1 per cent shift but not a 5 per cent shift.

"The majority of voters are unsympathetic to the unions. With a few notable exceptions such as (ACTU secretary and ALP candidate) Greg Combet, union spokespeople don't appeal to middle Australia. People tend to see union leaders as having a chip on the shoulder and being bitter whingers. They have had their heads in the sand for too long. The point is that there is a lot of anti-Howard and anti-government sentiment in the community on the basis that Howard is yesterday's man. But Rudd cannot possibly be credible on his claim as the man of the future with this industrial relations policy.

"A minority of people aren't happy with the changes in our workplaces but they are happening anyway, often without a lot of fanfare. The thought of Labor unscrambling this shift and returning to a more regulatory union system is anathema. The election I think is coming down to economic credibility. And industrial relations is part of the economic issue. The newspaper and business criticism of Labor's policy is unsettling and unhelpful but it is not necessarily a negative. The real point is what is happening with the electorate. This is not good news for Labor."


Revolt against food faddism in Australian schools

MONTHS after state schools were ordered to dump junk food from their menus, most are still serving pizza, hot dogs, ice-cream and other processed foods. The Government introduced the "traffic light system" in its Smart Choices program to tackle childhood obesity on January 1, but half of schools have failed to get the balance right. Pizzas and hot dogs were labelled under the system as "amber" foods - to be served only occasionally - but Queensland Association of School Tuckshops spokeswoman Chris Ogden said schools were lagging. "A few have gone all 'green', but it is much easier to stick a tray of sausage rolls in the oven than make up salad rolls and wraps, that sort of thing," she said. "We can buy in pre-chopped lettuce and carrot but they come at a premium price."

Under the laws, foods are divided into "green" or healthy choices like salads, and "amber" or processed foods including low-fat pies, hot dogs and pizza. "Red" choices are limited to twice a term, which has made staging sausage sizzle fundraisers a nightmare at some schools.

A random survey of more than 100 primary school menus by The Courier-Mail showed very few indicated which choices were amber, green or red. Of the eight menus which were colour-coded, 45 per cent of the offerings were either amber or red. Eagleby South State School, in Logan, even offered daily "meal deals" such as a dagwood dog, juice and packet of chips for $2.70 and a pie, juice, Paddle Pop and packet of chips for $4.

Ms Ogden said although many schools tried hard, it was impossible to stop students from buying restricted foods outside the school grounds. "There's a fast food outlet near every school, whether it's a service station, a supermarket or a KFC or McDonald's," she said.

Responding to reports MacGregor State High School students had eaten 60 McDonald's burgers in one sitting, an Education Queensland spokesman said the students had not been on their lunch break and had had permission from their parents to leave the school.

Quality Food Services, which distributes food to about 800 school tuckshops, said pie sales had dropped under the Smart Choices guidelines because the new low-fat, low-salt varieties were relatively bland. Spokesman Glen Bound said tuckshops could not compete with local shops offering junk food. "It's a big problem at Runcorn State High, where the shop around the corner has changed its menu to suit the students. Their business has gone through the roof," he said. He had heard of students at other schools having pizzas delivered to the fence, and an enterprising student who took a backpack full of soft drink to school to sell to classmates.


Australia's public broadcaster presents Leftist propaganda as history

Bastard Boys, the story of the 1998 waterfront dispute, screens on the ABC tomorrow and Monday. It's well made and should get a good audience in an election year where industrial relations is again an important issue. There has been extensive publicity about the series, and its makers have been keen to stress its impartiality. These claims are nonsense. The series is the most blatant union propaganda. It's a very strange use of public money by the ABC and the other government agencies involved: the Film Finance Corporation, the NSW Film and Television Office and Film Victoria.

Simple mathematics suggests the scale of bias. The miniseries is divided into four equal segments, each told from the viewpoint of one participant. Two are union officials (the then Maritime Union of Australia national secretary John Coombs and the ACTU's Greg Combet), one is a Labor lawyer, and one is Chris Corrigan, the head of Patrick Stevedores. The Corrigan segment contains far more from the union perspective than from his. So about 80 per cent of the story is told from the union point of view. Impartial?

What makes it worse is that a lot of time is devoted to the private lives of the union characters, with many scenes of them falling in love or reading to their children. So they emerge as warm, fully rounded people. All those images of Combet racing to pick up his daughter from child care will do him no harm with female voters in his new political career. In contrast, Corrigan is portrayed as a gawky and ridiculous loner without friends, or even associates. We often see him being driven around in the back of a dry-cleaning van (for security) but we never see him talking to his board of directors. The treatment of his family life is perfunctory. Almost the only time we see anyone on his side is when they're ratting on him. He is a man without context, implausible as both a human being and a successful entrepreneur.

In the opening minutes of the show, just after paramilitary figures with dogs rush onto the wharves, Combet introduces Corrigan as an "evil genius". Corrigan then explains what he was doing when the members of the Maritime Union of Australia were thrown off his docks. "I was asleep," he says. Indeed, he was dreaming "about this mad old Hungarian refugee I worked for as a kid. He employed a lot of local kids - well, we were cheap, of course - and he'd get us out in his market garden at 3am in the Mittagong winter freezing our balls off, cutting celery. He used to say, 'Work a little harder, bastard boys.' " Clearly, given the show's title, this is meant to compare Corrigan with the mad market gardener and the wharfies with the wretched Mittagong child labourers, with all the irony implied by such a comparison. But this is madness.

In 1998 the members of the Maritime Union of Australia were the aristocracy of the working class, earning in the top 5 per cent of all employees. They were also among the laziest waterfront workers in the world, with their all-important crane lift rate among the lowest in the OECD. The series doesn't go into this. It doesn't give us any sense of the years of failed efforts by Corrigan to make the wharfies see reason. We don't see the MUA, backed by the union movement and the Labor Party, assuring the public that crane lift rates could not be lifted from 18 to 25 an hour. (They reached that level two years after the dispute ended.) Without such context, this is poor drama and also poor history.

A voice missing from Bastard Boys is that of the many Australians affected for decades by the laziness and corruption on the wharves. We hear a lot in the series about the glorious traditions and history of the union. We hear nothing of its notorious record in undermining the war effort during World War II, all the looting, the go-slows and the strikes. We see unionists being kind to small children but hear nothing of how they held the country to ransom for decades. One example: a man I know well used to bring in containers during the 1970s. They took longer to clear the dock in Sydney than they did to travel from Germany by sea, until he started to bribe the wharfies.

For balance, Bastard Boys might have replaced one of its main union characters with one of the workers who briefly replaced the wharfies. These were often farmers driven off the land by economic reforms. Some sold their houses in the country and moved to the city to work on the wharves, then found themselves unemployed again when the courts ordered Patrick to reinstate the members of the MUA. These men and women, portrayed in the series as "scabs", suffered more than anyone else in this conflict.

Like the biopic Curtin, another piece of Labor hagiography recently screened by the ABC, Bastard Boys is bound to be used by schools to teach history for years to come. It continues the film and television industry's use of public money to remove the non-Labor view from Australian history. I believe the protestations of the makers of Bastard Boys that they did their best to achieve impartiality. The most interesting thing about the result is not that they failed but that they seem completely unaware that they failed.


Australia's version of America's "pork"

EVERY Australian - all 20 million of us - are chipping in 5› each to raise $1 million to fight the great yellow crazy ant invasion of Christmas Island. We'll also give more than 12› each (around $2.5 million) for a national training centre for aerial skiing in southern Queensland. Australia's working men and women will contribute $800,000 to help the Geelong Art Gallery acquire the Eugene Von Guerard painting View of Geelong and we'll put up another $200,000 to assist any tourist from Denmark who gets sick during their stay.

Go through Tuesday night's Budget papers and you'll find a range of worthy but deeply strange ways your tax dollars get spent by a Federal Government which has to keep an eye on literally everything - including falling space junk. The Budget provides us with indemnity support of $2 billion above that required under the "UN Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused By Space Objects". Australians blown up by terrorist bombs also no longer have claims limited to $300 million, with liabilities now reaching $10 billion before anyone faces a reduced payout.

The Budget hands over $40,000 to the International Council of Christians and Jews biennial world conference, which kicks off in Sydney in July. It gives $200,000 to ensure tourists from Denmark can access Medicare if they get sick (with reciprocal rights). We give $400,000 to help transport the newly built "State Coach Britannia" to the Royal Mews in London and $2.5 million to the Aerial Skiing Training Centre in southeast Queensland. "The proposed centre will feature five jumps over a 30 metre by 25 metre pool and can also be utilised for water polo," Budget papers reveal.

Another fascinating use of taxpayers' dollars is in helping those of us on the dole who have a family member on death row in a foreign country. About $14,000 has been made available over two years to support "any income support recipient who remains overseas longer than the 13 weeks allowed under income support legislation in order to support a family member sentenced to death".


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Muslims must assimilate, says PM

PRIME Minister John Howard said today he unapologetically used the word "assimilate" when it came to absorbing Muslim citizens into the community. Mr Howard said assimilating new citizens into the wider community helped tackle radicalism among a minority of Muslims. In Tuesday's Budget, Treasurer Peter Costello allocated $461,000 to programs that help Muslim communities integrate.

"I think it's in the interests of everybody," Mr Howard said on Southern Cross radio. "There's every reason to try and assimilate - and I unapologetically use that word 'assimilate' - a section of the community, a tiny minority of whose members have caused concern. "After all, once somebody's become a citizen of this country the best thing we can do is to absorb them in the mainstream."

But he denied the measure was about trying to assimilate people's religious beliefs. "The reason that religion is used as a descriptor is it's a small category of radical Muslims that have adopted attitudes that we think are bad for the country and the most sensible thing to do is try and change those attitudes."


Australian journalists' sources to be protected

FEDERAL laws protecting journalists' sources will be introduced before this year's election, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock promised yesterday. The announcement of the new shield laws followed the launch of a free speech campaign initiated by News Limited, publisher of The Australian, and unveiled by media bosses in Sydney yesterday.

The unprecedented campaign is aimed at both sides of politics to remove restrictions on free speech. It is backed by Fairfax Media, the ABC, the commercial radio and television industries, SBS, Australian Associated Press and Sky News. More organisations are expected to join the free speech campaign within days, News Ltd chief executive and chairman John Hartigan said. The group will commission an audit of restrictions on the media, produce a green paper on areas that need reform, and will recruit a chairman to lead their lobbying efforts. Mr Hartigan warned that restrictions on free speech meant Australia was "a lightweight democracy" compared with countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Britain. "Two international studies ranked Australia 35th and 39th on a world press freedom index," he said. "We should be up there with other democracies that are way in front of us." Mr Hartigan said the campaign was not intended to target any particular political party as both sides of politics had allowed press freedom to erode.

Mr Ruddock said the commonwealth intended to press ahead with shield laws regardless of whether state governments overcame objections to the commonwealth's scheme. "We will shortly introduce legislation to protect journalists when they are dealing with confidential sources, within certain limits," he said. Mr Ruddock's spokesman said the Government still hoped the states would introduce similar shield laws, but the commonwealth would legislate unilaterally if necessary. "I can promise that the legislation will be introduced. Whether it passes before the election is another matter," Mr Ruddock's spokesman said. Mr Ruddock has been unable to win support for his scheme from all states because of concerns that it may not work unless accompanied by federal protection for public service whistleblowers.

The Attorney-General said free speech was very important but "no freedom is absolute". "Governments and the judiciary have to balance different rights and responsibilities," Mr Ruddock said. He said it was important to protect people's privacy and reputations, as well as national security.

Labor's legal affairs spokesman, Joe Ludwig, said the Government had permitted the development of a culture of concealment and cover-up. The party's platform commits a Labor government to introducing "proper" freedom of information laws and shield laws to protect whistleblowers and journalists' confidential sources. A Labor government would also review federal laws that criminalise the reporting of matters of public interest. [Given the freedom from information policies of many Labor-run State governments, Mr Ludwig would seem to be talking to the wrong people]


Standardised tests fail students, say teachers

What a crock! Particularly coming from one of the major culprits in the decline of educational standards. When the people in charge of teaching kids how to read and write and add up fail to do so, just who is failing whom? Matthew 7:3-5 applies

NATIONAL literacy and numeracy tests are invalid measures of student ability because they cannot assess a child's "sense of wonder" and levels of cowardice or arrogance.

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into the academic standards of school education, the Australian Education Union argues against the use of standardised tests to measure student achievement and says "there is no crisis in standards". "The AEU has long been cautious about the use of basic skills tests and other standardised tests as a means of measuring the wellbeing of Australian schools," it says. "Much of what is important in schooling is not measured by standardised tests."

The submission from the teachers' union includes a list of 24 examples of qualities the AEU says are "exceedingly difficult" to measure in tests, ranging from skills that tests purport now to measure, such as critical thinking, curiosity, question asking and creativity, to more esoteric qualities such as a sense of beauty and humour, courage, humility and spontaneity. While the union acknowledges that 7-12 per cent of students failed to meet minimum standards in literacy and numeracy, "this does not indicate that standards are falling or that standards are worse in Australia than elsewhere". "The simplistic approach of subjecting students to exam-type situations to determine literacy and numeracy levels is not educationally or statistically valid," it says.

The federal Government has forced the introduction of common national literacy and numeracy tests in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 from next year, replacing the existing system where every state sets its own test. But the union fears the introduction of national results is part of a federal government attempt to control schools, and would result in the compiling of league tables of schools, identifying some schools, and teachers, as poor performers. The submission to the Senate inquiry by AEU federal president Pat Byrne and federal secretary Susan Hopgood cites international tests showing Australian students are among the best in the world to argue there is no crisis.

But leading education research centre the Australian Council for Educational Research says in its submission there are wide variations in students' levels of achievement.

The union says the main problem evident from international and national tests is the low achievement by disadvantaged students, including indigenous, rural and remote students.

But the ACER, which runs the tests cited by the union, says socio-economic background is correlated with school achievement but it is not high. While Australian 15-year-olds performed well on average in the OECD literacy test, the ACER says there is significant variability between students, with 7 per cent of Australian girls and 17 per cent of boys at the lowest international standard. "(This means) they are likely to be able to locate specific details in text but unable to connect ideas or to draw conclusions from a piece of writing," it says. "In some areas, few Australian students perform at very high levels. For example, in international tests of year 8 mathematics knowledge, only 7per cent of Australian students performed at an 'advanced' level compared with 44 per cent of Singaporean students." The ACER says Australia has one of the lowest high-school completion rates in the world, with almost one in five 20-24-year-olds neither finishing high school nor in education. "Many young people leave school in Australia with only minimal standards of education," it says. "A significant number of students appear to become disenchanted with and disengaged from schooling during their secondary years."

The AEU submission argues the debate about falling educational standards is hysterical, based on "myths, misconceptions and deliberate deceit" that makes scapegoats of teachers for their students' failings. "Generic and ill-informed hysteria around 'standards', the quality of teachers or the quality of schools is totally unproductive," it says. The union accuses the Howard Government of using the debate to hide its inequitable funding of public schools, and says the ALP has been hijacked by the debate so it "also feels it expedient to develop policy designed to deal with the 'crisis"'.


The intangibles of education

HOW much value should we put on a child’s “sense of wonder’’ and levels of cowardice or arrogance?

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into the academic standards of school education, the Australian Education Union argues against the use of standardised tests to measure student achievement because such facets of a child cannot be tested objectively.

“The AEU has long been cautious about the use of basic skills tests and other standardised tests as a means of measuring the wellbeing of Australian schools,” it says.

“Much of what is important in schooling is not measured by standardised tests.”

The submission from the teachers union includes a list of 24 examples of qualities the AEU says are “exceedingly difficult” to measure in tests, ranging from skills that tests purport now to measure such as critical thinking, curiosity, question asking and creativity to more esoteric qualities such as a sense of beauty and humour, courage, humility and spontaneity.

It’s true that such qualities should not be ignored or trivialised, but is it necessary to include them in a national skills test for children? Surely it would be possible to test the quantifiable facets of a child while allowing their senses of humour and wonder to flourish without the pressure of comparison?


Your government will protect you

Hijacker gets a day on town

A PARANOID schizophrenic man who tried to hijack a Qantas jet has walked from the Thomas Embling psychiatric hospital on day leave without minders, according to an insider. Sources said David Mark Robinson walked from the secure hospital about 1pm yesterday with no visible staff to monitor him. Executive director of the Department of Human Services' mental health and drug division, Dr Ruth Vine, last night did not deny Mr Robinson was absent. She would only confirm he was a patient, saying she could not talk about specific cases. The Thomas Embling source told the Herald Sun: "He walked out on day leave with no escorts. It's crazy."

The State Government also declined to comment. Dr Vine said many patients had access to a day-leave program. "As part of (the Crimes Mental Impairment Act) it is expected some patients at stages during treatment will access a leave program. That program is carried out under very strict supervision and criteria. "It is closely monitored."

Mr Robinson, 43, is serving an indefinite sentence at the hospital after being found not guilty of attempted hijacking, attempted murder and intentionally causing grievous bodily harm on the ground of mental impairment, relating to an unsuccessful attempt to hijack Qantas flight 1737 from Melbourne to Launceston in May 2003. He was armed with sharpened wooden stakes, a cigarette lighter and aerosol cans to use as flame-throwers, and said to be suffering "grandiose religious delusions". A cabin manager and flight attendant thwarted his attempt to kill all 56 passengers.

A court heard it was Mr Robinson's second attempt to hijack a plane, after a locked cockpit door prevented him trying to take control of a Hobart-to-Melbourne flight four months earlier. The hospital and adjoining Statewide Forensic Services centre was recently branded by a whistleblower as one of the worst centres of its kind in the state for security.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Australian scientists agree to listen to rainmakers

Closed minds being pried open. See a previous story on this matter on July 11 last year. Also note that rainmaking is common in China

After fiercely opposing cloud seeding for years, critics from CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have agreed to sit down with the world's best scientific rainmakers. The intellectual detente comes as experts gather in Melbourne for a three-day symposium to review scientific advances in weather modification technology and consider projects in Australia. University, CSIRO and BOM scientists are meeting with hands-on cloud seeding experts from Hydro Tasmania and Snowy River Hydro, Israel, the US and Japan.

Cloud seeding boosts rainfall by dispersing small amounts of chemicals, like silver iodide, into clouds to help form rain drops and increase precipitation. Scientists like Daniel Rosenfeld - a cloud physicist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who will attend the symposium - have enhanced the effectiveness of cloud seeding with real-time remote sensing techniques. "I'm delighted that there's finally a will to advance the subject," said Nationals MP John Forrest, the driving force behind the meeting. He said he hopes the meeting will recommend trials in Australia.

The civil engineer and member for the drought-ravaged Mallee in northwest Victoria has long-advocated rigourous seeding trials as part of a suite of measures to tackle problems of water shortage. But Mr Forrest faced strong opposition from prominent CSIRO and BOM scientists whom he alleged had provided politicians and policymakers with misleading advice on the effectiveness of cloud seeding. "They're standing in the way of political action," Mr Forrest told The Australian last July. He blamed their stance on personal jealousy and competiting for funding.

Undeterred, Mr Forrest obtained private funding for this week's symposium which was matched by the Federal Environment Department. "The meeting provides an opportunity to hear about the latest science in this field and to see whether there are opportunities to make more use of this technology," said assistant environment and water minister, John Cobb. He asked Mr Forrest to to represent him at the symposium, hosted by the BOM.

According to the bureau's chief scientist Neville Smith, while the BOM is not directly involved in weather modification it does conduct cloud physics research. Dr Smith welcomed the oppportunity to meet with experts like Professor Rosenfeld and Deon Terblanche, head of South Africa's Weather Service and chair of the World Meteorological Organization's weather modification group.

Mr Forrest said that he was encouraged that the assembled scientists acknowledge the link between weather modification, cloud physics and climate change research. "They've tweaked to the connection, he claimed. Hi-tech cloud seeding operations are under way in Israel, Thailand, France, South Africa and the US states of California, Utah and Texas.

In Australia, only Hydro Tasmania encorporates seeding into its water-management system. It has used light aircraft to seed clouds over catchment areas since 1964. Mr Forrest recently obtained $4 million to enable Snowy Hydro to document its ground-based seeding trial. He also supported moves by the Labor Beattie government to fund cloud seeding studies for southeast Queensland. "I'm kicking goals," said a delighted Mr Forrest.


Aboriginal origins

Australia - along with the rest of the world - was first settled by a single group of settlers who left Africa more than 55,000 years ago, DNA research suggests. Once there, they apparently evolved in relative isolation, developing genetic characteristics and technology found nowhere else until the arrival of the first European settlers. The uniqueness of Australia's ancient Aborigines and archaeological finds on the continent have previously threatened to undermine the "out of Africa" hypothesis of human origins favoured by most experts. But the latest research by geneticists at the University of Cambridge reinforces the theory that all modern human beings belonging to the species Homo sapiens are descended from a small number of Africans who left their home between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago.

According to the fossil record, Homo sapiens emerged as a new species about 120,000 years ago in central East Africa. It is thought to have migrated from there into the Middle East, southern Africa, Europe, central Asia, and the New World, replacing older human species such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus in the process. Critics of this theory say that modern human beings may have evolved in a number of different places, arisen through interbreeding, or made several trips out of Africa.

Their main evidence comes from Australia, where skeletal and tool remains are strikingly different from those on the "coastal expressway" route the early settlers are supposed to have taken through south Asia. Some anthropologists have argued that this is evidence against the idea of a single common origin for modern-day humans. But a study of DNA samples from Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians from New Guinea appears to verify the single migration theory. Both populations were found to share genetic features linking them and other Eurasians to the exodus from Africa more than five millennia earlier.

Their ancestors would have travelled to Australia via Arabia, Asia and the Malay peninsula, dispersing at a rate of about one kilometre a year, according to Peter Forster, who led the Cambridge research, which is reported today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr Forster, who is now at Anglia Ruskin University, said yesterday: "Although it has been speculated that the populations of Australia and New Guinea came from the same ancestors, the fossil record differs so significantly it has been difficult to prove. "For the first time, this evidence gives us a genetic link showing that the Australian Aboriginal and New Guinean populations are descended directly from the same specific group of people who emerged from the African migration."

The scientists found no evidence of any interbreeding with Homo erectus, Australia's original inhabitants. The timing of Ice Age coolings, and the amount that they lowered ocean levels, specifies the geological periods in which it was possible to migrate to land masses otherwise separated by water. Fifty thousand years ago Australia and New Guinea were joined by a land bridge, which became submerged 8,000 years ago. Early settlers could have reached New Guinea across narrow straits, which were all that separated the region from the main Eurasian land mass.

The DNA patterns suggest that there was little gene flow into the region after the migration. That Australian and Melanesian populations evolved on their own explains why some of their shared features are so unusual, the scientists say. Toomas Kivisild, from the Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, who co-authored the paper, said: "The evidence points to relative isolation after the initial arrival, which would mean any significant developments in skeletal form and tool use were not influenced by outside sources."


A missing option

VICTORIA needs more boys-only government schools to improve boys' academic performance, an education expert says. Instead of having to pay expensive private school fees for a single-sex education, parents should have the option of sending their sons to boys-only state schools just as they can send their daughters to girls-only state schools, according to Ian Lillico, an international consultant on gender and boys' education. "It is a shame that we haven't said: 'Let's give some alternatives to boys'. If you are saying you want to choose single sex, and there are good reasons to do that, then they (parents) have to pay for private education - it doesn't make sense at all," Mr Lillico said. There are eight all-girls state schools in Victoria but only one all-boys alternative, the select-entry Melbourne High, which offers only years 9 to 12.

In New South Wales, where Mr Lillico is an adviser to the Education Department on gender and boys' education, there are 22 all-boys government schools and just five of those are select-entry schools.

Some co-ed Victorian schools that are near girls-only government alternatives have a gender imbalance in their student make-up. For example, Camberwell High has 800 boys enrolled and just 400 girls. Principal Elida Brereton said the school ran up to three all-boys classes in years 7 to 10 to keep some classes co-educational. "We sometimes have parents who complain to us that their boys are not getting a co-education, but have enrolled their daughters at (nearby single-sex school) Canterbury Girls. "You can't help but think, if they sent their girls here, the situation might be different," Ms Brereton said.

Research showed that not all boys thrived in a single-sex school, Mr Lillico said, but those who played team sports did. He said that single-sex education for boys and girls was most beneficial in the middle high school years. "If a boy doesn't play team sports, then going to an all-boys school could be a disaster for him. There is still that underlying thing where he might be thought to be a bit of a 'sis' or 'a wuss' or a 'gay'," Mr Lillico said.

Gentle, bookish and musical boys fared better in coeducational schools, he said. But if boys played a team sport and had an interest in a musical instrument or drama, they often fared well in all-boys schools.

But not all experts agree on the need for more boys-only schools. Ken Rowe, a specialist in gender and education at the Australian Council for Educational Research, dismissed the need for single-sex education. "It has truly got nothing to do with the gender of the kid or the gender of the teacher but it has got to do with the quality of the teaching," Dr Rowe said. He said girls did better than boys educationally the world over, but much of the success of single-sex schools came down to the enthusiasm of parents and school communities for creating boys-only or girls-only schools. "I think it may be in the minds of parents as an issue, but it is not an issue," he said.

A spokesman for Education Minister John Lenders said the Department of Education would monitor demand for single-sex education. "There has been a continuing decline in demand for boys-only schooling options in Victoria in recent years and there is no overwhelming evidence to suggest a change. This trend has not been mirrored in levels of demand for girls-only schools," he said.


Who Killed John Curtin?

By Hal Colebatch

John Curtin is still much revered in Labor party circles as a great Prime Minister but in his day he was a victim of furious Leftist jealousies

There is no doubt that John Curtin was a very good and very decent man. He gave his life for his country as much as any soldier in battle. However, though it has been glossed over or suppressed by generations of historians, the wartime performance of the Curtin government, which came to power in October, 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbour, was in many ways disgraceful. That, and deliberately applied psychological torment, is what may have killed him.

The Government, despite Curtin's efforts and protests, condoned all manner of industrial disruptions and strikes and denied the fighting men essential supplies and equipment. Official statistics show that after the Curtin Government came to power the number of strikes in strategic industries greatly increased, and it appears that they were to some extent condoned by Labour and National Service Minister Eddie Ward and others on the Left in the Government. At the time of Curtin's death three of his closest political associates said or suggested that this had been what killed him. There is reason to believe Ward set out deliberately to destroy Curtin physically and mentally.

During the whole war, about 6 million working days were lost directly through strikes in Australia, while the number lost indirectly was a considerable multiple of that. About two thirds were after the Curtin government came to power (figures are skewed by a prolonged coal-srrike on the NSW fields early in the war). Ship-building was a paradigm case of unimpressive industrial production. It took in general almost as long, though in some cases longer, to build 800-ton Bathurst-class corvette/minesweepers with engines of 1750 or 2000 horse-power, with a main armament of a single 4-inch or 12-pounder gun, in Australia as it took in America to build 35,000-ton, 150,000-hp. Essex-class aircraft-carriers. The Essex-class carrier Franklin was completed in 14 months - as fast as or faster than half the Bathursts.

Frigates and destroyers laid down during the war were either not completed until the end of the war or after it was over, or were cancelled incomplete. Despite the desperate need, almost no major merchant ships were built. This was in glaring contrast to the performance not only of the US and Britain, but also of Canada. Factories and industries such as aircraft production without a strong tradition of union militancy tended to perform much better.

No new AIF Divisions were raised by the Curtin Government, and Curtin was virtually a lone voice in his own cabinet advocating the possibility of conscription for service outside Australia in 1942. As he put it, a conscript could be sent to Darwin to be bombed, but not to Timor to prevent Darwin being bombed.

Curtin told Menzies at Christmas, 1942, this that his health was "only fair" and that he was suffering from a condition which may have had a psychological cause. In the Bulletin of 6 January, 1943, Norman Lindsay drew a cruel cartoon of a hunched, cringing Curtin begging humbly to be allowed to address the ALP Conference on conscription, which in fact was not cartoonist's license but a depiction of exactly what happened. Curtin wept when Ward told him that he was: "Putting young men into the slaughterhouse, although 30 years ago you wouldn't go into it yourself!"

Ward (who saw himself as a potential party leader with Curtin out of the way - he nominated for the leadership in 1958 and for the deputy leadership several times, the last time in 1960) was pushing Curtin's psychological buttons so as to cause him maximum distress and damage. Curtin wept. Some who knew the two men have described Ward's hatred of Curtin as pathological.

When Australian forces were sent to New Guinea and other islands they were plagued by shortages of food and ammunition, the result of constant strikes. On at least one Australian corvette the crew, quite without food, tried to catch fish with depth-charges. I have a file of many letters from former serrvicemen giving accounts of running out of ammunition in battle, and blaming the Government for not tackling the constant waterfront, coal, and other strikes firmly.

A strike early in Curtin's Prime Ministership played an indirect part in the loss of HMAS Sydney, for which Curtin seems to have unjustly blamed himself. It delayed the troopship, Zeelandia, which Sydney had been escorting, and had Zeelandia sailed on time, Sydney would not have fallen in with the Kormoran. Despite the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, Communists and other leftists on the wharves and elsewhere, including the small Trotskyite faction, deliberately caused the maximum amount of disruption at every opportunity. The ALP Left had an ambiguous relationship with these. A strike at the end of the war even prevented the British aircraft-carrier HMS Speaker berthing to land Australian POWs liberated from Japanese prison-camps.

Curtin's biographer Lloyd Ross recounts Curtin's futile entreaties to a deputation of striking watersiders. It appears Curtin, never fully understood the ideological character of these strikes. His words of bewilderment are pathetic: "I'm fed up. I can't satisfy you. I grant you conditions you have been demanding for years - and that I have always regarded as your right. I can't satisfy you. What will satisfy you? There's a war on."

Curtin died, probably of a combination of exhaustion, hypertension and heart-failure, on July 5, 1945. Less than a fortnight after Curtin's death, his successor Ben Chifley made an extraordinary speech at Lithgow which has been recorded in Professor Crisp's biography of Chifley but which has been notably ignored by some other historians: "I deeply regret the trials that were imposed on Jack Curtin, not only by the rank and file of the Labour Movement, but by some of those closely associated with him. These made heavy demands on his strength ... It was easy to hurt Jack Curtin and he had to withstand barbs not only from without but also from within the party ... [He was] too fine a gentleman for politics. He was too good to be mixed up with the feuds and personal animosities that go with politics. The blitz of the press never hurt him as much as the barbs of the people with whom he was associated."

Chifley could hardly - without precipitating both a fratricidal split in the Labor Party and the Government and a grave national crisis - have gone further in blaming Ward and his Leftist colleagues as well as the strikers for Curtin's death. It is possible Ward and the others who this plainly referred to could have sued for defamation but did not want the matter tested in court. Lloyd Ross, on the penultimate page of his classic biography of Curtin says: "Attacks from non-Labour he could stand, not the criticism that came from within the movement. Such attacks, especially from those who had known him for a long time, troubled and tormented him to a degree that is almost beyond understanding in an experienced politician."

Ross reports Curtin's last talk - shortly before he died - with former WA Labor Premier Philip Collier, who like Chifley was a close political colleague of Curtin's for many years and who knew him very well. According to Collier, Curtin: "Was shocked at the outlook of unions in New South Wales towards the war. `Their damnable attitude,' he called it, and added in a burst of anger: `Don't they know the nation is fighting for its life? They don't care a damn!'" Collier commented: "They hurt him very much, nearly worked him into his grave. Men in the Party, mostly from New South Wales, caused him terrible worry . They broke his heart, the strikers. And some of the men inside the Party. Some of his own men."

Curtin was like a man struggling to move a rock with a papier-mache crowbar. To a number of his colleagues the only war that mattered was the class-war. Or is it more accurate to see in his tragedy that of King Lear, who learnt his friends from his enemies too late?


Thursday, May 10, 2007

What a whiner!

By the names mentioned, the guy originates from a Muslim country -- Pakistan. Why am I not surprised?

A REAL estate agent who was denied entry to a trendy bar claims the refusal left him psychologically damaged, and lost him clients because he can no longer socialise. Waise Yusofzai, 38, says he felt "half a person" when security staff refused him entry to the Establishment bar in George St because there were too many males inside the venue at the time. He eventually gained access when a female friend exited the bar and escorted him inside on her arm.

But since the incident in November 2005, Mr Yusofzai claims his "confidence is shot to pieces". "Since this event I really don't feel like going to bars anymore," Mr Yusofzai told the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal yesterday. "I feel very uncomfortable walking in."

Mr Yusofzai is suing the Establishment bar - owned by businessman Justin Hemmes. He is claiming $20,000 for psychological injury and $30,000 in lost income from clients. "Part of my role is not only entertaining clients, but to take clients out for drinks on a camaraderie basis," he said. "I have been cast aside by some clients I no longer drink with on a regular basis or entertain. "(The refusal) has made me feel inadequate and really discourages me from wanting to go to these places. "My confidence has really been shot to pieces. I certainly don't have the edge I used to."

Counsel for Establishment, Kate Eastman, said Mr Yusofzai's claim for lost earnings and other expenses had been "totally and utterly exaggerated". Ms Eastman said the bar did not dispute that Mr Yusofzai and a male friend were told by a security guard at the door: "There are too many guys inside, you can't go in." But she said the bar manager informed Mr Yusofzai it was a "safety issue" relating to "the number of persons who may enter the premises".


Grotesque hysteria about Australia drowning not really surprising

We're told so many mad scare stories about global warming, why shouldn't Art Bell believe this one, too?

And so the radio host and best-selling author last weekend read out to his audience on Coast to Coast, one of America's most listened-to shows, this latest report he'd picked about our warming horror: "Shocking reports from the Kremlin today are showing that the Government of Australia has entered into secret negotiations with the United States and their Commonwealth allies for the proposed evacuation of upwards of 11 million of its 20 million citizens." On he went, telling millions of Americans that our drought was so bad - curse you, global warming! - that the Howard Government might soon hire cruise ships to send us somewhere cooler, once it figured who'd take us.

To Bell, this was the last straw. "I wonder when the climate sceptics are going to finally catch on," he raged. "Will it take something like this? Like evacuating half a nation, before we wake up and realise that it is actually happening?"

Oh, I've caught on all right to what's happening, Art. Caught on to you, for a start. You might think the moral of this farce is not to trust even million-hit websites such as WorldNetDaily, which ran the story Bell read out so credulously, or the news site run by the New-Age nutter who actually dreamed up this hoax, a blogger posing as Russian scientist "Sorcha Faal".

[There is indeed a Russian writer named "Sorcha Faal" and Art Bell is in fact a popular American "paranormal" broadcaster who uses hoaxes from time to time but Andrew Bolt (the writer of this article) appears to have been taken in by Bell's claim that the Russian report ran on "WorldNetDaily". It did NOT run on "WorldNetDaily" and seems to be no more than another hoax dreamed up by Bell]

But the real moral is that global warming fear-mongering is now so shameless and grotesque that otherwise sane people are prepared to believe half our nation is about to head for the boats. You might also think Bell must be on his nutty lonesome to fall for a story so wild. But don't admired global warming cultists say things just as extreme, to huge applause? Why wouldn't Bell think we'd be evacuating in our millions, when Professor Tim Flannery, our Alarmist of the Year, warns that global warming may soon force us to flee our parched cities?

"I think there is a fair chance Perth will be the 21st century's first ghost metropolis," Flannery has blithely claimed. Indeed, he added the other day, "some time in the next 30 years, we face significant destabilisation, rapidly rising sea levels, maybe up to 6m and hundreds of millions of refugees, because there are whole cities going under".

Why wouldn't Bell think we'd need to resettle the populations of coastal Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, given that ABC Science Show host Robyn Williams recently told me on air we could face seas this century 100m higher? Why wouldn't Bell think we'd all be on the move to Alaska or Norway, given that Professor James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia theory, last year told the ABC Late Night Live show, hosted by an approving Phillip Adams, that the rest of the world would soon be uninhabitable? As Lovelock so often puts it: "Before this century is over, billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic."

Good gosh. If that's what even our most admired "experts" tell us, as approved by the ABC, what's so crazy about Bell believing 11 million Australians will soon board ships as global warming refugees? How else does Flannery think we'll pull out of Perth or drowned Sydney?

Apologies. I should now calm you because it's only too easy to be spooked by scares as crazy as these if enough people tell you often enough. And they sure do, in this all-but-unchallenged trillion-dollar racket that is global warming.

So, take comfort that even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the influential United Nations scientists who do most to promote global warming, admit such scares are bogus. As its latest report concedes, its models predict the seas will rise this century at worst by 59cm, not 100m. Antarctica, home of 90 per cent of land-based ice that could drown us, is cooling, not warming, and gaining ice, not losing it.

What's more, a minority of other scientists, some from the Russian Academy of Sciences, say this recent warming may well be caused not by humans but a change in solar activity that has changed again, and we instead face global cooling. Heart stopped racing? But, if the truth isn't really so scary, how did we get to believe stories this freaky? Let's rejoin the babbling Art Bell.

Bell is also famous in a small way for co-authoring a New York Times bestseller, The Coming Global Superstorm, which claimed global warming would monster us with worse storms (not proved) and fast-rising seas (not true), and may soon shut down the warm Gulf Stream (untrue, says the IPCC) sending cities like New York into an ice age (not this century, pal). This is the hyperventilating book that became the smash movie The Day After Tomorrow, which helped to whip up the warming panic.

It didn't matter that scientists dismissed the film as another warming beat-up. There were only too many cause-pushers badly wanting to believe it -- or wanting the gullible masses, at least, to believe enough of it to be scared into submission to their new apocalyptic faith. Even now we get Nonie Sharp, publications editor of the Leftist Australian magazine Arena, fervently declaring: "The first half hour of The Day After Tomorrow was a time of awakening for me." Note Sharp's born-again tone -- so typical of a faith that's taken over the cry of so many past prophets: "Repent, for the end of the world is nigh."

For that message to work well, of course, you must first persuade likely converts that the end of the world really is nigh -- that we really will be down to a few breeding pairs in the Arctic, as the winds wail through the ghost cities of Australia. Get us believing that, and you'll even get some - like Bell - to believe we'll soon have to sail somewhere cooler. In fact, we're losing our reason so fast it won't take long before people will want to reserve tickets for the evacuation.

I see a win-win opportunity here. So let me help the feeble-minded, so eager to trust a Flannery, a Lovelock, a Williams. Book your seat on the SS Evacuate Australia right now. Book today with Tim Flannery and avoid the rush as our cites drown in rising seas of hype, or get swallowed by hot clouds of bulldust. We sceptics will be at the docks to wave you off on your voyage to Nirvana. I can't tell you how sorry we'll be to see you go. I honestly can't.


Gross spelling errors in High School textbook

Our Leftist "educators" are even too dumb to use a spellchecker

A PRACTICE Core Skills booklet widely used by Year 12 students contains seven major spelling errors in two paragraphs. The mistakes, pointed out yesterday by an irate parent, include "dagnerous" for dangerous, "gudance" for guidance, "anddetection" for and detection, "detemrine" for determine, "readio" for radio, "teh" for the and "mehtod" for method. The book, Queensland Core Skills Test Workbook, was written by Peter J. Spence, BA BEd Grad. Dip RE, and B.J. Lewis, BA BEd MEd Admin, and published in Brisbane by Education Support Programmes. This is the fifth year of production of the book, which is compulsory in many Queensland schools.

The company did not return phone calls or emails yesterday. The errors occur on page 116 in a science practice question about small robots known as millibots.

Education Minister Rod Welford said: "I hope the students doing the Core Skills Test check their answers more carefully than the authors of this book." The Queensland Studies Authority, which oversees the Core Skills Test, said it had nothing to do with the book. "The QSA publishes its own QCS Test support materials for schools and students," a spokesman said. "Copies of the QSA publications What About the QCS Test? and All You Need to Know About the QCS Test are provided to schools for distribution to all Year 11 and Year 12 students."

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations executive officer Greg Donaldson said: "Someone has let the side down by obviously not using the spellcheck."

The parent who drew attention to the errors said the students had wondered at first if it was a "correct the spelling mistakes" question, but clearly it was not, as it asked for a calculation to be performed. "What sort of an example do you think this will set for a generation that already struggles to be literate?" she said.

The Queensland Core Skills Test, which will be held on September 4 and 5 this year, is a common statewide test for Year 12 students testing 49 common elements in the curriculum. It gives students individual results from A to E, and group results are used to help calculate overall positions (OPs).


Dangerous Qld. government fire-service pennypinching

But there's plenty of money for an ever-growing army of bureaucrats, of course

FIRE engines equipped with special rescue equipment are being left at stations during emergency calls because of cuts in overtime payments. And to cover the problem, specialist engines stationed in Brisbane are forced to attend fires at the Gold Coast - pushing response times in some cases from 12 to 40 minutes.

The overtime restrictions, which allow just seven overtime shifts for sick leave a month per fire engine, can reduce the number of firefighters on duty at a station. This means that fire engines carrying special equipment, such as extension ladders on turn-tables, don't have enough firefighters to man them and have to be kept off the road.

Union leaders told The Sunday Mail the appliances were being left behind as often as once a month in some parts of the state. Last weekend, Beenleigh fire station exhausted its supply of overtime and had to leave its rescue vehicle behind. As a result, a crew from Mount Gravatt station was forced to cover the Gold Coast area to Carrara.

A Queensland Fire and Rescue source said the "ludicrous" cost-cutting was putting lives at risk. "It's absolutely criminal that the Government is allowed to get away with this. "If there are fires in high-rise apartments or units we need to have a vehicle with rescue equipment to reach people who are trapped. "It means a 12 to 14-minute response time will blow out to 30 to 40 minutes," he said. "People could lose their lives because of this ridiculous policy."

Mark Walker, state president of the United Firefighters Union, said the policy was in place to stop unwarranted sick leave. "This is just about the Government trying to keep the budget down. "We don't believe any fire engine should ever come off line. Taxpayers pay for the service to have vehicles there to be used."

Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone said it was a ridiculous situation to be in. "This is yet another example of the Beattie Government's mismanagement and bureaucratic bungling," he said. A spokesman for Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell refused to comment saying it was an "operational matter".


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Labor scheme to sell out workers to unions

By Janet Albrechtsen

As always, the most prescient observations about Labor come from within Labor. When the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard leadership ticket won the day back in December last year, one Labor insider said they looked like "the spider and the fly". He added: "The spider was a red-back," alluding to Gillard's scarlet locks.

Last week, when Rudd admitted he was not across the detail of Labor's industrial relations policy, a policy that puts unions back in charge of the workplace, he basically confessed he had been caught in Gillard's union web. And his problem is our problem.

Under Labor, workers will be caught in the same web, conscripted to the union cause. If you are a worker, you can expect to be paying bargaining fees to unions with a nice moiety flowing through to the Labor Party.

Labor is playing funny games. Contrary to Rudd and Gillard endorsing bargaining fees in the past three days, Gillard backflipped late yesterday, denying they would be allowed. Let's wait to see that in Labor's IR policy before we get too comfortable.

This aspect of Labor's IR package has gone largely unnoticed. As I wrote in Inquirer on the weekend, unions wanted it that way and are furious their secret agenda has been exposed. Equally disturbing, the Howard Government has done a poor job in unmasking this union scam, which promises to radically reshape the Australian workplace.

If Rudd is right that IR will determine the next election, the full ramifications of bargaining fees deserve greater attention. So here's a recap. First, Labor's IR policy statement, Forward with Fairness, says: "Collective agreements will be at the heart of Labor's industrial relations system." It says a collective agreement will rule a workplace when agreed on by a majority of workers who turn up to vote. That means in a workplace of 1000 workers, if 100 workers turn up to vote and 51 workers vote yes to a collective agreement, that agreement prevails. The vote of 51 workers will bind all 1000 workers.

Second, and this is not in Labor's policy statement, the unions plan to charge all 1000 workers a bargaining fee. This will deliver truckloads of cash to the unions when they are financially strapped and suffering from record low membership. Even better, the plan will also boost union membership because unions will set a bargaining fee at a level higher than membership fees. Understandably, workers will be tempted to join a union rather than pay the higher bargaining fee. And as the ALP collects a percentage of union fees, each new member of an affiliated union means more money for Labor.

The figures are potentially staggering. Let's take two examples. According to Grace Collier, a former union official who is an industrial relations specialist in Brisbane, a union contact in Telstra told her yesterday that unions extract on average just more than $455 in fees from each of the 9880 (26 per cent) union members who make up Telstra's 38,000 workforce. So unions collect $4,497,041 from Telstra union members each year. Collier's union contact is predicting that, under a Rudd government, a higher bargaining fee for Telstra's 28,120 non-union members. Pegging it at $500 (he suggests it may be $800) will pull in an extra $14million for unions that negotiate collective bargaining agreements for Telstra workers. (At $800, it rises to more than $22million for those unions.)

Collier points to a smaller workplace, a private hospital in Brisbane she helped restructure. Of the 220 full-time nurses on a collective agreement, 30 are union members who each pay $416 in union fees, delivering the relevant nurses' union a total of $12,480 each year. Under Rudd's IR policy, if the remaining non-union members pay a bargaining fee of, let's say, $500, the union will collect an extra $95,000. Now repeat that in small workplaces across Australia. No wonder they wanted this issue under wraps until after the election.

With bargaining fees exposed, Rudd was forced to respond on the weekend. He said if employers agreed to a compulsory bargaining fee being included in a collective agreement and agreed to collect it for unions, where was the unfairness?

Either Rudd does not get it or else he is treating us as dopes. The unfairness is that employers may well agree to tax workers. It's no skin off their nose and by agreeing to the union's biggest earner, bargaining fees, the employer may offer reduced benefits for workers. If the employer refuses, then, according to Collier, Fair Work Australia will be able to step in and impose bargaining fees in a collective agreement. The unfairness is that workers who did not vote on, and may not want or need, the collective agreement will be bound by its terms and be charged a fee for the privilege.

Unionists tell us it is all about dealing with the so-called freeloaders who receive a wage rise without contributing to unions who negotiate the collective agreement. In fact, workers across Australia secure wage rises without the help of unions or collective agreements. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 24 per cent of workers in the private sector are on registered collective agreements (only 15 per cent of those workers are union members) and 39 per cent of private sector workers are on individual contracts. In other words, Australian workers are able to secure wage rises for reasons other than union muscle. That will all change under a Labor government where the plan is to re-unionise the Australian workforce by stealth.

When Rudd revealed he was not across the detail of Labor's IR platform, it was a devastating admission from our alternative prime minister. Indeed, his efforts to pull the union movement into line have been laughable. During the weekend he warned unions that they "will survive or die based on their ability to compete". Compete? Rudd's IR policy hands unions a new monopoly to negotiate collective agreements and to charge all workers for their efforts.

It is becoming painfully clear that domestic policy has never been Rudd's focus. Indeed, in his first big interview with The Weekend Australian Magazine after becoming leader, he was asked by Christine Jackman to nominate his greatest strength as alternative prime minister. Rudd pointed to his knowledge of China gleaned from his diplomat posting and travelling there "probably more than 50 times" since.

It's neat that Rudd is across the China challenge and is no doubt chuffed to hear that a new biography is due to be translated into Mandarin. But while he was delivering speeches in Washington at the Brookings Institution last month on how China would "shape the history of the Pacific century", back home Gillard and the ACTU were putting the finishing touches on a plan that effectively introduces compulsory unionism.

From Gillard's perspective, it makes perfect sense. As one Labor frontbencher told The Sydney Morning Herald, she wants to be the "darling of the union movement". Whether Rudd wins or loses the election, this is the power base she will ultimately draw on to swallow up the fly. The only question is when.


Labor Party still wedded to insulting relic of affirmative action

It's good to see that under his crisp white shirt, Kevin Rudd is flexing his muscle to install good quality Labor candidates such as Greg Combet into seats for the upcoming election. But overshadowing his efforts is the ALP relic of affirmative action - a policy that works against candidates being chosen on merit, instead allowing chromosomes to call the shots.

Warren Mundine decided not to contest the lower house seat of Fowler at the next election - a move that would have meant unseating Labor MP Julia Irwin - citing his full support for affirmative action. Mundine is a quality candidate - articulate, smart and his proposals to end the cycle of poverty and violence suffered by indigenous people are nothing short of inspirational. He is, quite simply, the best person for the job. Yet he has sidelined himself because of a silly, out-dated policy that remains a Labor Party article of faith. We now know that Irwin will remain in her job because she is a woman. It's hard to imagine a more demeaning reason for scoring and keeping a seat in Parliament than one that relies on you missing out on the Y chromosome when sperm and egg meet in the womb.

And Rudd appears to be adding salt to the wound, pursuing more affirmative action silliness by installing women into seats who clearly should not be there. Enter Nicole Cornes - the Adelaide gossip columnist who gives blondes a bad name. Last week Rudd unveiled the pretty wife of former footie great, Graham Cornes, as the new Labor candidate for the South Australian seat of Boothby.

As an AFL tragic during my teens, I grew up thinking Cornsey was a legend, one of the all time great sportsmen. Now his wife, trading on the Cornes hero-worship in SA - and the fact she is female - is to stand for Parliament. Never mind that she admitted to the media she knows next to nothing about ALP policies, voted for John Howard in the past and declined a media interview because "quite frankly, I'm not prepared for anything heavy." After reading a newspaper splash about her press conference announcing her candidacy (when she looked like a stunned rabbit) she articulated some words of wisdom for the punters, telling us "first thing in the morning when you wake up, you think, oh God, I should have had my eyebrows waxed".

Ah, the joys of being female. In the ALP, no matter how much you neglect your eyebrows and no matter how shallow your knowledge of Labor policies, you can get a guernsey so long as the XX chromosomes are in place. Which is why affirmative action is so misguided and condescending to the very people it pretends to champion - intelligent women who can and should be making a contribution to politics. At a time when smart girls are pouring out of university, women who are happy to free-ride on the back of outdated affirmative action policies, and men who advocate such policies, are doing women no favours. It is no feather in the female cap if affirmative action explains your elevation to a job. Nicole Cornes is a neat example that merit matters.


NSW government hospitals cannot accomodate twin birth

A PREGNANT mother has been shunted between three hospitals up to 200km from her Sydney home because doctors can't find enough neo-natal beds for her premature twins. NSW Health was last night desperately searching for two specialised cots – which cost $1 million each – in Sydney to house April Mackey ahead of the impending arrival of her twins. The mother-of-three is 29 weeks pregnant and has spent the past two days at John Hunter Hospital, in Newcastle, despite living at Badgery's Creek in western Sydney. Doctors have been unable to find two neo-natal intensive beds at a Sydney hospital, despite 124 being in use across the state.

Mrs Mackey told The Daily Telegraph last night she was not sure if she could have her babies, due any day, at the hospital, which did have two available neo-natal cots. "They are telling me the beds are no longer available so I have no idea where I will be sent to next," Mrs Mackey said. "This is supposed to be a joyous occasion and yet I am stressed out worrying about where I am going to be. I've got no one here with me because all of my family is in Sydney."

Mrs Mackey, 32, went into labour last week when the water around one of her twins broke. When she visited Nepean Hospital she was told there were no beds and she was sent to Royal Women's Hospital at Randwick. From there she was transported by ambulance to Newcastle but during the journey she was transferred from one ambulance to another. Her husband Colin has had to remain in Sydney to care for their three other children. "I just want to get back to Sydney to be there for my children," she said.

Health Minister Reba Meagher said it was impossible to have the intensive care cots at every hospital. "It is not possible to have these very intensive cots at every hospital because of the cost and the care involved," she said. "There has been some communication breakdown with the family. I've asked NSW Health to address that promptly and I've asked appropriate accommodation be found for her and her family." Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said it was a sad indictment on the health system.


Wrinkle cream rip-off

WOMEN paying up to $175 for anti-wrinkle creams are being ripped off by false and misleading advertising by cosmetic giants, The Daily Telegraph can reveal. The makers of Lancome, Clinique, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal and Payot have all been ordered to withdraw advertisements in the past year after complaints to Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The TGA's complaints panel found while the creams, peels and serums were only cosmetics, they were making claims that were therapeutic, or which would make a physiological difference. In one case, Estee Lauder argued that because they were known as a cosmetics firm and their product Perfectionist Correcting Serum was being advertised in a fashion magazine "readers could not reasonably expect the product to have a therapeutic use". They told the TGA the product used optical technology among other things to blur the effect of wrinkles. This was despite promising in their advertisement their $160 product could fill in and smooth out expression lines instantly and "helps the skin amplify its natural collagen production".

The complaints panel said it was unable to accept the claim was merely cosmetic and had "no doubt" it was a therapeutic claim. In another complaint, the panel said it was concerned about the comparison Payot made between its $175 Payot Rides Relax to injections of the wrinkle-relieving toxin Botox. The panel ordered Payot to withdraw its claims that the serum was "wrinkle correcting".

The Australian Consumers Association would like to see the TGA having the power to fine the cosmetics industry instead of merely ordering them to withdraw their ads. ACA health policy officer Viola Korczak said the companies were continually trying to push the boundaries when making claims about their products. "It is in the companies' interests to put out an ad with a misleading claim because if someone does lodge a complaint, by the time it is processed, the ad could have run for weeks or months," said Ms Korczak. "There is little incentive for them to follow the rules."

She said a breach of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code was no more than a slap on the wrist. The ACA has a member on the complaints committee, along with representatives of doctors, pharmacists and alternative health care professionals. Ms Korczak said the committee was under-resourced, had a backlog of complaints and did not monitor advertisements itself but relied on complaints. However, in what is a multi-million dollar dirty tricks war, most complaints are made by rival companies and few by genuine consumers. Unless the product is registered as therapeutic, cosmetic companies can only use terms relating to the appearance or look of the skin, hair or nails.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Muslims seek restraining order on hardline cleric

MUSLIM leaders in Canberra will take out a restraining order against a hardline cleric who is accused of inciting violence and "anti-Western" sentiment among his followers. The move by the Islamic society of ACT to ban Sheik Mohammed Swaiti from Canberra's Abu Bakr Mosque comes after a Muslim leader was bashed by a group of the cleric's supporters.

The council's secretary, Kurt Kennedy, yesterday told The Australian he was set upon by nine men aged in their 20s, including Palestinian-born Sheik Swaiti's son, at the mosque's front entrance last Friday. The bashing followed the council's decision to remove the imam from his position as the mosque's spiritual head. Mr Kennedy had announced Sheik Swaiti would no longer deliver Friday sermons.

Shortly after the announcement Sheik Swaiti stood in front of his worshippers and screamed "I am the imam of the mosque, I will be here until the day I die", Islamic Society of ACT vice-president Mohammed Berjaoui said yesterday. Mr Kennedy, 35, who was pushed and threatened by Sheik Swaiti's followers inside the mosque following his announcement, was beaten up while waiting for a lift home. He was treated for cuts on his face and head at Canberra Hospital. "There was a lot of blood coming out of the cut across my left eye-brow," said Mr Kennedy, who converted to Islam 11 years ago. "What sort of teaching (has Swaiti) been doing to raise young children like this?"

Mr Berjaoui yesterday said his organisation would this week seek a restraining order against Sheik Swaiti, who is being investigated over claims he failed to pay income tax on thousands of dollars he allegedly received from the Saudi Embassy. "We will ban the imam and his followers from coming to the mosque," Mr Berjaoui said. "Our aim is to take out a restraining order, because he's the one who is inciting violence."

The Islamic council's push to replace Sheik Swaiti with a full-time moderate Turkish-born imam, Yahya Atay, came after The Weekend Australian reported last month that Sheik Swaiti praised mujahideen (Muslim holy warriors) in his sermon. A defiant Sheik Swaiti, who works full time at the Australian Tax Office, rejected the council's notice to vacate his office by last Friday, Mr Berjaoui said.

The Pakistani embassy in Canberra backed Sheik Swaiti to stay on as spiritual leader in a letter obtained by The Australian. The council wrote back to the Pakistani embassy advising it against meddling in community affairs. Council president Sabrija Poskovic wrote to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, urging action against the embassy. Mr Berjaoui accused Sheik Swaiti of preventing Canberra's Muslim community from integrating into the mainstream.

Sheik Swaiti has been spiritual leader at Abu Bakr mosque, which is run by the Islamic Society of ACT, for 13 years. The tax office, which refused to comment on its inquiry into Sheik Swaiti, is investigating allegations that he failed to declare clerical allowances of up to $US30,000 ($36,000) a year, allegedly paid to him by the Saudi Government's Dawah (donations) Office.


Refugee craziness

As if we don't already have enough trouble with the high rate of crime and welfare dependancy among Sudanese refugees. And at least the Sudanese were mostly real refugees -- unlike the Haitian economic emigrants

On La Gonave, few people even know where Australia is. But it has become the talk of the Haitian island since Canberra signed a deal with the United States last month to swap refugees. The US and Australian governments agreed to exchange Cuban and Haitian refugees held at the US naval base at Guantanamo in Cuba for refugees detained by Australia on the Pacific island of Nauru. The deal only covers migrants who have been given official refugee status because they have a proven fear of persecution, and was aimed at deterring people-smuggling. Under the agreement, some refugees who had wanted to go to Australia could end up in the United States, and some who had hoped to reach Miami could end up in Sydney.

The pact could spur more Haitians to flee their impoverished and unstable Caribbean homeland in the misguided hope of being resettled in Australia, critics say, increasing the chance of disasters at sea like Friday's, in the Turks and Caicos islands, when dozens of Haitians drowned after their sloop capsized. An exodus may already be happening. The US Coast Guard intercepted or rescued 704 Haitians trying to reach the United States by sea in April, compared to just five in March. That is almost as many in one month as the 769 Haitians the Coast Guard stopped at sea in all of 2006.

On La Gonave, only a few residents say they have a clue where Australia is located on a world map. But many have heard of the Australian-US refugee deal. "I don't know where it is, but they told me Australia is a rich country," said Virginie Saint-Clair, 28. "I think if a Haitian like me gets there, life will be better," said Saint-Clair declining to say whether she was ready to attempt the dangerous sea crossing to Florida.

Many of La Gonave's 110,000 inhabitants have relatives in the United States or have tried to get there themselves over the past two decades. "If I have the possibility I will take my chance," said Jean Leonard, who lives in the La Gonave port of Anse-A-Galets. "We Haitians have the strength to work and we'll make our way wherever on the earth there is life." Ti Lundi, 34, who called himself "Met lanme", meaning "Master of the sea" in Creole, said he had tried to get to the United States before and would now try again. "Maybe it is going to be my last try," he said.

US policy toward Haitian migrants has not changed despite the Australian deal. Few Haitians would likely be entitled to be recognised as official refugees fleeing persecution. The vast majority are simply looking to leave the hemisphere's poorest country for a better life. But Haiti's Minister for Haitians Living Abroad Jean Geneus said that message wasn't getting through. "Those (people) smugglers who organise clandestine trips to the US might be misleading people about this agreement," Geneus said. "The population, which is not really aware of the situation, might be tricked."

Human rights groups have criticised the US-Australian refugee swap. New York-based Human Rights Watch said it amounted to bargaining human lives while Amnesty International said it feared families could end up being separated. Haiti's Fusion for the Social Democrats party regarded the measure as immoral, said spokesman Micha Gaillard. "It is immoral because it is a lure and a trap for people who are led to believe there is a third country solution, when it is not the case," Gaillard said. US embassy officials in Port-au-Prince were not available for comment.


Leftist hatred of business still getting them into trouble

A FRESH rift has opened within Labor ranks over workplace relations policy, with senior frontbencher Lindsay Tanner telling former prime minister Paul Keating to butt out of the debate. The brawl came as the Government fended off claims that tips or free pizzas would be counted as fair compensation for workers losing penalty rates under the new Work Choices fairness test to come into effect today.

The Coalition is under attack from unions and Labor for a taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to sell its backflip on Australian Workplace Agreements announced on Friday. Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey last night fired the latest salvo in a vitriolic election-year battle, claiming ACTU president Sharan Burrow was "grumpy" because she had not been given a safe Labor seat like ACTU secretary Greg Combet.

As Labor tries to revive its reputation with business, Mr Tanner, the Opposition finance spokesman, targeted Mr Keating. Last week, the former prime minister challenged the right of US-born BHP Billiton chief executive Chip Goodyear - who has spearheaded business criticism of Labor's pledge to scrap AWAs - to speak out on social equity. "We don't need Americans here telling us about social equity ... There is no sense of social equity in the United States," Mr Keating told ABC radio.

Mr Tanner described Mr Keating's outburst as one of a series of "unfortunate interventions". "I'd have to say (Mr Keating's) comments about Chip Goodyear didn't help," Mr Tanner told the Ten Network's Meet the Press. "Chip Goodyear is an outstanding CEO of a great Australian company and we'll treat his views on these issues very seriously but on their merits, not on his birthplace or accent but on what he's actually got to say." Mr Tanner is the first senior frontbencher to publicly criticise Mr Keating. It comes as Labor reels from a business backlash over the plan to scrap AWAs. This was exacerbated last week when Labor's deputy leader and workplace relations spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, warned business could get "injured" if it entered the political fray. Ms Gillard played down the comments, saying she had "mangled" a football analogy.

Mr Hockey said Ms Burrow was wrong to claim that tips or free pizzas could be counted as fair compensation for traded-off conditions under the "no-disadvantage" test to apply to workers on less then $75,000 a year negotiating AWAs. "Sharan Burrow is grumpy because she is the only union boss Kevin Rudd hasn't parachuted into a safe Labor seat," he said. Mr Hockey said that in most cases workers would receive monetary compensation if they traded away penalty rates. "It is also important to retain some flexibility where employers would like to receive non-monetary benefits such as childcare, computers and car spaces," he said.

Mr Burrow said the new IR laws had so many holes that the safety net was a "farce". "It appears that workers can still easily lose penalty rates, overtime pay and other award entitlements under the new IR laws," she said. "For example, it looks possible for employers to offer workers in cafes, restaurants and fast food outlets a share of customer tips, free pizza or leftover food." She said unions had found workers in video shops being given free videos instead of wages to meet the Government's previous no-disadvantage test. "Also, would the two cents an hour extra that Spotlight workers received for losing their penalty rates be seen as sufficient compensation under the new fairness test?"

Mr Hockey said it was not up to the employer to decide fair compensation. "That decision will be make by the independent umpire, the Workplace Authority."


Another boondoggle

Railways are 19th century technology and are best at making losses these days. Upgrading the road system would be a better use of the money. And this comes right after the Darwin railway fiasco

An ambitious plan to revive regional Australia by building a Melbourne-to-Brisbane inland rail link has been given the green light, with tomorrow's federal budget to provide a $120 million down payment on the "steel Mississippi".

Peter Costello will also announce a $350 million boost to expand dental services for mainly low-income people - and an $80 million plan to boost dental training in the bush - as part of a big spending budget aimed at halting Labor's election surge. With the Treasury swimming in tax revenues - and John Howard desperate to counter claims he has lost touch with ordinary voters - families will receive tax relief while childcare funding will be boosted....

But the budget is also designed to shore-up Coalition support in the bush to fend off an expected strong election challenge by independent candidates. The $120 million for the inland rail link will be used to prepare a final engineering and economic study of the project, which its backers argue will revitalise the regional economy and provide a much more efficient freight route for exports.

The funding will also be used for land acquisition along the proposed rail corridor, which would run from Melbourne via the Riverina, up through inland NSW to the freight hub of Parkes and then up to Toowoomba, before turning east to Brisbane.

The budget injection - which dwarfs the only other commonwealth contribution, of just $20million - follows strong lobbying of fellow cabinet ministers by Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Mark Vaile. In what would be one of the country's biggest engineering feats, the rail scheme would cost billions of dollars and need the support of private financiers such as Macquarie Bank.

The brainchild of Brisbane-based Everald Compton, the project had been shopped around Canberra for the past decade. Until now though it had failed to receive serious financial support. With impeccable political connections, the 76-year-old Mr Compton is the chairman of the influential National Seniors Association. He formed Australian Transport and Energy Corridor Ltd to pursue the plan of building an inland railway, which he originally envisaged would link Melbourne to Darwin. During the past several years, he forged a close relationship with Mr Howard and Mr Vaile - both of whom have backed the rail project.

It would form part of a much larger infrastructure program for road and rail, through the AusLink II program. As revealed by The Australian, Mr Costello will tomorrow confirm that the five-year infrastructure program will cost just over $19billion, and kick in from 2009 when the current scheme comes to an end.

Although Labor has backed the use of public funds to boost national infrastructure, the Coalition is likely to face criticism that its support for the inland rail project is merely a sop to the Nationals before a tough election campaign.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Qld. ambulance service in critical condition

The Queensland Ambulance Service has plunged into crisis, with frontline paramedics pleading for more staff and emergency vehicles before it's too late. The Government admits recent ambulance response times have worsened alarmingly and staff morale is poor as many paramedics continue to work up to 14 hours straight - shifts their own Minister described as "killers". In a further blow to the QAS, new Assistant Commissioner Stephen Gough - recruited with much fanfare from Victoria less than a year ago - is on indefinite sick leave.

Last week The Sunday Mail revealed that faulty defibrillators used by paramedics had been linked to the death of a Queensland man, two years after the QAS was ordered to replace cables in similar equipment after the deaths of two other men.

Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell said last week all the money raised through the ambulance levy (minus administration costs) was distributed to the QAS via the Government's Consolidated Revenue account. But an examination of the QAS annual budget reveals the introduction of the compulsory community tax has not significantly increased funding to the service. In the year before the levy was introduced on July 1, 2003, the ambulance budget was $248 million. In its first year the $88 annual fee, which replaced the voluntary ambulance subscription system and was added to electricity bills, raised more than $96 million - but the QAS budget increased by just $27 million.

The levy, increasing with the Consumer Price Index each year and now $95, is expected to contribute more than $120 million to State Budget coffers this year. The annual budget for the QAS in 2006-07 is $355.7 million. Premier Peter Beattie, when introducing the levy, said the money would not be used for other purposes. "We are not going to take one cent out of this," he said.

But Mr Purcell said it was never intended that the levy would provide additional funds for the QAS. "At no stage was the levy ever intended to increase the Queensland Ambulance Service budget," he said. "The levy instead took the place of other sources of funding like the QAS subscription scheme and user charges." He said the levy funded only a portion of the QAS budget - about 32 per cent for 2006-07. The rest was allocated from the State Budget.

But paramedics, angry over the state of the service and lack of improvement since the levy was introduced, said last week the public should be demanding answers from the Government. "They are being ripped off. The levy is being used to pay for management junkets . . . what is left is used to replace the many frontline troops who have left and ambulances that have broken down," one ambo said yesterday. In a letter to The Sunday Mail, another officer described the state of QAS operations in Brisbane as "disgraceful" and claimed patient lives were at risk. The officers cannot be named because they have been threatened with fines and sacking if they speak out.


Australian government says IPCC report backs their position

The Federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, says the last of the United Nations reports on climate change has confirmed that his Government's policies are correct. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that stabilising emissions would cost around 3 per cent of global GDP at most. It also found that emissions must peak within 13 years to avoid a temperature increase of more than two degrees centigrade, and called for urgent political action to address the situation.

Mr Turnbull says the report shows that the Government is heading in the right direction: "There is nothing in there that isn't consistent with our policy," he said. "If you look at the things that they say we should be doing now, they are all things which Australia is leading the world in. "Energy efficiency, we're the first country to phase out incandescent lights, we are leading the world in a campaign to reduce deforestation." ....

Mr Turnbull says Labor's plan to reduce Australia's emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 will cost jobs and have little global impact. "If you put a heavy price on Australia's energy intensive industries, those industries will move offshore and their emissions with them," he said.

More here

Top service for drug addicts (but not hospitals) in Victoria

DRUG addicts are receiving a "gold-class" syringe service, while the health system fails pensioners and those needing surgery and emergency care. Home delivery of syringes is easier and quicker than for a pizza. Needles and users' kits are sped anywhere in Melbourne -- as late as 11pm -- within minutes. State Budget figures show 6.9 million needles and syringes are on course to be handed out in the year to June -- almost 20,000 a day.

But they show health services falling below targets in such areas as emergency treatment, cancer screening and semi-urgent surgery. The latest hospitals performance report also shows the health system failing to meet targets in several critical areas. Needles were delivered within 22 minutes from Box Hill to Upper Ferntree Gully, 15km away, late one evening this week. A pizza restaurant in Box Hill refused to deliver to Upper Ferntree Gully because it was too far away. A nearby outlet took 35 minutes to deliver.

Syringes were available in the CBD within two minutes of a call to the AIDS Prevention Health Awareness Program's foot patrol, which operates until 11.30pm. Couriers from Box Hill's Community Health Outreach Program Eastern Region delivered 10 syringes, cotton wool and skin cleansing solution to Upper Ferntree Gully. Advice was offered on how to inject illegal drugs. In the CBD, syringes were dispensed in packs of five. Social workers offered $10 to addicts completing a short questionnaire. Handouts under the syringe delivery program are up more than 600,000 on 1999-2000, when the heroin epidemic was at its height.

But health service performance figures for the current financial year released in the Budget show:

ONLY 70 per cent of emergency patients are transferred to a ward within eight hours.

THE number of women being screened for breast and cervical cancer is significantly below target.

SOARING numbers of emergency patients not treated within 30 minutes.

THE number of bed days in high-care homes for the aged has dropped by more than 4000.

Tuesday's Budget also revealed funding shortfalls against poll promises to slash waiting lists, improve emergency treatment and boost ambulance response times.

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said Health Minister Bronwyn Pike had failed to protect the public during the recent HIV and nursing home deaths scandals, failed to deliver on election promises and was failing to meet her targets."Bronwyn Pike's list of failures is becoming as long as her surgery waiting list," Ms Shardey said.

A spokesman for Ms Pike said on any benchmark, Victoria's health system was one of Australia's best. "Victoria's hospitals are admitting 300,000 more people a year than they did in 1999," he said.


Making beer into water?

We know who turned water into wine. Now Australian scientists are going a step further - they are turning wine and beer waste into water to generate electricity.

Miracles aside, man still relies on a lengthy process to make alcoholic drinks that produces tens of millions of litres of waste water a day. Scientists at the University of Queensland have developed a way of recycling that waste twice over. The technology involves sugar-consuming bacteria that "clean" the water and produce energy in the process. After laboratory tests, they are now building a chemical reactor on the site of Australia's largest brewery, Foster's in Brisbane. It is expected to generate enough electricity to power a large household around the clock by using a fraction - about 2,500 litres (550 gallons) - of the 2.5 million litres of waste water the brewery generates each day.

If the venture succeeds, the scientists believe that the technology could be expanded and used at many breweries, wineries and food-processing plants to generate electricity. The potential for electricity generation is enormous. A larger chemical reactor capable of harnessing all the waste from the Brisbane site would produce enough electricity to supply about 2,000 households.

At the heart of the process is a microbial fuel cell - essentially a battery in which bacteria consume rich, water-soluble brewing wastes such as sugar, starch and alcohol. The bacteria release chemical energy from the organic material, which is then converted into electricity. Joerg Keller, leader of the Queensland University project, told The Times: "Waste material is actually a very good source of chemical energy that we can convert into electrical energy or gas energy. "It is, for the first time, possible to generate electricity directly out of the waste that's in waste water."

There are other research projects around the world exploring similar technology but, Professor Keller said, the Queensland project was believed to be the first ready to move out of the lab and on to an industrial site. The 2,500-litre fuel cell to be erected at the brewery will be 250 times bigger than a prototype that has been operating effectively at the university's laboratory for three months.

Asked if he expected that a larger cell would be built to harness the electricity-generation potential of all of the waste water produced by breweries, wineries and food processors, Professor Keller said: "Oh, for sure and that's the next step. "We have to iron out a few issues at this [2,500 litres] scale, obviously, and then hopefully we can take it to a larger scale again." The technology is particularly attractive to brewers and winemakers in drought-hit Australia, where water is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive.

The country's many coal-fired power stations also make the nation one of the world's leading greenhouse gas emitters per capita. The benefits promised by the technology are twofold: it successfully prepares waste water for recycling without using the large amounts of electrical power that traditional treatment systems require. Therefore, it not only saves on electric power use but also generates it. And the water, at the end of the process is good enough to drink, according to Professor Keller, who has sampled it.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Is "Blame whitey" one of the world's greatest speeches?

We read some words of wisdom from Leftist pundit and wealthy art collector Phillip Adams:

"Radio National [Part of Australia's Left-leaning public broadcaster, the ABC] invites listeners to name the greatest speech. Six thousand respond, their hundreds of nominations including Ronald Reagan, Yitzhak Rabin, William Pitt the Younger, Vaclav Havel, Bill Clinton, Salvador Allende, Mahatma Gandhi, Arundhati Roy and Thomas More.....

Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen discusses the impact of acoustics on a great speech, covering the range from the windblown Sermon On The Mount to sermons from amplified pulpits. Interestingly, his favourite speech is secular rather than sacred - Queen Elizabeth I's effort to her last Parliament in 1601: "Though you have had, and may have, many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat, yet you never had, nor shall have, any that will love you better." And Jensen is deeply affected when re-reading Keating's address at Redfern: "I was amazed by its high moral purpose, ripping into our conscience and our hearts."

Judith Brett, professor of politics at La Trobe University, feels as strongly for the Redfern speech, while Carr's greatest enthusiasm is for Lincoln's second inaugural address.

The hall is hushed as I tear open the envelope announcing the top 10.

Tenth: Queen Elizabeth I's rallying of the troops at Tilbury on August 8, 1588, as the Spanish Armada approached. "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king."

Ninth: Gough Whitlam's dismissal speech, Parliament House steps, November 11, 1975.

Eighth: Henry V's St Crispin Day speech before the Battle of Agincourt in Shakespeare's Henry V. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

Seventh: Earl Spencer's funeral oration for his sister, Princess Diana, September 6, 1997.

Sixth: John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, January 20, 1961. "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

Fifth: Lincoln's Gettysburg address during the American Civil War, November 19, 1863. "Four score and seven years ago."

Fourth: Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches", June 4, 1940, to the House of Commons.

At Number Three: Paul Keating's Redfern address, December 10, 1992.

Number Two: Jesus's Sermon On The Mount, circa 27.

And the Oscar goes to. Martin Luther King for "I have a dream", August 28, 1963, in Washington DC.

I will not argue with nos. 1 and 2 -- though I myself would have put the wonderful Ronald Reagan's "Challenger" speech as no. 1 (it always moves me to tears when I read it) -- but I am quite disgusted by no. 3, a speech by that foul-mouthed past-master of Leftist abuse, Paul Keating. You can read the speech concerned here. It is just standard Leftist "blame whitey" crap. If it is a classic anything, it is a classic of talk being cheap.

Despite the fact that indigenous black Australians (Aborigines) are substance-abusers on an epic scale and often seem to be grossly lacking in any ability to think ahead about the consequences of their own actions, it is the fault of white Australians -- most of whom would never have even met an Aborigine -- that blacks find themselves in an undoubtedly bad state?

I grew up with Aborigines around and have repeatedly had them as tenants (what a "racist" thing to do!) so I do know the realities involved.

The logic of the Keating speech crumbles upon encounter with the most basic history. If the "dispossession" of their ancestors is the cause of the degraded state of Aborigines, how come:

1). The Anglo-Saxons did not crumble when they were taken over by the invading Normans 1000 years ago? They in fact insisted on continuing in their traditional values and eventually absorbed the Normans.

2). How come the Chinese did not crumble when they were taken over by the invading Mongols nearly 1000 years ago? They in fact insisted on continuing in their traditional values and eventually absorbed the Mongols.

3). How come the Germans did not crumble when they were taken over by the invading Allied powers in 1945? They in fact insisted on continuing in their traditional values and eventually emerged as German and as prosperous as they ever had been. Many of them even survived the gross oppression of Communism and emerged in a reasonably intact state.

And if "discrimination" is responsible for the degraded state of the Aborigines, how come the undoubtedly heavy discrimination that the Chinese and Jews endured in Australia up until relatively recently did not cause the Chinese and Jews to sink into hopeless and self-destructive apathy? Both groups are in fact extremely successful components of Australian society by almost any criterion you choose to name.

All my questions above have only one answer of course. Aborigines are DIFFERENT. All men are NOT equal. Whether the differences are due to culture or genetics need not concern us here. The point is that it is Aborigines who are responsible for the state Aborigines are in. It is not the fault of whites. If other ethnic groups have emerged from dispossession and discrimination in a flourishing state, it is not dispossession and discrimination that is responsible for Aborigines being in a disastrous state. It is the Aboriginal difference that is responsible for the state that they are in, nothing else.

And perhaps most particularly to the point, decades of Left-inspired attempts to "help" Aborigines have clearly done more harm than good. Aborigines once had some dignity. Many of them have very little of that today. Is more of such deluded "help" needed?

Why PM Howard is one of the world's longest-serving national leaders

He is a genuinely humble man

The Prime Minister's closest lieutenant for a decade has spoken for the first time about the secrets of John Howard's success, and some of them turn conventional wisdom on its head. Arthur Sinodinos, who resigned from his post as Mr Howard's chief of staff at the end of last year, has confirmed the long-suspected role of Janette Howard as a vital part of the Prime Minister's political radar, but he also offers some surprising lessons from the inner sanctum.

There are six core lessons of success distilled from extended conversations with Mr Sinodinos, now a senior director at the investment bank Goldman Sachs. But above and beyond these rules was the fundamental disposition of the Prime Minister. "People say that Howard moved Australia to the right," Mr Sinodinos said in his first political interview since leaving government. "But that's a misunderstanding. The Howard Government succeeded because he expressed the innate conservatism of the Australian people."

The first lesson? Mr Sinodinos says that although Mr Howard is Australia's second longest-serving prime minister, he approaches every day as if it could be his last. "We always took the view that you always act as if you're in opposition and your back's to the wall - and you fight accordingly," Mr Sinodinos said "From day one he never took being in power for granted."

A second lesson upsets the orthodoxy that politicians must court popularity. It had been central to Howard's success to "put some skin in the game", Mr Sinodinos said. Rather than avoid difficult and unpopular reforms, Mr Howard tackles them head-on. "The Prime Minister is always at his best when he has a cause to fight for. It always brought out the best in him - in terms of his fighting skills, his advocacy skills, it really brought out the passion in him. And when he's out there on the hustings fighting for what he believes in, the public responds very well."

Third is the intensity of Mr Howard's day-to-day preoccupation with "filling the vacuum", dominating the media and the political airspace. Mr Sinodinos described an office where the Prime Minister and his senior staff would spend the vast bulk of their time on a typical parliamentary sitting day monitoring the media, anticipating the media, crafting lines for the media, and preparing for dealing with the Labor Party in question time. "Because if you leave a vacuum it will be filled by others - keep the initiative."

Fourth is an emphasis on unity and discipline. Mr Sinodinos revealed that the Liberal Party's federal director, Brian Loughnane, is given a seat at the table in the daily meeting of the Coalition's parliamentary leadership and in other central forums to keep unity of political message.

Fifth is Mr Howard's care never to appear arrogant or complacent - "not to be seen to cock a snook at the electorate. They want you to earn their vote."

And finally, Mr Howard had developed a "sophisticated radar system" for sensing looming political problems. It included conventional mechanisms such as polling, but also a priority on seeking out people with gripes. "He hates cheer squads." And it also included his wife: "He is pretty grounded at home. Mrs Howard is an experienced and pragmatic person in her own right. She can be very good at summing up the mood. She travels around here in Sydney when he's away she's doing things. So I think he gets a fair bit of that at home as well."


Government "child welfare' at work again -- this time in Victoria

Government child-welfare agencies always have plenty of staff to investigate allegations of witchcraft, of course

A three-year-old girl had to sleep on a police station floor and spend a night in hospital after an emergency child protection phone line went unanswered for five hours. Police sought emergency care for the girl after her 20-month-old brother was hit on the head by a clothes horse on Monday night. The girl was cared for at Preston police station until a bed was organised at the Royal Children's Hospital, police said.

Office for Children executive director Gill Callister blamed a staff shortage, while the State Government said it would investigate the matter. Police spokesman Sgt Glenn Barrot said police cared for the child for a number of hours until a bed was eventually found at the hospital. Sen-Det Tania Muller, of Preston CIU, said the toddler had slept on the carpet in an office at the police station.

Ms Callister said police and hospital staff had tried to contact child protection workers for five hours before contact was made about 2am on Tuesday. There were normally six staff members rostered on night shift, but only three were on duty on Monday night. "It's highly unusual for the after-hours child protection emergency service not to be able to respond to priority calls from police and hospitals during a shift," she said. "All staff on night shift on Monday night were dealing with cases, including a case where four children were in immediate danger. "Due to unforeseen circumstances, a number of staff were unavailable for duty on the night."

Ms Callister said the office tried but couldn't get replacement staff. "The department is taking steps to ensure this does not happen again," she said. The department received 160-180 emergency calls every night.

An RCH spokeswoman said it was not uncommon for staff to make arrangements for the siblings of injured children. She said the injured boy was yesterday in a critical but stable condition. His grandmother, 50, of Reservoir, will face court in July over the incident.

Australian Childhood Foundation CEO Dr Joe Tucci said child protection resources were stretched too thin. "I would call for a doubling of resources into that after-hours service to cope with demand," Dr Tucci said. "Six workers to cover 160 reports a night? To me there should be at least 15 workers on to cover the sort of contingencies this case has highlighted can happen."

Community Services Minister Gavin Jennings has asked for a report. "The Department of Human Services' response time to this case was outside expectations," his spokeswoman Stacy Hume said. "The minister has asked for a full and detailed explanation as to why this unacceptable delay occurred and for immediate action to be taken to ensure it doesn't happen again."


Victorian hospitals still in trouble

The number of patients waiting for surgery has grown again. In more bad news for Health Minister Bronwyn Pike, the latest hospital report shows a blow-out in the elective surgery waiting lists to 37,197 Victorians. The state's hospitals failed half their performance benchmarks, meaning tens of thousands of patients were not given medical attention in the required periods.

The six-month update into the performance of hospitals shows the Government has failed to rein in the ballooning surgery waiting lists, despite a 2006 funding blitz designed to reduce the list ahead of last November's state election. Ms Pike released the report yesterday, a month late -- a day after she was attacked in State Parliament by Liberal health spokeswoman Helen Shardey, who accused her of hiding the results. "Our hospitals have performed 914,653 operations for people on elective surgery waiting lists since 1999," Ms Pike said yesterday. But there was little good news in the report, which showed that between July and December last year:

* 800 more patients than last year were now on the elective surgery waiting list, despite a $52 million pre-election spending spree by the Government.

* A THIRD of emergency patients waited more than eight hours for a bed.

* MORE than 70 per cent of urgent patients suffering blood loss or vomiting received treatment within 30 minutes, below the required minimum of 80 per cent.

* HOSPITALS were too slow moving non-admitted patients out of emergency departments, with 76 per cent staying less than four hours, compared with the required 80 per cent.

The state's hospitals did achieve their targets for the number of times an ambulance was sent away to another hospital -- but the 1.8 per cent bypass rate was still higher than the previous six-month rate of 1.3 per cent. All 3765 emergency patients requiring immediate treatment for heart failure, life-threatening injuries and drug overdoses were seen immediately. The benchmark requiring 80 per cent of emergency patients with bone fractures or breathing problems to be seen within 10 minutes was also met. The hospitals met their benchmarks for providing elective surgery for patients whose cases are deemed to be urgent.

Ms Pike said the targets were ambitious. "There are people that wait too long, we know that, but that number as a proportion will come down because we are increasing the volume of people who are getting their surgery overall," she said. Ms Shardey said Ms Pike was incapable of managing Victorian hospitals. "It's the job of government to forecast demand, and it's a failure to manage the system more than anything else," Ms Shardey said.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Another perverted Mohammed

Muslims have huge sex hangups

A TEENAGER will appear in a Victorian court today charged with indecently assaulting a woman feeding her newborn baby in a change room at a Melbourne shopping centre.

Mother-of-three Janelle, who did not give her surname, told police she was breastfeeding her one-week-old son about 3.45pm (AEST) last Monday in a curtained-off area of the family room at Broadmeadows Shopping Centre, when the alleged attack happened. The 37-year-old, from Romsey, northwest of Melbourne, told police that a man pulled back the privacy curtain claiming to be looking for his sister before asking personal questions about breastfeeding. Janelle said she tensed up and when her baby came off the breast, the intruder leant forward and touched her before leaving.

Broadmeadows detectives tonight charged 18-year-old Broadmeadows man Mohamed Chkhaidem with one count of indecent assault and four counts of stalking in an out-of-sessions hearing before a bail justice at Broadmeadows police station this evening. Chkhaidem was remanded in custody to reappear at the Broadmeadows Magistrates Court today.

Earlier, the mother called for better safety measures in shopping centre changerooms. "In a feeding room doing something natural, feeding your own child, you should be able to do (it) in privacy and peace," she said. "Maybe it's a silly extreme to go to but (what) we might need to look at doing is having a panic alarm in the rooms or proper locked cubicles like toilets, rather than the curtain - but we shouldn't have to go to that extreme."


Pub chiefs defend race ban

Publicans faced with racial realities are not allowed to do anything about it. Drunken Maoris are an extremely troublesome group. As a former boarding house proprietor, I know all about it.

ANGRY publicans have defended their right to choose who drinks in their hotels - regardless of whether they offend racial minorities. As Islanders who were deemed too violent for Scruffy Murphy's last night called the shut-out brazen racism, the industry claimed police encouraged taking action against some ethnic groups. "Police are not averse to going to publicans and saying 'you need to do something about this particular racial group or a gang'," Australian Hotels Association deputy chief executive David Elliott said yesterday. "Police advise me on regular occasions that the main offenders in violent city crimes are certain minority groups and we pass that on to hotels."

Mr Elliott said publicans should be able to act on information given to them by police. "It's only fair that hoteliers remain vigilant about the racial descriptions they are given," he said.

However Steven Thomas and Alex Tosic, both of Maori descent, were ashamed of the pub's Islander bouncers turning on their own kind to enforce the exclusion policy, which has since been scrapped. "That Islander brother (Benji Tupou) was bumped out by his own bro and that's just wrong," said Mr Thomas, who was last night drinking at the Newmorlent Hotel in Botany.

Alex Tosic, 23, said she could understand if the pub didn't let someone in if they were causing trouble or even if they knew them to have caused problems in the past. "But I have lots of close friends and relatives who are not troublemakers at all and for them or I not to be allowed into a venue because of that is the worst form of racism," Ms Tosic, of Petersham, said.

The Daily Telegraph also asked drinkers at Scruffy Murphy's - facing claims of discrimination at the Equal Opportunity Tribunal - their views on the ban introduced in November 2005 and scrapped last year. "The ban is not racist - they cause a lot of trouble in this area and people have had enough. I'm in favour of the ban if it stops trouble," said lunchtime drinker Patrick Pool, 22.

While hotels tried to shift blame to police, senior officers slammed excluding patrons on the basis of race. "There is no provision within the legislation for the refusal of entry to, or removal from, licensed premises, of patrons on racial or ethnic grounds," said Detective Superintendent Frank Hansen, manager of the drug and alcohol co-ordination unit


Sunscreen 'last line of defence'

As someone with very fair skin, I myself have always thought that staying in the shade was the way to go

Cancer experts say they won't tamper with Australia's punchy "Slip, Slop, Slap" anti-sun slogan in light of new research which downplays the role of sunscreen. An international review of sun protection has warned that protective clothing and hats are a far superior way to guard against skin cancer and the ageing effects of the sun. The study, published in the prestigious Lancet journal, relegates sunscreens to the last line of defence, saying they have potential to be "abused" so users can spend more time in the sun.

International reports have suggested a rethink of the world-famous 26-year-old Australian slogan which urges people to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat, in that order. "That would mean changing it to 'Slip, Slap, Slop,' to put sunscreen at the back of the line, but it's probably not smart to fiddle with such a successful slogan," said Ian Olver, head of Cancer Council Australia, which manages the sun smart campaign. "You'd risk throwing the baby out with the bath water and losing the whole message, and that would be a disaster."

But Prof Olver said the organisation agreed the priorities for sun protection had changed, with protective clothing and hats clearly far superior to screens. People relied on sunscreen alone too often, largely due to the "brown is beautiful" pro-tanning messages still promoted in the mass media, Prof Olver said. Sunscreen was typically applied too sparingly, too infrequently and rubbed in too thoroughly "which can essentially rub it off the skin all together", he said. "We definitely agree that it's the last line of defence, but it's a matter of changing the message without changing the slogan that accompanies it."

The new study by Swiss dermatologists tested all types of sun protection and awarded tightly woven, thick clothing the top prize. Items made from denim, wool and polyester offered the best protection, while cotton, linen and acetate were far less effective. Clothes that had shrunk after washing were also better than materials which were wet or had been stretched or bleached, according to dermatologist Stephan Lautenschlager, from Triemli Hospital in Zurich.


Now it's Western Australia: Health Minister admits overcrowing in public hospitals

Western Australia's Health Minister, Jim McGinty, has conceded that overcrowding is causing problems in hospital emergency departments but says beds are being opened to deal with the problem. Mr McGinty says there's been a peak in demand at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital but more beds are being progressively opened to alleviate the pressure. "We're creating an extra 150 beds in the hospital to improve the patient flow, to make sure that patients can be seen a lot more quickly and that we minimise the log jam that's currently occurring," he said.

The State Opposition has accused Mr McGinty of burying his head in the sand about the state of overcrowding in public hospitals when he criticised the Australian Medical Association yesterday for raising the issue.

Mr McGinty accused the Australian Medical Association's Doctor David Mountain of not telling the truth when he described Perth's hospital emergency departments as being in a state of "general mayhem" since Sunday. Only a few hours later, overcrowding caused Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital to activate a code yellow alert. Doctor Mountain says a code yellow means patient care is compromised by overcrowding.

The Opposition's Health spokesman, Kim Hames has accused Mr McGinty of shooting the messenger. " It seems that every time that someone sticks their hand up and complains about conditions in the hospital the Minister virtually goes for their throat, and he's done it yet again," he said.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Qld. government denies its hospitals are in crisis

The Queensland Government has denied the state's health system is in crisis despite finding that four unregistered foreign-trained interns were undertaking the work of doctors at Cairns Base Hospital. The scandal comes two years after Indian-trained surgeon Jayant Patel was blamed for contributing to the deaths of 17 people at Bundaberg hospital, which led to a radical shake-up of the health system.

Queensland chief medical officer Jeanette Young filed a report to the Government yesterday which said that not only had four overseas-trained interns been doing the work of doctors at Cairns Base Hospital earlier this year, but two medical supervisors had allowed them to do such work even though they knew the four were not registered doctors. Two of the four interns have been dismissed and one is in the process of being dismissed. Another has been registered and is now practising as a doctor at the hospital.

Two medical supervisors at Cairns Base Hospital, acting executive director of medical services Wayne McDonald and deputy medical superintendent Ric Streatfield, face an ongoing examination of their actions by Queensland Health's Ethical Standards Unit as well as the Queensland Medical Board, which is responsible for the registration of doctors in the state. The investigations will look at not only their actions in allowing the interns to perform the work of doctors but also reports they gave to Queensland Health that indicated the interns were being supervised and had no direct contact with patients. The initial reports to the Government were that the four had always been under supervision but Health Minister Stephen Robertson sent Dr Young to Cairns to investigate patients' files.

Dr McDonald has already resigned from Queensland Health, but the medical board has the power to ban him from practising medicine in Queensland. Dr Streatfield could face a range of disciplinary actions, including being sacked.

Mr Robertson and Dr Young yesterday denied that the incident showed a system-wide problem in Queensland Health, and said the problem had come about because the hospital did not follow guidelines. "This is not a system in crisis; this is a system under pressure," Mr Robertson said. "This is not Bundaberg; the circumstances are quite different." Mr Robertson said that, although the Government had outlined clearly what guidelines needed to be followed, that had not happened in this case. "The guidelines are very clear: you don't employ doctors that are not registered by the medical board," Mr Robertson said. "I also want to stress this was a mistake made by one local hospital; it is not a whole-of-system flaw."

Three of the interns are Alex Burgansky, who did much of his secondary schooling in Ukraine and is under investigation, and Lulu Meng and Juan He, both from China, who have been sacked. The fourth, who is now a practising doctor, has not been identified. Cairns Base Hospital takes 18 interns most years, but with a shortage of doctors in regional Queensland, the intake was increased to 24 interns this year. All 24 places were filled with graduates from Australia, but when four dropped out, the hospital was forced to look overseas for replacements.


Ill-effects of the "obesity" campaign

The number of Australians with eating disorders has doubled in the past decade and specialists think obesity hysteria could be to blame. New statistics released today indicate almost five per cent - one in 20 people - suffer from either binge-eating disorder or other extreme fasting and purging behaviours. This was a leap from the two per cent recorded ten years earlier.

The survey of more than 3000 Australians captured a massive jump in the so-called "minor" eating disorders, but suggested rates of the most severe conditions, anorexia and bulimia, were stable. The results were collated from two South Australian studies from 1995 and 2005, but study leader Phillipa Hay, head of psychiatry at James Cook University, said they reflected a nationwide trend. "We're surprised and obviously concerned too," said Prof Hay, who will present the unpublished data at a national psychiatry conference on the Gold Coast today. "This is an alarming trend which shows these problems are being felt more widely than first thought."

The study showed the number of people with regular eating disordered behaviour - those who binged or displayed other extreme weight control problems at least weekly - had ballooned from 4.7 per cent to 11 per cent. And the people considered to have a full-blown eating disorder grew from two per cent to 4.6 per cent over the decade. These people had the behaviour accompanied by severe weight, shape, body image concerns and psychological disturbances.

Of particular concern, said Prof Hay, was growth in the so-called unspecified eating disorders, which include fasting, purging and the use of laxatives to control weight. "These conditions still affect people's lives significantly, meaning they do not function properly, miss work and cannot perform their usual roles," she said.

Women were five times more likely to have a disorder than men, but the study found a sharp rise in males with the problems, particularly bingeing. "It's a clear problem when it's spreading into groups that weren't typically affected by weight issues," Prof Hay said. A large proportion of sufferers were overweight or obese, but one in ten people in the normal weight range were "extremely concerned" about body shape.

Psychiatrists speculate the results reflect increased community and media hype about obesity, dieting and body shape. "People are getting heavier and there are a lot of messages and warnings out there are reflecting that," Prof Hay said. "But the obesity epidemic has to be managed very carefully because there is this whole other problem it could be creating." She said the answer lay in promoting healthy eating and exercise, and not extreme behaviour, to help people manage their weight positively.


Voting with their feet: Australian parents show what they think of government schools

Many suffer considerable hardships to escape such schools

With private school fees soaring towards $20,000 a year, how much more sacrifice can struggling parents bear? A new breed of parent is emerging in the school communities of Melbourne's most established independent schools. These aspirational parents can't, strictly speaking, afford to send their kids to a secondary school where the average annual fee for a senior student is charging towards $20,000, or $400 a week. But if both parents work, or if grandparents help, or if the mortgage can bear it, they believe they can pull it off. Even, it seems, if it means being stressed and exhausted for years.

Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg has noticed the number of families stretching themselves to pay for such schools, and puts it down to guilt. He says parents want to be seen to be doing the best they can for their children, and for some this means getting on a "spend and earn hamster wheel" for years.

Across Australia, more parents are enrolling their children in independent schools - rising from almost 10 per cent in 1996 to 13 per cent in 2005, according to Association of Independent Schools of Victoria figures. They are doing so at a time when the Consumer Price Index for secondary school education is rising ahead of inflation, with a hike of about 6 per cent a year for the past six years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The result is that some of Melbourne's most established private schools - unless they decide to absorb costs - will break through the $20,000 a year barrier for fees next year. Many schools already charge about $18,000 a year for year 12, with some, such as Scotch College, Haileybury and St Catherine's School, charging more than $19,000 a year. Such a sum may soon not seem so high. With the secondary-education CPI forecast to continue to rise at about 6 per cent a year, the parents of today's prep students could be paying more than $35,000 a year in school fees for established private secondary schools by the time their children reach year 12.

Sounds improbable? If you ask parents of today's year 12 students, most will recall senior high school fees at independent schools being about $10,000 when their child was in primary school. And many are still getting their heads - and wallets - used to the idea that the fees have almost doubled. Most independent schools contacted by The Age acknowledged that $20,000 was a "psychological barrier", but did not think parents would baulk at paying more, because education was a priority. Even in households struggling to pay.

Some would say this obsession with obtaining an elite private school education - no matter what the financial or personal cost to some families - defies logic. A number of principals said some parents were under great strain, but refused to consider sending their children to state and Catholic schools or the cheaper independent schools springing up in the outer suburbs.

St Michael's Grammar School principal Simon Gipson says people are more "acquisitive" these days, with education seen as a key investment. Other principals agreed that some parents view an expensive education for their children as a valued possession, even a status symbol, that they are prepared to work hard for - and go into debt to obtain.

Certainly, private education is now on the wish list of many households, so much so that parents start debating how to pay the fees when the children are in kindergarten, says Jo Silver, the executive officer of Parents Victoria. She says many parents decide whether to increase the mortgage, apply for scholarships, set up trusts or join tax-effective education plans.

Many women work part-time when the children are at primary school, but go full-time once they go to secondary school. "They also realise they need to find a higher-paying job." But she says parents can forget to factor in annual fee increases. Recent publicity about an annual average of $5000 per student in government funding for independent schools has led some parents to expect fees to plateau. "At some point the fee rises have to stop," Ms Silver says. "It's quite concerning that it is going up to such an extent . . . and yet people are quite willing to put a lot of money into this."

Melbourne Grammar headmaster Paul Sheahan says the annual fee rises are driven by parents' expectations that schools will not stint on resources. "We are all trying to keep ahead of the game and offer bigger and better," he says. "Competition certainly comes into it." The expectations come from parents who, ironically, are having to work harder to pay for those multimillion-dollar technology suites. Korowa Anglican Girls School principal Christine Jenkins has altered the timing of parent functions to take account of working parents. She attributes annual fee rises partly to teacher salaries but also to technology costs. Both parents work in 80 per cent of St Michael's students' families. Mr Gipson describes his parent body as diverse, ranging from "taxi drivers to captains of industry and everything in between".

This is not the stereotype of the inner city private school parent. The Australian Education Union's Victorian president, Mary Bluett, echoes popular sentiment by saying: "Only 8 per cent of the school population go to these elite private schools - and a very large proportion can afford those fees in a blink." Yet increasingly parents do seem to be blinking when the bills arrive. Melbourne Girls Grammar principal Christine Briggs says only a handful of parents would not find the fees an issue. "Most parents are working very hard to pay them. But once parents decide that education is a priority, they do not falter," she says. "They will have more modest housing, cars and holidays." She worries that some families put education ahead of family wellbeing. "If it does seem a very big stretch, then my advice is to look at the government school system," she says. "The most devastating thing is for debt to crush the spirit of a family."

The notion that private school parents are by definition wealthy is incorrect, says Melbourne Grammar's Paul Sheahan. "We have a very wide spread of economic financial background, and there are families who extend themselves significantly to pay the fees," he says. "People subject themselves to huge hardship to keep children in our school." He says if fees continue to rise there will be a point of resistance. "We haven't reached that yet. As long as the product we provide is seen as significantly superior, people will dig deep."

This may sound provocative, but the Education Union's Mary Bluett partly agrees. She says state schools cannot compete with the "old school tie, fantastic facilities and small class sizes" of the elite private schools. But she says many state schools offer a good-quality education, and parents should visit local schools before making a decision. "There is a lot on offer in the state system, but until we get a state government that makes funding a priority there is no competition." Ms Bluett accepts that not all private school parents are wealthy, but says such schools highlight struggling parents to get more government funding.

This claim riles Michelle Green, chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools of Victoria, who argues that there are more parents earning more than $1500 a week with children in government schools than independent schools. However, Daniel Edwards, a research fellow at Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research, says his analysis of 2001 ABS data found that 23.5 per cent of independent secondary school students came from families with parents earning more than $2000 a week, compared with only 6.5 per cent of students in the government sector.

Just as the wealth of private school parents is contentious, so is the appropriate amount of government funding. Michelle Green's view is that private schools are entitled to funding because parents pay taxes, and also save the state money by paying hefty fees. Are such high fees worth it? Clearly this is hard to measure. Paying $18,000 a year provides no guarantee of a child's happiness or academic success. But Jo Silver of Parents Victoria says most parents believe they get value. Her concern is with how hard many parents, particularly mums, are working to pay fees. "We (mums) are running a very tight race and have limited time to spend with our families," she says. "The expectations of helping with homework, taking them to after-school activities and weekend sport are very high. You have to be well-organised and respond (well) to stress."

Psychologist Dr Carr-Gregg says parents need to re-prioritise. "The catchcry of parents in 2007 is: 'Do you have any idea how much it costs us to have you here?"' he says. "Parents do the maths and will say things like, 'It's costing 56 cents a minute'. What are they thinking? Nobody has put a gun to their head." Parents in Melbourne and Sydney, in particular, send their children to private schools when they can't afford to, he says, out of guilt, an obsession with VCE scores and in the hope of joining networks of "doctors, lawyers and socialites".

He says when parents make such a big financial investment in a child's education, the kids can believe life is not worth living if they don't perform. "Mum and dad being away from home for long times goes against everything we know about the healthy development of children," Dr Carr-Gregg says. "Parents work their butts off to pay $18,000 a year, and the kids come home to an empty house where they disappear behind the emotional firewall of MSN."

Latchkey kid syndrome is one side effect. Marriage breakdown is another. Karen Weiss, the regional manager of Relationships Australia (Victoria), says many parents feel inadequate if they can't afford a private education. "It puts huge pressure on families," she says. Yet she has noticed that one of the few things divorcing parents agree on is keeping the children at the expensive private school.

To achieve this can be tricky. Mark Lowe, a financial adviser with Tandem Financial Advice, says the amount of money required these days is staggering. "You do hear of marriages breaking up because of it," he says. "When you have to pay such big money out of after-tax income, it is very hard for people." Some people feel pressured to take on debt. "If the local schools are perceived as substandard, there is a feeling of guilt about it," Mr Lowe says. "Sometimes you have to speak harshly to people and say, 'you can't afford it'."

More members than previous years of the Australian Scholarships Group, a company offering education savings plans, are defaulting on payments this year, says ASG general manager, communities, Warwick James. He says families at the most expensive schools are increasing their mortgages and postponing holidays to deal with rising fees. And the pressure won't let up. ASG estimates that from now on, annual private school fees will rise by about 8 per cent, which Mr James says is conservative.

Dr Carr-Gregg reminds parents that they have options, such as moving to an area where they are happy with the local school, rather than killing themselves to pay fees. "I wonder if the joy of being a parent is being lost."


Magnetic pulses cure depression?

A new technique of firing magnetic pulses into the brains of severely depressed people has produced startling successes, researchers say. Melbourne scientists have tested a new therapy on depressed patients who do not respond to standard drug treatment and found half improved markedly. The technique is a variation of so-called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in which magnetic pulses are fired rapidly into the "overactive" parts of a depressed brain.

This therapy has a 30 per cent success rate, but researchers at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital realised they could lift this to 50 per cent by prepping the brain with a series of weak, high frequency pulses. "Doing this in some way prepares the brain to respond better to the standard TMS therapy, which is quite remarkable," Professor Paul Fitzgerald told a national psychiatry conference on the Gold Coast. The researchers tested their combination technique on a group of 60 hard-to-treat patients, giving half of them 10 minutes of weak pulses before their standard 15-minute session on a daily basis for four weeks. An electrical current was passed through a coil above the skull, creating a magnetic pulse which fires into the brain, changing the activity of nerve cells.

"A lot of people in this trial achieved clinical remission, and this is what matters," Prof Fitzgerald said. "They were able to resume their normal lives, and often return to work." Magnetic stimulation therapy has been around for about a decade and is used widely in Canada, but it is still regarded as experimental in Australia. Prof Fitzgerald said the impressive results of combination therapy make TMS a much more viable form of treatment. "It has the potential for being an early intervention treatment for the most depressed people who don't show signs of improvement on drugs," he said.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

A big need to resist a return to the past by the reactionary Left

By pandering to unions, the Labor Party has spent a lot of goodwill. (The ACTU is equivalent to Britain's TUC or America's AFL-CIO)

In Labor's new world view it's acceptable for trade unions to spend tens of millions of dollars criticising a government they don't control but not for business to raise concerns about Opposition policies they believe threaten the nation's financial wellbeing. What's worse, at the first sign of frustration, Labor's response to the doubters is to reach for the iron bar. This is not a good look for a party that claims to be about ideas and the future.

The ugly truth for Labor is that opposition to Work Choices rollback is not confined to what it would like to consider the usual suspects at the big end of town. It is widespread, from small business owners to the world's biggest mining companies, and includes West Australian Labor Premier Alan Carpenter. In private, at least, concern that Labor has blown its chances is now widespread within the party. By accepting the ACTU's demands, Kevin Rudd has spent Labor's hard-won gains with the business community and made the difficult task of defeating the Howard Government much harder. In the face of such widespread concern, Labor must rethink its decision to scrap all Australian Workplace Agreements and at least grandfather those that are already in place.

Above all, the IR [Industrial Relations] debacle has shown what an odd couple the Opposition Leader and his deputy, Julia Gillard, really are. This has always been the great compromise at the heart of Mr Rudd's ascendancy. It is now clear Mr Rudd took his eye off the ball in a critical area and that, rather than trusting Ms Gillard and falling back on the ACTU, he should have spent more time listening to Labor's real economic thinkers such as Lindsay Tanner and Craig Emerson. The charitable view is that Mr Rudd has shown a lack of domestic political experience in leaving formulation of Labor's IR policy to Ms Gillard, who can now add the rollback debacle to her Medicare Gold disaster of the last election. As Medicare Gold proved, the electorate knows when it is being made a promise that is too good to be true. This is why voters will be receptive to the Government's message that Labor's plan for a return to a more rigid, union-dominated workplace will cost jobs and weaken the economy. The evidence that voters understand the economic realities of life is at sharp odds to the simplistic nonsense put by commentators such as Richard Farmer that "the idea that a Labor Party still supports labour will hardly hurt the chances of an Opposition winning back the support of a battling working class".

As The Australian predicted, the charade at the heart of last week's Labor national conference has now been exposed. The efforts to make Mr Rudd appear reasonable and as having trodden a middle path, by insisting on secret ballots and making it harder to strike, have been blown away by the scope of the capitulation to the ACTU on its core demands of union access and collective agreements. If Mr Rudd has any excuse for being hijacked it is that he was distracted by irrelevant concerns such as the Sunrise program's "false dawn" Anzac service fiasco. But having failed to adequately assert his authority, Mr Rudd now faces an even bigger test. He must either force a compromise within his party or fight an election armed with policies that have galvanised the business community against him. The Government will in turn mount a fierce scare campaign highlighting Labor's economic recklessness and irresponsibility. If Labor persists with these regressive policies it can expect defeat.

The tragedy is that by returning to pattern bargaining and compulsory workplace agreements by a majority vote, Labor has turned its back on the party's hard-won legacy of reform. It was the Bob Hawke and Paul Keating governments that began the freeing-up of the labour market, introducing workplace agreements and linking pay increases to productivity gains, that has helped underpin the past decade-and-a-half of prosperity. The Howard Government's industrial reforms have been a continuation of that legacy. The Work Choices reforms are designed not only to aid job creation during times of economic boom, such as now, but to break the previous cycle of prolonged high unemployment when the economy turns down, as happened under Mr Keating. The evidence is that flexible workplace arrangements underwrite a quicker recovery in both employment and economic growth.

Labor's stand on IR goes to the heart of the party's economic credibility. Does Labor believe that a free market can deliver a better outcome for employment? Work Choices rollback suggests it does not. And by insisting on a return to a more rigid system, Labor has demolished its own credibility in its criticism of the Government for falling behind in the reform agenda and in promoting productivity growth. A chorus of business leaders is now saying that Labor's workplace laws are incompatible with the party's claim that it will focus on lifting productivity. With IR, Labor had a chance to win over the doubters and prove it had recaptured the reform legacy of the Hawke and Keating years, but it has blown it. As The Australian has consistently argued, the Opposition always needed more than an ACTU-sponsored scare campaign, based on dubious evidence, to defeat a government during good economic times. It needed to offer a better plan. Having taken his eye off the ball on IR, it can only be hoped that Mr Rudd has paid closer attention to Treasury matters. His response to next week's budget will be a test of that.


Schools are too left wing, says Victorian conservative spokesman

TEACHING materials in primary schools have become too politically correct in depicting single sex couples and a black armband view of Australian history, according to the NSW Opposition. The Opposition's new spokesman on education, Andrew Stoner, accused the Labor Government of using schools as "a vehicle for left-wing indoctrination", saying it needed to "rein in the PC culture" within the Department of Education and NSW Board of Studies.

"Under Labor, up to half the curriculum in some subjects focuses on a purely indigenous perspective, including emotive terms such as 'British invasion', as well as 'Survival Day' instead of 'Australia Day'," Mr Stoner, the National Party leader, said. "No one doubts the integral role indigenous people play in Australian history, but any teaching of our past must be balanced. "Labor's political correctness in education also extends to gay causes, including the funding of reading material for children as young as five, regarding gay and lesbian parents. "[The Premier] Morris Iemma should keep his promise and teach kids respect and responsibility, leaving controversial issues like same sex marriage and adoption to parents."

He said books about same-sex parents, used in some primary schools include My House, Going to Fair Day, Koalas on Parade and The Rainbow Cubby House, produced by the Learn to Include project, were funded by the Crime Division of the NSW Attorney General's Department. The books tell the story of a young girl with two lesbian mothers and include a visit to the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, confirmed the department had funded the project in 2004 when the books were produced as a teaching resource to help combat bullying in schools.

The Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, said Mr Stoner had been highly selective in his use of examples from the curriculum. His strong views about Aboriginal history and sexuality "should be a case study on why you don't let a National Party politician desperate for votes write the primary school syllabus". "This syllabus was designed in consultation with parents, teachers and many professional and community experts and has been successfully taught for nearly a decade. Historical events can be seen differently depending on your view and the syllabus requires teachers to always present a range of perspectives."

The president of the NSW Primary Principals Association, Geoff Scott, said principals and teachers had the final veto on which books were used in schools. Books that simply reflected the gay lifestyle, as opposed to espousing it, would generally be considered acceptable for children. However, each school would exercise discretion in consultation with parents to decide whether a book was appropriate. "There would be a number of occasions when award winning books that are well written but have inappropriate content are not put on the shelves in schools," Mr Scott said. "The principal and teachers would be up to speed with what community expected. The books in primary school libraries are not espousing a particular point of view or pushing values on to children. If a story written about people in same sex relationships, that's real life and provided it is at an appropriate standard, then it can be available for children."


Children force-fed global warming hysteria

JUST when you thought some common sense was back in schools with the return of core subjects history and geography, it turns out there may be new nonsense on the agenda. Apparently the NSW Board of Studies is looking to introduce climate change classes for kindergarten to Year 6 children as part of its science and technology syllabus. At first glance, it sounds sensible. Climate change could be a critical issue for our children, as well as for us. The problem, of course, is what they will be taught.

There are plenty of reasons for concern on this score. Adults have barely engaged in a grown-up conversation over the causes of global warming. Debate over the what, how, why, and when on global warming has been drowned out by hysteria. Global warming has been cleverly framed as the big moral issue of our time to quarantine it from debate.

Even conservative politicians shy away from suggesting scepticism because anyone who is a sceptic is labelled a denier. If you disagree with some of the science, and the religious fervour it has fuelled, or even evince a level of agnosticism towards it, you are not just wrong. You are a bad person forced to defend your integrity as well as your arguments. This is an old trick, but a good one. Given that stultifying atmosphere among adults, it is a stretch to imagine that classroom talk will be different.

A hint of what students might learn came a few weeks ago. My 13-year-old daughter returned home from school to tell me our house on the coast would be swamped by 6m of water. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was compulsory viewing for Year 8 students at her Sydney school that day. Gore told her sea levels would rise 6mby 2100. And people are causing this horrible global warming, she said.

Fortunately, I had just read up on the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and informed her that their worst case scenario prediction is that sea levels may rise by 26-59cm. Hold back the hysteria, I said. Some eminent scientists are suggesting other reasons for global warming, I added. Indeed, some point to evidence that the world may undergo a global cooling. Curious about the climate change curriculum, I asked the school if the movie coincided with a follow-up lesson to enable students to discuss or even question the Gore message on global warming. No, came the answer. “So Gore was it?” I asked. Yes, said the teacher.

So you see why it’s time to ask serious questions about what our children will be taught about this issue. It will, no doubt, start at the silly, harmless end. Keeping it simple for kindy kids, will they be treated to entreaties by pop star cum global warming guru Sheryl Crow? Crow is calling on people to use only one sheet of toilet paper per visit, rising to two or three for “those pesky occasions” as she writes on her blog.

Then it will get more serious. Perhaps older students will read an extract from the Nicholas Stern report on global warming and be introduced to the growing fad of food-miles. They might be told that kiwi fruit is a climate change culprit because flying 1kg of kiwi fruit from New Zealand to Europe translates into 5kg of carbon being discharged into the atmosphere. Given the dumbed-down nature of other parts of the school curriculum, perhaps climate change lessons will involve excursions to the local supermarket where children, armed with a food miles calculator, will add up the environmental impact of food travelling long distances to our shops.

Don’t laugh. British organisation has developed a software package to do just that because “it is essential that people are able to make informed choices about buying food and the effect on the environment of moving food around the planet”. Echoing that call, Tesco supermarkets in Britain are making the exercise easier with its plan to introduce a carbon count on their products - little stickers that will allow you to spot the products that, as the Environmental News Network suggests, “only a carbon criminal would dare take ... to the checkout”. Tesco is also planning to halve the amount of air-freighted fresh produce - a good green initiative that our own supermarkets ought to follow, the students might be told.

Children might then be taught that individual action is all well and good. By all means count your food miles - but governments must also do something to save the planet. Friends of the Earth might pop up in the curriculum with their demand that we need tougher policies to stop out-of-town stores to put an end to car-based shopping.

They want government-funded schemes to ensure local and regional food supplies. Governments must, they say, get tougher to reduce food miles. Like Earth Hour, when Sydneysiders were asked to turn off the lights, there is a certain child-like appeal to these think global, act local campaigns.

But unlike flicking a light switch, the focus on food miles provides a number of lessons on what is wrong with many of the reactions to the global warming hysteria - lessons unlikely to make it into the classroom. Will students, for example, be told that poor African farmers will be the real victims of conscientious Westerners looking to reduce their food miles? When buying local produce is promoted as good, buying foreign food must be bad. And, as the BBC reported earlier this year, that is bad news for countries such as Kenya where horticulture is second only to tourism as the biggest foreign exchange earner. We rightly encourage poor countries to build up their economies and sell their wares to rich, Western countries. Now they are being punished for doing so all in the name of global warming. Will students be asked to consider that?

Indeed, of all the reasons to be sceptical of the climate change agenda is the way it is coalescing with the anti-globalisation, anti-capitalism movements. Will students be asked to reflect on whether food miles is a new form of old-fashioned protectionism dressed up in the alluring language of global warming? Unlikely.

Which brings us back to the core problem. Making students aware of climate change is necessary. Infusing hysteria is downright dangerous. If we do not encourage students to debate, dare one say, to be sceptical about global warming, we risk creating a generation that will demand policy responses that end up causing more harm than good. Even worse, they will be denied the essence of a good education - recognising uncertainty, challenging assumptions and asking questions in the quest for knowledge.


Top-level alarm over Ritalin

THE Iemma Government will launch an unprecedented statewide investigation into attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), amid warnings that doctors are creating a Ritalin generation. Health Minister Reba Meagher has also called for a national inquiry into the issue, citing concerns among medical experts about the use of the controversial drug to treat ADHD. The move follows accusations by Judge Paul Conlon, revealed by The Daily Telegraph, that doctors had created a generation of Ritalin children now committing violent crimes and coming before the courts.

Last year there were more than 264,000 Ritalin prescriptions issued in Australia compared with 11,114 in 1992. Australia's diagnosis rate of ADHD is among the highest in the world and 32,000 NSW school children are now on medication for it. "Community concern is escalating around prescriptions and use of these types of drugs to treat conduct disorders of children," Ms Meagher said. In a speech to be delivered to the ALP Business Dialogue Health Policy Forum this morning, Ms Meagher will reveal that talks with health professionals had raised "significant debate" about the use of the drug. "But it was clear in my discussions with stakeholders that significant debate in the clinical community exists about treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder," she said. "I have therefore established a review committee to carefully consider current practice in NSW public health services."

Spearheaded by the Clinical Excellence Commission, the committee will:

* COLLATE evidence and practice in the treatment of ADHD;

* ADVISE on the current development of clinical guidelines for treatment of ADHD and on treatment with the prescription of dexamphetamine, methylphenidate and atomoxetine; and

* ENSURE current practice considers appropriate clinical guidelines.

The review committee will comprise some of the state's top clinicians, including Clinical Excellence Commission chief Professor Clifford Hughes. It has been instructed to report to the minister within three months. Ms Meagher also backed federal Labor health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon's call for a national inquiry. "The availability and prescription of these drugs is largely a matter for the commonwealth so we believe this is best looked at at a national level," she said.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

BHP slams Labor's job-law stance

BHP Billiton has launched a scathing attack on the Australian Labor Party's promise to repeal the Work Choices industrial relations system if it wins government, arguing such a move threatens Australia's participation in the global resources boom.

BHP, the world's biggest miner and Australia's most profitable company, said the plan to abolish Australian Workplace Agreements and replace them with collective bargaining was a "retrograde step'. "As it stands, the ALP's proposed IR policy will not only abolish AWAs, it will also effectively get rid of the mining industry's ability to capitalise on the current huge demand for minerals," BHP said yesterday.

The comments place BHP, traditionally a moderate on industrial relations issues, at the forefront of a growing chorus of business opposition to Labor's proposed industrial law changes. Last month Rio Tinto's Australian head Charlie Lenegan said Labor reforms would turn the industrial relations reform clock back "15 years-plus".

There are about 200 mining projects worth an estimated $73 billion that are either committed, under construction or slated for consideration in Australia, as the industry ramps up production to meet soaring demand and booming prices fuelled by the rapid industrialisation of China. The Mining Council of Australia estimates an extra 70,000 workers are needed over the next decade to meet expected demand. Only one in three people working in the Australian minerals sector is covered by an AWA, but their popularity is rising. About 80 per cent of all employment agreements lodged with the Office of the Employment Advocate in the first three months of the year were AWAs.

BHP said it strongly supported recent comments by the BCA, Minerals Council of Australia and Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter in relation to AWAs. "We have some concerns about the ALP's industrial relations policy and the potential for it to adversely affect the continued expansion of the minerals industry. If the ALP is committed to abolishing Australian Workplace Agreements, it is critical that it comes up with an industrial relations system that promotes, rather than stymies, Australia's minerals industry."

BHP did not have figures on the proportion of its australian workforce covered by AWA's, but said the instruments had provided the flexibility to respond to market conditions and gave BHP's workers the ability to share in the industry's success. "We support the right of employees to have union representation. We also believe that setting minimum standards can be a positive. But employees and employers also have a right to choose which industrial relations instrument best suits their needs. "We do not believe that mandating third-party involvement in bargaining, or mandating collective bargaining itself, is appropriate. This is a retrograde step that will only contribute to inflexibility for employers and employees."

BHP said it would continue to talk to Labor to "try to ensure that IR policies are created that support the continued development of this industry". But AWAs are the preferred option for its extensive West Australian iron ore operations and at Olympic Dam, which is planning massive expansion to make it the largest mine of its type in the world. Many other of its operations have enterprise bargaining agreements in place. "There's no one-size-fits-all approach," a spokesperson said.


Lessons on manners

SCHOOLCHILDREN can benefit from lessons in traditional values to combat a growing tide of rudeness and anti-social behaviour, the [Queensland] State Opposition said. Liberal Leader Bruce Flegg said social and emotional intelligence lessons would address a general concern across the community that youth were becoming more violent, disrespectful and committing more criminal acts.

Dr Flegg said he would closely monitor the "Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning" program to be introduced into British schools this year after initial testing found it improved behaviour, including attendance and test results. It also created a calmer classroom atmosphere and reduced bullying and violence. The British curriculum will teach "golden rules" such as: "We are gentle, we are kind, we work hard, we look after property, we listen to people, we are honest, we do not hurt anybody."

"The rudeness epidemic is something I am really concerned about and if there is an effective program that can teach children values it would have a lot of attraction, but the devil could be in the detail," Dr Flegg said. "There is a plague of declining social skills and respect for people, authority and property and every child should be polite." He also said busier families were leading to a loss of authority figures.

But Queensland Parents and Citizens Association president Brett Devenish said teachers were already instructing students too often in areas traditionally a parental responsibility. "I don't think parents should be able to abdicate all of their responsibilities to the education system, personal learning like values and morals should normally start a few years before children start school anyway," he said.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said a further narrowing of core subject choice in secondary school would only disadvantage students. "We are already dealing with an overcrowded curriculum and while some ideas may have some merit, the reality is when you introduce any new subject it would have to give way to some other part of the curriculum," he said.


Victoria: Your police will protect you

LATE-night calls to police might be diverted to an automated answering service, with distressed callers being greeted with a voice recording. Those seeking police help would be greeted with a voice message between 11pm and 7am under the plan. Victoria Police has confirmed it was considering an automated service, but there are fears the change could jeopardise community safety. A summary of incoming call types to the Victoria Police Centre switchboard shows staff routinely take calls:

ABOUT missing loved ones or from those trying to talk someone out of suicide.

WITH tips about active police investigations.

FROM police on the road asking for connection to other departments relevant to their inquiries.

ABOUT urgent phone faults at other stations.

FROM callers enduring threats they feel are not serious enough to warrant a 000 call.

Community and Public Sector Union boss Karen Batt said the switchboard often took calls from people fed up with automated responses at other stations. "The nature of night calls varies from straightforward to often complex inquiries and potentially life-threatening situations whereby the switchboard officer must work with the caller to identify the most suitable station or service to connect with," Ms Batt said.

Police say the phone number -- the main line to the state's police headquarters -- is not designed for emergencies. Acting Insp Steve Gibson said the number was designed to support non-urgent administrative inquiries. He confirmed an automated service was being considered, saying police were harvesting call frequency data and analysing the nature of incoming calls before committing to the plan. The cost of the system and its hours of operation had not been established, he said. But the Herald Sun understands the period between 11pm and 7am has been nominated.

The plan follows a review of Victoria Police's corporate support services. The review started last October. Briefing notes seen by the Herald Sun say the support services review aimed to improve service and "maximise the use of and opportunities presented by appropriate technology". Related documents foreshadow the axing of roles and even job losses after the review. Acting Insp Gibson said there would be no short-term change and job cuts were not on the agenda. All other police departments in Australia that do not have a dedicated phone number for non-urgent police inquiries have a general inquiry phone number that is staffed around the clock.


Oxfam coffee 'harms' poor farmers

Some Australian conservatives are copying Leftist tactics and getting the legal system into the act

TWO Melbourne academics have lodged formal complaints against Oxfam Australia over the sale of Fairtrade coffee, saying it should not be promoted as helping to lift Third World producers out of poverty because growers are paid very little for their beans. Tim Wilson, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, and Sinclair Davidson, professor of institutional economics at RMIT University, have asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate Oxfam, saying it is guilty of misleading or deceptive conduct under the Trade Practices Act.

Mr Wilson said there was evidence that Fairtrade products could do more harm than good for coffee producers in undeveloped nations. He cited reports alleging producers had been charged thousands of dollars to become certified Fairtrade providers and some labourers received as little as $3 a day. In order to lodge the complaint, Mr Wilson purchased a 250g pack of Fairtrade organic decaf ground coffee from the online Oxfam shop. "We purchased this product in good faith, with the aim of lifting people out of poverty while enjoying our favourite brew," Mr Wilson said, in his letter to ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel.

Mr Wilson and Professor Davidson have long held doubts about whether Fairtrade products help coffee, tea and cocoa producers in undeveloped nations. Sales of such products in Australia total about $8million. The complaint to the ACCC refers to an article published in the Financial Times last September, which said Fairtrade coffee beans were "picked by workers paid below minimum wage". It claimed workers received the equivalent of $3 a day. The coffee is sold at a premium to people concerned about Third World poverty.

The academics quote an analysis of Fairtrade, published in the US-based Cato journal, which says coffee producers in poor nations are charged $3200 to become certified Fairtrade providers. The producers' costs are therefore higher than on the open market. The Fairtrade campaign aims to manage the international coffee trade by fixing prices at $US1.26 ($1.64) per pound (454g) and eventually fixing supply.

"Oxfam says the Fairtrade coffee allows growers in developing countries to sell coffee 'at a decent price' but we don't accept that the Fairtrade system can work," Mr Wilson said. "Our primary complaint is that this is an unsustainable system. The only sustainable mechanism is through free trade. They are artificially cooking up the international coffee trade, to promote the interests of the Fairtrade brand and the people who sign up to it." Fairtrade coffee is stocked by Coles and the Hudson coffee chain. Origin Energy and Orica make Fairtrade coffee available to staff in their Australian offices.

Oxfam rejected the academics' claims. It is this week promoting a Fairtrade Fortnight. To mark the event, Oxfam Australia invited Costa Rican coffee farmer Guillermo Vargas to a series of lectures on Fairtrade. Oxfam's Neil Bowker rejected criticism of the Fairtrade coffee project, saying: "It's all audited and monitored, from beginning to end, and we've got no doubts about the effectiveness."


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Kevin turns Left after all

Comment by Janet Albrechtsen on the sudden lurch to the Left by Australia's Labor party leader. He WAS promoting himself as a centrist but has now recast himself as an old-fashioned class warrior

Good news folks. I am forced to admit error. I had thought this would be - with one exception - an election between TweedleJohn and TweedleKev. With the one exception, a few weeks back Kevin Rudd looked like a Clayton’s John Howard - the Liberal Prime Minister you have when you’re not having a Liberal PM. Blairlike, Rudd had appeared to shift the ALP to the centre. Gone was the hit list of rich schools and Lathamesque forest policy. In was practical reconciliation with Aboriginals and abolition of the three mines uranium policy. The giant exception was, of course, WorkChoices. But even that was easily explained. The unions are planning to spend many tens of millions of dollars to get Rudd elected if he dumped WorkChoices. An easy decision for him - and to be fair he had always said he did not care for WorkChoices.

But as more policy emerges and the ALP’s national conference distills Labor’s election platform, the Tweedledum/Tweedledee analysis needs to be rethought. In critical respects Rudd has returned to the ALP’s past and sharpened the election differences mightily.

The symbolism of the “Gough for God” lionisation was the first chilling clue that Rudd Labor may be more traditional Labor than we had expected. It is, of course, obligatory at ALP conferences to pay tribute to the party’s past idols. But the deification of Whitlam, complete with chants of “we want Gough”, was not merely formulaic worship.

More substantial in policy terms was the adoption of the ALP’s broader economic platform, Rudd’s declaration that he would be a more “activist” PM and the concomitant jubilation of Jeff Lawrence (the ACTU secretary-in-waiting) and Doug Cameron at the party’s interventionist stance on industry policy. When political parties start espousing an “activist industry policy” it means they have succumbed to the ultimate political hubris - imagining that they can pick winners better than a free market and ignoring history that tells us that they can’t. Suddenly the ALP was looking more like Gough Whitlam than Tony Blair.

Add in the “workers paradise” elements of a European style family leave policy, the adoption of a federal bill of rights and a Fair Work Australia body that looks like a union picnic day, and Rudd Labor is no more just a little step to the left.

It is of course possible that this different face of Kevinism is just a feint. A carefully choreographed waltz with party unity, with a few necessary union slapdowns, after which Kevin tells the loyalists he respects them and will still love them in the morning. Maybe tomorrow, pragmatic centrist 21st century Kevin will re-emerge. Maybe he’ll keep switching from Whitlam Kevin to Howard Kevin depending on the audience. Who knows? One thing is clear. The real Kevin Rudd is not yet clear.


A bizarre blast from the past

Comment by Paul Kelly

Labor leader Kevin Rudd has seized a bizarre fate -- a resurrection of trade union power, collective bargaining rights and a far stronger industrial umpire as the keys to The Lodge. Rudd's new industrial policy is a giant step into the past. Indeed, so sweeping is Labor's embrace of the principles of collective power and re-regulation that it must be wondered whether Rudd fully comprehends what he has done. It is the most intriguing question from the ALP national conference.

Neither Rudd's spin as the leader of the future nor his selling of the policy as a homily to family values can disguise its reality - this is a radical re-casting against individual discretion, employers and small business in favour of collective power, trade unions and third-party enforcement. With this policy, Rudd forfeits any chance of being a serious rival to John Howard on economic policy. He looks a conventional leader using spin to pose as a modernist.

The mechanics of the decision are telling. The policy is a collaboration between two of Labor's best brains, ACTU chief Greg Combet and deputy leader Julia Gillard. It has not been approved by the Opposition front bench. It has not been vetted by Labor's business guru, Rod Eddington. It was not debated at national conference because it mirrors a Labor-ACTU consensus. Key sections were kept from business before the announcement. It draws a line in the sand. It defines Rudd's election strategy as a joint and massive assault by Labor and the trade unions against Work Choices.

At this point Labor loses the goodwill of big business, the hope of winning small business and the dream that it stands for entrepreneurship. Rudd's election strategy is to pitch to working families with the claim that an arrogant Howard has abandoned them. The stage is set for a bitter election over the industrial model that Australia needs for its open economy, an issue unresolved for a generation that now approaches showdown time. The Rudd-Gillard policy Forward with Fairness is a sweeping alternative to Work Choices. It reveals Labor's conviction that Work Choices is a loser for Howard, that Labor had no option but to find a policy acceptable to the unions and that its marketing by Rudd and Gillard should rely upon fairness and family values.

In his speech, Rudd said Howard had launched "an assault on Australian family life" and that Labor would "restore the balance". This is neither a credible nor accurate statement about the totality of Labor's policy. This policy goes far beyond any family friendly test. It is better described as union friendly. The details and the scale of Labor's package transcend any effort merely to restore fairness to the workplace.

Consider two of the latest elements. First, Labor will allow any workplace where there is 51per cent support for collective bargaining to impose this upon the employer for the entire workplace. The new umpire, Fair Work Australia, can decide whether there is majority support (yes, a union-organised petition is enough). The Labor Party calls this democracy and wants to pretend it is family friendly. In truth, it is about power. Power for collective at the cost of minority rights.

Second, Fair Work Australia centralises powers on a huge scale such that the advisory, mediating, prosecuting and judiciary functions are combined (yes, the umpire will have different divisions). This raises serious questions of workability and of the powers and culture of such an organisation. Its officials will be located in your neighbourhood. Is this a blessing or a terror for local business? It is significant that Labor formulated this concept in consultation with the unions and in secret from business. Such an institution is more about power than fairness.

In addition, Labor will create a new complex safety net based upon both 10 nationally legislated and universal conditions (applying to both big and small business) plus a re-strengthened award system containing a further 10 minimum standards. And don't forget: individual workplace agreements will be outlawed and unfair dismissal laws re-imposed.

Business wanted to believe in Rudd. It is unlikely to repeat the mistake. As an exasperated chief of the Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, said: "Kevin Rudd talks a lot about productivity but this re-regulation will lower productivity."


PM warns of Leftist threat to women's jobs

WOMEN with children would be at the bottom of the pile of job applicants under a Labor plan, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday. But Labor accused the PM of having a 1970s attitude to the workplace, with spokeswoman Julia Gillard describing Mr Howard's comments as bordering on the offensive. Under a new Labor workplace policy announced at the weekend, parents would have the legal right to demand flexible hours in the first five years of their children's lives.

But Mr Howard said the prospect of government officials interfering in the running of small businesses would be their ultimate nightmare. "Some employers will avoid employing women because they will be frightened of bureaucrats interfering in the running of their business," he said.

Under Labor's new workplace blueprint, parents can request flexible working arrangements up until their child reaches school age and employers will only be able to refuse on reasonable business grounds.

Ms Gillard said Mr Howard's dire warnings were similar to those made 30 years ago when women were granted paid maternity leave. "Since then women have flooded into the workplace," she said. A modern industrial relations system will cope with work hours suited to pick-ups from childcare centres, she said.


The "drought" was supposed to make food more expensive

But that pesky old reality is not co-operating with the theorists again

Inflation slowed in April helped by the falling cost of food and travel, but rising rents and the drought will keep pressure on inflation, a survey shows. The TD Securities/Melbourne Institute monthly inflation gauge rose 0.1 per cent in April and 3 per cent annually. That compares to a 0.5 per cent rise in March and 3.5 per cent over the year.

The figures may encourage the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), when it meets this week, to keep rates steady as a rising Australian dollar helps keep the cost of imported goods and materials in check. "The moderation in aggregate price pressure will be welcomed by the RBA when it meets tomorrow and should reinforce expectations that interest rates will remain on hold for another month," TD Securities senior strategist Joshua Williamson said.

Underlying inflation, which excludes volatile items such as petrol, slipped to 0.2 per cent in April or 2.8 for the year. That's slower that the 0.3 per cent rise in March. The results echo data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week that showed the consumer price index rose 0.1 per cent in the March quarter for an annual rate of 2.4 per cent. The RBA followed up with data that showed underlying inflation rose 0.5 per cent for the quarter - well below the 0.8 per cent economists suggested would trigger a rate rise.

Even so, the cost of living may accelerate amid rising rents and as drought threatens to curb food production. [We have had the alleged drought for some time already. When is it supposed to start working?]


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