Saturday, May 31, 2008

Warmist guru misrepresents the climate projections that he relies on

Kevin Rudd entrusts Ross Garnaut with Australia's long-term response to global warming, but the economics professor is in a tangle over how climate change will hit his own back yard. In a bid to build a sustainable second house behind his home in inner-Melbourne Princes Hill, Professor Garnaut has told the City of Yarra Council that global warming will lead to more hailstorms in Melbourne - a claim, it now emerges, at odds with those of leading climate change scientists.

In a letter to the council, the economist uses his expertise to argue that heritage traditions, including a slate roof, should not apply to the property when defending what objectors say is an ugly, curving steel roof set to dominate the streetscape at the rear of the property. He points out the greater resilience of a steel roof over slate given the increasing hailstorm threat. He says he has consulted the insurance industry in the course of his climate change work to back up his argument. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth assessment report, Climate Change 2007 - Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability - says in chapter 11: "Decreases in hail frequency are simulated for Melbourne and Mt Gambier." It does not back up Professor Garnaut's letter, which says: "Severe and more frequent hailstorms will be a feature of this change."

Professor Garnaut was quizzed about the letter at a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Thursday night. Victorian Liberal senator Mitch Fifield asked Professor Garnaut about an article in The Weekend Australian on May 10. Senator Fifield asked Professor Garnaut: "Were you seeking to use your position as a climate change adviser to influence a council decision for your private benefit?"

Professor Garnaut replied: "I should first point out that I did not have any role with the commonwealth at the time of those events. That relates to submissions to the Yarra Council last year. I can assure you and the committee ... that I was not trying to use my position to 'heavy' anyone."

Senator Fifield said: "Professor Garnaut, have you had any progress with the council?"

Professor Garnaut replied: "Senator, so that there will be no suggestion I am seeking to influence anyone, my wife is now handling this matter." The professor went on to tell the committee: "We instructed our architect to design a building that was exemplary in sustainability in every respect."

Ten neighbours in Park Street, Princes Hill - where Professor Garnaut wants to build the new home behind one he owns with his wife Jayne - have objected that the development does not meet heritage and residential codes. The dispute will be resolved in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal next week.

Professor Garnaut, who is due to hand down his final climate change review this year, was not available to comment yesterday, but his spokeswoman said the dispute was "a private matter".


Traditional views about women are now a "disease"

A footballer as a hero of free speech: For readers not resident in Victoria, Sam Newman is a TV commentator on Australian Rules football. He is now in his 60s but was once a distinguished footballer himself. Comments below by Andrew Bolt

Don't like Sam Newman? Then argue back. Abuse him if you must. Take away your advertising, or - even better - just turn him off. Hell, Channel 9 can even sack him from The Footy Show if it figures his act is stale. But send him to a re-education camp? Which Maoists at the station thought of that particular "cure" for inconvenient opinions? That was Nine's executive director, Jeffrey Browne, actually.

With women switching off the boofy Footy Show and advertisers pulling ads to placate women offended by Newman's ways, the boss panicked. It's two months since Newman caused uproar by groping a half-dressed mannequin he doctored to look like Age football writer Caroline Wilson, but only now has Browne decided Newman did what he did because he is actually sick. But Browne doesn't just think Newman is sick in body, needing an indefinite break "to return to full health" after two big operations, one to remove his prostate. He seemingly also figures Newman is sick in the head, and has ordered "as a component of this rehabilitation" that he "undergo counselling to address, with professional assistance, the behaviour and issues that have attended what I now believe to be his premature return to the program". How offensive and absurd.

What is this "behaviour" that Newman must be counselled out of? It is not just the fondling of that mannequin, which was indeed plain nasty and boorish. It is that Newman genuinely holds - and has expressed - certain views that some influential people in particular do not like and think it a sin to hold. A sign of poor mental hygiene. One such opinion is that some women with powerful jobs in football were "liars and hypocrites" in their criticisms of him. Another opinion is that women in top football jobs have had little to contribute and, "for very little input they demand a lot of clout".

Such comments have made Browne as jumpy as a TV executive who's just learned he's lost his parking spot. "The Nine Network, in its entirety, is respectful of women," he protests.

And Newman will now be counselled - with that grim "professional assistance" - until his own thinking on women is "rehabilitated" to the standards Browne thinks healthy.

What makes this so offensive is that Newman is already in no doubt that a lot of people object to his views. After all, The Age has lashed him hysterically from its front page to its back, devoting to his alleged sins the kind of oh-my-god coverage it normally reserves for global warming.

Lawyers have sent him stiff letters demanding satisfaction, talkback jockeys have climbed on his back, co-host Garry Lyon has fronted him, his boss has disowned him, football executives have bounced him, and all in all it's been the most wonderful lynch party. So many professional denouncers have got their rocks off on Newman that you could build a pyramid over his body to rival Giza. That's called debate. And Newman, having gone through it, will either modify his opinions or stick to them, having considered the counter-arguments and rejected them.

His opinions may be right or, more likely, wrong - matters best left to each of us to decide for ourselves. But I am sure those opinions are sincerely held by an intelligent man, who should be allowed to hold them without now being deemed to be sick and in need of treatment. Bad opinions are best countered by arguments, not cures and counsellors.

But such is the militant temper of these group-think times that lawyers and men in white coats are called in by the powerful to do what their reasoning cannot. Some opinions must now be held by everyone - or else the treatment begins. What arrogance. What an abuse of power.

See how hard it is already for people to speak their frank mind, with so many cause-pushers so ready to denounce, abuse and sue, and so many battalions of thought-police ready to help them punish bad thinkers with fines or even jail - to win by force arguments they could not win by words.

To think we've even had Christian pastors dragged through months of hearings and mountains of legal bills for having simply quoted the Koran in ways that made some people laugh. Heavens, if I didn't have a rich boss behind me, paying lawyers, I'd probably have to shut up, too.

That's why Newman is still so loved even when so widely deplored. He reassures us there is still some freedom to say what the hell we think, and damn the consequences. But to be accurate: Newman reassures us most of that freedom when he is actually at his most outrageous - because he'd prove nothing by just baa-ing, would he?

Yet even Newman seems about to fall. Counter-arguments haven't swayed him, so it's off to the re-education camp. Excuse me, Mr Browne. Newman needs none of your "counselling" or "rehabilitation". He simply disagrees with his critics. If you don't like it, sack him. But pay him the respect of treating his views as the product of his reason, not as symptoms of bad "health". Or must I send some "counsellors" of my own around to "rehabilitate" your own unhealthy thoughts?


Obesity epidemic 'a myth'

Target antifat messages at the fatties only! Whoda thunk it? Though what the government has to do with it at all needs to be questioned

AUSTRALIA'S childhood obesity epidemic has been "exaggerated" and government-led national prevention efforts may be misdirected, with childhood obesity only increasing in lower-income families. Controversial new research into childhood obesity rates has called into question whether the millions of dollars allocated by the Federal Government for obesity prevention programs should be targeted to the highest-risk groups, rather than focused at the general population.

The findings, based on measurements taken from thousands of Australian children in two nationally representative samples in 2000 and 2006, found that the growth in childhood obesity overall has slowed to a crawl, and the only statistically significant increases are now among boys and girls from low-income homes, The Australian reports.

Last night, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said obesity was "a significant challenge in health and a cause of several major chronic diseases - and will remain a priority for the Rudd Government". The overall obesity rate rose only slightly, from 6 per cent in 2000 to 6.8 per cent in 2006 - an increase researchers said was not statistically significant.

Among low-income boys, obesity almost doubled from 5.4 per cent in 2000 to 9.3 per cent in 2006. The increase for wealthier children was much less, rising from 4.9 per cent to 6.8 per cent among middle-income boys and from 3.7 per cent to 4.9 per cent for the wealthiest. Among low-income girls, the obesity rate increased from 3.9 per cent in 2000 to 6.8 per cent in 2006, whereas the rate stayed flat at 5.5 per cent for middle-income girls, and increased from 2.4 per cent to 3.9 per cent among high-income girls.

Australia's health ministers in 2003 labelled obesity "an epidemic". In this month's Budget, the Government said it would spend $62 million under its National Preventative Health Strategy to fight obesity, including nearly $13 million to fund a kitchen garden program in 190 schools nationally. But Jenny O'Dea, associate professor of child health research at the University of Sydney, will tell a Nutrition Australia conference next month that obesity in children "has not increased overall" between 2000 and 2006. In comments that have already drawn fire from some other obesity experts, Professor O'Dea told The Weekend Australian there was "no doubt that it (childhood obesity) has been exaggerated". "Some kids are more at risk than others, and that's where the prevention efforts need to go," she said.


Too bad if you need "elective" surgery

Almost 2700 Queenslanders who had elective surgery at a public hospital last financial year waited more than a year before they had their operation. And those patients needing surgery for painful hip, knee and varicose vein conditions had among the longest delays, a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says. The new data follows the release of the State Government's own figures this month indicating its elective surgery waiting lists have blown out by 15 per cent in less than three years.

Doctors recently warned the already long queues to get into operating theatres could worsen soon, with Queensland Health now forcing some of the state's top surgeons to take their backlog of holidays. And Health Minister Stephen Robertson was under pressure again earlier this week after revelations cancer patients were waiting up to three times longer for life-saving treatment than they should be at some of the state's biggest hospitals.

But the AIHW report, to be released on Friday, May 30, revealed Queensland had among the shortest waiting times in the country for elective surgery at a public hospital in the 2006-07 financial year. The report found half of the state's 108,000 public hospital elective surgery patients that year waited 25 days or less for their operation - a better result than any other state. Only 10 per cent of Queensland patients still had not been seen by a surgeon after 142 days. Nationally, half of all elective surgery patients waited 32 days or longer and another 10 per cent had yet to be admitted for surgery after 226 days.

The AIHW report found the surgery delays varied widely depending on the type of operation. In Queensland, public hospital patients needing treatment for varicose veins faced the longest queues, with only half getting their operation within 77 days and 10 per cent still waiting after two years and 40 days. There also were backlogs for Queenslanders needing knee replacements - with half of those patients waiting 74 days or longer and 10 per cent still not seen after 343 days.

Patients wanting hip replacements in the state's public hospitals also fared badly, with only half of those patients going to hospital within two months and 10 per cent still waiting after 245 days. Nationally, orthopaedic and ear, nose and throat surgery were the specialties with the highest proportion of patients facing delays of more than a year for surgery. There were 7.6 million hospital admissions for the year.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Your regulators will protect you -- in their usual bored way

Complaints about a mad doctor since 1986 but he was not deregistered until 2004. And he hurt lots of people in those 18 years of official sleep

The NSW Health Minister, Reba Meagher, has twice told Parliament no background checks were done on the rogue doctor at the centre of the Butcher of Bega scandal, despite a Government report confirming a month ago the Health Department knew of an issue with his obstetric practice when it hired him. Ms Meagher - who had refused to make the report public until yesterday - repeated in Parliament two weeks ago that no background checks were done on Graeme Reeves before he was employed as an obstetrician at two South Coast hospitals in 2002 despite being banned from the specialty in 1997. Police are investigating hundreds of serious allegations against Mr Reeves of sexual assault and botched procedures, including genital mutilation.

On May 15, Ms Meagher insisted no checks were done by the Greater Southern Area Health Service after the Herald revealed documents that showed a senior health executive hired Mr Reeves despite making a diary note of a referee telling him Mr Reeves was "not meant to do obstetrics". A report by the judge Deirdre O'Connor, dated May 2, stated that the Health Department should have directly contacted the NSW Medical Board to check his registration after the referee's warning and that its failure to do so was "the main oversight". The department had conducted a criminal record check.

The Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, called for Ms Meagher, who is overseas on holidays, to apologise for misleading Parliament. "Health Minister Reba Meagher has twice misled Parliament . where she said there's been no checks done . this report from Deirdre O'Connor clearly shows that there was a document among the papers that showed there'd been a reference check where it was pointed out that Dr Reeves was not supposed to do obstetrics," Mrs Skinner said.

The Health Department yesterday refused to discuss the diary note, as did a spokeswoman for Ms Meagher. "I'm just not going to have this conversation . she has not misled Parliament. She said from the beginning that no appropriate background checks have been carried out and the matter is now being investigated so we'll leave it there," the spokeswoman said. Both shunted blame for the delay in releasing the report onto the Garling health inquiry.

The O'Connor report confirmed executives at GSAHS knew Mr Reeves had been illegally practising obstetrics at Bega and Pambula hospitals as early as November 2002, and again twice in January 2003, but allowed him to continue in gynaecology until July 2003. The report shows the full extent of complaints made against Mr Reeves by medical staff and patients dating back to 1986 at Hornsby Hospital, and demonstrates a spectacular failure by NSW Health organisations to communicate. Mr Reeves was not deregistered until 2004.

Ms O'Connor's report recommended a review of information sharing and giving the Medical Board and HCCC greater powers to pursue and monitor doctors.


19th century medicine in a 21st century public hospital: Four days to diagnose a broken bone!

X-rays? Who cares about x-rays? That's all too hard!

Wide Bay mother Sharon Eggmolesse says it's not good enough that Bundaberg Hospital took four days to diagnose a painful break in her son's foot. Ms Eggmolesse told The Courier-Mail she had taken Jaeden, 9, to hospital on May 12. "His foot had swollen up and he couldn't walk on it at all," she said. After X-rays were taken, Ms Eggmolesse was told Jaeden could have jarred ligaments. He was sent home bandaged and on crutches with a direction to see his general practitioner in three days.

Ms Eggmolesse said that while they were at their GP, with Jaeden "in considerable pain", the hospital advised her husband it had now received an X-ray report from a radiologist saying a bone in Jaeden's foot was broken. She said she was told by her GP, who sought a second opinion, that Jaeden should have had his foot plastered straight away.

When she queried the delay with the hospital, she was told there was no radiologist on site and that Jaeden's X-rays, like those of all patients, had been sent off site. A radiologist in Victoria had detected the broken bone.

Queensland Health said the delay was not a symptom of the worldwide shortage of radiologists, which has prompted a private imaging clinic in Townsville to offer a salary package just shy of $1million in an effort to attract a radiologist. Rather, a Queensland Health spokesperson said only nine Queensland Health sites were staffed with radiologists. Nine other hospitals, including Bundaberg, used private providers; in Bundaberg's case, Medical Imaging Australia.

Ms Eggmolesse said her son had follow-up X-rays at a local private hospital, where the results were available the same day.


Emptyheaded Greenie politician gets business offside

Tensions are emerging between major greenhouse emitters and Climate Minister Penny Wong after a number of hostile meetings before the release of the Government's green paper on emissions trading in July. Senator Wong has told small groups of chief executives from major power and other energy-intensive companies that the Rudd Government's election promise of a renewable energy target was "not negotiable".

One of these meetings in Melbourne last Tuesday completely broke down, with Senator Wong reportedly furious at the way she was being treated by the eight business leaders present, telling them "you wouldn't treat (former Treasurer) Peter Costello the way you are treating me". Those present at the meetings, described by a spokesman for Senator Wong as "frank and robust," included Rio Tinto Australia managing director Stephen Creese, International Power executive director Tony Concannon, Alumina Limited chief executive John Marlay and senior executives from Exxon Mobil, CSR and BHP Billiton.

Big business and economists are growing concerned about the Government's refusal to budge on its 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 on top of an emissions trading scheme. The target was announced by Labor during the election campaign last year but has been widely criticised by economists and industry, claiming it will only drive in 10,000 new wind turbines at the expense of cheaper gas-fired power but not reduce greenhouse emissions any further.

Labor's promise was political but uncosted: the only estimates have come from the renewables industry, which said it would cut power costs by 5 per cent, and the gas industry, which says it will cost $1.8 billion by 2020. The Productivity Commission last week launched a scathing attack on the proposed targets in its submission to the Government's Garnaut review on climate change policy.

When flagging their concerns about the renewable energy target at the recent meetings, some industry representatives were told it was government policy and therefore not part of the negotiations about the design of an emissions trading scheme.

The value of the renewable energy certificates produced by renewable energy generators has more than doubled since the election. This suggests hoarding by some traders who believe their value will increase in the future caused by a shortage of new renewable energy generators to meet the increased target.

Members of the solar panel installation industry yesterday met Environment Minister Peter Garrett to raise their concerns over the introduction in the budget of a means test on the $8000 rebate.

Senator Wong is also understood to have signalled the Government's reluctance to compensate owners of coal-fired power stations for the multi-billion-dollar losses in asset values they face with the introduction of an emissions trading scheme in 2010. Sources from the meetings have reported disquiet from industry over the lack of transparency in the assumptions used by Treasury to model different trading scheme models and greenhouse gas abatement trajectories.

Treasury is due to report in August on the results of its economic modelling being conducted for both the Rudd Government and the climate change review led by professor Ross Garnaut. It is understood some of the frustration at these meetings arose after Senator Wong asked unprepared chief executives for more detailed data on their business costs. The Rudd Government is pushing ahead with its aggressive program to have a green paper ready by July and draft legislation finalised by the end of the year.


Appalling: Toddlers prescribed ADHD drugs

TODDLERS as young as two are being diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed drugs including Ritalin. Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph reveal 311 children in NSW aged five and under depend on controversial medication, including 58 four-year-olds and 13 three-year-olds. Health Department figures show that, nationally, doctors have prescribed ADHD drugs to five toddlers aged only two, despite possible side effects.

The mother of one four-year-old who has been on Ritalin since the age of three said she knew there could be long-term effects but the change in her son's behaviour was worth the risk. "At first I was hoping he didn't have ADHD and I didn't want to put him on medication but I thought I should give it a go and there has been a big improvement," the single mother of two told The Daily Telegraph.

But the disturbing figures tell only part of the story. They cover scripts subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme - only a proportion of the young children on ADHD drugs. With Australia's ADHD rates among the highest in the world, the federal Department of Health said prescriptions paid for without PBS subsidies "are a significant portion of the total scripts". It has no corresponding data for them.

The most widely prescribed drugs for the youngest children, according to the figures to March this year, continue to be Ritalin and the longer-lasting associated drug, Concerta, which was added to the PBS last year. Dexamphetamine is the next most popular while Strattera, a longer-lasting non-stimulant, is less popular and prescribed mainly for children aged six and older.

As well as the three and four-year-olds, there are 240 five-year-olds on subsidised ADHD drugs in NSW. There are 6692 6- to 10-year-olds, 9006 11- to 15-year-old and 2584 16- to 18-year-olds. The figures follow the State Government's ADHD review which found there was no overprescribing of drugs. But child psychiatrist Jon Jureidini said he was disappointed at the number of preschoolers on the list. "I would be confident that they (the drugs) are being inappropriately used in most cases of preschool children," Dr Jureidini said. "ADHD is not a good explanation for putting these children on drugs. "I have seen children of that age displaying very disturbed behaviour but it is usually a medical problem or significant family circumstances that are undermining their well-being."

However paediatrician Dr Michael Kohn, the treating doctor for the four-year-old, said he was not surprised at the number of children on ADHD medication. Dr Kohn, a senior staff specialist in paediatrics at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, said the prescribing of ADHD drugs to children aged four and less was strictly controlled in NSW. Specialists needed the permission of the state's Stimulant's Committee with the committee having to meet on each individual case.

Source. Commentary here

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Phony "surplus" budgeting by the Rudd government

If you are spending it, how is it a surplus?

If P.J. O'Rourke is right that giving money and power to government is like giving whisky and car keys to a teenager, then the Rudd Government has just been handed the finest whisky money can buy and the keys to a Maserati. It is a delicious problem that must make other countries green with envy.

Coming to power with a hefty budget surplus that is set to rise to almost $22 billion next year, enjoying the country's biggest boost to its terms of trade for almost 50 years, the question is how will the Government spend the spoils? While the Government has promised virtuous nation building, early signs of its intentions raise fears that its real model is closer to the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, which built roads to nowhere in order to protect its political hegemony.

Treasurer Wayne Swan apparently prefers a locked box for surplus cash. Well, he did in Opposition. He supported the Howard government's 2005 decision to establish the Future Fund on condition that taxpayers' dollars were safely stored away from politicians' hands in what he called a locked box. He said there could be public confidence in the Future Fund only if "it is in a locked box that can't be raided by the (Nationals), Peter Costello or anybody else". He said it over and over and over again. The phrase "locked box" was Swan's 2005 equivalent of today's mantra, "working families".

Fast forward to 2008, Swan is Treasurer and singing a different tune about what to do with excess cash. He has set aside $41 billion of taxpayers' dollars into the Building Australia Fund, the Education Investment Fund and the Health and Hospitals Fund. While the money will be given to the Future Fund for investment, none of it is in a locked box. Given Swan's stance in 2005, it is disappointing this piece of hypocrisy appears to have escaped a fawning press gallery.

Unlike the Future Fund, where only earnings can be used to assist future Australian governments to meet the cost of public sector superannuation liabilities, the capital of Swan's three funds is not preserved. Unusually, the Rudd Government will be able to draw on both the capital and the earnings, which raises the question of what advice cabinet received from Treasury on this score. Did Treasury advise the Government to place limits on capital expenditure? The Treasurer is not saying. If we are looking for signals as to the real purpose behind these funds, these are telling ones. Especially when one considers that, unlike the Future Fund, decisions about how the money will be spent will ultimately be determined by cabinet.

Neither has the Government yet limited itself with such trivia as project definitions, criteria for use of the funds, an investment mandate to guide the Future Fund on investing pending allocations to specific projects, requirements that there be returns on the investment or timetables (except that the Government has reserved the right to spend funds during election campaigns). Maybe the Government will get around to specifying all these things, but the early signs are very disturbing indeed.

The Government appears to be using the reputation of the independent Future Fund to give these funds a veneer of respectability, to assure us that our money will be wisely spent, but with none of the Future Funds' safeguards to instil public confidence to this end. Similarly, it is possible that the boards of these funds may simply provide a camouflage of respectability. Will their recommendations on spending be made public? If their proposals to cabinet are rejected, will the reasons be made public?

Details are scant. What we do know only raises suspicions that short-term political motivations will drive cabinet decisions. Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese, from the Labor Party's Left faction, has said the Government would not insist on commercial rates of return for its infrastructure fund. Instead, it might accept lower rates for projects that achieved "social goals". Albanese and the Treasurer have said the money could start flowing early next year for "nation-building" projects.

When trying to decode Labor speak about nation building and social spending, let's refer to former leader Mark Latham. While Labor would prefer we relegate Latham to the dustbin of history, he plays the useful role of whistleblower about the ALP's hankering for a more muscular, interventionist industry policy. Latham warned that the Building Australia Fund might be used to support the Government's preferred industrial projects, siphoning money to favoured companies and unions. "Always remember," Latham said, "that ministers who talk about nation building have interventionism and favouritism in the back of their minds."

Spending does not become wise spending by calling it nation building. More likely the opposite. Just as tariffs are no more than a tax on working families to support uncompetitive industries and the unions that feed on them, public spending on infrastructure can (if not watched like a hawk) become simply a redirection of taxpayers' money to projects and groups that could not convince real investors to back them. The other fear is that spending will be implemented with all the class envy that Labor ministers can muster. You only had to see the glee with which Albanese axed the upgrading of the North Bondi Surf Club last week to wonder whether infrastructure spending will not necessarily be sent where it will do the most good, but rather in directions that reward old friends and punish old enemies.

There is a particular risk in the present political environment that the federal Government will simply use these funds to prop up incompetent state Labor governments, who are already squealing for their cut of the loot. The money looks as secure as schoolboy Kevin Rudd's lunch money. ("Hand it over, Rudd. Let's keep this clean.") In NSW, for example, the Iemma Government is, at last, desperately trying to break free of union control to sell an inefficient power industry in order to fund hospitals, schools and trains. However, it is easy to see power and other public sector unions demanding that future federal funds be used for state infrastructure so that the states can use their money to maintain featherbedded public service employment.

It is of course possible that none of these scenarios will come to pass. It is possible that when the boards of these federal government funds are actually formed they will be able to fend off the depredations of marauding nation builders. But as we have been told so little about these funds, that is more pious hope than legitimate expectation. Having jemmied the locks of the boxes, the Rudd Government is unlikely to leave the contents undisturbed.


Some NSW teachers to be paid on merit

THOUSANDS of teachers are set to be judged partly on the academic performance of their students under a ground-breaking accreditation scheme to recognise excellence in the classroom. In an Australian first, the state's most outstanding classroom teachers will be able to apply for merit promotion to newly created advanced level positions. To qualify, teachers will have to demonstrate their students' achievements, provide work samples, submit references from parents and others and allow inspectors to assess their classroom performance.

The new positions - professional accomplishment and professional leadership - will eventually attract higher pay after negotiations with the Government or school authorities. The changes provide a new layer of seniority over the decades-old system of grading teachers automatically on length of service, and gazump the Rudd Government's agenda to reward classroom excellence. They also open the floodgates potentially for an even more comprehensive overhaul of teacher quality aimed at retaining the best teachers and weeding out duds.

Education Minister John Della Bosca said yesterday NSW would have the first comprehensive scheme in Australia to recognise excellence across the whole teaching profession in the state. All schools in the state will come under the new merit scheme judged on standards laid down by the NSW Institute of Teachers. "Outstanding teachers in NSW public, Catholic and independent schools will now have the opportunity to be formally recognised by the profession and the community by meeting high level professional teaching standards," Mr Della Bosca said.

Teachers yesterday welcomed the opportunity to gain recognition at an advanced level and said it would encourage many to remain in the classroom. The Teachers' Federation said it had a range of concerns about how the scheme would work and called for talks with the Government. It is now mandatory for all new teachers to be accredited at the level of professional competence but it is voluntary to apply for the two higher levels. Mr Della Bosca said the Institute of Teachers had developed standards setting out whole of career pathways for teachers in Government and non-government systems.


Cancer patients kept waiting for life-saving treatment

CANCER patients are waiting up to almost three times longer for life-saving treatment than they should be at some of the state's biggest hospitals. A leaked Queensland Health memo shows patients are being put at risk from radiation oncology unit delays at the Royal Brisbane and Women's, Princess Alexandra, Mater and Townsville hospitals. The patients are expected to wait an average of 27 days despite the "maximum acceptable limit" of 10 days. "Patients for whom delay in starting will have a significant adverse affect on outcome," the QH Radiation Therapy Services memo warns radiation oncologists.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson was unavailable Monday, May 26, but his department admitted treatment facilities were under pressure. The figures have prompted the Opposition to refer Mr Robertson for allegedly misleading State Parliament after he claimed last month there was no centrally collected data for waiting times.

Liberal health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the memo was further evidence the Minister was failing to contain waiting list blow-outs. "It is simply not good enough because this is important treatment for very sick people and lives are being put at risk," Mr Langbroek said. "People are dying in our system because of these poor services."

Townsville Hospital was expecting the worst delays with next appointments 28 days away for category two patients, followed by RBWH and the PAH on 25 days. Category three patients were waiting as long as 55 days in Townsville despite a maximum recommended wait of 20 days. The department said all category one patients were cleared immediately.

Queensland Health cancer control chair Euan Walpole said the memo was used to help clinicians plan appointments, adding some patients may be treated sooner. "The Government has provided an extra linear accelerator both at Townsville Hospital and the PA Hospital, and staffing has been increased to extend the operating hours of the available machines, providing additional treatment shifts," Dr Walpole said.

The Courier-Mail has recently highlighted problems with waiting lists for other treatments such as breast cancer due to a shortage of radiographers. Australian Medical Association Queensland president Ross Cartmill said the figures again illustrated the poor planning and chronic underfunding of health. "If these people are being treated for malignancies with radiation, they are suffering very serious problems and must be treated quicker," Dr Cartmill said.


"Hobbit" discoverer unrepentant

Despite widespread skepticism in the scientific community, he still believes that the hobbit is a new species. He is right about relatives in Australia, though. He should research the pygmy people of Kuranda in North Queensland. One walked right past me last time I was in Kuranda

A scientist who believes he has discovered the "Hobbit'' on an Indonesian island says a relative of the species may have existed in the Top End. Professor Mike Morwood has created an international storm since his discovery of Homo floresiensis -- dubbed the Hobbit because of its small size and big feet -- on Flores in 2003. He presented a lecture on his findings at Charles Darwin University yesterday.

The archaeologist said the Hobbits, who were only about one metre tall and weighed just 30kg, existed on the remote island until about 12,000 years ago. And he believes they could have had relatives living in northern Australia.

Professor Morwood is leading a team of scientists tracking the spread of Homo floresiensis. They are working in Timor and Sulawesi and will soon extend their research to the NT and northern Western Australia. "We are searching for relatives and ancestors of the Homo floresiensis,'' he said. "I think there are a few surprises in store yet, especially for northern Australia.''

Indonesian seafarers on their way to Australia to collect sea cucumbers between 1720 and 1900 are believed to have scattered pottery along the Kimberley coastline. Professor Morwood believes the ancient Hobbits may have used the same sea currents to reach Australian shores. He said his team had found the bones of several Hobbits at Liang Bua cave on Flores. Among the creature's unique features were an incredibly small brain -- just one-third the size of a human brain -- and remarkably long feet. He believes the Hobbit may have existed on the island up to 100,000 years ago.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Police goons at work

Very low expectations of the Queensland police have always been wise

A Queensland woman is suing the state government over an alleged assault by police in Brisbane's central business district last year. Lawyers for Suzanne Williams today launched legal action seeking damages from the Queensland Government after she suffered "physical and psychological injuries" from the incident on the night of July 22 last year.

Ms Williams was outside Caesar's Nightclub on Adelaide Street with her two daughters' boyfriends when they were set upon by police officers, lawyer Roger Singh said. CCTV footage of the incident was aired on the Seven Network earlier this month, with Ms Williams telling the Today Tonight program the two males had been drinking. Ms Williams claims she was sober at the time.

Her head was smashed into the footpath when a police officer threw Ms Williams to the ground, Mr Singh said today, and she is still suffering debilitating headaches as a result. "Ms Williams is traumatised by the events of that night and continues to suffer flashbacks and nightmares - symptoms that are consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder," he said. "She has become reclusive, not venturing out as much as she previously did, and one of her daughters describes her as a shadow of her former self".

A charge of obstructing police against Ms Williams has since been dropped. Police officer Michael Anthony O'Sullivan, 35, has been charged with common assault for allegedly attacking Christopher Ahovelo, one of the males with Ms Sullivan. He faced Brisbane Magistrates Court two weeks ago, where the case was adjourned for six weeks. O'Sullivan was stood down from frontline duties in April.


Official police fraud

Sounds like hush money

Chris Hurley - the policeman acquitted of manslaughter over a Palm Island death in custody, only to face a civil claim from the victim's family - received a confidential $100,000 payment from the Queensland Government after the incident.

When autopsy results revealed on November 24, 2004, that Cameron Doomadgee, known in death as Mulrunji, had died of "an intra-abdominal haemorrhage caused by a ruptured liver and portal vein", Palm Islanders rioted and burnt down the police station, watchhouse and officer-in-charge's residence. The officer, Senior Sergeant Hurley, was not on the island at the time. Having arrested the drunk and abusive Mulrunji and hauled him into the watchhouse, Sergeant Hurley was handling Mulrunji when the islander suffered his fatal injuries.

Two weeks after the riots, Sergeant Hurley lodged a claim with the Queensland Police Service for reimbursement of the cost of replacing belongings lost in the fire. Details of the claim were never publicly released. The documents, released to The Australian after a Freedom of Information request a year ago, show that two weeks after the riots, on December 10, 2004, Sergeant Hurley sent his superiors a memo with a list of personal property believed to have been in the three-bedroom residence when it was burnt down. "This list is as exhaustive as possible from memory alone," Sergeant Hurley wrote. The total of the items on the list came to $102,955, but the items were exempted from release under FOI and will remain secret.

Sergeant Hurley sent a similar memo to the district office the same day, with a smaller list of police property and some personal items, including a Parker pen he valued at about $100, a torch valued at $80, two coffee mugs and a 2004 hardcover diary. "In relation to my personal property, as you area (sic) aware the OIC residence was also totally destroyed during the riot hence I have no proof of purchase for my personal items," Sergeant Hurley wrote. "I am prepared if necessary to complete a statutory declaration. "I respectfully request permission to replace these items and have the Queensland Police Service meet the cost," Sergeant Hurley said.

The claim went as high as a deputy commissioner and was paid in full on February 11, 2005, with the QPS expenditure voucher declaring the payment to Sergeant Hurley to be "loss of property compensation".

Andrew Boe, who is representing Mulrunji's family in the civil case against Sergeant Hurley, was outraged when told of the payout. "The ex-gratia payment to Chris Hurley, by government, for his material losses in the riot should be contrasted with the losses sustained by Mulrunji's spouse and family as a result of his death at Hurley's hands, which presently remains uncompensated," Mr Boe said. "It is difficult not to be offended by the irony."

The average sum of household contents insured in Australia - by singles, couples and families of all socioeconomic levels - is $70,000. Palm Island is considered one of the poorest areas in Australia, and has a high crime rate. A police spokesman yesterday revealed the other 10 officers who lost property in the fire were paid only $17,579.90 in total.

The spokesman again refused to list the items claimed for compensation by Sergeant Hurley. "Senior Sergeant Hurley did not provide a statutory declaration and the service had no concerns with the claim," the spokesman said. Sergeant Hurley and the other officers who lost property in the riots benefited from a public appeal run by the Queensland Police Union.

The Australian applied under FOI a year ago for access to documents related to the case. While the QPS recommended certain documents be released, Sergeant Hurley had his lawyers demand an internal review and then took the case to the Office of the Information Commissioner. The Office of the Information Commissioner has now backed the original decision by the QPS, also endorsing the original exemptions used to delete certain information from release.

The QPS payment was made shortly before the start of a coronial inquest into the death, which led Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements to find: "Hurley caused the fatal injuries." The then director of public prosecutions, Leanne Clare, opted not to lay charges, but after political intervention and a review of the case by former NSW chief justice Laurence Street, Sergeant Hurley was charged on February 5 last year with manslaughter and assault. He was found not guilty by a jury in the Townsville Supreme Court on June 20, and has since taken legal steps to have Ms Clements's findings struck off the record. A QPS spokesman was unable to comment on the case last night, and Sergeant Hurley's lawyer, Glen Cranny, declined to comment.


Australia's public broadcaster lets its contempt for ordinary people show a little more clearly than usual

The fact that most Australians watch commercial channels most of the time must rile these elitists

An ABC website has been accused of portraying farmers and forestry workers as evil, and telling kids how much carbon they can produce before they die. The Planet Slayer website, which can be accessed via the science section on the ABC home page, also demonises people who eat meat and those involved in the nuclear industry, a Senate estimates committee heard.

The site has several features including a cartoon series, Adventures of Greena, and a tool called Prof Schpinkee's Greenhouse Calculator to help kids work out their carbon footprint. The calculator lets users compare their own carbon output to the "average Aussie greenhouse pig" and estimates at what age a person should die so they don't use more than their fair share of the Earth's resources. Too much carbon production causes a cartoon pig to explode, leaving behind a pool of blood.

Victorian Liberal senator Mitch Fifield today questioned the accuracy and appropriateness of some of the imagery and content on the website. "I know there's a little bit of goth in all of us, but this might be taking it just a little too far," Senator Fifield said of the quasi life-expectancy calculator. "Do you think it's appropriate that the ABC portray the average Australian as a pig and is it appropriate for a website obviously geared towards kids to depict people who are average Australians as massive overweight ugly pigs, oozing slime from their mouths, and then to have these pigs blow up in a mass of blood and guts?"

Senator Fifield said the Adventures of Greena cartoon series, which follows the exploits of a young female activist, also raised questions. He said episode two of the 12-part series, Fistful of Woodchips, portrayed a logger as "rough and evil". "I don't think that it's a particularly helpful way of depicting hard-working Australians who are trying to go about making an honest living, as though they're these rough and evil dudes out to do bad."

Senator Fifield said other episodes in the series portrayed people who eat meat, those involved in the nuclear industry and farmers who grow GM crops as evil. "I'm not sure if it's helpful to portray struggling farmers who are looking at GM technology to help them improve their yield in a period of drought as some sort of evil promoters of (these) products."

ABC managing director Mark Scott said the site was not designed to offend certain quarters of the community but to engage children in environmental issues. "The site has been developed to appeal to children and its been done in an irreverent way ... to make it engaging," Mr Scott said. "It's not an attempt to write public policy ... it's an attempt to educate school students on the impact of the modern Western lifestyle on carbon emissions and the whole issue that we are dealing with." Mr Scott said the ABC would review the content on the site.


Toddler's surgery cancelled three times in a row by public hospital

A two-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who requires surgery to stop vomiting six times a day has had her surgery cancelled three times, her father has said. The last cancellation, yesterday, happened after the girl and her parents were forced to wait at Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, from 10am until 3.45pm, said the girl's father, Nick Thomas.

The toddler, Zara , was told last year she needed corrective surgery to fix a reflux problem, Mr Thomas said. "We were told last year that she needed it because she's been in hospital twice with pneumonia," he told Radio 2UE. "When she vomits ... she can't move [her] head around [and it] ends up back in her lungs, [causing] pneumonia."

After meeting with doctors in January this year, Mr Thomas was told there was a three-month waiting list for the surgery, which was booked for April 22. But the hospital cancelled the surgery because the doctor was away, Mr Thomas said. "They rescheduled and rung us two days before she was meant to go in and cancelled again," he said. Yesterday was the third time the surgery was cancelled, but only after Zara had to wait at the hospital most of the day, Mr Thomas said.

"We got there at 10am, we had to stop her feeding at 7am, and we didn't take any milk with us thinking she was going to have the operation. "They came in at 3.45pm yesterday afternoon and they said they didn't have enough time to do the surgery. "They want us to come back on Thursday and they can't promise it."

Mr Thomas said the hospital staff told him they had complained to the Health Minister Reba Meagher that they needed more theatre time. The minister's office has been contacted for comment. "We're a first world country, this shouldn't happen," Mr Thomas said. "You go there and see all the kids and it's not fair [that] they have to wait."

A doctor at the hospital said Zara's surgery was postponed because more critical cases had arisen. "The hospital sincerely regrets the distress caused by the rescheduling of her previous surgeries," Michael Brydon, director of clinical operations Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, said. "The surgeon was required to operate on more seriously ill patients that he deemed to have a higher clinical need than Zara. As is always urgent critical or emergency care must take priority,'' Dr Brydon said. Surgery for Zara had now been scheduled for tomorrow, he said.

Mr Thomas said he did not have private health insurance. But the head of one of Australia's biggest health insurance funds contacted 2UE after hearing Mr Thomas's call, and pledged to cover the full cost of Zara's treatment, the radio station said. The fund did not wish to be named. "I don't know what to say ... that's great, that's awesome," Mr Thomas said, after 2UE called him to inform him of the fund's promise.


Australian troops want to fight

The exclusion of Australia's infantry troops from frontline conflicts, including in Iraq, has left many feeling ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform, an army major says. Major Jim Hammett, who has served in East Timor, Iraq, Somalia and Tonga, also said the policy had exposed Australian troops to "near contempt'' from other foreign soldiers now serving in Iraq, Fairfax has reported. "In the opinion of many infantrymen, the lauding of their contributions to recent operations does not ring true,'' Major Hammett writes in the Australian Army Journal. "Many within its ranks suspect that the role of the infantry has already been consigned to history ... the ongoing inaction (in Iraq) ... has resulted in collective disdain and at times near contempt by personnel from other contributing nations for the publicity-shrouded yet force protected Australian troops.''

Major Hammett said the infantry, which makes up about a third of the army's combat forces, had not been assigned offensive actions since the Vietnam War despite steady overseas deployments since 2001. It was only Australia's special forces, including the SAS, that were sent on offensive operations, he said. "The restrictions placed on deployed elements as a result of force protection and national policies have, at times, made infantrymen ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform and regimental badge,'' Major Hammett wrote. ''(They) have resulted in the widespread perception that our army is plagued by institutional cowardice.''

In a separate article cited by Fairfax, Captain Greg Colton, second in command of the Sydney-based 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, said infantry morale had deteriorated in the past 10 years as regular infantry units were given only "second-rate operational tasks''. "There is a growing sense of frustration,'' Captain Colton wrote. "The government and army hierarchy seem to favour special forces for deliberate offensive operations and tasks ... at a lower level the diggers, NCOs and junior officers are starting to question the infantry's role and their part in it, which is having a tangible effect on morale.''


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Aboriginal activist condemns Aboriginal bureaucrats

The part-Aboriginal stirrer below is both right and wrong: Right about the useless bureaucrats and wrong in thinking that there is actually something that they could do if they tried.

The implicit goal of the do-gooders is to make whites out of blacks. It is an absurdity. All sorts of policies have been tried with that as the implicit aim but nothing works, of course. I have been watching the permutations for 50 years and the least destructive policies were the ones of the missionaries of now long bygone years. They were "paternalistic" but the blacks were undoubtedly healthier and less self-destructive then. And some blacks back then DID make a fairly successful transition to mainstream white society. The coming of welfare payments was the real knell of doom for blacks, however. They have now lost their own culture without acquiring the white man's culture. They are truly lost souls and I can see no way forward for them in the present political climate -- or perhaps ever.

Meanwhile the organizations devoted to Aboriginal welfare are just providers of cushy jobs for Leftists with second-rate academic qualifications. And about all they do is sit on their behinds and suck tea.

Tackling indigenous disadvantage was being hindered because tens of thousands of people employed in the "Aboriginal industry" were simply collecting their salary and serving out time instead of tackling the hard issues, according to a leading Aboriginal academic. Queenslander Stephen Hagan made the claim in his weekend Rob Riley memorial lecture in Perth, during which he questioned whether remote communities should continue to exist or should be shut down.

Mr Hagan, a lecturer at Toowoomba's Southern Cross University, said domestic violence in communities, which had led to increasing killings of Aboriginal women in remote parts of central Australia, required "a seismic shift in attitude". "We all need to pool our collective thoughts on how we can best tackle this insidious problem afflicting our communities that has obviously been allowed to fester unchallenged by people in positions of responsibility for far too long," he said.

"This skinny latte ideology suggests that many public figures, indigenous and non-indigenous, working in the indigenous industry have taken a lighter option to heavy lifting when tackling indigenous disadvantage - safe in the knowledge that results in their field are not aspirational outcomes that governments expect to see. "So instead of being proactive in the task at hand, many sadly are simply going through the process of ensuring their adherence to their duty statement is not brought into question, while accumulating their superannuation entitlements through the passage of time. "Many simply wait their turn for a comfortable middle-management job to present itself, without a worry in the world about the plight of the most marginalised in society."

"A bit like drinking a skinny latte, thinking you're addressing a weight issue - the more you drink it, the more you believe it. "Those who fall into this category know who they are because they must number in the tens of thousands - as the problems at the grassroots level continue to escalate unabated."

Mr Hagan put to the audience that a possible answer to solving the problems of child abuse and domestic violence in rural and remote communities was to "shut them down". But he warned that most Australians would probably support the view adopted by senator Chris Evans in June 2006 that shutting down remote indigenous communities would only relocate the problems of violence and abuse. "Could it possibly be that indigenous Australians are a product of their inability to adapt, restructure and re-educate?" he asked.

Mr Hagan said he often marvelled at the way mainstream Australians openly assisted waves of immigrants from overseas "with empathetic outstretched hands". "Yet they (mainstream Australians) steadfastly brush us aside when we seek commensurate assistance for basic services," he said. "However, I do believe many of our mob are doing themselves a disservice by routinely singing the 'poor bugger me' tune, while apportioning blame to non-indigenous people for their insufferably slow progress in gaining social and economic parity."


No excuses for indigenous students

This guy is right but he is pissing into the wind. What he wants "aint gunna happen" -- though there are always individual exceptions, of course

The indigenous community has to discard the misguided notion that gaining an education makes them less Aboriginal. One of the nation's most respected indigenous educators, Chris Sarra, has called on the Aboriginal community to ensure children take their rightful place in the Rudd Government's education revolution. Ahead of his address to the National Press Club today to mark Sorry Day, Dr Sarra said Australian society had to stop making excuses for Aboriginal students being chronic under-achievers who failed to attend school, and expect the same of them as any other student.

He said the Aboriginal community had a responsibility to embrace the education revolution and discard any idea that it threatened indigenous culture. "We have to stop making excuses now and stop thinking schools are turning our kids into being like white kids," he told The Australian. "We have to understand the more educated we become, the greater the scope for us to enhance our culture and sense of Aboriginal identity."

Dr Sarra is a member of the federal Government's Australian Social Inclusion Board, announced last week, and director of the Indigenous Education Leadership Institute in Queensland. He was principal of Cherbourg State School, with a predominantly indigenous student population, where he introduced initiatives that cut absenteeism by 94per cent and brought literacy and numeracy results to the state average.

Dr Sarra said the perception that school was bad for indigenous culture stemmed partly from the older generation's memories of school and how Aborigines were represented. But the feeling was sustained by non-indigenous people holding the "romantic view" that remote communities should be left to their own devices to follow their own culture. "That's fine for tourists who are driving through and want to see them as museum pieces," he said.

In his speech today, Dr Sarra intends to present a way forward for indigenous education and says the Government's education revolution must include Aboriginal Australians. "If we lift the education standard for indigenous Australian children, we lift the overall education standard of all Australians," his speech says. "We must demand that indigenous Australian children have access to that which we would consider quality education outcomes for any Australian child."

Dr Sarra outlines what he says are the five most fundamental strategies to ensure Aboriginal children perform at the same level as other school students: developing a positive Aboriginal identity in schools, embracing Aboriginal leadership in schools, high expectations of Aboriginal students, innovative schools and innovative staffing models.

But the biggest challenge is providing schools Aboriginal children want to go to, and that requires rethinking the way things are done outside the traditional school day of 9am to 3pm. Dr Sarra says secondary school education for remote students needs to be redesigned, with options such as residential or boarding facilities in bigger regional centres considered. Also required was greater flexibility in the school calendar to better address the wet-dry seasonal issues in northern Australia and more flexibility about teaching hours to better engage and meet the needs of students.


U.S. Memorial Day

The world of blogs picks up lots of stuff that you would never read in the old media. An excellent example is a post by John Rubery who has marked Memorial Day by a tribute to the Australians who have fought alongside Americans in America's wars since 1900 -- even in Vietnam and currently now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australians celebrate their equivalent of Memorial Day on April 25th. And our ANZAC day is undoubtedly our most solemn national day. So it is easy for Australians to understand how Americans feel on their similar occasion. You can read what I wrote last April 25th here.

John Rubery is a "blogging friend" of mine so I think I should warn him about the Australian sense of humour if he ever comes to Australia. Australians have great fun with nicknames. There is a short stocky Australian mining magnate who is referred to even in the media as "Twiggy" (after a very thin British model of yesteryear); Redheads are commonly addressed as "Bluey" and I have even heard German immigrants with the Christian name of "Heinz" referred to as "57 varieties". So if he were ever here for long John Rubery would undoubedly be addressed by his friends as "Rubbery".

Pay more for modern drugs and live longer?

Oh dear! I would have expected better than this of economists. The finding that people who use expensive modern drugs live longer is entirely to be expected from the fact that such people are undoubtedly richer. High social class people live longer generally

AUSTRALIANS can add almost 15 months to their lifespan by using the latest drugs - if they can afford it. A study has confirmed the benefits of new-generation medicines, but finds they come at a cost of $10,585 for every extra year of life. The study, published this month by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, compared the average age at death from 1995 to 2008 with dates of registration of 113 drugs being sold in Australia. It found a link, with later-version drugs, rather than older ones, associated with longer lifespans.

"This implies that using newer drugs has reduced premature mortality - especially mortality before age 65 - in the Australian population," it says. The study suggested older medicines still offered benefits, noting that even in the absence of the most recent pharmaceuticals, average age at death would still have increased by about eight months.

Health economists have paid increasing attention to the cost of drugs as spending on Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme has risen. The PBS, which costs taxpayers about $6 billion a year, subsidised 80 per cent of the 170 million prescriptions that were filled in 2004-05. The agency's budget grew by 12.9 per cent a year from 1997-98 to 2002-03, before growth rates slowed due to pricing reforms.


Coke safer than water!

But still not safe enough for the attention-seeking fanatics. Given the vast amount of Sodium benzoate that has already gone down throats worldwide with no demonstrable harm resulting, the whole thing is a crock, anyway

Coca-Cola Australia has no plans to phase out a controversial additive in its drinks, despite moves in Britain to remove it. Sodium benzoate has been linked to damage to DNA and hyperactivity in children [For the crap that passes for reseach on the connection between food additives and hyperactivity see my post of 25th], and is used as a preservative in Diet Coke in Australia. Coca-Cola in Britain said it had begun withdrawing the additive from Diet Coke in January in response to consumer demand for more natural products.

Sodium benzoate is used to stop fizzy drinks going mouldy. It is found naturally in some fruits, including bananas, but is used in greater strengths in the soft drink industry. A statement from Coca-Cola revealed there were no plans to change the formulation of the popular drink in Australia. "The use of food additives is strictly regulated under Australian law," it stated. "All of the ingredients used in products of The Coca-Cola Company are safe and approved for use by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand."

A survey by FSANZ in 2006 found levels of benzene and sodium benzoate in soft drinks were well below World Health Organisation guidelines for levels in drinking water. Even so, they have been working with the food industry to reduce the level of benzene in drinks.


Global warming has not killed off the frogs after all

QUEENSLAND frogs, feared to be on the path to extinction, have defied the experts by making a comeback. Frogs from rainforest mountain streams in north and southeast Queensland are returning to areas where they have not been recorded for many years. "There is a ray of light at last for these animals," said Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service herpetologist Harry Hines.

In a phenomonon that started in the late 1970s, six Queensland frog species became extinct when the chytrid virus invaded their pristine habitat in the rainforest streams. The fungus infects frog skins, destroying the animals' breathing and nervous systems. Experts believe infection is triggered by a factor such as pollution from agricultural chemicals, increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation, or temperature rises from climate change.

The Queensland extinctions, which included the unique platypus frog, coincided with a worldwide crash in amphibian populations, feared by some observers as the harbinger of impending environmental disaster linked to climate change.

Mr Hines has noted recent increases in numbers of the tiny Kroombit tinker frog in the forests of the Kroombit Tops, near Gladstone in central Queensland. Three species of closely allied tinker frogs were among the extinction victims of the chytrid virus. The Kroombit frogs have reappeared at one monitoring site from which they had vanished, and as many as 40 of the amphibians were found at each of several other sites.

Mr Hines said that at several places in the state's southeast and north, species such as the cascade tree frog have returned to areas from which they had long disappeared. "While some species have taken a fair whack, we have gotten to a point where things are reasonably stable," hesaid. Mr Hines said it was possible frogs were building up immunity to the fungus, or that the disease was becoming less deadly. Alternatively, factors that triggered fungal infection might no longer be present.

He cautioned that populations of some species, while stabilising, were low compared to what they were 20 or 30 years ago. The Kroombit tinker frog was still at risk from the destruction of its rainforest habitat by feral pigs and bushfires.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Girl, 12, in sex change 'brainwashed by mother'

Australia has an age of consent for sex but not an age of consent for sex change??

A 12-year-old girl who a court has allowed to begin sex change treatment has been vindictively "brainwashed" by her mother into making the decision, a relative says. A cousin who stayed with the girl's family for two and a half years from 1999 says that after a bitter break-up the mother has used the girl to get back at the father. "She's been brainwashed from an early age," the cousin, who cannot be named to preserve the girl's anonymity, told

On behalf of the father's side of the family the cousin is appealing to the legal fraternity for pro bono help in fighting the case after the father ran out of money to afford representation in opposing the sex swap request. The girl has begun hormone treatment in the first step toward a complete gender switch after the Family Court in closed session last December gave permission for the mother's request, with the girl being represented by a lawyer paid for by the Victorian Government.

The court was told girl that the girl had always considered herself a boy and was at risk of self harm if she continued to develop into a woman. "There is more to the story than what has been put to court," the cousin said. "I just don't think it is right. The court affidavits only present the mother's point of view in everything." The cousin says he observed from the time he lived with the family that the girl had always been strongly influenced by her mother. "The mother drilled into the girl from an early age that she would have preferred a boy."

He said he had observed the girl was "a bit of a tomboy" who liked playing with boys' toys and the father had mildly disapproved of this but had given way before the mother's insistence the girl should do what she wanted. The girl had only expressed the strong desire to be a boy since the parents had a bitter break-up, according to the cousin. He alleges the mother has sent text messages to the father gloating about the court ruling, which was also supported by a state government observer, an endocrinologist, a psychiatrist and a family counsellor. "This is just one of the many things in her arsenal to inflict pain and suffering on him, " the cousin said. "It seems like she's (the girl) been brainwashed without being given the alternatives." "They've just been lucky enough to get doctors' evidence that she might commit self harm."

The cousin says a psychiatrist employed by the father's legal representation was unable to get access to the girl. Hormones implanted under the 12-year-old's skin every three months will stop her menstruating and prevent her hips and breasts growing. The court heard the hormone therapy was reversible and would give the family "breathing time" with progresive sex change treatments and operations requiring further court orders.

The cousin questioned how "reversible" the treatment was. "There will be psychological consequences that are not reversible," the cousin said. "I don't think the side effects have been adequately considered. How people threat her will have an effect. "She will never have this time in her life again."

He questioned whether the girl was really confused about gender identity or just about her sexuality. "This procedure is being used as a blunt object." The cousin says the father's side of the family was not opposed to sex change procedures for adults. "In these circumstances we just don't think it is appropriate, " he said. "This was the option presented to her and it was so easy to say yes. "If I felt the girl was capable of consenting to this I would say fine."


RailCorp managers 'dangerously incompetent'

Governments never have been any good at running railways. Think British Rail and Amtrak

INCOMPETENT managers at RailCorp are putting the lives of NSW train passengers at risk, a confidential audit says. A leaked document shows more than 50 per cent of RailCorp areas under audit - 63 out of 117 areas - are deemed high risk, with the other 54 areas regarded as medium risk, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The state-owned body is responsible for the safe operation, crewing and maintenance of passenger trains and stations. But the audit reveals every aspect of information it has made public about dangerous driving - on-time running, customer satisfaction, and disrupted or cancelled services - may be inaccurate or unreliable.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union has called for the secret document, on which the claims are based, to be released immediately. "These revelations are astonishing, revealing a rail system in crisis and a culture of buckpassing by managers who are paid big dollars but continually fail workers and commuters," union secretary Nick Lewocki said in a statement today. "Rather than continually cutting frontline staff the Iemma Government needs to take control of senior management. "At a time when rail workers are struggling to get pay increases we now see RailCorp management incompetence in addition to massive corruption that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars."

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said if the Government had nothing the hide, the document should have been released when it was finished eight months ago. "This document listed almost half of all RailCorp activities as high risk and failing to comply with all the expectations," Mr O'Farrell told Fairfax Radio Network today. "It's outrageous commuters first learnt about it through a leak to the media."

Last week former Railcorp boss Vince Graham told an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry the cover-up of fraudulent activities at the agency would probably continue for some time. "The culture of not reporting and the culture of cover-ups is certainly an issue I would agree with," Mr Graham said. "And I have no expectation that the cultural issue is going to be dealt with in a week, or a month (or) even a year." Conditions at RailCorp worsened when the reliability of passenger rail services "fell in a hole" in 2004, Mr Graham said last week.

The leaked document, RailCorp Three Year Strategic Internal Audit Plan for 2008-10, on which the latest claims are based, says many high-risk areas will not receive attention for another two years.

A spokesman for Transport Minister John Watkins has denied the document is a comprehensive audit of RailCorp, instead describing it as a blueprint of at-risk issues for future audits. But the union said safety issues were routinely raised by RailCorp staff and ignored by management. "The hardworking staff on Sydney trains and in our stations are doing all they can to keep the system operating but the abject failure of management makes this job near impossible," Mr Lewocki said. "The most concerning part of today's revelations is not just that these risks exist but that in several cases it appears RailCorp management intend to take no action to fix the problems and ensure the safety of workers and the community."


A new rail boondoggle coming up

Despite the recent experience of the hugely expensive but totally useless Darwin link! It's just "playing trains" on a huge scale

The inland rail route from Melbourne to Brisbane is a bad idea whose time may have come. With $20 billion burning a hole in his pocket, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has signalled that the link is close to the top of his list of priorities for his new statutory authority, Infrastructure Australia.

Leading transport economists employed by the Government fear it will be the death knell for rail in Australia. Not only will traffic fail to meet the ambitious projections they expect to be made for it, but it will also destroy what is left of the marginal viability of the Melbourne-Sydney and Brisbane-Sydney rail links.

If the Alice to Darwin rail link somehow encapsulated the Howard government's preparedness to spend a dollar in pursuit of a vote, regardless of the economic cost, the Melbourne-Brisbane rail route exposes the folly of treating infrastructure as an end in itself.

With the exception of the bulk ore lines, the rail industry as a whole is in a parlous financial state. The dismal performance of the leading rail operator, Asciano, which has dropped 60 per cent in value since listing in June last year, is symptomatic of the industry's problems.

It is senseless for the public to be funding massive expansion projects for it until the industry's structural problems have been tackled. However, this falls well beyond the brief of Infrastructure Australia, which is cast as judge in a beauty pageant of grand visions. After more than 11 years of talk, promises and press releases from the Howard government and its various National Party transport ministers, the Rudd Government had taken just a little over 100 days to push the inland rail proposal to the next critical stage, Albanese said when committing $15 million to the feasibility study in March. It is the biggest project which the Government has resolved to advance, and fits the nation-building ambitions outlined in its first budget.

The idea has indeed been around for a long time and is borne of the frustration of business getting goods through Sydney. Former transport minister and National Party leader John Anderson commissioned a study led by Ernst & Young. It found that trains travelling north from Melbourne were on time 60 per cent of the time by the time they hit the outskirts of Sydney. But this dropped to 40 per cent reliability by the time they reached their Sydney terminal. Travelling south from Brisbane, 80 per cent of trains were on time at the outskirts of Sydney but only 30 per cent got to the centre of town on schedule. For traffic trying to get from Melbourne to Brisbane and vice-versa, only 40 per cent of trains make it on time.

The problem is that commuter trains have priority, there are limited passing bays and there are curfews during peak commuter periods. A 10-minute delay that puts a train into the curfew zone can easily make it three hours late.

The rail industry has often argued that the reason it is steadily losing market share to road on routes where there is competition is because of its belief that road is unfairly subsidised. However, the Productivity Commission's study says that on the trunk routes where road and rail are most competitive, there is no demonstrable subsidy. Rail's loss of market share has rather been a result of its inability to get goods to their destination on time.

The advocates of the Melbourne-Brisbane route also argue that it is on the long hauls that rail is most competitive. Certainly, it is the case that the Melbourne-Perth route is the most profitable, carrying about 70 per cent of freight between the cities. So the idea is to bypass Sydney altogether. The cheapest route is deep inland, through Parkes in NSW. This would allow trains that are 1.8km long and double-stacked, which is deemed the ideal for long hauls, and was costed in the study at $3.1-3.6 billion.

It is a basic principle that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes. Stripping Sydney from the route between Melbourne and Brisbane destroys value. Based on Ernst & Young's numbers, there are about 3.05 million tonnes of rail freight on the Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane route a year, of which 1.35 million tonnes is travelling all the way. On the Melbourne to Sydney leg, traffic to Brisbane makes up 60 per cent of the volume. On the Brisbane to Sydney leg, traffic to Melbourne is 64 per cent of the volume.

Economies of scale in the Melbourne-Sydney and Sydney-Brisbane routes will be lost, while it is doubtful that the Melbourne-Brisbane route alone would have the traffic to warrant a new line. Of course, the feasibility study being conducted by the Australian Rail Track Corp may come to that conclusion, although it would appear to be an interested party.

Rail networks are challenged worldwide by the technological advances in trucking. However, both Canada and the US have profitable rail networks. In the US, this is the case for the first time since the 1920s.

Part of the problem in Australia is the fragmented ownership, with the track generally owned by state government bodies, while privatised operators of rolling stock have struggled in what remain largely state-based franchises. The US-controlled Westrail failed to make a go of it in Western Australia and sold to Queensland Rail. Asciano is under fire because of doubts about its profitability under the weight of more than $3 billion in debt. It is doubtful that profitability on existing routes would be sufficient to warrant renewal of rolling stock.

Whereas in the US and Canada, the operators own the track and will run a train if it covers the marginal cost, in Australia the operators generally have to pay an average cost to the track owners.

The Government's priority should be to identify the barriers to profitable rail operation in Australia and, to the extent these fall within the province of state and federal authorities, facilitate consolidation. There should be investment to make passage of rail freight through Sydney easier, but trying to build rail routes with the objective of taking market share from the roads, which carry 80 per cent of freight between the east coast capitals, is not a sensible use of public funds.

Unfortunately, however, the Melbourne-Brisbane link is a bad idea with bipartisan support. Labor likes rail because it is a unionised industry, the Greens like it because they believe it to be less polluting than road, and the National Party likes it because it goes through their electorates.

Nationals leader Warren Truss claims Labor's support for the project is a case of policy theft. "I have to admit I was initially shocked by the minister's bare-faced cheek and plagiarism, and I likened him to infamous great train robber Ronald Biggs," he said, after Albanese announced the feasibility study.


This is the infrastructure that the Federal money SHOULD be spent on:

Cruise ship giant Carnival Australia has joined the coal miners and other bulk commodity shippers in urging government action to ease port constraints, especially in Sydney and Brisbane. Carnival yesterday used the results of a company-sponsored economic study to support its claim that the investment was needed to prevent cruise operators from being lured to better-credentialled Asian ports.

According to Access Economics, "cruise-related activity" bolstered the local economy by $734 million in 2006-07 -- $522 million directly from days at port and a further $212 from activity such as maintenance, marketing and travel agents. "The cruise industry in Australia has grown strongly in recent years and is projected to continue to do so over the next three years," Access Economics says.

Carnival Australia, which owns the Cunard, P&O and Princess Cruises operations, boasts a 65 per cent market share. Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry said the historic berthing of Cunard's QE2 and Queen Victoria in Sydney last February only came about because Carnival "begged" the Navy for use of its Garden Island (Woolloomoloo) facility. Ms Sherry said Sydney's facilities were full for next year's cruise season peak in April-May.

Local ports risked losing business to Asian cities such as Shanghai and Singapore, which had upgraded cruise terminals, she said. "If action isn't taken soon, the cruise industry in Australia could be swamped by lost opportunities that will only benefit overseas ports and hurt the local economy," she said.

Heading Carnival's specific wish list is a purpose-built cruise ship facility at East Darling Harbour/Barrangaroo as part of the Iemma Government's redevelopment plan for the precinct. However, this would not entirely solve the problem, since mega-liners Queen Mary 2 and Sapphire Princess cannot fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay was inadequate because of overcrowding and limited landside access, Ms Sherry said.

Ships experience similar problems with Brisbane's Gateway Bridge, which, along with a narrow swing basin, impedes access to the mixed-use Portside Wharf complex. Ms Sherry said these factors, as well as Portside's "steep" fees, meant Carnival would "carefully assess our commitment to using Brisbane as a key hub in the long term".

Ms Sherry said the company's message was mainly for the state governments, but the custodians of the Rudd Government's newly announced $20 billion infrastructure fund were also a "target group". Carnival Australia, owned by the Florida-based Carnival Corporation, was not interested in a co-investment arrangement because it would not have exclusive access to any upgraded facility.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Melanomas gone in just seven days

AUSTRALIAN researchers have discovered a range of new treatments for melanoma which could save up to 1500 lives a year. The Sydney Melanoma Unit at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is conducting a clinical trial in which individual tumours are injected with a red dye called rose bengal.

Unit director John Thompson said within seven days the tumours become necrotic and die, and within 14 days they simply lift off the skin. Professor Thompson said an earlier trial of 20 patients showed between 60 and 80percent of tumours were successfully treated with one injection. The trial also found that rose bengal didn't affect healthy tissue and seemed to induce a beneficial immune system response that killed off other tumours that hadn't been injected.

"It has been interesting to observe that not only injected tumour deposits undergo involution [reduction] and necrosis but non-injected 'bystander' lesions sometimes undergo involution as well," he told the Australasian College of Dermatologists annual meeting last week. Rose bengal has been used for 50 years to diagnose liver and eye cancer. It has also been used as an insecticide.

Professor Thompson said phase one of the trial had proved the treatment was safe, although one woman ended up in intensive care with a serious reaction after driving for 1 hours in the summer sun after having her injection. For another study, Professor Thompson is hoping to recruit 65 patients who have melanomas that can't be treated with surgery.

Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world, with 9500 cases diagnosed annually. One in 19 Australians can expect to be diagnosed with a melanoma in their lifetime. If detected early, there is an excellent chance of survival. However, standard chemotherapy is not highly effective once the melanoma has spread.

The development of a vaccine has been elusive but researchers at the Newcastle Melanoma Unit have made a surprising breakthrough. Professor Thompson said about 120 patients were given an injection made from materials from their own tumour. The procedure was designed to stimulate the body's immune system to reject the tumour. The patients had metastatic (widespread) stage IV disease and an average life expectancy of six to nine months. The trial showed those who got the vaccine had a 40percent chance of surviving for five years, compared to 22 per cent for those who weren't vaccinated. "It surprised us greatly - there was a fairly substantial benefit in the patients who received the vaccine," Professor Thompson said.

At Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Diona Damian has treated three patients with extensive widespread melanoma with diphencyprone (DPCP), a chemical used to treat warts and hair loss. Associate Professor Damian said two patients are disease-free three years and one year later respectively, while in a third patient, the application of DPCP appeared to slow the progression of the disease but he died 18 months later.


A bureaucrat gets the boot!

Sort of. Bureaucrats are almost totally protected from accountability, for some reason

THE senior health executive who employed the "Butcher of Bega" Graeme Reeves, despite being warned he was banned from obstetrics, has become the first head to roll over the scandal. The Greater Southern Area Health Service has suspended Dr Jon Mortimer from duty on full pay "pending the outcome of further inquiries" into the appointment of Mr Reeves, who is accused of mutilating hundreds of women while working as a gynaecologist and obstetrician.

A handwritten diary note by Dr Mortimer, who at the time was deputy director of medical services for Southern Area Health Service, shows an unnamed referee warned him that Mr Reeves "was not meant to do obstetrics". The discovery, tabled in the NSW Parliament, contradicted statements from Health Minister Reba Meagher that the health service failed to perform background checks, when it in fact did. "The [documents] show that background checks were carried out, but were then ignored or dismissed," Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said.

Dr Mortimer is the first executive to be publicly reprimanded by NSW Health following the scandal which has rocked the health system since it was exposed by Channel Nine's Sunday program in February. Hundreds of patients have since come forward with claims of sexual assault, mutilations and botched procedures, including at several South Coast hospitals in 2002-03. Director-general of population health and chief health officer Denise Robinson, who was chief executive of SAHS at the time of Reeves's appointment, resigned this month, citing career opportunities elsewhere. Dr Mortimer's boss, Dr Robert Arthurson, remains in his position.

Mr Reeves was appointed as a visiting specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist at Bega and Pambula district hospitals after meeting Dr Mortimer and his colleague Kym Durance in January 2002. Dr Mortimer then chaired the five-member committee which recommended he be hired in March 2002. A handwritten note made by Dr Mortimer on the minutes of that meeting said "rego check" with a large tick over it. Yet Mr Reeves's registration with the NSW Medical Board was conditional and he was banned from practising obstetrics in 1997 following the death of a woman and a baby under his care.

It is unclear if his false assertion about holding current Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) appointments at Hornsby Ku-Ring-Gai and Sydney Adventist hospitals were checked at the time. The Medical Error Action Group has received 575 complaints about Mr Reeves, and its founder Lorraine Long welcomed Dr Mortimer's suspension. "It's absurd the people in public service are not doing their jobs," she said. Dr Mortimer did not return calls last week. His voicemail message said he was on leave.


Restrictions on how Australian blacks may be portrayed?

Free speech, anyone?

A LAWYER this week will seek "substantial damages" for an Aboriginal woman who believes she was racially vilified in a PhD student's film. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission accepted a racial hatred complaint filed on behalf of May Dunne, 52, a grandmother from Boulia in central-western Queensland.

In the controversial PhD film Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains Mrs Dunne was depicted as an intoxicated Aboriginal woman in a stereotypical manner, the complaint says. The film - renamed Laughing at the Disabled - by Queensland University of Technology PhD student Michael Noonan, showed Mrs Dunne in a hotel and cuddling a disabled man. The commission has named QUT; Mr Noonan; the Spectrum Organisation, which partly funded the film; its chief executive officer, John Hart, who helped film the footage; and Disability Services Queensland as respondents to the complaint.

On Thursday, the commission will hold a conciliation session with all the parties concerned and a possible settlement will be discussed. If no settlement is reached, Mrs Dunne could take the matter to the Federal Court. The controversy over the film project already has cost QUT, with the university last year reaching a substantial out-of-court settlement with senior academics Gary MacLennan and John Hookham. They were suspended without pay for six months after criticising the film for what they saw as a demeaning portrayal of two disabled men.

Ted Watson, an advocate acting on Mrs Dunne's behalf, accused Mr Noonan and QUT of breaking all protocols for conducting research involving Aboriginal people. Mr Noonan claims Mrs Dunne signed a release form after she was filmed but Mrs Dunne has signed a statement denying it. Lawyer Steve Kerin, appearing for Mr Watson and Mrs Dunne, said he would be seeking substantial compensation for Mrs Dunne on Thursday.

He said the film also breached recognised protocols for the filming of Aboriginal people. Mr Kerin said he hoped the university and Mr Noonan would "see sense" and they would be able to reach an agreed outcome. Mrs Dunne will travel from Boulia to attend the mediation session.


Public Hospital 'a fire risk'

An audit of Mareeba Hospital and its nurses' quarters has exposed a litany of fire safety breaches that could force it to close. The Cairns Post reveals Queensland Health has been given until June 20 to make urgent repairs on Mareeba Hospital buildings described as fire hazards. Safety problems identified by the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service include faulty smoke doors in the hospital and inadequate fire safety signs, problems with locks and the lack of a fire safety management plan at the nurses quarters.

Of most concern is the nurses' quarters, with a source telling Cairns Post maintenance problems in the 60-year-old building breached the Building and Other Legislation Amendment Act, which was brought in as a result of the Childers Backpackers fire in 2000. Fifteen backpackers were killed in a horrific arson attack after they were unable to exit the burning building. "The accommodation for the nurses was not up to regulation," the source said. "It's a fire hazard."


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Electricity producers warn of danger from Greenie regulations

POWER generators have warned of blackouts and power price spikes if the Rudd Government moves too aggressively to put a price on greenhouse emissions. New modelling by the National Generators Forum has signalled the price on greenhouse emissions will need to rise from $20 a tonne in 2010 to $150 a tonne by 2050 if the Government is to deliver its promised cuts.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday reaffirmed that the Government would proceed with its mandatory renewable energy target of 20per cent of supply by 2020, despite sharp criticism of the proposal by the Government's leading economic think thank. The renewable energy industry yesterday backed the commitment, claiming a 20per cent target was the global standard for climate change policy.

In its submission to the Garnaut climate change review, the Productivity Commission said the emissions trading scheme on its own should be used to cut emissions, and added that a renewable target would only increase costs and not make deeper cuts in emissions. In their submission to the climate change review, energy generators have warned that big coal-fired power stations risk crashing out of the system, leaving huge supply gaps and price spikes if the transition is not carefully managed.

National Generators Forum director John Boshier said Victoria was likely to be the first state to face problems with price and reliability caused by the closure of giant brown-coal generators pushed out of the market by the rising price of emissions. "We want to make this transition," Mr Boshier told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "But we don't want to destroy these companies or damage their ability to reinvest in new low-emission generation capacity. "It's only by keeping them solvent will we be able to make the transition to a low-emission electricity system as quickly as possible."

The NGF submission said compensation to generators would offset losses, but would still not address the breakdown of the national electricity market triggered by the departure of major generators.


Asylum review under attack from do-gooders

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Evans yesterday announced the first results of the Government's efforts to speed up the processing of asylum-seekers, with those allowed to stay slightly outnumbering those being deported. The announcement drew criticism from asylum support groups, who fear for the fate of the thousands of people claiming to be political refugees.

Senator Evans recently reviewed the cases of 72 people in immigration detention for more than two years. Of those, 24 have or will be removed because Senator Evans believes they have "no valid reason to be in Australia". Five of the people have already been deported while steps are being taken to "fast-track" the removal of the remaining 19. Of the others whose cases were reviewed, 31 people were granted visas or considered for visa grants pending health and security checks. A further 17 people were subject to ongoing proceedings, meaning their cases could not be resolved now.

"I have personally reviewed all of these cases individually and sought to apply a range of measures to progress, if not resolve, their immigration status," Senator Evans said. "Underpinning my decisions in all of these cases are the principles that indefinite detention is not acceptable and that those people who have no right to be in Australia are to be removed promptly."

Government sources suggest Senator Evans, who is keen to promote skilled immigration to fulfil some acute labour needs, is also eager to show the Government is tough on those who claim asylum but cannot prove a valid case. A departmental spokesman said that as of last week, of the total protection visa applicants who had made an initial application for asylum, 58 were in detention. "An additional 26 people are in detention who have made an initial application for protection and are awaiting departmental decisions," spokesman Sandi Logan said. But Mr Logan said a further 2157 people who had lodged an initial protection visa were living in the community, many with the right to work.

Refugee groups yesterday called on Senator Evans to reconsider his decision to carry out further deportations of long-term detainees. "Forced deportations are not in line with a compassionate refugee policy," said Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition. "Australia has an obligation not to return asylum-seekers to danger."


A nasty health bureaucracy

A paramedic cleared of sexually assaulting a drug-affected patient is shattered that Melbourne's ambulance service won't reinstate him. Simon Howe, 32, was found not guilty of digital rape and indecent assault by the County Court this week and now wants his job back. But the Metropolitan Ambulance Service yesterday claimed he was sacked for breaching his employment contract by not filling out an incident report. They said working for the MAS again was not an option.

Mr Howe yesterday said he had proved his innocence in court and was now being put through the added trauma of an unfair dismissal case. "I'm devastated, shattered, my life has been turned upside down," Mr Howe said yesterday. "As far as MAS is concerned I was guilty. I have had to pay for the right to prove my innocence and I still have to pay today."

Mr Howe said stricter security measures such as cameras were needed in ambulances to protect paramedics against false allegations or violence. He said he had held his head high since the complaint, cleared his name and now wanted to get back to work helping people. "Unfortunately there are more and more reasons for paramedics not to stay on the job," he said. "Ambulance paramedics are already cautious about which patients they take and have refused to take patients."

The Ambulance Employees union yesterday condemned the MAS for their refusal to reinstate Mr Howe and said he was being victimised and unfairly treated. They said a second paramedic in the ambulance at the time had not filled out an incident report either but was never disciplined or sacked. "It's appalling -- the court has found him to be innocent, yet MAS are still treating him like he is a criminal," Ambulance Employees Australia state secretary Steve McGhie said. "They should accept the jury's decision and reinstate him immediately."

Mr Howe was sacked by the MAS in February last year after a 22-year-old drug-affected patient claimed she was assaulted as she was being rushed to hospital at 6.19am on November 5, 2006. The MAS decided that Mr Howe failed to provide an adequate explanation of the allegations, failed to inform them what had occurred with the patient and did not lodge a report. A court heard that traces of the drugs ice and GHB were found in the woman's system. It was told Mr Howe was restraining the female patient because she was behaving erratically. It also heard her memory was scrambled by the drugs.

A MAS spokesman yesterday said they could not comment on the matter further as it was before the courts.


States holding back schools, warns Federal minister

Sounds hopeful but a bit hard to follow.

The federal Government has effectively put the states and territories on notice over the reporting of school and student performance, saying they are hampering efforts to raise standards. Education Minister Julia Gillard has also announced an overhaul of the funding model for private schools, which is understood to include the controversial guarantees that keep funding for about 60 per cent of non-government schools at inflated levels.

In a speech to the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Ms Gillard implicitly criticised states such as NSW, Queensland and South Australia, which are opposed to publicly releasing national test results. "It does not serve the interests of Australian students to have schooling policies delivered through structures and reporting systems which operate in parallel but allow no meaningful comparison or exchange between them," she said. "While different jurisdictions and authorities treat the use of data as part of a competition between themselves, they are short-changing the students and families who rely on them for a high-quality education."

Ms Gillard said she was not interested in establishing a crude form of league tables ranking schools according to raw test results. "(But) I believe there is an overwhelming public interest in developing a more comprehensive, more reliable and more open picture of school and student performance," she said.

Ms Gillard said the National Data Centre, announced last week in the budget, would act as an independent agency to validate and report on education statistics and that she expected the states and territories to contribute to its running costs. She said the centre would examine the results of national tests as well as other sources of data measuring the effect on education, such as socioeconomic status and early development. "I want to promote a more sophisticated understanding of what influences educational success," she said.

In the speech on Wednesday night, Ms Gillard said she expected a government review of the funding model for private schools to conclude in 2011 and new arrangements to start from 2013 that provide funding according to student needs as determined by socioeconomic status. The Government guaranteed existing funding levels for non-government schools until 2012 to defuse the issue during the election campaign last year. The "hit list" of private schools to lose money drawn up by previous Labor leader Mark Latham is credited with being a major factor in the ALP losing the 2004 election.

Ms Gillard described the schools funding system as "one of the most complex, most opaque and most confusing in the developed world" and she called for an end to the debate pitting public against private schools. [Stopping Leftist attacks on private school would be a good place to start]

As a first step to improving transparency, Ms Gillard will release the new socioeconomic status scores for all non-government schools, which will determine the amount of funding each school receives from next year to 2012. [Class-war Leftism again]


Friday, May 23, 2008

Australian government's Greenie strategy pointless says advisory body

The Government's leading economic think tank has launched a scathing attack on one of Kevin Rudd's most significant climate change policies - the mandatory renewable energy target - claiming it will drive up energy prices and do nothing to cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

In a carefully timed submission to the Government's climate change policy review, the Productivity Commission also flagged a review of tax distortions that increase emissions, such as the generous fringe benefit tax treatment of motor vehicles. Following the recent debate over a possible cut in fuel excises to relieve the cost burden on motorists, the commission has also encouraged the Government to put up fuel prices by including transport fuels in an emissions trading scheme from 2010.

The Government's chief climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, has already signalled concerns about Labor's ambitious election promise to set a mandatory renewable energy target of 20 per cent of power to be generated through sources such as wind and solar energy by 2020. In February, with the release of his first interim report, Professor Garnaut highlighted the need to phase out the MRET as quickly as possible, warning it could push up electricity prices and override the impact of a trading scheme. The Productivity Commission was specifically invited by Professor Garnaut to comment on the policy response to climate change.

While recognising the need for a range of policy options to accelerate the development of clean energy technologies, the commission has questioned the efficiency of the proposed MRET in parallel with an emissions trading scheme. It claims such an approach would increase renewable energy generation at the expense of gas-fired electricity, but not drive any deeper cuts in emissions. It also expressed concern that the scheme would "provide a signal that lobbying for government support for certain technologies and industries over others could be successful". "An MRET operating in conjunction with an emissions trading scheme would not encourage any additional abatement, but still impose additional administration and monitoring costs," the submission says.

The Rudd Government remains committed to the implementation ofits MRET scheme, allocating $15million in last week's budget towards administering it over the next five years. A spokeswoman for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the Government made an election commitment to its expanded MRET. "The purpose is to drive investment in, and deployment of, renewable energy in the short and medium term," she said. "The Government will design the renewable energy target in a careful way to reduce Australia's emissions at the lowest cost to the economy."

The commission's submission is consistent with many key points raised in recent Garnaut review discussion papers. These involve the need to include transport fuels under emissions trading and calls for a review of emissions-increasing tax structures, such as fringe benefits tax treatment of cars, and of market rules for power transmission and pricing once a price is put on greenhouse emissions. "There may be interventions elsewhere in the economy (for example, in the taxation and tariff systems) that inadvertently create incentives for increased (greenhouse gas) emissions," it says. "While there could be good public policy reasons for these interventions, the emergence of more ambitious climate change objectives provides an additional reason for reviewing their appropriateness."

Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt said the MRET should be replaced with a clean energy target that included technologies such as clean coal and gas. "If you want to clean up the power stations, which supply 92per cent of Australia's energy, and if you want to firmly tackle climate change, you have to have incentives for the take-up of clean coal and gas," he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation climate spokesman Tony Mohr welcomed the commission's focus on taxation review, but suggested the benefits from a mandatory target were greater than attributed. The gas industry welcomed the submission as "an important and credible addition to the debate around how Australia achieves emissions reductions most efficiently".

The commission's comments come as Brendan Nelson described price rises stemming from the Garnaut review as "the train heading down the track". "Mr Rudd has capitalised on the widespread community concern in relation to change, but he's also capitalised on the fact that most Australians are actually ignorant about what it's actually going to cost," the Opposition Leader said in Melbourne. "At the moment, most Australians who are struggling to feed, clothe and house their children ... have not been able to read hundreds of pages of economic theory in relation to the implementation of climate change.

"Most Australians are generally supportive ... But I still think there is a vast, widespread community ignorance in terms of what adjusting to climate change is actually going to cost us."


You may be dead before you get a public hospital appointment in Queensland

QUEENSLAND Health made two specialist appointments for a man who had been dead six years and sent the notification to an address where he had never lived. Thw letter "shattered" the man's widow, Diane Baldwin, when she found it on Tuesday among mail addressed to her and her new partner. "You can imagine how devastated I was when I got it," Ms Baldwin said. "I was shaking."

Astoundingly, Leonard Baldwin had been scheduled for two specialist urology appointments at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital on May 27 despite never seeking such treatment while he was alive, she said. Mr Baldwin died of a heart attack on the side of a road in NSW six years ago.

Ms Baldwin said she had farewelled her husband just before Christmas, expecting him to be gone a week. But she next saw him in a funeral home where she had to identify his body. "I'm trying to get on with my life and this completely devastated me," she said."It brought it all back and yesterday I was a mess."

Queensland Health blamed a "typing error" and apologised for any distress the letter caused Ms Baldwin. But a department spokeswoman was unable to explain why the letter was addressed to a house at which Mr Baldwin had never lived. The couple had been living at Beenleigh at the time of his death and had "never lived over this way, ever, when he was alive", Ms Baldwin said. She said she rang a phone number on the letter to advise them Mr Baldwin had been dead six years.

"It would be good if they could do something about the people who are alive rather than the dead getting appointments," she said. "They talk about waiting lists and people can't get in but someone dead can." Last year, a man who had been dead for almost a year was scheduled for surgery at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital . The blunder stunned grieving mother Ann Heath, 66, who said her son Michael Trindall, 45, should never have been on a public waiting list.

That disclosure came just weeks after then premier Peter Beattie announced the Government would tender for a broker to manage its public hospital elective surgery waiting lists. Mr Trindall also had been scheduled for a urology appointment, which his mother said he would not have needed even if he were alive.


Elderly patients in Australian public hospitals are 'malnourished or at risk'

Partly due to "healthy" food! The myth that there is such a thing as healthy food is normally just a time and money waster but sometimes the consequences can be more severe

NEARLY one-third of elderly hospital patients are malnourished, and a further 61 per cent are at risk of malnutrition. A study of 100 Australian hospital patients aged 70 or more also suggests doctors and nurses do a poor job of spotting the problem. Even when they do, few of the patients affected are referred to a dietitian for help. The study, carried out at Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital, found doctors and nurses recorded a patient's recent weight loss in only 19 per cent of cases. Poor appetite, another risk factor for malnutrition, was recorded in medical notes barely half the time, or in 53 per cent of cases. Just 7 per cent who had recently lost weight, and 9 per cent of patients with poor appetites, were referred to a dietitian.

The authors of the paper, published in the journal Nutrition & Dietetics, wrote that malnutrition in elderly hospitalised patients "remains a significant problem with low rates of recognition and referral by medical and nursing staff". They called for better education for doctors and nurses to encourage better identification of the problem. "No one's really taking any notice of the fact that people are coming into hospital undernourished," said study co-author Alison Bowie.

The palatability of hospital meals was another issue. Ms Bowie said the tendency to make hospital food healthy, with low-fat and low-salt meals, did not help to make them more appealing. "We are working on making hospital meals more energy-dense," she said. "Being on a low-fat diet isn't the No1 priority when you are sick in hospital."

Nutrition status of the study's participants was assessed using a "mini nutritional assessment" tool, which consisted of 18 questions resulting in a score. Patients who scored less than 17 were classified as malnourished, while scores between 17 and 23.5 indicated risk of malnutrition.

The study's authors wrote that the understanding of malnutrition risk factors among doctors and nurses was poor, and "considerable scope" existed to improve training programs. Last month, a public inquiry into NSW hospitals was told that hospital food was "atrocious" and malnutrition was "rife".

Dietitians' Association of Australia executive director Claire Hewat said the latest study showed that malnutrition was a problem "even in a wealthy, Western country like Australia". "There's been research saying this for as long as I can remember as a professional, but it keeps being swept under the carpet. "People who are malnourished heal more slowly, their wounds break down, they are at greater risk from pressure sores, they are weak so they can't get up and do their physio so easily, and they are more prone to falling. "All elderly people should be screened (for malnutrition) so we can pick people up more quickly. "If they (governments) don't do something about it, it's going to blow their costs out of the water," Ms Hewat said.


An Academic Bill of Rights in Australia?

By Rafe Champion

The Australian Liberal Students' Federation and the Young Liberals have unleashed an attack on leftwing political bias in university teaching. The problem is real but the proposed remedy may not be effective, beyond lifting awareness of the problem. An alternative is proposed. Taking a cue from the US Students for Academic Freedom organisation, the Federation and the Young Liberals are pushing for an Academic Bill of Rights to promote changes to curricula, hiring of staff without regard to political affiliations, remedies for students who believe that they are being marked down for political incorrectness, etc.

Certainly there is cause for concern about the level of bias in course contents and the attitudes of many teachers towards conservative and non-left liberal ideas. Symptoms of the problem include:

* The dozen or score of economically illiterate books purporting to critique economic rationality, one of them edited by a man who is widely regarded as the leading public intellectual in the land.

* A collection of papers, workshopped through the Academy of the Social Sciences, that emerged rather like a set of anti-Liberal Party political pamphlets.

* Widespread incomprehension of the ideas of Hayek and classical liberalism. So the then leader of the opposition (now the Prime Minister) could launch a public attack on a crude caricature of Hayek without arousing widespread hoots of mirth or gasps of horror from opponents and supporters respectively.

The point is that nobody can consider themselves broadly educated at present without the same grasp of Hayek's ideas (in outline, not in detail) that we expect people with tertiary education to have on things like Darwinian evolution; Mendelian genetics; or the way that the Copernican revolution and Einstein advanced physics.

Similarly everyone in the relevant fields should be familiar with the work of Jacques Barzun on education and cultural studies, Ren, Wellek on literary studies, Karl B_hler and Ian D Suttie on language studies, psychology and psychoanalysis, Bill Hutt on industrial relations, Peter Bauer on third world development, Stanislav Andresky on the methods of the social sciences, Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian school of economics.

The push for the Bill of Rights will generate a great deal of angst without any guarantee of achieving either the Bill or the desired improvements, even if the bureaucratic systems are put in place to support it. Top down intervention is most likely to generate resistance and resentment, to politicise and personalise the problems in a divisive manner.

A non-bureaucratic, "bottom up" alternative is proposed. At the very least this could run in parallel to the proposed Liberal initiative and it should enlist the support of people of good will of all political persuasions. Investigation and discussion should proceed on two fronts; one is the question of course contents, the other is the broad issue of what tertiary education is supposed to achieve.

Taking the second issue first. A recent Unleashed article 'Back to school' (2 May 08) revealed, yet again, a great deal of disappointment and dismay over the university experience for many students. The simple fact of the matter is that Australia followed the US experience, learning nothing from it, despite the clear warning in Barzun's 1968 book on The American University. The sector expanded too rapidly for the process of education to keep up: that is, the discovery of the disciplines and rewards of serious, though not pedantic, teaching, learning and scholarship. But that is a topic for another day.

On course contents, there is a need for a data base on what is being taught, a survey of course outlines and reading lists to identify courses that are not providing students with an introduction to the best thinkers and ideas in the field. This should lead to suggestions for improvements. This may be done in a manner that is contentious and divisive, but it should be possible to proceed in way that is illuminating and educational in its own right. The aim is to recruit the spirit of cooperative scholarship, using a base of evidence to advance the cause of learning and scholarship. There is no need to deny university teachers their own interests, their points of view and their politics. The question is how the courses stack up when they are examined in a climate of civil and robust debate.

The Liberal initiative has been smeared as an attempt to restrict freedom of speech. On the evidence in hand, it is no such thing. It is better described as a long overdue reaction to the radicalisation of the campuses in the aftermath of the Vietnam debate in the 1960s and 1970s.

The task of investigation, reporting and suggestions for improvements can start in a modest way, wherever people with time and energy are prepared to start the process. There was a small beginning a couple of decades ago, with a survey of courses in politics at the 21 universities at the time. It was very hard to find any reference to Hayek and his work. What is the situation today, how much has changed in two decades?

The process needs to be sustained and it needs to generate debate on campus and beyond, wherever there are people with an interest in the life of the mind, in education, in ideas, in maintaining good order in "the house of intellect" (as Barzun called it).


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Public hospital tries to dodge blame for incompetent surgeon

The Alfred Hospital has absolved itself of legal responsibility for the botched surgery of disgraced surgeon Thomas Kossmann, despite a review finding that his work as the Melbourne hospital's head of trauma put lives at risk. Although patients were subjected to unnecessary and bungled operations, Bayside Health chief Jennifer Williams said yesterday she did not expect to pay compensation. "From the information I have about the nature of the complaints, I would not envisage an insurance claim, but that would be a matter for future consideration," she said.

About 20 patients have contacted the hospital expressing concerns about operations Dr Kossmann performed on them, and the hospital has written to about another dozen. Slater & Gordon lawyer Paula Shelton said the hospital appeared to have breached its duty of care to the patients, and she encouraged them to come forward to discuss potential claims. "There's very good authority to say the hospital is responsible for the behaviour of Dr Kossmann," she said.

But Ms Williams refused to accept any responsibility for the hospital employing Dr Kossmann or for his bungled surgery, although she admitted the Alfred did not check the exaggerated claims in his CV and relied on the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' assurances about his competence.

Orthopedic surgeon Bob Dickens yesterday released the findings of a damning peer review into Dr Kossmann, which were first revealed in The Australian last month. Mr Dickens, who headed the review panel, found Dr Kossmann had exaggerated his experience on his CV, conducted risky and unnecessary surgery and rorted government insurance agencies, including the Transport Accident Commission. He called for a sweeping audit of the Alfred's audit procedures, as well as the billing of Dr Kossmann and all other Alfred trauma surgeons.

The review has sparked a row between the college of surgeons, which blamed the hospital for not detecting the professor's surgical failings, and the hospital, which accused the college.

Mr Dickens's panel investigated 24 cases involving Dr Kossmann and found problems with 13, including grave errors. "Lives were put at risk. There were examples of catastrophic bleeding where there was difficulty getting control of the bleeding," he said. He cited other examples where a poorly placed screw in a heart had to be removed in a second operation, and how Dr Kossmann caused a hemorrhage in one of the main arteries supplying the brain during another procedure.

He said no one died as a result of the bungles, but patients were exposed to unnecessary risks, including infections. He questioned the college's decision to allow Dr Kossmann to practise without sitting the examination for foreign doctors. But college vice-president Ian Dickinson said the college had not erred in exempting Dr Kossmann from the exam. He blamed the hospital for failing to detect the failings through its audit and peer-review processes, and accused Dr Kossmann's previous employers of providing "glowing assessments" of his work.

Dr Kossmann, who resigned from the Alfred last month but denies wrongdoing, branded the review a "witchhunt" and said the press conference was a "show trial".


More socialist paternalism for Australian blacks

Blacks must NOT be treated as individuals, apparently. All "for their own good", of course

Fifteen years after the passage of the historic Mabo legislation, the Rudd Government has flagged sweeping changes to native title to ensure the benefits of the mining boom flow to Aboriginal communities and are not locked up in trusts or frittered away. Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, delivering the third annual Eddie Mabo Lecture in Townsville, said yesterday that native title legislation was too complex and had failed to deliver money to remote Aboriginal communities, despite lucrative agreements with mining companies. She said changes to native title should be used "as part of our armoury to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians".

Under the changes flagged yesterday, Ms Macklin wants direct payments to individuals minimised in favour of payments that create benefits for the whole community. "It is not tenable for people to continue to live in overcrowded housing in dysfunctional, despairing communities while substantial funds, nominally allocated for their benefit, are either locked up in trusts or distributed as irregular windfalls to be frittered away with no long-term good," she said. "The policy challenge is to both respect the rights of native title holders and claimants to make such agreements in relation to their land, and to make sure that the funds which flow are used to make a difference to their lives and to the lives of their children and grandchildren."

In what could be interpreted as a criticism of the first Native Title Act passed by Labor in the early 1990s, Ms Macklin said there was a need to look hard at the "structures and institutions we have put in place", and to make sure they were working effectively. To that end, the Rudd Government would work up a reform package over the next six months in tandem with the development of its Indigenous Economic Development Strategy.

"We want to actively explore the scope to encourage the negotiation of comprehensive settlements as an alternative to the convoluted claims processes currently in place," Ms Macklin said. "We will need to look at encouraging stakeholders to change the ways payments are negotiated and structured to improve accountability and provide greater assurance to indigenous interests."

Ms Macklin said she and Attorney-General Robert McClelland would convene a small informal group of key players involved in native title to work through these issues, including leading indigenous academic Marcia Langton and Ian Williams, a member of the Argyle Native Title Trust. Ms Macklin said at least three areas needed fundamental change: improving the "overly complex and exceedingly slow" native title claims process; improving representation for the indigenous people making claims; and ensuring that the income streams raised as part of native title agreements were properly distributed.

In 1992, the High Court overturned the legal concept that Australia was unoccupied, or terra nullius, when Europeans arrived. The so-called Mabo decision was followed by the creation of the native title regime in 1994 that has to date resolved 1200 claims. But according to the National Native Title Tribunal, there are more than 550 live claims, including at least 120 that were lodged more than 10 years ago.....

The most controversial part of her Mabo speech was the suggestion of government interference or regulation in the distribution of funds raised through agreements between landholders and mining companies. But Ms Macklin was unapologetic about exploring the option. "There will be a need for hard-headed leadership from indigenous interests," she said. "We would all have cause for shame if the huge proceeds expected to flow to indigenous people from the mining boom are not harnessed to help close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians," she said....

Ms Macklin gave the speech shortly after renaming the James Cook University library after Mabo, who was a 34-year-old gardener at the campus when he discovered he did not own his traditional homeland of Mer Island [Interesting: "Mer" is the original native name. It is shown on maps as "Murray" Island. In 1933 Ion Idriess wrote a novel called "The drums of Mer", which I greatly enjoyed reading when I was a kid] in the Torres Strait.

More here

Flannery, the dotty false prophet

YOU'D think a record of dud predictions would shame Alarmist of the Year Tim Flannery into silence. But, no. It seems this professional fearmonger has learned instead that global warming is a faith that grows on panic, not facts. So, undaunted, Flannery this week amped up the hype to warn that global warming was now so terrifying we may have to change the colour of the sky. As a "last barrier to climate collapse" we might within the next five years have to fire the "gas" sulphur (actually a solid) into the stratosphere to keep out some of the sky's rays.

There are obvious problems with his plan. First, Flannery concedes "the consequences of doing that are unknown". Second, some lousy consequences are known - for a start, sulphur is an element in acid rain. But third, global warming in fact halted in 1998 - a basic point confirmed by almost all measuring bodies but not yet by Flannery.

How Flannery gets away with such flummery has been a mystery to me, but I blame in part our extraordinary groupthink. For instance, while 31,000 scientists were happy this week to sign a petition in the United States denying there was convincing evidence that man's gases caused catastrophic global warming, I can't think of more than a dozen in Australia who'd dare do the same. And I can think of even fewer journalists who'd back them if they did. That's why Flannery is still treated as a hero of the ABC and The Age, despite a string of predictions that should have made him a laughing stock, not 2007 Australian of the Year. Here's a condensed list.

* Three years ago he warned global warming could leave Sydney's dam's dry by 2007. They are two thirds full.

* Perth would be so devastated by drought that it would be a "ghost city" in decades. In fact, the city has just recorded its wettest April on record.

* The ice caps would melt so fast that the seas would lap the roofs of "an eight-storey building". In fact, the United Nations' influential IPCC, itself accused of alarmism, says at worst the seas will rise this century by 59cm.

* Hurricanes would become more frequent. In fact, the long-term trend of hurricanes and cyclones is highly disputed, as is any link to warming.

The hype pushing the global warming scare is the most sustained assault on reason in my lifetime. While Flannery remains a prophet, the rational should tremble, even before he starts firing sulphur into our sky.


Reading, writing and all things irrelevant

THE social engineers are hard at it again in our schools. Now they have added gambling studies to the endless list of non-core subjects required to be addressed in a day that is something less than six hours long. Across the state, teachers' cupboards are bulging with "resources" on road safety, personal health, obesity, safe foods, civic pride, values, drugs and alcohol, multi-culturalism, child protection, life skills, bullying and anti-homophobia. There's even a program now to teach rugby league in primary classrooms, promoting NRL players as role models for students. Not long ago it was recommended students be taught how to prepare for bushfires.

Despite a stream of warnings, schools are drowning in a sea of worthy but non-essential subjects peddled by well-meaning but misguided people -- usually politicians. It is generally accepted schools should spend at least 80 per cent of their time on key subjects of the curriculum, while the remaining 20 per cent is shared between an exhaustive list of other activities. Governments love to trumpet the success stories of the education system but thousands of students are still struggling with basic work such as reading, comprehension and numeracy.

Sure, the mandarins at the Department of Education and Training will claim they are getting round the problem of subject overload by integrating disciplines so that more than one can be studied at once. The idea is the kids can bone up on their numeracy skills while working on a gambling program. Or some literacy work can be included in lessons on personal health. But even with double or multi-skilling, the school day is in danger of becoming so overloaded with non-core subjects that the depth and quality of literacy and numeracy has to suffer.

For some time principals have feared their schools are becoming a dumping ground for programs that amount to little more than "social engineering". A few years back one school leader calculated that more than 60 extra education tasks were proposed in a 12-month period -- most of them by politicians or community interest groups. Many teachers believe most of these are issues that should be dealt with at home and are hot in claiming that parents have been abrogating their responsibilities.

Over the next three days a million students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will sit the first national assessments in literacy and numeracy. In a country as wealthy and healthy as Australia, good results will be expected. But our children and their teachers could be going into these tests ill-prepared. Maybe Prime Minister Kevin Rudd needs to call another 2020 summit to work out exactly how schools should be spending their precious time. Before all the programs piling up on their desks collapse under their own weight.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leftist opposition to immigration in Australia

In Australia, opposition to non-British immigration has historically emanated from the labor unions and the guy reported below is that most fierce kind of unionist: A Scotsman. He has all the hatred of "the bosses" that you expect from that. I think highly of Scotland and the Scots (I even go to a Scots kirk) but there is no denying the instinctive socialism that is so prevalent in Scotland. Cameron is one of the most Leftist people in Australian public life

Unionist and New South Wales Senator-elect Doug Cameron is warning that the influx of migrant labour into Australia could lead to a racist backlash. Mr Cameron points to the increase in foreign labour in Britain as a factor in the rise of the British National Party at the recent UK local elections, and he is urging the Government and business to carefully manage immigration to avoid a similar trend here. He says Australia needs to learn from the US and the UK, where the British National Party now holds more than 50 local council seats.

Mr Cameron enters the Senate on July 1. He says cases of mistreatment of foreign workers in the 457 visa scheme have raised concerns there may be a backlash against immigrant labour in Australia. "In the UK, the British National Party have used this issue of migration to build a support base for an extreme right wing group and I don't want to see that happen within Australia," he said. "The Labor Party has got long experience and good experience at managing multiculturalism and the migration scheme and it is very important that the Labor Party handles this sensitively, smartly and doesn't give any opening for any racist views arising from the introduction of this increased migrant intake."

Mr Cameron believes an increase in foreigners working in the construction, manufacturing and hospitality sectors could create resentment among the community and that the immigrant labour scheme must be properly managed. "If it is done sensibly, if workers are treated as human beings and not just some economic commodity, then I think we can manage this," he said. "I am just raising the concerns that have been raised right around the world and we can't be immune from what academics and the press are saying is happening all around the world - and that is a backlash against this immigration."

But Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson says Mr Cameron's concerns about a possible backlash are inflammatory. "We need in Australia to recognise that we are part of a global economy," he said. "Capital is global and labour is global. What Australia needs is a sensible and rational debate about migration policy. "Migration policy needs to move with the social and economic times and any suggestion that we can't have a sensible debate without fuelling xenophobia is really silly."

Mr Anderson is confident that good leadership will avert resentment of foreign workers in the community. "[We have] good leadership amongst our community leaders and our political leaders and for that matter from our business leaders," he said. "What it means is making sure that we don't add to the tone of a discussion a hysterical element, that we ensure we not only have balanced policies, but we explain the balance of those policies to the community."

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has also rejected Mr Cameron's fears of a backlash against foreign workers. "I think the reality is that Australia has matured about those issues," he said. "Australia is a country of migrants and it is a country that has accepted large scale migration over the years - provided people settle well and provided that people are convinced that people coming into the country are needed for the growth of the economy, and that they are not undercutting Australian wages and conditions."


Seriously, some of my best friends are anti-Semites

Former Australian Labor Party minister Barry Cohen brings his trademark good humour to a very serious subject

My favourite definition of an anti-Semite is "a person who hates Jews more than is absolutely necessary". Susan Chandler, the former Victorian Liberal Party campaign manager who described a colleague as a "greedy f..king Jew", appears to qualify. The object of Chandler's affection was Adam Held, the Liberal candidate at the recent federal election for the Victorian seat of Melbourne Ports. Held is Jewish, as is his opponent, the sitting member Michael Danby.

It appears Held earned Chandler's ire during the campaign when he committed the unforgivable sin of doing an Oliver Twist and asking for more. It wasn't gruel he was after but extra political pamphlets for his campaign. Chandler obviously thought it was a plot by the Elders of Zion to corner the market in political pamphlets. Today pamphlets, tomorrow the world. One would have thought that in view of Held's work ethic a more apt description would have been "a hardworking f..king Jew".

Clearly, Chandler is not the sharpest knife in the Liberal drawer. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature would not have committed such terms of endearment to email. Nor would they have been outraged at the suggestion that they had done anything wrong. "Anti-Semitic? Moi? Some of my best friends are Jews." She may have a few less in the not-too-distant future.

It's strange how anti-Semites rarely recognise their own prejudice. As a young and promising golfer I indicated to my boss, a charming and cultured man, that I was interested in joining his golf club. "Sorry, son, no Jews, jockeys or jailbirds." He couldn't recognise his responsibility as a human being to take a principled stand against anti-Semitism.

In the 1940s, when Jews were unable to join any of the A-grade clubs in Sydney or Melbourne, they decided to build their own clubs and were immediately attacked for being exclusive. That the clubs had non-Jewish members was conveniently ignored.

After World War II, and the attempt by the Nazis to destroy European Jewry, there was sympathy and support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the mandated territories of Palestine. When the UN voted in November 1947 to create an Arab and a Jewish state, the neighbouring Arab countries attacked the Jewish state. That Israel survived was first met with disbelief, then awe and finally anger. Those, particularly on the Left, who had wept openly for the murdered millions, started to resent Jews no longer being victims.

How dare Jews win? How dare they defend themselves against those who wished to destroy them? How dare they refuse to accede to the absurd demands of the people who had created the problem by refusing to accept the UN decision? Jews had decided that they no longer wanted the sympathy and tears of the liberal Left. They wanted to survive, on their own terms.

As Israel repulsed attempts to destroy it, the anger of the liberal Left increased in intensity. As internationally famous lawyer Alan Dershowitz stated, "Throughout the world, from the chambers of the UN to the campuses of universities, Israel is singled out for condemnation, disinvestment, boycott and demonisation."

Anti-Semitism? "No! No!" cried Israel's critics. "We don't hate Jews, just Israel." For many, Israel became the pariah state. Anti-Semitism became acceptable again. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman responded: "Criticising Israel is not anti-Semitic and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction, out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East, is anti-Semitic and not saying so is dishonest."

It's the double standards by which Israel is judged that incenses Jews and their supporters. Dershowitz's story of Harvard University president A. Lawrence Lowell's attempt to limit the number of Jews admitted to Harvard in the 1920s because "Jews cheat" is the classic double standard. When an important alumnus objected on the grounds that non-Jews also cheated, Lowell replied, "You're changing the subject. I'm talking about Jews."

In Australia today many journalists are incapable of recognising their own deep-seated prejudices. When I asked one journalist why he and many of his colleagues felt it necessary to mention that certain businesspeople were Jewish, particularly those who had brushes with the law, he bridled at the suggestion that this was anti-Semitic. "It's part of the story," he spluttered. "Really?" I replied. "How, exactly?" He was unable to give a coherent reply. I asked, "Do you know and mention the religion of James Packer, Rupert Murdoch, Christopher Skase, Kerry Stokes or Alan Bond?" "No," he replied, somewhat shamefaced. "And nor should you," I told him, "Because it's irrelevant."

Others were more astute. No mention of religion. They just pointed out that the person they were writing about was a regular visitor to Israel. More clever still was the television program about a Jewish businessman who had just been released from jail. No mention he was Jewish, just a shot of him with his rabbi. Anti-Semitic? Perish the thought.

Then there's the sinister Jewish lobby. One Canberra journalist becomes apoplectic on the subject. Again, no mention of the Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, union or dozens of business and special interest groups that continually lobby governments. No suggestion that they are insidious or sinister. Oh dear, no. Selective indignation, dear readers, is anti-Semitism.

As a young boy growing up in the aftermath of World War II, I hoped that anti-Semitism would gradually fade away. Regrettably, that has not been the case. It is alive and well and, it would appear, still common among what was once called polite society.


Blubbering activists whale about roo cull

The only thing endangered when overseas activists call kangaroos "endangered" is the truth. Kangaroos are in pest proportions in much of Australia. There are probably more of them now in Australia than there ever have been

THERE are countless unimaginable cruelties being unleashed around the world at the moment, and just as many reasons to get angry. So let's do the numbers. In China, 50,000 are dead and hundreds of bodies of schoolchildren remain under rubble after last week's earthquake, many the victims of corrupt officials and shonky builders. In Burma, the final death toll may pass 200,000 and more are homeless and starving because their paranoid and venal militia government refuses to open its borders to relief efforts.

But folks, reserve all your anger for a local travesty. Australia, the home of the cruel and inhumane, has embarked on a massacre already triggering international headlines and condemnation that will, according to some, forever tarnish our reputation and hurt our tourism industry. That's right. Four hundred kangaroos are to be culled just north of Canberra. The horror, the horror.

Little wonder a coalition of more than 30 animal rights groups has been gathering in the nation's capital doing its best to whip up a tide of shame and disgust at the notion that we are slaughtering 400 of our most iconic animals. "Nobody would seriously think that Australia has any right to criticise Japan for its whaling while we are killing 3« million kangaroos every year for dog food," says Pat O'Brien, the fearless leader of the National Kangaroo Protection Coalition.

Putting aside the fact that Australia has a growing kangaroo meat export business with Japan (a Japanese website excitedly promotes the benefits of kangaroo sushi with chilli, while thousands of tons are shipped for pet food), O'Brien's passion is sadly not matched by his numeracy, or his logic. There are only about 70,000 humpback whales remaining on this planet. So far, there have been no reported sightings of them braving the drought and entering the Australian interior to graze on precious land reserved for livestock. There are more than 50 million kangaroos in Australia.

Female humpbacks usually breed every two or three years. Gestation takes more than 11 months. Kangaroos can breed all year round, and often do. Gestation takes just over a month. They can increase their populations by up to 400 per cent in just five years when food and water is plentiful.

Comparing Japan's slaughter of an endangered species with this week's cull of eastern grey kangaroos by the Defence Department at two of its properties on the outskirts of Canberra just doesn't make sense. But in the animal rights world, sometimes the numbers just don't add up. O'Brien and others have warned that the death of 400 kangaroos will leave a bloody stain on the national character and impact on the number of tourists who will want to visit this country in future. "We are expecting hundreds of people and if they start killing them we'll be going inside the fence. We will have a 24-hour guard on them," he has said. Funny, but there are no reports of animal rights activists gathering on the Snowy Mountains highway. A few years ago scientists set up a study along a 20km stretch of that road to examine roadkill levels. In 10 months, 400 eastern greys were found splattered on the bitumen.

You can't say the animal rights groups are naive when it comes to whipping up publicity. Sir Paul McCartney has been embroiled in the cause, warning against the potential of a massacre. Last weekend a former Neighbours star, Fiona Corke, travelled to Canberra to raise national alarm. And guess what? That good old script about the whales was served up yet again. "It is hypocritical that Peter Garrett is running an anti-whaling campaign and yet is allowing hundreds of kangaroos to be killed to make room for a housing development," Corke said.

Well, it's not quite like that. There are actually threatened species hovering on the edge of extinction just outside Canberra, including unconfirmed sightings of one or two politicians who can keep election promises. In lean times, kangaroos threaten their survival, along with surrounding grasslands. To have moved the 400 kangaroos from defence land would have cost an estimated $3.5m and, according to one report, relocation can often be traumatic and inhumane.

There are more than 3m kangaroos harvested in Australia each year. They contribute to a growing export business that creates jobs and helps to keep kangaroo numbers at a manageable level.

Of course, kangaroos are cute. But so are rabbits. And we kill them, too, when their numbers explode and they start degrading the environment. There are many things in this world that deserve every ounce of outrage and anger that we can muster. But worrying about 400 kangaroos being sedated before getting the bullet is not one of them. It's called pest control.

Source. More background on the matter here

Young doctors misused

JUNIOR doctors say they are being forced to work in high-stress senior positions, claiming it is putting patients' lives in danger in South Australia. They say they are being left in charge of life-threatening cases like heart attacks because senior doctors are leaving the state for better pay and conditions. Young doctors have entered the fray over the industrial dispute with the State Government, warning patients will be at "immediate risk" if conditions are not improved. A letter signed by more than 300 trainee doctors was sent to the Government this week calling for the urgent resolution of issues, including:

REMUNERATION that reflects their responsibilities, and increased base pay for junior doctors to address issues of attraction and retention.

BETTER professional development allowances to reflect increased training costs.

MINIMUM staffing levels sufficient to allow attendance at conferences and professional development courses.

FAMILY friendly provisions.

The letter said the exodus of doctors due to "poor pay and lack of professional development support" was compromising patient safety. "South Australia is presently unable to provide suitable levels of consultant supervision to junior staff," said the letter to Premier Mike Rann, Industrial Relations Minister Michael Wright and Health Minister John Hill. "This has compromised both our training as junior doctors and the care of public hospital patients."

SA Trainee Doctor spokeswoman Dr Jemma Anderson said existing pay structures did not reflect the increasing demands on junior doctors. "For too long, it has become the norm that trainee doctors work horrendous hours with increasingly limited supervision and teaching," she said. "In SA public hospitals right now, there are doctors only a few months out of their internship working in very senior roles. "If you had a heart attack in one of these hospitals, that junior doctor could be the one leading the resuscitation team to revive you. "This is dangerous for patients and puts trainee doctors under huge stress. "You don't get 300 doctors signing a letter like this unless something is very, very wrong with the system - it's a system on the edge of collapse."

Mr Hill, who is overseas, said in a statement the Government's $260 million offer would make SA junior doctors among the highest paid in the nation. "Junior doctors will receive an up to 17 per cent increase over the life of the agreement," he said. "For medical practitioners in training, their base salary will be the second highest in the nation, after Queensland." He released figures showing a step four medical practitioner in training would go from $68,964 a year base salary to $80,977 by the end of the proposed agreement, plus $10,000 annually for professional development.

Mr Hill acknowledged junior doctors needed supervision and the Health Department's chief medical officer was mentoring them. "The State Government is committed to training and retaining young doctors in the SA health system," he said. "They are the future of our system and we want to keep them in SA."

But Dr Anderson said while the increase was welcome, doctors were not being paid for the level of the work they were actually performing. The South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association and the Government will meet in the Industrial Relations Commission again on Friday. SASMOA senior industrial officer Andrew Murray said it was waiting on a response from the Government to questions about its new pay offer.


Australian Labor Party now beginning to encounter the political costs of its Greenie fantasies

KEVIN Rudd's climate change honeymoon ended last week. The hero of Bali received a public relations belting over what were relatively modest indiscretions in the environment section of Tuesday night's budget. That's the danger with playing to the grandstand on an issue as complex and expensive as climate change. During last year's epic election campaign, Labor didn't hold back with the green symbolism to maximise its political leverage over the Howard government.

There was the generous but questionable 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020; Rudd trading in his Ford Territory for a Toyota Prius; Peter Garrett warning he wanted to ban electric hot water heaters; with the cake iced by the standing ovation at the Bali climate change talks when Australia announced it would ratify the defunct Kyoto Protocol.

Most Australians when surveyed want the Government to fix climate change. But they also want cheaper petrol and electricity. Labor has been happy to play to this information disconnect by indulging voters' naivety about what is coming, allowing them to believe these symbolic acts would be enough to solve the problem. So they can hardly cry foul when the same voters turned on them for last week's apparent abandonment of one of these icons. What the court of public opinion gives it can also take away.

Solar hot water systems are a cost-effective energy-saving technology for many Australian homes, but rooftop solar panels that generate electricity are still one of the more expensive solutions to climate change. Because of their tangibility and visibility, they have political cachet far in excess of their real value.

The Howard government was in catch-up mode at last year's budget when it announced a doubling of the rebate to households that wanted to install solar panels. It was a political stunt, offering households up to $8000 to install systems that started at $12,000, and giving Australians access to the most generous solar rebate scheme in the world. The tiny solar panel industry went from installing a few hundred panels a year to a few thousand. Some major installers reported a sevenfold increase in business. Despite its generosity, the scheme has hardly dented penetration into Australia's 8 million households.

Labor went to the election saying it would means-test the Coalition's solar hot water rebate, limiting it to households earning less than $100,000 as part of a broader economic platform to rein in middle-class welfare. It seemed logical for the Government to extend that to the solar panel rebate, while increasing the number of rebates available. But perhaps they should have consulted the industry first.

Most households who are paying a mortgage and can spare $5000 for solar panels are earning more than $100,000 a year. In the following three days solar installers reported up to 70 per cent of their orders had been cancelled. The hostile reaction on talkback radio revealed outrage from a community that appeared to take vicarious ownership of the generous scheme, even if only a handful actually signed up. In reality it's a clumsy intervention that will deliver a sudden bust to the boom enjoyed by a small section of the popular renewable energy industry. The furore looks worse than it is.

But there were other problems that suggest it will take more than good words, good intentions and increased funding for this Government to deliver on its promise of a dynamic renewable energy industry. Labor forgot to provide for the geothermal industry in this budget. While these companies have been promised $50 million by Canberra, the money is needed now to offset some of the high cost of drilling wells 5km deep to tap hot-rock energy. These wells can cost between $10 million and $15 million each, and two or three are needed to get a single pilot plant going.

Like mining or gas exploration, it's an expensive business to get started. Most hot-rocks companies have listed on the ASX to raise the equity needed and many have gone back to shareholders to ask for more or signed up joint ventures with major energy companies. But letting the market do all the work can be risky. The Geodynamics group is the most advanced in the field and is already circulating steam at its trial site in northeast South Australia. Origin Energy came in as a joint venture partner last year, but is now the subject of a possible takeover by British energy giant BG Group. But they want the gas, not the hot rocks. If the bid succeeds, there is no guarantee they are likely to share the same enthusiasm for the project.

The Government's political vulnerability over whether it can live up to its hype on clean energy rhetoric is only a small skirmish compared to the backlash that awaits them in July. That's when Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, armed with the draft Garnaut review and Treasury modelling, will release the Government's green paper setting the terms of a national emissions trading scheme.

It will be the most delicate of balancing acts, trying to preserve the engine room of the economy and the million jobs in trade-exposed, energy-intense industries while being seen to act decisively on climate change. It's a contest of high petrol prices and inflation versus environmental reputation and credibility.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Speech to American Jewish Committee by The Hon. Alexander Downer MP, Member for Mayo, on the occasion of the conferral of the Ramer Award for Excellence in Diplomacy

The speech was delivered Thursday May 1 2008 at the 102nd annual dinner of the American Jewish Committee. Mr Downer is a former Australian Foreign Minister in the Howard government. I think the speech is comparable with the excellent speech to the Knesset recently delivered by George Bush.

The speech contrasts greatly with the outpouring of dishonesty and pure venom emanating from the Leftist end of the mainstream Australian media. See here, for instance. And our public broadcaster bewailed the fact that the venom concerned was not published more widely! Yet the reporting in the article concerned is so unbalanced that it is not even good propaganda.

"It is a great honour to be presented with this award by the American Jewish community. Indeed, I feel humbled that you have chosen me to be the recipient of an award which commemorates the extra-ordinary contribution to the American Jewish community by the Ramers.

The Australian and American Jewish communities have a lot in common. In both cases Jews have found in our countries the peace and tolerance which was denied them over the centuries in Europe and the Middle East: but they have not only found freedom and tolerance in Australia and America , they have contributed mightily to our two societies.

You haven't yet elected a Jewish President whereas we have had two Jewish Governors' General, the Governor General being the de facto head of state in Australia . But in both our cases the contribution Jewish people have made to science, academia, literature the arts and business has been magnificent.

An embattled, denigrated and persecuted people has come to our shores and in finding freedom has said 'let's build this place'. It's part of what makes our societies great.

In 1918, Australians and Americans went into battle together for the first time. We've done so many times since. It was at the Battle of Le Hamel, this being the first major American military action on European soil. Those of you with a sense of history may think the Americans fought under the redoubtable General Pershing but in this their first major battle in Europe they fought under the Australian commander, General Sir John Monash. Monash by the way was Jewish - so you won't be surprised to learn we won the battle!

In many ways, Australians and Americans are the most natural of allies. Our countries were settled by peoples fleeing persecution and discrimination and who sought the opportunity to achieve prosperity away from the class based elitism of the old world. We grew to love a life of individual freedom and to place equal value on every person.

We confronted and still confront three great adversaries over the last 100 years. We fought the bloody and heartless totalitarianism of fascism and we won. We fought the intolerance, cruelty and incompetence of communism and we won. And today we fight the fanaticism and ideological insanity of Islamic extremism - and we must win that fight as well.

Islamic extremism has several manifestations. There is Al Qaeda and its Asian variant, Jemaah Islamia. There is the Iranian theocracy. There is the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan .

These people are haters and many of them are killers. They hate our open, free societies that respect men and women equally. They want to destroy democracy and equality of opportunity in Iraq , in Afghanistan , in Indonesia and in Israel . They want to destroy modernity and plunge the world back into the Middle Ages. They want Taliban-style regimes not just in Afghanistan but throughout the world, particularly the Muslim world: regimes where girls are denied schooling, where the most powerful are chosen by a few zealots not the people, where the tools of modernity are disbanded and poverty becomes endemic.

Our great countries stand in their way. This is a tough fight because we are confronting people who have no concern for human life. No act of barbarism is beyond these people. To win we need to be clear eyed. This war is not popular with everyone, it's expensive and it's costing the lives of our young men and women.

But please, I implore you, contemplate the alternative: Victory for Al Qaeda in Sunni Iraq, the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan , Hamas in total control of both Gaza and the West Bank, a Hezbollah-dominated government in Lebanon and what then? The Moslem Brotherhood taking control in Egypt, the Gulf States swept up in the euphoria of a resurgent, extremist Wahabiism. Would newly democratic Indonesia - the world's largest Islamic country succumb to extremism? Would New York again and Sydney become front line cities in the great ideological battle of our time?

And let's think about democratic, freedom-loving Israel . For those of us who live in Australia or America it is hard to conceive of life in a tiny country a fraction the size of our own, living cheek by jowl with people who want to destroy you.

It is easy for Australians, Americans and Europeans in the relative security of our homes to lecture the Israeli government to be more accommodating with its enemies, to criticise Israel for erecting a security barrier, to complain that Prime Minister Olmet won't hug a Hamas leader, to deplore Israeli attacks on rocket bases in Southern Lebanon and Gaza and Israeli attacks on Hamas terrorist leaders in Gaza and the West Bank. It's easy to lecture. But it is harder to understand.

One of the lessons of history is to understand your adversary. The West professes with genuine sincerity to believe in Israel 's right to exist within secure borders. It argues for the two state solution as the only viable option for peace in the Middle East . They are right to do so. It is the only option.

But what some in the West, including a good number of Americans and Australians, don't understand is there are many in the Middle East who don't accept the two-state solution and Israel 's right to exist as a separate State. Hamas and Hezbollah believe in the destruction of the Israeli State . That is bad enough. But behind them lies the power, the finance and the weapons of Iran . When President Ahmadinejad says he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, he means it. He believes there should be no Jewish State of Israel.

Demands that Israel negotiate with those who wish to destroy it are unreasonable and worse: those demands weaken Israel 's diplomatic strength and help to undermine community support for Israel in Western countries.

Indeed I will go further: there has been a constant stream of criticism of Israel particularly from Europe and elements of the United Nations for each and every one of the defensive measures it takes. Building a security barrier is wrong, destroying terrorist bases is wrong, attacking terrorist leaders and planners is wrong, trying to stop missile attacks on villages in Northern and Southern Israel is wrong. It doesn't leave Israel with too many options.

These criticisms have been particularly vehement in much of the Western media. That has had an effect on public opinion which has become increasingly hostile to Israel. But Israel is a democracy. No Israeli leader can turn his or her back on the struggle against those who wish to destroy Israel . The world needs to respect that.

We also need to send out again and again a simple and clear message to the international community that peace in the Middle East can never come until Israelis are allowed to sleep in peace. That message needs to be transmitted not just in Europe and America. Asia needs to hear and understand that message as well.

Today, as the balance of global power shifts to the Asia Pacific region, your campaigns to ensure people understand the truth of the Middle East conflict must extend to China, Japan, India, Korea and Indonesia. Those countries are going to count for a great deal more in international fora in the future. But at present they are hearing just one side of the argument. When I have spoken about the Middle East in Asia I have felt somewhat lonely!

When I first heard last year of the destruction of a North Korean-built nuclear facility in Syria , I thought its destruction was a triumph. It was a blow for peace. What horrors would have occurred years from now if that project had survived? But the existence of this project, discovered only at a relatively late stage of development, reminds us of the immense dangers Israelis live with day by day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these are tough times.We have to prevail over Islamic extremism. Liberal democracy has, once more, to triumph. But it won't happen by wishing and hoping: it will only happen through courage and action.

I know what your public are saying, I know there is pain at the costs both human and financial. But the true test of the statesman is to do the right thing by a troubled world, not play to a gallery.

Thank you again for this great honour: whether our political leaders are popular or not, our two great countries will always be the great beacons of hope to billions of people around the world who crave the liberties we are blessed to enjoy. And make no mistake, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel in its struggle to secure peace and freedom".


Farce as NSW firefighters act as ambulance officers

FIREFIGHTERS say they are acting as ambulance officers and treating the sick at crash scenes and other emergencies in a growing trend aimed at plugging holes in the health system. The Daily Telegraph can reveal NSW Fire Brigades crews last year responded to 5583 medical emergencies. And the number of firefighter call-outs is climbing, up by 1200 since 2005, documents obtained under Freedom of Information show.

But the NSW Fire Brigade has rejected claims firefighters are propping up the health system. The brigade's assistant public affairs director Kate Dennis said there were a very small number of first-aid interventions. Firefighters provided CPR, oxygen and other medical assistance in hundreds of non-fire related cases last year.

The Ambulance Service last night admitted it does rely on firefighters to respond if its crews are unavailable. Documents show many of the medical emergencies involved people trapped in car accidents, which are mandatory for the fire brigade to attend. But on 528 occasions last year firefighters performed first aid at non-fire emergencies.

Ambulance officers said they were concerned about the increasing reliance on firefighters responding to medical call-outs. "There are times when we are tied up at another job and the fireys are the first to get there, so they have to start treating the patient," a 30-year ambulance veteran said. "We aren't knocking our comrades but we are concerned that the Government will use fireys to respond to jobs. All three emergency services are covering each other's tail."

Maianbar artist Julie Mellae didn't care who turned up to help her 70-year-old father during a heart attack last year - as long as someone responded to her call. A fire crew was dispatched to her home to offer medical assistance to her father Albert Cosgrove. "Probably in the suburbs it would sound a bit quirky to have fire brigade people help out with a medical problem," she said. "But out here when there is a tragedy everybody helps out where they can."

In the latest example of the overstretched system, ambulance officers in the Hunter have also taken industrial action over one-person crews attending emergencies. They have rejected a plan to man the ambulances with a volunteer firefighter or SES worker.

Fire Brigade Employees Union state secretary Simon Flynn said there was a growing "overflow system" where fireys were propping up the health system. The union is taking its concerns to the Industrial Relations Court next week. Under changes within the brigade in 2003, fire engines were equipped with defibrillator and trauma kits while getting the equivalent to graduate ambulance officer training.

However, an Ambulance Service spokesman said firefighters would never replace paramedics. "First-aid skills are important for any emergency service operative and we support firefighters being trained in life-saving interventions to assist paramedics," he said.


Serious ambulance problems in Tasmania too

COUNTRY ambulance stations are closed up to nine hours a day - sometimes three times a week - because paramedics are seriously fatigued. Some paramedics are on duty for 96 hours straight, Australian College of Ambulance Professionals Tasmanian branch chairman Tim Rider said. When paramedics took nine-hour fatigue breaks, there was no one to cover for them and stations were unmanned. As a result, Mr Rider said people near Huonville, New Norfolk and Sorell were at risk in an emergency.

"Fatigue is a significant issue for paramedics when they're on the road driving and it can affect their clear, cool judgment," he said. "It also places the community at risk because they have to put up with a longer response time if we can't back-fill (the fatigue break), which is usually the norm."

The Health and Community Services Union put a staffing plan for Huonville, New Norfolk and Sorell to the Government three years ago. But HCSU assistant secretary Tim Jacobson said the plan was not acted on. "People are sick of working overtime," Mr Jacobson said. "Outer-urban stations operate on a model that doesn't have a full complement of full-time staffing. "It's becoming more problematic because of urban sprawl and increasing case loads. There is no fat in the system to provide cover when there are absences or vacancies."

Fatigue was a serious issue for paramedics at outer-urban stations, where a four-day-on, four-day-off work roster meant they were on call overnight after working more than 11 hours. Paramedics were increasingly taking nine-hour fatigue breaks.

Mr Rider said outer-urban services required more resources, including full-time staff, and a new work model. "The four-on, four-off roster is very well liked by paramedics in town. But the fact is the days of the single branch officer is way outdated in today's environment, given the workload and the OHS issues," he said. "They're basically on duty for 96 hours straight, and their clinical judgment can be impaired." Mr Rider said the Tasmanian Ambulance Service was aware of the problem and would advertise for more qualified paramedics this year.


Amazing: Australian schoolkids to do a serious study of Australian literature

But only in NSW -- and even there the "greats" (Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, C.J. Dennis) seem to be missing

HIGH school students in NSW will have to study at least four works of Australian literature by the end of Year 10 under changes to the English syllabus. The NSW Board of Studies has reworked the English syllabus for primary and secondary students to promote Australian literature in the classroom. The changes specify the study of printed literature - books, poems and plays - over multimedia forms such as film, television shows and websites.

The move follows a directive last year from NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca to strengthen the study of Australian literature in schools. Mr Della Bosca yesterday said a study of Australian literature was important in providing a sense of identity and insight into our national culture. "While Australian literature is already featured across the primary and secondary English syllabuses, these proposals will help to ensure that all students experience the wisdom, knowledge, and talent of our authors," he said. The board will start consultations with teachers later thismonth to draw up lists ofsuggested books and writers for study. The changes could be phased in as early as next year.

Books currently recommended for primary school students include Animalia by Graeme Base, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs, Five Times Dizzy by Nadia Wheatley, and Father Sky and Mother Earth by Oodgeroo Noonuccal. In high schools, suggested books for Years 7 to 10 include Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Park, My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin and The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson. Senior students already study Australian literature including Peter Carey's The True History of the Kelly Gang, David Malouf's Fly Away Peter, Patrick White's The Aunt's Story and Tim Winton's Cloudstreet.

But the board is proposing a new Year 11 module for Extension English students in Australian literature, covering traditional and contemporary writers. In primary schools, the new syllabus directs that students are given "a substantial experience of Australian literature". This includes regular reading, with the teacher, in groups or independently, of Australian picture books as well as extended study and close study, either as a class or in groups, of novels and poetry. The syllabus also suggests units of work that cross other subject areas, using a detailed study of Australian literature as a link into teaching history, for example.

High school students in Years 7-8 and 9-10 are already required to study at least two works of fiction, films, non-fiction books, drama and a wide range of poetry for each two-year period. The syllabus will now be changed to require that at least two works covering all the genres be "drawn from different types of Australian literature in the print medium". "The selected texts must include Australian literature and other Australian texts including those that give insights into Aboriginal experiences and multicultural experiences in Australia," it says.


End to Howard's era of choice

Kevin Rudd is quietly tearing up John Howard's blueprint for running the country, replacing the mantras of private choice and reward for effort with old-style Labor values of public funding and tax equity. He is doing it with the same tool that the former prime minister exploited - government spending. Howard camouflaged his social engineering with the term "choice". Rudd conceals his rollback of the Howard years with words such as "equity", "future" and "long-term".

Wayne Swan's budget speech on Tuesday talked of "redirect(ing) welfare payments to where they are needed most". Let's play follow-the-bribe to see how Rudd is changing the hip-pocket conversation, and with it, perhaps, the nation.

Howard used taxpayers' money to reward people for consuming private services such as schools and hospitals. Rudd has begun to reverse this order by talking up public schools through his education revolution and by talking down private health insurance through the changes to the Medicare levy surcharge. Without that 1 per cent levy to pay, upper-middle earners on between $50,000 and $100,000 have one less reason to take out private health cover. Leaders tell a lot about themselves by the voters they pamper. Howard favoured the stay-at-home mother. Rudd prefers the working woman.

Howard had placed a means test on Family Tax Benefit (Part A) for the majority of families in which both parents worked. But the minority of couples that had the mother at home, or working a few hours a week, received Family Tax Benefit (Part B) regardless of what the father earned. Tuesday's budget ended the distinction between working and stay-at-home mothers by denying FTB (Part B) to households on more than $150,000 a year.

Yet Rudd is no means-test puritan. Labor's expanded childcare tax rebate is the post-Howard equivalent of middle-class welfare. All families get it, regardless of income. Rudd explains that the childcare tax rebate is designed to help women return to work, although he might be surprised to learn that many well-off mothers at home also use childcare. Perhaps he meant to console them for the loss of FTB (Part B)?

Howard saw the early years of a child's life as a family affair, with no role for government other than to help the mother stay at home to raise the child. Rudd, on the other hand, is a fan of early intervention in childhood development, so the Government must play a role before the child reaches primary school. And when that child reaches primary school, Rudd would like to see the state system compete more successfully with the private sector.

He never couches his policies this way, because he hasn't repeated previous Labor policy of cutting funding to elite schools. But there are other ways to tilt the playing field. Rudd's education tax refund has a means test. No point giving wealthy families money to defray the cost of sending their pampered kids to private schools. Tuesday's budget even increased the tax on the luxury people-movers these parents use to chauffeur their children to the school gate.

The most important difference between Howard and Rudd is the role of the budget surplus. Howard wanted to return the excess revenue to voters directly - as a tax cut or handout, or both. Howard's mantra of choice boiled down to the idea that individuals should be free to consume their bracket creep in the private sector. Rudd sees the surplus as public funds to be invested by government on behalf of the public. It is up to the voter to read the sign language.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Publicity forces Anglicans to stand down pedophile priest

The rectum of the church, Trevor Bulled, is still there, though -- even though he has a conviction for indecent behaviour. Sexual perversion is so popular among the Anglican clergy that they have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything about it

A CONVICTED pedophile priest found singing in a church choir with children three months after he was released from jail has been directed to stand down by his diocese. The move is a backflip by the Anglican Church, which stood behind a decision earlier in the year to allow Robert Francis Sharwood to sing with children in the Holy Trinity Church choir at Fortitude Valley. Sharwood was jailed for 12 months in November 2006 after being found guilty of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy in Brisbane more than 30 years ago.

The Courier-Mail revealed in February he was singing alongside children in his parish's choir with the permission of the congregation - although some parents were unaware of the priest's past. In March, Brisbane's Anglican Dean Bishop John Parkes told The Courier-Mail pedophile priests could not be stopped from interacting with children as part of the congregation, nor from participating in church duties open to any lay person - such as singing in a choir, Bible readings or being part of the cleaning roster.

But an Anglican Church spokesman said the Brisbane diocese had now altered that stance. "We have instructed that he not be in the choir and we believe that is the case," the spokesman said. He said the church had also signed off on a pedophile reintegration program that was the centre of a six-month dispute between Holy Trinity and its professional standards board.

Holy Trinity's rector, Trevor Bulled, who was convicted for indecent behaviour at a public toilet about 20 years ago, had said in January the program was "unworkable and oppressive". Father Bulled also questioned the need for a rehabilitation program for Sharwood.

The Anglican spokesman said it had taken "some time" to get Holy Trinity to approve the reintegration program. "We have been in discussion, obviously, since that time and a number of parishioners have agreed to take part in the monitoring," the spokesman said.

Sharwood is at present appealing a recommendation by the Brisbane diocese's professional standards board to strip him of his holy orders. While he has been unable to practise as a priest since being convicted of sexually abusing a child, he has not had the title of priest taken from him.

The Anglican Church, dogged by controversy over the case, is now looking at new provisions that would see pedophile priests defrocked immediately after being convicted of child-sex offences. At present, Anglican priests charged with child sex offences are immediately stood down from their position and their licence suspended to stop them from performing ministerial duties.


Federal socialists protect crooked Federal cops -- even breaking an election promise in order to do so

The national anti-corruption watchdog will be unable to fund covert investigations of corrupt officers in the Australian Federal Police or the Australian Crime Commission after the Government broke its promise to give teeth to the new body in last week's budget. The move means that the fledgling body - known as the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity - will be unable to conduct telephone taps or set up its own covert investigations unit at a time when the size and powers of the AFP and ACC have been greatly expanded. This lack of accountability comes at a time when public confidence in the AFP and its chief, Mick Keelty, has plummeted following the bungled handling of the Mohamed Haneef case.

Despite a pre-election promise to deliver substantial new resources for the ACLEI, last week's budget delivered only a token funding rise - less than 10per cent of what the former head of the ACLEI has said is necessary to make the new body effective. The ACLEI was established by the Howard government in late 2006 to root out corruption in the AFP and ACC but was given an annual budget of only $2million - a figured dwarfed by budgets for the state-based police anti-corruption watchdogs, which receive between $19million and $34 million a year.

The then acting head of the ACLEI, John McMillan, told The Australian in July last year that the ACLEI was unable to do its job with such limited resources and needed a tenfold increase in investigation staff and substantial extra funding to be effective. The Labor Party, then in Opposition, agreed with Professor McMillan and promised to deliver the necessary resources. "We intend to give teeth to this tiger," Labor's then homeland security spokesman Arch Bevis said. "There can be no cloud of uncertainty hanging inthe public's mind when it comes to the probity of Australia's law enforcement bodies, particularly those charged with the fundamental task of national security."

But the budget last week failed to deliver on those promises, lifting the ACLEI's budget by only $750,000 in 2008-09 to $2.82 million, along with a one-off capital injection of $750,000. This will allow the ACLEI to employ only three new investigative staff, taking the total to 12. This came despite the Government boosting funding for the AFP by about $400 million, taking its annual budget to about $1billion, with the extra money to be spent on employing about 500 extra officers over five years.

Professor McMillan declined to comment, but he said last year that the ACLEI needed a staff of 50 if it was to exercise the powers it had been given, such as telephone interception and controlled operations. The budget also promised an extra $2 million in funding for the ACLEI in each of the three years after 2008-09, but this amount still falls far short of what the ACLEI needs to hold the AFP and ACC accountable.

A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus maintained that the ACLEI had enjoyed a "significant increase' in the budget, which "shows that the Government is committed to ACLEI".

The ACLEI's chief, Integrity Commissioner Philip Moss, did not return The Australian's calls. But in Senate estimate hearings last month, he admitted that the ACLEI did not have the resources to conduct proper investigations of suspected corrupt officers. "It will be a quantum leap for this organisation ... if we get to the stage beyond responding to notifications and referrals and get to the point where we more pro-actively engage these intrusive powers in the detection of corruption and corrupt conduct," Mr Moss said.


Stupid "non-discriminatory" police recruitment attacked

Cops call for more brawn on the beat

"Physically challenged" police are putting themselves and their colleagues at greater risk of assault, say some officers. A number of police have even called for height and weight restrictions to be re-introduced to the Queensland Police Service to improve the physical presence of officers on the beat. Prior to the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption, officers were required to be at least 172cm tall with a minimum weight of 65kg. In late 1990 those restrictions were abolished, although police were still required to pass a physical competency test.

The test was eased in 1993 because of the high failure rate of female recruits and in 1998 a review recommended the physical competency test be phased out in favour of a health-screening process. As a result, Queensland now has the least demanding physical fitness requirements of any Australian state, with applicants required only to run 2.4km in under 12 minutes and swim an un-timed 100m clothed.

Police sources told The Courier Mail that the decline in physical fitness and height requirements was contributing to the high rate of assaults on police. "Coppers are no longer physically intimidating and if you get into any strife you cannot necessarily count on your partner to help you out if they're five foot nothing and 45kg," an officer said.

Ex-Police Union president John O'Gorman, who once called for a review of the abandoned height and weight restrictions, said the size of police was no longer as important. "The introduction of capsicum spray and Tasers means police don't have to rely as much on sheer physical force in a brawl situation," he said. He said the main reason police were increasingly victims of assault was because they were reluctant to use force given the legal consequences.

In one of the worst cases of assault last year, Logan Constable Grant Sampson had a bottle smashed over his head after being called to an out-of-control party at Alberton, near Beenleigh. Constable Matt Burchard carried his unconscious partner to the safety of a garden shed which partygoers pelted with bottles as the officer called for back-up. Police said: "It was not worth thinking about" what could have happened to Constable Sampson if his partner had been unable to get him to a safe place.

Queensland Police Union president Cameron Pope said he supported the recruitment criteria. "It's been shown to me innumerable times it's not the dog in the fight, it's the fight in the dog," he said. A Queensland Police Service spokesman said there was absolutely no evidence suggesting the size of officers had anything to do with assaults. "A very small percentage of interaction with the general public results in physical confrontation," he said. "The QPS expends considerable energy training recruits in communication and non-violent dispute resolution techniques."


Waiting lists up, surgeons sent on leave

More "administrator" madness

QUEENSLAND'S top surgeons are being forced to down scalpels for up to six months to take leave - leaving their patients having to wait even longer for operations. Queensland Health has allowed doctors to rack up months of leave but now demands they take it all, despite the impact on blown-out surgery wait lists. Elective surgery lists have blown out by 15 per cent and consultations by 50 per cent in the past three years.

The revelation came after another horror day for Health Minister Stephen Robertson yesterday, with the release of a damning audit revealing hundreds of Queensland Health staff were living in unsafe accommodation. The embattled department was also forced to apologise to a Gold Coast woman who spent three hours in labour on the floor of a hospital storeroom because there was no bed for her.

One senior consulting surgeon who treats hundreds of patients a month called the forced leave irresponsible and life-threatening. "This is just going to balloon the waiting lists for operations and consultations," he said. "They could just give us a payment, or just get off our backs. We have a job to do."

Salaried Doctors Queensland president Don Kane said Queensland Health was more concerned about clearing leave than cutting wait lists. The union, which represents 2000 doctors, blamed health managers for failing to provide backup so doctors could take leave at appropriate times. "It should never have been allowed to get to this stage," he said. "This is pretty typical."

Queensland Health said the payout or partial payout of leave for all public servants was banned. Queensland Health acting director-general Andrew Wilson said it was important doctors took leave for their wellbeing and that of patients. Dr Wilson said it was better to have doctors take heavy leave as a "large block" so a replacement doctor could be employed for a longer period. He failed to explain why managers had allowed huge amounts of leave to mount.

The surgeon said his supervisor had badgered him and other surgeons to take large blocks of leave. The discussions had been conducted verbally because doctors were never supposed to accumulate that much leave and the bureaucrats wanted nothing in writing, he said. "For any of us to take that length of time off, it's going to delay the work and de-skill the surgeons," he said.

Queensland Health said it was able to fill the leave gaps without disruption to the waiting list, but the surgeon disagreed. "There are plenty of patients who will fall through the cracks,' the surgeon said.


Pro-Abortion Expression Permitted, Pro-Life Forbidden at a major Australian University

The Student Union at Queensland University have shown themselves to be opposed to differing opinion and free speech like many other secular universities around the world. The school's Newman Society has been censored and threatened with disaffiliation from the student union because union leaders believed the group's "pro-woman" and "pro-pregnancy" campaign took a stand against abortion. The poster and leaflets, displayed on a booth outside the student caf,, did not mention abortion but featured a photograph of an eight week old child in the womb, and offered compassion and support for young women who might find themselves facing the difficult challenge of an unplanned pregnancy.

Elise Nally, third-year applied science student and Newman Society secretary, said in a report by The Australian that the union's action was totalitarian and against free speech. "I'd like to know what laws we've broken," Nally said. "The union is acting like a dictator."

Joshua Young, president of the student union, gave this explanation for the union's actions against Catholics on campus: "I know the Newman Society thinks the union is being heavy handed, but the student union voted in 1993 for free, safe abortion on demand so all women have a genuine choice when faced with unwanted pregnancy." From a student body of 30,000, a total of approximately 3,500 voted in the 1993 referendum, with about 1900 in favor of abortion rights, 1400 against, and 200 abstaining. When asked if the vote precludes other views being advocated in campus debate, Young said, "It does."

The Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA), which represents Catholic students in schools throughout Australia, issued a statement criticizing the decision of the student union. The statement said that pro-life groups had been active at the University of Queensland for five years after the student referendum's passage in 1993 and no disciplinary action was taken against them. The ACSA argued that the referendum only established the school as a pro-choice campus, and did not require any particular viewpoint to be suppressed.

"ACSA is concerned that the use of a 15 year old referendum by the UQ Union to take disciplinary action against the Society raises serious concerns for students' freedom of speech and the implications this might have on other student groups at The University of Queensland," the statement declared.

ACSA National President Camillus O'Kane said that, "if the truth becomes something we can simply vote for, it becomes a weapon that can be used against others. This is why freedom of speech is one of the guiding principles of our society. It is a shame that this incident has occurred at one of Australia's leading universities, a place of learning where we should be able to express our views freely."


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Crash helmets for playgrounds??

This safety madness gets ever worse! Will we all need to wear helmets every time we get out of bed one day?

PROTECTIVE headgear for babies and the elderly could become compulsory in Queensland childcare centres and nursing homes amid brain injury fears. Australia's Brain Injury Centre is leading a push for a State Government trial of the headwear, which has been designed and manufactured by a suburban Brisbane mother. Up to 50,000 people suffer brain injuries each year in Queensland.

Researchers in the US have found infant skulls are just one-eighth the strength of an adult skull. Brain Injury Centre chief executive officer Christian King said toddlers were at the greatest risk because skulls took until at least early adolescence to strengthen.

"We want to see trials done in preschools, playgrounds and junior contact sports," Mr King said. "Queensland could lead the way." He added that 0.5 per cent of brain injury victims would remain in a vegetative state. "We need to do it. It is not going to stop it, but it is going to cushion the impact when they (toddlers) are constantly falling over."

Headgear designer Isla George recently patented her brand, Head Bumpa, and said parents, epilepsy sufferers, car accident victims and elderly dementia sufferers were using the product. "I get a lot of queries from people who want to protect their elderly parents and no one wants to wear a helmet around," she said. "It doesn't look unsociable, it looks like a head band. It's quite trendy. "If you put it on early, the kids get quite used to it and it becomes like putting on a hat." The Albany Creek part-time shop assistant said she was making up to 500 Bumpas a year, but was in talks with a baby-goods manufacturer to mass-produce her invention.

Queensland Health's senior director of population health Linda Selvey has recommended that the manufacturer contact the Creche and Kindergarten Association of Queensland to explore the possibility of introducing the headgear in kindergartens across the state.


Cotton wool kids' losing basic skills

Panicky parents are breeding a generation of "cotton wool kids" too afraid to climb trees or ride their bikes, NSW's most senior child guardian has warned. Mums and dads are so fixated on keeping their children safe that children are growing into nervous adults without acquiring basic survival skills along the way.

NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People Gillian Calvert has cautioned that alarm over stranger danger and traffic means that today's children are missing out on simple pleasures. "Over the past 10 years we have seen a real reduction in the range at which children can leave their family home and move freely," Ms Calvert told The Saturday Daily Telegraph. "Kids tell us they can't ride their bikes around streets any more." The simple joys of childhood such as bike riding, climbing trees and even just crossing the road are basic skills that are in danger of being entirely lost.

And doctors report that robbing kids of their freedom is pushing up rates of anxiety disorders in even the very young, while reducing play is denying children motor skills. The data were presented at a From Page 1 NSW Commission of Children and Young People and University of NSW conference.

"There are real concerns about reduced play opportunities," the university's Sports Medicine Unit director Dr Carolyn Broderick said. "Fundamental motor skills are developed through play as well as balance co-ordination and strength. And a lot of play equipment has gone from parks because of fear of litigation. "Children now have a fear that wasn't there in the past." Dr Broderick said research shows a significant drop in free play time and a quarter of parents were actually discouraging their children from playing sport because they were worried about injury.

But it is not just backyard cricket that has gone missing - research in state schools found international events such as terrorist attacks were making children feel insecure. "Some children expressed fear of global threats such as war and terrorism and had a general insecurity about their own future and their community's," Ms Calvert said. "These concerns meant they lived life in a restrictive, guarded way, either as a result of restrictions imposed by others or themselves."

Child expert Robyn Monro Miller warned fearful children would grow into fearful adults. "Even the RTA says children shouldn't cross the road by themselves until they are 10. How does the magic age of 10 mean you can cross a road?"

Sydney University's Brain and Mind Research Institute director Ian Hickie confirmed rates of anxiety in children were on the rise because of parents obsessed with keeping their child safe. "Parents think the world is more threatening and the idea is you have to protect them from the world," he said. Recent research found children as young as two were being treated for anxiety.


Political correctness deadly to black kids

MORE damning evidence was presented to the Coroner's inquest into five Aboriginal deaths in Oombulgurri community, held in Kununurra last week. The allegations may well see the community closed down. Child protection agencies were racist because they were too scared to remove Aboriginal children living in squalor with their parents in case they were accused of being politically incorrect, former Federal indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough told the inquest.

Mr Brough said WA's Department of Indigenous Affairs was `deaf, dumb and blind' when it came to addressing the needs of Aboriginal communities. He said that many small remote Aboriginal communities such as Oombulgurri were not viable and should be shut down for the safety of the children living in them. Mr Brough told State Coroner Alastair Hope that circumstances in WA's remote communities were worse than in the NT, where the Howard government last year ordered intervention in a bid to tackle the crisis. "If a dog was found in a community in Perth living like children are living in the Kimberley, in many places the dog would be taken away and cared for and the carers would be charged by the RSPCA or relevant authority," Mr Brough said.

Asked if departments refused to remove Aboriginal children because of their skin colour, Mr Brough responded: "It is absolutely because they have a different skin colour. "There is no doubt that these departments are racist in their attitude, not because they hate blacks, but because they are scared to do anything about these issues because of political correctness."

Mr Brough said those opposed to closing small communities often argued it would be killing a culture but in reality many were not occupied by the traditional owners. He said many small communities of between 50 and 150 people were simply not viable because it was impossible for governments to provide the services needed to deal with the issues of intergenerational sex and alcohol abuse. "The reality is that many of these people are going to be much better served out of that community. we have to be honest if you want to save the next generation and that may well mean closing down Oombulgurri," he said.

Under questioning from State Solicitor's Office lawyer Delaney Quinlan, Mr Brough conceded he had never been to Oombulgurri, though he had told the court earlier he had visited many parts of the Kimberley, including Kalumburu.

A child protection officer, whose name has been suppressed, told the inquest the council made it difficult for staff to do their job and on the rare occasion they were given access to the community they were not allowed to stay overnight. The officer said people in the community were too scared to speak to child protection staff or told not to speak to them by certain members of the community.

Under questioning from John Hammond, the lawyer representing indigenous people, the DCP officer agreed sexual assaults had occurred in the community for more than a decade. When asked if the officer was worried about children in the community at the moment, the officer said: "Yes I'm worried in a way."


Wrong to restrict immigration from a problem group?

Africans of course. Where are Africans not a problem? They are certainly a huge problem for one-another in Africa -- and only a Leftist would think that to be a product of "white racism". Everywhere in Africa, black welfare has gone BACKWARDS since the white man left. If white racism was doing anything, it was propping them up, not holding them back. Nasty of me to mention such glaringly obvious facts, I know

WHEN former immigration minister Kevin Andrews sparked a race row over his claims that African refugees were engaged in crime and failing to integrate into Australia he was acting contrary to advice from his own department. In a confidential briefing to the minister, obtained by The Age, the Immigration Department stressed that studies suggested it was not ethnicity that determined criminal behaviour but a combination of socio-economic problems and other disadvantage.

The briefing was prepared for Mr Andrews in response to an article in the Cranbourne Leader suggesting that transit police believed Sudanese men were responsible for 99% of assaults and armed robberies on two Victorian rail lines. The briefing, dated September 27, 2007, said: "Whatever the background of the perpetrators, it would be wrong to blame all people from a particular migrant group for the behaviour of a few." But a week later, Mr Andrews appeared to ignore its advice when he cited the failure of Sudanese people to integrate as a reason for cutting African refugee numbers.

Yesterday Mr Andrews said the document was simply a departmental response to a news item. He said his comments were influenced by an Immigration Department dossier that raised community concern about African refugees forming gangs, fighting in nightclubs and attacking other families. "I wasn't blaming a particular group. I said we've got problems there and we need to do something about it." Despite the Darfur crisis in Sudan, Australia allocated just 30% of refugee places to Africans in 2007-08, down from 70% in 2004-05.

But the race debate was not ignited until October 1 last year, when Mr Andrews was asked about the fatal bashing of 18-year-old Sudanese refugee Liep Gony in Noble Park. It later emerged that Mr Gony's alleged attackers were not African. [Probably Lebanese Muslims. They are not at all politically correct and do attack Africans]

Questioned at the time about whether better settlement services were needed, Mr Andrews said the refugee intake from places such as Sudan had been cut amid fears that some groups "don't seem to be settling and adjusting into the Australian life as quickly as we would hope". This was at odds with a media release he issued several months earlier saying the Howard government had changed the composition of its refugee intake because of an improvement in conditions in some African countries and the need to help Iraqis displaced by war and Burmese refugees living in camps along the Thai-Burma border. The Government was accused of playing "ugly race politics" on the eve of the federal election. Critics said Mr Andrews was "dog-whistling" to marginal outer-suburban electorates with large numbers of refugees.

Mr Andrews said yesterday he had no regrets. "When difficulties are occurring, you can't put your head in the sand," he said. He had subsequently received supportive phone calls from Victorian police and visited migrant resource centres where he was told his comments were "entirely correct", based on their experiences. The Coalition had tried to deal with the issue by reducing - but not stopping - the African intake and providing an additional $200 million in resettlement services.

Mr Andrews said he had read media reports a few weeks ago that police were working with the Immigration Department to try to deal with some of the problems. "I think what I did was bring to people's attention what was an issue and now something is getting done about it," he said. "If you remain without commenting on an issue, what would have been done?"


NSW: It pays to be the son of a cop

A SENIOR constable says he took a breath test on behalf of a teenager with a blood-alcohol reading of .2 per cent because he felt sorry for him, not because he was the son of a police officer who worked at his station. Mark Christie, from Orange, told the Police Integrity Commission that he carefully turned his back to a CCTV camera and blew into a breath analysis machine to protect Adam Clunes, 19, from a drink-driving charge. He knew Mr Clunes - who had been out drinking before driving back to his girlfriend's house, despite being on P-plates - would lose his licence if he was convicted. "I felt a great deal of empathy for his position."

That the boy's father was a police officer "had nothing to do with my decision", even though he previously tested others who faced losing their licence. "I want the Commissioner to understand and believe me that I acted alone," Senior Constable Christie said.

The commission heard that Mr Clunes's father, Colin, once "had a bitch" that a police officer had issued his son with two traffic infringements, one for driving more than 30kmh above the speed limit, and one for failing to put P-plates on the car. Senior Constable Clunes told the commission that he thought the officer had "loaded up" his son on that occasion, and that the second ticket was unnecessary.

Constable Kate Lancer arrested Mr Clunes at a roadside breathalyser and took him to the station for the second test. She knew the teenager, she had worked with his father and knew of his father's displeasure about the earlier tickets. She contacted Senior Constable Clunes about the arrest.

When asked whether Senior Constable Clunes told her "we have got to do something, Katie, he will lose his licence", she said yes, although did not know what he meant. Senior Constable Clunes denied protecting his son, saying he simply told a colleague to "do what you've got to do". It did cross his mind that a colleague may have taken the test at the station on his son's behalf.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Immigration to Australia even higher than thought

What a puzzle! Australia has a much larger immigrant population (proportionately) than the UK or the USA but Australia at the same time has much less ethnic tension. It's only a puzzle to people with politically correct blinkers on. Australia has long had high rates of immigration but until recently almost all immigrants came from Europe and East Asia -- people who in general fit in well and peaceably with Australian life. It's not the numbers of people coming from elsewhere that is important but where they come from. Africans and Muslims from the Middle East have recently started arriving in numbers and they are already beginning to shatter Australia's ethnic calm. Many of the "refugees" recently admitted are both Muslim AND African. Heaven help us!

AUSTRALIA is undergoing an unparalleled movement of people and ethnic change through "hidden immigration", but lacks a comprehensive policy to deal with it, according to an eminent demographer. Monash University professor Andrew Markus said raw immigration numbers masked the magnitude of a demographic revolution that had produced a population where one in four residents was born overseas. At 24 per cent, the overseas-born proportion of the population is twice that of the US at 12 per cent, and three times that of England and Wales at 8 per cent, where racial tensions have flared again. "Opinion polls in England in July 2007 and March 2008 indicated that immigration and race issues are the main concern of electors," Professor Markus said.

He said that while Australians had been tolerant and migrants committed to their new home, strong political leadership was required to convince the nation of the benefits to all of high immigration to avoid a backlash. Professor Markus presented his analysis at this week's Australian Davos Connection Future Summit. "The elements of a policy to promote social cohesion within communities characterised by diversity of language and culture are well known - and difficult to implement," he said. "At present, Australia lacks full clarity of vision, coherence and consistency - while the largest movement of people in the country's history is under way."

Speaking to The Australian yesterday, Professor Markus said that although many Australians regarded the rate of immigration as high, they probably had little idea that the transformation was far bigger than they imagined. The usually quoted "headline" number of permanent arrivals - people successfully applying each year for permanent residency from overseas - rose 67 per cent between 1999 and last year, from 84,000 to 140,000. But Professor Markus said this figure failed to include on-shore "conversions" from foreigners on student or temporary work visas to permanent residence. That number rose from 15,000 in 1999 to 52,000 last year. Taking those figures into account, the annual increase in new permanent residents nearly doubled over the past nine years, from 99,000 to 192,000.

The number of permanent departures - Australians leaving the country without any immediate intention of return -- doubled from 35,000 in 1999 to 72,000 last year. Many of those departing were taking highly sought skills to more highly paid jobs overseas, Professor Markus said.

Added to an ageing population, future economic growth would require filling Australia's skills shortage largely from overseas. But the result would accelerate the pace of ethnic change, and because immigration had been skewed towards "magnet" destinations, in some areas the transition would be extraordinary, he said. "With the uneven distribution of the overseas born, this translates to 34.5 per cent of Sydney's population, 31 per cent of Melbourne's, and over 70 per cent in some urban localities," Professor Markus said.

He proposed several measures towards a national policy to make immigration work. These included challenging disadvantage in education and employment, tackling institutional discrimination, and a "consistent set of policies to be implemented at the community level to promote inter-cultural understanding, bridge building and participation".


Australia's new Centre-Left government promises massive increase in immigration

This is just the usual Leftist urge to tear up a status quo which is too peaceful and harmonious for them

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Evans wants a major overhaul of the migrant program to boost numbers, promote unskilled [Can he be serious? There are plenty og unemployed unskilled people in Australia already] as well as skilled applicants and gear Australia to the new global competition for workers.

Predicting a "great national debate over the next few years", Senator Evans said he planned to bring a series of cabinet submissions to reform a "model that is out of date" and too unresponsive to employer needs. He said the debate about temporary migration was over; the coming debate would be about semi-skilled and unskilled migrants to meet labour shortages.

Next month, cabinet is expected to approve a pilot program for a guest worker scheme from the South Pacific. Senator Evans called this a "stalking horse" for the larger debate on unskilled migration. His comments came after the Rudd Government's first budget, delivered on Tuesday, lifted permanent and temporary migration for 2008-09 to nearly 300,000 in the biggest annual increase since the program's inception by the Chifley government in the 1940s.

The skilled component of the permanent intake is running at 70 per cent, probably the highest ever. "My general view is that we are increasingly facing a labour shortage, not just a skills shortage," Senator Evans told The Weekend Australian. "The demands of business are hitting us in the face. What I'm thinking about is a fairly serious overhaul of the migration system and trying to design a visa and migration system that meets the realities of the 21st century and the internationalisation of the labour market. "There is a lack of responsiveness to employer needs. What's not widely understood is that there is a global competition for labour. The workforce is more contract based. BHP (Billiton) brings an engineer here from South America for two years and he'll be in Africa two years later. It's the nature of his work."

Asked about the hefty increase in the intake announced on budget night, Senator Evans said: "It was certainly driven by the economics. "No doubt Wayne Swan had his eye on wage inflation pressure and Treasury advice about that. But fundamentally it's a response to the huge demand for labour." Senator Evans said the Government's first response to shortages was more education and training but "the reality is that there are demands now that won't be met by that agenda". This was true in the short-term and long-term.

He said he had two aims - to make the program more responsive to industry and to restore its integrity, notably the457 temporary visas, to eliminate exploitation and any undermining of Australian conditions. This was critical because there was urgent pressure on the 457 program for a shift down the skill scale from professionals such as doctors and engineers to tradesmen and IT workers. "The demand is often for truck drivers, store managers, below tradesman-level jobs in the mining industry," Senator Evans said. "More broadly we have an ageing population. My inclination is not to do reviews, but get on with it. As a cabinet, we are engaged with this issue. "I think Australians are prepared to accept strong migration provided they think we need the skills and contributions that people bring."

He foreshadowed a relaxation of the former government's rigid rules about migrants' ability to speak English. Some of its measures were "pretty clunky and actually stopped business operating".


Your regulators will protect you -- in their usual somnolent fashion

One of the NSW's busiest skin care specialists has been accused of running a bizarre surgery for seven years in which patients were relentlessly pursued, verbally abused, threatened with AVOs and told never to come back. Dr David Lindsay froze off more than 250 sun spots from one patient in a single session, cut a lesion from a patient's leg without anaesthetic and treated another patient for a year without telling him he had skin cancer on his cheek, it is alleged.

Ten years after he first came to their attention, the Health Care Complaints Commission has asked the Medical Tribunal to strike Dr Lindsay off the medical register "to protect the public." The commission alleges Dr Lindsay, 42, suffers from a paranoid personality disorder. His behaviour could be triggered by minor comments, including a patient saying they had been kept waiting for a long time, said Ms Christine Adamson, counsel for the HCCC.

She said it was made difficult for patients to complain because his mother Tallulah Glynne worked as his receptionist at the Mid City Skin Cancer Centre in George St, Sydney. In one outburst, Dr Lindsay allegedly told a patient she had a suspicious mole on her body but he wouldn't tell her where "feigning that he had forgotten where it was". "I don't want to see you anyway, get out," he allegedly told another patient who said she had to leave after waiting 30 minutes.

Two patients had private prosecutions brought against them under the Inclosed Land Protection Act after they complained. One patient who commented to the receptionist that the doctor lacked personal skills was abused because of nationality and "told to return to England".

In a 57-page complaint, the HCCC claims he is guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct, improper or unethical conduct and that he threatened and intimidated patients and other doctors who complained. In 2004, he left a message on the answering machine of Judge Ken Taylor, then an acting HCCC commissioner, saying the judge was incompetent and the HCCC corrupt.

The complaints involve 25 patients and three doctors and begin in January 2002. He was first reported to the Medical Board in 1998 when the anaesthetist suggested he see a psychiatrist. The doctor, who has been suspended pending the outcome of the decision, denies he suffers a personality disorder. In a failed application to have one of the tribunal members dismissed due to his perceived links to one of the patients, Dr Lindsay said he was the "most investigated doctor" in both Australia and the US. "I'm not a bad person. I'm as good as I can be. I don't have a personality problem," he said.


Newspapers that give a fair representation to conservative viewpoints can still sell

The Australian has defied an international trend of falling newspaper circulation, reporting strong sales growth of 3.9 per cent in the year to March. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures show the weekday editions of Australia's national newspaper selling 134,000 copies, while sales of The Weekend Australian rose 2per cent in the year to March to 305,000. Readership of both editions rose strongly in the same period, with The Australian attracting 35,000 more readers, a rise of 8per cent to 472,000, and readership of The Weekend Australian up 4.1 per cent to 847,000.

The circulation of state-based broadsheets - The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald - fell or were stagnant, despite marketing campaigns involving papers being given away. Sales of The Australian Financial Review increased 2.3 per cent in the year to March, but the business tabloid still lagged far behind The Australian, selling just 88,488 copies a day. Sales of The Australian Financial Review's weekend edition jumped 11.6 per cent, to 102,114, but the figure was skewed by the publication of two bumper editions in the period - which aggregate sales from a number of editions - compared with one for the same period last year. Readership of The Australian Financial Review fell 2.3 per cent in the period, with the weekend edition down 10.2 per cent to 150,000 - less than one fifth of The Weekend Australian's readership.

The Australian's sales growth was in stark contrast to overseas trends, especially in the US, where newspapers have reported large circulation declines. However, total Australian capital city newspaper sales fell 1.01 per cent to 217,041,396.

In Victoria, The Age's weekday sales dropped 0.5 per cent to 201,500 while sales for the weekday Herald Sun fell 1.6 per cent to 516,500. Weekday sales of The Sydney Morning Herald were unchanged at 212,500 but sales of The Daily Telegraph fell 1.6 per cent to 366,000.

In Perth, the circulation gap between The Sunday Times and the Saturday edition of the troubled West Australian was halved to an unprecedented 14,000 copies, with the latter down 5.4 per cent, to 348,153, compared with 334,200 for The Times.

The Australian's editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell said: "The paper thanks its readers for the very strong growth in circulation and readership. Unlike many of our broadsheet rivals, we are actually enjoying increased circulation sales revenue because we are not giving our papers away, but selling them."


Friday, May 16, 2008

Sperm donor law to be refined

Not before time. Sweden take note (not that they will. They know it all)

Men who donate sperm for use in lVF treatment in Queensland will be freed from child support payments under new state laws. Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Kerry Shine said a loophole in legislation would be closed this week to clarify the status of biological fathers.

Mr Shine said the husband or de facto partner of a woman who conceived using lVF treatment automatically assumed legal responsibility for the child. "However, responsibility reverts to a biological father whose sperm is used to impregnate a single woman or woman in a same-sex relationship, even without his knowledge," he said. "This means an lVF father can be pursued for child support payments even though he never even knew the child's mother.

"This is a legal loophole that has potential for abuse. These men are not deadbeats who have fathered children and then tried to avoid their responsibilities. This is a totally different situation and the law should reflect that reality."

Mr Shine said there had ueen no known cases to date - but the amendment would stop any. "Clearly, if we allow this loophole to remain open, it could affect the number of men willing to become donors because of a fear they'll be up for child payments in the future."

The changes, which would go before Cabinet tomorrow and be introduced to State Parliament this week, would protect men who donated sperm from being unfairly targeted by a mother. The amendment would apply to the Status of Children Act 1978, which conferred responsibility on lVF parents to enable them to exercise the legal powers and responsibilities to care for their children.

Mr Shine said the amendment would be retrospective to clarify the status of children born since 1988, when the provisions were originally inserted. "These laws came in when in-vitro fertilisation was a relatively new technology and it is time to update them for the modern world," he said.

Dr David Molloy, director of the Queensland Fertility Group and obstetrics spokesman for Australian Medical Association Queensland, had brought the loophole to authorities' attention. He said it could also have created uncertainty in respect of an IVF child's legal parents.

The article above is by Darrell Giles and appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 11, 2008.

Old-fashioned socialism -- more government spending in more areas of the economy -- back in vogue for Kevin Rudd's Labor

To the old-Labor way of thinking, nation-building was code for picking a lucky project or industry and delivering it truckloads of cash. As such, it was anathema to the drive for market-oriented economic reform. For Kevin Rudd, nation-building is essential economic reform. It's a fundamental shift in thinking. And it is not only drawing fire from the Coalition, it's also making some Labor old-timers nervous.

Disaffected former leader Mark Latham said the Prime Minister's first budget was "hillbilly economics" devoid of any commitment to micro-economic reform. Famously dry former Labor finance minister Peter Walsh said the Rudd Government's approach to industry policy was reminiscent of communist Russia.

During the Howard years, surpluses were usually handed back to voters in the form of government payments and tax cuts. During the Rudd years, a lot of the surpluses will be spent as the Government sees fit, often on building things that have been traditionally the responsibility of the states, such as roads, railways, hospitals and schools. A total of $41billion has already been set aside. More will be added from surpluses to come.

On radio yesterday, Rudd said Australia had "a big choice ... whether we are going to have a national government which is committed to the business of nation-building, using the taxpayers' money to do that ... or, alternatively, whether you do as the previous Liberal governments have done, which is to frankly waste this money on consumption". [Taxpayers spending their own money is "waste"?? The old socialist thinking is certainly coming out now in Rudd]

Add Rudd's declaration that he also saw a role for the federal Government in encouraging new industrial investment, and some of his Labor predecessors are wondering whether he is abandoning the notion that governments should ensure efficient and open markets and then get out of the way. The Rudd Government's answer appears to be that the reform effort has moved into a new and different phase.

In the Hawke and Keating years, micro-economic reform was about competition policy and privatisation, bringing down tariff walls and introducing competition to government-owned businesses and utilities. The Rudd Government says it supports all those things, but now wants to reform sectors previously left out: particularly health, education and transport. And these reforms require a hands-on role for the federal Government - in paying for the improvements or prioritising and streamlining what the states and the private sector do.

Latham's assessment of the shift was scathing in yesterday's Australian Financial Review. Rudd's Government, he said, had "an industry policy mindset: a belief in government intervention and preferment". His evidence was the billions in infrastructure funds, which he contended would be "used to support the Government's preferred industrial projects, companies and unions". The Rudd Government, he said, had no commitment to micro-economic reform at all.

But for the Government the funds are the centre of its reform effort. It insists the money will be used to expand the productive capacity of the economy, and the processes it is setting up - including public advice from an independent advisory board attached to each of the funds - will make sure that the money is dispersed for national, rather than political, good. "All the proposed funding will be assessed by independent advisory committees and their advice will be made public," Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner told The Australian yesterday. "If we choose to invest in something not recommended by those committees, then everybody will be able to draw their own conclusions."

According to Industry Minister Kim Carr, "the entire community - with the exception of Mr Latham - understands that infrastructure bottlenecks are a serious constraint on Australia's growth and prosperity". But Latham takes issue with the industry policy being developed by Carr, particularly his bypassing of the Productivity Commission in setting up reviews into assistance to the auto and textile industries. Latham said the result would be more expensive and inefficient government handouts.

Peter Walsh agreed: "It defies rational explanation to take the car inquiry away from the Productivity Commission. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to happen in Russia, a fake inquiry that is simply designed to churn out the pre-determined answers."


Double standard on rights in Australia

by Andrew Bolt

OUR top human rights body is so savage on Australia that it claims we're guilty of "genocide". But when it comes to China, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission can't grovel enough. China, it claimed last week, has actually "contributed" to human rights and should not be so criticised by the West and nasty Tibetan protesters. It's doing its best.

You think I exaggerate HREOC's double standards? Then check the astonishing interview HREOC president John von Doussa gave on Chinese state television last week. Von Doussa was in Beijing for an international human rights forum, and his generous hosts couldn't have been happier when he appeared on their CCTV and trotted out their favourite lines on human rights. Run the tape:

Interviewer: The Beijing Olympic global torch relay has been disrupted by some Tibetan separatists, do you think such action complies with the international law on human rights?

Von Doussa: No, I don't ... (The right to protest) doesn't give them the right to engage in violence. And it doesn't give them the right to prevent other people from going about their lawful business and indeed expressing their particular points of view.

Pause the tape. Actually the vast majority of protesters at the rally have been peaceful and in no way breached the human rights they simply asked China to uphold. Most of the violence in the Canberra leg, in fact, seemed to come from pro-Chinese protesters organised by the Chinese embassy. And where is von Doussa's condemnation of China's refusal to let Tibetans and other human rights campaigners to express their "particular points of view" within China itself? Ah, back to the tape:

Interviewer: China has constantly been under attack by some Western media on its human rights situation. There seems to be a trend of politicising human rights and imposing Western standards to the country. Do you think this is a useful way of solving differences?

Von Doussa: No, I don't think it's useful ... the international human rights norms or standards which are being invoked are universal; they are rights to which China has contributed to ...

It has? Excuse me for butting in again but China has, on the contrary, propped up international human rights abusers - sending cash and weapons to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, propping up Burma's junta, protecting Stalinist North Korea, and blocking attempts to stop the Darfur genocide unleashed by Sudan, its oil supplier and arms buyer. But back to the tape:

Von Doussa: The West is saying, look, for example we have broad, open trials with thorough investigation of crime and so on. You should be doing the same. What that overlooks is the economic situation and the developmental stage of China ... Once you eliminate poverty well then you can move on to a situation where people can much better enjoy a much broader range of human rights.

Pardon? China is entitled to deny fair trials, free speech and a free vote until it gets richer? How rich, exactly? Disgraceful. Von Doussa has entirely bought China's excuse for totalitarianism - that there is a clash between human rights and development, and one must wait for the other.

For the living contradiction of this argument of all tyrants, von Doussa should fly home via India, China's rival, which is also pulling itself out of poverty, but without denying its people the right to speak or vote. Or he could visit free Taiwan, if he doesn't mind outraging his communist hosts. What an appalling piece of cultural relativism - and of toadying to China.

Ironically, von Doussa has just one possible defence for seeming to sell out the values he's paid to uphold - that far from China being the human rights "contributor" he claimed, it is such an enemy of free speech that it censored the criticisms he went on to make. Without such an excuse, or at least an explanation, von Doussa should quit. If he can't be as tough even on China as his commission has been on his own country, he's no friend of human rights -- and, indeed, of the taxpayers who pay his wage.

To see the von Doussa interview on CCTV, introduced by former ABC-staffer-turned-China-mouthpiece Edwin Maher, go here


Wanna bet these rapists are Muslims?

The Press is so secretive about ethnic origins that it encourages us to speculate when no details are given. There are a lot of Muslims from Africa living at Moorooka and Salisbury is an adjoining suburb. And young Muslim males do tend to move in packs

Four men accused of raping a 14-year-old girl have been granted bail in a Brisbane court. The men - aged 30, 25, 21 and 19 - appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday after being charged yesterday with numerous sex offences. It's alleged the men took the teenage girl to a hotel room in Brisbane on May 3 and repeatedly assaulted her.

Each of the men - including two brothers - were allowed bail on condition they report to police five days a week and have no contact with the girl. The oldest, a 30-year-old man from Sherwood, has been charged with two counts of rape, four counts of indecent treatment of a child and one count of possessing child exploitation material. The 21-year-old man, also from Sherwood, faces two counts of rape, one count each of carnal knowledge of a child under 16 and possessing child exploitation material, and four counts of indecent treatment of a child under 16.

The 25-year-old man from Moorooka has been charged with one count each of rape and indecent treatment of a child under 16. The 19-year-old, also of Moorooka, faces three counts of rape, one count of carnal knowledge of a child under 16 and three counts of indecent treatment of a child under 16. The 25-year-old and the 19-year-old will face court again next month while the other men will reappear in July.


Note: I would be particularly pleased if the speculation above is incorrect, as it might go a little way towards showing our media elites that their secrecy can have the opposite effect to that intended - i.e. it might cause minorities to be unfairly blamed

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Government warned about butcher doctor but hired him anyway

A SENIOR NSW health department executive was warned that disgraced doctor Graeme Reeves was "not meant to do obstetrics" but agreed to hire him anyway. A NSW Greater Southern Area Health executive, involved in the hiring of Reeves, wrote a diary note in April, 2002 which reveals he was told of the obstetrics restriction during a phone call with one of Reeve's referees for a job at Bega and Pambula District Hospitals, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The executive's handwritten notes detail his phone conversation with an unknown referee of Reeves on April 11, 2002. A transcript of the executive's notes describes Reeves as: "technically well trained ... had depression there was a catastrophe ... OK when normal and has apparently been normal ... last heard not meant to do obstetrics."

After a request by the NSW opposition, 23 documents about Reeves have been tabled in the NSW upper house including the referee check. Reeves is accused of botching procedures on hundreds of women and sexually assaulting women, including several during his time at NSW South Coast hospitals in 2002 and 2003.

The executive's notes also say Reeves has had "... few arguments with nursing staff and junior registrars". The documents reveal the only other background check done on Reeves in 2002 was a criminal history check that came back negative. Reeves beat two other applicants for the position and supplied three references with his resume.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has deflected several calls for a national registration system for doctors, saying it does not prevent malpractice.


Woman in labour left in public hospital storeroom

A WOMAN in labour spent several hours on the floor of a storeroom of Gold Coast Hospital because there were no beds in the maternity ward. Mitch and Erica, who asked for their surname not to be published, arrived at the hospital last Friday at 8am with Erica in labour, only to be told there were no beds available. "They said they were too busy and we would have to wait for a bed and we might have to have the baby in the foyer," said Erica. "The lady said 'We know how to do that and if you want to get more comfortable, get on your hands and knees'," she said. "I didn't feel like doing that with people walking past."

After waiting in the foyer for more than an hour, the couple were moved onto a mattress in a linen storeroom. The room had no airconditioning and Erica had to wait another 45 minutes to get a pillow. After three uncomfortable hours, Erica was finally moved into a bed where she gave birth to a boy.

Erica said that after the ordeal, and other bad experiences at hospitals, she did not want to have any more children. "I guess that I was pretty unlucky. Out of all labours and births that did happen that day that I was the one who had to spend a good part of my labour in a linen storeroom which did make the whole experience unpleasant and uncomfortable, and also a little bit degrading." Mitch said he was disgusted with Queensland Health. "If they can't cope with someone having a baby, how are they going to cope if there is a disaster?" he said. "Four hours to get into a bed is ridiculous. The Queensland Government need to pull their head in and give more resources to the hospital."

A Gold Coast Hospital spokeswoman said there had never been an instance where a woman in labour was not found a bed in time to deliver their baby. "There has been one instance last Friday where a woman was offered the option of undertaking part of her labour in a room not set up for delivery, in order to have direct regular access to her midwife, a toilet and shower facilities," said the spokeswoman. "It was acknowledged at the time and subsequently ... the physical surroundings were less than ideal."


Stay-at-home mums furious at 'insult'

From Karl Marx on, the Left never have liked families, no matter how much they pretend when running for election

More than 40,000 families with earnings of more than $150,000 a year will be stripped of the $125.02 a fortnight Family Tax Benefit B on July 1. It is paid to stay-at-home mothers. But there was no means test imposed on the childcare tax rebate, which was increased by $3146 a child per year in the Budget and will still be paid to wealthy mothers.

Even feminists raised questions about the discriminatory means testing policy. National Foundation of Australian Women spokeswoman Marie Coleman said: "I'm a strong supporter of paid maternity leave, at the same time I'm a strong supporter of governments valuing parents as parents."

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard yesterday defended the Government's decision not to means test taxpayer-funded childcare subsidies. "The childcare tax rebate is about supporting workforce participation, it's obviously in the national interest for us to be maximising the participation of working age adults in the labour force," she said. "One of the most reported reasons for women with children not being in the labour force is not because they don't want to work but because they can't access childcare."

When asked why the Government valued the workforce participation of wealthy working women through taxpayer subsidies but not their parenting contribution, Ms Gillard was unusually coy. "Well, that, obviously the Family Tax Benefit arrangements are technically questions for the Treasurer and Jenny Macklin in her capacity as the Families and Community Services Minister," she said.

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan said if the Government means tested the childcare rebate there would be no incentive for parents with young children to return to work. "They could be paying all their earnings, or even more than they earned, on childcare," he said. "Then you are in a situation when they are not in the workforce, they don't end up paying tax," he said.

The childcare rebate was progressive, with lower-income earners getting 85 per cent of their costs covered and those earning over $150,000 a year had only 50 per cent of their childcare costs covered, he said. "If we didn't have it, parents would be working for nothing or going backwards," he said.

Opposition childcare spokesman Tony Abbott said yesterday he could understand why stay-at-home mothers were angry. "If the Government has decided that all payments are needs-based and therefore have to be means tested they've got to be consistent," he said. "At the moment it looks like they are taking money away from one-income families and giving the assistance to two-income families."

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Angela Conway said the childcare rebate was pouring millions of dollars a day into the corporate profits of operators like ABC Learning.


Iranian leader Ahmadinejad taken to court by Australia!

Hard to see this as anything but a feelgood stunt -- one likely to cause no more than amusement in Iran

THE Rudd Government is preparing a case to take Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the International Court of Justice for "inciting genocide" and denying the Jewish Holocaust. Australia is the only nation pursuing Iran's despotic leader, who has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map", through international laws.

The Australian revealed last October that Kevin Rudd, then the Opposition leader, promised the Jewish community before last year's election he would take legal proceedings in the ICJ against Mr Ahmadinejad. The Labor leader said it was "strongly arguable" that Mr Ahmadinejad's conduct - statements about wiping Israel off the map, questioning whether Zionists were human beings and a conference that he convened on the veracity of the Holocaust - amounted to incitement to genocide, which was criminalised under the 1948 genocide convention.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland, who pushed the campaign against Mr Ahmadinejad when he was Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, confirmed yesterday the Government was seeking legal advice on taking Mr Ahmadinejad to the ICJ. "The Government considers the comments made by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, calling for the destruction of Israel and questioning the existence of the Holocaust, to be repugnant and offensive," Mr McClelland told The Australian yesterday. "The Government is currently taking advice on this matter."

Mr McClelland had argued that taking legal action was better than other alternatives. "The alternative to not using these international legal mechanisms is considering wholesale invasion of countries, which itself involves, obviously, expense but more relevantly, ofcourse, the potential for significant loss of life," Mr McClelland said.

An Iranian government spokesman was unavailable for comment when contacted by The Australian yesterday. International pressure on Iran has grown exponentially recently with estimates that the Ahmadinejad Government could have nuclear capability within 18 months. At the remembrance ceremony in Israel for the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state, Israeli leaders linked the horrors of the Nazi holocaust with the fears of a nuclear-armed anti-Israeli state.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "Sixty-three years have passed since the Satanic factories of death of the Nazis and their collaborators ceased to operate, yet with the passing of time, the dimensions of the Holocaust still remain beyond comprehension, unfathomably shocking, unacceptably chilling. "Who would have believed that 63 years later, hatred of Jews and Israelis would rear its ugly head in so many different places around the globe, provocatively and venomously, inciting hatred?" Trade Minister Shaul Mofaz claimed Iran could have the technology to make a bomb this year. Earlier intelligence-based assessments suggested Iranian scientists need at least 18months to produce a bomb.

When Mr Rudd committed a Labor government to pursuing Mr Ahmadinejad through international laws, the Coalition government labelled the promise a "stunt" that would fail. Brendan Nelson, then defence minister, said Mr Rudd was raising expectations that "cannot be achieved". The Opposition Leader said the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court - the body that hears cases against individuals, as opposed to the ICJ, which hears cases against countries - had found it would fail. Individuals of countries that don't recognise the ICC, such as Iran, can be charged if the UN Security Council agrees.

Alexander Downer, then the foreign minister, said Mr Ahmadinejad would have to be taken before the ICC, and only on the agreement of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Mr Downer accused Mr Rudd of knowingly misleading the Australian public and the Jewish community with a "ghastly stunt" that he knew could not be carried out and would only undermine Australia's diplomatic standing. International prosecutors have previously warned of difficulties with such a proposal, adding they only wish to start cases that would lead to a successful conviction.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Australia's new centre-Left government has just brought down its first budget. Below are comments from a conservative and a left-leaning viewpoint. For a Leftist government to bring down a surplus budget (i.e. they plan to spend LESS than they raise in taxes) is rather remarkable but it is customary in Australia. The budget is quite mainstream with just a few Leftist flourishes

Budget 2008: mildly encouraging

Comment from a free-market economist below:

"The prices of food and oil are rocketing, so why are we complaining?” This is the question of the day, courtesy of pollster Gary Morgan. Morgan has a point. Australia’s principal exports include coal, natural gas and foods, not to mention iron ore and congealed electricity in the form of aluminium. Australia has the mother of all booms. Inflation is “only” 4 or 5 per cent, government coffers are overflowing with money and we can afford all sorts of experiments in helping battlers, building infrastructure, increasing spending on health and education. The clear risk is that the “mild tightening” that sums up this budget will not take enough pressure off the Reserve Bank and that interest rates will need to rise further yet.

Morgan, like Henry, is concerned that the resource boom with Australia’s current Industrial relations (IR) system is likely to encourage a surge of wage costs. The budget assumes slower growth of employment and increased workforce participation, hence greater unemployment. In “real” terms (i.e. if accurately measured) this problem will be far larger than officially estimated, especially if wage hikes increase. This will create a real problem for the Rudd government.

Like Henry, Morgan thinks governments are inefficient and government departments do not encourage productivity growth.

We’d both like to pay more tax (from higher incomes), but at a lower rate. As Art Laffer showed, that is what happens when tax rates are cut. There are mild cuts for all but those on the highest incomes - keeping the pre-election promise - and this will have mild encouraging effects on labour supply.

Last night’s budget was sold in advance as being “tough”. It is certainly tougher than the later Howard-Costello budgets, but not their first budget. Nor is it as tough as Keating’s Banana Republic budget. Henry applauds the means testing of certain benefits. Wayne Swan told Kerry O’Brien that a principal earner or family income of $150,000 was a “reasonable” cut off point for some benefits. Politically that may be the case, but one cannot reasonably say a family with such an income are battlers who deserve help from taxpayers.

Incidentally, real tax reform - which abolished lots of tax allowances - should exempt many more people than at present from lodging returns, saving transaction and compliance costs.

This budget is mildly encouraging. The risk is that the continued resource boom blows it out of the water, leaving the Reserve Bank to gather up the pieces.


A surplus budget

Comment from a Left-leaning journalist with an interest in economics

THIS budget is meant to be read two ways, because it tries to have it both ways. It is a change-of-government budget in the most mundane sense of the term, because its main transaction for 2008-09 is $5.7 billion in new revenue measures and spending cuts to pay for $5.3 billion in election promises. No prizes for originality here, unless you count the absence of broken promises as something new.

What is different about this budget is the surplus. It won't go into Peter Costello's Future Fund because that fund is full. Instead, it will be divided three ways, between infrastructure, health and education investments. How and when the money will be spent will be up to the Government. This is a piggy bank like no other.

Wayne Swan has $40 billion set aside for these three policy areas. It is the sum of just two surpluses-2007-08 and 2008-09. There will be more top-ups before the next election. The Treasurer hasn't said yet what he will do with his initial war chest of $40 billion, but he has reserved the right to spend the capital as well as the fund earnings. This is where the real budget story lies, in Labor's flexibility to spend up on infrastructure for the next election and beyond.

Mr Swan is the first treasurer in history with no commonwealth debt to cover. There is no borrowing to pay off, or public service super liability to meet. Just a surplus that has to be returned to voters at some point. This is, indeed, a revolution. Labor has the luxury of thinking long-term because the budget it inherited from the Coalition allows it to.

The budget cuts are not as grand as they seem. The simplest way to unpack the numbers is to see where the budget would have been if Labor wanted to break every one of its election promises apart from the tax cuts. The figure is a surplus $19.7 billion for 2008-09, which, incidentally, is a surplus that would have met Kevin Rudd's January target of 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

But Labor implemented every promise because it could. The bill for staying sweet with voters was $5.3 billion in 2008-09. This was offset by $5.7 billion in new savings. A further $1.6 billion in savings had already been flagged at the last election, bringing the total cuts to $7.3 billion. Now subtract the savings of $7.3 billion from the promises of $5.3 billion and you have a $2 billion addition to the surplus, to $21.7 billion. If this looks like small beer, it is. The real budget headline was the $40 billion that Labor has set aside for itself.


Black rapists of young black girl 'should be jailed'

Multiculturalists really gets themselves twisted into a knot over cases like this: Should they protect black children or black criminals? So far the criminals are winning. That everyone (black and white) should be equal before the law is just a silly old fuddy-duddy idea, of course

QUEENSLAND'S Solicitor-General has called for jail sentences ranging from one to eight years for nine males who were not sent to prison after they pleaded guilty to raping a 10-year-old girl at Aurukun, on Cape York, in 2006. The appeal against the sentence, which began in Queensland's Court of Appeal yesterday, was launched by Attorney-General Kerry Shine after the case was revealed in The Australian last year. Cairns District Court judge Sarah Bradley gave suspended sentences to three men, aged 17, 18 and 25 at the time of the rapes, and ordered that six juveniles, aged between 13 and 15, be placed on probation orders with no convictions recorded.

Mr Shine had previously described the sentences as "manifestly inadequate". Solicitor-General Walter Sofronoff, for the Attorney-General, yesterday argued there had been five "evident errors of law" in the sentencing. He said there were legal precedents that an adult who sexually assaulted a child and a juvenile who raped a 10-year-old should be imprisoned. Mr Sofronoff argued that two of the adult offenders, aged 25 and 18 at the time of the rape, should be jailed for eight years, with a parole eligibility date to be set. He said the third adult, aged 17, should be jailed for seven to eight years. He argued that the six juveniles should receive detention sentences of between one and three years.

Mr Sofronoff said Judge Bradley had not given reasons for handing down non-custodial sentences to the males and had treated all the offenders equally, despite differences in age and criminal history. He said Judge Bradley had failed to take into account the principle of general deterrence, and had placed too much emphasis on Aurukun's social dysfunction as a reason for the offenders' lack of moral standards. It was the Aurukun community's right to "have a sentence that truly deters this offence". "Members of even a dysfunctional society -- if that is what it is -- require and deserve the protection of law," Mr Sofronoff told the court.

He asked the bench -- which comprised Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo and Justice Patrick Keane -- to choose a sentence that would assert a "fundamental standard of behaviour in Aurukun".

But Ken Fleming, senior counsel representing the offenders, told the court that his clients should not be imprisoned or detained and said the appeal should be dismissed. Mr Fleming said while the law said a child under the age of 12 was incapable of giving consent, "the complainant had sex with all (of the offenders) without objection". He suggested the "lack of objection" could influence the sentence of the offenders. There was an "uncomfortable tension that it was sex without objection and was actively encouraged" by the victim, he said.

But Chief Justice de Jersey said he had "great difficulty" in accepting that consent or lack of objection from the victim could mitigate the sentence. The suggestion from prosecutor Steve Carter that the girl had given consent to sex in a "non-legal sense" was "nonsense" and an "irrelevant consideration", Chief Justice de Jersey said.

Mr Fleming said there had been flaws in the case from the beginning. He said prosecutor Steve Carter did not ask for custodial sentences. He said the arrangements were made by telephone, with the judge in Cairns and the accused in Aurukun. Mr Fleming said the accused should not have been included in the one indictment, but conceded that while the prosecutor had suggested this, the defence had agreed to it.


Tough solutions 'ineffective' for Blacks

Nice to see proof of effectiveness being demanded. The truth, of course, is that NOTHING works. It's all been tried before. But only conservatives are capable of saying that there are some problems that governments cannot solve

THERE is no proof that "tough love" solutions, including quarantining welfare payments, are effective means of halting dysfunctional behaviour in indigenous communities, according to two leading Aboriginal academics. The challenge - from high-profile University of Technology Sydney law professor Larissa Behrendt and UTS research fellow Nicole Watson - came yesterday as the Rudd Government prepared to reveal controversial plans for a national welfare card, which would enable a percentage of a family's welfare payments be tied to necessities such as food.

The new electronic ID card, which has been slammed by the Australian Council of Social Service, is to be issued to Aboriginals in selected Northern Territory communities from July, but could be rolled out Australia-wide.

Professor Behrendt and Ms Watson said yesterday that the "most crucial but neglected question of all" was the issue of proof: "Where is the proof that punitive sanctions are an effective remedy for social dysfunction?" The pair listed a litany of concerns about the new Queensland Family Responsibilities Commission, which, not unlike the Rudd Government proposal, can order, among other things, some or all of a person's welfare payments to be managed by issuing Centrelink with a notice. From July, the commission is to be trialled in Aurukun, Hope Vale, Mossman Gorge and Coen.

Premier Anna Bligh has admitted the approach - the idea of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership which is headed by Noel Pearson - is "a bold experiment - a world first". Professor Behrendt said it was a concern that decisions of the commission - which is to have closed hearings - could not be appealed, except on questions of law. The process also paved the way for a loss of control over personal information, with the commission able to access private information from a range of government agencies.

Professor Behrendt also queried the commission's exemption from the provisions of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act. Other legal and Aboriginal advocates have also raised concerns about the commission breaching legal and human rights. ACOSS president Lin Hatfield-Dodds told ABC radio the $17 million being spent on the national ID card scheme would be better invested in services for families in need. [That response from president hyphen was predictable: "More jobs for social workers" is the translation]


The glories of public transport in Australia's biggest city

Another reason why most people will stick to their cars

I heard him before I saw him - a young man with hands on his ears standing still amid the churning, lurching chaos that is platform one at Town Hall station. "Can you please just shut up. Christ. Just shut up." It turned out I was not the only one being driven mad by the lecturing, hectoring voice on the platform speakers, the latest horror to confront commuters.

Town Hall at peak hour is a dirty, dangerously overcrowded, stifling hot environment that looks and feels like an accident waiting to happen. But now, in what is presumably an effort to give the impression that something is being done, the captive commuters squashed on the platforms are lectured on safety, crowding, and train-travel etiquette by some insufferable Big Brother.

"Can that man sitting on the steps please move," the invisible voice booms. Then louder. "That man on the steps who is blocking the way. Please move." Then, infuriated: "You, that man in the brown overcoat, there's no reason to block the steps. You are holding up people who want to use the stairs." Finally, the tired commuter who has been held up to us all as the cause of our mutual subterranean unhappiness, realises he has been made the scapegoat. The woes of Town Hall station are all his fault. He slinks off to join the other miserable but upright commuters.

It does not stop there. "The all-stations train to Bankstown is now at Circular Quay . the train should be here in about two minutes. So just be patient," the voice booms. We know that. It says so on the board. "Can passengers please stay behind the yellow line while the train approaches." I would gladly do so if a three-person deep crowd was not exploding behind me.

"Those people crowding the train doors - you are a danger to yourselves as well as to others." No, the real danger here is that nothing has been done to upgrade this station to cater for today's crowds. But on it goes. The voice is relentless, monotonous and narky. "We all want to get home, and pushing and shoving won't make things happen more quickly."

We don't know what's good for us, is the message, and CityRail is going to make sure we understand. If there was any real concern about overcrowding at Town Hall station, built in 1916, then new exits would be created. It can take an eternity in peak hour just to get on the escalator from the bowels of the station. A fire down there would be . well, it's not worth thinking about.

If there was any concern about the risk of commuters falling from platforms the station would be redesigned so those waiting were not forced on top of one another. And if there was any thought at all about commuter comfort there would be more than just token seating (I, too, have had to sit on the stairs - when eight months' pregnant) and a real attempt to fix the stifling conditions.

In 2005, when RailCorp announced a multi-million-dollar plan to upgrade Town Hall, the tender package warned that the station was a serious danger to the public. Last month the Herald revealed that a report by Parsons Brinckerhoff found the station "cannot currently be fully evacuated in the morning and evening peaks within times stipulated by [the fire safety standard]".

RailCorp said a widening of the main concourse and ticket barrier expansion had improved access, but the projected commuter growth remained unaccounted for. Within eight years 168,000 people would pass through the station each day, up from about 140,000 now. By 2021 there will be 178,000.

For more than 10 years I have used the station to get to work, but it is only this year that have had to do so in peak hour. In that time I have had trouble breathing in sauna-like conditions; had to tiptoe around pools of blood and been caught on overcrowded trains where people were forced to travel to the next stop while jammed helplessly against the doors. Many times I have thought how easy it would be to fall off the narrow platforms, or to be accidentally pushed off. Just one person losing their footing would do it or - perhaps more likely - just one person losing their mind.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Three current articles below

Labor government to expand inferior healthcare

Sound crazy? It is. But that's the sort of destructiveness you regularly get when Leftist ideology takes charge. The Feds are going to spend more money on Australia's chaotic public hospitals in a bid to provide more staff per patient and cut waiting lists. Great! But they are ALSO attacking private health insurance -- thus sending more people into the public system and negating the effect of the extra funding for that system. You have to be a Leftist to be that moronic.

LABOR will shower public hospitals with cash in today's budget, adding to a $1billion boost it gave state governments in March, while facing allegations it is pursuing an ideologically driven vendetta against the private health sector. The Government yesterday accused the Howard government of neglecting public hospitals and promised that today's budget, the first Labor economic blueprint in 13 years, would restore the balance in health funding. But it also conceded one of its budget measures would trigger a reduction in the number of people with private health insurance, thereby placing more pressure on the public system.

The developments came as Kevin Rudd told a meeting of Labor MPs to expect "a good Labor budget", while Wayne Swan renewed his warnings that "tough decisions" could upset some citizens in a budget widely tipped to attack high-income earners.

As MPs began returning to Canberra for today's resumption of parliament, much of the political debate centred on Labor's plan to lift the threshold at which people face an extra surcharge for not having private health insurance, raising it from $50,000 to $100,000 for singles and from $100,000 to $150,000 for families. The Australian Health Insurance Association warned the move could prompt up to 400,000 people to dump their insurance and take their health needs to the public sector, already burdened by long waiting lists and inadequate resources.

Despite warnings this would put more pressure on public hospitals, Ms Roxon brushed aside the concerns. She advised health funds to make their products more attractive to consumers and said she would make no apologies for directing more resources into the public sector. Ms Roxon said the surcharge, introduced a decade ago to force higher-income earners to take out insurance, had become a "cruel hoax" on battlers because it had not been indexed. An income of $51,000 a year was no longer a high income, she said, and battlers were being unfairly exposed. "It's gradually hurt more and more people. We don't think that's fair and we're correcting that," Ms Roxon told Sydney radio station 2UE. "We're not going to keep working families under pressure where they get stuck either with the tax or taking out private health insurance when we know that the increasingly tight family budget just makes that a hopeless choice for many, many families."

Ms Roxon would not reveal government forecasts of how many people would dump their insurance and stressed the Government would continue to pay people with private health insurance a 30 per cent rebate, while vowing extra Labor funding for the public sector would enable it to meet increasing needs. "Unfortunately, the previous government neglected the public sector," she said. "I am very confident that the Rudd Labor Government, by investing more in the public hospital system and continuing to strongly support the private health sector, will get the balance right without putting unnecessary pressure on working families."

The weekend announcement of the change sent the shares of Australia's only listed private health insurer, NIB Holdings, plummeting. They finished down 16.11 per cent at 75.5c. If the same fall were applied to Australia's largest health insurer, the publicly owned Medibank Private, the Government would have stripped more than $300million in a single day off the value of its $2billion asset.

While the minister said yesterday that private health funds should have expected the surcharge would over time be indexed, Opposition health spokesman Joe Hockey said the move would hammer the private sector and lead to higher insurance premiums. "Either it's incompetence or it's ideological, and it seems to be ideological because it's very targeted," Mr Hockey told The Australian last night. "It seems to be targeted at private health providers. The impact on private health providers will be dramatic."

Earlier, Australian Private Health Insurance Association chief executive Michael Armitage said the change was being made for "socialist government philosophical reasons".


From Medicare to mediocre

By Tony Abbott, Opposition spokesman

The Rudd Government is trumpeting that it has saved 2.4 million people from paying a Medicare surcharge. In fact, only 465,000 people paid the surcharge and each one of them could have avoided it by taking out private health insurance. If up to one million people now give up their private cover, as experts predict they will, Kevin Rudd will be directly responsible for a massive blow-out in public hospital waiting lists.

Sick people already wait for hours in public hospital emergency departments, despite the big increase in bulk-billing since 2003. Older people still wait months for elective surgery, despite a 16 per cent real increase in federal funding for state-run public hospitals under the present healthcare agreements. People tempted to thank Rudd for a tax cut won't be so grateful when they wait even longer for a hospital bed.

The Medicare surcharge is designed to ensure that people with higher incomes make a greater contribution to health costs. Fewer people covered by the surcharge means less money invested in the health system. At present, a family on $100,000 a year takes out private health insurance or pays an extra $1000 to Medicare. Most families in this situation have private insurance, which means that they don't compete with poorer people for elective surgery in public hospitals or can contribute to public hospital revenue by electing to be treated as private patients. Under the Rudd Government's announced changes, these families will have much less incentive to be privately insured. Many will drop out, especially because they also face higher grocery and petrol prices and higher interest rates since the Government's election.

Health analyst Andrew Goodsall says the initial effect of the Government's changes could be that 400,000 people drop out of private health insurance. Because the dropouts will mostly be younger and less costly to treat, Goodsall expects a disproportionate drop in profitability, perhaps a 10 per cent hike in premiums, and one million people ultimately losing private health cover. As a result, not only will more people be totally reliant on overstretched public hospitals but there could be a cascading effect on the viability of the private health system, which has been painstakingly restored since 1996.

After reaching nearly 70 per cent in the early 1980s, due to Hawke government policy changes, private health cover had dropped to just 30 per cent of the population by the mid-'90s. Then the Howard government introduced the Medicare surcharge for higher income earners without insurance, lifetime health cover to encourage younger people to join health funds, and the Medicare rebate to make health insurance premiums 30 per cent cheaper. Together, these policies increased private health coverage from six million to more than nine million people (including one million people earning less than $20,000 a year). Partly as a result, nearly 60 per cent of all surgery is now performed in private hospitals.

If even a small proportion of the 2.9 million episodes of private hospital treatment every year went public, there would be a substantial strain on public hospitals already struggling to cope.

In "economic conservative" mode before the election, Kevin Rudd and Health Minister Nicola Roxon were at pains to promise their full support for the private health sector. On November 20 last year, to "allay concerns" about Labor's historical bias against private health insurance, Rudd wrote to the Australian Health Insurance Association pledging that "Labor will maintain the Medicare levy surcharge".

Typically, Rudd has deliberately created a false impression without technically telling a lie. The surcharge has been maintained, but it has been altered in ways that fundamentally change its impact. Plainly, Rudd intends to rely on word games to justify junking other seemingly rock-solid commitments such as not means-testing the baby bonus. This is likely to turn out to be the 2008 version of core and non-core promises (only without the justification of an unexpected budget black hole) and to have an equal effect on the Government's standing.

Despite the Prime Minister's pose as "beyond Left and Right", there's already an old-fashioned feel to this budget. There's been much ado about minor changes that will "hit the rich" even though, in the case of the extra luxury car tax, they're likely to drive up prices for everyone. After the strain of having to appear economically responsible, ministers are enjoying playing Robin Hood but haven't yet realised that it's hard to hit the rich without hitting the poor.

Still, like the Labor premiers, Rudd has certainly learned the value of news management. Labor's spin about Medicare savings was front page news in at least four metropolitan newspapers while the reality that money was being taken out of the health system is now "old news", relegated to the back of the book.


State minister accused of waiting list blowout

Below is the silly little airhead responsible for the healthcare of most people in NSW

The number of patients waiting for surgery at NSW hospitals has climbed to nearly 59,000, or about 55 extra people each week since Reba Meagher became Health Minister just over a year ago, the Opposition says. "Under Reba Meagher's watch, there are now more people waiting for surgery in NSW than at any other time during the last three years," the Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said yesterday. The waiting list would increase further if the Federal Government doubled the Medicare levy surcharge threshold, which applied to taxpayers who did not have private health insurance, because at least 140,000 patients would flood the NSW public system, she said.

Ms Skinner called on the State Government to ensure NSW received more funding for its hospitals to cope with the expected rise in demand. Already overstretched doctors and nurses would come under more pressure from 140,000 extra patients.

Ms Meagher said the numbers waiting for surgery would "naturally rise as the population grows and ages, and the demand for medical services increases". The Opposition had "missed the point", she said, citing a drop in how long patients waited for surgery from an average of 3.6 months in June 2005 to 2.8 months in March this year.

She said the number of patients waiting more than a year for elective surgery had dropped from more than 10,000 to 255 in March and those waiting more than 30 days for urgent surgery had decreased from more than 5000 in 2005 to 102. "What matters is that people who need elective surgery have their procedure within the clinically recommended time frame, and that is what is happening," she said.

The Opposition says the hospital waiting list dropped from 58,461 in March 2006 to 51,779 in December 2006, the last reported figures before the state election. The figure then jumped to 55,972 in March last year, and was 58,839 a year later, it says. The Federal Government announced in January it would spend $150 million on cutting elective surgery waiting lists, of which NSW would receive $43.3 million.


Backdown on school 'league tables'

School secrecy prevails. Parents must not be told how bad a government school is

National literacy and numeracy testing of Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 school students begins for the first time today but frustration looms for parents who want to use the test results to compare individual school performance. Despite the Rudd Government declaring it was vital that Australians knew how well the education system was performing in providing literacy and numeracy skills, state education bureaucrats have vowed to stop the outcomes of the tests being released on a school-by-school basis. Individual schools will still have to report their results, but not until more than a year after the tests are taken.

The Queensland Studies Authority says it will keep secret results that would identify school performance on the tests. The authority also has reminded school principals that student assessment information it collects is exempted from release under Freedom of Information laws. It has warned schools that "access to these reports should be limited to those who have a legitimate reason to do so". Instead, the published data is likely to only compare the performance of the states as well as males and females and indigenous and non-indigenous students.

Parents will get reports on the performance of their child in the tests and schools will receive student, class and school reports. But, under current rules, parents wanting to know how their school fared in the tests this week may have to wait until June 30 next year to access the information.

The tests, hailed as the first truly national assessment of children's literacy and numeracy skills, will be spread over today, tomorrow and Thursday. It is the first time Year 9 students have sat national literacy and numeracy tests and also the first time all students will sit the single national test. Education authorities across the country decided on May dates for the testing because it was early enough in the year for the results to help diagnose learning problems or issues.

Parents will receive reports showing how their child has performed on a scale of achievement using bands, allowing the child's progress in numeracy and literacy to be tracked throughout their schooling. Education Minister Julia Gillard said parents would not just know how their child was performing against a national benchmark but whether he or she was in a low achievement band or a high achievement band. However, Ms Gillard yesterday ducked questions about how the performance of individual schools would be reported. "At this stage what parents are going to get is their own report card," she said in a radio interview. "We are talking to state and territory governments about the best use of this information. Obviously it can be used by government to work out who needs additional assistance."

State Education Minister Rod Welford said there would be little change from previous testing arrangements. He said parents should reassure their children that the tests include material that they would have covered in the classroom. "The real focus of the assessment program is to look at how students are performing and where they may need help so we can then look at our teaching and curriculum planning," he said.


Monday, May 12, 2008

A "cure" for public hospital chaos?

A senior doctor at one of Queensland's big hospitals wants the public to be told daily of the number of patients admitted to emergency wards. He said the alarming statistics might make people more careful. The doctor, who has worked for 25 years in public hospitals, revealed a slice of the chaotic life in a typical hospital emergency department in a heartfelt "I will be your doctor" open letter to The Sunday Mail last weekend. His insightful words about sickness, accidents, drunkenness, overdoses, abuse, miracles and death touched hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders and prompted scores of readers to write in with their support for our overworked frontline medicos and nurses.

But the doctor also warned Queenslanders that "things are not good" with the state's health system. In a follow-up letter, the doctor - who must remain anonymous to protect his government job - said there were five things he would like to see happen now to help start rectifying problems at our public hospital emergency wards. He wrote:

* I would like the media to report daily emergency department capacity in the same way as water levels in our dams are regularly reported. This information is on the Queensland Health website but I believe it is in the public interest for the figures to be more widely publicised. If people were aware of the backlogs, they might drive a lot more carefully.

* The financial incentive to access "free" medical care at public hospitals instead of via a GP and community-based facilities needs to be removed. A good first step would be for politicians to bring health together under one umbrella, preferably controlled by the Commonwealth.

* Queensland Health needs to provide alternative access to hospital-based medical services. People will continue to come to emergency wards, either by choice or on the advice of their GP. True emergencies should be seen in a properly equipped emergency department. Hospitals need to provide a practical and timely alternative for non-emergencies.

* We in emergency departments need to reconsider the way we do business. We are about to receive a flood of new medical graduates, part of the solution offered after the Patel affair. New models of care are needed to maximise their learning opportunities, provide adequate supervision and still deal with the increasing number of patients.

* End-of-life issues need to be openly examined. The taboo and secrecy surrounding death has prevented us looking at the way we treat people in the last year of their life. It is a shame the end is so often medicalised beyond dignity.

After last Sunday's hard-hitting open letter, the doctor acknowledged that his words were likely to "ruffle some feathers" with government and health authorities. "I do hope something comes of it," he said. His comments came as the March quarter figures revealed an 11 per cent jump on the same period last year in the number of people attending emergency departments in public hospitals.

Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson has called on the Federal Government to fund a scheme allowing GPs to treat people in public hospital emergency departments. Mr Robertson said the primary-care shake-up would cost millions of dollars, but said it was vital to ease pressure in the ER.


Public hospital closures to stretch waiting lists

QUEENSLAND Health's decision to shutdown one of the state's biggest cardiac surgery units in Townsville and to stop cataract surgery in Hervey Bay has aggravated a waiting list blowout that has worsened in the past three years, doctors said yesterday. The Courier-Mail reported at the weekend that elective surgery waiting lists have blown out by 15 per cent and lists to see specialists by 50 per cent in the past 1000 days since the Government promised to fix the health system.

Don Kane, the president of Salaried Doctors Queensland, said closing the Townsville cardiac surgery unit because of infighting among staff lengthened waiting lists by at least 200 patients a year. Queensland Health estimated the unit was doing 400 procedures a year. "What happened there was a failure of management," Mr Kane said. "The situation could have been fixed up in a short period of time. Closing the unit was totally unnecessary." Since its closure in November, Queensland Health has flown dozens of patients to Brisbane for heart surgery.

A spokesman for Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the unit was closed to protect the public. "Dysfunctional interpersonal relationships between key staff threatened the safe, sustainable operation of the service," he said. "This hard decision followed several ongoing attempts by local hospital management to rectify the situation." The spokesman said Queensland Health was in final stages of negotiations with an experienced surgeon and hoped to reopen the surgery "very soon." However Mr Kane predicted it would take up to a year before the unit reopened.

In Bundaberg, optometrist Ross Fisher criticised Queensland Health for "ditching" 48 elderly patients waiting for cataract surgery at Hervey Bay hospital. The patients, who had been waiting an average of two years for the surgery, faced starting over on new waiting lists. "They certainly ditched them. They were taken off the list and told they would need to get a referral to start again on another," he said.

One of them, John Kennedy, 76, said he was told he would have to wait another 18 months beyond the year he spent waiting for a slot at Hervey Bay. "I don't know whether I'm on a list or not. I'm in limbo. I'm in the dark," he said. Queensland Health categorises cataract surgery as non-urgent elective surgery.

The minister's spokesman said he was unable to provide details about the Hervey Bay cases. "We understand the frustration of some patients who do wait longer than desirable for their surgery," he said. "Ophthalmology in particular is affected by chronic workforce shortages right around the country."


Climate change will boost farm output in Australia (and elsewhere)

A bit of logic for a change. That CO2 is a potent plant fertiliser and that a warmer climate would mean more rain overall are basic facts that Greenies never mention. And a dry continent like Australia could certainly make good use of more rain!

AUSTRALIAN agricultural output will double over the next 40 years, with climate change predicted to increase, rather than hinder, the level of production.

A recent spate of reports forecasting the decline of Australian agriculture because of climate change have greatly exaggerated, and even completely misreported the threat of global warming, according to senior rural industry figures. In a report published by the Australian Farm Institute, executive director Mick Keogh says agricultural output is projected to improve strongly through to 2050, with a growing global population and increased economic wealth boosting demand for Australian produce. If the sector adapts even modestly, production would increase rather than decrease as a result of climate change, the report says.

Predictions of a 20 per cent drop in farm production by mid-century were cited by Kevin Rudd and Agriculture Minister Tony Burke as justification for Australia's signing of the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, Mr Keogh says, if global warming does occur, some areas such as southeast Queensland will receive more rain, and as a result will greatly benefit. Recent research has shown increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lifts plant production by up to 30 per cent in a phenomenon known as carbon fertilisation.

Mr Keogh, a well-respected industry figure, said much of the media reporting on the recent ABARE report Climate Change: Impacts On Australian Agriculture, was so misleading it risked eroding industry confidence in public research agencies. "The reporting claimed that agriculture would be absolutely devastated, when that is not what the research showed at all," he said. "For a start the media consistently misreported the research results as a future reduction in agricultural output, rather than a slowing of future rates of growth in output."

He said the ABARE report chose a series of highly unlikely worst-case climate change scenarios and then projected them over a long period of time. ABARE also used the assumption that climate change would slow economic growth globally, thereby decreasing the demand for food. "With increasing world population this is highly unlikely," Mr Keogh said.

Also unlikely was the assumption that farmers would not adapt. "In many situations it appears as if an increase in temperature, certainly over the next few decades, will increase rather than decrease productivity," he said. "As well, open field studies are returning increases in plant productivity of about 15 per cent with increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Levels up to 30 per cent have been returned in laboratory studies."

Charles Burke, a fourth-generation cattle farmer at Lake Somerset, north of Brisbane, said most farmers were sceptical of the claims surrounding climate change and believed they were instead dealing with climate variability. After the recent dry, he hoped the Australian Farm Institute was right in its predictions southeast Queensland would benefit from more rainfall. "No one has their head in their sand, but farmers want to move forward armed with the right information," he said. "The experts can't agree. Many farmers aren't convinced. We have to have the right information and the right tools. We need to make sure the information is correct."

Chief executive for the National Farmers Federation Ben Fargher said his members too had been concerned about the negative reporting of the industry's future. "We are very well placed to grow businesses into the future," he said.


Exporting STONE to China!

One would think that stone would not be hard to find in China but business is business -- and Helidon stone does look good

A HELIDON quarry that produced sandstone for some of Brisbane's oldest buildings is now helping to build a modern China.
Australian Sandstone Industries is shipping container loads of sandstone to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hainan Island for shopping centre and tourist resort projects. Blocks of up to 22 tonnes are sent over each month in 500-tonne consignments and then cut to meet local needs.

And demand is growing, according to the company's general manager Patrick Ng, who said Chinese developers recognised Helidon sandstone as the world's best. "The colours cannot be found anywhere else and because the stone is not as porous it produces the finest surface," Mr Ng said. "There are other good Australian sandstones but none as good as Helidon's." Mr Ng said that while the company was publicly listed, its major shareholders were Chinese. "As a result, 90 per cent of what we quarry is exported with the remainder being offered on the domestic market," he said. "There is increasing Chinese interest and there is a huge market potential there."

Chinese company L'Sea Group had recently placed a $1 million order for 2500 tonnes for its real estate projects and since 2003 ASI had exported product worth more than $13 million.

While Queensland Trade Minister John Mickel recently hailed the quarry as a Smart State business, sandstone has been excavated from the ASI site for more than a century by former owners. The quarry provided sandstone for Queensland's former Treasury building, now the Conrad Treasury Casino, and its material was used in the construction of the University of Queensland at St Lucia, in Brisbane's west.

Sandstone from several quarries in the Helidon hills to the east of Toowoomba on the Darling Downs has also been used in Toowoomba, Ipswich and Warwick. The stone, formed 200 million years ago, is also one of the main materials used in Brisbane's St John's Anglican Cathedral, which is now nearing completion.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

A risk-averse health bureaucracy puts its whims before patient welfare

Contrary to a claim made below, there is no clear research evidence about the best procedures for avoiding surgical site infections but that appears to be unknown to the bureaucrats. It is fire risk that moves them -- even though there have been no fires. They are prepared to take a daily risk in order to avoid a remote risk! It's just a bee in the bonnet of some bureaucrats and they are allowed to dictate patient care methods. Leaving surgical procedures to the surgeons concerned is too much to ask, apparently

PATIENTS are being put at risk because NSW Health had an inexplicably inconsistent approach to infection control procedures before operations, an orthopedic surgeon says. Dr Robert Molnar has for the past six months unsuccessfully sought an explanation from the Health Department as to why he is not permitted to use alcoholic surgical preparation solution on his patients at Westmead Hospital, yet he is able to at St George and Sutherland public hospitals.

The rules vary across hospitals: alcoholic solution can be used at Fairfield, Concord, Prince of Wales, Royal Women's and Royal Prince Alfred hospitals but is barred at Liverpool, Nepean, Gosford, Canterbury or Royal North Shore.

Dr Molnar believes a Westmead patient contracted an infection after surgery on a hip fracture last year because the hospital deemed the alcoholic preparation he wanted to use a fire risk. The patient has had 10 more operations, including one to remove the metal plates and screws in his hip, and now needs a hip replacement. Dr Molnar had used an aqueous antiseptic to prepare the skin. "You may as well spit on the wound. This guy's life is ruined; it's tragic and it's so predictable," he said, noting that alcoholic solution could be used at most private NSW hospitals.

After a series of letters between him, the Health Department and the office of the Health Minister, Reba Meagher, Dr Molnar was given exclusive permission last November to use the solution at Westmead but not in conjunction with electrically induced heat due to the risk of fire. That ruled out 95 per cent of his operations, he said. There has been no theatre fire in NSW due to alcoholic solution, a spokeswoman for the Health Department said.

In a letter in March to the parliamentary secretary for health, Noreen Hay, Dr Molnar wrote: "I believe the situation places patients in western Sydney at significant risk of morbidity." Dr Molnar told the Herald: "Most orthopedic surgeons wouldn't operate without it, just because of the risk of infection. They're ruining people's lives. It's bureaucratic madness."

A Sydney orthopedic surgeon, Doron Sher, said that if the surgeon was appropriately educated the risk of fire was minimal. "There is evidence in the literature showing that infection rates are lower using alcoholic Betadine," he said. "I use the alcoholic solution when I get the option because I believe that you get a lower infection rate."

Sydney West Area Health Service, which includes Westmead, put the restriction down to fire risk. Northern Sydney Area Health Service did not explain why it was not used. South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service said it allowed alcoholic preparation at all its hospitals.

The Opposition Health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said: "Infection is rife in our hospitals so I would expect Reba Meagher would endorse the use of products that are considered world's best practice."


Pregnant women 'lie' to get beds in Melbourne's better public hospitals

The "equal high quality for all" idea behind public hospitals is not mirrored in reality

DESPERATE pregnant women are using fake addresses so they can give birth at Melbourne's leading maternity hospitals. The Royal Women's and Mercy hospitals and Monash Medical Centre are sending women who are not from their areas and who do not anticipate complications elsewhere. The hospitals say they want to keep the beds for at-risk patients.

Hundreds of mothers from Melbourne's northwest suburbs have launched a protest against the Brumby Government, saying they are being shortchanged. Since October, mothers from Coolaroo, Craigieburn, Roxburgh Park and Meadow Heights have automatically been referred from the Royal Women's to the Northern Hospital in Epping if their pregnancy was expected to be straightforward. The state's other top level maternity wards - Mercy Hospital for Women and Monash Medical Centre - also direct women with uncomplicated pregnancies to local hospitals.

Women have lied to secure a bed at the highly regarded Women's. One pregnant woman, who asked not to be named, said she was scared to go to the Northern Hospital because she had suffered a miscarriage there. She had used a friend's address to get a booking at the Royal Women's.

Protest group Fair Go For Hume has bombarded Premier John Brumby with more than 460 complaints. Royal Women's Hospital spokeswoman Mandy Frostick said births at the hospital had jumped from 4600 in 2001 to 6500 last year. She said the hospital had to send women with low-risk pregnancies from the northern suburbs to the Northern Hospital. Mercy chief Stephen Cornelissen said it had a duty to care for mothers with "more complex" needs.

A Monash spokeswoman said they shared pregnancies between themselves, Casey and Dandenong, depending on circumstances. Northern Hospital maternity director Hammish Manning said they offered high-quality care. [The customers obviously don't think so]


Catholic schools join same-sex lockout

CATHOLIC schools in Queensland have joined the crackdown against students escorting gay partners to Year 12 formals. With the formal season under way, Catholic secondary students have been reminded by their school administrators that it would be inappropriate for same-sex couples to attend major school events such as the formal. "The Catholic Church has a particular vision of family and sexuality flowing on to a responsibility to model this vision for children through formal activities in the life of the Catholic school," said Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Mike Byrne. "As such it is not seen as appropriate for students to attend an event such as a school formal as a same-sex couple."

Brisbane's Anglican Church Grammar School last month banned male students from taking same-sex partners to the school formal on June 19. But other secondary schools are more relaxed about who students can take to their formal. Brisbane Girls Grammar School principal Amanda Bell said the school imposed no restrictions on who pupils could take to the dance. "Guests may include male or female friends, cousins, parents, siblings, anyone," she said. "Some girls choose not to bring a guest. The school encourages the girls to invite someone who will support and enjoy this event in a positive spirit."

Karen Spiller, the principal of St Aidan's Anglican Girls School in Brisbane, said the school had "no policy" on who students could or could not bring. "We're very happy for our girls to go along and enjoy their formal in the company of their own friends and cohorts or to bring a friend or a partner," she said. "The focus is on appropriate behaviour and enjoying their relationships with their cohorts."

Queensland state high schools also have their own guidelines regarding school formals, with no restrictions on same-sex couples.


Independent senators to flex muscles

THE Rudd Government could be forced to consider amendments to its industrial relations laws that would reintroduce individual statutory agreements, after two senators about to take balance-of-power positions in the upper house said they would consider pushing for change. It was widely assumed that statutory agreements would be phased out of the industrial relations system after the Government introduced laws allowing for them to continue only during a transitional period and the Coalition abandoned its Work Choices policy.

But anti-pokies South Australian senator-elect Nick Xenophon told The Weekend Australian fair statutory agreements would be better for higher paid workers than the common law contracts proposed by Labor. "If Labor accepts the proposition that workers earning over $100,000 should be able to strike some kind of agreement, I cannot understand why it should not be a statutory agreement that would allow them to resolve disputes quickly and easily, rather than in expensive and protracted action before the courts," Mr Xenophon said.

Family First senator Steve Fielding was also looking at ways to "improve" Labor's major industrial relations laws when they are brought into the Senate later this year. "Family First is not against individual statutory contracts per se; we were just against John Howard-style AWAs (Australian Workplace Agreements)," he said.

After bitter internal debate, the Coalition did not oppose the first stage of the Government's industrial laws in the Senate earlier this year. But Opposition workplace relations spokeswoman Julie Bishop said the Coalition would be working with the independent senators to improve the Government's second piece of industrial relations legislation. "We have been hearing very serious concerns from the business community about the impact of the second stage of Labor's laws, and we have said common law agreements are no substitute for statutory agreements," she said. "We believe Labor's laws will be fundamentally flawed and we will be working hard in the Senate to try to change them."

Despite having "buried" Work Choices soon after being elected leader, Brendan Nelson said this week Treasury advice on the possible inflationary effects of Labor's regime, revealed in The Australian this week, meant Mr Howard's approach had been right. The Government rejects the claim its approach will increase inflationary pressures, saying its laws will link wage rises with increased productivity.

In the new Senate, which technically takes effect from July 1 but will sit for the first time in August, the Government will need the support of the Greens, Senator Fielding and senator-elect Xenophon to pass legislation. A combination of the Coalition, Senator Fielding and Mr Xenophon could pass an amendment to Labor's laws.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Seven year hospital wait

In one of the world's oldest (from 1944) "free" hospital systems

It took five years for this woman to get a seven-minute operation. The queues are growing and people are ... still waiting. Dorothy Bauer does not believe the State Government when it says Queensland's beleaguered health system has improved. Not when she waited five years for an eye operation that takes seven minutes. The Bundaberg 84-year-old still needs surgery on her other eye, joining another 36,000 Queenslanders on waiting lists for elective surgery. "Anything can happen. Nobody has any guarantees today with this health system," Mrs Bauer said.

It has been 1000 days since the State Government promised to fix the health system. Then-premier Peter Beattie made the pledge after scathing findings from the Davies inquiry helped expose the real waiting lists and systemic problems within Queensland Health, a development headlined by The Courier-Mail as The Truth At Last. However figures released yesterday show waiting lists for elective surgery have blown out by almost 15 per cent in those 1000 days. And the list of people waiting to see specialists has rocketed by 50 per cent to a record of almost 160,000. Only 900 hospital beds have been added in the same time.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson insists the system is working better than in September 2005. "We are reforming the system root and branch," he said. Premier Anna Bligh yesterday defended the system. "We have a larger, stronger workforce and are treating more Queenslanders than ever before," she said.

Queensland Health yesterday said $4.3 billion of $10 billion it had pledged to be spent by 2010 had been used. However it hasn't been enough to allow Mrs Bauer to have cataract surgery on both eyes. The former school teacher was forced to give up charity work because she couldn't read music to play the piano at fundraisers. Then late last year Queensland Health finally arranged for surgery for one of her eyes. The dramatic change allowed her to return to charity work and to care for her sister, who is 86. Mrs Bauer praised the doctors and nurses who treated her, but condemned politicians and health bureaucrats who "played God to people's lives".

Seven people who were profiled in the 2005 Courier-Mail series, The Truth at Last, say they owe their lives to getting off elective surgery waiting lists. All eventually had their health issues resolved, and some credited media attention for accelerating their cases.


Surgery blowouts hit reform agenda

A blowout in the number of clerks and administrators would be more accurate

QUEENSLAND Health says it is being swamped with patients as it defends blowouts which have pushed surgery waiting lists to record levels. A Queensland Health bureaucrat said the state's public hospitals treated 825,725 people last year - up 6 per cent or three times population growth. However the key barometers - waiting lists - have ballooned by a greater margin. In the 1000 days since then premier Peter Beattie promised to fix the health system:

* The waiting list for elective surgery has increased by almost 15 per cent (31,478 to 36,030).

* The list of patients waiting to see a specialist is up by almost 50 per cent (108,568 to 159,223).

* In comparison to other states, Queensland spends less per capita on health and the number of hospital beds and medical staff per 1000 people is lower, according to the Productivity Commission. The Government says it is closing the gap.

* There has been an increase of only 900 hospital beds despite a 100,000 population gain.

* In the past 12 months, the number of patients waiting longer than the expected 30 days for the most urgent Category 1 surgery has blown out by 112 per cent.

* The number of patients waiting for Category 2 surgery, which has a 90-day benchmark, has increased by 16 per cent but the figure for the least-urgent Category 3 surgery (365 days) has decreased by 19 per cent.

Dr Stephen Duckett, Queensland Health's executive director for health reform and development, said the system was improving. "There is no doubt in my mind we are much better than we were three years ago," he said. "We're up 20 to 30 per cent in doctors and nurses, and have many, many more beds." Dr Duckett said public hospitals had treated a record number of patients in emergency departments last year. But concern continues in the community.

Deception Bay resident Sally Stanley remains upset after her brother died while waiting for a cardiac defibrillator. "The promises made didn't get kept," Ms Stanley said. "I think staff are doing the best they can with the resources they have. Politicians give them a bit, but it's not enough."

Australian Medical Association state president Ross Cartmill said the health system remained "chronically underfunded" by both state and federal governments. "I find it frustrating that the two levels of government are always arguing about which one hasn't paid its way," he said. "For health, we don't need a 2020 Summit, we just need to fund things properly." Dr Cartmill acknowledged the state was pumping an increasing percentage of funds into health, "but because we started so low, we still have not reached the level of other states."

Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek, a former Gold Coast dentist, blamed poor management and planning for inadequate beds and staff, while a bureaucratic culture continues to drive away doctors.


Australia in the grip of a baby boom

AUSTRALIA is in the middle of a new baby boom, with the nation's birth rate the highest in 10 years. The nation's statistician says women can now expect to have 1.8 children during their lifetime. There were 265,900 births registered in 2006, the highest number in 30 years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said.

The Australian Government has in recent years tried to encourage a higher birth rate to combat the ageing of the population. Former treasurer Peter Costello urged families during one famous Budget news conference to have "one for mum, one for dad and one for the country".

The new data also reveals 63 per cent of mothers, with children aged under 15 years, were employed in March 2008, compared to 54 per cent a decade ago. As the number of mothers employed increased, so too did the use of formal childcare. The percentage of children under the age of 12 years attending formal care increased from 14 per cent in 1996, to 23 per cent in 2005.

In the same year, 44 per cent of employed mothers with children under two had jobs with flexible hours, 39 per cent were permanent part-time workers, while 27 per cent worked from home. More than two-thirds (67 per cent) of mothers in a relationship with a child under 15 said they "always or often felt rushed or pressed for time" compared to 61 per cent of single mothers in the same category.


No change so far to freedom from information practices

Kevin Rudd insists his Government remains committed to honouring its pre-election pledges to enhance Freedom of Information laws, despite suggestions Labor is providing no greater access to documents than the Coalition. The Prime Minister yesterday stood by commitments Labor made to the Your Right to Know coalition of media organisations, which includes The Weekend Australian. "We said prior to the election that we would be implementing to the letter the commitments we gave in response to the Right to Know coalition - that includes FOI reform," Mr Rudd said. "Those commitments I reiterated in a speech I made in Sydney (on Thursday) and we stand by every one."

However, the Government has come under mounting criticism over its failure to improve access to information. Rick Snell, one of the nation's leading experts on FOI, said the Government had "set themselves up for a fall" on the issue. Mr Snell, senior lecturer in law at the University of Tasmania, said the Government was "continuing the old regime" of the Howard government and "the old ways of processing FOI requests". Earlier this month, federal Treasury refused an FOI request by the ABC to release documents on the inflationary impact of the Government's proposed changes to industrial relations laws.

Mr Rudd said the Government would introduce legislation to reform "the particular objection which news organisations have, which is the previous government's use of conclusive certificates" to block FOI. There have been claims that Mr Rudd's chief of staff, David Epstein, has taken an interest in FOI applications, but the Prime Minister insisted he and his ministers would back the official decision-makers. "On the question of individual FOI decisions within departments ... that lies with individual FOI decision-makers within the bureaucracy," he said.


The Rudd vision

This could easily be the agenda of a conservative government

Kevin Rudd has an economic policy - but in the budget process his mind has turned to an economic narrative. It is urgently needed. Australia under Rudd faces slower economic growth for three years, high interest rates and ongoing spending restraint. Witness the latest monetary policy warning from the Reserve Bank that the slowdown must be protracted. In this climate, 24-hour spin will not suffice. The Labor Government needs a story to explain the slowdown and a story that reveals a long-run vision. These stories will start with the budget.

Rudd is passionate about burying what he calls short-termism. He wants to project a long-term narrative and that rests upon three priorities. They are: a sustained restructuring of national spending to revive Australia as a low inflation nation; an integrated reform of the tax/welfare/retirement income provisions to maximise personal incentive and reduce the call upon the state; and an interventionist strategy to lift productivity by investment in human capital, infrastructure, a better working federation and more competition policy. For Rudd, this gameplan runs beyond the initial three-year term. The challenge is in delivery and in branding.

There is one notion gaining oxygen that Rudd wants to kill: that his Government is a national version of the state Labor incrementalism. He knows this is a political death warrant and it offends his policy credentials. Rudd's ambitions mean the budget has a dual role. As well as giving immediate effect to Labor's agenda, it signals the long-term path and priorities of the new Labor Government.

The first message from Rudd and Wayne Swan is that containing inflation is a lengthy project. That means spending restraint now and in the future and a re-ordering of spending priorities. It is about making a virtue of being a fiscal conservative, a position that Brendan Nelson's Liberal Party has surrendered in an act of folly.

Rudd's second priority is the most complex. In the long run he wants lower tax rates, a more competitive tax system, elimination of barriers in the welfare-to-work transition and better superannuation provision by utilising the surplus to boost individual superannuation accounts. These superannuation options were examined in the budget context but deferred.

The third priority is a cluster of productivity-enhancing measures. It is also the most risky because it means a more active government role in industry policy in fostering what Rudd calls "the culture of innovation".

He wants to project an interventionist government delivering better broadband, improved infrastructure, better school retention rates and more rigorous education, easing urban congestion, promoting biotechnology and industries of the future along with the "seamless national markets" from the 2020 Summit that caught his attention.

Paul Keating was a master of the economic narrative. It is appropriate that, on budget eve, Keating's former senior aide, Don Russell, in a recent speech divided politicians into two categories: those who were nice to the voters hoping the voters would be nice to them and those who felt that leaders must be useful and become "doers". Rudd sees himself in the "doer" category. The proof, one way or another, is at hand. Faced with the current economic slowdown, political "doers" would seize it as an opportunity to introduce reform as part of a new narrative.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Do-gooders reject controlled spending for blacks

Drinking their welfare payments rather than spending it on other needs is common among blacks so the Feds are instituting a type of food stamps program in an attempt to change that. Unlikely that it will change much -- but the do-gooder idea of more jobs for social workers would certainly change nothing at all. But trying to get blacks to behave like middle-class whites is pissing into the wind anyway. I used to run a boarding house in a bottom-rung area (Ipswich) and few of my tenants worked. I noted that lots of whites there had a big piss-up on the welfare "payday", only to be left scratching for the rest of the fortnight. I made a point of putting my hand out for rent every "payday". I guess the government is trying to do something similar

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) says the Rudd Government's proposed welfare debit card is not the best way to help struggling families. The Federal Government has confirmed a new electronic national welfare card will be included in next week's Budget. The debit card will contain a portion of a family's welfare payment which can only be spent on necessities like food and clothing.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says the card will be issued from July in certain Northern Territory Aboriginal communities and will eventually be used for some non-Indigenous welfare recipients across Australia. The scheme is an attempt to encourage people to spend their welfare payments on food and clothing, rather than on drugs and alcohol.

But ACOSS President Lyn Hatfield Dodds says the card will not work. "ACOSS doesn't believe that quarantining payments is the best way forward," she said. "We would prefer to see Government investing in the supports and services that families need. "Quarantining at best will keep those families in a holding pattern, but it will not build their capacity or capability to make different choices and move out of crisis. "It is really an issue where there are families with low parenting capacity - families with histories of alcohol and drug abuse and gambling addiction," she added.

Opposition families spokesman Tony Abbott says the card will not work because it will become an administrative nightmare. Mr Abbott says the problem will be getting the states to hand over private information about which children are at risk, and therefore which parents should be targeted. "I think they could end up spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this new card technology and find that it is essentially redundant because the states won't give them the information," he said. "A much better system would be for an across the board quarantine of, say, 50 per cent of these payments."

But Minister for Human Services Joe Ludwig says the new scheme will help businesses as well as families. Senator Ludwig says the previous NT store card system excluded small businesses from taking part in the scheme. "It does help local business, it helps them participate in the income management scheme, it will increase the competition and it'll also give families greater choice," he said. "We really need to start dealing with all those issues in a very thoughtful, serious, respectful way, to come alongside families and help them move out of crisis."


Old document used in land rights push

A 172-year-old document that is claimed to guarantee Aboriginal rights will be used in a new land rights campaign in the far west of South Australia. The Kokatha Mula people say the Letters Patent established the rights of Aborigines in early 1836 at the time it established the province of South Australia.

Representative Bronwyn Coleman-Sleep will outline the case to the Aboriginal lands parliamentary committee of State Parliament. She says the document's powers have never been rescinded.

"Always, for always have a right to the enjoyment and occupation of our land - it's written in black and white for whoever wants to read it," she said. "The question is whether anybody's got the substance required to deal with the Letters Patent and what it says."


Dogs not racist

A council has defended using muzzled dogs for security in the streets of a town in South Australia's far west. It concedes that a few Aboriginal people have complained of being unfairly targeted by the council street patrols. There has been a three-month trial targeting illegal camping and other offences, with Ceduna council keen to get funding for a permanent program.

Ceduna mayor Allan Suter says the patrols are targeting all law-breakers and cannot be accused of being racist. "They've issued a reasonable percentage of fines to non-Indigenous people and any suggestion that there's an attempt to target Aboriginal people is just rubbish," he said. "Essentially we've had a large amount of support from members of the Aboriginal community and I think most of the noise is coming from a small group of people who've been agitated by a few individuals who've totally misunderstood what's happening."


Federal district passes civil unions law for homosexuals

The ACT is similar to America's DC. The Federal government barred them from allowing homosexual marriages so a watered down arrangement was passed

The ACT Assembly has passed a watered-down version of its civil unions bill after it failed to secure the support of the Federal Government. The ACT Government was forced to scrap its plans for laws to legally recognise same-sex civil union ceremonies after the Federal Government refused to support the move, on the grounds that the arrangement mimicked marriage. The laws introduce a relationships register similar to that in place in Tasmania and Victoria.

ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell says the laws still represent a significant step foward for the ACT. "Same sex couples will now be recognised under Territory law," he said. "No longer will they have to rely on proving some sort of de facto status, no longer will the power bills and bank accounts have to come out to demonstrate that you are actually in a committed caring relationship."

Chief Minister Jon Stanhope says he is disappointed that the Government was forced to change the legislation. "This is not the outcome that the ACT Government wanted," he said. "It doesn't deliver the equality under the law that the ACT Government had wished to deliver. "It is a matter of embarrassment to me that my party did not stand up for this fundamental principle."


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Rudd tougher on asylum seekers than Howard

Great news if it's true across the board. Refugees from Africa have been the sort of disaster that everyone without his head in the sand would have expected. There is no place in the world where Africans are not far out ahead of everyone else in committing violent crimes

THE Rudd Government is rejecting asylum seeker applications at a higher rate than the Howard government, according to an analysis of new figures. An Asylum Seeker Research Centre report says the immigration department has knocked back 41 of the 42 cases it has had referred to it since Labor took power after the November 2007 election, a rejection rate of 97.6 per cent. The report, authored by ASRC chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis, says that is the highest rejection rate since the Victoria-based ASRC started in 2001.

ASRC community campaign co-ordinator Pamela Curr conceded some of the 42 did not have compelling cases, but said others certainly did. "There is no way you can look at some of these cases and, with the guidelines for ministerial decision making, reject them," Ms Curr said. "We don't have the figures yet from other advocacy agencies but we know this is going on all around Australia."

Ms Curr said wrong decisions were being made because of Immigration Minister Chris Evans' emphasis on clearing backlogs and making decisions more quickly. She said the figures made a mockery of Senator Evans' assurance that he would bring humanity back to the immigration portfolio. "I think that this government is absolutely dead scared on the refugee issue, after all they lost an election on this back in 2001," she said. "Now they're in power, they've got a wonderful majority, they've got the country behind them but they're too gutless to tackle the hard issues."

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said he believed the promise of a new dawn in immigration was not being delivered. "I think the minister is still paying too much attention to the immigration department rather than trying to implement the cultural change that was promised," he said. Mr Karapanagiotidis said while it was too early to form a complete picture of Senator Evans' approach, it was looking as if the change in government had not brought change for asylum seekers.

Jack Smit from refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom called the figures "disturbing". The ASRC claims to be the largest provider of aid, advocacy and health services for asylum seekers in Australia.


Blessed are the sceptics

In 1633 Galileo Galilei was hauled before the religious authorities of his day, the Inquisition, for daring to concur with Copernicus that the Earth was not the centre of the universe and also that it orbited the sun rather than the other way around. For his pains, he was placed under house arrest and forced to recant. Giordano Bruno failed to recant and suffered a crueller fate.

Today we are faced with a newer religion known as environmental activism which has insinuated itself into some aspects of science. It shares some of the intolerance to new or challenging ideas with the old. Immolation at the stake is no longer fashionable but it has been replaced by pillory in the media. The new faith makes it apostasy to question the proposition that our river systems are dying and that nothing like this has ever happened before. And it is the blackest heresy to suggest that the beatification of StAl and the Goronites may be a little premature.

The symbols and practices of the new and the old faiths are remarkably similar. The crucifix has been replaced by the wind turbine; where before there was the hair shirt and self-flagellation, mortification of the flesh now consists of switching off your airconditioner when it's hot and your patio heater when it's cold.

The head of the University of Tasmania's school of government, Aynsley Kellow, has pointed out the close similarity between medieval papal indulgences and carbon offsets. However, these things matter less than the corruption of science by faith and the failure to recognise the contingent nature of scientific concepts. Concepts are only valid until such time as they are demolished by the scientific methods of observation, measurement, experimentation and analysis. Phrases such as "the argument is over, the science is settled" are so much fatuous nonsense and should almost never be used in the scientific community.

Throughout history dissenters, sceptics, contrarians and innovators have suffered criticism, abuse and even persecution, but it is these people who have driven progress. To quote Thomas Huxley, "scepticism is the highest of duties, blind faith the one unpardonable sin". Where would we be without the Galileos, Newtons, Darwins and Pasteurs? I would like to think that some time in the future we could add the names of our scholars to that list.

So what is this partnership between the Institute of Public Affairs and the University of Queensland to support environmental research about? What are we doing it for? There are two main reasons. First, to provide a haven for our scholars without ideological or commercial interference and with no prescription as to the end point of their inquiries. If they challenge orthodoxies and assumptions, particularly mine, then that's good. If they find that conventional wisdom is correct, then that's good, too. The only criterion is to seek empirical evidence.

Second, it is important that any research that our scholars undertake is made available to aid the development of better, more rational public policy. Good public policy means applying our resources more efficiently to achieve the outcomes we desire, such as lifting the poor out of their poverty, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and, in our case, managing our environment sensibly and productively.

I would like to think that what we have launched today is just the first step in something much bigger. I envisage that, in the future, to environmental lawyers and scientists we will add other disciplines: biologists, economists, statisticians, even philosophers. What we need to do is shine the hard light of reason and critical thinking on our environmental problems, aided by multiple skills and points of view. As they say, from tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow; or, to make the metaphor more geographically relevant, from tiny gumnuts do mighty river red gums grow.

That's all I have to say but I would like to leave you with one thought. For those of you have a feeling of despair about the direction that some aspects of environmental science is taking, remember that most people now believe that Galileo was right.

The above is an edited version of a speech by Perth philanthropist Bryant Macfie, who is funding a research partnership between the Institute of Public Affairs and the University of Queensland.


The expected union mayhem is getting underway

Rudd will need more than easy tokens to deal with this. He will lose the next election unless he gets tough with union coercion

UNIONS have launched a direct challenge to the Rudd Government and the ACTU by pursuing wage claims of up to 19 per cent to offset rising inflation and to "catch up" on pay rises lost under the Howard government. As Kevin Rudd came under pressure last night to release Treasury analysis on the inflationary effects of his industrial relations changes, unions in Victoria vowed to chase annual pay rises of up to 6 per cent for the next three years to compensate for the 4.2 per cent inflation rate and suppressed pay under John Howard.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Brian Boyd told The Australian a deal struck by teachers in Victoria endorsing pay rises of up to 15.2 per cent exemplified the catch-up increases unions wanted under the Prime Minister. "I am quite aware that a number of key private sector unions and groups of workers are arguing for 5 per cent (a year) to get ahead of that 4.2 (per cent)," he said. "There are agreements already being looked at around 15 per cent over three years, and some will even go to 18-19 per cent. "(It's) not only to compensate for inflation but also to compensate for the restriction on the ability you had for decent wages under the previous government."

The Australian understands the pay push includes unions in the construction, manufacturing, transport, electrical and plumbing sectors. The Victorian teachers' deal has also buoyed public servants across several states - including teachers and nurses - on the verge of pay negotiations. The wage push came as Brendan Nelson demanded Mr Rudd release Treasury advice prepared in February showing whether his industrial relations reforms would drive up inflation.

Mr Rudd rejected the relevance of earlier Treasury advice, prepared in April last year, which criticised Labor's industrial relations policies as likely to cause wage spirals and drive up interest rates. The Australian published the leaked advice yesterday. Mr Rudd said the leaked advice was written before Labor had released its full policy and implementation plan, which included the abolition of the Howard government's individual workplace contracts, known as Australian Workplace Agreements.

The Opposition Leader seized on the comment to demand that Mr Rudd disclose the more-recent advice, which Treasury last week refused to release in full in response to an application by ABC television under Freedom of Information laws. "What Mr Rudd must do now is show Australians the evidence that his changes to workplace relations will not result in unemployment and higher inflation," Dr Nelson said. "The question for us is: 'Why is he not coming clean with Australians and telling Australians that Treasury has told the Australian Government that its plan to get union bosses back into workplaces is actually going to put people out of work and push up inflation?"'

Mr Boyd said the Victorian teachers' deal was a "good case in point" of unions playing catch-up after wages were suppressed under the Howard government. "There has been a lot of wages curtailed in the last three or four years of the Howard government and people are trying to catch up," he said. Ordinary working people were not responsible for rising inflation, but were entitled to receive compensation for higher petrol and grocery prices, he said. "The union movement is an independent voice for trying to find a fair market price for workers they represent in the capitalist market place," he said. "We have put up with 11 years of IR laws that have been aimed at restricting our ability to find a fair price for labour. "Just because (John) Howard got elected for a decade doesn't mean we accept that these harsh IR laws were justified in restricting our ability to find a fair price for labour. "So I have no qualms in saying if we want to play the catch-up game for wages and conditions, we'll do it."

Mr Boyd said he did not accept the wage push would exacerbate game for wages and conditions, we'll do it." Mr Boyd said he did not accept that the wage push would exacerbate inflationary pressures. "Ordinary working people didn't cause the inflation situation," he said. "Other factors caused that. The oil price internationally is one of them, and grocery prices going up has nothing to do with what workers do. "They're entitled to get compensation for that. That's why I'm calling it a catch-up process, not a breakout process."

Mr Boyd denied the pay push could lead to a wages breakout. "It's not really a wages explosion, in my view. It's a catch-up that is currently going on because of what happened over the last few years of Howard," he said. "It's making up lost ground. I think there should be an understanding that a lot of the workforce across the country, not only in Victoria, are viewing their situation in terms of inflation and (consumer price index) rises, in terms of the cost of living, in terms of petrol prices and power prices, and so on. "It's all about catch-up in terms of their current situation, and what their situation as ordinary people has been for the past few years. It's got nothing to do with an explosion. It's catch-up."

Dr Nelson said the leaked Treasury advice showed "John Howard was right and Kevin Rudd was wrong" about industrial relations, despite his having said several times since Labor won November's election that the Howard government's Work Choices laws were a mistake.

Earlier yesterday, The Australian asked Mr Rudd through his office to furnish the February Treasury advice. As of late yesterday, he had not replied. Wayne Swan had nothing to add yesterday when asked whether he was concerned that excessive wage demands could fuel an upwards pay spiral and feed into inflation, referring The Australian to his comments at a media conference on Tuesday after wage concerns were raised by the Reserve Bank. Asked at the press conference if he was concerned about wages claims, the Treasurer said: "No, I'm not, because our industrial relations policy has wage rises based on productivity. What we should have with wage settlements is settlements which are reached based on productivity."

Victorian Premier John Brumby yesterday insisted the teachers' pay rise was not out of step despite being above inflation, saying significant productivity improvements were factored in. [It's hard not to laugh at the "productivity improvements". They seem to consist of teachers agreeing to work an extra 10 minutes per day! Will anybody notice?]


"Healthy lifestyle" absurdities

READING policy documents can be a hard way to make a living. But sometimes you simply can't believe what you are reading. Last year the Labor Party released its GP super clinics policy, co-authored by Kevin Rudd and Nicola Roxon, which contained the following statement: "Preventative health care needs to be made more accessible to ordinary Australians struggling to find the time in their busy lives to look after their own health. We can't expect people to take better care of their health if we won't help provide the health services they need to make this a reality."

Not sure whether to laugh at the absurdity or be outraged by the patronising tone, I was intrigued to figure out how anybody could endorse such an extraordinary notion. Public health experts have argued since the 1970s that people make unhealthy choices out of ignorance and that governments, therefore, have a duty to tell them through public health education campaigns how to change their lifestyle to protect their health. For more than 30 years, Australian governments have told us to quit smoking, eat moderately and exercise regularly, most memorably through the "Life! Be In It" campaign. We have listened, up to a point at least, and the easy prevention work has now been accomplished.

Many middle-class people are converts to the wellness cult: they have stopped smoking, improved their diet and started to exercise. But many others, particularly those on lower incomes, prefer to live for the day and have ignored the healthy lifestyle message. Recent reports on public health policy in Britain and Australia found that despite decades of spending on prevention programs, levels of physical activity have not increased and obesity levels have shot up. Obesity-related chronic disease already puts pressure on the health system and it will accentuate the challenges we face as the population ages.

Prevention hasn't worked because however intensively the health lifestyle message is pushed, it comes down to individuals to have the will, self-discipline and impulse control to change longstanding behaviours that are often pleasurable. As international studies have found, the main reason anti-obesity initiatives have failed is that many people find it difficult to sustain lifestyle modifications for long periods.

But instead of acknowledging these limits to prevention, public health experts are going further, to justify even greater public health spending. Obesity has been redefined as an epidemic, as if victims passively contract it (infected, of course, by wicked and coercive fast-food advertising). As the victims of this epidemic are concentrated in lower-income groups, obesity has also been classified as health inequality, which makes it a social problem. The blame for it falls on "a catastrophic failure of governments to implement effective evidence-based action".

Even though governments took health experts' advice and spent millions on preventive education, it is now the government, rather than the individual, that the experts deem responsible for obesity, because it has not done enough to force people to drop their hamburgers and get off the couch. While this obviously ignores the role individuals play in continuing to make unhealthy lifestyle decisions, this argument has nevertheless managed to convince some politicians that governments must indeed take action to stem the epidemic.

Hence we have the truly remarkable, paternalistic policy endorsed by the Labor Party. The Government's policy documents acknowledge that public health campaigns had at least made most people aware of the lifestyle changes required to promote good health. But in Rudd and Roxon's view, what recent history - the failure to curb obesity - really demonstrates is how the system failed to provide help to turn knowledge into practice. So-called ordinary Australians therefore need Medicare-funded preventive health care, of course, because unless the government was prepared to help them, how could they be expected to take care of their own health.

The Labor Party has announced an initiative: a national network of super clinics to be located in lower-income communities. In a forerunner of the Prime Minister's one-stop shop childcare centres proposal, the Government's plan in health is to bring a range of allied health services under one roof, so super clinics can deliver what are ominously titled lifestyle interventions. The Government will pay teams of sleek middle-class health professionals to harass the bulging lower orders and help them eat food they don't like and get exercise they don't want to take.

Life! The Government Will Make You Be In It: this could be the slogan of the super clinics. But the Government can't make you be in it, and its policy is neither evidence-based nor effective. Unsurprisingly, studies show that even high-intensity lifestyle interventions have little impact, especially on long-term diet and exercise habits. Why, then, is the Government lumbering all of us with the cost of ineffective preventive care?

Cheered on by the experts, the Rudd Government is determined to unfurl a new range of preventive policies to try to contain the future cost of Medicare. Prevention's better than cure, as they say. But the evidence suggests the Government's policies won't work. It should let ordinary Australians be and help ordinary taxpayers instead. Millions of taxpayers' dollars are already wasted every year preaching the virtues of brown bread, wheatgrass juice and jogging to those who won't be converted.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Treasury slams Labor's workplace plans

LABOR'S industrial relations changes are likely to trigger job losses and higher inflation that will ultimately create "wage-price spirals" and drive up interest rates, according to Treasury's official analysis of the plan to scrap Work Choices. The Treasury critique also finds that limiting unfair dismissal laws will cut jobs, increase red tape for small business and make it more difficult for people to move from welfare to work.

The disclosure of the highly critical economic assessment of the plan to scrap John Howard's Work Choices laws came as Wayne Swan insisted that fighting inflation and taking price pressures off working families were the Government's prime budget objectives. The Reserve Bank also warned yesterday of the danger of a wages breakout forcing interest rates higher, putting the Government on notice after Victorian teachers this week won a massive pay rise from the state Government that could trigger follow-up claims.

Treasury's assessment of the Prime Minister's industrial relations blueprint before last year's election is contained in an executive minute dated April 18, last year, which is the subject of a Freedom of Information claim. The minute, obtained by The Australian, is a response to issues raised one day earlier by Mr Rudd in a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, which he used to flag the industrial relations changes Labor would make in government. The analysis, delivered to then treasurer Peter Costello, looks at Labor's key workplace reforms, including the abolition of Australian Workplace Agreements; the restoration of guaranteed penalties, overtime and holiday pay; linking wages to living standards; and changes to the unfair dismissal laws.

ABC television reported last week that Treasury had rejected part of a separate FOI request for advice about whether Labor's workplace changes would cause higher inflation. The decision came despite Labor promising more openness in government, including reform of FOI laws. According to the secret Treasury advice, the department, under Treasury secretary Ken Henry, concluded that the abolition of AWAs and the return of guaranteed penalty rates would cut jobs, put "upward pressure on prices", create more "flow-on" wage claims from sectors such as mining to less productive sectors and allow unions to "bid wages up above their market level".

The Treasurer yesterday said he was not concerned that Labor's industrial relations changes would undermine his anti-inflationary budget "because our industrial relations policy has wage rises based on productivity". The Government would "bring down a responsible budget", he said. "We are going to build a strong surplus to fight inflation." Commenting on the Victorian teachers' pay rise, he said any wage rises had to be based on productivity gains. Labor's workplace changes were led by Julia Gillard, now Deputy Prime Minister and Employment and Workplace Relations Minister.

In his speech in April last year, Mr Rudd said Labor would deliver "a productivity lift" and "create a new balance between fairness and flexibility in the workplace, and in doing so, restore the rights of working families to have proper access to penalty rates, overtime and shift allowances". "Our laws will abolish AWAs - and we will do so without apology," he said. "Our laws will return the right to basic working conditions, like penalty rates, overtime and public holiday pay."

Although it has pushed through laws to scrap AWAs, Labor has allowed a form of private contracts for workers on more than $100,000 a year after pressure from employers, particularly the mining sector, and will allow current AWAs to expire over a period of five years. "The core question for Australia's long-term economic prosperity is how we rebuild our flagging productivity growth," Mr Rudd said in the speech. "This is the only way we can continue to improve living standards once the mining boom passes."

Mr Rudd cited Dr Henry's framework for economic growth - "the 3Ps: population, participation and productivity". But the Treasury analysis of the abolition of AWAs and the move to protect penalty rates, overtime and holiday pay found the changes would lead to "reduced flexibility". "This reduced flexibility, together with forcing business to pay higher rates of pay during certain hours of business, is likely to lead to lower levels of employment," the minute says. "The shift to a more centralised wage system might reduce employment and increase inflation. For example, higher unit costs, either through higher real labour costs, lower productivity, or a combination of both, will place upward pressures on prices, which effectively lowers real disposable incomes, consumer spending and thus employment. The rate of flow-on of wage increases from high-productivity firms and sectors to low-productivity ones may increase. Reinstalling union power will raise the ability of unions to bid wages up above their market level."

Treasury said Work Choices was "expected to allow a more expansionary monetary policy setting and result in higher rates of employment". Mr Rudd's promise that Labor would "ensure a minium wage, set by the independent umpire that keeps track with living standards" drew the conclusion from Treasury that "linking wages growth directly to living standards (headline inflation) may expose the economy to wage-price spirals - higher inflationary outcomes leading to higher interest rates". Treasury said Labor's plan to lower the limit for unfair dismissal claims from employers with 100 to 15 employees was likely to cost jobs.

Last night, Ms Gillard said it was impossible the Treasury analysis could cover Labor's policy because "Forward with Fairness" was not released until the Labor conference a week after Mr Rudd's press club speech. "This is a document of the former government and it can't be an analysis of Labor's policy," she said. "Take, for instance, the example of setting the minimum wage, which doesn't reflect Labor policy."

The first tranche of Labor's workplace laws, dealing with the abolition of AWAs, has passed through parliament. The second tranche will be introduced after July, when the Coalition has lost control of the Senate.


The Fascist instinct is never far beneath the surface with the Left

Freedom of the press? Who cares about that?

Believe it or not, Perth has become the toughest environment in the country in which to practise the public service of journalism. The boom state has become the goon state, where standover and intimidation against the media is the Labor Government's weapon of choice. Police raids by armed officers on busy newsrooms, secret telephone tapping, grilling of reporters by Corruption and Crime Commission investigators that can't be reported - or even whispered to wives, husbands or, incredibly, bosses and employers - are becoming commonplace.

The days of the cabinet leak are over. Clarification: the days of the leak not organised by the Government Media Office are over, particularly those that have the potential to cause electoral pain to a Government led, ironically, by the former journalist Alan Carpenter. It is a sign of the times that many senior working journalists in WA take it as a given that their mobile phones are being, or have been, bugged. Evidence given to the CCC over the past two years confirms that what would have been a silly, paranoid suggestion only a matter of years ago is now an undeniable possibility.

Wednesday's raid on The Sunday Times newsroom by armed officers was overkill bordering on the ridiculous. The Department of Premier and Cabinet wants the CCC and police to catch those responsible for leaking a relatively innocuous yarn about Treasurer Eric Ripper wanting more taxpayers' money for advertising should the Government go to the polls early.

Several other senior journalists at the paper - and at least three at The West Australian, two at commercial television stations and one at the ABC - have over the past two years been dragged into the CCC's St George's Terrace HQ or confronted at home and told to answer questions under the 2003 CCC Act. If they refuse, they can be arrested.


Hospital bathroom birth 'cover-up'

The notorious Royal North Shore Hospital again

The grandmother of a baby girl born in a Sydney hospital toilet with the umbilical cord around her neck, has accused the hospital of a cover-up. Nick Patsidis yesterday said hospital staff were "too busy" to treat his wife Cathy Patsidis or administer an epidural when she went into labour on Monday morning and gave birth in the toilet of a nursing suite.

However, Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) has denied any wrongdoing in its treatment of Cathy Patsidis. It said two experienced midwives had helped deliver her healthy baby after a "precipitous labour".

Nick's mother Maria Patsidis today accused the hospital of lying. She said she was afraid her granddaughter would die in her arms. "Everything was a lie. Whatever they said - they're just trying to cover themselves up," she told Fairfax Radio Network. "It wasn't (a quick labour). The midwife who was standing on top of Cathy should have known what this was. She didn't call a doctor, she didn't call anybody. "This midwife is holding her legs together and my son opens her legs to let her baby come out. "What if Nick didn't do that - the baby had the (umbilical) cord around its neck. "I will never forget - what I saw was something you would see out of a horror movie."

Maria Patsidis said the family felt the need to speak out to prevent the same thing happening to other families. "We had to come out and talk about it because this is happening in our hospitals - this is 2008," she said.


NSW electricity privatization

Former Labor Party Prime Minister Paul Keating gives a lashing below to opponents of the moves in NSW to privatize the electricty supply. Despite the howls from unions who fear that their members might have to work for a change, it seems that reform will go ahead

So the lemmings at the Labor Party conference have given the Premier and the Treasurer a bruising. Well may they come to regret it. Governments are hard enough to put in place; keeping them there is even harder. The Premier, Morris Iemma, and his Treasurer, Michael Costa, are as honest a pair of souls as NSW politics has had, but more than that, they want to actually do something; in this case, to break the back of electricity reform in this state, stymied now for over a decade.

Iemma, having won a difficult election for Labor, should have enjoyed the support of this conference rather than its naked obstructionism. Bernie Riordan, the state president, may be a conscientious barracker for his electrical trades constituency but he is a woeful party president, someone who does not understand that the president's main task is to manage the party to keep it supportive of the Government.

I was state party president between 1979 and 1983. I took the job to see the Wran government remain in office amid chronic factional strife while, at the same time, paving the way for the federal Labor Party to defeat Malcolm Fraser. I did not take the job to press personal causes or to indulge my authority. But I had helpers. Barrie Unsworth was running the Labor Council and Graham Richardson was running the party. Both were attuned to their responsibilities to the state government in office and the federal party in the wings.

These days the Government in Macquarie Street has no helpers. The party president indulges himself as a microeconomic expert while the Unions NSW secretary, John Robertson, sees his role as providing T-shirts to protesters. Intellectually, both these men know that from the day the National Electricity Market, established by the Keating government, went into operation in 1995, there was no economic or commercial reason why any state would retain state ownership of power generating capacity.

When lights are turned on in NSW now, much of the electricity is provided by private electricity generators in other states. Indeed, electricity prices in the national grid are priced every 30 minutes, so competitive is the national electricity market. Yet the debate over the weekend was had as if the National Electricity Market, all down the east coast of Australia, does not exist. Electricity generation has been around now for about 120 years. It is truly industrial archaeology; anyone can build a station and the capital is almost available at your local bank. And that is without tapping the $1200 billion of Australia's superannuation savings.

A state, these days, simply does not have to burden its balance sheet with expensive lumps of these old technologies. The fact is, the sole thing worth owning in electricity is the reticulation system, the poles and the wires, which of their essence form a natural monopoly. And a monopoly that importantly has the link to the customer. And a central feature of the Iemma Government's proposals is that the distribution network and the transmission grid not be sold. This is where the Laborness of their proposals is most striking.

Riordan and Robertson complain the Premier and the Treasurer developed their plans more or less exclusively. Whatever validity there is in that criticism, the criticism should have fallen away once the Premier told the parties he was prepared to bring the Government's proposals before the state conference for a full debate. That amounted to the ultimate in consultation.

Critics will say that I am writing in these terms because of my association with Lazard Carnegie Wylie, a company chosen to co-advise the State Government on its privatisation proposals. But what motivates me is seeing the last block of the Keating government's electricity reform program into place. It is already in place in Victoria and in South Australia and to some extent in Queensland. But the biggest state, NSW, has since 1995 been the standout.

Riordan's previous foray into this issue was a decade ago when he downed Bob Carr and Michael Egan. Then the power stations were worth $35 billion. A decade later the price discussion for the same stations is about $15 billion. That is, $20 billion in lost value; $20 billion that could have been spent on education, health and vital new infrastructure. A vast sum even by national government standards.

The Iemma Government's proposals represent a dramatic and important microeconomic reform to the infrastructure base of the largest state and hence to the nation. The NSW economy represents just on 40 per cent of national gross domestic product. This is why the federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said over the weekend he supported the reforms, because "they go to the heart of the COAG agenda". Dead right. More than that, they go to the very kernel of the Rudd Government's federal-state reform program.

The irony is that it is Iemma who is seeing this important part of federal policy into place while the NSW industrial obscurantists are doing their best to retro-rivet the largest state to the 20th century. What is more, they are determined to do it by jettisoning the parliamentary seats of individual state MPs who won their places in difficult circumstances without much help from them.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008


A $2 MILLION hyperbaric chamber at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, which has never been used since it was built in 2002, will not see its first patient for at least another year. Health Minister Stephen Robertson had promised the machine, critical in the treatment of respiratory ailments, would be up and running by January. But a Queensland Health review of hyperbaric treatment at the hospital is expected to stretch into the next financial year, with the first treatment of a patient unlikely before late 2009, sources told The Sunday Mail.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman yesterday said the machine "is not a white elephant" and "it was never intended to be immediately commissioned", but was part of "long-term planning". Opposition health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek called it another government health "embarrassment".

The article above is by Darrell Giles and appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 4, 2008.

Another university lurches Left -- in the usual simplistic Leftist way

Macquarie University students will be forced to "do good" and "change the world" -- but what has that got to do with academic ability or achievement? And what if I think that I "do good" simply by entering one of the professions? The definition of "doing good" is unclear but seems to be very unsophisticated for a university. I am glad that I was able to concentrate on my studies when I was there. And what about all the students who have to work their way through university? How are they going to fit in all this crap?

All students at a leading university will have to undertake volunteer work and study subjects from the arts and sciences under an overhaul of its curriculum designed to provide a broader education and more socially aware graduates. In a first for an Australian university, Macquarie University Vice Chancellor Steven Schwartz today will announce a partnership with Australia Volunteers International that will create a mini peace corps, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to do volunteer work overseas.

Called the Global Futures Program, it will develop programs with local communities throughout Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Some form of community work will be compulsory for all undergraduate students at Macquarie under the new curriculum, to start in 2010. In addition, the university will require all undergraduate students to study subjects from the humanities, social sciences and sciences so that arts students must take science subjects and science students must take arts subjects.

The university, in northern Sydney, had also considered making the learning of a foreign language compulsory but it was not feasible at this stage. Professor Schwartz told The Australian that the new curriculum was based on three themes of place, planet and participation, and was designed to provide students with a broader education than one geared solely to a vocation and getting a job. "Universities are more than just narrow vocational schools; they have the opportunity to change the world, to shape society and shape democracy [Is that what the taxpayer is paying for? And what if the student is content with the world as it is and does not WANT to change it -- preferring to concentrate on more personal things? Is there no place for such a person in a university? It would seem gross political bigotry to say so!]," he said. "It's about education for life not just for a job. We're trying to infuse the institution with more than just a utilitarian vocational mission as one that also makes difference to a more democratic and inclusive society."

Professor Schwartz said the new curriculum developed the university's commitment to social inclusion and equity, and fitted in with programs already in place at the university, such as MULTILIT, a remedial literacy program being used in Queensland's Cape York, and the Teach for Australia scheme. Macquarie University, in partnership with Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson's Cape York Institute, is developing the Teach for Australia program. It is based on similar schemes in the US and Britain to recruit the brightest graduates to teach for a short time in disadvantaged schools before they start their professional careers.

Macquarie's focus on a broader education follows the restructure at Melbourne University, called the Melbourne Model and based on US college degrees, which offers six broad undergraduate degrees followed by a graduate professional degree in specialist areas such as law or medicine.

Professor Schwartz said providing an education based purely on skills was inadequate. "I used to be a dean of medicine and I believe probably a lot of skills we taught students were obsolete before they graduated," he said. "Our students graduating this year will retire about 2050. We don't know what the world will look like in 2015, let alone 2050. "At Macquarie, we want to give students the right skills to get ahead in the community and we want to give them employable skills but we also want to make them open to equity issues, to social progress and social justice in terms of equal opportunity."


Young Aussies 'losing' male role models

This is right. What male in his right mind would be a schoolteacher these days? And suspicion of queer scoutmasters keeps a lot of kids away from Scouts

The social development of many young Australians may be stunted because potential male role models will not engage with them for fear of being wrongly accused of child abuse. Men are worried about putting themselves in positions where such an allegation may be levelled against them, either within families and more broadly at school or in social settings such as team sports, warns Australian Institute of Family Studies director Alan Hayes.

This may add to the problems of the current generation of children, who are more anxious and have more developmental problems and mental health issues than previously, he says. In a paper presented to the Australian Family Law conference, Professor Hayes notes that while the significance of harm caused by child abuse should not be underestimated, the public focus on shocking instances has wider ramifications, particularly on the raising of boys.

"Within families, concern over child sexual abuse has ... altered the nature of relationships and the behaviour of fathers and male members of extended families particularly," he writes in the paper, to be published this week in the AIFS Family Matters series. "There is a sense in which families have also been touched by what, at times, can be an overly fearful focus on child abuse. "Beyond the family, the changes have been even more marked, with increasing anxiety surrounding children's interaction with their teachers, clergy and coaches, among others. "The fear of accusations of sexual abuse may be one driver ... for the decline in the proportion of males entering teaching."

Professor Hayes says the reported levels of child abuse in 2006-07 -- 309,517 notifications and 58,567 substantiated cases involving 32,585 children -- underestimates the prevalence of the problem. He says Aboriginal children are among those most at risk. But this, he says, represents 0.7per cent of the child population aged 0-16. "While there can be no room for complacency about a situation such as this in a nation with the advancement and wealth we possess, the unanticipated negative effects on the rest of the population also cannot be ignored."

He says the problem is most acute for the nearly 30 per cent of children growing up in single-parent households or households with a step-parent. "For both boys and girls, especially those growing up in sole-parent families, the lack of male role models is of concern."

Professor Hayes says other factors are making the current generation of children's lives more challenging, including the fact that more children are being born into disadvantaged homes.


Amazing waste of medical time in public hospitals

HOSPITAL doctors spend more time socialising with colleagues, filling out paperwork and being interrupted than they do treating patients. Australian researchers found doctors working on hospital wards spend just 15 per cent of their working days treating patients. They are also struggling with constant interruptions, according to the University of Sydney report, which found doctors devoted a third of their time on "professional communications" such as meetings and requests for information not related to medication.

Doctors trying to see patients on their wards are interrupted to attend to other tasks every 21 minutes on average, and up to 15 times an hour for those working in emergency departments. Author Prof Johanna Westbrook said the study debunked doctors' commonly held perceptions about the time consumed by specific tasks. "What we found was that doctors on wards are interrupted at considerably lower rates than those in emergency and intensive care units," she said. "On average doctors spent 15 per cent of their time with patients. The results also confirmed what interns have been saying for a long time that they are dissatisfied with their level of administrative work and documentation."

The team from the university's Health Informatics Research and Evaluation Unit observed 19 doctors at four wards at a 400-bed teaching hospital in Sydney. Publishing the results of the study in the Medical Journal of Australia, Prof Westbrook said doctors had complained that searching for X-rays and records took "all their time", however that actual time spent on such tasks was less than 1 per cent.

Prof Westbrook said this study looked at changes after the introduction of computerised medical record systems. "While such systems are promoted as reducing administrative tasks of clinicians, concerns were raised that many tasks . . . may have actually been quicker with the paper-based systems," she said.


Monday, May 05, 2008


Press release about Australia's latest Greenie nonsense below -- from Australia's Carbon Sense Coalition -- via Viv Forbes []

The Carbon Sense Coalition today described the proposed Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) as "A Weapon of Mass Taxation". In a submission to the Garnaut Enquiry, the chairman of "Carbon Sense", Mr Viv Forbes, claimed that the scheme would have no effect whatsoever on world climate but every Australian would feel the oppressive cost and dislocations caused by it.

"Staggering estimates of the costs of forcing industry to purchase permits to emit CO2 are just starting to emerge: Germany (100 billion euros), Australia (up to $22 billion), New Zealand ($4.5 billion). The amazing fact is that even though consumers in many countries will bear oppressive costs, there may be no reduction whatsoever in CO2 emissions, and no beneficial effects on the world climate.

For full details of the submission by the Carbon Sense Coalition to the Garnaut Enquiry see here (PDF)

Radical laws to ban drinking alcohol at home

Paternalism gone mad in attempt to solve the unsolvable -- chronic and widespread alcohol abuse by blacks. Bans were tried decades ago and didn't work then but Leftists always feel the need to "do something", no matter how foolish it is

DRINKING a glass of wine in your own home could be illegal under extreme new liquor laws that rubber-stamp the use of no-go alcohol zones in NSW. Stirring up images of 1930s' prohibition in the US, the Iemma Government is using the total ban on alcohol in some Aboriginal communities as a blueprint. Under the plan, drinking hotspots across the state can be labelled as "restricted alcohol areas" for up to three years under new laws that are just 10 weeks away.

A document recently published by the State Government reveals the detail of the alcohol bans outlining that areas of "chronic alcohol abuse" can be slapped with a range of restrictions. "Restrictions will not be limited to indigenous communities," the paper reads. Under the new laws, any area of the state can be declared a restricted alcohol zone and it applies to the sale of alcohol as well as possession and consumption in any premises - licensed or not.

Speaking with The Daily Telegraph, teetotaller Gaming Minister Graham West said the bans will only be implemented if requested by a broad section of the community and will not be government enforced. Mr West said they would be decided on a case-by-case basis and developed specifically for the area. "This is for communities that say 'we have a specific issue and we want to try this as part of the solution'. It might be a restriction of types of alcohol, times of alcohol sales or (a ban on) alcohol being brought into the area," he said. "It could be that light beer only is allowed or it could be a restriction on all alcohol brought into the area - it is a full range of options that have been left pretty broad. "It must be community initiated. It is not a big brother approach."

Mr West said it was "new territory" and it was still undecided as to what penalties might be imposed if someone was caught with alcohol in a banned zone. He said the legislation was more likely to work in a rural town where it was more easily policed but did not rule out it being used in any Sydney metropolitan area. "We've got to work all this out. It is new ground for us. We want to see what the community wants to do and then look at the regulations that go with that," he said.

Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia's Paul Dillon said it was a radical solution for a serious problem. "This sort of thing drives things underground. No one who has any expertise in this area is saying we should ban alcohol," he said.


Imams say that the naughty bits in Islamic tradition must not be mentioned

The usual Islamic/Leftist respect for free speech, intellectual diversity and open discussion of ideas (NOT)

ANGRY Muslim groups have attacked the University of Western Sydney over an Islamic studies course they claim is too sexually explicit, promotes lesbianism and derides the Koran as misogynistic. Students, community members and the Australian National Imams Council have complained about the content of the course, Women in Arabic and Islamic Literature, being taught at the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies. They say it gives a negative view of women in Islam.

The imams council has circulated a petition recording its "deep concern with regards to the course structure and content", saying it involved "repeated and unjustified attacks upon Islam". Another group, Muslims for Peace, has branded the centre as "evil" and demanded lecturer Samar Habib be dismissed and the course abolished. "Now that its wicked nature should be crystal clear for all to see, Muslims should fear Almighty Allah and break all connections with this diabolical centre of Kufr (non-believers)," a bulletin on the Muslims for Peace website reads.

Dr Habib has declined to comment. UWS executive dean of the College of Arts Wayne McKenna said that, although the university was yet to receive a direct complaint, it was examining the content of the course.

The NCEIS, set up last year with federal government funds, operates out of three universities: the University of Melbourne, Griffith University in Queensland and UWS. It was established to advance knowledge and understanding of Islam and to play a leadership role in public debate on contemporary Islam. The course includes excerpts from The Perfumed Garden by Sheik Nafzawi, a book on Arabian erotica written in the 16th century and translated into English in 1886 that has been likened to the Indian Kama Sutra.

Dr Habib, who has written her PhD thesis on female homosexuality in the Middle East and has written an introduction in an erotic lesbian novel published overseas entitled I Am You, has been accused of promoting lesbianism. Homosexuality is forbidden in the Koran for both sexes. Dr Habib has also been accused by Muslims for Peace of teaching that it is not obligatory to wear the hijab, that the Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) are just Chinese whispers and that Muslim scholars can be ignored because they are males.

University of Melbourne's Sultan of Oman professor of Arab and Islamic studies, Abdullah Saeed, said concerns about the course had been raised at the centre's community consultative committee meeting this week. "Everyone has a right to express their opinion and views and that is what is happening," Professor Saeed said. "One of the essential things is to uphold academic freedoms and intellectual freedoms of students and the staff."

The imams council does not believe the course represents the normative traditional Islam as practised by most of the world's Muslim population. "The subject's emphasis on sexuality and its explicit sexual content is not reflective of normative Islam, which is what we thought the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies would attempt to portray," ANIC president Sheik Moez Nafti wrote.


Bra wars

Childish accusations from Leftists expose them to the same

West Australian premier Alan Carpenter has been forced to deny claims that he exposed a colleague's bra to fellow MPs as his political rival fights to keep his job over the notorious chair-sniffing incident. Mr Carpenter has said he is the victim of "scuttlebutt allegations", while Opposition Leader Troy Buswell says he is confident he won't be replaced by angry colleagues.

Mr Carpenter has come out fighting over suggestions that he lifted the top of a female colleague at a karaoke party in 2004, exposing her bra to 30 Labor MPs. Mr Carpenter is also alleged to have put his face near the breasts of another female colleague at the time. The premier, who returned to Perth from Europe yesterday, denied both incidents. He said the allegations were "baseless scuttlebutt designed to damage me politically". "There is no basis to it. We had a lot of fun. No one was upset," Mr Carpenter told The West Australian.

"Suddenly four years later in the middle of some sensitive political issues a suggestion is run around that I, and only I apparently on the whole night, did anything that anybody was concerned about. And yet 30 or 40 people in the room didn't see a thing."

Mr Buswell faces a spill motion a party meeting today in the wake of the embarrassing chair sniffing scandal. The Liberal leader has been under intense pressure to resign after admitting last week that in 2005 he sniffed the chair of a female Liberal staffer at parliament house after she had stood up. Party whip Graham Jacobs has said he will move a spill motion at a party room meeting today and support treasury spokesman Steve Thomas to take over from Mr Buswell.

But Mr Buswell told The West Australian that he had contacted MPs over the weekend and had been assured of their support. "My view is that I have had good feedback from my colleagues," Mr Buswell said. "I have had discussions with a large number of them over the weekend." Before becoming leader in January, Mr Buswell admitted snapping the bra of a Labor staffer last year and was accused of making sexist remarks towards another MP.

Mr Thomas said yesterday if he were nominated for the leader's position, he would accept. "I think the one thing I offer that nobody else does is a fresh start," Mr Thomas said. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party has set up a special committee to investigate the leaks relating to Mr Buswell's behaviour. The committee, headed by state president Barry Court, is expected to report within weeks. The committee was set up at the state council meeting at the weekend, where it's understood Mr Buswell was given a standing ovation after delivering an address about his indiscretions, The West Australian said.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Public hospital chaos

A chief doctor at a major hospital reveals below how our frontline medical system is in chaos. But many don't care, he says, until they need emergency treatment

I work in a public hospital emergency department, so that means any time you are in my part of the world, you are potentially my patient - you, your family, your friends. Tomorrow could be the day that a bad thing happens to you and your life is changed forever. That heart attack you knew was coming sooner or later, the crash on the freeway, the toddler found face-down in the swimming pool. Tomorrow, you could be rushed to my hospital - and I'll be doing my best to help you. But, as your doctor, I have to warn you: things are not good.

I'm a Queenslander born and bred and have worked in public hospitals since 1982. I am a specialist in emergency medicine. My team and I save people's lives for a living. We are good at it, and enjoy it. We deliver first-class emergency care to Queenslanders and those visiting (yes, tourists, I'm your doctor, too). I've travelled enough to know our state has a fantastic emergency response service and I'm proud to be part of it. Queenslanders expect it and you deserve it. So what isn't good? Put simply, our emergency departments - the place every ambulance rushes to - are already clogged with people. You'll notice that from the time you arrive.

It may be some time before we can find a space for you. Only the sickest people get immediate attention: the ones who can't breathe, the ones who are unconscious. If that's you tomorrow, I'll see you as soon as you arrive and I'll use my skills and experience to stop you from dying, work out what's wrong with you, give you the immediate treatment you need and then move you on to another doctor who specialises in your kind of problem. You usually don't remember me, but I don't mind. If I smile when I see you in the hospital kiosk next week, it's because I like seeing a good result. For everyone else, I'm sorry about the wait.

We try to be thorough and that means taking time with every patient. When it is your turn you will get the same treatment. But although year-on-year more people are seen in emergency departments across the country, that's not the only reason we're clogged with patients. A bigger problem is that we can't get people out of the emergency department.

Hospitals (public and private) often have no available inpatient beds, no available intensive-care beds, or no available coronary-care beds. Often, very sick patients stay in my emergency department until a bed somewhere comes up. Sometimes that takes hours or even days. They stay in the beds we need for the people coming through the door. We don't have rubber walls. Somebody has to suffer. Patients on trolleys are in the corridors, and there they stay until a free bed is found. Sound dangerous? Sure is. I am making life and death decisions in an overcrowded noisy chaotic environment, and it is your life or death I am deciding about. No wonder we're both stressed.

As your doctor, I warn you that when you come to my emergency department tomorrow your experience may not match All Saints with a neat solution after 47 minutes plus ads. I will do the best I can to keep you alive and get you where you need to be. That's all I can do. Since you are going to be my patient tomorrow, I have requests for some of you:

TO THE 28-year-old salesman whose car hits a tree after the party tonight: You can't drive better with a few drinks under your belt. And don't take your mate's girlfriend for a spin; after tomorrow, she'll never look the same again.

TO THE 78-year-old male retired railway worker with chest pain: I know your GP is very familiar with the medicines you take, but I will need to know in a hurry and sometimes it's hard to get through to the GP. Please make a list of your usual drugs and keep it up to date.

TO THE 42-year-old businessman: Don't tell people you're going to kill yourself if you don't mean it, especially if you're drunk. It will take hours before I can talk sensibly to you and, yes, you do have to stay in my department all that time. And you have to have a blood test. Really.

TO THE 19-year-old student, nine weeks pregnant and bleeding: We know how upset and worried you are. We'll get you into a bed soon. But mostly, what happens will happen, whether we get you into a bed or not. But we'll still try.

TO THE 85-year-old retired coalminer and respiratory cripple: We have the technology to pull you back from the brink over and over, but it's like skipping a stone - each skip is shorter and lower than the last and eventually there's not a lot to be gained from skipping again. When a few more days or weeks aren't worth the needles, the tubes, the masks and the whole carry-on, let me know. Say you don't want to do it any more. I will look after you. But don't wait until tomorrow, because by then you'll be on the brink again and too starved of oxygen for me to listen to you. No matter what you say then, I will resuscitate you. You need to tell it to your loved ones now. Then tomorrow, when you tell me you don't want to be resuscitated, that you want comfort measures only, I can check with someone who knows you and I will do my best to follow that wish.

TO THE 35-year-old female shop manager with recurrent abdominal pain: Please see your GP again before coming to us. Yes, we deal with belly pain, but your GP is well on the way to discovering what is wrong with you. Please persist with him or her. If you come to see us we'll just have to start all over again.

TO THE 21-year-old male: Don't inject speed. If you act psychotic we will need to treat you, even if you don't want it. Please don't hit us, bite us or spit on us, we are only looking out for your best interests.

AND finally, to the 53-year-old Queensland Health senior manager: We are drowning down here in the emergency department. I am your doctor, too, and I am tired of waiting for the problem to be fixed. Quality emergency care is critical for all of us. It's in everyone's best interest to get my department cleared and functioning optimally. I want space, I want staff who can do this job well, and I want time to train them. The situation needs some action now. We are all at risk.

To other doctors: I am your doctor, too. Please help me when I ask you for help with a patient. I'm not doing it to spoil your day. I've got people building up behind them and there's nowhere else to go.

Politicians and powerbrokers: I am your doctor, too. I know you have private medical cover; I know you have a good GP and other specialists who look after you well. But tomorrow it may be you who collapses while walking the dog, it may be you collected by the BMW that lost it on the corner, it may be your child who is hurt on the school excursion. No one is going to check for a private health insurance card. They'll bring you to me and I'll be your doctor then. How prepared and capable do you want me be?

To all of you who are my patients: I am doing the best I can under the circumstances. I can't save everyone. I can't be right every time. I won't be able to get to you as quickly as I would like, and nowhere near as quickly as you would like. And please be understanding. It's hard enough keeping you alive without being abused while I'm doing it.


The Left's grip on learning

Comment by Imre Salusinszky

When I abandoned university teaching at the beginning of 2003, after 20 years, I was careful not to construct a "God that failed" narrative around my reasons for going. You know what I mean: how the university system let me down, by its surrender to political correctness, or managerialism, or economic rationalism, or whatever.

In fact, while all those forces had some impact on the working lives of academics between 1983 and 2003, universities remained outstanding places to work. There are few jobs, possibly none, that allow their employees as much freedom to pursue their own interests. And within the constraints of increased demands for accountability -- demands that have affected every sector of the workforce, not just tertiary education -- universities in Australia continue to provide supportive environments for teaching and research.

I left for largely personal reasons and without a trace of bitterness or resentment. That said, there were irritating, almost daily incidents on campus that confirmed the takeover of universities by the world view of the green Left. For example, there was the exchange student from the US who, close to tears, told me of how, during a role-playing exercise in a drama class, his tutor had instructed him, in front of the other students: "You're an American, so you play thebully."

Then there was the honorary degree proffered to anti-nuclear messiah Helen Caldicott. Modern universities are creatures of the Enlightenment and should advance its aims. If there is a more potent counter-Enlightenment figure in Australia today than Caldicott, I can't think of him or her. At the time she was honoured, I mused on the confused response I would surely have elicited from the relevant committee if I had nominated a true Enlightenment figure and a genuine intellectual, such as Paddy McGuinness, for a doctorate.

And speaking of the counter-Enlightenment, every election would see the doors of some of my colleagues in the humanities faculty plastered with Greens propaganda, with several standing as candidates.

All of this was harmless, up to a point. One of the lessons life has taught me is that the inherent qualities of human beings -- their decency or mendacity, goodwill or nastiness -- cannot easily be read from their political opinions. I got on well with my colleagues and, even after I "came out" as a supporter of microeconomic reform and started moonlighting as a columnist who specialised in sending up the cultural Left, most of them seemed well disposed towards me.

Along with much else, the situation in universities, and my own situation, shifted ground after 9/11. Following the terror attacks, the cultural Left (as distinct from the mainstream political Left) made the classic misjudgment it has made whenever democracy and fascism have come into conflict in the past century: it refused to pick sides on the principle that anybody who attacks the US and its allies cannot be all bad.

My colleagues' expressions of horror at the loss of life on 9/11 were heartfelt, but were almost always followed by a subordinate clause beginning -- like this one -- with but. Exactly a week after the attacks, I received an email from the academics' union representative on campus inviting me to a candlelight "vigil for justice and peace" in support of the victims of 9/11: not the 3000 victims of the terror attacks, but the arbitrary and so far hypothetical victims the Great Satan was about to unleash his fury upon.

"We have all been saddened, horrified, at the events in the US last week," the email began. "Many of us are now extremely worried about the talk of war and vengeance on the yet unidentified enemy, and the escalation of violence that may occur if bombing of towns and cities in targeted countries occurs." The email went on to encourage union members to attend the vigil, "if you would like to stand up and be counted and send a message to our civic leaders and fellow Australians that indiscriminate violence against 'suspects' will not be OK, that the targeting of Muslims, Arabs, Afghanis or other people of a certain ethnicity, as undesirable, is not OK, or if you just want to be with others who are sad, worried and concerned about war and justice." I didn't. Events such as this, while they did not cause me to leave the university, certainly did not incline me to linger.

So what has prompted these autobiographical meanderings? It is that the Young Liberals have launched a campaign, under the banner Make Education Fair, in which they are asking university students to report examples of political bias by their lecturers, with a view to holding a Senate inquiry into the issue. The Young Libs have already been accused of a sinister exercise in McCarthyism, but that tends to be the response whenever the question of bias in public institutions -- schools, universities, public broadcasting, museums and galleries -- is raised. Those for whom diversity is a key buzzword appear to flee the concept when it is applied to them.

I don't think there is anything wrong with left-leaning academics or ABC broadcasters. I don't think they need to be disciplined, far less sacked. But the dangers of allowing the political spectrum in these institutions to begin at Bob Brown and veer left from there are manifold. It leads to a bifurcated culture in which intellectuals lose contact with the mainstream and frequently develop a sense of hostility and embattlement towards it. Second, it means students are not being introduced to some of the most exciting intellectual ideas of our time, those associated with free-market economics and contemporaryliberalism.

And in the longer term, the effect of an undiluted green gospel, presented as a curriculum in schools and universities, could be devastating. If the idea is allowed to take hold unchallenged that, rather than wealth creation, it is the effort to limit and regulate wealth creation that underwrites our wellbeing, future generations will have a much lower standard of living than we enjoy.

Rather than sinister, I regard the Young Libs' campaign as quixotic. You won't, and shouldn't, change the beliefs of people who work in universities or other public institutions; rather, you should try and make sure there are a range of beliefs represented. Diversity really is the point. But when it is those already in place who control recruitment, courtesy of staff capture, the possibilities of cultural change quickly recede.


The rise and rise of the secretive state

Below is a Saturday editorial in "The Australian" which says that freedom of speech has become a critical issue in Australia

TODAY'S World Press Freedom Day is about much more than journalists being able to do their jobs unimpeded. It is about the public's right to know the truth about how the governments they elect and the services they pay for, such as police and hospitals, operate. This year, the day comes at the end of an appalling week for press freedom.

On Wednesday, armed police from the Major Fraud Squad raided the Perth office of The Sunday Times newspaper. They spent four hours trying to prise out the source of a story that had embarrassed the Government of Alan Carpenter, a former journalist. The story was in the public interest, relating to a request by Treasurer Eric Ripper for $16 million to pay for advertising for the Government's re-election campaign. It was the second time in a month that police, whose stretched resources would be better employed fighting crime, had entered the Sunday Times offices to uncover the sources of political stories.

Speaking on behalf of the media coalition, Australia's Right to Know, News Limited chairman and chief executive John Hartigan said: "This is a disturbing reminder that governments in Australia will resort to legal muscle to redress political embarrassment. Do we now live in a country where whistleblowers and journalists can expect to be hunted down and charged if they reveal government information that is a matter of legitimate public interest? The answer, regrettably, appears to be yes."

The armed raid, reminiscent of those in countries such as Malaysia, erodes Australia's credibility in speaking out against the intimidation again meted out to the media this week in Fiji. The Fijian Government, known for its brutality, corruption and totalitarian rule, arrested Evan Hannah, managing director of The Fiji Times on Thursday night, forcibly removing him from his home, pending deportation. The arrest came two months after another Australian, Russell Hunter, publisher of the rival Fiji Sun, was arrested in a night-time raid on his home and deported.

Amid such repression, it should be reassuring to know that federal Labor, in the run-up to the November election, promised a mature and open approach to freedom of information. A Rudd government, the ALP's policy document said, would "drive cultural change across the bureaucracy to promote a pro-disclosure attitude". Information would be withheld only "where this is in the public interest". The Australian community would be able to "properly access information in the possession of the commonwealth Government."

These fine commitments have already melted into hollow rhetoric with the federal Government using FOI laws to block the release of advice about the wage-push inflationary effects of its industrial relations changes. In response to an FOI request from the ABC, the bulk of the 38 pages produced this week were censored. A Treasury official's lily-livered excuse was that full disclosure would "be contrary to public interest as they are internal documents containing information which could raise unnecessary debate on matters considered by cabinet". This ridiculous mindset, reflective of Orwell's Big Brother, deems economic debate "unnecessary" and against the public interest.

In reality, Treasury concerns about Labor's abolition of the Howard government's IR reforms have been known for months. In August, Treasury secretary Ken Henry underlined the importance of flexible labour markets for sustaining full employment. Months after the triumphant abolition of Work Choices, full disclosure of the relevant Treasury advice would have been no more than mildly embarrassing for the Rudd Government. But a cynic might suggest it feared the advice could come back to haunt it in the event of an inflationary wages breakout. The public interest, however, demands openness rather than a cover-up and Mr Rudd's silence on the subject yesterday was deafening.

This penchant for secrecy pervades both sides of politics and much of the legal system, to the detriment of public life. This newspaper, for instance, spent much of the last parliament battling former treasurer Peter Costello's blocking the release of data about bracket creep and the use of the First Home Buyers Scheme. The Australian lost the case in the High Court.

In a report released at last night's Australian Press Freedom Media Dinner in Sydney, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance noted numerous perturbing instances of censorship. These included the sentencing of former public servant, Allan Kessing, to a nine-month suspended jail term after he was found guilty of leaking a report on serious gaps in airport security to The Australian. The issue was vital to the public interest.

In the US, freedom of speech is fundamental to national culture and guaranteed under the First Amendment. Australia's establishment, in contrast, is increasingly embracing the censorious, "less is more" mentality of the taciturn British civil service. At every turn, civil libertarians battle to keep the public in the dark about lawyers' clients facing charges. States such as Queensland keep pertinent school performance data under wraps, while Tasmania refuses to release details of secret proposals for taxpayers to subsidise pipelines to service the controversial Gunns pulp mill. Secrecy, control and spin have rendered free speech fragile. This is bad for democracy and the issue deserves elevating to the centre of national debate.


Chair sniffer defended

It's a sad day when harmless jocularity is persecuted

Troy Buswell's wife has vehemently defended her husband - saying he is a good man and that others in parliament behave far worse. In her only interview following the latest damaging revelations about his past behaviour with women, Margaret Buswell also said the beleaguered Liberal leader was deeply remorseful about the chair-sniffing incident, but it was "just a joke that missed the mark''.

Mrs Buswell said her support for her husband was "rock solid'', that he had never done anything she would be ashamed of and that he should be judged on his policies and vision, despite the recent reports that have left him fighting for political survival. "He's sorry for what he did. He understands that what he did was offensive. But he would never intentionally offend someone,'' she said ahead of a party meeting tomorrow that will decide whether a leadership vote will occur.

"I think it was just a joke that missed the mark. I've known him since I was 16 and he's always had a sense of humour. That's probably one of the reasons people love him so much.'' She said her husband had a lot of integrity and she and both their families were very proud of him. "I think there's a lot of other people (in parliament) who should be worried, but it doesn't come out,'' she said. "Troy's not corrupt. He's not an adulterer. He hasn't run off with anyone up there, and that's all going on (in parliament). "That's why so many good people don't go into politics, because of all the rubbish that goes on.

"Is there anyone who could stand up and say that they've not done something that was misinterpreted in the past?'' The 39-year-old accountant said it should be remembered that the incident, revealed by The Sunday Times last week - where Mr Buswell sniffed the chair of a former Liberal female staffer in his parliamentary office - dated to 2005. That report followed others in this paper revealing Mr Buswell's infamous bra-unclipping incident, which happened at parliament in October 2007.

"He's changed his behaviour since he became the leader,'' said Mrs Buswell, who also spoke to this paper in March about the first incident. "He understands what is required of him now and he's trying to lead his party to the next election.'' Mrs Buswell said her husband initially denied the sniffing incident because he wanted to protect the woman involved, who had insisted that the events not be publicised. "That's the truth,'' she said. "The timing sucked. She changed her mind. It may have been the pressure she was under.''

Mrs Buswell understood why women might be offended by the reports of her husband's behaviour, but they weren't getting the full picture. "I'm not making excuses for what he did,'' she said. "What he did obviously offended (the woman) and if you were to hear about what he did on the radio, or read it in the newspaper, you may find it offensive. "But we've had hundreds of emails and texts and phone calls of support, non-stop, from people who know him and know his personality and sense of humour. "(They) know that he would never intentionally offend someone like that.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Call to adopt the tyrannical and much-criticized Canadian approach to "discrimination"

The usual Leftist devotion to crushing individual liberties below. Hans Bader has emailed me the following comment on it: "The Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, has made the pernicious proposal to put the burden of proof on people accused of racism to prove themselves innocent, rather than the government having to prove them guilty. Worse, he claims that that is how it is done in America. That is a false claim, since under U.S. federal antidiscrimination law, it is the plaintiff and government -- not the defendant -- that has the burden of proof, according to the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks (1993) and Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine (1981)". I reproduce a comprehensive article by Bader immediately after the article below

A STUDY of racial discrimination laws in several Western countries has prompted a call for the Government to toughen Australia's 33-year-old laws. Race Discrimination Commissioner Tom Calma wants the burden of proof in cases of racial discrimination to fall on the alleged offender, instead of the person making the complaint. Mr Calma said Australia's laws made it difficult to prove there had been discrimination.

A Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission analysis of other countries, including the US, Britain and Canada, shows that in those countries the onus of proof shifts to the person who has been accused of discrimination once the complainant has established an initial case. In Australia, the burden of proof rests on the person making the complaint.

Mr Calma will ask the Federal Government to review the Race Discrimination Act, which was established in 1975 and was the first human rights legislation introduced in Australia. The only amendments to the act were the introduction of racial hatred provisions in 1995. Mr Calma said some people who had been racially discriminated against did not lodge a complaint because they felt the process was too hard. "It is a difficult exercise to be able to get that evidence together and if the offending party doesn't want to co-operate then you can't progress it," he said. "We do get occasions where people don't want to co-operate, and then we're forced to terminate a case, and then the case might have to be taken forward to a court." The alleged offender can be summoned to court to defend themselves, but then it gets very expensive.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Race Discrimination Act had been a "strong and effective protection against racism". He said the Government had committed to conducting a wide-ranging national consultation on how to best protect the rights and responsibilities of Australians. "The courts have not identified significant areas of deficiency or inconsistency in the operation and interpretation of the act, which could be resolved by amending the act," he said. The Age believes that consultation could start by the end of the year. The nation's attorneys-general have also agreed to examine options to make Commonwealth and state anti-discrimination laws more consistent.

Mr Calma said if people were forced to defend themselves, it might make them think twice before offending. These kinds of complaints were usually a last resort. "A lot of people will tolerate behaviour, consider it a joke, until it comes to crunch point," he said. "You don't get vexatious complaints for the sake of complaints."

Peter van Vliet, executive officer of the Ethnic Communities' Council of Victoria, said Australia's racial discrimination laws needed to be strengthened. "There is a serious power imbalance, particularly between larger organisations and individuals who are being discriminated against," he said. "We certainly have a large body of anecdotal evidence that systemic racial and religious discrimination, particularly with regards to employment, exists in Australia."


Using International "Law" to Subvert Basic Legal Protections and Democracy

Article below by Hans Bader. Bader is legal counsel to the Competitive Enterprise Institute and has had experience in bringing and defending race discrimination claims in the U.S. courts. For a short time he also helped adjudicate discrimination claims at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The original of the article below has numerous links

International courts and "human rights" bodies issue rulings that purport to have the force of law. But much of their reasoning is based not on written laws found in any law book, or agreed to by any legislature or citizenry. Instead, it is based on vaguely-defined "customary international law," principles of so-called "natural law" derived from a supposedly "clear consensus" by enlightened people across the globe. But that "consensus" is often illusory, since it can easily be fabricated, manipulated, or distorted by international lawyers.

Lawyers are, on average, further to the left politically than the average citizen. And so-called international lawyers are even more so. (I used to practice international law at Skadden, Arps). Just as the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence, lawyers often claim that the law is more liberal elsewhere in the world than in their own benighted country, and that such liberal norms - at odds with their own country's law - constitute customary international law. Thus, it is commonly argued that customary international law bans the death penalty for mass murderers, and requires countries to ban disfavored forms of speech (such as "hate speech," or criticism of any religion), although in reality, the strongest support for bans on such speech actually comes from undemocratic regimes like Cuba and China.

It is hard to fight these claims even when they are false, because ordinary people (and even most lawyers) don't know much about foreign law. The lawyers who fashion "customary international law" are thus largely unaccountable. Perhaps as a result, customary international law is generally of poorer quality than domestic law. Scholars have cited this fact in celebrating the Supreme Court's recent decision in Medellin v. Texas (2008), which refused to make Texas hear yet another challenge to a murderer's conviction (which had already twice been upheld by different court systems) when ordered to do so by the International Court of Justice (a ruling at odds with the fact that virtually all ICJ member countries permit only one appeal of a conviction, not successive appeals).

Misleading the public about foreign law is common among "human rights" officials. For example, an official in Australia's new Labour government claims that people accused of race discrimination should have to prove themselves innocent, rather than being proved guilty. To justify this outrage, he and Australia's "human rights" commission claim that is the practice in America, when in fact it is quite the contrary.

American law puts the burden of proof on the complainant and the government, not the alleged offender, in discrimination cases. The U.S. Supreme Court explicitly so ruled in Texas v. Burdine (1981) and St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks (1993). But Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, and the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission falsely claim that under American law, "the onus of proof" is on "the person who has been accused of discrimination." (See "Call to Switch Onus on Racist Offenses," The Age, News, April 5, 2008).

Joseph H.H. Weiler, a law professor who co-drafted the European Parliament's Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms, made American legal thinking seem more liberal than it is, by inviting to Europe to represent it two of America's most radical law professors: the University of Michigan's Catharine MacKinnon, who considers most heterosexual sex to be rape; and Harvard Law School's Duncan Kennedy, who advocated having law school professors periodically exchange their positions with college janitorial staff in order to promote diversity and social equality.

By contrast, when laws across the world are more conservative than a law professor's own, they are studiously ignored in formulating "human rights" law (like the world-wide aversion of most countries' legal systems toward civil punitive damages and late-term abortions, which U.S. law often permits).

The very international "human rights" lawyers who insist that "hate speech" should be curbed are often radicals who are blind to certain forms of prejudice. A classic example of this is the disturbing Richard Falk, recently appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate Israel. Falk, a liberal Princeton professor emeritus, has likened Israel to the Nazis, praised the Ayatollah Khomeini (the Iranian dictator whose regime ordered the killings and torture of many religious and ethnic minorities in Iran), and promoted 9/11 conspiracy theories that accuse the U.S. government of complicity in the 9/11 attacks. Falk's wackiness may offend the general public and Israel, which plans to bar him from coming to Israel, but it apparently does not offend lawyers and state judges very much: it did not stop the Washington State Supreme Court from citing his advocacy of affirmative action to uphold a discriminatory, gender-based affirmative-action set-aside in public contracting, in Southwest Wash. Chapter v. Pierce County, 667 P.2d 1092 (1983).


Feds demand that banks cut fees - or else

I am in general suspicious of regulation but Australian banks are so appalling that they need something to shake them up. They are nearly as bad as Australia's phone companies -- and in both cases competition has done little to civilize them

AUSTRALIA'S profit-rich banks have been warned they face a new wave of regulation if they fail to cut fees and make it easier for customers to switch lenders. Laying down a big challenge to the finance sector, Treasurer Wayne Swan has called on the banks to review their existing fee structures. Mr Swan has promised fresh laws if they don't make it easy for customers to switch home loans and other accounts. In a bluntly worded letter to the CEOs of Westpac, Commonwealth, ANZ, NAB and St George, he said he would consider regulatory options.

The Government's tough attitude follows a review of bank fees, which found Australian customers were paying more for services than in Britain and the US. The Government is sensitive to claims it is not doing enough to protect consumers and is calling on the banks to review their fee structures.

"I would encourage lenders to review their existing fee structures, especially where exit fees are high relative to industry averages and might not reflect the underlying cost of terminating the loan," Mr Swan said, in his letter. He also called on the banks to look at ways to provide simpler fee wording to customers and improved fee disclosure. "I am committed to an industry-based solution to remove impediments to (bank) switching," Mr Swan said. "However, I am also prepared to consider the regulatory options that will be available to the Government following (the) decision the Commonwealth assume responsibility for the regulation mortgage credit and advice."

Last night the banking sector challenged the Treasurer over fees, claiming Australia was competitive. David Bell, chief executive of the Australian Bankers Association, said he did not want to comment on Mr Swan's motivation. But Mr Bell rejected suggestions the banks were price-gouging customers. "I don't believe the banks are charging excessive fees. It is not a simple matter to set up a home loan for someone," he said.


Toyota to be subsidized by the Australian taxpayer (!)

More Green/Left nonsense that will achieve nothing -- at great expense

CAR giant Toyota is poised to manufacture its hybrid Camry in Melbourne with a deal set to be clinched by mid-year. Talks are still underway but senior Toyota executives in Tokyo are strongly backing plans to make the company's Altona plant the regional production base for the green Camry, Fairfax newspapers report today. The deal will go ahead providing the right government incentives are secured, and the federal government is aiming for an announcement by the end of July.

Victorian Premier John Brumby has been in discussions with Tokuichi Uranishi, executive vice-president of Toyota in Japan. And senior Victorian cabinet ministers, armed with the government's $500-million green car fund, have met Japanese diplomatic officials and Toyota executives in an effort to secure the vehicle for Altona.

Federal Innovation Minister Kim Carr said negotiations with Toyota were continuing "fruitfully". The green Camry is currently in production in Japan and the US.


Independent Schools' call to deregulate education system

There's little chance of any of this happening but it's encouraging to see such thinking getting an airing

THE State Government should put the building and running of new schools out to open tender and release all details of individual funding, a new report on Queensland's education system urges. The report, commissioned by the Independent Schools Queensland lobby, lashes the present system, which it says ensures the Government has a conflict of interest because it delivers and regulates education services. It accuses the Government of using its regulatory and financial powers to restrict the supply and funding of private schooling at a time of severe pressure on the system, caused by population growth and the ageing of the teacher workforce.

Written by policy analyst Dr Scott Prasser, the report warns that, as with water supply, health and infrastructure, school education may be the next crisis the Government will have to tackle unless it changes the system. Calling for a more deregulated model of school education, it says that one in three of all Queensland school students attend non-government schools, but the sector is still treated as an "appendage" to the system. "There is a clear but largely unacknowledged conflict of interest between the State Government as a supplier of education services and a regulator of the public and non-government school sectors," the report says.

Dr Prasser, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, said the Government also should encourage more community involvement in the running of schools and the development of schools policy. Independent Schools Queensland executive director John Roulston said the group has commissioned the report to "promote informed debate" on school education policy issues.

Premier Anna Bligh said she would examine the report. Education Minister Rod Welford also received a copy of the report yesterday but had not read it. The report does not avoid criticising the private school system, saying all school sectors had resisted any moves to release more comprehensive school performance data to the public. "The public release of school performance data is one of the first steps needed to obtain a better appreciation of what is working in education," the report said.


Friday, May 02, 2008

Dangerous sex as the state of NSW enters the bedroom

If you are a man, sex got a whole lot more dangerous. Consider this scenario. A woman meets a man in a bar or at a party. She likes the man. He likes the woman. She may not normally be a sex on the first night kind of girl. But they have a number of drinks. Fuelled by alcohol, they put aside their inhibitions. The woman goes home with the man. She says yes to sex. In the morning, the man makes it clear it was a one-night stand. The woman is deeply offended and regrets her drunken decision. She claims rape. Under new rape laws introduced in NSW this year, that man is likely to be convicted as a rapist. He is likely to go to prison.

Rape reform in NSW means that post-coital regrets can now be refashioned into rape claims that send innocent men to prison. That's why Gold Coast Titans footballer Anthony Laffranchi is a fortunate man. He walked free from a rape charge last week after the prosecution failed to establish lack of consent. He and his then Wests Tigers NRL teammates met a woman at the Sapphire Club in Kings Cross in September 2006 and continued to party at a teammate's apartment. The footballer said he had consensual sex. The woman, who was "significantly affected" by alcohol, claimed she was raped. Had Laffranchi met the woman after January this year, he would probably be a convicted rapist facing a long stint in prison.

Let us be clear. Rape is wrong. It is a crime that calls for imprisonment. It can destroy a victim's life. But let us be clear about something else. Wrongful claims of rape are made. And they can destroy a man's life. No one knows whether a rape occurred that night when Laffranchi had sex with the woman. But under the old laws of rape, the defendant's actual state of mind was critical. If the accused had an honest belief that sex was consensual, the rape charge failed. And when the evidence became a simple contest between "he said, she said", a reasonable doubt would lead to an acquittal. Criminal law says that is as it should be; we are talking about a serious crime and imprisonment.

Not anymore. Now the rules have changed. Now, in a contest between he said it was consensual and she said it was rape, a jury may be forced to convict the man of rape without any further corroborating evidence. The new laws say that if a woman is "substantially affected" by alcohol, she may lack the capacity to consent to sex even if she says "yes" to sex. More disturbing, even if a man honestly believes consent was given, his state of mind is now irrelevant. Now, the man is effectively deemed to have knowledge of lack of consent if there are no reasonable grounds for believing consent was given. And it gets worse. When asked to determine whether the man had no reasonable grounds for believing the woman gave consent, the jury must ignore the fact that the man was drunk.

In other words, the fact that the woman who says "yes" to sex is drunk is highly relevant: it may vitiate her consent. But the man's intoxication must be ignored when working out whether he had "reasonable grounds" for believing consent was given. It is a curious law that says alcohol only affects the cognitive abilities of women.

These new rape laws degrade women. They treat them as helpless victims, stripping them of the power to make decisions about sex after consuming alcohol. Down a few too many Bacardi Breezers, and the law says you are no longer responsible for your actions. Is this really the message we want to send to young women? And for men, it's even more serious. As the President of the NSW Bar Association, Anna Katzmann SC, has pointed out, these new laws mean that the intoxicated man will be treated just like "the true rapist, the aggressor who inflicts himself on his victim, knowing they do not consent". There is no gradation of penalties.

Why is this happening? Lawyers point to the perfect storm. The intoxicated man is trapped between a strident but misguided feminist agenda and the law and order lobby driven by perceptions that rape conviction rates are too low. In reality, the low conviction rates reflect nothing more than the reasonable doubt that arises when, absent other evidence about an alleged crime in private, a woman claims rape and a man claims sex was consensual.

Stephen Odgers, a senior Sydney silk who chairs the Criminal Law Committee of the Bar Association, told The Australian that, while we all want a civilised world where people treat each other with mutual respect in all walks of life, including sexual interactions, the new rape laws are a "very blunt and brutal instrument" to educate and civilise us about sexual relations. He fears that the new rape laws, in effect, can be used to criminalise those who merely treat others with disrespect after a night of sex. "And people will end up going to jail for long periods as a result." That is why his committee, made up of almost equal numbers of prosecutors and defence lawyers opposed the reforms.

So how does a man navigate the consent nightmare? Bring a witness into the bedroom? Perhaps bring along a lawyer to guide him through every stage of consensual sex from foreplay to orgasm to ensure that the final, breathless and drunken "yes, yes, yes" is genuine consent? Similar rape reforms in South Australia led independent MP Ann Bressington to suggest earlier this month that perhaps "parliament could devise a sex contract which men could carry around in their pocket, next to their condoms". Bressington is concerned that otherwise sensible rape reform has gone too far, leaving "very little room for a decent defence of a man who has been falsely accused".

False accusations are helped along, says Heather MacDonald in the winter edition of City Journal, by feminist victimology and rape industrialists intent on redefining drunken sex where a bloke wants to get inside a girl's knickers in terms of the classic case of domination rape by power-hungry men.

If you are a man, you are entitled to be frightened by the new order. While society is still committed to a 1960s model of sexual liberation, encouraging men and women to explore their sexual desires, the state is also entering the bedroom trying to educate us about appropriate sexual conduct. Unfortunately, we may discover that civility cannot be legislated by criminal sanction without innocent men going to prison.


Great Aboriginal con

INDIGENOUS affairs is a tough gig. The decisions are difficult technically, socially and politically. There are plenty of people doing a great job in the fight to overcome disadvantage. But the fight is made more difficult by a large con job that operates in the background.

The con is when Aboriginality is exploited for personal or organisational benefit and it is permitted by either weak, ineffective bureaucracy or an uncritical mainstream Australia. The con operates on a national scale and there are perpetrators and victims on both sides of the cultural divide.

The 2020 Summit saw a revival of the con artists. The same old personalities attempted to hijack the debate and put governance and recognition above overcoming the social scourges affecting Aboriginal people around the country. It is a warped set of priorities that would have symbolism more important than overcoming substance abuse and improving household safety, education and economic participation.

It is easy for well-known personalities to remain at the podium delivering tired old rhetoric. But indigenous Australia has heard that message a thousand times in the past two decades and it isn't improving anybody's life. Sadly, there is an industry built around indigenous affairs and many of the stakeholders will fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo. We now need technically effective programs to overcome indigenous disadvantage. The time has come to call the real problems for what they are and to remove the false barriers.

The old style of administration in indigenous affairs has been marred by a game of dishonesty played by both sides of the cultural chasm. The game is played where there is a benefit to be obtained by one side so long as it is not questioned by the (usually all-too-compliant) non-indigenous accomplice. The perpetrator of this trick is hiding behind a "cultural curtain" and is telling non-indigenous Australians to have absolute trust in everything they are told by an Aboriginal person because, so the scam goes, anything less would be offensive or culturally inappropriate. It establishes a form of behaviour whereby a notion of culture, be it romanticised or perverse, is given greater importance than the lives of human beings.

Such behaviour is dangerous at a societal level. There are millions of mainstream Australians who want to believe in and support the indigenous cause. But offering support without questioning the real priorities is not helpful. Many have been tricked into directing energy into peripheral issues. Instead of being angry when they see shocking images of poverty, neglect and abuse, so many people have allowed themselves to be convinced by high-profile Aboriginal people that they should instead be focusing on representation and some sort of treaty. It is time for mainstream Australia to be critical of the old messages.

At the policy level, the effects are devastating as each year millions of dollars are wasted either on or by indigenous people who trade off their culture for personal or family benefit. Sadly, many non-indigenous bureaucrats either contribute to, or won't do anything about, this corruption. The defence is a misguided belief that such behaviour is a matter internal to the indigenous community or somehow is founded in Aboriginal culture.

Many policy solutions are wrongly personality-based rather than delivering measurable improvements. Instead of being sacked, the architects of these policy failures just do the rounds. There is a small sub-industry in indigenous affairs of bureaucrats who move from department to department or from one level of government to another. The result is that Aboriginal Australians suffer under soft social programs hopelessly incapable of solving complex technical problems. Politicians wanting to "do the right thing" make the easy or popular decisions rather than address the core problems, and year after year the scam continues.

There are many high-profile indigenous people who continue to benefit through this form of theatre in front of the uncritical masses. The past 20 years appear to have been a wasteland in terms of practical leadership and innovation. However, during this era, many so-called Aboriginal leaders have had the ear of the federal, state and territory governments, they have had access to big business and they have been well funded without having to produce an outcome. Opportunities, goodwill and billions of dollars have been squandered.

The common rule for sport and business is that you either perform or you are replaced. That is how teams and companies maintain a path of improvement. But for some bizarre reason this rule doesn't apply to indigenous affairs. Instead foisted upon us year after year is the same technical incompetence.

It's time for a new approach: eschew the personalities and tackle the problems. As a nation our goal should be to overcome indigenous disadvantage within 10 years; to say it is going to take a generation to turn around is defeatist rubbish. I would suggest anyone advocating change over a generation or two is most likely trying to secure their own working future through into retirement (or maybe they are doing a post-doctoral longitudinal study of an indigenous community somewhere).

It is time to apply technical solutions to technical problems. Under the new approach we need people with the technical capacity to bring about substantial and sustainable improvements. The people with the necessary skills may not be Aboriginal and no doubt this will horrify the old guard. The important thing is to get the right skill set. Highly influential indigenous leaders will resist this at all costs, as it will undermine their profiles. But we must be able to recognise a con.

Change will not come any time soon unless we cast aside failed ideologies of the past and programs that cannot demonstrate measurable improvements. Community-level solutions are required to address substance abuse, improve education and enhance economic participation. It may well be that some form of representation is necessary if it is connected to community-level solutions, but let's not have the tail wag the dog; the last thing we need is a reinvention of Aborigines Talking Shit In Canberra (ATSIC).

I would suggest the real action doesn't even happen in Canberra. It is the states and territories that have carriage of responsibility for the important day-to-day services which have the greatest influence on the quality of life for indigenous people. Even though most self-respecting activists probably love to hate the federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, it is the states and territories that deliver (with varying degrees of success) services such as policing, health, education and housing. When these services are neglected, entire communities suffer and people live without hope.

This is another example of the misguided outcomes from the 2020 Summit. The summit's emphasis of federal bipartisan support for indigenous affairs is not all that relevant, considering it is the Labor Party heads of states and territories that are consistently under-performing through ill-conceived, ad-hoc programs designed to market action rather than actually solve problems. In each jurisdiction substantial changes are needed to their methods of operation. There's not much the federal Opposition Leader can do about that. Under the new approach we need to hold accountable the states and territories.

The paralysing effect of consultation is yet another problem on the list of con jobs that must be managed. The trend in recent years has seen indigenous programs subject to debilitating consultation, as if for some reason Aboriginal communities must reach consensus on all matters. Granted, there are plenty of instances where consultation will improve the effectiveness of a project, however there needs to be a balance between the legal or business outcomes and the benefit of imposing additional time and costs. There isn't much time to build strong communities when people spend their time in an unending stream of meetings.

Under the new approach we need to hold accountable Aboriginal leaders of communities and organisations. Within their membership or geographic area there must be performance outcomes in the fight to overcome disadvantage. There should be no latitude when people attempt to hide behind or exploit culture while spending taxpayers' money.

If there is any bureaucrat that questions whether such accountability is appropriate in Aboriginal culture, then we will know the old confidence tricks are still alive and well.

Next time you are at an event and an indigenous person is expounding a course of action; ask yourself who is the real beneficiary and whether what they are proposing will help build safe, vibrant and economic communities


A republic would give a lot more power to Canberra

And reduce the independence of the States

AUSTRALIA since Federation has been in many ways a crowned republic, but one with some unique historical and constitutional features that have subtle but important ramifications. Under the present system it is a more or less working federation. Under a republic it is hard to imagine how federalism could continue to work.

Any change to a republic, including, and even especially, the minimalist change of substituting a president for the Queen or whatever, doesn't stop there. Not by a long shot; the radical nature of the change is not immediately obvious.

The weight of constitutional scholars' opinion is that the governor-general, not the Queen, is the Commonwealth of Australia's head of state. The posts of the governor-general and of the state governors are more than merely ceremonial: they carry with them the reserve powers to, as a last resort, sack governments. It is very doubtful the Queen could do this in Britain, but it can and has been done in Australia. As the Kerr-Whitlam sacking proved, the Queen does not intervene in Australian politics either. (Labor asked the Queen to intervene and was told that this was impossible.) Governor-general John Kerr sacked the Whitlam government in 1975 and governor Philip Game sacked the Lang government in NSW in 1932.

These powers have been used sparingly, just twice since Federation. Arguably, they should have been used more often when there has been manifest misgovernment and malfeasance in various states, but they are unquestionably there and for real.

The point is that the state governors make their oaths to the Queen, not to Canberra. If it became necessary to sack them, it would be the Queen who formally did so. In a republic, the only person who could appoint, and take the oath of loyalty from the state governors would be the governor-general, el presidente or whatever the federal head of state was called in the new system. This would mean that the state governors would act in the governor-general's name, not the Queen's. The governor-general would also have the power to sack any state governor who displeased Canberra and appoint a new one.

This would mean they would be subordinate to the governor-general, but also - and this is the nub of the matter - it would mean, given that the state governors have the power to sack state governments, that Canberra, using the state governors, would have the power to sack state governments. This would basically mean, for better or worse, the end of the Australian federal system as we know it.

This is not a party-political issue: both Labor and the Coalition when in government at the federal level have shown strong centralising tendencies, though only Labor has a formal commitment to abolishing the states. The Whitlam government made a very determined push to destroy the states' independence through the Australian Assistance Plan, centrally funded and administered regions and other initiatives. The last days of the Howard government saw other centralising tendencies in not only industrial relations and some Aboriginal affairs (the latter certainly for compelling reasons) but also what looked like an attempted takeover under Malcolm Turnbull of inland waterways, contrary to section 100 of the Constitution, which clearly reserves control of waterways for the states. The accumulation of central power is a constant process unless there is law to stop it.

If Canberra were given such additional power as a republic would bestow on it, there is no reason to believe that it would not use it sooner or later; indeed, even the knowledge it was there would probably be enough. A federation where the constituent states do not have definite areas of independence is no federation. If a US president tried to sack the government of a state - although the US is a federated union, not a federated commonwealth, as with Australia - the result would be a political earthquake on any scale up to civil war.

In fact in the US polity the idea does not even arise. In Britain today, London cannot sack the Scottish National Assembly. The Australian prime minister, alone or with the governor-general acting on his advice, already has far more power than a US president. He alone can call elections, summon and close federal parliaments, declare war, appoint ambassadors and appoint judges to the Constitutional Court without the congressional approval necessary in the US. He de facto appoints the head of state. Should the head of state de jure control the state governors, and through this control the lives - and therefore the policies - of the state governments, this would be a huge expansion of these already great powers.

If most Australians in most states want such a huge change in the Constitution, so be it. But they should be aware of what they are doing. Even a minimalist republic means far more than merely replacing the Queen.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Recent Australian attitudes to immigration

Australia has a long history of encouraging immigration and a consensus of long standing about that. The consensus arose out of the fact that Australia is quite "empty" comparted with the billions of people in lands to our North. It was felt that a bigger Australian population was needed for defence purposes. For that reason, approval of immigration is unusually high in Australia. Approval has been kept high by the fact that most immigrants to date have been from Europe and Asia -- bringing people to Australia who assimilate very successfully to Australian society. Recent arrivals of significant numbers of Muslims and Africans seem likely to fray that happy situation in the future, however. The famous Cronulla riots were a reaction to perceived Muslim arrogance and hostility. Some statistics below and thoughts about prosperity and immigration. The years under the recently deposed Howard government were ones of high and rising economic prosperity

The long economic boom probably does much to explain another paradox. Under Howard, our immigration program was built up to record levels. The more the economy boomed, the more migrants he let in. But while all this was happening, public disapproval of immigration was falling, not rising. In the middle of last year only 35 per cent of respondents considered the intake to be too high, half the proportion feeling that way in 1996. Almost half the respondents considered the balance of immigration from different countries to be "about right".

It's true that only a third of people approved of government assistance to ethnic minorities to maintain their customs and traditions. But such spending is never popular - it's seen as benefiting select minorities, not the nation - and, if anything, approval is up a bit. Overall, almost 70 per cent of people agreed with the proposition that "accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger". But agreement was higher among men than women, varied significantly between states, was higher in state capitals than the rest of the state, and tended to decline with the rising age of the respondents.

Agreement rose with the respondents' level of education. Predictably, it was higher among those born overseas than those born in Australia, and highest among those overseas-born from a non-English speaking background.

Of course, the degree of actual contact with immigrants varies greatly between city and country, as well as between capital cities. Overall, just under a quarter of the population was born overseas. But the proportion ranges from 35 per cent in Sydney, 34 per cent in Perth and 31 per cent in Melbourne, to 25 per cent in Adelaide, 23 per cent in Brisbane and 13 per cent in Hobart.

Why did Howard's reign see us become so much more relaxed about high and rising levels of immigration? Predominantly, I guess, because of our rising economic security. Historically, we've been leery of migrants when we feared they'd take our jobs or drive down our wage rates. As part of that, people may have found the move to a much higher proportion of immigrants with scarce skills - and so a lot less family reunion - less threatening.

But I suspect the very fact that Howard seemed so suspicious of immigrants - so tough on asylum seekers, so insistent that we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come - has reassured many people that the Government's in control and can be trusted to protect our interests. So the era of Pauline Hanson has passed - partly because Howard, seeing his voter base under threat, promptly donned some of her clothes.

Rudd, of course, fully intends to keep the high immigration program going, although he's likely to be somewhat less punitive in his treatment of unauthorised immigrants and a lot less punitive in his rhetoric. It will be interesting to see whether, with a slowing economy and without all the waving of sticks, he can preserve the present retreat from xenophobia.


Hospital sits unused as man dies from lightning strike

The TV comedy "Yes Minister" comes to life -- tragically

A man struck by lightning in far north Queensland has died after he was unable to be treated in a hospital - which sits unmanned despite being built almost six months ago. The man, Joey Tamwoy, believed to be in his mid 30s, was on a crayfish expedition with a friend in waters off Darnley Island in the Torres Strait when he was struck by lightning about 3pm on Tuesday. Mr Tamwoy, a well known local man who worked as a garbage collector for the Torres Strait Island Regional Council, was alive when the small tinnie he was aboard returned to shore. However he died a short time later. It could not be confirmed whether he died before or after he was admitted to the island's existing medical centre.

Medical staff operate out of the condemned building, which locals say is rat infested and occasionally without running water, despite the completion last year of a $5.3 million hospital, just 200m away. But the new hospital is a virtual ghost facility despite being operational since December last year. A temporary generator was installed before Christmas that can power the entire hospital, except the morgue and doctor's quarters. Despite that, Queensland Health has refused to commission the hospital until full scale power is provided to the remaining areas.

A Torres Strait Islander, speaking on the condition he remain anonymous, said he and others on the island believed Mr Tomwoy's life could have been saved had the new hospital been staffed. ``They have stuffed us around for so long,'' he said. ``They finished it last year and it's just been sitting there doing nothing. ``Maybe it could have saved him. He had a pulse when he came to shore. ``Lots of people survive a lightning strike.''

The man said Mr Tamwoy, while ``no angel'', was a ``decent bloke'' who was much admired on volcanic Darnley Island, a tiny indigenous community of about 350 people, most of whom are in shock at his death. ``He didn't have to go out like that,'' he said. ``He was a good guy. ``No one can believe it. We're all just very sad and shocked.''

The island has been without a registered nurse since late March when the island's only nurse left amid concerns at the decrepit old medical centre. Beth Mohle, the assistant secretary with the Queensland Nurses Union, said the nurse was keen to return to the island when the new hospital opens. ``Our member has always been keen to get back to work on Darnley as soon as is practical but unfortunately the nurse's old facility is condemned and the new facility hasn't even been commissioned yet,'' she said.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson told state parliament yesterday the ``power supply issues (at the facility) should be resolved this week''. Ms Mohle said the hospital was probably closer to opening sometime in late May, a claim backed by Queensland Health's northern area general manager Roxanne Ramsey.

Ergon Energy declined to comment on when the hospital would be fully operational. Electrical infrastructure has already been delivered to the island but a native title and cultural heritage assessment of the area needs to be undertaken before construction work commences. ``It's a top priority project and we'll finalise it as soon as all other party's needs are satisfied,'' Mr Bowes said.

Mr Tamwoy's body was yesterday flown to Thursday Island for an autopsy. The scandal is yet another for Queensland Health in the Torres Strait. In May this year a nurse was raped while sleeping in her quarters on Mabauig Island. The alleged attack occurred despite forewarnings about safety from the nurse herself, 27, and others, in remote Queensland communities.


Changes to Qld. spanking laws watered down

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to outlaw the smacking of children have been watered down. Under new proposals it will be impossible for parents to hide behind a legal defence that allows them to assault their kids under the guise of discipline. Section 280 of Queensland's Criminal Code at present allows a parent, guardian, or teacher to use "such force as is reasonable under the circumstances" when correcting, disciplining or managing a child. Former attorney-general Dean Wells had wanted a legislative ban on parents smacking their children. He said last year it was "unlawful to hit your next door neighbour with a stick, it ought to be unlawful to hit your kids with a stick".

Mr Wells told a public lecture in Brisbane last night that he now wanted to amend the legislation so it no longer operated as a defence to any kind of assault on a child - other than a common assault, such as a non-injuring smack. "The effect of this would be to allow parents to smack their children, but not to injure them, not to inflict on them an assault occasioning bodily harm, or grievous bodily harm," Mr Wells said.

Neither Premier Anna Bligh nor Attorney-General Kerry Shine responded to requests for comment on the push. But the Labor MPs for Ipswich, Redcliffe, Barron River and Cook (Jo-Ann Miller, Lillian Van Litsenburg, Stephen Wettenhall and Jason O'Brien) backed the proposal.

The New Zealand Parliament last year controversially legislated to make it a crime for parents to physically punish their children, with the decision to prosecute left to the discretion of police. The proposed Queensland amendments would not go that far. Ms Miller, one of those MPs who supported the push, said the change being sought was not about outlawing "short smacks" but punishments like beltings. "I think children should be protected from the use of excessive force," Ms Miller said.

Mr O'Brien - who said he would not support a complete ban on smacking even though he did not physically punish his own child - also said he expected wider support to be "tested over the coming months". Mr Wettenhall - a former lawyer - said: "Although I don't condone the use of physical force as an effective form of discipline for children, confining the defence to charges of common assault would be a reasonable compromise that acknowledges it is not in the public interest that parents be liable to criminal conviction for very minor acts of domestic discipline," he said.


Homosexuals lose one

THE DECISION to ban students from escorting gay partners to the Anglican Church Grammar School formal next month has been fully endorsed by the school council. Up to eight students had wanted to take boyfriends and raised the issue with a senior staff member, who passed the request to Churchie headmaster Jonathan Hensman. At the time Mr Hensman said it was not appropriate for students to take a same-sex partner because escorting a young woman to a formal was part of the boys' education. But after reports in The Courier-Mail Mr Hensman referred the matter to the school council.

A brief statement posted on the Churchie website yesterday said the council "strongly supported the headmaster's position on the school's education programs in social settings". Council members also "thanked the headmaster for his leadership and his ongoing commitment to the highest standards of education for Churchie boys". The nine-member council is chaired by company director Barry Kelly and includes Mr Hensman. Anglican Archbishop Phillip Aspinall is the council president but a spokesman said he took no part in the discussions.


The wonders of public transport again

Are they SERIOUSLY trying to get people out of their cars??

Commuters are concerned about the reliability of bus services around the suburb after a driver abandoned passengers 2km from their destination. The 376 bus, bound for Stafford City shopping centre, stopped at Thistle St, Gordon Park after the Brisbane City Council driver said he had been driving for five hours and needed a meal break. The 19 passengers were told to walk to Stafford City or wait half an hour for another bus.

"I was astounded. I had never encountered anything like that before. He just stopped the bus and said everyone had to get off,'' said a northwest resident who did not want to be named. A regular bus commuter, John Pimm, was not on the bus but believed the driver should have driven the extra time from Gordon Park to Stafford. "I have been on buses where they have driven past stops because they didn't have time,'' he said. "I heard the other day a bus was running late, so he piled everyone off the bus so he could get back to the depot on time.''

The 376 bus has three services per day on weekdays. Rail, Tram and Bus Union secretary David Matters confirmed the incident involving the 376 service, but said the driver could have faced fines and lost demerit points from his licence if he continued driving beyond five hours. Mr Matters said the driver would also have been liable had an accident occurred. The five-hour driving limit is enforced under the Transport Operations Act. "There are problems with scheduling with this particular bus - the run needs to be timetabled,'' Mr Matters said. ``A lot of passengers say the bus is usually half an hour late or doesn't come at all.''

Mr Matters said bus drivers were frequently driving beyond the legal five hours because of traffic delays and because the BCC control centre was urging drivers to break road side. ``It occurs quite often where drivers take breaks beside the road,'' he said.

Chair of the transport committee Jane Prentice said the 376 bus driver thought he would have completed the route before he hit traffic. ``Usually we have arrangements in place, we would have a driver ready to step on to the bus,'' she said. ``On this occasion this didn't happen. I understand we had a back-up bus to pick up the passengers,'' Cr Prentice added.


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