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

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


31 May, 2012

The "yellow peril" again?

Much of the world --mainly the vast countries of India and China  -- is undergoing rapid economic development.  The raw material of that  developent is of course people  -- followed closely by steel.  Steel is needed for everything, from machinery to buildings.  And steel is made from coal and iron ore.  So the demand for those two inputs is growing exponentially. 

Providentially, Australia is relatively close to both East and South Asia.  And Australia's West coast has gargantuan reserves of readily recoverable iron ore while Australia's East coast has gargantuan reserves of readily recoverable coal.

So Australian companies are digging like crazy and will pay almost anything to get the workers who work the digging machines and do all the associated tasks.  But the demand for skilled workers willing to work in isolated areas is so difficult to meet that it is hampering the development of new mines.  Solution:  Import skilled workers.  And the Australian government has agreed to that -- issuing "EMA" permits.

Enter the unions.  And enter  people with the traditional Australian fear of "cheap" workers from China.  The result is a deeply unattractive debate.

JULIA Gillard's concessions to unions over skilled migration in the mining sector have inflamed xenophobic sentiments, sparking business warnings of potential damage to Australia's relations with its Asian trading partners.

As the Prime Minister last night strongly defended her policy of putting Australian jobs first, the mining sector complained that "racist innuendo" surrounding Labor's new Enterprise Migration Agreements had taken politics to "a new low".

Former Queensland Labor treasurer Keith De Lacy, a former Macarthur Coal chairman, said "a fair bit of xenophobia" had underpinned the debate over EMAs, while the chief executive of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, Steve Knott, likened it to the debate over the White Australia policy. And in an address to the Minerals Council of Australia's annual dinner last night, Rio Tinto managing director David Peever warned against the dangers of divisiveness.

While the opposition yesterday demanded the Prime Minister pull her backbench into line or risk alienating Asian giants including China and Japan, former federal MP Pauline Hanson told The Australian that mining sector jobs had to be reserved for Australians.

The former One Nation leader declared she had "grave concerns" about EMAs, as north Queensland independent MP Bob Katter warned on his website: "Most Australians do not believe our country should be run by foreign interests who are determined to enforce a master-slave situation and undermine our workers' wages."

The highly charged rhetoric follows Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's decision last week to allow the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia's Pilbara - which is 70 per cent owned by Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting - to hire up to 1700 foreign workers for the proposed $9.5 billion mine's construction.

Despite the design of EMAs having been settled months previously, Ms Gillard told union officials last Friday she was "furious" about the Roy Hill EMA and on Tuesday she agreed to the formation of a Labor caucus committee to oversee Mr Bowen's handling of future agreements.

Yesterday, the debate took a fresh turn as business leaders and the opposition warned that Labor had opened the door to a rise in xenophobic and racist sentiment. Pointing to comments from Mr Katter and Labor MPs including Kelvin Thomson and Doug Cameron, they said the debate about foreign labour had taken a distasteful turn that was against Australia's interests.

Mr De Lacy attacked the involvement of the Labor caucus committee, declaring the government had already taken two years to work out EMAs, which can be awarded to mega-projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 employees. "It is just economic vandalism to fiddle with it in this way for all the wrong reasons," Mr De Lacy told The Australian.

"And the wrong reasons are: it's not as though there's people there; there's a fair bit of xenophobia involved with it. It just proves once again that the resources sector increasingly is feeling that it is being treated as the enemy. "Are we the only country in the world that treats as the enemy that sector driving the economy and driving prosperity?"

Mr Knott accused critics of the agreements of resorting to "racist innuendo" that he likened to the debate over the White Australia policy. "The embarrassing political discourse surrounding Australia's need for a targeted migration policy to address peak construction labour demands has taken politics to a new low," he said.

"We're deeply concerned a number of our elected politicians appear to have joined the current campaign of negativity, lies and self-interested fear-mongering, complete with recurring misinformation about migrant rates of pay and sub-standard treatment.

"The racist innuendo and slurs against these workers is abhorrent and divisive, and must stop."

Mr Peever last night told the MCA dinner that "divisiveness can have no future in the vibrant Australia to which we aspire, where all Australians can be better off and continue to enjoy the unique fruits of this great land".

"Mining has a pivotal role to play in creating this future for all Australians and for our country," he said. "Complacency and inadequate understanding of the drivers for the sector are our enemies."

Howard government foreign minister Alexander Downer said the reaction from the unions and some elements of the Labor Party to the EMA was a profound embarrassment for Australia.

"It was a really ugly outbreak of xenophobia, and if Australia wants to work with Asia and work with its region, it's got to get over this sort of behaviour," he said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said she believed Labor MPs, including Senator Cameron, had framed their recent comments about the EMA to appeal to racist and xenophobic sentiment.

"It sends a very poor message to our region that we don't welcome foreign workers," she said.

"These projects will not go ahead unless we are able to access workers from overseas. We should be welcoming them."

Ms Bishop said Ms Gillard should reprimand members of her caucus for resorting to "inflammatory and racist language". Ms Gillard said last night Australia would always need skilled workers and that demand would increase as the economy continued to grow.

"While grappling with that challenge, Labor will do what we have always done - put Australian jobs first," the Prime Minister said through her spokesman.

"This is an important policy matter, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition shouldn't be trying to exploit it. If the Liberal Party genuinely cared about Australian jobs, they would join with the government in supporting the Australian car industry; the Australian steel industry; as well as the retail sector, through tax cuts and cash payments."

South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon warned that while he welcomed skilled migrants, it was fair for people to ask whether policies were configured to ensure that Australians were given every opportunity to access work.


A face behind the "yellow peril"

Chinese worker is a good man - and a godsend

TO his boss, Chinese boilermaker Yong Jun Li is a godsend.  The 40-year-old is part of a small team of tradesmen, some Australian, some Chinese, who are busy in Perth's southern suburbs making mechanical anchors for the Gorgon gas project in Western Australia's far north.

Mr Yong, his wife Lan Hua Wang, 42, and their 16-year-old daughter Xi Li came to Australia in stages, starting with Mr Li in 2007 on a 457 work visa.

He rejects the accusations that migrant workers like him are cheap labour or are taking jobs away from Australians.  He understands he is needed, and does not feel any resentment from his co-workers.

Mr Yong's view is straightforward: work should be based on merit regardless of where a person comes from or the colour of their skin. If the Australian is better at the job, he should get the job. If the Chinese 457 visa worker is better, the gig should be his.

"If my work is good I deserve the job, if it's no good I should go home," Mr Yong said.

Blake Engineering manager Dave Gibney said his business would be in trouble without him.  "He's the best boilermaker we've had come through here by a long shot," Mr Gibney said.

In turn, the Li family has grown to love their new life in Perth.   Their daughter is doing well at high school and wants to study business at university.  His wife is working six days a week as a cleaner and she and her husband save enough each week to pay for extra tutoring.

They also hope to buy a house one day if they are accepted as permanent residents so they can grow old in the country they say gave them the biggest opportunity of their lives.  "I like Australia. I am very happy," said Mr Yong, who also studies English at TAFE.

Mr Gibney said he tried hard, and for a long time, to fill his workshop with local workers before turning to 457 visas to top up its workforce.

WA, which has an estimated $225 billion worth of projects under way or in the pipeline, accounts for almost one-quarter of the 457 visas issued in Australia.

The WA government's Workforce Development Minister Peter Collier says the top priority in his portfolio is to prepare West Australians for work but that skilled migration "will be a necessary strategy to fill those jobs unable to be filled by the local workforce".

He says research by the state's Department of Training and Workforce Development suggests the state could have 150,000 fewer skilled workers than it needs within five years. By 2020, the deficit could be 210,000 workers.

The WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry has watched the state's labour market tighten, and says temporary skilled migrants play a vital role in helping fill the short-term needs of many projects in the construction phase where there are shortages for workers with specific skills.

"WA faces labour and skills shortages in many industries," a chamber spokesman said.  "If we don't boost the current growth in the workforce, WA will fall 210,000 workers short by the end of the decade.  "In certain industries, there are simply not enough workers locally to meet demand."

Mr Yong has put in his application for permanent residency and expects to receive an answer within a week.  "I hope I can live in Australia," he said.


Gillard turns policy gold into ugly national debate

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Bowen, in parliament this week, has outlined an indisputable rationale for an unambiguously good policy of the Gillard government. In promoting the economic advantages that will accrue to all Australians through the first Enterprise Migration Agreement, struck for the massive Roy Hill iron ore project, Mr Bowen has correctly pointed out that the option of recruiting up to 1700 temporary foreign workers will underpin the creation of 6700 jobs.

"This project is vital for Australia's future," he said, "and this agreement is vital for delivering it."

The logic is sound, the decision was sensible and the arrangement should prove a win for the mine developers, national economy, and local and guest workers.

Yet the government has contrived to turn this decision into a political own goal, which now has revived the ugly strains of 1990s Hansonism. Australian Workers Union boss and ALP national executive member Paul Howes said the deal helped the mining magnates that Labor was supposed to be attacking and ALP senator Doug Cameron led the xenophobic charge. "I just think that in the week where Australian workers are being marched off the job in Kurri Kurri and Tullamarine," he said, "that we're marching Chinese workers on to Roy Hill -- it just defies logic to me."

Other union leaders, Labor MPs and independent MPs have echoed these sentiments, descending into the sort of anti-foreign worker rhetoric we thought the labour movement had outgrown. This is disappointing, retrograde and could damage the national consensus that has developed around our immigration program.

Julia Gillard should have been able to condemn this reaction. But, rather, it was she who had encouraged it by expressing her anger about the EMA decision, behind closed doors to union leaders last week. So the Prime Minister has put herself in a humiliating and ambivalent position on this crucial national issue -- trying to give sustenance to the policy and, simultaneously, its critics.

This failure of leadership has resulted in an ALP caucus committee on EMAs to keep the executive in check. The independents have followed by forcing parliamentary committee scrutiny for EMAs. Potential investors, who have been encouraged by the EMA policy as a way to address skills shortages and provide bankability, must now consider added layers of red tape, administrative uncertainty and political doubt before committing to major projects.

Given the government's need for traction, a wise Prime Minister would have seized this announcement herself and revealed it at a media event in the Pilbara, with fully briefed union leaders, a premier and the world's richest woman by her side to add their endorsements. This way, Ms Gillard would have shown national leadership and demonstrated to the country that she had faith in our workers, our investors, our immigration program and our economic future.

Instead she has rankled her union backers, sown division in her ranks, unleashed populist independents, triggered a debate against foreign workers, complicated the process and created doubts in the business community.

In a perverse reversal of the alchemy of the mining industry, Ms Gillard has taken policy gold and turned it into dirt.


Chancellor slams Australia's university fee system as 'communist'

AUSTRALIA'S higher education system is akin to communism, one of the country's leading academics said yesterday.

Monash University chancellor Alan Finkel told the National Press Club the "centralised" system, in which the federal government sets course fees, was hampering Australia's research and innovation promise.

"What's happened in the last few years is they've freed up student demand so we've gone from a controlled sector … [that sets student numbers] but they've maintained central control, what I like to think of as a communist system in terms of how the universities are controlled from the federal government, which means we can't set fees," Dr Finkel said.
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"And if you can't set fees you can't increase the fees in order to have more money to invest in higher quality.

"So we need to allow diversification across the sector in terms of quality of research, quality of education."

Dr Finkel's comments come as Times Higher Education magazine published its inaugural "100 under 50" list.

The list is designed to showcase the "best" global universities aged 50 years or less. Australia performed strongly on the list, with 14 universities in the top 100.

Editor Phil Baty said the list was "brilliant news". "Only the UK has more representatives in the top 100 list than Australia, which beats the US, France, Germany and Canada," he said.

Australia's entries include Macquarie University and the University of Wollongong (tied at 33), and the Queensland University of Technology (40).


Another 1000 jobs cut from South Australian public sector

A FURTHER 1000 public sector jobs will be lost over the next three years.  The cuts - across all departments and agencies - are in addition to the 4100 public service job losses announced in last year's State Budget.

The latest cuts are expected to save the Government up to $160 million over the three years.

The Government aims to shed the jobs through a combination of targeted separation packages and natural attrition, but the move has sparked a storm of protest from public sector unions.

Public Service Association general secretary Jan McMahon warned that SA families would pay the price for job cuts.

Ms McMahon said the cuts would affect "real services" including social workers, youth workers and park rangers.  "We can't continue to lose the skills and capabilities and resources that are needed to deliver services to ordinary South Australian families and that's not to mention the loss of investment," she said.

"The public sector is not some faceless conglomerate, it's a critical cog in the wheel of our society.  "If it can no longer effectively deliver the services it is responsible, for then all South Australians will feel the pain."

Unions are already campaigning against previous job cuts they consider to be an assault on their members.

Treasurer Jack Snelling said he was doing everything in his power to ensure frontline services were not affected.

"Savings measures are needed to reduce the size of the Government, reducing the pressure on the state's finances while creating a leaner government," he said.  "Any full-time equivalent reductions will result from a mix of targeted separation packages and natural attrition and have been allocated across government agencies."

Treasury anticipates the separation packages will cost about $60 million, reducing the savings.

Business leaders and the Opposition have been highly critical of public service numbers in recent months.  The Motor Trade Association and Business SA called for widespread job cuts in their pre-Budget submissions.

Yesterday, the Australian Industry Group released its pre-Budget submission, calling on the Government to ensure the number of SA public sector employees, as a percentage of total employees, was the equivalent of the average of the other mainland states, and to deliver on its promise last year to reduce the public sector by 4100 jobs.

On June 1 last year, there were 84,882 full-time public sector employees, making up 12.6 per cent of the state's workforce. The numbers were as low as 66,933 in 2002.

The Advertiser reported in December last year that SA's public sector had grown by almost a quarter in the past decade, adding $1.3 billion to the Budget bottom line.

Less than a month later, the Government admitted the exact number of public servants was unknown because the last official report on workers was more than 12 months old.  The public service wages bill is predicted to grow from $6.6 billion in the current financial year to more than $7 billion in 2014-15.  Superannuation expenses will add another $400 million a year to that bill.

In its pre-Budget submission, MTA chief executive John Chapman said the Government needed more commitment to reducing public sector workforce numbers than it had shown to date.

After her recent re-election, PSA general secretary Jan McMahon said she would make the fight against public service cutbacks a priority.


30 May, 2012

"Death threats" to Australian climate scientists were all hokum

Scorn is not a death threat

The death threat saga has reached parliament, with questions being asked at a Senate Estimates Committee of Prof Ian Chubb, current Chief Scientist, but Vice Chancellor of the ANU until March 2011. Most amazingly, Chubb confirms there were no death threats until the journalists got hold of the story!

The Australian reports that Liberal senator Scott Ryan questioned Chubb, who responded that, in 2010: "A senior member of his staff came to him with concerns from the institution's climate scientists over emails they had received and said they had also had "a couple of visits from people who had walked in off the street".

The staff member expressed a desire to have the climate scientists moved from their then-location, Professor Chubb said. "We looked at what we could do and we moved them. Senator, we did not make a fanfare, we did not go public. We simply moved them and got on with our business,"

Basically they were given swipe card access. So does this incident refer to the "kangaroo cull" incident, or another? He goes on to confirm he never read the emails:  "They were at least abusive but let me be clear . . . I didn't read the emails. I trusted the man who came to me, he was a senior member of the staff and he represented concerns of the staff to me," Professor Chubb said.

Yes, it has been accepted all along that the emails were offensive. However, Chubb saves the best until last:  "For the record, there were no alleged death threats except when journalists picked up the story."

So is this a media beat up? Can we now assume that this means that during Chubb's watch as Vice Chancellor, which ended in March 2011 with the appointment of Ian Young, there were no death threats to climate scientists at ANU? If so, why are the ANU still insisting, through the ABC correction, that they did, in fact, receive such threats?

The window during which such threats must have been received is closing rapidly, and is now restricted to the period March - June 2011. I am still awaiting a response to the questions I sent to the ANU's media office on Friday, seeking clarification.

Time, I think, for the ANU to finally come clean on this mess.


New Gillard government red tape 'risks mega-projects'

BUSINESS and the Coalition have accused Julia Gillard of making policy on the run at the behest of union leaders after reports she was considering requiring a cabinet subcommittee to oversee new Enterprise Migration Agreements to protect Australian jobs.

The attacks came last night as unions rejected business warnings that more red tape would smother the new EMAs, specifically designed to meet labour shortages in the booming resources sector by allowing the engagement of foreign workers.

Controversy over the new agreements continues just days after Immigration Minister Chris Bowen outraged trade unions by granting the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia, which is 70 per cent owned by billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting, a permit to hire up to 1700 foreign workers for its construction.

While the design of the EMA, which can be used on megaprojects requiring more than 1500 workers and $2 billion in investment, simply delivered on a Labor decision announced more than a year ago in the 2011-12 budget, Ms Gillard amended the plan on Friday after union complaints, creating a Jobs Board to ensure Australian workers have the first opportunity to seek the mining-sector jobs.
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Yesterday the Prime Minister went further, telling parliament that although she backed the Roy Hill EMA she planned further "oversight" of the new system.

While she offered no detail, sources said last night a cabinet subcommittee could be used to monitor the situation. Although no details have been finalised, there was speculation the committee could include Wayne Swan, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten and Mr Bowen.

However, senior government figures were last night backing away from the move amid a backlash from Ms Gillard's colleagues about the message the establishment of such a cabinet sub-committee would send.

Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said last night the new committee and the Jobs Board were "complete overkill".

"Since Friday's announcement about the Roy Hill EMA, various union bosses have been lining up with the usual and over-the-top class war and anti-migration rhetoric," Mr Knott said. "The fact that the PM is jumping in to appease this union ranting by announcing further red tape to an already complex EMA approval process highlights the shallow depths of government decision making.

"The after-announcement decision of a government jobs board is bordering on ridiculous, at best a waste of taxpayers' money, at worst a plot for joint government-union control of critical labour supply pipelines for such mega-projects."

The Business Council of Australia was also concerned about the changes, taking the unusual step of going around Ms Gillard to appeal directly to Labor MPs ahead of a caucus meeting today. Tony Abbott last night seized on the ongoing transformation of EMAs chaos to accuse Ms Gillard of succumbing to panic.

"Julia Gillard is losing control of her ministers and losing control of government policy," the Opposition Leader told The Australian.

"This is just further evidence Julia Gillard can execute a prime minister but she cannot execute a policy or a program."

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, said the latest changes would make Mr Bowen's position untenable.

"Such oversight was not part of the policy when announced more than a year ago and would be another slap in the face to Mr Bowen, from a desperate Prime Minster who simply can't get her story straight," Mr Morrison said.

While Labor has made much of the economic upsides of the mining boom, Mr Bowen's announcement last week highlighted concerns about whether the nation would be able to supply the construction workers and engineers that resources mega-projects needed.

With Left faction convenor Doug Cameron having foreshadowed a caucus attack on EMAs, BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott wrote to all Labor MPs yesterday warning them not to give in to the "knee-jerk temptation" to smother the EMAs in red tape.

"The successful delivery of these projects is far from assured and one of the major barriers is the current shortage of labour," she wrote. "The government

has made the changes to the migration system in recognition of this very real risk."

She said employers agreed that Australians should be filling the jobs being created by the mining boom. "But the reality is that skilling-up Australian workers for these often specialised projects will take time, and even for workers who do have the right skills many simply don't choose to take (jobs) for understandable lifestyle reasons," she said.

"At a critical time for a number of major projects, the EMA program is all about helping Australia overcome temporary and acute labour shortages in high-performing sectors of our economy."

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies said the EMA's design had been settled through previous consultation. "If the government is now going to go back and revisit all the conditions and make the hurdles higher in terms of qualifying for an EMA, then we would be seriously concerned," said chief executive Simon Bennison. "I think that there are sufficient safeguards in there for the government to feel quite comfortable that the companies have got to be very diligent in making sure that they provide every opportunity to Australian workers in taking up those positions. So I would like to think that the government does not have a knee-jerk reaction to activities by a number of the unions."

Union leaders stood firm. New ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said he would push the government to ensure the Jobs Board was used to require companies to prove they had tested the local market and interviewed local applicants before winning approval to engage overseas workers.

Mr Oliver said the union movement had been telling the government for 18 months that mining companies should not be able to take the "lazy option" of importing labour.

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes maintains that the Roy Hill agreement "stinks".

He said while EMAs could be a "smart way" to proceed in principle they should not be approved until the local labour market was thoroughly tested.

Mr Howes said the Jobs Board should have been functioning before the Roy Hill deal was approved rather than being announced simultaneously.

Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union boss Peter Tighe declared the government would face a backlash if it did not require a Jobs Board for every project. "And if the government doesn't do that they'll have a political problem with the Australian workplace," he said.

"We just think that the arrangements around the EMAs are that loose you could drive a truck through them."

In parliament, Mr Bowen said Mrs Rinehart was proposing a $9.5bn project at Roy Hill and needed to be able to satisfy financiers that she could deliver the workforce to build on schedule. He said the EMA allowed the company to hire up to 1700 foreign workers, but they would work alongside 6700 Australians.

Mr Ferguson said Australians needed to understand that, without foreign workers filling construction vacancies to build the new mines, projects that would employ thousands of Australians over the long term might not be built.

Ms Gillard faced heavy opposition questioning over her position on EMAs in parliament. She said she supported the Roy Hill project, but in meetings with Mr Bowen and Mr Shorten last week had agreed to stronger oversight of the agreements.

Mr Shorten told The Australian that the Jobs Board would put the onus on employers to show that they had considered local workers before taking overseas workers for a project.

The union push is focused on the Jobs Board to be set up for Mrs Rinehart's project, but would also be applied to a looming agreement for several big LNG export facilities including Chevron's Gorgon project in Western Australia and Inpex in the Northern Territory.


Queensland hospitals postponing elective surgery and temporarily closing beds to get budgets back in the black

KEY Queensland hospitals have postponed elective surgery and temporarily closed beds as they battle to get overblown budgets back in the black before July.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has had to intervene to protect frontline workers amid reports some health regions were cutting too hard, but he has sanctioned reductions to some services.

Although insisting urgent surgery and emergencies would not be affected, Mr Springborg said some cuts were necessary to ensure new Hospital and Health Services were not lumbered with "Labor's debt" when they come into force from July 1.

"We're imposing a very, very strict financial discipline, otherwise taxpayers are the losers," he told The Courier-Mail.

Townsville Health Service will likely be $12 million in the red come June 30 and a leaked email shows District CEO Andrew Johnson has suspended temporary and permanent appointments, including frontline positions, for the rest of the financial year.

But Dr Johnson said in a written statement that permanent frontline vacancies continued to be filled, despite later stating the district's full-time equivalent staff had grown by an "unsustainable" 221 since December.

On the Gold Coast, six beds were closed and about 50 elective surgeries cancelled after senior theatre and ward staff resigned, with management deciding not to replace them until the new financial year.

Mr Springborg said Queensland Health was $300 million behind by the close of 2010-11.

In a memo to QH boss Tony O'Connell, he warned health regions could not defy an order that frontline workers be protected from a wider government freeze on appointments.

Together secretary Alex Scott accused the Newman Government of taking a "slash and burn approach" to balance budgets and said the union would lodge a complaint with the Industrial Relations Commission.

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle said she would write to Dr O'Connell detailing workers' concerns.


Liberal Party State government approves Gina Rinehart's $6b Alpha Coal mine in Galilee Basin

THE Newman Government has approved the $6.4 billion Alpha Coal Project in Queensland's Galilee Basin owned by Indian conglomerate GVK and Gina Rinehart's Hancock Coal.

The mine is expected to generate 3600 jobs in construction and 990 in operation.  It is also expected to be one of the biggest in Australia and is the first for the Galilee Basin.

Announcing the approval in parliament on Tuesday morning, Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney welcomed the decision and said the project would produce significant economic benefits for the state and nation.

"There'll be an estimated $11 billion boost to the economy during the mine's three year construction phase - 80 per cent of that will be retained in Queensland," Mr Seeney said.

"Once operational, Queensland's economy should see an economic boost of $1 billion per year from this mine alone.  "Australia can expect an $80 billion dollar rise in exports over the life of the mine."

Mr Seeney said the Coordinator-General had approved the mine with strict conditions and the move was a major step towards opening up the Galilee Basin's coal deposits.

"The proposal is for a 30 million tonnes per year open-cut coal mine and a 495km railway line from the mine to the Port of Abbot Point near Bowen," he said.

Mr Seeney made no mention of the possibility of the controversial enterprise migration schemes Ms Rinehart needed at her Roy Hill mine in the Pilbara.


29 May, 2012

Defence Force to remove Rising Sun badge from Grade 2 Slouch Hat, deeming it ‘disrespectful'

Adding a clip to the "Grade 2" hat would make more sense and be more respectful.  As I have worn a digger hat myself in my time, I feel rather strongly about this.  It just seems a snide way to downgrade a very proud tradition.  Men died under that badge

The Australian Defence Force has made the controversial decision to remove the badge from the downward brim of the Grade 2 Slouch Hat from July 1, deeming it "disrespectful".

A Defence spokesman said the decision had nothing to do with widespread cuts announced in the Budget.

"The Rising Sun Badge should never be hidden from view or worn pointed to the ground as is the case when worn on the downturned brim of the Grade 2 Slouch Hat, as this may be viewed as disrespectful," the spokesman said.

"This decision was made in respect of army's symbol."

Lieutenant General Morrison told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra today that it was his decision alone to ban the badge from the Grade 2 hat.

"The Grade 2 Slouch Hat is constructed in a way that its side can never actually be put up," he said.  Lt Gen Morrison said there was no interlocking latch on the top of the hat so it could never be worn up showing the Rising Sun badge. It had always been on the underside of the brim.

"It seemed to me to be inappropriate and I made the decision as the chief of army to take the badge off the hat," he said.  "It seemed disrespectful to me."

Lt Gen Morrison said most soldiers understood the logic behind his decision.  "I know that there have been a few people that have said that they don't agree with it," he said.  "It was on my shoulders to make the decision and I did."

The Rising Sun Badge will remain on the upturned brim of the Grade 1 Slouch Hat during ceremonial duties.

Soldiers will be allowed to keep the Rising Sun hat badges they currently own.

The Rising Sun badge was originally known as the General Service Badge but is now officially called the Australian Army Badge.


Queensland Health's 14,859 workers employed on temporary contracts could face cuts by Campbell Newman's government

About time.  They could cut twice as many without losing a single doctor or nurse

QUEENSLAND Health workers look set to bear the brunt of job losses ordered by the Newman Government as it continues slashing costs.

New figures show the department has 14,859 workers employed on temporary contracts - many of whom could face unemployment after the government ordered a freeze on extensions.

Education Queensland will also be heavily affected, with 13,774 temporary workers, followed by 1908 within Communities and 972 in Transport and Main Roads.

The exact job losses may not be known until August, when the Public Service Commission prepares its next quarterly workforce report.

The commission's report shows the average female temporary employee is paid $63,265 a year, while the average male is paid $73,838 - about $10,000 a year less than the average wage for full-time permanent employees.


University of Queensland nepotism inquiry completed by Crime and Misconduct Commission

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission has completed its investigations into the University of Queensland nepotism scandal and its report will be tabled in Parliament.

Vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger were forced out after The Courier-Mail revealed a "close family member" of Prof Greenfield's had gained entry to the medical faculty without the proper entry requirements.

A CMC spokeswoman said yesterday the report would contain a number of recommendations, but declined to elaborate.

"The public report will also incorporate recommendations from two ongoing reviews announced earlier by the CMC and associated with the forced offer for entry."

Prof Greenfield has denied any wrongdoing saying the relative was admitted to the medical school as the result of a misunderstanding.  [It was a "misunderstanding" that his daughter was admitted???  Pull the other one.  Greenfield is a smart bootlicker who got just a bit too smart  -- JR]


Mining triumph turns into own goal

YVETTE Cooper, a British Labour MP who served in Gordon Brown's Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary, must have been thoroughly confused as she watched Question Time from the Speaker's Gallery yesterday.

A government sending out $700 million worth of pension bonuses and stitching up a $9.5 billion mining deal, securing at least 6758 Australian jobs, was under attack and on the back foot at the kick-off of the week's Parliament.

With an economy named by the OECD as the best place to be in the world, Australia was last week rated as the number one investment destination, attracting half a trillion of planned project spending.

Figures from Geneva confirmed Australian households enjoyed the sixth highest per capita income of any nation.

Against this, it's hard to imagine how a government could stuff up the Western Australian Roy Hill mining deal but Julia Gillard's Labor administration achieved it - and not just because it's a Gina Rinehart project.

Through a combination of poor internal and external communication, a sorry mistake in timing, a decision-making process that seems to involve more looking over the shoulder than targeting voters and plain dumb political tactics, what should have been an unalloyed good news story became one that spanned just about every perceived and imagined problem besetting the Labor Government, leaving the impression of leadership instability and ministerial rivalries while making it appear foreign workers were getting a preference over locals.

As Immigration Minister Chris Bowen explained in Question Time, Roy Hill involved the "biggest single debt-raising on the planet this year" which will create more than 8000 jobs in the construction phase alone.

Instead of providing simple, unambiguous answers, Gillard chose to channel former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty's criticism of her government and made it all too hard - taking three questions to give an unequivocal statement of support to the Roy Hill project.

A former senior Labor staffer who worked for Bob Hawke in the mid-1980s recently remarked this Prime Minister's office only finds out what's going on after it happens - a damning criticism of a political operation.

That analysis is very acute in light of this Roy Hill episode. As has been said before, it takes a special genius to kick own goals like this.


Coldest May in 51 years hits Australia's national capital

But they still think we'll die of global warming without a carbon tax

Canberrans have shivered through the coldest May in 51 years – and the second coldest on record, according to meteorologists.

Forecasters Weatherzone, which is owned by Fairfax, said overnight temperatures dipped below zero this month, more than 3 degrees below the average.  The average overnight low in May was -0.2 compared to the normal 3.1 degrees.

The last time Canberra suffered through a cold-spell like this was in 1961, when May also averaged -0.2 of a degree.

"The weather pattern has been dominated by high pressure systems," Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said.  "Skies have been clearer than normal and the air drier than normal, which have combined to make most nights dip below freezing."

The only colder May on record was in 1957, when the average minimum was -2.6 degrees.  "This freezing weather is more typical of July, when the average minimum is -0.1 of a degree," Mr Dutschke said.


28 May, 2012

Furore over allowing  skilled legal immigrants into Australia

It is only uselesss illegal immigrants who must be accepted without question

JULIA Gillard faces a split within her Cabinet after she distanced herself from her Government's decision to allow Gina Rinehart to import 1700 foreign workers.

The move has infuriated Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and his supporters.

They insist he followed standard processes before the decision to permit migrants to work on a major West Australian iron ore project, 70 per cent owned by Mrs Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting.

Ms Gillard told union leaders on Friday she was not comfortable with the deal and had only learned of it when she returned from overseas last Wednesday.

But Mr Bowen's office said it had been in regular contact with Ms Gillard's senior staff, as well as the offices of senior ministers Bill Shorten and Wayne Swan, about the deal.

Other Government sources accused Ms Gillard of trying to blame Mr Bowen and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who both backed former prime minister Kevin Rudd in the last leadership challenge, for the decision.

But Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes, who has described the decision as "sheer lunacy", yesterday accused Mr Bowen of accepting an "ambit claim" from Mrs Rinehart without question.

Ms Gillard refused to comment on when she became aware of the deal, despite saying she demanded new conditions just before the announcement on Friday, to ensure it could not be used if there were Australians willing and able to do the work.

This has not been enough to calm anger among the Labor Caucus, with Senator Doug Cameron threatening a fiery debate at tomorrow's meeting.

Amid renewed leadership tensions, chief Government whip Joel Fitzgibbon gave only a vague denial that he had been actively canvassing support for Mr Rudd, tweeting: "no one does more to support the PM and the Government than me!".

Ms Gillard said Mr Fitzgibbon's words "speak for themselves".

But some of her allies said Mr Fitzgibbon had made it clear he no longer supported the Prime Minister after he was overlooked for a promotion.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the tweet "put in flashing neon lights the division ... inside the national Government right now".


Former Qld. Labor party government  commissioned, covered up report into excessive red and green tape

A SECRET report has emerged, exposing the reams of red tape and irrational regulation strangling Queensland business across an array of industries.

Obtained by The Courier-Mail, the two-volume report compiled from interviews with 80 business leaders was commissioned and then kept secret by the former Bligh government.

The highly embarrassing report, conducted in partnership with the Australian Industry Group, contains detailed case studies of businesses forced to shed staff, cancel contracts and incur huge costs because of bureaucratic bungling and random government rules.

It is understood the only action taken on the May 2010 report was to establish a new business commissioner at a cost of $1 million a year, condemned by some sectors as more bureaucracy.

The Newman Government has inherited the responsibility of untangling a series of red-tape disasters as it seeks to meet an election commitment to reduce regulation by 20 per cent.

Premier Campbell Newman described the decision to commission and bury the report as "extraordinary", saying it exposed how business was drowning in red tape.  "This report provides some stark examples of how ridiculous rules and regulations waste the time and money of businesses," he told The Courier-Mail.  "Unlike Labor, which put this report on the shelf to gather dust and did nothing to ease the burden on business, the LNP is determined to change the culture of government from one that promotes red tape to one that actively reduces red tape."

The report breaks down the issues that business faces in interacting with state and local authorities across nine key areas, including case studies and recommendations.

One prime area of complaint involved environmental regulations - so-called "green tape".  In one case study, a major fertiliser company spent millions of dollars improving its water efficiency, but then complained that government-enforced reporting requirements focused on how much water it had used flushing toilets.

In another, a waste recycling company operating in the Torres Strait had to report to 42 state and local authorities.

Fire safety requirements were also a bugbear, with two firms revealing they were forced to post "exit" signs along open-sided 80m-wide workshops.

Workers' compensation requirements were also of concern, the report highlighting the case of an equipment manufacturing firm that paid an employee through WorkCover for a shoulder injury that was sustained at work.  "It was later found that WorkCover had paid the employee for the same injury to the same shoulder when with a prior employer," the report said.

Other problems were reported across areas including planning, procurement and government grants, along with everyday issues such as regulations and other rules being out of date or unavailable on department websites.

It is unclear whether Business Commissioner Blair Davies was ever made aware of the report.  His office did not return calls to The Courier-Mail.

AiG Queensland director Matt Martyn-Jones said while the report was two years old, the issues were still relevant and red tape remained a "dead weight" on the shoulders of business.  "We are very encouraged that the Newman Government has committed itself to reducing red tape by 20 per cent," he said.  "Close consideration needs to be given to how this target is measured and how it's achieved."

Mr Martyn-Jones said the best way to help business was with practical steps resolving issues highlighted in the report.

Consideration should also be given to setting up a task force of industry leaders.

The Courier-Mail has highlighted many examples of red tape, including a requirement for piggery operators to install illuminated exit signs inside pigpens.


The Qld. Labor party water debacle

Rather than build the new dams needed to cope with a rising population they grabbed at any and all alternatives  -- too bad about what they cost.  Dams are of course anathema to Greenies

THE LNP Government is struggling to meet a key election commitment to bring down water charges as miserly Queenslanders scarred by a decade of drought save every drop.

The state's refusal to squander water will cost the Government about $400 million in the next five years as water revenues dry up.  The LNP had also inherited a water debt of about $9 billion rather than the $7 billion it was prepared for.  The annual interest on the debt now exceeds half a billion dollars.

Premier Campbell Newman is trying to hammer out a plan to manage the water debt while still honouring his commitment to bring down water costs for Queenslanders by about $80 a year.  "This is going to take a bit of working through," a Government spokesman said.  "But the Government remains committed to reducing water bills for Queensland households."

The previous Labor government ran up a huge debt attempting to drought-proof Queensland with large-scale projects, including the Gold Coast desalination plant and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project.

The Western Corridor was the largest such project in the southern hemisphere and included 200km of large-diameter pipe as well as advanced water treatment plants at Bundamba, Gibson Island and Luggage Point.

Revenue forecasts on the capital works program, completed when the state consumed more than 300 litres a day per individual, have proven wildly inaccurate.

The latest figures show daily residential water consumption across southeast Queensland for the 14-day period ending May 9 was 151 litres per person.

With water usage well below forecasts, about $400 million is predicted to be lost by 2016-17.

The LNP is examining a plan flagged during the election campaign that involves spreading the debt repayment plan over 40 years rather than 20 years.

A plan to restructure the state's water infrastructure involving the handing back of water distribution and retailing to councils is expected to go before Cabinet soon.

The plan will also involve amalgamating the four bulk water entities into one entity to reduce the cost of supply.

The Local Government Association of Queensland says it expects the pre-election pledge to lower water costs to be honoured.


Must not mock the New Zealand accent?

The NZ accent is a very strange version of English.  It is the only version of English to have lost an entire vowel.  They pronounce "Fish and chips" as "fush and chups".  And the other vowels are not too healthy either.  "Battered" is pronounced as "bettered"

A disgruntled Kiwi has been hit with a string of charges after losing his cool over a local TV advert poking fun at the New Zealand accent.

The 44-year-old Griffith man allegedly assaulted and intimidated a WIN television employee on Friday in an apparent payback for the station airing a Knockonwood television advert that features two animated kookaburras speaking with thick New Zealand accents, the Area News reports.

The satirical ad shows the kookaburras saying “sweet as, bro” and “choice, bro” – slang terms often associated with our trans-Tasman neighbours.

The man allegedly abused the furniture store's staff over the phone on Friday before turning up at WIN's Yambil Street offices and demanding to know who authorised the advert.

Police claim he assaulted a male member of the station's advertising staff during the altercation.

He was later arrested and charged with misuse of a telecommunications device, intimidation, common assault, resisting arrest and intimidating police.

Paul Pierotti, managing director of Knockonwood's parent company, the Caesar Group, said the incident had not convinced him to take the advert off air.

“We had no intention of offending anyone ... if anything, it's just a bit of light-hearted fun,” Mr Pierotti said.  “It's part of the culture of both Australia and New Zealand to poke fun at each other.

“At the end of the day, we wanted to create an ad that cut through and sometimes to do that you have to go for a novelty angle.  “We are really sorry if anyone found that offensive.”

The accused has been released on conditional bail and will front Griffith Local Court on June 13.


27 May, 2012

Children to be given a taste of danger at new childcare centre

CHILDREN would be given trees to climb in, a creek to explore and material to build cubby houses under proposals for a new childcare centre and kindergarten which aims to buck the trend of wrapping them in cotton wool.

The proposal by C&K, which runs a string of childcare centres, comes as the organisation dedicates an entire weekend conference to the topic of "children's right to childhood" and the consequences of risk aversion.

International speakers, including New York's Lenore Skenazy who was dubbed America's worst mum after she let her nine-year-old travel by himself on the subway, will address the C&K early childhood annual conference at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

C&K chief executive Barrie Elvish said that over the past decade there appeared to be an increasing emphasis "on creating what the regulators and the governments like to say is safe environments for children to play in".

"By making it too safe we are actually not giving children the opportunity to build resilience," he said.

"What C&K is doing about it, apart from this conference . . . we have just purchased part of the old Ithaca TAFE at Ashgrove and we intend creating an outdoor environment which challenges not just the existing regulations and future regulations, but also the perceptions of what might be safe and unsafe environments for children.

"We are not talking about blindfold bungy jumps.

"We are talking about the ability for a child to learn through mistakes and a child to learn through failure - a child to learn if you do jump off something too high it might hurt you when you land."

Mr Elvish said it was part of a risk-benefit, rather than just risk, approach championed by conference keynote speaker Tim Gill, who helped change the way the United Kingdom Government viewed playground risk.

Yesterday Mr Gill said the journey to being a capable adult involved "a few bumps and scrapes and knocks".


Australia's chief climate commissioner Tim Flannery calls for the removal of toxic teeth from dead people

Mercury in teeth is bad but mercury in CFL light bulbs is OK??

CLIMATE change campaigner Tim Flannery says mercury tooth fillings should be removed from corpses before they are cremated.

The practice should be made law, Australia's chief climate commissioner said.

"You don't want to poison people when you are cremated," Prof Flannery said.  "No one would want that."

Addressing the Australian Medical Association's national conference in Melbourne yesterday, he said an awareness campaign was needed.

"I think people would be comfortable with removing the fillings, it is just a matter of awareness," he said.

Prof Flannery said undertakers should be required to remove the fillings and families also could request it.

"You just need a pair of pliers," he said.  "It is a $2 solution."

He said the mercury in teeth fillings was not a problem in people alive because it was not in a methylated form.

"For mercury to become dangerous, it has to get into the atmosphere, which happens when we are cremated, then blow over the oceans (and) go into the ocean depths, where there is very low oxygen, and then transform by bacteria into a methylated form of mercury," Prof Flannery said.

"This is then ingested by fish and the fish get put on the dinner plate."

He said he had not raised the issue with the Federal Government, but he felt it was significant and could be dealt with easily.

While talking about health and environment at the AMA conference, he also raised concerns about a lack of readiness for extreme weather events.

Prof Flannery said deaths from heat were increasing and the community needed to be better educated about the health risks.

"Deaths from heat is a silent killer that is increasing around the world," he said.  "The most vulnerable in our community are most at risk."

Prof Flannery said the loss of respect for science in the climate debate had been "one of the most damaging aspects".


Threat to Victorian kindergartens

A VICTORIAN preschool was forced to close its popular three-year-old kindergarten because the Federal Government did not fully consider the consequences of its new childcare standards, management claims.

Templeton Orchards Preschool in Wantirna says its three-year-old kinder service is a casualty of Labor's National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education.

New regulations will be introduced nationally from next year.

And a survey of kindergartens in Victoria has found more would close or reduce services for three-year-olds because of the agreement.

On Tuesday a lobby group representing thousands of Victorian families will meet the Minister for Early Childhood Peter Garrett and the Federal Minister for Childcare Kate Ellis.

Kindergarten Parents Victoria said it was hoping to get a better deal for Victorian families at the meeting. Chief executive Emma King said she wanted a sensible, staged implementation because Victoria's kindergarten system was unique and valued by many.

Templeton Orchards Preschool vice-president Lelania Currie said its service for three-year-olds was closed because it could not get staff.

"Our teacher and assistant resigned at the end of last year," Mrs Currie said.  "It was because of the uncertainty about their jobs."

She said her preschool had offered the program for 20 years: "The logistics of what the government wants . . . leaves no time or staff for a three-year-old program."

The agreement provides 15 hours of kinder for four-year-olds every week - a move that has wide support - but experts say putting it in place will have the most impact in Victoria because of unique circumstances and they want a flexible timeline.

But Mr Garrett - who has previously threatened to withhold almost $100 million in funding if the State Government failed to stick to the agreement signed in 2008 - said there was a large degree of flexibility under the agreement with the states: "I am yet to see compelling evidence from the Victorian Government as to why they need more time to implement this commitment, or why three-year-old kinder would need to be cut as a result of the Universal Access agreement."

Mr Garrett said the Gillard Government was providing a major boost in funding to help Victoria achieve universal access, of $210 million over five years.

Victoria is the only state to offer a kindergarten for three-year-olds, a service that is fully funded by parents.

It has also one of the highest rates of four-year-olds attending kindergarten - 95.2 per cent - but Victorian Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Wendy Lovell, says most services are at capacity.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the Government's implementation of childcare reforms had been botched.


Greek crisis sees new wave of migrants to Australia

The face of Australia's Greek community is rapidly changing because of the economic crisis crippling Greece.

Immigration statistics show around 280 expatriates - mostly families and skilled migrants - have come back to Australia over the past year but the total number of Greek citizens in Australia is expected to be higher, with many more here on holidays.

The Honorary Consul for Greece in the Northern Territory John Anictomatis says there has been a huge influx of new Greeks in Darwin.

"For the last six months, the figures show that on average about 10 new arrivals a week are coming back to Darwin, whether it's family groups or people coming back on their own before they bring their families back to Australia," he said.

Drossos Tavlarios, 27, came to Darwin from his home on a Greek island after being unable to get work.  He says he is one of the lucky ones.  "Everything, everything is okay, very nice in Darwin," he said.

Mr Anictomatis says he gets desperate calls from Greece every week.  "They're mainly desperate about employment, their children's future," he said.

The influx to the Top End has prompted Territory Government minister Kon Vatskalis to call on the Federal Government to consider special working visas for Greeks who have been affected by the economic crisis.

Mr Vatskalis says the Territory is set to face a major skills shortage when a major gas project starts.  He says it makes sense to bring Greeks over on working visas to help fill the gap. "We're talking about an exodus of people from the industry now because they are going to get well paid jobs with Inpex," he said.  "How are we going to replace these people? We can't replace them out of nothing."

Meanwhile, the British government is drawing up emergency immigration controls to combat any surge in economic migrants from Greece and other European Union countries if the euro collapses.

Interior minister Theresa May has told a UK newspaper that it is right for Britain to do some contingency planning, but did not say what steps could be applied.

An increasing perception that Greece or other debt-laden countries might have to leave the eurozone has brought concerns that millions could lose their jobs and go abroad in search of work.


24 May, 2012

A qualified victory for new electricity generator in Victoria

New power station approved but only when an old one shuts down.  Excerpts from a Greenie report below

A recent decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has meant that Victoria’s environment continues to be at great risk from coal pollution.

The company Dual Gas went to VCAT seeking approval to build a 600MW coal-fuelled power station in the Latrobe Valley using ‘syngas’ – a combination of coal and gas to make electricity – which would see Victoria generate dirty coal power for at least another 30 years.

As the environmental regulator, the Environment Protection Authority should have led the charge in standing up to a project that flies in the face of good environmental protection policy.

Instead, in a classic example of failure of leadership, the EPA lacked the mettle to deny the application entirely, instead taking an awkward middle ground of approving a 300MW plant, leaving the door wide open for Dual Gas to push for the full 600MW plant.

One of the key points that VCAT had to consider is the idea of best practice in generating electricity.

VCAT defined best practice by considering syngas electricity as compared to power generated by brown coal, comparing Dual Gas’ project to the profoundly dirty Hazelwood. The trouble with that comparison is that almost anything would be an improvement.

Ultimately, the EPA boxed itself into a corner, unable to justify its compromised position, and lost, with Dual Gas getting approval from VCAT for the full 600MW plant. Fortunately, VCAT listened to DEA’s recommendations and put some conditions on the power station to limit some of the more toxic emissions.

In a twist of fate, VCAT also put a condition on the power plant that has put a freeze on the whole project until some of the more dirty power stations are shut down under the government’s Contracts for Closure scheme.

With uncertainty about the time frame for the closures under the scheme, Dual Gas has put a hold on the development.


Irresponsible court official has  actions nullified

THE recent case involving a Braybrook landowner who fell foul of the Sheriff’s Office offers lessons both for people with unpaid debts and for the authorities tasked with collecting outstanding amounts.

The Supreme Court of Victoria this week overturned the sale of Zhiping Zhou’s family home for the not-so-princely sum of $1000 after the Sheriff offered it at a no-reserve auction in its attempt to recoup $100,000 that Mr Zhou had failed to pay after three years.

For anyone receiving a warrant for the seizure and sale of land, the message flowing from Mr Zhou’s case is simple: when the Sheriffs Office says it is coming for your land, assume it means business and seek immediate legal advice.

For the Sheriff, the message is equally clear: in executing a warrant for seizure and sale you have a common law duty to act reasonably in the interests of both the judgment creditor and the judgment debtor to obtain a fair price.

In this case, a fair price - according to Supreme Court Justice Peter Vickery and Mr Zhou’s lawyers - would have been significantly higher than $1000 and probably closer to the property’s $630,000 market value.

While these type of auctions regularly fetch sale prices well below market value – due to the property owner’s inability to hold out for a better price – one might find it reasonable to assume that the sale of a house valued at over $600,000 would be enough to cover a $450,000 mortgage and the $100,000 Mr Zhou owed to other creditors.

In giving the reasons for his decision, Justice Vickery acknowledges that, while “a fair price is not necessarily the market value”, there should be some floor level, a reserve, below which a sale should not be allowed to proceed.

Under the Sherriff Act 2009, the Sherriff is empowered to sell property seized in accordance with relevant court rules.

To recover a debt, the creditor can apply for a Court judgment classifying the outstanding amount as a judgment debt. A further application can then be made for a warrant of execution – enforceable by the Sherriff – to seize and sell personal property like motor vehicles and household items.

If that personal property is insufficient to cover the judgment debt, the judgment creditor can issue a warrant of seizure and sale, enabling them to sell any land owned by the judgment debtor.

While that process appears to have been followed in the Zhou case, Justice Vickery determined that the judgment debtor is entitled to some protection under common law. In his reasons he states that if it becomes apparent to the Sherriff that the highest bid received at auction is “far below” the true value he would be acting “unreasonably” and in breach of his common law duty to accept it and should therefore pass the property in.

Fortunately these cases are extremely rare and the clarification around common law rights provided by this Supreme Court judgment is likely to make them even rarer.


Carbon tax fight reignites after smelter closure

The Federal Opposition has savaged the Government over the closure of an aluminium smelter in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, blaming the carbon tax.

Norsk Hydro posted a statement on its website saying, among other factors, its long-term profitability would be affected by "increasing energy costs and the carbon tax".

This prompted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to launch a series of attacks on the Government in Question Time on Wednesday, calling on the Prime Minister to apologise.

Julia Gillard rejected the carbon tax was to blame, instead referring to other reasons cited by the company, including a plunge in global aluminium prices.

Politics aside, for Norsk Hydro workers the closure is a "slug in the guts".

The smelter at Kurri Kurri employs 344 people directly, but Australian Workers Union spokesman Richard Downie says many more will be affected by the closure.  "We've got 400 to 500 women and men up there and they're not all at a retiring age," he said.  "They need to keep working and putting bread on the table, and this is just a real slug in the guts for the Hunter Valley - Newcastle and the Hunter Valley."

On its website, Norsk Hydro says despite extensive efforts to improve the plant's cost position, it has been unable to improve profitability.

"The profitability of Hydro's Kurri Kurri plant has suffered as a result of the continued weak macro-economic conditions, with low metal prices and an uncertain market outlook, as well as the strong Australian dollar," it reads.

"Following a thorough review, it is clear that the plant will not be profitable in the short term with current market prices, while long-term viability will be negatively affected by a number of factors, including increasing energy costs and the carbon tax."
'Final straw'

That statement was seized on by the Opposition's environment spokesman, Greg Hunt.  "What we've seen today is confirmation that the carbon tax is the straw that broke the camel's back for the Norsk Hydro plant at Kurri Kurri," he said.

Liberal Bob Baldwin is the Federal Member for Patterson, which adjoins Kurri Kurri Hydro.  He says previous job losses there have been due to the high dollar and low aluminium price, but says today is the first time Norsk Hydro has blamed the carbon tax.  "But it's not too late. Mr Combet can bring an urgent bill to the house to suspend the carbon tax, because this is the start of things to come," Mr Baldwin said.

The closure arose in Question Time when Mr Abbott asked Ms Gillard to apologise to the Norsk Hydro workers.  "Given that the carbon tax is already a wrecking ball swinging through the aluminium industry, the coal industry, the steel industry and the aviation industry, will the Prime Minister apologise for the 344 workers whose livelihoods are now imperilled by her broken promise never to have a carbon tax?"

Ms Gillard responded with sympathy but not an apology, blaming the closure on the low aluminium price and the NSW Government's refusal to reach agreement on a long-term electricity supply contract.

"So if the Leader of the Opposition is really concerned about these jobs, as opposed to his mock political concern, then he may consider getting on the phone and speaking to his Liberal counterpart, Premier (Barry) O'Farrell, about that matter," she said.


Council carbon tax double standards 'ridiculous'

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce says it is unfair for some councils to have to pay the carbon tax while others do not.

A number of councils have been included in the list of organisations that will be subject to the price on carbon.

To help clear up confusion, the Clean Energy Regulator has written to more than 100 councils, generally all with populations above 20,000 and that have landfills, to help them determine whether they will have to pay for the greenhouse gases they produce.

The Federal Government says councils will not have to pay anything next financial year and most of them would not be liable after that.

But Senator Joyce says making a distinction between councils does not make sense.  "This is ridiculous - now we have the concept of righteous lawn clippings and naughty lawn clippings," he said.  "Quite obviously righteous lawn clippings are to be found in the botanical gardens of Sydney, and bad ones are to be found in the Maranoa Regional Council in the middle of Roma."

Among those councils that are investigating if they have to pay the carbon tax are six central-western New South Wales councils - Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst, Mid Western and Young.

A spokesman for Orange City Council says it is not anticipating any impact because it will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through recycling organic waste, while staff at Bathurst have concluded it will not have to pay.

Lithgow City Council spokesman Andrew Muir says it has engaged an expert to help work out if it faces any liability.  "We got to the point where we thought we needed some help from someone who had experience," he said.  "We had certainly gone through the process, even some time to try to work out if we may be liable.  "Those initial calculations led us to believe that we wouldn't be, but we need to be 100 per cent sure."

Mr Muir says the issue is confusing and needs expert advice.  "Basically a person who is expert in land-filling and also has experience in dealing with the Clean Energy Regulator's (web)site and the calculator, they put together [the numbers] to ascertain the liability," he said.  "We certainly believe we can have that calculation done by the end of the month."


23 May, 2012

Australia the happiest OECD nation in the world, survey finds

Happiness is associated with conservatism and Australia is a very conservative country by world standards  -- but which is the chicken and which is the egg here is moot

AUSTRALIA is living up to its nickname of "the lucky country", with a new survey marking it as the happiest industrialised nation in the world based on criteria such as jobs, income and health.

Having sidestepped the economic malaise gripping much of Europe and with near full employment owing to a once-in-a-century resources boom, Australia has come out on top ahead of Norway and the US in the annual Better Life Index compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The findings come despite fresh signs that not every Australian is enjoying the benefits of the resources boom, with tourist attractions seeing a drop in visitors and many manufacturers rethinking their Australian operations because the strong local currency has made exports uncompetitive.

A rising cost of living also is weighing heavily on consumers, who are tightening their purse strings or using the internet to hunt for bargains on items that can be purchased overseas.

The OECD survey - which rates its 34 member countries on categories like housing, jobs, education, health, environment and work-life balance - shies away from explicitly giving any one nation an overall top ranking, but if each of the 11 categories is given equal weight, Australia's cumulative rank rises to No.1, according to the OECD website. It is followed closely by Norway and the US.

Australia's high rank - based on data from the United Nations, individual governments and other sources - is largely due to its strong economic performance despite the economic turmoil in Europe and anemic growth in the US.

Strong demand for iron ore and coal exports means Australia's unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in April, compared with 10.9 per cent in the eurozone and 8.1 percent in the US. More than 72 per cent of the working-age population in the country is employed, compared with the OECD average of 66 per cent.

Unlike many of its developed peers, Australia's government plans to return a budget surplus in the next fiscal year and forecasts its net debt to peak just below 10 per cent of GDP, a fraction of the borrowings seen elsewhere.

The Australian dollar has recently dipped below parity against the greenback, though it remains at historically high levels and is also strong against the euro and pound, giving shoppers firepower if they travel overseas.

Despite a minority government that's sinking in the polls after a series of scandals involving key lawmakers and policy missteps, 71 per cent of Australians trust their political institutions, compared with an OECD average of 56 per cent.

In addition, 85 per cent of people in Australia described their health as good, well above the OECD average of 70 per cent. The survey also found that Australian men spend nearly three hours every day cooking, cleaning or caring - one of the highest scores across the OECD's 34 member countries and ahead of men in the US, Germany and Canada.


Green-Left climate change bias easy as ABC


MALE climate-change deniers are like terrorists, pedophiles and slave owners, claimed a contributor on BBC Radio 4's religious affairs slot Thought for the Day last week. By the BBC's lamentable standards, I'm afraid, this is what constitutes reasonable, fair and balanced commentary on the climate-change debate.

But as I've only now begun to appreciate after a month's tour of Australia, the greenie-lefty bias of your own ABC is, if anything, even worse.

In Melbourne, I had a run-in with prickly ABC talk radio host Jon Faine, who kept insisting how "professional" he was being during the course of a brusque, hugely unsympathetic interview in which he interrupted my every answer and tried to tar me as a card-carrying agent of Satan in the pay of Big Oil. Why? Because I have had the temerity to suggest that there is no strong scientific evidence to support the theory of man-made global warming. (Which there isn't).

My reception at Brisbane's local ABC branch was only marginally less frosty. Before I went on, the host actually felt compelled to apologise to his audience for having a "contrarian" such as me on the show. He was doing so in the interests of "balance", he cringeingly explained. "Gee, thanks, mate!" I thought. "With an intro like that anyone would think I was a kiddie-fiddler or a Nazi, not a climate sceptic!"

Now it's not that I'm afraid of tough interviews. Actually -- as I hope I showed to my new best mate Fainey -- I find them rather fun. Rather, my objection to the ABC, as it is to my own country's BBC, is that it acts clearly and persistently in violation of its obligations as a publicly funded national broadcaster. It's supposed to be fair and balanced -- and it is. But only so long as your definition of "fair and balanced" is greener than Christine Milne and further left than Julia Gillard. Which, in my book, isn't very.

Shortly before my interview with the ABC in Brisbane, I had the contrasting pleasure of a live encounter on 2GB with Australia's most popular talk radio host Alan Jones. Well, obviously I was going to enjoy it more: Jones, like me, like most of his listeners, is a climate-change sceptic. Of course, I realise that for some Australians Jones is more toxic than a blue-ringed octopus. But here's the difference between Jones and his ABC counterparts: if you don't like him you don't have to pay for him, not one cent.

Whereas with all the ABC's vast battery of presenters, of course, you do -- no matter how much you may dislike their almost uniformly green-left-progressive politics. (The single exception, as far as I'm aware, is Paul Comrie-Thomson's consistently superb Counterpoint: the ABC's equivalent of one of those Potemkin villages the Soviets used to build to impress visitors with just how free and lovely their country was.)

And you don't only pay for the presenters (and their battalions of support staff), either. You also pay -- out of the $1 billion-plus of your money spent by the government on the ABC each year -- for their lavishly appointed work environments. The studios in which I met the ABC's Steve Austin and 2GB's Jones couldn't have been more different. Austin's was spacious and state-of-the-art in an office building you could have mistaken for that of a law firm or a bank; Jones was squeezed into a shoebox like the Black Hole of Calcutta at the back of an anonymous industrial estate.

Does this reflect their audience size and reach? Of course not: Jones's show is many times more popular than Austin's. Rather, what this illustrates is the massive difference between public and private-sector budgeting. As the ABC shows, if it's coming out of the taxpayer's pocket then money is no object. In the real commercial world, on the other hand, not even the mighty Jones gets the gold star treatment because profligacy is the enemy of profit.

But the fact the ABC offers relatively poor value for money to its shareholders -- Australian taxpayers -- should be the least of your worries. What's of far more concern is the way that for years this fatly overindulged organisation, with its stranglehold on the Australian broadcast media, has been given carte blanche to skew the political debate in a relentlessly leftwards direction.

It's the same in Britain with the ABC's ugly elder sister, the BBC: on any given subject you know what the organisation's position is going to be -- anti-business, pro-regulation, credulous and uncritical on all green issues, slavish in its endorsement of politically correct pieties, always in favour of ever-expanding government.

Which is fine if you believe in that sort of thing but if you don't you have a problem: here you are, forced to dig into your pocket every year to help people whose politics you violently disagree with campaign for all the things you hate. Not only that, but people who are actively seeking to close down alternative points of view.

In Britain we've seen this with the Leveson inquiry, in Australia you've had a (bitter) taste of it with the Finkelstein report, and in the US it's evident in the ongoing attempts by the Left to hamstring (mostly conservative-leaning) talk shows with the Fairness Doctrine. Whatever their professed aims, each one of these represents a bullying attempt by the statist establishment -- fully endorsed and often orchestrated by its friends in the left-leaning mainstream media -- to gag any broadcast organisations that dare dissent from the prevailing politically correct orthodoxy.

One of the things that has always puzzled me about the Left is that for all its fine talk about the virtues of free speech, it's often at least as eager as any authoritarian Right regime to close it down.

Nowhere is this tendency better exemplified than by the behaviour of those two gruesome siblings, the BBC and the ABC: despite their pretensions of even-handedness and social responsibility, the way they abuse their near-monopolistic domination of their country's broadcast media owes more to statist tyrannies than free democracies.


Pesky "Green" car

Some customers have "failed" a Nissan test to see if they were suitable for the new Leaf electric car.

Nissan has knocked back some customers interested in purchasing its first electric car, the Leaf, because they have been deemed “unsuitable” for ownership.

The plug-in electric vehicle officially hits the market on June 1, but interested customers need to pass a two-stage approval test before being issued with a certificate that will allow them to purchase the $51,500 car from one of Nissan’s special EV dealerships.

The test involves answering five questions about their intended usage for the car, followed by a visit from Nissan’s electrical supplier Origin Energy for an assessment of the suitability of the customer’s home electrical network.

Speaking at a promotional event at Melbourne’s Federation Square designed to raise awareness of the Leaf’s non-reliance on petrol, Nissan Australia model line manager James Staveley told Drive the company had approved about 100 customers with another 100 undergoing the process.

Some intending customers have also been declined. “If you answered that you regularly drive from Melbourne to Sydney, then we might have politely informed the customer that this is not the car for them,” Staveley says.

“The majority of customers we have declined have been because they don’t have off-street parking available to them, which we consider essential for a safe and convenient recharging environment.”

When Mitsubishi brought the only other mass-produced electric car available in Australia to market, the i-MiEV, it initially appointed leases only to high-profile corporate customers.

As supply restrictions eased it later placed the car on general sale, although Nissan says it intends to maintain its selection criteria “to ensure our customers have a great experience with the Leaf”.

Nissan Australia is only holding one firm order on its books for the Leaf. “We chose to do it that way. We held a competition to be the first person to own a Leaf in Australia, and the family that won now holds the first and only order,” Staveley says.

For customers who pass the two “toll gates” of the selection process, the car will retail for $51,500 (plus on-road and dealer costs). That includes a recharging cable, but not a wall-mounted recharging station.

A package including the telephone book-sized station adds a minimum of $2700 to the price, or more depending on the logistics involved in its installation.

Staveley says the recharging station isn’t a mandatory purchase, but that plugging the car directly into a 15-amp power outlet – which is the minimum infrastructure required and costs several hundreds of dollars to install – will take five hours longer to fully charge the car.

“It’s the customer’s choice but we’d really prefer that people take the option of the recharging station because then we know it’s being properly and appropriately installed and minimises the risk of anything going astray,” he says.


Labor party captive to undemocratic union bosses

Labor's crisis is not about rorting of union treasury but unrepresentative union power at the heart of the party's political councils

Craig Thompson is only the most pathetic part of the gift which keeps giving to the Liberal Party. Even were he out of the picture, the Health Services Union would still be a gaping sore, as the Australian Council of Trade Unions has realised too late. But even if the ACTU, or a completely fresh HSU reform group throw all the current rascals out and return the HSU into the industrial mainstream, the union would still serve as an emblem of one of the cancers eating the heart of the political and industrial Labor movement.

The internecine brawling in the HSU is not only about which group of professional suits get access to the union treasury, so that they can give jobs to their friends and relations, pay each other fabulous sums, jet around the nation with their spouses and lovers, extract personal tolls from organisations doing business with the union, and, if needs be, buy sex on the union credit card.

It is also very much about power in the political Labor Party. Labor's incapacity to move resolutely past its Thomson crisis is not only a measure of the fact that it is a minority government, unable to face a by-election. It is because real action to rid itself of the underlying problem would strike at the way the party is now organised.

At issue is not the close and probably unseverable links between political and industrial Labor. It is about how union bosses can in effect, vote on behalf of all of their members, in the higher councils of political Labor. To vote as though their own opinion was the reasoned opinion of all of their members, determined after close consultation, meetings or even focus groups within the union itself.

In most unions, however, there's no pretence of such consultation or discussion. Just most union officials are now part of a professional elite, unlikely ever to have themselves physically performed work of the type their members perform, the viewpoint of the officials is generally determined through the councils of factional systems, and the self-interests of a few key players.

It is particularly at the interface of party and union that one usually sees the most obvious nepotism, or blatant patronage, and how it is dragging down the performance as well as the reputation of the party. When a party is in power, particularly at state levels, union officials expect to be appointed to statutory boards and authorities, the beneficiaries of grants supposed to achieve public purposes and to have their lovers, sons and daughters placed in ministerial office jobs.

Family is almost always a part of it. One of the late powers of the HSU, Mike Williamson is a former national president of the ALP though he has never had a thought, or insight, or said a thing which has helped fight the good fight. He and some of his allies are the subject of allegations, as yet unresolved, of receiving six-figure kickbacks from people providing seven-figure services to the union.

As a key operator in the Sussex Street Labor machine, and vice president of the NSW branch of the party, he would have been involved in its decision to pay Thomson's legal bills, lest he fall into bankruptcy. His daughter, Alex, is on Julia Gillard's staff.

Williamson is personally close to Leo McLeay, the former Labor speaker who famously had to be compensated from the public purse when he fell off a parliamentary bike. The McLeay dynasty might by itself illustrate how some have turned Labor into a family business. Leo, in heavily publicly pensioned retirement, is "ombudsman" for the HSU. His job has been to prevent the sorts of abuses which are so prevalent. Leo's son Mark is an HSU organiser. Another son, Paul, was a NSW Labor minister, until he joined the long list of ministers who had resigned in disgrace, in his case over accessing pornography.

Another national official of the HSU is Natalie Bradbury, whose brother, David, is Assistant Treasurer. He holds the marginal seat of Lindsay, near Penrith, on which Gillard lavished so much personal attention, and party moral credit, in 2010.

The Jacksons represent another faction of the HSU fighting over the rich spoils of office. Kathy Jackson is the present HSU national secretary, but has in recent times lacked the confidence of the Williamson faction, about whom she is now a "whistleblower". Her claims of complete moral purity might be more credible if she did not have a history in union affairs when her former husband Jeff, was the Victorian branch secretary.

All outsiders always insist they are acting only on behalf of the members, and she is no exception. In bodies such as the HSU actual corruption - in the sense of witting diversion of money to one's own interests - is usually preceded by a corruption of the spirit. Thinking the best interests of the membership come from becoming entrenched in power, and in resisting the entry of those who want entry into the cosy club. A reason to fill the office with relations, mates, and others so interlocked with other power groups that betrayals have serious consequences. Nothing should be too good for the workers, or the workers' representatives.

But the problem is by no means confined to the HSU, nor to patronage and nepotism. It comes as much from the tendency of senior union officials to think that they are, ex officio, senior statesmen of the party, ex officio wise, and from their tendency to think that public policy, public appointments and even public appropriation can be handled much as it is inside the cosy councils of union Labor.

The power of a Joe de Bruyn comes, essentially, from the shop assistants' union. He and his group may, or may not be good stewards of SDA interests, and modest in their draw on the union's funds. In that sense, they may be better than the HSU group, even if they have often had common cause with it.

But de Bruyn has strong personal moral views, sincere ones deriving from his Catholic faith. His power in Labor, including his power over Labor social policy, comes from the fact that he can "vote" his SDA membership as though every unionised shop assistant in Australia shares his view, though there is no reason whatever, to think that any but a minority do. To be fair there are other unions whose votes cancel his out, if again without reason to think them representative of their memberships, or cast on that account.

One might remark that at least de Bruyn believes in something. There are any number of factional chiefs, particularly in NSW, not known for believing in anything very much, apart from their own self-advancement or, in some cases, celebrity status. Some of these lack even an understanding of what was once agreed as a necessary separation of powers between union and caucus, as well as platform and aspiration versus practical reality.

The union-party interface can be used legitimately to advance the broad causes of the industrial labor movement, the reason why the two link between political and industrial wings has been so strong since the formation of Labor parties in the late 1800s. But it needs to be modernised, and made accountable and transparent.

That's not going to happen under Gillard Labor. Gillard is a creature of the present system. Her very being there is a result of the judgment and the power of that system. Labor is trying to sell the HSU, and Thomson, as an anomaly, rather than an evidence of its condition.


22 May, 2012

Backing for immigration ban grows

MORE than half of Australians want to ban immigration because population growth is out of control.  The number of people wanting to close the border to immigration has risen from 41 per cent in 2005 to 51 per cent, research by AustraliaSCAN reveals.

Almost two-thirds believe migrants should try to "fit in" when they arrive.

Mary Drost, from suburban residents' action group Planning Backlash, said the results confirmed community concerns about rapid population growth, with Australia running the highest per capita migration program in the world.

"The roads are getting more congested, the trains are full, the schools and the hospitals are overloaded," she said. "We can't cope with it in Melbourne."

Just a third of the 2000 people questioned by Quantum Market Research believed overseas migration made Australia "a more interesting and exciting place", down from almost half in 1995.

Monash University migration expert Bob Birrell said the results showed public opinion had moved into new territory.

"I think they are right to be worried," he said. "We have record levels of immigration and, as a consequence, we are allowing 100,000 migrants to enter the workforce at a time when employment growth is at a level lower than that."

The Government's immigration and refugee program for 2012-13 is expected to reach a record 203,000 people, similar to the mass migration intakes of the 1960s.

But the major political parties show no signs of wanting to slash immigration. Opposition spokesman Scott Morrison blamed Labor's border protection policies for public hostility to migration, which was why the Coalition wanted to reinstate its border protection policies to stop the boats,

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said migration had brought substantial economic and cultural benefits, and net overseas migration had blown out under the Howard government.

"Our immigration reforms are delivering a sustainable level of migration, while responding to labour market needs," he said.

Jennie Blencowe, research and policy manager of AMES, a migrant resource group, said Australia was a nation of migrants with 45 per cent of the population either born overseas or with a parent born overseas.

"Refugees and migrants who come here have a very strong desire to fit in to Australian society," she said.


Queensland flood victims join class action claim

 I think the plaintiffs have got an open and shut case.  The flood compartment should never have been used to store water

MORE than 3000 Queenslanders have joined a legal claim over the deadly 2011 floods as class-action law firms ramp up pressure on the cash-strapped State Government.

The firms plan more town hall meetings and increased advertising in a bid to recruit more claimants.

Maurice Blackburn and financial backers IMF have hired two US experts as part of a million-dollar effort to establish that there was negligence in the operation of the dams in 2011.

Early briefings have boosted the firms' confidence about taking on the Government, which is yet to state its position on compensation.

"They've given us a greater insight into what went wrong and why," Damian Scattini of Maurice Blackburn said.  "It was mismanaged throughout the period and there is the suggestion of prior negligence. The upshot is that it shouldn't have happened this way."

Rival law firm Slater & Gordon is also investigating possible action against the Government but would not give details of its clients.

Ultimately any payouts would be funded by the taxpayer.  A spokesman for Premier Campbell Newman said the new Government had yet to receive any legal claims and was still busy working through the recommendations of the flood inquiry, which it planned to implement in full.

"The Premier has said if anyone has suffered injustice at the hands of the State Government he would ensure they were treated fairly," he said.

"The Queensland Flood Commission has made no finding of negligence on the part of the state or the dam operator."

Ipswich councillor Paul Tully, a flood victim who has signed up to the Maurice Blackburn scheme, predicted that the Newman Government would eventually settle with victims  many of whose health had been damaged along with their property.  "I'd be 100 per cent certain that Campbell Newman will want all of this finalised by 2015 before the next state election," he said.  "They won't want this to be a political issue."

IMF's John Walker said his firm would place newspaper ads to attract more flood victims, including those whose businesses had failed as a result.

Maurice Blackburn and IMF will also hold further public meetings later this month in Brisbane.  "The strength of the claim is in the numbers," Mr Walker said.

IMF is funding research into the floods in return for up to 30 per cent of any eventual pay-out.

Mr Walker said the $15 million flood inquiry, which closed in February, had not made any findings relevant to the potential class action.  "The flood inquiry wasn't there to identify wrongdoing," he said.  "It was whether the manual was followed. We are trying to identify the standard of care (and) . . . any difference between that and what occurred."


New conservative Qld. Govt. to review same-sex civil union laws

The LNP Government looks set to overturn controversial civil unions laws.  Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie is expected to recommend the legislation passed this year by the ousted Bligh government be scrapped.

The move comes as an exclusive Galaxy/Sunday Mail poll reveals that 50 per cent of people are in favour of same-sex couples getting married, with 33 per cent opposed.

Almost one in three people polled nationwide last week believed Prime Minister Julia Gillard opposed changing the law because she was "out of touch with the community".

Premier Campbell Newman hinted during the election campaign that the LNP would act if it won power.  "We would be looking at that (repealing civil union legislation) if we become the government but there are other very important things," Mr Newman said in March.

Former deputy premier Andrew Fraser introduced the legislation in what many saw as a blatant attempt to retain his marginal Mt Coot-tha seat.

When Parliament resumed last week the LNP didn't waste time in putting the civil union debate back on the floor.  A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General said: "He will be bringing proposals to Cabinet within a few weeks."  She declined to elaborate, but party sources said there was widespread support among the 78 MPs to change the legislation quickly.

However, in response to the Sunday Mail's story, on Sunday morning a spokesperson for the Premier's Office contacted to indicate the matter was not a priority.  "No submission on this issue has been put to Cabinet," the spokesman said.

Mr Newman was attacked during the campaign for personally supporting gay marriage but outlining the LNP stance on civil unions.

Federally, Tony Abbott is defying sections of his own frontbench and the majority of voters in refusing a conscience vote on gay marriage.

Former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has previously admitted to pushing for a free vote on the issue.  The push was slapped down by Mr Abbott but that does not guarantee some Liberal MPs won't yet cross the floor to vote for change.

Calls for a free vote sparked debate within Coalition ranks last year, with senior frontbenchers such as Joe Hockey, who opposes gay marriage, Christopher Pyne, George Brandis and Mr Turnbull debating the merits of a free vote behind closed doors.

A Galaxy survey commissioned for The Sunday Mail, shows Mr Turnbull's position is backed by 77 per cent of Coalition voters.   According to the survey, three in four voters back a conscience vote regardless of which party they support.

While calling for a free vote, Mr Turnbull has reserved his position on how he would vote on the gay marriage legislation until it was presented to Parliament. "My view is there should be a conscience vote," Mr Turnbull said last year. "I raised the matter privately with Tony some time ago."

The issue of gay marriage flared last week on ABC television when Mr Hockey told the openly gay Finance Minister Penny Wong, who recently had a child with her partner Sophie Allouache, that children should have a mother and a father.

WA Liberal MP Mal Washer said he personally backed gay marriage - but wouldn't vote for it.  "I think it's inevitable," he said. "But if it came to a vote, the consensus in my electorate is pretty conservative so I wouldn't vote for it."


First uranium mine in WA a step closer

The first uranium mine in Western Australia is a step closer after the Environmental Protection Authority gave the project the go-ahead.

South Australian miner Toro Energy is seeking to develop the mine at Wiluna, about 550 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie.  The proposal has been in the pipeline since the WA Government overturned a ban on the practice in 2008.

Toro's managing director Greg Hall says his company has consulted widely with the community.  "The process with traditional owners has been quite a long one," he said.

The mine is expected to operate for 14 years and produce up to two million tonnes of mineralised ore and 1,200 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate each year.

The EPA's chairman Paul Vogel says there will be little risk to those living nearby.  "The exposure to radiation for those communities near Wiluna is very, very low," he said.

Dr Vogel says the uranium will be trucked in sealed containers to the South Australian border, past Kalgoorlie, and shipped out from Port Adelaide.  "We paid particular attention to that knowing that the community was particularly concerned about that," he said.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlum says the authority's decision suggests it has failed in its role.  "If creating a permanent carcinogenic hotspot in the north-east Goldfields that will still be carcinogenic thousands of years in the future, then something has gone wrong with the EPA," he said.

Dr Vogel says the Toro project will be subject to the most rigorous monitoring program possible, overseen by the radiological council and the Department of Health.  "My understanding is there will be financial assurances required, there will be monitoring requirements to meet the trigger levels," he said.  "And, if those trigger levels are exceeded, then the Department of Mines and Petroleum will ensure those standards are met over time."

Senator Ludlum says he expects Toro to face an uphill battle to get the project up and running.  "I think given the state of the world market that is still trying to work out the consequences of the ongoing disaster in Japan where all nuclear reactors are currently closed, I don't think Toro has a chance in hell of bringing this project to market," he said.

The Opposition's Bill Johnston says WA Labor remains opposed to uranium mining but, if Toro is granted final approval before the election, it will not stand in the way of its development.  "The Labor Party's decision is that if final approval has been given to a mine before the election then we would honour those final commitments," he said.

The mine is expected to generate 350 jobs during the construction phase and 170 once it is operational.

Mr Hall says he hopes Toro can make a final investment decision by the end of the year.  "We now will await the decision by the Western Australian Minister," he said.  "The recommendation is open for appeal for a two week period and the Minister will decide on a course of action beyond that."

Toro's application now needs to be approved by the state's Environment Minister Bill Marmion before being passed on to the Commonwealth for federal approval.


21 May, 2012

Cockatoos come before people

The irony is that these birds are worth thousands of dollars overseas -- but it is forbidden to export them.  Trapping and exporting them would be to everybody's benefit but bone-headed regulations stand in the way

WHITE cockatoos - not bats - are in plague proportions in Atherton, south of Cairns, and locals want the Queensland Government to consider a kill permit.  The far north rural hub is under siege from thousands of protected sulphur-crested white cockatoos and locals want some shot or poisoned.

Huge flocks roost in the trees next to the Atherton Hospital directly in the flight path of the rescue helicopter, make a racket, strip and kill old gum trees, and ravage corn and peanut crops.

Council staff have started blasting the air with special blank cartridges called Bird Frite to try to scare away the birds.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the kill permit for bats, revealed by The Courier-Mail last week, was only a last-resort option for farmers, with no intent to deploy it in urban areas.

"The intent is to still look at relocating bats," Mr Powell said.   He said there was no plan to extend it to the cockatoos.

Tablelands Mayor Rosa Lee Long said she hoped Bird Frite would not shift the problem to another part of town.  "They are lovely birds, very pretty to look at, but they are a noisy nuisance and make a terrible mess," she said.

"The only other option is a cull.  "It is a bit like the bats, if they are in plague proportions, they may need a cull to bring back a balance."

She urged the Government to consider extending lethal Damage Mitigation Permits to bats, dingoes, wild dogs, crocodiles and parrots.

"Like bats, dingoes, and crocodiles, the cockatoos are protected species. No one likes to kill anything, but our priority must be to protect the health, life and limb of people over wild creatures."

Pensioner Gaye Webster, in her 80s, lives under some of the favoured roosting trees of the vast flocks. She wants a cull.

"Shoot them," Mrs Webster said. "Kill off a few cockys. The mess they make is absolutely disgusting.  "Bushies reckon it only takes a couple of dead cockatoos to scare the whole lot off.  "It is like these bats and the Hendra virus. Give me the poison, I'll dish it up to them.  "People against a cull are the ones who don't have to live with them."

Alex Adoberg, who owns the Atherton Hinterland Motel, said he was opposed to killing the parrots. But the Bird Frite program, trialled last year, did not seem very effective, he said.  "They seem to lift off and then come back and land again. I'd prefer to keep trying to scare them off, I don't like the idea of a cull."

He said the biggest threat - other than farmers losing entire crops in a day - was the risk posed to incoming helicopter pilots.   "They lift off out of the trees straight into the helicopter flight path. That is the scariest part."


Some optimism about Australia's security

Excerpts from an interesting Leftist critique below.  I tend to agree that Australia faces no foreseeable danger from invasion.  The rest of the world is so preoccupied with its own problems and concerns that is unlikely that we are even on anybody's radar

As the inhabitants of an island continent that shares no land borders with other nations, Australia is well placed to avoid conflict with its neighbours. This is because most wars are about territory and the position of borders.

Thankfully, our forebears managed to secure the whole continent for themselves rather than having to share it with another European nation. The colonies and their successor states subsequently held together as one federation. As a result, we have avoided the potential for conflict that a divided continent would create.

Despite this, we have feared being displaced, particularly by the rise of different Asian nations and by our slowness to populate and develop the continent. When we had just 5 million people, and the numbers across the north barely filled a sizeable town, it is not surprising that Australians feared invasion. There was also a conviction back then that practically all the continent was capable of being occupied.

Now we openly acknowledge that two thirds of the continent is arid or semi-arid and Australia will never support a population comparable to that of other continents. At the same time, we have experienced a fivefold increase in our population and some of the isolated settlements across the north have grown into cities.

Rather than huddling in south-eastern cities, and presenting a relatively empty north to the world, Australians have developed mineral and other resources in the tropics and established new settlements to support those developments. It has now become much more difficult for outsiders to argue, as they used to do, that Australians were not making adequate use of the continent.

Apart from having a more secure hold on the continent, there has been another fundamental change in our defence position. Instead of posing threats to our sovereignty, a range of powerful Asian nations now have a strong interest in protecting Australia as a secure source of raw materials and food and as a market for their excess consumer products.

Indeed, a potential invasion of Australia would probably cause more alarm in Beijing, Tokyo and New Delhi than it would in Washington. This dramatic change in our circumstances requires us to make a fundamental reappraisal of our defence policy and the amount that we spend on it.

The next thing we should do is make a more realistic prediction of the likely future threats to our security. During the 20th century, there was much talk of protecting our sea lanes and maritime approaches. While we certainly need to be able to assert our authority in Australian waters, the idea of protecting our sea-borne trade routes and maritime approaches needs to be rethought.

The idea of protecting our sea lanes originated when Australia's trade was principally with Britain and Europe and the security of those trade routes was an economic necessity. It also suited Britain to have us concentrate our defence spending on the navy. But today, our trade routes are principally to China and other Asian nations, who were the source of the supposed earlier threat and now are just as concerned about keeping those trade routes secure. It is difficult to see from where any future threat might come.

There might be a theoretical risk from Indonesia, but any such risk is only going to be exacerbated by Australia starting a regional arms race with Jakarta. Instead, Australia needs to continue the sort of confidence-building and military co-operation that has been the hallmark of our recent relations with Indonesia.

With no serious threat to our possession of one of the most defendable territories on earth, it is time for Australia to set aside its historic fears of invasion and adopt a defence policy and budget that suits our circumstances


Conservative Qld. Premier to legislate for  tough new workplace powers to break strikes

THE Newman Government will give itself tough strike-breaking powers, including ordering public servants back to work, fining individual workers, and capping pay rises.

In a move that has been compared to the Howard government's controversial WorkChoices, the LNP is set to overhaul industrial relations laws to minimise trouble while it reforms the public service.

The proposed changes introduced to State Parliament include new powers for the Attorney-General to order striking public servants back to work in drawn-out disputes.  Those who fail to comply face $2700 individual fines, or $13,500 for unions.

The Government will also be able to bypass unions and put pay offers directly to a vote, in a change that reflects the Federal Government's Fair Work Act.

And the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission will have to consider the state's ability to afford public service pay rises, which could effectively cap them, to avoid a repeat of last year's bitter police pay battle.  The QIRC granted Queensland's 10,500 police an 11.1 per cent rise over three years, 3.6 per cent more than the former Labor government wanted to pay.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said his Bill would ensure the state had an affordable public service that "delivered for all Queenslanders".

But unions are concerned the changes are aimed at suppressing a worker's ability to strike ahead of massive reforms and job cuts planned by the Government.

Industrial action is already being discussed by staff at the Department of Communities, which is being hit hard by the dismissal of hundreds of temporary workers.

Alex Scott, from the Queensland public sector union Together, said there was growing concern about moves to redefine some frontline workers as "non-frontline" to maximise opportunities for job cuts.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Peter Simpson said he believed there was a hidden agenda to bring government-owned corporations (GOCs) such as Energex, Ergon and Queensland Rail back under the public service.  "Bringing them together under one director-general would eliminate a lot of duplication but also a hell of a lot of jobs," Mr Simpson said.

He said the law changes would ensure any strike action was minimised.

Another area of concern to unions was the "workplace and productivity reforms" being sought by the Government in return for a maximum 3 per cent pay rise for public servants.  As yet, the Government has refused to say what the reforms will involve.

Mr Scott said a failure to focus on reforms that delivered services to the community would result in industrial action.

"What we're seeing at the moment, with things like cuts to tea and coffee, isn't about revitalising services," he said.

Beth Mohle, from the Queensland Nurses Union, echoed Mr Scott's concerns, despite her union being the first to reach agreement with the Government on a 3 per cent-a-year pay deal.

"Even though there's been reassurances, it's obvious from the legislation it's about containing costs for government," Ms Mohle said. "There is a concern about the implications for us in the long term."


How $1.5b Federal budget surplus hides $8.7b deficit

Left-leaning economist Ross Gittins comments below as politely as he can on a very shonky budget

What if I told you the true expected budget balance for next financial year wasn't the much trumpeted surplus of $1.5 billion but a carefully buried deficit of $8.7 billion?

I'd be justified in making such a statement because that deficit figure is officially known as the "headline cash balance" and, as a journalist, I'm in the headline business.

I'd also be justified in drawing it to your attention because the government in its budget papers has made no effort to convince us the headline figure is of no macro-economic significance - rather, we should focus solely on the "underlying cash balance" of a $1.5 billion surplus.

Indeed, I'm not sure the headline figure is of no macro significance. Why not? Because I happen to know - no thanks to the government - that the difference between the two figures includes, among various things, the government's spending on the rollout of the national broadband network.

That's of no macro-economic significance? That has no effect on economic activity? Don't think so, chaps.

I'd really like to be able to tell you just what the transactions are that explain the difference between the headline and the underlying balances. But if there's a table anywhere in the voluminous budget papers spelling that out, I can't find it.

I'm sure if the econocrats had their way there'd be such a table, but the preference of the politicians and their private-office spin doctors is to conceal rather than explain. And even just the figure for the ironically titled headline balance has been carefully hidden to ensure it doesn't hit the headlines.

It didn't rate a mention in the Treasurer's budget speech; in the multicoloured Budget Overview document it was included as a "memo item" (that is, they don't tell you how it was arrived at) on page 36.

In the budget papers proper, it went unmentioned in budget statement 1 (also known as the budget overview) and got a single mention on page 9 of budget statement 3.

The hiding of the headline deficit is just one example of the way the budget papers are becoming less informative rather than more, and the way the government's spin doctors are turning them into an exercise in media management rather than transparency and accountability.

The budget speech used to be a thorough and trustworthy exposition of the new measures announced in the budget; these days it's a made-for-television rave about the budget's good points.

I suspect one reason the budget papers have become less rather than more user-friendly over the years is the spin doctors' desire to drive journalists away from the budget papers proper to the multicoloured Budget Overview, known to econocrats as "the glossy".

It's glossy by name and gloss by nature, putting the best gloss possible on the budget and focusing on whatever messages the government is trying to peddle.

It offers a seemingly useful list of the "major savings" announced in the budget, but you can't be sure all the "saves" you'd like to know about are listed. The single line for "other" savings accounts for almost a quarter of the total.

But that's honest compared with the list of "major initiatives" announced in the budget, otherwise known as "spends". It's a table without totals, meaning it doesn't even have a line for "other" spending. If it did, other would account for almost a third of the total.


20 May, 2012

Ya gotta laugh

Below is a recent bit of Warmist "research" from Australia.  I guess that they hope nobody notices the figures behind their conclusions.   I have always been one of those pesky people who look at the actual results in a scientific paper rather than the conclusions authors draw from their results -- and that habit is richly rewarded here.

What they actually found is quite hilarious.  They found that the current temperature in the Australian region is essentially identical with the temperature in the 13th century! 

To be precise, it was just nine hundredths of one degree warmer in the 20th century than it was in the 13th century.  A better disproof of 20th century warming would be hard to imagine.  The big surprise is that they didn't deep-six their study instead of publishing it
Journal of Climate 2012

Evidence of unusual late 20th century warming from an Australasian temperature reconstruction spanning the last millennium

Joëlle Gergis et al.


This study presents the first multi-proxy warm season (September-February) temperature reconstruction for the combined land and oceanic region of Australasia (0°S-50°S, 110°E-180°E). We perform a 3000-member ensemble Principal Component Reconstruction (PCR) using 27 temperature proxies from the region. The proxy network explained 69% of the inter-annual variance in the HadCRUT3v SONDJF spatial mean temperature over the 1921-1990 calibration period. Applying eight stringent reconstruction ‘reliability’ metrics identified post A.D. 1430 as the highest quality section of the reconstruction, but also revealed a skilful reconstruction is possible over the full A.D. 1000-2001 period.

The average reconstructed temperature anomaly in Australasia during A.D. 1238-1267, the warmest 30-year pre-instrumental period, is 0.09°C (±0.19°C) below 1961-1990 levels. Following peak pre-industrial warmth, a cooling trend culminates in a temperature anomaly of 0.44°C (±0.18°C) below 1961-1990 levels between A.D. 1830-1859. A preliminary assessment of the roles of solar, volcanic, and anthropogenic forcings and natural ocean-atmosphere variability is performed using CSIRO Mk3L model simulations and independent palaeoclimate records. Solar and volcanic forcing does not have a marked influence on reconstructed Australasian temperature variations, which appear to be masked by internal variability.

In 94.5% of the 3000-member reconstruction ensemble, there are no other warm periods in the past 1,000 years that match or exceed post-1950 warming observed in Australasia. The unusual 20th century warming cannot be explained by natural variability alone, suggesting a strong influence of anthropogenic forcing in the Australasian region


Energy saving light bulbs spark mercury concerns

AUSTRALIA'S switch to low-energy light bulbs is creating a new environmental disaster as tonnes of the mercury-filled fluorescent lamps end up in council landfills.

With 95 per cent of discarded home light bulbs tossed into household rubbish bins, councils say there is an urgent need for a national scheme to recycle globes to ensure the mercury inside them does not find its way into water supply systems.

Mercury is one of the key ingredients of low-energy bulbs, but can cause neurological damage and birth defects if consumed by humans.

The lighting industry says the new bulbs contain just 5mg of mercury fluorescent tubes have three times that much but only 5 per cent of the bulbs are recycled.


Huge public hospital backlog in W.A.

AMA president David Mountain with his wife Helen and kids Kate and Lara and pet dog Voss. Picture: Matthew Poon Source: PerthNow

THE number of patients waiting for elective surgery in WA, including those waiting to get on to the waiting list, would fill 40,000-seat Patersons Stadium, figures reveal.

Some on the list are waiting up to four years just to see a specialist, according to outgoing Australian Medical Association WA president David Mountain.

The latest published wait list is almost 17,000, but the State Government estimates there are at least 24,000 more patients waiting just to get a specialist appointment.

It means the true elective surgery waiting list is at least 41,000, with patients waiting for serious operations, including hip replacements, cataract and cardiac surgery unable to walk, talk or hear in the meantime.

Dr Mountain said the Government should shed light on the hidden "waiting list to get on the waiting list" because some patients got on to the official list years after their need for surgery was first identified by a GP or other health professional.

Before the last election, the WA Liberal Party promised that from the March 2009 quarter, it would "publish by hospital figures showing the number of patients waiting for a pre-surgical assessment". It has so far failed to do so.

The Liberal commitment read: "This waiting list to go on the waiting list is something that Labor (the then government) wants to keep hidden. But if we want our governments to be truly accountable for their performance then this deceit has to stop By the end of 2009 we also will ensure that the time from original identification of a problem to an outpatient pre-surgery appointment will be no more than six months."

Opposition health spokesman Roger Cook said the Government had broken its election promise to reveal the true number of people waiting for elective surgery and patients were suffering in silence.

Health Minister Kim Hames said WA Health was looking at ways to calculate this data, but it was only possible to provide an estimate, partly because many patients were waiting for private specialists not in the public system.

"I am committed to reporting publicly on the number of patients waiting for a specialist's appointment," Dr Hames said.

Elective surgery often involves serious conditions such as people needing hip replacements, cataract surgery, cardiac surgery and left untreated can prevent people from walking, hearing or seeing.

Dr Mountain said there were several waiting periods patients had to get through before surgery, but only one was recorded.

"First there is a delay in the initial letter from the GP getting through the administrative processes to get to the out-patient clinic, then there's a delay in sending a reply saying how long it will take to get an appointment and organising a date, and then you have to wait for the appointment which is when you get put on the waiting list," Dr Mountain said.

Dr Mountain, 48, will finish the standard two-year stint as head of the AMA in just over two weeks, when another president will be voted in at the organisation's annual general meeting.

``I need a break," Dr Mountain said. ``I've got research and academic things, and I'm a head of department at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and I have two kids who probably feel they've been a bit on the backburner for the last year or so."

His wife Helen, a genetic counsellor, said her husband had worked hard to find time for the couple's two daughters Lara, 9, and Kate, 10, but things would be easier without the demanding AMA role.

Outgoing Australian Medical Association WA president David Mountain explains how to fix the five biggest problems with the health system:

1. Double the Medicare rebate for GPs – “The rebate has been seriously undervalued for 15 years in a row and is well underneath what it should be. The average practice is charging $60 to $70 but the rebate is only half of that. You can’t get a plumber to come to your house for less than $100. It’s amazing to me that some doctors in the outer suburbs are (bulk-billing) because it would be very hard to earn a decent living after paying all the costs of running a practice.”

2. Health bosses and bureaucrats need to butt out and let medical professionals do their job, run hospitals and make decisions – “They need to change their attitude and stop treating clinicians as the enemy. Decisions are routinely made that are centralised, bureaucratic and don’t involve people in their day to day work or allow clinicians to make decisions they need to make. Many of the decision-makers are detached from the reality of providing services to patients. It needs to come from the top, they need to get out of the way and not constantly be a hindrance, slowing everything up.”

3. Increase training positions in hospitals and general practices – “We have triple the number of students that we’ve had in the last few years – an extra 200 doctors that we have to find training positions for. We’ve got new buildings but it takes time to get people into those jobs and to train them so we need to build capacity into the system now.”

4. More resources for elective surgery targets and the Four Hour Rule – “We have major problems with the capacity of the system coming up in the next two to three years. Even with the Fiona Stanley hospital and the others coming online, the demand for beds is much higher than the number of beds. We’re not seeing enough beds, nurses, doctors and other staff coming into the system. There needs to be more major new builds planned in the next 10 years otherwise we’re really going to struggle.”

5. Get rid of the Health Corporate Network – “It’s another nightmare bureaucracy. It is incompetent at paying people properly, appointing people and demoralises people trying to do their job. It’s a terrible experiment that should be cancelled. It rumbles along as a sub-disaster, making life difficult for everyone.”


Australia is a very gassy place

Mining companies are increasingly taking an interest in shale after it took off in the US, writes Paddy Manning.

Nobody knows the extent of the shale gas resource in Australia but the potential is big, perhaps big enough to reduce coal seam gas to a sideshow.

The federal agency Geoscience Australia set the theme of this week's annual Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference by estimating shale gas could double Australia's natural gas reserves, from 400 to 800 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas.

The US shale revolution, spurred by the advent of horizontal drilling and fracture stimulation (or fracking) technology, transformed world energy markets in five years.

Shale gas now accounts for about 23 per cent of the US's annual gas production, according to the US Energy Information Administration. By contrast, coal seam gas (CSG, or coal bed methane as it is known in the US) provides about 7 to 9 per cent, says the managing director of Beach Energy, Reg Nelson.

What has happened in the US is likely to happen here, he says.

Beach, which gets most of its revenue from oil production, has been a pioneer in unconventional gas. Beach sold an early-stage investment in coal seam gas play Arrow Energy to Shell, at a handsome profit.

Beach has some of the best exploration acreage in Australia's most prospective shale gas field, the Cooper Basin in South Australia. Beach shares dived this week after a media report suggested the company had shut down a data room opened to potential co-investors, due to a lack of interest. Nelson says Beach terminated the sale process once it got strong gas flows from one of its wells in the Cooper: "We thought, we've got something big here, we can add value to this. And when we sell it, we're not going to sell it for a small premium. It's going to be a big one."

Certainly there is plenty of jockeying going on, with juniors including Senex, Drillsearch and others seeking to prove up their shale reserves and sell on to a larger company. Big oil producers such as BP, Total and Shell are interested; BHP Billiton's petroleum chief, Mike Yeager, said his team was "studying every square inch of Australia right now" looking for shale gas.

Australia's shale gas reserves are not located under prime agricultural country but in the middle of the desert, and there is a gas pipeline nearby at Moomba. Shale gas wells are deeper - generally well below aquifers - and typically recover more gas per well, meaning fewer wells need to be drilled.

Drew Hutton, the president of the anti-coal seam gas group Lock the Gate, warns shale gas production in the Cooper could have implications for Western Queensland's wild rivers, protected under legislation. "The nomination of the western rivers came about because the traditional owners, local cattleman and local councils got together with the wilderness society and lobbied for it."

He says the US experience shows there are still groundwater concerns associated with shale gas extraction, and there would likely be an environmental campaign - though perhaps not a Lock the Gate campaign - against shale gas in the Cooper.

Nelson, a former South Australian mining regulator who spent much time capping uncontrolled flows from bores in the Great Artesian Basin, says he has "no concerns whatsoever" about groundwater contamination from shale gas.

"The important point is, Cooper Basin gas has been around for 40-50 years. A lot of these reservoirs have been fracked, because the sands are tight. There's been about 700 wells fracked since 1969."

If Cooper Basin shale production was safer, could the entire coal seam gas debate be bypassed? The vice-president for eastern Australia at Santos, James Baulderstone, says at an estimated $6 per gigajoule, shale gas is 20 to 30 per cent more expensive to produce than coal seam gas, and technology and capital constraints mean significant shale production is unlikely to be economic this decade. Santos is concentrating on getting more out of the declining conventional gas reserves in the Cooper Basin, with advanced infill drilling, and on developing its coal seam gas fields in the NSW Gunnedah Basin.

"You need a diversity of supply," he says. "One of the great things about NSW's gas resource is its location to market and where it sits on the cost structure. When you model the cost curve, the coal seam gas will be cheaper than shale to start with, it's easier to develop and we believe that it will fill market demand in the 2015-25 window. Shale would then come on stream towards the end of the 2020 decade, and start to displace coal seam gas as it becomes cheaper over time."

With a majority stake in the Moomba gas plant, and the most acreage in the Cooper Basin, Santos will play a big role in developing Australia's shale resource. It has recently drilled its first vertical shale well, and will drill its first horizontal well later this year.

"We're all very excited about shale but it's not something you can do overnight," Baulderstone says.


Courts under fire in mental health row

MENTAL illnesses are being exploited by some defence lawyers to reduce sentences for people found guilty of serious offences, despite a lack of evidence linking the ailments to criminal behaviour, mental health experts say.

Groups including the Mental Health Council of Australia and beyondblue have urged more rigorous psychological examinations of people charged with crimes when mental illness is claimed in mitigation. They say those with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

Several prosecutors from the Office of Public Prosecutions also told The Sunday Age they were frustrated that depression had become a "pro forma defence tactic" used to seek leniency.

One senior prosecutor said defence lawyers were exploiting a Victorian Court of Appeal decision in 2007 that reduced the moral culpability, but not legal responsibility, of those diagnosed with mental disorders.

Mental Health Council of Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan said there were doubts about the diagnosis of some mental illnesses. Distinctions between normal sadness and clinical depression were still widely debated in the mental health profession, he said.

"It seems to me, that on the back of the very poor evidence we have, there is no prima facie case of a link between crime and mental illness."

Mr Quinlan was critical of a recent attempt by a defence lawyer to seek leniency for a client with depression, after the man was found guilty of downloading child pornography.

"Some people who suffer severe psychotic conditions may have an argument about not being able to form intent, but those suffering high-prevalence mood disorders such as acute anxiety and depression have an inability to find motivation and plan, which would obviously impact their ability to commit a crime," he said.

His claims are at odds with a Corrections Victoria report that found almost half of adults in custody had a history of mental illness and 34 per cent of children in detention centres had psychological disorders. Beyondblue estimates major mental illnesses are up to five times more prevalent among prisoners than in the general community.

Law Institute of Victoria president Michael Holcroft said there was a correlation between mental disorders and a range of criminal behaviour. It was "totally appropriate" for a lawyer to raise mental health when entering a pre-sentencing plea, Mr Holcroft said.

"People under the influence of drugs and alcohol or suffering from mental health episodes are far more likely to get themselves into trouble than the standard person in the street. And to avoid re-offending, the courts need to address the underlying source of the problem."

He said lawyers relied on expert medical opinion and had a responsibility not to mislead the courts.

"To say there is no link between crime and mental health is extraordinary. People come before the courts with myriad issues," Mr Holcroft said.

In 2010, the Magistrates Court set up a specialist court and program to provide extra support for the rising number of accused people claiming to have depression and other mental disorders. At the time, magistrate John Lesser said more than a third of those who appeared before Victorian courts had some form of mental illness.

But Superintendent Spiros Kalliakmanis, of the police prosecutions division, raised concerns about the growing number of cases diverted to the specialist court. "It is a matter for the court to determine the legitimacy of a plea. However, any abuse of these jurisdictions and services has an impact on the ability to offer quality services to members of the community who are in real need," he said.

Beyondblue chief Kate Carnell said depression had no bearing on a person's propensity to commit a crime.

"The reality of mental health issues is people don't do things that they wouldn't otherwise do or behave dramatically out of character. Magistrates should listen to the mental health experts and make sure that the information that is being presented in court is evidence based," she said.

Kristen Hilton, director of civil justice at Victoria Legal Aid, said about 20 per cent of its clients had mental health problems. "The research and our practical experience shows that someone with a mental health issue is far more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system.

"I would hope there's a general community consensus that someone's mental condition should be taken into account during sentencing," she said.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert Clark said genuine mental illness was relevant in sentencing. "But claims of mental illness should not be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility for culpable conduct."


19 May, 2012

Poll finds no Julia Gillard Government MP would survive election in Queensland, with 23% primary vote

Qld. is the "must win" state to form a Federal government

QUEENSLANDERS are waiting to smash Labor out of the state.  Support for federal Labor has collapsed to a mere 23 per cent in Queensland, the latest Galaxy poll conducted exclusively for The Courier-Mail shows.

No federal Labor MPs would be left in the Sunshine State if this result were repeated at the next election.

And the majority of voters say this humiliation would be just desserts for Labor.  Almost 60 per cent of respondents to the poll said Labor deserved to be reduced to a rump of one or two seats in Queensland.

Under Julia Gillard, Labor's primary vote has, for the second time, fallen to the lowest level recorded in the history of the Galaxy poll.  The 23 per cent primary vote marks a slump of more than 10 points since the last election.  It's a decline of seven points since the last state-based federal poll in November and takes Labor back to its low recorded in a Galaxy poll last August.

The Liberal National Party primary vote is now at 56 per cent. This would see Labor crushed in Queensland by 64 per cent to 36 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis, assuming preference flows from the past election.

The collapse in support suggests federal Labor has not gained any benefit after voters took out their anger on former premier Anna Bligh in March.

Galaxy chief David Briggs said the dire poll for federal Labor was in line with the two-party preferred figure observed in the state election.  "Support for the federal Labor Party has slumped in Queensland. Voters look like they are prepared to give Julia Gillard's federal team the same treatment that was meted out to the Bligh government in the recent state election," Mr Briggs said. The poll surveyed 800 people across Queensland last Tuesday and Wednesday.

It came just over a week after the Government used its Budget to promise $5 billion in new handouts to ease cost-of-living pressures for families and people on low incomes.  In the same week, the Government starting running advertisements promoting its coming suite of tax cuts and welfare boosts designed to compensate for the carbon tax.

But community opposition to the carbon tax appears to be growing stronger as the July 1 start date approaches.  Only 25 per cent of voters supported the carbon tax and 72 were opposed, the poll found.  Among Labor supporters, a small majority of 54 per cent supported the carbon tax. But among the LNP supporters who Labor needs to win over, only 8 per cent backed the tax.

Opinions have hardened in the nine months since a Galaxy poll in August found 28 per cent supported the tax and 67 per cent were opposed.


Tony Abbott rejects claim the carbon tax will have trivial impact

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has rejected claims he's "over-egged the pudding" with his warnings on the climate tax.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday said Australians would realise Mr Abbott had been scaremongering when the tax is implemented in July.

But Mr Abbott is standing by his claims, saying the more people know about the tax the less they like it.

"This is a gratuitous act of economic self-harm," he said at Flemington Markets in Sydney's west today.

"The carbon tax is socialism masquerading as environmentalism.

"The more the public see of the carbon tax, the less they like it.

"I think the public understand that compensation is for today, but the tax is forever and it's going to go up and up and up as time goes on."

From July 1, the Government will make less than 500 of Australia's biggest polluters pay an initial $23 for every tonne of carbon they put into the atmosphere.

This will be followed by a market-based emissions trading scheme in 2015.

The aim is to cut 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2020.


Quit Facebook or be expelled, school says

A Queensland primary school principal is threatening to expel students aged under 13 who refuse to delete their Facebook accounts, in a bold bid to stamp out cyber bullying at her school.

The policy has been applauded by cyber safety experts who say schools are grappling to deal with a surge in problems caused when children use social media sites designed for adults.

Leonie Hultgren, the principal of Harlaxton State School in Toowoomba, Queensland, has explained the school's new policy in its latest newsletter.

Ms Hultgren wrote that the school expected students would adhere to the Facebook guideline that users must be 13 years old to create an account.

It is not uncommon for primary students aged under 13 to falsify their birthdates to set up a Facebook account.

Ms Hultgren said it was school policy that students and their parents would obey state and Commonwealth laws, as well as the guidelines set by social networking sites, with regard to children's use of such sites. Therefore, she stated, no Harlaxton student aged under 13 was to have a Facebook account.

"Parents should understand that a student who contravenes the law or rule in a digital scenario may need to meet with the Principal to discuss this issue and their continued enrolment at Harlaxton," Ms Hultgren wrote.

The Queensland Education Department’s director for the Toowoomba region, Greg Dickman, said the department, "fully supports the principal in managing these issues at a school level".

He said Queensland state school principals had the power to discipline students if they were found to be using technology inappropriately "both at school and outside of school hours".

A Victorian Education Department spokeswoman said that while principals could seek meetings with parents if students aged under 13 had Facebook accounts, they did not have the same disciplinary powers as their Queensland counterparts.

"The principal can only request the family to remove their child's Facebook profile," the spokeswoman said.

Ms Hultgren declined to be interviewed, but in an open letter to parents, she detailed the thinking behind the new policy. She acknowledged some families may ask: Why is Facebook a school issue?

"As many of the parents in the (senior) class would testify, there has been some considerable Facebook traffic that either bullies a child of this school or in some cases denigrates some staff and the school. Either of these circumstances warrant the school becoming involved," she wrote.

But Steven Troeth, a partner at Gadens Lawyers, which provides legal advice to leading Melbourne schools, said that while schools had the right to take disciplinary action when Facebook was used to bully students or staff, even if the bullying occurred outside school hours, he doubted principals had the authority to issue a blanket ban on social media.

He said the Facebook guideline that stipulated users must be aged 13 and older was not enforced by any law.

" 'You won't come to our school if you have a Facebook page' seems to me to be extending beyond the realms of the school's ability to dictate what students can and can't do at home," Mr Troeth said.

"But it's understandable that they might want to have some control over it because of the potential to impact on the school."

Cyber safety expert and former Victorian policewoman Susan McLean advised the Toowoomba principal on the new policy. Ms McLean said the reaction from some quarters was "appalling".

"You could not print the response to the principal that some of the mothers wrote on Facebook," Ms McLean said.

She said children broke the law if they provided false information online about their ages. Schools had a duty of care, she said, which meant that if they knew a student aged under 13 had a Facebook account then the child needed to be reported to Facebook so the account could be deactivated.

"If a child cannot and will not make a good decision on their own personal safety, if their parents fail in their job in protecting their own children then the next line of defence is teachers," Ms McLean said.

Ms Hultgren's move has been applauded by adolescent and child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg.

Dr Carr-Gregg has spoken to the Toowoomba principal and congratulated her on her stance.

"I think this is a desperate attempt to deal with really disturbing and problematic Facebook behaviour which is impacting on her school," Dr Carr-Gregg said.

Dr Carr-Gregg said increasing numbers of primary schools in Victoria were experiencing problems as a result of Facebook use among students.

"It's directly related to the lack of supervision of very young people who do not have the skills, knowledge and strategies to manage their digital behaviour."

In her letter to parents and students, Ms Hultgren applauded those who had refused to allow their children to set up a Facebook account before they turned 13.

"There is a reason why the legal age for Facebook in Australia is 13. There is an assumption that by that age children will have been taught (and understand ) the implications of using social media. It is anticipated that the child will have gained a strong moral purpose and be able to differentiate between what is socially acceptable and lawful and what could be considered libellous and unlawful.

"We have spent the last five years teaching our students about respect, relationships and resilience. It may seem insignificant to lie about your age to gain access to a social media site but where does it stop?"


Qld. Health bureaucracy on the way out

LOCAL hospital boards will have the power to hire and fire their own chief executives under new laws to be introduced in State Parliament today.

At least 17 new boards will be established to run the state's 128 hospitals.

The move by Health Minister Lawrence Springborg is seen as a full-frontal attack on central control of hospitals favoured by the Labor state governments for nearly two decades.

Under new Health and Hospitals Network legislation, the boards will be responsible for their own financial management and be able to set their own priorities for patient care.

The new law is seen as the first step by the Newman Government in tearing down the massive Queensland Health bureaucracy which has been criticised for having more spin doctors than real doctors.

Under the Springborg plan even the ownership of land and buildings will be vested in the boards.

In more populated areas, Mr Springborg also plans to establish a series of ancillary boards to wrench power out of the hands of city bureaucrats and return it to the regions.

The boards will begin operating from July 1.

"They will no longer be outposts of the empire," a spokesman said. "They will be accountable and responsible to themselves. They will run their own show."

Under the changes each board will have to have a doctor or nurse as a member and each chief executive will be subject to the direction of the minister.

The boards will, however, be required to seek ministerial approval if they intend to end an existing hospital service.

Local boards will have autonomy in speaking to the press, ending years of frustration from local media organisations unable to gain comment on vital matters of public interest in their areas.

Under the Springborg plan hospitals will have to regularly publish surgery waiting lists and "ramping" details - the number of times patients in ambulances are forced to wait outside hospitals while beds are found.

The lack of local input was one of the reasons why complaints against rogue surgeon Jayant Patel were not taken seriously.

Patel was the Bundaberg Hospital surgeon jailed over the deaths of three patients.

Under the new laws the minister will have the power to suspend the chief executive or members of hospital boards for misconduct.

Mr Springborg is understood to have consulted leading barrister Tony Morris, QC, for advice on the changes.

A source told The Courier-Mail that an administrator might be appointed to run a Cape York board.


16 May, 2012

Constitutional  limits on media censorship in Australia

Bloggers seem safe from regulation

Scouring the internet for opinions on the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth to regulate the media in the manner proposed in the Finkelstein report, I came across a submission to Finkelstein's own inquiry from the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law, part of the University of New South Wales

The submission is dated 14 November 2011, and does not appear in the official list of submissions (as far as I can see, let me know if it is there) and deals precisely with the issue in question: namely, to what extent the Commonwealth has the power to regulate traditional and new media.

One question that must be asked immediately is why the submission is omitted from the list on the Inquiry web site. It was sourced via the Gilbert + Tobin Centre's own index of submissions. There may be a reasonable explanation for this, but in the interests of transparency it should be stated.

UPDATE: The Inquiry responded to my email about this, stating:
"It is an oversight that the submission has not been published. The submission will be published shortly."

The submission now appears on the consultation page.  Here are a few relevant extracts:
The Australian Constitution does not confer upon the Commonwealth any general power to regulate the all types of news media. Instead, the degree to which the Commonwealth can regulate in this area varies across mediums....


The Commonwealth has no direct head of legislative power with respect to the print media. However, the Commonwealth may nonetheless regulate the print media by virtue of indirect heads of power such as those relating to trade and commerce, taxation, corporations, external affairs and the Territories. The most significant of these is the corporations power – its potential application to news media regulation is expanded on below. In addition, the Commonwealth may regulate print media where doing so is incidental to the exercise of a direct head of power – for example, it can limit ownership and control of print media as a condition of radio and television broadcasting licenses issued by virtue of section 51(v).


The extent of Commonwealth power over matters concerning the internet, including journalism that is published online, is yet to be considered by the High Court. However, it is likely that the internet falls within the scope of section 51(v) either as a ‘telephonic’ or ‘other like service’, and that federal regulation could validly extend to the means of online communication, such as infrastructure (eg, the installation of fibre optic cables) and the conduct of internet service providers (ISPs). Other heads of power, such as those mentioned above, may also support Commonwealth regulation of online content. The potential for this is explored further below.

So far, then, the Commonwealth has the power to regular print media indirectly, through the corporations power, or incidentally to the postal and telegraphic power. It also appears the Commonwealth may regulate internet and online media through the means of communication. However, the following paragraph reveals that Finkelstein's desire to regulate every blogger in Australia with more than 15,000 hits is beyond the powers of the Commonwealth:
To the extent that online journalism is carried out by constitutional corporations, it will be open to federal regulation via the corporations power in the same way the print journalism is. However, the extent of federal power is less certain where the online content is published by an entity that is not a constitutional corporation. A large number of individuals and bodies fall into this category, including any news outlets that operate as sole traders or partnerships, individual bloggers, and individuals posting on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

So where an organisation is a corporation, it can be regulated under the corporations power, but apart from that, there is no power to regulate their activities.
The extent of Commonwealth power to regulate online journalism of this nature is unclear. As noted above, it seems likely that section 51(v) authorises regulation of ISPs as bodies responsible for the transmission of online content. However, on current authority, it is doubtful that it extends to the regulation of the creators of content such as individual bloggers. Where news or other content appears online through a service such as Facebook which is controlled by a foreign or for-profit corporation, this could be regulated under the corporations power.

"Doubtful that it extends to the regulation of the creators of content such as individual bloggers" - this means that if Finkelstein's regime were to be enacted, it would have to place the burden on ISPs to censor content from blogs which fell foul of the regulatory framework, since there would be no power to act against the blogs themselves (unless they were corporations, and let's face it, few are).

Furthermore, the submission concludes:
The Commonwealth has extensive, unrealised potential to further regulate the Australian media, including the print media. The corporations power in particular provides a basis upon which to establish new regulation in this field. However, such regulation is subject to the limits of existing powers. In particular, the corporations power only extends to entities that are incorporated and operate as a financial, trading or foreign corporation. In the circumstances, it must be recognised that, although it has extensive power, the Commonwealth does not possess the legislative power to comprehensively regulate the media in Australia. The only means of achieving this would be via cooperation with the States.

And with New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland controlled by conservative  state governments, they can kiss that idea goodbye.


Don't write off cheques, experts warn

Cheques are an intrinsically hard-to-erase record of payments,  unlike shaky electronic records

The Australian Payments Clearing Association (APCA) says there is no need to phase out cheques despite their usage dropping by more than 60 per cent in the past decade.

The group, which has conducted a study into the future of cheques in the digital economy, will establish a plan to manage the decline of cheques and inform the small number of people still using them of cheaper and more efficient alternatives.

But it says the payments industry is best able to meet the future needs of those who still use cheques and the system does not need to be overhauled.

Five per cent of Australians still rely on cheques, particularly older Australians and those living in rural areas, as well as non-profit organisations including clubs, schools and charities, according to research commissioned by APCA.

Chief executive Chris Hamilton says more must be done to teach those users about electronic, online and telephone payment methods.

APCA has made several recommendations, including that banks and other financial institutions improve access to electronic payment methods for small businesses and non-profit organisations.

And it wants banks to provide online payment facilities in their branches for customers.

"Lots of different organisations need to participate - obviously the payments industry, principally the financial institutions can enhance existing electronic payments to make it easier to switch from cheques," Mr Hamilton said.

"We can actually make cheques operate more cheaply and effectively even as they're in decline. It's as much as anything about awareness, making sure that people know there's an easier electronic alternative."


Protest held against anti-association laws

About 70 people gathered at the steps of Parliament House in Perth to protest against the State Government's proposed anti-association laws.  The Government wants to make it illegal for people in known criminal organisations, including outlaw bikie gangs, to associate with each other.

Anthony Shepherd, from the United Motorcycle Council of WA, says if passed, the laws will affect the entire community.  "It's very important that everyone realise that this law is coming for them, not just the bikies," he said.

At a previous meeting, the Socialist Alliance's Alex Bainbridge said the bill challenged basic human rights.  "If someone's committed a crime, fair enough, they should be punished for that," he said.  "What this bill is going to punish people who are friends or associates, who come into contact with, people who have committed no crime themselves so that's a real fundamental injustice.

"And, it wouldn't matter if it was just bikies who are going to be affected by that.  "An injustice against anyone is something everyone should stand up against."

At the same meeting, the Civil Liberties Council's David Pugh said the legislation was outdated and unjust.


Criticism of homosexual marriage renders you judicially incompetent?

Diversity of views not allowed, apparently. The "personal reasons" mentioned below would be to reduce the flak he was getting

A member of Victoria's Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission board has resigned after stirring controversy by signing a petition opposing gay marriage.

Professor Kuruvilla George is also the state's deputy chief psychiatrist and one of a group of 150 doctors who wrote to a Senate inquiry on marriage equality.  The doctors' submission argued children with a mother and father were healthier than children with same-sex parents.

The petition has drawn criticism from other doctors and families of same-sex couples and yesterday prompted Victoria's chief psychiatrist to issue a statement defending Professor George.

Dr Ruth Vine said Professor George signed the petition "in his capacity as a private citizen", therefore he had not breached the code of conduct for public sector employees.

The Victorian Government also stepped into the debate, with Deputy Premier Peter Ryan saying the professor was not at fault.  "He's made his statements on a private basis, he's made them in that capacity," Mr Ryan said.  "He was not speaking on behalf of the Commission. "It's a point of view that he has expressed privately."

Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) chairman John Seale says Professor George made the decision to resign from the EOC board because of time constraints and for personal reasons.  He thanked Professor George for his service.

The petition to the Senate inquiry, submitted by the group Doctors For The Family, says children raised in heterosexual relationships "do better in all parameters".

Its convener Lachlan Dunjey, a right-to-life campaigner who has run as a Senate candidate for the Christian Democratic Party, told ABC News Radio the group was concerned about the health consequences for children of gay marriages.

"It's well proven that children who grow up with a mother and a father in a biological mother-and-father family do better than children who don't have the opportunity to grow up in that kind of family," he said.

AMA president Steve Hambleton has rejected the claims, saying there is no evidence that children with same-sex parents are any different to those with heterosexual parents.


Note:  I have another blog covering Australian  news. It is   more specialized so is not updated daily.  See Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour.  Quite a few posts recently

15 May, 2012

Western Sydney Liberal Party  MPs reject climate 'scare tactics'

You would think that the Warmists would be embarrassed to use  Flannery as spokesman, given his unbroken record of false prophecies.    But it is the big lie at work here so I suppose he fits in well with that

LIBERAL MPs in western Sydney electorates say predictions the region will suffer more ill-effects from climate change than the city's east are "alarmist" and politically motivated.

Member for Macarthur Russell Matheson said the Tim Flannery-headed Climate Commission was trying mount a favourable case for the government's looming carbon tax.

“They're trying to justify the carbon tax,” said Mr Matheson, whose seat takes in parts of Campbelltown and is one of Sydney's most westerly urban electorates.

He said the “doom and gloom” prediction was not borne out by recent experience.  “I think people are waking up to the fact that we're actually going through a cooling period at the present time,” Mr Matheson said.

“You've only got to look at aerial photographs of aerial Sydney to know we've been progressively greening the area.”

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who represents the neighbouring electorate of Hughes, branded the Climate Comission's findings as “nonsense”.  “It's just more of the alarmist scare tactics we've heard from Mr Flannery,' he said. “That's what he seems to be employed for. He is just ramping the scare tactics al the time.”

He said while western Sydney suffered during hot weather, it also experienced colder conditions than other areas of Sydney because it was further from the coast.

The Climate Commission report finds heatwaves are increasing in length and intensity and that the number of hot days in western Sydney rose by 60 per cent since the 1970s.

This was making the state more susceptible to bushfires and putting coastal areas at risk from sea level rises, it warns.

Mr Flannery, launching the report in Sydney, acknowledged the report had drawn criticism.  “Look, this is a hot political issue in Australia, there's no doubt about that,” he said. “I hope people will take a common sense approach to this and see that this is something we need to do.”

Fellow climate commissioner Professor Lesley Hughes said the report's aim wasn't to scare people but to prepare the public for the health risks associated with climate change.

Acting NSW Premier Andrew Stoner said the state government would consider the report, but said most people would view the commission's findings as “alarmist”.


Peak oil debate is over, say experts

THE debate about peak oil is over and the world has used just a fraction of the petroleum it will be possible to extract, an expert believes.

Speaking at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) 2012 conference in Adelaide, oil major Total's chief executive Christophe de Margerie said new sources of petroleum, such as tight gas and shale oil, meant that the world had ample supplies of petroleum.

Mr de Margerie said while there were economic and environmental issues which would affect how quickly resources were exploited, there was "definitely not a concern about reserves''.

His comments were echoed by Saudi Arabia's Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali I. Naimi, who told the conference new technology would continue to drive the petroleum sector.

"It is estimated that the world has consumed something like one trillion barrels of oil since the industry started in the nineteenth century,'' he said.

"It is thought there are at least five trillion barrels of petroleum potentially recoverable.

"But it is not just that oil continues to be discovered. It is that technology, partly driven by prices, enables ever greater reserves to be booked, and eventually recovered.

"The world has plenty of reserves, and they will continue to fuel prosperity and growth around the world for many decades.''

Mr I. Naimi said the petroleum sector sector did need to be supplemented with other forms of energy such as solar and other renewable sources.

"The challenge for all of us is to use our technology and ingenuity to create a low carbon future,'' he said.

"I call for greater collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Australia on this, but also among all countries.''


Brisbane tent "embassy" vows to sit tight

There is a stand-off between council officials and Indigenous activists who are claiming sovereignty in Musgrave Park at South Brisbane.   Delegates from the tent embassy in the park say they are prepared to go to court and jail in their fight for sovereignty.

The Brisbane Sovereign embassy was set up two months ago in the park, which is a traditional meeting place for Indigenous people in Brisbane's inner-city.  Organisers say it is there to promote the political rights of Aboriginal people and is not a protest.

They have refused to pack up their camp today and move from the park ahead of the weekend Paniyiri Greek festival.

Negotiations have now broken down and council officers have closed the park and directed the protesters to leave with their possessions immediately.  Council officials and police have been at the site trying to negotiate with the group of largely Indigenous people.

Tent embassy members say the Greek festival does not have a problem with them being there.  Embassy spokesman Wayne Wharton says Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk has shown no respect.  "Under our law we are here as guests of the Juggera people," he said.  "Under law to stand uninted and defend first nation's rights to our sovereignty.

"Now if it means going to jail under that law, and going to courts under that law, and we have to defend it, so be it."

The embassy says any attempt by police or the council to forcefully remove them will only jeopardise the festival, because the incident will escalate into a major protest.

They say Aborigines will converge on Musgrave Park in support of the tent embassy.

The embassy says it has attracted thousands of residents to cultural events in the park since it started and are not interested in a violent confrontation with police.  They hope the council will resume talks over the issue.

Compromise needed

Mr Quirk says he did not have a problem with the tent embassy until it expanded.

He says he has forged good relations with the Aboriginal community and wants that to continue.

However, Mr Quirk says the tent embassy has to compromise and move to an adjoining site to make space for other activities.  He says local elders have also expressed concerns about the direction being taken at the campsite.  "The embassy has grown in numbers - there are a lot of people now sleeping there overnight," Mr Quirk said.

"Council was prepared to allow a peaceful protest to continue but it would need to be scaled-down basis and in another location.

"My relationship with Indigenous elders in this city remains strong and from my point of view that will continue."

Mr Quirk says the council has offered to move the embassy several hundred metres to an adjoining site.

"I am not going predict what might and might not happen in the future," he said.  "I will just say this that my position was made very clear on Saturday and I am giving every opportunity for this to occur.

"We will just wait and see so that area of land is needed and again I have made an offer for an alternate site."

'Time to move'

Mr Quirk says it is time for the protest to move because there are several festivals and events coming up in Musgrave Park, including NAIDOC Week.

"I made it clear when I met with them last Saturday that while we had shown patience as a city," he said.  "[However], it was time for them to move - to do it on a piece of Indigenous-related land which is further up - only a few hundreds metres from their site where they are at the moment.  "But again, it would need to be a scaled-down process."

Queensland Greens spokeswoman Libby Connors says a confrontational approach will almost certainly lead to a violent showdown.  "The Lord Mayor should resume negotiations and calm everybody down," she said.  "People are gathering because they are getting worried that their right to use the park is under threat.  "We know for years the Aboriginal community has accepted and respected Paniyiri."


Talks over cattle export ban compo

A year after animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs brought the live export cattle trade to a standstill, the industry is in secret compensation talks with the Federal Government.

But people within the industry say the Meat and Livestock Association should be the focus of any claim, alleging it was aware of the problem well before footage aired on ABC's Four Corners program.

With new and stronger auditing requirements the trade has resumed, but according to the industry in the Northern Territory the damage is still being felt.

"It's still pretty tough up here. Cattle production isn't like retail or manufacturing where you can just close the doors and reopen the doors later on," the Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association's Kevin Mulvahil said.

"Producers normally put the profits they make into next year's production, so from their point of view it's a very tough year this year."

Official surveys at the time revealed more than 300 employees were laid off at farms across the Top End, but Mr Mulvahil says the job losses represent only a small portion of the damage.

"Everyone involved lost significant amounts of money - from stockfeed suppliers, holding yards, trucking companies as well as producers, the live exporters, ship owners and right down through the chain to the people in feedlots in Indonesia where they rely on the live export industry to provide income for hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Now, a statement of risk from the federal budget papers shows a potential class action has been received from a law firm on behalf of 21 clients.

"The Australian Government may become liable for compensation following the decision by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to suspend the export of livestock to Indonesia for a period of one month in 2011," the papers said.

Minter Ellison is the law firm leading the negotiations.

None of the claimants will comment on the negotiations and most people in the cattle export industry know nothing about it.

But 7.30 understands the group is making a claim for hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from the Government.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has also received a claim under the scheme of compensation for detriment caused by defective administration, from a law firm on behalf of three of its clients.
'Someone has to pay'

The case has not reached the courts but is instead a direct negotiation with the Government.

To this day, Indonesia's quota of cattle from Australia is well down on what it was before the ban and independent federal MP Bob Katter says someone has to pay.

"There are many cattlemen up here, their losses would've been close to $1 million or pretty close to it and there would've been a lot of them," he said.

"As I understand it, Indonesia has said 'we've had a gutful'."

Mr Katter likes the chances of a class action but says it should be directed at Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), not the Government.  "The body that was paid a $100 million a year to look after our interests quite frankly had done nothing whatsoever," he said.

"So I mean there's a magnificent case for a class action, but I would think that the MLA would be caught in the action here."

The MLA is not the target of this action, but other industry lawyers agree they should be.

Cattle industry lawyer Norman Hunt says the industry body knew of animal cruelty but failed to stop it.  "They had the knowledge, in a joint report published in 2010, and really failed to let the industry know there's a time bomb ticking - they allowed the time bomb to explode," he said.

Mr Hunt is advising his clients to wait for the negotiations with the Government to be resolved before taking action.

"I think the claims could be significant. I'm not sure if it really is hundreds of millions of dollars, but there are lots of people who had bought properties in the Top End specifically for the live export trade," he said.

"The value of those properties dropped as a consequence, a lot of people got caught with cattle ready to go that they couldn't send, and had to sell at a huge discount on the domestic market so the potential claim could be quite significant."

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig says he cannot talk about the class action.

In the past he has steadfastly maintained he did the right thing in ordering the export ban, but behind the scenes the case is far from closed.


14 May, 2012

Your regulators will protect you -- NOT

THREE doctors told investigators they had to patrol a Gold Coast hospital, turning on life support systems after a rogue specialist switched them off to speed up the deaths of several elderly patients.

"Lots more patients would have died if the doctors had not gone around and turned them back on," whistleblower Jo Barber said yesterday. "The doctors were not interviewed by police, even though there was compelling evidence of unlawful killings."

Ms Barber, a former police officer, took statements from the doctors four years ago in her role as chief investigator at the Medical Board of Queensland.

She said: "As the interviews continued I kept reporting more and more explosive allegations of deliberate harm to patients. "But I was told repeatedly the medical board handled matters in-house, and there was no need to go to the police."

The rogue doctor was described by a colleague as a psychopath in a recording now in possession of the CMC.

Ms Barber said she was astounded the doctor did not lose his registration even though the medical board put restrictions on his work, including banning him from working in intensive care units.

The board's functions were taken over by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, a federal body, in 2010.

Ms Barber was the board's representative on the Health Quality and Complaints Commission and is now employed by Queensland Health's ethical standards unit.

She has accused all the watchdog agencies of failing in their duty to protect patients.

Retired judge Richard Chesterman, QC, and the CMC's Inspector Cameron Byram are examining serious allegations against doctors on the Gold Coast and at Brisbane, Townsville, Toowoomba, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

Although she is co-operating with the CMC, Ms Barber said she was concerned it was not moving quickly enough.

She said the CMC failed in its oversight of the other agencies when she first sounded the alarm.

She has given the CMC the names of 18 doctors she says maimed and killed patients.

Many of the doctors are recklessly incompetent and still practising, she said.


Doctors group says heterosexual marriage better for kids

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has distanced itself from a group of prominent doctors who say children are better off when raised by heterosexual parents, rather than same-sex couples.

Around 150 medical practitioners from the group Doctors for the Family, including a member of Victoria's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, say children raised in heterosexual relationships "do better in all parameters".

The group has signed a submission to the Senate inquiry into marriage equality, opposing same-sex marriage and asserting that marriage between a man and a woman is the "basis for a healthy society".

The submission says that marriage, as it is currently defined under the Marriage Act 2004, is more stable than same-sex marriages.

Doctors for the Family's convener, Lachlan Dunjey, told ABC News Radio the group is concerned about the health consequences for children of gay marriages.

"It's well proven that children who grow up with a mother and a father in a biological mother-and-father family do better than children who don't have the opportunity to grow up in that kind of family," he said.

But AMA president Steve Hambleton has rejected the claims, saying there is no evidence that children with same-sex parents are any different to those with heterosexual parents.

"There is a growing body of evidence that says there's no difference in their psychological development, their general health, their sexual orientation," he said.

Dr Hambleton says the opinions expressed in the submission do not reflect the views of the wider medical community, saying there are nearly 90,000 doctors in Australia.

Meanwhile, Victoria's Deputy Chief Psychiatrist, Professor Kuravilla George, who was appointed to the board of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission by the State Government, is one of the doctors who signed the petition.

Victoria's Mental Health Minister is seeking an urgent explanation from the state's Chief Psychiatrist, Ruth Vine, over her deputy's decision to join forces with Doctors For The Family.

A spokesman for Victoria's Mental Health Minister, Mary Wooldridge, says the Government was unaware of the submission and is seeking an immediate explanation.

Professor George has declined the ABC's request for an interview but confirmed his involvement with the group.


Forget measly tax cuts - businesses need government reform

The Gillard government has reneged on its promise to reduce the corporate tax rate by 1% – a cut that was part of the package to secure the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT). Although this backflip will surely anger the business community, there are far bigger problems affecting the bottom lines of Australian businesses.

Many small business owners cite a strong dollar, growing regulatory burden, and inflexible labour laws as major impediments to their competitiveness. There is not much the government can do about the strength of the dollar, since strong demand for minerals at home and weak financial markets abroad have caused large capital inflows.

But the government can help ease the regulatory burden and increase labour market flexibility.

On regulation, the Productivity Commission has published some meaningful proposals. In last year’s Review of Regulatory Burdens on Business, the commission drew attention to promising developments in the states. Victoria, NSW, South Australia, and Queensland have all implemented Red Tape Reduction Targets.

These targets require departments and agencies to reduce existing compliance costs by a certain value within a specific time period. Most refer to the costs related to paperwork, but in some cases (Victoria, for example), this includes the costs created by delays.

There has been a degree of success with this approach. Victoria set a reduction target of $500 million by 2012. The state estimated that reductions had reached $401 million by July 2010. Perhaps the federal government could implement some ambitious reduction targets of its own.

On labour market flexibility, the fact that the passage of the Fair Work Act did not include an accompanying Regulatory Impact Statement (as is common with many large reforms) has been a major cause for concern.

Though some headway has been made in the simplification of awards, much rigidity still remains.

The retail sector could benefit from a loosening of penalty rate rules and minimum hours for shifts. This would provide some breathing space from the pressures of declining consumer confidence, increased saving, and online competition. Unfair dismissal provisions can be scrapped, or at least tightened, to reduce both the costs arising from claims and the employment risk that new workers now pose.

All these measures are concrete changes the federal government can make to yield significant cost savings for businesses across the board.


Student's suspension was wrong, Victorian school admits

A SCHOOL has been forced to apologise to a student suspended because his parents didn't attend a parent-teacher interview.

Sunbury Downs College principal Brett Moore had to revoke the suspension, allowing year 12 student Brendan Mason to return after the exasperated family took the story to the media.

"There's been a misunderstanding (with) what the parents have to do and what the person in charge of this thought they had to do," Mr Moore said.

Brendan's dad, Andrew, said his son had a learning disability and would struggle to make up classes he had missed.  "He has a full-time aide, so we constantly meet his integration aide, his teachers, we meet his pathways teachers to help out with what he's doing, the direction he's going and what's happening," Mr Mason said.

The parents were shocked when Brendan was pulled into the vice-principal's office on Tuesday and told he would not be allowed to attend classes yesterday as his parents had missed a parent-teacher meeting last week.

Mr Mason said he and wife Dee never attended the meetings as they had separate, more regular, appointments with Brendan's integration aide and subject teachers.

"Ever since year 7 we have constantly had the same processes ... I explained this to (the vice-principal) and there was no flexibility from her," he said.  "She was just like, 'that's bad luck, that's policy'."

He said he was dumbfounded the school punished his son for something his parents had done.  "There's no flexibility, I'm upset, I'm angry, I just can't see how they punish children," he said.


12 May, 2012

Budget a political loser?

This is an online poll so is very unreliable

JULIA Gillard's cash splash on families may not be enough to win back public support, with twice as many voters saying they will be left worse off by the Budget than those who feel better off.

Despite $5 billion in new family and welfare handouts in the Budget, almost two thirds of voters believe the Government has not done enough to offset the likely increase in costs from the carbon tax.

In a warning sign to Treasurer Wayne Swan, 80 per cent of those surveyed did not believe he would be able to deliver his promised Budget surplus next year.

The findings - in an exclusive Galaxy poll conducted for The Courier-Mail - come as new Treasury analysis reveals some low-income families on $40,000 will pocket an extra $6099 over the next two years from a combination of carbon tax compensation and the new Budget perks.

Labor is hoping to win back low and middle-income voters with a series of cash injections through tax cuts and welfare boosts designed to create a buffer ahead of price rises from the carbon tax starting to flow in the coming months.

The Budget set out further boosts to parents, welfare and family payments that will roll out between next month and July 2013 - only months before the next election is due.

But judging by the first poll since the Budget, Labor's sales pitch has failed.  A third of those polled said the Budget made them less likely to vote Labor. Only 11 per cent said they were more likely to vote Labor.  About 46 per cent of voters believed they would be worse off after the Budget.

Even among those who identified as Labor voters, 37 per cent thought they would be worse off, while two thirds of Coalition voters thought they would suffer from the Budget.

The poll surveyed 602 voters across the country via online questions on Thursday and yesterday.

 A majority of families earning more than $90,000 expect to be worse off, but even 43 per cent of those on less than $40,000 think they will be Budget losers, the poll found.


The sleight of hand in the Gillard/Swan budget

It's a surplus only in a technical sense.  A lot of the announced "goodies" come out of this year's budget, not out of the budget just announced.  And  the big NBN expenditure is left out!

Swan has had to move a lot of things around between years to make it possible to keep the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's, election promise to get the budget back to surplus in 2012-13. When he's taken spending and pulled it forward into the last few weeks of the old financial year, that's not genuine for our purposes. For the government's accountants, whether something happens on June 30 or on July 1 makes all the difference in the world. You've got to draw the line somewhere, and that's where we draw it.

From the perspective of the budget's effect on the economy, however, a difference of a few days or a few weeks is a difference that doesn't make any difference.

And it turns out a big part of the $46 billion turnaround is explained by Swan's decision to draw spending forward into the last few weeks of the old year. There's compensation for the carbon tax (which doesn't start until July 1) of $2.7 billion, advance payment of natural disaster relief funds to Queensland of $2.3 billion, a bring-forward of infrastructure spending of $1.4 billion, the new "schoolkids bonus" cash splash of $1.3 billion, and financial assistance grants to local government of $1.1 billion.

That long list adds up to $8.8 billion. But here's the trick: when you take money out of one year and put it into the year before, you have twice the effect on the difference between the two years. So Swan's bring-forward of that spending explains $17.6 billion of the $46 billion turnaround.

Another thing to take account of is that the new year's budget is expected to benefit from increased revenue from resource rent taxes of $5.7 billion (that's from the existing petroleum rent tax as well as the new minerals rent tax). The point is that these taxes are explicitly designed to tax "economic rent", so they have no effect on the incentive to exploit petroleum or mineral deposits and thus have no effect on economic activity. A further factor is that, thanks to a quirk of public accounting, Swan's underlying cash surplus of $1.5 billion takes no account of the government's spending on the continuing rollout of the national broadband network.

The budget item "net cash flows from investment in financial assets for policy purposes" is expected to involve increased spending of about $6 billion in 2012-13. Not all of that would be the broadband network rollout. But to the extent it involves the government funding economic activity, it has the effect of reducing the budget's adverse effect on economic activity.

Put these three arguments together and you conclude the budget's drag on demand would be less than half the 3 percentage points of GDP we started with.

Even so, it's still a big effect. There's no denying the stance of fiscal policy is contractionary.

But the budget is only one of the factors affecting aggregate demand. It's also only one of the instruments available to the macro-economic managers to influence demand.

So if fiscal policy proves to be too tight, the obvious remedy will be to further loosen monetary policy - to cut the official interest rate, in plain English. The stance of monetary policy is already mildly expansionary and, if necessary, it can be made more so.


Latest unemployment statistics not what they seem

 The national jobless rate - the number of jobless people expressed as a percentage of the total number of people either employed or looking for work - fell from 5.2 per cent to 4.9 per cent, an unusually large fall in one month.

This was particularly odd given total employment rose only 15,500, pretty much in line with the historic average monthly gain over the past 20 years.

The super-sized fall in the jobless rate was made possible by a fall in the participation rate - the proportion of the working-aged civilian population either in work or looking for it - from 65.3 per cent to 65.2 per cent.

Why is the participation rate falling if there are more jobs on offer? A very good question and one to which economists have, largely, drawn a blank.

Over the past year, the participation rate has fallen from 65.6 per cent, reversing a longer-term trend of higher participation. Economists estimate that had participation not fallen, unemployment would be in the mid to high 5 per cent range.


Killjoy bureaucrats ban giveaway

Australian businessman Dick Smith will be popping into houses across the country to share his wealth and a cup of tea - Dick Smith-branded, of course - with Australians over the next six months.

But Canberrans will miss out on meeting the entrepreneur during his $20,000 giveaway because the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission doesn't approve of his "promotion" and the way "it is currently being run".

The premise of the cash giveaway, Mr Smith said, was: "If I knock on your door and you have one of my Dick Smith branded products in your home, then I will give you $500 cash on the spot. I will also stay and have a cup of tea with you."  It's all about supporting Australian farmers, he said.

Mr Smith had planned on visiting a few houses in the capital today while he was in town speaking at Parliament House about the importance of Australian farming.

But an email from the commission to Dick Smith Food's marketing and online manager, seen by The Canberra Times, reveals the competition is not allowed in the ACT.

"The winners of this promotion are being chosen at random and there is no way for us to regulate that this is being done in a fair and transparent manner or that all entrants have an equal chance of winning this lottery," the email from the commission read.

"You must provide a statement on the advertising that advises that ACT residents cannot participate in the lottery."

Mr Smith has already given away thousands of dollars since Monday, when the giveaway started. He said the giveaway had been approved by all states in Australia and thought it was "ridiculous" it wasn't allowed in Canberra.

"The Canberra bureaucracy said there had to be an entry form," Mr Smith said.  "How can anyone stop me from giving $500 away if I'm that eccentric? Only in Canberra does this happen."

A spokesman from the commission said yesterday applicants were required to submit the terms and conditions of their competitions. Applicants are not issued a permit if they don't meet legislative requirements and conditions.


Sydney Morning Herald admits to pollution deception

Where there's smoke, there's fire in the bellies of readers. Several times in past months the Herald has used photographs of steam rising from power station chimneys with captions or subheads intimating that the steam was a polluting pall.

The most recent example was on the cover of BusinessDay on April 17. The photo, taken at Bayswater power station in July last year, shows funnels of dark steam silhouetted against white clouds and a blue sky. It is an arresting image, so much so that several readers suggested it had been manipulated. A subhead was placed on it which said "Up in smoke". One picture, three words, dozens of complaints.

An example: "This is clearly a digitally enhanced photograph but, because it focuses on smoke, it has nothing whatever to do with the story below it, which is about government policy regarding global warming, which relates to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, not smoke. Worse, there is no smoke in this photograph. If there was going to be smoke, it would come from the two narrow chimneys in the centre of the photograph. What is inferred to be smoke is actually steam, coming from the two cooling towers on either side of the chimneys."

Another reader suggested it had been shot at sunset "when everyone knows that objects become blacker and more two-dimensional". And another, who described the image and subhead as "an egregious deception", added: "An old trick, been done many times before, and hardly appropriate for a serious section of a serious newspaper."

First, the photographer did not manipulate the image in any way. He says he shot a series of four in the middle of the day using F22, which means a small aperture made the images razor sharp. And the reason he stopped to take the pics on the way to another job was because the scene looked so unusual. He presumes the darkness of the vapour was because it was heavy with moisture.

Second, and for me the most galling, is that the photographer had clearly written in his attached caption: "Please note that it is NOT smoke coming out of the stacks, it is steam."

Many readers feel the Herald and The Sun-Herald do not publish enough alternative opinions and stories on climate change and global warming, that they have formed an opinion and will stick with it. If you read the Herald's editorials, there appears little doubt that it has accepted the scientific consensus on the effects of carbon pollution on climate: there has been a gradual warming of the planet. The Sun-Herald leans that way, too. So when those who question the climate-change science see what they consider examples of the "old trick" referred to by the reader, they feel their concerns are justified.

The decision to use the image with such a misleading subhead was a poor one, and one which drew a message from the editor to ensure it did not recur. Although it was not the first time it has happened, hopefully it will be the last.


11 May, 2012

Australia's MUSLIM heritage???

There were a few Afghan cameleers in the early days but just about all other Muslim influences in Australia are very recent

Arts Minister Simon Crean and Multicultural Affairs Minister Senator Kate Lundy today announced $1.5 million in Australian Government funding to support capital works for the creation of the Islamic Museum of Australia in Melbourne.

Speaking at the launch of a new documentary Boundless Plains – the Australian Muslim Connection, Senator Lundy said the Australian Government was proud to support such a significant project that recognised the invaluable contribution of Islamic culture and heritage.

'The Islamic Museum of Australia will help to foster understanding and promote community harmony and social inclusion,' Senator Lundy said.

'It will serve to educate the wider Australian community of the rich and longstanding history that Islam has had in our nation.

'Here in Melbourne, the Museum will join a rich tapestry of cultural institutions celebrating the contribution of Greek, Italian, Jewish and Chinese communities.'

Mr Crean said the Islamic Museum of Australia would make a significant contribution to the cultural life of our nation.  'Culture is incredibly important to understanding ourselves better, not just as individuals, but as a nation,' Mr Crean said.

'Australia is uniquely placed. We have one of the oldest living cultures on earth and we continue to attract the greatest diversity of cultures on earth.  'That is why we are proud to be involved in this partnership for community cultural development.'


Tony Abbott accuses Julia Gillard of playing ‘class war card'

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has accused the Gillard Government of playing "the class war card" in the Budget by dumping a company tax cut to pay for means tested cash payments to families.

"The fundamental problem with this Budget is that it deliberately, coldly, calculatedly plays the class war card," he said in his televised formal Budget reply to Parliament last night.

"A drowning government has decided to portray the political contest in this country as billionaires versus battlers."

Mr Abbott said he would deliver tax cuts without a carbon tax but gave no specific detail of the size or how he would pay for it.

"It's not as if savings are impossible to find," he said.

He suggested he would cut funding for the African Development Bank, the National Broadband Network and defence purchasing public servants.

Mr Abbott's pledge that all pre-school children will have the chance to learn Asian languages such as Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean and Indian if he becomes Prime Minister was the only new focus in his Budget reply.

Mr Abbott gave no details about how much his Asian language plan would cost but said it would require a "generational shift" to train teachers.

Mr Abbott said while Australia was supposed to be adapting to the Asian century, the proportion of year 12 students studying a foreign language had dropped from 40 per cent in the 1960s to 12 per cent.

He said there were only 300 year 12 Mandarin students who were not of Chinese-speaking heritage.

"If Australians are to make their way in the world, we cannot rely on other people speaking our language," he said.

Mr Abbott promised the fiscal details of the his alternative Budget would be revealed before the next election as he hit back on criticism that his reply was short on detail.

While his response has received criticism that it was short on detail, Mr Abbott said the Opposition had a plan to find the savings it had promised.

"Yesterday was a Budget reply, it's not an alternative Budget," Mr Abbott said Channel 9 today.

"In good time before the next election people will have all of the fiscal detail from us."

Finance Minister Penny Wong described the Opposition leader's tactic when it came to the Australian people as: "Tell them nothing."

"Tony Abbott has simply rehashed old policy, not put forward any detail, in an attempt to pretend that he has something other to say than 'No'," she said.


Why Did a Judge Waive a Jury Trial for an Islamist Who Allegedly Tried to Throw His Sister-in-Law Off a Parking Garage?‏

In 2009, Ismail Belghar reportedly attacked his sister-in-law, Canan Kokden, after she “dared” take his wife to the beach without his permission.  Given away by his wife’s “slightly sunburned shoulders,” Belghar reportedly called Kokden in a rage and said: “You slut, how dare you take my wife to the beach?”

But when he next saw her, things escalated to a frightening degree.  Kokden was shopping with her brother shortly before Christmas 2009 when she encountered Belghar. He allegedly came up to her, slapped her across the face, and then dragged her to the railing of a high-rise parking garage and dangled her over it.  Kokden was saved only when her brother tackled Belghar, and forced him to let her go.

But this is not why Belghar’s story has made international news. Rather, it is because the man was due to have what is believed to be the first jury-less trial in Australia, because of his religious beliefs.

“The attitude of (Belghar) … is based on a religious or cultural basis. In light of the fact there has been adverse publicity regarding people who hold extreme Muslim faith beliefs in the community, I am of the view that the apprehension by (Belghar) that he may not receive a fair trial is a reasonable apprehension,” Judge Solomon said.

“Are Aussies too biased to try this Muslim man?” the Australian Telegraph asked today.

Still others wonder: Are this man’s religious beliefs somehow granting him special considerations? Would an ordinary accused woman-beater be excused from a jury of his peers?

Australians have been so outraged by the matter that the Crown intervened in the case, saying that every Muslim would have to be granted a judge-only trial if it prevailed.

Belghar’s trial was due to start yesterday, but because he denied the charge of attempted murder and apologized to his sister-in-law, the charge has been dropped. Rather, he is pleading guilty to detaining and assaulting Kokden, and will be sentenced at a later date.


Leftist ideas about school discipline reap their inevitable reward

TEACHERS and principals have stepped up calls for help to deal with rising child mental health and behavioural issues as student violence continues to cause problems across the state.

It comes as bus companies in southeast Queensland consider banning students because of wild behaviour accusations.

At Caboolture, a school community is still in shock after a 14-year-old girl was stabbed multiple times, allegedly by a 16-year-old fellow pupil this week - the third Queensland schoolyard stabbing in a little over two years.

Figures show about 20,000 suspensions were handed out last year for physical misconduct in state schools alone, with about 62,000 suspensions issued overall.  That's about 300 suspensions for every school day.  Exclusions have gone up with more than 1000 state school students expelled or excluded last year.

Last year The Courier-Mail revealed some principals complained their days were consumed with dealing with child behavioural and mental health issues and had called for every school to have access to a professional who co-ordinated issues involving child social and emotional wellbeing.

Yesterday, Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said schools were a reflection of society and they had seen an increase in the mental and emotional needs of students, along with those diagnosed with verified disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder.  "We have seen a rise in students displaying anxiety and depression from quite an early age," she said.

Schools were now dealing with these issues "on a daily basis" and she renewed her call for stand-alone professionals.

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said its policy was for every school to have access to a guidance officer. But he said the number of guidance officers simply hadn't "kept pace with the needs of schools as these sorts of issues have expanded" and were "spread thin" across the system.

Queensland Secondary Principals Association president Norm Fuller said they had also called for extra support, while behaviour issues in schools were a reflection of what was happening in society.

But last night Education Minister John Paul-Langbroek crushed the idea of providing more guidance officers, saying the Labor government legacy meant there was not enough money in the kitty and chaplains would do instead.

"The mental health of Queensland school kids is of paramount importance," he said.  "Unfortunately, due to Labor's debt legacy, we just simply do not have the money to have a guidance counsellor in every school."

He said 80 per cent of state high schools and more than 40 per cent of state primaries had a chaplain and the LNP had committed a further $1 million to fund them.

Education Queensland assistant director-general Tom Barlow said there were 477 guidance officers in about 1250 state schools.

It is understood there are a further 1271 specialist staff including chaplains, nurses, therapists and teacher aides.

Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Mike Byrne said student behaviour and mental health were growing issues and his schools had structures in place to deal with it.

He said it would be up to the individual 22 Catholic school authorities on whether they placed a blanket ban on knives, suggested by the Queensland Schools Alliance Against Violence (QSAAV).

Yesterday he sent QSAAV materials to Diocesan leaders and school principals.


10 May, 2012

Another broken promise

BUSINESS leaders have blasted Labor for welching on its reform promises after a shock budget decision to abandon tax cuts for 770,000 companies cast new doubt on the Gillard government's commitment to live up to its vows.

Company executives rounded on the government yesterday for failing to use the budget to tackle the nation's biggest economic challenges and embarking instead on handouts to Labor's political heartland.


You pay $100 a week to keep people on welfare

The average single worker is now paying more than $5000 a year in tax - or nearly $100 a week - to fund the nation's growing welfare budget.

And a bigger tax slice of the weekly paypacket is going towards paying the interest bill on the nation's record $143 billion net debt.

An analysis of the Federal Budget by the Tax Institute reveals that about 35c in every dollar collected by the taxman from the average worker pays for the welfare of others, up from 33.3c.

Tuesday's Budget papers show the welfare and social security budget will leap by $4.8 billion to $131.6 billion.

The big winners from this cash splash in Treasurer Wayne Swan's so-called "battlers' budget" are low- and middle-income families.

A single person on the average wage of $69,000 will get a tax cut of $373, but still pay about $14,557 in tax.

Their share of the welfare bill is up by $118 to $5093 and their contribution to the interest on the nation's debt rises by $46 to $270.

But a smaller share of their tax is going towards health, education, the states, defence and transport.

The Tax Institute analysis shows about $2360 goes to health, $1144 to education, $834 for defence, $193 for foreign aid and $46 - around 13c a day - to the ABC.

The typical worker cheering for Australia's athletes at the London Olympics has contributed about 3c a day through the taxes they pay.

The study shows that a family on $99,000 with two children (dad working full-time earning $69,000 and mum on a part-time wage of $30,000) and no child care costs, will be $679 a year better off from tax and welfare changes.

They receive $5046 in benefits such as the private health insurance rebate, family tax benefit and the schoolkids bonus - which passed through Parliament last night. But the family pays $4427 towards the welfare budget.

A family on $150,000 (dad $90,000 and mum $60,000) and using child care, will be $1331 better off than last year.

They get $12,150 in benefits and pay $7634 through their tax towards welfare.

But a family on $200,000 (mum $120,000, dad $80,000) gets $11,550 in welfare - mostly from the child care rebate - but pays $14,466 through their tax for welfare. Overall, their gain from the Budget is just $6 a year.

Senior tax counsel at the Tax Institute Robert Jeremenko last night said the analysis showed the complexity of the tax system and the "welfare-tax churn".

"One person's tax is another person's handout," Mr Jeremenko said.


In hiring, bosses  tend to look for people with a similar cultural background

It makes understanding one-another so much easier. The importance of common culture is well documented in personal relationships and business relationships can be very  involving too

Who would you most probably give a job to: Lisa Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Ping Huang or Hassan Baghdadi?  Odds are in Canberra Lisa and Andrew will be interviewed, regardless of their suitability for the job.

Ping and Hassan will need to send out twice as many job applications before they'll see an employer.

Canberra business consultant Peter Gordon is stunned at how often bright young job seekers are overlooked because of their non-Anglo sounding names in a city with a skills crisis.

He said hundreds of thousands of international students propped up the budgets of Australian universities and in Canberra more than 10,000 of them contributed $300 million annually to the ACT economy.  Their money was eagerly welcomed, but not their offer of skills in the workforce, said Mr Gordon, a director of Economic Futures Australia.

"I met this bloke, a charming Pakistani who had worked for the last seven years in the Middle East. English brilliant, charming, good looking, in his 30s, with his wife, sponsored here by the ACT government under a skilled migration program, with excellent information technology qualifications," Mr Gordon said.

The man applied for a job at his appropriate level, could not get an interview and dropped to entry level applications, only to be told he was over-qualified. Not being a permanent resident ruled him out of the Commonwealth public service, as well as major firms providing goods and services to the government.

Australian National University researchers sent out 4000 fictional applications in 2009 for entry-level jobs in major cities and found people with Chinese and Middle Eastern names needed to submit up to 68 per cent more applications to secure an interview.

Mr Gordon said despite the government's best efforts, he had long been frustrated by the lack of interest among ACT businesses in available talent from overseas.

"I would hesitate using the word racism but I think it is a complete lack of understanding of what it means to be a person with a different background in Canberra. We are ignoring a real, and vital and economic opportunity on our doorstep. It really is incredible."


Obama's support for same-sex marriage fails to sway Julia Gillard's stance

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard says she remains opposed to gay marriage despite US President Barack Obama's change of heart.

Mr Obama, who faces an election in November in a religiously conservative electorate, is the first sitting US president to endorse same-sex equality.  "At a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Mr Obama told ABC's Robin Roberts in a television interview at the White House.

Ms Gillard, who isn't likely to face Australian voters until late 2013, said she was still opposed to gay marriage.

"I've made my position clear and that's the position I'll take into the parliament when ultimately the Bill that has been moved by Stephen Jones, one of the Labor members of our team, comes before the parliament," she told ABC Radio today.

Marriage is a state issue in the US whereas it is covered by federal law in Australia. Inquiries are being held into two separate lower house Bills in favour of gay marriage.


9 May, 2012

The budget

I find it hard to be critical of a surplus budget brought down by a Leftist government.  I never  thought to see such a thing in my  lifetime.  And the fact that the  surplus was partly achieved by welfare cuts  is all the more amazing.  And even the defence cuts did not involve any reduction in personnel numbers.  And allowing for business losses to be carried backwards as well as forwards is both innovative and potentially very helpful to business.  And lifting the tax-free threshold was WAY overdue.

As ever, however, there are clear negatives.    A  government seriously concerned for the welfare of Australians would place great priority on tackling a vicious killer that   tears families apart on a daily basis:  Our  roads.  But instead of big allocations for highway upgrades, what we got was a series of fripperies that will  be at best of marginal benefit to anyone.

And the fripperies could well be counterproductive.  The much touted national disability insurance scheme will undoubtedly even up disability support for people   -- but in the usual way of these  things, the support will be levelled downwards, not levelled up.

The fripperies were of course politically   necessary as a sop for what the carbon tax will do.  When the carbon tax cuts in a few weeks from now, the price impact will likely be huge  -- not necessarily because of the tax itself but because any business that thinks it can get away  with it will put up its prices and blame that on the carbon tax.   That should filter through into the statistics and come out nicely just before the next election.  What fun! (for Tony Abbott).

W.A.: Inquest to look at  boy's death after hospital sent him home

It's my impression that homosexual egotism was behind the high-handed  treatment of this boy.  From my observations, excessive ego is very common among homosexuals.  This nurse would appear to have seen himself as akin to a doctor  -- while having only marginal skills and knowledge.  Male  nurses are notoriously homosexual  -- though there are some exceptions, of course

A CORONIAL inquest into the death of 16-year-old Andrew Allan, who was given Panadol and turned away from Northam Hospital without an examination, begins today.

Nearly two years since their son died in his bed just hours after being seen at the hospital, Kylie and James Allan will hear evidence from the nurse who treated Andrew.

Mrs Allan took Andrew to the hospital in Northam, 97km northeast of Perth, in September 2010 when he was running a 40C fever, sweating, and wheezing.

CCTV footage from the hospital showed Andrew struggling to walk and being supported by his mother as they entered the hospital.

During the 13-minute visit, a male nurse handed them junior-strength Panadol and hydrolyte sticks, but did not physically examine Andrew or refer him on to a doctor or a more senior nurse, despite a doctor standing metres away.

Andrew died hours later at home.  An autopsy later revealed he had swine flu and staphylococcal pneumonia.

No medical record of Andrew's visit existed until after Mrs Allan rang the hospital the next day to tell them her son had died.

The nurse was later sacked by the Health Department for not co-operating with a review into the circumstances surrounding the death.


New curbs on ammunition sales passed in NSW Parliament

Stupid clutching at straws that will undoubtedly do more harm that good

TOUGHER controls on the sale of ammunition were passed by state parliament last night after a day of tense discussions with coalition MPs and the Shooters and Fishers Party.

The government was supported by the Greens and the opposition to pass the new laws, after stalling the vote since February. It means firearms dealers will have to record the names, addresses and licence details of who they sell ammunition to, and people will only be able to buy ammunition for guns they have licences for, unless they are given written permission from the owner.

It passed the upper house following emergency meetings between the Nationals and the Liberal Party. It is understood the Nationals MPs were furious about the new regulations, which they say will affect farmers more than bikies.

Police Minister Mike Gallacher said the new "stringent" ammunition restrictions would have an effect on gun crime in NSW, as part of a wider crackdown on bikies by the government.

"(The bill) will assist our law enforcement agencies in their combat of organised and other crimes," he said.

Premier Barry O'Farrell said he was pleased about the passage of the new laws. "These tough new powers will help the NSW Police Force crack down on organised crime and outlaw motorcycle gangs. This is more bad news for bikies."

It marks a breakdown in the relationship between the government and the Shooters and Fishers Party, which voiced strong opposition to the law.

Shooters MP Robert Borsak said the new laws would do nothing to stop drive-bys, and meant the cooling of relations between the parties - a problem for the government given the Shooters and Fishers Party holds the balance of power in the upper house.

"It will make no difference to crime. They have joined with the Greens," Mr Borsak said. "We are going to be looking a lot more carefully at what is put in front of us from now on."

Mr Borsak said recording the details of people buying ammunition was giving criminals a "shopping list" of where to steal guns from.

"Our constituents are petrified about that. All the submissions of sporting shooters and farmers have been ignored. The 'consultative process' was a sham," he said.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said he expected the ammunition laws to have a minor impact, "at best" on crime.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard risks losing majority

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard risks losing her wafer-thin parliamentary majority with two key independent MPs signalling they may support a move to oust disgraced former Labor MP Craig Thomson.

With the Government hanging by a thread - and Labor MPs openly discussing another leadership change - the Thomson scandal threatens to derail Ms Gillard's already precarious hold on power.


1 May, 2012

CMC appoints retired judge Richard Chesterman to assess claim of doctor malpractice made by whistleblower Jo Barber

RETIRED judge Richard Chesterman QC has been appointed to assess claims of doctor malpractice leading to death and injury in Queensland.

The Crime and Misconduct Commission made the decision on Monday.   It follows allegations from whistleblower Jo Barber who had complained to the CMC that complaints against doctors were ignored or covered up by government agencies.

Ms Barber, 42, is employed by Queensland Health's ethical standard unit. Previously she worked as a police officer and was chief investigator on the Medical Board of Queensland.

In that role she was the board's representative on the Health Quality and Complaints Commission.  She handled cases going back two decades.

"Complaints were not properly investigated," she said. "I found it all very bizarre. I tried to refer matters to the (then) Health Minister Geoff Wilson who referred me to the Health Quality and Complaints Commission - the very agency I was complaining about."

It was then Ms Barber decided to tell her story to The Courier-Mail.

"The system is broken, very broken. I was told it couldn't be fixed. It was just the way it was," she said.  "I'm not trying to be judge, jury or executioner here. I'm just trying to voice my concerns."

In March, Ms Barber gave the Crime and Misconduct Commission the name of a Gold Coast doctor who allegedly turned off the oxygen to a gravely ill woman who nurses said was still conscious.

They gave evidence the woman died in a distressed state even though she had explicitly asked for time to say goodbye to her family and accept her fate.

The doctor is still practising despite three "significant" complaints against him brought by fellow doctors and corroborated by the nurses.

Ms Barber said the same doctor was accused by his colleagues of callous disregard for another elderly woman, who died when her ventilator was switched off after she received what was considered by his peers to be an incorrect drug dose.


Students flock to Tassie

TASMANIA is winning its bid to become a tertiary education mecca with new figures showing overseas student numbers are flocking here.

More than 4000 students from across the world have been drawn to the University of Tasmania's academic centres of excellence, which include maritime, fisheries, earth and Antarctic sciences.

The sector contributes about $120 million annually to the state's economy, boosting tourism and retail and UTAS says that figure could skyrocket.

Civic and academic leaders say the students are enriching the state's cultural life, while CBD student developments would enliven Hobart city.

UTAS enrolments have reached a high of 24,255, including 4167 from overseas spread over three campuses, and a growth in overseas students starting this year.

Only Tasmania and the Northern Territory enjoyed growth in international students.

"We've seen a 10-year growth and we'd like it to substantially increase," Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students and Education) David Sadler said.

"It's more than just a dollar value, it's about the cultural enrichment that goes with it," Prof Sadler said.  "It happened in a number of English cities where overseas students contributed to a cultural renaissance.  "There's a substantial amount of work in the CBD with an emerging precinct around the Domain and the Menzies."

Lord Mayor Damon Thomas said more students enriched the city. "It adds to the city's vitality, restaurants and nightclubs are better used," Ald Thomas said.

Prof Sadler said Launceston had done particularly well with overseas students this year, especially the Maritime College. Overall state figure was up on last year.

Medicine, pharmacy, architecture, business, law, science and engineering, education and arts are popular for overseas students.

Jose-Mauro Vargas Hernandez, from Costa Rica, is studying a PhD in physical oceanography at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, saying the relationship with the CSIRO and the good facilities were an asset.

Chalit Kongsuwan, from Thailand, is studying a PhD in fine art, specialising in furniture design.  "It was recommended by my teacher in Thailand and he graduated himself from the art school. The quality of craft in Hobart helped my decision."

Dortea Andersen, of Denmark, is doing her masters in pharmaceutical sciences.  "My supervisor had been here herself. I wanted to go somewhere different and this is the other side of the world. It's not that different culturally from Denmark."


Teacher sacked over pregnancy

She should not have taken a job there if she did not intend to follow the rules she agreed to

A pregnant and unmarried teacher at a Sunshine Coast Christian college claims she has been sacked for breaking the "lifestyle agreement" part of her contract by having a child out of wedlock.

Jamie Davidson, the sister of kindergarten teacher Jess Davidson, said Jess informed her employer, Caloundra Christian Community Kindergarten, last month that she was pregnant.

Then, two weeks ago after a series of meetings with the principal and deputy principal, she was told she would lose her job at the end of the term.

Jamie said Jess was told she was being sacked for falling pregnant while unmarried.

Jess has had external advice that she should not talk to media.   "She was told that being pregnant and not married did not align with the school's designation as a Christian lifestyle," Jamie said.  "It has put her under a lot of stress and it's really early in her pregnancy.  "She didn't want to tell anyone until around 13 weeks but now everyone knows."

Jess is a single mother who has two children aged seven and nine enrolled at Caloundra Christian College. She was married when she had the children, but when she was first employed by the college two years ago she was a single mother.

"We're just devastated," Jamie said.  "We were really shocked and really surprised it could happen in 2012. We didn't expect this sort of reaction." has obtained a copy of the Lifestyle Agreement which states "it is a genuine occupational requirement" that nothing in the deliberate conduct of the staff "should be incompatible with the intrinsic character of their position, especially, but not only, in relation to the expression of human sexuality through heterosexual, monogamous relationships, expressed intimately through marriage".

Jess signed the agreement when she started at the kindergarten and was working full-time when she was fired.

Principal of Caloundra Christian College Mark Hodges confirmed Jess's employment would be terminated at the end of the term, but said he could not give the reason because of privacy obligations.

"It's not to do with the pregnancy, though she did contravene the lifestyle agreement," he said.

When asked if he was saying he did not sack Jess for being pregnant and unmarried, Mr Hodges said he could not answer because of privacy concerns.  He then sent a statement which said: "As a Christian College we require that all staff have, and demonstrate, a faith and lifestyle consistent with the Christian beliefs taught here.

"These beliefs are set out in College policies and documents, including the agreement under which all staff are employed. This requirement is also made clear to staff prior to appointment.

"Whenever concerns are raised in relation to any issue of staff performance or conduct they are thoroughly investigated by the College and discussed with the staff member concerned.  "Our hope is always to find positive solutions and seek restoration whenever that is possible."

Mr Hodges said he was happy to meet with any parents who wished to discuss the school's policies and practices.

Jamie has set up a Facebook page called "I support Miss Jess" which has attracted more than 300 'likes'.

A parent at the school Melinda Saunders is one of Jess's supporters and has two children who have been taught by her.

She told the Sunshine Coast Daily she met with Mr Hodges to protest Jess's sacking and he gave her a copy of the Lifestyle Agreement as an explanation.

"It's shocking and devastating, it's her job, her whole future and she doesn't need this stress when she is pregnant," Ms Saunders said.


Discrimination against obese women

Is anyone surprised?

A new study has found that obese women face discrimination when applying for jobs.

Researchers from Monash University asked people in the study to view a series of resumes with a photo of the applicant.  They found obese women were more likely to face discrimination when applying for a job and more likely to be paid less than their slimmer colleagues.

The university's Dr Kerry O'Brien says discrimination against obese candidates was strong in all job selection criteria, including starting salary and leadership potential.

"If they're less likely to be in high-status jobs, it's not because they're lazy and stupid - which are some of the stereotypes - it's because we actually put them there because we discriminate against them," he said.

"We know that lower socioeconomic status is associated with greater obesity, so really it's becoming a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy with this discrimination."

Researchers also found that the more highly the participants rated their own physical attractiveness, the more likely they were to discriminate against obese candidates.

The findings have been published in the International Journal of Obesity.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative