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?


30 May, 2014

A story of WWII heroism

One story which could not be told during the war, and which was lost in the aftermath and has only recently been pieced together from wartime diaries and service records, highlights the special bond that tied Australians and Americans then and serves to illustrate the shared values which unite our people today.

Melbourne author Tom Trumble has published a truly remarkable account of the survival of a group of Australian airmen stranded in Japanese-occupied Timor after the bombing of Darwin and later Broome destroyed the Australian flying boats which might have been able to extract them.

Their leader was 24-year-old meteorological officer Bryan Rofe, the author’s grandfather. The young man’s attempts to keep his band alive and rally their spirits are heroic, but that is just part of this extraordinary story.

After evading Japanese patrols, living off the land, assisted by some but by no means all Timorese, and ravaged by ­malaria, the small group was effectively abandoned by the Australian military.

However, the US navy overheard their radio transmissions and launched a rescue. The submarine USS Searaven was sent to the area and after several frustrating days managed to make contact with the survivors.

Members of the US crew swam ashore at night so as not to alert Japanese spies.

The men were weak, barely able to stand. Getting them off the beach could not be completed in one night and, at huge risk, the US submarine stood off for several days until all the men were aboard.

Five days after they had left, a fire broke out in a main power unit and another US submarine had to take it in tow on the surface, vulnerable to aircraft attack, to Fremantle.

The full story is contained in Trumble’s book, Rescue at 2100 Hours, and it is gripping.

US Lieutenant Commander Hiram Cassedy, captain of the Searaven and Ensign George Cook, who repeatedly swam through shark-infested waters to reach the men, received the US Navy’s second highest decoration for valour, the Navy Cross. Two crewmen were awarded the Silver Star.

Rofe survived to head the Australian Antarctic Division.

This is a story of heroism. It is a great pity it has come to light so late and that generations of Australians who don’t know the true history of the Australian-US alliance will only have the flawed perspective offered by the left-leaning historians favoured by the left-leaning curriculum.


Welfare whingers, look at NZ

THE Kiwis may consistently flog Australia in rugby, but if welfare and whingeing were a competi­tion we would be the undisputed champion.

Even after Joe Hockey’s tough budget, Australia’s welfare mountain will still dwarf anything across the Tasman.

The culmination of almost two decades of mainly populist budgets, the Abbott government will spend $6200 a person on cash welfare next year, over 25 per cent more than New Zealand’s government will on each of its citizens (converting all amounts to Australian dollars).

Education spending, at $2900 a person, is 10 per cent more generous in Australia but health expenditure is torrential by comparison: Australian state and federal governments will lavish more than $4600 a person to keep Australians alive and healthy, almost 50 per cent more than is spent in New Zealand. No methodological quibble could bridge such stark differences.

The relative splurge extends to hiring, too. Australia’s population of 23.5 million is about 5.2 times New Zealand’s, but as of June last year we had 8.4 times as many public servants: 1.89 million across our state, federal and local governments compared with New Zealand’s 226,000.

If the federal government overnight reduced welfare, health and education spending to New Zealand levels it would be rolling in a $40 billion budget surplus next year rather than wallowing in deficit until 2018 or even later.

Australians’ hysterical reaction to the Coalition’s first budget must bemuse New Zealanders, especially since Treasurer Bill English said last week that he would cut public spending as a share of gross domestic product by more than twice as much as the Abbott government has announced.

In fact, without a minerals boom to line government coffers and despite a huge repair bill from two devastating earthquakes, New Zealand’s budget will be back in surplus by $NZ400 million ($370m) next financial year, rising to $NZ3.5bn by 2018.

English, now in his sixth year as New Zealand’s Treasurer, commendably chose not to emulate the world’s greatest treasurer Wayne Swan and kept a tight leash on public spending before and after the global financial crisis, preferring to cut income taxes and lift consumption tax. The Key government, facing election again later this year, is now reaping the rewards.

While Australia’s economy is lumbering back to trend growth, New Zealand is enjoying a boom, its economy predicted to grow 4 per cent this year and 3 per cent next without pushing up inflation. The country’s unemployment rate is projected to fall to 4.4 per cent during the next few years as ours hovers around 6 per cent.

Apart from a bloated public sector and a wellspring of whingeing, what does Australia get for its vastly more indulgent public spending? Much higher taxes, for one thing. The marginal income rate most Australians will pay from July — 34.5 per cent — will be higher even than New Zealand’s top 33 per cent rate, which makes a mockery of our 49 per cent top rate, which will be higher than China’s and France’s.

It hasn’t made us happier. Even rising interest rates have been unable to dent record high confidence levels among New Zealand households and businesses, while Australians’ mood has oscillated between gloomy and indifferent for months.

Nor has it much improved our lives. Genuine poverty is not obviously higher in New Zealand than Australia.

Indeed, the UN’s Human Development Index, which compares living standards across 186 countries, puts both Australia and New Zealand in the top 10.

Our handout fetish has comprehensively ruined some markets: the cost of childcare is much lower in New Zealand despite the per capita public subsidies there being seven times smaller.

To be fair, English didn’t inherit the mess in 2008 Joe Hockey has today. New Zealand came close to bankruptcy in the 1980s, forcing its then Labour government to make drastic free market reforms that make Hawke-Keating Labor seem timid, and which Helen Clark’s government broadly respected.

Swaths of regulation and practically all corporate subsidies were abolished, and social spending was curbed substantially. New Zealand lost its car industry in the late 80s.

What English did inherit, however, was a population less spoiled by handouts and more accepting of the need for dramatic reform to improve long-term prosperity.

Australia is still much richer on paper than New Zealand but it wasn’t always. Australia’s welfare and tax habit will increase the chance of history repeating itself.


Vegetation-clearing curbs in fire-prone regions to be eased

Greenies trumped

Residents in bushfire-prone regions of NSW will be given greater scope to clear vegetation close to homes to reduce fire risks under laws proposed by the Baird government.

Households will be allowed to clear trees with 10 metres and shrubs and other vegetation within 50 metres of their homes.

"We’re putting people before trees," Premier Mike Baird told reporters in Sydney on Thursday. "This is empowering individuals."

The laws were first mooted late last year after bushfires in the Blue Mountains in October destroyed more than 200 homes and damaged more than 100 others. They also come as the prospects of an El Nino weather event in the Pacific increase; the resulting dry, warm conditions would raise the chances of another early and busy fire season.  

"We have worked closely with the (Rural Fire Service) to develop these new rules which will empower landowners who are taking responsibility for minimising the fuel loads near their homes – a key fire prevention goal," Mr Baird said.

A report following the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria by Philip Gibbons from the Australian National University found that clearing trees and shrubs within 40 metres of homes was the most effective method of fuel reduction.

Ross Bradstock, from the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, said land clearing could be beneficial in reducing the threat fires pose to houses but only if residents avoid planting gardens that nullified the benefits.

"There’s certainly evidence that clearing of this kind can contribute to a significant reduction of risk," Professor Bradstock said. "However, things like garden design particularly close into the house - which are not necessarily captured by this [policy] - can be very, very important."

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers welcomed the new laws: "We need to ensure the community is as prepared as possible for bushfire and these changes will give residents the flexibility they need to clear their property from bushfire risk."


Trent Penman, a senior research scientist at the Wollongong centre, agreed that vegetation clearing near homes could reduce the risk of a second ignition source other than from ember attack.

Land clearing, though, has the potential to destabilise slopes and ridges, creating other threats to properties, particularly in the Blue Mountains, Ku-ring-gai Chase and the Illawarra Escarpment region near Wollongong.

"You might remove the trees but then you end up with unstable land surface that might slip under heavy rain," Dr Penman said. While ridge-tops could be undermined, "at the bottom of the ridge you don’t want things falling on your head, either", he said.

Councils and the RFS could also find themselves with additional monitoring roles without the extra resources needed to manage them. "It will create a lot of extra work for them," Dr Penman said.

The RFS's Mr Rogers said residents would be able to identify whether clearing posed any land-slip risks from maps that will be made available once the laws are passed.

He said that there was "no silver bullet" when it comes to reducing fire risks and residents in bushfire prone areas should continue to keep in contact with their local RFS unit and maintain a bushfire survival plan.

Threatened communities, species

Greg Banks, a former RFS staffer and now the bushfire policy officer for the NSW Nature Conservation Council, said the loosening of clearing rules could make communities less prepared.

"Under the existing process, it requires people to engage with the RFS so that they come out and have a look at their property before issuing a hazard-reduction certicate to clear,"  Mr Banks said.

Contact with fire experts can also assist homeowners to identify evacuation routes and even the preservation of some vegetation that might now be cleared, he said. "Some vegetation can prove very useful in providing a barrier to embers."

Tensions may also increase among residents of areas fringing bushland, such as Hornsby, Mosman and the Sutherland shire, many of whom have chosen to live in those regions because of the natural environment.

"Are they going to be do something on those properties because their neighbours already have?," Mr Banks said.

The Greens said the new laws would also give a "carte blanche" to the destruction of sensitive native habitat.

"Trees and scrub are essential vegetation for native animals, especially as effects of climate change continue to take place, so it is essential to retain oversight over clearing," said Greens MP and environment spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi .


Malcolm Turnbull saves Peppa Pig's bacon

Peppa Pig's head is off the chopping block, according to communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The communications minister has quelled fears the beloved children's show is bound for the abattoir, tweeting that the popular pig is safe from proposed ABC downsizing.

"Contrary to media rumours, Peppa's is one snout we are happy to have in the ABC trough," he wrote.

Fans of the pink pig panicked when ABC managing director Mark Scott warned the corporation couldn't guarantee Peppa's future beyond existing contracts.

"The services we provide depend on the funding envelope," he told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

Some have since pitted Peppa against some of the ABC's more expensive recruits, such as Q&A host Tony Jones, while a Facebook page entitled "Save Peppa Pig on ABC Australia" has also surfaced.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said he wasn't a fan of Peppa, even though some of his children were.

"Given in our household I've watched so many bad episodes of Peppa Pig, I'm not a fan," he told the Today show on Thursday.

He said the ABC had not produced an efficiency dividend for up to 15 years, while every other area of government had.

Under the Abbott Government's budget, the public broadcaster's funding has been trimmed by one per cent over the next four years.

To complain about a one per cent cut was "frankly ridiculous", Mr Hockey said.

It's not the first time Peppa has courted controversy. In 2013, columnist Piers Ackerman accused the program of pushing "a weird feminist line".


29 May, 2014


A media report below makes a key admission followed by inside info from Larry Pickering

Video shows tense meeting before Manus Island riot

Asylum seekers already angry about the uncertainty they faced were repeatedly told they would remain in Manus Island's overcrowded detention centre indefinitely at an incendiary pre-riot meeting, footage obtained exclusively by Fairfax Media shows.

The meeting brought to a head tensions that had simmered for months over the failure to process claims for refugee status and was a catalyst for the violence that began less than two hours later, culminating in the killing of Reza Barati.

Nearly two hours of video chart the meeting's descent into combative chaos as detainees vented their frustrations on PNG and Australian officials, who delivered scripted answers that underscored the hopelessness of the detainees' situation.

Five times PNG immigration official Jeffrey Kiangali told the detainees assessing their asylum claims would be a "very lengthy process" with "no definite timeframe".

He also repeatedly stressed they were "free to go home" any time, but if they chose to stay, they would be stuck in the detention camp "for as long as it takes to process your claims". His answers to questions put by the detainees at a meeting 12 days earlier were written by Australian and PNG immigration officials.

Mr Kiangali told the detainees from Mike Compound who gathered for the meeting that any misbehaviour might affect their refugee claims, a suggestion refugee lawyers said was inappropriate.

Mr Kiangali said: "Your behaviour and conduct at this centre will also be taken into consideration during your refugee status determination process."

In protests that followed, some of the detainees taunted PNG nationals outside the centre with slurs that were used to justify the retribution that followed, but in the meeting one Iranian stressed that their grievance was not with PNG people. "We just talk about your government, not your people," the man declared. "Your people are really lovely and we love them but, the thing is, your government shouldn't accept this."

According to the departmental inquiry headed by Robert Cornall, the meeting brought the tensions that had ben building to flashpoint, with detainees believing they would be on Manus Island for up to four years.

"The transferees felt that, after waiting for 12 days (for answers to questions), they were given no information at the Sunday meeting and that their questions had not been satisfactorily answered," the report concluded.

The meeting also underscores that many asylum seekers were simply upset they had been transferred to PNG when they wanted to come to Australia.

Daniel Webb, of the Human Rights Law Centre, said: "Refugees have rights. The governments of Australia and PNG must respect them instead of threatening to ignore them unless people are completely and utterly compliant whilst being detained indefinitely in inhumane conditions."

It is understood the video has been submitted to a Senate inquiry by security firm G4S.


Who was Reza Berati?

... a report from someone who was there

Well, he certainly wasn’t an "asylum seeker" or a "refugee", as the ABC continually refers to him as. He was a well-heeled Iranian illegal immigrant who was beguiled by the promise of a land of milk and honey where people are actually paid not to work.

The ABC claimed to have a graphic inside story of how he was killed... sufficiently graphic to incite thousands to protest across Australia demanding Morrison’s head on a plate.

Of course the ABC and Fairfax didn’t remind anyone that reopening Manus Island was Kevin Rudd’s idea.

And not a single protester was to be seen when reports surfaced that 1200 "asylum seekers" had drowned. Oh yes, I remember, that happened under their Labor Government didn’t it?

Information received by Pickering Post this morning differs somewhat from the sketchy ABC report and is not included in the Cornall report.

To be fair, the information is from a local and it cannot be verified, but nor could the inflammatory ABC report.

"That Berati bastard was the ringleader, he was the one who started the riot", said the informant. "When the New Guinea security guys of G4S got to the compound, the inmates began throwing rocks and chairs and tried to light fires. They were yelling insults and stuff, that’s when it all got out of hand."

According to the informant, Berati was well known to security, he was the one they were after, it was he who had led the chanting that had been intimidating the guards for weeks. The chanting went as follows (excuse the language):

"AIDS pigs, we’ll fuck your mother, we’ll fuck your wife, we’ll fuck your sister and rape your daughter."

When the G4S guards arrived they were met with a hail of rocks, stones and chairs. "I was only looking on but that’s when the guards broke through the fence. It was clear to me that they were only looking for Berati but he had taken off into his unit and was hiding under the bed." (The ABC report said he was sitting in the computer room.)

"I didn’t see them kill him but they were yelling his name and seemed intent on getting him."

Many other inmates were injured but the fatal injuries sustained by Berati indicated he was specifically targeted.

"It had been brewing for weeks", said the informant. "It was Berati who had tried to get everyone to the riot, but only a hundred or so joined him. And many of the injured were innocent bystanders.

"When they carried Berati out you could see from his head wounds he wasn’t going to make it.

    "No-one will convince me that they didn’t especially go after him."

Now, it’s easy to understand Berati’s frustration but perhaps he was not the innocent faced victim that his family and the ABC portrayed him as.

(The informant claims he has already spoken to the ABC but his account of what happened was ignored.)

Bias by omission is the ABC’s MO.


ALP Gonski plan unaffordable: Abbott

PRIME minister Tony Abbott has labelled the previous government's school reforms "pie-in-the-sky", saying Australia can't afford a back-down on Gonski funding.

Mr Abbott has been greeted by around 100 pro-Gonski protesters on his arrival for a media conference in Hobart on Thursday.

The protest came a day after David Gonski broke his silence on the system he helped design under the former Labor government.

He accused the current government of abandoning needs-based funding after the federal budget dumped $30 billion in funding proposed for schools in 2018 and 2019.

"I'm certainly not committing to a permanent massive increase at the same level of the former government because it's those sorts of pie-in-the-sky promises that got us into the problem in the first place," Mr Abbott told reporters.

But the prime minister said schools funding was not being cut and would continue to increase over the next four years.

"We are continuing to increase funding, it's just that we are not continuing to increase it at the rate of the former government's promises," he said.

Protesters from the Australian Education Union demanded the full six-year allocation for the Gonski reforms, chanting: "What do we want? Six years."

Mr Abbott said funding would increase "dramatically" for three years and at a slower rate in year four.

"I respect the sincerity of the people out the front, they obviously want the best for their kids and for their community's schools," he said.

"We all want the best but getting better schools is not just about money."

Mr Gonski said the coalition's decision to increase commonwealth funding to schools by the rate of inflation from 2018 would be to Australia's detriment.

"I sincerely hope that in the period between now and 2017 the federal government will change the presently budgeted position," he said.

Earlier, junior minister Steve Ciobo claimed the money Labor had offered was never really available.

"The out years (from 2018) ... was nothing more than an aspiration and in fact would never have been funded by the Labor party because they did not have the money," Mr Ciobo told ABC radio on Thursday.

"We hope by tightening the budget now we will be in a position where we can perhaps provide additional support to health and to education."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten gave the Abbott government "an F for effort and an F for outcome".

"What a lazy, reckless, indifferent mob of swindlers this government are when they say we're not going to have anything more to do with the funding of schools," he told reporters in Melbourne.


George Brandis forced to rethink discrimination act changes

Attorney-General George Brandis is preparing to water down a controversial plan to scrap sections of the Racial Discrimination Act that restrict racist insults and hate speech, after an avalanche of [Leftist] submissions signalled concerns over the changes.

And two Liberal MPs who supported scrapping section 18C of the act have admitted the government needs to rethink proposed changes.

Several MPs confirmed that, as one put it, "there hasn't been a word whispered about it" in recent weeks, while several speculated the law changes could be "parked" for months as the government grapples with a fierce budget backlash and a big drop in popular support.

Fairfax Media has learned Senator Brandis is working to further wind back the proposed changes, amid a ferocious grassroots community campaign that Labor MPs have quickly tapped into.

The Attorney-General was forced by the cabinet in March to soften his original plans amid a welter of protest from Coalition MPs in marginal electorates, some of whom represent large ethnic communities.

The proposed changes to the draft legislation by Senator Brandis have not been finalised and will not be put to cabinet for at least a month.

But it is understood a broad exemption from prosecution in the draft for "words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in … the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter" could be watered down after a storm of community protest.

Similarly, a limitation in the draft definition of "intimidate" to "cause fear of physical harm" could also be broadened to include verbal bullying.

Some community groups have also argued against the proposed removal of provisions making it unlawful to "offend, insult and humiliate" someone because of their race or ethnicity.

Senator Brandis said on Tuesday he was working through the 5300 submissions and the government "didn't have a consultation period with the intention of not listening to what people have to say".

"There is a large variety of views from all points of the opinion spectrum and we will take into consideration all of those views and we will arrive at a final proposal," he said.

NSW Liberal MP Alex Hawke, who has been a supporter of scrapping section 18C, admitted on Tuesday that changes needed to be made to the draft laws.

"We need to start again. I don't want see journalists prosecuted for offending [and] ethnic community leaders are making a compelling case that any reforms have to be very carefully handled," he said.

Fellow NSW MP Craig Kelly, who has also previously supported repeal of 18C, said he still supported doing something but "the detail of the legislation, there are perhaps one or two words that could be moved around. I don't think the first draft that George has done is locked in concrete and I think everyone is flexible about changes to the proposed wording".

A third MP, who also initially supported the changes, said he had been swamped by ethnic community leaders lobbying against the changes.

"I support protecting journalists but I'm now convinced the politics go well beyond that," the MP said.

However, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said he still supported the proposals.

"Some principles are worth fighting for. I happen to believe freedom of speech is one of those principles," he said.

On Tuesday night, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told an Australian Federation of Islamic Councils dinner that "any move to weaken protections against hate speech is a seriously retrograde step".


NSW public schools to face random audits, assessments

For the first time, the state's public schools will face random audits and will have to meet the same standards as private schools to ensure staff are qualified, buildings are maintained and the curriculum is being delivered.

In order to operate, private and Catholic schools are required to be registered with the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards but until now, public schools have only had to answer to the Department of Education. NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli will introduce legislation this week which will mean public schools will also have to be independently assessed by the Board of Studies and will undergo random audits.

Mr Piccoli said all schools in NSW, private and public, "should be on the same footing".

"This is not about closing down schools, the point is schools will be given the opportunity to fix problems," he said.

"As Minister for Education for all NSW schools, it makes sense that the same standards are met by all schools in NSW."

Mr Piccoli said it was also not about targeting principals.

"Principals can be sacked now, so this doesn't change that, this is about external validation," Mr Piccoli said.

The audits would be checking for such things as classrooms being fire compliant, all staff having appropriate university qualifications and working with children checks and the maintenance of enrolment registers.

Audits would also check that schools were recording student achievement and keeping up-to-date attendance records. He said the checks would also ensure that schools were operating within their development approval.

"One example would be an independent school which had 2000 students but only had DA approval for 1500 … they had to fix that and that's the sort of thing we would be looking at with public schools," Mr Piccoli said.

The new registration process would not be "burdensome" for public schools but the "external validation" process would ensure they met the same standards as independent schools are required to meet.

NSW public schools will need to comply with the same requirements as non-government schools by the end of next year.

The acting president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Gary Zadkovich, said there had been no consultation.

"We don't have any of the details of the changes made by the minister," Mr Zadkovich said.


28 May, 2014

Green anti-coal seam gas activists at work

Anti-gas activist’s Bentley camp relies on gas cylinders, six drums of diesel and electric generator. Go figure.

Less than a week after a council vowed to shut down a large anti-coal seam gas protest camp in the state's north and promised police would be called in to send it packing, the activists have been told they can stay.

The Bentley camp, near Lismore, is a temporary home to between hundreds and thousands of people, depending on the day.

It was established in February on private land adjacent to the site where Metgasco plans to begin exploratory drilling for gas.

Richmond Valley Council announced last Wednesday the camp's approval would expire at the end of that week and not be renewed due to its burgeoning numbers, the length of time it had been there, and the "ongoing breach of many of the approval conditions".

The mayor, Ernie Bennett, said police would be required "for sure" to move the campers on.

But on Thursday morning, Mr Bennett said the protesters would not be moved, despite their occupation of the land being "illegal".

"I don't think it would be appropriate to remove them at this point," he said.

"Council is working with them to put an appropriate DA [development application] before council."

The Greens have said the police should not be used to break the protest.

"The NSW Police Force should not be used as private security to allow a coal seam gas company to force its way into a community that has overwhelmingly rejected the presence of gas fields in the Northern Rivers," Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said this week.


Australian Muslim marries off his 12-year-old daughter

THE father of a 12-year-old child bride advised her to only have unprotected sex after he organised for her to wed an older man in an Islamic ceremony, court papers claim.

In a case that has shocked the nation, the girl’s 61-year-old Muslim convert father was charged with procuring his young daughter for sex and being an accessory before the fact to child sex after consenting to her "marrying" a 26-year-old man.

The girl’s "husband" was charged with 25 counts of sexual intercourse with a child after he wed the girl in the living room of her Hunter Region family home on January 12.

They had met at a mosque through the girl’s father, who police allege facilitated the ­relationship by allowing them to exchange phone numbers and letting them meet three times before they were wed.

The matter was yesterday mentioned in Burwood Local Court, where the man and the girl’s father were expected to enter a plea. However the magistrate was told the parties needed more time to negotiate with authorities.

For the first time, The Daily Telegraph was granted access to court papers filed in support of a successful AVO application brought by police against the girl’s father earlier this year. The court papers claim that on the day of the wedding her father gave the girl sexual advice.

"The advice was that she should not use the contraceptive pill nor should (her husband) wear a condom when they have sexual intercourse," the papers said.

The pair stayed at a motel in Nelson Bay on their wedding night and had sex several times that night, police allege.

They then moved into a home in southwest Sydney but visited her father’s home five times before the 26-year-old Lebanese international student was arrested in February.

Her father even organised a queen size bed for the pair and on one occasion allegedly asked the girl if she needed to shower before morning prayers. The girl, now 13, told him she did need to shower.

"The (girl) indicated that this is how the defendant would have known that (they) were engaged in sexual intercourse," the papers claim. It is a requirement of Islam to ­shower after sex and before commencing prayer, the girl allegedly told police.

Asked about having knowledge of his daughter having sex he said: "It’s not something I want to think about."

When the father was first told by police that the husband had been arrested he allegedly said "but they are married".

The AVO application claims the father told police his main concern was his daughter was not committing "a sin against god" by having sex outside marriage, and he consented to the marriage because she was beginning to "become excited around boys" and he didn’t want her to live "a sinful life".

Asked if he would allow his eight-year-old daughter to marry at 12, police allege the man said he would, to prevent the "sin" of sex ­before marriage.

The girl and her sister are now in Department of Community Services care.

The imam who performed the ceremony, Muhammad Riaz Tasawar, 35, was fined $500 after pleading guilty to solemnising the marriage.

The 26-year-old man is being held at Villawood ­Detention Centre after his visa was cancelled and the father is in custody. They will face court again in June.


Labor frontbencher Tony Burke’s bizarre request to free notorious Villawood detainee

A SENIOR member of Bill Shorten’s shadow cabinet has written to the Abbott government on behalf of a woman asking that a convicted Nigerian drug dealer now charged with running an international drug ring from Sydney’s Villawood ­Immigration Detention Centre be released.

The Daily Telegraph has learned the manager of opposition business Tony Burke, a former immigration minister, wrote to the immigration minister last month on behalf of a constituent who wanted the man, Drichuckuv Nweke, released into community detention for family reasons.

At the time the letter was sent, Mr Nweke, 39, was being held at Villawood IDC since being released from prison in 2011 following a conviction in 2005 for importing 2kg of cocaine into Australia.

His spousal visa was cancelled but he successfully appealed against his deportation, citing the welfare of his young son.

Mr Nweke has since been re-arrested by NSW police and charged with new offences, including claims he was running an international drug ring from inside the Villawood IDC using his mobile phone. It is alleged he was involved in a transnational syndicate alleged to have imported 5kg of cocaine from South America and 140kg of ice.

Mr Nweke’s partner, a constituent of Mr Burke, the member for Watson, had asked the MP to write to the minister on her behalf, claiming she needed her partner at home to help care for their child.

Mr Burke wrote to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on March 20 on behalf of the woman. The letter was received by the Department of Immigration on April 10.

Mr Burke last night denied his letter constituted a representation on the woman’s behalf and was simply a letter to the minister outlining her request. He said he was not aware of Mr Nweke’s past, adding the letter did not constitute any request by Mr Burke for his release.

On ABC radio this morning Mr Burke said it was "completely wrong" to suggest he argued for Nweke’s release.

"All that letter says is someone has presented to my office and this is what they said," Mr Burke said.

"There are some occasions where the member of parliament takes up the issue themselves, there are some occasions where the member of parliament actually backs in the character of an individual.

"This letter does not do that." Mr Burke said the department’s response, outlining Nweke’s criminal history, had found its way into the media before arriving at his office, suggesting the government was trying to distract attraction from its unpopular budget

The Department of Immigration drafted a terse response to Mr Burke’s request, pointing out that Mr Nweke’s criminal history had been widely publicised. The letter, dated May 25 and obtained by The Daily Telegraph, is believed to have been sent to Mr Burke’s office late last week.

"…I draw your attention to media reports of July 27, 2011 indicating that Mr Nweke was convicted of drug importation and, as a result, his spouse visa was cancelled under s501 of the Migration Act 1958 on 21 April 2011," It also stated. "More recently, media reports of May 2, 2014 state Mr Nweke appeared at a Sydney court on May 1, 2014 to face charges in relation to the importation and distribution of a marketable quantity of cocaine."


Gutless Queensland Government allow 'special people' a special exemption in the name of multiculturalism

The law in Australia only works when it applies to all people equally.  So to allow an exemption for a small group for fear of offence shows how spineless many in politics in this country have become.

The Queensland government has rejected a push by independents and minor parties to force Muslim women to remove their burqas or veils to prove their identity.

The bill, introduced by the independent MP for Nicklin, Peter Wellington, would have allowed lawyers, police, prison officers, justices of the peace and other "persons of responsibility" to require a person to remove any face covering to establish their identity.

The bill is more than reasonable. Officers of the law MUST be able to identify an individual to confirm who they are or are not.

Queensland Attorney General, Jarrod Bleijie showed how unfit he is for the job when he ran to the dumbest argument in the book to reject this ...multiculturalism : "The government believes in a multicultural Queensland. This government respects the rights of its citizens and individuals to practise the religion that they so choose,"

No-one is debating religion. The burqa is a cultural garment and not one required by the Islamic religion.

The women wearing it do it by choice or because their husband insists.

In NSW, we went through all of this 4 years ago when Carnita Matthews, used the fact that her Face and identity was obscured by her burqa to dodge 6-months in gaol for lying to police.

She'd played the "you can't see my face because of my religion" card with a Highway Patrol officer and then accused him of being racist when he tried to enforce the law.

Then the court found that no-one could be sure she was who she was underneath - all because she didn't have to co-operate.

The law has since been changed in favour of the common good.

And that's what it's meant to be about ... the common good.

Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie is a fool who just made the job of enforcing the law in his State that bit harder.


27 May, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is pleased that the limp security at Parliament House is being tested.


University of Queensland (UoQ) stumbles into self-inflicted ethical dilemma by issuing legal threats to block scrutiny of a celebrated but now discredited global warming study. The infamous  "97 percent  consensus" paper created by cartoonist and self-styled climate expert, John Cook,  on behalf of UoQ has been shown to be fraudulent after independent analysis.

An open letter addressed to the university from lawyer, Rud Istvan JD, on behalf of the public interest details how it betrayed its own openness policy in what appears to be a self-serving ploy to avert exposure and ridicule. Istvan’s letter to UoQ in full below:

Prof. Alistair McEwan, Acting-Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Queensland

Ms. Jane Malloch, Esq. Head Research Legal, University of Queensland

Mr. Graham Lloyd, Environmental Editor, The Australian

Prof. Richard Tol,  University of Sussex


Prof. McEwan:

On May 20, 2014, you issued a formal statement concerning the controversy published byThe Australian on 5/17/14 surrounding Cook et. al, 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024, ‘Quantifying the Consensus’, hereinafter QtC. That statement presents the University of Queensland (UQ) with an ethical and legal dilemma. I call your attention to it expecting UQ will do the right thing.

Your statement makes it quite clear that UQ considers QtC was done under the sponsorship of and with support from UQ. This is indisputable. The solicitation for volunteer raters for the analysis that became QtC was: UQ released a statement about the importance of QtC in the UQ News on January 16, 2014 headlined, "UQ climate change paper has the whole world talking."

Your 5/20/14 statement said in part:

"Only information that might be used to identify the individual research participants was withheld. This was in accordance with University ethical approval specifying that the identity of participants should remain confidential."

And that is precisely your dilemma.

The published paper itself identified all the individual research participants (raters). They were either named authors (with affiliations provided, for example second author Dana Nuccitelli affiliated with UQ associated website SKS, as noted in UQ’s 1/20/14 news release, or were specifically named without affiliation in the paper’s acknowledgement. Lest you doubt this, following is that portion of the paper as originally published.

Your dilemma is this. If the UQ ethical approval exists as you officially stated, then the paper as published grossly violated it. QtC is therefore unethical according to UQ policy, and should be withdrawn forthwith.

We need not cite here all the governing Australian principles that UQ is obligated to follow under such unfortunate circumstances. Those include but are not limited to

There is 2014 retraction precedent concerning another unethical climate related paper from the University of Western Australia. If, on the other hand, there was no such ethical approval, or that approval did not require concealing rater identities, then you have officially misrepresented grossly invalid grounds for withholding the anonymized additional information needed for replication, such as date and time stamped ratings by anonymous rater. Said information has repeatedly, formally been requested by Prof. Richard S.J. Tol (Sussex University (U.K.), and an IPCC AR5 lead author) for his legitimate research purposes concerning what UQ said is a seminal paper. That data should still exist, and should be provided to Prof. Tol under UQ Policy 4.20.06a §8.2 and §9.1 (as last approved 11/28/13).

Either way, you and UQ both appear in a very bad light. It appears that UQ congratulates itself on gross ethical breaches (especially when basking in so much notoriety), while at the same time withholding anonymized primary data underlying a self admitted important research paper in contravention of UQ written research data policy. Either retract the admittedly unethical paper, or retract the grossly mistaken excuse and release the requested data to Tol.

I note in passing there is a third possibility, to wit Tol’s requested data does not exist. In which case, QtC should be retracted for being unsupportable if not also unethical. As you are probably aware, there have been many recent instances of unsupportable research subsequently retracted. These include but are not limited to papers from Ike Antkare in 2010, and many recent papers from the SCIgen group (which interestingly bears surficial similarities to SKS) now being retracted by Springer and by IEEE. Those two precedents may be particularly germane to UQ’s instant dilemma.

This letter is as copyrighted as those Ms. Malloch writes concerning this matter on UQ behalf. You and anyone else in the whole wide world are hereby granted permission to freely reproduce it in whole or in part. I suspect some may.

I look forward to whichever decision (retraction or data provision) you think best for UQ under the aforesaid circumstances.

Sincerely yours, s/s

Rud Istvan, Esq., JD/MBA


Medical body not interested in the scientific facts when it comes to wind turbine noise

Australian Medical Association rebuked by leading acoustics expert, Dr Bruce Rapley, for their latest "cherry-picked" assessment of the dangers of noise emissions from wind farms.

In a comprehensive and worrying letter of rebuttal Dr Rapley accuses AMA of turning a deaf ear on the best science on the biological reception of low-frequency sound. Principia Scientific International herein publishes Dr Rapley’s letter to demonstrate how AMA is lying by omission to the general public about the health impacts of wind turbines.

28 March 2014

Dr Steve Hambleton, President,

Prof. Geoffrey Dobb, Vice-President,

Australian Medical Association,

P.O.  Box 6090,

KINGSTON, A.C.T.  2604

Dear Dr Hambleton, Professor Dobb and AMA members,

I recently became aware of your position statement on wind farms and health dated 14 March, 2014.

I have to say that this public statement has given me great concern with respect to a number of points which I will outline for you.

Your opening statement:

"Wind turbine technology is considered a comparatively inexpensive and effective means of energy production. "

This raises a number of issues that I feel are inappropriate for a medical organisation to comment on.  Firstly, line one is a statement regarding the economics of wind turbines which has no place in a statement regarding potential health effects.  It is not within your organisation’s professional competence to comment on economic matters and to do so raises questions regarding your credibility and apparent bias.  How would your organisation feel about the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) making statements about medical practice?

Secondly, your position statement then passes comment on acoustic immissions:

"Wind turbines generate sound, including infrasound, which is very low frequency noise that is generally inaudible to the human ear."

To the best of my knowledge, medical practitioners are not generally known for their skill or expertise in acoustics, other than that directly associated with audiometry.  To pass comment on areas beyond your knowledge is dangerous and leaves you wide open to serious challenge.  Purporting to be experts in areas outside of medicine does not serve your credibility well.

The statement goes on to comment on infrasound, comparing immissions from different sources, yet lacking any sort of scientific credibility because of the significant lack of detailed evidence.  Rather, the statements are reckless generalisations that provide no basis for comparison, let alone comprehension, other than in the broadest sense.

"Infrasound is ubiquitous in the environment, emanating from natural sources (e.g.  wind, rivers) and from artificial sources including road traffic, ventilation systems, aircraft and other machinery."

Such broad comparisons do not enhance scientific debate and offer little enlightenment to the uninformed, rather, they are more likely to mislead due to their lack of specificity.  It is a well-established fact that low frequency and infrasound immissions from industrial wind turbines differ significantly in a number of critical ways, compared to natural sources like wind and water.  Further,  man-made sources such as road traffic all differ significantly from natural sources of infrasound.  The most significant difference relates to the amplitude modulation of the signal due to blade pass frequency.  This phenomenon is not apparent in natural or many other man-made sources: your comparison is without scientific foundation.

Next you appear to have become experts in engineering:

 "All modern wind turbines in Australia are designed to be upwind, with the blade in front of the tower.  These upwind turbines generate much lower levels of infrasound and low frequency sound."

The first statement is factual.  The second statement leaves out an important fact; when turbulent air is fed into the ‘modern’ upwind-bladed industrial turbines, they can generate significant quantities of infrasound and low-frequency noise.  This was established in 1989 in Hawaii by NASA researchers Hubbard and Shepherd.  Turbulence resulting from wind turbines being installed too close together, without complying with the international standard for turbine separation distances, is thought to be contributing to the infrasound and low-frequency noise problems at number of Australian wind development sites. Based on the evidence, it would not be unreasonable for the general public to assume that wind developers and turbine manufacturers are more concerned with maximising profit and income from renewable energy certificates (RECS) than from achieving engineering efficiency and safeguarding public health. 

While the profit motive is an integral part of normal, accepted business practice, profiteering at the expense of public health is unacceptable.  When profit overrides public health and well being of the general public, in the face of clear scientific/medical evidence, the practice is doubly damnable and ethically indefensible.  To quote the obvious:  "The devil is in the detail".  The fact that upwind industrial turbines create sounds that affect animals and humans is abundantly obvious and to compare this version of industrial wind turbine to older technology is of no benefit to those who suffer from the acoustic immissions from the current machines.

Your second paragraph alludes to such ‘devils’.  While you state that:

"Infrasound levels in the vicinity of wind farms have been measured and compared to a number of urban and rural environments away from wind farms.  The results of these measurements have shown that in rural residences both near to and far away from wind turbines, both indoor and outdoor infrasound levels are well below the perception threshold, and no greater than that experienced in other rural and urban environments."

the reality is that these statements misrepresent the facts.  In essence, what you have done is to ‘cherry-pick’ the data.  Further,  your statement leads the reader to believe that as long as sound levels are below conscious, and perhaps audible perception, there is no problem.  This could not be further from the truth.

A significant problem with the determination of environmental noise relates to the inappropriate use of the A-weighting, still so commonly applied.  As it significantly underestimates frequencies below 1,000 Hz and above 3,500 Hz this negates its usefulness in measuring low frequency and infrasound.  The point should be obvious.  Unfortunately regulation so often lags behind scientific knowledge.

Medicine, while based on a good deal of science, remains, as practiced, an ART.  The reason for this is that the practice of medicine involves human beings.  Human beings are not simply a collection of chemicals, cells and tissues, randomly existing in the biosphere.  Rather they are sentient beings that are subject to multiple stimulatory mechanisms.  This is one instance where a holistic viewpoint is nearer the truth than the traditional reductionist viewpoint.  The consequence of this view needs further elaboration which you have chosen to omit . . .

The scientific method is something which is much talked about, but little understood, even by some scientists!  The fact of the matter is that science begins with observation.  This observation then gives rise to a question: how is that so?  What caused that? How does that work?  How did that happen?

The question, which usually has some practical relevance, leads to the creation of a ‘model’ of the ‘how’.  That model is referred to as the hypothesis.  And of course a hypothesis leads to the development of a testing methodology to see if it can be used to explain the facts.  The testing usually takes place in a controlled environment where the idea (hypothesis) is put to test by way of practical experiments.  With good design, these should attempt to limit the number of variables (things that can be manipulated/changed) and keep all other factors the same.  In an ideal world, a control situation could be used to compare the test circumstances to the ‘normal’ condition. 

A perfect example is a drug trial.  Subjects would be randomly assigned (so as not to bias the results) to one of two groups.  One group would receive the ‘test substance’ while the other, the control group, would receive a placebo.  That is, they would receive a substance (for example a pill) but it would be inactive, that is, lacking the chemical species under test.  The strength of the findings is further enhanced if the experimenter and the subjects are both blinded as to who got the real drug.  That is the basis of the modern scientific method.

Another perfectly legitimate and accepted method of study for obtaining comparative data is that of the case crossover design, where people act as their own controls.  This design is used to demonstrate a causal relationship in situations like allergic reactions to some foods and particular drugs, for example.  People living with industrial wind turbines are conducting this experiment all the time.  They go away, and notice their symptoms ameliorate.  They come back home, and under certain predictable wind and weather conditions, their symptoms recur.  This is a clear demonstration, using the scientific method, of a direct and causal relationship between exposure and response.  This is why some doctors are advising their patients to move away.  It is clear that the exposure to wind turbine noise is damaging their patient’s health, and there is nothing else they can suggest.

A common mistake, when selecting scientific data, relates to a process of choosing what to include.  When selection bias exists in data selection, this is colloquially known as ‘cherry-picking’.  When this occurs, it necessarily introduces a bias that affects the results.  This is apparent from your statement above relating to human perception of sound.  If you scan the literature more widely, then a plethora of papers appear which contradict the basis of your argument.  To only present one side of the argument is to short-change the readers and the general public. It also facilitates the generation of false impressions.

To return to the scientific method for a moment: when an observation has been made; a question arisen;  a hypothesis created; a series of experiments formulated to test the hypothesis and ultimately the results analysed, there are two relevant tests that need to be applied.  First, the results have to either support or reject the hypothesis.  That means that the hypothesis needs to be able to be falsified and results obtained which are relevant to support or rejection the hypothesis’s claim.  Variables need to be measurable. 

The second test, and equally important, is that the consequences of the results, i.e.  acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis, have to be consistent with what is already known.  To take an example: If the results of an experiment lead to the conclusion that the ‘conservation of momentum’ did not always occur, then there would be a great deal of concern.  Physicists are most unlikely to let go of such a well-supported observation as the conservation of momentum.  So, the new findings of an experiment have to fit with our existing reality.

In order to fit with our current reality, or paradigm, there needs to be both internal (within the experiment) and external (in relation to what is already generally known and accepted) consistency to be valid.  This is not to say that one day we might not reject the generally accepted view of the conservation of momentum, only that there would need to be extraordinary evidence to cause us to reach that conclusion.

What assists us with comprehending new knowledge and integrating it into our existing understanding of how the universe works is the existence of a mechanism.  That is, a way in which we can explain the circumstances we discover through our experiment within the current bounds of knowledge.  For your stance to be accepted, there would need to be not only no evidence to the contrary, but also the lack of any understandable mechanism of action.  Neither are in fact the case.

Many scientific papers expound the observation that stimuli below conscious perception do, in a number of instances, result in physiological response.  This is the case for the effects of low frequency and infrasound, and was noted by Kelley 1987, Chen, Qibai & Shi 2004, Swinbanks 2012, and Schomer 2013  in addition to the work of Professor Salt, a leading neurophysiologist working in this area.   Further, there are many plausible mechanisms to explain how sub-conscious perception threshold stimuli may interact with living organisms.  The old notion that perception is the threshold above which biological effects occur is not only out-dated, it is a non-sequitur.  Take x-rays for example, they are not readily consciously perceivable yet can be quite harmful.  Light is in a similar category.  Sound is another physical phenomenon that does not need conscious perception to be received by an organism or for that organism to react.

The work of Professor Alec Salt has done much in recent years to elucidate theory on the biological reception of low-frequency sound, complimenting this with extensive laboratory experimentation.  To ignore this work is a travesty and is tantamount to lying by omission to the general public.  It is another example of cherry-picking the data that effectively distorts the final impression.  To add to this work, the research of Dr. Carey Balaban has done much to throw light on the neuronal mechanism of sound reception by the human body.  We now have theory, experimental evidence and empirical observation, all pointing in the same direction.  To blithely ignore such a body of science and come up with a generalisation of ‘no harm’ is not only lying to the general public but supports a point of view that is largely sympathetic to the commercial, industrial profit motive.  This commercial bias has no place in medicine or public health.

The most recent article to come out of  Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, from Professors Salt and Lichtenbaum is worthy of mention here.  Their landmark paper appears in Acoustics Today,  Volume 10, Issue 1,  pp 20-28, Winter 2014.  In their paper: How does wind turbine noise affect people?, they succinctly describe the results of their recent work on the effects of low frequency and infrasound on the cochlea mechanism.  It appears that the roles of the inner and outer hair cells differ in many significant ways.  In particular, the outer hair cells account for only 5 % of the afferent nerve fibres in the acoustic nerve and are of  Type II in comparison to the inner hair cells which equate to 95% of the acoustic nerves and are of Type I.  Further, the inner hair cells, which are largely responsible for the faculty of hearing in the accepted frequency spectrum of 20 to 20,000 Hz, do not touch the tectorial membrane.  They operate by way of transducing movements in the fluid below the membrane into nerve impulses.  The outer hair cells, by contrast, are directly connected to the tectorial membrane and are far more responsive to low frequency and infrasound.

The point that Salt and Lichtenbaum are making is that the energy that enters the ear canal as low frequency and infrasound is readily translated into neural impulses which reach the brain, albeit they may not be consciously interpreted as sound, but they still reach the cognitive engine.   Another critical point concerns their findings that biologically generated amplitude modulated signals occur in the pulse trains of nerve impulses from the inner hair cells as a result of stimulation from a 500 Hz tone summed with 4.8 Hz. (Their Figure 2.)

Their work is a clear demonstration of a biologically-generated modulation to a non-modulated stimulus.  The cochlear microphonic response is generated by the outer hair cells,responding to both the high and low frequency components.  This occurs either by saturation of the mechano-electric transducer or by cyclically changing the mechanical amplification of the high frequencies. Being insensitive to the lower frequencies, the inner hair cells detect only the high frequency component, which is amplitude modulated at twice the infrasound frequency, in their example.  Thus, the inner hair cells essentially ‘see’ the effect of a high-pass filtered version of what the outer hair cells perceive. This is the most clear demonstration of the effect of infrasound on the cochlea.  The biophysics of the ear creates an amplitude-modulated signal from a non-amplitude modulated source of two pure tones.  This is a neurophysiological explanation of the effect reported by subjects who complain of adverse effects from living too close to industrial wind turbine installations.  To ignore such clear evidence is to deny the very substance of the scientific method in favour of a biased commercial approach to public health.

The deliberate exclusion of empirical data, failure to acknowledge existing scientific knowledge and theory is to effectively lie by omission.  Such distortion of reality is to degrade science, medicine and discredit the practitioners of those disciplines.  I take exception to such biased reporting and the distribution of such misinformation.  It is to degrade my profession as a scientist, researcher and consultant.

I urge you and your colleagues to rethink your position with all due speed.  Simply put: do not comment on areas beyond your own boundaries of knowledge.  Do not tell half-truths, present commercially biased information in the name of health care and stop lying directly and by omission to your patients and the public at large.  This matter needs to be urgently addressed to minimise the fallout and retain the respectability that the practice of medicine deserves and the good name of your organisation.

Sincerely yours,

Bruce Rapley BSc, MPhil, PhD.

Principal Consultant,  Acoustics and Human Health,

Atkinson & Rapley Consulting Ltd.


A vision for higher education

Christopher Pyne

With images of protesters – who were strangely quiet for the past six years despite massive cuts to education by the previous government – splashed across the newspapers, many people must be wondering what all the fuss is about.

The Abbott government has a host of new initiatives in education. We are planning to expand opportunities for more people to attend university and we are planning to extend access, particularly for disadvantaged and regional students. Whether through HECS-backed diplomas and pathway courses, or increased support for young people wanting to take up a trade, this government is making it easier to learn than ever.

Our plan massively expands opportunities for Australian apprentices and non-traditional students, ensuring apprentices have access to HECS-style loans of up to $20,000 for everyday costs through new Trade Support Loans. They won’t need to repay a dollar until they earn a decent living, just like university students.

Our plan provides that vocational education and training students – also not at university – will be able to borrow for course fees. They will no longer have to pay an unfair 20 per cent fee that is charged to them but not to undergraduates in public universities.

Under this federal government and for the first time   there will be support for all students studying for higher education diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees, not just those in public universities. Students can go to a public or private university, or a so-called "non-university provider" such as the higher education section of a TAFE or a private college approved to offer university level courses. This is a massive expansion from the current system, which concentrates support on undergraduate students in public universities.

Our plan supports more than 80,000 additional students each year through these new measures. If that is not expanding choice, it is hard to imagine what would satisfy those calling for greater access to tertiary education.

Diploma students will be the big winners. Diplomas, apart from being qualifications in themselves, are great for students who are not fully prepared for university study but who ultimately want to get into a university from somewhere other than after completing high school. This could be a mature-age student wanting to retrain to move to a better job, or a bright student who missed out in year 11 or 12 for various reasons. Students who enter university with a diploma typically do better than many less-prepared students who go from school straight to university – too many of whom drop out. This massive expansion of support for diplomas should help to reduce that drop-out rate in our universities.

Traditional university students, meanwhile, remain protected. The government will continue to support all 750,000 or so full-time and part-time Australian students studying for a regular bachelor degree by offering what we believe is the world’s most generous loans scheme. Not a cent of university study needs to be paid for by Australian students upfront. Students borrow their share of the cost of their education through the Higher Education Loan Program (otherwise known as HECS). They don’t start repaying until they earn over $50,000 a year. It’s the best loan deal a student will ever get, especially given the interest rate is protected – it just matches the government’s cost of borrowing.

There’s an ever bigger win for university students.

Freeing universities to set their own fees, rather than having them dictated by government, will encourage competition between higher education institutions – and that means better courses, better teaching and more competitive course pricing. It will result in a greater focus on students than ever before in Australia.

Students from low socio-economic groups and regional areas will have more opportunity than ever before. New Commonwealth scholarships will be available to support those students. Higher education institutions will be required to spend $1 in every $5 of additional revenue they get from fee deregulation on Commonwealth scholarships and other forms of support for those from low socio-economic backgrounds and regional areas.

This massive expansion of opportunity for Australians responds in part to rapid growth over recent years in the number of university students, which has meant a growing cost to taxpayers – an additional $7.6 billion over five years.

Any debate about  this package is a good thing. It brings out the fact that university students, on average, pay just more than 40 per cent of the cost of their education, and the taxpayer pays the rest. It acknowledges that university graduates benefit from a significant personal advantage, earning about 75 per cent more than non-graduates – or about $1 million more over their lifetimes. It reminds us that 60 per cent of adult Australians who will never hold a degree are subsidising the other 40 per cent.

It goes without saying that people who benefit so greatly from their university education should be making a reasonable contribution to the cost of it.

We need our university graduates. They keep our economy strong, viable and able in the new world economy – but only if education quality is high and our university system works. As Universities Australia itself has highlighted through its new advertising campaign, we must not be left behind. We must set our higher education providers free –to compete, grow and be excellent. We can create the best higher education system in the world.

It's a win for students, a win for education and a win for Australia.


Memo to uni fees protesters: stop being selfish thugs and bullies

Amanda Vanstone

Recent street protests by students should give us all pause for thought. As much as many in my generation may harbour a special place in their hearts for Gough Whitlam, in our heads we retain memories of the economic shambles his government became.

Whitlam is remembered fondly by many as the man who introduced free university education. The principle that anyone who is capable of university education and wants to pursue it should be able to do so seems universal to me. But the implementation was a disaster.

In the first instance, it is just too late to say to kids in year 12, who haven’t had a fair go in life, "Oh, by the way, your university education is free." Kids need to have confidence and hope well before then.

Not surprisingly, there was no dramatic change to the socio-economic make-up of university students. This grandiose gesture did not let more poor kids in to university. What it did was pay for all the so-called rich kids who were going to uni anyway. In an effort to help the poor, taxpayer dollars were shovelled into the mouths of the rich. Not surprisingly, they liked it. A lot.

Making students pay a fair share of the cost of their university education, but only when they have a job and some income, was the brainchild of economics professor Bruce Chapman. His policy is pure genius: anyone who is capable can go to university, and pay back slowly as their income rises.

It is a mark of how deeply entrenched our expectations of government have become that some students think paying their fair share is some sort of outrage. Not all students, but some very vocal ones think they should be given more from other taxpayers. They expect to get heaps more than other kids their age who don’t go to university, and this is apparently because they are our future. I cringe at their naivety. Putting aside thoughts of all the successful people who were high school dropouts, one wonders if the protesters’ intellectual skill has allowed them to reflect on the lower ATAR scores required to gain university entrance in 2014.

Only a few of the hundreds of thousands of people who go to university each year will end up being our leaders. The rest will just have higher incomes and more job security and social status than many who do not get the opportunity to go to university.

Many in the past, having won a university place at the exclusion of others, lacked the ambition or application to earn enough to ever pay back their HECS debt. It might sound harsh to say that, but it is more attractive than thinking they arrange their work and income to ensure they pay little back.

It might be an idea, before anyone gets too sympathetic, to reflect on the billions of dollars in HECS debt left unpaid. These protesters say to all the tradies, cleaners, sales workers and others whose taxes have funded their education, "Thanks for the loan, suckers."

Their protests, however, reveal something much more than misplaced self-importance. Their actions run counter to the very thing for which universities are meant to be a haven – namely, civilised debate.

This gaggle of would be's if could be’s are just louts in disguise. They are bullies of the highest order. If you want to say or do something with which they disagree, they believe they are entitled to censor your speech by drowning it out in protest or making those responsible for your safety feel so uncertain as to require that you leave a venue.

To cap off their me-me-me attitude, they expect to be able to use force of volume and numbers to get their way but think it completely unreasonable when security personnel step in and bring their little drama to an end. It’s pathetic in one sense, and a complete outrage in another.

Protests are, in my view, a good thing. They are a sign of the freedom we all enjoy. But what some protesters fail to understand is everyone else’s right to go about their business undisturbed. Sadly, the right to protest has become for all too many the right to ruin anyone else’s day just because they want to be on telly.

Universities should not tolerate the type of thuggery we have seen over the past few weeks.

It seems odd that university students, the very people who should be excited by debate of ideas, should be the ones who seek to drown out any voices but their own. When their voice is used to protect their own self-interest rather than to advance the rights of those without a voice, we can see the ugly face of the me-me-me generation. This kind of behaviour has direct parallels with dictators in one-party states who use their power to silence any criticism.

Everyone who is unhappy with the decisions of a properly elected government, not just the students, might care to reflect on life in a one-party state. In such states planning is often much longer term, welfare is inevitably much much leaner, and the views of dissidents are often silenced in a manner we find unconscionable.


26 May, 2014

Julia's partner criticizes Tony's wife

Tim Mathieson rebukes Margie Abbott for her apparent lack of charity work.  Julia and Tim have a dog.  The Abbotts have 3 beautiful daughters.  A difference in workload and much else?

The former 'First Bloke' of Australia Tim Mathieson has hit out at Margie Abbott, claiming she isn't doing enough charity work.

Julia Gillard's partner claims that Tony Abbott's wife, who manages a child-care centre part time and regularly attends community events, isn't properly fulfilling her duties as a Prime Minister's spouse.

'What is she doing? Because I did 60 charity events. She has not contributed to any of them,' Mr Mathieson told the Sunday Herald Sun.

While in the role of 'First Bloke' he travelled extensively with Ms Gillard to attend functions and charity events.

'The spouse of every prime minister since [Edmund] Barton has done charity work,' he claimed.

A spokeswoman from the Prime Minister's office responded to the claims, saying Mrs Abbott has been involved in a whole host of charity, community, health and education events.

'This community involvement has been part of her life as she has worked part-time at a local Sydney childcare centre and, along with Tony, raised their three daughters,' the spokeswoman said.

She also said the Prime Minister's wife has been a long supporter of many causes including Girl Guides and Royal Blind Society, and that those close to Mrs Abbott know she doesn't make a fuss of the work she does.

Mr Mathieson supports many organisations himself as a patron for the Australia Men's Sheds Association, an ambassador for Kidney Health Australia, while also being involved with mental health group beyondblue and an indigenous diabetes association.

He also took on the role as one of the former government's Men's Health Ambassadors, though did get himself into hot water over a joke he made to the West Indies cricket team while talking about prostate cancer.

Mr Mathieson said he was simply trying to do the best he could as a country boy and he had little time for garden parties.


Lying Greenie faces jail

And his fellow Greenies don't like that prospect at all.  They think they should be able to do anything without penalty

The campaigner behind an ANZ-Whitehaven Coal hoax email has pleaded guilty to disseminating false information. Jonathan Moylan, 26, of Newcastle was accused of sending out a fake ANZ press release claiming the bank was withdrawing from a $1.2 billion loan facility to Whitehaven's open-cut coalmine in Maules Creek, New South Wales, for ethical reasons.

The hoax email temporarily wiped more than $314 million off the value of Whitehaven's sharemarket value and was reported by a number of news organisations.

Mr Moylan, who had originally pleaded not guilty, appeared at a directions hearing in the New South Wales Supreme Court on Friday and pleaded guilty to charges relating to disseminating false information that was likely to induce a person to "dispose of financial products", the Australian Securities and Investments Commission said.

He was released on unconditional bail and will return to the NSW Supreme Court for sentencing on July 11.

Mr Moylan faces up to ten years in jail and a fine of $765,000 under the breaches of the Corporations Act.

He first appeared in court in July last year but was not required to enter a plea. At a later hearing in November, he entered a not guilty plea.

The hoax email was sent to media outlets in January last year.

The Maules Creek mine has been the subject of legal action by conservation group the Northern Inland Council for the Environment. The group claimed in court the former environment minister Tony Burke breached the law by hastily granting the project conditional approval.

The Federal Court rejected the claims and Whitehaven begun construction on the mine, in the Gunnedah Basin near Tamworth in northern NSW, in December.

Nicola Paris, the coordinator of Mr Moylan's support campaign, We Stand with Jonathan Moylan, said Mr Moylan would not be commenting until after submissions were made to the Supreme Court on July 11.

The Lock The Gate Alliance said last year that it was "extraordinary" Mr Moylan was facing jail.

"We are asking ASIC to reconsider their decision and withdraw the prosecution - the penalty is clearly disproportionate to the offence and Mr Moylan has apologised to anyone affected by his actions," Alliance president Drew Hutton said at the time.


Australia's Don Quixote is getting discouraged

I do buy some of his lines because I admire his heart but he is economically unsophisticated.  Having American and European companies buy out our producers may be the only way to save them.  Competition from China and Asia generally means that Australian companies have to become ruthlessly efficient to survive

The pool of Australian food producers is shrinking so fast that it is becoming difficult for patriotic players like Dick Smith to stay in business.

In the end Dick Smith Foods is going to be forced to close

Mr Smith - the entrepreneur who launched a crusade against the foreign ownership of Australian food processors in the late 1990s – says his company's "days are numbered".

His comments came after the private equity owners of Peters Ice Cream entered into exclusive negotiations with French ice-cream giant, R&R.  The brand, which owns a factory in Melbourne's east, is expected to sell for more than $400 million.

Mr Smith said it is getting increasingly harder for his company to source Australian-owned food producers – with overseas buyers snapping up at least one local manufacturer about every six months.

"For example, I want to get a beetroot made but the only Australian cannery was Windsor Farms at Cowra, " Mr Smith said. "It has gone broke, closed down, it doesn't exist. So we can't get any beetroot anywhere because there are no Australian [owned] canneries.

"This is going to happen more and more where in the end Dick Smith Foods is going to be forced to close."

The turnover of Dick Smith Foods has fallen sharply in the past 10 years from about $80 million a year to as low as $8 million.

Mr Smith said he has managed to lift that figure to about $20 million after an "enormous amount of work", but he doesn't know how much longer he can continue.

"I've kept it going for 12 years.  "[But] I think the days are numbered because basically anyone who is any good as a food producer is pretty much immediately bought out by the Northern Hemisphere. These companies have to get growth and the only way they can get growth is by buying out other companies."

He said Dick Smith Foods was set to make about a $1 million profit this year, which the company would donate to charity, bringing the total amount given away to about $5.5 million.

"I run it like Paul Newman Foods. But he is an American company and he has given away $16 million in Australia. We would love to compete with that but I'm sure we won't be able to.  "I reckon from now on it will start to drop how much we give away.

"We have a running battle with Coles and Woolworths. They are always going to drop our products because they don't meet the hurdle rates."

Mr Smith said Australian companies struggled to compete with overseas players, who have deeper pockets and greater economies of scale.

"You can't compete with the salaries being paid. The last time I looked the chief executive of Kraft, with bonuses, got $26 million a year so that means you just simply get the most astute business people ever.

"The Northern Hemisphere is an example of ultimate capitalism and as you start to get to the limits of growth these companies get the absolute best leadership and  ... very quickly they will do ruthless things that a typical Australian businessman wouldn't do."

For example, Mr Smith said when US food giant Heinz closed its tomato sauce plant in northern Victoria two years ago, sacking 150 people, in favour of moving production to New Zealand – they did so "save about 5 cents in the dollar".

"The labour rate is slightly lower there. Once you're big and global you can do that, whereas if you're and Aussie company it's hard to suddenly say 'we're manufacturing in Victoria lets move to NZ'.

"If you're a global company you can change to any country virtually instantly."

A spokeswoman for Peters' owner Pacific Equity Partners declined to commen


Ambulance secrecy in Victoria

AMBULANCE Victoria fears making details of its poor performances public will drive away paying customers and create public controversy.

These were the reasons given for refusing a Herald Sun request for average branch ­response times and illness or injury details of all time-critical Code 1 emergency call-outs where the responses took 20 minutes or longer.

AV refused to provide the information under Freedom of Information laws, despite having released similar data previously and having accepted an Auditor-General’s recommendation in 2010 to release local area performance data.

"The Auditor General said this data should be public, the Government promised to ­release it, Ambulance Victoria has released it previously - but now, the ambulance crisis is so dire that instead of fixing the problem Denis Napthine is desperately trying to hide it," Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings said.

Since the Coalition came to power, the statewide average Code 1 response time has plummeted, from 81 per cent of responses being within 15 minutes in 2009/10 to just 73.4 per cent in 2013/14 - the target is 85 per cent.

In places with a population of more than 7500 the drop has been just as dramatic, from 86.9 per cent in 2009/10 to 78.2 per cent - the target is 90 per cent.

Ambulances took 20 minutes or more to respond to life-threatening emergencies on more than 900 occasions in Melbourne in 2005, when data was last released. Paramedics then estimated more than 50 people a year die because crews can’t reach them in time.

The worst delays, some of more than an hour, occurred on the city’s fringe where ­ambulance resources were thinnest. Black spots - where hundreds of critically ill and ­injured patients were being put at most risk by delays - included Sunbury, Melton, Pakenham, Werribee, Healesville, Cranbourne, Lilydale and Mornington.

The then Liberal Opposition said the Bracks Government’s failure to meet the emergency needs of a growing city was appalling.

"Young families living on the city fringe ... or older people retiring to the peninsula are being forced to take their chances with a second-rate system," the then Liberal health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said.

In refusing to release updated figures in an election year, AV said that it could no longer produce data on 20 minute-plus response times and as it was engaged in a commercial enterprise the requested branch data was "source data of a business nature".

It also said publication of this data "may unduly excite public controversy on an issue which is already attracting media attention and the subject of current protected industrial action by the Ambulance Employees Union".

The Opposition has also been refused access under FOI to average response times for AV’s 250 branches, losing an appeal to VCAT this week.

VCAT senior member Robert Davis accepted AV is foremost a commercial operation, rather than a public service.

He found branch response times did not accurately reflect response times for particular locations as ambulances often work outside their own areas and their release would likely cause a loss of public confidence that may lead people to not subscribe or even to transport themselves or others to hospital when injured.

However, Mr Davis noted that AV had accepted the Auditor-General’s recommendation to release performance data for local geographical areas.

AV General Manager, Regional Services, Tony Walker said response times were only one measure of service quality and survival and quality of life for cardiac arrest, heart attack, stroke and head trauma victims were improving.

Mr Walker said 20 minute response data could not be produced because AV’s systems, data and reporting were very different to the former independent metropolitan and rural services.


25 May, 2014

Festival of Australia and NZ arts launches in London

I can't say I am much in favour of this sort of thing.  Australian cultural talents do quite well abroad on their own merits.  Emphasis on Australia as a location seems more likely to revive a "cultural cringe" impression. 

And that Australians often need to go abroad to optimize their careers needs no apology.  The Australian population is relatively small and cultural products are very much a minority interest.  So exposure to large potential audiences is needed to achieve a critical mass of income. 

Why does anyone think that English theatre companies regularly tour the despised North?  Because they need the money of the Northeners.  And they won't get that money unless they go to where the customers are.  So even the trickle of cultural interest from the North needs to be grabbed

From time to time, Australia launches little cultural assault fleets back to the mother country.

One year it might be a Leo McKern, who ruled the Old Bailey in his television portrayal of Rumpole, tying a neat bow around the whole convict saga.

Another year it might be a John Pilger or a Julian Assange, doing the journalistic equivalent of selling ice to the Eskimos: a bolder, freer, cooler brand of ice, more sharp and uncomfortable than the usual Fleet Steet sleet.

And of course there are Clive James, Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer and, uh, Rolf Harris – the Gang of Four whose mega-talents allowed an allegedly indecent assault on swinging London. Indecently successful, that is, m’lud.

Some of these Aussie Vikings settled down, hung up their helmets and became part of the landscape. Others came back home, Patrick White-style, Tim Winton-style, with new perspective or homesick hearts.

Though ... it seems a little unfair. Do we really have to come cap in hand to Europe or North America seeking success and recognition, or some kind of  validation stamp in the career passport?

This month Australia launches a new, full-frontal literary invasion of London.

But the aim is not a reverse colonisation. Instead, according to Jon Slack, it is to demonstrate that no matter how far or how wide our writers roam … etc etc.

"Over here people have a very narrow view of what happens in Australia – the top-level, stereotypical view," he says.

"There’s some truth to stereotypes but there's so much more - writing talent, acting talent, film - there’s so much to show off."

Slack – ex-Adelaide, now a UK resident for just over a decade - is the director of a new, ambitious summer festival in the UK.

This Way Up, the Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts, boasts some of the two nations’ biggest talents, supported by some familiar international names, in 60 events over four days.

Tim Winton will discuss his new novel, Helen Garner talks about memory and imagination, Fay Weldon chats to New Zealand writer Paula Morris, other events feature Anna Funder, Greta Scacchi, Kathy Lette and Anita Heiss.

Clive James is doing a new one-hour show about his life in writing, and the festival closes with a new composition by composer Mark Bradshaw set to the biblical poem Song of Solomon, read by actor Ben Whishaw.

I meet Slack on a sunny day in Brighton. He says the idea grew out of a touch of homesickness. "I wanted to work out a way of connecting what I was doing here [in the UK] with back home [in Australia and New Zealand]. I was getting really out of the loop on everything that was happening back in Oz.

"There are so many festivals over here but having a country-specific focus was quite unique … There’s rivalry, affection, understanding [between Australia and the UK]. The more I looked into it the more sense it made."

There is a risk of backfire in attempting this kind of showcase. Last year London’s Royal Academy, to great fanfare, opened an exhibition of some of Australia’s best and most iconic works of art, from pre-colonisation to the present day.

Reviews were mixed. While few were as scathing as those of the Sunday Times, whose critic ended up musing that in Australia the wrong people became artists, some found the whole idea old fashioned. The Guardian said an exhibition whose "aim is the broad sweep of a country, let alone a continent" risked ending up as "potted history and pop-up content".

"I am not interested in what might constitute some sort of Australian artistic identity, because I doubt there is one," the reviewer wrote.

Another critic wrote in the Independent that "more than most countries, [Australia] has carried a baggage of hyper-sensitivity about its place in the world".

Slack says the reaction to the exhibition showed there was a lot of passion about Australia’s representation in the UK. He hopes the multi-event format of his festival will immunise against such criticism.

He does believe there is a character to Australian writing that will emergeduring the festival.

"If you watch a film from Australia or read a book or even just go back home, there’s something very intangible but you can sense it," he says. "There is such diversity … [but] the person who described it the best was Tim Winton."

In a speech in London last year, Winton said he found new perspective on what his home country meant to him when he lived in Paris in his late 20s – his first trip abroad.

He thought the difference would just be language and history, but "the moment that I stepped off a plane at Charles de Gaulle [airport] I knew I was not a European," he said. "[Australia’s] geography, distance and weather have moulded my sensory palette, my imagination and my expectations."

Winton found Europe's land and the sky less beautiful, even saccharine and closed. From afar he recognised Australia as the Neverland of Peter Pan – more wild, a place "more landscape than culture" where the night sky would threaten to suck you up into the stars.

"I was calibrated differently to a European," he said. "Everything we do in our country is still overshadowed and underwritten by the seething tumult of nature."

Slack says the Australian voice can vary widely – contrast Winton with Christos Tsiolkas – but at the same time sound alike.

"It’s very direct, it’s bold, it’s just in the character. Even though there’s a lot of bullshit, there’s no bullshit. That’s what people respond to over here."

Slack says Winton is still a little "under the radar" in the UK, despite the many highlights of his long career.

There is an ongoing question as to whether Australian writers do better if they make a more permanent move to the northern hemisphere, he says. It is even being addressed during the festival, in a "big debate" on whether the cultural cringe is over.

"It’s hard to deny that if you’re based here you’ve got that ongoing presence, it’s easier to have those meetings, do those events, have those conversations you need to have," Slack says. "The tyranny of distance is still a thing.

"There are some people who still make jokes about ‘cultured Australians, oxymoron’ ...People love and respect individual Australians, in films or writers, but I think there is still quite a long way to go. There’s definitely an ignorance of what’s going on ... Unless someone has been to Australia you just don’t get past the beach and the sport. It’s really hard for people to do that."

The festival has a "shoestring budget" in proportion to its scale, but Slack says in planning it became a "controlled explosion" as more people agreed to take part. The event has been part-funded by the Australia Council – which at one stage doubled its support when the project’s ambition grew. One of the council’s aims is to establish a reputation for Australia as an "artistically ambitious nation", says Jill Eddington, director of literature funding at the council.

But the festival is there, in a nutshell, to help the authors find their market, and the market to find the authors.

"The big challenge for all writers worldwide is discoverability in a huge global online market," says Eddington. "No, [writers] don’t need to move to the northern hemisphere. The old boundaries and borders are less and less relevant. The work of great Australian writers is relevant to readers anywhere in the world."

This Way Up is at Kings College, London, from May 29 to June 1.


Principal of Queensland Christian College rejects Muslim student teachers after they wear hijab to school

THE principal of a Christian College has come under fire for transferring two student teachers after they turned up for work dressed in traditional Muslim headwear.

The two women, in their final year of a teaching degree, had started a work placement at Redlands College this year.

In a newsletter addressed to the school’s parents on Tuesday, principal Mark Bensley outlined his reasons for dismissing the pair, explaining he had acted out of a "duty of care".

"I have a duty of care to ensure that those teaching at the College are actively supporting the Christian principles, practices and beliefs of the College," he wrote.

"I see the wearing of the hijab as openly acting in a manner that is contrary to or inconsistent with these principles, practices and beliefs."

The principal explained that he had arranged for both students to transfer to another school to complete their respective field work.

"While I respect their desire to wear a hijab, I feel it’s inappropriate to do so at Redlands College," he wrote.

A statement issued to The Sunday Mail said, as a Christian school, Redlands College "respects and loves all people, from all backgrounds and religions".

"However we don’t hide our Christian values and we provide an important educational option for families seeking Christian education.

"We are not aware that they (student teachers) had any concerns, and it is our understanding that all parties came to a mutual agreement for the benefit of all."

Some parents at the school are believed to be unhappy with the student teachers’ transfer, and leaders in the Muslim community have been left stunned.

Section 25 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 allows employers to enforce a "genuine occupational requirement that workers act in a way that is consistent with the religious beliefs of the school".

According to Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson, Redlands College was within their rights to dismiss the two student teachers.

But that has done little to calm the Muslim community, with Islamic College of Brisbane principal Mubarak Noor disappointed by the news. "This is not good news, it’s a matter of concern to me," he said.

Redlands College denied moving the students was at odds with Christian teachings of tolerance. "This has nothing to do with religious intolerance, which we condemn outright," a school spokesman said.

Uniting Church Minister Reverend Anneli Sinnko said Mr Bensley’s actions directly contradict the basic foundations of the Christian faith.



Govt planning to fast track refugee claims

THE federal government plans to tackle a huge backlog of asylum seeker claims by introducing new laws to speed up the decision process.  About 23,000 asylum seekers are living in Australia on bridging visas and awaiting determinations on their claims.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has flagged that after July 1, when the Senate changes over, he'll introduce a bill to parliament aimed at "triaging" refugee claims, The Australian reported on Friday.

This means the government will be negotiating the passage of the laws with eight crossbenchers, including three senators from Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party, rather than the Australian Greens who currently hold the balance of power.

The government is also considering changes to the Refugee Review Tribunal, which reviews unsuccessful asylum seeker claims, to allow the government make its own case on appeals and challenge any new information introduced by claimants.

"When our bill gets to parliament ... the resolve of the parliament to support the strong policies of the coalition will be put to the test," Mr Morrison told The Australian.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the changes would be detrimental to refugees' safety.  "It's all about sending as many refugees back into harm's way as possible," she told reporters in Sydney.  The current process was rigorous in order to avoid fatal mistakes, Senator Hanson-Young said.


The fruit of Abbott's success: New Zealand is the new destination for asylum seekers

Late on Wednesday night, eight cars full of asylum seekers slipped quietly out of the hillside town of Cisarua and headed for the coast.

They carried 50 desperate men and women who were intending to board a waiting boat and set off into the night.

This movement was reminiscent of hundreds of other people-smuggling ventures in recent years. But in one critical respect it was different and immeasurably more dangerous.

These people — Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Afghans — were not intending to travel the 440 kilometres to Christmas Island. They faced instead an 8000 kilometre journey across one of the world’s most treacherous oceans, final destination: New Zealand.

The trip was thwarted. The cars were intercepted by Indonesian police, whom the smugglers believed they had paid off, and the passengers sent back to Cisarua where they are now waiting for another chance.

A joint Fairfax Media and New Zealand’s Sunday Star-Times investigation has laid bare the desperation and lies behind the New Zealand option, the latest twist in the asylum-seeker story, and the potential disaster that awaits any who attempt the journey.

"No one’s ever got to New Zealand [by leaky boat] in modern times," New Zealand ambassador to Indonesia, David Taylor, says.

"You’ve got reefs one side [Australia’s eastern coast] and the Indian ocean the other side [to the west]. They are long distances, the seas there are very fickle … so it’s a pipe dream".

And yet a number of sources in Cisarua and elsewhere have confirmed that Murtaza Khan, a Pakistani travel agent, and three other smugglers, Khawaja Nisar, Tarik Ayub and a man called Abbas, have marketed this boat as safe. They also say it’s the first of many.

Sources said as the passengers waited for weeks before embarkation day in a villa in Cisarua, playing cards and making flat bread, they were told repeatedly that the boat was safe. They were shown pictures and videos of the alleged vessel, its two large engines and provisions — images obtained exclusively by Fairfax Media.

Murtaza described the boat as metal-hulled, 32m long and 7m high, and said it would sail as far as West Papua (the Indonesian half of New Guinea), with a second, smaller boat, also pictured, travelling behind as back up.

He said they would sail close to the Indonesian coast, not within international waters, for fear the Australian navy would catch them and return them to Indonesia.

(Asked if Australia was legally able to intercept and turn back a boat whose destination was New Zealand, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he would not comment about on-water activities.)

Once the boat had stopped and reprovisioned in West Papua, the second boat would return to Java and the first one sail alone the rest of the way to the ultimate destination, Kaitaia, in New Zealand’s north-west.  An alternative landing place, if the boat was in trouble, they said, was the rugged and uninhabited Three Kings Islands, which belong to New Zealand.

"It will be a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 12 days on the ocean," Murtaza has told passengers — an absurdly optimistic assessment.

The price per passenger — $US500 up front and a full payment of between $US5000 for the Afghans and Bangladeshis and $US7000 for the Indians — is cheap, barely more than the trip to Australia once cost. The idea at this stage is not to make a big profit; it’s to prove it can be done and open a new way out of Indonesia so that more passengers follow.

"You can be sure if one boat gets to New Zealand, the price will increase," one people smuggler’s agent has told passengers.

New Zealand, he said, "wants people to come".  "They are looking forward to seeing asylum seekers. They need them because the population is very small."

They say that asylum seekers can settle quickly there, after which getting permission to cross the Tasman to Australia is a formality.

Ambassador Taylor says most of these statements are false. There has never been a "mass arrival" in New Zealand (defined as more than 30 people), but Indonesia recently passed laws to deal with them. Taylor says his country may not even be their ultimate aim.

"They know they can’t [get there] and [perhaps] they’re hoping to get to a certain point and then duck in to Australia".

Murtaza has form for lying. A boat he arranged in September last year was billed to passengers as having "dinner and rooms," but it was tiny and open to the elements, and promptly sank off the coast of Java forcing its 44 occupants to call Australia for help.

"Murtaza is crazy for money," says one asylum seeker in Indonesia. "He is making crazy promises because Australia is blocked. If they go to New Zealand, maybe all of them will die."

But the fact that 50 passengers are impatient to make the journey is an expression of their desperation.

More than 10,000 asylum seekers and refugees are waiting in Indonesia and 100 more arrive every week. Tony Abbott’s and Scott Morrison’s success at turning back the boats has stoppered them in a place where they cannot work or get their children educated, and where it may take three years or more to be resettled through the so-called "front door".

Fairfax Media has learnt that among those on board are some who have already faced Australia’s hard-edged response.

At least one passenger was aboard the first orange lifeboat sent under Operation Sovereign Borders in January.  Two others tried in March to get to New Zealand with a different venture but were arrested instead in West Papua. They escaped, made their way back to Cisarua, and are trying again.

Others have run out of money and cannot afford to stay in Indonesia, or have paid all their money in the past to people smugglers for aborted or sunk ships and have been told they only have one choice — to travel.

An earlier attempt to reach New Zealand was aborted in March and another in early April involved smuggler Abu Ali amassing 23 people in West Sumatra on the premise that they could sail even further — 10,000km — around Australia’s southern coast to New Zealand. It was cancelled because not enough passengers were willing to try.

Other smugglers have even tried to sell tickets to the relatively closer Norfolk Island, claiming wrongly that is part of New Zealand — it is in fact an external territory of Australia and its immigration regime is also very unaccepting.


Does language matter?

Last week, the Australian Industry Group called for the federal government to "significantly" reduce the standard of English required for 457 visas. Their succinct argument was that demanding a high standard of English prohibits employers from hiring the best overseas workers. The stringent standards to which they refer, introduced by the Howard government, also neglect the (apparently) multilingual nature of many Australian workplaces.

But here’s the contradiction. Late last year, the Australian Industry Group – the same outfit – released a survey of 400 companies that found English literacy was woeful to such an extent that safety was a serious issue in many workplaces. Nine out of ten employers reported negative impacts on their business arising from the poor standards of language, literacy and numeracy.

So, in the space of just six months, the AI Group has tried to convince us that English language standards in Australia are both too high and too low. Well, which is it? I’m inclined to believe the latter.

The concern raised by employers, that safety is being jeopardised, is one reason. Another is the simpler one of integration. How can new migrants integrate into their adopted country if they’re unable to communicate well enough? From a workplace perspective, how can they interact with customers, build relationships with colleagues and negotiate with employers, if they’re unable to articulate their position using the official language?

Those challenges aren’t hypothetical. The most recent data comparing the job prospects of foreign-born workers is quite telling, but perhaps not surprising.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics analysed the employment success of people who were born in a country where English is not the main language. Of those who can speak English proficiently, 47 per cent are in full-time jobs. Of those who can’t, the proportion drops to just 19 per cent.

The subsequent demands placed on the welfare system are also worth noting. The same data from the ABS shows that one third of those who can’t speak English cite ‘government allowances’ as their main source of income, a rate that’s almost double when compared to their English-speaking compatriots.

Perhaps you can blame racism. Perhaps you can blame the economy. Perhaps you can blame the government. Or perhaps you can acknowledge that moving to a country in which you can’t speak the language is probably not a good idea.

Ah, but what about the skills shortage! That’s the rallying cry from business groups as they urgently press for reforms. The skills shortage argument, though, doesn’t ring true, not when we have over 700,000 people unemployed, many of them eager to be retrained if only there were employers willing to train them.

It’s been a hot issue in the UK over the past few months as it emerged there recently that 800,000 immigrants admit they can speak only a little English or none at all. Most of them are unemployed and getting by on welfare. The result has been that senior politicians have openly suggested that social security benefits should be cut when migrants consistently fail to learn the language.

This culminated in the Secretary of State – himself the son of immigrant parents – declaring migrants "should come to work and make a contribution and that … means things like trying to learn English". The Communities Secretary, too, has said "you can't be a full member of British society unless you speak English ... If you're going to live somewhere, it is beholden on you to learn the language".

Both of those politicians make logical arguments, both of which are easily applicable here or in any other country.

Yes, a sound immigration policy is essential for economic growth. But surely it’s imperative to be wary of business groups urging the government to sacrifice the most basic requirements in pursuit of that goal.


23 May, 2014

Student protests: Police clash with student Fascists at Liberal Party event at Sydney University

Police clashed with demonstrators who tried to storm a Liberal Party debate at Sydney University being adjudicated by Education Minister Christopher Pyne last night.

Senators George Brandis and Mitch Fifield, along with Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, were on the guest list for the John Howard Debating Cup at the university's St John's College.

At 7:00pm, about 45 minutes before Mr Pyne arrived, up to 30 protesters tried to enter the building but could not get in.

Police then arrived at the scene at which point there was a confrontation, described by ABC reporter Ben Worsley as "quite forceful", as a number of students were pushed to the ground.

"Within two or three minutes a heavy police presence arrived, probably a couple of dozen police approached the protesters," Worsley said.  "A number of the protesters were pushed to the ground quite forcefully but the group has refused to leave."

About 50 police from the NSW Public Order and Riot Squad remained on the scene until after the debate finished.

Student Liberals condemn 'riot' outside debate

The protest appears to have been attended by members of the Socialist Alternative and the National Union of Students, who coordinated nationwide protests yesterday against the Coalition's plans to deregulate tertiary education.

The Sydney University's Liberal Club released a statement on Facebook, saying Thursday's debating event was "subject to a violent riot by a fringe group of students on the extreme left".

"I'm sure all Australian students stand with me in condemning this unprovoked and violent riot," the statement quoted the club's president, Alex Dore, as saying.

"This riot was organised by the usual suspects from Sydney University's extremist rent-a-crowd, who have nothing better to do than to disrupt civil debate with their militant tactics."

The federal budget included plans to deregulate university fees from 2016, allowing universities to charge what they like for courses.

The interest rate on student loans will also increase and the income threshold for when students need to start paying the money back will be lowered.

Mr Pyne made it clear earlier on Thursday that despite protests from students there will be no changes to the education reforms.

"I don't swallow the argument that students are somehow being mistreated or burdened," he said.

"That doesn't change the government's mind. We have to do this for the county, and we have to do it for the students."

He rejected calls from Universities Australia for a delay to the start of deregulated fees in 2016 so universities could have more time to set fees.

"Delaying it is simply the easy way out because Universities Australia can't agree amongst themselves," he said.


Copper network switch-off begins as Telstra hands over infrastructure to NBN Co

Telstra will begin switching off services delivered over its decades-old copper today, marking the first time it has relinquished control over telecommunications infrastructure to NBN Co.

The switch-off will be undertaken progressively in the first 15 areas to have received fibre, with exemptions for customers who have signed up for the NBN but are yet to receive it.

NBN Co was urging those who had failed to sign up to the NBN in those sites to do so by close of business yesterday or risk losing access to their copper-based landline and internet services and having to rely on mobile-based communications services.

At the start of the month, 750 premises of the 19,000 with active copper lines in the first test release sites were yet to request the NBN.

As part of an $11 billion deal, Telstra agreed to disconnect its copper network within 18 months of the NBN being delivered to an area to ensure NBN Co did not face competition from services delivered over the copper network.

The first 15 sites where copper will be progressively switched off are:

    New South Wales - Armidale, Minnamurra and Kiama Downs
    Victoria - South Morang and Brunswick
    Queensland - Townsville, Aitkenvale and Mundingburra
    South Australia - Willunga
    Tasmania - Deloraine, George Town, Kingston Beach, Sorell, St Helens and Triabunna

Connecting to the NBN in those sites has not been smooth sailing for all. Kiama resident Andrew Seamons says it has been a frustrating experience.

"In 2013 we went down to readjust our internet plan to find that it was no longer available and that we were going to have to be forced onto the NBN. It's a move we didn't want to have to make," he told ABC Illawarra.

"We were quite happy with the service we were receiving, but due to the fact that it was going to be switched off, we had no choice. It's taken them nine to 10 months to actually change us over."

Measures to protect vulnerable customers

Telstra says it and other internet service providers will take steps to ensure vulnerable customers, such as those who have a copper-based medical alert service, are not left stranded by the switch-over.

"We will review communications sent to each customer to ensure they have been contacted a minimum number of times and are well informed about the changes," a Telstra spokeswoman said.

"A phased withdrawal of services will then commence starting with those customers who have already connected to the NBN or have confirmed to us that they do not wish to move to the NBN."

The construction of the NBN has been beset by delays, but telecommunications consultant Chris Coughlan says that is likely to benefit Telstra, at least initially.

"They will continue to earn better margins on existing ADSL and PSTN services than services provided via NBN Co," he said.

But Mr Coughlan says it could be a problem down the track.

"Telstra will start to become concerned when the number of services that can't be disconnected through some failure or delay of NBN Co impacts their ability to capitalise on the sale of assets, such as unneeded local exchanges," he said.

"Operationally, if the revenue from these few services does not meet the fixed costs of managing and maintaining the assets that facilitate them, then Telstra will also become concerned."


Nauru detainees informed about refugee resettlement in Cambodia

Some asylum seekers at the Australian-run immigration processing centre on Nauru have been advised they will be sent to Cambodia if they are found to be refugees.  The advice preempts the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Australia and Cambodia.

The ABC understands some family groups among the more than 1,100 asylum seekers on Nauru have been told their future is in Cambodia.

"No agreement has been reached with Cambodia," said a spokesperson for the office of Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

"The Minister has been advised no such messaging has been provided by the Australian Government to transferees at Nauru."

A statement from a Nauru government spokesperson said "asylum seekers have been told that if granted refugee status, they will be temporarily resettled on Nauru for up to five years, after which they will be settled in a third country".  "No one has been told that they will immediately be sent to a third country."

Australia 'not rushing' refugee deal

Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen announced on Facebook this week that his nation will accept refugees processed on Nauru.  "[The] MoU with Australia will be signed soon to take refugees deemed to be genuine," he said.

Mr Hun Sen says those who are resettled will have the same opportunities to study and work like locals without discrimination.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison says Australia is not rushing the refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia.  He says there is more work to do on the deal.

"You would have heard the comment made by Hun Sen. I think the reaction has been very positive, but we still have details to work through and we are not rushing this."

The resettlement advice has caused tension at the Nauru facility, with detainees understood to be hoping the deal will not go ahead.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and relies heavily on foreign aid. In the 1970s and '80s, large numbers of its citizens fled war and starvation.

The Cambodian opposition has slammed the asylum seeker deal as a disgrace and unrealistic, saying the country is not equipped to take refugees.

First refugees released

The first group of asylum seekers to be processed on Nauru as refugees has been released into the community.

The Nauru Government handed down 20 refugee status determinations yesterday and is due to make another 21 tomorrow.

The first group of refugees includes nine people in three family groups and four single adult males.

Seven people who received negative refugee determinations remain in detention on the island.


Cory Bernardi on the budget

Bernardi thinks the budget was not tough enough.  Below is a Q & A about it

Q. I have noticed that the bulk of the new Medicare co-payment goes towards a medical research fund. Why doesn’t this revenue go to paying off our sovereign debt?

That’s a valid point, considering the enormous level of debt that the Labor Party left the country with after just six years in government. Personally, I would prefer to see the co-payment directed to debt reduction but the government decided otherwise.

Q.Why wasn’t more funding cut from the ABC?

An excellent question. As our budget is in a parlous state, the government needs to consider reining in expenditure across the board.

Yet the ABC has seen a measly 1% reduction in their budget of over $1 billion a year. If it was up to me I’d limit the ABC’s public funding to current radio stations and two television channels. Other than that they should have to compete on commercial terms. This could save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Q. Why is the Coalition introducing a debt levy when it promised no new taxes?

As I’ve written before, the way to reduce our debt is to shrink the size of government while growing the economy. The best way to do this is to reduce taxes across the board.

But for better or worse, this is what the government decided. What Australians can do is make sure that this does in fact remain a temporary levy.

Q. Isn’t this six month exclusion period for under 30s from Newstart unfair to those who have just lost their job?

Encouraging young Australians to help themselves, to take opportunities and build a better life for their families is more rewarding for all involved rather than letting young people get stuck in a cycle of welfare dependency.

For the unemployed who are fully able to work, those first few months without a job are crucial. We need to make sure they are fully motivated to get back into work as soon as possible.

Q. Why is it that some climate change related bodies have been abolished while others have not?

It’s good news that the Budget abolishes the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and that the Government is still committed to abolishing the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. There is probably scope and justification to abolish more of these bodies established through AGW alarmism but this is a good start.

Q. Why are you targeting families with your changes to Family Tax Benefit B?

Family Tax Benefit was designed to help out those families on a single income and the income threshold for support has been lowered. Personally, I think a better way of supporting families is through the tax system- income splitting, tax free thresholds and so forth.

Taking taxes and then giving it back (minus a bureaucracy fee) seems inefficient to me.

Q. I read that the foreign aid budget won’t be increased over the forward estimates. As a wealthy country, shouldn’t Australia be contributing more to help the world’s poor?

Australia does have an international role to play in offering assistance to those who need help.

But this has to be considered in the context of our national interest and the government’s duty to its own citizens. Why should we pay billions of dollars in borrowed money to other nations when we have pressing issues at home?

Q. Why is the pension age being raised to 70 and when will this take effect?

With Australians living longer, the age we work until must increase. Pension eligibility will rise up to 70 years of age in the year 2035. Everyone born before 1965 will not be affected by this latest change.

If we do not make these changes Australia will be setting itself up to have an unsustainable welfare system.

Via email

22 May, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG depicts the sex worker who called Tony Abbott slimy

Blogger faces fine over letter post

A 47-YEAR-OLD blogger from Mount Gambier claims he will be the first person in South Australia to be charged under the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption laws.

But the blogger, whose name cannot be published under the state’s ICAC legislation, will not be charged with corruption.

Anti-Corruption Branch officers from South Australian police raided his home on May 8 and seized his laptop computer for breaking the first rule of ICAC — talking about it on his blog.

The Australian has obtained a copy of the receipt police gave the blogger when they seized his ACER laptop and power cord, which are now classified as police "exhibits".

In what could be a test case for the new laws, the blogger says police advised him he would be the first person in the state to be charged under section 56 of the ICAC Act — Publication of Information and Evidence — for blogging about an investigation.

He faces a $30,000 fine for breaching the act. "I was told, ‘Expect to be charged’, and that it was specific to that section," he said.

"Obviously, I a m fairly concerned. I asked them what it was all about, and they said it’s about something you said on your blog about ICAC, but they wouldn’t tell me what. I have got no idea what is going on at this point."

The man said he had since sought advice from community legal services, but lawyers were unsure of his rights given the charges had not yet been laid.

"My legal advice is that they don’t know, because no one has ever had this enacted against them."

His blog, which is still active, publishes a letter from ICAC Commissioner Bruce Lander that reports on the outcome of an investigation launched after the man made a complaint to his local member of parliament. The letter said "No evidence has been located to substantiate any of the allegations" that were made by the man, and the file had been closed.

The blogger admitted he was critical of ICAC’s probe, but said he believed he should have a right to express an opinion about the authority.

"I put it to them (the ACB detectives) politely that I wished I lived in a state where two anti-corruption detectives had nothing better to do than come and get (me) for talking about ICAC," he said. "It is just outrageous. The ICAC legislation is completely farcical."

Attorney-General John Rau is considering changes to the same section of the act after Mr Lander criticised the legislation as too prohibitive.

"The act is so tightly drawn that it is an offence to publish information to anyone that a person is, or may be, reported to the ­Office of Public Integrity or the identity of the person who has been reported," he said.


Qld solar tariffs under threat

QUEENSLAND homeowners who use solar panels could be worse off under laws that will no longer guarantee them a feed-in tariff of eight cents.

Laws due to be passed tonight will mean the responsibility for paying the tariff will switch from government-owned distributors to retailers after June 30.

And consumers will have to negotiate directly with their retailer for the price they are paid.

The Queensland Competition Authority will set a tariff rate for Ergon Energy customers in the immediate future, given the very limited competition outside the southeast corner.

Energy Minister Mark McArdle says the changes will lift the cost burden from the network businesses, making the scheme fairer for all Queensland consumers.

"It will put downward pressure on electricity prices," Mr McArdle told parliament.

"Feed-in tariff payments will not be cross subsidised by consumers, making the arrangement far more sustainable over the long term."

Electrical Trades Union state organiser Stuart Traill says the 40,000 consumers on the eight cents feed-in tariff will have little to no bargaining power with large energy corporations.

"They will be worse off, and a lot of them will be pensioners," he told AAP.

"And there will be job losses in the solar industry because there will be less incentives to move to solar now."

Mr Traill added the plan was ill considered, and the returns would be minuscule compared to how much could have been saved if the 44 cent feed-in tariff had been reformed.

The 44 cent tariff, paid to some 284,000 people who were first to sign up to the scheme, will remain unchanged.

Shadow Treasurer Curtis Pitt said the Opposition would not oppose the bill but said the Newman government had broken an election promise.

"The LNP promised the scheme would be safe and kept at the same rate," Mr Pitt told parliament.


Solar panels ‘are time bombs’

THE Coalition has likened the spate of house fires caused by allegedly faulty rooftop circuit-breakers to the pink batts fiasco, claiming Labor ignored warnings that subsidies for solar power would create a similar honey pot for dodgy operators.

As revealed by The Australian, Advancetech, the Queensland company that imported and sold 27,000 solar power DC isolators, went into receivership last Friday, leaving tens of thousands of homeowners to replace them in their rooftop arrays or risk a ­conflagration.

The Queensland and NSW governments have issued recall notices for the Avanco isolators after 70 of them burnt out, in some cases causing minor house fires.

Also recalled is a PVPower branded isolator imported and sold by Swiss electrotechnical products supplier DKSH, though that began in March at the instigation of the company.

Describing solar panels as "ticking time bombs", Nationals senator Ron Boswell said there would be "possibly thousands" of other dangerous breakdowns.

The Queensland senator said the Labor government’s subsidy to encourage home owners to install solar panels, the Small-scale Renewable Energy Certificates scheme, led to an overheated market in which shoddy operators and cheap imports thrived.

"The flaws and waste associated with this scheme have been largely under the radar because of the scale of the personal tragedies associated with the pink batts fiasco, but as an exercise in silliness, waste, and maladministration, the solar scheme has been its absolute equal," Senator Boswell said.

"It has a long way to go before it plays out, as systems installed age.

"Fire-prone isolators in rooftop solar arrays in Queensland and NSW are just the sort of problem Labor was warned about, and ignored, as it ramped up demand for its solar program in 2010."

He quoted several experts who had given evidence to a Senate committee on the topic that year, including the chief executive of environmental credits trader Greenbank Environmental, Fiona O’Hehir, who said the subsidy gave rise to possible dodgy and dangerous installations.

"You would actually have DC generation on your roof, which can be as high as 120V DC. A flood of cheap imports into Australia could mean that we have significant risk," she said at the time.

"If it continues at this rate, we will soon end up with a situation along the lines of the insulation program, which would be a disaster for the renewable energy industry."

The SREC scheme is still in place, though at a much reduced rate of subsidy, and is under review pending the outcome of the inquiry into renewable energy by businessman Dick Warburton.


Subsidies for clean energy to hit $21bn

SUBSIDIES for renewable energy schemes such as rooftop solar panels and wind farms will cost electricity consumers up to $21.6 billion by 2020, a new analysis has found.

A submission by the Minerals Council of Australia also warns that more gas- and coal-fired power stations could be mothballed or permanently closed as the renewable energy target puts pressure on the electricity market and slashes their revenues.

If this happens, retail electricity prices "can be expected to increase", according to an economic analysis commissioned by the council which represents mining giants including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Glencore Xstrata.

The analysis also hits back at fresh claims by the clean energy sector that the RET will create up to 18,400 jobs by 2020, declaring "the most immediate effects" from subsidising the renewable sector are job losses as cheaper forms of energy are crowded out.

"Additional job losses can be expected to arise from the drain on economic activity as a result of higher electricity prices," it finds.

Former Queensland treasurer Keith De Lacy — now one of the nation’s best-known company ­directors — declared it was "plain crazy" to have schemes such as the RET, solar feed-in tariffs and carbon tax that were driving up power bills.

"The Australian public keep complaining about the increases in the costs of living and this has become even more so since the budget," Mr De Lacy told The Australian yesterday.

"But one of the biggest increases in cost has been the price of electricity ... It’s the most fundamental of services to the Aus­tralian public … These kind of things just make some people feel good but don’t achieve anything.

"They’ve got no place, I believe, in a modern economy."

The comments add to pressure on the Coalition, given it is split over what to do about the RET.

According to the Principal Economics review commissioned by the Minerals Council, the RET scheme has an opportunity cost (money that could have been invested elsewhere) of more than $36bn by 2020-21.

The analysis finds that subsidies that are recovered through the sale of renewable ­energy certificates, which are ­directly passed on to consumers, could reach between $19.3bn and $21.6bn by 2020-21, covering part of the cost to build the ­infrastructure.

The miners are wielding the figures in a bid to convince the government-appointed RET review panel that the scheme is ­excessively costly for households and industry, and cannot continue the way it is.

"These are the additional costs paid by energy consumers: households, domestic firms and exporters such as the mining sector," the council’s submission says.

The submission also warns that the RET will encumber business with "uncapped and high costs for subsidies", particularly for the scheme for rooftop solar PV panels, "because of poor ­design and a series of inchoate policy shifts".

In 2010, then federal minister Martin Ferguson said the RET was a "bonus to the renewable sector of the order of another $20bn to $30bn in commonwealth government support".

The Australian Industry Group has called for the RET to be maintained, despite demands by some businesses that it be scrapped because it is expensive.

The AiGroup says that while the cost of building wind farms and solar panels is passed on to customers, extra energy from wind farms and solar panels has pushed down wholesale prices.

This has also been a key pillar of arguments by the Clean Energy Council, which is wielding its own research by ROAM Consulting that finds household energy prices would be $50 a year lower by 2020 with the RET, and that leaving it alone would create 18,400 jobs.

The Minerals Council has told the panel lower wholesale prices are not a "function of competitive forces but of government intervention", are likely to be short-lived and undermine investments in coal- and gas-fired power stations needed for reliable electricity supplies.

The analysis points to power station retirements including the permanent shutdown of the Munmorah black coal power ­station in NSW and temporary closure of South Australia’s Playford.

"Overall retail price rises have therefore been lower than they otherwise would have been," the analysis says.

Wholesale electricity prices are "likely to increase" if power generators that become unprofitable close. Minerals Council chief executive Brendan Pearson said access to cheap, reliable energy had been a "source of economic strength" for Australia. "This is no longer the case," he said.

The analysis draws on previous modelling. It quotes estimates by SKM MMA for the Climate Change Authority in December 2012 that put the cost for buying certificates for large-scale renewables at $15.9bn by 2020-21 and for small-scale renewables at $3.4bn — totalling $19.3bn.

Like most of the figures cited in the new analysis, these are based on an assumption of no carbon price — which the analysis says is appropriate as the Abbott government has announced its plans to repeal it.

To get to the $21.6bn figure, the analysis cites modelling by ACIL Tasman for TRUenergy (now EnergyAustralia) — which wants the RET scaled back — that puts the subsidy for the small-scale scheme at $5.7bn.



In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is disgusted at the ALP attitude to the national debt

21 May, 2014

Incompetent Canberra police

A Civic nightclub owner has described a single punch assault outside his venue as "sickening" and "brutal", while expressing surprise at how long it took police to go public.

Police were still hunting for the attacker on Tuesday, almost a month after he fractured a man’s skull and caused bleeding to his brain outside Academy on Bunda Street.

Confronting CCTV footage shows the man appearing to argue with a group outside the club, before the victim appears to walk away. The man follows and levels him with one forceful punch. The victim was knocked down and smashed his head on the pavement, leaving him unconscious and with serious injuries.

Despite the attack occurring on April 21, police only notified the public on Monday, when they released images in a bid to track down further witnesses.

Academy nightclub owner Frank Condi condemned the violence said the offender should face the consequences of his actions.

"When you see an attack like other situations it could turn into an all-in brawl," he said.

Staff handed over CCTV footage of the incident within 24 hours and Mr Condi said he was "very surprised" police waited so long to publicise the attack and call for witnesses.

"Having said that, I wasn't there on the evening and I didn't see what happened and I don't know police procedures," he said.

His condemnation of the attack was echoed by the ACT’s Victims of Crime Commissioner, John Hinchey, who said reforms were needed, including trading-hours restrictions, before a young Canberran was killed.

"I’m worried that one day we’re going to find a young man dead because of these assaults in Civic late at night," he said.

Police are yet to arrest the man, and CCTV vision appears to show the man was allowed to leave the scene. Mr Hinchey said that was a real concern.

But Mr Condi defended the actions of the nightclub's security guards, who were interviewed by police, saying one of the staff immediately rushed over to help the victim when he hit the ground.

"If there's ever an altercation we try and get in there and help," Mr Condi said. "Though we're very limited in what we can do. We have a no-violence policy and anything we see we try to dissolve right away."

Staff would review the venue's security procedures to prevent a similar incident from happening in future, Mr Condi said.

"Since it's been public we've posted a link to the police story on our Facebook page and we've been discussing with investigators whether we put signs up of the wanted man inside the club," he said.

"We're just trying to get as much information as we can."

Mr Condi said it was difficult to say whether alcohol-related violence had spiked in the city's centre in recent years, as he hadn't noticed a rise in incidents. He said responsibility for alcohol-related violence rested on both licensed venues and individuals.

"Obviously as a venue we have to make sure people don't get too intoxicated, because we don't want that kind of violence in the venue," he said.

 Police Minister Simon Corbell declined to say when he was made aware of the April 21 incident. A spokesman said Mr Corbell would not comment on the decision by investigators not to release information to the public for nearly a month and declined to answer questions about what sort of crimes he was briefed on by ACT Policing.

In a statement, Mr Corbell said he was confident police were driving reductions in offence rates.

"Assault offences in the last quarter, when compared to the same time last year, show a decrease of 20 per cent," he said.

"Alcohol-related crime continues to place an unnecessary financial, social and health burden on the community and is an ongoing priority for ACT Policing."

Mr Corbell said the summer period saw a 39 per cent decrease in alcohol-related violence in the ACT compared with the previous year as well as a 22 per cent decrease in alcohol-related anti-social behaviour.


Tony Abbott pulls out of Geelong university appearance ahead of planned protests

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has cancelled a visit to Deakin University’s Geelong campus with Victorian Premier Denis Napthine on Wednesday, an event protesters were targeting.

A collection of different community groups had planned to protest against Mr Abbott and his first budget that has cut billions from the state budget and made dramatic changes to cost-of-living.

Extra security had been arranged for the event at the Waurn Ponds campus in the wake of a series of anti-government protests and backlash against the budget in the city.

Mr Abbott’s office on Tuesday afternoon cancelled the event with Deakin University that was to celebrate the work of Carbon Nexus, which had received some federal funds in the past.

The event had been confirmed by the Prime Minister’s office earlier in the day.

A federal source said the decision to cancel the visit to Geelong had nothing to do with what has been an at-times frosty relationship between Mr Abbott and Dr Napthine in recent months.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said on Tuesday night that the event was cancelled on the advice of the Australian Federal Police, who said that "they were concerned about the safety particularly of innocent bystanders".

"So the Prime Minister made the decision, and his office, that it would be wiser to not go and create that tumult at Deakin University so students can get on with their studies unmolested by the Socialist Alternative, which seems quite intent on shutting down democracy in Australia," he told ABC TV's Lateline program.

But National Union of Students president Deanna Taylor said on Wednesday that Mr Abbott must explain why he was worried about facing students and answering their questions.

"I think the Prime Minister and his ministers are being a bit cowardly and trying to portray students as though they’re violent rabble-rousers who are out to cause trouble, which isn’t the case at all," she said.

"They’re trying to make us sound like spoiled little brats who don't know how good we've got it. They have a very clear agenda."

Students at universities across Australia have targeted prominent Liberal figures who have appeared on campus since the federal budget was handed down last week and will hold a national day of action on Wednesday against the changes to higher education.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was attacked at Sydney University on Friday and heckled later that day at an event at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Former frontbencher Sophie Mirabella was also shouted down during a lecture at the University of Melbourne on Monday.

But Ms Taylor says students are so incensed by the proposed changes they are doing what they can to get their point across.

"Not all students have access to the corridors of power and can't go and lobby politicians," she said. "For a lot of students who are disenfranchised, protesting and demonstrating is really their only way of voicing their discontent."

Ms Taylor said an expected 2000-strong rally in Melbourne would be the nation's biggest, but thousands more would rally across the country in all capital cities except Darwin.

She said government plans to deregulate fees would burden students with debt for 30-40 years and  hinder them from buying a house or car.

"We shouldn't basically be penalising people for getting a higher education," she said.

Despite the cancellation of the Deakin University event, it is understood Mr Abbott and Dr Napthine are still scheduled to see each other on Wednesday night in Melbourne.

Dr Napthine has been critical of the federal budget and has called for an urgent meeting of all government leaders.

Victoria is facing up to a $20 billion cut to health and education funding over the next ten years with changes to national partnership funding set to impacting Victoria from July 1.

Dr Napthine has been angered by Canberra’s decision to allow Holden and Toyota to pull out of manufacturing operations in Australia, as well as at the refusal to assist fruit processor SPC.

Mr Abbott will still attend an event in Victoria on Wednesday as he continues to sell what has been a horror first budget for the Coalition, delivering a big hit in the Prime Minister's popularity in Victoria in the Fairfax Nielsen polls.

Mr Abbott last week conceded "there was some things in the Budget that the premiers liked – there were other things in the Budget that the premiers would prefer weren’t there"  but has stressed the federal government would still look to work constructively with the states.

However, Mr Abbott refused to meet with state premiers collectively over the weekend in Sydney to discuss the fall out from the budget.

With Mr Abbott’s popularity in Victoria the lowest in the country, Monday's Age/Nielsen poll showed the Coalition trailing 61-39 in the state, questions have also been raised about whether it is good for Dr Napthine to be seen with Mr Abbott, especially in a marginal seat, ahead of the November state poll.

Geelong Trades Hall secretary Tim Gooden said a community protest had been organised, including representatives from unions, students, the Greens, ALP, people from Men’s Sheds, pensioners and disability groups.

Earlier the university would not comment on whether there would be a strong security presence at the Waurn Ponds campus, but Victoria police are aware of protests and said there would be "adequate police" there to ensure safety.

On Tuesday, Dr Napthine said he did not back a broadening or increase to the GST. He also said he had received a letter from the PM conceding that there were budget impacts that would affect Victoria from July 1, with the state up to $200 million worse.


No more non-religious chaplains

Last week's budget delivered a double blow to youth welfare worker Joanne Homsi. For the past 18 months, Ms Homsi has worked in two high schools in the St George and Sutherland area, supporting students with drug and alcohol issues, low confidence, family problems and suicidal thoughts.

As well as talking with students, she has connected them to mental health centres, remedial learning programs and other services.

Ms Homsi loves the job, and the schools value her work. But in December she will be looking for a new job - and there will not be a safety net to catch her if she cannot find one. Because she is under 30, she would have to wait six months before she can receive any unemployment benefits under tough new rules for young job seekers.

Ms Homsi's three-days-a-week position was funded by the federal government's National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program. The government is continuing the program, at a cost of $245 million over five years, but will remove the option for schools to hire a non-religious welfare worker.

The 623 schools that made this choice will have to hire a chaplain or go without. "I'm very saddened and concerned about the change to the program," she said.

School chaplains have a role to play, but not everywhere, she said. She noted St George is a multicultural area where Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, Buddhists, Greek Orthodox and non-religious students study together. "These schools had a choice between a chaplain or a youth worker and they chose to have a youth worker," she said.

"I've been available to everyone regardless of their religion or culture. I've provided students with a non-judgmental approach to very sensitive issues and that has been beneficial to everyone."

Parliamentary Secretary for Education Scott Ryan said the government is restoring the scheme to its original vision after Labor expanded it to include student welfare workers in 2011. "The Coalition was critical of Labor watering down the focus on chaplains when the original chaplaincy program expired," Senator Ryan said. "Student welfare services are an important part of school communities and are rightly provided by, and the responsibility of, the states in public schools and other schools and systems in their respective schools."

Australian Council of State School Organisations president Peter Garrigan said: "The chaplaincy program in its entirety should have been scrapped and the money given to provide … services like psychologists, speech pathologists or dentists. But if the program has to operate there should be a non-religious option."


University of Sydney study rules out link between vaccination and autism

WHETHER or not to vaccinate children has sparked fiery debate among parents for decades.  Many parents feel immunisation is unnatural and there are prevalent fears about a link between vaccination and autism.

But a new report led by the University of Sydney appears to have settled the argument.

A review of available data from around the world has found that there is no link between vaccination and the development of autism or autism spectrum disorders.

The study examined seven sets of data involving more than 1.25 million children and concluded that there was no evidence to support a relationship between common vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough and the development of autism.

The paper’s senior author, Associate Professor Guy Eslick from the Sydney Medical School, said he was inspired to look into the issue after watching some documentaries on the medical debate.  "I thought, surely someone has put this data together. I searched; there was nothing," Prof Eslick said.

"There has been enormous debate regarding the possibility of a link between these commonly used and safe childhood vaccinations and the supposed development of autism.

"The data consistently shows the lack of evidence for an association between autism, autism spectrum disorders and childhood vaccinations … providing no reason to avoid immunisation on these grounds."

The idea that vaccines were linked to autism took hold in 1998 when British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a paper that hypothesised that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine could lead to the condition.  The paper has since been discredited and his research was found to be fraudulent.

In 2011, pharmaceutical scientist Dr Dennis Flaherty called Wakefield’s findings "the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years".

Prof Eslick stressed that he had no vested interest in the argument. He is not an expert in vaccination or autism and his study was not funded by a drug company.

"I did this because it was really interesting to me that there is a mass of people against vaccination and there really wasn’t any information to support that," he said.  "I want my research to elucidate the truth and find out what’s real.

"When I saw the data, I would have to say I was a bit surprised but happy overall."

Prof Eslick said the fear of this relationship between vaccination and autism had become a major public health issue.

"This is especially concerning given the fact that there have been 11 measles outbreaks in the US since 2000, and NSW also saw a spike in measles infections from early 2012 to late 2012," he said.

Groups such as the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network maintain that there is a link between vaccination and autism. The network has uploaded a list of studies that supports its views here.

Prof Eslick said he had a great deal of empathy for parents of children with autism.

"(This study) will be cold comfort for them and I don’t think it will change their minds. You will probably never be able to change their minds," he said.

Vaccination does harbour some risks — such as rashes and allergic reactions — but these are uncommon, according to Prof Eslick.

The review has been published in the medical journal Vaccine.


20 May, 2014

Shorten shafted

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's bold attempts at fundamental structural reform of the Labor Party have been all but voted down by the ALP's Victorian conference.

Mr Shorten has built his leadership on party reforms to give rank-and-file a greater say in election of candidates and leaders.

"We cannot shirk the task of modernising the party, we cannot shirk the task of rebuilding the party, we cannot shirk the task of being a party that genuinely practises what it preaches for the nation of Australia," Mr Shorten said at the state conference on Sunday.

But his proposals, designed to weaken union dominance, were deferred and diluted as union factional opponents who stood to lose power under the proposals banded together to defer and defeat the changes.

Despite being 10 points ahead in Monday's opinion polls as the electorate digests an unpopular federal budget, Victorian unions were in no mood to cut Mr Shorten some slack.

"The paradox with reforming a political organisation is that those who have the power don't want to give it up," former ALP state secretary Nick Reece told ABC's 7.30.

"But in order to achieve the reform, you need the people in power to accept the case for reform. So you end up with a stalemate situation, in which reform is very difficult to achieve.

"Australian political parties have the lowest membership in the world. Collingwood Football Club has more members than the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the Greens combined."

After a public backlash against unions which has seen a royal commission called, the Labor leader had pushed to weaken their stranglehold on Labor's central selection panel.

Mr Shorten wanted to bolster the weight given to the vote of local branch members in candidate selection from 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

After 48 hours of furious behind-the-scenes negotiations by union and party delegates, the proposal was deferred until after the national ALP conference in March 2015.

"The Labor Party's got to continue to change. That's inevitable. The path of rebuilding can't be done in one day or one weekend," Mr Shorten said when asked by 7.30 whether the deferral represented a loss for him.

Also deferred was a plan to allow branch members a say in electing the state leader.

Party sources told 7.30 that supporters of Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews were vigorously lobbying against this being debated so close to the state election in November - an election Mr Andrews has a good shot at winning.

A fight with the party could derail his campaign. But Mr Andrews batted off suggestions that he fought Mr Shorten's proposals on 774 ABC Melbourne on Monday.

"You're telling me what my position is, and I'm putting it to you that it's wrong," Mr Andrews told presenter Jon Faine.

Mr Shorten also downplayed questions from 7.30 about tensions between the pair over reforms.

"What matters to Daniel Andrews is the best interests of Victoria. What matters to me is the best interests of Victoria and indeed the nation," Mr Shorten said, adding that the days of Labor disunity were "behind us".


NAPLAN study finds testing causes students anxiety, program not achieving original goals

A new study on the effects of the National Assessment Program - Literacy And Numeracy (NAPLAN) has found the nationwide school testing is not achieving what it set out to do, and is having unintended negative consequences.

Eric Sidoti, project leader of the study, says since NAPLAN's inception in 2008 it has changed from being used as a diagnostic tool to a comparative measure.

"NAPLAN has taken on a life of its own. I guess what has happened is the testing tail is wagging the educational dog," Mr Sidoti told ABC's 7.30.

"It is symptomatic of the high stakes of NAPLAN as it has come to be, rather than what it was intended to be."

The study was undertaken by the Whitlam Institute at the University of Western Sydney and conducted by the University of Melbourne.

It found the tests were causing high levels of anxiety among some students.

"For a significant minority you are finding levels of stress that are beyond the norm, so not just a question of being nervous but vomiting, sleeplessness, migraines," Mr Sidoti said.

It is a view borne out by the experience of Lily Taylor and her nine-year-old son, Hamish. Hamish is one of millions of children in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 who sat the test last week and he is aware of just how important NAPLAN is.

"The teachers told me that if you don't do well in NAPLAN you won't get a good education to get into a good school, and then if you don't get a good education you can't get a good job," he said.

His mother is worried about the pressure on him to perform well.

"He did say to me that he wasn't sleeping, that he was waking up in the night and he is usually a very good sleeper. So that was of concern," Ms Taylor said.


Another natural fluctuation that "research" did not understand or foretell

Hundreds of giant Australian cuttlefish have swum into breeding grounds at the top of Spencer Gulf in South Australia, reversing a worrying decline of recent years.

The population had been dwindling and local diver Tony Bramley says he had not been expecting to see any this season, based on that trend.

He says it has been warmer-than-usual weather for the start of the breeding season and more cuttlefish might arrive as temperatures drop.

Mr Bramley says he does not know where the cuttlefish have travelled from as there has been no sign of many gathering offshore in recent weeks.

Cuttlefish research efforts include:

Monitoring breeding aggregation in northern Spencer Gulf to check numbers, water quality and state of habitat.

Looking at potential alternative cuttlefish spawning areas in northern Spencer Gulf.

Determining the habitat preferred by cuttlefish when laying eggs, to aid research into artificial habitats which might promote breeding.

"It's just baffling to see that many cuttlefish after the year that we had last year," he said.

"I'm really at a loss to explain how they've recovered so quickly, I mean it's wonderful to see that.

"It just proves that, no matter what you think you might know, nature can always surprise you, because it's out of left field. I really didn't expect anything like what we saw."

Mr Bramley says cuttlefish numbers are better than they have been in the past three years but still low overall.

"Now to be fair we've only dived Black Point, so we haven't been through the rest of the aggregating sites."

Federal and state funding has supported research into cuttlefish breeding in northern Spencer Gulf since the decline in numbers was noted.


Foreign aid cuts make up one fifth of budget savings

As Peter Bauer once said:  Foreign aid is a way of transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries

The single biggest saving made in the 2014 federal budget was a reduction in foreign aid spending. On Twitter, World Vision Australia chief executive Reverend Tim Costello said the cut made up about one fifth of overall budget savings.

He accused the Government of balancing the books on the backs of the poor.  "Of the $36 billion Government budget savings - aid cuts contribute 20 per cent when aid is only 1.3 per cent of total the budget," he said.

ABC Fact Check asked World Vision where Mr Costello got his figures. A spokeswoman said that they were drawn chiefly from the 2014-15 Budget Overview released with the budget papers on May 13.

The budget included cuts to aid spending in the current financial year. These were announced in January by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who said that in 2013-14 aid spending would be $5.042 billion. Her predecessor Bob Carr had forecast aid spending of $5.666 billion for 2013-14, so Ms Bishop's announcement represented a cut of over $600 million.

The Budget Overview contains that cut, and forecast cuts of $601 million in 2014-15, $1.2 billion in 2015-16, $1.7 billion in 2016-17 and $3.5 billion in 2017-18. These cuts total $7.6 billion over five years, with the largest cut coming in 2017-18, when Labor had planned to increase aid spending to reach 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI). The 0.5 per cent is linked to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which call on countries to commit 0.7 per cent of GNI to aid.

According to the Parliamentary Library aid spending has been around 0.35 per cent of GNI in recent years.

The Coalition has also committed to increasing aid funding to 0.5 per cent of GNI, but has not committed to a date, citing the state of the budget as the reason.

The foreign aid cuts are the largest in a table in the Budget Overview summarising the major savings announced on May 13. The total major savings in the table amount to just over $35.7 billion.

Share of the total budget

To determine the percentage share of the overall budget spent on foreign aid, World Vision compared aid spending, as shown in the budget papers, and total government payments, as shown in the Budget Overview, between 2013-14 and 2017-18.


19 May, 2014

Budget hits pensioners and mature-age workers

Payments are more tightly targeted to those in most need

Pensioners, mature-age workers and self-funded retirees will be stung sooner than expected by the budget.

Those eligible for the part pension from next January will be hit by an effective 50 per cent tax as super payments are included in both means tests, financial advisers warn.

Worse, after July 1 this year those on concession cards which are available to pensioners could lose as much as $2000 a year, says Louise Biti, head of technical services at Strategy Steps, which advises financial planners.

The pension concession and Commonwealth Seniors Health cards offer travel, electricity, phone and council rate discounts in an agreement with the states.

But buried in the budget documents the government reveals it will be "terminating" this agreement after July 1, saving  $1.3 billion over four years.

"It will hurt pensioners the most. This will cost $1000 to $2000 a year. No one was expecting that. Since it's not a direct payment to pensioners the government didn't want to highlight this," Biti says.

The separate abolition on September 20 of the "seniors supplement" attached to the Seniors Health card for self-funded retirees will cost couples $1320 a year.

But the biggest sting is the government's decision to count super drawdowns as part of the assets test from next January.

This will bring super into the deeming net where it is assumed to earn a certain return, as is the case for term deposits and other financial investments.

Currently super pension income is adjusted by dividing the balance by the pensioner’s life expectancy.

Under deeming, super will be simultaneously caught by both the assets and income tests.

For example, a 65-year-old with $250,000 in super on the full pension would, after January 1, be assessed as earning $8284, which is above the $7176 income threshold. Every dollar earned above $7176 would lose 50 cents of pension.

In a double whammy, you lose some of the pension to begin with, then another 50 cents in every dollar you earn if you keep a part-time job, financial planner Paul Moran, principal of Moran Howlett Financial Planning, says.

"Under the assets test you could work part-time to use up the income test threshold but now if you have a super pension you’ll lose half. The change amounts to a new tax of 50 per cent for many existing and soon-to-be pensioners and veterans. It’s a huge hit," Moran says.

It will hit even harder in 2017 when deeming starts with balances of $30,000 (or $50,000 for couples) instead of the current $46,600/$77,400.

Those getting the age pension before December 31 will be exempted from the new super deeming rule. But this will also discourage anybody over 65 from remaining in the workforce, at the risk of being caught in the new rules from next year.

"There’s an incentive to retire if you reach 65 this year. Or you could resign, go on the pension and then go back to work part-time and start a super payment so long as you do it before December 31," Moran says.

"These are not wealthy people. So getting $100 less a fortnight is very material to them," he adds.

In another budget hit, the mature age worker’s tax offset for those in the workforce aged over 55 and earning less than $63,000 a year will be scrapped on July 1.

Although this will pay for the new $10,000 subsidy to employers for hiring older workers who had been on the dole for six months, Biti warns this could backfire.

"A boss might sack you and hire somebody else and get the $10,000," she says.

Other budget booby traps include:

The fringe benefits tax rising to 49 per cent for those earning over $180,000 paying the deficit levy.

The franking credit from dividends drops from 30 to 28.5 per cent after July 1, 2015.

A freeze on the thresholds for the private health insurance rebate and Medicare levy surcharge from July 1, 2015. This will reduce the value of the rebate for some and push others into the surcharge as wages rise.

The abolition of the twice-yearly income support bonus on Centrelink and Veterans’ Affairs payments.

The abolition of the dependent spouse tax offset from July 1.

One piece of good news that has escaped notice is Treasurer Joe Hockey’s claim that households will save "on average around $550 next year alone" from the abolition of the carbon tax.

And while the Medicare levy rises to 2 per cent on July 1, it appears the higher tax-free threshold of $19,400 due to start on July 1, 2015 has also been spared the axe.


Kev can’t waffle his way out of this

THOSE Labor people, including Kevin Rudd, who insist the "pink batts" royal commission is a political stunt, should just listen to the heartbreaking testimony of the victims’ families.

Four young men lost their lives in the ill-conceived, foolish $3 billion green scheme Rudd rushed into action as part of an economic stimulus package during the Global Financial Crisis.

Insulation installers Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes, Mitchell Sweeney and Marcus Wilson are the human toll of political naiveté and fakery.

Their grieving families took the witness box last week, to thank the commission for trying to discover the truth about the deaths, the fires, the electrified roofs - and make sure it never happens again.

They also thanked Kevin Fuller, whose only child, Matthew, 25, became the first installer to be electrocuted in a roof cavity, on October 14, 2009; without his perseverance the commission never would have happened.

Fuller said he was driven by guilt that three young men had died after Matthew, and his googled discovery that metal staples had been banned in New Zealand after similar tragedies.

"I expected the system would get off its a**e and go and … change things and make stuff happen. Nobody did. Nobody. They all just allowed Rueben to get killed. And what that did to us was kill us, because we had talked to them all between Matt and Rueben and said, ‘Do something. This has got to stop’."

Martin Sweeney, the father of Mitchell, 22, the fourth installer to die, on February 4, 2010, also gave heart-rending testimony on Thursday. "We love you very much, Mitchell, and we haven’t stopped missing you," he said.

Then, as he left the stand, head bowed, shoulders slumped, Kevin Rudd flounced in. The two men passed within centimetres of each other, but Rudd did not even glance at the grieving father.
In the witness box, Rudd, who had jetted in from the US, was soon expounding on his brilliance during the GST. He had a "helicopter view", busy busy busy, never troubled by details of a scheme which set of a frenzy of unregulated activity which led to the deaths of young men electrocuted in roof cavities while installing pink batts.

Rudd was insufferable from 9.05am to 5.28pm. He waffled and filibustered, preened and boasted. His smugness and grandiloquence escalated as the day dragged on.

"I have no particular familiarity with that," he kept saying. He used five words when one would do, dealt in the abstract when asked for specifics, used strange idioms, jargon and impenetrable bureaucratese, as if he were so clever he spoke at a level mere mortals could not understand.

One example: "I think what I would say in response to that is, as prime minister, once a decision is taken to implement a program that all its downstream administrative requirements, in terms of adequate training, adequate preparation for the adherence to the laws which exist, are then made."

The pretentious blather was infuriating. Obfuscation from a disorderly mind. Language employed to obscure thought.

One frustrated lawyer snapped: "Mr Rudd … please, just concentrate."

As the day wore on, it became clear that Rudd’s language may be key to the dysfunction that led the nation to catastrophe.

George Orwell warned long ago of language which corrupts thought and leads to political chaos. Pity no one in Labor listened.

By the end of that exhausting day, even Rudd’s own barrister had his head in his hands. If you looked around the room at 3pm, you would have seen the body language of boredom or disbelief at the spectacle in the witness box, still blithely blabbing away.

A climax of sorts came when Elizabeth Wilson, acting for Rueben Barnes’ sister, pressed Rudd on what was done in the month between Matthew and Rueben’s deaths.

"If we can just focus on what you did after becoming aware of Matthew Fuller’s death; did you … proactively go and say, ‘Listen, I want all the advice on any safety issue with the scheme?’," she asked.

Rudd waffles. Wilson persists: "After my client’s brother’s death, after Rueben’s death, did you ever consider suspending the program, pending a full safety audit?"

Rudd: "That advice was not put to me, to the best of my knowledge."

Wilson: "But, Mr Rudd, did you consider suspending the program, pending a full safety audit? "

Rudd: "…the position in which I found myself was to take advice from the portfolio minister responsible and the public servants advising me."

Blah blah blah. Rudd as prime minister, a mere receptacle for "advice".

Who knows what the commission will conclude. But to the families, it’s obvious where the fault lies.

"(The insulation companies) chose to run their business badly in order to make a quick buck," Rueben Barnes’ sister Sunny told the inquiry. "However, the option to run it in this way … was there, thanks to the Commonwealth Government."

Thanks to Kevin Rudd.


Milllion-plus university students face increased costs for tertiary education

More than a million university students and former students would face extra charges, some in the tens of thousands of dollars, according to a Fairfax Media analysis of the planned move to impose higher interest on their fees.

And the likelihood students will be saddled with extra payments from interest rates of up to 6 per cent has increased after Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer softened his opposition to the measure.

"We've got to see how we can have a win-win situation for Australia and Australian students," Mr Palmer, whose party will hold the balance of power in the Senate from July, said. "I do think our universities could be a great export for Australia."

The Abbott government plans to allow universities to set their own fees, and will lower the income threshold for students to repay their debts and apply real interest to student loans for the first time.

The changes have split the tertiary sector. Elite universities are strongly in support while many technical, suburban and regional universities are opposed. Under the changes, it is predicted the price of some degrees could rise to $120,000.

Interest has not been applied to student loans since the introduction of HECS in 1989; debts are pegged only to inflation (now 2.9 per cent).

From 2016, debts will be indexed to the 10-year treasury bond rate, capped at 6 per cent. The change will affect everyone with student debt, with no exemptions for former students who still owe money. There were 1.175 million Australians with outstanding HELP debts in 2012, according to Tax Office data.

A $60,000 student debt, unpaid for 10 years, would grow to $97,734 at an interest rate of 5 per cent. The Treasury bond rate, now 3.8 per cent, can fluctuate dramatically and has averaged 5.2 per cent over the past decade.

Before the election, Mr Palmer said high tertiary fees were holding the country back. "We need Australia's cleverest people taking themselves and this great nation forward, not burying them under a mountain of debt," he said. But the mining magnate now says he is open to Christopher Pyne's changes.

Mr Palmer, who has had a fractious relationship with Coalition MPs including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, said he would make his decision based on the national interest.

But he acknowledged he had a good relationship with the Education Minister, whom the Prime Minister has asked to manage all government communication with Mr Palmer. "I've known Christopher Pyne a long time," Mr Palmer said. "He's a very entertaining member of parliament."

Asked about his confidence in negotiations with the powerful and unpredictable MP, Mr Pyne said: "I am certain I can work with Clive Palmer to bring about reform to higher education."

With Labor and the Greens opposed to the changes, the government will need the support of the three Palmer United Party senators, PUP ally Ricky Muir and two other crossbench senators to pass its higher education package. With two senators-elect supporting Mr Pyne - Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Family First's Bob Day - the success of the changes will be decided by Mr Palmer.

The architect of the HECS repayment system, Bruce Chapman, called for the government to rethink its policy, describing it as unfair and "bad economics".

"Past changes to HECS didn't deter students, but now there will be a real rate of interest on the debt we are in uncharted waters," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Pyne said: "Changing the interest rate to match the rate government has to pay is fair for taxpayers and fair for students."


Revenue to the rescue

For all its rhetorical emphasis on expenditure restraint, the 2014-15 budget in fact relies heavily on revenue to reach approximate balance in four years' time. Total annual revenue is up by a very robust 29% over those four years. This largely takes the form of automatic revenue growth (including personal income tax bracket creep) which always occurs when the economy is growing.

However revenue is set to grow faster than the economy, thereby lifting its share from 23% to 25%, a level that has not been exceeded since the boom years of the 'noughties' (and even then not by much). The fiscal experts who keep telling us the budget is in strife because there isn't enough revenue should throw away their song-sheet.

As well as raking in strong automatic revenue growth, the government has chosen to put some icing on its cake by hiking the top marginal rate of personal income tax and reinstating indexation of fuel excise for inflation.

Such measures will make about one-quarter of the deficit-shrinking discretionary policy effort (as distinct from the automatic revenue and expenditure changes) over the next four years - and less by the end, if the income tax hike is indeed only temporary as claimed.

While this makes a welcome change from the previous government's heavier emphasis on revenue measures, it is still disappointing that the current government has seen fit to resort to increased revenue to the extent it has. The more a government relies on tax increases, the more it is telling us it wants to sustain big government rather than reduce it.

The revenue-boosting measures are ad hoc rather than anything that deserves to be called 'reform'. The hike in the top income tax rate, in particular, reverses some of the decades-long downward trend in marginal rates. It will ratchet up the incentive for high earners to hone their tax-minimisation skills, and ratchet down the incentive for them to do more productive things.

While much of the talk about broken promises is sanctimonious, in tax matters the government should have stuck to its pre-election script and left any changes until after its tax system review.


18 May, 2014

Abbott's debt tax may hinge on fight within the Greens

The survival of Tony Abbott's controversial "deficit tax" hangs on a fight building within the Greens. Its leader Christine Milne is facing a revolt over her opposition to raising taxes on high-income earners.

With Labor determined to oppose the Prime Minister's "broken promise", Senator Milne has angered colleagues by saying she, too, would oppose the policy.

Her position undermines a core belief of the Greens, which is to redistribute income from the wealthy to the poor. The federal Greens are set to debate the issue early this week.

If Labor and the Greens block the deficit tax, Mr Abbott would fail to get the legislation through either the current or the new Senate, which will be dominated by Clive Palmer's senators, who are likely to oppose any tax increases.

Mr Abbott's deficit tax appeared destined to fail earlier this week when Senator Milne said: "This is totally the wrong way to go and it's no wonder the Liberal cabinet is in chaos with Tony's tax."

But a Greens source said Senator Milne had angered colleagues by shunning Mr Abbott's unlikely embrace of progressive taxation. Another senior Greens source acknowledged that constituents had been complaining about the party leader's position.

"Senator Milne's been out since day one saying she doesn't support [the tax], despite the fact it is Greens party policy," a source said.

"Her response hasn't gone down well with a number of key people in the party and the membership.

"She's now trying to work out what to do as she is set to be rolled in party room on it."

Asked about the internal anger, Greens senator Lee Rhiannon replied: "While I support robust debate in the party room, I don’t support leaking internal policy debates to the media and having the debate in public."

Leaked emails reveal Greens voters have been complaining to Senator Milne's office, suggesting she was betraying her constituents by opposing tax increases on wealthy people.

One frustrated voter asked Senator Milne: "How can the Greens leadership/parliamentarians oppose a 1 per cent levy on people earning $150k per annum?

"I am extremely doubtful that your grass roots members, like me, would oppose such a levy."

The constituent's claim is supported by polling data – a Fairfax Media-ReachTEL poll of 3241 people taken last week showed more than half of Greens voters supported Mr Abbott's debt tax.

Senator Milne's adviser told the constituent that while Greens MPs supported the "general proposition" of progressive taxation, they would not support Mr Abbott's debt tax because it did not "constitute tax reform".

Senator Milne was on personal leave when contacted, but on Saturday acting Greens leader Adam Bandt used noticeably softer rhetoric, suggesting the party may support Mr Abbott's debt tax after all.

"The Greens don't accept Joe Hockey's confected 'budget emergency' argument, which he is tying this mooted temporary deficit levy to," Mr Bandt said.

"Equally, we have long argued for a more progressive taxation system and more permanent tax reform in Australia.

"There have now been so many rumours about what the government intends to do that we will wait and see what emerges on budget night before deciding on a final position."


UPDATE:  It appears that Shorty has now backtracked and the ALP will support the levy

Green fantasy would drive us all to red ruin

Piers Akerman

THE reaction to the federal Budget from both Labor and the Greens would indicate they want to ensure Australia becomes a nation of innumerate bludgers.

More taxes, not less; more handouts, not fewer.

There is no budget crisis, the left-wing parties shrill.

But the nation is clearly on a debt-and-disaster trajectory unless tough measures are taken now, and most Australians recognise the need to tighten the belt before the unsustainable cost of the Labor-Green profligacy totally destroys the future.

"Well, there isn’t a budget emergency," Greens leader Christine Milne shrieked about the figures on Wednesday.

"There is not an emergency in terms of debt. There is a failure to raise revenue. And this whole budget discussion is completely insulating the revenue side."

When pressed about the third of the population, some seven million, receiving Centrelink payments, Milne switched to the Greens’ default position: "What I think is we have to raise more money, look at what we’re spending, see what we can service in terms of debt."

She wants to squeeze more money out of those already doing the heavy lifting to pay for Labor-Green supporters who don’t want to work and don’t want to move from their leafy retreats to areas where the jobs are.

Making it harder for young people to go from school to a life on the dole is a no-brainer.

It is not an attack on young people, as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claims. It is an attack on the welfare mindset that encourages the slothful institutionalisation of benefits.

It is about preventing young people from sliding into indolence and encouraging them to learn skills, through apprenticeships, at TAFEs or universities, so they can become productive contributors to their nation.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has demanded Shorten explain how he would pay for all of his hopeless predecessors’ big-ticket promises — things like the Gonski program, the NDIS and the ongoing cost of the dysfunctional NBN.

Shorten has had nearly nine months now to develop a strategy to deal with the budget holes left by former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, but so far he has only called for greater spending rather than restraint.

He has been so obstructive that he has had to renege on his own party’s promise to scrap its ill-conceived and abysmally executed carbon tax when its abolition would save pensioners and low-income earners more than enough to meet the small increases in the cost of visits to doctors.

Hockey put the $7 co-payment charge in context when he compared it to a packet of cigarettes, which costs around $22.

"That gives you three visits to the doctor," he said.

"You can spend just over $3 on a middy of beer, so that’s two middies of beer to go to the doctor."

The grandstanding by Labor and the Greens has given the Abbott government the opportunity to highlight the reluctance of the state governments to take responsibility for raising the money they wish to spend.

That’s why the state premiers are squealing. It’s far easier for them to portray themselves as victims of a harsh, penny-pinching federal government than to step up and raise their own revenues for their programs.

As Abbott has pointed out, there is a tax reform white paper due and there is a white paper on federation in the next 18 months.

He says the states and territories are perfectly entitled to argue for change, if that’s what they want, but each level of government should be sovereign in its own sphere. States run public hospitals. States run public schools and, over time, should bear a larger share of funding them.

The national electorate finally woke to Labor’s scam last September, but many still fail to understand how seriously the Rudd and Gillard governments, with their Green and Independent hangers-on, damaged the fabric of the Australian economy.

It must be repaired in a timely fashion and Tuesday’s Budget goes some way to addressing the problems before the nation follows those across Europe which have suffered from the borrow-and-spend economics beloved of socialist states.

Abbott has raised the possibility of a double dissolution should his measures be blocked by hostile Senators although it seems unlikely that will be necessary, despite the bluster of Queensland windbag Clive Palmer and his PUP senators.

Former Labor treasurer Wayne Swan never delivered a surplus and he never told the truth about the state of the economy.

Hockey and Abbott are being upfront about the bad numbers and are honestly trying to wrestle the nation back on track.

They have both taken responsibility for the tough measures they believe are necessary — something Labor still refuses to do.

They are not running for office. They are not running in a popularity contest. They are trying to stop the country being run into the ground under the weight of the Labor-Green debt burden.


Uber drivers hit with fines for ridesharing
Australian State Government authorities have cracked down on Uber's ridesharing service, issuing "infringement notices" to drivers offering lifts to passengers in Melbourne.

The move comes after the company quietly launched ridesharing to selected Uber 'members' in recent weeks, before commencing a full-scale Australian launch of the service across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Both the Victorian and New South Wales State Governments have come out against the ridesharing service, known as UberX, saying it does not comply with State transport legislation covering the provision of taxi and private hire car services.

Fairfax Media has since reported that the Victorian Taxi Services Commission has been issuing $1,700 fines to drivers found providing UberX rides to passengers in Melbourne. Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper reported that roughly 50 drivers have been caught by the crackdown.

In a statement to CNET, the Victorian TSC said it had issued infringement notices to what it calls "illegal hire cars" found operating in the State.

"In response to intelligence, the TSC recently conducted an investigation to detect illegal hire cars operating in Victoria," a TSC spokesperson told CNET.

"As part of this operation, infringement notices have been issued for vehicles found to be providing a commercial passenger service without the appropriate licence and for drivers who are not accredited.

"The TSC is keen to work with the industry to facilitate new entrants into the market, however this must be done within the framework of the law to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers."

CNET contacted Uber Melbourne for comment on the matter, specifically on whether it planned to continue the UberX service in Melbourne and other Australian cities, what was being done with UberX drivers who were fined and whether the company felt it had any responsibilities to its UberX drivers.

Uber did not respond to these questions, but issued a statement saying "we applaud the Victorian government's efforts and appreciate their support for innovation and competition".

However, the statement added: "Riders and drivers are flocking to the Uber platform precisely because we are solving a problem that has stood for decades in Melbourne -- the inability to get a safe, affordable, reliable ride when and where needed."

Uber said it looked forward to "continuing the ongoing conversation" it had been having with the Victorian Government since last year.

Melbourne is not the only city where Uber has come up against opposition to its ridesharing services. Earlier this year, taxi drivers in Paris brought roads to a standstill to protest the rise of car services including Uber, while one passenger reported being in an Uber car that came under attack from one of the city's cab drivers who slashed tires and smashed windows.

In the US, Uber has faced a number of legal challenges while Seattle's City Council recently revised regulations governing ridesharing in that city, limiting the number of drivers who could offer the service on any given day.


More aid bang with fewer taxpayers' bucks?

Predictably, the aid community has savaged the Abbott government's decision to cap Australia's overseas development assistance (ODA) at $5 billion per annum for the next two financial years.

World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello called the move 'devastating,' while UNICEF Australia spokesperson Tim O'Connor claimed that it was tantamount to a 'broken promise to the world's poorest.'

These assessments are inaccurate and unfair.

Although Australia's aid spending is now stagnant, it remains substantial and can produce large development dividends at its current level.

Australia's ODA as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) is likely to fall slightly while aid spending is kept at $5 billion per annum, and is expected to stabilise once the aid budget is pegged to the consumer price index in 2016-17.

However, at roughly 0.34% of GNI, Australia's aid spending compares well to the 0.3% of GNI that the OECD's 28 leading bilateral aid donors collectively spend on ODA.

Moreover, Australia is the tenth largest aid donor in dollar terms among the world's wealthy industrialised nations, while the majority of the countries that give more than Australia have far larger tax bases and GDPs.

Criticisms of the government's decision to scale back ODA also overlook the crucial question of the effectiveness of aid spending.

Big aid budgets make countries look charitable, but they reveal little about the real contribution made to poverty alleviation and economic development.

The government was therefore wise to launch a consultation process earlier this year to develop performance benchmarks to improve the effectiveness of Australia's ODA.

Using ODA to assist aid-recipient countries implement necessary domestic policy reforms would be a particularly effective means of improving the return that developing nations and Australian taxpayers alike receive from overseas aid.

As the experiences of India, China and other emerging economies illustrate, and as AusAID acknowledged in 2012, aid is much less important for development than a country's domestic policies.

Consider, for example, how collective land ownership in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and other Pacific nations stifles economic growth by sapping individual incentives to efficiently use land.

By subjecting ODA to performance benchmarks that prioritise necessary domestic policy reforms in aid-recipient nations, Australia may well be able to do much more for the world's poor for much less.


16 May, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is unimpressed at the duck shoving going on over the pink batts fiasco

Home insulation royal commission: Kevin Rudd accepts 'ultimate responsibility' for scheme

But blames the public service

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd says he takes responsibility for the "deep tragedy" of his government's home insulation program, in which four workers died.

A royal commission sitting in Brisbane is examining how decisions were made and how warnings were handled before the worksite deaths of four installers in 2009 and 2010.

Appearing at the commission today, Mr Rudd pointed out the failures of the public service, which he said did not raise any safety issues.

Mr Rudd said former junior minister Mark Arbib had been asked to stay "abreast of the detail where things could go wrong" with the scheme in 2009.

He said he told Mr Arbib that he needed "to watch this very carefully so that things can be nipped in the bud if there's a problem".

However, Mr Rudd said he bore "ultimate responsibility" for the failures.

"As prime minister you accept responsibility for the good and for the bad, for anything that the government does during the period, of which I am its prime minister," he said.

"And for those reasons, as I've said repeatedly before, I have accepted ultimate responsibility for what was not just bad, but in this case a deep tragedy."

Mr Arbib, who was parliamentary secretary for government service delivery during the scheme's delivery, previously told the hearing that his role was largely to communicate with the public, but that he would have "raised the alarm" with the prime minister if he was aware of warnings public servants failed to pass on.

Under questioning by Tom Howe QC, representing the Commonwealth Government, Mr Rudd said Mr Arbib "absolutely" had more than an oversight role and he had been specifically charged with evaluating the risks presented by the scheme.

"I wanted a set of eyes focused on implementation difficulties," Mr Rudd said.

In his statement to the inquiry, Mr Rudd said his relationship with Mr Arbib began to deteriorate towards the end of 2009.

"We had our disagreements about some other political and policy matters, and it is fair to observe that our personal relationship unfortunately deteriorated, although our professional relationship remained functional throughout."

Mr Rudd said he knew little about insulation, and relied on the advice of others when setting up the scheme, which was designed to stimulate the economy during the global financial crisis.

"If you're looking for me as the home handyman - if my wife was giving testimony, she would be quick to give a response - I am not," he said.

Mr Rudd noted in his statement that the home insulation scheme was first recommended not by ministers, but by the public service as part of a series of recommendations on energy efficiency.

"The public service had also asked a professional firm to do a risk assessment of the whole Home Insulation Program before proceeding," he said.

Mr Rudd's previously censored statement to the commission was released today, after the Commonwealth agreed to allow the airing of Cabinet discussions.

The decision is legally historic, breaking the 113-year-old Cabinet-in-confidence convention and allowing the former prime minister to give uncensored evidence at the inquiry in Brisbane.

In his written statement, Mr Rudd said he was repeatedly told the national insulation roll-out was "on track", even after several workplace deaths.

He said Cabinet considered analysis of the scheme in October 2009, and no major risks were raised.

The next day, the first of four installers, Matthew Fuller, was killed on the job.

During questioning by lawyers representing families of the men killed, Mr Rudd addressed their desire for answers.

"I think your clients have a right to feel confused, angry, let down, by a system which ultimately did not perform," he said.

The former prime minister said Cabinet received regular reports from the bureaucracy that were "specifically designed to alert ministers to any programs going off the rails".

Mr Rudd said eight of these reports found no problems with the energy efficiency program, including the insulation scheme, saying it was "on track".

He said problems were not identified until around the time of the fourth worksite death.  He said the program could have been delayed if public servants had raised safety issues.

"Had a delay been requested of Cabinet on safety grounds, I have no doubt ministers would have granted it immediately," he said in his statement.

"The reaction would have been: 'Hang on here, if there is a problem we need to really look at this'," he told the inquiry.

Mr Rudd has been "stood aside" as a witness, leaving open the possibility for lawyers to pose further questions. He will be able to reply in writing or via videolink.


Budget 2014: First home buyers savings scheme axed, funds released to account holders

The Federal Government has taken the axe to a generous Rudd-era savings scheme for first home buyers, but will lift restrictions on the ability for account holders to access their money.

The Government says it will save $134.3 million over five years by abolishing First Home Savers Accounts, which were introduced in 2008 to help first home buyers save.

They offered tax concessions, high interest rates and government contributions.

Before the accounts are abolished, at the start of July next year, the scheme will be wound down.

Eligibility for the 17 per cent government contribution will stop from the start of July this year.

First Home Savers Account holders were only able to access their funds after four years, and only for the purchase of a first home, to put towards an approved mortgage or to contribute to their superannuation.

But as of July 2015, they will be able to withdraw their funds without such restrictions.

The accounts were initially offered by two of the big four banks, ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank, as well as a number of credit unions.  But the Commonwealth Bank eventually ditched them.

It is understood there was a lack of take-up from customers, with savers put off by being unable to access their funds for four years.

Unveiling the scheme in 2008, then-treasurer Wayne Swan predicted the accounts would hold $4 billion after four years.  But statistics from the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority show in the December quarter, just $521.5 million was held in 46,000 accounts.


Irukandji 'forecast' may soon warn Australian swimmers about presence of deadly stingers

Swimmers afraid of the potentially fatal sting of the irukandji jellyfish may soon be able to dive into the ocean with confidence thanks to a study from CSIRO and University of Queensland researchers.

The scientists have studied historical accounts of weather conditions at the time of stings and believe they have determined which conditions drive outbreaks of the tiny, transparent marine stinger.

The knowledge could lead to an irukandji forecast for swimmers, available days in advance.

Report co-author Dr Scott Condie said along the Queensland coast, stings were more common when south-easterly trade winds dropped off.

"There's some clear mechanisms by which the jellyfish could be carried onshore under these conditions," he said.

"Most of the time when the trade winds are blowing, it's going to be pretty difficult for them to get onshore, and they probably don't like those conditions anyway.

"As it becomes calm, there's some onshore flow, which might carry [the irukandji] into where swimmers are likely to be."

The researchers were alerted to the possible link between an absence of south-easterlies and the presence of irukandji by local surf lifesavers, who noticed that stings seemed more common on calmer days.

The so-called stinger season runs from November to March, with irukandji found in the tropical waters of Northern Queensland, and all over Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Stings cause pain, headaches, vomiting and sweating. Some patients require life support and a significant number experience recurring symptoms.  As many as 100 people a year are hospitalised with irukandji stings each year.

The scientists note that fear of the jellyfish can cause significant damage to the Australian tourism industry with an estimated US$65 million in lost revenue following two irukandji fatalities on the Great Barrier Reef in 2002.

"We anticipate our findings will lead to the development of technologies for delivery of improved public and occupational safety objectives, e.g. making forecasts publicly available via the web, radio, SMS or smartphone apps," wrote the authors in the paper, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.


Eastman inquiry: evidence finishes with opposing calls for action on murder conviction

Eastman is a bit of an oddball but he was convicted on nothing more than supposition and bad forensic science.  The cop was involved in a deal with the Riverina mafia which fell apart.  So it was probably the mafia that potted him.  The cops didn't want that to become known however so they fitted up poor silly old Eastman for the crime.  There has always been extensive disquiet about his conviction

The Eastman inquiry has ended, amid calls for his murder charge to be quashed and a miscarriage of justice declared.

The inquiry has been considering the conviction of David Harold Eastman for the murder of Australian Federal Police (AFP) Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester in 1989.

Inquiry head Justice Brian Martin will now prepare a report for the Supreme Court, which will have the final say.

In his final submissions Eastman's lawyer Mark Griffin QC urged Justice Martin to take a strong line in his recommendations.

"The fact is there have been significant failures that cannot be excused," he said.

"To let the (conviction) stand is to countenance a gross miscarriage of justice."

"You can make a report to the full court which corrects the record."

"You can make a conclusive finding that there was a miscarriage so the defects, flaws and failures... can be remedied."

Forensic case against Eastman put in doubt by inquiry

The most important development in the inquiry was the systematic demolition of the forensic case which was key to his conviction.

Forensic scientist Robert Collins Barnes was forced to admit he may have misled earlier hearings about some of the evidence.

His methods and record keeping were also roundly criticised.

In her summing up, counsel assisting the inquiry Liesl Chapman said: "The opinions he expressed at trial were seriously flawed and there is a question about his reliability and veracity."

Mr Griffin urged Justice Martin to deliver an adverse finding about Mr Barnes, as well as police and prosecutors in the case.

He also raised concerns about police tactics, which involved listening devices to record Eastman talking to himself at home.

"You should reflect your disapproval of that conduct ... there needs to be some admonition," Mr Griffin said.

But lawyers for the DPP and police told the inquiry even without the forensic evidence the guilty verdict was supported by an overwhelming circumstantial case.

AFP counsel Lionel Robberds outlined that case.

Eastman had been a suspect because he had made threats against Assistant Commissioner Winchester, after he had failed to secure his help in having an assault charge dropped.

Eastman believed the police should not have charged him, but should have charged the other man involved.

Mr Robberds said Eastman had increasing frustration over his failure to be reinstated in the public service.

David Eastman's legal battle timeline

"He knew the case was going to ruin him for life," he said.  "If it went ahead and he was convicted that would be the end of it all."

He said one witness had suggested he had stalked the premises where the crime took place.

And, Mr Robberds told the hearing, despite being one of the most intelligent people on this earth, "In less than 12 hours, he said he did not remember where he was."

Mr Griffin also raised concerns that police should have considered the alternative theory that mafia figures were involved in the killing.  He told the court today there was a body of evidence suggesting some mafia figures had a strong motive for the murder.

He says that theory is a counterbalance to the prosecutions circumstantial case.

In her summing up, Ms Chapman told the hearing she disagreed with police that they had done a thorough investigation of the alternative hypotheses.  The inquiry has considered some of the mafia evidence in secret.

Among the issues Justice Martin must now consider is whether the collapse of the forensic case justifies a miscarriage of justice finding.

He will also be considering whether there should be a retrial.

Mr Griffin has urged against that idea.  "The prospect of there being a retrial is just so remote as to not be feasible. The prejudice in conducting a retrial would be extreme," he said.

Judge thanks Eastman for his good behaviour during inquiry

Justice Martin wrapped up today's hearing with a personal message to Eastman who has been watching the inquiry from a room at Canberra's jail.  He thanked him for not interrupting.  He also acknowledged Eastman's troubled history with losing confidence in his lawyers and sacking them.

Justice Martin told Eastman he had been very lucky to have Mr Griffin to represent him.

The Supreme Court will decide the final outcome of the inquiry based on recommendations from Justice Martin.

But it may still all be academic.

The court is still considering a challenge to the inquiry's establishment.

Mr Barnes has asked Justice Martin to delay handing his report to the court until that ruling is delivered.  Justice Martin says he is still considering the request.

It is not known when there will be a decision on that or the future of Justice Martin's report.


15 May, 2014

Bentley coal seam gas drilling suspended, referred to ICAC

Stupid attempt to win favour with the Greens

Resources company Metgasco's plans to drill for coal seam gas at Bentley on the NSW north coast are in disarray after state energy minister Anthony Roberts referred the project to the Independent Commission Against Corruption and announced its licence would be suspended due to insufficient community consultation.

Mr Roberts announced the decision on Thursday morning, just days before police were due to be called in to break up a long-standing protest on the site at Bentley, near Lismore.

Up to 800 police were due to enter the protest camp as early as Monday to disperse thousands of people who have been blockading the site for several weeks.

Mr Roberts said the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) had told Metgasco the licence would be suspended because the company "did not fulfil a condition of its exploration licence, namely to undertake genuine and effective consultation with the community as required."

"OCSG is conducting an ongoing audit of all Petroleum Exploration Licences across NSW and is focused on ensuring company compliance with title conditions," Mr Roberts said.

"I have been advised by OCSG that fundamental concerns have been expressed by members of the affected community about the way in which Metgasco has characterised its activities."

He said  he has written to the ICAC Commissioner "following receipt of information concerning shareholdings and interests in Metgasco Limited."

"In accordance with Section 11 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, I have referred this to the Commissioner to ensure that any decisions pertaining to PEL 16 have been made entirely properly and without any undue interest or influence."

Comment is being sought from Metgasco.

"I'm overjoyed and impressed," said Rob Watson, a retired hydrograher from near Mullumbimby who has attended the protest site with his wife and had been planning to visit again on Saturday.


Another Pratfall for Wickenby 'Keystone cops'

A decision to drop tax and money laundering charges against three high-profile Sydney businessmen is "another humiliating defeat for the Project Wickenby Keystone Cops", according to a lawyer close to the trio.

Charges attracting jail of up to 25 years, laid against former CVC Limited chairman Vanda Gould, former Sunland chairman John Leaver and Swiss resident Peter Borgas, were withdrawn by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in Sydney Local Court on Tuesday morning.

The men asked the court to order the Crown to pay their costs in defending the charges and a mention date was set for June 10.

They were arrested in October after an investigation by Project Wickenby, the joint Taxation Office-Federal Police taskforce that attacks the use of tax havens by rich Australians.

It was alleged they used a complex network of companies in tax havens including Vanuatu, the Bahamas and Singapore, to avoid millions in Australian tax.

Barrister John Hyde Page, who represented the companies in a related Federal Court civil case, said the amount of public money spent on Wickenby was a "scandal".

"Their contempt for civil liberties and due process is disgusting," he said. "At the very minimum there needs to be full public inquiry into every aspect of how this unit operates and in particular the people who run it."

He declined to comment on the Federal Court case, in which a network of offshore companies associated with Mr Gould challenged Tax Office bills of about $40 million. Hearings are completed and the parties are awaiting judgment from Justice Nye Perram.

The ATO alleged the network of companies invested in Australian shares, including those of companies chaired by Mr Gould, and then sent the proceeds offshore without paying any Australian tax.

Mr Gould has long denied any wrongdoing or tax avoidance, saying the majority of the proceeds of the offshore network were distributed to charities in Australia, Africa and Asia.

The civil case also caused ructions in the relationship between Australia and the Cayman Islands when formerly secret company documents showing Mr Gould controlled two Caymanian companies were tendered as evidence despite a court in the Caribbean tax haven ruling they could not be used.

Mr Gould was on Tuesday reappointed as chairman of investment company CVC, a role he resigned following his arrest.

In a statement, Mr Gould's solicitor, Justeen Dormer, said the charges had caused "months of disruption to Mr Gould's life".

"I am pleased that the charges against Mr Gould have been dropped and he can now return to the work and philanthropic pursuits to which he has dedicated his life," she said.

In addition, he was chairman of CVC spin-off CVC Property Fund and biotechs Cyclopharm and Vita Life Sciences.

Mr Leaver, who resigned as a director of CVC, does not intend to rejoin the board.

The ATO regards Project Wickenby as a success, boasting on its website it has raised more than $786 million in cash from targets.

However, it has been bitterly opposed by targets including actor Paul Hogan and music promoter Glenn Wheatley, and criticised by the Australian National Audit Office for taking too long and costing too much.


Boswell warning to farmers: maintain control over your industry

QUEENSLAND Nationals Senator Ron Boswell has warned primary producers to take action now to maintain control over production and marketing.

In what Senator Boswell described as his last substantial speech in the Senate, he said: "What I want to do is leave all Australian primary producers with a warning: take action now to maintain control over the production and marketing of your product.

"Primary producers are under threat from a long-term strategy by a powerful and sophisticated combination of environmental zealots and major corporations that would effectively control primary production practices worldwide."

Senator Boswell said the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, an organisation created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and dominated by non-producer bodies, was an example of the threat.

"I regard WWF and other environmental activists teaming up with major corporations to impose conditions on producers as a dangerous development," Senator Boswell said.

"Management of primary production is being taken away from producers and from elected governments by environmental non-government organisations. They are doing it via environmental conditions enforced by corporations.

"This was encouraged during the six years of the previous Labor Government. That government was in effect a Labor-Greens alliance, and Labor surrendered to environmental lobbyists time and again. It is time the Australian Government re-asserted its legitimate role in management of primary production.

"WWF and other environmental activists are increasingly trying to dictate what can and can’t be caught, harvested, grown or mined in Australia.

WWF is an organisation with a turnover in the hundreds of millions of dollars and 5,000 staff spread across offices in 60 countries. It is a huge multi-national business with enormous resources. What’s more, it is handling the likes of roundtables and stewardship councils on a daily basis.

"By contrast, producers are often developing responses on the run, responding as best they can to a sophisticated, well-rehearsed strategy from WWF. Let’s not pretend that, individually, any single commodity or industry representative body can handle an organisation as powerful and sophisticated as WWF.

"I call on everyone involved in productive toil in our primary industries to address this issue. Work together, and with the Australian Government, to retain the influence you deserve to have over the way your industries operate.

"Producers have a fundamental knowledge of how their operations should be conducted. Government has the scientists, economists and resource managers to assist producers. Together, they can guarantee sensible, rational, sustainable management of this nation’s natural resources."

Via email

What you missed from the Federal Budget 2014

IT’S being hailed as the toughest budget in a decade with a $7 payment to see the doctor, debt tax on high-income earners and massive cuts to family benefits all due to become a reality.

But hidden behind the headline grabbing changes are a host of other measures designed to bring the government back into surplus. Here are some of the crucial items you might have missed:


They might call it "reprioritising" but foreign aid is one of the biggest sacrifices in this year’s budget, providing $7.6 billion worth of savings as the government freezes the amount of money Australia gives in overseas development assistance (ODA).

It includes spiking plans to join the African Development Bank Group and International Fund for Agricultural Development, as well as capping ODA at five per cent of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s budget.

World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello said it’s a massive blow for a sector that is already struggling.

"It is disheartening to see that the poorest people in the world will foot the bill for Australia’s fiscal repairs," he said.

Charity groups are also reeling with Australian Council for International Development executive director Marc Purcell saying it’s "incredibly disappointing" to see people struggling on $2 per day hit even harder by Budget cuts in Australia.


No matter which way you cut it, the arts community in Australia just got a bollocking. The government has pulled a whopping $97.1 million in funding over four years which had been slated for the arts.

Screen Australia, the primary body for local film and production is set to lose $25.1 million. The $10 million Australian Interactive Games Fund will also be killed.

Meanwhile, the Australia Council, which provides funding and grants to local artists, will have $28.2 million slashed from its ledgers. The Attorney-General’s department will also drain $33.8 million in arts funding.

There are fears gems like Muriel’s Wedding might not make it to the screen under cuts to

There are fears gems like Muriel’s Wedding might not make it to the screen under cuts to arts funding. Source: News Corp Australia

Giving people money to throw specks of paint at a canvas may seem frivolous in comparison to healthcare cuts but let’s not forget its place in a national culture. President Lyndon B Johnson, on creating the US National Endowment for the Arts said: "Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is on our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."

Screen Producers Australia executive director Matthew Deaner said: "Their investments trigger millions of dollars of local and international financing into productions which employ thousands of Australians."


The Gonski school funding agreement will be unwound, amid plans to slash $80 billion from health and education funding over a decade.

This includes cutting $20 million from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, scrapping a $21 million centre for quality teaching and learning Labor had promised, reducing funding for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, as well as a host of other measures that will affect students and teachers.

Federal funding for education and health will be cut.

Federal funding for education and health will be cut. Source: Supplied

States have hit back at the news this morning, claiming federal funding cuts from health and education are a "hospital pass" that assumes they will pick up slack.

"What they did was pass a spending problem to the states — they didn’t provide the income solution," New South Wales Premier Mike Baird told ABC radio.


Treasurer Joe Hockey has said 16,500 jobs will go but there are fears this number could be as high as 25,000 once budget cuts, asset-sell offs and outsourcing are taken into account.

The Australian Tax Office will take the lion’s share with 4700 positions gone in a series of wideranging cuts which will affect organisations from the National Library to the Defence Force.

Hockey has said 16,500 jobs will go but unions fear it could be much more.

Hockey has said 16,500 jobs will go but unions fear it could be much more. Source: Supplied

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the Budget was a "con job" for workers with organisations like the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, Customs and CSIRO already groaning under their workloads.

The public broadcaster is also in the firing line, with the ABC losing $120 million from their bottom line over four years. It comes on top of cuts to SBS and the Australia Network and ABC managing director Mark Scott said it would inevitably lead to redundancies and fewer services.

"We will need to make funding cuts while trying to also save money to invest in new priorities to ensure the ABC remains a compelling feature of the Australian media landscape."


Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars went to a program that provides chaplains for schools, despite the fact its future is before the High Court.

The school chaplain scheme will provide $243.8 million over four years to allow schools to apply for a $20,000 grant towards the cost of employing a chaplain. An additional $4000 is available to schools in remote areas.

Nearly quarter of a billion dollars will go to providing school chaplains, but the move m

Nearly quarter of a billion dollars will go to providing school chaplains, but the move may be blocked in the High Court. Source: News Limited

But Queensland father of six Ron Williams has fought the issue in court, saying "there is no place in public schools for any form of missionaries or evangelists or anything that isn’t secular."

Experts think the case will have far-reaching effects for the Commonwealth’s ability to provide funding for a range of programs. Even the Scripture Union’s chief executive Peter James acknowledged it’s controversial.

"People are divided on it. But I am not sure that people who are opposed to the program necessarily understand what chaplains do in schools. It’s not a clerical role, it’s not a theological role — it’s a caring role."


Currently, if you’re overseas while you’re studying, you still collect Youth Allowance. Not anymore.

Going on holiday and keeping your Youth Allowance won’t be possible anymore.

Going on holiday and keeping your Youth Allowance won’t be possible anymore. Source: Supplied

The government will not pay you for time spent overseas unless you’re on exchange with another educational institution or it’s a family emergency. Wandering through Hogwarts at the Harry Potter theme park does not count as exchange.


Indonesia will receive nearly $87 million over three years to manage the asylum seeker population living in the country, as the government turns their attention to processing the back log of asylum seekers in Australia.

The government claims the success of Operation Sovereign Borders has reduced the number of boats which will allow them to save $2.5 billion over five years and close nine detention centres around the country. One in South Australia could even be turned into an aged-care facility, according to Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs.

Tony Abbott’s government says Operation Sovereign Borders will allow them to make billion

Tony Abbott’s government says Operation Sovereign Borders will allow them to make billions in savings. Source: Getty Images

Migration Institute of Australia’s President Angela Chan said while some of the changes are positive, there are some "dark shadows" that need explaining.

"While the Institute is pleased that the Family Stream will focus on meeting the increasing demand for close family reunions by having additional partner and child places, it is alarming that these additional places will be made available as a result of the cessation of new applications from the other family and parent (non-contributory) places," she said.

Overall, Australia’s migration intake will remain at 190,000 in the 2014/15 financial year.


Plans to scrap eight programs worth $845 million over five years will cut the local start-up scene and send more Aussie entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley, according to advocates.

The Budget includes plans to scrap Commercialisation Australia, which has provided more than $200 million in funding to local start-ups, as well as the Innovation Investment Fund, which connects start-ups with venture capital.

Becoming a tech start-up just got a little bit harder with plans to cut funding groups.

Becoming a tech start-up just got a little bit harder with plans to cut funding groups. Source: News Limited

Instead, an Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program will cost $484.2 million over five years but

start-up accelerator River City Labs boss Steven Baxter is not convinced.

"Australia invests a fraction of what other developed countries do funding tech start-ups, and the budget has provided no solid proof that the government intends to rectify this," he said.

The government also revealed plans to stop funding the technology research body National ICT Australia (NICTA) from 2016.


 *  $90 million to find missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. It’s the first time the government has put a number on the search cost.

* Up to $500 million for a new icebreaker ship and $9.4 million to maintain Australia’s presence in Antarctica.

 *  The School Kids Bonus will be scrapped.

* Three kids is no longer a "large family." It’s been redesigned to be one with at least four kids before you start getting the large family supplement on Family Tax Benefits.

Large family? I don’t think so. It takes four children to be eligible for large family su

Large family? I don’t think so. It takes four children to be eligible for large family supplements nowadays. Source: News Limited

 *  $19 million over four years will go to the Australian Drug Commission to continue the Good Sports Programme aimed at building a culture of responsible drinking at a grassroots level.

* It’s been revealed the cost of someone losing a few bits of paper at the WA Senate election cost $23.2 million. No wonder heads rolled at the Australian Electoral Commission over the debacle.


14 May, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks the Federal budget is tough but necessary

Federal budget 2014: ABC, SBS cut by $43.5 million

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has broken his election promise: "No cuts to the ABC or SBS."

But the  government's budget cuts to the national broadcasters – combined savings of $43.5 million over four years – are gentler than those expected by ABC and SBS management.

As recently as a month ago, the  government was considering applying efficiency dividends to the broadcasters, which would have cut $204 million from the ABC and $46 million from SBS over the next four years, a government source said. Instead, the ABC will lose about $35 million and  SBS about $8 million.

However, the budget documents contain an ominous phrase that  will leave ABC managing director Mark Scott and the GetUp! activists protesting outside Parliament House on Tuesday bracing for deeper cuts in years to come. The budget papers describe the initial cuts as a "down payment" on the ABC and SBS efficiency study – a continuing exercise to find ways to run the two broadcasters at lower costs.

It is understood  Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull will demand harsher cuts over coming years but they will be informed by "back office" savings as he has promised not to harm ABC programming.

As expected, the  government will terminate the ABC's $223million contract to run the Australia Network over 10 years. The government will save $196.8million by abolishing the "soft diplomacy" television service, which was designed to promote Australian values in Asia.

The government will cut $3.3million over four years from the  Australian Communications and Media Authority. The ACMA will  also be hit via the 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend – a series of compounding cuts – that applies to most government agencies.

Despite making cuts across government, Mr Abbott has found $10million to "enhance online safety for children". This funding includes $2.4 million to establish a Children's e-Safety Commissioner. The program has been championed by the parliamentary secretary for communications, Paul Fletcher, and Mr Turnbull's name was conspicuously absent from the government's media release on Tuesday.

The government will honour its election commitment and provide $100million over four years to mobile and wireless broadband coverage in regional areas. The government will try to boost the funding of its Mobile Black Spot Program by asking for co-contributions from industry and  state, territory and local governments.

In keeping with the government's philosophy of "smaller government", Mr Turnbull will  abolish the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency, and its functions  will be transferred  to the Communications Department.


Federal budget 2014: Young to wait until 25 to get dole

Young people wishing to sign onto the dole will be forced to wait six months before they receive a cent of government money, after which they will have to work for the dole for another six months before either getting a job, or getting cut off again for another six months.

From January 1 next year, all under-30s who want to sign onto the dole (Newstart) or Youth Allowance "Other" (the present, lesser payment for unemployed people up to 22) will be subject to the new system, which will save the budget $1.2 billion over four years and which is aimed at getting the young "earning or learning".

In addition to the six-month waiting period, the eligibility age for Newstart will rise from 22 to 25 years. Newstart is worth about $45 more a week for a single person living apart from their parents than the Young Allowance "Other" payment.

During the mandatory six-month waiting period the young unemployed person will be required to participate in a government-funded "job search and employment services activities". If he or she has previously been employed, the six-month waiting period will be discounted - for every year of previous employment, a month will be taken off the waiting period.

Once the six-month waiting period is over, the unemployed youngster will have to do at least 25 hours a week in Work for the Dole activities for another six months, before either getting a job or going back through the whole cycle again, meaning another six months of no government money whatsoever.

Employers who pick workers off the dole queue will be eligible for a wage subsidy - meaning the young person's dole payment would be re-directed to his or her employer for six months.

In addition to these changes, threshold tests for the dole will remain frozen for three years from July 1, as opposed to rising in line with the CPI. The actual rates of Newstart and Youth Allowance will also be frozen.

Some jobless under-30s will be exempt from the tough new scheme, including those unable to work more than 30 hours a week, carers and parents, part-time apprentices and Disability Employment Service clients.

Young people on the Disability Support Pension also face a crack-down. All DSP recipients under 35 who signed onto their pension between 2008 and 2011 (when tougher eligibility criteria were introduced by the previous Labor government) will be reassessed under the new, tighter system.

People with a "severe or manifest" disability will not have to re-apply, which appears to leave the way open for recipients with a mental illness to be reassessed. Those recipients under 35 who are assessed as being able to work for at least eight hours a week will also be given a "participation plan", meaning they will have to engage in labour market activities of some sort, such as Work for the Dole, work experience or education and training. People who do not comply will be sanctioned, although the budget papers do not specify how.

Disability Support Pension recipients will not be able to leave Australia for more then four weeks and keep collecting their pension overseas. This will save the budget $12.3 million over five years.


Radical shake-up to university funding in budget will see some fees soar

Universities will have unfettered freedom to set their own fees under the most radical shake-up to higher education funding since the introduction of HECS 25 years ago.

While fees in some courses may fall, the cost of a degree from prestigious universities is expected to soar when government caps on course costs are scrapped in 2016. The federal government's contribution to degree costs will decline by an average of 20per cent from 2016 as students take on a greater share of the cost of their education. The changes will not affect current students until 2020.

To calm concerns about the impact on poor students, 20per cent of all additional revenue raised through increased fees will fund scholarships for disadvantaged students.

Nevertheless, heated protests are expected when Education Minister Christopher Pyne travels to campuses across the country to sell the reforms over coming weeks.

The HELP student loans scheme will remain, but in a less generous form. Graduates will repay their debts earlier: once they start earning $50,638, down from $53,345 this financial year.

Interest will be pegged to the government bond rate rather than to inflation. This means graduates will pay an interest rate of up to 6per cent on their student loan – up from 2.9per cent currently. This will affect all students from 2016, regardless of when they started their degree.

The changes to the student loans scheme will save the budget $3.2billion over four years.

In an equally dramatic move, direct government support will be extended for the first time to students at TAFEs, private universities and in diploma programs from 2016. This was the key recommendation of the recent Kemp-Norton review into university funding.  An extra 80,000 students – most in diploma and associate degree courses – will receive government support for higher education from 2018 at a cost of $820million over three years.

Total expenditure on higher education is projected to increase from $8.97billion in 2013-14 to $9.47billion in 2017-18.

"Through these once-in-a-generation reforms, the government will help build a sector that is more diverse, more innovative and more responsive to student needs," Treasurer Joe Hockey said in his budget speech.

"With greater autonomy, universities will be free to compete and improve the quality of the courses they offer."

The government will also spend $439million over five years to provide apprentices with loans of up to $20,000. Apprentices will pay back the loan when they meet the HELP income threshold for university students.

The Australian Research Council will have $74.9million cut from its funding over three years through a one-off 3.25per cent efficiency dividend.

The government is sticking by its pledge to only fund the first four years of the Gonski reforms – despite almost two-thirds of the spending promised by the Gillard government falling in years five and six.

From 2018, the government will fund schools at 2017 levels with extra money added for inflation and increased enrolments. Funding for each state and territory would be determined following a new round of negotiations.

This would mean a total federal government outlay on schools of $18.15billion in 2017-18 – down from the $19.6billion Labor says it would have delivered.

The controversial school chaplaincy program, currently facing a High Court challenge, will be continued for another five years at a cost of $245.3million over five years.

The government will also provide $139.5million over four years to continue the Future Fellowships scheme – which funds mid-career researchers – and $150million in 2015-16 for the

National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. The university sector had been worried the schemes, which were up for renewal, would not be continued.

Total spending on education is forecast to grow by 3.1per cent in real terms from 2014-15 to 2017-18.


ARENA's axing would mean end of Tony Abbott's support for renewables, says industry

Update:  ARENA has been abolished

The Abbott government appears intent on abandoning all major support for clean energy in Australia if plans to axe the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are confirmed in Tuesday’s budget, senior officials and industry groups said.

 Chairman Greg Bourne warned the government would be "clearing the decks" if ARENA’s remaining unallocated funds of about $1 billion were returned to consolidated revenue, adding to moves to scrap the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation and its apparent intention to weaken or delay the Renewable Energy Target.

John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian Solar Council, said the industry was "outraged" by ARENA’s likely demise: "There is clearly an ideological agenda on behalf of the government to close down any climate- or renewable energy-related policy or support."

The council, which spent more than $350,000 in the WA Senate re-election, would now seek to raise triple that to target Coalition members in marginal seats at the next elections, Mr Grimes said.

"People love solar, and more than 80 per cent want to see more solar," he said. "For us this needs to become a political issue if we’re to turn this ship around."

Mr Grimes predicted the government’s last substantive policy to support renewable energy – the $500 million, 10-year Million Solar Roofs program – will also be cut in Tuesday's budget. That would make a trifecta of broken pre-election promises, along with support for the RET and ARENA, he said.

Eliminating ARENA and its funding would go beyond the recommendation of the National Commission of Audit, which suggested consolidation into the Department of Industry "to provide opportunities and synergies".

Fairfax Media sought comment from the Abbott government about the proposed cuts.

Mark Diesendorf, a renewables energy expert at the University of NSW, said Australia "would be left behind" by the dismantling of Australia's clean energy industry and many jobs would go.

"There is a concerted attack on renewable energy and a serious attempt to stop its growth dead," Professor Diesendorf said.

"My view is that they cannot stop the growth of solar PV at the residential and commercial levels, but they can stop wind farms and large solar power plants," he said.

Labor and the Greens blasted plans to end ARENA but want to see the details before deciding whether to try to block the move in the Senate.

"If reports the government is scrapping ARENA are true, this is even more evidence Tony Abbott’s opposition to renewable energy knows no bounds," said Mark Butler, the Opposition’s spokesman on climate change.

"ARENA uses taxpayer dollars to provide certainty to renewable energy projects," Greens leader Christine Milne said. "It would be disastrously counter-productive if this money was funnelled into the farcical Direct Action policy and used to pay polluters instead."

ARENA’s chief executive Ivor Frischknecht rejected criticism the agency duplicated other government programs, as claimed in the Commission of Audit report.

"No other agency supports projects along the commercialisation pathway from basic laboratory research to large-scale pre-commercial activities," Mr Frischknecht said.

For every dollar invested by ARENA, the private sector was chipping in $1.80. Already some $7.7 billion in 190 projects were in the pipeline.  The agency is considering ventures worth a further $7.7 billion, he said.


13 May, 2014

Union thug  attacks photographer at royal commission

Former union official Bruce Wilson, the ex-partner of former prime minister Julia Gillard, has attacked a photographer outside a royal commission hearing in Sydney.

Sam Mooy, a photographer with News Corp Australia, was working outside the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption in Sydney on Monday afternoon when he became involved in an altercation with Mr Wilson.

"He sped up when he saw us taking the photos and then he just turned around and lashed out at Sam," Dan Himbrechts, the AAP photographer who photographed the moment, told News Corp.

"It was totally unprovoked; he was just trying to avoid having his photo taken."

Mr Mooy told News Corp that he would not take the event any further with police.

"All’s fair in news gathering. I knew where I stood ethically and legally and he just took exception to the fact I was trying to take his photo on a public road," he said.

"Yes I was manhandled but I’ve had a lot worse in the course of doing my job. He [Mr Wilson] landed the first few but I kept shooting."

Mr Wilson is a former official with the Australian Workers Union.

The royal commission is investigating alleged slush fund activity, in particular one set up by members of the AWU more than 20 years ago.

The commission is expected to hear politically explosive evidence due to the involvement of Ms Gillard in doing legal work to establish the slush fund, and her personal relationship as the lover of  the man alleged to be its mastermind, Mr Wilson.


A coverup at Westpac

Were senior staff bribed?

Westpac CEO Gail Kelly and Chairman Lindsay Maxsted are up to the neck in concealing fraud by staff at Westpac. I have the documents to prove it including internal bank emails and an email sent to me on Mrs Kelly’s behalf which is in effect an admission.  Both Gail Kelly and Lindsay Maxsted should be in jail for concealing a serious indictable offence.

The Westpac fraud is very similar in a lot of regards to the story this week on massive bank fraud by employees at the Commonwealth Bank which was on the  ABC’s Four Corners program this week called Banking Bad.

The Commonwealth Bank fraud has resulted in 1200 financial planning customers being compensated $50 Million for the fraud so far. In the Four Corners program a whistle-blower told the senate inquiry "I suspect a broader review is just going to uncover there are a lot more, like, you know, tens of thousands of clients who are probably entitled to compensation, and it’s never been looked at." If you have superannuation which we all do it is a must watch or read the transcript.  The Commonwealth Bank has used some very grubby tactics to conceal the fraud and harass people who complain as can be seen in a letter to Michael Fraser . The letter is from CBA executive John Geurts, is mostly broad and generalised, has very little specific detail and can be accurately described as nothing more than rambling dribble from a fool trying to intimidate.


Westpac made numerous multimillion dollar loans to Mario Girardo and were defrauded by him. At the time of Westpac making the loans Mario Girardo had no real assets, had three previous convictions for bank fraud and other frauds, was banned by ASIC from being a company director until 2007 and awaiting trail for kidnap and extortion which he was jailed for in 2011. Yet the Westpac kept on lending him money.  The bank did eventually have him declared bankrupt as he was not paying his loan repayments but has refused to make a complaint to the police for fraud even though internal emails show they know that fraud has taken place.

In 2007 towards the end of Mario Girardo’s fraud spree Westpac put pressure on Patrick Hayes to do a joint deal with Mr Girardo to by a property. Mr Hayes did not know the background of Mr Girardo but the bank should have and highly likely did. The deal went bad as you would expect as Mr Girardo had no money and the bank instituted proceedings against both men. Mr Girardo was declared bankrupt and Mr Hayes is currently fighting in court as a self-represented litigant.

The documents and emails that I have relate to a 2006 fraudulent loan for $6.8 million from Westpac to Mr Mario Girardo which has nothing to do with Patrick Hayes. I wrote to Gail Kelly with the smoking gun evidence (Westpac’s own documents) and she had one of her staff respond and refused to take action. It is quite simple, if management have evidence of fraud against their company they have an obligation to report it to the police.


Men too scared to teach for fear of being falsely accused of child-sex offences

GROWING numbers of men are shunning teaching careers for fear of being falsely accused of child-sex offences.

More than 50 South Australian schools had no male teachers last year and experts say this rate will worsen in the wake of the high-profile Debelle royal commission into the handling of school sex-abuse cases.

Australian Education Union state president David Smith said members were reporting more reluctance from young men about joining the profession.

"The recent publicity following the Debelle inquiry has led to a negative atmosphere," he said.  "Quite frankly, there are concerns about (men’s) safety regarding vexatious accusations.

"We believe it’s very important that all teachers and other employees in schools have a safe workplace."

Education Department figures show about 10 per cent of its schools — 56 across the state, mostly rural primary schools — did not have a male teacher last year, while Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the number of male teachers in South Australian public schools has also declined, from almost 35 per cent in 1999 to under 29 per cent, and in raw numbers by 842 men.

Catholic and independent schools had higher numbers of male teachers in the same period, but more women had also been hired, causing the male/female ratio of men to women to drop.

Principals, psychologists and the teachers union say young men are becoming scared of entering the profession and that more must be done to attract men into the system.

SA Primary Principals Association state president Pam Kent said the number of men entering primary teaching was declining, and most who did worked in high schools.

"Part of the reason is that male teachers are increasingly at risk by being alone with students and people are very conscious about this and they are more vulnerable to the possibility of unfair or vexatious allegations," she said.

She said male teachers were an important asset in schools, especially as role models for children where a male role model may not be present at home.

Clinical psychologist Dr Darryl Cross said society was becoming more legalistic, causing fear and discouraging young men who may consider teaching as a potential career.

But, he said the benefits of male teachers included that they show boys how to behave, while they offer an opportunity for girls to learn how to communicate with men.

"It’s absolutely fundamental for children’s development that they have those role models bearing in mind that lots of children in schools nowadays come from single parent families," he said.

ABS figures show the number of men in public schools has declined by 842 since 1999, when there were 4635 who made up 34.66 per cent of teaching staff in SA public schools.

Last year, there were 3793 male teachers, or 28.91 per cent of the total 13,120 teachers.

SA Secondary Principals Association president Jan Paterson said a further decline in the number of males could be expected, given many were in the older age bracket of 55-65.

"There will be a considerable number of retirements over the next few years," she said.

The state’s universities continue to report that more women than men are studying education courses.

At Flinders University there are 679 men and 1556 women studying teaching, while at the University of Adelaide there are 402 male teaching students who make up 41 per cent of the total.

At UniSA, which runs a mentoring program specifically for male students in early primary teaching degrees, there are 709 men and 2584 women studying teaching so far this year.

A spokeswoman for the Education and Child Development Department said the department was "committed to employing the best teachers, regardless of gender".

"South Australia’s percentage of male teachers (29 per cent) is higher than the national average of 26 per cent," she said.

"Also, of the (56) schools in the list (without a male teacher), the average number of students is approximately 52, and 72 per cent of these schools have less than 60 students.

"Between 2008 and 2012 there has been a 24.6 per cent increase in the number of males under the age of 25 enrolling in tertiary teaching courses in South Australia."

Graeme Hunt, the lone male teacher at Goodwood Primary School, says this is the first year he has worked with an otherwise all-female staff in his 30-year career.  "Last year, there were about three or four of us around, but because of retirements and other things, now it’s just me," he said.

He said he makes sure he is available as a role model to all students in the school.  "Some of the kids don’t have a significant male in their homes," he said.

He said his career choice was one of the best decisions he had ever made, and encouraged other young men to consider entering the profession.  "It really is a very rewarding job, even when it’s frustrating," he said.


Holden records $554 million loss

Holden has blamed its decision to stop building cars in Australia for a $553.8 million after tax loss in 2013.  It is the biggest loss for the General Motors-owned brand and comes despite $86.2 million in government assistance.

But its chief financial officer says the company can be profitable with an after local production stops in 2017, despite the grim results.

Holden recorded a one-off charge of $500.1 million against property, plant and equipment that will be affected by the decision to stop building cars in Australia.

The manufacturer also recorded a $122.3 million charge for employee redundancy and settlement costs that took a chunk out of its bottom line.

The significant loss did not come as a surprise to Holden, which said in December 2013 that it expected heavy losses on the back of asset write-downs.

Jeff Rolfs, chief financial officer for the embattled brand, says strong sales were hamstrung by its December 11 decision to cease manufacturing.

"Clearly there are significant costs associated with our decision to cease domestic manufacturing of vehicles in Australia by the end of 2017," he said.  "These costs drove the financial loss for Holden in 2013."

The car maker’s consolidated revenue was up slightly from $4.02 billion in 2012 to $4.05 billion in 2013.

It made profits of $112 million and $90 million in 2010 and 2011 before posting a $152.8 million loss in 2012.

Holden’s 2012 financial statement said it received an average of $150 million per year in Government assistance, with funding reduced to $86.2 million in 2013.

The manufacturer announced on December 11, 2013 that it would stop building cars, 65 years after introducing its first local model. 

Holden’s total sales fell by 2.3 per cent to 112,059 vehicles in 2013 and sales of locally manufactured models dropped by 17.1 per cent.

Rolfs defended the company’s decision to end local manufacturing, which was bracketed by similar announcements by Ford and Toyota.

"We are mindful of the impact on our employees and our financial results, but it was the right decision," he said. "Manufacturing vehicles in Australia is, unfortunately, unsustainable."

But the company claims it can get back into the black with imported cars such as the Captiva SUV, Barina hatch and Colorado ute. 

"We are profitable on our imported portfolio and Holden is focused on taking the right decisions to grow sales and revenue in the immediate term and manage our other costs very closely," Rolfe said.

"Addressing our high fixed cost base is certainly a key to returning Holden to sustainable profitability into the future."


12 May, 2014

Federal Budget 2014

THE Abbott Government will spend a huge $80 billion on new roads, with the states and private sector, in what Joe Hockey has described as the biggest increase in funding in our history.

As he prepares to hand down his first Budget on Tuesday, the Treasurer has confirmed the government will up spending on road infrastructure to be funded by a change in the fuel excise.

"Over the next six years we are going to spend in excess of $40 billion on roads and that will be matched by the states and the private sector with an additional $42 billion," Mr Hockey told Channel Nine this morning.  "So it is a massive amount of money," he said.

"Think about it, every time you spend $1 billion it’s like building a brand new major teaching hospital."

Without going into the detail of an increase on the fuel tax, frozen at 38.1 per cent by former prime minister John Howard, the Treasurer insisted the huge roads construction effort would create work.

"That is tens of thousands of new jobs, but most importantly it is going to address the significant drop-off in investment in construction in Australia, associated with mining investment coming off."

Mr Hockey said Australians would see work starting soon on new projects, under deals struck with the states. "For example in New South Wales we are not just building WestConnex stage one but also WestConnex stage two, that’s in the budget on Tuesday night. "That’s a massive project involving thousands of jobs, and work starts July next year."

Building the East West project in Victoria would also begin next year, he said.  "It is hugely important that we move quickly to build this infrastructure to address some of the challenges the economy is going to face over the next three years."

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said Labor would wait and see what the Coalition "actually delivers" when it came to new roads.

"The previous Labor government increased infrastructure spending very dramatically to make us one of the top performers in the world," Mr Bowen told ABC TV, accusing the present government of cancelling projects and taking credit for others.

"If they’re serious about infrastructure we’ll be on board for that but we want to see some reality, we want to see some delivery and we want to see concrete plans."

Despite the Prime Minister pledging before the election to introduce no new taxes and now planning a deficit levy and fuel excise hike, Mr Hockey denied the Government was "breaking promises".

"Don’t assume they are new taxes," he said.  "We never said that we were going to never change a tax, or alter a tax.

"In fact we were left with 92 announced but unlegislated tax changes by Labor which we have been methodically going through, and we have been getting rid of the ones that are simply unimplementable."

He insisted taxes would be lower under the Coalition, than they would have been under Labor if it was re-elected.

Arguing all Australians had to share the burden for the next generation, the Treasurer described his first Budget as a "contribute and build Budget" and defended the Prime Minister.

"He’s an honourable man, and he knows that the most solemn promise that we made to the electorate was to fix the budget and fix the economy so that people can have jobs and we are going to do that."


Axe to fall on 70 federal agencies

MORE than 70 government agencies will be scrapped or merged in a budget plan to eliminate waste as Tony Abbott seeks to demonstrate big cuts to spending amid a political row over rising taxes.

Four major bodies including the Royal Australian Mint and Defence Housing Australia will be sold to raise several billion dollars in the first step of a program that will find other targets for  privatisation.

In a move likely to aggravate Labor and the Greens, the government will also force cultural agencies such as the National Gallery and National Library to merge their back-office administration in an edict certain to lead to job losses.

Agencies to be abolished include the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the National Water Commission, two measures certain to anger environmental groups.

The full restructuring plan, obtained by The Australian, is estimated to save $470 million over four years in a two-stage reform in tomorrow’s budget, to be followed by more cuts in a third stage at the end of this year.

The "smaller government" program acts on confidential findings by the Department of Fin­ance that the federal bureau­cracy has swelled to almost 1000 entities, ranging from big agencies to obscure committees.

Labor dismissed fears about the size of government last year when The Australian revealed the list of bodies and "governance relationships" across the public sector, but independent experts warned that it slowed down decisions and added to costs.

Selling Defence Housing Australia is tipped to raise $1 billion while the government will also launch studies into the sales of Australian Hearing and the Royal Australian Mint, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The registry business at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission will be put on the block and could recoup another $1bn, as revealed by The Australian last month.

Scoping studies will be launched into each of the sales in the coming weeks while the government’s first big privatisation, a public share offer for Medibank Private, goes ahead in a sale that could raise $4bn.

The Australian was told that the agenda could be expanded over time to include the Australian Rail Track Corporation — said to be worth $4bn — but that Australia Post was not on the list.

Surplus properties will also be sold in a budget initiative that revives the Howard government’s effort to identify land that should be used for housing or commercial developments.

The Labor government extracted savings from the public sector over the past six years by imposing "efficiency dividends" to cut agency budgets but the pressure on small cultural institutions triggered concerns within the Labor caucus and attacks from the Greens.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has warned in recent interviews that there was too much duplication in the government and that this blurred the lines of accountability and led to poor co-ordination.

"We asked the commission of audit to look right across government to identify areas of opportunity to essentially ensure that government spending is as ­efficient and as well targeted as possible, to cut waste, to cut duplication and so on," he told Sky News.

The Prime Minister abolished 23 advisory bodies soon after taking power in September but drew criticism for including the Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing and a Council on Homelessness on the hit list.

In a sign of the political difficulties of cutting committees, the head of the panel on ageing, Everald Compton, attacked the decision and said it left the nation ill-prepared for an "age tsunami" as the population grew older.

Those changes and others, including the merger of AusAID with the Department of Foreign Affairs, removed about 40 entities in what is now considered the first phase of the "smaller government" plan.

The cuts to ongoing expenses will reach $470m over four years, when the first phase is followed by a second phase in Tuesday’s budget. The second phase will eliminate 36 entities, including the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the National Water Commission and Australian River Company.

Other agencies to be abolished include the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation and the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee, which advises on corporate law.

While the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Business Policy Advisory Group will be shut down, this will not threaten the peak indigenous advisory council led by Warren Mundine.

Dismantling some of Kevin Rudd’s health reforms, the government will merge the agencies set up by the former prime minister to oversee hospital performance. A single group will take on the work of the Independent Hospitals Pricing Authority, the Nat­ional Health Funding Body, the National Health Funding Pool Administrator, the National Health Performance Authority and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

All the functions would continue to be done but the bureau­cracy would be smaller, a government source said.

Most commonwealth employees work for about 100 major departments and agencies but the Finance Department identified 937 bodies and "governance relationships" such as committees in its last public study.

Senator Cormann launched a review of the issue late last year. The latest analysis shows the full tally is closer to 1000 but that public service chiefs have "lost count" of the number of government bodies.

The department analysis found that it cost at least $1m a year to run a very small agency when all the overheads were taken into account, backing the case for closing or merging dozens of bodies.


Labor sells principles to fight deficit levy

If you needed any convincing Labor is a party entirely adrift from its supposed values and purpose, given over now to politicking, expedience and opportunism, just wait for its reaction to Tuesday's budget.

It will vehemently oppose Joe Hockey's deficit levy - no matter how watered down it is by then - and his intention to resume indexing the petroleum excise on the basis of no stronger argument than that they're broken promises.

These are two measures Labor should strongly support if it's sticking to its principles - one that makes the tax system fairer and one that supplements the carbon tax in fighting climate change.

If Labor were truly the social democrat, progressive party it wants us to think it is, it would advocate and fight for bigger government. Bigger not for its own sake, but because there are still many much-needed services and assistance yet to be provided, with governments best placed to provide them.

As we know, Labor can always think of new ways to spend money - the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski education reforms, for instance - but when it comes to raising sufficient revenue to cover the cost of these genuinely worthy causes, Labor's courage deserts it.

Its conservative critics accuse it of being a big-spending, big-taxing party but, in truth, it's a big-spending, low-taxing party - which can never understand why it has so much trouble balancing budgets.

Labor will carry on about Tony Abbott's ideologically driven plans to destroy the universality of Medicare, but when the scheme's cost grows strongly because the nation wants to take advantage of every new, expensive advance in medical technology, the very initiators of Medicare lack the commitment to do or even say the obvious: if you want better healthcare you have to pay more tax.

You'd think that, lacking the courage of its convictions, not having the guts to raise taxes (the proceeds from the carbon tax and the mining tax were immediately given back, mainly as lower taxes), Labor would be delighted when its opponents did have the courage to stare down the voters' disapproval.

But no, Labor's commitment to principle is now so weak it can't resist the temptation to exploit the unpopularity of an opponent implementing good policy.

By now I can hear the Laborites' plaintive cry: We're only doing what Abbott did! My point, exactly. The party that always claims the high moral ground has descended to the point where its highest claim is: we're no worse than Abbott.

Labor's further descent into political game-playing since it returned to opposition is proof that Abbott is the outstanding politician of his era. The man could not only turn his own side into a party of climate change-denying punishers of boat people and even Australian poor, he can inveigle his opponents into becoming a party than stands for nothing. Getting your own back isn't a policy that much appeals to Australian voters. Nor is opposing everything.

If Labor combines with the Greens to block Abbott's two tax measures in the Senate, it will be doing him a favour: I tried to make the budget fair, but Labor stopped me.

So you won't have to vote against me after all.

By blocking a progressive tax change Labor would force the government to rely more heavily on bracket creep which, because of the strange shape of the tax scale Labor left, will now be highly regressive. Then it will be on to opposing any change in the goods and services tax because Labor is far too principled to support a regressive tax.

Speaking of the Greens, they've gone from naive purity (knocking back Kevin Rudd's original carbon pollution reduction scheme because he'd have no choice but to come back with a better one) to abject populism in opposing measures that make the tax system both fairer and more efficient.

Labor's professed outrage over Abbott's breaking of promises is utterly confected. I mean, have you ever known Labor to break a promise?

The supposed sanctity of election promises is a recipe for bad government.  No one who cares about good policy - as opposed to seeing their side get back to power - would think it smart to hold politicians to promises they should never have made, or which have been overtaken by events.

Much better to do something damaging to the economy or unfair to particular classes of people than to break a promise? Hardly.

The sensible answer isn't to insist on promises being kept come hell or high water, it's to insist politicians stop making promises they aren't certain they can keep.


A Greenie pesticide ban bites the dust in one Australian State

TASMANIA'S new Liberal government is scrapping a ban on the controversial pesticide 1080.  The former Labor-Green government had imposed a ban due to begin next year.

Primary industries minister Jeremy Rockliff said the chemical would not be phased out until a viable alternative was available.
"One of the many challenges facing our farmers is the significant pasture and crop losses caused by some of our abundant wildlife - particularly wallabies and possums," Mr Rockliff said in a statement.

Farmers have applauded the move, saying they lose on average a quarter of their income to browsing animals.

"Animal rights campaigners have suggested fencing is the solution (but) it is enormously expensive and, in many areas, physically impractical," Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association boss Jan Davis said.

Green groups, though, reacted angrily to the announcement, saying it went against community sentiment.  "Resorting to 1080 poison is the cheapest, nastiest and cruellest way to prevent browsing by native animals," state Greens leader Kim Booth said.

The poison, also known as sodium fluoroacetate, is widely used to bait foxes in Australia.


11 May, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG finds current ALP policy stances to be hypocritical

Tony Abbott appoints climate change sceptic to review energy target

Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, has appointed a climate change sceptic to review the nation’s renewable energy target in his latest foray against measures to combat global warming.

Following his move to repeal Labor’s tax on carbon emissions, Mr Abbott has announced a review that is expected to scale back renewable energy production.

The review will be conducted by Dick Warburton, a businessman and self-confessed "sceptic". Another sceptic, Maurice Newman, has been appointed as the government’s top business advisor; he has stated publicly that the renewable energy target should be scrapped.

Mr Abbott has insisted he will stick to Australia’s commitment to the United Nations to cut emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, though critics say his current policies will make it impossible.

Business groups have been urging the government to reduce or abolish Australia’s current renewable energy target, which aims to produce 20 per cent of power by 2020. Critics say the target is driving up power prices and that current planning may exceed the target because electricity demand has been dropping.

The government said the review would be "extensive" but would not say whether the target could be abolished.

"Renewable energy has a role to play and it is now time to see where this scheme is going," said Ian Macfarlane, the energy minister.

Mr Abbott, who once described climate change as "absolute crap" – a comment he later recanted - is abolishing the carbon tax and instead introducing a plan to pay polluters to reduce emissions. Many analysts believe the so-called "direct action" plan will fail to meet Australia’s emissions targets.

Touring drought-ridden farmland, Mr Abbott dismissed suggestions that climate change was causing the low rainfall.

"If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad times," he said. "This is not a new thing in Australia."


NBN still bleeding cash

Kevvy's bright idea still staggering on

NBN Co has asked the Federal Government for up to $1.4 billion more in taxpayer funds to adjust its fixed wireless and satellite business.

According to NBN Co's review into its $3.5 billion fixed wireless and satellite program, the company underestimated the demand for its services in the bush by 400,000 homes and businesses.

The increase in funding requirements was first revealed by The Australian Financial Review .

Where NBN Co's 2012 Corporate plan was geared to cover 1 million premises by 2021 with satellite and wireless broadband services, it only expected 200,000 premises to actually take on a service.

But the review into the fixed wireless and satellite program predict that more than 600,000 premises will request access to the NBN by 2021.

NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow will Wednesday announce the company has four options to fix the shortfall - all of which will cost between $900 million and $1.4 billion and require the company to install hundreds more broadcast towers across rural and regional areas than previously planned.

This will bring the capital expenditure from $3.5 billion to up to $4.9 billion. Operating expenditure is also set to rise from $1 billion in the current plan to around $1.5 billion.

But the review censored the amount it would cost NBN Co to buy the vital spectrum it needs to service customers with wireless broadband.

Spectrum is the valuable electronic airspace that is needed by all broadcast technologies.

Optus holds most of the spectrum NBN Co requires at the edge of metropolitan areas. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously revealed that fixing the issue would force NBN Co to take a $1.2 billion hit to its cash flow by 2021.

Under scenario one the shortfall in serviced homes and businesses is made up for by more than doubling the number of mobile towers built by NBN Co from 1,400 in the current plan to 2,900 towers by 2021 and costs around $4.7 billion to roll out.

Scenario two would cost up to $4.7 billion and increases the use of the Coalition's favoured fibre to the node technology for three per cent of the rural customers, which relies on the existing copper network for connecting homes and businesses to the NBN. It is understood to be the favoured option by NBN Co.

But scenario three is the most expensive and involves the construction of a third satellite. Capital expenditure would reach $4.9 billion by 2021 with 47 per cent of rural homes covered by the technology.

Scenario four also demands the launch of a new satellite but looks to build it in partnership with a private operator.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the review's advice would be considered as part of the company's corporate plan, due later this year.

While internal corporate plans suggested two satellites should be able to cover 580,000 homes and businesses by the end of the decade, a ­strategic review released in December revised that figure down to 206,000 by 2020.

It included a potential addition of 100,000 premises from 2021 onwards, presumably by adding a satellite.

The December strategic review also estimated the cost of the satellite program could increase from $1.9 billion now to as much as $4.3 billion.

Moving to more fixed wireless towers would be a cheaper option to serve more users on the NBN than satellite, but that rollout has run into its own problems. Mr Turnbull has warned that NBN Co had not acquired enough broadcast airspace, known as spectrum, to serve all intended areas.


A man who can save the Senate

THE trick of running a business, or a government, is to keep a lot of balls in the air.  And some of the biggest balls at the moment are in the Senate — six new crossbenchers arriving in July.

They represent the will of the people, who voted in ­record numbers against the major parties. One in four people. Record numbers, record disillusionment. It’s a message neither party has heard.

So far the newbies have had little attention from the government, despite the fact that they will have the power to block or pass legislation.

That’s because the Coalition will have just 33 seats in the 76 member Senate. So if Labor and the Greens gang up against them, in order for the government to get its legislation through, it will need the support of six of eight crossbenchers, of whom at least four will be newbies.

There are the three Palmer United Party members, Glenn Lazarus, 49, a former footballer, Jacqui Lambie, 43, a Tasmanian ex-soldier, and Dio Wang, 32, a Chinese-born ­engineer; the Motoring Enthusiasts Party’s Ricky Muir, 34, an unemployed sawmiller, and the Liberal Democrats’ David Leyonhjelm, 61, a libertarian former vet.

Last, but not least, is one of the most impressive thinkers ever to hit Parliament House, Family First’s Bob Day, 61, a former plumber from Adelaide who became one of Australia’s most successful home builders.

Dismissed by some of the media as "a mishmash, grab bag, barnyard, licorice allsorts, flotsam and jetsam, motley crew of Star Wars aliens" who don’t belong in the hushed corridors of Parliament House, it is the newbies’ very apartness from political insiders that voters wanted. Mr Smith Goes To Washington times six.

The newbies are there to hold to account an increasingly out of touch political class. That’s a big responsibility. But in the vacuum before they take their seats on July 1, these very important new crossbenchers have been ­quietly organising themselves into a formidable force.

They have been meeting and getting to know one ­another, united in a modest ­desire to do some good, forming an alliance that will likely determine the fate of the ­Abbott government. Since it is human nature to forget ­demanding benefactors once you have gained power, it’s ­unlikely Clive Palmer will exert much influence for long.

The senator-elect most ­likely to be their natural leader is Day. A one-time Liberal, Day quit the party in 2008 after losing in a pre-selection against Jamie Briggs, a 31-year-old political apparatchik.

As a crossbencher he will have far more influence.

"My job is to try to plead with the powers that be," he said. "I think I can be a great help to the government."

He still lives in the same house in the Adelaide Hills he built when he married Bronte 33 years ago, and where they raised three children. Friends say he is honest, smart, lives modestly, and is as dynamic as "a little Energizer bunny". His mentor was Bert Kelly, the farmer turned politician of the 1960s and 70s who almost ­single-handedly brought about the transformation of Australia from high tariff protectionist to prosperous free trader.

Day wants to emulate Kelly’s success in bettering the nation. His aim, and the platform of his Christian party, is to ensure "every family has a job and a house".

"If you have a job and a home and kids you don’t need the government. High taxes, urban planning, industrial ­relations all [present] barriers that prevent people from working ... there are laws that are not just economically stupid but morally wrong."

Of his crossbench allies, he says: "We have two things in common: we are all brand new and we all want to do a good job."

Far from being a rabble, the newbies may surprise us. Along with established crossbenchers, independent Nick Xenophon, a 55-year-old lawyer, and former boilermaker John Madigan, 47, of the DLP, they are ­allergic to cynical political expediency.

If Day can help them hang together, they will represent the concerns of ordinary Australians and steer the government in the right direction.

In an era in which voters have switched off Bob Day, Liberal party reject, is the "humble member" who might just set Canberra alight.


Standby for the ABC to lose the plot - The (Anti) Australia Network to be shut down

Get ready for the ABC to lose its mind when the Government cuts the high priced and useless Australia Network in the Budget.

The Abbott government is set to scrap the ABC’s Australia Network international broadcasting service in next Tuesday’s budget.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who has oversight of the network, has said there are more cost-effective ways, including social media, to promote Australia abroad.

The ABC gets $223 million from the taxpayer over the term of the contract to run the network – $20+ million a year.

90% of its shows are repeats of existing programming or buy-in shows from commercial TV.

The hidden truth is the Australia Network has become a sly, additional income source for the ABC to subsidise other services and indulgences.

Australia Network money has helped the ABC become a media monolith.

It now operates 5 radio networks, 4 TV channels, and a substantial online news presence, as well as up to 6 additional digital radio channels in capital cities. It's official budget has grown 50% since Labor came to power in 2007.

Like usual, the ABC management is allowing the usual scare tactics – linking this to cuts to regional services. You wait, children’s TV will be next.

 ABC board member and veteran journalist Matt Peacock argues even a small reduction to ABC funding will threaten jobs and lead to cutbacks in regional areas.

The Australia Network has become an embarrassment and an expensive joke. It's meant to promote Australia's diplomatic values into Asia - "soft diplomacy".

Instead it pushes ABC values.


9 May, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is speculating about a rise in fuel prices

University competition on fees gets Christopher Pyne's support

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has come out strongly in support of allowing Australia's universities and colleges to compete on price by deregulating what fees they can charge students.

In a speech on Thursday that sets the scene for the biggest reforms to higher education in a generation to be announced in the budget, Mr Pyne will say that price competition, freedom from red tape, and giving transparent information to students about study options are critical to improving Australia's higher education system.

He will say if Australia is to achieve world class status it will "require government to change the way it treats universities and colleges, and to give them more freedom to do what they do best".

"If universities and colleges were able to compete on price, it would mean they must have a greater focus on meeting the needs of students.

"They would need to continuously improve the teaching and learning they offer to attract students," he says in the speech.

Mr Pyne says the budget will include a "fair and balanced higher education and research reform package".

He says the reforms will draw on the last week's audit commission report which recommended university fee deregulation and called for students to pay more.

In his speech, Mr Pyne does not say whether he expects fees for undergraduate university degrees to rise as a result of deregulation but will say that growth in university participation is "putting a strain on our ability to support so many students".

His speech also strongly endorses Australia's income contingent loan system for higher education fees, known as HECS.

Mr Pyne will say the current system, which allows students to study at university "without them having to pay a dollar up-front" must continue.

"I am committed to strengthening this loan scheme to ensure it is affordable for students and the taxpayer into the future and remains a central component of our approach to higher education."

Mr Pyne will say Australia's higher education system risked being left behind, particularly by China.

"Chinese universities are gaining in international standing at a rapid pace, and ours are not," the speech says.

He says much work remains to be done on his plans for higher education reforms.

He says if the government accepts the recent recommendation of the Kemp-Norton review to expose universities to more competition from private colleges and TAFEs, then "there would need to be careful attention given to how this is done".

The Kemp-Norton report called for the playing field to be levelled, with non-university higher education providers also to receive Commonwealth subsidies with their students eligible for HECS loans.

However, in his speech Mr Pyne says it would be "appropriate" for non-university education providers "to be funded at a lower rate than universities" because they do not need to fund research activities. He also strongly backs another Kemp-Norton recommendation for the federal government to subsidise pathway programs into universities and to offer HECS loans to help students pay the fees.

He says the higher education and research reforms to be announced in the budget will respond to last week's audit commission recommendations.


Jobs market shows more strength

Employment rose for a fourth straight month in April, supporting the Reserve Bank of Australia’s view the jobless rate might be close to peaking and bringing forward the timing of future rate hikes.

Companies and employers added 14,200 jobs – almost twice as many as forecast – from March, when payrolls gained by an upwardly revised 22,000, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday. The jobless rate held at 5.8 per cent.

Economists had tipped a jobless rate of 5.9 per cent and 8800 new jobs.

The dollar jumped about a third of a cent to the day's high of 93.62 US cents on the data.

The surge in job creation counters ongoing headlines about cuts – including latest reports of 480 jobs lost in Queensland at rail operator Aurizon; 120 at steel and mining group Arrium; and 80 redundancies at Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.

The labour market is confirming earlier signs of a peak in the unemployment rate and turn-up in jobs growth, said CBA economist Michael Blythe in a first reaction to the jobs numbers.

"It reinforces the RBA's shift to a neutral bias, and a trend if it continues that will see them towards a tightening bias," Mr Blythe said. "We have had a rate rise pencilled in for November for a while, and this indication of a peaking in unemployment is consistent with that."

ABS figures show the economy has so far this year generated more than 105,000 jobs, a pace of hiring that – if it continues – is likely to bring down the jobless rate, according to analysts.

"Underlying labour market conditions have clearly improved in recent months as foreshadowed by a range of forward looking indicators, including the ANZ job ads series," said ANZ Bank economist Justin Fabo. "Encouragingly, full-time jobs growth has improved markedly so far this year.

"Further, these indicators are consistent with the unemployment rate sitting around its current level, or possibly a little lower, in the near term."

A falling jobless rate and improved hiring – something that has been foreshadowed in business sentiment surveys and job advertisement indexes – could see a downward trend in wages growth reverse, putting fresh upward pressure on prices.

The upbeat jobs data also comes just two days after the Reserve Bank’s May interest rate meeting, at which governor Glenn Stevens conspicuously dropped warnings the jobless rate would continue rising.

The bank, which publishes revised economic forecasts on Friday, has long-maintained unemployment would peak above 6 per cent and remain around that level well into 2015.

Improved hiring, particularly in the giant services industries, suggests record-low official interest rates are spurring companies to invest and take on new staff, ultimately throwing into question how long the central bank can maintain highly stimulatory levels of monetary policy without unleashing faster inflation.

The participation rate, a measure of the labour force in proportion to the population, dropped to 64.7 per cent in April from a revised 64.8 per cent a month earlier.

New South Wales and Queensland posted employment gains, while jobs were lost in Victoria and Western Australia.


Queensland government approves mega coal mine in Galilee Basin

One in the eye for Greenies

The Queensland government has signed off on what could be the biggest coal mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney told parliament on Thursday the proposed $16.5 billion Indian-owned Adani Carmichael coal mine project in the Galilee Basin had been approved by the state's coordinator-general.

The mine is still to receive federal approval.

But Mr Seeney said he believed it would serve a "vital role" in opening the Galilee basin, which is also home to Clive Palmer's proposed coal mine and the Hancock-GVK Alpha mine project.

"The [Carmichael] project has the potential to create 2500 construction and 3900 operational jobs," he said.

"Jobs that would be significant to the future economic prosperity of that region and to all of Queensland.

"It also includes a 189-kilometre rail line, water supply infrastructure, coal handling and processing plant and off-site infrastructure including workers' accommodation village and airport."

At full export capacity, the mine is expected to produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal per annum for export.

The coordinator-general set down 190 conditions in a 600-page report.

Mr Seeney said Adani would be required to reach "make-good agreements with all affected landholders including the identification and provision of alternative water supplies".

"Adani will also be required to contribute water monitoring data and funding to a Galilee region water resource model," Mr Seeney.

The Queensland Coordinator-General’s report has been sent to the Commonwealth environment minister for a decision.


ABC spends our money on top dollar outdoor advertising but still whines about possible budget cuts

Next time you hear the ABC screaming about not enough money – remember this.

This photo was taken on Tuesday night at the road in to Sydney domestic airport.

It's a digital advertising billboard promoting the ABC’s upcoming comedy show Jonah.

The advertising position is one of the most expensive in Sydney.

It’s considered a premium placement. For example, the position was shared with ads for Penfolds Grange, Tag Heuer watches, Mercedes Benz, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Pick the odd one out.

The ABC received $1.22 billion from the taxpayer to operate this financial year and they are screaming for more money again this year.

It’s worth noting that in the Labor years, the ABC’s funding went from $820 million in John Howard’s last budget to where we are today – in rough terms a 50% jump in 6 years.

The ABC now operates 5 radio networks, 4 digital radio stations, 3 free to air TV stations, a 24hr news dedicated channel and a massive online news/programme website – one of the biggest in the country. They employ staff to Tweet and Facebook to spread their message.

They do not need to spend our money on five star outdoor advertising positions to promote their TV shows.

Commercial TV, answerable to shareholders, would struggle to justify that.

Malcolm Turnbull, please confirm you have seen this.


8 May, 2014

An 86-step strategy for fiscal rescue

TONY Shepherd and his Commission of Audit report stand in stark contrast to Tony Abbott’s blizzard in their view of what the coming Budget must deliver.

The no-nonsense two-volume (with three volumes of appendices) audit, is, as Shepherd firmly stated yesterday: "A report for government, not by government."

This is unlike the cyclonic shower of leaks about policies such as the deficit tax which are clearly the work of policy advisers determined to stay working for a government.

Shepherd’s report contains 86 recommendations, many of which Treasurer Joe Hockey admits will be unpopular. That’s called reality.

Shepherd, chairman of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, a former Business Council of Australia president with a background in the construction industry, is a practical person.

"National interest and not special interest must prevail," he told reporters in Canberra. That would make a real change in the national capital, so used to quick political fixes which have in recent years had an alarming tendency to explode, sometimes lethally, more often though in massive uncapped budgetary blowouts.

The other Tony, the Prime Minister, and his economic team, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Matthias Cormann, are still too intent on mixing their political interests (and in Abbott’s case, his very personal political interest) with the national interest.

The proposed deficit debt tax is a clear case in point.

The Shepherd report does not canvass such a revenue-raising measure. The audit is primarily a cost-cutting venture.

The mooted new tax is, at this point, Abbott’s baby, but there is no logical reason why it should make it into the Budget papers and plenty of reasons why it should be permitted to disappear between now and May 13.

From the constant repetition of the "spreading the pain" mantra, it is clear that Abbott thinks (erroneously) that hitting up those Australians who already pay the overwhelming bulk of income tax will in some way make those who pay little or no income tax feel more kindly toward his government.

That is the sort of soak-the-rich attitude that unthinking generations of Labor trade unionists and politicians used to kill industry and stifle growth.

The Labor and Green voters, for whom this sort of pandering rhetoric is ambrosial, are never going to change their votes.

They are as wedded to madness and hypocrisy as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Greens leader Christine Milne and Clive Palmer and his mindless moppets are to their plans to block economic reform.

While the sums involved may not cause those at the top end of town too much pain, the damage caused to the Abbott government by such an impost is not worth the price.

In raising a sum which would do little to meet even the interest bill on Labor’s $123 million deficit, Abbott would destroy the single greatest point of difference between himself and the last two Labor prime ministers.

He would have broken faith with the public who believed he was not lying when he promised no new taxes.

He may call any new tax a levy but that is the sort of hair-splitting sophistry that he decried when he was in opposition. The suggested tax is the sort of thought bubble that should be pricked now.

Abbott has already shown some flexibility with a backdown of sorts on his proposed Paid Parental Leave program, reducing the recommended payments to a maximum $50,000.

What he should do is speak to some of the young mothers around the nation and he will find they are not as interested in his PPL as getting some action on childcare — that’s what they are most concerned about.

If some missionary streak — some essence of the liberation theologist — remains within Abbott from his seminary days, there are plenty of meaningful and painful reforms within the Shepherd report that he could embrace — forcing all high-income earners to take out private health insurance, for example.

But it is the nation that needs to wear a hair shirt — every single one of us.

Labor may continue to deny that it was a failure but the books don’t lie.

Not one of its promised surpluses was ever realised, not even the one it boasted of in the campaign literature for last year’s election.

Labor’s economic platform was one big lie.

Abbott would be a fool to even try to sustain the level of spending Labor promised for such illusory programs as the NDIS and the NBN while it is still borrowing to pay for failures such as Labor’s degraded border protection program.

The Shepherd medicine may be bitter but it is necessary — and it need not be taken all at once.

The strategy Shepherd lays out looks to build a sound economy for future generations of Australians.

Tony Shepherd and his team have sent a clear call to the Abbott government, Tony Abbott must take an icy shower and steel himself to deliver the hard cuts the nation must wear if it is to prosper in the future.



Thought I’d risk another 8c last night and watch the overpaid Jones boy get his rocks off bushwhacking another Lib.

There were the usual suspects with the ever-present token homosexual, unhinged ex-Speaker Anna Burke, one sensible bloke next to her, a sheila in a yellow dress and Jones' victim, Education Minister, Christopher Pyne.

One look at the hand-picked audience and it was clear Jones had set Pyne up, and Pyne knew it! But the diminutive Education Minister is a seasoned operator and was in no mood for the supercilious Jones.

He quickly gave him a verbal belting at his first smart-arsed interruptive comment.

The audience was crammed with over-privileged, pimply uni students who were miffed that they had to leave their bongs at reception. "The Socialist Alternatives" I think they called themselves.

    I settled back and rolled a smoke... this could be interesting, for a change.

It sure was! Jones was soon enmeshed in the trap he had set for Pyne as uni students reverted to type and pulled on a well-rehearsed demo waving either a back-to-front banner or displaying appalling spelling, eventually forcing the program off air.

Tony Jones was in deep poo and his moderating skills were found woefully inadequate as he tried to quell the riot while Christopher Pyne sat back and grinned.

Someone finally removed the rabble under section 94A and it wasn’t Anna Burke, she was trying to be funny while agreeing with the fracas, and it wasn’t working.

Jones looked stressed and Pyne was still grinning when finally, it was time for the token homosexual to tell everyone to clap hands while he warbled a dated song.

This morning the Jones boy is crying in his Weet Bix, the "Socialist Alternatives" are back on the bongs, Anna Burke is in the bathroom practising her humour, the token homosexual is still warbling that dated song and Christopher Pyne still hasn’t stopped grinning.

...and I reckon, for the first time, I finally got my first 8c worth out of the ABC.

SOURCE.  Another report of the program here

AUNTY NEEDS A FACE-LIFT  ...and a lift in ratings

The Gillard-appointed crusty old Leftie, ABC Chairman Jim Spigelman, along with his offsider Mark Scott, have plenty to fear from next Tuesday’s budget. They are about to lose their $250 million Gillard-gifted (and tender circumvented) Australia Network along with 80 million Chinese who have taken a liking to Skippy and Bananas in Pyjamas.

But back home it’s a different story. Of their 25 top scripted programs only one, "Scandal", is holding its own against the commercial channels. Of the remaining 24, all have suffered massive ratings losses with "The Neighbours" losing over 48% of viewers and another five shows either cancelled or held over.

So, what to do with this arrogant nest of Marxist wastrels who have hijacked our ABC and teamed up with that UK far-Left rag, The Guardian? Well, not much really.

Slashing its luxurious budget of $1.3 billion won’t discourage its unbridled support of Labor/Green values and not one highly-paid executive will cop a pay cut, but you can bet its rural programming will take a hit because that’s the only part of its programming the Abbott Government will be at pains to preserve.

Can it be sold? No, it can’t be because the commercial networks, with their multiple channels, are struggling to compete for the available advertising dollar.

Channel 10 is on its last legs and Channel 9 is up to its ear lobes in debt with SKY sucking the advertising buck out of all of them.

SKY is currently running 18-minutes per hour of commercials and viewers are wasting their time switching channels to avoid the annoying impost because ads are cunningly sequenced to run at the same time on all of over 100 channels.

Add to that the rural channels with their aggregated commercials, in concert with a patchwork of FM radio stations and on-line advertising, and it’s not hard to see why newspapers are dying a fast death.

    Selling an amorphous ABC network into the commercial mix would be as welcome as a fart in a two-man Italian lift.

To get the ABC back on track will be electorally unpalatable for Abbott. And he has few choices.

He could decide to go for institutional reform and pay out the Board’s contracts installing an independent (politically impartial) Chairman who could restructure the whole Marxist mess from the top down.

The Left will scream blue murder at losing their main media mouthpiece but they will still have Fairfax, The Guardian and a few rabid on-line outlets, so maybe that’s possible.

The best option is to flick the whole bloody thing, only don’t say you’re flicking it, say you’re amalgamating it with SBS. Then restructure SBS to take up the ABC’s rural commitments, dilute its ethnic content and give it full commercial access.

Any hole that’s left, including indigenous stuff, will be eagerly filled by SKY. ABC Radio National should remain.

The cost of having a public broadcaster would then be a reasonable and diminishing $300,000 or less, depending on advertising revenue.

SBS and Channel 10 could then fight it out for third spot in a ratings war, with Channel 10 certain to lose.

That would give us three free-to-air channels and a bourgeoning SKY, all highly profitable.

Once the whole thing settles down, flog it off with an attractive IPO and everyone’s happy, ‘cos at the moment television proliferation is a bloody dog’s breakfast.


Attraction in Australia

A new survey, conducted by eHarmony, sheds light on the "spark" in Australian relationships, and at first glance the results are warm and fuzzy. Aussies appear to be a decent bunch.

Of more than 1000 people surveyed, less than half (46 per cent) rated physical beauty as extremely or very important, while 83 per cent ranked as very or extremely important a feeling of ease with the other person, flowing conversation and the sense that it is interesting to spend time with them.

The GSOH – or great sense of humour – is still in high demand, with 84 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men rating it highly and admitting sparks fly when they meet someone who can make them laugh.

But while we pat ourselves on the back for not being vain, shallow creatures who place physical beauty above personality, dig deeper into the results and that's exactly what we do.

Not that there's anything wrong with it! Let's be honest, if you're thinking about stoking a fire, you're entitled to like the look of the mantelpiece.

Yet why does it still feel taboo to admit we want to be sexually attracted to the people we date, have sex with, potentially marry and possibly procreate with?

Breaking down the results by state, Victorians are the pickiest: 79 per cent rate sexual attraction as extremely or very important.

They are followed closely by 72 per cent of New South Welshmen. Queenslanders and South Australians are third and fourth with 70 and 69 per cent respectively; and 66 per cent of West Australians rate sexual attraction as paramount when it comes to igniting their interest.

As for the folks of Tasmania and the Northern Territory, only 56 per cent rate sexual attraction as extremely or very important, preferring to find a partner who is interesting to spend time with and makes the conversation flow.

It's not just where we live that appears to influence what we like. The survey found interesting correlations to the width of our wallets. For instance, 81 per cent of men and women earning more than $100,000 a year cite a sense of humour as very or extremely important, while 80 per cent rated a powerful feeling of attraction and sexual attraction as extremely or very important.

Among those earning $40,000 a year or less, only 60 per cent rated sexual attraction as very or extremely important.

As far as gender goes, it's no surprise to see that men are still more overpowered by "the scent of a woman", with 77 per cent of men needing that sexual spark, while 79 per cent admitted a powerful feeling of attraction was very or extremely important.

But the ladies are finally fessing up too . . . 66 per cent are lured by lusty attraction to men they consider as potential partners and 75 per cent rate a powerful feeling of attraction as important to sparking a future.

So while physical beauty in the traditional sense may not be the lead indicator of who we date, there's still no substitute for physical attraction and sexual chemistry when it comes to sparks flying.


7 May, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is dubious about the government's proposed deficit levy


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks the Greens are as corrupt as anyone

Illegals get a hard time on Manus

Disturbing allegations of regular beatings, racist slurs and unwanted sexual advances by G4S guards on Manus Island have been made by a former Salvation Army worker.

Nicole Judge, a worker on the island, said she was "shocked and distressed" at the conditions on Manus Island when she arrived in September last year to work in a general support role.

In the three months Ms Judge was on the island, she claims in the submission to the Senate inquiry there was sexual activity in the so-called "rape dungeon" in one of the compounds and was told by the guards to carry a "rape whistle" whilse inside the centre. When she told Salvation Army staff that a young Myanmar asylum seeker was walking away from a toilet block in pain, her Salvation Army team leader dismissed her concerns, saying that "because these transferees are Muslim and actively engaging in prayer that any sexual activity would have been consensual". No follow up occurred, she says.

When another asylum seeker was being beaten against a wall and a metal bed frame to the point he was unconscious by two G4S guards, Ms Judge again complained to Salvation Army management, but was told she was "stupid" and "good luck".

Mentally ill asylum seekers were kept in a separate compound called "Delta 9" Ms Judge says. "I have heard transferees screaming inside this area, and shaking the fence as I walked past." The compound, with no recreational facilities and poor lighting, was monitored by G4S guards, she says.

Ms Judge also claims expat guards told her "the Cronulla riots was the best thing to happen to Australia", while also telling asylum seekers to "f--- themselves" and to "return to their f---ing country" if they didn't stop complaining about their situation. She says she was often referred to by a number, where expat guards would rate the female staff on their attractiveness. Ms Judge says she still has contact with asylum seekers via Facebook.

Last year, an independent report by Robert Cornall found that alleged incidents of transferees being sexually abused, raped and tortured with the full knowledge of staff, "did not happen".

In a separate submission, another former Salvation Army staff member, Simon Taylor, claimed asylum seekers on Manus Island were being given a type of anti-malaria medication that detention centre staff had been warned by International Health and Medical Services not to take.

"Staff was [sic] told that they needed to take anti malaria medication as a precaution but to not take Mefloquine because it can cause serious side effects. I became aware from IHMS staff clients on Manus Island were given Mefloquine despite the warnings to staff," Mr Taylor wrote in a submission.

The governor of Port Moresby has taken the extraordinary step of talking out advertisements in PNG's national newspapers to express his "grave concern" about the treatment of asylum seekers in the Manus Island detention centre.

In an open letter, Powes Parkop describes their treatment as "repugnant to our traditional and contemporary culture and to our Christian values". He also laments that PNG has shown a tendency to "blindly or otherwise incorporate Australian treatment and attitude into our culture and our country".

The letter acknowledges popular opposition to the resettlement in PNG of those recognised as refugees, but argues that "qualified professionals" including engineers and doctors should be granted work permits while their claims are processed.

It also urges the country's Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister, Rimbink Pato, not to "allow Australia to wash its hands of this matter and leave the burden to us".

G4S and the Salvation Amy did not respond in time for deadline. IHMS referred the matter to the Immigration Department.


Supreme Court cuts salary increases awarded to NSW public  servants

The NSW government has won a court battle to claw back $865 million in salaries from public servants.

The Industrial Relations Commission last year awarded public sector employees a 2.5% increase in their award payments in addition to a 0.25% increase in their superannuation entitlements.

Treasurer Andrew Constance welcomed a Court of Appeal decision on Tuesday which overturned the Industrial Relations Commission finding that excluded superannuation from the NSW Government’s 2.5 per cent cap on salary increases.

"This is a significant decision which avoids an $865 million hit to the NSW Budget and a potential loss of around 8,000 public sector jobs," Mr Constance said.

"Our wages policy is completely consistent with the historical treatment of superannuation at both Federal and State levels, and today’s Court of Appeal decision backs that position."

Salary increases that the government has already awarded to public servants from July last year include superannuation entitlements as part of the 2.5 per cent wages cap. Police officers will receive an additional $655 subsidy for their superannuation insurance premiums, costing $25.7 million over three years.

Opposition spokesman for Industrial Relations, Adam Searle, said public sector employees would receive a pay increase of 2.27 per cent instead of the full 2.5 per cent provided for in the IRC decision.

"With inflation now running at 2.9 per cent, this government is cutting the wages of public sector workers by giving them pay increases well below the CPI and making them pay their own superannuation increase," he said.

The president of the NSW Teachers’ Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said the Court of Appeal decision on Tuesday meant a wages cut for public servants including 45,000 teachers. He said his union would campaign against the Coalition government in the lead up to next year’s state election if it refuses to increase the 2.5 per cent cap.

Public Service Association director of policy and strategy, Anthony D’Adam, said the Court of Appeal decision was "a kick in the guts" for public sector workers. He said the Association is seeking legal advice on whether to seek a High Court appeal.

"The decision will lead to wage increases that are less than the cost of living for the forseeable future," he said.

"Public sector wages will become uncompetitive with the private sector which will lead to the loss of skills and expertise."

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said the decision overturns the orders of the Industrial Relations Commission that awarded public sector employees a 2.5% increase in their award payments that they were to receive in addition to the 0.25% increase in their superannuation guarantee payment.

"Working people need a decent wage increase now to meet the everyday costs of living, not just a marginal increase in their superannuation that can’t touch till they are 70," he said.


Sri Lanka thanks Australia for its support

Judging by recent human rights criticisms of Britain by the UN, the UN is off with the fairies in such critiques

The Sri Lankan government has publicly thanked Australia for its "bold" decision not to co-sponsor a UN resolution to investigate alleged human rights abuses in the south Asian nation.

According to a statement by the Sri Lankan high commission, Sri Lanka thanked Australia for the "bold decision of not co-sponsoring this year’s human rights resolution on Sri Lanka".

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and the head of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, welcomed a Sri Lanka delegation, including Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, formally invited by the federal government.

"[The] government of Australia considers accountability and human rights concerns should be addressed within an internal mechanism and not by any international investigation as suggested by other countries," the high commission statement said.

"[The] Australian side indicated that they would render all possible assistance to Sri Lanka in this regard," it said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop then met with the country's External Affairs Minister Professor G.L. Peiris. During their meeting, Mr Peiris also thanked Ms Bishop for her understanding of the "Sri Lankan situation", and for declining to co-sponsor the Resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in March, the high commission said in a separate statement.

A spokeswoman for Ms Bishop said the meeting between the two ministers was confidential.

"The Australian Government has a well known policy of engagement with the Sri Lankan Government and a constructive and diverse relationship with Sri Lanka. We continue to work closely with the Sri Lankan Government on a range of matters," she said.

International lawyers have strongly condemned the delegation meeting, saying it was a distraction to the country's gross human rights violations - including forced abductions, torture, and extrajudicial killings by state forces, land seizures by the military and oppression of political opponents that plagued Sri Lanka during the 26-year civil war that ended in 2009.

"The visit shows the price this Government is willing to pay in its one-eyed obsession to stop the boats," said Emily Howie, director of Advocacy and Research Human Rights Law Centre. "Not just silence on ongoing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, but a concerted effort to stifle international efforts at justice for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity," Ms Howie said.

Ms Bishop voiced her opposition to an international investigation into the alleged war crimes in March, saying she was not convinced that the UN-backed inquiry was "the best way forward", refusing to co-sponsor the UN's independent investigation.

During November's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Australia did not join other major countries that crtiticised the regime's human rights abuses. Both India and Canada boycotted the meeting, while the United Kingdom's prime minister David Cameron publicly condemned the regime. In contrast, Prime Minister Tony Abbott presented the government with two patrol boats.


Coalition plan to strip Tasmania forest of World Heritage status was made without external review

Greenies don't like miners having a say in mining decisions, so why should Greenies have a say in environmental decisions?

The federal government's unprecedented bid to strip Tasmanian forests of World Heritage status was put together without any external advice, a Senate committee has heard.

The original case to list 170,000 hectares of mainly forested land as World Heritage emerged as part of the most comprehensive regional forests review ever undertaken in Australia, the committee was told.

The extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area gained the backing of the World Conservation Union and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and was unanimously approved by the World Heritage Committee in 2013.

A push by the Abbott government to excise 74,000 hectares of forest from that extension "flies in the face" of the findings of an expert Independent Verification Group set up to decide the fate of Tasmanian forests, IVG member Professor Brendan Mackey said.

"Regarding the 74,000 hectares, 90 per cent has not been industrially logged, only four per cent is heavily disturbed, 35 per cent is actually mapped as old growth, " said Professor Mackey, of Griffith University.

The Senate committee inquiring into the de-listing attempt heard the case for it was prepared by the Environment Department to meet a Coalition election commitment to wind back the listing.

The department's internal experts on world heritage were consulted, as was the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries and its ministerial offices, Greens leader Christine Milne was told.

"We had a number of discussions with the minister [for Environment, Greg Hunt] about the options being produced and the merits and demerits of the options," said departmental deputy secretary Kimberley Dripps.

"Was there any peer review, any verification from outside at all?" Senator Milne said.  "No," Dr Dripps replied.

The government argues in its submission to the World Heritage Committee that the removal would enhance the overall standing of the 1.6 million hectare Tasmanian Wilderness WHA.

"... It's unusual, if not unprecedented, for it to be achieved in the reduction of the property unless there is a corresponding increase elsewhere," said Dr Dripps.

She will lead the Australian delegation to the World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha next month, where she said one of four options would be on the table.

The 21 nation World Heritage Committee could choose to accept the wind-back; reject it outright; refer it back for additional information; or defer it for a more substantial submission in 2016.

A former Environment Department staffer who worked on World Heritage issues, Peter Matthews, told the Senate committee that once an area was on the list, the World Heritage Committee had never agreed to a wind-back as a principle.

"It actually has to be demonstrated that it has lost its outstanding universal value," Mr Matthews said.


6 May, 2014

Miners in, Greenies out in Queensland

Having Greenies make environmental decisions is just fine  -- but having miners make decision on mines is bad?

THE Queensland government has given the "keys to the blood bank to Dracula" by letting a mining company staffer write its environmental policies, activists say.

The ABC is reporting QCoal's corporate affairs chief James Mackay has been in charge of developing the LNP's environment policy since 2012.

Mr Mackay also worked full-time for the LNP during the 2012 election, while he was being paid $10,000 a month by the coal company, the ABC says.

Greenpeace says the revelations are extraordinary.

"(Premier) Campbell Newman says 'we're in the coal business'. Well, it actually looks like his government is the coal business," program director Ben Pearson told AAP.

"The Queensland government has handed the keys to the blood bank over to Dracula. It's just ridiculous."

Australian Marine Conservation Society spokeswoman Felicity Wishart says the report reveals the hold miners have on the Newman government.

The government is clearly happy to put mining ahead of all other interests, including the environment, she says.

Mr Mackay has chaired the LNP's state environment and heritage protection committee, which develops policy for discussion at the party's annual conference, since 2012, the ABC reports.

QCoal owner billionaire Chris Wallin is one of the LNP's biggest donors, reportedly giving the party $120,000 in two donations just before the 2012 poll.

One was for the "loan" of Mr Mackay to the LNP between January and March 2012.

An LNP spokesman told the ABC there was no conflict of interest involving Mr Mackay, who had disclosed his employment with QCoal.

QCoal is embroiled in controversy over plans to divert Coral Creek in north Queensland to mine coal underneath.

The diversion was approved by the state government without requiring a new or amended environmental impact assessment, despite being classed as an assessment that carried "risk of serious harm", the ABC reports.


Australian navy turns back "asylum seeker" boat to Indonesia after loading three extra people

The asylum seeker boat that allegedly deterred Tony Abbott from meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this week has been found in Indonesia after the Australian navy reportedly put three extra people on board and then turned it back.

People on board the wooden boat have told authorities in Indonesia that the Australian navy loaded two Albanians and one Indonesian onto the boat before sending it back to a remote island in eastern Indonesia.

There is no further information about the extra passengers, but there is speculation that they may be the two asylum seekers who were taken to Christmas Island for "urgent medical treatment" after another tow-back operation in February. The third may be an Indonesian crew member.

If the two were medically treated on Australian soil then loaded onto the next available boat to be pushed back to Indonesia, it would represent a controversial new turn in Australia’s tow-back policy.

A statement released by the Indonesian navy late on Monday night said 18 asylum seekers — 16 Indians and two Nepalese — had set out on April 26 from South Sulawesi. They were intercepted by Operation Sovereign Borders vessels on May 1 near Ashmore Reef, an Australian territory in the ocean west of Darwin.

The asylum seekers told the Indonesian naval officers the Australian vessels then escorted their wooden boat closer to Indonesia where, on Sunday, the three extra men — two Albanians and an Indonesian — were put on board.

The wooden boat was then left on the ocean and directed towards Indonesian territory. It ran out of fuel at an island in Indonesia’s remote eastern province, where the men were stranded, then found by Indonesian navy personnel.

It is the eighth confirmed Australian turn-back operation since the first boat arrived on December 19.

In early February, about 34 refugees from Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal were returned in one of Australia’s unsinkable orange lifeboats. Those people said that two of their number had been ill and had been taken away by the Australian navy.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that two people had been taken to Christmas Island with health issues, one at least for "urgent medical treatment with a heart condition".

No further information about the two has been released.

Mr Abbott had made plans to accept the invitation of the Indonesian president to meet on the sidelines of an "open government" conference in Bali this week to try to smooth tensions over recent spying revelations.

However, Mr Abbott cancelled those plans late on Friday, citing the pre-budget period and the release of the Commission of Audit. The Indonesian president’s spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Dr Yudhoyono accepted that explanation at face value.

The arrival of this boat, however, raises the question about whether the real reason for the cancellation was to save embarrassment on both sides.


Leftist thuggery again

The ABC TV show Q&A had to temporarily abandon its live broadcast on Monday night after a group of students in the audience began to protest about education funding.

About 20 minutes into the program, the students launched a series of questions aimed at federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, before unfurling a banner over the set where he was sitting.

The questions focused on Mr Pyne's proposed changes to higher education, which would entail increased competition from private colleges and higher fees.

When the students unfurled the banner, drawing attention to a rally to be held at the University of Technology, Sydney, the live broadcast was suddenly abandoned.

The show cut to an old episode, featuring a performance by Katie Noonan, while the students were evicted from ABC1's Ultimo studios.


Internet  piracy

After months of speculation, Federal cabinet will reportedly consider proposals as early as this week to crack down on illegal downloads. Options on the table include issuing warnings to people who repeatedly download illegally, as well as forcing Australian Internet Service Providers to block file-sharing websites such as the Pirate Bay. It's hard to see these measures doing much to turn the tide of piracy in Australia.

The government's renewed war on piracy comes amid a revamp of Australian copyright law, although Attorney-General George Brandis seems more interested in protecting the interests of big business than actually bringing Australia's copyright laws into the digital age. Brandis baulked at the idea of US-style Fair Use copyright laws designed to grant extra rights to end users. Instead he wants to focus on protecting the rights of copyright holders via web filtering and legal threats.

Brandis has been laying on the anti-piracy rhetoric rather thick, as have people like Village Roadshow chief Graham Burke – who recently attacked Google for daring to suggest that online piracy is "primarily an availability and pricing problem" which won't be solved by harsh but ineffective regulation. Last year a Federal parliamentary committee actually urged Australians to bypass geo-blocking to escape the Australia tax on hardware and content, but Brandis still believes the answer to piracy is simply to wield a bigger stick.

Brandis has spoken of laws which "ultimately require ISPs to ‘take down’ websites hosting infringing content", but surely he realises how pointless this is considering that the bulk of piracy sites lay beyond Australia's jurisdiction. Blocking such sites is more feasible than trying to get them taken offline.

Of course blocking sites like the Pirate Bay is also a futile gesture, as bypassing government-imposed filtering is child's play thanks to the range of free and paid proxy servers which bypass filtering and Virtual Private Network services which mask your internet traffic from your Australian ISP. The government couldn't crack down on VPN usage without impacting on legitimate business users.

The Pirate Bay isn't the only BitTorrent search engine in the world, and the Great Firewall of Australia would have an impossible job on its hands trying to block them all – just ask foreign lawmakers who seem to have lost their battle against BitTorrent search engines. Of course the nature of peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent means that they can't be crippled because there's no central point to attack.

BitTorrent is far from the only peer-to-peer file-sharing network popular with pirates. Along with peer-to-peer networks, Australians can also turn to Usenet, a wide range of MegaUpload-style file storage services and a vast number of direct streaming sites like Watchseries.It. History has shown that if you cut one head off two more will take its place – a lesson which often seems lost on lawmakers more interested in making noise than finding constructive solutions to problems.

The alternative to blocking piracy sites on the internet is to block people from using the internet using graduated response "three-strikes" laws. After a few warnings for illegal downloads you're slapped with a fine or perhaps even have your internet access cut. Copyright giants such as Village Roadshow lost their court battle with Australian ISP iiNet, but there's still room for the government for the government to step in and legislate.

Local copyright groups have shied away in the past from taking a hard line and attacking pirates in their lounge rooms – a tactic which turned into a public relations disaster in the US. Back in 2008 the head of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft publicly admitted that the group has no interest in prosecuting file-sharers. Behind closed doors, they're reportedly still reluctant to go down the path of actually disconnecting people.

It remains to be seen how draconian Attorney-General Brandis' three-strikes proposals are, but they're unlikely to deter pirates when it's so simple to evade detection in the first place.


5 May, 2014

What crisis? Government's only crisis is Labor's debt

Paul Sheehan

Unusually, history offers a precise time and place, right down to the day, to appreciate why Australia has gone, seemingly suddenly, from a land of boom to a nation facing an austerity budget with sacrifices expected of all. The date was February 4, 2009.

On that day, for the first time in the 15 months since the Howard government had been defeated, a spontaneous upsurge of genuine unity, concern and outrage came from the opposition. It crossed all factions and cliques. It fused Liberals and Nationals.

The cause of their collective alarm was the size and scale, and haste and dubious design, of six appropriations bills that Kevin Rudd’s government was about to ram through Parliament. These bills would transform the budget.

The catalyst for this was the 2008 financial crisis that had thrown the United States and western Europe into recession and come close to fusing their banking systems. The crisis had not, however, affected Canada or most of Asia. It was countries running big government debt and deficits that were in crisis control.

Rudd said Australia needed decisive action to avoid a recession. When the opposition caught a glimpse of what he intended it saw immediately that Rudd’s grandiosity was dangerously at work. We are now discovering in great detail, via the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Scheme, the extent of dysfunction of Rudd’s management vision.

Joe Hockey, who was about to become shadow treasurer, opened the attack on February 4. "We have not seen the six bills that are going to be introduced, debated and voted on in this place today," he said. "These six bills will take us into $100 billion of debt."

Malcolm Turnbull, then opposition leader, followed soon after. "In four years, net debt will be $70 billion … and the government has asked for the right, just a moment ago, to borrow up to $200 billion, or $9500 for every man, woman and child in Australia," he said.

"The plan reeks of nothing more than panic ... We do not reject the need for a stimulus at this time. Our judgment is that $42 billion is more than is appropriate right now. The government is looking increasingly like a frightened soldier who fires off all his ammunition in a panic in the first minutes of an engagement … Our judgment is that a more appropriate level of stimulus is in order, 1 to 2 per cent of GDP, or between $15 billion and $20 billion."

All night, Coalition members, 57 in the House and Senate, rose to speak. Former treasurer Peter Costello, silent on the back bench for a year, was moved to genuine outrage.

"When you inherit an economy which has a budget in surplus and no net debt, which has unemployment at 30-year lows, where the credit rating has been restored to a AAA rating on foreign currency bonds, where you have a Future Fund of $61 billion and a Higher Education Endowment Fund, when you inherit an economy in that condition you have to find a fault somewhere," he said. "If you cannot find a fault somewhere, what problem have you got to solve? So the Labor Party, naturally enough, looked for a problem. The trouble is, it was the wrong one."

When debate was finally guillotined it was 4.45am. For the opposition it was a new dawn. It did not need to wait for opinion polls or focus groups.

Typical was this from former minister Bruce Billson. "The Coalition is seeking to ensure that the nation does not sleepwalk into a poorly designed, irresponsible and unsustainable package dreamt up by a panicked government," he said. "The only certain outcome of this package is waking up to the nightmare of decades of excessive debt and deficit."

That is exactly what happened. Rudd was worse than Whitlam. In the six years Labor was in government, the growth in Australia’s real federal expenditure was close to highest in the Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development – even though Australia was a resource economy with a sturdy banking sector and no housing bubble, and thus not susceptible to the financial shock in the US and much of Europe.

It is difficult to move the macro-economic needle quickly in a $1.5 trillion economy that is the 12th largest in the world (larger than Spain, which has 47 million people). In 2009, Rudd managed to jolt the needle, ramping up federal spending as a percentage of GDP.

He was also more profligate than Julia Gillard and she was no prize, loading future budgets with the Gonski education program, the national disability insurance scheme and the multibillion asylum seeker debacle without seeming to have a Gonski about how it would all be paid for.

Now that the bills are coming due, neither Rudd nor Gillard are around. It is the morning after. The clean-up. The payment due date. And the demographic challenge has loomed into focus. So let’s not confuse who did the spending and who is having to pay.

It would also be remiss not to mention the supposed "crisis" in NSW. The people who instigated the current revelations about Liberal politicians, lobbyists and fund-raisers were a Liberal senator, Bill Heffernan, and a Liberal Party executive member, Holly Hughes. Not exactly a cover-up.

New South Wales has a new premier untouched by scandal. He has a thumping majority in Parliament and firm hand on the budget. The Independent Commission Against Corruption is doing its duty to the discomfit of both sides of politics, unhindered by political interference. Its work will lead to better governance of all political parties.

A clean-up is not a crisis. We’ve already had a false crisis and are about to pay for it.


Climate scientists in audit commission's crosshairs

The nation’s climate and weather predicting capacity and the jobs of dozens of scientists are at risk if the Abbott government accepts a recommendation of the National Commission of Audit to axe a key program, researchers said.

The Australian Climate Change Science Program’s four-year funding of $31.6 million, mostly to the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, duplicates work by those and other agencies and "should be returned to the budget or allocated to priority areas", the commission said in its report.

But scientists, including Michael Raupach, formerly of the CSIRO and now at the Australian National University, said the program supported a "great deal of critical scientific work" that helps refine climate models which are also used for weather forecasting.

"The future course of climate change matters hugely for Australia, and continued observation and modelling of climate is absolutely vital," said Dr Raupach, whose research over more than three decades for CSIRO also included funding from the program. "The ACCSP is an important component of our national effort, and the whole effort would be much reduced without this program."

"The government is currently considering the commission of audit," said a spokesman for Environment Minister Greg Hunt, declining to elaborate.

While the bulk of the commission’s recommendations – ranging from cutting the minimum wage to raising the cost of doctor visits – are not expected to feature in the federal budget on Tuesday week, the dismissal of the threat from global warming by senior Abbott government members has scientists nervous about their future.

One scientist said the $4 million or so provided to the CSIRO by the ACCSP per year was the reason the institution "was still in the game". Another said 30 to 35 climate scientists would lose their jobs directly if the program ceased and probably a similar number indirectly.

Despite the increasing heatwaves, rising sea levels and ocean acidification - which scientists link to rising greenhouse gas levels - the Abbott government has downplayed the risks from climate change, said Opposition climate change spokesman Mark Butler.

"This is a government that has shown a disdain for scientific research," Mr Butler said. "From the Prime Minister down, it has regularly denigrated the work of scientists here in Australia and internationally around the area of climate change."

Last week Treasury launched a Productivity Commission inquiry into disaster relief funding with its terms of reference omitting any mention of climate change, noting only that "the impacts and costs of extreme weather events can be expected to increase in the future with population growth and the expanding urbanisation of coast lines and mountain districts near our cities".

Axing the ACCSP may also put at risk Australia’s ability to receive information from other agencies. Australia's area of expertise includes the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, information the program shares with international bodies, receiving access to their work in turn on other regions also important to Australia’s climate.

"Climate change has not gone away," said Dr Raupach. "The best scientific assessments indicate that Australia could be subject to warming over the 21st century that could range from less than two to more than five degrees."

"The high end of this range would be catastrophic," he said.

The potential for cuts to climate modelling comes as odds increase for an El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific. Recent signals include a significant weakening of the tradewinds and the warm pool of water now extending east of the international dateline.

El Nino years tend to be drier and hotter than average in Australia, with increased risk of droughts and bushfires.


Islam and Gun Violence in Sydney

The following video is a joint Baron-Vlad Tepes production. It uses maps of the Sydney metropolitan area to compare and contrast the level of gun violence with the percentage of Muslims in the population.

The initial map is of gun offences;  It moves about half way through to a map of Muslim  presence

Take note that the dark green area on one map means the number of shootings, and the dark green on the other map of the same area means the percentage of Muslims in the population. Draw your own conclusions:

If the issue were anything but Islam — if we were looking at the percentages of Trobriand Islanders, or bald-headed men, or Presbyterians — the obvious correlation would be widely published and universally acknowledged.

Furthermore, if those dark green splotches represented the number of white men the neighborhoods of Sydney, the story would generate above-the-fold headlines in every newspaper and the would be the top item on ABC for weeks.

As it is, we can expect these statistics to be quietly forgotten.

And don’t be surprised if the Australian government stops including religious affiliation in its published census data.


Australian study disproves omega-3 baby claims

Pregnant mothers who take omega-3 fatty acid supplements to boost their baby's brain power are probably wasting their time, according to a major Australian study.

Researchers found no benefit after following more than 600 children from before they were born until the age of four.

The study did not test other health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

There was no difference in the cognition, language or motor scores of children whose mothers took supplements and those who were given a placebo, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

"Given the amount of marketing that occurs around the use of fish oil supplements for brain development, these are significant findings," says study leader Professor Maria Makrides of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and the University of Adelaide.

The study did not test other health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

In the study, pregnant women received either DHA - an omega-3 fatty acid - supplements or a placebo.

The researchers found no difference in the two groups at 18 months.

In a follow-up at four years, the children were tested for differences in cognition, the ability to perform complex mental processing, language and executive functioning such as memory, reasoning and problem solving.

Again, there was no significant difference.

"Our research does not support prenatal DHA supplementation to enhance early-childhood development," Prof Makrides says.


4 May, 2014

Bowden family’s foster daughter taken by Families SA with just an hour’s notice

Social worker evil again

A PROMINENT Adelaide family had their foster child of seven years ripped from their home with only an hour’s notice just weeks before Chloe Valentine died.

The family and child advocates say it is "sickening" the government department responsible for protecting children put resources into taking this child away from a loving and caring home while leaving another in a toxic environment that led to her death.

Graeme and Jacqueline Bowden, known for their family business Keith Bowden Electrical which Graeme took over from his late father, opened their eastern suburbs home to a 10-month-old baby girl in 2003 whom they love and adore.

She was older sister to their daughter Maya-Rose, 7, sent to a prestigious Adelaide private school and provided one-on-one tutoring to support her learning.

But on December 12, 2011, the Bowdens received a call to meet with Families SA over concerns about their parenting.

At that meeting they were told the 7½-year-old, who they regarded as their daughter, was going to be removed from their home at 5.30pm — it was 4.30pm.

"It was like they were telling us she died. I just felt ill because I though ‘how will she get to sleep because each night I stroke her hair until she falls asleep," Mrs Bowden said, breaking down in tears.

"It was 5.35pm when they took her. When she was on the front lawn she said ‘see you tomorrow mum’ that just broke my heart because she didn’t understand what was happening."

The Bowdens were told the child was being removed because the family could not "provide for her future emotional needs".

The swift action by the department was in stark contrast to the case of four-year-old Chloe who died in January 2012, after she repeatedly tumbled off a 50kg motorbike while under family supervision.

Families SA had received 22 notifications about Chloe before she died, while families and friends had pleaded with authorities to remove her from her mother.

Since the Bowden’s foster child was taken away they have had about 20 supervised visits with her but it’s now been 132 days since they last saw her. Since leaving the Bowdens’ home, the child has been moved through a series of carers.

Mrs Bowden said despite having their case reviewed she said they were never able to see all the documentation of the claims against them and felt the case was constantly being stacked against them.

Child protection expert Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs said the department’s priorities were all wrong — leaving children in bad homes with their biological families but quickly moving them from foster home to foster home.

"Children are left in bad homes (with biological mothers and fathers) for too long. The department calls it ‘good enough parenting’," Prof Briggs said.

"I was at a meeting they (the Bowdens) were told by Families SA the reason the child was removed was because they couldn’t provide for her future emotional needs. I asked them ‘what are the future emotional needs?’

"You cannot predict future emotional needs.

"Unless it was that Families SA think ‘you’re a middle class family giving the child unrealistic expectations’. There is an anti-middle class element there."

Prof Briggs explained there was little the family could do to appeal the decision.

"The department can make decisions and they cannot be challenged," she said.  "They keep files on foster carers, recording complaints and issues that do not have to be proven, that the family can’t see and has no way of disputing.

"The Bowdens are the sort of people who obeyed the rules, informing the department of any incidents they needed and asked for support.  "But as most foster carers will tell you, ‘keep Families SA out of it’."

This case was one that led Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire to push for another inquiry.

"It’s not only the Bowdens. I’m inundated with complaints about Families SA and how they manage their responsibilities across the spectrum of children, parents and foster parents," he said.


NCOA Attempts to Re-define Schooling Responsibility

The National Commission of Audit (NCOA) recommendation to hand total responsibility for all school funding management to state and territory governments would be a retrograde step, according to Independent Schools Council of Australia Executive Director, Mr Bill Daniels.

"Independent school funding is a complex mix of responsibilities between the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and parents and having a range of funding models individually decided by states and territories would be a challenge to the independent school sector. This proposal is unwieldy and creates even greater uncertainty than the current unsatisfactory funding arrangements", Mr Daniels said.

"It needs to be recognised that state and territory governments are not only providers of public schools but they also regulate and compete with non-government schools. There needs to be a clear separation between the allocation of Commonwealth funds and state government responsibilities", he said.

"We understand the desire of the Commission to minimise duplication and clarify the responsibilities for school education, including for school performance and outcomes. However stability and certainty about the levels of public funding are essential for the effective and efficient operation of independent schools, as is transparency", Mr Daniels said.

"The independent sector has always strongly valued its direct funding relationship with the Australian Government and has done so for more than 40 years", he said.

"ISCA is pleased that the NCOA has recognised that school funding needs to be maintained and indexed each year, however school cost drivers may not be adequately addressed by a simple weighted average of consumer price and wage price indexation arrangements as suggested", Mr Daniels said.

"We will work closely with the Australian Government in the coming months to explore the feasibility of an alternative funding arrangement for independent schools that is nationally consistent, rather than to have each of the states and territories determine funding allocations for individual independent schools", he said.

Press release from Independent schools council of Australia

Austerity will be needed to fix budget shortfall, says Ken Henry

A former head of Treasury says the Abbott government will have to pursue economic "austerity" if it is to fix the budget’s serious structural imbalance.

Dr Ken Henry, who served as Treasury secretary from 2001 to 2011, says the credibility of Australia’s fiscal policy relies on fixing the budget imbalance.

"To get the budget back into balance there will have to be a period of austerity relative to where the budget has been in the past several years," Dr Henry told Bloomberg TV on Wednesday.

"I certainly did not anticipate that today [Commonwealth government] revenue would be 3 percentage points of gross domestic product below where it was a little more than a decade ago."

"I mean, that’s actually quite an incredible thing that revenue could be that low despite the fact that Australia has had such a strong resources boom."

Dr Henry was replaced as head of Treasury by Martin Parkinson in early 2011.

He chaired the so-called Henry tax review, published in 2010, which developed a blueprint for reforms to the tax system over the next 10 to 20 years.

Dr Henry highlighted on Wednesday that Commonwealth government revenue had fallen from 26 per cent of GDP in 2001-01 to just 23 per cent of GDP last year.

Meanwhile, government expenditure as a proportion of GDP had fallen from 25 per cent to 24 per cent over the same period.

"Because revenue has fallen by 3 percentage points of GDP and spending has fallen by only 1 per cent, the budget [has] flipped around from a surplus of 1 per cent of GDP to a deficit of 1 per cent," Dr Henry said.

And estimates for the present fiscal year are for an "even larger deficit," he said.

"That 3 percentage point gap between estimated spending and estimated revenue is of course not something that can be sustained if a government wants to maintain a commitment to having a budget surplus on average over the [economic] cycle," Dr Henry said.

"Australian governments have had that commitment since the mid-1990s and it’s rather important to the credibility of the fiscal policy of Australia that that commitment [be maintained]."

Dr Henry’s comments will be welcomed by the Abbott government, which is under fire from its own constituency for plans to introduce a temporary "deficit tax" to help to return the budget to surplus.

Some Coalition MPs are furious that Prime Minister Abbott is planning to introduce the tax, plans of which were reported on Tuesday, saying it goes against his promise not to introduce any new taxes.

Dr Henry’s comments will lend support to Mr Abbott’s broader argument that Australia needs to fix its structural budget imbalance.

However, the business community has criticised the Abbott government’s planned deficit tax, saying it will do little to fix the budget imbalance.

"Temporary tax increases are no substitute for the reforms that are needed to bring spending back under control and put the budget onto a more sustainable footing," Business Council of Australia chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, said on Tuesday.

Dr Henry also acknowledged that he was caught by surprise by the sharp fall in government revenue in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

"[Australia’s] medium-term fiscal strategy was interrupted somewhat by the global financial crisis," Dr Henry said.

"Australia is not alone in having taken substantial fiscal action to address the negative impact on the economy of the global financial crisis."

"[But] since then, revenue has not come back as strongly as many people, including myself, would have anticipated."


A character: Queensland Small Business Minister Jann Stuckey advises boutique manager to ‘get a bit of leg out’ to boost sales

SMALL Business Minister Jann Stuckey told a Brisbane clothing store manager to "get a bit of leg out" when she was asked how to improve business during a tour of a shopping centre.

The gaffe-prone Minister met with business operators at the Calamvale Central Shopping Centre on Wednesday to discuss strategies to improve commercial confidence.

Instyle Boutique manager Tammy Young asked Ms Stuckey how foot traffic could be improved.  Ms Stuckey replied "Get a bit of leg out", before a minder ushered her out of the store and handed Ms Young a brochure.

The crass joke came after Ms Stuckey complimented Gloria Jeans franchisees on how appealing their food was but refused a takeaway coffee or cake that was offered.

Last night, Ms Stuckey told The Courier-Mail she had apologised for her comments, describing it as "lighthearted banter".

"I enjoyed my visit to Calamvale Shopping Centre this week where I engaged in lighthearted banter with a number of retailers, including Instyle Boutique," she said in a written statement.

"I have since contacted the business owner to apologise for any offence that may have been taken by that banter."

Ms Young said she wasn’t offended by the comment but said she hoped the Government had more plans for small business than what Ms Stuckey offered during the tour.

"I would (get a bit of leg out) if I could but I think I might scare the customers away," Ms Young said.

"I think it’s great she gets out and visits the small businesses and hopefully she’ll put some ideas in place to make it busier and get some more business through the store."

Centre manager Brent Campbell gave Ms Stuckey a tour of the centre.

"During my visit I handed out the Queensland Small Business Strategy and Action Plan 2013-2015, which outlines the actions the Newman Government has already delivered to assist small business and our plans for the future to continue to grow this important sector of the economy," Ms Stuckey said.


3 May, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG likes the work of the Commission of Audit  -- hopes it will wipe out the widespread entitlement mentality

2 May, 2014

Rich families should have to pay to attend public schools, report says

Ms.Buckingham seems unusually addle-headed over this.  She wants more money to go to State schools and then says more money will not help.  I have read the full report here and she makes no argument for the big policy change other than "They can afford it".  Brain-dead Leftism

High-income families should pay to send their children to a public school, according to a new report that warns that continually increasing funding to schools over the past 25 years has done nothing to improve student achievement.

The Centre for Independent Studies report says charging $1000 for each student at a public school who comes from a family with an income of more than $130,000 would allow governments to reduce the amount they fund many schools.

"There would be little incentive for government schools to charge fees if it meant an equal transfer from public to private revenue, however if public funding were reduced as a proportion of private funding, it may be an attractive option," the report said.

But David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in education at Monash University, warned that charging middle class parents to send their children to public schools would drive more into the independent sector.

"This is just another ruse to force middle-class families out of the public school system," Dr Zyngier said.

The report's author, Jennifer Buckingham, said there was no immediate budget crisis but continually pouring more money into schools was not delivering obvious benefits and federal and state governments would need to rein in spending in the next decade.

"If one family made a donation of, say, $1000 to their children's public school, they probably wouldn't see a great deal of difference in what the school can provide.

"However, if quite a number of parents do, then all of a sudden you do see quite a substantial sum being available for that school to add to programs or their facilities," Dr Buckingham said.

"High-income families living in high-income areas in cities have access to some of the best public schools in Australia but they are not required to contribute to those schools."

Dr Buckingham said she was not "beating up some budget crisis or emergency" but one could emerge if spending continued to rise.

"A pretty consistent finding in Australia and internationally is that there is no relation between the amount of funding that goes into schools systems and the level of student achievement in that system," Dr Buckingham said.

"We need to stop expecting that if we spend more every year, it will start to pay off because history suggests this is not the case - so we really need to look at the way the school funding is being spent and ask if it is being spent productively."

Dr Buckingham said governments could also make considerable savings if they removed mandatory class size maximums.  "It is a very costly program without a great pay-off," Dr Buckingham said.

But Dr Zyngier said extensive research [Examples please!]  showed smaller class sizes had a profound effect on students throughout their school lives and they also had a significant impact for disadvantaged students.

Dr Buckingham's report said government funding for schools had more than doubled in real terms over the past 25 years, while enrolments had grown by only 18 per cent and funding for schools as a proportion of GDP had grown from 2.6 per cent to 3.1 per cent over the same period.


Australia's minimum wage too high

It's roughly double the U.S. rate

The Commission of Audit has recommended a drastic cut to the minimum wage, and a radical overhaul of the national system.

The minimum wage is now $622.20 a week, which is 56 per cent of average weekly earnings.

But the commission wants to cut the minimum wage to about $488.90 a week, which is 44 per cent of average weekly earnings.

It wants to phase the change in over 10 years.

The commission says the new lower minimum wage should then be used as a "minimum wage benchmark" and states and territories should be able to set their own minimum wages – using the benchmark as a guide – to compete against each other for labour and business.

The proposal attacks the very idea of a national minimum wage.

"Having a single national minimum wage disadvantages workers attempting to gain a job in states like Tasmania and South Australia where wages and the costs of living are generally lower than in other states," the report says.

"The commission recommends that a different minimum wage apply in each jurisdiction."

Since there are big differences in economic conditions in each state, the wage rates in each state ought to be able to match conditions, the report argues.

"There are wide differences in wage rates between states. While the minimum wage is around 45 per cent of the Australian Capital Territory average weekly earnings, it is around 65 per cent of average weekly earnings in Tasmania," it says.

It proposes that the minimum wage in each jurisdiction be equal to the minimum wage benchmark by 2023.

After that, the wage in each state could then increase in line with growth in that jurisdiction’s average weekly earnings.

But one question ought to be asked.

Why has the Commission of Audit touched the minimum wage at all, when it has little to do with government spending?

Well, the commission has allowed itself to do so by nesting it with government payments and assistance for the unemployed, such as Newstart and the Youth Allowance.

It argues that, if minimum wages are lowered, then more people will find work, particularly younger people, and that will mean the cost of government unemployment assistance will fall, therefore reducing government expenditure.

But it has not produced a figure showing how much the government can expect to save from the changes.

The commission has also recommended that, rather than have the Fair Work Commission set the minimum wage, the setting of the minimum wage ought to become an "administrative process", possibly set by the Department of Employment.

And the commission has also recommended big changes to income support payments.

It argues that, if the level of income support is too close to the minimum wage, then people will lack the incentive to look for work.

It therefore recommends increasing the income test withdrawal rate to 75 per cent for Newstart recipients and other related allowances.

It has also recommended that single people aged 22 to 30 without dependents or special exemptions should have to relocate to higher employment areas if they don’t want to lose access to benefits after a period of 12 months on benefit.


Audit recommends cutting back school funding, increasing university fees

The Abbott government's Commission of Audit has recommended sweeping changes to education policy, including winding back the Commonwealth's responsibilities for schools, abolishing all Commonwealth vocational education programs and making university students contribute a greater share of their education costs.

The report, released on Thursday, recommends the Commonwealth hand complete control of the non-government school sector to state governments, returning to the model in place before the 1970s.

The Commonwealth’s sole responsibility would be providing three separate, non-transferable funding pools for public, independent and Catholic schools.

The report echoes the Abbott government's policy not to proceed with the fifth and sixth years of the Gonski school funding package - the two years with the biggest forecast spending increases. Describing the new school funding arrangements as "complex, inconsistent and [lacking] transparency", the report recommends basing future Commonwealth funding on 2017 levels, adjusting them to the Commonwealth Price Index and Wage Price Index.

These changes would allow significant cuts to the Commonwealth Department of Education.

In the higher education sector, the report argues students should bear more of the cost of their education.

University graduates should pay an average 55 per cent of their higher educations costs - up from the current level of 41 per cent, according to the Commission of Audit recommendations. The Commonwealth's share of funding would fall from an average of 59 per cent to 45 per cent, recognising the high private benefit to a university degree.

The Minister for Education should also consider a full or partial deregulation of university fees to increase competition among universities.

As well as paying more, graduates would be required to pay their debts back sooner. The report recommends students begin repaying their Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) debt when they start earning $32,354 – the minimum wage - rather than the current $51,309.

The generous interest rate for student loans – currently pegged to the Consumer Price Index - would rise to a level that reflects the full cost to the Commonwealth, including the cost of bad debts.

The report also recommends the federal government transfer all policy and funding responsibilities for vocational education to the states. All Commonwealth vocational education and training programs – including support for apprenticeships – would be scrapped.


Queensland Government to remove double jeopardy laws

The man accused of one of Queensland’s most shocking murders could be retried under proposed changes to the state’s double jeopardy laws.  Police would be able to again pursue former RAAF recruit Raymond Carroll for the alleged abduction, rape, and strangling death of Ipswich toddler Deidre Kennedy.

The 17-month-old’s body was found on the roof of a toilet block 41 years ago, about 500 metres from the family home.

Despite being twice found guilty of the murder, Mr Carroll still walks free after three successful appeals on legal technicalities, including the notion of double jeopardy.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie wants to overturn the 800-year-old law which he says is a roadblock to justice.

Despite other jurisdictions removing double jeopardy years ago, in Queensland a person can only face trial twice for the same or similar offence if they convicted after 2007.  Mr Bleijie will introduce legislation next week to make it totally retrospective.

Technological advances and DNA testing mean murderers who have escaped punishment may finally be jailed.

"This is about re-balancing the scales of justice and putting victims first," he said. "It certainly won’t open the floodgates."

Queensland homicide victims’ support group Ross Thompson knows three cases that could be reopened.He’s spoken to one victim’s family who broke down and hung up over the news.

"It never goes away," he said.  "They’ve lost a loved one, it’s been through the open courts and it’s still an open case. "Justice is blind sometimes. It is gong to open up a lot of cans of worms."

In the past, Queensland Labor had rejected retrospective laws. "If this government has a new proposal, their must be full consultation," Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

"I think it will open the flood gates for a whole lot of other matters, so let’s just wait and see what their bill actually proposes."

Police Minister Jack Dempsey said technological advancements opened up new avenues for evidence-gathering for past offences and that evidence should not be discounted.

 "If we can change a piece of legislation that puts a person before the court that, through due process, is able to find a person guilty of a horrific offence, then I think that’s justice served," he said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Ross Barnett said he welcomed the change.

"I think anything that gives the opportunity for police to deliver justice to the families of loved ones, even if it has to be delayed, is better than being frustrated by laws that were drafted centuries ago," he said.

The Caxton Legal Centre, which offered free legal advice, says the double jeopardy protection is a fundamental human safeguard against oppression by the state.

"The announcement show how vulnerable age-old rights are to the legislative whim of government," Dan Rogers from the Centre said.

It will result in an increased risk for a miscarriage of justice by allowing the prosecution to have repeated trials, Mr Rogers said.

Furthermore, defendants, having already endured a lengthy and costly trial, may not have the stamina or the resources to effectively face a second trial.


1 May, 2014

Cambodia agrees "in principle" to resettle asylum seekers bound for Australia

Cambodia has agreed "in principle" to resettle asylum seekers bound for Australia, after weeks of speculation as to whether the controversial deal would go ahead.

On Tuesday night, Cambodia's Secretary of State at the Foreign Affairs Ministry said the decision for the south east Asian country to resettle asylum seekers had been made.

"In principle, the government has agreed ... and we will do the work according to international standards," said Ouch Borith, Secretary of State at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Mr Borith met with a representative of the United Nations on Tuesday in Phnom Penh.

Human rights groups have condemned the Abbott government for seeking an agreement to send asylum seekers to Cambodia, one of South-East Asia's poorest countries, which has one of the worst human rights records in Asia.

The country is dependent on hundreds of millions of dollars a foreign aid, with Australia sending $US244 million to Phnom Penh over the past three years.

The United Nations refugee agency has warned resettlement countries are obliged to deliver education and labour rights and "not just safety."

"Cambodia is a country that has its own set of difficulties, including economically," Volker Turk, the UNHCR’s director of international protection," said on Tuesday.

"I don’t want to speculate. The government has not contacted us on this . . . it’s not just about safety, it’s about fundamental human rights." he said.

Mr Morrison has not publicly revealed details of the agreement.  But he said in a television interview on April 10 it would involve asylum seekers currently detained on the tiny South Pacific nation of Nauru.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said Cambodia’s capacity to take care of asylum seekers or refugees is low and Australia is shirking its international obligations.

"Uighurs from China or human rights activists from Vietnam can explain about Cambodia’s shoddy record towards refugees," he said.

"This proposal is absolutely shameful and deserves public condemnation across the region, from Phnom Penh to Canberra, and by the UNHCR."

The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri, who is visiting Cambodia said the United Nations would provide support.

"What we think is important is to note that Cambodia is well aware of its international commitment to human rights standards," Ms Pansieri said.

"To the extent there is any need for cooperation, we stand ready to provide support to ensure that standards are met."

The announcement comes as the 1177 asylum seekers in Nauru were told they would be given a temporary five-year visa on the island and would be given work rights for the same amount of time, but would not be permanently resettled there.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told Fairfax Media last week he was trying to expand the "club" of nations willing to take refugees, regardless of their economic capacity, suggesting that Cambodia was a step closer to becoming a resettlement country that would accept refugees once the temporary resettlement has expired on Nauru.

"Without mentioning names, when you have a country that’s willing to be engaged in [resettlement], an experienced country that is willing to sponsor it and a third country that is a signatory country like Nauru that is also party to all of this ... That would seem to be a positive thing and something that should be encouraged."

Last Friday, the Interior Minister of Cambodia, Sar Kheng told The Phnom Pehn Post that nothing had been decided, and negotiations were still on the table.

"As of now we have not decided yet," Kheng told reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. "It is being [considered], but no decision has been made at all."

Cambodia, which in the 1970s and 1980s saw a huge exodus of refugees fleeing war and starvation, has long been criticised by international advocate groups for its questionable human rights record.


Nervous Liberal MPs beg Prime Minister Tony Abbott to rethink paid parental leave scheme

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being urged by Coalition MPs to follow his own advice by scaling down his signature $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme in the interests of sharing the burden in the budget.

The call came as the government refused to hose down speculation of a special deficit levy and actively ramped up talk of big changes to reduce the welfare bill through cuts to the growth rates of a slew of pensions and the introduction of a harsher means test for family payments.

It has also signalled the widespread introduction of co-payments, especially in health, with Mr Abbott arguing that price signals are needed in the health system to remind Australians that "free services to patients are certainly not free to taxpayers".

In an interview with Fairfax Media on Tuesday, NSW Nationals senator John Williams questioned whether such messages about belt tightening could sit alongside a generous paid parental leave scheme.

"I've made no secret about whether we can afford the paid parental leave scheme proposed by the Prime Minister. I have serious concerns about it," he said.

"The economy, I believe, is not strong enough, unemployment is too high and it is a scheme that I believe we cannot afford at this stage."

Liberal MPs contacted on Monday said the government was setting up "an unwinnable argument with voters" if it proceeded with a temporary deficit levy to help balance the budget, while also sticking to a paid parental leave scheme that would give mothers full pay for six months, capped at earnings of $150,000 per year.

"I think that's an argument we cannot win," one MP said.

Another Liberal said he was encouraged that voters had understood the messages about sharing the burden but the government could not expect people to hear that message and then turn a blind eye to such a generous parental leave scheme.

"They're saying yes its tough out there, and the budget needs to be tough, but then they say 'what's he [Mr Abbott] going to do about his parental leave scheme?'," he said.

One MP said: "I think it's very very difficult to imagine doing both [deficit levy and PPL] and there's a real sense that the PM needs to be also sharing in the budget pain by dropping his beloved PPL scheme."

Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday that he knew that there were "mixed views" in the community about his PPL scheme.

He added that he was working with people in the community who had a "very traditional mind set" but was confident that their thinking could evolve, because his own had on the subject.

"There are one or two of my colleagues in Canberra who have already shifted a little on this and I am pleased about that," he said.

Greens leader Christine Milne, whose party will be key to the Coalition passing the PPL in the Senate, reaffirmed that there were no negotiations between the Greens and the government on the issue.

"The Greens have had no contact whatsoever with Tony Abbott on paid parental leave. It makes you wonder whether he is serious about it and it is quite obvious now that he has a mutiny on his hands in his own party," she told reporters in Hobart.

The electoral reality check underscores the difficult balancing act being attempted by the government with Mr Abbott using a speech last night to the Sydney Institute to signal widespread changes, including an admission that pensions will be changed in just three years with lower indexation and an older eligibility threshold.

"To keep to our commitments, there will be no changes to the pension during this term of Parliament but there should be changes to indexation arrangements and eligibility thresholds in three years' time," he said.

"There are other social security benefits where indexation arrangements and eligibility thresholds should be adjusted now so that our social safety net is more sustainable for the long-term.

"Such benefits won't be less tomorrow than they are today but the rate of increase will be slower and needs to be slower if a comprehensive social safety nest is to be preserved for everyone's future."

The comments represent the clearest indication from the most senior level of government that pensions for the aged and the incapacitated will be progressively cut as a proportion of male average weekly earnings.

With the government's first budget just a fortnight away, Mr Abbott signalled serious inroads would be made into the burgeoning family payments system used by previous governments to buy votes in middle Australia.

In the gun are family tax benefits, with a sharp reduction of $50,000 in the allowable income threshold taking eligibility from the current $150,000 per year for families to $100,000.

"Not for a second would I label families as 'rich' just because they are earning $100,000 a year," he said.

"But the best way to help families in $100,000 a year is long-term tax relief and more business and job opportunities, not social security handouts."

He said he expected people would grumble but promised that everyone would be called on to make a sacrifice, "including high-income earners such as members of Parliament".

The opposition, which suffered a relentless attack from Mr Abbott during the Rudd-Gillard years over broken promises, slammed the suggestion of tax increases and pension changes, branding the proposed deficit levy as a "deceit tax" by a government with such "twisted priorities" it would take money from pensions and the disabled while funding millionaires to have babies.


ABC crookedness  -- designed to affect its treatment in the forthcoming budget?

Doubts over ABC’s China TV claims

THERE are growing doubts over the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s supposed deal with the Shanghai Media Group (SMG), which the ABC claims will broadcast Australian-generated content to hundreds of millions of Chinese television viewers.

The national broadcaster is due to sign a memorandum of understanding with SMG, the second-largest state-owned broad­caster in China, next weekend in Shanghai.

However, it appears basic ­details of the proposed co-operation are yet to be finalised amid claims the announcement was rushed forward to be delivered before the federal budget is handed down next month…

The ABC claimed it would team up with SMG’s internat­ional channel in an online portal from which Australian shows would be made available to be broadcast across China…

However, the supervisory body has told The Australian it had not been approached by ­either party. "We have not received any ­application about this co-operation and have not expressed support or approval of it in any way," a spokeswoman called Ms Xu said…

The ABC originally quoted the executive director of SMG’s International Channel, Sun Wei, who said the Chinese broadcaster was keen to develop relationships with international broadcasters as part of its expansion strategy… However, Mr Sun refused to comment when contacted on the proposed new deal and a spokesman for the broader SMG group was not aware of the ABC’s announcement.


ABC puts off China deal after false start

THE ABC has been forced to delay signing its "historic agreement" to broadcast content into China after admitting the deal was yet to receive regulatory­ ­approval.

A signing ceremony in Shanghai, which was due to be held this Sunday between ABC executives and the Shanghai Media Group to finalise a memorandum of understanding between the two broadcasters, has been pushed back to early June and could now be held in ­Sydney…

The Australian revealed this week that the industry supervisory agency, the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV, was unaware of the proposed deal despite the ABC’s announcement last week that it would be "formalised" and signed in Shanghai on May 4…
A spokeswoman for the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV said the regulatory body had yet to receive any formal application from either the ABC or SMG, which was required for the deal to proceed… "It is impossible for us to express ‘support’ without getting formal application documents..."

The ABC said on April 17 that ABC International and the ­Australia Network had "struck an international multi-platform media co-operation arrangement supported by the Shanghai ­Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV".


More crooked union spending

Health Services Union boss turned whistleblower Kathy Jackson ran a secretive union slush fund that used up to $300,000 in members’ money to help support the political and factional campaigns of her allies, including those from other unions.

Internal union banking records reveal $284,000 was transferred with Ms Jackson’s authorisation from her union’s main account into the "National Health Development Account" between 2003 and 2010.

Fairfax Media has confirmed that some of these funds were used to support Ms Jackson’s political allies, including officials from the Australian Workers Union, which was previously headed by federal opposition leader Bill Shorten.

The revelations provide further insight into the murky world of ALP and union fund-raising, in which slush funds have been commonplace and used for purposes such as supporting Labor factional players to win seats in Parliament.

Ms Jackson’s ties to the NHDA underline her complicated role as both union whistleblower and influential factional figure involved, by her own account, in the ALP’s "filthy" power plays.

Documents detailing the operation of the NHDA have been provided to the union royal commission.

Fairfax Media has spoken to seven HSU committee of management members who served during that period and none said they had heard of the account. Long-time union members also said they had never heard of the account or its activities.

Leaked union records also show how Ms Jackson’s branch of the HSU made a $5000 donation in 2010 to senior Victorian Labor MP Marlene Kairouz and described it in a financial report as a payment to a charity.

When regulator Fair Work Australia queried this payment with the HSU later in 2010, the union changed its description of it to a "fee for service".

The $5000 was deposited in an ANZ bank account in the name of ‘AB Hinc’ - a Latin term which means ‘from here on’ - and which was an election fund controlled by Ms Kairouz.

Fairfax Media has confirmed the ‘AB Hinc’ account was never declared to the Australian Electoral Commission. Disclosure laws generally require election funds to be declared to the commission. ALP head office was also not told of its existence as required under Labor guidelines.

Ms Jackson’s whistleblowing on corrupt HSU union official Craig Thomson and her regular media appearances - including her recent comments backing the royal commission as a means to target ‘vampires’ sucking funds out of unions - have seen her gain national prominence and the support of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The royal commission is likely to examine the extent of disclosure of the NHDA’s operations and existence to the HSU members who unwittingly funded it.

"This sort of conduct has done incredible damage to the union movement. Members' money must be used in a transparent and accountable manner," said HSU branch secretary Craig McGregor, who in 2012 left his job as a radiographer after being elected to head the branch that Ms Jackson used to lead.

Mr McGregor said the review of the union's accounts to determine how members' money had been spent over the past decade had "nothing to do with politics and everything to do with ethics and democratic practice".

Fairfax Media is not suggesting Ms Jackson ever used members’ funds in a criminal fashion or for personal expenditure.

Ms Jackson declined to answer specific questions about the NHDA, saying she did not want to prejudice the work of the royal commission, which she is assisting. However, she provided a broad statement saying she never used money from the fund "for my own private benefit or for payment to third parties unless such payment was conscientiously believed by me and and relevant others to serve the legitimate political purposes of the union".

"I say that I have done nothing in relation to the fund that is criminal or that was not in the best interests of the union as I genuinely believed them to be."

Former HSU committee of management member Robert Matejin is one of seven branch committee members who said they could not recall ever being told of the NHDA.

"Members deserve to know what has happened to their money," he said.

Kathy Jackson is listed on several banking documents as the person who authorised the movement of several thousand dollars from the union’s main bank account to the NHDA.

In seven years of HSU financial statements filed with regulators, the Australian Industrial Register or Fair Work Australia, the "NHDA" is only referred to once, in 2005. It is listed as an acronym and has no explanation of its purpose.

Leaked documents suggest there may have been an attempt inside the HSU to obscure the existence of the fund, with auditor accounts revealing an unknown person working for the HSU edited the spreadsheets to remove references to the NHDA.

The changes resulted in an accounting error in the 2006 financial statement, with $38,000 of members’ money sent to the fund removed from the final accounts.


30 April, 2014

Another "multicultural" crime -- in WA

A WOMAN on her way home from a funeral has been bashed as she sat in her car at traffic lights in Kardinya this morning.

The unprovoked attack occurred about 11.30am as the 33-year-old woman, known only as Yvonne, sat at traffic lights at the intersection of North Lake Road and South Street.

The male attacker was crossing the intersection when without warning he ran towards the driver’s side of Yvonne’s car and grabbed her hair as she attempted to put her window up.

The man then punched Yvonne in the face, which caused her bruising and a chipped tooth.

Yvonne then drove away and the man let go of her hair and ran in a northerly direction towards the Shell service station.

Yvonne drove to a nearby business where she called police and her husband.

She bravely spoke to PerthNow over the phone today just minutes after undergoing an x-ray at Armadale Hospital where she also works as a patient care assistant.

She said while the attack lasted probably only about 10 seconds, nobody came to her aid.

She had just been to a funeral and was driving home when she was attacked.

"This guy just ran up to me and told me to ‘get out of the f****g car,’ " Yvonne said.

"As I’ve gone to put my window up he still had my hair in his hands and then he punched me, chipping my tooth.

"The thing that makes me angry is nobody helped me. In broad daylight nobody helped me.

"I had a car to my right and a car behind me and no-one helped me. It happened that fast but there was no way I was letting him in my car."

Yvonne said she was the victim of an attempted carjacking at the hands of a group of men several years ago.

She said what probably helped her in this morning’s incident was having her doors locked at the time.

"From the moment I leave my driveway I lock my car doors, I always have done," she said.

She urged anyone who saw the incident or who might know the attacker to call police.

Yvonne’s attacker is described as being in his early 20s, has dark skin, a slim build and black unshaved facial hair.

He was wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a black hooded zip up jacket.


No refuge for almost 100 asylum seekers charged with criminal offences

ALMOST 100 asylum seekers granted bridging visas to live in the community have been charged with criminal offences in the past eight months ­including murder, rape, burglary, and domestic violence, according to data from the ­Department of Immigration.

A further 15 detainees have had their residence determinations revoked by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison for criminal charges. The range of offences included drink driving, domestic violence, assault, rape, trespass and larceny.

Asylum seekers currently in detention or on bridging visas in Australia had also become victims of crime — including murder.

"All aspects of our operations involving dealing with the legacy of illegal maritime arrivals created by Labor’s chronic border failures carry risk," Mr Morrison said. "This includes risks to those who have arrived as well as to those caring for them who have been the subject of abuse and assault by asylum seekers in their care.

"Asylum seekers are also at risk, regardless of where they may be accommodated.

"Asylum seekers have self-harmed in the community, as well as in detention and offshore processing centres."

Mr Morrison has accused the Opposition and the Greens of hypocrisy for calling for a royal commission into the death of an asylum seeker, Reza Berati, on Manus Island, while saying nothing of the murder of an asylum seeker in Sydney last September.

Last September, Afghan Mohammed Ali Nabizada was stabbed to death at Berala in Sydney’s west.

His alleged attacker was also an asylum seeker on a bridging visa.

"Tragically, asylum seekers like Reza Berati have also died in detention, and his death is the subject of serious and comprehensive investigation. Others have also died on release into the community.

"There have been no calls for parliamentary inquiries into the death of Muhammad Ali Nabizada.

"No advocates have asked for his photo so they can display it in public remembrance.

"There have been no public protests or vigils over his death. There have also been no calls for the community release program to be shut down.

"A community release policy, like offshore processing, carries risk.

"We are working constructively to manage this risk, whether with local police in our community or our PNG and Nauruan partners at our offshore processing centres.

"When more than 50,000 people turn up illegally on more than 800 boats, this ­places incredible pressure on the system and creates significant risks in dealing with the resulting problem."


Final results of WA Senate election announced by Australian Electoral Commission

THE final results of the re-run West Australian Senate election have been announced, confirming Labor's assumption it has missed out on a second seat.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has revealed the Liberals have picked up three seats, with one seat each to Labor, The Greens and Palmer United Party (PUP).

WA's six senators will be David Johnston, Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds (Liberal), Joe Bullock (Labor), Scott Ludlam (Greens) and Dio Wang (PUP).

But the official declaration of votes will not be made until Thursday.

Senator Johnston, Mr Bullock and Senator Ludlam were all elected on quota, while Senator Cash was elected on count two, Mr Wang on count 252 and Ms Reynolds on count 257.

Labor Senator Louise Pratt conceded defeat on April 16, lashing her right wing running mate Mr Bullock, a trade union leader who secured his seat after shunting her from the top spot on the party's senate ticket.

Senator Pratt was diplomatic during the campaign when asked how she felt about comments he'd made about her, including questioning whether she was a lesbian given her partner was born a woman but is now a man.

But after it became clear she would not continue as a WA Senator from July 1, she labelled him homophobic and called on Labor to break the grasp of union powerbrokers, whose wrangling had delivered Mr Bullock victory.

There appears to have been a strong swing towards the Greens and PUP, which both campaigned hard to appeal to voters who were disillusioned with the major parties.

The billionaire-backed PUP spent especially big on advertising, while the Greens also relied on social media.

A fresh Senate election was ordered in the state and an official inquiry launched after the AEC lost 1370 votes during a recount requested by Senator Ludlam because the original count showed he had lost his seat by a wafer-thin margin.


Play the race card, get out of jail

WHITEOAK v State of NSW has reached its inexorable conclusion. The lawyers have brushed off the crumbs and rolled up the picnic rug.

The next step, if the Court of Common Sense still sits in NSW, is to bring the Anti-Discrimination Board, the Legal Aid Commission and the Civil and Administrative Tribunal to account.

They must explain why they did not put their heads together and drop this risible case before it turned the state’s anti-discrimination legislation into a complete and utter joke.

The implication of the tribunal’s 26,400-word judgment is that anyone can play the race card, even Barry Whiteoak, a white, Anglo-Saxon murderer and serial rapist who will deported back to Britain if he ever completes his life sentence.

Whiteoak, the tribunal has now ruled, has been denied a service by the Correctional Services Department because he is British.

Whiteoak was jailed in 1983 for raping, strangling and stabbing Noreen Hannon, a 25-year-old nurse, in her Parramatta flat and dumping her naked body in the lift.

In 2002, Whiteoak’s classification was changed to the minimum security category C3, allowing him to apply for day or weekend release.

It was clearly a mistake. Two years later Whiteoak was thrown off a sex offence rehabilitation program for misbehaviour and was deemed to present a moderate to high risk of reoffending.

A review of Whiteoak’s criminal history suggests it would be foolhardy to grant him parole. Whiteoak murdered Hannon while on parole for the rape of another woman, whom he had assaulted while on parole for indecently assaulting a third.

Whiteoak was also of interest to the Department of Immigration, since he was not an Australian citizen and therefore could be deported back to Britain on release from jail.

The then corrective services commissioner, Ron Woodham, one of the few public servants to have acted decently in this whole sorry affair, decided it was potentially dangerous to allow White­oak out on leave.

In Woodham’s opinion, White­oak’s uncertain immigration status made him an unquantified flight risk. Indeed another non-citizen had escaped under just such a circumstance in 2005. Woodham decided to reinstate Whiteoak’s C1 status.

Whiteoak complained to the Anti-Discrimination Board, which judged he could have a case under the 1977 NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, section 19 of which states: "It is unlawful for a person who provides (whether or not for payment) goods or ser­vices to discriminate against another person on the ground of race."

He was assisted by the exceptional definition of race in the NSW legislation that includes nationality as well as colour, descent and ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin.

Thus Whiteoak complained that the decision to cancel his permanent residency visa was "strongly racist". He sought the board’s help "in regaining C3 classification and Day Leaves as Day Leaves are a major part of the Pre-Release Program that the Parole Board requires".

The board’s president, Stepan Kerkyasharian, had the power under section 92(1) of the act to throw out the complaint on the grounds that it was "frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance".

He did not, suggesting he saw some merit in Whiteoak’s claim that the denial of day release "was based solely on the fact that I am a British subject who is in gaol and not on my offensive behaviour".

"It is discrimination because the policy decisions are treating me differently to what an Australian citizen is treated," Whiteoak wrote to the commissioner.

"I do not want monitary (sic) compensation as the change in classification has not cost me any money.

"I want you now to use all the powers available to you and your organisation to persuade or force the Corrective Services to change inmate’s classifications back."

The tribunal too could have rejected Whiteoak’s vexatious and insubstantial case. Its refusal to do so, despite an application by the state’s lawyers, has probably cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.

It has funded Whiteoak’s legal aid, multiple procedural applications, a three-day hearing, two half-days of submissions, and the discovery and circulation of more than 1000 tendered documents. Both parties have been represented by experienced counsel and instructing solicitors.

Two weeks ago the tribunal ruled that this devious, dysfunctional, despicable human being was a victim of racism. They awarded him $500 compensa­tion, which mercifully will be redirected to victims of crime. Is the tribunal really suggesting that Woodham was motiv­ated by rac­ism? Could he not have been trying to protect the rights of NSW residents by keeping a dangerous offender off the streets until he could be deported?

More serious, however, are the two extraordinary assumptions underpinning the tribunal’s ruling. First, the tribunal accepted that the categorisation of prisoners is "a service" under the terms of the act. Second, the tribunal assumed that nationality, citizenship and race are synonymous.

If this is the case, we must rewrite the Macquarie Dictionary entry that defines race as "a group of persons connected by common descent" or "a group of tribes or peoples forming an ethnic stock".

There are other definitions, but every one of them links race to biology, as the word must unless it is to be stripped of any useful meaning.

Surely the tribunal is not claiming that everyone holding an Australian passport shares a common race, for that would be a killer blow to the race discrimination industry, putting hundreds of human rights lawyers out of work.

By devaluing the notion of rac­ism to nothing more than an arbitrary form of victimhood, the tribunal has not helped those who wish to defend the federal Racial Discrimination Act against the government’s attempts to amend it.

The judgment exemplifies the case opponents of the RDA have argued all along: that anti-discrimination legislation is just a game for lawyers who search for any crack in the door through which their client can enter the victims club.

It is human rights devoid of any sense of proportion, prudence or natural justice; human rights as a sledgehammer to settle petty grievances; human rights that creates more red tape and employment for bureaucrats; human rights that turns courts and tribunals into theatres of the grotesque.

The purpose of human rights legislation, Gough Whitlam said in 1975, was to "build a climate of maturity, of goodwill, of co-operation and understanding at all levels of society".

Never, in his wildest dreams, would he imagined a case such as Whiteoak v State of NSW.


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

Bureaucracy: "One of the constant laments of doctors and nurses working with NSW Health is the incredible and increasing bureaucracy," she said. "It is completely obstructive to providing a service."

Revered Labour Party leader Gough Whitlam was/is a very erudite man so he cannot have been unaware of the similarities of his famous phrase “the Party, the platform, the people” with an earlier slogan: "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer". It's basically the same slogan in reverse order.

Julia Gillard, a failed feminist flop. She was given the job of Prime Minister of Australia but her feminist preaching was so unpopular that she was booted out of the job by her own Leftist party.

A great little kid

In November 2007, a four-year-old boy was found playing in a croc-infested Territory creek after sneaking off pig hunting alone with four dogs and a puppy. The toddler was found five-and-a-half hours after he set off from his parents' house playing in a creek with the puppy. Amazingly, Daniel Woditj also swam two creeks known to be inhabited by crocs during his adventurous romp. Mr Knight said that after walking for several kilometres, Daniel came to a creek and swam across it. Four of his dogs "bailed up" at the creek but the youngster continued on undaunted with his puppy to a second creek. Mr Knight said Daniel swam the second croc-infested creek and walked on for several more kilometres. "Captain is a hard bushman and Daniel is following in his footsteps. They breed them tough out bush."

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To be continued ....
Queensland Police -- A barrel with lots of bad apples
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