Looking at Australian politics from a libertarian/conservative perspective...  

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30 November, 2005

Australian conservatives get mislabelled as "Fascists" in the media too

And the media get it back to front, as usual

In recent weeks, an array of columnists, cartoonists, politicians, not to mention a plethora of letter writers, have taken to depicting the Howard Government's legislative agenda, especially its industrial relations laws, as "fascist". Of course, fascist is a cheap insult because its meaning is difficult to pin down and it invariably casts a slur on the person so described. Back in the Comintern days of the 1930s, everybody who was not a communist was a fascist, from the social democrats through to liberals, to the real thing. In the heyday of the New Left, the word fascist was flung around with gay abandon to describe anyone who did not share the ideological preferences of student radicals. The word has been debased in the public arena. It has been misused for political purposes in the past and it continues to be misused by people who should know better.

This is a pity as there is a specific thing that can be called fascist. It is difficult to define, but its nature can be discerned by considering a few facts about fascism. The Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini began as a socialist, as did many other fascist leaders, such as former French communist Jacques Doriot. In bringing together nationalism and socialism, it is unclear whether fascism was a left-wing or a right-wing movement. What can be said is that, like communism, it saw itself in opposition to liberalism as well as parliamentary democracy.

Fascists, like socialists, did not support the idea that individuals were the best judges of their own interest. Rather, individuals needed the state to organise them and to tell them what to do. Moreover the fascist state, what Mussolini called the ethical state, sought to bring every member of society under its control. In fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, this meant bringing individuals under state domination by controlling the organisations to which they belonged. These included youth groups, leisure clubs and the organisation of industry through state-sanctioned corporations. In Germany, even cat lovers' clubs had to be Nazified.

There were two enemies. The first was liberalism and the autonomous individual who could exercise his or her conscience in deciding a proper course of action. The second was civil society, those voluntary organisations that individuals freely create to pursue their particular interests and that stand outside state supervision. In particular, fascism opposed the various churches. Fascist ideals and the worship of the state would form the core of people's religious beliefs. For the diehard fascist, the ordinary everyday society of men and women going about their mundane tasks lacked the heroic dimension. It needed a myth that would mobilise everyone into a collective that would be able to perform epic actions. In other words, fascism was addicted to violence and war.

If there is any common political creed of contemporary Australia, it is liberalism. If there has been any common theme running through the various policies adopted by Labor and Coalition governments since 1983, it has been the creation of a more liberal society. This has allowed Australians to exercise much greater choice in many aspects of their lives.

Industrial relations can be considered the final frontier in the quest for a more liberal society. The new legislation does not intend to create corporatism or some sort of state-controlled body to exercise power over the workers of Australia. That is what a fascist government would do. In fact, it is doing the exact opposite. It is attempting to withdraw state control from such matters. It is seeking to enable people to act as autonomous individuals.

Now there certainly is a paradox at work here. In order to sponsor legislation that increases individual autonomy, the commonwealth Government is indeed seeking to centralise more power in its hands. This is part of a wider trend of which university policy is another example. A similar criticism was made of Margaret Thatcher, who also sought to increase individualism through centralisation. Liberals recognise that this is a worrying trend. But the causes should be sought as much with the states as with the commonwealth. Their financial dependence on the commonwealth is matched by an apparent incapacity to act responsibly. One suspects that this situation would only be resolved if the states were forced to raise their own finances. In any case, increased commonwealth control in an area is hardly to be construed as fascism, especially if the consequence is the adoption of more liberal policies.

Which raises the more interesting question: If we have had the growth of liberalism since 1983, what was the nature of the social order that preceded our age? That was the age when protection and government regulation ruled supreme in the economy and the financial sector, and arbitration and conciliation were the rule in industrial relations. Going back to the early 20th century, one can discern in Australia a desire by the state to regulate and control the population and its activities. This was the time when state governments deprived Aborigines of many of their rights, a time when eugenics was embraced and doctors and bureaucrats thought they could improve the race. And it was the time when government believed that it could solve problems in the industrial arena with the heavy hand of state regulation. In fact, as liberal commentators soon realised, state involvement in industrial matters made things worse rather than better.

If there are any policies in the history of this country that resemble those of fascism, they belong to the 20th century. In line with the spirit of the age, the industrial relations policies of the Howard Government are part of a liberal move away from policies that people today would like to forget. In saying this, I am not implying that Australia was ever fascist. It's just that too many Australian governments in the past made the error of believing that state control somehow meant progress. To call the present policies of the Howard Government fascist is a rhetorical device. But it is also a misuse and abuse of language that cannot go uncorrected. It is to condone a way of speaking that ignores historical and empirical evidence for the sake of scoring cheap political points. And it condones the manipulation of language for which fascist as well as communist regimes were notorious.

We should not allow words such as fascism to lose their particular meaning. I believe that it is incorrect to refer to Islamo-fascists. Islamists wish to re-create their version of the ideal Islamic society. Fascists sought to worship the state and nation because they had lost their religious faith. A liberal democracy relies on reasoned argument for its health. Argument can only proceed properly if our language is not corrupted by misuse. As George Orwell recognised, one of the true measures of a totalitarian state, be it fascist or communist, involves the debasement of language. Memo to politicians and political commentators: don't cheapen words such as fascism by flinging them around indiscriminately.


"Poverty" makes you fat

Which shows how absurd conventional definitions of poverty are

Residents in Sydney's [poor] south-west are among the fattest in the state, with more than half the inhabitants of the Campbelltown and Camden area overweight or obese, new figures reveal.

Meanwhile, Sydney's affluent eastern suburbs and North Shore have the lowest percentage of overweight and obese residents, with just one in five women above the healthy weight range.

Figures from the NSW Health Department, compiled for The Sun-Herald from the 2002, 2003 and 2004 adult health surveys, highlight the correlation between weight and wealth. They come as doctors grapple with the nation's obesity crisis and experts call for the regulation of food outlets and subsidising of healthy, fresh food. Compiled from interviews with 32,877 people across the state over three years, the figures also draw attention to the disparity between obesity levels in rural and city regions.....

Social researcher Neer Korn, a director of research organisation Heartbeat Trends, said the figures showed the direct correlation between socio-economic status and obesity problems. "People from a lower socio-economic background eat more junk food and they have less time to care for themselves," Mr Korn said. [Another nitwit! Has she never heard of the long houres at work that many middle-income put in?] "If you have a nanny and you're not working, you have all day to go shopping for food to get something nice to cook for dinner which is healthy, and you can afford gym membership." Mr Korn said Australia's obesity problem was more pronounced in rural areas because fresh food was more expensive [What rubbish! He hasn't got a clue! He must never have lived in a country town and found out how much informal exchange of fresh fruit and vegetables there is] and the health message was a lower priority for residents there. "Try getting fruit and vegies in Wilcannia - it's so expensive there, it's much cheaper just to go to Maccas," he said.

Ian Caterson, Boden Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Sydney, said the availability of food was a major contributor to the increasing obesity problem. He told a WeightWatchers-hosted discussion forum on obesity last week that an American study found the abundance of food outlets accounted for 68 per cent of the increase in obesity levels. He recommended introducing legislation to police the number and type of food outlets [No disguising the Fascism there!] that could be built in any one area to ensure people could obtain, say, fresh fruit as easily as fast food....

More here

That greater self-discipline might make you both richer and slimmer is not of course mentioned

Outsourcing happening in Australia too

"The ANZ Bank will move jobs to India after imposing a hiring freeze, although the bank said it hopes to minimise job losses. ANZ spokesman Paul Edwards said the bank employed about 650 people in Bangalore and expected to increase this to 1000 over the next 18 months. He said ANZ Bank was planning to shift back-office roles to Bangalore over the next two to three years, but he could not confirm the number of jobs that would move. "It's fair to say, however, there are likely to be more operations roles in Bangalore over time and fewer operations roles in Australia," Mr Edwards said. "At the same time, ANZ will be creating new jobs and opportunities in customer-facing areas and this means jobs in Bangalore will rise and jobs in Australia will also rise. "Any number (of jobs to be moved) at this point is pure speculation. We hope to minimise job losses.""

More here

29 November, 2005

Amazing idea: Have 4 kids and you no longer have to work

Parents on welfare with large families should not have to look for work under controversial changes to Australia's welfare system, a government-led committee has found. The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee has had just two weeks to consider the contentious welfare-to-work proposals, which aim to push more single parents and disabled people into the workforce. But committee chair, Liberal senator Gary Humphries, on Monday said parents in large families - with four or more children - should not have to look for work. "The committee feels that the pressure on those families are considerable and the grant of automatic exemption is warranted," Senator Humphries told parliament.

More here

Possible hiatus

I go into hospital for a rather large surgical procedure today. It is however day surgery so I hope to be back home by the evening and blogging away as usual. If that proves too optimistic, however, this blog may not be updated for a day or so.

Nuclear power examined

Probably just talk. Australia has huge reserves of coal that are being cheaply dug up on a large scale by open-cut (open cast) mining

The Federal Government is building the case for a nuclear power industry in Australia, planning a high-level academic inquiry into its prospects. Science Minister Brendan Nelson and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane have put a proposal for the inquiry, costed at less than $1 million, to John Howard. The proposal responds to the Prime Minister's call earlier this year for a nuclear power debate.

In a television interview yesterday, Dr Nelson said the inquiry would involve the Academy of Science, together with the academies of social science and humanities. The Technical Science and Engineering Academy is also involved. "I think we owe it to our future to examine all of our options," he said. "We can't responsibly dig 30 per cent of the world's uranium out of the ground, export it overseas and allow some 450 reactors to operate and expand in other parts of the world and not seriously consider this as an option for ourselves." He said the inquiry would examine the geological, environmental, physical and social aspects of a nuclear power industry in Australia.

Although the academies often make submissions individually to Government inquiries, such as reviews of higher education, it is the first time a Government has gone to them with a proposal for a combined inquiry. "The Government certainly had strong support from the academies from the outset, " Academy of Social Science executive director John Beaton said yesterday. "The academies all welcome the opportunity to consider how issues of nuclear power and related topics will affect society," Dr Beaton said. "Nuclear power generation and waste management have come a very long way since Chernobyl and this debate needs to be had in the light of a much better understanding and newer technology, but it also must respond to concerns of the Australians."

The Government is still refining the terms of reference for the inquiry, which is expected to take a year to complete. The Government's objective is to have a set of facts that can be marshalled against opponents of nuclear power.

Although there has been discussion within the Labor Party about its policies on uranium and nuclear power, it remains opposed to an expansion of the industry. Labor spokeswoman for education and research Jenny Macklin said yesterday that no matter which organisations Dr Nelson got to do the study, it wouldn't address the concerns of Australians about nuclear power. "Australia is as far into the nuclear cycle as the Australian public wants to be. It's absurd that Brendan Nelson is running this issue of nuclear energy when he can't even get consensus or public support to locate a dump for existing low-level waste," Ms Macklin said.

Dr Nelson said the Government was determined to build a low and intermediate level nuclear waste repository for waste from medical and industrial uses in the Northern Territory. He noted there was already 16 cubic metres of nuclear waste stored at Darwin Hospital and at Mt Todd, 40km from Katherine. "We owe it to ourselves. I mean, every Australian will benefit from a nuclear-sourced medical procedure," he said. Dr Nelson said that "under no circumstances" would the proposed repository be used for storing high-level nuclear waste from any eventual nuclear power industry in Australia.


Cotton wool kids

Australian children are given less freedom to go out alone than those in other countries are. Research shows 80 per cent of 10-year-olds in Germany are allowed to to roam independently - more than twice the 37 per cent of Australian children. "Children in Australian cities have lower levels of freedom to walk to school alone, cycle on main roads alone, visit friends alone, use public transport, cross main roads alone and go out after dark," said Paul Tranter from the University of New South Wales. Aussie children also compared badly against English and New Zealand kids.

"We've seen a pretty dramatic change in the way our kids get around," Dr Tranter said. Scared parents had become chauffeurs, driving over-protected children everywhere and depriving them of exercise and experiences vital to their social and emotional development. "To a child, a walk to the shops is not just a chore. It's a chance for experiences along the way - patting a cat, kicking leaves," he said.

The Sunday Mail in July revealed a landmark Queensland survey of parents and students found 71 per cent of young students were not allowed to walk or ride from home to their primary schools. A Melbourne study found the proportion of children who went to school by car has exploded from 25 per cent in 1974 to 89 per cent this year while those who walked plummeted from 65 percent to just 8 per cent.

Dr Tranter said the situation would be similar in cities across Australia. "We've fallen into a social trap where people feel they have to drive their children to school to protect them from the traffic dangers created by other parents driving their children to school. "Similarly, the fear of stranger danger is compounded by people retreating from the streets. "Residential streets are seen as lonely, deserted and dangerous places for children. So when people leave their homes they do so in private vehicles - resulting in fewer people on the streets to provide surveillance and support for children.

More here

A history of Australian Maoism

That most painstaking of Australian historians, Keith Windschuttle, has just written a brief history of Maoism in Australia in which he describes the powerful influence such complete nonsense had among Australian intellectuals. The introduction to Windschuttle's article is below:

"In December 1993, to mark the centenary of the birth of Mao Tse-tung, the Melbourne Age commissioned an opinion piece from Albert Langer, who as a student activist in the 1960s had been the best-known public face of Maoism in Australia . Around the time Langer accepted the invitation, Western culture had been beset by a vogue for big, showpiece political apologies: Bill Clinton apologized for slavery, the Queen apologized for British imperialism, the Pope even apologized for the Crusades. But it never occurred to Langer to follow suit.

He wrote at a time when the populations of eastern Europe had just revealed what they thought of their former Communist rulers by throwing them all out of office, and when China was finally pulling itself out of poverty by developing a capitalist economy. Rather than the end of socialism, Langer portrayed this merely as its "low tide". It would inevitably be followed by another high tide like the one he enjoyed in his youth. The impasse into which the Left had fallen, he wrote, would not last forever. "As Mao points out," Langer declared, "there is an alternative - rebellion, struggle, the fight for socialism . Happy birthday Mao Tse-tung!"

When Mao's next major milestone, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, arrived in 1999 Australian Book Review commissioned another Sixties Maoist, Humphrey McQueen, to write its annual La Trobe University Essay. By this time, McQueen was less of an enthusiast than Langer. He had now, he said, lost all sympathy with the regime. But he still claimed the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s was justified for attempting to bring backward rural China into the modern world, and he still considered Mao a great intellect. "Far from seeing Mao Tse-tung-Thought as sloganeering", McQueen wrote, "I knew how demanding his ideas could be."

When the review commissioned McQueen it could hardly have been unaware of the radical shift in Western opinion about the nature of Mao's regime. This was partly the result of Jung Chang's best-selling 1991 book Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, which told the story of how her own once-dedicated Maoist family, and many others like it, had been humiliated, imprisoned and destroyed by the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution. When Jasper Becker's book Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine revealed in 1995 that Mao had caused between 30 and 40 million people to starve to death during the so-called Great Leap Forward of 1958-61, the horror of the regime was there for all to see. But McQueen's reminiscences mentioned none of this".

28 November, 2005

End of school hi-jinks in Queensland

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time - but an after-dark dash through a frenzied Schoolies crowd by these two teenagers could easily have ended in disaster. Clad only in bikinis, the schoolgirls aged 16 and 17 paraded through the Esplanade at Surfers Paradise where up to 30,000 boozed-up schoolies partied.

Seen by The Sunday Mail, their appearance about 7.40pm last Saturday sparked a crowd surge, cheers and wolf-whistles. But when some male schoolies began groping at them, the pair fled to the beach.

Volunteers working the streets were shocked by the girls' antics. "Those girls were putting themselves in danger. It's very silly. They might not have been thinking straight at the time," Rosies street vans manager Gary Parsons told The Sunday Mail. He said the girls had been caught "in the moment". "You have to imagine yourself there. It's such a buzz down there for the kids," he said. "It's an adrenalin rush. You can lose control."

Griffith University cultural and sociology studies lecturer Felicity Grace blamed the girls' behaviour on pressure to be noticed.....

The two girls defended their actions and denied they were ever in danger. "I wouldn't have come out if I didn't think I felt safe," the 17-year-old said. Her friend added: "I wouldn't come out if it was dangerous. It's just awesome. The atmosphere is so good. Everyone is partying hard."

This year's festival is fast earning a reputation as the wildest week on record, with police, paramedics and volunteers admitting they are stunned by the behaviour of schoolies and the excessive drinking. In the past week 319 people were arrested, 82 of them schoolies. Most were for drunkenness and public nuisance offences. There have also been reports of sexual attacks.

Ambulance officers estimate 60 per cent of the drunks they treated were young women who were "trying to keep up with the boys". "They are having four or five shots of liqueur and then half a bottle of vodka and becoming very drunk," Queensland Ambulance Service Schoolies co-ordinator Allan Windsor said. Another volunteer said authorities were at a loss to prevent binge drinking. "They go hard and come out on the street. They end up spewing their guts out," he said. "I don't know what the answer is."

More here

Child abuse letter rocks Anglicans

Gold Coast pensioner Richard "Tommy" Campion has a horrifying, clear picture of what his lawyers believe will be one of the worst cases of child abuse in an Australian orphanage. His nightmares have led him to write a five-page letter to the Anglican Church in which he graphically details the sadistic treatment he and fellow orphans suffered at the church's North Coast Children's Home at Lismore in northern NSW in the 1950s.

The instances of "cowardly physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse from the staff, clergymen and matron" have been corroborated by many other victims who contacted Mr Campion's Brisbane lawyer, Simon Harrison....

Mr Campion was aged two when his father, Peter, dumped him and sister Suzanne, 4, in 1949. "I went back to the home seven or eight years ago, but I never went inside. I was too frightened," the former newspaper photographer said....

"The beatings were horrendous, sadistic and being a child, that's just beyond reason." Mr Harrison, who has been involved in several high-profile institution-based abuse cases, was shocked by the letter. "It will probably become one of the most significant abuse claims in Australia - that's how it is developing at the moment," he said. "The orphanage housed 50 people at any one time. The abuse appears to be systematic and ongoing for some time. "This was open abuse - most kids were witnessing it, on the end of their beds watching it. "And it was the intensity of it . . . it gave me the impression of Dante's version of hell." He was confident discussions with the church would lead to an early settlement.

After receiving Mr Campion's letter, Anglican Church Diocese of Grafton registrar the Rev Pat Comben moved quickly to provide support and launch an investigation. The former Queensland environment minister who later joined the priesthood, promised to help Mr Campion "move beyond the pain caused in an Anglican place that should have been safe". "I am unable to adequately express my feelings of revulsion, sorrow and helplessness which the letter raises inside of me," Mr Comben wrote.

Mr Campion is determined to find every child who was abused at the home and help them get an apology and compensation. "You will never erase the pain of the memory, but there might be something special they haven't had in their life that they can now have," he said. "With me, I just want to do something that's good."

More here

Educational testing taking off

Five-year-old children will be tested for basic reading skills twice a year under a national plan to help struggling students. Describing the current state of early childhood and kindergarten education as "a mess", Education Minister Brendan Nelson said the literacy tests would provide parents with results while their children were still identifying words and developing reading skills. Pre-empting a national literacy report to be released soon, Dr Nelson backed the investigation's recommendation of a national testing regime for under-8s. "When a child comes into the system, you have got to have some idea of what their reading skills may be," he told The Weekend Australian. "How is a teacher to know who to concentrate on? "You worry about them all but you've surely got to identify the ones you have got to start from scratch on."

The long-awaited report, Teaching Reading, was commissioned by Dr Nelson amid fears that current teaching methods were failing Australia's children. The minister is expected to announce a shake-up of teacher training in universities when the report is released on December 8.

The report's author, Ken Rowe, said yesterday there was no national regime to test children when they first attended school. "South Australia and Victoria have been doing this for quite a few years," he said. "Some children are even tested when they are 4 1/2. "The idea is they get some sort of indication of their cognitive development - whether they can identify letters, whether they can recognise their own name. "There's currently no national consistency on this. This would give teachers the basics of what they need to know about a child's skills."

His report is expected to include an explicit warning that Australia's schools should embrace "systematic, direct phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skill required for foundational reading proficiency". There has been a controversial debate over which of two approaches is better - the phonics instruction method or the "whole language" method, a "holistic" approach in which children are immersed in language and words, instead of learning first to break down words.

Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said: "If Brendan Nelson is going to impose a new test on five-year-olds, he must accompany it with additional resources for teachers so that the students requiring extra help actually get it."

Dr Nelson also signalled debate over a shake-up of early childhood education. "Personally, I think that early childhood education is a mess," he said. "It's a question of luck, in many cases, as to where you live in Australia and whether your child will get access to early childhood education and, if so, what the quality will be. "Some of the parents have said to me: 'What are you going to do about children who don't know what a book is?' "I've often said to the university people, who have a voracious appetite for money: 'If you had serious new money to invest in education in Australia, would you get a better human and economic return for it if you invested it in universities or early childhood?' That's a good question."

Dr Nelson also revealed that preliminary results from a controversial tutorial voucher scheme for children have shown a rapid improvement in their reading age of between 12 and 18 months after one-on-one help. Outlining a timetable to work towards a national Year 12 system, known as an Australian Certificate of Education, by 2007, Dr Nelson also indicated that his reform agenda was beginning to secure the support of previously hostile states. The proposal would build on the existing state-based exams, rather than force students to sit more tests. But it would deliver a national approach on key subject areas such as maths, chemistry, physics and English.

Parents forced to move interstate for work could be confident under the new system that their child would have a better chance of settling in, without the stress and upheaval of a different curriculum, Dr Nelson said. "Why can't we have common language, common units of assessment, common standards in core areas?" Dr Nelson maintains that the changes, which would require the agreement of the states, would not require a rigid, inflexible national curriculum across all subjects. "But in some areas, surely, elements of mathematics, physics and chemistry are common to everyone," he said


Chinese educational success continues

The immigration success story continues apace, with students of Chinese background securing one third of the places in Sydney's selective academic schools. Nine out of 10 students at James Ruse Agricultural High School - NSW's top-performing school - have a non-English-speaking background, predominantly Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean language groups. And after decades of mass migration, thousands of students in government selective schools speak more than 30 different languages at home, from Arabic to Vietnamese. Across the city, students from a migrant background - mainly from Asia - account for two-thirds of enrolments in selective schools, or 9451 out of 14,300 students.

However, the nationally agreed definition of "non-English-speaking background" is broad and includes many students whose parents were born in Australia. Students are classified as NESB if they or their parents speak a language other than English at home.

The Herald has analysed the cultural mix of students in the 19 fully selective state schools using NSW Education Department data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. More than 5000 of the 16,000 selective school students say they have a Chinese-speaking heritage and all but 100 of those students live in Sydney, where 4.9 per cent of the population speaks a Chinese language. The next largest language groups are Korean (601 students), Vietnamese (528), Tamil (436), Tagalog (284), Hindi (284), Singhalese (225), Greek (151), Russian (146) and Arabic (137). The dominance of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds ranges from 92.3 per cent of enrolments at James Ruse and 83.6 per cent at Sydney Boys High to 12.7 per cent at Gosford High.

Lynne Irving, the principal of Sydney Technical High at Bexley, said her school represented the changing demographic. "We reflect what the community looks like," she said. "Irrespective of the national background, the students all have a very high work ethic and they're very well supported by their parents."

Author Don Aitkin said the performance of many students from Asian backgrounds followed the success enjoyed by previous waves of migrant children. "It's in effect a parental sacrifice in the interests of the child," he said. The migrant parents would typically "work their butts off" so their children could get a good education. The children were aware of this and would often forgo "present gratification" like going to the beach to study hard. "And nothing has changed . What you are seeing is only the newest phase of it," he said.

More than 13,000 students this year competed in an entry test for 3308 selective school places in year 7 in 2006. As well as the 19 fully selective schools, there are another dozen schools that teach high achievers in some classes. Students must be Australian citizens or permanent residents. Newly arrived migrants often excel in the difficult test. This year 83 students who could not speak English when they came to Australia less than four years ago won a place for next term


27 November, 2005

Border policing 'keeps refugees home'

More refugees fleeing war and violence were staying within their own borders because of tough immigration policies like Australia's, an international refugee expert said. Jeff Crisp, director of policy and research at the Global Commission on International Migration, says the number of refugees moving between counties is declining. But the number of displaced people staying within their own borders has risen, he said. "The overall trend in refugee numbers globally is going down and has been going down over the last three to five years," he said.

But many of the rising numbers of people displaced inside their home countries are stuck in refugee camps for years at a time. Between five and six million people are in camps like those in Kenya, where more than 100,000 Sudanese refugees are clustered after fleeing civil war in their own country. Children are now being born and brought up in these camps, said Dr Crisp, a former senior policy officer with the United Nations's refugee agency, UNHCR. Knowledge of the local language and legal systems and access to support networks are some advantages to staying put, Dr Crisp said. "You could say that there are certain advantages in remaining in your own country."

But tough immigration policies like those in Australia are helping to discourage people from making risky journeys to industrialised nations. "I think what's happened since the famous Tampa incident, the authorities in Australia have made it very difficult if not impossible to access the country by boat," he said. The Tampa incident ushered in the Pacific Solution for processing asylum seekers in offshore detention facilities outside Australia's migration zone. In August, 2001, more than 400 asylum seekers were rescued at sea by the Norwegian freighter, Tampa, which was then turned away from the Australian coast and its human cargo diverted to Pacific island detention centres...

Australia accepts around 13,000 refugees every year under resettlement and special humanitarian programs...

More here

Police aren't the problem: governments are!

(Post lifted from Kev Gillett)

Victorian police were too trigger-happy and poorly equipped to deal with the mentally ill, the corruption watchdog declared yesterday, calling for drug and alcohol testing and urgent retraining of officers after a spate of fatal shootings.

What about calling for better facilities for the mentally ill. A succession of state governments with their wacko ideas of closing politically incorrect Mental Asylums have put the problems on the streets. General hospitals can't and won't handle the criminally or dangerously insane so it's left to poor old Constable Plod to handle the problem.

His only answer to civilians, himself or his partner being in mortal danger from a mentally insane citizen is bang bang..two rounds.instant counselling and treatment.

Constable Plod is traumatized by being forced to kill to do his job and the politicians have the temerity to criticize him. Not good enough.

Minimum wage earners not poor

Workers on low incomes do not necessarily live in poverty, according to the findings of a national study that challenges the link between wages and prosperity. The study shows that a quarter of the workforce earning the minimum wage or less are not confined to the poorest households but are found in households all the way up the income scale. The 3.3 million workers earning close to or less than the minimum wage of $12.30 an hour or less include a disproportionate number of young people and women, many of whom live in well-off households which may include other wage earners. Less than a fifth of low-income earners are in the poorest 20 per cent of households where weekly income is $226 or less. The great majority of these households have nobody in the workforce and include retirees.

The numbers contained in the study by Australian National University fellow Andrew Leigh suggest that a statutory minimum wage is a blunt instrument in the fight against poverty. Dr Leigh found 14 per cent of people on low incomes live in the richest 20 per cent of households, where the average total household income is $1030 a week. Most people on low incomes are to be found in middle-income households, where the total disposable income averages $492. People on low incomes tend either to be single or to be the secondary income earner in a household.

Dr Leigh says two-thirds of people on the minimum wage or less are in households with two or more people in the workforce. However, there are still about 1.3 million people earning the minimum wage or less who are the principal wage earner in their household. While women make up 43.5 per cent of the workforce, they are 53.3 per cent of the people on minimum wages and 49.4 per cent of those earning less than the minimum. Most people earning minimum wages or less have lower education levels than the general workforce, but about 600,000 people with higher-education degrees are earning the minimum wage or less.

Dr Leigh says this is partly because people on low wages tend to be younger than the general population. The average age for people on minimum wages is 34, while the average for the workforce is 37. The average age of those on less than minimum wages is 28. While youth wages contribute to the prevalence of people earning less than the minimum wage, 60 per cent of such workers are aged 20 or more. Dr Leigh suggests they may be employed illegally or under state awards. The average rate for those earning less than the minimum wage is barely $9 an hour.

Dr Leigh says the proportion of the population earning less than minimum wages has remained steady at about 13 per cent of the workforce since 1994, while the number on minimum wages has fallen from 15 per cent to about 10 per cent.


26 November, 2005

The Australian government deports non-citizen scum but the Left wants him back

There is after all "no such thing as right and wrong" to the Left -- excepting what they say of course

The Federal Government has defended its policy of ordering permanent residents out of Australia on character grounds following an outcry over its deportation of a Melbourne criminal. Heroin addict Robert Jovicic had lived in Australia for 36 of his 38 years, but was deported last year to Serbia, although he had never been there. He remains stateless as Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone awaits a report into his case by her department.

The Government deported him on character grounds after he was jailed for the latest in a string of burglaries to support his heroin habit. Jovicic, who reportedly had more than 150 previous convictions, was described by a judge as a "professional criminal". Former immigration minister and current Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, who was responsible for cancelling Jovicic's permanent visa in October 2002, said the character test that allowed residents to be deported was a reasonable one. "In 1999 there was a bi-partisan committee response in reviewing criminal deportations, which led to a strengthening of the measure to ensure that people who pose a considerable risk to Australia who are non-citizens could be removed he said. "No government apologises for that." Criminal deportations had been part of Australia's criminal justice system for as long as he could remember.

Department of Immigration (DIMIA) figures show that more than 300 permanent residents were ordered out of the country after they failed a "character test" in the past three years. "It has been a long-standing practice in this country, supported by both sides of politics, that non-citizens who commit serious criminal acts be considered for criminal deportation," Mr Ruddock said.

But federal Labor now says Jovicic should be brought back to Australia....

Jovicic arrived in Australia from France in 1968 as a two-year-old, along with his brother, sister and parents, who had come from the former Yugoslavia. This week, he camped outside the Australian embassy in Belgrade in a desperate attempt to be returned to Melbourne and said he would die there if he was not sent home.

More here

EU sugar reform: Great news for Australia

And the ball is now firmly in America's court to do the same. Despite Australia being the world's most efficient sugar producer, lots of Queensland sugar mills have closed in recent years due to protectionism in their major markets

"Britain has brokered an agreement to reform the last remaining fully protected area of European agriculture, cutting sugar prices, phasing out quotas and bringing an end to sugar mountains. The first reforms since the postwar period to the EU's much criticised sugar regime will cut prices by 36 per cent, destroy 100,000 jobs in Europe, end sugar farming in countries such as Ireland and Greece, and lead to economic devastation for Europe's former colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, which also benefited from the rigged market.... As well as European consumers and taxpayers, the reforms will also benefit efficient sugar producers such as Brazil, Thailand and Australia, who had taken successful legal action against Europe to force it to end its protectionism. It will also help some of the poorest African countries, who will get far better access to the EU market from 2009.

Under the reforms, prices will be cut by 36 per cent over the next four years, but the world's producers will not get free access until 2020. European sugar farmers and processors are being given billion euros (4.8 billion pounds) in compensation to help them to adjust to the new industries. Former colonies that lose out will be given 40 million euros next year.

Under the reforms, Ireland will be forced by quota cuts to shut down all its sugar beet production, while Italy will give up half its production quotas. Official estimates predict that European sugar production will drop by one quarter, and that 90,000 of Europe's 325,000 sugar workers will lose their jobs. With Europe's pampered and inefficient farmers largely unable to compete in the global market, the Commission predicts that all sugar exports from Europe will stop, and the EU will turn into a major sugar importer.....

The Common Agricultural Policy kept sugar prices in Europe at more than three times the world level. It led to huge sugar surpluses, which were dumped on the developing world, often undermining local farmers. However, sugar cane farmers in former European colonies, mainly in Africa, had preferential access to the European market, enabling them to sell at well above world rates...."

More here

Unpredictable outcry over Asian executions

Australian politicians and pundits (See e.g. here and here and here) are jumping up and down about the planned execution in Singapore of an Australian-Vietrnamese drug runner Van Tuong Nguyen, but former pop star and alleged pedophile Gary Glitter, undoubtedly better known with the general public, now under threat of death in Vietnam, generates no such reaction. See e.g. here and here

Music plays second fiddle to other school subjects

The majority of Australian children are deprived of adequate music education at school, according to a damning national report that political leaders say reveals a crisis in music teaching. The National Review of School Music Education found that two-thirds of schools rate their music classes as variable to very poor, and about one in 10 schools - or more than 900 across the country - offer no formal music classes at all. The review, commissioned by the Federal Government last year, also reported that a third of schools had great difficulty finding teachers who were properly trained in music. Only 6 per cent of schools made any effort to nurture students gifted in music.

The federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, conceded yesterday that his Government was partly responsible for the "inconsistent and inequitable" way music was taught to young Australians. But he also hit out at states and universities for treating music as "some kind of desirable add-on in school education rather than being a foundation of it". Dr Nelson, who described the review as "disturbing at best", will convene a national music education summit early next year to debate recommendations in the review, which calls for strict benchmarks in all school music curriculums. "There will also be major reform in the way in which Australian teachers are trained in universities," he said. Dr Nelson said he would refer the report to Teaching Australia, which is developing an accreditation system for education faculties.

The chairwoman of the review's steering committee, Professor Margaret Seares, who is also deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Western Australia, lamented the fact that governments had been ignoring reviews of music education since the 1970s. She said that for too many years schools had been allowed to treat music as a diversion for tired teachers and bored students. Research cited in the review showed that music tuition engaged all students, lifted their self-esteem and improved their academic achievements, she said.

But a spokeswoman for the NSW Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, cited a 20 per cent rise in enrolments in HSC Music 1 since 2001 as evidence that the state was taking music seriously. "All students between kindergarten and year 6 do it and high school students must study 100 hours of music above the national average," the spokeswoman said. "Education in music is no less important than learning how to read, write, count and communicate."

The Federal Opposition spokeswoman for education, Jenny Macklin, and the Opposition spokesman for the arts, Peter Garrett, said Dr Nelson should stop blaming the states and work with them. "The federal Education Minister's response to this $346,000 report is to organise a summit next year to discuss the issues in music education. Nearly 1200 submissions and 4700 petitions should be enough for Brendan Nelson to take action now," the pair said in a statement.

Dr Nelson, a Slim Dusty devotee and amateur guitar strummer, declared that every Australian child should have an opportunity to learn an instrument and be given the "courage to express [their] emotions". "It is extremely important that all of us appreciate that [this is] the way in which we will pass the soul from our generation to the next." Dr Nelson has allocated $400,000 to the Australian Society for Music Education over four years to set up an award system for outstanding music teachers. A further $500,000 will be committed to improving curriculums.


25 November, 2005

Federal Treasurer plans overhaul of tax law

Good if it happens

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello has announced a proposal to undertake the biggest overhaul of tax laws in Australian history. Mr Costello said a bill would be introduced next year that would repeal 28 per cent of tax legislation. "What that means is that practitioners will be able to use the Tax Act in a much more friendly way," he told reporters in Melbourne. "They will not be worried by provisions which are inoperative and add to clumsiness or confusion, and this will be the largest simplification of tax legislation in Australian history, the repeal of nearly 30 per cent of legislation."

Mr Costello said the proposal followed a review of tax legislation by the Board of Taxation. "This is a major reform to Australia's taxation legislation, a simplification of the dimension we've never had before, and a dramatic improvement to reduce complexity in Australia's tax system. "This is the biggest overhaul of taxation legislation in Australian history."

More here

Australian research shows that corals 'adapt to climate change'

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is of course the biggest coral reef in the world

Scientists believe corals may be able to protect themselves from devastating bleaching events after discovering some can adapt to climate change. The find, described by Dr Ray Berkelmans as "tremendously exciting", comes amid predictions up to 100 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef could be wiped out by the end of the century because of rising water temperatures. Dr Berkelmans, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and CRC Reef Research Centre, said a predicted 1 to 3 degree increase in temperatures could result in between 80 to 100 per cent bleaching. Water temperatures could rise to as high as 32 degrees in some parts of the reef and could take as long as 100 years to recover, he said.

But Dr Berkelmans said his studies had found coral could adapt to climate change by using a particular type of algae to become "thermally tolerant". "Through an extensive transplant experiment and also through laboratory temperature stressing experiments we were able to determine that, at least for the species that we were looking at, under some conditions the corals were able to take on a new type of algae into their system," Dr Berkelmans said. "There are different types of algae that it can associate with and when it associates with a particular type called D, it becomes more thermally tolerant. "That's a tremendously exciting find. Up until recently we weren't sure that corals could adapt at all."

Dr Berkelmans said the most common "zooxanthellae", or algal partners, were type C and D, with type C found in more than 95 per cent of the reef. "We found instances where individual corals change the dominant zooxanthellae type from type C to D after a major stress event," he said. "It's evolution within the lifespan of an individual coral, and that's the exciting part." Dr Berkelmans said the find gave scientists "scope for optimism" that corals could survive future bleaching events.

But he said they were still baffled as to why some changed and under what conditions. "We don't know which species, we don't know where, we don't know why," he said. "We're only just starting on this area but there's a glimmer of hope."


Anything rather than build a dam and upset the Greenies

Sydney's desalination plant would cost up to $1.3 billion and would be fully funded by the Government, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma said today. Mr Iemma said the desalination plant, to be built on the Kurnell peninsula south of Sydney, would be capable of producing 125 megalitres of drinking water a day. It would be funded through Sydney Water's capital works budget, he said. "The plant will give Sydney an extra 125 million litres of water per day - enough to supply 350,000 people," Mr Iemma said. "The delivery of a secure water source is a vital service for the people of this city, so the government has decided that the desalination plant will be publicly owned. "It will be designed, built, operated and maintained by the private sector - but it will remain in public ownership." ...

The Government had set aside $100 million for projects such as tree plantations and wind or gas fired power stations to offset the greenhouse impacts of the desalination plant. The environmental impact assessment report on the plant was due to be made available to the public for comment tomorrow.

The Government estimated households in Sydney and the Illawarra would have to pay about $1.20 per week in higher water bills to pay for the desalination plant. [So it's going to cost over a million dollars per year to run whereas a dam costs virtually nothing to maintain]

More here

Disillusioned mother opens own school

A mother of four disillusioned with the Victoria's primary schools has opened her own. Elisa Russell began the primary school, called Hypatia, last month after being unhappy with her children's progress. "We have had experiences with alternative and mainstream education but it just didn't work for us," Mrs Russell said. "We pulled the kids out and I home-schooled them as we started looking around, but we just didn't find anything that suited us as a family. "So we decided we would open a school and try a pilot program with our kids."

Mrs Russell said her three eldest children - Eleanor, 6, Fionnbarr, 5, and Greer, 4 - are the school's only students and are taught by one teacher. But she is hoping to enrol another 15 students next year and hire another two teachers. Mrs Russell said the school is based on Socratic education - treating children as thinkers rather than empty vessels, and allowing them to find the truth for themselves. "The most ground-breaking thing about the school is that it is one teacher to five students," she said. Mrs Russell, 33, also said the school would group students and teach them based on academic level, not age.

Annual fees would start from $9000 for three days a week and $12,000 for five days a week. Mrs Russell said the school was also family friendly, with more flexible hours than traditional schools. She said she has had huge interest in the school, with more than 50 calls from interested parents. The school is renting classrooms from Alia College's secondary campus in Hawthorn.

Mrs Russell said her children were loving it. "For the children it is going fantastically," she said. "Academically they are doing very well, but any child would excel in that environment where there is one-on-one learning with teachers."

Mrs Russell said she was applying to register the school with the Registered Schools Board of Victoria but it was expected to take some time. She said until the registration came through they could teach up to 15 students because it was classed as a home schooling environment.


24 November, 2005

Your bureaucracy will protect you from terrorism

Hundreds of security cards giving people access to restricted areas at Sydney Airport are lost or stolen each year, a parliamentary inquiry has heard. Qantas security boss Geoff Askew today said thousands of Aviation Security Identification Cards (ASIC) were issued every year to people who worked in restricted areas at Sydney airport, including the airstrip and baggage rooms. But Australia's largest airline could not account for 384 of the cards, handed out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services in the past two years, Mr Askew told the Public Accounts and Audit Committee in Sydney. Of the cards, which expire in 2006, 24 were indirectly stolen while the "vast majority" had simply been lost, the committee's inquiry was told.

The parliamentary committee re-opened its investigations into aviation security after issues were raised in the Schapelle Corby drugs case and a leaked report showed Customs concerns about crime at airports. Mr Askew told the committee Qantas was concerned by the large number of unaccounted for cards. "(But) we would be concerned if we lost a laptop or any other piece of equipment as well," he said.

Mr Askew said the airline filed a police report once it was aware a card was missing. It then disabled the card so it could not work in the control access system. But a spokesman for Sydney Airport later confirmed the card could still be used to get into areas that were manned. "If they were going through a gate they would not need to swipe the card but a security guard would be expected to check their photographic ID," the spokesman said.

Sydney Airport Corp's airport security manager, Ron Elliott, told the inquiry the Federal Government needed to establish a national centralised ASIC database. This would help to weed out loopholes and address the system's shortcomings, he said. "It would be a matter for the government to do ... through the attorney general," Mr Elliott said.

In October, two former Qantas contractors were able to use their ASIC cards to access an area of Sydney's international terminal where they were not authorised to work. The workers, who face court next month, were arrested and charged with breaching security regulations but they claimed it would never have happened if they had been given the correct security passes in the first place.


Ignorant environmental tyranny hard to beat

After two long, frustrating years of tripping up on Queensland Government red tape, it's a wonder that Steve Lawrie can still find something to grin about. That's how long it's taken for his family to persuade the Department of Natural Resources and Mines to correct the colour on the all-important vegetation maps covering their Central Queensland properties from green to white. It's a battle which has necessitated countless phone calls, meetings, and even a trawl through the family album in a bid to prove that country on Sebastapol, 50km west of Rockhampton, and on another property near Middlemount, had been previously cleared.

But the beef producer from Powlathanga Station, west of Charters Towers, hasn't lost his sense of the ridiculous. "It's pretty scientific, isn't it" he said. "A colour gets incorrectly slapped on a map and it's gospel - then it's hell to get it changed."

The Lawrie family's woes began when they received the maps more than two years ago, with "a couple of thousand" acres of country which had been cleared nearly 20 years ago marked as untouched. When initial complaints proved fruitless, the Lawries dug up old photos, taken when Steve was only 14 years old and showing distinctive landscape features that proved the so-called "green" country and the pulled timber were one and the same. While the department declined their offer to view the photographs, it took until last Friday for Steve's parents Robert and Jenny to finally receive word the Sebastapol maps would be changed. Meanwhile, the Middlemount property has changed from green to pink, despite the family's arguments that the country is plagued with regrowth, not virgin scrub.

"I really don't know where (the department) gets its information from," Mr Lawrie said this week. "It's not just the initial ruling on map colours, it's also the hassles of pursuing changes. We found we could never speak to the same person twice, the rules kept changing and there's such a huge lag time in following up on requests - it took 15 months for NRM to get us aerial pictures and satellite maps, and when they finally arrived, they were for the wrong country. It took 18 months for the department to send someone out to actually physically inspect the area."

While the Lawries can at last sit down to plan development and maintenance on their properties, two years of toing and froing has cost them dearly. "We couldn't begin to put a price on what we've lost in land productivity production, what it's cost in all the trips to Rockhampton and in not getting work done on the properties because we were tied up with NRM. I don't even want to think what the price has been."


Deadbeat State government

NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos has apologised to a breast cancer sufferer who could not buy a prosthesis because an area heath services account had been frozen by Coles Myer. Gail Turner, who has had a mastectomy, was unable to use a voucher provided by the Greater Southern Area Health Service when she presented it at a Myer store in Wagga Wagga. The store refused to accept the voucher because the health service branch had failed to pay outstanding bills.

Other businesses, including that of a local milkman, have complained that Greater Southern has failed to pay its accounts.

Ms Turner, who is still having chemotherapy treatment, said she broke down at the counter when Myers refused to take her voucher for the $232 prosthesis and bra. Mr Hatzistergos said he rang Ms Turner today to apologise on behalf of the Government. "I expressed to her my sincere apologies for the circumstances that had arisen," he told reporters. Problems with accounting and computer systems, rather than a lack of funding, was responsible for the failure of Greater Southern to pay its bills, Mr Hatzistergos said. "It's not a situation we're proud of, where we have accounts that are being delayed in payment for [as long as] they have," he said.

More here

Work for the dole -- with a difference

Overweight jobless people could be forced to go on a diet in order to keep the dole under the Government's welfare changes, it was claimed yesterday. Unemployed people who were depressed could be required to take medication and disabled people may also have to move house to get closer to suitable work, Opposition employment spokeswoman Senator Penny Wong.

She told a Senate inquiry the new rules removed existing restrictions on what the Government could demand of someone on the dole. Currently it can require the jobless to undertake activities to improve their employment prospects but the types of activity are limited and have to be agreed to by the dole recipient.

Department of Employment and Workplace Relations deputy secretary Graham Carters denied the changes would work this way.


23 November, 2005

Cash incentives for university study in Australia

And I know it's true: My son got a small scholarship to study mathematics at university level after he got good grades in an advanced placements class during his final High School year

Thousands of university scholarships are on offer to this year's Queensland school leavers as the wheel turns full circle. Scholarships were last offered on a large scale in the early 1970s before the Whitlam Labor Government abolished university fees. While a record number of students have nominated for full-fee courses next year, thousands of others will apply for financial-hardship scholarships offered by the Federal Government and individual universities to defray costs for lower-income families. Students can also apply for an increasing number of academic excellence scholarships offered by universities and industry this year.

Since the introduction of financial hardships scholarships last year, the Federal Government has awarded in Queensland more than 1850 Commonwealth means-tested Education Costs Scholarships worth $2080, and almost 1600 Commonwealth Accommodation Scholarships, valued at $4161 open to rural and remote students. Applications for next year's Commonwealth scholarships close in February. A University of Queensland spokeswoman said yesterday the university offered additional needs-based scholarships under the same criteria as the Commonwealth. "We are recognising the fact that with the increase in costs in attending university, more and more students are requiring assistance," the spokeswoman said.

The University of Queensland will offer for the first time Fee-Pay Scholarships to offset the new Student Contribution, formerly known as HECS debt. It also offers means-tested Excellence Scholarships, valued at $6000 a year, UQ Link Residential Support Scholarships for students nominated by their school, as well as scholarships offered by individual faculties and schools.

For the first time, the Queensland Resources Council will offer four $40,000 scholarships to entice school leavers into an approved engineering, earth science or environmental science degree at any Queensland university. At the Queensland University of Technology, OP1 and OP2 students can apply for 50 new Vice-Chancellor Scholarships, worth $5000 a year. In the QUT Science Faculty, a Dean's Scholars Accelerated Honours Program, valued at $9000, will be open to OP1 students. Engineering scholarships for high achievers and law scholarships for financially disadvantaged students are among 90 different scholarships and bursaries being offered at QUT next year. Griffith University will award 15 Academic Excellence Scholarships and six sports scholarships, each valued at $15,000 to $25,000, as well as hardship and faculty scholarships. The University of Southern Queensland is offering accommodation scholarships, at $1000 a semester, to students attending its new Springfield campus near Ipswich.


Australian bureaucrats don't give a damn about how much harm they do either

"The Australian Customs Service pushed the button on a $250million computer project that caused chaos on the wharves, even though it knew the system did not have the power to run the new software. An internal Customs report seen by The Australian warned that the agency's mainframe computer had only half the processing power needed to run the Integrated Cargo System, which was budgeted at $35 million. Other internal documents show that Customs was struggling to fine-tune the software in the weeks leading up to the system's October 12 launch, with the system losing messages and running slow.

The launch of the ICS - a computer package that processes Customs declarations for imports - sparked a month of chaos on the wharves across the eastern seaboard, with importers struggling to clear goods through the system. Customs was forced to put on additional staff to speed up the processing of imports for an as yet unrevealed cost. Cargo began to pile up on wharves in NSW and Victoria, with retailers running short of goods in the lead-up to Christmas.

While Customs has blamed importers for not submitting the correct details to process cargo, internal documents show the agency was aware of serious problems well before it switched on the system. "The projected capacity requirements to September/October 2006 suggest that there is a major capacity problem imminent," an August Mainframe Capacity Review report reads. "Further mainframe performance savings ... must be found and implemented ASAP." ....

The problems on the wharves continue to reverberate through the business community, with customs brokers and freight forwarders estimating the crisis has cost their industry $78million. Some importers have already retained lawyers, with several firms understood to be exploring the possibility of a class action".

More here

Public hospital deaths, mistakes spark surgery audit

All surgical deaths in hospitals will be audited under a plan designed to detect system failures and medical errors that kill or harm thousands of patients a year. The national plan will be based on a West Australian audit of all surgery-related patient deaths which since 2001 has identified systemic problems and resulted in nationwide changes in surgical practice. Ninety-six per cent of West Australian surgeons took part in the audit, which achieved a progressive fall in the number of surgical deaths caused by poor clinical care, the project director, James Semmens, writes in the The Medical Journal of Australia today.

Of 876 surgery-related deaths, the audit found 45 (or 5 per cent) were caused by adverse events and 15 of those were considered preventable. There are 150,000 operations in Western Australia each year, he writes. The audit found most people who died were elderly and had other serious problems such as cardiovascular, respiratory, kidney or psychiatric diseases, the medical journal reports.

Three-quarters of the West Australian surgeons said they had changed their practices as a result of the audit and were more likely to advise patients and relatives against further surgical intervention if they believed it would not improve the condition. The audit has already forced a national change in medication given to patients before surgery, after it was discovered that too few had been given a drug to prevent deep-vein thrombosis, a common surgical complication. The audit also found that emergency patients had been given too much fluid, which often made them sicker. System-wide changes were put in place to avoid over-hydrating.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons aims to have every surgeon in the country voluntarily participate in the national audit, and there are hopes that New Zealand doctors will join the program next year. Along with changing surgical practice, the results would also be used to pressure politicians to legislate reform, the college's chairman of research and audit, Guy Maddern, told the Herald. "To have got to this stage is extraordinarily heartening but the real value will be in 12 months' time, when we get data and influence change," he said. "The results in WA have already improved the safety and quality of care by providing feedback to surgeons, hospitals and government that highlight system failures, which have prevented a recurrence of adverse events."

Previous studies had shown an error rate resulting in patient death or harm in Australian hospitals of between 10 per cent and 16 per cent. The West Australian program identified an overall error rate resulting in death of about 5 per cent. It found elective surgery patients were almost twice as likely to die as a result of technical errors. Emergency patients often died as a result of delays in getting treatment.

The chief executive officer of the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission, Cliff Hughes, said this state would be rolling out its audit area by area, starting with the Sydney South Western Area Health Service early next year. Professor Hughes is enthusiastic about the potential for the national audit to save lives. "You can identify areas of concern and use it as an educative experience for surgeons," he said. "I am delighted we are one step further toward complete, transparent reporting."


Arrogant New South Wales cops

As if being endemically corrupt were not enough

The police force has been fined $150,000 after a radio technician was forced into early retirement when a senior officer set off a siren as a practical joke. Anthony Hutchins suffers acute acoustic trauma and wears a noise generator in his right ear after an incident that has left him to survive on workers' compensation benefits.

The police have promised to introduce training programs on the safe use of sirens after being criticised in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission this month for a "completely inadequate approach to the problem of noise in the workplace".

Justice Roger Boland said Mr Hutchins was inspecting a winch near the front of a police four-wheel-drive in December 2001 at the radio network services workshop at Waratah in Newcastle with Senior Constable Eric Bell. His right ear was about 30 to 50 centimetres from the 100-watt siren's speaker when Senior Constable Bell set it off for about two seconds. Justice Boland described it as a "foolish practical joke" but said a noise control policy would have alerted the officer to the potential consequences.

Mr Hutchins was medically retired in June 2003 and has not been employed since. He wears the noise generator every day to mask his tinnitus, can no longer interact on a normal social level, and an "enormous strain" had been placed on his marriage. Justice Boland said the "payments he receives from workers' compensation are inadequate and he and his family are under severe financial strain".

Despite this, he said, there had been no apology or remorse shown by police. "Given the seriousness of the injury to Mr Hutchins and the [police's] failure, I am very surprised at the lack of contrition," Justice Boland said. He fined the police force $150,000 for not ensuring a safe system of work.


22 November, 2005

George Bush drove car illegally -- in Australia

George Bush has been brought to justice in Queensland. A distant relative and namesake of US President George W. Bush faced Maroochydore Magistrates' Court on the Sunshine Coast yesterday on a charge of driving while disqualified.

"We're starting with a big one today, aren't we?" Magistrate Cliff Taylor said when George Richard Wright Bush appeared in court. Texas-born Bush, 21, was fined $550 and banned from driving for two years after he pleaded guilty to driving while disqualified.

Bush's solicitor Jim Ryan confirmed to the court his client was related to the world's most powerful man. But the third cousin of the US leader said later he had never met his famous relative and had "nothing to do with him".

More here

Wotta Gal!

A senior (conservative) Federal politician who draws attention to the state of the emperor's clothes! Oh for more like her

"In a wide-ranging speech to Adelaide Rotarians, Senator Vanstone dismissed many commonwealth security measures as essentially ineffective. "To be tactful about these things, a lot of what we do is to make people feel better as opposed to actually achieve an outcome," Senator Vanstone said. Unaware that a journalist from Adelaide's Sunday Mail newspaper was in the lunchtime audience last Wednesday, Senator Vanstone complained about being forced to use plastic knives on aircraft and revealed a bizarre discussion with John Howard about the potential to hijack a plane using a pencil...

During her Adelaide speech, Senator Vanstone implied the use of plastic cutlery on planes to thwart terrorism was foolhardy. "Has it ever occurred to you that you just smash your wine glass and jump at someone, grab the top of their head and put it in their carotid artery and ask anything?" Senator Vanstone told her audience of about 100 Rotarians. "And believe me, you will have their attention. I think of this every time I see more money for the security agencies."

The Immigration Minister also told of a grisly conversation with Mr Howard during a discussion on increased spending on national security. Senator Vanstone said: "I asked him if I was able to get on a plane with an HB pencil, which you are able to, and I further asked him if I went down and came and grabbed him by the front of the head and stabbed the HB pencil into your eyeball and wiggled it around down to your brain area, do you think you'd be focusing? He's thinking, she's gone mad again." ....

Qantas has backed Senator Vanstone on the reintroduction of metal cutlery on planes. "We have been advised that the Government is reviewing this particular measure and we support that," Qantas's head of security Geoff Askew said".

More here


Amanda Vanstone is often ridiculed and she is certainly an unimpressive presence in some ways (she is conspicuously overweight) but below is another Vanstone comment that I rather liked. She put rather well how an Australian non-religious conservative responds to demands from the religious Right:

"I think living by a decent set of values is far more important than defending [religious] dogma. I'm confident that if you lead a good life and there is a kingdom of heaven you will be welcome. Your religion is your business and no one else's. My personal view is that when you make your religion an issue, you drag it into the political domain and you tarnish it. It follows that I attach very little importance to [such] arguments.

"My point is quite simple: each to his own religion. If you say to me that doing something is against God's will, then I will respond by assuring you that, if God is annoyed, God will punish whomever has done that thing. The state should never be used as God's enforcer. Over the years, as I have been approaching 50, I can assure you I have had every confidence in God's ability to settle accounts. It has not been my experience that he or she usually waits until you are dead. Many people who have done the wrong thing have met their maker in a practical sense while they were still alive ...

"I simply ask those who, because of their beliefs, have a very genuine concern about this bill, to accept that they are entitled to follow their beliefs. They are not entitled to demand, by legislation, that everybody else does the same."

More on the Oz baby boom

The young mother with a brood of children practically disappeared from the Australian suburbs over the past 30 years but there are signs she is ready to return. Women aged 20-29 are again giving birth, not in numbers seen just after the war but at an encouraging rate. The Australian Bureau of Statistics last week released its annual report on births, which showed a slight rise, mostly for women over the age of 30. However the report did not include the "baby bonus babies" -- those born nine months after the Treasurer, Peter Costello, announced a $3000 maternity payment for all new mothers.

Statistics for this year -- which The Australian collected from maternity units across the country -- suggest that the "baby bounce" is gathering pace, and that younger women have been encouraged to have children. Werribee's Mercy Hospital in Melbourne's west delivered 1752 babies in the last financial year. That is 250 -- or 20 per cent more -- than the previous year, and most of the mums were aged 20-29.

At Ipswich Hospital, outside Brisbane, the birth rate is up by 25 per cent and, as with Werribee, most mothers are under the age of 30. At Cairns Base Hospital -- where the average age of mothers is 28 -- there have been 1980 babies born so far this year, or 100 more than the same time last year. At Sunshine Hospital in Melbourne, where most mothers are aged 25-29, births are up by 30 per cent.

The maternity payment does not alone explain these figures: some hospitals have recorded increases because young families have moved into the area, or because new immigrants -- especially from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, who tend to have more children -- have settled nearby. Others, such as the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where 500 more babies were born this year, cite the closure of a nearby hospital for the rise.

At Adelaide's Women's and Children's Hospital, 4420 babies were born in the last financial year, up 14 per cent on the year before. A spokeswoman said the increase could be attributed largely to the city's Queen Elizabeth Hospital shuttering its maternity wards.

Social scientists, such as Felicity Grace, of Griffith University, say the baby bonus is about "more than money". "It's also about social encouragement," she says. "It sends a clear message to women that the nation thinks it's important for them to have children."

Catherine Stewart, 22, mother to Alice, 2, and Dominic, aged 13 months, comes from country Victoria and says despite some ribbing from her friends, she wanted to have her children in her 20s so she could be young with them. "I love being a young mum. Just the fact when my daughter is 15 I'll only be 35 and I'll be young with her," Ms Stewart said.


Victorian schools told 'don't ban Christmas'

Good to hear. I hope other States follow suit. (An Australian State Premier is broadly akin to a U.S. State governor)

Every Victorian school and kindergarten has been officially told: don't ban Christmas celebrations. Premier Steve Bracks [a Lebanese] yesterday gave his official encouragement for nativity scenes, carols and other Christian traditions. Jingle Bells can ring in classrooms around the state again after several schools banned nativity scenes and carol singing last year for fear of offending non-Christian children. Mr Bracks told the Herald Sun the Government would send a message to every primary and secondary school reminding them not to ban Christmas. "All schools and kindergartens should be able to have nativity plays and Christian celebrations," Mr Bracks said. "Those who don't wish to participate don't have to, and those who wish to celebrate in their own way can do so. "But even those from other faiths, of course, accept Christian celebrations and the Government is keen to ensure there are no bans on any of these sorts of activities." Mr Bracks said he wanted to encourage tolerance of all faiths.

His intervention comes after several schools last year refused to stage Christmas celebrations. Some kindergartens and childcare centres also banned nativity scenes in favour of end-of-year parties with no mention of Christmas.

Mr Bracks said census figures showed Victoria was essentially a Christian society and Christmas traditions should be celebrated. The latest census figures show Australia-wide there are about 10.9 million Christians, 357,000 Buddhists, 280,000 Muslims and 84,000 people of Jewish faith.

Mr Bracks said he would today ask Premier and Cabinet department secretary Terry Moran to write to the Education Department to pass on his message to Victorian schools.

Religious leaders yesterday welcomed the move. Among them was the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne's Vicar General, Monsignor Les Tomlinson, who said bans on nativity scenes and Christian themes were political correctness gone crazy. In a world living with the constant threat of terrorism, Monsignor Tomlinson said tolerance and respect were needed more than ever. "The Christian message is so important. The message of compassion for the suffering of others, of tolerance, of respect, of pursuing peace through justice - they only enhance human society," he said.

Rabbinical Council of Victoria Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant strongly supported the Premier's move. "I believe it is vital that we teach our children to respect each other's right to have, practise, freely express and celebrate our own different religions and particularly when it comes to expression of religious beliefs and celebrations that promote goodwill amongst all people," Rabbi Kluwgant said.

The Islamic Council of Victoria could not be contacted yesterday, but Muslim leaders have criticised the promotion of a secular Christmas instead of religious celebrations as political correctness gone mad.

While Mr Bracks wants to see more Christmas cheer in schools, many councils across the city are abandoning traditional yuletide celebrations. Port Phillip Council is happy to play the role of Scrooge. It will spend just $3000 for a cherry picker to decorate a tree with fairy lights outside St Kilda Town Hall. Bayside City Council will dress up two pine trees at Dendy Park for its annual Carols in the Park. But chief executive officer Catherine Dale said the council had not bought any Christmas decorations to display in its municipality. Other councils are restricting decorations to shopping strips in an attempt to boost trading over the festive season. But in Maribyrnong, the council has decided to display new star decorations in its shopping precincts at a cost of $60,000. Chief executive officer Kerry Thompson said the star design was chosen because it was "simple, affordable and can be used in a number of design options and is recognised as a festive image".

The spirit of Christmas is alive in regional centres with Bass Coast Shire Council backing celebrations in all main townships. It will spend about $20,000 on banners and lights and will provide additional decorations to Cowes and Wonthaggi to provide "maximum impact and unify townships". In the historic towns of Stawell and St Arnaud, the Northern Grampians Shire Council will launch new, bright Christmas banners and decorations with a distinct Australian flair, designed by a local graphic artist.


21 November, 2005

Moronic Australian Security Precautions

Your bureaucrats will protect you!

"The back door to one of the nation's prime terrorist targets is protected by a cheap padlock and a stern warning against trespassing or blocking the driveway. When The Weekend Australian visited the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor site this week, a reporter and a photographer were able to park a one-tonne white van outside the back gate for more than half an hour, much more time than would be required to use a pair of bolt-cutters to snap the padlock and drive the 800m or so to the reactor or the more vulnerable cooling towers.

However, Lucas Heights security managed a quicker response when the van was left close to the facility's gate on the New Illawarra Road. Within two minutes, two heavily armed Australian Protective Services officers approached the van in a marked four-wheel-drive utility, and the reporting team were quickly reminded of the gravity of the current terror situation. "We are currently on a heightened state of alert. I would not advise you to try this at night," one APS officer said....

In Sydney, The Weekend Australian sought to test the security arrangements at Lucas Heights after it was revealed as a potential terrorist target during court proceedings on Monday when seven Sydney men faced terror-related offences. The police statement of facts revealed that three of the men belonging to an alleged Sydney terror cell, Mazen Touma, Mohamed Ali Elomar and Abdul Rakib Hasan, were stopped by police near the Lucas Heights reactor in December last year. They claimed they were in the area to ride a trail bike, but offered differing accounts of their activities that day when separately questioned. Police also said a lock for a gate to a reservoir near the reactor had recently been broken.

APS security officers took details of The Weekend Australian's reporting team and ordered digital photographs of the van to be deleted. The images were later recovered by technicians.

Counter-terror expert Adam Cobb, head of War Fighting at the US Air Force College in Montgomery, Alabama, has previously identified the reactor's cooling towers as their weakest point, saying that an attack there could have "cascading consequences" by robbing the core of its vital coolant. Lucas Heights is a water-cooled research reactor...

More here

"Morning after" pill likely to get the nod soon in Australia

In Australian parliaments, most votes are along party lines. It looks like this issue will be a rare exception. Votes where adherence to a party line is not sought are called "conscience votes" and usually are on religiously-relevant matters

"Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile says he will balance his moral beliefs with medical evidence on the banned abortion pill RU486, before he decides which way to vote. Mr Vaile has backed a conscience vote on the issue, after Prime Minister John Howard signalled last week that he would offer Liberal MPs a free vote on whether to lift current restrictions on the pill.....

Mr Vaile says a conscience vote is the right thing to do, but remains undecided about which way he will vote on the matter. He says what is most important is a careful medical assessment of the drug. "I mean there's conflicting advice coming in and I want to assess that more fully before I take a position on it," Mr Vaile told the Ten Network. "Any government needs to responsibly be sure of the advice that's been given and the impact of the drug before releasing that any further, and then because of the moral issues surrounding this, we should allow a free vote....

Health Minister Tony Abbott last week ruled out overturning heavy restrictions on the drug which is widely available in much of western Europe and North America. In Australia, following laws initiated by now retired pro-life senator Brian Harradine, women wanting the drug have to apply through their doctor for government approval.

Mr Abbott justified his decision by citing health department advice which warned it could be dangerous for women in rural and remote areas because its use requires strict medical supervision and access to emergency care. But that advice has been widely discredited by experts and criticised by members of the government."

More here

The alleged tragedy of cheap food

How can anybody seriously spout this stuff? Food produced in other Australian States is apparently seen as very wicked in South Australia. No wonder there is so little sanity about globalization when even a national market for products is attacked. What about food from another town in the same State: Is that suspect too? Or maybe even food grown in the next suburb is bad! Maybe we should just all grow our own and go back to living in caves. The Greenies would approve!

"South Australians are sacrificing quality and food safety for cheap interstate and overseas food, contributing to a $412 million fall in the value of our food production in the past year, an Advertiser investigation has found. As low-priced produce floods on to South Australian supermarket shelves, an increasing amount of home-grown food is going to waste. Compared with last year, there now are 10,000 fewer positions in the food industry, the 2004/05 Food South Australia Scorecard report reveals.....

"The highest fall has been in food manufacturing, with primary production wholesaling and retailing also showing declines." The cheap food is devastating markets for local produce including eggs, fruit and vegetables. The problem is threatening the economic future of these sectors and is jeopardising the success of the state's $9.16 billion food industry....

The amount of food coming into the state also has raised fears about future food security, with the state's food self-sufficiency dropping from 90 per cent to 85 per cent since 2000. The value of food coming from outside the state has increased by 60 per cent to $1.4 billion in the past five years...."

More here

20 November, 2005

Long slow fight for justice for victim of paternity fraud

A father who was tricked into paying tens of thousands of dollars to his unfaithful ex-wife for two children who were not his has won the right to take his six-year battle for compensation to the High Court. A three-member sitting of the court sent Liam Magill's case to the full bench after finding yesterday that the dispute was an appropriate test of emerging social dilemmas in the "age of DNA" and sperm donation.

Mr Magill was initially awarded $70,000 by the Victorian County Court in November 2002 when he sued his wife for general damages and economic loss from his payment of child support. However, his former wife, Meredith Magill, 37, successfully appealed against the decision when the Victorian Court of Appeal ruled there was no evidence to show she had intended to deceive her then husband about the paternity of the children.

DNA tests in 2000 showed Mr Magill was the biological father of only the first of Mrs Magill's three children. "One may feel disquiet about having these sorts of cases in the general court," judge Michael Kirby told the Melbourne hearing. "But it is a matter of general importance in the age of DNA and therefore a suitable issue for this court."

Mr Magill, who has not spoken publicly about his ordeal, told The Weekend Australian last night that he was thrilled he could now take his battle for damages of more than $300,000 to the High Court in Canberra. "It's a very important social issue that affects all the brothers, fathers, sons; all the male members of the Australian community," Mr Magill said. "It's an issue that needs to be addressed at the highest level."

His current partner, Cheryl King, said the couple not only wanted compensation for the deceit, but had become fierce advocates for a child's right to know its parentage. "We just think it's a basic human right for every child to know his or her true parentage, bloodline and medical history, and the courts need to keep up with what science has made available to us in DNA testing," Ms King said....

Mr Magill married Meredith in 1988, but 18 months into the marriage she began a long-term affair. The marriage ended in 1992. Mr Magill continued paying child support, at the rate of 32per cent of his income, until 1999. He argued in Victoria's County Court, in a civil case in 2002, that he should only have paid 18 per cent of his income in child support, for his sole biological child...

Mr Magill's case has already inspired changes to the laws of paternity, with federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock calling for new legislation to protect the victims of paternity fraud.

More here

Australian greenhouse emissions up

Goodie! A sign of our rapid economic growth on all fronts. And a bit of extra carbon dioxide will be good for our crops. To them carbon dioxide is food.

Australian greenhouse gas emissions have increased 23 per cent over the last 13 years, prompting environmental campaigners to call for urgent action. A report prepared by the Bonn-based United Nations Climate Change secretariat and released this week ahead of the international climate conference in Montreal later this month warned that the western world was losing its grip on the climate change problem. The report, covering the period between 1990 and 2003, found Australia's greenhouse gas emissions had risen 23.3 per cent on 1990 levels.

The Australian Government's target is to limit emissions increases to 108 per cent of 1990 levels over the period 2008-2012. A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Ian Campbell said the Australian emissions figure was misleading because it failed to take into account changes in land use. "The fact remains that Australia through the Government's $1.8 billion package of measures to address climate change is one of a handful of countries in the world on track to meet its Kyoto targets through domestic action alone," she said. Australia has refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol....

The UN report reveals Australia is far from the worst offender with a number of nations which have ratified the Kyoto protocol recording greater increases in greenhouse emissions. Spain topped the list with a 41.7 per cent increase, followed by Monaco (37.8), Portugal (36.7) and Greece (25.9). The United States, which also has not ratified Kyoto, reported increased emissions of 13.3 per cent, while New Zealand, a Kyoto signatory, performed only slightly better than Australia with a 22.5 per cent increase. [Note that the huge manufacturing industries of China are not mentioned. They are "exempt". So we would be "saving the planet" by transferring all our industries to China, apparently!]

UN researchers found that overall in the industrialised world, greenhouse gas emissions were down 5.9 per cent in 2003 compared to the 1990 levels. The major reductions were achieved in central and eastern Europe in the early 1990s when polluting communist era industries were shut down as countries restructured their economies. The best performer was Lithuania which recorded a decrease of 66.2 per cent.

More here

The Guardian does Bloggers

I occasionally correspond with expatriate Australian blogger Blithering Bunny, so I was pleased to see that he recently got a link in The Guardian's survey of prominent British bloggers. Here is a recent paragraph from his blog that is spot-on:

"One of the basic rules of blogdom is don't make empty threats to sue bloggers who mock you, because they'll just report all your threats to their readers for a good laugh. You especially don't want to do this to Tex at Whacking Day because he'll take the piss for the rest of your life. But that's just what Thom Lyons, an Australian Green Party candidate and a Fidel-loving watermelon, has - been - doing - recently".

The Greenie concerned, Thom Lyons, sounds like a definite mental case to me. Read Tex's quotations from him if you doubt it. He probably makes sense to the Greenies, though.

I am pleased to note that one of the bloggers mentioned in The Guardian article -- Norm Geras -- already has this blog on his blogroll. Norm is still a Marxist of sorts but a very fair-minded one. As I recollect, he and I corresponded a couple of times when I was doing my MarxWords blog.

19 November, 2005

Muslim scum again

Apparently yet another Lebanese Muslim rapist -- and it's not Muslim women they rape

"A Sydney man accused of a gang rape has had his bail revoked after he allegedly threatened to kill the teenaged girl at the centre of the allegations. The 19-year-old man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is one of eight men charged over an attack on a 17-year-old girl at Hurstville, in Sydney's south-west, on June 25, 2002. The Lebanese-born man, who was 17 at the time of the alleged offence, is charged with eight counts of aggravated sexual assault in company. The offence carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Seven other men, two of whom are brothers, also have been charged over the alleged attack.

After being arrested in June this year, the 19-year-old was taken into custody before later being released on bail on a $200,000 surety. The NSW Supreme Court today was told listening devices captured the man threatening to kill the alleged victim saying, "I'll kill her ... I swear I'll kill her". He also is alleged to have said of a co-accused turned informant, "my mother's a whore if nothing happens to him".

Justice Virginia Bell today revoked the man's bail. "Taking into account intent to flee and the serious nature of the charge and more importantly community interest, I have determined the Crown's application should proceed," Justice Bell said. "For these reasons I revoke the application for bail." As the teary 19-year-old was taken back into custody his mother wailed, refusing to let go of her son".


Wanted: graduates who can teach children to read

And they spend 4 years allegedly learning how to be teachers!

Australia's universities are failing to deliver graduates who can teach children to read and are spending less than 10 per cent of lectures on basic literacy skills. A national survey of teacher education institutions has found that half of faculties devote just 5 per cent of course time to teaching reading, with students graduating without enough hands-on classroom experience. The inquiry, Teaching Reading, also says every child should be tested for literacy and reading skills when they start school and again twice yearly during their first three years. And it recommends that school results travel with the estimated 100,000 school-age children who moved interstate each year so teachers can track their progress. A confidential student identifier could be used to keep a record of their results.

Education Minister Brendan Nelson is expected to announce a shake-up of teacher training in universities in response to the report, prepared by a panel of experts including Ken Rowe, when it is released on December 1. His report finds the preparation of new teachers to teach reading is "uneven across universities" and that an evidence-based approach, including greater instruction on phonics and vocabulary knowledge and text comprehension, is required.

"The literacy competency of student teachers was raised as an issue in all focus group discussions," the report says. "In general terms, the reputation of effectiveness of teacher preparation among new graduates is not high. "Increasing time on reading instruction, improving the content of teacher preparation courses and school practice arrangements, together with improvements in new graduates' personal literacy, should be examined." School experience was also lacking, varying from between just 50 to 100 days in the classroom over the four-year degree.

Booming enrolments in teacher training, which have increased by 38per cent since 1996, have also created new pressures on teaching degrees. "There is anecdotal evidence that during this time there was a decline in the numbers of staff employed in universities to support these students," the report says.

Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said yesterday the report had identified an "alarming" rise in student-to-staff ratios in universities. "This is a direct result of the Howard Government slashing higher education funding," she said. "This is clearly having an impact on the quality of teaching in our universities."


More Babies in New Zealand too

And again just after the government introduced financial incentives to parenthood -- those coincidences sure do keep piling up! See my post of 17th for the Australian case

"A slight increase in New Zealand's birthrate over the past year is not enough to stave off looming problems from an ageing population, says a demographics experts. According to figures released by Statistics New Zealand today, there were nearly 58,000 lives births registered in the year to September 2005 - a four-year high.

Some commentators have credited the introduction of paid parental leave for the increase, from 54,000 in June 2002, when the legislation was introduced, to 57,620 in 2005. However, Professor Ian Pool, from the Population Studies Centre at the University of Waikato, said he would be "very wary" about making the connection. While paid parental leave might have had some effect, more family friendly legislation was needed to ensure New Zealand remained viable as a society. The increase was in fact part of "an ongoing trend" for women to defer motherhood until later in life - but this would soon result in declining birth rates again, he said.

Birth rates fell throughout the 1990s from 60,000 to 56,000, hitting the 15-year low of 54,000 in 2002, and increasing since then.... At present, New Zealand's birth rate is about 2.0 births per woman, which is slightly below the level required for a population to replace itself without migration (2.1 births per woman). So called "sub-replacement fertility" is common among developed countries, including Australia (1.8 births per woman) and England and Wales (1.7). In the September 2005 year, women aged 30-34 had the highest fertility rate (119 births per 1000 women), up from 105 births per 1000 in 1995.

Prof Pool said while he welcomed the introduction of paid parental leave, New Zealand was still lagging behind the rest of the developed world when it came to legislation supporting families. "No single measure is going to work on its own," he said. In France, across-the-board initiatives, including subsidised childcare, housing support and universal family benefits, have helped ensure that France's birth rate has stayed relatively steady since the late 1970s, while Britain's has continued to go down....."

More here

18 November, 2005

Queensland Public Hospital gets Police Instead of Medical Staff

Only an oblique mention ("particularly in emergency wards") of WHY people get aggressive towards hospital staff. It's mainly because the relatives of very sick people who are left unseen-to for many hours get angry and afraid about their relatives being ignored

The first police facility at a hospital in the southern hemisphere would help curb violence against medical staff, the Queensland Government said today. Brisbane's Princess Alexandra (PA) Hospital today showed off its new Police Beat which will be staffed by five officers, on duty between 8am and 10pm. They would be on hand to investigate the all too frequent assaults on medical staff, particularly in emergency wards, Health Minister Stephen Robertson said. "It is just disgusting to think that our doctors, our nurses and our allied health workers, in going about their business - saving lives - might be subject to assaults or violent acts by either the patients or acquaintances or friends of those patients," Mr Robertson said.

The Princess Alexandra also will deal with coronial matters, inquiries about patients with a mental illness and incidents involving people admitted to the hospital, Mr Robertson said. The police beat is like a small police station complete with interview rooms and if it proves successful in trials, it may be expanded to other main hospitals throughout Queensland.

Other similar police facilities had been put into hospitals in the United States, Britain and Ireland but the PA was believed to be the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere, Mr Robertson said.

Police Minister Judy Spence said PA had a population the size of a small country town and it made sense to have police on hand. "We've been locating police in shopping centres, schools and neighbourhoods around the state, so it makes sense to locate them in a very large facility such as this where they have a lot of work," she said. They will also service the hospital's surrounding area in the inner southside suburb of Woolloongabba


More Junk Food Hysteria

A Big Mac meal consists of meat, bread, salad and potatoes and that is pretty much the standard Western diet -- so if they are bad for you we are all in deep shit. And what is supposedly good and bad for you keeps changing all the time anyway. Fortunately, Australia's Feds are resisting the hysteria so far

Television advertisements for junk food will come under a two-pronged attack today when Queensland's Health Minister Stephen Robertson asks for them to face a new level of scrutiny. Mr Robertson and New South Wales Health Minister John Hatzistergos will use the national Health Ministers Conference in Adelaide to argue such advertisements encourage obesity and should be independently reviewed. Mr Robertson will lobby the Federal Government to order an independent audit of food advertisements during children's TV programs. Mr Robertson said it was time the Government got its "head out of the sand" and accepted the link between childhood obesity and advertisements for junk food. "Latest statistics indicate an Australian child is exposed to 11 ads for food high in fat and/or sugar every day," he said.

During last year's federal election campaign, Federal Labor campaigned to ban junk food advertising during children's television, but the Howard Government rejected the proposal. However, Mr Robertson will appeal for politics to be taken out of the advertising debate and for an independent body to investigate the issue. Mr Robertson wants the review to produce recommendations that could include limiting the advertising of junk food like chips, chocolates and lollies during children's television shows. "What I can't believe is the head-in-the-sand attitude of (Federal Health Minister) Tony Abbott - if there is no link between advertising a particular product and their uptake by consumers, then why did we ban tobacco advertising," he said.

Nutrition Australia senior nutritionist Aloysa Hourigan said some European countries with such bans in place had evidence to support the link between the advertisements and the eating habits of children. "Because children are very vulnerable, especially under the age of seven, they find it very hard to distinguish between fact and fantasy," she said. She said the more children were around junk food advertising, the more likely they were to successfully employ "pester power" and encourage their parents to buy certain products.

More here

Rummy Visiting Australia Today

Not too dramatic

On the streets they protested about the US-led invasion of Iraq but in some Adelaide quarters there was another complaint: the American-led takeover of the city's grand sandstone Town Hall this week. As much of the city began to be locked down for today's Australia-US Ministerial Consultations, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick flew in on Airforce 3 and immediately took in the sights.

Penfold's Magill winery, the home of Grange [Australia's top wine], was a must-see. The two Bush administration heavies also broadened their Australian experience with a visit to the South Australian museum's Aboriginal culture gallery.

Protesters gathered. And not all were focused on Iraq. Adelaide City councillor Anne Moran, forced out of her office for the week, called the use of Town Hall by the US officials "horrendous". "It's not like a civic meeting where Mr Rumsfeld says hello to the people of Adelaide," she said. "Town Hall is a gathering place for the community."

But Lord Mayor Michael Harbison was unrepentant about handing over the building. "There will be footage of Adelaide going out on CNN news," he said. "Adelaide is a place that can do it ... like we did with the Grand Prix, like we can do the Festival of Arts, we can do Rumsfeld."


17 November, 2005

A Greenie Flop in Queensland

A "Green" project killed by Greenie fussing over almost everything to do with it. Excerpt from here:

"A power plant touted by the State Government as pioneering renewable energy generation is a multimillion-dollar flop. The troubled Rocky Point co-generation plant in the Woongoolba-Jacobs Well area south of Brisbane is expected to be sold at a fraction of its cost. The power plant - which uses sugarcane and timber waste to produce electricity - has cost its government-owned operator Stanwell Corp tens of millions of dollars since it was commissioned three years ago. It was worth $60 million when it opened in 2002 but is now valued at $7.5 million.

The plant had been forced to write down nearly $48 million, or about 80 per cent of its original value, as Stanwell Corp struggles against operating issues not planned for in the original design. The Rocky Point project cut Stanwell Corp's overall after-tax profit by more than $7.4 million to $29.4 million last financial year, a 28 per cent drop on its 2003-04 result.

Rocky Point also faced legal action by environmental authorities over its alleged role in allowing contaminated water to flow into the Logan River, leading to the death of a substantial amount of fish. The company has since upgraded its wastewater treatment facilities....

The Rocky Point plant also attracted a $3 million Commonwealth "renewable energy showcase" grant to help pay for its construction, which involved importing a steam turbine and generator from Germany. At the time it was commissioned, it was the largest co-generation facility of its type in Australia, powering the equivalent of 18,000 homes a year.

Promotional material produced by Stanwell boasts that the biomass industry had "extended the life of sugar farms in the Woongoolba area and ensured the viability of the Rocky Point sugar mill for another 20 years". The plant uses bagasse, or waste cane fibre, from the privately owned Rocky Point sugar mill, as well as council green waste, sawdust and woodchips.

It also produces steam and electricity to power the sugar mill....

Stanwell chief executive Gary Humphrys yesterday issued a statement saying the plant's operational problems had to do with the processing of fuel and the disposal of waste water and ash. He said the requirement to store waste water and ash were "not planned in the original project design"."

More Australian Babies: Good News for the Future

That it comes just after our conservative Federal government greatly increased payments to mothers is just a coincidence of course.... Excerpt from here:

"A new mini baby boom is filling cots across the country. More babies were born last year than in almost a decade, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show. Overall, there were 3,100 more births in 2004 than the year before. A total of 254,200 babies were born, increasing the national fertility rate to 1.77 babies per woman, up from 1.75 in 2003.

Some commentators have linked the rise in births to the federal government's revamped $3,000 "baby bonus", paid to mothers upon the birth of their child since July 2004. Increases in other family payments and widespread fears about women "waiting too long" to have children are also reasons cited for the trend.

Women in their early 30s are driving the new baby boom, the ABS says, but those in the 35-39 year age gap are also having more kids. There were 114.4 babies born for every 1,000 women aged 30 to 34, while 57.4 babies were born for every 1,000 women aged 35 to 39 in 2004. The median age of all mothers who gave birth last year was 30.6 years, but women who had a child out of wedlock were likely to be younger, with a median age of just 26.9 years.

Over the past five years, Australia's fertility rate was on average slightly higher than the UK's and Canada's and slightly lower than the United States' and New Zealand's. Hong Kong has an average fertility rate of 0.9 births per woman and Niger a rate of 7.9."

Interesting that the prosperous Chinese of Hong Kong are even worse at having kids than we are. It looks like Australia's Asian minority (about 10% of the population) is not going to be much help

How Australia's Melanesian Neighbours were Betrayed

Muslim Indonesia was determined to grab half of the world's second largest island and the black inhabitants be damned -- and the world looked the other way, Australia included. Report from here:

"A key 1969 vote on the future of West New Guinea was a sham orchestrated by Jakarta, a study commissioned by the Dutch Government says. That vote - which made the province, now called Papua, part of Indonesia - has been followed by decades of military abuses. The 740-page study, An Act of Free Choice, has been published after five years of research by a Dutch author, Pieter Drooglever.

It was done at the request of the Dutch Government, the colonial ruler of Indonesia and New Guinea until 1949. When the Netherlands gave up its colonies in the Dutch East Indies, West New Guinea was not included in a sovereignty agreement with Indonesia. Only in 1962 did the two countries agree to place West New Guinea under UN rule, amid strong international pressure. The region was promised a popular vote on its sovereignty, but was transferred to Indonesian control six months later.

In 1969 its status as an Indonesian province was set when, Dr Drooglever concluded, the Indonesian Government rigged a vote by 1022 inhabitants on behalf of the population of about 700,000. UN observers were turned away from the poll, the result of which was declared to be 100 per cent in favour of joining Indonesia. "The Act of Free Choice ended up as a sham," Dr Drooglever wrote in a summary of the book. "A press-ganged electorate acting under a great deal of pressure appeared to have unanimously declared itself in favour of Indonesia.""

I guess I should note here that I have mentioned the above act of bastardry before -- on October 11th.

16 November, 2005

The Greenies Hate Us

Oz Politics has found some survey results that "floored him". Had I not expected them, they would have floored me too. He looked at the opinions expressed by the candidates whom the various political parties put up to represent them at a recent Australian election. I'll just pick out two results which confirm vividly what I have always said about the Greenies as being people-haters:

When asked "How proud are you to be Australian"?, below are the percentages who answered "Very proud"

Conservative coalition candidates: 96.2%
Labor Party candidates: 53.6%
Green Party candidates: 17.9%

What a contrast!

Perhaps even more revealing were the answers to the question: "How much respect do you have for individual freedom?". The percentages in each party who answered "A lot of respect" were the following:

Conservative coalition candidates: 67.5%
Labor Party candidates: 18.8%
Green Party candidates: 7.6%

One wonders why the Greenies don't all go and live somewhere else. Canada, maybe? (Hat tip to Evil Pundit)

More Leftist High Principles

Excerpt from here about that great icon of the Australian Left, Gough Whitlam, and his merry men

"Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of a meeting at the NSW Labor Party headquarters in Sydney that set in train one of the most sordid chapters in the politics of this country; a moment of sheer madness.

This was the day Whitlam, ALP national secretary David Combe, and far-left Senate candidate Bill Hartley discussed and then agreed to make approaches to Saddam Hussein's Iraq for a $US500,000 gift to help fund Labor's 1975 election campaign. What were they thinking?

The three Labor insiders initiated a secret negotiation that might have left Australia's political system vulnerable to corruption by a foreign government. This was the first and last time an Australian political party had sought to solicit funds from an outside power. And not just any foreign power. This was an invitation to a regime they knew to be despicable and despotic."

Incredible: Australian police take a week to arrest Muslim thugs

Excerpt from a news report of Tues. 15th.

Five men accused of being involved in a wild attack on media outside a Melbourne court were arrested today and charged with offences including assault and affray. The men, who are relatives and friends of alleged terror group members, were released on bail after a brief appearance in Melbourne Magistrates' Court. They are accused of an unprovoked attack on news photographers and cameramen who were filming them leaving court last Tuesday. They were at the court to support nine men charged with being members of a terrorist group. Abdul Sayadi, 24, of Brunswick, Nasser Raad, 27, of North Coburg, Monzer Ramadan, 28, of Coburg, Majed Raad, 21, of Coburg, and Bassam Raad, 24, of Meadow Heights, appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court after being arrested by police this morning.

Each has been charged with affray and assault. Sayadi, Nasser Raad and Ramadan have also been charged with behaving in a riotous manner.

Senior Detective Dale Fitzgerald told the court a large media contingent followed the five men as they left the court last Tuesday and an altercation took place between a Seven Network cameraman, Sayadi and Ramadan. As this occurred they attacked the cameraman and the other three men joined in the "unprovoked" assault, he said. He said two Seven cameramen suffered injuries and one was punched in the face. The prosecution did not oppose bail for the men, including the condition they surrender their passports to police within 24 hours. The men must also report to police weekly, notify them of any change of address and cannot attend any port of national departure or leave Australia.

Public Broadcaster Bias

A good summary here of the methods used by the media generally and public broadcasters in particular to inject covert Leftist bias into their coverage of events. I am pleased to note that Senator Santoro from my home State of Queensland is doing his best to expose the biases at Australia's major public broadcaster. A short excerpt from his most recent speech below:

"Today I want to revisit the issue of the ABC and the bias and lack of balance it shows in some of its critically important broadcasting. I do this with no pleasure. But I do this-and I will continue, in fact, to do this-because the problem with the ABC, which predates both my arrival in the Senate and the remedial efforts of the former minister for communications, then senator Richard Alston, still needs to be resolved. The ABC is still stonewalling. It is still adamant that it cannot sin. It is still trotting out newspaper surveys that show, quite properly-and, I believe, quite accurately-that Australians like and have a deep respect for the corporation, the work it performs as our leading public broadcaster and the institution as a whole. I say on the record in this place, as I consistently say at every opportunity, that the ABC is a highly valuable institution in the Australian community and overwhelmingly does a great job.

But, in respect of bias and lack of balance on some political issues, it is not doing a good job. This is the aspect of ABC affairs that I have concentrated on and the aspect on which I shall continue to press for the necessary remedies. I have been accused of nitpicking over the ABC. These accusations in some instances have come from some of the greatest nitpickers of all time-people in the media. I am not sure that there is anything actually wrong with being defined as a nitpicker. To my mind, it means someone who has a clear objective in view and is determined to reach it. I repeat-and I underline this so that the management floor at ABC headquarters in Ultimo can be in no doubt-this is a prosecution that I intend to take to its final conclusion.

In the present case-and I again repeat this so there can be no mistaking the objective of the exercise on which I embarked when I entered the Senate and from which I do not intend to resile-the issue is one of partiality, bias, lack of balance and unfair presentation of facts by some leading broadcast figures in the ABC. These defaulters do themselves no credit by failing in the principal duty of any journalist to present unblemished facts. By `unblemished', in this context I mean facts that are not embellished by subliminal invitations to adduce that the political leaders of the great democracies are foolish, stupid, unwise or, in some unspecified way, a bunch of dangerous hicks"

15 November 05


Excerpt from Janet Albrechtsen

Each time Germaine Greer visits Australia - such as last week when she turned up at the University of Sydney to receive her honorary doctorate - one is reminded how Western feminists have dropped the ball on what really matters on the feminist front.

Greer's feminism is the worst example of Western indulgence. It's not so much what she says that matters - for it's all rather farcical these days - but what she and other so-called feminists do not say that betrays how feminism has lost its way. On Friday Greer told her audience: "The intellect is a little bit like sexual ability: use it or you lose it." True enough and nice work if you can get it. But hardly cutting-edge feminism at work there.

Back in late 2002, Greer was back on the soapbox in Australia lambasting the medical profession for imposing unnecessary medical tests on women, such as pap smears and mammograms. When asked about the impending war in Iraq, Greer suggested that women protest by dressing up in burkas. Go girl! Don the preferred garb of Islamic oppression to protest against what exactly? The continued oppression of women in countries such as Iraq?

Last Friday while Greer was preaching about the importance of knowledge for knowledge's sake, in New York another feminist was delivering a more sobering message. Last week Mukhtaran Mai, a 33-year-old Pakistani woman, collected an award for "her incredible courage and optimism in the face of terrible violence".

Mai was gang-raped by five men on the order of a Pakistani tribal council in 2002 as punishment for her brother's alleged love affair with a woman from another tribe. This illiterate and working-class young woman then did the unthinkable. She took her grievance to court. A near impossible task in Pakistan where Hudood laws - a series of Islamic decrees applied in conjunction with the country's secular laws - mean that if a woman is raped, a conviction requires four adult male witnesses or the rapist confessing. If sex is held to be consensual, the woman can be charged with zina - extramarital sex - illegal under Hudood laws. In Mai's case, the five rapists were duly acquitted. While the Pakistan Supreme Court has suspended those acquittals, it remains to be seen whether the perpetrators will be punished.

When Mai received $US2500 ($3400) in compensation from the Government for her ordeal, she immediately used that money to build a school for young girls. Through a translator this shy young woman, dressed in a headscarf and flowing robes, told her glittering New York audience that her goal was to end oppression through education. Spot the feminist. Mai or Greer?

Women such as Uzma Saeed, a legal activist in Lahore, are campaigning for a repeal of the Hudood laws in Pakistan. Saeed told BBC News: "About 60 per cent of women in our jails have been imprisoned as a result of Hudood laws. I know many cases where a husband has wanted to marry again and so accused his wife of illicit relations with another man." Spot the feminist. Saeed or Greer?

Back in Australia, the silence of the feminists and others on egregious cultural issues is having devastating consequences for women. Australian feminism has been hijacked by a soft Left loathing of Western culture, a romanticisation of other (especially indigenous) cultures and a trend towards cultural relativism where it is just fine to use culture as an excuse. But criticise another culture? No way....."

14 November 05

Australia to insist on phonics instruction in schools

Excerpt from The Australian

Every child in Australia will be tested for literacy when they start school and then regularly over the next three years under a national action plan to help struggling students. A national inquiry has also suggested that children's reading results be available to teachers if the child moves interstate or to a different school. Parents would be given regular updates on their child's performance, with a report twice a year for the first three years of schooling.

The report, Teaching Reading, was commissioned by Education Minister Brendan Nelson amid fears that current teaching methods were failing Australia's children. It contains an explicit warning that Australia's schools should embrace "systematic, direct phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic codebreaking skill required for foundational reading proficiency". The warning follows a controversial, worldwide debate on which of two approaches is better - the phonics instruction method, or the "whole language" method, a "holistic" approach in which children are immersed in language and words, instead of learning first to break down words.

13 November 05

Australia's future elite

Excerpt from Michael Duffy

"The big change no one talks about is the growing success of people from Asian backgrounds in the professions. If present rates continue, they could form a majority of Australian professionals within a generation or two. Such an outcome would be unusual: perhaps the first time in history a nation's elite has invited another group to come in and replace it.

Asians are the first significant group of immigrants to this country to come from, or at least aspire urgently to enter, the middle class. They are far more successful in education than other Australians. For instance, in the 2004 HSC, about 350 of the top 1000 students had Asian surnames. As people of Asian background comprise about 7 per cent of the population, this means they did five times better as a group than other Australians. This success has been going on for more than a decade: in 1993, for example, the figure was 330.

I don't have figures for all pupils (there are almost no publicly available figures on any aspect of this subject) but there's a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest this level of achievement is reflected in all HSC results and continues into university courses. An article in People and Place by Siew-ean Khoo and Bob Birrell looked at how many males aged 25 to 34 in 1996 had tertiary qualifications. For those with parents born in Australia it was 17.7 per cent, for China 48.8 per cent, and for India 31.3 per cent.

At university, many courses have well over 7 per cent Asian students. For example, one informed academic told me four years ago that about 50 per cent of entry level dentistry students and a quarter of medical students were from Asian backgrounds. The general pattern is that the numbers are highest in numerate subjects such as IT and accounting, and lower in courses such as law. Whatever the figures might be at the moment, they will increase, as more than 50 per cent of immigrants have come from Asia for many years now..."

12 November 05

Costello tells it straight

Pretty blunt talk from a senior Australian conservative

"Federal Treasurer Peter Costello has again urged Islamic extremists to leave Australia, saying there is no point in living in a country with a system of government they oppose. "There are some things Australia stands for, has always stood for, always will stand for, which will never change," he told A Current Affair. "We will never be an Islamic state. We will never observe Sharia law ... We will always be a democracy. "To people who say `well, we've come to this country and we would like to turn it into something it isn't, I say you must understand that will never occur". Mr Costello said rather than try to change Australia, they should leave it".