Thursday, November 30, 2006


Australian education has been substantially destroyed by Leftist State governments and the Feds are trying to undo at least some of the damage. Five current articles below:

Moral compass returning in postmodern schools

Kevin Donnelly believes the Left is losing the argument about school values

Education has traditionally been an electoral plus for the ALP, but not any more. As a recent Newspoll survey reveals, the Coalition Government has orchestrated an eight percentage point turnaround and is running neck and neck with Labor in terms of positive voter perception. Jenny Macklin, the federal Opposition education spokeswoman, argues the Howard Government's improvement is the result of cheap populism. She is wrong. As outlined in my book Why Our Schools are Failing, Australian parents are worried about significant issues such as falling standards, schools not being held accountable, the curriculum being awash with political correctness and, with government schools in particular, education failing to inculcate proper values.

That the Left has been wrong-footed in the education debate is clear to see. Remember the electoral impact of Mark Latham's hit list of non-government schools? More recently, take the Prime Minister's decision to finance religious counsellors in schools. When announced, the decision met with the usual mock outrage associated with the cultural Left. Andrew Gohl, president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Education Union, says: "It is totally inappropriate for the federal Government to try to impose ideology in public schools."

The Independent Education Union of Australia, an organisation not normally associated with the Left, reveals it has also been captured by the PC brigade when it suggests the federal Government is being divisive. "Australia is a multicultural, plural society; the strength of its values lies in the richness of its diversity," it says. "But John Howard and his Government consistently undermine this diversity with policies and commentary that divide the community and engender distrust." Even Bob Carr, a former politician usually guaranteed to be balanced and perceptive in his public comments, cannot resist hyperbole when he argues: "What if a poorly attended parent meeting chose a jihadist imam from a small Muslim prayer hall?"

Reality check: far from pushing a so-called conservative agenda, the Government is providing a resource that individual schools, government and non-government, can choose to take up or not. Quite rightly, while counsellors will not be restricted to any one religion or denomination, there will also be restrictions on who can be employed. That the AEU argues against the Government's initiative by describing it as ideological is also a bit rich. Consider how the union's curriculum policies have forced a politically correct, cultural-left agenda on schools, redefining the three Rs as the republic, refugees and reconciliation.

An uncritical promotion of multiculturalism and diversity, advocated by the IEU, also ignores that the overwhelming majority of Australians describe themselves as Christian and that our history, political and legal institutions have arisen out of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Instead of condemning the initiative to give students a clear and unambiguous moral compass to decide right from wrong and to identify a proper balance between rights and responsibilities, opponents of the scheme should be applauding it. For far too long, education has failed in its duty to address such issues. Beginning with the progressive education movement of the 1960s and '70s, the belief is that children should be left to their own devices and that adults should not impose a strong moral framework.

The self-esteem movement of the '80s and '90s, when education was reduced to therapy on the basis that nobody failed, compounded the problem as lessons focused on what was immediately entertaining and relevant to the world of the student. Classic myths, fables and legends such as The Arabian Nights, Aesop's Fables, The Iliad and The Odyssey gave way to popular magazines and social-realism stories about youth suicide and dysfunctional families. History as a subject disappeared, replaced by the study of the local community or figures such as Diana, princess of Wales.

Evident by debates about the nihilistic impact of theory, represented by postmodernism, the most recent example of our failure to give students a viable moral code is the belief that there is no right or wrong, as all values are relative and truth is simply a socio-cultural construct. As noted by John Paul II in his encyclical letter Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason): "A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based on the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today's most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth."

Historically, the education debate has focused on issues such as more money, smaller classes and more teachers, as shown by debates in these pages during the past 12 months. Equally important is the cultural significance of education, something the Prime Minister clearly understands.


War over school history

The Queensland Government is preparing for a stand-up brawl with Canberra over attempts to impose history as a compulsory subject for high school students. Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford will defy federal Education Minister Julie Bishop and refuse to mandate history as a compulsory, stand-alone subject for Years 9 and 10. "I am happy to mandate some essential knowledge of key components of Australian history into a subject," Mr Welford said. "But it simply does not make sense to mandate history as a stand-alone subject."

History is taught in Queensland public schools as part of Studies of Societies and Environment and is optional from Year 9. Canberra is also facing a showdown with South Australia, where history is available until Year 11 as part of SOSE. Western Australia, where history is called "Time, Continuity and Change" and mingled in a Society and Environment course, is believed to be considering Ms Bishop's proposal. NSW and Victoria offer history as a stand-alone subject. Other territories and states have not made their position clear.

Ms Bishop has refused to rule out withholding money from the next $40 billion education funding round from those states that resist her push for a stand-alone compulsory history subject. "In the last funding round the Government provided $33 billion to the states and territories to run their schools and I believe that the Australian taxpayers would expect us to make the states and territories accountable for that investment," she said last month. Yesterday Ms Bishop's office said: "The Minister hopes the state will agree with the proposal voluntarily."

The warning follows news that a report commissioned by federal and state education ministers found that more than three-quarters of Australian teenagers did not know the significance of Australia Day. Ms Bishop's push for compulsory history in schools has the strong backing of Prime Minister John Howard. On Australia Day, Mr Howard foreshadowed his desire to see history established as a compulsory subject on Australia Day. He has specifically attacked Mr Welford's proposal for blending history with other curriculums. "Too often, it is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues," Mr Howard said.

Mr Welford last night vowed to strongly support Queensland public schools which want to establish a separate history curriculum. But he believes the practicalities of many smaller Queensland high schools require history be incorporated into other areas such as social studies or environmental education. He warned Ms Bishop that Queensland would not be swayed by Canberra's "rigid inflexibility" on the issue


Teachers get a blast

Underperforming Australian teachers received a broadside yesterday from Prime Minister John Howard and Education Minister Julie Bishop. As the Federal Government presses on with plans to create a more centralised national curriculum, public school teachers are becoming fair game to a Government convinced they're on the nose in the electorate. In Parliament, Mr Howard used a Dorothy Dixer on claims that some Victorian teachers plan to join tomorrow's ACTU National Day of Action to launch a blistering attack on the profession.

"It is no secret to any member in this House that many Australian parents are voting with their feet against the government education system around the country," he said. "And they are not doing it because of funding. "It's this kind of behaviour by teachers that gives government schools a bad name." Instead of attending a "Jimmy Barnes concert" at the Melbourne Cricket Ground teachers should be in their classrooms, Mr Howard said. "As somebody who is rather proudly the product of a government education system, let me say that I worry about this kind of behaviour undermining the quality of government education in Victoria and around Australia," he said.

Ms Bishop told a gathering of National History Challenge finalists in Canberra that the teaching of Australian history had been denigrated in many of our schools. "And I believe that is a shame," she said. She found some comfort in the fact that finalists in the competition had produced sophisticated and intelligent work. But she reiterated her determination to make history a compulsory stand-alone subject for Years 9 to 10.


Teach the facts first: Without the basics, school history is just propaganda

An editorial from "The Australian" below

WHEN NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said on Monday Australia Day commemorated the founding of our federation, instead of the arrival of the First Fleet, she did more than look like a dill. She demonstrated how she was betrayed by the people who designed the curriculum she was taught at school. As a woman in her early 40s, Ms Tebbutt went to school in an era when history, the study of the past on its own terms, not as a version of the present in fancy dress, was being trashed. Instead of the foundations of history - the facts and dates of events, who did what and why, and what were the consequences - history began to be a collection of stories based on the belief that whatever past winners said was invariably unfair to everybody else. The result is that the woman charged with running the largest school system in the country cannot distinguish between the founding of settler society in Australia and the creation of our commonwealth. But it is a fair bet that while she may not have any idea of the detail of how or why Australia came to be one of the most successful and enduring democracies, Ms Tebbutt was told at school how the settlers, or the founding fathers, probably both, dispossessed the indigenous Australians.

And just as Ms Tebbutt was betrayed then, so are children today. For a generation, our state education systems have emphasised ideology over information in history and literature, assuming the task of the teacher is to create a questioning culture among students, but one where fashion and feelings stand in the way of fact. We have now reached a point where it appears important for students to understand what people felt, rather than to know the facts that shaped their circumstances. As The Australian reports this morning, a simulation exercise used in a Sydney school presented conflict in the Middle East from a militant Palestinian perspective. As a way of inciting ill-informed anger among young people against one side in an immensely complex conflict, this is a winner. But as an exercise in education, it is hard to imagine anything worse. Before students can argue about the Middle East they need to learn the 20th-century history of the region. They need to be aware the British ran much of the region between the wars. They need to know the basic facts and dates of the way the Israelis fought for independence, the way the surrounding states sought to destroy Israel and the way ordinary Palestinians are now caught between Islamic terrorists and the Israeli forces. And they need to grasp that the Palestinian cause is now divided between people who want to make the best deal they can with Israel and fanatics who believe they are divinely directed to kill Jews.

In this, as in every other area of study, it is the job of schools to teach the facts and interpretive skills students need to make up their own minds. It is not their job to indoctrinate young people in some sort of party line that suits the political style of the teacher union leaders, who still see the world through the prism of the counter-culture of the 1960s, which blamed the West for all that was wrong in the world. We are now at a stage where children are being taught an interpretation of the past as if it were fact - the very thing the education apparatchiks always argue they oppose. To portray the European settlers of Australia, or the Israelis for that matter, as invaders, as if the evidence was irrefutable, ensures school students will argue before they have all the evidence.


Hard-Left education chief self-destructs

West Australian Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich, close to tears yesterday as she battled an implication of lying from her former top bureaucrat, will today try to save her job before a state parliamentary inquiry. This follows damning evidence given to an upper house committee by former education director-general Paul Albert, who contradicted claims she made in parliament denying any knowledge of a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation into teacher sexual abuse of students.

Ms Ravlich, who has admitted seeking the help of disgraced former Labor premier Brian Burke to counter considerable media, community and teacher opposition to the controversial Outcomes Based Education (OBE), yesterday launched a scathing attack on her former top bureaucrat, claiming that Mr Albert had deliberately withheld information from her. Ms Ravlich has been clinging to her job after a series of blunders and scandals that have rocked the Carpenter Government, including the spectacular demise of police minister John D'Orazio and small business minister Norm Marlborough, who were both ensnared in CCC investigations.

Mr D'Orazio was kicked out of the Labor Party over an inappropriate and secretly taped meeting with a panel beater to discuss the minister's traffic infringements. Mr Marlborough may face criminal charges over evidence he gave to the CCC about his contact with Mr Burke, who was jailed twice in the 1990s and has since become a lobbyist.

Yesterday, Ms Ravlich flatly denied Mr Albert's evidence on Monday that he told her about the CCC investigation on three separate occasions. At times looking close to tears, Ms Ravlich said she had no recollection of the discussions outlined by Mr Albert, apart from a "passing" reference on one occasion. She described his actions as incomprehensible.

The discrepancy renewed the pressure on Premier Alan Carpenter, who yesterday came under fire in parliament as the Opposition demanded to know whom he believed: Ms Ravlich, or Mr Albert, whom the Premier appointed as director-general in 2001 when he was education minister. Giving very careful responses, Mr Carpenter suggested it was not unreasonable for people to have different recollections about passing comments, but he refused to answer questions on Ms Ravlich's immediate future.

The CCC spent almost a year investigating the Education Department's handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers against children before releasing a damning report last month that accused the department of being more concerned with protecting staff than students. Mr Albert said that while he did not go into any detail with Ms Ravlich, he had raised the issue in general terms at meetings in May, July and August. He said that on one occasion in July he recalled telling the minister a draft report had been received from the CCC and it looked bad. Mr Albert was forced to resign over the issue last month.

Ms Ravlich said she was never told the CCC was looking into alleged sexual misconduct by teachers and that Mr Albert's failure to inform her was "totally unacceptable". "I met with the director-general every fortnight, on occasion on a weekly basis, and we would go through a whole range of issues. I would have called Mr Albert virtually on a daily basis," she said. "To be dropping breadcrumbs over the place for a minister to pick up and to, by way of passing, put forward any information in that manner, it's totally unacceptable."

Liberal leader Paul Omodei said the Premier had no option but to immediately remove Ms Ravlich from the education portfolio.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"National identity" trumps "multiculturalism"

The term "multiculturalism" is out and "shared identity" is in under a new framework for Australian society. The Federal Government yesterday moved to redefine what it means to be a nation that accommodates people from many ethnic backgrounds and different parts of the world. In an address to the Australian National University, parliamentary secretary for immigration Andrew Robb said the term "multiculturalism" which had loosely defined Australia's ethnic policy for the past 30 years was vague and open to misinterpretation and abuse. "Some Australians worry that progressively the term multicultural has been transformed by some interest groups into a philosophy, a philosophy which puts allegiances to original culture ahead of national loyalty, a philosophy which fosters separate development, a federation of ethnic cultures, not one community," he said.

The Howard Government has long been a critic of so-called "mushy" multiculturalism. But this is the first time an alternative doctrine has been articulated. It is part of wider debate on Australian values and the failure of some Muslim immigrants to integrate, including a proposal by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley to make all new arrivals in Australia sign a values pledge. Fuelling the debate was the universally condemned statement last month by Australia's leading Muslim cleric, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, comparing immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat.

Mr Robb said shared values - not a shared homeland - should be the "glue that binds" Australians. "A shared identity is not about imposing uniformity. It is about a strong identification with a set of core values, whilst permitting a large measure of personal freedom and 'give and take'." Mr Robb said said simply "co-habitating a space" was not a strong basis for a cohesive, trusting society. "A community of separate cultures fosters a rights mentality, rather than a responsibilities mentality. It is divisive. It works against quick and effective integration," he said. "Those who come here should unite behind a core set of values, a shared identity."

Labor's citizenship spokeswoman Annette Hurley said changing a word would not improve a sense of shared identity. "I think the public is looking for some action," she said.


Sex-offender doctor still allowed to practice

What government mismanagement of medical training leads to

A Tasmanian doctor who sexually assaulted female patients will be practising again by June next year after the Medical Complaints Tribunal factored the state's general practitioner shortage into his punishment. The tribunal last month found Dr Ulhas Lad guilty of professional misconduct over his dealings with two female patients between April 2003 and July 2004. Dr Lad, 61, from Blackmans Bay, was yesterday suspended from practising until June 2007 and ordered to see only male patients when he resumes.

Medical Complaints Tribunal chairman David Porter, QC, said one of the factors the tribunal considered was "the regrettable situation that exists in this state in relation to general practitioners". Should an order to deregister Dr Lad be made there would be no little difficulty in filling the void, Mr Porter said.

Dr Lad's suspension and restriction to male patients arose from a complaint by a woman identified by the tribunal as AB. Mr Porter said Dr Lad's professional misconduct when dealing with AB involved a serious breach of trust and a gross violation of the doctor-patient relationship. Dr Lad sexually assaulted the woman at his surgery on a number of occasions, Mr Porter said. He said Dr Lad fondled his patient's breasts and buttocks, and had her separate her buttocks while she was bent over.

Dr Lad also performed a sex act in front of her at his surgery one night when she went there for pain relief. Mr Porter said the sex act was outrageous behaviour and a serious affront to the patient's dignity. He said Dr Lad's sexual assault of another female patient known as YZ3 was seen by the tribunal as previous relevant conduct.

The tribunal had also taken into account the overwhelming level of support for Dr Lad from the general and professional community, Mr Porter said. Dr Lad's lawyer Ken Procter, SC, presented the tribunal with 32 character references for his client. "We note all that has been said on behalf of Dr Lad," Mr Porter said.

Dr Lad was also fined $1000 for his professional misconduct in relation to a separate complaint by a second female patient known as CD. The woman said Dr Lad required her to undress to be weighed and made inappropriate comments when she saw him for antibiotics for the flu. Mr Porter said Dr Lad's behaviour towards CD was thoroughly inappropriate and his remarks were offensive. The $1000 fine imposed by the tribunal was one-fifth of the maximum amount it could impose, he said.

During the hearing seven more former patients came forward to complain about Dr Lad after reading reports of the case in the Mercury. Dr Lad denied the allegations against him. But the tribunal found it preferred the evidence of patient AB to that of Dr Lad, whose evidence was deemed "not at all convincing".

Dr Lad refused to comment as he left the Federal Court in Davey St, Hobart, yesterday. But his daughter Aparna said her father was innocent. Patient numbers at the surgery operated by her father and mother Dr Geeta Lad had not dropped since the women's complaints were made public nor since the tribunal's guilty finding, she said. Dr Lad's son Anoop said his father could rest easy because he had a clear conscience. The family would be looking at appeal options, he said.


Students dumbed down and left out

No wonder our school students are culturally illiterate. If NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt can't tell the difference between Australia Day - which marks the arrival of the First Fleet on January 26, 1788 - and Federation, which marks the federation of Australia as a nation on January 1, 1901, then it is hardly surprising three-quarters of Australian teenagers don't understand the significance of Australia Day, the responsibilities of the governor-general or the symbolism of the Union Jack in our flag.

Ms Tebbutt's embarrassing gaffe aside, the results of the civics and citizenship test, reported in The Australian yesterday, reveal extensive gaps in the knowledge of national history in our schoolchildren. Worse, the news is simply the most recent in a long line of incidents and stories demonstrating the parlous state of our education system. While state and territory education ministers describe their schools as "world's best" and argue that standards are on the rise, the opposite is the case.

Why has this been allowed to happen? The first thing to realise is that those responsible for our education system argue that there is no crisis. At two forums organised this year by the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, concerns about falling standards and the politically correct nature of the curriculum were dismissed as a conservative backlash and a media beat-up.

Alan Reid, an Adelaide-based academic in favour of the much-condemned outcomes-based education model, argues: "We have a conservative backlash in the media which is really pushing us back to fixed syllabuses and a more didactic curriculum which conservative government forces are helping to promote."

At the second ACSA invitational conference, held in August and made up of the usual suspects, one of the educrats reportedly said: "It is all about politics and the influence of parents, lobby groups and media hype that sells papers."

Not only do state and territory curriculum bureaucrats argue there is no problem, the overwhelming majority also believe that process is more important than content and that teaching subjects such as history andliterature is secondary to developing generic competencies and skills, such as being futures oriented and valuing diversity.

While evidence of content-free education could be found at this year's history summit, where the argument was put that "you learn from doing history, not by being taught it" and the intention was to design a curriculum in terms of open-ended questions, it's important to understand that the curriculum has been under attack for years.

In 1975, the Whitlam government's Commonwealth Schools Commission sought to radically change the way teachers taught by arguing: "There is no reason to assume that the traditional subject fields, or high culture, are the only avenues through which thought might be developed or basic skills learned."

In opposition to the belief, as argued by US academic Jerome Bruner, that students must be taught the "structure of the discipline", the schools commission argued: "The skills of assembling evidence in logical argument may be developed through any content about which people care enough, or might be brought to care enough, to exert themselves to use them."

Never mind that skills and competencies do not arise intuitively or by accident and that they are best taught within the context of established disciplines such as English and mathematics. It is also true that not all content has the same value or complexity: Henry Lawson's The Drover's Wife is different from a mobile phone text message.

Since the early 1970s, the new age approach to teaching also has become embedded in teacher training. Georgina Tsolidis, an academic at Monash University, describes the role of teachers: "We were to go into classrooms to teach students, not subjects. We were to instil in our students feelings of self-worth premised on the value of what these students already knew and the value of what they wanted to learn, rather than the intrinsic worth of what we wanted to teach."

The most recent manifestation of education lite - in which, as argued in Shelley Gare's recent book The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense, "two generations of experimented-upon young Australians have emerged unable to read, write and think" - is Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education and the vague, generalised way the curriculum is written.

Instead of being given a clear, concise road map of what is to be taught, teachers are told that students, in the words of the West Australian curriculum, must be able to "describe and explain lasting and changing aspects of Australian society and environments", "construct a sequence of some major periods and events" and "categorise different types of historical change".

Memorising important facts, dates, events and the names of significant figures is also attacked as "drill and kill" and the argument is put that the curriculum must be open-ended, as teachers must be free to teach what their students are most interested in.

The flaws in such an approach are manifest. Not only are students disempowered as a result of leaving school culturally illiterate, thus disenfranchised in terms of the public debate, but the common ground on which democracy depends is left untilled.


Alternative cures under microscope

Alternative medicines, which are bought by up to 75 per cent of Australians, face their toughest scrutiny yet under an investigation commissioned by the Federal Government. Alternative or complementary medicines have been dismissed as a "great dupe" by a medical leader, although in some cases they have been found to be more effective than pharmaceuticals. They are believed to account for more than $1 billion in sales a year in Australia. The National Health and Medical Research Council will oversee a $5 million project to investigate the use and effectiveness of hundreds of pills, potions and therapies that mostly have little standing in conventional medicine, the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, has announced.

The funding follows an unprecedented meeting last week between the alternative therapy lobby and the council and has been welcomed by advocates and critics of alternative medicines. "There is no reason why any therapy offered to the public should not be evidence-based," the chief executive of the research council, Warwick Anderson, said. Professor Anderson said the targets of the research would depend on what projects won funding. There was increasing interest among medical researchers and the Australian move followed the development of a special research centre by the National Institutes of Health in the United States, he said. The project flows from the inquiry triggered by the Pan Pharmaceuticals crisis in which hundreds of products were withdrawn from sale because of manufacturing irregularities.

The executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council, Tony Lewis, said he was not concerned by the possibility that research would undermine the claims for alternative medicine. "If a therapy does not work, let's get the results to show that. But I think most results will be quite positive." The shark fin extract, glucosamine, for instance, had been found in a US study to be more effective than Celebrex for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Among the biggest sellers in the complementary medicine range were multivitamins and multiminerals, fish oil for cardiovascular conditions and glucosamine, Dr Lewis said.

A former chairman of the Australian Divisions of General Practice, Rob Walters, described most alternative medicines as "a great dupe.. . they just don't work". While most did no harm, some did have harmful reactions when people were also taking other drugs, he said.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Despite the fact that global temperature has been stable since 1998. Correlation does not prove causation but lack of correlation does DISprove causation

Global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions have had little impact with the rate of emissions more than doubling since the 1990s. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research scientist, Mike Raupach, said that from 2000 to 2005, the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions was more than 2.5 per cent per year. "In the 1990s it was less than one per cent per year." In 2005, 7.9 billion tonnes of carbon were emitted into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. This was near the high end of the fossil fuel use scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said Dr Raupach, who is also co-chair of the Global Carbon Project, an international scientific collaboration to study the carbon cycle. "On our current path, it will be difficult to reign in carbon emissions enough to stabilise the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 450 ppm," he said.

While China had the highest current growth rate in emissions, its emissions per person were still below the global average and its accumulated contribution since the start of the industrial revolution more than 200 years ago was only five per cent of the global total. By comparison, the US and Europe have each contributed more than 25 per cent of accumulated global emissions.

Paul Fraser, also from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, said the findings were supported by measurements of carbon dioxide levels in the air, which grew by two parts per million in 2005. This was the fourth year in a row of above-average growth, Dr Fraser said. "To have four years in a row of above-average carbon dioxide growth is unprecedented." The two scientists presented their latest findings at a meeting at Tasmania's Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station, which is run by CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Dr Fraser said the 30-year record of air collected at Cape Grim, showed growth rates of carbon dioxide were slightly more than one part per million in the early 1980s, but in recent years carbon dioxide levels has increased at almost twice this rate. "The trend over recent years suggests the growth rate is accelerating, signifying that fossil fuels are having an impact on greenhouse gas concentrations in a way we haven't seen in the past."


Australian students ignorant of Australian history

More than three-quarters of Australian teenagers do not know that Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet and the beginning of British settlement. A report commissioned by Federal, state and territory education ministers shows an overwhelming majority of schoolchildren are also ignorant of the reason for Anzac Day, or for the inclusion of the Union Jack on the Australian flag. About 77 per cent of Year 10 students and 93 per cent of Year 6 students across the nation cannot nominate the official responsibilities of the governor-general, and the great majority do not know the Queen is Australia's head of state.

The report, which is yet to be released but has been obtained by The Australian, reveals surprisingly high levels of ignorance about basic historical facts and Australia's system of government, and questions the effectiveness of the teaching of civics and citizenship. "The widespread ignorance of key information about national events and nationally representative symbols, which, it had generally been assumed, had been taught to death in Australian schools, was a surprise," the report says. "More targeted teaching is required if students are to learn about these things. Formal, consistent instruction has not been the experience of Australian students in civics and citizenship." The report says only high-performing students "demonstrated any precision in describing the symbolism of the Union Jack in the Australian flag".

Regarding the students' lack of understanding of the role of the governor-general, the report says: "One can only infer that students are not being taught about the role of the governor-general. "Many of the Year 10 students clearly did not have the knowledge outlined... as being designated for Year 6," the report says. "This was especially the case in relation to information about the constitutional structure of Australian democracy in Year 10."

The report was prepared for the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs by the Australian Council for Educational Research. It tested about 10,000 Year 10 students and 10,000 Year 6 students in every state and territory.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the ignorance of Australian students about their own country revealed in the report underlined the need for the Federal Government's push for Australian history to be taught as a compulsory, stand-alone subject in years 9 and 10. "It is disappointing that so few Australian students know the basic facts about our national events and icons such as Anzac Day and the Australian Flag," she said. "I am concerned that only a small minority of Year 10 students know the reason for the national public holiday on Australia Day. "Young Australians have the right to vote at 18 years of age and should have knowledge about our nation's history and traditions."

The Howard Government introduced a Discovering Democracy program in 1997, producing and placing curriculum materials on civics and citizenship in all primary and secondary schools in 1998. The program aimed to promote students' participation in democratic processes "by equipping them with the knowledge, skills, values and dispositions of active and informed citizenship". According to the Federal Education Department, "it entails knowledge and understanding of Australia's democratic heritage and traditions, its political and legal institutions and the shared values of freedom, tolerance, respect, responsibility and inclusion". In August, education ministers approved national Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship, setting out common knowledge all students should possess in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, ahead of national assessment tests from 2008.

The report says half of Year 6 students achieved a proficient standard in the test, while 39 per cent of Year 10 students reached the proficient standard. It says the level of ignorance will restrict students' involvement in democratic processes. "Ignorance of such fundamental information indicates a lack of knowledge of the history of our democratic tradition, and this ignorance will permeate and restrict the capacity of students to make sense of many other aspects of Australian democratic forms and processes," it says. "Without the basic understandings, they will be unable to engage in a meaningful way in many other levels of action or discourse."

The report identifies two main concepts with which students struggle the most: "iconic knowledge" of Australia's heritage and the idea of the common good. Students had difficulty grasping the idea of a common good or strategies that refer to how individuals can influence systems for the benefit of society. "It is unclear whether students do not have such a concept at all, don't believe in the common good or do not see how individuals can act for the common good," the report says.


This guy has now been elected to the Upper House of the Victorian parliament

A millionaire Victorian businessman who has vowed unswerving loyalty to a Middle Eastern dictator is almost certain to take a Labor seat in Victoria's Parliament.

Syrian-Australian trucking boss Khalil Eideh has been chosen by Labor to run for one of its safest Upper House seats in November. But the Sunday Herald Sun has seen two letters from Mr Eideh to the Syrian Government warning of Zionist threats, reporting to the terror-sponsor regime on Australians and pledging "absolute loyalty" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In an Arab newspaper in 2002, Mr Eideh wrote "Satan brigades are getting ready to enslave the Arab world", praising "Arab martyrs". While admitting to authorising the letters to Syria, Mr Eideh yesterday denied any extremist views and said he abhorred terrorism.

In an October, 2002 letter to President Assad -- a few months before the start of the war in Iraq -- the magnate highlighted threats of "Zionist and colonial attacks on the Arab nation". It concluded: "Loyalty, total loyalty to your wise and brave leadership, and we promise to remain faithful soldiers behind your victorious leadership."

In another letter, to the Syrian Government in June, 2001, Mr Eideh states: "The Syrian influence in Melbourne, Australia, is completely absent and doesn't play any role in the Australian political arena."

He also reported on members of the Syrian-Australian community, saying they attended a lunch hosted by friends of former senator Edward Obeid, who he said "harbour ill will towards the Syrian Arab republic".

ALP sources say Mr Eideh has Premier Steve Bracks's backing. Close friends include federal frontbencher Lindsay Tanner, senator Kim Carr and state MP Liz Beattie.


"Child Obesity" campaigns encourage child anorexia

Children as young as five are being diagnosed with anorexia as experts blame stress and a national obsession with obesity for a shocking rise in the number of NSW youth being treated for the illness. Pressures from family breakdowns, peers, school and the electronic media meant children were falling victim to the disease years earlier than they were last decade, adolescent health specialist Michael Kohn, from the Children's Hospital at Westmead, said. The typical age of onset is now between 12 and 14, compared to the average age of 16 as recently as five years ago.

Since 2001 there has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of children younger than 18 being admitted to the hospital with anorexia. About 45 new patients are admitted every year and a similar number of patients aged between 15 and 20 are treated in Westmead Hospital's psychiatric unit, which handles the majority of child eating disorder cases in NSW. Dr Kohn said the hospital was now treating children aged between 7 and 11. In children that young, anorexia is as common among boys as it is in girls although, after 12, females are at least 10 times more likely to develop the illness. "Young people are under increasing stress and stress comes from so many factors in their lives," Dr Kohn said. The physical impact of the disease is much greater on pre-pubescent children because the malnutrition coincides with the period of peak growth and development.

Television shows, cartoons, websites, games and toy figurines had promoted a "thin" ideal among children, Dr Kohn said. A focus on the obesity epidemic could also fuel eating disorders. Eating Disorders Foundation executive officer Greta Kretchmer said the focus on obesity and eating the right food had created a backlash. "When you have some people who have perfectionist tendencies, it leads to them trying to do it too well by cutting out all fats, all carbohydrates, all dairy," she said. The foundation has seen a quadrupling in the number of calls about eating disorders over the past five years, with many about children aged 8-13. The youngest was a five-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with anorexia. The child had been teased in preschool and was about to start kindergarten. "He got it into his mind that if he went to school he could not be fat because he would be teased worse, so he got terrified of becoming overweight," Ms Kretchmer said. "His poor mum was beside herself. How do you reason with a five-year-old?"

Sarah, 26, of West Pennant Hills, who did not want her surname published, overcame anorexia six years ago. She said wanting to be thin was only part of the problem. "It was other types of pressures, wanting to fit in to the world," Sarah said. Sarah now works as a psychologist and counsels other young people with eating disorders. "We are socialised to be very image-driven and you can see that more and more in younger and younger girls," she said. "Most of them now are wearing make-up before my generation would have been. I think it is pressure to do well at school and peer pressure, which comes from a social expectation that people will be slim and attractive."


Monday, November 27, 2006

Immovable medical bureaucracy

Jayant Patel, wanted in Queensland on manslaughter charges, was yesterday labelled a scapegoat by the investigator who first probed his work. Bundaberg Hospital Inquiry Commissioner Tony Morris QC said Dr Patel, allegedly responsible for patient deaths and hiding out in Portland in the USA, was never the problem.

The high-profile barrister, guest speaker at the Whistleblowers Australia conference in Brisbane, instead launched a blistering attack on Queensland Health. "In a strange sort of way he is almost a distraction," Mr Morris said. "Perhaps the enduring tragedy of Jayant Patel is . . . he has become a scapegoat for everything that is wrong in Queensland Health. Patel is not, and never was, the problem." Mr Morris, who was ousted as the inquiry's head after displaying "ostensible bias" against Bundaberg Hospital's managers, said bureaucratic over-administration was at the "heart of the problem". His comments yesterday were a departure from the interim inquiry report handed down in Parliament in June last year.

Yesterday he slammed Queensland Health for not implementing real reform since the Bundaberg crisis and "a bureaucracy which actively obstructs every attempt to do so". "In 2006, Queensland Health continues to recycle the self-same individuals whose apathy and dereliction produced the disaster which they are now still pretending to address."

Mr Morris singled out Bundaberg Hospital nurse Toni Hoffman for her blowing the whistle on Dr Patel. Ms Hoffman today will be presented with the Whistleblower of the Year Award jointly with Dr Con Aroney, who made disclosures about people dying on waiting lists.

Warrants for Dr Patel's arrest were issued in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Wednesday. Detectives provided affidavits on charges, including three counts of manslaughter, five counts of grievous bodily harm, four counts of negligent acts causing harm and eight counts of fraud. Queensland Director of Prosecutions Leanne Clare will now make a formal request for extradition through Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison.


How amazing! Public hospital stays open longer!

The NSW government will try to cut hospital waiting lists by offering patients elective surgery over the Christmas break and recalling staff early from holidays. The period that public hospitals operate at reduced capacity will be trimmed from six to four weeks this year. Clinical staff typically take leave at this time, equipment undergoes maintenance and patients often defer surgery to avoid spending Christmas in hospital.

This year, however, patients who have been waiting a long time for elective surgery or who are overdue will be offered treatment during the holiday break, Health Minister John Hatzistergos says. Mr Hatzistergos said a new government policy would ensure patients requiring surgery within 30 days would be treated appropriately. Patients with less urgent conditions would be treated within 365 days and would not have to wait more than 12 months due to reduced hospital activity during the holiday season, he said. "We're making real progress in reducing waiting times and waiting lists but there's still more work to do," he said.


Prime Minister hoses down the fast food hatred

Parents have to take responsibility for Australia's child obesity crisis, Prime Minister John Howard says. Rejecting calls for "heavy-handed" bans on junk food ads, Mr Howard called for parents to show - and teach - some self-discipline. The reasons for Australia's soaring numbers of overweight and obese people were obvious - lack of exercise and bad diet. "Fundamentally, I believe that obesity . . . the response to it does lie very much in changing lifestyle," Mr Howard said in a speech to the Heart Research Institute.

A study released by Diabetes Australia this month revealed 3.2 million people are obese and predicted the numbers would more than double by 2025. "We appear to be struggling as a nation with the challenge of obesity, something that's come upon us with alarming speed and something that is affecting all age groups," said Mr Howard. "The Government can do a lot but I do hope the community doesn't see obesity as a problem that can simply be solved by government regulation. "I think that rather misses the point that a certain degree of individual responsibility and individual self-discipline (is needed) and, particularly, an assumption again of parental responsibility and parental surveillance of the activities of children - what they eat, how much exercise they get, the balance between playing sport and other physical activity and time spent in front of the television set and on computer games."

But Mr Howard said the Government did have a role in changing attitudes through hard-hitting public health campaigns like those which targeted smoking and HIV-Aids. "Because it's only been with us for a short period of time, if we tackle it in the right fashion, there's no reason why we can't overcome it within a relatively short period of time as well."


Sydney's artificial water crisis

Everyone agrees Sydney faces a water crisis, but the city seems incapable of significant action. Today I want to celebrate a Turramurra couple who have accepted responsibility for their water use. It's a story of triumph, but also of frustration in dealing with government. To understand this, you need to see why the State Government's management of water is so deeply dysfunctional.

I have a copy of the Sydney Water Board's 1991 water supply strategy review, and have confirmed with former senior staff that it represents informed opinion at the time. It pointed out that the city's population had doubled since 1960 but its water storage capacity had increased by only 2 per cent. It said: "If measures are not taken to provide Sydney with additional storage, early in the next century there will be a real risk of serious water restrictions being necessary." The reason for this did not involve apocalyptic events such as climate change or a one-in-a-thousand-year drought. It was mundane: you cannot increase a city's population without increasing its water supply. The prediction was accurate: no steps were taken to increase storage, and water restrictions were introduced in 2003.

The review recommended that a dam be built on the upper Shoalhaven River. This was accepted but Bob Carr cancelled it when he became premier. But don't think the Shoalhaven was saved. On October 24 Shelley Hancock, the Liberal member for South Coast, told State Parliament that enormous amounts of water were being pumped from the river anyway. "In August, 78 per cent of Sydney's water supply was pumped from the Shoalhaven," she said. "In the following week [it was] 82 per cent." This had produced an "alarming drop in the water levels in the river".

The review considered large-scale recycling, which Carr also rejected. Indeed, the Government spent almost $1.6 million on lawyers to try to stop a private company, Sydney Services, getting access to its waste water. It was finally forced by the National Competition Council to negotiate with Sydney Services. In response, last week it brought in a shabby piece of legislation called the Water Industry Competition Bill. This appoints as umpire for access disputes the Government's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, rather than the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which the industry wanted. The tribunal will ultimately determine the terms on which Sydney Water has to offer access to private companies. The industry does not believe the tribunal will be sufficiently independent.

Why is the Government so opposed to large-scale recycling, whether done by itself or private companies? Because Sydney Water pays a massive "dividend" each year to the Government, which it doesn't want to lose by recycling. (Recycled water costs more than dam water.) Last year the dividend was $193 million, an increase of $73 million over the previous year. To put this in some sort of perspective, the increase in Sydney Water's cash flow from normal operating activities over the year was only $26.7 million. Some of that dividend - many would say a lot of it - is money that ought to have been spent on serious recycling. But with the exception of the Rouse Hill recycling scheme, the Government has largely ignored, even discouraged, recycling, by companies and individuals.

In Turramurra, Alicia Campbell and Jason Young have taken matters into their own hands. Last year they moved into a standard two-storey house, which they had helped design. Under the Government's BASIX regulations they were required to have a 5000-litre rainwater tank. Says Alicia: "We thought, if we were going to do it, why not do it properly?" So they installed a 25,000-litre tank underground, "double-U" gutters to stop leaves getting in and first flush devices on the downpipes so when it rains the roof is washed clean before water goes into the tank. In the past year they have used 91,000 litres from the tank; the house is not connected to mains water.

Jason and Alicia, who have two small children, have also installed a system that allows them to recycle all their waste water, including sewage. This will produce about 100,000 litres of water a year. Ku-ring-gai Council has insisted they pay about $3000 for a series of tests before they can use this water for non-potable purposes, at which point they will disconnect from the sewer mains.

Michael Mobbs is the guru of Sydney's sustainability movement. He says 17,000 people have been through his sustainable house in Chippendale in the past eight years. An environmental lawyer, he advises people like Alicia and Jason, and has helped them deal with the regulatory thickets set up to discourage people from becoming self-sufficient. Mobbs says he knows of about 30 households in Sydney that have gone off the water grid. Sydney Water guesses 50 have disconnected from the sewer mains. As well as this, 27,500 residences, businesses and schools have received up to $800 from Sydney Water, for installing rain tanks with a capacity of more than 7000 litres that are connected to a toilet or washing machine.

These figures are modest in a city of so many residences. Expense is a big issue. Jason and Alicia paid about $25,000 for their independence, funded partly by savings elsewhere in the home (for example, concrete instead of wooden floors). The home builder AV Jennings has tried to sell houses with environmental features, but a company spokesman says few are prepared to pay the additional cost. Which makes Alicia and Jason's achievement all the more remarkable. She was the driving force, and at first he was concerned about costs. "But now we've done it," he says, "I'm overjoyed."


Sunday, November 26, 2006

PM using nukes to spike the Green/Left

Only very foolish people doubt John Howard's political instincts

John Howard has recast the political debate on nuclear power, with Ziggy Switkowski's report saying that if you take global warming seriously then nuclear must be assessed as part of the solution. Either Howard or Kim Beazley has made a blunder as they seize opposing positions in the energy debate. Beazley says Howard "is developing some of the characteristics of a fanatic" on nuclear power. He says there is a clear-cut distinction between Labor and Liberal, and that Howard must answer a simple question: Where will his 25 nuclear reactors be located?

The more Beazley fumes, the more moderate Howard sounds. "I think public opinion is shifting," Howard says. "I want to take the public with me. I'm not trying to force it down the throat of the public. We're talking about a debate that is going to go on for some time. We can't expect instant policy gratification." You bet. Howard has no intention of committing Australia to nuclear power before the next election. His real purpose is to redefine the politics of energy in Australia and to destroy the moral and practical superiority Labor has enjoyed for so long courtesy of the global warming debate.

While the issue was about belief or disbelief in global warming, Howard was the loser. Climate, science and popular sentiment united against him. Howard's answer is to declare himself a believer and begin a new debate about solutions. This is a debate about markets, costs and economics, where the key ideological factor is no longer Howard's scepticism about global warming but Labor's rejection of nuclear power.

As a politician, Howard specialises in eroding Labor's symbolic ideas. This term he has assaulted Labor's industrial orthodoxy with his Work Choices package and now assaults its anti-nuclear orthodoxy. Such positions are assumed to be highly unpopular. So why does Howard embrace them? Because he thinks the election winner will be the leader propounding positive ideas for the nation's future. "I think the public will listen to the debate," he says of the nuclear issue. "I don't think they have the prejudice about nuclear power that Mr Beazley and Senator Brown have. I mean, Senator Brown and Mr Beazley have a prejudice about nuclear power. I'm open-minded about nuclear power." This is Howard tying Labor into green ideology as opposed to his rationalism.

Switkowski's report is designed to make nuclear power respectable. But it cannot make the nuclear option financially viable. The report's key is the nexus between global warming and nuclear power. Switkowski spelt it out at the National Press Club: you only think nuclear if you believe in climate change. In Australia, nuclear power is hopelessly uncompetitive, about 20 per cent to 50 per cent costlier than coal and gas-based electricity on which Australia relies. So there is no investment appetite for nuclear power, as Australia enjoys the fourth cheapest electricity among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

While Switkowski finds that nuclear is a "practical option" for Australia, the assumptions underpinning this conclusion reveal the remoteness of the nuclear pathway. Consider the list. The report asserts at the start that Australia's best option is clean coal. Frankly, it is a no-brainer. This technology is a joint Howard-Beazley aspiration of deep import for Australia and the world economy. Beyond this, nuclear would only be viable if fossil fuels begin to pay for their emissions. A price of $15-$40 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent would be necessary to make nuclear electricity competitive.

But complications abound. The period for planning, building and commissioning Australia's first nuclear power plant would be 10 to 20 years. Australia lacks the expertise and skills in nuclear research. Nuclear engineering and nuclear physics are degraded and a national mobilisation would be required to generate such expertise. Australia has no regulatory framework for the industry and it would need to establish a single national regulator to cover all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, drawing heavily on overseas expertise. The report says that if Australia is serious about nuclear power, it is essential that this regulatory framework be "established at an early stage".

Australia's existing laws ban the establishment of nuclear fuel cycle facilities, from power plants to enrichment plants. This inhibition, significantly, is on Howard's mind. "If we are to have a nuclear power industry in this country, we need to change the law, because the law doesn't permit it at the present time," he says. Such laws would need passage through the federal parliament. Might Howard contemplate this before the election as part of a showdown with Labor and the Greens over putting the nuclear option on a commercial evaluation basis? Australia is locked into an anti-nuclear power administrative and legislative system. Freeing up this system may become part of any genuine debate. Howard's message is that he wants the nuclear option decided on commercial factors. Yet Switkowski's report contains even more warnings on this score.

Overseas experience suggests "the first plants may need additional measures to kick-start the industry". Sure. The report says the US Government is providing a subsidy for the first six nuclear plants based on next-generation technology. Given this history, can you imagine commercial operators launching a nuclear industry in Australia without subsidies? And imagine further just how popular such subsidies would prove!

The test for Howard is whether he moves towards a carbon-pricing policy. If he does, he risks prejudicing Australia's comparative advantage in cheap electricity based on fossil fuels. Yet if he doesn't, he undermines the necessary condition Switkowski outlines that would make nuclear competitive, thereby compromising his nuclear initiative. Howard's view is that no single technology can meet Australia's future energy demands. He wants nuclear assessed as part of the mix and the report's philosophy is that all options should be examined on a market basis and all technologies should "compete on an equal footing". This may eventually rule out nuclear power for Australia. But Beazley is not interested in such evaluations.

Labor has an ideological objection to nuclear power and a political conviction that a scare campaign will be effective against Howard. It would be an advertising agency's delight: depicting Australia's cities as the next Chernobyl. The immediate response of Labor's premiers betrayed their faith in such a scare at state and local level. These premiers, most of whom have singularly failed to manage infrastructure and water policy properly, now purport to veto a comprehensive debate on Australia's energy future. They don't deserve to be taken seriously and few people will take them seriously. Having being routed before the High Court in their totally counterproductive challenge to Howard's industrial laws, the premiers have neither the power nor the authority to take this decision about the Australian nation.

The real difference is that Howard wants to open the door to a nuclear debate and Beazley wants to keep it shut. It is a division not between nuclear policies but between political positions. It repeats the patterm since 1996 of Howard as the agent of initiative and Labor as the agent of resistance.



Mocking comment from Harvard by Lubos Motl

Eastern Australia hasn't seen this November cold for 100+ years: it was the coldest November day in a century. Recall that "November" in Australian can be translated as "May" in the U.S. Nevertheless, they have had mushy snow in Canberra, a blast of Antarctic magic. A goosepimply, teeth-chattering Sydney has another reason to shake its collective head at the weather gods today.

Nevertheless, intelligent journalists immediately explain us that cooler weather and fewer hurricanes do not lessen global warming trends because weather is not climate, just like religion is not faith. The climate and the climate change are not only independent of the weather but they are independent of all other things that can be measured, too.

More precisely, weather is only climate when it's getting warmer and when the hurricane frequency increases. When the weather is getting cooler and the hurricane rate is decreasing, weather is no longer climate. It follows that the climate is always getting warmer - QED Amen. That's why Kofi Annan can tell us that we, the skeptics, are out of step, out of time, and out of arguments. He is out of tune, out of touch, and out of mind, trying to build the 1984-style global government.


When two students walked into their lecturer's study to mount a challenge about the mark one of them had received in a multiple choice exam, the academic smiled. The first student had scored 90 per cent; the second 10 per cent. All three people knew the real reason for the gripe was that the second student had copied the first. So why the discrepancies in the marks? Unruffled, the academic compared the disgruntled student's answers to the master copy, demonstrating that the fail mark was justified.

They had just been foiled by a well-worn sting within the biochemistry department at the University of Sydney. Frustrated by suspicions that students were cheating, the department creates four variations to each multiple choice exam it prepares. If students copy the letters circled by their neighbours, they will arrive at different results. The more they copy, the worse they will do.

"What our solution enables us to do is say natural justice has occurred," said Associate Professor Gareth Denyer, a senior lecturer. "This student has ended up with an incredibly low mark as a result of their cheating . There's a wonderfully sweet feeling . It's evil of me, I know. But they're trying to get one over you and you end up getting one over them."

The department has been improving the system over seven years, but despite its success being published within the university and externally, other academics have resisted adopting it. Some regard it as a form of entrapment. Others have their own systems. But Professor Denyer believes that many do not want to know if their students are cheating. "There's a very strong head-in-the-sand culture," he said.


Bundaberg nurse recognised with whistleblower award

The woman who alerted authorities to the Bundaberg Hospital crisis will be recognised at the annual Whistleblowers Australia conference this weekend. Bundaberg Base Hospital nurse Toni Hoffman will receive the Whistleblower of the Year award for uncovering the alleged criminal malpractice of overseas-trained surgeon Jayant Patel. Patel is allegedly linked with 17 patient deaths, and earlier this week a Brisbane Magistrate approved an arrest warrant for the 56-year-old doctor who fled to the US.

Ms Hoffman says she is thrilled to receive the award. "It's a great honour and I hope to be able to improve whistleblower protection through raising awareness," she said.

The national director for Whistleblowers Australia, Greg McMahon, says it was Ms Hoffman's concern for the community that earned her the award. "Toni Hoffman took the view that more was required of her because of her responsibility so that everybody needed to be protected," he said. Ms Hoffman will share the title with heart specialist Dr Con Aroney, who is being honoured for his role in revealing cutbacks at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital in 2004.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Australia still produces real men

An Australian pilot last night became the first to receive a British Distinguished Flying Cross since the Vietnam War. Major Scott Watkins was due to be presented with the medal by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. He earned the medal during 2004-05 while serving in Iraq on an exchange posting with the British Army's joint helicopter force.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said Major Watkins was a first-rate helicopter pilot who received the award for providing support to the 1st Black Watch Battlegroup. "He is the first Australian to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross since the Vietnam War and one of a number of Australians to have been presented with the UK award," Dr Nelson said.

Major Watkins was recognised for outstanding flying on a number of occasions. In one incident, he took control of the British Lynx helicopter after its pilot was injured by small-arms fire. He then piloted the helicopter to a nearby coalition base camp where the pilot was evacuated to hospital. "Despite a very real threat to his aircraft, he repeatedly placed himself in exposed positions in order to provide support to other aircraft and the ground forces they were supporting," Australian Army chief Lieutenant General Peter Leahy said. "In the opinion of his commanding officer, Major Watkins' actions undoubtedly saved the lives of a number of soldiers in the battlegroup," Australian Army chief Lieutenant General Peter Leahy said.

Dr Nelson said all Australians should feel proud of the courage showed by Major Watkins. "His courage highlights the importance of Australia's contribution to coalition efforts in Iraq. "In particular, it reinforces the high regard in which our soldiers are held, their courage, training and professionalism."


Sydney Christmas celebrations restored

Worries about "offending" Muslims seem to have been dumped

Asian tourists recognised the bearded man in the suit as the wheeled sleigh made its way down Sydney's George Street. "Santa" and "Merry Christmas" they called as they took photographs of the carriage drawn by two police on horses with antlers on. The sleigh had pulled out of Sydney Town Hall five minutes ahead of its scheduled 8pm departure, because Nita Lyon's 21-month-old daughter was screaming at the sight of the red-suited gent.

Ms Lyons, her daughter and son Kaylan sat facing the jolly bearded man who had one arm locked in a jovial embrace around Clover Moore, wearing a red silk top and black slacks. No one seemed to recognise her as Sydney's Lord Mayor. They thought Ms Moore, who has participated in many a Gay Mardi Gras and was the inspiration one year of a float, was most likely Mrs Claus.

But last night was her night of redemption in the hearts of more than 8000 of the city's children and their parents who turned out in Martin Place to see the lights of a 20 metre Christmas Tree brighten the city tower scape.

Last night Lord Mayor Moore, who two years ago was branded the "Grinch" for cutting back dramatically on the council's festive season bunting displays, showed there is no bah hum bug in her. Sydney City Council is spending $500,000 this year on public displays and decorations.

As the "sleigh" turned into Martin Place Ms Moore, Santa, and Ms Lyons and her children, from the Redfern community centre, were greeted by a happy ovation of "Santa, Santa, Santa" from thousands of beaming children's faces, many held aloft in their parents' arms.

Among the most chuffed was five year old Zachary Lewis of Parklea who won a Sun Herald coloring competition to help Ms Moore turn on the 19,000 lights of Sydney's Martin Place Christmas tree to the cheers of the crowd as sky rockets burst overhead. He just beamed with happiness and was lost for words as he clutched a special unopened present given to him by Ms Moore. "He's absolutely smitten with excitement, he got to meet Santa," his father Gordon, an IT specialist said.


Conservatives winning the education debate

Rednecks rescuing public education? Never. In fact, it's happening in pockets of North America. Accountability is back in fashion and it is a boon for public education. And it may just happen here in Australia. As education becomes a pivotal issue for the Howard Government, the Coalition may end up thanking the self-styled progressive teachers unions for that electoral gift. Each time their union leaders bang on about political issues, it's a reminder that they are less interested in what ought to be their core concern: educating Australian children. Far from working to destroy public education, as the teachers unions allege, the conservatives may just end up saving it. But more on that later.

First, to the shifting electoral sands. Education has long been regarded as Labor's stronghold, an issue that differentiated the ALP from the Coalition. In October 2003 a Newspoll survey revealed that Labor was ahead by 13 points when voters were asked who was best able to handle education. Similarly, Kim Beazley has been regarded, by and large, as more capable on education than John Howard. That appears to be changing. A Newspoll survey last week revealed that Howard is seen as just as capable as Beazley when it comes to education.

It's too early to talk of firm trends in favour of Howard on education, but the gap is closing. As a point of contrast, on the Coalition's traditional strength - handling the economy - it continues to significantly outscore Labor. The October survey had the Coalition ahead by 32 points on the economy front. As Newspoll chairman Sol Lebovic told The Australian: "You don't see that (differentiation) in Labor's strength on education." So education is well and truly up for grabs. Given that 75 per cent of Australian voters rate education as very important in determining who gets their vote, it's clear that Howard will use education as an electoral issue next year.

If it turns out to be a winner for Howard, the teachers unions will be the dunces who handed it to him. Last week The Daily Telegraph reported that the NSW Teachers Federation announced that teachers should not be compelled to include comments about students' performance in school reports. That's from the same union that is blocking any movement towards A to E grading of students of subjects apart from literacy and numeracy. As that newspaper's editorial asked, where does that leave the school report card? Looking rather blank?

The unions also opposed suggestions by federal Education Minister Julie Bishop that teachers be remunerated according to merit, not merely seniority. They scoffed at the idea that principals are best placed to determine the good teachers who deserve greater rewards. It happens in every workplace across Australia, but in schools? Forget about it.

Bloviating against reform on the dubious basis that teachers unions know best, they also opposed moves to inject a greater focus on phonetic instruction into literacy. The knee-jerk rejection by the most powerful teachers union of education reforms suggested by the Howard Government highlights the politicised nature of the unions' agenda. That and the fact union leaders regularly spill the political beans in the most colourful way. It's worth repeating the political outbursts for the simple reason that they may explain why more voters are looking to Howard for leadership on education. Recall NSW English Teachers Association president Wayne Sawyer blaming the re-election of the Howard Government in 2004 on the failure of teachers to create a "critical generation". Then came Australian Education Union president Pat Byrne declaring that teachers needed to be on the progressive side of politics. In her prepared speech to the Queensland Teachers Union conference last year, Byrne complained that "it was not a good time to be progressive in Australia" but assured her union constituency that"the conservatives have a lot of work to do to undo the progressive curriculum".

It's a neat reminder to parents of who to blame for curriculum woes. The Coalition is inching forward in the polls on education for one simple reason: the so-called progressive agenda thrust on schools has not worked. Every time a unionist calls for more of the same, it may just translate into another point in the polls for the Coalition on education. Alas, some of our education union leaders are not smart enough to work that out. Who can forget Byrne attacking the Coalition for casting the education debate in terms of conservative values. "It has framed the debate in terms of choice, excellence, quality, values, discipline," she said. Crikey. You can almost hear parents saying: "If progressives are opposed to choice, excellence, quality, values and discipline, it's time to give the conservatives a go." Next week, teachers will desert the classroom to march in the National Day of Union and Community Action, railing against the Government's Work Choices legislation. Expect a wry smile from the Howard Government, as parents and students are once again relegated behind union politics.

Union rhetoric that says conservatives want to trash public education does not match what's happening in the real world. In Alberta, Canada, long derided as home to dumb rednecks riding high on the proceeds of oil and natural gas, there has been a dramatic turnaround in the inexorable decline in public education. In Edmonton, the province's capital, recently retired schools chief Angus McBeath says: "The litmus test is that the rich send their kids to public schools, not the private schools." Just read that again. Rich folk are sending their children to public schools. Compare the exodus of Australian students from public to private schools, with parents often working two jobs to pay for private school fees. What's behind Alberta's counter-intuitive trend, in which 80per cent of parents express satisfaction with public education? Put it down to the dreaded conservatives, who have reigned since 1971, and their values. It's simple stuff like reforming the curriculum to focus on core subjects such as maths, English and science, improving teacher training, setting real performance goals for students and tracking student performance in province-wide tests.

As The Economist recently pointed out, Alberta has spent the past three decades building one of the best education systems in the country. And it's turning out clever students who rank higher than their Canadian peers. In Australia, there appears to be a similar yearning for genuine accountability in education. Increasingly, parents are turning away from Labor as being best able to deliver on that front. It's not an unreasonable response, given that reform is unlikely to come while the political bruvvers in the union movement rule in our schools.


OK to mock Catholics?

The same tribunal previously held that it was illegal to mock Islam

Is telling Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott to keep his rosaries off a women's ovaries freedom of speech or religious vilification? A member of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal will judge when he either allows or strikes out a claim by Right-to-Lifer Babette Francis, who wants controversial T-shirts sporting the slogan banned. Mrs Francis claims T-shirts bearing the words "Mr Abbott, keep your rosaries off my ovaries" vilify Catholics and incite violence.

The YWCA, which makes the T-shirts, fought yesterday to have her legal action struck out, arguing it fails to meet the strict parameters of the Racial and Religious Vilification Act. Barrister for the YWCA, Melanie Young, said the words were a metaphorical expression used during robust debate and did not incite hatred, severe ridicule or serious contempt. The T-shirts sparked widespread outrage when one was worn into Parliament by Greens senator Kerry Nettle during heated debate over who should control the abortion drug RU486.

Representing herself in her VCAT claim, Mrs Francis said yesterday the words offended her, vilified Catholics and stirred anti-Catholic bigotry. "For a Christian organisation like the YWCA to stir up that type of bigotry is outrageous," she told the hearing yesterday. Mrs Francis argued that some people would interpret the slogan literally, believing Catholics would literally place their hands on a woman's ovaries. She said some people who didn't accept Catholicism might find certain church practices, such as the sprinkling of holy water, as "weird". Mrs Francis wants the YWCA to stop making the T-shirts and make a $10 donation to Helpers of God's Precious Infants.

But Ms Young said some people would find the slogan witty, others would say it was an astute metaphor and some would say it was offensive. VCAT senior member Rohan Walker will hand down his decision on whether or not to strike out Mrs Francis's claim at a later date.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Australia's own Royal visitor

Probably the most popular person in Australia

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark flew into her home town of Hobart with her son yesterday for a long-anticipated private family visit. And the first item on the holiday agenda, after meeting her husband Crown Prince Frederik at the airport, was lunch with Mary's family and a much-needed rest to recover from the jetlag.

The pregnant Mary and her son, Prince Christian, arrived in Hobart at 10am aboard a Qantas flight from Melbourne, which they shared with other excited passengers. Princess Mary, wearing jeans, a navy jumper and camel-coloured jacket, was met on the tarmac by Prince Frederik, the couple sharing a kiss and an embrace before they were picked up by a black Audi four-wheel-drive and whisked away.

Prince Frederik is believed to have arrived in Hobart on Tuesday night, as he flies separately from his 13-month-old son, who is next in line to the Danish throne. While details of their arrival were secret, the royals were still welcomed by a small group waving Danish flags as well as local and Danish media.

More here


It couldn't be that pesky old sun that causes the warming and cooling all by itself, could it? Some interesting data from Australia

It is amazing to me, that there is very limited analysis into temperatures at certain times of the day. Even the IPCC Climate Change 2001 report only looks at maximum and minimum temperatures. We concluded here that minimum temperatures have increased significantly from about the 1980's, but have stayed around the same level since then. The increase in Australia has been 0.3 degrees since 1980. We also concluded also that there has recently, especially in the last 5 years been an increase in Australia's maximum temperature, however the increase is statistically insignificant. The graph on this link clearly shows an increase in maximum temperatures since around 1960, but not quite to the level that they were in the 19th century.

So what is happening in these last few years of increase in maximum temperatures? It is strange that research has not decided to look into this, and has generally just accepted the fact that we are warming up.

The graph shows the deviations from the norm at certain times of the day with reference to last 5 years, 15, 30, 60 and 100 years. Data for the last 100 years was only available for 9am, 3pm and 9pm.

Lets look at the last 5 years to start off with. At the heat of the day, at around 3pm, we see that temperatures in the last 5 years have increased by on average almost 0.6 degrees. But interestingly, at other times of the day, the decrease is less. In fact at 3am and 6am, when the sun does not shine, there is no increase at all in temperature. As the earth spins further away from the sun, the temperature deviation from the norm decreases. Between 1992 and 2001 we had less than normal temperatures with the exception of 3pm. The previous 15 years before that showed an increase in temperatures at around the 6pm to 9pm mark, and from 1947 to 1976, where it is well known that maximum temperatures were on the decrease, this graph shows this. With temperatures at what would normally be at the peak, 3pm, being around 0.2 degrees below the norm. Interestingly here, that when the sun is on the other side of the world, the temperature difference is minimal.

So why is it that in most recent times, we are heating up during the heat of the day and not at other times? Admittedly it is only a small sample size of 5 years, but it might well be worth some debate. This data clearly proves, that Australia is not uniformly heating up at all times, but only when the sun is at its peak. Hence the reason why we get increased maximum temperatures more recently.

It is interesting, that the increased maximum temperatures of late only occur because of an increasing temperature around 3pm (the heat of the day) and not at other times. Likewise the decreased maximum temperature from around 1947 to 1976 only occurred because of a decrease in temperatures around 3pm (the heat of the day) and largely not at other times.

If CO2 were the primary causer of increased temperatures in Australia, then wouldn't we get a more consistent temperature increase throughout the day and night? Analysis at certain times of the year, and when there is/isn't cloud cover might well be the key here. Keep in mind however, that the increase in temperature over the past 5 years is not significant, but is still worth a look into, as it seems this is rarely done in the literature.


Follow-up comment:

Recently we showed that when Australian maximum temperatures increased, the actual temperature only increased when the sun was out. Likwise, from 1947 to 1970 when temperatures decreased, the decrease only occured when the sun was out. Hence, when maximum temperatures are up or down, we are not seeing an increase/decrease throughout the day of temperatures but only at the heat of the day (around 3pm) when the sun is at it's hottest.

Maybe the sun has something to do with the discrepancies in maximum temperatures perhaps? Well Scafetta and West's (2006) research seems that it could agree with us saying that:

The sun might have contributed approximately 50% of the observed global warming since 1900

50% Wow! That's like....half. Maybe there is something in this. Which would you bet causes more warming....CO2 levels or the sun? Hmmm....


Victoria: Hatred of Christian political party

A hate campaign has emerged in the eastern suburbs as vandals link the Family First party to the American white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan. Mitcham candidate Miriam Rawson was this week shocked to find KKK had been scrawled on her Blackburn North billboard and a white hood painted over her face. It was the third time the billboard had been vandalised, and four other signs have been stolen.

But Ms Rawson, 28, a teacher and first-time candidate, believes it was not a personal attack but a vicious campaign against the party's values. "Everybody knows that we need to rebuild our schools, but when you start to touch on issues such as looking to reduce the number of abortions in Victoria . . . that starts to push a few buttons," she said. "Obviously there's something that's made them react to what Family First is about so violently they've felt they've had to express themselves that way."

Ms Rawson, who has filed a complaint with Nunawading police, challenged the "cowards" to come forward. "I'd be quite happy to face them in an open debate in public," she said. "Let them have their say and I can respond in a mature, non-criminal way. "When I first saw it I thought, 'Why are you doing this to me?' "But something inside me went, 'I'm going to campaign even harder,' and I have been. It's been almost like a blessing in disguise."


A great speech about Israel from Australia's Foreign Minister

Well Rabbis, ladies and gentlemen I just want to say what a great honour it is and an unusual honour for me to come along here this afternoon and spend some time with you and participate in the opening of this synagogue. I feel it is a great honour for a lot of reasons - some of them are very modern, some of them are not so modern

I'm not Jewish, as you probably know I'm a Christian. But I went to university in England and when I was at university in England I got in with as they say, a whole lot of Jewish people, for no particular reason. I just came across them and became friendly with them to the extent that one of them a girl called Judy and I and a couple of others I hasten to add shared a house in our last year (It was a platonic relationship.). We still keep in touch with her to this very day.

Judy had a cousin in Israel as many Jewish people do and her cousin came to stay with us from Israel. It's rather exciting having an Israeli come to stay with us in our student house, eating our modest maybe I could say even disgusting food of baked beans and toast and other nasty things that students in those days ate when they were away from home.

Only this was 1973 and while this friend, this cousin of Judy's was staying with us as the Yom Kippur war broke out. And you can imagine the absolute agony of this for these young people who I was living with at the time. The cousin had a brother who was in the Israeli Defence Forces at the time. And the worry, the agony, I think is the right way to put it, that Judy and her fiend in particular felt as they listened to the reports on the BBC coming from the battlefield..

Well it had an enormous impact on me. And it helped I suppose to put into perspective for me as a Christian the appalling history of the Jewish people, in the sense that they have been targeted, they have been discriminated against, they have been ridiculed, they've been murdered, and yet despite all the horrors that they have put up with, they have continued and they have shown courage and they have a record of simply extraordinary achievement.

I am just enormously proud that in this country of Australia, and you know this was true to some extent of Britain, but in this country, Jewish people have been a fundamental part of the writing of the modern Australian story. It's nice that we have had two Jewish Governors General and it is wonderful to see Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen here tonight. It's a particular honour to be with them. Sir Zelman succeeded Sir John Kerr as the Governor General and it was of course a tumultuous period in Australian history - tonight's not the night to relive that. He used a phrase when he became the Governor General and that phrase that he used was that he would like to bring a touch of healing to the job. He very much did do that. He did a wonderful job as our Governor General. Sir Isaac Isaacs was our first Australian-born Governor General and he was Jewish.

I come from South Australia. I think I am right in saying South Australia is the only state that's ever had a Jewish Premier in the form of Premier Solomon back in the 19th century. I think one of the most important figures in Australian history has been none other than General Sir John Monash who was also Jewish - a great general, not just a great Australian general, but a great allied general, a great general on the Western Front during the First World War. So Jewish people in Australia have prospered yet they have been monstrously persecuted over and over again through history for the most intolerant, irrational and unacceptable of reasons.

And it is just wonderful as a country that we have crafted for ourselves a place in the world where we have stood up for the equal value of all people regardless of their religions or even lack of religions, of their colour, of their race, even of their ideology. I often say the only people we don't tolerate in Australia are the intolerant. You should never tolerate the intolerant but you should tolerate everyone else. It's a truly great thing about this country and as I travel around the world I can't help but be proud of it. The second thing I wanted to say is that I think as a country we have shown that we are prepared to stand up for our values and sometimes even to die for our values.

I didn't realize as I came here this evening that this was the anniversary of kristallnacht, the 68th anniversary. This was a truly dark time in the history of the world. The 30s was the ugly decade, really the decade where National Socialism, Nazism, fascism increasingly gained a grip on Europe and on the centres of power in the world. And good people did so little about it. Good people did not confront it until very nearly it was too late. Many good people thought, well, it's going on in Germany. I suppose, they've had a tough time the Germans - they couldn't face another war after the horrors of the First World War. And there emerged the policy of appeasement. The price of appeasement was not just the lives of the six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis but of the 60 or so million people that died through the Second World War.

So why is this relevant to us today? It's relevant to us today because I think as a country and I think as a global community we have to have the courage to confront evil when we find it and deal with it and not find excuses to walk on the other side of the road and do nothing about it. Because if we do nothing about it, it will grow in its intensity and the consequences will become increasingly ghastly.

I think back over the last few years, you know, 1994 in Rwanda Nearly a million people were murdered before the international community thought it was right to do something about it and even that was controversial. People were murdered in vast numbers in the Balkans, in Kosovo as well, until the international community decided do to anything about it and even that was very controversial.

What do we confront this very day? We confront - and I think Israel obviously particularly has to contend with this - we confront the ideological scourge of extremist Islamist terrorism. It's ideological because what these people want to do is eliminate all other points of view and stamp upon the world their extremist Islamic interpretation - a completely ideological interpretation encapsulated by the work of the Taliban. Under the Taliban no girls were allowed to go to school or women to go to work, nobody was allowed a television or a radio or a CD player. Society was plunged back into the 7th Century and if you didn't agree with them philosophically or ideologically or theologically you were put to death. This is the ideology that these terrorists are trying to impose.

When it comes to Israel, I don't think the world should forget that these people want to eliminate Israel. It's not as though they never say they do, it's not as though they keep it a secret. It's that the world seems to show such a lack of understanding of the Israeli's determination that this doesn't happen. I often say to people how would you feel?

And you have just heard the testimonies about the mothers who were in the holocaust, the children of these people and the descendants in other forms of these people. They live in Israel. They have their own country and surrounding them are people - not of course all people - I'm not saying all the Arabs hold this view - but the terrorists, the Hezbollah terrorists, the Hamas terrorists, the Al Qaeda terrorists, so the list goes on. These are people who are committed to yet again the destruction of the Jewish people and in particular the destruction of their state. And the IDF can be a bit aggressive in defence of Israel. Well that shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody who has a bit of sensitivity and a bit of understanding of what the Israeli people and the Jewish people are up against in Israel and it's particularly important to keep a historical perspective of that.

Does it matter to Israel and to the Jewish people that these terrorists could win in Afghanistan or in Iraq? It matters enormously. These are life or death issues in terms of dealing with this ideology and defeating this ideology. And I think as an international community it's enormously difficult to keep the public on side and to encourage the public to support our policies or any country's policies of confronting and defeating these people.

There are all sorts of different ways I know of defeating them. Interfaith dialogues . very useful . very successful by the way in South East Asia. It's been possible to defeat them by harnessing the ideology of modern Muslims, again more successful in South East Asia than in the Middle East.

Sometimes they have to be defeated them in the battlefield. But in the end we, as what I might broadly describe as a Western society, can decide whether we will defeat these people or whether we won't. We can make that decision. They can never destroy our society even though they want to. They can never destroy our tolerance and our decency and our humanity even though they want to destroy that and impose their extremist ideology and their intolerance on us all. Only we can allow them to make progress, gain ground by sending a message to them that we can be defeated by showing a lack of will, by showing a lack of determination. I think this is an incredibly difficult, a very difficult time.

I find and I've been doing this today as we cast our votes in the United Nations against some of what I call the extreme Palestinian resolutions. I mention this today because at Melbourne airport I was signing off on how we would vote on a number of these resolutions that are coming up over the next couple days. These resolutions are deeply anti-Israeli, deeply anti-Israeli, and big majorities always carry them. And we are always being told, the best thing for diplomacy is to: all right minister, you don't like the resolution, but in the interests of diplomacy why don't you abstain? And I say, let's vote against it because it is wrong. And the more we and other countries stand up to this sort of behaviour, the more we stand a chance of success. the more we try to appease, the more we will encourage. And it is enormously important to remember that.

So I spent more than my five minutes talking to you but it's just an opportunity to say that right from those days when I was a student and I was so enthusiastically befriended by the Jewish people I met at university to the extent that I shared a house with one of them for 18 months, a couple of years, and made so many friends in England through her and other of her friends in the British Jewish community and of course in Australia as well and the kindness that has been shown to me by Jewish people and the tolerance they show towards me. and I appreciate that. some of them are, dare I say the word, Labour.

But they are still quite tolerant and the decency of them and the energy and the hard work and the long record of achievement in the Jewish community in Australia - I think it's fantastic So it is with the greatest of pleasure that I come here this afternoon and participate in this ceremony to open a synagogue and to see so many of you here and thank you very much for tolerating me here in your presence


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Profile of a "protester"

Totally useless for anything constructive

A protester accused of a violent outburst during the G20 summit has been refused bail after a magistrate said he would pose an unacceptable risk if freed. Customs checks revealed that Monash University student Akin Sari, 28, held Australian and Turkish citizenship and has passports for both nationalities, Melbourne Magistrates' Court heard.

Mr Sari, a disability pensioner, is charged with affray, riot, criminal damage and theft after a police van was attacked in protests against the G20 summit last Saturday. Acting Det-Sgt Timothy Armstrong told the court that Mr Sari, who has no family in Australia, had been deceptive about the location of his passports and how many of them he has.

Det-Sgt Armstrong said police had received information he was part of a group seen donning white jumpsuits in preparation for the demonstrations and later discarding them, which they cited as indicating the activities were organised. The court heard that a 20-year-old student had agreed to let Mr Sari live at his mother's home with him and his 15-year-old brother if released on bail -- but the mother was overseas and had no idea her home was being offered.

Defence lawyer Jason Gullaci said Mr Sari had admitted protesting but had denied committing acts of violence. He is the only person charged, despite others being clearly seen in media footage to have taken part in the attack.

The court was told the commerce student had done only one semester of his course in the two years he had been enrolled and still had 90 per cent left to complete. Mr Sari suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, has been admitted for psychiatric treatment seven times for problems relating to cannabis use, and was on bail for possessing and using the drug at the time of his arrest.

He denies holding two passports and says he came here in 2001 as a political refugee from Turkey. Magistrate Sarah Dawes said she had concerns about Mr Sari's mental health problems and the accommodation offered was unsuitable, given that Mr Sari had no real ties to Australia. She refused bail and remanded him in custody to return to court in February.


The truth about Australia's latest drought

By economist Ross Gittins. He doesn't even mention global warming, funnily enough

Talking to farmers about drought is like talking to fishers about the one that got away. This one is always much bigger than those that went before. And since the hyperbole merchants told us the drought of 2002 was the biggest in 100 years, this one must be the biggest in 1000 years. Yeah, sure. Thank goodness for the assessments of narky economists, who don't try to humour farmers the way ingratiating politicians and a superlative-seeking media do.

The Reserve Bank offered a dispassionate assessment of the likely severity of the drought in a statement last week. It's pretty bad, but not as cataclysmic as some would have us believe. The severity of droughts can be judged in different ways. One way is to compare the share of the nation's prime agricultural land suffering deficient rainfall this year with previous years. By that measure this one seems less severe than the droughts at the time of Federation, in the 1940s and early 1980s and in 2002. It's significant, however, that this drought comes so hard on the heels of the 2002 drought, thus limiting the opportunities for recovery in growing conditions and water storage. One way to account for this factor is to take for each year the average degree of drought-affected land during the previous five years. Measured this way, the area of land with deficient rainfall in this drought is exceeded only by the drought of the mid-1940s.

A second way of judging the severity of droughts is to look at average rainfall. By that measure, rainfall this year is not as low as in many previous droughts. But, again, if you switch from annual figures to the average rainfall for the previous five years you find that rainfall in the present drought is the lowest on record. So, by one measure at least, you can say it looks like being the worst we've seen. Phew, that's a relief.

This drought is worst in NSW, Victoria and southern Queensland. But some pastoral areas of northern Australia have experienced a significant increase in average rainfall over the past decade, including more recently. (You'll wait a long time before any bushie tells you that.)

Of course, judging the severity of a drought by looking at the lack of rain and the amount of area affected isn't the same as looking at the amount of lost agricultural production. Using the latest forecasts from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the Reserve judges that production of wheat and other cereals may be down by 60 per cent on last year. The biggest fall should be in NSW, though a substantial fall is also expected in the largest wheat-producing state, Western Australia. Wool production is expected to be down 7 per cent, but the production of meat and growing of livestock are likely to be little affected. All told, gross farm product is expected to fall by 20 per cent in 2006-07 compared with last financial year. So, in terms of impact on rural production, this drought is likely to be less severe than the 2002 drought, which saw farm product fall by 26 per cent.

Remember, however, that agriculture accounts for less than 3 per cent of total gross domestic product these days. So a 20 per cent fall in 3 per cent of the economy amounts to a subtraction of about 0.5 percentage points from growth in GDP. Of course, that's just the direct effect of the drought. What about the indirect effects of farmers' reduced incomes and spending on the rest of the economy? Farmers hate it when hard-nosed economists remind starry-eyed city slickers that, thanks to the huge growth in the services sector over the past 30 years, agriculture is now such a small part of the economy (about a quarter the size of our small manufacturing sector). So rural lobbyists like to claim that agriculture has a big "multiplier effect" through the rest of the economy. I think I've heard it claimed that this takes the sector to the equivalent of 12 per cent of the economy. Rubbish. All spending has a multiplier effect through the economy, not just spending by farmers. So this is a trick everyone can play. And if each industry similarly estimated its overall effect on the economy, the figures they gave would total way more than 100 per cent of GDP.

No. The Reserve Bank estimates the drought's direct effect in reducing GDP growth by 0.5 percentage points rises to 0.75 percentage points when you include the indirect effect on other parts of the economy. When you remember that real GDP has grown at an average rate of about 3.5 per cent a year, that loss is significant but not the end of the world.

The drought's likely effect on the economy's growth isn't the same thing as its effect on the incomes of farmers, of course. After allowing for inflation, net farm incomes are expected to decline substantially to around their lowest level in more than a decade. But for many farmers there'll be a saver. The Federal Government runs a farm management deposit scheme where farmers can reduce their income tax in good years by depositing some of their income. They then withdraw that money in bad years, pay tax on it and spend it. The amount farmers have put away in this scheme has grown strongly since 1999 and is now about $2.5 billion, almost the highest it's been. Why have our poor, struggling farmers been able to stash away so much? Because grain growers did so well from the large harvests of recent years, while beef producers did well from the earlier strength in cattle prices.

Another line we are hearing in the combined efforts of farmers, politicians and the media to give city slickers an exaggerated impression of the effects of the drought is that we're about to see big increases in food prices. Nonsense. The effect on prices will be small. Why? Because, for instance, the cost of flour accounts for only a small part of the retail price of bread. And because, though grain prices rise during a drought, meat prices usually fall as more animals are sent to be slaughtered. I'd be more sympathetic if there weren't so many people laying it on too thick.


The Federal Government is throwing tax-dollars at the climate change "non-problem" while ignoring Australia's Muslim problem

In Brendan Behan's words: "Jasus, and it's a quare world." While doing almost nothing about the greatest problem now threatening Australia's future, the federal Government is throwing tax dollars (though less than the subsidy scroungers want) at a non-problem. I refer, respectively, to Australia's Muslim problem and the climate change non-problem.

Our media's performance on these two matters, particularly the ABC-SBS duo and the Fairfax broadsheets, has been quite remarkable. Taj Din al-Hilali's recent outrageous comments - comparing immodestly dressed women to meat left out for cats, and blaming them for sexual assaults - have been treated (though not by The Australian) as something to be swept quickly under the carpet. Indeed, The Age's front page effectively ignored the story throughout thecontroversy. Contrast that with the media frenzy over the apocalyptic Stern report on climate change, concerning the so-called pollution of our atmosphere by a gas, carbon dioxide, that's an essential building block for all plant life.

We have endured widespread exhortations, from the over-loquacious Australian Federal Police Commissioner to the foolish Anglican Archbishop of Perth, not to over-react to Hilali's medieval diatribe about Western women. Meanwhile, discussion of climate change has degenerated from mild inanity into quasi-religious hysteria, with assorted opinion-formers demanding that we "get serious" in undermining Australia's main energy-producing and energy-using industries.

In short, we should remain officially complacent about the most serious threat to our future, namely the fundamental incompatibility of Islam with Western society, while adopting anti-economic growth policies to address a problem that exists chiefly in the fevered minds of its UN and Green proponents. (I set aside our sad federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell, who had been captured by his bureaucrats within a week of taking office.)

Corporate rent seekers also are angling for governmental subsidies for their economically hopeless wind farms, solar power toys and carbon sequestration follies. The kindest explanation for these people's views is that they are (as I think) merely another bunch of would-be corporate welfare dependants, much like the manufacturers before the Hawke government (chiefly) got rid of their protective tariff rackets.

As to the real problem, if Hilali's remarks have finally set alarm bells ringing in Canberra, there is little sign of it. And even the Melbourne Herald Sun's outstanding commentator Andrew Bolt, while excoriating the mufti's maunderings, has proposed no specific policies to avert the threatening iceberg of which Hilali merely represents the tip.

But if the Government is guilty of a non-response to the real problem, the Opposition is guilty of a stupid response to the non-problem. It is demanding that Australia sign up to an international treaty (the Kyoto Protocol) that - like most things associated with the UN - has already demonstrably failed.

Meanwhile, the only semblance of government action on our Muslim problem has been the discussion paper on a possible formal test for citizenship issued in September by the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Robb. I don't wish to be too hard on Robb - after all, he reports to Amanda Vanstone, our worst Immigration Minister since Ian Macphee, and his paper at least puts the topic on the public agenda.

Since, however, it never states the problem to which it is really addressed - namely, that we are now at war with international Islamist terrorism, and that therefore our Muslim community, collectively considered, now regrettably constitutes a potential threat that renders a citizenship test not only appropriate but essential - we cannot be hopeful of the outcome even on this limited issue.

Among all the climate change clap-trap there are at least occasional grounds for laughter. When an honest former business leader, John Ralph, said recently that "climate change might be occurring naturally, rather than being primarily driven by human activities", federal Treasurer Peter Costello quickly rebuked him, saying that he "accepted the scientific evidence" to the contrary. This was laughably reminiscent of another bandwagon (the republic) on to which he climbed 10 years ago when he saw it also as a winner that would undermine John Howard.

Hilarious though the thought may be of Costello making an informed judgment about the science of climate change, there is nothing remotely funny about dealing with the clash between Islam and Western modernity, not to mention (as the recent British MI5 revelations underline) the real and growing problem of Islamist terrorism. The Government would do well to start reacting accordingly.


State-sponsored murder in NSW

An inquest will ask why authorities put a young prisoner in the same jail cell as a psychotic inmate, who within hours kicked him to death. NSW Supreme Court Justice Anthony Whealy today recommended an urgent public inquiry be relaunched into the death of Craig Anthony Behr.

Mr Behr, 24, was in March 2004 placed in a cell with Michael Alan Heatley, a chronically psychotic prisoner who sniffed, smoked and drank his dead father's ashes, and who believed he was the racehorse, Phar Lap. Twice acquitted for armed robbery on the grounds of mental illness, Heatley was an inmate of Sydney's Long Bay prison hospital. He had been placed in solitary lockdown because he was expressing homicidal urges two days earlier, and begged prison officers not to put Mr Behr in his cell. One hour later Mr Behr, 24, had been kicked to death.

Heatley, 30, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, was today sentenced to a maximum 18 years prison for the "violent and brutal'' attack, and an unrelated armed robbery.

Justice Whealy recommended an urgent public inquiry be reopened into the failings of the Department of Corrective Services which contributed to the death of Mr Behr, who was serving seven years for sexual assault and aggravated break and enter. "A significant tragic factor in this case ... is that the Corrective Services Department permitted the deceased to be placed in the cell of a man who was in the implacable grip of an urge to kill someone,'' Justice Whealy said, in sentencing Heatley. "I am satisfied that the placement of Mr Behr in the offender's cell occurred as a consequence of both systemic and individual failures on the part of some prison officers to adhere to proper practices and procedures,'' he said. "Had those practices and procedures been followed ... Mr Behr would not have died.''

A coronial inquest into Mr Behr's death was terminated on February 25, 2005, pending the criminal proceedings. Acting state coroner, Jacqueline Milledge, at the time foreshadowed a possible second inquest, following the Supreme Court proceedings. The Attorney-General's department today said the inquest would be reopened once Heatley's 28-day appeal period had lapsed. "If there's no appeal, they will reopen the inquest,'' a spokesman said.

Justice Whealy said there was a significant likelihood some witnesses had lied or deliberately withheld information, and the public deserved an "independent and free-ranging inquiry''. [In other words, the prison guards did it deliberately because of animus against the deceased -- who was undoubtedly scum] "I would hope that this recommendation falls upon receptive ears, even though its consequences may be unpleasant,'' he said.

Corrective services today issued a statement in support of reopening the inquest, and said it would cooperate fully. "The department acknowledges that the correctional system is not the ideal place for people suffering from mental illness,'' the statement said. The hospital where Mr Behr died had since been closed, and a new 135-bed forensic facility was under construction, the department said. All correctional officers who managed mentally ill prisoners also now received specialist training.

Outside court, Mr Behr's mother, Janet, said the family still wanted answers. "You can be assured the Department of Corrective Services will have to answer and pay for what they've done because of their negligence in their duty of care,'' she said. Heatley will serve a four-year fixed sentence for armed robbery, as well as a minimum eight years for manslaughter. He will be eligible for parole in March 2016.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More contempt for the people from a Leftist elitist

That kids get turned off school by being bored rigid -- by politically correct preaching masquerading as education -- is not considered

Most Australians are anti-intellectual and hostile towards education, a senior Labor frontbencher said today. In a provocative speech to the Sydney Institute tonight (AEDT), Lindsay Tanner will argue parents are partly to blame for a culture of anti-intellectualism in Australia. "There's a lot of evidence that we're still disdaining of learning, we're still regarding learning activity as something that `real Aussies' don't get into too much," Mr Tanner said on ABC Radio today. "It's not an accident that our levels of education and our level of commitment to education and learning is significantly lower than comparable countries."

Mr Tanner said Prime Minister John Howard had fuelled anti-intellectualism by suggesting it was fine for young people to leave school early, and by allowing Education Minister Julie Bishop to brand schoolteachers "Maoists". "Australians have come a long way in the past 20 or 30 years but there's still a lingering culture of antagonism to learning, and I think the Howard government really has been exploiting that," he said. "We should have a government that's actually upholding learning, that's advocating learning, improving learning. "Instead, we've got a government that's exploiting that anti-learning strand of feeling that's very deep in Australia." It was "staggering" that 46 per cent of school leavers did not go on to either higher education or TAFE, he said.

Mr Tanner defended his strong views. "I don't think it's disdainful, I think it's an acknowledgement of reality," he said. "I've grown up in the Labor movement, for example, where the word `academic' has historically been a term of derision. That's just a reflection of the wider society." A British university's presentation of an honorary degree to Australian cricketer Shane Warne, who once famously boasted that he had never read a book, illustrated that many Australians regarded learning as "a bit of a laugh", he said. "I thought that was embarrassing," Mr Tanner said. "He isn't the first person to receive one of these things ... but I suspect in terms of learning and approach to education, he's probably the least justified."


'Financial ruin' for Queensland if no dam

Realism bites and Greenie fantasies take a back seat

THE Beattie Government has warned of massive economic damage to southeast Queensland if new water sources are not found. As its efforts to win approval for the controversial Traveston Crossing Dam in the Mary River Valley move into top gear, the Government has used a consultant's report on possible economic losses to the region to push its case for the project. The lack of new water sources could end up costing southeast Queensland at least $55 billion and perhaps as much as $110 billion by 2020, according to the consultants ACIL Tasman.

The warning is contained in documents accompanying the Government's official referral of the Traveston project to federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell for approval. "Without additional water supplies in SEQ, economic growth is likely to be significantly affected," the document states. "The cumulative impact of not providing additional water has been estimated to result in losses to the regional economy of between $55 billion and $110 billion for the period 2010 to 2020. "This loss would also result in loss of employment which would affect the many new job seekers and families coming to the region."

The Government last week referred both the Traveston project and the proposed Wyaralong Dam to Senator Campbell for environmental assessment. The Government's plans to build the dam has enraged local landowners, prompting vows from several federal Coalition MPs to block the development.


East coast could support 25 nuke plants

AUSTRALIA could have 25 nuclear power plants dotted up and down the east coast by 2050, under a massive nuclear program envisaged by a Government taskforce. While admitting nuclear power could be up to 50 per cent more expensive than coal-fired power and it will take at least 10 years before any nuclear power flows into the national electricity grid, the draft review by Ziggy Switkowski has found nuclear power can be competitive if the price of carbon-based pollution is factored in.

It finds that modern nuclear designs are far safer than those involved in the accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and Australia has geologically suitable areas for nuclear waste repositories.

After a five-month review, Dr Switkowski and his team have found that Australia has the capacity to expand its production and export of uranium, amid a massive growth in electricity demand worldwide, typified by the historic expansion of China's economy.

Any such expansion of Australian uranium mining, and even a move into other areas of the nuclear fuel cycle like uranium enrichment or nuclear power, would not lead to any increased risks of nuclear weapons proliferation, Dr Switkowski finds.

And Australia would not be at increased risk of being vulnerable to a terrorist attack, despite having as many as 25 nuclear reactors. "Australia faces a social decision about whether nuclear, which has operated commercially in other parts of the world, should be part of that (energy) mix," the report finds.

The period for planning, building and commissioning the first nuclear power plant is one to two decades, he said. "On an accelerated path, the earliest that nuclear electricity could be delivered to the grid is around 2016," he said. "Under a scenario in which the first reactor comes on line in 2020 and Australia has in place a fleet of 25 reactors by 2050, it is clear that nuclear power could enhance Australia's ability to meet its electricity needs from low-emission sources," the report argued.

Nuclear power could then deliver more than a third of Australia's electricity and reduce this country's greenhouse emissions by 18 per cent compared to the situation where we did not develop nuclear power. The report said Australia could safely store high-level waste, but would not need to do so until about 2050.

Dr Switkowski said there are a number of skill shortages and government policies that stand in the way of the growth of the nuclear industry in Australia, that need to be urgently addressed. But even if the current legal and regulatory impediments are removed, the report found "there may be little real opportunity for Australian companies to extend profitably into these areas" of enrichment and conversion.


Chris Hurford: Silver lining to Hilali

The Australian immigration minister who wanted to deny permanent residence to Sheik Hilali 20 years ago, calls for an overdue rethink about multiculturalism and our immigration procedures. Chris Hurford was a federal Labor MP for the seat of Adelaide from 1969 to 1987 and immigration minister in the Hawke Labor government from 1985 to 1987

THE Australian people have rightly been up in arms over Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali's outrageous remarks about women and jihadists. But for all the fretting and wailing, there could be a positive side to the past week's events. They may encourage political leaders to toughen our settlement policies and redefine multiculturalism. For too long, some uninformed commentators have preached diversity and tolerance at the expense of integration and social cohesion. That must change.

But first to Hilali. The provocative sheik was clearly an unsuitable immigrant to this country. He came here in 1982 on a visitor's visa, which did not require an interview. A Liberal minister allowed him to stay on an extension to a temporary visa. But Hilali should have been sent back to Egypt, where he could have applied for a visa. If proper procedures, including an interview with immigration officials, were enforced, Hilali would probably have been denied entry.

In 1983 Bob Hawke was elected prime minister and my Labor predecessor wrongly allowed Hilali another extension. But when I became the minister in 1985, I decided not to approve Hilali's application for permanent residence or to renew his temporary visa. After all, he had a lengthy history of inflaming divisions in his community. He had made little effort to settle here, including by improving his ability to speak the English language. And he had persisted in offending, for instance, Jewish Australians in his sermons, in which he chose to get involved in the Middle East conflict, one of a number of old-world discords we discouraged from being imported into our society.

In the past week, columnists and politicians have speculated about who was right and who was wrong, and have sought to drive wedges between me and former colleagues. Paul Keating and Leo McLeay, the argument goes, undid all my good work and let their petty political interests override the national interest. To be fair, my former colleagues merely acted as any member of parliament would in the circumstances. Looking after one's constituents by introducing them to the minister is hardly a sin in public life. I do not know whether they went to Hawke behind my back. Nor do I know who made the decision to grant temporary visa extensions to Hilali after I left the portfolio in 1987, before one successor unwisely granted Hilali permanent residence in 1990. By then I had long gone to New York as consul-general.

What I do know is that Hawke removed my excellent head of department, Bill McKinnon, sending him to New Zealand as high commissioner a couple of months before moving me into another portfolio in March 1987. Hawke did not consult me about the McKinnon move. He told me that he wanted me in a more senior portfolio, community services, being vacated by Labor's deputy leader in the Senate, Don Grimes. I believe the reason for these moves, and for the mistakes made because of them, are found in the then prevalent conventional wisdom that so-called ethnic leaders were complaining about the settlement policies I was pursuing and McKinnon was implementing.

The accepted wisdom was generated by a false belief that there were votes in paying homage to self-chosen ethnic leaders and continuing to muddy the real meaning of multiculturalism. My intuition told me they were wrong. And the vote in the republican referendum of 1999, in which significant groups of ethnic minorities supported the constitutional monarchy, (regrettably) confirmed that intuition: that ethnic leaders, with their personal agendas, were not representative of the vast majority of immigrants, who merely yearn to make a contribution to an Australian culture that they respect. But that was then. What to do now?

Well, for starters, we are in dire need of better settlement policies. That word settlement is jargon that describes policies devoted to integrating migrants into our society. It is very important that we, too, are happy about their settling here. After all, we need migrants to help address our economic and defence vulnerabilities.

We've made some awful settlement mistakes over the years. One of the biggest was settling migrants in those enormous camps that spawned many of the ghettos in our mainland capital cities. After I took over the immigration portfolio, we closed many oversized camps. But the damage had been done. Some of that damage can be seen in the western Sydney area of Lakemba. There are too many in that Muslim community with inadequate education and training, and too many of them are underemployed or unemployed.

Another mistake is a more recent one: a development in the 20 years since I stopped minding that difficult portfolio. There has been a retreat from interviewing toughly and with good judgment those from overseas who apply to come here; but we must choose only those who are assessed as likely to integrate well. Furthermore, we have retreated from sending home more readily those who do not make the grade before being given permanent residence. They and we would be better off if that tougher approach were reinstated. One of the reasons for the damaging retreat from applying the old toughness and good judgment has been the disgraceful outsourcing of so much of the administration to private-sector immigration agents. Since my day, this sadly has been adopted by Labor and Liberals alike. This policy is not only very unfair to poorer applicants, who cannot afford the large fees, but abandons so many of the necessary checks that need to be made to ensure that only people who are suitable come here.

Our leaders also need to define multiculturalism more appropriately. Of course, many of us want to feel a warm inner glow when considering our achievement of settling people with the cultures of 140 separate nations. That multicultural settlement has been aided by government programs aimed at helping newcomers to recognise that we respect their cultures and want them to feel at home here while pursuing chosen aspects of their former way of life, provided their contribution to our culture conforms with our core Western values.

By these measures they have settled better and more quickly, and have learned English more readily. Alas, some, particularly in the academic class, have gone over the top and converted the adjective multicultural into a noun, multiculturalism. They have left the impression that separate development of these cultures should be an objective of policy. But does separate development ring a bell with you? South African apartheid, perhaps? This has never been the objective of our policy, nor should it be. We are not, nor should we be, a nation of many cultures. We are a multiracial nation that strongly celebrates core Western cultural values of liberal democracy.

If the Hilali episode helps us to toughen our settlement policies and turns us to developing a cohesion in our one-Australian culture, then there has been a silver lining to this dark cloud. A solution to the Lakemba problem will result only if we recognise our mistakes of the past. We also need to do a better job of encouraging Muslim integration into our and way of life.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

PM Criticizes anti-business curricula in State schools

Australian schools should teach innovation and the virtues of a free-enterprise culture, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday in comments likely to cause further friction with the states. Mr Howard was the keynote speaker at the Business Summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Hanoi in Vietnam. He told 500 business leaders that free enterprise and the values of openness and innovation were not emphasised enough in Australian high schools. "I think our whole education system, starting at primary school, going into secondary school, should have a much greater focus on what we used to call, years and years ago, business principles," he told the summit.

The comments are likely to inflame an already-strained relationship with state Labor governments, increasingly nervous about the Federal Government moving into their areas of responsibility. While universities are mostly a federal responsibility, school education is firmly within the states' control. State governments are already on high alert following last week's majority 5-2 High Court ruling that the Commonwealth had the power to regulate employment contracts of corporation employees. Constitutional experts have since warned the High Court decision may open the way for other federal encroachments into state areas. Mr Howard and Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop have previously expressed concerns at aspects of state-run education, including teaching of history.

The above report appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on Nov. 19, 2006

Pennypinching NSW government tries to cut back on medical training

And Leftists say that private business is characterized by short-term thinking!

A group of the state's most senior emergency doctors has resigned en masse from a high-level government committee, signalling worsening relations between the Iemma Government and its frontline physicians. The doctors say the Government is forcing them to halve the time they spend teaching registrars, which would result in hospitals losing their accreditation to train doctors in emergency medicine. The end result, they warned, was an exodus of young doctors from the NSW health system and dangerously understaffed emergency departments.

In an open letter to the Premier, Morris Iemma, the doctors say NSW Health's plans would result in an unsafe level of care for patients and, as emergency medicine was a compulsory rotation, it would prevent interns from becoming registered. They note that even at current staffing levels not one NSW public hospital met the minimum specialist staffing requirements endorsed by state and territory health ministers.

The dispute began, the doctors say, when they learnt that NSW Health was reneging on a pay deal struck in April that gave a 25 per cent allowance for city-based emergency specialists filling shifts in rural and regional hospitals. The department said it would pay the allowance only if the doctors reduced their clinical support duties such as registrar training, further education and taking part in quality improvement programs. Any reduction in these duties would breach guidelines set by the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine - 75 per cent clinical work and 25 per cent clinical support work - the doctors say.

The executive director of the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation, Sim Mead, said NSW Health was pushing for clinical support work to be limited to 10 per cent of doctors' time. "If they move to 10 per cent, the accreditation for all emergency departments for registrar training in NSW will be withdrawn and the registrar workforce would be completely destroyed. "Why would a registrar want to work in a hospital without a training program, if their aim was to become a qualified specialist?"

After months of talks, the specialists have resigned from the Government's emergency advisory committee, the Emergency Care Taskforce. Rod Bishop is a senior emergency physician and was, until he resigned, co-chair of the taskforce. Dedicated to the specialty for 17 years, he is deeply frustrated and disappointed at the attitude of NSW Health. "There is a terrible workforce issue - no emergency department in the state meets the minimum staff specialist requirements . nor do we have the supply of registrars . to meet predicted future needs." If NSW Health did not offer emergency specialists a reasonable employment package, doctors would leave and the losers would be the patients, he said.

A letter to the director-general of NSW Health, Robyn Kruk, sent 18 days ago, has gone unanswered, and the NSW Industrial Relations Commission is trying to resolve the matter through conciliation. The chairman of the NSW Faculty of the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine, Tony Joseph, also a senior emergency specialist in one of the state's largest public hospitals, said NSW Health did not appear to care that hospitals would lose their training accreditation if its plan was implemented. It preferred to rely on locums paid up to $200 an hour to staff emergency departments, rather than increasing its workforce of emergency specialists, who were paid half that amount. A spokeswoman for NSW Health said the department would conduct a work study and liaise with the college and the union on the matter.


Boondoggle unravels -- as expected

Nobody listened to those pesky economists and accountants. But empty trains have proven them right

The operator of the Adelaide-to-Darwin railway is locked in negotiations with 15 banks to relieve its spiralling debt levels after posting its third consecutive loss since launching the service with great fanfare in January 2004. FreightLink's annual accounts show debt jumped $36 million to $137 million in the 2005-06 financial year, a position described in September by auditor KPMG as creating "uncertainty as to whether the company will be able to continue as a going concern".

But chief executive John Fullerton said that the owners - which includes several major international engineering companies - had promised to invest an additional $14 million into the company over the next three years. Mr Fullerton was confident the debt negotiations and additional investment from the owners would be "wrapped up" by the end of next month. The new arrangements were forced on the company after it failed to sell a majority stake in the railway in August for $360 million....

But after three years of operation, Mr Fullerton admitted that international trade accounted for only between 1 per cent and 2 per cent of tonnage. It would remain a niche market for the railway, despite expectations the service would be a gateway to Asia.

The release of FreightLink's annual accounts to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission shows the company's third consecutive year of increasing losses. FreightLink posted a loss of $54.3 million for the 2005-06 financial year, slightly worse than the $53.9 million in 2004-2005 and a loss of $17 million in the service's first full year of operation....

The owners have so far injected $42 million into the project, over and above their initial $740 million investment to build the 1420km rail line from Alice Springs to Darwin. The balance of the $1.3 billion project was given by the federal, South Australian and Northern Territory governments. FreightLink has a 50-year licence to move goods along the 3000km railway linking Adelaide to Darwin. The service was launched amid great expectations of funnelling trade from Asia into Australia.

More here

Make poverty history: first by getting rid of the Greens

At U2's Sydney concerts last week, Bono urged the audience to text their names to a Make Poverty History phone number. Later he flashed the names on a big screen and sent a thank you text to all those mobile phones in Telstra Stadium. As an act of charity it doesn't come much easier, unless you count wearing wristbands. This is not to sneer at Bono for raising consciousness of the world's poor, or his audience for making a gesture. But as protesters and green activists gather in Melbourne this weekend to lay the usual blame for poverty on the greed of developed nations, a powerful new documentary shines light on a different villain.

Mine Your Own Business, which opens this week, shows that the "powerful group telling the world's poor how to live, how to work, even how to think" are not the world leaders gathered in Melbourne. They're not even wealthy multinational corporations, but wealthy multinational environment groups such as Greenpeace. "Upper-class Western environmentalists" are the greatest enemy of the world's poor, says the documentary's maker, self-described left-wing journalist Phelim McAleer, from Northern Ireland. He shows how environmental groups opposed to change and economic growth are trying to keep the developing world poor. "Poor but happy", is how they see it.

Posted to Romania by The Financial Times in 2000, McAleer covered the Greenpeace campaign to prevent the opening of a goldmine in the Transylvanian mountains. It changed his views on environmental activism. What he found in Rosia Montana was an impoverished village, with 75 per cent unemployment, little sanitation or running water and people desperate for jobs. It had been a mining town since Roman times but the last state-owned mine was closing and a Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, wanted to take over. It had promised to provide jobs, rebuild infrastructure and clean up pollution from old mines.

Early on McAleer acknowledges his film was part-funded by Gabriel Resources but says he retained editorial control. He interviews Francoise Heidebroek, a Belgian green activist who says villagers are better off being farmers and riding horses. But as the villagers explain, nothing grows except potatoes, and at minus 25 degrees they prefer cars and indoor toilets. Gheorghe Lucian, an unemployed miner, tells McAleer: "People have no food to eat. They don't have money for clothes . I know what I need - a job."

McAleer took Lucian to similar projects around the world, and interviewed activists such as Mark Fenn, World Wide Fund for Nature's American representative in southern Madagascar, who opposes a Rio Tinto mine in the impoverished fishing village of Fort Daupin, which would create 2000 jobs. "The quaintness, the small-town feeling will change," Fenn says. Fenn insists that Lucian doesn't really understand poverty. "How do we perceive who's rich, who's poor ." Fenn says. "I could put you with a family and you count how many times in a day that family smile . Then I put you with a family well off, in New York or London, and you count how many times people smile and measure stress . Then you tell me who is rich and who is poor." Underlining the hypocrisy, Fenn shows McAleer the luxury house he is building and catamaran he bought for $US30,000 ($39,000) - "a good price". As McAleer says, the average salary in the village is less than $US100 a month. But, "the indicators of wellbeing aren't housing, nutrition, health, education", says Fenn, although he sends his own children to school in South Africa.

The villagers tell McAleer the opposite. One says she wants her children to become "a midwife, a doctor, or an engineer". It's the same story in Chile where activists have halted a goldmine in the Andes. A young man tells McAleer: "I'm not asking for much, just a normal job." McAleer shows how progressives oppose progress and have become part of an "authoritarian world order", telling people in the developing world how they must live. He hopes his film will show well-meaning Westerners the consequences of their blind faith in the new "religion" of environmentalism. McAleer has been brought to Sydney this week by the conservative think tank, Institute of Public Affairs, for a screening on Wednesday night at the Dendy, East Circular Quay.


Monday, November 20, 2006

More Leftist violence

Would-be Bolsheviks. From the French revolution on, Leftism has always been thuggish and violent. They would kill you if they could. They have killed millions in the past and their ilk are still among us. Any excuse to vent their hate will do

Violent anti-G20 protesters unleashed mayhem in Melbourne yesterday, rioting in the streets and attacking police as pedestrians fled in fear. A hardcore mob wrecked police vehicles, smashing windows and panels with rubbish bins, bottles, rocks and steel signposts. Police are braced for more clashes as the economic summit ends today. In what police described as the worst outbreak of violence since the 2000 S-11 protests:

THUGS hiding behind bandannas hurled flares, horse manure, fake blood and urine-filled balloons.

FRONTLINE police officers were battered, one suffered a broken wrist and two rioters were arrested.

THE estimated damage bill was tipped to go into the millions.

CHILDREN took part in the chaos.

Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon blamed a hardcore group of 100 anarchists she said were from Europe and interstate. She promised more arrests after video footage was analysed. "We're expecting the worst -- and we will plan for it," Ms Nixon said, warning peaceful protesters to stay away.

At the height of the violence, protesters hurled bins, bags of rubbish, rocks and bottles at police in full riot gear, who yelled "back off" as they beat batons on the barriers. Tension reached fever pitch when demonstrators armed with steel pickets threw flares behind police lines and challenged officers to fight. The chaos started about 11.30am when wire barricades surrounding the G20 summit venue in Russell St were attacked by protesters in white-hooded jumpsuits and wearing bandannas across their faces. The group, known as the Arterial Bloc, overturned water barriers then ran up Swanston St, storming a McDonald's restaurant and Nike outlet. Police endured a barrage of crude verbal taunts as demonstrators splashed officers and journalists with fake blood.

Activists denounced capitalism during a rally at the State Library from where the formal march began about 1.15pm. Protesters danced, chanted and unfurled banners as they marched back towards the Hyatt, but the peaceful demonstration soon exploded in violence. Bloc members charged up Russell St, where 20 mounted police and about 120 officers waited behind water-filled barriers. After a tense 15-minute standoff key agitators fled around the corner to converge on the police cordon from Collins St. There, the mob up-ended barriers, hurled milk crates and used industrial rubbish bins as battering rams against the police. They looted rubbish bins for ammunition and spread the violence.

The mob stopped traffic in Exhibition St, destroyed a police van, sent police ducking for cover and smashed a window of a nearby parked car. Later, they ran riot as police charged at them from Exhibition St, where plainclothes police wrestled some to the ground. Graffiti was scrawled on the ANZ building and as thugs tried to shatter its window with steel pickets, passers-by ran for shelter amid exploding glass bottles. Plainclothes police filmed the riot with hand-held video cameras.

By 2.15pm, protesters advanced on police from Flinders Lane and Exhibition St. Officers retreated in Flinders Lane until protesters stormed the mesh barricades, climbing and rattling the cages. Last night, as the standoff continued with protesters pelting police horses with bottles and rotten fruit, the CBD was locked down -- causing havoc for commuters.

Ms Nixon cancelled plans to sing at a charity function last night. Instead she visited officers on the frontline. The police chief was due to sing Raining Men at the Starry Starry Night event at Crown Palladium to help raise money for the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

Treasurer Peter Costello, who chaired the G20 meeting, said the agitators were highly organised. "There is a hard-core militant and violent element among these protesters who have come organised for violence," Mr Costello said. "They want to trash the reputation of Australia. We won't stand for that. These people do not represent Melbourne, they do not represent Australians and they will not be successful in their attempts to trash Australia and its reputation."

An Arterial Bloc spokesman, calling himself Barry, said: "We wanted to make it clear that the streets are our streets. We wanted to show the world, united as a bloc, that we oppose the G20 and to show police we are not scared." Protester Sam Quilty, 13, said at the rear of the Hyatt: "It's big business taking over small family businesses which I don't think is fair."



Four youths of Middle-Eastern background have pleaded guilty to charges that include the rape and sexual assault of two 14-year-old Caucasian girls near a Melbourne train station. It is alleged a gang member later threatened to kill the victims for reporting the attack to police. Four of the six boys in the gang faced 21 charges, including rape, indecent assault, procuring sex by threats and intimidation, making threats to kill and sexual penetration of a child under 16. All four entered guilty pleas in a Children's Court. One, charged with four counts of indecent acts, was placed on probation for a year. The other three are to be sentenced in January.

It is believed the six, aged 16 and 17, staged an elaborate stunt to lure their victims to an isolated industrial area where they took it in turns to violate the girls. The mob allegedly jeered and laughed as they forced themselves on their terrified victims, demanding sex and sexual favours for the return of a mobile phone they stole from the girls. One of the gang later vowed to find and kill the victims for reporting the attack to police. It is believed one of the boys raped another girl two months before the gang attack, which happened in April last year in Brunswick. He was found guilty of the first rape count and pleaded guilty to the alleged gang rape. The law forbids the Sunday Herald Sun naming the under-18 attackers.

Police allege the girls, from country Victoria, boarded an Upfield train at Flinders St station about 5.30pm. One of the youths began a conversation with one girl and touched her inappropriately. When the girls got off at Anstey station, the gang followed. Police allege one attacker put his hand up one victim's skirt and also touched her breasts before stealing her mobile phone. The girls escaped, but soon after one of them received a call from a gang member saying he had the other victim's mobile phone. He said they could get it at Anstey train station if he got "something in return". The girls returned to the station from where the group led them away and demanded sex for the stolen property. The victims escaped and told their parents, who alerted police. A gang member was heard threatening to find the victims and "f--ing kill them".


Extraordinary (Leftist) Tasmanian government negligence

Mass murderer Martin Bryant has been moved out of a maximum security prison into a lower security psychiatric unit. The Tasmanian Government has refused to confirm or deny the transfer of Australia's most notorious murderer. Bryant, now 36, shot 35 people dead and wounded many others at Port Arthur in 1996. He was moved into Hobart's Wilfred Lopes Centre, a secure mental health unit run by the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services, on Monday. There are no guards inside the 35-bed unit for inmates with serious mental illness, just doctors, nurses and other support staff. Inmates are never locked down and can come and go from their cells as they please, day and night.

The only security at the facility, a few hundred metres up the hill from the old Risdon prison where Bryant was kept, is provided by private contract guards who patrol the three-wall perimeter. When the $12 million centre was launched early last year the then Tasmanian health minister, David Llewellyn, said: "It isn't part of the prison." That day it was made clear that Bryant, then a withdrawn and unpopular resident of the old Risdon prison's hospital, would not be moving in. Tasmanian Forensic Mental Health Services clinical director John Crawshaw said the new unit would be "definitely a hospital, a therapeutic environment".

Mr Crawshaw said Bryant did not meet the criteria for admission to the new facility. Keith Moulton, whose daughter, Nanette Mikac, and two granddaughters, Alannah and Madeline, were slain in the massacre, said he wanted Bryant to stay locked up. "I want him under lock and key for the rest of his life," Mr Moulton said. "That was the judge's sentence. It was repeated 35 times. "I'd hate to think of him being given the chance to lead a normal life."

Bryant has spent the past 10 years in the old Risdon prison hospital, hardly speaking and spending most of his time alone in his cell. Authorities had not considered him sick or mentally ill, but the jail hospital has been considered the safest place for him. Many of the other inmates say they want him dead and he has been the target of assaults from other inmates. But the old Risdon jail is now minimum security and more serious criminals have moved into a new Risdon prison next door. A place had to be found for Bryant, who was jailed for life with no chance of parole for the world's worst massacre by a single gunman. When Mr Llewellyn opened the centre in April he said it would be the first time in Tasmania inmates with serious mental illnesses would be cared for in hospital, rather than jail.


Extraordinary (Leftist) South Australian government negligence

Bail restrictions put in place to protect the community from alleged offenders are being breached in record numbers, prompting the new victim's commissioner to demand the law be toughened. Police figures obtained by The Advertiser show the number of bail breaches has almost doubled to 8202 over the past two financial years. The state's new Victims of Crime Commissioner, Michael O'Connell, is now demanding changes to the law which will force people who allegedly breach bail to prove they deserve to remain free and not be put in prison.

Mr O'Connell, who was appointed last month as the state's first victims of crime commissioner, said that under current legislation, the onus was on the prosecution to justify why an offender charged with a breach of bail should not be granted bail again. His proposal, which he has lodged with the Attorney-General's Department, is particularly aimed at alleged offenders who repeatedly breach bail while awaiting trial, often for serious crimes such as murder or rape.

People are given bail after being charged with a crime and have to adhere to various conditions, which can include not consuming drugs or alcohol, curfews, regular reporting to police and not contacting witnesses. If people breach these conditions, they face the court and, under the current law, have a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in relation to the bail breach. Mr O'Connell now wants amendments to the Bail Act to remove this presumption of innocence and place the onus on the alleged offender to prove they are worthy of another chance at bail and should not be jailed. "If an offender has breached conditions intended to protect victims, then the assumption they should receive bail should no longer exist," Mr O'Connell said. "The offender should have to prove why they deserve bail again."

At present, judges can, at their discretion, take into account alleged breaches when determining if someone should continue to remain on bail but it is not mandatory. Under Mr O'Connell's proposal, it would be mandatory.

Chief Superintendent Tom Osborne said most breaches of bail were committed by repeat offenders. In 2004/05 there were 5729 breaches of bail, compared with 4612 in 2003/04 and 2394 in 2000/01. Police attribute the increase to the tighter bail requirements now imposed as well as more active policing of those on bail.

Mr Osborne said bail requirements on alleged offenders had increased in recent years to try to curb their criminal behaviour. He said bail conditions, which varied between alleged offenders, included home detention, regular reporting to police and bans on attending specific areas. Police also had targeted bail-jumpers, employing such tactics as randomly visiting their homes to ensure they were complying.

Victim Support Service chief executive Michael Dawson said the rapid rise in bail breaches was concerning. "Such a dramatic increase is extremely worrying from the victim perspective - we are most concerned about victims' actual and perceived sense of safety which may be under threat by some bail absconder," he said. He said an investigation needed to be undertaken to look at why there was a sudden increase and what could be done to stop it.

Law Society of SA spokesman Michael Abbott QC said Mr O'Connell's proposal would not affect outcomes. "The Bail Act says they (judges) can take into account any factor," he said. An alleged breach of bail would be a relevant factor, he said.


Extraordinary (Leftist) New South Wales government negligence

As Sydney's rental crisis deepens, public housing worth millions is being left to rot or sit empty in a prestigious city location with harbour views. The number of available rental properties - at a six-year low - is still dropping, forcing househunters to offer 20 per cent above advertised rents. In other cases, landlords are demanding huge rent increases from established tenants, leading to a surge in complaints to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.

And yet four of the historic terraces in this picture of Lower Fort Street in Millers Point, each worth $1.5 million or more if nearby sales are a guide, have been empty for more than three years. The properties were renovated by the Department of Housing in 2003 but remain boarded up against vandals. There are many other examples of this waste, say residents who fear they are being targeted for removal under a secret government plan to sell 190 of these properties to private investors, using 99-year leases. In Windmill Street there are at least eight empty properties, according to residents, a number of which have been vandalised and are boarded up, with piles of rubbish on the front porch. In Argyle Street there are several more, one a huge double-fronted terrace. There are similar sights in Kent and Merriman streets.

The department says it has leased 24 properties recently but shies away from questions about its plans. The department insists its vacancy rate is lower than in private housing, although there are 70,000 people on the waiting list for public housing. Figures obtained by the Herald show that the number of unlet rental properties in inner Sydney plunged from about 4570 in January to 1990 last month. The figures, from the Real Estate Institute of NSW and the department, show that across middle suburbs, such as Burwood and Willoughby, the number of available leases dropped from about 2730 to 1790. In outer suburbs, the number dived from 4770 to 2700.

Rents rose sharply over the year to June. The median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Sydney's middle suburbs climbed by almost 11 per cent to $260. One real estate agent, who asked not to be identified, said a renter had recently offered $60 more than the $300 asking price for a city apartment. Anita Campbell, a policy co-ordinator at the Housing Industry Association, said tenants were at the mercy of landlords. "When you've got a vacancy rate this low, the landlord can say, 'This tenant's painful, the other's willing to pay me more, this one's causing me more trouble, so what am I waiting for?,"' she said. "The tenant can always go to the [tenancy tribunal] but that's after they've been turfed out or after they've been saying for six months, 'Please fix the toilet."'

Michael McNamara, a spokesman for Australian Property Monitors, said the outlook was grim for renters. "It wouldn't surprise me if rents rose a further 5 to 10 per cent over the next 12 months in all capital cities." Vanessa Sheehan, a rental property manager at the Angus Levitt agency in the eastern suburbs, said there were "astronomical" numbers of people looking at a handful of rental properties. Tenants were offering above the asking price. "They are very eager, saying, 'We can move in as soon as the owner wants,' that sort of thing," Ms Sheehan said.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Stupid accusation about Tasmania from a leading British newspaper

The stupid political correctness described below is added to by the newspaper's accusation that the Tasmanian blacks were "eradicated by genocide". The accusation is scurrilous but is a favourite of Leftist historians worldwide. All the evidence shows that the Tasmanian blacks were already dying out when white men first arrived and that their demise was hastened by the diseases of the white settlers to which the blacks had no immunity. See here and here

One of the world's most significant collections of human remains is to be lost to science, after the Natural History Museum (NHM) today agreed to repatriate it to an Australian aboriginal community. Bones and teeth from 17 aboriginal Tasmanians, which were collected in the 19th century, will be sent back to Australia next April, where they are expected to be cremated.

The specimens are the first from the museum's collection of almost 20,000 human remains to be repatriated since the law was changed last year to allow it to do so. The request from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC), supported by the Australian Government, was accepted by the museum's trustees even though its own scientists had argued strongly that it should be kept intact as "a particularly important collection to the global scientific community." The ruling sets a precedent that could ultimately see thousands of items from the NHM's collection returned to indigenous communities for burial or cremation. Although 54 per cent of its human remains are from the UK, all those from abroad that are less than 1,000 years old could now qualify for repatriation if an appropriate request is made.

The Australian Government has already begun negotiations about the return of a further 450 items that originated in Australia, and Native American and New Zealand Maori groups are also in discussions with the museum. The prospect of losing so many specimens from one of the world's foremost repositories of human remains has dismayed some scientists, who argue that they retain great importance. Original remains are valuable for studies in fields as varied as human evolution and forensic science.

The Tasmanian collection is particularly signficant because the island has been isolated from the Austrialian mainland for thousands of years, and its aboriginal population offers valuable insights into human evolution that cannot be obtained from other sources. A few dozen museum specimens are all that remains of this unique ethnic group, which was eradicated by genocide in the 19th century.

"Failure to maintain scholarly access to these remains would reduce the ability of all people to know aspects of their common heritage, to the detriment of both the Tasmanians and the wider community," NHM scientists said in their response to the repatriation request. "The Tasmanian human remains must continue to be available for scientific research, either at the NHM or at another repository."

While most scientists accept the case for repatriating remains where a clear line of descent to living individuals or communities can be proven, many object to the idea of granting broad claims where ancestry is less certain. Some modern aborigine groups can trace descent to full Tasmanian aborigines, but have heavily interbred with other populations. The NHM's trustees, however, agreed to the TAC submission, which argued that the remains were taken without consent from an oppressed people, and should be returned for cremation in accordance with local spiritual and religious traditions.

The museum, however, has approved a three-month period of extensive scientific research on the remains before they are returned, including DNA analysis and CT scanning. The TAC had explicitly asked that no further research be conducted on the specimens. Michael Dixon, the museum's director, said: "This is something of a momentous day for the museum. It is a landmark decision, following our first opportunity to consider the repatriation of human remains. "We acknowledge our decision may be questioned by community groups or by some scientists. However, we believe the decision to return the Tasmanian remains, following a short period of data collection, is a commonsense one that balances the requirements of all those with an interest in the remains."

Chris Stringer, Head of Human Origins at the museum, said: "I regret the future loss of scientific data from these specimens," he said. "If the Tasmanian people in the future want to investigate their own past, they will no longer be available."

The decision marks only the second time that a national museum has agreed to repatriate human remains since the Human Tissue Act allowed them to do so. Prior to last year, the NHM and other state collections were banned from parting with any of their specimens by the British Museum Act of 1963. This provision was repealed following the Palmer Committee's 2003 report into collections of human remains, which recommended that institutions should normally seek to return such specimens if an appropriate modern ethnic group requested them.

Several private collections, such as the University of Manchester, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, have already returned specimens voluntarily, and the British Museum has returned cremation ash bundles to Tasmania since the law was changed. The NHM will also return a skull of an aboriginal Australian that was exported illegally in 1913. This decision was not contested by scientists.


Bush reassures friend-in-arms on Iraq

US President George W. Bush has assured John Howard that he will be fully consulted about any change in Iraq troop deployments, as the two men reaffirmed their vow to stay in the war zone until "we get the job done". Despite his political buffeting at the hands of the Democrats, the US President declared he would not be watering down the military commitment to Iraq, declaring it was "going to take a while". And he refused to rule out increasing the US's 140,000 troops in the strife-torn country, after talks lasting an hour with Mr Howard in the Vietnamese capital yesterday.

The President said the Vietnam War, which ended more than 30 years ago, offered lessons for the Middle East conflict, as he brushed aside calls to begin phasing down the US military presence in Iraq. Mr Bush is under intense pressure to consider new measures in Iraq after the Democrats won control of the Congress nearly two weeks ago.

Flanked by the Prime Minister, Mr Bush promised "close consultation" with Australia on any review of strategy. This could result in the military presence being beefed up in and around Baghdad, leaving Australia's 750-strong force to do more of the heavy lifting in other, less-troubled regions. "I assured John that we will get the job done. We will continue to help the Maliki Government meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people," Mr Bush said.... Mr Bush's hardline comments on Iraq on the eve of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit signals that Australia's troops will remain in the country indefinitely. This, in turn, ensures Iraq will feature prominently in next year's election campaign.

Last night, Mr Howard declined to place any timetable for withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq. "Any suggestions that the Americans are going to change their fundamental strategy and get up and go is as far away from reality as it can possibly be," he said.

Mr Bush conceded that the US-led coalition's original timetable for bringing democracy to Iraq was optimistic. "It is hard work in Iraq and that is why I am proud to have a partner like John Howard who understands it is difficult to get the job done. We will succeed unless we quit," he said.

But Mr Howard, speaking later to Australian reporters, said the President was "very upbeat about the medium-term prospects" for Iraq. "If anybody is thinking that he has changed his mind fundamentally about America staying in Iraq, stop thinking so, because he hasn't," Mr Howard said. Asked whether he could give any clearer indication on how long Australian troops might remain in Iraq, Mr Howard said: "I didn't seek a timeline in my discussions."

The Democrats won back control of the Congress for the first time since 1994 after voters in key swing states rebelled against the Iraqi conflict and the mounting casualty toll. But Mr Bush insisted he would not be dramatically changing a strategy, despite fears the US-led coalition would fail to deliver lasting peace. "The elections mean that the American people want to know whether or not we have a plan for success, and I assured John that any repositioning of any troops would be done in close consultation with John and his Government," Mr Bush said. "But I also assured him that we are not leaving until the job is done, until the Iraqi Government can sustain and defend itself."

Many in the US have drawn parallels between the botched Vietnam campaign, which ended in a humiliating withdrawal by American troops in 1975, and Iraq. Asked whether there were lessons to be learned from Vietnam, Mr Bush replied: "One lesson is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world and the task in Iraq is going to take a while. "But I would make it beyond just Iraq. The great struggle we are going to have is between radicals and extremists versus people who want to live in peace - and Iraq is part of the struggle." Issuing a strong challenge to Muslim extremists, the US President said it was going to take a "long period for the ideology that is hopeful, that is an ideology of freedom, to overcome an ideology of hate".

Mr Bush is only the second US president to visit Vietnam since the conflict ended in 1975, following inthe footsteps of Bill Clinton, whomade the trip in 2000 as the two countries reconciled their differences. Mr Bush said he found it hopeful that countries could "move beyond past differences for the common good". As his motorcade moved through Hanoi, Mr Bush passed Truc Bach lake, where then-Lieutenant Commander John McCain, now a Republican senator from Arizona, was captured after parachuting from his damaged warplane. Senator McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war. The collision of past and present seemed to affect Mr Bush. "Laura and I were talking about how amazing it is that we're here in Vietnam," he said.


Leftist protests 'could harm poor'

One do-gooder sees reality

Protesters trying to stop this weekend's G20 meeting in Melbourne risk creating further disadvantage for impoverished nations, World Vision chief Tim Costello has warned. Speaking today on behalf of the Make Poverty History campaign, Mr Costello said his group welcomed the G20 summit as a way for poorer countries to meet with wealthier ones in an attempt to solve world poverty. "The poor would lose if you stop G20," said Mr Costello, brother of Federal Treasurer Peter Costello. "The truth is that part of what my brother and the G20 are on about does lift people out of poverty. "Trade and access to markets is actually what Africans and Asians want. Poor Africans and Asians want that too."

However, he said G20 needed to make aid a priority and a "failure of leadership" had allowed it to slip down the agenda. "The G20 often just focuses on markets when you've got to also have aid because how can you run markets when people are sick with HIV and dying from Malaria and don't even get access to school - 200 million kids don't go to school," he said.

Speaking as police strengthened barricades around the G20 conference, Mr Costello said the difference between his organisation and today's protesters was that the protesters were ideologically opposed to a market economy. "They say capitalism is the problem, we don't," Mr Costello said. "We say markets actually create wealth. In India and China they have actually lifted people out of poverty. "But markets can't do it alone, you need markets and aid, which is why I'm calling on Australia to stop being miserly ... and just get with the program." He said Australia needed to increase the amount of aid it provided.

Make Poverty History last night held a concert in Melbourne, at which U2 frontman Bono - a vocal anti-poverty campaigner - made a guest appearance. Mr Costello said the concert and the campaign had been effective in raising awareness about poverty and placing it on the social agenda.

Police have meantime closed off one of Melbourne's busiest city streets and set up double metal barricades at major intersections as protesters prepared to march en masse against the G20 summit. Security has been tightened and a large number of armed and mounted police officers are expected to set up a presence in the area during the day. Collins St has been closed between Spring St and Swanston St and Russell St between Little Collins St and Flinders St and trams rerouted along Lonsdale St.


A billion dollars worth of ambulance funding evaporates

The number of emergency service vehicles on Queensland streets has declined over the past three years while community taxes have raised almost $1 billion in revenue for the State Government. Figures from recent Emergency Services annual reports state the number of operational vehicles - including ambulances, fire units and emergency helicopters - had fallen by about 50 each year since the introduction of the community ambulance levy. Last financial year $238 million was raised from fire levies and about $110 million from ambulance taxes.

Across Queensland, 2145 vehicles were stationed last year, a drop of 95 since 2004-05, but these figures were disputed yesterday. Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell, who admitted on radio that he did not know how many ambulances were in the fleet, said the reporting conditions had changed and there was an increase of 18 ambulances from the previous year. "Vehicles are only one part of the picture," he said.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone questioned how the additional funds were spent and called for a review. "The focus has been taken off running a lean, mean department of service delivery right at the cutting edge all the time," he said.


Sardine trains: How to get people out of their cars?

Almost 22,000 additional passengers a day are squeezing on to southeast Queensland Citytrains compared with four years ago. The burgeoning passenger numbers - the equivalent of almost eight million extra trips a year - comes despite the fact no extra train carriages have hit the tracks since 2001. Transport Minister Paul Lucas yesterday played down the increasingly crowded train services, saying the Government was well advanced with its plans to address booming demand. Mr Lucas said more than $500 million was being spent building an additional 44 three-car train sets which would be rolled out over the next three years.

He said from the initial 24 trains, eight would service the Gold Coast, three the Sunshine Coast while the remaining 13 would go into service across Brisbane. "The Beattie Government has invested massively in rolling stock on the Citytrain network," Mr Lucas said.

However, Coalition transport spokesman Vaughan Johnson said the extra trains were "too little, too late". "The Government knows the population has been exploding in the southeast corner," he said. "They should have been delivering between four and six three-car sets every year to meet demand."

Queensland Rail's annual report for 2005-06 reveals only four additional train carriages in total were added to the statewide network last financial year, taking the total rolling stock to 666. However, none of the extra trains was built for the Citytrain network. Two of the carriages went into service on the company's heritage excursions while the other two were added to Traveltrain services where passenger numbers are plummeting.

Queensland Rail figures show the Citytrain network had 144 three-car trains sets and eight four-car sets in 2001-02. In 2005-06, the only change has been the loss of one of the three-car sets to an accident several years ago. Over the same period, the number of Citytrain passenger trips increased from 45 million to 53 million following a jump in trip numbers of 4.5 million over the next 12 months.

However, Mr Lucas said the growth in Citytrain had not just come in peak times. "That growth in passenger trips has come from a number of sectors including free travel to and from major sporting events, new late night and early morning services, off-peak trips made easier through integrated ticketing under TransLink, as well as increased trips to and from work," Mr Lucas said.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Big talkfest in Melbourne

Global warming would be tackled at this weekend's summit of the world's leading finance chiefs in Melbourne, Treasurer Peter Costello said today. Britain has reportedly pushed for the inclusion of climate change on the agenda and Mr Costello said it was sure to be part of the discussion on energy at the Group of 20 (G20) meeting of finance e ministers and central bank governors. Mr Costello, who is chairing the meeting starting tomorrow, has previously avoided mention of climate change being discussed at the summit. But today he said that market mechanisms to reduce emissions, such as carbon trading, would have to be included in any discussion of energy. "We won't be negotiating a Kyoto type agreement here. The climate change convention is going on in Nairobi at the moment but we'll certainly be discussing pricing matters and how that affects energy,'' Mr Costello said.

Australia is one of the few countries which did not ratify the Kyoto agreement on climate change but the international focus on climate change recently has forced Australia to address the issue. Mr Costello said it was vital a consensus be reached among all countries to control emissions. "That is the criticism we have of Kyoto, that it doesn't include all countries.''

Australia - a major mineral and energy exporter - has given a prominent place on the G20 agenda to energy and minerals markets and how to meet the rapid growth in the Chinese and Indian markets without driving prices too high. One means of doing this is increasing the supply of energy to meet surging demand but Mr Costello said this was not at odds with tackling global warming, which is largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels. In future environmental issues would have to be incorporated in energy trading and pricing, he said. "That's just another issue to be negotiated within that framework. It makes it more complicated but it can be done.''

The meeting venue at central Melbourne's luxury Grand Hyatt Hotel has been cordoned off under strict security, which has seen police barricades put up and surrounding streets closed ahead of expected protests. Only a few protesters had gathered this morning, although numbers were expected to build up later in the day and during the weekend.


G20 trouble-makers fly into Melbourne

Police will closely watch a dozen international activists considered potential trouble-makers at this weekend's G20 summit. But they don't believe there is an increased threat of terrorism. Several agitators are known to have flown to Melbourne from Europe and elsewhere to disrupt the summit. "There is about a dozen who are very experienced organisers and co-ordinators of protests at international political summits," a source said.

Treasurer Peter Costello, who will chair the meeting of the world's most powerful bankers, confirmed intelligence reports that professional agitators were arriving in Melbourne. "I say to them that we want this to be a successful summit," he said. "We do not like violence and disruption in Australia."

Protesters are expected to stage sit-ins in the foyers of several big companies around the city today. Up to 10,000 people are expected to join a rally tomorrow that will begin at the State Library at noon and finish outside the Grand Hyatt hotel. Protesters have threatened to return in numbers on Sunday if any activists are arrested tomorrow.....

Police have been warned they could be provoked by demonstrators. And they were told their response should be "reasonable, proportional and co-ordinated". Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon told a G20 briefing yesterday there was nothing to indicate a significant threat of terrorism. "At this stage we do not have any significant threat. So the threat level is at medium," she said. Mounted police, the search and rescue squad and force response unit will be used to help control protesters


NSW opens up water industry to private sector

New laws have been passed in New South Wales Parliament to open up the water market to competition. The legislation ends the monopoly of the current providers, Sydney Water and Hunter Water, and allows private businesses to sell drinking, recycled and waste water services. The Minister for Water Utilities, David Campbell, says the private sector now has the opportunity to bring innovation to the water industry. "For some time people in the private sector have been saying that Sydney Water needs competition, that the private sector can do things better," he said. "The Government has given them the opportunity to prove that. "The challenge is now before the private sector to put their money where their mouth is." The State Government also says Sydney-siders can be assured there are no plans to build a desalination plant, despite Government approval of the plan. Development approval for the $2 billion plant at Kurnell will lapse if it is not built within nine years. Mr Campbell says the Government will continue to reduce water use and encourage recycling. "The development approval does not trigger construction," he said. "The metropolitan water plans indicate that if dam levels drop to below 30 per cent then the Government would need to commence construction of a desalination plant."


Snow falls in subtropical Queensland

Drat that global warming!

Snow has fallen in southern Queensland. Granite Belt residents say snow flakes and sleet fell for between 10 and 15 minutes at about 10:30am along the border between Queensland and New South Wales. Mobile Mechanic Paul Verri has lived in the Stanthorpe area for 28 years and says he has never seen snow this late in the year. "More sleet and light rain," he said. "We've got a couple of cars parked outside and there's flakes on the cars, just an odd isolated scutter. "I guess I've never seen it before this time of the year." Senior forecaster with the Bureau of Meteorology, Craig Mitchell, says cold air from Victoria and New South Wales triggered the snow. He says such cold temperatures in November are rare. "I think it's pretty unusual, especially now that we're nearing summer time," he said. "To get that cold outburst with temperatures to the extreme that we're currently seeing at the moment would put it down to a pretty unusual sort of weather event." The Bureau of Meteorology says the last time snow or sleet was reported this late in the year was in early October 1941.


Old medical equipment risking patient care: AMA

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) says lives are being put in danger because of outdated equipment at regional hospitals. The AMA's Victorian president, Dr Mark Yates, says a CT scanner at the Bendigo Hospital has been breaking down continually and it was out of action for two weeks recently. He says some patients were taken to a private hospital for tests, but critically ill patients could not be moved, and had to be treated without vital diagnostic assessment. Dr Yates says doctors in Bendigo are extremely concerned about the backlog of inadequate medical equipment. "In Bendigo there's a significant problem, we've got an old piece of machinery in a hospital that is a critical trauma centre and that needs to be fixed and we certainly can't have a situation where patients are put at risk," he said.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Australia reacts to French global warming threat

Australia has hit back at France over its threat to impose a tax on industrial goods from countries that ignore the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Prime Minister John Howard described the plan as "silly", while the mass-circulation Daily Telegraph headlined its report: "Back off, Frogs". Running across a picture of a French nuclear bomb explosion in the Pacific in 1971, a subheading read: "The French did this to our backyard and they have de Gaulle to attack us on Kyoto."

Australia, like the United States, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Howard's conservative government says compliance would harm the economy and complains that the pact fails to impose similar curbs on pollution by major developing countries such as China and India.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday he would push with European partners for a carbon tax on industrial goods from countries that ignore the Kyoto Protocol. "That is a thoroughly silly proposal and utterly out of touch with reality," Howard told reporters. "Mind you, (Villepin) does come from a country that is known for imposing high trade barriers against other countries like Australia."

The Kyoto protocol requires industrialised countries to reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent by 2008-2012 compared with their 1990 levels. UN-sponsored talks are underway in Nairobi to reshape the agreement for the period after 2012 and include rapidly developing economies not bound by the original text.

Villepin said France would present EU members with concrete proposals in the first quarter of 2007 to tax industrial imports from countries that snub Kyoto Protocol requirements after 2012. "Europe must use all its weight" to counter "environmental dumping", he said.

Despite his dismissive comments and a continuing refusal to ratify Kyoto, Howard has recently signalled a major policy shift as Canberra scrambles to counter criticism of its environmental policy. He has proposed a "new Kyoto" and said Tuesday he would back launching an international carbon trading scheme to fight global warming when he meets leaders at this weekend's APEC summit in Vietnam. Carbon trading is the centrepiece of the Kyoto pact, which proposes a system under which rich countries are allotted caps for their pollution but which only Europe has begun embracing. If countries come in under target they can sell any surplus to partners who are above their emissions goal.


Red-tape reform victory (Maybe)

Business groups have won a round of major concessions in their campaign against red tape, with the federal Government promising to clear away duplicate reporting systems and allow small investors to get financial advice without drowning under a mountain of paperwork. In what is being billed as the biggest reform to corporate regulation in years, financial reporting requirements for mid-size companies will be eased, but some big companies - including some in Richard Pratt's Visy Group - will find they have to publicly lodge audited returns for the first time.

The Government will today release a major proposals paper as part of its ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of red tape facing business, that will include a move to make paper-based annual reports almost a thing of the past and another to remove duplication in reporting top executive pay. The changes - to be announced by the Treasurer's Parliamentary Secretary Chris Pearce - stretch across corporate governance, fundraising, reporting standards, financial services regulation and takeovers. "None of (the changes) take away the fundamental consumer protection elements," Mr Pearce told The Australian yesterday. "But what they do do is make it easier for business to provide the services."

Groups led by the Business Council of Australia have been pushing for cuts to the red-tape burden that is costing the economy as much as $80 billion, according to some estimates. Already the federal Government has halved the cost of incorporation for small business to $400 and removed the requirement for companies to send annual reports to all shareholders.

The changes include a win for the financial services industry campaign to slash the amount of information financial advisers must provide to investors, particularly those with less than $10,000 to invest. Instead of having to produce detailed reports for these clients, financial advisers will be able to give them a one- or two-page note, except for superannuation investments.

Mr Pearce said that under the current rules, some small investors were unable to get advice because planners found it uneconomic to do the work. "We're trying to make the law better suit the practice of the industry and what consumers actually want," he said. The Investment and Financial Services Association has been pushing for a clearer line between general and personal advice, and this will also be clarified. The Government will allow financial service providers who are providing nothing more than sales recommendations to escape the full reporting requirements in some situations.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission deputy chairman Jeremy Cooper confirmed yesterday that product disclosure statements issued by financial institutions could be virtually halved in size by the posting of details on websites and other reference sites, under the new reporting obligations. He said the "incorporation by reference proposal" would significantly help clarify public understanding of financial products. Mr Pearce will will also introduce reforms to make it easier for employees in unlisted companies to buy a stake in their employer. He said this would allow those employees to "share in the prosperity" of their company, and the move is expected to significantly boost share ownership.

In other moves, Mr Pearce said the thresholds on what constituted a large proprietary company - a badge that brings with it additional reporting requirements - would be doubled. But as part of that measure, a grandfathering provision that excused some major companies from public reporting of audited financial reports - including some in the Visy Group - will be scrapped, forcing those companies to report the detailed information for the first time


Ambulance service near-meltdown in Queensland

Ambulance employees racked up 610,058 hours in overtime last year - the equivalent of an extra 334 full-time staff - as the state's health system continued to struggle. The overtime hours cost the Government about $23.5 million for the extra hours. It came as the demand for emergency code 1 services increased by 12.2 per cent last year and hospitals continued to struggle to provide services.

Ambulance Employees Australia Queensland spokesman Steve Crow said the continued reliance on overtime was akin to a "pressure cooker" situation. "My concern is how long they can they keep it up," he said. "It's just stupendous - or stupid." Mr Crow said the organisation received daily reports from paramedics about their overtime concerns, particularly in the busy metropolitan regions, compounding their already stressful job. "It is a stressful job," he said. "Our ambos take home a great deal of work on their shoulders."

Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell said overtime was an integral part of the Ambulance Service's delivery model. Despite the growth in demand, the service reduced its overtime hours "as a result of more efficient and effective work practices and resource development, including matching resources to community demand profiles". "When recalled to duty, paramedics are paid overtime for all time worked," Mr Purcell said. Although the actual overtime hours worked were down 25,332 on last year, the cost was up $1.167 million.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone said the figures cast serious doubts on the management. "There are some real problems within the managerial side of the QAS," he said. "With no disrespect to the people, if you had a heart attack do you really want a person who has been working for 16 hours to save your life?" He said reasons for the increases included ambulances being "used as hospitals" while emergency departments were on bypass.

Queensland's hospitals continue to experience massive demand. In the most recent Hospital Performance Report to the end of September, 11.9 per cent of patients awaiting category 1 elective surgery had "long waits". Likewise, 22 per cent of patients waiting for category 2 surgery and 32.9 per cent of patients awaiting category 3 surgeries had long waits.

The Department of Emergency Services annual report said the service would employ 70 additional paramedics this financial year to cope with the increasing demand. A further 144 frontline staff will be employed over the next two years to address issues of health and safety, fatigue and roster reform. Last October, paramedics took industrial action for the first time to highlight the increasing demands on workers.


Child abuse case backlog rises

They are too busy taking kids off good parents over imaginary problems. See here

The number of outstanding investigations into child abuse allegations by the Child Safety Department is continuing to rise, despite fewer reports being made to the agency. The department's 2005-06 annual report released yesterday showed that at June 30, a third, or 11,048, of 33,612 abuse notifications received during the year had not been finalised. This compared with 28 per cent of notifications in 2004-05.

But other statistics in the report point to the sweeping reform process started in early 2004 beginning to pay off, with fewer children in out-of-home care being abused by carers (down 45 per cent) and fewer children being the subject of more than one notification (down 5 per cent). The number of proven cases of abuse also dropped significantly from 17,307 allegations of abuse involving 12,985 children upheld after investigations in 2004-05 to 13,184 allegations involving 10,177 children - the lowest number recorded in three years.

Child Safety Minister Desley Boyle said teams deployed around the state had been making inroads into the number of incomplete investigations. At October 31, the number of outstanding cases had been reduced to 9088. Ms Boyle welcomed the 24 per cent drop in the number of cases of confirmed harm to Queensland children but said there were still too many instances of child abuse. "But this significant drop in substantiated notifications shows we may be turning the corner with the protection of our vulnerable children," she said. "Since the department was created (in 2004) the budget has more than doubled to more than $500 million. "Child safety officers now have more incisive decision-making tools. They have targeted resources at the families where children are most at risk." Ms Boyle said there were now more than 2100 child protection workers and the Government was still actively recruiting. At June 30, 6446 children were subject to protective orders and 6654 children were in out-of-home care.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Attractive cricket promotion

What the bloody hell does Richie Benaud think of this? The doyen of cricket is joined by bikini babe Lara Bingle - clad in parochial green and gold togs and cricket pads - in Channel 9's new Ashes campaign. "So, where the bloody hell are you?'' Bingle says in the promo, coining her Tourism Australia catchcry to attract viewers to the series. Benaud's thoughts are simple. "Marvellous,'' he says.


Respect the US, urges Murdoch

Anti-Americanism is on the rise in Australia, fuelled by the unpopularity of the Iraq war among young people, Rupert Murdoch said last night. Speaking in Sydney, Mr Murdoch warned Australians against allowing doubts about the US administration to fester into an irrational antipathy that saw America as a greater threat to world peace than al-Qaeda. "Australians must resist and reject the facile, reflexive, unthinking anti-Americanism that has gripped much of Europe," said Mr Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, parent company of the publisher of

Addressing a star-studded audience, including Prime Minister John Howard, at the inaugural American Australian Association benefit dinner, Mr Murdoch said America had to work to address criticisms that it took Australia too much for granted "and not come calling only when in need". "Australian sentiment is thankfully nowhere near Europe's level of hostility - but it could get there, and it mustn't," Mr Murdoch said. "In the coming century America will find Asia more important than ever - and its alliance with Australia more useful than ever."

He spoke about the importance of finding new sources of energy to avoid the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change and to lessen dependence on oil "whose profits in some instances help to finance terror and prop up hostile regimes".

Political, business and academic leaders joined media and sporting personalities including golfer Greg Norman, designer Collette Dinnigan and filmmaker Baz Luhrmann at the dinner. Lachlan Murdoch and wife Sarah shared a table with family members, while PBL chairman James Packer and partner Erica Baxter sat with PBL bosses. The benefit dinner honoured Mr Murdoch for his contribution to Australian-American relations and launched the new United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Mr Murdoch said the centre, an initiative between the American Australian Association and the Federal Government, would "raise awareness, dispel myths, groom new leaders" and increase ties between the two countries.



One sure way for a columnist to cop a caning is to suggest that on the whole the state of the nation bequeathed to us could have been a good deal worse. This upsets people who think praising any aspect of our history is to deny our ancestors' offences against indigenous Australians and the environment. And it annoys that much smaller group that sees Australian history as a waste of endless economic opportunities to build a prosperous market-based society.

But two new studies detailing the biggest blunders in Australian history inadvertently demonstrate just how well we have done. Because on a 20th-century scale of catastrophes, nothing on either list rates. Not that there is anything triumphalist in them. Some of the contributors to Martin Crotty and David Andrew Roberts's collection, The Great Mistakes of Australian History (UNSW Press), are exceedingly unhappy about the way they see contemporary Australia repeating past racist errors in the way we treat new settlers.

And the list of "Australia's 13 biggest mistakes", in the October issue of the Institute of Public Affairs Review, contains a great deal of Hayekian harrumphing, including a lament at the damage done by the way Australians embraced the protectionist economics advocated by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty.

Certainly Crotty and Roberts are careful not to be seen as overly critical editors; they make the point that the transformation of Australia from penal settlement to wealthy democracy is a signal of success, not failure.

But there is no avoiding the obvious, that some of their essays detail superior stuff-ups. Such as Manda Page and Greg Baxter's piece on the introduction of foxes and cane toads to Australia. Their conclusion, that these disastrous decisions were made because people were variously ignorant and arrogant about the nature of the Australian environment and sought to change it to suit their own immediate interests, appears impossible to argue against. Richard Waterhouse similarly points out the way Australians too easily assumed the continent could support large numbers of small-scale farmers earning a living from land ill-suited to intensive agriculture.

And Roberts makes a compelling case that generations of state and community indifference to the rights of indigenous Australians followed from the way the first settlers mistakenly (or maliciously) assumed Aborigines had no connection with their own country worth taking seriously. The anthology also includes interesting, if not entirely convincing, claims such as Clive Moore's argument that in making it so hard to change the Constitution, the founding fathers stuck us with states that no longer suit our national needs. (It isn't clear where Moore got the idea that the American union consists of 45states.)

Other essays use past errors to comment on present politics, as if misplaced policies in earlier ages discredit whatever upsets the author in our own age. Thus Ilma O'Brien writes on the injustices inflicted on Australian residents born in enemy nations, who were interned during the world wars, before suggesting today's anti-terror laws are an echo of this wartime disregard for individual liberties.

David Day similarly describes the way Australian defence doctrine in the inter-war years was anchored on unlikely assurances that a British fleet would sail to Singapore to save us from Japan. It is a scathing piece, which concludes that we have still not learned the lesson that great and powerful friends are not always to be relied on. But why the circumstances of 70 years ago are a sure guide to foreign policy now is not explained.

Other essays are just unfair in attributing mistakes specifically to Australians, notably Crotty's piece on "naive militarism" before World War I. For a start, aggressive nationalism was far from an Australian phenomenon, being common across the combatant powers in 1914. Nor did a taste for death or glory last long once the shooting started and everybody realised there was going to be a great deal of the former and very little of the latter. The rush to fight in 1914 was less a mistake, with people who had obvious options picking a policy that was not in their interests, than it was a tragedy following from Australians taking what seemed an unavoidable decision to fight for the British Empire.

The IPA came up with a different set of examples. Where Crotty and Roberts's contributors are more interested in issues of ethnicity and minority rights, the IPA focused on economics and public policy. But its mistakes are also mild, at least compared with some of the obvious catastrophic errors of the 20th century: the way enough Germans voted for the Nazis in March 1933, or the way leaders of the Chinese Communist Party did not understand the insanity of the Great Leap Forward, for example. Compared with such catastrophic errors, the creation of Canberra, on the IPA list, does notrate.

Other bad but less than ruinous mistakes the IPA identifies include two of the foundations of the Australian Settlement, White Australia and centralised wage fixing. And acts of the centralising state, federal funding for schools, Canberra's takeover of income tax and government regulation of new media technology all get a guernsey. While both studies include the introduction of the cane toad, it speaks volumes that it is left to the IPA to deplore the political damage done by the Labor split, an undoubted error the academics ignore.

As with some of Crotty and Roberts's contributions, there are examples in the IPA's list that look as if they are there to make a contemporary point: such as the award of the Nobel prize to Patrick White, which the IPA argues encouraged a grants culture in Australian literature. Some other suggestions are outright eccentric. To list the defeat of the free-trade Reid government in 1905, which established protectionism as a bipartisan policy for 70 odd years, as our worst error demonstrates how easy Australia has had it.

Without disputing the importance of the mistakes cited in both these projects, while the issues involved restricted economic growth or individual rights, they did not put our democracy at risk. For all these errors, Australia has escaped invasion and economic collapse. Aside from the tremor of 1975, our democracy has stayed rock solid. And for all the prejudice succeeding generations of migrants have endured, we have always attracted more settlers than we chose to accommodate. Big-noting is not the Australian way. If anything, many of us are keener to find fault in our past. But for good or ill, Australia's failures, as they are measured by these two lists, are a mark of our success.


The great Patrick White massacre is about to be unleashed

Australian homosexual author Patrick White got a Nobel prize for literature. Most people who try to read his novels wonder why. The satire below by Alex Dobes refers to a recent discovery of some of White's unpublished work

The discovery of Patrick White's rough drafts just shows that there's a good and bad side to everything. The five people in the world who actually read Patrick White novels will be pleased, but spare a thought for the English literature PhDs toiling away in the essay factories of India. The last time the English department at Sydney University set a Patrick White essay topic, the whole student body hopped on the internet and desperately offered their credit card numbers to anyone who could take away the pain. The Indian essay mills happily took up the offer.

The only problem was their burnout rate was horrendous. The essay companies tried to outsource the work to Burma, but the military censors there refused to believe that anyone would seriously publish such tripe, and assumed that the text must contain secretly coded instructions on how to overthrow the regime. Twenty PhDs had to make a dash for the Thai border.

Once across the border, the Burmese PhDs applied for refugee entry to Australia. The Minister for Immigration applied the "Patrick White clause" of the immigration regulations. Just as former employees of the Australian Army in Vietnam are given special consideration for entry to Australia after their release from Vietnamese prison camps, the minister is able to grant indulgence to foreigners who have read a Patrick White novel, particularly if they did this in a professional capacity. They, too, have suffered for Australia. (According to the same regulations, anyone who has read more than eight White novels is considered unsuitable, and shipped straight back to whichever mental home they escaped from.)

Naturally the 15 refugees didn't want to go anywhere near a literature faculty. Nor could they work in a bookshop, because there was always the danger of reading about Patrick White by accident - he even crops up in a Barry Humphries poem. So they went into advertising but, their minds still damaged, the Burmese could only produce gibberish like "Carlton. The beer that's made from beer."

So this Patrick White rough draft discovery could turn into a massacre. English departments will discover a rich source of essay topics, and the poor Indians will not know what hit them. Think of reading not just a Patrick White novel, but a Patrick White novel with diatribes against Malcolm Fraser, misanthropic asides about former friends, and complaints about traffic noise in Centennial Park. I am setting up a foundation to aid victims. I am happy to forward your donation, after deducting a small administration fee.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Australia's crooked Left

There is little doubt that an epidemic of amazing corruption allegations and criminal charges against state ALP MPs has damaged the "Labor brand". Equally there is little doubt that John Howard expected a political hit on interest rates in the public polling. To Kim Beazley's consternation, the first has cancelled the second. After spending precious reserves on an "attack" political campaign of television advertisements and billboards over Howard's interest rate promises, Labor has come up a loser.

In NSW on the night of the official interest rate rise - the fourth since the 2004 election - and the morning after, the media, correctly, concentrated on the serious sexual abuse and drugs allegations made against Labor's Aboriginal affairs minister, Milton Orkopoulos.

In Western Australia and Queensland, former ministers are facing investigation and charges from crime commissions, and in Tasmania a former deputy premier is facing conspiracy charges.

That such events are occurring at the same time turns them into a national reflection on the ALP. Normally, voters are careful to separate federal and state issues at election time, but with such a storm of publicity it is inevitable that Labor at all levels will suffer. For Beazley's federal Labor, it has meant their silver bullet of interest rates has been deflected. Federal Labor is back in the fatal zone below 40 per cent of the primary vote in Newspoll and Beazley is still trailing Howard by more than 25 percentage points.

But for all the validity of pointing the finger at state Labor, the federal MPs should not hide from some ugly truths emerging. Federal Labor's support is soft: at the first sense of trouble it collapses. Negative campaigns on Iraq, industrial relations and interest rates can be easily derailed. And there is the possibility that Labor's support is bleeding from both ends of the climate change debate: the dark greens are going back to the Greens and the coal workers are just going elsewhere. Labor can't win on these numbers. And it can't win if it thinks it's all the states' fault.


The strange priorities of government social workers again

They only take kids away from responsible, loving parents. It doesn't give them a rush of power to take kids off trash parents

A teenager was returned to a foster family even though care officials knew the adolescent had been repeatedly sexually abused by a family member, a scathing report into Tasmanian foster care has found. The case was one of seven of alleged abuse of children in foster or "out of home" care studied by Tasmania's outgoing Commissioner for Children.

In his report, released yesterday, David Fanning said the foster system had failed children and that abuse was likely to be occurring still. He recommended a review, particularly of foster parent selection and placement monitoring, as well as improvements to support for foster children and carers. "There probably can be no greater failure of a system that seeks to protect children than actually (placing) a child in ... circumstances where they are further abused," he said. The system had failed children. "And ... I can't guarantee they're not failing children currently or won't fail them in the future," he said. The failings were so serious that a further audit of the files was pointless. Instead, he called for immediate reform and increased funding. "In all likelihood, any audit would reveal instances of abuse," he said.

In the worst case, Department of Health and Human Services workers returned an adolescent to a family in which it was known the child had been abused. The placement was supported by DHHS "even though there were ongoing concerns noted onfile by several workers that the adolescent child was at risk of sexual abuse by another family member, also residing in the same home". "There were several notifications that the child was indeed being sexually abused by the family member over a long period of time," Dr Fanning's report found. "The DHHS response to this abuse was to interview all parties, including the child and the alleged perpetrator and to accept assurances, including the child's, that sexual abuse was not occurring in the home. "It was later disclosed by the parties that there had been an ongoing sexual relationship between the child and the family member and therefore the child had not been protected in the placement."

Dr Fanning's report, carried out at the recommendation of an earlier damning ombudsman's investigation into abuse of state wards, is the fifth released in recent days pointing to a fundamental failure of child protection in Tasmania. Health and Human Services Minister Lara Giddings conceded last week that the system had failed and announced the appointment of an interim replacement for Mr Fanning. But that replacement, former welfare department head Dennis Daniels, withdrew on Friday after a victim of physical abuse made allegations relating to Mr Daniels's time as a staff member in a boys home in the 1960s.


Dinky-di lingo adds culcher

G'DAY. Keep your trackies on, chuck a sickie and jump in the ute, you bogan. If you tried to cram Australia's favourite five Aussie words into one brief exchange, that is how it might sound, according to a new survey. The results have prompted computer software company Microsoft to get fair dinkum about Australian colloquialisms by including some in its 2007 version of Microsoft Office. "Fair dinkum" is not actually one of them, but dinky-di and ridgy-didge make it. Both made the cut of the top 20 words considered most relevant to everyday Aussies in an online poll that drew more than 24,000 voters.

"G'day" came out on top with 2868 votes, followed by sickie (2152), ute (1912), trackies (1597) and bogan (1557). The winning words will no longer appear with a red squiggly line under them, indicating a spelling error, when typed using the world's most widely used software. "Although many Australian words and spellings are already included in Microsoft Office, we saw the upcoming release as the ideal opportunity to make sure the Aussie classics weren't forgotten," Microsoft Australia spokesman Tony Wilkinson said. "We knew that some quintessential Aussie vernacular was missing."

David Blair, a founding member of the Macquarie Dictionary editorial committee, said it was exciting to see Microsoft support Australian culture. Older Australians will be pleased that "bonza" has made the cut.



Governments in Australia seem unable to wean themselves from a bad habit of over-regulation, writes Elisabeth Wynhausen

The Victorian government once decided to do something about the safety of food sold at stalls on public land, such as the cake stalls at community fetes and church bazaars. The government declared that the food sold at these stalls should meet the same standards as restaurants. That meant the elderly parishioners raising money for churches could sell their cakes only if their kitchens at home had been certified by the health department. The result is that cake stalls have disappeared, says Steven Munchenberg, deputy chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, who tells the story to show that regulation may well achieve the opposite of the intended effect. Communities were providing a social good. But governments have become so risk-averse, he says, they regulated the cake stall right out of existence, in Victoria at least.

The Making the Boom Pay conference held in Melbourne last week, co-sponsored by The Australian, was told that preliminary analysis by the Productivity Commission suggested compliance with needless regulations could cost the nation as much as $7 billion a year. "There are three reasons why we see regulation getting out of hand," Munchenberg says. "One is risk aversion. If there is a worry something could go wrong, politicians feel they have to be seen to act decisively, and regulation is a good way to do that. "The second reason is that it's just too easy for governments to regulate. They can spend money on a problem or they can regulate. The third is that regulation is self-perpetuating. If an existing regulation doesn't do exactly what was intended, they add a regulation," he says. "They're always tinkering."

When John Howard was elected in 1996 he vowed to cut red tape by 50 per cent in his first three years in office. Instead, as shadow treasurer Wayne Swan likes to point out, the regulation taskforce the Government later set up found that from 2000 to 2003, parliament passed as many pages of legislation as were passed from 1901 to 1969. And that's just the commonwealth. In his speech at the conference, Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks said it was clear to the regulation taskforce, which he chaired, that with as many as 1300 regulatory bodies Australia-wide (including more than 700 local councils), their turf wars, parochialism and bureaucratic self-interest all conflicted with the official intention of easing the burden of regulation.

The federal Government regularly declares itself bent on deregulating, only to end up reregulating. Take universities. The Government insists it is intent on giving universities the independence they need to manage their own affairs and compete for students and research funds. But rather than leaving it up to the market, it also insists on directing universities to suit its economic objectives and its idea of what they should be teaching. When Defence Minister Brendan Nelson took up his previous post as education minister, "of course he had a review," says Caroline Allport, president of the National Tertiary Education Union. "It was during this review that Brendan started saying, 'I don't think we should have this course', or 'I don't think we should have that course."'

It often seems as if governments want to deregulate but can't let themselves. The classic example is Telstra. They desperately want to sell it but they can't bear the thought of losing control. "There are a number of forces at work," says John Buchanan of the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney. In Australia, which started as a modern society, "there's a deep faith, almost an optimism, about the capacity of the state to shape social relations", Buchanan says.

One reason for the resulting mania for regulation is that the government seems to think it can micro-manage human behaviour, says Ron McCallum, dean of the University of Sydney law school, locating many signs of this misplaced zeal in the Work Choices legislation. The avowed intention of the Howard Government's most recent reform of industrial relations was to deregulate the labour market. In reality, the Government got rid of the old laws only to superimpose a layer of new regulations so complex that it involves 1500 pages. The new laws andregulations tightly regulate the operations of individual employment contracts and severely limit the legal activities of unions. The Government claims to be producing a system free of "interfering third parties" but interpolates itself everywhere in the process. The micro-management has reached the stage where Kevin Andrews, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, gets weekly reports on all agreements made, and all industrial action contemplated by unions.

But it doesn't stop there. After spending 12 tortuous months and a fortune in legal fees renegotiating agreements to make sure they complied with the Work Choices laws and building codes, the Electrical Trades Union and the Electrical Contractors Association were ready to sign on the dotted line with the department last week. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations had advised them in writing that everything was fine. "Then, after all the deals were done and approved by his own department, the minister changed the national building code of practice," says Dean Mighell, the Victorian secretary of the union. Andrews's last-minute intervention means that all agreements that would have flowed from that agreement do not comply with the code. Mighell says: "The minister is saying, 'You did it fair and square but ... I'm changing the rules again."'


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Humorous Australian columnist, Matt Price, sends up the Australian global warming advocates

You need to know Australian politics well to get most of the jokes below, however

After studying the scientific evidence and examining historical statistics, I'm siding with the sceptics. I concede there have been many extreme events in recent years and, yes, there is a degree of consensus among experts that the causes are anthropogenic. I'll admit it's beyond doubt that a potentially dangerous concentration of Green House emissions may yet cause seismic changes to our way of life. Nonetheless, the panic merchants, doomsayers, scaremongers and preachers of hate - all of them, naturally, of the Left - are getting way ahead of themselves. Much of what is happening right now can be explained as being within the natural variability of the cycle. So forget fence-sitting; it's my steadfast, unfashionable opinion that there is as yet no convincing, irrefutable evidence of political climate change occurring in Australia.

Yes, I hear you clamour, both ACNielsen and Newspoll have Labor well in front. But ask yourself whether these polls can be trusted. The first is commissioned by that well-known far-Left collective, Fairfax, and the other is funded by Uncle Rupert. As you've doubtless read, there has been enormous speculation about Our Fearless Leader performing a sharp U-turn on global political climate change. Most recently Uncle R [Murdoch] was seen lauding the qualities of renowned latte-sipper, feminist and leftist Hillary Clinton. At the risk of offending proprietorial sensibilities, perhaps the polls are being skewed to reflect these shifting sands (never let this column be dismissed as a corporate lapdog). Besides, opinion surveys have been periodically deceptive over the past 10 years. Fellow sceptics recall similar predictions of climate change when Cyclone Mark, the most extreme political affront since Hurricane Gough, wrought havoc across Australia through 2004. By election day, Mark had receded to a limp zephyr and national catastrophe was averted.

History tells us even Kim Beazley, a much less frightening phenomenon, has twice before appeared to be on the verge of melting John Howard's iceberg. Both times Labor's rising sea levels spectacularly ebbed before reaching critical mass. The Prime Minister, often dismissed as a dirty, redundant fossil fool, seems to draw from a bottomless reservoir of renewable energy. It's true the amount of gas emanating from the Green House is now reaching alarmingly high levels. Beazley has long been a high-level emitter, releasing endless speeches, interjections, points of order and censure motions into the precious atmosphere above the House of Representatives. Alarmists are beginning to warn of a perilous new phenomenon: the Red House [The Australian Senate has red leather seating] effect. This is notoriously difficult to measure since anyone foolhardy enough to venture into the Senate risks being permanently anaesthetised by noxious, unnatural gas-bagging.

The problem with political climate change zealots is their stubborn refusal to examine all the evidence. Their once-strident demands for Australia to rely on Crean [Simon Crean is a former leader of the Labor Party] technology ignored the fact that unpopular, inefficient Crean energy was never remotely viable and all but turned the nation into a one-party state. Sceptics remember that Labor is forever relying on non-existent silver bullets to solve its energy requirements.

During the 1990s, Carmen Lawrence was touted as a potential saviour but what appeared to be global warming towards the popular former premier rapidly cooled. Before long, Labor suffered a Carmen tax and voters turned Carmen-neutral.

Labor's propensity to create sudden carnage out of clear sky is routinely ignored by Chicken Littles of the political climate change movement. Party strategists are examining the viability of geosequestration, whereby a tunnel is dug deep into the earth's core and many of Labor's less efficient performers - that is, roughly half of caucus - are locked away in the dark where their dangerous emissions can do minimal harm.

The drive for greater efficiency has forced some political climate change fanatics to review once-redundant technologies. Craig Emerson, dispatched to the back bench during Labor's previous ice age under Cyclone Mark, is furiously releasing policies, many of which seem peculiarly Coalition-friendly. This has raised the prospect of an Emerson-trading scheme, which could see the right-wing Queensland MP switch places with Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and other dangerous leftists.

Events in the US, where George W.Bush has just been brutally de-energised, and the imminent retirement of British PM Tony Blair have climate change zealots gleefully predicting the global phenomenon must eventually sweep through Australia. This deceitfully ignores the science - the Howard iceberg has shown no visible sign of melting during the 21st century - and underplays the effect of the Kimbo Protocol.

Australia is so far the only country to have signed up to the Kimbo Agreement [Kim Beazley is leader of the Labor Party], whereby after a period of prolonged turbulence, caucus consented to Beazley returning to the leadership. Critics have long doubted the viability of this renewable energy source which, despite several revamps, never fails to emit copious quantities of Green House gas. Fearful a majority of Australians will refuse to ratify Kimbo in 2007, some caucus doomsayers are privately working on a new treaty, tentatively called the Kevin Protocol.

None of these inconvenient truths will make me popular with the unquestioning bigots and Howard haters who mindlessly eschew science for glib neo-pagan hysteria. Still, this is no time for bandwagon-jumping or fence-sitting; there remains ample time for Kimbo and his energy-thieving caucus to experience that familiar sinking feeling.


Australian Feds on the evils of fizzy drinks

No mention that milk is even more calorific

Health Minister Tony Abbott has flagged a government campaign to make Australians aware of the dangers of soft drink. "I think that soft drinks, other than as an occasional treat, can be very, very harmful," Mr Abbott said. But he stopped short of promising tighter regulation around the sale and advertising of soft drink. "I'm not saying it should be banned, but I do think that it should be something which people buy for the occasional treat, not as a regular part of their kid's diet," Mr Abbott said. "What the government ought to do is help get the message out there."

Speaking at a global forum on diabetes in indigenous people, Mr Abbott said consuming soft drink as part of a regular diet was dangerous and could lead to obesity in children. "It's distressing that soft drinks are overwhelmingly the biggest single sellers in our supermarkets right around Australia." Mr Abbott said that unless children matched their soft drink consumption with regular exercise, they were at risk of childhood obesity.

"The problem with soft drink is that it's basically water spoilt," he said. "A small can of Coke contains something like 160 calories, it's a good half hour's walking to burn up that kind of energy. "So, as a matter of course, kids that have a couple of cans of Coke a day, obviously they've got to get that much more exercise if they're going to avoid the problem of childhood obesity."

International Diabetes Federation president-elect Professor Martin Silink said governments globally needed to take a stronger stand on soft drinks. "While they provide calories, they provide very little nutritional value," he said. "There was recently a study, for instance, in NSW that indicated infants are being given soft drinks and biscuits - these are not infant foods." But Mr Silink said it was too simplistic to lay the blame on parents, adding there was a broader societal responsibility to ensure diabetes is screened for, particularly in indigenous people.

Diabetes Australia national president Peter Little said having a labelling system for soft drinks displaying calorie content would be effective. "It's probably reasonable to educate people to link that energy value to how much exercise you have to do," he said. "In my view those energy labels would become de facto warning labels. "That sort of labelling system would be really simple and I think that's an excellent idea."


Plans for new dam in NSW

The Greens may not be game to screech about this one, though the Nimbys almost certainly will

Plans are under way to build a $342 million dam in NSW's Hunter Valley region as the long-running drought tightens its grip on the state. Premier Morris Iemma is expected to announce details soon about the dam, which will supply residents and businesses in Newcastle and the Central Coast areas. The dam was given the go-ahead after Hunter Water bought up grazing land on the Upper Williams River, near Dungog, the Nine Network reported.

News of the project came as NSW residents were warned to prepare for further food price hikes as new figures showed the drought affecting almost the entire state. The State Government figures showed that 93.6 per cent of NSW was now drought declared, compared to 89.3 per cent last month. NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald labelled the latest figures disastrous, warning of steep increases in the cost of a range of foods including meat, vegetables, bread and milk.

With the four-year drought now one of the worst on record, there were no signs of conditions easing any time before mid-next year, he said. "There is no doubt that this drought over summer will come home to every family's dinner table in the Sydney basin," Mr Macdonald said. "Already, milk has been lifted by four cents a litre and I would anticipate that on the back of this drought we will see further increases. "Price rises are inevitable on the back of very low supply." Only 2.3 per cent of NSW is considered to be experiencing satisfactory conditions, with those areas confined to the far north coast.

Just 4.1 per cent of NSW is considered marginal, or on the brink of drought. Those areas are confined to the state's coastal regions including the mid-north coast, the Illawarra and Shoalhaven. Mr Macdonald said winter crop forecasts had been downgraded further and were expected to be 66 per cent less than in 2005. Meanwhile, dam capacity across the state stands about 26 per cent, compared to 54 per cent at the same time last year. "This is a terrible, disastrous situation for our farming community," Mr Macdonald said. "This drought is intensifying across the state."

About 100 millimetres of rainfall was needed across NSW to break the drought, but most areas west of the Great Dividing Range had only received five to 10 millimetres in October, he said. He defended the State Government's level of drought assistance, saying some programs would be supplemented "in the very near future". Mr Macdonald said the Government's $14 million boost to the drought assistance package last month along with an extension of the NSW Drought Hotline, would go some way to help struggling farming communities.


Tassie devil relocation plan gains tentative support

Plans to put tasmanian devils back on the mainland to control feral animals have received limited support. The Tasmanian Government is preparing to ship devils to interstate wildlife parks, to protect them from the deadly facial tumour disease.

Queensland's Professor Chris Johnson wants devils, dingoes and quolls used to control pests such as cats and foxes. One of the country's leading ecologists, professor David Lindenmayer, says devils lived in many parts of Australia before dingoes were introduced. "It's a reasonable idea to think about putting tasmanian devils back onto the mainland because they were here up until very recently," Professor Lindenmayer said. He says it is a good idea in principle but any moves to put devils back on the mainland must be well thought out. "It's got to have good science behind it, got to have good management behind it and it's got to be resourced appropriately," he said. "You can't just sail a ship across from Tasmania to the mainland and then dump these things out the door and expect it to be a success - [you've] got to think this thing through properly or it could go pear-shaped."

If the plan to reintroduce the species to the mainland is successful, tasmanian devils may simply become known as 'devils'. The Government is sending 24 devils to mainland wildlife parks before Christmas, as an insurance population against the spread of the cancer. It is hoped that one day disease-free offspring can be returned to Tasmania.


Monday, November 13, 2006

So-called "child welfare" again

If a mother is a drug addict who repeatedly harms or neglects her children the social workers will leave the children with the parent until the kid dies. If you are a responsible person, however, just suspicion is enough to cause your children to be taken away from you. Note the Fascist tone of the responsible government minister below, with no contrition for a gross government bungle shown at all

A grieving couple wrongly suspected of murdering their baby are facing a court battle to have their other children returned. Roy Orchard and partner Kylee Jenkin's lives were torn apart when their daughter Kharma, nine months, died in June, sparking a homicide investigation because doctors thought she had head injuries caused by being shaken. But an autopsy later revealed Kharma died from meningitis and not from shaken-baby syndrome.

As they struggled to prove their innocence, the Rockhampton couple were dealt another blow when child protection officers removed their other two children Ty and Breeanan because they believed they were at risk. Wiping away tears, Ms Jenkin, 34, told The Sunday Mail: "I just feel like it's getting harder because after everything we've been through we still can't have our family back. "Not only did they think we shook our baby girl, they think that we could harm our other children, too. "I am a mum and without my kids I am nothing."

The autopsy also revealed the little girl had a rare genetic brain disorder - congenital disorder of glycosylation. The condition, which was not diagnosed by doctors who treated Kharma, makes those with it prone to infections and prevents them from thriving.

But the police are refusing to close the case and the couple have been told if they want their children back they must fight for them through the courts. "We just want to be a family again and for the police and child protection people to apologise for what they have put us through," Ms Jenkin said. "I think that's the least they could do."

The family's nightmare started on June 15, when Kharma started vomiting and became lethargic with a temperature. Ms Jenkin took her to a GP, who sent her to Rockhampton Hospital. When they arrived, the baby was unconscious and doctors thought she had head injuries after being shaken by her parents. They told the couple they didn't expect she would survive and then police took Mr Orchard away for questioning.

He cried as he told The Sunday Mail how he couldn't be with his sick daughter. "My family needed me but the police took me from them," he said. "It really hurt that I couldn't be there for my little girl and it hurt that someone could accuse me of shaking her."

When Kharma died, Ms Jenkin was also questioned by police. She was pregnant at the time, but later lost the unborn baby. She said she was visited by detectives while she was delivering the stillborn child. "They have given us no time to grieve," she said. "Having your children die is a life-changing thing. "We've had two funerals for our babies in six months and on top of that my lawyer told me the police were looking to charge either both of us or just Roy with murder."

Mr Orchard, 38, a meatworker, said he was upset at being branded a monster. "After Kharma died, people wouldn't trust me with their kids any more," he said. "We were vilified. People started ringing me up and screaming at us that they knew what we had done to our little girl. "I'm relieved the autopsy has proved we did nothing wrong, but I'll never get over how I was humiliated."

The couple light a candle in memory of Kharma every night, next to a photo frame containing pictures from every month of her life. Ms Jenkin said most of her photographs of Kharma are on a computer, which was taken by police during their investigation and has still not been returned. "Kharma was so happy and always smiling. Our other children don't understand what's happened and all they want to do is come home to us," she said.

When contacted by The Sunday Mail Detective Sergeant Anthony Buxton, of Rockhampton police, refused to apologise to the family. He initially denied he was conducting a murder investigation, until The Sunday Mail quoted a child protection report that states: "Mr Buxton stated that due to the possibility that Kharma's death is the result of her being shaken, the matter is being treated as a homicide investigation". Det-Sgt Buxton said: "The family were not aware that we were conducting a murder investigation. "Legislation requires that we do this investigation and that doesn't mean we should apologise to the family for doing it. "The investigation is still ongoing because we can't close the case without paperwork and have to present a report to the coroner. "I know the family don't understand that, but at the end of the day we are doing what we have to do."

Child Safety Minister Desley Boyle said she could not comment on individual cases. "The Department of Child Safety does not remove children from parents unless it has been determined that the parents are unable or unwilling to ensure the child's safety," she said. "I make no excuses for removing a child in these situations. "Parents should be aware that their children will be placed in care if they are harmed or at risk of harm. "Parents must be able to clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that they are willing and able to provide care and protection for their children before the department will consider reunification."


Review of "Jonestown: The Power and Myth of Alan Jones" By Chris Masters

Prolific Leftist historian, Ross Fitzgerald , says that the "hitjob" biography of conservative broadcaster Alan Jones yields one sorry fact: the book reveals more about its author than it does its subject. It may be noted that Jones himself has not dignified the book with a response

Chris Masters has a fine CV, especially in the field of television documentaries. What a shame, then, that he has written such a mean-spirited and quite unbalanced biographical expose of Sydney-based broadcaster Alan Jones. Why, for example, would he give such credence to Jones's disgruntled former employee at 2UE, the eccentric, extreme right-winger Michael Darby (whose contribution is praised in an entire paragraph in the acknowledgments), yet not interview the former chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, David Flint? Could it be because Flint is an unabashed Jones supporter while Darby clearly has an anti-Jones axe to grind?

Jonestown is full of pseudo-psychoanalysis and pop psychology, with Masters labelling Jones as exhibiting "a range of symptoms consistent with narcissistic personality disorder". Even more troubling, he maintains that the "masking of his apparent homosexuality is a defining feature of the Jones persona" and he describes Jones as "the hidden homosexual, forever hunting for love among the twentysomethings".

At least two points need to be made about such claims. Highlighting his supposed sexual orientation would be justified, in my opinion, if Jones were shown to be a pedophile, a sexual predator or if he were hypocritical in his discussions of and about sexuality. Yet there is no suggestion Jones is a child molester or any evidence that he was or is homophobic. Quite the contrary.

Equally important, it does not seem to have seriously occurred to Masters or Jones's other detractors that the broadcaster may not be sexually active at all. Had there been any lovers, disgruntled or otherwise, surely they would have put up their hands by now. Masters admits that no evidence of sexual impropriety has emerged from Jones's time as a schoolteacher in Queensland and NSW, his years as an athletic and football coach or at any time since. So what is the point, other than titillation, of rehashing what Masters calls the notorious "London dunny" incident of December 1988, to which Jones has always protested his innocence? The Crown dropped all charges, so why should he still be hounded over the matter?

Perhaps the most interesting part of Jonestown is Masters's evocation of Jones's rural Queensland childhood, especially of his relationship to his trade unionist father, Charlie, and his mother, Elizabeth. Known as Beth, his mother -- a great believer in education as a liberator -- is by far the strongest influence in Jones's life. Masters usefully puts it thus: "Alan's tribute to his mother is part and parcel of him, it is visceral, personified in the man from birth. He is Alan Belford Jones. He honours her, too, by taking her maiden name for his company, Belford Productions."

Also illuminating is Masters's examination of Jones's quite unusual and deeply entrenched pattern of work and rest. Connected with his "prodigious work ethic", Jones, who usually nods off late in the evening and rises about 3am, has never needed more than four hours' sleep a night. Quite often he makes do with less. His close female friend and occasional social partner, former tennis champion Madonna Schacht, first noticed his relentless energy when he was teaching at Brisbane Grammar School for boys. "There was a fierceness about his aspirations, a desperate quality in that he drove himself to the point of exhaustion," she said. "In the (1960s), when he was relatively poor, he used to stay up all night correcting French examination papers, only to earn a pittance. These were papers sent to him by the Board of External Studies. It was possible for teachers to earn a bit of extra cash ... in this way. He willed himself to stay awake."

As Masters points out, although Jones and Schacht "did not get engaged, marry or become lovers, as many presumed they did", they have remained close through incredibly difficult times. The sexual-homosexual claptrap in Jonestown overshadows Masters's examination of important topics such as Jones's support for Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen's "Joh for PM" campaign, then for Pauline Hanson and, more recently, Tony Abbott; his exercise of power in regard to NSW politics, especially the leaders of the state ALP; his influence over federal politicians, including Prime Minister John Howard; and the "cash for comment" saga.

It is important to understand that Jones is a consummate populist on the airways. Starting at Radio 2UE in March 1985, he built up a huge following of largely middle-aged listeners, almost all of whom followed him to 2GB, where he is clearly king of the Sydney airwaves. Yet even here Masters is unnecessarily intemperate in his analysis of Jones's broadcasting style. Describing him as "an angry man", Masters ups the ante by saying: "The rages explode without warning like terrorist bombs." This foolish claim converts the broadcaster to nothing less than "Jihad Jones". Thus, in a chapter entitled The Godfather, Masters describes the broadcaster engaging in what he terms "a Jones jihad", which is mischievous and quite absurd.

Many attacks on Jones are motivated by envy, which is so much more corrosive than jealousy. Jealousy wants to possess what another has; envy aims to obliterate utterly, even if in the process the attack brings down the attacker as well. It may be the case that Masters, as well as Jones, will finish up damaged by this shabby book.



Below is a letter written to the editor of "The Australian" by Michael Darby in response to the comment about him above. I know the inimitable Michael Darby personally and know him as more a libertarian than a conservative. But it is of course customary for Leftists like FitzGerald to describe libertarians as "extreme-Right". Libertarians are extreme only about the importance and value of individual liberty. My understanding of the differences between Jones and Darby is that they are personal

On 11 November 2006 The Australian published an extraordinary attack on me by Professor Ross Fitzgerald. This is the same Ross Fitzgerald who was more than once pleased to share a platform with me on the side of independence for East Timor, while praising my enduring support for the East Timorese in the face of right wing endorsement of the Indonesian occupation. This is the same Ross Fitzgerald who applauded the campaign which I waged in Queensland with Senator George Georges and others against the ID card. It is very strange that an historian of quality should describe me as any kind of right-winger, and equally strange that a man whose panama hat is more flamboyant than mine should describe me as eccentric.

Professor Fitzgerald criticises Chris Masters on his methodology, but tosses around anti-Darby epithets without taking the trouble to pick up the phone and speak to me.

I stand by my criticisms of Alan Jones, made in a Four Corners program (in 2002 as I recall). My observations then evoked no criticism from anyone, not even Professor Ross Fitzgerald.

Wacky Leftist attack on Australian conservatives in an alleged textbook

By Christopher Pearson

The postmodern Left has just launched a new, unusually vicious polemic. It's called The War on Democracy: Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press. Its authors are Niall Lucy, a Derrida scholar, and Steve Mickler and it was published by the University of Western Australia Press. Luke Slattery, Miranda Devine, Gerard Henderson, Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt, Michael Duffy and I all rate a denunciatory chapter.

Readers familiar with our work will have noticed that while Slattery has some old-fashioned ideas about the Western canon and the secondary school curriculum, his inclusion is an outright category mistake because he's not remotely conservative in any ordinary sense of the word. Henderson is more of a sceptical observer than an ideologue these days and often found himself broadly in sympathy with the Hawke and Keating governments when they were in office. Duffy, who wrote an appreciative biographical account of Mark Latham and cut his teeth in anarchist punk bands, is too unpredictable to count as a dyed-in-the-wool anything. Albrechtsen, a fan of the republic, Malcolm Turnbull and market solutions to almost every problem, is of the political Right but, again, scarcely a true conservative.

Even if, for the sake of argument, it's granted that the term is roughly applicable to the rest of us, it's clear that the authors' intention is demonising rather than descriptive or diagnostic. The niceties of distinguishing between neo-con, palaeo-con and Tory seem to be beneath them, or perhaps beyond the ken of their anticipated undergraduate audience. For this is a textbook, designed for the impressionable young in media and cultural studies courses and the semiotics end of political science. It's also intended as an object lesson, a terrible warning of what to expect from the academic Left if you stray too far from its orthodoxies.

Its opening gambit is to assert that the villains of the piece are in some sense waging war on democracy. This, I'm sure, will come as a surprise to my colleagues, all of whom were strong supporters of a universal adult suffrage for Australian parliaments when last I checked, even if some share my enthusiasm for the British House of Lords in the pre-Blair era. (Strange as it may seem, there's a persuasive argument that the Lords, where membership was a hereditary lucky dip topped up with politically appointed bishops and life peers, was a more representative body than an entirely appointed or party-list elected house. But I digress.)

The authors have a concept of democracy that is radically different from the workaday world of parliamentary representative chambers and other elective bodies on which we rely. For them, "the democratic project remains, and must always remain, unfinished, since there could never come a time when we could be satisfied that we had enough democracy, enough freedom, equality and friendship for all the different social differences there are today and others that come in the future".

We are at war with democracy, they say, not as "a system of representative government but as a project without origin and which remains, and must remain, forever unfinished", "an ongoing democratisation of ever more diverse and hitherto obscured areas of society". This borders on the millennial as well as the metaphysical and strikes me as an ill-considered mix of the ultra-Puritan Levellers' ideals and the rhetoric of Mao Zedong's "continual revolution".

When I talk about democracy I have in mind a project with its origins embedded in Periclean Athens; with its noblest expression in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on government of, by and for the people; with its triumph over Hitler's fascism and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Lucy and Mickler draw their inspiration from the soft left agenda - a critique of consumer capitalism and endorsement of "socially progressive ideas and movements, anti-authoritarian attitudes and a liberal approach to difference".

It comes as no surprise that they are hell-bent on rewriting what little they know of Australian history. "Conservatism has played no part in helping to produce Australia as a modern democratic society," they say, in the context of a discussion of women's and indigenous voting rights and extending other rights to minorities. They seem not to have heard of the pro-women's suffrage South Australian liberal premier Charles Cameron Kingston or to realise that the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1962 and the Aboriginal Referendum of 1967 passed under Liberal-led governments. The first gay law reform in the country (more on that later) was also initiated by Murray Hill, a Liberal in the SA parliament.

I turned to the chapter devoted to yours truly, expecting ad hominem abuse but not quite a full-dress Robespierrean prosecution. "It isn't just that we think Pearson is a hypocrite; in fact we don't think 'hypocrisy' covers it. But if it was good enough to get Al Capone for tax evasion, we'll settle for showing that Pearson is different because he's hypocritical." The first evidence they adduce is that I've written in support of covenant marriage, a legally enforceable model that aims to wind back Lionel Murphy's "no-fault" divorce arrangements. They query "why a gay man would think he had any authority to comment on a woman's role in marriage", by lending support to what the Bible says on the subject. But surely everyone, whatever their sexual preference, has a legitimate concern with the survival of marriage as an institution and surely, in a pluralistic society, even people who take the Bible seriously are allowed to say so once in a while? Lucy and Mickler don't seem to have noticed the strictures of covenant marriage apply to men as well as women and that the essence of them is they're entirely voluntary.

I can't see any substance in this charge of hypocrisy, although they think it's self-evident. They then quote from an interview published by the Festival of Light, in which they detect an "obvious misattribution" on sexual politics in the '70s, but in which I'm also credited with 17 years of celibacy before my conversion to Catholicism. It was news to me and, had I seen the leaflet, I'd have corrected it at the time with rueful references to Augustine of Hippo's prayer ("Oh God, make me chaste, but not yet") and my published autobiographical essay on the subject. When I contacted the FOL on Wednesday, it became clear that, in a rushed phone conversation, admissions of 17 years of partnerless prudence in the era of AIDS had been charitably misconstrued as heroic virtue. Perhaps it explains the portentous allusion to Capone.

The next charge of hypocrisy is my "continuing lack of condemnation of some of the sickening sins of the church", especially the cover-up of child abuse by pedophile clergy. Now it's clear that most child abusers are not priests but men in de facto relationships, uncles and even fathers, although you'd never guess it if you relied on tabloid journalism and its bigoted, anti-Christian agenda. Molestation is a terrible betrayal of trust, whoever perpetrates it. The question is: how often would one have to say so before this local chapter of the Committee of Public Safety were satisfied?

The gravest charge against me is "not explaining to readers how he can be openly gay and at the same time opposed to social movements, opposed to the very idea of democratic social progress that makes it possible for him to be a public figure who is known to be other than heterosexual". Law reform didn't arrive, they tell us, "as a result of conservative activism or by divine decree. The right to be an Australian citizen who is other than heterosexual today was won by others in a struggle against conservatism and the church."

As it happens, I was involved in the struggle for homosexual law reform in SA from the beginning, in the wake of George Duncan's drowning, in an incident where members of the vice squad refused to answer questions at the inquest "on the grounds that they might tend to incriminate". I was an active member of the Social Concern Committee, which engineered the consensus that enabled Peter Duncan's reform bill to pass in the state, with a fair measure of bipartisan support. I acted as a go-between in negotiations with the Anglican and Catholic churches, which lent pivotal endorsement. The Maoists and Trotskyites who'd so effectively colonised gay lib and, like the Left to this day, regard gays as a wholly owned, natural constituency, contributed little. In the judgment of many at the time, they jeopardised reform with their revolutionary talk and ultra-leftist antics.

It's true that some conservatives and clergy vehemently opposed Duncan's bill. So did some sections of the Labor Party. I interviewed most of them and found them generally polite and, despite our differences, often affable. Lucy and Mickler perhaps might have learned something from them about civil disagreement over matters of high principle. But they betray little evidence of the curiosity or imagination needed to engage with world views other than their own. Their only really strong suit is bile.


Greenie fraud in Victoria

A group supporting the Greens and spending thousands of dollars on the election campaign may face a probe over taking donations as a non-political charity. The Wilderness Society, set up as a charitable institution and endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office to receive tax-deductible donations, is running a campaign urging Victorians to "Vote 1 Environment". The society -- a group of self-confessed "tree huggers" on one of its websites -- pointedly backs the Greens, despite claiming to be apolitical. Greens lead candidate Greg Barber -- a virtual certainty to win a seat in the Upper House -- spruiks his credentials as a former Wilderness Society corporate campaigner on the party's website.

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell warned yesterday that environmental groups with tax deductibility status should not be involved in political campaigning. While the society claims not to be politically aligned, it has set up a website,, featuring the logo "Vote 1 Environment" on a green background next to a tree. The site gives three ticks to the Greens -- highlighting its policy to protect old-growth forests and water catchments -- while running question marks against the Liberals and Labor and a cross against the Nationals. The society this week also launched an advertising campaign on the issue on WIN TV.

Greens Northern Metropolitan region candidate Mr Barber advertises his ties to the group, and Williamstown candidate Michael Faltermaier also acknowledges his long-time membership. The society's Victorian website was yesterday running the headline: "How the Bracks Government is failing to address climate change". At the bottom of the page it urged Victorians to "Take Action: Put the pressure on Premier Steve Bracks and Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu to protect Victoria's old-growth forests and water catchments". Directly beneath the political call, the society urged Victorians to make tax-deductible donations to help it reduce the impacts of climate change.

As well as being able to receive tax-deductible donations as a supposedly non-political charity, the society receives income tax relief, fringe benefits tax rebates and GST concessions. The society's Victorian campaign manager Gavan McFadzean said no tax-deductible funds were used on its political campaigning. "It is a responsibility of environmental groups to educate the public and rank the environmental policies of parties so they are informed," he said. "If the Greens' policies are the best they will be ranked the best. We are not ranking the parties themselves."


Aust scientist to give NASA original moon landing tapes

The founder of Western Australia's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will hand over original tapes from the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing to the American space agency, NASA. The scientific data tapes contain information about the environmental conditions on the Moon and they are being sent to the space agency because the original tapes were misplaced.

Australian physicist Brian O'Brien analysed the data after astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the equipment on the Moon. Professor O'Brien says the tapes have been stored by the Physics Department at Curtin University for many years. "So, they're 37-years-old and the only reason I've broken them out now is because NASA has released the news that they've misplaced the original tapes, information from that experiment," Professor O'Brien said. "So I thought there should be a permanent record back in the official archives. "The most important tape is one which contains measurements by a little lunar dust detector of mine and as a historic tape in itself there certainly should be a copy with the other Apollo 11 memorabilia."


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Police friendly with suspects in killing

An inquest into the death of Queenslander Dianne Brimble aboard a cruise liner is about to probe links between police and the ship's operator, P&O. A detective who first investigated the 42-year-old's death will be quizzed this week about his previous connections with the company and relationship with ship security staff.

Mrs Brimble, a mother of three, from Redcliffe, died naked on a cabin floor of P&O's Pacific Sky from an overdose of the date- rape drug GHB. also known as fantasy. Witnesses at the inquest will include Detective Senior Constable Erdinc Ozen, one of two Sydney water police officers flown to meet the ship in Noumea on September 26, 2002 - two days after Mrs Brimble's death.

They were dubbed "the dancing detectives" by NSW Deputy Coroner Jacqueline Milledge after revelations earlier in the inquest that they partied with key witnesses in the ship's disco but took up to four more days to interview them. It was one of several aspects of the handling of the initial investigation by police and ship security which have been criticised during the inquest and led the coroner to ask the homicide squad to take over the inquiry.

Mrs Brimble's family is understood to be unhappy about delays by police in responding to subpoenas to hand over documents. Det Sen-Constable Ozen is due to give evidence on Thursday and will face questions about a possible conflict of interest after revelations he was previously given a free cruise on the Pacific Sky by P&O. The company told the inquest in September that six police were on board during schoolies cruises in 2000 and 2001. P&O paid for their accommodation and meals but the officers were not paid a fee. The officers, who had NSW Police approval, were in plain clothes but passengers were told they were aboard. "We believed that providing cruise accommodation to police to deter anti-social behaviour and to investigate any crime was small expense for the assurance we received from their presence," P&O said.

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on Nov. 5th, 2006


The Murray-Darling basin is in the midst of a long-term drought similar to that experienced at Federation - not the worst in 1000 years. River and climate experts disagree with the one-in-1000-years call by South Australian Premier Mike Rann this week. Murray-Darling Basin Commission general manager David Dreverman told the water summit hosted by John Howard on Tuesday that the inflow into the Murray last month was so low as to be classed as a one-in-1000-year event.

National Climate Centre meteorologist Blair Trewin said the current drought was "in a similar ball park to the Federation drought" of 1895-1903. He said 2006, as an individual drought year, was the second-lowest year for rainfall in the basin. "One of the things that intrigues me is that by and large 1914 was a worse year for rainfall than 2006, but the inflows are lower this year," Dr Trewin said. The low inflows could be due to more farm dams, increased use of groundwater, tree plantations and even regeneration after bushfire.

Water Co-operative Research Centre chief executive Gary Jones said drought was part of the natural cycle of the river. "But this is a pretty big drought and we do have to expect there will be some die-offs," Professor Jones said. He said wetlands and billabongs were important drought refuges for native fish, plants and animals, and there would be severe consequences if, as the Prime Minister suggested at the summit, they were drained. "If it gets to the point where people are desperate for drinking water, of course we are going to give them the drinking water, but we have to understand the consequences," he said.

Droughts earlier this century regularly stopped the Murray River flowing, with current flows only sustained by modern management and a network of water storages. Murray-Darling Basin Commission water resources manager Andrew Close said if the Murray still had its natural flow, it would have probably stopped flowing this year, as it did in 1914, 1915 and 1923, while the Darling River dries up more frequently. "It stopped all three of those times in Swan Hill," he said. "It would have stopped in 82-83 and probably would have stopped this year." Between 1885 and 1960, the Darling River stopped flowing at Menindee 48 times. In 1902-03, during the Federation drought, it stopped flowing for 364 days.

The summit commissioned the CSIRO to look at the contentious issue of sustainable yield. Professor Jones personally believes two-thirds of the natural flow should be maintained. "Once you start to get below two-thirds, you are really getting significant stress, and at one-third you are into severe stress," he said. Under the current water allocations in the Murray, in an average year the river's mouth gets 27per cent of its natural flow. The mouth has only been kept open for the past five years by constant dredging. More than 90 major storages have been built along the Murray. They hold back water when it naturally flows in later winter and spring, and release it in summer and autumn when it is required by irrigators, and year-round for towns.

Basin commission chief executive Wendy Craik said the Murray had record low inflows this year. "The long-term average inflow into the Murray is about 11,200 gigalitres. The last decade, inflows have been averaging about 4500-5000GL. Our previous minimum-inflow year to date was 1000GL and this year, it has been 550GL." More than 4000GL are licensed for irrigation, but only half will have water this year.

A member of the Wentworth Group of concerned scientists, Peter Cullen, argues it could be a return to the 1900 to 1950s period "which was significantly drier than the 1950s to the 1990s". Professor Cullen said he preferred to call it a drying climate, rather than a drought. "As soon as you talk drought, they say it is going to break, and I think Australia has got to get used to using less water."


Education failure: Kids don't know even the basics

Jokes about softening of education standards would be funnier if they weren't so true, writes Shelley Gare

A Tasmanian reader writes to a newspaper column, describing what happened when her husband tried to hire a car at Sydney airport. Given his credit card and driver's licence, the clerk punched several computer keys fruitlessly before asking helplessly: "Is Tasmania in New Zealand?" A university lecturer discovers that of the 33 students in her class, not one has heard of Chairman Mao. What's more, they get irritated when she expresses astonishment. "How would we know that unless we'd studied Chinese history?" they demand of her.

The lack of general knowledge among so many of us is now so mind-bogglingly obvious that it has become part of the culture to swap funny stories. But this is an ignorance that has been learned. And too many of us stood by and let it happen. The crisis is not confined to Australia. When British playwright Alan Bennett was rehearsing his young actors for his recent play The History Boys, about a government grammar school in the 1980s, he told journalist James Button he discovered they had no idea who the poets A.E. Housman and W.H. Auden were. Later, he realised one of the actors didn't know what a plural was.

The trouble, as always with airheads, is that we don't take their nonsense seriously at first and then it's too late. Who would have believed 20 years ago, that one day we might seriously debate whether correct spelling really mattered? Our thinking processes have been addled by postmodernism, with its insistence that nothing is better than anything else.

What the Right and its belief in the free market have done to our value systems in the past 30 years, insisting money is the be-all and end-all, the Left merrily - or, playfully, as the postmodern crowd may prefer to say - has done with knowledge, learning and education at the same time. Our value and belief systems have been turned upside down.

The circuitous theories of French philosophers Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes arrived on our shores in the '70s and '80s to be widely misunderstood and misinterpreted. Soon they were being applied in even more half-baked form to teacher education and then to teaching in schools. The effect on young brains has been roughly the same as what would happen to an assembly line of Rolls-Royces if you poured glue into all the door locks. Two generations of experimented-upon young Australians have emerged unable to read, write and think with the skill and clarity they should have been able to assume would be theirs.

Too often, under the postmodern influence, schooling has turned into a hatchery for baby airheads unable to think for themselves or communicate clearly. But as journalist and editor Luke Slattery has questioned in an essay on the all-encompassing belief in postmodernism and its theory: "How did a minor tradition within continental philosophy come to dominate, to the point where it would brook no dissent, in both teaching and research in the English-speaking humanities?"

Whatever the original worth and intention of the movement, postmodernism, with its insistence that there are no such things as objective truths, knowledge or values, gave licence to far too many to take the easy way out. A host of behaviours that generations had taken for granted as being normal and/or necessary - from swotting up French verbs, to slogging at understanding a poem, to receiving grades, to being ticked off for being lazy or careless - were suddenly on a verboten list because they interfered with our creativity, originality, freedom, happiness and rights. And particularly our self-esteem.

Funnily enough, the behaviours newly banned are the ones that also require rigour, resources and a sense of reality, all of which, in our new airheaded world, have become more and more difficult to find and muster. How convenient is that?

American academic Susan Ostrov Weisser, a professor of English, points out in an essay on college classroom culture, published in US journal Academe, that the study of literature increasingly comes down not to expertise and knowledge but to feeling. Instead of a student and teacher discussing, perhaps, the biographical, historical and social contexts in which Charlotte Bronte wrote, and researching the evidence, they talk about how the student reacts to the novel, what it personally does or does not mean to them. "No one can then agree or disagree with you because it's all about you," Weisser says.

Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, remarked recently that the term postmodernism is on its way to meaninglessness. Maybe, but postmodernism flushed through the system in the '80s and nothing will be quite the same again. People say political correctness is finished. That's not true either. Postmodernism and political correctness don't have to be in our faces any more: they are embedded in our culture.

An English professor recalls wistfully when his field was regarded as a discipline. Now, he says, just the word discipline is frowned on because it sounds too, well, disciplinarian. Disciplines have disappeared into a kind of "cultural stir-fry" so that department letterheads can list a range of studies. An English department probably won't be called English any more either, but some amalgam that makes you ponder just which bit of it would signal that if you drilled down in that spot, you might be lucky enough to find a palely loitering Keats.

There have been several attack dogs on the traditional notions of learning. Deconstructionism seeks to reveal the concepts and influences (patriarchal, racial, elitist) that may have led to the creation of a work so that less attention is paid to the piece - its effect, its beauty, its sweep, its passion, its ability to take us out of our own world - than to who created it and why. I've done my best with deconstructionism and, every time, I keep thinking that call-girl Mandy Rice-Davies said it better in 1963. Told that Lord Astor denied her allegations about sex at his racy house parties at his country estate, Cliveden, she defended herself cogently: "He would, wouldn't he."

Meanwhile, constructivism argues that learning is a journey and that education has to be done in the context of the student's experience, with the teacher a "co-explorer". Everything must relate back to the student. Everything must be relevant, a word that here has all the charm of a vice. The real message: don't aspire, think small. Let the child's existing knowledge be the yardstick of everything he or she is to be taught in future; and then, to top it off, like a monstrous shiny artificial cherry on a cake of fake cream and off-the-shelf sponge, let children be the judge of their own progress and let them be measured by their own ability.

Such theory is behind the much vaunted outcomes-based education that now flourishes in Australia and other "new" countries such as Canada, New Zealand, the US and South Africa. Not that it flourishes in France. There has been no deconstructionist or constructivist pawing over of the French school system. You can be sure that Jean-Louis in Lyons is getting his daily dose of maths, grammar and all the other basics. Trust the French to realise that postmodernism and all the other theories were never supposed to be taken so seriously that you'd apply them to your precious children.

Kevin Donnelly, a former secondary school teacher of English and history in Melbourne, who started his own company, Education Strategies, writes frequently on the iniquities of the modern education system. He escaped his working-class Broadmeadows background through education and says he'd still be there if he'd been subjected to going on a personally relevant journey at school. He was actively involved in the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association for 10 years but was appalled by the moves that brought in continuous assessment where, before, a child's marks had mostly been determined by a final exam. For him, the change was always going to favour kids in comfortable backgrounds who had parents who "could pay for a tutor or even do the kids' work themselves". Kids from poorer homes with less well-educated parents suffered.

In the mid-'80s, Donnelly saw what he believed was "the Left taking the 'long march' through the institutions", referring to a conscious effort on the part of people who were politically active on the Left to change society by changing the institutions of society, especially in education. Left, for Donnelly, in thiscontext, means not the Left of social concern, compassion and humanism but the radical, social-engineering Left. Reading, that skill that allows a human being to operate as a member of a civilised, democratic society, withequal ability to question and, even better, to imagine, became the first casualty.

Cognitive scientist Max Coltheart left Australia in 1969. By the time he returned, two decades later, the public education system had been turned on its head, the traditional methods of schooling that had worked for centuries had been virtually outlawed except in a band of select and selective schools, and university entrants were so ill-prepared it was not unusual for them to have to take courses in how to spell and write before they could start to study and prepare essays. He discovered that trainee teachers knew little about how to teach reading, writing and spelling. At first, he thought it was an aberration; then he realised that it had hardly been on their curriculum.

Worse, the educationists in charge, Coltheart says, were preaching something called the whole-word method, and that learning to read was the same as learning to speak. It came instinctively to children, they argued, and all teachers had to do was aid and abet the process, providing what they called a "reading rich" environment. There was no need to teach the alphabet or explore letter-sound relationships. It was a kind of natural magic, like little children unconsciously picking up foreign languages. Coltheart asks now in exasperation: "If everyone can learn to read naturally, why is most of the world illiterate? Learning to read is artificial. We have to be taught."

By April 2004, he had had enough. He and 20 other distinguished academics, researchers, psychologists, linguists and educators wrote to then federal minister for education Brendan Nelson stressing their concerns about the way reading was typically being taught in Australian schools: "The ability to read is a complex learned skill, which requires specific teaching." The education establishment retaliated, digging into a grab-bag of statistics that claimed to prove Australia has among the most literate children in the world, quoting results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development program for international student assessment. But as The Australian Financial Review columnist Peter Ruehl pointed out acerbically, "PISA tends to be one of those New Age life skills tests, where students are not corrected for faulty grammar, spelling and punctuation. What are you going to do? On your job application at Merrill Lynch, write: 'Look how good I done on the PISA test'?"

Spelling, of course, is not supposed to matter any more, which is stiff cheese for those of us who can spell and who see in it the same sense of security that comes with, say, knowing that cars drive on roads, not pavements. Now, correct spelling is seen as something put on only for special occasions, like people wearing hats and gloves in the '50s. A NSW secondary school teacher, Ryszard Linkiewicz, wrote a piece in August 2005 for The Daily Telegraph: "The brutal fact is that the standards have been lowered to such an extent that children who, in former times, would have been regarded as sub-normal are now regarded as well within normal range. No longer are students penalised for errors in spelling and grammar. Any response, no matter how incoherent or insouciant, must get a mark." (Linkiewicz's piece proves that there are many teachers, usually older ones educated in more formal times, who are worried about what's happening, but there are penalties for speaking out and so most don't.)

Education was once felt to be a kind of "moral transaction" between parents and children. Educating by the late medieval period was supposed to be one of the duties of human beings. But what we're seeing now feels like a full-frontal attack on the notion of education. In 1979, American critic Christopher Lasch wrote in his book The Culture of Narcissism, "In the name of egalitarianism, they preserve the most insidious form of elitism, which in one guise or another holds the masses incapable of intellectual exertion."

At least the letter from Coltheart and his colleagues to Nelson helped towards the national inquiry into teaching literacy. The education minister announced its findings on December 8, 2005, and recommended the use of a phonics-based teaching method for reading. As Coltheart pointed out on an ABC Life Matters program in late August 2005, the phonics method where children are taught to associate sounds with letters has been working very well since 1570.

The people who now steer education often use the phrase rote learning disparagingly in articles and commentary when they're talking about the past. There is much hoo-ha, for instance, about why students should be looking at Shakespeare not through his language but via the messages he sends about race, gender and so on. In an opinion piece for a Sydney newspaper, Melina Marchetta, a teacher and the author of Looking for Alibrandi, wrote that when students have "meaningful debate on issues of inequity based on race, class and gender", they are acquiring valuable skills "of comprehension, evaluation and synthesis in order to participate meaningfully in an increasingly complex world".

The Sisters of Mercy who took me through Othello and The Merchant of Venice back in the '60s could never have expressed it quite like that. But while we studied and appreciated Shakespeare in the traditional way, for his language and vision and plotting, we too considered the place of Othello the Moor in a white society, Portia, a woman, playing lawyer and the depiction of Shylock, the Jewish money-lender. If the nuns at a not particularly prominent convent school in Perth were broadminded enough to discuss such issues in 1968, I think we can be assured that the present crop of teachers did not invent this particular wheel.

The truth is that too much of today's debates is airheaded tosh that covers up the fact kids are not getting the teaching and acquiring the knowledge they deserve. Worse, Donnelly believes that what we have seen so far is only the beginning, especially now that the teachers going through training grew up in this theory-driven system. He says, "At least now I think it's beginning to change because it's out there in the public arena." In the meantime, if you'd like your child to get a good education, there's always France.


Mother love defeats bureauracy -- but at a cost of $200,000

This Aussie infant was born with a $200,000 price tag and three mothers -- two of them on the other side of the world. Infertility and strict Australian surrogacy laws forced her mother to visit a revolutionary baby factory in California, where she hand-picked her egg donor and the woman who would give birth to her baby. The business transaction made her dream of a second child come true.

"She is a miracle -- what price do you put on a miracle," said the commissioning mother, Nadia, who did not wish to be identified. "Her creation was approached in a very business-like manner, but she is my baby."

A handful of Los Angeles-based mothers, including two Australians, formed egg donation and surrogacy agency Miracles Inc in response to the increasing number of childless couples who turn to surrogacy for their chance at a family. They charge almost $20,000 for an egg and more than $50,000 to carry a child to full term. The commissioning parents cover all other costs, which can take the bill to $200,000.

While Australia is unlikely to commercialise surrogacy -- where donors and the surrogate can charge for their services -- the nation's attorneys-general met yesterday to discuss uniform laws across the states. The call came after Victorian Labor senator Stephen Conroy and wife Paula Benson's daughter, Isabella, was born to a surrogate mother on Monday. The couple had to go to NSW for the procedures as surrogacy is illegal in Victoria. They are now facing up to five years of paperwork to formally adopt their daughter.

For Nadia, who is in her early 40s, searching overseas for a surrogate mother was a costly but simple process that took 18 months and $200,000. She joined the swelling ranks of women advertising for egg donors, but soon realised she would be relying on the goodwill of strangers because the "archaic" Australian laws make it illegal to profit from surrogacy. "I gave it two months and then I decided I'd never get anywhere. I had cut out an article I read in the newspaper about surrogacy clinics in America so thought I would try there," she said.

Nadia and her husband, whose sperm was used in the process, sifted through 200 profiles before choosing an egg donor and then a separate surrogate. In California, where the process is legal, the egg cost them $19,500 and the price for pregnancy was $52,000. "Although the cost is enormous, the component that goes to the surrogate and donor is minuscule compared to the overall cost," Nadia said. Legal bills, insurance, travel costs, drugs, IVF bills that were not covered by Medicare and astronomical American hospital bills added up to a $200,000 figure that the couple were not expecting. "We didn't truly appreciate the cost until it started, but we were in the privileged position of being able to keep going," Nadia said. "Now, when I look at her I don't think of dollars, or what we went through to get her -- she is just my child."

Still in close contact with the surrogate mother, Nadia helped deliver her daughter and stayed in the same hospital room as the surrogate for the days after the birth. Now back in Sydney, where her child will grow up, there are times when Nadia forgets her daughter's first nine months were spent in another women's womb. "She does something which is very characteristically me and I forget I didn't actually give birth to her," Nadia said. "You are just so caught up in being a parent, and I just love her so much."


Saturday, November 11, 2006

PM close to Tokyo accord on trade

Very good news for Australia if it happens

Australia and Japan are on the verge of forging a historic trade and economic treaty, in a move that could prise open the Asian power's lucrative farm sector. Amid forecasts that the deal could add nearly $40 billion to Australia's economy, the countries are close to announcing formal negotiations - 50 years after the signing of the post-war trade agreement. The breakthrough in almost two years of preliminary talks may come as early as next week, when John Howard meets the new Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, for the first time. It was Mr Abe's grandfather, then prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, who signed the Commerce Agreement with Australia in 1957.

Concerned at China's rising economic power and its increasingly close links with Australia, Japan's leadership is understood to have decided boldly to pursue a comprehensive trade pact. The progress of the Australia-Japan discussions has surprised both sides, with the pace of feasibility talks outstripping those on the FTA with China, which have bogged down. Australian and Japanese officials are optimistic the talks will include agriculture, despite Japan's previous reluctance to open its specialised beef and rice sectors to import competition.

Japanese industry is also keen to lock in stable supplies of energy and resources, especially liquefied natural gas, from Australia and has been pushing its Government to fast-track the trade talks. Mr Howard and Mr Abe will meet next week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, being held in Vietnam. Talks between Japanese and Australian officials continued this week, with agriculture the remaining hurdle, although Japanese ministers have been pushing publicly for advancing trade with Australia.

Trade Minister Warren Truss will visit Japan next week for further talks on the deal. While one government source said the deal was not yet a "fait accompli", there is strong hope of a breakthrough within the next few weeks. A trade pact would cement Japan as Australia's largest trading partner, including the country's largest market for coal, LNG, aluminium and crude petroleum. The economic benefits, over time, are forecast to be significant, including adding $38billion to the value of Australia's economy over the next 20 years.

The two countries have been examining the feasibility of a broad trade pact since Mr Howard and Japan's former leader, Junichiro Koizumi, first agreed on the deal in April last year. It would come at a sensitive time during Australia's continuing negotiations with China over a free trade pact. That remains on track, despite concerns from Australian industry that it will cost thousands of jobs, particularly in manufacturing. Mr Howard yesterday reiterated his intention not to "sell out" Australian manufacturing during talks with Beijing.

The push to forge closer trade links comes as regional leaders, including US President George W. Bush and China's President Hu Jintao, prepare to discuss the stalled world trade reform agenda during the APEC summit in Hanoi next week. Australia is hoping the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation bloc will deliver a strong pro-reform message to the World Trade Organisation, breathing new life into the Doha round. But discussion of an APEC-wide trade bloc - comprising all 21 members - is not expected to deliver any tangible results.

The US has reportedly asked Japan and other APEC economies to consider a regional trade pact, as Washington seeks to maintain its economic strength in East Asia. But a high-level study prepared for the APEC Business Advisory Committee has found the trade pact is "not politically feasible" because of strong differences between the US, China and Japan. "The main reason for this assessment is that the political challenges of negotiating an FTAAP (Free Trade Agreement Asia-Pacific) are so massive when placed against any likely political will," the study says. It said there were "powerful political interest groups" within APEC opposed to offering concessions in touchy areas such as agriculture and behind-the-border issues, such as law and intellectual property.

The free trade agreement with the US just before the 2004 election was estimated by the Centre for International Economics to deliver a boost of $6billion or about 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product. The total increase to the economy over 20 years is expected to amount to almost $60billion in today's dollars.

The economic benefits of the deal with Japan are subject to a feasibility study but estimates suggest it could boost the economy by similar proportions, with a $40 million boost in consumption gains and $20 billion in competitive and other effects by 2020. Japan is Australia's largest market for coal, LNG, aluminium, LPG, and crude petroleum. It is also Australia's largest market for agricultural exports. It is the second largest source of tourists for Australia with more than 685,000 Japanese visiting Australia last year.



It used to be that carrying coals to Newcastle was considered the height of idiocy, a wasted effort without the hope of a financial return. The new height of idiocy is to stop coal going from Newcastle.

The backbone of NSW's second-largest city - a Labor town built on the steel of the BHP mills and the coal from the Hunter Valley - is still coal, despite all the changes the valley has been through. It is also the undeniable backbone of Australia's domestic energy needs for decades to come and will continue to supply the bulk of the world's energy until 2050. And this is not the pipedream of a fossil industry but the conclusion of the British Stern report, which urges economic changes to fight greenhouse gas emissions. We can't do without coal; we have to learn to live with it.

To try to kill off the $9 billion coal industry in NSW and the exports shipped from Newcastle is to condemn the city and thousands of workers and businesses. Yet this week, in the grip of greenhouse hysteria, the Newcastle City Council, at the behest of Greens councillors and supported by Labor councillors, determined that Newcastle's coal shipments should be limited. The motion said the council recommended "the NSW Government establishes a cap on coal exports from Newcastle at existing levels" and "initiates a moratorium on new coalmines at Anvil Hill and elsewhere in the Hunter Valley and Gunnedah Basin". It went one further by backing calls from conservation groups to shut down the coal industry, and called for the industry "to fund the just transition to sustainability in the Hunter beyond coal". That is, levy the coal industry to fund its own closure and find jobs for the displaced workers. "Just transition" is greenhouse-friendly code for sack workers.

Not surprisingly, local federal MP Joel Fitzgibbon, a Labor frontbencher and former resources spokesman, went ballistic: "Extreme environmentalists are launching a jihad against the industry in an attempt to close it down, and the community must be told the other side of the story," he said. "We must strive to increase the share of electricity produced by renewable technologies, burn our coal more cleanly and efficiently and tighten environmental safeguards. But killing King Coal would be a disaster for the valley."

The heresy committed in Fitzgibbon's electorate allowed him to publicly vent feelings about anti-coal campaigns being conducted by conservationists in the name of fighting greenhouse gas emissions. There is trepidation in the ranks of Kim Beazley's supporters about the ALP being swept along in the emotional surge of anti-coal feeling.

Endorsed federal Labor candidate and potential ALP leader Bill Shorten and Victorian state Labor candidate Evan Thornley both suffered collateral damage this week because of their links with the GetUp campaign. As the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Shorten was defending the pay and conditions of the unsung heroes of the Melbourne Cup, the jockeys, but at the same time GetUp, of which he and Thornley are board members, was calling for an end to the coal industry and a "just transition". Both rapidly distanced themselves from any suggestion they supported the closure of the coal industry.

Beazley also made it clear yesterday that the future of Australia's baseload electricity power would come from coal and that he was backing the coal industry: a clean coal industry. The Opposition Leader was emphatic about the Newcastle council's ban: "That's not the right answer. The right answer is to go down the road of active measures for clean coal technology. We've got to become the world experts at clean coal technology and, as we export coal, we need to export those technologies with it, make sure we can survive economically and also survive environmentally."

Beazley is right: it's a mixture of surviving economically and environmentally. But there has been too much emphasis from Labor on the potential effects of greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power stations. Certainly there is a clear political differentiation between the Howard Government and Labor over the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and entering a carbon emissions trading scheme that makes coal more expensive. But Labor has to be careful not to be seen as embracing unreal emotional claptrap that threatens the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Australian workers. Labor's industrial relations campaign and its position on Iraq have rebuilt the ALP base and secured it a steady spot above the crucial 40per cent of the primary vote in opinion polls, but it cannot afford to alienate that base in pursuit of a new campaign to pick up concerned green Liberals in leafy suburbs and keep faith with the progressive Labor Left.

Howard's response on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions has been ad hoc and sloppy. Some sort of an emissions trading scheme is inevitable, yet the Coalition is poorly placed to deal with the politics. However, don't dismiss the prospect of Howard preparing an important statement on greenhouse emissions and climate change before Christmas in which he sets out a more coherent agenda that is unapologetically worker friendly. Howard learned in 2004 that playing cat and mouse with Mark Latham over the Tasmanian forest issue worked in his favour in two ways: first, Latham went too green too early, and second, the reverberations of defending jobs went far beyond Tasmania. Putting forward practical steps to address greenhouse emissions and protecting jobs is a political winner.

The anti-coal brigade is already damaging Labor by association and creating internal tensions, and the next frontier of forests is yet to be reached. Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation Minister Eric Abetz started the forest fire in the Senate this week when he pointed out that plantation forests cut carbon emissions and offset greenhouse gas emissions from industry. Conservation groups have also pointed to a forgotten aspect of the Stern report, which urges a halt to deforestation and highlights the positive aspects of planting trees and using wood instead of other materials in building.

Howard was surprised last week in the face of Senate committee evidence that in 2002-03 electricity generation emitted 160 megatonnes of greenhouse gases while in just three weeks bushfires released 130 megatonnes. Old-growth forest management, logging state forests, plantation timber and pulping are the next frontiers in the greenhouse war. Howard has been slow to enter the fray but Labor has more to lose if the realisation dawns before the election that there are drastic and unjustified changes being proposed in the name of greenhouse panic.



The economic predictions of the Stern Report into climate change would increasingly be questioned, Prime Minister John Howard said today. "I think as time goes by, some of the economic underpinnings of the Stern review are going to be continually and increasingly questioned," Mr Howard said.

Mr Howard has long been critical of some of the harsher assessments of global warming. He has previously warned against people being mesmerised by the British government-funded Stern Report. Among the report's dire economic warnings on climate change is that global warming could cost as much as the world wars and the Great Depression. Sir Nicholas Stern's report also warns the worst outcome of climate change could result in global consumption falling by 20 per cent.

Mr Howard described the review as "another report". "We should not get mesmerised by one report," Mr Howard said. "But I do accept that we need to take steps, take out insurance, be certain that we do reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

However, Mr Howard maintained his support of Australia's large coal industry. "I'm certainly not going to target the coal industry ... because that would do great damage to the economy of this country," he said. "One thing I am frozen in time about and that is a determination to protect the industries of this country that give us a natural competitive advantage."


Baby death shame files in Tasmania

All due to the lazy social worker dictum that children MUST be left with their parents, no matter what

The State Government has admitted it failed to protect a baby boy who died of a methadone overdose in the state's South last year. A further nine children known to the state's failed child protection system have died since 2005 and suspected child abuse is blamed for at least three of the deaths.

The files of the dead have revealed a disjointed and overwhelmed system that failed to adequately protect the vulnerable children. The children came from homes with a history of family violence and where sustained drug and alcohol abuse occurred. Doctors, teachers, neighbours and health professionals had told the system multiple times that the children and their brothers and sisters had been abused and neglected.

Their files contained hopeful assumptions from swamped workers such as "doctor will keep an eye on him" and "extended family making alternative arrangements". Their families had struggled to access help to cope with complex issues including poverty, drug and alcohol abuse and family violence.

Health Minister Lara Giddings admitted to being shocked and saddened at the stories of abuse, neglect and death and promised the Government would learn from them. "I'm not proud of this story," she said. "There had been failings in the child protection system in relation to that child."

A Health and Human Services Department committee will investigate the deaths to determine whether the child protection system could have prevented them. The Government has accepted the recommendations of former children's commissioner David Fanning contained in two reports into child deaths. Ms Giddings said a new, $600,000 IT system would be running early next year to replace the paper files case workers have struggled to navigate and cross-reference.

Laws to trigger the automatic independent review of deaths or serious injuries of children known to the system will be introduced to Tasmania. Mr Fanning noted there was "no clear and routine process for departmental reviews of child deaths" and only two deaths had been reviewed since 1997. One report said "unfortunately there is very limited data on numbers of child deaths in Tasmania where a child was known to child protection services". It said the service could use such data to learn from experience and "reduce the incidence of preventable child deaths".


Friday, November 10, 2006

Good jobs result

The number of unemployed people has dropped below 500,000 for the first time since 1990, bringing the unemployment rate down to a 30-year low of 4.6 per cent. But there are signs this may mark a turning point. The fall in the number of people officially registered as unemployed did not result from more people getting jobs, but from a fall in the number of people without a job who were actively looking and available to work.

The latest labour force figures show there was in fact a fall in the number of people with jobs, which has slipped by 32,100 over the last month. It is the first time the number of employed people has fallen in 12 months. There was an increase in the number of part time jobs, but the number of full time positions dropped by almost 50,000.

The workforce has been rising strongly for the past six months, with the number of people in work rising by almost 200,000, leading the Reserve Bank to publicly question the accuracy of official figures showing that the economy is growing by less than 2 per cent on the latest figures.

The fall in the number of people with jobs supports the view that the economy is not growing too fast, however the Reserve Bank will not be comforted by the reduction in the pool of unemployed. The Reserve Bank has argued that the scarcity of labour is one of the bottlenecks preventing the economy from meeting fast growing demand, which is pushing up prices. The Reserve Bank would regard an increase in the number of unemployed as a sign that inflationary pressure was easing.

UBS senior economist Adam Carr said the annual rate of employment growth has now dropped back from 2.7 to 2.5 per cent, but he expects it to fall further. "The broader domestic economy already showing signs of easing and against a back-drop of three rate hikes in six months, it is unlikely that jobs growth will accelerate and the unemployment rate stay down at 4.6 per cent."


PM backs closing wetlands for drinking water supply

Shock, horror for the Greenies

Prime Minister John Howard says he will support the closure of wetlands if it is necessary to secure drinking water during the drought. Yesterday's meeting of state and federal leaders decided to form an advisory group to consider contingency measures in case the drought continues next year. One option canvassed was to close wetlands to divert water to towns.

Mr Howard says people must always receive priority over the environment. "Quite honestly if we have to face the possibility of, for a temporary period, closing down a wetland in order to give people drinking water then I will support closing down a wetland," he said.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert has attacked the suggestion. "The Prime Minister still doesn't get it, that you need a healthy environment to support people," she said. "And to hear him saying these things makes my mind boggle that he still doesn't get this." [We need swamps to keep us healthy??]


Inexplicable long lives

An older Australian (born in 1951) reflects:

The way the world is run, it seems extraordinary that anybody over the age of 60 is still upright. They should be dead. Consider what they have had to survive to get this far. These people, in fact anybody over 30, went to school during very dark days indeed.

They were days when the canteen sold doughnuts, pies and chips to anybody who wanted them.

They drank carbonated water with weird flavors and absurdly mixed full-cream ice cream in it at times to make something called a "spider".

There were no teachers searching for contraband chocolate in school lunch boxes and no self-righteous doctors from VicHealth explaining impressive charts about childhood obesity.

How did anybody survive past puberty without a fridge and cupboard full of things labelled "lite" or "low fat"? How could life exist and thrive when nobody had the faintest idea what "low GI" meant?

But it did. These baby boomers ate fried dim sims and potato cakes with salt, gulped down bags of lollies, and considered Twisties a health food.

Red meat was served at one meal a day, not one meal a week.

Fish had to be cooked before you ate it, preferably in batter and boiling oil.

Tofu, if ever considered, would have been considered revolting.

Today's food police would have locked up the entire generation. So, how did that generation of boomers survive long enough to become a financial problem important enough to agitate Peter Costello? Of course, the threat was not restricted to killer food. That's only one of the social evils now identified and attacked. Most of the boomers also managed to survive other people's cigarettes.

They went to football games where fans were allowed to smoke in the grandstand in the belief the smoke would blow away.

They travelled on trains with carriages marked "smoking" and "non-smoking", in the belief people could make a choice about their own lives.

They even experimented with 10-to-a-pack cigarettes that were almost certainly designed as starter kits for kids. Yet most of them still developed the good sense to give up smoking.

But how did they survive such a dangerous social life? How did they eat in restaurants where the bloke on the next table would light up an after-dinner smoke with his coffee? Why are so many still alive after spending years drinking more than 4.3 standard drinks a day in bars where smokers were not treated like dangerous criminals? Again, it is probably my approaching birthday, but modern history seems to have thrown up so many questions and so few answers.....

Think about germs, too. A smelly old horse with a smelly old driver used to deliver bread and milk to the front door before dawn.

How did people survive drinking milk that wasn't straight out of the refrigerator and eating bread that wasn't so tightly sealed it could be opened only by laser beam?

And speaking of bread, how did generations thrive while eating bread that wasn't bursting with Omega 3, calcium and a dozen other additives nobody is sure exist?

How could young women still manage to look so attractive 20 years ago without a scientifically designed uplifting device guaranteed to deceive nature and gravity?

Who sorted out the rubbish in those days when it was placed in only one bin? How did households survive without three colour-coded monsters and an army of bin police likely to lay charges if a chicken bone is inadvertently re-cycled?

But perhaps the greatest question of all is this: Why did a generation that spent the first half of its adult life dedicated to excess, independence, freedom and loud music decide to spend the second half of its life writing rules that tell everybody else how to live?


Stern report scare-mongering

Some skeptical comments from Australia:

Few government reports have been greeted with less scepticism than Nicholas Stern's scary scenario on climate change, but seldom has a report purporting to be a serious study been so deficient in scientific back-up. While its contents have been taken as gospel by various interest groups, the media and the ALP, a number of bona fide experts are deeply concerned at the report's lack of any real intellectual rigour.

Without gilding the lily, Dr Brian O'Brien, a strategic and environmental consultant, who was the foundation Director and Chairman of the WA Environmental Protection Authority, and previously Professor of Physics and Space Science in the US, has all the credentials necessary to make a reasoned, educated review of such a report. His verdict is damning. He says that not only are its forecasts out of whack with the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of 2001, but also that if Stern wasn't so driven by political goals he should have waited until next year when the IPCC's fourth report is due to be published. "I think they're being quite naughty,'' he said. "All this apocalyptic talk when the situation is not so cataclysmic that they couldn't have waited till 2007 for the best available transparent data rather than rely on the coupling together of a five-year-old, out-of-date IPCC report, amended with references to a difficult-to-obtain German publication Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, edited by H.J.Schellnhuber (Cambridge University Press), which is not only not readily available but was not subjected to the usual process of peer review.''

Professor O'Brien, who has a number of experiments still orbiting Earth aboard various satellites is currently assisting NASA recover data from the Apollo 11 program which the space agency "misplaced'' before coding, was clearly exasperated when he spoke with me from his Perth home. "There are a number of obvious problems with the report,'' he said, "not least being that Stern relies on the IPCC's 2001 report which estimated the maximum sea level rise forecast by 2100 would be somewhere between 9cm and 88cm and a leaked report of next year's IPCC report says the rise is possibly between 14cm and 43cm.''

Clearly, Stern has chosen to take the darkest possible view of the future. The professor said that in its initial report in 1995, the IPCC explicitly stated that its definition of climate change differed from that of the United Nations and Kyoto, because their definition included natural events plus human activities. "The first question, then, is what is climate change, if the scientific group advising the UN is thinking about natural phenomena as well as the scary stuff?'' he asked. "How about the so-called Federation drought which ran from 1895 to 1903, and the drought which ran from 1991 to '95, or the two in between, which had the most devastating effect in extent and on primary production, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Year Book for 2001?''

Professor O'Brien referred to remarks made by Robert White, the President of the US National Academy of Engineering to the annual general meeting of the US Academy of Science, in Washington, in April, 1989, where he said: "Whether we in the scientific community like it or not, we have awakened the political beast; we are confronted with an inverted pyramid of knowledge. "A huge and growing mass of proposals for policy action is balanced upon a handful of real facts.''

Professor O'Brien described a diagram of a big inverted pyramid, standing on a tiny little apex of a few facts such as increasing concentration of gases and a mass of assumptions rising on top of that, and exploding into all sorts of models and scenarios.

The Stern report, he said, is now at the peak of the apocalyptic drawing. He said the Stern report's sky-is-falling approach to climate change was exactly the same as the technique used at the first world conference on the changing atmosphere, and implications for global security held in Toronto in June, 1988. The opening quote at the conference, attended by more than 300 people from 46 nations was: "Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.''

This alarmist approach reeked of stupidity, snake oil, and misguided gospel preaching but was in line with a formula adopted by the first chairman of the IPCC, Sir John Houghton, who produced the IPCC's first three reports in 1990, 1995 and 2001 and wrote in his book Global Warming, The Complete Briefing, in 1994: "Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.''

Evoking the Great Depression and World War II may garner headlines for climate change but, without a factual basis, the Stern report is little but grandiose scare-mongering. It would be irresponsible in the extreme for politicians to make major policy changes - and major economic commitments - on such specious arguments.

Hollywoods Australian Idiot wannabees took to the streets of Sydney on Saturday Nov.4 demanding that "the government" do something to stop what was previously known as "Global Warming" they now call "climate change" thats the term they now use to cover their collective arses should it be hot or cold the day they are protesting, it just so happens the day they chose to march and share their collective wisdom among Sydney siders, it rained almost all day.

World famous scientist,climatologists actress /actor and member of the jugglers and clowns union, Cate Blanchett added her vast knowledge of science and meterology "Like the tens of thousands who marched today, I support clean energy and I vote.'' to the pool of chanting Green Peace, Green Left and International Socialist Movement activists who, using their best Henny Penny voices told us the sky is falling and we had all better pay more tax to stop it falling any further, apparently falling skies are very respectfull of World governments and Communist collectives and as such rarely fall on them.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Another crooked Victorian cop

A policeman who helped a junior colleague steal and traffic drugs has been jailed for four months after vowing to teach police recruits about corruption when released. The detective senior constable, who can't be identified [Why not??], pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office, drug trafficking and theft, but received a discounted sentence for his offer to give evidence against the other policeman. He admitted attending two fake raids with the other officer, a constable, and stealing cannabis crops from growers in January and February this year.

In January the pair arrived at a house in Werribee and produced a document they said was a warrant. They then took garbage bags of drugs, which were not entered into police logs. No warrant existed. A month later an informer told the constable his uncle had a cannabis crop and the two officers signed out guns, equipment and an unmarked police car to go to the property on their day off. They showed the occupant, who didn't understand English, a paper they said was a warrant and seized 18 plants. The constable told the occupant if he paid them cash he would avoid prosecution. At a later meeting the drug grower handed $8000 to the constable while the senior detective sat in a car and waited but did nothing to stop the extortion.

The officers and the informer hid the stolen plants at another house to be dried out, but plans to sell the crop for profit were dashed when the tenant discovered the plants while showing the property to potential home buyers and called police.

When the ethical standards division took over the investigation, both the informer and the senior detective made statements implicating the constable. The judge said the senior detective had offered to speak at the police academy about corruption and his own experiences, despite humiliation it would bring him. The senior detective was jailed for a year, but eight months was suspended for two years. The informer received a six-month term suspended for three years. The constable is due to face a preliminary hearing in the magistrates' court next month.


Another crooked Greek

Looks like Victorian Labour does not have a monopoly on them

NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Milton Orkopoulos has been dismissed by Premier Morris Iemma after being arrested this morning for alleged serious sexual offences involving minors. Mr Orkopoulos, 49, is believed to be at Belmont police station, south of Newcastle, where he is being questioned. It is understood he will appear before a magistrate in Newcastle or Sydney later today on a total of 30 charges.

The charges include counts relating to aggravated indecent assault, child prostitution, homosexual intercourse involving persons aged 10 to 18 and supplying prohibited drugs, a police statement said. Mr Orkopoulos has also been sacked from the Labor Party. Community Services Minister Reba Meagher will take over the portfolio of Aboriginal affairs until the next state election on March 24.

Mr Iemma told a press conference he had learned of the allegations against Mr Orkopoulos this morning. He said he expected Mr Orkopoulos to resign from his Hunter Valley-based seat of Swansea. He said a by-election would not be held for the seat and a new MP would be elected at the March election. "I am today dismissing him as a minister and a Labor MP," Mr Iemma told reporters. "I expect him to resign from the parliament immediately. "Let me be clear about this: I make no judgment on his guilt or innocence. This is now a matter that's before the courts and I have no information as to the detail of the charges. "The only way for Mr Orkopoulos to proceed in this matter is as a private citizen."

He is married with three children and was first elected as the Member for Swansea in 1999. He has served as Aboriginal affairs minister since 2005, when he also took on the role of minister assisting the premier on citizenship.

Mr Iemma last month sacked Police Minister Carl Scully for twice misleading parliament. He has also been under pressure to sack Local Government Minister Kerry Hickey, who has been caught speeding four times - three times in a ministerial car. Asked if his government was falling apart, Mr Iemma said: "Absolutely not."


Determined education ignoramuses

The bureaucrats and their Leftist masters are pushing the hoary old superstition that promotion of gifted children harms them socially. It has been known to be false since the work of Terman in the 1920s

A legal battle between Education Queensland and a gifted schoolgirl will soon resume - this time in Queensland's Court of Appeal. Lawyers representing the state of Queensland have filed notice they intend to appeal against a Supreme Court ruling last month that quashed an earlier favourable finding in the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. The case centres on a decision by education authorities in 2003 not to allow Gracia MalaxEtxebarria, then 9 and who had already skipped two grades at school, to advance to high school the following year.

Education Queensland refused the request because they had concerns for her social development, but offered to tailor a program for her. That decision was later separately backed by then education minister Anna Bligh, one of her advisers and a senior departmental figure. The Anti-Discrimination Tribunal - which considered the case in mid-2005 - ruled in April that there was no discrimination by the department.

But in a judgment handed down on October 4, Supreme Court justice John Helman granted Gracia's appeal against the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal's 2005 decision and ordered the tribunal re-hear part of the case. Justice Helman found that while the tribunal could be justified in finding the initial departmental decision had not been discriminatory against Gracia, the question of whether the department had gone on to discriminate against her in their later review of the case had not been adequately considered.

In their notice of appeal, lawyers for the state have asked that Justice Helman's orders be set aside and the original Anti-Discrimination Tribunal finding be affirmed. The pending Court of Appeal matter has meant a scheduled directions hearing of the case this week in the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal has had to be postponed.


Baby-making debate flares

The birth of a surrogate child to a Victorian senator and his wife has prompted calls for commercial surrogacy. A leading Melbourne IVF doctor says surrogate mothers should be paid for their nine-month duty. Dr John McBain has also called for a review of Victorian laws that make surrogacy difficult and in some cases illegal. Dr McBain, medical director of Melbourne IVF, said surrogate mums should be compensated for the physical hardships they suffer during pregnancy.

Victorian Senator Stephen Conroy and his wife, Paula Benson, are now proud parents after the birth of a surrogate child. Ms Benson was unable to conceive or carry a child after treatment for ovarian cancer. This week Senator Conroy revealed he and Ms Benson had sought reproductive treatment in New South Wales, where altruistic or voluntary surrogacy is permitted.

Under Victorian legislation, a surrogate mother and her partner must be deemed infertile before she can have assisted reproductive treatment. The laws have long been criticised by medical and legal experts as illogical and outdated.

Dr McBain said many couples had been forced to travel interstate or to the US to have children. "It's such a disgrace that Victorian laws stop nice people like Senator Conroy and his wife from having a family, and forces them to go to New South Wales," he said. He said Victorian legislation should be similar to US law, where women are paid up to $24,500 for being surrogates. "They should be paid for the service they provide and rewarded for their discomfort, suffering and inconvenience," Dr McBain said. He said couples needing surrogate mums should also be prepared to cover all the woman's medical expenses. Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia.

Monash University Centre for Human Bioethics director Dr Justin Oakley said paying a fee for surrogacy services could be seen by some as "baby buying". "I don't think it's as simple as saying surrogates should be paid - it should be regulated properly, so there are no concerns about exploitation," Dr Oakley said.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission is reviewing the state's fertility laws and is expected to deliver its final report to the State Government early next year. Political colleagues and foes alike congratulated Senator Conroy and Ms Benson on their new family, but most were reluctant to endorse a rethink of surrogacy laws.

Premier Steve Bracks said the Law Reform Commission was reviewing the state's laws, which effectively render surrogacy births illegal. "These are complex issues. They're rare," Mr Bracks said. Victoria's IVF legislation was framed at a time when other states had no laws, he said. "In relation to these matters, which were not foreseen, I've asked for those to be referred to the Law Reform Commission, and the Attorney-General has done that. "So we will wait on that in good faith. If there is evidence that we require changes, those changes will be undertaken."

Australian Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja called for a national overhaul. "I'm sure this will provide a prompt for debate and discussion, and there is certainly a strong argument for a nationally consistent framework on these laws," Senator Stott Despoja said.The debate took off immediately, but Prime Minister John Howard said he had no firm opinion on moving towards a uniform national approach.

"It's not something that I have given a lot of thought to," Mr Howard said. "I'm therefore not going to, just off the top of my head, say yes or no." Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said: "I'm not going to comment on anything other than saying it (the birth) is a terrific thing."

One surrogacy case in Victoria is that of Maggie Kirkman 18 years ago. Ms Kirkman's sister, Linda, was the gestational mother of her daughter Alice. Alice Kirkham, now studying year 12, yesterday backed a shake-up of Victoria's surrogacy laws. "The laws definitely need to be changed. There is no reason why surrogacy should be illegal," she said. But she said surrogate mums should not be paid. "There should be no payment - only for medical expenses, and nothing else."

Surrogacy is required by women born without a uterus or with an abnormal uterus, women who have had their uterus removed, or women who have a medical condition that would endanger their lives if they carried a baby. It is estimated [By whom and on what basis?] that fewer than 20 Victorian couples a year would need the assistance of a surrogate mother to conceive.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Leftist State government authorizes Christmas celebrations in schools

With an opt-out for those few who want it -- which is a reasonable compromise. Anybody would think that they are facing an election soon!

Students must be allowed to withdraw from Christmas celebrations for religious reasons, schools have been told. A Victorian Education Department memo sent to government schools issues advice about how to celebrate Christmas. It says schools need to be mindful of the secular nature of the government school system. "It is not appropriate to promote adherence to a particular religion or denomination of a religion," it says. "Accordingly, students must be allowed the opportunity to withdraw from planned events."

The memo also reminds schools to provide "appropriate opportunities" to celebrate the festive season. But it states it is up to school communities to decide the precise nature of celebrations. The memo says this could include telling of Christmas stories, nativity scenes, concerts, trees and decorations.

Sent by Office of School Education's Deputy Secretary Darrell Fraser, the letter also recommends an additional "inclusive" event. "In schools with particular diverse populations, in addition to any Christmas celebrations, consideration ought to be given to an inclusive end-of-year event, such as a concert and/or valedictory assembly - in which all students and members of the school community can participate freely," it reads.

The memo was sent to principals and school councils on October 24. Premier Steve Bracks last year encouraged schools to celebrate Christmas after some schools banned it for fear of offending non-Christian children. A school in the outer northern suburbs was accused two years ago of taking Christmas out of festive celebrations. Parents complained that the school had banned carols, saying "Merry Christmas" and even placed restrictions on festive wrap. But the school denied the ban, saying their concert was focused on student work rather than the festive season. Kindergartens and childcare centres have also previously not allowed Santa in.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she welcomed the memo. "I think it is being more than reasonable. It is good for keeping community harmony and so hopefully everyone can celebrate," she said. Education Department spokesman Paul Barber said the guidelines were all about common sense.


Hugging gets a black mark in the schoolyard

My brother called me the other night, if not looking for answers, then at least despairing of the society we have become. He wanted to know why our children were being denied the opportunity to grow up as carefree as we did. His concern was prompted by a report that a Victorian high school had cracked down on hugging. The school also wanted to stop kissing and even shaking hands in the schoolyard. Basically, putting a full stop on physical contact at any time, it seemed to him. Bottom line: it did not want pupils showing affection to each other.

The acting principal said school was a place for learning, not loving. A week later another Victorian school had joined the restriction on hugging. The principal of a high school in Melbourne said his school was worried about inappropriate contact between the students. The schools had the right motive. They wanted to protect students from unwanted hugs, but I think this could have been done better than enforcing a blanket ban on hugging. Why not just teach kids to ask first before hugging?

So, I can understand the schools' decision and I can understand my brother's loss of faith in community standards. Take it as fact that more schools will take this no-hugging policy on board. That is how political correctness works. The problem is as always when imposing measures of zero tolerance that we end up with less, in this case a less joyful and free-spirited schoolyard. We are left with something a little more austere and reserved. And so that will become the norm.

It saddens me to think that our children might be taught to see such signs of affection as something bad and I wonder where all this will lead. Some time ago, schools in New Zealand and the US started banning hugging on school grounds using the same excuse. Many cited that it was not the act of embrace they did not like, but that hugs could be delivered inappropriately. Within a year, the ban became a matter of public policy in many US primary schools.

At the weekend, I read that schools in Britain had started to enforce the hugging ban. A teacher at a school in Cornwall told parents and students that hugging was out of bounds because it made youngsters late for lessons and, in some cases, was leading to inappropriate embraces. The school was even naming and shaming students who persisted.

It is madness. When did a hug between school friends become something shameful? How can we justify punishment of children when a hug is delivered as an innocent gesture of friendship? Granted, there can be occasions when a student receives an unwanted hug, but wouldn't it be better to address that by teaching our children to respect each other rather than going to such extremes that soon even a smile might be construed as something more sinister.

My little brother said many fellow parents were confused. He asked how can parents teach their children that an embrace between parent and child or siblings and their friends is something special, but in the schoolyard it is bad behaviour?

I just wonder why schools here have made the first anti-hugging move. Is it because they have experienced problems themselves, or because they have read about schools overseas doing the same thing and have decided to join the trend?

These days, the term political correctness has become a sneering description of an adherence to a doctrine that lacks humanity. The more I think about it, the more I think the anti-hugging lobby fits that sad description all too well. If a child wants to hug another child after scoring a goal in a schoolyard game of soccer then damn the teacher who scolds him or her and damn the school that cannot work out a policy that does not distinguish between an innocent child and a sexual predator.

About 20 years ago, National Hugging Day was started in the US as a heartfelt message for peace, love and understanding. Now, Sydney's Juan Mann is known internationally as a serial hugger thanks to his YouTube video that has had more than four million hits. He wanted to hug people to cheer them up and is now working on a global hug day. I'm with you, Mann. Come on people, group hug.


NSW police obstruct justice -- coverup?

The investigation into the cruise ship death of Dianne Brimble had been "severely hampered" by a bid by NSW Police to keep secret certain documents relating to the case, a coroner said. Deputy NSW state coroner Jacqueline Milledge said yesterday that both NSW Commissioner Ken Moroney and his South Australian counterpart had taken "unprecedented" steps to make a claim of "public interest immunity" over some material that has been subpoenaed by the court. The commissioners have threatened to seek a NSW Supreme Court order prohibiting the material from becoming public if Ms Milledge rules against immunity.

At the resumption of the inquest into Ms Brimble's 2002 drug-related death aboard the P&O Pacific Sky, Ms Milledge described the decision to claim public interest immunity at a coronial inquest as "extremely rare". "They are lawfully entitled to take the position they have taken . . . (but) there is no doubt it has severely hampered us in our progress, absolutely no doubt about that."

The comments came after claims by Ms Brimble's family at the weekend alleging a "cover up" by police over the withholding of certain documents. Ms Milledge said she and her team would "devote all day and all night if we need to" to viewing the controversial material today in order to rule on whether or not it will become public.


New hospital but no extra beds

More of that wonderful government "planning"

Doctors at the Royal Women's Hospital say the baby boom has outstripped the Bracks Government's $250 million expansion plans. They say the new hospital was designed to cater for about 5000 babies a year -- 1000 fewer than were delivered at the hospital in the past year. "The current hospital is already not big enough to cope with the rising birth rates, let alone the new hospital," a doctor said. "Staff are already overworked and we are really upset about it."

Hospital spokeswoman Mandy Frostick denied the claims but admitted there would be no more beds or birthing suites. She said a project website boasting the new hospital would deliver more than "5000 babies" a year was wrong. "It is the same bed capacity. We will have the same birth suites as what we have at present so we should be able to manage our existing demand," she said. Ms Frostick said the new hospital would include a "swing ward" that could be used depending on demand. The RWH is the nation's leading centre for high-risk pregnancies and premature babies. A record 6011 births there last year included 2000 premature and ill babies requiring neo-natal intensive and special care. In the first six months of this year, 2925 babies have been born there. In 2001, it had 4999 births.

RWH insiders said the new hospital would struggle to cope with demand when it opened on the grounds of the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2008. They said designs were based on old birth rates that did not take into account the baby boom kick-started by the Federal Government's baby bonus. Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the Government had continually failed to provide increased capacity in the public hospital system. "Victorian women are having more children and having them later, and therefore perhaps needing the greater level of specialist care," she said.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Teachers warned off criticism

Teachers are being warned to watch what they write and say about students because of the risk of being sued for defamation. New South Wales schools have also been urged to closely vet student scripts for theatrical performances and postings on school websites, blogs or electronic bulletins. At least one former Year 12 student complained he had been defamed in the school magazine and threatened to sue everyone involved. Parents as well as students have threatened legal action over comments made by teachers or pupils at school.

Education Department lawyer Wayne Freakley [What an appropriate name!] has issued a warning to 50,000 public school teachers across NSW to be "on the lookout" for potentially defamatory material. Mr Freakley urged teachers to "always be circumspect in relation to comments - written or oral - you make about staff, students and parents".

The advice comes as anger has exploded in schools over new student reports which grade students on a scale of A to E for academic performance. Already some parents have expressed disappointment to their school over their child receiving E grades - a scenario many teachers believe labels the student as a failure.

While student reports carry a qualified privilege giving teachers some protection for the comments they make, serious complaints can be made by angry parents. Sources have told The Daily Telegraph teachers need to think carefully before using words such as "lazy", "grumpy" or "moody" when describing a child's behaviour.

Parents and Citizens' Association president Di Giblin believes words such as lazy or phrases such as "can try harder" should not be used. "It is very important when referring to young people that their self-esteem is not damaged," Ms Giblin said. "Try harder doesn't tell a parent anything . . . it is better to say 'needs motivating' or 'is finding it difficult to be engaged in work'. "Without wrapping kids in cotton wool we need to ensure that young people are given a positive outlook and are encouraged to move forward."

Teachers' Federation vice-president Angelo Gavrielatos said threats to sue meant Australia was "importing the worst of American culture". "It reflects, regrettably, that we do live in an increasingly litigious society and that is sad," he said. "All too often we hear threats of litigation . . . and what we are seeing imported into Australia and into our schools is that litigious environment or mindset that is so prevalent in the United States."


Hard to get compensation for even gross bungles from a government hospital system

A man who had a syringe left in his stomach after being operated on by Jayant Patel claims medical examiners have accused him of putting it there himself at a later date. The accusations were allegedly made during examinations leading up to Hans Huhsmann entering into the State Government settlement process intended to compensate victims of the rogue surgeon. The Courier-Mail heard of the allegation through a third party, but when contacted Mr Huhsmann confirmed the exchanges. "It was raised a few times by them in the examinations and I was very upset," he said. "Where do they think I got those things from? "It is very upsetting and now (the syringe) is too deep to remove and no specialists will touch me."

Although confidentiality agreements have drawn a curtain of secrecy around the compensation proceedings, tales of woe are now starting to leak out. And victims are not happy, referring to a process they say has descended into "a sham, a rort and an affront to all victims". One claim is that some patients have been offered settlements despite unstable medical conditions - like Peter Janstrom, who walked away from mediation and has since been told he may lose a testicle. "They tried to finalise it but I thought we would have another go later on," he said. Others claim to have been pushed into signing contracts for "like it or lump it" amounts; and widows have not received funeral costs.

For Vicki Lester, the Government's promise to pay all her medical expenses came to naught. Ms Lester - who has had nine reconstructive and plastic surgery operations and recently self-funded a trip to Sydney to be operated on by a surgeon of her choice - had her expenses claim rejected. In June, acting premier Anna Bligh wrote to say it was because she rejected a government-selected Brisbane surgeon.

Burnett MP Rob Messenger, who exposed Dr Patel's wrongdoings, said lawyers had in some cases received more money than patients. He said a "high level" of frustration had been expressed to him by a number of victims. Mr Messenger said Estimates Committee figures released had found the average payout of the first 69 settlements was $21,500 - $1.4 million went to patients and $900,000 to lawyers.

Attorney-General Kerry Shine's spokesman said yesterday that 154 of the 379 claims had been resolved, but the details of payments would only be released at the end of the mediation process. The spokesman also said medical specialists involved with assessing patients had been selected by legal representatives for the patients from a panel of specialists submitted by the state. Howwever, he would not comment on specific patients.

Bundaberg Victims Patient Support Group chairman Ian Fleming said that if the mediation process were not improved, it should be shut down. "They have no intention of honouring promises to adequately compensate," he said.


No stopping black crime

The rate of Aboriginal imprisonment has increased by almost 55 per cent since 1991 despite more than $400 million spent on programs to cut the rate after the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. Two reports to be published today say the $400 million in Federal money and a host of state and territory reforms to reduce Aboriginal contact with the justice system have failed to cut imprisonment rates - and there are no signs of improvement.

The reports, by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, say the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal rates of imprisonment continues to grow and is now far greater than the gap between blacks and whites in the United States.

According to one of the reports, Indigenous Over-representation in Prison, the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment has risen 23 per cent in the past six years, despite the huge injection of funds after the publication of the royal commission report in 1991. The director of the bureau, Don Weatherburn, said that while the data gathered for the reports varied, depending on whether it had been adjusted for age or other factors, it was clear the problem was worse than ever - and far worse than in the US.

At the end of 2004 the black male imprisonment rate in the US was 6.95 times the white male imprisonment rate while "the crude [non-age adjusted] imprisonment rate for indigenous Australians is more than 16 times higher than the corresponding imprisonment rate for non-indigenous Australians", the report says.

The royal commission found that the high number of Aboriginal deaths in custody was largely explained by Aboriginal overrepresentation in prison. That finding prompted federal governments to spend $400 million on programs to keep Aborigines out of jail by reducing their economic and social disadvantage and reducing discrimination against them in the justice system. The bureau found this money, along with state legislation to decriminalise public drunkenness, provide alternative punishments and make prison a last resort, had "not met with much success". The bureau found "no evidence of bias on the part of sentencing courts" when dealing with Aborigines.

The reason Aborigines were 2« times more likely than non-Aborigines to be jailed when facing a court was that they had longer criminal records, were convicted of more serious violent offences, committed more multiple offences, often breached previous court orders and were much more likely to have reoffended after being given an alternative to full-time imprisonment such as a suspended sentence.

The reports identified drug and alcohol abuse as the best predictors of Aboriginal imprisonment and said the quickest way to reduce the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment was to cut access to drugs and alcohol. Dr Weatherburn said almost a fifth of the $400 million had gone into treating drug and alcohol programs, but society's "reluctance to tackle the supply side of the equation has seriously constrained out [the] capacity to reduce alcohol-related crime . it makes no sense to preach restraint while increasing availability". He urged a host of measures to cut access to alcohol and drugs by helping Aboriginal people enforce controls that they wanted. "Where the Aboriginal community agrees to restrict supply, it's critical that police enforce that."


Vast expense and waste of resources to dispose of a harmless gas

The same gas we all breathe out! -- and that all plants need

Advocates of the clean coal technology that is being trialled in Queensland say it could be approved for use within five years, but it might be another five years before the system is commercially available. Two members of the Queensland Government's Clean Coal Technology Taskforce - Ian Rose and Paul Greenfield - say the cost of producing power using clean coal technology is currently up to 50 per cent higher than that of using conventional coal-fired power stations. But they also say that as conventional power gets more expensive over the next decade, power produced by clean coal technology will become more economically viable.

Queensland's clean coal technology is being developed in three parts in central Queensland, the first being a gasification plant at Stanwell near Rockhampton, which will strip up to 80 per cent of the CO2 produced in current coal-production methods from the gas used to fire a power station. The second part involves transporting the expunged CO2 in a pipe to the northern Denison Trough near Emerald, and the third involves burying it in an old natural gas field.

Dr Rose, a power generation engineer, said that all three elements of the clean coal project were already in use in various projects around the world, but this was the first time they had all been put together. "There's very good prospects of this all coming together, but it will take some time," he said. Professor Greenfield, senior deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Queensland, said the cost of producing power using clean coal technology was 30-50 per cent higher than conventional methods. "There is no way it could be introduced in a competitive electricity market of the sort we have now, but the price signals will provide an incentive to move in this direction," he said.

The project is being co-ordinated through Stanwell, a power generator fully owned by the Queensland Government, although personnel from Shell are also working on the project. The research backing for the project is coming from the Centre for Low Emission Technology in Brisbane, headed by Kelly Thambimuthu, who was recruited from Canada especially for the project. Dr Thambimuthu is also on the advisory board for the US FutureGen project, which is designed to be the world's first zero-emission coal-fired power station.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Big event next Tuesday

It is the Congressional mid-term elections in the USA but there is in Australia on the same day what most Australians regard as a far more important event: The Melbourne cup -- Australia's premier horse racing event. And the event is almost as famous for the fashions as the horses -- and the hats the Melbourne ladies wear are legendary. The pictures below give you an idea of the sort of hats you can expect. The report below marks the opening of the Melbourne racing carnival.

The biggest crowd in Flemington history cheered Efficient to victory in yesterday's Victoria Derby, before all attention turned to the Melbourne Cup. Flemington was bursting at the seams as 129,089 people jammed through the gates for the first day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. The attendance eclipsed Flemington's previous record crowd -- 122,736, when Makybe Diva won her first Melbourne Cup in 2003. And it was almost 14,000 more than last year's Derby Day record, cementing the event as Australia's premier day at the gallops.

Transport problems and an ugly brawl soured the end of the day. As punters trudged off into the night, focus shifted to Tuesday's Cup. Yesterday's Derby winner, Efficient, will challenge in the race that stops the nation -- millionaire businessman owner Lloyd Williams paid $132,000 for automatic entry. Melbourne bookmaker Michael Eskander posted Efficient at $7 for the Cup after the emphatic victory -- on the third line of betting behind Tawqeet and Yeats. Williams hopes Efficient will become the first horse since 1941 to take the Derby-Cup double. "It would be nice to be part of history," Williams said. "Such opportunities don't come along often -- maybe once in a lifetime -- so you must take them." ....

But before the serious business of Tuesday's racing, Flemington yesterday erupted in glitz and glamour. Early grey skies cleared for the track to shine in afternoon sun. The sheer size of the crowd created log jams in which punters moved from one place to another. But VRC spokesman Terry Clifton said the weather aided the crowd's temperament. In one wild brawl, a man had part of his ear lobe bitten off, but police said the crowd was well behaved, except for several arrests for drunkenness.


An interesting test for Victoria's HREOC

I'm betting that the Mufti will be allowed the defence of free speech -- a defence they did not allow when they prosecuted two Christian critics of Islam. In my view both the Christians AND the Mufti were entitled to say what they did without legal penalty. The HREOC might however weasel out of this one by claiming no jurisdiction (The Sheik lives in another State -- NSW)

A Melbourne grandmother has accused Muslim cleric Sheik Taj el-Din el-Hilaly of inciting racial hatred and of sexual discrimination. Elaine Davidson made her complaint against the "divisive" mufti to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission this week. Mrs Davidson said she was deeply offended by el-Hilaly's reported comments in a service last month that claimed immodestly dressed women invited rape and were like "uncovered meat". "I'm a white, Western woman of high morals and I was offended," she said, adding that she wants a personal apology and may take civil action against the mufti. "I'm not doing this to be vindictive or anything else. As a woman I'm just sick of this man mouthing off. "He's making sweeping generalisations. Anyone who's not a Muslim woman or of his ethnic origin is being hurled into this melting pot of meat thrown to the cats."

Mrs Davidson, 52, a recreational health lecturer from Melbourne's outer east who specialises in sexual health issues, said she had complained verbally to the commission. She would reinforce it with a letter this week. "I am incensed, disgusted, offended and I feel internally brutally bashed by him," she said. "He has incited racial, religious and sexual hatred. "It's a human rights issue. I need to be protected as an Australian woman."

The mufti's Sydney friend, Keysar Trad, said the cleric "did not address the comments to her (Mrs Davidson), did not make them about her".


More child welfare failures in Queensland -- though not as bad as the scandalous British system

Your government will protect you -- NOT. For just one current example of the British child welfare system at work see here

Department of Child Safety officers say children under the State Government's care are dying because the agency is in crisis. A confidential staff survey, obtained by the State Opposition under Freedom of Information, revealed serious problems in the embattled department, including an exodus of experienced officers and lack of funding. The annual report of the independent child-death case review committee, tabled in Parliament on Thursday, said 51 children known to the department died last year. It found Queensland children with links to the child protection system were nine times more likely to die from fatal assaults and five times more likely to commit suicide than other children.

Department staff backed up those findings in the Reflecting Our Realities survey. One respondent said records were changed by senior staff to "suit the climate of the times" and often went against case-worker recommendations. Another accused the department of not supporting its officers. "The department needs to acknowledge the mass exit of valuable staff which has led to inconsistent (child) contact, enormous funding blowouts, enormous backlogs of initial assessments and a continuation of the unacceptable - child deaths," the officer said. One case worker said it took nine months to get a response from bosses on funding, by which time the department had lost nine further staff. "Often staff have too many cases and this in turn compromises standards of care." Team leaders were accused of being "too stressed" while questionable decisions were often made because of inexperience. "Of six key officers, only one has more than one year's experience and four have less than six months."

Child Safety Minister Desley Boyle said the department budget had more than doubled to more than $500 million and staff had increased 75 per cent to 2170 with more recruitment to follow. "Are we there yet? No. There's still more to do. I thank all staff for their efforts and assure them improvements will continue," she said yesterday.

But Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney said the problems in Child Safety could not continue. "Supposedly, child safety was once one of Peter Beattie's most important priorities - that is obviously not the case now," Mr Seeney said. "The Labor Government has been failing on this front for too long now. It's time the Government got serious about protecting children and stopped treating everything as if it were a public relations exercise."


Queensland public hospital radiology meltdown

And without radiography and other scans, diagnosis of many serious conditions grinds to a halt

Radiation workers will consider mass resignations from Queensland hospitals at a crisis summit today. Queensland Health staff say their own research exposes an X-ray and cancer treatment crisis in the state's major hospitals. The workers say state-run hospitals are plagued by drastic staff shortages, millions of dollars of equipment sitting idle, extensive waiting lists and the forced closure of essential services. The summit will be told breast-screening services are close to collapse and cancer patients are still waiting up to nine weeks longer than the maximum standard for life-saving radiation treatment.

More than 100 radiographers, radiation therapists, sonographers and nuclear medicine technologists will attend the emergency meeting in Brisbane, where the research will be released. "The actual frontline workforce - the people who help diagnose and treat the patients - will tell it all. This has never happened before," a spokesman for the Medical Radiation Professionals Group said yesterday. "The outcome of the summit could very well result in the start of resignations across the Queensland Health medical radiation disciplines. "In some hospitals a handful of resignations would effectively shut down most medical imaging services."

The group, which represents 800 staff, claims Queensland Health has lost more than a third of its sonography workforce, affecting 90,000 ultrasound patients a year, including pregnant women. It says major hospitals will be forced to make severe cutbacks to CT, MRI and angiography services because of an average 30 per cent staff shortage. At some hospitals, staff numbers were down by more than 50 per cent, the group says.

The summit will consider a vote of no confidence in Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson. "The minister will need to take the crisis seriously or he may be left with a skeleton workforce next year - not that he is far from that now," the spokesman said. "Without medical radiation professionals there is no diagnosis or treatment for most patient conditions." Sonographer Craig Collins said about 80 per cent of all patients who walked through the front door of Queensland hospitals needed medical imaging. "If they go undiagnosed they'll never make it to a waiting list," Mr Collins said.

Mr Robertson is overseas with a group of senior doctors looking at children's hospitals and talking to recruitment agencies. A spokesman for the minister said he had recently met the radiation group


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Multiculturalism 'a dirty word'

The Howard Government is looking to scrap the word "multiculturalism" as part of a major revamp of ethnic policy. In a move seen as a shift in emphasis away from fostering diversity and towards increasing integration and responsibility among migrants, the Government is canvassing alternative words to describe how ethnic communities harmoniously integrate into Australian society. The de facto minister for multiculturalism, parliamentary secretary Andrew Robb, yesterday confirmed to The Weekend Australian that he had told a meeting of the government-appointed Council of Multicultural Australia that he wanted to scrap the word from a redrafted multiculturalism policy. The committee members did not have their membership renewed when their terms expired at the end of June.

Mr Robb said he had not decided yet whether the CMA would be reconvened. "I'm keen to see a body but what its composition is and what its role is (are yet to be determined), I've got all the Muslim issues as well so I just haven't finalised it yet," he said. Mr Robb, parliamentary secretary for Multicultural Affairs, said a discussion was held at the meeting about the term "and the fact that it means all things to all men and all women and that there are a lot of other ways that what is being mentioned can clearly be expressed".

"I expressed my frustration that the term is not often helpful because different people listen to it and give different meanings to it and a lot of the others expressed similar frustrations," Mr Robb said. The current policy expires at the end of this year and is now being reviewed by policy-makers. The new approach comes less than 12 months before the next election and follows the Cronulla riots and the comments of Australian mufti Taj Din al-Hilaly that women who did not wear veils provoked men to rape them.

Versions of the policy have received bipartisan support since the Office of Multicultural Affairs was established in 1987. Former members of the CMA yesterday told The Weekend Australian they were concerned about Mr Robb's plans. Former CMA member Yasser Soliman, a Victorian multiculturalism commissioner, said he had raised his concerns about the lack of consultation and doubts about the future of the council. Mr Soliman said he had attended with Mr Robb the discussion about alternatives to the term "multiculturalism". "Our understanding was there was a lot of effort to find an alternative name to the multiculturalism policy because it carried negative connotations," he said. "I suggested 'multiculturalism II' because it implies that it was evolving." Another suggestion was the "integration policy".

Fellow former CMA member Tom Stannage said he was concerned about the new policy. "Clearly Andrew Robb and the cabinet are doing a whole lot of reshaping and developing a whole new vocabulary and so forth," Professor Stannage said. CMA members at the dinner had challenged Mr Robb to use the word multiculturalism more frequently because it was government policy, Professor Stannage said. "I've followed some of Mr Robb's public pronouncements - I'm worried about them but I can't do much about them," Professor Stannage said. "I expect references to unity and diversity will be lost from the new policy because of the diversity thing going out."


Politicized lawyers

Bored with traditional legal ethics, modern advocates are driven by moral vanity to grandstand on issues in a way that serves no one but themselves, argues Attorney-General Philip Ruddock

A corporate lawyer joked that on the rare occasions he visited a court, he felt like a lapsed Catholic going to church. Like lapsed Catholics, corporate lawyers receive less exposure to stern admonitions to observe the rules of the order. But traditional legal ethics remain relevant. I use the word traditional because the concept of ethical legal practice has become infected with a new and unappealing interpretation.

The traditional view revolves around practitioners' responsibilities: to the law, the court or tribunal, fellow practitioners and the client. Atticus Finch, from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, exemplified these ideals, defending an unpopular client against accusations of a heinous crime. Finch was fighting not to overturn the law but to uphold it.

The new view sees representation of the client as an insufficiently grand role. It holds the lawyer responsible for effecting broader social and political change. Labor's shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon, recently said: "The whole business of law is actually not based around service to a client." Contrast this with Geoffrey Robertson: "There can be no greater honour than representing a man in his personal affairs." Similarly, it is an honour to represent Australia's great companies, which provide jobs for thousands of Australians.

Once legal practice becomes "not actually based around service to a client", the lawyer is tainted with the moral status of the client's cause. Service to that cause, no longer a professional responsibility, is therefore a choice. Those who represent corporations it is fashionable to condemn at dinner parties have heard the cry, "How can you work for them?" Roxon joined this chorus on "lawyers behaving badly", citing "those denying Freedom of Information requests or the lawyers who thought up the crazy Pacific solution". This impugns lawyers' ethics based on the commentator's approval of the client's cause. It perverts the tradition embodied by Finch.

The lawyer's duty is not to judge but to represent the client. It is interesting that Labor's approach does not extend this philosophy to criminal law, condemning legal representatives of terrorists and murderers as "lawyers behaving badly".

An increasing shade of moral vanity also colours pro bono work, one of the profession's noblest traditions. For instance, some lawyers deem it appropriate to run hopeless proceedings in a bid to undermine laws with which they personally disagree. This wastes court resources and falsely raises client expectations. There is no shortage of genuine cases: a disadvantaged citizen victimised by a loan shark; a pensioner seeking a will. Yet these cases do not carry the same moral cachet. Borrowing from US writer P.J. O'Rourke, "Everybody wants to save the world; nobody wants to help mum do the dishes."

This is not to say lawyers should not take an interest in social policy. But contributing to the political conversation that shapes our laws is the right, and indeed the responsibility, of every citizen. Such contributions are made not in a professional but in a personal capacity. Professional bodies have helped blur this distinction. Of 28 media releases issued by the Law Council of Australia this year, 24 entered the political fray. Eight were devoted to David Hicks. Not one was related to the push to create a national legal profession. For the nation's peak professional body to have so little to say about the profession and so much to say about fashionable issues is surprising.

Lawyers should debate these issues. But they are issues of personal political conviction, not professional solidarity. In seeking a "lawyers' position", the Law Council risks the professional equivalent of imperial overreach. Some lawyers assume they are gifted with unique insights into the appropriate moral content of the law. Consider this address by Julian Burnside: "Plainly, the Government understood (border protection) would be electorally popular among the large number of Australians who had responded positively to far-Right racist political programs. The struggle for justice fell on to the shoulders of a few lawyers."

The claim that a legal elite must lead a bewildered populace out of error strikes me as patronising. Disdain for those outside the legal priesthood does little to raise the profession in the eyes of a nation disposed towards robust egalitarianism. Practitioners who serve clients, not causes, have many opportunities to demonstrate traditional legal ethics. A powerful way is for in-house lawyers to assist employers to be good corporate citizens.

Corporate lawyers may not attract the same approbation as human rights lawyers in Geneva. But without them the wheels of commerce would grind to a halt. If facilitating business sounds less grand than acting as the moral conscience of the nation, corporate lawyers should not feel slighted. We are all members of a privileged profession, and with that privilege come responsibilities. One responsibility is to adhere to traditional legal ethics. Another is to maintain a decent humility about our role. As lawyers, we are not masters but servants of the law.


Playing politics with the weather: Radical prescriptions will cause, not avert, disaster

An editorial from "The Australian":

It's easy being green, at least for politicians who would rather play politics than balance community fear that the present drought is the shape of climate change to come against the need to keep the export economy, and everybody's electric powered appliances, ticking over. This week, the Government was caught flat-footed by the media response to Nicholas Stern's report on climate change. Despite counselling caution in the way we consider the nature and effects of climate change, the Prime Minister did what he always does when he finds himself flat-footed: he spent money, this time on new alternative energy programs. Labor leader Kim Beazley, seeing a chance to make the issue his own went further, hammering Mr Howard for not signing the Kyoto Protocol and promising to focus research on alternative energy so that Australia could cut its greenhouse emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

Mr Beazley's position appears politically astute. By making the Prime Minister look like he has been asleep on the climate change watch, the Labor leader appeals to journalists, and every other self-appointed opinion-maker, who believes Australian coalminers are climate-change public enemy number one, with number two being everybody who drives a 4WD or owns an airconditioner. And he has delivered the Labor Left the sort of symbolic issue it loves to campaign on, because it asserts their moral superiority over people who it believes are obsessed with economics.

Or at least some of the Labor Left, because the faction does not sing one song on how to balance the environment and economics. While environment spokesman Anthony Albanese praises alternative energy and preaches the evils of nuclear power as a replacement for coal, other Labor voices quietly chorus other ideas. The mining unions are keen on coal and some of them see nuclear energy as a way of providing clean power that generates jobs for Australians, and more members for them. And while the Labor line is now set for the next election, it is a fair bet that MPs and candidates looking for ways to win back the electorates lost to Mr Howard's mantra of economic growth will wonder whether the Opposition Leader is on the right track.

And they may wonder whether the Mr Howard has already lured Mr Beazley into a trap that will not be sprung until the next election. There is also no doubting the Prime Minister looked like he was making policy on the run this week. But there is no doubting that the distinction between the two men is now clear. On the one hand, Mr Howard is making not entirely convincing claims that the Government takes global warming seriously and is investing in technology to make coal cleaner and reduce Australia's output of greenhouse gas. But he is not walking away from the importance of energy - especially coal - exports to economic growth. And it would be hard to find a middle-income Australian couple with kids who does not know that their tax cuts and family payments depend to a great extent on the government revenue generated by the minerals boom.

There is no doubting that the world is warming. The question is how to address the issue. Mr Howard is keeping with the oft-misrepresented spirit of the Stern report, which does not call for radical solutions such as an immediate (and impossible) switch to solar energy but rather market-based solutions and the development of clean technologies such as the geosequestration of waste gasses from coal-fired power plants. Here Australia already has a leg up, with $500 million earmarked for the development of low-emissions technology. The signing of the Kyoto Protocol would do nothing to help the global environment while doing great harm to the Australian economy.

Although this newspaper remains healthily sceptical about the possible causes of and solutions to global warming, the Stern report landed at a time when concerns with global warming are very much on the community agenda, thanks to such events as Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. But while Mr Gore's film was alarmist and, critics say, based on dubious science, the Stern review is a good deal more sober. Yet much of the coverage of Sir Nicholas's work has come from the Chicken Little school of journalism, fundamentally twisting the report to support the arguments of hairshirt environmentalists who see middle-class Australian voters as lazy, greedy sheep whose addiction to consumer appliances and automobiles is killing the planet. Any carbon-trading regime or price-signalling mechanism Australia does eventually sign on to will have to be designed in such a way that we are not disproportionately punished for our vast stores of coal or the extra carbon-consuming distances it takes our products to reach export markets around the world.

It is easy to indulge in juvenile jeremiads about the need to do away with killer coal as a power source, as long as you ignore two simple facts. Without coal exports Australia goes broke. And without greenhouse gas emitting coal fired power stations, now and for the foreseeable future, we would enjoy a clean green lifestyle, with all the mod cons of the middle ages. It is doubtful that the Prime Minister's greenhouse initiatives will be enough to assuage his opponents who will be well pleased with Mr Beazley's position.

But the risk for Labor is that appealing to the bishops and broadcasters, the academics and activists who denounce Australians for emitting greenhouse gases Mr Beazley may frighten ordinary Australians into worrying what their children will do for a living if our energy exporting economy is cut back. The Labor leader may be right. Perhaps the picture that will win the next election is a power station belching greenhouse gases. But if he is wrong an entirely different image will define the election, one we saw in the 2004 campaign when Tasmanian timber workers cheered Mr Howard for promising to protect them from then Labor leader Mark Latham's sell-out to the Greens on another environmental issue.

Australian nuclear power coming

A public debate on nuclear energy will follow the publication of a taskforce report on the viability of the industry, Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane has said. Prime Minister John Howard's hand-picked nuclear energy taskforce will find that a nuclear industry could be commercially viable within 15 years, giving the green light to the Prime Minister to radically shake up Australia's energy market. Former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski's review will also find the cost of nuclear power should come down dramatically as more global powers invest in the technology and the cost of fossil fuels go up.

Last night, Mr Macfarlane said a 15-year timeframe was "very realistic", offering an optimistic assessment from the Howard Government on the way forward for nuclear power. Mr Macfarlane also said a high-level report, to be released next week by the International Energy Agency, will give added weight to those backing nuclear power. Today, Mr Macfarlane has said a full public debate will follow the release of the report, expected in the next fortnight. "What we are seeing in the community is a willingness now to consider nuclear energy," Mr Macfarlane has said. "We are seeing reports like the Switkowski report which will indicate that nuclear energy will be competitive with low emission coal within 15 years. "We want to see debate that is based in understanding and knowledge not a debate based on scare tactics," he has said. He has said a nuclear power option will not be pursued in the face of widespread public opposition.

The release of Dr Switkowski's draft in two weeks will bolster Mr Howard's push to make nuclear power a central element of his election campaign. The Government this week sharpened its policy differences with Labor on energy following the release in London on Tuesday of a report by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern calling for more urgent co-ordinated action to tackle climate change. The Opposition wants to ratify the existing Kyoto agreement, sign up to a global emissions trading system and give a stronger focus on renewable energy.

The Europe-based IEA, in its world energy outlook, will urge governments to speed up construction of new nuclear power plants, as part of the response to the climate change issue. "No doubt it will give impetus (to the nuclear debate)," Mr Macfarlane said.

Mr Howard yesterday ruled out any approach to fighting climate change that strips Australia of its competitive advantage as a heavy user of carbon-based fossil fuels with rich deposits of coal and gas. But nuclear power may be a partial solution, with the Switkowski review expected to find that the relative cost of nuclear power will come down amid a renewed focus worldwide on the technology driven by soaring energy needs and the fight against atmospheric pollution caused by fossil fuels. While it will find nuclear power is not competitive on a cost basis with coal-based power generation today, it anticipates the costs of using carbon fuels will rise over the next decade as some sort of carbon price signal is implemented to slow global warming. It will say the Government could make a decision to move ahead with nuclear power now, even given the cost differentials, and "by the time the first reactor was (reliably) delivering electricity the cost differential would have almost disappeared", according to a source.

Earlier this week, Mr Howard gave a strong signal he expected nuclear to play a role in Australia's energy future, when nuclear power on the one hand became competitive with clean coal on the other. "The point at which those two cross each other is, at this stage, impossible to precisely determine," he said. "When we have Ziggy Switkowski's report, we may have a better idea of where the two relate to each other." The report is expected to give hope to nuclear proponents, who are already taking steps to bridge the skills gap Australia has in key nuclear fields with new university courses.

Mr Howard yesterday vowed to do all he could to fight climate change, short of anything that cost Australia its comparative economic advantages. "In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions you have to adjust the use of all of those things where we have a comparative advantage, that is fossil fuels, because they're the basis of a lot of our wealth," he said. "We've got to be very careful that the adjustment process doesn't unfairly disadvantage Australia. The cost to this country of losing our comparative advantage in things like gas and coal would be enormous, it would be jobs and investment lost."

Opposition resources spokesman Martin Ferguson said "nuclear power is an important part of the energy security and climate change debate for Europe, Asia and North America". "That is why Australia's uranium is now so sought after ... Australia is energy rich. We are the envy of the world," he said. "The only energy security issue Australia has is in transport fuels and that's why this Government has got to get serious about converting our vast reserves of gas and coal into clean diesel."


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Government destroys jobs -- They're good at that

I have already posted about this myself on several blogs -- e.g. here

Ashley and Nicola Bywater say they have never claimed a cent from the Australian taxpayer and their two businesses employ seven workers. But the English immigrants could soon be on a plane back to Britain and their staff thrown out of work because of an immigration dispute. The immigration department has ruled that the couple's teashop and grocery store in Wynnum on Brisbane's bayside are not generating enough turnover for the couple to become permanent residents. Yesterday the couple put up For Sale signs and warned staff they may soon lose their jobs.

Customers said they were outraged the hard-working couple may have to quit Queensland while Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali - who claimed that western women were to blame for rapes - is welcome to stay in Australia. "We'd be devastated if we had to go back to England - we've poured everything we have into our business," said Mr Bywater, 42. "We've never claimed a cent from the Government and we've paid all our taxes. We just want to stay here and build our lives in Wynnum."

The couple's Pommes Teashop imports traditional English snacks and foodstuffs to satisfy the cravings of ex-patriate Brits on the bayside. The teashop has been featured on Queensland TV shows and the BBC and recently opened a nearby store to cope with the growing demand from English and Australian customers. John Wearne, 60, is a teashop regular. "It's nice place with a relaxing atmosphere," he said. "Ashley and Nicola have had the guts to build it up from nothing and they deserve to keep going." The annual combined turnover of the two businesses must be at least $200,000 for the couple to be awarded permanent resident status. After GST is deducted, their turnover is $189,000.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs said: "We are happy to have further discussions with these people but will not be canvassing their options through the media.


Habitual pedophile: Some sense at long last

A pedophile will remain in jail past the expiry of his nine-year jail sentence after a successful application to keep him behind bars. Keith Albert Beattie, 64, was due to be released from jail soon but will now remain in custody. He was sentenced in November 1997 to nine years' jail after pleading guilty to maintaining an unlawful relationship of a sexual nature with a child under 16 years.

After hearing evidence in an application by then attorney-general Linda Lavarch, under the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003, Justice John Helman found Beattie was an unacceptable risk and should be subject to a continuing detention order. In a written judgment, which became available yesterday, Justice Helman said there was no doubt in his view that despite Beattie's age he would be a serious danger to the community if released. "Any expression of remorse or willingness to try to overcome his impulses must, in the light of his history, be treated with great scepticism," he said.

Justice Helman said Beattie had refused to participate in the high intensity sexual offending program but had he done so there would have been some confidence in releasing him under a supervision order. Justice Helman said Beattie's offending had been persistent since he first came before the courts on traffic and dishonesty charges in the 1960s and '70s. However, since the late-1970s Beattie had regularly faced child-sex charges.

Justice Helman said Beattie had first been before the courts on sexual offences in September 1978 when he faced charges for assaulting males and assault with intent to commit buggery. The two boys involved were aged five. He absconded on those charges and was not dealt with until he was jailed for 18 months in 1994, when he faced the Lismore District Court.

Justice Helman said that in Brisbane, in 1984, Beattie had been placed on two years' probation after being convicted of gross indecency with a boy and was later jailed for a month in Victoria on an assault charge. Beattie was jailed for two years and four months in the Brisbane District Court in June 1989 after pleading guilty to indecent dealing and carnal knowledge against the order of nature involving two boys. In Brisbane in July 1997 Beattie pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent dealing with a child and was jailed for 18 months. It was while serving those sentences Beattie was jailed for nine years on his current sentence.


Aboriginal reservations unfixable

The three-year trial of a new kind of service delivery at a remote Northern Territory indigenous community has been described as "buggered up" and "off the rails". An independent report into the trial at Wadeye, southwest of Darwin, found that the agreement governing service delivery was not working.

Confusion about its goals and priorities, the absence of flexible funding arrangements, ad hoc applications for money, an increased burden on the local council, "departmentalism" and a lack of communication had sealed its fate, the report found. Its author, Bill Gray, a former Commonwealth electoral commissioner, said young people - held responsible for much of the rioting that beset the town earlier this year - had fallen between the cracks and needed urgent attention.

Following a decision by the Council of Australian Governments, the 2500-strong community of Wadeye was chosen in 2002 as one of the trial sites for a new kind of service delivery to Aborigines involving all three tiers of government. A shared responsibility agreement to manage the trial was implemented in March 2003, with the involvement of the local council, the NT Government and the Commonwealth.

But a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra yesterday descended into a slanging match between the Federal Opposition and the public servants responsible for administering the trial, from the Department of Family and Community Services. Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Senator Chris Evans said the trial had gone "off the rails". "This report says you've buggered it up," he said.

But department secretary Jeff Harmer insisted it was a joint trial, and all governments should shoulder responsibility, but he admitted the Commonwealth could have done better. "I don't believe that the Department of Family and Community Services did a fantastic job," Dr Harmer said.


How about improving the service instead?

Security guards are being deployed at Centrelink offices to stop violence against staff. Almost 30 offices around the country have resorted to using security guards to protect staff from daily verbal and physical abuse.

Figures tabled in Federal Parliament show 758 staff have been assaulted by welfare recipients over the past two years. There has been more than 13,300 cases of verbal abuse over the same period and police were called to Centrelink premises 875 times last year. Human Services Minister Joe Hockey said Centrelink had well-established policies and procedures for dealing with the abuse.

Opposition public accountability spokesman Kelvin Thomson said the use of security guards was a sign of failure. Mr Thomson said addressing the lengthy queues would help reduce the level of violence at Centrelink offices.

Welfare groups have warned the level of violence against Centrelink officers would increase if they were given the power to enter and search premises to investigate fraud.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Tough jobs policy from a Leftist

Young people who drop out of school and stay at home "twiddling their thumbs on PlayStation or Xbox" would be kicked off the dole after six months if they did not return to study or training under a reform plan from Labor backbencher Craig Emerson. The radical policy to be released today aims to prevent the formation of a permanent underclass in Australia that cannot find a job even in a boom. Dr Emerson, who last month called for school to be compulsory until Year 12, will use new research to identify the problem group in the community at risk of becoming unemployable.

More than half those of working age who failed to finish Year 10 are out of work - despite the economy achieving a generation-low unemployment rate of 4.8 per cent - according to official data commissioned by Dr Emerson. "This is not about punishment, it's about getting young people the education and skills needed for them to have a prosperous future," Dr Emerson said. "This is a learn-or-earn program where there is no third option of sitting around doing nothing."

His paper will be presented to the economic and social outlook conference in Melbourne this morning. Co-hosted by The Melbourne Institute and The Australian, the Making the Boom Pay conference will run for two days, with tonight's keynote dinner address being delivered by Treasury Secretary Ken Henry. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley will outline more of Labor's reform agenda in tomorrow's main luncheon address.

The Emerson plan is likely to upset many of his own Labor colleagues because it echoes the Fightback proposal of former Liberal leader John Hewson to remove the dole for all recipients after nine months. Labor's workforce participation spokeswoman Penny Wong said she supported the central idea behind "learning or earning", but would not go as far as Dr Emerson. "People should work if they can, and young people should be either learning or earning. Labor does not support time-limited social security," Senator Wong said.

Dr Emerson argues that if a variety of schools were funded - including "second chance" schools that help students not academically inclined - there would be "no excuse and no justification for leaving school early to sit at home on the dole". "Australia cannot afford to have up to 54,000 long-term unemployed young people neither working nor studying to improve their skills," he will say today.

Dr Emerson says that, in addition to working, studying or training, long-term unemployed young people should be given the option of doing military or community service. "As an alternative to military service, a peace corp could be established to help build community infrastructure in our Pacific island neighbouring countries. "When the range of alternatives that I am advocating is put in place, the dole should not be available to unemployed young people beyond six months. They would receive income support payments for studying or training, but not for sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs on PlayStation or Xbox."

Australian Council of Social Service director Andrew Johnson attacked Dr Emerson's idea, saying such plans had failed in the US. "Time-limited payments are both unfair and ineffective in helping disadvantaged people get into education or work. In the US, one of the few nations who cut off all payments after a time period, child poverty rates are high and levels of youth employment participation are lower than here in Australia," Mr Johnson said.

Dr Emerson says his research, which relies on unpublished figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, rebuts John Howard's claim that leaving school early is the best option for students not academically inclined. The ABS figures show that of those who finished Year 10, more than one-third are unemployed. More than 60 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds who left school before finishing Year 10 are not employed. In the mining boom states of Western Australia and Queensland only about half of boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are finishing high school, while three-quarters of boys from more privileged backgrounds are doing so. In the Northern Territory, 13 per cent of boys and 18 per cent of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are finishing high school.


Amazing: Nowhere to have a baby

Government health services in the State of Victoria on display

This month, Clare Hooton will give birth to her fourth child -- but she has no idea where it will be born. Nearby Alexandra Hospital was named one of the state's three best rural hospitals at the Victorian Public Healthcare Awards last month. Twelve days earlier, it closed its doors to birthing mothers, citing a chronic shortage of specialist staff.

At 39 and having suffered one miscarriage, Ms Hooton said the closure had left her feeling frightened and isolated. "When I moved from Melbourne (six years ago), I thought we're relatively close to services, but . . . it's beginning to feel more and more like the Outback," she said.

Fifteen years ago, Alexandra Hospital had five GPs who could deliver babies and three GPs qualified to administer anaesthetics. A month ago it had just one GP available to deliver babies, a gynaecologist who visited once a month, no anaesthetic service and too few midwives to fill a daily roster. The decline has seen births fall to just 10-12 a year. "Between 135 and 150 women have babies in the area each year, so it could be viable if they had the services," Ms Hooton said. She said it was ironic services were cut at the same time families were being encouraged to move to rural Victoria.

Ms Hooton had decided to move in with her parents' in Glen Waverley [Melbourne] and give birth at nearby Monash Medical Centre, but was told it only took risky pregnancies. "My doctor is trying to see if he can work out of Mansfield Hospital," Ms Hooten said.


Surgery waiting list blows out

Government health services in the State of Queensland on display

The number of Queenslanders waiting longer than recommended for urgent surgery has blown out over the past quarter, new figures show.

Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson said today that shortages in medical specialists and growing demand for services were putting pressure on the state's hospitals. Mr Robertson told parliament that while hospitals were treating more of the most urgent cases, the number of patients having long waits for surgery had risen over the quarter. He said 360 category 1 patients and 2942 category 2 patients had long waits - up 1 per cent and 1.5 per cent, respectively, over the quarter.

But the state's public hospitals had set a record for total activity, treating more than 467,000 patients over the past three months. "What this means is that our public hospitals are busier than ever and treating more Queenslanders than ever before," Mr Robertson said. The minister said regional hospitals' performance had improved, with Bundaberg Hospital lifting its elective surgery rate by 53 per cent over the quarter.


O'Shane in more trouble

Note: In Australia, it is customary to refer to someone with even a small amount of black ancestry as an "Aboriginal" -- mainly because of the various special benefits that attracts from governments -- such as appointing people lacking in judicial temperament to the magistracy

The company director strip-searched and jailed for contempt of court by the nation's highest profile Aboriginal magistrate, Pat O'Shane, is seeking damages for wrongful imprisonment. Paul Makucha says while he welcomes Ms O'Shane's referral to the NSW Judicial Commission's conduct division, it had come "too late" and that he had still not received an apology for the incident.

Ms O'Shane, the first Aboriginal barrister in Australia and a former head of the NSW Aboriginal Affairs Department who in 1998 was named one of Australia's 100 National Living Treasures, now risks being removed from office after senior members of the NSW judiciary referred her to the disciplinary tribunal. The state's top judges moved against Ms O'Shane, who was appointed a NSW magistrate in 1986, after she clashed with Mr Makucha in a civil case, jailed him for contempt, heard part of the case in his absence and then ruled for the other side. Mr Makucha, 60, was strip-searched, photographed and imprisoned for a day after being cited for contempt in July 2004. "They stripped me, made me lift my scrotum and bend over so they could examine my rectum and made me stand naked in a designated place," Mr Makucha told The Australian last night. He had been imprisoned from 11am to 4pm and was then given 35 minutes to raise bail of $500 to avoid spending a weekend in jail.

In November last year, the NSW Court of Appeal overturned Ms O'Shane's judgment and found that she had denied Mr Makucha procedural fairness and had made "wholly unreasonable" interpretations of his intentions. The court said Mr Makucha had behaved badly, "but it was hardly contempt in the face of the court". "The magistrate's behaviour ... when the defendant was unrepresented was quite inappropriate," the Court of Appeal judges said. "The exercise by the magistrate of a little tact from the beginning of the defendant's conduct to which she took exception would have gone a long way."

Mr Makucha said the inquiry into Ms O'Shane's conduct was excellent news but it was far too late. He had complained about Ms O'Shane to state Attorney-General Bob Debus in 2004, soon after the incident had taken place. The Judicial Commission includes the head of Ms O'Shane's own court, Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson. An adverse finding would need to be tabled in state parliament and could trigger a vote by both houses - the only constitutional way of removing judicial officers.

However, Mr Henson last night declined to discuss Ms O'Shane's future or to reveal whether he was present at the meeting of the commission that convened the inquiry. The affair is set to become a test case for reforms to disciplinary proceedings involving NSW judges. Ms O'Shane's conduct will be investigated by a three-member panel known as a conduct division that will be made up of serving or retired judges. While most of the commission's proceedings are conducted in secret, the reforms require the conduct division to consider whether it's in the public interest for the matter to be resolved publicly.

Mr Makucha has been a frequent litigant and has clashed with the bench before. In 2003, while representing himself, he was frequently found to have breached the rules of evidence to the extent that magistrate Gail Madgwick threatened to call the sheriffs. He was in court at the time after taking out 10 apprehended violence orders against neighbours at the Toaster apartment building at Circular Quay. Mr Machuka had found a strange car in his parking spot at the building that he thought represented a terrorist threat.

Mr Debus refused to comment on the affair yesterday. This is the latest in a series of incidents involving Ms O'Shane. In October last year, she threw out a case of offensive behaviour against a 27-year-old drunk who told police "youse are f...ed", arguing she was "not sure there is such a thing as a community standard any more". In 2001, Ms O'Shane survived an earlier complaint to the commission for saying some women invented stories against men in rape and domestic violence cases. In 2000, she survived another complaint and later described the commission, headed by NSW Chief Justice Jim Spigelman, as a "kangaroo court".


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Leftist cartoonist Leunig supports the Mufti:


Leftist TV show bites the dust

Prime Minister John Howard says he didn't pressure the ABC to shelve popular comedy show The Glass House. The ABC yesterday axed the weekly panel show hosted by comedian Wil Anderson, which has been accused of anti-government bias.

"I have not axed the program," Mr Howard said on Adelaide radio 5AA today. "If it has been axed, then it has been axed by a decision of the ABC, I haven't asked that it be axed." Mr Howard said he occasionally watched the program, which also features comedians Dave Hughes and Corrine Grant, who is involved in the ACTU's workplace rights campaign. "I don't watch it - occasionally will flick it on but not very often," Mr Howard said. "I do not tell the ABC what programs it should run. I respect the independence of the ABC. "From time to time, if the ABC treats a news item in an unbalanced fashion I will say so, and I will say that in relation to other programs as well."

The ABC gave no explanation for their decision not to continue the satirical program apart from telling the cast and crew yesterday that not all shows could be renewed.

Anderson posted a blog last night promising to "go out with all guns a'blazing". "It's been a really fun five years," he said. Co-compere Hughes said axing the show made little sense. "We have had our best ratings ever," he said.

The show was at the centre of a storm of allegations of anti-Howard Government bias and there has been speculation it is the latest casualty in the "culture wars". It was axed just one day after Liberal NSW senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells said during a grilling of ABC executives that co-host Corrine Grant had been guilty of a serious conflict of interest because she was the public face of the ACTU's workplace relations campaign. And it follows revelations the ABC will pay a new chief censor $280,000 a year to investigate and monitor instances of bias on ABC programs.

The show had been achieving its highest ratings since it first went to air in 2001 - with average audiences of 728,000. The program regularly outrated commercial programs in the same time slot and this year won a peak audience of almost 860,000 viewers. Anderson, Hughes and Grant regularly make jokes about John Howard and US President George W. Bush, provoking critics to accuse them of bias. But during a recent show Anderson responded to criticism by saying if Mark Latham had been in power they would be having a great time.


Australian economist Alan Wood says: Don't heed Stern warning

Australians are in danger in talking up climate change scares that may never come to pass

The Stern review on the economics of climate change is at least as much a political tool as an economic assessment. This is not necessarily a criticism, if you accept its conclusions. These conclusions are alarming and are being used to spread alarm. If you doubt that, then consider this one: "Our actions now and over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes."

Or this: "Using the results from formal economic models, the review estimates that if we don't act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5 per cent of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, these estimates of damage could rise to 20 per cent of GDP."

Its author, Nicholas Stern, would no doubt say his aim is simply to bring home the gravity of the challenge climate change represents. That is a commendable aim if action is as urgent as he believes. His proposal for action is not modest. He wants annual global emissions of greenhouse gases ultimately reduced by more than 80 per cent below present levels. His interim aim is to stabilise greenhouse gas levels at between 450 and 550 parts per million of CO2 equivalent. He says this will require emissions to be at least 25 per cent below present levels by 2050, and perhaps much more. There is a carrot offered, as well as a stick. Act now and the costs could be about 1 per cent of global GDP annually, rather than 5 to 20 per cent. Not surprisingly, the headlines in the British press had a doomsday flavour, as did some here. But should we uncritically accept the findings of the Stern review?

Kim Beazley seems to think so. At a Canberra doorstop yesterday he made this sweeping assertion: "I am absolutely fair dinkum about dealing with the consequences of climate change. When we are elected to office, we will fix this." Well, thank God for that, but how? "How you fix it is you start by ratifying Kyoto."

Oh dear. Kyoto was never going to do anything significant about global warming, has fallen apart as key members can't meet its targets for emission reductions, and its associated carbon-trading scheme has turned into a bad joke. Oh, and it excludes the major emitters of greenhouse gases in the developing world, India and China, who have made it clear the Kyoto framework is totally unacceptable to them.

Beazley has no doubts about the Stern report. "Now, this bloke is a World Bank economist, or that's what he was, a World Bank economist. He knows what he's talking about." Not necessarily. When Stern was chief economist at the World Bank he got into an argument with the formidable former commonwealth statistician, Ian Castles, over the inappropriate use of statistics in the bank's development report (on emissions, as it happens), an argument Castles seems to have won.

However, it is simply not possible to comprehensively analyse a report of more than 600 pages within a 24-hour news cycle. It is sensible to wait and see how the Stern review stands up to critical analysis once economists and others have had time to look at it carefully. There are recommendations that make sense regardless of the credibility or otherwise of its economic modelling. For example, it is obviously sensible to focus on clean-coal technology given, as Stern acknowledges, the world is going to be overwhelmingly dependent on carbon-based energy for a long time yet.

However, it would be surprising if the economic modelling emerges unscathed. Bryce Wilkinson, a former senior official with the New Zealand Treasury and now a private consultant, raised some questions in a preliminary look yesterday. For example, he noted it is not clear who conducted the modelling work or whether enough time has elapsed for it to be subject to independent peer review, and commented "one suspects not: this appears to be a case of declaring an unequivocal finding by press release".

The history of economic modelling exercises of this sort, making long-term forecasts about future economic developments, is not encouraging. The Stern review itself sensibly cautions about the inevitable difficulties of all these models in extrapolating over very long periods of time, and warns against "over-literal" interpretation of the results. This caution, however, will be lost on the reader of its boldly stated headline conclusions.

But there is a more fundamental point. As Stern recognises, and John Howard keeps pointing out, there is no way of finding an acceptable method of dealing with emissions unless everybody is in, and we are a long way from that.

It is interesting that when a suggestion was floated for taxes on motorists and air travel in response to Stern there was an immediate and hostile reaction from two British newspapers as different as London's The Sun and The Daily Telegraph. The Sun huffed that "the Government's plans to hammer motorists and holidaymakers with extra taxes to halt global warming are simply not good enough. Our readers are already among the world's most heavily taxed people." The Telegraph said bluntly that green taxes were not the solution to a better world. British business didn't like it either.

Even with the scary scenarios painted by Stern, convincing electorates the pain is worth the gain won't be easy once the costs become transparent. Let's hope the Stern report proves no more reliable than earlier exercises in forecasting the future of the world.


Vicious Aboriginal magistrate finally to face the music

Her hostility to police evidence is also legendary

Magistrate Pat O'Shane is facing the most serious challenge to her future on the bench after she had a man appearing before her in a civil case locked up in the cells. The NSW Judicial Commission has ruled the complaint is serious enough to take the rare step of referring Ms O'Shane to its conduct division. Only two cases have been referred to the division in the past four years, the last involving the sleeping District Court judge Ian Dodd, who resigned before the hearing. The other involved magistrate Ronald Day, who resigned in 2002 in the middle of the hearing into claims he engaged in conduct designed to influence a criminal case before him.

If substantiated, the next step is for the commission to report to the Attorney-General. Parliament would then decide if Ms O'Shane should be sacked from her $211,720-a-year job. Senior counsel have been briefed by the Crown Solicitor's Office to present the case before the conduct division, made up of three of the state's senior judges. Judicial Commission chief executive officer Ernie Schmatt refused to comment yesterday. He would not confirm whether the hearing would be heard in public.

Ms O'Shane is being investigated for her actions in the case of Paul Makucha, described by the Court of Appeal as "wholly inappropriate". Mr Makucha was sued for not paying surveying fees for work he claimed was defective. During the first hearing Ms O'Shane asked Mr Makucha's lawyer to take him outside court and "have a little chat to him" to which Mr Makucha said: "I'm not a boy."

At the second hearing, Mr Makucha represented himself and sought to have Ms O'Shane removed on the basis she was biased. She said she could not make that decision without a full submission, which Mr Makucha said he had been unable to prepare because he had been waiting three weeks for a transcript of the first hearing.

Ms O'Shane pressed on with the case despite Mr Makucha arguing he was being denied natural justice. The transcript records their heated argument during which Mr Makucha asked the magistrate: "My behaviour being what, what have I done?" Ms O'Shane replied: "So far you haven't done anything, that is the problem." She called the sheriff's officers and had Mr Makucha locked up in the cells at Downing Centre, citing contempt of court, heard the case in his absence, and found against him. A spokesman for Ms O'Shane said yesterday that she had no comment.


Public hospitals frequently evoke anger

Glided over below is the aggressive response evoked from patients and their relatives after they have not been seen to even after many hours of waiting. Only the phrase "and their families" gives the game away

Public hospital staff have been forced to call for help to deal with aggressive and violent patients almost 4500 times in the past year. State Government figures show there were 4427 "Code Black" calls for emergency response teams across the state's public hospitals in 2005-06. This was 201 more than in 2004-05.

Responding to the figures, Health Minister John Hill will launch a public appeal for South Australians to treat doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers with respect. Code Black is a staff call for help when a patient's actions threaten their safety or that of others. A team, including a doctor, nurse and security guard, responds to each call. Mr Hill said the Health Department was setting up a taskforce to study hospital violence and develop strategies to deal with patients whose conditions caused dangerous behaviour. He said the number of Code Blacks represented less than 0.3 per cent of the total patient contacts, and that most inappropriate behaviour was caused by illness and not deliberate aggression towards staff. This included patients affected by drugs or alcohol, older patients with dementia, patients with organic brain syndrome and patients confused or upset after surgery.

While some incidents related to violence, Code Blacks were often called to prevent an incident which could cause injury from occurring or escalating.... Mr Hill said he was determined to make hospitals safe for staff and patients and their families. "Our health professionals are well regarded in the community, but sometimes we forget to say 'thanks' for a job well done," he said. "And when families and friends are anxious about the health of their loved ones, sometimes there are harsh words directed to the well-meaning nurses, doctors or volunteers who are nearby. "I want people to think about their actions towards health workers in our public hospitals, medical clinics and surgeries, and remember to treat them respectfully. "Working in hospitals is a vocation which asks for a very high level of commitment and care. These people are very special and valued." Mr Hill said incidents where a member of the public or a patient was deliberately aggressive to a health worker were uncommon, but acknowledged they happened.

He urged family members "who are aware that their loved ones sometimes react with anxiety or aggression in a hospital setting to let the nurses and doctors know as soon as they arrive at a medical facility or hospital". "If staff are made aware of the potential for sudden changes in a patient's behaviour, they may be better prepared and there may be less potential for injury to the patient, staff or family." The taskforce would include consultation with the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Nursing Federation. It would also look at strategies to address an ageing population and increased incidences of mental illness.

Australian Medical Association state president Dr Chris Cain said doctors and nurses were sometimes confronted with difficult situations and that Code Black was "one way to ensure these problems are dealt with through a system that indicates the nature of the problem and response required". RAH enrolled nurse Tammy Bornhoeft, 29, has been pinched and scratched by patients in her care and said staff in the general medical ward referred to a Code Black response team at least once a week. "I have nearly been punched out and it can feel very threatening," she said. "I deal with many patients with dementia and alcohol withdrawal and they can become aggressive and kick, verbally abuse you . . ."

Australian Nursing Federation state branch secretary Lee Thomas said nurses and doctors needed increased protection "against a range of different behaviours from patients and their families". "Aggressive behaviour is blamed on alcohol, drugs, grief and illness," she said.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

PM defiant over global warming

John Howard has dug in over coal-fired power, nuclear energy and refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol in the face of an international report predicting a catastrophic economic cost of $9 trillion if nothing is done to stop global warming. Labor and conservation groups immediately labelled the Coalition a rogue nation on greenhouse gases for refusing to ratify the Kyoto agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Prime Minister told Parliament yesterday he would not sign an international agreement that did not put the same limits on the fast-growing economies of China and India and that coal would continue to provide most of the world's energy to 2050. "What you really need in this debate is to have a multiplicity of responses," Mr Howard told Parliament. "The only things that will ever replace the current dirty power stations are cleaner uses of fossil fuel, or nuclear power. You will never replace them with solar or wind."

A dire report from Britain has called for urgent international action to cut greenhouse gases or face economic failure worse than the Great Depression. While grim in its outlook if nothing is done, the report is optimistic that a concerted effort to develop clean coal technologies will be able to stabilise world greenhouse gas emissions. Described by British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the "most important" report he has received, the document says the economic impact of global warming must be addressed immediately to avoid catastrophic economic effects. Compiled by former British Treasury head Nicholas Stern, it estimates the cost of not cutting greenhouse emissions by 2050 to range from 5 per cent of world GDP - $455 billion - if action is taken now, up to 20 per cent of world GDP "if a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account". But the Stern report concludes that the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change "can be limited to around 1 per cent of global GDP each year". Australian estimates of such an impact on the energy-based economy are between $15 billion and $66 billion a year, driving down Australian wages by 20 per cent.

Labor Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan said the Stern report said urgent action had to be taken and supported the expansion of the carbon trading system established under the Kyoto protocol. "It says, basically, that the globe and individual nations have a window of opportunity, only of 10 or 15 years, to act," Mr Swan said. ALP environment spokesman Anthony Albanese said Australia must immediately ratify the Kyoto protocol, introduce a national emissions-trading scheme and increase the renewable energy target. "Climate change is the greatest challenge facing not just Australia but the global community, and we have a government that refuses to take action," he said. "The Howard Government is frozen in time while the globe warms around it."

Mr Howard said the "variety of responses" had to include a sensible examination of the nuclear power alternative.


Leftist public broadcasters under scrutiny

Liberal [party] senators have attacked SBS executives, claiming the broadcaster exhibits pro-Arab bias, broadcasts "smut" and "pornography", and fails to clearly identify and label terrorist organisations to its viewers. And SBS is not the only public broadcaster under fire. The ABC, represented by new managing director Mark Scott, also faced hours of interrogation from Liberal senators and Labor's communications spokesman, Stephen Conroy, at a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra yesterday. Subjects in contention ranged from the ABC's controversial new editorial guidelines, which come into effect in March, to allegations of bias in Middle East coverage and labelling of terrorist organisations.

ABC executives confirmed during yesterday's hearings that a new position announced by Mr Scott for policing of editorial impartiality will carry a salary of between $150,000 and $280,000. Mr Scott told senators the ABC board would have a role in the appointment, with deputy chairman John Gallagher on the selection panel. Board participation in editorial appointments was "not atypical." All ABC staff, including high-profile journalists and presenters, will be required to undergo training in the new editorial guidelines. Mr Scott rejected repeated assertions from Senator Conroy that the new guardian of editorial impartiality would act as the "chief censor" of the ABC.

Two Liberal senators, Victoria's Michael Ronaldson and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells from NSW, meanwhile, criticised SBS about its reporting of the recent Lebanon-Israel conflict. Senator Fierravanti-Wells claimed high-profile SBS presenter George Negus expressed "pro-Arab" sentiments. She also alleged that SBS had "sided" with David Hicks, the Australian held at Guantanamo Bay, and exhibited "a rather equivocal view of terrorism". In addition, she said that SBS broadcast "smut and pornography" through foreign movies and through adult animation programs such as Striperella.

SBS managing director Shaun Brown defended the broadcasters' policy of "neutrality" in the identification of terrorist organisations. He also categorically rejected the suggestion that SBS broadcast pornography. Programs such as Striperella, he said, followed "a tradition at SBS to support adult animation".

Senator Ronaldson criticised Mr Scott for failing to bring key ABC executives to Canberra to face questions, and took issue with "subjective" ABC coverage of the recent Lebanon conflict. He became increasingly frustrated with Mr Scott's answers as the estimates hearing unfolded and raised concerns about various correspondents' reporting from the Middle East. "Such a good start and now you are back with the pack, Mr Scott," Senator Ronaldson told him yesterday.

ABC television head Kim Dalton has come out in support of the Media Watch program and its presenter, Monica Attard, rejecting speculation that satire would be blunted by the new editorial policies. Mr Dalton said Media Watch would return next year with a new executive producer and he hoped Attard would remain as presenter. "I think she does a great job and has an extraordinary reputation as one of our leading, award-winning journalists," he said. The job of executive producer has been advertised nationally. Current executive producer Peter McEvoy announced his departure before the unveiling of new editorial policies aimed at removing any bias from ABC programs.

Mr Dalton said he did not want to reflect on how the program could be improved. "I think it's a really important program. I think it serves a really important purpose in our media environment in Australia at the moment. It's clearly a very entertaining and popular program, and it will remain so," he said. Mr Dalton played down suggestions that Media Watch would become a panel-style show, adding that such speculation did not come from within the ABC. The show's essential role would remain that of a watchdog that looked at "the practice of media in an increasingly complex and globalised environment", he said. Endorsing the program's its single-presenter format, he said: "It is a short program, it's 12 or 13 minutes on a Monday night . (Viewers) are looking for something that has pace and edge and I'm not sure you can achieve that through a panel show."


Dumb bureaucrats again

A platypus colony is holding up the construction of the final major link in a dual carriageway between Sydney and Melbourne. Liberal senator Bill Heffernan told a parliamentary committee today he was astounded that senior AusLink executives did not know a platypus colony was stopping construction of the Albury-Wodonga bypass on the NSW-Victoria border. AusLink is the government body charged with overseeing the program of funding to nationally significant roads and railways.

"I'm surprised that you blokes don't know and I have to say that I think it's something you could fix in 10 minutes," Senator Heffernan told the executives. "There's a colony of whatever-they-are that live in the edge of the bank of the creek there. It's been given plenty of press in the local media." The problem could be solved in about 10 minutes if federal government bureaucrats got involved and axed a string of consultants who had done little more than waste taxpayers' money, Senator Heffernan said.

The officials were left speechless by Senator Heffernan, who said he was not trying to apportion blame. "I'm not aware of the platypus issue," one executive said. Senator Heffernan said his aim was to see the road, part of the Hume Highway, finished. "I drive past there all the time and it's the most dangerous bit of highway because people forget they're not on the dual carriageway and boom, you have plenty of that," he said.


Hair theft??

An airline luggage courier accused of collecting women's hair samples from their bags has pleaded guilty to theft. Rodney Lyle Petersen, 30, of Wallan, north of Melbourne, is facing 110 charges of theft and stalking. He is accused of taking head and pubic hair samples from women's bags while working as a sub-contractor for a company employed by Qantas to return lost luggage to its owners. Today he pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court to seven counts of theft and reserved his plea to seven counts of stalking. He was not asked to enter a plea to the remaining charges.

On May 25, 2006, a police patrol unit found Petersen at the rear of a van, looking through luggage, Detective Sergeant Doug Smith previously told the court. A search of the van uncovered a folder containing plastic bags with human head and pubic hair, three exercise books containing the names and personal details of women, a small telescope and three radio scanners. Petersen had been delivering luggage to a woman at a hotel in Hastings.

Police later searched his home and seized a computer, mobile phones, four more exercise books containing the personal details of 365 women, plus 80 labelled and seven unlabelled plastic bags containing human hair. Police also allegedly found a collage of newspaper and magazine pictures of women "in positions of power" at the house. The court today was told that some of the victims' names may be of interest to the public and others did not give statements to the police because of their young age. Magistrate Donna Bakos refused to release documents relating to Petersen's charges, saying it could cause distress to his victims. She said much of the brief of evidence related to Petersen's remaining charges, which he was not asked to enter a plea to today.

Petersen today withdrew an application he had made for bail and Ms Bakos remanded him in custody to face the Victorian County Court on December 8.


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