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

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


30 November, 2011

Australian Islamic College bans Afro hairstyle

For disciplinary reasons it has long been held that schools have the right to set standards of dress and presentation for their pupils so I fail to see anything that this school did wrongly. I think the school was rather tolerant in putting up with it as long as they did, in fact. If it is good enough for Obama to keep his hair short, it should be good enough for this kid. And why does Obama keep his hair short? Because an Afro is widely seen as unattractive

IT was the fro that had to go - but the fuzz about this teenager's hairstyle has gone all the way to the Supreme Court as his father claims he was cut off from friends at the Islamic school even after he trimmed his afro.

Mazen Zraika is taking the Australian Islamic College in Rooty Hill to court over the treatment of his son Billal, 13, who was ordered away from the school earlier this year until he changed his afro hairstyle, The Daily Telegraph reported.

After six months of asking him to cut his hair, the Year 8 student and his parents were sent a letter in April advising them that he would be suspended from school until he cut his hair into a style that wasn't in breach of its appearance code. Principal Yasmin Gamieldien told the family the hairstyle was deemed a "mop" and needed to be cut shorter.

But Mr Zraika says Billal - who is of Lebanese and Ethiopian descent - was simply being punished for his natural hairstyle. "His mum Mary is Ethiopian so it's not his fault he's got the fuzzy hair," Mr Zraika said following the school's order.

"They said it's a mop hair- style but that's something Zac Efron has. "He doesn't have to style it or anything. When he gets out of the pool and shakes his head a few times it automatically comes back into shape."

Billal returned to classes following the Easter holiday break, but the family claim they were then sent another letter by staff saying he would be expelled if it wasn't cut within a week, while Billal was left sitting in the front office in "isolation" from his friends.

The teenager had a crew-cut in order to avoid expulsion, but the family claim that he was still forced into "isolation" and kept away from classmates while being told to "catch up" on schoolwork he'd missed.


University of Queensland warned of loss of donors over enrolment scandal

THE University of Queensland risked losing major philanthropic donations as long as it failed to deal with favouritism allegations, a leading Queensland solicitor said yesterday.

David Muir, chairman of the estate of former Lord Mayor Clem Jones and a partner in HWL Ebsworth, said there was disquiet in the business world about allegations of nepotism involving a family member of UQ vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield.

He said: "Vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield ... should resign but has elected to stay on as CEO for a further six months, without giving any explanation about why he should stay on, or detail about what actually happened. "What is the example to the staff and other academics in taking this course?"

Longreach-born Muir, who set up Crime Stoppers and was a long-time state president of Amnesty International, is a director of the Foodbank charity.

He deplored the lack of transparency. "The university is a big business, dependent upon in excess of $700 million of Commonwealth funding each year, as well as significant funding by philanthropists," Mr Muir said.

"Disquiet is developing among those who provide funding, in particular those who are concerned about accountability and transparency. Accountability and transparency are essential ingredients.

"Philanthropists are generally focused on outcomes and want to be able to measure success. "After all, many philanthropists have earnt their wealth through this approach and may be as demanding of those who receive their funds as they are of themselves."

Mr Muir said: "Funders of the university are among the most significant of stakeholders.

"Risk managers of major corporations in Australia recognise that any diminution of brand reputation may impact seriously on financial performance of the business. "In the modern information age, brand reputation can be lost more readily than in previous times. Brand reputation is vital because it is the catalyst for why people want to work for the business and why people are attracted to and want to support the business. "The culture of any major business is set by the chief executive officer.

"Those who give away money are usually concerned to ensure that they maximise the impact of their giving. Accountability and transparency are critical elements in demonstrating that the giving is the most impactful. Can they be confident that these values are being upheld at the University of Queensland?

"Competition for funding among universities is highly competitive. Large sums of money are at stake, particularly in regard to the fields of medical research. "It is in the hands of the University of Queensland to ease the disquiet that may be growing among the ranks of those who fund it.

"It is the way in which the CEO of a business responds to an 'irregularity', just as much as the 'irregularity' itself that is important. Most people will forgive mistakes. What is not forgiven is a denial or cover-up of a mistake.

"The University of Queensland is in command of its own culture and of its own message. It is not in command of its stakeholders and they may vote with their feet."


Julia Gillard hits families, but won't stop Gold Pass travel scheme for retired politicians

MOTHERS who give birth before September 1 will beat a $437 cut to the baby bonus being imposed by the Government to help deliver its promised Budget surplus.

Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday said the bonus for stay-at-home parents would be cut from $5437 to $5000 and then be frozen for three years to save the Budget $358 million. There is no change to the paid parental leave scheme for working parents, worth about $590 a week before tax for up to 18 weeks.

The surprise cut to the baby bonus came as Mr Swan also said foreigners would pay more for visas and $2.1 billion worth of promised tax breaks, including incentives for savings, would be delayed.

The Government will take a $1.5 billion axe to the public service, which Finance Minister Penny Wong said would mean slashing travel, consultants, hospitality and advertising, but unions said could mean 3000 job losses.

Mr Swan unveiled net cuts to spending of $6.8 billion as he revealed a $15 billion blow-out in the deficit for this financial year to $37 billion due to Europe's financial turmoil causing "storm clouds on the global horizon" and weaker economic growth.

Mr Swan insisted the cuts were "fair and equitable" as he revealed the $3.5 billion surplus he announced six months ago for 2012-13 would be now just a wafer-thin $1.5 billion. Economists warned it could easily be wiped out.

The Treasurer rejected suggestions he had inflicted pain and brought forward some spending and delayed other outlays just to meet a political promise to deliver a surplus. He said it was important to send a message to the world that Australia had a strong economy

But, despite the pressure on the Budget, the Government made no change to the Gold Pass free travel scheme for retired politicians, although Special Minister of State Gary Gray said he wanted to scrap it because it was"an unjustifiable perk".

The Budget update revealed economic growth is tipped to be 3.25 per cent, down from the 4 per cent expected six months ago. The jobless rate is tipped to rise from 5.2 to 5.5 per cent.

Mr Swan said while unemployment would "tick up a little", it was much lower than the 9-10 per cent jobless rates in the US and Europe, and in Spain, where 50 per cent of young people were out of work.

Mr Swan was buoyed by ratings agency Fitch upgrading Australia to AAA, the same level as Moodys and Standard & Poor's.

He defended cutting the baby bonus, saying it had risen from $3000 just a few years ago and it was time to "reset" it to make the payment sustainable over time.

He said the change would not happen until September "so people clearly know what it is going to be in nine months' time".

The Government defended its record for families saying this year it had introduced paid parental leave, increased family benefits for parents with kids aged 16-19 and delivered more childcare assistance.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott attacked the change to the baby bonus. "This is a rip-off of the forgotten families of Australia. Let's not forget that the baby bonus is there to help stay-at-home mums and I think this is a Government which has never had much respect for the stay-at-home mums," he said.

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb accused the Government of creating an "illusory surplus". But the Opposition refused to say if it would oppose any of the cuts or announce what savings it would make to deliver its promises.


South Australian private schools six times safer for kids

PUBLIC school students are six times more likely to be assaulted than private school students.

Figures released through Freedom Of Information show there have been 2049 assaults (1 for every 81 students) reported to police in state government schools since 2006, compared to 195 (1 per 472 students) in non-government schools.

Last year, 65 assaults in government schools involved weapons, compared to seven in non-government schools.

The figures follow the vicious bashing of Hamilton Secondary College schoolboy Callan Wade last week. The 14-year-old was so badly bashed that his spleen was ruptured and he was treated at the Women's and Children's hospital intensive care unit.

Opposition Education spokesman David Pisoni said school safety had deteriorated to unacceptable levels under the Labor government.

He said the disparity between the number of assaults in public and private school proved the best results come when communities are allowed back into schools and principals are given the autonomy to decide what works best.

"Under Labor there has been a significant drift in the number of South Australian students choosing to attend non-government schools over government-run schools," Mr Pisoni said.

"A Liberal Government would tackle school violence head on by ensuring principals and school communities are adequately resourced to deal with bullying and violence."

The number of students attending private schools has increased 10 per cent in the past decade while public school numbers have decreased about five per cent.

Education Minister Grace Portolesi said every student and teacher had the right to go to school or work in a safe environment and the government would not tolerate people who acted in a violent or disorderly way.

"The drift from public to the private sector had slowed in the past two years and figures show government school enrolments have increased consecutively each year since 2008," she said.


29 November, 2011

Push to recognise 'pathological internet misuse' as a mental health disorder

This problem seems to be most pronounced in China, where there are "boot camps" to which children are sent to cure their "addiction". But because of the one-child policy, Chinese children are greatly indulged. So what we are seeing is no deficit in the child but a deficit in childrearing. Children who are not given limits from the beginning will tend to behave in self-indulgent ways

DISTRESSED families are flooding psychiatrists with pleas for help for children hooked on the internet. The condition known as "pathological internet misuse" is growing so rapidly among adolescents and young adults that it could soon be formally recognised as a mental health disorder.

International mental health experts are considering including "video game addiction and internet addiction" in the next edition of globally recognised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders "to encourage further study".

One Sydney mother said her 13-year-old son was so addicted to computer games he had attended school only intermittently over the past two years and violently resisted attempts to remove him from the screen. "He starts punching holes through the walls, throwing things around and threatening you ... all this has to do with the most addictive game, World of Warcraft," she said. [And the fact that he has been atrociously brought up -- "spoilt", to use a common term]

Parents have told of children as young as 10 being found asleep at their home computer when they are due to leave for school because they have been up much of the night playing video games such as Minecraft.

Australian mental health specialists believe formal recognition of internet addiction will put pressure on governments to make more treatment options available.

Sydney psychiatrist Philip Tam believes internet addiction should be classified as a disorder. Dr Tam, a leader in the field, said a website would be launched this week to help carers, families and counsellors "address the growing and complex problem of internet addiction".

The Network for Internet Investigation and Research in Australia will be run by specialists with a "common passion in assessing, treating, researching and educating the public and professionals" about internet addictions. " ... such conditions are complex in nature and often overlap with common mental health disorders," he said.

Jocelyn Brewer, a member of Philip Tam's expert group, said girls also could "become obsessed with Facebook". "There's a massive divide (between teachers and parents) in expertise about kids' use of technology," she said.


The University of Sydney Ranks 18th in the World for Arts and Humanities

As a graduate of the USyd Arts faculty I am rather pleased by this. There are a lot of universities in the world (7,000 in the USA alone by some estimates -- depending on what you call a university)

I thought it was pretty impressive in my day in the late 60s too. The philosophy school was particularly distinguished and I did study philosophy there. John Maze influenced me quite a lot -- as this paper shows

The University of Sydney is ranked 18th in the world in the field of arts and humanities, according to the most recent figures from Times Higher Education.

Three Australian institutions have made the top 20, led by Australian National University in Canberra. Ranked second in Australia is The University of Sydney, which has this year beaten out University of Melbourne, which came in at spot number 19.

The Times Education ranking system claims that their highest consideration factors when comparing universities are the learning environment, research and research influence (citations), innovation and international outlook.

Professor Duncan Ivison, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences says of the achievement "The Times Higher ranking for Arts and Humanities places our Faculty in the top 20 faculties of its kind in the world, which is a remarkable tribute to our staff and the extraordinary work they do as teachers and researchers."

"Although ranking exercises such as this must always be treated with care, over the past five years our Faculty has been consistently ranked in the top 25 faculties across a range of different measures, and that suggests we are clearly on the right track. There is still even more we want to achieve, but I am delighted the University of Sydney is now unquestionably seen to be one of the best places in the world for the humanities."

The University of Sydney overall was placed at number 58, therefore to be ranked 18th in the arts and humanities shows that this area is performing particularly strongly at Sydney.


European culture of entitlement is mercifully absent Down Under

Gerard Henderson

I am currently in Jerusalem, wondering whether I will be able to make it to London later this week. There is a public-sector strike scheduled for Britain tomorrow, which is expected to close schools and hospitals and there is talk of up to 12-hour delays in getting through immigration at Heathrow.

Britain certainly does not have the worst-performing economy in Europe. However, it is likely that there will be another recession in Britain next year - due primarily to the failure of the nations of continental Europe to resolve the problems caused by the euro zone crisis. Right now, Margaret Thatcher's decision not to take Britain into the European single currency in the 1980s looks better by the day.

At a time of economic downturn and rising unemployment, the public-sector unions have taken a decision to strike for better retirement benefits for their members, who already enjoy relatively secure employment.

Many private-sector workers, whose taxes finance public-sector employees, can only dream of the pension entitlements about which the public-sector unions are demonstrating. The culture of entitlement, which has had a devastating effect on the economies of many European nations, remains a fact in Britain.

Writing earlier this month in the London Telegraph about the crisis in Europe, Kevin Rudd asked: "How did Europe get into such a difficult situation?" The Foreign Minister's answer was direct and accurate. Namely "for years now, some European governments have been spending more than they earned and running up unsustainable levels of debt". He argued that "this has been manageable in the past because banks were willing to lend to governments and economic growth had been strong enough to keep the interest bill paid". However, the global financial crisis changed all that.

The concept of governments spending more than they obtain in revenue is common to social democratic and conservative administrations. Yet it is more a phenomenon of social democracy. For example, in Britain today the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, and the shadow chancellor of the exchequer, Ed Balls, advocate greater spending and borrowing as the way of resolving current economic difficulties. The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, with the support of coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, advocates long-running cuts to government spending and a clampdown on schemes and benefits as an entry to lifelong welfare.

It seems that Rudd's position on economics has changed dramatically in recent times. When prime minister in February 2009, he wrote a widely quoted article in The Monthly titled "The Global Financial Crisis". Here Rudd maintained that the economic crisis "is the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free-market ideology that has been variously called neo-liberalism, economic liberalism, economic fundamentalism, Thatcherism or the Washington Consensus".

Rudd went on to proclaim "the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed" and to advocate for social democracy. He wrote that "Labor, in the international tradition of social democracy, consistently argues for a central role for government in the regulation of markets and the provision of public goods".

Well, you can't have it both ways. In early 2009, Rudd argued the essential cause of the economic crisis was neo-liberalism, which is sometimes referred to as economic rationalism and is associated with expenditure restraint and debt reduction. In late 2011, Rudd argues that the essential cause of the economic crisis is deficit spending, funded by debt.

Australian politicians and senior bureaucrats cop a lot of criticism. Yet, a brief time in western Europe or the US serves as a reminder of how well Australia has been governed over the past three decades.

In the final years of Malcolm Fraser's government, John Howard commenced the first tentative step towards financial deregulation. The cause of economic reform was embraced by the Hawke and Keating governments between 1983 and 1996 and followed by Howard and Costello until 2007. When the global financial crisis arrived in 2008, the Australian economy was in good shape and Australia was not afflicted by overspending, funded by debt.

During his years as prime minister between December 1949 and January 1966, Robert Menzies was no economic reformer. But in the early 1950s, Menzies and his Coalition colleagues made a conscious decision not to take Australia down the road of from-cradle-to-grave social welfare.

Consequently, Australia never adopted the ethos of entitlement which still affects western Europe and parts of North America. It is this concept which has bankrupted so many governments and which explains the public-sector strikes scheduled for this week in Britain.


Growling grass frog cost $2.6 billion

A SMALL green frog could stop up to 66,000 houses being built and prevent $2.6 billion in development. A draft report on saving the growling grass frog has recommended the State Government declare 4400ha of the city's growth corridor off limits for developers.

Landowners say properties have been made worthless and question whether the frog is endangered.

The draft report calls for 200m no-go zones beside waterways in Melbourne's growth zones where the frogs are found.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy said he sympathised with developers, blaming an environmental agreement between the previous government and Canberra, which was adding thousands of dollars to the price of housing blocks.

"I don't know if it is endangered," he said. "All I know is it is a frog that is worth a lot of money in terms of land lots and is holding up a huge amount in our growth corridors and I question the arbitrary nature of some of the distances imposed by the Federal Government."

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said arrangements with the Victorian Government meant developments on Melbourne's fringe no longer needed individual assessments. "If the Victorian Government wishes to throw out the strategic assessment then we can go back to individual project assessments," he said. "This will increase the time it takes for approvals which will drive up the cost of housing."

Urban Development Institute of Australia chief executive Tony De Domenico said the frogs would drive the price of house blocks up by $5000 in some areas.

"We've been frustrated by growling grass frogs, bandicoots, legless lizards, mouthless moths, and the golden sun moth in particular," he said. "Some of these so-called endangered species are so endemic they are found everywhere."


28 November, 2011

DNA proves man is not child's father, mother must pay back nearly $13k

A WOMAN has been ordered to pay her former husband almost $13,000 in child support after DNA tests confirmed he was not the father of her 14-year-old son.

The man - who once caught his wife in a compromising position with a neighbour - secretly took the boy for a DNA test after his own mother raised doubts about the boy's parentage from the time he was four. "(X) is looking less and less like you. There is nothing similar, not even his ears or toes or fingers," the man's mother said.

The couple began living together in their late 20s and married in 1984. The boy was born in 1995 and still believes the man is his father. "For him, this has been an unfortunate situation not of his own making," Federal Magistrate Stephen Scarlett said in his ruling.

"In January 2009, the parties separated and the person whom the child thought was his father moved out of the matrimonial home. Less than a year and a half later, the child's father figure no longer has anything to do with him. "Effectively, he is now without a father, through no fault of his own. From the child's point of view, his father (as he thought) has rejected him, for no apparent reason.

"The applicant's desire to find out the truth about the child's paternity will result in a financial benefit to him, at the expense of collateral damage to the child."

The couple divorced in 2010, but the father continued paying for the boy's overseas holidays, school fees and $700 a month in child support. Now the court has ordered the women to pay the man $12,969.

The man has had no contact with the boy he believed was his son since the DNA tests confirmed he was not the father. The woman must repay the child support as well as $4038 in court costs within 12 months.


Federal Government to hand out $550 million to keep Queensland children at school

Poor families get a chance at bigger handouts

ALMOST $550 million will be set aside by the Federal Government to lure Queensland parents into keeping their children in school until Year 12.

New figures reveal that parents of more than 137,700 Queensland teenagers will qualify for a $4000 average payment to stop their kids dropping out of school.

The cash carrot is aimed at arresting the alarming rate of dropouts nationally, with 630,000 teens eligible across the country.

Premier Anna Bligh said last month Queensland's retention rate was higher than the national average of 78.5 per cent.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard today will urge parents to take up the offer when it kicks in on January 1, in the interests of their children's education and future employment prospects.

"There's only one place for kids to be and that's in school," she said. "My message is clear. Stay in school. When you leave school for the summer break, don't say long goodbyes. Come back next year and finish your education. It will open doors and give you a big leg-up in life."

The payments, a key election promise of Ms Gillard, will be offered to parents of 16 to 19-year-old teenagers across the state, in the form of an income tested boost to existing Family Tax Benefit A. The students would have to stay in full-time secondary school study or a vocational equivalent such as a TAFE course.

New research suggests the cost of keeping older teenagers in school is 30-40 per cent higher than younger students, yet the current family tax payments wind down by more than 70 per cent after children turn 16.

Currently, the maximum FTB A payments drop by almost 70 per cent when students turn 16, with the highest bracket dropping from up to $6300 to about $2000.

The Prime Minister said the extra money would help struggling families keep their children in school which, in turn, would help them get better jobs and higher incomes. "This will be a big help to those families under financial pressure, who are finding it hard to support older teenagers to stay at school or in training," Ms Gillard said. "It's not right that at the moment, families get less money when their kids turn 16. We're turning that around."

The $4000 boost would help families cope with the extra costs of keeping their older teenagers in school.

The maximum rate of FTB A for 16-17 year-olds in secondary school would be increased by $4208 and for 18-19 year-olds in school, by $3741 a year.


Plan for world's biggest marine park in Coral Sea will prove costly

PLANS to protect the Coral Sea as the world's biggest marine park will cost taxpayers a billion-dollar buyout, deep-sea fishing industry figures warn.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke yesterday unveiled draft plans for the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve covering nearly 1 million square kilometres of ocean, nearly half the size of Queensland.

Great Barrier Reef Tuna owner Bob Lamason, who has four of 15 long-line tuna boats operating in the Coral Sea, said the proposal spelled the end of his multimillion-dollar family business. "We'll be left with nothing," said the veteran skipper, who sends 700 tonnes of fish to market every year. "They'll have to pay us all out - a complete buyout of licences, boats and business - or we face death by a thousand cuts."

Mr Burke said the Coral Sea had a diverse array of coral reefs, sandy cays, deep sea plains and canyons with more than 20 outstanding examples of isolated tropical reefs.

Some fish species found in the Coral Sea - from the Torres Strait to Bundaberg and between 60km and 1100km offshore - were under pressure from over-fishing and habitat degradation.

Greens environment spokeswoman Larissa Waters said the draft plan did not go far enough. "Of the handful of commercial fishers operating in the Coral Sea, most are willing to be bought out," she said. "And the Greens will push in our Budget negotiations with Government for appropriate compensation to end commercial fishing and create one large, protected area."

Senator Waters said the Greens welcomed the proposed ban on oil and gas mining, sea bed trawling and gillnet fishing.

Australian Marine Conservation Society spokesman Darren Kindleysides said only the eastern half of the Reef had been set aside while the western half contained most of the species-rich coral reefs and critical spawning sites for black marlin and threatened tuna.

Cairns and Far North Environment Centre spokesman Steve Ryan said many Coral Sea jewels were unprotected.

Queensland Seafood Industry Association president Geoff Tilton said the fishing ban would hurt fishermen and consumers.


NSW government caves in to featherbedded unionists

It’s business as usual at Sydney Ferries. Unions have managed to secure a cosy little deal with the government. Along with 3.25% annual wage increases for the next two years, workers will receive a once-off bonus payment of 30 weeks pay simply for taking a job with the soon-to-be private ferry operator. All financed of course by the NSW taxpayer.

A month ago I released a paper arguing that the franchise reform planned for Sydney Ferries will not create any meaningful change for Sydney’s taxpayers. I argued that whilst there may be a lot of talk about improvement and value for taxpayers, there will be no competition, no reduction in subsidies, and no incentive to increase productivity. The controls, the restrictions and the wasted tax dollars will all continue, only under the guise of reform and privatisation.

At the time I wrote the paper, all the hallmarks of union abuse were there – inflexible work practices, low productivity, generous pay and benefits, and abuse of sick leave and other penalties. I was hopeful that even if new management could not solve the structural problems of monopoly and subsidy, perhaps they could solve these cultural problems and increase productivity.

If these recent events are anything to go by, it looks like the unions are set to transfer their old obstructive, rent-seeking behaviours to the new operator and the government have acquiesced to it.

So what was happening in the private market while the workers were off the job securing their juicy accord? The two private fast-ferry companies that operate alongside Sydney Ferries on the Manly leg took full advantage of Sydney Ferries’ absence by adding extra services and slashing prices.

The words of Manly Fast Ferry’s Richard Ford sum it up quite nicely: ‘The market is always a better place if there’s competition.’


27 November, 2011

Getting unqualified blacks into university is pointless in Australia too

In much of the USA a black High School diploma is meaningless, not even guaranteeing literacy -- but it will get the holder into some sort of tertiary institution, where graduation rates are low. And even if the student does graduate, his/her skillset will often still not rise much above literacy. Without primary and secondary schools that provide a meaningful education, very little can be done for the black student at the tertiary level.

The folly is less advanced in Britain, with the government putting pressure on the universities to accept underqualified students from sink schools but at least the top tier of British universities seems to be fairly successful in resisting that pressure so far. Sara Hudson below is warning the Australian government that they too should fix the schools first

The Australian Government is conducting a Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. According to the government the review will provide advice and make recommendations on achieving parity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, best practice and opportunities inside universities and other higher education providers, the effectiveness of affirmative action policies and the recognition of Indigenous knowledge in the higher education sector.

Our submission to the review (available on our website here) argues that it is not affirmative action or opportunities inside universities that the government should be concerned with but the ‘sink schools’ in welfare dependent suburbs and the Indigenous ‘schools’ in remote communities. These schools do not provide adequate primary and secondary education to enable children to proceed to university. The few Indigenous students from urban welfare dependent families or remote communities who qualify for university are almost always those whose parents have them board with relatives to access quality mainstream schools, or those at quality boarding schools on scholarships.

Conversely, Indigenous students from working families are attending university in record numbers. In 2009 Indigenous higher education enrolment had grown to 10,465 with an estimated 26, 0000 Indigenous graduates in the labour force by the end of 2010. Increasing numbers of Indigenous graduates are going on to quality post-graduate degrees that will enable them to qualify for academic posts. The remarkable success of these students shows that ‘affirmative action’ is not needed.

With a small proportion of the total population, Indigenous academics will always only form a small proportion of academic staff. It is extremely important for their reputation as well as their self-esteem that they are not stigmatized as being appointed by ‘affirmative action’ rather than on merit.

No amount of affirmative action will make any difference for those Indigenous students from urban welfare dependent and remote communities. These students will continue to have low participation in higher education until the deficits of substandard pre-school, primary and secondary education cease. To put it simply, if children are not taught to read, write and count, they have no hope of going to university.


Bungling NSW public hospitals are regular killers

MEDICAL mishaps including medication errors, misdiagnosis or botched surgery, contributed to the death of a patient a day in NSW public hospitals.

In six months from January to June 2010, 209 patients died, while a further 64,225 cases of "harmful or potentially harmful" incidents were reported to the Clinical Excellence Commission, a new report reveals.

It found 11 cases of "retained material", such as swabs or scissors being left inside a patient; 54 cases of identification mix-ups and 50 incidents of a patient receiving the wrong or no treatment.

Figures reveal the number of clinical incidents rose from 62,269 for the same period in 2009, with almost 300 cases classified as extremely severe.

Of those, 163 were "clinical management" errors, defined in the report as any incident in the diagnosis, treatment or delivery of care, including "unintended injury during a medical/surgical procedure, surgery on the wrong body part or delays in diagnosis.

CEO of the Clinical Excellence Commission Professor Clifford Hughes attributed the rise in clinical incidents to more health care staff using the reporting system. "There is an increasing willingness of the system to report. The only real reason they want to report is to improve the system," Professor Hughes said.

"Every single incident here is something for us to try to do something about. These people (staff) want to learn and they want to do it better."

Patients falling remained one of the most common incidents, with 12,670 cases reported during the first half of last year.

There were 11,171 medication or intravenous fluid incidents, which includes prescribing errors and incorrect IV infusion rates and 4,495 errors in documentation.

According to the report there were more than 780,000 patients admitted to the public health system, and clinical incidents were notified at an overall rate of 21 per 1000 bed days.

According to the Bureau of Health Information Healthcare in Focus 2011 report, released this week in NSW, 21 per cent of adults who have used health care for a serious or chronic condition think a medical mistake, medication error or incorrect lab result occurred during their care in the previous two years.

The report found that of "sicker adults" who had surgery or were hospitalised in the past two years, 13 per cent reported developing an infection during or shortly after their hospital stay.


Australia's decrepit Navy

MORE than half the Royal Australian Navy's fleet has been forced out of action for repairs to unexpected faults or defects over the past year.

Official figures reveal some vessels were out of action for months while others have been put on "extended readiness" - they could be put into service but at a later date - due to a lack of crew. Two minehunters have been mothballed indefinitely.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said the fleet's parlous state was now an issue of national security.

"The past four years of the Rudd-Gillard government has seen our naval fleet fall into a state of disrepair with many ships sidelined because of a lack of care and maintenance," he said. "It has long ceased to be just a maintenance issue and is now an issue of national security."

The figures related to the state of the naval fleet between January and June this year.

Two of the navy's newest ships, minehunters HMAS Hawkesbury and HMAS Norman - built by Australian Defence Industries in Newcastle and commissioned in 2000 - were "decrewed" and placed into reserve this year.

If the ships were required to come back into service, the Department of Defence estimates it would take up to five years to bring them back to operational status.

Of the 12 frigates, Anzac and Arunta were placed in "extended readiness" due to the navy being unable to obtained sufficient numbers of qualified marine technicians.

A third, Newcastle, underwent scheduled maintenance between January and April only to be brought back to the yard twice for "unscheduled defect rectification".

Both naval supply ships, Success and Sirius, have also had maintenance setbacks.

Success was double-skinned for about $12 million in Singapore to help guard against potential oil leaks only for the vessel to be returned to Australia for maintenance.

Sirius underwent maintenance in the first half of the year only to be put out of action again in June due to defects.

Of the nine amphibious ships, Kanimbla has been placed in an "operational pause" while Manoora was decommissioned after ongoing repairs were deemed too costly.

The 14 Patrol Boat Force vessels, most of which are heavily involved in intercepting illegal boats, have also been in and out of action due to ongoing repairs.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the navy was addressing the problems as identified in the report on naval repair by the defence management expert Paul Rizzo.

"The navy currently meets its operational commitments be they in the Middle East, on border protection operations, in international engagement or in multilateral training exercises," the spokesman said.

"It is now making solid headway in progressing Mr Rizzo's recommendations."


Airline had no option but to take a stand, says Future Fund chief

THE Future Fund chief, David Murray, has backed Qantas in the dispute with its workforce, saying unless companies like the airline tackle entrenched union privilege Australia risks the same fate as Europe.

And he says the government is aping Europe by borrowing to buy votes. "My European banking counterparts tell me they can't cut jobs without offering three years redundancy," he told a forecasting conference in Sydney. "We are creeping towards that in the new industrial relations framework. It gives unions a right to bargain in areas [that were] traditionally the management's prerogative.

"Australia started out after the Second World War making work arrangements a little bit more reliable, introducing the rule of law, but the process has gone too far - it gets to the point of unaffordability.

"Qantas management have no option but to do what they are doing. They are running an unviable airline. "With terrible productivity internationally they are hostage to competitors domestically. The stakes are high. Qantas is not the only company."

The former Commonwealth Bank chief was appointed chairman of the Future Fund in 2004 by the then Coalition Treasurer Peter Costello. He steps down in April and has already accepted a part-time role with the global investment bank Credit Suisse.

"I don't see anything concrete on productivity," he said. "I don't see governments trying to wind back their debt positions rapidly, I don't see people coming off subsidy arrangements for industry, in fact new arrangements are more the norm.

"I would have thought what is happening in Europe would be one of the most timely wake-up calls in Australia's history. "Yet it is being completely ignored because we've had 20 years of growth. "The size of complacency here is outrightly dangerous.

"What is it that's wrong? It is the process by which public debt is used to buy votes with the promises of entitlements. If you borrow to buy votes you are expropriating the savings of other people."

Asked whether now was the right time to slash spending and cut debt, Mr Murray said it was better to do it when unemployment was around 5 per cent than later, when it went higher.

The carbon tax and the mining tax were also badly timed. "Irrespective of what you believe about climate change, given what's happening in the world, the timing of the policy response is not good at all," Mr Murray said. "The timing of [the] introduction of a mining tax when the terms of trade boom was just about to end is not good at all either."

Mr Murray said a simpler way of redistributing mining income would have been to end the tax deductibility of royalty payments and use the proceeds to cut company tax.

"It could be done in two lines of code, a few lines of legislation," he said.


26 November, 2011

Ethicist calls for corrupt University of Queensland boss to release scandal details

It grieves me that this greedy and corrupt Jewish man seems to be doing everything in his power to reinforce hateful old stereotypes about Jews

UNIVERSITY of Queensland vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield should reveal all about the nepotism scandal or face a Commission of Inquiry, a leading jurist said yesterday.

James Thomas, a retired Supreme Court judge, urged Prof Greenfield to waive his rights to privacy and tell all. "His right to privacy is questionable, especially when there is an allegation of nepotism," Justice Thomas said. "High public sector ethics are the least that should be expected from the chief executive officer of such an institution.

"The lack of information about what the vice-chancellor and his deputy actually did continues to worry a significant minority of persons interested in university's welfare. "If there has been no more than an administrative blunder or error of judgment, it would be heartening to be told the facts."

Prof Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger offered to stand down after in independent barrister found "irregularities" in the enrolment process of a student. The student was a "close family member" of Prof Greenfield.

Prof Greenfield, who was paid $1,069,999 last year, said the incident arose as a result of a "misunderstanding". A relative of his was able enter a course for which they had not qualified. He has failed to elaborate.

The university Senate has decided Prof Greenfield will stay until June next year after his 65th birthday, while Prof Keniger will leave in December. There have been calls for Prof Greenfield to leave the campus immediately to avoid further tarnishing the university's reputation.

Justice Thomas, 76, lectured in ethics at the university and in 1988 published a textbook, Judicial Ethics in Australia. He was a member of the university's faculty board.

He said he could appreciate how the university's disciplinary system should ordinarily be internal and private. "It settles grievances and punishes misconduct of its students and staff through internal reviews which are not carried out under the glare of publicity," he said. "Without the protection of guaranteed privacy, many complaints would go unreported and the system would be the worse for it.

"Most issues that arise within the university are better dealt with in this way than by trial by media where there is public exposure, and public arguing of the case as it comes out piece by piece. "It is to the credit of the university that a proper inquiry was conducted and its outcome announced.

"To that extent the vice-chancellor was subjected to the same disciplinary process that applies to students, staff and university officers.

"But no charge was proceeded with following the barrister's report, and the only action taken by the university was the "standing down" announcement. "It was not regarded as sufficiently serious to require anything more than a public slap on the wrist.

"The vice-chancellor is of course legally entitled to require all information that was obtained during the investigation, and its findings, to be kept in-house. "That is his legal right.

"But it is strongly arguable that his ethical duty as leader of a great public institution demands more from him than sitting on his legal rights.

"A vice-chancellor is in a different position to a lowly student. "The university is a great institution, bigger than some government departments. "Thousands of citizens aspire to enter it.

"They need to know that its entry requirements are publicly stated and rigidly applied, and that entrance will always be on merit, not favour. "Concerns of this kind are currently held by many, and they tend to affect the reputation of the university. "His is the public face of the institution."


Win for the Greens, but a loss for Australia

Huge fishery locked away

The Government’s decision to release the proposed maps of the million square kilometre Coral Sea Marine Reserve was a great victory for the American environmental group, PEW foundation, and their public relations tactics. But it has been a huge loss to the Australian fishing charter boat industry and will have an effect on recreational fishing, Queensland Senator Ron Boswell said today. “Charter boats, trawlers, fishermen, are going to bear a very heavy cost for the government and the 'green movements' decision.

And the processors, slip ways, refrigeration operations industry and all other supporting industries, are going to take a huge hit." “There is a thirty boat, charter industry that operates out of Cairns. It pumps about sixty million dollars into the local economy every year. It brings wealthy international travellers in to enjoy the North Queensland Marlin fishery. It is tag and release fishing, and is one of the most sustainable in the world," Senator Boswell said. “The charter boats, and the small number of fisherman, will be excluded from the massive green zone."

Both the Greens and the Minister recognise that the Coral Sea is in a pristine condition. This is due to the charter boats and fishermen who fish in the green zone and monitor any illegal fishing methods, such as drift nets, super seiners, and long liners mass destructive methods, and report any illegal fishing in the area. They also monitor catches and pass that information on to government.

Senator Boswell also said that, “this decision will leave the Coral Sea with no monitoring, there will be no observation of illegal fishing, and if the Coral Sea is in pristine condition, the Greens can thank the charter boat and fishermen who work the area for keeping it so."

“There will be no activity out there in the Coral Sea to observe, it will be an open invite to illegal fishing in the Coral Sea."

“Trawlers will also be completely excluded from the marine park. Forty deep sea trawlers that work in the southern end of the marine park, and a hundred other east coast licences that work on an irregular basis will be excluded."

Press release dated 25 Nov. from Queensland Senator Boswell above

New twist on a stupid Greenie scheme

These "public bicycle" schemes usually suffer from a low uptake and theft of the bicycles. Brisbane's council has increased the uptake only at the expense of another loss

THE CityCycle trial of free helmets and more flexible subscription packages has been a success with a 72 per cent increase in the number of weekly trips since the changes were made by Lord Mayor Graham Quirk three months ago.

But council audits have found about 250 of the initial 400 courtesy helmets had been "misplaced" during the trial.

The loss of 250 helmets is the latest issue to plague CityCycle, which has faced a host of problems since its conception. Originally planned to be launched in 2009, the initiative was delayed a year when the operator couldn’t find enough free space around town to install the cycle stations.

Within three months of its launch in 2010, the amount of annual subscribers plummeted dramatically from 1251 when it started in October to just 131 in January 2011.

With less and less people subscribing, the Council dropped the daily charges from $11 to just $2 in August and offered free helmets as an incentive. The helmets cost around $10 each for the Council to replace.

The CityScycle scheme has cost ratepayers around $300,000 as of August.

Public and Active Transport Chairman Julian Simmonds said the weekly average of the scheme during its first 10 months was 1,470 trips. During the past three months the average had jumped to 2,530 trips per week.

CityCycle last week celebrated its 100,000th trip since its launch in October last year and often reaches 500 trips a day.

“Every CityCycle trip is potentially one less vehicle on the road and it is part of Brisbane’s overall public transport infrastructure and offering residents and visitors an alternative, sustainable mode of travel in the inner-city," Cr Simmonds said.

“Courtesy helmets and cheaper subscriptions have clearly made it easier for people to hop on a bike so we’re going to distribute an extra 500 free helmets at no additional cost to ratepayers and also introduce a more affordable package for students.”

Cr Simmonds said the 500 new helmets would be jointly provided with operator JC Decaux. Council’s $2,500 share of the cost would come from the existing CityCycle marketing budget.

Construction has commenced on stage two of CityCycle which will see a further 46 stations rolled out across Milton, Auchenflower, Toowong, St Lucia and Dutton Park.

Six new stations have already opened, including new stations at South Bank’s Maritime Museum, at the popular café precinct in Park Road at Milton, as well as a new station on the Bicentennial Bikeway.


"Asylum seekers" in Australia's suburbs

THOUSANDS of asylum seekers are expected to flood the suburbs as the Federal Government rolls out bridging visas allowing boat people to live and work in the community and collect welfare.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has handed out the first bridging visas for 27 men, mostly Afghans and Sri Lankans, whose refugee claims are being assessed. Mr Bowen said the men would be released from detention centres, including Melbourne, in coming days - with 100 a month to follow.

It comes as a secret government briefing note seen by the Herald Sun suggests thousands of boat people will soon be transferred into the community.

The NSW Government note reports a warning by the Immigration Department this week that arrivals will balloon when word spreads that asylum seekers arriving by boat are no longer to be held in detention. "Once it is widely known that IMAs will live in the community while being processed, the level of entries into Australia are very likely to escalate," the note said.

The majority are expected to be housed in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

The note followed a meeting between Department of Immigration officials and the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The radical move to a softened onshore processing system comes after the collapse of PM Julia Gillard's Malaysia deal and after the arrival of more than 300 asylum seekers this week.

Mr Bowen said the first batch of asylum seekers to be given bridging visas were long-term detainees who have cleared health, security and identity checks, and will live with friends or family. From next month, at least 100 people a month will be released while their asylum claims are processed.

A person's time in detention, their behavioural record and their family's ability to support them will decide who is chosen. "People who are assessed to pose an unacceptable risk to the community will remain in an immigration detention facility," Mr Bowen said.

Those released will be able to get jobs and up to $215 a week in means-tested payments, but will not qualify for Centrelink benefits.


Another bungled helicopter purchase

YET another big-ticket military helicopter project is about be added to the Government's defence project list of shame.

The $2 billion contract to supply the army and navy with 46 MRH 90 European-built multi-role helicopters will become the latest to make the so-called "projects of concern" list.

High-level military sources told The Courier-Mail that the project would be added to the list provided Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare accepted the recommendation of the latest "diagnostic review" of the project.

So far only 13 of the 46 machines have been accepted by Defence and deliveries are more than 18 months late.

A source said the chopper still had major problems with its navigation systems.

The MRH 90 will be the second helicopter project to make the list of shame following the Sea Sprite navy helicopter debacle that cost taxpayers more than $1 billion before being abandoned.

There are nine projects on the current list ranging from submarine sustainment to standoff missiles and all companies involved, including multinationals such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are barred from further taxpayer-funded contracts until their project is removed from the list.

The hi-tech, fly-by-wire, composite, twin-engine MRH 90 helicopter is built by European giant Eurocopter and assembled in Brisbane by its subsidiary Australian Aerospace.

The project has been dogged by serious technical issues including an engine failure due to overheating, cracked windscreens, soft cargo flooring and avionic and navigation problems. It is the latter that continues to cause difficulties, especially for navy versions operating from ships.

A well-placed source said technical issues such as the navigation problems had been addressed and would soon be rectified.

Former commander of the navy's 808 Squadron, Commander Tim Leonard, last year said there had been poor system reliability or design on cabin floors, windscreens, main gear box, machinegun mounts and engines.

Due to regular groundings of the 13 choppers already delivered to Defence, the pilot training schedule had also been thrown into disarray.

The Government and Australian Aerospace are reportedly about to sign an agreement with a new timetable for fixing the outstanding faults and getting deliveries back on track by March next year.


25 November, 2011

Barrister Greg Williams reports University of Queensland nepotism scandal to police

Greenfield may be psychopathic enough to withstand the continuous battering he is attracting but it is amazing that the University Senate is ignoring its responsibilities by doing nothing about him

A BRISBANE barrister who says he is "ashamed and disgusted" at the University of Queensland nepotism scandal yesterday made a complaint to police. Greg Williams urged police to investigate whether there has been any wrongdoing.

"The university is acting like a secretive and paranoid government department," Mr Williams said. "It's time the university realised it is not a law unto itself. Now is the time to make full disclosures about these matters to uphold its reputation and the reputation of those students who have passed through its doors."

Mr Williams also chided the university Senate, the governing body, for a lack of transparency in not releasing the independent report by Tim Carmody, SC.

Vice Chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger offered to stand down after Mr Carmody found "irregularities" in the enrolment process. Later, it was admitted the student at the centre of the row was a "close family member" of Prof Greenfield.

Prof Greenfield, who was paid $1,069,999 last year, claimed the incident arose because of an error and as the result of a "misunderstanding" but failed to elaborate.

The university Senate has decided Prof Greenfield will stay until June next year, after his 65th birthday, while Prof Keniger will leave in December.

There is growing disquiet in the community with calls for Prof Greenfield to leave the campus immediately to avoid further tarnishing the university's reputation.

Mr Williams graduated from the Law School in 1987. He was admitted as a barrister in 1996 and does not practise as a barrister. He is now a company director who is angry the reputation of his old law school at the university is under a cloud.

"Why me? Why am I doing this? There are thousands of academics at the university. Why haven't more of them stepped up to demand accountability? It's shameful," he said.


Sir Lunchalot was a VERY naughty boy

Former Labor energy minister Ian Macdonald accepted "sexual services" from a young woman named Tiffanie in return for arranging meetings between property developer Ron Medich and executives of two state-owned energy companies, the Independent Commission Against Corruption heard today.

On the first day of a corruption inquiry, counsel assisting the ICAC, Geoffrey Watson, SC, alleged Mr Medich and former boxer Lucky Gattellari arranged for Mr Macdonald to "take his pick" of a group of young women "kept" by Mr Gattellari with the knowledge of Mr Medich "for themselves and their guests".

Mr Watson told the inquiry that Mr Macdonald chose a woman named Tiffanie who was later "installed" in a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in the Rocks on July 15, 2009.

Mr Watson said Mr Macdonald had told the ICAC he "noticed some neck tightness and simply attended a remedial massage organised by Mr Medich".

But Mr Watson said: "You might think it strange that a remedial massage was to be provided by a young woman with no training or expertise as a masseuse, late at night, in a private room in a five-star hotel, rather than a conventional setting." Mr Watson said there was "some kissing and fondling, but ultimately no sexual intercourse".

Mr Watson said that, in 2009, Mr Medich owned and controlled several businesses that could have supplied electrical services to EnergyAustralia or Country Energy. The businesses included a number of companies called the Rivercorp Group.

The inquiry has heard that two meetings were organised by Mr Macdonald at the request of Mr Medich and Mr Gattellari, both at the Tuscany restaurant in Leichhardt.

The first, on June 1, 2009, was between the managing director of EnergyAustralia, George Maltabarow, and Mr Macdonald. During the evening, Mr Medich came to the table with an unidentified man and they were introduced to Mr Maltabarow. "Medich delivered a long description of the services that Rivercorp could supply to EnergyAustralia," Mr Watson said. "As it turns out, Mr Maltabarow was underwhelmed and formed a negative view about the skills and experience of Mr Medich."

The second meeting, also at Tuscany, on July 15, 2009, was a dinner between Mr Macdonald and Craig Murray, who was, at the time, managing director of Country Energy.

"Shortly after ordering their meals ... Medich and [the then chief executive of Rivercorp, Kim] Shipley came over, were introduced by Macdonald, and sat down," Mr Watson told the ICAC. Mr Medich and Mr Shipley "presented a sales pitch for the services Rivercorp could provide to Country Energy", Mr Watson said.

He said it would be alleged that Mr Macdonald's "reward" for arranging the meetings was sexual services.

The then owner of Tuscany, Frank Moio, had been approached by Mr Macdonald before the July 15 meeting to ask "that he be provided that night with a woman".

The commission heard that Mr Gattellari organised for a group of women to be seated at a separate table to Mr Macdonald at Tuscany "and to be put in a place within the view of Mr Macdonald so that Macdonald could take his pick of those ladies".

The inquiry has been told the women were in their late 20s and possibly Japanese or Chinese students.

Mr Macdonald is alleged to have chosen Tiffanie, who was taken to the Four Seasons Hotel and "installed" in a room, for which Mr Gattellari paid $400. Mr Medich is said to have driven Mr Macdonald to the hotel and given him the room key.

Mr Watson said there was no suggestion of wrongdoing by Mr Maltabarow nor Mr Murray, but that it would be alleged that Mr Macdonald, Mr Medich, Mr Gattellari and Mr Moio "engaged in corrupt conduct".


Queensland Premier Anna Bligh offers coal seam gas industry help on green tape

Sounds like it is going to need it

PREMIER Anna Bligh has promised to take on the Federal Government over any increase to red tape from its new oversight of the coal seam gas industry.

The Gillard Government has agreed to make impacts on underground water a trigger for federal intervention in the approval of coal seam gas projects. It adds to the existing triggers of heritage and threatened species.

While the State Government said it was comfortable that its processes and approvals were of the higher scientific standard, Ms Bligh said she would not accept more bureaucracy. "This has to be something that adds value, not something that adds bureaucracy," Ms Bligh said.

Queensland Gas senior vice-president Jim Knudsen said the state already had the world's most regulated gas industry. "It's an extra regulation," Mr Knudsen said. "We are disappointed that was the outcome. "Having one more level of oversight is going to be very difficult for everyone."

Mr Knudsen said the industry had just been getting comfortable with the 1500 conditions imposed by the federal and state process. "So we will have to wait and see what comes out of this new opportunity for the feds."

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association said it didn't want any duplication of existing regulations.

Association chief executive David Byers it appeared the package had the potential to cause major project delays. "The states already have rigorous regulatory processes in place and one third of eastern Australia's natural gas supply already comes from CSG, developed safely and responsibly under this oversight," he said.

"Any regulatory changes should not overturn good practice, or do anything to hurt the jobs or business interests of the thousands of Australians already working in the CSG industry. "It is concerning to see the Commonwealth flagging possible amendments to create a trigger for more intervention."

Greens senator Larissa Waters said it was unlikely the new trigger levels would affect the Queensland CSG industry because approvals had already been granted for three projects and a decision of the fourth, by Arrow, would be made well before legislation was introduced in about 18 months.


Boat arrival tally passes department danger level

THE fourth people-smugglers' boat in three days has carried the 701st passenger for November into Australian waters - confirming the Immigration Department's warning to the opposition of the consequences of the collapse of the Malaysia plan.

Two boats, carrying 144 asylum seekers and crew, were intercepted yesterday, quickly passing the controversial "600-a-month" threshold the Immigration Department secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, warned would make immigration detention unviable and could lead to European-style social unrest.

Asylum seeker arrivals have more than doubled since last month, when the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced the effective end of offshore processing because the opposition would not pass legislation to overcome a High Court ban on the Malaysia refugee swap.

Since then, there has been one boat tragedy with eight asylum seekers drowning off Java and the death of a skipper in an incident off Christmas Island this week.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, challenged the Coalition to match "hollow words" on stopping the boats with action. "If the opposition wants to see offshore processing, we want to see offshore processing; the only difference is we're prepared to vote for it," he said.

But his opposition counterpart, Scott Morrison, called for the government to instead bring an immediate vote on the opposition's amendment to the bill, to only allow offshore processing in countries that have signed the Refugee Convention. The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, told Parliament: "The boats keep coming day in, day out".

Arrival numbers have returned to the peak seen late last year - before the December boat crash claimed 50 lives and acted as a brake on dangerous voyages - a level which led to severe overcrowding on Christmas Island, and riots among detainees.

Fourteen boats carrying 955 asylum seekers and crew have arrived since October 13, when the government said it would use bridging visas to move asylum seekers into the community to avoid detention crowding.

The Immigration Department had forecast just 750 asylum seekers arriving in 2011 in the federal budget, and the Mid-Year Economic Forecast, expected to be released next week, must revise spending upwards to account for the bigger numbers.

Mr Morrison said: "People smugglers are cramming more people onto dangerous boats in the lead-up to the monsoon season and the government has no policy in place to offer even the slightest deterrence."

Mr Bowen said the Coalition had "made a political decision, a calculation, that it is not in their political interest to see boat arrivals in Australia stop".

There were 959 people in detention on Christmas Island last Friday, with 344 more arrivals this week. There are 3923 asylum seekers in mainland detention.


24 November, 2011

Professor expresses outrage at University of Queensland enrolment scandal

That corrupt university boss Greenfield refuses to stand down is a disgrace to him personally, to his Jewish community and to my alma mater. It's hardly unknown for such a highly paid man to be so amoral but it is certainly reprehensible. The university is undoubtedly not getting value for money

A LEADING doctor and University of Queensland academic said there was "great anger" within the institution over the enrolment scandal engulfing vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield.

Associate Professor David Colquhoun yesterday urged Prof Greenfield to step down immediately because the controversy involving one of the vice-chancellor's close family members was "eating away at the integrity and morale of the university".

He said some specialist doctors teaching at the university were openly talking about boycotting the university while the cover-up continued. "We are angry. If the vice-chancellor was ethical he would ... step down now immediately," said Dr Colquhoun, a cardiologist who has taught at the university since 1984. "There is anger, great anger. Quote me as saying that. "One doctor told me he will never teach anyone at the university again. "Students, doctors and academics are all talking about it freely."

Prof Greenfield and his deputy Prof Michael Keniger offered to stand down after an integrity probe found "irregularities" in the enrolment process. Later, it was admitted the student at the centre of the row was a "close family member" of Prof Greenfield's.

Prof Greenfield, who was paid $1,069,999 last year, claimed the incident arose as the result of a "misunderstanding" but failed to elaborate.

The university Senate, the governing body, has decided Prof Greenfield will stay until June next year after his 65th birthday while Prof Keniger will leave in December.

There was community disquiet when the university tried to cover up the scandal. The details of the case still remain a closely guarded secret, with the university Senate declining to release the report.

The cover-up was continuing yesterday, with the university refusing to answer questions or release any information about the enrolment process. No students were disadvantaged, the university claims. Academic staff have been warned not to speak to the media.

Dr Colquhoun said the situation was "objectionable" and unworthy of one of the country's leading universities. "They are public servants and as such have a duty to stand down while an investigation happens," he said. "Public servants and politicians stand down while they are being investigated. That is the proper course of action.

"The vice-chancellor is the chief administrator of the rules and ethics." He said Prof Greenfield's decision to stay was an "embarrassment" and a blow to the integrity of the institution. "It's time he left so the university can begin to restore its reputation," Dr Colquhoun said.


'Slippery Pete'

Security in Parliament House is a rapid response operation. An extra guard was rustled up this morning to loiter calmly at Peter Slipper's door.

Whether trouble was expected from overly inquisitive journalists, or from Slipper's irate colleagues in the Liberal Party, was difficult to say.

The man known universally as Slippery Pete was set to occupy the Speaker's chair in the House of Representatives.

Such treachery and diabolical double dealing had not been seen in Canberra . . . well, since the last time, when Labor's Mal Colston enraged the progressive fraternity with a similarly fleet footed move in the Senate; thereby entering the pantheon of the parliamentary pariahs.

The guard at Slipper's door became two as the morning wore on.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, of course, is not amused.
Peter Slipper's move to the speaker's chair will rob the opposition of a crucial vote

Peter Slipper's move to the speaker's chair will rob the opposition of a crucial vote Photo: Glen McCurtayne GPM

Given the shock defection means an extra number for the Gillard government in the lower house, Slipper's colleagues are also far from amused.

So who is the Gillard government's new dancing partner? Slipper is a Queensland Liberal, who defected from the National Party. He holds the Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher, entering parliament as a National in 1984. He was defeated in 1987, then re-entered in 1993.

Despite harbouring considerable ambition, he languished during the Howard years. Voters outside Queensland would struggle to recognise him.

In recent times Slipper has grabbed headlines largely due to controversies surrounding travel entitlements. So far he's repaid more than $20,000 worth of incorrect claims. A lawyer, his reputation is as bon vivant.

Slipper's colourful parliamentary lifestyle has provided the Canberra beltway with plenty of anecdotal fodder over the years, has titillated the tabloids, and fuelled animosity with colleagues. His decision to accept a deputy speakers' post when it was offered by Gillard's minority government seriously rankled.

Most likely with the morning's events in the back of his mind, (or the risk of Slipper defecting permanently to the crossbench), Abbott has been trying to calm events in Queensland, where Slipper faces an acrimonious preselection challenge from former Howard government minister Mal Brough.

But momentum, once gathered, is hard to undo. Slipper enraged his colleagues last week by bringing the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to his electorate when John Howard was just down the road, launching the campaign of state MP John Connolly.

The estrangement from his colleagues was complete this morning, when Abbott indicated Slipper would have to quit the Liberal Party if he wanted to indulge his latest theatrics — the frolic with the speakership.

Slipper occupied the speaker's chair almost immediately after Labor's Harry Jenkins departed this morning.

As the parliamentary thunderbolts and outrage ensued, Slipper showed no signs of listening.


O'Chee influence claims sent to News lawsuit

That O'Chee is a slippery character who tries to evade his debts should be mentioned. One wonders who paid him this time

ALLEGATIONS that News Ltd offered a senator a "special relationship" if he crossed the floor on a vote of financial interest to the company have been included in a US lawsuit being run by News shareholders against the company's New York parent organisation.

Yesterday it was revealed federal police are investigating claims the News Ltd executive Malcolm Colless told then Queensland senator Bill O'Chee, during a 1998 lunch in Brisbane, he would be "taken care of" if he voted in accordance with News's interests. The allegations of Mr O'Chee were contained in a nine-page police statement made by Mr O'Chee, and seen by the Herald.

It can now be revealed that a statutory declaration making the same claims has been provided to lawyers running a class action against News Corporation's New York leadership, on behalf of shareholders who say mismanagement has damaged the company financially.

After being revealed by the Herald, the story of the federal police investigation was picked up by hundreds of newspapers and media outlets in Britain, the US and elsewhere.

The outgoing News Ltd chairman, John Hartigan, yesterday denied the allegations of improper conduct by any executive.

"The executive referred to in today's report, Malcolm Colless, has confirmed that no improper conversation took place during the 1998 lunch with former Nationals senator O'Chee."

Mr Hartigan noted that neither of the other two people at the table at Pier 9 restaurant in Brisbane in June of that year recalled any improper offer.

He also said neither News Ltd nor Mr Colless have been contacted by federal police, who have been investigating the matter since November 4.

Mr Colless worked with News Ltd for almost 50 years, as a journalist and then as an executive. He was director of corporate development when he met Mr O'Chee in 1998, and he retired in 2007 and runs a consulting company.


Criminal bungle at government hospital in Melbourne

A HEALTHY 32-week-old fetus was accidentally terminated in a botched procedure at the Royal Women's Hospital.

A Victorian mother, pregnant with twin boys she had already named, had made the agonising decision to abort one of the babies on doctors' advice, the Herald Sun reported. She had been told that one twin had a congenital heart defect that would require years of operations, if he survived at all.

An ultrasound clinician had checked the healthy baby, who was in a separate sac to the sick baby, before the termination.

But just after 2.30pm on Tuesday the wrong baby was injected, terminating the healthy pregnancy.

The mother then had an emergency caesarean section and the sick child was terminated in a three-hour operation.

A Royal Women's Hospital spokeswoman last night apologised for the "distressing clinical accident" and said the hospital was launching a full investigation.

A friend of the woman said the family was struggling to cope with the fatal mistake.

"She went to the hospital with two babies and now she has none. And she had the heartache of giving birth to her sick baby. She's traumatised," she said. "The hospital said it had followed correct procedure, but how could this happen? "The ultrasound clinician said she checked three times before the termination because she didn't want to make a mistake."

The woman's husband, a nurse, a doctor and the ultrasound clinician, who was reportedly inconsolable as a result of the error, were in the room at the time of the procedure.

The Herald Sun believes the family are considering legal action.

The ultrasound clinician performed the procedure because "she looks at ultrasounds all day", hospital sources said.

The late-term termination went ahead only after a review by the Royal Women's Hospital.

A hospital spokeswoman said: "The Royal Women's Hospital can confirm a distressing clinical accident occurred (on Tuesday). "This is a terrible tragedy and the hospital is deeply sorry for the loss suffered by the patient and her family."

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson, who resolves complaints against Victoria's hospitals, said she was shocked. "I have never dealt with a case like this before," she said.

Health Minister David Davis said: "This is an absolute tragedy for all concerned and my sympathies are with the family."


Labor's $100 million deal with the Greens over mining tax revealed after 12 hours of secrecy

THE Federal Government today revealed details of an extraordinary multi-million dollar pact with the Greens that secured Parliamentary support for a new law.

The deal means the Government will defer concessions for foreign banks to get $20 million a year in revenue the Greens want spent on public facilities.

Today’s announcement ended 12 hours of secrecy in which the Greens and Labor kept from Parliament and voters details of the deal to get the Mineral Resource Rental Tax (MRRT) through the House of Representatives early this morning.

Greens leader Bob Brown said today his party wanted the deal made public last night.

The tax on mining super profits will raise about $11 billion over four years.

Treasurer Wayne Swan was to have announced the details on the release of the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) report expected next week. But it was brought forward to today following a barrage of criticism aimed at the secrecy pact enforced by the Government and Greens Leader Bob Brown.

Prime Minister Gillard defended the decision to allow the MRRT debate to proceed in Parliament without MPs being fully informed on related matters.

Ms Gillard said the Government wanted to release the details today “in accordance with normal, prudent Government measures and approaches”. “We wanted to alert stakeholders to the fact that we were acting that savings measure and we've been through that process this morning,” she told reporters.

The Prime Minister rejected a suggestion the vote should have been delayed until after the banks were told, and MPs could also have been informed.

She said the “one year pause” in the tax concession for foreign banks was a modest savings measure which had already been under consideration.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Parliament, the Labor Caucus, cross-benchers and the Australian people had been “kept in the dark”. “The only person that the Prime Minister (Julia Gillard) appears to consult with on key issues is Bob Brown,” Mr Abbott said. “It’s not good enough. It’s no way to run a Government and it’s no way to run the country.”

The House of Representatives passed the MRRT early this morning after a night of negotiations between the Government and the Greens. The legislation is now expected to pass through the Senate.

But the Government, with Senator Brown's agreement, kept the details of the deal secret.

“There seems to be a pact between the Labor Party and the Greens that the rest of Australia is not part of,” Opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane said.

The Greens demanded fresh negotiations on the tax after the Government this week increased the tax threshold - the point when the levy starts - to win the support of Independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

The complaint was that this reduced the revenue and could affect funding of schools and hospitals.


23 November, 2011

Labor's secret $100 million deal with the Greens

THE Government is keeping secret the $100 million pay-off it has made to get Green votes for its mining profits tax.

The House of Representatives passed the $11 billion Mineral Resource Rental Tax (MRRT) early this morning after a night of negotiations with the Greens leadership. It will go through the Senate next year.

But the Government is keeping secret the details of the deal with the Greens until the release of the Treasury’s latest assessment of the economy, the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, expected next week.

“There seems to be a pact between the Labor Party and the Greens that the rest of Australia is not part of,” said Opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane.

The Greens demanded fresh negotiations on the tax after the Government this week increased the tax threshold – the point when the levy starts – to win the support of independent MP Andrew Wilkie. The complaint was that this reduced the revenue and could affect funding of schools and hospitals. Senator Bob Brown said there had been a “$100 million win for the public” which he said would balance a similar concession to mining companies.

“The Government has agreed to an additional revenue measure at least equivalent to the $20 million a year ($100 million over five years) lost from raising the mining tax threshold to $75 million,” he said in a statement.

But Treasurer Wayne Swan this morning said the deal amounted to “something like $60 million over the forward estimates”. “That’s not a big call on the Budget,” Mr Swan told ABC radio. He called it “a perfectly reasonable thing to do”.

Whatever the amount, the Government will have to find further savings at a time when it already has said it will make billions in cuts with the MYEFO statement to ensure Australia gets a Budget surplus in 2012-13.

Treasurer Swan said today called the deal with the Greens - and expected passage of the bill - a win for the public. “But this isn't so much a win for the Government as it is for the Australian people and for the cause of economic reform amid an ocean of negativity and fear from (Opposition Leader Tony Abbott) and a handful of vested interests,” he said.

“Australians are entitled to share in the wealth that our natural resources bring and deserve to have extra superannuation savings to help ensure dignity in old age.

“Small business owners who work day in, day out to provide for their families and make our economy strong, also deserve to benefit from the wealth of the boom.

“It means tax cuts for 2.7m small businesses and an increase in the retirement savings for each one of our 8.4m working Australians. Much of those extra retirement savings will in turn be reinvested into Australian businesses which means more Australian jobs.

“The increase in the super guarantee from 9 to 12 per cent means that if you’re a 30 year old worker on average earnings, you’ll retire with an extra $108,000 in superannuation savings.

“It’s great news for 3.6 million low income workers, who will be given a total of $800 million in concessions each year on their employer superannuation contributions. These are the Australians who need fairness and this genuinely Labor reform will help deliver it.

“Australians know how important the mining industry is, but they also know that we can only dig up Australia’s resources once. “The MRRT will help us lock in the benefits of the boom and help those parts of our economy that aren’t in the mining boom fast-lane.”


Another blunder by Australia's defence procurement agency

Submarines that have never worked, helicopters that never flew -- and now this

DEFENCE has awarded a multi-million-dollar navy tender to a businessman who is blacklisted in the US and whose banned status shows up in even basic Google searches.

A Herald Sun investigation has found navy top brass had no idea William Thomas Rae, 38, was on the US blacklist when they selected him. Defence bosses did not require Mr Rae to disclose his status at any stage, and it was not uncovered by lawyers or probity advisers during the tender process.

The revelation of a significant gap between Australian and US vetting procedures comes as Prime Minister Julia Gillard and US President Barack Obama move to strengthen our military alliance.

Mr Rae's company Raecorp International Pty Ltd was chosen to provide logistics support to navy ships and submarines in Australian and foreign ports from April 2011 until 2014.

The supply role involves providing vessels with fuel, food, cars, security and any other required service here and overseas. He already has earned more than $3.4 million.

Queenslander Mr Rae - a director of the planned Brisbane Bombers NRL club - had been on the US government's "Excluded Parties List System" for almost a year when he won the navy work. The list is used by agencies worldwide to check for suspended or disqualified contractors.

One of Mr Rae's companies, Pure Blue Meats Pty Ltd - which once boasted of selling wagyu beef to the White House - was added to the list in June.

Defence bosses admit they did not know of Mr Rae's appearance on the list when they awarded the Standing Offer for Naval Port and Agency Services tender to his business RCI Military Logistics in April. A Defence spokeswoman said Mr Rae was not required to disclose his blacklisting in the US as part of the process, and his tender had been "fully compliant".

Defence was made aware of the issue only after the tender was awarded. The matter was investigated with no further action deemed necessary. "Raecorp International Pty Ltd has been awarded a number of contracts to provide support to ships locally, nationally and internationally over the past six months. The performance ... has been to the standards required," she said.

The Opposition's defence spokesman, David Johnston, called on Defence Minister Stephen Smith to tighten probity processes.


Single-sex class trials in Queensland state schools to be extended after good results

The old ways were not so silly after all

TRIALS of single-sex classes in some Queensland state schools will be extended after reports from teachers, parents and students of improved results.

The move is set to kickstart the debate on co-education after the State Government proposed single-sex state schools in 2008 and this week floated individual schools being given more say over how children are taught.

Pilot classes at Kedron State High School, Milton State School and Earnshaw State College will continue next year, with Education Queensland's Brisbane regional director Chris Rider citing higher student engagement and better results.

Mr Rider said student feedback at Milton - which has been trialling gender divisions in some subjects in Years 5 to 7 - was "very supportive, with the majority indicating that they have enjoyed the single-gender classes for certain subjects, have been able to engage in a more focused way and feel they have personally achieved better results".

Mr Rider said the majority of parents who responded to a survey supported the trial continuing, as did most staff.

At Kedron State High School, boys in a trial Year 9 English and iPad class have done particularly well, surpassing the girls in some tasks.

KSHS English head of department Chrissie Coogan said having only boys narrowed down what they talked about and how she taught things. "Their academic performance has improved and their level of confidence and willingness to perform at school has improved too," she said.

Principal Myron McCormick said analysis of individual students' Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 NAPLAN results showed a more significant jump among boys in the single-sex and iPad trial than any other group this year, including the adjacent girls' trial, which had also shown improvement.

"Parents are astounded that their 14-year-old son has asked to be taken to the library to get another book because he has finished the book he is reading," he said.

Griffith University School of Education's Dr Wayne Usher, who has taught Health and Physical Education for 20 years in both single-sex and co-ed schools, said there was merit in split classes with students more focused in single-sex schools.

But University of Queensland's School of Education Professor Martin Mills said it was the quality of the teacher and their engagement of students that really mattered.

In a statement last night, Education Queensland deputy director-general Lyn McKenzie said there were no plans to introduce single-gender classes throughout Queensland. "However, the issue of single-sex classes has been included in the Local decisions: stronger school communities discussion paper, which was released this week," she said.

She said seven schools in the metropolitan and southeast regions were trialling same-sex classes and proposals made in 2008 were now outdated. "Decisions on single-sex classes are best left to principals in conjunction with parents and wider school communities."

The Queensland Association of State School Principals, Queensland Teachers Union and Queensland Secondary Principals Association agreed.


Australia's forgetful Green/Left

When the American president addressed joint Houses of the Australian Parliament back in 2003, Greens Senator Bob Brown interjected. In fact so worked up was he that the Speaker ordered his removal from the chamber. He was yelling about Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

This time Brown joined a conga line of MPs clamouring to shake hands with the President, Barack Obama. He had to jostle with Greens MP Adam Bandt (who has a PhD on Marxism) to get his chance. Both of them were beaming. It was a good speech. The President declared America's commitment to a military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, including a new proposal to train up to 2500 marines in the Northern Territory. One can only imagine what Bob's reaction would have been had George Bush announced that 2500 US marines would be stationed on Australian soil. They would have had to cart him out of the House of Representatives.

What a difference a few years and the election of a Democrat as president makes. Once upon a time the left railed against joint Australian-American military bases. That was one of the main issues that made the left the left. It was a key dividing line between the ALP Right wing, which backed such bases, and the Left wing, which opposed them.

But those were the days of the Cold War. In those days the bases were part of the Western alliance against the Soviet empire. Some on the left were Soviet supporters who wanted to help the communist cause, but most were fellow-travellers who fell for the line that somehow these bases were provocative and would tempt the Soviets to do something they would not do if only people were a whole lot nicer to them. The left never seemed to worry about Soviet military power. It was only the Americans that got them agitated.

In the end the policy of American military strength cracked the Soviet Union - not the policy of disarmament. When the Soviet Union collapsed so too did the disarmament movement and the "peace rallies". Back in those days there were enormous marches on Palm Sunday to protest over the American military build-up. You'd have to look hard to find a Palm Sunday peace rally these days. Most of the demonstrators and left-wing church leaders have moved on to climate change. When peace rallies were all the rage in the 1980s, Peter Garrett was writing songs against US bases and running for the Senate as the candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party. It was long before he joined this government and long before this government decided it was in favour of ramping up uranium mining and the number of US marines on Australian soil.

I sometimes wonder how all those people who voted for Peter back then feel about him now. Have they taken the same pragmatic political journey or do they feel betrayed? Should he write a "Sorry" song - for demonising the uranium industry that the government now wants to promote? Or were his previous views just a stage persona - part of the leftist costume of rock'n'roll.

Which is better? To hold sincere beliefs that are proved wrong or to be insincere about your views in the first place? I guess a person who has genuinely changed would explain their reasons. But we are not going to get that from Bob or Julia or Peter.

Bob Brown was all worked up about Guantanamo Bay when George Bush visited Australia, but he does not seem to worry so much now that Obama is in charge. Julia Gillard used to complain that Australia was subservient to America. Now she claims she has made our alliance stronger than ever before.

In opposition, Labor harvested votes on the left. In government it wants to appeal to conservatives. The Coalition should not be tempted to switch sides just because Labor has done so. The Coalition supported joint bases when the youthful Garretts and Gillards were against them. It supported uranium mining and the sale of uranium to India. It should see Labor's about-face as a massive vindication. It was proved right.

Labor MPs may feel happy to see Obama and Gillard standing in front of troops in the Northern Territory - it is a great photo opportunity for their side of politics. But alliances are between countries. They are designed to outlive the political office-holders of the day. In the future it could be Newt Gingrich and Tony Abbott standing there being cheered by US marines in the NT. The principle is either right or it is wrong and it doesn't turn on who happens to be in office.

That is why it is so useful to have the left of Australian politics now locked in to traditional Coalition policies. Bipartisan support has been firmly established. And in the future if there is ever a complaint about marines based in Australia, just pull out the footage of a beaming Bob Brown grasping the hand of the president who announced it.


22 November, 2011

Poisoner targets birds at Cleveland on Brisbane's bayside

The story below is extremely unpleasant but is entirely predictable. Despite nuisance birds like crows and magpies not being remotely "endangered species" they are protected by law. So people cannot shoot ones that are a particular nuisance and the government almost never does anything to remove them. So where the law fails people you have got to expect somebody to become so fed up that they take their own measures. And inevitably those measures will be crude

IT'S a murder of crows . . . and magpies and seabirds. The hunt continues for an elusive bird killer in greater Brisbane's bayside. The killer has been stalking the streets of Cleveland in Redland City, poisoning prey with chemical-laced meat.

The entire local magpie population may now have been successfully wiped out.

The stealthy perpetrator is believed to be responsible for the poisoning death of 68 birds, including 50 magpies and 16 crows, in the central business district.

RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty said he was shocked by the scale of the poisoning campaign, which was the worst he had seen. "I've not seen anything on this scale," Mr Beatty said. "There are lots of cases where a few birds have been poisoned but not an ongoing campaign like this and certainly not on this scale."

Scores of dead or paralysed birds have been found on green spaces within blocks of each other on Bloomfield, Doig and Waterloo streets and Taylor Cres. Another two dead birds turned up last week.

Sample testing has shown the presence of an organophosphate chemical that is particularly toxic to birds.

However, almost five months of investigations and a public information campaign has failed to uncover any tangible leads.

Pelican Seabird Rescue vice-president Natalie Forrest, who is caring for five surviving magpies, said she was sickened by the parade of carcasses that also included a black-faced cuckoo shrike, a flying fox and a mouse.

"It's totally unnecessary and very cruel," Ms Forrest said. "It's an absolutely terrible sort of cruelty and I would like to see the offender found and punished appropriately. I have never seen anything like it. "Yes we have seen poisoning but it's usually a one-off event. This has been very deliberate now for six months."

The first poisoned birds began appearing in June, but the number of cases then dropped off again until last month when more dead birds began turning up.

If found, the killer could face a fine of up to $100,000 or two years in jail, depending on the relevant law.


Patriot games: Kids told to join Team Australia

ALL students would be "Australianised" - and encouraged to regularly sing the national anthem at school - under a push by a Victorian Baillieu Government minister.

Alarmed that a significant number of migrant children do not identify as Australian, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship Minister Nick Kotsiras is promoting a radical civic program to make kids feel part of "Team Australia".

Mr Kotsiras said up to a third of students at classes he visited did not feel Australian. "To me, that's disappointing, because I would hope to see every single child putting up their hands," he said. "What makes you feel that you're not part of Victoria, not part of Australia?

"Our young people, when they grow up, if they keep that impression then that would cause some frictions. "We need to see why and then try programs to assist them to feel part of the team - Team Australia."

Mr Kotsiras said most schools regularly sang the national anthem, but he wanted all schools to do it as a symbol of unity. "I would hope that during school assemblies at the start of the week that schools do sing the national anthem because you tend to feel united and tend to appreciate that while you are different you also share something with the person next to you," he said.

Greek-born Mr Kotsiras said the State Government was planning a beefed up program to promote Australian values. "I support multiculturalism, I support our cultural diversity and I support individuals showcasing their differences," he said. " ... I've always said that we also have to understand that we are Victorians and Australians as well."


Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Mary Bluett said the minister's calls were simplistic and "jingoistic". "I think the minister is oversimplifying if he thinks children together singing the national anthem will make new arrivals feel like they actually belong," Ms Bluett said. "It just seems a bit of jingoistic nonsense in terms of what is a far more complex issue."

She said friendships and everyday activities in the classroom and playground were more helpful than singing the anthem to integrate students. "What makes them feel like they belong is the everyday activities, sitting side-by-side with other children and learning about all things including this wonderful country of ours. "It's making friends and forming bonds that really assist children to feel fully integrated into our lovely multicultural nation."

Ms Bluett said words in the anthem, such as "girt", were outdated for modern school kids. "There are words in our national anthem that Aussie kids would struggle to identify with, let alone new arrivals."

She said it was up to individual schools to decide when it was appropriate to sing the anthem.

Children of New Zealand origin are the biggest foreign-born group in state primary schools, followed by students from the UK, India, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

Dandenong North primary principal Kevin Mackay said his school had many migrant students and they often maintained strong links to their homelands. "Often you will hear from 11 and 12-year-old children, 'My country', and that's the country they came from, not necessarily Australia," he said.

But Mr Mackay said students proudly sang the national anthem at Monday assembly and the school felt like a big family. "I see kids of all nationalities walking along the corridors arm in arm and arms around the shoulders," he said. "They are totally at ease and totally integrated."

Mr Kotsiras has set up a special unit to co-ordinate the settlement of migrants and refugees and is also encouraging multicultural communities to band together when organising festivals and events under the $1.1 million Unity Through Partnership grants program.

The Baillieu Government has given official recognition to multiculturalism in a special Act and is boosting the teaching of foreign languages in schools.


Old boy's club supports corrupt university boss

No questions asked

VICE-chancellors of Australia's leading universities have closed ranks behind their chairman, Professor Paul Greenfield, the University of Queensland vice-chancellor embroiled in a nepotism scandal involving a close family member.

The Group of Eight vice-chancellors "strongly and unanimously" endorsed Prof Greenfield to remain as their chairman until his term ends next year. "There was no vote, just a unanimous show of confidence," Go8 executive director Michael Gallagher said.

He said the vice-chancellors meeting in Canberra last week didn't ask for and were not given a briefing by their chairman on the independent barrister's investigation which found "irregularities" in the University of Queensland's enrolments.

Mr Gallagher suggested that the vice-chancellors supported Prof Greenfield without knowing the full details of the controversy. There was "no discussion of content", he said. "It didn't come to that, right.

There was no need for a discussion because the university has said there was no malfeasance. "There were irregularities found but there was no slur on Paul and there was nothing that required an explanation. "It seems to me you are on a bit of a witch hunt," he said.

The affair remains a mystery, with senior academics from the University of Queensland barred from speaking about the case.

The university has declined to say in which faculty the irregularities occurred, but it has been widely reported as the School of Medicine.

The cover-up continued yesterday, with the university refusing to say whether there had been fresh allegations of nepotism in other departments.

The Go8 universities are Monash, the universities of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, Australian National University and the universities of NSW, Western Australia and Queensland.


A culture of coverup at another government health service

A MAJOR mental health service in Melbourne has been hit by further accusations of covering up sexual assaults, including an incident in which a male nurse allegedly kissed and fondled a patient and tried to pressure her into performing oral sex.

The Age has heard complaints from former patients and their relatives about Eastern Health's handling of sexual assaults that allegedly occurred at the Maroondah Hospital psychiatric unit and other facilities over the past decade.

The complaints come after reports in The Age about Eastern Health's failure to report the alleged rape of a 21-year-old woman to police in 2008 and to notify the parents of a 15-year-old girl sexually assaulted while in its care in February.
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The service was investigated last year by Victoria's Chief Psychiatrist, Ruth Vine, amid allegations staff failed to protect an intellectually disabled teenager from being sexually exploited at the Maroondah psychiatric unit by a 34-year-old male patient - despite being warned by other patients about his behaviour towards the girl.

In the case involving the male nurse, a 20-year-old woman complained to staff at Maroondah in September last year that she had been subjected to sexual advances over two days.

The woman, who asked to be identified only as Angela, told The Age the nurse commented on her bra during a medical procedure, hugged her, kissed her, forced her hand down his trousers, asked for her phone number, exposed his penis to her and asked her to kiss him.

Angela, who was being treated for bipolar disorder, said that when she complained to a female staff member, she was told not to tell anyone else about it to avoid it "becoming office gossip". She said staff also told her that it was not the first time a complaint had been made against the nurse.

The Age understands Eastern Health staff did not immediately notify police of Angela's complaint. They did, however, help her to contact police the next day at her request. Police investigated the case but did not lay charges on the grounds it would be difficult to prosecute.

Angela said senior Eastern Health management, including mental health director Jose Segal, assured her and her mother that the incident would not be "swept under the carpet".

On October 7 last year, Angela received a letter from Eastern Health mental health unit manager John Daly to confirm an investigation had been conducted and "appropriate disciplinary action implemented".

Eastern Health did not detail to Angela what disciplinary action was taken. It declined to answer questions from The Age on its response to her complaint or whether the nurse had been the subject of prior complaints.

It is understood the nurse was back working in Eastern Health's mental health services soon after the alleged incidents involving Angela, and that he remains in a role where he interacts with female patients.

Angela told The Age the nurse's antics made her "feel anxious, dirty, trapped and angry", and that the staff response "made me feel confused, silenced and frustrated".

The relative of another former Eastern Health patient has contacted The Age to allege that a sexual assault at the Maroondah mental health unit in 2002 went unreported due to pressure from staff. "When she asked the staff how to report the incident they blatantly told her to 'forget about it'," the relative said.

Dr Segal, one of Eastern Health's most senior psychiatric clinicians, has been the subject of court action in South Africa in 2006 lodged by a female patient who claimed she was raped by a male nurse and male patient while under Dr Segal's care at a Johannesburg mental hospital.

According to a report by South African online newspaper IOL, the patient alleged in the Johannesburg High Court that psychiatric staff, including Dr Segal, refused to hand over her medical records.

The Age sought a comment from Dr Segal through Eastern Health on the South African matter but did not receive one.

An Eastern Health spokeswoman denied the service had a systemic problem with managing sexual assault allegations, and said all complaints were taken seriously. "We have a robust and comprehensive complaints management system and our processes comply with the Chief Psychiatrist's guidelines," the spokeswoman said.

The guidelines require psychiatric services to report suspected incidents of sexual assault to police, debrief families and provide feedback to complainants. Referring to Angela's case, the spokeswoman said: "While we cannot disclose or discuss private patient or staff information, we can say that this matter was thoroughly investigated at the time and appropriate action was taken."


21 November, 2011

Laugh of the day: SMH claims to be independent

There's "A letter to the reader" in the SMH today which is a barely camouflaged admission. The SMH does of course publish some conservative views but its lean to the Left is unmistakeable. So now they are in effect apologizing for that! One can only hope that it is a promise to do better that will be kept. They are obviously worried that their slant has alienated half of the population and sent them off to buy Murdoch publications instead. Bias is bad business. See the apologia below

Dear Reader

In 180 years of publishing, The Sydney Morning Herald has never wavered from its core values and promise to its readers – to deliver journalistic integrity and independence.

The Herald is launching a campaign today to re-state its commitment to journalism without fear or favour, to journalism which is above political influence and to journalism which serves the community with the utmost integrity.
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The line between trusted sources of journalism and unmoderated noise has become blurred.

We appreciate that readers need information they can trust. Information that assists them make to make sense of their world.

In the first issue of the Herald, the publishers declared the publication would be so stridently independent that all sides of politics would come to view it as an opponent.

We remain committed to this ideal. We work in the public good.

The Sydney Morning Herald is neither a recipient of government funding nor a mouthpiece for a media magnate.

We do not take your trust for granted. We know we have to earn it every day.

The Herald’s commitment to journalism with integrity and independence has never been so important as it is today.

We hope you agree and we thank you for your support.

Peter Fray

Publisher and Editor-in-chief


No doctors at W.A. hospital -- woman sent home and dies

SUFFERING debilitating headaches and a swollen stomach, a WA mother of four was turned away by a hospital and then sent home by a private GP with instructions to take Panadol. Just three hours later, Vanessa Elizabeth Dimer, 32, was dead.

The Dimer family is suing three doctors and Esperance Hospital over events preceding the tragic death.

The case is similar to that of Andrew Allan, the 16-year-old schoolboy who died after being sent home with Panadol by a junior nurse at Northam Hospital last year.

Ms Dimer visited Esperance Hospital in November 2008 but allegedly was told there was no doctor on duty. Instead, she was referred to a medical clinic where a GP told her to go home and take Panadol. She later collapsed and died in front of her horrified mother.

A civil lawsuit against the GPs and the WA Country Health Service was lodged in the District Court this week.

Her mother, Janet Faye Beck, and Ms Dimer's four children aged three to 17 and all from Esperance claim in the writ her death resulted from negligence, breach of duty, and the omission of medical advice, care and treatment.

Ms Beck, 57, said her daughter complained of severe headaches and a swollen stomach and sought emergency treatment at the hospital. "She was in a bad way, that is why she wanted medical help," Ms Beck told The Sunday Times. "She was very pale and shaky on her feet."

Ms Beck said a hospital nurse referred her daughter to a GP clinic because no doctor was on duty. "Vanessa was told by a doctor there to go home and take some Panadol, which she bought from a pharmacy straight afterwards," Ms Beck said.

"I went to her place later on and we were sitting out the front when all of a sudden she got up and screamed, 'Mum, my head', then she collapsed and died on the spot. "It happened three hours after she the left the clinic."

The dead woman's brother, Jason Dimer, 38, said the legal action was not about money. "We just want some answers and want to make sure something like this never happens again," he said from his home in Kalgoorlie.

Mr Dimer said the cause of death was initially given as unknown and later as a possible heart attack. [Did they not even do an autopsy??]


Australian taxpayers wear burden of 60,000 illegal immigrants

In a population of 22 million

AUSTRALIA has enough illegal immigrants on the loose to populate a large regional city. A Herald Sun investigation has found that nearly 60,000 people - one in every 390 - is in the country unlawfully, sparking renewed calls for a crackdown.

The 58,400 foreign citizens hiding illegally among us easily outnumber the populations of Mildura or Shepparton - Victoria's fifth and sixth biggest cities. And they dwarf the 4700 asylum seekers who arrived by boat in 2010-11.

Documents released to the Herald Sun under Freedom of Information also reveal the biggest groups of illegals are Chinese, Americans, Malaysians, Britons and South Koreans.

More than half have been here for five or more years; 20,000 for a decade or more; and two in three have evaded authorities for more than two years. (The figures do not include visitors who overstay visas by less than a fortnight.)

Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria chairman Sam Afra said illegal residents attracted little of the outrage associated with boat people, despite taking jobs and housing, using public services, and not paying tax.

He said it was far too easy to stay here if you knew how to "work the system". "It's shocking," he said. "To have one in three who have been here more than 10 years (suggests) something's wrong with the system."

"Nobody's talking about it. It is a problem, and the question is, don't you think the damage justifies putting more resources in (to find them)?"

He said the involvement of illegals in criminal and other dubious activities also sullied the reputations of legal migrants.

Jailed terrorist cell leader Abdul Benbrika lived illegally for years after arriving on a visitor's visa in 1989. Three months after marrying in 1992, while still an illegal, he successfully applied to stay, living on welfare with his wife and seven children until his arrest in 2005.

Illegal immigrants have also been involved in drug cartels, sexual slavery, and fraud. Illegals accused of guarding marijuana crops in Melbourne and regional Victoria were among 43 people arrested last year in raids focusing on a $400 million crime syndicate.

A charter flight to deport 76 illegal aliens from Malaysia and Indonesia, busted picking fruit in Mooroopna last year, cost taxpayers $100,000.

Australian Human Rights Commission president Catherine Branson, QC, said it was important to remember many more overstayed visas, or arrived by plane and sought asylum, than arrived by boat.

"Another misconception is that people who arrive by boat are illegal immigrants. Australia is obliged to assess asylum seekers' claims."

There were 10,600 more illegals at June 30 last year than in 2005.


Plan for schools to hire and fire

A small step in the right direction

PRINCIPALS could poach talented student teachers and hire "a percentage" of staff under State Government proposals released today.

The Government will today release a discussion paper, "Local Decisions: stronger school communities", which looks to give parents and state school communities more say on improving education outcomes for Queensland children.

The paper says principals may be able to make an "early offer" of placement to student teachers due to complete their final year of university.

Education Minister Cameron Dick said it was important to ensure student teachers had the chance to gain employment while completing placements.

"It's a positive way for schools to see potential teachers in the school environment upfront and then to give them the flexibility to employ them," he said.

Other proposals include allowing principals and school communities to recruit a percentage of teaching staff depending on school size and location, allowing greater community use of school facilities and giving principals more flexibility to secure funding through philanthropic arrangements.

It comes after the Federal Government said yesterday it would also give principals greater input into hiring staff under a national blueprint, with 179 Queensland schools involved in the reform from next year.

Mr Dick said the percentage of staff recruitment they were proposing would vary across the state from school to school and region to region.

The discussion paper was developed together with teachers, principals and Parents and Citizens' Associations.

Mr Dick said consultation with parents and state school communities on decision-making was beneficial for all parties involved.

"The most effective schools are the ones where the principal, school staff, parents and the school community work together to get the best outcomes for students," he said.

Meanwhile, state LNP leader Campbell Newman said yesterday every state special school would receive 20 iPads or tablets and state and non-government schools with special education units would receive 10 each.


Is this stupid system still going on? It has been a scandal for decades

Sick system keeps doctors out of practice indefinitely

Susan Douglas's expertise as a doctor and obstetrician is indisputable. As an assistant professor of family medicine and head of Canada's largest obstetrics department, she had no trouble securing a lecturing job at the Australian National University's medical school in 2006.

While she is qualified enough to teach Australia's next generation of doctors, she cannot get full registration to practise medicine here herself. Dr Douglas is one of hundreds of overseas-trained doctors - encouraged by the government to come to Australia to ease critical gaps in the healthcare system - who are stymied from practising medicine when they arrive.

Some foreign doctors give up and leave. Others, such as Pakistan-trained Nasir Mehmood Baig - who arrived in 2005 and has a wife and four children to support - drive taxis while navigating their way towards registration. Those who eventually have their qualifications recognised have to work for 10 years often in remote areas shunned by domestically trained doctors if they want access to Medicare billing, without which they cannot make a living.

Most had no idea of the obstacle course they would face when they answered the call to come to Australia to help plug holes created in the years after the Keating and Howard governments froze enrolments of medical students to contain the Medicare bill.

The registration system is so convoluted that MPs carrying out a federal parliamentary inquiry into ways of making it simpler without cutting standards have been left perplexed. The inquiry's chairman, Labor MP Steve Georganas, says the accreditation and registration process is a "complex mishmash" that does not work properly.

It is not as though Australia doesn't need foreign-trained doctors. Almost 40 per cent of Australia's 75,000 doctors trained overseas. About 68 per cent of them work in major cities.

Less than a third work in rural and remote areas but they make up almost half the medical workforce in those areas. In one-doctor towns, often they are the only physician.

Nobody denies the need to carefully check medical qualifications, and all agree a good standard of English is needed. "Absolutely, they have to be thorough in verifying someone's credentials," Dr Douglas said. "The problem is that the assessment we demand of foreign doctors is far greater than what we demand for our own practitioners."

Registration processes were tightened, centralised and supposedly streamlined after the "Dr Death" scandal in which Queensland authorities failed to check the credentials of Jayant Patel, the surgeon recruited from the US and now serving seven years in jail for manslaughter and grievous bodily harm.

Commonwealth and state governments set up the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency in July last year to replace myriad state and professional boards. But the post-Patel reforms seem to have made things more complicated.

In June, a Senate committee inquiry into the new regulation agency, after hearing complaints of long delays, poor advice and lost paperwork, called on the agency to "significantly improve its performance". The same complaints have been made to the committee chaired by Mr Georganas.

The process is one of the most difficult to understand in the world, according to Rural Health Workforce Australia. Martina Stanley, director of a medical recruitment company, says other Western countries have complex and strict systems but "we have the worst system for co-ordination", with a reputation for "causing frustration that makes us look ridiculous".

Foreign doctors face a spaghetti bowl of red tape, involving multiple agencies. The Australian Medical Council checks and tests their credentials, the medical colleges govern specialists and the Medical Board of Australia registers them so they can practise. The regulation agency handles the paperwork. Gaining registration can entail more than a dozen processes.

Late last year, Queensland MPs from electorates reliant on foreign doctors and alarmed at what they saw as discrimination by regulators and medical colleges, demanded a parliamentary inquiry.

Nationals MP Bruce Scott talked of a system "that has just gone mad". Independent MP Bob Katter described the process as a disgrace. "Without overseas-trained doctors, regional Australia could not function," he said.

In response, the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, asked the House of Representatives committee on health and ageing to hold an inquiry. It will report early next year after receiving close to 200 submissions and holding 20 public hearings. It heard persistent complaints from doctors forced to do onerous language tests; of accrediting agencies not sharing information; of a lack of transparency; of shifting rules; and of a perception that the medical establishment is a closed shop protecting vested interests.

"It's clear the system is not working properly," Mr Georganas told The Sun-Herald. "I don't think what we're talking about is discrimination but I think it's this stupid bureaucracy that has grown out of each different college and the Australian Medical Council. Every step of the way there's a separate bureaucracy. None of them talk to each other."

He highlighted the case of Dr Douglas, now vice-president of the Australian Overseas Trained Doctors Association, who told the inquiry of a Kafkaesque ordeal with a "dysfunctional, difficult and irrational bureaucracy".

The Canadian is a native English speaker but to practise here she had to provide written proof of her language proficiency from her high school which closed decades ago.

She was forced to do the costly medical council accreditation process twice in two years and was confounded by more than one catch-22. She had to obtain a fellowship with the college of general practitioners before she could register as a GP - but she could not get a fellowship until she was registered.

As processes dragged on, Dr Douglas said she "fell into a state of deep depression". "It isn't that any one event in itself is particularly shocking," she wrote to the committee, "it is the fact that the problems never seem to end and just go on and on, to the point where you literally feel like you are losing your mind."

Australia's dependence on foreign doctors is self-made. The decision by first Labor and then Liberal federal governments in the 1990s to freeze local medical school enrolments was made amid predictions of an oversupply of doctors. But the freeze did not account for a growing population and the reluctance of Australian doctors to work in the bush. So doctors were recruited from overseas.

There was a catch. The Howard government barred doctors who entered the country after 1997 from billing under Medicare for 10 years unless they worked in areas of need, often in rural towns.

At the heart of the system are the Australian Medical Council and the Medical Board of Australia. Both are unapologetic, defending the need for strict standards to protect patient welfare. The council's chief executive, Ian Frank, concedes the process can be complex, creating stress and frustration for doctors involved.

"Nevertheless," he told the committee, "the assessment and registration of medical practitioners is a high-stakes process where individual failures, as evidenced by the Patel case in Queensland, can be very costly for the Australian community and lead to a loss of confidence in the regulatory processes . not to mention adverse clinical outcomes for individual patients."

The chairwoman of the medical board, Joanna Flynn, said the process had to be stringent to ensure only qualified people were registered. She insisted the complaints did not reveal a systematic failure by the board and associated bodies.

"We try to make a good judgment call between the need to provide medical services to the community and the need to ensure that everybody is appropriately qualified," she said. "I believe that most of the time we get that right." But Dr Flynn said more effort could be made in explaining the process. The board and the medical council were looking at ways of reducing duplication, possibly with an online repository of documents so doctors do not have to provide separate certificates to different agencies.

A central grievance of foreign doctors is the Medicare rule and their complaint is backed by major professional bodies. Former Australian Medical Association president Andrew Pesce said lifting the 10-year moratorium was the best way of supporting foreign doctors. He said the rule raised significant human rights issues, while allowing governments to avoid their responsibility to train enough local doctors and provide incentives for them to work in regional areas.

The system meant foreign doctors were conscripted to work in the bush, Dr Pesce said. Given the lack of support and the nature of rural practice, there "could not have been a worse place" to send doctors unfamiliar with Australia.

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia says overseas-trained doctors have prevented a catastrophic collapse in the medical workforce in rural and remote areas but it too wants the "unconscionable" 10-year moratorium phased out.

Ms Roxon said she did not want to pre-empt the inquiry's findings. In a written response to questions from The Sun-Herald, she appeared to rule out lifting the 10-year rule.

Overseas-trained doctors had "proven to be a very effective way of improving workforce shortages in the areas of greatest need, which tend to be located in rural and regional Australia, and the government has no current plans to change this", she said.


20 November, 2011

Queer nurse wanted to be a hero

As a 35-year old geriatric nurse with no family he was obviously going nowhere vocationally or in any other way so he apparently needed something to make him feel good about himself. Being Asian probably made him feel an outsider too. That he was interviewed by police BEFORE the fire suggests that he had already begun to behave erratically

AS Australians tuned in to the dramatic scenes at the Quakers Hill Nursing Home on Friday, the alleged killer was still at the scene - claiming he had helped to save residents.

After being treated by paramedics - as the bodies of those too frail to escape the inferno were removed from the crumbling building - Roger Kingsley Dean allegedly helped at the scene.

He then turned to TV crews, who labelled him a hero. In footage screened on channels Seven and Nine, the 35-year-old told reporters: "There was a fire and I just quickly just did what I can (to) get everyone out. "The smoke is just overwhelming but, you know, we got a lot of people out, so that's the main thing."

Police believe Dean set alight sheets in two rooms in the nursing home before joining the rescue and boasting about it on TV soon after.

Dean, who was interviewed by police seven hours before the fatal fire over another matter, has been charged with four counts of murder. He is expected to face further charges as the death toll rose to five yesterday.

Police released the names of three victims - Alma Smith, 73, Lola Bennett, 86, and Ella Wood, 97.

The crime scene is 500m from the townhouse where the registered nurse, who has been refused bail on four counts of murder, lived a quiet life with his long-term partner, Dean French.

Mr French is the owner of a small business in Quakers Hill. He briefly went to work yesterday morning then returned home about 10am but refused to comment.

Yesterday neighbours described nightshift worker Mr Dean as a quiet man who kept to himself. Quakers Hill senior Anglican minister Geoff Bates said the parish was shocked to learn of regular churchgoer Mr Dean's arrest.

Neighbour Peter Arnold said Mr Dean started at the home a few months ago. "He said he found part-time work as a nurse. He resigned (the previous job). I don't know what the reasons are. He found (a new job) quickly."


Cautious mothers give peanut butter parties for kids outside hospital in case of allergic reaction

They are probably doing more good than they know. Kids introduced to peanuts early are less likely to become allergic to them

WORRIED parents are holding "peanut butter parties" in parks near the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide in which they give their children the spread for the first time.

The parties put parents in quick reach of emergency medical help should their child have an anaphylactic reaction.

Christine Dening, of St Peters, said her mothers' group leader had suggested exposing her son Henry, 2, to peanuts near the WCH "just in case".

"That way we could dash to the emergency room if he reacted," Ms Dening said. "(The group leader) also recommended doing it with a group so that we could support each other and help to reduce anxiety."

Although there is no history of allergy in Ms Dening's family, she was concerned about Henry's potential reaction to peanuts. She said she would do things differently with her daughter, Eliza, seven months, because Henry proved to be allergy-free.

"In hindsight, I was more worried about allergies than I needed to be given there are no allergies in the family and the likelihood of an anaphylactic reaction is low," she said. "I'll try Eliza with peanuts at home, although I'll probably still have 000 on my speed dial, just in case."

Gerry Tudorovic said she had considered attending a peanut butter party after hearing about the event through her mothers' group but in the end opted to introduce the food to her son Spencer, 2, at home.

"I wanted to make sure we were in Adelaide and not doing anything just in case," she said. "I was mildly worried, as I have a friend whose child is extremely allergic, but not too worried as my husband and I are not allergic to foods, and I was never too picky about Spencer eating foods which had traces of nuts."

Dietitian Julia Boase, who specialises in paediatrics and allergies, said she was aware of peanut butter parties near the WCH.

"I've even heard of mums driving to the emergency department car park and giving their kids their first peanut butter sandwich there," she said. "There's a bit of a heightened level of parental anxiety out there because allergies are on the rise but parents need to remember that the majority of kids don't have an allergy."

Ms Boase suggested concerned parents followed the advice of the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, which says there is no evidence parents should delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods.

Anaphylaxis Australia vice-president Sandra Vale said the organisation had heard of parents around the country visiting hospitals to let their children try potentially allergenic foods nearby.

"This is especially true if they have an older child that has an allergy," she said. "The waiting list in hospitals for testing is long so this is a safety precaution for these parents. "I think there is an increased need for education, as well as better access to services. "Parents just want peace of mind."

Dr Mike Gold, an allergist at the WCH, said parents should discuss their concerns with their GP, especially if a sibling already had a nut allergy.

"In some infants or children further investigations such as a simple blood test can be performed by a general practitioner to exclude a possible nut allergy," he said.

A WCH spokeswoman said the hospital was not aware of parents holding the "peanut butter parties" near the hospital.


Appalling child protection service in Victoria

The disgusting creatures offer hush money rather than investigate their failings

A MUM whose son died suspiciously has been offered $220,000 by the Department of Human Services to end her fight for justice and keep the deal secret. Pensioner Michelle Stewart - whose son Nathan was aged 16 when he died from a stab wound to the heart - has received the six-figure offer in a legal letter from the DHS.

But the letter linked the money to a confidentiality clause that would have barred her from talking about the details of the settlement. "It's all about the suppression to them, never speaking about it again," she said.

In a brave move motivated by a mother's love for her son rather than money, Ms Stewart has turned her back on the hush fund and chosen to tell her story through the Sunday Herald Sun.

"But it's about the principle, it's about doing what is right, it's about them being accountable to some degree and paying some respect," she said.

Nathan died in a Melbourne hospital in April 2005, months after his family and school had raised concerns about his care.

Ms Stewart has staged a six-year legal battle against the DHS and the Angliss Hospital - where he was first treated for the fatal wound - claiming negligence and failing in a duty of care. In a bid to stop the case going to court, the DHS has sought a settlement by offering her a one-off payout but demanding that she never talk of the deal.

A letter from lawyers representing the DHS shows the department was willing to pay $220,000 on condition there was a confidentiality clause. Ms Stewart also claims the DHS told her at mediation she could never talk about what happened to her son under the terms of the deal. "They can't even admit that they made a mistake, they can't even say 'sorry'," she said.

Ms Stewart said she was first offered $50,000 by Eastern Health in 2008 to sign a gag clause. That was later raised to $80,000, which she also refused. In April this year the DHS made her the $220,000 offer during mediation, on condition that the department denied liability and she sign an order "to keep the terms of the settlement of the proceedings and the terms of the compromise ... confidential".

She was given two weeks to sign the DHS deal but declined, last night describing the offer as "blood money" and adding: "You can't put a price on silence. "They want me to sign away my son's story - pay me to sweep it under the carpet. "Where is the dignity in that? It's saying 'shut up'."

Bronwyn Perry, spokeswoman for Minister for Mental Health Mary Wooldridge, refused yesterday to comment on the Minister's involvement in the case or her knowledge of the gag clause. "Given the litigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment," Ms Perry said.

The Government has assembled a high-powered legal team, believed to include three QCs, to fight the case in the Supreme Court next year.

Ms Stewart will represent herself in the trial, which is expected to last three weeks, but is unsure how she will pay for legal costs that already total more than $279,000. "You do feel powerless when you're up against such a big government body, but he was my son and I loved him so I can't give up the fight," she said.

In a statement, DHS spokesman Steve Pogonowski refused to respond to questions about the offer. "The legal process is ongoing, so we are unable to comment further," he said. "Out-of-court settlements and confidentiality agreements are a personal matter between the litigant and the department."

Ms Stewart vowed to get justice for Nathan and said she wanted an apology from the department and for it to accept some blame for his death: "I have had to fight for the right to have my son's voice heard, I should not have had to do that."

"My son has died in vain if his voice has not been heard. I often say the day Nathan died, I died too. I built my life around him - this has torn me apart," she said.

In a 2008 investigation into Nathan's death, State Coroner Jennifer Coate described him as "an intelligent and articulate boy who had been exposed to a great deal in his short life".

Ms Stewart said Nathan was taken out of her care due to domestic violence at home. No one has ever been charged in connection with Nathan's death.

Opposition child safety spokesman Luke Donnellan said it was outrageous for the DHS to try to "bury" such a serious issue. "Mistakes have been made. Why not just admit that, learn the lesson and move on?" he said. "Nobody would ever want this to happen again."

The DHS received 32 reports of child deaths last financial year and the office of the Child Safety Commissioner launched 27 inquiries into the deaths of children known to child protection workers last year.


The truth will out on Labor's carbon scam

THE whitewash begins. Now that the carbon tax has passed through federal parliament, the government's clean-up brigade is getting into the swing by trying to erase any dissent against the jobs-destroying legislation.

On cue comes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which this week issued warnings to businesses that they will face whopping fines of up to $1.1m if they blame the carbon tax for price rises.

It says it has been "directed by the Australian government to undertake a compliance and enforcement role in relation to claims made about the impact of a carbon price."

Businesses are not even allowed to throw special carbon tax sales promotions before the tax arrives on July 1. "Beat the Carbon Tax - Buy Now" or "Buy now before the carbon tax bites" are sales pitches that are verboten. Or at least, as the ACCC puts it, "you should be very cautious about making these types of claims".

There will be 23 carbon cops roaming the streets doing snap audits of businesses that "choose to link your price increases to a carbon price".

Instead, the ACCC suggests you tell customers you've raised prices because "the overall cost of running (your) business has increased".

It's all very Orwellian: the tax whose name cannot be spoken. We are already paying for the climate-change hysteria that has gripped Australia for a decade. Replacing even a portion of our cheap, coal-fired power with renewable energy is hellishly expensive. It also requires costly adaptation of existing infrastructure.

That's a big reason why electricity prices have hit the roof already. So when we accelerate the process with the carbon tax, the pain will escalate. That's the whole point of carbon pricing. A record number of households have had their electricity disconnected because they can't pay their power bills.

Household energy costs are estimated to have risen 17 per cent since July, with the result that the ranks of the energy poor are swelling.

In NSW, the Energy and Water Ombudsman has reported an 18 per cent increase in complaints from people whose electricity has been disconnected.

Then there are all the little immeasurables. For instance, last winter the price of Lebanese cucumbers in NSW skyrocketed because soaring energy costs forced the biggest grower to shut off heat lamps in some of his growing sheds. Result: fewer cucumbers - so prices rose to meet demand.

But no matter how Orwellian the tactics, no matter how many carbon cops are sent into hairdressing salons to interrogate barbers on the precise nature of their price rises, the truth remains: Australia has gone out on a limb, imposing a carbon tax that will send businesses to the wall, cause undue hardship to families, and tether Australians more tightly to government handouts.

And soon, we will send billions of dollars overseas to buy useless pieces of paper called carbon credits. Invest-ment bankers, lawyers and carbon traders will get rich, as will all the usual spivs and scam artists ready to stick a bucket under the government spigot raining taxpayer cash.

It doesn't matter how many fairy stories the Greens tell about how the carbon tax will "save" the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu. Or how many gullible people believe hurricanes, floods and earthquakes are the result of man-made global warming. Eventually, the truth will out.

Even the International Panel on Climate Change, whose bureaucrat-written summaries cherrypick the most alarming scientific forecasts, is holding back in the face of runaway alarmist rhetoric from politicians.

In fact, leaked draft copies of the IPCC's latest special report into "Extreme Events and Disasters" reveal declining scientific certainty about the threat of human-produced greenhouse gases.

"There are a lot more unknowns than knowns," says BBC environment correspondent Richard Black.

The rising toll of extreme weather events cannot be blamed on greenhouse gas emissions, according to Black, who has seen the draft.

"Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability," says the IPCC report. In other words, the effect of human-produced greenhouse gas on the climate is insignificant when compared to natural climate change.

Since he's dropped in for 26 hours, US President Barack Obama could explain to his new best friend Julia Gillard why he decided not to impose a carbon tax on his ailing economy. Or why Canada has prudently ruled out a carbon scheme, and New Zealand is scaling its back and China and India continue to sit on their hands. Durban will be fun.


19 November, 2011

Credulous woman makes scurrilous accusations against parents who feed kids fast food

She believes official pronouncements -- despite their changeability. The first thing my son learned to say was his McDonald's order and he had negligible health problems and is now a perfectly fit and healthy young man

SOME popular kids' fast food has almost triple the recommended levels of saturated fat and twice the salt. The findings prompted The Biggest Loser trainer Michelle Bridges to liken parents who fed their children excessive fast food to child abusers.

The Herald Sun can reveal that the worse fast-food companies are McDonald's and Hungry Jack's. Some of their children's meals are more than 1000 kilojoules above levels recommended for children to eat in one sitting. Some of their meals have more saturated fat and salt in one serve than children aged four and eight are supposed to eat in an entire day.

The NSW Cancer Council assessed the nutritional composition of 199 children's meals from six fast-food chains: Chicken Treat, Hungry Jack's, KFC, McDonald's, Oporto and Red Rooster. It found the younger the child, the greater the difference between recommended and actual levels. For example, for four-year-olds, the average meal from McDonald's and Hungry Jack's had three times the recommended saturated fat.

All chains except McDonald's had meals with too much sugar, and all chains had meals with almost double the recommended salt levels. Healthier options were meals with water, milk or juice, small amounts of chicken nuggets or wraps.

One in four Australian children and 43 per cent of teenagers eat fast food at least once a week.

Ms Bridges said she was "not anti-fast food" but condemned parents who regularly fed children junk. "When you look at the low nutritional value of what some parents feed kids regularly, it's like child abuse," Ms Bridges said. "It's highly addictive and changes a kid's tastebuds, so that's what they crave instead of healthy food. "Some parents and their kids get takeaway every night - they don't even need to read the drive-through menu, they know it by heart."

Cancer Council nutritionist Kathy Chapman said the solution was not to criticise parents, but promote fruit, vegetables and salad in such meals. "There also needs to be easy nutrition information at the point of sale and traffic-light labels to make decision-making easier," Ms Chapman said.

A spokeswoman for McDonald's said parents, "often swap in healthier options to suit their children - over a third of every Happy Meal sold includes a healthier choice".


Crime and Misconduct Commission seeks answers in University of Queensland enrolment scandal

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission has demanded the University of Queensland provide extra information about the nepotism scandal which ended the careers of its two top academics.

The order came as Bond University vice-chancellor Robert Stable broke ranks and said UQ must come clean because of the damage being done to other universities.

"For the credibility of all universities, we deserve to have the facts," Professor Stable said. "The University of Queensland cannot continue to put a cloud over the whole system."

Prof Stable, a UQ medical graduate and former president of the university's medical society, called for the report by barrister Tim Carmody, SC, to be made public. He said students needed to be confident enrolments were treated fairly and transparently.

He praised the courage of Bill De Maria, an ethics lecturer, who said in an article in The Courier-Mail that a climate of fear on the campus prevented other academics from speaking out.

The CMC would not reveal its new lines of inquiry. "At this point it is not appropriate to go into the detail of what we are seeking from the university," a spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman said the CMC was still investigating a separate allegation arising out of the unorthodox entry into the dentistry school of the husband of a senior academic in another faculty.

Vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger have been allowed to stay on despite an independent investigation implicating them in the enrolment of "a close family member" who did not qualify for the course.

Meanwhile, UQ has gone into damage control. The chancellor, the vice-chancellor and the executive director are not answering questions.

"The university is rudderless," said a staff member who asked not to be identified.

The CMC warned public sector agencies they were obliged to forward all complaints of suspected official misconduct to it.

Premier Anna Bligh refused to say whether she was given a copy of Mr Carmody's report. And she would not answer questions. "I understand the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency is looking into this matter and I have confidence in the ability of that body to determine whether any further action needs to be taken," she said in a prepared statement.


The country needs you - Abbott tells Bolt to keep up fight

THE conservative commentator Andrew Bolt considered stepping back from his media commitments after being found guilty of racial vilification in the Federal Court, until Tony Abbott implored him not to.

In an interview with Good Weekend published today, Bolt reveals that the court decision - and the gloating reaction from some sections of the community - had shocked him deeply.

He said he'd been painted as a monster and his family had suffered. However an impromptu visit to his home by the Opposition Leader, who told Bolt the country needed him, had restored his resolve. "[He] made me realise it's not just about me," Bolt says. "There are others to think about."

Mr Abbott dined with Bolt and his wife a week after the judgment in September, the same day a right-wing think tank run by Bolt's friend John Roskam published advertisements in "support of free speech for Andrew Bolt and every Australian".

Before the judgment, Bolt had told Good Weekend he planned to give up one of his media gigs in 2012, most likely his TV show, The Bolt Report, which had been rating poorly. But a fortnight later, he said the verdict had made it impossible for him to retreat.

"I can't now [give up the TV show]," he says. "My enemies would think they have won."

The Bolt brand has taken several knocks in recent months. The future of his radio station, Melbourne Talk Radio, is hanging by a thread while support for Bolt within News Ltd also appears on the wane.

Last month, David Penberthy, a former editor of Sydney's Daily Telegraph and still in News's employ, ridiculed Bolt for playing the "free speech" victim. "His columns make me laugh in disbelief or fold up the paper in anger," he wrote. "I am sick of seeing Bolt being held up as if he were a company spokesman."

In late August, Bolt considered resigning after News's chief executive, John Hartigan, intervened in the raising of old allegations about the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Two of Bolt's blog posts were deleted and Bolt claimed freedom of speech was at stake.


No end to certainty of state paternalism in Australia

Dr Jeremy Sammut

Paul Kelly’s book The End of Certainty gives the seminal account of the reforms of the 1980s that helped dismantle the so-called ‘Australian Settlement’ – the White Australia policy, industry protection, wage arbitration, state paternalism, and imperial benevolence.

The conventional wisdom in political circles is that the Hawke government, with the bipartisan support of the Liberal Party, fundamentally revamped some of the key institutions that had shaped national development since 1901. The popularity of this view is a tribute to the influence of Kelly’s tome. But is it entirely correct?

Australian banking was deregulated in the 1980s and the economy was internationalised as tariff walls came down. The effects of the switch in the late-1960s to a non-discriminatory immigration policy paved the way for the emergence of a diverse, multi-ethnic society.

Under Prime Minister Keating in the early 1990s, the Labor Party also began liberalising the labour market. The reorientation of foreign policy away from Britain and towards the United States and other Asia-Pacific countries also occurred under Hawke and Keating.

But conspicuously absent from this catalogue of change is state paternalism, or the principle of promoting ‘individual happiness through government intervention.’

Yet state paternalism is perhaps the most crucial element of the Australian settlement because it set the basic political and economic expectations that determined the role of the state.

At its heart was the ‘free lunch’ mentality, whereby government was held to be a vast public utility whose job was to produce the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. It also embodied a fundamental immaturity in the national psyche: a yearning to be molly-coddled and have basic needs provided for.

Today, the same paternalistic mentality continues to animate Australian life.

Most Australians still want government to regulate minimum wages and employment conditions. They also want government-provided health care and education. They even want the government to chip in for the deposit on their first home, and for income tax to be progressively redistributed as generous family benefits to assist with the raising of their own children. All this has huge implications for the size of government and individual freedom.

Clearly, this is the weak spot in the ‘End of Certainty’ thesis. What is dead cert is that state paternalism lives on in contemporary Australia.


18 November, 2011

Diet fraudster still in trouble with the wallopers

This gave me a good laugh. Foster has been selling fraudulent weight-loss products for decades. He never seems to give up. He has been to prison several times so I assumed he would have eventually seen the error of his ways -- but not so, it appears.

He seems a rather "Ned Kelly" figure to me. Australians tend to have some admiration for determined outlaws. And I can't muster up much sympathy for his victims. There is only one way to lose weight: Eat less. People who think there is a shortcut rather deserve to lose their money, it seems to me

CONMAN Peter Foster is back behind bars after being arrested on the Gold Coast.

Foster, 49, was arrested by Australian Federal Police officers and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission officials while visiting his sick mother at a private Gold Coast hospital this morning.

He is believed to have been chased through the hospital, with his mother screaming at officers.

The charges are believed to relate to embattled diet spray company SensaSlim Australia which is facing Australian Competition and Consumer Commission charges of misleading and deceptive conduct.


Slow progress in nailing crooked lawyers

It was more than three years ago that the Sydney Morning Herald broke a series of stories about clients being overcharged by the personal injuries law firm Keddies. The allegations were cringe-inducing and people were suitably aghast.

The articles flushed out more complaints from people who claimed to have been ripped off by the firm. Up to 100 clients may have been affected by overcharging on an industrial scale, but there has been no mad rush to redress the problem.

After a couple of interlocutory skirmishes, the one and only disciplinary case against a former partner of the firm, Russell Keddie, and a hapless employed solicitor, Phillip Scroope, gets under way in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal on April 30. That's more than 2½ years after the action started in the tribunal.

About the time Keddies was acquired for $35 million last year by a bigger personal injuries firm, Slater & Gordon, Keddie made some admissions, saying he alone was responsible for the overcharging in the matter that is the subject of the complaint.

The Legal Services Commissioner, who is the legal profession's disciplinary authority in NSW, then withdrew the complaints against another two former partners, Tony Barakat and Scott Roulstone.

The disciplinary proceedings concern the case of Shuang Ying Meng, who was left a paraplegic after a bus crash in South Australia nearly 10 years ago. Her case was not complicated because liability was not an issue and the matter was settled.

Mrs Meng told Herald reporter Kate McClymont that she did not receive a bill from Keddies and it was not until she went to the commission with a complaint that it emerged she had been charged $800,000 in legal fees and other charges out of a total settlement of $3.5 million. Cost experts have said this is about 10 times the amount that would be fair.

The reason that only one disciplinary case remains is largely because Keddies's partners have been rushing around stuffing money in the pockets of various former clients in exchange for getting them to withdraw their complaints to the Legal Services Commissioner.

A glimpse at the dimension of Keddies' overcharging emerged last week in a civil action against the one-time partners brought by a former client, Eileen Liu. Ms Liu had also withdrawn her disciplinary complaint after coming to an "agreement" to accept $15,000 from Keddies.

Still, she pressed on with a breach-of-contract action, claiming that she was billed for work that was not performed or not done at the agreed rate. Hers was a relatively small case that was settled for $140,000, from which the client received less than $50,000.

Judge Jim Curtis thoughtfully spelled out more than a dozen instances of overcharging. The fee ledger comprised 383 items of "attendance" or work, and this was for a motor vehicle accident case in which liability had been admitted and the insurance company was wanting to settle.

For instance, three-line letters that would take a few seconds to read were billed for 12 minutes of time at a senior litigation lawyer rate of $435 an hour (a charge of $87). Another five-line letter was billed at $184 for "perusal" - that is a time charge of 24 minutes. There was a charge of 18 minutes at the rate of $460 an hour for sending a four-sentence email to the Motor Accident Authority. Back came the reply from the case manager at the authority. It simply said "Rcvd". A Keddies solicitor entered a charge in the ledger of $130.50 for reading the abbreviation "Rcvd".

Secretaries in the firm were being billed out at partners' rates of $460 an hour charging for "perusing and considering" two-line letters.

On and on it went. Most of the responses and form-filling is of a pro forma nature. It involves typing a name in a computerised template, but the work is billed as through the documents were created from scratch.

Ms Liu's case is only one of about 100 against Keddies in the District Court at the moment.

The former chief justice James Spigelman spoke frequently about the perils of time-based billing and the legal profession killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

At this year's opening of law term dinner, the president of the NSW Law Society, Stuart Westgarth, defended time-based billing. Criticism of it was "unpersuasive", he said.

We asked the Law Society for its response to Judge Curtis' findings in the Liu case. We haven't heard back.


Higher English hurdles for foreign teachers

This should apply at the university level too. There was a case a few years ago where the University of Qld. hired a law lecturer from China that the students could not understand. The usual stupid "affirmative action", I guess

FOREIGN teachers will have to be better speakers and listeners before being allowed into Victorian classrooms under a registration overhaul.

The State Government has ordered higher English language hurdles for overseas teachers from next year - with the biggest crackdown on verbal communication.

All teachers from non-English-speaking countries, including South Africa, will have to prove their skills with higher scores under the International English Language Testing System.

The new standards will apply only to new applicants and build on previous minimum standards.

Australian-born teachers are exempt from the IELT test, along with their counterparts from the US, UK, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada.

Minister for the Teaching Profession Peter Hall said the higher standards for verbal communication, to be introduced in April, would also be applied nationwide.

Teachers with overseas qualifications made up 13 per cent of the 6000 people registered since June.


Nurses defy the Labor party's toothless new watchdog

Putting nurses in jail would kill the watchdog. If the Victorian government fired half of the useless health bureaucracy that it inherited from Labor, it could afford to spend more on nurses

Fair Work Australia today made a second order telling Victorian nurses to stop their industrial action.

Fair Work Australia earlier suspended the nurses' work bans for 90 days on Wednesday, but the Victorian Hospitals Industrial Association gave evidence that beds remained closed and elective surgeries were still being cancelled.

The industrial umpire issued a fresh order that nurses stop their industrial action and reopen beds by 7.30pm today, and that all nurses be notified by 4.30pm.

Penalties for unprotected industrial action under section 675 of the Fair Work Act include 12 months' imprisonment and fines of $6600.ANF state secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said yesterday all industrial action would continue until members met on Monday.

Melbourne Commissioner Suzie Jones said her order would remain in place until 9am on December 12. She said she was satisfied that nurses had been taking unprotected industrial action since the tribunal ordered the 90-day suspension of work bans on Wednesday. "I'm satisfied that unprotected industrial action ... is happening,'' she said. "Consequently I must therefore order that industrial action stop.''

Executive director of hospital performance at the Department of Health, Frances Diver, had earlier told the tribunal that nursing directors at hospitals across the state reported beds remained closed and more than 150 operations cancelled since the bans were deemed illegal on Wednesday.

John Snaden, for VHIA, also read from a newspaper article that quoted Australian Nursing Federation secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick saying nurses would openly defy the tribunal's decision. Mr Snaden said there was "overwhelming'' evidence the action was continuing and that it was now illegal.

Mr Snaden said the action must be stopped immediately given it was endangering patient lives and asked for news of the decision to be distributed by social media to take effect within one and a half hours.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu has left open the possibility of the government taking the nurses' union to the Federal Court if it continues unprotected industrial bans. He noted the previous Labor government took court action against the ANF during the 2007 enterprise negotiation bargaining period.

Mr Baillieu urged nurses to respect the decision of the industrial umpire. "They should accept the decision of Fair Work Australia and lift those industrial bans,'' he said.

Nurses vow to ignore ban order

The Australian Nursing Federation ignored an initial ban yesterday, keeping 458 beds closed despite the independent umpire ordering a suspension of industrial action for three months.

When asked if the union had been building a war chest to pay the fines, Ms Fitzpatrick said: "The federation is very financially viable."

Health Minister David Davis said he was disappointed that nurses had refused to reopen beds, but praised some nurses who had chosen to ignore the union's directive. He said the Government would not "telegraph" whether it would seek to penalise nurses.


17 November, 2011

Patients left to wait indefinitely as Queensland Health battles to cope

QUEENSLAND Health continues to turn away patients needing specialist appointments because of lengthy waiting lists, a letter obtained by the Opposition shows.

In further signs the state's health system was battling to cope, a Brisbane patient was told his eye condition could not be treated "in the foreseeable future" at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. "The length of the waiting list has meant we have not been able to provide this appointment for you," the patient's letter, written by RBWH executive director David Alcorn, read.

The patient was told to instead discuss alternative options with his family doctor, such as monitoring by an optometrist.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle condemned the growing specialist waiting list, which comes even before patients can be added to long surgery wait lists. "This patient was in limbo for six months, but at least he could hope the wait would be worthwhile," he said. "Unfortunately, he waited in vain because the reality is that Labor's waste and mismanagement is denying Queenslanders access to services they desperately need."

In June, Health Minister Geoff Wilson ordered QH not to send away any more category-one patients after The Courier-Mail revealed Gold Coast Hospital told two patients referred by their GPs for specialist appointments to "consider other options".

Mr Wilson yesterday said non-urgent patients might be sent to other facilities to ensure they "get quicker access to care". "I make it clear that in relation to category one and urgent and emergency cases that are referred to outpatient clinics, Queensland Health and every facility is obliged to ensure they treat that person and provide the consultation at the centre in which they have been sent," he said.


More Australians take up health insurance despite premium rise

And the article above tells you why: To access Australia's large and excellent range of private hospitals, where waiting lists are minimal

MORE than 97,000 Australians have taken out hospital cover since June despite this year's 5.56 per cent premium rise.

At least 45 per cent of people had hospital cover in the September quarter - an increase of 97,400 people since June, Private Health Insurance Administration Council figures show. And more than 120,000 people signed up for extras cover, with some of those also taking up hospital cover. It means more than 50 per cent of the population now has some form of private health insurance.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon seized on the figures to argue the insurance industry was in good shape and would not be hurt by the government's plan to means test the private health rebate. The plan would reduce subsidies for high-income earners.

Existing 30, 35 and 40 per cent rebates would remain for nearly eight million low and middle-income earners but there are fears the measures would reduce membership.

"What we now see is a private helath insurance sector that is going from strength to strength," Ms Roxon said. "We don't believe that lower and middle income Australians should subsidise the private health insurance of millionaires."

The government maintains that unless savings to the cost of the rebate can be made, Australia faces a $100 billion budget black hole over the next 40 years that would require savings elsewhere in the health system.

But it looks set to miss its January start date after the Senate twice blocked the $2.78 billion 2009-10 budget savings measure.


Parents support Judeo-Christian teachings, say Queensland conservatives

Queensland's Liberal National Party has strongly backed religious instruction in state schools, arguing Islamic and non-religious parents often want children brought up with a Judeo-Christian grounding. sought comment from both sides of politics about the prospect of introducing secular ethics classes in Queensland, nearly a year after the New South Wales government rolled out such courses state-wide as an alternative for non-religious students.

Both Labor and the Coalition in NSW support the ethics classes, saying students who did not attend religious education sessions should have access to some structured learning rather than being sent to the library for private study.

But their Queensland counterparts appear to be lukewarm on the idea. LNP education spokesman Bruce Flegg said the party was not planning to alter any legislation at this time, but would be happy to consider any proposals or submissions.

“The LNP believe that the overwhelming majority of Queenslanders want their children brought up with a Judeo-Christian grounding in religious education,” he said in a written response. “In many cases this applies to people who themselves may not be particularly religious.

“I am sure this also applies to the increasing number of Queenslanders who identify themselves as Islamic. The LNP is therefore supportive of RE in schools.”

Dr Flegg said he respected the view of people who objected to a faith-based RE program but the overwhelming majority “still want their children to understand values as they underpin our community”.

The government was last night unable to provide figures on the extent of religious education participation in Queensland state schools.

Queensland's education laws allow approved representatives of denominations and faith groups entry into state schools to provide religious instruction of up to one hour per week.

However, this is meant to be provided only to children whose parents have nominated that religion on their enrolment forms or to children whose parents have given written permission. Parents can opt out, with students sent to alternative activities, such as reading or studying.

Education Minister Cameron Dick did not express a view on ethics classes but said Education Queensland would seek further information from NSW following the first full year of the program, which began at the start of 2011.

Mr Dick said principals had discretion over the types of activities offered to students who did not attend religious instruction classes.

“Alternatives already exist, which include wider reading, doing personal research, revision of class work or other activities at the discretion of the principal,” he said in a written response. “These decisions are made by principals at the local level. Principals may decide to provide an ethics-based class.”

A year ago, the then-Labor NSW government announced it would give parents the choice to place their children into secular ethics classes instead of religion lessons after declaring a pilot program a success.

In the trial, year 5 and 6 students explored philosophical issues surrounding how they ought to live and what principles should guide ethical decision making.

Each of the 10 lessons in the trial explored a particular ethical question, such as what made a practice or action fair or unfair, and students had to discuss their reasoning. Other topics included lying, ethical principles, graffiti, the use and abuse of animals, interfering with nature, virtues and vices, and children's rights.

The ethics classes were spearheaded by the St James Ethics Centre which developed a 10-week lesson program delivered by volunteers.

The philosophical ethics program was rolled out more broadly from the start of this year, with students encouraged to engage in dialogue and discussion on ethical issues.

The NSW Coalition, which swept to power in March, insists it will maintain an election commitment to keep the ethics classes available "because the government believes that there ought to be an alternative provided for students who are not taking scripture classes".

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens' Associations state president Margaret Leary said yesterday the ethics class idea had not been raised as a major topic within the organisation. She said non-religious students were sent to the library or other areas to read, study or perform other learning activities.

It would be interesting to see how the ethics courses worked in NSW, she said.

University of South Australia ethics and philosophy lecturer Sue Knight, who last year evaluated the NSW pilot program, made a broader point about the lack of structured alternatives to religious instruction in state schools across the country.

Humanist Society of Queensland president Maria Proctor said last year ethics classes had merit, but they should not be limited to students not attending religious instruction.

Ms Proctor said her organisation, which defended the separation of church and state, disliked religious instruction being provided in state schools and believed students should not be “segregated based on what their parents believe”.


Huge Australian warrior charmed by the Queen

One of Australia's most decorated soldiers has met with the Queen at Buckingham Palace for a one-on-one private audience during which the monarch asked for intimate details of the war in Afghanistan.

Australian Army Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith received the Victoria Cross for Australia in January after his efforts during an operation in Afghanistan in June 2010, when he killed three insurgents who were attacking his patrol.

After the 33-year-old's meeting in the palace's private apartments on Tuesday, Corporal Roberts-Smith said that the "lovely" Queen had shown interest in what happened on the day his patrol was targeted.

"We talked mainly about Afghanistan and obviously a great opportunity for me to tell her about what everyone else in my [patrol] did that day, so I got to explain to her a bit of what everyone did as opposed to just myself," he told reporters inside the palace grounds. "Obviously she speaks to quite a lot of soldiers, so she was interested in Afghanistan and she has a good grasp of what's happening there. I think that her reaction was, she was just glad that we all came home."

A father to twin baby girls, Corporal Roberts-Smith said the remainder of the conversation was "personal", and declined to share details.

"She is everything that everyone says she is. She's very, just a lovely lady," the soldier said of the 85-year-old Queen, who was dressed in bright blue for the meeting. "She made me very comfortable, it was easy to talk to her and ... it's very humbling, it's very surreal, I just found it to be a great opportunity to talk to her about what my mates and what the other lads are doing in Afghanistan, as in the other Australians."

As proof that his visit was a true royal experience, Corporal Roberts-Smith said he even passed some of the Queen's dogs en route to the meeting. "We actually walked past the corgis in the hallway. It's true what they say, they certainly have the run of the place," he laughed.

Of his gallantry in Afghanistan, Corporal Roberts-Smith said he has a vivid recollection of events. "That day for me is as clear as ever," he said.

"At the time it was just something that needed to be done. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to move forward and neutralise that position and I think the most important thing I took away from it was that that day we took everyone home and we had a win."

Corporal Roberts-Smith said the Queen "obviously recognises that Australian soldiers are very good at what they do" and that she is happy with progress in Afghanistan.

The Special Air Service Regiment member will embark on a tour of France over coming days, visiting battlefields where Australian soldiers have died, and speaking with school children about the legacy of war.


16 November, 2011

Greenfield doesn't follow the rules his own university teaches

As both I and my son are graduates of UQ, it pains me to have the university's name dragged through the mud by this foolish man. The university is not getting much for the million dollars a year it pays him

IT IS a case of not practising what it teaches at the University of Queensland. The university has so far refused to reveal the full details of the "misunderstanding" that vice-chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield said had led to "irregularities" that benefited a close relative.

But this lack of transparency contradicts the courses taught at the university, most notably the postgraduate unit in Public Sector Accountability offered through the School of Business.

The course outline talks about "the issue of responsible, open and accountable public management" to ensure the debate "remains as prominent as ever".

Taught at the St Lucia campus, the six-month course is described as providing "an overview of fundamental elements of the accountability framework governing the public sector".

Future business students could well use the university's unwillingness to reveal the details of the "irregularity" in the Student Case Study Report, a compulsory assessment students must complete to pass the course.

Unlike his students, the professor is not judged by the intensive course's graduate attributes, which include "an understanding of social and civic responsibility".

Yesterday, the academic press turned a national spotlight on UQ with Campus Review revealing the student at the centre of the controversy had gained entry to the medical school.

The paper reported: "Campus Review understands Greenfield's relative is enrolled in the first year of an undergraduate pathway course into UQ's Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) program.

"The pre-med course, which students know as 'Twosie', is open to high-school graduates who receive an overall position (OP) score of 1 and then pass an Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admissions Test (UMAT). "It is understood that Greenfield's relative attained the OP but did not meet UMAT."

The Federal Coalition rural health spokesperson Andrew Laming yesterday asked the university for a clearer public explanation of the events surrounding last year's enrolment incident.


Julia kills off homosexual marriage

The Labor party Left are disgusting. They want members of their own party to be forced to vote against their conscience

JULIA Gillard has effectively killed off the prospect of gay marriage by ruling out government legislation and allowing Labor MPs a conscience vote that would be destined to fail.

The prime minister's intervention has fuelled a backlash from the Left of the party, which is set to endorse a push against the PM's proposals at a meeting in Canberra on Sunday.

Ms Gillard says she expects "fireworks" at the conference, arguing that disputes will be a sign the party is not afraid of debating policy ideas.

"I expect and want to see a noisy conference," she said. "That shows we are a political party full of ideas and working through how Australia deals with challenges of today and the challenges of tomorrow."

In a compromise deal on gay marriage, Ms Gillard will allow Labor MPs a conscience vote if a private members' bill is introduced to the parliament.

But she has ruled out government legislation to change the Marriage Act, even if this is endorsed by the national conference.

A conscience vote on gay marriage would be doomed to fail because some members of the Labor Party would oppose it and the Coalition planned to block it.

Advocates of gay marriage have warned they will not be dissuaded from their campaign if a conscience vote failed to pass the parliament. Key Labor Right figures - including some who support gay marriage such as Paul Howes and Mark Arbib - backed the conscience vote.

Labor Left powerbrokers Doug Cameron and Mental Health Minister Mark Butler have vowed to campaign against a conscience vote. Senator Cameron said the conscience vote was a "tactical manoeuvre" by the PM that was "not appropriate".

But Queensland backbencher Graham Perrett, who is a Labor Left convenor and has argued for gay marriage, said people who opposed a change for religious reasons should have the right to vote against it.


Marriage breeds better children?

The AIFS is a Federal government body but its website seems not to be up to date. I could find no mention of the study described below

From the information below, however, the study conclusion seems outstandingly silly. The data seem more indicative of highly educated mothers having better adjusted children, rather than anything else. Just another case of the general high IQ advantage, it seems

CHILDREN of married couples are more mentally and socially developed than children brought up by a single parent or an unmarried couple, a study claims.

A report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, released today, suggests a gap between children from single-parent and married families that will continue to widen as they grow, the Herald Sun reported.

Family studies researcher Ruth Weston said love and affection was shown by all families in the study of 5000 children, but twice as many women in wedded couples had a university degree and were more likely to be employed.

"The study shows 31 per cent of the married mothers had a university degree or higher-level education compared with 15 per cent of single or cohabiting mothers," Ms Weston said. "A family's financial circumstances are clearly very important for the wellbeing of children."

But Victorian president of Parents without Partners, Rhonda McHugh, slammed the taxpayer-funded study, describing it as "detrimental". "It is unfair assuming children of single parents are not going to do well. A lot of our kids are doing well in sports and going to university," Ms McHugh said. "These studies create a stigma, and single parents go out of their way for their kids to achieve."

Married couple Rebecca, 39, and Troy Harris, 42, of Croydon, agreed that having two breadwinners made things easier, but a child's development depended on time spent as a family. "Because there is two of us, we get more time to sit with them and interact, but sometimes families are better off separated," she said. "Marriage is great for kids, but it has to be a positive environment for them."


Anti-gun hysteria in the Qld. parliament

PHOTOS of Gold Coast MP Ros Bates brandishing a rocket launcher have this afternoon caused furore as State Parliament debates weapons laws.

Public Works Minister Simon Finn, who tabled the photos from the Mudgeeraba MP's Facebook page, said it was irresponsible for community leaders to "proudly pose" in such a way.

But Ms Bates said the photos were taken last year during a march out in celebration of her army rifleman son being awarded "most outstanding soldier".

She condemned the move, which came just hours after the Parliament paused for a minute’s silence in honour of three Diggers killed in Afghanistan. "I think it was a grubby attempt for a day that we have a condolence motion for our soldiers – it had absolutely nothing to do with this weapons Bill," she said.

Among the photo thumbnails Mr Finn produced were pictures of Ms Bates’s son and his army friends.

Speaker John Mickel is now considering whether the photos should be banned from public tabling amid fears it could pose a security risk for the army men.

Mr Finn insisted leaders should not tolerate any glorification of weaponry. "This might be all very innocent and taken at an event she attended with a family member but it behoves all of us as community leaders not to be seen enjoying the company of weapons," he said.

The photos were taken from Ms Bate’s private Facebook page. She believes one of her "friends" handed them over to the ALP. "It’s just dirty, grubby politics," she said. "It’s an insult to the three Australian soldiers … and an insult for every young Australian who is brave enough to represent their country."

Mr Mickel this afternoon ruled the photos could be withdrawn as they posed a security risk to the army men, some of whom are about to embark on active services overseas.

Mr Finn then withdrew one document that contained thumbnails of multiple photographs. “I stand by my contribution to the substantive issues of the debate. I accept, however, that this was an inappropriate document to table and I apologise to the House,” he said.

The photo of Ms Bates with the rocket launcher was tabled.


15 November, 2011

The million dollar man is still keeping shtum (silent)

"Greenfield" (Grunfeld) is a well-known Ashkenazi surname so it will be apparent to many that the taciturn man is Jewish. The "close relative" that he unfairly benefited is also therefore presumably Jewish.

So this appalling man is giving new life to one of the oldest slurs against Jews: nepotism. And to top it all, his evasivesness gives life to yet another common slur against Jews.

In a world where antisemitism is still boiling (ask almost any Muslim or almost any British Leftist) it is hard to believe that an intelligent man could be so irresponsible. He has damaged himself, the university, his family and his community and yet seems intent on reinforcing the damage rather than mitigating it. And the ridiculous pretense that he is resigning even though he has done nothing wrong just increases the stench.

He should immediately tell all, apologize profusely and resign forthwith

UNIVERSITY of Queensland vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield has returned to work but failed to explain his involvement in a nepotism controversy that has destroyed his career.

Prof Greenfield invited The Courier-Mail to the campus to make a statement on Monday but offered nothing new, tartly restating comments he made last week in a prepared statement. "As CEO I accept responsibility," he said, without explaining what he was accepting responsibility for.

The exercise in accountability took just 21 seconds.

I had been ushered into an executive meeting room down the hallway from his office in the Chancellery building at the university's St Lucia campus and was told beforehand how the vice-chancellor was very busy but had "squeezed someone else out so you could get in".

I was asked to sit at a table under a humorous picture by Torres Strait artist Alick Tipoti depicting a smiling crocodile, a talking cockatoo and a dingo.

Prof Greenfield suddenly entered the room but would not sit down. He spoke briskly, turned on his heel and left to be photographed by The Courier-Mail in another room. Before walking away he added: "My focus now is ensuring the transition to a new management is smooth. "The university is actually travelling very well and we don't want to lose that momentum. That's all I'll say."

Prof Greenfield looked grey and slightly haggard. But he made it clear by his tone and by his demeanour that he was determined to tough it out.

Before saying goodbye a press minder said she was happy the university was "now back to normal".

Prof Greenfield and his deputy Prof Michael Keniger agreed to stand down after an integrity investigation found a student had been admitted to a course without the proper qualifications.

Later, Prof Greenfield described the student at the centre of the affair as a close family relative. The university's operations manager, Maurie McNarn, confirmed Prof Greenfield had discussed the student's enrolment in a phone call to Prof Keniger.

Prof Greenfield, who was paid $1,069,999 last year, will be allowed to stay at the university as vice-chancellor until after he turns 65 in May.


Julia Gillard is pushing for Labor to dump India uranium ban

JULIA Gillard wants Labor to dump its ban on selling uranium to India. In a dramatic policy reversal, PM Julia Gillard is urging Labor to allow uranium exports to India.

The Prime Minister will today announce her plan to change the party's platform on uranium exports at the ALP national conference next month, the Herald Sun reported. This would mean the Government could send nuclear material to India, a position advocated by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Labor has rejected selling uranium to India in the past as it has not signed the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the PM's proposal is expected to get a fiery response.

The US has been sending uranium to India for years, as have Japan and Canada, after striking agreements that it would be used only for peaceful purposes.

The PM will argue Labor should break from tradition because it would boost jobs and economic growth. India could reduce its emissions by increasing nuclear power options.

Allowing new exports to India would increase ties with the Asian powerhouse - an economy growing at almost 8 per cent.

Australia is the world's third-biggest supplier of uranium, pumping more than $750 million a year into the economy. Some Labor heavyweights have publicly called for the party to rethink its uranium exports policy ahead of its national conference, in early December.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has argued nuclear power will become more important as the world moves to cleaner energy sources. India's nuclear power supply is expected to increase significantly in coming years.

The PM's plan is likely to prompt outrage from the Greens, who argue sending uranium to India could have negative global repercussions.

It is likely that a move to change Labor's platform would ensure appropriate safeguards were in place to ensure uranium was not used for arms.

Bilateral agreements, which include assurances on the separation of civilian and military activities, are in place for countries to which Australia exports uranium


Red tape warrior given tiny budget

THE man charged with slashing government red tape in Queensland starts in his new job today amid widespread scepticism about how much difference he can make. Former Taxi Council chief executive Blair Davies will have only a $1 million budget in his role as Business Commissioner to drive a reform agenda.

Small business owners and peak industry groups complain that the cost of complying with state regulations has exploded 30 per cent in the past five years to $7 billion despite previous government attempts to curb the growth.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland president David Goodwin said yesterday he was "very much looking forward" to a meeting with Mr Davies today. "The Government doesn't have a great record at reducing regulation but they are very good at producing it. We hoped a renewed focus on reform could deliver relief for businesses," Mr Goodwin said. He said there was an urgent need to overhaul laws on workplace health and safety, building approvals and land use.

But Chamber members are not optimistic that much will change. A recent survey of the state's 400,000 small businesses found only 13 per cent believed the new office would succeed in rolling back stifling regulation, which now fills more than 90,000 pages.

The Government argues that its Office of Business Commissioner is part of an aggressive, multi-pronged effort to roll back red tape which has been backed by the Business Council of Australia.

The changes include subjecting all new laws to a "regulatory assessment statement" to ensure that compliance obligations are not too onerous and the fast tracking of environmental approvals.

But Opposition small business spokesman Jann Stuckey said yesterday the Government's move was an implicit "admission of failure" to wind back costly and burdensome laws. "What does this tell you about the Queensland Office for Regulatory Efficiency? Is this an admission that this was a complete failure? Do they now believe that adding another bureaucrat is the answer to cutting red tape?" Ms Stuckey said.

The appointment of Mr Davies, who will earn $180,000 a year, comes as The Courier-Mail promotes a "Back Off Small Business" campaign aimed at alleviating red tape pressures affecting thousands of businesses.


Third inquest opens into 20 year-old murder-suicide cold case

Atherton is a small town and police didn't want to rock the boat. Hence their absurd claims and utter negligence

JULIE-ANNE Leahy had her "bags packed" to escape an abusive marriage just days before she disappeared and was found dead with her best friend in a car up a disused bush track, an inquest heard.

Police almost immediately ruled Atherton accountant Vicki Arnold killed her friend and then shot herself in a bizarre murder-suicide pact in a 20-year-old north Queensland cold case that has baffled investigators.

State Coroner Michael Barnes opened an unprecedented third coronial inquest into the Arnold and Leahy deaths and will explore the possibility a third party killer may have escaped justice after police botched the crime scene.

Friends told the inquest how the two women were "chalk and cheese" with Arnold, 26, a depressed loner aching for a family life while Leahy, 27, was a "strong and outspoken" mum housewife trapped in an abusive relationship with financial problems. "She (Leahy) had her bags packed. She was leaving," friend and police sergeant Bernard Wilce said.

He said he was still astounded by the thought gentle-natured Vicki killed her friend and then herself.

He told of an anonymous call to police alleging a white van was spotted driving out of the Cherry Creek track murder scene about the time the women disappeared on a midnight fishing trip on July 26, 1991.

Ex-husband Alan Leahy, a carpet layer who was having an affair with his wife's 16-year-old sister at the time, has been subpoenaed and is due to give evidence in the second week of the inquest in December.

Leahy had been bashed with a rock the size of a grapefruit, her throat cut and was shot twice in the head. Arnold had a gunshot wound in the thigh and fatally another gunshot wound behind the right ear.

Atherton businessman, blacksmith and Australian representative target shooter John Wilkinson told how he obtained the .22 semi-automatic Ruger rifle for his former book-keeper two weeks before the women were found dead. He said Arnold told him she wanted it for a friend who lived on a cattle station but he vehemently denied cutting down the barrel.

"Sure, I've got the knowledge and the ability. But I absolutely deny I cut it down. "Whoever cut it off knew what they were doing. "I just hope you find whoever did it."

A video re-enactment shown to the court found it was physically possible to put the sawn-off gun behind the right ear and pull the trigger.

Officers used a white 1984 Nissan Patrol, same make and model, and a female police officer of the same build as Arnold holding a sawn-off .22 Ruger rifle sitting in the footwell of the passenger seat. Arnold's body was found slumped in the seat with her hand resting on the rifle.

Counsel assisting the coroner Ralph Devlin, SC, said the inquest would examine the possibility of any third party in the killing. But Mr Devlin admitted the odds are against them given the fog of time, faded memories of witnesses, a contaminated crime scene and an almost complete lack of scientific and physical evidence.

"It is hard to exaggerate the failures (in this case)," Mr Devlin told the inquest.

He said only two bloody fingerprints were taken from the butt of the rifle, none from the knife, none from inside the car, and critically, no tests for gunshot residue were done on the hands of Arnold. "It was a missed opportunity at the outset. "And it would have been determinative in this case."


Costly bureaucratic delay

Jarrad Quinn knows he will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair but believes he has spent 112 days longer than necessary in the Princess Alexandra spinal unit as a result of state government bungling.

Rather than fund modifications to his mother and stepfather's home at Woombye in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, the government has left the 36-year-old former carpenter in limbo in a hospital bed that costs taxpayers more than $1000 a day.

When he is released on weekends to give him respite, his bed takes up the entire lounge room of his parents' modest home and he has to be taken outside and showered in the garden because his wheelchair does not fit into the bathroom.
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"I'm over [hospital]. I'm depressed. I'm the second longest in the spinal unit. It's a depressing place. I want to start rehab," Mr Quinn said.

Disability Services Minister Curtis Pitt said this was not a "straightforward case" but officials were close to finalising arrangements to house Mr Quinn in modified accommodation at his parents' property.


14 November, 2011

Australians have an escape hatch from UK woes

AUSTRALIANS are abandoning UK jobs and returning home for work, eager to cash in on the booming Australian economy and escape unfavourable exchange rates.

Figures show the number of Australians entering Britain for work has dropped 35 per cent to 17,100 since 2007; the number of Kiwis fell 40 per cent to 5210, the Guardian newspaper reports.

Many Australians already working in the UK believe there are more opportunities and better wages back home.

Simon Taylor, of recruitment company Venn Group, told the Guardian that the exchange rate was major reason for the fall in Australians seeking work in the UK.

When the pound was strong, Australians knew they "could work and save at the same time. Due to the recent fall in exchange rates there is less incentive for candidates to remain in the UK."

Kevin Ellis, who publishes TNT Magazine, a free weekly for Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans in the UK, said: "The reason Australians are going home is because their economy is booming and some of these professionals can earn a lot more back home."

The ailing British job market is another reason for the Australian exodus - there are simply not enough jobs to go around and competition is high.

Those who get a job can find visa restrictions another turn-off.

The working holiday visa, which allows those aged 18-30 to work in the UK for two years, is still the most popular entry point and has remained unchanged. However, there are fewer options for those who wish to stay beyond their two years.

In April this year the UK Government put a 1000 annual cap on tier 1 visas, which covers those who want to stay in the UK as a highly skilled migrant, and a 20,700 annual cap on tier 2 visas, which covers employer-sponsored visas.


Nameless cab drivers?

Pandering to Muslims again. What if a passenger has a problem with a driver? A name is a lot easier to remember than a number

Photo IDs set to be introduced in Brisbane taxis will no longer include drivers' names, due to a fear passengers may verbally abuse cabbies over their foreign names. From November 30, cab drivers in Brisbane and the Gold Coast will be required to display authorised Queensland taxi driver display cards in their cabs. The cards will include a photo and driver identification number, but not a name.

The government printed ID cards with full names for the Toowoomba roll-out earlier this year, but reissued new licences without names due to privacy and cultural concerns. understands during the Toowoomba roll-out in June, some drivers with names such as Muhammad were the target of racial abuse and harassment from customers.

"The taxi council made representations on behalf of their members to remove drivers' names from the Authorised Queensland Taxi Driver Display Card," a statement from Transport Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk read. "This decision was made for privacy and cultural reasons. This is consistent with other states."

The cultural issue of what name was used on the card was also a stumbling block for the program, with drivers unhappy their preferred common name, or anglicised name, was not displayed.

Taxi Council of Queensland chief executive Blair Davies, who flagged privacy concerns with the identification program with last year, said there had been an issue with what names were being transferred across from government records to the licences.

"The average person born in Australia has a first name and surname but depending on where you come from sometimes the first name is your family name, so it can get complicated, particularly in some cultures," he said.

"So we were seeing some quite strange results coming out on these cards. "They were typically using the first name and that can produce some quite inconsistent results. "But for some drivers their whole names were to be printed on the IDs."

Mr Davies said the IDs would provide an extra level of reassurance for passengers who would be able to match a driver with their photo, as well as use the identification number to report any issues.

But he indicated the current security system for cab drivers was better than those used in others states, with all Queensland drivers being required to enter a pin on dispatch to log on for their shift. Mr Davies said Queensland was the only state using this system.

The licence introduction is part of a raft of reforms introduced under the Queensland Taxi Strategic Plan, 2010-2015.

Ms Palaszczuk said the plan's implementation was progressing well, with the introduction of national training standards for taxi drivers improving customer service and passenger safety. "These standards raised the bar for taxi drivers across driving skills, geographical knowledge, customer service and safety issues," she said.


"Organic" milk fad fails the taste test

A NEW breed of boutique milk is flooding Melbourne's cafe scene - and customers are being charged four times more for it than regular milk. But the Herald Sun has found customers prefer the taste of the regular $1-a-litre full cream milk from Coles.

The new premium varieties are straight from family farms in Victoria. Brands such as Jonesy's and Schultz Organic Milk are becoming increasingly popular with baristas. But they come at a price, in some cases selling for more than four times as much as supermarket varieties. One organic milk is selling for $4.50 a litre, compared with $1-a-litre varieties in supermarkets.

Yet a blind taste test by Herald Sun readers has found most still prefer the Coles $1-a-litre full cream variety over organic brands. Several of our blind tasters said there was very little difference between the milk brands.

Owner of three Melbourne cafes, Marinus Jansen, exclusively uses Jonesy's milk. He said he had a strong personal relationship with the Somerville family of Kerang, who produced Jonesy's, and had received great feedback about the creaminess and taste of the milk from coffee lovers. "The reality is, we're giving our customers a better product, and the money is going back to the local community," he said.

Mr Jansen said independent milk suppliers were more expensive than the multinationals, but the milk's better quality far outweighed the extra cost.

Jonesy's Dairy Fresh owner Rhonda Somerville said her family went independent in December 2009 because of unsustainable milk prices from the big companies, but in the process they embraced a more natural approach. "What comes from the cow goes into the bottle ... we don't pull apart our milk and put it together again," she said.

Simon Schultz, of Schulz Organic Farms in Timboon, said his business had doubled in the past financial year. "The restaurants and cafes are always looking for something different. It's really driven by consumer demand," he said.

Many Australian farmers say the big supermarkets' price cuts on milk are slashing their profits, and in Victoria the export focused dairy industry is experiencing the volatility of shaky global markets. So some family farms have been hitting back by bypassing the big companies, that usually homogenise and pasteurise their milk, and producing it themselves.

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Kerry Callow said while global milk prices were volatile, there were significant challenges to striking out alone. "In Victoria we are largely export focused, so the big companies are important players in our industry," she said.

Wayne Mulcahy, of Kyvalley Farms in Kyabram, said he and his brothers had also turned independent to avoid swings in milk prices and had enjoyed success with local markets.

"Customers like to support independent suppliers because we're just a small farming family in Victoria. they want to support Victorians," he said.


Media inquiry is misguided, says Turnbull

MALCOLM Turnbull has hit out at the media inquiry set up by the Gillard Government, saying it was not addressing the right issues.

The Opposition's communications spokesman said the inquiry, led by retired Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein, QC, was a "political stunt". "I'm not sure what it's going to do," he said. "It was designed to have a slap at News Limited (publisher of the Herald Sun) to take advantage of the phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom."

Mr Turnbull told Channel 10's Meet the Press program the inquiry should look carefully at the profitability of news organisations in a changing media world. "What price democracy, when a big chunk of quality journalism ceases to have a business model that can support it?" he said.

"Can you replace that with a world of tweets and bloggers and Facebook users?" Mr Turnbull also said he would like to see defamation laws more thoroughly assessed. Changing the rules about who could sue media outlets could boost accountability and transparency, he said.

"If (a) newspaper publishes a prompt apology and correction then the person defamed should have no action for damages, unless they have suffered specific financial loss," he said. "If it is just a damage to reputation, they can't make a claim.

"That balances I think, fairly three important public interests - the press's interest in free speech, the individual's interest in protecting their reputation and ... the public's interest in getting accurate information on matters of public importance in a timely fashion."


13 November, 2011

UQ boss Professor Paul Greenfield goes to ground

Brisbane is a small city where not much happens (thankfully). There are the usual crimes of violence in certain areas late at night but nothing that deserves more than one mention in the papers.

So the story of a Jewish university head fleeing allegations of corruption is a lot of fun and Brisbane's local newpaper has made the most of it. Latest below:

Seven days after The Courier-Mail broke the enrolment scandal that has seen Prof Greenfield and his deputy, Prof Michael Keniger, agree to step down, the UQ boss continues to avoid facing the music.

The university has so far refused to reveal the full details of the "misunderstanding" that Prof Greenfield said had led to "irregularities" that benefited a close relative. It has also refused to say where Prof Greenfield is, what he is doing and why he continues to avoid answering questions from The Courier-Mail.

University security guards are stationed outside Prof Greenfield's home in exclusive riverside Indooroopilly, and his office remains empty.

He was also absent from his Peregian Beach holiday hideaway on the Sunshine Coast. The professor's last confirmed engagement was a review of the KAIST research institution in South Korea on Thursday.

"The enrolment decision was as the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding ... and a breakdown in the normal checks and balances that control such decisions," is the closest Prof Greenfield has come to an explanation, and that came on Wednesday, only after repeated pressure from this newspaper.

"As the two senior officers, (senior deputy vice-chancellor) Michael Keniger and I have accepted responsibility for this error and breakdown," the statement continued.

Yesterday, university security again asked The Courier-Mail to leave the UQ executive building.

Outside the vice-chancellor's home, his wife said he was not home and would not be returning for "a long time".

In his statement from Korea, Prof Greenfield was critical of the media scrutiny.

"While I am upset at the inappropriate media pressure on my family and UQ and the public attacks on my reputation, I am most concerned that UQ does not take its eye off the main game," he said. The university was "on a roll", he said. "There are numerous reasons for this, but one is that we do not engage in self-indulgent in-fighting."

Prof Greenfield made it clear he would not quit before the agreed date of June next year, after he turns 65. "We need your support over the next eight months so that the momentum is maintained," he said.


Your regulators will protect you -- NOT

SURGEONS continued to insert trouble-prone hip implants, placing hundreds of patients at risk for 18 months after manufacturers informed health officials of the product's "unacceptable" failure rate.

Documents filed with a Senate committee inquiry reveal three years of hesitation by a regulatory agency, at one point under pressure from medical device companies, after evidence emerged of the high rate of repeat surgery involving the Johnson & Johnson DePuy implants. Records of an expert group advising the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) show the group failed to meet for 18 months after Johnson & Johnson advised the government of the implant's "unacceptable" revision rate in May 2008.

At the next meeting, in December 2009, when it was announced the implants were to be withdrawn, the minutes show the TGA came under fire from members about the lack of meetings and for being "too weak and too slow" in dealing with implants experiencing high failure rates.

Johnson & Johnson has revealed it has "reimbursed" $21 million in claims from more than 3500 patients fitted with DePuy implants. The company is also facing two separate class actions over the implants.

Official estimates show about 5570 DePuy implants have been placed in patients in Australia and so far more than 430 have had to be removed and replaced in what are difficult, costly and painful operations. The documents submitted to the Senate community affairs inquiry show after the failure rate emerged, the company in September 2007 agreed with the TGA to "restrict supply" of the products to surgeons who had undergone specific training.

Johnson & Johnson was reported by the TGA in May 2008 to have said the overall use of DePuy products had dropped dramatically. But figures from the National Joint Replacement Registry show implants of the "resurfacing" product had fallen from 183 to 131 in the three years from 2007.

A separate DePuy hip product also came under suspicion but this was at first blamed on other components and 1210 of these products were implanted in 2008, 31 more than the previous year. Both products were removed from the market in December 2009 after persistent evidence of high failure rates.

Bob Lugton, who has had to have his DePuy hip replaced and lost significant mobility as a result, is campaigning for more rigorous regulation.

The disclosures by the TGA were "depressing", the retired engineering executive said. Surgeons had also been reluctant to notify patients of the emerging risk of the implants. he said.

The president of the Australian Orthopaedic Association, Graham Mercer, said the majority of surgeons altered their choice of implants due to the results of its national registry but there would always be those "who think they know better".

Dr Mercer said Johnson & Johnson trained some surgeons "but the revision rate remained unchanged".

A TGA spokeswoman would not comment on the issue yesterday, saying it would await the outcome of the inquiry.


NSW public hospital horror after man misdiagnosed with aggressive stomach cancer

GOSFORD dad Graham Lord prepared himself for the worst when he was told he had an aggressive stomach cancer. But the 59-year-old was determined to fight it. He endured seven gruelling sessions of chemotherapy, before undergoing surgery to remove 80 per cent of his gut.

Then he was given the devastating news: he never had cancer in the first place. An alleged bungle at a pathology lab at Gosford Hospital led to his misdiagnosis and Mr Lord is now suing the Central Coast Local Health District. He has shed 20kg. He can't eat sitting down. And he suffers anxiety and depression. "They told me I had cancer. I went through chemotherapy and they cut out my stomach," Mr Lord told The Sunday Telegraph.

Six weeks after his operation, according to a statement of claim lodged in the Supreme Court, doctors at Royal North Shore, where he had the surgery, told Mr Lord the initial diagnosis was wrong.

"After independent pathological review of the biopsies taken during the gastroscopy, the biopsy findings were wrong in that there was never any evidence of malignancy," the claim says.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Anna Walsh said Mr Lord received an apology from the pathologist who originally reported on his tissue samples after Central Coast Local Health District had investigated the alleged incident.

"To find out I didn't have cancer. It was just devastating," he said this week. "I was numb. I just couldn't believe it. I thought he was going to tell me they found more cancer and then he told me the other way."

Mr Lord's ordeal began when he consulted a Gosford GP in July 2009 for reflux. He was sent to have a gastric biopsy and the tissue was examined by staff at Palm Pathology, Gosford Hospital.

"I was told one of the areas biopsied has an aggressive cancer," he said from his home in Gosford."My wife just fell apart, she didn't stop crying for three days, and it was very distressing."

Mr Lord said he was convinced the cancer would kill him. He started chemotherapy at Gosford Hospital in October. "I was very ill," he said of the treatment. Then, on January 29 last year Mr Lord had the gastrectomy at Royal North Shore Hospital, where most of his stomach was removed.

It wasn't until the post surgery review six weeks later at Royal North Shore he learned the extraordinary news. "I was told that the tissue taken from me during that gastrectomy was examined through the pathology department at Royal North Shore and the lymph nodes that were taken out showed no evidence of cancer," he said. "The tissue samples were sent to Royal Prince Alfred for study and again that came back with no evidence of malignancy."

"I am still very angry. Psychologically I am not over what has happened I don't know if I ever will. I still have the dreams about it and wake up in a sweat about it. I have lost about 20kg in weight.

Mr Lord, through lawyers Maurice Blackburn, has lodged a Supreme Court claim for injury, loss and damage suffered from the alleged misdiagnosis. A spokesman for the Central Coast Health District said it was inappropriate to comment on the legal matter and they had not yet filed a defence.


Adelaide Christians fulfil their duty as prescribed in Leviticus 19:17

THE opening march of Adelaide's Feast Festival was last night marred by controversial street preachers. About a dozen members of the Adelaide Street Church marched alongside more than 1000 members of the gay and lesbian community in the CBD, yelling into amplifiers and holding placards.

The protesters were jeered by onlookers lining the streets, and marchers blew whistles in their faces and pulled at their signs.

Police officers marched close to the preachers, keeping festival-goers a short distance away from them. As the marchers queued to go into the opening-night party of the festival at Light Square, the preachers continued to harass the marchers, some of whom used hand fans to tap on the preachers as they spoke.

The preachers left once the crowd had gone into the party.

The march was otherwise peaceful, with loud music played from floats, and many people dancing their way from Victoria Square to Light Square. The arts and cultural festival will run for two weeks.


12 November, 2011

Insane murderer free to drive a Melbourne taxi

All on the basis of a prophecy. It is a disgrace to Victoria's legal system that a man who spent six years in the nuthouse for murder is considered safe to drive a taxi. They say his insanity is unlikely to recur. How do they know? Do they have the gift of prophecy? I am a qualified psychologist and I am sure that I could not give such an assurance. I would in fact say that the past is the best guide to the future.

It's that insane VCAT again. It was VCAT who penalized two Christian pastors for laughing at the Koran. They should be disbanded. The murderous taxi-driver is an African. That alone would explain the VCAT decision. They are enforcers of political correctness, not any sort of an impartial tribunal. And, sadly, the Court of Appeal has backed them up.

Hopefully no taxi company will hire the murderer. But in the meanwhile, would you take a cab in Melbourne? I wouldn't -- unless I had a long sharp knife on me for self-defence. Or maybe VCAT wants us to avoid getting into cabs driven by Africans. That would be the sort of "unintended" consequence of this biased and irresponsible decision

THE Transport Department has abandoned its long-running legal battle to prevent a killer taxi driver from getting back behind the wheel. The deadline for a last-ditch appeal to the High Court to stop the man, known only as XFJ, from regaining his taxi licence expired this week.

The decision clears the way for the former refugee, who butchered his wife in a fit of insanity 21 years ago, to hit the road.

Last month the Court of Appeal rejected a bid by the Director of Public Transport to overturn an earlier VCAT decision granting the man the right to drive taxis. The department said it would consider an appeal to the High Court.

After already spending more than $500,000 on the four-year legal fight, a department spokesman confirmed authorities would not pursue the matter. "Having examined the Court of Appeal decision carefully, it was apparent there were no grounds on which to seek special leave to appeal to the High Court and, accordingly, the Department of Transport did not seek special leave," spokesman David Stockman said.

Victoria's taxi industry watchdog has refused to confirm if the cabbie has already applied to regain his licence or embarked on a training course. Victorian Taxi Directorate spokesman Bob Nielson said: "We suggest you contact XFJ's legal representative, as disclosure of whether or not he is accredited is a matter for XFJ." The cabbie's lawyer, Barbara Shalit, of the Victorian Mental Health Legal Centre, declined to comment.

XFJ repeatedly stabbed his wife in 1990. A jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Crime Victims Support Association chief Noel McNamara said the public had a right to know if a violent killer was driving them home. The public should not only be told when XFJ hit the streets as a cabbie, but also know what he looked like. "It was a horrendous crime," Mr McNamara said.

Taxi Association spokesman David Samuel indicated Melbourne's cabbies might not welcome XFJ back. "The safety of drivers and passengers is important," he said.


Julia is pro-American in an unmistakeably heartfelt way

Very rare in a Leftist leader. Her speech to Congress in March was also notably warm. Her speech yesterday in Hawaii:

Ms Gillard paid tribute to America's war dead at a moving Veterans Day ceremony. The ceremony at Honolulu's picturesque Punchbowl Cemetery was Ms Gillard's first official engagement of her trip for APEC.

Just a few kilometres from the site of the infamous Pearl Harbor attack of World War 2, Ms Gillard was given a 19-gun salute as she arrived at the cemetery.

She told the crowd of veterans and their families it was a great privilege to be with them. "In this beautiful and hallowed American place where so many of America's own lie in graves which they found too soon you would be well entitled to say: They died for us. This is a day and a place for ourselves alone," she said.

"But we Australians know that this is not your way. "Because we know that so many of these buried here died for us too. "When we were under attack in the Pacific, so many of these buried here were among those who came to our aid. "They fought with us, together, side by side, step by bloody step."

It was US sailors during the Battle of the Coral Sea that eliminated Australia's fears of a Japanese invasion, she said. "It is a battle which is immortal in Australia," she said.

The importance the US places on Veterans Day says something about the country's peace-loving nature, she said. "It is not the anniversary of the onset of a great conflict. "Not the commemoration of a great victory or great feat of arms, it is the day and the hour of the end of the Great War.

"You remember your veterans in the moment to which each one of them dedicated their dearest hopes - you remember them at the moment when peace began."

Australia will never forget the sacrifices the US has made for peace, she said.

Ms Gillard and her partner Tim Mathieson then joined local luminaries and veterans in laying wreaths at the memorial.


Even government schools no longer "free"

THE cost of a "free education" is spiralling out of control, with parents paying for staff wages, safety upgrades, ICT, grounds maintenance and major building works in state schools.

In 2010 alone, parents of state school students paid and fundraised more than $170 million in fees, charges and contributions, Department of Education and Training figures show.

At least $16.2 million of that was through P&C fundraising and voluntary contributions, with the rest made up of school charges and levies.

It comes as the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations says families are being put under increasing pressure to fund items that should usually come out of the state and federal budgets. "It is a sad state of affairs that we have got to that point," QCPCA president Margaret Leary said.

"I think the State and Federal Governments perhaps need to realise that there is increasing pressure put on schools to manage the budgets that they do have and the amount of increase in costs of running a school."

Ms Leary said she would love to see an increase in education funding but recognised governments also had their own finite budgets to manage.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said his members were increasingly putting their hands in their own pockets because of parents' socio-economic circumstances. In the latest QTU journal, Mr Ryan wrote that state schools had reported to the Federal Government funding review "a heavy reliance on fundraising, particularly by P&Cs.

As one submission states: 'The school and its community are being asked to bear the shortfall in government funding'. "P&Cs are raising money for major building works, airconditioning, shade areas, playground equipment, sports equipment, walkways, port racks," Mr Ryan wrote of the submissions.

"They pay for basic classroom materials ... even schools in traditionally high socio-economic areas say parents are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the cost of these valuable learning activities/resources."

An investigation by The Courier-Mail has found parents being asked to pay levies - some listed as voluntary, and some not - for staff wages, subjects, curriculum support materials, buildings, airconditioning, language programs and ICT, plus the new take-home laptop levy for high school students next year.

Parents of high school students face the greatest costs. At Brisbane State High School, all subjects have levies - including English, mathematics and science, which remain free at most others. In 2012, BSHS parents will also pay a $150 ICT fee, $200 general levy, $220 for students to take home laptop computers in Years 9 and 11 and $250 for a blazer, while textbooks cost up to $270 per subject.

DET acknowledges parents could pay more than $1000 annually for textbooks.

Queensland Secondary Principals Association president Norm Fuller said the government provided the basic costs of a good education and if schools and parents wanted enhanced resources they could contribute towards them.

DET director-general Julie Grantham said they provided "access to a high-quality, free education for all Queenslanders of school age". "State schools provide free instruction, administration and facilities to students at state schools ... Parents provide their children with the resources necessary to participate in the curriculum."

Education Minister Cameron Dick said Queensland's commitment to funding education had "never been stronger" with a record budget of almost $7.4 billion in 2011-12. "Any suggestion that the Government is short-changing state school students has no basis," Mr Dick said.

"Many parents are prepared to raise extra funds through their P&C to provide their children with an even better education - and this stance should be applauded."


Greeks escaping to Australia

The Australian economy is in infinitely better shape than Greece's

AFTER decades of low immigration, the number of Greeks interested in heading to Australia has risen sharply, according to the federal government.

As the Greek debt crisis worsens and unemployment rises, some of the most skilled professionals are seeking to join one of the biggest expatriate communities in the world, based largely in Melbourne and Sydney.

A recent "skills expo" in Athens, hosted by the Australian embassy, attracted 773 young professionals interested in moving under the skilled migration program. For country with a population of 10 million, the figure is significant.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said the most recent statistics were not yet available. "But we are able to say that, anecdotally, there has been an increase in Greek inquiries about immigration to Australia, via our embassy in Athens and via the website," she said.

Over the past decade, immigration from Greece has been low. In 2001, there were 92 migrants; in 2006, there were 112 people; in 2009, after the global financial crisis hit, there were 132 people; and in the year ending June 2011, there were 134 migrants.

This is despite Australia being home to almost 400,000 people who claimed Greek ancestry in the 2006 census, which contains the most recent data. The biggest influx of Greeks came after World War II, when the government looked to Europe to help populate the country.

But since Greece joined the European Union in 1981, and became a signatory to the Schengen Agreement in 2000, allowing the free movement of labour across the union, many young Greeks - fluent in English and other European languages, and equipped with strong qualifications - have emigrated to France, Germany and Britain or the United States, says the Australian Hellenic Council.

The council's spokesman, Panayiotis Diamadis, told the Herald the "tyranny of distance" had limited the number of Greeks moving to Australia. "That's the biggest obstacle," he said, especially if migrants leave elderly family members behind.

Dr Diamadis said, however, that in the past year about 2500 Greeks who have dual citizenship had returned to Australia, largely because of the economic crisis.

He said that while his organisation was willing to help resettle Greeks, it was not actively encouraging the large-scale immigration of young professionals at this time. "We're very worried about the outflow from Greece of the best qualified people because they're the ones - the engineers, the accountants, the doctors - that the country will need to get themselves out of the mess," he said.


11 November, 2011

Sir Lunchalot was corrupt

More background on Sir Lunchalot here

AN INDEPENDENT report on the granting of a lucrative coal exploration licence to a former union boss by the disgraced mineral resources minister Ian Macdonald has found there was "a circumstantial case of wrongdoing and breach of public trust".

The Clayton Utz report, obtained by the Herald, recommends the government establish a special commission of inquiry into the decision.

Mr Macdonald, who resigned from Parliament last year over an expenses scandal, announced approval of the exploration licence to Doyles Creek Mining, chaired by John Maitland, who had an 11 per cent stake, by media release on Christmas Eve 2008.
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The licence was not put to tender, ignoring departmental advice and sparking accusations that it was a favour for Mr Maitland, a former national secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

The government argued there was a community benefit as the department specified that Doyles Creek must be a "training mine" to improve worker safety. In February last year NuCoal Resources bought Doyles Creek Mining and listed on the stock exchange with a market value of $100 million, eventually inflating the value of Mr Maitland's stake to about $10 million.

The report says Doyles Creek, in the upper Hunter, is classified as a "major stand-alone area", meaning it contains sufficient coal to support a new mine. Under departmental guidelines, licences for such areas must be subject to a competitive tender or expressions-of-interest process.

It rebuts claims by Mr Macdonald that he invited Mr Maitland to apply for a licence at the advice of the department. "The evidence suggests the invitation of 21 August 2008 by the minister was written without the department's knowledge or encouragement," it says.

The report highlights an email on December 23 from Mr Macdonald's then chief-of-staff, Jamie Gibson, to the department requesting information about "how good it will be".

"Upstairs have seen it and are having a bit of a panic," it says. The report presumes "upstairs" refers to the premier's office.

The Clayton Utz report finds a report commissioned by the former Labor government that cleared Mr Macdonald was flawed. It also finds key documents are missing from the department's files and concludes a special commission of inquiry should be established.

"We consider that, in light of the facts … (as presently known) there is a circumstantial case of wrongdoing and breach of public trust," it says. A government source said that while such an inquiry had not been ruled out the government was likely to refer the matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.


The "disabled": Many could work

Fewer than half of all Australians with a disability are employed and more than 800,000 disabled people are on the Disability Support Pension.

Only 1% of this group leave the pension to take up employment each year. Around two-thirds say they have a mild or ‘less than mild’ impairment but continue to take advantage of the full pension.

Our income support system channels people with a disability onto the pension and away from work even if they have worked before and think they can work again. Once they are on the pension, there is little incentive – and certainly no compulsion – to look for a job.

Yet we know that given the right help, many people with very serious disabilities can work.

Organisations such as JobSupport say getting people with disabilities into jobs is realistic.

JobSupport puts 50 to 60 school leavers with moderate intellectual disabilities through their ‘Transitions to Work’ program every year. Around 70% go on to work in jobs in the open employment market.

The Cerebral Palsy Alliance in NSW takes high school kids with cerebral palsy on ski trips to show them they can be independent and take risks. They place young disabled adults in mentoring programs with some of Australia’s biggest corporations.

The work of these organisations proves that with the right attitude and the right support, almost anyone can be employed in paid work.

We should stop telling people with disabilities that they can’t work and can’t become self-sufficient.

A life on welfare is not the best they can do or we can do for them.

In a wealthy, fully employed country of opportunity like Australia, the most damaging kind of poverty is not lack of income but lack of aspiration.


Fatal ambulance delays in Victoria still

TWO children watched as their father lay dying after paramedics took almost half an hour to come to his aid after he collapsed.

The widow of young father Tim Knowles, Candice, told yesterday of the agonising 24-minute wait for an ambulance, the Herald Sun reported. He collapsed on Saturday while working with his father and children, Kowan, 8, and Haley, 7, on a bee farm in Talbot, central Victoria.

Just hours earlier, in neighbouring town Maryborough, a 48-year-old mum died on her way to hospital after she waited 35 minutes for help to arrive. Ambulance Victoria has launched an investigation into both deaths.

The double tragedy, the latest in a string of ambulance problems in the area, has sparked calls for immediate action to fix the crippled service.

Senior paramedics yesterday warned that thousands of Victorian lives were being put at risk amid fears of more deaths because of the worsening crisis. It comes less than a fortnight after figures revealed paramedics failed to reach more than one in five critical emergencies within the 15-minute target response time.

Ms Knowles said Tim was just 14km from an ambulance branch when he collapsed for no known reason. He died in hospital the next day and she believes if professional help had reached him sooner he could have lived.

In a cruel twist, Ms Knowles said, that like her children with their dad, she, aged 9, had watched her mother die 18 years ago after an ambulance took 30 minutes to arrive. "Those images never leave you. My kids shouldn't have had to watch that and it will haunt them forever," she said.

"If my kids needed to get to hospital, I would drive them myself. "You just can't take the risk here because you don't know when they'll arrive."

Ambulance Victoria general manager of regional services, Tony Walker, denied claims the controversial dispatch service ETSA was to blame. "These cases highlight the challenge we face in regional areas, in that once the local ambulance is on a case there are bigger distances to cover to the next closest ambulance," he said.

"The single statewide dispatch system on the whole has provided huge benefits to regional communities."


Superannuation changes are unnecessary paternalism

The Gillard government last week introduced legislation to lift the superannuation guarantee to 12% by 1 July 2019. ‘Around 8.4 million Australians will have their superannuation savings boosted,’ it claims, presenting, as usual, the benefits as manna from heaven. It neglects to say who is going to pay for the increased savings.

In fact, businesses will be lumbered with extra costs until they can defray them by reining in their employees’ wage growth. Ultimately, superannuation funds will commandeer more of workers’ wages.

In today’s dollars, if the 12% increase eventuates, workers on median incomes of $47,000 a year will be eventually forced to contribute an extra $1,410 a year to their superannuation accounts. Their total annual contribution will jump by 33% to $5,640 a year.

That means less take-home pay. After tax, it’s a reduction of almost $19 a week. That might mean renting instead of buying a home and certainly lower utility during workers’ more active years.

As the Henry review into Australia’s tax system pointed out, workers on lower incomes, especially those living in the pricey state capitals, cannot easily offset the compulsory increase in saving by reducing any voluntary saving.

So it’s hard to see how increasing superannuation is a win for ‘adequacy and fairness,’ as the government claims.

In fact, increasing the superannuation guarantee deliberately curtails the range of choices Australian workers can make. A higher compulsory rate might lift retirement incomes in the future, but nothing is stopping workers from making an additional 3% superannuation contribution now if they wish.

Some people might not save ‘enough,’ others will save ‘too much.’ In a free society that is natural. The old age pension still provides a safety net to all those who make the ‘wrong’ choices while working.

Increasing the compulsory rate might be warranted if it meant smaller government, lower taxes, and a more responsible citizenry. But the cost of the tax concessions provided to superannuation contributions far outweighs the reduction in Age Pension outlays, even in the long run. That means other taxes will have to be raised to balance the budget.

Increasing the superannuation is wholly paternalistic. That it nevertheless garners so much support is testament to the wide range of vested interest groups who benefit from it and the tendentious way it is presented to voters.


10 November, 2011

Desperate booksellers giving up on protectionism

They have ripped off Australian book buyers for decades but this change of heart may be too late. Customers have got used to buying overseas. I have done so myself

THE Australian book industry has voluntarily agreed to a reduction in its protection against overseas imports but is asking the government to scrap GST on books and review unfair postage costs to help it compete, as readers flock to e-books and cheaper books available over the internet.

An industry-wide strategy group, chaired by the former Hawke government minister Barry Jones, made the recommendations yesterday in a report designed to balance the survival of a local publishing industry with rapid technological change and consumer demands for quick delivery of cheaper books.

Receiving the report the Innovation Minister, Senator Kim Carr, sounded lukewarm about a recommendation to either impose GST on imported books or scrap it on Australian-produced volumes - a change many other domestic retailers facing competition from online sellers also want - saying "the taxation questions in the report are complex and would have to be discussed with Treasury."

But Mr Jones insisted the book industry had a special case for a GST reprieve because in many countries books were exempt from value added tax, unlike other items often bought online like clothes or shoes or jewellery, and that put Australian booksellers at an extra disadvantage.

As an example, he said, the hardcover edition of Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion cost $130 in Australia, but could be bought for $92.83 from the Book Depository in Britain, including postage.

The disadvantage is compounded by different postage rates. It costs $42.60 to post a 10-kilogram parcel of books from Britain to Australia, but it would cost $237.50 to post them back. The report recommends the government urgently review Australia's international postal agreements.

Two years ago, sections of the Australian publishing industry fought off a proposal for legislation to make them publish works for which they held copyright within a week of their international release, winning a continuation of a 30-day shield from overseas import competition.

Senator Carr helped defeat that plan, which was pushed by the then competition minister, Craig Emerson, other ministers and some of the bigger booksellers.

But now the industry says "the caravan has moved on" - and publishers, booksellers and printers have agreed to cut the period during which they are shielded from overseas imports to 14 days, without legislative change.

Yesterday, Senator Carr said "if the industry says they have found a better way to achieve our aims then of course we'll take notice of that."

Australians spent about $2.3 billion on books in 2010, with 12 per cent of books bought online and half of those from overseas sellers. Of the purchases from overseas, 34 per cent were from Amazon and 19 per cent from the Book Depository. E-books made up only 1.5 per cent of sales, but a study by PwC Australia for the report found that could rise to between 6 and 25 per cent in just three years.

Other recommendations in the report include a request for about $5 million in government funding to help domestic booksellers set up an online database that would help them supply most books to customers within 48 hours and another $10 million over two years to subsidise scholarly publications by universities and their marketing.

Senator Carr said the government would respond to the report early next year.


Carbon casualties - three million families will suffer under new carbon tax regime

THE Samuelsons are the face of the carbon tax three million - the families who will bear the cost of the Gillard government's latest levy.

Teddy Samuelson and her husband Nik from Castle Hill will be out of pocket about $700 a year even after receiving increased family payments of about $75, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The stay-at-home mum said her husband worked "bloody hard for his money" with the family battling existing expenses and the cost of raising three boys in Sydney on Mr Samuelson's wage of more than $150,000 a year.

"When I look at bills I think what we pay now is more than enough - to think that number is going to rise is just wrong," Mrs Samuelson said yesterday. "I don't think anyone is really sure how much the tax is going to impact their lives."

She said the concept of taxing families who are earning more but not compensating them was unfair: "I don't see why we have to suffer because he earns slightly more."

While the increased financial burden will hurt, it was the way the government handled the policy which frustrated the Samuelsons most: "I don't believe the Australian public should pay for big business's carbon emissions. "A lot of the debate is based on inconclusive scientific evidence ... we don't really get a say in anything any more."

The almost three million Australian households who will either not be compensated or will get only partial assistance includes single-income parents earning $65,000 or more and singles on more than $55,000.

Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday provided an example of parents on a dual income totalling $85,000 with two young children who would be $375 a year better off. But that will be paid for in part by families earning more.

The highest income earners - on $200,000 a year - will be out of pocket more than $1000 a year. At the other end of the spectrum, four million low-income households will be better off and two million will be fully compensated.

The government yesterday declared the debate over. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a speech to a carbon expo in Melbourne: "The time for words ended yesterday." After a standing ovation, Ms Gillard said "a second industrial revolution is needed" and carbon pricing was the "key that unlocks the door to a clean energy future".


Independent school starts fee war

AN independent school has fired the latest salvo in Sydney's "school wars" as debate heats up over whether families should be given more choice between government and private schools.

Mamre Anglican School at Kemps Creek is claiming a national first by slashing fees by 10 per cent in 2012 to help low-income families and lift enrolments - which have already soared 60 per cent over the past three years.

While debate rages over whether governments should encourage more choice in education, new independents such as Mamre Anglican are luring families away from both public and other private schools.

A national inquiry is under way into school funding but, whatever recommendations emerge, governments will have to make a call on the extent to which they bolster under-funded public schools or bankroll the growth of private schools.

Low-fee Anglican schools are booming in suburban growth corridors, strategically buying up land, heavily marketing in existing schools - and now cutting fees.

Enrolments at Mamre - which charges $3380 to $4480 a year plus $660 to $980 for excursions, camps and transport - could reach 300 next year and 500 down the track.

"The board of the school has taken the decision to lower the fees of the school by 10 per cent for 2012, I would think we would be the only school in Australia to do this," principal Vic Branson said yesterday.

"We are doing so because of a thorough demographic study which indicated ... the community would struggle with our present rate of fees and because we are already growing. We want others to join our school with its innovative programs. We feel that lower fees would encourage new families."

Mr Branson said the newly renovated school was attractive to families, with sport development and gifted and talented students programs, and recently placed 14th out of 250 schools in the Mathematics Olympiad.

Mamre takes students from kindergarten to Year 10.

Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation chief executive Laurie Scandrett said Mamre's reduced fees would bring it "into line with competitors".

The corporation has 16 schools in the Sydney Diocese and more are in the pipeline.


Mining tax debacle?

PRESSURE is building on the Gillard government to release the figures supplied to it by the minerals giants that were used to underpin its mining tax revenue forecasts of $11.1 billion over the next four years.

The opposition stepped up the call yesterday as it joined forces with Andrew Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group in claiming the big miners, including Mr Forrest's company, would pay next to no mining tax, leaving a massive hole in the budget.

The government, Treasury and the minerals giants that negotiated the tax disputed the claims, which emerged as Mr Forrest's senior executives told a parliamentary inquiry yesterday that Fortescue Metals had never paid any company tax. It would do so for the first time in December, when it expected to pay $100 million on a $1.3 billion profit. Previously, the company has been deducting its start-up costs.

Mr Forrest is the most vocal opponent of the mining tax and the government says he just does not want to pay tax. It leapt on the admission yesterday that he had never paid company tax.

It is eager to discredit Mr Forrest's claims about the mining tax because he has won over the Tasmanian independent, Andrew Wilkie, whose support for the legislation is critical.

Mr Wilkie shares Mr Forrest's concerns that the tax burden will fall disproportionately on small miners with which Fortescue Metals does business.

The big miners will pay nothing, Fortescue Metals says, because they can deduct from their tax liability the market value of their mineral assets.

Mr Forrest has changed his view on how the tax will affect his company. In June, he said "companies like Fortescue will have to carry the burden of the minerals resources rent tax" but recently he said his company, like the minerals giants, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata, would pay next to nothing.

A Fortescue Metals executive Julian Tapp, said the company expected to pay "not much" mining tax and based on this, neither would the big three miners who negotiated the tax with the government. "We basically think when it comes to the agreement, the government have been sold a pup," Mr Tapp said.

The revenue forecasts for the tax are based on estimates of volume and revenue that were provided by the big three miners during negotiations after the original resources super profits tax fell over. The government is refusing to make these numbers public because they are commercially sensitive and were provided on a confidential basis.

Treasury officials appearing before yesterday's hearing again backed the revenue forecasts but admitted Treasury was not part of the original negotiations, which involved just ministers.

The shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said yesterday that Mr Forrest was right and that the mining tax would produce no revenue at all.

The head of the Minerals Council of Australia, Mitch Hooke, who represents the minerals giants, said Mr Forrest was wrong and the big three would pay up to 90 per cent of the tax.

The minerals giants did not like the tax but it was a marked improvement on the original and they could live with it, Mr Hooke said.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was in Melbourne yesterday, promoting the price on carbon, the legislation for which passed the Senate on Tuesday.


9 November, 2011

Carbon tax enacted -- price rises soon

The government's controversial carbon tax has passed through the Parliament - and is now set to become law.

Electricity suppliers have warned that their bills will rise under the scheme because they will apply a "risk premium" to current price contracts as a hedge against more expensive carbon permits later on.

But the Government says its compensation package is adequate and will flow to nine out of 10 households and more than fully compensate many for any extra costs. Treasury modelling predicts the average household will pay an extra $9.90 per week under the scheme but will receive $10.10 in compensation.

This is backed by more recent independent modelling, which found the compensation - starting two months before the price applies in May next year - will leave the average household $2.20 better off per week after compensation.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who voted against the scheme, said electricity costs would increase by 10 per cent because the Government had defeated his amendment to allow for the deferred payment of forward-dated carbon permits.

"Energy companies forward-sell electricity - it's a core part of their business. Why would we make them pay upfront for permits which they won't receive the revenue for until years later?" he said.

The Senate vote, which was greeted by applause in the packed public galleries, gives Australia one of the world's first economy-wide carbon pricing systems from July 1, 2012.

It will apply to fewer than 500 of the largest polluting companies and begin with an initial fixed value of $23 a tonne, climbing by 5 per cent a year before moving to a full floating price from mid-2015.

However, the $23 figure, set months ago, is more than double that on Europe's carbon market, where the price has plummeted recently amid its widening economic malaise.

Ms Gillard applauded yesterday's vote, calling it "historic Labor reform", but it remains deeply unpopular with voters and comes at a difficult time for households already facing skyrocketing power bills.

Adelaide electricity prices have increased by 25 per cent in the past year, 4 per cent more than the next-largest increase in Hobart.

Energy Users Association of Australia executive director Roman Domanski said the Producer Price Index information released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed electricity prices had continued to rise by "large and disturbing amounts over the past year" in all states. "The level of electricity price increases we are seeing across the country continues to be of major concern," he said.

Cries of "betrayal" and "doormats to the Greens" echoed across the Senate as the package passed into law.

Ms Gillard acknowledged that some voters harboured "a great deal of anxiety" about the tax. She flagged an advertising campaign, saying the Government would take the necessary steps to give people the facts.

But she faces a steep climb back to voters' hearts, especially as the Opposition will tie all future price rises to the new carbon price - whether related or not. "It is not a defeat - it's an adjournment," said Nationals frontbencher Barnaby Joyce.

Opposition MPs drew out the vote for as long as possible to expose Ms Gillard's no-carbon-tax promise. But in the end, the 18-Bill Clean Energy package passed with 36 Labor and Greens votes to 32 Opposition and independents.


Just who's going to pay our bills now that the carbon tax has passed?

FOR a few, it was a moment to celebrate and to embrace. Greens leader Bob Brown emerged from parliament into a thunderstorm to declare "even the heavens are clapping".

But as the carbon tax Julia Gillard vowed never to impose was passed into law, yesterday marked a dark day for the majority of Australians opposed to it. According to her detractors, Ms Gillard's "betrayal" was now complete.

And with the passing of the controversial tax came an admission from the government it had effectively divided the nation - anyone who disagreed with it would stand accused as a "naysayer" or "denier".

"This has been a victory for the optimists and a defeat for the naysayers," Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said.

Finance Minister Penny Wong claimed a clear divide in Australian politics between "those who speak to hope and optimism and those who want to drum up fear".

The divide appeared close to home, with a prominent government MP absent when the senate voted on the legislation just after midday. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who reportedly believes the carbon tax is destroying the government, chose to stay in a cabinet sub-committee meeting during the historic vote.

Liberal MPs seized on a handshake between Mr Brown and Labor Senate leader Chris Evans.

"That handshake between the leader of the government and the leader of the Australian Greens says it all about the betrayal and the sellout of traditional Australia Labor Party values to the Greens," Liberal senate leader Eric Abetz said.

He added that the passage of the tax was: "The grossest betrayal of an electoral mandate in Australian political history."

The carbon tax will add an average $514.80 a year to family bills and, while most will receive compensation, high-income families will pay as much as $1031 a year with just $6 in tax cuts.

Concern Australians would pay a $23 a tonne carbon price which is now twice the rate in Europe after a market collapse there were dismissed by the government.

The Greens hailed yesterday's vote as a victory for their share in power, crowing Ms Gillard only won their support to guarantee supply because she agreed to a tax. "I think everybody around Australia knows this has been delivered because we have a power-sharing parliament," deputy Greens leader Christine Milne said.

Mr Brown called the carbon tax "timid" and "short of the mark" but said it was "gallant" and he claimed Australians would be grateful for the tax in 50 to 500 years.

Mr Swan claimed the bills had only passed because Ms Gillard was "tough as nails". "Putting in place long-term reform, tough reform, in this country is always hard," he said.

Ms Gillard was asked if she regretted her comments before the election but she insisted she was proud: "I've made decisions in the nation's interests."

She claimed every living Liberal leader, including Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, supported pricing carbon. Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt vowed to make the next election a referendum on the carbon tax while Mr Abbott said from London he would repeal the tax if he won office.

Ms Gillard vowed to fight, saying Labor would support it "five years, in 10 years".

The government is likely to begin a costly ad campaign, with Ms Gillard saying she wanted Australians to have correct information.


What a story from Mr Story!

University bosses forced to resign but have done nothing wrong???? Tell us another one! Both my son and I are graduates of UQ so this blemish on its administration could damage the reputation of our qualifications

FIVE days after The Courier-Mail revealed an enrolment controversy at our most esteemed learning institution, the University of Queensland still refuses to reveal what happened.

More than 50,000 students and staff, and nearly 200,000 alumni - not to mention millions of taxpayers - have not been told what details were behind the enrolment "irregularity".

The university doggedly refuses to release the independent legal report into the scandal that could explain what may be its biggest ethical challenge in 100 years.

University of Queensland vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield was in the South Korean capital of Seoul yesterday, lecturing an international audience of academics about how universities can prosper in the modern business world.

It was sadly ironic, considering his own university was slipping further into the mire of public mistrust.

Professor Greenfield should have been at home answering questions about his own role in the enrolment saga that has engulfed the top-rank university.

So many questions remain unanswered. The public deserves answers, not obfuscation and half-truths.

There is an overwhelming public interest in telling the full story of why vice-chancellor Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger were forced out after the investigation found "irregularities" in the enrolment of a student known to them.

How the "irregularity" was uncovered we do not know.

Was the student at the centre of the allegations asked to give evidence? Did Chancellor John Story engage in an elaborate cover-up enshrined in Prof Greenfield's resignation letter to staff which was deliberately kept from the media?

While Prof Greenfield remains in South Korea he avoids scrutiny. Chancellor Story should order him back immediately.

How long can the university Senate, the governing body, tolerate this controversy? Mr Story confirmed he had ordered an investigation by an unidentified barrister after allegations of favouritism surfaced.

While the report remains under wraps, the community is rife with speculation.

Mr Story's role, too, is under scrutiny. He would not reveal the student's identity, nor the student's relationship with the men who run one of the nation's largest universities.

Mr Story said an investigation conducted independently of the university "confirmed irregularities in the enrolment process" of a student.

A prominent alumni joined the debate yesterday, saying Prof Greenfield should quit immediately.

Dr Andrew Laming, the Member for Bowman and a graduate of the university's medical school, also called on the university to "come clean" and provide a "full and transparent account" of why Prof Greenfield and Prof Keniger were forced out. "How can it be that whatever occurred was serious enough to force two early retirements but not two immediate resignations?" Dr Laming asked.

While Prof Keniger is leaving in December, Prof Greenfield has been allowed by the university senate to stay on until June 2012, shortly after he turns 65.

Financial observers believe this will enhance Prof Greenfield's final payout, which may be in excess of $3 million.

Mr Story continues to shroud the affair in secrecy, refusing to reveal the relationship of the student at the centre of the controversy to Prof Greenfield and Prof Keniger. He insisted there had been no findings of misconduct against them.

Mr Laming called on Prof Greenfield to return to Australia immediately to explain his role in the affair, and for the independent barrister's report to be made public. "I am particularly concerned that the independent external investigation by a senior counsel which was ordered by the Chancellor John Story in September has not been made available," Mr Laming said.

"This report must be made available as a matter of urgency and its author identified so that the process of restoring trust in the system can begin."

Mr Laming said the community insisted on the highest ethical standards when it came to university entrance procedures. "Any deviation will undoubtedly have a serious impact on the university's reputation."


Toothless watchdog steps down

CRIME and Misconduct Commission chairperson Martin Moynihan has announced he will step down from the agency.

His decision announced today was being taken for personal reasons and comes three months before his two-year contract was due to expire in February 2012.

On the advice of his doctor, Mr Moynihan last month took leave after he had an accident which has continued to affect his health.

"It is with regret that I announce my decision to stand down," he said in a statement. "However, under the current circumstances, I believe it is in the best interest of the organisation."

The chairman of the corruption watchdog had indicated to the State Government that he would not extend his appointment beyond February 7 next year.

He said stability was important for the CMC, which has undergone significant restructuring over the past year and is continuing to change.

"The impact of the accident has meant that I can't dedicate the necessary time to ensure that the important work of the CMC continues," Mr Moynihan said. "I would like to take this opportunity to commend my fellow commissioners and all CMC staff for their commitment and hard work during my term. "It has been a privilege to be a part of a unique organisation that answers to all Queenslanders, protecting them from serious crime and ensuring high standards of integrity in the public sector."

Mr Moynihan's resignation takes effect from November 18. The state government will appoint an acting chair. [And hopefully a person to sit in it]


Left ready to fight for gay marriage

THE Labor Left will take on the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, over gay marriage by pushing the party to adopt a policy of outright support rather than a conscience vote.

Firing the first salvo ahead of the ALP national conference in three weeks, the federal minister and senior figure in the Left, Mark Butler, said a conscience vote should not apply to same-sex marriage because it is not a "life-and-death" issue like abortion, euthanasia or stem cell research.

Labor policy opposes same-sex marriage and supports the Marriage Act definition as a union between a man and a woman.
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Ms Gillard, who personally opposes same-sex marriage, is expected to make a statement before the national conference supporting changing the policy to that of a conscience vote.

The Right, including the ultra-conservative sub-faction of the Right allied to the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, is lining up to support a conscience vote.

In a shock outcome, a source from the SDA sub-faction told the Herald it would be backing the Prime Minister's position.

Writing in today's Herald, Mr Butler, whose position will reflect that of the Left, says the definition of marriage contained in the act should be changed and "I will oppose the granting of a conscience vote".

Mr Butler said the Left respects the rights of churches and other religious organisations to restrict marriages in their organisation to that between a man and a woman.

Subsequently, any change to the Marriage Act would be accompanied by legislation to protect churches and other religious organisations from anti-discrimination lawsuits should they refuse to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

"A price well worth paying to break this deadlock," he said.

He argued that the "essentially religious construction of marriage" has subordinated the civil standard of equal treatment.

"Australia should also recognise that marriage is now predominantly a civil institution and apply standard principles of equal treatment to at least civil ceremonies," Mr Butler said.


8 November, 2011

Checks fail: Sex offenders cleared to work with kids

Government regulation gives a false sense of security. Its irresponsibility and lack of effective accountability makes it very unreliable

CHILD sex offenders, drug traffickers and kidnappers are among criminals who have reportedly slipped through the net and been allowed to work with children in Victoria.

The Herald Sun says Freedom of Information documents show that three out of four ex-criminals who apply to work with children in Victoria get the go-ahead.

The paper found that the state government vetting process designed to stop dangerous or unsuitable offenders working with children has permitted more than 2700 criminals through the net.

Of those, 43 people convicted of child sex crimes have been allowed to work with kids, despite the Department of Justice's efforts to stop them.

Since 2006 when vetting began, the department has stopped 765 criminals.

Of those who had sought permission, 189 were child sex offenders, billed as the most serious Category One.

But an analysis of the Working With Children Check process reveals 689 Category Two offenders - who include stalkers, kidnappers and drug traffickers to kids - were cleared.

The paper says it is understood the government is looking at ways to tighten the Working With Children Check, which costs $15 million a year to administer.


Media "Inquiry" comes at a bad time for media survival

On Thursday I received an email from the Independent Inquiry into Media and Media Regulation. The organisation's secretariat advised that Ray Finkelstein, QC, and Matthew Ricketson had asked about my availability and interest to participate in the public hearings, which will take place late next week.

I declined the kind offer. The fact is that I do not see any valid reason for the expenditure of public money on an inquiry into the private-sector print media, including online publications.

Finkelstein was appointed to the Federal Court in 1997. He was a member of the full bench of the Federal Court which found for the Maritime Union of Australia during the waterfront dispute. Finkelstein has spent virtually his entire career in the law - primarily as a barrister and then a judge. He has never held a significant role in a private sector business and has no experience in the media.

Ricketson, who is assisting Finkelstein, is an academic who has worked as a journalist for The Age.

I'm no prophet and I have no idea as to what the findings of the media inquiry might be. But it is known that lawyers tend to see the answers to life's problems in legislation, regulation and the like.

Recently Finkelstein wrote to the editors of Australia's main print and media outlets. He quoted with approval from the US publisher and editor Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) that only the highest ideals would ''save journalism from the subservience to business interests, seeking selfish ends, antagonistic to public welfare". Finkelstein went on to ask the editors "whether, and to what extent" they subscribed to "the view that the press has social responsibilities". He also asked "how this social responsibility is, or should be, implemented".

The problem with such leading questions is that they assume there is such an entity as social responsibility which should be implemented. In a democratic society, which allows almost universal free speech, one person's social responsibility may be another person's social irresponsibility.

Democratic societies work well because they entail the existence of competing values and interests, which express themselves in the political process. It is naive to believe that governments, or public servants or retired Federal Court judges, can determine who is, and who is not, acting in a socially responsible manner. In democracies the role of authorities is to ensure that citizens act within the law. That's all.

To those who understand the print and online media, the real challenge at hand is survival. Seldom before have so many individuals read newspapers. It's just that they increasingly do so online where it is more difficult to make substantial profits.

The task of such entities as News Ltd and Fairfax Media in the medium term is to ensure the continued publication of printed newspapers on weekdays. Yet the left in Australia has chosen this time to launch an assault on the print media.

News Ltd publications such as The Australian and The Daily Telegraph are the principal targets but Fairfax publications would be caught up in the downside of any increase in regulation following from the media inquiry.

In his recent talk at the IQ2 debate on the media (screened by ABC TV's Big Ideas program), the Greens leader, Bob Brown, asked the rhetorical question: "What is the difference between an Australian abattoir, an Australian brothel and an Australian newspaper?" His answer was: "You don't need a licence for an Australian newspaper."

This was an unprecedented call for government regulation of the media. Traditionally, governments have issued licences for radio and television because spectrum space is limited.

However, anyone can set up a print or online publication since there is no limitation beyond what the market can bear. The Greens want to bring about a situation where politicians and bureaucrats determine whether an individual can go into publishing.

Brown concluded with the following saying: "Oscar Wilde said 'in olden days they had the rack, nowadays they have the press'. Well, the king or Crown licensed the rack. It's time the Crown licensed the press as well."

Wilde was a brilliant humorist whose demise was brought about by his own choices - the press was not responsible for his jailing.

Brown followed up his performance at the IQ2 debate with a submission to the media inquiry on behalf of the Greens. Complaining about the fact that News Ltd controls about 70 per cent of the capital city newspaper audience, Brown asked: "If the elected representatives are not to rein in this debasing of the ideals of the fourth estate, who should or will?"

Brown's comments amount to the most serious attempt by an elected politician to control the print media since Arthur Calwell, when information minister in the Curtin government, tried to censor the press during World War II. The story is told dispassionately by Paul Hasluck in The Government and the People: 1942-1945.

In recent days the left-wing Labor senator Doug Cameron has called the Murdoch press "absolutely reprehensible". He, too, appears to want the print media constrained by regulation. Any regulation aimed at News Ltd today could be extended to Fairfax and to as-yet unborn publications in the future. It's difficult to see how the media inquiry can make a positive contribution to the debate.


Labor Government Murdoch-hatred on display

They can't take criticism so rejected a best bid when it came from a Murdoch company

THE debacle over the $223 million Australia Network contract is a product of Labor's meddling in what should have remained an independent public tender.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy put on an extraordinary display of chutzpah last night and tried to blame a succession of ''significant'' media leaks for terminating the tender.

But leaks are merely the symptom of a flawed process. The cause was the government's decision to tear up the rule book when it looked likely Sky News would win the rights to run the network over the ABC. Media scrutiny has ensured the government didn't get away with it.

The resulting saga is far more than a battle pitting Rupert Murdoch and his part-owned Sky News against the publicly funded ABC - although it is that. It is more than a Labor feud with News Limited - though there is an element of that too. And it is more than a manifestation of Labor's internal battle of how you run a government that includes Kevin Rudd and the factional warriors that deposed him - but that's also part of the story.

Rudd had set up a process at arm's length from politics and allowed the bureaucrats to decide the future of the service, intended as Australia's voice in Asia and the Pacific. That came after Labor invited discussion last year on whether to put the Australia Network out to tender again, as it has been every few years since it was launched in the early 1990s.

If there was to be a debate over permanently leaving the service with the ABC, that was the time to have it. But instead the government invited companies to bid in good faith for the contract. Sky News and the ABC both invested heavily to put in their best pitch. Sky News won the day.

But some government members didn't like the prospect of a company linked to Murdoch getting their hands on public money, so they stripped the decision from Rudd's department, gave it to cabinet and handed Conroy the final approval. The government tried to sneak out these changes late on a Friday night. That alone was enough of a hint that something was badly wrong.

But the real problem was the logic behind the changes. It was supposedly the fault of upheaval in the Arab world, but no extra funding was on offer to expand the service. Nor was it clear why the Communications Minister was in a better position to judge the overseas impact than the Foreign Minister. Or the Trade Minister, for that matter.

The Australia Network is supposed to promote Australian values to a middle-class audience in the region. Instead, it has turned into a bad soap opera.


Qantas must cut costs to survive

Qantas yesterday announced the “first phase” of a package of measures to apologise to customers disrupted by the grounding of the airline for two days last Saturday week. It has also been blitzing the media with ads proclaiming the return to certainty for the first time in more than six months, after Fair Work Australia ordered the end of industrial action by unions representing pilots, engineers and ground handlers.

In the week since the grounding, consumers have been stirred up by highly misleading claims about the personal pay packet of chief executive Alan Joyce and have joined in a disgraceful outburst of xenophobia, bordering on racism, against the Australian Irishman.

There are 22 million different opinions about the national carrier and many of them miss the point: Qantas’s costs are too high, especially on long-haul international routes, and must be reduced if it is to survive.

Joyce has been held responsible for the late delivery of new planes by Boeing and Airbus – problems that had nothing to do with with him. That has also been used to argue that he has the wrong fleet strategy, but the Qantas we have would look vastly different if Boeing had not stuffed up development of its new super-plane, the 787 Dreamliner, which is running four years late.

There is also a nonsense being promoted mostly by the unions that Qantas is immensely profitable. In fact, dragged down by its international flying, it is a hiccup away from losing money; as things stand, it would be far better off putting its money in a fixed deposit earning 5 or 6 per cent a year than continuing to fly its planes around the world.

In the year to June, Qantas’s net profit was $249 million on $14.9 billion in revenue – a net margin of 1.6 per cent. Bluntly, that means it is breaking even. In business terms, it is a basket case.

Yet readers of this blog gleefully report they no longer fly Qantas because its fares are too high, especially in business class. To London, for example, you can regularly fly Emirates business class for around $9000 return, while the Qantas rate is nearer $15,000.

That is because Qantas, with all its legacy issues, faces its strongest competition to Europe from what are effectively low-cost carriers, all less than 20 years old – Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways – who can provide the same seat for around 40 per cent less than what it costs Qantas. Singapore Airlines’ operating cost advantage is 20-25 per cent.

Domestically, Qantas’s main opposition, Virgin, also started life 10 years ago as a low-cost carrier and has a 30-40 per cent per-seat operating cost advantage.

Alan Joyce, a mathematician and a self-confessed nerd, knows the numbers all too well. His biggest crime appears to be that he is not a six-foot-tall Australian who speaks with a loud voice.

He has not sold himself well, nor the airline he is trying to create. But most of what is being directed at him in the current poisonous political atmosphere is ignorant and unfair.


7 November, 2011

Chemical company's $1b expansion 'threatened by carbon tax'

A CHEMICAL company that operates in Prime Minister Julia Gillard's electorate says it will shelve a $1 billion world-class expansion because of the carbon tax.

With the Senate set to approve the historic climate change policy tomorrow, Coogee Chemicals says it also threatens the long-term sustainability and jobs at the nation's only methanol factory in Laverton North.

Coogee Chemicals chairman Gordon Martin told the Herald Sun the company had been planning a new $1 billion plant in country Victoria, southern Queensland or in NSW around the seat held by Climate Change Minister Greg Combet.

It would have created 150 high-skilled jobs and export earnings of $14 billion, but Mr Martin said the carbon tax made it "uncompetitive and unviable". "The carbon tax will stop a significant Australian project that would value-add to Australia's abundant gas resource and jeopardise the long-term sustainability of the existing methanol plant at Laverton," he said.

The existing plant is in Ms Gillard's western suburbs seat of Lalor, where she will host Community Cabinet on Wednesday. The Laverton factory takes natural gas from Bass Strait and turns it into clear, colourless liquid called methanol.

Plant manager Grant Lukey said "every home will have something that includes methanol".

It is a critical ingredient for items such as particle board for building, table tops, aerosols, windshield wiper fluid, plastic soft drink bottles, paint, cycling tights and mattress foam.

Overseas it is an alternative to ethanol for car fuel, particularly in China.

Dr Lukey said the Laverton factory had the lowest carbon dioxide emissions per tonne of any methanol plant in the world. He said emissions were four-times greater at coal-based plants in China where 11 were built this year. "We've spent 16 years developing the best technology and now a world-scale project is going to go belly-up," Dr Lukey said.

Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt blamed the Government. "There couldn't be a plainer example of the stupidity of the carbon tax than losing a $1 billion investment with all of the associated jobs while sending global emissions up rather than down," Mr Hunt said.

Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan said when the Senate passed the carbon tax it would be "a historic day for Australia". "As well as a cleaner environment, it will deliver better jobs for our children and grandchildren and a more secure economic future," Mr Swan said. "It's not an easy reform but it's the type of responsible, forward-looking policy that this Government is committed to delivering."

A tax of $23 a tonne will be paid by the top 500 polluters from July 1. Industry gets $3 billion a year in compensation and households $5 billion in tax cuts and welfare.


Vicious little thugs in class of chaos as principals and teachers are abused, threatened or bashed in NSW

PRINCIPALS and teachers are abused, threatened or bashed daily in schools by violent students, angry parents or intruders with a grudge.

Almost 460 serious incidents including 130 violent acts against school staff were logged during term one and term two this year in reports to the Department of Education and Communities.

The reports, obtained under freedom of information laws, show educators receive death threats, are forced to disarm weapon-wielding students and sometimes are injured and hospitalised in attacks.

While some of the most serious incidents involve intruders or angry parents, teachers are also threatened and assaulted by badly behaved students in class.

Some children become so out of control at school they throw furniture, smash windows and assault teachers by biting, kicking and hitting, forcing a number to seek an apprehended violence order for protection. Among the cases documented in reports to the department:

A TEACHER was hit in the back by a rock; and

A THREAT was made during a classroom confrontation to use a hacksaw blade from the industrial arts room.

The Department of Education and Communities said the safety of students and staff was its "top priority".

"Close to 90 per cent of the state's schools regularly report no such incidents and the great majority of the remaining 10 per cent report only one incidence of violence each school semester, with the bulk of these not being serious enough to result in anyone being charged by police," a spokesperson said.

"Schools receive information via students' enrolment information which assists them to safely support students once they are enrolled and to contribute to the safety of everyone in the school community.

"Where required, schools implement behaviour support plans for individual students to promote effective learning and manage factors that may impact on behaviour."

Teachers Federation senior vice-president Joan Lemaire also said schools were overwhelmingly safe places but added she was "deeply concerned" about any violence that occurred.

The federation has complained about inadequate staff and resources to cope with problems in some schools and has concerns some students with behaviour issues are still being enrolled without a thorough risk assessment.

Four years ago a survey of beginner teachers found bad behaviour by students was driving many out of the job.


Auditor-General reveals $4 billion blow-out in NSW Solar Bonus Scheme

The controversial Solar Bonus Scheme would have blown out to almost $4 billion - more than 10 times its original estimated cost to taxpayers - had it been left to continue running as it was, a scathing assessment by the NSW Auditor-General has found.

The report by Peter Achterstraat, released this morning, says the scheme "lacked the most elementary operational controls, had no overall plan and risks were poorly managed."

It also found that the previous government and its agencies "grossly underestimated" the cost of the scheme and the number of people who would be encouraged to install solar systems.
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The findings will be embarrassing for the current Labor leader, John Robertson, who was energy minister when the scheme was designed under the former government.

Mr Achterstraat said the likely cost of the scheme to taxpayers is up to $1.75 billion, following the decision by the O'Farrell government to close it to new entrants this year. This was still "significantly more than the original $362 million estimate," he said.

Households who signed up to the original scheme were paid 60 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity their solar panels fed back into the grid.

The Keneally government belatedly slashed the rate paid to customers in the scheme from 60 cents a kilowatt hour to 20 cents last year after the cost blowout was uncovered.

"The New South Wales Scheme was far more generous than other states and contributed to many more people joining the scheme than were expected," Mr Achterstraat said.

In May the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, tried to rein in the blowout by retrospectively cutting the tariff paid to participants from 60 cents a kilowatt hour to 40 cents a kilowatt hour.

The plan caused widespread outrage from existing customers and the solar energy industry and sparked a backbench revolt which forced him to back down and commit to covering the cost in the state budget.

Mr Achterstraat said the Labor government failed to carry out a cost/benefit analysis for the scheme before it was implemented and there was no contingency planning.

"There was no budget for dollars or the number of connections and consequently very little control over the cost of the Solar Bonus Scheme," he said.


Leftist Know-nothings attack union buster

On Friday it was there, live on TV, for anyone who cared to look - an example of why the Gillard government would emphatically lose office if an election were called this year.

In a Senate committee hearing room in Parliament House, Canberra, the government went on the offensive against someone who had directly challenged the power of the unions. Government senators and their Green allies took cheap shots, exaggerated, sneered, distorted, indulged in conspiracy theories, made personal attacks and did everything but exhibit an understanding of how to run a business.

Three Labor senators, Alex Gallacher, Doug Cameron and Glenn Sterle, all former union officials, were joined by two Greens senators, Bob Brown and Scott Ludlam, taking turns putting the boot into Alan Joyce, the chief executive of Qantas. Not one of this pack of inquisitors has ever run a substantial business but all have highly developed ideas of entitlements.

After 83 minutes of inquisition it blew up in the government's face. The opposition industrial relations spokesman, Senator Eric Abetz, asked Joyce what would have happened if the government had invoked section 431 of the Fair Work Act, which entitles the Minister for Transport to stop industrial action if it is damaging the economy. Would that have pre-empted his spectacular action of grounding the entire Qantas fleet last weekend?

"Absolutely," Joyce replied. "Section 431 is very clear. It would have stopped me taking the industrial action I was taking. And would have stopped the lockout."

The great failure in this long-running, slow-burning, highly disruptive industrial dispute was the government's willingness to ignore the multiple pleas from the tourism industry to put an end to the months of industrial guerilla tactics being used by unions representing Qantas engineers, long-haul pilots, baggage handlers and caterers.

Similarly inert was the bureaucratic wing of the Labor Party, Fair Work Australia, which could see no justification for intervening in the dispute. Instead, a Fair Work tribunal found: "It is unlikely that the protected industrial action taken by the three unions, even taken together, is threatening to cause significant damage to the tourism and air transport industries."

Both the government and Fair Work Australia thought it was fair for Qantas to continue losing $15 million a week, continue grounding flights, continue disrupting passengers, and continue to suffer a catastrophic decline in bookings as the unions continued their announced plan to "slow bake" the airline, and its customers, over a period of months.

Problem, what problem? This is how Labor's soft power has been working ever since it passed the Fair Work Act, which enormously expanded the rights of unions to take industrial action about anything they chose.

Fair Work Australia has been stacked with Labor appointments since it was set up in 2009. Of the 11 Fair Work Commissioners appointed by the Gillard government, nine are former union officials or union advocates, and the other two are career public servants.

This is the same Fair Work Australia which has found nothing wrong with the conduct of the former union official and Labor MP Craig Thomson, on whose survival in Parliament the government's fate depends.

Friday's committee hearing was ostensibly about a bill proposed by an independent, Senator Nick Xenophon, which would limit the ability of Qantas to operate subsidiaries using foreign-based staff.

This is what Joyce had to say about the proposal: "It would not make us any more Australian. It would not protect Australian jobs and would have the opposite effect. It would put our business in jeopardy and would threaten Australian jobs. The bill contemplates locking Qantas inside Australian borders. "This is protectionism. No company can hide from the threat and opportunities of globalisation."

I agree. Based on this proposed bill, and his performance on Friday, Senator Xenophon would be better named Senator Xenophobe.

Without a shred of evidence he challenged the veracity of a claim by Qantas that its international division lost $200 million last year.

Joyce responded: "Several weeks ago we offered the ACTU an independent audit … [to] bring the conspiracy theories and the debate over this issue to a close. We are still waiting for a response."

In full xenophobic mode, the senator then raised the spectre of Asian sweatshop workers stealing the jobs of Australian workers. Again, Joyce was obliged to dismiss his scare-mongering: "The $400-a-month contract is a nonsense. These people are making $2000 a month. Our Thai cabin crew are paid 10 times the average salary in Thailand."

Picking up the theme of Asian threat rather than Asian opportunity, Senator Gallacher raised the issue of Joyce's salary, and the decline in the Qantas share price, and linked the cutting of 1000 jobs with a proposal to start a premium airline in Asia.

Joyce responded: "The job cuts … had nothing to do with the creation of an Asian airline, which is not going to lose one single Australian job."

Senator Brown, typically, then ramped up the insults: "You went about deliberately withholding your plan for a lockout from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Transport … "

Joyce: "That's not true, senator … "

Brown: "You were very obscure and devious … "

Joyce: "Sorry, senator, I think that's an absolutely inappropriate thing to say … The lockout wasn't our plan all along, so you're incorrect on that."

Brown: "You had a big stick behind your back and you didn't show it to anybody."

Joyce: "No, it's not true. The Fair Work Act gives us the option of taking industrial action as well. There has to be a balance between a company and its employees. Nobody is complaining about the massive industrial action by unions over an extended period that was killing Qantas. I had to do something."


6 November, 2011

God may be first casualty as Guides look for a fresh start

Lessons in condom use will be next. More decay of standards just when kids need them most

"I promise that I will do my best: to do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country; to help other people; and to keep the Guide law.

THESE are the first words a little girl utters when she becomes a Girl Guide and they haven't changed in more than 40 years.

But now the Girl Guide promise is being reviewed to bring the 100-year-old organisation into the 21st century - and God and the Queen could be casualties of the modernisation.
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The word "obedient" as a girl guide law is also under review.

The Board of Girl Guides Australia is asking its 30,000 members to suggest how the Guide promise and law could be made more relevant to their lives today.

The Australian Guides are trying to shed their old-fashioned folksy image to appeal to a wider group from different faiths and cultures. "We're seen as outdated, yet the programs we run are far from outdated," the NSW Guides Commissioner, Belinda Allen, said.

They introduced new uniforms last year, run modern leadership and personal development programs alongside their traditional outdoor activities, and now want to overhaul the promise and law, last updated in 1969.

"We feel it's time it was in language that is appropriate to girls of the 21st century, and to Australia, because the nature and composition of the Australian community has changed dramatically since 1969," Ms Allen said.

The Australian promise - a code of living that Guides strive for - is nearly identical to the promise made by the British Guides.

But Canadian Guides don't mention God or the Queen in their promise. After reviewing their wording last year, they now pledge "to be true to myself, my beliefs and Canada". [i.e. nothing]

Ms Allen is reluctant to publicly single out which parts of the promise and law are likely to change, lest she pre-empt the survey responses of Guides. But it is believed that the references to God and the Queen are key elements up for review. It became optional last year for Australian Guides to promise to serve the Queen.

Guides in the Netherlands and Switzerland can omit the words "with the help of God", while Guides in Britain and the US can substitute their preferred spiritual deity for God.

When it comes to the Guide law Ms Allen has a "big problem" with the sixth law which states "A Guide is obedient". "It is totally out of step with girls in this day and age," she said. "In a time of gender equality it's very important that girls are empowered to think for themselves and make good decisions. I think the word we'd like to use is respect, as opposed to obedience."

After declining during the '80s and '90s, Guides membership has stabilised and is now growing again.

Ms Allen hopes a new, more inclusive promise and law will encourage more girls to join the Guides. "I hope we'll broaden our appeal," she said. "I'm sure there have been cases in the past where girls felt [excluded]."

Ms Allen doubts many Guides will be alienated by any changes to the promise and law. "Anything is controversial where you are looking to change," she said. "With any change do you please everyone? We are listening to our membership."

A new promise and law are likely to be unveiled next March.


Myths, lies and adoption

In 2009–10, 36,000 children were in out of home care in Australia and more than two-thirds had been there for at least two years.

Many of these children will remain in out of home care indefinitely after being cycled in and out of the system following failed attempts to reunite them with their dysfunctional parents. Most will suffer lifelong disadvantage due to abuse at home and instability in care. Almost all would be better off if adopted, at the earliest opportunity, by suitable families.

Yet in child and family welfare circles, a self-fulfilling myth has been cultivated to rule adoption out of bounds.

Those who are ideologically opposed to ‘forced’ adoptions maintain that ‘Australians have, on the whole, been less willing to adopt children [from out of care] … than their counterparts in the United States and Britain.’

This claim is mischievous. The real obstacle is that family preservation-obsessed Australian child protection agencies refuse to take action to legally terminate the parental responsibilities of bad or inadequate parents who could contest adoptions.

What seems to be different here compared to comparable countries is that the official taboo on adoption appears to be much stronger.

The number of children in care per capita in England, the United States, and Australia is very similar. Yet significantly more children are adopted out of care each year in England and the United States.

In England, 3,200 children were adopted from care in 2009–10. If Australian children in care had been adopted at the same rate, there would have been approximately 1,700 adoptions from care in 2009–10.

In the United States, more than 50,000 children are adopted every year from out of care.

If Australian children in care had been adopted at the same rate as in the United States, there would have been approximately 4,800 Australian adoptions from care in 2009–10.

In reality, however, a mere 61 Australian children were adopted by non-relatives and 53 by foster carers in 2009–10.

Australia’s lagging adoption performance has got nothing to do with the so-called unwillingness of Australians to give needy children good homes.

The true culprits are the academics, social workers, and other activists who cling to the meta-myth that vulnerable children ‘are almost always better off with natural parents.’


"Secret" plan to cut nurse numbers?

If this goes ahead, it will be like the British disaster, where many people performing nursing duties have no training at all

THE Baillieu government has developed a secret plan to goad the state's nurses into industrial action so it can force them into arbitration, cut nurse numbers and replace them at hospital bedsides with low-skilled "health assistants".

The secret government document outlines an aggressive approach to achieving its policy - by deliberately frustrating pay negotiations - prompting claims from the nurses' union secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick of "duplicity".

A cabinet-in-confidence submission, signed by Health Minister David Davis in May and leaked to The Sunday Age, confirms that the government had detailed plans to cut the annual nursing budget by $104 million.

Mr Davis did not return repeated calls from The Sunday Age, so it is not known whether cabinet endorsed the strategy.

In order to make the savings, the government planned to make nurse-patient ratios - currently one nurse is rostered on for every four patients - more flexible; replace some nurses with low-paid, low-skilled "health assistants"; reduce the ratio of university-qualified nurses on wards; and introduce shorter shifts and split shifts.

Mr Davis's submission reveals that in return for these cuts, which amount to 4 per cent of the nurses' wage budget, nurses would get a pay rise of just 3.5 per cent per year. Police recently received a 4.7 per cent pay rise.

The government appears determined to pursue its policy despite its submission acknowledging that interstate nurses "receive significantly higher pay rates" than Victorian nurses.

Negotiations for the new agreement began in September, and on Friday nurses voted to give themselves the ability to take legally protected industrial action from Thursday.

The government's aim, revealed in the submission, is to have the crisis continue to a point whereby the industrial tribunal, Fair Work Australia, is either called in or steps in because negotiations have broken down and the nurses' action is deemed harmful to public welfare.

This would force both parties into arbitration, where the government's push to reduce nurses' conditions is likely to be successful because the tribunal is not permitted under the constitution to tell states the "number, identity or appointment" of the workforce they employ.

"[We] believe that a demonstrated preparedness to take such claims to full-blown arbitration (despite the risks involved) is the best means of inducing the ANF to reach an acceptable agreement," the submission argues. "These proposals will be difficult to have agreed in negotiation, but may be successful should the parties end up in arbitration."

The Australian Nursing Federation's Lisa Fitzpatrick told The Sunday Age the government had adopted a "sham approach" to the negotiations.

"They're prepared to force nurses to take industrial action such as bed closures which they then argue is harming the community, and say how terrible the nurses are," she said yesterday.

"But this is what they've set out to do all along. It's duplicity of the greatest proportion - more than we've ever seen before."

Mr Davis's submission details savings of $42 million per year from "roster/shift flexibility", $39.3 million by changing nurse ratios and using "health assistants", and $19.9 million from "nurse-patient ratio flexibility".

It says the government wants "significant replacement [of nurses] at the lower end [of the skill range] by a new generation of assistants", even though the rate of technological change in nursing "easily surpasses that experienced by other professionals".

It says more flexibility is required to make sure that "management prerogative … in relation to workforce planning is enhanced as far as practicable".

At present, state health facilities employ registered nurses who have done a three-year university degree and enrolled nurses who have completed an 18-month TAFE diploma. The government wants to save money on nursing wages by employing unregistered health assistants who have little if any training, similar to personal care assistants who work in the private aged-care sector.

The Austin Hospital is trialling a program whereby health assistants are tending patients on wards, but they are in addition to the existing nurse-patient ratio.

Kate Robinson and Kylie Thompson, nurses at the Royal Women's Hospital, said if the government tried to save $104 million from nurses' wages, they would look for different jobs.

And Hannah Harris, an enrolled nurse at the Peter James Centre, said the move would create so much stress that "we're going to lose nurses, surely".


Arty Christmas horror scrapped

LORD Mayor Robert Doyle has backflipped on a move to install a $285,000 hi-tech Christmas tree in the middle of Melbourne.

Responding to community opposition to the 18m high yuletide decoration he wanted to plant in the City Square, Mr Doyle has decided instead to commission a more traditional tree at the same cost to ratepayers.

In July, the Sunday Herald Sun revealed a plan to erect the futuristic tree fitted with 10,000 LED lights, the capacity to stream sound and vision and display Christmas-related images on its translucent perspex branches and loudspeakers to blare Christmas carols.

Mr Doyle had hoped the tree would help put Melbourne on the world Christmas map.

But in a change of heart, he has decided to scrap the tree, designed with Melbourne artists, and instead turn the square, at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets, into an "urban forest".

In a column for the Sunday Herald Sun, Mr Doyle said he had listened to the people and decided against the hi-tech tree. "Everybody hated it: residents, visitors, businesses," he said. "No one thought it was a striking centrepiece for City Square." So he has decided to turn the City Square Christmas green instead.

"We will turn City Square into an urban forest. Up to 20 big, living hoop pines, native Australian trees that resemble a traditional Christmas tree, will be the central feature of the square," he said.

"There will be one huge tree as the centrepiece, elegantly lit and with a new star. "There will be green turf throughout the square (synthetic because of foot traffic) and many smaller trees and box hedges, all beautifully landscaped. "The City Square will become a green oasis. The base of each large tree will be a gift wrapped 'present'."

Despite his U-turn, Mr Doyle said the Town Hall would press ahead with a $2.6 million budget to shower visitors to the city with festive spirit.

New decorations including a nativity scene and mistletoe bridge will be installed, a Santa's house will be set up for photos, festive images will be projected on major buildings, the Town Hall will be wrapped like a gift and the council has commissioned a Christmas tram.


5 November, 2011

Qld. Conservative leader to open up some wilderness areas to mining

THE Steve Irwin Reserve set up by former Liberal PM John Howard will be opened up to mining, under plans by LNP leader Campbell Newman to restrict Queensland's landmark Wild Rivers Act.

Mr Newman announced yesterday that statutory protection of rivers would be repealed. It means major developments such as mining will potentially be allowed much closer to rivers under an impact assessment system.

Mr Newman will remove Cape York's Wenlock, Stewart, Archer and Lockhart rivers from legislative protection but - at this stage - leave others to stand. Mr Newman said the changes would give Cape York locals greater control of their economic future.

Terri Irwin, wife of the late Steve Irwin, said she had tried unsuccessfully to talk to Mr Newman about the issue. "Considering that a child dies every 20 seconds ... from drinking polluted water, I think it's absolutely ridiculous to be considering anything other than supporting wild rivers," Ms Irwin said.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling said Mr Newman described his scheme as a pilot plan, which made her wonder what would be next. "I'd urge Mr Newman to go up country and see what people say about wild rivers," she said.

Mr Newman said Cape York would be better protected by his plan. "It is clear wild rivers was designed more to capture green preferences, rather than for genuine, balanced environmental and development outcomes on Cape York," he said.


Nanny state taxation

The nanny state’s irresistible urge to meddle in peoples’ choices, combined with government’s voracious appetite for revenue, is producing a new class of highly targeted behavioural taxes. France recently announced a new tax on sugary soft drinks (which has the typically French twist of harming mostly non-French companies). Meanwhile, Denmark has introduced a new tax on the saturated fat content of food (the ‘fat tax’).

Australia has its own examples. The Labor government introduced the ‘alcopops’ tax in 2009 and imposed a 25% increase in the excise on cigarettes last year. Both of these actions built on the existing excise system in the traditional domain of ‘sin taxes,’ but their motive was the same as the more recent and less traditional French and Danish taxes. Our government is also toying with the idea of using the tax system to jack up the price of wine so that the minimum price would be considerably above existing prices at the low end.

The recent tax forum in Canberra was held just as Denmark’s fat tax hit the news. There were calls from predictable quarters at the forum for Australia to follow suit. In contrast Gary Banks, Chairman of the Productivity Commission, sounded a strong note of caution against behavioural taxes, saying that much of the detail on how to change behaviour through taxation is unresolved and that behavioural taxes may produce perverse results.

Quite apart from Banks’ technical arguments about the effectiveness of behavioural taxes, there are other reasons for Australia not to follow France and Denmark:

* Such taxes take the state too far into the territory of attempting to influence choices freely made by individuals.

* By penalising the great majority who eat and drink in moderation, such taxes use a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

* They make the tax system more complex and more expensive to comply with – the Henry tax review rightly emphasised the need for simplification and broader tax bases.

* The unstated motive is often revenue-raising, but if more revenue is needed it should be raised more efficiently.

When new or increased behavioural taxes are announced, governments invariably say that the increase in revenue is incidental to the main motive. The test of their sincerity is whether they pocket the revenue or hand it back through cuts in other taxes. I have never known the latter to happen. I do not want to see Australian governments go further down the road of nanny-state taxation, but if they do then they should commit themselves to equivalent cuts in other taxes.


Local parks are not free

COUNCILS fear the death of the local park, with the state's pricing regulator finding green spaces are forcing up house prices in new estates.

An analysis of three new land release areas in Sydney's northwest found land for open space and recreation came at a high cost, lifting developer levies by as much as $60,000 per block, which was then put on homebuyers.

However, Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils president Alison McLaren said slashing parks in new neighbourhoods would not solve the housing affordability crisis.

"Western Sydney already has significant problems with unhealthy lifestyles and obesity issues; reducing the access to local recreational space will worsen this problem.

"Without green spaces and parks, these new estates will become unbearably hot, placing a huge new demand on our energy supplies for air conditioning and cooling."

IPART wants a whole-of-government review of the requirements for open space with the aim of scrapping housing levies for parks.

Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW CEO Steven Albin said the industry well understood the importance of parks but much of Sydney's western development had a 60 per cent open space requirement including river corridors, bushfire zones and stormwater management.

"It also has the effect of reducing the total number of dwellings that can be produced and that directly (affects) housing affordability," Mr Albin said. IPART acting chairman James Cox said the review had shown the "particularly high costs" of land set aside for open space.

"The cost of infrastructure should be borne by different groups in proportion to the benefits they receive from them," he said.

An online poll on found 90 per cent of 2980 readers did not want local parks sacrificed to keep house prices down.


What a horror! Musical garbage imposed on music students

Because it's Australian it's good??? Just aint't so, I am afraid

An HSC music syllabus focusing on contemporary Australian music presented an odd problem for Alice Chance.

Not only did she have to find a piece composed in the past 25 years for the performance component of the course but it also had to be written for a string instrument developed in the 15th century and largely confined to the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Her instrument of choice is the unusual viola da gamba and she is the first student in 25 years to perform on it for the HSC.

"I eventually found a piece and had to make a few adjustments to make it a bit HSC-friendly and put in a few more show-off bits," Alice, 17, a student at MLC Burwood, said.

The viola da gamba, a relative of the Renaissance vihuela, which preceded the plucking guitar, largely fell out of favour after the 17th century and is a far cry from the modern compositions she and 739 other students will encounter in their Music 2 HSC paper today.

The mandatory area of study is Australian music of the past 25 years and teachers draw upon musical styles from recordings, YouTube and live performances.


4 November, 2011

Somebody upstairs doesn't like false prophets

Massive rain dumped in southern half of WA. Warmist Tim Flannery predicted unending drought

WA farmers are counting the cost after unseasonal rain dumped up to 70mm on some parts of the Wheatbelt, damaging crops and ruining hay.

The Great Southern and Central Wheatbelt were hit with the heaviest falls, with several farmers in the Narrogin and Kukerin areas reporting falls of 70mm in just a couple of hours yesterday afternoon, flooding roads and filling farm dams.

Officially, Narrogin had 47mm; Brookton 49mm; Katanning 42mm, the nearby Katanning research station 46mm; Wagin 39mm and Corrigin 35mm. Newdegate to the east had 22mm.

The heavy rain is a disaster for unharvested crops and cut hay which has been bailed but not yet stored undercover.

WA Farmers Federation president Mike Norton said the rain is causing huge problems for grain farmers who have not harvested crops and could wipe millions of dollars off WA's expected bumper grain harvest.

Albany Airport recorded 54mm up to 7am today, Albany town 31mm, with Rocky Gully, about 70km to the north west recording 51mm.

In the Central Wheatbelt Cunderdin Airport had 52mm, Beverley 51mm, Wongan Hills and York 25mm each.

In the south-east of the state, Ravensthorpe had 39mm, Hopetoun north recorded 28mm and Munglinup 20mm.

Mr Norton said it was too early to put an accurate figure on the losses because they would need to assess the damage to the different categories of crops.

He said this year's estimated 12 million tonne crop worth an average of $300 a tonne would definitely suffer. Some farmers could lose $100 a tonne.

Mr Norton said although many were hoping for $300 a tonne, the figure was more likely to be around $270 or $280, but he would have a more accurate picture of the extent of the damage later today.

He said this was not the first time late rains had affected crops but it had not happened "in a very long time".

Mr Norton said the late rain was detrimental to crops because it had started to distort ingredients in the seed head which in turn lowered the value.

"At this time of year the crops are in their ripening stage and the last thing you want is rain because it starts to stain the crops and for those that are perhaps still growing it starts to force feed them," he said.

"It starts to blow the crop out and pumps the seed full of a lot more moisture which starts to lower the protein level of the grain."

Mr Norton said grain used in bread needed a fairly high level of protein and lower protein content meant the standing crops were more likely to be used for animal feed.

He said the oaten hay crop that had already been cut and on the ground was discoloured due to mould and was "a complete write-off".

"There's no perfect year in this game unfortunately," Mr Norton said.

In the South West falls were widespread with many centres recording up to 15mm. Shannon had 17mm.

Perth's official rainfall was just 6.4mm (to 7am), though many suburbs had heavier falls, with Jandakot recording 11mm; Perth Airport 10mm and Rottnest 9mm.

The rain was caused by a broad surface trough which lies over the west of the state and this combined with a
mid level disturbance to produce scattered showers and thunderstorms over a large part of the state.

The surface trough will move slowly eastwards during the day with scattered showers about western coastal parts gradually easing during the afternoon and evening.

Perth can expect more showers today with the risk of a morning thunderstorm.


Principals' freedom is a winner with schools

THE push to give NSW public schools greater autonomy is gaining momentum, a trend which will be further advanced by near-unanimous support from 47 principals leading a two-year trial.

All principals told an independent review the freedoms allowed had led to concrete improvements at their schools. About 95 per cent said it had increased teacher capacity to deliver the curriculum and 83 per cent said they had been able to do more for their schools at a lower cost.

Some principals pointed to improved NAPLAN and HSC results as proof of success.

The review found principals valued the flexibility to make decisions and to reallocate parts of their budgets to employ staff to suit their schools' needs.

Principals believed creating the right staffing mix for their schools to be essential. "It's always about staffing," one said. "Get this right and nothing else matters."

Under the pilot program principals could choose staff on merit without being subject to priority transfer arrangements administered by the education department. Being able to choose staff was seen as critical if school leaders are to be held accountable for student performance.

"We are asking principals to achieve outcomes for students and be accountable for quality of teachers but we don't allow them to select staff so they don't control this," one said.

NSW, with more than 2200 schools, is among the most centrally controlled education systems in the Western world. Other Australian states have ceded significant power to the school level. Victorian principals are allowed to choose their own staff and in Western Australia schools can choose to operate independently with substantial freedoms.

The pilot program was established by the previous government and will continue under the new rules until the end of next year. The Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, is leading a consultation program, "Local Schools, Local Decisions", also aiming to devolve power.

The minister hopes to announce new rules for greater school autonomy early next year, which would be implemented in 2013. Simultaneously, special federal government funding will be available next year for 162 schools under the Empowering Local Schools national partnership.

Schools varied widely in the way they used the staffing flexibility, with some hiring an extra deputy principal, one choosing a business manager and another a diversional therapist. Castle Hill High School appointed a head teacher to coach boys in year 12 to improve their HSC results.

"We appointed someone who specifically mentored boys who were close to the top but who were underperforming, disorganised, didn't have a study program and couldn't get their act together," the principal, Vicki Brewer, said.


Report card gives public hospitals an F

AUSTRALIA'S public hospitals are failing to meet government targets for access to emergency department care and elective surgery, a new report says.

The Australian Medical Association's (AMA) latest Public Hospital Report Card has found hospital performance in every state and territory is below Council of Australian Government (COAG) targets on those two critical measures.

It said the number of public hospital beds per capita, which is the strongest measure of capacity, continued to decline.

Fewer beds meant longer waiting times in emergency departments and longer waiting times for elective surgery, said the report card, which looked at hospital performance in 2009/10.

The number of public hospital beds, per capita, had been slashed by more than 67 per cent since the 1960s, and by more than half since the start of Medicare.

In 2009/10 there were only 2.6 public hospital beds per 1000 population, down 3.5 per cent from 2008/09, the report card said.

The report looked at bed numbers and occupancy rates, emergency department waiting times, elective surgery waiting times, hospital efficiency and productivity, funding and provides a state-by-state snapshot of performance.

The AMA said it was clear the nation's public hospitals currently lacked the capacity to meet the demands of an ageing population.

The AMA is holding a press conference to detail its findings this morning.


Another triumph of multiculturalism

A FACE image of a suspect who allegedly attacked a woman in broad daylight on Melbourne Cup day has been made public.

Police have been told a 24-year-old woman was sexually assaulted as she left an accommodation facility on Peel Street, North Melbourne, just after 11am.

The woman saw a man on the corner of Peel and Market Streets who followed and verbally abused her.

But when she told him to go away there was an alleged confrontation.

Investigators have been told the man allegedly forced her to the ground and sexually assaulted her.

The victim, however, screamed and managed to kick the offender to the chin before he ran south through the Queen Victoria Market.

The man is described as having a slim build with a dark complexion and dark eyes.

He also had distinctive dark coloured dread locked hair with orange tips at the end.

He was wearing a dark coloured zip front hooded jumper.


Unrealistic child protection system

They couldn't be as bad as Britain but they're trying

In 2009, the Federal Parliament apologised to the forgotten Australians who were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused in state and charitable-run orphanages between the 1920s and '70s. The apology was accompanied by solemn pledges to never again allow child abuse to go unchecked.

It followed the closing in the 1980s and '90s of virtually all large-scale orphanages because of the detrimental impact of institutionalised care on children. Yet 30 years later, state governments are quietly re-opening institutions to house children who are again being abused by the system that should protect them.

In the past decade, the number of children unable to live safely with their parents and subsequently placed in ''residential'' out-of-home care has increased 56 per cent. Decades of decline have been reversed, with the number of children in residential facilities falling to 939 in 2004-05 and then doubling to more than 1800 in 2009-10.

Residential institutions are now generally smaller-scale group homes operated by state-funded charities where multiple, non-related children are cared for by paid staff. But they have a strong psychiatric care focus and include secure facilities.

The greater use of residential care is a result of the systemic problems besetting the child protection system, which is damaging thousands of children in the name of family preservation.

The standard policy and practice in all states is to keep vulnerable children with their families, and work with dysfunctional parents to try to fix problems such as substance abuse, mental illness and domestic violence. For many children, efforts to prevent maltreatment, including extensive contact with early intervention and other support services, does more harm than good because removal from the family home as a last resort occurs too late. Hence, most of the nearly 36,000 children in out-of-home care have serious emotional, psychological and behavioural problems.

Family preservation is also the reason the $1.7 billion out-of-home care system is increasingly costly and overwhelmed by demand. Rising numbers of children are lingering, often indefinitely, in temporary foster or kinship care while waiting for parents to be rehabilitated so reunions can be attempted. When finally returned home, unrealistic reunions break down and re-damaged children re-enter care after entrenched and hard-to-resolve parental problems re-emerge.

Foster placements involving ''difficult'' children are also more likely to break down. The instability experienced by those who bounce in and out of care, in and out of multiple placements and in and out of failed family reunions, is an additional cause of harm that exacerbates behavioural and other problems.

By adolescence, the children most severely damaged by abuse at home and unstable living arrangements are uncontrollable, violent and self-destructive. Due to their disruptive childhoods, they can no longer live safely with their biological parents or in normal foster homes, and the only suitable placement option is very high-cost residential facilities.

Residential care is absorbing an increasing and disproportionate amount of funding, between a third and up to half of total out-of-home care spending, in some states.

Policymakers should realise that a child welfare system that has to employ armies of taxpayer-funded psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counsellors to try to fix the children the system itself has helped damage, is a failed system.

A fundamental rethink is essential. The best way to protect children from dysfunctional parents who are demonstrably incapable of properly caring for them is early and permanent removal by means of adoption by suitable families.

Only 61 children were adopted by non-relatives and 53 by foster carers in 2009-10, despite almost 23,000 children being in care continuously for more than two years. Many of these children should have found permanent homes years ago, but for the official taboo placed on adoption by family preservation-obsessed child protection services, which are unwilling to take legal action to free children for adoption no matter how inadequate their parents.

Strong political leadership is needed to make the system function in the children's best interests. Until then, national apologies for past failings ring hollow. The tragic irony is that a new generation of forgotten children is being harmed, to whom a national apology will one day be owed.


3 November, 2011

Architects make me thankful for Prince Charles

He may be a bit dotty but he does a good job of keeping architectural ugliness out of London. We need him in Australia too. Look at the scrappy thing below. It looks like some kid has been playing around with bits of string

THE striking Kurilpa Bridge [above] linking Brisbane's CBD with South Brisbane has wowed the judges at the World Architecture Festival awards.

Designed by local firm Cox Rayner, the pedestrian bridge has beaten stiff competition from the United Arab Emirates, China, Sweden, UK and the Netherlands to be named best World Transport Building.

The Brisbane structure - dubbed the fiddlesticks bridge by some - now goes into the running for the top award at the festival to be announced on Friday.

Costing $63.3 million to build, the bridge carries an estimated 50,000 pedestrians and cyclists each week.

It is the world's largest structure to be based upon the principles of 'tensegrity', the term coined by Richard Buckminster Fuller to describe a system of balanced compressive and tensile forces.

Stretching 360m across the Brisbane River, the Kurilpa bridge also connects to 1.5km of continuous pathway from South Brisbane, through the Arts precinct, across the river into the CBD and on to Roma Street parkland.


The ALP wants to waste EVEN MORE of the people's money!

It's great being generous with other people's money

JULIA Gillard is pushing ahead with her bid to raise extra money for the International Monetary Fund despite criticism from the Opposition.

The Prime Minister has offered extra funding from Australia to create a buffer against other countries following Greece into financial collapse.

Ms Gillard has not put a figure on how much extra the IMF needs to guard against further economic turmoil, and has not said how much Australia would contribute.

But she has already spruiked the idea to a business forum on the sidelines of the Group of 20 nations summit in Cannes.

The Prime Minister also plans to garner support for the idea in bilateral meetings with other leaders from the world's most powerful countries.

She is also pushing for support among non-EU members to pressure European leaders to resolve their debt crisis impasse.

In her meeting with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, Ms Gillard "discussed the importance of providing the IMF with adequate resources to help manage the crisis and restore confidence to the markets", her spokesman said.

She met plans to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip today and hold a series of further meetings across the next two days.

Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey called on Ms Gillard to say how much money Australia would provide to help fund a Eurozone bailout.

"The suggestion that we should be putting money into the IMF to bail out the Eurozone when not even the British are prepared to do so is extraordinary," he said.

"The Prime Minister needs to explain to the Australian people immediately how much money she wants to put into a bailout."

Mr Hockey later told ABC Radio that the coalition had "grave concerns" Australian taxpayers would be seen to be bailing out the largest economy in the world.

"We do have a problem giving the Europeans a get-out-of-jail-free card by offering them additional funds through the IMF when they need to resolve this issue themselves and fast."

Ms Gillard was ignoring the fact that Australia was running a deficit and the government would have to increase borrowings to give more funds to the IMF, he said.


Aboriginal crime is a big problem in Western Australia

WA police commissioner Karl O'Callaghan wants a public debate on Aboriginal youth crime following the horrific bashing of an elderly man over the weekend.

'The 73-year-old great-grandfather, known as Wally, was brutally beaten with a baseball bat in an unprovoked attack while looking for the owner of a lost dog in the eastern Perth suburb of Camillo on Sunday night.

The man described his main attacker as a young Aboriginal man who was with a group of six Aboriginal youths.

He is recovering in hospital with two broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, a fracture to his forearm and cuts to his head. The elderly man claimed he would have been killed if not for the intervention of a nearby resident.

WA Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan told 6PR radio today that Aboriginal youth crime needed to be addressed urgently.

"There are a lot of Aboriginal people and Aboriginal groups who really want to do something about this Aboriginal youth crime problem that we've got," the police commissioner said.

"These types of assaults - and we've seen assaults on people in wheelchairs - these things transcend all the taboos that we've got in our society. "The most vulnerable people - elderly and people who are disabled - are being attacked.

"We've got to do something about this - we've got to have a public debate." Mr O'Callaghan said intervention was needed to prevent Aboriginal children from roaming the streets at night and getting into trouble.

"The issue for these kids is that we need to provide some intervention for them and we need to provide it quickly," he said. "If we don't provide that, they're out on the streets potentially doing more of these sorts of bashings."

Mr O'Callaghan said many offences were committed by adults in the company of children and teenagers, who were easily influenced and went on to commit crimes themselves. "We've got kids who are quite young, 14 or 15, who are committing horrific assaults and robberies," he said.


"Fixed" Qld. Health payroll system now making big OVER-payments!

What hope for a bureaucracy that cannot even get its payroll right -- even after two years of trying?

QUEENSLAND Health's latest payroll problems could be solved if staff are paid on a different day, department boss Tony O'Connell claims.

Despite recent overpayments, he told The Courier-Mail the once problem-plagued software is now working as it was supposed to. He said the latest glitches were the result of health workers' fortnightly shift rosters ending on the same time as the pay cycle - an "in-built ability to generate errors". Last-minute shift changes often could not be manually logged before pays were generated, he said.

"For months now, there've been no errors in the way that the software program itself works," Dr O'Connell said. But a casual administration officer, who has not worked for QH since January, told how almost $5000 was unexpectedly deposited into her account in September.

"I haven't worked there for eight months and $5000 is a pretty significant amount to stuff up with," said the worker, who asked not to be identified.

Meanwhile, overpayments continue to mount, with latest figures showing workers were mistakenly handed an extra $7 million in the past five months. The overpayments bill now tops $69 million.

But Dr O'Connell insisted the system was "getting more and more stable" and said QH was in talks with unions to move the pay day so it no longer clashed with close of rosters, giving payroll more time to process shift changes.

"I'm comfortable that if we did change that then the number of errors which occur because of those last-minute weekend shift changes will go down to virtually zero," he said.

Unions are demanding extensive consultation and trials before permanent changes are made, fearing a repeat of last March's disastrous payroll introduction, which was rolled out with little testing and left thousands short-changed.

"This sort of change may be much more straightforward, system-wide, than what we anticipate," Together union assistant secretary Julie Bignell said. "However, the trust is not there in the workforce for changes to be made without a large amount of consultation."

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle echoed the concerns. "We need to work through it and make sure there aren't any unforeseen circumstances."

Dr O'Connell said any changes were at least two months away as union negotiations continued.


Another meat-headed emergency operator

A TRIPLE-0 operator told an anxious caller "No, I won't go faster" as a man lay dying at Sydney airport after a violent brawl involving bikie gang members.

A tape of the call released by the NSW Supreme Court reveals how the emergency operator became increasingly impatient with the airport worker who reported the incident.

Mr Zervas was stabbed, kicked, punched, stomped on and hit with bollards as he lay on the floor of Sydney domestic terminal after a brawl broke out between the rival bikies in March 2009.

Comanchero bikie Mick Hawi today was found guilty of murdering Zervas.

An airport worker called triple-0 for an ambulance as people struggled to resuscitate Mr Zervas.

During the prolonged call, the female operator repeated everything the increasingly frustrated caller said and didn't seem to understand the caller, who said she was watching the incident on a security camera.

At one point, the operator said "No I won't go faster" after saying she was organising an ambulance.

The operator asked the caller if the person was conscious. "If they are doing CPR, I would say not," the caller replied.

Under further questioning as to whether the person was breathing, the exasperated caller replied: "Oh gee, I'm not going to answer these silly questions. If they're doing CPR it means they're in a lot of trouble."

The caller also became frustrated under persistent questioning about the gender of the victim and the victim's approximate age. "I'm on camera - I'm looking on a camera situation on a remote viewing," she said.

The caller eventually cut off the conversation with a "thank you".


2 November, 2011

"Ping pong Poms"

Mentioned only obliquely below is the phenomenon of re-emigration. Many returning Poms have become so spoilt by life in Australia that they can't take England any more and emigrate once again to Australia. Some returners have been known to get no further than Heathrow before deciding to go back to Australia -- a decision assisted no doubt by obnoxious British officialdom

For decades, the promise of sunny weather, a family-friendly lifestyle and affordable property has driven hundreds of thousands of Britons to make the move to Australia.

But it seems, for many, their dream life Down Under has turned into something of a disappointment. A record number of Britons left Australia last year, many bored with their ex-pat life and keen to spend more time with family in the UK, research has revealed.

Nearly 107,000 people arrived there from the UK between 2005 and 2010. But more than 30,000 Britons left over the same period. And last year a record of more than 7,000 Britons departed Australia permanently.

Researchers Mary Holmes, a senior lecturer in sociology at Australia’s Flinders University, and Roger Burrows, of the University of York, studied why so many ‘ping-pong Poms’ are returning home.

They said: ‘A better life is not about good jobs, sunshine or bigger houses. ‘What is most important is feeling close to family and feeling “at home”.’

A number of returning Britons left because of ‘boredom’ in Australia, the pair found, complaining of stressful daily routines such as three-hour commutes on hot, crowded trains.

Dr Holmes and Professor Burrows said that while some who left could be described as ‘whingeing Poms’, complaining about the heat and insects, most had better reasons, with family being a common one. Many wanted their children born in Australia to get to know grandparents and other relatives in the UK, even if it meant sacrificing a better quality of life.

And for others, not ‘feeling at home’ in Australia was a crucial factor in their decision to leave, the research showed.

However the researchers did note that some who returned kept their options open by obtaining Australian citizenship before doing so.

One Briton told them: ‘That way, when your duty to your children and grandparents is finally done you are free to go back to make your home in Australia.’

More HERE (Including some amusing pix)

Queensland Health director-general Tony O'Connell to slash 1000 non-frontline staff

He's got the right idea but will it really happen?

QUEENSLAND Health's newly anointed boss has admitted the system is unsustainable and needs to improve.

Tony O'Connell plans to slash non-frontline staff by 1000 while redesigning hospitals to cut unnecessary queuing and delays, freeing up much-needed beds.

The troubled department has this year been rocked by reports of budget blowouts as patient demand continues to soar and mooted cost-cutting measures were condemned by doctors.

Other sections of its workforce have taken to the streets to fight for higher pay, forcing cancellation of elective surgery and throwing some hospitals into chaos.

Dr O'Connell, who became QH director-general last month after acting in the role since June, admitted he faced challenging times.

"That's what national health reform was all about, admitting that if we continue to do things the way that we currently do them, it's unsustainable."

Dr O'Connell, who replaced outgoing director-general Mick Reid, refused to reveal the extent of cost blowouts, saying only that hospitals had been further over budget at the same time last year.

"Month by month, they're above and below the budget so in the end it's only how they are at the end of the year that's important," he said.

But he planned to dramatically reduce "back-office expenditure" after The Courier-Mail last month revealed the mammoth imbalance between doctors and non-frontline staff. The ratio topped one to three in some areas.

Dr O'Connell will push for 1000 of the 3500 voluntary separation packages being offered by the State Government to come from health's bloated corporate office.

Admitting the wages savings would not be channelled directly back to health, he said the move would "indirectly" increase the spend on frontline workers.

Hospitals will also be redesigned, with frontline staff asked to lead the charge on streamlining processes such as axing unnecessary test repeats.

A trial at Logan Hospital had already led to a 10 per cent reduction in patient's length of stay, Dr O'Connell said.

"That means you've got 10 per cent more beds ... and that's much cheaper than building a hospital," the former intensive care and anaesthesia specialist said.

"Because it is such a massive system with millions of experiences each year, there will always be the occasional situation which provides opportunities for improvement."


Incompetent emergency line operator cost the lives of a mother and her son

TOOWOOMBA flood victim Donna Rice could have been attended to by emergency services more quickly if her desperate triple zero call was prioritised by a call centre operator, an inquest heard yesterday.

It wasn't until her son Jordan, 13, phoned the emergency hotline several minutes later on January 10, the day they were swept to their deaths, that three fire units were dispatched. But it was too late by the time emergency services reached the pair.

An inquest into the deaths of 25 flood victims, three of whom remain missing, began at the Coroner's Court in Brisbane yesterday.

Detective Inspector David Isherwood, a relieving regional crime co-ordinator during the floods, said the call made by Mrs Rice minutes before she was swept to her death was classed by Senior Constable Jason Wheeler as a priority three call, otherwise known as a "routine call".

When asked if, had the call been given a higher code priority, police would have attended more quickly, he responded: "It's possible".

Insp Isherwood said there was "no urgency" in the voice of Mrs Rice when she made the call, compared with a call by her son Jordan several minutes later. Jordan had a "great degree of urgency" in his voice.

Six Queensland Fire and Rescue Service units were in operation in the area on the day and were dispatched to the scene where they found the family trapped in floodwaters.


Federal veto power over NT, ACT law stripped

For once I agree with the Greens -- even if their underlying motivation is to facilitate homosexual marriage

NEW legislation that strengthens the territories' right to govern themselves - and strips the Federal Government's veto - is a win for democracy, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown has said.

The lower house has passed a Greens bill which removes the Commonwealth's power to get rid of territory laws it doesn't like.

Until now, a federal minister or the cabinet had the right to scratch laws passed by the ACT or the Northern Territory - as in 2006, when former prime minister John Howard rejected the ACT's civil union laws.

But under the new laws, territory law can now only be disallowed through a vote in the federal parliament.

"The passage of the bill is an enhancement of democracy in Australia," Senator Brown said. "Laws in the ACT and NT can only be overturned by an act of federal parliament rather than at the whim of a federal minister or cabinet."

He said territory citizens had the right to be governed by the people they elected.

Labor voted in support of the Greens bill, despite initial concerns from some MPs that it could make it easier for the territories to legalise same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

In 1996, the commonwealth overruled the NT government after it gave its terminally ill citizens the right to die.

Greens MP Adam Bandt insisted the bill was not about specific issues, but about giving the territories a greater say.

He rejected two last-minute amendments presented by the Coalition to change the wording so territories were prevented from veering into same-sex territory.

"For this Parliament to determine in advance what those chambers may or may not legislate about reflects the kind of paternalism that in fact this bill is seeking to address," Mr Bandt told the lower house.

Labor frontbencher Craig Emerson said the Coalition's amendments were unnecessary and a stunt to try and suggest the government - by not supporting them - was not fully behind the Marriage Act.

"And that's complete bunkum, rubbish," Mr Emerson said. "If there is a debate about the Marriage Act, let's have that debate.

"(But) this is general legislation about the territories and that's what we're debating."

A spokeswoman for ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher welcomed the bill.

"After 20 years of self-government, it was time for change," she said. "Canberrans should enjoy the same right as other Australian citizens to have their elected representatives make laws without the prospect of a single minister vetoing."

She said the ACT would like to see a full review of the Self-Government Act.


1 November, 2011

Julia WAS told she could stop the Qantas grounding -- but did nothing

She has been trying to deny it

JULIA Gillard's office and three senior ministers were told by Qantas management they had "options available" to avoid the fleet grounding and that CEO Alan Joyce was ready to talk to the PM.

A script for the phone calls confirms revelations in The Daily Telegraph that the government was told it had the opportunity to act but it would need to deliver certainty.

It was also stressed that Mr Joyce was available to speak to Ms Gillard, although she never called him until after the revelations yesterday morning.

Qantas government relations executive Olivia Wirth confirmed she spoke according to the script when she called the Prime Minister's chief of staff at 2.05pm on the day of the grounding.

The script was also used by Mr Joyce in calls with Transport Minister Anthony Albanese at 2pm, followed by Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson and Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans.

All were told: "We recognise the government has a range of options available to you, however we need to make it clear that we will not, and cannot put planes back in the air until these issues are resolved and we have certainty."

This was considered an unmissable suggestion to the PM and ministers that they should ban further action. Ms Wirth confirmed to The Daily Telegraph last night that was "the way you get certainty. No more action".

The PM's chief of staff was also told to let Ms Gillard know: "Alan is available to discuss further details. Alan's here if you want to chat to him." But Ms Gillard did not take this as a request to call Mr Joyce, nor did she have the government declare the strike action illegal, which has stunned many inside Qantas.

Her spokesman yesterday denied the government was given the option to avoid the mass grounding. "The government was presented with the grounding of the planes as a fait accompli," he said.

But Ms Wirth confirmed that the script had been used in all phone calls.

Instead the PM referred the matter to the industrial court Fair Work Australia. By the time the full bench made the same order tens of thousands of passengers had already been left stranded or otherwise disrupted.

In a fiery question time yesterday the Opposition hammered Ms Gillard and her ministers on their handling of the issue. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wanted to know what the government had done in the three hours between 2pm and 5pm Saturday when the grounding took effect.

His deputy Julie Bishop wanted to know why the prime minister had not spoken personally to Mr Joyce in a bid to circumvent the grounding.

Backbenchers lined up to ask ministers how the government's decision to refer the dispute to Fair Work Australia was good for the nation, the economy, the tourism sector and the travelling public.

Ms Gillard defended the government's decision not to take matters into its own hands. She accused the opposition of "peddling a falsehood" by claiming the government merely had to sign a piece of paper to end industrial action because it was in the nation's interest. "Peddling of that falsehood should stop here and it should stop now," she said.

Meanwhile, Qantas passengers are heading back to the airline's terminals across Australia, with international services expected to return to normal by the afternoon.

All domestic services for today are scheduled as normal, with all international flights expected to return to business as usual by late today, Qantas said.


Qantas workers must face global facts of life

In all the commentary on the Qantas dispute, perhaps the most salient point was raised by journalist Claire Harvey. She was on the Meet the Press panel on Channel Ten, where the principal guest was the Workplace Relations Minister, Senator Chris Evans. Discussion soon turned to the issue of job security.

There are numerous disputes between several trade unions and Qantas management over a range of issues. However, the gist of the various disagreements turns on the assertion by Qantas's management of its right to manage and the demand by trade union leaders that their members should enjoy job security.

This is an unusual industrial dispute in that pay is not the principal driver.

About halfway through the interview, Harvey asked the telling question: "How can any private company guarantee job security into the future? Isn't that an impossibility?" To which Senator Evans replied: "Look, I think that's right. I think Qantas are saying that they're under commercial pressure to change their business."

Evans went on to refine his answer. He declared that "the 30,000-odd employees of Qantas have a right to pursue their job security". The minister added that "those clashing objectives . . . have to be resolved by either negotiation or before Fair Work Australia".

The problem with the second half of Evans's answer is that it completely contradicted the initial response.

The fact is that, in an increasingly globalised world, it is impossible for a private company, such as Qantas, to guarantee job security. Only the public sector - where employment is funded by the taxpayer - can deliver permanency in employment.

Qantas is an international airline competing on the world markets in an industry that historically returns small profits on funds invested. It cannot guarantee jobs without inhibiting its business operations.

Trade unions - representing pilots, engineers or baggage handlers - cannot prevail in the face of this economic fact of life. Nor can tribunals such as Fair Work Australia.

If the Qantas dispute is not settled by negotiation between the parties and it goes to arbitration, Fair Work Australia cannot guarantee job security.

It's possible that Fair Work Australia's tribunal, which is comprised primarily of former barristers and one-time trade union officials, might direct Qantas to preserve jobs in Australia. However, it cannot deliver on such a ruling since no tribunal can stop any business from scaling back on employment or going out of business due to its inability to compete on world markets.

On ABC TV news on Friday, the serial shareholder media tart Jack Tilburn got prime coverage when he declared outside the Qantas annual general meeting: "The workers aren't getting proper salaries and wages and conditions. They're being strangled, they're being bulldozed, they're being knocked over."

Tilburn ended up talking of himself in the third person when he said about Qantas: "It's a board of dictators, says Jack Tilburn, not a board of directors."

The fact is that Qantas pilots, engineers and baggage handlers enjoy some of the best pay and conditions in the international airline industry.

And that is precisely why Qantas management cannot guarantee that all future employees in all Qantas businesses can be remunerated at similar rates.

Journalists and editors should know this better than anyone. There is no job security in the Australian media industry - outside the taxpayer-funded ABC. Likewise, there is no job security in financial services or retail or agriculture or construction or even mining. No private industry that competes in the marketplace can guarantee job security.

However well-meaning, governments cannot prevail against markets.

It is not surprising that the Gillard government's decision to re-regulate the labour market under the Fair Work Act has been accompanied by an increase in unemployment and part-time and casual employment.

The Herald's economics correspondent, Peter Martin, in his analysis of the recent Bureau of Statistics figures commented that "Australia has created so few jobs in the past three months that at the present rate it would take a quarter of a century to reach the 500,000 promised in the federal budget".

In April, Julia Gillard delivered a significant speech to The Sydney Institute on the dignity of work. Her message was that it was in the interests of all Australians that the long-term unemployed should find jobs. Good point. The problem with the Prime Minister's address was that it focused on only one side of the problem.

Sure, the unemployed should be encouraged to work. But who is going to give them a job, particularly full-time employment?

Here the unfair dismissal laws provide a real disincentive for small business operators to give a long-term welfare recipient a job. Why should anyone take such a risk if the government makes it harder to terminate employees for poor performance? Fine sentiments do not make, or retain, a job.


Media censorship on the agenda again

NEWSPAPERS and magazines could be fined up to $30,000 for "exceptionally grave" or persistent breaches of media standards.

In a submission to Julia Gillard's media inquiry, the Press Council has also raised the prospect of securing government funding to expand its coverage to online news and "blog" websites.

And it suggests newspapers could be censured or reprimanded "where appropriate" under sanctions to boost public confidence in the media.

The Press Council part-funded by News Limited has fired the opening shots in the Government's media inquiry with a series of options to beef-up public sanctions against sloppy journalism.

These include a new panel, headed by a retired judge, with the power to impose fines against newspapers or magazines of up to $30,000.

In a letter to the media inquiry, chair Julian Disney said the Press Council was "currently considering" such a process but also raised concerns it could become "legalistic and time-consuming".

The first trickle of submissions were published yesterday by the media inquiry which was established by the Gillard Government following pressure from the Greens.

Retired Federal Court judge Ray Finklestein has been asked to report back to Government by February, including on the effectiveness of the Press Council considered a "toothless tiger" by its critics.

Mr Disney, who is overseas and could not be contacted last night, has put forward a number of options to beef-up the body and expand its coverage over emerging online media.

Raising the issue of government funding will be controversial. Mr Disney has suggested it as an option "to help expand membership amongst online publishers".

But he added it was "essential" funding from government or external sources was given without "conditions".


Green capitalists hijack carbon agenda

by Gary Johns

THERE was a time when capitalists were capitalists. Now, half the bastards parade as greens making money from green ideology. The other half have given up in the face of environmentalism.

The combination of corporate rent-seeking and capitulation makes the world more vulnerable to mishap. No wonder the gormless ferals "Occupying" city squares across the Western world are confused.

Green capitalism wants public corporations to behave not as shareholders and taxpayers wish but as green activists wish. Green activists and corporate people cosy up to regulators and governments, but especially the UN.

Corporations accept the activity as strategic, coping with political pressure for the nebulous desire for sustainability. Some corporations acquiesce, some make money.

There are crooks such as Enron and jokers such as BP (remember Beyond Petroleum?) who play the game. Others just attend conferences. But attending lends weight to stupidity and rent-seeking on a global scale.

These conferences become places where politicians grandstand. Remember Kevin at Copenhagen? A few days ago in Washington, DC, a group of chief executives, "major investors and bankers", together with former British prime minister Gordon Brown and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, called for a "far-reaching reform of the global financial system". The price of applause is taxpayer subsidies and preferential regulation.

These people helped the US and Europe live beyond their means. Now, under the banner of the UN Environment Program Finance Initiative Global Roundtable they want to direct good money into bad investments under the guise of sustainability.

This is the crowd that brought the massive waste of debt forgiveness, Make Poverty History and the Clean Development Mechanism. Brown has suggested a global tax to raise even more money for aid and the environment. Tell that to the Greeks and the Irish.

This is the crowd plotting the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro where even more promises will be made with money that does not exist. They want to "mobilise investment at scale by the banking and investment sectors into the clean energy sector, renewable energy, green buildings and retrofitting, clean vehicles and fuels". You will pay for this.

The farce is that even on its own terms, the combination of green activists, corporate capitulation and UN mischief-making moves the world further from the possibility of coping with issues such as climate change and poverty.

Take the example of nuclear power. Siemens built all of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors. In 2006 Siemens' president and chief executive Peter Loescher said: "In view of global climate change and the increasing power demand worldwide, for us nuclear energy remains an essential part of a sustainable energy mix. Nuclear energy, which is practically CO2-free, will gain in importance above all with a view to climate protection."

In September this year Loescher announced Siemens' withdrawal from the nuclear industry. The firm will no longer build nuclear power stations.

Although the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March pushed it across the line, it was the constant drip of ideology that broke the company's resolve. As Loescher said, it was the firm's answer to "the clear positioning of German society and politics for a pullout from nuclear energy".

Siemens' 17 nuclear reactors accounted for 23 per cent of German electricity production. A lot of solar panels and windmills are going to be built with taxpayers' subsidy to fill that gaping hole. Should the windmills come at the expense of the Greece bailout?

And our little green capitalists' tentacles reach from global to local. A recent press release screamed: "World's largest investors, worth $20 trillion, step up call for urgent policy action on climate change".' It was our friends at the UNEP Finance Initiative, in tandem with the likes of the local Investor Group on Climate Change.

IGCC is a green-capitalist crowd. It represents finance, including church and industry super funds. Being from finance, they seek rent rather than capitulate a la Siemens. IGCC wants to "encourage government policies and investment practices that address the risks and opportunities of climate change, for the ultimate benefit of superannuants and unit holders". You bet they do.

The Australian chief executive is Nathan Fabian, former adviser to Penny Wong in the opposition portfolio of corporate governance and responsibility. Fabian by name, Fabian by nature.

Are the Fabians telling investors that the Senate estimates statement by Treasury's Martin Parkinson on October 20, that "the cost impact of the carbon tax is very, very small", was based on an assumption there would be a global agreement on reductions of CO2 emissions?

Julia Gillard cannot achieve what the great Kevin Rudd could not. An agreement by developing countries attending the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban next month to curb emissions will not be forthcoming.

Make sure you tell your members, Fabian.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative