Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Post below from Angry Harry. His comparison with pornography law is interesting:

Muslim Cleric Causes Uproar Over Women's Clothing: Australia's most senior Muslim cleric has prompted an uproar by saying that some women are attracting sexual assault by the way they dress.

Of course, this uproar was caused by various women's groups who think that women should bear no responsibility for what they do. Well, in my view, Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali is correct in what he says - at least to some extent. Indeed, only recently, I wrote the following on my Your Emails page to a woman who seemed to think that women should be able to dress as they please without needing to take into account how others might respond.

"... if women behave stupidly, then they deserve less sympathy should something untoward happen. And if, for example, they wander about the place showing off all their bits then they should not be too surprised to find that some mentally dysfunctional male might respond to them. And the fact that women know that such unhappy events are more likely to occur if they are sexually provocative then the fact that they carry on regardless suggests that they are not very concerned about such events. That is the message that they are sending out.

As such, the law should reflect this lesser concern - this message - when deciding what level of negative impact any assault might have had, AND when deciding any punishment.

... Many women, however, seem to wish to take no responsibility for their behaviours. They seem to think that they should be able to flaunt their sexuality all over the place - in order to incite men - and then they think that they have the right to claim that they are victims when some men respond to them in a manner which is absolutely consistent with the message that they, themselves, have been sending out.

In my view, women who set out to entice men sexually bear more responsibility for sexual assaults against them than do women who do not set out to entice men sexually. And this should be reflected in the law.

... Are women such sluts that they think that they are entitled to foist their sexuality on to every passing member of the public? Are women so mind-boggling stupid that they cannot see that flagrantly enticing men sexually might bring about consequences? What makes women think that they have the right to overtly sexually stimulate men who happen to be in the vicinity whereas if men did a similar thing in response - perhaps with their hands - they could be prosecuted?

When women stick out their sexual organs uninvited into men's vision then this is not much different from men sticking out their hands uninvited for a grope. After all, in both cases they are merely trying to elicit a sexual response in the other party in the best way that they know how.

... Furthermore, we all have to accept that in order to safeguard our liberties, we have to tolerate many dysfunctional and/or unstable beings in our society, as well as those who are temporarily 'unbalanced' - for one reason or another. The alternative, in practice, is truly horrible. And, of course, some 20% of males have very low IQs. As such, I think that women are - as seems typical these days - being incredibly selfish if they believe that they are entitled to swirl up the passions of whomsoever they wish and then escape all responsibility for any negative consequences that might arise from ending up with the wrong kind of attention.

In a nutshell: People who go out of their way to provoke "an attack" are less deserving - should an attack materialise - than those who do not.

Most people would agree with this. But western women see themselves as so superior that they think they should be above such things. And they think that they should be able to provoke men - all men - as much as they like - and then take no responsibility! (And this is true not just in the area of sex. It is true in many other areas.) 'Ollocks, I say. Their own behaviour must be taken into account. And, take it from me, it soon will be!

And I stand by that view! I think I'll become a Muslim. And, while on this particular subject, I wish to make an interesting point!

Here, in the UK, we are soon going to outlaw certain types of pornography because some sex-offenders have claimed that "pornography made me do it". In other words, the government reckons that men can be 'enticed' into doing bad things by looking at pictures. Well, surely, if lofty people can accept the notion that men can be 'enticed' by pictures, then they should also accept the notion that men can be enticed by 'reality'!

And, if this is so, then women - who bring about their own reality - and who thrust it upon others - must also often be viewed as responsible for enticing men in much the same way that pornography allegedly does. So, how is it that women can escape all responsibility for enticing men, whereas pornography and pornographers cannot?

Well, of course, the answer is obvious. Women are nowadays held to be responsible for almost nothing that they do; not even for those situations in which they choose to place themselves. They are not held fully responsible when it comes to choosing to bear offspring, when it comes to their work choices, when it comes to whom they have sex with - especially when they are drunk - when it comes to child abuse, and even when it comes to murder.

And now we are simply being indoctrinated with the view that pornography can entice men to do bad things, but women, themselves, cannot. What hokum, eh? What lies!

Notice also that misleading women - especially younger women - into believing that their dress has no effect on the likelihood of being sexually-assaulted will simply lead to more women enticing more sexual assaults. In other words, more women will be hurt.

But, despite what they might say, most women do not actually care about this. So long as they can say and do as they damn well please, they do not actually care how many other women might be assaulted as a result.

The link between Islamists and the Left is alive and well in Australia

A group that supports suicide bombers and is being investigated by Australia's intelligence agencies meets in a Melbourne suburb. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a self-proclaimed anti-Semitic revolutionary Arabic group, has Victorian branch headquarters in Brunswick. And, in a state election controversy, it has been revealed that a Labor candidate in next month's poll, Khalil Eideh, has close links to the group. Syrian-Australian trucking boss Mr Eideh is running for one of Labor's safest Upper House seats.

The local incarnation of the SSNP, which recently backed Hezbollah and opposes Israel's existence, meets in a semi-industrial building in Albert St. The building facade is blank, with no signs or names on its walls or doors. But the interior has several banners and the party flag on display. On its website, the SSNP heralds "Our Martyrs" -- suicide bombers who attacked Israeli soldiers.

Australian intelligence services have confirmed they are examining possible links between the Melbourne group and the militant arm of Hezbollah. It was revealed in June that Mr Eideh had sent letters to the Syrian regime warning of Zionist threats in Melbourne, reporting on Australians and pledging "absolute loyalty" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Documents have now emerged detailing SSNP delegates among the guests at functions organised by Mr Eideh's Islamic Alawi community group.

The SSNP has also issued a statement blaming "Zionist fingers" for June's media attacks on Mr Eideh and demanding "widespread solidarity" for him. The SSNP believes in a Great Syria nation -- incorporating Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Cyprus and Jordan. Its website repeatedly attacks Israel, stating the nation is a foreign entity and should not exist in the Middle East. Party members claim on the SSNP site that Zionist leaders encouraged the Nazis to massacre Jews during World War II to help their cause of establishing an Israeli state in the Middle East.

Weeks ago, SSNP leaders met with Hezbollah fighters, congratulating them on their "defeat" of Israel in Lebanon. Another website, salaheddine.net, linked to the SSNP site and carrying its emblem, calls for a boycott of Western products. "If you cannot buy a bullet for the resistance, then do not pay for a Jewish bullet," it states.

In the SSNP's Melbourne branch, one banner reads: "All international decisions that go against the will of the Syrian nation and its right to self-determination are false decisions". When the Sunday Herald Sun visited the Brunswick building earlier this month, three men who came to the door refused to comment on who they were.

The group's Melbourne branch president Sayed Al-Nakat on Friday defended the SSNP as a democratic, peaceful political party. Mr Al-Nakat denounced terrorism, including the September 11 attacks on the US and the Holocaust of World War II. But he defended the suicide bombers who had sacrificed themselves against Israelis, saying they were not terrorists. If a foreign force invaded Australia, he would do the same to protect his home, he said. "In Israel's idea, there's no place for us," he said. "She wants to be the boss of the Middle East." In 2004, Mr Al-Nakat was quoted in Arabic newspaper El Telegraph at a meeting: "Oh my leader, you warned us what the Zionist plot is all about and that the danger won't be contained in Palestine, but it will touch Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It's a danger on all Syrian people".


Amusing: Hospital meals carry more fat 'than fast food'

Most traditional home-cooked dinners would too. They are the source of hospital "cuisine"

Public hospitals serve meals that contain more fat, salt and calories than McDonald's burgers. The Sunday Times obtained a Royal Perth Hospital hot meal and sent it to a laboratory for testing. The analysis revealed that the chicken and vegetable dinner had more fat, sodium and energy than a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder, and nearly as much as a burger and french fries combined.

But this meal is far from the worst that is often on the menu for patients. The Sunday Times is aware that fatty pork chops in sauce and sausages and bacon are also served. "The pork chops are horrible, they must be about 50 per cent fat," one hospital worker said.

Prominent dietitian Margaret Hays said patients should get a selection of food, but the Government also had a responsibility to offer healthy choices in hospitals -- especially considering the obesity epidemic. "With such a huge number of Australians being overweight, or having heart conditions or diabetes, I'd expect that hospitals, of all places, should be paving the way to healthy eating and setting standards," she said.

The lab results showed the hospital meal contained 28.4g of artery-blocking fat, 1208mg of high-blood pressure-friendly sodium and 625 calories. This compared with a Big Mac's 25.5g of fat, 846mg of sodium and 480 calories. A Quarter Pounder has 20g of fat, 690mg of sodium and 460 calories. Grab a McChicken burger and fries, with 944mg of sodium, and you still get more salt in the hospital meal. There's also not much more fat and energy in the burger and fries, at 33.5g and 672 calories respectively.

Hospital workers said there were "boring" healthier choices, such as cold meat and salad, and cereal. But people often opted for "greasy hot stuff", such as roast beef swimming in gravy.

Ms Hays said healthy food did not have to be bland, nor would it cost more for hospitals. Tasty casseroles and soups, using plenty of vegetables and lean meat, were among many cheap and healthy options. Australian Medical Association president Geoff Dobb said unhealthy meal options should eventually be phased out in all hospitals. Opposition health spokesman Kim Hames said with obesity now the major cause of health problems, it was disgraceful that there was still hospital food that was less healthy than burgers. The Health Department refused to comment.


Low income students do well at university

Research has exploded some myths about university entry and performance - including the notion that richer children and students from private schools get better marks. They do not, sometimes by a wide margin. One study, based on research that examined the performance of 26,000 children, found that less well-off students often performed better at university than their richer or privately educated peers. But the truth of some perceptions was reinforced: the research shows that far fewer students from less privileged backgrounds ever make it to tertiary study, and fall dramatically behind their richer peers in the final years of high school even if they have the same measured ability in year 9.

Economists at La Trobe University and the Australian National University examined the students - 13,000 starting year 9 in 1995, and 13,000 who started it in 1998 - to shed light on why students of high ability from disadvantaged backgrounds remain badly underrepresented at university. The results of their research, which was funded by the Australian Research Council's Discovery Project, could force policymakers to reconsider how to improve access to tertiary education.

The researchers found no evidence that fear of large HECS debts discourages poorer students from proceeding to university - contrary to Labor Party rhetoric. The authors say HECS appears to have solved the problem of funding constraints for poorer students.

And the findings imply the Federal Government is wasting its money on scholarships designed to increase university participation among rural, indigenous and other disadvantaged groups. If they achieve the same entry score, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are just as likely as rich students to enter university - and they are more likely to go on and do well. "We're failing to find any evidence that money is an issue once they've finished high school," said one of the researchers, Buly Cardak, of La Trobe University. Dr Cardak and Chris Ryan, of the Australian National University, present their findings in Why are high ability individuals from poor backgrounds underrepresented at university?

A separate study, to be published by the University of Western Australia's Professor Paul Miller and Dr Elisa Rose Birch, shows students from less-privileged backgrounds get first-year university results that are more than 3 percentage points higher than rich children, for any given university entry score. Their paper, The Influence of Type of High School Attended on University Performance, shows the private school students were significantly more likely to fail.

Both studies imply that disadvantaged children smart or motivated enough to get to university may not need help from there. "But something is going on before then," Dr Cardak said. "They're not able to convert their talent into the same entry score as more advantaged kids." Dr Cardak and Dr Ryan found two out of three students from privileged backgrounds went to university; fewer than one in five disadvantaged students did so.

Having a disadvantaged background was found to weigh hugely on performance in the final years of school. If a rich student and poor student had the median level of literacy and numeracy in year 9, the rich one was likely to go on to achieve a university admission index (or ENTER) score of 77. But the poorer student was likely to have a score of just 63 - and probably miss out on university . The gap was even greater at lower levels of year 9 aptitude. "Disadvantaged students are unable to capitalise on their ability in the same way as their advantaged counterparts in terms of ENTER scores," they write.

The results were broadly unchanged even when the sample was limited to students who stated an intention to go to university in year 9 - which seems to rule out student motivation as the difference. Dr Cardak and Dr Ryan argue that "policy needs to address the schooling decisions and outcomes of these students . well before the beginning" of their final year at school.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Christianity Returning to Australian Schools

Chaplains will be posted in schools across Australia under a federal Government plan to provide students with greater spiritual guidance. Prime Minister John Howard will today unveil details of the $90 million national chaplaincy program, which also aims to give support to students during times of grief. The initiative, which was immediately criticised for discriminating in favour of Christians, was approved by Cabinet earlier this month.

Today's announcement follows last weekend's fatal car crash near Byron Bay which killed four teenagers from Kadina High School. It also follows the tragic death of a Sydney high school student who was found dead the night before her first HSC exam.

Under the plan, government and non-government schools will be able to apply for a grant of up to $20,000 a year to employ a chaplain. The federal Government wants to encourage schools to spend more time developing the ethical and spiritual health of students. While not necessarily requiring to have a religious background, the chaplains will be expected to provide religious support. The chaplains will also be required to work with existing schools counsellors in supporting students dealing with issues such as a family break-up or the death of a fellow student. The program will leave it up to individual schools to decide on whether to employ a chaplain on a part-time or full-time basis.

Andrew Macintosh, of political think tank The Australia Institute, condemned the proposal as "ridiculous". "The money would be far better spent on teaching resources," he said. "And it is overtly discriminatory if you are only talking about Christian chaplains." It would be more appropriate to appoint professional counsellors without religious affiliations to provide support to students in times of grief, he said.


The usual defence equipment purchasing disgrace

Surveillance equipment needed for the light armoured vehicles used by Australian troops in Iraq will not be delivered until 2008, five years behind schedule, a damning audit report has found. The Australian National Audit Office uncovered a litany of embarrassing mistakes in the $280 million Australian Light Armoured Vehicle project, including the Department of Defence's failure to pay a $12 million GST bill. And after overpaying $7 million to the contractor - which the company returned - the department was forced to pay $350,000 to accountants to find out exactly what it had spent under the contract.

The extraordinary revelations about the acquisition and upgrade contract for 257 vehicles were another blow in a bad month for Defence. Other examples of bumbling and mismanagement included a $625 million blow-out in the cost of a fleet of 22 new Tiger helicopters due to a poor tender process, and a plague of problems besetting a multibillion-dollar upgrade of four navy frigates.

The most embarrassing finding was that a major upgrade had not included an essential part of the army vehicles' surveillance capability. In 2004 Defence committed the vehicles to operations in Iraq, following deployments of the vehicles in East Timor and Kuwait. Multispectral surveillance systems were to be installed in October 2003, but are now scheduled for July 2008.

Another embarrassing finding was that no up-to-date contract existed for the multimillion-dollar project and that it had broken Australian Accounting Standards across a range of bookkeeping practices. Defence was also criticised by the audit office for failing to take up an offer of a 10 per cent discount on as many 150 of the armoured vehicles, which would have reduced their price from $1.3 million to $1.15 million each. Defence's procurement agency, the Defence Materiel Organisation, managed the contract in a "less than satisfactory" manner, the audit office said.

Labor's defence procurement spokesman, Mark Bishop, slammed the agency for its continuing bad record on major projects. "This is the fourth audit report this year which has major criticisms of the way Defence does business - a bad record of economic mismanagement on the Government's behalf," Senator Bishop said. "The Opposition wants an inquiry into the whole way Defence conducts its procurement [process] and essential projects."

But No delays in fraudulent bonus for negligent officials

The top officers in the Defence Materiel Organisation have been earmarked for performance bonuses totalling more than $300,000. In response to questions on notice in Parliament from the Opposition, the agency said 20 top officers would share in bonuses of about $300,000 in 2006-07. The bonuses were awarded for "meeting or exceeding stringent performance targets, for example bringing projects in ahead of schedule and under budget", the agency said.

Labor's defence procurement spokesman Mark Bishop said he was staggered by the payments, as costs had escalated and projects experienced average delays of 3.3 years.


An antisemitic university press in Australia

An article by Michael Danby, MHR:

In July last year I learned that Louise Adler, publisher of Melbourne University Press, had commissioned Antony Loewenstein, a little-known online journalist who has his own far-left blog, to write a book about the Australian Jewish community and its attitudes to Israel. Mr Loewenstein sent me a questionnaire asking my views on various subjects.

After making some inquiries about him and reading the extreme anti- Israel views at his website, I decided not to participate in this project, knowing that my participation would give it a credibility it didn't deserve. I wrote to the Jewish News urging readers to have nothing to do with Mr Loewenstein's book.

Ever since, Mr Loewenstein has painted himself as a heroic dissident being persecuted by the "Jewish establishment" for daring to criticise Israel and the Jewish community. It is sometimes perfectly obvious what is going to be in a book before it is published. If a leading publisher commissioned Pauline Hanson to write a book about multiculturalism, or Fred Nile about the gay and Lesbian Mardi gras, no doubt all the commentators at the AbC and The Age would have plenty to say, because it would be obvious what such books would be like.

The fact is that I and many other people knew Mr Loewenstein's views on Israel and on Australian Jews long before his book appeared. This is the point that Mr rodgers and his ilk persistently fail to acknowledge so they can misrepresent criticism of Mr Loewenstein. After all, he stated them openly at his own website a year ago, where he called Israel "fundamentally undemocratic and colonialist" and "a terror state", and described the Australian Jewish community as "vitriolic, bigoted, racist and downright pathetic." He also said that "so-called Western `values' deserve to be challenged and overthrown." I give Mr Loewenstein credit for honesty - he stated his views quite openly, so everyone knew what would be in his book long before it appeared.

Of course, when the book appeared, my anticipation about its contents was proved to be correct. The book is shallow, predictable, trite and obvious, as well as riddled with factual errors. This was not my view alone. Dr Philip Mendes of Monash University, author of Jews and Australian Politics (and himself a frequent, but fair, critic of Israeli policies), said: "The majority of the text [of Mr Loewenstein's book] is overwhelmingly simplistic and one-sided. This could have been a serious and objective examination of the role of local lobby groups in influencing Australia's Middle East policies. Unfortunately, that book still waits to be written."

Dr Michael Fagenblat, of Monash University's Centre for the study of Jewish Civilisation, says: "There's nothing new or interesting here and several things that seem patently false. These remarks seem completely one-sided; they overlook the complexity and manifold responsibility that has contributed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." (both these comments appeared in the Jewish News of 28 July) since his book came out, becoming a hero of the anti-Israel commentariat seems to have gone to Mr Loewenstein's head. Despite being lionised at writers' festivals around the county, he still complains that the "zionist lobby" is working to silence him. His attacks on Israel are growing more strident. In brisbane, debating Phillip Mendes, he said: "Israel's behaviour in the West bank and gaza are the tactics of a rogue, terror state. Enough with the Holocaust, alleged Palestinian `terror' and victimhood. Take some responsibility for the parlous state of Israel in the international community. For all of us who want a safer Middle East, today's Israel is currently the problem, not the cure."

In August I was given a chance to confront Mr Loewenstein faceto- face on AbC radio, and I must thank the Jon Faine program for setting up this debate, which was ably moderated by gerard Whately and gideon Haigh. The debate was conducted in a civil manner, but I made a point of taking Mr Loewenstein to task over a comment of his which I considered particularly offensive. speaking of the comedian sandy guttman (Austen tayshus), he said at his website: "Jews are often their own worst enemies. It might help if tayshus didn't look so much like those awful caricatures we know from the 1930s!" so Mr guttman is to be criticised because he looks too Jewish for Mr Loewenstein's sensibilities!

Mr Loewenstein is, of course, entitled to his views - ignorant, offensive and superficial though they are - but I don't apologise for my decision to launch a "preemptive strike" against his book last year. Nor do I resile from my view that a person who thinks that a Jewish state is "a fundamentally undemocratic and colonialist idea from a bygone era," and that the Australian Jewish community is "vitriolic, bigoted, racist and downright pathetic" was not a suitable person to be commissioned by a major publisher to write a book about our community and its attitudes towards Israel.

This is not MUP's first excursion into anti-Israel polemic under Louise Adler's direction. In 2005 she published Jacqueline rose's The Question of Zion, a tract so blatantly anti-Israel that even a self-professed anti-zionist reviewer, simon Louvish in The Independent, called it a work of "overriding shallowness" which showed "a lack of basic understanding" and "overreliance on certain dissident Israeli historians, and avoidance of others."

Ms Adler is, of course, free to publish as many bad books as she likes, but why do they all have to be anti-Israel bad books? Why does she lend the prestige of the MUP imprint to a one-sided rehashing of all the usual anti-Israel propaganda?


Vegemite retrospective

Hold onto your hats. The biggest story of the week strikes at border security, US-Australia relations, good taste and pride in the nation. Never mind Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Paris Hilton, this time the US had gone too far.

The web lit up with news the Stars and Stripes had banned Vegemite. Customs officials were even searching Australians for jars of the national spread when they arrived, it was said. Not since Bazza McKenzie had his Fosters confiscated at Heathrow had there been such an outrage.

Well, it was good for a couple of days. Dismissing media reports and the frenzy it created, the US Food and Drug Administration soon declared there was in fact no ban on the folate-carrying expat's delight. In true US-style perhaps they were instead leaving it to the "free market" in a country where a tiny jar of the patriotic delicacy leaves the shelves for around $US4.80 ($6.33).


Sunday, October 29, 2006


Prominent Labor figures Paul Keating and Leo McLeay "demanded" a ministerial colleague grant residency for Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilaly. The two party leaders were furious when in 1989 then-Immigration Minister Robert Ray refused their requests, Labor sources said yesterday. The sources said it was at least the second time they had sought to lobby on behalf of the controversial Muslim leader. The sheik has played a walk-on role in ALP affairs since he arrived here in 1982, with Mr McLeay being his strongest champion within the party. Other Labor identities, such as NSW Upper House member Eddie Obeid, had been in the forefront of attempts to get him kicked out.

Sheik Hilaly did not get permanent residency until 1990 when Gerry Hand was Immigration Minister. The sheik's case had been taken to Senator Ray in response to appeals from electorally powerful Islamic communities within Mr Keating's seat of Blaxland and Mr McLeay's seat of Grayndler. The Saturday Daily Telegraph understands there had been moves to deport the sheik in 1989 after one of his anti-Jewish outbursts. "But Keating and McLeay demanded that he be given residency," said one source. Senator Ray effectively put him on probation but was moved to Defence in 1990. Yesterday he said his decision had been made "on the basis of the file, not on the basis of politics".

In 1986, then Immigration Minister Chris Hurford had been asked to deport the sheik and was in the process of doing so when he was shifted to another port folio. He has since told The Australian he believed residency was granted by the Government "because they erroneously believed that this would have some political influence in the particular electorates at a NSW State election".

Even before that, in 1982, the sheik was causing ripples. The Arabic community newspaper El Telegraph in July of that year reported a speech by Sheik Hilaly in which he said "the flesh of Australian women is as cheap as pigs' flesh". The paper attacked his comments and soon had to have guards protect the journalist. Not long after, the El Telegraph office was badly damaged in a suspicious fire. Its owner was Mr Obeid, who spent the next 10 years trying to get the sheik deported.


"Climate change" as a scapegoat

Australia is the dry continent -- with recurrent droughts. But opportunists are blaming the present dry spell on global warming. Writing with particular reference to his home State of Victoria, Andrew Bolt writes that this is just a convenient excuse for governmental failure to prepare for the inevitable drought conditions

The merchants of global warming panic are wrong. Again. No, this is not the worst drought ever recorded. No, it is not so unprecedented that it proves man-made global warming is real. In fact, this may not even be a drought at all. Rainfall figures show we may be simply going back to the just-as-dry weather of the not-so-distant past. And those who shriek that global warming is now frying us like never before are peddling green hype, rather than the cool science we need to keep ourselves well-watered.

I'm referring, of course, to religious zealots such as Deputy Premier John Thwaites, the (No) Water Minister, who declared: "So all the evidence points to a significant involvement of global warming in the present drought." I'm referring also to Professor Peter Cullen, a National Water Commission member and top government adviser, who gloated that, thanks to the drought, "flat earth sceptics who have been in denial about climate change are now realising that wishing it away didn't work and are now berating governments for not building more dams". And I mustn't forget The Age, this cult's Bible, which claimed: "The continuing drought has forced . . . belated recognition by sceptics that climate change is not a fiction disseminated by doomsayers."

Nonsense. Consult not their faith but my facts, and look at the graph on the right, showing Victoria's annual rainfall from 1900 to 2005, as measured by the Weather Bureau. What you see are decades of often dry years followed by decades of often wet ones. And now -- in this past decade of drought -- we've gone back to where we once were. As in dry. Here are the figures that tell that story.

From 1900 to 1945, Victoria's average annual rainfall was 603mm. Then came 50 years of plenty, with average falls of 671mm. But in the past decade our rainfall has dropped back to around the average of those pre-war years -- or 591mm. You might say this still means we're (a fraction) drier than before. But this past decade is not even close to being the driest on record. Our average rainfall now of 591mm is still way above the panting lows recorded from 1936 to 1945 -- an average of just 543mm. And no one back then wailed in the dust about global warming.

So what does all this suggest? Three things. First, as I warned here two years ago, Victoria's patterns of rainfall may have shifted. Second, this change in climate is not at all unusual or extreme, and so certainly not proof of global warming, let alone of the man-made kind. Third, we may not even be in a drought at all, but returning to drier conditions that are perhaps more usual. What may be unusual is not this dry, but the few wet decades before that filled our big new Thomson dam.

None of what I've said will surprise people with a long history of managing the land and its water. Hear it from farmer George Warne, general manager of the giant Murray Irrigation, who says: "It is an overreaction to say this (drought) is climate change. "My family has been farming (in Victoria) since 1888, and we have kept records on weather conditions. I am certain a huge component of the latest drought is cyclical." Or hear it from the boss of water company United Utilities, Graham Dooley, who, like me, does not deny climate change, but says: "About every 50 years we get a drought. This latest dry is part of the typical cycle."

So if this drought -- or dry spell -- is not unusual, you should ask some hard questions of a few powerful people who don't seem to be facing these facts. Here's one: Why didn't the Bracks Government prepare the state for a big dry that's actually a normal part of our ever-changing climate? Why didn't it build a new dam for growing Melbourne, say, and find new supplies for Ballarat and Bendigo, when we still had time on our side?

The Government still hides behind the excuse that this drought came out of nowhere -- a sudden catastrophe caused only by this spooky and unexpected phenomenon of global warming. But these rainfall figures show that the only thing spooky is the way the Government is using a seemingly natural change in the weather as proof of the rightness of its green faith that humans are ruining the world. But the figures show something more serious besides -- that blaming the drought on man-made global warming is actually just a miserable excuse for failure. Why didn't our leaders do more long ago to save our parched cities from a normal drought that any fool could have seen coming? Even a fool like me.


Literacy tests dumbed down too

Grammar and spelling mistakes? No problem! Now the literacy tests are "a measure of students' ability to participate in the community". I guess even an armed robber "participates in the community", though

The international OECD test cited as proof that Australian students have one of the highest literacy rates in the world does not test spelling and grammar. The Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-old students in more than 40 countries assesses their ability to understand written texts and apply that knowledge but fails to examine correct use of language.

"The concept of literacy used in PISA is much broader than the historical notion of the ability to read and write," the report says. "It is measured on a continuum, not as something that an individual either does or does not have. A literate person has a range of competencies and there is no precise dividing line between a person who is fully literate and one who is not." Head of the Australian Council for Educational Research Professor Geoff Masters, which leads the consortium that runs PISA, said the test was a measure of students' reading, not writing.

But reader in English and head of humanities at the Australian National University Simon Haines said a solid foundation in reading implied "a foundation of knowledge of what words and sentences are". "Spelling and grammar are part of this knowledge of what a word fundamentally is, what written construction fundamentally is," he said. "Relatively trivial one-off spelling and grammatical errors probably shouldn't be marked down, but repeated errors of the same type, or errors indicating more fundamental misunderstandings, probably should be. "This is part of teaching students how to use language."

The PISA reading literacy test is conducted every three years, with the first held in 2000. In that test, the best of Australian students scored second to Finland. The study defines reading literacy as "understanding, using and reflecting on written texts in order to achieve one's goals, to develop one's knowledge and potential and to participate in society". In its analysis of students' answers, the report says that spelling mistakes were very common but incorrect spelling had no bearing on the marking. "Answers with mistakes in grammar and/or spelling were not penalised as long as the correct point was made," it says.

Professor Masters said the definition of literacy had changed over time and once meant an inability to write one's name. But PISA took a broader attitude, saying literacy was a skill developed over a lifetime and a measure of students' ability to participate in the community.

The study also found that Australian students performed relatively poorly in their comprehension of continuous texts, such as narratives, and coped better with non-continuous texts, such as diagrams and maps. Boys in particular struggled with continuous texts, and were generally outperformed by girls. Professor Masters said the results indicated that teachers should make sure students read continuous texts such as books.

Literacy expert Bill Louden, head of the graduate school of education at the University of Western Australia, said PISA tested reading comprehension and was not a writing task, so "spelling and grammar errors don't come into it". "It wouldn't do in an English classroom, where you have continuous long works that needs to score kids on their capacity to write grammatically, write coherently and spell correctly," Professor Louden said.


An outspoken husband for a political lady

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward has revealed her "disappointment" at her husband, David Barnett, for making derogatory comments about Aboriginal women. She also agrees with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Muslim women wearing burqas are "confronting", but does not believe they should be banned. Ms Goward, who is leaving her job to run for the NSW state Liberal seat of Goulburn, said on ABC radio that her husband's comments angered her and questioned Aboriginal women's ability to mother.

Mr Barnett, a journalist and former media adviser to Malcolm Fraser, said recently that Aboriginal women "wipe themselves with a rag in the lavatory, and hang it up to dry for next time". "We must ask ourselves whether it is right to condemn Australian children to be brought up . by mothers who don't know enough about rearing children to wipe their noses and where the baby bonus sends a town on a drunken binge," he wrote in The Canberra Times. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission is investigating him.

"I was too cross to yell (at him)," Ms Goward told the ABC. She said she had a challenging and rewarding marriage with Mr Barnett despite his Liberal Party ties complicating her career. She said her sacking from the ABC when she was a former journalist was a result of their relationship. "I think the day I married him I probably signed my death warrant."

When speaking about Muslim dress, Ms Goward said Western women were also subjected to oppressive dress codes. "I have to admit that the burqa is very confronting - its blackness, the net over the eyes. It's hard to know how much of it is religious and how much of it is tribal or . cultural. "(But) we wear high heels. We torture our feet. Women all over the world have dress codes that, either willingly or unwillingly, they impose upon themselves that are ugly and distorting and unhealthy and it's part of the oppression of women all over the world . People are entitled to wear the clothes that they want to wear." Ms Goward said she had never received a sex discrimination complaint from a Muslim woman.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Meat good for you, say Australian science experts

The first edition of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet has knocked The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter off the top of the Australian bestseller list. Its sequel, launched yesterday, is expected to be as popular. A feature of the revised scientific diet book, which recommends a high-protein meat diet, is a comprehensive six-week exercise program.

The sequel was launched in Sydney by Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training Julie Bishop and CSIRO chief executive Dr Geoff Garrett, who spoke about his own weight loss after using the book's methods. Mrs Bishop said Australians had a long way to go in terms of getting fit. She said 30 per cent of Australians under 25 had high blood pressure and more than half the population was overweight. "Sixty per cent of an adult population [being overweight] in a country like Australia with magnificent weather and the opportunity to be outdoors and be physically fit is just not acceptable," Mrs Bishop said. She said insufficient physical activity caused about 8000 preventable deaths annually and cost the health budget $400 million each year.

The authors of the book, which recommends a 12-week eating plan, Dr Manny Noakes and Dr Peter Clifton, warned Australia would struggle to deal with a looming health crisis. Dr Grant Brinkworth, who developed the exercise regime, demonstrated stretches to be used in conjunction with the diet tips.

Criticisms that the first book recommended a diet that was overly based on red meat are answered in a chapter titled "Is red meat a risk factor for colorectal cancer". "The evidence that eating red meat, or any single food, is a risk for colorectal cancer is weak at best, compared to the proven negative effects of being overweight and inactive," the book states.

Recipes range from corn fritters with smoked salmon and spinach to lamb biryani.


Ritalin junkies warning

Prescribing Ritalin to children could be breeding a generation of junkies. The drug, commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may be wiring children's brains for amphetamine addiction later in life.

Addiction expert Andrew Lawrence, from Melbourne's Howard Florey Institute, has found that amphetamines given to adolescent rats put them at greater risk of addiction in adulthood.

This means the 50,000 Australian children who take Ritalin -- an amphetamine-like stimulant with a similar chemical structure to cocaine, may be at risk. "We found that when a teenage rat is given amphetamines and then, after abstinence, has the drug again as an adult, they have a more sensitised reaction, opening the door for addiction," he said.

The researchers found adult rats became more susceptible to heart attack after this pattern of drug-taking. This year it was reported that children as young as five had suffered heart attacks after taking Ritalin.

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on October 22, 2006

A sad loss

Tourists and residents have never known speed limits on the long, straight roads of the Northern Territory, an area in Australia that is five times the size of the United Kingdom. Carmakers are even drawn to the region to test high-speed models on the thousands of miles of open road. But, faced with the worst road safety figures in the developed world, the regional parliament has decided to impose speed limits on the last unrestricted roads in the southern hemisphere.

A report tabled yesterday in the Northern Territory parliament in Darwin said that the high speeds combined with frequent drink driving, an aversion to wearing seatbelts and a blatant disregard for red lights combined to produce unusually high road fatality statistics. The road fatality rate in the Northern Territory, Australia's least-populated region, which stretches from the far north to the centre of the country, is 26 deaths per 100,000 people - the rate in the United Kingdom is 6 per 100,000.

Clare Martin, the chief minister of the Northern Territory, raised the prospect of speed limits, saying: "We Territorians drink and drive, we travel too far without rest, we drive too fast. We run red lights and we don't wear seatbelts." But she faces a tough challenge in convincing her electorate of the benefits of a 110 km/h (70mph) speed limit on all the main roads of the Northern Territory, including the 3,000km (1,800-mile) Stuart Highway south to Adelaide.

Territorians argue that the vast distances between towns and sparse traffic make high speeds a necessity. Terry Mills, an opposition MP, said yesterday: "There is no clear link between speed on our open roads and fatalities. They are largely caused by alcohol and a failure to wear seatbelts. So it would be a very naive approach to attack this [speed] issue. We need to stand by Territorians and leave things as they are."

The report tabled yesterday in the parliament argued that the case for speed limits was overwhelming. It said: "More than half of all fatal crashes in the NT are run-off-road or overturned crashes that imply loss of control and excessive speed. No matter how safely you drive, you are at risk from other motorists travelling at high speed."

But manufacturers of high-speed cars gave warning that speed limits would reduce the appeal of the region as a testing ground for new models. Paul Ellis, spokesman for Porsche Australia, said that the company tested its cars there for speed and heat. Four six-cylinder 911 Turbos and three support vehicles were put through their paces in the Territory for two weeks in August, he said. Mr Ellis added that if speed limits were introduced the Territory would also lose the economic benefits of testing teams spending weeks in its hotels and restaurants.


Youth obesity blamed on lack of exercise

The federal government has accused schools of contributing to child obesity by cutting back on physical education. State governments claimed federal parliamentary secretary for health Christopher Pyne was trying to shift the blame when he called on them to reintroduce compulsory sport in schools. They said sport and physical education were already mandatory at primary and secondary school level.

But Mr Pyne accused the state Labor governments of being "cute" in defining sport and said they were not promoting inter-school competition and after-school practice. "Their definition of what they regard as compulsory school sport is different to the traditional inter-school sporting competition and after-school activity," Mr Pyne said. "Some schools include drama, human movement and dance in their physical activity. "And if what the states are doing is adequate, why has the federal government had to introduce a $90 million after-school-hours activity program in state schools?"

Mr Pyne said the states' assessment of their commitment to school sport should not include the two hours of physical activity they must prove their schools are doing to qualify for commonwealth funding. Speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia conference in Sydney, he said the state Labor governments had been misdirecting the blame for the obesity problem. "Labor has been diverting the blame, pointing the finger at fatty foods while slashing funding to exercise programs in schools and moving away from compulsory physical education as part of the curriculum," he said. "We need to bring back school sports and compulsory physical education."

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said her state's schools were playing their part, but she used the commonwealth's two-hour minimum as the benchmark. "It is mandatory for primary school students to complete 120 minutes of planned physical activity each week and students in Years 7 to 10 complete an estimated 80 minutes a week," Ms Tebbutt said. "Students in Years 7 to 11 also participate in 80 to 120 minutes of school sport each week." Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said Mr Pyne's comments were another example of shifting blame to the states. He said Queensland was doing more than any other state to tackle childhood obesity through its Eat Well and Get Active programs. Rather than blaming states for not doing enough, the federal government should legislate to restrict television advertisements for junk food, he said. "Instead we have a federal government pointing the finger at everybody else," Mr Beattie said. A Victorian government spokesman said sport and physical education had been in the curriculum at government schools for several years. And in the Northern Territory, Education Minister Paul Henderson said students spend about half-an-hour exercising each day.

Federal opposition health spokeswoman Julia Gillard, also speaking at the CEDA conference, responded to Mr Pyne's claims that Labor was focusing on food rather than exercise in typical schoolyard style. "Well, der, of course it's both," Ms Gillard said.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Muslim leader blames women for sex attacks

The nation's most senior Muslim cleric has blamed immodestly dressed women who don't wear Islamic headdress for being preyed on by men and likened them to abandoned "meat" that attracts voracious animals. In a Ramadan sermon that has outraged Muslim women leaders, Sydney-based Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali also alluded to the infamous Sydney gang rapes, suggesting the attackers were not entirely to blame. While not specifically referring to the rapes, brutal attacks on four women for which a group of young Lebanese men received long jail sentences, Sheik Hilali said there were women who "sway suggestively" and wore make-up and immodest dress ... "and then you get a judge without mercy (rahma) and gives you 65 years". "But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he asked.

The leader of the 2000 rapes in Sydney's southwest, Bilal Skaf, a Muslim, was initially sentenced to 55 years' jail, but later had the sentence reduced on appeal.

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? "The uncovered meat is the problem." The sheik then said: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred." He said women were "weapons" used by "Satan" to control men. "It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa)."

Muslim community leaders were yesterday outraged and offended by Sheik Hilali's remarks, insisting the cleric was no longer worthy of his title as Australia's mufti. Young Muslim adviser Iktimal Hage-Ali - who does not wear a hijab - said the Islamic headdress was not a "tool" worn to prevent rape and sexual harassment. "It's a symbol that readily identifies you as being Muslim, but just because you don't wear the headscarf doesn't mean that you're considered fresh meat for sale," the former member of John Howard's Muslim advisory board told The Australian. "The onus should not be on the female to not attract attention, it should be on males to learn how to control themselves." Australia's most prominent female Muslim leader, Aziza Abdel-Halim, said the hijab did not "detract or add to a person's moral standards", while Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Ali said it was "ignorant and naive" for anyone to believe that a hijab could stop sexual assault.

More here

Working hours for young doctors still insane

Young doctors are still being compelled to work far more hours than are good for either them or patients, the Australian Medical Association said today. Despite the best efforts of the AMA over recent years, the latest safety audit of doctors found some still worked more than 100 hours a week, AMA president Dr Mukesh Haikerwal said. In one case, a doctor reported working 63 hours continuously.

The audit covered more than 15,000 doctors from hospitals around the country. Details will be released today. Dr Haikerwal said it showed 62 per cent of hospital doctors still were working unsafe hours and were classified as working at high or significant risk. "It used to be part of the folklore and it continues to be part of the myth and the myth is that you need to work long hours non-stop continuously to gain the experience," he told ABC radio. "At the end of the day, you can't actually learn anything if you are dead beat on your feet. "People who are seeing a doctor would expect them to be sharp and aware and alert when they are being treated and they certainly wouldn't want to be seeing them on their 80th or 39th or so hour on the trot."

Dr Haikerwal said he had been working in this issues since his days as a student and as a young doctor. The situation had improved, "but it is still not acceptable for people to be working 39 hours non-stop and it's not acceptable for people to be working up to 100 hours on average a week," he said.

Dr Alex Markwell, from the AMA council of doctors in training, said there was still an element of older doctors who trained under the old regime who felt their junior colleagues should undergo similar experience. "We need to start putting in place strict guidelines that actually enable safe rostering, enable doctors to say 'hold on, it's 16 hours, I am tired, someone else needs to come on and take over'," she told ABC radio. "We just need to stop expecting our doctors to keep going until something tragic happens which we have unfortunately seen in some states."


Pill for infertile men 'doubled' pregnancy rates

An Australian scientist has developed a revolutionary pill for men, which has doubled the pregnancy rates of infertile couples. The capsule, Menevit, containing seven antioxidants and minerals, will be available next year. "The results have been miraculous, better than we ever expected," said inventor Kelton Tremellen, an Adelaide fertility specialist. Dr Tremellen will announce the findings of his research at the Fertility Society of Australia Conference in Sydney tomorrow.

Fertility Society of Australia chair Dr Anne Clark said the findings would have wide-ranging implications for men around the world. "To have a method of treating sperm issues rather than their partner having to go through a fertility treatment is fantastic," Dr Clarke said. She believed it would prove an effective "preventative medicine" to tackle the decline in male fertility.

Menevit is to be sold through international drug company Bayer and follows three years of intensive research including two trials. The most recent involved 60 couples, two thirds of whom were given the tablet daily. Of those who took Menevit, 17 babies were conceived, compared to four babies from couples who had the placebo.

The new pill is aimed at attacking free radicals, such as smoking, obesity and exposure to chemicals, which damage sperm. Dr Tremellen said the results suggest the pill reduces sperm DNA damage and improves embryo quality. "The men gave very positive feedback," he said. "They often feel powerless as they watch their wives going through all the injections in IVF."


Deconstructive criticism

The evidence upholds the belief that the teaching of English has fallen victim to political correctness, writes Kevin Donnelly

Geoff Masters, head of the Australian Council for Educational Research and the person in charge of the commonwealth-funded inquiry into state and territory Year 12 subjects, argues concerns about school curriculums being politically correct are without foundation. In relation to senior school English -- in particular, the NSW Higher School Certificate course -- Masters concludes there is no left-wing bias and that federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's concerns about the cultural Left taking the long march through the education system are misplaced.

Masters is wrong. As those who have followed the articles in these pages about the effect of critical literacy on English teaching and the way the theory approach of teaching has destroyed the moral and aesthetic quality of the literary canon know, there is ample evidence of how English has been politicised.

In NSW, students are made to deconstruct texts such as Shakespeare's Othello and Tim Winton's Cloudstreet from a Marxist, feminist, postmodern and post-colonial perspective. The Board of Studies English stage 6 annotated professional readings support document, designed to tell teachers how English should be taught, is awash with the kind of gobbledygook associated with theory.

In opposition to the more traditional approach to literature, NSW teachers are urged to adopt what is termed "critical-postmodernist pedagogy'', described as: "This involves drawing on and seeking to integrate into a dynamic, strategic synthesis the currently evolving and ever mutating discourses of critical pedagogy, cultural studies and postmodernism, within which notions of popular culture, textuality, rhetoric and the politics and pleasures of representation become the primary focus of attention in both 'creative' and 'critical' terms.''

As argued by writer Sophie Masson, the result is that good students jump through the hoops as they know what has to be done, while less able students drown in the arcane and turgid jargon associated with the new English.

The Victorian and Queensland English studies are also prime examples of the impact of the cultural Left on the classroom. The Victorian study asks students to analyse texts from a range of perspectives. These include: "Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytical, reader-response, deconstructionist (and) postmodern''. In a similar vein, the Queensland literature syllabus favours an approach that argues that all texts are inherently political as "texts play their part in upholding or challenging prevailing world views and compete with one another to persuade readers to accept versions on offer''.

Western Australia, not to be outdone, in addition to making students respond to texts "using different theoretical frameworks [for example, Marxist, post-colonial, feminist, psychoanalytic]'' and checking "for consistency, contradiction and the privileging of some ideas over others'', argues that there is nothing universal or profound about classic literature.

The basis for this is that "the concept of the literary is socially and historically constructed rather than objective or self-evident'' and "texts and reading practices enact particular ideologies, playing an important role in the production and maintenance of social identities and reinforcing or contesting dominant ideological understandings''.

Within the new English, as a result of theory, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is criticised for its emphasis on stereotypical heterosexual love and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for being inherently racist. Even worse, students' appreciation of literature is destroyed as they spend time analysing mobile-phone messages, graffiti and Australian Idol.

Evidence that senior school English courses have fallen victim to politically correct theory is easy to find. The reasons the cultural Left has targeted English are also clear. Professional associations such as the Australian Association for the Teaching of English are staunch advocates of critical literacy and theory. Both the AATE and sympathetic teacher academics such as Allan Luke, Wayne Sawyer and Bill Green argue English teaching must be used to transform society.

Says Luke: "We would argue that text analysis and critical reading activities should lead on to action with and against the text. That is, there is a need to translate text analysis into cultural action, into institutional intervention and community projects.''


The nuclear revival

It was striking how quiet it was when the nuclear industry held an international conference in Sydney this week. A handful of anti-nuclear demonstrators made a fleeting stand in Pitt Street outside the hotel hosting the 15th Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference, then left. The conference's trade hall was full of international companies spruiking the latest gadgets to make nuclear power plants go faster, as delegates from Russia, South Korea, China and Japan milled around.

Nuclear energy provides 16 per cent of the global electricity supply, with about 440 reactors operating in the world, another 30 under construction and 200 in planning or proposal stages. China alone wants to build 50 reactors by 2030. Like an ageing pop star on the comeback trail, nuclear energy is in the middle of a revival as countries look for ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions while keeping the lights on.

World Nuclear Association director-general John Ritch enthusiastically calls it "a global nuclear renaissance". Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane, a nuclear sceptic turned convert, told the gathered representatives that "uranium is coming in from the cold".

But don't tell the environment movement or the Left, because they remain dug in behind their no-nukes barricades, first erected in the Cold War. "The environment movement is ideologically opposed to nuclear energy," Ritch said this week. "There is a carry-over from the anti-weapons movement and there is also an unexamined premise that nuclear power somehow embodies the evil of the military industrial complex. "Serious environmentalists who have looked at nuclear power recognise that against the cataclysmic projections of climate change this technology will be absolutely essential if we hope to avert a catastrophe. It's not even a close call."

Hang on. Is this the same technology that caused the meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979? Or, more seriously, the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 that directly killed 56 people, caused the relocation of 336,000 others and dropped a plume of radioactive fallout across northern Europe?

The growing momentum of climate change as a threat to the planet is changing the rules of engagement. Not only has nuclear technology become safer, more reliable, more efficient and cheaper, but its ability to generate large quantities of base-load electricity with low net greenhouse gas emissions has given it new lease of life.

Prime Minister John Howard seems enchanted by its spell. Since May he has been running nuclear energy up the flagpole of public opinion with increasing ardour, from a flirtatious "may consider" in May to a full-blown proposal this week with the suggestion Australia could have nuclear power within a decade.

This is all the more intriguing as the business case for a nuclear industry in Australia remains remote. As the energy generation industry points out, Australia's abundant supplies of coal and gas mean that even with significant efficiency gains in nuclear technology, it is still about 50 per cent more expensive than existing base-load generation capacity. That means a local nuclear industry will need an unlikely large spike in the price of coal and gas or an equally brutal cost placed on carbon dioxide emissions. Neither is likely in the immediate future, but even if they were, no generator would seriously consider building a nuclear plant until the political risk had diminished. A lot.

Indeed, recent experience suggests mainstream Australia's naivety when it comes to nuclear energy makes fertile ground for a localised fear campaign, particularly over the thorny issue of where nuclear plants would be located. In July, left-wing think tank the Australia Institute mischievously issued a list of potential sites across the country, mostly picturesque seaside towns 100km or so from the big mainland cities. Media dutifully took the bait, interviewing fearful local residents who, unsurprisingly, were strongly opposed to a nuclear power plant in their back yard.

Despite these political risks, Howard obviously sees an upside in driving a nuclear debate in Australia. The debate on climate change has moved faster than even a veteran political strategist such as he could have predicted. Given his lack of any serious policy blueprint in response, promoting nuclear energy as a low-emissions technology creates the impression of a strategy, even if it is impractical in the short or medium term.

When it comes to wedge politics, there are few issues as good as nuclear energy for its ability to polarise and marginalise those on the Left, which includes some environmental groups. The environmental Left remains dogmatically opposed to nuclear energy and its perceived relationship to nuclear weapons. For these groups, no nukes is more than just a policy decision, it's a belief. Greenpeace, the first and most celebrated of these groups, was forged in the crucible of the anti-nuclear testing and anti-Vietnam war movement in 1971.

In May, former BP executive and now Australian head of the World Wildlife Fund Greg Bourne accepted the reality that Australia was a uranium exporting country. He didn't endorse it, just acknowledged its reality. That was enough to elicit a withering response from fellow non-government organisations. Wilderness Society campaign director Alec Marr told Bourne to go "back to industry where he came from".

Climate change may have been put on the radar by environmentalists but they are victims of their own success. They ignited a broad debate, but the extensive resources of government and business have taken over most of the discussion. Business leaders are more practical and less ideological than the green movement. Their position is simple: any technology that can deliver sustained growth in energy supply and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at a bearable cost is in the mix of possible solutions. In the stable of solutions on offer there are promising yearlings such as carbon capture and storage, wind, solar thermal and hot rocks. But so far there are few real starters. For most countries without Australia's cheap energy sources, nuclear power bears closer consideration. Reflecting this, uranium demand is tipped to double by 2020.

A recent CSIRO survey found 93 per cent of Australians think climate change is a serious issue. As with other complex and global problems, they expect governments to fix it. Howard is betting they don't go to bed at night worrying about the risks of nuclear energy and he's probably right. Mainstream Australia, like business, is likely to be more than happy to accept compromises that sustain their quality of life while fixing one of the biggest challenges on the planet.

If he is right, the environmental Left will find itself isolated in its own debate, trapped in a Cold War-style dogma that ignores changes in technology and attitudes. The cracks are already appearing. While the main environmental Left groups are locked into non-negotiable opposition, individuals are not. Two years ago British environmentalist James Lovelock was the first headline act to back nuclear energy as a serious solution to climate change. Last year it was departing NSW premier Bob Carr. This year it was scientist Tim Flannery.

Labor is having headaches with its policy of no new uranium mines, with Opposition Leader Kim Beazley out on a limb in flagging a desperately needed review of that position at next year's federal convention. This week, unions gagged this month's ACTU congress from debating the ban. "We've already got a policy from 1979 opposing uranium mining and my straw poll of the union movement has detected no great desire to revisit it," ACTU chief Greg Combet says.

It speaks volumes about how hamstrung Labor is that Beazley's best shot in reply to the Government's support for nuclear energy is to back solar energy. "Solar Not Nuclear" may have made a sassy bumper sticker in the 1980s, but it makes lousy environmental policy in the noughties. Today's photovoltaic technology is about 10 times more expensive than conventional energy, while the best guesses on emerging technologies such as solar hybrid and solar thermal are about three to four times. Few see solar as anything but a bit player in the short to medium term.

Howard's other objective is more strategic: to reposition nuclear fuel in the minds of Australians as environmentally friendly. The Wilderness Society's Marr says Howard is positioning the debate to make it easier to promote Australia's more likely involvement in the technology - uranium mines, enrichment and even waste storage - after the Prime Minister's taskforce reports next month.

The green movement has a dilemma. It says climate change is the most pressing problem facing the planet, but it is prepared to accept only a narrow set of solutions. It is dealing itself out of the policy-making process.


Thursday, October 26, 2006


Australians travelling to the US can breathe easy. So can the 100,000 or so Australian expatriates living in America. The US Government today dismissed media reports it had banned Vegemite. "There is no ban on Vegemite," US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesman Mike Herndon said.

Media reports at the weekend claimed American border officials were confiscating Vegemite from Australians as they entered the US. The FDA, charged with policing America's food supply, has not issued an "import alert" to border officials to halt the import of Vegemite. Mr Herndon said the FDA was surprised by the media reports.

The controversy centres on folate, an ingredient in Vegemite. Under US regulations, folate can be added only to breads and cereals. "One of the Vitamin B components (in Vegemite) is folate," Mr Herndon said. "In and of itself, it's not a violation. If they're adding folate to it, boosting it up, technically it would be a violation. "But the FDA has not targeted it and I don't think we intend to target Vegemite simply because of that."

Joanna Scott, spokesperson for Vegemite's maker, Kraft, reportedly has said, "The Food and Drug Administration doesn't allow the import of Vegemite simply because the recipe does have the addition of folic acid". But Mr Herndon said, "Nobody at the FDA has told them (Kraft) there is a ban". To eradicate any grey areas or potential regulation breaches, Mr Herndon said, Kraft could petition the FDA, something other food manufacturers have done.

While many Aussies living in the US rely on visiting Australian relatives and friends to bring them a jar or two of Vegemite from Australia, the product is available in some US supermarkets. The price slapped on Vegemite, however, is tough to swallow. A tiny, four ounce jar of Vegemite sells for around $US4.80 ($6.33) in US supermarkets.


Long wait for a little girl in pain

A 10-Year-old girl with chronic tonsilitis has been told she has to wait more than a year for surgery to relieve her constant pain. Bindy Fuller, of Warren in central western NSW, is in pain and requires constant medication. Her mother, Karon Fuller, said today that when she heard the NSW government claim there were only 50 people waiting longer than a year for surgery, she was hopeful her daughter would not have to wait long for her tonsils to be removed.

But after contacting Dubbo Base Hospital in May, Mrs Fuller said she had since been told Bindy would have to wait until November 2007.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the operation would only take 30 minutes. "Here's a little girl who has suffered tonsilitis all her life and has now been told she has to wait to November 2007 to have treatment," Ms Skinner said. "I can only imagine how difficult it is for a mum, hearing a premier boasting about few people waiting for surgery, to be told that you now have to wait longer than ever."

A spokesman for NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos said it was unlikely Bindy would have to wait until November next year for surgery. He said she had been assessed as a category three patient and would therefore be scheduled for surgery within 12 months. This meant she was not due to receive surgery until May 2007 and it was unlikely the hospital would contact her before January.


Ignore the doomsday prophets

Environmental alarmist Paul Ehrlich has been wrong before and he'll be wrong again, writes economics editor Alan Wood

Australia's Treasurer has made it on to the cover and into the pages of a journal in which the world's finance ministers rarely, if ever, feature. Peter Costello loves to say demography is destiny, and it was demography that did the trick. It was Costello urging families to have "one for Australia" that made the cover of New Scientist and it is environmentalist Paul Ehrlich he has to thank. Ehrlich is well known to demographers and economists for his spectacularly wrong predictions on world population growth and its consequences, including famine, economic catastrophe and the end of industrial society.

Some of the most spectacular were in his 1968 book The Population Bomb. As it happens, the book was the result of an article Ehrlich wrote for New Scientist in 1967. Now he is back again, undaunted, with another article, written with his wife Anne.

Before we get to this, it is worth recalling a few Ehrlich gems. Perhaps most often quoted is this one from The Population Bomb: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." In fact, the final quarter of the 20th century was more remarkable for the increase in food production from the Green Revolution and the reduction in famine deaths and poverty.

Another prediction was that the US would see life expectancy drop to 42 years by 1990 due to pesticide usage, and its population fall to 22.6 million by 1999. According to the US Census Bureau, life expectancy in the US in 2005 was 77.7 years and, as of yesterday, its population was 300 million and growing.

In 1969 he was prepared to take an even-money bet that England would not exist in 2000. He regularly said population growth would overtake the world's food supplies and mineral resources. Economic growth is another scourge of humanity. "We already have too much economic growth in the US," he said in the late '80s. "Economic growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure."

So has Ehrlich changed his tune in his recent New Scientist article? Not much. He is now taking world governments to task for their concern with population ageing and shrinking populations, and their measures to try to slow or reverse these trends. Which is where Costello comes in. Not only has he instigated a baby bonus of "almost 900 pounds sterling" (actually nearly twice that), he has urged young women to have one child for themselves, one for their husband and one for Australia.

Ehrlich doesn't approve of this at all: "If civilisation is to persist on our finite planet, impending resource shortages and the mounting environmental costs of overpopulation make it imperative that we gradually and humanely reduce our numbers." He thinks the planet's optimal human population is about two billion, "an excellent and achievable target to aim for over the long term". As of yesterday, the population of the world was 6.55 billion and, according to the US Census Bureau, will reach nine billion in 2042, although its rate of growth is declining sharply.

Ehrlich sounds his usual warning about the evils of consumption: if the developing countries follow the evil ways of the West we will need at least two more Earths to cope. "Despite the challenges, we see population shrinkage in the industrial nations as a hugely positive trend. It is, after all, the high-consuming rich in these regions who disproportionately damage humanity's life support systems and wield their economic and military power to keep their resource demands satisfied, without regard to the costs for the world's poor and to future generations. The more people there are, the more climate change humanity will face, with a concomitant loss of biodiversity and the crucial ecosystem services it helps provide."

At least Ehrlich is consistent: consistently wrong. One of his most trenchant and effective critics was US economist Julian Simon, who said of Ehrlich and his supporters: "As soon as one predicted disaster doesn't occur, the doomsayers skip to another ... why don't they see that, in the aggregate, things are getting better? Why do they always think we're at a turning point or at the end of the road?"

The point isn't that there are no limits but that there is no reason to believe we are anywhere near them. And there is ample evidence that the economic growth and prosperity Ehrlich rails against are the preconditions for successful environmental action. In his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg demonstrated, using reputable international data sources, that things are generally getting better over a wide range of environmental indicators. Predictably, Ehrlich was one of the gang of four environmental zealots recruited to launch a vindictive but unsuccessful attack on Lomborg in Scientific American. Instead the magazine seriously damaged its own reputation when it attempted to suppress publication of an annotated reply to the articles by Lomborg on his website.

There is a wider moral to this tale. Ehrlich has jumped on the global warming bandwagon, a fertile field for serial doomsayers. When you see he has been joined by a Washington snake oil salesman such as Al Gore, it seems a pretty good reason to be cautious about accepting uncritically their greenhouse scaremongering. Global warming is taking place, but how fast it will proceed, what its causes and consequences are, and what can, or should, be done to attempt to mitigate it are still matters of legitimate debate, not the subject of a phony scientific consensus.


"Ethnic" public broadcaster under scrutiny

Key Howard loyalists are set to launch a scathing attack on multicultural broadcaster SBS and force it to answer accusations of blatant left-wing bias. Influential Victorian Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson will lead the assault on SBS and its executives at a special Senate estimates hearing next week. He is expected to be joined by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Senator Alan Eggleston.

Senator Ronaldson, a key player in the Howard Government's long campaign against perceived political bias at the ABC, told The Sunday Age that SBS was "out of control" and needed to be reined in. "I am very concerned about SBS's impartiality and balance."

Just days after the ABC announced new program guidelines enforcing impartiality, Senator Ronaldson said SBS, which receives about $160 million a year from taxpayers, had a lot to learn from Australia's other national broadcaster. "The network has slipped under the radar and compared to the directions that the ABC now seems to be taking, SBS are out on their own," he said. Senator Ronaldson said he had compiled a dossier of numerous examples of political bias in both its domestic and international news coverage. "There are just so many clear examples of inappropriate political bias, which is OK as long as the robustness falls within clear guidelines. The problem is, it doesn't. "Now, in relation to the ABC, no one is looking for a sanitised national broadcaster. What we wanted was a broadcaster that, when it said its core values were impartiality and balance, actually met those core values."

He singled out SBS's coverage of the recent Hezbollah-Israel conflict as one of the most appalling examples of biased reporting he had ever seen. "Their commentary on international events, particularly the conflict between Lebanon and Israel, just displayed a clear lack of impartiality and completely lacked any balance whatsoever," Senator Ronaldson said. "I have also heard a lot of complaints that they have strayed from their charter as a multilingual, multicultural national broadcaster."

The SBS charter states that the broadcaster must "contribute to extending the range of Australian television and radio services, and reflect the changing nature of Australian society by presenting many points of view and using innovative forms of expression". Senator Ronaldson is a staunch ally of Treasurer Peter Costello and has been a passionate friend of Israel


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Appalling threat to families

NSW DOCS would have to be one of the world's worst and most negligent "child protection" agencies. To give them more power is incomprehensible

Australia will have the world's first laws shielding children in danger from bad parents, taking the unprecedented step of removing the need for court orders in some cases. The blitz on poor parenting will allow New South Wales Department of Community Services officers to sidestep the courts and automatically remove children from a home if there is a history of harm or neglect. The onus will now be reversed and placed on parents who have already had a child taken into custody to plead their case before a court as to why any other children should also be left in their care.

The only other jurisdiction to consider such radical measures is the UK. However the UK is still only considering the idea and may use NSW as a model. The Daily Telegraph can reveal the amendment Bill was approved by Cabinet late yesterday afternoon after being brought to the table by Community Services Minister Reba Meagher. It will be introduced into Parliament tonight. The new laws will address the often-debated logic of allowing parents who have already had a child taken into state custody to retain care of the child's siblings.

The changes were prompted by the possibly preventable deaths last year of nine children who had been left in parental care despite a sibling being placed under state protection because they were deemed in danger. The alarming statistics are contained in an internal DOCS working document within the Child Death and Critical Report Unit from 2005.

Two weeks ago it was revealed that a five-month-old baby had died in 2003 after his mother deliberately gave him methadone. The child's older brother had died under similar circumstances. Despite this, the coroner only ordered that any future children should be drug tested. Now the onus will now be placed on poor parents who have previously lost custody of a child to prove in the Children's Court why they should be allowed to have any children in their care at all. It will remove the need for DOCS to keep going back to the court and applying for child protection orders for every sibling. The new rules will also apply when a person has been identified by the coroner or police in connection with a child death.

Premier Morris Iemma said the laws were necessary to better protect children. "These changes mean that a risk to one child will be considered a risk to all children living under the same roof," he said. "It will also ensure that protection is extended when a new child comes along. "We're turning the tables on bad parents who have previously had their children removed and pose a risk of harm - it will now be up to them to prove they should keep their kids. "The truth is some parents are indifferent to the welfare of their children."

NSW Council for Social Services executive director Michelle Burrell said any such "scooping" mechanism would need close scrutiny.


Attack on conservative broadcaster is blatant homophobia

You can imagine the howls of outrage if a conservative columnist "outed" a prominent leftist media identity!

To speculate on lies, to peddle gossip, purely because the figure in question is a homosexual and an effective conservative one, is simple rubbish writing and muckraking, writes John Heard. Alan Jones is a homosexual. Michael Kirby is a homosexual. Sadly, both men have been targeted for vilification purely because they are attracted to their sex. In Kirby's case, it was the Left who accused the Right of homophobia following baseless allegations by Liberal senator Bill Heffernan in 2002. In Jones's case, which has come to light in a new book by the ABC's Chris Masters, the Right must accuse the Left. I know Kirby on a personal level but I've never had anything to do with Jones. It makes no difference. This situation is outrageous enough to warrant a disinterested critique.

Jones has been targeted because of a heresy dear to many on what remains of the Left. Homosexuals should not be conservatives and, if they are, they must be repressed, in denial or self-hating hypocrites. This creed, because those who profess it seem to consider it a fundamental truth, pervades public discussion of politics, religion, social justice and sport. Gay Catholics, for instance, who dare to think their Pope may know more about human flourishing than the homo-activists who act as apologists for the apparently liberated gay community must be full of hatred for themselves and those like them. There is no way, the heresy teaches, that they could be discerning individuals who are simply sick of the rot.

Similarly, gay citizens who admire John Howard, think Thatcherism did more good for the poor in Britain than many socialist ideas and are committed to free enterprise, libertarianism and social cohesion must be ingrates. How can they deny that it was Stonewall and the Left who bought their liberation from conservative social mores?

If operators on the Left had to choose a hero from the homosexuals in Australian public life, other than Kirby, who probably deserves the accolade, he would be of the John Marsden variety: brash, apparently unrepentant and lined up against the narrowness and bitterness of a life lived in the closet. And it is all nonsense. I am no fan of lies and dishonesty. A man should stand up for himself; he mustn't be afraid to list his weaknesses alongside his strengths and demand the world keep both in mind while judging him. But there is no compulsion, no sense of decency or rigour that obligates a public figure to discuss his sexuality in a particular manner or at all.

Masters's silly book reads like the worst sort of Victorian scandal sheet. One is surprised the text isn't subtitled: Exposing a Sodomite. Contra Masters, Jones's ancient arrest in London by the somewhat homophobic British police after they suspected him of public indecency does not constitute a sex scandal. Publishing details of the same, details that reveal Jones was cleared of all charges and the police were embarrassed in their ridiculous game of entrapment, while still insisting it was a sex scandal is irresponsible, if not potentially defamatory.

By making a mealy-mouthed concession - "it is not, nor should it be, a crime to be homosexual... it is not a sin to have your penis out in a public toilet", as if Masters were some sort of arbiter of what homosexuals are allowed to do - only to follow it up with a line such as, "but having easily defeated the criminal charges, Jones sought to defeat common sense as well, by asking the rest of the world to join him in his denial", Masters demonstrates the hatred, the homophobia that seethes beneath the otherwise politically correct exterior of the modern Left. Sure, they seem to like homosexuals, but only if we walk and talk, live and lie, in the manner that the Left prefers.

Am I going too far? Absolutely not and the proof is in the extracts published in the Fairfax press last weekend. Masters repeatedly suggests, at least as much as he can without leaving himself open to legal proceedings, that Jones is possibly a pedophile, thinking nothing of the damage caused to Jones or the lies that he perpetuates by linking such a high-profile discussion of homosexuality, once again, with that old canard, the predatory homosexual intent on kiddy fiddling. That he could corrupt what sounds like the earnest, chaste and otherwise successful bond between a dedicated teacher and football coach with his young male charges into the filthiest kind of homophobic slur - Jones couldn't have been motivated by anything high-minded; he must have been thinking with his penis - only reiterates the point. The Left doesn't care about homosexuals unless we vote as we are told.

The sheer arrogance of the attempt, the total lack of respect for another human being, his privacy or the plight of his brother homosexuals, is extraordinary. That The Sydney Morning Herald's David Marr - another homosexual - could go on The Insiders on the ABC and defend his involvement in this nasty business only proves the power of the deception on display. Such, at best, momentary abdications of common sense and humanity can stem only from a dissonance and the heresy: Jones is the perfect target and fair game.

How else to interpret passages that describe Jones as "resplendent in flared trousers and an orange cravat" singing a song from a "West End musical" (of all things! You can almost hear Masters sneer) before a "flabbergasted" King's School crowd? The homophobia in such passages veritably oozes. Not only is Jones fair game but he must be outed, humiliated and exposed for the dirty liar he is, the moral degenerate Masters and his mates obviously think Jones to be. It is their duty. It should be their great shame. I don't care what Jones did or didn't do in a bathroom in London all those years ago. I don't even care if he was an overbearing or demanding English teacher or football coach.

I do care if there was any wrongdoing - and Masters has no proof but repeats the rumours regardless - but an investigation would no doubt have locked up Jones. No such thing has occurred. To speculate on lies, to peddle gossip and innuendo, purely because the figure in question is a homosexual and - perhaps worse in the politics-blinded eyes of Masters, Marr and others - an effective conservative one, is simple rubbish writing and muckraking. It amounts to hate speech.

For too long, same-sex-attracted men have lived in ridiculous fear. We have been scared of blackmail. We have had to worry whether our best efforts will be interpreted in the worst possible light. We have been pursued unjustly by police and a legal system that criminalised a love that still dare not speak its name for fear of reprisals and retribution. This is just the kind of nonsense Masters and others have managed to bring once again to the pages of Australian newspapers and discuss in scandal-chasing books. The angle has changed but the methods of oppression are the same.

Anyone involved with this outing of Jones, any man who puts his name to or any paper that publishes extracts from the kind of sensationalist nonsense Masters is trying to sell, is not progressive or liberated. They are more like the ninth Marquess of Queensberry, he of the boxing rules and the "somdomite" misspelling and notorious slander case that put Oscar Wilde behind bars. He is certainly no friend to homosexuals. Even Marsden paid Cardinal George Pell and the priests of the Archdiocese of Sydney to say masses for the salvation of his apparently unrepentant soul. If they must take Marsden as a paragon, let the Left imitate him at least in that final humility and ask forgiveness for this latest expression of an old hatred.


History teaching replaced by lying propaganda

A federal Government senator is demanding the withdrawal of a school library book which paints his political hero and Australia's longest-serving prime minister as a tyrant. Sir Robert Menzies is listed alongside the likes of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, Cambodian ruler Pol Pot and the deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the children's reference book 100 Greatest Tyrants, which is used by students at a Mount Isa high school. Senator George Brandis has slammed the book, by British author Andrew Langley, describing it as offensive and inappropriate for history studies in any Australian school.

"Of course it's absurd," Senator Brandis said. "It introduces students to the notion that there is a kind of moral equivalence between some of the most evil men in the history of the world and an Australian political leader who has been a beacon of liberal democracy."

The book, published a decade ago, lists Menzies among 100 so-called tyrants, right after the notorious Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong. Also listed are ruthless conqueror Genghis Khan, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and Chilean ruler Augusto Pinochet. The 110-page volume is part of the library collection at Mount Isa's Good Shepherd Catholic College, where even the school's principal Bernard Durie has admitted the book is flawed. "Obviously it's twaddle to suggest Menzies was a tyrant in the same class as Attila the Hun and that crowd," Mr Durie said. But he has refused to remove the book from the library, describing it as a useful resource for generating debate and critical thinking skills among students.

The Queensland Teachers' Union has backed the school's decision, accusing Senator Brandis of stepping over the line by calling for the book to be withdrawn. "I think that what he's on about is a dangerous censorship practice," said Lesley McFarlane, the union's assistant secretary for research. "I thought the days of burning books were gone."


Gun buyback has no effect on murder rate

A $500 million guess goes wrong

Half a billion dollars spent buying back hundreds of thousands of guns after the Port Arthur massacre had no effect on the homicide rate, says a study published in an influential British journal. The report by two Australian academics, published in the British Journal of Criminology, said statistics gathered in the decade since Port Arthur showed gun deaths had been declining well before 1996 and the buyback of more than 600,000 mainly semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns had made no difference in the rate of decline.

The only area where the package of Commonwealth and State laws, known as the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) may have had some impact was on the rate of suicide, but the study said the evidence was not clear and any reductions attributable to the new gun rules were slight. "Homicide patterns (firearm and non-firearm) were not influenced by the NFA, the conclusion being that the gun buyback and restrictive legislative changes had no influence on firearm homicide in Australia," the study says.

In his first year in office, the Prime Minister, John Howard, forced through some of the world's toughest gun laws, including the national buyback scheme, after Martin Bryant used semi-automatic rifles to shoot dead 35 people at Port Arthur. Although furious licensed gun-owners said the laws would have no impact because criminals would not hand in their guns, Mr Howard and others predicted the removal of so many guns from the community, and new laws making it harder to buy and keep guns, would lead to a reduction in all types of gun-related deaths.

One of the authors of the study, Jeanine Baker, said she knew in 1996 it would be impossible for years to know whether the Prime Minister or the shooters were right. "I have been collecting data since 1996 . The decision was we would wait for a decade and then evaluate," she said. The findings were clear, she said: "The policy has made no difference. There was a trend of declining deaths that has continued." Dr Baker and her co-author, Samara McPhedran, declared their membership of gun groups in the article, something Dr Baker said they had done deliberately to make clear "who we are" and head off any possible criticism that they had hidden relevant details. The significance of the article was not who had written it but the fact it had been published in a respected journal after the regular rigorous process of being peer reviewed, she said.

Politicians had assumed tighter gun laws would cut off the supply of guns to would-be criminals and that homicide rates would fall as a result, the study said. But more than 90 per cent of firearms used to commit homicide were not registered, their users were not licensed and they had been unaffected by the firearms agreement. Dr Baker said many more lives would have been saved had the Government spent the $500 million on mental health or other programs rather than on destroying semi-automatic weapons. She believed semi-automatic rifles should be available to shooters, although with tight restrictions such as those in place in New Zealand.

The director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, Dr Don Weatherburn, said he was not surprised by the study. He said it showed "politicians would be well advised to claim success of their policies after they were evaluated, not before".


Tuesday, October 24, 2006


There was previously here a letter regarding La Trobe University from James McConvill. The post has been deleted at the request of the author. Dr. McConvill was until August 2006 a senior lecturer in law at La Trobe University Law School. There is another article by him on my "Of Interest" site

Foreign doctors bypass skills tests as shortages grow

Thousands of overseas-trained doctors are working in Australia without undergoing standard competency checks despite pledges of a shake-up in the wake of the Jayant Patel case in Queensland, new research has found. The number of unchecked doctors from non-Western countries is likely to rise because shortages are increasing dependence on foreign recruits, but there is no immediate prospect of a nationally agreed check on their skills, the research concludes. More than 3000 overseas doctors are granted work visas each year, but many are not required to have their knowledge and clinical skills formally assessed because of pressure to fill vacancies in many hospitals and country towns, the researchers Bob Birrell and Andrew Schwartz say.

Promises by health authorities of a tougher regime for overseas recruits have had "little effect on levels of recruitment of overseas-trained doctors, or on the way in which they were assessed", say Professor Birrell, a leading medical workforce analyst, and Mr Schwartz, president of the Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association. Their research appears in Monash University's People and Place journal, published today.

In a separate development, the Australian Medical Association has asked the Federal Government to tighten assessment requirements for overseas doctors if states and territories are not able to agree on a national scheme.

The research finds that not only do many imported doctors bypass Australian assessment authorities because of provisional postings and acceptance by state medical boards of their employers' assurances, but also that many who do sit exams fail. The proportion of overseas general practitioner candidates initially deemed eligible to practice who passed their Australian exams had dropped from 61 per cent in 1999 to 40 per cent in 2004, figures supplied by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners to the researchers said.

Professor Birrell and Mr Schwartz say the scale of the dependence on overseas doctors is shown by the number of occupational trainee doctors granted work visas. In 2004-05, there were 1400 registered in NSW alone, about a third from Britain and another third from Asian countries. The researchers say a national assessment scheme for overseas doctors has been proposed since the early 1990s but has foundered on the states' insistence on being able to bypass requirements to fill vacancies "in the public interest". In the wake of the Patel scandal, the state and federal governments had agreed to establish a national scheme by December, but there was "no immediate prospect" of a scheme coming into effect.

A spokeswoman for the federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, said a "fully developed proposal" on national accreditation was expected by December and this would be "ready for further discussion and endorsement between the states and Commonwealth".

The researchers say there has been no outcry from Australia's medical profession, even though many medical authorities "care deeply about the situation". "Their silence partly reflects worries about doctor shortages and partly a reluctance to comment for fear that they will be regarded as feathering their own nest." But the scale of the shortage and the limited supply of British doctors "means that there will be increasing dependence on overseas-trained doctors drawn from non-Western medical settings", the researchers say.


Army chief listens to his troops

There is a long tradition of Australian army generals caring about their troops -- going back at least to General Monash in WWI and also recently seen in the immensely popular General Cosgrove

The head of the Australian Army has personally intervened to stop bureaucrats blocking soldiers' access to an unofficial website where they can vent their anger and concerns about military life. Army chief General Peter Leahy is fighting Defence Department officials for the right of military whistleblowers to complain about poor conditions and shoddy equipment.

Defence technical officers suddenly blocked all Defence Department computers from the website, called Fire Support Base. General Leahy, who was reading the website at the time, immediately stepped in and ordered the ban be lifted. He stunned website members by posting a message under his own name explaining he had not ordered the ban, that it had been a decision of "the geek system" and he had ordered that access be restored.

The website has served for more than a year as an underground forum for military personnel to discuss grievances about equipment and controversial issues. There are about 600 members of http://www.firesupportbase.com. They have to give their real names to join, but post online using nicknames. Members were shocked to find that the head of the army was also a member and had been quietly reading their gripes. General Leahy posted under his real name without mentioning his rank. "I have been working my way through the sites over the last few weeks and have found them very informative and in most instances constructive and useful," he wrote after members complained they had been locked out. "I have certainly not ordered the geeks to block access. My ego is not bruised, I have actually learned a lot. I will try and find out tomorrow what is going on and if the site has been banned I will ask to have access restored immediately. Peter Leahy."

The response was immediate. "Is this for real ?" asked Ballistician. "I find it hard to believe he would look at what we yobbos have to say!" General Leahy wrote back: "Yes it is me. With regard to the site being barred, I have asked some questions this morning. From what I can see the geek system has barred the site themselves. I have asked why and at the same time requested that the site be restored. Peter Leahy." The website manager, a former soldier who did not want to be named, told The Sun-Herald General Leahy joined the site two months ago, but this was the first time he had posted a message.


Howard demands that black neighbouring countries lift their game

Prime Minister John Howard has restated his belief that neighbouring countries which receive large amounts of Australian aid must respond by improving the standard of governance in their countries. After diplomatic confrontations with both the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in recent weeks, Mr Howard said he expected an "interesting" meeting with the countries' leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji this week. Australia has banned ministerial visits from PNG following the flight of wanted Solomons Attorney-General Julian Moti from the country back to the Solomons.

But Mr Howard denied his Government had taken a tougher stand than in the past. "It's not a question of being tougher this time," he told ABC radio. "What is happening is the Australian Government is insisting that in response to the large amounts of aid we are providing, there is a lift in standards of governance and economic performance, and we'll continue to do that. "The events surrounding Mr Moti are of course quite unusual and his circumstances of his leaving Papua New Guinea and going to the Solomon Islands were unusual. "I'll leave it at that. But the real issue there is allowing the law to take its course."

Mr Howard said the Australian Government was not prosecuting Mr Moti - the Government was merely allowing the laws of Australia to operate. "I don't intend to stand in the way of the Australian Federal Police in enforcing the laws of Australia," he said. "This man is wanted to answer criminal charges. It's not right for the Australian Government to negotiate somebody's liability under the criminal law and we won't be doing that."

Mr Howard said the continuation of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was in the interests of the Solomons people. "It may not be in the interests from time to time of some politicians in the Solomon Islands, but it is clearly in the interests of the people of the Solomon Islands and that's why we support it," he said. "RAMSI has been a wonderful lifeline to the people of the Solomon Islands and they would be the poorer if RAMSI disappears."


Monday, October 23, 2006

Australia's national sandwich-spread now banned in the USA

The fact that generations of Australians have grown up on it does not matter to America's food-freaks. And note what the "illegal" ingredient is: A vitamin!

The United States has slapped a ban on Vegemite, outraging Australian expatriates there. The bizarre crackdown was prompted because Vegemite contains folate, which in the US can be added only to breads and cereals.

Expatriates say that enforcement of the ban has been stepped up recently and is ruining lifelong traditions of having Vegemite on toast for breakfast. Former Geelong man Daniel Fogarty, who now lives in Calgary, Canada, said he was stunned when searched while crossing the US border recently. "The border guard asked us if we were carrying any Vegemite," Mr Fogarty said. "I was flabbergasted." Paul Watkins, who owns a store called About Australia in San Antonio, Texas, said he had been forced to stop importing Vegemite six months ago. "We have completely stopped bringing it in," he said. "(US authorities) have made a stance and there is nothing that can be done about it."


Greenies condemn trees!

We can't have renewable resources, can we?

Billions of litres of water are being sucked out of the badly needed supplies of Victorian towns to feed an increasing number of vast tree plantations that have been branded "out of control". Massive areas of Victorian bush and farmland have been transformed by uniform tracts of pine and blue gum plantation that have a damaging environmental effect on the state's natural water catchments.

Now, with Victoria suffering its worst drought ever, federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran has called for tighter controls on the commercial operators of the plantations, most of which are used for woodchips and paper. He wants to see plantation owners charged for the water they use by purchasing water entitlements similar to those used in irrigation systems. His call comes as environmentalists and conservative rural communities join forces to fight further expansion of the softwood and hardwood plantations, which have federal and state government backing.

Uncontrolled expansion of pine and blue gum monocultures is estimated to have depleted the supplies of up to 130 towns and regional cities. Affected towns include Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, some parts of western Melbourne and smaller towns in the north-east, central highlands, Gippsland and the Otways. For Victorian Farmers Federation Gippsland water utility chairman Rob Grant, plantations are acting like "thieves that can pickpocket without being seen" because of their ability to trap surface water and soak up groundwater before it reaches rivers and tributaries. "Our sustainable production should be looked at holistically," he said.

Gippsland East MP Craig Ingram said no issue caused more anger in his electorate than people getting "plantations in their backyards". "What I have tried to get the Government to do is to acknowledge the problem," he said. "The problem with governments is they are locked into plantation strategies."

CSIRO research has found that in an 800millimetre annual rainfall zone, conversion from annual pastures to trees resulted in water loss of 1.5 million litres a year for each hectare planted. Almost 400,000 hectares are now covered with plantations with the area expected to treble in the next 15 years. Federal parliamentary secretary for water Malcolm Turnbull has suggested cutting down trees as a way of restoring flows in some catchments.

But the impact on water supplies is just one area of concern for local communities and environmentalists. Private companies and managed investment schemes - which can attract investors by offering lucrative tax breaks - are accused of artificially inflating the prices of rural properties with aggressive acquisitions. There also is concern about increased fire risk from densely planted blue gums and aerial spraying of pesticides to kill natural vegetation regrowth and insects.

Friends of the Earth water expert Anthony Amis said aerial pesticide spraying had led to contamination of domestic drink water supplies in tanks, rivers and reservoirs. Mr Amis was instrumental in exposing the contamination of Geelong's water supply over an 18-month period from 2004 with the herbicide hexazinone from a pine plantation 50 kilometres upstream. However, none of Victoria's urban or regional water authorities, catchment management authorities or the Environmental Protection Agency test for the herbicides and pesticides used in plantations. "We would like to see (the plantations) retired out of these domestic water supplies," Mr Amis said.

State and federal governments continue to promote private forestry in water catchments as an environmentally sustainable solution to logging in old-growth forests and natural reserves. More than 6 million hectares of privately owned farmland in catchment areas has been identified by the Department of Primary Industry as suitable for forestry. The department has suggested how much companies might be expected to pay local farmers for their properties.

Local and offshore businesses with established plantations in catchments include Australian paper manufacturer PaperlinX, Australian Newsprint Mill, managed investment schemes such as Timbercorp, Macquarie Bank and Great Southern Pty Ltd, an American insurance conglomerate operating as Hancock Plantations and Japan's largest comic book publisher, whose plantations are managed by Midway. A spokesman for Victorian Water Minister John Thwaites declined to discuss the impact of timber harvesting in the state forests that supply water to Melbourne.


Victorian government connives at continued police corruption

Despite strong evidence that corruption in the Victorian police goes well beyond five bent drug squad cops - including deep into the murderous gangland war - the state will not get a royal commission to clean out the force. Just weeks before the state election and with the powerful police union circling, neither the Bracks Government nor the Liberal Opposition is countenancing an official inquiry to flush out more crooked police. With the Government and the police hierarchy insisting that corruption is in hand and exists only in pockets, the Opposition has now also stepped back from its push just two years ago for a royal commission.

Yet, despite various convictions of mid- to high-ranking officers, nobody in management has ever been held accountable. And exhausted members of the Ceja Taskforce openly say they were only ever given the resources to fully investigate priority cases, leaving many other allegations against police untested. Former internal affairs investigator Simon Illingworth, who quit the force in 2004 after enduring threats and intimidation, says force command is not interested in cleaning out Victoria's police force and is disappointed that the state Opposition has lost its will. "Both the Government and force command want to say they've got a clean force without really taking the steps to insure that they really do have a clean police force," Mr Illingworth said. "Of course, this goes up the tree further than those that have been charged. If you accepted the pay for a supervisory position, then you have a duty to carry it out. What were the managers doing?"

While the jailing of a senior drug squad detective Wayne Geoffrey Strawhorn brought corruption to a head this week, the issue has been boiling for years and largely ignored by a sceptical Melbourne media reluctant to think the worst of the state police force. In the past five years, there have been at least two double murders tainted by the possible involvement of corrupt police, the closure of the drug and armed robbery squads amid reports of appalling behaviour, and a raft of police charged. As well, internal affairs investigators have been subjected to threats and left hung out dry, with some struggling to return to normal duties.

After asserting that the corruption was an isolated problem, the state Government, cowed by the Police Association, baulked at a royal commission but was finally forced to establish the Office of Police Integrity, an arm of the Ombudsman's office, in November 2004. But those investigating corruption say the OPI is not enough. Detective Sergeant Bill Patten, who spoke out in the Melbourne media yesterday, said up to two dozen officers had escaped sanction or prosecutions. He has already been contacted by command to ask who else he had spoken to, and to offer him belated counselling, as command goes into damage control.

Although Christine Nixon can claim credit for moving against errant members, the full extent of the police force's corruption may never be known. With internal polling showing the corruption issue has failed to gain traction in Victoria, the Bracks Government has also remained committed to the status quo. Despite this week's revelations, Premier Steve Bracks continues to claim the problem is being dealt with.


Another Victorian cop runs true to form

They PROTECT lawbreakers as often as they pursue them

Victoria police has launched an internal affairs investigation after learning an officer was at the centre of a vicious, racially motivated bashing of an orthodox Jew. A spokesman said Vicpol's Ethical Standards Department had launched the investigation after learning the officer was with a group of country footballers who bashed Menachem Vorchheimer in Caulfield last Saturday as he was walking near his synagogue.

Mr Vorchheimer, who was given a black eye in the attack as he tried to protect two children aged six and three, said he was racially abused. He said the footballers yelled "F*** off Jews" and "Go the Nazis". The footballers also stole Mr Vorchheimer's hat, and punched him as passers-by attempted to help. "This is Melbourne. This shouldn't happen. They stole my religious items, which are very important to me. it was in front of my children," he said.

Mr Vorchheimer said he approached their bus driver, an off-duty police officer, to ask where they were from. "The driver never assaulted me or yelled any abuse but he wouldn't tell me where (the players) were from. I would have thought an officer of the law had a duty to behave in a more ethical manner," Mr Vorchheimer. Internal affairs have launched parallel investigations into the assault after learning the bus driver was an officer.

Mr Vorchheimer said the president of the Ocean Grove Football Club had offered an apology, but the players involved had yet to admit to racially or physically abusing him. "I bear no ill-will towards the club, but I would like an apology from the players concerned," he said. Ocean Grove Football Club president Michael Vines, who has offered an unconditional apology to Mr Vorchheimer, said the players involved faced expulsion from the club. The Islamic Council of Victoria and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry have also condemned the attack.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

That pesky global warming is making Australia's deserts green!

Unpredictable rainfall is normal in Australia but these days it is all due to "climate change"

If the rain is not falling in Sydney's catchments and throughout southern Australia, where has it gone? The answer, says the acting head of the Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre, David Jones, is north-west and Central Australia, where residents are finding climate change may have a wetter flipside.

Most dramatic is the desert outpost of Giles, which sits on the edge of the Tanami Desert near the junction of South Australia, Western Australian and the Northern Territory. In 50 years the remote weather station, home to five people, has seen its rainfall double - from a yearly average of about 150 millimetres to around 300.

If current trends continue, ecological changes will begin to follow - greener for the desert and the Kimberley, but browner for southern Australia. Because Giles is one of the driest spots in the continent, a doubling of rainfall has not yet had a visible impact, says the officer in charge of the weather station there, Michael McIlvenny. But Dr Peter Kendrick, Pilbara-based regional ecologist with the West Australian Department of Environment and Conservation, said doubling rainfall has a "huge impact" in such an ecosystem, given that desert fauna and flora are tuned to respond rapidly to episodic rainfall. Dr Jones says he already believes the extra rainfall in some other less arid areas has given agriculture and grazing a valuable buffer against degradation.

But in southern Australia, the colour of climate change seems to be brown. Dr Michael Raupach, a scientist with the CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research, and chairman of the Global Carbon Project, has recently made some frightening observations from satellite photography. He and his team have discovered large swathes of the continent are becoming visibly less green. "Depending on the area, we are finding parts of the continent that are more than 50 per cent less green," he said. "This means a browning of the continent. The trend started in the late 1990s and since then has been going on in a ratchet fashion, with jumps in browning occurring in drought years."

What makes this finding so alarming is that if the drought does not ease then the logical conclusion of the current trend is a massive death of vegetation, huge bushfires and the release of vast volumes of carbon, further feeding climate change. Normally, Dr Raupach said, forests have the chance to recover through flooding rains between droughts, but the low-rainfall conditions of the past decade have been relentless. While sporadic recovery of greenness occurred in places, nowhere has vegetation climbed back to what it normally would be between droughts. Worst affected seem to be south-west Western Australia and almost the entire Murray-Darling Basin, ecosystems, already fragile because of land degradation. "It's almost literally true that it keeps me awake at night," Dr Raupach said.

The weather bureau's Dr Jones says "superficially, the rainfall shift to the north-west of the continent doesn't make a lot of sense". This is because theoretically the entire nation has been in the grip of El Nino for much of the last decade. Perhaps the huge release of aerosols into the atmosphere by Asian nations could be a factor in the increased rain, he said. One thing that is certain is that the Australian climate has shifted dramatically in the past half century. In a vast band of the continent between the Nullarbor coast and the Kimberley there has been an average annual increase in rainfall of between 100 and 200 millimetres. "Around Broome and Wyndham, rainfall has increased by 300 millimetres - particularly in summer and autumn," Dr Jones said.

On the other hand, Sydney's annual rainfall has decreased by between 100 and 200 millimetres a year and in Mackay by as much as 300 millimetres a year compared to the 1950s. Weather systems known as north-west cloud bands used to travel across the continent from monsoonal troughs in the Kimberley, bringing the kind of rain to southern Australia which filled dams and caused floods. "In the last few years to a decade these north-west cloud bands have almost disappeared. The linkage to the tropics has broken down," Dr Jones said. "Since 1950, since global temperatures have increased along with aerosols and ozone, all of a sudden we have seen rainfall trends that are very distinct. "One would be naive to put these trends down to natural variations. They're very large and a number are consistent with what we see from climate change computer models."

The drying of southern Australia has attracted the most attention until now, he said. "What we are seeing in the rest of Australia is just as dramatic, it's just that it's positive. People don't seem to notice climate change when it's beneficial to humans." Dr Kendrick said with greater rainfall, vegetation would increase in arid areas. There would be changes in fauna. The desert mouse had extended its range from the central deserts to the west Pilbara, and camel numbers were increasing.


The long march back to honesty in the schools

No ideological agenda? Just who are the education unions kidding

Education Minister Julie Bishop's call for a national curriculum and her criticism of ideologues in the education bureaucracies met a predictable wave of outrage. "How dare she", cried the teachers unions and their friends. Concerns about curriculum being politically correct, the argument goes, are simply a ploy used by conservative governments to maintain power. Pat Byrne, the head of the Australian Education Union, reflected this view when she argued last year: "The challenge for us is to frame our position in a way that can successfully counter the culture war that is currently being fought ... This is not a good time to be progressive in Australia; or for that matter anywhere else in the world!"

Never mind students being made to deconstruct the classics in terms of "theory". Never mind Australian history being taught from a black-armband view. And never mind geography being redefined in terms of deep environmentalism and multiculturalism. The late 1960s and early '70s was not only about Woodstock and moratoriums. That period was also about the Left's decision, drawing on the works of Marxists Antonio Gramsci and Pierre Bourdieu, to take control of society by taking "the long march through the institutions".

Bourdieu argues that education is a powerful tool used by those more privileged in society to consolidate their position. Based on the concept of cultural capital, the argument is that there is nothing inherently worthwhile about academic studies or the Western tradition. The Left's belief that the education system is simply a tool used by the capitalist class to reproduce itself explains much of what has happened since the early '70s. The much-criticised Victorian Certificate of Education developed during the '80s was based on premier Joan Kirner's belief that schools must be transformed as "part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system".

Meanwhile, teacher education became controlled by activists such as Doug White, Bill Hannan, Bob Connell, Dean Ashenden, Simon Marginson and Allan Luke. In a textbook widely set for education courses entitled Making the Difference, the argument is put: "In the most basic sense, the process of education and the process of liberation are the same. At the beginning of the 1980s it is plain that the forces opposed to that growth (have) become increasingly militant. In such circumstances, education becomes a risky enterprise. Teachers, too, have to decide whose side they are on."

Many of those students radicalised during the '60s and '70s went on to become teachers and bureaucrats and they identify education as a key instrument in overturning the status quo. For many, such as the AEU, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English and the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, education was, and continues to be, a key instrument to change society. In 1998, ACSA published Going Public: Education Policy and Public Education in Australia, described by Alan Reid as a manifesto outlining the "political strategies that might be employed to protect and enhance the social democratic values that lie at the heart of progressive aspirations about public education".

The impact of the cultural Left on education has been profound. Competition and failure are banned. Feminists attack traditional texts such as Romeo and Juliet as enforcing gender stereotypes. In history teaching, instead of focusing on significant historical events and figures and celebrating past milestones, the focus is on victim groups, such as women, migrants and Aborigines. Over the past 30 or so years schools have been pressured to adopt a leftist stance on issues as diverse as multiculturalism, the environment, the class war, peace studies, feminism and gender studies. Worse, the idea that education can be disinterested and that teachers should be impartial has given way to the argument that everything is ideological. Meanwhile, the teachers unions deny any agenda.


Fat chance of solving obesity

As a species, you know you are riding high when the biggest threat to your health comes from some informed overindulgence. You also know you're more selfish than smart when you blame others for voluntary and informed mistakes that you choose to make. Welcome to Australia 2006.

It is time that as a community we stopped whingeing about the obesity epidemic and started accepting a few home-cooked truths about ourselves. We should be rejoicing in the fact that our insatiable appetite for fast food is becoming the biggest heath epidemic of our time. It could be a tad worse. As we are piling on the kilos, more than 30,000 people are dying of starvation or readily preventable illness each day in Africa. This is despite the fact that there is enough grain alone produced to make every person in the world fat. Better our way than theirs.

Despite this, hardly a week goes by when medical, social science or economic gurus don't roll out some alarmist statistic about how fat we are getting. The most recent anti-contribution to the "crisis'' came this week from Access Economics, which said the health costs of obesity last year were $3.8 billion and the costs associated with lost productivity and wellbeing were a further $17.2 billion.

Good for us - that's what we've chosen. The obesity epidemic has been big news for over a decade now. Diet books have dominated the bestseller list and the weight loss industry has grown exponentially during this time. During the same period we have continued to get progressively fatter. We're gluttons. We prefer short-term pleasures to long-term health benefits. We prefer to a live a slightly shorter, indulgent lifestyle than a robotic, disciplined constant grind.

This is a perspective that is lost on the do-gooder, paternalistic, self-proclaimed lifestyle gurus who keep trying to stuff obesity statistics down our throats. The expanding nature of our waistline is one health problem that we don't need to be constantly lectured about. One difference between obesity ill-health and other forms of self-indulgent health problems is that it is a problem for which we assume almost total responsibility.

So does this mean no interventions are appropriate in response to our fat binge? Not quite, but they should be measured. There are certain foods that are significantly richer in calories than others. This is not always self-evident. The appropriate regulatory response is to require fast-food companies to provide nutritional information on their products. Once reforms like this are introduced, we have ourselves to blame if our waistlines continue to bulge.


City council bans taking photos in public

This should be great for the tourism industry. Waverley Council controls Australia's most famous beach -- Bondi

A Sydney council has decreed the act of taking a photograph in a public place is a hazard to public safety. Waverley Council rangers have been given orders to move people on who have not sought its permission to take photographs in a public area because shoppers are "running the gauntlet". The Saturday Daily Telegraph was alerted to the draconian measures - normally associated with totalitarian dictatorships - while conducting a news poll and taking pictures of obliging shoppers in Spring St, Bondi Junction, on Thursday evening.

The ranger issued orders to leave the public area, outside the Eastgate shopping centre, after a security guard notified rangers of our survey - unrelated to the council or the shopping centre. Ranger Nikki Taylor said permission was required to take the photos because it was a "safety issue" to stop people in the street. Waverley Council's Bondi Junction manager Linda McDonald confirmed the measures, saying she believed her rangers had legal grounds to ask people to leave public areas if they were talking to members of the public without permission. "Anyone conducting any act [Even the Soviets did not go that far] on public space is obliged to apply for a permit," Ms McDonald said. "It's a policy of Waverley Council as caretakers of public space." "It's part of our policies and procedures, it basically came about by people saying 'we don't want to run the gauntlet'."

Ms McDonald said this policy was the same as "every other Sydney council". But councils contacted yesterday had not heard of the extreme policies and lambasted them as an attack on free speech. Manly Mayor Peter McDonald was stunned by the ranger's orders. "There's no way Manly Council would support that," he said. "I think that makes Waverley Council look a little silly." A Manly Council spokesman called the policies "extraordinary". "It's Waverley, not North Korea," he said.

Randwick Council said it would only give move-along directions to people disrupting the public if a complaint was made, but did not require anyone to make a formal request to use their public space.

Edwina Stratton, 35, Randwick, who was interviewed on Spring St for the poll, said she had not felt endangered or agitated when approached by The Saturday Daily Telegraph. "People asking for money is more of an imposition than people doing surveys," the mother of three said. "They have a lot more of them in that area and they haven't cracked down on them." The newly-elected mayor of Waverley,George Newhouse, could not be reached for comment.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Queensland teachers to get even dumber

OP entry scores for teaching courses are set to fall further with a 10 per cent drop in applications for teaching courses at universities in the past year. Interest in nursing is up, however, with a 27 per cent increase in first preference applications for tertiary places in 2007.

The Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre announced yesterday that applications were stable. Almost 44,000 people had applied for 2007 places to date, similar to last year. QTAC Public Relations and Information Services manager Pat Smith said health courses were in strong demand. First preference applications were up 8.9 per cent in professions such as physiotherapy, optometry, speech pathology, occupational therapy and pharmacy.

The message about a skills crisis in engineering also appears to be getting through, with applications up more than 8 percent. Business and architecture applications were also slightly higher, up 2 per cent and 1.8 per cent.

"The biggest downward trends so far this year, following on a fall in interest last year, has come from food and hospitality, down 20 per cent, creative industries down 15.6 per cent, information technology down 14.1 per cent, and education down 10.5 per cent," Ms Smith said. People can apply well into December, but late fees apply.


Victoria police still full of corruption

Detective Sergeant Bill Patten is not one for visible displays of emotion. But his eyes glisten and his body tenses when he recalls the late-night phone call from fellow anti-corruption investigator, Mick O'Neil. It was 10pm, and O'Neil had just opened his letter box to find two police-issue .38 bullets. Engraved on the bullets were the names of O'Neil and his wife. "Mick was just a blabbering mess," says Patten. "I still get the hackles up the back of my neck, just talking about it."

It has been two years since the phone call and almost five years since Patten, 47, became one of the first investigators to join the Ceja taskforce, whose work would uncover some of the worst police corruption - from drug trafficking to money laundering - in Victoria's history. This week marked the official end of Ceja. With suppression orders lifted, the public learned that five drug squad officers had been convicted of drug trafficking. Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon praised the success of Ceja: "The investigators did a terrific job . and they put them before the court and I think that's the important part for the community to understand," she told ABC radio. But Patten, a policeman for 28 years, tells a darker, inside story of Ceja. He says he wants, for the first time, to "set the record straight".

According to Patten, the rot uncovered by Ceja went further than has ever been exposed. The response from force command to all that Ceja found led to missed opportunities to stamp out corruption; no senior officers have been brought to account; internal disciplining was "pathetic" and the official refusal to acknowledge links between corrupt police and the underworld was deceptive.

Patten tells, too, of the ostracisation, the harassment and the death threats against the men who worked in the taskforce, who were treated - and are still being treated, he says - as outcasts in a culture which often values loyalty above all. It is that betrayal that he has found so devastating. "We formed our own self-help group because we are the only ones who care for each other," he says. "The organisation doesn't care. We have just been cut loose."

Police officers are forbidden to speak publicly without authorisation, and Patten knows the risk he is taking. "I have been one of the most loyal, devoted police members for just short of 28 years," he says. "I gave the force 150 per cent to the detriment of my family. I have nothing to gain, but this is a public interest issue." ...

In early 2002, Patten headed to Melbourne to meet Detective Inspector Peter De Santo, whose Operation Hemi had recently charged two detectives, Stephen Paton and Malcolm Rosenes, with drug trafficking. Patten was told police command wanted a taskforce to examine allegations about drug squad corruption that had spilled over from Hemi. It was the first time Patten heard the name "Ceja". He had no inkling that, in a matter of months, he would begin "stepping on landmines". "As far as I was concerned, I went to do a job like any other job. We were told it was going to be a six-month test of the allegations to see if it had been all wrapped up by Hemi." Three years later, he was still there.

Patten was one of 11 recruits who began a covert intelligence probe into the drug squad practice of using criminal informers to supply raw chemicals sourced by police to drug-making syndicates. The "Controlled Chemical Diversion Desk" was a way of leading police to the so-called "big fish". It was a high-risk strategy but it was the potential for its abuse by police that Ceja was interested in.

The probe centred on claims that police corruptly sold huge amounts of chemicals to criminals and pocketed the profits and it took Ceja deep into Melbourne's criminal underworld. The task of corroborating or eliminating allegations was painstaking, given that many of Ceja's sources had little credibility. Ceja's eventual boss, Commander Dannye Moloney, called his team "the super-toe cutters", which members took as a reference to their thoroughness. Their detractors thought otherwise; as Ceja's existence became known, its members were slagged as "promotion-seeking lightweights at the filth", according to one crime department source. Whispers turned into threatening phone calls and warnings to back off.

All up, the list of threats against Ceja investigators could have been dreamt up in a film studio: bullets in the mail sent to one investigator; another investigator's wife and young daughter followed; one detective's house was broken into, but nothing taken. A criminal was found with a list of police car registration numbers, including several belonging to Ceja officers. "Mental torment is the thing that can f------ break people," says Patten, "and we had threats that someone from the underworld was physically going to murder an investigator. Vulnerable is not the right word."

There is ongoing disgust among the Ceja investigators about a lack of support from police command. "The bullets Mick got in his letter box; Ceja investigated it, no one was thrown into the investigation to support us. We were investigating our own threats! I mean, spare me!" The threats reflected the gravity of what Ceja was discovering. What started as 14 allegations against suspected corrupt police snowballed to more than 100. In one secret briefing to force command, 30 officers were singled out as possibly corrupt, including several who had left the drug squad and were working elsewhere in the force. Ceja's resources also grew; more than 40 staff members, including financial investigators and a barrister, fed into what ultimately became an almost five-year investigation into police drug trafficking, evidence planting, theft, drug taking and "green-lighting" (allowing criminals to commit crimes). "No one realised the gravity of what we found," recalls Patten. "It literally blew up in everyone's faces."

CEJA began to charge officers in 2003. Chief Commissioner Nixon committed to reforms, including overhauling drug investigation and informer management practices. But Patten says the reforms and Ceja's achievements fell far short of what Victoria deserves. "It has been five years now. Some of it (the corruption) is very significant and some of it has just gone out into the ocean. It is long lost. "There are probably a dozen to two dozen policeman in the Victoria police who haven't been charged who I say are crooks or who turned a blind eye to corruption. Some are commissioned officers (above the rank of senior sergeant) and senior detectives."

Those never dealt with range from officers who had active involvement in corruption to those who turned a blind eye, "selling their jobs by leaking information, inappropriate (criminal) associations, to those who had knowledge but were not strong enough to stand up and be counted."

Some of Ceja's unfinished work has been passed on to police internal investigators at the Ethical Standards Department and the Office of Police Integrity for review or examination; the OPI has questioned some officers in private hearings on the basis of Ceja intelligence. But Patten insists the opportunity to properly examine much of what Ceja initially found has been lost. To properly investigate all of the taskforce's corruption files would have meant a trebling of resources. Even then, he says, it would not have been enough. "There would have only been one successful way to investigate this stuff and that would have been a royal commission. No one else could walk away and say that Ceja was the appropriate investigative body to do the job. We did a good job, I'll still say that, but I say some of the rot would have been got rid off."

In opposing a commission, Nixon, the Ombudsman and the Government have argued that Ceja achieved more tangible results, while sparing the force the demoralising trauma that accompanies such a major government-ordered inquiry.

Patten responds that officers involved in corruption remain in the force, including in management positions. While he won't publicly reveal names or detail the evidence (he can be charged for leaking such information), he bases his comments on "various things like electronic surveillance". "Once you have been exposed to what we were exposed to, at the level we were exposed to it, there is evidence to make a decision on (as to whether someone is corrupt) as opposed to sufficient evidence to convict them."

Several investigators, closely aware of Ceja's work, back up his claims and share Patten's frustration at the "pathetic" internal disciplining of some police, which sometimes amounted to a sideways shift and a confidential admonishment.

They include a sergeant with significant unexplained wealth and numerous ties to several criminals and corrupt police, and a detective superintendent with a long history of suspected corruption. Patten blames an unspoken culture of protecting commissioned officers for the failure to bring to account those under whose watch corruption flourished....

More here

Police coverup in NSW

Senior NSW police and talk-back radio hosts have come in for stinging criticism in a report on the handling of December's race riot in the Sydney beachside suburb of Cronulla. A sanitised summary of the report - prepared by retired NSW police assistant commissioner Norm Hazzard - was released by the Government yesterday as a result of political pressure that has destabilised Police Minister Carl Scully. But The Australian understands the full report will reveal that the police commander responsible for quelling the riots lost control of the operation when he was trapped at Cronulla railway station by the violent crowd.

This serious problem could have been better managed, Mr Hazzard says, if Assistant Commissioner Mark Goodwin, commanding the operation, had been positioned in the hi-tech Police Operations Centre, designed for major policing operations and originally used during the 2000 Olympic Games. "The command structure and facilities to assist the commanders during the day were inadequate," the summary released yesterday says. "The review concluded that the risk assessment to indicate the necessary level of response was flawed. "Subsequently, the planning for the event was not adequate and some specialist resources that could have assisted in the management of the operation were not deployed." Mr Hazzard also says that in the six days leading up to the riot, "media interest in anticipation of public disorder had a continual presence in the Cronulla area".

The report says that, like the Redfern riots in February 2004 and the Macquarie Fields riots a year later, Cronulla showed that the NSW police hierarchy appeared unable to deal with serious public disorder.

Opposition police spokesman Mike Gallacher told The Australian last night that Mr Hazzard's report was "comprehensive proof that everything the Government has been saying about its support for police and resourcing is completely and totally false". He said the parts of the report on the revenge attacks that followed Cronulla, when released, would be even more revealing because "that's really where things turned pear-shaped".

Contrary to the official reason given for yesterday's release of part of the report - that further "unprecedented public speculation" on its contents could damage the reputation of police - it was rushed out on the explicit orders of NSW Premier Morris Iemma. Mr Iemma decided early yesterday that any political damage flowing from the report would be less painful than the circus created around Mr Scully's contorted accounts of why it could not be made public. Mr Scully's reasons have shifted. He originally told parliament the report was not complete, despite the fact that Mr Hazzard gave what he understood to be the finished version to NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney a month ago. Mr Scully later said the report had to be held back because Mr Hazzard was "deficient" in not interviewing enough senior police - a comment he has admitted he apologised to Mr Hazzard for on Wednesday.


Coverup for a negligent bureaucracy

Victorians will be kept in the dark over why sex monster Mr Baldy was given a home near schools and playgrounds. The State Government has won a secrecy fight over documents about notorious pedophile Brian Keith Jones's shift from jail to a Flemington house in an area dubbed "kid central". The ruling also protects the criminal's personal affairs.

Kent St residents were furious when they learned last year that the sex predator had been put in their midst. Jones, 59, was moved to a unit in the grounds of Ararat prison just a day later. Concerned parent Margaret Simons sought details, through Freedom of Information laws, on the checks done before Mr Baldy was moved to the Flemington house, which was near a meeting place for children walking to and from school and was next door to a family with two young children.

But the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal refused access yesterday after objections from the Department of Justice. VCAT vice-president Judge Sandra Davis agreed the documents were exempt. Releasing them could undermine the parole system, reveal the personal affairs of Mr Baldy and corrections officers, give offenders sensitive security information, and discourage public servants from offering frank and candid advice. A disappointed Ms Simons is considering an appeal.

Jones, one of 700 registered sex offenders in Victoria, got his nickname by shaving the heads of six children he abducted and sexually abused. He was freed on July 13 last year after serving 12 years' jail for child sex crimes. Under a supervision order, he must wear an electronic ankle bracelet, keep a curfew and not contact anyone under 18. The VCAT decision follows allegations that the pedophile was able to give authorities the slip for more than three hours in August because his electronic tag could not keep track of his movements.

Corrections Victoria insisted Mr Baldy was removed from the Flemington home only out of concern for his safety and not because of second thoughts about the chosen location. The tribunal heard that checks on accommodation for released sex offenders not only assessed risks but also considered how to protect the community.


Friday, October 20, 2006

More politicized "history" teaching

A group that believes the Howard Government could have prevented the deaths of 353 asylum-seekers in the sinking of the Siev X in 2001 is on the verge of selling a case study to schools for use in modern history classes. Year 11 students would be asked to answer whether the drownings were the result of the federal Government's policies as part of the case study, prompting allegations that students were being steered towards a "politically correct" conclusion.

Modern History students would study a number of disputed claims, including whether or not the Australian navy sabotaged the boat before it left Indonesia, if the Siev X Secondary School's Case Study Committee does sell the case study to schools.

The principal of St Aloysius College in Sydney, Father Chris Middleton, told The Australian yesterday the school was considering using the program, to be launched in federal parliament today by child psychologist Steve Biddulph.

Students at schools that decide to use the case study will view primary source documents and be asked: "Was the sinking of the Siev X and subsequent loss of life preventable?" Students would also be asked to describe how statements by a former immigration officer and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer about whether the government officials sabotaged boats "contradict each other". The case study relies heavily on the documentary film Punished not Protected and two books - A Certain Maritime Incident and Dark Victory - which are highly critical of the Government, prompting criticism that the proposal is biased.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the material was "an outrageous attempt to disguise a political agenda as school curriculum". "It is a bizarre mix of unfounded allegations and rumour presented as fact, and is clearly intended to influence the opinions of school children rather than educate them with a factual version of events," Ms Bishop said. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said students should be "presented with the facts as we know them rather than any biased presentation".

Siev X Case Study spokesman Don Maclurcan, who is studying for his PhD in nanotechnology, said the case had polarised people and so would sharpen students' analytical skills. "I hope that students would come out of this with a greater knowledge of how government works, what our policies are in terms of immigration and refugees, and a knowledge of things that have happened in relation to our borders in the last five years," Mr Maclurcan said. He said the organising committee had "made every effort to set aside our own conclusions in order to assemble a balanced set of reading materials that present the many viewpoints offered". He said the material was developed "in consultation with the NSW Boards of Studies" but the board denied this yesterday.

The director of the National Centre for History Education at Monash University, associate professor Tony Taylor, said recent events were difficult to tackle in the classroom. "These debates can become more emotional than rational. Skilled teachers can deal with this successfully but it does take a lot of experience," he said. "As for conspiracy theories, it's always difficult to prove a negative; that is, to prove that there isn't a conspiracy."

Education critic Kevin Donnelly slammed the case study, saying it implied a "predetermined answer" about the tragedy. "Students are being directed towards a politically correct response that it could have been prevented and that the Government is responsible," he said. "This is just another attempt at an issues or theme approach to history which quite rightly has been condemned as failing to give students a comprehensive understanding of the background and overall narrative."

But Nick Ewbank, president of the History Teachers Association, backed the case study. [He would] "All history is about the weighing of evidence and the interpretation that can be placed on the given facts. Obviously, this particular case is fairly controversial but we shouldn't be shying away from controversial issues," he said.


Nutty Greenie in Australia

When David Suzuki launched into an impassioned plea for Australia to combat climate change no one was safe yesterday, not even the chef who cooked his lunch. During his hour-long National Press Club address, the renowned environmentalist swore repeatedly -- despite his speech being broadcast live on ABC TV -- criticising everyone from John Howard to his own supporters in the audience for eating the salmon and rice. "You all sat here and chowed down on farmed salmon and obviously you don't give a s--- about what you're putting into your body," the 70-year-old bellowed.

Speakers and guests at the weekly press club address are fed. The award-winning Canadian ate his meal. "You know what a farmed salmon is, it's filled with toxic chemicals," he said. "I know Tasmanian salmon, those are not Tasmanian salmon. Those are Atlantic salmon that are brought and raised in cages in Tasmania."

Dr Suzuki said Australia was a disappointment to the world because it had not ratified the Kyoto protocol, a pact between industrialised nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2012. He said as a result, Australia had no credibility as a "responsible global citizen". "I've always thought of Australia as caring about being responsible international citizens, and by rejecting Kyoto, Mr Howard declares that Australia is an international outlaw, not to be bound by these kinds of treaties the rest of the world agrees to."

Dr Suzuki said the global media was more interested in reporting on celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson, than climate change. He said if he abused the Prime Minister he would get better coverage. "If I were to say -- I'm not saying this, but if I were to say -- 'John Howard is an a---hole', I might even get a 10-inch column (in a newspaper)."

Dr Suzuki slammed Australia for allowing rice and cotton farming, and went on to condemn the Government's $350 million drought package for stricken farmers as an "ad hoc, knee-jerk" reaction. He went on to praise -- sarcastically -- Mr Howard for acknowledging global warming. "Mr Howard has now acknowledged that global warming is happening. Thank God, it's about time," Dr Suzuki said. "So 'boom', right away the solution is nuclear power. This guy ought to be booted out of office for that kind of approach to the problem, I mean, it's crazy."


Why men are paid more

Bettina Arndt writes:

Every few years the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases data about the gender wage gap. And every time the Labor Party announces the sky is falling in. The fact that men earn more than women is presented as proof that the country is going backward under Howard. The white picket fence is rising up to capture us all.

Everyone who participates in this farce knows full well that these wage-gap statistics are meaningless. So, what if the average woman in Australia earns $300 less per week than the average man. That statistic fails to take in account the hours worked. In fact, the average Australian Joe Blow works almost twice as many hours as the average Jenny Blow, according to data HILDA, the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey. Since he's putting in twice as many hours, I hope Joe Blow would earn far more.

Not only does he work far longer hours, he's also far more likely to take on hazardous jobs such as mining, construction, trucking, he's more likely to be willing to move overseas, or to an undesirable location on demand and has trained for more technical jobs with less people contact. In fact, the wage gap hasn't much to do with discrimination, or conservative governments trying to keep women in their place. Differences in the way men and women behave in the workplace largely determine how much they earn.

Women are more likely to balance income with a desire for safety, fulfilment, flexibility and proximity to home. These lifestyle advantages lead to more people competing for jobs and thus lower pay. Wage gaps tend to disappear when women put in the same hours and have the same experience, training and work history as men. In Australia, similarly trained men and women under 30 show similar earnings. It is only in the older age groups that wage gaps start to widen, according to Mark Woden at the Melbourne Institute.

Yet men and women still tend not to have the same training. A London School of Economics study of more than 10,000 British graduates found the men started off earning 12 per cent more than the women. The reason? Most of the women had majored in the social sciences, while many men chose engineering, maths and computing. While more than half the women said their primary interest was a socially useful job, men were twice as likely to mention salary.

Similar patterns emerge here. Graduate women in Australia, who move into traditional male professions, often start off earning more than men. For instance, the average starting salary for female geologists in Australia is $60,000 compared to $52,000 for men. When women go into potentially high-earning careers, many end up earning far less than their male colleagues because of the way they structure their working lives. Look at female doctors. To get into medicine, these women were as ambitious and hard-working as any of their male colleagues. But a few years down the track it's a different story. Current figures show a female GP works in her paid job only 63 per cent of the hours put in by a male, although clearly many face a second shift at home.

Women are making choices. Yes, these choices are constrained by their family responsibilities. That's the reason they work those shorter hours and seek the lower paid, but more flexible work closer to home. Australian women still choose to take time out when their children are young, then return to part-time work. They miss out on financial rewards but are more content. The latest HILDA survey clearly shows women working part-time are more satisfied than full-time working women. The part-timers are far happier with their work-life balance and just as satisfied with their jobs as the full-timers. In fact, more than half the women working full-time want to work fewer hours while just over a third of the part-timers want to work more.

Yes, there are still glass ceilings, pockets of discrimination, but the major reason men earn more than women is the trade-offs women choose to make. So, the next time Anne Summers bleats about wage gaps, you'll know she's trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Wage gap talk is a con job.


Victoria police on display

One of Victoria's most senior detectives joined four of his former drug squad colleagues in jail last night after being found guilty of supplying 2kg of pure pseudoephedrine to slain underworld figure Mark Moran. Ending an extraordinary legal saga that linked corrupt police to key figures in Melbourne's bloody gangland war, detective senior sergeant Wayne Strawhorn was yesterday convicted of trafficking the amphetamine precursor and faces 25 years in prison.

The disgraced officer insisted his deals with criminals were part of an official drug-dealing strategy - a program that is now blamed for fuelling the underworld war that claimed at least 30 lives. Jurors in the Strawhorn case were told of intricate connections between police and Melbourne's crimelords including murdered figures Lewis Moran and Alphonse Gangitano and fugitive Tony Mokbel. And for the first time, The Australian can now detail the extent of the corruption in the disgraced drug squad, with a series of court-ordered suppressions lifted following the Strawhorn conviction.

The police already secretly jailed for serious drug dealing include David Miechel, who was caught red-handed stealing close to $1 million worth of ecstasy with police informant Terrence Hodson. Hodson was later murdered with his wife in their Melbourne home at the height of the city's gangland killings.

The other major convictions that can be reported for the first time centre on three police from the now-disbanded drug squad's heroin-busting unit - Stephen Cox, Glenn Sadler and Ian Ferguson. Ferguson was jailed in April while Cox and Sadler were found guilty last month of conspiring to traffic a commercial quantity of heroin. Ferguson is serving a maximum 12 years in jail, while Cox and Sadler are yet to be sentenced.

Strawhorn's drug-trafficking conviction yesterday came after his first trial was aborted and a second ended with the jury undecided on a verdict. The Victorian Supreme Court cases have stretched over years and have cost millions. And despite the guilty verdict, part of the case may yet continue, with prosecutor Ray Elston refusing to tell judge David Habersberger yesterday whether police would press ahead with a retrial on one charge of trafficking on which the jury was "hopelessly deadlocked".

Strawhorn was found not guilty yesterday of three counts of trafficking drugs in a supply chain police claimed stretched to the Bandido Outlaws Motorcycle Club. He was found not guilty of threatening to kill the police ethical standards inspector who investigated him. Though the prosecution could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Strawhorn trafficked amphetamine precursor chemicals to the Bandidos, the evidence that proved Strawhorn's links through ex-police officers to the Moran crime family were strong enough to sustain a conviction.

Through another corrupt drug squad policeman, Stephen Paton, Strawhorn ordered that 2kg of pure pseudoephedrine be purchased from Sigma Pharmaceuticals - a $340 transaction. The black market value of pseudoephedrine was $10,000 a kilogram. Strawhorn's trial heard that through two former police officers with links to the Morans, the drugs made their way into a laboratory run by a close associate of Mark Moran, who manufactured drugs with the slain gangland figure. But the drugs ended up back in the drug squad - in the same packaging as when Strawhorn sent them down the chain to the Morans - when police raided the associates' home after Moran's murder on June 15, 2000. The court heard that Strawhorn recognised the bag, dipped his finger into it, and placed the powder crystals in his mouth. "That's pseudoephedrine," he said.

Strawhorn was the architect of the controlled chemical delivery program, which was unpopular with many senior police from its inception because of its corruption potential. He convinced the police establishment in 1995 to implement the program, which aimed to leave an evidence trail to amphetamines kingpins. But the program was canned by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon - who also disbanded the entire drug squad - when she took the helm of the Victorian force in 2001.

Miechel was supposed to be part of Victoria's new era - a clean drug investigation unit that replaced the corrupt drug squad. Instead, Miechel is sitting in Ararat jail in central Victoria, serving a 15-year sentence for stealing a commercial quantity of drugs with Hodson. On September 27, 2003, Hodson and Miechel attempted to steal from a house in Oakleigh, in Melbourne's east, the night before it was to be raided by the Major Drug Investigation Unit. A neighbour phoned the police, and Miechel and Hodson were arrested by the dog squad.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Australia's fertility rate soars to 10-year high

Australian women are giving birth more than at any time in the past decade. Latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the national fertility rate stands at its highest level since 1995. A total of 259,800 babies were registered in 2005, an increase of 5500 over 2004. The fertility rate stands at 1.81 babies a woman, up from 1.77 in 2004 and close to 1995's 1.82.

The report, Births, Australia 2005, showed the average age of new mothers in 2005 was 30.7 years - 3.4 years older than mothers in 1985. Fathers were an average of 32.9 years old, 2.8 years older than dads who cradled newborns in 1985.

But the national birth rate is still not high enough to replace an ageing population. Treasurer Peter Costello yesterday welcomed the figures, but said the birth rate needed to be higher. "Unless the total fertility rate is 2.1 we are still below replacement level," Mr Costello told Parliament. "It means that the ageing of the population continues; the proportion of those of retirement age compared to those of working age continues to grow."

The fertility rate peaked in 1961, when it was 3.5. Last year, 68 per cent of babies were born to married couples, compared with 85 per cent in 1985. The report highlighted how the trend towards older mothers has gained pace over the past 25 years. The fertility rate for women aged 30-34 rose 56 per cent. For women 35-39 and 40-44, the birth rate more than doubled over the past 25 years. Women aged 30-34 had 117.5 babies per 1000 women in 2005, up from 114.4 the year before and the highest rate since 1964. And women aged 35-39 had 60.6 babies per 1000 women last year, up from 57.4 in 2004 - a higher rate than for mums aged 20-24.

The fertility of women aged 40-44 is at its highest since 1971. Last year there were 18 births to women aged 50 and over.


Leftists revel in the obesity war

More Medicare funding for people trying to lose weight was needed to battle the obesity crisis, Labor said today.

Access Economics is to release a study today showing obesity costs Australia $21 billion a year. The study will also show that in 20 years time, nearly a third of Australians will be obese.

Labor health spokeswoman Julia Gillard said Labor would consider introducing policies banning junk food advertising on children's television if it won government. The party could also impose tough health labelling laws on food. She said Labor was waiting on the outcome of a Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) audit of junk food advertising before finalising its obesity policies. "We are certainly concerned about the impact of junk food commercials on children's pester power in the supermarket trying to make parents buy unhealthy food," Ms Gillard said. "This is a huge health crisis for this country, but (Health Minister) Tony Abbott ... is consistently on the public record as saying it's nothing to do with him and nothing to do with this Government," Ms Gillard said. "Tony Abbott refuses to do anything substantial to deal with this looming health epidemic."

She acknowledged that there was a large element of personal responsibility involved in obesity, but said the Government could still do more. Preventative obesity advice from doctors was covered by Medicare only if the patient was in their mid-40s and they already had a risk factor. "You should be able to get that advice throughout your life," Ms Gillard said. [You need a doctor to tell you to eat les??]

Government Senator Guy Barnett said Australians must change their lifestyles to avoid an obesity "tsunami". "What the figures show is that it should make all of us review our lifestyle choices for us in Australia and it also shows that these costs are getting bigger not smaller," Senator Barnett said on the Nine Network. "We've got a tsunami coming towards Australia in terms of a health crisis and it's going to swamp us if we stay the same course."


Obesity obsession 'makes problem worse'

Which is worse: The fatties or the thinnies?

Fears that Australia's obesity debate may overshadow the problem of eating disorders have prompted the federal Labor MP Anna Burke to invite a body image expert to address politicians in Canberra today. Ms Burke said eating disorders were on the rise, particularly among school-aged children. "We can't allow this trend to continue," she said. "For too long eating disorders have been ignored at a national level."

An Access Economics report into the effects of obesity in Australia is due to be released today, measuring the lost productivity, quality of life and health costs of the condition, which afflicts 3.24 million Australians.

The federal member for Chisholm in Melbourne told smh.com.au it was important to discuss obesity, but this should not overshadow other body image debates. "There are also fears that the intense focus on obesity is actually exacerbating the problem of eating disorders - we are now hearing about kids in primary school going on starvation diets in an attempt to look thinner."

A University of Canberra psychology lecturer, Vivienne Lewis, will address a group of federal politicians at Parliament House today. Dr Lewis said politicians needed to pay more attention to anorexia and bulimia. The academic said while the incidence of eating disorders in Australia had remained relatively stable recently, the number of people worried about their bodies was on the rise. "Even though this doesn't necessarily lead them to disordered eating, it still affects their wellbeing," Dr Lewis said. "When people's wellbeing is affected, that affects their day-to-day life, it affects their work and relationships."

She also pointed to an increase in body image concerns among men, saying the rise of the fit, slim metrosexual ideal was a huge factor. "Gone are the days where the male is promoted as this big, strong masculine figure. "Now it's actually someone who's really well toned and probably is on a diet like women are." Dr Lewis called for early primary school programs promoting positive body image, improved support for intervention programs for people with eating disorders and changes to media portrayals of healthy weight. "That's a huge task," she said.

Ms Burke said Australia needed a national code of conduct on body image to ensure that the media, advertisers and the fashion industry portrayed a more healthy and diverse range of role models.


Wearing a Jewish hat does not make you un-Australian

By bash victim Menachem Vorchheimer:

I am an Australian through and through, and PROUD. In my early childhood days of playing "Test" cricket in the back yard, I used to idealise and try to emulate the bowling style and character of Greg Matthews and the batting and patience of Allan Border. I would sell ice creams at the SCG, which got me into the game, and allowed me to soak up the atmosphere and watch the game that I loved. In the winter months I would do the same, sell snacks at different venues so I could watch my sporting heroes on the field, particularly my club the Balmain Tigers -- with the greats such as Gary Jack and Wayne Pearce. I remember my first introduction to AFL at the SCG in the 1980s and seeing Warwick Capper, with all his flamboyance, style and personality.

These people were not just great sportsmen to me, but people who in my eyes kept their composure on and off the field, and were my role models. When I moved with my family to Melbourne in 1988 I naturally followed the Sydney Swans. It wasn't their best years, and I stood proud while most of my friends, who were Carlton supporters, rubbed it in. Patience, however, paid off, with Sydney winning the premiership in 2005, and making the finals and playing a fantastic game in the 2006 Grand Final.

In the summer months, I will often go with my family to the beach at Lorne, or down to the bush and stay in the national park at Wilsons Promontory, where I would, with thousands of other Australians, stay over the Christmas and New Year period.

But deep down inside me is a desire to grow, educationally and professionally. I completed my VCE in Melbourne, after beginning my secondary school days at Sydney Boys High. I later attended Monash University, and have undertaken several post-graduate courses since. I yearn to grow in my knowledge, and Australia provides no boundaries for those with a desire.

On a business level, I have interacted with thousands of people from all types of backgrounds and demographics within society, with whom I am able to share a bond because my Australian heritage imbues a positive outlook on life, that allows one to share a couple of laughs, maybe a glass of cold beer, and encourages me to "have a go".

I love Australia, because it allows me to live as a person, without, until now, fear of persecution or victimisation. However, I know deep in my heart, that what happened to me was un-Australian, and those who perpetrated these acts and or sympathise with them, do not deserve to be called Australian. I am an Australian and PROUD and shall always remain so.


It should be noted that it was intervention by outraged Australian bystanders that enabled Mr Vorchheimer's attackers to be caught

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


And, being born of an Australian mother, Prince Christian of Denmark is as Australian as he is Danish. Both he and his mother are of course immensely popular in Australia.

Nuclear power coming to Australia

The cartoon refers to the deep divisions among Australia's Left about nuclear power

Prime Minister John Howard has given his strongest support yet to the use of nuclear power in Australia, backing the local development of the "clean" energy industry. An expert taskforce is due to release a draft report next month on the merits of nuclear power and whether Australia should be thinking of value-adding options, such as enrichment, for its vast uranium stores. But before the experts have even had their say, Mr Howard has indicated he believes nuclear power is an industry Australia should be developing. Mr Howard has previously suggested nuclear power was something Australia should consider if economically viable.

"I'm in favour of Australia developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes," he told the Nine Network. "It's clean and green and, in an age where we're worried about global warming, we should be looking seriously at nuclear power as an option because it's clean and it doesn't emit greenhouse gases. "I can't understand why the extreme greenies oppose it."

Mr Howard's one-time adversary, former prime minister Paul Keating, sees the issue completely differently. "Nuclear energy is a bad fuel, a dirty fuel, a dangerous fuel," he told Sky News. "Nuclear is a no-no generally in my opinion - it is a bad business." Instead Mr Keating would prefer to focus on alternative strategies to reduce Australia's reliance on fossil fuels, options such as hybrid cars and hydrogen fuel cells.

Labor has pledged there will be no nuclear power if it wins government, but it does plan to re-examine its policy of no new uranium mines at its national conference next year. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley wants the policy changed but faces a difficult job convincing some sections of Labor that it is the way to go. Mr Keating thinks a change in the Labor policy would be a mistake. "I think I would stay with the existing policy," he said. "This is not a good industry to encourage, and anyone that has an electricity program, ipso-facto ends up with a nuclear weapons capability."


West Australia education chief quits over sex 'cover-up'

A far-Left organization show its non-existent principles

The head of Western Australia's Eductation department has resigned after a damning report that found sexual misconduct is not being properly handled in the state's schools. In a scathing report, the state's Corruption and Crime Commission said the Department of Education and Training repeatedly covered up allegations of sexual abuse of children by teachers, and was more concerned with protecting the welfare of staff than students. Department of Education and Training (DET) director general Paul Albert has agreed to leave the job after a meeting overnight with Premier Alan Carpenter.

Mr Carpenter has said that while he accepts the CCC did not make any specific adverse findings against Mr Albert, "we both agreed that public confidence in our education system was paramount". "It is with regret that, during our discussion, we came to an agreement that it was in the best interests of all parties for Mr Albert to leave the public service under a Management Initiated Retirement."

The state Opposition has called for Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich to resign. After the release of the report, CCC spokesman Roger Watson said the department had resisted the efforts of the CCC to get it improve procedures. He indicated the report had been released publicly in a bid to force change, saying the commission had thought hard before taking that action. The CCC revealed that in one case where a teacher was convicted of indecently dealing with a child under 13, the department had responded by transferring him to another school. The department believed the facts that the child was not one of his students and the conduct did not occur in school hours were mitigating factors.

In another case, a school principal and deputy principal were found to have covered up a relationship between a teacher and student after the teacher agreed to resign. The CCC said the deputy principal was aware the teacher had been investigated for inappropriate conduct with an under-age girl at another school five years earlier but he was allowed to resign before an investigation was conducted into the latest allegation.

The department also failed to investigate repeated allegations about a teacher engaging in sexual contact with female students at school camps over a number of years, and decided not to investigate allegations against a school gardener. It also allowed a teacher with a history of sexual contact with students while on overseas excursions to attend another overseas trip where he was seen engaging in inappropriate conduct.

Ms Ravlich said yesterday she had no knowledge of the explosive allegations until she was briefed by the CCC on Thursday night and received the report on Friday. Yesterday, she labelled it "extremely serious" and that she was extremely angry. "There's no doubt about it, the department has got it wrong," she said. "I think it would be fair to say that the department probably does need a shake-up." But Ms Ravlich had said she was "very disappointed" in Mr Albert. She said she could not act against other staff exposed by the CCC because she had no capacity to do so under the Public Sector Management Act.

Mr Albert claimed he was unable to keep the minister informed because the CCC had instructed him not to disclose any information. Under pressure from the media, he later indicated the actions of staff involved in the incidents would be reviewed. This included the decision by human resources executive director Alby Huts to return a convicted child abuser to the classroom.

Mr Watson said the cases were not isolated examples of the department's handling of sexual misconduct matters. Ms Ravlich said all six recommendations of the CCC would be implemented immediately. The state Opposition has said the report highlights the latest in a series of crises for the minister who has come under fire over Western Australia's controversial "outcomes-based" education system.


Drunken yobs don't like anybody who looks different

An Australian Rules football club has apologised for an assault on a Jewish man who has said drunken players hurled racial taunts and bashed him in front of his young children. Victorian police are investigating the savage attack on Menachem Vorchheimer, 33, by players from the Ocean Grove Football Club. About 20 footballers had just left Caulfield racecourse in a mini-bus.

Mr Vorchheimer has said the men yelled "F--- off Jews" and "Go the Nazis" before motioning as if they were shooting a machine gun at him and his children. They then snatched his traditional Jewish headwear and punched him in the face, he has said.

The club's president has apologised to Mr Vorchheimer. But the team's coach has said the incident was an "accident" and that the father of two had rejected an apology offered immediately afterwards.

Mr Vorchheimer has told the Herald Sun his children, aged 6 and 3, were screaming and crying during the attack that left him with cuts and bruises to the face. Witnesses surrounded the bus and stopped it from driving off until police arrived.

The trouble began when Mr Vorchheimer and his children were walking along Balaclava Rd, Caulfield, about 6.30pm on Saturday. Mr Vorchheimer was wearing traditional Jewish dress including a shabbat hat and a yamulka, the skull cap worn by Jewish men. As the minibus drove past, some of the players were laughing and yelling racist abuse, he has said. When the bus stopped at a red light, Mr Vorchheimer went to the driver's door. "I wanted to find out where they were from so that . . . I could make approaches to that organisation," he said. But the bus driver appeared to ignore him and took off when the light turned green.

As the bus drove past, two men reached out the back window, grabbed Mr Vorchheimer's hat and skull cap and hurled more abuse. A driver who saw the incident pulled in front of the bus and stopped it. Mr Vorchheimer said the men threw one of his hats out the bus window but when he asked for the other hat he was attacked. "I was pulled toward the open window and then punched by a right hand into my left eye by a passenger on the bus. I fell back and was in enormous pain." Mr Vorchheimer said he felt blood running down his face as the men threw his other hat out the window. "Meanwhile my kids are on the sidewalk crying and screaming," he said. He said witnesses surrounded the bus and stopped it from moving. Mr Vorchheimer said he sat in front of the bus and said. "You're not going 'til the police come."

More here

Public hospital cancer patients shafted

Secret waiting list figures have exposed the deadly delays Queensland cancer sufferers are forced to endure. Damning internal Queensland Health statistics have revealed cancer patients are waiting more than four times longer than recommended for life-saving treatment. According to the latest figures, priority-two patients, who have been diagnosed with aggressive cancers and internal bleeding, are now waiting up to 48 days for radiation treatment. Queensland Health's recommended maximum waiting time is 14 days to avoid "a significant adverse effect on outcomes". Patients with priority-three conditions, who predominantly suffer breast and prostate cancers, are waiting up to 89 days for treatment. The recommended maximum waiting time is 28 days.

The figures have changed little in the month since Health Minister Stephen Robertson downplayed radiation waiting times as a week-to-week prospect when they were initially obtained by The Courier-Mail. Mr Robertson, who yesterday could not be contacted, has repeatedly insisted the Government is tackling waiting times with a $9.7 billion injection into Queensland's health system. However, a spokesman for the Medical Radiation Professionals Group, a collective of Queensland Health workers, said waiting times would worsen.

Only the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital manages to treat patients within recommended waiting times. High-level hospital sources believe the RBWH's short waiting times were being caused by a chronic shortage of specialists able to recommend radiation. The Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane has the longest wait times for category-two patients at 48 days. Townsville hospital has maintained the longest wait for priority-three patients at 89 days.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Public broadcaster bias nibbled at

The ABC faces its biggest cultural shake-up in 20 years when it announces today that programs from chat shows to science debates will have to achieve new standards of impartiality, actively fight "bias" and present more diverse opinions on the network. The ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, will also announce that a new ombudsman-style manager will handle public complaints against the ABC when he addresses staff around the country at midday. Under the guidelines, a wide range of factual shows from children's television to religious programs will have to meet stringent standards, similar to those on impartiality already in place for ABC news and current affairs. [That doesn't say much! Balance is conspicuously MISSING from ABC current affairs programs!]

The changes will open the ABC to far greater pressure from lobby groups wanting to complain about its coverage of contentious scientific and social issues such as global warming, children's vaccinations and sexual mores. The changes, driven by the ABC board, will also affect ABC radio announcers such as Virginia Trioli, Richard Glover, Fran Kelly and Phillip Adams, who will be under greater scrutiny, as well as programs like The Science Show, The Health Report and television documentaries.

Confirming the changes in the new "editorial guidelines", a senior ABC executive told the Herald: "The changes to the ABC editorial policy will give greater emphasis to the need for impartiality to encouraging a range and diversity of opinion." The guidelines represent a compromise between the board and program makers after the ABC was swept up in the "culture wars" with the Howard Government. It overturns both guidelines drawn up only four years ago and previous legal advice on the ABC Act. In a move apparently aimed at appeasing the ABC's opponents, Mr Scott will publicly unveil the changes tonight at Gerard Henderson's Sydney Institute. Henderson, a Herald columnist, has regularly attacked the ABC, saying it is biased and left-wing.

In the 18 months of negotiations over the guidelines, program makers have won some concessions from the board. These include that the diverse views do not have to be presented in a single program but can be achieved across different programs and over time. However, the guidelines require that whenever the ABC runs content that "deals with a matter of contention or public debate", a diversity of "relevant perspectives should be demonstrated across a network or platform in an appropriate time frame".

Insiders say the reach of the strict guidelines is too wide, targeting programs on the arts, children, education, entertainment, history, Aboriginal affairs, lifestyle, natural history, religion, science, health, documentaries, science and even comedy chat shows such as The Glasshouse. At one point, board members were demanding that satirical shows like The Chaser should be subjected to the "impartiality" test. One insider said "there was a moment where it looked like satire was gone" because the guidelines were so strict it could not be produced. Another told the Herald it was "a hell of a battle to stop it being too awful". In the final draft, both performance programs such as The Chaser and opinion programs were exempted, although the ABC is committed to broadcasting a range of opinions.

Long-time program makers are worried the guidelines will make ABC documentaries bland. Some members of the board were anxious to extend the guidelines to documentaries after the ABC broadcast Outfoxed, a program critical of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News. One ABC manager told the Herald that under the new guidelines "the pre-emptive buckle will achieve a new ascendancy". But other ABC executives believe the guidelines will clarify the broad editorial principles already in operation for all factual program makers. "Now they know what the rules are, they can engage with them," said one.


Victoria's school canteens to impose fatty food ban

Victorian school children will be allowed to eat fatty junk food only twice a term under strict new canteen rules to be imposed next year. For the first time, school tuckshops will be told what they can and cannot sell to the state's 540,000 school students. Chips, potato cakes, dim sims, battered sausages, cakes and ice cream are on the hit list.

The Bracks Government is expected to reveal the latest crackdown today to try to halt the obesity crisis. It is believed the new rules will apply to Victoria's 1600 state primary and secondary schools. Independent and Catholic schools will be encouraged to adopt the new rules. Food will be divided into three groups - everyday, select and occasional - dictating how often it can be sold. Food listed as "occasional" is defined as having high fat, sugar or salt content and will be restricted to twice a term, or eight times a year. Deep-fried food, ice cream, icy poles, croissants and commercially produced cakes and sweet biscuits will be on the "occasional" list. Goodies listed under "select" will have some nutritional value and will be sold irregularly - potentially once a week. This will include party pies, sausage rolls and low-fat ice cream.

Schools will be told to try to sell as much "everyday" food as possible - which includes items with high nutritional value. Fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread and cereals and salads are in this category. Pikelets, crumpets, baked potatoes and frozen yoghurt will also be available daily. The new rules will apply to school canteens and lunch orders provided by outside caterers and shops. The Government is believed to have taken a different approach to chocolates and lollies [candy] in schools.

It is believed schools will be given information on how to introduce the new rules, which will begin next year. This includes advice on how to make healthier versions of popular food, for example, replacing commercially made pizza with home-made healthier versions. Activities for the classroom, promotional posters, a website and other material will also be available.

The Bracks Government introduced canteen guidelines in 2003 and this is believed to be the next step in the fight against obesity. It is believed the Government wants to send a healthy-eating message to students, who get about a third of their food at school. Many schools have already adopted healthy eating in their canteens, with restrictions on junk food. The tough new rules come after a ban on sugar-loaded drinks at schools and an investigation into restrictions on chocolates and lollies.

Drinks with more than 300 kilojoules a serve will not be sold at canteens or in vending machines. This means sport drinks and mineral water could face the axe. A spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky would not confirm details of the new rules. "While many schools already offer healthy food to their children, the Government feels there is more to do," he said. About 30 per cent of Australian children are overweight or obese.


The confident denunciation of "fatty" foods above is amusing. I reproduce below a recent post of mine from elsewhere which suggests that the epidemiological evidence for the denunciation is very shaky


As most readers here will be aware, the extraordinary degree of misinformation about food and health that we read in the MSM has caused me to do a daily blog on the latest health scares and enthusiasms. It is extraordinarily sad how much energy many people put into going along with the nonsense they read. The longevity studies all tend towards showing that NOTHING in the way of diet or lifestyle change will lengthen your life but many people don't want to believe that so they follow any pied piper who comes along with a promise to lead them to the promised land of longer life. And the media simply pander to that.

One of the most persistent themes that you read in health advice these days is that animal fat is bad for you. A diet rich in animal fat is said to doom you to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. I was rather persuaded of that myself at one stage as there seemed to be some epidemiological evidence for it. Now that I am a health blogger, however, I do a bit more background reading in these things than I used to do and something I found while doing such reading was sufficiently amusing for me to put it up here rather than on my more specialized blog.

The eskimos are of course renowned for eating large amounts of meat and fat. They once ate little else (vegetables don't grow well in the Arctic!) and to this day that remains the mainstay of their diet. And the eskimos have always had a shorter life expectancy than inhabitants of less dangerous climates. But is that shorter life expectancy due to their diet? There is much to say that it is not. They have extraordinarily high rates of suicide, smoking and other behavioural pathologies, for instance.

The interesting thing about Eskimos, however, is WHAT they die of. With their huge intake of animal fats they should be dropping like flies of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, according to the conventional wisdom. But that is precisely what they do NOT die of. They have always had very LOW rates of those diseases. No doubt there is much more that could be said about the matter but when the facts on the ground are the OPPOSITE of what the conventional wisdom would predict, should it not make us just a little skeptical about the conventional wisdom?

I did not keep any links from my reading in the above matters but it should be no trouble to google up lots on the subject.

Victoria's public hospitals in deep doo doo

Emergency ambulances are waiting up to three hours to unload patients because of overcrowded hospitals. The Herald Sun has been told patients' lives are at risk as the system struggles to cope. Some hospitals are accused of putting money before patients by refusing to send ambulances on. A Herald Sun Insight investigation has found:

HOSPITALS are going on ambulance bypass or partial diversion at near-record levels.

SOME are forcing ambulances to wait rather than miss financial bonuses by going on bypass.

A CASE when eight ambulances were queued outside an emergency department.

PARAMEDICS are no longer warned when hospitals shut their doors to emergency ambulances.

NEW mobile computers to record patient details are delaying patient delivery.

The Herald Sun revealed in May that the lives of hundreds of critically ill and injured patients were being put at risk by long delays in ambulance black spots. A Department of Human Services source this week told Insight some hospitals were ignoring a system designed to ensure ambulances bypassed overcrowded emergency departments. "They get penalised if they go on bypass so they don't, which in turn affects ambulance services quite badly," the DHS source said. "They can wait two to three hours at some hospitals before a patient is taken off the stretcher."

A Langwarrin ambulance crew was sent to relieve a Rosebud crew left waiting at Frankston Hospital for two hours last Wednesday night. The source said ambulances had been forced to wait three hours on several occasions at Frankston last month. "It's not just a Frankston problem. It's widespread," the source said. On one day in June, eight ambulances were banked up outside Dandenong Hospital waiting for patients to be assessed. Three were eventually treated at the hospital, but beds couldn't be found for the other five.

Leaked documents reveal city hospitals refused all but the most critical cases while on bypass on 65 occasions totalling 130 hours in May. These don't include diversions under the Hospital Early Warning System, introduced in 2002 to cut bypasses. In May, hospitals used HEWS 287 times, 80 more than in May last year. That puts total bypasses and diversions in 2005-06 as high as 4200. City hospitals went on bypass 2021 times in 1999-2000. The Government stopped releasing bypass numbers four years ago and does not publish HEWS figures.

Operational changes introduced last month mean paramedics are no longer told by dispatchers when a hospital goes on bypass or HEWS diversion. They are notified only when they enter a hospital name into an onboard data terminal when loading a patient. Ambulance employees union boss Steve McGhie accused the Government of keeping paramedics in the dark on bypasses ahead of the election. "It's a way of avoiding access to any data regarding hospital bypass by ourselves and ambulance employees," he said.

Paramedics said it took 20-40 minutes longer to enter cases on new handheld computers. "You actually take your mind off what you're doing with the patient at times to type things in," one said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey blamed Government pressure to reduce elective surgery waiting lists. "For the Government to tell us that everything is working well is clearly a distortion of the truth and these horrific stories are evidence of that," she said. Health Minister Bronwyn Pike rejected suggestions hospitals would endanger patients for financial reasons. "But our emergency departments are busy places and if they get an influx of people at the same time then the system has to deal with it," her spokesman said. He said the ambulance bypass rate of 1.3 per cent was a third of what it was in 1999.

MAS emergency operations manager Andre Coia said computerised bypass alerts were part of a new tracking system. He said average "at hospital times" had risen four minutes to 29 because of it, but changes were being made to speed up the process and cut times. The leaked figures show Royal Melbourne Hospital was worst hit, going on bypass for 50 hours and HEWS for 52 hours in May.


South Australia's public schools in deep doo doo

Private schools with problems like these would have the pants sued off them

Dilapidated South Australian schools are turning to the Federal Government for financial help, with students having been forced to use "disgusting" toilets, 90-year-old chairs and unsafe play equipment. Two schools said they had waited 15 years for outdated chairs to be replaced, another said it had been concerned about dangerous play equipment since 1995 and yet another had been raising concerns about decrepit carpet since 1998. The number of federal funding applications from South Australia's 605 public primary and secondary schools has tripled in the past 12 months, with almost 1000 requests for help this year.

Parents are also being increasingly called upon to raise their own repair funds, with primary school principals saying this was now "essential" to maintain schools. Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday blamed the State Government for the maintenance backlog.

The Advertiser applied to the Education Department, under Freedom of Information laws, for the reasons behind South Australian schools' applications for funding, but this was denied on the grounds that providing that information would cost $20,904. However, The Advertiser is aware that SA schools requesting financial assistance include:

A NORTHERN suburbs primary school where students said the toilets were so "disgusting" and hard to keep clean they avoided using them;

A HIGH school in Adelaide's northwest with 90-year-old chairs in its school hall;

AN inner-city school where junior primary students were "too frightened" to use the toilets;

A SOUTHERN suburbs primary school where an uneven surface on the school's hard court was causing student accidents;

A COUNTRY school where a playground audit found the equipment was "largely non-compliant and unsafe", leaving junior primary students with no equipment;

A WESTERN suburbs primary school where the outdated air conditioning was so noisy that teachers could not speak to students unless it was turned off; and

A PRIMARY school in Adelaide's north-east where the smell of toilets was "unbearable" and pervaded classrooms in the same corridor.

The Investing in Our Schools program provides grants of up to $150,000 to government and non-government schools for infrastructure projects. SA schools made 339 grant applications in round one and 492 grant applications in round two last year. However, the demand for financial assistance has increased significantly this year, with the number of grant applications for round three this year climbing to 984.

Ms Bishop said the poor standards shown in some of the state's public schools were due to State Government neglect of maintenance problems. She said the $26.5 million that had been provided to SA schools by the Federal Government under its Investing in Our Schools program should have come from the state. "It is a disgrace that state Labor governments are not supporting their schools," Ms Bishop said.

However, state Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said the Federal Government's $26.5 million contribution was a "drop in the ocean" compared to the $550 million the state had spent in public school building improvements in the past five years. This included a $300 million school building program in this year's Budget to fund six new schools, as well as many capital projects and school facility improvements. "The Rann Government has instigated Education Works, the biggest school building reform program in three decades, and we would be delighted if the Federal Government backed it with funding," Dr Lomax-Smith said.

SA Primary Principals Association president Glyn O'Brien said yesterday fundraising by governing councils was "essential" as "schools have never got enough money".


Monday, October 16, 2006

Black and white lies

It is high time we debunked the myth of the ecological Aborigine, writes Australian environmentalist William J. Lines

At a rainforest symposium in Cairns in 1987, Ian Lowe, head of science policy at Griffith University, argued that "there are general principles of resource management [that hunter-gatherer] societies embody, and from which we can learn if we have the perceptiveness and the humility to do so". Lowe attempted to elaborate. "Some of these lessons," he claimed, "were spelled out over a century ago by Chief Seattle: 'The Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know: The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. This we know: all things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."'

Fine sentiments. Except Chief Seattle never proclaimed them, nor did any other Native American. The entire speech was a concoction, written by a modern, non-Native American scriptwriter, Ted Perry, for a 1972 film about ecology and falsely attributed to Chief Seattle. Despite their counterfeit, modern provenance, Chief Seattle's words won disciples all over the world and appeared on T-shirts and posters, were reproduced in books and articles, and were frequently cited as the epitome of traditional wisdom and the true and authentic expression of the beliefs of indigenous peoples. In Australia, they provided the template for platitudes about Aborigines living in ecological balance with the environment.

Some commentators who cited Chief Seattle's phony words went further. Economist Clive Hamilton claimed that "much of the inspiration for the philosophy of environmentalism comes from the spiritual outlook of indigenous peoples such as Native Americans and Australian Aborigines". As an example, he quoted Chief Seattle and observed that "it is apparent that these words express a powerful sense of unity between ourselves and the Earth". Like the belief in the authenticity of Chief Seattle's speech, these comments rested more on projection and wishful thinking than on fact. And perhaps there was guilt.

The myth of the ecological Aborigine elevated Aborigines to positions of moral and spiritual superiority and disparaged people ofnon-Aboriginal background. They would never belong in Australia. Their ancestry rendered them incapable of acquiring a sense of connection. After a visit to Kakadu, Michael Krockenberger, Darwin Environment Centre co-ordinator and Australian Conservation Foundation councillor, observed: "In country like this, white people feel like strangers. There is also a sense of incongruity, a feeling that white people cannot easily belong. Only the Aboriginal people are truly at home." These were extraordinary claims: racist, self-scourging and, for conservationists, self-defeating. After all, conservation sought to encourage people to feel at home in Australia, not condemned forever to be outsiders. They could change and identify with the land. Otherwise, what was the point? Who else would support conservation except patriots?

Many prominent conservationists, however, declared that for non-Aborigines, connection was impossible. According to the tenets of racial thinking, non-Aborigines could never and would never feel comfortable living in Australia. If true -- if non-Aborigines were inherently incapable of attachment -- then conservation was doomed. Indeed, the subject tested people's commitment to conservation. Rock singer Peter Garrett -- who became ACF president in 1989 -- campaigned as much for land rights as for conservation. Ensnared by the myth of the ecological Aborigine, many conservationists displayed a perverse unwillingness to accept Aborigines as members of the human race. Land rights advocates couched their arguments in terms of them and us.

Individual human beings disappeared, replaced by a generalised Aborigine and a generalised white. This was fantasy, a fantasy about the other. The fact was, there is no them and no us, only benighted individual human beings, each with their own foibles, traits, infirmities and delusions. All humans share the same biology and endure the same existential anxieties generated by common flesh and blood in a common material world. All humans came out of Africa and all are indigenous to planet Earth. All are capable of alienation and of belonging. Race thinkers, however, insisted on discrimination. The 1991 Queensland land rights bill allowed Aborigines to claim land rights over all the state's national parks, or 2.7 per cent of the state. Aboriginal groups had already indicated they would seek rights over Green Island and Fitzroy Island near Cairns, Iron Range and Archer River Bend on Cape York, Mossman Gorge, Fraser Island and other parks. The Kuku Yalanji clan said it would apply to hunt cassowary and other wildlife in the Mossman Gorge and Daintree national parks.

Some conservationists applauded the legislation. Others said it was inconceivable that Aborigines should hunt rare wildlife with modern firearms in the relatively small proportion of land protected as national park. In a letter to Garrett, ACF member Harry Dick of Cooktown described the ACF's and other groups' support for the Queensland land rights bill as treachery. He said he would work to reverse the ACF policy and would resign if he failed. "No other group in the community has the right to hunt in national parks and it is just not on with Aborigines," he wrote. "The ACF leaders have gone about this with no consultation with their membership. Members are afraid to speak out because they'll be branded racists."

Not all conservationists were cowed. Bill Fisher, north Queensland director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, said the government had rushed into a land rights policy without informed consideration. Changing the protective status of national parks, he said, had "very serious potential to weaken the status for all time". Jill Thorsborne, president of the Cairns branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, backed Fisher and led a campaign to pressure the government to exempt national parks from land claims.

Judith Wright viewed this dissent with alarm. With a dogmatism deriving from her blinkered view of justice for Aborigines, she would not tolerate any questioning of the myth of the ecological Aborigine. She resigned as WPSQ patron and, in an open letter, condemned the society: "I must disassociate myself completely from any organisation opposed to land rights and I therefore have no option but to resign the patronship," she wrote. And, in a display of the race thinking -- dividing the world into them and us -- that had come to characterise her conservation advocacy, she continued: "If it hadn't been for the Aborigines' systems of management, their respect for the country, their self-control, we would never have had these areas (wilderness) to take over in the first place. They are a darned sight better at managing than we are."

By the end of the 20th century, protected areas -- national parks, wilderness, and flora and fauna sanctuaries -- formed the cornerstone of Australian conservation. The outcome of decades of defending the country's natural heritage, they were, nevertheless, limited. Island-like parks cannot meet the needs of wide-ranging species, or maintain natural disturbance regimes, or enable the dispersal and re-establishment of wildlife following events such as fires. Only a continent-wide network of core wild areas, wildlife corridors and intact lands can protect the continental-scale flows of nature. This insight had already activated conservationists in the US who, in 1991, founded the Wildlands Project.

The Wilderness Society campaigners urged a similar program for Australia. In March 1997, the society endorsed wilderness-wildlands as its new campaign framework. Yet this initiative occurred against a background of criticism of the idea of wilderness. In The Future Eaters, Tim Flannery described the concept as problematic; it kept alive the notion of terra nullius. Wilderness, he claimed, did not exist in Australia. Thereafter, attacks on wilderness escalated.

For Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton there was no such thing as wilderness, only "cultural landscapes". Furthermore, "the term wilderness was a mystification of genocide" because: "The popular definition of wilderness excludes all human interaction within allegedly pristine natural areas even though they are and have been inhabited and used by indigenous people for thousands of years. Like the legal fiction of terra nullius which imagined us out of existence ... popular culture also imagines us out of existence ... The national park is an institution of power which governs and commodifies nature and thereby culturally constructs an imagined wilderness and can be understood as a part of the colonial repertoire when (it is) understood as the further delineation, naming and categorising of terra nullius incognito. It is a further conquest."

This ill-reasoned, chaotic argument rested on a terrifying ignorance of history, language, biology and ecology. Wilderness defenders had been among the first activists in Australia to acknowledge Aboriginal presence and had never defined wilderness as a place that "excludes all human interaction". Even proponents of terra nullius did not deny the presence of humans in Australia, only their ownership of the land. Ideological inhibitions, however, prevented other conservationists from speaking up; for example, for the dugong, hunted to near extinction by what at least one euphemism-friendly environmental journalist referred to as "unregulated indigenous cultural harvesting".

Only the fearless Mary White put the matter forthrightly: "A major problem in conservation in northern Australia is the difference in the laws which govern Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal behaviour. Aborigines may burn where and when they like on land they own and lease; they can range over country held by others as well as over that which they own in the course of their hunting and foraging; they are allowed by law to kill animals which are protected, even endangered, and which non-Aboriginal Australians are prohibited from killing, and they use high-powered modern guns, not traditional methods to do so. This situation has to be addressed. It creates a divided nation and a great deal of resentment."

White's candour affronted many people. Fantasy more perfectly satisfied their multiple needs. Several impulses, for example, upheld the myth of the ecological Aborigine. Some people sought to recover habits of thought they imagined prevailed during a past era, before the disruption of the human and natural worlds by heedless agriculture, runaway industrialism, loss of faith, galloping modernity and reductionist science. Others, driven by guilt, overcompensated for past wrongs by designating Aborigines possessors of superior wisdom. Still others wanted a story about the natural life against which they could contrast the modern world and expose its ills.

By the beginning of the 21st century, this endemically patronising view of Aborigines as moral lessons for effete Europeans became an overriding, unchallenged cause for left-wing intellectuals. Furthermore, many intellectual conservationists presented their belief that indigenous people enjoyed a fundamentally different relationship to the land as the only starting point for critiquing Western society. This decree prevented conservationists from examining the multitude of critical possibilities inherent in Western culture. Conservation commentators who ignored the polemical diversity of the Western inheritance favoured a narrow and conformist outlook. Truth never penetrates unwilling minds, and commentators pursued the ecological Aborigine dogma with an infatuation that defied consistency and sense.

Scientist Mike Archer and conservation writer Bob Beale began their 2004 book Going Native with a defensive, reverential and romanticised account of Aboriginal occupancy. After fashionably dismissing the idea of wilderness, they suggest that while Aborigines walked every square metre of the continent, invested every feature with spiritual significance and managed the entire landscape intensively for at least 60,000 years until it was "just as much a human construct as it is a natural one", they had no impact, caused no extinctions and kept Australia's biota intact.

Such claims stagger belief and outrage coherence. But Archer and Beale persist. Aborigines were model conservationists and we have much to learn from their "sustainable land-management strategy". The authors did not elaborate. Instead, their main recommendation featured the economic valuing of "ecosystem services": a program dependent on premises and principles utterly foreign and contrary to Aboriginal cosmologies.

The myth of the ecological Aborigine became a dogma because conservationists failed to call one another intellectually to account, to question myth-makers and to rigorously and ruthlessly evaluate evidence. Even sceptical conservationists remained silent, either out of fear of being branded racist or because they lacked the forensic skills necessary to unpack the myth. Their silence complied with the country's general intellectual timidity. As in other areas of social inquiry, intellectuals in conservation disparaged dissent and discouraged critical oversight.

In their 1999 history of the environment movement, Queensland Greens leader Drew Hutton and fellow academic Libby Connors noted approvingly: "Many in the Australian movement welcome the lack of philosophical dispute, which they see as debilitating, consisting largely of labels and purity." Conservationists trapped in wishful thinking about the wisdom of the elders and disdainful of dissent cannot see the truth: there are no models, no templates for living sustainably on this continent or on this planet. We're on our own and must make our own way.


Anger about school's homosexuality for kids plan

Education authorities have been accused of instructing all Victorian government school teachers to "celebrate" homosexuality in the classroom. Furious family groups claimed the Department of Education and Training was "foisting" sexuality on children as young as prep. The outcry was sparked by the department's anti-homophobic bullying policy which, referring to sexuality, states: "The most important thing teachers can do is create and continually model a school environment that respects and celebrates diversity." School curriculums and teaching should be inclusive of the needs of same-sex-attracted and transgender students, the policy states.

Australian Family Association Victorian vice-president Angela Conway lashed out at an instruction to celebrate homosexuality in the classroom. Ms Conway said the policy would have the reverse effect and, by highlighting sexuality, encourage bullying. Discussion of sexuality could also confuse young children who were experiencing close childhood relationships with peers of the same sex, she said.

Australian Family Council spokesman Bill Muehlenberg said a pro-homosexual agenda was "trying to hijack the bullying programs to push a pro-homosexual policy on children. Younger kids are not worried or thinking about various sexual orientations." Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said focusing on differences in sexuality could have a negative impact. But Education Services Minister Jacinta Allan said the instruction was part of a strategy to prevent bullying.


Australian Leftists mimic the Royal Society

(Britain's Royal Society attracted widespread condemnation for writing to Exxon and asking them to stop funding Greenhouse skeptics)

Religious bigots are dangerous in politics. Just see what federal Labor frontbenchers Kelvin Thomson and Anthony Albanese will do in the name of their green faith. Thomson, the human services spokesman, has written to business chiefs declaring "global warming is happening, it is man-made, and it is not good for us." But, he sighs, "propaganda and misinformation" is being spread by "sceptics."

"I am writing to ask if your company has donated any money to the Institute of Public Affairs . . . or any other body which spreads misinformation or undermines the scientific consensus concerning global warming . . . If so, I request that your company cease such financial support."

This bid to shut down debate is scary enough in a likely minister in any Labor government. But it's worse when you see what Albanese, Labor's environment spokesman, considers to be the truth about global warming. This week he claimed Tuvalu, a Pacific island, "is expected to become uninhabitable within 10 years because of rising sea levels". In fact, our South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project has found the seas there have risen just 4.3mm a year recently, and a much longer record kept by the University of Hawaii shows an even smaller rise -- just 0.9mm a year. The project's report concludes: "Hence, even with 22 years of data the trend cannot be established without sizeable uncertainties."

No doubt this fact "undermines the scientific consensus concerning global warming". So what would Labor do to a scientist who says such a thing, or a business that publishes it?


School passes 'illiterate' boy

A schoolboy will soon start Grade 11 despite failing almost every test he has sat for the past four years. The father of "Anthony", 15, who struggles with basic literacy and numeracy, says education officials have ignored repeated pleas to keep his son back. He said it was an indictment of Queensland's state education system that his son was elevated each year despite his failing grades. Anthony would finish senior school at Albany Creek State High with little or no understanding of what he had been taught. "He should have been held back in Grade Seven. He was not ready for high school. I pleaded with the school . . . but they pushed him up," the father of four said. "It has been the same every year since. He does not understand what he has been taught in 8, 9 and 10, yet the school is happy he is going to 11 next year." Anthony recently sat the Grade 10 literacy and numeracy benchmark exams and scored five out of 40 in each.

The school contacted his father but the news was not what he expected. "I thought they might be telling me it was best he repeats Grade 10. But, no, they said he would be going up to Grade 11 next year. I could not believe it," the father said. "He doesn't know his times tables. His spelling is shocking. He is totally lost." The boy's father said he had asked school officials for remedial help but was told to get private tuition. "I am a single dad bringing up four teenagers. I can't afford private tuition. The school says it doesn't have the funds to help me," he said.

Anthony told The Sunday Mail he enjoyed being at school with his mates and would like to get higher marks than his usual D, E, and F scores. "I have a problem with school work. I just find it difficult," he said. "I like school, it's better than sitting around at home. I just wish I was better at it. "It's going to be tough next year. I don't know what subjects I am going to do."

His father said Anthony wanted to work with cars when he finished Grade 12. "But I don't know if he will ever get the chance. I don't blame the school. I know they are under a lot of pressure, their hands are tied. "I blame Education Queensland. The system has failed Anthony. "In my day, we learned everything by repetition. Today, they tell me repetition is bullying. I think they need to get back to basics."

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said the school had made every effort to help Anthony. Mr Ryan said that while Anthony was in Grade 10, he was doing a modified program that included work from a much lower grade. "The school has quite a specific amount of work in terms of supporting this student . . . the school has done the caring thing in providing a modified program," he said. Mr Ryan said parents could insist on their child being held back a year, but there were other factors taken into consideration, including a student's age, size and maturity.

An Education Queensland spokeswoman said the school would work closely with the father and son to help Anthony through his final years, including the possibility of a school-based apprenticeship. "Given the parent's strong views, the school will arrange to meet with the parent to further discuss his concerns and options for the future," the spokeswoman said. "The school is committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for this student." She said Anthony had been part of a learning support program since Year 8, with particular focus on literacy. "The school strongly believes he has made progress through the years and they have faith in his abilities to continue."

Opposition education spokesman Stuart Copeland attacked the State Government for failing students. "We are seeing far too many people come out of school barely able to read or write. We are hearing about university students who have to take remedial English courses," Mr Copeland said. Education commentator Christopher Bantick said schools were promoting students beyond their ability. "Students are promoted, regardless of results because schools are number crunching," Mr Bantick said. "A student who fails year after year is not benefiting from this promotional policy. The problem is compounded." He said parents had every right to ask for their child to be held back - although it sometimes led to peer pressure and ostracism.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Leftist State governments are to blame for Australia's urban water shortages, not nature

They haven't built dams for years, despite big population growth

Justified concern about the severity of the drought now facing Australia should not be allowed to obscure the abject failure of governments around the nation to secure adequate supplies of an essential resource. The failure is a lack of foresight rooted in political pork-barrelling to rural irrigators and greed at the expense of city water users. The result has been environmental degradation requiring billions of dollars to address, a crisis in agriculture during periods of low rainfall and the absurd situation of water rationing in a country at the peak of its prosperity. The problem for urban consumers has arisen because water has been traded through state monopolies that, when faced with a squeeze of their own making, have simply turned off the tap.

As reported in The Australian yesterday, the first national audit of water resources conducted by the National Water Commission has found the states continued to fail in water management. And the blame-shifting continued at yesterday's inaugural meeting of the Council for the Australian Federation, where yet another promise was made for a national focus on water. But there has been little progress on the long-promised national water market and the most pressing task: the buyback of water rights that have been over-allocated for decades by state governments keen to curry political support. Such a buyback has been identified as the most sensible - and cheapest - way to save rivers in the Murray-Darling system. The drought has made the task urgent but there is a reluctance for political and economic reasons. Buying back only water saved through covering open channels, and introducing drip irrigation and better water management has proved too slow and not enough. But new technology must be adopted. Among the predictions in The Australian's groundbreaking 2026 series starting next Saturday is that current irrigation methods will have disappeared in 20 years' time. Without these advances, it is hard to see how we can continue to justify growing water-hungry crops such as cotton and rice.

None of this addresses the issue of long-term underfunding in urban water resources. By 2026, water consumption in Brisbane will have increased more than 60 per cent. In Sydney, it will be up 35 per cent, with a similar figure in Melbourne. As the present restrictions demonstrate, water authorities have been negligent in planning for the future, both in terms of storage and interstate co-operation. Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Water Malcolm Turnbull has clearly outlined how greed has sponsored the short-term planning. It has done so because delivering "old" water from existing dams is very cheap, but delivering "new" water from new infrastructure is very high. This means that when government-owned water utilities have been faced with an excess of demand over supply they have protected cash flow and dividends by introducing water restrictions. The drought has brought the house of cards tumbling down, however, because restrictions are causing political pain. It is a classic tale of how state monopolies fail consumers. In the absence of market forces and competition, governments have treated water as a cash cow and run their businesses into the ground. The drought has forced a reappraisal that must ultimately bring proper price signals to the water market. This will both deal with uneconomic farm practices and stop the absurd situation whereby elderly residents are forced to water their garden using a bucket.


The decline of Australia's police

Two former top cops are sickened and dismayed by some aspects of the way Victoria Police is being run. Former deputy commissioner Keith Thompson and former superintendent in charge of advanced training Geoff Tulloch say today's force lacks a visible presence, which is leaving the community vulnerable. They also believe officers, constables and senior constables in particular, lack supportive supervision and confidence to administer law and order for fear of admonishment, or a worse penalty.

Both former policemen have spoken out after the Herald Sun last week highlighted the plight of former Det Sen-Sgt John Wilde who was bashed in the city, yet had to push for an investigation.

"There aren't enough troops. Where people are and where there's problems, that's where police ought to be," Mr Thompson, now 80, told the Herald Sun. "I belong to two (Rotary-sponsored) Probus groups and am convinced that people in my age group have stopped going out at night because they don't feel safe." In his day, he said, some troublemakers who disrespected police received a kick up the backside. "Whether society's changed or whether police have let it change, I don't know," he said.

Last year in broad daylight, six would-be robbers accosted Mr Thompson outside Young & Jackson's Hotel in the city. In Flinders Lane one night he saw a man flashing his genitals and yelling "here it is girls, come and get it." On both occasions, there was no sign of a police patrol. More recently, at Telstra Dome, he watched in dismay as two young policemen were told, "and I quote, to p--- off, and that's exactly what they did".

Mr Tulloch, now 72, asked his local senior sergeant to meet residents and explain why they were not receiving service when reporting certain types of crime. He said: "It is quite apparent, certainly in my area, that what once used to be called a crime is not viewed that way any more." He is also disappointed by disrespect shown to police, like youths calling them "pigs" and goading them to fight. "Force command want an honest police force . . . but it would appear officers are sometimes reluctant to enforce those powers, and the criminals are laughing where once upon a time they used to tremble. "I always recommended the police force as a great career, but in recent times I've had reservations in recommending it. Something's changed."


Look out for Big John

John Howard is setting out an aggressive agenda for changing institutional Australia after a decade of being defensive, writes political editor Dennis Shanahan

Former rock singer, songwriter and now Labor backbencher Peter Garrett took John Howard to task last week, accusing him of being a "philistine" entranced with sport and neglectful of the arts. On Tuesday night, as the guest speaker at the 50th anniversary of the literary and opinion magazine Quadrant, the Prime Minister took a swipe at what he saw as a political parvenu. Howard began one of the most important speeches of his 10 years in office with the observation that he had "succumbed to Peter Garrett's advice and decided to spend a night of poetry and discussion" after feasting his sporting love by attending two football grand finals at the weekend.

Garrett had done well in getting noticed from the Opposition backbench in promoting arts funding in Australia in a rare public foray for the high-profile Labor recruit. But the timing could not have been worse. It's one thing to prod the barbarians at the gate but it's entirely something else to insult them as they ransack the citadel.

In Tuesday night's speech, Howard set out an aggressive agenda for changing institutional Australia. He pointed to some victories already and, after a decade of being defensive publicly, he revealed a new attacking attitude. Long pilloried as "Little Johnny Howard", Australia's second longest serving prime minister intends to leave a big footprint in Australian history. Howard set education and particularly the universities as the final and most important target in his quest to have Australian institutions reflect more closely what he sees as a fair representation of Australian values. It is a more conservative, pragmatic and "commonsense" world in which ideology is rejected in favour of realistic results.

It is a battle too often superficially pigeon-holed as the culture wars, a civil society or tagged with meaningless Left and Right political labels. There are inexplicable forces at work in Australia involving a complex mix of prosperity, popular nationalism, insecurity, jingoism, faith, materialism, fear and pragmatism, which defy easy definition.

The astounding outpouring of national grief for the loss of Steve Irwin, a wildlife "warrior", signified much more about national values and priorities than simple mawkish celebrity worship.

But Howard has recognised that no institutional change can take place, no matter how attractive to a commonsense approach, without an underpinning philosophy. As a contributor to Quadrant, Howard was at home among the elite of radical conservative thought in Australia, led by editor Padraic Pearse McGuinness with his Elizabethan ruff of a beard and uncompromising editorial rigour.

Earlier in the day, at a far more prosaic Liberal fundraiser attended by hundreds of business people, Howard demonstrated he is already on the election campaign trail and setting out the political parameters. He is linking his weakness, industrial relations, with his strength, economic prosperity, as he campaigns on being a conviction politician fighting for what he believes. "I think the best way that we can build our nation is to keep and expand the prosperity we now have. And I will be saying to the Australian people again and again ... you have to make a choice as to which side of politics you think is better able to maintain the prosperity we both agree exists. And that is my central thesis to you and to the Australian people," he said.

But that was overt campaign pitch from a man who's setting the pace for his parliamentary colleagues. His far more important message was his agenda to change the institutions to reflect his views more closely. As one former Quadrant editor who certainly wasn't at the dinner, academic Robert Manne, was reported yesterday as saying it is surprising how powerful Howard believes the Left is: "What interests me is the sense in which you have to keep alive the sense of an enemy in order to function, even when that enemy, the cultural Left, is probably at its lowest point in my memory."

Certainly Howard has determinedly changed things: the tenor of the High Court is no longer one of judicial activism but is now an enlightened, independent lawyerly institution under Chief Justice Murray Gleeson, and conservative think-tanks flourish under the Coalition where once there were few conservative voices but Quadrant. Yet Howard sees a threat through a continuum in the "philocommunists" of the Cold War and the New Left in the "soft Left" of today, and is indeed seeking to engage the enemy.

And no cause of engagement creates greater feeling from Howard, a man both pumped up and liberated by his speech, than education and history, the Left's remaining citadel. "Of the causes that Quadrant has taken up that are close to my heart, none is more important to me than the role it has played as counterforce to the black-armband view of Australian history," Howard declared with ABC board member and historian Keith Windschuttle in the audience. "Until recent times it had become almost de rigueur in intellectual circles to regard Australian history as little more than a litany of sexism, racism and class warfare," he said. "Despite a more diverse and lively intellectual environment in Australia compared with past decades, (note: compared with the one of the Howard Government) we should not underestimate the degree to which the soft Left still holds sway, especially in Australia's universities, by virtue of its long march through the institutions," he said.

He pointed to the "more fashionable, progressive views that have held sway in schools and universities" and his own call for a "root-and-branch renewal of Australian history in our schools, with a restoration of narrative instead of what I labelled the fragmented stew of themes and issues". Howard also linked the commonsense - his favourite word of late - education of children in literacy and numeracy with national values and success and rejected the"incomprehensible sludge" in some curriculums.

It is little wonder that within 72 hours of Howard's speech, Education Minister Julie Bishop was proposing a federal takeover of state education curriculums. From philosophical footprint to practical push within three days. Howard is determined to take action, as one Liberal observer put it inevitably on Tuesday night: "He's been playing defensive shots for a long time but now he's on the front foot and determined to score runs off attacking shots."

It's enough to put Garrett off poking the sporting barbarians, but shouldn't. A resurgence in conservative thought is a good thing; a hegemony of any single strand of thought is not. As Howard quoted from a Czech writer with great prescience: "You can't build utopia without terror and before long terror is all that's left."


Savaging a myth

Comment by Andrew Bolt

This weird love our cultural elite has for the Noble Savage can, of course, be as innocent as Rebecca Hossack's dream of being buried like an Aboriginal. Hossack, who runs a swish art gallery in London and was the first cultural attache at our High Commission, has two Aboriginal burial poles in her basement: one for herself and one for her husband. As the glossy Melbourne Magazine ooh-ahhed this month: "When she dies, Hossack says, her bones will be bleached on the roof of her London house, placed in her burial pole and sent back to Australia."

Like I say, it's innocent. No one is inconvenienced, unless Hossack's heirs get the creeps waiting for the skeleton on the roof to turn white. Or the neighbours take fright at the vultures suddenly settling on the gutters of Notting Hill, clutching looser bits of Hossack's rotting remains.

You might think other signs of this new craze for the myth of deeply spiritual savages living in some Garden of eco-Eden -- with white capitalists cast as the snake -- are just as harmless. Who cares if the ladies of Armadale decree that dot paintings by artists certified as genuinely Aboriginal and genuinely poor are a must for the well-dressed wall? At least some artists out bush will get a few honorably earned dollars out of it. And the dry-cleaners of Melbourne could only have profited from the salvation seekers who queued at a phony Aboriginal "sacred fire" at Kings Domain during the Commonwealth Games to get themselves ritually smoked.

But not all of this romanticising about the good old Stone Age is quite so cute. I'm thinking, for instance, of Tom Calma's attack on the Howard Government's Bill to stop Aboriginal wife-bashers and child-abusers from using the excuse that their barbarity was permitted by "tribal law". (The Government had in mind the 55-year-old man who was initially jailed for just one month for anally raping a 14-year-old girl, the judge accepting that under tribal law the victim was his promised bride.)

Wrote Calma, paid big to be our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner: "The problem is that this Bill does not address family violence in the indigenous communities in any meaningful way. "Rather, it will undermine attempts to solve the problem and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Aboriginal customary law." Hmm. Does Calma seems more worried by the damage done to the image of tribal law than by the damage such laws do to a 14-year-old girl?

But he is not alone in re-imagining tribal ways to be gentler -- and greener -- than they really were and are. Many others want to forget the truth -- that even an anthropologist as sympathetic to Aboriginal causes as Professor Peter Sutton says in his essay The Politics of Suffering that "a man's right to beat his wife without interference" can be described by Aborigines as the "Blackfella way" and "high levels of interpersonal violence" have long been "sanctioned" by Aboriginal laws.

No, no, no. Our assorted earth-worshippers, snowfield socialists and freedom-fearers don't want to hear that. They prefer to hear High Priests of the primitive like . . . why, David Suzuki! Suzuki, the famed green guru and broadcaster from Canada, is in Australia yet again, this time for a month-long "farewell" tour from Byron Bay to Broome. I heard him recently at a government-sponsored conference in Ballarat as I waited my own turn to speak, and was astonished to find how crazed his hectoring had become -- yet how rapturously an audience of public servants cheered him. The capitalist world was eating up the world and was "on a suicidal path", I heard him cry. "We live in a world that is absolutely shattered." How grimly pleased the audience was to hear it.

The ways of the West were rotten, he stormed. "Conventional economics is a form of brain damage" and science was just "bulls--- to baffle". We needed no more scientific discoveries, or even research. "The last thing in the world people need is more information." (Except, of course, for the information in Suzuki's book, which he duly plugged, sold and signed.) And it was "disgusting" we lived in bigger houses than did our grandparents: "What kind of a world is this that regards this as progress?" Oh, how the audience loved it all. For the culturally privileged, this is the anti-rational, back to womb-cave, message of our times.

So what was Suzuki offering in place of the reason that has made us so rich and free? Indian ways. Aboriginal ways. Like those wise tribal folk, he said, we had to treat nature as "sacred" and live "in balance" with it. And then Suzuki, who boasts of being an honorary chief of the Cree Indians and an honorary "Mountain Man" of South Australia's Kaurna Aborigines, did a riff that borrowed from his book Wisdom of the Elders. As he says there, "The Native Mind is imbued with a deep sense of reverence for nature" and "Native wisdom . . . regards the human obligation to maintain the balance of the health of the natural world as a solemn spiritual duty". On he went, urging us to worship the earth as Noble Savages allegedly did back when humans led "more stable" lives "in a state of nature". Think Eden.

It's all as Harvard anthropologist Steven A. LeBlanc says in his fine new book, Constant Battles -- not only is the myth of the Noble Savage back in fashion, "it seems that the native people of North America, along with a few other social groups like the Australian Aborigines, have become the poster children for the 'noble savage' concept today".

But the Noble Savage is a fraud. "To think that we have lost our 'roots' or are somehow out of touch with our ancient ancestors -- and have lost the ability to live in peace and in ecological balance -- is a myth and a dangerous one", LeBlanc says. In fact, from the very first days humans emerged, they have constantly and bloodily fought for more to eat after first plundering the land they already have. Forget any of that tribal looking-after-nature stuff. LeBlanc tells of Indians hunting buffalo by driving whole herds over cliffs. He shows how other tribal hunter-gathers tore down branches from fruit trees to make huts, hunted animals to extinction and didn't care if their animal prey were males or females pregnant with next year's dinner.

The story was no different here. LeBlanc could have quoted Edward Curr, a squatter from the Murray who saw how the Bangerang hunted in the 1840s: "(T)hey never spared a young animal with a view to its growing bigger. I have often seen them, at an instance, land large quantities of fish with their nets and leave all small ones to die within a yard of the water." Indeed, LeBlanc went through 30 years of issues of Human Ecology, a top journal of anthropology, looking for evidence of tribes living in harmony with nature in the way Suzuki claims, but concluded: "There are no clear examples of conservationist behaviour in any traditional societies reported during the last three decades."

Why is he so keen to finish off the Noble Savage? Because we won't otherwise see what a great chance we've been given by our Western ways -- our science, our technology and our reason. "For the first time in history, technology and science enable us to understand Earth's ecology and our impact on it, to control population growth, and to increase the carrying capacity in ways never before imagined. The opportunity for humans to live in long-term balance with nature is within our grasp if we do it right."

THAT means using our brains -- not some fake native "wisdom" that never was -- to feed and house everyone without exhausting the land, so eliminating the greatest cause of wars. Already we are less likely to die in battle than our tribal ancestors ever were. Kill off the Noble Savage for good, and we may yet live in that peace and "balance" of which Suzuki dreams -- but with, and thanks to, the wealth he claims he spurns


Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Anti-capitalist" ignoramuses

Comment by Andrew Bolt

Here's a test for those protesters - backed by churchmen, academics, Age journalists and the dad's-cash rich - who are planning next month's big Melbourne rally against capitalism. Check this picture of North Korea by night, deep in darkness. And see also, just below, the lights of South Korea blazing so warmly. Question: Which of those two Korean countries do you think decided to follow America and go capitalist?

And which do you think decided to follow advice of people just like you-yes, you in the Che Guevara T-shirt? As the satellite picture shows, bright ideas can have black consequences. Communist North Korea might be able to build a nuclear bomb, but its people are now so poor and starved that many are reportedly driven to eat the bark off trees. Here is a reminder that some ideas are so dopey that those pushing them should not be encouraged-and especially not by people who should well know how we got so rich and free. And well-lit.

So, how lucky are the protesters of the StopG20 collective, then-anti-capitalists kept afloat by fawning newspaper stories, handouts from retailers and grants from our most famous capitalist families? StopG20 is a hold-hands of radicals drawn from the usual far-Left groups, many of which helped to turn the streets outside the World Economic Forum meeting at Crown on September 11, 2000, into a battlefield on which dozens of police were hurt. They include the inevitable socialist factions, as well as student unions, the Baptist Church's Urban Seed and Friends of the Earth, and their next great idea is to try to stop next month's meeting in Melbourne of the G20 group of nations.

You see, they are furious-in that typically gentle way of the Left-that the treasurers and reserve bank governors from 19 of the world's most powerful economies, as well as the European Union, are coming here to talk about ways to make capitalism work even better.

You might wonder what exactly these mega-capitalists will be plotting, and I have a scoop for you. They plan to talk about better ways to keep you in work and make sure your own lights keep shining. And so, the meeting-chaired by Treasurer Peter Costello, will try making trade a bit easier, for instance, and the competition for energy less nasty. The United States, Japan, Britain and Germany will be at the table, of course, but also developing countries such as China, Indonesia and Mexico. Fast-growing India will be there to see what more can be done to get rich, and South Korea will turn up, too, having done just that-thanks to capitalism.

Ah, capitalism. That very word will have the neo-barbarians behind the police lines outside screaming with rage. Those StopG20 protesters won't want more capitalism of the kind that made South Koreans rich. They seem to much prefer the kind of policies that have made North Koreans starve. You think I'm being unfair? Then check the StopG20 collective's website, kindly publicised twice already by The Age, which is so helpful to the protesters (despite being propped up by ads placed by capitalists) that it has one of Urban Seeds' veteran protesters working on its G20 supplement, claims Urban Seed itself.

So what does StopG20 want? Well, here's a test. PICK which of the following two plans for running an economy is taken from North Korea's official websites and which from StopG20's. Plan A: Citizens should reject "imperialism which has state monopoly capitalism as its political and economic basis" and say no to foreign trade and private property rights. Such "neo-colonialism" is "falling into decay and ruin", anyway. So leaders should instead let citizens practise "self reliance" in collectives, which solve "all problems . . . with one's own efforts". Hey, an "all-people drive to plant fruit trees" would be nice.

Plan B: Citizens should reject "imperialism" of Western powers, with their "fat cats' wet dream" of global trade and property rights. The "colonialism" of the West's "global order" is "inherently unsustainable", anyway and "breeds militarisation, war-driven competition and police states". What's more, "capitalism has always enslaved children", who are "in danger of growing up . . . ignorant about how to grow carrots" (sic). So leaders should let citizens turn instead to "solidarity economies" and "community food gardens", where they can practise "relocalisation, self-determination and regional self-reliance".

I know, one plan actually sounds much like the other-with that same freedom-fearing desire to go back to the womb, back to the cave, back to the tribe. That same desire that Islamists and greens feel, too. Nevertheless, you might still forgive the StopG20 collective if they were just students, too young to know how schemes like their Plan B have worked in practice. But not all the protest leaders who meet in the student union offices of RMIT University (official RMIT spokesman: International Socialist leader David Glanz) have youth to excuse them. And the people helping them out with cash most surely don't. I'm thinking here of ministers of the Baptist Church, officials of the Melbourne City Council-and especially trustees of the Myer Foundation and Ian Potter Foundation.

I single out those last because one of the "non-violence workshops" for StopG20 protesters is being run by Urban Seed, a charity created by the Collins St Baptist Church and run by a long-time minister, Mark Pierson. Brent Lyons-Lee, another Baptist minister, is one of several Urban Seed members who have helped to publicise the StopG20 rally. These clerics sure don't do irony. Their group is helping to protest against capitalism, yet have taken tens of thousands of dollars in donations from foundations created by two of the state's leading capitalists-retailer Sidney Myer and stockbroker Sir Ian Potter. And they've grabbed help from the Lord Mayor's Charitable Fund, too, courtesy of cash from retailers.

Just what are the trustees of the Myer Foundation doing? Are they trying to apologise for grandad getting so rich by, er, selling stuff? Being a capitalist? I should point out that none of these donations was for-or is being spent on-the StopG20 rally. But I'm not sure people with such a contempt for capitalism need quite so much encouragement from capitalists. Shouldn't they cadge their donations from Kim Jong-il instead? Or at least Cuba? Ditto for Friends of the Earth, which is also behind StopG20. I'd have thought it had enough of a toehold in our culture, with one of its leaders an associate professor at Adelaide University, without the Myer Foundation having to help it, too.

How odd this all is. We now have undeniable proof of what the ideas of the radical Left mean when some country is cursed enough to try them-check that picture again-yet the same kind of salvation-seekers never lose their fascination for the politics that enslave. Just what will make those lights go on?


Crooked Queensland cops again

Five junior police officers face disciplinary action for losing more than $10,000 and 100 tablets after a raid on a home south of Brisbane. The officers had bagged the money and drugs after raiding a home at Belivah. On Monday before escorting a man to another home at Beenleigh, about 6km away. The officers allegedly left the money and drugs behind in the home, with at least one unattended man still there. The evidence had vanished when they returned after realising their mistake.

Officers from the Queensland Police Service's Ethical Standards Command are investigating. In a statement, a police spokeswoman said there was "no evidence of any criminal behaviour by police involved". [Believe that if you like] The officers have remained on duty but seem certain to face disciplinary action.

It has been revealed that their supervising sergeant on that shift has since taken unexpected sick leave. "Any disciplinary action will be the next phase following the investigation by the Ethical Standards Command," the spokeswoman said. The disappearance of the money and drugs forced police to release, without charge, the man they had taken into custody.

Meanwhile, disciplinary action has been taken against an off-duty Townsville-based police officer after he sprayed a man with capsicum spray. The senior-sergeant, who was on leave, has been sidelined to non-operational duties while an Ethical Standards Command investigation decides whether he will be charged over the incident at Tarragindi, on Brisbane's southside, on Tuesday afternoon. The officer is alleged to have sprayed the man in the face in the mistaken belief that he was involved in a domestic dispute. A police spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that police officers are not supposed to take capsicum spray home with them. "Once you finish your shift, it's supposed to remain at the station," she said.

The man who was sprayed did not suffer any permanent effects, and the officer had gone to his aid when he realised his mistake, the spokeswoman said


Classics a rediscovered pillar of education

Two ancient languages are sparking an unexpected revival in the increasingly lost arts of punctuation and grammar in the nation's schools. A revival in the popularity of classical Greek and Latin and ancient history is teaching high school students something that many are failing to grasp in modern day English classrooms. "I have a greater grasp of grammar because I learn (classical languages)," said Year 12 student Samantha Taylor, one of about 200 students who will sit Latin for the HSC in NSW this year. "I understand verbs, clauses and nouns."

Ancient history, Latin, philosophy and classical Greek dominate the suiteof HSC subjects Ms Taylor is studying at the Sydney Church of England Co-educational Grammar School (Redlands). Ancient history is a popular pathway into classical languages and for the past two years enrolments in this subject - now the seventh-most popular for the HSC in NSW - have overtaken those in modern history in that state.

There is little doubt that the study of classics is no pushover: it is intellectually demanding and requires the reading of texts in Latin and ancient Greek. Experts argue that is why the skills it engenders in students - analysis, argument, presentation - are so useful in the workplace. And employers know it. But that is probably not why students are drawn to classics.

Lecturer Alastair Blanshard said the exoticism and colour of the ancient world appealed to students and offered an escape from the mundane. "It's a world where all the things that you would want to happen are happening," he said. "There's a lot of appeal about the politics. When you see current politics and you see the endless senatorial inquiries and the things drowning in red tape, it's quite nice to imagine a world where it's all sorted out by daggers on the senate floor." In a classical world, things were much clearer; leaders could conquer a world that was less constrained by Christian morality. There was more sense of adventure, more sense of play.

The Australian National University's classics convener, Elizabeth Minchin, said the increase in popularity of the classics was creating stronger demand for those subjects in universities. She said 16 universities now taught classics to some degree. Some such as Monash, had reintroduced it after closing courses in the wake of 1996 budget cuts. Sydney University is among those institutions experiencing rapid growth in the classics. Its undergraduate enrolments in ancient history and the classics now stand at 1417, a 22 per cent increase on 2004.


No place for politics in Australia's national narrative

If Julie Bishop wins a national curriculum, there's plenty that needs fixing, writes Kevin Donnelly

Compared with the rest of the world, Australia's curriculum is second rate. Not only are we in the second 11 when it comes to the results in international maths and science tests, as measured by the Trends in International Maths and Science Studies, but, as documented in Why Our Schools are Failing, our curriculum is dumbed down and politically correct.

The solution? One answer is to have a national curriculum based on the methodology being advocated in the US. After dumping the outcomes-based education model, the US approach to curriculum is firmly based on the academic disciplines, politically impartial, succinct and teacher friendly and benchmarked against international best practice.

While a national approach to curriculum has much to endorse it, judged by the attempt already under way, represented by the Australian Statements of Learning in maths, English and civics, there are dangers in imposing a national approach. Take the national Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship, endorsed by Australia's education ministers at their August ministerial meeting, as an example. First, the good news. The proposed civics and citizenship curriculum does ask students to develop "an understanding of, and commitment to, Australia's democratic system of government, law and civic life" and "the capacity to clarify and critically examine values and principles that underpin Australia's democracy". There is even an attempt to illustrate what such principles refer to when the documents suggest students learn about "the common good, separation of powers, government accountability" and "equality before the law, presumption of innocence". Unfortunately, such details prove the exception and the bad news outweighs the good.

Overall, the document fails to make explicit the values, principles, historical events and people central to Australia's development as one of the world's oldest continuous democracies. Under Historical Perspectives, Year 5 students are asked to "investigate the influence of significant individuals and events on the development of democracy in Australia", Year 7 students are asked to "explore the impact of people, events and movements of the past on Australian identities and democracy" and Year 9 students are asked to "reflect on the influence of past international events on governments in Australia".

In line with the present inability or unwillingness of those in charge of Australian curriculums to make explicit judgments about what all students have the right to learn, such statements give no direction as to what individuals and which events should be given priority. The danger is that many schools across Australia will ask students in history and social studies classes to do projects on Peter Brock or Steve Irwin on the assumption that learning should be immediately relevant and contemporary. While good teachers can make figures such as Arthur Phillip, Caroline Chisholm, Edmund Barton, Henry Bournes Higgins and Robert Menzies accessible and lively, many teachers will take the easier option.

Given the left-leaning nature of Australia's education establishment, it should not surprise anyone that the Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship present a politically correct approach to issues. Students are told to value the "heritage of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples" and, when arguing the need to teach narratives, the example refers to "Dreaming stories". Students are also asked to learn about the "uniqueness and diversity of Australia as a multicultural society", to "explore Australia's cultural diversity" and asked to "contribute to environmental sustainability in local to global contexts".

In line with the cultural Left's belief that education must be used to create "mini-me" social activists, Year 3 students are told to "participate in positive civic and social action" and Year 5 students are told to "participate in appropriate actions as environmental stewards or participate in other civic action to effect positive change".

Unlike the US, with its proud record of teaching civic values and founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, Australia has a history of failing to teach the values and the narrative on which our democracy depends. With the exception of NSW, the way history and politics is taught reflects a dumbed-down and politically correct approach. Instead of celebrating what we have achieved as a nation, students are taught to feel guilty about the sins of the past and that Australian society is riven with inequality and social injustice.

Instead of students being taught the grand narrative associated with the rise of Western civilisation and Australia's foundation and growth as a nation, they are told that doing history is more important than learning history, and studying the local community and PC issues such as the environment, multiculturalism, gender, futures and world peace take priority.

On these pages in the past year or two there have been repeated examples of how subjects such as history, mathematics, science, geography and music have been subverted by the cultural Left and dumbed down by an adherence to outcomes-based education. Sadly, the recently endorsed Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship proves that little has changed and that the devil is always in the detail when it comes to developing a national approach.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Leftist women rely on "connections" for advancement

Precisely what Leftists have always accused conservative men of -- the "old boy network" etc. Leftist projection is alive and well

The Liberal Party's first lady has taken a swipe at the Labor Party sisterhood, branding it an ex-wives' club that had got ahead by connections and embarrassing quotas. The Liberal Party's federal president, Chris McDiven, has pulled no punches in her assessment of female Labor MPs as she prepares to celebrate Liberal women in cabinet. "If you look at our women, they represent a wide selection of careers, career paths into parliament and a wide diversity of backgrounds, whereas if you look at the Labor women, you'll find that nearly everyone has got there through their family connections - they're 'wives of', 'ex-wives of', 'daughters of', 'sisters of'. It is an interesting comparison," Ms McDiven told The Australian yesterday.

Ms McDiven stepped into the media spotlight yesterday for the first time since she was elected 16 months ago as the Liberal Party's first female federal president. A confessed "backroom girl" who has not sought election to parliament herself, the 58-year-old mother of two, former teacher, small businesswoman and investment manager also took pity on her ALP counterpart, NSW state MP Linda Burney, who is guaranteed a term as ALP president because of affirmative action.

Ms Burney ran last in the current four-way ALP presidency race - well behind former Labor leader Simon Crean - but will be given a turn as ALP president in 2009 while Mr Crean misses out. "Personally I feel a bit sorry for Linda Burney," Ms McDiven said at the Liberal Party headquarters yesterday. "I feel much prouder that I have managed to get to this position on my merit. She's getting there, unfortunately for her, as a number on affirmative action. I don't think that will help her in the long term."

Ms McDiven, who ran a program training women candidates that is credited with doubling the number of women Liberal MPs at the 1996 election, said the Liberal way was to be elected on merit without quotas. "Personally, if I had got myself into parliament because I was a 'number' I would not be completely satisfied with that," she said. "I would like to think I got there on merit. Our women can hold their heads up and say they got there completely on merit."

Ms McDiven said many Labor MPs got into parliament on the back of family or marital connections but the Liberal Party was trying to encourage women to come forward and be elected on merit. "When we set up the training program I learnt then that we had to go and find women; women tend not to put themselves forward," she said. "We are seriously looking for women with talent to put themselves forward. "I have spoken to Republican women in the US and the Conservative Party in the UK, they all say the same thing, men tend to put themselves forward."

Ms McDiven said she "got a buzz" when Julie Bishop was appointed as the first female Liberal cabinet minister from the House of Representatives and took pride in the record three women who were now in cabinet. She said energetic new NSW senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells came through the Liberal program. Ms McDiven said she did not believe gender had played a part in the contretemps in NSW over the state preselection battle for the high-profile Pru Goward. She believed geographic reasons were important because the seat Ms Goward was now standing in, near Yass, was closer to where she lived. Ms McDiven is attending a gala dinner tonight in Canberra to celebrate the record number of women in the Coalition cabinet.


Ideologues hijack High School physics education

Comment by Dr Peter Ridd, a professor of physics at James Cook University

The moguls controlling the education syllabuses in the Queensland Studies Authority should be fearful of the plans of Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop to scrap the state boards of study and introduce a national curriculum. The message to them is simple - fix up the school syllabuses or face extinction.

The Queensland education system, and the QSA in particular, has been hijacked by ideologues applying theories dreamt up by the education faculties of our universities. They have become out of touch with the expectations of the parents. In addition, they have made little effort to address the concerns regarding their syllabuses of academics at universities in disciplines such as English, geography, maths, physics and engineering. In short, they have some of the world's silliest syllabus documents while at the same time claiming that Queensland is at the cutting edge of modern education practice.

Like most people who are concerned with education, but who have left the classroom, they have lost touch with reality. My favourite example of a typical Queensland syllabus is the new physics syllabus presently being introduced. A syllabus is the document that a teacher uses for guidance on what to teach and how to assess. Incredibly, the physics syllabus gives almost no guidance to the teacher of what content is to be taught. Nowhere, for example, does it say that the laws of electricity or gravity should be covered by the teacher.

The statements in the syllabus on copyright, equity and safety are each longer than the section on content. The reason is that according to modern education theory, content and facts are not necessary. In fact, in the world of education relativism, facts do not even exist; they are merely constructs that may vary according to your cultural background and general philosophy. Perhaps in some culture gravity goes upwards?

With the omission of any facts from the syllabus, one might have expected that it would be a short document, but you would be wrong. There is page after page of gory education jargon describing the overcomplicated assessment scheme that forbids the use of marks. Instead, it uses a highly questionable subjective system of "holistic judgments" to come up with a final grade.

Also, in the new syllabus, teachers are now at liberty to remove almost all mathematics from their physics courses. Mathematics is the primary language of physics and removing the maths effectively cripples the subject.

The miserable mess of the new physics syllabus is but one example of a multitude of crazy aspects about our education system imposed by the QSA. We have an English syllabus where the children learn more about gender equity and culture than about writing. We have a junior science syllabus that has removed almost all calculations, causing the subject to be pointlessly descriptive.

Students fail to realise how mathematics is a key aspect in most modern science, engineering and technology. Our mathematics syllabus document has not a single equation in it and introduces key techniques such as algebra far too late. Streaming of students in junior maths is officially frowned upon but most schools do it on the sly because the teachers at least do not have their heads in the clouds.

The junior SOSE (Studies of Science and Environment) syllabus has, in the words of Bishop, become a course that could have been written by Chairman Mao. It is a never-ending morass of trendy left-wing mantra on subjects such as multiculturalism, Aboriginal culture and history, diversity, minority groups and why Western civilisation is the cause of all the evil in the world. They learn little geography or history, and the environmental section suffers from the minor problem that they are not taught enough biology, chemistry, physics or geography to understand the environmental problems about which they learn.

Our assessment systems are dominated by assignments. Exams have been eliminated in many subjects. This is great if you are a child from a comfortable middle-class background with well-educated parents. Parents can either help you with your assignments or hire you a tutor. It is not exactly cheating, but pity the children from lower socio-economic groups who do not get access to this extra help. Continuous assignments do not achieve the aim of improving writing because teachers don't have the time to help the poor writers on an individual basis. Because teachers can never be sure who has actually done an assignment they must not be overused and certainly not become the dominant assessment type.

For the past decade or two, the QSA, backed up by their mates in the university faculties of education, have been going on a rampage through our education system. Finally, in Bishop, we have a person who is willing to take them to task. A national curriculum has the minor advantage that it reduces duplication. The major advantage is that we can start again and purge the country of our present boards of study.


Study sounds mathematics teaching alarm

Mathematics is a subject in crisis, with high school maths teachers increasingly underqualified, unhappy and in short supply. A national study, to be released today, reveals one in five maths teachers did not study maths beyond first year at university and one in 12 did no tertiary maths at all. Half are teaching subjects other than maths at school and more than a third are aged over 50, raising the problem of an ageing workforce.

Commissioned by the influential Australian Council of Deans of Science, the report calls for national accreditation of maths and science teachers to ensure minimum qualifications across all states and territories. As Education Minister Julie Bishop fights for a national schools curriculum, the 38 science deans have stressed "the urgent need to prepare more people for mathematics teaching in schools". "Three in four schools currently experience difficulty recruiting suitably qualified teachers for mathematics classes, and the impending retirement of the baby boomers is set to exacerbate this situation," the study says. The call comes as some universities introduce remedial maths courses for first-year students to help them cope with their degrees.

Overall, 8 per cent of mathematics teachers had studied no maths at university at all. One in five had not studied the subject beyond first year, including 23 per cent of junior school teachers. Teachers younger than 30 were significantly less likely than older colleagues to hold a maths major or to have studied maths teaching methods. "This data, along with the changing face of modern mathematics, explains why 40 per cent of those teaching at the moment were dissatisfied with their mathematics preparation as mathematics teachers," the deans say in a foreword to the study. "Fewer than half of the teachers were confident that they would be teaching mathematics in five years' time."

The research highlights the fact almost every Australian student will do maths at some stage during their schooling. And many fields - such as engineering, agriculture, economics, medicine and business - require a sophisticated understanding of maths and statistics. But many school students are not receiving the high level of maths education required for these fields because just 64 per cent of schools now teach advanced maths, a situation brought about by fewer students wanting to take it up.

Titled "The Preparation of Mathematics Teachers in Australia", the study was conducted by Melbourne University's Centre for the Study of Higher Education and is based on a survey of 3500 teachers and heads of maths departments across 841 secondary schools. It stresses the need for state and territory governments to upgrade the skills of the current crop of maths teachers to keep pace with advances in knowledge. "There's a really urgent task for government if they are going to back a new (national) curriculum to put in place upskilling programs in content for teachers that are currently teaching," said the president of the deans council and dean of science at the Australian National University, Tim Brown. "Students need teachers who have sufficient confidence in their subject knowledge to admit when they don't know the answer and help the students to find out what it is, or what the problem is."

The report reveals considerable disparity between the states: NSW has fewer maths teachers per school while Queensland and Victoria have the most. Queensland finds it hardest to recruit maths teachers. While in Western Australia, curriculum changes were causing widespread "dissatisfaction and concern". It says there is no single way to measure teacher quality, in part because teacher registration is a state issue and graduates can enter the profession by many pathways.

The deputy principal of Catholic girls' school Loreto, in Melbourne's Toorak, and a mathematics teacher for more than 20 years, Elizabeth Burns believes the job must be made more lucrative to attract the next generation of qualified teachers. "Teaching is not a profession that is highly esteemed and there are far more lucrative areas that students who are good at mathematics can go into," she said. "They have to look at better career paths for teachers and higher returns. "It's also about recruiting from other industries. I know people are moving into teaching now from other areas like engineering. Recruitment doesn't only have to come from school leavers or university leavers."


Drought caused by government??

That's what the Australian Green party claims. That Australia has always had punishing droughts and big bushfires is ignored:

Drought and bushfires ravaging Australia are the devastating outcomes of global warming, the Australian Greens said. Bushfires are raging in South Australia and Victoria, while firefighters have managed to bring blazes in suburban Hobart under control overnight. And drought has a tight grip on much of Australia, as farmers prepare to harvest significantly reduced winter crops.

Greens leader Bob Brown said the fires and drought were the result of the Federal Government's massive environmental mismanagement. "What I would call the Howard-enhanced drought and bushfire season. It's a very serious situation that the Australia nation faces," Senator Brown told reporters today. "We are going to have enormous economic, environmental and social damage done to this nation over the coming century."

Senator Brown said the only way for Australia to haul in global warming was through a revolution in dealing with climate change. "We need a revolution in politics in this country to not only catch up with world's best practice(with renewable energy and energy conservation), but to get behind those industries in this country which can technologically and otherwise help us to recover ground and deal with climate change."

Leading Nationals senator Ron Boswell said no coup d'etat was necessary. "Drought's always a problem, it's been a problem for about the last six or seven years, and I think we're doing as much as we can on it," Senator Boswell told reporters.


More fact-free Leftism

Read the following then read a comment on it:

The Australian Democrats in South Australia want a moratorium on the growth of the cotton industry to reduce its effect on water levels in the Murray Darling Basin. Democrat MP Sandra Kanck said the area under cotton production grew by 50 per cent to 314,000 hectares between 1994 and 2004. "To even grow one of the world's thirstiest crops in the driest continent is questionable, but to allow such a massive expansion of the industry is absolute lunacy," she said. Ms Kanck said the cotton industry used almost 20 per cent of the water extracted from the Murray Darling Basin. She said the industry accounted for $1 billion or three per cent of Australia's exports and employed three per cent of Australia's agricultural workers. Ms Kanck said water in the Murray Darling River system should be used to support fruit, vegetable and wine production which used less water, employed more people and made more money.


The world has a GLUT of food and wine. Selling it abroad is extraordinarily difficult due to protectionism and competition in the main markets of the USA, EU and Japan. And this brain-dead Leftist wants us to produce more of such crops and abandon a crop that we CAN sell??

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Islamic insanity in Australia

A religious feud between a Muslim father and his teenage daughter may have sparked a bloody domestic dispute on the Gold Coast which left the man's wife dead and him fighting for life in hospital. Police are investigating suggestions the violence erupted after the 17-year-old girl told her father she wanted to opt out of the Islamic faith and convert to Christianity. The girl's mother is believed to have stepped in to protect her daughter, only to be fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife. Neighbours reported hearing "blood-curdling" screams before the hysterical girl ran half-naked from their Southport home unit covered in scratches.

Police later found the body of the girl's mother, 41, inside the blood-smeared unit. Her husband was taken to the Gold Coast Hospital with a stab wound to the chest. He was last night in a critical condition under police guard.

Neighbour Caitlin Dalton was taking out the rubbish about 7pm on Monday when she heard "loud, huge, terrifying screams" coming from the unit complex. "She (the teenager) was yelling, 'Help me, help me, they're trying to kill me'," Ms Dalton said. "Everybody heard the screams but we couldn't work out which unit they were coming from. Then this girl emerged in the stairwell hysterical and crying. "Her clothes had been ripped off, she was just in her underwear and she had quite severe scratches down her arm and across her back."

Ms Dalton said that as residents tried to comfort the sobbing girl, she told how she had wanted to "convert from the Islam religion . . . and obviously her father didn't handle it very well". "She said her parents were really strict," Ms Dalton said.


Department-store chain takes legal action against feminist

David Jones has begun legal action against a feminist academic who this week accused major retailers of "sexualising" children in their advertising. Furious David Jones chief executive Mark McInnes telephoned the Canberra-based Australia Institute yesterday, demanding it remove all references to his company from a report on "corporate pedophilia". The report claimed that David Jones, Myer and high-end children's labels Fred Bare and Frangipani Rose "sexualised" children by posing them like adults, with hips tilted and lips slightly parted. David Jones threatened that unless its name was removed from the report on the institute's website within two hours, it would instruct its lawyers to take action.

"It was pure corporate bullying," said Australia Institute director Clive Hamilton. Mr McInnes confirmed that the call took place but said: "It was not bullying. It was a courtesy call, which is more than they offered us. We were protecting our reputation and our legal rights. "They have accused us of something that we regard as abhorrent. We will not be used by them to further their agenda."

The Australia Institute report, by academic Emma Rush, caused an outcry as merchants, advertisers and publishers rushed to protect their corporate images. As well as photographs of child models, Dr Rush was critical of the bralette sold by some stores; kiddie lip gloss called Wet Shine advertised in Barbie magazine; and videos shown on Video Hits with women writhing about in short shorts. Bralettes are bandeau-style bras sold to eight- and nine-year-old girls. "The stores say there is demand because girls are reaching puberty earlier, and because girls are bigger now, and they need a bra earlier," Dr Rush said. "But there is no doubt they market these bras to children."

Sydney mother Louise Greig was baffled and upset to be included in the "corporate pedophilia" report for photographing her daughter Georgina to promote her business, "tween" clothing label Frangipani Rose. Ms Greig said the report said "much more about Dr Emma Rush than it says about us". "The idea that you can look at a photograph that I've taken of my own daughter and think, that's pornography - what goes though that woman's mind?" she said. "What kind of planet does she live on, that she would think such sick thoughts?"

Ms Greig said she felt ill whenever she thought about the way Dr Rush had described her nine-year-old daughter as "leaning forward, with legs astride. Both pose and angle are reminiscent of porn shots". "The more I think about how the authors have psychoanalysed and viewed my daughter's photo in a pornographic sense makes me feel sick to the stomach," Ms Greig said. "I feel defamed and vilified but thankfully my daughter is too young and innocent to understand that she has been exploited by Emma Rush."

Dr Rush said the children in various catalogues and magazines were instructed to adopt "come-hither" expressions, with legs apart and slightly open, glossy lips. She said boys in David Jones ads "are smiling, looking like fairly natural children". But "four of the six girls" in one David Jones shoot "are pouting" or have "sultry expressions". Mr Hamilton said the institute "undertook the research into sexualisation of children in the public interest and in response to widespread concern about the issue".


Curriculum choice would force reform

Canberra should engineer an end to the states' monopoly control of the syllabuses taught in schools

If a high quality, teachable curriculum were drafted by Australia's best minds and most outstanding teachers, it would no doubt be highly attractive to most Australian parents. Julie Bishop is leading a crucial national debate about curriculum standards. Her determination to improve curriculum is to be applauded, and hopefully the federal Government will oversee the development of new high quality curriculum available for adoption around Australia.

The Australian Government is probably the only government that can bring together the necessary elements to achieve this. Its greatest challenge, however, will be to have such a curriculum actually taught in schools run by the states. The temptation, which brought former education minister John Dawkins unstuck in the early 1990s, is to negotiate the curriculum with the same people used by the states. This would sink the enterprise from the start. There will be no high quality national curriculum if it has to be negotiated with the states and territories, and there will be no purpose in developing such a curriculum unless schools are allowed to offer it.

The answer is to end each state's insistence on a monopolistic position in its schools for its own curriculum. The concept of one curriculum imposed on every school is outdated. Bishop is right to say a national interest in curriculum is not a matter of replacing the states' monopoly with a national monopoly. This will prove to be the key policy point. In developing its curriculum the Australian Government may well need to use its power to require the states and territories to permit schools to choose any accredited curriculum, including one developed by the national government. In doing so, Canberra will gain the freedom to develop the curriculum it wants, using its own preferred people and processes, the best it can find, and avoiding reliance on the states being willing to have the national curriculum replace their own.

By requiring the states to abolish the privileged position of their own curriculums - developed by people the community has never heard of - the federal Government will be free to develop the curriculum it believes will gain the respect of most parents (and teachers) and have that curriculum adopted by schools. Giving schools the choice will also sidestep the risk that a future national government will simply replace one national curriculum with another, perhaps with one that shares the flaws evident in present state offerings. If schools have the right to choose the curriculum they will offer, the choices of parents will determine the issue, not the decisions of one political level or one bureaucracy.

More important still, allowing schools to choose their curriculum will end the capacity of any fad or ideology to gain control of the mechanisms for developing curriculum, thereby imposing itself on every school and student. The prospect of having a monopoly over the school curriculum is surely one of the great motivating forces that attracts the faddists and the ideologues.

Ending the monopoly of state curriculums will establish accountability by schools to parents for the curriculum they teach, an accountability parents would welcome, and one very much in harmony with the federal Government's philosophy of choice in education. Schools will no longer be able to blame a curriculum imposed on them for student and parent dissatisfaction.

Enabling schools to choose a national curriculum if they wish also goes a considerable way to solving the problem, identified by the Prime Minister, of families moving interstate and finding a substantial lack of continuity in what their children are being taught. If schools in each state are free to choose the national curriculum, parents moving interstate will be able to choose a national curriculum school whose curriculum will be the same as that of many schools in other states. Ending the monopolistic position of state curriculums is not quite as radical as may appear. The principle of parent choice of curriculum has already been accepted.

Instead of the state curriculum, schools can now use the International Baccalaureate, and that curriculum has not been negotiated with the unions or the states. It is an internationally accepted curriculum with high academic standards that some students prefer to do because its assessment is recognised internationally. It is not a big jump to allow schools to choose a national curriculum as well. The states would resist giving parents the option of a high quality national curriculum at their peril, and the Australian Government would doubtless welcome a political battle on the point.

The case of the IB is instructive, because it shows it is possible for schools to offer more than one curriculum. It also shows that schools can use curriculum to attract parents and establish a reputation for quality. Choice of curriculum by schools does not mean that we have to accept lack of comparability across the country. The issue here is not curriculum, but standards and assessment. The other element in the package of reform in this area needs to be national standards and national assessment. We already have national literacy and numeracy standards. National assessments can provide key mechanisms of accountability, and can be designed to cope with curriculum diversity. There are good international examples that make the point.

For decades, Australian students wanting to study in the US have sat something called the Graduate Record Examination that has tested their general abilities and their learning in areas such as maths and science and the humanities. The tests have had enough credibility to be significant in admission to the best universities in the world. These are assessments. They are not curriculums, and they assume that students have not studied the same curriculum. They are designed to find out what students have learned against common standards from the enormous variety of curriculums they have actually studied.

We could have national assessments of that kind in Australia, and the same assessment could be administered in every state and territory. Curriculum choice is therefore entirely compatible with assessment systems that enable parents and the community to determine what and how well students have learned, and to compare the performances of schools and school systems.

There are real possibilities for the production of new high quality curriculums outside the historic institutional battles between school systems, teacher unions and universities, drawing on the best minds in each subject area, and the best evidence-based teaching experience. In principle this can be done by private think tanks and organisations as well as (or better than) by government authorities. It is most likely to happen if the principle of choice is further extended in relation to curriculum.


Some Australian intellectual history

By Greg Sheridan

The battle against totalitarianism, the great Czech novelist Milan Kundera once remarked, is the battle of remembering against forgetting. It is remarkable how much, in Australia, the great political battle of the second half of the 20th century - the battle for democracy against communism - has been forgotten. And if it is remembered at all, it is the people who fought for tyranny - the communists, the pro-communists and the friends of the communists - who are lionised in endless ABC documentaries, affectionate memoirs and taxpayer-funded conferences.

If you stood up for Stalin, as Manning Clark did, if you mounted the barricades for Mao, like former external affairs head John Burton, if you cheered for Ho Chi Minh's right to liquidate the Vietnamese landlord class and his successors' right to build a gulag of re-education camps, as Jim Cairns did, then you are a moral hero.

If, on the other hand, you tried to help Soviet or Polish dissidents, took an interest in the plight of Catholicism in China, cared about non-communist Vietnamese, then you were clearly a black-hearted reactionary, doling out your lies only for corporate gold and acting ultimately in the service of the CIA.

Thus it was an act of historic truth-telling that John Howard lavished praise on Quadrant magazine at its 50th anniversary party this week. Quadrant has always been a small magazine, its circulation never rising above a few thousand. It got fitful, minor support from a few corporates and, as it turned out, unknowingly, a tiny subsidy from the CIA; perhaps the best use the CIA ever put its money to. But its impact has been immense. Many people contributed to Quadrant's success, none more so than Richard Krygier. A Jewish refugee from Poland, he embodied everything that was grand and magnificent about Quadrant.

Quadrant came into being as a literary and intellectual magazine with a strongly anti-communist bent. Its pages were always disputatious and full of internal bickering; there was never an orthodox line. But its larger vision, of the glory of Western civilisation, integrated both its anti-communism and its celebration of culture at the highest level. These were the two great qualities of Quadrant: that it subjected communism in all its manifestations to the most searching intellectual scrutiny and that it always aimed at the best of high culture.

Quadrant was a child of the Cold War. As such, it was a wartime alliance of not naturally compatible allies. There were deeply intellectual European social democrats such as Krygier and Frank Knopfelmacher, orthodox Catholics such as James McAuley and B.A. Santamaria, anti-communist trade unionists such as Lloyd Ross and Laurie Short, a very few establishment business and legal figures such as John Latham, great poets such as Les Murray and Vivian Smith and novelists such as C.J. Koch. When the Cold War ended, the wartime alliance flew apart and Quadrant, under the editorship of Paddy McGuinness, has transmogrified into a more normal, high-quality conservative magazine.

It is hard now to recall just how exotic Quadrant was in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. This came mainly from its East European component. There was an urbanity and cosmopolitanism about these people that was highly unusual in Australia. They took it as natural that you engaged culture at its highest level but also engaged politics from an anti-communist point of view. This was mere political hygiene, their start point, not their end point, whereas so many Australian intellectuals, especially the self-consciously nationalistic, were a provincial imitation of the leftism of New York and London.

I had a particular love of Krygier, who related to me always as a kindly uncle. He was responsible for me going into journalism. More than 30 years ago, still a teenager, I attended a conference of the Australian Union of Students at Monash University. I was disgusted by its leftist extremism and drove back to Sydney in a burning fury. I wrote, as youth does, full of passion and purpose but with no idea of where I might publish. A friend put me in touch with Richard, who was happy to meet a callow youth with no credentials at all. He read my article and said he was sure Quadrant would publish it, but why not try to get it into The Bulletin instead?

Krygier got me an interview with the then editor of The Bulletin, Trevor Kennedy (who was a great editor), and to my astonishment and delight the piece appeared in the magazine the next week with a slash line on the cover. It was the most thrilling moment of my life. But what followed was more important: a couple of decades of deep involvement with Quadrant, the highlight of which undoubtedly was the Quadrant dinners. These were remarkably democratic. They were cheap and the food was pretty ordinary. No one was ever cut off from speaking; eminence was given no quarter. It was just whether you had something worth saying, as we discussed the crisis of modernity, Soviet policy in Europe, the role of writing in modern films, development models for Papua New Guinea; anything, really, that appealed to the group. And the finest intellectuals in the world - Leszek Kolakowski, Sidney Hook, Malcolm Muggeridge - when they visited Australia always came and talked to Quadrant.

By the '80s, Howard was a reasonably familiar figure at Quadrant functions, certainly the most familiar figure of senior politicians. This is a paradox about Howard. Although, somewhat like Dwight Eisenhower, he purposely projects the image of the plain man, he has always had a lively interest in the world of ideas. This made him unusual among Liberal politicians. Howard understood at some level that to win the battle of policy, you had to win the battle of history and fundamental ideas. I haven't always agreed with Howard's ideas - such as his views about Asian immigration in the late '80s - but he has grown and changed.

He is, of course, foremost a pragmatic politician who sees ideas as part of the political battle, but he has an unusual familiarity with them. As PM he has successfully waged the culture wars with the electorate. But he seems at times, with the exception of Tony Abbott, to be the only member of his cabinet who really understands what's going on. In his Quadrant speech he rightly bemoaned the continuing dominance of the soft Left.

This is evident in the universities, in many school syllabuses and in the ABC. But this is also a poor reflection on the Howard Government itself. After 10 years in office it has done precisely nothing to change the culture of the ABC.

Labor in office appoints its mates to powerful institutions. So do the Liberals. But Labor's mates much more often understand the politics of institutional change, whereas Liberal mates are often business types who know nothing at all of intellectual combat. As a result, there can be a hollowness to long periods of conservative rule, where the society does not get more diverse institutions as a result. Instead the Left, sinecured and cosseted at every point by taxpayer funds, falsely paints itself as bravely standing up to the conservative government.

Howard runs an infinitely more competent government than did Billy McMahon or John Gorton, but it is worth remembering that it was under those conservative prime ministers that the Left took its stranglehold on Australian institutions.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Public hospital cancer scanners unused

Thousands of patients are being forced to wait for potentially life-saving scans while the equipment to diagnose them sits idle in Queensland public hospitals. More than $6 million worth of state-of-the-art cancer-detecting equipment at the Princess Alexandra Hospital has not been used since being installed almost five months ago. Queensland Health's failure to attract and maintain radiography staff is being blamed for the equipment at the PA and other hospitals being under-utilised. Meanwhile, thousands of potential cancer patients and stroke victims await access to CT scanners, MRI machines and angiographic suites to detect internal bleeding, clotting and other traumas.

A Medical Radiation Professionals Group spokesman yesterday said radiographers were warning of the looming crisis because poor working conditions meant the problems were worsening. "The Health Minister has done absolutely nothing but repeatedly trotted out the industrial relations process," he said. "Tell that to patients in pain, patients suffering cancer and patients who need help today and cannot wait until tomorrow." According to the MRPG, more than 1000 patients were waiting for up to two months for diagnostic scans at the PA while the equipment goes unused.

The Royal Brisbane Hospital is suffering similar problems with the angiographic suite and gastro-internal treatment facilities on reduced working hours because of the shortage of radiographers. About 800 patients of the Gold Coast Hospital are expected to wait 10 weeks for diagnostics scans, double the wait time of 12 months ago.

The MRPG spokesman said the Gold Coast Hospital's much-touted cardiac catheter lab may have to end its 24-hour service but Health Minister Stephen Robertson flatly rejected that. "The 24-hour service is not being reduced, nor is there any planned reduction or shortage of radiographers on the Coast," he said. Mr Robertson said the number of radiographers working for Queensland Health had increased by 70 in the 12 months to June. However, he conceded there were problems with staff numbers at the PA and Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. "Over the last four months the PA has seen an unprecedented expansion of new technology capability and they have struggled to recruit at the same rate," he said. "The RBWH is actively trying to recruit new radiographers. In the meantime, RBWH will continue to provide all urgent and emergency services."


Teachers' union sets up Communist Cuba as an example

They can't help wearing their hearts on their sleeves

A South Australian teachers' union journal has praised the achievements of Cuba's education system, saying class sizes are small, schools are free and teachers well-trained. The Australian Education Union has defended the publication, just days after federal Education Minister Julie Bishop claimed school curriculums had been distorted by "Chairman Mao" type ideologies of state bureaucrats.

Former union organiser and journal editor Dan Murphy said the communist island under the regime of Fidel Castro had a 100per cent literacy rate, higher than Australia's. "For a poor, underdeveloped country, they've achieved quite well and nobody can deny that," said Mr Murphy. "It (the article) doesn't shirk away from other issues like requiring teachers to reinforce communist values. But it's not a piece of propaganda out of Miami; it covers other facts you don't strictly get." AEU state president Andrew Gohl yesterday endorsed the South Australian teachers union article, saying: "The fact that (Cuban) education is free, compulsory and funded significantly by the Government is something all governments should aspire to".

The chief source of information for Mr Murphy's August feature was Havana-based Gilda Chacon, a trade union official from the Cuban Federation of Workers. She visited Adelaide in July and was partly sponsored by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, for which Mr Murphy previously worked. "I think it's a balanced investigation into the available evidence on Cuba," he said.

The AEU also published a letter to the editor from student teacher and Communist Party of Australia member Craig Greer in its latest issue. Mr Greer wrote that the federal Government "still can't find enough money to mirror a fraction of what the Cuban Government has achieved". "If Cuba is a dictatorship, then I'm ready to be dictated to."

The debate follows claims last year by senior NSW education adviser Wayne Sawyer that the education profession was to blame for the re-election of the Howard Government. Students had voted for John Howard because English teachers had failed to teach them critical thought, he argued.

After calling last week for a national curriculum, Ms Bishop said yesterday that parents wanted ideology to be taken out of the classroom. "We need to focus on a commonsense curriculum with high, nationally consistent standards that reflect the values of the community," she said.

The US State Department, in a report on Cuba last year, said all elementary and secondary school students received "obligatory ideological indoctrination".

Cuban-born journalist and author Luis Garcia said Cuba's education system was "heavily politicised" and not an example Australia should follow. "The purpose of education (in Cuba) is not just to teach how to read and write and understand complex issues but essentially it has become a defender of the Castro regime," Garcia said.


University makes students re-study High School mathematics

James Cook University has forced more than half its first-year science and engineering students to sit a high-school-level maths course. The Queensland university revealed yesterday it had become so frustrated by falling standards among high school graduates, and confused by a lack of parity between states, that it joined Wollongong University and the Australian Defence Force Academy in conducting a maths exam of its own design on first-year science and engineering students.

James Cook head of maths, physics and information technology Wayne Read said less than half the Queensland students passed. He said the university this year allowed 190 students to proceed with advanced mathematics but forced 250 to complete a "lookalike" high school Maths B course run by the university. Of the 250 compelled to do the "lookalike" course, an estimated 20 per cent had already done Maths B at high school. "There has certainly been a decline in the (mathematical) abilities of students when they enter university," said Professor Read, who has been an academic since 1987. "That decline started in the early 1990s."

The revelation came as a senior defence force lecturer backed federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's call for a national curriculum, and teachers in Western Australia bemoaned a continuing decline in the mathematical abilities of high school entrants. The debate about falling maths standards and inconsistencies between states comes as a federal parliamentary committee prepares to release its findings on the nation's education and training standards.

The West Australian Curriculum Council yesterday denied that the state's maths curriculum had slipped behind other states, despite a comparison published in The Weekend Australian showing the mathematical abilities required of students in Western Australia were well below national standards. "The WA maths curriculum is consistent with curricula set in other states across Australia. It has not slipped behind any other states," a spokeswoman for the Curriculum Council said.

But pressure group People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes said the abilities of first-year high school students in Western Australia had declined. PLATO spokesman Greg Williams said many Year 8 students did not have a grasp of basics such as fractions, multiplication and percentages.

Australian Defence Force Academy lecturer Steve Barry, who teaches high school graduates from across the nation at the academy's School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, called for a national curriculum. "It is my opinion that the absence of a uniform Australian mathematics curriculum at high school is detrimental to students from some states, particularly those who then travel interstate to enter university," he said.


Tiny but dangerous octopus

Anthony Cerasa was back to his normal self yesterday after a frightening brush with a deadly creature. Anthony, who turns 4 next month, was playing in shallow water at Suttons Beach, Redcliffe, when the poisonous octopus crawled on his hand. He got out of the water and showed his mother Jane Moss, before he put it back into the bay. Within five minutes, he was vomiting and unable to move.

Ms Moss, who runs a fish shop at Hawthorne on in Brisbane's eastern suburbs with her partner Laurie Cerasa, said if Anthony had not shown her the octopus, they may not have realised what had happened. "It was small and grey and it was no bigger than his hand. It didn't change colour - it wasn't blue - and it looked like something we'd sell in the shop," she said. The blue lined octopus is a close relative of the more famous blue ringed octopus that is prevalent in southern coastal waters.

"Immediately after vomiting he went quite floppy, so he wouldn't have been able to get out of the water," Ms Moss said. "We were very lucky." Yesterday, with only Bandaids and some tiny marks on his hand to show for his ordeal, Anthony showed no ill-effects.

Anthony's father, a professional fisherman, said he was well aware of how close his family had come to tragedy. Mr Cerasa said his family often went to Suttons Beach and would not be deterred in the future. "I just want to point out you have to be very cautious," he said. "These (blue lined octopuses) actually look like any other octopus until you antagonise them."

Redcliffe Mayor Allan Sutherland said the poisonous creatures were prevalent off the Redcliffe coast, but bites were extremely rare. Cr Sutherland said the matter would be discussed at a Redcliffe City Council meeting last night, with warning signs at beaches and education at local schools two measures to be considered.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Conservatives" seize the education reform initiative

The 19,834th demonstration that Conservatives do NOT oppose change

The Howard Government seeks to transform the politics of education with its campaign to reform school curriculums and achieve more uniform national standards. The initiative by Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday unveils a bold new agenda replete with risk and opportunity. It invests the Coalition with the initiative in education policy, and is anchored in the deep professional and parental alarm about the values and quality of school curriculums.

Bishop's speech reveals much about the nature of the Government in its fourth term. This initiative involves a willing resort to use central government powers against the states. It constitutes a new cultural assault on the ideological Left and the teacher unions. And it will divide Labor between the choice of popular "back to basics" reforms and its powerful supporters in the educational and teacher union lobbies, who will insist on a showdown with the Howard Government. While the Labor states will protest and threaten resistance, they recognise the need to make some concessions on curriculums. This process is under way.

The critical line in Bishop's speech was her claim that the politics of education was moving from staff and student ratios to a "new frontier" of teacher quality and curriculums. This is a shift from a Labor to a Liberal agenda. A shift in the ideas that dominate education policy in Australia. And it is an ominous warning to Labor that in a policy area long deemed to be Labor's political domain, the Government intends to set the future agenda. The new ideas outlined by Bishop are raising school standards, a greater national curriculum consistency and a new system of accountability for what happens in schools. She invoked the recent declaration in this newspaper by Professor Ken Wiltshire that the states had failed to maintain the quality of school education.

The problem for state governments is their subjugation to education theory that undermines traditional disciplines and politicises curriculums. The states cannot win this argument at the bar of public opinion. Asking 15-year-olds to write about Shakespeare from a Marxist perspective or deconstructing Big Brother won't fly with the public. The litany of examples is exhaustive.

The states may fight Bishop's pledge to "take school curriculum out of the hands of ideologues" by campaigning on state rights. Given his cautious instincts, John Howard will not want a confrontation with the states. But Howard has prepared the ground for this cultural battle. Pivotal to Bishop's reform agenda is her ability to persuade the teachers. Hence her commitment to performance-based pay and compulsory professional development. Her strategy will be to entice individual teachers but penalise the union. It will be a difficult task.


Leftist State government jolted into education reform

The Queensland Government is considering plans to overhaul Years 11 and 12 amid growing debate over national education standards. State Education Minister Rod Welford yesterday welcomed plans by the Queensland Studies Authority to review the senior syllabus. The proposals include introduction of a technical English subject and extension level subjects for advanced students. The QSA also suggests a review of assessment levels in term 3 of Year 12, when students are expected to complete a core skills test, major assignment work and subject tests.

"I think it's a pretty good report and offers us a way forward but there's a lot more work to be done," Mr Welford said. The comments came as Premier Peter Beattie yesterday weighed into the education debate by responding to a Sunday Mail report that a Year 9 student at Windaroo Valley State High School, south of Brisbane, was failed when she refused to write about life in a gay community. Mr Beattie said he did not believe the assignment was appropriate for a 13-year-old.

He said the assignment was not part of the curriculum but one of several topics suggested by the independent Queensland Studies Authority and he called for it to be withdrawn. "I would hope that obviously we educate young Queenslanders to live in a global world, we have to be realistic about what happens in the world," he said. "(But) I don't think it's appropriate for a 13-year-old to be doing an assignment like this and I think the authority should withdraw it."

Mr Beattie also defended the curriculum taught in Queensland schools and said he would not support a national system that could "lower the standards". Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop last week said all Australian students should study a national curriculum, claiming state systems were being run by left-wing ideologues.

But in an apparent softening of the Commonwealth's position, Ms Bishop said yesterday she wanted to work with the states to develop a national curriculum. "I'm not talking about a Commonwealth takeover," she said. Nevertheless, Ms Bishop said the states had to "get their act together". "We are on the money on this issue," she said. "Parents are sick of left-wing ideology curriculum." Ms Bishop also questioned the benefit of union representatives sitting on state curriculum councils.

Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the key was to work with the states, not threaten them. "Labor wants to see nationally consistent high standards of education in all our schools right around Australia," she said. "What Labor doesn't want is (Prime Minister) John Howard and his Education Minister playing politics with our children's education, threatening the states."


Flatter tax coming?

Labor is considering a radical plan to flatten the personal tax scales by scrapping the top or bottom tax rate. In an exclusive article for The Australian, Labor Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan sets out a long-term ambition to remove at least one of the four marginal tax rates as part of a push to raise the nation's skills level and workforce participation. "I would like to see us aim for a system that has fewer and lower marginal rates and a significant simplification of the system," Mr Swan writes.

Labor's policy goal may increase the temptation for the Government to move first by reforming the personal tax scales ahead of the federal election, due next year. It would cost less than $2 billion a year to scrap the top rate of 45 per cent, based on Labor's research. However, sources say this is an option more likely to appeal to the Government than the Opposition. Less than 2 per cent of taxpayers are on the top rate, which applies on every dollar earned above $150,000 a year.

Abolishing the 15 per cent rate - which mainly covers part-time working mothers on $6001-$25,000 a year - would be significantly more expensive for Labor. But it could be achieved over a number of years, and be sold as a reform to increase incentives for people to move from welfare to work.

Mr Swan's article places a greater priority on tax cuts than increased family payments. "Labor's preference will be to improve incentives through the tax system primarily, but there will be a need for targeted changes to the transfer payment system," Mr Swan writes. "(And) in terms of boosting participation, I believe we need to pay special attention to potential second-income earners, who are principally women. "This would need to involve a further lowering of tax rates at the bottom and new mechanisms to make childcare more affordable, particularly for those returning to the workforce. The system can't be fixed overnight, but it can be achieved through a staged reform process."

The Government, by contrast, has favoured spending. The lion's share of the $42 billion revenue windfall from the China-led boom has been returned to voters as handouts rather than tax cuts. The past three budgets have yielded a combined $16 billion in personal tax cuts in this financial year. But government spending is $18 billion higher. The balance of the windfall had gone to the budget surplus.

In the May budget, Peter Costello reduced the top rate from 47 per cent to 45 per cent after leaving it untouched for 10 years. The Government also raised the income thresholds at which the rate kicks in and lowered the upper-middle rate from 42 per cent to 40 per cent. It had earlier reduced the bottom rate from 17 per cent to 15 per cent.

Labor is expected to wait until after it has seen next year's budget before concluding its tax-policy review. It will not run down the surplus to pay for any tax cuts after the Reserve Bank warned that any easing in fiscal policy would risk further hikes in interest rates. The present tax scales contain four tiers - the lower-income rate of 15 per cent, the average-earner rate of 30 per cent, the upper-middle rate of 40 per cent and the top rate of 45 per cent. Almost two out of three taxpayers (65.3 per cent) are clustered on the 30 per cent rate, which applies on incomes between $25,001 and $75,000 a year. Mr Swan argues that many of these voters have fallen behind in real terms.

Senior Labor figures are prepared to consider tackling the top rate if the Government does not make a move. But sources emphasise that higher-income earners would not be getting a larger handout than those in the middle. Mr Swan wants to focus Labor's tax cuts attention on low- and middle-income earners. Labor has learned two valuable lessons from the 2004 election. It won't repeat former leader Mark Latham's approach of taking money off lower-income families. And it won't repeat former Treasury spokesman Simon Crean's tactic of leaving the costings of Labor's policy until the last moment. Labor sources were aghast when they learned in the final days of the 2004 election campaign that they could have been more generous on tax and family payments.


Aussie lingo facing extinction

Strewth mate! Where have those expressions that made Australian speech so distinct gone, asks Ray Chesterton

My cobber is crook as Rookwood somewhere near the Black Stump and I'm going to get him." "I hate the Mulga but this bloke's blood's worth bottling, even if he's sometimes a sandwich short of a picnic. "It'll cost big bikkies but I'll chuck a sickie and hope no bludger gives me up."

Ah. The resonance of the majestic English language. Its rhythms, its unmistakable cadence, its nuances so easily understood by Australians. What? You didn't grasp what I was saying? You might have passed English at school but obviously you failed Australian.

I said: "A colleague of mine, who I hold in high regard despite his occasional eccentricity, has taken ill in the outback and I'll have to organise his return. "It will cost me a lot of money but I will take sick leave and hope no one vengeful alerts management to my real intentions."

Where have those expressions that made Australian speech so distinct gone? When kids asked what mum was making, it was always a: "Wigwam for a goose's bridle." And: "Eat everything on your plate. There are a million hungry Chinese who would love it." I never saw the correlation between Australian children rejecting broccoli and fulfilling the needs of hungry Chinese but mothers knew best.

Nowadays Australian colloquialisms are going down the same path to extinction as the Tasmanian tiger. No one calls anyone a "mutton-headed galah," as Nino Culotta did in Gone Fishin', " any more. Instead, it's "Hi bro" when teenagers meet instead of "Hello mate". Americanisms are an unimaginative substitution for genuine wit and humour. Why steal from others when we have a rich cultural verbal heritage of our own?

We have Crocodile Dundee saying: "That's not a knife. This is a knife." It's a multifaceted comparison test for all males making comparisons. Not just knives. And Darryl Kerrigan saying, "This is going straight to the pool room" in The Castle.

The last true centre for the protection and extension of notable Australian is the docks. Only there do you meet people with names like The Sheriff ("Come on men. Where's the hold-up?" when production slows). There's also Mirrors, the union rep, (Always says "I'll look into it'). At a time when we're saving water, trees and anything else that walks, flies or swims could we spare some time and effort to save the language. Stone the crows, it would be worth it.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Muslim cabbies refusing the blind and drinkers

Muslim taxi drivers are refusing to carry blind passengers with their guide dogs or anyone carrying alcohol. At least 20 dog-aided blind people have lodged discrimination complaints with the Victorian Taxi Directorate. Dozens more have voiced their anger. And there have been several complaints that drivers refuse to allow passengers to carry sealed bottles of alcohol.

Victorian Taxi Association spokesman Neil Sach said the association had appealed to the mufti of Melbourne to give religious approval for Muslim cabbies to carry guide dogs. One Muslim driver, Imran, said yesterday the guide dog issue was difficult for him. "I don't refuse to take people, but it's hard for me because my religion tells me I should not go near dogs," he said. There are about 2000 Muslims among drivers of Melbourne's 10,000 taxis. Many are from countries with strict Islamic teachings about "unclean" dogs and the evils of alcohol.

Drivers who refused to carry blind people with their dogs attended remedial classes at Guide Dogs Victoria, Mr Sach said. "They are taught why blind people need dogs," Mr Sach said. [It isn't obvious??] "The Victorian Taxi Association has included a program in their taxi driver training program."

Guide Dogs Victoria spokeswoman Holly Marquette said blind people regularly reported taxi drivers refusing to carry them because of their dogs. "It's sad and quite upsetting," Ms Marquette said. "We try to work with new drivers to educate them about their responsibilities and the needs and rights of blind people. "We explain that the dog is clean, well trained, won't go near them and will stay in the foot well with the client. "But it's a high turnover industry and it's hard to capture everyone." Ms Marquette said there was a legal requirement for taxi drivers, shops, restaurants, hotels and supermarkets to accept guide dogs.

Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said the guide dog issue would exacerbate the taxi industry's flagging respect in the community. Under the State Government's customer charter, taxi passengers have the right to "be accompanied by a guide dog or hearing dog". Mr Sach said the problem was often reversed and that Muslim drivers suffered discrimination from passengers who abused them for being "terrorists". "Muslims are good people and the community has to realise that the days of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant are well and truly over," he said. Over the past two years the licences of 306 drivers were revoked or suspended, including those who refused to carry the blind and their dogs.


Teen failed for stand on homosexuals

A 13-year-old student was failed after she refused to write an assignment on life in a gay community, because of her religious and moral beliefs. Her outraged mother, Christian groups and the State Opposition want an investigation into the treatment of the Year 9 student at Windaroo Valley State High School, south of Brisbane. "It's no wonder our kids are struggling with the basics when the Government is allowing this sort of rubbish to be taught in the classroom," Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney told The Sunday Mail yesterday.

The uproar came as Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop this week announced plans for Canberra to take control of school curriculums from the states, accusing "ideologues" of hijacking the education system.

The girl was among a class of 13 and 14-year-olds asked to imagine living as a heterosexual among a mostly homosexual colony on the moon as part of their health and physical education subject. They had to answer 10 questions, including how they felt about being in the minority and what strategies they would use to help them cope. They were also asked to discuss where ideas about homosexuality came from.

Sources said the students were told not to discuss the assignment with their parents and that it was to be kept in-class. They said many of the students were uncomfortable with the subject matter or did not understand the questions.

The 13-year-old girl instantly refused to do the assignment on religious and moral grounds. "It is against my beliefs and I am not going there," she told the teacher, who responded by failing her. After a series of discussions between the school and her mother, it was suggested the girl would be better off leaving the state education system and attending an independent school.

The girl's mother said yesterday she did not learn of the assignment until reading her daughter's report card several weeks later and discovered a first-ever fail mark for health and physical education. "I went to the school thinking there might have been a personality clash with the teacher," said the mother, who asked to be identified only as Bronwyn. She said she was shown the assignment. "When I started to read it I thought, 'Oh my God' . . . I was shocked by the content," she said. "My daughter said she didn't want to do the assignment because she did not believe in homosexuality and did not want to answer the questions. "She was being challenged, but she should not be challenged like that at her age."

Bronwyn was concerned that her daughter was not given an alternative scenario. She said the school claimed it was powerless to change the curriculum. Bronwyn said the school seemed more concerned about how parents found out about the assignment. "That's what concerns me most . . . the parents had no opportunity to even see the assignment," Bronwyn said.

Ms Bishop said the incident highlighted her concerns. "This is another example of a politically-correct agenda masquerading as curriculum," she said yesterday. "Parents need to know the content of school curriculum so they can be confident their children are receiving a high quality education that is also consistent with their values."

The State Opposition and Australian Christian Lobby demanded an investigation. Mr Seeney said Queensland needed common sense back in the classroom. "The Beattie Labor Government has created a system that tries to tell kids what to think instead of teaching them how to think," he said. "It is completely out of line for students to be graded on their moral beliefs. "It's not the job of our schools to politicise our children. It is their function to provide our kids with the basics, like reading, writing and maths."

Christian Lobby state director Peter Earle said the assignment was not about education, rather a teacher or school pushing their own agenda on young minds. "The subject matter was totally inappropriate," he said.

After being approached by The Sunday Mail, an Education Queensland spokeswoman late yesterday said the school had decided to drop the assignment from its curriculum and would work with the girl and her family to achieve a "satisfactory resolution". "The aim of the assignment was to encourage students to think about diversity, culture and belief systems," she said. "Schools can offer alternative assessment topics in consultation with parents, if the school is aware of concerns about an assignment."


Students left behind: Politics-obsessed unions must not control curricula

Speaking at a conference of the History Teachers' Association of Australia in Fremantle yesterday, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop asked a vital question. "How is it", she wondered, "that we have gone from teaching Latin in Year 12 to teaching remedial English in first-year university?"

It is a vital question, and one that more and more parents, fed up with their children's inability to write a grammatically coherent sentence with correct spelling or perform basic mathematics, want answered. The reasons behind the decline in educational quality are manifold. A shift in emphasis away from traditional knowledge and skills-based learning towards the jargon-based and accountability-free ethic of outcomes-based education is largely responsible. Traditionally, federal governments of all complexions have sought to keep school retention rates up as a way to lower unemployment, dumbing down curriculums in the process. The results have not been pretty. Ms Bishop pointed to "English courses without books, history courses without dates and music courses without instruments", echoing a campaign mounted by The Australian to expose the depredations of outcomes-based education and politically correct curriculums in our schools.

The solution, according to Ms Bishop, is to take control of primary and high school curriculums away, not from the states - whose Labor governments have long since abdicated any real responsibility for what is taught in classrooms - but from the teachers' unions and other associated bodies. These groups appear to see their primary goal not as one of educating young people but of creating generations of left-wing social activists in their own image. Recall the lament of NSW English Teachers Association president Wayne Sawyer, who complained last year that teachers were not doing enough to prevent their students from growing up to vote Liberal. A national curriculum would be a big step, and would act as a circuit-breaker against such attitudes.

Ms Bishop's comments must also be seen in the context of Labor backbencher Craig Emerson's call for school to remain compulsory until Year 12 to prevent young people from being lured into a booming economy before their time. While well-intentioned, keeping all young people in school until they are almost 19 is impractical and unfair - both to those who wish to leave early and those who wish to stay. The Australian economy is straining under the demands of the Chinese-led resources boom. In an era when the economy is hurting for lack of workers, far better to follow a European approach where students are able to pursue technical degrees in their teenage years. In Germany, it is a matter of pride to have graduated from a technical college; that same ethic needs to be promoted here.

Properly educating children is one of the most important things a nation can do to ensure its continued survival and success. The crisis in education is thus an existential one for Australia, and one that requires national solutions. The excesses of teachers' unions must be curbed, by the federal government if need be, to allow rank-and-file teachers to do their jobs properly.


Much maligned free trade deal getting results

The Australia-US free trade deal appears to be bearing its first fruit, with millions in extra exports of meat, car parts, motor boats and even oranges since the deal started last year. Exports of Australian goods that benefited from immediate tariff reductions when the preferential trade deal came into effect last year have grown, with some nearly doubling in 12 months. While officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stressed it would take years before the full effects of the deal were felt, data from its latest quarterly publication, Trade Topics, show the elimination of some tariffs are bringing gains.

Companies trying to win US government contracts are also finding it easier to break in. Exports of sheep meat to the US rose from $190 million to $212 million last year, after the 2.8c-a-kilogram tariff was eliminated. After the 1.9c-a-kilo tariff on fresh and dried oranges was removed, exports jumped from $38 million to $43 million. The value of motorboat exports nearly doubled from $42 million to $71 million, while sales of items such as parts for spark plugs jumped from $11 million to $21 million over the year.

Overall, Australia's sales to the US fell last year, because of the continued diversion of Australian beef previously intended for America to Japan and South Korea as a result of the mad cow scares earlier this decade. Motor vehicle sales to the US also fell, primarily because of the withdrawal of the Mitsubishi Magna from the US market. But when these non-FTA matters are excluded from the figures, overall Australian goods exports to the US rose 4 per cent last year. The FTA gave Australian firms full access to the $200 billion US government contract market. The report found that in 2005-06 Australian firms won $95 million worth of contracts


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Government social workers 'left children at serious risk'

Children and babies have potentially been placed at serious risk by Victorian child protection workers, who have been criticised for inadequately caring for up to 47 vulnerable children in just one country region. The damning findings by state Ombudsman George Brouwer follow a Department of Human Services investigation that did not identify any major case practice weaknesses by workers in the region. Mr Brouwer investigated the child protection program, believed to be in the Loddon-Mallee region, after whistleblowers told his office that many children were at increased risk because they did not have a case worker.

Regional managers were accused of failing to thoroughly investigate and intervene in cases where children were at risk, manipulating statistics to meet performance targets and failing to follow established procedures. Experienced child protection staff told Mr Brouwer they lacked confidence in the ability of managers to address their concerns about quality of service to the region.

Mr Brouwer's investigators reviewed 34 cases involving 57 children that had been reported to the department. "In 26 cases involving 47 children, the region may not have responded appropriately to children at risk," Mr Brouwer said. "I noted high numbers of unallocated cases, including high-risk infants. "A significant number of these cases were not receiving adequate intervention by child protection staff and I believe this may have left a number of children, including infants, in situations of serious risk." Mr Brouwer said the department responded quickly to the concerns identified by his investigation. He said the Government has taken "significant action" in several cases.

The department assured the Ombudsman that a "comprehensive strategy" was being implemented to strengthen the child protection program in the region. Mr Brouwer's findings were made in his annual report, which also slammed Victorian authorities for failing to remove a five-month-old baby from his abusive foster parents even though he was admitted to hospital three times with increasingly serious injuries. The boy's sister is believed to have told police she saw the foster mother try to remove the baby's teeth with a knife. The Weekend Australian believes child protection authorities were told about the abuse by health professionals and police but did not act until after his third visit to hospital.

Chris Goddard, the director of the National Research Centre for the Prevention of Child Abuse, said Mr Brouwer's findings were further evidence that state child protection services needed to be subject to independent scrutiny.


Australia's most Leftist education system produces kids who cannot do basic maths

Incoming national mathematics standards expect 10-year-olds to be able to add and subtract numbers in their thousands and deal with fractions in their hundredths. But in Western Australia, the curriculum demands much less, requiring students only to recognise simple fractions such as halves and quarters. A comparison of the West Australian maths course with the national standards reveals a huge variation in the knowledge expected of students, reinforcing the call yesterday by federal Education Minister Julie Bishop for a national curriculum.

The mathematical abilities required of students in Western Australia is well below national standards, with the state slipping even further behind in the past two years. Under the outcomes-based education system in Western Australia, students are graded at eight levels of achievement, which span all years of school. Two years ago, students were expected to have reached level four by the end of Year 5, which in maths would mean being able to rewrite 0.35 as 35/100 and knowing that 3/4 is less than 7/8. But revised targets mean today's Year 5 students are expected to reach between levels two and three. Students at level two can divide into equal thirds, recognise and write 1/3, 1/5 and 1/7 but cannot consistently write 2/3.

The national standards expected are still more demanding, requiring the 10-year-olds to add one-quarter to one-half and describe 2.12 as two and twelve hundredths. Ms Bishop said the differing expectations clearly demonstrated the inconsistency and falling standards that had prompted her call for a national curriculum. "It's even more reason for us to focus on raising standards and making curriculum accountable," she said.

Ms Bishop said the states and territories had come a long way towards a national curriculum with an agreement in August on National Statements of Learning that set out the core and essential elements in five subjects. The statements of learning for students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 were approved by all state and territory education ministers and must be incorporated into their individual curriculums by 2008 as a condition of federal funding. In addition, a common national literacy and numeracy test will be introduced from 2008, replacing the individual tests the states and territories now set


More of that great government "security"

More guards too busy watching TV to do their duties -- after a similar lapse only a fortnight ago -- and plenty more before that. If government security cannot even protect the Prime Minister properly, what hope is there for anyone else?

An incredible security breach at the Sydney office of Prime Minister John Howard allowed a man to wander unchecked in a restricted area guarded 24 hours a day by Australian Protective Service officers. A self-confessed heroin addict was allegedly captured by CCTV cameras wandering around Mr Howard's Phillip St office after hours - despite an APS guard stationed behind a glass screen in the reception area. He left the floor without being questioned before entering a nearby building where he stole $17,000 worth of computer equipment, a Sydney court heard yesterday.

Although the incident occurred last month - when Mr Howard was in Canberra - the accused thief was not caught until Thursday, when he was arrested on unrelated matters. Simon Ilan Moses, a 31-year-old storeman from Surry Hills,appeared in Central Local Court charged with a string of offences. Police claim that shortly after 7pm on September 7, Moses "did break and enter the office of the Prime Minister of Australia at Level 8, 70 Phillip St and then did commit a serious indictable offence, stealing certain property''. He is also charged with maliciously damaging an elevator control panel - "the property of the Sydney Commonwealth Parliamentary Office'' - in a bid to access floors in the Prime Minister's building.

Access to the building is restricted after 7pm to staff with a security pass. In a tendered statement,police alleged Moses was seen on CCTV to enter the building via the secured front door after a staff member had exited. "CCTV footage shows the accused entering the building at 7.16pm and then attempting to access the lifts in the foyer,'' the statement said. Police claim Moses entered an lift with a cleaner and rode it to the secured floors above. He allegedly remained in the lift when the cleaner exited. "While in the lift, the accused has forcibly removed the control panel,'' police allege. "The wires inside ... have been manipulated in an attempt to allow access to all floors. "The accused has attempted to enter numerous floors throughout the building, but was captured by CCTV exiting the lifts at Level 8.''

The footage allegedly shows Moses carrying a "green-coloured folder with a white outline of a map depicting the state boundaries of NSW'' as he wanders the Prime Minister's floor. Remarkably, he was able to leave the building unchallenged. He then walked a short distance to another building at 52 Phillip St, where he is accused of entering the sixth floor of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA) and stealing the computer equipment.

The following morning GESA staff discovered the missing computers and found a green folder with a map of the NSW state boundaries on it. "The folder was seized by police and underwent fingerprint analysis,'' the court heard. "The results of the analysis indicate that the fingerprints of the accused were identified.'' Moses was arrested in Macquarie St on Thursday night after he allegedly ran from police who had spotted him pushing a wheelie bin. Moses was refused bail by magistrate Allan Moore and will re-appear in court next week


Greens hitting back at the Brethren

Amusingly, the article below is written by a Ms Green! Her biases show in the opening words. The Brethren are mostly just ordinary working people

A wealthy and exclusive religious cult which has been blamed for destroying families [The Catholic Church hasd been blamed for lots of thiungs too. Should itsa schools be closed down?] is operating in at least six private schools in Queensland with the help of government funding. The Exclusive Brethren, which has been exposed in recent months for its controversial forays into politics in both New Zealand and Australia, is also actively scheming to ensure John Howard is re-elected as Prime Minister in next year's federal poll.

A former lifelong Brethren member from Bundaberg who managed to escape the group with his family eight years ago said yesterday that the cult's hypocrisy and "brazen" push into politics could end up compromising the Government.

Mr Howard revealed last week that he had met with members of the Exclusive Brethren, saying "it's a free country . . . and like any other group they are entitled to put their views to the Government". "I've met a lot more fanatical people in my life than the Exclusive Brethren," Mr Howard was reported as saying. However, members of the Greens, which the Brethren have targeted with hugely negative advertising campaigns in recent state elections, have questioned how such a politically motivated group which bans tertiary education can benefit from both state and federal funding for its schools around Australia.

With one Queensland government source privately describing the school grants as "a gravy train", Queensland Greens election spokeswoman Juanita Wheeler has called for a rethink of guidelines which allow Exclusive Brethren schools to gain non-state school accreditation. The Exclusive Brethren currently operates schools at Norman Park, and in Bundaberg, Nambour, Toowoomba, Warwick and near Maryborough. The group is also understood to be well advanced with plans for a major new school at Tingalpa in Brisbane.

A media release signed by three leading Brethren men said that the group's position was "not to participate in the political process by voting, but to testify to the truth according to our consciences and pray for and support good government".

Businessman Trevor Hill, who rose to become one of the Exclusive Brethren's "trustees" before leaving at the age of 44, said the real problem with governments or potential governments receiving money from the Brethren was that it gave the group power - boosting its ability to lobby governments and, where political donations had been substantial, the obligations were correspondingly substantial


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Feds to seize syllabus from states

A national board of studies with control of a uniform school curriculum is being proposed by the Howard Government in an attempt to wrest back control of schools from "ideologues" in state and territory education departments. Education Minister Julie Bishop will attack state education bureaucrats and accuse them of hijacking school curriculums, distorting them with "Chairman Mao" type ideologies in a speech to the History Teachers Association of Australia today. "Some of the themes emerging in school curriculum are straight from Chairman Mao. We are talking serious ideology here," she will say. "Ideologues ... have hijacked school curriculum and are experimenting with the education of our young people from a comfortable position of unaccountability. "We need to take school curriculum out of the hands of the ideologues in the state and territory education bureaucracies and give it to a national board of studies, comprising the sensible centre of educators."

Ms Bishop is calling for a national debate on the need for a common national school curriculum, saying there is widespread community concern about the content being taught in schools. In her speech today, she will say that the commonwealth has to take the lead in fighting for a "back-to-basics approach" across curriculums and that parents are rightly concerned by educational standards. "How is that we have gone from teaching Latin in Year 12 to teaching remedial English in first-year university?" she says. "The community is demanding an end to fads and wants a return to a commonsense curriculum, with agreed core subjects, like Australian history, and a renewed focus on literacy and numeracy. "The curriculum must be challenging, aiming for high standards, and not accepting the lowest common denominator. "It seems we are lowering the educational bar to make sure everyone gets over it, not raising it to aspire to excellence."

Ms Bishop's attack comes after The Australian highlighted education bureaucrats who have failed to monitor effectively curriculums and the quality of education and who have become captive to teachers' unions. Last month, The Australian published the views of professor Ken Wiltshire, Australia's representative on the executive of the UN education body UNESCO and the architect of the Queensland curriculum under the Goss Labor government. Professor Wiltshire argued that state Labor governments had relinquished control of any system that effectively measured the standard of what was taught in schools and teacher performance.

"Our school curriculums have strayed far from being knowledge-based," he said. "Indeed, knowledge has been replaced by information. It is little wonder that the Howard Government's attempted reforms of schooling have gained traction with the Australian public."

In April, The Australian reported how literary study in Australia had been declared "dead" by Harold Bloom, one of the world's leading authorities on the works of William Shakespeare. After learning that a prestigious Sydney girls school had asked students to apply Marxist, feminist and racial analysis to the play Othello, the internationally renowned critic said: "I find the question sublimely stupid. "It is another indication that literary study has died in Australia," the Sterling professor of humanities at Yale and Berg professor of English at New York University told The Australian.

A spokesman for Labor education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin accused Ms Bishop of contradicting John Howard and others in her party. "Julie Bishop has contradicted both the Prime Minister and the former education minister Brendan Nelson in her attempt to impose mediocrity on our school system," the spokesman said.

Ms Bishop says a national curriculum would be subject to greater public scrutiny and so would be more accountable to the community. This would also remove the duplication of effort and resources currently spent by states developing individual curriculums. She says the states and territories collectively spend more than $180 million running their boards of studies and curriculum councils to develop very similar curriculums in identical subjects. "There are currently nine different year 12 certificates across Australia, each backed by separate curriculum developed by eight different education authorities," she says. "Is it necessary for each state to develop a separate curriculum? "Do we need to have a physics curriculum developed for Queensland, and another, almost identical physics curriculum for Western Australia? "My comments are not directed at teachers. Our teachers are a precious national resource. "Rather, I am critical of the social engineers working away in state government education authorities."


Even the basics seem beyond present-day Australian teachers

A South Australian mother despairs at the lousy state of school education -- and the illiteracy of teachers

It is the last week of term three and the first written assessment of my youngest child's schoolwork for this year has come home. She is in a years 3-4 class with children ranging from eight to 10. Her entire assessment is based on one piece of work, a modest project on Greek mythology. It includes a "critical question: is Greek mythology still relevant today?" and a "rich task: create a poster that shows the roles that Greek gods, heroes and creatures would be seen doing today".

The work is assessed with a rubric that, among other things, is said to examine my child's ability to "analyse history ... and relate this to present possibilities" and "write texts ... which show awareness of different audiences and purposes". The rubric is defined as a scoring guide, but my dictionary does not provide this definition.

Apparently this form of assessment "compliments" the teaching strategies the school uses and encourages the students to "explore a topic deeper". It also leads a parent to despair. I know that I am supposed to work out that Greek mythology is only a "vehicle" for assessing areas of competence, but within minutes of receiving this assessment (and choosing to ignore the numerous inconsistencies therein) I concluded that it was nonsense. There is no mention of maths, reading and spelling, which are my main concerns.

My other child's assessment (sorry, rubric) considers a series of "strands" and came home with a CD-ROM that had to be viewed to work out what the rubric was assessing. Well, I can do that, but what are people without computers supposed to do?

I am one of an army of bewildered and frustrated parents who do not understand how teachers, or the ex-teachers who produce school curriculums, think. How can they produce this form of assessment and believe it is useful and valid? Unfortunately, I suspect that the increasingly bizarre forms of student assessment are not designed to reveal achievement but to disguise the lack of it. Parents are aware of their children's learning deficiencies and vague methods of assessment will not conceal them.

Most parents are clear about what they want their children taught - the basics - and they've been screaming about it for years. The failure of schools to deliver the basics is seen, increasingly, as bloody-mindedness on the part of education departments. But is it? Perhaps all the waffle, political correctness and esoteric rhetoric are used to hide the fact many teachers are no longer capable of teaching the basics.

It is not unusual to wander into a classroom and find spelling or grammatical errors on the whiteboard. (Correct them at your peril.) One of my children was taught by a teacher who never used apostrophes. I have seen a teacher with 30 years' teaching experience misspell nineteen (ninteen) and, when I assumed she'd made a simple mistake, she assured me that she'd checked it in the dictionary and it was correct.

Many children in my eldest child's Year 6 class cannot hold a pencil correctly, do not start sentences with capital letters or use full stops and do not read at their chronological age. When I discussed this with the teacher I was told: "Hardly any of them are reading at their correct reading age: we may have to do something about the tests."

If children are not taught the basics, they cannot perform well in tests on them. Poor test results do not look good for any school, ergo don't test or report on the basics. Give us a rubric about Greek mythology instead. Entrance requirements for teaching courses have always been low and continue to decline. I don't know how this decline can be arrested but I do know that teachers, however well meaning, are often unaware of their own limitations and never blame themselves for children's failure to learn.

From a parent's perspective, there are solutions: change the curriculum to emphasise basic skills; eliminate all-day sports clinics, visits from TV, radio or football personalities and so on; allow principals to sack underperforming teachers or insist that they attend courses to improve their skills; give good teachers large bonuses (with good teachers being determined by the parents, not their peers); and provide a simple, graded reporting system. Is this really too hard?

Meanwhile, there may be some hope at my children's school because "next term their will be opportunities to provide feedback on the new reporting format in various different formats". Parents will spend the holidays formatting various forms of complete rubbish.


Migrants told to fit in by citizenship boss

New migrants and refugees should realise they will have to learn English and get a job quickly in order to fit in to Australian society, Citizenship Parliamentary Secretary Andrew Robb said last night. And Mr Robb strenuously rejected claims by fellow Victorian Liberal MP Petro Georgiou that a proposed English test would prevent thousands of migrants from becoming citizens.

He also warned that molly-coddling migrants could foster a "destructive victim mentality". "We run the risk of fostering a mentality which works against these new arrivals, and does not support them in having a successful life in Australia," he said. "We must seek to avoid at all costs giving these new Australians messages that they are disadvantaged, that they are part of the welfare class, not part of the employee or employer class."

Mr Robb said new migrants should know what is expected of them "even before people board the aircraft". "They should be told they are expected to quickly join the workforce, not rely on the welfare system," he said.

On Wednesday Mr Georgiou blasted the Government's proposed new citizenship test which proposes a test of migrants' English skills, knowledge of Australian history and values. Mr Georgiou said the proposals would undermine the most successful migration program in history and would have prevented many great new Australians from becoming citizens.

But Mr Robb said new migrants should be told from the outset that they have to achieve certain milestones including a workable level of English, a job, high retention rates in school, and regular interaction with other groups in the community through activities such as sport. He said migrants were generally highly motivated to join Australian society, but that fell when faced with the hurdles of job rejection and lack of English skills. "Motivation, enthusiasm and keenness to learn is progressively replaced by declining self-esteem and a mentality increasingly focused on holding on to benefits, rather than reaching out for the opportunities offered in Australia," Mr Robb said.

He said the suggestions that migrants and refugees should "take their time" to fit in and sort out their problems, was poor advice. "Getting a job quickly may at first be very confronting, but we all know from our life experience that getting on with life heals wounds, builds confidence and initiative, and in this case a job can be a great aid to mastering the English language," he said


Australia's Leftist church leaders are irrelevant

Even a senior Labor party spokesman seems to think so! Comment below by Andrew Bolt

Federal Labor has a problem in church that's just like the problem it has in our other temples of culture. It's making pals with the priests, not the parishioners. It's cuddling up to the cultural elite again, and not the masses they fail to represent. And Kevin Rudd, Labor's foreign affairs spokesman next leader, doesn't get it. In an essay this week, Rudd urges Christians to get involved in politics -- the politics of the Left, that is. A Christian himself, he complains: "My concern is that in recent years we've only been hearing one set of Christian views on politics -- and that has been an overwhelmingly conservative one."

May God not strike him dead for sinning against the ninth commandment. Yet such is the ignorance of the media on matters Christian that not one commentator said, "Verily, Kev, thou bearest false witness." The fact is that despite the hysteria over the rise of Pentecostal churches and the election of one senator from the Christian-conservative Family First party, the church elites are as still as furiously of the Left as are the elites of all our cultural institutions. And just as out of touch.

Rudd claims he's still waiting to hear a properly "Christian view on the impact of the Americanisation of our industrial relations system", "a Christian view of global climate change" and "a Christian view of asylum seekers". Heavens, is he deaf? Or has Rudd in fact not been inside a church in years? In fact, bishops and senior priests of every one of the big traditional Christian denominations are still harrying bored congregations with sermons on just these topics that Red Rudd himself could have written. Examples? How many do you want?

Take Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins, a former adviser to then Victorian Labor treasurer Rob Jolly, who last year held an ecumenical church service to protest the "radical and distressing industrial relations proposals of the Howard Government". Or consider the farewell address the Rev Dean Drayton gave in July as president of the Uniting Church, urging Christians to get into that sandals and sackcloth stuff through "the wise use of energy (and) the protection of the environment". Drayton went on, in a way that should have had Rudd crying hallelujah!: "Anti-terrorist laws have traded away basic rights before the law. The Government has abrogated our international obligations to asylum seekers. It has turned its face from David Hicks." The man who took over as the church's president, the Rev Gregor Henderson, used his very first address to likewise lecture the faithful on Hicks, "asylum seekers", workplace relations, the war in Iraq, human rights and the "restrictions of the anti-terrorist laws".

No wonder Bronwyn Pike had no trouble switching from being the Uniting Church's director of justice and social responsibility to serving as a minister in the Bracks Labor Government.

Of course, we're no longer surprised that the leaders of the Anglicans are just as verbose on global warming and the mythical "stolen generations" (yet near mute on abortion), but it's sad to find the supposedly conservative Catholics little better. Although Cardinal George Pell may have tried to get priests to talk more about God than the devil, John Howard, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference still issues press releases with such Rudd-tickling headlines as "Bishop calls for justice for David Hicks" and "Catholic Bishop welcomes Government's withdrawal of offshore processing Bill".

As if that's not enough, these Big Three establishment churches have, with like-minded others, formed the Australian Council of Churches, which does yet more Leftist lobbying. Check its recent press releases. The ACC denounced the Howard Government's crackdown on people smugglers, criticised its workplace laws, and even issued a joint press release with the neo-pagans of the Australian Conservation Foundation to tell us to "to tackle dangerous climate change". These are bishops who seem more worried by the heat on earth than by the heat in hell.

No, the church elites are as Leftist as ever. Even Rudd sort of admits that when he protests: "(W)henever an Australian Christian leader speaks out on industrial relations, Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, they are publicly attacked by Howard, Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Kevin Andrews and the rest of the crew." What sinners, those Liberals! Fancy, when a bishop now preaches Left politics, the wicked Howard Government now answers back.

But it's not just Liberal politicians who are fed up with this political barracking from the altar. In 1991, the authoritative National Church Life Survey asked churchgoers what would get them to join some other congregation. Would it be the lure of joining one that preached more the word of God, or one that rather preached on social action? God was preferred to politics by a margin of three to one, but the mainstream churches wouldn't take heed. No wonder that every one of them have since seen their pews emptying.

So what in this tale of Left-spruiking preachers (and ticked-off parishioners) could possibly have caused Rudd -- and others in Labor -- to think the churches were shunning Labor? The scary thing for him is that many more conservative Christians have decided to move their worshipful rear ends to the pews of new churches that have more to say on God than climate change, and rather like the idea of people being held responsible for their sins and their own salvation. I'm referring especially to Pentecostal churches such as the giant Hillsong mega-worship complex, which are blossoming in our outer suburbs. These are ones that praise hard work as much as they do charity, with the Assemblies of God declaring: "We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and prosperous lives in order to help others more effectively."

You can see how the folk of such churches might feel about socialism, say, and you might guess how fed up they were with the politics preached at them at the Anglican or Uniting Churches many long quit. So, no wonder the Pentecostal churches have grown so fast, with the Assemblies of God alone tripling its followers from 1977 to 1997, and now getting Steve Fielding elected to the Senate. These, and independent churches like them, have now formed the Australian Christian Churches, which represents up to 200,000 worshippers, who tend to be younger than other Christians and much more likely to turn up to church on Sundays.

And such people can lobby hard if they're stirred. So can sympathetic groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, led by former SAS commander Brigadier (retired) Jim Wallace, whose big rally in Parliament House in 2004 helped to frighten Labor off backing gay marriage. The ACL isn't very keen on late-term abortion, either.

These are the people who have Rudd worried. And -- so typical of Labor's new aristocracy -- he's reacted in exactly the wrong way. Instead of listening to the disgruntled masses, he's ordered the elites to herd the mob back into a tidy flock. Instead of trying to woo the conservative parishioners, he's urging their Left-wing priests to preach even louder, as if yet more of the same strident sermons will fix what's ailing the churches and Labor itself. Think it will work? Kevin, you haven't got a prayer


Friday, October 06, 2006

Court victory for gifted student

The mother of a child genius who was denied the opportunity to start high school at age nine - three years ahead of her peers - has beaten the Queensland Government in the Supreme Court. Up against the state's top legal minds, including Crown Solicitor Conrad Lohe, mother of four Robyn Malaxetxebarria - an "amateur" to the law - convinced Queensland's Supreme Court the Government might have discriminated against her daughter on the basis of her age.

Twelve-year-old Gracia Malaxetxebarria, who is on track to enrol in a university medicine degree by the time she is 14 after finishing Year 10 this year, welcomed the finding yesterday. "If you are able to do the grades, then you should be able to sit the grades," Gracia said, citing maths as her favourite subject.

In 2004, the then nine-year-old told her mother she was bored with primary school subjects and asked to advance to Year 8. Despite Gracia having an IQ of 147 -- the average score is 100 -- the Department of Education refused her request, saying she needed more time to develop socially. Her mother then removed Gracia from the public system, enrolled her in Year 8 at a private school 70km from their home and took her case to the anti-discrimination tribunal. She asked for a new home, a car and $500,000 in compensation for age discrimination, but lost in a decision in April. But Supreme Court judge John Helman yesterday quashed the tribunal's decision and ordered that the case be reheard.

Justice Helman found the tribunal had failed to consider a further request to the Department of Education by the family, in June 2004, to allow Gracia unconditional acceleration as a gifted child. This was despite a school report from the private Brisbane Adventist College that showed Gracia had performed well during the first semester of Year 8, receiving As and Bs for all her subjects. Justice Helman found the report, which said Gracia should go directly into a state high school, should have been given "careful consideration and analysis".

State Education Minister Rod Welford refused to comment on the ruling. "It is not appropriate for us to comment -- we have to be very careful when the matter is still before the courts," a spokesman for the minister said.

Ms Malaxetxebarria denied she had been a pushy mother to Gracia. "This was her need," she said. "I am trying to be a bit of an Atticus Finch here to see her human rights are looked after." University of Queensland professor of clinical psychology Matt Sanders said the public school system needed to be more attentive to gifted students' needs. Gracia said she had adjusted well to high school, despite her age, and was proud of her mother for having supported her through the courts. "It's good in Year 10," she said. "I've got my friends and everything, and I seem to be doing well."


One for the old timers

Australian playwright Gwen Meredith, famous for writing the long-running ABC radio serial Blue Hills, has died at the age of 98. Meredith's cousin, Jackie Treseder, told ABC radio the writer had been ill for some time and had died peacefully at her NSW southern highlands home in Bowral recently. "She had been unwell for a little while with her heart. Over the last week her health has deteriorated. She's had two cousins and a longstanding friend with her for the last week by her bedside," Ms Treseder said. A private funeral service was held yesterday. "Her wishes have been that she had a very private, peaceful, funeral, which we had today," Ms Treseder said.

Blue Hills ran for 27 years and earned Meredith a Member of the Order of the British Empire award on June 10, 1967, for her services to radio entertainment. More than a decade later, she was also honoured with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to the arts.

From Orange in country NSW, Meredith completed her secondary education at Sydney Girls High School and her tertiary education at the University of Sydney. She later took a Bachelor of Arts degree. With a love of literature, Meredith invested in her own bookstore, Chelsea Bookshop, which was a source of income and her writing haven from 1932 to 1938. In the four years following the sale of the bookshop, she worked as a freelance writer and also married engineer Ainsworth Harrison.

In 1943, she started a 33-year relationship with the ABC, contracted to write radio plays, serials and documentaries. Meredith was initially best known for writing the radio serial The Lawsons, which ran for five years and 1299 episodes until February 5, 1949. Three weeks later, Blue Hills - a family saga about country life - was launched and lasted 5795 episodes. Meredith's friend Ian Doyle told the ABC her work on Blue Hills would never be forgotten. "Well, 5795 episodes was the number (of episodes she wrote) ... she didn't write it, she spoke it ... recorded it on a tape machine and it was then transcribed at the ABC," he said. "That's why the people who were in Blue Hills felt as if the serial had a real life to it, because Gwen actually spoke the words before they were then typed."


No jobs for Brit doctors and nurses

Australia is set to benefit from a looming brain drain from Britain's health services. The British Medical Association says almost 6000 young doctors and nurses may have to move overseas or even quit because they cannot get jobs in the National Health Service. Financial straits have led many trusts which run the health system to close wards and cut staff so graduates compete for far fewer jobs. "In one university, only two out of 300 new graduates have found posts," the Royal College of Nursing's Susan Watt said. "These nurses . . . are badly needed but trusts don't have the money to pay their salaries." Virtually all healthcare professions are on the wanted list at a nationwide series of Australia Needs Skills fairs being held by the Immigration Department in Britain this month.


Geography: Another school subject is hijacked by politics and fads

(An editorial from "The Australian" below)

It's been decades since borders, bays and capes were the sole questions covered in geography class. Which is as it should be. When properly taught, the subject should, as the world's first geography professor, James Fairgrieve put it, "train future citizens to imagine accurately the condition of the great world stage and so help them to think sanely about political and social problems of the world". Yet far from reaching this lofty ideal, in geography classrooms around Australia the subject has become little more than a stalking horse for hard-green ideology. And with the exception of NSW, which has always treated geography as a separate subject, and Victoria, which has recently reinstated it as such, geography has been folded into the same broad umbrella of Studies of Society and the Environment that has ripped the teaching of other disciplines such as history from its moorings. This shift opened the door to faddish politics and greatly reduced the chances that a trained geography teacher would actually teach the subject. Even in NSW, where geography is a separate required subject, students are taught to view mining, development and land clearing in an entirely negative light. (A more balanced approach would note that such activities generate wealth for Australia, give a growing population places to live and provide food for domestic and foreign markets.) Human rights and reconciliation are also taught in NSW's geography classrooms.

It is bad enough that Australia's geography curriculums have been so blatantly politicised and that students are encouraged to translate their lesson plans into political activism. Inaccuracies abound as well. Water is described as a "finite resource" in a draft curriculum for Year 11 and 12 students in South Australia - despite there being a more-or-less stable amount of the stuff on the planet. And as in history and English classrooms, a warmed-over Marxism, with its stultifying obsession with power relationships, dominates. In Queensland, the curriculum is charged with educating students about social justice, sustainability, peace and "environmental justice". Education Minister Julie Bishop is concerned that geography "does not fall victim to the same fate as that of history teaching, (which) has become an exercise in political indoctrination". Unfortunately, in much of the country this has already happened.

The decline in geography teaching mirrors a similar descent into the standard-free swamps of postmodernism and political correctness that has already devastated the teaching of English and history. Rather than grounding students in the basics of the discipline and giving them a foundation from which to explore more advanced theories later in their academic careers, teachers leapfrog the essentials and indoctrinate students with theories that will very likely be out of favour by the time their charges enter university. Which is a shame. A solid grounding in the location and behaviour of the world's rivers and resources goes a long way towards helping one grasp the history of human conflict. True understanding of the science of natural processes allows students to evaluate urban sprawl and climate change for themselves and come to their own conclusions - not just be spoon-fed them. And answers to timeless questions, such as why some societies succeed while others fail, can be found within geography. Polluting the discipline with such nebulous concepts as "social justice" and "ecological sustainability" encourages students to turn their brains off and instead parrot the approved, politically correct answers demanded by the curriculum. As with history and English, geography teaching desperately needs to be returned to its roots.


Thursday, October 05, 2006


Two reports below:

Howard rallies Right in culture war assault

John Howard marshalled his allies on the intellectual Right last night for another surge against those of "the soft Left" whom he warned still held sway in educational and cultural life and treated the teaching of Australian history as an afterthought. Half-declaring victory after decades in the culture wars, the Prime Minister warned there was still a large group, whose intellectual roots went back to the communist sympathisers of the Cold War, whose grip on universities, for example, remained "by virtue of its long march through the institutions".

An unapologetic and defiant Mr Howard praised his Government's successes over the "posses of the politically correct". But he warned of struggles ahead over education, history, Australian values and Islamic extremism's threat to democracy. "Few debates are as vital as those over education - whether it be in upholding basic standards on literacy and numeracy, promoting diversity and choice or challenging the incomprehensible sludge that can find its way into some curriculum material," he said last night.

Addressing the 50th anniversary dinner for Quadrant magazine, for which he has written, Mr Howard said it "has upheld the best traditions of free thought and vigorous debate, often as a lonely counterpoint to stultifying orthodoxies and dangerous utopias that at times have gripped the Western intelligentsia". He said Quadrant, a magazine of small circulation and a conservative bent, had been "Australia's home to all that is worth preserving in the Western cultural tradition".

For his part, Mr Howard cited many of the battles Quadrant has waged and numerous individuals who have been attacked, defiantly raising topics that have had him branded a racist, old-fashioned and frozen in the 1950s. "With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism, it became all too easy to pretend that the outcome of the Cold War was an inevitable result of large-scale, impersonal forces that ultimately left totalitarianism exhausted and democratic capitalism triumphant," he told the audience at the Four Seasons hotel in Sydney last night. "Nothing could be further from the truth. This was a struggle fought by individuals on behalf of the individual spirit."

Mr Howard defended Geoffrey Blainey, who was vilified for his argument that multiculturalism should be reconsidered, he praised the intellectual questioning of the "black armband view of history" and pointed to Quadrant's defence of Keith Windschuttle's questioning of Aboriginal history. On the world stage he named the emergence of three remarkable individuals "whose moral clarity punctured such nonsense - Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II". While the hard Left and communist influence in Australia declined, Mr Howard said, the New Left argued the Cold War was a struggle defined by "moral equivalence" - where the Soviet bloc and the American-led West were equally to blame. "It became the height of intellectual sophistication to believe that people in the West were no less oppressed than people under the yoke of communist dictatorship," he said.

Quadrant "served as a beacon of free and sceptical thought against fashionable leftist views" in the 1960s and 1970s, he said. "Of the causes that Quadrant has taken up that are close to my heart, none is more important to me than the role it has played as counterforce to the black armband view of Australian history," Mr Howard said.


Little magazine leaves big mark

How Quadrant has fought the good fights in the nation's culture wars during the past 50 years and helped redefine the Australian political landscape

The tide is turning in Australia's culture wars. For decades, media sophisticates were able to control the political debate by all kicking in the same direction, like the Rockettes. In recent years, however, it is increasingly clear that the cultural landscape is no longer as flat and unvaried as the proverbial Australian sheep station. Whereas once conservative ideas were swept aside as being outside the boundaries of serious (and morally respectable) consideration, today they represent the political mainstream. On the great battlefields of history, economics, citizenship, national sovereignty and values generally, conservative ideas and those of classical liberalism increasingly prevail. True, the Left still controls the arts, universities and the public broadcaster. But far from losing the hearts and minds of the Australian people, conservatives are redefining the nation's cultural terrain.

Someone should thank Quadrant for its contribution to this change. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Prime Minister's favourite magazine and he will be among other distinguished guests in Sydney tonight to celebrate this important milestone. There is indeed much to celebrate. For Quadrant is the most successful and influential magazine of ideas in Australia's history.

Little magazines, whatever their political colouration, are - dreaded word! - elitist in character. Who reads them is infinitely more important than how many people do. To ask about their circulation is to ask the wrong question, unless one's object is to embarrass the editor. Their function is to try to set the agenda of public debate and policy. And they do this through what economists call the multiplier effect, by influencing the opinions of a small group who, in turn, influence and mould the opinions of the larger community. Judged in these terms, it seems to us that Quadrant has done outstandingly well during the past half-century. It was created to defend cultural freedom. Fifty years ago it planted its banner at what Lionel Trilling called the bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet, and there it remains.

Its first issue was published as Soviet tanks were crushing the 1956 uprising in Budapest and, during the Cold War, Quadrant opposed the perverse but comfortable notion that principled liberalism required an anti-anti-communist posture, one that really amounted to neutrality in the conflict between liberal democracy and totalitarianism.

In more recent times it has fought the good fights in the nation's culture wars, combating the political correctness that has poisoned the intellectual class and, until recent years, the political establishment. Above all else, Quadrant has been a rallying point for Australian intellectuals and journalists who rejected the prevailing leftism of the times.

It's hard to convey today what it was like 50 years ago for anti-leftist thinkers. It took guts to stand where you stood. There were no conservative radio talkback programs, no conservative websites or blogs, and no opinion pages such as the one you are reading. Newspapers were mostly dull and parochial.

There was a Labor Party lurching Left, ready to consult Molotov on the truth of the Petrov affair. Although Robert Menzies' conservatives were in power, a shallow, reflexive, progressive orthodoxy prevailed. This was a time when the leading historian, Manning Clark, went to the Soviet Union and wrote a glowing book called Meeting Soviet Man. He singled out for special praise - a "very great man", one of "earth images and folk wisdom" - none other than Alex Surkov, the thuggish secretary of the Soviet Writers Union. The Fellowship of Australian Writers was so impressed that, shortly after the Hungarian Revolution, it invited that tormenter of Russian writers to Australia as its guest. And so it went.

To be sure, Australian academics and intellectuals were only mimicking admired overseas models. In the US, liberalism reigned virtually unchallenged intellectually. Indeed, William F. Buckley Jr's newborn National Review magazine was just about the only conservative organ in North America. But there was a difference down under.

In a much smaller and more isolated cultural community - one characterised simultaneously by an aggressive commitment to an egalitarian ethos and by a desperate concern to distinguish itself from the surrounding philistinism - there was much less diversity and pluralism, less in the way of countervailing challenges to this orthodoxy, than in the US or Europe. This was the environment into which Quadrant was born.

Things started to change when a group of like-minded people decided to take a stand against the prevailing culture and went on to play a significant role in the country's cultural and political life. They included some distinguished and interesting men: former High Court chief justice John Latham; future and much-maligned governor-general John Kerr; leading poet James McAuley; and barrister Hal Wootten. Later they were to be joined by others, including trade unionist Lloyd Ross, writers and editors Donald Horne and Peter Coleman, and professors Heinz Arndt and David Armstrong.

And there was another who was of outstanding, indeed seminal, importance: Richard Krygier. A Pole by origin, Krygier, along with his wife, Roma, had found his way to Australia via Lithuania, Siberia, Tokyo and Shanghai. Arriving broke in 1941, with little English and knowing little about the country and no one in it, he started by taking a job as a waiter in one of Sydney's nightclubs. Krygier, a man of great charm and warmth, was passionately, knowledgeably, uncompromisingly and effectively anti-communist. When the Congress for Cultural Freedom was set up in Paris, Krygier was determined that Australia should participate in it. Despite initial indifference at its headquarters, he succeeded: in 1954, a small Australian committee was formed.

How was that committee to be the most effective in an environment made up in more or less equal parts of indifference and hostility? The answer was given to Krygier by Irving Kristol, later to be the founding father of American neo-conservatism. And it was, in retrospect at least, a predictable answer, as well as being right on the mark.

Coleman, whose own contribution to Quadrant through the years has been invaluable, has described the episode: "Krygier's great achievement was the founding of Quadrant. Its conception was in 1955 in the Russian Tea Room on West 57th Street, Manhattan, where he met Irving Kristol, the editor of Encounter (a leading European-based anti-communist magazine), to discuss the Australian situation. You should start a magazine! Like Encounter! Krygier wrote to the Paris office of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and asked for a subsidy. Malcolm Muggeridge, who had returned from his first visit to Australia, supported Krygier and told the congress executive that this was an idea whose time had come."

Fifty years after that conversation, Soviet communism is in the dustbin of history, the appeal of Marxism-Leninism is lost on all but a few alienated academics in the humanities departments, and Encounter and the other Cultural Freedom magazines have ceased to exist. Yet Quadrant remains a lively and substantial monthly.

In the intervening years, the magazine has had its ups and downs. There have been the clashes of personalities and ideas that inevitably characterise any enterprise entered into by a group of intellectuals with strong opinions. And there was the famous revelation of indirect and well-disguised CIA financial support. The general inclination of the Quadrant group to that event was to congratulate the CIA for having been smart enough to provide the wherewithal for what was an essential task in the context of the Cold War and then not to interfere or impose conditions on its recipients. The secrecy was regrettable, but a necessary condition for the thing being done at all.

Throughout its history, Quadrant has been capable of starting vigorous controversy and it is frequently quoted in the nation's media, especially these pages. Examples abound: Peter Ryan's revelations about Clark's biases and dodgy research; Geoffrey Blainey's and Ron Brunton's convincing attacks of the black-armband view of history; Robert Manne's exposure of Wilfred Burchett as a Soviet agent; Keith Windschuttle's forensic dissection of the historical fabrications of Aboriginal massacres; Gerard Henderson's (and a 29-year-old Peter Costello's) attacks on the old industrial relations club, which helped lay the intellectual groundwork for the recent labour market reforms; the work of Lauchlan Chipman, Leonie Kramer and others on education; Dyson Heydon's critique of judicial activism that many say helped secure him a position in today's High Court: these and others have had a substantial national impact. And, thanks to the work of McAuley, Vivian Smith and Les Murray, the magazine has made a huge contribution to the promotion of Australian poetry.

(More recently, Quadrant has published critical pieces of the decision to invade Iraq, not on the reflexive the-West-is-always-wrong grounds that motivate many critics but on an appeal to the classic conservative virtues of prudence, scepticism concerning sweeping ambition and the dangers of hubris.)

A decade ago, Manne had a famous falling out with his colleagues and eventually resigned as editor. But he has nonetheless conceded that Quadrant, under his successor Paddy McGuinness, has "marshalled the troops and galvanised the disparate voices of opposition into what amounted to a serious and effective political campaign" against Ronald Wilson's Bringing Them Home report on the so-called stolen generations. Today, few seriously mouth platitudes about apologies, treaties and separatism. Instead John Howard's (and Quadrant's) language of integration and practical reconciliation prevails.

Howard himself has been a contributor to his favourite magazine. During his dark days in Opposition, he once wrote a sympathetic review of the first volume of Allan Martin's biography of Menzies. And in 1994, two years before he became Prime Minister, Howard wrote a prescient piece on the culture wars, calling on the Liberal Party to fight "the battle of history with the Labor Party". Conservatives, he argued, "should not underestimate the significance of Australian nationalism as a potent political issue". Whatever you may think of this view, it is hard to deny that Howard, as Prime Minister, has put into practice today what he preached in Quadrant's pages.

No wonder Quadrant has acquired a great and distinguished respect overseas. The aforementioned Buckley, patron saint of American conservatives and a connoisseur of literary-political journalism, once described an issue (a special on China, put together by Simon Leys, aka Pierre Ryckmans) as "the single most liberating issue of any magazine I can remember". And according to the renowned scholar-poet Robert Conquest: "Quadrant has flourished in a jungle full of pygmies with personal arrows" and Australia is fortunate to have it and "so are we in the world at large". High praise for a little magazine.

Source. Two of my articles in "Quadrant" are here and here

University to put qualifications before Leftist bigotry

Adelaide University has been embarrassed into changing how it selects medical students and will focus more on brains rather than its institutional dislike of private education

The university will try to enrol more locals and reduce the emphasis on interviews, after being stung by the disclosure that interviewers had blackballed students from private schools and the children of doctors. Executive dean of health sciences Justin Beilby told The Australian the university would equally balance the Tertiary Entrance Ranking with interview results, placing a lesser importance on the university's medical admissions test results. "Previously the key determinant of getting into medicine was the interview and what we've done now is balance the Tertiary Entrance Ranking with the interview," Professor Beilby said. "The principal changes are not because of political pressure but on the review of the analysis. But you can't ignore the criticism."

Highly regarded Adelaide obstetrician Christopher Verco - whose daughter Lucy scored a TER of 99.3, but was rejected after her interview - said it was "gratifying" the university had listened to repeated concerns. "They have taken note of the concerns expressed by a large number of the public and the profession and one hopes that there will be processes in place toassess the equity and the utility of theassessment process," Dr Verco said.

The school will also reintroduce biology in the first year and add extra science subjects in the second and third years from 2008 as a result of the review. The university has received an extra 40 federally-funded places for the 2007 intake and the Rann Government last week announced it would fund five annual scholarships for local students. Country students will also be awarded bonus entry points.

Professor Beilby said the university would financially support the department to decrease its international student intake and enrol more local students. Australian Medical Association state president Christopher Cain supported extra weighting being placed on tertiary scores. "We still have some concerns on the UMAT as being a determinant in whether you get an interview," Dr Cain said. "If you don't perform well you don't get an interview."


Government must tread carefully when restricting jihadi texts

Officials from the University of Melbourne and the Howard Government are on collision course over freedom of speech - or more specifically freedom of research. Two books written by a man described as the "Godfather of Jihad" have been removed from the university's library, with a third facing the same fate, and on Monday evening's Lateline Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said that those who display, hire or sell the books - which have been refused classification - could face criminal charges. Even downloading the works from the internet could be illegal, Mr Ruddock warned, potentially placing the jihadi tracts in question on the same plane as child pornography. This present dispute is only the latest in a series of controversies concerning academic research into the field of terrorism. The Australian Research Council was criticised last month for spending $24 million on what critics said was a simplistic, blame-the-West view of terrorism.

While it is perfectly legitimate to question whether taxpayers should be funding inadequate and biased research, preventing access to primary sources is another matter. And as The Australian reports today, the works in question are freely available on the internet - allowing would-be terrorists to read them, but not academics seeking to understand and prevent their behaviour. It is already illegal to incite violence, and a far-reaching legal apparatus exists to tackle racial and ethnic vilification. While the books singled out by the Government may be inflammatory, many similarly offensive titles will continue to be sold. Barring access to publications should be used only as a last resort.


Warning over "fuzzy" syllabus

The [Queensland] State Government was warned two years ago by the chairman of its own Queensland Studies Authority that the state's senior syllabuses were vague, inconsistent, inequitable and inefficient. Professor John Mattick, the founder of the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, wrote to former education minister and now Deputy Premier Anna Bligh telling her the syllabuses needed radical overhauling. This was essential, he argued, to overcome problems such as different things being taught in different schools.

Ms Bligh said last night that she had acted immediately on Professor Mattick's letter instituting QCAR, the Queensland Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Framework that set benchmarks and linked curriculum issues to school assessment. She also set in train subject reviews that are still continuing and discussed the matter with parents groups. "I liked John's suggestion of a less crowded curriculum," Ms Bligh said.

Education Minister Rod Welford, who has not seen the letter, yesterday endorsed Professor Mattick's push for 80 per cent core curriculums in every subject with only 20 per cent of material left to the discretion of schools. "I think what has happened over the years is that schools have developed their curriculums and the syllabuses have allowed a real smorgasbord of content," Mr Welford said. "What wasn't recognised is that there was no guarantee that anyone covers anything in particular." He said trials were already starting on new programs of "essential content" that would provide core curriculums in different subjects.

The letter by Professor Mattick and another he wrote to a then-QSA board member, were leaked to The Courier-Mail after news that leading Australian research organisation, the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, is putting on remedial writing classes for its PhD researchers. The acting head of the IMB at UQ yesterday praised the QIMR initiative. Professor Brandon Wainwright said the IMB had a career development program for its PhD students.

QSA executive director Kim Bannikoff said there was no need for a core curriculum. He said the QSA and extensive moderation panels ensured that schools met set standards and covered work required by the syllabus, adding that preschool to Year 10 English had just been reviewed and a review of Year 11 and 12 English was about to begin.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Top students can't write

Elite students at one of Australia's best science research institutes have rushed to sign up for remedial English classes. It follows concerns by world-leading researchers at the poor English contained in some Australian-born and educated students' PhD theses and articles for scientific journals. The problem is so bad that the Queensland Institute of Medical Research has hired a lecturer to teach remedial English to its PhD students. One QIMR professor has even declared that he had "students from countries like Portugal and Holland whose written English is better than that of our own students".

So popular is the course to be run next week by University of Queensland English lecturer Dr Joan Leach that it has had to be moved to a larger venue. The program includes two 90 minute lectures and individual clinic-style workshops will cover basic issues including grammar, clear expression and sentence construction. QIMR Director Professor Michael Good, who is one of the world's leading immunologists and malaria researchers, initiated the move after senior staff became concerned at the level of English expression students were displaying in their written work. The QIMR has 700 scientists and support staff and about 120 PhD candidates researching in fields including cancer, malaria, genetic influences on illness, asthma and epidemiology. As one of Australia's leading research institutes it selects only the best first-class honours science students. Only about one in 10 of those who approach QIMR are taken on.

Acting director Professor Adele Green said excellence in English was paramount for scientists, who published their findings in prestigious international journals and had to write long, detailed scientific papers which could run to tens of thousands of words. Professor Nicholas Martin, head of QIMR's Genetic Epidemiology Group has strongly supported Professor Good in establishing the program. He said PhD students who came to the institute from all over Australia after at least 16 years of formal education recognised the deficiencies in the way they had been taught English at school and were keen to improve their writing. "I regularly recruit European PhD students from countries like Portugal and Holland whose written English is better than that of our own students," Professor Martin said.

He said the aim of the course was not to cover the finer points of English but the basics, such as correct punctuation, including a verb in every sentence, varying sentence length and construction and clear expression. "At the clinics the researchers will be able to bring along their written work and discuss it with Dr Leach," he said.

Leading Queensland educationalist Professor Kenneth Wiltshire said remedial English for Australian-born and educated students was common at universities all over Australia and was one sign that school English programs were not catering for the top third of students. "There are not enough challenges and not enough literature and not enough emphasis on good writing," Professor Wiltshire said.

Education Minister Rod Welford said teachers should not neglect the importance of well-structured written communication, while at the same time striving to ensure students were competent with newer means of communication such as digital media and video


Leftist educators care about "correctness", not knowledge

Is the campaign against political correctness in education and the destructive influence of critical literacy and postmodern theory on subjects such as history, literature and science justified? In the past two years, The Australian has provided example after example of the way the cultural Left has taken the long march through the education system in its attempt to change society by overthrowing the traditional academic curriculum. As revealed early last year, Wayne Sawyer, then editor of the national English teachers journal English in Australia, argued the re-election of the Howard Government was evidence that teachers had failed to properly teach students how to think, since many young people, according to Sawyer, made the wrong decision by voting for John Howard.

The solution? Sawyer argued that English teachers must redouble their efforts to teach critical literacy, an approach to reading that analyses texts in terms of power relationships, especially through the politically correct prism of sex, ethnicity and class. As a result, instead of valuing the moral and aesthetic quality of literary greats, students are instructed, in the words of the Queensland curriculum, to deconstruct Wordsworth's poetry from an "eco-critical" perspective and Shakespeare's Macbeth in terms of "patriarchal concerns with order and gender".

With history, students are told that interpretation is subjective and relative to one's cultural and social position, and the subject is reduced to studying issues or themes. No wonder many students leave school with a fragmented and disjointed understanding, knowing more about feminism, peace studies and multi- culturalism than they do about the narrative associated with Australia's birth as a nation.

Even the hard sciences have fallen victim to postmodern claptrap. Advocates of outcomes-based education say that Western science cannot be privileged, as science - you guessed it - is a socio-cultural product, putting faith healing and astrology on the same footing as Euclidean geometry and Pythagoras's theorem.

Given the public's right to know and the billions invested in education, one may think the debate about curriculum is one we have to have. Not so, according to the cultural Left brigade controlling Australian education. Marxist-inspired Melbourne-based historian Stuart Macintyre describes The Australian's criticism of post- modernism and moral relativism as pernicious and recently attacked the newspaper for what he sees as its "denigration of teachers".

The Australian Association for the Teaching of English, in a book entitled "Only Connect. English Teaching, Schooling and Community" bemoans what is described as "one of the most motivated by a neo-conservative agenda and are interested only in creating a crisis where there is none. A recent edition of "English in Australia" contains a paper written by David Freesmith entitled The Politics of the English Curriculum: Ideology in the Campaign against Critical Literacy in The Australian. Freesmith defends Sawyer's argument that critical literacy equals a healthy democracy equals not voting for the Howard Government and condemns The Australian for promoting a cultural heritage view of literature, one that prefers Shakespeare to Australian Idol. He also condemns writers such as Luke Slattery and me and editorial comment in support of the literary canon as advancing arguments that are disguised as neutral when they are ideologically driven and based on a world view that is - the worst of sins - "conservative, Eurocentric and nationalistic".

Post Bali bombings and 9/11, one may be forgiven for thinking that being conservative, valuing continuity as well as change, being Eurocentric, valuing the Western tradition with its commitment to a free and open society, and being nationalistic would be seen as good things. Not so, according to the cultural Left.

The AATE and Macintyre are not alone in their attacks on conservative education warriors. Alan Reid, co-author of the proposed outcomes-based South Australian senior school certificate, argues that Brendan Nelson, when education minister, was guilty of creating a manufactured crisis. Geoff Masters. head of the Australian Council for Educational Research and given the job to carry out the Howard Government's review of Year 12 subjects across Australia, also says Australia's education system is at world's best standard. Not only is Masters an advocate of outcomes-based education, he also argues the crisis is manufactured.

So concerned are the educrats about the bad press education is getting that the Australian Curriculum Studies Association convened a conference earlier this year to address what was termed the "black media debate". Given those attending, bureaucrats from various boards of studies responsible for Australia's outcomes-based education and like-minded teacher academics and union officials, it should be no surprise that the consensus was that standards are high and all is well. At the conference, Masters' contribution was summarised as: "The simple point for Geoff Masters, in his response, was the need as a profession to ensure our voice is being heard in relation to curriculum issues; because at the moment it is not. Our voice is not heard above those who seek to manufacture a feeling of crisis in education."

The first stage in remedying a problem is to admit there is something wrong. Not only are the so-called experts in control of Australia's education system in denial but - given many are responsible for the mess - without further public scrutiny and action there appears little likelihood that anything will change.

The above article by Kevin Donnelly appeared in "The Australian" on 23 September, 2006

The joke of "parole"

The Northern Territory Coroner has demanded to know why Correctional Services staff failed to enforce parole conditions on an Aboriginal prisoner who beat his wife to death. Twenty-seven-year old Trenton Cunningham killed his wife in a brutal attack on the Cobourg Peninsula last year. Yet he was on parole at the time, and under orders not to go anywhere near his wife. Parole and probation officers have revealed that they had no idea the pair were living together again, in breach of those conditions, when the woman was killed.

The most tragic thing about Jodie Palipuaminni's death is that it was so preventable. By the time her husband, Trenton Cunningham, beat her to death in May last year, she'd suffered 11 years of the most horrific domestic violence. Cunningham had already spent 18 months in jail for two earlier assaults and at the time of her death he was on parole, with strict orders that he wasn't even allowed to live on the same island as his wife. Today the Darwin Coroner's Court heard that both a psychologist and a parole officer had warned up to two years earlier that Cunningham might kill his wife if he was allowed to go near her again. In a pre-sentencing report to the Supreme Court, psychologist Peter Mals had written: "If the relationship continues, the end result might well be a fatal injury to Mrs Palipuaminni, either deliberate or accidental in nature".

Today, a Correctional Services Officer, Marguerite Fawcett, testified that she too had warned of the consequences if Cunningham was allowed to approach his wife after his parole in 2003 She said, "I suggested the offender may be a serious danger to the victim." Counsel Assisting the Coroner, Jon Tippett QC, asked her, "did that danger include the possibility of death? "I thought so, yes", she replied

Yet parole officers today admitted in court that, 18 months after Cunningham's release, they weren't even aware that he was again living with his wife in breach of his parole conditions. They only became aware when, on May the 25th last year, he killed her. In that last brutal attack, Jodie Palipuaminni sustained a ruptured liver, serious head injuries, three cracked ribs, skin burns and heavy trauma to the chest and abdomen. She was pregnant at the time.

Jon Tippett QC has said, "the fact that Mrs Palipuaminni died at the hands of her husband, was not surprising. It was an event that was entirely predictable and had been predicted". Trenton Cunningham was convicted last month of manslaughter, and is now serving an 11-year jail term. But Coroner Greg Cavanagh is investigating the broader issues of why Correctional Services officers failed to enforce Cunningham's parole conditions and whether reporting of such domestic abuse should be made mandatory.

Cunningham's former parole supervisor, Madeline Trentham, today admitted there'd been no real supervision of Cunningham in the months before his wife's death. She said staff shortages, wet season rains and the remoteness of many Aboriginal communities made it impossible for authorities to visit all prisoners on parole. And she confessed the Department lost contact with Cunningham altogether for four months until shortly before his wife's death.

When asked why, she admitted that parole officers had been slack. "Sometimes he just forgets to ring or he's lost our number", she said.

Counsel for the Correctional Services Department, Michael Grant asked, "is it fair to say with Aboriginal remote area parolees sometimes you just cut them a bit of slack". "Yeah, that's correct", she said. Then the Coroner Greg Cavanagh: "so you're saying, if they don't call in when they should and the case manager is away, nothing much happens, the file just stays on the desk?" "Yes sir", she said.

When Trenton Cunningham finally renewed contact he made no mention he was again with his wife and Correctional Services staff never thought to ask. On May the 24th, he told parole officers that everything was going well. The next day he beat his wife to death.


Below is a sequel to the story above:

Murderers in the Northern Territory will find it harder to plead manslaughter under reforms designed to eliminate "reverse racism" from the justice system. As foreshadowed by The Australian last month, Attorney-General Syd Stirling yesterday announced changes to the Criminal Code following concerns about the high rate of convictions in the Territory for lesser charges instead of murder. Mr Stirling said the reforms, to be introduced in parliament this month, would remove drunkenness and any reference to cultural or ethnic backgrounds as partial defences to murder. "The amendments will ensure that those who commit murder are convicted of murder," Mr Stirling said.

The Northern Territory has the nation's highest murder rate, with the majority of homicides involving Aboriginal people, alcohol and domestic violence. In the 10 years since 1996, there have been just 12 indigenous people in the Territory convicted of murder compared with 62 for manslaughter. Over the same period, 24 people have been convicted for dangerous acts causing death and 23 for doing a dangerous act causing death while intoxicated.

But the changes were attacked by Sharon Payne, head of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, who said removing the need to prove intent represented a "return to the Middle Ages". "Under homicide rules, you really have to prove an intent to kill. The onus has to be on the Crown to prove that they (the offenders) intended to kill."

The reforms come one month after a coronial inquest in Darwin highlighted the circumstances leading up to the brutal death of Jodie Palipuaminni, a 27-year-old Aboriginal woman from the Tiwi Islands who was killed by her husband, Trenton Cunningham, in May last year. Northern Territory legal figures have questioned why Cunningham was convicted for manslaughter, not murder, since no alcohol was involved in the crime and the killer was breaching the conditions of his parole at the time. Cunningham, who had inflicted 11 years of horrific abuse on his wife before he finally killed her, was originally charged with murder but faced court for manslaughter. In August, he was sentenced in the Northern Territory Supreme Court to 11 1/2 years behind bars, with a non-parole period of 6 1/2 years.

Mr Stirling said too many offenders had previously been able to get away with lesser charges than murder. "I've always ... thought that there's been somewhat of a reverse racism-type element in law," he said. Under the reforms, the defence of diminished responsibility will be clarified, with new provisions for defence to focus on the accused's ability to understand events and determine whether their actions were right or wrong. Mr Stirling said the charge of "dangerous act" would also be abolished to ensure offenders were "appropriately charged". "Offenders will face the full arm of the law," he said.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Queensland ambulance service still endangering patients

Despite greatly increased funding

A woman with a brain aneurism had to wait more than an hour for an ambulance after her plea for help was recorded as a headache complaint. The woman was working out at a suburban gym when she collapsed in agonising pain, holding her head and screaming "I'm going to die". Gym staff immediately dialled triple-0, but it was 80 minutes - with the woman lapsing in and out of consciousness - before paramedics arrived.

An ambulance spokeswoman last night confirmed the incident occurred last Thursday morning at the EnergyXpress gym in the Brisbane suburb of Bellbowrie. The spokeswoman said that, as the call had been recorded as being for a "50-year-old woman with a headache", it was treated as a low priority. "One hour later we got another call to say the lady was experiencing altered consciousness, so an ambulance was dispatched immediately," the spokeswoman said, adding that crews were attending other high-priority cases in the area at the time.

The woman underwent surgery in a Brisbane hospital on Friday night and was last night released from intensive care. But the woman's sister, who asked that family members not be identified, said her sister faced a long road to recovery. "I'm very upset that it happened and that she was waiting such a long time," she said. "It's still very raw for us and very upsetting."

Jessica Williams said she was working out with her mother when she heard a terrible scream. "At first we thought it was a personal trainer pushing someone a bit too hard, then we realised it was a lot worse than that," she said. "She was holding her head and she was screaming: 'My head's going to explode. I'm going to die. There's something wrong'."

Queensland Liberal leader Bruce Flegg, whose electorate takes in Bellbowrie, called for the service to release the full transcript of the initial call. "Clearly it is unacceptable to wait an hour and a half for an ambulance," Dr Flegg said. "Staff are under severe stress (but) there should be adequate resources because of the ambulance levy, but it is not flowing into improved services."

A spokesman for Ambulance Employees Queensland said communications officers were being forced to work up to eight 10-hour shifts in a row causing stress and fatigue that could lead to mistakes.


Bans on useful shopping bags are wasteful and pointless

In the hairshirt fashion houses of modern environment policy there are many labels but few emblems. In the 1980s it was nuclear disarmament. In the '90s it was recycling. But for true retail environmentalism, these days it's hard to go past the plastic bag. If black is the new black, plastic bags are the new cause celebre. In seemingly Orwellian fashion they are now no longer just a couple of grams of super-convenient plastic, but stand accused of killing marine wildlife in their hundreds of thousands, wreaking havoc across the oceans and choking our rivers, zoos and possibly even troubling our livestock. Apparently they are everywhere in their ubiquitous billions. Plastic bags have become an emergency that must be stopped.

In July the Victorian Government announced just that. Describing them as "a symbol of our inefficient use of resources", the Government banned free plastic bags from 2009, a headline act in its 90-page sustainability action statement. The statement claimed about 10 million of these shopping bags "become litter that endanger the health of marine wildlife, damage property through clogged drains and machinery and detract from the beauty of our environment". "Giving consumers incentives and stronger choices to 'say no to plastic bags' is a way we can all contribute to environmental sustainability - in itself a small action but important in developing a more sustainable culture in Victoria."

The action may indeed be small but the impact of such a ban certainly has not been. What the Victorian statement conveniently excluded was the evidence before the Government before its announcement that such a ban would be every bit as wasteful as the bags themselves. In May, the Productivity Commission released its much anticipated draft report on waste generation and resource efficiency in Australia. In this report it warned that enforcing bans on plastic bags must be based on rigorous cost-benefit analysis. In plainer words, the commission said if a government imposed the largely hidden costs of this kind of blunt regulation, then it needed to demonstrate that such costs were worth it, and that the action taken was the most effective and efficient way of achieving the stated objective.

A year earlier, all environment ministers in Australia - the Environment Protection and Heritage Council - had commissioned just such analysis. Respected economists Allen Consulting reported back to them in June, and the numbers on a ban didn't look good. The report found that even with generous definitions of environmental hazard for plastic bags, the cost of imposing various types of bans and other similar mechanisms was still about four times greater than the environmental benefit. They estimated the cost of a national ban would be as high as $1.4 billion over 10 years through a range of retail costs including slower checkouts and other indirect costs borne by retailers. These are effectively the same as a tax on consumers as retailers pass the costs on in higher prices.

The key point made in the report was not that nothing should be done to address the environmental impacts that plastic bag litter might cause, but that banning all or most bags to target the estimated 0.8 per cent of bags causing the problem was a pretty brutal and indirect way of going about it, like banning all cars to cut air pollution. It is hardly surprising, then, that a number of state governments reportedly fought to block the release of the Allen report, which was finally released to the public in September.

Under increasing pressure from government, retailers eventually introduced a voluntary program to reduce plastic bag use and began selling the lurid green polypropylene reusable bags with considerable success, cutting bag use by 46 per cent in three years. This was only just shy of the agreed 50 per cent target by 2005, but clearly not good enough for the Victorian Government. Victorian Opposition spokesman David Davis estimates the Victorian ban will cost $106 million a year. "Instead of advancing the co-operative approach the state Government has chosen to use a powerful stick that will add costs for consumers," he says. Despite his concerns, the political cachet of being tough on plastic bags was undeniable: "We didn't oppose the bill but we did express great doubt about this aspect."

The Victorian ban had no regulatory impact statement, no supporting evidence that the move was based on anything more than green political opportunism. The scientific evidence of the environmental impact of plastic bags is mostly anecdotal and flagrantly thin. The seminal report in Australia was completed in 2002 and is, by its own admission, based in many parts on nothing more than educated guesses simply because of the vacuum of credible, documented science.

Plastic bags have two environmental impacts: the resources used to make them; and their impact in the litter stream. Each bag weights about 2g, but like an ant can carry more than a thousand times its weight. Because they are so light they make a relatively tiny dent on landfill and resource use: only about 0.2 per cent of solid waste in Australia. A typical car return trip to a supermarket consumes about the same energy as nearly 100 bags.

On the litter side the claims are more outrageous. Environmental branding and marketing company Planet Ark has been one of the primary megaphones of the "plastic bags are evil" message, claiming they kill at least 100,000 birds, whales, seals and turtles every year. This claim, which has been proudly recycled by politicians and activists across Australia, is based on a single study - from Canada, more than 20 years ago. Planet Ark director Jon Dee claims to have countless anecdotes of landfills hiring people to pick up plastic bags, farmers complaining about their livestock dying from plastic bags and negative reports from zoos, wildlife rescuers and litter groups. He has even seen the footage of a Bryde's whale that died on the beach near Cairns in 2000 after reportedly ingesting 6cum of plastic.

"It's nearly impossible to measure how big the problem is," he says. He's right, but without the exclamation mark. The more sober independent study from 2002 had this to say about such reports: "Actual numbers of animals injured or killed annually by plastic bag litter is obviously nearly impossible to determine. Despite this lack of reliable data, the potential for plastic shopping bags to injure marine wildlife is real and of a high concern to Australians. Measures to reduce the littering of bags, other plastic film and other packaging should be a high priority."

Reducing the risk of such a hazard to ocean wildlife and other animals is an agreed and noble idea. That's not the problem. The vacuum of credible data allows a near hysterical debate to rage, which risks distorting policy from problem. There is no reliable data on the total size of the litter stream in Australia. For the purpose of the exercise, the consultants made an educated guess that between 50 and 80million plastic bags end up as litter annually. Truth is they have no idea. The bags come from a variety of sources including bags blown from landfills, bags re-used in public places and then left behind, and bags inadvertently littered from places such as street bins. This is curious because the proposed Victorian ban from 2009 targets bags from supermarkets but proposes exemptions for small retailers. The places where most of the at-litter-risk bags are likely to be coming from will be exempted from the ban, while those at low risk will be targeted.

What this research actually flags is that the trouble with plastic bags is they are a victim of their own success. They are light, strong, versatile be it as a bin liner, temporary storage device or dog's poop scooper. Because the bags are so versatile, households continue to store them rather than discard them. About 60 per cent of bags are estimated to be re-used before disposal. Most councils will not accept them in kerbside recycling systems because they can only be recycled if packed in tight with 100 other plastic bags and not wrapped conveniently around wine bottles and milk cartons. And so they continue to breed in kitchen-sink cupboards across the country. Tim Grant from the Centre for Design at RMIT University thinks most households respond more to the immediate sense of waste in their homes than have some greater awareness of potential risk to marine wildlife. "People are coming from that resource aspect rather than being overly concerned about litter," he says.

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell thinks the voluntary approach has been working and believes Australians and their state governments should persist with it. He would also like to see the development of degradable bags to further reduce the littering of plastic bags rather than a mix of populist state taxes, bans and levies. "We should be very proud of what we have achieved with a voluntary approach and just keep the momentum going. The practical way to get plastic bags out of the litter stream is to replace them with a degradable alternative," Campbell says. "If I had a billion dollars to spend over the next 10 years I'd rather spend it on climate change than on a more marginal environmental issue like plastic bags. We have limited resources in this country and we need a rational debate on this sort of issue that considers all the costs and benefits."

Degradable bags sound a great solution, but there are complications. First, the bags are still resource-intense. Second, there are discrete types of degradation - in water, in the earth and in sunlight. If marine wildlife is the primary concern then water-degrading bags may be best suited, while reducing land-born litter would favour light-degrading bags. One size does not fit all.

Clean Up Australia chairman Ian Kiernan also supports a continuation of the existing voluntary approach, which has delivered a significant reduction in plastic bag use through effective community engagement. "To then go and whack a 10c levy on them and punish them is not equitable," he says.

Other state governments, including NSW and South Australia, are looking at similar measures to Victoria's, with the issue to be revisited at the next EPHC meeting in November. A spokesman for NSW Environment Minister Bob Debus says considering the different cost options to reduce plastic bags is "part of the debate we have to have" about plastic bag management. "We know that there is strong feeling in the community for a reduction in plastic bag use," the spokesman says. The Victorian bans are big on political symbolism but dangerously thin on actually addressing the problems at hand. A more considered approach might have looked at more direct strategies that specifically addressed the main environmental threats of plastic bags for a much lower cost. After all, that's what cost-benefit means.

Australia faces a wide range of serious environmental challenges. Climate change, water management and the continued protection of biodiversity are chief among them. The plastic bag problem sits in the shallow end. It remains an issue anchored in symbolism and amplified by its physical tangibility to the public rather than the scale of its environmental impact.


Priest shortage hits RC church

Given the extraordinary high crime rate among Africans and given the sexual frustrations of the Roman priesthood, what outcome can one expect from a "blacker" priesthood? Vigilant parents, one hopes

The Catholic priest shortage in southeast Queensland has become so acute the Brisbane archdiocese is recruiting in Nigeria. The archdiocese has one parish priest for every 6000 Catholics, double the number to which they were ministering 15 years ago, church figures show. Despite the southeast Queensland population explosion, parish priest numbers in the region have plummeted by about a third from 150 to 103 in a decade. However, the number of parishes has remained the same at 110.

Brisbane archdiocesan moderator Father Peter Meneely said an ageing population of priests and an inability to recruit as many young men to the cloth as had happened in the past had resulted in the shortage. Only seven men are attending the Holy Spirit Seminary at Wavell Heights, in Brisbane's north, in various stages of becoming a priest, which usually takes seven or eight years. By comparison, when Father Meneely was a young seminarian in the 1980s, about 60 men were studying for the priesthood in Brisbane. The seminary serves parishes throughout Queensland - not just the Brisbane archdiocese, which takes in the Gold and Sunshine coasts - and extends west to Gatton and north to Hervey Bay.

To cope with the increasingly acute shortage, Archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby recently signed an agreement with the Umuahia diocese in Nigeria to receive two priests and four student priests a year for three years from 2007. The English-speaking priests will work in southeast Queensland parishes for six years before returning to Nigeria. "It won't solve our shortage but it'll certainly give us some relief and they've got more priests than they need," said Father Meneely. Without the Nigerian input, church projections showed parish priest numbers could dwindle to as low as 87 by 2011.

Archdiocesan Ministry Development Officer Chris Ehler likened the shortage of priests to the skills crisis in other professions. "It's a little bit similar to our health system in terms of attracting people to take on these quite significant responsibilities in terms of vocation to priesthood," Mr Ehler said


More on the geography wars

As a former High School geography teacher who was employed to teach geography despite having NO tertiary qualifications in the subject, I can attest to the reality of the "de-skilling" of geograpphy teaching described below

As part of a geography assignment studying the effects of pollution on the environment, a group of primary schoolchildren from Brisbane headed off to photograph the damage to Moreton Bay. But when they arrived, the waters of the bay were relatively pristine and there was no pollution to be seen. Undeterred, the children carefully set about creating their own polluted part of Moreton Bay, photographed it and just as carefully cleaned up the mess they had made. "Those kids knew what answer they were supposed to come up with," says geographer John Lidstone, associate professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. "And when kids know what answers they're supposed to reach, they stop thinking."

Students in geography classrooms across the nation are being asked to devise strategies to manage scarce water resources, for sustainable use of resources, to minimise the degradation of our coastline or environment from farming, mining or other human activities. Often, the answer is in the politicisation of the topic or with the data they are provided, and time pressure precludes them making their own investigations.

Geographers are concerned that missing in the examination of some of society's most intractable issues is fundamental teaching of the basic processes behind these problems: the rainfall cycle, the theory of longshore drift of sand along the coastline, the formation of physical landforms and resources. Also missing is the breadth of the discipline, the wider look at human society, its relationship with the Earth it inhabits and interaction within itself. "If you look at issues like environmental sustainability, it's essentially about how societies come to terms with managing and living in their environment," says Clive Forster, associate professor at Flinders University school of geography, population and environmental management in Adelaide.

"If you want to understand what we may need to do to live more sustainably in the future, you don't need to know solely about environmental issues. You also need to have an understanding of how societies operate and to be able to put together the economic, social and environmental perspectives. Traditionally, that was the strength of geography; it produced people who had an appreciation of the three perspectives and how they needed to be seen in relation to one."

Geography teacher Sue van Zuylen, from Tara Anglican School for Girls in northwest Sydney, agrees the lack of specialist geography teachers is critical. "The biggest impact in the classroom is the way the curriculum is delivered by the teacher and it's going to be delivered with greater passion and interest and enthusiasm by somebody expert in the subject than someone (for whom) it isn't their first love," she says.

In the first half of the 20th century, school students were taught "capes and bays" geography, with its emphasis on naming the world; being able to draw maps of countries, knowing the names of capital cities, river systems, the highest mountains. During the 1960s came a rise in regional geography, with students writing profiles of countries based on subheadings such as population, climate, land use and vegetation, or writing about the industrialisation of particular countries.

Geography teachers critical of merging the subject into the new-vogue "studies of society and environment" argue that it undermines the integrity of geography and does not serve the interests of social studies, either. SOSE becomes a mish-mash and makes it harder for syllabus consistency between states. The SOSE syllabus encourages state parochialism instead of encouraging understanding of global trends. Underplaying physical geography robs children of interesting inquiry into how volcanoes, mountains, rivers and glaciers are formed.

Teachers lose confidence when teaching SOSE because they studied to specialise. The mish-mash of SOSE is less likely to inspire enthusiasm in teachers, a key to passing on passion to students.

The argument is whether the focus should be on developing a disciplinary understanding or whether it should be an integrated studies approach based on contemporary issues. Eventually, the rise of SOSE in schools will remove teaching expertise in geography. Geography is fundamental to understanding the society in which we live and issues from water usage and environmental sustainability to population trends, migration and Australia's links with the world.

Since the late '80s, geography has been dominated by environmental studies, a trend sparked by the rise in the green movement and entrenched with the move in the '90s to teach geography as part of an integrated social studies course. The model originated in the US and was adopted in school systems across the world, including Australia, predicated on the idea that as no single discipline had all the answers, it was better to teach children skills and knowledge in the integrated way they would need to apply them in the real world.

In Australia, the integrated social studies movement occurred at the beginning of the push for a national curriculum, which created a key learning area called studies of society and environment. Adding to the pressure to integrate geography into one colossal course with history, economics, civics and citizenship and legal studies were timetabling pressures. School curriculums are overcrowded, forced to include an ever-expanding list of topics from sex education to vocational subjects. So teaching a little bit of geography, with a little bit of this and that, seemed a good compromise, as well as providing a way of trying to make the curriculum more relevant to students.

And so the phenomenon of what high school geography teacher Steve Cranby, a member of the Australian Academy of Science's national committee on geography, calls SOSE-ification of geography. Only NSW stood alone, continuing to teach geography and history as separate, compulsory subjects in years 7 to 10. Victoria in recent years reintroduced an identifiable geography course, with a new one taught this year under its humanities umbrella.

Lidstone, who was secretary for 10 years of the International Geographical Union's education commission, points out that while the US started the trend of integrated social studies, it has recently undergone a resurgence in geography with a bill before Congress to make it compulsory in schools. "An American once said that God invented war to teach Americans geography," he says. But Lidstone prefers the vision outlined by the first man to hold the title professor of geography, James Fairgrieve of the University of London, who said in 1926: "The function of geography in schools is to train future citizens to imagine accurately the condition of the great world stage and so to help them to think sanely about political and social problems of the world around."

Says Lidstone: "The two phrases, 'to imagine accurately' and 'to think sanely' still represent for me the essence of the enterprise." But much of what passes for geography in schools today is what Lidstone describes as "naive environmentalism". Phenomena such as global warming are presented as unquestioned facts, with no real examination of the debate. In part, that's a result of not having geography teachers in charge of teaching geography.

The main consequence of the SOSE-ification of geography was a de-skilling of geography teachers. It's pot luck whether the teacher in a SOSE classroom is trained as a history teacher, economics teacher or geography teacher. Obviously, teachers are most comfortable with their own discipline. A history teacher forced to teach geography is going to struggle with the often complex science behind some geographical ideas, such as climatic cycles.

Before Cranby starts a topic with his students, he spends a couple of weeks teaching the theory underpinning the theme. One of the core topics for his Year 12 class is the Murray-Darling basin and the issues surrounding its use and management. Cranby spends four weeks teaching his students about rivers, their formation and processes, how they work and operate, the definition of a sustainable resource and the theory behind it before embarking on the specific issues of the Murray-Darling.

The problem is that not enough new geographers are being trained. SOSE students don't study anything called geography and the minority who do take on geography into their final years of school, or even university, come out with generalist training or specialising in an environmental study rather than disciplinary skills in geography. "We are not producing our kind," Forster says. "There's not that degree of breadth that people had 25 years ago. They'll go on to become the new generation of academics but they won't be teaching as geographers, they'll be teaching as someone who has done an environmental management degree."

Alaric Maude, secretary of the Institute of Australian Geographers, who was involved in writing the South Australian school syllabus 20 years ago, says the environmental thrust of geography has also splintered the subject. Not only is geography forced to compete with the plethora of subjects offered in schools today, it also has to compete against specialisations of itself: environmental studies, natural resource management, sustainable futures. "Geography seems to have become narrowed down," he says. "It's become very heavily environmental geography with not much emphasis on the core topics of human geography, such as people and cultures, regional development, divisions between regions such as who's wealthy and who's poor or why Western Australia is growing. Somehow the environment has become a major part of what teachers seem to see geography as, but it's only part of our inheritance."

Maude imagines a geography curriculum that sets out questions students can investigate, including indigenous knowledge and use of the environment; land clearing and its consequences; water sources and their management; the coast and its place in Australian life; Australia as a highly urbanised country; and migration, settlement and identity.

Lidstone would like to see students acquainted with some of the "awe and wonder" of the natural environment, how mountains are formed, the population and settlement patterns of communities who live on mountains. "Geography is the study of patterns," he says. "You can have patterns of homosexuality, there's a cultural geography of things like food and wine or the geography of bird flu. "There's a geography of the internet. It's fascinating when you sit on the internet and suddenly notice different countries coming on line. It's connected to the Earth's rotation and as people come to work or go home, the people on chat sites change. "At 8pm in Australia you get a whole different group of people than early in the morning in the US. Internet providers employ geographers to work these things out on the time zones because they target advertising according to who's going to be online at any particular time. "Yet I don't know that many schools teach time zones, despite more of us travelling than ever before. I learned about time zones when I was at school and I didn't expect I would ever be able to go on an aeroplane. Everyone can fly around the world today and we don't teach time zones."

Lidstone says the focus of geography curriculum on issues, to make it relevant and more exciting, is counterproductive. Students can find it depressing to focus on problems so big that adults and governments cannot fix them, and instead of appreciating the wonder of the world are taught only about the Earth's problems. "There's not much room for the geography of laughter, the geography of fun," he says. "Where are people happiest on the Earth? What does it look like? Is it to do with a pristine environment, workloads? "If you want to live a happy life, where would you go to live? These are very nice geography questions."

Taught a discipline and the skills of geographical thinking, Lidstone believes students will find the relevance for themselves. He tells the story of students at a girls school where the "very feminist geography teacher" was appalled to find her students were using computers to identify where in Australia was the greatest concentration of young professional men with high incomes who owned their own home. "That's where they wanted to go to university, so they could find wealthy husbands. The teacher was so appalled that she banned them from the computer room. We might not agree with the topic but these girls were using geography and geographical skills to find the answer to a question that was important to them."


Monday, October 02, 2006


Spencer and Christy have updated their tools to calculate the tropospheric temperatures between 1979 and the present era from their and NASA's satellite data to a new version 6.0 beta (readme file). The three graphs above show the global average, the Northern Hemisphere, and the Southern Hemisphere. This upgrade is also discussed by Steve McIntyre. If you look at the third graph, you see that there was no warming on the Southern Hemisphere in the last 25 years even though the "global warming theory" and the corresponding models are predicting even faster rise of the tropospheric temperatures than for the surface temperatures. The decadal trend is quantitatively around 0.05 degrees which is noise whose sign can change almost instantly.

Normally, I would think that one should conclude that according to the observations, there is no discernible recent warming on the Southern Hemisphere, and an experimental refutation of a far-reaching hypothesis by a whole hemisphere is a good enough reason to avoid the adjective "global" for the observed warming. Of course, the proponents of the "global warming theory" will use a different logic. The troposphere of the Southern Hemisphere is bribed by the evil oil corporations, and even if it were not, the data from the Southern Hemisphere can't diminish the perfect consensus of all the hemispheres of our blue planet: the debate is over. All the hemispheres of our planet decide equally about the catastrophic global warming, especially the Northern Hemisphere that shows that the warming is truly global and truly cataclysmic. Be worried, be very worried.

James Hansen, one of the fathers of the "global warming theory", has a new paper. When Hansen writes a paper, the media immediately publish hundreds of articles. The present temperatures are warmest in 12,000 or one million years, depending on the source. However, when you open their paper, you see that it looks like one of these jokes propagating through the blogosphere and the authors are kind of comedians.

First of all, most of the paper is dedicated to not-too-substantiated arguments with Michael Crichton. Michael Crichton stated in "State of Fear" as well as the U.S. Congress that Hansen's predictions from a 1988 testimony were wrong by 300 percent: a calculation based on a particular choice of time period and scenarios. Hansen then proposed three scenarios - "A,B,C" - how the temperatures would rise. "A" is a catastrophe in which no action is taken and the emissions continue to rise. "B" involves a peaceful limit in which emissions stabilize around 2000 and the warming is smaller. "C" is the scenario assuming drastic cuts of CO2 emissions.

The result as we know it in 2006? The reality essentially followed the temperatures of the scenario "C" even though the CO2 emissions continued to rise just like in the scenario "A". More details are summarized by Willis E who discusses the content of the figure 2 of the new Hansen paper. Isn't it enough to admit that Hansen was just wrong? If it is not enough, what kind of wrong prediction does he have to make in order for us to know that he has made an error? I just can't understand it.

The new paper contains even crazier assertions - e.g. the present temperature is probably the maximum temperature in the last 12,000 or one million years. This is probably based on the graph 5 on the bottom of page 5 (or 14291) and this graph's data is taken from a completely different paper written by very different authors: Hansen's only role is to hype and politicize their numbers. You see in that graph that since 1870, the oceans' surface temperature was more or less constant and the previous temperature probably can't be trusted, especially not the relative vertical shift of the graph in comparison with the current temperatures.

Even more amusingly, the paper is filled with a lot of completely off-topic comments that indicate that Hansen et al. are unable to focus on rational thinking. When I was reading one of the last sentences, I started to laugh loudly. Hansen et al. criticize the "engineering fixes" of the global climate recently discussed by Paul J. Crutzen, the 1995 Nobel prize winner for chemistry, and Ralph Cicerone, the current president of the National Academy of Sciences. Hansen says that these fixes are "dangerous" because they could diminish the efforts to reduce the CO2 emissions.

That's very funny because this is, indeed, exactly the purpose of these papers - to propose more efficient methods than the most stupid method you can imagine for the hypothetical case that we would ever need to regulate the global climate. The papers are indeed intended to diminish the role of the most uncultivated proposals how to fight with the hypothetical "climate change". As Hansen explains, that's exactly his problem with those papers.

It is very clear that the paper was only written in order to misinterpret another paper, draw media attention (which is guaranteed with Hansen), and make a purely political statement about the programs that are beginning to supersede the naive carbon dioxide cuts - political statements that have nothing do with science - in a scientific journal. Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick's comments on the paper are here. Hansen's reasoning is not too unsimilar to the reasoning of Quantoken.

Incidentally, Crutzen's proposed technology involves artificial volcanos. A major natural volcano eruption can cause 0.2-0.5 degrees of cooling over 2-3 years. Using the favorite technologies of Hansen and Gore - namely stifling the civilization - such a cooling would cost tens of trillions of dollars or many thousands of Virgin corporations. Al Gore would have to fly roughly millions of times to give his prayers for impressionable billionaires - because not all of them would decide in the same way as Branson - and these flights would probably overcompensate the cooling effect anyway.


When we note that there is a far greater human presence in the Northern hemisphere, a point that could be made is that the results discussed above point to the Northern hemisphere being one big "heat island" -- i.e. the temperature rise is a heat artifact, a direct result of human heat generation, not an effect of CO2 emissions

The good ol' generous taxpayer again

It has been hailed as "a great coup for Brisbane". But this giant seedpod cost taxpayers $400,000 as part of a $23 million State Government spending spree on artwork. Ministers have been splashing out on paintings, sculptures, designer furniture and rugs since the introduction of the Art Built-In policy in 1999. Major spending includes $430,000 on artwork for the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, $1.7 million for Brisbane Magistrates Court and $2.6 million to decorate hospitals. The aluminium seedpod sculpture, Drift, was bought for the entrance to State Government offices in Brisbane's Charlotte St. A total of $1.3 million was spent on artwork for the building, with the sculpture the most expensive piece.

A spokeswoman for Arts Minister Rod Welford said the spending was necessary to create jobs for artists and "public art project managers". But Taxpayers' Australia chief executive Tony Greco is outraged. "Twenty-three million dollars is an awful lot of money to spend on artwork and I don't understand the need for it," Mr Greco said. "What makes it even worse is that a lot of this money has been spent on making nice offices for politicians. "It's outrageous for politicians to say they can't afford extra hospital beds or doctors when they are sitting among all this expensive artwork. It's time the Government got its priorities right."

The Art Built-In policy aims to make public spaces more attractive. Under the policy, 2 per cent of government projects costing more than $250,000 is spent on art and design. "The question to be asked is: Do people want a city modelled on the concrete drabness of the old East Berlin or on a city that valued art such as Florence?" a spokeswoman for Mr Welford said.

When Drift was commissioned, then-Arts Minister Matt Foley described it as a "glowing example of Art Built-In's success". Christine Harris, 37, from Annerley, in Brisbane's south, was not impressed when The Sunday Mail showed her the sculpture. "I can't think of a bigger waste of money."



Three current reports below

Health critic faces sack

A public hospital doctor who defied a Bracks Government gag on hospital staff to become one of its most outspoken critics faces the sack. Dr Peter Lazzari claims he is being silenced, with the state election less than two months away. But the Eastern Health network said an investigation into allegations of breaches of protocols made against Dr Lazzari had nothing to do with his activism. The doctor has vowed to fight the allegations and has been "unequivocally" backed by hospital colleagues.

Dr Lazzari, a senior specialist physician at Angliss Hospital in Melbourne's outer east, has spoken out on several issues since defying a gag in 2003. In July, he called Premier Steve Bracks a "funeral director", blaming health system shortcomings for 500 patient deaths a year.

This week, Angliss bosses asked Dr Lazzari to respond to the alleged protocol breaches and warned he could be sacked. Dr Lazzari said he could not comment on the allegations, but said they were ludicrous. "This is a deliberate beat-up to try to stop me from speaking out on issues which are critical to life and death," he said.

Eastern Health spokeswoman Beth Excell said: "There have been a number of allegations made against Dr Lazzari and the hospital has a responsibility to investigate. "We are working through these with Dr Lazzari, but none relate to his choice to speak publicly about health issues." Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said: "This is an outrageous persecution of a genuine, passionate and brave surgeon who is prepared to speak out on important health issues."


Patient had to bring her own mattress

A terminally-ill woman with spine cancer had to buy a new mattress because her hospital bed sagged. Nurses encouraged the new mattress to be brought into Frankston Hospital, she said. Joy Murray, who has breast cancer that has spread to her spine, entered hospital on September 11 because of agonising back pain. But the 64-year-old says the mattress she was placed on had a 15cm dip and it put her in worse pain. Mrs Murray said nurses offered extra morphine and told her there were no spare mattresses.

When she suggested her husband, David, buy a new one, she said they encouraged her. Mr Murray went to Frankston's Clark Rubber the next day and bought a $139 mattress, while staff dumped the discarded one.

Mrs Murray, back at home yesterday, said she had never experienced anything like it during 18 years of hospital stays. Peninsula Health medical services director Dr Peter Bradford said Mrs Murray was offered four other mattresses. Opposition Health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said Mrs Murray "has endured a great deal and it's a very sad state of affairs when hospital patients are forced to buy their own mattresses".


Decaying public schools in Victoria

Sandringham College is well known for its performing arts program and broad range of VCE subjects. But to some students, it's simply the "pov school". Principal Wayne Perkins says it's disappointing to hear the term, but he is the first to admit facilities on the school's three campuses are not up to scratch. Problems include rotten window frames, a leaking heating system, and worn-out electrical wiring that is a potential fire hazard. At the Beaumaris campus, where buildings are in their 50th year of service, a boys' changeroom has holes in the walls and a staff toilet has no hot water. "We don't need a swimming pool. What we do want are good, modern, safe facilities," Mr Perkins said. "This college has not seen a significant amount of money for a long time. We are operating in a set of facilities which are totally inappropriate and physically run-down, to the point of being dangerous and unhealthy."

In the most recent statewide audit of school maintenance needs, reported by The Age yesterday, the bayside school's total repair bill was recorded at $1.86 million - the second highest in the state behind Bendigo's Flora Hill Secondary College, with $2.54 million. Since the audit in late 2005, Sandringham has received $160,000 in extra maintenance funding for items deemed urgent, and $320,000 for toilet upgrades. But Mr Perkins said more repairs were needed. "If you can't open a window to a building for ventilation because the frame is rotten . . . to me, that's urgent."

The total maintenance bill for Victoria's public schools was $268 million, of which $252 million is the responsibility of the Education Department. The figures prompted former Melbourne University dean of education Brian Caldwell to repeat his call for Victoria to pursue public-private partnerships. "The kind of commitments that the Government has made in recent years . . . (are) nowhere near adequate," Professor Caldwell said. "They are just patching up existing buildings rather than large scale redesign or replacement of schools."

The Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals said Victoria's public schools were the worst in the nation, but Education Services Minister Jacinta Allan rejected the claim. "We are certainly not denying that Victoria's schools do have maintenance needs, but making these sort of comments is not keeping it in perspective and it's really putting down state schools." Ms Allan said some of the highest repair bills were at large, multi-campus schools, schools with excess space, or schools on the planning list for capital works.

Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said impending building works should not be seen as an excuse. "They are earmarked for capital works because they have been run down by a lack of maintenance." At Ballarat Secondary College, planning is under way for an upgrade to the East campus. "We are very pleased," said principal Paul Rose. "But the campus should have been rebuilt 30 years ago." Yesterday, the Government announced an increase in the maintenance funding provided as part of annual school budgets, up from $34 million to $41 million, which brings total Government investment on maintenance since the audit to $141 million.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Free speech for Leftist academics

But not for ones who mention racial differences

An extraordinary intervention by a senior federal minister has forced Sydney's Macquarie University to publicly defend the academic freedom of its staff. Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has written to Macquarie vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz after one of his constituents complained of "left-wing" bias in a history subject. A spokesman for Dr Nelson said yesterday that the Defence Minister was just passing on a complaint from a constituent.

But in a copy of the letter, obtained by The Weekend Australian, Dr Nelson has penned a note at the bottom of the letter that says: "I am very concerned about this and would appreciate your personal attention to these issues which I find disturbing." The move comes after another senior minister, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, recently warned a South Australian academic that his research could breach new terrorism laws.

The situation is awkward for Julie Bishop, who, since succeeding Dr Nelson as Education Minister in January, has been outspoken about her desire to ease government intervention in universities. In a veiled swipe at her colleague, Ms Bishop told The Weekend Australian yesterday: "It is not feasible for university courses to be designed to match the personal biases of individual students. "Students should argue all course content and argue alternative points of view."

The complaint came from a postgraduate student, Douglas Brown, enrolled in the Master of Arts subject Rights and theEvolution of Australian Citizenship. He demanded the university rewrite the unit guide and delete half the articles because the readings were so left-wing the course was an attempt at "indoctrination". Senior academics who investigated the complaint rejected the claim. Mr Brown said one of those academics, Tom Hillard, argued that it was hard to find suitable scholarly writings about Australian citizenship from the conservative side. But Mr Brown said articles from Quadrant magazine or from the Centre for Independent Studies would be appropriate. All university courses and degrees are approved independently by the peak academic senate, a self-accrediting status that institutions guard jealously.

Professor Schwartz would not comment on the Nelson incident but moved to quell growing fears in universities about the erosion of academic freedom in the post-September 11 environment. "It's absolutely fundamental ... that we safeguard academic freedom ... if we're going to have a lively and effective university sector and if we're going to have a fair and lively society as well," he said. There were few instances, if any, where "we would want to stifle an academic's freedom to teach whatever they felt was fair".

Last year, the issue of academic freedom came to a head at Macquarie when law lecturer Andrew Fraser created uproar with his comments about African migrants in Australia. [And the university banned him from teaching as a result] Since then, the university's academic senate has scrutinised the issue and devised a statement, which was being finalised yesterday. It says that academics must be able to teach and research without undue interference from government, university administration, the media, private corporations and other organisations.


Dodgy doctors and nobody cares

Comment below by John P Collins, dean of education at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons

During the recent inquiry on skills recognition by the federal parliament, evidence was presented to the Migration Committee reflecting concerns about the lack of proper assessment of overseas-trained doctors, and of surgeons in particular. The question that immediately arises is whether the Australian public should be concerned about standards of surgical care provided by surgeons trained overseas? And, what processes, in any, are in place to ensure all surgeons working in Australian hospitals are properly assessed and up to requirements? The first answer is - not usually, and rarely when the existing systems of assessment in place for this purpose in Australia are applied.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons is responsible for the training of all surgeons who train in Australia and New Zealand. Those in its programs must undertake comprehensive education and training, gain wide surgical experience and undergo repeated assessments to ensure they have reached the uniform standard required to practise surgery without supervision.

No one would disagree that there must be in place an equally robust process which assesses the competence of overseas-trained surgeons who wish to work in Australia and New Zealand. These surgeons vary enormously in their level of training and experience and include those who are outstanding and occasionally leaders in their field, as well as those who may have had minimal, or indeed no, formal training. There is an established national assessment process available in Australia which is endorsed by the Australian Medical Council, the different medical colleges and the state registration boards. The colleges have worked on streamlining their processes and now have agreed timelines within which they must complete the process.

For surgeons, the process is initiated when an individual first applies to the Australian Medical Council, which ensures the submitted documentation is in order and verifies whether the applicant has bona fide qualifications. Already this year this rigorous process has screened out two applicants whose documentation did not stack up and who never got to practise in Australia. The application is then forwarded to the College of Surgeons, where assessment includes checking for level of training, experience and assessment, recency of practice and documented evidence of "good standing" from the formal registration authorities in the country of their origin. This is followed by a structured interview. A decision is made as to whether an applicant is either "substantially comparable", "partially comparable" or "not comparable" to an Australian-trained surgeon.

Those who are substantially comparable are required to undertake a period of supervision in their new post, usually over one year, and those considered partially comparable must undertake a period of upskilling and complete the college's exit examination. Those who are not comparable must sit the Australian Medical Council registration examination if they wish to remain in Australia, following which they can apply for surgical training in the same manner as all Australian-trained medical graduates. For those who wish to work in positions designated as "area of need", a decision is made as to whether the applicant has the competencies required to undertake the specific post for which they have applied.

The real worry lies in the number of doctors appointed into surgical positions without any such assessment taking place, because state and territory registration boards are using their discretionary power to grant registration - often due to pressure to fill a longstanding vacant hospital post. Of equal concern is that many of these doctors have no proper supervision in their local workplace. No one is certain how many such appointments have or are being made, but this college regularly receives applications from people who have been in posts for some considerable time. Furthermore there seems to be no local pressure on these surgeons from either their employers or registration boards to apply for formal assessment.

There is often an ongoing tension between the need for safety and standards and the supply of surgical care. However, the recent experience in Queensland clearly demonstrates the danger of bypassing the established assessment processes. A somewhat controversial issue surrounds the requirement for all appointed overseas-trained surgeons to work under supervision for a defined period, usually not less than one year. The federal inquiry was told this is an imposition, as many have already worked as specialists elsewhere and the requirement may impact on specialist recruitment. This rhetoric needs to be balanced by the reality that not all doctors who appear competent on paper and at interview are actually competent once they are in the local workplace.

Overseas-trained surgeons hail from many different countries, with widely divergent cultures and health systems. Once appointed in Australia they require a period to learn local hospital systems, establish support networks and confirm both to themselves, their colleagues and their employers that they can work in what is often a very different environment to the one which they have previously worked in.

There are many anecdotes of overseas-trained surgeons who have benefited greatly by a period of supervision and upskilling, some of whom have been enabled through this process to realise their career aspirations and provide a lasting contribution to the Australian community. Inevitably there also are some practitioners who have been found wanting in different ways. It is vital that these people are quickly identified and a process put in place to ensure patient care is not compromised.

The availability of appropriate local supervisors is also a real issue, particularly in rural or remote areas. The college would prefer overseas surgeons appointed into such positions to first work for a short period in a major hospital where they can be properly supervised, learn how the healthcare system works and establish their networks. The federal government does provide some financial assistance for such a program, but it is rather limited and does not meet the identified needs.

The Productivity Commission has recommended the introduction of a national accreditation board for the assessment of overseas-trained doctors, but it remains unclear what this new bureaucracy will entail. It is to be hoped that the experience and credibility gained by the Australian Medical Council will not simply be dismantled. We are not struggling with the absence of a robust, agreed assessment system - but with the fact it is not always applied. Surely this must be made mandatory.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons is very supportive of overseas-trained surgeons. We recognise their importance as part of the surgical workforce and the substantial contribution they make to the healthcare of Australians. At the same time one of the most fundamental roles of the college since its inception 80 years ago has been to ensure that safety and standards of surgical care are foremost at all times. The college will continue to advocate for these issues, not only from its own trainees but for all who practise surgery in both Australia and New Zealand.


"Modern" women have turned the men off

Australia should be mourning the passing of its hard-drinking, tough, sexist men, according to Mark Latham. "One of the saddest things in my lifetime has been the decline in Australian male culture, the loss of our larrikin language and values," the former Labor Leader writes in his new book. "Mates and good blokes have been replaced by nervous wrecks, metrosexuals and nerds."

No, Mark. You've got it all wrong. It's the women, not the men, who've changed. And if your average Aussie male has become a bit more retiring, a bit less interested in women, beer and barbecues, then it's the sheilas and political correctness that are to blame.

Take, for example, the new ruling announced this week by Cricket Australia making it an offence to call an English person a "whingeing Pom" (although Pom by itself is still acceptable). It removes at a stroke what Australian men consider as their right to denigrate males of all other nationalities.

Add to that the growth of feisty, independent, well-educated and ambitious women prepared to postpone marriage and children to pursue a career and it's no wonder that your traditional Australian male feels unwanted. Some are even opting for marriages with Thai and Filipina woman, traditionally and on the surface at least, seen as more submissive. Unable to relate to the new, liberated Australian woman, such marriages have increased fourfold in the past decade. As a result, more Australian women are living alone - up 20 per cent in six years - and they now outnumber men living alone.

The combination of more available women than men, an increase in the number of gay men and shorter marriages mean that eligible men are now in short supply. Thousands of women are said to have emigrated in search of a mate. Visitors have been quick to notice the change. "Dateless and desperate," said the English writer, Kathy Gyngell, about her Australian cousins. "The fact is that they are, to a woman, single and most of them haven't had a decent relationship in years."

A sign of how the sex roles have dramatically reversed are the "ladies only" functions at which professional male strippers perform. These often become rowdy. Geoffrey Martin, a 19-year-old "bottomless waiter", was serving drinks at a ladies-only corporate party in Brisbane, wearing underpants under a long shirt, when some of the women ripped his briefs off. "When the ladies get a couple of drinks into them, they start getting stroppy," he said. "The other two waiters had their undies on, but the ladies ripped mine off me. "Normally you can get them back after a while but they have very funny ways of hiding them. They could be in a handbag or down someone's cleavage. Nothing really bad happens, it's just a lot of fun. If the sheilas can do it, why not blokes?"

Many men blame what has happened on anti-discrimination legislation as a result of women seeking equality in the workplace. The battle for parity for women at BHP in Port Kembla in 1980 proved crucial. In that year, to everyone's amazement, some women working in offices, the canteen or as cleaners applied for jobs as steelworkers. BHP rejected them but the women fought their case in court and won. Each was awarded about $30,000 compensation for lost earnings. The case became a landmark in the struggle by all women for equal opportunity and their ranks in the workforce steadily grew. By the end of the 1990s women sat on the boards of big corporations and managed motherhood at the same time.

A male director of a leading bank revealed, as an example of its liberal attitude, how a woman director had breastfed her infant throughout a board meeting and accidentally squirted milk on his tie. The 1990s also ushered in women pilots in the RAAF; two women state premiers, Victoria's Joan Kirner and West Australia's Carmen Lawrence, and the first female state governor, South Australia's Dame Roma Mitchell.

What were the effects of these changes? It is 2006 and a Friday night at a singles bar in North Sydney. The place is full of well-paid young men and women in their late 20s and early 30s. Listen to the men's chatter and you hear things that would make the traditional male cringe. "It's all too hard," sighs David Smith, a 27-year-old who has not had a relationship for three years. As far as he is concerned, the effort involved in finding out if he is compatible with a woman is just not worth it.

James Cunningham, 28, is not interested. "It's just too difficult to go up and approach a girl. There are too many risks." "All changed," says an older man who is just sightseeing. "Everything is being shaken up. No one knows where they're at. The old Aussie ideal of a lifelong marriage between a tough man and a loving, submissive woman has gone, and no one's yet worked out what to replace it with." Any suggestions, Germaine Greer?


Privileges for smokers being abolished

The tradition of workers being allowed to take a smoke break at work is coming to an end. Almost 2000 workers at a major government department have been banned from taking cigarette breaks during office hours - setting a precedent for workplaces nationwide. Under the new rules, public servants will only be allowed to smoke during their lunch hour, under new rules to come in to force on Monday. They will not be allowed to take breaks to smoke during the day, and all smoking around the premises will be banned. And workers face disciplinary action if they fail to comply, with the potential for losing their job if they continue to disobey the rule.

Secretary of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, Mark Paterson, told The Saturday Daily Telegraph yesterday that the response by staff had been "overwhelmingly positive", and many had appreciated the support in giving up. "We offered a variety of support mechanisms to assist people who chose to give up to do so," he said. "The most significant of those were a series of stop smoking seminars, developed by Allen Carr -- they've been overwhelmingly successful. Everybody who has been to the program has given up -- about 90 people."

Smoking expert Associate Professor Robyn Richmond studies workplace smoking bans at the University of NSW school of public health. She said the ban is likely to take effect in all workplaces. "Employers are now beginning to say we're not giving you any time off now because people who are not smokers are not getting any extra time off," she said.


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