Friday, October 31, 2008

Hooray for Rudd!

What he says below sounds heartfelt, as it should be. He really is a patriot, whatever else his failings may be. And he shows a proper appreciation of the military, something rare among Leftists. I think the fact that he is a Queenslander has helped ensure that he has some good old-fashioned attitudes. Keating is just the bag of hate that he usually is. He seems to spend most of his life snarling at anything and everything. He must be a very unhappy man

Kevin Rudd says former Labor prime minister Paul Keating is wrong to reject the popular view that Australia was redeemed at Gallipoli. The Prime Minister said he believed Gallipoli was fundamental to the Australian national identity. "I think Paul is completely wrong on that, completely and utterly, absolutely 100 per cent wrong," he said on Fairfax radio in Sydney.

Speaking at a book launch in Sydney yesterday, Mr Keating said he had never visited Gallipoli and never would, and those who visited on Anzac day were misguided. He said he was disappointed some Australians still held the view that Australia was redeemed at Gallipoli. "An utter and complete nonsense," Mr Keating said. "Without seeking to simplify the then bonds of the empire and the implicit sense of obligation, or to diminish the bravery of our own men, we still go on as though the nation was born again or even was redeemed there."

Today Mr Rudd said Gallipoli was a searing national experience in which thousands and thousands of brave Australians lost their lives. "That is part of our national consciousness. It's part of our national psyche, it is part of our national identity," he said. "I, for one, as Prime Minister of the country, am absolutely proud of it."

Mr Rudd said the bottom line was that Australian men and women in uniform, whether on the shores of Gallipoli, on the western front, in the jungle at Kokoda, Milne Bay, Buna or Gona, right through to those now serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, gave us enormous pride. "The reason is they are engaged in ultimately a selfless act, putting their lives on the line for the rest of us," he said. "We may quibble as politicians and as the political community about some of the decisions which led to particular military engagements." But that was a matter for politicians, he said.

"The sheer naked act of courage of Australian men and women in uniform putting their lives on the line on behalf of all of us, that is the core to the shaping of the Australian national identity for more than 100 years," he said.


Feeling cold, thinking hot

Comment by Andrew Bolt

Treasurer Wayne Swan had to get out of his woollies yesterday before telling us the world really was warming - and we must pay. You see, just days before he stood in Canberra, waving a Treasury document he claimed would help stop us heating to hell, his own family had shivered through a day that should make him finally wonder if there really is any global warming. Brisbane, his home town, had just endured its coldest October morning in 32 years, yet here was Swan telling us to spend billions in the belief the planet was cooking instead.

It's not only here that global warming believers are feeling a chill they never expected. In London on Tuesday, British politicians overwhelmingly passed amendments to a Climate Change Bill that promises huge spending to stop a catastrophic global warming they say is caused by our gases. Yet, even as they voted, snow began to fall on Parliament House - the first October snow in London in 74 years.

Yes, this is weather, not climate - something to remember the next time some headline shrieks "global warming" at just another hot day. But the fact is, as satellite measurements show, the planet hasn't warmed since 1998, and temperatures have now fallen for six years or more. The small warming we had from the 1970s on has paused, if not stopped, and more scientists now suggest we may be in for decades of cold.

But in these mad times, cognitive dissonance rules. People feel cold but think hot. Warming preachers demand carbon sacrifices, but fly first class. In fact, cognitive dissonance is becoming government policy. Take the Government's Drought Policy Review Expert Social Panel, which last week said the word "drought" made farmers feel bad, and we should say "dryness" instead. That would also make us think the drought was actually global warming.

Likewise, Swan yesterday sold the Government's planned tax on coal-fired power and all things gassy, from steel to burping cows, as something to help, not hurt, the economy. And, of course, the Government is spending $164,000 a day on ads to persuade us that this recent cooling should be called "climate change" - and proof of warming instead. Weird, yet it works. Cooling is warming, and not even snow can persuade politicians they're not frying.


All IVF patients are suspected criminals??

The government of Victoria thinks so

Australia's National Infertility Network has blasted the Government's proposed overhaul of existing laws, saying imposing criminal checks on women and their partners was a breach of human rights. And the network claims that the Government would face legal action if the legislation passed the Upper House and became law.

ACCESS Australia spokesman Dr Railton Hill said the proposed criminal and child protection order checks under the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Bill were discriminatory. There would be a backlash at the next election if the legislation passed the Upper House, with the Government discriminating against people on the basis of a medical disability, he said. "All of us are being degraded and regarded as second-class citizens with this proposal," he said. "It's a further imposition when you're already in a stressed situation."

The IVF Directors Group has rejected the Government's claim that the early stages of fertility treatment would be exempt from the condition for a criminal and child protection order check. A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Rob Hulls said this week the checks would be required only when a woman was seeking to become pregnant and not at the stage of harvesting eggs. "The requirement for a criminal record check applies to women undergoing a treatment procedure that seeks to procure a pregnancy, such as artificial insemination or IVF", spokeswoman Meaghan Shaw said.

Rick Forbes of the IVF Directors Group said the claim was misleading and the group's legal advice found it was incorrect. "We can't commence any ART, (Assisted Reproductive Treatment) and that means we can't harvest eggs, until those checks are in place," he said. "The moment we inject a woman with hormones to harvest her eggs we have started the process of IVF."

Debate on the Bill was adjourned in the Upper House yesterday after only a handful of Liberal MPs chose to speak on the legislation. A vote is not expected until November 11 when Parliament resumes. It's believed a handful of Labor MPs may vote against the Government's Bill, which would defeat the legislation.

Premier John Brumby said he still predicted the vote in the Upper House, likely in mid-November, would be close. "I thought it would always be very close in the Upper House, I thought the Bill would pass the Lower House but it would be very close in the Upper House so I'm not in a position to make a judgment about that, it is a conscience vote but will be very close," he said. "But there won't be a vote on this for a couple of weeks so we'll wait and see."

He tried to dismiss suggestions it would take four to six weeks for a person to get a criminal and child protection order check. The Herald Sun this week revealed up to 7000 women seeking fertility treatment every year would have to undergo criminal and child protection order checks if the landmark legislation were passed in State Parliament.


Victoria: Systematic bashings by police squad

But only a slap on the wrist as punishment

A high-level probe has found many former members of the armed offenders squad believed bashing criminals was a "community service". The Office of Police Integrity director, Michael Strong, said members of the scrapped squad had a disproportionate number of complaints compared with all other Victoria Police squads.

In a report tabled in State Parliament today, Mr Strong also said some squad members believed they were a "force within the force" and that they considered themselves above the law. "The armed offenders squad should be regarded as a cultural relic within Victoria Police," he said. "Too many of its members believed that 'the end justified the means' and that bashing a 'crook', was a community service. "The squad, through a lack of appropriate monitoring and accountability within Victoria Police, was allowed to develop its own culture, out of step with the organisation's direction. "Its members drew comfort from the strong support they received from the Police Association."

The OPI secretly bugged an armed offenders squad interview room in 2006 and filmed squad members committing assaults. Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon scrapped the elite squad within weeks of a July 2007 OPI raid on the squad. Disgraced ex-squad members Robert Dabb, Mark Butterfield and Matthew Franc initially denied it was them caught on the secret OPI camera bashing a suspect. But each of the former detectives this year pleaded guilty to assault and misleading the OPI director. They were sentenced to intensive corrections orders involving community work, education and training of between 17 weeks and 22 weeks.

Mr Strong said the OPI's investigation into the armed offenders squad exposed wider problems than just the assaults committed by three members. "Lack of a stable and strong middle management clearly contributed to the fact that an unhealthy squad culture was able to continue unchecked," he said. "The absence of a stable leadership and lack of diligent supervisors gave squad members 'free rein' to use whatever policing methods they liked. "There are indications that the informal squad culture had gained such strength and impenetrability that the chain of command was effectively reversed, to the point where some squad members considered themselves immune from managerial accountability or authority."

Mr Strong said the OPI investigation exposed a flagrant disregard by some squad members for suspects' rights. "Covert audiovisual footage obtained in the course of the investigation depicts a brutal and sustained physical assault by three former members of Victoria Police as well as a purported welfare check by a squad inspector that failed to protect the suspect," he said.

"The report explores how the absence of effective management can create an environment where some police feel justified in acting outside the law in a so-called 'noble cause', to get a 'result'. "It highlights the alarming willingness of some police to lie on oath or turn a blind eye to protect themselves or colleagues.

"Victoria Police acted swiftly to disband the armed offenders squad once evidence that appeared to substantiate allegations of assault emerged. "Replacing the squad with a task force model has produced positive outcomes. "Not only has there been a significant reduction in complaints against detectives working in the area, but arrest and conviction rates have also improved."

The OPI report reveals the old armed offenders squad only solved 47 per cent of cases between July 2003 and September 2006 whereas the new armed crime task force has a clean-up rate of 80 per cent. There were 31 complaints lodged against armed offenders squad detectives in that 39-month period, compared with only two against task force detectives in the 18 months from September 2006.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Targets" followed by government cancer screener set to kill woman

Breastscreen patients who get letters stating their mammograms show "no visible evidence of breast cancer" cannot be sure they are risk-free until they see a GP or have an ultrasound, a court has found. In a "controversial and far-reaching" case, Christine Ann O'Gorman, 57, was awarded almost $406,000 damages in the Supreme Court in Sydney yesterday after she sued BreastScreen NSW - an arm of the Sydney South West Area Health Service - for failing to diagnose a cancerous tumour that spread to her lungs and brain.

Ms O'Gorman, who is terminally ill, had mammograms every two years from 1994 at BreastScreen but radiologists failed to detect that a lump in her left breast had almost doubled in size between her 2004 and 2006 scans, Justice Clifton Hoeben found. After each scan, the single mother from Moorebank was issued with a letter stating her results showed "no visible evidence of breast cancer".

In his judgment, Justice Hoeben said a letter from BreastScreen was not enough for women to rely on. "I am sure that many women who participate in the BreastScreen program believe that when they receive the pro-forma letter, the presence of cancer is excluded," he said. "That is clearly not the case. The documents which those women sign before undergoing a mammogram and the pamphlets available make it clear that there are significant qualifications applicable when a 'no visible evidence of cancer' result is communicated to them."

Justice Hoeben found that, had radiologists compared O'Gorman's 2004 and 2006 scans, the change in appearance of the lump would have been detected and would have prompted further tests. Instead, Ms O'Gorman felt the cancerous tumour herself in January last year. After seeing her GP and undergoing further tests, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and after chemotherapy her left breast was removed in August last year. The cancer has subsequently spread to her lungs and brain.

Supported in court yesterday by her partner Glen and daughter Kristy, Ms O'Gorman wept when Justice Hoeben awarded her $405,990.15. Outside court, she said she did not want her negative experience with BreastScreen to discourage women from having their breasts checked regularly through the service. But she said compliance standards that urge clinics to "keep down" the numbers of women recalled to less than 5 per cent should be abolished to allow "case by case assessments". "The system has to be changed because even if they miss just one person it's wrong," she said.

In a statement, the SSWAHS said they would be "considering the judgment very carefully".


People must not be told about help for a medical condition?

Although it is a subject of some mirth, erectile dysfunction is a real medical condition. But the purse-lipped puritans can think of no time on TV when a cure may appropriately be advertised -- "for the children", of course. One suspects that the puritans concerned aren't getting any

The advertising watchdog is set to receive a new wave of complaints when a commercial for erectile dysfunction treatment, banned from billboards, launches on television today. In the Advanced Medical Institute ads a man's voice is heard asking phrases "Are you finishing too quickly?" and "Do you want to get up and stay up?" before a woman's voice cries out "yes". The commercials, which were trialled in regional NSW, will run in the M timeslot of midday to 3pm and after 9.30pm and will not be allowed during school holidays.

But child advocate Julie Gale, director of Kids Free 2B Kids, said there were a lot of children watching TV through the day. "Its naive to think otherwise," she said. "Lots of teens are still watching after 9.30pm. "Kids and young teens simply dont need to be exposed to blatant messages about erectile dysfunction before they've had time to really understand their own naturally emerging sexuality. "The advert gives a warped and limited view about sex - that an erect penis is all a man needs, and all a woman wants."

AMI chief executive officer Jack Vaisman said men have a right to know help was available.


UK immigration reforms make visas easier to get for Australians

YOUNG Australians wanting to work in the United Kingdom should find it easier under new visa rules being introduced by the British government. Britain is revamping its working holiday visa scheme to allow 18-to-30-year-old Australians to find jobs in their chosen profession for a full two years. They will also for the first time be able to line up jobs to go to in Britain before leaving Australia. Under the old scheme, Australians faced a host of restrictions before being granted a working holiday visa, including how long they could stay in the one job.

British high commissioner to Australia Helen Liddell said the changes would make working in the UK even more attractive for Australians. "Some of the old restrictions are going and the visas will be cheaper by half,'' she said. "Britain's immigration system rewards those who come, work hard, bring their skills and strengthen cultural ties and Australians fit the bill very well.''

The new youth mobility visa scheme will come into force on November 27 and cost STG99 ($255.85), down from STG200 ($516.86) price of the working holiday visa. Those applying for the new visa will also have to show they have the equivalent of STG1,600 ($4,134.9) to cover living expenses for the first few weeks in the UK. Australia is one of just four countries Britain is allowing to take part in the new visa scheme. The others are New Zealand, Canada and Japan.

During the last financial year, the British High Commission in Canberra issued 15,204 working holiday visas to Australians. "Because of the changes, we wouldn't be surprised if those numbers increase next year,'' a British High Commission spokesman said. The changes are part of wide-ranging alterations Britain has been making to its immigration policies, including introducing an Australian-style points system for would-be migrants.


Forget fingerprints. Your bones will give you away

Identity fraudsters and other criminals will soon be flushed out by the NSW State Government using a James Bond-style computer program that electronically reads people's faces. The facial recognition program will ignore cosmetic features or accessories such as beards or glasses and study the underlying bone structure of a person's face. The biometric technology will take a photograph of someone applying for a licence and then comb through a database of 15 million photographs, searching for matches, suspicious characteristics or tell-tale signs. This could include someone trying to use an assumed name, adopt multiple identities, disguise a criminal past or what is described as "high risk customers".

The program is being tendered for by the NSW Government. It will be operated from within the RTA but also be used as a police database. The initial tender indicated it was simply a processing tool, but an addendum quietly posted by the Government revealed the program was a crime-fighting measure. The RTA told tenderers it wanted to be able to "create an arbitrary list (eg any 50 customers, or all staff members, or 50 high risk customers) on an ad hoc basis". The Government has confirmed the technology's chief purpose was to eliminate criminal behaviour.

"The program looks at the underlying bone structure of a face and checks it against the images on the database, to see if the person is already on the system," Roads Minister Michael Daley told The Daily Telegraph. "This means that if someone tries to apply for more than one licence or photo card, the program can be used to catch them out. "The technology can also be used to confirm the identity of existing licence holders by comparing their previous images on file. "Not only will the new system make it harder for criminals to get licences illegally, it will also protect the rest of the community against identify fraud."

The system is expected to be operating midway through next year. The Crime Commission estimates that identity fraud costs the country more than $3.5 billion a year. Mr Daley said the new system would form part of a national strategy. "It's a considerable step forward in the fight against criminals who try to use false ID for money laundering, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and even terrorism," he said. "Previously, the RTA and NSW Police have prosecuted 114 people for attempted identity fraud, which in some cases, involved people trying to dodge a licence suspension. "This new system will make it easier to catch these illegal motorists."


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This is offensive

Australia to get compulsory internet filtering

The Federal Government is planning to make internet censorship compulsory for all Australians and could ban controversial websites on euthanasia or anorexia. Australia's level of net censorship will put it in the same league as countries including China, Cuba, Iran and North Korea, and the Government will not let users opt out of the proposed national internet filter when it is introduced.

Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Minister Stephen Conroy admitted the Federal Government's $44.2 million internet censorship plan would now include two tiers - one level of mandatory filtering for all Australians and an optional level that will provide a "clean feed", censoring adult material. Despite planning to hold "live trials" before the end of the year, Senator Conroy said it was not known what content the mandatory filter would bar, with euthanasia or pro-anorexia sites on the chopping block. "We are talking about mandatory blocking, where possible, of illegal material," he told a Senate Estimates Committee.

Previously the net nanny proposal was going to allow Australians who wanted uncensored access to the web the option to contact their internet service provider and be excluded from the service.

Groups including the System Administrators Guild of Australia and Electronic Frontiers Australia have slammed the proposal, saying it would unfairly restrict Australians' access to the web, slow internet speeds and raise the price of internet access. EFA board member Colin Jacobs said it would have little effect on illegal internet content, including child pornography, as it would not cover peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. "If the Government would actually come out and say we're only targeting child pornography it would be a different debate," he said.

But the Australian Christian Lobby yesterday welcomed the Government's proposals. Its managing director Jim Wallace said he expected resistance from the industry but the measures were needed. "The need to prevent access to illegal hard-core material and child pornography must be placed above the industry's desire for unfettered access," Mr Wallace said.



Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd won office promising to be a climate change warrior but his chief weapon -- a carbon trade scheme to slash emissions -- is falling victim to shifting politics and world financial tumult. A former diplomat, Rudd made ratification of the Kyoto climate pact -- opposed by the former conservative government for more than a decade -- his first act after winning November elections tinged green by the seeming onrush of climate shift. "The Rudd government was elected partly on its promises to take strong action, not just symbolic and token gestures, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and in particular to build renewable energy," says carbon trade and environment academic Mark Diesendorf from the University of New South Wales.

Even before winning, Rudd commissioned respected climate economist Ross Garnaut to design an emissions scheme to rival in breadth the world's biggest regime already operating in Europe. Successive surveys showed Australians overwhelmingly wanted a government to fight global warming after climate scientists said the country was experiencing a pace of climate change unmatched elsewhere, bringing droughts, storms and agricultural hardship.

Now, after a sharp economic slowdown, bloodletting on world financial markets and unemployment lifting off a three-decade nadir, the government seems to have dropped its sights in line with Australians fast-shifting concern to their jobs.....

Rudd says the problem of global warming "doesn't disappear because of the global financial crisis", but appears to have softened his zeal, promising Garnaut only to take account of recommendations a year in the drafting.

Garnaut certainly sensed the shift, recommending a two-track approach towards Rudd's 2050 target of a 60 percent cut in 2000-level emissions, focusing on a "practical" interim cut of 10 percent by 2020 while also laying out more ambitious options. That offers Rudd the attractive post-crisis option of a scheme that will not bring too much upheaval, for business or the public, but allow him to have delivered on a key election promise in the possible environment of a global recession. "The government is hardly likely to have a stronger cap than Garnaut. Sadly the government has already rejected some of his best suggestions, like no free permits," says Diesendorf.

Quiggin says an artificially low fixed carbon price may go some way to mollifying big polluters, who unsurprisingly favour no scheme or a limited one, but warns it will drive international investment out of Australia's protected market and into the more lucrative $40 billion carbon trade in Europe.

Renewable energy firms want higher prices to make solar, wind and wave power more competitive, while coal-fired electricity generators and other emission intensive industries want adjustment costs as low as possible. When the prevailing carbon price in the European Union is around 22 euros, or $27, per tonne, insiders in Canberra are tipping a two-year price under A$10 a tonne, or just $6.70, with some saying it could even be as low as A$8.

"To have a serious target you need a price which is of the order of A$30 a tonne, while the other, and they go together, is you essentially need to close down brown coal power stations, replacing them with low-emission technologies," he says.

And that is Rudd's conundrum. While his public appeal is tied to recognition of climate change and helping Aborigines, he promised business to govern as an economic conservative. In Canberra, that means looking after coal and resource interests. Australia is the world's fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter on a per head basis and relies on ageing coal-fired power stations for 80 percent of its energy needs. It is also the world's biggest thermal coal exporter.

An Auspoll survey last week for the independent Climate Institute showed public backing for Rudd's management of climate change had slumped from a pre-Kyoto ratification high of 43 percent to just 28 percent. But a recent Lowy Institute poll showed voters did not back climate action if it costs jobs or income.


A small victory for parents of bullied Australian soldiers

The mother of a young soldier found hanged at the Holsworthy barracks in 2003 alleges her son was bullied by soldiers returning from their tour of duty in East Timor because of his Portuguese background and that an officer told members of his unit: "With this wog, you can do whatever you want -- won't be charges taken."

The parents of another soldier who took his life in 2004 also allege that they were bullied and threatened by the army and told that if they spoke about the report into their son's death they would be committing a federal crime and would go to prison.

The allegations surfaced as thefederal Government made ex-gratia payments to the families of four young solidiers who took their own lives after suffering intimidation, bullying, abuse and neglect. The payments, after a decision by Kevin Rudd and cabinet, ended a three-year battle by the families to force theAustralian Defence Force to recognise it had failed in its moral duty of care.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the parents' claims against the military had been a long and sad saga. "The families are entitled to feel that the death of their sons was partly caused by shortcomings in the defence force system," Mr Fitzgibbon said, adding there had been substantial reforms to the military justice system and moves to change the defence force culture in recent years, "but we must always continue to work on that point".

In Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, tearful parents said their claims were aimed at revealing a culture of bullying and intimidation in the armed forces and opening up the system of military justice to independent investigation. Some of the parents are now pressing for an independent court to be established to hear charges against senior officers, and the federal Government is under pressure to make Australia's military courts fully independent, as recommended by a 2005 Senate inquiry.

In Melbourne, Rosa Satatas, mother of Gunner John Satatas, 19, who was found hanged at Holsworthy Army Base in Sydney's southwest in April 2003, alleged that her son's Portuguese background was a factor in his death and that soldiers returning from duty in East Timor were hard on him as a result.

Mrs Satatas had told a Senate inquiry that in the weeks leading up to his death, her son was subjected to racial abuse and assaults. When his body was found, the word "Spic" had been written on his forehead in felt-tipped pen and the word "Spiros" on his arm. A beard and moustache were drawn on his face.

Mrs Satatas said yesterday that, prior to his death, her son had told her that an officer, whose name she had been prevented from discovering, told members of his unit, "With this wog, you can do whatever you want - won't be charges taken." Crying, she said: "He treated him like a dog. I just want to know who this person is, but they won't show the names on the investigation."

Also in Melbourne, Wendy and Adrian Hayward alleged that they were bullied and threatened by the army after the suicide of their son David, 20, who was AWOL for more than two months before his death in March 2004. They said that a few days after his death they were told, "If you discuss this report with anybody it's a federal offence, you'll go to prison". Mrs Hayward, who said the pain of her son's death had reached so deep that "you can't hurt any more", said she felt frightened by the threat. "Can you imagine: losing your child and then having to deal with that?" she said.

Mr Hayward, who described his son as "a good kid", said the army had been "100 per cent negligent" by not contacting the family during his absence. Asked about the ex-gratia payment, he said: "It's not about the money; it's about trying to get a system in place for other children going into the army."

In Adelaide, the parents of Lance Corporal Nicholas Sheils, who took his own life in 1996, said they wanted an independent court established to seek justice against senior officers who neglect their men.

In Perth, Charles Williams saidhis son, Private Jeremy Williams, who hanged himself at Singleton, NSW, in February, 2003, was a proud and passionate soldier who had been made to feel "like scum". He hoped the compensation payment led to reforms "where the bullies ultimately dealt withare punished, not rewarded and promoted".


Scientists discover how to switch obesity cells off

A WORLD-first breakthrough by Melbourne scientists could give them the ability to switch off fat, fuelling hopes of overcoming obesity and a host of weight-related diseases. In the past month tissue engineers at the Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery have discovered chemicals that act as the switch telling fat cells to grow and multiply. They have also found two drugs, which can switch off fat cells' growth, in the laboratory and will soon begin a long study testing them in rats to see if they could become an obesity treatment.

In other world-first discoveries over the past two years, Bernard O'Brien scientists have developed a technique to grow fat cells into breast and beating heart-muscle tissue. And they are now confident their latest discovery could help to reverse the process. The team is yet to publish its findings and can't release full details or the identity of the signalling enzymes and drugs. However, director of tissue engineering Prof Greg Dusting said the breakthrough could have a huge impact in the fight against obesity and weight-related disease. "We know what those molecular signals are and we have got some molecules that block them," he said. "We can modify these molecules and turn them on to enhance the development of a breast or heart tissue, or we might be able to change those molecules to ones that block those pathways. "It's fabulous and offers all sorts of possibilities. It's what pharmacologists always think about."

Prof Dusting hopes that within two years the animal trials will provide enough information for researchers to know if they can control fat growth effectively. But he warned there was still little idea of what the consequences would be for the body or what would happen to the excess fuel caused by overeating. The institute has already been able to grow a fist-sized lump of fat in a laboratory -- the largest piece of tissue grown through tissue engineering techniques -- but until recent weeks the researchers were unsure exactly how the fat growth was stimulated.

The breakthrough discovery of oxidase enzymes -- which signal fat cell growth -- was made by Prof Dusting and colleague Dr Keren Abberton, in collaboration with Melbourne University. It is believed to be the same process that is triggered by overeating and by fat-rich diets.

The Melbourne University collaboration has seen rats fed a diet of meat pies, chips and doughnuts, increasing their body weight and fat by about 10 per cent over a few weeks. As well as suffering high blood pressure, the fat rats showed an increase in the level of the special oxidase enzyme in both their blood vessels and in their fat deposits, which are also bigger. In the laboratory, the scientists can use drugs to turn the switch on in stem cells derived from fat to produce more fat. In the human and the rat body, the same process is triggered by excessive eating and a fat-rich diet, resulting in excess body fat.

Prof Dusting said fat was being revealed as one of the most active agents in the human body and had an effect on every organ. "We don't know whether it's the central box of something smaller, but the more we look the more we find that fat has an important impact on everything," Prof Dusting said.


Nasty Greek doctor

Greek doctors are notorious for giving you any prescription you ask for. Ethics are not their strong point

A doctor ignored desperate pleas to help a man who collapsed outside his Adelaide surgery - locking himself in his office as the man died from a heart attack - the Coroners Court has heard. Brian Raymond Turner, 59, died in the car park of the Europa Medical Clinic at Salisbury Downs on Saturday, July 23, 2005.

Coroner Mark Johns yesterday heard evidence from the clinic's receptionist, Angela Conte, who said she was shocked when Dr Emmanuel Vlahakis refused point blank to help Mr Turner. Ms Conte said she was startled when Mr Turner's wife, May, started frantically banging on the locked office doors about 6pm. "She was screaming hysterically that she needed someone to help her husband. She kept saying someone help me, please help me," Ms Conte said. Ms Conte said she called Dr Vlahakis on the intercom and said there was a woman at the door begging for someone to help her stricken husband. "He asked me `is he inside or outside the clinic?' and I said he is outside, can you come out and help and he said `no, call an ambulance'," Ms Conte said.

Ms Conte and a waiting patient then went to Mr Turner's aid before she again approached Dr Vlahakis, telling him Mr Turner had blue lips and was not breathing. "I opened the doctor's door and said what do we do now, thinking we would grab an emergency trolley and go outside to help," Ms Conte said. "The doctor said `we don't do anything - lock all the doors and keep them locked until the ambulance arrives'."

Ms Conte said she had seen other doctors from the clinic help emergency cases in the past and had expected Dr Vlahakis to treat Mr Turner. Instead, she said Dr Vlahakis locked himself in his consulting room with the blinds drawn, then left as soon as the ambulance drove into the car park. Ms Conte said she later learned that the medical centre had a policy that doctors were not obliged to provide care if the patient was not physically inside the building.

Pathologist Dr John Gilbert told the court there was a chance Mr Turner would have survived the heart attack if proper CPR had been given immediately. "His situation was not necessarily irretrievable . . . you've just got to do it (CPR) to give him the best chance," Dr Gilbert said. Counsel assisting the Coroner, Amy Davis, said the inquest would examine whether Dr Vlahakis had a duty to help Mr Turner. Dr Vlahakis is listed to give evidence today.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another Muslim rapist

Shades of Hakeem Hakeem and the Skaf brothers (etc.)!

A man has been jailed for eight years for raping an unconscious woman who woke to find him on top of her and his mates laughing and jeering. The Victorian County Court was told Mohammad Khan, 28, met the woman at the 3D nightclub in central Melbourne on December 9, 2006. The woman had been drinking and had taken ecstasy during the night when she met a group of men in the club linked to Khan, the court was told.

She was described by witnesses as being happy and alert before she awoke about 5.30am the next day in an alley to find a man on top of her assaulting her. The court was told two or three other males were watching and "laughing and jeering," Judge John Smallwood said. Judge Smallwood said the woman felt bewildered and believed she had been drugged. She yelled at the man to get off her.

A jury earlier rejected Khan's contention that the woman agreed to sex, and found him guilty of one count of rape. Judge Smallwood said Khan had taken advantage of a woman in a helpless and vulnerable situation. While he accepted that Khan had fallen into the drug and rave scene, he said he was clearly intelligent and would have been aware that what he was doing was wrong. He ordered Khan serve at least 5« years' jail.


The young are turning against proposed Warmist laws

Younger people - the strongest supporters of an emissions trading scheme to cut greenhouse gases - are turning against the Rudd Government's 2010 deadline for the implementation of such a scheme. In a reversal of support, those aged between 18 and 34 years old are now most strongly in favour of a delay in the implementation of an emissions trading scheme, The Australian reports.

According to the latest Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, the impact of the financial crisis is turning people against a carbon reduction scheme, or making them want delays. While 72 per cent of those surveyed still favour an emissions trading scheme to drive up the cost of greenhouse gas producing energy, such as electricity and petrol, there is growing opposition.

In July, a Newspoll survey on an emissions trading scheme found that only 11 per cent of people were totally opposed to a carbon emissions reduction scheme and 23 per cent wanted a delay until other major greenhouse gas emitters, particularly China and India, acted. That Newspoll survey confirmed widespread public support for an emissions trading scheme, with 60 per cent of voters backing the adoption of a scheme "regardless of what other countries do". According to the latest Newspoll survey, 21 per cent now oppose an emissions trading scheme under any circumstances.

The Rudd Government has pledged to introduce in 2010 an emissions trading scheme that would push up energy prices by placing a price on carbon. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has urged the Government to delay the introduction of the scheme. The former leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, lost his authority within the Coalition when he was rolled in shadow cabinet over the suggestion the Opposition should take a tougher stand against an emissions trading scheme.

Dr Nelson said in July the Coalition's greenhouse gas plan would not be popular but "our priority in deciding our policy is to act in Australia's best interest and for Australia not to get too far out in front of the big guys of greenhouse gas emissions such as India and China". "We need to have our economic eyes wide open," Dr Nelson said.

Opposition to an emissions trading scheme has been strongest among men, those aged over 50 and Coalition supporters, while the strongest supporters of a carbon cutting scheme have been among the young, women and Labor supporters. The weekend's survey found the strongest support overall for an emissions trading scheme even if it put up energy costs, was still among the young, women and ALP voters.


Violence and bullying sweep Victoria's state schools

Frightened students, teachers and principals are reporting more than 12 assaults a week in state schools. Education Department records show 1227 allegations of assault involving state school students and staff have been filed in just over two school years. A further 247 sex abuse cases were alleged. Prep students have been removed from classes following harassment complaints, and threatening gangs and intruders have triggered emergency lockdowns. And 11 departmental employees have been accused of assaulting pupils.

Departmental records obtained under Freedom of Information reveal 890 reports of assaults on students at government schools, camps or excursions from 2006 to April this year. Children as young as six were among the victims, and staff were on the receiving end 337 times. The figures have spurred calls for upgraded protection, more parental control and extra welfare officers.

In the latest vicious attack last month, older invaders are said to have bashed several teenagers with a baseball bat at Keilor Downs Secondary College. Other cases alleged include:

A BOY, 15, rushed to hospital after a machete attack and fight with a former pupil from Copperfield College, St Albans.

A GIRL, 14, stabbed in the stomach with a pocket knife while visiting North Geelong Secondary College.

A BOY, 14, treated for cracked ribs after bullying at Craigieburn Secondary College.

A YEAR 8 student gashed after being shoved through a window at Cranbourne Secondary College.

A GIRL who changed into the jumper of a rival school in the western suburbs before sneaking in and attacking a female student.

BRUTAL brawls and racial feuds filmed and posted on the internet.

ANGRY parents kicking or punching school staff.

Department spokeswoman Helen Stevanovich said values and drug education, and anti-bullying and peer support programs, aimed to counter conflict and promote safety. But Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu accused the Government of downplaying a disturbing problem. He said a vital police-in-schools initiative had been scrapped. "School-aged children must understand that violence or bullying of any kind is unacceptable, and without suitable programs these incidents will continue to occur," he said.

Victorian Principals Association president Fred Ackerman said staff were taking more stress leave or retiring early, and parents and teachers needed to work together to tackle declining behaviour. "Proper role-modelling has deteriorated over time, with parents either shirking responsibility or being time-poor. Society is now reaping the repercussions," he said. "More kids seem to have an inability to deal with anger and are playing out what they see in society and films and TV," Mr Ackerman said. He said schools were now more likely to report crime and were boosting safety through camera surveillance, high fences, visitor clearances and staff training to defuse conflict.

But the Herald Sun has been told some schools in areas with stretched police resources don't report all incidents because of poor response times. Police handled a total of 8572 offences, including 502 assaults, in and around public and private schools, universities, TAFEs and other education locations last financial year. This was a 16 per cent drop on five years ago. There were 726 alleged crimes against the person, up from 636 in 2003-04. These included assaults, 17 rapes and 183 other sex offences.

Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said major assaults often involved intruders trying to "settle a score", but adopting US-style metal detectors would create a damaging climate of fear. "Compared to the broader society, schools are peaceful," Ms Bluett said.


Breast scans of no use to young women, says doctor

Good to see this message getting out. There is some reason to believe that ALL routine breast examinations are pointless and may even be counterproductive. See e.g. here

The deaths of Jane McGrath and Belinda Emmett from breast cancer are driving large numbers of young women to have mammograms which may be of no use. Experts have warned the scans bring no benefit for females under 40.

The so-called "Kylie effect" remains around the disease, with overblown public perception of rising rates of breast cancer in younger women and confusion around the best ways to detect it. "It is important to dispel the misconceptions, address unnecessary alarm and provide the facts for this age group," Dr Helen Zorbas, director of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, said at the launch of breast cancer awareness day in Sydney. She said women under 40 made up just 6 per cent of the 12,000 females diagnosed with the disease, and rates remained static. However, younger women are more prone to an aggressive form of the disease and have a 39 per cent increased risk of dying.

Diagnoses among young celebrities like pop star Kylie Minogue, fashion designer Heidi Middleton and actress Christina Applegate, and the deaths of Jane McGrath, wife of former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath, and actress and singer Belinda Emmett, have given the public the misguided impression of an epidemic among the young, she said. "The so-called 'Kylie effect' led to an increase in the number of women who made bookings for mammograms but many of these women were in the under 40 age group, where mammographic screening is not effective," Dr Zorbas said.

Her audience at the launch included Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull and a host of other dignitaries, doctors, scientists and survivors. Screening programs have reduced breast cancer deaths by 30 per cent among women aged 50-69 years, because the small white abnormalities can be detected with relative ease. Younger, denser breasts, however, resemble "cotton wool" in scans, making the lumps unrecognisable. "Early detection for breast cancer in young women relies almost completely on young women themselves, knowing their own bodies and picking up the early signs of the disease," Dr Zorbas said.

A new campaign recommends "breast awareness" for young women, encouraging them to check themselves regularly for lumps using no special technique after international studies found specific checking styles didn't reduce cancer deaths. The retro-style advertisements encourage women to check their breasts as part of everyday life, while drying their hair or waiting for the toast to pop. Studies show women can also reduce their breast cancer risk by up to 30 per cent by keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Mr Rudd told the audience Australia needed to do better in tackling all forms of cancer. "It's time as a nation that we renew our national efforts in what must be a national war against cancer," he said.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Rapist doctor to practise again

Your regulators will protect you -- NOT. They say he is OK to work again because he is only dangerous when he goes mad, which he periodically does. Follow that logic!

A rapist doctor banned indefinitely amid public outcry over his serial misconduct has won the right to treat patients again, despite a history of relapses. Dr Sabi Lal, 49, can work in Victorian clinics or hospitals, even though the Medical Practitioners Board opposed his return and considers him unfit to practise. A tribunal ruled this month the GP be reinstated to the medical register, overturning the board's decision that Dr Lal should remain struck off.

The suburban doctor, who suffers obsessive compulsive disorder, was struck off in December 2003 for assaulting two female drug company representatives. Dr Lal was also convicted and given a suspended jail term in Victoria's County Court in 2002 for digitally raping a patient.

The Medical Practitioners Board had previously found him guilty of more than 40 misconduct offences involving seven women. The board strongly opposed Dr Lal being allowed to work again and fought his appeal to VCAT last month. But a three-member Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal panel ruled this month that Dr Lal could resume seeing patients, subject to strict conditions. He is not allowed to treat females or children under 16 and must be strictly supervised and monitored. Lawyers for the Medical Practitioners Board argued that the need to impose such strict conditions indicated Dr Lal was unfit to work.

The Fijian-born doctor had previously been subject to similar conditions and offended again within a year of them being lifted. The VCAT panel noted in its ruling on October 10 that Dr Lal's rehabilitation was "less than complete". They noted there was a risk he might have a relapse of mental illness, which could result in aggressive and inappropriate behaviour towards women. "We acknowledge Mr Lal's character flaws . . . but in our view these can be addressed by the imposition of a range of conditions on his registration," the panel said.

The panel -- which comprised tribunal vice-president Judge Iain Ross and members Dr Elaine Fabris and Dr Dorothy Burge - noted Dr Lal's previous offences were "very serious". "The serious nature of the offences and the limited extent of Mr Lal's rehabilitation would ordinarily warrant findings that . . . it is not in the public interest to allow the applicant to practise," they said. But Dr Lal's culpability was reduced because he suffered a mental illness at the time of the offences, they said. "We are not persuaded that Mr Lal's suitability to practise is likely to be affected because of the offences of which he has been found guilty," they said.

Experts told the hearing Dr Lal's obsessive compulsive disorder appeared to have subsided, but there was dispute about the risk of relapse. VCAT heard the GP previously suffered relapses of the disorder, with symptoms including sexual obsessions, compulsive counting of money and an obsession with "lucky" numbers.

Experts told the VCAT hearing the GP continued to display a lack of empathy and remorse for his past actions and denied the factual basis of some offences. The panel said: "Mr Lal's deficits in terms of empathy and remorse are troubling. But they must be viewed in the context of the evidence as a whole." The tribunal heard Dr Lal had "significant community involvement" and had made a pro bono contribution to the training of overseas doctors.

Members of the Medical Practitioners Board are privately concerned that Dr Lal is able to practise again, but are unable to do anything further. Board spokeswoman Nicole Newton said yesterday: "The board has reviewed the tribunal's decision closely and does not believe there are grounds for appeal. As such, the board accepts the VCAT decision."

Lawyers for Dr Lal argued he had attended treatment sessions diligently and was engaged in every aspect of his treatment. He sold his Boronia practice, but is listed as the director of a company called Lal Medical Pty Ltd. A man who answered the door at the GP's Doncaster address yesterday said "yes" when asked if he was Dr Lal. But when asked for comment about the case, the man said, "Oh, he is not here" and shut the door.


Another Labor party loss: In the Australian Capital Territory

For American readers, the ACT is equivalent to D.C.

The Greens have snatched a fourth seat as vote counting ended for last weekend's ACT election, surprising even themselves. The final results from the election have been posted, with Greens' candidate Caroline Le Couteur winning a seat from the Liberals on preferences. Ms Le Couteur, who kept a low profile during the campaign and was not expected to win a seat, has won the final seat in the Molonglo electorate. The ACT has multi-member seats.

The final make-up of the territory's 17-member Assembly is 7 Labor, 6 Liberals and 4 Greens. It is a surprise result for the Greens, who went into the election with just one MLA and were expecting to win a total of two or three seats. The Greens will now decide whether to form government with Labor or the Liberals. Winning the fourth seat gives them more weight in the ACT Legislative Assembly and makes it more likely they will hold one - or even two - ministries. The Greens last week discussed with both major parties the possibility of forming government in talks which are set to continue this week.

The final result from the election is bad news for both Labor - who previously held an outright majority under Chief Minister Jon Stanhope - and the Liberals, who have dropped one seat.


Stupid Leftist school "discipline" system a failure

All they do is nag misbehaving kids

A battle is brewing to contain a 26 per cent spike in students being suspended from Queensland schools over the past three years. The alarming wave of aggressive and disrespectful behaviour from southeast and north Queensland students comes as the Government pours another $28.6 million into "positive behaviour strategies" this financial year.

Education Queensland's prolonged trial of the Schoolwide Positive Behaviour Support program now runs in one in six of Queensland's 1250 state schools. But an arsenal of strategies including the costly SWPBS appears to have done little yet to curb problem behaviour. Brisbane and Sunshine Coast schools issued 31 per cent more suspensions and 11 per cent more expulsions in 2007-08 than in 2005-06. During the same period, suspensions rose 25 per cent at Gold Coast and Ipswich region schools, and 22 per cent in and around Townsville.

Last week, The Courier-Mail received a flood of messages from readers concerned about "soft" disciplinary codes, particularly the inability of teachers to use the threat of force, or simple punishments to exert control. The Responsible Thinking Classrooms approach was criticised. This is where bullies and other troublemakers go for "time out" after being asked a series of questions.

In such scenarios troublemakers are asked: "What are you doing? What are the rules? What happens when you break the rules? Is that what you want to happen? What do you want now? What will happen if you disrupt again?". The effectiveness of Positive Learning Centres, where suspended students undergo behaviour programs at one of 14 non-school facilities, also came under fire. The new SWPBS program includes the RTC time-out approach but academics, psychologists and politicians yesterday said it did not work in many instances.

While Griffith University school of education's Fiona Bryer backed the latest schoolwide approach for being evidence-based, she questioned the use of RTCs. "If this is repeated and there's no change in student behaviour then the student definitely wins," Dr Bryer said. The education behavioural specialist said she was "definitely anti-punishment" but said errant students needed clearly defined consequences. Dr Bryer said parents and teachers needed to be trained in proven behavioural techniques and it was critical the Government shared and acted on the data collated from SWPBS.

Psychologist Michael Carr-Greg said time-outs and talks might work for some, but it was important to get a primary schooler's behaviour corrected before high school.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Rod Welford said positive results had been gleaned from the SWPBS trials. "Data shows that the program helps reduce problem behaviour and increases academic performance," she said.

Opposition education spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the statistics on suspensions called for change. "What's happening at the moment isn't working," he said. Mr Langbroek said if elected the state Liberal National Party would employ 50 new teachers trained in behaviour management at a cost of $16 million over four years, to combat the problem.



Three current articles below

Carbon tax is just tilting at windmills

By Gary Johns (Gary Johns was a minister in the Keating Labor Party government)

The one certainty of climate change (anthropogenic or not) is that it is unstoppable. Government advertisements suggest worst-case scenarios but they do not concede that these are no less likely should Australia cut its carbon dioxide output. Whether or not you believe in man-made climate change, it's out of our control. More significantly, it is out of the control of every political leader. There is no prospect that nations will agree on global action sufficient to reduce the total level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

At some point, probably about the time the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill - a carbon tax - comes before parliament and in the lead-up to the next election, the electorate will realise they are being asked to pay for something they cannot have: a guarantee against climate change.

What they can have is a plan to adapt to climate change, as and when it occurs. This plan is not much in evidence. The politics of such a plan are easy: do not waste money on a carbon tax. What is the betting that in the political void created by the realisation that resistance to climate change is futile, a No Carbon Tax Party will emerge?

The world will agree to do no more than slow the rate of increase of carbon emissions a head. At best, the West will decrease its total output a little and the rest will increase their output a little more slowly than would otherwise be the case. The rate of population increase and industrial development will ensure an overall increase. In other words, there is no chance of capping the global output of carbon dioxide, much less reducing it. But the major Australian political parties and for different reasons the Greens will continue to talk of carbon reduction as if it will stop climate change.

The question is not which country will be last to sign up to a new climate change agreement, but which will be first to call a stop to the attempt. The key policy question is how Australia can waste the least amount of money avoiding the unavoidable. Every dollar saved on not proceeding with the carbon tax can be devoted to adapting to climate change as and when it occurs.

The real response to climate change is straightforward. The Queensland Government's response to the five-year drought, perhaps the most important risk of climate change, in southeast Queensland is a good example. Wisely, the Queensland Government decided it could not stop the drought (climate change) and it did not try. Instead, it responded to the needs of citizens for water by restricting water use and spending $9 billion drought-proofing the economy. It is building a new dam, thereby spreading the area of rainfall capture, connecting the dams to enable water to be pumped around in response to rainfall change, recycling water and building a desalination plant. Broadly, these are the only responses a government could make.

As the dams have filled and the alternative sources of water come nearer to completion, the Government is seeking an exit strategy from drought restrictions. Life in southeast Queensland will return to normal despite the drought, and the region will have adapted, as rich economies can and do. Southeast Queensland water users will pay the price, indeed are probably happy to, given the insignificant cost of water compared to its immense significance to everyday life. This is the real climate change debate. If the electorate sees it and tastes it, it will pay the bill. By contrast, the carbon tax looks like tilting at windmills.

The carbon tax will not stop the need for climate adaption. Even under the Greens' scenario for a carbon-free economy, climate change will occur but the economy would be less able to afford to adjust.

Within a generation, the main polluters will be the likes of China and India. These countries will want specific climate deals to suit their needs. They may berate Australia for being a higher per capita polluter, but China will want all of the liquid natural gas, and India will want all of the uranium we can sell. By contrast, international agreements to restrain carbon dioxide output will be so much hot air.

The electorate would like its leaders to fix the problem, but if it dawns on voters that there is no "stop climate change" option, they will be angry at the consequent underspend on adaption. What chance a No Carbon Tax senator or two by 2010?


Warmist laws to hit West Australia's economy

Western Australia's Government says Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme is a "half-baked" plan that threatens the state's economy. Treasurer Troy Buswell yesterday called for the 2010 start date to be deferred until a raft of problems were resolved. Business leaders have asked for the start to be delayed because of the downturn threatening to plunge the world into recession. Mr Buswell said the federal Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in its present form risked driving major industries overseas, as well as causing investment in the west to slow to a trickle, with "untold implications" for jobs and families.

Releasing the state's submission to the CPRS green paper, Mr Buswell said he supported national action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but much more work was needed to make the present concept workable. "Rather than reducing greenhouse, the outcome from imposing a half-baked scheme in Australia could in fact be a rise in overall global emissions should industries move away to locations with fewer environmental rules and lower costs," he said.

The Government's submission says Western Australia is the most trade-exposed economy in the nation and would suffer the negative economic effects of carbon leakage more than any other jurisdiction. Almost 47 per cent of the state's income is derived from exports, compared with about 20 per cent of the national income. "Based on the preliminary analysis ... alumina is the only commodity in the state's top 10 exports by value that would be eligible for compensation, exposing the remaining $51.6 billion of export value to the full effect of the carbon price," the submission says. "A considerable portion of this value is derived from products for which the price is set internationally and for which it will be difficult to pass on the carbon price."

It says commodities that would be affected include gold, petroleum and oil, nickel and copper ore and other base metal ores. More work was needed to improve the compensation formula, which should be changed to better reflect the effect of the carbon price on the operating margin of individual companies.

Consideration should also be given to a sliding scale to allow compensation to be targeted to activities where the likelihood of carbon leakage was greatest, to overcome the arbitrariness of hard thresholds. There was particular concern about the impact on the liquefied natural gas industry and the prospect that new projects planned for Western Australia could be shelved, leading to future shortages of domestic gas. "Much of Western Australia's new domestic gas supply depends on applying the state's domestic reservation gas policy to new LNG developments," the submission says.

Mr Buswell said the 2010 start gave insufficient lead time for companies to make changes. The submission notes the Howard government had been considering 2012 and questioned the switch by Mr Rudd. "It is unclear how the acceleration of the start date for the CPRS has been accommodated without compromising the quality of the final design and the level of preparedness of liable parties," it says.


Farmers angry at laws to "save" Barrier Reef

This is just the usual Green/Left hatred of business. That farm runoff has a significant impact on the reef is just theory. No double-blind studies have been done

FARMERS' fears have been realised as the State Government moves to introduce land run-off regulations to reduce pollution on the Barrier Reef. Premier Anna Bligh made the announcement at yesterday's Reef Summit in Brisbane, calling on assembled groups to help formulate a workable framework, targets and a timeframe.

Ms Bligh said research had shown five years of voluntary adoption of land management practices under the 2003 10-year Reef Water Quality Action Plan had not worked. She said it was time to ensure all farmers were using best practices to control use of fertilisers, pesticides and run-off to improve water quality and the Reef's resistance to climate change.

"The science is absolutely clear ... we continue to see unacceptably high levels of damaging nutrients on the Reef," she said. "We know that there are many contributing factors to the water quality of reef, and we're already addressing a number of those (but) science is telling us that the highest levels of damaging chemicals and nutrients are in those areas that have intense farming activities." Ms Bligh pledged a "significant" increase of the current $25 million funding a year and said she hoped to have the regulations in place "sometime in 2009".

Queensland Farmers' Federation CEO John Cherry said regulation would undermine any goodwill built up with farmers in the last decade and the $200 million Reef Rescue Plan, an industry-conservation-Federal Government partnership. "Landholders will be very disappointed. We've had a 20 per cent reduction in fertiliser application rates and we think we can reduce by another 20-25 per cent over the next decade with meaningful support from the Reef Rescue Plan and the State Government," he said. "But you pick a fight, you destroy goodwill and those sorts of achievements are less achievable."

Canegrowers CEO Ian Ballantyne said farmers were not "happy polluters" but were committed to adopting best practice to maximise the benefits of fertilisers to their farms. Mr Ballantyne said while the federal Reef Rescue Plan would support farmers to adopt best practice, the state had moved to undermine it. "Regulation tends to mean one size fits all, regulation has to be prescriptive and it has to apply to each and every farm, and it has to be overly administered," he said.

World Wide Fund for Nature's Nick Heath said they were cautiously optimistic about the planned regulation but were waiting to see the detail before celebrating.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bungling Kevin Rudd creates a financial crisis where there was none before

There were no problems with Australia's banks. They were and are still making profits. Sub-prime loans have not been a significant problem in Australia. So drama-queen Kevin Rudd had to puff up his own importance by "guaranteeing" bank deposits (which were already protected by long-standing "lender of last resort" facilities anyway). But he didn't guarantee other deposit-takers such as cash management trusts. Cash management trusts are widely used in Australia by those who have significant funds as they are the only way to get some interest on your money. Bank interest is negligible. So Rudd created the impression that only the banks were safe and caused a huge run on all the "left-out" institutions -- which now have had to suspend withdrawals -- with dire consequences for many, as seen below

SELF-FUNDED retiree Greg Russell is the human face of the Rudd government's mishandling of its response to the global financial meltdown: he now has $5 in his bank account. Because he put his money into a cash management account, Mr Russell's assets are frozen, along with those of his wife Debbie and the savings accounts of his two children. And, because he is in the process of selling his business, he still owes the tax man a big bill for his quarterly Business Activity Statement (BAS).

When the East Coast Mortgage Company on NSW's North Coast froze Mr Russell's assets on Tuesday, along with a raft of other secondary lenders, the results were shocking. He's had to take out a $50,000 loan to cover his BAS commitments and to maintain his, and his family's, living costs. East Coast Mortgage is just one of a series of institutions which have had to freeze customer deposits because the federal Government's guarantee of savers' deposits only applies to major banks. This has seen a flood of money pour out of smaller institutions, like East Coast Mortgage, which didn't get government backing.

East Coast isn't alone. Big non-bank players, such as AXA (formerly National Mutual), are among 13 major groups which have been forced to freeze withdrawals by depositors.

Treasurer Wayne Swan told people like Mr Russell, 59, that they should go to Government welfare agency Centrelink for income support if they found themselves in trouble. Mr Russell says the Treasurer doesn't know what he's talking about. "It's a complete joke,'' Mr Russell said. ``Imagine how the staff at Centrelink are going to cope with my circumstances.

"Wayne Swan is clutching at straws. There's pride involved here, as well. "Self-funded retirees don't want to be lining up at Centrelink. He's run out of ideas. They don't know what's going on. "I sold my business and have always supported local, well-run mortgage funds. "I have invested a large portion of the proceeds from the sale of my business into these organisations. I'm speaking, not only on behalf of myself, but for a large number of investors throughout Australia.

"The Government made a `rush of blood' decision to guarantee banks, credit unions and building societies and exclude mortgage funds. We now find there are $14 billion of frozen funds and how are investors going to survive throughout the next three, six and 12 months?'' As a result of the Government decision, Mr Russell has been left with $5 in his personal account and $165 in his business account at the NAB.


A small personal note from a quiet Sunday morning

I gather that for most employed people the financial crisis has had negligible effects. I am however one of the investor class. As a retired man, I live almost entirely on the proceeds of my stockmarket investments. And about half of those investments are in Australian bank stocks. So I am in big trouble, right?

Not at all. One reason why I invested heavily in banks was that Australian banks had big meltdowns at the time of the Hawke/Keating deregulation. Most of the State banks went broke and even Westpac tottered a bit. And that all happened because of incautious lending to Alan Bond and his ilk. So I figured that they had learned their lesson and were not likely to risk any recurrence of that. And I was right. The Australian banks are in good shape. Their share prices are way down but as long as the dividends keep coming, why should I worry about that? The new high is always higher than the old high so the share prices will bounce back in due course.

And September/October is dividend time so I have had a good cash inflow recently. I like to keep a fair bit of cash on hand to fund the various gifts and donations that I give out from time to time. My own needs are minimal. I mostly give direct to the intended beneficiary. Giving to charitable organizations usually just supports a herd of parasites. Most of what you give to Big Charity pays for "administration". The only exceptions I make are that I do give to the Salvation Army and to Legacy. The fact that I have some army background is probably sufficient explanation for the latter and it explains a lot of the former too. Many old diggers will tell you how good the Sallies have been in wartime. And I do have a soft spot for real Christians.

Even so, I recently found that I did have about $10,000 that I had no obvious use for so I BOUGHT SOME MORE SHARES. Why everybody is not doing so rather escapes me. Prices are very rarely as low as they are at the moment. It is a great time to buy cheap.

And my remaining cash is mostly in banks. Though I do have a few thousand in a cash management trust.

All of which, in my view, shows one benefit of managing your own money rather than giving it to someone else to manage. I can ride out the share price downturn because I don't need to sell anything. But superannuation funds and the like are always having to sell in order to fulfill their obligations to people who have reached retiring age. So they are selling at a huge loss, which drags down the funds available to everybody on their books. Not smart!

So my recommendation is just buy blue-chip stocks in your own name as a way of saving for retirement.

Idle Queensland Health building costs $1.5m as hospitals suffer

And the guy principally responsible for that seems unrepentant

QUEENSLAND Health has wasted almost $1.5 million of taxpayers' money while renting a Brisbane building that has stood empty for almost a year. The inner-city offices, earmarked to house IT staff trained to "optimise efficiency", will remain vacant until at least early 2009. As the state's cash-strapped hospitals cry out for staff and equipment, the wasted rent money could have paid for:

More than 1400 hospital bed nights;

The annual salaries of 20 nurses;

More than 1600 chemotherapy procedures;

672 eye operations, or

3118 renal dialysis procedures.

After The Sunday Mail revealed the chronic waste to Health Minister Stephen Robertson, he last night ordered a full investigation. A shocked Mr Robertson said he would make sure all Queensland Health buildings were audited to ensure even more vital funds were not being squandered.

Queensland Health began a seven-year lease on the 3200sq m Spring Hill property, tucked away in the dead end of Gloucester St, from December 1 last year. It was previously rented to Telstra. The annual rent on the building is $1,472,000. Property owner Draconi Pty Ltd will receive more than $10.3 million in rent for the term of the lease.

The health department has blamed the delay in occupying the building on problems with a contractor hired to refurbish the offices, needing an upgrade to accommodate improved technology. The deal was terminated in April after the contractor allegedly did not meet State Government requirements. The department said it was considering "options of recourse" to recoup funds and had employed a second contractor. It declined to reveal how much had been paid to the first contractor, saying specific financial information would not be available until tomorrow. A department spokesman said Queensland Health was unaware of any other leased buildings in a similar situation.

Queensland Health chief information officer, Dr Richard Ashby, said the building would house 250 Information Directorate staff "to optimise efficiency and drive key Queensland Health ICT projects, including e-health". "The cost of the premises is $460 per square metre, which has been deemed fair and reasonable under State Government guidelines," Dr Ashby said in a statement. "The building was a shell when the lease commenced, and accordingly the fit-out has been a major undertaking." As well as the contractor problem, there had been "power, access and other technical issues", he said.

Deputy LNP leader and Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said that in these tough economic times, it did not make sense to pay high rent for a building just so the Bligh Government could display its logo. "This empty building is a colossal waste of money that should be going toward making sick people well and reducing elective surgery waiting lists," he said. "This is another example of the Government's poor planning and bad management. "Queenslanders would be horrified to learn that this much money was going down the drain, while sick people are languishing on trolleys in overcrowded emergency department corridors waiting for a hospital bed."

Mr McArdle said the $1,472,000 per year rent could help pay for additional improvements to the Caboolture Hospital Emergency Department (estimated to cost $700,000) or deliver special-care-nursery cots at Ipswich and Toowoomba Hospitals ($470,000).

Mr Robertson said his department was "trying to get to the bottom of what is going on", but he could guarantee that the money spent on the building had not been diverted from other health service areas. He said he was angry about the handling of the matter. "I have asked for an urgent briefing and a more detailed investigation."


More climate correctness

First "global warming" became "climate change". Now we have ....

Government experts say the word "drought" is making farmers feel bad and want people to use the word "dryness" instead. Farmers also needed to accept that drier weather was here to stay, said a report by the Government's hand-picked Drought Policy Review Expert Social Panel.

"Words like drought ... have negative connotations for farm families," the report said. "There needs to be a new national approach to living with dryness, as we prefer to call it, rather than dealing with drought."

The report criticised the Government's $1 billion annual drought program, under which drought-stricken farmers are paid Exceptional Circumstances (EC) funding. "For all the assistance provided, farm families, rural businesses and communities currently living with dryness in rural Australia do not feel or perceive they are measurably better off," the report said. Farming families in drought-declared areas can get an EC payment of up to $21,000 a year. The report quoted some farmers as saying EC payments rewarded unproductive and irresponsible farmers and were of no help to good operators.

Panel chairman Peter Kenny said dryness was tough for farmers. "We wonder why people have got so much pressure on them out there and they are blowing their brains out and there is a lot of them doing that," he said. "It is clear that drought is having an impact on the wellbeing of farming families and rural communities."

Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said the report showed rural families were not communicating with each other about their hardships. The Government had not got the policy right on tackling drought, he said. "Significant funds have gone to try and help rural communities, but you can't have these sorts of social outcomes and say that we've got it right," he said.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Service outage

I am suffering from a cable service outage at the moment and Telstra say there is no end in sight to the problem.

So probably no posts here today. Maybe tomorrow.

I am writing this from an internet cafe, which has very limited facilities for my purposes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Australians socially mobile says OECD report

Social mobility has long been pretty good in Australia. My father was a lumberjack but I found no great trouble in becoming a university lecturer.

AUSTRALIA is a nation of social climbers - people who can pull themselves out of a poor upbringing to share in greater wealth and opportunity, an international report shows. But with doom and gloom on the economic horizon, some Australians are starting to fear the "lucky country's" good fortune is about to run out.

In Paris, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published a report which found that despite growing poverty, Australia remains an egalitarian land of the fair go. The 309-page study of equality across 30 OECD countries, Growing Unequal, found that Australia was one of the most socially mobile countries, The Australian reports. Public education, health and housing help to bridge the gap between rich and poor, the report says.

Unlike people in Italy, the US and Britain, Australians can climb out of poverty even if their parents are impoverished or poorly educated. "What your parents earned when you were a child has very little effect on your own earnings," the report says. "Similarly, the educational attainment of the parents affects the educational achievements of the child less than in most other countries."

The OECD report says income inequality - the gap between rich and poor - has fallen "quite sharply" in Australia since 2000, to below the OECD average for the first time. But the number of people in poverty - defined as living on less than half the median income - has risen slightly to 12 per cent this decade, above the OECD average.

The report may also reflect the favourable economic circumstances Australia has experienced over the last decade but an economic survey by Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph warns of a dramatic reversal of fortune. An online survey or readers found that gathering economic gloom has caused 14 per cent of those responding to cancel their Christmas holiday with 19 per cent indicating they would go somewhere cheaper or for a shorter time. The poll also found that:

* More than 63 per cent of people are concerned or very concerned about the economic outlook;

* More than 44 per cent feel less secure in their job than a year ago;

* Almost half believe Australia will be doing worse in a year's time than it is now;

* More than 42 per cent plan to put any spare cash on the mortgage or towards paying off debt; and

* A quarter believe Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has not done enough to combat the crisis.

The bleak findings are being borne out across Sydney with businesses reporting sales have plummeted by up to 50 per cent in the past few weeks and some saying they had been forced to sack staff as nervous consumers tightened their belts.

For those forced onto welfare the OECD report found that Australia spends less than most developed countries on cash payments such as unemployment and family benefits but the money is better targeted to help the most needy. "In a typical country, 22 per cent of total income is from the government in the form of such benefits, compared to 14 per cent in Australia," the report says.

"However, Australia targets these benefits much more tightly on low-income households than in any other country in the OECD. Forty per cent of total spending on cash benefits goes to the poorest 20 per cent of the population."


The notorious Cairns Base hospital again

Cairns in a major international tourist destination. How to create a bad impression of Australia! The hospital serves an area roughly the size of England

An aged pensioner is appalled she was sent home from Cairns Base Hospital to cope alone with an undiagnosed broken pelvis. "They just dropped me in the gutter to wait for a taxi," Betty Rasmussen, 66, told The Cairns Post. She could not walk on crutches and had to be wheeled to the taxi rank outside the Emergency Department. "I kept saying I live on my own, but they didn't care," Ms Rasmussen said. "How heartless can you be?"

For the next few days, she had to sleep on a recliner chair at her Woree unit because she could not lower herself into her bed. The hospital's medical services executive director, Dr Kathy Atkinson, yesterday admitted doctors failed to diagnose Ms Rasmussen's injury in X-rays taken on October 3 and her office deeply regretted the pain and inconvenience this had caused. Ms Rasmussen's treatment and the way she was discharged were being reviewed and she would be given a detailed written response. The hospital has also reported the case for entry into Queensland Health's clinical incident management database.

Dr Atkinson said on receipt of Ms Rasmussen's complaint, the X-ray was magnified and the break detected. "We are very sorry that this was not picked up earlier," she said.

Ms Rasmussen said she was appalled a hospital could treat people in their senior years that way. "There was no follow-up, not even to arrange Meals on Wheels to come around," she said. "My family doctor said I should have been put into hospital for two or three days so that I had a monkey bar to lift myself up with and a bed that could be lowered up and down."

During that first week at home, struggling on crutches to care for herself, Ms Rasmussen said there were days when she cried in unbearable agony. "I felt like doing myself in," she said. "I'm a person who always has a smile on my face, nothing bloody worries me, so for me to get to a point where I want to end my life it's . just unbelievable how down you can be."

The first she knew she had a broken pelvis was almost two weeks later when her physiotherapist - worried about the pain she was in - ordered a second batch of X-rays.


"Green" options are hugely costly

Below is one example. All the useless windmills are another

Queensland taxpayers have been slugged with a $277 million water tank bill for the equivalent of one day's supply of water for the southeast of the state. The State Government and Brisbane City Council have paid out $216 million and $61 million respectively to subsidise water tanks since 2006, which has given the region an extra capacity of 362 megalitres, or one day's supply.

Lord Mayor Campbell Newman admitted that the water projects were expensive because governments had to rush to solve the crisis. While the majority of tanks are still for garden use, the Government and council are now paying subsidies only if the tanks are connected to plumbing on properties and Cr Newman said that made them far more efficient and capable of capturing more water.

He said the $61 million tank rebate was comparable to the $70 million council had spent on its aquifer project, which supplies about 20 megalitres a day. Tanks supply about 18 megalitres. "Clearly, having these tanks will take pressure off the system," he said. "It's been a good exercise and it's part of an overall drought [Drought? It rains all the time in Brisbane. Hardly a week goes by without rain] strategy. "It's not out of the ball park and I think it was good expenditure. "All the water that has been obtained through the various projects has been expensive water because everything was done in such a hurry." He said on average a 5000-litre tank that was plumbed for household use was saving about $130 a year in water costs.

A Government spokesman said every litre in a tank was one less litre the state had to collect in dams. "It is also about everyone playing their part in water conservation," the spokesman said. "Apart from having some ownership over water conservation issues, people are less likely to leave taps running if they know it is coming from their own water tanks."

Liberal National Party water spokesman Andrew Cripps said an LNP government would hand out incentives to participate in an "eco home scheme", installing rainwater tanks integrated with innovative devices that maximised the capture of rainfall on rooftops and diverted the water directly into home plumbing systems.


Torres Strait security for nurses still negligible

Black populations need a lot more policing than they get

Three terrified nurses and a child have been airlifted off remote Torres Strait islands in the latest security scares for health workers. Police were last night hunting for a man who allegedly made death threats against workers on Boigu Island. Boigu Island is the closest to Papua New Guinea and a hotspot for HIV-infected villagers seeking treatment. It is also a known jump-off point for illegal drug and people trafficking into Australia.

Last night, the State's Health Minister, Stephen Robertson, said services on the island had been shutdown indefinitely after a nurse abandoned the facility on Wednesday, along with a female health centre manager and her grandchild.

The Courier-Mail understands the Boigu Island nurse, in her 40s, had been fearing a powerfully-built islander for two weeks after intervening in a violent domestic dispute in the island's village. Boigu Island elder Vera Gibuma, a close friend of the nurse, said that the nurse had stopped a young islander from bashing his girlfriend in the main street and he responded by threatening her life. "He told her she "had the devil in her" and he was going to kill her," she said. "She was crying as she was leaving but they had to get her out before there was any serious trouble." Last night the man was thought to be hiding from police in crocodile-infested mangrove swamps.

The Boigu evacuation came just five days after another nurse on Mer Island left her post after waking to find a man inside her room at the health centre on October 17. In that case, the intruder fled but the nurse was too scared to continue. Queensland Health insists the facility was secure and the woman had left her bedroom door unlocked.

These two latest cases come amid a long-term investigation into failures by the department to provide secure staff accommodation after the alleged rape of a nurse on Mabuiag Island in February. The incident occured 16 months after a damning security report was ignored, sparking a week-long walkout from nurses in April.

Mr Robertson said accomodation security in the region had been addressed since the revelations earlier in the year. "Boigu remains closed until staff safety can be addressed with discussions underway with council and police," Mr Robertson said.

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle said the department had reacted well but more had to be done to protect staff. "We have a zero tolerance policy for violence," she said. "We've asked for higher level discussions with police with concerns about adequacy of protection of our staff."


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rough old Labor Party bag fancies herself as a VIP

Typical parasitic Leftist elitism. It's years since she had a real job: "Lindsay started as a teacher at a Catholic school, before moving on to be the CEO of organisations in the health, community and disability sectors. Until entering Parliament, Lindsay worked for the Council of the Ageing where she worked closely with all levels of government to achieve outcomes for South Australian retirees". So she's all heart!

An exchange between a hairdresser and a Labor MP has left the hairdresser in tears, in what she describes as the most humiliating experience of her career. Member for Morialta Lindsay Simmons stormed out of Rostrevor salon Bobby Pins Haircutters on Friday after being made to wait almost 10 minutes for her two-hour appointment, scheduled to start at 10am. "I have never been humiliated and treated so badly in the whole 32 years of my working life," Di Raggatt said. "She distressed me. I just can't believe that she would treat someone like that."

Ms Simmons yesterday said she was "frustrated" by the wait. "I desperately need a haircut and I had a very small window of opportunity, I have a very tight schedule," she said. "I am sorry if I did upset her." Ms Simmons had not been to the salon before but a staffer booked the appointment.

Mrs Raggatt said she arrived at work "extra early" on Friday to prepare for her new client, tidy the salon and lay out supplies. She was finishing with customer Terri Brunton when Ms Simmons arrived. "I said I wouldn't be long," Mrs Raggatt said. "She said, quite rudely, 'Well, I hope not'. She said 'my office didn't tell me you worked on your own'.

"It was at seven minutes she said 'don't worry about it' and walked out and slammed the door'." Mrs Brunton said: "She (Ms Simmons) was extremely rude."


Australian immigration boss flags lower migrant intake

The global financial crisis looks set to result in a cut to Australia's migrant intake, with the Rudd Government hinting strongly it will reduce next year's quota amid fears the economy will slow. Immigration Minister Chris Evans told a Senate estimates hearing yesterday that Australia's record high migrant intake should be cut. "I'd envisage certainly that the migration program for next year would be smaller than this year," Senator Evans told the hearing. "(But) no decision has been taken on that."

Senator Evans said cabinet would decide whether to cut the quota and, if so, by how much, in the lead-up to next year's budget. But he indicated that the global financial meltdown would force the Government to cut numbers. "What I'm saying to you is that it seems to me, given what the general economic forecasts of the world economy are, that your first starting point is that you'd think it would be lower," Senator Evans said.

Kevin Rudd first flagged the possibility of cutting the migrant quota two weeks ago, saying the decision would be driven by whatever economic circumstances prevailed at the time. "It's been this way since time immemorial and will be this way into the future as well," the Prime Minister said on October 9. "We adjust it according to economic circumstances."

In May, the Government added 31,000 skilled migrants to this year's migration program. The overall migration program will now be 190,300 for this year, and 133,500 of those places will be allocated to permanent skilled migrants.

The Government's rethink on migration comes as Britain announced it would cut migrant numbers, partly to offset racial tensions amid the possibility of rising unemployment. British Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said at the weekend that Britain needed a tougher immigration policy. "If people are being made unemployed, the question of immigration becomes extremely thorny," Mr Woolas told The Times.

Senator Evans said it was possible migrant numbers would shrink beyond whatever cuts the Government made. Employer-driven migration schemes, such as the 457 temporary skilled worker program, could start to slow in line with diminishing labour market demand, he said. "It stands to reason that if economic activity was to come off, demand from employers for temporary labour was to come off, then the numbers for the 457 scheme would come off," Senator Evans said. "You'd expect there'd be a direct relationship." He said a global economic downturn would affect people's ability to travel, resulting in a reduction in other forms of migration, such as the working holiday program.

Senator Evans also sought to allay fears that local workers might be laid off before temporary skilled workers, who in many cases were paid less. He said he had recently intervened after a business in Queensland planned to stand down Australian workers before foreign employees covered by the 457 scheme. "I made it very clear to the company ... that that was not acceptable," Senator Evans said. The 457 program was there to supplement the local labour force, not undercut it, he said.

Meanwhile, the Immigration Department may be forced to compensate 191 of the 247 people investigated by the Ombudsman for wrongful detention. The department has so far offered compensation in 40 of the cases and settlements have been reached in 17. In total, about $1.2million in compensation has been paid so far.


More global cooling for Australia

Brisbane has its coldest October morning since 1976. I must say I was surprised at how nippy it was when I opened my door this morning

COLD southerly winds blowing up from the snow-capped Blue Mountains have given Brisbane its coldest October morning in 32 years. The mercury fell to 10.6 degrees in the City just before 5am, more than five degrees below average for this time of year. The previous lowest for October was 7.3 degrees in 1976, although Brisbane also recorded 6.3 degrees in October in 1899 at a now-disused weather station. Amberley had an even colder start waking up to 6 degrees and Stanthorpe shivered on just two degrees.

But senior forecaster Vikash Prasad said Stanthorpe's previous coldest October day was -2 in 1966. "It's certainly our coldest day since winter. The lowest temperature in September was 11 so it is unusual for Spring," Mr Prasad said. He said the trough that caused the storms had moved off the coast and was being replaced by dry air and southerly winds coming up from interstate. "There was snow on the Blue Mountains yesterday which is very unusual for this time of year and Sydney had a very cold day," Mr Prasad said.


Doctors 'tired and dangerous'

This appalling system has been going on for ages. No-one seems willing to stop it -- on cost grounds presumably

Overworked young doctors are close to burn-out from working 20-hour shifts and are getting less than six hours sleep a night. Patients' lives are being put in "danger", with stressed young doctors confessing their "unsafe" workloads were affecting their quality of medical care. These were two key findings in a national survey of 1000 young doctors by the Australian Medical Association released yesterday.

It paints a distressing picture of junior medical staff trying to cope in hospital systems that are underfunded and understaffed. Almost half believe their excessive workload runs the risk of compromising patient safety, while a third reported they regularly worked unsafe hours. Fifty hours a week is common with short turnaround times between shifts, while some said 90 to 100-hour weeks were not uncommon. Alcohol was another worrying method young doctors were using to cope with stress and fatigue, with the survey finding almost 10 per cent drank daily.

Sydney's Westmead Hospital intensive care resident Katherine Jeffrey, who confessed to working 60 hours a week, said more younger doctors were urgently need to improve quality care and prevent patient tragedies. "There is a danger of mistakes if you don't monitor yourself and if you don't get the sleep," said the 35-year-old critical care resident, who lives at Cheltenham. "Generally most of us are doing 50-60 hours a week which also included rostered overtime."

Dr Jeffrey, who said she sailed to ease her stress, said sleep-deprived young doctors, aged between 26 and 35, were also taking out their frustration on other medical staff. "They are short with the nurses, they're short with the patients - they are intolerant of little things." Dr Jeffrey confessed to once being awake for a 21-hour shift, which was "rare", due to a doctor shortage. "I could feel that I was fatigued."

AMA Doctors In Training Council chairwoman Dr Alex Markwell said it wasn't unusual for young doctors to be on call 24 hours a day for three weeks straight. "We do need urgent assistance in the public health system," she said. Dr Markwell said the survey showed junior doctors were "really struggling to meet all of the demands that are put upon them. Doctors are people too, they are not superhuman," she said. Dr Markwell suggested establishing an internal clinic for medical staff inside hospitals.

AMA president Dr Rosanna Capolingua said the problem must be addressed by governments by having more doctors in hospitals, safer working hours and better rostering.


Illegal search warrants used by Queensland police?

Nothing about the Queensland police would surprise me

SENIOR Gold Coast police are at the centre of a corruption probe for allegedly using illegal search warrants to raid innocent people's homes. Police have launched an internal investigation into the claims, aired last night by Seven News. Self-styled whistleblower detectives told the station that Gold Coast police made up evidence for the warrants and the raids were used to enhance the careers of senior management. Senior police have rejected the allegations as "a load of rubbish", saying they were made by disgruntled officers including one who was stood down after being charged with criminal offences.

However, some detectives called for an independent judicial inquiry, claiming both the police and the Crime Misconduct Commission have failed to investigate numerous complaints about allegedly "dodgy" warrants. One detective said illegal warrants had been used in hundreds of raids for at least the past five years in a practice openly encouraged by senior management. "This is a major corruption scandal," he said. "Specific evidence is required for a search warrant application but on many occasions on the Gold Coast . . . that information is simply made up. It's unlawful and it's unethical."

The detective said police drove around carparks to pick up random licence plate numbers to use on search warrant applications, or the evidence was just invented. He said the use of illegal warrants was prolific and done hundreds of times as police management used the raid to improve their career prospects. "It is done for the purpose of arrest figures and obtaining numbers of search warrants," he said.

The detective said that on one occasion he had been sent to raid the home of an innocent, elderly couple who were terrified by the experience. A police spokesman said the allegations were "nebulous".


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mother turned away by public hospital - so baby born by road

The hospital had a midwife and obstetrician on duty but it was still preferable for her to give birth by the side of the road, apparently. There's nothing like that "caring" socialist medicine

A WOMAN gave birth on the side of the road after a hospital forced paramedics to put her back in an ambulance and take her to Nepean Hospital owing to a shortage of medical staff. The 35-year-old gave birth to her third baby on the Great Western Highway at Glenbrook about half an hour after being examined by a midwife and obstetrician at Blue Mountains District Anzac Memorial Hospital.

An ambulance spokesman said that when the woman was picked up from her Katoomba home at 5.41am on October 9 her waters had broken and contractions were a minute apart. Maya Drum, network director of women's health and newborn care at Blue Mountains Hospital, yesterday said the woman had phoned to say she was on her way, was 10 days overdue and had been in labour for three hours.

The Herald understands the woman was distressed at being told she could not deliver at the hospital because there was no anaesthetist available and that paramedics had argued against taking her to Nepean because her labour was so advanced. It is also understood that the baby, delivered by a midwife in the back of the ambulance, needed to be ventilated until they reached Nepean Hospital.

Ms Drum said the woman arrived at Blue Mountains at 6.10am and was judged to be "high risk". At that time, the hospital "could not provide anaesthetist cover due to unavoidable staffing shortages and the clinical decision was made to transfer the woman immediately by ambulance to Nepean Hospital, where more comprehensive services were available to provide specialist services to mother and baby", she said in a statement. "During the transfer at 7am, the midwife, assisted by the two ambulance officers, successfully delivered the baby in the ambulance on the side of the Great Western Highway at Glenbrook." She said the mother and baby returned home from Nepean the next day and were well.

There was a public outcry after pregnant women in the Blue Mountains were given just a few days' notice that the birthing unit was closing temporarily on July 21 because of a lack of obstetricians, anaesthetists and midwives. It was reopened on September 1 but had since closed temporarily at least twice because of staff shortages. The State Government has promised before to maintain birthing services in the Blue Mountains but yesterday the Health Minister, John Della Bosca, appeared to back down. "The decision about the continued operation of the service is one for clinicians. The minister will rely on advice from expert staff at NSW Health and the area health service," a spokesman said. The incident highlighted the difficulties in attracting medical staff to some regions.

Meanwhile, expectant mothers in the Bega Valley have also been left in limbo after two of the four Pambula GP obstetricians said they would not deliver babies at Bega Hospital from mid-December. They are angry at the Greater Southern Area Health Service for insisting they travel to Bega after birthing services at Pambula were closed about a month ago because of midwife shortages. A spokeswoman for the area health service said there were no plans to reopen a birthing service at Pambula.


More global cooling

Note that it now well into Spring in Australia

RECORD cold temperatures have brought snow to the Blue Mountains and southern tablelands in NSW and wet and windy weather to the state's coast.

Temperatures dipped to three degrees celsius near Blackheath, west of Sydney, early this morning but wind gusts brought the mercury down further to minus two degrees and pockets of snow fell in Leura and west of Katoomba at Oberon. The Bureau of Metrology (BoM) said snow was also reported in the southern tablelands at Cooma and in Bombala, near the Victorian border.

An unseasonal cold front from the southeast extends to just beyond the ranges and is moving north. Thunderstorms and wind gusts of up to 70km/h have brought rain to the eastern part of the state and abnormally cold conditions to most of NSW. BoM forecaster Jane Golding said average temperatures in the Blue Mountains for October ranged from seven to 18 degrees.

In Sydney today, the temperature is forecast to be 15 degrees, an October temperature which has only been seen twice in the past 14 years, Ms Golding said. Average maximum temperatures for Sydney in October are around 22 degrees.


Another government computer project bites the dust

Back to square one ofter wasting a lot of money. When will governments ever learn that they should buy "off the shelf". There are many commercial database programs available for a comparatively trifling cost

The South Australian government has pulled the plug on its $5 million records management system project, ending a five-year saga plagued by repeated cost blowouts, delays and confusion. The project, commissioned by SA's Department of Families and Communities (DFC) in September 2003, was originally budgeted at $2 million but increased to $4 million after the South Australian Housing Trust (SAHT), which was funding the project, granted a request to double the spend.

However, SAHT froze the project in mid-2007 when the department requested an additional $1 million for the project. Subsequently auditors KPMG was called in to evaluate whether any components of the project could be salvaged, but in May this year the firm recommended the records management system be scrapped altogether and that the department start from scratch.

Details of the project's demise emerged during a government budget and finance committee hearing earlier this week. It remains unclear who is responsible for the failure of the project as there were two groups directly involved in the project - Housing South Australia and the department. Housing SA runs services on behalf of the Housing Trust and had a service agreement with the department. "There were a number of changes (to the project's management)," Housing South Australia corporate services director Dennis Huxley said at the hearing. "At one stage it was in the Housing Trust, then it transferred to DFC, then we changed it back to Housing. "A number of changes occurred over that time. The project has been floundering for some time," Mr Huxley said.



Three current articles below

Literacy skills shock for NSW public schools

Only North shore (affluent area) kids do well. Once again "modern" methods fail the poor

One in five children at NSW public schools is at or below minimum literacy levels, with little real improvement despite a large increase in Government spending, a new report has found. And children in country areas generally fare worse than their city cousins, with the gap increasing. "Compared to 10 years ago, the NSW Government has spent over three times more money on improving literacy and numeracy, yet there has been little real improvement," NSW Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat said in his report. "The problem is that children that are at risk are not being adequately identified and are difficult to track through the education system."

The report found that the NSW Department of Education should have a greater focus on the child at risk, not on the school in which he or she is enrolled, and that there needs to be better training for teachers of those children most at risk. "Our children are the most important asset that our society has, and if we don't focus more closely on them now as individuals, then we are failing in our responsibility to the next generation," Mr Achterstraat said. "Just as importantly, we have a responsibility to the community in planning a better future for NSW."

The report found that the percentage of students below the minimum level for literacy was 14 per cent for western NSW, the worst in the state, followed by 12.2 per cent in New England and 11.4 per cent in both the Riverina and on the North Coast. The best area for literacy was northern Sydney's 1.4 per cent, in contrast to 10.8 per cent in the city's south-west.

With numeracy, the percentage of students below the minimum level was 13.5 per cent in western NSW, while the best was 2 per cent in northern Sydney, and 10.8 per cent in the south-west of the city. In broad terms, indigenous students were two to three times worse than other students.


Out of control schools in poor area

Nothing that old-fashioned discipline wouldn't cure.

UP to 22 students a day are suspended from a school in Brisbane's south which can't cope with soaring levels of violent and extreme behaviour. The Queensland Teachers' Union made the shocking claim as 3000 of its members continued rolling strikes to highlight disadvantage at 54 Logan-Albert-Beaudesert schools. [A lower socio-economic area]

The union said inadequate funding contributed to escalating violence at schools in the region where students regularly assaulted or threatened staff and their peers. Smoking, drugs, truancy, abusive language and unsafe behaviours like tackling were other common triggers for suspension. The Courier-Mail recently reported suspensions were up 25 per cent at Gold Coast and Ipswich schools, which includes those in Logan and Beaudesert, since 2005-06.

"A Logan high school has had up to 22 suspensions a day," former Logan teacher and QTU organiser Penny Spalding said. "For some of those schools it's not uncommon, so (an administrator's and teacher's) workload is tremendous. "It's getting worse and I think society understands teenage behaviour is getting more challenging."

QTU president Steve Ryan said this week's strikes, which end today, were aimed at drawing an additional $40 million from the Government in a "needs-based" approach to unique problems facing Logan-Albert and Beaudesert schools.

Education Queensland said yesterday it could not confirm nor deny that a Logan school handed out 22 suspensions a day because it had no school-by-school data. A spokeswoman for Education Minister Rod Welford said he recognised the challenges of schools in low socio-economic areas. She said the department had invested $1.7 million to tackle truancy and improve outcomes at large state schools in economically disadvantaged areas.

It is common practice to put suspended students into out-of-school Positive Learning Centres, where trained behavioural teachers implement behaviour modification programs. However, when a student's behaviour disrupts the class but does not warrant suspension they are often sent to what Education Queensland has dubbed Responsible Thinking Classrooms. "Schools are having to beg, borrow and steal to run them," Ms Spalding said. "They are the lifeline of some of these Logan schools."

The union claimed the region's schools needed more behaviour management resources and staff, particularly for Prep to Year 3 and Year 8 classes. A Queensland Teachers' Union spokeswoman said the parents of some Logan/Beaudesert region students spoke little English and were not involved enough in their child's education, both traits associated with low socio-economic areas.


Leftist bigotry in schools

At one of Sydney's best private girls schools, Year 8 geography students opened their term three materials on changing global relationships to read the following definition: "Globalisation is what happens when you lose your job in Brunswick, Bankstown or Elizabeth because the company for which you work has been bought out by the Australian subsidiary of a Dallas-based transnational company that has decided to relocate its production of T-shirts to Mexico because of cheaper wage costs and lower health and safety standards."

Assuming it was a scholarly attempt to provoke robust debate, I searched the students' materials for the other side to the globalisation and free-trade story. Alas, there wasn't one. No facts explaining how globalisation and trade have lifted millions of people out of poverty, improving living standards, mortality rates, education, training and the like.

The geography teacher who stands in front of his teenage students is surely entitled to his view that globalisation is an evil force. He is not, however, entitled to use his position to indoctrinate his young charges. And that is why, as his students edge towards their final school years, facing assessments and exams that will determine their future, they should have a copy of Mark Lopez's The Little Black Schoolbook tucked away in their schoolbags. Launched last week in Melbourne, Lopez's book is aimed at exposing the bias within the classroom so that students can turn it to their advantage rather than bombing in exams by courageously trying to tackle the received political wisdom in schools and universities.

Expect howls of derision from critics who deny that teachers express and impose political orthodoxy in the classroom. But Lopez, a high school tutor, has seen many of his students submit brilliant work only to receive mediocre marks because an essay did not accord with their teacher's views on a subject. Just as I, and many parents, have watched in disbelief when students have crafted thoughtful opposition to orthodoxies such as Al Gore's position on climate change, only to be marked down for no other reason than the teacher's personal views.

Just as we have read about it in this newspaper, where educators such as Kevin Donnelly have exposed education bureaucrats politicising school curriculums by requiring a "critical-postmodernist pedagogy".

Refreshingly, Lopez's book is not a whinge about the classroom being infected with Marxist, feminist and postmodern perspectives. Instead it offers up constructive lessons for students to beat the bias in the system. That means more than learning conventional study skills. It means being street-smart enough to recognise the limitations of some teachers. And it means knowing that some teachers will ask for a well-argued essay but reward essays that reflect their own biases.

One of his Year 12 students was asked to do a research essay on Lenin's New Economic Policy. His first draft was a well-researched, well-argued essay that received a C. Lopez told his student to go back to his notes, work out his teacher's understanding of the topic and then redraft the essay to omit everything that differed from his teacher's opinions. The teacher awarded the redraft an A grade.

In many respects, Lopez's book is a depressing read. We should not need a book that advises students that "your campaign for straight As must begin by establishing a psychological profile of your examiner. Make your teacher's bias your friend, because if you do not it will be a formidable enemy."

We should not need a book that explains the continuing effect of the 1960s counter-culture on teaching and school curriculums. Or a book that draws on real-life experiences within the education system to help students identify how political ideology affects the examination and assessment, how to hunt for clues from prescribed reading materials and decipher questions to work out what answer would align with a teacher's views.

Or a book that helps students identify the politically correct answers: if you are asked to take a side in the "women in combat" debate, argue in favour, using feminist grounds of equal opportunity. "In a dispute between animal rights groups and duck hunters, if you side with the hunters you are a dead duck," he writes.

But students do need precisely such a book. Better to be aware of the realities and learn to play the game. Those who have used Lopez's advice have used it wisely. "Rather than being buffeted by fate, these students took responsibility for their education and succeeded," he writes.

Neither should we need a Senate hearing into academic freedom. But, again, reality trumps hope. In his submission to the inquiry a few weeks ago, historian Keith Windschuttle revealed why he is detested by his academic opponents. There is no emotion, no hyperbole from Windschuttle. Just a devastating list of facts, quoting academics to prove the politicisation of scholarship and skewering any pretence of objectivity. He cites Australian historian Henry Reynolds, who admits that his first major work, The Other Side of the Frontier, "was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship". And this from Reynolds: "History should not only be relevant but politically utilitarian."

Windschuttle exposes feminist historian Marilyn Lake for admitting "the writing of history is a political activity". He reveals how the search for truth was abandoned by academics who treat the alleged genocidal activities in Australia as equivalent to the Nazi Holocaust. Name after name, extract after extract, the bias of history teaching by prominent Australian academics is laid bare.

The inquiry is a Stalinist exercise, say critics. Wrong. Windschuttle is no fan of government intervention. He told The Australian that it is a fundamental tenet of Western civilisation that institutions must remain independent of the state. The purpose of the inquiry, like Lopez's book, is to expose political orthodoxy in the education system. Sunlight, after all, can be a powerful disinfectant.

We should name and shame academics who breach their scholarly duty to objectivity. And university vice-chancellors with spine should do more to promote intellectual diversity rather than caving in to the rigid orthodoxy of political academics.

That said, overzealousness won't help the cause of exposing classroom indoctrination. Nitpicking over trivial episodes won't either. It will only serve to undermine the genuine cases of blatant political bias that should be exposed.

In an ideal world, the classroom and lecture theatre would not be used as tools of indoctrination. In the real world, it happens too often. Students may as well know about it, understand why it exists and learn how to play the game to win. If that process improves the education system by reminding educators that they, too, are being assessed for their intellectual rigour or lack of it, so much the better.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lockstep Leftism in Australian academe

Have a different opinion? Think again. The debate is over. A highly politicised ideological bias exists in academia - one harmful to students, damaging to standards and which threatens intellectual diversity - according to the majority of submissions to the Senate's academic freedom inquiry. In nearly all cases, this bias comes from one direction - the left. A prominent academic, Mervyn Bendle, in his submission says it "dominates research programs, publications and textbooks at all levels and therefore influences every aspect of education in Australia".

Pick any controversial issue today - Work Choices, anti-terror laws, Israel-Palestine, or climate change - and in academia these issues have been decided. There is only one accepted view on each - no debate is allowed.

Ask the Cardinal Newman Society at the University of Queensland. Earlier this year it had stalls outlining pregnancy-support options for women - a move that contradicted the student union's policy of safe, free abortion on demand. The Catholic student group was reprimanded, threatened with disaffiliation and faced formal disciplinary proceedings.

Heaven help anyone on campus, academic or student, who dares to question what Dr Bendle calls a "radical orthodoxy", characterised by "theories associated with neo-Marxism, postmodernism, feminism, radical environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Christianity, and related ideologies". Bendle argues this entrenched left-wing culture has its roots in the counterculture of the 1960s. Yesterday's radicals are today's establishment, and now they will tolerate no dissent. Resistance is futile. You will be indoctrinated.

No recent research has been conducted into the ideological leanings of Australian educators, but in the US a 1999 study found more than 70 per cent of academics identified as left wing, compared to only 15 per cent as conservative. In some humanities departments, conservatives are outnumbered by up to 30 to one. The situation is so bad the University of Colorado recently debated creating a "chair of conservative thought" in a desperate attempt to restore some balance.

The scarcity of conservative intellectuals explains the barrage of attacks that emanated from academia during almost the entire term of the former government. These criticisms were on a wide range of different issues, from immigration to industrial relations. Some were justified, yet were almost always from a critical left-wing perspective. This lack of balance demonstrates the much-touted commitment to "diversity" mouthed by all academic institutions is only skin deep. Gender, ethnic and sexual diversity are all the rage, but intellectual diversity is ignored.

Many Australian educators are activists masquerading as academics, agitating for radical far-left causes well outside, and profoundly hostile to, the values of mainstream Australia. One example is Damien Riggs, of the University of Adelaide, who heads an association of academics that seek to "expose and challenge white-race privilege in Australia and elsewhere". His area of interest is "what it means to speak as a white queer person in a colonial nation".

Academics, like any other citizens, are perfectly entitled to their political opinions, however bizarre. The problem arises when these political views influence the content of their teaching. Take the former education union president Pat Byrne who in 2005 boasted that so-called progressive educators "had succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities".

Then there are the hundreds of subjects in the humanities, most of which reflect the Marxist obsessions of their lecturers. One subject on tourism "explores travel through themes such as gender, class, race, imperialism, war and . sexuality". Another on design considers "how architecture perpetuates the social order of gender".

One former trainee teacher, Beccy Merzi, told the inquiry: "I became so fed up and disgusted by the continual barrage of criticism of mainstream values, the lack of focus on practical ways of teaching, and the continual focus on minority groups, postmodernism, gender, queer and other studies that I abandoned my teaching degree. "

But it's not only the course content that is biased - it's lecturers' conduct. Submission after submission documented educators using their classrooms to promote their political views and belittling or marking down students who disagreed. "I have been abused and mocked by a lecturer in front of others for refusing to acknowledge the 'genocide occurring in Lebanon' during the Israeli-Lebanese war," one student, Joshua Koonin, told the inquiry.

It's high time that educators learnt that the principles of academic freedom apply equally to students as they do to their lecturers.


Unbalanced history teaching in Australian schools

A column about Australia by David Dale. (For non-Australian readers, witchetty grubs were traditionally regarded as a delicacy by Aborigines; 1770 was the first landing on the Eastern Australian coast by the British)

Think the unthinkable and say the unsayable. That's this column's readers. In recent days, they have advanced these propositions: 1) The best way to make school history lessons more interesting is to teach less about boomerangs and witchetty grubs and more about the Chinese communist party; 2) the best way to make the planet healthier and happier is not eating more kangaroos but eating vegans, ideally with ginger and black bean sauce. Yes, that was vegans, not veggies.

The way this column works is that we raise questions about national identity, and the readers answer them, usually by shredding conventional wisdoms. When I observed that Australian history, as traditionally taught, was likely to leave students with the impression that they lived in one of the most boring countries on earth, 57 readers replied.

Many urged the inclusion of more information about the people who were here before 1770. But Kate, who finished high school in 2005, complained: "Every year between year 3 and year 10 it was witchetty grubs, boomerangs, dispossession or reconciliation depending on how old you were. These are all very valuable topics and should be studied, but on and off for SEVEN YEARS? The statement that we were about to study either Australian or Aboriginal history was usually met with a groan.

"My favourite topics were the Cold War (and the Cuban Missile Crisis), the historiography (not history) of the Crusades, China under the CCP and the Industrial Revolution. Everything I've learnt in those subjects I've used a hundredfold since entering university. No one has asked me about witchetty grubs though...."

More here

More "boat people" headed for Australia

Take a bow, Mr Rudd

Australia's Opposition says the Government should re-examine changes to Australia's immigration laws after the arrest of 20 Sri Lankan and Indonesian nationals in East Timor.

East Timor authorities say the men were arrested as they prepared to board a fishing boat bound for Australia. They are said to have admitted they planned to travel to Australia without proper documentation.

The Opposition's Immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone says she's concerned that immigration authorities have now intercepted four boats since the Government made changes to immigration regulations earlier this year. "I have got no doubt people smugglers have taken great comfort and they are having a good hard look at whether all of this is worth while making the quick short rush to Australia," she said.


Tasmaniam Premier rebuts Greenies over forestry

TASMANIAN Premier David Bartlett has sided with the forest industry in a fierce debate with conservationists about whether old-growth forests should be protected as reservoirs of carbon. Mr Bartlett told The Australian that calls by the conservation movement to suspend old-growth logging, because of evidence they might be more valuable as carbon sinks, were nonsense.

"This is bulls**t - this is just not true," the Premier said. "They can make that claim at the moment because Kyoto Protocol accounting for timber got it totally wrong. "When you chop down a tree under Kyoto and you burn it, or you alternatively turn it into a high-value coffee table, it's accounted for in exactly the same way. And that is clearly false. "If you burn a tree, obviously the carbon is realised. If you turn it into a coffee table, that carbon is sequestered for life or for a very bloody long time."

Australian National University researchers recently found that old-growth forests in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania stored up to three times the amount of carbon that was previously estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The research - criticised by industry because it was funded by the Wilderness Society, but strongly defended by the ANU - concludes that old-growth forests are more reliable as carbon sinks than as plantations because the latter are more vulnerable to fire, disease and disturbance.

Mr Bartlett is unconvinced. He said the current round of global climate change talks should ensure the carbon-storing abilities of forest products were factored into carbon accounting. "I don't think the logging of old-growth forests is necessarily related to climate change," Mr Bartlett said. "Tasmania emits 1.2 per cent of the nation's emissions and Australia emits 1.5 per cent of the global emissions. And 86 per cent of our old-growth forests (in 2004) remain locked up, never to be touched. "I don't think stopping the logging of old-growth forests in Tasmania is really pivotal to world history when it comes to climate change."


"Prenuptial" rights for same-sex and unmarried couples

I think this is rather a good idea. You should not have to get married in order to have a financial agreement between cohabiting partners

UNMARRIED and same sex-couples may soon be able to sign "prenups", giving de factos many of the same legal rights as those who are wed. Reforms to the Family Law Act before the Senate would allow agreements to be drawn up by de factos to cover spousal and child maintenance, as well as the division of property in the event of a relationship breakup.

The principal of Nicholes Family Lawyers, Sally Nicholes, said the proposed financial agreements were similar to official binding financial agreements or prenuptials as they are widely known.

The bill was circulated in Federal Parliament on September 18 and is awaiting consideration by the Senate. If the legislation is passed, it is expected to be enacted by March. A de facto relationship can be heterosexual or homosexual and can exist even if one of the people involved is legally married to someone else or has another de facto partner. The legislation will also mean that a court can force a partner out of the home if they are violent or acting inappropriately to the other person. "This is pretty dramatic stuff and it is a big change," Ms Nicholes said. "It is going to be huge, particularly with the spousal maintenance. "What I have often found amazing is that someone could be in a de facto relationship for 30 years and have no obligation for spousal maintenance. But you could be married for one year and have more rights."

She agreed that the amendments may make marriage a less attractive prospect for some couples. "It just depends on how legally minded a couple are," she said. "[But] some will come back to romance - to actually get married not for legal reasons, but romance." Ms Nicholes said financial agreements were already common in second marriages or in the case of de facto relationships where people had been married before and were "burnt" by the divorce. Agreements may also be necessary in cases where clients expected large inheritances or to avoid family conflict when one partner comes from greater wealth.

Prenups have been in force in Australia since December 2000, although public perception has changed greatly since then, Ms Nicholes said. "Prior to the introduction of the laws in 2001, public perception did attribute prenups to American legal shows in the realm of Arena Becker from LA Law," she said. "The profession has seen a request from average Joes who simply want to control their affairs and determine their destiny rather than [allow] a court [to]. "They may have seen friends or relatives at the end of a harrowing divorce litigation and knowing such agreements are in force, chose to enter into them to control their affairs in the event of a relationship breakdown."

Under the legislation, courts will determine whether a couple are involved in a de facto relationship by taking a number of factors into account, including the duration of the partnership, whether they are living together, whether a sexual relationship exists, the degree of financial dependence and the ownership of property.


Monday, October 20, 2008


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on the Labor Party rout in the NSW by-elections.

I am guilty as charged of bias and prejudice

By Peter Slezak

Sleazy Peter is not joking in the article excerpted below. He is indeed a far-Leftist bigot, though one with a nice voice. He is even one of those most execrable characters: An anti-Israel Jew. But everything he says below is reasonable -- on one condition: That viewpoints opposed to his are also frequently presented to students. That does not happen, of course. If he really believed in the sorts of things he advocates below, he would be preaching conservatism and reaction to his students -- because no-one else is. When will his students hear a lecture from Peter on the good points of the old White Australia policy, for instance? There is a philosophically-sophisticated lecture outline for him here. Such a lecture would be a REAL Socratic challenge to authority

I should probably be writing under a pseudonym. If submissions to the Senate inquiry into bias and academic freedom are taken seriously, I'm in trouble. As a university lecturer, I confess my teaching and publications are thoroughly biased, riddled with prejudice and entirely lacking in even-handedness.

I am undeniably guilty of the sins the submissions warn against. My reading lists are not representative of all points of view. My lectures not only criticise but sometimes ridicule views I regard as misguided and pernicious nonsense - often the views of other colleagues. I vigorously assert my prejudices without any pretence of neutrality. I confront my students and provoke them to defend their views, especially when I disagree with them, which is most of the time. In short, I am precisely the kind of academic who some submissions propose to deal with by means that include disciplinary procedures and even sacking.....

Like regular charges of left-wing bias against the ABC, the moral panic evident in submissions to the Senate inquiry rests on a certain implicit, though questionable, assumption - namely, that only deviation from prevailing orthodoxy constitutes bias. Conventional views are presumed neutral, and the possibility is never entertained they may be invisibly, systematically biased in the other direction. It follows that the regular complaints of bias and proposed remedies are a form of harassment designed to maintain doctrinal conformity....

However, the highest educational ideals require precisely the reverse attitude - that is, encouraging the exploration of alternatives to preferred, taken-for-granted views. As Bertrand Russell remarked, education should make students think, not to think what their teacher (or government) thinks.....

In his classic 1859 essay On Liberty, J.S. Mill famously articulated the principles at stake: the need to protect and, indeed, encourage unpopular opinion against the "tyranny of the majority". This tyranny may be "more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since... it leaves fewer means of escape .... enslaving the soul itself".

Mill argues counter-intuitively that preventing opinions from being heard because they are regarded as not merely false but immoral, impious or pernicious is the case that is "most fatal", for "these are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity".

Socrates and Christ were put to death for challenging authority. Mill says their executors were not bad men; on the contrary they were "men who possessed in a full, or somewhat more than a full measure, the religious, moral, and patriotic feelings of their time and people".


'Activist' academics black-list under fire

Academics named as militant left-wing ideologues in a black list tabled in federal parliament claim they are victims of a Young Liberals "witch-hunt". While many of the black-listed academics admit that humanities and social science faculties are dominated by progressives, they say bias is not a serious problem in Australian universities. The list of more than 30 academics who are described as "unashamed activists for political and ideological causes such as radical feminism, animal rights and gay rights" has been published on the Young Liberals' website. It was submitted to a Senate inquiry on academic freedom in schools and universities.

Among those on the Young Liberals' list are controversial philosopher Peter Singer, feminist and activist Eva Cox, former ABC Four Corners producer and now journalism lecturer Peter Manning, and UNSW's Sarah Maddison. [What? The openly Communist Hannah Middleton is missed out?]

"The way they've gone about this has the smell of a witch-hunt," said Dr Maddison, senior associate dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of NSW. "They don't want to create public discussion about the quality of education, they want to score political points." Dr Maddison - an expert in women's rights and indigenous politics - said "there is probably a grain of truth" in the notion that humanities academics are more left-wing than the general population. Regular student feedback surveys and existing grievance policies already protected against bias, she said. [How?]

UNSW deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Richard Henry said he had full confidence in the independence and integrity of his staff. "It's ironic that in the name of academic freedom people have created a black list that decreases academic freedom." He said the Senate inquiry into academic freedom - due to report on November 11 - was a waste of taxpayers' money.

Young Liberals national president Noel McCoy, who compiled the list from student complaints and his own Google searching, disagreed. "We don't want a dependent society of zombies who have only had the opportunity to hear one set of ideas," he said. Mr McCoy said that 49 out of the 68 submissions to the inquiry argued that bias was a problem in Australian schools and universities.

Wendy Bacon, program director of journalism at Sydney's University of Technology, said the list was about "mud-slinging and branding", not academic freedom. [Wendy comes from an old Communist family and has been far-Left as long as anyone can remember]


WA coroner's call to kill free speech

Evelyn is out of her depth. The old "D notice" system dealt with this problem. It just was not used

Western Australia's deputy coroner says police should be given powers to suppress news reports that may compromise their investigations. But media experts have attacked the proposal as an affront to free speech that would put WA in danger of becoming a police state.

The calls for new police powers follow a year of scrutiny of Perth media, including a raid on the Sunday Times newspaper by armed police in an attempt to find the source of a story that embarrassed the previous Carpenter government. The Corruption and Crime Commission has also used its extraordinary powers to grill six journalists in private hearings in the past two years in an effort to identify their sources.

Deputy coroner Evelyn Vicker made the recommendation while handing down her findings into the death of convicted murderer Simon Rochford, who committed suicide in his Albany Prison cell just hours after seeing a television news report in May 2006 naming him as the new suspect in a high-profile murder case. Rochford became embroiled in the 1994 Pamela Lawrence murder after a police cold case review discovered a previously unidentified palm print from the crime scene. Andrew Mallard's 1995 conviction for the Lawrence murder was quashed by the High Court in 2005.

Ms Vicker found that the ABC television news report naming Rochford "precipitated" his decision to commit suicide. Ms Vicker recommended that the Government consider giving WA police legislative power to seek an order suppressing information that might seriously compromise an ongoing investigation into a serious offence.

But Joseph Fernandez, a journalism lecturer at Curtin University, said the proposal was disturbing. "I fear that what we are witnessing is the laying of foundations of insidious creep of control over freedom of speech in general and the media's freedom to investigate and report on matters of public interest," he said.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance state secretary Michael Sinclair-Jones said such powers would be an affront to the public's right to know. "WA is in danger of becoming a police state where the public right to know is treated as a crime," he said. "Police are already in serious trouble over the wrongful jailing of Andrew Mallard for 12 years. Now authorities want greater secrecy. It's absurd."

He said senior police had every opportunity to ask the ABC's crime reporter, Sue Short, not to name Rochford as a suspect and to warn prison authorities that Rochford would be named in the news bulletin. "Had police taken either step, Mr Rochford might still be alive," he said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said he would consider giving police new suppression powers. "As far as the recommendation that legislative action is required, I am open minded to such an approach and will seek further advice on how such legislation might be effected," he said. "There is a balance that must be found when it comes to freedom of information on the one hand and the need for police to conduct operations out of the public eye, on the other."

Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said he would seek legal advice on how police powers to suppress information would work and whether such powers would be in the public interest. "Ultimately the decision to grant police such powers rests with the Government," he said.

Ms Vicker found that police did not directly ask Ms Short not to name Rochford. She recommended that in the future police formally request a story not to be published when it believed the information would seriously prejudice an investigation. Recommendations were also made for police to use a more collaborative approach when dealing with the media. It was also recommended that police inform prison staff of significant events in the investigation of sentenced prisoners.


Climate plan to cause huge unemployment

More than ever, it is all about numbers in the political arena at the moment as the Rudd Government confronts the global market meltdown and the steps needed to counter the dangers of economic recession. Employment statistics, declining economic growth data and billions of dollars pumped into selected community pockets to encourage retail spending are all suddenly news.

Which makes it the more interesting that Climate Change Minister Penny Wong could deliver a 14-page speech last week to the London School of Economics on the Government's emissions trading plans without even mentioning the challenge of implementing the policy while not losing many of the million-plus people employed in Australia's energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries. The speech was delivered far away as the $10.4 billion Rudd rescue package for retailers, via consumer pockets, was being unveiled, so it slipped under the domestic media radar.

Wong found time and space to trot out statistics about Australia's per capita emissions but not to mention that more than 70per cent of the growth in national electricity consumption since 1990 has been business related and facilitated by access tosome of the world's cheapest, coal-fired power. In round terms, power stations in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, which supply most of Australia's power and a large part of generation-based emissions, are burning 20million tonnes more black coal and 21.5million tonnes more brown coal today than in 1990, and this is feeding business demand that is three-quarters more than it was then.

One-third of total electricity consumed is used by the energy-intensive manufacturers, another number that would have provided context to the data used by Wong.

She took the opportunity of the speech, delivered soon after her colleague Wayne Swan had ducked a television current affairs question about whether the global crisis might cause the Government to put off implementation of emissions trading, to strenuously assert the need for sticking to the mid-2010 deadline.

There is another set of numbers that may be of some interest to the Treasurer - and to Kevin Rudd - in the context of ensuring that the community is able to continue to spend enough to sustain the national economy. They are to be found in Australian Bureau of Statistics data on employment and pay in Australian manufacturing industries. The latest ABS data shows that the manufacturing sector employed 1,063,000 people directly in 2006 and paid them $51billion in salaries and wages.

Wong managed to devote almost two pages of her LSE speech to the hypothetical potential for Australia to become a world leader in clean energy, a regional hub for global trading in emissions and a bigger agricultural product power in the world as a result of an aggressive approach to greenhouse gas abatement without even a passing glance for what jobs already exist here and how much they are worth to the economy.

The additional jobs downstream of manufacturing businesses are harder to calculate but, as an example, the pulp and paper manufacturing industry, which employs 19,000 people, mainly in rural and regional communities, has undertaken research that shows it generates 1.3 indirect jobs for every direct one. Which tends to suggest that manufacturers overall could be responsible for another million jobs in businesses servicing their operations.

The "unintended consequence" risks of emissions trading to the economy are well illustrated by the pulp and paper mills. They have virtually no capability to pass on extra costs to customers because they are exposed to vigorous international competition - from countries such as China, Brazil and Indonesia - within Australia as well as overseas. Overseas suppliers have managed to grab 40per cent of the Australian papermarket. As the sector is striving to get across to Wong and her colleagues, if the domestic mills become non-viable and close in the medium term, there is a flow-through effect to tree growers and sawmillers.

Overall, the forest industry employs more than 80,000 Australians. Ultimately, argue the millers, if they fail, fewer trees will be planted (because the growers have less income), less timber will be available to the construction industry (because the sawmillers will be less viable) and more concrete and steel will be used in buildings, involving an increase in carbon emissions.

How much of this information will be on the table when federal cabinet finally comes to make a decision about emissions trading - not just when to introduce it but, even more important, how to support emissions-intensive, trade-exposed domestic industries against global rivals - is anybody's guess. Wong's focus is transparently on positioning the Government on the high ground for the critical negotiations on a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty at a meeting to be held in Copenhagen in 14 months. Who in the cabinet, therefore, has responsibility for ensuring that this ground is not made up of the rubble of the Australian manufacturing sector?


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Only the best will do for Greenies

A government department advocating environmentally-friendly practices used $18,000 worth of paper shipped from Italy to print a report. The highly-awaited draft report of climate change economist Ross Garnaut snubbed Australian-made paper in favour of a better-quality Italian brand.

The printing costs of the report, released in July, left taxpayers with a bill of $70,000 for the 600 copies, a Question on Notice asked by Liberal Party Tasmania Senator Eric Abetz revealed. However, when asked how many "carbon miles" were used to bring the paper into Australia, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said it had not been calculated or offset.

She said her department picked up the tab for printing the report and 9Lives80 paper was used because all "virgin pulp used in manufacture is derived from well-managed forests and manufactured by certified mills". "There were two Australian-made options which were assessed by the printer as being of lower quality," she said.

Senator Wong said Professor Garnaut's travel and accommodation expenses paid by the department had reached $14,000 at August 13. She said the department had also provided him with $200,000 in staffing resources. "The department pays 35 per cent of Professor Garnaut's total mobile phone bill," she said. "As at August 13, $1539.45 has been paid by the Department of Climate Change. "Professor Garnaut has not been provided with a Commonwealth vehicle nor has he chosen to claim his vehicle allowance."

The revelations came as new information revealed that millions of dollars were spent on wages for media management and public affairs by the Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts Department and its agencies. A Question on Notice by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Nick Minchin of the Liberal Party, revealed that about 64 staff have been employed to disseminate the Government's spin. Wages for the staff have reached about $4.5 million a year.

The department, headed by Environment Minister Peter Garrett, directly employed 28 people who were "responsible for communicating and raising awareness of Australian Government policies and programs". The other staff were shared between nine government agencies.


Elitist advertisements for Australia will appeal to few

It's no-spin name spells it out: Tourism Australia is meant to sell Australia to tourists. Lots of them. But now check Tourism Australia's new Come Walkabout ads: it's decided instead to sell spiritual therapy to urban salvation-seekers. These two commercials, released this week and destined for screening in 22 countries, are invitations to a church, not a holiday. And to a very exclusive, family-unfriendly church, with not even the hint this time of Lara Bingle's famous bouncing breasts.

Sigh. Loosen up, guys. Once again, the taxpayer-funded Tourism Australia has fallen to the modern temptation to preach, rather than please. Forgetting its last disaster, it's spending $40 million to advertise not Australia, but its own chic, green-tinged sensibilities. What's most remarkable is not that director Baz Luhrmann's new ads are the first for Tourism Australia that spend more time on New York and Shanghai than on the country they're actually meant to be selling. It's that the only glimpses shown of Australia are of the very bits few foreign tourists bother to visit.

Forget Sydney, with its bridge or Opera House. The Gold Coast, with its hotels. The Reef, with its resorts. Melbourne, with its MCG. Ha! That's just where the crude crowds in their novelty T-shirts flock by the planeload. This time we're flogging places where few tourist buses go and no trains reach - outback places where jaded urbanites fancy they can commune with the Nature gods of tribal peoples, far from modern man and his buildings.

Luhrmann actually opens one of his two commercials in rainy New York, showing us a chic professional woman, perched over a late-night laptop, and losing it with the stress. Her partner is whingeing to her on the phone: "It's always work. You're not the same person I fell in love with." A hundred years ago, a woman in such existential despair may have consulted a priest. Thirty years ago, she'd go for a shrink. And 10 years ago, she'd go to a life-skills workshop by some guru she saw on Oprah. But this is 2008, and salvation comes instead from a little Aboriginal boy, near naked, whose mere presence turns off televisions, computers and all the electronic machines of busy-busy. He pours sparkling red dust in her hand and whispers: "Sometimes we have to get lost to find ourselves, sometimes we have to go walkabout." How wonderfully mystic! And just how I plan my own holidays, consulting not a travel brochure but a fistful of dirt.

Only then does Luhrmann shift the scene to Australia, with Professional Woman and Whinger plunging into what may look like the pure waters of Katherine Gorge, but is actually Nature's own baptismal font. You see, these urban spiritualists have just been reborn. Professional Woman emerges glowing newly, and the captions proclaim: "She arrived as Ms K. Mathieson, Executive VP of Sales. She departed as Kate." As Luhrmann, director of Moulin Rouge, explains: "The land itself, the place itself, transforms her character." Mine, too, as you can tell.

Lurhmann's Shanghai ad tells of the same awakening. This time it's a stressed, emotionally dead Chinese finance manager who gets dust dropped into his hand, leading him to dance at dusk on a dining table set on a patch of our vast Outback. How marvellously that will play to the kind of privileged professionals who salve their monied conscience by buying Wilderness Society calendars for their en suite and carrying their French brie home in green bags.

But I'm looking at these ads as an ever-eager tourist and wondering, what would my kids be doing while I bathed in spirituality? Where would we shop afterwards? Where would we stay? How much time and money would it take to actually get to these distant places? And what would we do the next day? Oops. Did I just break wind in church? But you see, there's a reason why just 150 foreign tourists a day visit Katherine Gorge, many of them backpackers with skinny wallets not worth fighting over. And there's a reason you'll find tens of thousands at places where there's plenty to see, lots to do and enough Australians around to make them feel welcome. Like reef cruises. Wildlife parks. Big cities. Stuff for the kids.

Most tourists are, after all, more pragmatic than religious, and want to fill their too-few days of vacation with fun and value, rather than ommmms and clapping sticks, with a long and dusty trek afterwards to the airport. I'd have thought Tourism Australia knew that already, given the history of its own ad campaigns.

Paul Hogan's "shrimp on the barbie" ads, after all, remain the most famous and loved, remembered even today by many who saw them 20 years ago. How irresistible was his Australia - of beaches, bikinis, barbecues and an Opera House on the sun-lit harbour. It was an Australia populated by charming people who said "g'day" in charming accents, and not at all like Luhrmann's - at its best without a local to be seen or endured. It worked, of course. Tourism to Australia doubled in the five years Hogan's ads played.

But such happy populism has always had its critics in our creative class. The artist-feeding Australia Council, for instance, said the Hogan ads made it "cringe", and Tourism Australia must have grown equally sensitive because in 2004 it decided to give us more tone. You won't remember most of the ads it shot in that $120 million "See Australia" campaign because half were so bad they were scrapped before they were even released.

One showed Aboriginal artist Barbara Weir, sitting in red dirt in faded clothes, quoting DH Lawrence in her local language and painting dots. Another had poet Les Murray reciting lines from his work: "Shorts in that plain like are an angelic nudity. Spirituality with pockets!" And a third had a Brett Whiteley seascape come to animated life, to the gasps of Michael Parkinson. They may have catered only to our pretentions, but the Australia Council hailed them as "sophisticated, subtle and sexy". Yes, as travel ads they worked. Trouble was, those who saw them wanted to travel fast to any place but where they were, or were watching.

Chastened, Tourism Australia flicked the switch back to more traditional fare of kangaroos on golf courses and Bingle on the beach wondering: "Where the bloody hell are you?" - perky stuff that saw traffic to its website leap 30 per cent in a year.

But the arts lovers have waited for their chance to seize back Tourism Australia, which seems the last battlefield of the culture wars. And now they have it. The Bingle ads were a bungle, declares new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - "a rolled gold disaster" - overlooking the fact that any dip in tourism had more to do with our dollar having gone up a third in value, pricing us out of many budgets.

So now we have Luhrmann, selling his Church of New Age Australia. What was Tourism Australia thinking? Well, maybe it figured it could double the impact of its tight budget by commissioning ads that tie in closely to Lurhmann's outback epic, Australia, out in cinemas next month. I guess it's banking on the film being a look-at-us smash, even though it stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

But I suspect from the launch ads that Luhrmann may have also given in to the fashionable urge to improve us locals, rather than lure in strangers. In introducing the star of his ads, 12-year-old Brandon Walters, also in Australia, he made a boast that showed his heart of Reconciliation gold: "Our next leading man is about four foot high, (with) long, sort of gold hair, and is an Aboriginal boy." A sweet and noble art-house conceit. But rather unlikely, to be bluntly pragmatic. Which is a lot like the vision sold by Tourism Australia's ads, really, and the hopes that rest on them.


A disastrously mismanaged NSW ambulance service

After a decade of wall-to-wall inquiries, the NSW Ambulance Service still fails its noble undertaking on care, at least to its own workers. As health mottos go, the NSW Ambulance Service's Excellence in Care is an efficient mantra. But once the service had loftier ambitions. "Together," said its old motto, "we will be the world leader in ambulance services, providing a shield of protection to our community." Now its ability to deliver excellence and protection has been questioned. How can it deliver to the community, when it cannot guarantee a protective work culture for its employees?

The ambulance service has been the subject of 11 inquiries since 2001; the latest, expected to hand down its findings on Monday, has been inundated with hundreds of disturbing stories of abuse, bullying and harassment. Barely 24 hours before the NSW upper house inquiry began in July, a Premier's Department review of the service concluded serious operational and workforce issues were harming the welfare of ambulance officers.

In opening the upper house inquiry, the chairwoman Robyn Parker said it was called in response to concerns "raised by ambulance officers and the community with members of Parliament and in the public domain regarding, in particular, bullying, harassment, intimidation and occupational health and safety issues". Parker said this week that a decade of ignoring the issue had to stop. "I guess what I really feel personally now is that I see an ambulance officer and I want to go up and hug them . We call triple-0 and we expect them to turn up and we don't expect that they're not treated well. "The community holds them in such high regard yet the services and the structure and the government is not matching that with the resources they need to do the job. The ambulance service has got to breaking point."

The inquiry heard tales of officers unable to endure the lengthy complaints management system - criticised by the Health Services Union as being so aggressive it was a form of bullying in itself - who gave up and went on stress leave.Others obtained apprehended violence orders against officers; some committed suicide. For too many officers, management's repeated failure to even address their problems exacerbated their pain.

The service has responded. A harassment taskforce was set up last year, and a healthy workforce summit was held last May. Still, ambulance service research shows 75 per cent of the 3105 paramedics are unhappy and the rate of sick leave outstrips the average for other health department employees, including nurses.

Officers have inquiry fatigue and say significant cultural change in dealing with bullying and harassment will not occur without an overhaul of the executive. They are also critical of the union for apparent inaction. They hold out some hope this inquiry will be different, given its independence from ministers and ambulance bureaucrats, but acknowledge implementation of recommendations depends on government.

Carlo Caponecchia, a University of NSW psychologist, told the inquiry that bullying and harassment were unsurprising, given the stress in ambulance officers' jobs. "Things like fatigue, rostering, being stationed in the country without ever knowing when you are going to leave, lack of career progression - all these kinds of things . need to be dealt with." Caponecchia said there was no evidence to suggest bullying and harassment in the ambulance service was worse than elsewhere. But workers' health and wellbeing were affected, regardless of the individual's personality.

The director-general of NSW Health, Professor Debora Picone, told the inquiry the ambulance service tended to operate on an old-fashioned "command and control type structure from the military" that was at the root of some of its bullying and harassment problems. Picone believes that bullying and harassment are "in pockets rather than widespread". Bullying and harassment are compounded by workplace and operational problems. Officers complained of the difficulty of getting holidays or transfers approved, of the lack of counselling after traumatic events, and how overtime was essential to a satisfactory wage, yet it caused fatigue.

Face-to-face counselling was used 544 times in the past 12 months, but Picone told the inquiry post-traumatic support was employed only once. This raises questions about the adequacy of "debriefing" services, particularly as international research shows stress is one factor increasing the likelihood of workplace bullying.

The ambulance service's chief executive, Greg Rochford, concedes that officers have traditionally been promoted to management without being trained in people skills or conflict resolution. And Picone says it is planned to have all 400 operational managers trained in complaints handling by the end of the year.

But Dennis Ravlich, a Health Services Union official, was scathing at the inquiry about the service's inability to turn things around. "The Premier's Department review and a number of reviews that we have participated in over the previous eight or nine years consistently identify issues that the service needs to do better. Yet no one is accountable, 10 or eight years later." He said that in investigating complaints or disciplinary matters the service's professional standards and conduct unit "has almost institutionalised a rather aggressive approach to staff - indeed, almost to the point of being harassing in itself", and that reports on bullying allegations "drop into a big black abyss".

Parker told the Herald on Thursday: "This has gone for so long, and the chief executive officer [Greg Rochford] and the Government has been clearly aware of this issue for more than 10 years now, and a broom needs to be swept through the service, starting at the top. "Ambulance officers painted a bleak picture of their workplace. It was just so dysfunctional, the morale so low. There was so much unresolved conflict and time and time again we heard about this nepotistic old boys' club; it just has to change."

More here

Labor Party punished in NSW, ACT elections

It might be noted that the Labor party also lost control of Western Australia recently. The widespread losses should keep Kevvy from getting too cocky

NEW South Wales Labor's worst by-election fears have been realised, with massive swings against the state government in three Sydney seats yesterday including a rout by the Liberal Party in the seat of Ryde. Labor is set to suffer swings of at least 20 per cent against it in Ryde and Cabramatta and a double-digit swing in Lakemba.

Liberal candidate Victor Dominello has claimed victory in Ryde, previously held by former deputy premier John Watkins by a 10 per cent margin. It was the first time the north-western Sydney seat has been won on the primary vote. While in Cabramatta the count will go to preferences, the predicted 22 per cent swing to Liberal candidate Dai Le will not be enough for her to wrest the seat from Labor's Nick Lalich. Former minister Reba Meagher held the seat for the ALP with a 29 per cent margin.

Labor's Rob Furolo has retained former premier Morris Iemma's vacated seat of Lakemba. But Liberal Michael Hawatt has eroded the 34 per cent margin previously held by Labor and ended its time as the ALP's safest seat in the state. The Greens also enjoyed success in Lakemba, more than tripling their primary vote from the 2007 state election.

Premier Nathan Rees had expected his government would receive a "kick in the pants'' for its poor performance in the 18 months since the 2007 election. A spokesman for the premier tonight said that was exactly what the government had received. "The voters in these three electorates have sent a very strong message and we have heard their message loud and clear,'' he said. "The people of NSW expect big changes and we now begin the task of rebuilding the credibility in this government brick by brick and delivering the services that they expect.''

Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said the strong showing from the Liberal Party in all three by-elections showed that people want change in NSW. "It's a verdict on the future and it demonstrated that people have voted to start the change - change to open, honest and accountable government,'' Mr O'Farrell said. "One that finally focuses on people's needs, not on the needs of politicians.''

The Liberal's coalition partners, the Nationals, appear to have failed in their bid to reclaim their once-safe seat of Port Macquarie on the mid-north coast. The seat was vacated by former National-turned-independent MP Rob Oakeshott when he made a successful transition to federal parliament. Mr Oakeshott's former staffer Peter Besseling looks set to keep the seat in the hands of the independents, fending off the Nationals' Leslie Williams. With seven independents on the card, the seat will be decided on preferences.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Most say crime sentences are too lenient

People have been saying this for years but governments would rather hire more clerks than build more prisons. The bureaucrat below tries to spin his way out of the obvious but my own study of the matter is not suceptible to the evasions which are possible when interpreting the simple-minded survey reported below

Two thirds of NSW people surveyed on public confidence in the legal system believe criminal sentences are too lenient, a new report claims. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research's first report on public confidence in sentencing and knowledge of the legal system says 66 per cent feel sentences are either "a little lenient" or "much too lenient".

However, BOCSAR director Don Weatherburn said many of the 2000 people surveyed were also misinformed or "seriously mistaken" about crime and the criminal justice system. "When we analyse the data we found that those most dissatisfied with the justice system are also the most mistaken about crime conviction and sentencing," he told reporters today.

Dr Weatherburn said the high level of dissatisfaction could not be simply dismissed as a case of "public ignorance", as some concerns might be justified. But he said the media, and particularly talkback radio and tabloid newspapers, were responsible for misconceptions. "Most of the influential sources of information about the criminal justice system is the media, that's why it's so important for the media to get the facts right," Dr Weatherburn said. "That's something which I think in my experience increasingly is not happening."

Retired Supreme Court judge John Dunford, who is also deputy chair of the NSW Sentencing Council, told reporters more needed to be done to educate people about the sentencing process and dispel the myths.

Dr Weatherburn said if people did not have faith in the system there was a risk they would take matters into their own hands. "I think it's dangerous for people to lose confidence in the justice system when there isn't sufficient ground to do so," he said. "I think that's the worry, when people start thinking the justice system is not doing its job and they start thinking they should take justice into their own hands."

The survey found 72 per cent of people are "very" or "fairly confident" the justice system respected the rights of accused persons and treated them fairly. Just over half were "confident" or "very confident" that the criminal justice system brought people to justice.


Public broadcaster reform

The devil will be in the detail. Focusing on board membership is in any case a red herring. The board has little influence on programming. It is the hard-Left staff who are the big political problem

The ABC and SBS face a possible merger and their boards are to be "de-politicised" in sweeping reforms announced by the Federal Government. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy signalled that the ABC and SBS were facing significant challenges and needed better accountability. Among the more contentious proposals is the possible merger of some ABC and SBS operations, including transmission and some operations.

Politicians and their staff will be banned from the boards so prime ministers can't make appointments from "Christmas card lists". Senator Conroy said former prime minister John Howard had used his "Christmas card list" in determining who should fill positions on the boards. Board vacancies will now be filled by public advertisements - beginning today. Former politicians and senior political staff will be ineligible for selection.

Senator Conroy yesterday also released a new discussion paper on the "digital future" of the two national public broadcasters, canvassing a range of ideas including that some aspects be shared. Senator Conroy and ABC managing director Mark Scott said potential savings from pooling some functions should be examined. "We think there are opportunities for efficiencies to be made whilst ensuring the independence and integrity of two great public broadcasters," Mr Scott said. "Of course that should be investigated properly."

The position of a staff-elected director to the ABC board will be reinstated and applications for board vacancies will be assessed by a nomination panel set up at "arm's length" from the minister. The measures, based on election commitments, will be outlined in draft legislation to be introduced soon.

A discussion paper on "merit and transparency" to the ABC and SBS boards said public broadcasters needed to have the best-qualified and most experienced members to meet future challenges. "With the expected proliferation of internet-based services, traditional broadcasting may not continue to hold the same degree of influence it had in an analog world," the paper said.

And it means current or former local, state or federal parliamentarians will be ineligible for appointment, as will current or former senior political staff. The prime minister will select the ABC chairman in consultation with the minister of the day. The prime minister will then consult with cabinet and the opposition leader before making a recommendation to the governor-general.

Consultation will allow the public to have their say on the future of the ABC and SBS over the next two months. The Government will consider submissions ahead of the next three-year funding agreement for national broadcasters, which begins in the middle of next year.


More deadbeat NSW public hospitals

How disgraceful that it takes big publicity in order to get a hospital to pay its bills

Shoalhaven Hospital, on the South Coast, came close to halting all surgery recently because it had just a day's worth of sterilisation solution left due to unpaid bills, a senior doctor says. The head of surgery, Associate Professor Martin Jones, told the Herald the hospital was also put on "stop supply" 10 days ago for cataract lenses - the second time in two months - by a supplier tired of waiting for bills to be paid. "We just haven't paid our bills," he said. "All the sterilisation in theatre was coming to an end and we didn't have the supply to go for more than 24 hours. "The hospital would have to close . because nothing would be sterilised."

He said the bill was paid urgently and the supply ban lifted after he had wasted considerable time chasing management about the problem. "We who are working on the ground in getting the simple operations done to look after the rural people of the health service just don't need that as a frustration," he said. "We do run very close to the bone in a large number of supply goods."

The Herald understands tens of millions of dollars are owed to medical suppliers by four area health services - Northern Sydney Central Coast, Greater Southern, South Eastern Sydney Illawarra and Greater Western. The NSW Health Department has refused to reveal how much it owes and has gagged its area health services. South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Health did not respond to Professor Jones's claims.

The state Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said she had been contacted by several businesses over recent months complaining about unpaid bills. One company, Leeton Diagnostic Imaging, confirmed yesterday it was owed $35,752 from May until two weeks ago. Yass air-conditioning mechanic Touie Smith was owed $18,386.50 for accumulated bills from April until the end of August, when they were finally paid.

Roger Christie, who owns Merimbula Taxi Service, said he has been owed $4423.65 since July for transporting patients and blood from Pambula to Bega hospital. As he has the only taxi service in the area he said he felt obliged to continue servicing the health department. "Obviously, I would prefer the money was in my bank and not their's. It's an ongoing thing. I got a call at 1.30 this morning to take blood . because someone had a car accident. It was an emergency so I can't really say no," he said.

The State Government has had to release $11 million urgently in the past few weeks to cover debts to suppliers after many refused to grant credit to NSW hospitals.


Homosexual marriage issue back on the boil

Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has carpeted one of his own backbenchers as tensions flare in the Coalition over changes to same-sex laws. In a key test of Coalition partyroom unity, Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has slammed the proposed changes as "offensive". He said they would make same-sex couples "virtually identical" to conventional marriage.

Amid concerns the Liberal leader is taking the party too far to the Left, several Coalition MPs claim Mr Turnbull's support is driven by concerns about a voter backlash in his inner-Sydney seat. "Malcolm views everything through the prism of how it will play out in Wentworth," one Liberal MP said.

The proposed changes to same-sex laws are designed to ensure these couples enjoy the same financial and work-related entitlements as opposite-sex families. But a Senate committee has raised concerns over the legislative changes, which refer to children as a "product" of a relationship. This has incensed some Coalition MPs who claim the laws will undermine traditional marriage. Senator Bernardi claimed the changes suggested mothers were "little more than an incubator".

Mr Turnbull has been a long-standing advocate of gay rights -- his electorate has the largest gay population of any electorate in Australia. He spoke to Senator Bernardi after his parliamentary spray and sources claimed the talks were robust. Senator Bernardi refused to comment last night. He had claimed the draft laws would undermine traditional marriage, which had taken a "beating" during the past 30 years. "We do not expect the RSL to broaden their membership to include bohemian peaceniks, we do not ask the Country Women's Association to include men and we do not ask the National Rugby League or the AFL to include women in their teams," Senator Bernardi said. "Why is it then that we defy the same sort of logic when it comes to marriage?"

The Liberal senator said he knew he would be called a "homophobe" but other Liberal MPs also worry the Coalition is racing to back the Government's reforms before proper debate. Former Howard government minister Chris Ellison blasted the Coalition's shadow attorney-general George Brandis during a lively partyroom debate this week.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Greenie crocodile stupidity

There's tens of thousands of them in the far North; probably hundreds of thousands. There is no way they would be "endangered" if all the ones found in close proximity to people were shot immediately. Two separate stories below:

1). A huge crocodile has been terrorising road workers building a bridge in the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland's northwest after a rival male was shot and beheaded by trophy hunters. Wildlife rangers revealed the 5.8m crocodile had become highly aggressive in the aftermath of the illegal killing three weeks ago of its smaller rival.

Police and Environmental Protection Agency officers have been investigating the mystery shooting, which has upset both locals and crocodiles. Officers said the big croc has since been stalking and lunging at construction crews working on the Albert River near Burketown. "He is a monster and he is very upset," said Carpentaria Land Council ranger co-ordinator Kevin Anderson. "He has been hanging around the bridge and snapping and lunging at anything in the water. Those workers need eyes in their backsides."

Mr Anderson said the huge bull croc became enraged when the dead body of the killed crocodile, a rival male living upstream, floated through his territory. Workers at the construction site used a large crane to pull the dead 4.4m reptile from the water. It had a bullet wound in its side. Later that night, an unknown "trophy hunter" cut off its head.

Penalties for killing a crocodile, protected under law, include fines up to $15,000.

Meanwhile, the 4.3m crocodile believed to have taken tourist Arthur Booker near Cooktown two weeks ago will probably go to a crocodile farm. Under the State's crocodile management plan no animal involved in an attack is allowed to be put on display. "It will not be released back into the wild," a spokeswoman said. "As it is an iconic animal, the crocodile will not be harmed or killed."

Two smaller crocs trapped in the Endeavour River near where Booker disappeared will probably be released.


2). Rangers have released photographs of a 3.5m male saltwater crocodile lurking in the waterways of a Queensland island popular for swimming. The crocodile has mainly taken up residence in the mangroves of Magnetic Island, which is a short ocean ferry ride from the city of Townsville Queensland's far north, the Townsville Bulletin reports.

Outspoken Kennedy MP Bob Katter yesterday slammed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for monitoring rather than removing the large predator from an area frequented by swimmers. The saltwater croc surfaced in the island's Cockle Bay last week, around the corner from the main swimming area in Picnic Bay.

The EPA said there had not been any further sightings of the reptile, however if spotted again in the area, it would be removed if it was deemed a problem. An agency spokeswoman yesterday said rangers believed the croc had moved away from the island again.

However, Mr Katter accused the agency of putting the animal ahead of humans. "It will remain in a situation where it can continue to threaten human beings," he said. "The prevailing attitude is quite extraordinary. "The number of people who would protect crocodiles and not human beings is significant. "If they love this crocodile so much, I strongly recommend they spend more time with it, and less time with the human beings, for which they have no respect at all. "There's been a human being torn to pieces here."


Football "too rough" for schoolkids

There are many reasons to say that very active sports are good for kids so banning them for everybody instead of dealing with the troublemakers is just cowardice

Touch football and soccer have been banned from the playground at Coombabah State School, as well as rougher full contact games such as rugby league, AFL and rugby union.

Yesterday, a number of outraged students took part in a protest against the new rules. But the school says those students could now face disciplinary action.The blanket ban on all contact sports, which only applies to Year 7 students, comes after reports of fighting during games. The schoolyard games, including football and soccer, which past generations can recall playing every morning tea and lunch breaks, often without supervision, are now being referred to by the school as 'too rough'.The ban will be in place until the end of Term 4, which finishes on December 12. Students will still be allowed to play alternative games during play times, provided they do not fall under the category of those considered 'contact'.

An Education Queensland spokesman from the Department of Education, Training and the Arts said the move was necessary."The safety and welfare of all students is the school's highest priority," he said."The school has been forced to restrict Year 7 students from taking part in contact sports, following a number of recent incidents that have escalated into fights."Coombabah State School does not tolerate bad behaviour, particularly physical aggression between any students."

The department said the ruling by the school had the full support of staff and the school P&C.However, a concerned grandfather, who has a grandchild at the school, contacted The Gold Coast Bulletin yesterday to complain about the new rules.He said he was worried his grandchild might be expelled and did not wish to comment further or be named.

Without the lunchtime games, coupled with the crisis most schools are facing with a lack of volunteer coaches available to supervise team games, some students may miss out on playing contact sports altogether.

Education Queensland said disciplinary action had been taken against students caught fighting and those who showed disrespect to staff trying to manage the situation. "Other students who took part in an unruly protest yesterday against the school directive have been warned they may also face disciplinary action," he said.

The department said the school would be happy to discuss its course of action with any concerned parents.

School principal John Hoskings was not available to comment on the issue yesterday. However, on the school's website, Mr Hoskings' welcome message for parents who have enrolled their students at the school says: "We trust that you and your children will enjoy being a part of our school community and that you will feel confident to join in our school life in whatever capacity you can."It is important for your child that parents and staff have a positive relationship."To this end, we encourage you to make good use of all available channels of communication, thereby providing the best possible support for your child while he or she is at our school."

Coombabah State School was originally built to service the growing population north of Biggera Waters and classes began in 1981.About 850 students attend the school, which is located on Oxley Drive at Paradise Point.


Update: Publicity works wonders

A Gold coast school which caused uproar when it banned touch footy and soccer in lunchbreaks has now suspended six students for rough play. The entire year 7 level at Coombabah State School has been barred from the lunchtime sports for the term because of bouts of fighting that occur during games. Queensland Sports Minister Judy Spence said yesterday the school might have over-reacted, saying teachers needed to step up playground supervision.


Grammar returns in English curriculum revamp

Long overdue -- so long overdue that one wonders where they will find teachers to teach it

Basic English and grammar lessons, downgraded decades ago, will be restored in schools to boost students' slipping spelling and writing skills. Traditional lessons are to be reinstated nationwide after complaints that pupils struggle to form proper sentences and don't understand nouns, verbs, adjectives and punctuation. Schools will also revert to a focus on teaching the alphabet through sounding out letters, known as phonics, rather than by showing pictures on a card displaying the word beneath. It was also announced this week that maths in Australian schools will get a makeover.

The National Curriculum Board will today unveil for public comment recommendations to revamp English from kindergarten to year 12. "Pop culture" English that studies soap operas and mobile phone text-messaging is expected to be scaled down. The emphasis will be on classics by writers such as Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and works by modern authors such as Tim Winton and Peter Carey. The study of literature will be broadened to embrace modern digital technology such as the internet and CD ROMs.

Under proposed changes, bright students in primary school will be given more advanced books to read, and elementary literacy will be reinforced for secondary students falling behind.

It has been revealed that too many students battle to read and write properly. One in five who sat national literacy and numeracy tests in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 this year either fell below the standard or only reached the minimum. Employers, recruitment companies and universities have bemoaned school-leavers' sloppy spelling and writing. "We have to do better," National Curriculum Board chairman Prof Barry McGaw conceded. "Establishing a national English curriculum is an opportunity to raise standards for all young people and to ensure no one slips through the cracks."

The advice is that the subject should be broken into three areas: English as a language, including grammar, punctuation and spelling; literature; and the application of skills to achieve confident and accurate speaking and writing. "A focus on grammar, spelling and conventions of punctuation will be necessary across all stages of schooling," the paper says.

The proposal follows a backlash over the 1970s shift from a grammar-based curriculum. Monash University deems the situation so dire that it's introducing remedial grammar and punctuation classes. The draft says that books, novels, short stories, poetry, drama, movies and documentaries should be introduced progressively from early years.

Education Minister Julia Gillard this week raised concerns about falling reading performance among 15-year-olds. Australian students still score above the OECD average, but have slumped from second to sixth in recent years. The National Curriculum Board is remodelling English, history, maths and science curriculums. The new framework will be introduced by 2011.


Migration not helping skills shortage

The Immigration Department has admitted tertiary enrolments are failing to meet state and territory demands for graduates in mining, construction and nursing, despite an overhaul of the skilled migration system to meet the labour shortage. The surge in vocational education and training and intensive English-language courses for overseas students was in areas "which appear to be outside those demanded", senior Immigration official Peter Speldewinde told a Brisbane conference.

The skilled immigration category was revamped last year to give greater emphasis to speaking English and developing skills among the tens of thousands of overseas students who now go on to form a key plank of the permanent skilled migration program every year. Registered nurses, dentists, engineers, radiographers, urban planners, occupational therapists, electricians, bakers, bricklayers, mechanics, carpenters and chefs are among the top 20 occupational shortage areas identified by the states and territories.

But Immigration Department data shows overseas students under the skilled immigration category are flocking instead into hospitality management, welfare studies, hairdressing, accounting, cookery and computing. There were almost 11,000 course commencements in hospitality, almost 2000 in welfare studies and almost 1500 in hairdressing, all winning valuable points towards permanent residency.

Mr Speldewinde, the department's skilled-migration director, told educators at the conference last Friday that it was "clear there are not so much loopholes, but areas in which (earning) points probably stimulate people to go down certain paths". "Clearly the Migrant Occupation on Demand List (under which migrants get points toward permanent residency) is driving very, very strongly migrants' choices," he said.

Mr Speldewinde said the system was under review to conform with Immigration Minister Chris Evans's aim of ensuring the selection of high-quality skilled migrants who will more directly address labour market shortages. "The focus is on quality, not quantity," he said.

Two of the key architects of last year's reforms, Monash University demographer Bob Birrell, and National Institute of Labour Studies director Sue Richardson, yesterday described as a mixed success the effort to recruit skilled migrants instead of educating younger Australians. Dr Birrell told The Australian "the surge in skilled migration program is not delivering the skills needed in mining and construction industries, and that's the Government's main concern". "More than half the skilled immigrants are settling in Sydney and Melbourne," not in Queensland and Western Australia where they are needed, he said.

Dr Birrell -- a fierce critic of aspects of the migration program -- said that despite the sobering assessment from Mr Speldewinde, Australia was "likely to get better-equipped migrants and it's a good thing Labor has stuck by this initiative of former (Coalition) minister (Kevin) Andrews". "The acknowledgement the system is not serving the country is quite striking, as is vocational education overtaking higher education because it's an easier and cheaper route to permanent residency," he said.

Professor Richardson told The Australian she was concerned that more than half our population growth was now coming from migration rather than births.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The high standards of government schools again

No wonder around 40% of Australian teenagers go to private schools. Government education departments don't give a stuff about anything -- except their tea-breaks, of course. I worked in one once so the story below does not surprise me. "Just don't bother us", is their attitude.

It's the poor who have to put up with all this crap, of course. So we see what the "compassion" of a Leftist government really leads to: The opposite of what it claims. They don't give a stuff about the poor. All they care about is sounding good

The mother of a student at a country primary school plagued by years of inappropriate sexual behaviour between its pupils has hit out at the lack of action by authorities. As revealed by The Advertiser yesterday, a country primary school has reported to the Education Department at least 60 incidents of inappropriate sexual behaviour by its students in the past three years. Among the incidents were boys exposing themselves in class, throwing girls to the ground and simulating sex, pulling down other students' pants and underwear, writing sexually explicit stories and the use of threatening sexual language among students. In one case, a student brought a plastic penis to school and sexually harassed another student. The school's plight only became public after the 28-year-old mother complained to her local MP.

The MP used Freedom of Information laws to obtain pages of school incident reports detailing a catalogue of shocking sexual behaviour since 2006. The mother yesterday told The Advertiser her five-year-old son had only been at the school for a fortnight when he was urinated on twice by another student. "This same child later on knocked a toilet door off and asked him to touch his penis, and this same child was also asking my son and other children at the school for sex," she said.

"We reported it to the school. The school counsellor then told us she had already been into the reception classroom a couple of times to talk about inappropriate sexual behaviour. "As parents, we were never told a counsellor had been having sex education talks with our reception-aged children."

The mother said her 11-year-old daughter also had been the victim of violent sexual threats by boys at the school, who had talked of raping her. "Teachers dismissed that as children just learning a new word over the holidays," she said. The mother, who has since pulled her son out of the school, said Education Department officials only took her complaints seriously after she told them she had met with her local MP.

University of South Australia child development professor Freda Briggs told ABC radio yesterday that "this is the tip of the iceberg". "I'm getting desperate parents ringing me every other week about this sort of thing," she said. "We are dealing with teachers ignorance and also ignorance in the department."

Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni yesterday called on Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith to explain what was being done to address the problem. "The Minister repeatedly refused on ABC radio today to reveal what steps the department had taken to protect children and stop the extraordinary behaviour involving children as young as five," he said. "It is not good enough for the Minister to say these incidents happen in disadvantaged schools and blame forms of media. "This is totally inappropriate sexual behaviour and parents want to know what the Minister is doing about it."

But Dr Lomax-Smith accused the Opposition of using children to "score political points". "I have been assured that the school and district have dealt with the incidents immediately and appropriately when they occur, including advising relevant authorities where necessary," she said.

Education Department chief executive Chris Robinson said swift action had been taken, but he remained "very concerned" by groups of students who were "multiple" offenders. He said some students had been suspended, mandatory reports had been made to child protection authorities and students and parents had been counselled. Police have not been involved, he said.


Deadbeat public hospital getting supplies from a veterinary practice!

It has been known for months that this hospital cannot pay its bills but the problem continues

A doctor has dipped into his own pocket to buy equipment for patient tests as supply shortages reach crisis point at a western New South Wales hospital. The doctor bought the equipment so a diagnostic blood test could be processed at Dubbo Base Hospital, while nursing staff say they are tired of sourcing medical supplies from the local vet.

Dubbo medical staff council chairman Dr Dean Fisher said there had been ongoing problems at the hospital, but patient care was now threatened. The hospital's pathology department had recently advised staff not to order blood tests because the associated equipment stocks were running low. "It is the first time that I'm aware that a doctor has had to buy supplies and that stems mostly from bills unpaid by GWAHS (Greater Western Area Health Service), which stopped supplies being sent up to us to use," Dr Fisher said. "In the past it's been unpaid food bills, unpaid transport bills, now it's affecting patient safety and that's of extraordinary concern."

On Monday, medical staff cast a vote of no-confidence in hospital management. Staff now want to meet with management and ask that NSW Premier Nathan Rees and Health Minister John Della Bosca visit the hospital to discuss supply shortages. "We've had enough of nursing staff having to go down the the local veterinary clinic to get bandages and urinary dip sticks to be able to continue patient care," Dr Fisher said.

"Every six to 12 months we have a crisis here. "We are short from a workforce point of view, both medically and with nursing personnel. They (GWAHS) bring in a external auditor at great expense to look at the problems. That money could be so much better spent."

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said rural hospitals urgently needed state government funds to boost patient care. "If there are funds available to be spent, rural hospitals should be the first in line," AMA NSW president Dr Brian Morton said in statement today.

Mr Della Bosca, appointed health minister last month, has said previously he planned to visit hospitals in rural NSW. A spokeswoman for his office could not confirm when the minister would visit Dubbo. Mr Della Bosca last month could not confirm reports from Independent Dubbo MP Dawn Fardell that businesses were waiting for $150,000 worth of bills to be paid by the area health service. But he admitted there was a systemic problem and the service had "cash flow problem".


State health boss pledges to fix "broke" public hospital

The blowhard is "investigating" it. Why not get the chequebook out first so suppliers are paid and can resume supplies?

NEW South Wales Health Minister John Della Bosca has promised to fix a "systemic failure" that forced doctors at a hospital in the state's west to buy their own medical supplies. Mr Della Bosca today said he had launched an investigation into cash-flow problems at the Greater Western Area Health Service which led to shortages of medical gear at Dubbo Base Hospital. "The direct answer is cash flow, and it is totally unacceptable for doctors and nurses to be paying for supplies out of their own pocket,'' he told Fairfax Radio Network. "It is totally unacceptable, if it is true, that doctors and nurses are having to borrow bandaging from local veterinary scientists. "I'm immediately having that investigated as of today.''

Mr Della Bosca said before medical staff went public with their concerns, he had held a meeting with the GWAHS's chief financial officer a week ago. The meeting had led to the payment of about 5000 outstanding accounts. "Those creditors are now satisfied and supplies have been restarted,'' Mr Della Bosca said. '(But) we need to fix the system, there's a systemic failure here and I'm getting to the bottom of it. "I expect to have it fixed and fixed very quickly.'' ....

The GWAHS has brought forward to Monday a meeting with the staff council originally scheduled for next month.


Australian doctor-training catches the British disease

Britain too turns out thousands of medical school graduates who are given no chance of completing their training. That great government "planning" again, of course

Andrew Hobson isn't bad at maths, a factor contributing to his selection as a first-year medical student at the University of Queensland. So when he compares the 734 students to be awarded Queensland medical degrees in 2011 and the 667 hospital internships on offer in 2012, he worries. The numbers don't compute. Everyone sits there and says: 'Wow.' All of a sudden there's added pressure, almost competition, between the students because most of us know that as of 2012, here in Queensland, we no longer have that guaranteed intern spot."

Hobson is a product of a belated government realisation in the late 1990s that Australia was about to run out of doctors. In the years that followed, it did, to the point where it now draws 36 per cent of its general practitioners from overseas. That figure jumps to 41 per cent in the bush. Canberra was forced into a hasty rethink of its earlier policies aimed at limiting over-servicing by doctors. Its complaints about too many GPs and blow-outs in Medicare billing costs were replaced by a hefty catch-up investment in medical schools. By 2012, 19 medical schools - almost double the number operating throughout the '90s - will struggle with record throughput. Domestic graduate numbers will total almost 3000, an 86 per cent increase on last year's output. But although one problem seems solved, another has emerged.

Australia may have students in the pipeline, but a lack of training places before and after graduation - in hospitals, in general practice and the specialties - threatens to block the workforce flow just as it starts. The country's medical deans warned earlier this year the number of young doctors was starting to exceed the capacity of some clinics, hospitals and medical colleges to give them on-the-job training and access to patients. "The situation is becoming critical," they said.

The cracks first appeared in 2005, however. That year, the Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee concluded the country was short of 800 to 1300 GPs. It was also the year that a Medical Journal of Australia study revealed teaching hospitals in the University of Newcastle medical school catchment had started to fall behind on clinical placements for the next generation of doctors. The school's student population outnumbered patients available on any given day by two to one.

It reminds Australian Medical Students Association president Michael Bonning of the British debacle, where a dearth of National Health Service training positions left thousands of young doctors jobless. "That's exactly what we're worried about," Bonning says. "The situation here hasn't yet reached those dire projections that we've seen in the UK, but what we want to do is learn from the mistakes over there."

After years of importing doctors, Britain earlier this year announced it was shutting the door to applicants from other Commonwealth countries, including Australia. Australia, which also has counted overseas-trained doctors among its biggest imports for many years, could start engaging in its own form of exclusion as soon as next year. Queensland, for example, may have to start limiting hospital internships to Australian graduates of its medical schools from the end of next year, when applicants start surpassing demand, Bonning notes. Bar a change of policy, by the time Hobson graduates, virtually none of the 67 overseas students awarded medical degrees from his and other Queensland universities are likely to find a home at the state's hospitals....

Australian medical graduates aren't able to go into independent practice straight out of university. Instead, they are put through long years of supervised training, first as hospital interns and postgraduate trainees, then through vocational training. The country's biggest vocational training program is one designed to turn graduates into GPs, who provide most of Australia's out-of-hospital health care. The Australian General Practice Training Program for next year, however, is already vastly oversubscribed. As of June 30 this year, there were 600 training spots and 733 applications.

The lack of certainty over future placements frustrates Bonning, who wants another 100 places added annually to the program during the next three years. "I think it's very unlikely and very much out of line with the Government's current push in primary care to think that they won't look at increasing the number of people in general practice," he says....

It's where the commonwealth, eight states and territories and about 20 medical colleges overlap that things get messy. The states and territories provide initial training for medical graduates in their teaching hospitals, in the form of a one-year internship and pre-vocational training. For each young doctor, cash-strapped public hospitals have to find the time and resources to supervise training while tending to their growing patient workloads. The Victorian Department of Human Services reportedly has gone as far as charging for clinical placements for students, according to the deans of the country's medical schools. This year, they called on governments to include explicit funding streams for medical education in hospital budgets as part of the next federal-state health funding agreement, to be signed within three months.

"Public hospitals have been able to shift much-needed funds away from teaching and research to meet the increasing costs of service delivery," they told the commonwealth's health reform adviser. "This has placed an increasing burden on medical schools to ensure adequate and quality clinical training placements."

Bonning, who graduates from UQ in seven weeks, has secured a hospital internship for next year. But his later years of vocational training, which qualify doctors for independent practice, are still not assured. The process of entry to general practice or a specialty involves not just multiple governments and agencies but the medical college that young doctors aspire to join. "It's just more complicated because there are more parties involved and any one of them can cause some problems," Bonning says. The relationship between the different parties has often been a strained one....

Successive federal governments have tried to unclog the bottlenecks and expose doctors to non-traditional practice by expanding areas in which training takes place to private hospitals, community medicine and public health. But the federal Department of Health and Ageing, too, has been overwhelmed bydemand. As of July this year, it had received about 500 applications for the 180 places it had funded for its 2009 program, which aims to give specialists experience working outside of public hospitals.

Bonning says Canberra needs to continue looking for placements beyond state hospital settings if it is to make its grand experiment in medical workforce planning work. "No matter how many students you put into a system, you essentially have to train them all the way through to independent practice," he says. "If we stop or neglect their training at any stage, you won't get the full pay-off that the community demands."


The Wrong Plan for Australia

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has just unveiled a fiscal stimulus plan worth 10.4 billion Australian dollars ($7.4 billion). At around 1% of GDP, it's bold. Will it work? Probably not as intended.

The plan consists of a set of handouts for politically appealing groups, such as old-age pensioners and families with children. There's also a big boost to infrastructure spending. It's a dramatic change for a government that as recently as May was hewing to the tightest fiscal policy since 1970-71, with a budget surplus of 2.1% of GDP. That budget was designed to put downward pressure on inflation. Taken together with the Reserve Bank of Australia's one-percentage-point easing at the beginning of the month, the new stimulus package points to a major reassessment of economic risks on the part of Australian policymakers. Growth has replaced inflation as the top concern.

Mr. Rudd's plan might look like a solution in search of a problem. Economic growth is set to slow, but Australia's real economy has yet to show significant stress from the global financial crisis. Financial institutions remain sound, and confidence has been boosted by the weekend's coordinated move by Australia and New Zealand to insure deposits. Monetary policy has already responded aggressively and a sharp fall in the Australian dollar exchange rate relative to the U.S. dollar is performing its traditional function of insulating Australia from external economic shocks.

There's certainly room for stimulus measures. But there are risks to stimulus, too. Timing fiscal stimulus measures so they take effect when they are most needed is difficult. Get the timing wrong and these measures could end-up being pro- rather than counter-cyclical.

A case in point is the government's proposal to accelerate its infrastructure spending agenda. Even with an accelerated timetable, work on these projects will not commence until well into 2009, with much of the spending not seen until even later, when Australia may already be through the feared economic downturn. Infrastructure spending decisions made in a crisis atmosphere might not be evaluated to the highest standards. Australia could be saddled with some wasteful rather than productivity-enhancing infrastructure projects.

Other aspects of Mr. Rudd's plan are at odds with what government should be doing in the current environment. The plan provides $1.5 billion in grants to first-time home buyers. It would double the grant amount to buyers of existing homes, while tripling the grant to buyers of newly built homes. The latter measure will be useful in addressing the chronic housing shortage that has driven housing affordability in Australia to record lows and seen rising rents makes a significant contribution to inflation.

The grant to buyers of existing homes, however, will serve only to bid up the prices of existing properties, the opposite of what is needed to improve housing affordability. This will benefit existing home owners rather than new home buyers, and has little value as a stimulus measure because it merely transfers wealth from buyers to current owners rather than encouraging new housing supply.

In other respects, the plan moves away from, not toward, broader structural reforms important to the long-term health of the economy. Consider the lump-sum payment to old-age and other pensioners, scheduled for December. Single pensioners will receive a one-time payment of A$1,400, while couples will receive A$2,100. The government calls this a "down payment on long-term pension reform," but it leaves the long-term future of pension reform an open issue. The focus for future reform needs to be on reducing dependence on the government pension. This means making the pension less rather than more attractive, so as to encourage people to save for their retirement.

Similarly, the government will make a one-off A$1,000 payment for each child in eligible families. While this may have some value as a short-term economic stimulus measure, it does not address some of the long-term issues clouding the family payments system, including the disincentives to labor-force participation.

The biggest problem with the stimulus plan, however, is something that's not in it -- tax relief. That too has been left to a future review by the Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry. There had been speculation the government might introduce a one-off tax rebate. Since the government says it is making "down payments" on future reform, a tax rebate would have provided a welcome signal of the government's commitment to this vital policy area. A tax rebate would diffuse more broadly than one-off welfare payments and reward labor-force participation rather than welfare dependence.

Short-term stimulus measures need not conflict with the imperatives of long-term structural reform. The government should have used the global financial crisis to gain increased traction for a long-term structural reform agenda that will provide lasting economic security, and not just a short-term boost to spending. The biggest flaw of Mr. Rudd's plan is all the opportunities it missed.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on the relatively good performance of the Australian banks during the current financial upheavals.

Australia tops prosperity index

All these international rankings are highly arbitrary. I am sure there is a Greenie one somewhere that says Zimbabwe is the greatest. Greenies hate people and Mugabe is starving hundreds of thousands of Africans to death so what more could you ask? But by normal standards it is certainly true that Australia is the "lucky country", as Donald Horne put it in his miserable, carping book. Donald despised Australia and Australians (which brought him great rewards, of course) so meant to say that Australia's good life was just luck rather than the product of good sense and the hard work of the pioneers. But Australians generally embraced the term as describing reality, without the negative implications Donald intended. Poor old Donald: Fancy having coined a phrase that passed into the language, only to have it interpreted in exactly the opposite way to what was intended! No wonder he died a bitter old Leftist

AUSTRALIA has topped the rankings in a prosperity index of more than 100 countries, with its quality of life and economic strength pushing it into number one spot. The Legatum Institute's Prosperity Index of 104 nations measures the material health of a country, including wealth, quality of life and life satisfaction. Australia has topped the 2008 index, ahead of Austria and Finland in that order.

The Dubai-based investment group said Australia bettered other countries because of its strong economic performance, governance and high quality of life. "(Australia) has reinvented itself as a wealthy, service-oriented economy with good scores on liveability indicators, including health, charitable giving and effective governance," Legatum said. "Strong norms or civic participation, robust health, and plenty of leisure time contribute to the high liveability ranking." While Asian powerhouses Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong scored well economically, their livability dragged down their performance.

Vice president of the institute, Dr William Inboden, said Australia had the fundamentals right. "True prosperity consists of more than money - it also includes happiness, health and liberty," he said. "The Prosperity Index shows that in addition to economic success, a society's prosperity is based on strong families and communities, political and religious liberty, education and opportunity, and a healthy environment.

"The Australian Government earns high scores on corruption control and overall effectiveness, supporting the country's quality of life in many areas. "Strong civic participation by Australian citizens furthermore contributes to the high levels of life satisfaction."

Bottom of the list was Yemen, with Zambia and Zimbabwe not faring much better. The financial crisis-racked United States was rated equal fourth, alongside Germany and Singapore.


Warmer water devastates Great Barrier Reef's seabirds

Is the article below a sign of growing realism? The scientists quoted attribute warming to changes in sea currents, not anything in the atmosphere. And they talk of climate "fluctuations" rather than warming. But you would not know that if you just read the headline and the first sentence. Even the Australian media are faithful to the one true religion

GLOBAL warming has been blamed for dramatic declines in seabird populations on the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding waters. Tens of thousands of seabirds are failing to breed because warmer water from more frequent and intense El Nino events means there is insufficient food to raise their young, according to research compiled by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Warm water near the surface forces fish, plankton and other prey into deeper water, where it cannot be reached by seabirds.

The research forms the basis of a report commissioned by the marine park authority and the Queensland Environment Protection Agency to address the impact of climate change on seabirds, and obtained by The Australian under freedom of information laws. "Recent analyses at key sites have revealed significant declines in populations of some of the most common seabird species, which raises concerns regarding the threatening processes acting on these populations," says the report, prepared by C&R Consulting.

The report, Seabirds and Shorebirds in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area in a Changing Climate, says the reef is home to between 1.3 and 1.7million seabirds and half the world's population of several species. The results of research by Bradley Congdon and five other seabird experts working for the marine park authority have been published in another report, Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef: A Vulnerability Assessment. The authors concluded that recent climate fluctuations were having significant detrimental impacts on seabird populations.

The two reports paint a grim picture of the predicament for seabirds. In the Coral Sea, populations of great and least frigatebirds declined by 6-7 per cent annually between 1992 and 2004. Despite a return to more favourable conditions since the severe El Nino event of 1997-98, populations have not recovered. On Raine Island, in the northern barrier reef, populations of at least 10 of the 14 breeding seabird species have been falling. Numbers of common noddies have fallen by 96 per cent, sooty terns by 84 per cent, bridled terns by 69 per cent, and red-footed boobies by 68 per cent.

The park authority's vulnerability assessment report says there is no evidence of significant human interference or habitat loss on Raine Island, indicating "depletion of marine food stocks linked to changing climate" as the cause. On the Swain Reefs, in the southern reef, the number of brown booby nests has dropped from 350 in 1975 to less than 30 since 2000. "The declining trend was consistent throughout the region and was not simply a consequence of inter-seasonal migration between islands," the report says.

On Heron Island, the black noddy population had been rising since early last century, but the number of active nests fell from about 70,000 to 30,000 between 1996 and 2000, with mass mortality of adults and chicks in the El Nino year of 1998.

In 2002, another year of abnormally high sea surface temperatures, almost none of the huge numbers of wedge-tailed shearwaters that normally nest annually on Heron Island succeeded in raising young. Off Heron in 2003, a 1C increase in sea surface temperature reduced feeding frequency by shearwaters from one night in two to one night in five. In 2006, a similar rise in water temperature resulted in the number of daily meals fed to the chicks of black noddies falling from three to one-half.

Negative impacts on seabird populations were recorded in all parts of the barrier reef, in virtually all species, and in nearly all components of reproductive biology. Timing of breeding, year-to-year recruitment, number of breeding pairs, annual hatching, chick growth and adult survival were all affected.


Stupid porn laws

You can be charged if just one image on your computer APPEARS to be of a young person. No proof of age needed and any cop can make that judgment. And a jury cannot decide for itself

A PROMINENT Townsville businessman has been cleared of a charge of possessing child pornography. "I'm angry, but I'm also frustrated because I really just don't know who to be angry with," John Dooley, a car dealer, said last night. Mr Dooley's three-year legal nightmare ended in the District Court yesterday. Crown prosecutor Nigel Rees advised Judge Bob Pack that the Crown would not proceed with a charge that Mr Dooley had knowingly had child pornography images on his computer.

Mr Dooley has always insisted he is innocent. When first advised of the charge in July 2005, he told the investigating officer `I'm not a sick bastard'. He echoed the same sentiment yesterday, when he told the Townsville Bulletin `I'd rather have cancer than look at, or have people think I look at, child pornography'.

The whole sorry saga, which Mr Dooley estimates has cost him `tens of thousands of dollars, possibly up to $80,000', and which he will never be able to recover, is a frightening cautionary tale of this technological age. The charge arose when Mr Dooley sent his computer in to be repaired in 2005. Computer repair companies are obligated to inform police if they find any pornography involving people who look under 16, and technicians looking at Mr Dooley's hard drive reported one suspicious image.

Police obtained a copy of the suspect material and eventually decided to charge the high-profile car industry businessman with knowingly possessing five child exploitation images. But to this day, Mr Dooley insists he still has not seen the images at the root of his turbulent three and half years. "It was explained to me that the person in the image need only `appear' to be underage," Mr Dooley said. "But throughout the committal, and if this matter had gone to trial, the jury only had to decide if I possessed the images, they would not even see the images, because it would not be their role, or the committing magistrate's, to make a judgement about the age of the people in the pictures."

Mr Dooley said he had the images described to him `one was apparently taken at a nudist camp, and there was some hazy images of children in the background', but he refused to look at them because there was no point. And he said he knew they weren't his and he'd never seen them. "I knew very little about computers back then, and I mainly used it to download music, up to 6000 to 7000 tracks," he said. "I have never visited any porn sites on that computer, let alone downloaded anything from them."

"It appears that the material that the police were interested in could have been downloaded with some of the music from share sites. I found some fighting footage and some mainly soft porn attached to the occasional download, but never anything that remotely appeared to be child pornography," he told the Townsville Bulletin. Mr Dooley said `about 10 or 12 people' had access to the computer, and the password was no secret in his household.

Mr Dooley, who had spent thousands of dollars rearranging his business situation because of the publicity, said if there was an upside to it all, it was the truth in the comment from a police officer that `this will show you who your friends really are'. He said his family had stuck with him throughout the whole matter, accepting his assurance at the outset that he had not had anything to with child pornography.

He had special praise for his legal team, led by local lawyer Anderson Telford. "Anderson never wavered and it's now been proved he gave me the best advice, particularly not to accept any deals, anything else than a nolle prosequi (dropping of the charge). Through all this, he became as much a friend as he was a professional legal adviser," he said.

Mr Dooley is philosophical and appears to take an overall view about laws that he supports and believes are necessary. If he is resigned to accepting his expensive victimhood, he urges caution on those who download material much as he did, or suffer the accidental consequences. "Just be very careful, because the technicians, the police and the courts are just doing their jobs. I'm not angry with them, but there must surely be some better or more just yardstick before things go as far as they did with me". "I'm simply a victim of a law that is, sadly, necessary to protect our kids."


Victoria's Charter of Rights a blow to democracy

IT HAD to happen. Sooner or later, the Victorian Charter of Rights would be revealed as the weapon of first resort for those opposed to laws duly enacted by the elected representatives of the Victorian people.

Having so far lost the democratic debate over the Abortion Law Reform Bill which passed through the Victorian Upper House on Friday, Catholic Health Australia has signaled its intent to head off to the courts to overturn Parliament's decision. The CHA claims that the law breaches the human rights of doctors who are conscientiously opposed to abortion by requiring them to refer women elsewhere.

Whatever your views about abortion, there is a much larger issue at stake. Since its introduction in 2006, this is the first - but it will by no means be the last time - that the Charter of Rights will be used by litigants who ask unelected judges to overturn the democratic decisions of Victorians.

Abortion is an emotive issue on both sides of the divide. Last week, thousands of people rallied outside the state's Parliament to oppose Victoria's new abortion laws which removes abortion from the Crimes Act and allows women to abort their babies up to 24 weeks during their gestation. And there are many reasons for objecting to the new laws. Former Treasurer, Peter Costello told The Australian a few weeks back that making abortion legal as a matter of course up to 24 weeks - given that many babies born at less than 24 weeks survive to live healthy lives - will mean that "in one part of a hospital babies will be in humicribs being kept alive and in some other part it will be legal to be aborting them."

Doctors have also expressed their alarm. In an open letter to upper house MPs, IVF pioneer John Leeton, psychiatrist David Clarke and bionic ear inventor, Graeme Clark, have called for a panel to decide late-term abortions and for the cut-off time to be reduced from 24 weeks to 20 weeks gestation. Supported by the Australian Medical Association, the three doctors also say that the new abortion law forces doctors to act against their conscience by demanding that doctors opposed to abortion refer women to other doctors.

These same concerns over conscience were raised by Catholic Health Australia. Writing in the Herald Sun, Martin Laverty, CEO of Catholic Health Australia, objected to the same anti-conscience provision. It is indeed an odd situation where MPs are given the right to vote according to their conscience on abortion but doctors who are conscientiously opposed to abortion are required to refer women to doctors with no such objections.

But whatever your views on the abortion laws, the vexed issue has so far been settled democratically. There is a third and final vote but if the bill passes into law unamended then the people have finally spoken. And that is as it should be. However, the debate has also exposed the Achilles heel of Victorian democracy. Having lobbied MPs - and lost - Catholic Health Australia can have another shot at killing off this law - via the courts. As Laverty says, section 14 of the Victorian Charter of Rights protects every Victorian's "right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief" and says that a "person must not be coerced or restrained in a way that limits his or her freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching." And CHA has signaled its intent to use the Charter to strike down those sections of the abortion law which offend Catholic beliefs.

Few should be surprised. The Charter sits there as a hyper-law, ready to be activated by litigants unhappy with democratically enacted laws. Perhaps Victorians understood that the Charter would be used to second-guess decisions of their Parliament. If so, they will have no problem with Victoria's new democratic deficit which gives unelected judges the final say on controversial social issues.

More likely, Victorians were misled by Charter advocates who have long denied the Charter would transfer of power from the legislature to the state's courts. That now stands exposed as a blatant and deliberate deceit. That transfer of power to courts is the real purpose of the Charter of Rights. While those who have championed the Charter - sections of the judiciary, the law associations and human rights activists - have long expressed disdain for the ability of Australia's democracy to deal with human rights abuses, their motivations are not always pure.

As alluring as it is to hear smart men and women promote the protection of our human rights, it always pays to follow the power, the money and the winners. Judges who support a charter of rights are also supporting the wholesale transfer of power to make laws to them.

As US academic, Jason Pierce, has demonstrated in his ground-breaking interviews with senior members of the judiciary, many judges think politicians are too stupid to be left to decide important issues. Depicting themselves as guardians of the greater good, they see a charter as the perfect mechanism for them to legislate their preferred social agendas from the bench. Great if you share their views. But a lousy deal for those of us who don't and prefer that contentious social issues be settled by a democratic institutions.

Lawyers love charters of rights for one simple reason. Money. While you won't find mention of a human right to income anywhere in the Victorian Charter, it's there in the subtext. As one senior prosecutor told The Sunday Age earlier this year, Charter litigation will flood the courts and provide many defence lawyers with "a lifelong right to an income that they probably don't deserve."

And that brings us to the Charter's other winners. Those behind bars love a Charter of Rights. Former NSW premier Bob Carr has canvassed the growing body of perverse rulings in the United Kingdom. Heroin-addicted prisoners have claimed thousands of dollars in compensation by claiming that cutting short their drug rehabilitation treatment was a breach of their human rights. Police refused to remove gypsies who illegally occupied the private property of a factory owner for fear of breaching their human rights. And on it goes.

Charters are championed most passionately by those on the Left side of politics. It's no coincidence. They would prefer the easy task of finding a sympathetic judge ready to implement their progressive agendas from the bench rather than doing battle with tedious democratic processes and the common sense of the people.

But how sweet is this? Conservatives in the Catholic Church may be the first to use the Charter to bypass democracy and challenge the abortion laws so dear to the progressive agenda. This is exactly why Young Labor delegates voted against a charter of rights at their annual conference in June.

They were concerned about a charter being used by conservatives claiming a right to property overturning environmental laws. Or the right to life being used to undermine abortion. How prescient of the Young Labor men and women if the CHA uses the right to freedom of belief in the Victorian Charter to challenge the new abortion laws.

While I'm firmly in the camp that regards the new Victorian abortion laws as abhorrent because they legalise the killing of a baby that could survive outside the mother's womb, the Victorian Charter is nearly as bad. It kills democracy.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Huge bungle coming up

This will cost billions and may never work properly. When will they ever learn?

The Queensland Government is beginning a massive technology transformation program following a whirlwind tour of some of the major technology providers in the US. A four-person delegation led by Information and Communications Technology Minister Robert Schwarten visited Seattle, San Francisco, Texas and Toronto and met representatives from tech heavyweights Dell, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Google. The trip was to assist the design and implementation of the Technology Transformation Project, aimed at consolidating storage and network services across state government departments.

The project will make the Government's IT services arm, Citec, the central provider of government technology infrastructure and services. The work is being done in three phases: the foundation infrastructure project (FIP), the consolidation management project (CMP) and the application rationalisation project (ARP). The Department of Public Works has started the FIP, which will consolidate almost 60 data centres and servers in just three data centres with tier three redundancy. The Government has leased 2300sqm of floor space at the newly built Polaris Data Centre in Brisbane and expects to move into it early next year.

The ARP, which will standardise management of all agencies' technology platforms, is being piloted in public works, and five other agencies have expressed interest in being part of the next phase of the project. TTP is expected to be completed by July 2010.

Mr Schwarten said findings from the US trip would help deliver new e-government services announced by Premier Anna Bligh earlier this year as part of the Q2 initiative. Applications include hospital patient systems, traffic congestion modelling and analysing systems, and managing student performance in schools. "The technology we have looked at has enormous appeal for a citizenry that wants to remain connected," Mr Schwarten said. "We want people online, not in line, in the next generation. "The decisions we made previously about shared services and the rationalisation and consolidation of systems are underpinning the future direction of providing more e-government services."

The Government is also close to deciding how to strengthen the role of the state chief information officer, particularly enabling greater authority over agencies' technology governance. That position would certainly become a very senior one, Mr Schwarten said. "That's something I'm about to go in 10 minutes to a discussion with the Premier," he said. " We are certainly going to go ahead with the establishment of that position being a very senior role."


School science curriculum to be further watered down

The kids are going to get vague generalizations and warm feelings instead of knowledge

The traditional school science subjects of biology, physics and chemistry will disappear until the senior years of school under a draft national science curriculum that proposes teaching "science for life". The curriculum, released yesterday, proposes one science course through to Year 10 in which students will explore the big ideas of science, drawing on knowledge from the three traditional disciplines. In the senior years of 11 and 12, the draft proposes three common courses in physics, chemistry and biology, and suggests a fourth more general science course with an emphasis on the applications of science.

The draft is a fundamental shift in the approach to teaching science, away from a focus on facts to fostering students' own inquiries and experiments. It argues that a science curriculum should develop science competencies, give students an understanding of the big ideas, expose them to a range of science experiences relevant to everyday life, and give them an understanding of the major concepts from the sciences. "It is also acknowledged that there is a core body of knowledge and understanding that is fundamental to the understanding of major ideas," it says.

The author of the draft, science education professor Denis Goodrum of Canberra University, said the major challenge of a national science curriculum was to engage and interest students by linking science to their everyday lives. "What we have to do within our curriculum is marry contemporary issues with underlying basic science," he said. Professor Goodrum said the curriculum was not simply to train future scientists but had to provide all students with the scientific skills and knowledge to understand the voltage in their homes or complex issues such as climate change. "Surely a lawyer should have a better understanding of scientific principles in a rich way, just as a medical doctor or a businessman or social worker," he said. "All these areas have a social scientific dimension which is important."

The proposal to drop the traditional disciplines was supported by science education professor at Flinders University, Martin Westwell, who said the advances in science happened at the boundaries where the disciplines intersected. Professor Westwell said the only place where people studied or practised biology, physics and chemistry was in universities. "If you ask a professional scientist what their speciality is, they don't identify as a physicist, biologist or chemist but as a neuroscientist or other," he said. "If you push them, they'll tell you the name that was over the door of the faculty where they did their degree."

Professor Westwell said learning scientific facts and knowledge was fundamental, but had to be balanced with teaching scientific concepts and inquiries. "Perhaps there's been an overemphasis on the stuff taught in science rather than learning about science, about some of the big ideas," he said.

Professor Goodrum said contemporary issues should be included in the curriculum as a way of providing a meaningful context to students, such as cloning, stem cell research, global warming, water conservation and recycling, and hybrid cars.

The draft curriculum blames science curriculums of the past for being too full of content, which students memorise rather than understand, for turning students off the subject. The draft proposes science education start in early childhood, with children's play used to develop an awareness of their world through observation and using their senses. In primary school, the curriculum focus is recognising questions that can be investigated scientifically and investigating them.

The big ideas cover order, change, patterns and system, with suggested topics including weather and how clouds form, sound and how it travels, plants and their reproduction, and the night sky covering the stars andplanets. In Years 7 to 10, the curriculum focuses on explaining phenomena involving science and its applications, covering topics from earth and space science, life science and physical science. The big ideas to be studied cover energy, sustainability, equilibrium and interdependence, form and function, evidence, models and theories.


Rudd 'risks rise of dole bludger army'

SWEEPING changes to welfare laws will encourage a "new army of dole bludgers" and make it almost impossible for the unemployed to lose benefits, the Coalition claims. The Opposition has signalled a new battlefield on social security by blasting the Rudd Government over work-for-the-dole reforms.

Bowing to pressure from the welfare lobby, Labor has softened John Howard's "mutual obligation'' laws - which required unemployed people to find work or lose entitlements. Instead of an automatic eight-week suspension of the dole, those failing to turn up for training or work experience will lose a day's pay of $42.98.

The Government argues its more compassionate approach will cut dole queues and better tackle the long-term unemployed. But the Coalition partyroom is this morning expected to vote against the draft welfare changes - signalling a tough battle ahead in the Parliament. Shadow Minister for employment participation, Andrew Southcott, accused the Government of going soft on welfare abusers. He claimed the Coalition's social security compliance program had been watered down "to the point it will be completely ineffective - a hollow facade''. "There are loopholes in this you could drive a truck through. It will not be not be long before we have a new army of dole bludgers,'' Mr Southcott said.

The Minister for Employment Participation Brendan O'Connor said he was "disappointed'' by the Coalition's approach. He claimed the new "no show, no pay'' provisions will be more effective in removing incentives for people to stay on welfare. "If you don't have job seekers looking for work or undertaking training, then they will be on welfare longer,'' Mr O'Connor said.

The Government is puzzled by the Coalition's stance and believe it signals a harder line against its welfare reform agenda. The changes will affect more than 600,000 people who receive the Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance and some parenting benefits.

The Opposition believes the changes will encourage more people to work in the cash economy and be paid under the counter - rather than register for work. "Deliberately missing a job interview is completely unacceptable and yet the only penalty for this behaviour will be $42.90 for a single person who is unemployed,'' Mr Southcott said. "It will be next to impossible for someone to have their welfare payment quarantined under this system.''


Kyoto treaty 'a waste of time' say half of Australians

Mr Rudd's much-lauded ratification of the Kyoto Protocol has had no beneficial effect on climate change, said 44 per cent of 1122 readers. Just 14 per cent of people said Kyoto had helped curb the effects of climate change. Another 41 per cent believed more time was needed before any result was apparent.

The Government is acting on the concerns Australians have about the issue, a spokeswoman for climate change minister Penny Wong says. "The Rudd Government understands that Australians want to tackle climate change and we have set out a plan to do so," the spokeswoman said. "Our plan to tackle climate change has three pillars: reducing carbon pollution, helping to shape a global solution, and adapting to the climate change we can't avoid." A proposed carbon reduction scheme is one of the ways to help fight climate change, she says.

Men are far more likely to be climate change sceptics than women, according to the survey. While 85 per cent of women said there was enough evidence to link human activity to climate change, only 54 per of men agreed. Men were also twice as likely as women to believe Australia's signing of the Kyoto Protocol was of no benefit. About 55 per cent of Australians believed climate change would alter day-to-day life over the next decade, and about half said it was "truly possible" to resolve the issue. Two-thirds of Australians said they took environmental factors into consideration when buying goods.


Monday, October 13, 2008

"Time to Erase the Emissions Trading Nightmare."

A statement by Viv Forbes, Chairman of the Carbon Sense Coalition.

The Carbon Sense Coalition today called on the Premier of Queensland and all elected members to bring pressure to bear on the Federal Government to immediately abandon plans for Emissions Trading. The Chairman of "Carbon Sense", Mr Viv Forbes, said that at a time of world economic crisis, the last thing productive Queensland industries need is the threat of this destructive policy hanging over them. "Emissions Trading and its carbon taxes must harm Australian industry, and Queensland will suffer most.

We are assured there are real environmental or climate benefits from all this sacrifice and warned of dire consequences if we do not act immediately. Prophecies of climate doom issue weekly from the pulpit of CSIRO. However, there is growing scientific evidence and opinion that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not control the climate. Thus all the resources spent on attempting to limit or remove it will be totally wasted.

Australia is totally dependent on carbon-based fuels and farm animals dependent on the natural carbon cycle. To allow scaremongers from the Canberra hot-house to demonise the use of these harmless natural products on which we all depend is economic suicide.

Moreover, there is no proven technology and insufficient capital and time to significantly replace carbon-based fuels without the nuclear option being chosen by many countries. And the kangaroo grazing option is too silly for words.

The targets demanded by Garnaut and the Greens can only be reached if we engineer or have thrust upon us a major depression of economic activity. It is time some grass roots politicians from the provinces demanded two things: Firstly, an independent scientific assessment of the role of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Secondly, an independent cost-benefit analysis of this attempt to control the climate.


More Australians want migrant intake cut

Dissatisfaction with immigration is rising across the country, and NSW is the state most set on reducing migrant numbers. Between 2004 and 2007 the proportion of voters who wanted the migrant intake cut rose from 34 per cent to 46 per cent, a study by a Swinburne University of Technology academic, Katharine Betts, shows.

The paper, which appears in the journal People And Place today, found that NSW had the highest support for a pared back intake, half of the respondents saying migrant numbers should be "reduced a little or a lot".

In 2006-07 a third of all new migrants to Australia chose to live in NSW. "The effects of population change are more noticeable," said Dr Betts, an associate professor in sociology. "People are aware of the extra traffic on the road, and everyone knows someone that can't find a place to rent."

Voters' mutterings come as the Federal Government faces questions over its immigration program which, this year, swelled to record levels while the country teetered on the brink of a recession. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has said next year's intake will take into account financial conditions before the federal budget next May..

Dr Betts said attitudes to immigration were influenced markedly by the economic climate and political rhetoric of the day. For instance, over the past 18 years of comparable statistics, taken from the Australian Election Studies, opposition to immigration policy was strongest in 1993. About this time, the Labor government, under Bob Hawke and then Paul Keating, was speaking enthusiastically about multiculturalism, the nation was emerging from recession and high unemployment was souring sentiment to new immigrants' easy access to welfare. "In such a setting, some voters could have believed that immigration was bringing in competitors for scarce jobs," Dr Betts said.

Conversely, support for increased immigration was highest in 2004. Under the Howard government the word multiculturalism all but disappeared from use, economic conditions had improved and changes to immigration policy reduced total numbers, limited family reunions and restricted new migrants' access to welfare. This, combined with tough border control, worked to calm the electorate, Dr Betts said. "Many voters may have come to believe the program was not only small, well-targeted and . in the national interest, but that it was also under close control. The idea that people are just streaming in gets people really upset."

And it is unlikely to surprise politicians that when they talk tough on immigration, voters feel more favourably disposed toward migrants. Immigration policies that appeared to benefit the people already in Australia were best received, Dr Betts said.



Three current articles below

Greater serve of history in national curriculum

History lessons will be soon be compulsory for every Australian student until the end of Year 10 under radical national curriculum proposals. The Rudd Government is pushing for extended and compulsory history subjects across Australia as educators survey a generation of students with "gaps in their history". The National Curriculum Board will this week unveil its proposals to transform history, science, maths and English subjects in our classrooms from 2011.

Arguably the most controversial of these reforms is the content and structure of history taught to students from Cape York to Perth. The NCB proposes the subject become compulsory and stand alone with about 100 lessons a year from Years 7 to 10, and a "distinctive branch of learning" constituting 10 per cent of all primary class time. The NCB also suggests what and when matters of ancient, modern, Australian and world histories should be learned by students.

Currently most Queensland schools teach history to Year 10 as part of the studies of society and environment (SOSE) subject, which also integrates geography and social studies. Less than half of Australian students now learn history as a stand alone subject.

The radical reforms were formulated by a 10-strong advisory group containing Brisbane Girls Grammar School head of history Julie Hennessey, and led by University of Melbourne Professor Stuart Macintyre. Professor Macintyre said many high school leavers now had "gaps in their history" and were "not aware of major topics". "History should be taught as history because the skills of historical understanding and the importance of historical knowledge are not being given as important a place in the timetable," he said. The proposals draw heavily from Monash University's National Centre for History Education.

A NCB spokesman said the reforms could be modified at an educators' forum in Melbourne on Wednesday, before being placed on the NCB website for "public discussion" from November 2008 to February 2009. The changes to history, science, maths and English curricula - forming the first national curriculum - will then be trialled for two years before implementation in 2011. Future science students are set to learn about cloning, stem cell research and hybrid cars.


Curriculum to scale back Australian history

The emphasis on teaching Australian history in recent years will be scaled down in the national curriculum, as its initial draft, to be released today, outlines a course that places the national story in the context of broader global events. The draft says restricting the study of history to Australian history is inappropriate, and while it retains an important place in the national curriculum, knowledge of world events is necessary to understand the nation's history.

The national curriculum stems the push to privilege Australian history, which culminated in the call by the Howard government to make the study of Australian history compulsory in Years 9 and 10. "If only to equip students to operate in the world in which they will live, they need to understand world history," the draft says. 'History should have a broad and comprehensive foundation from which its implications for Australia can be grasped."

The lead author of the draft, Melbourne University history professor Stuart Macintyre, said yesterday the push to cement Australian history in schools had left the position of world history unclear in curriculums. "To think one can study Australian history in isolation is a bit short-sighted," Professor Macintyre said. "There was a concern ... that it was solipsistic and not conducive to understanding Australia and its place in the world. "I think there is very broad agreement that, while all Australian students should learn Australian history, we don't really do our duty to them unless they study other history as well."

The draft curriculum proposes history be compulsory for all school students until the end of Year 10, and introduced as a distinct subject in primary school. Professor Macintyre said having trained history teachers was crucial to implementing the curriculum, and attention should be given to the history education given to student teachers.

The draft curriculum outlines a sequential study of world and Australian events based on factual knowledge and the skills to "think historically" or analyse events in a course that spans from the earliest human communities to the Industrial Revolution to the dismissal of the Whitlam government and the Iraq war. The draft, described as initial advice to the National Curriculum Board, was developed by a group of historians and history teachers led by the Left-aligned Professor Macintyre, whose appointment was criticised as being provocative by the conservative side in the history wars.

The broad aim of the curriculum is to introduce students to world history from the time of the earliest human communities, and to have an appreciation of the major civilisations that have existed in Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia.

In primary school, history should occupy at least 10 per cent of the teaching time, covering student family histories in the early years to allow students to make connections between their past and that of others. In middle and upper primary school, students would study the history of their local community and key national events such as the significance of Anzac Day, migration, "contact to 1788", and the early years of the colony. In Years 11 and 12, history would be optional and offer more in-depth study in ancient, modern and Australian history.

The draft proposes extension studies, such as those offered in NSW, that allow students to explore traditions of historical research and writing, including debates between historians through the ages. The draft curriculum emphasises the importance of factual knowledge in history, but says historical thinking and the skills of historical inquiry are just as important.


Prominent conservative says Australian kids should learn about British history

OPPOSITION frontbencher Tony Abbott wants school students to study more British history, saying Britain has shaped the world and should get the credit for it. The National Curriculum Board today will release a draft curriculum which places a greater focus on world events in history classes.

Mr Abbott said he was in favour of world history but said the focus should be on Britain. "People have got to know where we came from, they've got to know about the ideas that shaped the modern world, and in a very significant sense, the modern world has been made in England," he said in Canberra. "I think (the curriculum) needs to be history that pays credit where it's due." "We are a product of western civilisation, in particular we are a product of English-speaking civilisation." History classes should start with the history of the Jews, then move on to the Greeks and Romans, then the history of Britain, Mr Abbott said.

Mr Abbott, the shadow indigenous affairs minister, did not mention Aboriginal or Asian history. When asked specifically about Aboriginal history, Mr Abbott said that could be studied too. "That's a part of it, sure, but if you want to understand modern Australia, you've got to understand world history," he said. When asked about Asian history, he said that was important, but it was important to know where we came from.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Triple-0 blunder

Ambulance gets wrong address for hurt man (In Australia, 000 is the equivalent of the U.S. 911). This seems to happen a lot. Making it a firing offence for a blundering dispatcher would make it happen a lot less often, I fancy. I note that in a U.S. case the dispatcher was at least suspended

A worker who sliced his arm on a power tool was kept waiting for an ambulance because a communications operator sent out the wrong address. Told an ambulance was still an hour away after a wait of 40 minutes, the injured man's employer drove him to hospital.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts admitted there had been a delay in dispatching an appropriate ambulance after a mistake about the address. "It resulted from an inadvertent highlighting of an incorrect address during the dispatch process," Mr Roberts said.

Wheelchair user Val Hughes, of Glenore Grove near Laidley, called Triple 0 about 8.45am on September 18 after a contractor cut his arm with a grinder and fainted at their gravel business. She said her husband was out and she did not want to ask a 17-year-old employee to drive the man to hospital.

Mrs Hughes said a Southport ambulance communications centre worker seemed confused about her location. When the worker fainted a second time, Mrs Hughes called the emergency number again at 9.05am and was told an ambulance would be there soon. "We waited, but we were starting to get very agitated," she said.

When Mrs Hughes called again at 9.25am, she said she was told an ambulance would be sent from Toogoolawah. "I reacted a bit and said that would take an hour," she said. She was then told an ambulance would be sent from Lowood. By then her husband, who had just returned home, decided to drive the injured man to Laidley Hospital, where he received 17 stitches.

Member for Lockyer Ian Rickuss said problems were still occurring despite $6 million spent on a computer-aided communications system. He called for the Government to ensure a back-up system was in place to safeguard against further malfunctions.

The article above by Kay Dibben appeared in the the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on October 12, 2008

The evil DOCS again

Mother's 15-year struggle to keep kids

A Sydney mother who has been on the run for five years has been found in Moree in the state's north and her young son removed from her care because NSW authorities believe she suffers from the widely-discredited disorder "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy''. Her child, who turns five in December, was taken into custody by local police and handed over to the Department of Community Services [DOCS] late on Thursday.

The boy is the fourth child removed from the 32-year-old mother, who can't be named for legal reasons. In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph the mother told how she pleaded with police. "I said, `Oh no, please don't do this, please don't take my child.'''

The mother is supported by a senior medical figure who knows the woman's case and is an Australian expert in Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP). The diagnosis of MSBP, a disorder said to make mothers want to harm or fabricate illness in their children to gain attention, was made by doctors in 1993 when the woman was 17 and had a premature baby. The baby, her second born, had severe reflux [a not uncommon childhood problem. Babies chuck all the time] and breathing problems and failed to thrive. Doctors accused her of withholding food, making the child throw up by forcing her fingers down his throat and attempting to poison him. He was removed from her care at eight months of age.

In 1994 a civil court hearing found no evidence of MSBP, but the Department of Community Services successfully appealed. Two more children were subsequently removed and placed into foster care as well. She has maintained custody of her first born, who is now 16.

The disorder was discredited in the UK after several mothers jailed for murdering their children had their convictions quashed on appeal in 2003. The women were originally convicted on the evidence of leading paediatrician Sir Roy Meadows, who coined the term in 1977. He was later struck off the British General Medical Council and a review of 250 cases were ordered. He has since been reinstated.

There are up to 70 cases in Australia where a diagnosis of MSBP has been involved in the removal of children, according to academic Helen Haywood-Brown, whose PhD looked at 31 families whose children had suffered chronic illness which had been difficult to diagnose. 17 of them had been accused or suspected of MSBP. "There are a fair number of reputable medical professionals who believe this woman is innocent,'' Dr Hayward-Brown said of the mother's case.

"The Department of Community Services only removes children from their families in cases where a child is considered to be at serious risk of harm,'' a statement from the department said. The mother has appealed and faces court tomorrow.


Public hospital negligence causes healthy baby to be aborted

A woman aborted her healthy son because doctors told her - wrongly - the boy would die of a rare terminal genetic abnormality. Corrina, 21, and partner Brad, 25, say they have gone through hell since they ended their son's life at 12 weeks. The Melbourne couple still mourn DJ, their fetus named after Brad's father, Douglas John. They sleep beside his ashes in their bedroom.

Corrina was told her baby had rare Menkes disease - which killed her toddler brother. "I had a termination . . . I lived through it, but for a long time I wanted to die," Corrina said. Months later, she was devastated when, she says, she was told the original Menkes diagnosis was wrong. She is suing two Melbourne hospitals, an international genetic clinic and the Government of Denmark, where some tests were performed.

Corrina's lawyer, Anne Shortall, of Arnold Thomas & Becker said her case was one of the most tragic and unusual. Corrina wants the hospitals, clinic and diagnosticians to guarantee this will never happen again.

Her younger brother Shane died from Menkes disease, which causes retardation, many health problems and a shortened life span. "Shane had no life, was in pain and couldn't cry," Corrina said. "I couldn't put another child through that." Menkes disease (also called kinky hair disease) affects boys and is caused by genetic mutation or passed on by a mother as a carrier. It affects the copper levels in the body and is indicated by high coppery levels in DNA and other tests.

When Corrina became pregnant she feared for her unborn child because her mother and sisters were carriers of the disease and "there was a good chance I was too". "When I was pregnant with DJ, I thought, 'If it is a boy, I can't let him be born as sick as Shane was'," she said. "I was only three, but I remember them taking my little brother, Shane, away, zipping his little body up in a bag - he was only 18 months old.

"I asked the experts to promise me they would put in place some protocols so this mistake would never happen again. "They wouldn't, so I said 'I'll see you in court'."

Ms Shortall said that during Corrina's pregnancy the Royal Women's Hospital's genetics department carried out tests on the fetus. She said experts at a genetics institute in Denmark were consulted and a sample was taken from Corrina's fetus using a kit supplied from Denmark and locally provided saline solution. "On September 22, 2005, Corrina underwent a termination of pregnancy on the basis of the doctors' advice that the fetus was affected by Menkes disease," Ms Shortall said.


Must not dispute claims by homosexuals?

TENS of thousands of taxpayers' dollars are being spent on a legal fight about a 30cm Barbie doll. The State Government has angered gay rights campaigners by disputing a bisexual firefighter's claim he was harassed by co-workers and given a Barbie doll at a Christmas party. Lawyers for the Government argue the controversial doll was given not because of the claimant's sexuality, but because he has the same name as Barbie's boyfriend - Ken. But claimant Ken Campagnolo said none of the other Kens at the party received dolls.

Mr Campagnolo is suing the Department of Sustainability and Environment for workplace sexual harassment. He says co-workers shouted "poofter" at him and put dolls on his locker, as well as presenting him with a Barbie doll.

At a tribunal hearing lawyers for the Government argued there was an innocent explanation. "The presentation of a Barbie doll to the complainant was just a friendly play on his Christian name - a Barbie doll for a 'Ken'," the tribunal heard.

Gay rights campaigner Rob Mitchell, of the RJM Trust, said it was outrageous the Government was fighting Mr Campognolo's complaint. "It makes me shudder to think what amount of taxpayers' money they've spent so far," he said. A DSE spokesman declined an opportunity to disclose how much the Government had spent.

The "Barbie barney" case has been running in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for six months. A formal hearing is due on December 5.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Final hurdle falls for Victorian abortion Bill

Abortion fills me with horror but I have never thought that criminalizing it was the way to go. I agree with Cardinal Pell and George W. Bush that support for the mother is the key to preventing it

Abortion will be decriminalised after a historic late-night vote of State Parliament. The Upper House last night voted 23 to 17 to overhaul abortion laws and make terminations more accessible for Victorian women. The decisive vote ended decades of wrangling and will mean terminations up to 24 weeks will be legal.

The result was embraced by pro-choice MPs but decried by anti-abortionists with two opponents of the Abortion Law Reform Bill escorted out of parliament during last night's debate. The bitter recriminations continued late into the night, with MPs backing change sent a scathing text message at 9pm by an anti-abortionist. "You have just condemned untold numbers of unborn Victorians to death," the message said. "You will have to live with that - their deaths are because of your votes." This message came 90 minutes before the Bill was passed by the Upper House.

MPs who voted against change last night included Major Projects Minister Theo Theophanous and Treasurer John Lenders. It was one of the toughest debates in parliament in decades. An earlier vote saw Legislative Council president Bob Smith explode with rage after opponents of the Bill screamed from the public gallery.

Despite opposing change, Mr Smith, who was outraged at the slow response from security staff, was forced to eject two protesters who screamed out after the vote. Prue Neiberding, from Youth 4 Life, shouted at MPs who backed change: "Shame on you. Blood (is) on your hands." Another protestor, Jack Fox, shouted: "There'll be retribution in this country."

Catholic Health Australia said if the package was passed it would not lead to a cut in hospital services. But CHA chief Martin Laverty warned that the CHA would review conscience provisions in the Bill, potentially testing the law if hospital staff who opposed abortion were required to refer pregnant patients for terminations.

Under the reforms, terminations will be legalised up to 24 weeks and Victoria will have some of the most liberal laws in the country. It allows abortions after 24 weeks but only with the consent of two doctors.

Abortion law reform campaigner Dr Jo Wainer said the expected passing of the legislation in the Upper House would help lift the "burden of shame". She said the debate had brought her to tears. "The Parliament has shown tremendous courage and some of the speeches made me weep," she said.

Premier John Brumby cautiously welcomed the 23-17 vote when the Bill was second read earlier yesterday. "It was always my view that this legislation should be put before the Parliament and it was always my view that it should be supported," he said.


Australian government rethinks immigration boost amid global financial crisis

Australian Labor unionists have long been critical of immigration from low-wage countries so maybe the political party that ostensibly represents them is returning to its roots

Australia said on Friday it will re-think a large boost to immigration as the global financial crisis buffets the economy and places a brake against years of strong growth. With economic expansion tipped by the IMF to almost halve to just above two per cent, centre-left Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said his government would re-assess the need for a planned 19.8 per cent immigration increase, or 31,000 extra migrant places. "As with all previous governments, and mine's the same, whenever we set immigration targets we will adjust them according to the economic circumstances of the day," Rudd told local radio.

Australia is a nation of immigrants, with nearly one-in-four born overseas among the 21 million population. Only two months ago, before financial tumult spread around the world, Rudd's government agreed to a pilot scheme bringing 2,500 Pacific islanders to Australia to help fill 22,000 seasonal agriculture jobs which growers have been unable to fill with unemployment at 32-year lows. As well, the government planned to accept 190,300 new migrants before July next year, including 56,500 places for family members sponsored by people already in Australia and 133,500 places for those with highly skilled newcomers.

The booming economy, growing at more than four per cent annually during 16 years of expansion, has been facing shortages of skilled labour, pushing up wages and inflation.

But critics of migration now say economic chaos on international markets will erode the need for more workers, even in resource-rich states like Western Australia and Queensland.

Rudd said immigration was not a one-size-fits-all approach and the government would take advice on where workers were still needed. Unemployment increased by 21,700 last month, ticking up from 4.1 per cent to 4.3 per cent in seasonal terms.

Australia's peak union body, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said there was no case yet to lift migration numbers as the threat of a US-led recession gripped world markets. "You would want to be convinced that immigration was not adding to employment growth and that it wasn't in fact necessary to fill medium- to long-term skills vacancies," ACTU president Sharan Burrow told the Australian newspaper.


NSW: Hospital statistics are so disastrous that the government disowns its own statistics

They sure are desperate in the NSW government

The NSW Government has an explanation for why some public hospitals are failing to see most of their urgent patients on time -- it does not believe its own health figures. According to the data, in January only 36 per cent of patients with an imminently life-threatening condition were seen within the required 10 minutes of arriving at the emergency department of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, in inner Sydney.

But the NSW Health Department says this figure and those for Westmead Hospital are wrong because of problems with collecting data, even though they are included in the performance indicators it publishes to enable people to compare hospitals. Asked by The Weekend Australian why the Government had published incorrect figures, a spokesman for NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca said it was important to publish the information for the sake of transparency. "Although some of the data might reflect poorly on these hospitals, we are prepared to wear that while we try to fix the teething problems," he said.

The revelations add a bizarre twist to the string of claims about fudged figures on hospital performance in NSW and Victoria. Mostly the allegations are that data is being massaged to meet performance benchmarks. But in this case, the NSW Government claims the figures understate the true situation. State governments have responded to dissatisfaction with public hospitals by releasing data on their performances, available on health department websites.

According to former Victorian and NSW premier's department head Ken Baxter, whose consultancy prepared a report on the funding of public hospitals earlier this year, the figures, particularly in NSW, "are not worth the paper they were written on". There were serious doubts about the veracity of the data fed into them from hospitals. Nor were they necessarily the best indicators of performance. "For example, waiting times for elective surgery can be manipulated for what you want out of them," Mr Baxter said.

The report by TFG International, of which Mr Baxter is chairman, found hospital data was "inconsistent, patchy and not readily comparable on a state-by-state basis". Although the states had spent more than $2billion on information technology and data collection systems, this money had "largely been wasted".

Documents obtained by NSW Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner show that patients are not included on the waiting lists for elective surgery if they cannot be operated on within a certain period.

The problems highlight the challenge the Rudd Government faces in establishing a national system of performance benchmarks on which it will base part of its funding of hospitals under a new agreement with the states due to apply from January 1. Canberra wants to use better and more uniform data to drive improvements in hospital performance. Treasurer Wayne Swan quotes the example of New York state publishing information for hospitals on patients receiving heart bypass surgery. In the three years after the introduction of the system in 1989, mortality rates for cardiac operations fell by more than 40per cent.

The Weekend Australian asked NSW Health why only 36per cent of patients taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in January with an imminently life-threatening condition were seen within the required 10 minutes, compared with the average for all hospitals in NSW of 82per cent.

The figure for the RPA rose in subsequent months and reached 71per cent in June, the latest figures to be published. But it is still below the figures for most other hospitals. The pattern was the same for patients with potentially life-threatening conditions, who are supposed to be seen within 30 minutes, and potentially serious candidates, who should be seen within an hour. The department responded that the explanation involved a "technical issue, related to how data is extracted out of the patient systems into reporting systems ... It is important to notethat clinical care delivered at this hospital remains of the highest quality, although this may not be reflected in the triage benchmarks".

What then of the figures for Westmead hospital, in western Sydney, which showed that just 36per cent of patients with potentially life-threatening conditions were seen within the required 30 minutes in March, compared with the average for all NSW hospitals of 74per cent? Low figures were also reported for Westmead in most other months this year, although they had improved by June.

The department said Westmead and other hospitals were introducing a new emergency department system and that "some initial usability and process issues associated with this new system have been experienced ... This has led to some inaccurate under-reporting against performance benchmarks ... Again, standards of care were not affected". NSW Health said both hospitals had experienced higher-than-average increases in emergency attendances.

The independent and not-for-profit Australian Council on Healthcare Standards, which collects data from hospitals, said last year that only one of the indicators of treatment in emergency departments showed satisfactory results in 2006. This was for the immediately life-threatening cases, required to be seen within two minutes, where the benchmark was met in 99per cent of cases throughout the nation.


QLD: Wire from public hospital surgery left inside EIGHT children

Not just one: EIGHT! Amazing

QUEENSLAND Health has ordered checks on about 200 child hospital patients after wire from a frequently used piece of medical equipment was found inside eight of them. The children have all been treated with what's known as a peripherally inserted central catheter, commonly called a PIC line, used to deliver drugs, including chemotherapy. A PIC line is inserted in a vein in the elbow, and then advanced through increasingly larger veins, toward the heart.

Concerns were raised this week about a particular brand of PIC line after a piece of wire was discovered inside a patient at Townsville Hospital. Australia's medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has been notified of the problem. Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said today Queensland Health was in the process of notifying parents of children potentially affected. She urged parents not to panic because there was no evidence of children coming to harm as a result of the wire being left in.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Australia's immigration detention 'worst in Western world'

This is laughable -- just the usual Leftist hysteria -- but one can only hope that it is widely publicized overseas -- particularly in places like Iran and Afghanistan (i.e. the places where most "boat people" come from)

A parliamentary inquiry has heard Australia has one of the harshest immigration detention systems in the Western world. A Joint Standing Committee on Migration is holding a public hearing in the west Australian city of Perth, as part of an inquiry into immigration detention.

Linda Briskman, from Curtin University's Centre for Human Rights and Education, told the hearing a Royal Commission is needed to expose the abuse of children in detention.

Meanwhile, a refugee supporter group told the inquiry the mandatory detention of asylum seekers should be abolished. Refugee advocate Anna Copeland says while a new Australian government changed some of the rules on immigration detention, asylum seekers are still being unfairly treated. "These people are not people who have committed any crime. In fact they're victims of crime, they're fleeing persuction, they're fleeing torture, inprisonment, threats to their family and themselves. We shouldn't be treating them like criminals."


Shocking public hospital delays in one of Australia's major resort areas

A retiree facing a two-year wait for a surgical specialist's appointment at Cairns Base Hospital has switched to the Townsville Hospital group - and will be seen next week. Barry Wicks, 74, is on four painkillers a day for a trapped navel hernia but is still in constant pain and suffers from nausea when he eats. Doctors have said he needs surgery. But Cairns Base Hospital staff cannot fit him in for a pre-surgery specialist's appointment for another 18 months to two years because of a massive patient backlog.

"I thought I might die before I ended up under the knife," the fed-up 74-year-old said yesterday. "My life's on hold -I can' sit at my computer or in my car for too long, the only real relief is lying flat and I'vbeen told it could get much more serious if my bowel becomes trapped in the hernia."

Mr Wicks went back to his doctor, in the small town of Cardwell south of Tully, and was transferred to the Townsville Hospital group. He will see a visiting surgical specialist at nearby Ingham Hospital next Wednesday and has been told to pack a bag in case the operation goes ahead hours later. The long-suffering retiree said he was relieved to have escaped a "two-year sentence". "I really don't know how I could have held out that long . it' scandalous," he said of the Cairns Base Hospital's surgery backlog.

A Townsville Hospital spokesperson yesterday said no category two patient had waited longer than the recommended 90 days for their "non-urgent elective surgery" in the June quarter.

But a Cairns Base Hospital spokesman confirmed two-year waits for a surgical specialist appointment were "the norm" for category two patients, with a wait of up to three extra months for surgery. "We are very, very busy," the spokesman said, adding the hospital was trying to recruit a new full-time surgical specialist. Category one patients could wait up to two months for a specialist's appointment, while less urgent category three patients were in for a two to three-year wait, he said.


Students missing out on basic literacy, numeracy skills

Too much time wasted on propaganda

STUDENTS' literacy and numeracy are suffering because they are tied up learning such life skills as bike safety and sex education, principals say. The Australian Primary Principals Association says teachers spend too much class time on lifestyle issues at the expense of reading, writing and maths, the Courier-Mail reports.

APPA president Leonie Trimper said sex, drug, car and bike safety tuition were key distractions. "We're not saying we don't have a role but we seem to be the only ones with it," she said. She said a plethora of "add-ons" had crept into overcrowded state curriculums over many years, making it "impossible to achieve" learning aims.

In a report released last month, 96 per cent of 5000 Australian principals and teachers surveyed wanted a simpler, less-crowded curriculum.

Queensland's Year 3 and 5 students came seventh out of eight states and territories in this year's first national literacy and numeracy tests. Year 7 and 9 students came sixth. At the same time, Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said, teachers copped "another job" when Education Queensland made 2008 The Year of Physical Activity with its Smart Moves program. "If you put your focus everywhere you can't keep your focus," he said. "Literacy and numeracy should be the focus."


Lives put at risk by corrupt police who leak information to crooks

LIVES are being put at risk by "festering" cells of corrupt police leaking information on confidential investigations to criminals, Victoria's police corruption watchdog has warned. Officers in the corrupt cells are "culturally influential" in the force and can exploit the common practice of police sharing inside information on investigations to big-note themselves to their mates. Information traded by corrupt police to criminal associates damaged investigations, and "in extreme cases lives can be, and have been, put in jeopardy", the Office of Police Integrity warned.

In the OPI's annual report, tabled in parliament yesterday, director Michael Strong said that in some instances inside information about investigations was being sold to criminals or traded in return for favours. "At other times, the information-sharing arises between individuals who have a longstanding relationship in which loyalty to the individual appears to replace loyalty to Victoria Police and to the police officer's oath to uphold the law," Mr Strong says.

Victoria Police was rocked late last year when it was revealed in sensational OPI public hearings that details about a top-secret underworld murder investigation were allegedly leaked from senior levels within the force to the main suspect. Confidential information was also leaked about police informer Terrence Hodson shortly before he and his wife, Christine, were murdered in a cold-blooded underworld execution in 2004.

Mr Strong said corrupt police often promoted the image they were high achievers, but actually did little productive work. "They regularly flout organisational rules and regulations and avoid accountability because of their cultural influence," he said.

But attempts to clean out the force were being hampered by a "code of silence" and a tendency for police to close ranks or turn a blind eye, including lying to OPI corruption hearings. "Too many police witnesses required to answer questions under oath in OPI hearings seem willing to sacrifice their credibility rather than break the code," Mr Strong said. "I am gravely concerned at the apparent disregard some police have for the oath or affirmation to tell the truth when they give evidence. "Perjury is a serious crime."

A growing awareness within the force of the investigative techniques used by the OPI, including telephone intercepts and other electronic surveillance, was making it more difficult to catch corrupt officers. As a result, OPI operations were becoming more complex and increasingly required the use of covert investigative tools.

Mr Strong said the improper handling of criminal informers by police was a potential opening for corruption, with officers failing to register their sources of information, as required. "Streetwise criminals may be adept at manipulating some police," Mr Strong said. "Access to a piece of the action may pose too great a temptation for unethical police."

Overuse of physical force on suspects was a problem, with an estimated 70 per cent of such cases not reported. Twenty per cent of complaints against police involved assault allegations.

Mr Strong recommended that a criminal offence of misconduct in public office be introduced. Assistant Commissioner for ethical standards Luke Cornelius acknowledged corruption was a problem, but said it was restricted to a small minority of officers. "The critical point for us is that we have to break the code of silence," he said.

Corrupt police clinging to the "old ways" needed to realise it was only a matter of time before they were caught and prosecuted. "There's nowhere to run, there's nowhere to hide," Mr Cornelius said.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Smugglers eye asylum policy

AUSTRALIA'S new policy towards asylum seekers could increase opportunities for people smugglers, an Indonesian immigration official said yesterday as the Australian Government grapples with the arrival of two boatloads of illegal immigrants in the past week. Indonesia and Australia co-operate closely in disrupting people smugglers and, while the Rudd Government has expressed confidence its more relaxed immigration policies will not lead to an influx, Australian officials privately say criminal networks are well aware of the changes and are seeking to exploit them.

Seventeen people were being transported to Christmas Island yesterday after a boat suspected of carrying asylum seekers docked next to a floating oil facility in Australian waters in the Timor Sea. Last week, a boat with 14 people was intercepted near Ashmore Reef by a Royal Australian Navy vessel. Both boats were crewed by Indonesians and left from West Timor, with the majority of their human cargo coming from war-torn Afghanistan. There were also three Iranians on the first vessel apprehended.

Authorities also disrupted a people-smuggling operation in West Timor this year involving Afghan asylum seekers. "This is the example of good co-operation between us in Indonesia and with Australian authorities too," the spokesman for Indonesia's Directorate General Of immigration, Maroloan Barimbing, said.

Asked if Australia's new policy would lead to more people smuggling, Mr Barimbing acknowledged the risk. "It may give better opportunities [for people smugglers]," he said. "It depends on our co-operation in Indonesia and bilaterally. We must continue the current co-operation and, if necessary, increase it."

Australian officials say people-smuggers are becoming more sophisticated, using the internet to monitor changes in policies and then using the information to tout for business from often desperate families and individuals.

Under the new policy, Australia no longer sends asylum seekers to other countries such as Nauru for processing and if asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees, they will be accepted in Australia, rather than being sent to other nations.


Council orders 'offensive' Australian flag down

Some brainless bureaucrat at work

A Brisbane council has ordered an ex-soldier to take down the Australian flag which flies outside his house because it has been deemed "offensive" by a neighbour. Aaron Wilson erected the 5m high flagpole eight weeks ago, in honour of his friends who served in Iraq, The Courier-Mail reports. But on Tuesday, Logan City Council called to tell him a neighbour had made a complaint, labelling it "offensive". He was told to remove the pole or risk legal action.

Mr Wilson, whose father fought in Vietnam, said he was disgusted. "I find it astonishing that anyone could find the Australian flag offensive," he said. "My family and friends have served for the country and the very least I can do is have a flag to show my appreciation for Australia. "I thought the council had better things to do with their time than persecute people for putting a flag up."

Logan City mayor Pam Parker said she backed Mr Wilson. "I am offended that somebody should complain to the council about the Australian flag, and whoever they are should hang their head in shame," she said on ABC radio. But she could not rule out his having to move the flagpole. A council spokeswoman said there was a concern the flagpole could fall down in high winds. She said Mr Wilson, who is a salesman, needed a building permit, because the pole was only 4.5m from the kerb and, under the Queensland Development Code, it should be at least 6m from the front.

But Mr Wilson, 30, said other residents in the area had similar flagpoles that were closer to the boundary than his. He said he would not be moving the flag. "You can't have rules for some people and not for others," he said. "I can't see how moving the flag back a bit is going to stop it being offensive."

Ex-serviceman Cr Ray Hackwood, who represents Mr Wilson's ward, said he would be monitoring the situation. "As area councillor, I certainly won't allow anyone to pull down an Australian flag," he said. Mr Wilson's neighbours last night were baffled as to who had complained. [Probably a far-Leftist councillor. You get a lot of nuts on councils] Felicia Maybury, 28, said: "Mr Wilson's got a right to fly his flag in support of his country and his mates who fought for us."


Marketers jump on superfoods fad

Experts say "superfoods", touted by marketers as miracle products, are about to hit Australian shelves in the race for our consumer dollars. In the UK, more items are added to a growing list of so-called superfoods with regular monotony - sometimes on the back of a small and dubious study. Cherry juice last month was hailed as the latest wonder drink after research found a 250ml glass offered the same health benefits as eating 23 portions of fruit and vegetables. The study also found it contained more anti-oxidants than five portions of peas, tomatoes, watermelon, carrots and banana.

Making it on to the "superfoods" list is a marketer's dream. UK sales of blueberries, for instance, have skyrocketed by 132 per cent since 2005, while salmon sales increased by 31 per cent in the same period. Spinach sales also have risen, likewise beetroot. Expensive exotic fruits and berries often are deemed to be in the same category as acai and noni fruit, boosting sales.

Adelaide-based physician and author of the best-selling CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, Dr Peter Clifton, has heard it all before and warns to be sceptical. "I think it will come here as well," he said. "But it's very difficult to describe any food as a superfood. They all have relatively weak physiological effects. Compared with a drug, food is a very, very weak thing, so be very cautious, rather than believe the marketers."

He and co-author Dr Manny Noakes, have just released another book, The CSIRO Healthy Heart Program. That lists superfood categories - fish and omega 3 fatty acids, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and oils and seeds - rather than singling out any one food. "I do think it is an overstatement to talk about superfoods and we do need to be careful about talking about food rather like snake oil," Dr Noakes said. She also singles out another buzz-word for scepticism. "There's no proven benefit of anti-oxidants in food at this point in time." she said. "There may be something in it but none of the studies has shown any proven benefit from increasing anti-oxidants in diet."

Both authors maintain the best way to health and happiness is a balanced diet including fruits and vegetables. Cancer Council nutrition spokesman Terry Slevin says, despite Australia's food regulations, marketers may be able to dub their product as a superfood provided there is some form of substantiation. "In terms of the current regulations, it might have to be tested in court but I'm pretty sure the term itself is not specifically banned," he said.


Big response to "ugly women" call

A plea for "ugly ducklings" to move to Mount Isa to help address a woman shortage has paid dividends, with resumes and letters flowing in. And some of them were "bloody attractive", mayor John Molony said today.

Cr Molony said he had been contacted by more than 50 women wanting to know more about the outback mining town and its men. "While the media were beating me over the head with a stick, girls were sending me emails from all around world and a surprising number from across Australia," he said.

Cr Molony sparked widespread outrage and grabbed international headlines in mid-August when he suggested "beauty-disadvantaged women" come to the town, where men outnumbered women five to one and "happiness awaits".

Today, Mr Molony said the women who contacted him wanted to know more about Mt Isa, the men and the employment opportunities - though he could not say if any had actually moved into the area. Interested parties included an Italian journalist, professionals from the United States, customer service and administration staff, and others from Spain, South Africa, the Philippines and across Australia. Mr Molony said at the peak of interest, he would receive about five letters a day - some of which included photos. "It's getting a bit embarrassing, because some of these girls are beautiful," he said.

"One girl said she'd lived all her life in Brisbane, she's 26, and she's never smelt sweat on a man. "Well, there's plenty (of sweaty men) up here. "I think she liked the idea of being in Mt Isa and meeting miners, men who actually work."

Cr Molony said he would not be gloating about the success of his controversial comments, and would continue to encourage people to settle in the area. "I don't seek vindication," he said. "I made the statements in good faith and because I want the best outcome for my city. "The enthusiasm with which the women responded to the story and approached me, talking to them and reading their emails, they have certain expectations and certain views of the men in the community and that makes me very proud."

However, Cr Molony said he did receive a small number of critical letters. "They never sent me photos but I drew a mental picture and got a headache," he said with a laugh


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Australia's government-sponsored immigration flood is totally irrational

By Andrew Bolt

EVEN on the day it was announced, the Rudd Government's plan to import a million extra people in just three years seemed stupid. Now, as stock markets melt and shares shrivel, it's positively dangerous. Question: Why is the Government running the biggest immigration program in our history just as the economy may be careening into a wall? Why does it plan in its first term to import the equivalent of the population of Adelaide when even Prime Minister Kevin Rudd concedes unemployment is about to climb?

Oh, sorry - you didn't know Rudd had so ramped up immigration? Don't blame yourself. He never mentioned in his campaign launch last year that he had any such intention. Shhh. So it came almost out of the blue when - after the election - he quietly opened the gates. Rudd's May Budget set a new target for permanent migrants for this financial year: 190,300 places, or 20 per cent more than last year. And it didn't stop there. Add to those migrants some 110,000 workers brought out each year now on temporary visas, or almost triple the number of just four years ago. Add also 13,500 refugees and asylum-seekers, and some 20,000 New Zealanders, and you can see we have an immigration plan that's about to smash into some nasty realities.

How could it be otherwise? That makes more than 330,000 people we'll import each year under Rudd, for a net intake each year close to Britain's 191,000, even though we have just a third of its population. This seemed even in the relative sunlight of May to be hugely ambitious, to put it kindly.

Fact is, almost all the other policies of the federal and state governments leave us totally unprepared to deal with an intake that huge. For a start, most states have got out of the habit of laying on the essential infrastructure we need for ourselves, let alone for migrants as well.

These are now green times, so they hate building dams. They despise building power stations. They shy at building city freeways. They resent releasing farmland for houses. They even want less irrigation of crops, and not more. Result? They can't even give those here already enough water. They can't unclog our roads or unjam our trains. They can't make new houses affordable or food cheaper, and soon they'll struggle even to generate enough electricity. So how are they going to offer land, water, power and transport to more than 500,000 permanent newcomers Rudd hopes to settle here permanently in just three years?

No wonder Premier John Brumby two months ago cried enough on immigration: "I think we are probably at the limits of growth." Sure, eager-to-please Rudd thought turbo-charging the intake of migrants and temporary workers would please big business. After all, importing workers thrills companies that want to keep down wages. Importing migrants puts a glint in the eye of house builders and car makers salivating to sell the new arrivals homes and wheels.

But, as the Productivity Commission warned just two years ago, for the rest of us immigration just means more competition and not much gain. Even with a modest rise in immigration of some 40,000 skilled workers each year, the commission said in Economic Impacts of Migration and Population Growth, "the impact of migration is very small compared with other drivers of per capita income growth".

Britain's House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs this year found the same was true there: "Our general conclusion is that the economic benefits of positive net immigration are small or insignificant."

In fact, thanks to the Rudd Government's manic belief in man-made global warming, a lot of migrants could actually make us a lot worse off. That's because every new migrant, with his eating, burping, driving, computering and light-switching, adds to the greenhouse gases we pump out - just when the Government is determined to bring an emissions trading scheme in 2010 to make us cut those gases. Or pay. That means the more migrants we bring in, the more the rest of us will have to cut our own emissions to make up for them and meet the cap the Government eventually sets. So importing migrants is importing carbon pain.

And remember: all this was clear even before our economy started to slide. How much dumber does it seem now to amp up immigration when we could be on the brink of mass lay-offs? Even Rudd last week conceded: "The global financial crisis is having a greater impact on economies around the world, including in Australia, and that will mean unemployment in Australia could now increase more than forecast earlier in the year." So the plan is to bring in even more migrants to compete for jobs with Australians who are now losing their own? I don't think so.

But I said Rudd's plan was not just dumb but now dangerous. Here's why. We may hate to admit it, but we today struggle to assimilate some groups of migrants as well as we once did -- especially those with poor skills and worse English. In NSW, for instance, Lebanese-born citizens are twice more likely as the rest of us to be jailed. In Melbourne, police battle ethnic gangs of African refugees. So it's important that future immigrants have the background and the skills to fit in, and especially the education they need to land good jobs and make their own way.

But the Rudd Government, crazily enough, has skewed its immigration policies to allow in more poorly skilled immigrants who may not even speak English. Only 70 per cent of the expanded immigration intake is reserved for skilled workers, and Immigration Minister Chris Evans says he wants to bring in even more migrants with minimal skills. He told The Australian in May he wanted a "great national debate" about bringing in more semi-skilled and unskilled migrants, and said his plan to import 2500 South Pacific guest workers to pick fruit was a "stalking horse" for much more of the (permanent) same. "The demand is often for truck drivers, store managers, below tradesman-level jobs in the mining industry," he said. What's more, the Government would relax tough and "clunky" rules that migrants be able to speak English, because they "actually stopped business operating".

But how are unskilled immigrants with bad English going to get on if our economy sinks into recession? Think again, Prime Minister. I love migrants, coming from a migrant family myself. But a million newcomers in three years seems much too much of a good thing in these bad times. Or even in good times, to be frank.


Ambulance officers call for capsicum spray for violent patients

What depths Australia's socialized medicine system has fallen to!

PARAMEDICS want capsicum spray to protect themselves from violent patients, who are forced to wait for hours outside emergency departments. Ambulance union state organiser Jason Dutton said paramedics were increasingly at risk from angry and aggressive patients left waiting for hours outside crowded hospital emergency departments - a practice known as ramping. A patient assaulted an ambulance officer outside the Cairns Base Hospital's emergency department late last month.

"Paramedics are absolutely sick and tired of being used as punching bags," Mr Dutton said. "They need to be equipped appropriately. I'm not calling for ambulance officers to be allowed to carry guns, but capsicum spray could be incorporated into the training of paramedics and very clear guidelines could be used to assist them. "We're looking at arming paramedics with an appropriate tool so that when they are confronted ... they can look after themselves."

Mr Dutton, from the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union, which represents ambulance officers, said that paramedics sometimes found themselves in situations where they feared for their safety. But unlike police, ambulance officers were not issued with handcuffs, batons, guns and capsicum spray to protect themselves. "Paramedics are expected to treat people - who will often lash out violently at whoever is closest to hand - with no self-defence at all," Mr Dutton said. "We need to give our paramedics adequate protection from violent members of the public."

Mr Dutton said paramedics in some overseas countries were equipped with flak jackets or body armour.

A spokeswoman for Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said supplying paramedics with capsicum spray came under the Weapons Exemptions Act, which was a matter for the Police Minister, Judy Spence.


Australians 'bored' by climate change

AUSTRALIANS are becoming bored with the issue of climate change and many still doubt whether the phenomenon is actually happening, according to a new survey. Only 46 per cent of Australians said they would take action on climate change if they were in charge of making decisions for Australia, a dip from 55 per cent last year, according to the Ipos-Eureka Social Research Institute's third annual climate change survey. And almost one in 10 Australians (nine per cent) strongly agreed with the statement "I have serious doubts about whether climate change is occurring". A further 23 per cent agreed to some extent.

Ipos-Eureka director of Sustainable Communities and Environment Unit Jasmine Hoye believes Australians are becoming more concerned with other environmental issues that they can have more direct control over. "We believe the public is currently overwhelmed by other, more pressing environmental issues - namely water and river health - and sees climate change as something that is largely out of their control," she said. "However, there is a desire among many Australians to know how they can personally make a difference regarding climate change."

Aside from river and water health, other environmental issues of most concern to Australians included illegal waste dumping, renewable energy, litter, smoky vehicles and packaging.

But there were no real standout actions being taken by Australians to personally reduce their greenhouse emissions, said Ms Hoye. "Ipsos research has shown that recycling is a fairly generic activity that people tend to say they are doing to help the environment, and it is also something that many Australians were already doing before climate change came along," she said. "Thus, one could be justified in thinking this is a fairly glib response. "What really strikes me is that we still have so few Australians taking specific actions like substantially reducing their household energy use, driving and flying less, switching to green power, or even buying carbon offsets, especially given all of the media coverage on this critical issue," she added.


Now, should we destroy the economy?

Astute Australian financial analyst Terry McCrann looks at the Warmist numbers

BEAUTIFUL. The release of the Garnaut report could not have been better timed. It was dead, dead, dead, before it hit the table. The dark greens and all the climate carpetbaggers and main-chancers who have sprouted like weeds at the prospect of sharing in the 21st century theological rents will come to look back wistfully at his - original - modest emission reduction targets. Hopefully, from their humpies beneath those disused windmills which had yet to be dismantled. Apart from the ones kept as a record of a crazy religious cult that infected the world in the early years of the 21st century.

There is no way even the Rudd Government is going to embrace a policy to destroy the economy, in the wake of this week's disaster on Wall St and the Hill - the US House of Representatives. What, Rudd is going to get up and announce the wrecking of the economy starts now: barely 60 weeks away on January 1 2010? Before the next election? There is no way that China and the US are going to agree to slug their economies in recession with punitive policies to send them in even deeper.

If the Prime Minister persists with his ambition for a global agreement to reduce emission, he won't be preaching to the converted but an audience which will make the one he addressed in New York last week look like the MCG last Saturday. Further, it opens the door to victory at the next election not just to the Federal Opposition but to every state opposition facing increasingly nervous Labor governments.

At the national level, Malcolm Turnbull would have two choices. Simply to argue for postponement of any emissions scheme, or the more rational and also more opportunistic: to make any reductions by us at the very least conditional on US and Chinese delivered reductions. I would prefer him to take the emissions scheme off the table entirely. To go Churchillian and announce: he does not intend to become the Queens's first minister to preside (that's a word he might like) over the impoverishing of Australia.

The idea that we should lead is beyond absurd; that the world is 'waiting on us'. Oh yeah? Just like 'the world' flocked to hear the Prime Minister's inspiring words of wisdom at the UN last week.

At the state level, oppositions have to just promise to keep the lights on. Literally. To build new coal-fired and nuclear power stations. And provide emergency defibrilators to dark and even light greens. Or recycled paper bags to breathe into.

Is the average person going to vote to go back to a Dark Age future? Words chosen very particularly; both literally and figuratively. The Garnaut report remains like its predecessor, the British Stern report, an uneasy mix of religion married to dodgy economic and statistical analysis. Garnaut claimed yesterday that "the overall cost to the Australian economy of tackling climate change under both the 450ppm and 550pm scenarios was manageable and in the order of 0.1-0.2 per cent of annual economic growth to 2020".

Rubbish. Correction. Utter rubbish. On a whole series of levels. For starters, we can't 'tackle climate change'. Taking the 'science' as read for the purposes of discussion, it is completely out of our control. We reduce our emissions by 100 per cent, we have absolutely no impact on the climate. Not just the global climate but our local climate. We reduce our emissions by zero, or indeed double them, and on either scenario we have exactly the same impact on the climate. Zero.

OK. So we have to jointly cut emissions, with everyone else? Actually, no. The only, the only emitters that matter are the US and China, and perhaps India out a few years. Only they need to cut. And if it's so Garnaut-Stern like painless, why do we have to lead? They'll unilaterally embrace cuts. Again, they cut and what we do is utterly irrelevant to any climate outcome. They don't cut, and ditto.

Now this might suggest that we have to do something in unison. But the one thing that it absolutely does announce is the pointlessness of us cutting unilaterally. Sorry, not the pointlessness, but the sheer dopey stupidity. Which is exactly what Garnaut -- still -- recommends. Explicitly. That we cut even though the world refuses to agree a global process!

Our 'fair share' of cuts that would actually achieve something is to reduce emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 and by 90 per cent by 2050, according to Garnaut. Allowing for population growth, the bigger figure is to all intents and purposes 100 per cent. I'm surprised he didn't go the whole hog and suggest 130 per cent.

His original report had some shreds of analytical credibility compared with the disgraceful Stern report. This one has none, as Garnaut combines analytical idiocy with profound theological hubris. His entire report turns on 'assuming' the mother of all can-openers. An LA the economist who, washed up on a desert island with cans and cans of food - of the old fashioned, non-self-opening variety - first assumes a can-opener. We can turn off all our existing electricity and do away with petrol. Easy. Assume a replacement.

And, as a consequence, the cost will be marginal out to 2020? Sorry, it will destroy the economy. It will destroy the economy even if everyone cuts. It will destroy the economy if we go wandering off alone like Anabaptists, in Europe in the Middle Ages, seeking some sort of salvation.

Garnaut's modelling of the economic costs comes from the same guys and the same computers that predict the budget surplus each year. Last May they predicted it would be $10.6 billion in the 2007-08 year. It came in at $27 billion, after making the necessary adjustments for new initiatives. The difference is equivalent to 1.5 per cent of GDP. So Treasury can't get a figure about a process it actually has plenty of knowledge about within 1.5 per cent of GDP, one year out. And we are expected to believe that Garnaut can get accurate within 0.1 per cent of GDP changes out 12 years?

After the imposition of trauma never previously imposed on the economy, requiring unprecedented shifts in energy use, with consequences that have never previously been experienced. This demonstrates in the most specific way how Garnaut has 'got religion'. In comparison with his report, creationism is the very font of scientific objectivity.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on the Wall St bailout and the gradual destruction of America by Leftist policies.

Australia's new, "relaxed" illegal immigrant policy having the predictable effect already

The illegals have resumed coming. This is the second boatload in a week. The flood is resuming now that John Howard's conservative policies have been abandoned and replaced by incautious Leftist feelgood nonsense

A boatload of suspected Middle Eastern refugees has been discovered off Australia's north-western coast. A boat carrying 17 people pulled up alongside a floating gas facility and oil tanker owned by Australian Energy Development in the Timor Sea, about 200 kilometres off the Kimberley coast, about 10.30am yesterday.

The incident comes after 14 people, including nine Afghans, were intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy off the Kimberley coast last Thursday and has fuelled concerns that changes to immigration policy by the Rudd Government will trigger a wave of people smuggling.

The Immigration and Citizenship Minister, Chris Evans, said the people had been moved onto a navy vessel and would be taken to Christmas Island, where they would be placed in immigration detention and undergo health, security and identity checks. He said the nationalities of the group and the reason for the voyage was unknown at this stage. It is understood those on the vessel were mainly Afghans but included three Indonesian crew, a woman and a teenage boy.

Senator Evans said it was the second unauthorised boat arrival in Australian waters this year; there were five cases last year. But the Opposition immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, said the Government's approach to abolish temporary protection visas had encouraged asylum seekers to "test the waters".

Yesterday's arrival came hours before the Red Cross warned that more than 200,000 people in the north of Afghanistan could be forced to flee their homes this winter because of drought, insecurity and rising food prices.

A crew member from the tanker, who did not wish to be named, said one of the Afghans said the boat had been at sea for 10 days. "They had a little flag which had 'help' written on it. They were in distress . they were very glad; they had smiles from ear to ear when they come alongside us." The crew member said the wooden boat was about 10 metres long with little room for everyone. It was leaking, and those on board were bailing water out he said.


Another government computer system disaster

When will these stupid bureaucrats realize that they must buy software entirely "off the shelf" if they want it to work well. There are very few people in the world -- Bill Gates and a few others -- who can make a large computer program work. And "adapting" a program written by someone else is even harder

An internal spoof video made by Tasmania's besieged Motor Registry office has been made public on internet website YouTube, severely embarrassing the state Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources. The video, in song form, features all 15 staff at the Motor Registry office who worked on its new $20 million computer system bemoaning its defects and continuing problems in the rush to take the system "live" by late August.

Last week, Infrastructure Minister Graeme Sturges admitted the five-week-old car registration and licence renewal computer system was badly malfunctioning. More than 3000 duplicate driver's licences have been mailed out in error across Tasmania and Service Tasmania staff are experiencing difficulties and delays renewing car registrations. Police have also wrongly fined motorists for supposedly driving unregistered vehicles or when unlicensed, when their renewals have simply not been processed correctly.

The five-minute YouTube video features a motor registry team member, "Steve", who used to work as a contract specialist on the troubled computer system, singing a specially written song We Will Go Live to the tune of Gloria Gaynor's hit single I Will Survive. Pictured wearing pyjamas, the video details how the Motor Registry team had to delay the launch of the new computer system from June 10 to August 25 because of multiple defects in the software platform purchased and adapted from interstate......

The clip was posted on YouTube as a "tribute song" to the lengthy and troubled computer system testing process endured by the team. "The Tasmanian Motor Registry system has been under major redevelopment recently," writes "Steve" on his YouTube entry. "Most of us have been working 12-hour, seven-day weeks and while the new application was due to go live in June 2008 it was put back to August. "Here is my tribute to the testing process we endured - We Will Go Live."

Mr McIlfatrick said although he would have preferred the video had not appeared on YouTube, he did not feel it had embarrassed the department or Mr Sturges. He also assured Tasmanians the "teething problems" in the computer system were starting to be worked out. Staff have a good idea of where most of the 3000 duplicate licences were mailed, and have written to recipients asking for their return.

Source. See the video here

Parents concerned about literacy levels in South Australian schools

PARENTS are raising "serious questions" about school students' basic literacy levels because they say too many are failing simple national tests. The concerns have been raised after the state's peak school parent group viewed examples of tests given to students around the country earlier this year. Parents have described questions put to Year 9 students as "primary school standard" and want a review of the curriculum following South Australia's average results in the national literacy and numeracy tests. But primary principals want the curriculum further simplified while teachers and the Education Department have defended what is being taught in schools.

The South Australian Association of State School Organisations, which represents the parents of about 90 per cent of state school students, said the test results were more worrying in light of the "not challenging" questions. "If this is the level of question, you've got to wonder why anybody would fail to meet the minimum standard," Association director David Knuckey said. "Exactly where are the 20 per cent who have just met the minimum standards? "It raises serious questions about the basic literacy levels of our high school students (in particular)." Other parents Mr Knuckey spoke to said they remembered more difficult testing when they were at school.

The Australian Primary Principals Association wants guidelines for teachers simplified when a national curriculum is developed. President Leonie Trimper said the primary curriculum "is far too crowded".

In May, about 80,000 South Australian students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 took part in the first national uniform testing of school students. The results, released last month, show up to 10.5 per cent of students failed to meet the minimum national benchmarks and up to 21.8 per cent just made the grade. SA students recorded scores below the national average in 15 of 20 categories and the state also had the highest proportion of students allowed to miss the test.

South Australian English Teachers Association president Alison Robertson said the standardised tests covered "a very narrow part of the curriculum". Flinders University senior lecturer in education Lyn Wilkinson agreed "more is being taught than is being tested" and felt most children were challenged further in class. "This (test) is really where you expect all Year 9 and all Year 7 kids to be. If they're not then there's cause for concern," said the specialist in basic skills testing.

Education Department chief executive Chris Robinson disputed the bar was set too low. "We don't believe that it's the curriculum that's deficient," Mr Robinson said. "The tests are designed by experts to work out what students should be able to do at their year level. The parents, with all due respect, may not be in the best position to judge what the standard of the test is." Mr Robinson said the department continually reviewed the curriculum.

The federal Education Department said the national tests were devised by state and federal governments, the non-government sector and independent experts.

State Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith yesterday said she expected this group "will use feedback to improve the tests in future years". At the time the results were released, Dr Lomax-Smith promised a raft of initiatives including intervention plans for every student who did not meet the minimum standards and coaches for principals and teachers at 32 of the state's most disadvantaged schools as part of a federally funded, $4 million two-year trial.

Opposition Education spokesman David Pisoni expected more children to score better, considering the standard of testing. "I certainly wouldn't say they (the questions) were difficult, if you were an average child you would have got about 90 per cent (correct)," he said. "If there are children that didn't meet the national benchmark, especially at Year 7 and 9 level, we've got to ask questions of the education system."


Proposed Warmist laws will cost a million Australian jobs

BIG business will put more pressure on the Rudd Government to delay its emissions trading scheme - predicting a million jobs may be lost if it goes ahead. The Australian Industry Group's formal response to the Government's green paper has recommended a "gentle start" to an emissions trading scheme, with low administration costs.

In a move that was likely to fuel Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull's assault on the Government's intention to start an ETS by 2010, the Ai Group warned that industries such as smelters, manufacturers and cement makers could be forced to move offshore. Its submission warned of dire consequences and comes just weeks after the Business Council of Australia predicted many businesses would go bankrupt and others would lose up to 63 per cent of their earnings under the proposed ETS.

"Ai Group believes the advantages of starting in 2010 are, as yet, ill-defined," the report said. "Ai Group's consultations suggest the benefits of taking an extra year to improve the design of the scheme could easily exceed the cost of delaying the start by a year. "Businesses accounting for well over 10 per cent of national production and around a million jobs will be affected by significant cost increases and will be at risk of carbon leakage (where companies move to countries without an ETS)." Ai Group also argued the Government shouldn't help motorists cope with rising petrol prices when an ETS started.

The Government has said it would cut the fuel excise for every cent it rose under an ETS. But the Ai Group has joined other critics who argued the burden should be shared across all sectors. "The proposal to reduce fuel excise ... should be withdrawn, and after providing appropriate additional funds for low-income households, the surplus funds should be channelled into more farsighted measures, including in support of abatement," it said.

It demanded the Government come clean about its ETS review and release the findings. The review has determined whether existing green incentives are complementary to an ETS or will cost consumers extra.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong meanwhile warned Australia's $2.1 billion commercial fishing industry was at risk from climate change. Her warnings came after the CSIRO released a report which found prawns, mud crabs and barramundi in Queensland and the Northern Territory could be affected by changing rainfall patterns.


Monday, October 06, 2008

It's amazing what you can end up with as a medical specialist in an Australian public hospital

No wonder around 40% of Australians have private medical cover

Health authorities are investigating 10 serious complaints of medical negligence and sexual assault at a northern NSW hospital by an overseas-trained obstetrician and gynaecologist living in a homeless shelter in Surry Hills. Roman Hasil's NSW medical registration was suspended in February after a damning report by New Zealand health authorities found he had botched a quarter of female sterilisations in 2005 and 2006 and drank on the job.

But the Herald has learnt that 10 former patients at Lismore Base Hospital - where he worked from June 2001 to March 2005 - lodged complaints about him with the Health Care Complaints Commission between February and May this year. Police also confirmed this week that it investigated complaints from two former patients of alleged assault, which it referred to the NSW Medical Board.

The complaints commission confirmed this week that it was investigating that Dr Hasil, who trained in the Czech Republic but was registered here despite a history of alcohol abuse, and despite being jailed in Singapore for threatening his second wife, Rose Doyle, with a knife. His third wife, Sally Hasil, also alleged on NZ television last week that he bashed her several times and broke her ribs.

Dr Hasil failed the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' assessments four times.

The Herald has also learnt that a New Zealand barrister, John Rowan, QC, is preparing legal action against Dr Hasil on behalf of up to 30 women for botched operations at Wanganui District Hospital. Dr Hasil, who is staying at Edward Eager Lodge, told the Herald he was unaware of any patient complaints against him from Lismore and denied assaulting anyone. "Of course it's not [true]. I became depressed. I can't work. I'm on medication and this must stop," he said.

A spokesman for North Coast Area Health Service said that after publicity on the NZ inquiry, 10 patients had "raised concerns regarding care provided by Dr Hasil at Lismore Base Hospital", which had been referred to the complaints commission and the medical board.

However, Lismore hospital failed for five years to address the complaint of one woman, Connie Scholl. Her complaint, in September 2003, detailed shocking allegations of abuse at the hands of Dr Hasil while he stitched her after giving birth in 2002 at Lismore hospital, leaving her with "weeks of pain and a year of nightmares". In a statement to the complaints commission in May, Ms Scholl said Dr Hasil called her a "horse woman" after she kicked him in the face because he was stitching her vaginal and anal area without anaesthetic.

"As Dr Hasil was getting up off the ground I heard him say to the midwives, 'stirrup the bitch'. it was also at this time that Dr Hasil said to me, 'you Australian women don't know how to have babies'," the statement said. It alleged he forcefully put his hand on her vagina and said, "Who is the boss now?" Ms Scholl told the Herald this week she felt "tortured and traumatised" and took years to recover physically and emotionally. She made a formal statement to police in March.

In June the chief executive of the North Coast Area Health Service, Chris Crawford, sent a written apology to Ms Scholl that her 2003 complaint "was not properly investigated".

Another former patient, Tracey Robson, is considering suing Lismore Base Hospital after her daughter Chloe was born with cerebral palsy in August 2002, despite a normal pregnancy and heartbeat just hours before the birth. In a letter to the hospital last March Ms Robson described the caesarean delivery as "very rough". "A lot more pressure was used to deliver Chloe compared to the birth of my twins [also by caesarean]. I believe Dr Roman Hasil is responsible for Chloe having cerebral palsy," she wrote. Within 15 hours, Chloe was having seizures and was transferred to intensive care at Mater Mothers Hospital in Brisbane. Ms Robson said she decided to complain after reading a letter in The Northern Star in Lismore from another woman, Jodie Phillips, who said Dr Hasil had left her "traumatised and scarred for life".

The NZ Health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson, said Dr Hasil had a "chequered history" in Australia from 1996 to 2005. His report also alleged he removed the ovaries of a woman without her knowledge.

Ms Doyle, who lives in Shanghai, told NZ television's One News last week that Dr Hasil left nooses on the bedside table and threatened her with a 30centimetre carving knife. "He said, 'I will kill you and cut you up into little pieces and nobody will find you and I will sell your ovaries on the blackmarket'. I was literally terrified for my life."

His third wife, Sally Hasil, with whom he later lived in Hobart for 12 years, told the TV station he repeatedly bashed her after drinking binges. "On one occasion I was left with four broken ribs. I had strangulation marks, I had a beaten face," she said. His ex-girlfriend, Sally Hock, said in the five months he lived with her in Ebenezer outside Sydney this year, she became frightened of him because he was "obsessed with knives" and went on drinking binges.

Queensland health authorities have reviewed the cases of the 17 patients Dr Hasil treated while working at Rockhampton Hospital for 3« weeks in December 2006 and January 2007 and found two had "an unexpected outcome or deviation from standard practice". It has referred them to the Queensland Medical Board.


Vegemite produces billionth jar

The one billionth jar of Vegemite has gone down the production line, proving that Australians really do enjoy it for breakfast, lunch and tea. Since hitting Australian shelves in the 1920s, the salty yeast spread has been popular not only on sandwiches, toast and biscuits, but also in soups and casseroles.

Among the people who gathered at Kraft's manufacturing plant in Port Melbourne to mark the occasion of the one billionth jar were two of the girls from the original Happy Little Vegemites television commercial. When it first went to air in 1959, Margaret Hole and Trisha Cavanagh were just school-aged children. Nearly 50 years on, they still have fond memories of their first television advertisement. "It was very exciting for us as kids in the school holidays to be making an ad," said Ms Cavanagh. "Who would have thought that ad would still be popular today?"

Rodney Alsop, who is the grandson of Kraft Walker Cheese Company Australia founder, Fred Walker, said it was "amazing" that a billion jars had been produced. "Australians really love their Vegemite. Around the world they may not be so keen on it, but it is one of those things which is an Australian icon."

Christina Siciliano, who worked at Kraft for 31 years as a librarian, has studied the history of Vegemite closely. "It's part of the Australian ethos, the spirit of Australia, and that's what makes it special," she said.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said he woke up this morning to a slice of toast with honey, and another with Vegemite. "What began as a breakfast spread has become an international icon," [Not so sure about that!] Mr Brumby said. "It's a great Victorian and Australian success story."

According to Kraft, Australians spread about 1.2 billion serves of Vegemite on toast, bread or biscuits every year. A Vegemite jar, containing 22 and 18 carat gold, has been created to commemorate the event and will go on tour throughout the country.


Hospital waiting list blows out

State Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg says the number of people waiting more than eight hours for a public hospital bed has doubled since 2003-04. Citing leaked data, Mr Springborg described it as a "phenomenal blow-out" in access block - the delay experienced by emergency room patients who need admission to an inpatient bed.

The Queensland Health Emergency Department Access Block tables, which the Opposition claims are unpublished, show that in 2003-04, 15 per cent of people had to wait more than eight hours for a bed. In 2007-08, the figure had blown out to 31 per cent.

The data on 21 major public hospitals suggests the problem is particularly bad in the central Queensland city of Rockhampton, where 31 per cent of patients experienced access block in 2007-08 compared to three per cent in 2003-04. At Nambour Hospital, on the Sunshine Coast, 42 per cent were affected in 2007-08, up from 16 per cent in 2003-04.

Mr Springborg said the Government was failing to keep pace with growth. "Since the Beattie/Bligh Government came to power in Queensland over 10 years ago, the number of public hospital beds in Queensland has actually reduced from 10,800 to about 10,300," he said. "There has been a reduction of almost 600 public hospital beds in Queensland despite the fact that the Queensland population has grown by almost one million in that time. "It should be of no surprise to anyone that people can't get through our emergency departments into a bed if the beds aren't there."

A recent study by the Australian College of Emergency Medicine showed a 20 to 30 per cent excess mortality rate caused by access block and emergency room overcrowding, Mr Springborg said. "By 2003 figures, this is 1,300 patients, on the figures which are available to us now, it may be as many as 1,700 Queenslanders, (who) are losing their lives unnecessarily each year because the state Labor government ... hasn't been able to provide proper care and attention in our emergency departments," he said.


No mercy even for the littlies

Fat phobics want to harass 3-year-olds

COMPULSORY health checks at daycare centres will be considered to target Queensland's spiralling obesity epidemic, Health Minister Stephen Robertson says. The measure is one being considered by the State Government as it targets preventative lifestyle diseases - smoking, obesity, alcohol and sun exposure - which are clogging the state's health care system and costing almost $5 million in funding annually.

Mr Robertson said details on how such a plan would be carried out had not yet been discussed but it was hoped parents could be given information about warning signs of bad health in their children. "We haven't decided how we're going to provide for greater screening of our young people," he said today. "I want to look at a range of options but compulsion should always be the last measure that you look at. "Education is always preferred but I want to look at the best ways to get these messages through and change some unfortunate behaviours."

He said Queensland had some of the nation's highest rates of obesity, smoking and sun exposure and individuals had to start taking responsibility. The Government had set the target of making Queensland the healthiest state, he said. But it could not "sit down with families on a Friday night when they watch the footy and order the pizza".

Mr Robertson said it was "frightening" how many children were being affected by the avoidable and chronic disease Type 2 diabetes because of bad diets and inactive lifestyles. "That's a terrible indictment on us as a community and we need to take some drastic steps to turn that around," he said. But the Health Minister said he disagreed with another suggestion put forward of a user-pays health system for the obese.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Stone the crows, 'posh' accents doomed

(For overseas readers, "Stone the crows" is an old-fashioned Australian expression of surprise and disappointment)

WITHIN a few decades, the "cultivated" Australian accent of politicians Alexander Downer and Julie Bishop will have vanished, according to a new book. The broad Australian accent is also on the way out, says its author, lexicographer Bruce Moore. Dr Moore, director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, in Canberra, says the vast majority of Australians now speak with a "standard Australian" accent. That's because we have recovered from the cultural cringe that led some to ape English pronunciation.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, NSW Premier Nathan Rees and tennis player Lleyton Hewitt all speak with broad accents [Kevin Rudd is pretty broad too], but Dr Moore said they are "remnants" of a cultural distinction that arose in the late 19th century.

He traces the development of the "cultivated" accent to the 1880s trend in Britain for the association of "received pronunciation" with education. Australian educators and elocutionists set about eliminating the distinctive features of our speech, such as pronouncing "mate" more like "mite". The trend for elocution is dying - so there is no longer a need for "ocker" Australians to distinguish their speech with nasal intonation and sharp vowels, Dr Moore said. [There is still a noticeable difference between working-class and educated Australian pronunciation but it has few social implications -- unlike Britain]


Maternity leave may need to wait -- says government

Good to see realism from the Left

A paid maternity leave scheme is a Federal Government priority, but it might not be affordable next year due to the global financial turmoil, says Treasurer Wayne Swan says. The Productivity Commission has released a draft report recommending the Commonwealth fund a 20-week parental leave scheme in which working parents receive up to $12,000 following the birth of a child. The proposal would cost the Commonwealth an extra $450m a year.

Mr Swan says Labor will consider the commission's final report in the context of next year's May Budget but "only do what is affordable''. "We think it's time the nation bit the bullet on paid maternity leave, but I can't tell you here and now that it would be affordable in terms of our next Budget,'' Mr Swan told Network Ten.

Maternity leave was a priority but lower down the list than the main game of responsible economic management, the treasurer said. "The bottom line here, particularly given the international circumstances in which we find ourselves, is responsible economic management,'' Mr Swan said. "There's no doubt that the slow-down in world growth, the impact of events on share markets, will certainly impact on the revenue but the extent of that is unclear.''


Fatties to pay for own medical care

Obese people in Queensland may have to pay for their own healthcare under a State Government plan as the annual cost of treating preventable diseases hits $5 billion. Queensland's health system spends almost $5 billion a year treating preventable medical conditions caused by obesity, smoking, alcohol and sun exposure.

Alarming new Queensland Government figures reveal so-called "lifestyle diseases" also cost the Queensland economy a further $22 billion in lost productivity and social factors, including lost earnings and the cost to carers. The cost of treating these preventable conditions will wipe out 57 per cent of the state's record $8.35 billion health budget for 2008-2009.

The Government says enough is enough and it is time for individuals to take more responsibility for their health. Conservatives in the State Government have put forward a plan that includes a user-pays health system for the obese. Smokers are already targeted through a "Fit 4 Surgery" campaign, which requires them to quit the habit before being treated. It's also considering compulsory health checks for three and four-year-olds at childcare centres around the state.

The plan is to spot any signs of chronic disease early and provide advice to parents. "We're facing a tsunami of chronic disease in the coming years, thanks to lifestyle changes and our rapidly ageing population," Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson said.

"Queenslanders need to realise they face an increasing financial burden from preventable chronic diseases," Mr Robertson said. "If Queensland continues its current rates of population growth, economic growth and public health spending, by 2042 the entire state budget will be consumed by health," he said. "That's why we need to tackle this upsurge in chronic disease before it overwhelms us."

Mr Robertson said preventative health care was "absolutely" the responsibility of individuals, as much as government.


Government-supported pedophilia?

Interesting to see who the teachers side with

PARENTS have expressed outrage over revelations that controversial artist Bill Henson was allowed into a primary school by its principal to search for models. Victorian Premier John Brumby said yesterday it was "completely inappropriate" that Henson was escorted onto a Melbourne school yard. The Victorian Education Department has launched an official investigation into the incident.

Federation of P&C Associations of NSW president Dianne Giblin said it had been a "betrayal of trust of parents". "Schools should not be a place to access for commercial purposes," Mrs Giblin said. "Any outside person or group coming into the school must do so for an educational purpose only and it supports our concerns of principals making these decisions and not having sectoral approval."

Henson was denounced by political leaders and his photographs seized by police and pulled from the Roslyn Oxley Gallery in Sydney in May following outrage over the picture of a naked 12-year-old girl on the invitation to his show. Fresh controversy has ensued following details from a new book, by Fairfax Media journalist David Marr, that Henson has been invited into the Melbourne primary school in his search for models.

Mr Brumby said: "Such activity taking place in a Victorian state school is completely inappropriate. "Like all parents, I have a deep concern about this sort of behaviour and I have asked the Education Minister for a full report from the department and the school on this matter."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull expressed disgust and outrage yesterday. "I think parents would be revolted and horrified if this were true," Mr Rudd said. Mr Turnbull said: "There are very big issues here relating to the protection of children, their privacy and informed consent. The matters that have been described in the media are totally inappropriate and unacceptable and I share the outrage that has been expressed by many people at these events."

But Maree O'Halloran, the outgoing president of the NSW Teachers Federation, said it was a complex issue and there was a risk Henson could be unduly tarred. "There are very strict rules governing who can come into a school and principals and teachers follow those carefully," she said. "I think we do need to be careful not to tar someone as being a perpetrator of some sort of child abuse when we're talking about an artist. "We've got a person's reputation at stake here and a person who is a respected, professional artist."

However, Henson's supporters have rejected claims he was allowed to wander the grounds of the Melbourne primary school. Henson was accompanied by the principal at all times when he visited St Kilda Primary School looking for child models to pose for his artwork. He has lectured to school groups and his artwork is a part of the Victorian school curriculum. The artist declined to comment on the matter yesterday but it is understood he is horrified by claims he acted inappropriately.

His supporters are particularly upset by a cartoon that appeared in The Weekend Australian yesterday depicting the artist in a school playground while children hide behind bushes, saying: "Psst . maybe he's one of those arts bandits."


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Good ol' Hinch again

A law that puts the interests of pedophiles ahead of protecting the community is sheer madness

DERRYN Hinch was defiant after being told by police he would be charged for publicly identifying two sex offenders. The man known as the Human Headline expects to be charged with five counts of breaching a suppression order - three times on his website and twice at a crime victims' rally on the steps of Parliament in June. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 12 months' jail and a $12,000 fine.

It is not the first time Hinch has faced the prospect of jail for naming sex monsters. In 1985, Hinch was jailed for identifying a pedophile priest on criminal charges. Hinch told the Herald Sun yesterday news of the latest charges came as no surprise. On air during his afternoon radio program, he went further, maintaining serious sex offenders should be named after their release from jail.

"Six months ago, I launched a campaign to have a law overturned. A law which thousands of people think is a bad law," he said. "It actually helps sex offenders hide their identities after they are released back into society. "There's a postscript concerning that law and my campaign to have it repealed. A short time ago, I was told by police I would be served a summons to appear in Melbourne Magistrates' Court on five criminal charges for allegedly breaching County Court suppression orders by identifying two offenders. "I've been asked did I think I was morally and legally in the right? My answer is I know I was morally right. Whether or not I was legally right is for the courts to decide."

In 1985, he was convicted of contempt of court for identifying pedophile priest Michael Charles Glennon, who was on criminal charges at the time. Hinch was jailed for 12 days and fined $15,000. "I felt I had a bigger responsibility to the community at large than I did to Father Glennon," Hinch said during that contempt hearing."


Literacy, numeracy standards stuck at '70s levels

And much worse than the '50s, I'll warrant

TODAY'S students are no better at English or maths than those of the 1970s, despite the billions of dollars annually pumped into schools. Australian Council for Educational Research findings, presented in Brisbane recently, showed no improvement in young people's literacy and numeracy skills from 1975 to 1998. The most instructive study asked identical and similar questions of 14-year-olds across the country over the 23-year period. There was no increase in averaged scores. Boys' literacy dropped and girls' rose slightly.

Other, more recent, findings collated by the Australian National University confirmed the trend in classrooms around the country has continued since 2000, in particular a decline in reading skills. The results make Queensland's second last placing among the states and territories at this year's first national tests even more alarming.

Education agitator Kevin Donnelly, who wrote Dumbing Down and Why Our Schools Are Failing, slammed Queensland's education establishment for its lack of progress. Dr Donnelly said the Queensland Studies Authority, and successive education ministers and departments, had failed for 20 years by adopting "pretty new-age" methods. "Kids just aren't being taught formal grammar," he said. "Ministers come and go, governments come and go but bureaucrats don't change. The minister jumps up and down for a week but the people given the job to fix it are the same people who created the mess."

Dr Andrew Leigh, an ANU economist and author of the report, said Australian governments proved it was easy to waste money on education. A report by Dr Leigh and Chris Ryan showed government spending per student in Australia had more than doubled between 1964 and 2003. "The real question is why we've increased school funding so dramatically yet seen no improvement in literacy and numeracy," Dr Leigh said.

Education Minister Rod Welford refused to comment yesterday, two weeks after admitting his department's entrenched funding practices had failed to improve results in low socio-economic areas.


Australian federal government's climate change modelling 'flawed, outdated'

This shows how vulnerable models are to the guesses fed into them. They are just Potemkin facades with nothing solid behind them

The Greens have rubbished the Federal Government's highly anticipated economic modelling on climate change. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday released some of the Treasury Department's modelling. The figures include population, technology and trade estimates.

Greens leader Bob Brown says base load solar power is ignored in favour of carbon capture and storage technology which is not yet available. "Treasury is too locked into old mould of what it thinks will be cheap oil and clean coal and neither of those are solidly foreseeable options," he said. "This is modelling is bias towards the old polluting fossil fuel industries. "If the Government's policy response is based on this Treasury modelling, it's going to be not only outdated, but deeply flawed."

In the documents, the Treasury says it has judged the estimates to be plausible. But its the modelling's productivity figures that concerns the Opposition's environment spokesman Greg Hunt. He is concerned they show slowing. "It's absolutely clear they've let the cat out of the bag on their national productivity," he said. The Opposition is eagerly awaiting the full set of Treasury modelling to be released later this month.


Court rules Police have 'no power' to enter land

This South Australian case would be a pretty strong precedent in other States too

POLICE were trespassing on a man's property when they arrested him for failing to provide his name and address over a speeding offence, the state's highest court has found. Three Supreme Court justices have ruled that unless police planned to arrest a person, they had "no special powers" to remain on a property if asked to leave.

Police charged Alexander Nick Dafov after clocking him at 78km/h in a 60km/h zone at Hendon in October 2006. Two officers followed Dafov's Toyota Land Cruiser to his nearby home and approached him in his driveway. Dafov demanded the police leave his property and refused to give the officers his name and address. Dafov was arrested and charged with failing to provide his details and for resisting police.

But those charges were thrown out by a magistrate because the officers were not originally planning to arrest Dafov for the speeding offence - and therefore had no power to remain on the property. Dafov was convicted and fined for the speeding charge. Supreme Court judge Michael David rejected an SA Police appeal of the decision to throw out the other charges. The Full Court of the Supreme Court has now also quashed the appeal.

"Except in cases provided for by Common Law or statute, the police have no special rights to enter land," Justice Tom Gray found. Justice Gray found that under Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act, police did not have the right to enter or remain on private property when expressed permission had been denied. Justice Gray, Justice Ann Vanstone and Justice Richard White unanimously dismissed the appeal.


Friday, October 03, 2008

The useless Queensland police don't come even when a fellow-cop calls them!

A police officer caught in a bikie gunfight on the Gold Coast is suing the Queensland Government for more than $1 million after he allegedly waited 20 to 30 minutes for armed back-up, fearing for his life and those of others. A claim filed in the Supreme Court of Queensland registry states Andrew Leslie Paul, who retired from the force last month, may never be able to work again because of trauma he suffered after the infamous fight between the Hells Angels and Finks on the Gold Coast. Three men were shot and three more stabbed when a fight broke out between the rival gangs at a kickboxing event at the Royal Pines Resort, where Mr Paul and another officer were providing crowd control on March 18, 2006.

The claim states: "The plaintiff's co-worker called for urgent police back-up when the gun battle started but armed assistance did not arrive for at least 20 to 30 minutes following this request by which time the battle was over . . ." "During the gun battle, the plaintiff and his co-worker feared for their lives and those of the public who they were there at the event to protect, as they just did not have sufficient police resources to properly control the situation or to protect themselves or the public."

The State of Queensland is accused of failing to pass on intelligence that bikie gangs, which had the potential to spark violence, could be at the event, to either the Broadbeach Police Division officer-in-charge or an 18-officer contingent at a nearby Carrara football event. It is also accused of failing to adhere to its own Queensland Police Service planning policy, which states there should be six officers for every 1000 members of the public at an event, with the claim estimating at least 3000 people were in attendance at the kickboxing tournament.


37,529 on surgery waiting lists in Victoria

MORE than 37,500 Victorians are languishing on elective surgery waiting lists according to a new report, but the Government says treatment times are improving. In the annual report card on Victoria's public hospitals, released today, 37,529 patients were waiting for elective surgery in June this year. Health Minister Daniel Andrews said this was 2000 fewer than six months ago and record health funding was having an impact.

The Your Hospitals report found state hospitals failed five out of nine key performance targets in the last year. Failures included emergency care, with 33 per cent of patients attending emergency departments waiting more than eight hours for a bed.

Mr Andrews said more patients were being treated within benchmark times despite record demand for health services. "Victorian hospitals have either met their target or improved their performance in eight out of nine key performance indicators, despite treating more than 19,300 extra patients in the past six months," he said.


Soviet mentality lives on in teachers' unions

HASN'T the belief that private equals evil and public equals good long passed its use-by date? Apparently not for the troglodytes in the teachers unions who are still entrenched in a class war that no longer interests the rest of thecommunity. At the September 12 meeting of the TAFE Teachers Association council, some union warriors requested "as a matter of urgency" that an important issue be resolved. Is it acceptable, they asked, for a union representative to send their children to a private school or to a private provider competing with TAFE? Is it acceptable for a union representative to have once taught in a private school or worked for a private provider that competes with TAFE? You get the gist. If you have come in contact with private education, you have been tainted with evil.

Fortunately, the general-secretary of the NSW Teachers Federation, John Irving, is not interested in these archaic union battles. The point man for policy in the NSW Teachers Federation told The Australian on Friday that he is "not interested in vetting people" on the basis of which school their children attend.

Instead of drafting a policy precluding people who send their children to private schools, Irving is thinking about asking those who seek positions within the NSW teachers union to sign a declaration that they have actively demonstrated a commitment to public education. If that comes to pass, many of those who sign such a declaration will be committing perjury if they sign. Why? Because many within the teachers unions have worked tirelessly to obstruct reform and improvement within public education. And the irony is that the obstinacy of these white-collar educational diehards against reform of public education will lead only to a greater exodus of students from public schools to private schools.

Consider the union reaction to the Rudd Government's education revolution outlined last month by the Prime Minister and his deputy, Education Minister Julia Gillard. Reforms to make education more transparent by mandatory reporting of student results, allowing parents to compare school performance? Opposed by unions. Transparency and accountability reforms that will enable the most disadvantaged schools to be identified and receive extra funding of $500,000 for your average school so that they may improve? Opposed by unions. Moves to give greater autonomy and flexibility for principals to hire staff? Opposed by unions. Moves to introduce performance-based pay for teachers to encourage better teachers? Opposed by unions. Moves to introduce a national curriculum so that students moving between states and territories can access a seamless education system? Opposed by unions. Queensland Teachers Union boss Steve Ryan summed up the reforms as "beyond insulting".

It's not news that teachers unions remain the single biggest hurdle to improving public education in Australia. They are wedded to an archaic public system that has long protected teachers, not promoted the interests of students. What is news is a federal Labor government is apparently willing to tackle the union influence that has long infected state and federal politics. The Howard government talked about reforming public education but achieved very little.

So it was powerful symbolism and pragmatic politics for Gillard, from Labor's left faction, to pose the killer question to union critics: "I cannot understand why public institutions such as schools should not be accountable to the community that funds their salaries and running costs." If any other group, drawing on the public purse, were exempt from disclosure and accountability, union activists would be the first to cry foul, demanding to know what was being hidden from the taxpaying public.

But reason cannot compete with union ideology. Neither can evidence that Australia ranks 23rd among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development industrialised countries for students who finish Year 12 or a trade equivalent and talking about the consequences of this long-tail educational underachievement for 25 per cent of Australian students. Nor will union diehards such as Ryan or his friends at the Australian Education Union be swayed by Gillard's laudable interest in school accountability reforms undertaken by New York's schools chancellor Joel Klein that have lifted student performance. If student achievement mattered, unions would have sided with these sorts of reforms long ago.

Left-wing union types like to wear their commitment to compassion and disadvantage on their sleeves. But it is fraudulent rhetoric when used by teachers unions that are patently not fighting for disadvantaged students. Opposing Rudd's reform condemns those who cannot afford to escape the worst aspects of public education to disadvantage for life.

In truth, the unions are fighting for their own vested interests. They oppose transparency and accountability because it would weed out the substandard schools and second-rate teachers. They oppose greater flexibility for principals because it would remove union leaders from teacher selection processes. They oppose private education because the competition it brings challenges the public school system to lift its performance.

It's no surprise that teachers unions would protect their interests. That's what the more militant unions do. The challenge is for Rudd to prove the Labor Government is serious about its education revolution by exposing the anti-reform union agenda. Archaic union leaders who refuse to budge on these reforms need to named and shamed as obstructionists who care little about students and more about ancient class warfare. They then can be replaced by more sensible union leaders genuinely committed to student achievement within the public education system.

The real challenge is for the PM's new federalism. The Rudd Government failed to garner agreement on plastic bags from state governments. How will it wangle agreement on education reform from state Labor governments beholden to teachers unions? When the West Australian teachers union won pay increases of 21.7 per cent earlier this year, union boss Anne Gisborne boasted that "one of the strongest elements behind this has been the political campaigning that our members have had on track for eight to 10 weeks". With an election looming, union influence prevailed. Outside education, it's the same in other states. Unions rolled attempts by the NSW Iemma government to reform the electricity industry.

Keen to stand apart from union influence, the Prime Minister will have many chances to prove his mettle. On three critical fronts - industrial relations, the Australian Building and Construction Commission and education - the hostility to Rudd's reforms will come less from the federal Opposition and more from Labor's traditional brother in arms: the unions. Aggressive union campaigns and behind-the-scenes union powerbroking aimed at derailing Rudd's reforms are already under way. If Rudd and Gillard fail to stand up to unions early on, they will suffer the same ignoble fate as craven state governments where brute union power has snuffed out critical reforms.


Congress is no green house

There are two great myths perpetuated by Kevin Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong as a foundation for Australia introducing an emissions trading scheme. Both are deceitful and misleading the public about the cost of anETS. The first myth appears in Wong's green paper, which argues Australia is "acting with the rest of the world" because other countries are supporting an ETS, in particular the US, where "both presidential candidates are committed to introducing schemes".

Wong is correct that Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, support the introduction of a cap-and-trade system. But their support doesn't guarantee anything and the $US700 billion ($895 billion) financial bailout package demonstrates why. The bailout is one of the grandest bipartisan political measures taken in US history. It was supported by Republicans President George W. Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and McCain, and the Democrats' house Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Obama. Yet the bill failed in the House ofRepresentatives.

A bill may yet pass, but it has nothing to do with bipartisan support. There isn't similar party discipline as in Australia and therefore bipartisan support doesn't mean success. Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years and are highly accountable to their electorates. Their allegiance is to their electorate first and their party second. And US voters are very sensitive to thegovernment voting for legislation that will simply take money from their back pockets. The present 110th Democrat-controlled Congress provides ample evidence. To date there have been eight bills introduced to establish a cap-and-trade system. None have passed. Bush didn't even need to pull out his veto pen.

These failed bills are merely following in the footsteps of the Kyoto Protocol, which was voted down in the Senate 95-0. Similarly, in 2003 McCain and then Democratic senator Joseph Lieberman proposed the Climate Stewardship Act. The bill was defeated 55-43. Both senators then proposed an amended version in 2005 that was defeated by an even wider margin. Ultimately, the reason for each bill's demise has been the cost it would impose on American consumers and industry without corresponding costs on competitor nations. The fallout from the financial crisis is just going to make negotiating an ETS harder.

And that leads to the second myth: Australia needs to develop an ETS to participate in the forthcoming international trading scheme. But there will not be a comprehensive international trading scheme. Establishing one requires every major emitting country to participate. At the G-8 meeting in Japan earlier this year Chinese President Hu Jintao reiterated what has long been the mantra of the Chinese Government: "China's central task now is to develop the economy and make life better for the people." The attitude of the Chinese Government is that "developed countries should make explicit commitments to continue to take the lead in emissions reduction".

China is not alone. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said to the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly: "The outcome must be fair and equitable ... we are committed to our per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases not exceeding those of the developed countries." In short, India may only slow the growth of its emissions to correspond with developed country levels.

For the US to participate requires developing countries to take proportionate emissions cuts. For developing countries to participate, developed countries need to shoulder most of the burden. In this scenario the developed and developing world are caught in a game of climate chicken. But outside Australia and the European Union no one appears interested in playing.

The final Garnaut report points out: "The only realistic chance of achieving the depth, speed and breadth of action now required from all major emitters is allocation of internationally tradeable emissions rights across countries." But it is simply not going to happen. The likeliest outcome will be a voluntary international trading scheme. Countries that participate will be guinea pigs. Their role will be to iron out problems, such as developing an accounting system for an industry's carbon footprint, the equivalence of permits and how to respond to the nightmarish impacts on trade.

If we keep heading down this path, the myths will become clear, and it won't take long before Australians start to ask why we are harming our economy while achieving virtually no reduction in emissions. It is an answer Rudd and Wong should think long and hard about.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

NSW government subsidizes homosexuality

Maybe this will inspire the New Zealand government to subsidize sheep-shaggers! How about a sheep 'n shagger Mardi Gras? Should be good for the NZ lamb industry.

TAXPAYERS will for the first time be forced to fund the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras after the State Government last night came to the financial aid of the debt-plagued event. Mardi Gras organisers and new government body Events NSW confirmed the deal last night after it was leaked to the gay media yesterday. A major Sydney attraction, it is claimed the new funding deal would boost the $30 million the parade injects into the state each year.

"This is really a tactical investment to allow them to build a platform that they haven't been able to build in the past, to drive more money into the state," Events NSW CEO Geoff Parmenter said last night. "We're investing in the development of the plan that will allow them to develop more visitors and more investment than the event's able to do now." Until now the Mardi Gras has struggled on the volatile income of fundraising and membership fees to stay afloat. Government support has included help with policing and public transport, and financial exemptions.

The new funding arrangement, which follows months of negotiations, will involve taxpayer dollars going directly into the colourful parade for the first time. The extent of the financial lifeline was not revealed last night. Terms of the deal were kept secret but the parties confirmed the Government would put up a portion of the several hundred thousand dollars it costs to hold the parade each year.

"It is injecting a considerable and significant level of support with reference to the Mardi Gras parade which is going to enable us to sustain and grow, increase production values and creativity, and to assist us in bringing more tourism into the state," New Mardi Gras chair David Imrie said. "It is now going to be self-sustaining and grow. We are going to see higher production values now. "It's really exciting because we're going into the 31st year now and it enables us to start a new generation with a strong foothold."

The financial turnaround was already underway before the deal, with New Mardi Gras reporting a $500,000 profit this year. Despite its massive popularity, organisers of the festival faced debts of $700,000 in 2002 after a voluntary administrator found they had been trading while insolvent. New Mardi Gras emerged from its ashes and now the financially healthy - and government-backed - event, which started as a protest in 1978, draws an estimated 500,000 spectators each year. Mr Parmenter said the decision to fund the parade was the result of studying existing successful events and "seeing where we can assist to get them to work a bit harder".


Childhood obesity a myth, say Australian food advertisers

How pesky of them to look at the evidence for popular claims!

The advertising industry has denied there is any link between food advertising and childhood obesity. At a federal Parliamentary inquiry into obesity in Australia held in Brisbane today, MPs were also told that advertising standards prohibited food being advertised as healthy in Australia. Australian Association of National Advertisers executive director Collin Segelov claimed CSIRO research, yet to be released, would show no significant increase in childhood obesity since the last study in 1995. "I'm not only arguing that advertising is not the cause of a childhood obesity epidemic, but that there is no epidemic," Mr Segelov said.

"The incidence of obesity amongst schoolchildren in Australia has shown no significant increase since 1995 [The findings in the USA are similar]. "This makes the notion of an obesity epidemic, as continually put forward by academic activists and others - quite irresponsibly in my opinion - quite misleading, if not an utter nonsense." Mr Segelov said food advertisers remained committed to a broader, more holistic approach to obesity.

Foundation for Advertising Research founder Glen Wiggs said an Australian food standard specifically forbade the use of the word "healthy" in food product advertising. Professor Wiggs said the repeal of the standard had been delayed again and again, but was now scheduled for April next year. He told AAP that research from England indicated advertising only affected food choices by children in a modest way, and their parents held far more sway. Advertising was an easy and cheap research target for authorities, but very little research was undertaken into how the home affected food choices, he said. "Children tend to imitate their parents," Prof Wiggs said.

Mr Segelov told the committee that once the food standard that currently prohibits the labelling of a Tasmanian apple as healthy was dropped, it would be imperative for advertisers to promote healthy products. He said television advertising bans would not work because advertisers would merely switch platforms, and children were already moving from television to other forms of "screen time" - the internet and pay TV.

Comment is being sought from the federal Department of Health and Ageing on the latest nutrition survey.


Hey! Kevvy's not such a Leftist powder-puff after all!

Kevin Rudd calls Bali bombers cowards who deserve 'what's coming'

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd says the convicted Bali bombers are mass murderers and cowards who deserve what's coming to them. Three convicted bombers Amrozi, his brother Mukhlas and Imam Samudra, face execution for their role in the october 2002 Bali terror bombings which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Yesterday, they were allowed out of their cells at their island prison off Central Java to mark the Islamic holiday Idul Fitri, with Amrozi telling reporters others would take revenge if they were executed.

Mr Rudd said the bombers could make whatever threats of retribution they liked. "The Bali bombers describe themselves as holy warriors. I say the Bali bombers are cowards and murderers pure and simple and frankly they can make whatever threats they like," he told Fairfax Radio in Perth. "They deserve the justice that will be delivered to them. "They are murderers, they are mass murderers and they are also cowards."

The Bali bombers were associated with terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, which conducted a series of terror attacks across Indonesia. JI has been hard hit by Indonesian counter-terrorist forces and conducted no significant attack since October 2005.

Mr Rudd said his government and its predecessor had ensured anti-terrorism policies were in robust order. "That means cooperating very closely with the Indonesian authorities on every matter concerning terrorism," he said. "It means also cooperating very closely with all of our intelligence agencies to make sure we have the best information out there on travel advisories for Australian tourists."

Mr Rudd said anyone travelling anywhere in the world should keep track of travel warnings. "Things can change quite quickly and I would urge everyone to go quickly to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website and to check the most recent and up to date travel advisory. It is very important," he said.


Australia doing well economically

Trade surplus hits 11-year high. A good support for capital inflow

Australia posted its highest trade surplus in more than 11 years in August, as coal exports rose and imports fell. The trade surplus was $1.36 billion compared with a revised deficit of $697 million in July, the Bureau of Statistics said. The median estimate of 22 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for a $200 million surplus. The surplus is the highest since the $1.54 billion recorded in June 1997.

The second trade surplus this year supports the central bank's assessment that exports will help offset falling household spending, which prompted Governor Glenn Stevens to cut borrowing costs last month for the first time in seven years. Exports are being boosted by demand for coal and the currency's 9% decline against the US dollar this year.

''The huge leap in coal and iron ore prices'' has helped restore the trade balance to surplus after a record $3 billion deficit in February, said John Kyriakopoulos, an economist at National Australia Bank.

The Australian dollar increased to 79.37 US cents shortly before midday from 79.13 cents before the report was released. The two-year government bond yield was little changed at 5.10%. Exports rose 6% to $24.6 billion in August, the report showed. Coal shipments surged 26% and farm goods gained 4%. Iron ore jumped 5%. Imports declined 2% to $23.2 billion. Electrical goods tumbled 23%.

China's demand for iron ore is helping Australia's $1 trillion economy outpace other developed nations, which are being buffeted by the global credit squeeze. The economy expanded 2.7% in the second quarter from a year earlier, a report showed last month. That compares with 2.1% growth in the US, 1.5% in the UK and 1.7% in Germany. Australia's terms of trade, a measure of export income, surged 13.1% in the three months through June 30, the most in 35 years, according to a September 3 government report.

The trade boom, which has helped push unemployment close to the lowest in more than three decades, is helping offset a slump in consumer spending that has cut imports this year. Household spending dropped 0.1 percent in the second quarter, the first decline since 1993. BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, in August posted a 30% gain in second-half profit. [I have shares in them so I am looking forward to my dividend!]


Plague of student suspensions hits Queensland schools

The fruit of negligible discipline

An alarming spike in student suspensions for being aggressive, disobedient, taking drugs and wagging school is plaguing the state's classrooms. Education Queensland statistics show suspensions were up 25 per cent at Gold Coast and Ipswich region public schools in the past three years and 22 per cent at Townsville schools. Other public school region reports, including Brisbane, are expected this week.

The initial snapshot has prompted child psychologists to call for family and community strategies to improve the behaviour of disrespectful students. The state Opposition has called for teachers to be equipped with more comprehensive behaviour management resources. [Like "the cane"]

Last financial year, 16,036 suspensions and 274 expulsions were slapped on students in the Gold Coast and Ipswich regions. In the Townsville region over the same period, there were 4068 suspensions and 48 expulsions. The information was contained in an answer to a parliamentary question on notice by LNP Member for Robina Ray Stevens.

Education Minister Rod Welford refused yesterday to comment on the reports or the implications. However, he did preface the reports by linking the rise to a stricter disciplinary approach from schools when the Code of School Behaviour was introduced in 2006.

Opposition education spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the results indicated a larger behavioural problem both in and out of the classroom. "The Government will say they're being tougher (on students) but I think it reflects kids are more aggressive and we have to focus on behaviour management," Mr Langbroek said. "Just suspending them doesn't fix the problem." [It's a holiday for them, in fact]

Pathways Health and Research Centre's Professor Paula Barrett, a child psychologist, said the Government should consider making suspended students do community service, such as visiting nursing homes, hospitals or the RSPCA. She said most of the children suspended probably suffered from learning, emotional or social difficulties, in part because families now spent less time guiding and having fun with their young . "It's a two-way street. You give them quality time, you get respect," she said.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Australia less affected by financial turmoil

AUSTRALIA is less vulnerable than Britain to the unfolding financial turmoil, largely because of the resources boom. In a comparison of the financial vulnerability of Australia and Britain UBS analysts Scott Haslem and George Tharenou said in a note to clients that the antipodes were well insulated from the global credit crisis. "The unavoidable recession unfolding in the UK, heightened by broad-based financial stress and falling house prices, has led many to expect that the Australian economy too will soon suffer the same fate," they said. "But across sector output, jobs and wages, Australia is much less vulnerable, with a more diversified economy, partly due to the commodities boom."

While the availability of credit in Britain had been restricted by higher funding costs since mid-2007, credit conditions in Australia had only materially deteriorated over the past few months. "The sharp rise in commodity prices over recent years has stimulated a massive investment boom in Australia by the cashed-up mining sector, driven largely by investment in coal, iron ore and LNG gas," the analysts said. "Overall, Australia is exposed to the global credit crisis, but relatively less so than the UK."

The strength of investment in Australian mining and state governments' growing infrastructure outlays "more than" offsets the forecast weakness in residential investment, they said. "Investment growth in Australia is forecast to be strong, in contrast to Britain," they said. "In part also due to the strength of resources taxes paid over recent years, the Australian government's fiscal position (despite cutting taxes regularly) remains strong and in a position to underpin growth in the economy should conditions weaken more than expected. "The UK fiscal position looks less able to underpin growth."

The analysis came as DJ Carmichael's head of research, Paul Adams, warned that junior minerals explorers looking for capital faced potential takeovers from "predatory" Asian investors -- particularly sovereign wealth funds and aggressive funds -- as equity markets were further squeezed. "There is an emerging disconnect between project value and share price and this makes it a very dangerous time for small Australian explorers with reasonable assets but thin balance sheets," Mr Adams told the 2008 Paydirt Asia Down Under Conference in Perth.


Most University students now need to be taught primary-school English

MONASH University will teach its first-year students grammar and punctuation after discovering that most arrive without basic English skills. Baden Eunson, lecturer at the university's School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, and convenor of the new course, said about 90 per cent of his first-year students could not identify a noun. "If you ask them to identify adjectives and other parts of a sentence, only about 1 per cent can manage," he said, according to The Australian. "It is not really a surprise as only about 20 per cent of English teachers understand basic grammar."

Mr Eunson described his remedial program as a US-style "freshman composition course, mainly covering material that should have been covered in school but wasn't". He pointed to a 2003 study by the Economic Society of Australia which found school leavers "are functionally illiterate because standards in Australian high schools have collapsed".

Mr Eunson said students' inadequacies emerged when they were asked to hand-write answers to test questions and without the aid of spell-checkers. "I think we'll see more and more of these university-level courses springing up to do the schools' work for them," he said.

His comments come after Monash colleague Caron Dann said the majority of her 500 students in communication were strangers to English grammar. "Marking essays, I discovered the majority had no idea how to use apostrophes, or any other punctuation for that matter; that random spelling was in and sentence construction out. About half thought plurals were formed by adding an apostrophe-s, as in apple's and banana's. "Marking the final exam, it emerged that few could write neatly: From bold childlike printing to spidery scribblings in upper case, it is obvious that handwriting is a dying art," she said.

Swinburne University has said it will test the literacy skills of domestic and international students next year because of concern about standards.


Labor faces first test on asylum

The boatpeople intercepted by the navy near Ashmore Reef early on Monday will be the first test of the Rudd Government's softened approach to processing asylum claims. The 14 illegal arrivals will be given access to taxpayer-funded lawyers before lodging any asylum claim as well as the right of appeal, should their claims fail. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said yesterday the Government would fund the initial legal costs of the 14 people after they have been questioned by officials, should they decide to apply for asylum. "We are supporting the principle that people ought to be able to get proper advice before making a claim for asylum and we will facilitate that," Senator Evans said. "So we will make lawyers available to them."

The group of 14 -- two crew and 12 passengers -- were intercepted 320km off Australia's north-west coast. Senator Evans said it was highly unlikely the boat, which appeared to have departed from within the Indonesian archipelago, contained illegal fishermen. However, he said it would not be possible to positively identify the group until they arrived at Christmas Island for processing, expected some time tomorrow. He said the boatpeople appeared to be in reasonable health and that Australian authorities had no advance warning of the boat's arrival.

Senator Evans said the first step would be to ascertain who the arrivals were, where they had come from and to run health checks. He said that as part of the new approach to dealing with asylum claims, the group would also be able to appeal any unsuccessful asylum claims. Under the old arrangements, asylum-seekers who made unsuccessful claims on Christmas Island would have had no recourse to Australian authorities as the island has been excised by the Howard government from the migration zone. Despite the changes the group will still be unable to appeal any unsuccessful claims in Australian courts.

In May, the Government announced the abolition of temporary protection visas for successful asylum-seekers. In late July, Senator Evans announced a "risk-based" approach to managing asylum claims, allowing claimaints greater appeal rights and using detention facilities only as a last resort.

Yesterday, Opposition Immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said the Coalition was concerned the arrival of Monday's boat was a sign people smugglers were "testing the waters", in light of these changes. "The message has been this is a new regime and we're going to have a different attitude to border protection. Now, you never quite know how that translates in Indonesia," Dr Stone told The Australian. "I'm concerned that the message has got through to those operators that, "look, new regime, it's a simpler business now, give it a go."


Recycler warns of job cuts from Global Warming laws

RECYCLING giant Visy has warned that the Government's proposed emissions trading scheme would force it to immediately close two recycling and paper manufacturing facilities with the direct loss of 160 jobs. Visy, renowned as one of the nation's greenest companies, has slammed the proposed scheme's cost of $20 on a tonne of emissions, in its response to the Government's emissions trading green paper.

Its submission states that a $20 a tonne carbon price would damage Visy's "corporate engine", Visy Pulp & Paper, jeopardising at least $1billion in planned investment. "Visy's first-mover status in environmental performance puts it at a disadvantage compared with other Australian industries, including its competitors," the submission says. "The CPRS (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) does not recognise the carbon benefits from recycling, leading to severe collateral impacts on Australia's domestic recycling/remanufacturing industries. "Full action of permits will unnecessarily damage the economy and constrain businesses' capacity to invest in reducing emissions."

The submission says there should be a full transition of benefit flows from existing greenhouse gas abatement schemes, as the current ETS design places current programs in jeopardy. It adds: "The proposed EITE (emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries) compensation does not protect against carbon leakage, carbon magnification and loss of jobs and investment."

The Government's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, will present his final report on climate change to the Prime Minister tomorrow. Opposition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb warned that the Government's 2010 ETS start date and the global economic situation were causing concern. "The whole purpose of an ETS is to give businesses an incentive to introduce new emissions-reducing technologies," he told The Australian. "Visy has been an activist for climate change. They've done some really outstanding things, but because they've moved early they are below the compensation threshold. They will get zero compensation yet they have to sell their products on world markets."

Mr Robb said the ETS was starting to erode confidence and affect business decisions. "Professor Garnaut has been able to put out a green paper of his own, do modelling and is about to issue a final report. The Government has achieved very little of that," he said. "It will undermine investment confidence and business decisions at a critical time when we've got the world financial markets in meltdown."


Cairns paramedic assaulted after public hospital treatment delay

HOSPITAL overcrowding has been blamed for a patient assaulting a paramedic while waiting to be admitted to the Cairns Base Hospital emergency department. Queensland Ambulance union state organiser Jason Dutton said a frustrated patient kicked and punched a paramedic in the head and back as he waited to be treated by emergency specialists. He said the patient, who had been picked up by paramedics at a nightclub, had been waiting outside the hospital in an ambulance before attacking the officer in the early hours of last Thursday morning. The man was seeking treatment for non-life threatening injuries after being involved in a fight.

Bob Lackey, regional delegate for the Liquor Hospitality Miscellaneous Union, which represents ambulance officers, said hospital staff sent security guards to help ambulance officers restrain the man but it was two and a half hours before the patient was finally admitted to the emergency department. "They've got secure areas inside the hospital where they can put patients like that until they calm down," he said. "As a union, we're pretty disgusted. The man was already aggressive. Waiting to get into the accident and emergency department didn't help."

Mr Dutton said Queensland Health needed to address hospital overcrowding to limit aggression aimed at paramedics. Ambulances are frequently forced to wait outside the busiest hospital emergency departments for hours before they can offload patients - a practice known as ramping. "Our members are in the firing line when it comes to people's frustrations and anger," Mr Dutton said. "A lot of our members have been getting verbal aggression but this is the first time that I've been told, as a direct result of ramping, that an officer has been assaulted. "That's unacceptable."

Mr Roberts said the Queensland Ambulance Service continued to work proactively with Queensland Health to minimise delays in handing over patients to emergency department staff.


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